In this chapter, Dublin wakes up the morning after his night with the Peace Corps Volunteers and meets two Norwegian travelers exploring Africa.
Hitchhiking with Alcoholic Norwegians
It was one of those mornings when the mind slowly, unwittingly, begins to pay attention to the sounds around it. Dublin’s eyes weren’t on board yet, but his ears were tracking and identifying the morning noises from the rest of the house. He heard the distinctive wet chime of orange juice glasses, sandal soles scraping up the dust off the stone floors, voices murmuring through sleepiness, and finally a shout from the front porch: “God I am freaking hungover!” Dublin laughed and crawled out from his borrowed sleeping bag. He walked barefoot into the bathroom and cleaned his mouth with his finger and somebody’s toothpaste and walked out to the front porch.
There were half a dozen volunteers stretched out in deck chairs, shielding their eyes from the bright and already scorching sun. Three of them sipped on a Bloody Mary from a fishbowl. Dublin sneezed from the scent of celery salt and hot sauce.
“Santé,” one of the girls said from underneath a cold towel draped over her face.
She took the towel off her face. “What’s your name again?”
“Oh, that’s right,” she smiled. “You were sleeping on the floor in the living room.”
Dublin smiled back and sat down on the steps with his back turned to everybody. He lit a cigarette.
“Oh, fuck vodka, and fuck all things that make me want to die!” A man screamed, walking onto the porch. Dublin looked up and saw a pudgy half-naked man with splotches of hair all over his tummy. He was scratching his head and ass at the same time. The volunteers fidgeted in their chairs. One of them got up and made room for him. Vodka Man was joined by a thin dark-haired fellow and Jason, who both sat down on the deck.
“David, Vegard, meet my friend Dublin, also from Lomé. He’ll be coming with us.” Dublin put out his hand to the thin man, who shook his head in time with the fat one.
“Coming with us?”
“Yeah, these guys are gonna take us up to Ouagadougou. They’re going straight through. It would take us another day or so to get to Ouaga by taxi or looking for a ride. We can get there in eight hours now. And there’s plenty of room for us. Get ready to go.”
Dublin’s backside already hurt from the elegant network of potholes in the Togo highway system. His mind switched back and forth from the pain down there to the one in his ears. The two Norwegians’ mouths never stopped, and they were filled with bubbling ignorance that delivered pounds of heavy oatmeal into Dublin’s head.
A little extravagant, maybe, but that’s how it felt.
The countryside delivered itself into Eden the closer they got to Dapaong in the north country. They were in the land of the Kabiyé now, “the dog-eaters,” Jason had told them. David cussed out Africa and named the exploits of Togolese cuisine. “And do you know,” he said, looking over his shoulder, “I saw some ten year old kid carrying a carcass through the market in Sokodé? I don’t even know what kind of animal it was. I saw ribs and blood and blue eyes that begged me for help. What the hell kind of people buy carcasses and bring them home for dinner? ‘Oh, look, kids, I found a real nice dead animal body for dinner tonight. Help me cut its ears off.’ Norway is more civilized. But the women aren’t as easy. That’s why I’m in a band. I make good money working for my daddy, but not enough for whores.”
The whole time he spoke, Dublin watched the road in front of them, wincing at potholes and dangerous swerves. David drove by watching the road behind them, and his turns were a little over two seconds late. The car tore up the scrubs on the side of the road.
After a hundred minutes in a hundred degree day and a hundred potholes and a hundred bad jokes about prostitutes and cripples and dead animals, Dublin finally fell asleep.
He woke up with his face stuck to the window where he’d drooled. His head hurt from knocking against the glass. Jason and David had gotten out of the car, and Vegard was asleep in the passenger seat. It had gotten hotter, and Dublin felt a change in the air, that it was somehow drier, which seemed impossible. This was the utopia of desert, empty of rain and river, empty even of sweat and saline. Dublin wiped the sleeping goop off his lips.
After a good stretch, he walked towards the building the others were standing in front of. A sign above the blue front door read “Douanes.” They were at the border.
“How long was I asleep?” Dublin asked Jason as he approached the building.
“Oh, I don’t know, four hours or so. I don’t know how you could sleep on that highway. We talked the whole time. I’m surprised we didn’t wake you up.”
“Yeah, me too.” He looked around and saw two other cars at the customs station. “What’s going on? Are we waiting for something?”
“Well, they’re trying to tell us to walk off the edge of the fucking planet is what’s going on,” David said with all his grace. “They say we don’t have the proper visas to go into Burkina. I’ve been talking to them. It’s almost time to take out the cash.”
“Why didn’t you just give them money in the first place?”
“Because I wasn’t put on this planet to be a pushover. I have to give them a good fight before I inevitably give in. What kind of person do you think I am? Some weakling?” Dublin didn’t know how to talk to this man. He wished he could get drunk. Living in Africa was like going through puberty again, a mental and emotional growth spurt that made everything uncomfortable.
“It’s hot out here,” Dublin thought out loud.
“You’re damn right it’s hot out here! Someone should tell them to move the continent a little farther north. They could park it next to Norway. Only the fishers would notice. And it’s not like anyone from Russia would care. They have enough to think about. I could piss out the Russian GDP after a good night of vodka drinking.”
“Well, can we get going? It’s really, really hot. I mean, isn’t that Burkina Faso right on the other side of that checkpoint? Wouldn’t it be nice if we were over there right now, cruising down the highway to the capital to see a film festival and get a beer and somewhere to sleep? Get your wallet out and let’s go!”
“Holy shit, American boy. I guess you weren’t put here to be a pussy either! All right, I’ll pay the man, but no more yelling until I get whiskey in me. I don’t know how to handle conflict. I’m still very young.” He winked at Dublin and made a throwing-up face at Jason and turned on his heels.
They heard bells.
Dublin started walking like a man who’d just found water in the desert. Well, he was, sort of. The bells were attached to the bicycle of a Fanmilk man who had an ice chest of frozen yogurt perched on the handlebars. He was, surely, the most admired man in the region. God could not deliver you from thirst, but Fanmilk could.
Dublin’s palms got sweaty when he saw the man had chocolate Fanyogo with him. Nobody carried that in Lomé. If he walked down to Bordertown just blocks from his house, he could hear the Fanmilk vendors on the Ghana side shout out “Chocolate!” It must been what the wall was like for Berliners, listening to Westerners calling out “Democracy!”
Dublin ate so fast he didn’t bother to stop and wipe the chocolate off his chin. David bought four and ate them all underneath the baobab tree whose shade they shared. Vegard was slumped over the dashboard, drooling onto the vinyl. He didn’t wake up when they all slammed the car doors to cross into Burkina.
David waved his middle finger and smiled at the two border guards, who watched the old Peugeot 504 pass and kick up dust, fanning their faces with the francs David gave them. When the car was gone, the guards glanced at the Fanmilk man and the trash the travelers had left under the baobab tree before heading back into the border station.