Today I ate some mangoes. Today I watched the red sun rise. Today I made peanut butter stew. Today I got stung by a (tiny) scorpion. Today I finished a book; The Thing Around Your Neck, and it made me nostalgic for many things, not all of them good or happy. Today I thanked fourth graders for carrying rocks. Today I bought meat and fresh bread and okra and bananas that tasted a bit like cloves. Today I borrowed a wheelbarrow. Today I smashed many rocks with a sledgehammer. I got so sweaty my pants were wet. Today I took antibiotics and a malaria prophylaxis. Today I explained the difference between calculating mechanical power and electrical power. Today I yelled at a girl for headbutting a boy with her headscarf. Today I picked eggplant in our garden. Today I ate some of some more mangoes and some goats ate the rest. Today I tried to guess which vegetable was which while I ate my dinner in the dark outside. Today I saw the new moon.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
I’m feeling good. Of course there are many ways to feel good, even limiting oneself to the literal somatic feelings that the body experiences, which is what I have in mind. Running nine miles feels good, going back to sleep feels good, breaking the surface tension of water feels good.
I can’t identify why I’m feeling good.
I know that the chair I’m sitting in usually isn’t this comfortable, but today its contours and misaligned slats are welcoming me like any fauteuil would after four drinks.
The wind is light, mostly, and not all that cool. It seems to change directions now and then. Sometimes the sky flashes red in the east, and fewertimes booms as well. It was raining earlier; not even a real storm with a dry-spell-shattering deluge, but real enough to remind us here that the rainy season will come again. The sky was half yellow and half blue while the stormcloud was lit from above during the sunset.
I know that the antibiotics and malaria prophylaxis in my bloodstream shouldn’t have much effect on how my body feels while I’m awake. Also, peanut butter and molasses and bananas shouldn’t make me feel this way either.
Maybe it’s sitting here on the terrace and feeling my subconscious shift from “every day is dusty and forty degrees” to “every day is green and your flipflops will flip mud onto the back of your pants”.
Maybe it’s reading Playboy for the articles of course and being saddened by the large variation in the quality of editing. Aren’t they supposed to be at least a little bit proud of their prose?
Maybe it’s watching day become evening becoming night, in thirty-five minutes.
Maybe it’s done with school in three weeks done with Peace Corps in three months done with Africa in October.
Maybe it’s purposefully not watering our garden for the first time.
Maybe I don’t need an explanation.
Posted by toast at 11:54 AM
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Speaking to likely inevitably Mr. Diallo found out he was Mr. Bah. He was a bit drunk and me not really but our conversation was in four languages. He was selling prepacked semi-local snake oils and powders. Wearing sunglasses too. I saw him later drinking his earnings, and selling still.
And we were sitting on a log that termites had finished with, balancing. Palm wine is 2000 francs guinéens per skin, about a litre. Easy to drink, even when it’s hot. And it’s always hot. Or warm. There is no good equilibrium between sweetness cloying sweetness and vinegar pee fart juice. But some things don’t matter when you’re drinking.
There was a young girl wearing yellow, including a bucket on her head that was yellow. An older girl went by with what are those pancakes in a bit of brown paper. Presented them to some seated men. Commissioned undoubtedly, she didn’t eat any of any of them.
I was holding a chicken with my feet. A cock at that, seven dollars at that. But its legs were tied together with a band of blue so it wouldn’t have gotten away quick even if it had been inspired to go and if I hadn’t been gently retaining it. But I got up to pee on the other side of the dry streambed so I confided the chicken to auntie sitting just in front of me selling tappets, and she confided it to her sister next to her. I came back from the openair bathroom finding the pancake lady. One thousand each to break the bank so emptied my pockets acquiring them, brought them back to share. Oily and leavened a bit and with rice flour and tepid and a bit hard so we devoured them.
Time to go cause the wine and the wine are gone. Back to bikes. Back to the market. Bought more wine, the red kind in the bottles that are repurposed to hold gasoline later. So it can get hot against my sweaty back on the way home. Or we could send it with mom. Ended up choosing the later. Better for transport, worse for potential hydration on the ride home. Two almost crashes and one real one, involving a domesticated animal.
The road is flat and rocky, barren, exposed, gravelly, flesh wasting away to expose the hard white bone beneath. I traded bikes and rode the “Eastman” blue one with the upside down bars and bent cranks. It had a slow leak that got faster. Later we found out that there were two trous. The chain was skipping and descending frequently too so frequently that I finally gave up flustered and traded back. The air boiled away, leaving only dust and light behind, each competing for my antagonism but instead they got beat by yeast+sugar.
Posted by toast at 2:22 AM
We went to visit Thiako’s uncle in Tcherôt, an old village at the end of a long winding track into the bush to the south and east of where we were staying. Before, many families lived in Tcherôt, but they had all moved away to the city and to Senegal; only his uncle and his small family remained as permanent residents. Despite the paucity of inhabitants, the village is well known as a place of palm wine collection, and any decently learned child from the sub-prefecture could point out the appropriate turnoff from the main road.
We were guided to the place where his uncle was working by his young son Talan, a small boy with eyes and head equally round. We found his uncle and others at their camp, a low place, where a stream would flow during the rainy season. They were collecting palm wine.
Palm wine, as collected by the Coñagui people of northern Guinea, refers to a family of drinks made from the sap of a variety of palm tree. Thiako’s uncle explained the process to me while his nephew August kept working, and Thiako translated and elaborated as necessary.
“Palm wine is collected during the dry season, while the palm trees are flowering and fruiting. During the dry season, honey wine replaces palm wine as the tipple of choice, as the honey harvest is performed at during the last month of the dry season. Female palms (or the female parts, recognizable via their more prominent fruiting bodies) are sought as they produce more sap than the males. These fruiting bodies are located at the crown of the tree, requiring an often significant ascent for all but the youngest of palms.
For this purpose, a sort of harness/sling is fashioned from a few long pieces of palm frond. Two rigid bands are formed (presumably with hot water) into U-shaped sections. The long flexible tips of the two fronds are braided together into a thick rope, and then joined with the other ends in a sort of square knot, easy to tie and easy to untie. The result is an oval-shaped hoop, fitting the diameter of the trunk of the palm and the back of the climber. Additional flaxen rope is wrapped around one side of the oval for abrasion resistance where the contraption slides along the tree.
After ascending, the trunk, barefoot for increased traction, all of his kit swinging from its strings, the climber removes one of two sharp bamboo-handled chisel from their bamboo sheaths (the two chisels are identical, maybe the extra is a backup?) and cuts a small hole at the base of the fruiting body. A small piece of young frond is wound into a cone and pressed into the hole to serve as a funnel. The climber then takes an empty plastic bottle (repurposed soda or water) and suspends it beneath the funnel, attaching it with string to the fronds above. The sap starts to ooze within minutes.
The process (cut spout capture) is repeated four or five more times around the crown of the tree, one bottle per fruiting body. Then the climbing process is reversed, and the climber seeks out a new tree.
An average palm will fill an average water bottle in about 12 hours. So, twice a day (in the morning and in the evening), the bottles must be emptied. The hole can also be plugged with a wadded up frond, so as not to waste nor attract more insects and sugar-loving animals. On the ground, the contents of each bottle are filtered (a plastic bottle cut in half with a bit of fabric inside) into large bidons (20-liter vegetable oil containers). As the bidon becomes full, a thin white foam—the head, really—puffs out. This indicates the freshness of the wine. Checking the filter afterwards shows bits of palm, windblown detritus, and some insects that died happy.
The sap is not naturally alcoholic. Freshly tapped, it is very sweet, and only a little bit tangy. However, yeasts naturally present (in the air, in the containers, everywhere) metabolize the sugar and , within a few hours of being tapped, create a wine that is distinctly acrid, slightly sweet, and perhaps three to seven percent alcohol by volume. The more it sits, the stronger it gets, until all the sugar is metabolized, and then it turns vinegary. It is drunk at all of these stages.
Posted by toast at 2:18 AM
Friday, March 8, 2013
Entry: March 2. Time: approx. 15h45. I am sitting on the crest of the road traversing the bowal between K____ and D_____. Light to moderate easterly gusting. Sun diffused but not completely blocked by clouds. Ambient noise: birdsong, rustling fire-dried leaves. Temp.: perhaps 28°C. Of the eight mangos in my pack, chose the one appearing least likely to survive the especially bumpy remainder of the ride home. This mango is green, with yellow, ochre, orange, and red, especially towards where the stem connected, where the most sunlight fell each day, until today. It is not small, though certainly not a large mango. Perhaps 10 cm in its largest dimension. It is dense, but not consistently solid. The skin is thick and leathery, but pliable; as if the fruit had, for some reason, desiccated slightly on the tree.
Rinsed it briefly with water. Fairly certain my hands are dirtier that it is, washing thus futile. Using the blade of my pocket knife, made an angular cut, a chord, through the bottom tip of the fruit (while holding it upside down). No juice or sap drips out, or even wells up. The skin does not yield easily to the blade, dull as it is. Fibrous flesh beneath lacks enough structure for the knife to make a clean cut, but it is readily pulled apart by hand. The majority of the pulpy, stringy, and cheddar-cheese orange flesh remains attached to the central seed, a large oblong pit. Ate the morsel so removed.
O delightful flavor! Perfumed, complex, like a papaya, but with none of the wateriness that characterizes the latter. Something of carrot, citrus, and flowers, but smoother, a gestalt, creation of that master crasftsman, le mangier. The taste needs no guile, demands nor even suggests alteration or augmentation (again papaya comes to mind, viz. lime). The flesh clings to the fibers that extend from the pit in all directions. They are hard to cut and harder to remove from between one’s teeth. Find that it’s best to approach the seed as one might an artichoke leaf, scraping with the incisors to remove the maximum of flesh. Cut the rest of the skin away and chewed it like a cheese rind. Chewed it until it was gone. The pit, now scraped clean via the aforementioned technique, suggests some sort of melonheaded barbiedoll in the midst of a makeover. Pale yellow and white, flat and hairy.
Tossed the pit to the ground, licked my knife clean. Smelled the breeze, took in the hills.
More to come.
Posted by toast at 2:58 AM
School wasn’t cancelled but no one seemed to be in the classrooms. On the walls, in the outdoor corridors, white, angular letters spelled out messages. It didn’t seem to be hate speech, or threats, or political; no one was enraged, nor bemused. The language looked maybe like Finnish, lots of i’s and f’s and doubled letters. They were already starting to sandblast or rub it off. Why only the fresh white graffiti? The old greasy slogans and profanity plus the oil of a thousand hands running every day along its now smooth surface gave the wall a venerable patina. Where the fresh white words had been removed, something else had gone too; now there existed transparent blotches, revealing the crumbled brick backfill of the wall as though preserved in resin, or like a clever display in the mining and geology section of a children’s museum.
Students had gathered on the sort of second-story courtyard, and they were talking, yelling, excited by the distraction. Their black polyester robes flowed about, and their contrasting faces looked grimacey and masklike in the light of the cloudy sky.
But then we were at the party. Rachel or Jessica or Meghan was having a birthday party. An old roommate? We were sitting in some sort of bizarre anteroom, the party could be heard, bounces of colored light too, via the hallway at the left. Again the walls were dirty, greasy, well used. Some of graffiti fluoresced. The light was putrid and turbid, suggesting metal staircases and loading docks and broken fire-extinguisher boxes, and boxes of ammunition towards the corner like in a N64 shooter. People passed by, ones and twos, cups in hand, hand in hand, cups in mouth, mouth in mouth. My companion greeted them when it seemed to suit his fancy, or the haze of his stupor temporarily diminished. He too was slumped in a second dark green (or was it grey) vinyl-covered fauteuil pushed up against the wall. The birthday girl stumbled past, disappearing past a corner, and then was back. The shuttle will be here soooon, she reassured the room, partly for the benefit of the two of us in it. She called out a friend’s name, waved a hand/sloshed a solo cup, and was again gone. Another girl sauntered in and noticed us, maybe. Her dress was one of those colors which probably looked better on her computer screen than it did now, vraiment. She seemed to recognize my neighbor but then fixed on me. Did she speak? Did it matter? Was my neighbor telling me of her tendency, warning me with a lifted eyebrow and an “if you like…” shrug, or was that just my own souvenir? She approached me, straddled my jutting knees. Her solo cup was partners with a cigarette, each listing dangerously. The hem of her garment, her shoulders, my knees, the edge of the fauteuil were all in the same plane. Her eyes gleamed dangerously and then fogged, the sequins scintillated. “Shuttle’s here!” someone whooped.
We got out of the shuttle onto what looked like a vertical hillside. Tufts of grass green and yellow and drying dirt under our feet evoked an old outfield. I've been here before. In my mind flashed a ski-area-style map; liftlines here, blues and greens, cartoon trees and peaks and permanently closed areas and access roads. You are here.
The activity was straightforward: you just slide down the hill. Can’t be sure if you need some sort rice-sack-cum-toboggan, or if just spreading your feet apart and balancing is sufficient. Look, down there is the end of the slope, it seems to flatten out. Are those people picnicking? Slide don’t fall. The lift can take you back to the top for a repetition, like at those tubing places. The attendant was checking passes or something, as people came to the entrance before sliding down. How many runs did the birthday party get? I’d already done several, I think. He looked at my pass. A problem: an ID number appeared to be missing. No worry, he can look it up in a ledger, or call someone, and get me my proper number. He is looking for his cell phone. I am getting embarrassed; won’t the people behind me be getting perturbed at the delay? Isn't there a better way to do this? There must be a better way to do this. I’m holding up the whole line. The attendant cares none; he continues searching with a bureaucrat’s disposition. I wait.
Posted by toast at 2:26 AM