Saturday, April 28, 2007

Running with your mail

The mission: Deliver this month's mail, medical supplies and packages to all volunteers serving in the field by way of a 6-day journey around the country in a land rover.
The obstacle: Our own incompetence.
Biggest Errors: 1. Gave one volunteer's package to a student at a not-so-rural high school in the hopes that said student would dutifully pass the package on to our volunteer so as not to interrupt his class. Needles to say, package was not recovered. Anonymous youth no doubt enjoying contents.
2. Discovered that we hadn't delivered the packages of 3 volunteers long after we had passed and stopped at their sites, despite our list telling us exactly what to look for. (Did not check list twice.)
3. Found one padded envelope we decided to pack far beneath several heavy boxes. Looked as though Andre the giant had trampled on it and given it to a pack of rabid rodents to chew on. But package was delivered as promised.
4. After discovering several agro-forestry volunteers' villages were abandoned due to an upcoming in-service training, we decided not to bother with one volunteer who was quite far off the main road. Later we received the call that he was indeed there, waiting in his hut for the truck that never came. Sorry buddy.
Greatest Joys: 1. A volunteer's host grandmother who professed her love for him and informed us of their plans to marry.
2. My own host family pretending not to know me when I stopped by. "You have a toubab living here, right?" "No, she went back to America."
3. Delivering a very culturally-insentive but highly amusing "minty bombing" at one volunteer's site. (Watching the children dive at candies we tossed while the volunteer shook his head in horror.)
4. The weeding out of "Fedex employee" as a potential career choice when I return to the states.
Lessons to be gleaned from this experience: If you didn't get your mail, or if your mail was damaged or brought to someone else, consider it a powerful lesson in object impermanance. Don't rely on goodies from home as your crutch for surviving life in Africa. Now I'm off to enjoy my care packages.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Caution: Contents may Deceive

Sibo wobbled towards the tap with a bucket over her head when we got pushed away by a herd of thirsty cows wandering through the village. I panicked at the thought of horns pinning me by my sleeves to the cement wall. Thousands of pounds of bovine rage were coming towards me, albeit slowly. I thought of two days before, when I had cooked up a portion of one of their relations. The cows could no doubt sense this and would spare me no pity. Then Sibo took a rock in her hand and threw it at one and the herd wandered away without so much as a resentful glance. I’m used to having my life saved by six-year-olds, so we started fetching. A woman came and sat on the bottom of her bucket, waiting for ours to fill. She asked me, “Mariama, do toubabs also dream?”
“Yes, I dream every night.”
“Because you are here, that’s why. In America people don’t dream.”
“They do.”
“Because some of them are black.”
Never mind the larium-sponsored insanity that dances through my head every night as I lay under net-obscured stars, that is a gift from West Africa. Toubabs don't dream on their own accord.We passed by the compound where a woman broke her wrist while running away from a fire she said was started by the two iguanas fighting on the roof who somehow caused the lightening bolt to come down and alight her cabinet.
And then we were home, safe from cows, safe from iguanas. The radio came on with another proclamation of the president's miracle cure for the plague of the 21st century, through prayer and bush leaves. We heard this and thought about it, looking up at the sky, my host mother asking me "Is there a moon in America?" as it got dark.The neighbor's boy came by and stood and told a story of a girl who put her baby in a television box on the top of a bus, but took it down when the aparante told her it was making noise. She brought it to the river to let it go. The point of the story had something to do with "who does that sort of thing?" Then the boy said he was growing his hair rasta style so he could go to the beach and a toubab woman would like him and take him away to toubabland and he'd have plenty of money to send back here. "That's my dream, Mariama. A toubab with a lot of money. Even an old one."
And I remembered the son of another neighbor, young, handsome, tall, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and a cocky smile. I was told his wife from Holland had come so I got dressed to go meet her and found there a troll with a voice like Marge Simpson's sister. The troll had been hideously cornrowed, was sitting, being waited on by a mother-in-law a decade her junior, and which one to feel sorry for?
Docile bulls, countries with no moon, world-altering cures kept in empty water bottles, if things worked that way, I thought, I'd let my mind stop drawing the line between dreams and life. And I thought about another thing, how if someone asks you if you're dreaming and you can't answer, that you probably are, in fact, dreaming. With electric iguanas and talking boxes, waking life might as well be dreamtime