Monday, November 15, 2010

Scenes from a PCV Life

(11-16-2010: Pictures from my counterpart's party last weekend where we slaughtered a goat. I got the honor of sleeping with the goat head stuffed in a bucket in my living room)

Scenes from a PCV Life

“Do you do martial arts?” a question I hear far too often was posed to me by a faceless voice over tea and sandwiches at a workshop today.
“Nope.” I responded, dreading the rest of the conversation
“Why not? I thought it was your culture!” The man continued.
I looked up at him over my instant coffee and chicory. “Do you dance?” I asked.
“No.” I noticed the man had an earpiece for his phone permanently glued into his ear.
“Why not?” I retorted, “I thought it was YOUR culture.” I tried to make my voice sound lighthearted, like this was the first time I’ve ever said this. What I really felt was sullen and annoyed.
He laughed. “Ahh,” he said in what was probably his best “you got me there” flirty voice.
“Ahh…” I returned, smiling and turning away. Suddenly I was very aware that I had an Asian fro and look like a Vietnamese monk.
“No really though,” he picked up his glass of fruit juice and followed after me “You don’t know Tae Kwan Doe? Karate? ...Do you even meditate?”

I waited a whopping 5.25 hours today for my ride home. My record is 5.50. The ride was physically painful, sitting in the back of the covered ambulance on the wheel, the bumpiest part of the truck. There were 8 of us total, and 2 kids, and 1 patient in real pain lying prostrate on the floor in the middle of us. I didn’t have a cause to complain after looking at his pained face during the bumpy ride. It surprises me, after how many times of doing this, that the rides just get harder and harder for me to handle. I nearly threw up as I finally unfolded myself from the vehicle this time. But as usual, the Batswana and the Basarwa handle it all with the most amazing patience. This is life, they say. Ga ke na mathata, I have no problems.

It is raining in Xade today. The thunderstorms are visible from miles away. With tonight’s half-moon, the sky looks like it is lit up by angels’ lanterns shining brightly from behind thick layers of dark grey clouds. I love the colors of a dark grey sky, each molecule of dust and water a unique combination of reds, blues, greens, every color imaginable. At one point, the moon shone just right and the trees lit up as if they were white against that rich grey sky. If you have enough patience, you can catch actual lightning rods rip through the clouds. Even if you have no patience, you’re bound to see one or two cross the horizon. I wish you all could see this.

I had to pee really badly while I was waiting for my ride and went to an outdoor toilet where I proceeded to get bitten by mosquitos on my exposed body parts. When I came back to the hitching spot, a local clothing store, the lady who works there was wearing a Santa hat. At hour five, I went to the grocery store across the street and saw a Christmas tree and a giant blow-up Santa. On my walk back, I heard a yell, “CHINA! CHINA! CHINEEEEESE!!!” in an obnoxious voice. My gut reaction was to turn around and give him the finger. I turned. It was a teenage boy showing off animatedly to a couple of girls. They were all wearing school uniforms like something out of a Japanese cartoon. My arm shot up as I reluctantly willed my body to turn away. I don’t think I’ve ever given anyone the finger. I’m not going to start today. Instead, I bit my bottom lip and just kept walking, but I did send an angry venting text to a friend which had the words “hate” “china” and “fucker” in it in all caps.

I took a bath when I got home and spent a few minutes watching the water from the faucet drip into the bath like clockwork. Drip, plop, splash, and as the water drop hit the surface of the bathwater, up would come an “equal and opposite” reaction. If only life and society were so simple, if our communities were only governed by the unbendable laws of nature. If only every reaction did indeed have an equal and opposite reaction—if only it were that easy to determine what an action’s equal and opposite were. Would the rules of Karma would follow this kind of law? Can an equal and opposite reaction be defined as “good rewarded by more good” or would it be more accurate to say that an equal and opposite reaction would mean good is balanced by evil? Is it physically possible to have a world where only good prevails?
The thunder is getting really heavy now and I’m afraid that the cell phone tower will malfunction again. This weekend, I finally qualified for “be-free,” a promotion that gives you free talking minutes on weekends every time you spend P20 during the week. I am really looking forward to that.

Scenes from a PCV Life Part II
To us Botswana PCV’s, mosquito netting is like a shield against all bad things. Our beds become our own fortresses of solitude. The plastic sheet of yellow wonder not only blocks out mosquitos, malaria, flies, spiders, dragonflies, moths and centipedes, but it also has the amazing ability to render bats, rats, dirt balls, and flying bacteria harmless. Just ask any of the 110 of us here who lie in our beds for hours on end on a bad day and think that this is just a little piece of heaven.

I woke up in the morning in a pool of my own sweat to find at least 20 tiny little mosquitos lying dead on the floor where my fan hits the mosquito net. The poor buggers got trapped in the moving air and died a horrible suffocating death pressed against yellow plastic netting only inches away from my ignorant sleeping face.

I had been looking forward to some time alone at home for days and this morning, when a little R&R was finally here, I didn’t feel as excited and happy as I thought I would. I lay in bed for a few minutes, letting misery and loneliness creep over me when I decided to get up and start doing something. The air is crisp and cool outside. There is a soft refreshing breeze. It is amazingly uplifting. As I stood outside replacing my broken gas regulator, two of my friends walked by hand in hand talking. One asked if I needed help, I said I’m ok, I’m learning. He laughed and they walked off and suddenly I felt a pang of jealousy hit me, why wasn’t I walking with them? How come no one has asked me to take a morning walk in the crisp air after a night of rain? How pleasant would that have been! Something within me, maybe pride, held me back from calling out after them and joining them on the spot in my clean pajamas. At that moment though, I fully realized a piece of advice that someone had given me last week, “have fun.” Have fun! How simple a statement, how crucial it is to service here. Have fun! I’m going to paint that on my wall somewhere. I wonder, will anyone ever come ask me to join them on a walk on a Saturday morning?

Yesterday was a day of running around, writing letters, printing and copying. I was planning on filing and distributing some things this morning when I discovered that my folder with all my important papers is gone. Sometime in the mess that was yesterday, I left it somewhere in Ghanzi. Mother fucker…

There are two dozen fruit flies living in my refrigerator. I can see the appeal. Suddenly, I wish I were a fruit fly…

I was doing some office work today at home. Because of the high rate of viral infection in Botswana government computers, I have adopted the habit of copying my files in Linux and then reformatting my USB sticks every time I am finished with them. Today, I happily watched a long anticipated, recently procured episode of Chuck on my external hard drive with a leisurely cup of instant chicory, plugged my usb stick into my computer to do some work, finished my work, and then accidentally reformatted my hard drive instead of my thumb drive. My deep internal angst could be detected by wild furry creatures for miles; the cows in New Xade raised their heads in empathetic curiosity, like deer do when they hear a gunshot in another part of the forest. “Poor little prince…” the sparrows stopped their pecking and said to one another. I realized my mistake and cancelled the process in time to halt the elimination of 200 out of 300gb of precious media, but the damage was done. I can’t access my movies or TV shows, even after hours of attempted recovery, and I’m not entirely sure that given the right tools and expertise, it can be recovered at all. I’m still in shock.

I don’t know how they get to be this way, but I keep finding little dried up and flattened praying mantises in my house. I wonder if there’s a praying mantis fairy that hovers into my house at night and stomps the living daylight out of the poor suckers.

I have had 3 visitors today. 2 of them were children carrying phones in need of electric refreshment. 1 was an adult. At least I can say that in some capacity, I am a valued member of society. “PCV” it should say in neon signs above my front door, “AVAILABLE FOR ALL YOUR CHARGING NEEDS. NO PERSONAL VISIT NECESSARY, JUST SEND A KID” In everyone’s defense, I’m not exactly the most entertaining host. Normally when people come over, we just sit there, exchange how are you’s, and as soon as my Setswana is exhausted and their English is complete, we just stare at each other until one of us ends it.

There’s a can of peaches in my fridge which has been taunting me for days. “Open me,” it says. “Eat me” it whines. “I am cold, refreshing, and have been soaking in sugary sweet syrup for months just for you.” This is how exciting my culinary and love life has become: seductive canned peaches. Millions of peaches, peaches for me…

Being here, I’ve developed a bad habit of trying to identify and subsequently pine after every food item I see in movies and sitcoms, such as: is that a real can of coke or a fake “co-la” designed to look like a real can of coke because coke refused to pay for the free advertising? Is that a sierra mist can circa 2006? Are they eating thai food or indian food? What toppings are on that pizza? Do you think that’s a real beef burger or a fake plastic one so that the meat doesn’t melt under the hot camera lights?

A lovely day in New Xade, a nice day to just stay inside as weekend-usual and do absolutely nothing. Doing nothing completely bores me and drives me crazy usual, but I’m trying very hard to enjoy nothing and take advantage of nothing by storing up good spirits and energy for my long weekdays. Today I cleaned and organized, cooked what’s left in my fridge, excel-ed a yearly budgeting plan, painted, and made phone calls till I ran out of airtime. No, I did not exercise.
Someone stopped by today to pick up some items that she asked me to bring back to Xade for her. As per her request, I stored her juice cans in my fridge and I offered to store them there for her while I am away in my workshop next week. I told her I’d leave my key with her sister. She looked at me, double took, and said… “Wame… You’re so… nice.”

The compliment caught me way off guard, as up to now I have only been seeing myself as this isolated reclusive American who doesn’t come out of her home on weekends. It was a small drop of encouragement in a pool of self-criticism, but I thought I’d include her story in my blog in an effort to be more positive about myself and my service. So there we go, fellas, Positivity!
As she got up to leave she gave the obligatory, “well, I’ve seen you!” and we parted ways. Which makes me wonder, when people come here to say hi and use my fridge and/or electricity, do they feel somehow obliged to talk to me? Probably. At least they’re honest about it. I like that.
And thank you to whoever gave me Kepano Green from LCHC. It just came on my itunes and I’m enjoying it. I miss the cool rhythmic touch of finger to piano keys and fingers to guitar strings.

Currently Reading: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 126 pages in, two thumbs up on a scale of 1-3. (Really, I don’t understand the purpose of a 2 thumbs up scale. If you only have 2 options, how can you really discern the value of something if you only have one choices to describe it “good” or “bad”? Unless… 0 is an option, in which case, I ignorantly misspoke)

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