Monday, April 24, 2017

When Animals Attack 2

Can you spot the difference in the two photos?
Me neither.

I had just achieved the perfect introvert day. For 24 hours, I had neither seen nor spoken to another human person. I mean, there were some whatsapp conversations, but no phone calls, no visitors. I watched TV shows illegally downloaded on my computer while reading a book at the same time and eating all the junk food in my house. I also made up a creative new recipe for stuffed lasagna noodles I had left in my house that included enough red peppers to make me cough and sneeze through the whole cooking part of the meal prep. I did some other exciting things too, and eventually ended up in bed with my newly fixed AC slightly working, but mostly blocking out the sounds of the music blaring from the nearby bars.  I also took some sleeping aid meds that someone gave me, just to test the possibility of sleeping through the night. I discovered a few hours later that the medicine does not work.

Doesn't that look delicious?
Warning: if you don't like spicy food, don't try to eat it. You will die.
Also, I've started sending photos to my mom whenever I cook dinner for myself.
It gives her a bit of hope for my survival. 

I mean, if the medicine was really making me sleep, shouldn’t I sleep through fluttering whooshing sounds in my room? It wasn’t super loud like the mice in my house in South Sudan who chewed through plastic containers to get to food. In fact, first I thought it was a piece of paper, loosened by the fan and the AC that had flown off the wall where I had duct-taped it. I heard it crash into the wall over my head and looked up to see if the paper I thought had fallen was still there…and it was. So then I chalked it up to some weird mechanical AC noise.

Since childhood, I’ve had this fear of being stabbed in the back while I’m sleeping, which actually, wouldn’t be a bad way to go because you’re dead before you know it is coming, and anticipation is always the worst part. But to protect myself from sneaky night-time back-stabbers, I usually sleep with something behind my back. But when I’m concerned that there is a serial back-stabbing killer in my house, I lie flat on my back, for protection. And then I think of how I should be sleeping with that giant kitchen knife I never use in bed with me—just in case I need to fight back. But this time I knew there was no one in the house with me because I would have heard the doors open (they’re loud) and there is no other way to get into my house, unless you remove the bars from the windows (also loud) or, in this case, you come in through AC.

Me, in my night-time tiara, sleeping on my back,
kitchen knife ready by my side for protection.
I am thinking about growing out my bangs, though...
 It was while lying on my back thinking about knives, that I noticed a big black thing fly right above my over-sized nose, causing me to yell and flip on the light. At least now I knew what I was dealing with. And I have precedent for this, so I knew what I needed to do—run out of the room screaming. This I accomplished, slamming the door behind me and then standing in my living room trying to decide my next move. Did I want to sleep on the couch for the rest of the night? If I did that, how much damage would the evil bat do in my bedroom before I could get someone to come remove him? Technically, I could have removed him myself, but I’m not good at killing vertebrates.  Invertebrates I can do, as they are more easily smashed with a shoe and they don’t have gross blood. Still, as a female, I believe that if there is a male around, the rules of chivalry call for him to take on the role of hunter AND gatherer (yes, clean up that dead squished body and flush it, that’s a part of your job!). I, in turn, promise to scream and jump around and make him feel like a true hero. But with bats, rats, and other mammals, I’m not even going to try. I feel like earning less money overall than the men, having monthly periods, and the anticipation of menopause and other unfortunate side effects of having two X chromosomes means that I get to find someone to rid my house of rodents.

So standing in my living room at 2am, I considered my options. Calling my colleagues in the wee hours of the morning to drive over to my house to kill a bat seemed like an imposition. I do have two perfectly good night guards who sleep through the night outside the house, in spite of the loud music from the bars, who theoretically would notice if someone jumped our fence to try to steal the tires off my car. I thought it would be a good time for at least one of these guys to earn his keep by helping me out. The problem is that I was in an unfortunate state of undress and my clothes were in the room with the bat. This is why you should never put away your laundry. Sadly for me, basking in the glow of the perfect introvert day, I’d mustered up enough energy to actually put all my clothes away, something that rarely happens. Now I didn’t have any lying in a pile on the couch, as I usually do. Let this be a lesson to you: tidiness can be dangerous. Obviously, though, I can’t go down to the guards without being mostly covered because requesting their help to remove a bat from my room at 2am is already going to raise questions about my morality. "So…she’s asking for me to help remove a bat from her room at 2am? Riiiiiiiight….she clearly wants me. We all know foreign girls are easy…"

So I took a deep breath, ran back into my room, grabbed my sarong, ran back out and slammed the door again. I made myself decent and then went downstairs to break my 24+ hours of non-human contact to humiliate myself by asking a man I only slightly know (I can’t remember his name even) to come up to my bedroom and hunt a bat.

A rough sketch of the bat that I did from memory
I flopped as loudly as possible down the stairs in my flipflops, hoping to give them some warning. Then I stood awkwardly by my car, willing them to wake up, using the power of my mind. I think it worked (I’m so powerful!) because one rolled over and blinked a few times while I asked in a pathetic voice if he could come up and help me kill a giant bat in my bedroom. In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t 100% sure of its size, but the larger the bat, the greater the need for outside help, clearly. He repeated back to me what I said a few times, clarifying the animal and its size, “Une chauve-souris? Une grosse chauve-souris?”* Then he confirmed that he would come up and help but continued to sit there, looking at me pointedly. “Right, so, I’ll just go up and wait…” And he put on pants and a shirt before coming up to my house, like a gentleman.

See? I even spelled it right.
You probably think I grew up in American now.
Meanwhile, I grabbed my broom and this spider web cleaner thing that I never wanted, but the ladies insisted I get as a crucial part of my house-keeping tool kit. It looks like a fuzzy koosh ball on a long stick. It’s for cleaning spider webs out of the corners of the ceiling. I maintain that a broom could do that just as well, and refused to get one until they asked me one day while I was preoccupied and handing out money indiscriminately, and now I have a spider-web-cleaning-koosh-ball-on-a-stick. Years from now if I ever have children and if they ever learn how to read and decide that their mother’s life isn’t too horribly un-cool to read about, it might cause problems that they learn they can get money out of me if I am suitably distracted. My nieces and nephews have learned to open their eyes wide, tilt their heads and smile, and they get everything they want out of me. I’m hoping I don’t have children with those powers.

Anyway, I had the sticks as protection from the bat, and also, if it should come up, the night guard. NG came into my house (well-lit, all doors open) and I showed him into the bedroom where we spent some time looking around for the bat. I think we probably only looked for a couple of minutes, but I was a bit panicky that we wouldn’t find it, and NG would get a different idea of why I invited him up in the middle of the night. I also knew that the Thing was there, and would torment me for the rest of my life if I didn’t get him (I'm pretty sure bats are immortal like vampires).

While running around the bedroom, beating at the curtains and the backpack on top of the closet, I finally noticed a leathery wing peaking out of the top drawer of my dresser, which happens to be where I keep my underwear and bikinis. The drawers don’t close right. Dressers are inferior pieces of furniture, they never seem to close right unless you open every drawer and close them all at the same time while jiggling the bottom drawer’s handle with your foot—not worth it. So in my house, drawers always remain slightly open. The Bat had taken advantage of this and decided to burrow in that drawer.

The action
 Once I noticed him, I jumped back, while screaming and backing out of the room. In a concerning turn of events, the NG also squealed and jumped back, not giving me much confidence in his ability to conquer the Bald Mouse. “Tu as peur?!” I asked him, and then insisted, “You can’t be afraid of it! You have to kill it!” He affirmed his bravery and took the broom and spider koosh and began whacking at the bat. The bat scrambled deeper into my drawers (both meanings of the word apply—Dad, that joke is for you), and the NG poked around, trying to pinch the bat in between the broom handles to get him out. I respect that move, not wanting to touch the creepy thing myself. (Bats have rabies.) I hid in the living room behind my yoga mat, which I intended to use to protect me from injured flying bats, dripping blood. I know about the puddles of blood that leak out of bats, grâce à Felix who loved leaving half-chewed carcasses around the house for my enjoyment. I heard lots of thwapping and hacking and bat noises (sounds like the sneeze of a jackal) and when I peaked around the door, I noticed my undergarments hanging out of the furniture. NG is probably wondering why I have so many sports bras and why most of my underwear is black. God knows he has seen it all now.

After about 15 minutes, he came out with the dead bat pinched between the sticks. He dropped it on the floor, and it clearly didn’t move—a good sign. Also, there was minimal blood. I guess not being chewed on by a cat keeps most of the blood in the body. NG nicely swept it over the balcony to the ground below and he must have generously cleaned up (CHIVALRY) because I didn’t see it when I left the house the next day.

The dead body. It looks small because it
was taken from a safe distance.

I went back to bed, but I have been hesitant to use the AC since then, as I’m pretty sure that’s how the bat got in. AC is dangerous, people. Sleeping with a frozen water bottle is good enough for me.

Clearly not bald.
Definitely ready to eat your head in one bite.

* Interesting fact: in French a bat is a “bald mouse.” I don’t know why, as they both have equal amounts of hair in my experience (which is extensive), but whatever. Also, if you speak French, you will notice that we spoke of the bat as “grosse” (fat) not “grande” (big). But again, whatever. He said “grosse” first, and I thought it worked on a bi-lingual French and English level.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Regrets and Facebook Memes

The other day I saw a motivational Facebook quote superimposed over a tranquil landscape scene. It said something to the effect of “At the end of your life, you’re going to regret the things you didn’t do and not the things you did do.” It was much more elegant than that, of course, but even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t matter because I’m pretty sure there was a waterfall somewhere in that tranquil landscape scene, which automatically classes up everything. I thought to myself, “Yeah, that’s kind of true. I still regret not petting that lion at the museum zoo in Niger while I was there.” At the last moment I decided not to because there were lots of children around, and I thought it might not be a good example for them, as they had all run up to pet the hippo after I did.  But who cares about that? I should have pet that dang lion through the bars of his cage. When else am I going to get a chance to do that? Other countries don’t just let you walk up to the cages with carnivorous animals in them and stick your hand in to pet them. I will regret not doing that for the rest of my life.

Re-creation of Motivational Facebook Quote

Pause for the moment that it took me to realize that quote wasn’t intended for people like me. That moment lasted for about 5 minutes of staring at my computer screen realizing that I am bored writing this dumb concept note that I should have finished an hour ago and that I’m no longer thinking about wells in the Guera, but about not petting lions and not shooting that camel with the Yemeni soldier’s rusty old AK-47 and not going to that one party at that one place—no wait, I DID do that and I definitely regretted it. Forget waterfalls. That quote is dumb. Whenever I manage to stop myself from doing something at the last second, it is usually because common sense finally kicks in. Better late than never, I guess.

Anyway, here are some things that I did before I had a chance to regret them (still waiting to see if the regrets kick in later). And some memes that really spoke to me that I wanted to share with you.

Such a tranquil scene-unlike the first time I rode a motorcycle
when I nearly drove off a cliff. I still have a burn scar on my right
calf from the knalpot (I think that is 'muffler' in English)
No regrets. Except I kind of wish I had a motorcycle here...

Rock climbing with the Captain (and Matt)

Ditching the tour to try out the bamboo swing

Climbing into this alligator pit.
My parents were with me. They must not love me as much as they say they do.

Eating a scorpion in China. Tastes like chicken.

Rolling down a sand dune in the Emirates.
Then combing sand out of my hair for days.

Convincing Melia to climb up the scaffolding with me in Jordan.

All zoos can be petting zoos if you really try.

This could have been me with the lions in Niger...SO MANY REGRETS!!!

Swimming in shark and pirate-infested waters,
off the coast of Somalia.

Kissing camels

I don't know...cannon balls are cool.

He's clearly disappointed in the state of civilization these days.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How to Beat the Heat

Sunshine makes me happy.
And happy people climb totem poles.
These days, I’m so thankful to Facebook. Every morning, Facebook is there to tell me that “it’s going to be a hot day in N’Djamena today. The forecast shows a high of 44C.” What would I do without this advanced knowledge? It’s unlikely I would have even noticed the sweat dripping down my back between my shoulder blades. I might have thought there was some weird African bug crawling on me.

I’m ok with a bit of heat, as you may have noticed if you are a regular reader of this blog (HI MOM!). I was born in the desert and raised on the equator. I love the sun. And 44C is only 111F and I am doing ok. True, if my landlord had followed through with fixing my AC, as he had promised to do, I would be even better. It’s not so much that I like AC (I don’t really like it—it makes me cold), but if you have AC, you can keep a room cool with it, even when the power goes out (which happens a lot now that it’s hot and everyone is trying to use their AC to cool down their rooms). I don’t have this in my house, so I have a few other creative means of staying cool. And by staying cool, I mean that I am sweating, but at a rate that can still be replenished by drinking water.

Most of the day I’m out at work where we have the perfect AC in my office—a partially-functioning one. It gets the temperature down to about 32/90, which is ideal. So my ‘beat the heat’ options really only apply to the evening.

Brownies with crackers
in them are also a good snack.
Yeah, I ate them all myself with a
fork right out of the pan,
because it was dinnertime.
Note: I would like to mention a couple of options that have been suggested to me as ways to “beat the heat” that are not technically possible here. These include A) the cold shower and B) the consumption of ice cream. A) The cold shower is impossible because my faucets no longer provide me with cold water. Water from the faucets is always warm now, which I like because warm showers are cozy. B) The consumption of ice cream is ideal, but not when your power is unreliable. Case in point, the other day when I got home from work, what was my first clue that the power was off? My house smelled like melted butter. While this is not an unpleasant smell, it does make the inside of the fridge rather drippy. Hot melted ice cream is fine as a snack, but not as a way of keeping cool.

On continue

Me and my new best friend
(we commemorated our love through selfies, like real friends do).
The water sprayer doesn't work anymore,
but my face is already wet (sweaty), so NBD.
In Chad, most people sleep outside during the hot season. This is a good idea. There is usually some kind of breeze and temperatures outside are cooler than inside. Unfortunately, I live on the second floor of an apartment building. I can’t drag my bed outside because there is no place to put it. Also, I don’t think it would be super-appropriate for me to sleep outside alone here (in my underwear-sleepwear of choice these days), even though my evil neighbor has moved out! (I like to think that I drove him to it by being extra-annoying, but it’s possible that he just moved out because he found a place he preferred to live.)

Since I can’t sleep outside, I really rely on my fans to keep the air moving in my house. When the electricity goes, I have a cute little battery-operated fan that was given to me in a very roundabout way (Minga gave it to Tara who told me to keep it because I was having electricity problems, and now she doesn’t want it back, which is good because I never planned to give it back anyway). This little blue thing is enough to keep one part of my body cool at a time—face or leg or back of the neck or one arm. I can balance it on a pillow next to me while I sleep, but I also have another sleep solution: the frozen water bottle. 

Pre-jungle Amanda,
of the Pil-Pil days.
I’ve started sleeping with a frozen water bottle. This is great because I have to hold something while I sleep—a habit developed from childhood when I slept with this ratty old pillow my mom made me that I called “Pil-Pil.” She made me throw it out when I went to college, and I feel a bit guilty over that still—too many readings of The Velveteen Rabbit will do that to you.  These days, I clutch that frozen water bottle near to my chest and let it melt all over me and the bed. This keeps me cool, and by the middle of the night, when it is all melted, I can drink it to start replenishing all the fluids I’ve lost by sweating, now that the frozen water is gone. It’s a very efficient system. (I recently had to explain that this is a frozen bottle of drinking water, not in fact, one of those rubber hot water bottles filled instead with ice. Apparently this makes the fact that I drink it less gross. But I work with two clean water organizations-Amanda doesn't waste water.)

But it is true that the heat is getting a lot of people down. I respect that, but still it’s such a great unifier. Everyone is in this together. Everyone is just trying to survive. We ask each other, “How are you doing with all this heat?” The preacher in church on Sunday brought it up to illustrate the importance of staying joyful in tough times. I laugh with the attendants checking my bag for bombs and dangerous weapons (like I keep those in such an obvious place) about how at least they get to work in air-conditioned hotel lobbies. It's so nice to have an automatic conversation starter and/or sermon topic. 

So no, the heat doesn’t get me down. I’m kind of thriving on it right now (though I have started waiting until the very last minute before I leave my house to put clothes on). My ‘beat the heat’ suggestions should be taken with a grain of salt, as I beat the heat when I was born. But put me in the cold weather and watch me melt into a puddle of tears (ironic since I should be freezing in the cold and not melting—so much for accurate water metaphors). I will put on all my clothes, curl up in a ball under all the blankets I stole from various airlines around the world, and look up ways to treat frost bite and hypothermia on my phone from my cave under the covers. And when you finally agree to turn the AC back up to 25C/77F, we can be friends again.

Jungle style--only for photos because again,
I LIKE the sun (and skin cancer probably someday).

A different desert than where I am now, but still fun.
I love when the air blows hot in your face like a hair-dryer.

PS: You’re welcome, Americans, for the Fahrenheit conversions.  God bless all of your hearts.

Herve's daughter appreciated the American flag I gave her.
Or Herve appreciated it anyway. He has a high level of American patriotism
that can put other bearers of the Blue Passport to shame.

Monday, April 3, 2017

What Do You Do For Fun?

It looks like we are just chilling, rocking out
to some Swedish tunes (not ABBA),
but actually we are having a Whatsapp meeting.
This is not an example of "what I do for fun,"
but hanging with Leif is always entertaining.
FYI: don't share earphones with him-
he can't sit still.
“So what do you do for fun?” many people have asked me. Ok, one person asked me that one time. It was a Royal Air Maroc flight attendant who slowly worked up the courage to talk to me one day while I was at the pool at the Hilton. When he first got to the pool, he kindly sat a polite 4 lounge chairs away from me. Every 20 minutes or so, he moved one chair closer. Unfortunately for him, by the time he ended up in the chair next to me, I was already leaving, so when he asked me what I do around here for fun, I was able to mutter something about having to leave without actually having to have a conversation.

Truthfully, I’m a really boring person. I do love adventures, but an average best day is one where I can hide out alone and not have to speak to any other living being.  This is called being an introvert. There are many of us out there, but we hide a lot so you don’t always realize it. For me, the more I’m alone without having to talk to other people, the less I ever want to see anyone else ever again. I know this is not a healthy way to be a human being, so occasionally I make myself crawl out of my cave and interact with other carbon-based life forms that communicate using verbal and nonverbal language skills.

OK, so it's not exactly the little skirt uniform,
but I have pompoms.
And it took me like 10 minutes of feeling
like an idiot to get this photo, which
definitely make me look appropriately ridiculous.
Sometimes that happens when I’m invited to a birthday party for a really cool person that I would have preferred to celebrate from a small crudely-fashioned canoe on a hippo-infested river. Sadly, no one else preferred to celebrate that wonderful person’s life in the same way, so instead I had to attend a “Murder Mystery” birthday party in the assigned character of a cheerleader. This is amusing to people who know me well, especially my family who enjoyed my mocking rendition of the cheerleaders in the high school I attended for one semester of grade 10 in my mother’s small hometown in middle Tennessee. Did you know there is a thing called a “Pep Rally” that students are forced to attend in lieu of school? I propose that this could be one reason why American students are so far behind the rest of the civilized world in terms of academics. It could also be why we consistently out-perform most of the rest of the world in athletics, though.  Anyway, I did not know what Pep Rallies were, anymore than I knew that “going Greek” meant joining a sorority in college and not taking a joint trip to Greece, which I was totally up for until my American father kindly explained. Thankfully, he got to me before I attended the session and embarrassed myself by asking if there were Greek language classes involved to prepare for life in Athens. I didn’t have to embarrass myself at the Pep Rallies. I just got swept along in the current of school-spirited students heading for the gym where I was able to watch and take notes as a third-party observer, marveling at this cultural aspect of American high school life that outsiders are not always privy to.  The few months while I was in American high school, I said almost nothing at school but came home, bouncing off the walls, full of amusing observations that I hadn’t been able to share with anyone, as the Indian girl who sat with me at lunch wasn’t that good at speaking English yet and my Gujarati was limited. I did not have a literary outlet like this blog at the time, as it was not even this millennium (see how old I am?), so I had to wait and share my jokes with the family at home. I got pretty good at being a fake cheerleader with a southern accent, and my kind family laughed in all the right places (they still do that most of the time, bless their hearts).

This is how I had to leave my house.
I think the hair and the make-up still
made the men who sit across the street from my
house all the time a bit concerned.
 So I got to be a fake cheerleader again, which was not too bad, as I got to wear my tiny shorts and shirt in public (aka the house where the party was held). A kind friend bought me pom-poms, which have since been donated to the drama department of the little MK school here in N’Djamena. The downside was having to wear make-up and a side pony-tail (80’s party), which always makes me feel lop-sided. Symmetry is important to me. I don’t like one-shoulder dresses or skirts that are longer one side than the other. It has been pointed out to me that my ears are pierced in two different places, and that was mostly intentional, but I do have an equal number of piercings in each ear, and that is what counts. Anyway, I’m digressing from the point of this, which is that it is kind of exhausting to be a cheerleader in your 30’s. There is a reason why you get that kind of behavior over with at a young age.

Emelie came to the party too,
and was only slightly concerned
for the crazy foreigners she hangs out with.
The party ended up being fun, but my favorite part is still that when everyone was assigned something to bring to the party, Amanda was assigned chips. CHIPS!!!! This has been my dream! I may have ranted on this blog before about how annoying and sexist I find it to be when you get the following instructions for potluck parties:
            Girls bring a side dish.
            Guys bring chips or a drink.

Giant bag full of chips.
I was not going to fail at my one
shot to be a "Guy." I brought 10 bags.
Only about 3 were actually opened.
I HATE that. First of all, what qualifies as a ‘side dish’? Second, I don’t make side dishes, whatever they are. I make peanut butter stuffed brownies or ginger coconut hot pepper mango pie. I don’t make quinoa salad. I’ve only a vague idea what quinoa actually is. And you know what? Maybe I don’t have time to make something, and I just want to stop by a store and buy a bottle of soda on my way to the party. And also, in the interest of fairness, maybe one of those guys really wants to make a great side dish like seven layer salsa dip or a salad of gummy bears mixed with M&Ms. And if you know that guy, please make sure he is single and in his 30’s and looking for someone to wander the world with for the rest of his life and then send him my way.

And speaking of wandering the world, I snuck into anothercountry again. It has been itching in my mind ever since I touched Cameroon a while ago. This time I went without a pressing engagement, so I got to climb up the bank and wander around for a while. I visited a little village, tested some hand pump water to that I could have a reason to give if local authorities came by asking why I was in Cameroon without an entry stamp in my passport (it’s important to always have a reason, no matter its basis in veracity), ate some oranges from the orchards around the village and tasted a very hot red pepper from a local field. All the while we were followed around by a large group of young men, who seemed very amused by this tourism of their side of the river. And by ‘we,’ I mean ‘me,’ of course, because no one else would have considered going on this slightly not-legal adventure, which could have negative impacts on one’s future lives and career paths and such, though I did suggest it as a possible location for a birthday party. I have great ideas. I don’t know why people don’t get that.  Just because they aren’t exactly “legal” doesn’t mean they’re not awesome.

So excited I can't handle it. Here's the awkward laugh-squint face.

So if you ever want to come have fun with me, we can cross borders without passports, ride rickety boats down the river, avoid being hit on by Moroccan flight attendants, and of course, consume copious amounts of junk food. It will be fun. Please bring enough money to bail yourself out of Cameroonian prison, though, because I probably won’t have enough money for 2 people.

The view from Cameroon.

The entourage

Native Cameroonian kids.

Hot pepper field of spicy goodness.

Ladies washing clothes and dishes on the Cameroonian side.
I really need to start the biosand filters over there too.
Who wants to donate?!