Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Happy Prayer Team Appreciation Day
Greetings! Today is Prayer Team Appreciation Day because I have declared it so, and if you’ll just take a moment to recognize it . . . okay, very good, it is now an internationally recognized holiday, observed in . . . I’m counting six countries off the top of my head. So Happy Prayer Team Appreciation Day, whether you’re on my email list yourself, receiving a forward, or visiting my blog, and know that I appreciate you.
I know you’re eager to hear the latest in my battle with the mouse mafia, so that’s why I’m sharing that news right off—also because I’ve a goal to organize this letter chronologically, and, since all the mouse days run together, I’m having trouble remembering which day I caught whom. I will tell you, though, that the mouse mafia is recruiting mice younger and younger these days. Sigh. Anyway, I’m still emptying the traps myself mostly, but rest assured I’m not actually touching any mice. If I can’t pry the trap open without getting my fingers too close to the body, I just find a stick to use as a lever. Because dead mice are okay, but the bodies look so lifelike . . . so mouse-like . . . and what if they’re just sleeping? Ugh. I’ve been keeping a mousetrap set on top of my bathroom cabinet to ward off the drug cartel, as I think I mentioned before. The other day when I went to the bathroom at 2:00 am, I found the trap full. Now, I’m not about to drag dead mouse bodies out to the field in the middle of the night. But what if another mouse comes in between the hours of 2 and 6, and this mouse, safe from the trap and the lure of dangerous treats, successfully attacks my Advil bottle—or worse, my Dramamine? Well. You can see why I had to move the trap from the kitchen and place it next to the full trap on the bathroom cabinet. I thought about moving the dead mouse off the cabinet so his body wouldn’t tip off any potential victims but decided against it. Will a mouse eat from a trap right next to a mouse dead in a trap? Why not make it an experiment? I put the loaded trap next to the full one and went back to bed. Then I got up, washed my hands, and went back to bed.
In the morning, my second trap was gone. Well. You know it wasn’t gone. I poked through the trashcan with a stick and finally found it. I poked the trap, and a furry grey leg seemed to jut back in a manner not likely caused by my probing stick. Oy. I felt like leaving the house immediately, so I took my laundry out to be washed, which took me past the Esala house. I cupped my hands around my eyes and peeked through their screen door. Nathan, Aili, and Annaka were having breakfast, so I explained the situation through the door. “So I’m gonna go poke him again,” I said, “and if he moves again I’m coming back over.” The situation screamed “man work,” see, and apparently Nathan thought so too because he and Annaka followed me over, where he used two sticks to extract a very living, very squeaking, mouse from my trashcan and went ahead and took care of the dead one too. The Twins, I’m calling them. Anyway, the downside is that I’ve been hearing that squeaking noise a lot and had previously been trying to attribute it to bats rather than mice. But now that I’ve heard an actual mouse make it, I won’t be able to live as comfortably with the delusion. Nathan, the Good Guard Abulai, and Sidekick Simone were crawling around my kitchen poking under cupboards the other day, and now they tell me they’ve placed some sort of ominous mouse-deterrent in my attic and under my kitchen sink. Apparently, the Something in the bundle of cloth emits a Something Else, which drives away the mice it doesn’t kill right off. And if I smell it too, I’m supposed to let them know. Oy.
On Thursday, we went to Nalerigu—that’s the day you received my last letter—and had another go with the Tailor. It’s not that there aren’t other tailors; it’s just that this guy makes really nice pockets. So. I wore the skirt he made before and pinched in the sides where I wanted the seams on my new skirts to be. He measured (a good sign!). The new skirts are perfect except for the dreadful elastic that is much too small and very squeezing. Oy. I hope to take them back next week so he can have a go at fixing the problem. Then, perhaps we will have overcome our communication difficulties, and he will make the most fantastic skirts ever. With nice pockets. Love the pockets. If you are interested in keeping events chronologically, you should keep this day in your mind as the day my pink shirt got stolen. Because while I was out getting nice pockets and emailing you, my pink shirt was at home getting stolen. But the story takes more days than just Thursday, see, and that’s why it comes later in the email.
Friday was Free Choice Friday, which means Karissa gets to pick what we learn for our final subject of the day. There are several catches concerning the educational value of the activity, but basically almost anything is fair game, and Karissa wanted to bake a cake. Fine. Cake is no problem. She found a recipe. Also fine; helpful even. I glanced over it and, while I didn’t actually know what “chiffon” meant, it looked pretty okay to me. A little dependant on having an electric mixer, but pretty okay. And that brings us to the first two Things I’ve Learned: 1. “Chiffon” is code for “slave six hours.” 2. If you’re going to make anything “chiffon,” you better make sure you either have an electric mixer or that the battery to your electric drill is charged. And that is not a joke. Oy. In preparation for Lemon Chiffon Cake, I asked Sarah about her electric mixer—namely, did she have one. Well, it broke, but no worries. Nathan’s eyes lit and he became quite animated as he described fitting a beater into his electric drill and how it worked just great if you didn’t mind having only one beater instead of two. The recipe also called for 2 Tablespoons of grated lemon peel and . . . well, Karissa and I took turns grating lemon peel for several hours while the other mixed ingredients. The battery to the drill was dead, so we ended up using one of those manual egg beaters—the shiny silver kind you stand straight up in the bowl and hold the handle with one hand while you turn the crank really fast with the other “until stiff peaks form.” Oy. But other than being really difficult, the cake was great. It baked up nice and fluffy just like all chiffon should and was delightful with the Lemon Glaze (which took 5 easy minutes). The following Friday, last Friday, we made sugar crystals: Stir the sugar into the water, hang a string down into it, wait a few weeks. Brilliant.
Sunday was my birthday, and that was completely fantastic. I was reading in the morning and looked up from my book to see a procession of Esalas parading down the Treacherous Path to my front door with a plate of coconut pancakes (delicious) for breakfast. Then they burst into the most exuberant and fabulous birthday song I’ve ever heard, ending “Happy, happy birthday, from Esalas to you!!” I was transfixed with wonder. And I’ll tell you, that song is definitely the gift that keeps on giving; I get happy giggles just remembering it. And, oh, I’m remembering it. We left for Tamale (say “TA-ma-lay” just 3 hours from our house, and you can probably find this one on your map of Ghana) after church, and my tendency toward motion sickness required pulling over and fishing Dramamine out of my bag—always embarrassing and hateful for me, but let’s all thank God for Dramamine. Amen. In Tamale, we stayed with our friends Paul and Ali Federwitz, who are also LBT missionaries. We celebrated my birthday with tacos and Birthday Punch and chocolate cake with chocolate icing and chocolate ice cream. I received many gifts including a head pan and lots of chocolate-based desserts from the Esalas and an apron made from a fun African fabric from Paul and Ali and their daughter Hannah. My virtual gifts included many insect- and mice-eating animals (from Karissa); and from my prayer team, a virtual mousetrap and death-to-mice cartoon, a virtual movie, virtual snow, and a pretend trip to New York for pretend personal cooking lessons with Rachel Ray and a pretend chance to appear on one of her upcoming shows (thanks, Sister). I also received a promise of homemade cookies from Donna V. My Ohio Church Sister and many fine blessings and wishes against mice and other farm animals, including my favorite, “May you have clothes that are well-fitting and beautiful, a rodent- and pest-free home, good food and friends, and a taste/tolerance for pito,” from Amy My Ohio Church Sister. Virtual gifts were a completely wonderful idea; thanks so much for sending them.
We did our grocery shopping in Tamale on Monday and left Nathan at a conference there Tuesday to go back to Nasuan. He caught a bus to Nalerigu Thursday, and we picked him up there.
And this is the story of how my shirt got stolen. Two Thursdays ago—the Thursday on which I sent my last email to you—I put my pink shirt out with the rest of the laundry, and when we got back from Nalerigu, all the laundry was done except my pink shirt, which was gone. We thought it had just been misplaced because, as Nathan said, “Who would steal a T-shirt?” Well. I searched, the Esalas searched, but we found nothing. Nathan asked the Good Guard Abulai about it, and the Good Guard Abulai took up the investigation, asking Wasila Who Does the Laundry and possibly others. The facts get a little fuzzy to me, but the Good Guard Abulai began to suspect a certain boy who is also rumored to have stolen other things in the past—including cows, which are the village equivalent of people’s life savings and rather a big deal. On the following Wednesday—the Wednesday before we went to Nalerigu to pick up Nathan—I was in my house, and I heard rude, angry yelling. The only word I understood of it was “Madame,” which is usually Sarah’s name and sometimes mine. So I peeked out my window to see who was yelling at Sarah so rudely, and I found it was the Good Guard Abulai. Through a bit of ingenuity that is also fuzzy to me, the Good Guard Abulai had caught the boy, who was standing before him looking dejected and pitiable while Abulai ranted furiously and gestured repeatedly with and to his rifle. Oy. Sarah called for me to come out. Seems the boy was actually wearing my pink shirt at that very moment. Oy. The Good Guard Abulai marched the boy to the village, where he was beaten rather severely, twice. Nathan went to The Chief’s house Friday to identify my shirt as mine and retrieve it. Now stealing is not okay. In fact, stealing is pretty lousy. Even so, I’m thinking a shirt is a pretty stupid thing to get two beatings over, although I realize my shirt is not the only thing this boy stole; it’s just what he got caught stealing. Everyone is happy he got caught; his beating was not about my shirt but about his lifestyle of theft. But what really pisses me off is that my pink shirt now has a hole in it. The guy had it for less than a week. Less than a week! And I got it back with a hole. I’m conserving resources here. And even if I weren’t, I can’t just go to the Walmart, now can I. I’m angry because the punk ruined it for everyone, and now no one can wear my pink shirt. Perhaps I should cut the guy some slack since evading Abulai through the bush and undergoing two beatings without tearing a hole in the shirt you’re wearing is probably quite a feat. Sigh. The upside is that I’ve been thinking more about forgiveness and how it feels to have someone sin against me. Because generally people sin against me in less obvious ways that I might not notice and, therefore, don’t really think about forgiving. But I totally noticed this guy. And the hole in my shirt. So there it is.
I spent today in Gbintiri (say “bin-TEER-ee”) because it is good and proper for me to Greet certain leaders in the Ghanaian church, and these leaders were in Gbintiri today. Nathan works in Gbintiri—it’s about 30 minutes past the Phone Tree—and with most of these people. I think. So all of us planned to go, but then we started thinking how much fun it wouldn’t be to sit around bored off our rockers all day, and we decided that only Nathan and I really needed to go, and everyone else might really enjoy staying home. So we did and they did, but I was only bored off my rocker a little because most of the time when I wasn’t actually meeting people and Greeting them there were chickens to watch, and watching chickens is one of my favorite things. So I met a lot of people, and we helped one of them transport large bags of grain to Nasuan, and we drove another home because his was on our way. I appreciate Nathan as a traveling buddy because he doesn’t let anyone marry me.
Let’s talk about my marital status as it relates to the people in Ghana. To the random villager, I probably look like Nathan’s second wife because I’m around and helping Sarah out with the kids all the time. Sarah says the second wife is basically the slave of the first wife. When Sarah and I are walking together and she’s carrying Aili, the people we pass often say that I should be carrying her instead. Often I am carrying her because Sarah’s back is more delicate than mine and I don’t mind the load, but perhaps it looks like I am carrying her because I am the second wife and it is my job. Awkward, eh? But there’s an upside (don’t you love it when there is?). Since men can marry lots of women, they’re never really “taken.” Women, however, can only marry one man. So if men think I’m already married, they won’t make comments about wanting to marry me themselves. So as long as Nathan himself doesn’t have this misconception . . . I’m deciding not to mind it all that much. Some men, however, aren’t random villagers with their misconceptions. Some men know us from church or something, and they know I’m not married. These men seem to enjoy announcing their desire to marry me. This, it seems, is The Best Joke Ever. The men I met in Gbintiri, since they work with Nathan, fall into this category. The Category of People Who Know Christina is Not Married and, Therefore, Enjoy The Best Joke Ever. Oy. Personally, I don’t enjoy the joke. I find the joke awkward, and I don’t know how to respond to it. Usually. But today, it was a real hoot. In my culture, when you meet someone, you generally say something conventional like, “I’m pleased to meet you.” So today when I met The Guy in the Grey Shirt (I met a lot of people; give me a break) and he skipped “I’m pleased to meet you” and went straight to “I want to marry you,” I found it unpleasant and couldn’t find anything polite to say. At this point, though, Nathan leaned into the conversation and very seriously informed me, “This man is a liar. He has a wife and children.” And Grey Shirt sputtered as if Nathan had foiled his plans, while Nathan launched into a very serious monologue about his duty to the truth since he knows Grey Shirt. And then Blue Lacy Shirt (picture a whole shirt made from white eyelet lace in a beautiful baby blue—and no, it did not look ridiculous) jumped in. If Nathan knows Grey Shirt, then perhaps Nathan could give us the name of Grey Shirt’s eldest child, for that would prove his knowledge beyond doubt. Nathan feels he could probably do that, if they will only give him a moment to think. Our anticipation is great as we wait to see whether or not Nathan really knows Grey Shirt, whether or not he can speak for his character. Nathan is focused in thought. He endures some heckling. Some discussion begins; is Grey Shirt’s eldest a girl or a boy. They debate. Nathan finally decides the eldest is a girl, Julie. Grey Shirt’s smile is triumphant. “My eldest is a boy,” he declares, “but you have not met him. You have met my second child, Marie.” Nathan maintains that he was close. Enter Yellow Shirt. Yellow Shirt is married; his wife’s name is Christina. He seemed to support the argument that Grey Shirt could not marry me because he has not married a Christina before. Not sure where he was going with that. They began loading bags of grain into the trailer, and each bag took three or four men to lift. The end of Grey Shirt’s bag slipped as they went to toss it in, and it didn’t clear the trailer’s edge. Nathan highlighted it as further reason Grey Shirt could not marry me. Because Grey Shirt is not strong. Nathan calls to me, sitting in the shade, from across the lot, “Did you see that, Christina?” I did. He turns back to Grey Shirt. “She saw,” he says. “She knows.” Oy vey.
In other fun news, Sarah and I have started taking walks in the morning. Mornings are not killing hot like afternoons, see, and so they are the best time for any sort of exertion. We start out just after 6:00 am and keep up a nice militant pace for about 40 minutes. We talk, I enjoy the cooler air, and we enjoy the sunrise, which is quite lovely. My goal is to have more energy by using some. Because I’m tired. And while it could be because of the heat or maybe some illness I don’t know I have, I’m suspecting it’s from inactivity of body. And walking across the front yard to the Esalas house and back every day is not actually a lot of exercise. It’s actually less than I get walking from my house to my car in America. So maybe this news is actually more fun to do than to talk about, but there it is.
And now, let’s continue with What I’ve Learned (recall that 1 and 2 were mentioned during my discussion on “chiffon”):
3. Some mice have tails that are thin and cord-like, but some mice have tails that are bushy like an atrophied squirrel’s tail. I don’t know why the difference. Most of my mice have had cord-like tails, but the Twins’ tails were bushy.
4. Plagues must be pretty bad. I have a small cloud of gnats in my bathroom, and it’s pretty unpleasant (and most of the reason I’m happy to live with so many spiders). I’ve also spent this week battling an infestation of fat juicy ants (similar to the ant I had in my soup awhile back). Even though I’ve tried to keep crumbs or other potential ant food cleaned up, my kitchen sink remains a reliable water source. At one point, I had a moderate-sized crowd of ants marching around my sink area, one even charging my bread as I sliced it (I yelled at him and called him “stupid,” but he did not get the hint). It was dreadful. Sarah gave me some ant poison, and I set up a few very successful ant “restaurants,” and now the problem isn’t so bad. Sarah is the Authority on Ants. Anyway, when God sent the plagues on the Egyptians, a few of them involved insects. “All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats” (Exodus 8:17). “Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharoah’s palace and into the houses of his officials, and throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies” (Exodus 8:24). “Locusts covered all the ground until it was black” (Exodus 10:15). Oy. That’s all. Just oy.
This week’s Suggested Prayer Topic concerns our upcoming trip to Ouaga (say “WAH-gah”) in Burkina Faso, which will commence next week on Friday and will feature Sarah, the girls, and me. I’ve heard good reports about Ouaga. They say the internet works all the time and is available right in your room. Grocery stores abound, filled with luxuries like strawberries and fine French foods. No one has mentioned milk, but I did hear talk of honey. On the other hand, hushed voices spoke of the kitchen I’ll have available to me, which is so stinky the flies come in and just die. This talk was quickly shushed by Marvelous Mona. “Christina is staying there,” she said. And the response was a sheepish chorus of, “Oh. Sorry.” Well. We’ll be in Ouaga for about 3 weeks for Karissa’s homeschool group. I’ll be teaching the 2nd grade class—3 students—for language arts, and then I’ll have another class of 3 different students for math. It looks like I have to make a plan for that and should not expect provided curriculum. We will also be doing a musical, of which I am not in charge, though I may be a helper. And when I return, I will provide you with insight regarding Ouaga: Land of Internet and Honey, or Home to the Horrid Kitchen, the Stink of which Even Flies Cannot Bear?