In this chapter, Dublin drinks with Peace Corps Volunteers on his way to Burkina Faso.
Peace Corps Girls Get the Boot
A half dozen volunteers and the three students from Lomé walked the eight blocks to the bar together. The city was busy, even that late at night, and Dublin kept close to Jason. Bonfires burned in the middle of the street, flaring into aromas of kerosene and cooking meat and candle wicks. A man walked in circles around one of the fires, repeating “If you knew your history, then you would know where you’re coming from,” over and over with his fist raised to heaven. He gave Dublin a hard look.
The name of the bar was Le Château, and it was crowded. Two volunteers pushed three tables together. They pulled chairs over from other tables, and Dublin tried to squeeze in next to Jason. He listened to everyone else talk for a few minutes. He couldn’t find a conversation he belonged to.
“Boot!” One of the girls yelled at the rest of the table. Everyone nodded their heads and held up their beer glasses, except Keri and Dublin. The girl jumped up from her seat, knocking into someone’s chair at the table behind them, and danced over to the bar. She returned a few minutes later with a gallon of beer in a gigantic glass boot.
“They say they only have one, so if we break this, we owe ‘em some francs. Who’s first?” The man next to her took the boot gently in both hands and raised it to his mouth. Beer poured from around the sides of the lip of the boot, running in parallel streams down his cheeks and his chin. He laughed into the beer he was drinking. Everybody else laughed.
Somehow Dublin got skipped on the first round, and then the second. All of the beer was gone from the boot. “Who’s gonna buy the next one?” someone asked. A couple of fingers pointed at Dublin. “That guy’ll buy it.” He wanted to say something to them, that it wasn’t fair, but he didn’t want to do anything to make them not like him, so he pushed his chair back and stood up. The chair legs got stuck between a couple of boards and pressed into the backs of his knees. He almost fell down.
Socializing rarely gave him beautiful memories.
He approached the bartender, who motioned for him to go back and get the empty boot. A moment later it was full of beer again, giving the young Americans in West Africa something to do. Dublin unwisely set the boot on the table.
“Drink! Drink!” They shouted at him. He obeyed, sucking as much beer from the boot as he could before his breath took over. “You have to buy the next one, too!” the first girl shouted at him with a laughing, open mouth. “You shouldn’t set it down.” She was smiling and coy. He hated her.
He took his seat again and lapsed back into non-conversation. In a way, he relished the night. Again, he made himself become aware of Africa, visualizing it and his home on the globe, smelling it and hearing it and being amazed by all of that. He was drinking beer in public in the middle of a foreign town he’d never been to before. And he was with interesting people. Well, they were world travelers. They had seen a few things and would be comfortable in just about any town in the world. They spoke multiple languages; they just didn’t know how to use them. They were intellectuals, and they bored Dublin to tears.
Lighters flickered on and off for the rest of the night as a film of beer, smoke and sweat formed on the foreheads of the drinkers. Peace Corps volunteers smoked even more than Dublin’s friends at college. In a climate of such desolation, they had learned to cultivate an abundance of old mystery novels, alcohol and tobacco. It got them through. Still, many volunteers became genuinely depressed, and the others rarely left with any sense of true accomplishment. They fight too hard against the world.
Dublin could have fallen asleep at the table easily several times throughout the night, and by the time they left at three in the morning, he was exhausted. They stumbled back to the house together in blue darkness, the boot now kicking them all in the ass. Some of the volunteers decided to stay up drinking at the round table on the front porch; they had real Jack Daniels and Cokes and safe ice made from boiled water. Dublin felt like his whole body was one big pair of eyes fighting to stay open. Even his elbows felt tired, which he had trouble explaining to himself. The residents of the house had rolled out two sleeping bags for him and Keri, and he took off his khakis and slipped into the bag without zipping it up. Keri climbed into her bag and began undressing, fighting with bra clasps and zippers and socks for almost ten minutes. She rolled over on her side with her back to Dublin.
Light from the bathroom angled into the living room and spread across his face. It wouldn’t keep him up for long, but he was still annoyed. It’s just like these people not to know when to shut off a light. He had just about mustered up the ambition to get up and turn it off when two of the PC girls walked in there. One of them turned on the shower faucet while the other took off her T-shirt.
He didn’t want the light off anymore. It could stay on all night. There can’t be anything better to do on this entire, frustrating continent than watching a girl from Illinois brushing her teeth topless. He couldn’t hear what the two were chattering about because of the shower, but he wasn’t all that interested in the soundtrack anyway. One of the girls’ butts poked out from the doorway as she undressed all the way. They both got into the shower. A giggle popped out from the steam every few seconds or so as Dublin lost his struggle against sleep.