Wednesday, April 29, 2009

9am Buja Time, 3am Fort Wayne Time

Just finished packing. No matter how many times I do it, it’s always odd to see my stuff in suitcases. Feels like you’ve wrapped your life up in boxes and bags. I know your stuff isn’t your life, but it exists as a kind of symbol. There’s no denying what it means when you pack the shirt you’ve never worn, or find the most effective way to roll your ties. Those are not normal things to do.

Our kitchen table is cluttered with things we’re giving away. Some things, like spare shaving cream, we just don’t care to pack. Some things we’re giving to people. The bed sheets go to Jean Baptiste’s orphanage in Bubanza. The external modem goes to Michelle. The phone goes to Selius, our guard, whose pregnant wife lives in Kayanza a few hours away while he works with us in the city. He doesn’t know that he’s getting a phone yet. I wonder what he’ll think. I can only assume, because he speaks no English or French, and is a bit of a soft-spoken man anyways. But he’s a great worker, smiles a lot, and is staying on with the house for the next tenant. So his job situation is ok. We worked hard to make sure of that.

The voices of the kids in the schools next door are drifting over the walls of the compound. Shouts, repeated lessons, laughs, taunts, all in this language I’ve heard every day but understand nearly nothing of. Sometimes, while standing outside of the gate, the kids would play this game of inter-language peek-a-boo. A group of ten of so would notice us standing in the street. The boldest would try his or her hand at their most recent French lesson. “Bonjour!” If we didn’t respond, she’d simply try again. “Bonjour!” When we’d finally turn and respond in kind, the group would squeal and pivot and jump and run in the unison of a school of fish, until someone else in the group decided to try it himself. “Bonjour!” Response, squeal, next contestant.

Karri’s organizing the money we’re leaving behind, bonuses for Japan and Selius, tuition for a friend of ours who is going to a tech school next year, and extra Burundian francs to sell off to our friends. We’re bringing home a few of the bills just to show people and have as souveniers. Of course, we’re bringing back nice, clean bills, but they will hardly be a clear indication of the norm. Most bills, especially in the middle to lower denominations, are soiled and blackened beyond recognition by being rolled, palmed, passed, and crammed into dirty pockets. It’s a strange practice, keeping money. I feel like there would be few things that could feel more familiar, more indicative of our months here than those pieces of paper. I handled it every day. I worried about it getting stolen. I bargained with cab drivers to save it. People I didn’t know asked me for it. People I did know asked me for it. Those won’t be the memories that last, the momentous things that will be repeated ad nauseum for the next few weeks. But if I want to think about the steady stream of days that run into each other that tend to formulate the bulk of your time and the minority of your description, I’ll find it in the smell of those bills.

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