Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Civic Engineering and Snakes (again)

Well, this is it.  Quite possibly the last blog post I will write from Karen/Bry’s house in Guerin-Kouka.  Last night I was sitting with people at Kodjo’s house.  I looked at the calendar in my phone and realized that, in a week, I will be spending my last night in Togo.  A week from right now, I will not be in Togo.   
I stepped on a green mamba Monday.  It was in a patch of grass on a “street” in Kouka.  I got off my bike to navigate what was once a culvert and is now an example of Togolese civic engineering.  Then I happened to look down where I was stepping.  The only reason I saw the snake was because it was dead and its pale belly stood out against the grass.  Someone had chopped off its head.  Despite this fact, it still took a couple minutes before my heart let go of my tonsils. 

Speaking, again, of snakes, yesterday Petite came and asked to borrow my big knife.  The Fulani who takes care of his cows said that one of his yearling calves had died, so they brought it back to the house to chop up.  Or to butcher it in the most literal sense of the word. Anyway, when they got back, I wandered out and asked Petite what had happened to it—he originally thought that it had eaten a plastic bag or something.  Petite was like, “well, we found a lot of coagulated blood, so the Fulani says a snake bit it.”  Yeah, any snake that can drop a 300 pound calf is not something I want to run across.  

Regardless, I think that the only parts of the calf that will not be eventually eaten, gnawed on, or tossed in a sauce are the horns and hoofs.  Serious.  Adha was grilling its penis, testicles, and other hunks last night. 

Downtown Kouka is gutted.  In the week I was in Lome, the road guys came in, bulldozed the right-of-way and starting slapping concrete gutters through town.  I ate breakfast this morning while a steam shovel ripped out the little trees outside of the cafeteria where I was eating.  I had to move my bike.  Work on the road between Kabou and Kouka is at a standstill because the powers that be allegedly screwed around with the financement.  The section going out of Kouka, though, its apparently fully funded.  It looks like a superhighway, albeit dirt, heading out of town now. Since the main road through town is dug up, they scrapped off the other streets to accommodate the increased traffic.  Nice, freshly graded dirt roads here are only graded until the next heavy rain.   

I’ve come home to a lot of crap, both literal and figurative, in the past couple of years.  Chicken crap, lizard heads, stuff my cats have spread all over my house, etc.  However, this last time was quite possibly the best, or worst, depending on your perspective.  I found a dead bat in my shower bucket.  Gushing maggots.  I washed my bucket.  Bleached it.  And still couldn’t bring myself to use it again.  This trumps the time I came home to find that the soja that I’d forgotten in my garde manger had become a maggoty swamp.  I still use my garde manger.  

I really miss D.  I’ve spent the past 20? months either able to text or with her. With the ability to immediately impart my current thoughts/state of being to someone who knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Like when I want to yell at people on the bus that they’re on a bus, not a bush taxi—they gotta get off at the freaking station like the rest of us.  Or that I’m sitting with people in Nampoch who are saying how much they miss her. Or that I am stuck in a thunderstorm and pissed cause I might not be able to make it home before dark. etc.  I still haven’t been able to break the habit of wanting to text her goodnight.    
Its officially rainy season again.  Every afternoon sees thunderstorms piling up on the eastern horizon and tumbling haphazardly across the countryside.  This means that it is not, relatively speaking, hot.  But it can be annoying.  Like the other afternoon when I was getting ready to bike home from Kouka.  I left Bry’s about 1645.  It had just rained and the sky to the east looked fairly clear.  I biked up town and was buying food when the wind picked up and it started raining.  I made it to Ntido’s work just as it started pouring. 
 Freaking storm came out of the south.  I sat there for about 45 minutes watching Togolese civic engineering wash past me and fretting about whether I was going to be able to make it home before dark.  The rain finally stopped about 1740.  Just enough time.  Ntido was like “oOoh” when I told her I was leaving—in the absence of drainage, the streets here function as gutters.  Water was knee deep in some places.  I’d just made it out of town when the rain picked up a bit.  Then I realized that I’d caught up with the storm. I bike like the wind.  The rain had tapered off out towards Nampoch, so the road was only a torrent for the first couple of kilometers.  I made it back just as it got too dark to see the road.  I was covered in sand though.  C’est la vie. 
The thought of Ntido being in town without a way to contact anyone bothered me, so I bought her a cell phone.  She was stunned when I gave it to her on Monday.  It was kind of cute.  Petite called her yesterday evening.  I felt like I was witnessing the first ever phone call or something.  Her mom was sitting there hanging on to every word.  I won’t have to rely messages when I go to Kouka now.  I did take Ntido a bag of corn on the back of my bike on Monday though.  

I felt bad that I’ve lavished so much money, relatively, to Ntido and not on her siblings.  So Sunday, I got Adha out of going to the fields and took her pagne shopping at the Kouka marche.  This turned into me following Adha, Ntido, a couple cousins, and another woman around while they bounced between pagne venders.  All I did was point out likely pagne—I buying enough for the whole family—and pay at the appropriate moments.  I apparently have crappy taste in pagne, but otherwise it was the best shopping trip ever.  I didn’t have to haggle or anything, just pay.  Ntido even talked me into buying a pagne for Alix.  Since 1 pagne is 2 meters long, he’s going to be have clothes for a while.  Ntilabi, Adji, Mama, and Jidda were all really happy.  David, I think, was more excited about the pineapple I’d bought than his impending new clothes.  

New clothes, for people in Nampoch, are a big deal. This is a place where you can recognize people by what they are wearing before you can see their faces.  Petite has gotten 2 new pairs of jeans since I have been here.  I’ve traced the progress of his shirts from nice, meeting wear, to field wear, to tossed over the wall.  People get clothes and wear them to rags. Literally. I remember the last new clothes that Ntilabi and Adji got, about a year and a half ago.  They were really excited when they got them from the tailor and tried them on. 

Its not that there are more amazing people here than elsewhere in the world.  Its just that they are more visible, and their achievements more distinct.  Take this girl I met Sunday for example.  Her name is Fati.  Her parents are nomadic Fulani, ie basically second-class citizens.  Fati met up with me and Kader at Concorde on her way back from taking the BAC test in Bassar.  This is roughly equivalent to graduating high school.  I can count on maybe 2 hands how many people I know who have passed their BAC here.  Maybe 3 of them are women. Most girls in Nampoch are doing good to finish junior high.  Fati is the only Fulani girl in Dankpen, if not the only Fulani period, to take the BAC.  Kader said that her father had a little bit of schooling, then devoted most of his resources to make sure his daughters got as far as they could.  He’s been supporting Fati as much as he can.  He gave her a pep talk Sunday about going to university, avoiding boys, and not letting people in village pressure her into marriage.  And then he told her that she could live at his rented house in Kara while she went to school.  Fati wants to get her degree in science.  She speaks French better than probably 90% of the population here.  I’m in awe of how much she has achieved with how little she started from. 

Speaking of fathers doing as much as they can for their kids, if it weren’t for Petite, Jidda would be a child mortality statistic by now.  She gets seriously sick at least three times a year it seems, probably from malaria coupled with malnutrition.  You could probably read past posts to find out how often.  Every time, Mama rushes her off to the dispansaire and Petite shells out 7-10 mille on shots and medicine.  Petite made 140 mille from his cotton harvest last year.  And he has 7 kids.  Just because high infant/mortality rates exist does not mean that parents here love their kids any less than parents elsewhere.

I feel like an emotional basket case.  I was mentally fried when I came back up from Lome and physically exhausted.  I think part of this is due to these anti-amoeba meds I’m on.  I am counting down the last “normal” days I have here.  They end Thursday about 1500 when Kader comes out for a meeting.  When he leaves, he is taking Tadji to Saye’s house.  She lost her cat and has a bad mouse problem, so I told her she could have Tadji.  Tadji, the other day, ate 6 baby mice like I eat popcorn.  Also, Saye lost her cat about a week after she bought it a ticket back to the States.  So, if Tadji makes it, he’ll go to the States with her.  This makes it only marginally easier to say goodbye to him.  

It is legislative election season in Kouka.  This means that the power is on all the time cause the Minister is in residence.  It also means that Kouka has its own little garrison of Red Berets (Togo’s Airborne division) to protect us from “petite bandits.”  Yeah. 

I noticed I use more 'franglis' than usual in this post.  I am tired. Sorry.

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