THINGS DONE: WHO ARE YOU?
Deb might’ve started out crying and being all depressed but she didn’t get to stay that way for long, because she got her first customer just about the time we were gonna break into the beer. There’s this lady who’s a midwife in the village, she delivers all the other women’s babies, and she doesn’t speak much English, but Deb got the idea real quick there was a problem. She tells me to come along, she’s gonna need the extra pair of hands. My first thought is shit, I’m probably gonna barf or pass out and just get in the way, so I’m thinking of begging off, but she’s like, you’re going.
I see what Kreinfeldt meant by we had the deluxe accommodations. There’s no electricity in this house, no running water, nothing but a husband and six little kids and this lady screaming. Having a baby looks damn painful. Wonder if Deb’s gonna change her mind about having kids someday.
Deb says the baby’s breech, the kid’s ass first instead of head first which is the way they’re supposed to come out. Makes me wonder if that’s what happened to me.
“Back home, they’d do a Caesarian, but under the circumstances, I don’t think that’s possible,” she says. “Of course, if we were back home, I’d be cleaning bullets out of someone, not trying to convince a baby to get out already.”
I thought it was really gonna be gross and all, and the mom keeps screaming, but I guess I kind of got into it all. Y’know, like I had a job to do and I just did it, and after a lot of work, little boy comes out kicking and screaming and carrying on.
“Well, I didn’t kill anyone,” Deb says when we’re headed back to our place, but you can tell, she got kind of a head rush from the whole thing. Like she could do stuff right again. I’ve only seen her work a couple times when it’s not me or the guys, and she’s real good, but the thing that got into me and Byers and Frohike, that was like a real confidence killer for her. She was bummed about it the whole time we were in Provence. Didn’t matter what I’d say or what Aunt Gretl’d say; she’d still be bummed.
Funny thing is, she didn’t look bummed after she got that baby out, and even though the place looked worse during the day than it did at night, it’s like she’s alive again or something. One thing they did leave us was bleach and lots of it, so we set about trying to get the place clean. Really wasn’t any worse than the first time I ever cleaned the old HQ.
She’s busy all the time, and she makes me help. Guess I kind of got into it, too. Plus I was thinking, God, we are going to so like have no one to talk to, but turns out that’s not it at all. There’s a fair number of Americans here, with the Peace Corps and the Red Cross. Deb’s best pal is the lead engineer for the sanitation works project that the two orgs are trying to put together. Her name’s Drew Rayne--and before I met her, I thought I was cynical. She looks and acts like Janeane Garofolo. I keep expecting her to whip out a cigarette and say she’s the inventor of Ladyfair Cigarettes, the ones with the fast burning paper for the gal on the go (okay, so shoot me. I LIKED ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.’ So did Deb).
Drew’s got a whole bunch of yuppie types she’s supervising. Most of the villagers are too busy trying to grow jute, which is the cash crop of choice around here. I could suggest another cash crop but haven’t yet.
“Goddamn idiots who sent us here, don’t have a fucking clue about the land, the climate, the people, nothing,” Drew’s groaning one night over the first of many beers that she’ll probably have. It’s cool, though. She made the run to Dakha last week and she stocked up on good beer, not that locally brewed crap that we were making do with in the beginning. It was worse than the cheap Caribbean beer we kept in the fridge at home for emergencies. “And then they send me a bunch of morons whose idea of exotic is taking a drive in an SUV.” She makes me and Deb laugh.
Personally, I think Deb is really getting into this, but she’s always frustrated. She never has enough medicines or supplies. Every week, either we or someone else makes the run to Dakha and we’re expecting all this stuff, we end up with about a third of it. It’s real aggravating. She wants to do immunizations on the kids, but getting the vaccines is a real problem. Not too many people make them anymore--insurance problems--and we’re always running low. Plus the number of kids around here is insane. They just keep popping ‘em out. We’ve been here a month and six new babies came, including the one that Deb delivered. Deb’s been trying to teach some of the women who don’t want more babies about not getting pregnant and using the Pill and stuff, but it’s real uphill. Most of the women can’t read. Deb’s getting a little better at the local language but she’s still got a long way to go. She says she’s trying to get Depo-Provera so that the women don’t have to deal with things like taking a pill every day, but so far, no luck. Then some of them, their husbands go nuts and throw out their pills and tell them Deb’s a witch or something.
“Too many kids, not enough to eat, sanitation sucks, is this hog heaven or what?” She asks me one night after an especially tiring day.
“Y’always said you like a challenge,” I tease her, and I know she does.
“There’s a difference between a challenge and sheer insanity, and I think the lines are blurring.”
Oh, that happened for me a long time ago. One thing about being here: it keeps me busy. So far, I got the radio to work reliably, and I scrambled it so our transmissions can’t be detected, just in case Runtz keeps some of his boys in this part of the world. He’d probably have to give ‘em combat pay to come here. But you can’t be too careful. I got the shower improved and rigged it up so the water’s warmer. Not that it matters--you’re just as hot and sweaty here after you get cleaned up as before.
And after three weeks of pushing it out of my face, tying it back and trying to deal with it while I’m helping Drew’s crew or doing things around the clinic, I did something I swore I’d never do.
I cut my hair.
Okay, Drew cut it, she actually did a pretty good job. I told her not to buzz me--I was kind of nervous about it, since she was ROTC--but she did okay. It’s weird but for around here, it’s comfortable. Deb’s thinking about cutting hers. I hope she doesn’t. She keeps it in French braids most of the time, and one of the fun things I get to do at night is take her braids out. And she likes it. I like brushing out her hair and it makes her purr like a kitten. Be nice if we could pursue more of that sort of thing.
It keeps getting hotter and wetter. It rains every day anyway but the last few days I notice it keeps raining longer and harder. Drew says the monsoons are coming and if we think it’s bad now, we haven’t seen nothing.
It’s our week to go to Dakha, and I’m like real glad, even if the ride still makes me queasy. I just hope we don’t have to bribe the guards at the checkpoints too much. Apparently bribes are just a fact of life around here, DWB tells Deb to always have enough on hand to deal with that. You can tell I’ve been out in the boonies too long because when we get to Dakha, it looks civilized. A few more years and they’ll have a McD’s here.
While Deb’s dealing with the DWB and Red Cross and Unicef reps, I decide to do a little shopping on my own. There are a couple necessities of life we’re missing, and I’ve gotta do something about that.
First thing we need is a TV and a satellite rig. Easier said than done around here, and I don’t know the language well enough to do very well at haggling for a better price, but I do end up with a 13-inch Daewoo and a major headache. I was hoping for one with a VCR in it, then again, we don’t have any tapes. I got a portable CD player and a few CD’s in Provence but can’t find much in the way of music around here.
The satellite rig’s harder to put together. We’ve got the sat phone, and all I have to do is figure out a way so that we can use it to get on line and not get our signal traced. There’s no way this is gonna be DSL or even decent dialup, but it’s better than nothing. I can at least talk to Frohike and Byers and Jimmy.
I will deny it if it ever gets back to them, but I miss those fuckers. Not to mention I could really use their help right now, but are they here when you need them? Nooooooooooooooooooooo.
I almost get run over by a bunch of kamikaze bikers by the time I get back to Deb.
“What the hell did you buy this time?”
“All kinds of fun stuff.”
“Ringo, we need to be careful with that money!”
“Yeah, I know, but...pretty soon, we’ll never miss ‘Battlebots’ again!”
She stares at me. “You’re kidding, Ringo. There’s no way we’re ever going to get ‘Battlebots’ out here--we don’t even have a TV! Hell, most of the people we live with don’t even have electricity!”
“We do now.” I know I can win her on this one. “And you’re gonna have PubMed and Medline access again, real soon. At a sharply reduced rate.”
“Ringo, the sat phone is for emergencies only! And we’ve been told how expensive the service is!”
I smile again. She may not believe it, but the village is about to enter the age of technology. Okay, so it’s 90s technology, but it’s technology all the same.
“Hey, you remember what I said about cellular service?”
“Yes, Ringo, I remember you saying that only idiots pay for cellular service.” She sounds like she’s losing patience, but I’ll get her yet.
“Well, when was the last time you got a cell phone bill since you met me?”
Bills are something Deb only thinks about when she has to pay them--she doesn’t get one, she doesn’t think about it. She shakes her head, looks kind of confused, and then stares at me, real hopeful.
“You can really get me on PubMed?”
“Hey, whose kung fu is best, babe?” I give her a hug.
“I don’t know. Whose can you compare it to right now?” She teases me slyly, the little minx.
“Well, soon’s I get on line with the guys, you’ll know once again, I the man!”
She studies me, keeping her hands on my shoulders, watching my face. “You know what’s really insane, Ringo? I believe you.”
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