15 February 2008

Put me in coach

Daboe was gone for the weekend. This much should be noted, because it broke from a reliable months long notion that, along with the evening came his defining presence.

Daboe is the father figure of the compound and therefore has the power to set the tone of the evening. It’s not a power created out of repetition and consistency of a message. Rather, most nights he is quiet and reflective, letting the light of moon and stars and pure chance direct the mood. When he does exercise command, the power and impact of his words is a direct result of his typical lack of vocalization. Not that this power always comes in a disciplinary tone or is always directed towards children. in fact I fondly remember the first night he said, “Yaya, today the men are cooking the porridge. You will learn. Let’s go.” The evening and into night ended up not only being a simple and fun lesson, but brought out a joking relationship between him and Kaddy that I had never seen before. A relationship that played and poked with gender roles, accepting the traditional but stretched and pulled towards equality of responsibility.

But already I am missing my original point, Daboe, on this particular weekend, was gone. The lack of his presence shaped the night like a hacked tree, a mangled impression of something more animate. How do you repair those gaps of assurance and comfort when a family member is missing? Can they truly be filled?

If Daboe was home we would all be sitting around a warm bowl of rice, peanut, and sour milk porridge. He would be making sure the boys were holding their spoons correctly, making sure they weren’t spilling rice all over the mat, and he would be evenly distributing the milk to all sides of the bowl. On this evening, I took over those roles. The minutes of passing time it took to have dinner represented a small moment of integration that define a volunteer’s vitality. The bowl of porridge was set on my mat laying just in front of my door. Buba came and sat around the bowl as if nothing was out of place. I held a small flashlight over the bowl so that throughout the meal we could see where we were scooping. Buba patiently waited for me to distribute the milk and stir it into the porridge. He listened and made corrections when I told him to eat properly, and when he was finished he told me, “I’m full. Here is the spoon,” gave me the spoon, then got up and walked away.

Increasingly, as my service comes to the home stretch, these moments are what remains of my days. They are what I will take home.