Monday, May 19, 2008

Chicken Mothers

Thursday, April 17, 2008
Chicken Mothers

Dear Everyone,

Greetings! I hope you are well.

All is well here. Karissa’s schoolwork is finished for the week, excepting a spelling test she’ll have tomorrow. I spent this morning making yogurt and bread while she worked at my kitchen table, and now I’m just letting the yogurt bacteria flourish and the bread rise while I write this letter to you fine folks. The Queen of Multitasking, that’s me.

Nasuan is killing-hot as we eagerly wait for rain. The borehole behind my little house is busy at all hours since the river is dry and the rains have not yet come to wet it. I hear the people waiting to pump water when I go to sleep at 9:00, and I hear them when I wake at 5:30. Sometimes they peek in my windows (and not subtlety either), and sometimes I Greet them and they Greet back. This morning, as I sat in my living room dressed in shorts, t-shirt, and head scarf and suffered to be stared at, I couldn’t help thinking how strange I must look to them, having overdressed the top of me and underdressed the bottom. But Sarah says I can wear whatever I want at home without being inappropriate. She recommends I add a giraffe mask; she has one she can loan me.

This week’s mouse count is 2. It had been a long time since my last kill, but I remembered Annaka’s admonition to come and get her next time I had a mouse. She’d set the example for me a few days before by running with frantic, uncontained excitement to bring me to see the mostly dead mouse baby Sarah had found in the backyard. So when Sarah and I returned from our walk last Thursday morning, I dutifully asked after Annaka. She was still asleep, but Sarah sent Karissa to wake her and tell her Aunt Christina has a dead mouse. We’d scarcely had time to wait when Annaka spilled out of the front door with a purpose and a raging bed-head. The Esalas are ever conscious of local fashions, and Annaka showed it clad only in her underwear. Karissa and Aili joined us, and we traipsed back to my little house for the happy joy of watching Aunt Christina fish the mouse body up out of her bathroom sink and toss it into the field. All of you who were concerned about our lack of morning cartoons can rest easy. Then I bleached my toothbrush, which was tilted at a slightly different angle than it had been the night before. Better anal than ominous; that’s what I think.

Friday was Market Day. Karissa took my list and Sarah’s and went ahead with her friends, leaving Sarah, Annaka, Aili, and I nothing to do at Market but roam, Greet, and drink pito. Since we don’t need much money for that, we didn’t bring much. We had pito with Madame Elizabeth; I still can’t drink a whole gourd by myself, so we shared. A random inebriated man asked Sarah about the Stranger with her, but Sarah said I’m not a Stranger anymore. So he bought some pito for the teacher, and I had to decide whether to have the fermented (risky because I’d had some already, but easier to share around if it turns out sharing is appropriate) or the unfermented (guaranteeing my ability to walk afterward, but also guaranteeing I’d have to drink it all myself). I got the unfermented because I’m a wimp, and Sarah helped me finish. Annaka was hungry, so we went to find her some fish. We borrowed a pot from Madame Elizabeth, and Sarah, since Annaka picked “heads” over “tails,” bought three fish heads. Annaka put two in the pot on her head and munched on one as we walked. We found the perfect jeans for Sarah, just $1.50 from a man selling used clothing. We found a bed sheet. We found earrings for Aili. We found many other lovely and unexpected luxuries, but we were fairly out of money—$5.00 goes fast—so we decided to go home. Sarah was lamenting not finding anything suitable for dinner at Market and explaining the unreliability of the meats-on-a-stick we were passing, which, she was saying, are pretty good other places—places like Ouaga—but generally disappointing in Nasuan. At this point, we noticed that the surrounding amusement was apparently directed at us; we’d walked right past Nathan without noticing. He was eating a meat stick. He said it was good. We were interested, and he seemed to indicate we might also enjoy a meat stick. He even picked out the ones we bought. Now, you know I like Nathan. And I don’t want to speak ill of him. But I think it’s impolite to help someone buy a meat stick on which some of the meat is still furry without warning them first. Oy. I’m not above eating furry meat. Nathan was right; it was really good. But we are from the same culture, and I think he could’ve tipped me off. Sarah had mentioned that the meat might not be “meat” in the strictest sense, so I was somewhat prepared for the bit of liver and the ambiguous grey blob of squishy chewiness. The great big hunk of bone was more of a surprise, but mostly because I couldn’t figure how they’d gotten the stick through it—and because that’s the piece I’d given to Aili (and she promptly gave back). Since she didn’t appear to have really eaten any of it, I just popped it into my own mouth, which is when I made my discovery. I had just decided I couldn’t make it out of town with that thing in my mouth when Sarah commented she had a bit in her mouth she didn’t want to swallow (and here she turned to look at me just as I spat the huge hunk of bone into my hand) and she was waiting to get away from all these people before she spat. Classy, eh?

Asala the House Girl is still not feeling well. Some days she comes over and tries to work, but she generally has to go home again before she’s finished. You probably don’t think of The Bush, Africa, as a land of luxury, but I’m telling you having someone to help with daily chores is really quite spoiling, and it doesn’t seem to matter that we really need the help. Let’s say, for example, you wanted to have strawberry yogurt with granola for breakfast. You’d have to know far enough in advance to buy your strawberries when you were in Ouaga during strawberry season. You’d bleach your strawberries, then trim their tops and keep them in your freezer. You’d have to make your yogurt from the culture you keep on hand in your freezer, which would take most of the day for the bacteria to grow. You’d also have to make your granola from oats you bought in Tamale. Then everything is going to need sugar if you want it to taste like it does in America, but sugar is available in Nasuan. You can buy it at Market, which happens every six days. Now imagine that Nasuan doesn’t keep any of its dirt under concrete; imagine dirt just flies around wherever the wind takes it, and imagine one of the wind’s favorite places is all over the floor of your house. It might be helpful, don’t you think, if you had someone to come sweep and mop your floors and wash your dishes. But I mentioned we were spoiled. Since Asala is sick, the Esalas and I are doing our own housework. (That is, we’re doing whatever housework is getting done. Just now, I’m ignoring the sand on my floor in favor of writing to you.) But, when I’m mopping the floor to make my mom proud, I don’t think “Oh, now I’m doing some housework.” I think “Oh, now I’m playing house girl.” Pathetic.

As of last week, Black Chicken and Red Chicken are now the proud moms of roughly 10 or 12 baby chicks. And, if you don’t count the one they pecked to death, the violently homicidal moms of one chick. They hate him. They pecked a large bald spot on his little fuzzy head, which the Good Guard Abulai blacked with charcoal, and they tried to peck right through his belly with their big ferocious beaks, but Sarah shooed them away with her stomping feet and her angry eyes. Karissa and Annaka have adopted him, and, considering the standard they’re up against, they’re the best chicken moms Rejected Chicken could ever hope for. They’ve named him Percy, and he’s lived a full 24 hours in their care, which, I think, bodes well for his future. Falling Star the Baby Chicken is also in their care, and he’s doing well too. I’m not entirely sure on the details, but it seems a few of the eggs failed to hatch and Nathan, thinking they must not have been fertilized, gave them to Sarah for cooking. Waste not, want not, eh? Oy. Well, she thought they’d been outside in the heat rather long, so she wasn’t so sure about using them, so she just put them on top of the refrigerator with her other eggs. Then she heard cheeping, thought Karissa had let Percy wander into the kitchen, but looked down and saw “Percy” was the wrong color. One of the eggs had hatched on top of the fridge, and Falling Star was chirping on the floor.

And now, What I’ve Learned:

1. If you ignore some things, they really do just go away. Sometimes Aili comes to my little house for a snack, which she typically crumbs admirably onto the floor. And I mean to clean it up, really I do. But I get distracted. And the next thing I know, an army of ants has swept under my front door and hauled off the mess. Convenient, eh?

2. I can walk home from church in my 3-inch heels carrying Annaka on my shoulders without twisting my ankle. (I’d promised to carry her home from Market, but she ran off with her friends instead, so I decided carrying her home from church would be an acceptable substitute). A quarter mile down somewhat sketchy dirt trails. Amazing, I know.

This week’s Suggested Prayer Topics are Asala, who still doesn’t feel well, and our upcoming Month of the Nomads. We’ve decided to spend the whole month of May traveling, see, because Father Abraham had many sons and we are some of them, and because living in houses is for sissies. Sarah’s brother is getting married, so she and Aili will begin by traveling to the Motherland (Wisconsin, actually). In an effort to maintain the height of propriety, I will be spending that time with Paul and Ali Federwitz in Tamale; they’ve just had a new baby, so possibly I could be of some use to them. So we’re all leaving for Tamale on or around April 29th or 30th. Nathan will take Karissa and Annaka back to Nasuan to live in their house (wimps), where he will, I’m sure, enjoy acting as my substitute teacher. Sarah flies back into Tamale about two weeks later, so Nathan, Karissa, and Annaka will return to retrieve her and Aili at the same time they get me. Rather than return to Nasuan, we’re off to Ouagadougou again for two more weeks of pretend school. Karissa and I will finish pretend school on a Friday, leaping immediately into the Esala SUV, which will be waiting with the motor running to whisk us off to Accra (yes, that’s the opposite end of the country), where Sarah and Nathan have some sort of conference for a week or so. We plan to return to Nasuan shortly after the first week in June, but I’ll let you know. I mention this also because I may not be able to write as often as I’d like while we are traveling, so you need not worry if you don’t hear from me. Do, however, continue to harass my sister when you see her at church. She loves that.


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