Friday, December 15, 2006

fragment 4

And the streets were only pale prelude to the dark left and right turns we'd make through narrow alleys hemmed in by mud walls, cinder blocked decay, chickens running before us, startled, unable to clear our way, and we left the electrical wires behind, the plumbing, the modernity and language that I'd always known, and passed through a tumbled wooden gate into the courtyard of our house, expectant family standing ready, alerted by the belching of our bug as it completed its struggle up the slope. There they stood, not a word of English ready to come from their mouths, beautiful elise, livingstone earnest in his pressed white shirt, and alberti, truculent and mischievous and most likely insane. An awkward pause, as the bags were set down in the dust beside the chicken coop and elise runs to hug me; she's very happy to see me and I still believe it was kindness that motivated her and not the windows and electricity that the fees they received for guarding me would eventually purchase.  The hug was over, and what was there to say, what was there to do, but bring the bags inside and briefly inspect the four rooms that were the house, and I was kept inside one of them, displaced the parents to the children's room where the four slept together on a mattress, sacrificing for 7 weeks so that they could purchase a television and never need to talk to each other again.
Enter the house, doilies, as per usual, cover every surface possible, white and coloured, the arms of the chairs had them, small tables off to the side, the backs of chairs, and occasionally children who'd been still for too long would find that they'd been marked for permanence with a doily carefully perched atop their fuzzy heads. The kitchen, a charcoal stove, and brightly coloured Chinese made buckets, used in some sort of complicated process to manage the water of which I would never be able to make any sense. The family's room was blocked by a thin white curtain, and I was grateful for it because I was not ready to find such an intimate knowledge of the family, their lives and wants so early in my time there. And to the back we went where a muddy courtyard contained the latrine and small concrete stall for showering, and beyond the gate open to a short, blasted stretch strewn with trash and fist sized rocks grey with the pervasive dust, until a small path led downward into the same ravine which had been our curb on the drive in and in the bottom more garbage, offal from the previous day's meal, a receptacle of all unwanted, and in it little girls played and through it ran our drinking water, a small stream, floating detritus on its meagre volume. And I sipped from my nalgene, pure bottled water from the training centre and the dust, cloying, and everywhere parched my throat and would the water last, or would I drink what they'd brought from the refuse and kindly boiled, though always there'd remain flecks of suspicious colour and nature floating throughout. Grand tours take time and distract from our mutual inability to communicate and empathize and understand and the ease of following behind someone's heels and smiling and nodding as each new site is presented wears off when sitting in close quarters around a table upon which were squeezed three white doilies, the centre one being larger than the rest and the one on the left with a small red stain on one edge.


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