TINTÉLOT, Mali. The first time it happened was backstage at the University Theater after a final dress rehearsal for The Taming of the Shrew. I was Petruchio, and dressed in some ridiculous Elizabethan garb: tunic and tights, buttons and bows.
A piece of unfinished scenery was on the stage floor, a nail sticking out of it. As I walked behind the set, my eyes adjusting to the dark, I stepped and felt a stabbing pain. The nail went into my heel about an inch.
That’s the last I remember – though I must have screamed out that I had stepped on a nail – before I passed out.
When I came to, flat on my back, I looked up to find a cluster of the cast and crew pulling down my tights to see the wound, my tunic pulled up over my belly. Luckily I was wearing modern underclothes, not a “full regimental” Elizabethan getup, or it would have made a ridiculous costume even more humiliating.
We dressed the wound. And with some extra padding in the big lumbering boots I wore on stage, I was able to perform the next night with only an occasional wince when I stepped on it the wrong way.
I recall the actress who played Kate seemed to enjoy seeing me in pain.
* * *
The second time, I’m here in Mali. It’s a blisteringly hot Tuesday afternoon. I take my shoes off to enter a village community center where a group of women had gathered to talk about their success with a program called “Trickle Up,” an NGO that trains and supports small businesses (really small businesses) in the poorest areas of one of the world’s poorest countries.
As I step one foot into the room I feel a shock like a lightning bolt shooting up my leg. I look down to see a four-inch needle poking out of my foot just behind my left big toe. I pull it out – about an inch of it went diagonally into my foot from the pad behind my toe, grazing the bone. I hobble and hop to a seat in the corner of the room.
The needle is for the woven crafts the women make to sell in their artisan craft business. Before it found my foot, it was stuck in a little round grass weaving a woman was working on.
“Don’t pass out,” I say to myself. I take deep breaths and pull off my sock. Judith, the director of the NGO begins to tell me about the women and their project, and I stop her and explain about my foot.
I start to feel faint.