1 June 2009
DISCLAIMER: this blog is mainly intended for those of you who might have some sweet tea, or tree oil, or root-beer that can cure nightmares. This is not a blog to inspire sympathy… although if it does it must be the first time you’ve read this blog and I highly recommend reading on. Thank you.
There is something to be said for a culture that doesn’t allow public tears. It is not against the law, mind you, it is just absolutely ridiculous unless someone has died, right then, and possibly in your arms. Although I strongly agree with personal boundaries and the such, these are not people with similar ideas of “publicly appropriate” much less “personal.” Allow me to explain: children poop in public, not in diapers, but through pants with holes cut in strategic places, into open sewers where rats, mice and toads live. Old Men have been seeing doing similar acts but with a little bit more fabric to hide what they are doing. Women breastfeed openly and often the children are not even theirs. In market, while calmly shopping for lettuce or tomatoes people will grab your shirt, hair, and feet – “Buy a Mango?” They throttle down snot rockets at the doors of their mosques and bejewel the hand they use so un-hygienically to wipe. I could go on, but…
I wept on the phone, under large dark glasses, today to my Dad. Wept. Heaved. Walked. The blistering sun and wind and filth heated and lifted by both. Checked the traffic, took a breath, walked and wept some more. I’m sick with a fever and tired of Bambara; in 4 days I’ve lost 10lbs, received one really nasty email, and have eaten only yogurt whose flavor is called “exotique xx”; I’ve had three nightmares in which I die in the waking moments a death of newsworthy means, two nap-mares in which I kill people and zero sweet dreams. I’ve followed all the rules and slapped and jerked around for it. I’ve felt nothing but a void, one I cannot myself fill; it has been altogether present since March. I am suffering from depression, that I am well aware of, but the usual cure for depression is exercise and sleep – two things I cannot muster here in Mali. And medications are out of the question: this is the last place I’d want to alter my already fragile state, especially when it comes to sleep.
Now if any of you have some ideas on how to pass a sweeter night, or even just a better nap, I’ll take them all with a grain of sand. Please muster these with the knowledge that: I read only happy or at least inspiring books (no Steven Kings here), I eat at 7pm, long before bedtime, I do not drink anymore (unless I’m in the presence of Pilli, Dan, Cahill or Jon), I’m generally active, I drink Chamomile tea and cold water before bed.
Back on track… It seems as though it is inappropriate for these people to gawk, stare, laugh and poke at me for crying. I was having a terrible day, damnit. Much of which I can attribute directly to their country and a handful of their countrymen.
Alas, there must be something more than just the tears that they so abhor. But what could it be? Any given family has lost at least 2 children, most parents don’t make it to see their children’s children (and that’s saying a lot because women bear kids at 12, 13, 14), everyone has been to funerals and more people than like to admit it have been to female circumcisions. Car and motorcycle wrecks are the number one killer here in Mali (notable fact: this is something development agencies can do nothing for) so nearly every person has seen at least one – me in my 11 months, I’ve seen 3, 2 which were fatal, 1 included two small children. They go to Mosque, they have a great respect for the hand of God but do very little, or so it seems, to interact with him in anyway aside from structure and demanded prayer. Even now, just typing out the things that make me want to cry makes me realize that they truly do not tear up.
The only thing I can think of is this: the loss of control that comes with tears. For us, Americans or even westerners, it’s a sense of release but maybe that release is something they don’t want. They don’t want to feel hopeless and hopeful at the same time. Do they want to blame every action, inaction and reaction on Allah’s will and let it be at that?
How cynical can I be? I’m sure you’re all asking yourselves that, as am I, but at some point we have to wonder… why no tears? Why no responsibility? No helmets? No condoms? No mosquito nets? No clean water? The US Peace Corps has been in Mali for over 30 years, just 10 years short of their own independence from France, and even the earliest volunteers, the ones for the early ‘80s and ‘90s say they’ve gone back and visited their communities and even the simplest of actions towards healthier, longer lives, like washing your hands after the restroom and before eating, are still ignored and seen as more trouble than it is worth. What does that do to the spirit of the current PCV?
It bursts us into tears, sometimes composed entirely of laughter due to the ridiculous manner in which we live and believe that we are making a difference. A tangible real difference.
Today, I’m even a bit touchier than yesterday because today I woke up sick, again, un-rested due to terrible and terrifying dreams, and decided to walk from the Medical Clinic to the Bureau only to be stoned by a small troop of 10 year olds, peeved because, like everyone else, I did not give them the money they demanded.
What ever is a gal to do?
I feel as if I’m up a creek with stones tied to my feet.
Please don’t worry, though. I’m not too huge of a mess, I can still bring myself to eat, and bathe, and try. Although my patience and persistence are running thin, they are still running. Now more than ever, I’m trying. It may not sound like it, or seem like it, but I am.
So, who is going to give me the secret recipe for night-mare-less nights?