21 December 2010

Blah Blah Blahg

You guys. I know. You're all like, "Danny, you need to blog more. Why are you even in Africa, if you're not going to blog about it. I mean, come on."

I hear you. I hear your italics. Oh, and I'm gonna feed you, baby birds.

So here's a wormy regurgitation of random stories and things out of my journal from the past couple months, from my mouth to yours. Merry Christmas!

(Note: I'm probably going to refer to "the other day" as when most of these stories took place, which could literally mean the other day, or could mean, like, October. Just don't want anyone to think this is all typical of one day here in Ngora.)

Out with my counterpart the other day when an old woman comes up to me asking for money. My counterpart turns to her, says something to her in Ateso. The old woman looks at me, looks back at my counterpart, looks confused, looks skeptical. But then she walks away. My counterpart turns to me, says, "I told her you don't have any money because you're not actually white, you're a Ugandan who lost all the color from his skin and was shunned by his family, and so we have taken you in because we felt sorry for you."

The other day, we were out in one of the villages, parked in the shade of a mango tree. In our maroon Toyota Hilux pickup truck, I was sitting sideways in the passenger seat, idly kicking my feet out the open door, sweating, staring out at nothing but green and tawny colored grasses and mud huts and goats standing on top of anthills. We were waiting for, what?, something, or we were just waiting, sometimes in Africa you just wait, and you don't talk, you all just sit and stare out at nothing, and sometimes I like to chew on grass while staring, but that's beside the point. We had the radio on. A reggae version of a familiar song came on as I was sweating and squinting against the equatorial sun.
"I'm dreaming... of a white Christmas..."
Reggae Jingle Bells came on next.
I squinted a little harder into the sun, felt sweat droplets roll down my spine, tried to process all of those things at once, and my brain exploded a little bit.

"I met a man who bicycled across the country twelve times. His legs are ruined now, but the maps on his wall are dark with Magic Marker lines showing the places he's been."

Oh, so we had a pool party in Mbale the other day. We went to a grocery store for a few things first, and there was a guard outside the door, armed with an old bolt-action rifle. One of the other volunteers I was with asked the guard if he could have his gun. The guard said no. We asked if it actually worked. The guard said yes. And to prove it, he pointed at the pockmarks of two bullet holes, one on the ceiling of the awning, the other ten feet up on the concrete wall, both just a few feet from the store he was guarding. His sheepish grin said those were just for fun, or an accident, or he's a terrible aim, or all three of those.

I got a phone call from Fred, our Safety and Security guy the other day, letting me know that he was sending someone out to inspect my new house. But so the phone rang, and I answered, not recognizing the number.
"Hello?" "Hello, this is Fred with the Peace Corps. You sound weak, are you ok?"
I told Fred I was fine. I didn't think I sounded weak.
Then I hung up with Fred and went for water and had to carry a full 20L jerrycan about 100 yards and I realized he was right.

I ate offals. Offals are the intestines of a cow and/or goat. They weren't bad. I also ate fried termites. They weren't bad either, because they were delicious.

The other night, I waited out a thunderstorm in a hut. We were sitting around outside as the sun dipped to the west and black clouds built up in the east. Then those black clouds rushed overhead and expedited the sunset and fat droplets of rain began to splatter in the dirt and he hurried into the hut. I sat opposite the door way and watched the rain come down in fat droplets and then sheets at a forty-five degree angle and then currents and rivulets across the dirt courtyard, and the wind blew jerrycans away and threw unripe mangoes into the mud, and the lightning flashed so close and lit everything, for just a second, in pale, purple-white light, and then the thunder sounded like someone was cracking the sky in half.
And it was perfect.
But it was so perfect that I couldn't help myself, and I simultaneously felt like I was in an exhibit in a natural history museum -- and I immediately hated every elementary school field trip I'd ever been on -- and like I was listening to one of those white noise machines from Sharper Image -- and I hated every time we'd ever stopped there in the mall. Damn those massage chairs they always had out front.
But, tried to forget those things, and it was still pretty perfect, and I still do love all those elementary school field trips.
Afterward, I walked home in the dark, except when lightning lit everything in white and purple, dodging new ponds and rivers of rainwater, except when I didn't and went ankle-deep in it, and I got back into town and the power was out and it was totally post-apocalyptic with the lightning and the half-constructed buildings and the flickering lanterns and boda boda headlights and people shouting and laughing and running across the street, and they're just silhouettes after sunset if you can even see them at all, and I bought chicken and chapatti from a cardboard box, and made it back, muddy-footed, to the bar, or home, where surly youths sat inside huddled around a lantern, plotting ways to kill Kevin Costner in Waterworld.
It was awesome.

Here's something: I've spent three weeks straight at site now without hanging out with another American. And, as of this month, I've spent a full year total of my life abroad, so I feel good about that. Now, I'm no math doctor, but if I've spent one year abroad out of twenty-five, then that's like 25% of my life that I've spent around. That's pretty cool.

Walking out to my pit latrine the other night, I turn the corner and get hit in the face by a moth with a six-inch wingspan. I freak out a little bit, naturally, and run to the latrine, turn on the light, and unlock the padlock on the door. The moth, being a moth, sees the light and beats me into the latrine. It flaps around insanely for a minute or two, while I stand with the door open hoping it will fly out. Instead it lands on the wall. This gives a chance for an eight-inch lizard to dark out from the shadows and attempt to chomp down on the moth's head which leads the moth to batter the lizard with its dusty moth wings until it escapes and flies out. Godzilla vs Mothra, in my pit latrine.
Two nights later, coming back from the latrine, I walk into my house and get hit in the face by a moth with a six-inch wingspan. This time, when it lands on the wall, I kill it with a flipflop. Thrown tomahawk-style twenty feet across the entire length of both rooms of my house.

The other night, I was sitting around a pot of ajon (the local Teso beer, made from fermented millet flour, basically, I think, which is usually drank out of a clay pot, but this time when I say pot, I mean jerrycan with the top cut off) with my friend Martin (or "Martino" as they pronounce it here, because they Italianize names, which is why I am known as "Danielli") and his brothers and a few dudes from town, when a couple kids come up to watch me drinking from one of the communal four-foot straws.
Dude to my right: "They are curious to see how you suck."
Me: "Oh, burn."

There is a village outside of town called Osigiria. In Ateso, this means donkey. It's called Osigiria because there was a white man who lived there around the beginning of the 1900s. He owned one donkey. One night the villagers stole, killed, and ate his donkey. Then they named the village after it. The white man never knew what happened to his donkey.

The other night, under the pale light of a nearly-full moon, around a pot of ajon (I swear, I've only drank at site four times, literally) with twenty (I counted) long straws sticking out, in a clearing of mud huts, with a small white calf with protruding ribs standing off to the side and lowing loudly, bats flitting overhead, the orange glow of a cooking fire radiating from behind one of the huts, with bits of termites stuck between my teeth, without an electric light in site, the faces of the other men becoming indistinguishable in the dark, the older man to my and Martino's right -- the teacher from Ngora High, with the beard flecked with gray, the one who had advised me to take a Ugandan wife, then asked if I was married, then advised me to take a Ugandan wife, again, and had wondered if it were true, as he had heard, that white men fear death but don't fear HIV, but it's not true, because I fear it, and had wondered if it were true, as he had heard, that in America you can't see the moon or the stars and in those Scandinavian countries some days the sun never comes up, and who said that after September 11th, at night, you could see the American fighters flying overhead on their way to Iraq but you couldn't see them during the day because the sun was too bright, and whose eyes seemed clear but whose speech began to drag a little bit but not so much that he couldn't quiet the crowd around the pot -- gave a speech welcoming me to Africa, to Uganda, to Teso, to Ngora, and explained that they drank this way, communally, from one part, because they were communal, a community, and now I was part of the community and I needed an Iteso name and he gave me one. He said that Martino and I were twins, and we had to be called by the names that twins are called by, and he said that Martino was to be Opio, which meant that I was to be Odongo.
We'll see if it sticks.

"Whatever insights I have are fragmentary and fleeting. I am not so much seeking anything as I am allowing the world to come to me, allowing the days to unfold, the dramas of weather and wild creatures, the many different ways the world appears to the human eye -- the colors and shapes constantly shifting."

Ok. That's all for now.

For Christmas, I'm off to meet up with my favorite people here and see Sipi Falls and maybe check out one of the traditional circumcision ceremonies of the local tribes and climb the Rainier-sized Mount Elgon, which definitely sounds like something from Lord of the Rings, and so I'm going to throw something into the fires of it. But a trip like that means pictures, so you can all look forward to seeing those.

Merry Christmas! And happy New Year! I hope it's wonderful for all of you, and for those of you who actually are enjoying a white Christmas, enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. Love it. Merry (belated) Christmas. Looking forward to pics from Mt. Elgon!