Liz came with me on a PMI trip week before last, and I invented two new games to pass all the time we spent crammed in the front seat of the hospital van trying not to get thrown around every time we hit a bump.
The first game is called "Goat or Sheep". Oddly, the goats and the sheep in Gabon look almost exactly the same. Liz inquired about this one weekend while we were visiting a nearby lake, and a villager explained that the sheep have tails that hang down, while the goats have tails that stick up in the air. Now, as we pass by villages and the animals scurry to get out of road, we yell "Goat!" or "Sheep!" It's more challenging than you would think.
The second game doesn't have a name, but it goes something like this: We survey the scene for things which, at one time, would have seemed completely bizarre to us, but which are now perfectly normal, mundane, even. I describe the situation, and I then add the word, "Check" to the end. For example: "Dude walking down road holding giant machete? Check." Or perhaps "Little kid holding pole on his shoulders with bunch of fish hanging off the end? Check." Or even, "Giant python, antelope and monkey displayed on roadside stand? Check."
These games mark what the passage of time has done to us here in Gabon, how even the strangest situations now seem commonplace, and how yet, somewhere in our consciousness we know that at one time we might as well have been on another planet while witnessing these scenes. At the same time, just when I begin to think I have seen everything I can see that would ever shock me, something new comes out of the clear blue sky to remind me that I am not living in the same world in which I was raised.
Just last week, for instance, I was on morning rounds in the Pediatrie, lulled into the monotony of the daily routine, halfway listening to one of the physicians talking to a patient about something, when I heard a thwacking noise coming from the corner of the room. Now, keep in mind that there are three beds to a room, and that everyone was sitting quietly on their beds, within my sight. Within seconds, I registered that the thwacking noise was coming from a plastic bag on the bookshelf in the corner. As there are certain situations in which I don't feel the need to hide my surprise here, I felt that a live animal in the plastic bag of an inpatient's room was indeed in such a category, and I exclaimed "What IS that?!?!" Everyone started laughing, and I learned that it was a fish that had just been purchased, and which, evidently, had not quite yet finished dying. Several minutes went by, and as the physician worked his way around the room examining the other patients, I ended up right in front of that same bookshelf. And then, nearly five minutes after the initial thrashing of the fish, it suddenly came to life again, right behind my head, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. These, my friends, are the kinds of things that will never happen on rounds-as-usual in the U.S. Live fish trying to escape from bag in corner of hospital room? Check.