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.

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