Birao No More

With the electricity out for another entire day, the old mattress sinking into the extremely sweaty night, wearing the long and long-ago ripped and ripping more, African-motifed pajamas, to keep some twirling mosquitoes off the scratchy skin; while the Koranic children wailed out of key well into the night and passed the dry caked concoction of onions and dried pasta found in the market a few hours before now rumbling in the stomach, prepared by veiled women in their section, at this hostel for which I would get a rebate, a Koranic school, and meeting area of sorts for prayers and loud business discussions on cell phone service just arrived a few months ago, for second generation Hausas, whose fathers had settled here, rather than pursuing their pilgrimage to the Mecca, and now running the businesses, moving around goods from Sudan’s Darfur region, described by humanitarians somewhat agitated at being posted here, as an “El Dorado” of sorts, me stickily listening to the grisly coming in and out signal of BBC Africa news, a story about Yoweri Museveni saying he would run again in 2012, the abstinence faith-based president against the condoms and constitution, was he better than Mugabe because he was fighting child abducting spiritual zealots rather than racist white arrogant farmers? Probably, because he made money for others, and did not lose it all in ideology….

I felt like I could cut through the air with my hand, the real, somewhat pleading, shrieking world of the children, the man in the white robe yelling about this water, which seemed full of flies anyway, being for praying and that bucket for the frog festering, mud of suspicious origin on the walls, festering clogged shower hole with rats or mice tickling my feet… That can also be a fundamental question in such times. Rats or mice? If you ask it’s probably mice I thought to myself.

Anyway, on the other side of my hand, from the grizzle of my radio, came this other world from the top of sorts, condensed, simplified, glorified, chastised, I should know, it’s my job, although I have no British accent, and my voice has been inconsistent in form.

Having just watched the end of Private Parts on my dying DVD player, my last full movie from my collection bought years ago, while wearing my trusted travel red Palestinian headscarf as a constant protection against the elements, perhaps in an attempt to always keep a balance, between worlds, Bardo some say, anyway Howard Stern, the conceptual lowbrow genius, winning the cash hungry ratings war in another last golden age of radio, the one I work within was decades ago, reaching cruder into the public discourse and alienation to the self, the morality of money and hard work (both Stern and the strippers work hard) trumping all other moralities, in the end it is him lying underneath God-fearing chest enhanced plastified women, in pre-cyber fantasy form, at least the audio was there, playing on being the crude bubblehead, their bodies not giving them an option, and me thinking of the men in Egypt, or what Id read about, the small prayer-bump or the zebibah on the head as a symbol of fidelity, as a mark of repetitive prayer to the hard ground.

In Birao, I did lots of reporting by walking, and tried to step over long columns of large ants which kept crossing my path, on the way to seeing the Eufor peacekeepers, the last morning a West African from an obscure African contingent, which long ago had stopped being the story at least in international media, although they had served their purpose at the UN plane refueling stop, sweating in the humidity of a morning run and his polyester suit said he had plenty to say as well about the security situation, the local humanitarians walked in force to the hut of the only woman on their team who had just lost a child, a journalist from the capital Bangui was dressed in a tight three-piece itchy suit to welcome his big story, a new consul from Sudan, the NGO worker from Cameroon was dreaming of the next UN flight and his first cold beer in Bangui in several months, the self-appointed mayor growled because his daughter was in the state hospital and our interview had been missed yet again because of another trip to the fields and harvesting, with mikes, camera, and cords, following women with their hoes, chanting to keep the snakes at bay.

The French soldiers waved, and always smiled, with their half smile, of not wanting to alienate anyone it seemed, journalists were rare, feared or appreciated in these parts, an overheard conversation of a local soldier with a gun going home said he wanted some food, the woman laughed, he said watch out, Ive got this one, and another one, pointing to a pregnant woman, he said, how do you think she got that way? the young girls with the big eyes and sandy bread, geared for a life of business, the rebels with green sweatpants and red berets doing mixed patrols with the army of which the mayor said he was unaware, the government employee who said they had been forced to live like animals for one month last year when the rebels attacked, after the military came back, ethnic Gulas fled, accused of being allied with the rebels, hearing peppered in conversations, the young eager humanitarians, dropping names like Ouandja, Ouanda Djallé, Ouadda, Ndélé, Vakaga, Bamingui, even though I had just arrived, dreaming of these places, knowing I would probably never go, the young boys with the snot and the flies buzzing around them, the Darfurian refugees who seemed the happiest of the lot in some ways, having found a haven after turbulence, amidst these comings and goings, thankfully I walked over the ants, regretting the meat I had gorged on over and over the first day, never to eat meat again in my life in Birao, the French ate at just one of the meat places, they said that meat is safe, inspected, they who turned around on their security missions after just a few drops of downpour and playing with their Charlie tango; the only cars; one of the Haussa, a few trucks from Sudan, and the four by fours of the peacekeepers, military and humanitarians seemingly crushing the ants as they went back and forth.

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