seek and find

Saturday, August 9, 2008

31 july 2008
aside from the immensity of the overhead view, there are the new
friends, the friends that will, indisputably, be there for me when i
get a spout of malaria, to enjoy the joys of ice cream again and to
help with the inevitable set backs of life to come. there is, first
and foremost, Daniel Dayton. a lanky, handsome and charming red head
from the east coast, he immediately fell into best bud status, not
unlike Brett Buchanan did 6 years ago, or Andrew Vickers 3 years ago. we're both in environment and have a lot in
common but more importantly, have more differences than imaginable. he
is, essentially, a male version of Janna - just what i needed. then
there is Hannah, much like Saide but insanely athletic; her boy
friend is living in Burma, so she's a breed of her own. and Megan,
tiny, petite, fluent in french, wonderful. her family is from
baltimore but her fiance lives in France. she is 27, hanna and dan are
23. then there is Cassandra the great. 26, from southern california,
insanely intelligent, unsure of herself but sure about me. we live in
the same town, at least we will until sep 10, and have become very
very close. she is wonderful. smart, sassy, she and i have similar
ideas of aspirations and what we (reasonably) expect out of this...
survival and sanity being the top two concerns.

anyway, there are 75 of us now, 2 quit last week, and i'm sure 30 or
so will by march... those are the annual statistics, anyways.

i, however, will not be one of them. for some reason, whatever reason,
its not there. the quit. the give-up. the packing for home. i'm not
sure. i think if i'd have done this right out of college, it wouldn't
be so easy (and i don't mean, in any way that it is easy, but... well,
i don't really know), maybe it wouldn't have been so sure. there is an
end in sight. each little goal, realized or failed, is still a
triumph. you know?

17 strikes and a flat tire

its amazing. honestly, i'm in awe everyday. of myself: my
weaknesses, my strengths; of the culture, the shock, the food, the
weather, the immense amount of information that we must, must get a
hold of, the fear, the joy, the aspirations, the dirt... all of it. its
the little things that terrify me, bring me to tears and the big ones
i know i can take. the little ones seem to be snowballing, but its
going to be ok. i know it is.

for example, the little things: cockroaches crawling out of the
nyugens (the so called toilet - which is a hole in the ground, too
small for 100% success) saying hello and freaking me out, crawling
quickly, mischievously, and adamantly towards the source (me); the
immense amount of black flies and mapping out where they've been,
where they're going and what they carry (from a pile of wet trash or
heaping mound of poo to the market to the meat to the "kitchen" to my
bowl to my spoon to my bed... its not pretty); the fear of disease and
the crazy amount of opportunity for transmission, regardless of my
attempts to avoid, disinfect and destroy.

the big things, the ones that have been crushing, have been cultural,
and so extreme i know no other way of self treatment than to share. i have shared this story with the proper peace corps authorities and with my training group. i have found that it offers everyone comfort, in one way or another.

after meeting with 3 other town's worth of PC trainees for a beer in a nearby village, story telling and solidifying our friendships, we headed to our homes. one last hug from daniel, one last smartass remark to jon burgess and we're off on our own to revel in our recent past and captaive freedoms. i arrived home before sunset, took a cool bucket bath under a large pink sky and enjoyed reminiscing of that recent past and imagining those events in the future.
after emerging questionably clean from my bucket bath and already sweaty, i sat with the family, the whole family, all standing, sitting, squatting around a pot of tea (an arduous and long winded task). the process is laced with patience.
the family's discussion was centered, as usual, around the mother and her wishes and fears of an upcoming trip home to Senegal. the mother is a huge woman, physically, presently and in spirit. her words bellow and bark and her eyes are always accusitory. she was worried about laeving not because she'd miss her kids or her husband, nor was it fear or ever rising prices. no, it was because she, like so many american women, was in fear of losing her husband to another woman. of course, in this polygamist society, this is a very rational, legal and normal occruance and fear.
even though i could barely understand, even in french, it was such a familiar topic that i found myself laughing and semi taking sides in the argument that ensued.
then, not unlike a US family discussion, matters darkened rapidly.
the mother of the HomeStay family with whom i must live with until august 10th, in the audience of the 11 person family and myself, beat a 3 year old girl, openhanded on the back, until she vomited, then forced her to clean it up with her hands, and
feed it to the dogs. the 3 year old, Kia, who has proven her title of "baby of the family" time and time again, suffers from chronic bronchitis and plunges into coughing fits unexpectedly 4 or 5 times a day. crying sobs and heaves of inhale are the only interruptions that she allows. they don't buy her medication but instead a menthol-like cream is rubbed on her back and chest twice daily.
the beating was completely unprovoked. with obvious, direct and severe hits, the girls body's shook, my eyes welled and with those violent actions came equal and opposite reactions.

then, once she realized that the 4 brothers were
laughing at me because i was weeping into myself, literally, so
scared, so angry, so out-of-control that i couldn't move, i could
barely breath, i vomited and swallowed easily and with violent
convulsions that were unseen and inaudible due to fear of the
situation, that she took a spare tire tube off of a nearby motorcycle
and lashed everyone in the compound except for me and the father. i
tried to leave, at this point, realizing not that i was going to be
spared but that i very well may have been next in line, only to find
the father, completely calm and collected, drinking tea to be exact,
holding me down, wanting me and encouraging me to watch, to silently
participate, to do nothing.

this was around 7pm on a sunday, my first sunday in HomeStay, and with
the nearing darkness i found myself with no other options than to vomit,
sleep, vomit, sleep, cry cry cry. for the following two days, after
filing a report with the peace corps, i had to discuss the situation,
multiple times, with multiple people and with dizzying detail, until
it was "resolved".

it will forever be a part of my life in Mali, my life as a citizen of the world and my life everywhere. it will never leave me nor will i allow it to be surpressed.
it still stirrs in my mind. i don't look at or speak with the mother. i barely spend time there at all. i feel as if i should have been moved, for my own sanity, but i wasn't and feel that this experience, though forcing me to question myself, my morals, me, will make me stronger. much much stronger. we'll see.

no pearls or porcelain for thousands of miles

nothing can break a gal's spirits quite like (simultaneously) 27 cockroaches, a tummy ache, 13 days of constipation and severe humidity; except all of that while attempting to calm myself with mama's advice (find the moon and know we're looking at the same one) and finding no big, blue-white ball in the sky. loneliness. sickness. confusion. small bouts of misery. hunger. exhaustion. thirst.

hold on, syddo. hold on.

tokens of the past

after speaking with ryan* on the shotty cell phone, bringing light to my true fears and having a good, filling dinner of mushy rice and fried sweet potatoes, i am feeling better now than i have over the past 2 weeks, err, 3 weeks. its amazing the strength one can pull from airwaves, from broken english, from simply self invented narratives sprouting from familiar verses, hums, odors or tastes. although, to be honest, the familiar tastes have been limited to orange gatorade and toothpaste, at least they are both healthy and not beer or wine or other vices.
i think that it is these small reminders, tokens of the past and pictures of my future that will, in the 26 months to come, bring strength to my weaknesses and contentment to my stirs. we learn, soon, of our sites and for that i am excited. i hope to be in a small village, smaller than my homestay, for cleanliness (less people = less garbage littering the streets and waterways) and quick familiarity. i hope i get to ride a bike everyday to market, to the fields, to the gardens, to the well. to cook for myself will be triumphant. to schedule my life again will be a success everyday. to plan for my community, my family, my gardens, my projects and my future will be priceless.

* for those of you who don't know, last thanksgiving i fell in love. his name is ryan o'brien, he lives in salida with his son Fisher and his dog Tuk. he is an artist and i highly recommend visiting his webiste. he's going to be around for a long long time so you might as well put one foot in the door now.

Reality Check Rains

as tough, disgusting, intense and terrifying as things pose themselves to be (like defecating into a 5" diameter hole with nothing to hold on to, watching, helplessly, as the cockroaches swarm your feet and knowing the elevation of the forever uphill battle that i have just embarked upon) the rains never cease to cleanse the pallet. they seem to wash away worries and woes... all the while, forming new ones.
alas, as this storm hits and audibly attacks my doors, Windows and roof, i pause to realize, i'm in the world's 3rd poorest country and i have doors, windows and a roof.
thats not half bad.
in fact, i'm grateful.
the rains bring (with force) introspection. they remind me of texas. they allow me to sit in my bed and peer through my mosquito net at the lizard poo on which is stuck to my walls. fresh but not too fresh.
the crickets, almost like an alarm clock, cry out in uproar.
just before coming to bed, i ate only 4 (right handed) handfuls of dinner, consisting of rice and fishheads floating in red sauce. sick to my stomach - yes, but why? due to the disgusting, oil drenched foods? maybe. the total lack of vegetables in the diet? sure. but also, the mentality of so many aspects of this culture. child abuse is widely accepted and can be administered by anyone older than the child. animal misuse and abuse, also common practice. my own perception and projection of these personality-faults has proven an issue as well. strange, the way they revere marriage, big families and Islam yet beat and nearly starve children due to the hierarchical set up of the multi-wife system. and not terribly unlike university like hazing practices, there is a sense of entertainment, of desire and of right.
the rains take these sentiments. wash them. revive my intentions. to work. to cultivate. to assist. to be. not to change the world. not to change a system.

ah. tonight, i'll let the rain do its job while i ponder mine.

too many things, too little time

sitting on the red sand floor watching a woman sweep red sand over red sand for 20 minutes has become a typical past time here in small town Mali.

someone sounding like Dylan just came on the radio bringing me a timely reality check.

homestay, the three month training period of peace corps, has proven it self to be insanely difficult. bodily waste management in this country is terrible to realize: the nyugen (ni - ye - gan) is the malian bathroom. a low walled, 4x6ft, roofless building with a 5in diameter hole, easily missed and rarely cleaned, sits over a giant soakpit, deep, hole... needless to say, roaches reside happily here, as do snakes, rodents and black flies.
the smell, especially after a heavy rain followed by 100+F temperatures is nauseating and dizzying. the flies add a hole new level of outside when they fan your body with flaps from their thousands of tiny little filthy wings.
being the only trainee with constipation has been a godsend. granted i had to be admitted to the clinic for tests and assistance, i'm known throughout the lands as the "lucky one" for you see constipation does not desire multiple (in some cases 25 trips) to the hole everyday. nay, instead i've spent probably the least amount of time getting to know my knees as anyone else.

apologies for the vulgarity - but this is life south of the Sahel and east of the Niger.

alas, its been over a month now. at first, the noises of the language all ran together, overwhelmed my ears and troubled my capacity. exhausting, terrible, overwhelming, the language and its obvious barriers filled me with fear. at first, th sound of the rains was drowning, deafening and filled me with fear. at first, the millions of cricket chirps through the darkness was overwhelming, exhausting, and filled me with defeat.

i say at first knowing that these sounds will, too, soon pass. they will become memories. hopefully distant and understood. they will make me stronger, a deeper sleeper, a better listener, a better citizen... at first

wake up call

12 july 2008
the rains last night were engulfing. i fell to sleep with ease, surprising because of the crickets who have staked their claim on the wall nearest my headboard and have proven themselves indestructible. also, this easy to sleep phenomenon came as a self control booster shot - i can control my life in this foreign environment - though it was only my second night and i've got 27 months to go. anywho, while sleeping soundly, my E.T. pillow cushioning my chest against the fluff less mattress and the slight tick tick tick of the overhead fan (something i will soon greatly miss) there was a sudden and alarming CRACK! then the metal deadbolt'd door flew violently open and my Training Roommates and i were sure this was the end! SLAM! the door whacks the outside, breaking off a chunk of the wall, leaving a dent and a hole and fear all around. the hut shaking with either fear or shock, hannah, megan and myself fly out of bed, only to be caught in our mosquito nets, which was equally terrifying.
wide awake yet still without full consciousness, mostly due to the fear blurring our vision and the deafening static noise coming from above, below, all around; our ears cried out as did we. feeling as if i'd been stuck between two giant speakers spouting out static and white noise at concert levels, we look around for light, for consolation, for each other and flash! through our wide open door we see a flash of lightening and see the cause of this drowning noise - rain. white, giant sheets of rain are lit up and shimmer as they plummet to the ground.
the rains had come and with great fury. tree branches fell, upon our tin roof and all around outside; we three lit our headlamps, finally able to decipher what was happening inside and out, allowing for the white beams of light to reassure and comfort us in our times of terror. "at least the roof is still intact" was murmured in between crashes of light and noise.
even though we sit and sleep less than 3 feet apart, no words could be heard unless perfectly timed. curiously after hiding myself under a sheet and burying my face into the ET pillow, safety overwhelmed me, calmed me, released the fear. just like when i was 5. a deep sleep ensued.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Second Flight in Twenty Hours

10 july 2008
Our second flight in twenty days is taking us from Paris to Bamako - don't get too excited, we stayed in the airport, napped and changed pants to look presentable for our arrival into Mali, even though it turned out to be the most unnecessary change of clothes, quite possibly, ever.
The meal consists of rice and fish, something I am told will soon be my staple diet. I pass it up and go for two glasses of red wine.
Over countless Europen cities we fly, crusing at great heights through the salty air lofting above the algea green of the Mediterranean Sea - losing, every minute, my sense of balance. Onward south over the hostile, AlQueda inhabited Saharan Desert and red, seemingly lifeless, Mars-esque lands... endless red. Endless. Red. Turning my head away from the window, away from the science fiction that seems to be occuring below, I turn my attention to the seat back infront of me. A tactless, tasteless movie appears, American pop culture at its best (er, worst), nausea takes over. Again, I peer out, through one squinting eye, over my seatmate's broad, black shoulders, to the clouded and sandy view below. Almost as if testing myself to see the absolute reaction of fear, excitement, dread and passion - my face flushed, my stomach in knots, my mind races.
We begin our descent.