Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Portrait Of A Morning

The commencement ceremony for the high school is this Saturday, and so there are no classes today. Instead, students are being put to work beautifying the campus. Knowing this, I allow myself to sleep in this morning; I set the alarm for 6:45 instead of 5:45. I wake up at 6 anyway. Rain drips off of the roof, and for a minute I think the noise is the mouse that wanders my room in the middle of the night. I put in my headphones to block out the early-morning sounds, the rain and the roosters and the women calling their children, and listen to music for almost an hour before getting out of bed. My roommate is at the door, waiting to run with the local running team. I'm self-conscious about my slowness and choose to run on my own.

I jog toward town, turning just after the paved road begins to go past the Indian and Chinese UN solider compounds. I should have left earlier, just after sunup; students of all ages in their uniforms are already on their way to school and many shout or laugh as I run by. Outside the Chinese compound, a group of Chinese engineers works to fix a truck. 7:15 AM and already bored with the day, people sit in the gazebo across the street and watch. Women and children walk past me with buckets and jerrycans and wait at the one pump on the block to collect their water for the morning.

I run on the high broken sidewalks, past UN housing, fenced and surrounded by barbed wire. A happy-looking puppy on a broken leash wanders past. An older dog runs up to a man, tail wagging; the man kicks it away. There is a broken and burned-down building to my right with a fancy new satellite in the space where a roof should be. I have been told that someone shows movies and soccer matches on a TV inside.

Despite the shortness of the run, I turn to head back to the house. The streets are becoming more crowded and I am self-conscious in my shorts. A UN pickup truck passes and the twenty men in the back turn to stare and smile, exacerbating my discomfort and leading me to run faster despite legs sore from the previous day's walking. I arrive home just in time to catch the woman who sells rice bread in the neighborhood. She is calling just as I come up the path -- “RAAAAAAAI BREEEHH!! RAAAAAI BREEEH HEEAHH!” “Rice bread here,” in the clear plastic bucket that she carries on her head. I buy two pieces, warm and fresh-made, brown and oily to the touch and tasting slightly of banana.

I turn on the gas stove and heat water for Nescafe, instant coffee with sugar and powdered milk. Standing in the kitchen, I watch the kettle as it boils; yesterday, the gas hose came loose from the stove and caught fire where it connects, and I want to be sure it does not happen again. I sit in my room, darkened with the curtains drawn for privacy, and drink the coffee as I prepare for the day.

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