|Targeted by Simon Lieschke|
Trying to balance the whatnot with the heretofore. Not to mention the wherewith.
You know, not everyone is comfortable publishing their innermost thoughts to the entire Interwebs. Or maybe it is just a matter of presentation, the webs looks so... presented. I can see that that would produce a certain shyness. A kind of activation energy that must be overcome.
The old Spoon used to be a purely email affair. Mostly because in the heady days of the early internet, that was all we had. Firing off an email about your day, or your life, or an adventure was simple. You understood that the people at the other end of the wires were a finite and knowable group of humans who's stories you knew to a degree. Now, it is hard to imagine that anything like it ever existed. Stories. No pictures. Just thoughts and so many words.
Back then, webs were something spiders made. Some geeky people were playing around with something called NCSA Mosaic. A computer program with which you could go anywhere, but there was nothing out there to see. It was like riding a bike in a vast empty warehouse.
Now, I'd be surprised if your mom didn't have a blog. With photos. Maybe even videos of her Arizona vacation.
So there is some balance between the breezy ease of email and the flashy presentation of the web, and I'm looking to find that right balance.
I added a Spoon email list. You can post to it at email@example.com and it will go to all the subscribers (but won't appear here on the web). But if you post here on the web at spooncafejournal.blogspot.com, it will go to both.
So I figure some shy, hesitant conversation will happen on the Spoon email list, hopefully with increasing confidence and comfort. Then maybe when someone posts something particularly awesome, we'll have to encourage them to post it on the blog. And then maybe folks will just get into the habit of posting their stories directly to the blog (which will go to the blog and email list both). And we'll comment and shoot the shit on the email list in response.
Or something like that.
Kind of complicated until we get it all figured out and it all seems so easy we get impatient with the fumbling of newcomers.
And this is also a test to see if it will automagically go out to the email list.
Dad was shot. Some amalgamation of both dads was shot for some reason. Either before or after, we sit together and he tells me I will have to tell that story alone. Suddenly, he rises and says, "Okay, NOW." And then I know in a flash that all my parents are gone and I feel the responsibility weigh heavy on me. I think, "Now I am a woman. I am all alone and must be strong like my parents before me." I am terrified.
I woke up to the rain outside.
Me and seven to ten men have a plan to steal lots of money somehow. Through our work, maybe. The plan is foolproof- 100%, we are convinced. We open some hatch, leave only empty boxes, and leave. Gleeful and laughing. It will be months before they find out.
As we leave, there are telltale signs that something is amiss. Police had been called in last night for no discernible reason. Could be for anything, we reassure ourselves. We leave in a suburban. Are cops following? When we get back, we know we've been discovered. But how?! Cops surround the house. We lock all doors, try to barricade the doors. Someone is hitting the lock with a hammer to get it jam locked. It feels like a lost cause. We talk about that while the cops are busting the front door in. At one point, a cop gets inside, but does nothing.
Then, through the window, M and his mom arrive on what I assume is M's new motorcycle. They are both wearing gas masks, which makes a lot of sense to me. They dismount, but M rides down the road. Thinking the game is up anyway, a close friend and I leave the house through a side door that we'd forgotten about, to meet M down the street, down the hill. He is smiling. We talk briefly and then realize the cops don't see us. The two of us convicts began to jog into the woods ahead. It is redwoods, eucalyptus, lakes and green open areas. Along the way, we meet A, who joins us. We cross rivers to make them lose our trail. A starts yelling a bit. My friend and I get nervous- he tells her to be quiet, to which she doesn't respond well. More yelling. She yells that her hip hurts. I decide to not tell her to be quiet, and ask her about her pain. She tells me about it. I ask if it is tendon pain, told her about my sciatica. She says, "Thanks for listening to me," and so on and she doesn't yell anymore.
We think we hear dogs. Nervous. But we still think we can get away. Suddenly, lots of people are with us, and we are walking casually to go play some golf. I admit concern with being discovered, and we decide to postpone. My last thought before waking is if we will still be able to get far enough away...
“Tuesday, May 17, 2011.”
That’s what the calendar she say. 45 degrees that’s what the thermometer said bout 8 o’clock this night. Celsius. 28 degrees C= 82 degrees F. you do the math...
the weather she takes a turn for the super hot from just hot...gittin hot enuff fer me, yep...that’s the weather report from these parts. how do people do it, but have they a choice but to? my life cushioned by the air con units in my various work, home, and social environs. aye, without it life would be a misery indeed. funny, for but the stint in new orleans before I arrived in this heat & dust, air con was not a part of my prior existence for any notable time. thus have I become, or becoming....
sooooo, according to the marks on my wall, I am now in the thick of my 10th month on these fair shores far far away from the california I did and mayhaps probly shall again call “Home.” osama bin laden has been perished, libya invaded since my last electronic postcard. the kidz and I are finishing up my first year of full time teachin’, currently in the midst of lessons on space travel, the U.S. Constitution, and a puppet theatrical show about some children who helped turn a dump in to an art/recycling/Friendship Park. hoping you and especially your american sized checkbooks will be making their way to our big show Friday next to help turn puppet shows in to Reality....
speaking of which, we couldn’t help but notice on My side of the atlantic that The Donald (Trump) has cast his name into & out of the presidential race. I’m sure he shall be sorely missed by comedians all over this fair globe, myself included...yes, america, what have ye been up to since last I did write? what of this libya adventure, this bin laden deposing? I would have surely been out on the streets chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A!” but, well...did people really do that?...or was this a Fox halftime infomercial somebody decided to run outside of the Super Bowl?..
I was tho able to sneak the jimi hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” in to our school’s international day practice instead of the heart swelling original version, tho not the int’l day itself alas as my cover was blown to the anti-patriots who run such affairs. communists! terrorists! joykills! or whoever is the Enemy these days....
Speaking of The Enemy, Libya, again.!? wasn’t that in the Reagan 80’s?! old moammar even looks like an 80’s washed up rockstar that’s seen better dayz. But alas, fair America, I must be the first to tell you that in these parts old mommar is not seen as The Devil incarnate ye have made of him. no, he has earned many friends in these parts due to his funding of various philanthropic endeavors south of the sahara from mosques to garden projects to schools, etc. But, not to worry, obama is still probably, probably, still as popular here as ever, so the america h8rs aren’t so much on every other street corner. Keep those dollars and rap songs/videos coming to keep the terrorists at bay! maybe just maybe it would blind people to some of the connections being made between Libya’s oil reserves & America’s foreign interventions in this part of the world... oil that is helping to send me to europe this summer courtesy of my benevolent employers by way of the Moroccan national airline, Air Maroc and her gas tanks filled with Libyan crude to the wide streets of Paris...see you in paris, london, and maybe even amsterdam, deutschland, poland, and of course The Ukraine!!! maybe we could meet in prague and marvel at the abundance of trash cans & art & paved roads, though wistfully admitting to missing the cattle & goats & friendly strangers in the streets of Niger...Africa! I miss ye already and would surely say or type it if I hadn’t just fried my keyboard on the sweat poring from every pore! I’m not even gone yet! or at least not for 2 weeks from Tuesday, though who’s counting, right??!!...X
(insert Euro Tour 2011 Adventure here, june-august 2011)...
much of the past couple of months here in Niamey have been shaped by the kidnapping of a couple of French guys from a local bar bout 2-3 miles from my house, one of the Unlucky or Targetted (depending on the source) about to be wed to a Nigerienne woman, the other his best man in town for the marriage between the worlds. the abducters got as far as the neighboring state of Mali where abducters and abductees were all exterminated in a hail of bullets from French Special Forces or maybe kidnappers, again accounts differing depending on opinion or source. because of this episode, the peace corps left the country as well as a study abroad program run through Boston University. other NGO’s potentially leave as well. there is something of a sense of flight in the “expat” community, except the missionaries and the chinese. no appearances of either one of these entities fleeing, nope. the locals are most effected as their opportunities for some kind of decent job/livelihood further diminishes with the security downgrades....
do I feel more “ in danger?” that the kidnappers will come for me? not really. my house, and job that is a mile away, are secure, guarded, etc. I rarely went out previously “on the town,” as much due to my language and transportation deficiencies as anything else. Now, almost never, except for when I had a couple of visitors from Israel and Mexico who were visitin, mutually conspiring to make things happen in this big friendly sleepy African village of about a million. one of the better social spots we went to is a bar called “Le Cloche,” formerly frequented mostly by the French and locals, but now mostly locals due to French flight and security concerns. there are pool tables and a funny atmosphere punctuated by a “midget” who is something of the maître’d and the ensemble of friendly prostitutes in their ridiculous showy flashy garbs...
so that’s something of the Scene. life for me centers mostly upon the school where I work, where enrollment has plummeted from about 80 a few years back to its present 49, further increasing the sense of flight in the surroundings. my class is converting the book The Phantom Tollbooth in to a play, a book where the main character Milo sees little use in learning such things as “adding turnips to turnips” or “learning to spell February." we do some lessons on waste disposal/resource conservation in science, discus the slave trade in social studies, start up a Drum Corps in an after-school class, etc. I am taking French lessons on the side and learning how to ask people if they are married and how many kids they want to have...
went to the local missionary school last week for their quarterly “Casa del Burrito” where they serve up various Mexican dishes in a festive outdoor environment. my table had my school’s recreation center director Ginger and her local husband; the assistant to the U.S. Ambassador, Lucy; myself; and a local friend of mine, Naba, who works at the school. definitely no sense of deprivation nor flight amongst the missionaries. their enrollment increases proportionally to our losses, their tuition kept reasonable by an unsalaried missionary teacher corps, their dedication unwavering amongst kidnappings and risilent Faith...
couple weeks ago went to the definitely coolest sounding African city, “Ouagadougou,” in the neighboring country of Burkina Faso, formerly called Upper Volta some years back. went there with our school’s softball team for a tournament. didn’t see a whole lot of the town, but it definitely has a more energized feel than Niamey. heard drumming in the evening, saw lots of bicyclists, including women. women rarely ride bikes in Niamey because of a more strident version of Islam here, from what I understand, or women not being “athletic” here in Niger as stated by another, or a cross somewhere between the two. my brother Nelson tells me that Ouagadougou is 30% Christian, 30% Islamic, and 100% Animist, animists evidently seeing no shame in the bicycle, nor music for that matter. maybe not so different from the States...
are things a bit gritty and grim a little less glorified from my previous journalings, though I do recall one previous blogging alluding to fluids fleeing my body like ex-patriots after the coup? the dust gets thicker, the various bacterias accumulate in this foreigner’s gut in this some times wretched wretching corner of the earth, the sense of newness deteriorates into honest assessments that yes this dusty corner of the earth can at times be accused of being a “Shit hole”....though I did neglect to mention the magical scene a couple nights back of playing drums for the local kids in the street as they danced about wildly, the night time foosball games with other Nigerienne youth up the street, etc....so it goes so it goes....and goes...from the ever shifting sands of sub-saharan landlocked west africa next to the so-called “Slave Coast,” historic departure point of Africans on their way to the Americas for a life of toil and servitude bout 500 years ago yesterday we learn about in my social studies class...
& so with that cheery thought, let us now turn out attention to my awakening this morn to the sounds of explosions, a text message from the director of the school where I work to stay home, to activate the “school phone tree” to alert the students & parents there shall not be school on account of unaccounted for explosions in the distance. there is excitement in the air. what kind of danger might be lurking, what armed menace outside our walls? my local housemate informs me that the 2nd in command in the army is on trial for treason or such, maybe there is a disturbance out at the military barracks outside of town, maybe maybe in the land of African speculation. what if we need to flee? this the classic moment of what you would take and why under such immediate circumstances. but, a call to my brother 2 blocks away lessens the tension as he informs me that he has heard there has been an accident involving a military truck and some propane tanks, which sounds suspicious and odd, but actually turns out to be the case, verified by the eyewitness reliable account of him going up on his roof to see smoke billowing in the distance from an unsuspicious location....
& so the interesting bizarre surreal moments of the “Anasorra” (white person) in Niger, attempting to get information on mysterious goings ons, a consistent endeavor for this relative newbie to the region. where do you go if you get completely sick, injured, need a root canal, want to see the town, let alone resolving a contract dispute with a sometimes despotic school headmaster, etc? where do you get your info, the News, etc. to find out what’s what? don’t think the previously mentioned accident will quite make CNN nor Fox. maybe get The News from the tv that plays outdoors by the foosball tables I play with the local kids and where I get my yogurt drinks, powdered milk, juice boxes, sodas? very outside chance maybe it’ll be broadcasting something bout something or perhaps more likely a patron could have heard the latest rumor, though my french still sux ass and I still could not be accused of being anything resembling fluent. learning just enough to make out half the truth, ask how much papayas cost by the kilo, etc. etc. & my bro offers up that the guards for the U.S. Embassy worker across the street from my house are likely to know what’s going down, if something is going down....yeah, it’s the sorting out the details, making those connections, hell figuring out what the hell is going on and how to get there without a car and minimal language skills to boot, etc etc ....
is this turning in to some sort of surrealist rant? no, that’s just the way it is it is, through these eyes necessarily conditioned and pre-conditioned by a world far more than the half way round the globe it purports to be, and perhaps still is, that stole the ancestors of my colleagues and neighbors from these shores half a millennia ago. in case you cared or are still reading, I do in fact have a right to be indignant, especially since I declared today amongst my colleagues over some carnivorous lunchtime dish that "I am no longer Vegetarian, but Nigerienne"...Please, tell me America, if I can’t put my toes in the Pacific Ocean does it still exist? are trees falling that i am not there to hear? chat me up on Facebook, sponsor of the African revolutions with Twitter and Google, to let-me-know.com....
“3 months in.” Sounds kinda like a countdown to a release date, some kind of a prison sentence I am serving, which isn’t entirely fair. More like an exile, though self-imposed. But not a prison sentence, no, though my largish school provided abode is ringed in razor wire, but: keeping Them out not Me in...no, it is a journey far far away to a distant and oftentimes hospitable land...
& tonight going out for the second time this week on the town to dance dance dance the night away @ a Club with the Nigerienne hip set...and last time I went did notice & make note of the fact that there are people gyrating and jiggling and whooping it up on dance floors all across this World to an American beat. if America is in decline as it frets itself into believing these dayz, the newz hasn’t made it here yet. Brand America: still selling, delivering, providing beats & visions of Glory to dancers across the globe, of ghetto superstars and Hollywood star(lette)s broadcasting their songs and stories and messages to flatscreens and dance halls in impoverished countries all over the land... ..
And I realize that I dig the hip club at least as much as the funky corner store folks, “The Alimentation,” with the fridge out front you can buy the yogurty drink, or the bean guy up the way who always has the koranic scholars reading something in their big gold-rimmed sunglasses when I stroll on up for today’s and every day’s special: beans or beans and rice with a hot sauce and oil, ladled out of the wood fed cauldron...yes, there’s a many places to go and see in this corner of the earth...if only I could say more than the greetings, pointings, single word sentence usually wanting something! though in all honesty none of these various local & colonial tongues hold the allure & beauty of the Spanish I learned on my last adventure to foreign lands....
...and so anyway, back to The Club story, the heading off to the unknown with the best friend of my Taureg roomie who was visiting from Switzerland without his Swiss wife, wondering only in the end WWLW, What Would Leaf (my extravagant electronic musician woods dwelling shamanic graduate student ex-roomie friend living I think in Stockton, California, now) Wear? whose sense of shame shall be eviscerated this very night? I know you forbid ugly Americanness dear Reader, but you said nothing of freaky & I certainly did not Vote for such...
& I did go out on the town, though not nearly heroically on a Thursday night as the previous Saturday night: one more chance to see the groooovy hip spots in town, hear the American music over the sound systems before the visiting Taureg returns to Switzerland the following eve, German our only common language to navigate & dance dance dance the night away... & still at this point it’s not totally apparent nor transparent who are the single gals out on the town and who are the prostitutes, but after consulting various locals and “in-the-know” foreigners after the fact, it appears that in deed most of the aforementioned gals out on the town are in fact “working gals” & that “ hip gals out @ the Clubs” & “prostitute” are interchangeable & in fact redundant terminologies much to the detriment of any sort of political correct indoctrinations or pretensions or such I may have previously held...but it ain’t like that & tonight is just for pool on battered tables with small balls & spectating & respectable amounts of drinking of various club goings ons...
& so the next day I did go to the police station, though not on account of any sort of misdoings from the previous night mind you, but instead to procure a “Certificate of Residency” so that I could open up a bank account at a local bank to put some cash in, instead of various squirreled away places I currently hide my spending ca$h away to tide me over til the next payday. & I did go to such police substation & was treated to another cultural delight of waiting in the Spartan waiting room with my school driver (named “Innocent” of all things) for the desired stamp on my photocopied passport paper & aforementioned Certificate.
Yes, I was privileged to wait there in the Po Station & witness the quite vocal quite angry quite disturbed wall-shaking-yelling-threatening-to-come-to-blows-or-worse coming from behind the partially closed door marked something to the effect of “Judicial Affaires,” while the calm and bespeckled middle-aged gals in full African regalia and headdresses who waited upon me did calmly go about their business in something of a Gandhian manner behind their wooden Colonial desk in the waiting room, a portrait of the latest government/military head beaming down on us from his framed picture on the wall, He the head of the “Committee to Restore Democracy” the caption did read, anointed when the last head of state threatened to overstay his term indefinitely as African heads can be want to do but was dutifully deposed & put under house arrest, more peacefully mind you than a previous usurper of years back who met his end on the wrong end of a rather unfortunate rocket launcher “accident”...
yes, so I did get my certificate of residency duly & was on my way again with Innocent...my residence has been certified. I am here, Resident, my permanence recognized by the State of Niger amidst the ever shifting sands of sub-Saharan Africa...
and eegad man, it’s been 5 months now here in Africa and 2 months since I started this blog entry & in the meanwhiles I’ve had 13 hour road trips to the East to the ancient trading city of Zinder & then there were the kidnappings of some French guys here in Niamey (a groom and his best man caught in the crossfire of international relations, armed al-qaedians, hot pursuits across country lines, a large pile of bodies in the horrible end) & ensuing curfews issued to official Americans & then my Dad visiting & of course camel trips & ...but that’ll have to wait for next time along with conjured up ideas for “Jackass” style stunts at the local mosque (that continues to blare entire prayer services at decidedly unGodly hours) by hijacking the sound system with “They Built this City on Rock and Roll;”...& visitors to my Maisson from Israel and Mexico with stories of woe and glory to share about their West Africa meanderings en route here across the Sahara and such...
but, must not wait any longer to get it “Right,” these perceptions of Africa thru the Western lens, my lens! must send out this message in bottle/internet as incomplete and biased as it necessarily must be!....
It’s been 1 month now in to “The African Adventure...a few choice moments (not for the faint of heart!):
• night time bike rides: by the gardens, etc, electricity in the air, donkey carts, people wheelbarrowing their wares or carts stacked sky high full of flip flops cell phone head pieces & stuff lots of stuff 4 sale, bikin by the mosque with night time crescent moon & venus & mars overhead as people stand reverently in prayer facing my way....
• & Ramadan is over now praise Allah & the calls to prayer over 4 loudspeakers just over back fence only all hours of day now, not night. people not starving nor thirsting themselves sunrise to sundown to the brink of death or hopefully some spiritual vision of some sorts...food vendors out now, nobody givin you the evil eye for having a bite to eat or drink during daylight hours & it might be my imagination but seems like people also not dressed so covered up always all the time in the heat like during the holy month. why, allah, do you make people wear so many clothes when it gets so hot, cover up all over, African women dressed up like black little bo peeps?..
• my job: the school job kidz from senegal, niger, america, deutschland, schweis, hindustan, etc. 9 kidz to teach, down from the 30+ in USA. the easiest, best, best paying job with benefits I’ve ever had & it’s here in impoverished Niger..teaching bout native America, doing dances around the room, making paper & stick teepees, showing shadow puppets, making comix, meeting the kidz’ folx last week for the parent conferences, availing myself of the music room facilities and afternoon jam sessions with the kidz...
• shoppin @ the “petit marche” (“small market” for the non-francophones) all the stuff to buy, people to see, vat of peanut butter I do not jump into buying: that’s too much for me to stomach putting in my mouth & stomach @ this point.. things balanced on african heads, somebody sellin a shoebox of green beans & I buy a handful, the nomad & the bracelet I buy from him, the honey stand on the side o the road tastin sorta molassesy jarred in some olde sody pop bottle or such, but I taint complainin...
• security: & I am an american & 5 french kidnapped to the north of the country in uranium mine town of Arlit & somebody let the terrorists know that maybe some folx’ll pass the can for me back home, but don’t expect to get rich from this kidnapped american. still, there’ll be no going to the cool festival in northern niger with the dancing fulanis on account of “security concerns” and such, 80 French paratroopers flown in to get back their countrymen, Niger “on a war footing”...
• & the mosh up @ the bean place up the dusty road from mi home where we get a bag of hot beans for 30 cents, traded insults escalating to blows, rocks & hammer wielding between taureg roomie & drunken insulter...
• cholera outbreak sposed to be headed this way according to Mom wonderin bout my vaccines, one of the teachers @ the school may have typhoid...
• visiting big bro, his wife, my nephews over @ their house in the more Nigerienne/local section of town: more locals, kids playing on homemade foosball on the sidewalk, people walkin bout, open stank of sewers going 6 feet down we joke/fear bout stepping in to some dark night, everybody’s out sellin somethin or maybe watchin the telly under the stars with the family or neighbors...
• watchin football @ the “club” run by the very pregnant ex-peace corps gal with the missionaries, marine: am I really an american? are we from the same country/planet? why am I embarassed by other americans 90 % of the time I am travelling? but the peace corpse volunteers don’t seem half bad & the missionaries friendly when ya get down to it. americans in niger, is what it is & the gal with child in charge has visions of glory & realities of movie nights on the grounds: a “Jaws” screening by the pool, “Bad News Bears” on the rutted baseball diamond to go with weekend softball games, some movie about a stay @ home dad playing over at the playground, etc...
• my house: in the Kaoro Kano, meaning Beautiful Place: calm. not so much going on in this hood, but big dark places between houses watched over by guards sittin out front, goats eating loco weed as we call it back home on the side of the dirt road I take to work, people living out of the shanties to the side of the selfsame road, kids yell out “antasorra!” sounding something like “anti-sorrow” or such- the name for whities, them wanting a shiny coin or maybe a greeting & I give them a French greeting, “bon jour!” I buy stuff from the little store with the yogurt drink & dates & bubbly ginger citron drink, stop by the guy selling little black eyed peas by the vat: he puts them in my container not his plastic bag he usually puts hot beans in for like 30 cents american, enough for 3 meals. I’ll make it into chili with some tomato sauce & spices & corn. this place tain’t so bad in all it’s calm, especially when you find out it’s the last place in town to lose electricity during Black-outs & the first to have it turned back on merci...
• next day I go to load up on provisions at the bustling “Petit Marche’” where everything can be gotten...i’ve come on bike with my green army backpack/duffel bag to load the goods into. I’m getting familiar enough with Niamey to bike around the narrow streets, not get too freaked out by the cars passing close by this shared/strained resource: the road...i get to the marche, lock bike by the nicer restaurant with good pizza & parking lot attender for safekeeping, almost immediately accosted by everyone wantin to sell me somethin, lots of wheel barrows filled up with produce: oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, eggplants, etc. I’m dressed in a nice shirt I cut the sleeves off of, thinking after a spell I shoulda dressed even a little more down, especially after the guy approaches me to sell laptop cases and a knife, switchblade knife, he pops open to show me its dangerous magnificence. is it my imagination? ”americain, americain.” is there malice in this display? he repeats, “americain, americain.” pops the knife open again. he knows from my lack of french speaking, accent, that I am american, or did I unwittingly mention it at some moment? there is something dastardly in the way he says, repeats, “americain, americain.” I don’t like the way he brandishes the switchblade, tell him so, move on to the potato seller. but I realize that I’ve spent my change & my smallest bill is worth $20 American, 10,000 CFA (Central Franc Africaine), the local currency. read recently the per capita income here in niger somewhere between 300 and 700 dollars depending on the source, though they all agree niger is one of 5 poorest countries in the world. you do the math on how much that 10,000 CFA note is worth & to who...I need go elsewhere to break my bill, don’t want to break it here, make a break for the heart of the market, past the meat sellers and their long knives, trying unsuccessfully not to consider my images of africans with machetes in the Sudan. but here in niger the locals mostly smiling, kind, yes...i find a little shop in the bustle where I can get some cheap imitation corn flakes, dried milk powder, juice, where I can break the bill...i load up, go back to get the rest of my goods including bunches of mint & basil, taters, onions, zucchini, eggplant, oranges, get back to the bike, get a bracelet from the turbaned nomad, hop back on the bike, lug my backpack full of stuff home, done shopping, back to the island of tranquility, my home with 5 rooms & 2 roomies & one guard out front & 2 dogs & one green swimming pool, etc...
• oh yeah, except that I forgot to mention the garbage. the piles of it all about, even this nice neighborhood. kitchen scraps, the ubiquitous plastic bags, yard trimmings, etc...i visualize an army of commando master composters organizing this into something useful, the neat piles of goat food here, kitchen scraps there, plastic bags being made into some building material or another, compost, etc...not such a far off reality in a place where not much is wasted, everything used...and then the ecotopia visions of grandeur sees that most people also are not dependent on cars for transport, the urban gardens all over, the goats roaming the streets, the possibilities of rain cachement?...someday africa, someday ye shall arise in such splendor again!!!...from the trash piles ye shalle arise! like an african sunrise, a beauteous array of sorted rubbish!...am I crying, or is that my eyes smarting as I bike by the toxic burn piles I gag upon biking home from work?...
• and then there’s the whole subject of “shiting one’s brains out” and the debacle this night, the bent over praying to some god that must have been offended, “mercy” “mercy.” oh merciful allah, I take back at least half way the condemning of the blaring loudpeakered calls to prayer coming from ye place of worshipe over back fence...it’s like I discovered some years back upon my 1st trip to Niger: it ain’t like, ”guess I had a little too much spicy food last night.” no, it’s like I’m going to fucking die right here, all of my fluids fleeing the body like americans after the coup...this is not the way I pictured it while picturing it listening to Tom Waits singin “How’s it Going to End?” though there is something entirely too Waitsish about such a hellishly beatific & grim ending of bodily fluids & prayers...yes, all exaggeration aside, mortality never too too far away here in africa...and with that cheery note:
• that’s the way it was it was....
The first days some kind of dazed jet lagged get my feet on the ground get ready for my school job rush and bustle. Moving in to the new house, meeting the roomies, sizing up things, dinner over the river except no dinner because it's the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and nobody's eating & the cooks ain't cooking. So we get pizza and gawk @ the "Petit Marche" across the way, "Small Market" in the French. It's packed with vendors and there seems nothing French nor petit about it.
So here I am, made the move. Africa! I was here 20 years before on an adventure as a 20 year old, meeting my big brother and his then girlfriend now wife who had just gotten out of the Peace Corps. We traipsed about the countryside, up into the hills, over to the nearby countries of Togo, Ghana, and Benin, as well as 2 months in Niger. It was the most fascinating time of my life seeing life thru these different eyes and ways. Now I am back, as school teacher not intrepid traveller, return'd to the scene of the crime so to speak. For adventure and bizarrely enough to get out of debt, coming to the 9th poorest from the 8th or something richest country to make some coin.
And so every day an adventure unto its own. Moving in to the house to discover the house/my room is getting sprayed for termites my second day in residence. I recall my brother mentioning how toxic "first world" banned chemicals make there way down to Africa frequently when chemical companies need to find some kind of a market for their already produced goods. I am starkly reminded of it as I walk into the kitchen while poison is being applied, nearly retching right then and there, fleeing the scene to the school director's house next door to wait out the stench for a week. Welcome to Africa!!!
And so it has been over the past 2 weeks, every task an adventure. Making the connections to survival, food. Food that will not turn this American stomach inside out. The omelette and coffee stands of picnic bench with gas stove, out doors of course. The driving all bout town with a new friend, Naba, as he takes me to find beans, one place after the other closed for Ramadan til success is ours. But, we also mustn't forget the night of going out with roomies to the Senegalese place with yummmmmmy toppings over yucccckkky rice. Seems the local yummy rice gets exported to France, the yucky rice imported from Algeria or such.
And so as i recognize the difficulty of getting food, i decide to try out Ramadan for a few days, give the fasting thing a shot. Only, I drink liquids. They don't. Not a drop of water nor spit nor nothing sunrise to sunset. In the hottest place on Earth, Africa. But, I do realize that in numbers comes solidarity. People are ordealing this together. I have fasted before, but only with me & maybe another person or 2. This is a community act, but also an act of solidarity with the poor i am told. & a test in case @ one point in your life you find yourself involuntarily in a position of not having food nor water...
And so i see this shall be a tale of glory & hardship. The common endurance. The dust, donkeys, kindnesses, giraffes, hippos. The living softer and harder than I've ever done. The adventures to get the goods, buy the PVC for my shadow puppet stage with my Taureg room mate @ the aforementioned Petit Marche, people running hither and yon to make the sale. It woulda been alot easier @ the hardware store back home, but not quite the adventure nor glory nor something all together different than that from which I have fled 2 weeks past.
I am here in the dust.
I wondered why we had stopped. I looked up the tracks and couldn't understand what I was seeing. There seemed to be a haze along the tracks, like fog. But only near the buildings that were alongside the tracks just up from our unit. Wait! Those weren't building, those were freight cars! The fuck? What were they doing there? On their sides? They were a long way away from the rest of the train. Who'd left them there? Was that our train? Holy fucking shit. Was that our train? Was our train scattered about like you see in aerial photos of train accidents in Bombay?
And then it occurred to me. Those were the grainers we were going to ride. Our grainers were now tumbled ass over teakettle 50 feet or more from the tracks. Our. Grainers. The ones we were going to ride. Three or four cars up from our unit. The haze was dust and grain in the air. These cars were wrecked. Totally destroyed. Not like Bring a crane and we'll put them back on the tracks, but more like Bring a cutting torch and a flatbed. Grain was spilled everywhere, still spilling in fact. Everything looked so settled. This had really only been a few seconds since the accident, and yet nothing was moving or rolling or swinging or burning. It was all planted there as if some grisly tableau. A film set waiting for special effects and fake-bloodied actors. It was hard to believe, even though we had just experienced it. I was thinking this was last summer, but I guess it was February this year. A friend called who was visiting from BC who'd never hoped, and we talked perfunctorily about someday taking a trip. Now he was showing up and I had to make good on my offer.
We really didn't care where we went, and started out in Roseville with the idea of going north to Dunsmuir or east and going through the passes. Instead of course, we got impatient and just took a train that stopped in front of the catch-out spot going south. Whatevs. We debated between a few rideable grainers near the back of the train but the weather was a bit chilly and damp and the cars were facing the wrong way and we didn't want to ride dirtyface. So instead we climbed in the rear helper unit at the end of the train. I'd never ridden in a rear unit, though I'd ridden in the back unit at the front of the train.
This unit was more techno they'd I'd ever seen. Most units look barely improved since the 19th century, all levelers and buttons and gauges. This one had not one but two touchscreen computer monitors giving constant readouts of engine status, speed, limits, position, everything. We were terrified that such a high-tech unit would immediately know we were in it and snitch us out. But we were under way soon and if they knew we were there, no one came (and how could they once we were moving?). After a while, we figured out how to switch off the lights so we could sit in the chairs and watch the world go by.
And of course it takes us south toward Stockton. Good old Stockton. I've been there as many times as I've been in places I actually like, like Dunsmuir, but never by choice. If my train is going to take a "wrong turn" it's going to dump me in Stockton. I could catch out in Indianapolis going east and a few hours later end up in Stockton. Maybe the name says it all: Stockton. Stock town. The town where stock is sold and unloaded and slaughtered and whatever. This time however it passed through Stockton (whew) and headed down the central valley corridor.
We lazily lulled in our plush locomotive cab with the occasional Where-The-Fuck-Are-We glance around. Rolling down through the long quiet central valley, we were lulled by the repetitious and monotonous view and insistent rocking, we all fell into a dead sleep. I found a few scant square feet to curl up in uncomfortably and with some weird anxious dreams, lost consciousness.
Lights! Suddenly awake! What's happening? A red light! A screaming alarm! Where was I? The fuck? On a train, looks like, in a unit. Oh yeah! Shit. I'd been jerked awake. Air brake release? Were we discovered? Was it us? Should we stay here, stay low, hide? There was a bright red light on in the cab and the alarm was still screaming. No I do not think staying here would be a Good Idea. Not at all. Something was going on, and it wasn't us. There was a door in the nose of the cab and I thought this was exactly the time we should use it. We gathered our shit up in seconds and were out the door. And swung down to the ground and walked safely away.
Insert colorful crash scene here.
We were stunned and walking around like dumbshits. We realized that somehow minutes after the crash, cops were already on the scene and we'd better make haste to look less conspicuous. We stashed our packs and went around the wreck to take some photos. There was a wheel/axel set sitting on the tracks a 100 feet from anything else, disassociated from its car. Large stretches of the tracks were completely twisted and unusable anytime soon. The rest of the train from the point of the wreck was almost out of sight. I don't doubt that they had a big fast emergency stop too, but the rest of the train still took long enough to stop that we could barely see the severed end of it down the line. Apparently when cars stop by plowing into the earth and tumbling end over end, they don't go as far as the rest of the train that still has its wheels.
We took our photos and then returned for our packs. Clearly no trains were going to be running on this line anytime soon. So we walked a few miles to the loneliest, most humble Amtrak station in America. Our new train took us to Stockton where of course, we hung out for a few days waiting fruitlessly for a train.
During this phase of shifting awkwardness and obsession with English poets, I wore Edwardian ruffled shirts, punctuated by dour black tights. My primary intent of this fashion force-field was to simultaneously ward of frat boys and attract those of similar romantic fancies and love of Morrissey. I had recently died my hair a deep blue black. After frightening myself several times in the mirror I had it bleached back to dark brown. Any slight misrepresentation of the visual was not something I could weather at this juncture having just crawled out of the dregs of 1980s fashion culture.
In the midst of a crisis subsequent to leaving high school, I was having a hard time maintaining friendships and relationships. The harder I would to hold on, the faster they would run away. I wasn't quite sure what I was doing wrong, short of having horns protruding from my forehead that everyone but myself could see. Depression and isolation were my dedicated, yet tedious companions.
In the spring of our friendship, I began to formulate a plan. I wanted to know, one, and only one thing from you. Knowledge of this thing I was sure would set me free, thus opening me up to new friendships and a long fabulous life. I planned the day I would broach this subject with you well in advance.
You were amusing yourself with your talented wit as we sat in the lunch quad at San Jose State. I finally dove in and got to the punctum of our friendship.
With great earnest I asked you, "What's wrong with me?"
You looked on in horror at my distraught, yet honest, face and were unable to answer. I never saw you again. You wound up marrying a girl from my high school, two years my junior, of my own namesake.
Apparently, asking the question was the answer.
batches of mulberry wine,
side-swiping drunk flies,
i run, i run, ai
yi yi yi, i run run run
on these hot mulled wine sidewalks
spicy with brow salt
and full body sweat slick and
purple spattered legs
dreaming of breezes,
icy margaritas, and
salty salty glasses
HA! Escape! And no wonder, having waded through a particularly bad personal shit storm this week.
Odd details: lots of black eyeliner and steampunk clothing. There was much jumping up on tables and overrunning of townspeople. In one scene I had to talk a big, frightening, self-appointed bridge guard into letting me cross a bridge, but then I realized he was a simpleton (in the gypsy-pirate vernacular) and I talked him into letting me cross for a few shiny coins worth pennies. The gypsy-pirate guy I fell in love with was stunningly handsome and looked like this guy I had a crush on one time at an ashram I was visiting to do meditation. The ashram inhabitants did a nightly meditation that focused on raising the kundalini (real life here, not dream life) and I came to realize that with this guy in the room, my kundalini energy was getting stuck in my base chakra as sexual energy, which wasn't the point of the whole thing, but hey, I was a free woman and could daydream as well as night dream. I saw the guy recently and his eyes are so stunning that he does take my breath away just bit. In the dream, he was going to take off with some other men in the group for some kind of "raid" or something, but told me that if I went with the rest of the group he would know where to find me. He wouldn't be able to find me again if I stayed where I was in my regular boring life. Hmmm...that detail didn't make a lot of sense when I woke up, or only made sense in a metaphorical way, which sort of blew the whole dream state and brought me kicking and thrashing back into reality. Husband in kitchen grinding coffee beans. Get up. Make lunch. Watch the weather forecast. Go to work. A good life, but obviously I need to shake it up a little.
Earths wrinkled brown skin
Swallows rooted Cosecha
Rows of green limbs
Hunch over ripened Uva
Bodies planted in
Burned by the sun's
Blistered fingers gather
Someone eles's food
Withered brown hands
Stained with la Tierra
Swell with suffocating thirst
Plants grow Vigorosamente
Suckling the bloodsweat
From Drying Veins
Dedicated to me ; Benjamin Candelaria
Every afternoon, a small bevy of old women gathers on the corner near my building. They crouch or bring tiny stools that lift their thick haunches only a foot off the ground, so they give the impression of being balled up in a permanent squat, like gravity has finally won them over, and they have sunk into round, wobbling spheres of their former selves, like great big squashes rooted to the street. They are of a kind, these ladies, each with the sensible, short-cropped grey haircut of their generation, the mannish chop that implies a great indifference to bourgeois notions of feminine beauty. They wear the same dark-colored pants, the same thick tops and colored jackets and brocade vests, the little uniform of their age. They gather in groups of three or four, sometimes close together, sometimes spread out by a few yards, and they cluck and chatter and laugh in their old-crone voices like a murder of gossipy crows. They scare me the way all powerful women scare me. I adore them. Before each of them rests a pot or two, a barrel-like tub with a lid and a tea towel, and an example of what rests within lain on top, usually a yam, a sweet potato, taro, or corn. In the fall, they have soybeans and boiled peanuts. They cook great piles of the things at home, and then trot them out in the afternoons to sell for a tiny profit. I get the feeling this little bit of free trade also constitutes the bulk of their social day, like playing mahjong or doing taijiquan with other ladies from the neighborhood.
They come out around 3 pm, when students’ lunches have worn off and the stretch before dinnertime starts to feel long. They crouch and they wait, and slowly, the students wander past on their way to and from classes, and they lean over the old ladies’ vats and poke around inside, picking out a warm, starchy snack to tide them over till supper. The women sit there for hours, sometimes caught up in busy trade, sometimes only chatting, talking about I don’t know what, while their tubs dribble steam and their goods become waterlogged and slowly cool to mush.
Yesterday, I was really, really hungry. I didn’t feel like walking all the way out to the South Gate to hit the vegetable market, and I wasn’t in the mood to talk with my vegetable lady, anyway. I formed an accidental friendship with one of the vendors in the produce alley, even visiting her in the hospital when she was in a terrible bicycle wreck, but her Sichuanese accent and my weak Chinese often make her enthusiastic chatter more of a trial than a pleasure for me, and our bond makes me feel like visiting another stall would be somehow traitorous. So, sometimes I don’t buy veggies when I need to, more out of mental and social exhaustion than laziness. In any case, our tiny cupboards were effectively bare, and so I trotted out to the corner in my flip-flops and braved the mockery of the crow-ladies with the pots of afternoon snacks.
One immediately pounced: “Ni mai shenme!” she barked, “What do you want to buy!” It was an order more than a question. She lifted up her lids with hands wrapped in towels. Big clouds of steam flooded my face as I crouched in front of her. She had pale-looking corn floating in one pot, and bruised sweet potatoes with their skins still on in the other. Thinking of dinner later, I asked for two of each. She wrapped the corn in plastic baggies, and shouted a price that I knew was too much. People all around the world seem to labor under the impression that being louder will somehow help a foreigner understand. It doesn’t. I was at least glad she spoke; some vendors here assume I will comprehend nothing, even when I have already addressed them in Chinese, and they proceed to communicate only in esoteric hand gestures and grunts, a practice I find maddening and even more incomprehensible than the Sichuanese dialect. The other ladies clucked and chuckled over the price – it was roughly the equivalent of 50 cents an ear, a price I could live with and didn’t feel up to arguing over. She then picked out a couple of ugly sweet potatoes, “I’ll give you the big ones,” she said. Her face was broad and wrinkly and cracked open with a huge grin as she yelled; she was missing a lot of teeth. I said that big ones would be fine. She then seemed to feel sorry for having overcharged me, and after I paid her, she reached back into her tub and grabbed a pair of fingerlings, quickly stuffing them into a bag and then into my palms. She leaned in close to my face, her leathery squint growing tighter and brighter as she laughed a wheezy, windy laugh: “These are a gift for you,” she said. They smelled like sugar and loam and were warm like living creatures in my hand. She shooed me away as a group of students came by, and I practically ran back to the apartment with my load of boiled goodies.
Once I was in my kitchen, I tasted the corn first, as it looked ashen and had obviously been sitting in the water for hours. It was just as I’d expected: starchy and tasteless, like little pops of goo stuck to a cardboard cob. There is no sweet corn in China, as far as I’m aware; everything is seed corn, or the kind they feed to pigs. Both ears went in the trash.
Then, I pulled out one of my little sweet potato gifts. It was still steaming slightly, the skin on but scrubbed, and the bad bits whittled off, so it had a patchy, mangy look to it along with the bruising and pale russet of the peel. It was soft and broke easily into two pieces in my hands. I dusted it a little with salt, and was immediately overwhelmed: earthy, warm, and dizzyingly sweet. It was magic, a perfect size, a perfect weight, rich and deep in ways that vegetables never get credit for being. It tasted like candy and soup and bread and roots all at once, like the ultimate sustenance. I felt like I could be lost in a forest and dig up only these magical tubers for years and be utterly nourished, like they somehow were all food groups and vitamins rolled into one. I probably drooled. I inhaled one and set the other in the fridge for another day, and happily carved up the big ones for dinner. They were glorious with a little butter and some rice and beans.