Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My long droopy ears

Ice-cream and sushi. Mmm hmmm.

After a long-awaited and teary-eyed embrace in the driveway, mom announced that she needed to feed her Webkins, one of which (a puppy) is named after me. It had been 26 months since I saw my mother, and she hasn't changed a bit. I watched her log into the cartoon world of virtual pets and tried to get worried about the implications of such a habit, but came up with nothing particularly alarming. They are slightly cute, after all. And she gets to design their bedrooms.
Gambians, and I believe West Africans in general, have a practice of naming their children after someone else in the family or a well-known friend. This person becomes known as your "toma" or namesake. They often have the responsibilities of hooking you up with goods as a baby (a bit like a godparent) as well as checking on you from time to time. Wealthier members of the community are often at risk for having a lot of babies named after them, a stunt my own host mother pulled to guarentee some quality baby clothes. I can't say I blame her, the child (Sarjo) now has a beautiful plastic tub to be bathed in, a lot of nice outfits, and an adorable little baby mosquito net. The toma, adult Sarjo, stops by from time to time to admire the baby and maybe furnish a small gift, and when the time comes, she'll probably pay the child's school fees in order to keep up appearances, and let's face it, it's flattering to have someone named after you, even if it's an online pet.
So now I have a Webkin toma, for which my mother furnished an Africa-themed bedroom, complete with a virtual treadmill, so the puppy version of me can run around a burn up some energy, maybe take her mind off the fact that she's a virtual pet. I don't think I'll be throwing much of a baby-shower for her, but I can at least tolerate her existence since she is my namesake. Meanwhile, Colleen the original is going out to enjoy the finer points of a waning New England summer.

Oh, and I came home to find this in my local paper:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jarra on 30 liters a day

It's the eve of my departure to the US for forty days, a nice sort of Biblical length of time. While I'm thrilled to be running into family and friends at home, I have to admit that one of the things enticing me the most is the chance to shop for "necessities." I thought I'd get past that in Africa. Assumedly, living among subsistance farmers was going to rid me of materialism. I would be liberated of the need to, well, need stuff that wasn't absolutely necessary. I would return home to the U.S. and scoff at the Target shoppers towing their children along by harnesses and bungee ropes. I'll still probably scoff, but then I'll get in line behind them to buy a kilometer-high pile of new underwear, razors, shoes, hair ties, toothbrushes, deodorant, markers, snacks, drink mixes, AAA batteries, and a dozen other things that my peanut-farming neighbors neither use nor need. It's not to say that my neighbors live only with what is absolutely essential. I've seen people use two months' earnings on a new outfit and hair weave just to appear opulent at a naming ceremony, while there's nothing in the food bowl but oil and a scrap of dried fish. I'll probably never wrap my head around how people here determine their priorities, meanwhile mine haven't changed that much. I've learned to live without running water or power, without the services of washing machines and all the rest of it. But all I really do is cope, compensate by subsituting, jury-rigging, imitating the comforts of home in my own little way, safe in the knowledge that I'll have them again someday. I'll never throw my ipod into the fires of Mordor, if anything I'm holding more tightly to it than ever, because I know I have to beg Mauretanian shop-keepers to charge it for me and pray their generator's irregular current doesn't blow it up. So U.S.A., here I come. Don't cut me in line at the register.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

News of Late

Unlucky livestock or hungry season conspiracy?

  • A cow in Lower river region choked to death on a mango. No resuscitation attempted.

  • A goat in the same region wandered into an open well. Posthumously rescued while onions already frying.
  • Several chickens in my compound were seen fainting, wobbling in circles and burying their heads in the dirt. Chicken stew was politely declined by myself and visiting volunteer.

Small Hits for Polygamy

  • A woman in North Bank region bit off her co-wife's lip recently.
  • Girls learn accurate census statistics in school, question their fathers' statement that the male to female ratio of the world is 1 to 4.
  • Average age of first childbirth climbing rapidly towards 18, due to increased time spent in school, girls expected to be closer in age to their husbands, more likely to hold paying jobs, and far less likely to want to "share the love."

In their Own Words

  • "Men are superior to women because we can dig wells. Women cannot do that." - Police officer in Kiang, who nonetheless admitted that he's never dug a well.
  • "World is Ending."- Lebanese shop-keeper when asked if there were any other shoes available besides what was on the shelf.
  • " Why condemning me for treating HIV/Aids. Because, the virus has been created to kill non whites and because my medicine has the potential to make them fail their objective of eliminating the black man, they were attacking me. "- Bloggernews quoting one of President Jammeh's speeches in June, 2007.