Speaking of Things that are Sharp....

I only have a few minutes to write before I have to go to school. It is a little after six, I have been lazy lately and not getting up at 5 like I should. I wake up at five and then hang around reading in bed hoping to wake myself up enough to stumble out of bed. It never works and I am trying to find new ways to convince my body that 7 hours is plenty of sleep. I have always been an eight hours of sleep type person and my body absolutely hates me for cutting back to 5 or 6 hrs. But today, I got up despite the I-don’t-care-how-much-i-have-to-do-I-am-not-moving exhaustion. I made coffee- this morning I put cocoa powder in it to make a mocha (I miss my Dunkin Donuts Lattes) and I thought I would write a bit while it cooled.
For breakfast this morning I am going to treat myself to yogurt. The yogurt, like everything here, does not need to be refrigerated. I am not sure how long it can go without refrigeration so I am doing a test. What I do is: leave it out for a day, eat it. If I get no gastronomic fireworks, I try leaving it for two days. So far I have extended the unrefrigerated shelf life of orange juice, eggs, cheese, and leftovers to longer than is palatable. I won’t tell you how long, just in case Peace Corps medical is reading this. And I want to avoid a chastising phone call from my mother as well. Did you know an opened pack of velveeta will last well over a month despite it saying “refrigerate after opening and use after five days”? My mother would be horrified that I am doing this. But trust me, mild dysentery is worth it if I am able to eat yogurt for breakfast instead of Blue Band and white bread.

The reason I decided to write this morning was to complain. (I love complaining.) My foot hurts. (wimper) Yesterday while carrying water, I stepped on an acacia thorn in my good Teva flip flops. The three inch thorn went all the way though the shoe and into the soft part of my foot. And [insert swear word here] it hurt! I tried to pull the thorn out of the shoe and succeeded in breaking it off making the shoe unwearable. And this morning, judging from the pain, I have the other half of the thorn in my foot. Awesome. I tried to pry it out of my foot, but it is buried. The walk to school is going to be very long and now I am down to one decent pair of shoes- my hiking sneakers. Someone asked me for wish list of things I need/want, new tevas are at the top of the list. Those tevas were pretty enough to wear to class and comfortable enough to hike in.

Speaking of things that are sharp, the night watchman over at the Brothers’ compound killed a porcupine yesterday. In America, porcupines are very spikey and look painful. Here, I guarantee that an encounter with a porcupine would kill you. The American students picked off some of the quills and gave them to me and Wow, they’re big. The quill I have is 10 inches long, thick as a pen, and needle sharp. It is strong and hollow, looks perfect for performing emergency tracheotomies.
I spent a lot of time with the wazungus from Minnesota over the weekend. The teachers are pretty awesome people and I spent a few hours just chatting with them. Having them here has brought to light just how much I have changed. I don’t know when it happened, but I have now become more Kenyan than American. Everything from my language to my behavior is Kenyan. We were having a conversation, I was trying to convince them to just stop by my house for a visit (this is something we don’t do in America, you would never just show up to someone’s house uninvited), and they were saying it would get dark before they left. I offered them my torch to use and then I trailed off, noticing them all giving me a strange half smile. I paused, “what?” With a grin, one of them said, “You said torch!” Yeah, I say torch instead of flashlight, serviette instead of napkin, carbon four oxide instead of carbon dioxide, and call plastic bags “paper bags”. Go ahead and make fun. One of the students asked me why I wasn’t afraid to walk outside at night, why didn’t the hyenas attack me. I was thinking about it when a Kenyan friend of mine said, “They don’t attack her because she is Kenyan”. I guess hyenas only eat foreigners.
There is a cow who lives on my school compound. She is very cute, like most cows, and very nosey. She always tries to come in the staff room during lunch and someone has to run over and kick her in the face to get her to leave. I know that sounds harsh, she’s not hurt by it though, its more of a push in the face with a foot. But I don’t do that. I make moo-ing noises trying to get her to come inside. She is a very hungry cow but, like everywhere here, there is nothing to eat and no water to drink. She spends a lot of her day standing with her head in the staff room moo-ing as loud as she can. It actually gets quite annoying. But I still love her. But I really need to stop getting attached to animals here. There is a reason that the word for ‘animal’ is the same as the word for ‘meat’. I found out today that the end of her life is coming. She, and two goats, are destined to be lunch on Saturday during parents day. Me, being one of two females on the staff, will have the job of, lets use a nice word, processing the meat. In America, it is rare if you get to see the animal you are eating. Our culture tries its best to separate Happy Cows from Tasty Steak. Here there is no hiding it. Friday evening, I will see exactly where hamburgers come from. You might think that having that visual in your mind is a good way to become a vegetarian. But it actually helps me. I like knowing that this cow was treated well, as well as any of the starving creatures here can be, and it will be dispatched in a quick, humane way. You can never be sure of that with meat in America. Notice how I used “it” not “she”, I figure now is as good a time as any to distance myself. I am already getting morose just thinking about it. I’m such a softie sometimes. If I cry when I watch the cow die, all my teachers will laugh at me. I must be strong.

While I was walking home on Monday, a young boy asked me where my husband was. I said I didn’t have one and he asked why. I told him I was too busy for a husband and I didn’t need one. Besides, I said I was too young for one anyway. He asked how old I was, 25 I told him. He said “my mother is 24”, in a way that I am sure meant “yes, you are going to die a spinster.” I asked how old he was. “11”. Eleven! With marriage on his mind and a 24 year old mom! Yeah, do the math on that one. I was pretty speechless.

Besides the burden of being harassed by children about my marital status, I was still in a very good mood on the way to school on Tuesday. I had gotten up on time, made coffee, written my physics midterm exam, and had even done a load of wash (though I only used one bucket, and didn’t really scrub or rinse :/ ). I was walking alone with a skip in my step, enjoying the unusually cool weather, when I passed through Kubibagasa village. I was expecting to walk through the gauntlet of friendly toddlers (really quite adorable) but the place was empty. No one was at the bore hole either. I walked a little further, and when I saw why, my mood just plummeted. A woman had died at one of the houses I pass every day. There was a large crowd of people in the yard. The women were comforting the family members who were distraught . I saw one woman on the ground, retching, while her companions held her up. Nearer the house, a lady was hysterically weeping, and then overcome with grief, she started yelling and hyperventilating. She was helped inside. While the women took care of the mourners, the men were taking care of the deceased. I had always wondered what they do with their dead here; there is no cemetery out here. I got my answer as I watched the men digging in the field to the side of the house. They buried the woman in a shallow grave, only 10 feet from the road, and piled it with rocks. I have seen these rock piles all around here, and I never knew what they were. It is strange that they bury their loved ones right along roads or in their housing compounds. I am wondering if it has to do with protection from animals, for remembrance, or some other reason. There are no headstones or markers, just these sad piles of rocks throughout the desert. I asked how the woman died and was told that she was just old. I suspect it was more to do with malnutrition. I have heard that once the elderly lose their teeth, which happens very early in life with no toothbrushes or dentists, they have to live on camel’s milk alone. With the drought, many camels are not producing much milk. It was very sad to see but such a common part of life here. By the time I walked by the hut on my way home, the mourners were gone, the bore hole was busy, there was clean laundry hanging to dry, the children were waiting for me, and the fresh pile of rocks was the only visual reminder that anything had occurred.



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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.