Thursday, December 14, 2017

Where Everybody Knows Your Dog's Name

I started writing a blog post about holiday celebrations I’ve done here in Chad recently because of the importance of chronological consistency, but I can’t be inspired by that while I have a much more important post to write about my new best friend and roomie, Joe (as in G.I.).  He is in almost every photo in this blog post and now the majority of photos in my camera roll and the only reason I’ve not posted a million photos of him on Facebook is because I have been waiting to officially introduce him and also it takes a lot of energy to post photos, especially when there are so many excellent ones to choose from.

Joe’s presence in my life is a direct result of me being exhausted, frustrated and a tiny bit burnt out after the Faya trip, which you will recall was not all bad, but it still weakened me. Specifically, it weakened the part of my brain that controls the decision-making process as it pertains to the addition of people, animals and/or things in my life. Generally, when offered a gift from someone (and Joe was a gift), I think about many things. First, can I refuse this gift without hurting anyone’s feelings? If no, I take the gift, and plan whom I can re-gift that gift to, secretly so that no one finds out.  If yes, I think, “Do I really need this? Do I really want this? Will it take up a lot of space? Will it complicate my life? Will it be difficult to travel with? Will it cost me money?” If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ I usually politely refuse the gift. Obviously, when someone offers to give you a puppy, the answer to most of those questions is ‘yes.’ So naturally, in spite of really really REALLY wanting a puppy for many years now, I should have said ‘no, thank you, but your kindness and generosity have been noted and I am deeply impressed by this self-less gesture.’ Poetry. And 100% true. An excellent polite refusal. But for some reason, I did not. I said yes. And now I have Joe.

Are there times when I have regretted saying ‘yes’? Honestly, there are. But then I spent three nights away from my fuzzy puppy when I went south to Koumra to install a water system at a maternal health center and I missed him so much it hurt. Or I was actually sick most of that trip, so maybe that was it.

At any rate, Joe and I are best pals. He comes with me to work and sits by my desk or plays outside with the guards. I’m fortunate that they really like him and agree to have him stay at the office while I’m traveling. When I got back from Koumra and went to pick him up, Mbaye was very sad, though he tried to act brave for Joe’s sake. So far only one of our visitors has run screaming from the office when she saw him quietly sitting beside my desk, making no noise or disturbance.

Most people really love him, and this includes all the children in my neighborhood and the family that lives in the flat downstairs from me. The youngest daughter has been terrified of me up until I got Joe. Now she loves Joe and will sometimes come up to knock on my door and ask if she can play with him. She waits for us to get home from work and runs out yelling, “Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe!”

The neighborhood kids also run around after us, yelling his name. He is like a celebrity. And the best part is that no one knows my name, so I can maintain my anonymity.

The Joe fan club (Joe not included because a chicken ran by
right before we took this picture and he had to chase that smug noisy little bundle of feathers).

While walk/dragging Joe (he’s not super great on the leash yet), I’ve had several people ask me if I’m selling him. Once when he was being particularly stubborn, refusing to continue to walk with me, a man helpfully told me that Chadian dogs just won’t listen to foreigners. Thanks a lot for embarrassing me in public, Joe.

I won’t bother you with many more stories of how he sleeps curled up by me on the bed or prefers to drink water off the ground to water in his bowl or how much he loves candy and cookies (he is my dog, after all, it’s only natural). Instead, please enjoy this selection of photos (a tiny percentage of the many many I have taken).

He likes to chew my hair. I'm trying to break him of this habit,
but how cute is his face?!

He sometimes eats pumpkin pie with a fork.
(I got him right before Thanksgiving so he got to try the pie.)

After his first bath. So much sadness.

This is also how I look after taking a bath--cold and shivery and sad.
I'll be happy to have some warm water showers soon in America.

Yes, I give him everything he wants when he looks like this.

Please enjoy the following photos of Joe trying various foods for the first time. You better look at all of them because I've been forced to see all your posts about "Happy 4.5 months, Baby Sparrow! You love singing the alphabet, drooling on Daddy's head, changing the password to the internet, eating chocolate-covered peas, and being Mommy's favorite baby EVER!" #blessed #mommylove #babysparrow #ilovemybabysoooooomuch #howcutearehiseyes #cheeksfordayssss #helookslikehisdaddy #hesalivebecauseofessentialoils #youcanneverhavetoomanyhashtags #yolo
*insert adorable photo of a baby in hat holding a perfectly-lettered handmade poster*

He loves whipped cream. Just like his mommy.

He was indifferent to cheetos.
Guess that came from his daddy because mommy also loves those.

He looks indifferent to this sour patch kid, but you're wrong.
He loves them. He's a genius.

Can you see the resemblance?

He begged to try it, but he doesn't like tea.
I blame the Americans he spent his early weeks with.

He loves these Chadian candies. I give him the yellow and orange ones I don't like
 and eat the cherry and strawberry ones myself.
Note: this photo is staged. I take most of the paper off before I give it to him.

Some cookies that ended up being gross.
Now that I have a dog, they weren't wasted:
I ate all the chocolate icing out of the middle
and he ate the gross cookie part.

Un chasseur! He got a lizard.

He tried to hunt this chicken too,
but the owners of the chicken were not impressed by his skills.

He's a fancy French dog. He loves paté.

Watching Home Alone, a classic film in which a little boy's dream
of living alone and eating junk food for dinner is fulfilled,
aka Amanda's Life Story

Are you still paying attention?
This is not my dog, but it is my adorable niece with her dog.

I will leave you with this sage unsolicited relationship advice that Kandos and Herve have now given me. I told Herve after I got Joe that now I don't need a man anymore because I have a dog. (His fondest wish is to see me married and popping out babies, and he is sure that I'm intentionally scaring off the men by putting up "walls".) He responded, "Non, Amanda. Tu peux pas dire ça-- ça c'est trop!" Loose translation: now, you've gone too far.

Kandos, seeing me lying in the office floor by my dog, whispering sweet nothings in his ear, said, "Someday when you find a man, you will love him more than that dog. I hope." I'm not making any promises though. Kandos then forbade me from sharing photos of me lying in the floor with Joe in case it scares off potential husbands. "They don't want to think that you will love your dog more than them. Amanda-you will never find a husband that way!" Ah well, the spinster life for me, then I guess. At least I'm not a cat lady. Yet. I like those too.

Herve took this photo and sighed.

Urbain took this photo and laughed. And Kandos sighed.

Driving home from work. I still drive better than most people here,
even with a dog impeding my vision.
(Calm down, Mom. I don't really drive like this. Usually.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Expeditions in the Sahara

Posing for Herve. Also trying not to get knocked
over by the wind
I’ve been putting off writing about the Faya trip because while most of it was a lot of fun, there were some pretty low moments too. I can’t really write about those, not because I am trying to keep up my perfect image, but because it isn’t stuff I should just put out there on the internet for my mom and the odd person searching for articles about “dangdut music” for their paper on obscure musical traditions to read. That’s why we have Whatsapp—for private conversations.  But here are a few stories and lots of photos and a video that might work.

After a week in Morocco hanging with Swedes and some other cool people, I hit the road for a 2 day drive across the desert. And of course “road” only applies to the first 2 or so hours of the trip. But that pavement is actually quite smooth in a few places!

For me, I love a good road trip. I made some pumpkin bread because it’s Fall somewhere and peanut butter cookies because they’re easy to make and they last well (for future reference, pumpkin bread made with preservative-free real pumpkin does not last long in the heat—it melts and I had to throw out most of the bread, sadly). We loaded up on water and piled all our stuff up high in the car and headed out ready for sand and dirt and sand and camels and sand. It was the first trip north for all of the Chadians in the car except for the driver. I felt like a wonderful tour guide, shuttling people around their own country to a town I’ve already been to twice. They were all excited about the trip and very happy to see another part of the country. Many photos were taken and a few bottles full of sand came back to N’Djamena with us.

 I’d planned on camping a bit on the way there and back (two-day trip through the desert without a variety of hotel options to choose from), but I didn’t count on Chadian hospitality.  It’s pretty impressive--would you be welcomed to sleep inside an American government building if you were passing through town and needed a place to crash? Doubtful. But I really wanted to sleep outside under the stars. Because stars way out in the desert away from all ambient light except for a few flashlights and a campfire or two, are pretty epic. Also, to be completely honest, the idea of sleeping in close quarters with a bunch of snoring men was not exciting to me. But since it was very cold, I decided to sleep in the car. Apparently, though, my decisions mean nothing. It was 4 against 1 and no one accepted that I sleep in the car alone in the beautiful quiet dark night because “La securité!” “It’s too cold/dangerous/whatever. And look, we have made your bed up in here so that you will be a bit separate from us.” I was in a little side room, but I was still not separate enough not to hear their loud, unsynchronized snores. If they had been synchronized, I might have been able to sleep, but as they were not, I only dozed a bit. Also, one blanket on the hard cement floor does not provide the level of cushion my body is used to sleeping on, which admittedly isn’t much considering my mattress at home has a crater in the middle into which gravity pulls everything. So I got up with a few bruises on the hipbones. It was very cold (the equivalent of a nice summer day in Sweden), so Herve and I wrapped up the turbans and went to stand in the sunshine while we waited for everyone else to get ready. This is when he decided to tell me the cautionary tale about that one time an NGO team went to Iriba during the cold season and let their driver sleep inside the car over night.

“The next day, they found his dead body—like this!” he said, holding his hands up like claws in front of his face (see the photo). He was very serious about this story until I fell over laughing. It was something to hold on to because the image of Herve pretending to be the frozen corpse of a mythical driver made me laugh randomly whenever I thought about it for the rest of a slightly stressful week.

Herve doing "the frozen corpse."

On our trip back, we stopped in a little village that let us sleep in a visitor’s shelter, a little shack made of sticks.  I’d learned from the trip out not to sleep within earshot of Herve, so I opted to sleep in the car. Unfortunately, Herve was mad at the driver for arbitrarily deciding to stop in this little town instead of driving on to the bigger town where we could presumably sleep in a small hotel, and he refused to sleep in the visitor’s shelter and said he wanted to sleep in the car. I wouldn’t let him, and he slept outside in a huffy pile of blankets. I was freezing inside the car with my airplane blankets and sarong so I pulled out a weird aluminum foil thing given to me by a friend, which was supposed to keep people warn in the event of an injury while being transported to get medical attention. It sounded like World War 3 when I opened it up, but I crawled in. Every time I turned over, it probably woke up the entire neighborhood, so I tried to keep still, but it wasn’t a quiet night.

Covered in blankets I stole from various airplanes
and an army-green tin foil sleeping bag.

Huffy pile of Herve blankets

Probably the drive there and back was one of the best parts of the trip, but I also enjoyed fulfilling a life-long dream of sliding down sand dunes. Or anyway, if it wasn’t a life-long dream, it was at least from the first time I went to Faya when we tried and failed to slide down the dunes. We didn’t have the right equipment. Fortunately, our host’s kids know all about sand dune sliding and they taught me their tricks. We had lots of fun and I had sand in my hair and ears for a week after we left Faya. Hopefully the video attaches so you can see how fun it is and immediately book your next vacation in the nearby Faya Oasis Desert Resort. Accommodations are rustic and do not include beds, indoor plumbing or electricity. You will be generously hosted. The moment you wake up at 5:30am with the sun and the bruises from sleeping on packed dirt floors, you will be given hot sweet tea and spaghetti noodles (no sauce). Around 9am, you will have a larger breakfast of goat meat and baguettes. Lunch will consist of a blob of starchy substance, called “aseeda” in Arabic, eaten with a very tasty goat meat stew, and dinner will be pasta with a goat meat sauce. All meals are eaten communally without any unnecessary utensils, though spoons can be provided for people who look snooty until they prove that they know how to eat with their hands like everyone else.

Dinner on our first stop on the drive in.

Welcome snack at Djimmi's house

Ultimately, our trip had mixed success. One of our projects didn’t work out like we had hoped, but we learned a lot, and I’m still hopeful for the future.

Biosand filter at the pediatrics ward in the
local Faya hospital--I think this project will work.

Rope pump prototype--this project hasn't worked yet,
but we aren't giving up 

Enjoy the following photos and stories from Faya, the world’s largest oasis town, and one more the most interesting places I’ve had the privilege to visit.

We got several flat tires on our way in and on our way out.
In spite of this, we risked the last 500km without a spare tire.
Life on the edge--and we made it!

Selfies with Herve while everyone else changes tires.

One arm is red and the other is white--
this is what happens when you don't put on sunscreen
and you sit with one arm out the window.
Amanda-merah putih!

The petrol station at Kouba

The store at Kouba. The proprietor goes to Libya
once a month to restock.

This popped up on my Facebook when we hit a signal tower in the middle of the desert and made me laugh.
It would have been a bad time for me to get "sick and tired of sand." I don't mind sand fortunately.

Camels are ALWAYS cool.
Camels wandering alone in the middle of the desert--feast your eyes.

This isn't a photo of litter.
Tires and metal barrels are strategically placed
to mark the road.
Even so, don't go without an experienced driver or
it might not end well for you.

We stopped by every stranded car to see if we could help.
Everyone does it. We often left food or water, if needed.

Oasis rest stop in the middle of no where--they had a nice
tarp strung up, which was nice privacy for the one girl on the trip
who was making sure to stop whenever there were convenient rocks
or scrubby bushes to squat behind, but those were few and far between. 
In Faya! How gorgeous is this?

Every night I let Bila watch movies on my computer.
She doesn't speak French, English, or Arabic.
I learned some Goran to speak to her and her mother,
but I wish I knew enough to understand her animated explanations
of the movie plot to her brothers when they came in later.
What did she think was happening in Cinderella?

Sand dunes!

I took a million photos like these and I can't bring myself to delete
any of them because they are so beautiful.
Though this one has a weird green alien dot on it, so I probably should have deleted it.

This is a very artistic photo, don't you think?
If only I were an Instagram-girl...

Yaqob and Ibrahim decided to nail their shoes onto their
"yortanga" (sand board). I wish I could have been there
when their mother found out...

Djimmi bragging on his son, "He is a great hunter--he can hit any animal with a rock."

Showing us a garden, irrigated by a traditional system.
Djimmi is full of personality.

Oasis Garden

Eating fresh figs right off the tree!

Alah is using my Gerber knife to do some construction.
I always bring it on trips like this because you never know when you might need it.
I generally use it for fixing the gas bottle in my house or re-mounting the towel rack.
Djimmi saw it and said, "Are you KGB? How did you get that? It looks like a took you use
to get information from prisoners." I did accidentally join the Communist party in China,
but that is just a coincidence.

Ready for the trip home.

Digging ourselves out of the sand.
We got stuck in front of a broken down truck.
They lent us their shovel and we gave them some food and water.

Our friends.
I asked them, "How long have you been here?
"27 days," he said, "So not too bad. The next truck
down has been broken for 3 months."
"How are your surviving?"
"People like you give us food and water. We're doing ok."
The ultimate optimist!

I saw this sign when the guys stopped to take a pee break.
Obviously there was no place for me to do that.
But I was fine. I just went to stand by the sign and laugh and laugh.
What is it pointing at? It's in the middle of the desert. Nothing is written on it.
It's not even well secured. It could get blown over and then where is it pointing?
Who thought to put this sign out here?

This is what our car looked like from the sign.


To drive through sand you have to deflate your tires a bit.
We didn't have a pump to re-inflate once the sand got less,
so we stopped these guys and borrowed theirs.
Djibrine said, "Amanda, speak Arabic to them--it will freak them out!"
So I did. I also did this later in the trip when some soldiers
were trying to get us to pay them money for some unnecessary papers that
our driver didn't have for his vehicle. After our conversation,
they agreed to let him go with a warning, "But only because of this nasara girl! Because we like her."
See? It can be useful to have me around.

I climbed on the roof of the car to take this sunset photo.
It wasn't necessary to do that, but I wanted to climb on the roof of the car anyway.
So I did.

The visitor's shelter on the trip home that Herve and I rejected.

Porridge for breakfast anyone?
Pas pour moi.