Sunday, July 5, 2009
Anyway, I'm pretty frazzled at the moment, so I'm not feeling so creative. I did happen to find an unfinished blog draft from a while ago, so I'll share it now:
"Walking around in sandals, covered by yards of fabric, I sometimes feel like one of the felt board Bible characters from Sunday school when I was a kid. Times like today when the rest of my service here stretches out ahead of me like an endless walk to town on trash-filled streets. The hot wind kicks up, bringing the smell of rotting carcass to my nose. I do the one-finger-bookshelf-dust-check in my ear and find a layer of grit so tangible that it rolls into a thin brown wad on my finger. I don't even want to think about the lines on my neck (or what my ankles look like, for that matter). I wonder what it was like for Jesus, wandering around the desert as a human. Could he really have known everything and still have been human? Isn't part of being human dealing with disappointments, surprises and unexpected changes of plan? Did he ever have a sick day where he just couldn't make it out of bed to do the miracle he'd planned? Or an off-day where he got ripped off at the market, and then no one would listen to his speech. Or maybe they listened but didn't pay attention. Maybe some guy in the front row stood up and left half-way through to see about a new camel saddle. Did he ever go home after a hard day and close himself up in a room to cry and pull out his hair? Did he ever trip on a rock and break his sandal, forcing him to walk the rest of the way with one bare foot on scorching sand? Or step on a thorn so big it punctured all the way through and made his foot bleed? What word escaped his lips at the sudden pain?"
I think what I was trying to get at is that I have a very different perspective of Biblical times, having lived in a harsh climate so similar to what it may have been like. With this new understanding I've been re-reading the stories of my childhood and really putting myself in their places. It's fascinating. Ironically enough, as I read Exodus, the story of Israel's escape from slavery in Egypt, the plagues (8 of the 10 can be found here from time to time) and Pharaoh's final release... I find myself once again living a somewhat parallel story. Okay, so not that grandiose or miracle-filled, but think about it--I've at last been given a pardon of sorts that lets me escape a land of oppression and plagues to a homeland filled with milk and honey.
Now all I've gotta do is cross the Red Sea.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
When I got home on Thursday evening I was greeted by Lily and so-happy-to-see-me-she-piddled Soeur (Lily's puppy). Almost everyone else in in St. Louis for Jazz Fest right now. Lily informed me that the water had been off for 2 days at that point (it has yet to come on) and that the power has, of course, been off and on as well. But we both rejoiced that it was cool out, eating dinner outside and noting that Brookstone said it was 90 degrees. The next morning I woke up cold around 5:30am and saw that it had dipped below 90 during the night and was inching its way past 88 as the sun came up. Around 11:30am I wimped out at 118 degrees and crawled into my tent with the fan on to read. I passed out and woke up at 3:30pm to find that it was 131 degrees (probably the peak for the day).
All these temperatures may not fascinate you as they do me, and despite the warning many of you gave me that I wouldn't want to know, don't be surprised if every future blog enty I make comes with a weather report. I'm not sorry. You have movie theaters, libraries, art galleries, BARS, public parks, TV, etc. to entertain you. I have a stack of books (courtesy of the Grace cousins and my sister) AND my thermometer. It is enough to keep me content for the next 14 months and 18 days... I hope.
Current weather: 96.5 degrees inside, not a cloud in sight
Thursday, April 30, 2009
45 minutes: The amount of time it took me to fill all the buckets last night, when the water came on at midnight.
45 seconds: The amount of time it took the water I splashed on my face, neck, chest and back to dry after I'd finished filling the buckets
45 minutes: The amount of time it took me to calm down and get back to sleep after a 2-inch shadow, terrifyingly reminiscent of my recurring Mefloquine nightmare, ran across the roof of my mosquito net and down the side. It turned out to be a cockroach--thankfully on the outside of the tent this time.
4.5 hours: The amount of useless down time during the hottest part of the day, where I can't even nap because of the sweat puddle created when my head touches the pillow.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I’ve been dog-sitting this week while Lily is in Morocco. Soeur is a generally adorable and well-behaved puppy, although she’s still quite young and doesn’t like to be left alone. I’d been planning a weekend trip to Nouakchott for a while, hoping to stock up on supplies and go to Easter mass at the Catholic church. Lily and I agreed that I would take Soeur with me for the weekend and she left me some cash so I could buy her a seat in the taxi. This meant that rather than an obese Moor woman, I’d have a smallish 30 lb puppy on my lap during the three-hour trip to the capital—maavi mushkile (no problem)! She happily enjoyed the view out the window for a while and every now and then did her best to come between me and Three Cups of Tea, my current read. About an hour into the trip she started making a noise I thought was the hiccups, which she usually gets once a day, but these were a bit more violent than normal. All of a sudden she opened her mouth wide and out came what looked like an entire can of wet dog food… right onto my lap. Stunned, I turned to Melissa, who was heading to Nouakchott as well, and said, “Soeur just puked on me,” as if it were another camel crossing the road. She came to her senses more quickly and told the driver to stop. He didn’t listen at first, and then the two men sharing the front passenger seat turned and saw what must be the most unclean substance known to Muslims and forced the driver to pull over. Luckily it wasn’t very moist and it didn’t get on the seat (which could have gotten us booted from the car). I was able to shake it off and then rinsed the front of my grand boubou with water from my bottle. Melissa asked me if I wanted to change, but I said no, we’d better get going. We’d already left town an hour and a half later than planned. I figured her little stomach was empty at this point—how much food can a puppy hold? Apparently more than that. Another half hour or so later she started making that same sound again. I quickly picked her up and aimed her face out the window and then in a split second envisioned vomit all over the side of the car, vomit flying back in through the open window, and I knew I had to take one for the team. I pulled her close to my chest, leaned over, and weathered the storm. It was worse the second time. I had to change my clothes on the side of the road while Mauritanians stood by and muttered about the Nasraniye and her dog. Once we were going again the driver cracked his window open a bit so he could spit out splinters of the toothbrush stick he was chewing on. He missed. A wad of saliva, plaque and splinters hit my cheek. I started to laugh. “Need to blow your nose? ‘Cause I’m here,” I joked to Melissa. “At least it didn’t go in my mouth… I do have some standards left.”
If you’re wondering about the title, I tried to send out a text about what had happened, but my phone didn’t recognize “Soeur” or “puke” – it came out “Poets just ruled on me!”
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Somewhere across town the first prayer call breaks the dark silence around and is soon interrupted and overlapped by mosques scattered in every direction. Each one seems to have their clock set to a different time, so the calls stretch on for several minutes.
I am half-conscious. I know that the mosque next door has yet to sound, and that the caller seems to have a cold these days. As he coughs and rasps “Allah ekbar…” stopping to clear his throat, I take comfort in the fact that I have an hour until my alarm will go off, and roll over, pulling my fuzzy blanket around my shoulders.
I run before dawn for two reasons: to beat the heat and to avoid being seen in pants. Some of the other female volunteers have been called “Hobara” for being out after sunset, so I do whatever I can to maintain what’s left of my reputation. During the day I often wear mulafas, which are floor-length veils that leave only your face, hands and feet uncovered. Lately I’ve been experimenting with more Western (yet still appropriate) clothes to see how I’m treated. So far it’s been alright, but I do get more attention, more calls of “Nasraniya, ha!” (Hey, white girl!), and I get ripped off more often at the market. Being seen running… and in pants… that wouldn’t be so good. Even though I try to get out and back early I’ve still startled the occasional man on his way to the mosque. For this reason I wear a short sarong to cover my hips, and, more importantly, the place where my legs meet (gasp!). Amanda and Ashley run a little later than I do, but they bring mulafas with them to put on over their running clothes on the way back.
To get to the raised gravel road that runs a horseshoe around the edge of town I take a 7 minute walk, winding between houses, past the high school and Ministry of Education. I pass the slaughtering field where goats and the occasional cow or camel are cut open, drained, skinned and put into the trunks of old Mercedes to be sent to the market and mishui stands where swarms of flies wait to land. Remarkably, it doesn't smell bad there. It's a little farther down the trail where some unseen carcass is left rotting, the smell threatening to turn my stomach inside out (good thing I haven't eaten breakfast yet).
This raised path is the only suitable place to run--not too public, and not scattered with the softball-sized rocks that sit on the parched desert pavement around the high school and Ministry of Education. Trying to run before you reach the path can be treacherous. Especially when you are wearing cheaply made, oversized sneakers that have "A B C Zidane 2007" written on them.
I found these shoes, awful in so many ways, among the faux leather men's sandals sold in town, and paid about $4 for them... it was probably too much. The selection of women's shoes is reflective of the local female culture. You have two choices: the pastel foam-plastic half-moccasin that seems to have been formed in a mold, and the open-toed mule with a spectrum of gaudy embellishments. The first would seem to be comfortable yet frumpy (in a Crocs kind of way), yet I've been told that they are surprisingly painful to wear, and a preferred hideout for scorpions (you always see the women who wear them kicking them a few times before slipping them on). And if those are uncomfortable, I can only imagine trying to wear heeled mules in sand. No wonder women have to waddle so slowly down the street.
With all these obstacles holding me back, I find it even easier to give in to that voice telling me to sleep in... "you can run tomorrow!" But on days like today, when I've made it out and back, and done sit-ups and pilates, I feel like I've already accomplished something before the sun was even up. That is what gives me the energy to face the rest of my day.