Harmattan!

 

Image © 1968 Sydney Oats, used under CC by 2.0 license

Image © 1968 Sydney Oats, used under CC by 2.0 license

 

From:  Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

 

 

One day while living and working in the west African country of The Gambia with the Peace Corps, my husband Bruce and I looked to the east and saw a solid wall of sand coming our way. Fierce winds carried sand and dust with amazing force. The wind was so great, Bruce hung onto a corner of our roof, afraid that it would blow off. I hung on to Bruce. We closed our eyes to the stinging wind and bowed our heads to shield our eyes. When it was over we found sand everywhere, in every crevice, nook and corner.

A harmattan? We’d heard of the harmattan, a strong wind that blows from the Sahara Desert during the dry season. This must have been it.

A couple of weeks later we received a note from George Scharffenburger, The Gambia’s Peace Corps Director. He was bringing his guest, Terry, who was in charge of The Gambia desk at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. to visit us. Terry was interested in seeing how Peace Corps volunteers lived and worked in their host country.

We lived in what was known as the “U.N. compound.” Our living conditions were quite adequate, considering some Peace Corps accommodations. And compared to our African neighbors, our kitchen was luxurious. In The Gambia, most villagers where we lived “up river” in the village of Mansajang, cooked on an open fire, with a large pot balanced on three rocks.

We considered our living situation very special with a 3-room mud-brick 30 x 10-foot house, and a round thatched-roof one-room mud-brick hut, about 20 feet in diameter, that we used for a bedroom. The 3-room house contained a kitchen, a small sitting room where we ate, and a small bedroom. The bedroom was for the convenience of U.N. visiting guests, such as the Frenchman responsible for keeping the many fresh-water well foot-pumps in repair. Bruce worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for the United Nations well-digging unit, while I was a health worker based at the Basse Health Centre.

By American standards, our 3-room house was very crude. There was no glass in the windows, nor screens. There was a large gap between the corrugated roof and walls, and all that openness meant flying insects had easy entry. The kitchen didn’t have running water; in fact, it didn’t have a sink. We did have a small refrigerator, which was a blessing, and a small propane 3-burner stove, much like a camp stove. There were no enclosed built-in cupboards, but we fashioned a set of shelves for our food supplies. Our pots and pans, dishes and silverware were arranged on a table, which also served as my work space to prepare meals.

Our shared latrine, merely a hole in the ground, was in a corner of the compound with a thatched fence around it for privacy.

An African family also lived in the compound, plus there were two empty huts, placed there for the convenience of traveling U.N. drivers transporting supplies back and forth 250 miles to the capital city, Banjul. The African family of 4 lived in a round hut exactly like the one we used as our bedroom.

George and Terry arrived bearing mail for us from our family. There was no individual mail service where we lived, but it was the custom for people coming from the capital city to bring mail with them. We showed them around; Terry was obviously impressed and mentioned that we had a nice arrangement. Up-river where we lived in “the bush” was noticeably hotter than down-river where they had the benefit of ocean breezes.

Terry soon wanted to take a shower. She was a bit taken aback, when I showed her our “shower,” which amounted to a wooden platform with two full buckets of water. Terry had never taken a bucket bath, but she was game. Actually, I think she thought it quaint. When finished, I noticed she didn’t go to the well to refill the buckets for the next person, as she had found them. The well we used served the entire village of Mansajang.

I served dinner, we had a nice visit, then turned in for the night. The “guest” bedroom had two single cots. During the night we had another harmattan. There’s really nothing we could do to protect ourselves or our guests. With all the openings in the small house and nothing but screens in the hut, we just hunkered down to wait it out. This was Terry’s first experience with a harmattan. The next morning she woke up covered with fine sand in her hair, her ears, her bedding, even in her opened suitcase. With resignation, I began washing all the pots, pans, dishes and silverware which lay exposed on the table so that I could begin to prepare our breakfast. But first, I had to dump water out of the kitchen pail, since it was filthy with sand and dirt, and fetch fresh water from the well. Things move slowly in Africa.

Terry obviously no longer felt our living situation quaint. I don’t know that she saw the humor in my statement, “Now you know how a sugar cookie feels.” George and Terry’s enthusiasm for our living conditions vanished. They couldn’t leave fast enough. For us it was business as usual.

 

 

Celebrating the holy day of Tobaski

Jarietta & Kujah Tobaski-SmallAn excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

 

The holy Muslim day of Tobaski approached. Tobaski, the feast of sacrifice, is marked by the ritual of slaughtering sheep. We learned that it can be a stressful time for men because they feel duty-bound to buy a sheep, even if they have to borrow money. Bruce and I discussed it and decided to give our close neighbors, Mosalif and Binta, a gift of money.

About a week before the event, when he came for his morning greetings, we gave Molsalif one hundred dalasi and told him it was for their Tobaski. Overwhelmed, he hardly knew what to say. We heard him call his wife’s name “Binta!” when he returned to their hut.

Close to the time of Tobaski, Bruce saw several men leading a string of sheep to the river for the traditional washing of animals before the slaughter.

On Tobaski, Mosalif, Binta and the girls stopped by, all looking resplendent with new clothes. They were sharing Tobaski with Binta’s cousin who lived in Basse and Mosalif had helped purchase the sheep and other food for their feast.

After work the next day, the Health Centre staff had a dinner party with Tobaski leftovers. The cook made a wonderful stew and served it over millet, a grain grown in The Gambia. Orderlies carried two tables outside where they set up the feast. The men brought the food out on a board and set it on the table.

I wasn’t prepared for the sudden rush to the table, nor was I sure what to do with myself. It was as though these people hadn’t eaten for days and had finally found food. An orderly saw my confusion and took me under his protective wing. I was touched by his concern.

“Mariama, I will help you. You have to learn to act quickly or the food will be gone!” Many ate with their fingers from a common bowl, but a few plates had been set on the table, together with spoons.

He handed me a full plate. I thanked him, found a place to sit and enjoyed the marvelous food. One of the orderlies fished the sheep skull out of the stew pot. While we ate, the skull sat on the table, dripping broth and grinning.

After the meal, one of the orderlies grabbed the skull and threw it to another guy and off they went, playing with it like it was a football. Everyone laughed. Although I thought it ghoulish, I couldn’t help but laugh, too.

I felt honored to share this special day with my friends and co-workers.

A Few Days Off

Well-digging crew

Well-digging crew

An excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

We desperately needed to get away, to have some R&R. My husband Bruce had projects to finish up before we left, and I didn’t want to miss Friday clinic, so we set a date for Saturday to go to Banjul, capital of our host country, The Gambia We’d get some business matters taken care of and then take a few days off to soak up sea breezes in Bakau.

Friday’s clinic was interminable with close to 300 patients. At the end of the day I had just enough energy left to pack for our trip. We couldn’t wait to go. When our friend Tombong stopped by that morning, we made arrangements for him to stay during the nights as our night guard. Daytimes, with all the coming and going, were not a concern.

Bruce had arranged for a driver and had made a list of project supplies to get and things to do while downriver. I planned to see Sister M’Boge, the head nurse for the Health Department, and also try to find visual aids to use when I was on trek. Our trips downriver never seemed to be only for pleasure, but at least they were a pleasant break in routine and climate.

The driver, a couple hours late, picked us up in a project Peugeot pickup truck and we were on our way. After only a few miles, the driver, Bubacar, said, “Mistah Bruce, we need fuel.”

“Why didn’t you get fuel before we left?”

“I forgot.”

We’d gone too far to go back. “Okay Bubacar,” Bruce said, resigned, “let’s stop at Bansang.” There were no regular gas stations. Government vehicles fueled at designated supply centers. Fuel for the UN well digging project was in either Basse or downriver at Yundum. So Bansang, although they had fuel, was not a regular supply outlet for the UN vehicles.

Running on fumes, we pulled into Bansang’s government supply yard. We all climbed out. Sitting in a parked car in that heat is impossible. The project vehicles were not air conditioned, but provided a breeze while moving. Bubacar and the mechanic at the shop launched into a heated argument.

I don’t think either of them realized that we understood much of what they said, since they were speaking in Mandinka. The Bansang fellow said words to the effect that there was a fuel shortage and he could only give fuel to their own vehicles.

Bubacar responded that he had to take Mistah and Missus Bruce downriver, so he had to have fuel.

The man repeated what he’d said earlier.

We almost laughed when Bubacar said, “Don’t you understand Mandinka?” in the same tone we would say, “Don’t you understand English?”

The man repeated he couldn’t give fuel for this truck unless he had his boss’s permission and he wouldn’t be there until the next day.

Bubacar thumped his finger on the mechanic’s chest. “Do you want to take these tubobs home with you to spend the night? We can’t leave without fuel.”

With that, the man filled our tank.

We were on our way again with a full tank, having only lost an hour. I sat in the middle of the front seat and dozed, welcoming an escape from the pickup’s hot, bumpy ride.

Suddenly I heard a shattering noise and felt pelting from hundreds of little pieces of windshield.

A truck had passed us on the gravel road and its wheel threw a rock, hitting our windshield and shattering it. Bubacar had a cut on his forehead; a small piece of glass still protruded from the wound. Bruce and I were not injured, but glass was everywhere. Bubacar pulled off to the side of the road. Bruce plucked the shard from the driver’s forehead and from the kit we always carried, cleaned the wound and bandaged it.

We shook glass out of our clothes and brushed it off the seat and out of the truck and continued on our way. Driving without a windshield is very nerve wracking. Wind rushed in, along with flying insects and gravel. Every time we encountered a vehicle, I held up a magazine to protect Bruce’s and my heads. Bubacar drove without any protection. After we got onto the paved road, it wasn’t as bad and we drove the remaining one hundred twenty miles without incident, though the howling wind in our faces became tiring.

As we arrived in Banjul, we passed another volunteer and I waved through where the windshield should be. The fellow looked surprised and we all laughed.

Bubacar dropped us off at the apartment we shared with other Peace Corps volunteers. I could never really enjoy myself until I straightened it up, washed the dishes, which always seemed to be left in the dishpan, put a clean sheet on the bed and made the apartment “home.” It was tiny and there were only the two of us staying there at the time.

Following our usual routine, we took showers and then walked to a small nearby hotel for dinner. We shook our heads over the journey down. Couldn’t a trip ever be just normal?

Hunting for Bush Pig

Hunting LopiAn excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

Mr. Lopi, superintendent of the UN well digging project and Bruce’s counterpart, returned upriver to his home and workplace about a month after my husband Bruce started as Mechanical Advisor. Apparently Mr. Lopi had been working downriver for the last several weeks. Mr. Lopi had become a man of stature and had a job of importance and leadership, bringing water to areas desperate for this precious commodity. Mr. Lopi had two wives and seventeen children. Amazingly, his salary after working for his government for about twenty years was equal to the modest monthly living allowance we each received, a sum many single volunteers found inadequate.

I marveled that Gambians managed at all. Of course, most people where we lived didn’t pay rent, didn’t pay utilities because there weren’t any, didn’t have cars, and medical attention was paid by the government. Still, they needed clothing and what food they didn’t grow.

I found Mr. Lopi appealing. Tall, he had that amazing African male physique. My association with him was very different from Bruce’s. Although they managed a cordial relationship, Bruce was often frustrated and felt that Mr. Lopi based decisions on political advantage rather than public need. Bruce, totally uninterested in the politics of the project, just wanted to get the job done.

One evening Mr. Lopi invited us on a bush pig (wild boar) hunt. Muslims wouldn’t eat “the filthy swine,” so we weren’t sure what we would do if we got one, but we went along for the adventure. Of the four of us, Mr. Lopi was the only one carrying a gun, a big, old single-shot shotgun. We loved the adventure, tramping around in an area we hadn’t seen before. We followed a rough path through scrub forest, sort of like a safari. We didn’t find our bush pig but it was a fun adventure. Outings like this helped make our stay memorable and, I felt, closer to the people.

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Blue: A Special Gift

Group at well GOODI continued to go on trek, sometimes with Sainabou or another auxiliary nurse, sometimes alone. An orderly/driver took me from the Basse Health Center to a distant village where a family lived whose child had been hospitalized. I wanted to call on the family to see how the child was doing and perhaps offer nutrition counseling.

As was so often the case, several people crowded around the Land Rover as we arrived, all talking and laughing and extending their hands to greet us. A man, a leper with badly deformed hands and feet, greeted me. He extended his stub of a hand and I felt no choice but to shake it, quickly realizing, at least hoping, that he was no longer contagious. As I grasped his hand, I saw in his eyes a warmth toward me, a look that I’ll always remember.

A man standing near us left and returned, carrying a live chicken and gave it to me. “Abaraka.” Thank you, he said quietly. I wondered if this man was the leper’s relative, perhaps his brother.

Binta had shown me how to carry a chicken in the crook of my arm and I did so now as I made my follow-up call. No one blinks an eye when someone carries a live chicken, not even the chicken. I named her Blue, for her unique color. She would be a welcomed addition to our flock, adding to our daily egg collection.

We’d heard the expression “pecking order” without realizing its full significance. Mosalif had bought our first four birds all at the same time, so if there was any adjustment, it wasn’t obvious. But when I arrived home from trek and could finally set Blue down, I couldn’t believe the ruckus. The other chickens flew at her, pecking at the poor thing. She defended herself as best she could. Feathers flew, the noise was unbelievable. By nighttime they seemed to have it all sorted out and Blue filed in with the rest of them, at the end of the line. The next morning it was as though she’d lived there all her life.

 

A Rare Outing: Gambia’s Stone Circles

Stone CirclesPeter Moore, our friend with the British Medical Research Counsel (MRC) invited us to go with him and Keith, his live-in work partner, to look for the locally famous Stone Circles in the Mid-River Division in what is called the North Bank area. Peter insisted on preparing our picnic lunch, which was a treat for me. We crossed the river at Georgetown, riding on an “arm-strong” ferry, meaning we pulled ourselves across, vehicles and all. The men pitched in, pulling on the cable hand-over-hand. It was actually quite efficient.

Traveling northwest into the bush in Peter’s Land Rover for about twenty miles, we found the Stone Circles near the village of Wassu. These impressive remains are a group of cut laterite, a cementation of sandstone in the shape of posts, arranged in a partial circle. The Stone Circles are believed to have been protection for ancient burial grounds and are reminiscent of Stonehenge in England. Afterwards, we explored the area further, enjoying the luxury of having a vehicle to get around.

We spread a cloth on the ground in the shade of a baobob tree and enjoyed the lunch Peter and Keith had prepared, pâté on good French bread, pickles, canned artichokes and chilled beer. The British do a good job of making meals such as this special. Keith had even made a fruit pudding for dessert.

We found a monument to Mungo Park, not a place but a man, an explorer who searched for the mouth of the Niger River in 1797 and 1805. A plaque commemorates his efforts.

Since we had arrived in The Gambia, the main highway had been under construction and now, nearly two years later, was paved from Banjul to just a few miles from Basse. What used to take seven or eight hours (not counting break-downs) now took about five and a half. As we again crossed the river to return home, we marveled how much faster and more comfortable our trip to Basse was compared to even a few months before.

Peter offered to stop at the market before driving us home, so we could shop. What a treat! We hadn’t bought meat for five months now. Meat was too tough and stringy, but fresh fish was available and we bought lady fish for dinner, just minutes off the canoe, lovely half-inch thick steaks for about the equivalent of seventy-five cents per steak. We replenished our supply of fresh vegetables, including okra, now that Peter had shown me how to fix it.

Keith sidled up to me, trying to look nonchalant. “There’s a woman over there really staring at you.”

“That’s Sainabo, my peanut butter lady. We play this game.”

Keith shrugged and shook his head.

I turned suddenly and caught Sainabo staring. She giggled and, laughing, I made my way to her. I wasn’t prepared with a jar, but she wrapped four balls of peanut butter in a scrap of paper, the usual way it’s sold. Peanut butter–one of our more dependable sources of protein.

We enjoyed our outing, appreciating our good friends and the joy of convenient transportation.

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The Art of Getting a Driver’s License

Ch-1-RGB 2From: Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

Peace Corps volunteers in The Gambia were urged to get a drivers license. Most of us would never drive while in The Gambia, but you never knew. My husband Bruce and I were in Banjul, the capitol city, taking care of the many details before we went to our assigned village. We had opened a joint checking account and now I needed to get my drivers license. Early on, when we stayed in Banjul, Bruce was issued his license so he could drive project vehicles. He now had to catch a bus to the Yundum shop to take care of business, so he walked with me to the police department building where I would get my driver’s license. At the police station, we walked down dark dingy stairs and along dirt-streaked hallways.

He squeezed my arm affectionately. “Brace yourself. This is going to take awhile.” He left to catch his bus.

As it happened, no one was in front of me in line, but still I waited for a long time for someone to help me. Many people milled around behind the counter, but it was hard to tell if anything was actually getting done. One woman slept, draped over her typewriter. Finally, I was given a form to complete and I showed the man my Washington State driver’s license. He left for several minutes, then handed me my paperwork and told me to go to another room where they would attach the picture I’d brought. I did as instructed and waited again.

Back and forth I went to four different counters. At the last one, which was also the first, I stood at the window and watched the fellow “process” my paperwork. He shuffled the papers around, then looked at something else on his desk. He went over to another desk and talked with that fellow, glanced at me watching him, returned to his desk, pushed papers around some more. His desk was piled with papers and I could imagine mine getting lost. Like the shell game, I kept watching to keep track of the pea, my application. Seething at this senseless delay, I said nothing but never took my eyes off my paperwork. Finally, he stood, shuffled over to the counter and, without a word, he slid my license toward me.

Three of the five items on the license were incorrect: my date of birth, my middle initial, and the spelling of my last name. I let it go, not willing to make this an even longer exercise.

 

An Object of Superstition

AlbinoFrom: Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

 

Each week, the Basse Health Centre where I worked in The Gambia conducted an antenatal (prenatal) clinic and a separate well baby clinic for children five years and younger. Sister Roberts suggested that I attend these clinics where record keeping was vital. I agreed, not knowing that I would be involved in a local superstition.

The next day, Tuesday, I helped in the antenatal clinic. The clinic, a separate building in the hospital compound, had rows of perhaps fifty chairs on one side and a couple of tables at the other. Outside, the overflow waited in a covered area. Many of these pregnant women had come from miles away, most walking, some arriving in bush taxis. or donkey-pulled carts. Many carried babies on their backs.

Women and their children stood in line, which, at first, was a phenomenon to me. My African experience so far had been crowds of pushing people, at banks, the post office, the ferries and bus stops. But here the woman formed a queue, as instructed, and stayed in line with their well-behaved children in tow.

At one table, the auxiliary nurses reviewed the woman’s personal health record, took blood pressure, and pulled down the lower eyelid to look for pale coloration, a sign of anemia. Many Gambian women were anemic due to frequent childbearing. The woman then progressed to the next table to see the nurse mid-wife while I recorded the woman’s name and entered information in a ledger. All during this procedure, I noticed women shielding their eyes from me. Some actually cupped their hands around their eyes to avoid looking at me.

I asked the nurse mid-wife why the pregnant women wouldn’t look at me. “Oh, Mariama, it’s a stupid superstition that if they see a white person they’ll have an albino baby.”

I had seen African albinos and it is an unfortunate condition. Their skin is white and very sensitive to the sun. An albino’s eyes are affected with extreme light sensitivity. Having an albino baby would be something to fear. It bothered me that the women felt threatened by my presence.

After clinic that first day, I told Sister Roberts about my concern. She also scoffed at the superstition.

“But still,” I countered, “I don’t want to give them that worry.”

We agreed that I wouldn’t attend the antenatal clinics, but she definitely wanted me to attend the well baby clinic on Fridays. It was a good compromise. I felt odd enough without having to bear the burden of having women think I would be the cause of their having an albino baby.

Egg: The Perfect Protein

Chicken CookingFrom: Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

 

We needed chickens to supplement our protein. I had seen live chickens for sale at the market, but when I talked to Binta, the woman in our compound, I learned these chickens were past laying eggs and sold for meat. She apparently told her husband Mosalif that we wanted chickens.

The next morning when Mosalif came to our door to greet us, he asked if we wanted him to buy chickens. Work that day would take him into the bush and he could buy young hens for us. I asked how much money he needed and gave him money enough to buy four.

Unfortunately, Bruce needed to meet with the UN project lead in Yundum and would be gone for two days. But knowing that we would be getting chickens, he had fixed up the other outside passageway of our hut as a chicken coop. Africans didn’t coop up their chickens since they didn’t eat eggs and had no need to gather them. Besides, they reasoned, why eat an egg when, left alone, it would grow into a whole chicken. Binta’s chickens roosted wherever they found a safe place, often in one of the empty compound huts or on a tree branch. Since we didn’t care to have an egg hunt every day, we needed to confine our chickens for at least the night and part of the day.

Bruce cobbled together a gate to keep them in. We found straw for them to make their nests. To begin with, we could feed them rice that had already turned buggy. While downriver Bruce planned to buy real chicken food, a by-product from peanuts. We began grinding up egg shells to mix with their food so that the extra calcium would ensure stronger shells.

At the end of the day, Mosalif stopped by with four young chickens, two of which he said would give us eggs right away, the other two would produce soon. I was thrilled.
Only having had dogs and cats, I worried that the chickens would run off, maybe join Binta’s brood. To make sure they knew where they lived, I tied strings to one leg of each of the four chickens, long enough for them to get to a nest, drink water and eat rice. My intention was to only do this for one day, until they were used to their surroundings.

On that first day Mosalif came over in the early evening to see how I was doing with the chickens. When he saw the strings, he knelt down to get a closer look. Mosalif was Fula and since I didn’t know that language, he and I conversed only in Mandinka. “A mong beteata.” This is not good, he said, watching the chickens trying to walk around, lifting the tied leg high, giving them a strange gate.

“I am afraid they’ll run away.”

He looked somber, but in thinking about it afterwards, I’m sure it was all he could do to keep a straight face. “You have fed them, Mariama. They won’t run away.” He carefully removed the strings. “When it is dark, they will come back to this place. Then you close the gate.”

Well, I wasn’t at all sure about that, but I’d give it a try. Sure enough, at dusk they all filed into the chicken coop as though they’d done it all their lives. I closed the gate behind them.

During our stay in The Gambia, we derived great pleasure, entertainment and nourishment from our chickens. We were the only volunteers in-country with chickens and I marveled at that. Once a week we enjoyed an egg dinner, usually an omelette, and eggs for breakfast once or twice a week, plus I used eggs in puddings and other desserts. I found I could make a double boiler by inserting my covered enamel bowl into my large pot filled with water and prepare a very good cheese souffle or a delicious bread pudding, both dishes using four eggs.

Even though there were plenty of nests, two or three chickens often crammed into one nest, African style, like people on bus seats. Our flock grew, some we bought, many were given to us. At the most we had seventeen chickens.

We named our chickens, names that seemed to fit their little personalities: Ruth Schultz, Blue, Kunta Kinte, Myrtle and Penny, who was the color of a copper penny, and two that we called Sisters because we got them at the same time and couldn’t tell them apart.

 

Dawda, the Tailor

Ch-19-RGB 2From: Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

The only place we could buy ready-made clothes was in The Gambia’s capitol city, Banjul, so most of my dresses were made to order at nearby Basse. Because of the heat, I preferred loose-fitting dresses and our local tailors were adept at copying a dress pattern from another sample dress, taking measurements of my shoulders and the preferred dress length. I was impressed with the tailors. Interestingly, they always were men. They used foot-operated treadle machines as there was often no electricity in the market place.

Our favorite tailor, Dawda, set up his business at the Basse market, in front of a Mauritanian-owned fabric store. He happened to be the first tailor I went to with one of my friend’s dresses to use as a sample.

Dawda understood the concept of learning. He always had a spare chair next to him and often invited me to sit and we’d chat in Mandinka. At first he talked slowly so that I could understand and often gave me new words that I could use. He was a wonderful man and very skilled on his treadle sewing machine.

I had a large selection of thread sent from the States for Dawda and he was thrilled. The thread that tailors often used was quite breakable, so he was pleased to have strong polyester thread. He had a scrap of material left over from another project and one day while we chatted, he made a triangular head scarf for me, using his new thread.

By this time we could converse fluently and I asked him about a bulubah, a sort of robe, for my husband Bruce. His eyes lit up. “Most tubobs don’t even know what a bulubah is,” he said. We went into the fabric store together to find suitable fabric, something that would look good with Dawda’s wonderful machine embroidery.

The blue and gold garment would come down to Bruce’s ankles, with loose, flowing sleeves and would serve as a robe in the evenings. It would be my Christmas present to him.

Tourist season had started and would continue through February. We occasionally saw tubobs wandering around the market. They were usually so pale, Bruce and I jokingly referred to them as “cadavers.” Most of them arrived by the weekly boat Lady Chilel, slept onboard and were gone when the boat headed back downriver the next day.

A tourist couple stood by while Dawda and I talked. “Listen,” the woman said, “she’s talking their language.”

Dawda and my eyes locked. We totally ignored them.