Friday, August 17, 2012

A Day in the Life of Me: A Satire

I am about to perform a miraculous feat; you are about to witness a 'Cultural Transplant.'

Much more difficult than, say, a heart transplant, this procedure requires you to suspend everything you know about reality and allow me to rewrite your world - my life here, exactly as it plays out, in America. Brace yourselves for a journey; it will be absurd (it's a satire, after all), but don't make the mistake of thinking that all of it is an exaggeration ...

6:00am, Saturday morning:

You've just woken up, not to an alarm, but to a gaggle of squawking Guinea Fowl perched in the tree outside your window. Stretching, you imagine all of the wonderful ways you could eat them for dinner and they, having accomplished the act of serenading you, move on to other, unsuspecting sleepers. Padding to the bathroom, you fill the tank behind your toilet from a water barrel against the wall and dry brush your teeth.

Within a few minutes of walking into the kitchen - sleep lines and blanket creases etching the side of your face, hair orbiting your head like Rodney King and Conan O'Brien had a love-child - there is a knock at the front door. It is insistant. You rush to wrap a two-yard of fabric around your bare legs and answer in a puff of activity ... to find your sweet, elderly neighbor from two floors below. He just wants to greet you before he leaves to farm his small plot behind the building. Looking in, he invites himself to your breakfast, reminding you that he is your father, after all, before realizing it's something he doesn't like. He recovers by asking for various items visible to him in your open cupboard, but, being in a rush, he informs you he'll come back later. You're pantry is safe for now.

In the time this exchange has taken place, several people have passed in the hall and have stopped to politely greet you; one drags a very uncooperative goat behind him with a rope. You assume the goat is screaming his greetings, as well, as you shut the door and return to your breakfast. It's 6:15am - you will have this exchange at least two more times before you finish your first cup of coffee (strained with the only clean pair of socks you own). Delicious.

After bathing from a bucket placed *just so* in the bath tub and getting dressed in a mirror you are convinced was made for the Fun House, you decide it's time to head to the grocery store. It's Market Day. (Though you can get some things every day, the actual grocery store is only open and fully stocked every three days.) You grab a reusable bag (you consciencious citizen, you) and head out the door.

Walking down to and now along the street, you greet everyone you see. If you happen to miss someone, they call you back, and all of them inquire as to where you're going; many of them will ask, half-jokingly, what you plan to bring back for them. Bread is the safest response. Keep in mind, while you're promising an entire bakery to your neighborhood, that most of these people are complete strangers. Also keep in mind that none of this phases you.

You are walking to the bus stop because you don't have a car. In fact, many of the people in your neighborhood don't; when you finally reach your destination it's crowded. The bus fare is pretty in-expensive, but on the whole the bus is unreliable, at best. As more and more people arrive, the feeling of ease and laughter amongst friends is on the decline - potential seat rivals mill around, eye-balling each other with increasing malice. Some people walk farther down the road in order to catch the bus before it arrives and even you find yourself searching for weaknesses in the crowd. An old man stands next to you, shaking three well-fed chickens in your general direction, attempting to sell them to you as he waggles his eyebrows up and down. The chickens are not amused.

Roughly forty minutes after you arrive, you see the lorry coming. (Yes, you call them lorries.) It's in bad shape, but it appears to be moving and that's what matters ... well ... moving after a fashion ... once it rattles to a stop several men hop down from the roof to off-load goods. People fight their way off as others attempt to fill the empty seats; you manage to squeeze on and take the closest seat available (but are not immune to a pair of elbows poised for victory over the seat behind you). For a moment it's chaos. Two minutes later there's no room to spare (and you swear you saw a woman crawling through the window), but the mayhem has dissipated and for some reason there's a baby on your lap. You stare at each other suspiciously.

The bus pulls out slowly and you hope it won't take too long to travel what ends up being roughly 8 miles (the way the roads are organized, you couldn't walk it in less than two hours). Another forty minutes and numerous short stops later, you arrive - the parking lot is loud, crowded with buses heading in every direction; stalls of goods perch here and there, grey hounds call out destinations and animals roam around; people peddle wares from the trunks of their cars. Entering the store you are 'greeted' with disdainful stares and silence ... customer service needs a little work in this neck of the woods ...

To the right is the butcher's area - animals are fresh and you can watch your meat prepared, pig-to-pork-chop, if you'd like. You don't. You start to wander the aisles and before long you realize that they all display the same basic items, varying in price. Several people stand in the aisles, having bought all of one item, and attempt to sell them to you at prices high and low. You find several items this way and manage to save quite a few pennies: it is a small victory.

Clothing is strewn in piles on the lenoluem floor. You sift for a few minutes until you see something you like that's ... that's ... way too small. (There's only one of each item and only some will be your size - you continue to sift.) Everyone around you barters for better prices, several items are stained or ripped; if you need to try something on it's done in public. A couple of women fight over a shirt and you give up, sulking away empty handed. Next time, perhaps?

At the check-out there is no line, there's a crowd. Everyone simply waits for an opening (or a distraction) and slinks right in. The cashier is disinterested and gives an entire range of prices on similar items being bought by different people; you barter until you can both be satisfied, but when you hand her the money you find she has no change. She proceeds to leave completely and spends the next five minutes asking all the other tellers to break your bill. When she returns she lets you bag your own items, but gives strong critiques on your form, before you are moved away by the growing crowd. You almost forget your change in the process, but a smiling child chases you to the door to hands it to you.

People offer to carry your things, strangers in every direction greet you, and peddlars try to sell you anything you could dream of. (Was that a full magician's set he pulled out of his bag?) A motorcycle wobbles past you from inside the store - BEEP - as you dodge in the direction of the 'spot' (read: bar) your co-workers are waiting at. Four taxis honk at you in the span of twenty yards, each yelling a different location in an attempt to guess your destination, and a very naked homeless man watches you walk past as you try to ignore his nakedness.

Fifteen minutes of catching-up goes by before you realize no one's approached to take your orders. You volunteer to order inside and walk in to find an empty bar; the bartender promptly ignores you for two more minutes until staring at you silently (apparently this means he's ready). "Um ... two Buds, one Coors Light, and a Coke, please." (No, micro-brews do not exist - I told you this was harder than a heart transplant.) "No Bud, the Coors Light is warm and I only have Sprite." "Okay ... what's cold?" "PBR and Guinness." "Okay, so ... two PBRs, one warm Coors Light, I guess ... and a Sprite?" (At least the beers are giant, you think.) The beers take five more minutes to come and he leaves without opening them, preferring, instead, to put on a football match (which he turns up to 11).

After a second round (three cool Coors Lights - he put them on ice because you drank the last PBR - and a Fanta that miraculously appeared as you watched a shipment of Coke get stocked), you decide to go your separate ways. Your beer costs $2.30 (which is $2.00 more than it cost to buy lunch from that stand on the road - a meal too big for you to finish). Your priorities seem skewed.

The ride home is much easier now that its midday; even waiting for the seats to fill, you're still home within the hour (and you didn't have take an elbow to the face, either - VICTORY). As you walk from the stop, several kids you know run to help carry your things and many people, fetching water from a well and hand-washing their laundrey, greet you as you pass. A few of your neighbors complain that you didn't inform them where you were going, but laugh it off as they invite themselves to dinner. All of the doors you pass are open and you lean in to greet the neighbors you can see; many invite you to dinner, but you politely decline knowing they do so in earnest. At your door the children drop your things and wander off as you settle yourself to watch your favorite show.


Luckily you have a gas stove; you start to prepare dinner, eyeing the fridge and idly wishing for electricity some time soon. A girl comes to your door to ask repeatedly for different things - she looks around your apartment for inspiration; some of her requests are pretty entertaining (the bottle of vegetable oil, the bookshelf against the wall, a lightbulb still in its socket) and when she gets bored she leaves. This happens no less than five times and the same sheep bleats into your apartment every other time you open your door, staring at you as if he expects answers. NOW. You avoid eye contact.

You know the lights are back when you hear a stereo thumping somewhere beneath you; it competes with several television sets for dominance. You shrug and pop your Ipod on, as the situation is clearly unavoidable. Your attempt a little later to make a simple phone call wastes at least three minutes searching for service in the building - you find it wedged in a corner and make your call from the floor. On speaker phone. You work out, check your very slow internet, and greet every neighbor on your floor before retiring to bed. Drifting off to sleep, you note a few loud exchanges below your window and the sound of thunder (which might actually also be motorcycle engines) and wonder if, perhaps, you should hand-wash your laundry tomorrow ... if those damn Guinea Fowl would let you sleep in for onc ... must fetch ... magicians ... the sheep are angry, angry magicians ... *snores*