May

There’s tons to say, about not much at all. No big adventures, but lots of daily life stories and micro-stories. By the way, if you just hover your cursor over the footnote, it’ll pop up.1)

As a note that doesn’t fit anywhere, my home meal for the past couple of months (literally, I haven’t cooked anything else) has been onion and potatoe and egg hash. It’s a good thing I don’t easily tire of routine. Cooking for yourself is just not worth the effort, you know? Give me guests, and I’ll serve a feast. Just me, I can barely muster eggs. Sometimes I just eat peanut butter straight out of the container. Yeahh… Still though, things are good, if somewhat tedious. These are the highlights.

The Debit Card Story II : The Sequel : Sequel Harder

We’ll start off with something that has touched, if not my heart, at least my wallet profoundly.

If you remember2), O best-beloved3), a while back I lost my debit card, and eventually went to the back and got another, after which a taxi gave me the one I lost. This is the sequel to that epic saga.

I used to withdraw a little money every few days in order to keep my spending down, but after a while I decided I was better off (since they charge you every time you withdraw) just taking a big chunk at once; plus then I’d have to go to the ATM less often. I did go less often. Time passed, and days grew into weeks. After nearly a month, I finally was broke enough to drag myself to the ATM4). As I walk up, I see the one on the left is broken, and the right is occupied. I wait semi-patiently. I glance over at the left again, and now it seems to be in working order. I walk up, and promptly put in my pin - WRONG. What? I’m confused. This has never happened before. Lea Rodriguez, forget his pin? Pigs will have accomplished aerial maneouvers of surpassing difficulty first. I mean, not to brag or anything5), but seriously, this doesn’t happen. I can recall a dozen internet passwords without difficulty, I know my passport and drivers license and credit card numbers; how can I have forgotten a measly four-digit pin. So I figure I must’ve just typed it in wrong.

Again - WRONG.

Oh carp. I really have forgotten. NO!

Again……WRONG.

And the ATM confiscates my card.

At this point, I’m convinced the ATM is still broken, and was lying deviously when it said it was working, as an evil plot to trap my debit card.6) It’s a Sunday, the bank is closed. Whatever, I’ll just use my American card.

Monday, there’s a long line.

Tuesday, eh.

Wednesday, I don’t feel like going to the bank.

Thursday, eh.

Friday, Sat and Sun, out of town.

Repeat until the following Friday, when I finally drag myself to the bank, mostly because there was no line. After signing a few times, I get my card back. Mind you, I’m still convinced I know my pin, and the machine was broken. I walk around to the ATM, and punch in my pi- WRONG. Again, nope. Last time; I’m finally starting to accept that I might have forgotten my pin. WRONG. Hanging my head, I shamefacedly walk back into the bank, to the same teller, and tell him the ATM ate my card - again.

He kindly gets it - again - and walks me to the ATM. I punch in the wrong pin twice, again. I tell him `You know what, I’m just going to go home and think about it.’ So I walk away with one attempt left. A few hours later, I’m at a store7), when I think ‘Hey I’m sure it must be 1807, let’s try it.’ So I - WRONG.

I payed with cash.

I eventually get home, where I have the most brilliant idea : ‘Hey, don’t I still have my original pin paper? Let’s look!’ And lo and behold, there it was. My pin number, on paper. It wasn’t 1807, it was 2807. And I was sure, so so so sure, that it was some combo of 1 in front, followed by the numbers 7, 8 and 0. I guess it’s the assumptions that you’re most certain of that you should make sure you question.

I stomped around my 20 square feet, ranting loudly to myself ‘2807 not 1807! 2807!’ over and over again.

The stomping and ranting was yesterday. Today, Sunday, I will try my luck at the ATM once again. Wish me well.

Cats and Eggs

You know what goes terribly together? Having cats and eggs in the same enclosed space. I have a little table where my crummy, filthy8), little gas stove sits. Underneath the top, there’s two layers of slatted wood (as in, not a solid shelf) for shelves. I (used to, for reasons that will become abundantly clear) put my eggs on the top shelf.

The second ingredient to this, is my host family has a cat, that I occassionally let in, because it meows loudly at the door until I do. The cat is looking for food.9)

The cat is prowling around, and I reading or whatever, when I hear SPLAT. The FULL (30 eggs) carton of eggs is smashed to the ground. I was livid. I threw10) the cat out the door. You know what’s the worst thing in the world to clean up without paper towels. F*@#$ eggs. Holy carp. That took me AT LEAST 2 hours, and the floor was still sticky afterwards.

Naturally, the next time I bought eggs, I put them in the exact same spot.11) It happened again, though not with the carton entirely full. I stopped letting the cat in, though I continued putting the eggs there.

Then, the eggs fell by themselves. Remember, it’s not a solid shelf, just strips of wood. So the edge of the carton was hanging over, and when I removed one final egg, the balance was shot and the whole thing went tumbling over. I couldn’t even through the cat out to calm my anger this time. By the third time, it was a bit colder, so I just left the eggs there. Screw it. They’re still there, drying under the table. I let the cat back in, and he eats them.

I moved the eggs.

You’re So Fat

This actually is a funny culture difference.

I was arm-wrestling the students (because who wants to teach math?), and naturally winning, when one of the students pipes up “Sir Lea, you always win because you’re SO FAT.” …. How do you answer that?12)

It’s not the first time though, during training similar incidents occurred with others. The thing is, here, ‘being fat’ doesn’t mean ‘holy crap you’re obese and hideous, go die in a fire’, it just means ‘You sure look well-nourished.’ You know, as in ‘congratulations, you’re not dying of malnourishment.’ Here, fat is actually a compliment. Talk about weird, right? It just goes to show not everyone enjoys the same overabundance of easy calories that we do. Which we all know, theoretically, but it’s little things like that that really bring it home.

What’s the Deal With (Basotho) Babies?(Or Maybe It’s The Mothers)

Apparently babies in this country are different from babies in other countries. Tougher in some ways, and much, much more delicate in others. Now I don’t profess to baby expert, but I've noticed some strange things.

Babies are carried around, not in strollers13), not in Mobius wraps (or whatever they’re called), but in…actually think about it for a second? How do you think they’re carried around? It’s not something I ever gave a first thought to, I’m curious what you come up with.

Basically, they bend over at the waist, put the baby face forwards on the small of their back, then wrap a blanket around themselves. So the baby is smothered face-first into the mothers back. What’s really funny, is sometimes the mothers will sit down without taking the baby off. Now the baby is sandwiched between a (usually) large-ish woman, and the seat.14)

Another aspect to the ‘problem’ is people are extremely sensitive to the cold here. They wear their blankets in all weather, even in what I would consider to be pretty freaking hot. Therefore, they naturally wrap up their babies in ten times what they could possibly need. The poor things will literally be sweating bullets under layers of blankets and clothes. Seems a bit like torture to me.

Which all brings me to the recurring incident of window-closing, which I've mentioned before. Several times now, I’ll intentionally grab a window seat (you know, so I can breathe.)), and I’ll have the window open a bit. Not even a lot, just an inch or two. And this lady asks me to close the window, because there’s a baby in front of me. A small baby. SO FR$@@!# WHAT. Is fresh air harmful to babies in some mysterious way I’m unaware of? JUST LET ME HAVE MY WINDOW OPEN AGGGGGHHH.

….

Anyways.

People, amirit?

I Hate Windows Updates

I write a lot about taxis. Imagine if, instead of your crappy car, you had to depend on somebody else’s crappy car, except that they were always giving rides to everybody in the neighborhood, and stopped at every door to make sure that person didn't want to ride.

Anyways.

I was catching a taxi late at night15) (always a bad idea) - but I suppose I should start at the beginning.

One Tuesday, I opened my email to find an invitation to dinner with the ambassador, who was passing through town. I jumped at the chance for free food16) And you can bet I milked that free food all I could. I mean, the guy said get anything you want. A coffee before, and a coffee and cheesecake17) after.

A few other PCV acquaintances of mine were there, so after we went to the bar. I didn't actually drink (drinking’s expensive), but it’s mildly entertaining to see others drink, plus it’s good to talk to fellow Americans after a while. I've discovered, all american jokes are inside jokes. They don’t transfer cross-culture. The point is, time passed at the bar, and by the time we headed out, dusk was falling. Now, dusk here is a bigger deal. Things don’t shut down at say, 8, they shut down at sundown. Taxis run until later, but prices skyrocket; it’s inconvenient to head out much past sundown.

So.

I said goodbye to the others, and headed into the little (microscopic) PC office (closet) to grab my laptop. I shut it down, and was set to go and make it to the taxis just in time - except wait! Windows is installing updates. Please do not unplug or shut down your computer.

….

I hate windows updates

I am literally banging my head (albeit softly) in frustration against the wall as the updates install. Usually, it’s just a few minutes, but it took 30 @#)(*&!@%# minutes to install these WQ$%& updates. Rage.

I did eventually get out, but by then it was dark. Which leads me to:

Taxis Do Funny Things (Especially Late at Night)

I found a taxi and crammed into the already-full backseat, and waited a good 20 minutes for the driver to finish whatever taxi drivers do to make sure I wait a decent amount of time.18)

We left. About halfway to my place, I see the driver patting himself all over, and looking in the floor, and soon everybody else is doing the same. He’s lost his phone. Great. So he turns the car around, races19) back to town, to the taxi station, where he and the other passengers20) jump out and go into a frantic search for the phone.

They eventually find it, and I finally get home. Ugh.

The Gym Choir

I’ve gone to the gym many, many times in my life. And I fully expect to go many, many more. It’s my fortress of solitude.21) I almost always listen to music when I go. Either there will be music over speakers, or I’ll bring my own, or whatever. But I’ve never had, nor do I expect to have again, the musical experience that I had today.

From the title you can see where this is going.

I walk in, and am immediately greeted by a chorus of 20 voices singing traditional Basotho songs. I work out shirtless here, since I’m usually the only person22) - which is amazing23). I tried to be modest and keep my shirt on, but it gets so hot. And I don’t want to sweat into my shirt, then I’d have to clean it. Waay too much work.

It was an interesting sight, I’m sure, me grunting and lifting heavy things and putting them back down, over and over, with no shirt, while on the other side, all these people in uniform are singing.

Turns out they were hotel staff practicing for a staff concert.

It was pretty nice. I mean, how many times have you worked out to live music? Plus, for some reason24), 99% of Basotho sing amazingly well.

Thaba Mokhele

A hike. For those of you who don’t care about hikes, just know it was the hardest I've done ever, by far. It was that bad.25)

There’s this mountain behind my town, that overshadows all others. It’s the Mount Doom of my area. From school, I can see it, from the taxi ride into and out of town. A lingering presence. It’s a flat-top, with steep sides, not too far away.

I’m not big on doing things by myself - my natural inclination of ‘sit at home and read’ is too strong. So I got Jeff and Julie down one long weekend to do this. I had no real idea how far it was, but based on previous experience I figured 3-4 hours to the top.

It started out easily enough, we found a (dirt, of course) road that took us fairly close to the base. That took us about 3 hours of rapid pace.

Then the bushwacking started. Not bad, at first. just enough to slow you down from lack of a defined path. Another hour or two of that brought us26) to the beginning of the insanely steep climb that would take us to the top. I mean steep. Hands and knees steep. At least 60 degrees. And no path.27)

I started up. At first it wasn't too bad, the brush was fairly sparse. But I was forced, from lack of better options, into a ravine. And the ravine was terrible. Underfoot, loose rocks that looked solid but would roll out and crumble underneath you as soon as you put weight on them, and brush like you can’t imagine. I had to force myself through, the branches grabbing at my arms and legs and backpack, holding me back. The mountain did not want me up. Well, screw the mountain. Every minute of that climb was exhausting, and some were (slightly) dangerous. At one point, I was clinging to a rock face (with a pack, mind you), with my finger tips and knees, and a, if not deadly, at least extremely painful fall below me. But slowly, inch by inch, foot by foot, I rose above the foothills, the sun setting a dangerous and beautiful red at my back. I really don’t think I can make you understand how difficult, how painful this climb was. I even doubted I ‘d make it at some points, but a sort of fury at the mountain possessed me, and I threw myself with renewed vigor at clawing my way up. My water ran out about 2/3 up. I was sweating bullets from the effort, though luckily it wasn't that hot.

Near the top, where the ravine narrowed and deepened between two sheer cliffs, rocks started shooting alarmingly over my head. There was a shepherd with his herd there, and the goats were knocking rocks over the cliff. That was scary. As I drew level with the bottom of the cliffs, the brush finally died out, and the rest would have been easy had I not been so deadly exhausted. I made it to the top just as the sun disappeared under the horizon, and the land lay in shadows for miles around, they sky still a deep red. It took me close to an hour.

I started a fire, and waited for Jeff and Julie. Jeff made it about 20 minutes later. Night was falling, and we were starting to prepare to worry about Julie, when in the darkness of the ravine below us we finally see her headlamp. Tough girl. Climbed alone in the dark.

We slept under the stars.

I think the climb down was almost as bad. We went down a different way, that took us down into a valley about twice as far as we had climbed up. Downclimbing a ravine, with the loose rocks, Julie fell a few feet and hurt her foot. Luckily she could still walk, albeit painfully. Still no water, since yesterday.28) I had been out, and Julie and Jeff were nearly so. We finally found a water supply, and let me tell you, nothing is as good as water when you’re really thirsty. Here, a herdboy appeared, and showed us a (slightly) easier way down. It was nice, but it didn't last. Soon we were in the brush as thick as ever. At this point, Jeff and I split from Julie (we asked29)), and went down another ravine that she couldn't navigate with her foot. I think the thickest brush of all was here. Every step burned like fire, my shins were scratched up to hell, but at least gravity was on our side this time. Even so, we reached a point we literally could not pass. But lo! A wild path appeared! To our right, it opened, and from there we were home free.

A few hours later, we me Julie on the road, and made our slow, painful way back to town.

Over all, 3000 feet of climb, 5000 feet of descent, and ten miles up and another ten down. Not bad.

Shout-out!

THANK YOU MICHELLE AND HANNAH (and Dad) for the care packages! It’s like Christmas. I squealed many squeals of joy.

1)
Much easier than scrolling down all the way to the bottom, right?
2)
Not that you do.
3)
Kipling!
4)
Do you see how I lazy I am about errands? It gets worse.
5)
I’m bragging.
6)
That’s how ATMs work, right?
7)
Literally the only store in town that accepts cards.
8)
Because washing things is work.
9)
Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to care about my company. Weird.
10)
Literally, threw. Hard.
11)
Though I often claim to be, I’m not a clever man.
12)
Rhetorical question, I called her fat right back.
13)
C'mon, this is Africa.
14)
Luckily, they seem to have extremely flexible necks.
15)
And by late at night I mean it was like 8.
16)
What, you think I care about diplomats?), and accepted immediately. I thought about what I’d order for the rest of the week. It was a tough decision, one that I didn't really make until seated at the table. Actually, the dish I ended up getting was interesting: a giant metal skewer of meat and veggies hanging suspended over a plate of fries and more veggies and meat. I was satisfied.((Yes, most of my thoughts and memories revolve around food. Don’t yours?
17)
Mediocre at best.
18)
Wouldn't want to leave too quickly, now would we?
19)
I mean he was really booking it.
20)
No, not I. What am I, a peasant?
21)
Aside from my room, of course.
22)
And even when I’m not.
23)
But if you saw the gym you’d understand, once there’s more than one person it’s crowded. Or maybe that’s just me.
24)
Tons of practice because if they don’t sing they won’t hear much music - no electricity’ll do that to you
25)
Or good, really.
26)
Well, me. As soon as we left the road I pulled ahead and didn't really see them again until hours later, at the top. I’m not a good hiking partner.
27)
I never really realized how valuable paths were until this day.
28)
We could have refilled on the road, but we were still ok (even though I just brought a couple of quarts) and we waited for another source, which never came. Dumb.
29)
Well, he asked. I just go my own way. If she had asked for help, I would've gladly obliged, but she insisted she was fine, just slow.
lea/1505.txt · Last modified: 2018/03/06 08:59 (external edit)
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