Living without cell phone service has more than just its nostalgic challenges. Every time I leave Xade for Ghanzi (the town here), I never know what might await me. I always anticipate getting a landslide of texts, or news that so and so went home, or my aunt died or something horrid like that. I'm never really sure if I'll have a place to stay, shower, or eat, what I'll be doing, how should I pack. I have to arrange everything at least a week in advance and hope that
things go "as planned" if there is such a thing here. I'm never sure if I even have a ride, there are no regular bus routes and the ambulance, which runs Monday Wednesday and Friday, sometimes is unable to take passengers (plus no one knows what time it will leave or get
back). I almost always ride in the back, where the floors are made of corrugated metal which does wonder to my ass which is already pretty tender from being stretched so fat over the past month and is a workout for my hips which are normally bent in such a way as to make
my legs nearly space-less in order to make room for the sometimes 10 other people in the car.
In any case, I had to go to Ghanzi Sunday night to catch the bus Monday morning (6 AM) to Gabs-- which wound up with me having to choose between leaving Friday or taking a pretty big chance and trying to leave Sunday. I chose Sunday and spent the morning bouncing like a pinball machine from office to office, house to house, tree to tree, being told that "so and so might be going", "if I wait under that tree, I'll be sure to get a ride", "this truck over there is going in
a few hours", etc. I finally got a ride on a freight truck transporting our children back to secondary school, an industrial open-back truck 4 feet off the ground which we normally see
transporting pre-made houses in the states. Luckily I was given a ride in the front, and the rest of the kids spent the 2 hour 108 km ride on a dirt road in the back, standing, laughing, screaming, and holding onto the safety bars as if it was an everyday occurrence.
Things went smooth as butter in Gabs, I was even lucky enough to get a ride and we got to see baboons, ostriches, baby springbok antelope, and your regular assorted cows, goats, donkeys, and guinea fowl. There were even baboons in the dumpster at the Peace Corps office. I kept my
distance cause they looked freakishly ugly and easy to piss off. On the way home this morning on our 108 km dirt road, we passed by a recently dead-ed animal and we all hopped out. I thought it was a wolf or something, it was beautiful dark black with grey stripes on its massive powerful paws, huge teeth, pointed ears, long thick hair, a foot long in some parts. It looked like it might have been sleeping except for the string of intestines coming out of its behind which a
vulture had pulled out. One of the guys I'm driving with pulls out a pocket knife and starts sawing at the skin around its snout, eventually pulling the muzzle off altogether, the soft flesh of the nose and whiskers waving in the desert wind as I stared at the gleaming white of the exposed skull that was left behind. One of the passengers laughs at me and asks me if I've ever seen this animal before. "No." "It's a hyena" "NOOO WAY!" Then another guy cuts off the animal's balls, tails, and finally pulls its grey tongue out of the sensitive spot under its jaw. I later find out, the cutting man is a traditional doctor and is going to use these parts for medicines. I wonder what the hyena balls are supposed to cure. After each part is cut out, one of the men takes it to the truck and tosses it through the missing window of the back where I'm sitting, I'm not sure where they land, but I sure hope it's not near my plastic bags full of breakfast cereal.
As we turned to leave, I kicked the hyena's paw with my foot and tried to imagine myself splayed out next to it so I could estimate its approximate length, 4 feet? I'd always imagine hyenas to be small, splotchy brown, with bald batches, huge ears, a mohawk and a voice
like Whoopie Goldberg. This one looked more like the werewolf from Harry Potter or Twilight... so cool...
I'm a Dick.
Well, I can finally cross off one thing on my list of "things to do before I die." A drunk woman called me a dick yesterday for not having money on me when she asked for 1 pula to buy mumble-mumble. In response, I smiled so wide I tricked myself into laughing and said, "Thank you!!"
Even though I've been exercising, I still end up eating a whole lot of crap during the day. I've developed a bad habit of mentally listing everything I've eaten in my head, and then saying things like, "well, on days that I exercise, I can eat anything I want." This morning, after eating too muh, I told myself, "well, in the mornings I can eat anything I want, but at night I'll eat a small portion of boiled vgetables." I don't know... I'm beginning to wish I'd paid more attention to my health-freak friends when I was back at home so I know just how bad my eating habits really are now.
I miss... I don't know what I miss. I miss something close to: listening to good music, collecting gadgets and improving my music and movie collection, going out to get food if I'm feeling indulgent, going out by myself shopping or movie-watching. Maybe I just miss the
states and just being present in my life there, being somewhat self-sufficient, living in my own world, living in the here and now, and being left to my own devices. Here, everything feels like an adventure that I'm having in a fishbowl, everyone is watching me to see what I'll discover next. It reminds me of having a new pet, watching it through its glass walls and hoping it'll find all the new toys and treats you gave it, seeing what funny thing it'll do or discover next. "What new Setswana word is Wame going to say next? What strange new foods will she try to eat? What does she do during the day when she hides in her little house? How will she react when we show
her the dead cow we slaughtered today?" Every little thing I learn I have to write down-- whether it is a new word or new name, a new event, an observation someone made about the community. Everything is so damn important.
I can't even come home and put on some tunes and lie on my bed or talk on the phone like I used to. The tinny sound of my once-good music wafting from my computer speakers at a low volume because I'm afraid that someone will listen from outside just doesnt seem right. I don't
even have all my old playlists, so the music I listen to is all random and mostly new. No nostalgia or comfort there. Is this really my life?
I can't figure out a good internet access system, my previous plan of writing emails at home and sending them in town isn't quite working well. The internet has been down lately, so when I do use the net it's rushed. Plus, I'm not used to staring at a computer screen for so long anymore and I literally find myself falling out of my chair when I do-- It's pretty funny. But in any case, I wanted to say that I was so happy to get some letters yesterday and I will try to return them as
best I can as soon as possible. Miles Davis, Blue in Green just came on. Couldn't have picked
something better if I'd chosen it myself.
Or should I say Way-Too-Early-in-the-AM-Sunday, 8-1-2010? happy birthday Dan, Dad, and John Rusiecki!!
Tonight is the night of our Youth Officer's going away party. It's 2am and it is still raging on. At noon today, I stumbled upon the cooking party and peeled and diced a carrots for 4 hours while watching the men slaughter, skin, and butcher a P2500 cow that our officer bought for the occasion. The cow is enough to feed our entire village of 2000 nama (meat) -loving people twice over. All day, I was consumed by cow. In the morning, I watched as a whole cow gradually widdled into nohingness, the ladies and I snacked on cow liver while the men squeezed excrement from the cow intestines and hung them to dry on the fence in the sun, I got to play with an empty cow stomach and learned the word for cow kidneys (pilo); and after a lengthy show of dancing and singing under the setting African sun, I served seswa ya khomo from a 3 legged cast iron pot over a bon fire to hundreds of villagers before consuming a small portion myself, then at 10 am I helped to marinate a 3'-in-diameter-bowl of steak, and at 1am I consumed said steak using my bare hands while standing in a crowded kitchen, serving alcohol to thirsty partyers and watching large meaty cow bones pass from hand to hand. It took me 2 tries with floss to get the beef out of my teeth, and I stink of beef fat from the tips of my hair to my
steak-juiced toes (advice: don't wear open toed sandles or just-cleaned jeans to a brie (bbq))
This morning before the cow-madness (or should I say mad-cowness?), I was washing out my bathroom rug and decided to hang it on the shower-curtain rail far above my head. This involved stepping on the side of the bathtub in my already wet slippers which consequently led to me thinking "golly, you know better" as I slipped and dumped my entire foot, plush slippers and all, into a bucket of water. Oh well, those slippers were long overdue for some kind of wash.
Note to self or anyone who would find this interesting, have the following sent:
- ipod charger
- individual sized packets of healthy powdered drinks since I'm way
dehydrated cause my water here tastes like salt and I subconsciously
refuse to drink it. I found out that my water comes from a diesel
powered double pump at a borehole about 30 km from Old Xade in the
CKGR. How COOL is that? My water source is a hotly controversial hole
in the middle of the protected part of the Kalahari Desert! No wonder
it goes out soooo damn often.
There's a moment I have almost every night when I'm lying awake in my bed and something inside me screams. It's the part of me that, like every other 23 year-old girl in America, dreams at night of who she'll be and who she'll be with when she grows up. Except at night in my pre-sleep daze, I'm shocked into consciousness by the realization that I don't have the kind of imagination it takes to take me out of this place so far from home. My project goals, my job, my relationships here are still a huge empty question mark. In Chicago, I used to comfort myself at night by thinking of my plans for tomorrow, who I'll be, what goals I'll meet, but here in these moments, I can think of nothing but the uncertainty that the next day will bring. Inside, I am
screaming, "What am I doing here? Why have you brought me here?" and guilt for the placid state of my daily living wrestles me like cowboy on a bull, keeping me up for hours after my first restless thought. Life has become so unfamiliar that I've simply stopped setting an alarm in the morning. I'm trying to learn to ride the rise, fall and often plateau of unpredictability here, struggling each day with my slow-growing ability to control my circumstances.
I've learned this weekend that my village and its children are not just the sad frustrations I'd originally thought it to be. I've realized that I was wrong about a lot of the people here. I've
realized that, even though I hide from people, when I am able to identify and take advantage of important opportunities in the right way, I learn an immense amount. The people here are wonderful, friendly, talented, smart, generous, rich, kind, caring and well organized. I've also learned the extent of my own weakness and am struggling with gaining control of my frustration with my powerlessness, guilt, and ever-changing perceptions. It's like there's another part of me that wakes me up every morning at exactly 7:30 am barking like a drill Sargent, "Get up Soldier! Get your lazy, sorry ass out of bed and go outside." Early today, that side of me forfeited
losing battle and for the first day since I've been here, I haven't once left the comfort, familiarity, and predictability of my own porch, not even to get my laundry from the back yard. I'm afraid I'm starting to get too comfortable and I'll start to get so lazy that I'll let my already small world become even smaller. Stepping outside is such hard work and when you can convince yourself that no one is watching and no one cares, it can become nearly impossible to leave the door frame.
Surprise, Adventure, and Fate, plus Legendary Backflips off of old Tires
This blog has become a little less honest than I'd like it to be. Mostly because I've been so tired lately that I've had little time to process things and spend most of my writing time regurgitating and repeating myself over and over again. This post probably won't be much different, tbh (to be honest). I'm again reminded today how wrong my first impression of New Xade was. The kids did not steal my garbage, the dogs did. And the kids are not scary and intrusive at all, they're
just curious. I put a chain on my gate but didn't even lock it, and they didn't come in. I walked through the schools and the hostels and they hung out of the windows to say hi to me by name. I asked a little girl how she got a black eye, and she told me politely "Ga ke itse" i don't know. I walked by some boys playing in front of the hostels and found out that they actually do back flips off a tire-- how awesome is that!! They were so proud to show me, and so happy, and I was probably as happy to see it myself.
After I left the hostel today, I followed a luxury truck with a white lady hanging out of it to the clinic because I was curious about who this lekhoa was in the middle of my nowhere village; she is a doctor from Germany who has come here on a free spirit to discover whatever she can about San traditional medicines and herbs. She has traveled here alone aside from her driver, she has been all around the world, she knows a great many things and knows how to do great many things, and she is staying with me for her time in Xade and I'm super pumped just to be around her and learn from her. Tomorrow, she is having a kgotla meeting (community hall meeting) to discuss what she is doing here, and, if things go really well, we might be able to take a trip into Old Xade in the CKGR to go on a medicinal walk in the bush with some San. But that is if things go really well. I'm not holding my breath, it's awesome enough that she's here. She's so impressive that Ntamo and others actually seemed shy and stupid in her presence (which they aren't at all), but they were visibly nervous and not their usual confident selves-- which makes me wonder two things:
1. Do these lovely people have a self-esteem problem (like me, so HA, they can't tease me for being shy anymore), and
2. I just blanked. Say waaaah?? Yeah I have no idea what I thought
just now, brain fart.
On another note, all of my tomatoes and onions have spoilt and started molding, which I'm totally upset about. How am I going to get through the week without tomatoes and onions? Boo.