Sunday – “dimanche” – is our day of rest here. Well, mostly rest. Occasionally there’s work to catch up on, orders to finalise or deadlines to meet the following week that can’t be put back, but mostly it’s a chance for everyone in project to hang up their work hats and just hang out and recharge.
The wave of insecurity that threatened Zemio in November has thankfully receded and since I came back from holidays it has been wonderful to be able to walk about the town again and see the Christian and Muslim communities reintegrating and – crucially – trading together again.
We make a trip to the nearby market partially to enjoy the bustle and atmosphere, and partially to get supplies for the fast-becoming-tradition brunch that we prepare and eat as a team. Some Sundays in particular are just delicious – I just want to bottle the whole feel of the day and savour it for days and weeks and years to come. I saw some of the stall holders in the market today for the first time since coming back from my holiday and they were just so friendly and pleased and absurdly delighted to see me and equally I them.
Olivier and Rob and I split up to wander around, and rejoin to compare purchases – papaya, eggs, plantain, onion, tiny sweet bananas, baby tomatoes, chubby okra, a giant pumpkin. And the obligatory bushel of oranges – I am so addicted to these particular juice engorged beasties I am literally chain-eating them. We consume them CAR-style – like a juice cup, the peel carefully pared off with a knife, pith left on and then a small lid made – the juice is squeezed and sucked out simultaneously directly into your mouth, pips spat to the side. Sort of like a vegetarian vampire. My record is nine in one day. (And I only stopped because we ran out.)
Just the other side of the grass fence that encircles our compound I can hear the sounds of the town: the steady rhythmic pounding of a pestle and mortar grinding manioc, a goat bleating, music coming from the nearby church. The African singing is almost hopelessly clichéd but so so beautiful and occasionally I get a funny jerk of familiarity as my brain refocuses one of the songs into the tune of one the old familiar church hymns that I have known my whole life, but interpreted through the voices here in such a beautiful new way it’s as though I’m hearing it for the first time.
Inside the small kitchen we chop, fry, blend and banter our way towards brunch – and everything, just everything smells exquisite. The oranges which I lugged back from the market are a sharp citrus tang in the air, the pineapple an almost syrupy sweetness, the wholesome whiff of bread toasting and the unctuousness of oil heating ready to fry the plantain all blend into a rich, heavy, almost tangible scent.
One memorable Sunday this fragrant cocktail for the senses was rudely invaded by the unfortunate cracking of an addled egg. Rob’s initial exclamation of disgust was swiftly followed by a chorus of echoes from the rest of us and a rapid exodus of the sultry and suddenly uninhabitable kitchen, with the comedic addition of Brigitte and I getting wedged together in the door, such was our haste to exit.
Happily no such sulphurous tragedies mar today’s preparations. I sit on my favourite perch of the corner of our chest fridge and peel oranges, ostentatiously for the team, but in honesty, I am eating as many as I am peeling. Rob takes a break from periodically burning himself as he fries the okra in a skillet with the handle missing and cheekily pinches one out from under my nose. My mock horror is mollified moments later when he brings it back squeezed and transformed into a cointreau-y cocktail of his own invention. I graciously forgive him. The cocktail is iceless, room temperature, served in a old jamjar – we broke the few glasses we had ages ago. Nothing here is perfect and yet somehow everything is. The camaraderie is as warm and delicious as the air.
Brunch is served in the shade of the mango tree. We eat and chat and pick at plates of plantain chips until we are all full to bursting. As we finish there is an amicable bicker over the two homemade hammock spots and people gradually get up and drift off to nap, read, or email their families. Or in my case, give myself a bit of a home pedicure. Eight months in the field has given me Frodo feet.
As the sun sets into a dusty orange haze behind the trees the music from the night market outside our front gates starts up. The next few hours are sound tracked by Congolese and Ugandan music, pumped out through crackly speakers, punctuated with the occasional burst of Celine Dion. The Central Africans are nothing if not diverse in their music choices. 9pm is what we jokingly refer to here as “Zemio Midnight” and true to form, at exactly that hour the music fades out, the chatter of the market dies away and the town gradually quietens. Almost the only noise remaining is the soft chirping of crickets, a sound so diffuse and natural it could be coming from the very stars.
The nights are appreciably cooler now and Diana and I stay outside for a while longer, companionably squished together in a hammock, just enjoying the brief respite from the heat of the day and drinking in the beauty of the night sky. We keep talking about anything, everything; our homes, our friends, our families, our respective faiths and failings. Eventually, yawningly, reluctantly, we hug goodnight and head off to our beds.
One day off in seven may not sound like very much. But somehow we get enough downtime in our one dimanche a week to fuel us through the next hectic six days ahead. And before we know it, it will be Sunday again.