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Peace Corps Volunteer Molly McCollom in Mauritania
Peace Corps Volunteer Molly McCollom in Mauritania
20.03.04 - 15:00
the second entry of the day comes to you courtesy of Will, an information and communications technology volunteer from nouakchott. here you go...
There is a short story by Franz Kafka called The Metamorphosis. It details the life of a young man who wakes up to discover that he has somehow been transformed into a giant cockroach. I was riding into town the other day with Molly and Annika, reflecting on the passage of these last months and our own transformations.
Today is the two hundred and seventieth day since we all gathered for the first time in Philadelphia. We have passed almost exactly a third of the twenty seven months that, God willing, we will pass in Mauritania. Daily, I can feel the effects this country is having on me and can see the changes in my friends.
The anti-hero of The Metamorphosis is a depressing sort of fellow. Shunned by his friends and family, his life slides slowly deeper into despair until eventually he dies. It is a decidedly morbid story and one might think that comparing our changes to his speaks poorly of them. I want to come to the defense of the cockroach, though. What a piece of work is the cockroach. In form and moving, how express and admirable. How sublime in demeanor. Mankind may perhaps lay waste to the Earth, but cockroaches will have dominion long after our hubris has seen us to the grave.
Cockroaches are perhaps the most despised because their indiscriminate eating habits often spread disease. The volunteers here haven?t quite sunk to the point of actively seeking decay in their meals, but the high rates of giardia speak to an inability to break the oral-fecal cycle in any case.
I myself didn?t have an especially refined palate before I left the States, so perhaps my descent is deeper than many. My standards have certainly declined a bit though. The question has slowly progressed from ?will it make me sick?? to ?how sick will it make me?? In theory, the immune system is much like the muscular system. Much as the stress of regular exercise helps build strong muscles, the stress of eating filth helps build a stronger defense against disease. That?s what I solace myself with, at least since my only other alternative would be a rather difficult fast for the next year and a half.
Catholic tastes have their place in the natural order. I, who lives with many of the walking garbage cans known as goats, can vouch for their service in reducing (or at least changing the form of) our copious quantities of litter. That goat poo is preferable to paper is arguable. However, the volunteers who may be counted upon to clear the tables at any function generally have the wherewithal not to do their business in the street.
The cockroachesque characteristic that I think the most valuable is our fortitude. I came from a place where, when living as a college student, the house I shared had three TV?s, two refrigerators, an oven, and five computers. More than likely the five of us had more appliances than the nine thousand inhabitants of Kankossa combined.
I worked at a restaurant one time where someone captured a roach in a water glass. Much to what I am certain would have been the health department?s chagrin, he stored his captive on a shelf in the kitchen. Every couple days he would agitate the little creature to see how it was doing. After too weeks, it was still alive, despite having had no food and no water the entire time. At this point, my friend decided the little bugger was too plucky to be allowed to languish in its glass prison and released it into the wilds behind the restaurant.
That pluckiness is a definite part of our community here. 110° and no air conditioning? No electricity or running water? Can?t express any though more complex than ?me hungry?? Parasites, staph infections, and pus-ridden lesions that leave the doctors in puzzlement? Hair falling out because there?s nothing but rice three meals a day? All of these things have been presented to us weary band of brothers and sisters as challenges and have been born, perhaps with complaint, but born nonetheless. Those of us who made it through to swear in are all still here.
If I might wax affectionate for a moment, I would like to entertain the feelings of pride I have to be a part of such a capable and committed group. There?s a certain glow to most of the volunteers here. I think most people chalk it up to the fact that most of our meals come bathed in oil and we sweat pretty much constantly. Myself, I think it is that the sands which blow constantly here have worn away a bit at our Western veneer, leaving something more basic and simple, but something fresher and more vibrant as well.
We are certainly not the cleanest bunch, nor the most sophisticated, nor the most epicurean. Standing outside the trappings of much of what we knew before as civilization, to some we may easily seem modern Gregor Samsas, waking each day a little more like roaches. It is important to remember, though, that our civilization, great though it may be, makes America the only place in the world where far more people die of too much food than too little.