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4/27/09 Sleeping Bag Saga

I noticed on my last trip that my sleeping bag smelled a little ripe. (I choose to blame loaning it to friends who stay over in my chilly house, but I must admit that there's some chance it's my fault.) Regardless of who's to blame, it could do with a good airing.

So this morning, before the soccer tourney, I hung it inside-out on the clothesline. It's big and awkwardly shaped, so I stuck it to the line with every clothespin I own - all 14 of them. I swear, I used to have dozens, but every time I do laundry, a few go missing. It's a mystery - like socks in American dryers.

My sleeping bag tossed and turned a bit in the spring winds, but I'd affixed it as firmly as possible, so I went back downstairs confident it would benefit from the fresh air and sunshine.

Off we went to the soccer finals (more on that later). We hid our faces from the duststorms during the game - I felt grateful for the handkerchief covering my hair, shielding it from the worst depredations of the storm - and when everything had finished, we staggered home against nearly gale-force winds. We leaned forwards into the stiff gusts, huddling in our parkas against the knifing cold.

I didn't think once about my giant, featherweight bag, fighting these same winds.

When I got home, I warmed up thoroughly and took care of some household chores...none of which brought me up to the roof to remind me of my sleeping bag. A few friends came to visit that afternoon, and we all hung out at Fatima's house.

As twilight approached, two of us headed back to my place. Hurrying against the dying of the light, I suddenly remembered my poor, neglected sleeping bag. I hoped it hadn't gotten *too* dusty in the storm.

I ran up to my roof...and saw nothing.

No sleeping bag.

No clothespins (though further investigation turned up four, scattered across the roof).


My eyes bugged further and further out of my head.

Could someone have snuck onto my roof and stolen it?? Could it have blown away in the wind?

Had I really lost my very favoritest-ever sleeping bag, bought new for my Peace Corps adventure?

I looked off all four edges of the roof. The street, alleys, and sidewalk below were all empty.

I took another lap of the roof, looking as far as I could in all directions, peering against the rapidly-fading light.

And there it was. On the (walled) roof of the house next door, across a narrow alley (probably a meter wide), down about 10 feet. The house has been under construction for at least two years, and the exposed roofing rods had snagged the wayward bag in its windy flight.

I could only imagine what it must have looked like - the sleeping bag catching a gust of wind, straining against the clothespins like a billowing sail strains against a ship mast, finally bursting free and flying, soaring...for about 15 feet, before the wind (fickle mistress that she is) cut short the adveture and dropped it on the next roof. Subsequent flutterings of wind pushed it against the roofing rods, where it stayed, trapped, awaiting rescue.

A rescue I tried to mount in the growing dark.

In my living room, inherited from the previous PCV who lived in my house, there's a bamboo rod, probably two meters long, with an equally long plastic cord attached to it, with a metal hook on the end. I've wondered idly what such a thing could be for; I mostly hook the metal end into the bamboo and use the rod itself to prop the living room door closed.

But this bizarre contraption suddenly leaped into my mind - it's a fishing rod, I realized. A big, unwieldy fishing rod! And right now, I'm going to fish for my sleeping bag.

So I ran downstairs, grabbed the inch-thick bamboo pole, and ran back upstairs. Leaning off the edge of my roof, I cast for my sleeping bag. The still-strong winds caught the plastic line, arcing the cord out and leaving my cast short.

I threw the line out again. The hook skittered across the bricks near the sleeping bag.

Again. The hook landed smack in the middle of the sleeping bag - lhumdullah - but it slid smoothly across the slick nylon.

I cast five, twenty, fifty luck. I managed to catch part of the zipper once, but the hook slid off without gaining any real purchase.

My friend had come up to see what was going on. I offered her the pole, but she had no more luck than I.

"Do you want to knock on your neighbor's door?" she suggested.

"I'm pretty sure nobody lives there. I've never seen anyone inside, and only seen somebody on the roof once or twice in the past year."

"Should we try anyway?"

We traipsed over, but repeated knocks accomplished nothing.

We decided to ask my favorite hanut guy who owns the house. He knows everything.

But before we got to the hanut, we ran into my 15-year-old neighbor (and cousin), who was chatting with a woman who works across the street. I asked them who owned the house.

The young businesswoman thought for a second, then said my host dad's name.

"Snnit? Babanu?" Really? My dad? I then clarified his familial connections - there are only about 8 men's names in this village, so I wanted to be clear.

"Eyyah," she confirmed. Yes.

I looked back down the street at my house and the vacant one next to it.

"Snnit? S-snat, tin babanu?" Really? They're both my dad's?

"La, mashi s-snat. Ghas tadart-tx." No, not both. Just this one.

This one, she said, indicating my house.

Which, yes, I knew was (is) owned by my host dad.

"La, mashi tadartinu. L-tadart yadnin. Tin mi tadart-ta?" No, not *my* house. The *next* house. Whose is that?

"Oooh." This was chorused by both women. And yes, it means the same thing in Tam as in English.

[[OK, I'll stop boring you with a language you don't understand.]]

"Yeah, I'm not sure of the name of the guy who owns that one," I was told. "But he only comes to town on Fridays, for souq." I gave her a baleful stare. "He lives a few villages over."

I turned to my cousin. "Does your dad have a key to his house?" It's not uncommon for neighbors to have keys, and my uncle's family and I are the only ones who live on this street. My cousin shook her head with wide eyes.

I realized I'd never explained what was going on, so I did so, briefly. "The wind moved my--" I paused here, having no idea what the word for sleeping bag would be in Tam, "My stuff from my roof to his roof."

"Her sleeping mat," my friend offered. I figured the word she used - ponj - was as good a word as any, though it usually applies to actual mats, not big squishy cocoon-style sleepsacks.

"Oh, that's too bad," the women chorused.

After a few more pleasantries, we went back to my house.

I've had a half-broken ladder in my front hall for over a month now. We decided to carry it up to the roof and use it to climb from my roof to theirs.

It finished breaking as we manoevered it over the alleyway.

As we watched the chunks of wood tumble the three stories down into the dirt-and-rock-filled alley, we decided to scrap that plan.

I tried a few more casts with the bamboo fishing pole, and but between the darkness, the wind, and the bitter cold, I gave up quickly and decided to try again in the light (and warmth) of the morning.

To be continued...

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