Peace Corps Writers
Petit a Petit (page 4)

Petit a Petit

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MY WORK AT THE HOSPITAL was due to begin soon. One morning, at the makeshift desk I’d set up in the front bedroom, on the small, portable Smith-Corona typewriter I’d brought with me from New York, I prepared a two-page, single-spaced, typewritten memorandum in French outlining the community health projects I had in mind and the subjects I hoped to teach at the hospital’s mother-infant clinic. The memo was addressed to the hospital’s head, Dr. Christophe Djimet, Medecin Chef, Centre Medical de Lastoursville; from me, Agent de Sante, Corps de la Paix. The lecture subjects I listed included nutrition, breastfeeding, weaning, family planning, hygiene, diarrheal diseases, insect-borne diseases, vaccinations, STD/AIDS, cooking, gardening, composting, recycling, and more. I had high hopes and big dreams. Now all I needed to do was learn how to communicate in French.
It had become my morning ritual, since moving into this house on the hill, to rise before dawn. I made a tea tray and brought it into this front room, where I would pray for strength for the day, write in my journal, write letters to friends, study French, watch the sun yawningly rise from behind the mist-shrouded mountains in the distance, and listen to the nearby birds sing. The songbirds in the big palm tree outside this front window — yellow birds, called Village Weavers, because they were bold enough to live in towns — seemed to me to be the happiest creatures alive. For them, every day was a feast day, because of the abundance of bugs. The bugs that I detested made these birds fat and happy and gave them their joyous songs to sing. How could I, then, go on wishing the insects’ extinction? Where would my mornings be without the birdsong?
As I sat at my Smith-Corona by the window, typing the memo to Dr. Djimet and worrying how I would achieve all my lofty goals, I looked out for inspiration at the yellow birds, gleefully singing and seemingly dancing in the air as they worked in the palm tree. I took the time to watch them. My own nest was nearing completion. My work at the clinic wouldn’t start for a week or more. For the first time in my life, it seemed, I had time to sit back and observe birds. In my twenty years in New York City I was always in a rush, always stressed. The only birds I ever noticed there were the citified, opportunistic pigeons, who never sang. Or if they did, they never sang to me.
I watched one Village Weaver use her beak to tear thin palm fronds into thinner strips and then weave them, patiently, methodically, painstakingly into her ingenious, elongated, capsule-like nest. She was indefatigable. She didn’t quit. And she seemed so happy in her work — singing full-heartedly the whole time.
Dozens of nests just like hers hung from the palm tree like Christmas ornaments. These nests, with their openings underneath, I’d noticed, miraculously, stayed put — despite the lashing rains and gale-like winds of the rainy season that had just begun. These nests were built to last. What little architectural wonders, I thought. And what skill and tenacity it took to weave them!
     “Ah, oui! ‘Petit a petit l’oiseau fait son nid’ indeed,” I told myself. “I must learn from these patient, wise, observant Africans how to take a lesson from the birds.”

Bonnie Lee Black is the author of the creative nonfiction book Somewhere Child (Viking Press, NY, 1981), and is hard at work on her second book, How to Cook a Crocodile, a memoir about her recent experiences in Africa. An honors graduate (BA, Lit./Writing) of Columbia University, she has been a professional writer and editor for more than 25 years and an educator (in the U.S. and overseas) for over 15 years. She now lives in Dixon, New Mexico and teaches English at UNM-Taos, and is a freelance book editor for RPCVs and other writers.
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