Continental Drift

August 5, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — unaleona @ 12:50 pm

Have I mentioned the rain? I know I did, but I think I need to underline it again (I’ve felt the word underline creep into my vocabulary as French speakers constantly feel the need to souligner everything and every one and every point and every problem, and Frenchisms get translated back into strange Anglicisims in my head).  I feel the need to return to the rain, because right now we are all here about to start our monthly community health worker meeting an hour and a half late, and we can’t because the rain is too loud. I kid you not.  Everyone was an hour late, because they claimed not to have understood that today was the monthly meeting.  And just as I called them to order, the deluge began, and the rain on the tin roof is so loud we can no longer have a meeting.  So we are all stuck here semi-unwillingly in each other’s company, and we can neither have our meeting nor leave because outside the world is turning into a lake and Malians are scared of rain.  Raindrops tapping you on the head cause colds, don’t ya know.

I laugh at them, but I have learned to be cautious in the face of ominously cloudy days.  I never used to look up and examine the sky at length.  But now, I am a cloud whisperer.  If you do not plan well, the rain can get in the way of all sorts of things.

Like getting to a bar, when it the sky opens at 12:30 when you’ve finally managed to drag yourself out of the comfortable seats where you were just going to have ‘one’ drink at someone’s house and now you are stuck in a boutique sitting on top of a large freezer unit with no way to get the two blocks back home.

Or maybe, it can stop you from getting home after work, if you are sitting in the office with your back to the window and you don’t see the sky darken and the heat lightening strike on the other side of the city.  Then you realize and you run outside and grab a cab and seconds later the rain starts.  Your taxi driver might be the nicest man in the world and drive you all the way up your flooded street to the door of your compound, but from the door of the taxi to the door of your room, you will still be so wet that it will look like you just got out of the shower.  You thank God that your computer was in a waterproof case.

If you don’t plan well, you can be stuck somewhere really really boring, like Diallo the tailor’s empty shop after Diallo the tailor has gone home and Diallo the chef is working in his restaurant shack.  If you see yourself getting stuck there, and your computer battery is dead, it may be worthwhile to risk getting wet and run before the rain starts to the cyber up the street.  That way you can spend the rain happily skyping with American readers of this blog.

Sometimes, you get stuck on your way to work, and you can’t go to work and you have to sit inside and drink coffee or kankeliba.  That part is nice.

It always rains on the day that you plan a big MHOP event like the clinic opening or a community clean up day.  That part is not ideal.

But I had to stop writing this because the wait it out strategy is not, evidently, always enough.  I mean, being stuck in the community center with a room full of effectively deaf community health workers is also not ideal, although it did lead to lively attempts to out-scream the rain in Bambara in order  to discuss whether Mali should be having a big party to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence when there are people around with no food. And then we did shout some important points over the noise of the rain, although between the pounding and the bambara, I’m not sure I really gleaned any information from them.  But as I thought we were settled in for the long haul wait, I began going over lists of malnourished children with each CHW.  And then the generally ultra dignified Dr. Diak, our medical director, comes running in shoeless with his pants rolled up to his knees screaming that the water was rising to flood the community center, and I should come to his car “Toute suite!” He preferred, as he put it, that I get a little wet from the rain than that I get lost in an epic flood.

To explain, the community center is near a small creek.  This creek was a dry garbage dump during the hot season, but now with the rains it has gone back to doing its best to be a respectable body of dirty water.  It irrigates the only supposedly profitable gardens/fields in Sikoro, and it serves as the official line of demarcation between Sikoro and Hippodrome.  The center is built about 30 feet from the banks, and is up about four stairs.  When Diak came running in and I looked outside, the water was, in fact, up to the last step.  The fact of the center being flooded seemed probable. The likelihood of whole people being carried away by the tide seemed slim.  Although, it must be admitted, someone was shouting something about a donkey that had been tied up on the banks and was now, unfortunately, in the water.  And according to Ami and Diak, just because cows and horses can swim does not mean that donkeys can.

did this donkey drown?

But the point was, I was suddenly trapped in a real life version of one of those hypothetical situations: if someone offers to save you from the sinking ship, do you go or do you tie your fate to the others?  Because even though all the men were running around with their pants rolled up and their shoes carefully held in plastic bags (Malian man shoes are works of pointy-toed art) there were all the rest of the women, standing on the veranda of the center, just looking out at the rising water, seemingly unable to leave.  Stuck between the fate of getting soaked in a flood and getting soaked in the torrential downpour, they seemed unable to choose (getting wet is on par with dust and wind in the Malian misunderstanding of germ-theory).  So with Diak screaming at me to come and get in the car, and the women all looking at me, I said, “But what will happen to you? Shouldn’t I stay if you guys have to stay?” And with that, they of course all just laughed at me, and proceeded to repeat to each other endlessly, “Ahaha, Maimouna thinks we need her to stay with us.”  So after being officially reassured that I should go, off I chose to save myself and went following Oumou towards Diak’s car.

That is when I realized why the women weren’t leaving.  If the flood came, sure, they’d leave.  But if it didn’t, they could wait it out and hope the water would recede.  Because as it was, I stepped off the top step into thigh deep water mixed with the general goo and ooze of the Bamako street.  Shoeless, I felt all sorts of unidentifiable things squelch beneath my feet.  The rain had slowed from torrential to a mere drizzle.  I’m sure I was the only one who was tricked by that noise on the tin into thinking that there was anything to fear outdoors.    I arrived home about 20 minutes later, after a ride to Pig Corner from Doctor Diak and a walk home full of lectures from Ami on all the terrors of rain and floods.  I just had time to tell my story  to Mama and the kids, be laughed at for being afraid of the water from the sky (I’m not! Malians are the ones who are afraid of the san ji, literally sky water), and shower with icy cold rainwater, before the sky opened up again.  Now I’m curled up inside unable to go downtown for our intern’s going away dinner, but I’m okay with that.  Sitting in bed with the rain is the best kind of stuck.


1 Comment »

  1. What’s kankeliba?

    Comment by Paul — August 8, 2010 @ 1:41 am | Reply

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