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on the invasion

Where I come from, you make an invitation to the morning. The morning waits for you, at your leisure, until you’re ready to ease back the curtains, slide into slippers, and entertain the gentle follies of birds beyond the window. Not so, in this place. Here, the morning creeps into you, pries you open, and delivers a weighty blow. It starts with the noise, and the noise starts early: a 5am call to prayer from the mosque across the street. and then the heat, lingering just beyond the front door. the brazen sun has no need for stalking; it lies still, waiting for victims to stumble out of their homes and into its stifling trap. Once you’re there, the blurred white noise of the street crystalizes into its thousand pieces, and they come at you from all angles: a cow bellows, ambling by; a huddle of goats next door gab through breakfast; motos tip and dip across holes puckering the dirt road; neighbors call out and chatter; children shriek and cry; dogs bark, hammers clank. …

on not knowing

the accumulation of Things I Do Not Know has reached impressive proportions: i do not know the roads here, or the routes, or most destinations. i do not know half of what people say, or how i’m to feel about it, or how to reply. i do not know how to do my job, or whether i’ll be any good, or whether i’ll find it satisfying. i do not know what’s in most of the food i eat, how to cook over a gas tank, or recognize the things for sale at market. i do not know when to engage strangers, or how, or whether i appear as foreigner or fool when I idle in the street. i do not know how to be funny here, or when to smile, and I can’t quite figure out the tortoise who lives in the yard. and yesterday i realized that i Do Not Know how to tie a bathrobe. the string on the outside and the string on the inside and the loops on the seams don’t …

on control

Control is crazy-making. It’s impossible to live and let live when information, opinions, and judgements invade the screens we live by at a breathtaking pace; when we organize our time on calendars in clouds; when modern impulses conspire with gadgets, driving us to decide, allocate, schedule, confirm, reach out, touch base, and on, and on. I am victim to these same urges, even as I realize the mechanisms control me more than I care to admit. Control is a wicked illusion; it is a mindset of denial, of keeping fears–inadequacy, incompetence, chaos, confusion, imperfection, disturbances–at bay through sheer will. Control is a (highly soothing) barrier to reality, but it is ultimately futile, and exhausting. So here I am, newly without a home of my own, without a car of my own, without a smarty-pants phone. I eat the food that is fed to me; I go to the places others are going and I stay there until they leave; I use electricity when it is available and I don’t when it’s not; I bathe from a …

on hello in Bamako

Different Bambara greetings for distinct times of day. Phonetically: Ee nee sogoma for morning Ee nee kle for 12-2pm Ee nu la for 2-dusk Ee nee shu for nighttime This is merely the beginning: full greetings are a thorough volley of, by my count, 4-7 calls and responses per person. I practice…slow and steady wins something, maybe a grand prize of satisfaction. Today: I stopped for breakfast (croissants, pains aux raisins, juice) at café Le Relax en route to office. I headed to the village of Dialakoroba for market day, involving 40 or so surrounding villages. Came home, ate lunch (Rice! Lamb! Yucca! Orange squashy thing! A really really hot pepper!), promptly fell asleep for several hours. The evening holds promise of more sleep, and tomorrow is ripe with the possibility of a swim. *Photo of n’ga so, or my home.