Thursday, March 8, 2012

If You Give a Kid a Condom...

When we woke up this morning, we had no fresh water.  Our water boy was nowhere in sight, so Dan decided to go and fetch water himself. 

“How hard can it be?”  He said.  “Our landlady has a well in her yard.  I don’t know why we’re paying Romao 60 Mets a week, anyway.”

30 Meticais = 1 US Dollar
60 Meticais = 2 US Dollars

“Because we feel obligated to, honey.”  I gave him a fond pat on the head and sent him out into the yard with our largest bucket.  “Go find some water.”

His comment made me think, though.  Why were we paying Romao?  We inherited him, like everything else in our house, but unlike most of our things (the mini two-burner stove, the miniature oven), Romao has simply stopped working. 

At first, he was over at our house every minute of every day, trying to impress us. 

“I will wash your floors,” he would say.  “I will make food for the dog.”

As the days have gone by, though, Romao has gotten lazier.  Most of the time, he just sits in his yard, listening to the radio.  From time to time, he will barge into our house and ask to charge his telephone.  On rare occasions, he will bring us one or two buckets of water.  Most days, though, he just doesn’t feel like doing anything.

The funny thing is, I never expected to hire help when I moved to Africa.  To be honest, I felt like that was such a snobby thing to do. 

“I can do my own dishes,” I argued.  “I did them every day in the states.”

Things are different here, though.  Food has to be made from scratch, three times a day.  The market is at least a full hour’s walk away.  Laundry gets worn and sweat through, and it all has to be washed by hand.  Dust blows in through the windows and settles on our floor in a layer of fine, brown sand.  Often, we lose power just as we start cooking lunch or dinner and need to rush outside to start the charcoal stove.  All of these things become exhausting when practiced day after day.  Here in Africa, looking after the house is a full-time job. 

It’s like we are living in 1950's-era rural America.

My grandmother grew up in rural Arkansas, and her mother was a housewife, tasked with all of these same household chores.  Unlike me, of course, she had children, too.  I just have a dog who eats a lot of scrambled eggs. 

But I digress.  The problem is this- Romao has gotten lazy, and we can’t keep up with our housework. 

We mentioned this problem to Adrienne, who tsk-tsked and shook her head.

“You know,” she said.  “Good help is so hard to find.”

I think her ironic comment really encapsulated our situation.  Dan and I want to be self-sufficient (in fact, we are a little embarrassed to be searching for "hired help") but the workload is piling up.  We will need help, and that’s all there is to it.  Unfortunately, Romao is a teenage boy and can’t really be trusted.  He sees us as an easy source of income, and has no interest in actually working. 

So Dan set off down the path, lugging a giant bacia at his side.  He retrieved the water quickly (the well is next door, after all), and started walking home.  As he was carrying the bucket back to the house, one of Romao’s little cousins offered to carry it for him.

She did this wordlessly, of course.  She doesn’t speak Portuguese.  In exchange for her help, Dan offered her an expired condom to use as a balloon.  Thankfully, this was enough incentive to bring her back, five minutes later.

“Jeito?” Condom?  She asked, peering inside our house and swinging on the grate.  “Jeito?”  Condom?

We handed her a second bucket, which was probably large enough for her to crawl into.  She could have at least stood in it up to her thighs.  She clunked off down the path, the bucket bouncing off her legs.  My goodness, the things these little kids wouldn’t do for a balloon.

Unfortunately, this started a rush on our porch.  Before we knew it, half of the neighborhood was crawling onto our front stoop. 

“Jeito?”  Condom?

“Jeito?”  Condom?

“Lee-zahhh…”  Lisa?

“Dah-neee…”  Dan?

We only needed one more bucket of water, which we gave to another one of Romao’s cousins.  The rest of the children we sent away.  They continued to hang about on the fringes of the yard, calling out- “Jeito?  Jeito?”

CondomCondomCondom?  Please-can-I-have-a-condom-to-play-with?

Unfortunately, this system would not be sustainable for long.  We have hundreds of condoms (thank you, Peace Corps!), but only about ten of them are expired.  The rest of the condoms, the newer ones, could be put to better use, I’m sure. 

I took a few pictures of the little ones with their condoms.  They are quite resourceful, actually.  First, they will take the condom out of the packet and rub it in their hair (for the oil).   Then, they will blow it up and tie it at the bottom.  After that, they either chose to tie a string to the bottom and bop it around as a balloon or to wrap it in plastic bags and create a makeshift soccer ball. 

In my head, I started writing a poem:

If you give a kid a condom,
He will ask you for another.
If you give a kid a condom,
He will want one for his brother.

We learned something from all of this.  Romao might be lazy and unwilling to work, but the little ones are extremely motived by trinkets and toys.  This realization marked a sad day for our waterboy.  After six years with the girls (and boys) of Peace Corps Zobue, he is finally getting the sack. 

We are going to hire children to do our work for us.  In exchange for condoms. 

What a crazy world.  

Blowing up a condom balloon, the old-fashioned way
A hand-made soccer ball with a gooey condom center
My favorite little girl shows off her new condom balloon.  When the condom
 pops,  it will be blown up for a second time, and re-tied, higher up.  The
 lifespan of a single condom balloon is extended in this way until the
 balloon itself is the size of a grape.  

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