22 September 2007

daily bits

Conversation over the outdoor sinks:

Me [after watching a colleague brush his teeth for well over five minutes]: You are brushing your teeth for a really long time.
Colleague: Yes, of course. This toothpaste is long-lasting. Look, it says, “Long-lasting freshness.” [Shows me the tube.]

It rained all night and when I went out past the clothesline in the morning, I realized that I had forgotten to take in the shirt I washed yesterday. It was splattered pathetically on the cement under the line, beaten down by the rain. For the first time, Elsewhere seemed in danger of flooding. The troughs along the paths were full when I got up, although they emptied quickly.

It rained again just after lunch. This time, I managed to rescue yesterday’s shirt from the clothesline, now almost dry, as well as the one that I washed this morning, and a pair of socks. They are now safely hanging up in my room. All of us who are staying in the compound had gathered after eating in the small courtyard around which our rooms are built. When the deluge arrived, we were good and stuck. Most people sighed and laid down for a nap. I have a raincoat, so I put it on and made an attempt at going back to the training, only to feel rain soaking through my coat by the time I reached the main hall, still far from the training area. I succumbed to the weather and sat down with my book.

Two men soon joined me under the overhang, and in the middle of their discussion in Arabic, I heard the words, “from the American people.” They were looking at a car parked nearby, with an organization name and the USAID logo. I laughed, and they asked me what the slogan means. “Really,” I said, “I have no idea. Maybe it means that whatever food or money USAID gives is supposed to be a gift from the United States. But it’s a silly slogan.” Actually, it’s not so much a silly slogan per se as it is, first of all, a waste of my tax dollars (because you know someone made thousands of dollars creating that slogan), and second, a silly thing to have on every single USAID logo, including the ones on every donated car. These logos don’t need words. It only clutters them.

I forgot to mention one walk story from a few days ago. It was so surreal that it made me laugh in bewilderment. In a field by the road, three children were chasing two donkeys. One of the children, a boy maybe four years old, was shouting, “DON-key, DON-key, DON-key!” In English. Running donkeys, running children, and the word “DON-key” in English, over and over. So very strange.

I have upped my Arabic words to six. Six, that is, that are not identical to Swahili words. There are plenty of those, too. (Fortunately, some of the numbers are the same, or at least discernable, which is very helpful in the market.) My Arabic words consist of malesh – sorry, quais – okay, mafi – none, moya – water, qalas – finished, and shokran – thank you. What more could one need?

Okay, it’s pathetic. I’ve been here a month, and I know six words. I need to work on that.

I have now sunk to a fruit-deprivation level in which I think lemonade counts as a daily fruit allowance. It’s citrus, after all. Three lemons, a bunch of sugar, and some water? That’s right there in the food pyramid. I know it is.

Qalas, quais.

P.S. Someone asked about the photo in the header. Sadly, I’ve never been to Haiti, although I must get there someday. The photo is of the Friday market (which is the big weekly market) in Kibuye, Rwanda. It is held on the shore of Lake Kivu, and wooden boats come over from Congo carrying pineapples and return to Congo carrying goats.


traci said...

i think that the person thought it was from haiti because the only blog you have blogrolled is a haiti one and so it makes it look like you have a special connection to haiti. also, i think it is telling that you know the word "water" -- i'm guessing it's one of the first words we need to learn, eh?

Anonymous said...


The picture does look like somewhere in Haiti but only that they do not wear wrappers or wraps around the waist in Haiti. If you have been reading my blog, you will note that I often mention the similarities between W. Africa and Haiti.

Sometimes I wonder how Haitian have managed to keep some of that African ways...which you will not find anywhere else in the African diaspora.

I hope you are doing well. Great to see that you are enjoying your time in the Sudan.

Take care,