Saturday, September 27, 2008

Roughing It...

I'm in Bamako to catch up on some good food, friends, and news from home. There's so much to say about my new home in Narena. Here's a rapid-fire account of my new living arrangements:

1) For move-in, the Peace Corps sent someone to help me figure out the basics of water, food, etc before leaving me alone in the middle of nowhere. My installer helped me get a lease signed with my landlord (not because my mud house require a lease - it's a ridiculous American rule that Peace Corps requires). As they were talking, my installer asked what the previous volunteer's arrangements were for meals. My landlord replied that breakfast and dinner with the family every day was included as a part of the rent. That arrangement isn't particularly surprising - except that my rent is about thirty bucks a month.

2) There used to be electricity to my house, but the line got cut down (still am not sure I've gotten a straight answer as to why). I may pay to have the wire replaced, or I might buy a solar panel. For now, my evening tasks are accomplished by lamp light, which I actually find kind of warm and comforting. I charge my phone at the mayor's office, and my ipod and computer currently lie unused.

3) I have a gas stove, but have not been able to open the valve - for now I just eat "to". Pronounced "toe", it is a substance with the consistency of play-doh, the color of cement, and a nutritional value that I imagine is only somewhat more than the aforementioned items. This delicacy is eaten from a common bowl, with the hands. It is dipped in sauce that is usually made with okra, and which has popularly been termed "snot sauce" by PCVs here. The first time I had it, I seriously wasn't sure I could keep it down. Now, I can eat it when I'm hungry, but it is decidedly un-tasty.

4) My sister, Annie, once asked "if their houses are made of mud, what do they do when it rains?" Well, let me tell you... in Keleya, one morning I woke up to find that our cooking hut had fallen down. Half of it just cracked, and from there simply crumbled. In Narena, it rained really hard one day, and my walls starting oozing in places where they are thin. By oozing, I mean that water from the outside had soaked through the wall, and was resulting in dried mud on the inside turning into wet mud. In the worst spots, this newly-wet mud was actually starting to creep slowly from it's rightful place on my wall towards the floor. The next day, as we were repairing said thin-spots, I learned that it's not just mud that they use in the walls, it's mud mixed with cow poop. Gross, yeah, but I guess once it dries it's not so bad.

5) It's Ramadan, and people are pretty useless. It's been really frustrating trying to find anything to do over the last couple weeks. They don't eat or drink all day, and then stay up eating and drinking (water) all night. It's hot. They're hungry, and tired, and dehydrated and grumpy. Not a pleasant combination. So for now, I've been reading for about half the day, and trying to find things to do for the other half. This works out okay, since my head turns mushy after a half day of speaking languages that aren't english.

On the less rough side of things:

1) I can find a pretty decent variety of fresh fruit here - though in different varieties than I'm used to. Oranges here are green (but still called oranges). Most of the bananas never turn yellow. You eat them when they're green, before they turn brown. I have banana trees in my yard, which I'm very much looking forward to eating (the bananas not the trees).

2) Fresh bread is available daily in town, and for just plain white bread is some of the best I've ever had. It's chewy and buttery and warm if I buy it in the morning. It's amazing with chunky Skippy and Nutella.


Hof said...

After reading your post, I guess I'll stop complaining about my tiny apartment in Philly. We had a pretty massive rainstorm last night, and I guess I just never appreciated how comforting it is to know that inclement weather won't result in your walls collapsing in on you (and smothering you in poop as a consequence).

I also enjoyed the bit about how Peace Corps makes you get a signed lease. A policy cooked up by lawyers in DC no doubt, who perhaps didn't stop to consider that in some parts of the world a signed piece of paper may not be the most reliable form of protection against life's unknowns.

Keep the posts coming!


Alan L said...

Great stories Dan, hopefully your hut is still holding strong. I also found the lease bit was rather hilarious. How far into your job have you gotten? I remember you saying that you were working in small business, has the economy crash hurt your efforts at all?