Prison stinks.

Have you ever had a friend that made you laugh until you cried, and yet challenged you to be a better version of yourself? How about a friend that walked around a market at least three times in the blazing African sun to help you find someone to take your picture? Or what about a friend that has dedicated the last 10+ years of her life to improve the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS, and helping to prevent it from spreading? You would probably be thinking you were pretty lucky to know someone like that huh?

Well, meet Caitlyn Bradburn. She can dance, she can cook, and she loves people. Right now, in this very moment, she lives in Malawi, serving with Peace Corps Response working to help prevent HIV/AIDS. She’s doing fantastic work, and she wants YOU to be involved.

A note from Ms. Bradburn herself:

I have never thought of soap as a luxury.

I have had some belt-tightening times, but I have always had toothpaste.

But, for the inmates at the Kasungu prison, soap and toothpaste are out of reach. The prison has seen its population swell, but the budget remains the same. The food budget is stretched to the extreme leaving nothing for “extras” like soap and toothpaste.

What does that mean?

Beyond the stink and the stench, the forced unhygienic practices spread disease. Imagine, 400 men are sharing meals and toilets without the “luxury” of soap or toilet paper. You get the grim picture.

The system is completely broken. It is corrupt, it is bankrupt, it is understaffed, it is disorganized. I cannot fix the system. But, with you, we can help to address the most basic of needs at the prison.

Soap.

The situation is foul. But, we can help to clean it up. $13.50 will pay for a hygiene kit for one of the men at the prison. It will include soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant and other small items to help the men clean and limit the spread of disease. There are more than 400 men in the prison, can you help one? Donate at paypal.com!

Please spread the word! If you help to spread the word, we can surely help each one of the 400!

ten years.

In the early morning of this day ten years ago, I slept in blissful ignorance. When my dad woke me up, I opened my eyes to see his, red, but dry. My blissful ignorance vanished as he spoke.

I can count on my two hands the days that have passed in the past ten years without thinking about my sister. When she sneezed, it sounded like she was yelling. When she walked, her right foot stuck out ever so slightly at the wrong angle. She hated board games, and changing plans. She drove a hideous car, the horn screaming from the red frame like a dying animal. She was great at being a sister. She was a good listener. She quickly admitted when she was wrong, and forgave even faster. She taught me how to love without even realizing it. She never owned a cell phone, never had a Facebook account; she is forever nineteen years old.

I’m not sixteen anymore. I feel like a completely different person. It still hurts to remember her, to think about her for too long. I am not writing this to dwell on the past or to make a shrine to someone I’ve lost. The reason for this post is to thank all the people that have been in my life for these past 10 years. I wish I could list you all by name, but it would take ages and I would of course probably forget more than one.

So I put you in groups.

My family. We talk. We talk about Meghan and we laugh about all the silly things she did. I have never once felt afraid or guilty about bringing up her name. When my parents lost their daughter, they did not forget about their other children. They loved us well. My brother stopped yelling at me. He let me sleep on a mattress in his room for the first week. My extended family never counted the cost. They traveled for miles, just to sit with us. They helped me get ready for my prom. They took pictures at my high school graduation. They sent me birthday cards. Years later, they acknowledge that it still hurts.

Meghan’s friends became a part of my family. They talked for hours on the phone. They listened to me recount all the memories, trying not to forget. I got to sing with them while we all cried. They love Mom and Dad like they are their own parents. They love my brother and me like we are their siblings.

In high school, I had two best friends. They never made me feel dumb for being sad at the wrong time. They threw me a surprise birthday party when I thought my birthday had forever been ruined. They tried to make me laugh, even when I felt guilty for smiling at anything. Through trips to Lubbock, a certain Italian food place, and countless other tiny things; they made what could have been the worst days of my life into some of the best. They continue to be my best friends.

Over the past years, I have made so many good friends who never met my sister. They have remembered her birthday, listened to my stories, asked questions about her, and asked to see her picture. They acknowledge and validate a part of my life they likely don’t understand.

My brother hasn’t always been known for having the best judgment. But he married this girl that is fantastic. It’s been a joy to have a sister again. Like a breath of fresh air, Klaire, my niece, was born in March, three years ago.

You have all been the bandages God has used to patch up a wound I never thought would heal. He has used your hugs, letters, phone calls, laughter, time, money and flowers to show me that He is good. He can create beauty from ashes. And He does. Every day.

Some of you don’t believe in Him the same way I do, but He’s used you just the same. This restoration of my heart is what He’s done for us all. He’s taken our shame and guilt and replaced it with Goodness. He is the Great Physician. Even though I’ve doubted Him, I’m reminded, today more than ever, that He is good and He heals.

Grief is the most difficult thing I have ever experienced. I miss my sister very much. I wish things could have happened differently. But I think she was healed too. Judging from the sixteen years that I knew her, I think Meghan would probably want to thank you for taking such good care of me.

You smell like a banana!

twenty-three months

It has been twenty-three months since my last post. Because of the internet and telephones, most of you aren’t wondering what happened next. You aren’t wondering if my dad is still sick (he’s not). You aren’t wondering where I live or what I’m doing (Lubbock, working for a non-profit). Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much I enjoy writing. So I’m going to. Write.

These twenty-three months…
… gave me time to realize how short my time in Africa was.
… lifted my perception of my Savior immeasurably higher.
… taught me the importance of family and friends that know me well.
… have been mostly spent as a member of an incredible church.
… burned my apartment down.
… introduced me to Klaire Elizabeth, a niece that enjoys books, shoes and Old McDonald’s farm.
… made me get a job.
… showed me how much I know.
… showed me how little I know.

Yesterday, my pastor talked to us about our need for a Shepherd. We’re sheep: easily misled, vulnerable, unintelligent. For some reason, this made me feel so much better about things. I’ve been trying to make a decision in the past few months and have felt at sea. Or maybe at meadow.

I want to take everything into consideration and use logic and my own experience to make the (indisputable) best decision. But I doubt my own ability to do this, and with good reason. Chapter 40 of Isaiah begins with a picture of a shepherd carrying the sheep and ends with this: “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” The faint, those with no might. Those who can’t make a decision to save their life.

My pastor reminded his flock that Jesus is shepherding his sheep. That seems hard to imagine. But I can look back at these twenty-three months and see how much better He is at guiding me than I am at carving a path in rock with a toothpick.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
revelation 7:17

going home

Well so I have discovered blogging is not my forte huh? I have abandoned you. It has been 4 months since I wrote last. Those months have been relatively boring, which is my poor excuse for the lack of entries. But the last two months have taken quite a different tone. Here is my inept attempt at explaining things from my point of view. I will try to sum up each of the months that I failed to talk about my life.

October
The rains stopped and I was able to stay in village the whole month with only occasional weekend trips to Maroua. I did a few sessions on the environment with some primary schools in the area. One of my favorite things I did was outplanting millet with my church group. There were about 40 people that went out to the field, some were digging holes, others were pouring water into the holes and the rest were putting the millet plugs into the holes. At lunch time, they cooked a huge meal. I counted 20 huge plates of couscous and sauce, followed by tea. It was such a great day, feeling really connected to the people. One of my journal entries talked about how happy I was with that feeling of being connected. I can read back on days when I felt so alone and in the dark; having a month of being in sync was so refreshing. I finished up the month by harvesting my crops. With a lot of help. I had a big sack of peanuts, soy, groundnuts, and corn. It was really satisfying being able to work with my hands so much. But I was struck by the idea that my food intake did not depend whatsoever on what I harvested. I wonder if the hours in the sun would take a different meaning if I was constantly worried whether it was going to be enough. Some late rains ruined a lot of crops and had a lot of people worried. But they chose to sing and laugh in the fields anyway.

November
The first week of November was a tough one. I loved the rainy season, I loved seeing everything turn green and remembering what clouds looked like and storms sounded like. But there are other things that come with the rain. All that sitting water brings mosquitos. Mosquitos bring malaria. I knew so many people who got sick with malaria. When adults got it, they were usually able to take medicine and continue, but the kids took it much harder. A couple of my friends babies died. Then my counterpart got sick and passed away. He didn’t die from malaria, but another major killer in Africa, AIDS. He had been sick for four years. The feeling of being connected to my village carried over, but it was a deeper feeling of sharing their pain as well. About two days later I had to go to the South to help with training for the new group of Peace Corps trainees that had arrived in September. It was a really good trip, they seem really motivated. It felt strange to be in a place where I was giving advice, I still felt like I needed more training. I got home in time to get ready for my parent’s planned trip to come and visit. And this is where things started slipping out of my control.

December
The first week of December I spent in village, and then the next week I headed South for our midservice, which is basically a week of medical tests at the end of the first year to make sure we are still healthy. It came off without a hitch and I even got my teeth cleaned. Towards the end of the week I got the phone call from my mom that they were probably not going to come. My dad had found a lump on his neck that worried the doctors enough for them to recommend him staying home. My mom asked me if I would want to come home during that time block instead. So we agreed and I got on a plane two days later. I wish I could try to explain what was going through my head during those 48 hours, but it’s a bit difficult. I was the first one off the plane and tried to make myself walk and not run to the baggage claim and search frantically for those 5 people I left behind. Have any of you seen my niece? Well she’s beautiful. Sure she looks like my brother, but she didn’t get that pretty from him, that we owe to D’Lynn. The next two weeks were busy seeing family, eating Mexican food, playing Wii, helping my dad de-worm the cows, and laughing at some ridiculous notebooks from high school. My dad had a couple of appointments while I was home and it was nice to be there for that. But at the end of the trip, we didn’t know much more than when I got there. So New Year’s Day, I got on a plane again thinking I would meet my friends for our planned trip to Mali.

January
The 1st day of this year was pretty stressful. A broken airport tram, a couple of flights that left early, and a very unhelpful desk clerk in Dallas combined to mean an overnight stay in Chicago (that included a pretty great day in the city and at the Museum of Contemporary Art). This meant as well that going to Mali was not going to happen. I made it to Yaounde and took a trip with some girls to the beach instead. It was such a relaxing few days, swimming, eating fish, watching sunsets over islands. They were a great group to go with, and became a mini support circle when I got another of those phone calls on the way to dinner one night.

My mom called and said that my dad had cancer. He would start chemo and radiation as soon as possible. I don’t really remember much of the conversation. I remember when I hung up we were walking down a dirt road and a group of children started practicing their English and running circles around us. I started laughing and told them to respect my own personal little crisis. They just kept yelling and dancing. In the next minutes I made the decision to leave Cameroon to be with my family. It was the hardest, quickest decision I have ever made.

The past couple of weeks have been a long goodbye. I went home to my village and told people. I was overwhelmed by how much they supported my decision. They told me to greet him for them, tell him to get well soon, and thanked him for giving them this past year with me. I spent a weekend in Maroua with the other volunteers and said good-bye to most of them yesterday. The incredible amount of support and understanding I have received from Cameroonians, ex-pats, fellow volunteers, and Peace Corps staff has been a constant reminder that I am doing the right thing.

This experience hasn’t been done justice by this blog. I have become a new person, I have seen how blessed I am to come from where I am, but also how much I have missed out on. I am sure that the next few weeks will be hard: adjusting to life in the States, being there for my dad and my family in this valley. But one thing I have learned for sure in this year is that life is not in the laughter and yelling and dancing only. It’s in the tears and the anger and sadness mixed with the laughing, yelling and dancing. It’s all of it together. And we are never alone.

something different

19 September 2009

This day last year I was on a bus from Philadelphia to New York to board a plane that would take me to a country I had never been seen on a continent I had only read about.  Now that place feels a bit like home.  There are so many things that I have gotten used to and so many things that I haven’t.  It’s been a crazy year, and it’s flown by.  Especially the past few weeks.  After months of a slow-paced life in village, I have had two trips to Yaounde for work for Peace Corps administration.  The first trip was as a member of the Steering Committee for the Agro-forestry program.  Seven ag volunteers met over two days to talk about the project plan, insure the upcoming training reflected the new project plan, and take care of any other business needed to be addressed.  I really appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the committee and it’s been really great to see the plan and all the steps involved to support its implementation across such a diverse country with so many volunteers.  I should mention that the trip to Yaounde takes 20 hours (if there are no problems) to get there and 20 more to come back.  

 

So after this meeting, I headed back to post for a week.  That week I mostly spent recovering from the long trip before getting all my stuff together to do it again.  This last trip was for a training of trainers involved with the upcoming Pre-Service Training (the same thing I did for the first two and a half months I was here).  It was three days of refresher courses on how to give presentations in a way that makes sure the new trainees gain the knowledge in a comfortable environment.  New participants gave demo presentations, and technical groups made sure they had all the resources ready to give to new trainees.  Again it was really cool to see the other side of what I went through a year ago.  I will be giving presentations on formal and informal extension, but not until the middle of November.  It’s pretty intimidating to think about training a group of peers, but I am doing the sessions with my boss and that will make it a bit easier.  During the last trip down I was able to go to a World Cup qualifying match between Cameroon and Gabon.  It was mass chaos, but so much fun.  Cameroon won; I am not sure what that means over all, but just that one peak at it was awesome.  I also took a weekend trip to see a friend’s post a few hours away.  It was so beautiful, made me a bit jealous.  It was cold almost and so green.  She also had food readily available on her street, not fair.  When I came back to Yaounde, I was able to see Gene Kornegay, a friend from my church in College Station, who was in Yaounde for work.  It was nice to be able to get caught up on stuff going on at home, as well as see a familiar face.  If you haven’t seen pictures on Facebook, I also cut all my hair off.  Another volunteer is a great hairstylist and I really like it.  It’s a bit dramatic, but a fun change. 

 

I came back to Maroua and last night a few volunteers and I went to one of the nicest restaurants in town to celebrate our year anniversary.  The past few weeks have been great, but I am really looking forward to getting back to my village.  See my friends and get back into the community.  I have a better idea about what my work should look like and (I realize I have said this before) I really think I will be able to find more things to do.  We’ll see!  I will try to update on how that goes in a few weeks ago.  The best news I have gotten in the past few days is that my parents bought their tickets to come visit!  They arrive in December and we will spend Christmas in my village.  I really can’t describe how excited I am to see them.  Sitting down and talking to them face-to-face seems to good to believe.  Hey, you should come too.  Any takers?

perceptions

I have mentioned in the past blogs a distinction between expectation and reality.  The gap between what I pictured “Africa” to be before I came and the life I experience here now.  There are times when that expectation of the past comes strongly with an emotional voice that screams “ I am in Africa!”  That came once when I was on the back of a moto watching a little boy stand stiocly on a huge rock while his flock of goats surrounded him and the sun fell behind him.  And again walking past a weedy field with bent-over women who lift their heads to acknowledge me and then continue their work in the midst of probably gossip and obvious laughter. The expectation and the reality is women with buckets of water on their head and babies tied to their backs.  It is men in robes riding rusty bikes.  Boys running barefoot down a red-dirt road behind an old rolling tire.  These are simple things, but they are not simple people.  To expect to understand a continent based on these small pictures is the claim mastery over physics because you can count to ten.

 

There was a book in the Peace Corps house on Maroua that created hours of entertainment for us, and not because of literary genious.  The most obvious flaw was grammar.  The book clearly lacked an editor and read like a first draft from a jr. high student.  Verb tenses changed back and forth from present to past.  Number agreement was a rare occurance and run-on sentences with no commas frequented every paragraph.  The title to the book was My Journey to Africa: The Truth About Africa.  Even that was laughable considering she had written it afer a 6-week study abroad trip.  We laugh because we see the gaps between her perception and our reality.  She condescendingly explains that Cameroonians don’t use American dollars (!), but have their own money.  She comments that even if kids look poor, sometimes they aren’t because they wear expensive brands like Nike or Puma.  She must not have noticed that Puma was actually spelled Pama and the Nike check was facing the wrong way.  We laugh because of grammatical errors and we relish the fuel it feeds to our growing suspicion that we are experts on Cameroon.

 

In two years, our perception and the reality of the situation will have grown much more similar.  We learn new things everyday.  We see a fuller picture everyday.  Other development workers I have met tend to be a bit more seperated from the people they are working with.  (of course with many, many exceptions; including VSO and especially a certain neighboring volunteer that rocked her pagna with the best of them)  For the connection to the people and the daily opportunities I have to ask questions as well as be a silent observer, I am deeply grateful.  Everyday I am here, that grand image of “Africa” and the life in this village more further and further away.  But two years is not enough.  When I come home, I will still have a flawed perception.  It will be clearer and closer to reality of course.  But suggesting that I will understand a community, much less a continent after a mere two years simplifies peoples and problems that are infinitely complex.

 

This has implications for development of course, but also the way I treat other people while I am here and for the rest of my life.  My work here should be initiated by the people.  I want to help fill gaps in information and direct the people to the sources of that information, but not tell them what direction they should take.  If not, development more closely resembles colonization which creates dependance rather than autonomy and empowerment.  Equally important to my work and life and perhaps more important to yours is the impact on daily interactions with pthers.  People deserve the benefit of the doubt.  Putting people in boxes based on your perception, be it founded on appearance or actions, cuts you off from a depth that is never seen at first glance.  People and lives are not simple, it is our own ignorance that makes them appear that way.  And when we are able to see others more fully, we can see ourselves more fully as well.

 

C.S. Lewis said it in the only way I have been able to understand it: “There is no reason to suppose that self-consiousness, the recognition of a creature by itself as a ‘self’, can exist except in contrast with an ‘other’, a something which is not the self.  It is against an environment and preferably a social environment, an environment of other selves that the awareness of Myself stands out”.  Would you know Patience if there were no one to practice it with?  Would selfishness be a vice if there was no one other from which you were turning?  Just take a second to see other people, there is probably more there than you think.

 

Aside from boring thinking like that, I have been working in the fields a bit.  Everything is planted, peanuts, groundnuts, and soy.  I am hopefully planting trees soon in my counterpart’s field.  I have a cat.  She doesn’t have a name yet, so suggestions are welcome.  She got on my nerves at first, but she is growing on me, a bit like a disease.  My garden is doing great, but the timing was a little off.  I have squash, but everything else is pretty small.  The radishes are too dry and so they don’t taste great.  Peppers and tomatoes are small.  Pole beans should start soon, as well as the lonely cucumber plant.   Thanks to Granny and Granddad for all the seeds.  I am off to lunch now, I love and miss all you guys.  Send me a note to let me know what everyone is up to.  I am sorry I never post.  I will do better, even if that’s what I said before…

a field

I am sitting in an internet cafe waiting on a file to download. I left the case in Maroua to begin this task at 7 this morning; it is now 9:01 and there seems to be no end in sight. I have been quite neglectful of the blog lately and I apologize. I guess I just have a hard time finding new things to write about that will interest you guys. But I have given that excuse before, so I guess I will have to find others. Perhaps the flooded road, the fritzy internet/electricity, or the fact that it’s planting season and to ensure I do not reinforce any stereotypes that white people are unable to do manual labor, I accepted the challenge of having my own field this year. Now before all of you get all impressed, or perhaps justifiably panicked, let me define “my own field”.

Earlier in the year I was given a sac full of seeds. Most were trees, but it also included peanuts and corn. Now given that I am an agroforestry volunteer I knew the seeds were probably intended to be put in the ground and, I don’t know, maybe watered or something. That was a few months ago and now I am the proud owner of 40 luecaena trees, despite sabotage attempts by dogs, pigs, small children, and hungry goats. So I am going to find a field that is already so far depleted cotton and millet won’t grow without a bunch of expensive fertilizer (already, I didn’t do it, no where to go but up). I am going to try a field of peanuts, soy beans, and luecaena trees. This is in the hopes that it will give me some sort of proof of the animations (about all the things trees can do) which I will start during the next off season, which is not long enough to actually see results, but at least I can show the farmers what I am talking about instead of only mumbling in incoherent French. ( the file just said something in French that means I have to start over, magnifique!) This is going to be a very small field and my neighbour Esther told me that she would help me. Usually when Esther says she will help me, she ends up doing most of the work. She does however defend me when other people say I can’t work, and use my uncaloused hands as proof. Maybe the next post will have pictures of blisters. Or not.

I will try to post more coherently soon, but I only have 3 min left.

may

19 May 2009

It feels like its been a long time since I have written anything, probably because it has.  But also I have been gone a lot and so the time has gone by really fast.  A couple of weeks I went to the South for a little vacation to the beach.  It took 2 days to get there, a 7 hour bus ride, overnight train, and another 3 ½ hours bus ride.  The beach was great, it was a nice get-away from the crazy heat in the past few weeks.  I got back to my village after staying a night in Yaounde and one in Garoua with my host family.  When I got to post, everyone was getting ready for a big fete.  It was put on by the development committee of the village, who does things like raising money and then deciding what to use it on.  There were a ton of people that came in town just for that.  They elected a new officer team and collected donations.  They served meat, rice, and drinks to the invitées.  I was considered one of the important people so I ate with the chief, the Sous-Prêfet (kind of like District Representative), and the President of the committee.  This was after sitting in the nice chairs for the actual ceremony.  There was a generator and so we had microphones and music.  There was also traditional dancing to their traditional drumming (at the same time, which seemed to bother no one).  The drum is really tall, probably 5 or 6 feet; a man stands on a stool to play it.  The people go around in a circle shaking their shoulders up and down.  They loved it when I tried, even as I profusely stated I see na ta, I don’t know how!  They shook their heads and replied ki see nay lay, you know!  This Saturday there was a repeat of the same fete in Gazad.  The Sous-Prêfet and I will probably be best friends soon.  He speaks to me in broken English and reminds everyone constantly that they better take care of me or they will have to answer to him.  He lectured my counterpart about making sure someone was getting water for me 3 times a day.  I should of spoken up and said I do it on my own, but my counterpart just nodded and said “of course, of course sir”.  We will probably be best friends soon, tomorrow is Independence Day and so I will likely see him again, when we once again sit awkwardly with a few other people, usually men or white, eating rice and meat sauce and drinking Cokes, while everyone else sits outside.

Work has been really slow.  I am reading a book by a guy that was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia a few years ago.  I don’t really like it that much, but one thing he said stuck out to me.  “I thought at first, as many volunteers do, that working for Peace Corps was about the job.”  He was talking about how difficult it was to get things going in his assigned project, but how most people kept saying it was ok, to focus on “cultural exchange”.  I haven’t yet decided what I think about that.  I realize that the exchange is also really important.  But it seems like if I don’t at least try to get things rolling in agroforestry, that people will remember the white girl that was here as the one who played with kids and sat under trees, instead of planting any.  It seems like a cop-out to say that “cultural exchange” is the most important thing.  I am pretty sure that could justify doing whatever you want.  Or maybe I came here with too many idealistic expectations of the impact I was going to have, and I am just not ready to give those up.  It certainly would alleviate some pressure if I thought the work I was assigned to wasn’t that important.  So the jest of this stream of consciousness, is that almost 6 months in my village have passed, and I am still unsure about my role.  But it’s a pretty cool place to have to figure it out.  And obviously by cool, I don’t mean temperature!

new normal

21 April 2009
In the last blog, I talked about getting into a routine. It occurred to me that routine includes some things I would have thought pretty bizarre just a few months ago, 7 to be exact.

The List
• Sweating constantly, day and night
• Wearing the same clothes for a week
• Hours of free time everyday
• Washing my hair twice a week, maybe
• Washing half of my laundry, then doing the other half a few days later, when my hands have healed
• Having the same exchange about 20 times a day
o mbrike? (what is there?)
o Anta (nothing)
o kuy kuy aya? (are you good?)
o kuy kuy dagay (it’s good)
• Having to remember in what language to greet certain people, French, Fulfulde, or Guiziga
• Greeting everyone, always, even in the city
• Holding babies in church, on the bus to the market, but only the ones who don’t scream when they are near me
• Sitting at other people’s houses, not talking and not feeling awkward
• Watching my friend Lowal cook couscous and sauce, then eating her, her grandmother, and little cousin off the same plate, finishing by asking for the bowl of water to wash the food off my hands and saying to le, or that’s enough
• Kids playing cards in the “living room” while I read, marveling that I can pay attention with the noise, which is usually shouts of I ca du!, or I am going to hit you!
• “Work” consisting of meetings, visiting people, and random conversations, over beans and beignets or waiting for a car
• Going shopping always including arguing, very politely, with the vendor, for anywhere from 5-45 minutes, and always finding out later I paid too much
• “Exercising” involving pumping water, carrying water, and biking to the paved road for food and to charge my phone

I am running out of things to say, can you tell?

the ordinary

5 April 2009
This is a good day. Yesterday the sky looked dark. I asked if it might rain and a man told me no, its not time yet. This afternoon the sky looked even darker. My counterpart told me the first rain of last year was on April 5th. As I was walking home from a meeting, the wind began to blow. Its raining right now. I just made some popcorn and hot chocolate and was going to watch a movie, but I can’t hear it over the rain beating the tin roof and the windows banging open and shut in the wind. So I’ll write a blog instead. Wait, I am going to shut the windows… Ok that’s better. It’s the first rain since October and it has come rather arrogantly. I have always loved storms, especially when I watch them from behind sealed windows and under a tight roof. This is a bit different. I am not afraid the electricity will go out. I am listening to the downpour alone instead of with my family or roommates. I am thinking of the hours I will save tomorrow because I don’t have to water my garden. I am taken off guard.

I had been planning to write a post about the ordinary. The routine has been nice, but it has also been, at times, unwelcome. I didn’t come all the way to Africa with the Peace Corps to get into a routine, did I? I came for the adventure, the unexpected, the unknown. But the unknown has become known. I am slowly less and less surprised by what I see. Life has started to feel ordinary. More importantly, the work I am doing seems ordinary. But maybe that’s ok. Maybe life catches up to you. There are dishes to wash, floors to sweep, and groceries to buy no matter where you are. At first things seem new and exciting, but then they stop feeling that way. We get used to things and sometimes even stop noticing them. I am sure there are people who wake up everyday and can see the big picture of their lives. They can see the direction they are going and follow it with purpose, but for the rest of us, the trees hide the forest. The notion I held of Africa has disappeared, or at least it’s not where I am. I live in Moudawa and the kids with missing, or broken shoes have names, like Vaigi or Gita. I am not doing international development work; I am trying to get my friends to plant trees. It’s still possible to get caught up in routine even when you are among huts, dirty (and very cute) kids, women in yards of pagne with babies strapped to their back and buckets on their head. And then it rains. The wind has stopped, but the rain is still loud against the tin roof. There are bugs flying around my computer screen and I am sweating, so maybe I am still in Africa.