Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Scary Fart & Balloon Frenzy

Phew.  Really, I'm quite anxious in this nascent hope of mine, expressed in the preceding blog to even publicize this latest blog posting or email it out to everyone, in case the way becomes blocked.  I am hoping the fervour of my interest will clear the way and it may bring me into contact with the contacts I need to become of use, and that they'll be receptive to my initiative.


I had different aims for writing a blog before 4 am this morning.  And so, I may return to that initiative, which is to recall to memory some of the interesting anecdotes and reflections that illustrate my life here.  They accumulate and coalesce into ideas and perspectives that are later often forgotten.  I hope to amend that.

Two Stories

1.  The Scary Fart

I read tons here in Mozambique.  It's a singular gift to have the time to do so.  I once wrote a blog that I felt was rather clever, how Machanga, so rich in time, need export it to areas of the globe that are poverty stricken for time.  Hours upon hours could be exported to all of you back home who lack the time to say, read.

One of the books I read fired my passion for running like never before.  It's all about ultra running.  Anyhow, I'm getting far adrift.  The story is that I was out running, doing a two hour jog.  I've grown accustommed  to running as dusk falls and my return trip is always under a vast starry sky that's really quite brilliant.  Running is one of the best things in Peace Corps, apart from reading.

Padding along the path, a man was strolling in the same direction.  As anyone of you who jogs knows, running causes farts.  As I came abreast of him, about to pass him, one sneaked out and startled him so.  He jumped.  Now, I at one point was a professional at various Haunted Houses and have scared many a poor soul.  But never with a fart.  I guess he didn't hear me coming.

Part II:  N'diano Wafota?

And so, sorry for having scared him, it occurred to me make light of the event.  I asked him as I jogged away, in local dialect: 'Who farted?'  N'diana wafota?  Mac and I have learned this as the only joke we ever need learn in N'dau.  It always gets a laugh.  Apparently word from students has spread about our little joke. 

Farting is not a big part of the culture here.  In fact, it is frowned upon.  But, we muzungus can get away with such high jinks.  Please keep in mind, most of this are jokes originate in our home with nary an expectation that it should leave those confines. 

The only person I know who cuts em' like Mac is my brother.  Seriously, these two could make a Pen & Teller routine with farts instead of magic and it'd be pure comedy.  Mac particulary enjoys blaming them on our Club Muzungu VIP guests: Antonio (age 8) or Tujo (age 7).  Joao derives particular enjoyment out of this game and has expressed on more then a few occassions his certainty that it was, in fact, Mac who dealt it (always quite obviously the case).  Anyhow, that's how we came to ask Hassan, our empregado, how to ask: 'Who farted?' in N'dau.  Upon learning it, we shared our newfound ability to converse in our local language with our teenage neighbors.  No more need be done.  Word has spread like a wildfire caught by farted flame. 

Mac in town had a man from the other side the street shout this question at him, laughing all the while.  I met a guy on the canoe who asked me the question.  It's the equivalent of us all quoting the funniest superbowl commericial quip at work.  I know I should not be proud of this, and is not what Peace Corps has in mind in spreading American Culture.  But, it is gratifying to know that a good fart joke cuts across all cultures.  Cuts.  Hmm.

Anyhow, Story 2.

I learned in Romania, teaching at kindergartens, that giving balloons to kids = popularity.  And so I've stockpiled a nice collection of balloons from the big Shoprite here in Chimoio.  Now, I've used these balloons as well as stickers to distribute to the kids at school.  Mind you, I teach 11th grade.  But, never having had access to such things, their joy in such insignificant prizes is without shame.  I had a neighbor (who has a laugh like a hyena), a former student of mine (age 19), show up and ask for a balloon.  What color does he pick?  Pink.  What do you want it for?  I ask him.  'For my room,' he tells me.  Adorable.  It's the impossible cultural gap that prevents me from explaining how wanting a pink balloon for his room in no way detracts from him his masculinity as a normal, quite cool, 19 year old guy.

So, I'll often hand these balloons out to the kids.  Now, Mac and I agree that we are fond of two types of kids.  1.  The cute little babies.  Not so much the-not-so cute babies, however.  There are enough babies around that you start to become a little discerning, and clearly, superficial.  Seriously.  In our small community of some 20 professors there are over 6 new borns and as many 1-2 year olds.  But, then there's the outlier, like Gisele, our little starlet who, while not the cutest gerber baby, hates us because we are white and hates anyone to pick her up.  Everyone loves a challenge, so Mac and I have endeavoured to win over Gisele's little heart, despite her below average baby looks.  Then there is type 2.  The 7 year olds and up.  They have just enough social conditioning to make their company pleasent if not tolerable. 

But anything in between 2 and 7 and they're just in the way and messing up and breaking your things all the while chattering in circles about some barely inchoerent story or request.  They rove around in gangs like 'The Little Rascals.'  They have no supervision.  Where are they going?  You don't know.  What will happen when one of them falls down a well?  Best hope that Lassie comes barking, and isn't run off with stones pelted after him.  So, these kids roll on up looking for hand outs and want to show off to their friends that they're the Muzungu's best friend, and most of all they want to touch all your stuff and find out how to break it or win it from you. 

So, being the friendly Muzungu ambassador to all children everywhere, friend of dogs, compassionate soul, showing that we of the adult world need not shun these outcasts to society invite these children to take of colorful bag of magic making balloons.  First there is joy: BALLOONS!  MR. MICAH IS THE HERO OF THE WORLD!  BALLOONS!  HOORAH! 

Quickly word spreads that free balloons are being distributed and older brothers and sisters return with their younger less cognizant siblings to cue up.  I'll blow them up and tie them.  Then, of course they blow away in the wind and as balloons are apt to do, pop.  I know they have popped because the crying is carried along by the wind.  Shortly thereafter I hear fighting as they try to liberate a younger child's balloon through begging, borrowing, or stealing.  When this fails, there comes the knock on the door.  The sound of fighting comes nearer.  Now the word becomes a lament, or an righteous indignant call: 'BALLOON!  BALLOON!'  I open the door to hear the too sorry tale of one little child, who, ever so sadly, you understand, no longer has his balloon.  And now the quandry: do I replace said balloon?  After all, these things happen and will continue to happen, and really, how much do I prize my populartiy amongst these children?  And so I'll relent and the process begins again and continues for the next week.  It earns me some unbidden hand holding, which is very nice, but not quite worth making balloon distribution day more then a bi-monthly event.  After all, it seems to inspire equal parts joy and sorrow.  It is a strange God like feeling.

A Significant Night

Hello again.  It's been a month long interval since I last wrote and I'm feeling more then a bit of regret at having been so out of touch with family and friends.  My family raised me in love of the kind that does not suffer distance easily.  I frankly sought out isolation of a kind coming here.  I wanted to become 'unplugged,' as it were and in the first few months at site seeing the emails in my inbox dwindle seemed a most natural and even liberating thing.  However, of late, it occurs to me just how much time has gone by without my even sending word to loved ones their importance in my life.  Third goal of Peace Corps is to tell the outside world about our work, about this country's culture, to help make the world a smaller place.  I've for too long now used inaccessible internet and lack of resources as an excuse to ignore this third goal, and to remain out of touch with those who have such an important role in my life.  That being said, all of you reading this, please know you are in my thoughts and that I hold you in love.

It's 4 am and I'm in a rude state.  Rude may not be the word.  Agitated is neither the word.  Something like a pain, an aching that nothing is being done.  Of course a clarification is merited. 

I'm in Chimoiu where is located our Peace Corps office and an internet that doesn't quit and comes like strong waves in a western city hooked into the 21st century.  And yet Chimoiu has become for me a symbol of poverty and neglect the kind that ought make anyone in ownership of a car here, blush.  We volunteers have sufferred a variety of crime here.  Home invasions.  Rape.  Muggings.  Police incompetence.  A police force with so little resources that they need borrow phone credit from you to make a phone call.  Never mind a car of their own.  Everytime I've come to Chimoio I'm beset by beggars.  I've grown too good at ignoring them.  Each time I resolve to buy fruit to have something, anything to give them that helps.  Money never seems the right choice and to ignore them outright seems heartless, though as I said, it's become routine. 

For the reasons cited above, it was pertinent for me to walk a colleauge here to the office as her early morning taxi doesn't know our place's address.  Walking here we passed a man huddled on the street.  I must tell you it is cold here now that the winter has arrived.  This poor man.  Not so much as a place to rest his head at night. 

We met the motorista at the office and as my friend ran upstairs to collect her things I explained our difficulties to him and how struck I am by the problems of this city.  I described to him the man we passed, without so much as a blanket to comfort him.  The motorista says, 'he was probably drunk.'  I said, I hope he was.  Perhaps that would help him forget the cold.  But irregardless, drunk or no, doesn't everyone have the right to a place where they can lay their head?  To warm themselves?  To have some compassion from another?  Good God.

And so I feel a compulsion.  And an anger.  And a desire to speak out. 

There is an organization Eleos Ministries of whom I'm fortunate to know the husband and wife who are its founders.  I met them in Romania where they've adopted three children who are now young adolescents.  Ed travels around the world trying to awaken the spirit of God in others that the Bible teaches us to love those who are in need.  Their message is a simple one and it is one of love.  They run a beautiful gospel outreach to the homeless in London.  It is known to its congregants as 'the Church Without Walls.'  I'm so fortunate to have their example in a moment like this.

In the community I grew up in, I gained a distinctly negative view of Christians as those who wish to exert their viewpoints on others in a spirit most un-Christian.  There is a decidely anti-Christian sentiment out there kept alive and stoked by a few very outspoken misguided souls.  They give cause for too many of us to disparage a group of people around the world who commit great acts of compassion as general course.

And too many wish for us all to worship at the altar of reason and evolution when there are people who need some more immediate help.  In Romania I met a missionary whose later espoused hatred for Muslims and Gays did not detract for me the power of his message to one very poor little girl: He had her stand up.  He directed his finger at her and told her: 'God loves YOU.'  I can't imagine the dark tunnel that girl's life may be.  But I pray she remembered that man's words.  That love cannot be taken away.  Caprice, a gentle woman who preached the Gospel in Ocna Mures before it was acceptable, told me when they first arrived a Gypsy told her: 'We didn't know that God loved us.'   

Put his political opinions aside, the mans' message of love wasn't some watered down nothing.  He gave that little girl a candle that doesn't go out.  She is loved.  Who will relate that message?  Be it Christian, Muslim, Jew, secularist, non believer, coach, what have you.  I don't care what your beliefs are if you are showing love in your actions for the person in front of you.  The light that doesn't go out.  As the great Gay, Harvey Milk said: 'You gotta give 'em hope.'

I don't want to stay in Mozambique.  I don't want to make this my life.  I get older but these other volunteers stay the same age.  I love it here.  I am happy in my work.  But I have also been doing this five years.  I miss friends and family.  I miss seeing my nephew grow up.  I miss being part of a culture I feel a part of.

But tomorrow I'm seeing if I can't extend if it would mean I can find a church here to help the homeless.   

For more info on Ed and Karen's organization visit:  There you'll find many stories about the orphanage that I frequented in Ocna Mures: the children there, and the miracles the church has enacted in restoring these children to themselves.