Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Know You’re a Eurocentrist (not redneck though maybe that too)

So, weeks ago when I mentioned that Nicole and I were creating a list.  Well, this is it and plus and minus things:

1.     You don’t know that you shouldn’t use too much toilet paper (it doesn’t go down well and there is never enough and you should really bring some with you everywhere)

2.     You think it’s normal to eat meat for every meal (it’s expensive and you don’t know where it’s from or how old it is.  And when you are here, you WONT always want to eat the “mystery meat”; it is not that it is not definitely from a cow or a rabbit or chicken or whatever, but what part it is and the logic used for cleaning in (is that large heart ARTERY! THAT RUBBERY TUBE THING!!??) or how long it waited in a non-refrigerated environment to get to you.  Best to do like they do and BOIL EVERYTHING UNTIL IT'S A ROCK but with an excellent sauce!)

3.     You take water for granted (it’s the most valuable thing in the world.  And though often cheap, it is often very expensive, here, for the most part, I have drunk the “tap” water.  It comes in two forms: rain water going into the large rubber tanks or rain water coming from the nation water plant into the large rubber tanks.  As I read from many international “muzungu” sources including PeaceCorp and the US embassy, etc, it is OK to brush your teeth and shower in this but you should NEVER drink it.  Strangely, my PeaceCorp friend has been drinking it for years.  Two thing about this: first, she thinks that she like me, had “amoebas” already for a long time, this is code for “DYSENTERY” btw.  Second, even Rwandese think she is crazy.  There are only two ways to drink water:  the first is to boil the water.  Everyone has these rather larger (1.5 liter) “tea kettles” that they use to boil water for almost everything.  Though they can still result is a seriously rancid smell (though I have mentioned before the smell comes from EVERYWHERE) and also a really visible “cloud” as muzungus call it in the water.  It literally took me over two months to see the “cloud”.  Once I did, and long after I had both had dysentery and my breath even smells like that rancid smell, I stopped drinking the “tap” water and switched to “bottled”.  So, that is the second type.  “Bottled” water comes from the Huye province.  Go ahead and look it up if you want to know what I have been drinking.  Like the milk here, it is irradiated at high temperature and therefore is strange.  It is sold in large 5 liters jugs.  I have been drinking these for 2 or 3 weeks and, in terms of price, they are quite cheap compared to any smaller vessel.  Though, they are really difficult to drink out of.  But, as I have found, even these freaking STINK like everything and everyone else here.  I miss American or European, even Vegas, which I consider the worst USA water, and so does the American Medical Association (any water that results in surgery (it has too “soft”, meaning it has too much magnesium or something and results in kidney stones at a record rate) is bad water).

4.     You think the West invented or is the only place that enjoys fine alcohol (alcohol is universally adored.  It’s not a western invention and everyone responds the same way when drunk: happy, angry, sad, but generally ebullient, and always annoying to a sober person)

5.     You take federal drug or food regulations for granted and then say we should have less government (is that water really ok?  Is that milk really ok?  By that I mean, is it ok to drink milk out of a plastic sack that has never been refrigerate and does not ask you to refrigerate it and does not go bad and is therefore a higher temperature pasteurization process plus irradiation even though it only comes from 5 FLIPPING MILES FROM HERE?!  Is there manure on that tomato?  Will you get salmonella from that meat?  Even though you buy an avocado from your farmer next door, you look at the avocados from your own tree and wonder why I have worms in mine and you don’t and then second guess this whole assumption? I am only saying all this as an expert on freaking dysentery, which I think gives me some real experience to say...anyway…some things about food hygiene.  Also, have you ever found what could be part of the heart valve of a cow you are eating and could also be a rolled up piece of skin and could also be a part of a MEDICAL TUBE in your food and wondered about it?!!!!)

6.     Really?  You have air conditioning?

7.     Really? You have electricity?  All the time?

8.     REALLY?! You have internet?  All THE TIME?!

9.     When you think you will die without hot water.  (Actually you will.  Everyone SINGLE time you pour freezing cold water over your head about 50 times at 5am on a 50 degree morning, you die a little.)

10. When you wear everything that you want to wear whenever you want to wear it.  Because you can and either someone else does your laundry or because you have a washing machine.  (Here, you wear something until it smells or is visibly soiled.  Because laundry is expensive either in time and supplies or in money for someone else’s time labor and supplies.  Additionally, I have recently found that I am committing a Rwandese faux pa.  Here people do their only laundy….in the bath!  They have only a few pairs of underwear and they wash it when they bathe.  I have been having my friend do my underwear with my laundry.  I was ashamed when I learned this and told her.  She says, na cyabazo (no problem!) and for two reasons; first, I am her muzungu friend and she understands.  Second, she says I am the cleanest person.  (REALLY?!  I have never felt dirtier in my life.)  My clothes are never “dirty”, she says.  Really?!  I tell her yes, but I sweat all the time and Rwandese don’t!  She agrees, but says that sweat is not so dirty.  If you sweat then you wear them one time all day and wash them.  But because Rwandese who don’t do really hard work, that is those in the field, don’t sweat so much, they wear the clothes over and over again and so they are really dirty.  I don’t believe her that my clothes aren’t dirty, but I am always grateful for her grace.  In fact, though this is so hard to put as a parenthetical moment, it is because of her that I have really experienced, first hand, the meaning of both the terms “grace” and “peace” because she has both in abundance.  In fact, these characteristics in her both “surpasseth all understanding”). 

11. You think that “sand” is not a normal part of your diet.  (If you are at a restaurant or at home and you chew one piece of “grit”, you think nothing of it.  But if you are at home and you are eating your own washed lettuce and you get even TWO pieces of grit, you throw it out.  Because you know you didn’t wash it enough.  If you get TWO pieces of grit at a restaurant you send it back, because you know THEY didn’t wash it enough.  If you are in Rwanda and you go out and you buy a package of pre-contained pasta yourself and give it to your cook and they cook it and almost every SINGLE bite contains grit, you think nothing of it but, if you are a muzungu, you worry a little about your teeth in the long run and consider the amount of blackness / redness (claylike) that you pull out of your nose every day.  And then, you say, oh well…and just keep eating.  Because EVERYTHING you eat is full of grit of some kind.  You stop asking yourself within the first week exactly what the grit is.  It could be bone or gristle or sand or clay or fingernail…you can't care.  You know it's been boiled and you just stop caring and remember home fondly knowing that your cook, because you should KNOW, is a good one.  And I KNOW mine is a good one.  And yet, every day, I eat sand.)

12. You think that mosquitoes at twilight will crawl all over you in the “nice” months and eat you up and leave giant welts all over you that will itch for days but a nice frost in the northern states will rid you of these pests but also rid you of the use of your yard.  (Actually, mosquitos are a sort of mixed comparison.  First, in Rwanda, there are no real “seasons” even in the ways that a Texan might think of them.  There is the short rainy season and the long rainy season.  The dry seasons are hotter and drier, of course, and predicate the necessity for heavy drapes in most houses.  But!!!!  There are more mosquitoes in the cooler and rainier seasons.  But!!!  They are almost ONLY existent in the twilight hours (2 hours between 6 and 8pm here.  Second, there are WAY more mosquitos here.  You think you might be carried off?  I mean this is only comparable to Louisiana or something.  Third, and on a strangely positive note, the mosquitos here are really small and make really small bites.  I mean, they are all over you, but they leave a small bit that itches, and I am not kidding, ONCE.  You scratch the lump and then the lump itches no more and then it goes away.  Again, on the negative: well, there really are a lot of them but they are only in those hours for sure.  But really, these are the smartest mosquitos in the WORLD.  I live in NY and have also lived in FL and TX.  They are similar in all three places but the seasons kill them off in NY and so that is nice.  But, I have also lived in Alaska.  There, the mosquitos are NOT designed for small mammals but for the abundant large mammals that live there.  Deer and moose and bears.  Thus, the mosquitos in Alaska are HUGE and they leave HUGE welts that itch for DAYS, but they are also the largest and dumbest and slowest things alive.  All you have to do is pay attention and swat them away or grab them.  But here, not a chance of swatting them or grabbing them.  They are too small and almost look like what we would call gnats.  In addition, Rwandese mosquitos are also attracted to light and heat in a way that I have not experienced in the USA.  So, as it turns out, my computer, while I am encoding data 24/7, is usually a sufficient decoy.  And, though I get tons of bites every day, they itch for the first time and then never again and the welts go away RIGHT AWAY.  What polite mosquitos.  Last, and the most severe negative, of COURSE, they carry freaking MALARIA!!!!  So, I am taking malaria medication once a week.  This particular variety has the effect, while not of the stomach variety for which I am infinitely grateful particularly because of my history of stomach problems….hallucinations!!!  Thus, I often think that there are mosquitos around me which are not actually there.)