Sunday, June 28, 2009
I was greeted the other morning with a bright and early visit from Karissa. Okay, maybe it was just early for me. “Did you year the gunshot last night?” she asked. As a matter of fact, I had. She related the whole story—something about going outside with Mommy to tuck the chickens in for the night and finding a couple chickens that were already “sleeping.” Then Daddy came outside to check it out with Uncle Greg (he's new), and that's when they found the snake. A really poisonous one. So Karissa stayed inside with the kids while New Guy Greg stayed outside with the snake; “watch the snake and wait for backup” was, I believe, his job, and let's all welcome him to Ghana. Sarah ran for The Good Guard Abulai (aka the backup), and Nathan found a bludgeon (aka wiffle ball bat) to get started on the snake. The Good Guard Abulai shot the snake, except apparently he missed, but somehow the snake did finally become dead, perhaps due to wiffle ball bat related injuries, and another snake became dead a day or two later, plus also a rat. At my own little house, I caught one bathroom mouse in the trap the day before the snake, and Bernice The Cat dispatched a crunchy, hairless baby mouse from the living room floor the day after. Less exciting, sure, but to be preferred. It's good to be home, eh?
For the past month or so, we've been basically nomadic. We spent two weeks in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso meeting with Karissa's homeschool group. From there we drove south to Accra, Ghana for two weeks of meetings with our mission teammates. And now we are home.
Ouaga was delightful, if hot enough to die. Sarah spent most of the time sick with malaria or some other intestinal ailment, so probably she didn't have much fun. Also it was probably good I did not end up teaching a class so I could hang out with her in the mornings—or rather, hang out with her kids during her morning naps.
Aside from being hot enough to die, the real problem with Ouaga is that almost everybody speaks French and almost nobody understands English. Teacher Angela and I have the additional problem of having used all of our adventurous energy in moving to Africa and, therefore, having none left for exploring the city, especially in French. We found our solution in Teacher Robbie of England, who helps out another family in our homeschool group. When we met Teacher Robbie in Ouaga this past March, he was doing wild, adventurous things like taking taxis into the city by himself to “do a little exploring.” By himself. His penchant for activities such as this, coupled with his very excellent command of French, made him the ideal traveling buddy. When Teacher Angela and I also learned he enjoys shopping, we lost all qualms about drafting him as our personal tour guide and interpreter. The three of us rode all over the city in taxis, shopped for souvenirs at the artisan village, and ate “street food”—piles of beef, chicken, and probably yam with mustard sauce eaten with our hands instead of forks and washed down with coke (for Angela and me) or the hand-washing water (for Robbie, who argued that the water was not for washing and who, in hindsight, did not die after all (but cheers to his adventurous spirit)). We shopped in the rain at little booths along the street and bought trinkets from shysters who pulled tarps off their merchandise and swarmed around us, helpfully shoving beads and carvings into our faces, as the rain made us their only customers (and therefore, apparently, their only hope for the day). And we bought groceries at the ethnic store—which is almost like a grocery store in America (except the labels are in French and they don't carry real ice cream)—where we bought ingredients for Teachers Eat Dinner Night, which we observed among ourselves with the addition of Teacher Christine of Canada, and which consisted of tacos.
After shopping at the ethnic store, Teacher Robbie, Teacher Angela, and I looked for a taxi to take us back to the mission compound. I thought the two guys we talked to were taxi drivers, but it turns out they were only helping us find a taxi. They also tried to help us negotiate a price, but in the end we agreed to pay what the driver was asking because it was about the same amount we'd paid to get down there in the first place and because we wanted to go home. Taxi Finding Guy and his Trusty Sidekick didn't like our agreement, but in the end it wasn't up to them, and we left. When our taxi stopped at the first traffic light, who should we see but Taxi Finding Guy and Trusty Sidekick stopped next to us on a motorcycle. How nice. At the next light it was the same. And at the third. And at the fourth. These creeps seemed to be following us home, which was moderately unpleasant. The taxi dropped us at our corner, and TFG and TS chatted amiably as we all walked toward the mission compound together. It seems they didn't trust the character of the taxi driver and wanted to make sure we got home safely. We stopped at the gate to wrap up our conversation and encourage TFG and TS to move along, but they stopped with us and continued to chat. And chat. Teacher Robbie and Teacher Angela moved off toward our rooms with our groceries, but I stayed by the gate because TFG wouldn't go away, the mission compound's guard is by the gate, and I have a personal rule against letting strangers follow me home as if we were friends. I almost had to hate Teacher Robbie and Teacher Angela as they walked away while I listened to TFG invite the three of us to his house sometime and explain that he had a “good feeling about our relationship” he is sure I will agree. Oy. But then Robbie and Angela, having noticed I wasn't behind them, came back for me, which makes them my heroes and we can be friends again. TFG finally took the hint and took himself elsewhere, never to be heard from again. Robbie, who speaks very excellent French, found out later from the guard that TFG “got a bit tetchy” when the guard explained the mission compound's rules about guests signing in and being accompanied by their hosts while on the compound. Robbie thanked the guard and explained that TFG should not be visiting, as he had only followed us home. Oy. After this incident, each time I told my Esalas where we were going for the evening (you know, just in case they needed to go look for my body, I wanted them to know where to start), Sarah always made sure we were taking Robbie with us. Since Robbie only once tried to marry Angela and I off to a taxi driver (and for only $2.50), and especially because it didn't work (again, insulting), we always were.
From Ouaga, we drove to Accra. It was a long and arduous journey, of course. In Accra we joined Missionary Ali and Missionary Valerie and their families, plus Grandma Alvina, New Guy Greg, and Jim Brings Chocolate (he is in charge of us and came all the way from America), for our team meetings. We also enjoyed fantastic varieties of hanging out generally unavailable to us in the bush. For example, Missionary Ali got a care package full of Mary Kay products, which she shared with the female portion of the group. Then on Dress-Up Dinner Night, we got all dolled up with our new lipsticks and went out to a real actual restaurant and ate ethnic food with forks. Also in Accra, Karissa finished up fourth grade, which was a great accomplishment for both of us, and which brings us to my life and its current direction.
Since Karissa is finished with school for the year, my Esalas are not as in need of a teacher as they used to be. So. I am transferring to Missionary Valerie's family to finish out my time in Ghana as her domestic assistant. I'll be helping her in the house and with her four kids, Michaela, Josiah, Micah, and Joyanna, ages 6, 5, 3, and 1 (or thereabouts), respectively. Valerie is homeschooling her older two in kindergarten, so I'll be available for reading practice for them and for taking point on the younger two during school time. This means I'm moving from my little house in my Esalas' backyard to a new little house in Valerie's front yard in The Village Gbintiri (say “bin-TEER-ee”—The “G” is silent if you're foreign). The Village Gbintiri is about 30 to 45 minutes from my Nasuan Village; Nathan commutes there to the translation office, where he works with Missionary Valerie's husband, Alias Chuck.
In other news, Sarah came over this morning to inform me that a guy had come to greet me and was even now waiting on her front porch so I should come out. While not entirely common, neither is this situation unprecedented. To avoid embarrassing myself when faced with said guy, I quickly grilled Sarah concerning the particulars of the situation and gleaned the following: 1. We don't know this guy at all. We don't know his father or his family or anything about him. On the one hand, this saves me the inconvenience of having to remember anything about him and the embarrassment that comes when I fail. On the other, it does make one wonder why he's come. And, actually, this does make the situation unprecedented. Anyone who has ever come to greet in the past has had some connection to us. 2. Not only has he come to greet, but he's brought me guinea fowl eggs. Eh? 3. Furthermore, he has Nathan's permission for this greeting and guinea fowl egg-giving. 4. Nathan, by the way, isn't home. He's out working on the road that leads to our house. I told Sarah to tell the guy I was sick and couldn't come out. Ever the friend in need, she promised we could beat Nathan up later and dragged me from the house to her front porch, where she, The Good Guard Abulai, Guinea Fowl Guy, and I stood in a little circle having a very proper and somewhat stilted, multilingual conversation, which consisted mostly of “what is your name” and “thanks for these guinea fowl eggs,” and which looked a lot like a small game of telephone except no one was whispering. And in the end, we didn't even get to beat Nathan up. Guinea Fowl Guy had passed Nathan on the road, and Nathan, under the impression that Guinea Fowl Guy was merely delivering a gift of eggs to the family on behalf of someone else (i.e.: someone we know), gave permission for Guinea Fowl Guy to give the eggs to Sarah. Guinea Fowl Guy asked about maybe “another lady” at the house, and Nathan said no, only Sarah. So. Where I was trying to decide whether we should give the guinea fowl eggs to our chickens to see if they could hatch them (because guinea fowl are delicious) or whether I should just break the eggs over Nathan's road-building head, now Nathan is trying to decide whether we should give the guinea fowl eggs to our chickens to see if they could hatch them (after all, guinea fowl eggs are delicious) or whether he should give them back to Guinea Fowl Guy. Currently, Nathan is holding the guinea fowl eggs and The Good Guard Abulai is on the case investigating Guinea Fowl Guy's intentions. I will, of course, keep you informed of any further developments. Oh, the drama.
And now, What I Learned:
City meat rots faster than bush meat. I bought a kilo of ground beef in Accra and thought I'd have about three or four days to deal with it. It probably didn't help that we didn't have electricity—and, therefore, refrigeration—for a couple days in the middle, but it turns out that even with refrigeration, city meat goes in 24 hours or less if you don't cook or freeze it. Then you have the unfortunate task of figuring out how to dispose of meat too rotten even for dogs. I wussed out and asked Missionary Paul to ask the guard to take care of it. Man work, man work, man work. Yelck.
Bush meat still rots fast—especially if you don't refrigerate it. The Good Guard Abulai and Sidekick Simone went out to buy meat for Sarah the other day and came back with a huge pig's entire hind leg. It had started going a bit green around the edges, so Sarah wanted to get it cut up and cooked or frozen fast. She cut chunks off the bone and flopped them onto my cutting board, labeling them “green meat” or “pink meat,” and I cut them bite-sized and sorted them into their appropriate bowls. We started to bleach and cook everything, but I finally had to either leave or throw up, so I left Sarah to finish by herself.
Always remember to refrigerate your dinner. I made sloppy joes for dinner a few nights ago. When I was finished, I cracked the lid on the pot and left the leftovers on the stove, planning to tuck them into the fridge when they were cooler. When I found them still on the stove in the morning, I was understandably distressed. I snapped the lid down and lit the stove, thinking I'd just boil dead any bacteria and dinner would be good as new. That's when I saw the ant on the stove. Two of them, actually. “Gee,” I thought. “I wonder if any of those guys are in the pot.” So I pulled back the cover to find a mass of ants swarming in a solid layer over my fabulous dinner. They swarmed up over the sides of the pot and away from the hot stove as I scooped out stragglers and shook them into the sink. I boiled my dinner several minutes and combed it thoroughly for bodies before sticking it into the freezer for good measure. I will not mention what I ate for dinner last night, but I will say I ate very carefully and not without some internal turmoil.
Culturally appropriate reactions can get you killed if the locals aren't alert for your foreign stupidity. Teacher Christine, Teacher Angela, Teacher Robbie, and I were walking home from dinner. We picked our way along dirt roads in the dark without aid of streetlight or flashlight or any other kind of light All was more or less well until a car turned onto the road behind us and we panicked. First of all, we saw we were standing on large, uneven rocks, so we instantly lost confidence in our footing. Second, we saw we were standing smack in the center of the road. In America, people like to stick to the sides of the roads and leave the middle open for traffic. Based on Teacher Christine's reaction to our situation, I believe this is also the case in Canada; she, Angela, and I all began clutching each other's arms and freaking out at about the same time. Teacher Robbie, however, just sort of stared at us, which gives me reason to wonder about the practices in England. Anyway, Christine, Angela, and I immediately began fleeing together toward the side of the road. Then we remembered that in Burkina (and in Ghana) the safest place to be is in the middle of the treacherous pile of rocks in the center of the road. The sides of roads are generally smoother, so that's where the cars tend to drive. We scooted back to our rocks, the car drove down the far edge of the road, and we were saved.
Oh, the wonders of bleach. Recall the troubles I've had getting clothing that fits. Turns out, though, that there's a tailor in Ouaga who really can make anything really well. He made me a fabulous pair of capri pants with cute little flairs at the bottom of the legs and very handsome cuffs out of maroon cloth with off-white rabbits printed in delightful little groups here and there. When I walked out of the changing room wearing them, Missionary Susan snorted, Teacher Angela hid behind her hand and giggled, and Teacher Robbie called them “certainly eye-catching” in his dry little British accent. The point is they fit and they're fantastic. You can imagine my dismay, then, when I returned to my Nasuan Village and found that my bag had gotten wet and my evil green dress had bled dye on two of my bunnies. And not just any two bunnies either. Nope. These were the bunnies located just south of the center of my posterior. Butt-bunnies, if you will. I consulted with Sarah and we agreed my best bet was to use a q-tip to paint the bunnies with bleach and hope the green dye left while the maroon stayed intact. And lo, I found success, beheld the wonders of bleach, and the people rejoiced.
Today's Quote comes from Aili during one of our interminable car trips. She'd gotten carsick a few times, valiantly calling for a bowl each time before she vomited. We stopped to get gas, and Sarah thought Aili might like some Tampico (like a frozen sachet of orange popsicle), and maybe the rest of us might like an ice cream sachet as well (vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry). She was taking our orders when Aili corrected her: “I not sick. I want chocolate.”