Thursday, February 7, 2008
Meet the Esalas
Greetings! I hope you are well.
A word about the internet: The connection is, well, mildly lethargic, if you will, to the point of stretching and stressing my patience beyond usual levels. When I tried to send pictures last week, for example, it didn’t work for rather a while, driving me to the point where I only wanted to curl up in a corner and rock. Fortunately, Marvelous Mona (the wife of Dr. Hewitt, who lives in Nalarigoo (which is actually spelled more like “Nalerigu”—much more dignified, I’m sure you’ll agree)) is a computer wizard and was able to shrink my photos to a send-able size. (Hopefully you saw them, and hopefully I can send more this week. But don’t go holding your breath about those videos I mentioned.) Also consider my frustration with adding contacts to my email group on hotmail. The connection is just too slow to proceed by clicking all the buttons until something works (my usual method), so thank you for your help. This slowness-of-connection is why I write these letters during the week and just send them on Email Day. I put the date at the top so we can pretend we’re using a regular post office that takes a few days to deliver the mail. And if you write to me (and you should), I will cut and paste your email into a Word document, I will read it during the week, and you will receive any reply on the following Email Day. Some of you seem concerned about writing too much for me to read on Email Day, so I just want to let you know that cutting and pasting a little is just as convenient as cutting and pasting a lot, plus it gives me letters to read during the week, so no worries. You see that I don’t have a problem writing upwards of 5 pages, so go ahead and follow my example, and be at peace.
I was thinking I should probably tell you a bit about the Esala (say “EH-sa-la”) family, that you might know who is who and thus enjoy stories in which they are featured more fully. Ideally, I would’ve done this before now, but I was only just meeting the Esalas myself, and so how could I do their introductions justice? Even now I may not do them justice, but since they and large portions of their family are receiving these emails, I will try to make something up that is at least plausible, that everyone might continue to believe the things I say.
Sarah is the mom. She is the quintessential Proverbs 31 woman. “She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.” If choosing fabric at market to take to the tailor counts, check. Plus also, she knits. “She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.” It’s a quarter mile to the village on Market Day, and the grocery stores in Tamale (say “TA-ma-lay”) are 3 hours by car: check. “She gets up while it is still dark;” every time Baby Aili cries: check. “She provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.” Check, check. “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.” Um, I don’t know about that one. “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.” Check. “She watches over the affairs of her household” (check) “and does not eat the bread of idleness” (check). “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Check, check, check. Sarah is a wizard in the kitchen—granola, yogurt, spaghetti sauce, dinner every night—and a wealth of information for the homeschooler—from how science fits together with history to where we keep the dictionary. Icing on the cake, she’s also laid back and adventurous. Her children are bored, whiny, and underfoot? “Go play in the mud!” she tells them. Annaka colors her entire face with every color of marker, leaving almost no white space (or, um, tan space)? Aili bites the end off the marker and dyes her mouth, chin, shirt, and both hands dark green? “Go show Aunt Christina,” she says, later claiming, “It was too good not to share.” And Sarah is always finding that silver lining. Aili has been up barfing all night and now we’re on an unscheduled trip to Nalerigu at 5 am the day after we were just there? “Well, we can get the gas I forgot to get yesterday.” (To be fair, I should also point out that we did not end up getting the gas because, well, we forgot again. But we did come home with a healthy Baby Aili, and that was, after all, the main goal.)
Nathan is the dad. He works with the Konkomba people, helping them translate the Bible into their language, so I guess he’s pretty smart. He’s been to seminary, so the villagers call him “Pastor,” and he seems to have good relationships with them. He loves his family. He plays with his kids and reads them stories. Yesterday, he fixed Annaka’s hair and did a very respectable job. He’s also good at “man work” like setting mouse traps and fixing the whatever, and he’s always willing to do it. A Lutheran through and through, he isn’t big on rules for their own sake. And he enjoys a cleverly humorous story.
Karissa is the oldest child; she’s a third grader. She loves books and all kinds of animals, especially horses. She likes learning all sorts of things, especially science and history. Her writing is absolutely fantastic, but she finds the task dull and tedious. She doesn’t care for much Ghanaian food, but she really likes pito (which is, after all, what counts socially). She has many friends in the village, and they play together at water fights and climbing trees to get at the fruit. She’s a wonder at carrying things on her head. She has good social skills in both cultures and is very responsible.
Annaka will be four in April, and she can tell you all about it. She likes telling stories and hearing stories and sharing with her friends. She likes coloring on her body with markers or whatever. Her dolls are usually reenacting the story of Jesus’ birth. She is very sweet and sensitive. She does not use the pronouns “he” or “she.” And if you talk with your mouth full at the dinner table, she will totally call you out.
Aili (say “EYE-lee”) is not yet two, and she is a small tank of independence. She can do just about everything herself, thank you, including make the quarter-mile hike into town. (But if she needs you to reach or lift something for her, she will let you know.) When we visited The Chief a few weeks ago and were served large portions of a soft drink unpleasant in both taste and thickness (and color and smell . . .), she chugged hers like a pro while Nathan commented, “Wow, look at her go!” She enjoys bath time, books, spooning just about anything from one place to the other, and rubbing gooey anything in her hair (papier mache, yogurt, whatever is at hand). She’ll play with you on equal terms, but don’t pick her up and try to haul her anywhere. She might suffer to hold your hand, but only if she doesn’t come across anything more interesting. Like a stick.
And “Aunt” Christina lives in a small house in the backyard. She enjoys giving babies papier mache and thinks anything involving a real live chicken running free is completely hilarious.
The Good Guard Abulai (say “A-buh-lie”) is the Esalas’ day guard. He hangs out during the day and does “man work” like lifting heavy things, taking out the garbage, and emptying mouse traps. He chases away things that should not be about, like noisy little boys and, um, herds of cows. And he can fix just about anything. He has a large number of children, but it’s hard for me to tell how many because they’re usually in a pack with cousins and friends. The Good Guard Abulai’s children are friends with the Esala children. The Good Guard Abulai’s house is the closest to the Esalas’, and when Nathan is out of town, the Good Guard Abulai sometimes camps outside at night just to make sure everything goes okay. He and his family are Muslim, so they don’t eat pork and he takes every Friday off for prayer.
Esalla (say “eh-SA-la”) is the Good Guard Abulai’s daughter and the Esala’s house girl. She does dishes and windows, sweeps and mops the floors (the Esalas’ and mine), and cooks Ghanaian food for lunch. And she smiles.
Simone is the Good Guard Abulai’s assistant. He comes in the mornings to help with the “man work.”
Wasila (say “wah-SEE-la”) does the laundry—the Esalas’ and mine. She comes early every morning to hand wash it in large round plastic tubs and hang it on the clotheslines. She comes back in the evenings to take it down and send it into the house.
And then there’s Dog. She belongs to the Good Guard Abulai, but the Esalas have sort of adopted her by way of their table scraps. She also chases cows.
The Esalas live in a house that is both Western and Ghanaian. The large Western portion has a kitchen with dining area that is open to the living room, a battery room that handles the electricity, a school room/office, and a back hallway leading to the girls’ room, the bathroom, and the parents’ room, in that order. The floors are concrete, the walls are painted, and the curtains match. The kitchen is built for major cooking with a fantastic amount of counter space and lots of cupboards. The living room sits eight easily, and the far wall is covered with full to bursting bookshelves. Off the kitchen, a screened-in patio leads to the Ghanaian portion of the house. Mud walls join a few small huts to form a round courtyard around a mango tree. I believe the Esalas use the huts to store garage-type things—except for one, which is good for storing chickens.
Now, last week, when Nathan came home from his business trip, he had two stalwart but mildly disgruntled chickens strapped to the back of his motorcycle, which, of course, looks absolutely ridiculous and thoroughly delightful at the same time, which, of course, is why Sarah forbade him to come into the house until she could take his picture. The chickens were gifts from various villages. Since chickens make good food, the Good Guard Abulai slaughtered them, but I didn’t watch because I didn’t quite feel like watching anything die just then. This week, Nathan came home with three chickens, White Chicken, Red Chicken, and Black Chicken. And they are even now still alive.
We had been praying for a safe and productive trip for Nathan all week. I think Thursday’s dinner prayer was my favorite, when Annaka prayed “for Daddy, him can have safe traveling . . .” She prayed on and on and on, first at great length for Nathan and then for her uncle and his upcoming wedding to Aunt Dorothy, that “him can have a wedding, and invite all him’s friends,” while her hungry sisters fidgeted. While her topic was always clear, individual points (or even sentences) were not. Her prayer was so adorable and heartfelt—and not nearly over when Karissa muttered loudly, “Amen” and Annaka, derailed but unperturbed, sweetly echoed, “Amen” in the middle of her thought.
In celebration of Nathan’s safe return, we cooked pizza sandwiches in pie irons over a fire in the courtyard for dinner Friday evening, so we were in perfect position to hear Dog freak out over the new chickens. Barking, barking, barking. Oy. And Nathan telling him to quiet, but I don’t think Dog’s English is very good. So the chickens were “herded” (as much as one can herd a chicken—perhaps I should say “surprised”) into the courtyard and Dog was banished from it. As dinner ended and dusk descended, it came time to put the chickens into their house for the night, which transformed the courtyard into a family dinner theatre. Sarah and I played the role of Audience. With a long stick in each hand and his arms spread wide, Nathan was the Chief Chicken Corraller. Karissa and her friend Barchisu (daughter of the Good Guard Abulai) were Deputy Corrallers. Annaka also participated, though as what I’m not sure. The Corrallers had the chickens surrounded and slowly closed their circle, inch by inch, gradually maneuvering the chickens back behind the mango tree and toward the chicken’s house. Suddenly, Black Chicken made a break for it; head down, he bolted between the Corrallers who, spread too thin, were no match for his flight and broke ranks to pursue. White Chicken and Red Chicken seized their opportunity to flee as well, and the Corrallers were back to square one. Undaunted, the Corrallers regained their formation and prepared to move in for their second attempt. Loud squawking from the chickens had disturbed the fruit bats living in the mango tree—or perhaps it was just that time of night—so now large bats darted and swooped in and out of the tree and around the courtyard, rustling the branches and adding to the, um, atmosphere. The Corrallers were more successful on their second attempt. Black Chicken and Red Chicken were secured, and only White Chicken remained at large—by running out the gate (Who left the gate open? And when?) and flying up to roost in the branches of a nearby cashew fruit tree. The Corrallers, perhaps concluding that two out of three isn’t bad, left off their pursuit, and our theatre was ended for the night.
You may be happy to know that I saw White Chicken walking about the yard foraging breakfast early Saturday morning. I know of no attempt to corral the chickens on subsequent evenings. Rather, I hear all three chickens have been granted autonomy to roost in the cashew fruit tree. There’s more than one way to house a chicken.
On Sunday, I caught a cold—probably from the Esala children (because who else is there?), who have had something on the order of faucet-noses for awhile now. Previously, I believe I had not been nearly sympathetic enough to their situation, but now, armed with first-hand experience, I am ever cognizant of their suffering and empathetic to their plight. I skipped church on Sunday in favor of sleeping. Then Monday, I worked with Karissa in the morning and left her with a pile of “independent work” around 11:00. I decided that chicken soup would be just the thing, so I thawed the chicken I’d been storing in my freezer (no, no one we knew). She was headless and footless but still had her skin, butt, and lots of guts, so I worked diligently to hack bits off (or out of) her slimy body while she had great difficulty sitting still. I couldn’t see her expression, but she seemed disgruntled and not at all cooperative. Finally done, I shut her in the large cook pot (recently retired from mouse trap/treat holding duty) and boiled the life out of her. After quite some time, I fished her out and began dividing her up: meat for me, bones for a little science/art project I read about, cartilage for the compost, and grit [read: guts I missed the first time around] for Dog. (The skin I gave to Sarah. She said the Good Guard Abulai and his family would appreciate it.) Then I put the soup on—broth, meat, carrots, onions, corn, garlic, ginger, salt—and packaged the rest of the broth for freezing (except, of course, what I spilled on the floor and half-heartedly mopped up; let’s all remember that I’m sick or I wouldn’t be doing this at all). I boiled the soup for an hour or so, until the carrots were soft. By this time, I’d been making soup pretty much all day, but I was feeling pretty good about it. I tasted the soup, decided it needed more salt, and was still chewing on little bits of chicken when I noticed a peculiar something in the soup on the stove, part of the same soup I still had in my mouth. What’s this? thought I. There, as if on a raft in a sea of chicken soup, lay a large, soggy, wilted carpenter ant, his plump little ant body, legs, and antennae draped limply across a large slice of carrot as it floated on the surface of the soup. And I with what felt like small bits of chicken still in my mouth. My chicken broth was also ant broth? Ant broth in my mouth. How . . . distasteful. I took his picture, of course. Then I very gently lifted the carrot-raft out of the soup with a fork and slowly pulled the ant body to the edge of the carrot-raft and off and into my sink with my tasting spoon. Did I then eat the soup? I hear you ask. Of course not. It still needed salt, remember. I added the salt, returned the carrot-raft, and boiled the soup several minutes more. Then I ate it. Did I check it constantly for ant bits as I went? Of course. Did I wonder at the color of the broth? Sure. And I even used the same ant-scraping spoon to eat it, though I did not realize it until later. But I had worked all day on that soup, and I was sick besides. I wasn’t going to throw it out just because it boiled an ant for several hours. Carrots, please recall, grow in the ground, so this was likely not the first ant with which that carrot had had contact.
Anyway, I’m feeling much better now. And I have a whole serving of chicken essence-of-ant soup to freeze for the next time illness strikes. So you see how this story has multiple upsides.
And as if that wasn’t enough, I even Learned Something this week:
1. Papier Mache is difficult to remove from hair. This includes arm hair, leg hair, eyebrows, and those wispy, feathery hairs that babies have. It is also, since we’re on the subject, not easily removed from cupboard doors or concrete floors. But it makes an excellent activity for Date Night with Aunt Christina, and Dry Season is just the right time to pull it off.
2. If you buy a watermelon on Friday, and you wait until Saturday the following weekend to cut it, you will find you don’t so much have watermelon as you have a now-punctured vessel of rot-water. This will be disappointing on several levels; in addition to missing the much anticipated joy of watermelon, you will face the unanticipated joy of mopping the floor.
This week’s Suggested Prayer Topics are mostly general—Karissa’s schooling, I’m not sick anymore, Nathan got home safely, and life in general. We are leaving for a two day vacation early Friday morning (February 8th), so you could pray that all goes well with that, especially since it involves driving to another country and all the visa joys that brings.
Hope all is well with you!
Friday, February 8, 2008
Meet the Esalas
Thursday, February 7, 2008