Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Up/Down, "A Prayer For Owen Meany"

14 January – Kossouka, 4:39pm

I debated about posting this entry for fear of worrying my family, but this is part of my life too and I really want to share that with you. Don't worry – we expected that it would be like this sometimes, and things always do get better. :)

“It will get hard but remember life's like a jump rope – up, down, up, down, up, down” - Blue October
I was talking to Emily today about how being a new PCV must be somewhat similar to being bi-polar – one minute you're on top of the world, two minutes later you're holding back tears, then you go to the marche and some days it's so odd and amusing that you're laughing out loud while other days you're so frustrated you want to forget about your groceries and go home. Sometimes I feel like things are finally evening out into a general positive trend, and then I have another day that sends the pendulum back into it's familiar swing. Yesterday was that day for me. I woke up with text messages from two friends, which made me smile and feel really cheerful, and then I even managed to have somewhat of a conversation with they guys at the coffee stand. Yay for language wins!

So then I went to the CSPS for baby weighing – Thursdays are always good days because I actually have something useful to do. I admit, my frustration and humiliation were all my own fault, but for some reason I felt it so much more poignantly than I believe I rationally should have. Last week I talked with David about how they determine if a child is malnourished and suggested that perhaps I could set aside the booklets of children I suspected of being malnourished or in danger of becoming malnourished soon based on their weight change patterns. He seemed to agree that this was a good idea, so this week even though I wasn't working with David I went ahead and set aside a couple of booklets. Next thing I know, the midwife is telling me that women are getting upset and I should stop mixing up the booklets. I protested that I wasn't – all the booklets that I'd recorded a weight for went into the pile she had been taking them from, except for these few which were ones I thought we should test for malnutrition. She said that the malnourished ones already had numbers, so I didn't need to set them aside. I explained again (in my bad French) that these were the ones that didn't have numbers but who I thought might be malnourished and I thought we could get their height at the end.

While I guess I could live with her telling me to stop doing that, her laughing at this was what really hurt the most. It made perfect sense in my mind – I actually look at the weights and the trends while they are just checking to write it in the record book and to see what vaccinations the kid needs. But clearly she didn't, so I put the “mixed up” booklets under the pile so that when she flipped it they would be the first women of the next group to be called for vaccinations. I continued to feel silly and a bit humiliated and just wanted the morning to be over but there were tons of women who had come and the piles of booklets just kept appearing. I had a mix up when someone weighed her baby when I hadn't called her name, then causing the woman whose name I'd actually called to try and weigh her baby after I'd called another name. I couldn't understand what she was telling me and repeated the new name, and the midwife yelled at her in Moore to wait until her name was called. So then I get to the booklet of the woman who'd cut in line and she says her baby's already been weighed. Now we have to figure out who she had taken the place of, then find and correct both booklets. Small, silly, not too hard to fix (except for the language issue) – it was just another little thing that didn't need to go wrong and even so, shouldn't have upset me in the least, but did.

I was pretty ready for things to be over at this point, and then there was the baby that they did measure for malnutrition. On weighing days they only do the ones that are the most obvious and this was no exception. It was the thinnest child I've ever seen, and every week we seem to have at least one “skeletal” child. Skin streatched taut over cheek-bones, eyes sunken into hollow sockets, a drying line of drool from one corner of his mouth, his head flopping onto his shoulder. So dehydrated and skinny that the skin on his stomach had wrinkles and stayed tented when you pulled it away. I've seen them before and didn't feel all that affected (to the point that I was concerned about my inability to feel emotion towards the situation) but this one just broke my heart. I think what got me was that he was too weak to make any noise – all the kids get mad as hell when we put them on the board to be measured but he just flopped there, mouth hanging open in a tiny silent scream, limbs lying jumbled and not resisting as we straightened them. Even getting vaccinated provoked just a slight opening of his mouth, again without noise.

After this, I honestly wanted to go home and forget going to the market. But I was out of vegetables and since that's pretty much all I live on right now I knew I needed to go if I wanted to eat for the next three days. So I went. I smiled at the gallette (millet pancake) lady and chatted with my vegetable guys who give me extra of everything in exchange for overcharging me (really, I wish they'd just give me the amount I want at a fair price – who can eat 8 patates in the 3 days until the next market?). I even bought a radio and my usual samsa (bean-flour beignets with spicy salt powder) for lunch, and there were bananas and apples from the lady who sells peanut butter. I was smiling, I laughed at the typical language confusion that accompanies me on market days when I try to interact with people in my 10 sentences of Moore and their 10 sentences of French.

I returned home and made my plans for dinner – soy-ginger vegetables over rice – and sat reading my book while enjoying my lunch of gallettes, samsa, and frozen bisap (sweet hibiscus tea). It was like the morning had never happened – how can my feelings over the course of just a morning be so disjointed that I can go from almost crying to laughing? I feel like I live in a series of moments, cut off from one another, with a selectively forgetful memory that allows me to feel such intense feelings but stops them from flowing into one another – it's up or down, but it's rarely in between, or changing from one to the other, or neutral.

After the repose I intended to go back to the CSPS but ended up at my major's house looking at photos and charging my computer (for the first time since getting to site). It was chill and rather nice, actually, to just hang out with someone. I didn't want to overstay my welcome so I made up an excuse of some food being ready at home to cook and left as it was getting dark, and spent the evening eating my rather tasty creation while reading and trying to find the news on my radio.

I just finished “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving today – Dad was right, I did enjoy it. I can't exactly say why, it was just a really well written and engaging story, with references to places I knew, places I could imagine, and characters I found very believable. I think it would be easy to get confused in a book like this that jumps back and forth between time periods in the narrative but somehow the author managed to come to the final scene from before it happened and after it happened and it all fell into place – you got bits and pieces of what was coming, but they didn't all fit together until right at the very end. Plus there are references to a cousin who joins the Peace Corps and goes to Nicaragua to teach forestry in order to escape the draft, which was kind of amusing and fun and reminded me of Mr. Nelson's story of almost joining the Peace Corps. From what I've read it seems like the Peace Corps of the 60s and the Peace Corps of today bear very little resemblance to each other, but I like to think the spirit of the founding ideal remains the same.

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