Right now is the hot, dry season. My garden is anemic. It hasn’t rained in at least 6 months. Heat rash is common. So is taking repeated bucket baths and staring mindlessly into the distance. It’s also the season of mangoes, of the fruit thudding on my roof, of people marching around with 20-ft bamboo poles to tease ripe ones from the tallest parts of trees. I have a mango tree in my own yard. I sleep under it every night due to the intolerable heat indoors. In this season, the impossibility of napping in the daytime means I sleep more drunkenly at night, impervious to the possibility that mangoes might pummel my face and to the dinosaur noises of nearby donkeys.
There is this mystique of otherness around mangoes: tropical, exotic, imported. The thought that I could reach my hand up 3 feet, eyes unwavering from my book, and produce a mango inspires jealousy in some of my States-side friends. Mangoes connote places of green abundance and brown people. But Senegal right now is lethargic and arid. Mango trees, which take years to produce fruit, have deep taproots which siphon moisture from the water table several meters below ground. This is how, long after the rains have ended, and right about the time the landscape is colorless, mangoes sprout copiously. The arrival of mangoes marks a welcome injection of life to cut the barren mood of dry season.
The distinctness of the seasons here is at once comforting and monotonous: from March through May I’m certain I can sleep outside and not get rained on, yet I know every day will be the same sweaty, mind-sapping slog. I believe that the human brain liquifies with heat. I often find myself motionless in my room, knowing that there’s somewhere I have to be or something I should do, but my mind is paralyzed by heat. Then I look at my L.L.Bean digital clock/thermometer, and see that 40 minutes have passed and it’s 106 degrees in my zinc-roofed room. Granted, 106 degrees can be bearable in the land of air-conditioning, 7-11s, Slurpees, electricity, fans, ice-cold lemonade, showers, and put more simply, moments of escape. Here, the heat imprisons you everywhere you go.
Aside from a general concern over my African sun exposure pre-qualifying me for skin cancer, few things give me more pause than the prospect that my brain has atrophied due to malaria medication and extreme heat. The sun has bleached my hair, endowed me with freckles, and guaranteed me a year-round tan. I no longer get sunburned. My newfound blonde highlights are moderately attractive; will early onset senility be also?
I suppose the physical investment of living far away—far culturally, physically, emotionally, infrastructurally—is just part of the experience. It’s woven into the adventure of exploring one’s human capability. Am I less healthy now that I eat less protein, drink well water, expose myself to parasites, get baked by the sun, battle staph infections, play with grubby kids, and regularly ingest chemoprophylactic medications? Or, am I more healthy now that I get full nights of sleep, bike daily, eat fresh local ingredients, take spontaneous vacations, laugh more easily, and have a job that allows me to set my own schedule entirely?
In this far away place, where mangoes mean heat, seasons are predictable, and health is relative, I’m happy to leave most questions unanswered and simply pass out under the stars. But I can’t wait until rainy season.