Cara Giaimo
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Late Night/Early Morning Sense Inventory

April 13, 2010 @ 3:02 PM | Permalink

There are times here when I can't believe where I am. There are other times when I'm just going about my daily business, as though I'm in the plain old United States or something, pulling the dust out of my shoelaces or picking bees out of my peanut butter and jelly, and it's the fact that I've forgotten my disbelief that gets me. At both of these times I like to stop and take sense inventory. I am hanging my feet off the edge of the concrete foundation of Tent #2 on the cliffward side of Havennature Camp in Karatu District, Tanzania, around 3:00 in the morning. This particular mental double take falls under the first category. Here goes. SIGHT: I am at about eye level with the business end of a gangly acacia (who am I kidding, acacias are all business end). If I squint through the thorns, I'm greeted by more thorns, which is enough to scare my fragile eyes into closing. But! If I grant myself a very powerful imaginary headlamp, I can part the darkness the thorns fade into. Then I can see the overlook, and what gives it its name, the long view of range- and farmlands, striped different greens like a shallow ocean, with a muddy river cutting through against the grain. If it were daytime, the whole landscape would be tied off by a ribbon of single-file cows. Upwards is the thatched roof that protects my tent from rain and fly-by bird attacks (there's also some drying laundry I forgot about, hanging off the support beam . . . oops). Downwards is dirt-brown dirt and grass-green grass, as flatly colored as the paint we used yesterday to cheer up a wall at one of the many nearby orphanages. The tops of arched grass stalks collect moonlight. I look around for the little shining wet eyes of insects but find none. To my left is a plastic Target bag, a stowaway from the States - I found it in the bottom of my backpack and have been using it to carry shampoo to and from the shower. The logo looks out of place; here I'm used to seeing that bright of a red on Maasai robes and nowhere else, and the only bulls-eyes I've encountered have been through binoculars, stuck onto the backs of leopards. To my right is the florescent bulb I'm keeping on to write this by - the moths swarming around it make the light kinetic. My friends and I call this the Tanzanian Disco Ball Effect. SMELL: Night, and damp green growing things. And if my shoes don't dry out soon, they're a lost cause. HEARING: Crickets whose courtship method is based entirely on persistence, like a kid saying "please" over and over in the same tone of voice. Other insects fading in and out, accenting the steady cricket noise and forming the world's shrillest techno jam band. Dogs down the cliff and to the west, scaring something away from the goats (something silent . . . no hyenas tonight). A rustle in the dry undergrass below me. A switch back to sight reveals a potato-sized hedgehog . . . the word "trundling" was invented for present-tense hedgehogs. This one travels to the nearest bush like a footstool on poorly-oiled pistons and disappears under it. One of my friends, sleeptalking in a nearby tent . . . the wildness comes out at night! Tomorrow I'll tell her at breakfast and we'll both laugh about it. Wind brushing over the tops of trees like an hourglass slowly emptying. TOUCH: Volcanic rocks denting my skin. Breeze or bugs or both all over me (probably both). It's colder than I would have predicted - when it's cold here we all say "the equator is slacking" (what we mean is, we are putting on sweatshirts and shedding old ideas). Either that or I'm feeling the aftereffects of today's sunburn . . . the equator was on its game completely this afternoon. Back to HEARING, which hogs attention. Things flapping, likely orange-winged bats. There's a hyena, whining like an opera singer. Something is munching on the hedgehog's hiding place. It's the hedgehog himself! He comes out. A tree casts a shadow, straight and black like a road, and he trundles down it until I can't see him anymore. TASTE: Toothpaste, and the bleach water we use to wash our dishes, and sleepiness. The next few hours will go how they always go - I'll sleep, and then I'll wake up not quite remembering where I am, and when it comes to me, I'll grin like a hyena, or the open zipper of my tent, which beckons. Baadaye!

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