seek and find

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Victory is Mine...

there are some tiny victories that i would like to share with my loyal readers. things that, as they are, simply
turned my life out here in the sub saharan bush around.

victory no. 1
every evening at 5 pm i gather water in a bucket for my daily bath (i only put in this determining detail for those
who may have wondered about the status of regularity of my baths. you know who you are.). if its been execptionally
hot, 120F for example, i find that i'm not only covered in sweat, but a bit of a forcefield lies betweeen me and
the air that so dirties my skin. from head to toe, a thick, scratchable almost pealable layer coats my body. the
dander on my scalp has exponentially thickened and due in part to me always bending over, bugs (spiders and their
webs to be exact) tend to get mangeled in my thick hair. when i reach for the face scrub, which has the texture of
eggs and salt and sand - thick, gooey and gritty - i find that i need to two rounds of what the FDA won't even
allow in the USA for fear that sandpapering one's face may become all the rage. the lines of grit found on my neck
act as the necklaces that i no longer adorne myself with. the feet and lower calves, thats the real nastyness - some-
times, i'm not sure whether i'm that tan or that dirty. the line between funny filthy and just filthy has been not
only crossed, but is so far behind me that when i turn back to see it, its like a tiny speck in the far off distance.
in the US, the joy of the loofa is found in the amount of suds and bubbles that come from its tiny little head. one
squeeze of the right type of soap and boom, slosh, bam, you're covered in froth from head to toe. i need to loofa,
and all of its glorious suds-making crevaces, if only to reassure the 20 layers of sweat-sand-dirt-ick that i am
determined to go to sleep with only 7.

the pace of the bucket bath is the beauty of it. its truly a process, begining with the fetching of the water.
there is a pump in my town, one pump to provide potable water for 450 dehydrated and dirty Malian southerners.
needless to say, it breaks often, and when that happens - to the well we go! the wells, according to our in-country
medical staffers, are some of the dirtiest places on earth. especially the ones which are uncovered (er - all of them)
and although there is only one pump in my town there are 17 wells. the water that rises in the cowstomach sacks from the
depths of often times 150ft, comes one pull at a time, sloshing greyish, soupy water that, oftentimes, is littered with
waterspiders and everyonceinawhile, frogs. eewe. (those 20 layers of ick are starting to sound pretty nice, no? almost
like a protective suit... yea, thats it! my body's suit of armour. ook, back to the topic at hand.) the process continues
in simplicity with the heating and treating of the water. during the time that the water is being boiled, i take my
supplies, towel, and tape player with speaker, to the nygen and push play.

for the first 3 weeks, a bucket of water was delivered to me by a team of 4 or 5 girls, all preteen, all smiles. i didn't
know who they were, where they came from, or whose bucket i was using, but for the time being, it was a nice little
surprise and made life easy cheesy. then, one day, i decided to take a bath at 630 instead of 6 - amazingly, in those
30 minutes, the sky changes, the air ceases to bite your skin, and the temperature drops about 4 or 5 degrees - and on that
fateful day, i came to find out that the girls were not delivering bath water over these past 3 weeks, i was stealing

seeing as how the world does indeed revolve around one miss sydney schalit (soon to be sydney o'brien, ps) i assumed that
their timely, daily trips by my house every evening were, obviously, to give me a bucket of water so that i could be comforted
by the cleanliness that only exPats can appreciate and bathe when, in fact, they were meerely coming by to do their evening
greetings and made the grave mistake of showing their true colors and setting down what is a truly heavy bucket of water.

feeling the instant and insane pangs of white guilt and sudden urgency of my need for water i came to the conclusion that,
contrary to popular belief (which is that white people cannot carry heavy things, cannot find water, and in essesnce, should
have gone extinct long ago due to their innate laziness and were only saved by their inability to let any man, woman or child
go unorganized and unmanaged - sadly, true right), i could go to the well, take off my shoes, climb to the cement landing,
drop the black cowsack down, realize the actuall distance of 150 feet, dip it a few times, and pull up 6 gallons of greyish
(lucky for me no frogs, yet) murky water and tote it back to my huts where i would treat the hell out of it. followed up by
taking out a pot-full and bringing it to a raging boil then placing it in with the rest of the bucket, now treated with
1 ounce of bleach; this adds just the right amount of warmth to the whole bucket that you sense, upon suds'ing up, that you are
actually taking a bath.

in case the victory of this soapy story got lost amongst the multiple tangents taken, it was the fact that although i'm
white and filthy, i am capable of taking a nice, warm bath under a big blue, pink and cloudless sky, without problem and
now, with a lot less guilt.

victory no. 2
although time here moves slowly, it flies when one is reading a good book. the library in the Kita Stage House is pretty funny,
an obscure treasure chest of lsat books from the early 90's, jane austen novels taped together and harry potter giants
smothering the smaller steinback novels of yesteryear. its stuffy and packed to the top of the ceiling and amazingingly (some
what) organized. although the dewey decimal system has elluded west african book banks thus far, there is a bit of humor found
in the ease with which peace corps volunteers can find their way around this mess of a room. with books acting as bookshelves
themselves, there is little actual knowledge of where things are, but somehow, we manage.

i happened upon a book called The Island by Aldus Huxley. not sure if it has anything to do with the movie and enjoying the
fact that the cover acted as a bookmark, i picked it up and read the back. what i found was something special indeed: a book
that, state side, i would have laughed at and mocked the reader who surely would wear black skinny jeans, black slim boots,
and a black turtleneck at the spiderhouse in austin, smoking handmade cigarettes and demanding soy milk partially steamed in
his quadruple espresso and would sneak in a sugar cube only when sure no one was looking. this books back cover states that
"Mr. Huxley has said his final word about the human condition [...] the readers reaction will depend on his own postulates
[...] in short, can man save himself?" upon reading this heady back cover, i laughed to the tune of this "i'm going to get
my masters in english literature and only so that i can laugh at english literature while smoking my handmade cigarette and
licking up the spare particles of tabacco with a damp pointer finger" and picked up this novel of self exploration.although
there are pages made solely of adjectives, painful pronunciations and overuse of semicolons, this book, single handedly,
changed my perception, my self and truly my thoughts on the "human condition."

let me elaborate, for those of you still reading this blog, god bless you : if i had read this, say, at UT, i would have
barfed. the way its written is so that you have the option of "realizing" that you're reading it or just plain reading it.
you can be "here and now" and take in the surroundings and the smells and sometimes find that you've spent twenty minutes
of your sacred alive time with your nose in a book that telling you to go and live and live a life worth living. sometimes
you find yourself dowsed in tears, sweat and smiles. the realization that you come to, while truly reading this book, is
that your surroundings can make or break any novel. for me, if i'd read this is college, i probably would have taken up
smoking just so i could use these pages as papers and sat in my sundress drinking white wine at the spiderhouse secretly making
fun of the fellow in black. however, when sitting on a dirt floor, in a mud hut, escaping 123F heat, and sahara-red-stained
winds, in a very small village in west africa, one reads to a different tune.

there is a part of this book where the main character trips on a local drug that enlightens your senses and he finds all the
things that have plagued his life, all of his lifes baggage, all of the terrible things mankind does, whether it be to a loved
one or a stranger, he finds peace and terror simultaneously. he quotes william blake in saying "Gratitude is Heaven Itself."

for whatever reason, lying on my dirt floor, swarmed by flies, troubled by sickness, dealing with emotions that i didn't know
i had, i wept happy tears. terribly happy happy tears. wrote and rewrote this quote. gratitude is heaven itself. what truth,
what sadness, what joy, what simplicity! coming to this quote, on this floor, at this time in my life, while dealing with the
suchness of poverty, the truth of democracy, the beauty of love, the pain of sickness, all of this and i am happy. happy to have
a hut, happy to have water, happy to sleep well, happy to sweat healthy salty sweat, happy to find people in every community
who are worth time, worth dignity, worth joy.

gratitude overwhelmed. graciousness, although often times hard to come by, flooded me. many of you will get letters that spawned
from this epiphany, this moment of truth, these feelings of immense gratitude. for i would not be the person i am, i would
not be here, i would not be happy, if it weren't for the friendships i've discovered over the past 23 years, the loves i've had,
the family i come from, the goodness that is life-in-sydney-land even when deposited in the bush in west africa.

gratitude is heaven itself - and i am thankful for that.

victory no.3
in short - i can walk home from my djatigi's house by myself, without a flashlight and i don't pee my pants in fear of darkness, bugs, toads, kids, blackstranger's calling my name... i can do this.
its sounds minute and simple, but it took a month (and a full moon) before i was able to talk myself into doing it. and when i got into my hut that night
and only then flicked on my flashlight, i wondered "how did i find the strength and personal power it took to do that terrifying and terribly simple thing? damn, i'm good."
i cried, as i find myself doing often and easily, but this time, the tears were of pride. pride because this simple stroll in the dark represents a very big, terrifying stroll in the darkness of uncertainty, fear, doubt and me.

dibi te ne fe. darkness is not in me. hooray!

due to the terribly annoying nature of french keyboards, i've given up entirely on editing... apologies all around.

1 comment:

haley said...

Sydney - I check your blog weekly for updates and spend so much time at work reading it. I love reading all of your adventures and personal victories and I am so envious of everything you are accomplishing in Africa. Keep it up, friend.