I am not tracking this conversation. Someone, a man I think, sold a cigarette – no, took a charette.
Sitting with my family, a common communal activity and likely the primary setting to any and all stories I may share, is arduous sometimes. Yes, because it’s too hot to be socializing in 90+ degree weather, but also because I get so far behind in translation the gossip speeds past my game of memory, leaving me abandoned in the outfield, left to pick flowers and wait hopelessly for something recognizable to be thrown my way. Anyone who’s had to sit at the DMV can tell you, the dual anticipation and boredom is a mental exhaustion that can only be cured by laying horizontal, eyes closed, in a dark and quiet space. A retreat to my room is inevitable; however I never do so without feeling the eyes of everyone as I shut the door behind me.
Part of our cultural training for village life has emphasized the time people, especially families, spend with one another (constantly) and how often people are actually alone (never). Though my family is more understanding, at least to my face, about me being in my room, the volunteer I replaced had desensitized them to the solitude we Americans require to be decent human beings; I can’t help but feel a twinge of guilt. It may be me projecting. Admittedly, I am hyperaware – paranoid one could say – about how I don’t want to be perceived. However, in my defense, when the sun reaches its witching hour around noon, lasting until about four, the heat (the heat!) renders me incapable of following, let alone leading, a conversation more creative than: You are sitting. I am sitting. The village is great. I am trying to learn Sereer. My work is in health. America is big. No I don’t know karate. I didn’t already know your mother is my sister’s husband’s second wife. Now I know.
These afternoon siestas may be morally complicated, but physically are the very thing that allows me to refresh my day and likely the sole reason nothing lulls me to sleep at night. By the time I manage to get some shut eye after hours of tossing and turning in the pitch black of my hut, listening to the despondent cries of a donkey, newly acquired baby goat outside my window, and relentless barking of wild dogs in the surrounding fields, all of the above are transformed into a chaotic sleeping realm.
Dreams take a special kind of detour when you’re in a foreign country, hopped up on a cocktail of medication, mysterious food, and reverse logic. They range from the tragic deaths of the ones I love (at the maniacal hands of Chuckie), and the extremely bizarre, like the time I thought I was headed to grandma’s house but upon opening the door found a small child with blue hair and black skin calling me ‘maman’ and asking me in French if the toilet water is clean enough to drink. Then there are those that get so vividly close to my previously life, I can literally feel my hands grip the pleather seat with indignant rage as the taxi driver shouts back he won’t be taking me home (the quick way) through Golden Gate park but needs to swing a right on Stanyan, left on Fulton (the long way), and by the way do I have cash? He doesn’t take credit.
When I blink my eyes awake and peel myself out of bed, it feels like my body was hit by a truck. I often don’t know where I am. Old routines and past trips creep into my head. Looking around, I wonder if T is up yet and if I can get a ride into work with her. Or I’ll think to check my phone, slightly panicked that I took too long of a nap and I’ve made R wait longer than socially acceptable. The bed feels different and the light from the window is too far…but when my senses come to, all I see are the ways I’ve attempted to make this hut my home. The bright patterned clothes and piles of to-do, to-learn, to-remember notebooks. A floor with newly formed ant farms. The water filter with a piece of duct tape bearing the name “Walter” and the slightly oversized Chaco shoes Z teased me for buying – so cliché, he claimed. Ah I remember now, the new life. Thus, another day begins and as I gather my thoughts around what that entails, the strangeness of my sleep and the slight depression of homesickness and confusion it has created, dissolves as I step out to my garden to see if the chickens ruined my new bed of vegetables. It isn’t long before I hear the women chattering over my fence, which means I should open my door soon to greet my family; a process that entails handshakes, curtsying, and lying that I had a good night’s sleep.
A word to my 8 faithful readers (3 friends and 5 family members) who read all this. I apologize if you’ve tried to set up a time to Skype. If you’re wondering when I will get internet next, to quote my friend and fellow PCV, “Who’s to say?” Time is a little more fluid when life is dictated by the sun and when you have to walk a few miles to get electricity and internet. Additionally, given how hot it is, I really only have about three hours in the morning and the three hours in the evening to be doing anything remotely productive like walk a few miles to get electricity and internet. Factor in getting stopped multiple times to greet and make small talk, the chance the supervisor of the school computer room will be in a bad mood and lie that the internet is broken, or that I don’t feel comfortable enough to take out a relatively ancient though expensive looking but not actually expensive (in America) Apple product around a group of rowdy teenagers – I figure the online world can wait a few more weeks. I could plan on “interneting” you the 18th but when that day draws near, will find out there is a village meeting that day or I need to shuffle things around to make something else possible later down the road, thus sacrificing our scheduled holy day of communication for the sake of being a good volunteer. But then another thing will get shuffled around and turns out I need to be in a major city tomorrow, giving me the opportunity to pop into a place with wifi for a few hours, hopelessly attempting to skype or facetime anyone (ANYONE) up at 2am PST/5a EST on a Sunday.
I’ll get the hang of it soon, but until then I appreciate your patience. And if you’re really itching for a conversation, write me a letter and I’ll do the same. When’s the last time you got something in the mail you actually wanted to read? Pen Palz 4 lyfe, remember?