Most of my neighbors only feel the need to own one or two tapes of their favorite songs and play them on repeat endlessly until either a) the tape breaks or b) their mzungu neighbor next door loses her mind from listening to the reggae remix of Celine Dion’s Greatest Hits too many times, causing her head to explode, and subsequent efforts to pick blonde hairs and brain matter that came flying through the window out of the spools of the tape player fail, and they have to buy a new tape anyway. So far, only the first has happened, but I seriously wouldn’t rule out the second.

One of my neighbors – I can’t help but think it’s Not-Italian’s family, since it’s coming from the general direction of their house – has either purchased or dug out their recording of “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” by Shakira. Like an unanticipated ninja raid (is there any other kind?), it will burst into the auditory frame sporadically throughout the day, immediately overpowering the background noise of goats/chickens/screaming children/motorcycles going by/etc. It generally then plays four or five times in a row before going silent again. The first couple of instances, my reaction was “HEEEY! I love this song! I haven’t heard this in forever!” But I quickly descended back into my usual state of “SONG OVERLOAD. I NEVER WANT TO HEAR THIS AGAIN.” Hearing the opening strains, which consist of a vuvuzela solo followed by children screaming “WORLD! CUP! WORLD! CUP!”, elicited roughly the same physical reaction as finding a ten-inch centipede coiled beneath my water jug.

They started blasting it bright and early on Sunday, probably hoping to get in as much Waka Waka Eh Eh-ing as they could before their morning church service. I woke up instantly. But instead of jamming in my earbuds, cranking up the volume of my iPod, and angrily listening to Planet Money reruns for two or three sleepless hours before miserably oozing into the kitchen to make coffee, I just placidly pulled the sheets up to my shoulders and lay there. I listened. The song ended, and then started again. And then it started again. And then it started again. And after that, it started again.

Nine times they played that effing song, but rather than twitching uncontrollably, I grew reflective. It could be worse, I thought to myself, it could be that classic reggae ballad “Abortion Is a Crime”. I let my mind wander to the first time I heard Waka Waka, a senior in college, on top of the world. Its release spawned several playfully intense discussions with one of my favorite Bond-villain professors about the sociopolitical implications of soccer (and which would ultimately be more important, the multitude of elections in Africa in 2010 or the World Cup.) It was the theme music for my Peace Corps training, from moments of ecstatic patriotic unity to late-night text messaging with an incredible new friend (who had access to a radio to listen to matches I couldn’t) and everything in between. Wow, I found myself marveling. What an incredible period of my life that was. No, wait. IS. It’s still incredible. Even now, when it’s getting easy to be blasé about goats on your couch and burning your trash and subsisting on fresh-picked pineapple for days on end.

It’s true. Things have become routine, but I still have moments of waking up and going “HOLY CRAP! I LIVE IN KENYA. I’M A DEVELOPMENT WORKER.” Even one year later, despite all the setbacks and shortfalls and days I want to smash dishware against my cinderblock walls. Even when I read through undergraduate papers I wrote and realize I have in some ways become what I so cynically dismissed from the safety of the Ivory Tower of Academia. Even when I’m late for a meeting and can’t find my umbrella. Even in moments wherein I feel so shattered I can’t possibly pull back my mosquito net and do it all one more time. Come what may, I’ll look back on this in 20 years, flipping through pictures of beaches and rainforests and schoolchildren and me petting a cheetah or my friend Louis french kissing a giraffe and go “Wow. I really did that, didn’t I?”

There’s a new training class of 54 volunteers that just landed in Kenya a few days ago. They’re shuttling to their host families, buying international cell phones, and getting sorted into language classes. That was me, not terribly long ago; despite keeping an open mind, I thought I had some slight notion of what was to come. I. Had no. Idea. And they don’t either. But they’re in for a helluva treat.

Advertisements