December 3, 2011

and it all briefly comes together

Words words words.  I don't know how to start.  It's becoming the dry season now, daily rains giving way to long hot dusty days.  The school is deserted, the teachers and students moving back into the deep village for harvesting.  It's quiet.

I've found that my frustrations and cynicisms and despairs pile up over time.  Like shoots of tough savanna grass they grow green and fresh in isolation and a fertile disposition, before they turn brown dead and dry as time marches on.  Like an unkempt garden these frustrations grow into a prickly thicket, eventually obscuring even tomorrow's limitless promise and possibility.  The process is gradual but the effect is cumulative.

But the clearance happens suddenly like a flame front across the plains.  Instantaneous.  An experience, a good experience, sometimes only a moment, so powerfully good that it wipes out weeks of the thorny nagging underbrush leaving behind only fresh scorched earth.  Clean fertile earth to try it all over again.  The lows are powerfully low, but the highs are intoxicating in their intensity.  Cycles of despair and euphoria.

We finished up the term.  And it finished.  

Before we as a staff collectively broke huddle for the year we congregated for one last event, the end of year staff party.  The event started late and there were long speeches from bloviating politicians (or rather their junior emissaries) and blah blah blah.  That's not important.  We ate a tremendous spread of fried chicken, cassava, pasta, rice, goat, beef, fish, salad and then Got. It. On.

A sound system was hired and several crates of beer were ordered and we started doing togetherness.  In the past I've been hesitant to linger too long at these get togethers, perhaps equal parts sober concern for my reputation and a middle school boy's fear of the dance floor.  The music is a reggeton/afro/acholi quick beat that made me look exactly what you think a white guy dancing with a bunch of African's would look like.  Enough to shatter any delicate male ego.  

With a single beer's assistance I set sail on those turbulent seas, trying to find paths of rhythms and the crests of bass lines.  Mr. Okema saw me swimming (sinking) and came to my aid.  "Uh huh, good!" as he choreographed  "Now do like this."  And I started to get it kinda.  Either that or more likely I picked up another bottle of assistance.

(Digression: I don't know if there's a name for it but the night's weapon of choice was a big 500ml bottle of Senator beer spiked with a shot of Waragi gin.  For the home bartender: buy a bottle of the cheapest high octane beer you can find, leave it in the sun for a day or so and then, still warm, open it and add some vodka or gin (any kind that comes in a plastic bottle will do) and drink it.  Hooray!)

The tribal dance here is incredible.  The Acholi school children win the national dance competitions on the regular and for good reason.  Hips neck feet and drums in a flurry of coordinated contortions and culture.  It's a joy to live in this region and witness these things.  What would those bored screen addled American suburbanites give to have a culture like this, all they own?  

So there I was.  We were.  The syncopated bouncing mob.  Boozy, happy, dancing.  Gaining confidence and BAC I was beginning to surf the lines of music.  First was the school secretary Filda, maternal, unusually exuberant, though characteristically dignified as she approached and bounced and danced, circling around ululating.  She flipped off back into the mass of now sweating bodies but she had opened the floodgates.  Some recently graduated A level students, staffers, teachers, wives of teachers, children of teachers, students of children of wives of teachers (just kidding) all had a go at me.  

One young woman came at me gale force in a hurricane of confidence, hips and vitality.  A thick woman in an ankle length dress and covered shoulders who radiated a sexuality more fierce than her thin designer jean gym toned counterparts in college bars across America.  She was a force.  FORCE.  I've never felt anything like it.  As she trailed away she glanced back over her shoulder looking like "I just launched you into outer space, huh." Raised eyebrows and a noiseless whistle was my only reply.  Because I had already torn past the moon and Mars and was zipping by Neptune.  

At three thousand feet per second.

As I made the solitary walk home from the party, head still buzzing from cheap alcohol and the peculiar electricity that I imagine is only felt among the flirtatious youth, I realized that this had been the best party I had ever attended.  It wasn't the food, the dancing, the drinking though they all played their part.  It was the sense that I had finally found the people around me and that they had found me.  For one night we punted everything out the window and just became people.  People with faces and fingers and toes.  I didn't feel like a white guy, an American, a math teacher, any of that.  I felt together.

And just like that weeks of frustration were razed to the ground and I get to start fresh all over again.  Two days later and I'm still glowing.  I chased off three people who thought I was away and had come to rob my house.  I fished a dead rancid rotting lizard out of my sofa cushions when I noticed the horrible smell.  I ate beans and rice for three hundred and eightieth sixth time.  But I don't care.  I love it here.  The highs tower above the lows.

The next morning I woke up early and went to get a cup of milk tea and a plate of cassava.  I saw a co-reveler from the night before.  He politely inquired about the status of my hangover (incredibly non-existent) before, like a proud father, adding, "You learned a lot last night."

And I was like "yeah."

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