06 October 2007

birthday on the moon

“It looks like we’re driving on the moon,” one of my colleagues said, as we drove through Juba in the dark. It did, indeed, although I would have said Mars, because of the red tint of the dirt roads. The truck lurched down into craters and slowly pulled itself back out. We all were thrown about inside. The headlights illuminated a small oval of red earth, with occasional flashes of fire or flashlight beyond.

I found myself expecting, every time we turned a corner, that we would drive up onto pavement. That’s what happens in other African cities. (She thinks to herself in a petulant voice – speaking of inner voices, am I the only one who thinks in narrative? When you think, does your mind automatically add “she thought,” and when someone else speaks, does it add “he said,” or do I just read too many books and therefore have started thinking like one?).

Regardless, in other African cities, of course you drive on dirt roads because dirt is everywhere, but then you get back toward the center and the roads are (however badly) paved again. But I have concluded, based on my expertise after six days of being in this town, ever, that Juba has outgrown itself, like a teenage boy who was 5’ last week and is suddenly 6’5” this week and so gangly that you want to offer him full-cream milk every five minutes. The very center of the center is like a classic small African city of, oh, 50,000 people. There are a few shops, some tree-lined ancient paved roads, and a nice decaying roundabout or two. The problem is that it doesn’t end there. The city is (I hear) now 500,000 people, and the roads have not kept up. I like it. It has a feeling of being on the verge of something.

It also has pizza. (Have I mentioned this before? I have a SNEAKING SUSPICION that I have, several times. I am pizza-obsessed.) Last night, in fact, I ate pizza. Since I had no birthday celebration on Monday, I considered this pizza eating my birthday party, although it wasn’t intended in celebration of my birthday and most people there had no idea that I had a birthday and they are work-people, not friend-people. But I had promised myself pizza in Juba for my birthday. So I ate pizza, and it was good. Then the group sang happy birthday to me, over a lighter, and I blew it out.

And I got some strawberry soft-serve ice cream. I don’t normally eat strawberry ice cream, because it is fruit-flavored, but this strawberry ice cream was one of the nicest treats I’ve ever had. I savored every strawberry bite. In the almost-month that I spent in my Tiny Little Town with no refrigerator, I sometimes sat in the heat trying to remember what it felt like to take a bite of something frozen. When I go back in a day or two for one last stretch of mud, I will probably think back to this strawberry ice cream and do the same.

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