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Whoever said the world is getting smaller is full of shit: he's never been here. I'm 60K away from the nearest phone whose line to the United States is non-functional. You could count the number of paved roads on one hand, the number of airplanes on the other. It's funny –the smaller a village you live in, the larger, friend, the larger the world becomes. And I guess it's true: you gotta travel halfway around the globe before realizing its circumference,
What was I doing last month at this time? I barely remember, probably the exact opposite of this.
Almost forgot to write –so late, this moon almost to the other side of the sky. A party where laughs rang and sangria flowed, and somehow I scored a moto ride back to my house. I must be somewhere in a few short hours. Must not think of that now. Have a notebook filled with half-started letters, so when I think of someone I can add to their note. Hate to chuck this opportunity to write but hot damn, I'm tired and need that 100th word. I promise not to do this again. Well, not "promise" exactly. "Try" anyway.
Got a thermometer stuck under my tongue, suspect that a fever is likely. I guess we all gotta fall down –the body's not used to West Africa. Thoughts: this adjustment business is a full-time job. There is no time to escape it, no place to breathe-as-me. Hard to know that my host family is aware of every single time I come or go, each latrine trip, each meal I eat.
Dammit. 102 degrees. Could be lots of stuff. Well, self, I'm gonna go to sleep. Burn, burn, burn the sickness out. I will wake stronger.
Oral rehydration salts taste like ass, but in the end, they're what saved me, I think. Last night's fever was one part of my body's conversion into a giant sieve, and were it not for ORS, I'd be much worse off right now. Self-diagnosis and treatment are a big part of life, especially when living in a place where the nearest phone is a taxi-ride away. Will mail 100words October tomorrow –amazing, this trajectory of mine. Can hardly believe the same chick started and ended that month. But, if you want to get technical about it, she didn't.
Today's exercise in separating from self came at the exact right moment, and suddenly the world is much clearer. There was an element of respect lacking in my perceptions, and a good dose of ass-kicking humility needed –holes not noticed until Kantos –an amazing facilitator –started shoveling dirt into them. His passion for his work reverberated and shook this realization into my thick head: unlike me, Kantos does not have a plane ticket home.
I will try my hardest I will use all my strength. Not for me, not even for Benin, but because Kantos does every single day.
Must be getting used to this: a mouse just ran across my rafters, but instead of running outside, I just shook my fist at him, called him a mother fucker and told him to get the hell outta my room. Must be: still excited from yesterday, I was up before dawn, worked through lunch, all to learn my work. Must be: the French came today, without a second thought, as did this routine I'm settling into. Must be: had a vision of myself a year from now, still here.
But maybe not: this night sky leaves me reeling every time.
You've done a little bit?
Yeah a little. You've done a little bit?
Yeah. How's your family?
Good. How's your baby?
Good. And your mother?
She's good. And your work?
It's good. And your father?
He's good...So everything's good?
Yeah. And you? Everything's good?
Well, good night.
So, what did you bring me?
Bring you? Why would I bring you anything?
You were gone today. You should have
brought something back.
So what did you bring me?
My health, buddy. That's all I have.
Met a king this afternoon. No shit. We had our first hands-on practice today: actual information gathering from the women in a nearby village. A kind of exhilaration akin to skiing down mountains with only marginal control. Afterwards
with laughter, dancing, songs. The men and children joined in. I felt like I was three feet above the earth. And then the king, who welcomed us to Africa and blessed the earth on which we shall walk. It's a nice thought: that someone's taken care of the paths to come, cares about the steps we will take.
It seems silly, almost unnecessary, to mark time in this way, but it was one month ago today that I left, and spread thin on the microscope slide rests all that has been, all that fills my space. Surrounded by prairie grass taller than I am, under a spilled tempera paint sky; I think of my naivetes on arriving, those that continue, the conceptions that both help and hinder me. I must think that they, like everything else in this savannah world, follow the rules of balance, albeit spoken in a different tongue, which I am beginning to decipher.
Swimming today; glorious, delicious swimming under a warm sun and in blue gray waters. We trickled out to the waterfalls, diving, laughing and feeling cold for the first time on this continent. I drank it all in –the ground slipping away from my feet, the enormous sky, curtain of stars, brilliant rock and tree whose edges blend. I am exhausted and happy, both to extremities, and stretch out my limbs to a hunger well-fed, to a sleep well dreamt of. am hesitant to define my luck for fear of its flight, but will close my eyes smiling.
In those quiet hours thoughts of the future blow through my head: of my post (which I'll find out this week), of the writing projects Sarah and I are starting here, of visitors to come, travels to make. Time's finally picking up his lead-heavy feet and suddenly its practically next year. The best advice I've received rides on the tails of that breeze too: Go with the flow like a cork in the water. It sounds so goddamn cheesy until you put a grains weight of belief in it. Then it becomes a mantra; repetitive, comforting and true.
The town's electricity is out, meaning I'm writing tonight with not my pen, but its shadows; the words just the ghost footprints of this second world, the one without sun.
My most difficult project: female genital mutilation. Constant struggle of the head and heart. From earlier today:
"This world is so large, and its problems fill its pockets with stones. How can we swim in these tides when we're pulling ourselves under the surface?...I sat down to write myself out of this corner but feel instead that I just built the fourth wall and sit staring as the plaster dries..."
One advantage to the electricity being out was fewer bugs –those fluorescent lights are like magnets. Now that they're working again, my room's turned into the fucking Discovery Channel; my belief in these goddamn insects' right to life has quickly diminished. Long day today: more FGM, and then off to the garden –to discover that the lettuce seeds were duds and the tomato sprouts withered under too much sun. sigh. The cucumbers, though, look strong. Working with life after dealing with painful subjects proved therapeutic; I will be truly enlightened when I discover where cockroaches fit into this Zen-ness.
My relationships with my host mothers confound me –never have I felt such a strange combination of admiration and distance. Tonight I sat by the fire, watching Rosalie prepare dinner for the twelve children, and me, and felt in silence the gulf that separates us. It is her strength, though, of which I must think during her constant criticism of my predictable fumbling. She is my mother –is me _displaced –were we born on another soil. She shakes her head at me because she knows, come January, no one else will follow in my footsteps, sweeping my errors into order.
"Kotchi. It's up by Niger –Oh, I guess it's not on the map. It's really a very special post, we thought that you could handle it. You take a taxi up to Malanville and then go east a bit. You'll come to a river, which you'll have to cross by boat and then take a moto-taxi the rest of the way. If its the rainy season, you might have to walk a bit –it's the only way, because there are no cars. Or roads, for that matter."
"I'm just so excited for you!"
Found out today that another plane has crashed in New York. No idea of when, why, or who involved, but my heart stopped when I heard it was in Queens. No way to know if those I know are all right –occurring to me that my own vulnerability (to sickness, danger, isolation) is nothing compared to the fragility of the lives I have left behind. Will call home on the 23rd –until then I've got only hope and the stars in which to hand my trust.
We are as thin as cobwebs, temporal as dust. These stars tonight are for you.
A slam tonight, Parakon style. My contribution:
Enough to Feed
Every word I write to you feels
as heavy as a sack of flour and by
the time I get to the part where I
figure it all out it's
too much to carry so I'll
leave it all here by
the side of the road of the things I
should have said
and walk on
and walk on
I would have enough to feed this
gnawing in my stomach that
indescribable that is not but is
The ache that place that writes stupid poems
about candlelight or sunsets or long empty roads
that fills up paper and empties out heads
in search of in search of...
Ah, how romantic –studying the future/conditional/futur anterieur tenses by candlelight. Don't know why I'm so motivated –I'm the most fluent one in the group and my village is almost completely illiterate with very few French speakers. But I had Paris on the brain, dreams of returning there one day for good, and they don't fuck around with their verbs. Found a book (no shit) entitled "How to be More Creative," I jacked it and it's sitting on my desk, in sifting shadows.
I hear the Muslim prayers in the distance; they break the fast on loudspeakers each night.
Will try an experiment tonight –maybe if Haricot sleeps in my room, he'll scare away the mice. I dread the night not because the little fuckers scare me, but because they're so damn LOUD. Combined with the Melfloquin insomnia, it's been a while since I've had a decent night's sleep. Started learning Dendi today and am relieved to find out that verb conjugation, gender of nouns, and time tenses are non-existent. But so is the written part of the language, meaning that I'm hammering out stuff phonetically...Never realized what a book-learner I am till I got here...
Last night was about the most miserable night I have had in a very long time, making me pity insomniacs as having an insufferable condition. Will talk about it tomorrow with the meds –hope to work something out with the anti-malarial drugs. That said, tomorrow begins my first week at post; am anxious to see my new home. Quite honestly, nervous as hell, too –can only hope hope hope that it will all work out for the best, Still buzzing from the "grande Beninoise" I drank with the hopes of inducing sleep –forgot that I have to pack first. Grrr...
Will sleep tonight mouse free, glorious under the star-filled sky. The moon-crescent smiled over us as we sped through town on moto-taxis. Strange, this reverberation that starts at the feet and travels up the legs, resulting in the most sexual stimulation in weeks... Sam built a solar over that cooks rice, Claire wrote an ode to roaches, and we're all hard at work on our talent show coming up on Dec. 1st. Letter from my sister today –news over a month old. Hard to know where two feet stand on the other half of the world, but we try.
We blinked at noon and realized it was Thanksgiving: difficult to place in this context of life-as-normal here. Ran through the gamut –sickness and health, grief and laughter, all between the time when I opened my eyes to Thursday and a few minutes from now, when they will gratefully close. Some more news, albeit incomplete, about the NYC crash –trying to remember the double helix of life: that everything contains the exact opposite of itself in order to exist. But Jesus Christ –it is so goddamned hard to make eye contact with Joy when it wears Pain's glasses.
We spoke in even tones, in a language not yet invented 100 years ago from yesterday. The fox hopped off its star, having spent too much time with the Scorpio and scolded us for not wearing sunscreen. But, Monsieur, we shrugged, dropping coins along the path, why put up a shield between what we are and from where we come? The rays still stretch at night, just bounce around sky-rocks, but they end up here just the same as a direct train from la-bas. He rolled his eyes in the nonsense of it all and spun yarn.
We have made it to post –I can hardly believe my luck: 1. My village is AMAZING. Beautiful as hell, friendly beyond wildest expectations, no cars and moonshadows. 2. My house is perfect. Already furnished (even a double bed!), saving me both moo-lah and buckets of time and headache (had nightmares of loading a bookcase onto a canoe). 3. I am adopting a dog. And a cat. 4. My work is fascinating and needed –and eagerly awaited. My colleagues are SO WONDERFUL. Even if I can't remember anyone's name. 5. An exhausted sigh of relief. All will be well.
Such an amazing day, for no reason and every reason all at once. Discovered Malanville _an eclectic border town that draws folks from 4 countries...Religion just wouldn't leave me alone today –church this morning, found the local chapter of the Temple of Eck (no shit, I was floored), and broke fast with a Koranic Scholar underneath a crystal clear half-moon. Now I can rest, exhausted and filthy from the encroaching Sahara Desert, hoping tomorrow can be spent in my village. Took on a new name today, a Muslim one, which I'll write when I learn how to spell it.
Two Muslims, an atheist, a Behni, a Jehovah's Witness and an undecided broke fast on a mat under a moon that shone brighter than its 11 days into Karem, discussing prostitution in a combination of 7 (or more) languages, all while drinking the first tea (that of death) then the second (that of life) not quite making it to the third one (that of love) tonight. I saw a birth today for the first time and wondered if I might be useful on this earth after all. Then realized that, in the face of this life, my wonderings become obsolete.
Spent the day in Kotchi, poking around my house in disbelief that I now own things: a bed, kitchen utensils, a tool kit –all left for me by the previous volunteer. Tried to get a sense of who she was by what she left behind, a more difficult task that if I could have seen what she took with her.
Zuwehrath, that's my Muslim name, although it won't be official until the bateme, when the villagers will kill a goat for me. Not sure how I feel about the ceremony, even though my vegetarianism has gone to hell in a handkerchief.
Good food. For the first time in country. I'm remembering the holistic effects of a damn good meal. The Kandi kids (up north –in my neck of the woods) invited us for dinner, and we're still digesting, all these hours later. Am on my whirlwind travel trip –am barreling straight for the ocean in time for the Journee Mondial de SIDA, or International AIDS Day. Got some med stuff to take care of in the south, leaving me a few extra days to shop for imported junk, then back to the training grind. Cure to insomnia is to never stop moving.
At what cost is development, at which point success? Is it when out hands stop weaving together what our eyes cannot hold, when touch sees more than words? Is it a date, a time, a month? Or is it an understanding only, a conception, could it be now, is it when I stop filling up these words with empty calories of manioc and the helpless musings of the wide-eyed white chick? Maybe we should just chick the idea of ‘development' and ‘project' and ‘asset approach' and get down to the business of life, of death, of children and earth.
Who would have thunk this nostalgia –an envelope opens, a picture falls, and there in the word lie something inarticulable _this month that stands wide-legged between their penned conception and my skewed perception –do these ropes that tie me to his shoe hold me back or help me climb –incapability to answer, just the knowledge that he waits for me behind my closed eyelids, and when I open them so many months from now, he promises to be there as well –I wear his promise like jangle bracelets –they don't fit right, but they make a helluva lot of noise.
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