“What’s going on? Why did we stop?”
Some questions we wish we never asked because of the hurtful truths that follow. Other times, for any number of reasons, the answers leave us with our mouths wide open. This was one of those times…
I had been away from home the previous week at training for the newest group of prospective PCVs. We talked about HIV risk reduction, nutrition, sexuality and relationships, and a handful of other topics that I may have known just as little about except for my slightly-relevant personal experiences from the past twelve months here in Lesotho. Directly after this, I traveled down south for a committee meeting of which I am co-chair because, admittedly, I try way too hard to be involved in as many things as possible. After two more days of being around so many people, it was a pleasing thought to be heading home where I could escape from the world and spend more time with the less sociable and less talkative spiders that also call the space under my thatched roof home.
On this taxi ride home I was listening to a fascinating Stuff You Should Know podcast about Numbers in an attempt to block out all the conversations going on around me—both English and Sesotho from the other PCVs and locals aboard. As normal, the taxi stopped here and there: a ‘me would exit at a shop to buy eggs and bread, an ntate and his young son would exit onto a dirt path on their way home from town, and in the midst of cattle and sheep an ausi would hop off and run into the village. At some point, the taxi stopped and I was handed a young girl of maybe 6 years from a man sitting next to the window. Without thinking I grabbed the little girl and put her in the doorway so she could exit the taxi. In retrospect, this was a little strange because she was too young to be getting off alone, and if she was with another exiting passenger then it was even stranger that she would be sitting in the lap of some other man. I’ve learned that even stranger and more unexplainable things happen in Lesotho so I didn’t bother questioning. I continued listening to my podcast:
“The way babies actually experience quantitative changes is not just a dumbed-down version of what adults do. It’s a completely different version of what adults do–they seem to think logarithmically. Imagine in your head the distance between 1 and 2. Now imagine the distance between 8 and 9. They feel like the same distance from each other: 1. But that’s because we think of numbers in these discreet ordered chunks. Now, if you were to think about it logarithmically, like a baby, the distance between 1 and 2 is huuuuuuge–because it’s doubling–and the distance between 8 and 9 is a ratio closer to one.”
“So, we’ve done these very funny experiments in the Amazon with people who do not count or have a number beyond five. What we found is that these people also think of numbers in the logarithmic way. If you give them a line and on the left you have one object and on the right you place nine objects and ask them, ‘What number is exactly between 1 and 9?’ You’d say 5, right? ‘What they put in the middle is 3?’ If you’re thinking in ratios and you’re starting at 1, then you multiply by three to get to three, and then you multiply by three again to get to nine. So those are equal jumps on either side. 3 is to 1 as 9 is to 3.”
It had been several minutes at this point when I realized that the taxi still wasn’t moving.
“What’s going on? Why did we stop?”
The ‘me on my right answered me by pointing out the window to my left. I turned and looked out the window and saw this little girl dressed in all pink squatting just outside the window. I laughed hysterically because the entire bus was waiting on this little girl to finish pooping.
I turned back to a very serious look and wondered how the lady next to me found no humor in this. I tried to keep myself from laughing. I kept looking back in disbelief at this little girl’s lack of shame and everyone else’s nonchalance about the situation. She was playing with the flowers and grass around her and watching the shrivel of toilet paper blow in the breeze between her fingers. A few bo’ntate gathered around the front of the vehicle talking while the bo’me rushed the little girl with their eyes. At one point she stood, pulled her pants up, but didn’t move. After a quick assessment she pulled her pants back down and squatted again. I lost it! I didn’t care what the serious lady beside me thought. I laughed out loud and a few others found slightly more humor in this too.
I eventually realized that this was the same girl handed to me 10 minutes earlier and that, ipso facto, she would return and put her stinky little hands on my arms as I passed her back to her father next to the serious lady sitting between us. This thought made the situation a little more real (but no less funny!). Luckily, I was wearing long sleeves.
Public transport has brought about some of the funniest stories in Peace Corps for many volunteers! These memories are priceless and will remain in the repertoire of funny stories for quite some time. I’m sure there will be more of these stories to come.