Yes, as PCVs the majority of our time is spent doing our jobs: teaching, secondary projects such as English theater and Science fair, and simply taking care of ourselves by handwashing clothes, keeping the house clean, cooking ect. But we do have some free time. Here are three snapshots of what that looks like:
There hasn’t been any electricity for days now. Long enough that I am worried that my site may officially become a “no energy site” which, when I signed up for Peace Corps is exactly what I expected, but now my only goal in life in to sleep with a fan pointed directly at my face. Tonight though, it is okay. Pam just got a care package with all the ingredients to make s'mores. We have been looking forward to this all day, sneaking glances out of the corner of our eyes at the bag of marshmallows sitting on the counter, but we have waited till it is dark so we are guaranteed to stay up past 6:45 tonight. She works on the charcoal (there isn’t actually enough wood to make a campfire) and I start out into the wilderness armed only with my flashlight to find us marshmallow roasting sticks. It is short work, and I return to the porch triumphant. In the background music is playing, The Beatles leaching the last of the power from my ipod and giving it to the small speakers that are telling me all that I need is love. We sing along, turning the flashlight off every now and then to disperse what appears to be all the mosquitoes in province which are drawn to the only artificial light in miles. If only there were no clouds, the stars must be beautiful. We roast our marshmallows (well, I roast and Pam tries every method possible to set hers on fire) then squish them on to broken gram crackers covered in nutella. So, its not a perfect s’more, or a perfect campfire, but as we laugh and sing, eating our imperfect creations, it is a good night.
Sometimes in life you stop, look around you, and wonder how you got here. Here I am, standing under a tree, on the side of a dirt road sweating in the noon sun. We had told the boys that we would be there by 11, but it turns out that the chapa driver didn’t agree with our plans, and now I am half way between Cookie-Town and the town out in the bush where Tony and his new roommate Ari live. The car is about ten feet off the road, stuck in the soft sand as it attempted to back up to a house to pick up “a few things.” The people who were with us on the truck have become acclimated to the presence of two Americans, but still give us plenty of space in the expanse of the tree’s shade. To the tiny villages inhabitants, however, we are still novelties. The village children, in dirty and tattered clothes, form a viewing gallery about 5 feet away. Every time we move, they change position so that their protective barrier remains intact. We haven’t moved too much recently though, so most are sitting and staring. They don’t even talk amongst themselves, just in case the newcomers know their language. I’m chewing on the last bit of my sugar cane, the only snack available at our unplanned pit stop. The sugar cane isn’t ripe yet though, so instead of sugar water, chewing the fibrous plant yield only the taste of unripen bananas. The sugar cane was hard to peal, and we had to do it ourselves with a pocket knife, since none of the small children wielding machetes were brave enough to approach us. So here I am. On the side of a road in Africa, sweating in the shade of a tree, the exhaust of the immovable truck in my nose, stared at by children, the taste of unrippened banana that refuses to leave. I am heading to the house of someone I didn’t even know last September, who I can’t imagine being in Africa without, after a week of attempting to teach Mozambician 9th graders how to conjugate verbs. My family is thousands of miles away, along with my home and the rest of my life. What am I doing here?
Before I can become to introspective, the afternoon heat driving me to pessimism, I am interrupted by swift curses. Pam has cut her finger while trying to peal the sugar cane. In a spectacular fashion, as only Cookie-town girls can do, blood is everywhere. Within ten seconds everything is under control and I am tying a piece of capulana around the finger. Our audience doesn’t know if they should be concerned about the injury or amused because the silly white girls don’t know how to eat sugar cane properly. But now it is funny. “What are we doing here?” I laugh as we throw aside the bloody, disregarded sugar cane. Soon the truck will free itself and we will make our way into the bush, a whole other misadventure involving pizza, corn flour and alcoholic dog treats waiting for us.
But hey, at least for now we have a great view.
After school, I am tired. Sure I only work 12:30 till 5:30 but trust me, it is enough. By the time I get back in the house and throw my school things aside, I am done. The transition from pants to shorts is made as well as an attempt at dinner. If I am feeling energetic, maybe I’ll make caramelized onions and pasta with some of the spices from my care packages. Or like tonight, I’ll just open a can of tuna and mix in whatever vegetables we have to make a sandwich. In cookie-town the evening entertainment, or at least the entertainment when electricity decides to make an appearance, is television on the computer. Tonight we have elected on a more intense show, Homeland, suggested by our boss (okay. Upon revision this isn’t funny until you know two things. 1. President Obama is technically our boss 2. In a magazine passed around Peace Corps he admitted to watching and enjoying the show). We are watching intensely, trying to keep up with who is crazy, who is traitorous, and what movie the main girl is from. Then something drops from the ceiling onto the table. Neither of us flinches. A few seconds pass.
“What was that?” I ask distractly still trying to see if I can understand any of the Arabic (I can’t)
Pam looks around behind the computer. “A lizard”
It takes us a few minutes to admire the ridiculousness of the situation.