Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Elephant Rock

He really wanted a "Make America Great Again" hat,
but I couldn't find a free one and I can't/won't buy one,
so he had to settle for a USA t-shirt bought at Wal-Mart (bien sûr)
and he loves it. Apparently it doesn't stop him from
making disparaging remarks about my height.
“Good morning, Amanda—wait, whoa! Did you get shorter?”

This is how my colleagues greet me when they arrive at the office.

“No,” I said. “I don’t think I’m quite old enough to start shrinking.” I mean, so far I haven’t noticed any part of my body shrinking, but I am dedicated to my high-sugar diet, which is keeping me from malnutrition. It could also be the reason why Urbain piped up with a  “Yeah. She does change a lot. One day I think she is skinny and another day I think she is fat. I think maybe it depends on her clothes.”

Don’t come to work for IAS Tchad if you don’t like people making comments about your appearance. In one day (wearing the same clothes, I might add), I’ve been told I look fatter and skinnier by two different people. I have been ganged-up on by my colleagues about not always wearing t-shirts. But when I do make the effort to wear work-appropriate clothing (i.e. not jeans and t-shirts that don’t look like t-shirts), they are appreciative.  

This is what I look like now. After I went to Sweden,
I decided to start wearing the Viking horn-hats all the time.
I think I'm really pulling them off.

So anyway, this doesn’t have much to do with this post, except that it would have been way easier to climb Elephant Rock if my legs were longer, but as I’m shrinking and getting fatter, apparently, I did let our Chadian ex-army guy driver give me a hand on the way down.

See the elephant?

The Elephant Rock Adventure was a joint effort by Amanda and Rhyan to tourist in Chad. It’s not always easy to do that here. There aren’t a lot of options. Most weekend fun activities involve swimming in the pool at the Hilton (Rhyan’s home/work/gilded cage). I also enjoy spending weekends sleeping on my bed since night-time sleeping hasn’t been so easy these days with weird electricity issues that I’m having. It cuts in and out loudly and randomly, so I’m either woken up when the fan stops because it’s humid and sticky rainy season weather now or if I chose to AC it, then I’m woken up by a loud popping sound when it comes on and off. Worse—my fridge won’t work and my food is dying.  I only keep food in there that I actually want to eat (so: chocolate because otherwise it melts in this desert world and diet soda because I’m healthy like that), thus it is important to have a functioning fridge. Forget the fact that I lived 2 years without one in Mundri. Now it is a necessity for my life and general well-being.

We are great at taking selfies together.

And now that I’ve finishing complaining, Rhyan and I decided to visit Elephant Rock based on a whim and time constraints. Because if we hadn’t had any (time constraints, that is, not whims), we would have gone to Tibesti (her choice) or Fada (mine) or Samarkand (also mine).  I also would have accepted Timbuktu, Kabul, and/or Tehran. But again—time constraints. So we went to Elephant Rock, a little over an hour away (depending on who is driving--I could have made it in an hour)  in an area called Dandi. It’s a good thing we went, too, because it seems that Chadians are intent on turning all their rocky outcroppings in the area into gravel for building projects.

Anyway, enjoy some photos of our touristing, courtesy of la belle Rhyan, as I was low on funds due to an unfortunate banking card situation, which will probably never be resolved because life is not fair. So she paid for the car and I brought along protection in the form of Herve (to placate her colleagues who are sure she is going to be shot/stabbed/kidnapped at any moment as soon as she sets foot outside the protected halls of the Hilton).

I know, I know--culturally-inappropriate clothing,
but the sweater I was wearing (aka jumper bc I was with a Brit)
kept getting in my way, and I had to climb.
I also had to get rid of the shoes. Fortunately the weather was ok for barefoot rock climbing,
unlike the time I tried that in South Sudan.

I took this photo from the top while Rhyan screamed at me--
she was mad (angry) because she wore a skirt and climbing was difficult.
I told her that I was going to wear pants (trousers).

A more experienced climber could probably have crawled up this
(I saw a monkey climb up it), but it is distracting when people are yelling at you to come back.

In the interest of full disclosure, moments before I climbed up here,
I'd told Rhyan and Herve that I wouldn't, but then I HAD to.

This photo shows a bit more the distance.
Herve wouldn't climb up because he said, "I'm a river man, not a mountain man."
But he told me later that he was really worried about me climbing because
he couldn't get up there to protect me if something happened.
I appreciate his protective instincts, but I also like to help him live on the wild side a bit too.

Herve with the ladies. Notice we are carrying a bunch of rocks.
Apparently it's an acceptable souvenir here. I was asked to bring some back to Urbain
who couldn't come as he was doing prep for a UNICEF eval that still hasn't
happened yet because they last-minute postponed it 3 times. Bless their hearts. Or something.

Herve really wanted to bring us to see this giant gravel pit.
Note that Rhyan is LOVING it. But then we got kicked out for
"security" reasons. We do look suspicious, I guess.

Plotting our next trip.

And this is how Herve's protective instinct really benefits me:
I have a drippy, hacky cold. I wanted ginger juice from our local lady
who always comes by whenever I don't want it, but she didn't have any made this time
when I NEED it for my health and well-being. So Herve went out and got me some ginger juice from someone else,
plus the "sirop" to make more myself (concentrated ginger and melted sugar) plus a small container of Koumra honey,
which is the best honey I've ever tasted in my life (delicately sweet and smells faintly of flowers) plus sweet potato chips.
It's ok if he can't save me if I fall off a rock while barefoot climbing. He can save the entire office from having to listen
to me whine (whinge) about not having ginger juice. He's a true hero.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sand-colored Skin

Do you ever have those days (weeks/months) where you just want to stay in bed forever and sleep away your life? I do sometimes. These are mostly introvert recovery days combined with being bored in the office for too long. I perk up when my life gets more exciting or kindly friends drag me from the darkness. Literal darkness because that helps with the whole sleeping/brooding thing.

Anyway, it’s good for me to write down the things that make me participate in Life again because I do go back and read what I wrote to remind myself that I really have it pretty dang good. I sometimes realize this after having conversations with colleagues like a recent one I had with Urbain about where I’ve traveled. He was really interested and seemed a bit wistful of my story about swimming in the Dead Sea and climbing the Great Wall of China. I feel a bit guilty over all the great experiences I’ve had that others without such acceptable passports, moderately flexible income, and enabling jobs will not have. I recognize my privilege and admit that it isn’t fair. Then somehow the conversation went back to my lack of a husband, ending with Urbain feeling incredibly sad for me (his words), so then I felt less sad for him (because why should both of us be sad?) and all was right with the world.

So after a week of brooding Darkness, I emerged into a world of in-country travel to remote locations, which brought with it Chad-style adventures and a few sleepless nights. But of course, I’d already stocked up on sleep, so it wasn’t a problem. I will tell the story with photos and captions because our internet is working now so it might be possible!

Lots of trips these days involve getting out/down and walking because the car/motorcycle can't go.
Thanks to Herve for this splendid photo of me picking my way across a pond.
(Note: this is in N'djamena.)

What happens when the camera man is taking a photo before anyone is ready.
I feel like this is pretty typical no matter where you are or what you're doing.
I'm laughing because Baby Girl is trying to eat my hair.

Then we popped back down to Koudalwa (and beyond) to open this first
Neverthirst/IAS well in the little village of Badel.
Don't worry--the platform on this has been extended and the water is draining into a garden now.

We bring everyone together to do the report.
Of course the women and men sit on opposite sides of me so that I have to
spin around like a ballerina the whole time I'm talking.

We do our reports on the ipad, as you can see here.
Also, Amanda talks with her hands.
Keep a safe distance.

I hate telling people to "smile for the photos"
because it feels exploitative, so instead I make jokes about
how the kids are afraid of the creepy white woman,
and then they laugh. The trick it to get the photo at the right moment.

Taking a photo of the old water source,
a very serious moment for everyone, since
I'm not making jokes and I'm a little concerned that
I might drop the ipad down the well.

Some village-life scenes:

Women pounding grain. They often do it together to the rhythm of a song.
I do have a video of them doing that, but too bad for you--internet is not awesome today.
Guess you'll just have to come visit and see for yourself.

I just thought this guy and his horse were cool looking.
He thought I was a bit weird, but let me take the photo.

And then This happened:
From about 8pm to 3am everyone dug around in the mud and jammed bits of trees under the tires.
It did not work.
I usually get out and help because I like to prove the girl power, but it was icky mud.
So I played the princess card and decided to sleep while everyone else was working,
so that I could drive the remaining 9 hours home while everyone else slept in the car.
I did end up driving most of the way back, but it didn't let the others sleep much because
they are men and they still felt the need to criticize my driving--
"Down shift, down shift! SLOW DOWN! You popped a tire. This is because women don't know how to drive in the bush."
(Oh yeah?! And who popped a tire TWICE on our trip last week, Djibrine?? It was not a WOMAN!)
Oh the beauty of the sun, rising up over the weary travelers and their muddy vehicle!
These were our options--Mud Pond Road or Grass Swamp Path.
We took the road less travelled and that made all the difference.
And we were stuck there for 16 hours...
Robert Frost is an idiot.

Once we realized that we could not dig the car out or pull it out with a rope attached to another rickety vehicle, we sent someone back to the big village for help (we also had no cell reception and no food/water). We sent him at 7:30am, and he didn't come back until 12:30. Amanda amused herself in various ways, usually maintaining her trademark positive attitude until the group of men who came back to "help" insisted on being paid 125,000CFA to get the car out. Everyone involved knew this was absolutely ridiculous, but they said, "You have a nasara with you. You are rich and you should pay us lots of money." Amanda may or may not have lost her temper and yelled at people. OK, she did. Anyway, we negotiated down, which was important because we didn't have 125,000CFA with us to give them. And they lifted the car out with their man power in less than 10 minutes.

Anyway, enjoy photos of Positive Attitude Amanda. There are no photos of Negative Attitude Amanda because when Amanda is angry, her eyes turn red and sparks fly around her head and even if you take a photo, it won't show up on the film...

Standing in front of a mud hole is the perfect time to practice taking selfies.

I got progressively worse at it.
So I climbed a tree

Djbrine and Urbain stayed below

I was comfy though.
We finally made it home at 1am the next day.

Then I had one day of rest before a spontaneous trip north to the Sahara Desert, the opposite side of the beautiful country of Chad. Trip made possible by MAF Chad. I was going to say that I already like them more that MAF South Sudan, but then again, MAF South Sudan flew into a war zone to rescue me, so we're cool now. This was just an over night trip, where I stayed with a friend in Faya, met with a bunch of government officials, and planned a water program. It was fun, even if we didn't get a chance to slide down sand dunes, but I was promised that for the next trip.

I really appreciate this warning.
I promise we did not take off with snow on the aircraft.

I co-piloted. I also look like Princess Leia in this photo-
crazy eyes, cinnamon bun-things over my ears.

We had to wait for parachuters before we could fly.
I really want to jump out of a plane. When I mention this to pilots,
they think it's hilarious to offer to take me up and let me jump out of the plane (but I can't promise you a parachute!).
Pilot sense of humor is not as funny as they think it is--but don't tell them:
you want them to be thinking happy thoughts when you fly so the pixie dust will work.

Faya is the largest oasis town in the world.
Here is some locally-grown fruit:
grapes, dates, and figs.

I really like the desert. I like sand. I like rocks. I like wind. I like sun.

Hiking up a sand dune.

I'm so good at panoramas now.

My bag, sitting inside the porch area of the house.

With my gracious host.

Night-time entertainment--playing Angry Birds on the ipad.

Waking up after sleeping outside under the stars and getting rained on (for real!).
Breakfast of hot milk and fruit. 

Incense burned over coals. You sit by it to make your clothes that you slept in last night smell better.

She looks like she hates me, but she doesn't--she even made me this beautiful covering
that you put over food to keep the sand from blowing on it.
It will come in handy for sure.

I don't care what you think, that it beautiful.

I always play with bullets when I'm in Faya.

Enjoying the scenery.

We climbed up the rock!
And somewhere around here is where he told me that my skin is the color of the sand.
Snow White may have had skin like snow, but I've always liked sand more than snow anyway.

Three days and 1500+ km later, same story.
This time car is stuck in the sand.
I helped get it out and we were only stuck for an hour.

One more trip to finish out the week!

I admired this woman's house and she let me take a photo.
Pretty, non? And she did it without Pintrest! Amazing.

I make origami animals to entertain children. I grew up in Asia.
Photo credit to the beautiful Rhyan who accompanied me on this trip.

She also took this photo of me in action, even after I did only nice things for her.

I feel a particular affinity for the nomads these days and my whole life.
They are also on the move right now, but someday soon we might pick a place to settle down for a few months.

If this seems like a particularly long post, it was a particularly long week. Now those of you who made it through (hi, Mom!) know what I go through (For The Children).