Friday, September 2, 2011
Four More Days of Lassitude
I have been in Mars for a week now and all I feel is apathy. I don’t even know if apathy is the right word. When I thesaurasize ‘apathy’, looking for a more appropriate word, I get the many choices: boredom, laziness, lack of interest, lethargy. All those seem to describe my feelings quite perfectly and I am much too lazy to pick just one. I do not know why I feel like this; maybe having a really awesome vacation lends a boring pallor on anything that comes after. All I know is, I don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t want to get out of bed, but staying in bed is equally unpalatable. I can’t stand being in my house alone all day but the alternative is to go outside and see people, which is just slightly worse. If I could go do something or go somewhere and not have to work so hard at being polite or understood, I would do it. I want to go for a hike, but there is no destination out here. Friday I walked to town, all 15 km, because I needed an activity and that allowed me to be alone with my thoughts and still be productive with my time. I was able to get to town in a little over two hours but many Kenyans thought I was crazy. And apparently, the road to town is dangerous, even in the day time. Not only by sketchy locals (the Boranas tell me that Rendilles are hiding in the forest) but also, as I was warned by some kids, from marauding elephants that are out to “shika mtu” or “take people”. I am not sure I believe any of the warnings. Is it more dangerous to be on my two feet, capable of running away, or to be perched atop a lorry that is going 80 km an hour on the bad road? Or hitching a ride with strangers on an old, rusty tractor, sitting precariously above the wheel holding on with one hand? With those alternatives, I’ll take my chances and go on foot. In case you are wondering why I have to go to town at all, the reason is not only to kill some hours in the day, but also to get food. During the term, I have always depended on the Brothers of St. Paul to take me to town in their nice land rover. But the Brothers are not here. I am kinda on my own, fending for myself like a true Peace Corps volunteer. The Brothers are in “Down Kenya” along with all my English speaking neighbors, every single one of my friends, and all my colleagues. I am pretty much alone except for the kiborana speaking women in my small village. I do have one neighbor who is here to talk to. Lokho and her aunt and uncle. And the toddler, Galgallo, who is an endless source of smiles and entertainment. The whole family is Muslim and invited me to celebrate Eid, the end of Ramadan. And, since they know me so well, they waited until the large crowd of strangers left to invite me over. None of the strangers speak English and I get pretty uncomfortable when being obviously talked about and laughed at in Kiborana. So I did spend get to spend a day talking about America and religion and why I do not have a religion. One thing I have been doing with my free time is practicing my Kiborana. I figure, if I can actually communicate with my neighbors maybe I can find a side project in my village that is productive. I am going very slowly because I don’t have an actual teacher. I listen to Galgallo and have Lokho translate. Lokho speaks English and Kiswahili and despite being very good at all three, she sometimes gets confused. So I don’t know what an “amosi” is except that it is an animal big enough to kill chickens. I know “makankeen” is something to do with names but I don’t know if it is “what is your name?” or “my name is”. I do know how to say “es demt” which is “where are you going?” But with my limited skills I can still only talk to children, and even they just laugh at me like I said something hilarious. I did meet a man on my way to town who spoke a little English. He said “where are you from” and when I answered “America” he said every American thing he could think of. “oooOO-BAMA! Hilory Cleenton! Buffalo soldier… super power, independence 1776, BUFFALO SOLDIER! Two parties, republicans like war! First president George Washington! George Bush Senior, fifty states, ILLINOIS! Buffalo soldier!” He was very excited, in particular, about the song “Buffalo Soldier”. He sang it repeatedly but only knew the words “Buffalo Soldier”. It was a strange ten minutes we spent together. On a sad note, my village is not doing too well. There are the dead corpses of cows killed by the drought scattered around. Everyone I talk to, even if it is just greetings, only has the lack of food and water to talk about. This area hasn’t gotten rain in six years and there is no reason to hope that the rainy season coming up will be any different. It makes me feel sad and ineffectual. Here I am complaining because my phone won’t update facebook and the people here are actually starving. And those who are not starving are dying in other awful ways. In the last week, I know of four people who have died in my village alone. One, a fifteen year old kid, was killed in a pikipiki accident on the road. An old man, whose house I can see from my front door, died from tuberculosis. Another young kid, in Lokho’s class, died from suspected yellow fever. He just had a headache one day and then died before he got to a hospital. I don’t even know how the last person died but I could hear the cries of mourning all day. My local dispensary is working with Food for the Hungry to try to provide relief to the people. Every two weeks they come and provide a cup of porridge and some oil to every child under five years. The program is supposed to go on until December. But I don’t see how it will be enough. During the Ramadan celebration there was supposed to be a big feast. And my generous neighbors opened their home to many people, giving each person who came by a plate piled with food. They apologized to me because they said they wanted to slaughter a goat in celebration but they couldn’t afford it. They still gave me a large pile of meat, mostly globs of fat, on top of rice flavored with a single chopped tomato. I ate in front of the family, who had eaten earlier. I felt terrible because there was the Aunt, nursing the frightened baby, and four toddlers, all just staring hungrily at me while I ate. Galgallo knows me and was unafraid to get his own spoon and share off my plate. I fed some of the rice to another little girl who had a cough and some skin infection on her legs. I snuck the globs of fat to the two other young boys who were watching; they were two of Lokho’s 7 brothers and were a little afraid of me so stood by hugging each other refusing to touch me except to shake my hand. My neighbors lost a couple of chickens last night. They are being killed by the creature they call an amonsi. I am not sure what it is but I think it might be similar to a mongoose. I know that there is another animal, a civet, which lives around here too. I saw a civet one night; it was making strange noises outside my house. I don’t know what a civet is really, I only know what my Kenya guidebook tells me, but I am staying away from it. Even in the early evening there are creatures that are cat-sized, but not cats, running around my compound. They are not skittish, but I am, and so I no longer like to be outside after dusk. The hyenas and jackals have been coming out early too. I never thought I would say this, but I miss peeing in a hole outside, because the alternative is peeing in a bucket in my living room, and then emptying it in the morning. Just like in medieval manors. Or nursing homes. School starts in four days. I will be glad to get back to work so I have something productive to do. This week I have already read three books, gotten halfway through the “animorphs” book series, watched all the episodes of Glee, finished season two of Modern Family, started P90X, built an extra shelf on my paper mache cabinet, sewn new covers for the cushions on my couch out of lessos, fixed some rips in Lokho’s favorite Muslim dress, had a solo Glee soundtrack dance party, quit P90X, gave Lokho an eye test and when I learned she has eyesight almost as bad as mine, gave her my old, slightly scratched glasses, learned how to make yogurt, and walked to and from town (that’s thirty kilometers) twice.