Friday, September 14, 2012

A Single Girl's Guide to Sleeping Alone in Africa

As a married volunteer, I'm lucky in that my roommate situation is guaranteed from the very beginning of service.   Some volunteers will end up living with other volunteers, some will live with Mozambicans, and others will live by themselves.  I get to live with my best friend, which makes that part of my life a little bit easier.

I will admit, however, that I have been looking forward to this weekend.  Dan is in Chimoio from Friday until Sunday, which means that I have the house to myself for nearly 58 hours.  At first, I considered going with him.  Chimoio is the capital of Manica province and has all sorts of good things—Indian food, ice cream, Internet—for the deprived and greedy volunteer.  In the end, though, I decided to stay behind and enjoy my free time.   For the first time ever, I was going to act the part of a single white female, living alone in Africa.  

At the beginning of the day, I took my job very seriously.  I started by eating a spoonful of Malawi peanut butter directly from the jar.  Then, I walked to the market and bought a pack of crackers.  I chose not to cook lunch for myself, opting instead to read sixteen chapters of Harry Potter e a C├ímara Secreta.

As the day wore on, however, my joy became tainted with paranoia.  The energy had been out all day and I realized that the possibility of spending the night alone—in the dark—was quickly becoming a reality.  My priorities shifted.  Suddenly, I was nailing windows shut, fishing for candles, and asking the neighbor boy to come and look under the bed in the back room. 

The energy has since returned (it returned in a whoosh of lamps and stereos that made all the children cheer), but this single white female has found it hard to go to sleep.  Instead, she found herself curled up under the mosquito net, writing “The Single Girl’s Guide to Sleeping Alone in Africa” (alternately titled, “What’s that Noise!?”), by the light of not one, but two electric bulbs.  Here’s an excerpt of this latest literary masterpiece:

*          *          *          *          *
Description of Noise

There are lots of scary noises in the middle of the night!  Most of these noises have natural causes and have little or nothing to do with the man that is standing outside your window.  Use this handy guide to find a rational explanation for the sounds that are keeping you awake!

A Sudden, Loud CRACK
  • Inside the House:  Don’t worry!  What you heard were pieces of the house breaking off and falling down.  There should be no problems as long as the resulting holes are not large enough to crawl through. 
  • Outside the House:  Not your problem.  What’s outside can’t get in (unless, of course, that hole was large enough to crawl through…)
  • On the Roof:  Probably just children throwing bricks onto your tin roof.  They’re just being friendly!
Strange Hissing Noises
  • Gas leak, hissing cockroaches, or Mozambican spitting cobras.  Just watch where you put your feet.
Rattling on the Grate
  • Probably just the dog, sleeping against the door.  When the dog scratches his fleas, it rattles the metal grate and makes a sound suspiciously like a tall man with a machete trying to get in.  But it’s not!  Usually…
 Loud, Repetitive Wailing
  • It’s time to pray!  The Muslim call to prayer sounds five times a day between 5AM and 10PM. 
Sharp, Sudden Screams in the Yard
  • The next door neighbor is probably bewitched, again.  Don’t go outside or you’ll get bewitched, too!

*          *          *          *          *

That’s all I have for now, but I’m sure that the list of strange noises will grow as the night wears on.  Trust me, I hear all of them.  There is also the “Was that me who just shook the bed?” sensation and the “Now it’s quiet.  Too quiet.”  sensation.  The night crawls by, inch by inch, on little, itchy cockroach legs.

I’m not really a single girl in Africa, of course.  But I am discovering just how hard it can be.  As such, I’d like to dedicate this small post to my good friend Steph Newton, who really does spend every night alone in the dark.  Not only is she surviving, but she is succeeding and doing good work.   There are many different types of bravery, and the ladies of the Peace Corps are some of the most courageous young women that I have ever met.    

If you’d like to read about a single woman living alone in a village without electricity, try reading Steph’s blog, here: 

She’s upbeat, smart, and funny, which always makes for a good read.  

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