Timmy the bully, he terrorized me! Every day at recess, he'd strip me naked and kick me around the playground until I had to be sent home, while all the other kids pointed and screamed. But actually, the joke's on Timmy: he only exists in my mind!
Let's say Liam is the name of the kid kicked around by Timmy. I like how all of Liam's troubles only exist in his mind. I know some of us have real troubles, but I think a lot of us are just like Liam. Anyway, that was one of the classic Jeep Thoughts written by my freshman roommate Liam Bosco. We call them Jeep Thoughts because they're stylistic imitations of Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts, and because Liam wrote most of them while smoking pot in the back of a jeep. I think a lot of my favorite Jeep Thoughts have something to do with being naked. Liam once described the Sahara Desert as "a slowly undulating carpet of gigantic naked body parts." That wasn't a Jeep Thought; that was in a letter he sent me describing his trip to Niger with other Peace Corps volunteers based in Benin, West Africa. He wrote,
"Just to get to Malanville at the border with Niger could require a twelve hour taxi ride, if you're posted in southern Benin. As you travel north, the palm plantations and crowded, overhanging branches recede like a green tide. You pass the scenic hills of central Benin speckled with squat trees and white outcroppings, and you leave those too behind. You continue north, and the cornfields give way to yam mounds and eventually fields of millet that make you thirsty just to see them. Finally arriving in Malanville, you see camels for the first time. The camels see you for the first time as well, and then they look away, uninterested. People fill the streets, selling unwrapped baguettes from baskets, transporting live chickens hung upside down from bicycle handlebars, drinking bowls of steaming millet porridge, or rolling out prayer mats and bowing low toward Mecca.
"You cross the Niger River into Gaya, Niger. You ride for four hours in a taxi to Niamey, the capital. You walk in the dust stirred up by oxcarts. You feel as though you've traveled back in time. If you were about to give birth, you'd look for swaddling clothes and a manger. Women walk single file, each carrying water or firewood in two buckets hanging from the ends a branch weighing into her shoulder. It looks painful. Why don't they carry things in basins balanced on their heads like the Beninese women do, looking so graceful and lithe? You're fired with loyalty to Benin. The Beninese national anthem runs through your head.
"You've taken a 14-hour bus ride east to Zinder. You don't know where the time went. You only remember eating dates (after checking each one for small green worms) and standing in line to use the latrines in the small villages along the route. There's a field of boulders in Zinder between the Peace Corps hostel and the imam's palace. You come upon a chasm that looks too wide to leap. A dozen young boys, who'd seemingly crawled out of the crags all at once, show you around the easy way. Your friend Veronica decides to leap anyway. She makes it look easy.
"Zinder already seems like home when you depart for the final taxi ride. You ruffle the petticoats of Queen Sahara as you travel the desolate highway to N'guigmi. Macabre, spindly trees, emerging from the dust like pterodactyl fossils, eye one another suspiciously from safe distances. Arriving in N'guigmi, within thirty miles of Lake Chad, you have trouble finding food other than melons and tea. The dogs look the same as they do everywhere else in Benin and Niger (hence the joke, there's only one dog in West Africa), but instead of being silent and docile like every other African dog you've seen, here they snarl and threaten attack. In a panic, you hurl a hard-found loaf of sweet bread at a menacing dog. You miss. Out of ammunition, you cower behind Veronica, who growls back at the dog. A villager grabs the dog by the ear and reprimands it. A small child hands you your dusty bread.