Friday, July 20, 2012

Travel Tales of Terror, Part 1

Today was supposed to be the first club meeting of a Life Skills club I’ve been trying to start for a while now… but seeing as I’m sitting alone in a classroom typing on my laptop… I think you fine folk can guess my turn-out rate. Hint: Bagel. Hint about the Hint: Think of the shape of a Bagel. Big fat, “O”.  Even though I met with the Nursing school’s Principal, head teacher, warden, and student body president to make sure this club I’ve affectionately called “Power Hour ”  ;) is planned through the proper chains, no one ever thought to mention that’s there’s a guest priest this week and they’ve moved the typically Wednesday mass to Tuesday, exactly on top of my first meeting. Hooooray. 

Thank God I didn’t spend most of today planning my first meeting, and worrying about whether or not it will go okay;  because that would make this moment an extra-large downer.  Well that’s Peace Corps… if you aren’t learning patience, you are learning how best to deal with failure.  Don’t let my depressing demeanor deter you. I’m still going to try. My ass will be in this same spot next week trying all over again. And if ANOTHER guest priest arrives and takes precedent, I’m not above fashioning my own catholic collar out of toilet paper and disguising my “Power Hour” as a sermon.  I’m pretty sure I have a black button up shirt somewhere…. Mwahaha.  Wait, do they even let females do that yet?  Dang.  Once again my plans are foiled by my ovaries. Curse you reproductive organs!

While I’m ranting,  I thought this might be an opportune moment to mention a few little jewels in my treasure trove of travel stories.  (Hrm… I’ve got a lot of alliteration going on today, let’s see how often I can keep it up…). Fair warning… In my previous blogs I’ve divulged disgusting stories concerning all sorts of bodily fluids. If you expect today’s entry to be any different, then you are a flighty fool.  Do not take this warning lightly like the ones you see before a movie, this is more the “no pregnant women on the roller coaster” warning. Shit is going to get real.

*Preface* These next three short stories all happened while I was traveling, if you need a refresher on the hell-hole that is traveling here, go back and read the post around Christmas. Also on all three of these trips I was on a bus, which at least meant I had my own seat.  There is another volunteer here named Griffin, she is the one with terrible luck on mutates (if that words confuses you, read that other blog, you stubborn mule) Mutatus are the mini vans that they pack to twice their limit. You literally have someone half in your lap on one side, and then someone’s arm pit caressing you on your other side. And if the gods have been kind enough to bestow you a side seat with someone only on one side, then undoubtedly you have some random loose screw/bar/pole/chicken digging into you.  In these glorious predicaments, Griffin has had a child puke on her, throw up on her, a man piss into a bottle then slowly pour it out the window (whhhhhhy he still wanted the bottle we will never know…) and finally… a woman’s water break on her.  That was a hard stain on her jeans to explain when she reached her destination. Anyways, here’s my travel tales of terror. 

Before I get into this story it’s important to differentiate that while “gonja” is a nickname for marijuana in America, here it’s a nickname for grilled banana. You can see how that could be important.  Usually your bus will stop a few times on the way to your destinations at a quick pit stop. There are two types of stops. One is a food stop. These can be nice if you are a person with thirst or hunger. People standing on the side of the road ruuuuun and quickly surround your vehicle thrusting all sorts of goodies into your window. Water bottles, sodas, packets of biscuits (like hard shortbread cookies),  fruits (bananas, passion fruit, oranges, apples), vegetables (grilled sweet potato, corn),  cooked pieces of meat shoved onto a sharpened stick (aka, street meat), and other varying treats. The second kind of stop is a bathroom break. Here you call them short-calls, or long-calls for peeing and pooping accordingly. In your head you are probably picturing a little rest stop, maybe even a stand-alone port-o-potty for your worst case scenario. You would be terribly wrong.  Usually the bus will just randomly pull over on the side of the road, and if there are a few bushy shrubs or greenery for you to squat behind, then you best thank your lucky stars. The bus pulls over, and about half the people will file off. In some unspoken rule the men will file off a few feet in one direction and the women in the other.  You can’t go far because if you aren’t in the buses’ plain sight, and everyone else is on the bus, they will leave yo’ ass in the grass.  But on the opposite side if  you are in plain sight, because a  full white buttock is something almost every Ugandan has never seen, and will probably never see again… all eyes are on you. Talk about shy bladder problems.

Peace Corps tries to recommend that you wear a skirt for this exact reason. But the taxis are so crowded, everyone is sitting on your skirt, so when you go to stand, the whole vehicle gets that full moon view you were trying to avoid in the first place (I’ve had my skirt accidentally pulled down 3 times). Also I have torn half my skirts in these busted up vehicles due to random nails sticking out in the most inopportune places.  Seriously, this country is a natural lost-and-found for random rusty nails sticking out of nonsensical places. It’s not AIDS that will get me here… it’s tetanus. (But really it’s Malaria… I’ tried leaving the killed mosquitoes on the walls to send a message to their bitchy sisters ((Only females carry malaria))… but those fuckers don’t learn annnnnd I’m fairly certain I’m irresistibly delicious) So yeah, using the bathroom while traveling is a pretty miserable experience. You can squat your best, but you WILL still pee on your feet, so if you don’t want to look down as you literally piss on yourself, you can look one direction and see and entire bus staring holes through the windows at you, or look another direction at your fellow female squatters, all of whom are a thousand times better at this than you, or look the last direction where a small fleet of black penises await to make you blush.  Talk about your lose/lose/lose/lose.  What’s the moral you say? Don’t drink water on travel days. Maybe a few sips every few hours to avoid extreme dehydration. But overwhelmingly, just hold off on the liquids.  Okay that’s enough background for now. Time for you to laugh at my life. 

The Gonja Gentleman.

Three boys walking to school
 It’s about 7am and I’m watching the sun rise up over the hills across from me. I’m waiting for the bus.  It’s quite breathtaking (See picture, for you visual learners)  and I begin to hope for the best in today’s travels.  Oh how quickly I forget that this country giveth, then it taketh… usually more than it gaveth.  I get on a mostly empty bus and find a window seat.  The bus starts in my town and fills up along the way, usually by the half way point in our journey, it’s full. I learned a long time ago to sit by a window, because typically my window is the only open window on the entire bus. So if I don’t grab a window seat… no open windows, and in a world where deodorant is a commonly unobserved practice, bathing water is available only if there was extra drinking water, and everyone puts in more hard labor before sunrise than most of us will complete in a week…. It.Gets.Rank.  At the next stop (but is about 13% full) an older man, in a leather jacket he is clearly proud of, gets on the bus and I see his eyes zero in on me. He says something in the local language very excitedly, and somewhere in his sentence I hear “Mzungu”  Hoooooray. Even if I don’t speak the language fluently… you’d think they’d know I’ve figured out “Mzungu” means me.  Then, with couuuuuntless empty seat this man wedges into the seat next to me. All smiles he greets me with “Hello Mzungu.” Very calm and politely I respond, with my best fake smile “Oreere gye ssebo, kwonka nibanyeta Johnson”, translation; “Good morning Sir, but my name is Johnson” For I have long since switched to telling people my real name. A) I just don’t feel comfortable giving it out to everyone and B) My name trips Africans up every time. Most commonly I hear “Eye-rah” or “Shakira”…. Beats be how they hear Shakira from Khayla.  *On the bright side*, I recently showed all the teachers at my nursing school my passport and the one who is 9 months pregnant saw that my middle name is Nicole. Now she keeps telling she is going to name the baby Nicole. I’m not sure if she is kidding or not… I’ll know soon enough. =)

So the man laughs at my response (The usual reaction to the surprise of hearing a pale-face speaking the local language) and we settle in for our 9 hour trip. As the bus continues to fill I notice my new seat partner has a rather common habit amongst Ugandans; picking his nose and flicking the results in random directions, which sometimes included mine.  Clarification, “Picking” doesn’t do this act justice. Gouging his brains out sounds more accurate. I mean, I get where it comes from, this country is dusty as shit plus everyone burns their trash. It’s an asthmatic nightmare. But that is why little handkerchiefs are for sale everywhere.  Blow your damn nose into one of those! Wait… maybe that is why Ugandans don’t like the windows open…the dust… hrm….meh, who cares.  The dust is preferable to the smell of B.O.

About 6 hours in, we stop for a short-call. My seatmate gets off the bus and relieves himself, and for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, my scumbag brain never let’s me look away from the trainwreck of everyone peeing right on the side of the road. I often imagine what would happen in America if a tour bus pulled over on I-75 and the passengers were told to pop-a-squat. The hilarity that would ensue… The big message you need to take away from our short-call is clearly… NO ONE washes their hands. And obviously if soap is rare, finding antibacterial hand sanitizer would be like finding Sasquatch…in Africa.  So my new friend returns and I watch his hands like a hawk. But the seats here are so smallll. I’m only 5’4 on a good day and my knees hit the back of the seat in front of me. And even if two small people sit in the seats, their entire sides will be touching each other. I know his hands are going to touch my clothes somewhere, and worse, I know there is nothing I can do.

A few minutes later we stop for a snack break and the usual people surround the bus. A hear a man frantically shouting in rapid succession “GonjaGonjaGonjaGonjaGonja”, as they are one to do.  And my dear seat mate full on leans across me allll up in my grill and personal bubble. (And being Hispanic… I used to think my bubble was pequeno to begin with…. Oooooooh how this country repeatedly proves me wrong) He calls out the window for three pieces of Gonja and pays. All of him is pressing into all of me, and I’m unsure of how much longer I can hold my breath.  Just as the haze from lack of oxygen sets in, he sits up and gives me back my already small space. No “Pardon, sorry, thanks, excuse me…” not to be rude, but because culturally, it’s just not the way.  So to briefly recap; this man has dug more in his nose than all 7 dwarfs accomplished in their cumulative lifetimes, relieved himself  and touched no soap, and now is holding food.  Next, after almost 7 hours next to each other, Mr. Gonja decides it time for a polite gesture.  Because maybe NOW I will want to be best friends. So he wraps his hand around one of the bananas and shoves it in my face, right under my nose and says “You eat?” It took every ounce, of every strength, of every molecule, to not exorcist projectile vomit all over his peace offering.  Reusing my fake smile I politely decline and press as much of me, up against as much of the window as I can muster. 

Thinking his Gonja offer was sufficient, as we pulled into our destination a few hours later, Mr. Gonja Gentleman asked for my phone number so he could call me from time to time and see how I’m doing.  Knowing that many men here don’t take “no” for an answer, I used a trick I learned back in High School, when due to a scheduling conflict… I got stuck in regular English and not honors. Play. Dumb. 

Works every time.

I have at least three more stories to bestow upon you… but at this rate the length of the blog entry will be unreasonable. So I’ll stop and post this much, then continue my stories next time. Boy, do they only get better from here.

Hope you are all enjoying the greatest country in the world, and not taking anything for granted.

Hasta Luego!

No comments:

Post a Comment