May 23, 2010

The Makings of a Bad Day

It started out like all of my other Saturdays since being in the Village… I wake up early in anticipation of seeing other American Peace Corps Volunteers in the boma for a day filled with strawberry ice cream, cold Pepsi (cold is rare in this country and Pepsi even more of a rare thing) and chitenge shopping with Maria fellow PCV with a shopping addiction.

So I wake up around 5:00 listen to my iPod for 30 minutes or so then get out of bed empty the ashes from the night before into my chimbudzi (pit latrine) to keep the smell from creeping up on me. As of currently I swear that I have the nicest chimbudzi in Zambia, bricks, concrete, tin roof, big and beautiful! Then I go back to my hut, fill my brazier with charcoal to make myself a little oatmeal before my energy consuming trek into the boma. I take out the chunk of charcoal that I soak over night in kerosene…light my match, hold it to the kerosene marinated charcoal….and…my match goes out as if I just put it next to water. What the fuck? I just held an open flame up next to something soaked in a flammable liquid and the match goes out? That should have been my first clue. But no, I go through 4 more matches before the damn thing finally lights. Put my pot on there… check it again 15 minutes later to see if it is getting hot and….well….wouldn’t you know it, the charcoal went out. Again I say. What the fuck? How does that happen? That has never happened to me before. So I go and get fire from my host family and go about my merry day forgetting about how the fire gods abandoned me that morning.

My bike ride to the boma that has been taking me about an hour and a half I cut down to just over an hour, thank you iPod for providing me tunes to help my little feet peddle fast! Make my weekly trip to the post office that so far has not let me down! I always have at least two letters filled with love from friends and family back home. But today was different…I had a package! A package from my family that wasn’t expected to arrive for at least another week, as far as I know my day is just the best thing ever! Forget about that weird fire situation that was my morning…I got a package from home…and I know it has candy from America-Land in it.

Then the bike ride home happens…

I get on Black Betty just like it is any other day trip. Package loaded on the back shelf as well as my backpack full of veggies and nutritious things from the market. Take off to head home. I am leaving about 30 minutes later than I would like to just in case it turns out that I need to walk some of the way, because the last 6K home is no joke! There are kills that have my thighs and hamstrings screaming…but I haven’t had to walk yet. Well…I mean until yesterday. So the first bit out of the boma is all downhill and if I really use my imagination I can trick myself into thinking I am on a rollercoaster at Worlds of Fun. Or, mom, remember when we used to take the “different way” home? That is kind of what the first bit of that bike ride feels like! (Mom shout out!) Then I get about 6K from home and crash…hard! It is probably 16:30. I need to be home within an hour or it gets dark, but I can’t move my left arm….at all. In case you are wondering you can’t really ride a bike with one good arm on sandy Zambian “roads.” A passer by has to help me lift my bike off the ground and stand it upright as I fight back the tears of pain creeping up on me. He asks if I am alright and with the best broken Nyanja lie I can come up with at the time I tell him I am fine and start walking my bike the 6K home. It took me two damn hours.

When I finally get home my neighbor starts heckling me about how I said that I would be home at 16 and it is now 18:30. Again in some language I don’t really know I have to explain everything that happened and she can see that I am trying not to cry, mostly out of frustration by this point, and she immediately jumps into action, you know the kind of action that good women everywhere are capable of. She puts her game face on and tells me to get my brazier and charcoal and she will get me fire so I can wash my dirty self, though I can see in her eyes she isn’t sure how I am going to undress myself when I can’t move my arm at all, but she is going to let that slide…neither one of us are ready for that kind of commitment. She gets me water for my bath, and my dinner later.

She sits with me while it is heating up and asks me about my family in America and if they are okay. She really likes saying the name Zachary…oh and it is no longer Tom and Julie…it is Thomas and Juliana. That is the funny thing about Zambians, I know that hear you when tell them your name. They usually repeat it back to you to make sure they got it right. And then after that initial repeat…they call you, or your family, whatever they want. In fact just the other day I got in an argument with a Zambian man from a neighboring village about what my name really was. You would think I’d be the fucking expert on that…FALSE…he was. For those of you wondering at home, my name isn’t really Maggie, not even Margaret (All Zambians call me Margaret). No, my name is something that is too hard for them to say so I am lying about what my real name is. Him and I went round and round about what my real name was for 15 minutes…there isn’t really anything better to do. He is still sure that he is right, I finally told him I didn’t really care what he thought my name was he just better call me Maggie and nothing else.

Okay, back to my day. So Patricia sits with me, gets my water nice and hot and then explains to me that she wants to clean my hurt arm. Um, no! But again that is the funny thing about this whole cross culture exchange thing, sometimes shit that you know is going to be a bad idea you let happen anyway. Like your head is screaming…NO…NO…NO!!!! And then my arm is screaming…um, “excuse me Maggie, I feel like I should have some say in this. If you are going to let her touch me when I can’t even straighten my own self out you’re a fucking idiot. Don’t do it!” So she pours boiling water into a bucket, gets the cloth that I use for dishes and starts swirling it around in the hot steaming water.
Head: “Say no..use your words and say no…even in English, she understands no in English. I mean I can’t help you come up with no in Nyanja right now because I am too busy trying to talk you out of this stupid idea.”
Arm: “NO NO NO! She is getting closer. She isn’t going to be gentle…no no no! I am tensing up now…how do you like that? Even that hurts, I know it hurts me to tense up to, but if you won’t listen to me you leave me no choice moron!”
But then contact happens….and it feels good! Like really good, the warm water and a sort of mothers touch may have been just what I needed.
Head: “Sorry, turns out you were right this time.”
Arm: “ditto, this is the best I have felt in two hours.”
But just like any good poker player, you should trust your first instincts. Patricia gets this idea that she should try to straighten my arm out. I’m resisting and telling her no and I that I can’t. And saying “that hurts” in every language I know (one). She stops and goes back to the little massaging part that feels good. Then…that crazy lady out of no where rips my arm straight and I let out a yell that cuts through the village night like a streaker at the World Series.
Head: “Fucking idiot! I told you.”
Arm: “God damnit! Do you realize I am never going to be the same again….how could you let her do that to me. I was pretty happy just being all curled up here on your lap and then you had to go and hand me over to her. That fucking hurts…and now…I am going to tell your eyes to cry. I’d been telling them to wait, cause I couldn’t decide if the pain was ever going to get bad enough, but now…because you’re a idiot, I’m going to make you cry in front of a crowd of people…Zambian Villagers that you want to respect you. Take that!”
Eyes: “sorry, we had to let down the floodgates, we are trying to put them back up super quick, but arm told us to. And truthfully we had wanted to do that for about 2 hours. Sorry.”
Patricia: inhales the way Zambian women do…and then “Oh sorry sorry.”
Me: inhale, the way American women do when they are trying to hold their shit together…and then “no problem, no problem.”
Arm: “Bull shit it is no problem…idiot.”

Peace Corps comes to get me and takes me to a hospital 2 hours away that wants to keep me over night….cause my arm hurts. My head has had enough of the way I don’t listen to it sometimes and completely takes over. “Um, no! We will not be spending the night in this hospital because her arm hurts. I understand there is no doctor in tonight, she will just get a guest house and be back in the morning.”
Me: Thank you head! I did not want to sleep in this scary place.
Head: “Yeah, for the rest of the night let me do all the talking.”

I am sure I just jammed the hell out of my elbow and just called PC to have someone come and get me since I couldn’t really do anything for myself. But just incase it is broken, which I am sure that it isn’t, we have to go to the doctor. So Sunday morning bright and early we head back to the doctor. Only for her to tell us that the x-ray people don’t work on Sundays. “Can you come back tomorrow?” Me, Head and Arm: “Sure why the hell not? We have nothing better to do.”

So, lessons for life. If you start you morning holding a match to something completely 100% flammable and nothing happens, go back to bed. Cause that shit isn’t natural and something terrible is about to happen! I am fine, I just can’t really pull my own pants up.

“It was such a lovely day, I thought it a pity to get out of bed.” –Somerset Maugham


  1. Thank you head, for talking Maggie into listening to you. You are already brave, MH, be gentle on yo own self. Love from us in Bklyn.

  2. Oh, my gosh! So you still don't know if it's broken or not? if it is, the yank probably made it worse? She must have thought it was dislocated? Oh, Maggie, I hurt for you!