Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day Nine Sierra Leone: 1,000 Introductions


Today is the first day waking up at my Pops' crib. I'm awakened by the town call to prayer and a rooster crowing. Not the coloring book cockadoodledoo.  But a piercing screech. It's nature's alarm clock. It's also nature's snooze button because the crows happen every five minutes!

There is no water. There is no electricity. No indoor plumbing. The bathing routine goes like this. My stepmother comes in with bucket of literally fire hot water. It's been heated by flame. Then there's a bigger bucket of water filled with harvested rain water. The method is, with the calabash, you scoop the rain water out of the bigger bucket and scoop some of the fire hot water out of the smaller bucket and give yourself a bath. Lindsay goes first. Thank god, because she's able to show me in a way I can understand. I keep thinking my wife's a g! She's never experienced anything like this in her American life and here she is just blending in.

With a bath in I feel good. The night before, my cousin Umar gave me this crazy dope achilles massage, so my leg is feeling as good as it has felt since my injury. Then my pops comes in and jets down the itinerary. A visit to my Aunty Fanta and then to a funeral and then passport pictures. I nod cooperatively, but I know it's gonna be a long day.

We go to Aunty Fanta. She's one of the few people whom I remember from my visit when I was five. She looks exactly how I remember her. Dark skinned. Distinguished gold tooth. Proud cheek bones. She, her daughters, and her daughters' children live in the unfinished house that my father is building. There are no doors. The floors are all concrete.  The rooms are scarcely furnished. This is the home they fled to during the war. We take pictures. An imam says prayers for us. We leave to go to the funeral.

The funeral is for an eight year old girl who succumbed to high blood pressure. My father tells us that, unfortunately, in a country like Sierra Leone these things are not rare. It is held in the bereaved mother's tiny backyard. There are plastic chairs strewn about. The women are on one side in festive African garb and the men are on the other side in street clothes. There is a makeshift tarp overhead protecting everyone from the rain. Big communal plates of potato leaf stew and white rice are being passed. Five to a plate. Some eat with the spoon, but most eat with their hands. Linds thinks the food smells like vomit, but the African in me has no idea what she is talking about. Some women pass us a plate and two pocket waters, but me and Linds can only eat a few spoons. We've been gorged with food all day.

Pops is introducing me to all these people. Cousins, aunties, sets of twins. I'm losing track of all the names. I'm forgetting people. On top of that, people are speaking to me in Mandingo and Creole and I can't speak back. Mandingo is a totally foreign dialect to me. I can understand Creole, but I can't speak much. Lindsay says she feels weird being the only one who can't understand. I tell her I feel worse because I understand Creole, but am still unable to communicate. I've spent all of my life becoming American and now I can't fit in with my own kin. I feel like a traitor. I want to learn Creole so bad. I'm confused. Who am I?

Over my shoulders, I can hear women making fun of my Westernness.

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