Thursday, May 30, 2013

Baron von FlyBeak


I’m sure it’s not possible to explain the last few nights, but I’m going to try. I’ve come out of them a different person, and I think it’s worth at least trying to share.

It all started with a storm. The rainy season is finally here and it’s kicking all kinds of ass. Roof ass, dirt-road ass, my ass, tree ass, and (most applicable to this story) baby owl ass. Coming to school the morning after this asspocalyptic storm, I met two children in the road having fun— which is never a good sign. They were dragging around what appeared to be a cotton ball tied to a string. They said the storm the night before had blown it down. “Give me this!” I thought on the inside of my head. “Semre mi Anyifu!” is what I said outside of my head.

Having been towed around on its cotton ball face, the guy was a little worse for the wear, but his inner, sleepy nocturnal beauty chopped off my ability to not love this creature. “I shouldn’t, I can’t take this home,” was my first thought. “I wonder what I’ll name it…” was my second.

The little guy, who I soon dubbed Erol and nicknamed Baby Beak, wasn’t as healthy as I would’ve liked at first. I got him on a Thursday and, distressingly, had to leave my village almost immediately for the weekend. I left him with a student to care for, and, morosely, assumed he would soon be in a hole next to the baby deer and baby chameleon I’ve tried to save. My morbid baby graveyard.

So my excitement was understandably boundless when I returned Sunday evening and a naked child ran up to me saying, “Anyifu amua O bana!” Which is always good to hear, right?!

From what I gathered the kids had thrown it up into the attic of their house and it spent several nights wrecking shop and tearing all the bats up there into bite-sized bats. So I went to investigate with an ever-growing army of naked child soldiers. A naked child went up into the dark attic and came down still naked-- but with an owl! “Momo-yo!” I remember saying to the naked child.

Night 1:
The guy didn’t fly that well, but he still had managed to wing his way onto the handle of my bike parked in the corner of the living room. The sun had given up on the day and the eyes of my new boarder were starting to sludge their way open. He reminded me of waking up in the early a.m. when I was little to go hunting. “Jaaared… Jaaaaaaared… let’s go kill baaaaambi.” And goodness knows Baby Beak was in a hunting mood when he woke up.

I had engaged in my ritual evening wash- my back porch is relatively secluded, and it’s there I disrobe and gleefully splash water out of a bucket onto my dirty (that’s not a tan) bod. My dirty bod was just starting to glisten in the moonlight when I heard the most unearthly, “SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.” It was Baby Beak screaming inside. Luckily I was wearing my Battle Suit (the nude) so I confidently strode into my living room to investigate this new sound. It was mayhem.

I keep a tight ship, you understand? Dirt on my floor bothers me. My clothes are kept folded. So the sight of a swarm of bats possessing the inner sanctum of my house rankled me. Where the bats came from, why they would pick the only night a predator had inhabited the room to come, and where are my pants, were all questions that I quickly dispatched. Now was a time for being bold, not think-y.

Team Human and Owl:
Weapon of choice: Broom (+3 range, +2 agility, +4 style: it’s pink)
Teammate: Fledgling Owl (+30 death talons, +25 razor beak, -2000 Doesn’t know how to hunt)

Vs.

Team BATtle: (information unavailable due to shield of pure evil)

After the feathers/vile-leathery-wings settled, there were three casualties- two bats and my sanity. I eviscerated a bat and laid it as an offering in front of Erol. His antics during the fight had been restricted to crazy hopping, swooping past my head to knock over all my candles, and that insane hissing, but I decided he still deserved some of the spoils.

Night 2:
I was a bit worried about Baby Beak. He hadn’t touched the bat and I was wondering if he’d actually eaten at all in the last week or so since I’d had him. Somehow he learned how to fly like a pro in the middle of the night and increased his elevation to reside on a shelf above my back door. There’s an interesting Lebanese man in my village right now (Shaalti Massoud, a famous Oud player that’s touring Africa for giggles) and when I ran into him down near the river we had a conversation something like this:

Me: “Hey, cool technicolor green snakes wrapped around your wrist.”
Not Me: “Thanks, wanna touch them?”
“Yeah, what kind are they? I’ve got a baby owl. Wanna come over and see it?”
“I don’t know what kind. I don’t think they’re poisonous though. We should feed them to your owl.”
“That’s definitely the best idea I never would have had. Let’s do it.”

Fast forward to midnight. I’m hunkered down. Literally, I’m as hunkered as I’ve been in my life. A pubescent owl is screaming back and forth across my parlor, nearly extinguishing the sole burning candle after every frenetic pass. Two snakes are leashed to a chair in the middle of the floor, twisting together into the strangest green ball. A frog hops through the scene, sure he’s stumbled into a carnivorous hell. The night is a long one.

Do you see the feast I’ve gathered and set before you, my Baby Beak? Trust your instincts! HUNT.

Total failure. The night/early morning ends with me holding a peeved owl, force feeding him fish morsels and dripping an oral rehydration solution into his extremely sharp beak. The snakes I released the next day and the frog was never seen again.

Night 3: The Finale: Not with a bang, but with a whimper

He’d been sleeping all day while I was at school teaching. His torpor was more than entertaining and endearing during the daylight hours. He hadn’t really been becoming active till well after dark. Reclining on my back veranda watching the slow-glow of a dying day to my left and a percolating storm on my right, the strangest feeling happened to my head. If you’ve had an owl strafe past you and take a little piece out of your shoulder with its talons, you know the feeling I’m talking about. “Since when did Baby Beak turn into Baron von FlyBeak???” The thing took off like a real ace into the thick jungle that climbs the hill behind my house. I spent some time trying to track him down, all the while mindful that it was in the same area where I’d let my prisoner snakes go earlier that day. His “SSSSSSSSSS” became fainter though, and I decided I’d fully rehabilitated him in a week and he was going off to tell the other owls of my kindness.

That’s my baby owl story. Sorry I took so long to tell it, but I’ve got a lot of time during these computer classes I teach to write. The combination of the solar panels that UNDP donated to my school and my recent acquisition of a mobile modem has brought the power of internet into my swampy village. I figured I’d use the WWW for what it was meant for—frivolous rambling.

Snails


Snails don’t have hands. Can’t you imagine how much trouble they’d be in if they did? They feel danger and pull back inside, divorcing the world for the safety of their swirled, calcareous shells. How comfortable it must be in there—where threats are reduced only to clicks and scratches on their walls as they embrace themselves, layer on top of layer. Now, give that snail hands and its trouble starts. Danger is coming, but it’s holding on to something it’s spent energy to approach and eat—it’s invested. There’s no room for two in the singular safety the snail enjoys, so it exposes itself and holds the connection while its hand is chewed, pecked, or smashed off. It’s a snail so the hand grows again, and, inexorably, danger comes again. The hand grips tighter this time, that first want mixed now with frustration and defiance. Another hand lost.

How many repetitions of this predictable show play out before the snail stops investing? How many times can you invest and fail before your hands stop reaching out?

Humanity isn’t defined by the opposable digit with which you can so efficiently manipulate your environment, or by the bipedal manner with which you move toward food, shelter, or a mate. You’re not able to weigh humanity on a scale against the tenants of a government or an exclusive religion, and a monument or structure can hardly be said to be a bottle for it. Humanity is a verb. Not a stagnant noun, but a kinetic reaching to form connections—pulling and supporting. Being intangible precludes it from being destroyed, but doesn’t prevent inhumane actions.

A decade past, during the war in my current country, pregnant mothers were eviscerated, their intestines used as ropes to cordon off roads—but not before bets were placed on the sex of the unborn baby that was torn out of the mother. Nails were driven through the genitals of village elders and they were given the choice to tear themselves and escape, or be shot through the head when their captors returned. After watching their families murdered, fathers were forced to rape their daughters and then had both hands cut off to make it harder to kill themselves.

It’s absurd to think horror can diminish humanity in the least though. It’s connections not only streamed around the depravity of that war, but through it. I’m incredibly humbled to work with one Rev. L. J. Bokarie at my school. During that difficult wartime, he took in twins whose mother had died in childbirth. Traditionally seen to have bad spirits that killed their mother’s, they’re usually abandoned by their families. When his village was attacked, the babies were taken to hide in the jungle. The soldiers pursued them and the babies were smothered to death because their cries were leading the soldiers to the hiding villagers.

Rev. Bokarie took in three more orphans after that, and each, one by one, eventually died in the war from disease or brutality. How could someone do that? Any animal would fold after that much painful conditioning. Put your hands in your pocket. Give up on connecting.

Humanity is what reaches out, over and over, to connect, to pull, to support—even when horror repeatedly burns your hands. Don’t be a snail.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Getting There

I went mining in my foot earlier this evening. I think tweezers were called for, but I chose the more rugged, traditional blade. Now on the back porch, laptop in lap and clean water in hand, I can finally put two thoughts together without the distraction of infection’s signature throb. The red, setting sun is turning the ointment globbed on my foot into a sangrial re-run of just twenty minutes ago when Knut poked his head in to look at my scarlet foot before trotting off in his own unaffected way. I’m afraid living with me the last several years has undermined his faith in our specie’s competence.

By the way, it’s good I can string thoughts together again. The Peace Corps gave me plenty to think about earlier when they sent me my official Close of Service date, July 30th—exactly three months from today. I have a stylish escape planned from Sierra Leone via Cairo, Luxor, Giza, Bangkok, Ko Phi Phi, Patayeh, and Seattle, but for now I’m more concerned about how to hold the door open for my replacement volunteer—whoever that might be—while I bow out. I have vague sketches in my mind of presenting a cola nut to the paramount chief, end-of-year events with the school staff, and giving away everything in my house that won’t fit in the two bags I’m taking stateside. Three months is a while still, but I had sad-stirrings when I picked up my little friend, Sunday, and thought about three months and one day from now.

I’m sure I’ll be ready to escape from the rainy season when the time comes though. Signs that the dry season is crackling its last are too obvious to miss. The mangos dripping off every tree are burning orange like feeble imitations of autumn leaves, and even tonight as the evening’s slow glow dies to my left, the phrenetic lightning of a faux-storm is flashing on my right. The rainy season always sends out feeler clouds, like a pipe gurgling before it spews out that first dusty water.

My nights have been hacked-up episodes of Masterpiece Theater lately with all the dreams the warm weather has been giving me. The fruit bats are having fun with my sleep too, knocking mangos down from the higher branches so the snik-snik-snap-womp of their falling wakes me up from old college classes, drags me away from flirtatious encounters on a sunset bridge, or interrupts a rehearsal for a musical I’ve somehow ended up in. I can’t complain too much though, I ran into one of the volunteers from my staj recently who was in Freetown solely to escape his own sleeping problems-

“Hey, what’s up? What brings you to town?”

“Oh… just had to get out of the village. Having problems with the goats.”
                      
“…ya say, goats?”

Apparently the goats in that village engage in extreme nocturnal copulation just outside the volunteer’s bedroom, preventing any kind of meaningful sleep. Pens were built. Town meetings were held. Still the goats loudly found ways to carry out their amorous campaign of sleep-depravation. Apparently one can only take so much of a goat sex soundtrack before breaking. Move over Waterboarding.

So because nothing more normal than raucous goat romping has happened lately, let me explain how I battled with a beast the other night:

I mean, there I’m laying, my aforementioned cacophony of dreams keeping me busy, when I’m quite literally clawed out of slumber by Satan’s lap pet. “Is that innumerable sulfurous stalagmites falling on my shoulder?” Is my waking thought. “Ohhhh… good. I found the Headless Horseman’s gruesome head.” Is my next thought after clicking on the flashlight I always sleep with, hand-ready.

Cross a carnivorous squirrel with a dead rat, give it the face of a road-killed hampster, glue tufts of fur on its whip-like tail, then paint discordant gray and white patterns over its rotted body—this is my foe. Are those clusters of cutlasses? No, just hell’s teeth.

The ensuing battle is on-par with the fabled bear/shark showdown the world will never be fortunate enough to behold. Thankfully I sleep in the full nude, so I’m already wearing my Battle Suit. The Beast’s hiss is answered by my war shrieks, it’s infinite, boring eyes deflected by the pillow I hold up as a shield.

Not being able to climb sheer walls, I remain ground-bound as the Beast leaps and postures, dodging my hurled shorts and t-shirts I had the foresight to leave laying on my bedroom floor. Scrambling away from my onslaught, the Beast was fortunate enough to find an open window and escape, giving one last toxic scream before disappearing into the dark maw of night. “Victory?” is the trembling thought that eventually lulls me back into a fitful sleep.

And because the shower (I try every now and then) just opened up downstairs in the hostel, let me conclude this post with something completely unrelated. These are some wise words my principal used to advise students at a recent morning assembly:

“If you only knew the meaning of the word ‘Marriage’ you would never desire this! Be you ugly or handsome, marriage only makes you become more ugly. You are forcing your face into unnatural positions and beating on it trying to figure out where you will find food to feed your children, where you will find money to fill your debts. And then from all this worrying you get Hypertension! And then you die! This marriage has killed you.”

Not that getting married and having a pair of goats tied up outside was ever an end-dream for my life, but I’m glad I’m learning what pitfalls to avoid when I go home in three months.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Christmas and a Visitor

Yesterday afternoon some “Old Boys,” or alumni of Scarcies Baptist Secondary School, came to visit. Their mission was to, generously, present scholarships to twenty students. There was a corresponding alumnus for each scholarship, and each of the twenty stood to be introduced before making a short speech in Temne.

Twenty minutes later, after the third alumnus had been introduced, the possible length of this meeting made itself scorchingly manifest. Having no venue large enough to hold the student body and attending guests for the event, we were using the great outdoors as our meeting place. The sun, incredibly bored of its staring match with solar panels somewhere, sat down directly on the meeting to watch. As the next two-minute introduction for the next five-minute speech began, the first bead of sweat slipped under the collar of my dress shirt, whispering, “Best inflate your water wings—for I am legion.” A large chicken tied up in a black plastic sack squirmed on the concrete steps of my school, either excited to be eaten after the proceedings or as equally disturbed as I was by the unbroken stream of solar radiation.

Given my comprehension of Temne shuts down somewhere around 90F, I turned inward for entertainment. Having just survived the most eventful winter break of my life, I had plenty to think about and relive. Like that one time…



“This is by far the most radical thing I’ve done this week,” is what I would have said if I didn’t have a gummy regulator plugged into my mouth. The oxygen-rich air it had been forcing down to my alveoli would have been missed if I had taken it out to talk, so I kept it in and my little heme trucks kept shuttling oxygen to my brain so I could appreciate the view. I was hovering like an awfully bulky, male tinkerbell over a handful of cannons that had been inconsiderately spilled out over a cartoonish ocean floor. Whichever Spanish warship had wrecked there however long ago had left a real project for nature to settle down.  Entropy had planted sea fans then spackled coral across the whole picture to soften the manmade curves and lines. An anchor I had at first mistook for an underwater redwood lurked in a blue corner of my vision as I twisted to look up at a bright glass ceiling ten meters above me. “Radical,” I bubbled.

Now since I wasn’t quite deep enough for the pressure of the water to force Nitrogen out of my tissues into my blood stream, I reckoned I might make it out of this alive as long as I exhaled during the ascent. Or else my lungs would burst and I would have difficulty talking about how great all this was.

The little mermaid and all her fish friends surged around the outlines of underwater features in yellow-silver sprays as I gurgled back up, greeted on the surface by the primal outlines of the Banana Islands. Sarah’s bright face, made slightly goofy by the Cyclops characteristics of her mask, swam up out of the water near me. Alusine pulled our tanks inside the launch—narrowly missing setting them down on a chicken in a black plastic sack.


What?

No, that plastic-swaddled chicken was in the now. In fact, it was doing an admirable job of flapping its waddles violently, dissipating its own thermal misery into that of the ambient misery. Thoroughly lusting for that chicken’s waddles, I observed about half the line of the alumni had had a chance to speak. The sweaty squelch in my shoes was reminiscent of the flippers I had just been wearing in my mind, and with that I wandered off to another of the more entertaining places I’d been recently…



No rocks or poop missiles had been rocketed at me yet, but I was coiled to pick Sarah up in an instant and use her as a small, brunett shield if any projectiles were napoleoned at me. Something about it being feeding time for the residents at Tecugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary had distracted them from the offensive our tour guide had warned us about. Then again, the tour guide had been saying a lot of crazy things this afternoon.

Like: “A chimpanzee is five times stronger than a grown man.”

“Ridiculous. Absurd,” I thought to myself, “I could totally take one. They’re merely adorable, furry children.”

“For example,” our psychic guide continued, “when our chimpanzee Bruno escaped into the wild, he ripped both arms off a man. Then killed him.”

Well I didn’t know about all that, but I did know this place was about the most entertaining thing to watch since that “Pipes” screensaver. They had the Chimps graduated into five different stages, progressing them from individual containment to communities in semi-wild enclosures. After the tour, Sarah and myself retreated to our lodge, tastelessly named “Bruno,” where Mabinty met us and prepared, without a doubt, the best dinner I’ve ever eaten in a chimpanzee sanctuary.

The Chimps apparently didn’t have a curfew and must’ve been having a late-night, wild game of Cribbage or Fling Poop, because they kept up their yammering and yelling till late. So loud… don’t they know people are trying to have a peaceful evening?



Oh. That yammering was actually coming from the students as the names of the twenty scholarship awardees were read off. While they were called forward one by one to receive a gift of education that would unalterably change their lives, I thought how great it was the alumni were taking care of their own. Then I stopped thinking ethereal and started thinking practical- the chicken had managed to roll/flop its way into a patch of shade. Shouldn’t I be able to manage that too? I glanced sidelong at an inky black pool of cool pleasure. “This isn’t Hades,” I thought, “I can do this.” And so slowly I started a tactful, side-ways shuffle through the sweating crowd while remembering how intimidating another recent trek had been…



Every New Years day, the paradise known as Kabala cradled in the rocky features of North-East Sierra Leone is inundated with avid holiday celebrators. An ‘outing’ is held with huge stacks of music-screaming speakers, vendors selling everything from beer to biscuits, and thousands of revelers dressed to impress. The thing that makes this different from a fair at your local, barely-sanitized county fairgrounds though, is that it’s held on top of one of the rocky mountains that spring up like earth-tumors around Kabala. All the speakers, generators, gas to run those generators, every bottle, can, package, five-gallon container of palm-wine, and person has got to make it up that pathless, roadless mountain.

Standing at the base of this mercilessly rocky tumor, slight apprehension could be read in the eyes of the other volunteers Sarah and I were with. Or heard, for that matter, via tympanic membranes vibrating with soundwaves at the frequency of something like, “Up that? You’re kidding, right?”

The climb killed exactly zero of us though, and after a forty-minute attack we reached the wide, bald peak. After a really great meal, served up by Abu, we were content and free to spend the remainder of the day people watching as the bald spot was populated with brightly dressed hairs whose main concern was enjoyment. When we started our descent in the late afternoon there were still people streaming past us up the mountain, drawn by the continuous thumping of the black lump of speakers.


Streaming past like all these people walking past me right now. The scholarship presentations were finished? Oh well. I missed pictures? Dang, tough break.

I gave a nod of encouragement to my friend/chicken as it was picked up and ushered to a stew somewhere, then fell back to the staff room with the other teachers. It was time for our staff meeting that we hold at the beginning of every term- this one was promised to be relatively fast and indeed only lasted a nudge past four hours. Ripe with too many other great memories to replay though, I felt like a bandit smuggling a good time into an otherwise dull affair. I came out of my reminiscing haze only to give a summary of a recent conference the Peace Corps volunteers orchestrated for female students, and then again for my customary plea that the school not use such big sticks to beat our students with quite so often.

I doubt if I could have churned out so many great memories in so short a time if my friend, Sarah, hadn’t been visiting. Having a fresh American set of eyes around made me appreciate the quirks and qualities of this country again (Woah, we suck water out of bags here. I guess that is a little weird), and having her personality around made everything a bit more entertaining (Sarah, that’s not your baby.....No, I don’t care how cute it is, it’s illegal to take that home). It’s also worth mentioning that about a thousand people, my school’s population, think she’s a superhero now for bringing over some teaching aids and other resources for Scarcies. I’d readily agree with them. The mention of Isha (Sarah’s name translated into African) these days is enough to plunge my staffroom of teachers into a giggling torpor. Please clean that drool off your chin, Mr. Kamara.

I hope you all came out of the Holidays with as many good memories.

Advice

Man this guy was upset with me. I remember wondering, since I didn’t even know the Temne word for ‘mother,’ how I had offended him to this degree. It was late at night and I was looking for a fourth meal—my panacea for which, when in Makeni, always being the delicacy some crudely refer to as street meat. Using trans-cultural grunts and nods I ordered three spears of sizzling something then looked around for bread, cotton balls, or a mop to control the expectant salivation sloshing into my mouth. Then it happened. One second my friendly midnight vendor is saying, “Thank you for buying my product of exceedingly questionable origins,” and holding out my change, the next he’s babbling and acting like I ate his all his Cap’n Crunch then poured the milk out over his head. What gives, Street Meat Guy?

Juvenile Jared of the time forgot that you’re not supposed to accept things (like change) with your left hand. That hand is considered unclean for reasons that are about to become too obvious to you when you consider the ramifications of toilet paper not existing in many parts of the world. It seriously offends people. Rooky mistake, fetus Jared.

Now I’m sure that someone sometime had given me some advice that, had I heeded it, would have made my midnight transaction much more pleasant. I’ve collected and been assaulted with different flavors of advice here, mostly helpful, but with an occasional lemon thrown in.

Free Advice From Me, A Foreign Native:

Do not steal. I remember watching out the window of a transport with Josh as this kid ran down our street, a fog of fists leaving a comet-tail of pain behind him. He’d obviously stolen something and in this culture you’re perfectly allowed to do that- providing you aren’t caught after. If you are, punches might be the least of your worries. I recalled, as the boy was completely knocked off his feet by a punch copied from Rocky III, that in Makeni (a rough town now that I really think about it) a thief was killed by the townspeople… with limes… that were shoved up his… ahem. (I’d argue this practice should be stopped due to the probable creation, via natural selection, of a super-race of thieves. But as far as I know they’re still liming away, aggressively selecting against the slow and unskilled).

Do not turn the ringing volume on your phone down. Ever. Any adjustment of volume should be in a positive direction. The only time you are allowed to silence a ringing phone is when you are adjusting the volume. Which, of course, is to say turning it louder. If when purchasing a phone you notice it only has a ‘startle immediate neighborhood’ setting, walk away from that child’s phone and get one with the ‘bleeding eye-sockets’ function. If environmentalists come to you mumbling about that adorable species of bird your phone sent to extinction, show them the newest music video you pirated—and make sure your phone is set on ‘thermonuclear.’

Oh, and remember to count to a hundred before answering your phone if it detonates during a meeting.

Talk to everyone. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made friends that were seated near, under, or on me in a transport that have proved to be extremely helpful. After making acquaintances with everyone, you’ve got a private army to back you up if there’s any kind of problem later—the taxi man tries to con you, someone attempts to walk off with your bag, you need the driver to pull over so you can use the bushes, or any other crowd-ruled situation. Also talking to people here is just good fun. I’m going to be an absolute pariah when I go home and am trying to chat up that guy on the bus.

Make sure to wear a fur-lined parka in February. All the motor cycle drivers here wear coats that would make Jacques Cousteau jealous. You have to understand, it gets bitterly cold during the harmattan season, temperatures sometimes plummeting into the low seventies. When rivers evaporate and trees combust in the afternoon you’re most likely safe to remove your arctic garb, but when the rubber soles of your flip-flops re-solidify in the evening make sure you’re near a forest fire or a freshly slain Yak you can crawl inside.

Don’t eat that. If someone specifies a food item as unfit to eat, I can’t emphasize enough how you need to remove yourself from the vicinity of that object.

If a man with a hairy chest is laying face down on the floor of a house, do not beat him. I repeat, do not beat him. Or else the household will have problems for generations. Hairless men are fair game. As well as haired men for that matter, providing they’re face-up. I’m unsure about hairy men that have shaved chests. But just probably don’t.

Don’t throw children into the air after dark or witches will steal them. Or devils will steal them or witches will eat them or something like that. Just keep your children on terra firma after hours.

Keep a lime in your pocket. It was fun learning about witch guns until I learned I’d never understand them. A man showed me a fistful of witch-gun bullets yesterday and they looked strangely like graphite chunks taken out of a pencil. Anyway, I guess the little things are deadly if the medicine man is an accurate shot, so best keep a lime in your pocket and you’ll be invulnerable. (You could also end up being the life of the party*).


So those are my few pieces of advice I’ll share for now. If you find yourself getting hollered at or having a machete waved in your face, I’d say call me—but then again I suppose it’s not advisable to use your phone in public unless you’re carrying citrus. Thieves like to smack the phone-side of your head, pick up the phone, yell that you’re not being a good wife/husband/lover, then disappear with the phone as you’re deciding whether to apologize or pout.




*See: Do Not Steal

Saturday Night

The doldrums of ‘another village Saturday’ had oozed in on me. The morning had been entertaining enough—I had taken transport with Amara to Masampe to go on a monkey hunt—then returned in time to cook a large lunch. I had marked or melted all the tests that cover my house like snow after exams, and having just finished This Side of Paradise I wasn’t wanting to pick up another book right away. I decided my afternoon activities must lay out of doors somewhere, so I passed time visiting with neighbors till the sun started to fall. I have a walk I like to go on in the cool part of the day, so I made my way down to the abandoned rice-processing complex where bats hide in the echoing buildings till dusk.

Being the dry season, it’s not uncommon to hear the bush societies testing their drums for a night of ceremonies or rituals as the sun goes down. This evening was no exception, and the popping started, sporadically, as the last of the birds found their perches for the night. I made my way back towards home thinking that the drumming was irregular. As I neared Morbaya, my neighborhood, the pounding became louder until I was passing a field of torches. Previously the football field of a primary school, fire and music had transformed it into a different kind of arena—the torches describing an ellipse around what would take me volumes to describe if I could manage to find the words. I stood and watched with the rest of my village for three hours before making my way home and going to bed, the drums still following their patterns in through my window.

I remember thinking that these are the things I don’t take pictures of. It wouldn’t make sense to. I don’t want to remember this as a snapshot, only as wide as the camera’s eye. I don’t want this blur of black muscle and ecstatic dance to be reduced to a cemented face and frozen form. Faulty memory turns torches redder, makes the half moon smolder and frenetic movements bolder. Which is how all this is meant to be taken in and kept—as a living, rich memory and not a frieze. This dance and its affectations aren’t for entertainment. This isn’t done so a man wearing a costume can have money thrown at his feet—all this show is to invite and invoke everything that exists outside of walls. This devil hasn’t left the bush to tell its story with dance, but has brought me to a torch lit place inside itself and pulled into this form from vines and jungle floor. I don’t want to remember that the devil’s right antler forks then twines, and I don’t want to be able to count the polished shells cascading through the thick green tufts on its back. I’m glad my weak mind will blend and distort it all until it’s a kinetic memory of how a breathing jungle interacts with us, it’s tolerated guests. Instead of as urgent beating on carved drums, the interminable throbbing will be remembered as a forest’s heartbeat. Instead of breathy pan flutes, memory will record the notes as the hundred birds that whistle to each other about the dangers climbing up towards their nests. The occluding dust that the devil kicks up with its staccato movements hide it like the morning fog near the river, till it blows high enough to catch the firelight, lighting it like one of the uncontrollable blazes that rack the dry season. You can’t photograph a jungle’s soul. It wouldn’t make sense to take a picture of this.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Field Trip

“I’ve made a mistake.” I thought with something more than serious chagrin. I was feeling like my friend or I was about to die—it was my dehydrated state versus my height, but given the shiny, well hydrated mud coating my visible (and invisible) skin, I guessed the lightning would choose me as a lightning rod rather than my companion… a full two feet shorter than me.
When Ibrahim and I had started our tour of the farms, everything had been blue skies and butterflies. Knut had come on our walkabout and could only be seen like a gangly white dolphin as he arced in and out of the chlorophyll-green fields. After a fifteen minute gloppy walk away from the road across the beautiful rice though, cannon fire started in the eastern skies and an obscenely phallic cumulonimbus announced its unswervable intention to steamroll us into the thigh-deep mud.
Crossing my eyes- one pointing to the clouds, the other observing where the deep green of his well-fertilized field ended and the yellow tinge of his neighbor’s farm began- I immediately affirmed Ibrahim’s suggestion to return.
A short two minutes later, my tympanic membranes went scrambling for a bomb shelter before they were exploded. The low, dark forerunner of the perversely shaped cloud brightly connected the short distance to the ground every handful of seconds, bragging immediately after with serious boomness. Being the tallest object in a square mile, I spent a few seconds, ostensibly the last of my pre-lightbulb life, wondering if my post-jog dehydration was enough to dissuade a million volts from illuminating me. Then the rain came.
“Double time?” Ibrahim asked without a trace of question in his voice.
The rain falling felt like a marriage of the line-drive that nailed me in coach-pitch and the time I wore shorts and tanktop to paintball in. The mud turned to muck then again to mostly liquid just as Ibrahim and I reached the raised road running through the farms. Ibrahim chuckled because we were the same color, then summed everything up nicely, “This field trip has embarrassed us.”
By the time we made it back to Mambolo proper, the rain had washed most of the embarrassment off us, but somehow had left Knut incredibly filthy to create a swamp in my parlor.
I’ve been having ‘different’ days like that lately. A few afternoons ago I was desperately trying to not make Brontosaurus sounds. I had been carted off to a great location- another swamp- this one so big it disappeared with the horizon. The sun was spraying through a bordering palm forest tattooing golden globs on newly planted rice shoots. The fog heaving out of the ground lent the prehistoric feel that was encouraging my narrowly suppressed Jurassic Park reenactment.
The other humans with me were speaking deep, mumbled Temne I could understand, so I had been keeping up a steady chat with my brains. IT was boring conversation and went something like,
“This is the DEEP BUSH.”
“Yup. If this bush were any deeper it’d be poking up in the Solomon Islands.”
“Yeah. So deep.”
I’d been having such a great day, and at that point didn’t even know some kid was about to run out of the bush, give me a veritable barrel of bananas, then leap back into the bushes. A little banana ninja is what he was.
The reason for that evening’s excursion was to find a weaver in the bush that would make me enough country cloth to cover my body. Someone recently said my body is “becoming to be gigantic,” so a truly skilled artisan was called for. Such a man was only found days later- living several hosues away from me.
Ayway, with the 10-month-till-home point in my service securely passed, I’m trying to have as many ‘different’ afternoons while I’m here to have them.