seek and find

Saturday, August 9, 2008

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.

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