This morning it rained in daylight for the first time in weeks. Because I do not teach on Fridays, I am home with two dogs at my feet and the pressing question of which book to read next. I have learned to once again savor my mornings and hardly ever feel the pressure to ‘get things done.’ Right now, my experience in my village happens in moments, seemingly disparate but somehow woven together.
Teaching is at once the highlight and most challenging part of my day, four days a week. I teach 6eme (6th grade) and 5eme (7th grade), and the students themselves, even when they understand nothing I say, invariably uplift my spirits.
I spend many afternoons reading voraciously, sometimes because I want to send the book to someone quickly (The Goldfinch) and sometimes because the material is too disturbing (In Cold Blood).
My dog is pregnant. Her grandson, who belongs to my neighbors, was hit by a car a few days after I arrived and suffered a gash and a large chunk of scalp missing; what began as an open wound with no treatment other than a daily dousing with hydrogen peroxide has almost entirely closed and healed. I tried for a long time to teach him to stay out of my house, especially with the wound, and in fact found his company irritating. Somehow, through persistence and a refusal to accept my rejection, he crept his way into my heart and now, defenseless against his charm, I only forbid him once the sun has gone down.
Children, too, have somehow won me over with their shirts full of mandarins to gift me, their convincing of me to accompany them to the farm, and their excellent interpretive dance skills to everything from indie women singers to Prince. The youngest child in my compound, a two-year-old, does occasionally run after me with a stick, though.
The weather is shifting, and with that a seeming influx of insects. At school, blue bugs that I have seen nowhere else flock to my ankles and leave bites that eventually–always mysteriously after sunset–itch. On the walk home, miniature wasps buzz before and around me. Because I refuse to kill spiders, I shelter a small collection of them within my walls.
The walk from my house to the other side of my village takes less than ten minutes without stopping, but offers a chance to greet people I know and people I don’t, to occasionally purchase a semi-cold drink from the only solar-powered fridge in town, to check in with my moto-driver-turned-friend, and to receive compliments on my fanciest pagne dresses from ‘Maman.’
On a Sunday morning, I came home from doing some of the 73 surveys I must complete by November to find a small crowd in my compound. The mason–also the older brother of my neighbor–was in town from Cote d’Ivoire for the first time in years, and family and friends from both inside the village and out had come to celebrate. They probably would have welcomed me into the festivities if I had asked, but I wanted a reason, so I cut up the pineapple I’d been saving and offered it around. I was soon ushered inside, to a room with couches and men eating pate and drinking sodabe and beer, and quickly became one of them. Later, the women suddenly danced and sang in the local language, so of course I joined them, too. All before noon.
Sunday evenings are my favorite part of the week. For on Sundays, nobody goes to farm and instead goes to church and, later, to drink tchouk–a local beer that to me is reminiscent of both kombucha and sours, so naturally I love it. I partake in the latter, which involves drinking the tchouk from calabashes, or bowls, and for me, having meaningful conversations.
Though I typically work from limited ingredients, I have become a more patient and attentive cook here, most notably mastering the preparation of beans from their dry form. I also ‘made’ a Dutch oven by purchasing a giant marmite (‘Size 10!’ I tell my local friends, and they nod approvingly, impressed) and some pans to rest inside it atop my gas stove. So, I often bake banana bread, or cookies, or oatmeal cake, and then I share it with all of my neighbors; so far, all have been met with an enthusiastic ‘c’est doux!’ I remember as a child asserting that I would never cook and that I guess I would just have to find a husband who would. That all changed when I surprised my parents by going vegan seven years ago and, as a result, became culinarily skilled for my own health, to prove a point, and to avoid having to find a husband. Now, with plenty of time on my hands, I have grown to love the art of meal preparation regardless of how long it takes. And when I crave pate, my neighbors prepare it for me sans the fish that is in every other sauce.
My mind feels clearer, calmer, more mindful and more imaginative than I can recall it feeling in years. Though sometimes this means an exceptional ability to be escapist and daydream (last weekend I sat in the post office for over an hour so content just thinking about college that I did not care or really notice that the systems appeared to be down, the workers were absent, and I could have dropped off my mail easily despite these issues), it mostly means I have been able to freely process difficult emotions, to consider and change bad habits, to inhabit memories without a kind of despair, and to match my music to my moods (Joni Mitchell my most constant and faithful companion) as a form of catharsis. It’s as if the cool mountain breeze has dissipated my angst and replaced it with presence, or perhaps distance from the source of it.
They tell us the first three months are the hardest, and/or the loneliest, and/or the most what-am-I-even-doing? So early on, I embraced the ambiguity and sense of almost hopeless surrender to the still-mysterious rhythms and workings of my village, and the first of those three has been, for me, occasionally frustrating, often open-ended, always surprising, and sometimes satisfying.
Like carrying water on my head. Every three days, I interrupt my afternoon slump to make three trips (about 300 meters round trip on uneven ground) to the pump, where, much to the amusement of the local women who shoulder far greater amounts, I pump water to fill my bucket, squat to lift it onto my head, seek my Birkenstocks with my toes, walk doucement slightly downhill and up the steps to my house, and pour it from as high a level as I can manage into my house basin, watching the wide stream as the level rises. After, I feel strong, capable, and a tiny bit closer to integration in this new home of mine.