Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wildlife, At Home and Abroad

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wildlife, At Home and Abroad

Dear Everyone,

Greetings! I hope, as I always do, you are well.

I am happy to say the Esalas and I have returned to Nasuan from our vacation in Burkina Faso without undue distress, and I am now sitting comfortably—okay, it’s really hot, but other than that I’m comfortable—in my living room smelling the delightful smells of bread baking. Life is good.

We left early Friday morning and drove almost forever. Nathan and Sarah had some sort of paperwork to do on the way—international drivers licenses renewal and car registration, I think—before we could legally drive ourselves into the next country. It took Nathan and whatever officials a few hours to complete this paperwork, while Sarah and I made good use of our time getting photos taken of Aili and me for visas needed that day and in the future. We also made peanut butter and honey sandwiches for our picnic lunch and had one of the back reflectors on the SUV replaced. And while I did stay in the shade almost the whole time, it apparently wasn’t enough as I acquired my first Ghanaian sunburn on both shoulders and the back of my neck. Here in the land of the Five-Minute Sunburn, I’m only surprised it didn’t happen sooner; I lasted just over a month, and that’s pretty good for me. So we proceeded to the boarder and crossed without incident. My favorite part was when the customs official in Burkina Faso apologized quite profusely and theatrically as he trimmed my photos down to the appropriate size. He hissed with sympathy and cut gingerly, making overly dramatized please-don’t-be-angry gestures—about what I’d expect from someone with a great fear of needles himself administering a shot. It was a hoot.

Then we were through customs and on our way to Nazinga, Burkina Faso. (For this one, say “nah-ZING-ah;” it helps if you put a little oomph in your “zing.”) We went to the game ranch in Nazinga, which is a magical place where people aren’t allowed to harm the animals (though I heard Dr. Hewitt allegedly killed a scorpion; probably best if you don’t pass that on). So the animals come to the game ranch and fill it up with themselves and their babies, and the humans can drive around and take their pictures, and this we did. We saw elephants, baboons, and crocodiles, but my favorite was the mama warthog and her three little babies. Because who has ever seen anything as wondrous as a warthog before? Absolutely amazing. I took her picture; don’t even worry. The many deer-like creatures were less impressive, perhaps because they look so much like, well, deer; they included gazelles, antelopes, and something that looked a good deal like a deer but had the thick build of a donkey; in keeping with the tradition of Katie My Sister’s “shoats,” Sarah suggested we call this one a “deerkey,” which we were only delighted to do. We ate antelope for dinner, which was very good and Sarah says tasted like venison, but I can’t comment because, while I’m sure I’ve eaten venison before, it was a long time ago and I can’t remember what it tastes like. Possibly like antelope; well, now I’ve got an idea. I’m not sure how antelope meat was acquired if we’re not allowed to kill the animals. Perhaps visitors aren’t allowed, but the rules don’t apply to the staff (if any of the staff could’ve understood us—that is, if any of us spoke French even passably—I might’ve asked). Or maybe we’re just looking the other way as in the case of Dr. Hewitt’s scorpion. Anyway, we drove around with a guide and took pictures, then we sat in the observatory overlooking the watering hole and took more pictures. There’s something especially fantastic about having an elephant in your backyard. Something that drives you to want to take a picture. “Did you really take 96 pictures of elephants?” I hear you ask. Of course not, I answer. There was a warthog, remember? So while most of my 96 pictures are indeed of elephants, all are not. And I only selected nine for my photo website, so fear not: You are spared.

We left Nazinga late Sunday morning and drove back to Nasuan, which took almost forever. At customs in Burkina Faso on the way home, I became convinced I need to learn French immediately. (Because being unable to order dinner only suggests a need to learn French; fumbling through customs makes the suggestion a bit more intense.) The office held two desks, a few benches and chairs, and a refrigerator box (I dunno. It was there). Nathan and I sat before the desk of a pleasant enough French-speaking man while Sarah, Karissa, Annaka, and Aili waited in the car (apparently, you don’t actually have to be present to go through customs; just send in your representative with a huge stack of passports, and that will do it). I understood a little from context, expression, and similarity to English, but I was mostly clueless. Nathan’s French is better than mine, and he went first with his passport stack. The most difficult part seems to be indicating whether you are leaving or entering Burkina. Oy. When it was my turn, the customs official used English to ask if I spoke French. I nearly exhausted my French lexicon by replying, “Bonjour,” which highly amused him. He then spoke to me sometimes in French and a little in English, and I apparently wasn’t getting it even more dreadfully than I thought because at one point he turned to Nathan and asked, in French, “Does she speak English?” Oy. Then Nathan tried to leave to get us something to drink—a plan I endorsed, as I was perishing—but the customs official wouldn’t let him leave. Though I didn’t quite catch the words, his tone and expression said “Don’t even think about leaving me alone to deal with this mute girl.” Oy again.

But we made it out of Burkina and into Ghana where the customs people speak English, and all was well. When we arrived in Nasuan, my homecoming, unfortunately, was not all I’d hoped it’d be. Sigh. As has become my habit, I checked my mousetraps immediately upon arrival. In the kitchen, empty. In the bathroom, um, apparently gone. Wait, I found it. I’d left it on top of the bathroom cabinet to distract Druggie Mouse just in case he returned and made an attempt on my new Advil, and lo! There lay the trap, upside down on the center of the bathroom floor, clutching a mouse so fat he made Crafty Glutton look petite, and taking up nearly the whole aisle to the toilet. Oy. The war on drugs is intense. I needed to pee, but there was no way I was stepping over that. I left the bathroom to continue the coming-home process, and that’s when I noticed my back door was open—you know, the door that is always locked and now isn’t. Ugh. Ugh and oy. I quickly checked to see if anyone was in my house or if anything was missing, but I found neither people nor other creatures, and all I found missing was the canned grapefruit I’d been using to prop open my bedroom door. I was overcome by a desire to be at the Esalas’ house instead of mine, and, really, who can blame me? So I went and explained the situation to Sarah and Nathan. Just as I suspected, this was more “man work,” and Nathan went right over to check it out. Whew. After a few minutes, I was feeling much better and followed. Nathan had secured the door and checked the lock, and all seemed well. (Discussion with the Good Guard Abulai and Sidekick Simone the next day revealed that the wind sometimes blows that door open if it isn’t latched correctly, so we, of course, made a point to latch it correctly. As my grapefruit seems to be the only thing missing, we suspect it was captured by an opportunistic child passing by who saw it through the open door; there are rather a lot of children in the area, and they aren’t generally attended past the age of five. They are, however, often peeking into my house. But I am usually there, and when I Greet them, they answer back and go away.) Nathan then turned to Druggie Mouse and made a noise of surprise—perhaps at Druggie Mouse’s girth (I’m telling you, it was amazing). When he lifted the mouse trap, Druggie Mouse’s body remained sticking straight out from it, which was, of course, pretty disgusting even as it was a wonder to behold. Nathan reset the trap and replaced it on top of my bathroom cabinet.

And Tuesday morning, we’d caught another mouse. This time, the trap and body had flipped off the cabinet and nestled down into my bathroom trashcan. Took a bit of hunting to find, it did. Oy. And, well, it happens I was feeling emotionally adventurous that morning, so I decided to acquire a new life-skill and tackle mouse-disposal myself. (That’s right, Friends: Girls can do “man work” too. Sometimes. A little.) Apparently, we toss the bodies into the field. No problem. I reset the trap—my first mouse trap ever—and replaced it on top of the cabinet, and Wednesday morning, another hit! I must say I’m feeling pretty triumphant about this one because I set the trap myself. Very triumphant, actually. And a little gleeful—perhaps even to a distasteful degree. So even though I have no intention of posting dead-mouse pictures on my website, I won’t deny that I took them. Karissa came over and photographed the whole mouse-disposal process—pulling the trap down and even the hand-washing at the end (“so your mom will not be scared,” she said). Her pictures look so fantastic; they’re almost like a how-to manual, and there I am out in the field looking like Wilderness Woman. Oy. I think I may send a couple pictures to Katie My Sister, so if you’re interested in seeing dead-mouse shots, you can contact her at

In other wildlife news, my house is slowly filling up with spiders, such that I decided if they numbered among the triple digits I was spraying most of them with poison. The problem is the thought that my house contains enough insects to sustain that many spiders, see, because I really didn’t think I had that many bugs—I mean, other than the minor plague of gnats in the bathroom and the ant colony developing around the kitchen sink and the occasional cricket. And a few beetles in the shower. And sometimes a fly or mosquito. Okay, so maybe I’m not seeing the bugs because the spiders are eating them. Anyway, I was moved to count the spiders, and Karissa was pleased to help me. This was the inventory:

In the living room: 10.

In the bathroom: 13

In the bedroom: 4

Small spiders with long legs: 26

Fat, juicy spiders with striped legs: 1

In all, there were 27 spiders. So not nearly as many as I’d thought. And that means everybody can stay, even the juicy spider, who lives under the bathroom cabinet and is strongly suspected to have killed her web’s previous inhabitant, usurping his home and tossing his dry and crusty body to the bathroom floor. (We don’t have cable in the bush, in case that wasn’t obvious). Actually, the spider that really irritates me is the one who perseverates in building his web across my toilet.

Let’s talk about my toilet for a moment (if you don’t mind; bodily functions are an important part of being a missionary). A part of my bathroom wall juts out box-like into the room to form a sort of shelf with a hole in the middle that’s been fitted with a toilet seat-and-lid combo. Lifting the lid, we see the box conceals a pit far deeper than the box should allow (the magic of the box, if you will). It is not the flushing sort of toilet, see. Stuff just goes down and disappears into the void. But so far, it’s working out. I used to keep a flashlight by the toilet so I could peer down and see who I was peeing on, but there was never anybody interesting down there. Except this spider. Sometimes I knock his web down with a broom, and sometimes I just pee on it. Well, what would you? But yesterday, I lifted the lid and found a small gecko, who scurried around and under the seat. That’s when I discovered I am not psychologically strong enough to pee on a gecko, so I went to the Esalas’ house and used their toilet. Later when I had to pee again (it’s Dry Season; we drink a lot), I lifted the seat and then the lid to check for the gecko. As I raised the lid, I saw his little body lose its hold and plummet into the depths of the toilet pit. Oy vey: Swamp Lizard. Turns out, I can pee on Swamp Lizard. (Let me know when this becomes too much information.)

In an effort to pull this email up out of the, um, well, anyway, I’ll end by recounting my trip to market on Monday, where I drank more pito and purchased many beautiful fabrics in preparation for another go with the tailor, in addition to purchasing sugar (because I was out). I’ve mentioned before that it’s customary to Greet people when you meet them, and Market Day is a big day for going about Greeting people. You might just Greet people as you run into them, or you might make a special point to go where they are to Greet them. Sarah and I made a special point to greet her friends Madame Elizabeth (featured in previous emails) and Madame Yah, Isa’s Wife. But we also came across people and Greeted them too. Now you probably suspect, and rightly, that my command of the Konkomba language is not so good. I’ve learned a few Greetings: I can ask about your morning, evening, or Market Day, is it well, is it cool, or is it sweet. It’s like a Greetings Grab Bag—mix and match, if you will. I can initiate them or respond. But it happens, of course, that people don’t always use exactly the phrase I know. They might make only half their sentence from my grab bag and ask if my evening is fine (so I would understand only “evening”) or ask if my afternoon was well (so I would only understand “is it well?”). Fortunately, the proper answer is usually the same, so I can still respond in a way that, I think, is quite grammatical and makes sense to the listener. They’re just Greetings, after all. We Greet people because we like them, not because we have any particular information to share. My general method, then, has been to listen carefully for key words from my grab bag and then give back the answers when I hear them. Well. Some guy Greeted us at Market; Sarah knew him, I did not. He Greeted Sarah and then turned to Greet me. I recognized some words from my grab bag. I thought the conversation went something like this:

Him: Market Day Greetings! Has your day been sweet?

Me: Yes, it has been sweet.

On our way home from Market, however, Sarah (whose Konkomba is better than mine) revealed that our conversation had actually gone like this:

Him: How is your husband? Is he sweet?

Me: Yes, he is sweet.

Well. All I can think is what kind of question is that to ask someone who clearly doesn’t know what she’s talking about? Well.

I’ve already mentioned a lot of What I’ve Learned, so here I’ll just recap them:

1. The wonders of warthogs.

2. How to set and empty a mousetrap.

3. The circumstances under which I may or may not pee on a gecko.

This weeks Suggested Prayer Topics are:

1. We’re traveling to Tamale (aka “civilization,” complete with grocery stores, friends we know, and possibly internet) early next week probably—perhaps Sunday or Monday—because Nathan has work there (or thereabouts) and the rest of us enjoy visiting civilization. It’s a three hour drive there, and then, of course, we’ll come back.

2. Sometimes I’ve been having trouble sleeping. I mean, some nights I sleep fine, and other nights I don’t sleep at all or I wake up at some dreadful time like 3:00 am. This doesn’t seem to be related to anything like how tired I am, what time I went to bed, or whether or not I’m thinking about mice or unlocked backdoors.

So that’s what I have for this week. Looks like about five pages, so hats off to you for persevering to the end. I’m still hoping all is well with you and that you’re finding your life in Christ abundant.



Amanda said...

There are some wonderful mouse traps that are plastic, and more like a loaded chip clip, than a metal and wood mouse trap, would you like me to send you some? - they are very girl friendly, and you never have to touch anything that a mouse touched, even to reset them.

Ann McGlynn Hartje said...

Christina --

You don't know me from a hole in the head, but I am friends with Sarah's friend Danna, who lives in Alaska (they both have a flair for finding interesting places to live). I however, live in relatively boring Iowa.

I will just cut to the chase: I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!! PLEASE KEEP WRITING.