Baboons, Crocodiles, and Public Transportation
I’ve spent the last week or so on vacation exploring the wilds of Africa—or at least, the wilds of northern Ghana. Teacher Megan says that we are wild, adventurous women. And while I’m still not quite sure how that happened, I cannot help but agree with her.
Teacher Megan teaches missionary kids in Togo (that’s the country to the right of Ghana), and Teacher Angela teaches missionary kids in Nalerigu (the town with the hospital, where we use the internet). We hung out a bit in Ouaga at our students’ home school group; during said hanging out we decided to take a vacation to Mole (I know you want to say “mole” like the little creature, but you will sound more education and be actually correct if you say “MO-lay”) to see elephants. In my last email, recall that being summoned to Nalerigu for said vacation without accompanying details of our plan was a source of stress for me. Nevertheless, we all met in Nalerigu on Thursday as scheduled.
We acquired two peace corps workers living in Nalerigu, Carolynn and Caroline, and Issahaku the Driver, and went to Mole (keep saying “MO-lay”) with no trouble. We saw elephants, warthogs, monkeys, and many deer-like creatures. Perhaps you recall my previous vacation to Nazinga, Burkina Faso, where I also saw all these animals. The differences between the Nazinga animal reserve and the Mole reserve are 1. Nazinga had more elephants, but Mole had more warthogs and monkeys, 2. In Nazinga, we had to drive out and look for the animals, but in Mole the warthogs grazed among the people just like the goats do in my village, and a baboon came right up to our hotel room window and peeked in as if he were visiting us at the zoo, and 3. In Nazinga we had to stay in the car while driving out looking for the animals, but in Mole our guide carried a big rifle and let us get out of the car to see the elephants closer.
On Sunday, we left Mole. The group left Teacher Megan and I at Missionary Ali’s house in Tamale to continue our vacation. We rode in taxis and shopped in the market (two things I never do), ate fried yam, and hung out with Paul and Ali. I started my grocery shopping for next month and my Christmas shopping. And Megan and I only almost died once.
We’d gone to the bus station to see about getting tickets to Bolga for the next day. The station was busier and more crowded than a market in full swing with vendors keeping shop or selling off their heads, travelers pushing toward buses, and wall to wall taxis, buses, and motorcycles cutting their way through the crowds. We were too overwhelmed to even recognize the ticket office, so we made our way to a fairly calm group of people waiting sandwiched between two buses and asked them about getting to Bolga. We learned we could not purchase advance tickets but that the bus left at 8:30 the next morning and we should be early if we wanted a seat. As we spoke, the man who was our primary source of information (and who, upon further acquaintance with the busing system, I think must’ve been the conductor) took my elbow and pulled me a bit closer to the group. I glanced behind me to see the previously parked bus was beginning to pull out and was getting closer to our group and the bus we stood against. We talked a bit more, and he pulled my elbow again. The bus was getting closer. He pulled my elbow again, and again, until the whole group plus Megan and I were standing shoulder to shoulder, pressed against one bus while the other closed in on us. It was absolutely ridiculous, but Megan and I were the only ones who seemed at all surprised, as evidenced by no one in the group even mentioning that the driver might be an idiot with poor judgment in the health-and-safety area. It’s fortunate Megan and I had already gathered the information we needed because, once we were free of eminent death-by-buses, we discovered a need to flee the scene immediately. I found out later that Megan’s trauma was compounded by the man saving her life pulling her in by the butt, rather than the elbow.
But we caught the bus the next day (the 8:30 bus left at 10:30) and made it to Bolga, where we stayed at the Comme Ci Comme Ca hotel, which lived up to it’s name. Our main goal in taking the bus to Bolga was to be within a taxi ride of Paga, where the crocodiles live. Since we weren’t sure how to find the crocodiles, we went to the hotel reception area, where Megan summoned her inner 4-year-old and announced, “We want to see the crocodiles. We want to pet them.” It worked admirably. We learned how to take a taxi to Paga and how much it should cost, and then a vendor who sells overpriced trinkets to tourists offered to “send” [read: escort] us to the taxi station. So I bought five overpriced bracelets from him for his asking price of four, and he showed us how to weave through the marketplace to the taxi station and helped us get a taxi to drop us at the crocodile pond in Paga. We toured a sketchy village, petted a crocodile, got lots of pictures, and caught the same taxi back to the station in Bolga.
We weaved our way back through the market toward our hotel, Megan, who was in charge of us not getting lost, calling out her landmarks as we passed them—tomatoes, lots of fish, lots of babies, dirty pig. Our hotel was in sight when a young man (or old child) lumbered up to us and bellowed loudly, “Where are you going? Where are you going?” as he kept pace with us and stared rudely into our faces. Maybe this doesn’t sound like a trip highlight to you, but it definitely was for me. Because I’m not usually aware enough of my environment to know when someone is being totally inappropriate. When you begin speaking to someone in Ghana, the proper greeting is, “Good afternoon. How are you?” If you begin speaking with any words other than these, you are terribly rude and can expect similar treatment. Also, I was tired of strange people demanding to know my destination just because I’m foreign—I mean, it’s one thing if I’m wandering timidly through the bus station with luggage, but Megan and I were in the market, which is a perfectly acceptable place to be without going anywhere at all. So I gave him my best you’re-in-big-trouble-young-man look and corrected his manners in my best shame-on-you teacher-voice. “No. You don’t say, ‘Where are you going?’ You should say, ‘Good afternoon. How are you?’” But then of course I had to back off because he became immediately repentant and greeted me quite properly and respectably. And then he asked if he could help me find where I was going, which was also very considerate of him, and I assured him he could not, as my sister and I were only out walking and were not at all lost.
The 6:30 bus from Bolga to Nalerigu left the station at 6:30. It looked . . . somewhat less steady than its brethren. The floor seam mostly met down the center aisle, each half jarring semi-independently as we rocked down the bumpy road, and the whole bus’s great tilt to the left was unignorable; Megan and I sat on the uphill side, that we might be part of the solution. Also noteworthy regarding this part of the journey were the sheep Megan observed being loaded into the bus’s undercarriage. Well, you don’t see that everyday. Also, I met a teacher whose cousin lives in my village. Not that I’ve ever met the cousin, but the teacher and I were pleased to have something in common, and she helped us find our bus stop.
Megan and I hung out with Angela in Nalerigu for a couple days before my Esalas came to get me on Saturday. Then on Sunday we had one of those spontaneous parties that kind of grows and grows . . . we’d planned to just hang out and picnic in Nakpanduri (between Nasuan and Nalerigu), but Nathan was preaching at church, so I think most of the white population of West Africa wanted to take advantage of the occasion. At any rate, the congregation was more white than African—maybe eighteen adults plus hordes of children, with representatives from Ghana, Togo, and Burkina Faso—and we all came back to our house for a potluck afterwards. Our church doesn’t usually have a parking lot, but it did last week.
We did end up going to Nakpanduri after the potluck to see the escarpment, which is a word I did not previously know but now think must mean edge-of-high-cliffs-off-of-which-one-could-quite-easily-plummet-to-her-death. So we hung out there for a bit, tempting fate and flirting with sunburns, which I think was more fun for other people than for me, gravity having a greater pull on me than on most people, and my skin being more sensitive to the sun. This is also the part where Teacher Angela and I were attacked and held captive by a very benign-looking, but very vicious, bush or tumbleweed. I accidentally swished this bush into the path when I walked by it, and Angela became entangled when she tried to pass. Naturally, I went back to save her, becoming entangled myself. The tiny thorns we'd failed to notice before became obvious as they wrapped themselves securely into our skirts and drew blood where they scratched our legs. Others from our group happened upon us and, after laughing and taking pictures, managed to free us (but not without finding the thorns themselves). Happily, Sarah managed to remove the thorn from my thumb upon my return to Nasuan.
In other news, all is well in the village. Bernice vanquished my toilet paper the other day, but we’re speaking again, so no worries there. Nathan, Karissa, and I are taking Grandpa Tom and Cousin Katie to Tamale tomorrow so they can catch their flight to Accra and then America. We will also be running some errands. Armed with the confidence that comes from knowing how to hail a taxi and the map Ali drew for me of the Tamale market, I will be attempting to tackle the grocery shopping for the first time ever without the aid of a shopping buddy (You see? I am a wild, adventurous woman). Also, I cleaned out and disinfected my desk the other day and am pleased to report finding nothing more ominous than a few small dried bug bodies and a bit of mouse poop.
What I Learned:
Sometimes people who don’t speak English are to be preferred. I’m noticing that, in general, Americans and Europeans tend to find African women selling vegetables to be unpleasantly aggressive and, well, vulture-like. Many African vegetable saleswomen have accosted me, shoving their zucchini and potatoes in my face when I really just want to see the carrots and then trying to force more carrots on me than I actually want. They seem to think if I haven’t made up my mind it is because I really want some of everything, helpfully shoving it at me so I can’t see what I’m really shopping for. One lady in Burkina even refuses to give change in money, instead offering two apples or half a kilo of strawberries. Sigh. Because of these tendencies, I was quite surprised when I bought vegetables in Tamale market last week from a woman who was sweet and patient. I didn’t have to fight with her at all over what I was or wasn’t buying, and I realized later this may have been largely because she didn’t know what I was talking about.
It’s totally possible for two men to carry a trussed-up, fully grown cow on a motorcycle through heavy city traffic. I’m not even kidding.
No need to hail a taxi in Ghana. Just walk in the direction you wish you were going, and they’ll hail you. It’s ridiculously convenient.
Sometimes city folk are more sophisticated than villagers. Megan and I didn’t get a single marriage proposal, but one guy did ask me for her email address.
So this is an abrupt ending, but it’ll have to do.
Hope you all are having a very happy Easter.
Christ is risen!
Sunday, April 27, 2009
Real Neighbors Come Armed
Someday you're going to get tired of hearing stories about marriage proposals and ominous wildlife. Hopefully, today is not that day. Or anyway, I just want to be up front about the variety this current epistle has to offer.
We celebrated Easter in every way that is traditional and American and in very few ways that aren't. We had a potluck and an Easter egg hunt with area missionaries on Saturday. Church on Sunday was standing room only, and all the church choirs sang (and danced). (And then most of the congregation danced.) I colored Easter eggs Sunday afternoon, and they, of course, were beautiful. Some of the eggs blew up while I was boiling them (that's not normal), and then some turned out to be rotten when I peeled them (that's not normal either), but many of them made fine post-Easter egg salad sandwiches, which I believe is quite traditional. I enjoyed a very fine after-sunset service with the Esalas in their living room Sunday evening, and Sarah cooked Easter dinner on Monday night. We had chicken; it was excellent.
We also celebrated Annaka's birthday—a little early so she could share her party with Cousin Katie. We had cake and presents, of course, but the highlight was playing Ghost in the Graveyard—a cross between hide-and-go-seek and tag played outside in the dark, which means a lot of running and screaming—especially if you are Annaka. We were right in the middle of play when our closest neighbor, the Good Guard Abulai, showed up with his rifle and most of his family. Seems they heard Annaka screaming and decided we must be having trouble with a snake. So they came out in force to save us. The epitome of neighborly, I think.
In other wildlife news—I mean, in wildlife news that involves actual wildlife—my house is full of it, though, happily, not in the form of snakes. I currently suffer from four minor plagues of ants: big black ones with really big heads; big black ones with red middles; slightly smaller, mostly red ones that run really fast, and very tiny black ones that move like dust. The big ones prefer to eat sugar and operate out of the kitchen and bathroom—the big heads and the red middles may even be working in collusion. The small dust ants are excavating a habitat in the living room; they prefer to eat the bodies of the big ants. So my nightly ritual has come to include wielding my flip flops in a killing rampage, sweeping up the bodies, spraying any new excavations in the living room, and putting out sweet poison treats in the bathroom and kitchen. I've been thinking about how I might need a pet chicken, and that, I think, is indicative of some sort of change in me. Where before I might've considered poisons and exterminators as the ultimate in pest control, I'm now leaning toward introducing a predator. Just another way I'm going green, I guess. Oy.
I'm also suffering from what seems to be a slight infestation of Peza. “Peza” is my new vocabulary word. It refers to the creatures I was previously calling “little dragons.” Peza range in length from one to two inches. Their bodies have three segments, like ants, but are much larger, some are even the size of a peanut in the shell. The lift themselves off the floor on eight, thick, jointed legs, holding two larger leg-like protrusions out in front of them. They are often a fiery red in color, and they run very, very fast. Asala the House Girl says they come out to scare you and, when you run, they eat your dinner. Caroline the Peace Corps Worker says you will change from a girl into a boy (or vice versa) if one bites you (she says that's what happened to her cat; she has a boy cat with a girl name just like I do). Bernice the Cat hunts Peza and eats them. Sometimes I hunt with Bernice, and sometimes I just stand on a chair and shout encouragement. This week's Peza count is three confirmed kills out of six to eight sightings.
And then, of course, there's the giant gecko that has moved into my kitchen. I am unpleasantly startled when he leaps out of my cupboard at me. The noise I make in that situation is “Nn-d-g-Ah.”
As for marriage proposals, I'm noticing in a not-so-sad sort of way (I mean, it's not like I know these people) it's been a long time since I've gotten one. Nathan, Karissa, and I took Grandpa Tom and Cousin Katie to Tamale the other week so they could fly back to America. Karissa, Cousin Katie, and I triumphed over four separate grocery lists (Sarah's, Marvelous Mona's, Teacher Angela's, and mine), spending enough that one store was moved to give us free ice cream. In that same store, a man announced his desire to marry one of my daughters—either Karissa or Cousin Katie. (He was not under the impression that either Karissa or Cousin Katie were actually my daughters; rather, in keeping with Ghanaian custom, he assumed, and rightly, that my friend might as well be my sister, and any daughter of my sister is a daughter of mine. Naturally, then, Sarah's sister's daughter would also be my daughter. Ghanaian families, it seems, tend to lean toward being inclusive.) We agreed to decide among ourselves and let him know. He then announced to everyone that I was his mother-in-law. Definitely a first for me (and definitely to be preferred).
All the time we were shopping and contemplating husbands (and sons-in-law), we were also being stalked by a very aggressive vegetable saleswoman, who seems to consider us her personal property. We've bought produce from her before, so we know she offers limited selection at higher prices (that's the downside) but will also take your list into the market to buy anything she doesn't have for you and deliver your purchases to your car, which is an upside if you're in a hurry and don't mind being hunted on every subsequent trip to Tamale. Anyway, Nathan and I had already decided to go into the market ourselves to increase our chances of coming out with produce sturdy enough to survive the trip home, so we were pointedly avoiding this lady. (Also, Sarah's list had more negotiable items like “whatever fruit looks good,” which are harder to staff out successfully.) We almost made it, too. I was just coming back to the car with the final items from our lists (squash for Sarah, apples for Marvelous Mona, and mangoes for me) when the Veggie Lady leaped out of nowhere, he hawk eyes plumbing the depths of our car's cargo area. Awkward. Unfortunately, seeing the heaps of produce in our car probably will not dissuade her from hunting us down the next time we're in Tamale. Sigh. Anyway. Our shopping trip was overall successful and satisfying. Note for next time: Make sure the piles of groceries actually get loaded into the car instead of left out in front of the stores. That way Nathan won't have to go back for them. Oy. That was probably my fault.
My only other excitement to report is a leaky pipe under my kitchen sink, which resulted in a substantial pool flowing from under my sink, through the kitchen, and down into the bathroom last Sunday afternoon. After serious efforts to jury rig a solution, Nathan has become convinced that we're going to need actual, legitimate plumbing parts to fix the leak, which means a trip to Nalerigu. In the meantime, the water to my house is shut off, which means I'm carting water in from the Esalas'. From this experience, I've learned the following: that I don't actually use that much water—just one head pan to wash my dishes and one to wash myself, and that hauling water isn't that inconvenient PROVIDED 1. you don't actually need that much, 2. your water source is as close as, say, your neighbors' outdoor spicket, and 3. your cat doesn't do anything gross (like poop on your bed).
Please pray for the Esalas' and my safe travel to Burkina Faso next month to meet with Karissa's home school group.