Sunday, September 03, 2006

Do a good turn daily

The electricity went out, and our generator was out of diesel. So I loaded Isaac and Nora into the stroller and headed to the gas station. I had no idea how to say what I wanted in Arabic, but the secretary working at the desk there found me the owner, a dapper man in khaki pants and light-colored shoes (quite a contrast to the oil-splattered workers). His English, with a slight British accent, was excellent, but he had bad news for me. Usually they sell diesel for generators in huge, chest-high barrels. Not something to tote around on a stroller! He sent a worker to the back room, though, who soon emerged with two empty plastic oil jugs which he filled with diesel for me. After I evaded many unwelcome offers to carry the jugs for me, I managed to get Eleanor back in the stroller and one of the jugs propped up carefully in Isaac’s seat. The other jug had a hole in the lid, so I carried it with one hand, pushed the stroller with the other hand, and at the same time kept an eye on Isaac, who was holding onto the stroller and walking since the diesel jug was in his seat.

At home, I left Nora in the housekeeper’s care (Isaac refused to leave the stroller—he was still hoping we’d make it to play group), and I went to work on the generator. The housekeeper was aghast that I was starting the generator. “The guard is supposed to do it,” she told me. But the guard for our building is about 75 years old, comes up to my shoulder, and is so thin and frail that I worry a haboob will blow him away. When they first brought us the generator, he tried once to pull the cord and nearly fell over backwards.

So it was just me and the generator. I kept pulling the starter cord to no effect. I heard a laugh and looked up to see a young guy—late teens or early twenties—leaning on his elbows on our garden wall. He was watching me and laughing. We’re next door to an African Mission in Sudan house. Every day truckloads of people come to the house, presumably in transit to their Sudan assignment. Usually they are older, in their thirties or forties, but this morning a particularly young truckload had arrived. I was indignant. I figured he wouldn’t understand my English, but I said, “Would you like to come start it for me?”

An older man (maybe his commander?) leaning with his back against our garden wall apparently did understand me, because he barked something and the young guy, a sheepish look on his face, came through the garden gate and walked over to the generator. He pulled the starter cord once and the generator leapt to life.


Nathan said...

I loved the story, but am not sure exactly what you meant by a haboob. Is it a small wind or a dust storm or an indignant look by an ex-pat to a young and able lazy man laughing at her? I think Alicia gives me some haboob-looks that would knock me over, and I'm not even that frail. Hers may even be habaabs; after all, she did teach junior high.

Annette said...

We thought when we first got here that haboobs were big dust storms, but it turns out they are just strong winds. "So what do you say for all the dust the haboob blows in?" we asked our Arabic teacher. "Um...You say, 'Look at all the dust that the haboob blew in.'"

And when you live this close to the Sahara, any time the wind blows it gets really, really dusty. The sky even turns pink from all the dust floating around in it.