Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lucky in Laughter

I feel bad about writing fewer blogs but, the truth is, nearly 10 months have passed and I suppose things are just becoming “normal”. The sunsets still awe me and the donkey carts still amuse me and the cockroaches still disgust me but, all in all, I suppose things feel relatively routine. Again human resilience impresses me… if you’d ever told me I would one day look FORWARD to a warm bucket bath or an afternoon of handwashing my clothes in the sunshine I would have thought you were crazy. But here I am. Month ten. Living in Africa. And loving it. All of it.

So there has been relatively little drama these days but more pronounced has been the opportunity to develop my humor and, more specifically, the Ability To Laugh At Myself.

It started a month ago when I tripped over my fan chord and skinned my elbow on the cement floor of my living room. I stood up bleeding and laughing and wondering how I would ever survive these blistering days without a fan (ice water and cold showers have been shockingly sufficient). After that I pinched a nerve in my neck and lost the use of my left arm for 3 days (This was solved by a massive steroid shot… I’ll let you guess the part of your body they christen with this blessed cure… Not Fun). Then I went running in the rain and broke my ipod. Irreplaceable. (though Prince Kris still manages to come through with the gift of a “Shuffle” replacement). A few weeks later a synching-mishap erases all my Itunes music. (A collection which has only taken me 2 decades to compile) Somewhere in between all this I manage to break a wineglass, a mirror and a bowl.

This, mind you, is January.

Just January.

And so I learn to laugh. And yes, occasionally scream, but mostly to laugh and accept that a broken arm will heal and lost music will be replaced and, one day, I will charm someone into giving me a ride in their car so I can purchase and deliver a new fan to the village. Patience is the virtue but humor the sedative.

So I thought I’d write about today. One more day of minor mishaps but, mostly, just another day in Botswana.

Today’s hurdle was The Rain.

The rain here creates… er… complications.

This morning I ran around Gabs for 4 hours in the rain to collect rent money. This little ritual must be performed once every 3 months and involves hiking to the Ministry of Education to get a voucher and then across town to the Revenue Department to cash the voucher (always, ALWAYS an hour + wait in the queue) and then back to where the Ministry is to put the cash into my landlady’s account and then, finally, at last, back to the bus rank to return to the village.

Today’s trip took ages because of the rain. I attempted to pass time with a soggy magazine but found myself completely distracted by the task of dodging drips from the combi roofs and window seams. By 9 a.m. I was soaked to the bone. In a vain attempt to keep dry, my combi compatriots shut all the vehicle windows which left us, not only wet, but also swathed in thick humidity and the tang of twenty-five sweaty bodies.

My sixth combi of the day rolled into Kumakwane at 11:35 making me just in time for the 6th Guidance period. Mma Domida and I have agreed to team teach this term and this week is my week. Normally Mma Domida and I watch each other’s lessons to enhance our skills-exchange but today’s she’s had to leave on an errand and I am left alone.

It is rare for me to be rushed or stressed here in Botswana’s warm and relaxed culture but today is an exception. In the 5 minutes before class I change out of my mushy jeans, brush my damp hair, grab the lesson plan and an armful of books and race to class. Two PACT students find me speed walking across campus and stop to help me with the books.

But Mma Charles how will you get there?
What do you mean? The class is in the School Hall…

Tsiamo and Eunice take a minute to consider my appearance and then look towards the Hall with an expression of sincere sympathy. Both girls’ uniforms are completely drenched and they have rolled the cuffs of their pants and are walking around in bare feet. Although on normal days students get beat for not having their shirts tucked in, today I notice that all the students are permitted to be sloppy, damp and shoeless. I follow Tsiamo’s gaze to the Hall and realize that the campus is a swamp of muddy water. Although there are cement walkways between most classrooms, the Hall is an obvious exception.

Eunice takes one last look at my grey dress pants and high heel sandals before beckoning me to follow her (don’t look surprised… did you really think I’d join Peace Corps and then magically turn into a hippie?!)

The swamp between the Hall and the Home Ec lab has 8 waterlogged bricks which the students tell me I must use to cross. The stones are placed at a precarious distance from one another and I become acutely aware of my small stride. In one last futile attempt I scan the grounds for options and realize I am stuck: cross the swamp or skip the class. The 35 students in the Hall have come outside to watch my wobbly moment of decision.

Tsiamo and Eunice start to giggle and this makes me laugh and shrug: If I fall, I fall. I’m sure I could manage to teach the class in muddy pants.

Tsiamo takes an armful of my books and urges me to be brave

“Just try Mma Charles… you can do it!”

Eunice starts out in front of me and reaches back to hold my wobbly fingers and balance me across the pond.

When we reach the other side the students are clapping and I have turned a lovely shade of red but, thankfully, I am still relatively dry.

I pass out the books, teach my class and 40 minutes later I’m back at the edge of the pond contemplating the stress of a return trip.

The students offer to help again but this time I skip the performance and opt for total resignation. In one swift moment I slip off the heels and roll my pant legs up to my knees and wade through the muck to the other side. The students are laughing hysterically and my legs are covered in muck but it feels right for us all to be in muddy feet anyway.

Just another day in paradise. Just another reason to laugh.


Sara Ede said...

I love that you called the pause I took when I read "high heeled sandals". You are a ridiculous woman! :-p

Anonymous said...

i stumbled upon your blog; i am a motswana currently residing in the USA; and i can empathise with your frustrations at the way things are run and done in Botswana, we too find it frustrating. however, thanks for the post.