Continuer (Sunday, 2013 March 17)

March 17, 2013

A few months passed. Late October my parents started remodeling the bathroom. At first I was like, "Finally! I can show off my bucket bathing skills, since we won’t have a shower." But then I realized our backyard doesn’t have any place where you can bathe without being seen (no outdoor latrine), and that I had no desire to shower outside in NYC in late October. Just goes to show, even the "roughing it" skills we learn in Peace Corps don’t always translate well to a culture where the infrastructure doesn’t support them.

Around the same time, I was due to start my job, so I really wanted to have regular access to a shower for the week or so that my parents were due to not have a bathroom. Accordingly, I started putting in motion the move to a new apartment. I thought I had timed everything correctly, with me moving in at the beginning of November, and the management company telling me I could pick up the keys a few days early, but hadn’t counted on the super needing more time to change the locks. Oh, and then there was Hurricane Sandy. We lost power (and therefore heat, which has an electric ignition) at my parents’ house for a couple of days (long enough to run out of charge on all my electronics), which I definitely hadn’t expected to happen in the First World. Me and Rita played cards by candlelight. My first day of work, our new office was still nonfunctional, so our office manager had people over in her apartment and we worked there. Subway service was inoperative, and buses were swamped. Flatbush Avenue has this longstanding phenomenon of "dollar vans", which are sort of analagous to taxis in Cameroon. Maybe that’s why I didn’t want to take them. They were doing a brisk business. I decided to walk it, which was tiring but not unreasonable. Thenceforth I took my bike.

And then things settled down, slowly but surely. Mass transit started working again normally. The subtle terror of lines at gas stations and what that might portend faded gradually as gas started flowing back into Greater New York. I started a job that I’m good at. Eventually I went on isoniazid for my tuberculosis, then off it again when there was a national shortage, but now I’m back on it. There’s the occasional oddity here in "White Man Country" (to use the Anglophone phrase), like discovering that traffic buttons don’t really do anything and neither do elevator "door close" buttons in normal operation, but by and large I am living the good life. I eat a lot of meat — in Cameroonian terms, I’ve become even more "healthy" — and I drink a fair amount of delicious things (at least, when I’m not on my isoniazid). I play board games (of which I now have almost 100) and I see my friends and even other Volunteers like Peter Paskowsky pretty regularly.

I always strive to be not like other people, but of course (as previously) I’m not too far off from Volunteer-normal. I’ve had to struggle to understand and accept that things that don’t matter to me are nevertheless taken quite seriously by people I care about, and that I need to respect that. A good example is wearing shoes — it feels like most everyone I know has a standing policy that you take your shoes off immediately as soon as you have one foot inside the door, despite the fact that nobody’s gonna track any mud in from their apartment building corridor. It isn’t rainy season, after all! I guess I’ve made a peace with it because I know I’ve got my own quirky neuroses too (like the occasional French word or "When I was in Africa…" story), and I figure if people can put up with mine, I ought to put up with theirs too. None of us are really objectively right — we’re all just screwed up in slightly different ways.

Lately I’ve read The Magician King by Lev Grossman, which I enjoyed, but not as much as the original The Magicians, partly because of some of the deeply disturbing scenes at the end, Bone Dance by Emma Bull, which I loved, and Redshirts by John Scalzi which was also quite enjoyable.

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