Thursday, August 24, 2006

Gifts from a Hardware Store

Since none of us want to get malaria, Mom and Dad insist that we all have mosquito nets over our beds. UNICEF distributes insecticide-treated netting that's ready to hang, and you can buy it pretty cheap at the souq from locals looking to make a little money. So Dad got nets for everyone, but for a while we had no place to hang them. Our apartment has relatively high ceilings, and our bed frames are modest; no four-posters for us. We took a hint from the man who sleeps on the downstairs porch: he has some sticks tied to each corner of his bed and drapes the mosquito net over them. Unfortunately, we have no reliable source for long, straight sticks.

Instead, Dad and I hopped in the car -- one of the ubiquitous white SUVs in this town (most have "UN" emblazoned on the side) -- and drove around town looking for PVC pipe. We found the auto repair neighborhood, and the furniture neighborhood, and a residential mud hut neighborhood, but couldn't seem to turn up a hardware store until we were on our way home. I guess we just missed it the first time, straight across from the huge city graveyard (maybe we'll post a picture sometime . . . the graver markers are just sticks with bits of paper or plywood stuck to them, and someone pointed it out to us once and said, "Finished. All the finished people there.").

It was a weird kind of hardware store. I found some PVC pipe, which was perfect, and we also got some rope to tie it to bed-frames with. But there were also lots and lots of ornamental daggers. And dishtowels. And life jackets. The man behind the counter looked at our purchases, took our money, and solemnly handed us some wrapped toffees that were sticky to the touch. Dad asked him some advice about where we could get our house key copied. His answer was unintelligible, but the guy warmed up considerably in giving it. Before we left, he smiled in an avuncular manner, gestured at me, and said to Dad, "My friend, this your wife?"

As Dad speculated, perhaps it was not a case of someone thinking I was older than I am. It could have been that the guy thought Dad had a 16-year old wife. Shiver.

Indeed, there is an NGO in our neighborhood called "Charitable Fund Helping Youth Marriage." I'm not sure I want to know what that's all about.

Another week, we returned to the same hardware store, looking for cheap plastic drawers. This time, Mom came along with baby Eleanor in tow. The owner man remembered us, and his two assistants (probably his wife and daughter) spent a long time in whispered discussion as we introduced Dad's actual wife and Eleanor generally acted cute. Then when we left, one of the women stopped us and gave us gifts that they'd pulled off their shelves: for me, a Minnie Mouse photo album, and for Eleanor, a pink plastic mobile phone.

Eleanor adores it. She's always been a phone-talking kid. But what I like about it is the packaging. It's designed to look like a Barbie product, and it's clear that somebody wrote the copy using a translation dictionary; the box says Phone of elegance with soft keys. The best thing is the brand name, though: Benign Girl.

As Dad said, if it's not a perfect name, it's certainly a heck of a lot better than Malignant Girl.


Nathan said...

Benign Girl is a great name. In medical school, we would often refer to surgery or medicine professors as malignant if they were especially cruel to interns or had a difficult personality. Often this would carry over to common day parlance, such as "I had a malignant day," or "I bank at a very benign bank".

I think that maybe you were given the benign girl doll because you weren't one of those malignant 16 year old teenage wives. He must have been showing you respect. ;-)

Coleen said...

Hey Ruth, I'll bet you never knew that my mother got married at fouteen and had me when she was fifteen. My father was 55 at the time! I guess it really can happen that way, but I certainly wouldn't advocate it! I'm just coming to terms with Mindy having a baby and she's almost 20. I still think of her as my baby.

Benign is an interesting twist on Barbie. I always thought Barbie was a little too mature for a child's toy--which might indicate that she wasn't that benign.