Thursday, June 22, 2017

InstaTravels

A common sight, if you live in Chad. Or if you're Amish.
“It’s close,” he told us, “only 300km.”

“So why don’t we go and come back in one day?” asked Hervé who was graciously coming in during his vacation month, hoping to keep this trip short (don’t feel too sorry for him—he often comes in while he is on “vacation” because we have sometimes-functioning internet and AC and no children).

“Oh no,” said Djibrine, “It will take us at least 7 hours to get there.”

Now, if we were talking about driving somewhere in South Sudan, absolutely I would believe him. It’s taken me 12 hours to go 200km before. But Chad has a lot of paved roads, and it hasn’t yet gotten to be full on rainy season where soupy roads and newly-flowing rivers can delay traveling, usually because some idiot thinks he is going to be the one to successfully drive through the wadi, even though clearly, two other trucks tried and failed before him.

Example from another trip of someone
thinking his car is stronger than mud



 I offered a compromise: we plan to stay the night but if we make it in time to finish our work and get back in one day, then we come on home. This was acceptable to all involved, so the next day, with my expired but mostly-unnecessary-anyway travel permit, we embarked on our journey of 300km?  7 hours?






Of course, I pushed our ETD to 8am from 6am because, 8am is always better than 6am. Djibrine said he’d come by at 7:30 because for some reason, he was super-stressed about this 300km/7 hour trip. I was not. I told him to err on the side of 8am because I planned to run before we left, and I wanted to make sure I had enough daylight hours to do that because I’ve learned my lesson about running in the dark in certain places. There are limitations that one has to accept if one is a woman who does not own any pepper spray. As it turned out, I was able to run and be ready by 7am, so I texted Djibrine to come on over. Naturally, he turned up at 8:15. The best laid plans…he blamed his wife for not waking him up in time. He has two wives, though, so I don’t know how he ever gets any sleep.

 I like road trips. The only times I prefer to fly are when I have time constraints or when the alternative was the Mundri Distress. Ours started off great, albeit with a bit of a delay. We headed to the petrol station to fill up before the trip and bought some water, even though poor Djibrine was fasting and couldn’t partake. He insisted that we did though, and since Hervé was driving, we made sure he was well hydrated, while Djibrine went back to sleep in the backseat and I tried to take instagram videos for Neverthirst. I was soon called out for one of my dumb jokes on the instagram page, which is why I should not be trusted with social media, but since everyone has editing rights, they were able to re-serious the account.

This is an example of what it looks like to drive down the roads in South Sudan during rainy season,
except we don't need to use those cowardly giant cars.
We are brave enough to take these roads in decades-old Land Cruisers.
Monster trucks are for sissies.


Puttering along, we came to our first péage exiting N’Djamena. We’d been on the road for about 15 minutes at that point. We had just whipped out the 500CFA to pay the guy, when a motorcycle pulled up by our car. It was the man from the petrol station. We’d forgotten to pay him and he chased us down. Oops. Fortunately, he did not seem to harbor any ill-will towards us for that.

Trees full of birds
The trip was fairly typical for Chad—the first part of the trip started out nice and paved with jarring sections of potholes to make sure you don’t fall asleep. Throughout there are military checkpoints where you are either stopped and questioned and must present valid papers (that you write yourself before you leave) or the kindly soldiers might just wave you through. The likelihood of you being stopped increases if the weather is nice and you are female. If it’s hot and stopping your car means moving out of the shade, you will likely just be waved through.  Being a female only benefits if you need to be charming because your papers aren’t exactly up to date. Fortunately, Ramadan fasting was on our side, everyone was conserving energy, and no one really cared about our papers on our trip, so I didn’t have to be charming at all. It's easier for me to remain in my natural state.

Cow crossing.
Throughout the trip, I was supposed to be trying to do something called “Insta Stories” for our Neverthirst social media. Or it might have another official name, but as an elderly person, I’ve not gotten into Instagram on my own, being quite content with the limitations of Facebook, so I’m not super up on all the Insta-Stuff. I did have a quick lesson with Brandon on how to Insta Story, but in the real life of the field, it turns out that Chadian cell phone data options do not favor Insta-Anything. But I was already caught up in taking short videos of cool things we see here that you don’t see elsewhere—camel trains, market day, people in traditional clothes working in the fields or walking by the road, donkeys pulling carts, cows pulling plows, grass-roofed mud brick houses, trees full of white birds, and the general beauty of rainy season Chad. Of course the problem is that once you see something while you’re speeding down the road, you’ve usually missed your opportunity to film it. I’m not dedicated enough to the media to go back for the shots. Consequently, I ended up with lots of dumb videos, which I diligently posted to Instagram before being gently told later not to do that anymore. Sorry Insta-people! I feel this need to share photos and stories of people and places I’ve seen with others who haven’t had the same opportunities I’ve had, whether you want me to or not. Thus—this blog. I’ve done my duty, and no one is making you read this (except, Mom, you have to because it is your maternal obligation).


 My favorite part of the trip is always once we leave the paved road. That’s when the real adventure starts. In our case, we missed the road we were supposed to take several times. And by the time we got to that road, we’d already realized that this trip was neither 300km nor 7 hours. And it wasn’t entirely due to our not knowing the road.

We took a decent unpaved road to a town called Koudalwa. There we met with the chef du village and I told Djibrine that this better not be the place he wanted us to build a well because there were already several water points. Note: this was already 8 hours in and more than 400km. “No, no, this isn’t the place. We just wanted to talk to the chef. Now we will go on out to Badel.” Amanda: “And let’s go now because we are running out of daylight!”
This part of the trip was on much worse roads (still nothing on par with South Sudan), and we splashed through puddles and scraped against trees, smashing our way into the jungle (which is what the bush becomes during the rainy season). On the way we passed several villages and maybe 2 working water points. I particularly enjoyed driving by some villagers loading up a truck with piles of cotton.

“We have to stop!” I yelled, suddenly unconcerned about lack of daylight and my job. “I have to jump in the cotton!” Like most of my ideas, it was a brilliant one. Cotton is bouncy and soft, like what you imagine walking on a cloud would feel like until Science ruins your fun with Facts. Also entertaining, the men on the truck burst into song and dance for us, just because they are fun people. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, our security guard decides to shoot off his gun loudly, right in my ear. But even this annoyance and mild concern about gravitational pull on bullets could not keep me from joining in the fun—until Hervé yelled at me to get back in the car. But I really want to go back and put a well in that village too, so donate to Neverthirst already and tell them to use the money for wells in Chad. Do it now.


If you could see this photo Djibrine took of me
in the "LIVE" version that somehow shows up on my phone,
you can tell that I'm jumping and my hair is flying around,
and that kid is questioning my sanity, as one does.


Climbing out of the cotton pile-
it's up to my knees!

The men singing on top of the truck, with our trigger-happy soldier guy,
aka Monsieur Fastest Hands South of N'djamena, in blue in the front.
Hervé does not drive calmly and Monsieur Celebratory Bullets Rarely Kill People Right in Front of You
managed to hold on, while I amused everyone else in the car by checking to make sure he was still
there, every time we went over a particularly jarring bump.

We finally arrived at our destination about 30 minutes before sunset, significant because it’s Ramadan and people are breaking fast at sunset. People have been fasting from water and food all day. They are tired and ready to eat. But they graciously took me to their closest water point, which is not really in use much right now, as rains have brought green but not refilled the reservoirs. People in Badel go to holes dug in the riverbed and get water from there. Since the holes in the riverbed closest to them are now mostly dry, they are going another 5km beyond to find water.

Hawa shows us the proper way to get water.
Also, clearly this is not good water.
This is what they are drinking.
Go donate to Neverthirst.
The group with me agreed to pull up some water from the hole to show me the quality. At first there were only men with us, and a man gamely tried to get the water. I have a video of us all laughing at him as he dropped the bucket. A woman came out (presumably from the confines of the kitchen where she was putting the finishing touches on the Iftar meal) and showed him how to do it. It just proves the old adage, anything boys can do girls can do better. Or in this case the boy couldn’t actually do it and we had to call in a superior talent.

The water was predictably terrible and the people were predictably quite excited about the coming of an improved water source right in their village. We had a meeting about requirements and expectations, and then it was time to Iftar. Hervé and I sat by the car while everyone prayed and ate. I was a little surprised, but not upset that we didn’t get invited to join in the food. As soon as everyone finished, we got back in the car to head to the first bigger village where we were going to spend the night in the chef’s house.

We made it back, driving in the dark, stopping to wipe mud off the windscreen once or twice and checking to make sure that one tire was holding up (it barely made it). At the chef’s house we were offered a Ramadan meal and then laid down on the floor to sleep. I was also a bit surprised to be sleeping with the men, but at no point during this trip was I considered a proper female, so I guess it shouldn’t have been that surprising.


Iftar meal in Chad. Got to be honest, it is not my favorite.
I've never liked soup much because I prefer to chew food.
People always seem to want to break fast with soups here, though.
And giant spoons are for communal soup consumption.
 It wasn’t a super restful night, though, what with Hervé’s intense snoring and the 3am wake up call for pre-daylight eating. I was very impressed with how quickly Hervé fell asleep. Seriously, I always thought those people who lie down and are out right away are lying, but it seems like that is what happened with him. I mean, there was really no reason for pretend snoring in this situation, so I have to believe it must have been real. I ended up just getting up at 4am and then pushing everyone else to get up so we could leave by 5am. 

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Anyway, we made it home in time for me to join the ladies celebrating Minga’s birthday and watching Wonder Woman in the theatre here—made even better because we can openly bring in a large pan of brownies for movie-snack time. Chad is Freedom. Don’t you want to come visit?



On the way back, Hervé always stops to buy presents for his family.
He made me try this weird palm tree fruit.
It tastes like if you shredded some cardboard and mixed in a few raisins for flavor, with
the texture of those woodchips you put on the bottom of a hamster cage.
Djibrine is either concerned for me or wishing he weren't fasting so that he could eat one too.



Here is where I planned to insert several videos:

1) A video of a swarm of bugs splishing against our windshield. If you have the sound on you can here their guts juicing out. It's melodic.

2) A video of the guy dropping the bucket into the hole and everyone laughing at him.

3) A video of the cotton men singing and dancing. Since I can't currently make those happen, please enjoy this closer photo of the cool dancers.




One possible way for you to see the videos is if Marian will upload them for me. A slightly smaller possibility is if the internet dude actually shows up tomorrow to fix our internet. But don't get too excited. We are on Day 3 of him promising to show up tomorrow and fix it right away.



Monday, June 12, 2017

Part 2 The Next 3

Selfie with Mary at one of our Lakes.
"Why are you so short?" she asked me before grabbing the
phone and taking the photo herself.
And now the last three countries, which I was going to post yesterday for Joanna in the hospital with Evie, but then I got distracted by being very angry at someone who stole months of work from me, and I started contemplating a career change, writing nasty emails I didn’t send, and also looking at all the nice photos Marian took of our super-awesome family time together to change the subject. I woke up this morning with a renewed fervor, which I then lost as I tried to run in oppressively muggy weather before getting a very sane response from a kind colleague about taking the high road. Stupid high road. There’s less oxygen up there. How do you know the decisions you make from the high road are really better? Lack of oxygen is bad for your brain. But I’ve always liked climbing things (as you saw in Part 1), so whatever. I’m going to do it.  But I reserve the right to base jump from the top of the high road down to the abyss of the low road if needed.

So anyway, next three countries were Sweden, US, and Canada.

IAS is a Swedish organization, and one thing I’ve learned while working with them is that I really like these Viking people. I like them as much as I hate ABBA. And I really really hate ABBA.


Sweden:

·      Leksand, is the most “Swedish” part of Sweden (this observation is not original to me, it was donated by an authentic Swede). It is know for a large red wooden horse, which Leif pointed out as the largest in the world. I mentioned to Paul that this is likely because no one else in the world has thought it important to build a large red horse, but we didn’t mention that to Leif. Let him be proud of this Swedish accomplishment. The houses here are also all painted red with a paint that is made of copper dust mixed with water that is supposed to protect the wood. Leif said, “As you can see, all the houses here are red. Except for that one, which is yellow, but it is wrong.” Leif’s house is 120 years old and sits on the banks of one of the many crystal lakes in the area. All of us Africans in for the meeting started dividing up the lakes between our countries. Mary said, “I’ll take these for Kenya. Ketema, you can take that one for Ethiopia. Moggas, take that one for South Sudan.” This is what happens when water program people travel together in water abundant countries. I’d take some lakes to Chad, but I know in 10 minutes of arriving in our great country, they would be full of camels and cows and no longer safe to drink. But the cattle would be happy.

Making Juliet try out the trampoline.
She loved it.


You can take the Chadian out of Chad,
but when you give him a scarf to help him stay warm
at a Swedish cookout, he will still wrap it around his head like
he's about to go out and get on his camel.

IAS Tchad in Sweden!
Sadly, the first day we found out that Hervé's mother passed away,
and he had to go home quickly.

Eating raw pickled herring, event documented by Rune.
·      Food is…. Well, let me explain with a story: Anders, Danish colleague who used to live in Tanzania, told me  about a Scandinavian restaurant that opened in his town to his great excitement…until it closed down 3 months later because there weren’t enough Scandinavians in town to keep it in business. It takes a Viking palate to appreciate their cuisine. I tried dill-flavored caviar paste that comes in a tooth-paste like tube.  At the first bite I thought, “This isn’t so bad.” But as I continued to chew, amazingly, it got worse. But the worst was the raw pickled herring. Initially, I wasn’t going to try it, but Rune saw me skipping past it at the breakfast buffet and goaded me into trying it, “Don’t you eat bugs and other strange foods? I thought you would be brave enough to try our Viking food.” He challenged my courage! So I took some. Then it took me about 10 minutes to convince myself to put it into my mouth. It was truly terrible. I can’t describe it, but it triggered my gag reflex, which I had thought I didn’t actually have, as I usually can’t throw up, even when I’m sick. Later, as I was discussing his country’s horrible delicacies with Leif, he said, “That wasn’t herring you ate. It was seal. Wasn’t it seal?” he asked the cook lady who happened to be popping out of the kitchen at that moment. “Ja. Det är sill,” she said.

“So you’re saying I ate a seal?” I screamed in horror. “Seals are the puppies of the sea!” I then proceeded to tell everyone that I ate seal because – cool story. Until Desiree heard about it. “That was herring. We don’t eat seal here. Who told you it was seal?” I told her about Leif and the cook lady. She kindly explained that “sill” (pronounced “seal”) means “herring” in Swedish. I’ll get you next time, puppies of the sea.

Other important Sweden moments:

Andreas (a Swede) told me that he thinks I was the worst of anybody with the cold. We should note that this is me compared with Africans from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Niger. People who had never seen snow until IAS decided to have meetings in Sweden in May.  I was worse than all of them. You know what? Screw it. I have other strengths. Note: I did NOT complain. I just wore all the clothes that I had with me all the time. And drank  a lot of tea. Also, friends loaned me their coats out of compassion. I just have that effect on people.

With Juliet after touching the electric fence,
With Julius "letting the body work,"
And with the cows...
I also enjoyed many Julius sayings. I knew I should have kept a list of them because now I only remember two. The first was when we were outside participating in a Swedish tradition of letting the cows out for the first time after the winter where they’d been kept inside for survival. As far as I could see, it was still winter. There was an arctic breeze blowing and I was on the verge of hypothermia. I was standing next to Juliet, who was appropriately bundled up. “Don’t touch the fence,” she said. “It will give you a shock.” Naturally, I touched it. She was right. But I was still freezing so she let me wear her scarf while I bounced up and down to generate heat. Julius, feeling sympathetic, as a Ugandan who’d moved to Sweden years before, advised me to embrace the cold, “Amanda, sometimes you have to let the body work.” Later that day at the fancy Swedish lunch buffet they took us to, he noticed my plate after I got back from the salad bar, “Amanda, you cannot eat only that grass," he told me, greatly encouraging me because I hadn’t found the rest of the food at that point and the salad bar had more gross slimy fish stuff on it. I had some Swedish beef instead.

Even in Sweden, sometimes we have to jump off our cars.

Then Leif asks me to drive, and I'm supposed to know that
this means to push the shifter down and up to reverse?
That is not clear from the drawing.

With Beatrice in the mines!

Of course this happened.
IKEA is all of my nightmares in one
nearly impossible to escape building.

I made Ilyasu try out the self check-out.
He loved it.
My photo of a moose I saw at 3am while driving to the airport.
I'm thinking about changing my career and becoming a wildlife photographer.
I clearly have skills.


The United States of America:
·      My observations mean nothing. Everyone has their own opinions about this place. I had fun eating various types of processed food (it’s what separates man from the animals!) and hanging with my family, including all the crazed progeny of my sisters. There were also some meetings I attended. I am happy to note that I survived them.


Cool aunts buy nerf guns for their nephews


Cool aunts share their tea
Breakfast with the cool aunt means you can eat
a plateful of bacon, and she is just so proud.



Canada:
A confusing photo I took in Canada
·      I think you all know how I feel about Canadian immigration policies. It turns out, they apply in Canada as well, but their results are more pleasing there than they are in South Sudan. Before leaving the plane, the flight attendant insisted that we ALL take the exit immigration papers for entering Canada. “I’m only in transit,” I said. “Everyone has to take them,” he said. (Amanda starts thinking dark thoughts again about Canada even though she reread Gordon Korman’s classic Canadian novel “I Want to Go Home” in the bathtub while chez her parents.) It turns out everyone had to go through exit immigration to get to the next part of the airport (insert eye-roll here for Canadian airport organization skills), but it ended up working out because I had about 6 hours to kill and I decided to go see Toronto because why not?

·         Canadian trains are nice. Canadian announcements in French and English are convenient because I start paying attention once they repeat in French, and in that way, I don’t miss my stop.

·      Canadian people are nice. I walked down to the water (of course) and sat on a bench by the Canadian maritime police station (because it was the first secluded bench I found). A police boat pulled out, and following what I assume are Canadian maritime customs, honked the horn before entering the lake. I turned as they honked because reflexes, and the gentle policemen all apologized to me for some reason.

·      Canadian birds will eat out of your hand. This must be because they are so used to all the nice Canadian people.

·      Canadians sell LOTS of maple sugar candies.


And that’s all! I’m home in Chad. It’s hot and muggy, but it’s also still MANGO SEASON! In conclusion, to deserve this great life, I quote the Sound of Music, “somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” And I’ll have to ask my mom what it was because I can’t remember it off the top of my head.



I'll leave you with these photos of ma famille:

I didn't take many photos in TN because 8 children
were wanting to play with my phone every time I took it out
and Marian had her fancy camera.


When you have a nephew on the spectrum who
gets overwhelmed by people and noise,
it's ok to hug each other under a blanket.


Playing in the creek

Oh yeah...and it's me...


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Part 1 of Six-Country May (aka 3 countries)

So in May I managed to be in 6 countries—two extra-long transit countries, two meeting countries, one just for fun and one because I live here. It was a good month. To recover, I took the first weekend back in Chad for sleep and ignoring phone calls from caring friends.  If you want to talk to me, send me a text message. Come on. There are plenty of articles online about how terrified introverts are of talking on the phone.

I’m not going to go into detail about each country, though I should because apparently details are important. People are always asking me for details like “how much will it cost to construct and install a rope pump?” and “what time do you need me to pick you up from the airport?” and “what are you having for dinner?”* These are all difficult questions to answer specifically because when people ask for details, they want cold hard facts, but in my fluid reality, such things are hazy at best. Anyway, I enjoyed my travels, but instead of details, I’ll provide photos and some observations.

 Morocco

Pottery shop


Plans you make with the Zetterlund family are pleasantly vague. “Take the train from the airport to Rabat. Whatsapp me when you leave the airport so I’ll have some idea of when you’ll arrive.” This means that you might end up in a heated Palestinian rally at the wrong stop with only Daniel’s Swedish whatsapp number and no wifi.  It’ll all work out in the end and you’ll find him, buy some nice pottery for your mom’s Mother’s Day present, eat some tahjeen and hang with some cool Swedes for a little less than 24 hours.


Moroccan mint tea before a week with coffee-mad Swedes.

Did I get a photo with DZ and his adorable family?
No, but I do have about 20 photos of me and their puppy...
I want one.

Denmark

·      What we in America call “danish pastries,” Danes call wienerbrød (accurate spelling unimportant as long as you get to use the ø). It’s good.

Breakfast with the IAS Denmark office


·      Take the cheesy boat tour in Copenhagen, you might get to see the Queen! I did. She was taking a small motorboat out to her yacht for a maritime tour. They shot off cannons and all her little soldier boys stood up on her boat all stiff and salute-y. Also, question: is it a law that all navy-type people must wear white uniforms with backwards bib collars? I know all about the importance of “TRADITION” but where did these traditions come from? At one time were these backwards collars fashionable or is there some sort of sailing purpose for them? Do they flap in the direction the wind is blowing or inflate into a life preserver for your neck if you fall in the water and forget how to swim?  WHY DID THEY EVER HAPPEN? In a later blog, I will rant about berets, a purposeless, unsymmetrical hat that neither protects one’s eyes from the sun nor one’s ears from the cold. Also weirdly favored by militarian uniform designers.

Cheesy "I'm on a boat" selfie for the family.
Special thank you to  Anders's wife for the use of her jacket,
which I wore 24-7 while in Scandinavia.
When I arrived in Copenhagen, the first thing he said to me was,
"Don't you have warmer clothes than those?"
I mean, I was wearing a hoodie! And flipflops...
(No, I didn't.)

Queen's yacht. Queen is in small boat on the right-hand
side of the yacht. Cannons were firing.
Tourists were standing up to take photos.
Amanda, hiding from the icy wind, took this from a safe distance.

Climbed it.
·      Climbing buildings is fun. I decided to climb up a church steeple I’d seen from the boat. I figured out my way over and decided that it was worth it to pay to climb up to the top.  I was right, of course. Then I found another tower from that tower that I decided that I wanted to climb, so I went there and climbed it and waited for my friend, former roommate in Yemen, who somehow still likes me even after having to live with me for several months (a rare quality with my roommates).  She let me come home with her to her beautiful little house in the Danish countryside where I got to meet her family and go for a beautiful green woodsy run. I don’t mind my sandy desert runs, but it’s always fun to explore new places. I’m usually slower, though, because I sometimes stop to take photos and admire the scenery.


·      If you leave your phone in your friend’s car when she drops you at the train station to head to Sweden, find a nice Nepali guy in a train shop and he will let you use his phone to contact her to come back and find you.

Thanks, new friend!

·      Also, while you’re there, buy the Ginger Pepsi Max. It’s good.

This is good. Je dis oui.

·      Regrets: I didn’t get to meet Chili Klaus or Michael Learns to Rock, but Johanne had emailed back and forth with the Michael Learns to Rock lead singer about an art auction she was doing to raise money for refugee minors in Denmark (because she’s super cool like that) and so I felt very close Michael. Almost like he was teaching me to rock, painting my love and all that, in spite of the fact that I’m not an actor and not a star and I don’t even have my own car. While we are on the subject of Scandinavian pop music, I’m pleased to note that I never had to hear any ABBA songs while traversing the great white north. If that’s not a successful Nordic trip, I don’t know what is.


Johanne gave me a hot water bottle for my survival.
The previous week in Chad, I'd been sleeping with a frozen water bottle.
It took me a long time to convince myself to leave that warm bed.
But the sunny, spring-green run WAS worth it.

Yemen/Denmark--it's basically the same place.

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Before we move on to the next three countries, I’m going to pause and pretend to write a country report for IAS, which is actually something I might have done at an earlier time had I not been busy doing more important things like whittling my inbox down from 1200+ to 315 emails. NOBODY RESPOND TO ANY OF THE EMAILS I WROTE PLEASE.

Sneak preview of Sweden photos:

With my favorite francophone Swedish family in Stockholm
before they told Gösta he couldn't get ice cream.


Being a Viking in the long-boat we wanted to take out on the lake,
but there wasn't enough water.


There was enough water for us to bust out the canoe, though.

* Here's what I had for dinner:

Pineapple salsa made by This Genius.
And you thought I never ate anything healthy!
Note: pairs well with nacho-flavored chips and gummy smurfs.
Amanda=Nutrition