Sunday, November 28, 2010

Negative Nancy

(written 11-11-10)
Today marks a 10th consecutive day at site. Ever since getting back from the US I've been in a rather chipper mood and have found myself in an uncharacteristically optimistic attitude regarding my current situation. However, I think this run of positiveness is finally beginning to fizzle... something, to be honest, that I'm not too broken up about given my identity as a pessimist. One of the many things I've discovered in PC is that after 10 days at site I "hit the wall" so to speak. I'm ready to go back to the warm embrace of Segou... if for no reason other than it's possible to get a salad almost any time of the year.
So. In any case. I'm at day 10. I'm losing my optimism. This is how my day has gone thus far (it's about 2 pm)...

Last night we had a noticeable dip in temperature to officially kick off cold season. It was down in the upper 70's and I was told a few dozen people in village just about froze to death in their houses despite sweatshirts, parkas (yes, parkas), and blankets. Meanwhile I spent the night comfortably outside with nothing but a t-shirt and pajama pants and a table cloth. (What? You were expecting a cashmere wool comforter? I'm in PC.) I slept wonderfully... until 4:30 am when the call to prayer of air-raid siren loudness went off as it does every morning...
I went back to sleep until 6:30 am, when the cooking and baby crying noises coming from next door were too much to ignore. I breakfasted on cornflakes with warm powdered milk and a cup of "Liption"... which you should never confuse here with "tea". Pas la même chose I tell you!

Anyway, at 7 a woman politely invited herself into my front yard to ask for some bleach. At least she asked instead of telling me to give her some, but as I was feeling miserly this morning I told her to go buy her own bleach. After reminding me how poor she was I went back inside and resumed listening to the BBC.

After the BBC I got dressed for the day, brushed my teeth ("Lipton" will stain your chompers kids), cut myself while shaving, and then left the house. On the short trip from my house to the butiki (50 meters) I discovered termites had decided to take up residence in the wall of my latrine. I also saw a little girl peeing in the middle of the street and I almost got run over by one of the many young men around here who choose to ride their motorcycles without actually paying attention to where they are going.

At the butiki (50 meters later) I got the morning greetings and hand shakes out of the way and helped myself to a bowl of peanuts. As I was munching away I noticed a little boy to my left about 4 or 5 years old trying to play "paper shredder" with an old cigarette package and a discarded razor blade. Nothing to worry about there... Then one of the sheep from next door wandered over and helped itself to the bowl of peanuts before being shooed off. Oh, those sheep. A bit later I noticed an empty plastic tube that said "effervescent codine". I asked the shop keeper what the stuff was (even though I knew) and he said it was medicine for malaria. I guess you could use codine to relieve the fever or splitting headaches that can come from malaria... but it certainly won't cure you... But hey, at least you don't need a prescription for it in Mali even though it said right on the packaging in big, bold letters "by prescription only".

Later on I decided to take in some dusty air from a different part of town, so I went for a walk to my buddy Sala's butiki. There I ran into my counterpart as he was toying with a fluorescent light fixture powered off a car battery. I hadn't seen one in village before, so I asked what the fixture was called. The response I got was "ampule" as he pointed to the bulb. "Yes", I said, "But what is that?", pointing to the actual fixture. "Ampule", he said. "But there are two things and they aren't the same", I said. "Well, it's all 'ampule'", he said. Now I'm trying to figure out how you would explain changing an "ampule" in an "ampule"...

After my counterpart left another guy showed up that I've seen before, but I have no idea what his name is. He asked me how my American friend is and when he is coming to village. I had no idea what he was talking about as I've never mentioned a friend coming to visit. To solve this riddle I tried to get some more specific information. "Who?" "What's his name?" Unidentified villager's response: "You know. Your American friend." Oh. Well that clears that up. For a second there I wasn't sure if he was talking about the only other person in America that I happen to know, or another Volunteer. After several long seconds with a dumbfounded look on my face the conversation took a different direction.

...Which is when a woman showed up at the butiki and exclaimed, "Ah! The Tubab speaks Bambara!" and then right in front of me she turns to Sala the butiki owner and asks, "What's his name?". Ok. Seriously? I've been in Koila for 14 months now. I'm the only white guy. How haven't you learned my name yet? And how exactly do you think I've gotten by thus far in a community that only speaks Bambara? Come on woman! Use that gray mass between your ears that Allah gave you! The worst part is... I get this from someone probably every other day! Still!

After that I resigned myself to going back home to get some work done, but not before buying one of several kinds of "biskiti". They don't have names, one is jut more expensive than the other, so you say the price you want. I''d be like going to the bakery to buy a donut, but instead of saying "I'd like a honey-glazed", you simply say "Donut. Seventy-nine cents". Sometimes I'm amazed that I can communicate here at all.

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