Monday, October 17, 2011

Pull of the Wings and Fry 'em up like Popcorn

It rained today. The sound of the rain hitting my tin roof woke me up at midnight last night. The din was so loud and I was so surprised that I had to get up and step out the front door with my palm out to believe it. I sleep deeply for the first time in a long while. I got up this morning with a smile on my face. It was my one year anniversary. I have lived in Kenya for an entire year. It feels strange. One part of me can’t believe I made it this far; another part thinks I still have an eternity left to go. I am still waiting for the day when my time remaining doesn’t feel like an eternity. I walked to school in the rain without an umbrella so I could feel the drops on my head. It was misty and foggy and the earth smelled delicious. It is my favorite smell in the world, the smell of rain-soaked earth. (Well, its tied for favorite with the smell of car airconditioning and clean sheets.) The mud was outrageous. The fine dust turns into a reddish brown crust the same texture and sticking power of cement. My shoes were about three pounds heavier by the time I got to school. Later in the day, after school, as the rain waxed and waned, I went outside to my favorite spot out of sight of my house near this crooked, old tree and sat on my favorite rock. I watched the steam rising from the warm ground; I sat through two waves of downpours, letting my clothes get soaked and feeling the water run down my face. When the rain finally stopped, I watched the termites come out. Every tree, every stump, every hole in the ground, is full of them and they have been waiting for the rains to come so they can stretch their wings. The air is full of millions of tiny, fluttering, silver wings. Termites of all sizes crawl out by the thousand and take flight. There are tiny ones, small enough to get sucked up a nostril if you aren’t careful, medium sized ones with long black bodies, and large reddish ones that look to heavy to be carried by the two pairs of delicate looking wings. The locals love the termites and catch them by the bucketful. They pull off the wings and fry them up to eat like popcorn. I haven't yet had that delicacy, but maybe I'll get around to it. I have been here for a year and have been walking past bare fields and stepping of scruffy, stunted acacia bushes. After only one day of rain, every square inch of mud is covered in tiny green baby plants. It is very cool, this instant verdant carpet. I am told that the goats will eat this new grass and, for some unknown reason, many will die soon after. The roads are all washed out, temporary rivers run over the road, removing mud from some places, leaving bare rock, and piling it in others. One of the thatch houses collapsed, leaving a wet pile of sticks. All the furniture inside, also made of sticks, was also ruined. People are already complaining. As much as they needed the rain, now that they have it, they are exposed to a whole new barrel of problems they have to deal with. Many people are sick, coughing and sneezing, and the line to the clinic is out the door. Most everyone is diagnosed with malaria, despite the fact that none of the symptoms follow. Lokho was told that she ‘tested positive for malaria’ and when I asked her if they drew blood, she replied in the negative. She wasn’t tested for anything and she was still put on malaria medication, as was her 1 year old cousin. It’s a frustratingly inefficient system. I really admire volunteers from the 70s and 80s, I can’t imagine dealing with everything I have to deal with and not being able to call a friend on my cell phone to talk about it. Some days, I can just barely handle the stuff I’ve got to deal with. It’s never life threatening or tragic, but it is always a million little things that make you smack yourself in the forehead and beg for the universe to cut you a freaking break. For example, after a particularly rough week and with the rain preventing me from calling anyone for support, I was trying to call my mother to let her know I was still alive. I went out in the dark evening (it was morning for her) with my flashlight with its crappy, weak batteries. I made it to a spot out in the dark were I got waxing cell phone service only after walking painfully into two acacia bushes and one boulder. I called my mom, and talked for 3 seconds before I ran out of cell credit. She called me back and we spoke for 3 minutes before I lost network and had to wander around for a bit till she called back. Once she did, I couldn’t hear her at all; then she couldn’t hear me. I tossed my hands up in frustration to find that a giant, 3 inch long, black beetle with really spiky legs and giant horns was crawling up my chest. I panicked and tried to brush it off but it had gripped on tightly with its giant spiky legs and I only ended up hurting my fingers on his spikes. I could hear my mom worrying on the phone “You…..sister….call….bread….worried?” While I tried to get the damn bug off and tell my mom not to worry, my phone battery died. Grumbling to myself, I fought the bug off and stomped, frustrated, back to my house. I tripped on the way back, twice, dropped my flashlight and lost the batteries, and somehow managed to walk into an acacia TREE. Trust me when I say there is no blacker dark than rural Africa dark. Back at my house I got my backup cell phone, new torch batteries, and went back out to my spot. I managed to talk to my mom for another ten minutes, spending the entire time getting the garbled message across that I would call back some other time. Then I went back to my house to find that while I was out there, the bugs had taken over. There were black june bugs everywhere and two of those 3 inch black, spiky beetles copulating on my laptop. I guess they also enjoy How I Met Your Mother reruns. I swept them all out of the house, especially all the rated R beetles, and then stuffed dirty clothes under the crack in my front door to prevent more from coming in. Finally, I killed the housecat sized cockroach that was in the corner creeping me out and settled down on the couch. For the rest of the evening I got to hear the ping of the 3 inch spiky beetles smacking into the windows; it sounded like someone outside was throwing rocks. The other day, I was talking to one of my students and I had asked her if all the girls here get their ears pierced. She told me that traditionally they do and when I asked how they do it, I was treated to a stomach-clenching story about how very painful it is, how they use an acacia thorn and how sometimes it gets stuck or requires more than one try. These people must have an incredibly high tolerance to pain. In addition to that, there is the much worse public circumcisions. I heard that if a boy cries out in pain while being circumcised, it is so shaming that he will be laughed at about it forever and may never get married. I really hope that is not true because I can’t imagine prepubescent boys going through that without any kind of anesthetic and it not hurting like a sonofabitch. And of course, there is female circumcision. FGM is a very common practice in my village and recently there has been a big push in the surrounding villages to educate girls and eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation. My village, like many in Kenya, has made fairly good practice getting girls to refuse to be circumcised. Unfortunately, the focus has been on girl child education and neglects boys, so when the time comes for the girls to get married, the boys refuse to take an uncircumcised girl. Because of this, there is an increasing number of girls actually requesting FGM so that they will be able to get married. It is very sad, and a pretty big step back on the road of progress. The man who was telling me about the FGM issue was a religious leader whose job included going around to schools to give leadership conferences. He was at St. Paul’s Secondary School teaching the boys about leadership, drug use, HIV/AIDS, and other topics. This man was from a country in northern Africa and he was commenting on the difference between the nomads here in Marsabit and the nomads from the countries up north. He called his nomads the “modern nomads”. The nomadic lifestyle is still very common up the continent, but these days instead of using camels to transport their homes, the nomads travel across Libya and Chad in Land Rovers with their wives and children and belongings. They still have camels and use them for milk and trading, and they still live in temporary homes, but these days they use expensive SUVs to travel the desert. He said that if you offer them a place to stay for the night, they will park outside your house and put up their shelter outside in your front yard. It is a strange and interesting sounding lifestyle. It sounds just like American Rv-ers.

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