Sunday, June 2, 2013

my favorite tree

This is my last full month in Togo.  Weird.

My foot, after 2 infections, is better.  I think. 
Friday morning I came with N’tido and Petite into Kouka to introduce them to N’tido’s future boss, the hairdresser.  She and Petite hit it off—apparently her father worked at the Catholic church in Nampoch.  I would say it’s a small world, but here in Togolese Konkumba-land, there is probably only like 2 degrees of separation between anyone, if that.  It went well, Petite paid for N’tido’s uniform on the spot.  

After the meeting I took them out to the new restaurant/bar in Kouka. I like this place because it’s the only place in Dankpen and Bassar prefectures, that we’ve found, where you can sit down at a table and have someone bring you food.  So amazing.  Anyway, I really like the spaghetti there so I ordered everyone a plate.  I did not really think this through.  The only time my family will, potentially, use eating utensils, ie spoons, is when they eat rice.  Which is maybe 10 times a year.  I was about 3 bites in when I realized that N’tido and her dad were both watching me carefully, and somewhat quizzically. I had to show them how to eat spaghetti with a fork.  N’tido picked it up pretty quick and polished her plate, despite the fact she was juggling little Alix with one hand.  Petite kind of struggled though. I felt bad. 

Nighan is no longer in heat. Thank God.  But this means she’s probably pregnant. Again.

Speaking of sex, whenever it rains, bugs screw.  Or hatch. Or something.  I couldn’t use my latrine the other night until I smashed like 200 of the fat brown ants that were running around in front of it.  The good news is that insecticide here is really effective.  

Speaking of ants, I have been lately conducting a study, mostly from my chair on my porch, of ants.  I have identified 3 general types.  There are the little black ones that excavate piles of stuff from where ever their hills are.  There are the fat brown ones that run around in circles at night, including up my leg. These have burrowed into probably every house in Nampoch, including mine.  I used to go out at night and spray their holes in my foundation until I stopped caring.  They are dumb.  I woke up one morning in during stage in Gbatopé to find that an entire colony had decamped during the night and moved into my room.  I spent a half hour sweeping thousands of ants off my clothes.  I found their eggs under a shoe. Not horribly bright.  Army ants though, are smart.  They have these huge hills that you do not mess with.  These look like something out of Star Wars, or Starship Troopers.  I once watched Army ants eat a viper.  Togolese pile brush on their hills to burn.  Army ants, when they are doing whatever it is that they do, make these distinct paths for their foot soldiers to travel on.  Like little ant super-highways.  You do not want to step on these, especially at night.  They bite. It hurts. A lot.

There were days when I first came here when I looked at my two-year service stretching away in front of me like some vast formless gray ocean that would roll me up and overwhelm me if I was not careful. Now the far shore is coming up a lot faster than I think I would like. After almost three years I am feeling the cold pinch of time. In something like 10 days the new stage will come, hopefully containing my replacement.  Its like Kodjo told me when I first got here, and still repeats to this day—Volunteers come in thinking that 2 years is such a long time.  In reality its nothing.  

Yesterday I went for a bike ride up the Katchamba road to see my favorite tree.  It is this massive bayobab that is right along the road on top of a ridge.  The main trunk is easily 20-30 feet in circumference, or more, I cannot tell.  If I try to hug it, my arms are straight out.

Like I said, it is one of my favorite spots here. As I stood there and listened to the wind blow I remembered one of the reasons why I love it here.  I looked north and my gaze skipped across the tops of ridges into the hazy distance.  I could count three.  After that, eventually, is the Sahara desert.  It was completely quiet, except for the wind gusting through the trees.  It was easy to imagine that I was alone, even though I knew that the folded landscape concealed people working in their fields, concealed homesteads and villages tucked in amid the trees.  I’ve stood in deserts in the Middle East and in prairies in the States and listened to the silent vastness that the wind sprinkles in your ears there. Here though, the feeling is different. Africa has an old soul.  If you stand in the stillness of the windswept countryside, beside a tree that was probably massive a century ago, you can feel this primeval presence continuously brushing around you, the accumulated weight of the years sliding by across a forever-immense canvas.   There are maybe continents with more history, but none with longer.  Many days, when I sit and listen, I can hear it.    

I do not think the bayobab will survive the new road though

Somewhere that way is the Sahara desert and Egypt.

my favorite tree.  my bike is under it, to the right

the new road coming up from Kouka.  cows not included. notice the bulldozer in the distance? it broke, so they left it and graded around it

N'tido and little Alix

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