Once, in Mozambique, I cracked up.
It was a genuine, stomach-clenched-so-hard-I-couldn’t-inhale, gasping for air, full-on crack attack.
I didn’t laugh as much as I would have liked in Mozambique. Sure, there was the occasional silliness with my students; there were good days with delightful conversation speckled with chuckles. But I didn’t reach my Real Laughter Quota because in Mozambique, I lost track of myself. The malaria prophylaxis messed with my head, I took myself too seriously, I got upset easily, I wasn’t eating right, I was burned out from teaching, I wasn’t used to not being able to not blend in, and damnit, I hated washing clothes by hand.
But there was that one crack attack.
9:00 p.m. was an hour past the town’s bedtime, but there we were, digesting after dinner, lying on a straw mat on the red ground, full stomachs towards the sky, relaxing on the 10 feet of dirt that separated Sisinia’s house and mine.
Sisinia was a savior without even knowing it. An unusual woman for Mozambican standards, she just does things her own way. At 28, she was in the process of getting divorced, had no kids, and worked as a schoolteacher, one of only 3 female teachers in the school. Teaching is just a job for her – she would do the minimum number of hours necessary, not obsessed with getting extra hours for overtime pay like many of our colleagues. She has a huge laugh that would make me laugh, and a way of throwing her head back and swiping at you with her hand as she laughed. She bluntly speaks her mind and doesn’t care who hears it. She loudly protests if she doesn’t like something. She brought me many a meal when she saw me having trouble cooking. Once I got a text from her in capital letters: COME STRAIGHT HOME FROM WORK. On my porch waiting for me was a bowl of homemade guacamole.
That particular evening, Sisinia and I lay on the straw mat, chatting about nothing.
Chatting about nothing: deeper than small talk but lighter than philosophizing. Conversing about silly, trivial things; a signal that we had moved beyond acquaintanceship. I was no longer a stranger to marvel over, but a person with whom to share an absurd thought. Most of my Mozambique conversations were about the weather, or discussing our differences – in America, do you buy your chickens live? In America, do you unplug your fridge in the winter? Have you met Justin Beiber? It was a relief to strengthen a friendship not by learning something new about someone, but by creating a ridiculous thought together, for no reason other than that it simply occurred to us.
I don’t remember most of our conversation that night, but I do remember gasping for air, between guffaws.
We were imagining what it would be like if the world was supposed to end tomorrow, so everyone went crazy, but to everyone’s surprise, tomorrow arrived and the world just kept going.
“You’ve already destroyed your house, so you go to sleep in a tree, but you’ve also chopped down the tree!”
We screamed with laughter.
My stomach hurt.
It was the most wonderful pain I have ever felt.
|Sisinia, getting her hair braided|