Sound Education

I mentioned before that as my belly has expanded my belly button has also increased in size. Because I often have to find a purpose in everything that happens, I surmised that the bigger belly button might also be used for feeding Baby.

My belly button used to look like this, more like a slot-shaped abyss. Things like lint and crumbs would be lost in there forever:

belly00a

Now my belly button looks closer to this, which makes it so much easier to clean:

belly01a

Here are some food items I’ve considered giving to Baby through my belly button. My first idea was a carrot, since that seemed most likely to fit:

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Then I also thought about Red Vines, since they are also a skinny food:

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I also wondered how junk food like French fries (since Red Vines aren’t really junk food) would affect Baby:

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Then I started thinking about protein and how important it is to Baby’s development. I thought about how much Baby might appreciate a steak:

belly05

But then again, Baby might like something a little lighter:

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As you can see, my new belly button could really come in handy.

The other night I discovered another way to help Baby. It was around 2 or 3 am, and I had some trouble getting to sleep. I was getting frustrated and thinking of ways to fall asleep, and I decided to listen to some music on my Kindle. When it’s late at night and Reilly’s already sleeping, I usually plug in some earphones into the Kindle and watch Netflix or Hulu or listen to music.

Up to this moment, Baby had only listened to music from the regular speakers from a regular stereo system. And the stereo was never up close. Maybe the late hour caused some delirium, but it occurred to me that I could use my earphones so that Baby could listen to music with me. I decided to try sharing my earbuds with baby:

belly07

I put one earbud in my ear, and the other earbud went into my belly button. Baby and I listened to music for about an hour. Of course I made sure to keep the volume low.

Baby seemed to like certain types of French music, like Carla Bruni’s “Quelqu’un m’a dit”:

belly08a

She didn’t like “Comme des infants” by Coeur de Pirate:

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And she seemed to hate “Satellite” by Indochine:

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But Baby seemed to calm down while listening to classical music, such as violin concertos performed by Hilary Hahn. And the last song I played before going to sleep was Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day,” which we both agree on:

belly11a

I can’t wait to see what else Baby likes to listen to.

Small Haul

The public library sale was fun. Today, hardbacks were $1.00, and paperbacks were $0.50. Pretty cool, eh?

Here’s what I got:

Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal
– We’ve been reading a lot of Baudelaire in one of my classes, so when I saw this, I got really excited.

Germaine Bree, Great French Short Stories
– These are in English, and they’re most of the famous ones.

Geoffrey Brereton, A Short History of French Literature
– I bought this one for pretense. Of course.

Annie Ernaux, La Place
– This looked interesting. And it’s short, which means it’s more likely that I’ll finish it.

Other Random French Short Stories
– These are in French. I like short stories. I like French. It only makes sense.

***

T.C. Boyle, When the Killing’s Done
– I hear he’s good.

Don DeLillo, Underworld
– This guy is supposed to be great, too.

Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays
– I haven’t read a lot of her fiction; I’m looking forward to this.

Louise Erdrich, Four Souls
– This is supposed to be awesome.

Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine
– I think I have a copy of this in New York City. Oh, well.

Hemingway, Short Stories
– Short stories is pretty much the only way I like Hemingway.

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
– I’d read this before.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns
– I hope this one is okay, too.

Zora Neale Hurston, Jonah’s Gourd Vine; Mules and Men; Their Eyes Were Watching God
– I remember that a friend was reading Their Eyes her junior year while I was a senior in high school. I’ve been wanting to read Hurston ever since.

Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
– I read this the summer before my junior year of school for an AP English class. It’s time to read it again.

W.S. Merwin, The Lost Upland
– I like Merwin. I like France. Enough said.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
– I put off getting this for a long time.

Chaim Potok, Davita’s Harp
– I love the Chosen, hopefully this one will be great, too.

Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
– Proulx seems pretty important, but I’ve read very little of her.

Thomas Pynchon, V
– Same thing with Pynchon.

Betty Smith, Joy in the Morning
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was pretty amazing. Fingers crossed for this one.

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
– The Red Pony, The Pearl, Of Mice and Men; it’s time for a big Steinbeck book.

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, pocket size
– I think I will always carry this one with me.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
– I’d read excerpts of both of these for a class, and that was enough to decide that I really, really like Virginia Woolf. I hope she likes me, too.

Definitely, I got my $16 worth today. I know I’m good for the year, at least.

If you want to borrow these or any of my books, let me know. If you’ve borrowed books and haven’t returned them, I’m gently reminding you that you still have them.

And that’s okay. Take your time.

Booklist Checklist

Well, here’s my course schedule for fall semester:

Course Hrs Class Period Days Course Title
 ENGL 319R  3.0  9:30a – 10:45a  TTh  Writing Poetry
 ENGL 322  3.0  11:00a – 11:50a  MWF  Hist & Criticism of Rhetoric
 ENGL 361  3.0  8:00a – 9:15a  TTh  American Lit 1800 – 1865
 FREN 340  3.0  1:00p – 2:15p  MW  Intro to Literary Analysis
 REL A 327  2.0  10:00a – 10:50a  MW  The Pearl of Great Price

Here’s the weekly layout:

And here are the books I need:

Engl 319R Writing Poetry
Todd Davis and Erin Murphy, eds.  Making Poems: Forty Poems with Commentary by the Poets
Amy Gerstler, EdThe Best American Poetry 2010
Elisabeth Murawski, Zorba’s Daughter
W.S. Merwin.  The Shadow of Sirius
Neil Aitkin, The Lost Country of Sight
Dana Levin, Sky Burial
Tony Hoagland, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty
Nancy Eimers, Oz
Billy Collins.  Horoscopes for the Dead

Eng 322 History of Criticism and Rhetoric
McKee, Robert, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
Woodruff, Paul, The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched
Aristotle, et al, The Rhetoric and the Poetics of Aristotle
Alexander, Gavin, various, Sidney’s The Defence of Poesy and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism
St. Augustine, On Christian Teaching

Eng 361 American Lit 1800-1865
Douglass, Frederick, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written By Himself
Barnum, P.T. The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself
Pratt, Parley P, The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt
Jacobs, Harriet, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Penguin Classics)
Franklin, Benjamin, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography
Davis, Andrew Jackson, The magic staff; an autobiography of Andrew Jackson Davis

Fren 340 Intro to Literary Analysis
Montesquieu, Lettres Persanes
Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac
De Troyes, Erec et Enide
Balzac, Le Chef-d’oeuvre Inconnu
Molière, Le Tartuffe ou L’Imposteur

Rel A 327 Pearl of Great Price
God, Scriptures

I love the beginning of the semester because I seriously enjoy feeling both excited and terrified.  Yep.

One week, everybody!

The Opening Line of an Email Today

A few drafts of entries hide, latent, outside the public’s purview. They discuss mostly my French experience in Africa, and I wanted to focus mostly on the African experience, the human experience, the life stuff beyond the school stuff.

It’s hard to separate the two realms: I spoke, read, and wrote French in Africa. We took tests and turned in papers in that language. I’d rather just forget the grades from my study abroad, because–although they’re not horrible–they don’t reflect the breadth of my experience there.

Somehow,  I was able to channel the spirit of the adventure–my reason for being there–and focus that energy into some of my schoolwork. And it resulted in the opening line of an email that made my day today:

May,

Comment allez-vous?  Savez-vous que je vous ai donné un A pour votre projet anthropologique?  C’était magnifique, ce que vous aviez écrit.

So, I’m happy I did well on the anthropology project, which was about families. I enjoyed writing it; I appreciated being able to express some of the things I learned that were important to me.  I’ll push away the thought that I must have BUSTED on the exams to earn the overall grade. That thought is a little bit depressing.

One thing advanced French classes have taught me these past six months is that grades cannot define me. It’s such an easy trap to fall into, and I’ve let it create doubt in my abilities as a student, a scholar, a writer. I’ve let it “degrade” me (sorry, pun, and I’ve also recently watched Wit again, which also plays with the word so it’s fresh on the brain) and undermine my identity. I still might write those entries, just because they outline some breakthroughs and personal growth that didn’t necessarily result in an A.

Unquantifiable stuffs. You know.

I Wonder How Different My Life Would Be If I Slept This Month

It’s one night in Senegal. Any night. All nights. I can’t sleep. I settle into bed, usually between 11pm and 1am, depending on whether I have to read or write or watch television with friends. If it’s watching tv, I try leaving early enough because I know my friends like their sleep. As they should. As I would, if I could.

Sometimes I walk into the hotel room and my roommate is praying, in a hunched-over kneel on her bed. I move about quietly, gathering my things into the bathroom for a quick shower.

I negotiate with the showerhead, try to put it in a place where I can stand under it without getting the whole bathroom wet. On the days when the bathrooms have shower curtains, it doesn’t really matter. That piece of fabric is a mere formality, existing only to facilitate splashy chaos on that gritty tile with the moldy grout.

The bathroom sighs an aroma of shampoo and squeaky-clean May-ness as I open the door. The light on my side of the room is on, and my roommate has tucked herself into bed and caught a deep, rhythmic slumber. Lucky $%@%*!. While I write, or read, or think, the towel wrapped around my head absorbs most of the water from my hair.

If I’m reading, it’s with whatever book we’re studying and a pen and a dictionary and me getting through one chapter–maybe two–before I get frustrated.

If it’s writing, it’s any of the following:

-Je suis allée à l’orphelinat (à la Fête de Mères), et j’étais heureuse et triste au même temps.

-Je m’assoie et pense. L’hôtel est tranquille et je ne peux pas dormir. [Comme d’habitude.]

-Le mois passe rapidement. Tous les matins je me reveille avec mal à la tête.

-J’aime le musée.

-Aujourd’hui, c’est l’anniversaire de mon père….It is so easy to misspell words in a foreign language….Je ne bois pas assez d’eau, et j’ai mal à la tête tout le temps. (I really do stop complaining about headaches. I promise.)

-(At a VERY EXCITING conference:) Je fais semblant de faire attention. J’ai mal à la tête. Tout le monde rit et je ne suis pas pourquoi.

-LA PLAGE! J’aime la plage! La plage me rend heureuse.

-Shouldn’t I just have one or two days during this whole study abroad where I can write in English? I know I need the practice, but I really miss how fast my pen can go when I can think in successive sentences without stopping.

-Je veux être une griotte, mais je ne sais pas nourrir tous les enfants. HA!

-HAPPY HALFWAY POINT!

-I think I want to be everybody’s friend. I think I am making some really great friends. This trip is a lot of fun, even with the humidity and language barriers and poverty and foreign food and hagglers. There’s love and unity and abounding happiness in the children. There are stories and memories and dancing and singing with lots of laughing and big smiles. As much as I miss America, leaving this place is going to be hard.

-Je dois écrire des choses importantes, mais je n’ai pas d’énergie.

-I really have to take advantage of my experience here. IT’S AFRICA. There are beautiful people and endless landscapes and so many things to think about. How do I make a difference? I have to get back in the habit of finding inspiration in everything, everywhere. Everyone….Kylie was really nice and gave me a page from her crossword puzzle book.

-Country Road, take me home, to a place I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home country road. On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah with my friends, j’ai hâte de voyager encore. Oui!

-Des HIPPOPOTAMES! Ils sont énormes!…Oh! Des singes! Ils ont “attaqué” Kylie et Sarah ce matin….Il y a des morceaux de toit qui tombent sur mon lit. It’s annoying….P.S. My roommate, Chloe, is great. I’m very glad we get along. Bon soir, SWEATY MONKEYS.

-CAR RAPIDE et the DUSTS OF HELL! Des combinations secrètes à la derrière du bus. UGLY DUSTY RED FACES OF FUNNINESS!

-LE CASCADE! Mais d’abord, promener à pied. J’ai beaucoup transpiré, mais c’est l’Afrique. TOUT est l’AFRIQUE.

-J’AI UN MAL À LA TÊTE. OUAIS!!!!! Nous sommes dans le bus. J’ai fait la sièste et de me reveiller and I AM VERY CRANKY. I shouldn’t be parce que les autres chantent des canticles. C’est joli, mais je peux seulement pleurer. C’est stupide.

-J’ai nagé aujourd’hui. I dove into the water et j’ai oublié à enlever mes lunettes. Oops, donc, après le dive, les lunettes étaient au bas de la piscine. Britt les a retrouvé, et j’étais reconnaissante.

-(In Sarah’s handwriting:) Aujourd’hui, j’ai commencé par être awesome, puis, j’ai continué à être awesome jusqu’au déjeuner, où je suis devenue même plus awesome. J’ai continué comme ça jusqu’au dîner, où j’ai rencontré Sarah, et la force de votre coalition de awesome était for qui on a commencé a brûler. Et puis, j’ai dormi.

-I feel like que je sois dans une autre dimension. Quel est vrai? Quel est la realité? Comment est-ce que ce voyage m’influence?

-DRAW ME A PICTURE PLEASE THANK YOU. What kind of picture? PRETTY KIND. WHATEVER YOU WANT. [Insert pretty picture here.]

Once I’m done reading or writing, I finish drying my hair, then I turn off the light and slide under the covers. I close my eyes, and whatever happened that day or the days before or whatever will happen in upcoming days float in my head. I open my eyes, and it’s the two o’clock hour. I create French conversations. I try to connect thoughts to make sentences, then I imagine I’m saying those sentences to people who can only speak French and as if my life depends on it. Sometimes I turn on my iPod and listen to music or watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, which helps. Then I pretend my eyes are drooping, and much of the same happens, over and over again. I reach down for my water bottle and slake my dry throat.  Almost on the hour, every hour, I check the clock on my cell phone. Between 5am and 7am my brain finally gets tired enough, but then it’s time to wake up. People are barfing their brains out around me, people have real reasons to want to go home, and my problem is that I can’t sleep. Get a grip.

So, I get up and change clothes and carry a book, a dictionary, a pen and a journal outside, and I try to catch some morning light to study by.

I’ve never been an awesome sleeper, but the insomnia has taken a different form lately. It has been exactly one month since I returned to the United States. I spent a few days in New York City before returning to Provo, and it’s been … hard. Fine, I am grateful to be brushing my teeth from worry-free tap water and showering with a shower curtain that keeps water in the tub and I am very excited to have some of the effects of the malaria medicine go away; I am very grateful not to be eating meat at every meal. And, I don’t have headaches anymore, because I’m finally back to drinking the amount of water I used to nearly two months ago. But one night in Provo is any night in Provo–any night after those nights in Senegal.

Between 11pm and 1am, I look at my bed, and we have a showdown. Are we going to do this again, I say. What you mean, “we”, bed says, I’m the one that doesn’t need sleep. I slip on some socks, because I can’t sleep when my feet are cold. I pile on blankets because my roommates like to keep the apartment cool and Africa has tempered my blood. Finding a comfortable position is a challenge.

Shutting off my brain is the biggest challenge of them all.

Every night, I close my eyes and see mangoes and the big white bus and faces of children and the homeless and feel the tense political air. In my mind I’m laughing at having to listen to Justin Bieber yet again or eating another baguette or mafé or yassa poulet for the frillionth day in a row. I’m watching bad movies in French or cooking shows or anything else that could be in English. I see waterfalls and bats and giant baobabs and then also fertility statues in museums with their penises and breasts, and I can feel the pieces of the crumbling roof on the space next to me in bed.  I see more stars than what I deserve to see in the firmament; I snicker at scared faces who have gotten way too close to sociable (and hungry) monkeys. My jaw drops at mating goats or overexcited donkeys and horses. I hear laughing and singing, drums beating, my own animal impressions; my own (and others’) swears; I’m crashing a wedding or walking away from a vendor or saying what I should have said at the time one–or all–of those women tried to rip me off. I see the soul of civilization; I sense its struggle, its solemn sanctitude. My heart doesn’t know what to reconcile.

Every hour I open my eyes and check the clock. Then the sun peeks through the blinds, and it’s time to start the day.

Everyone has a little haunt in my mind, a cubbyhole, part of one of the wrinkles. Everyone comes and visits me, flashes in my memory, and of course I’m happy to see everyone, their personalities, their expressions; my friends. An entire month removed, and I can still see things and people so vividly.

Every night, all nights, it’s the same two related questions:

Will I ever get to sleep? (then)

Will my vision fade?

So far, for both questions, the answer has been the same.

“Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”

We were maybe a little shy toward each other for a few minutes. But they looked at you and something touched your heart. Besides, they don’t really care if your French isn’t perfect.

At the Koranic school, the girls sat separate from the boys, and that one boy recited only some of the Koran but he had memorized the whole thing by the time he was 11 years old.

I looked around and wondered who to talk to, there were so many youth, and the room became very noisy quickly. I took a few pictures, smirking at the stark contrast between my fair-skinned classmates and the rich darkness of the young students. The smiles sparkled the same.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around. A group of young women looked at me. Their leader asked me my name. We talked about school and what they might do when they grow up. They all say they’re going to university, and a lot of them want to be teachers. A few girls ask me to take pictures with their cell phones.

They wanted to teach me a dance.

Every girl wanted to teach that dance to all the Toubabs. And they laughed every time we did it.

That first evening in the village near Saint-Louis, the kids were all dressed in traditional clothes and makeup. One of the teachers played a metal bowl as a drum, and little ones took turns dancing in front of the crowd. A few of us danced, too. A bunch of us watched a little boy wearing a green boubou with a white turban. His eyebrows were painted white. He fought sleep while we laughed at him.

A young woman made eye contact with me and we smiled at each other and exchanged names. I asked her about school and what she did during the day. She told me that she helped her mom make dinner and take care of the siblings. We took pictures and we look like friends.

All the village kids sang and clapped, and the rest of us clapped along.

One day in Saint-Louis, Natalie and I were on an errand to buy some bug repellent, because mosquitoes had attacked me the week before in Dakar and it was only a matter of time before malaria ravaged my body. We stopped by a pharmacy that told us to come back in an hour because they didn’t have any in stock at the time and were ordering some from another store. That was convenient because we wanted to go exploring that day. We crossed a bridge onto the fisherman’s island, photographing just about everything we saw. It was a bright, sunny day, like most of the days there. We walked to a less busy part of the island toward some houses along the beach. As we neared the coast a group of kids saw us and we started playing with them. A family invited us into their yard within a wall, where we got to look at their water well and talk about what we were studying. For the most part, I avoided the adult conversation and continued taking pictures of the children. There was a little boy wearing a yellow shirt with a puppy on it, and he made angry-looking, monkey-froggie faces and somehow immediately became one of my favorites.

One day at the village we got to teach the students. I sat at a table of 10-to-11-year olds, and their teacher instructed them to draw a cylinder with a length of 5cm and a radius of 2cm. So, that’s what I taught them. I used a can to demonstrate the height and to show them that they needed to double the radius. Reaching back into my basic geometry days was hard enough, and having to do it in French was an especially fun challenge. But I repeated myself three times, and when I asked them if they understood, they said yes. So I believed them.

Whenever I asked the girls if they were married, they always giggled. Then I asked how old they were and some of them were 13 or 14, and maybe I met a 15-year old. They can get married at 16, and it’s no more being a kid after that.

After class at the village we were standing in the courtyard and some of us were swinging the kids around. Two little girls were hanging off the arms of one of my classmates, and we couldn’t explain that they needed to take turns. One of them didn’t talk, but I took her and swung her around in a circle until I got dizzy and let her land gently in the sand. She let me spin her about five times until it was time for us to leave. It was cool knowing what she wanted without her having to tell me with words. She just took my hands, and I whirled her around.

There was another day of teaching the kids and there was the best recess I’ve ever had, with relay races and balancing water on one’s head and potato-sack races and wrestling. They taught us a few things about running in the sand, but I think they taught us more about how to be gracious losers and entertainers at the same time. They made us laugh, and through our follies and falls and spilt water and goofs, we returned the favor.

Then there was the evening our guys (and Britt) played soccer against the village team and while the village kids chanted and clapped in solidarity for their team, we bit our nails and winced and cheered whenever we got even a little bit close to scoring a goal. We lost 4-1, but we sang and danced together afterward and maybe I taught some boys how to wink.

The last night at the village we watched all the boys strip down to their underwear and tie their t-shirts around their loins like a sumo diaper so they could show us wrestle. It happened so suddenly and it shocked us, but it was all business to them.

It was during this last night that I noticed more kids had runny noses; I noticed their clammy hands and remembered a few kids with conjunctivitis. There was talk of bedbugs and lice, but it seemed that those were the least of the problems they were better off not knowing. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know about them.

I cried on the way back to the bus that evening. A young lady walked with me, and we talked about her family, that her dad was working in the Ivory Coast. She was 14, and she didn’t have to say she missed her father; that she even talked about it was enough of an indication. I asked if he visited often, and she said every month.  We hugged goodbye, and I told her to go to university and become anything she wanted. I told her I’d miss her, and I thanked her for being friends.

It was sad to go, not so much because I didn’t know if I was ever going to see them again, but I wondered how many of those children would live to see the next year. What’s so inspiring is that they weren’t even worried about that. They gave us hugs and showed us how disciplined they were and sang anthems with great pride. They searched our souls with sincere eyes and reached out to us. They trusted us when we weren’t so sure about ourselves. I was so concerned about their future, the conditions of their country, but they focused on their present circumstances. If they could smile and laugh and cheer, so could we. They lived in the moment, and we were blessed enough to have them share that moment with us.