Thursday, January 31, 2008

All Manner of Domesticity

Wednesday, January 30, 2008
All Manner of Domesticity

Dear Everyone,

Greetings! I hope you are well.

I’m happy to say the Esalas, their guests, and I all survived Fire Festival, which is apparently a celebration of West African New Year. From what I can figure, the people tie bundles of long dried grass together, light one end on fire, and twirl them around in and around fields of dry brush (think Fourth of July sparklers on a much more magnificent—and exciting—scale). The key, I think, is not to stand too close to over-excited but under-observant children when they’re whipping about the flaming bundles. But no worries. Sarah and I only almost died once. And “almost,” I’m sure you’ll agree, doesn’t count. In celebration of our success, this week I’ve been tackling domesticity on all fronts and meeting success there as well. Mostly.

I’m pleased to report the demise of Little Mouse. Thanks to the conventional mouse traps Nathan set in my kitchen and bathroom, Little Mouse was tempted beyond his ability to bear and, by his own evil desires, was dragged away and enticed. Lured by a peanut, in fact. I found him in the morning with his head squished flat. Nathan also found a small hole in my bathroom wall, which he filled in with caulking and silicone. I was developing a bit of a drug cartel in the bathroom cabinet, see, as evidenced by the thumb-sized hole in my bottle of Advil (accompanied by a single pellet of mouse poop—and we know whose calling card that is) and the now roughly tapered end of my Dramamine bottle. This Druggie Mouse is perhaps also responsible for the small hole in my tube of Neosporin, which I had previously been attributing to “scuffing.” As in, perhaps my Neosporin has been scuffed on a rock. That somehow made it into my bathroom cabinet without my knowledge. And then disappeared. Right. Anyway, while on some level I appreciate potentially never having to open another child-proof cap again, I would sacrifice the convenience to avoid having mouse cooties on my . . . anything. So. It’s true that Druggie Mouse is still at large, but he has not yet worked his way back inside. Another kitchen mouse, one Crafty Glutton, also met his end in a conventional mouse trap this week. Since we have been unable to locate his entry point as Nathan did Druggie Mouse’s, we’ve been keeping traps set in my kitchen. Crafty Glutton had been evading both Nathan’s conventional mouse traps and my, um, more-innovative-than-effective “trap” for several days, such that I was beginning to think of our “traps” as more “treat-holders” since they seemed to be providing something of a buffet. Crafty Glutton ate the peanuts off the conventional mouse traps without springing them and licked the peanut butter off the inside of my cook pot as far down as he could reach without falling in, but no farther. Nathan and Sarah came over Sunday evening to set the conventional traps with lures of peanut butter this time instead of peanuts, thinking peanut butter requires a good deal more attention to remove from a trap and, after all, is one of Crafty Glutton’s favorites. The traps were set and Nathan and Sarah had not yet been gone five minutes when I heard the soft click of the spring and looked up to see the twitching furry fatness that was Crafty Glutton with his head squished flat. Nathan carried out the body with the comment, “Gee, he’s kind of heavy.” No kidding.

As distasteful as it may be to skip directly from mice to food, please pardon me while I do. While killing mice is all well and good, a foray into domesticity would be incomplete without various culinary delights. Ghanaians don’t seem to eat many weird things, but they also don’t use forks, and that makes eating just as interesting as if we had fish guts and donkey feet everyday.

Katie My Sister asked about pito (say “PEE-toe”), the beer I drank from the gourd at The Chief’s house. First of all, pito is not a beverage exclusive to The Chief, and that’s why we’re going to call it “pito” and not “Chief’s Beer.” (“Shoats” was brilliant, Sister, but “Chief’s Beer” is right out). Pito seems to fill the social role of coffee in the U.S. It’s everywhere. People make it themselves at home. When you go places, people offer it to you. Not liking it would be a social handicap. Fortunately, pito tastes much better than other beers I’ve tried. I am not a fan of beer; it tastes so . . . yellow . . . with an under-taste of blech. But pito tastes more . . . tan. And while it sometimes has a tart bite in the back of your mouth (somewhat unpleasant but not too bad), it is other times very mild and tastes like . . . apple cider, but not sweet, and leaning more toward beer than toward fruit. It tastes good. But I still can’t drink a whole gourd by myself.

I’m also enjoying the yams and the bean cakes, which Ghanaians typically eat with their hands (but I generally use a fork for the bean cakes since 1. I’m at Sarah’s house, which is full of Westerners who don’t mind, and 2. bean cakes are fairly wet). These are the white yams, not the “yams” that are also known as sweet potatoes, and we boil them and dip them in sauces the Ghanaians call “soup” but you should think of more along the lines of homemade condiments. There’s a nice red soup/condiment with dried fish ground up in it and other soups made from peanuts. The bean cakes, while attractively named, are actually in more of the meatloaf family. Sarah buys a roll of bean “cake” loaf in the market, slices and boils it, and serves it with a sauce entirely comprised of oil and crunchy onions. I’m not a huge fan of oil as a sauce, but the beans and onions have a meat-loafy feel, and what’s not to like about that?

Fufu (say “FOO-foo”) is another fun eat-with-your-hands food and is, in fact, Sarah’s favorite. Esalla (“eh-SA-la”) the House Girl and her mother, who is the Good Guard Abulai’s wife, made fufu for lunch on Friday. They started with a certain kind of yam that is apparently unavailable in the United States, peeled and boiled it and put it into the fufu pot to get the life mashed out of it. They mashed the yams with big long bludgeons until the yams looked like mashed potatoes. Then they mashed them some more and mashed them and mashed them. And then they kept mashing them and adding more water and folding over the yams so they wouldn’t stick to the bottom of the fufu pot. And then more mashing. And then more mashing. And mashing. And then Sarah mashed some. And then I mashed some. And then Esalla and her mother mashed more. And finally, after a few more mashes for good measure, the yams looked like a big squish of play-dough, but just slightly more gelatinous. So Esalla and her mother used their hands to smash the fufu into individual serving sized balls, and we ate it under a peanut and chicken soup.

Since Sarah has an ice cream maker, we also made papaya frozen yogurt, which is totally a health food, so eat up. We made papaya milk, a delight from Taiwan, and Sarah taught me how to make yogurt, so I’m excited to try that soon (nothing like growing bacteria in your kitchen deliberately for consumption). I tried my first cashew fruit today; it was difficult to eat something that sucked all the moisture out of my mouth even as its juice threatened to run down my chin.

And now, What I’ve Learned So Far:

1. If you go to a tailor to have some clothes made, and he refuses to take your measurements but instead relies on your friend to do it even though your friend claims not to know what she is doing, you should run away immediately. In no way should you leave your very beautiful fabrics with this man. Otherwise, all your new clothes may end up being incredibly huge—as in, wear-with-a-friend, pregnancy-might-help-for-the-middle-but-even-that-won’t-help-these-huge-arm-holes large. The “A-line” [read: Rectangular] skirt has a drawstring, so it is mostly okay (if not the most flattering). The skirt’s pockets are completely fantastic, so that is an upside at least. But the dress was mildly horrific and a little bit falling off, so we asked him to take about two inches off the sides, and now it too is mostly okay. In other clothing news, I had asked for two A-line skirts from another seamstress, and they are mostly okay except the elastic is too small in the waist and threatens to bisect me. I was given a choice of a button-and-zipper waistband, an elastic waistband, or a drawstring waistband. I chose the drawstring and got an elastic waistband with a hook and zipper. Oy. Sarah says we need to cover our heads when we go into the village to maintain the height of modest, so the tailors used my extra fabric to make head scarves. I’ve been experimenting with the head scarves, and it isn’t bad at all. Since the shower has no hot water, mid-afternoon is the ideal shower time, and without hairdryers or curling irons, wearing hair you can be proud of becomes a challenge. But we don’t have bad hair days in the village. Pirate hair days, or the occasional gypsy hair day, sure. But never a bad hair day.

2. Kids make a lot of laundry. The Esalas celebrate a different activity each night of the week: Sunday is Game Night; Monday is Family Meeting Night; Wednesday is TV Night. And Saturday is Date Night. Date Night is, naturally, only celebrated by Sarah and Nathan, but it recently became the best big fun when I invited the three Esala girls over on Saturday evenings for Date Night with Aunt Christina (because I can beat an early bedtime any day). We have a picnic dinner on the floor and then do some fantastic activity after dinner. Last week we baked a cake and drew faces on the backs of each other’s toes to make little rows of people we could watch dance in the mirror. The first night, Sarah had to bribe the girls to come with kool-aid and ice cream, but they seem to have warmed up quickly. And my laundry for the week in the towel-and-washcloth area triples in those few hours.

3. There’s totally a phone tree. Sarah and I drove maybe 5 or 10 minutes toward the Middle of Nowhere to a certain large tree, around which cell phones tend to get reception if the wind isn’t too strong. I called my family and talked for about 40 minutes for the bargain price of 5 dollars. “Who needs a phone booth?” Sarah says. Well, who does?

This week’s Suggested Prayer Topics are Karissa’s schooling, our upcoming vacation, and praise God for dead mice. Also, Nathan has been traveling a lot lately and is, in fact, traveling now.

1. Karissa’s schooling is going well, but we’re still looking for the right workload for her. I don’t know what 3rd graders should be expected to do. We’re trying to find a place where Karissa gets a good education without being unnecessarily overwhelmed.

2. We’re going on vacation next Friday. Just a weekend trip to a game reserve in . . . the country just north of Ghana, name very similar to Burkato Faso, but probably not spelled like that.

3. Dead mice are my favorite kind. I’ve experienced no mouse activity since Crafty Glutton. Woohoo!

4. Nathan and his Ghanaian colleges have been traveling around to various Konkomba villages to share with them about their work. They left Monday morning, and I don’t think anyone quite knows when they’ll be back.

I think that’s about all I’ve got. Just in case you’re interested, Katie My Sister has made a blog for me. So if you are more of a blog person than an email person, you’re invited to <>. Also, I’m hoping to get some photos to Katie My Sister so she can put them online. That website is <>. If all goes well, you can expect to find pictures of Date Night, mafia mouse poop, and various yard animals, plus short videos of Fire Festival and fufu making. I got a very fine picture of some furry pigs; unfortunately, they turned at the last second and left me photographing their backsides. Well, you can’t have everything. Just so you know, I took no pictures of dead mouse bodies, so please be at peace and approach my photo website with confidence.


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