by Nancy Casey
from Gumption Issue 3

“Before you start, click on setup.”  Then you can pick a language for the subtitles.
“If you click on English, you see the words that Al Gore says.”  I click on French.  Genante.  A word I would have translated as annoying.  “Why are those smokestacks so  high?” asks Enel.  “So the smell falls down on somebody else,” Wobe answers.
Wozlin expresses a hope that next time around Gore, an action figure, will vanquish Bush and set things right.  Enel will want to know Gore’s motivation for making this movie.  Wobe will hang his head, say, “We should only be using donkeys.”

“Penpenen,” shrugs Liya.  A question?  An admission?  She’s arranging her things on a rise overlooking the road.  A sheet is rigged to shade the two babies, asleep.  The new one, Didi, is my second goddaughter, born two days after I left here the last time.  Liya repeats the story of how Wobe made a special trip to her house to send my good wishes and greetings.  This made Liya wait until I returned before choosing a godmother.  So I could have first crack.  She’s fanned out the skirt of some child’s dress and on it built three neat pyramids of gnarly, edible roots.
“Penpenen,” she explains, “is when you get someone to sell you some rice on credit and you take it to the market and sit there all day with it.  If you sell enough to pay back the credit, do you stay and try to sell the rest?”
She slaps her thight.  “Of course not!  You go home and make a big pot of food for your kids!”  I can guffaw.  Later, at my house, in the dictionary, by the thin blue light of my headlamp–penpenen: to struggle along, to get by.
Aris latches onto me and pontificates all the way down the road about making raised beds to grow vegetables, what one needs to have a tree nursery, how to make compost.  If I told him my idea was to bring more plastic trash to the countryside, he’d be right on it, with passion and a plan.
“That baby you won’t adopt,” reports Josiane, “is going to die.”
Anita hugs me and kiss me and calls me her child, rejoices for my return and how even though she’s old and she’s blind, she’s not dead yet.  She pulls me close a second time and whispers, “Did you bring me a dress?”
Margaret wants the batteries that were in my camera.  Valannsya asks if I’ve had a chance to buy mangoes yet.  Misente climbs the tree at the edge of my yard and watches me eat.  Penpenen is the daily cadge in this nation of artful dodgers.  Penpenen is why I feel like a pinata.

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