Friday, January 18, 2008
No Mouse in the Pot
Greetings! Thanks so much for all your emails. I read and read; it was great.
A word about sheep and goats: Yes, sheep tails go down and goat tails go up, so that is a sure-fire way to tell them apart, as I’ve heard from multiple reliable sources. The thing is . . . well, who goes around looking at animals’ butts first thing? I mean, when you’re about ready to mow one down with your car, are you really thinking, “Whoa! Better watch out for that [quick peek at its hiney] . . .”? No. Because it isn’t quite polite, is it? Katie My Sister suggests I call them all “shoats,” which is, of course, a completely brilliant solution.
I just took a quick break to throw rocks at the cow trying to maul down the tree in my front yard (the one to the left, from which they may not eat). I throw like a girl, but he was still properly intimidated.
Last week, Thursday was Email Day, which means a trek into Nalarigoo (that’s my own special spelling), where the missionaries at the Baptist Medical Center have internet. Their children and the Esala children also have art and science classes together. It’s about a 45 minute trip for us over dirt roads in great need of repair. The Esalas have a formidable SUV, but the craters in the road make for a very bumpy ride nonetheless. (You know how on rollercoasters you sometimes fly up out of your seat a little due to a particularly sudden drop? It’s like that. After one noteworthy crater on the way home, Sarah looked down at the eggs in their uncovered carton on the seat between us and asked, “Wasn’t there an egg in that spot too?” Oy. We quickly found it under her seat, so no worries.) Well. As we bumped our way there, we came across two men on a motorcycle that had broken down. We left one with the bike and took the other with us. We were also transporting Elizabeth, Sarah’s friend from the village. While we were loading Motorcycle Man into the back of the SUV, another motorcycle caught up to us, this one bearing Elizabeth’s son and a man from the village, John, whose hand had swollen inexplicably, and he suspected a snake bite. So we piled John with the Swollen Hand into the back with Motorcycle Man and made our way to Nalarigoo.
The day was exhaustingly full with school and the overall magnitude of the outing, plus a trip to the tailor for me, a stop in the next little town to pick up the mail, and a few stops at little vendors’ booths for things like the afore mentioned eggs (2 ½ dozen, fresh) and chickens (3 whole, dead). The thing is that Nathan usually does half of this stuff while Sarah has school with the kids, but Nathan was out of town and I don’t know how to do anything useful so we all had to do everything together. We were tired but well enough and glad to be going home when we loaded ourselves and John with the Swollen Hand (not a snake bite; the doctors hooked him up with medication) into the SUV and started our trek over the crater-pitted roads toward home.
I mentioned in my last email that Baby Aili (say “EYE-lee) wasn’t feeling well. The thing is she didn’t really have any symptoms, she just wasn’t herself. Well. We were just far enough in our trek home to make turning around and heading back toward the hospital something to decide for or against. I’d like to say she “threw up” or “vomited,” but “blew chunks” (of papaya, it seemed) is a far more accurate description. Oy vey. We continued on home because, as my doctor in Ohio says, “People, in general, tend to get better,” and, after all, everybody feels better after they barf.
Sarah and I had already decided that I should stay for dinner. I would make pancakes in the shape of turtles, and she would focus on 3 kids and baths. So I cooked, and Sarah got baths going, leaving Karissa in charge. Half-naked children skipped through the house holding their clothes. Baby Aili sat in a bucket of bathwater on the kitchen floor, throwing up faster than she could get anything down and whining her distress. Sarah repackaged the food we’d bought for freezing or cooking and got it put away, taking periodic breaks to clean up barf. I burnt the first couple pancakes, but the rest were pretty okay. And yet everyone (except Aili) was perfectly calm. It was the perfect time to totally freak out, but nobody was seizing the opportunity. The only other incident came when Annaka’s turtle pancake allegedly peed on her plate, but that was a great joy to all and in no way cause for distress.
I awoke Friday morning at 5:00 (aka before the sun) to Sarah calling from outside my window. Baby Aili had barfed all night, so we decided to go back to Nalarigoo. I sat by Aili’s car seat to hold the bowl and catch her barf until we got into town, then I held her (which is not her favorite) while Sarah tried to find the doctor, and Aili’s barf mostly made it into the bowl but sometimes made it onto my dress (which is not my favorite). We decided the doctors must’ve either already left for the hospital, or they were still sleeping. So we went to one of the guest houses for breakfast, where we ran into a short term volunteer, who happened to be a pediatrician. She checked Aili over, but we still wanted to see Aili’s doctor. We dropped Karissa and Annaka at Dr. Hewitt’s house because his wife, Mona, is good friends with Sarah and the kids are all friends, and Sarah and I spent the morning trekking through the hospital finding doctors, getting blood work done (the test for malaria—it was negative), and finally getting Aili a shot for nausea in hope she could keep enough down to stay hydrated (which she did). It was a lot of trekking, mostly because Friday is a clinic day at the hospital, so many people had traveled far to see the doctors. We spent most of the day at Mona’s house watching movies, feeding Aili popsicles, and cleaning up popsicles barfed. Mona tried to convince me that this was all part of living in Africa, but except for the part where we camped outside the sleeping doctor’s room for a leisurely breakfast while we waited for her to wake up, it seemed more standard for life with kids than something specific to Africa.
I’ll save Saturday was Market Day and Sunday at church for another email and skip directly to Tuesday: Meeting [pause] The Chief. I mentioned that anyone who lives in the village has to meet The Chief, so I know you’re eager to hear how it went. First of all, hats off to Sarah for suggesting I change my skirt. Turns out ankle-length is best for meeting The Chief because everybody has to squat down in front of him and clap while he’s Greeting people. Well. Nathan came to get me Friday morning and we made the short hike into the village. Sarah couldn’t come because Annaka was barfing. We passed a few people Nathan knew, and he introduced me as his friend’s sister because, in this polygamist society, it’s easier if we have a clearly defined relationship. We sat for a bit to Greet some people Nathan knew (Greeting people is a big deal—that’s why I’m giving it the big “G”), and we ran into John with the Swollen Hand, who is doing much better. It’s funny to hear them talk. I have no idea what anybody’s saying, then abruptly they’ll start making noises and hand-motions that clearly mean “Alright, Nathan, translate what we said and tell the Stranger.” And Nathan dutifully obliges them. This time, they wanted me to know they’d heard I didn’t have a husband (oy vey), and one of them in particular was open to the job, just so I knew. Fantastic.
We finished up there and continued our way through the village. Nathan had briefed me on the squat-and-clap thing, and I was under the impression we were going to Isaac’s house (whoever Isaac is) to have a little practice session, lest I screw it up and off with my head and all that. We walked through a door into a rather large compound, but nobody actually told me we were at The Chief’s house. Someone started arranging molded plastic lawn chairs under the shade of a grass awning, and then The Chief himself (except I didn’t know he was The Chief), another guy (maybe he was Isaac), Nathan, and I all sat down. My first clue that this guy was The Chief was when he started talking and Nathan slid off his chair into a squat and started clapping. So I slid down there too and clapped until Nathan stopped. Then we all had some pito—Nathan and The Chief first, then when The Chief was finished he had his gourd refilled and passed it to me. Pito is beer. They make it in the morning and, as the day progresses, it gets more and more fermented. Pito is served in half a dried gourd, smaller than half a basketball (often), but larger than half a volleyball—just large enough, in fact, that I can’t quite handle it with one hand. Thankfully, since I am a Stranger, everyone is aware I need to become accustomed to pito slowly, so they only give me a little bit and not a full gourd. Oy. So The Chief and Nathan talked while I drank my pito, and eventually The Chief started making those translate-and-tell-the-Stranger motions. The Chief would like me to know that they like strangers here, so I am welcome. And if I would like to return to the U.S. and get more degrees (in what, I’m not sure; perhaps that was in the bit on conversation I missed) and then come back to Ghana, I could make my home here and I would be welcome. The Chief would even find someone for me to marry. Oy.
And now, another happy edition of What I’ve Learned so Far:
1. Pigs can be furry. I’m not talking about “I’m a mammal, you’re a mammal, mammals have fur” kind of fur. I’m talking about dirty, matted, full winter coat, “looks a lot like shag carpet” kind of fur. I know it’s not nice to stare, but it’s pretty unbelievable, and I have trouble looking away.
2. Holland is The Netherlands. Karissa started school together this week (3rd grade), and that’s what I’ve got so far. I also have hopes of memorizing my multiplication facts (better late than never, eh?) and getting a better grasp on American history (because what’s not fun about that?). I enjoyed reading the book Walk the World’s Rim by Betty Baker, and I recommend it if you’re looking for some easy reading that is also worthy.
3. Sometimes bats can sound like mice. Turns out what I thought must be Circus Mice living behind the ceiling above my bed are actually bats. Nathan was crawling around my attic installing fans, and he saw them. I’m very glad to have bats and not mice.
4. Mouse poop sweeps right up. I was baking bread on Thursday, and I went to the drawer for a measuring cup. A very cute mouse and I were very surprised to see each other, as evidenced by his scramble to flee and my very loud (and amazingly high-pitched) yelp. I retrieved (and washed) my measuring cup, but I left the drawer open (because who wants that kind of experience twice?) and proceeded with the bread. I was almost to the kneading stage with my hands caked in dough when Little Mouse tentatively crept toward the front of the drawer, nose and ears twitching, and rose on his hind legs to peer at me. If I decided to kill things or not based on how cute they were, he would’ve been saved. But that’s not how I operate (note as evidence the variety of the un-cute I have left alive). I tripped down my treacherous path toward the Esalas, calling to Karissa (who was outside), who quickly passed word to Sarah (who was in the house). They came at a sprint with some of Sarah’s house help, but by the time they arrived Little Mouse had wisely fled. They helped clean out my drawer and wash the dishes therein, and that’s when I discovered the poop on the counter (NOT where I was making the bread—the OTHER counter) and that mouse poop sweeps right up, no problem. In case you’re curious, I set my own ingenious trap for Little Mouse involving my large cook pot and a dollop of peanut butter. The idea is he’ll climb into the cook pot to get the peanut butter but won’t be able to climb back up the slippery sides. I’m pretty pumped about my trap; though I’d be more excited if it’d actually caught anything. I don’t think Little Mouse visited last night, as I saw no mouse in the pot and no poop on the counter. Once he’s caught, though, I thought I’d give him to The Good Guard Abulai, who guards our house during the day (well, “guards” is perhaps a strong word; he mostly just hangs out to discourage the wrong kind of lurkers and does man-work like cutting the grass, fixing stuff, and killing mice). The Good Guard Abulai eats mice (or, at least he did once I’ve heard), so I thought he might like to eat Little Mouse. You might think it’s unkind of me to have such thoughts about Little Mouse, but if you poop in my silverware drawer, I’ll have unkind thoughts about you too. In fact, you’ll be lucky if all I do to you is catch you in a pot and turn you over to Abulai.
5. Carrying stuff on your head is harder than it looks. I had my first go at it today on my way home from market when I carried a watermelon in a large head-pan. Sarah and I gave all the villagers a nice laugh when we loaded our Market Day purchases into head-pans and awkwardly perched them on our heads. Sarah isn’t so bad; she’s had a lot of practice. But today was my first day. We needed help to wind the cloth to make a flat place for the pans to sit on our heads, but then we were set in our Western clothes and sun-hats, sunglasses, and head-pans. I’m sure we looked ridiculous, and I needed my arms to balance the pan, but it was pretty fantastic.
This week’s Suggested Prayer Topics are mostly general. Thank God Aili and Annaka are well and no longer throwing up. I’m still healthy too, though I stopped brushing my teeth in bottled water this week and switched to water from the tap. We started Karissa’s schooling this week, and that’s going well. She was pretty whiney today but in general has been a joy to work with. You could pray against mice and snakes and all creatures undesirable. Nathan and some of the villagers are starting to get my English classes set up to begin in a week or two, so you could also pray about that.
Thanks for reading, dear long-suffering people! I’m off now to the Esalas to see Karissa and her friends (Mona’s daughters) who are in from Nalarigoo to visit. We’re all going to the Fire Festival tonight, and I’m in charge of fire-“proofing” everyone’s hair.
P.S. Saturday, January 19, 2008. When I went into my bedroom to sleep last evening, I found a single pellet of mouse poop on my bed—a message from Little Mouse, no doubt. Apparently, Little Mouse has ties to The Godfather. I admit I am distressed by this development—distressed, but not deterred. Alright, Little Mouse. It is on.