This journal entry has been censored, cut-clipped & catered to a respectable audience. It was written a few weeks ago on a “not the greatest of my life” kind-of day. All is well now, but I found this entry when I recently re-read my journal & couldn’t help but laugh at myself. This has been quite the adventure. Excuse the candor, but it is indeed a journal. I just thought I’d share the truth of a Peace Corps Volunteer in West friggin Africa. Not to mention, I was under the influence of Cashews.
Once again, I have no idea what time of day it is, so I’ll entertain myself by saying it is about 9:30pm on – let’s say – the 27th of September, 2013. Who knows…? I dare say it’s not important!
I’m in a hut with walls made of blended rocks, sand, and just a hint of cement. The ceiling – made of tied grasses from the bush and smoked sticks holding it all together. The combination looks like a hand-made craft, of a “real African house!” (said in the most annoying of southern accents), sitting on a make-shift table in the corner of a flea market labeled “multi-cultural section.” At least the figurine has super-glue.
I sometimes want to believe my house is safe from the elements, until a slow & steady stream of rain drip onto my naked body – like a cruel form of torture – preventing even the idea of a dream or rest from an interesting day. Lightning hits nearby and I imagine each individual piece of gravel, which hold my walls together, shifting and reducing in it's place – wanting to return to its final state of sand and nothingness– like the rest of West Africa.
Every night, I wake up premature to the sounds of a family or brotherhood of rats that decided to make my house their usual place of worship, singing their praises and hymns in a strange & high-pitched voice that actually sounds like demons being choked, almost eerie. Then I remember I am even protected from their non-sense due to my “top of the line” nylon warrior net, like a web in the night, preventing a sickness that could attempt to boil my brains & put me in the grave. I can imagine the insecticide burning the legs of the mosquitoes and causing them to land just below, where the ants await their supper. I wish. Then again, even if the mosquitoes attacked, by some mere chance I forgot to tuck my net in, I obediently take a prophylaxis that has been outlawed in most nooks of the world – after eating and with plenty of water – or so it goes.
I roll over on my side, sending a shooting pain through my hips. I currently sleep on a bamboo bed frame, on a mattress made of compacted hay – shoved into sewn rice bags. I could move into the couch, but that is also made of bamboo, held together by bamboo nails. Did I mention what the only tiny stool in my hut is made of? And the table… and my bookshelf. I have a full-on war with mold every rainy season. Nothing provides support for the natural contours of my body. At least I still have my youth, and time is on my side to strengthen the fibers that have been stiffened & weathered here.
At night, only the moon lights my hut- and on nights where the moon is not reflecting into our village, I light a candle. The breeze from the desert, that has consumed The Gambia, slides over my skin & brings the sweet smell of mangoes from the tree overhead my hut. That same breeze carries the howl of the hyenas nearby & the dogs barking non-stop to keep the scavengers at bay. Sometimes it brings a terrible storm that threatens to rip my roof off and carry it to the next village over a kilometer away. Either way, the breeze is a much welcomed blessing to cool the walls from a normal West African day of heat and hot sand (the elements). I sing praises that probably only go as far as my hut itself. Or so it goes.
I try to cover the plain, deteriorating walls with materialized memories from the past & many memories to come; pictures are littered around the windows and doors. A painting or three remind me that even the simplest of houses can be a home – baobabs, farmers and women empowered through a lifetime of carrying the load. There’s a bird-nest in the corner, an intricate creation that I’ll never wrap my head around. All the eggs are long gone & so is their mother.
Little mantras are strategically placed on the ways in and out of my sanctuary. They say “why are you here?” and “let your mind start a journey through a strange new place…” (See Erich Fromm, philosopher). Bags…scarves…and ancient garden tools hang on the walls; they could have been dug up from the beginning of the Iron Age – (again, could be on a table at a flea market “from Africa!”). I’m surrounded by notes to myself saying “don’t forget: finish planting those trees by this/that date…” Again, “why are you here?”… I still wonder.
A hideous, black filter - to keep the amoebas at bay – has been put in a corner; I’ve had pin-worm more than five-times – don’t ask me how I discovered them – and I even bleach! Maybe I shouldn’t have accepted that semi-cold cup of water from that beautifully decrepit old woman – an elder in the village – as I walked home parched and exhausted. Fuck it. It was worth it. Thank you Mer Hawa…
I’ll go take that de-wormer now.
Lastly, a sun-faded Gambian flag hangs from my grass-thatched roof. In the back of my head, I can hear a handful of school-children singing the national anthem “For the Gambia…” or so it goes.
All of these things thoughtfully composed & arranged within a 4-meter by 4-meter space. In this sanctuary, I can read, work-out, meditate, sleep, fart, eat, but mostly I lie/walk around naked. Why? Not only because it’s hot as Hades, but because I can. When I’m in my four walls of adobe slabs (queue Animal Collective here), I can escape the world outside my termite-infested doors. I can simply BE. No matter what happens – beautiful or nerve racking – I can retire to my Darussalam (real of peace) inside my hut… inside my Self.
I’m sure the rats can still get a kick out of my shenanigans and one-woman dance parties that take place, but then again, I wouldn’t have it any other away. My hut wouldn’t be complete without their squeaks that haunt my mepholoquine-filled dreams.