Here, Mom

As I recently explained to you, Blog Friend, I’m really starting to get used to my life here. And last night as I was outside making my fire to cook dinner, I realized that I have reached a point where I don’t constantly wonder at the strangeness of it.

I must admit, though, I’m not TOTALLY accustomed – evidenced by the recent fire-making experience. It was my first fire to make alone, and it took me a full hour to produce a fire that was flickering between a feeble flame and a pile of glowing embers. I was so hungry and frustrated that I took my soup off when it was still a watery mush with un-dissolved particles. Then, to my shame, my brother Katoko came to the very same fire to make his food, deftly rearranged the logs and within five minutes had a roaring inferno. I was too tired to give him a jealous eye roll, but I did manage a blank stare of puzzlement.

But that brings me to the subject of this post: weird things that don’t seem weird anymore.

1)   Eating. Obviously there’s the cooking on the fire part. Then there’s what we eat – my host mom’s favorite part of the chicken is its feet. But also we eat exclusively with our hands. Specifically the right one, as the left one is used to wipe our butts when there’s no spare newspaper (and by “our” I mean “their”, as I’m not badass enough to give up my toilet paper). After dinner, this is how we wash dishes. We reach down, grab a handful of dirt/sand, and rub it all over the plates to get the porridge particles off.

2)   Telling time. I only know of one person that has a watch here. So when I want to have a meeting with the children, I tell them the day, and then I reach my hand out and indicate the point in the sky at which the sun should be when they come. They call it “Africa Time”. I’ll never forget the moment in training, when a Namibian trainer justified their being late to everything with the explanation of: “well it’s because we have to ride donkeys, so there’s really no way we can be on time” to which we responded “well can’t you just account for the fact that donkeys are slow and leave earlier?” They just blinked at us.

3)   Witches. In the absence of medical or scientific explanations for everything, often misfortunes are blamed on “witches”. There are several alleged witches in my community, and they are supposedly responsible for countless murders, sicknesses, nightmares, accidents, etc. When someone is sick, it’s almost always blamed on being “witched”. When I ask the children about the witches’ motivation for such acts, they say “they’re jealous because my family has more cattle”, or “it’s because my girlfriend is hotter than his, so he hired a witch”. Any argument on my part is responded with a “just you wait – you’ll believe”, or a story about decapitated heads that were posted outside the church across the street from my house. And when I drew a picture of a witch on the board with a pointy hat, wart, and broomstick, my class laughed out loud at how ridiculous I was being.

4)   Rain. People are so afraid of it! I guess it’s not that weird, but the number of times that a villager will look up at the sky and exclaim, “the rain is coming!” (Mvuhra nza wiza!) daily, is astonishing.

5)   Boobs. They’re literally everywhere. Usually it’s just one, popping (or hanging) out the side of shirt in anticipation of a hungry baby. But you can’t escape them. Yet, if I hang my underwear out to dry outside my room, I’m committing a privacy faux pas.

6)   Constipation. That and diarrhea (they call it a “running stomach”) are almost a daily occurrence here. But when a baby has it, the solution is the following: Fill a turkey baster with water and squirt it up the baby’s butt, then wait for the watery goo to ooze out onto the sand. Then bury it. Not the baby, you sicko! The watery goo…

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