Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wet Start

It was dark when I awoke. The crescent moon had set long ago, and the muezzin and his rooster friends had not yet begun to crow. I lay in bed, staring at the mosquito net, imagining a future trip where maybe I didn’t (have to) sleep under a mosquito net, where the day held movement and new adventure, where I might feel like my activities where under my direction, instead of feeling like a passenger on a moving sidewalk, slowly crawling along. But the muezzin interrupted my reverie, and so I fell into his, the entire extended prayer call pouring gently through the bars of my open window. When it was over, I swung myself around and out from under the net, lit a candle, made a cup of tea, and ate a grapefruit. Halfway through, a light rain began playing on the roof, and the overexcited birds gave way to small, calm drips and drops.

Raincoat on, I darted out into the new wet day. My morning run this week takes me exactly one mile towards the next village, up the grade southeast of town, past some huts and houses, over a bridge or two, and past a slippery soccer field. There, at the high point, I turned around. The road was wet, and uneven, so I guessed in the lightening day where the rolley rocks are and tried to avoid them. The rain continued, gray pillows overhead taking the place of the pink shreds and orange stippling of clouds I usually observe at dawn on my way back. Some stupid sheep [all sheep are stupid] ran ahead of me for a bit, not realizing that they could cross the road and I would not follow. The smell of warm, wet wool lingered in the air after them; I was reminded of skiing, at lunchtime.

Seventeen minutes later I was back inside, and after twenty-five I was out of the shower and the rain had stopped and I was boiling cornmeal for porridge. The sounds of the latest world news blended nicely with the sound of an egg frying; crackle coup d’etat in Guinea Bissau pop military intervention in Mali sizzle.
I assembled the day’s kit: lesson plans, scraps of paper for warm-up exercises, some balloons, several varied sources of light [candle, flashlight, glow-in-the-dark Frisbee] and a big basin to help demonstrate refraction. With everything except the basin tucked into my bag, I started off towards the school. While I was eating, the dark grey sky had brightened significantly. However, and odd and mildly ominous stormfront had established itself from north to south overhead. The result was a bit confusing: the bright part of the sky was in the west, and the eastern half was dark and foreboding and growing rapidly. I stood in the road and watched for a full minute; the darker grey front moved over and down and then broke over the hill to the east. Low fog spilled over the crest and began to infiltrate the treetops. The day darkened some more.
About halfway to school rain started again. Lightly at first, then more earnestly, moreso at least than an hour ago during the predawn. The few villagers that had risen early in spite of the dark and wet moved back under the eaves. I held the basin over my head.

Outside the schoolyard I passed two women walking into the center of town, plastic bags tied over their scalps to keep their braidwork dry. “I like your umbrella,” one said in clear English. “Thank you,” I replied.

At the school the principal was sitting at his desk, the window and  door closed to keep out wind and rain, listening to the radio in the dark. He had pulled his scarf and flowey long caftan tight around him, effectively cutting his apparent size in two. I sat across from him, both of us in contented silence, listening to the same soundbites I had heard earlier.

Presently two more teachers arrived. We talked about the upcoming Tabaski holiday (the Muslim sheep-sacrifice holiday, in remembrance of Abraham’s piety as he was ready to sacrifice his own son) and how it might impact the school schedule; I explained that in the US we also have a T-holiday that involves the customary consumption of a designated animal; and we talked about temperate climates (the Guineans were all very cold, I was enormously content). About twenty minutes late I shuffled off to class, where three students (out of 67) were waiting. I wrote the warm-up question on the board and distributed half-sheets. Gradually, more damp students arrived, and gradually, the rain increased. Sometimes a bit of wind caused a loose leaf of corrugated roofing to flap noisily overhead, startling the students. Through the doorway I could see a family of sheep, standing in the lee of a tree in the schoolyard, the larger one closest, the smallest ones lined up next to her.

Still students continue to arrive, and still the rain intensifies, and the classroom gets louder. I sat on the windowsill and watched the sky get brighter and brighter. 


TimHughes said...

Such powerful descriptions. The smell of skiing and lunchtime is my favorite.

Anonymous said...

I've only recently discovered your's wonderful. After Guinea you need to write for a living. Vraiment tigi tigi. ~Laura