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