"They did not know that beauty lies in harmony, and that
loveliness of life has no standard amidst an aimless cosmos save
only its harmony with the dreams and the feelings which have
gone before and blindly moulded our little spheres out of the rest
of chaos. They did not see that good and evil and beauty and
ugliness are only ornamental fruits of perspective, whose sole
value lies in their linkage to what chance made our fathers think
and feel, and whose finer details are different for every race and
culture. Instead, they either denied these things altogether or
transferred them to the crude, vague instincts which they shared
with the beasts and peasants; so that their lives were dragged
malodorously out in pain, ugliness, and disproportion, yet filled
with a ludicrous pride at having escaped from something no
more unsound than that which still held them. They had traded
the false gods of fear and blind piety for those of license and
The school year is coming to a close and I can feel transition racing towards me on a hulking coal powered train. I first became aware of the moving mechanical beast in the split second before impact: Keep my eyes open and look at the scenery around me or just jump right onto the speeding train and ride. It is rather odd that in more sedate moments our decisions can linger and sway like an infant tree in a raw howling wind, but in moments of sheer panic the human brain can display an amazing capacity to facilitate abrupt choice.
Summer projects are looming and I don't know if I should continue improving my computer courses by teaching summer classes, or if I should change my focus and try something completely new. I think back to my time teaching English is Thailand and my time teaching English here and my mind wanders to thoughts of the fun I have teaching anything to Amee and Buba. I look at all the other projects that PCVs in the area are involved in and I know that good things are happening in our little pocket of the country. I want to join in those efforts, but I know that I am also on the verge of producing a rarity in The Gambia, genuinely quality instruction on computers. The choice lingers and I wonder if I should choose fresh freedoms over refinement and I wonder if I'll be asking these questions for the rest of my life.
In my younger years, I had a friend who always told me that life is about adapting to change, there was nothing more complicated to it than that. This did not change the fact that the train was still steaming down the tracks and the conductor is blowing his whistle as if in inquiry to my idle stance. "What do you think sonny? My clock is ticking," I hear him saying in my head.
It's a Friday in June and I find myself stuck doing the same old computer stuff. My counterpart comes to see me in the morning and he tells me that one of our fellow teachers needs IT help in his home village. He tells me that the community group there needs a computer lab set up and that most of the hardware is there, all we have to do is reinstall Windows with English as the default language. I sigh and I know that this means old 486 PCs and limited resources. This will be a day of broken disks, watching progress bars tick from 5% to 6%, and of system updates snacking away at our time as if it was made up of some gooey chocolate bar. I know we probably won't see much progress on the first day, and I shudder to think that I will jump into more computer support instead of teaching or branching out.
Then I begin to look at the day from a cultural point of view. I see the branches literally sprawl out in front of me, my eyes were once again closed. I begin to see possibility in interacting in a new community and I feel a bit better. I tell my counterpart sure let's go and even break a smile at the prospect. He can tell that a change has occurred and he smiles back and tells me that a few of the other younger teachers will be there and we'll have a good chance to chat. We both get more excited to go out for the day and begin to pack our things.
A tested confidence in what one is doing is the building block for life. That friend, who now only lives in memory and faded moments, was largely successful because he adapted to the change and took lessons from how he adapted. He refined his results and began to make better and better decisions, it seemed almost text-book. He began to live with a confidence and glow to life. His moments of sheer panic were no longer uncontrollable specters floating through his brain, they were fully opaque figures he interacted with a passing ease.
Lamin is the geography teacher at the school and it is his community that needs IT help. The air is deceptively cool so we decide to ride out to the village on bicycles instead of taking public transport. The wheels begin to spin and we are lucky enough to pass the Peace Corps van rushing by bringing a gust of wind. It's full of the new Education training group heading out to training village, and my mind races back to a similar trip my group took all of one year ago. I smile and wave and I can't help but feel, for the first time, like an old volunteer. I get in one good look at the new group as the bus rolls by and in that instant I see great potential for the country. I see the potential and I find comfort and strength for all trainees in their impending arrival at permanent site.
The ride out to the village begins slowly enough but as we leave town and into the open roads the wind begins to increase to a bear's roar. Pedal strokes become worthless as the wind off the Atlantic strikes back at every inch of progress we make. There isn't much we can do to but laugh at our luck and take the delay as a long overdue opportunity to chat. Lamin explains that the area we are riding through is now used for military training grounds and it's always a bit scary when they are doing live ammo practices. He says that there are always radio and television announcements before they begin, but still people are caught off guard by the noise. He explains that most of the area was acquired by the government and people have been asked to leave their land for the better good of the nation. I tell him that the same thing happened in America on a large scale when the national Interstate system was being constructed, and I can tell that in that instant America a little bit more demystified.
We arrive in Lamin's home town and we get to work on setting up the computer lab. Windows CDs go in, cables are pulled, UPS switches fluctuate with the tides of the national power company. It's all too familiar and I can't help but slide back into thoughts of dooming myself to regularity. Earlier cultural hopes are dashed and I wonder if I am living life without appropriate enmity for the mundane.
My friend is now in India. He takes snapshots of the absurdly rich and the desperately poor as a freelance photographer. It's not something I would have guessed he would have done knowing him in our youth, but he adapted. He went out looking for things he was skilled at, and perfected his trade. His brain now lives for the moments of sheer panic. It lives for those moments that only happen for 1/500th of a second. He's asking me now, "I am going to push this button now, you tell me what will my results look like?"
It's not long after when one of our fellow teachers arrives. His arrival adds a new dynamic. It revives the day as a new opportunity to learn where I am and who I am with. He tells us he's here to brew tea and chat, and that we should not stress so much about the work. We are caught in the middle, but continue to plug away at the computers, Western work ethic structuring our day with its rigidity. Brewing his tea, the new arrival again breaks our blindness and reminds us that we are in mango town and tells us once again that if we don't stop the work to eat some mangos then we will be wasting the entirety of a perfectly fine day.
Its as if the grey clouds dissolve into nothingness and the skies reveal an entirely new day. The day finally transitions into one of freedom, one that is observant of the scenery around us. The day goes from routine to amusing in the instant of change of mindset, in that split second of time when everything is possible. We slowly ween off the work and we open up to discussion now between friends rather than co-workers or business men. It's not that we talk about anything deep or life altering that makes the day so amusing. It's that we talk about the everyday, the normal trials and tribulations of young people in The Gambia, that makes the day so great. It's that the conversation divulges into common male topics of loneliness for girlfriends, sports, or jokes about each other's appearance that makes the day hilarious. It's all a bit too much, but the freedom from choice is lingering and it made the day all the better.
"It's only a skeleton of a moment, too quick for our perception to flesh out," he tells me, puts a hand on my shoulder, and walks away.
A top 40 radio style shout-out to friends and family.
Naima in Charleston, singing career? Updates?
Jim in Vienna, thanks again for the hospitality, good luck with the move to WI.
Steevo in Chicago, King Leonidas or Death Knight Arthas?
Courtney in West Africa, stop reading this and get back to being a volunteer!
Matt in Montana, how did you end up in Montana?
And a random picture of me at a First Communion party... This country is 93% Muslim right? Kaddy is on the left in blue.