Monday, August 22, 2016

Women Drivers

Teaching after giving up on the headscarf
My life isn’t made up entirely of traveling. Sometimes I do other things too. Recently I helped train 50 women in central Chad on community organizations and management of money. Fortunately, I did not have to make the powerpoint, though I did make sure to insert photos and pictures on each slide because these are illiterate women and powerpoint words aren’t quite as exciting to them as they are to the rest of us who can read. Or maybe they are just the same level of horrible…

It was my first training in French, though I had a translator speaking Chadian Arabic. The thing about Chadian Arabic is that I understand it fine, but people who aren’t familiar with the Sudanese or Levantine or Yemeni mixed-accent that I now have, don’t always understand me. This is especially true for village women who don’t speak Arabic as a first language anyway. I had wanted to do the training in their local languages, but then we would have to have about 5 translators, so we decided to stick to French and Arabic. But the poor Arabic translator on the second day was really terrible. He stared off into the distance and spoke in a monotone, and he did not translate the way I wanted him to. Just a head’s up: if you translate for me from a language I know into another language that I know, I will make sure you use the right words or I will stop the training and show you on my phone dictionary the exact vocabulary I want you to use. I also get annoyed when you don’t translate my jokes. I am funny, dang it. The women will laugh even if you have no sense of humor. Anyway, after the first tea break, I waited until he left the room and then changed to another guy who is a very charismatic translator who finds me hilarious. He also approved the activity I made up for the training involving candy. Is there a point in having a training if there isn’t an activity involving candy?  I don’t think so.

The candy part of the training
So the training was successful, but my brilliant money-saving brain decided that we would drive to the town and in order to save even more cash, I would drive instead of hiring a driver. Partly why I wanted to do this is because I did not want to take the bus. I don’t love loud music and violent Thai movies that are the accepted form of bus entertainment here, and also I feel like I have a whole lot of living left to do. Though you might not have known it from the way I was driving.

In the days leading up to the trip, I kept telling people that I would drive slowly.

“I’m a good driver,” I said, making sure to stand in an area where lightning strikes are rare. “I will just take it slow and let others pass me, if they want.” (If I were Catholic, here is where the priest would assign me 75,000 Hail Marys to atone for my lying ways.)

Pre-trip selfie with Antani's beautiful niece who came
along for the ride to their home town, which was on
the way.
I also had to prove to Emelie that I know how to change a tire because she doesn’t read this blog and she didn’t know about the last timeI changed a tire by the side of the road in South Sudan. “What if we get a puncture?” she asked. “Would you even know what to do? We probably need a man with us.” This did not sit well with me, as you can imagine, and I was even more determined to drive and not bring ANY men with us.

Since the road is mostly tarmac all the way to Mongo, I really wasn’t worried. And really, I did think that I would just drive along slowly like a big haired old lady in a Cadillac on the way to church. I had forgotten about my debilitating strain of competitiveness, and I was not prepared for the exhilaration of hitting 160kmph and beating Leif’s record of 150kmph and the glee I derived from the looks on the faces of the drivers I left in my dust.

Post-trip to Mongo car
Keep in mind, I was driving a little Toyota corolla—a short-tired car with automatic transmission.  While it is nice to be able to put my left foot up on the dashboard and slouch back in the seat, I actually prefer a bulky, manual Land Cruiser for traveling in Africa because even though the road was tarmac, the first third or so of the trip was filled with jagged potholes. This type of pothole can usually only be withstood by tall fat tires such as I did not have. But let me just say: never under-estimate the strength of the Toyota corolla tires. While I got good at dodging potholes, sometimes you had to go through them—for example, when a large truck is already driving on the smooth side of the road or when a camel train decides to commandeer part of the road or when you HAVE to pass that fairy princess driver mincing along at a paltry 120kmph. Our car banged through plenty of road shrapnel with NO PUNCTURES. Maybe because every time we crashed down, I patted the dashboard and apologized sincerely. I was also fortunate to be driving with a non-English speaker, though when she tried to practice the new words she heard me repeat many times, I had to sincerely apologize again and ask her to please never say that word again in front of nice, Christian English speakers. But her pronunciation was spot on.

It was also nice to be traveling with another girl because we could keep a lookout for places with convenient tree coverage to serve as bathroom breaks. It is not always easy out here in the desert. But it was Emelie who had the brilliant idea to bring a couple of chickens with her back to N’Djamena as egg producers since Cameroonian chickens are currently suffering from some chicken virus that is making eggs very expensive here. “Will they die if we put them in the trunk?” she asked. “Probably,” I said confidently, having no idea. And that’s how we ended up with two chickens in the back seat. I don’t actually know if they were noisy, though. About a quarter of the way into the trip back, the car started making a horrifying noise that we discovered we could not hear if we put the windows down. So we could also not hear the chickens if they were protesting their transport.

Teaching while holding a participant's baby.
Good times.
I’m not exactly sure how the car acquired the noise. Maybe from the time I was calmly driving at 135kmph and a donkey appeared in the middle of the road refusing to budge. You know that children’s clapping game “Going on a bear hunt…” At some point the song says, “Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gonna have to go around it.” Or something like that. In this case, we couldn’t do any of those things. I leaned on the horn and slammed the breaks. Screaming and squealing, the tires burned to a stop. I know they were burning because I happened to look in my rearview mirror and plumes of black smoke were rising from the ground.

Or maybe the sound came from when I tried to drive into Job’s driveway and instead sank down into a hole. The car came to a crunching halt. I was wondering what to do about this because the last time I got a car hopelessly stuck, I had to wait for the mailman to come dig me out. But this time I was able to drive forward and backward and inch by inch work my way out of the trench. It WAS impressive. But it also dislodged a piece of the front of the car, which was graciously replaced the next day.


Chickens getting all cozy.

Camel train crossing

Bitkine--one of my favorite places here.
I love these interesting lumps of rock masquerading as mountains.


I think it was that latter incident, but between the noise and the racing incident on the way to Mongo, I decided that I should drive more carefully on the way home. On the way to Mongo, I passed someone who then passed me and slowed down (I HATE THOSE PEOPLE) so I passed him again, and he kept catching up and slowing down and I let him pass once (I’m so magnanimous!) and he slowed down again, and that was it. I passed him and he ate my dust. Unfortunately, he caught up when I had to stop at a police checkpoint. If the police had just said, “Show me your travel papers” and let me go (like they do with everyone else), then he would never have caught up. Instead they wanted to see the travel papers and my driving license. Note: whenever I’ve been on this trip with Leif or Khaled driving they have NEVER, not once, been asked to show their license. It was just assumed that they knew how to drive. But get a woman behind the wheel and suddenly we are in Saudi Arabia and I need a male guardian to assist me. After convincing them of my driving ability (and--unlike Leif--my ability to stop at police check points), they decided to have a leisurely conversation that you can’t turn down because they have guns.

Must have notebooks at training, even if the majority
of the participants are illiterate.
“So,” he said, leaning into the open window, “You from France?”

“No,” I said briefly. I never volunteer information. It must be directly solicited.

He solicited. “Where are you from?”

“The US,” I said.

“Oh ok. So you come from America,” patting the window. “Well, ok, you can go, I guess.”

Naturally, the evil driver caught up and flew past us. I let him go because this part of the road was dirt and I had a short-tired car (he did not). But I did see him at the same gas station in Mongo where I had met a group of American militarians heading out for a safari in Zakouma (they have a look and it’s not a subtle one). I had been planning to go to that station (because it is the most reliable for petrol), but I decided it would not be a great idea to meet him outside of the car due to some of the hand gestures that I made when he slowed down in front of me.  And, in the interest of full disclosure, in spite of my very best intentions, I also raced people on the way back to N’Djamena. I kept telling myself to slow down and enjoy the ride, but I rarely listen to what anybody says, so of course, I ignored this sage advice.

But I think that the real problem is that I look like a very suspicious person to most Chadian security people. I didn’t realize this until after a day of airport trips in N’Djamena. With drilling stopping for the rainy season, we were saying goodbye to our drilling chiefs who were going home to Kenya to visit their families for a month or two, depending on rains. In order to get out of a particularly boring set of UNICEF meetings, I volunteered to be errand-girl for the day. I thought that would involve an airport run or two, but it ended up getting more complicated because we don’t believe in simplicity here in Chad.

'Do not wear the lifai when you teach
with your whole body.' ~ advice from Amanda
But on the other hand, you have no idea
I'm not African when you look at this picture.
Everything started off fine—I had excused myself from the UNICEF meetings, where I had been the only foreigner the day before (though I don’t think anyone noticed, as I was wearing my African clothes). I picked up the men from the office and headed towards the airport. The last day of Ramadan, security was extra-tight. Driving into the airport we were not just stopped and asked to show ID, but they also did the under-the-car mirror check. It was thorough. Finally we got into the airport, said our goodbyes, handed off luggage, and I left to go to the store to buy gummy Smurfs.

While at the store, I realized that I had not gotten my office key back from Jackson, who had used it while they were staying the previous night there. I called to see if by some happy chance he had left it on my desk. No such luck, but he agreed to meet me outside of the airport with my keys. I drove back in, ready for long security lines again. The soldier recognized me, “What are you doing back?” he said.




Baby Jafar--how cute is he? He loved me.
“One of my passengers has my keys,” I said, “and I need them back.”

“Fine. Just go on through.” And he waved me in without bothering to mirror my car again.

I drove in, Jackson was waiting for me with the keys, which he handed to me through the window. I wished him a happy vacation again, and I went back to the office.

I’d been at the office about 20 minutes when I get another call from Jackson. Apparently, even though he has a ticket with Ethiopian Airlines and the plane was not full and he was at the airport and had been for about 1.5 hours, they decided his ticket wasn’t valid because Leif had bought it from another website. To be fair, sometimes these Swedish itineraries are a bit confusing. When trying to change a flight in Khartoum, the lady had to confirm that my first name wasn’t “Hej,” the Swedish word for “Hi” (the email said “Hej Amanda Stillman, so you can see how difficult that is). But even though they could have told him this issue with the flight an hour before, they did not choose to do that for reasons unknown. But don’t worry—if you go to the Ethiopian Airlines office in town, you can get the ticket redone and he can still make the flight.

I got in the car and rushed back to the airport, having planned to spend the next day (a holiday) in the pool at the Hilton and not wanting that interrupted by another airport run. At the airport, I was once again remembered by the short-tempered security guard who was not fasting (I saw him take a swig out of the hose) but definitely suffering in the heat.

Baby Jafar's  half- sister.
“Why are you back AGAIN?” he demanded. “This is too many times.”

“I know,” I said, “I agree. But my colleague is having an issue with his ticket.”

“Open the car. This is suspicious behavior. You can’t come so many times to the airport in one day.”

“Well what am I supposed to do? I have to get this ticket issue fixed.”

“And you are wearing tapettes (flip flops) ! This is a serious infraction. A serious infraction. You cannot drive in tapettes.”

“OK,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I’m here now and this is an emergency and I have no other shoes. I am not trying to be suspicious, but I have to do this today. Are you telling me that I’m not allowed to go to the airport?”

“Fine. Just go,” he waived me through, glaring.

I picked up Jackson and we zipped over to the Ethiopian Airlines office, while I said horrible things about Chadian airport security officers and he tried to calm me down. At the office, I let him go in because of course there was no parking. I stayed in the car and drove up and down the street waiting for him as he, in true Jackson fashion, slowly and methodically strolled into the office, while I revved the car engine outside and responded shortly to people trying to sell me cell phone chargers I can’t use. To kill time, I called various people and ranted and raved, which made me feel a little better.

Jackson finally came out. “They are wanting 134,500CFA to change the ticket,” he said.

In spite of the fact that we were seriously limited on time, I took a moment to rail at Ethiopian Airlines customer service before giving him all the money I had with me (127,000CFA). “Just make it work, “ I said. “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. This is their fault.”

About 15 minutes later, Jackson came out, ticket in hand. “I had to pay an extra 100USD,” he said.

“Did you get a receipt?” I asked.

“No, I forgot,” he said.

There was no time to go back and get it, so we zoomed to the airport, and I just now remembered that I was supposed to go back later when I calmed down to get that receipt, but I didn’t because I forgot about it the next day while I was getting really sunburnt at the Hilton. Sorry, Finance Department.

First selfie ever (for the ladies, not for me)
Finally, luck was with me. Cranky security guy was not at the airport. The other guys recognized me but were less angry with me. Also, I had driven there barefoot just so I could have an answer for them if they asked me about driving in tapettes, but they didn’t. They just said, “OK, this is the last time you are coming, right?”


“Right, “ I said. “I promise I will not come again today.” And I told Jackson that he could expect Urbain to pick him up if there was another issue, but fortunately there was not. Still, I have avoided driving to the airport again, and I will be avoiding it for a while. I’m trying to build back my credibility with Chadian security officers. As long as none of them saw me zipping around pot holes and zinging past princess drivers, I think I’m good. I made it back from Mongo in about 5 hours (500km trip), and Emelie was impressed anyway. And the chickens are still alive, so there’s that.



Photos of Em and me getting ready to go home to N'Djamena:

Packing up the chickens.

Ready to go! 
Serious selfie

Laughing at something--the chickens? Amanda's driving?





Friday, June 24, 2016

Field Trips

 The best field trip I ever went on in my life was the chocolate factory in Bandung. It was like Willy Wonka but nobody turned into a blueberry or was humiliated by an Oompa Loompa song. The factory workers made it their mission to stuff our fat foreign fingers with as much chocolate as we could hold. They also gave us plastic bags to hold our loot. And I also used the pristine white cap we were supposed to be wearing to keep our hair out of the vats of melting chocolate as a secondary container. To anyone who found a blonde hair in your Silver Queen circa 1994, I apologize.  Probably most parents, like mine, confiscated those plastic bags from their children’s jittery hands as soon as they picked us up from school, but possibly many children, like myself, had made a significant dent in their contents before handing them over. My ability to consume incredibly large amounts of sugary treats in one go has been with me from childhood.

Silver Queens of the Modern Era


These days, I’m still going on field trips, though they don’t generally involve chocolate anymore, as chocolate here melts as soon as you take it out of the refrigerator. This trip I subsisted on mangos and Smurf gummies that I bought in Modern Market. (I hold on to a secret hope that whenever I check out at Modern Market, the ladies think I’m buying supplies for a birthday party for a six-year-old. I mean, how rude of them to assume that I’m going to eat all of the gummies and chips and cookies myself?!) My most recent trip with the DONG (Direction des Organisations Non-Gouvernementales) was to visit our projects out east to for the DONG to see what we have accomplished. Yes, I did laugh the first time I got the DONG report, because everyone has a little bit of 12 year old boy humor in them, but now I’m starting to get over it. I understand if you have not reached the point of maturity yet, and you need to laugh about my trip with the DONG. Take your time and come back later. Or never. Your choice.

The view on Chadian road trips.


A good portion of this trip was spent in the car. I don’t mind car trips. I like being able to see the people and the scenery. As the sole girl on this excursion (as per usual), I was given the front seat, which I graciously accepted. And then I not-so-graciously accepted for everyone’s bags to sit under and upon my feet. Just like men to not want to carry their stuff so they give it to their ladies to put in their purse. Joke’s on them though: I never carry a purse. I would-I just can’t get around to buying one, so I’ve been carrying a pouch that had socks and toothbrush in it from a trip on Turkish Air a few months ago. Then that ripped, so I found another small wallet, and then that zipper broke, so I fixed it with a paperclip. I have also not been robbed recently, so I think there is a connection with carrying money in shabby pouches and not being mugged.

My friend at the SECADEV lodge in Adré.
He slept outside my bedroom.


Because of how much time we spent in the car, the night we got back I fell asleep to one of the songs we heard multiple times on that journey, as we cycled through all of the music on our driver’s flash drive. The song I fell asleep to had a refrain that said, “Fi Juba, ajmal medina fi duniya.” I was not aware that anyone classified Juba as “the most beautiful city in the world,” but apparently this guy has, and Chadians love this song, probably because none of them has ever been to Juba. Ok, I’ll stop maligning Juba—it’s not bad, and there are lots of lovable people there.

 
A lovable Kenyan driller in Chad, who lived and worked
in South Sudan during the height of the war,
and he can tell stories.

Now I’ll malign Enrique Iglesias. We were assaulted by several of his songs thanks to the flash-drive. I pondered the lyrics to one particular gem of a song, where he laments the fact that he is in love with someone who doesn’t return his love anymore. The line “Do you know what it feels like to be the last one to know the lock on the door has changed?” was particularly telling about his relationship with this woman. If she broke up with him as fast as possible and changed the locks on the door, she doesn’t just not love him anymore: she never wants to see him again and is clearly so afraid of him that she does not want him to be able to have the ability to get into her house anymore. I hope he soon knows what it feels like to be slapped with a restraining order.  Worse even than Enrique, worst boyfriend ever, was the medley of country songs that followed. I don’t know who the singer was because I try to avoid the country music genre at all costs. I know that it is traditionally accepted for many of my generation to despise country music, and I hate to go with the flow, but it really grates on me. I like bluegrass though…so I’m still not like everyone else! Anyway, I want to say this singer was Shania Twain because I find her particularly pernicious, and not just because she is Canadian. With time and distance from South Sudanese immigration officials, my grudge against Canada is easing. Somehow I survived Shania AND South Sudan.

Man and donkey.
Not pictured: Enrique Iglesias

The music selection wasn’t all bad. I found some interesting Congolese singers I didn’t know about before (Koffi Olomide and Cindy le Coeur) that I will be adding to my music collection. After all, it was one such trip where I learned about Magic System, band of cool Ivorian dudes who is a staple on my play lists now and has taught me lots of important French lingo.

The hazards of rainy season road trips.
Note: this is NOT our car, but our car passed through successfully
the previous day. I'm not sure how this happened.



Kandos telling me not to take a picture while I take a picture.
Too late.
We are good friends.


And the driver and I had some good times. One night in the field, I asked to borrow a knife to cut the mangos Kandos bought for me on the way there because I am too sophisticated to chew off the peel with my teeth. And also lazy.  They came back with a huge dagger, which was not actually great for peeling mangos, but would have been good protection if we had been attacked by Robin Hood bandits with bows and arrows or swords or something. As I was joking about protecting the group with my dagger, the driver said to me, “No. You are not holding that right. If you hold it like that, your attacker can take it away from you.” (Clearly, he saw something in me that led him to believe that I have the potential to be a great dagger-fighter.) He then gave me a long lecture about the proper way to use a knife in a fight. “I always have a knife with me,” he said, patting his thigh knowingly. “You have one with you right now?!” I said. “Well, I actually left it back at the lodge while we were eating, but I have it. You never know when you need to protect yourself.” Clearly.

Demonstrating the proper way to hold a knife.
Except that you can't really tell.


Of course, a knife won’t protect you from bad drivers. After a near miss with a bus that was driving straight at us, taking up two lanes, he turned to me and said, “No! You cannot die. You haven’t had children yet! You need to have at least 4- a boy that looks like his father and a girl that looks like her mother and a boy that looks like both parents and a girl that looks like both parents.” I think he has thought through this a lot farther than I have.

The Chef du Canton telling us that IAS
came at the exact moment they needed us.


As I said, most of my trip was spent in the company of other men. This is a male-oriented field, mostly. Since it’s Ramadan, we didn’t have to stop for lunch and I didn’t eat in front of anyone. So we would break fast together every night. It was usually me and 5-11 men. It’s not bad eating with large groups of men because even though at least one of them told me I need to get fatter so that I can be beautiful, they do not pressure you to eat like women do. I think they are actually secretly hoping you don’t eat much. And I don’t worry about not liking some of the food because none of them were the ones who made it. So not bad.

Break fast meal in Abeche

Break fast meal in Adré--each with his own spoon.


But I did jump at the chance to hang out with women at the wells and when visiting the self help groups. They were all really fun to talk to, understanding my Sudanese Arabic, and sensing my need for female companionship. While well drillers tend to be male, well-users tend to be female. So we met plenty of ladies in the field.

Hanging with the ladies. I'm sure you can't tell which is me.
Alifa got some good photos of me talking with them, but
he has not sent them to me yet.

I like the kids too--who get serious when you take a photo,
and then rush over laughing to see themselves.

My favorite photo.
Baby Mohamed kept making hilarious faces at me.
His mom thought it was really funny too.


Our last day was to be all with ladies, many of whom I have met previously on other visits, and I was looking forward to it, but at the last minute the DONG rep decided we would skip this last day and go straight back to N’Djamena that night. So we did, breaking fast on the way by consuming a large goat together. I ate about 5 pieces of that goat. I got way behind because piece number 3 took 15 minutes to chew. 



And who was so happy to see me arrive home? Felix, the cat who did not pee on anything while I was gone because I took precautions:




Friday, June 17, 2016

Bats and Cats

In sixth grade, I found baby bat on the wall at the school. He was alive. I decided I was going to keep him forever as my best friend, but I had to give him to Mr. Clark while we went to P.E. to play some dumb sport like baseball. I’m pretty sure it was baseball because none of my competitive instinct was aroused during that particular P.E. session. Instead I was planning how I was going to feed the bat with an eye dropper. Also, I was plotting how I was going to make sure that Kristen knew that it was going to be MY bat and not hers, because I think she was misunderstanding that fact. After what seemed an interminable amount of time (because baseball time is longer that Earth time—it steals years from your life span while you hang out in left field waiting for no one to hit you the ball because none of the kids in my sixth grade class were really devoted to the sport), we went back to our classroom to find—oh horrors! Mr. Clark had formaldehyde-ed my new best friend.  Permanently petrified in the fetal position, my fuzzy baby bat was now suspended in a jar of opaque liquid. I was devastated and furious, and if my mother only knew how close she came to having to tell me that she would not allow me to bottle feed a baby bat. Or if, on the very off-chance she had let me keep it, how close my father would have come to being the one to have to find a way to dispose of its dead body. Neither of them had to fulfill these parental duties because I was denied my pet bat in the name of Science. But in honor of this event, after I read the Harry Potter books a few years later, I decided that I would have a bat instead of an owl, and he would carry messages for me and be different from all the other boring wizards, and he would be called “Marley” because that is a cool name for a bat.

My dream. Note: Marley was not from "Bob" but from
the ghosts of the bad lawyers in Muppet's Christmas Carol.
"We're Marley and Marley, our hearts are painted black!"
which I thought was a catchy tune, and a great name for a bat.


Fast-forward a few years, decades, and I have done my fair share of disposing of bat bodies. Or unfair share of it. And I have left more to Antani who does not deserve that at all, but she is a mother and is less disgusted by horrible things than I am.  Why am I cleaning up bat bodies? Do I have a child with a desire for strange pets that she will inevitably accidentally kill? No. I have a borrowed cat with the malicious instincts of a hunter. He loves catching bats and frogs and lizards outside and bringing them inside to munch on. He also loves letting them go when they are half-masticated but maintaining a small spark of life and hope for a future free of cats. If he lets them go inside, it is harder for them to get away, but it is possible for them to get caught in the furniture and die. This is what I try to avoid. Also, he has a horrible habit of not finishing his food. Apparently, he’s never heard about starving cats in Africa who would LOVE to eat the rest of that lizard leg he left on the floor. Instead I have to sweep it up. 

Once I saw him chewing on a lizard. It was firmly in his mouth. I yelled at him and picked him up to fling him out the door, and just before he was out, he let go of the lizard so that it ran in the house and behind the kitchen counters. I KNOW he did it on purpose to be mean. But that lizard was stuck and he couldn’t get it,  and he stayed in the kitchen yowling in front of the cabinet for hours until I got tired of it and pushed them out so he could catch the lizard. And I threw them both out again.
 
Three of Antani's kids who came over to hang out while she
working. Sefora (in blue) was terrified of me at first until
I gave her lots of candy. Then we became friends.
The others liked me right away, and I STILL gave them candy.
Except for the baby. She will get hers later though.
Aren't they super-cute???



I really hate it when he catches things and brings them inside because I really don’t like to see animals suffering, and I don’t like to clean up bloody carcasses, and I don’t like the gross crunching sound he makes while he is eating animal bones. The other morning, he came inside with a creature. I was not surprised at this, but I was annoyed.

The previous day my door lock had broken, and instead of calling a professional, we decided (myself, Marie-Françoise, and Narcisse) that we would spend the next two evenings hacking into the door ourselves to fix it. Well, they did. I watched and handed them tools after looking up the French word for those tools on my phone dictionary. We all failed. Except me. I know what a tournevis is now. But the door wouldn’t close. I didn’t worry about that. The cat had been behaving nicely recently and not doing much hunting. I didn’t bother to block the cat flap on the door. When I ignored his 4:45am yowling for food, he took matters into his own claws and went and got his own. Fine. Antani was coming that day, and I figured that she could help me deal with it, but he brought the thing right by my bed and was chewing loudly, and it wasn’t even 5am yet, and I still had another hour to sleep. So I grabbed my pillow and moved into the living room to sleep on the couch. I was not happy with this arrangement, but I didn’t want to fight because fighting wakes you up, and I still wanted to sleep.

I must have had about 5 minutes of shut-eye when suddenly something landed on my head!!! Screaming and jumping up, I dislodged the cat and the Thing from hair. They moved on into the kitchen where I got this photo:

The cat just sat there and looked at it, and it wasn't moving at all.
So you can see how it is impossible to tell if it is alive or dead.


But, as you can see, this bat seems to have no visible injuries, in spite of the horrible noises the cat had been making while chewing on it in my room. And clearly, it had been recently flying. So I stood there a few moments, taking photos for my nephews and nieces (they were impressed) and trying to decide if it really was dead so that I could sweep it out of the kitchen. After a few minutes of internal debating, I decided that I wasn’t brave enough to find out and risk a bat flying in my face. Bats carry rabies, did you know? And I don’t think my rabies vaccination is up-to-date. So I grabbed the keys, which were fortunately on the table in the living room, and exited that middle door (which had been closed) and ran for Narcisse, who I found in the act of rolling up his bed and getting up. Lovely, nice, wonderful hero that he is, he cheerfully agreed to come see if the bat was alive or dead and get him out of my house (dead or alive). He went in the house, walked towards the bat and found that he was very much alive, as he flew at Narcisse’s face (proving that I made the right decision not to test it myself) and then flew around my house making horrible barking noises that I could hear a little bit over my screaming from behind the screen door where I could watch from safety. Narcisse bravely trapped him over the pile of Naomi’s DVDs that people have returned to her and I haven’t put away yet. He held him by the wings and brought him outside of the house to where I was hiding.

“Do you want me to give him to the cat?”

“No!” I said, not wanting the cat to win this dispute after chasing his prey into my hair. MY HAIR. “Just let him go.”

“Well, he’s dead,” said Narcisse. “I’ll just throw him away.” (He did not add “far from here” but I could see that he was feeling concerned for me in my fragile state, and I think he did.)

It was 5:20am. All of this happened so fast. And there was no more sleep for Amanda.

Of course everyone enjoyed this story of my suffering. Look at this message I got from a friend in Sudan after I told him what happened to me:



Also, I don’t know how I got this reputation as being fearless. Sure, I don’t worry too much about driving roads where I may be hijacked, but there are plenty of things that I am afraid of beside being attacked by a bat and a cat in my own house. I’m afraid of dying in an airplane crash. I’m afraid of being invited to dinner at someone’s house and having to eat something horrible like bananas. I'm afraid of calling someone on the phone to make an appointment. I’m afraid of bugs that lay eggs in your body and also getting cut by coral that will take root in your bones and grow into a tree (thanks SO MUCH, Anders for making me watch that youtube video). I’m afraid of losing my hair and going bald. I’m afraid of those people who dress up in cartoon character costumes and try to shake your hand at amusement parks. Also, I am nervous about people who dress in costumes to go to movies or those movie conferences. Basically, anyone over the age of 12 who is wearing a costume at a time other than Halloween concerns me.

Anyway, we all laughed and after the professional came to fix my door (it took him 15 minutes), Marie-Françoise said, “You can close the door and sleep well tonight.”

That was the plan, of course. But at 7:30pm, I had not yet shut that door. I had just brewed a pot of cinnamon tea and was sitting down to watch a TV show marketed to young teenagers that I enjoy because I’m a very sophisticated person, when I noticed some commotion in the corner. Felix had more prey! (He also had food in his bowl, I might add, so there was NO REASON for this other than PURE EVIL.)

I couldn’t tell what it was, but in true Felix style, he let it go and it immediately started flying around the room. I could tell it wasn’t a bat, but I thought it was a small bird. I jumped around screaming, but no one was there to help me catch it, and I had to protect my tea. So eventually I smacked it out of the air with Naomi’s yoga mat, screaming obscenities at the cat, who was doing NOTHING to help me re-catch his prey, which was a giant fat moth the size of the mouse that terrorized me in Mundri.

After I had it trapped under the mat, I knew that I did not want to squish it, but I needed to get it out of the house. So I got the little broom and the dust pan. I thought it was mostly dead, but when I lifted off the mat, it tried to escape, so I slammed the dust pan over it, trapping it with a tiny bit of space under the rim. It was fluttering like crazy, so I thought that if I could kill it with insecticide, that could work and then I could sweep it outside. But I couldn’t find any insecticide. I did, however, find a large pink spray can of some strange perfume, which seemed like the same concept: smelly chemicals in a can that be squirted at offending creatures. If you were wondering, it did not work.

Tools of moth disposal, though I don't
really recommend the perfume because
it was pungent and it was not as effective as I'd hoped.


Eventually, I got brave enough (because I was worried that my tea was getting cold), and I squished the moth between the broom and the dust pan and ran it out of the house before it could wriggle free. I then slammed the door shut, thinking that the cat was outside. And Good Riddance.

But he wasn’t. He was hiding from me under the couch, because I had chased him around the house while the moth was trapped under the mat and I was trying to decide what to do with him.

I left the cat alone for the rest of the night, and shut him outside of the bedroom thinking that I could leave him in there to whine in the wee hours of the morning and sleep past 5 the next day.

It was a beautiful dream. But at 4:30am, I heard a noise that woke me up. Now, I, as you know, would wake up if I heard a butterfly flapping its wings in Hong Kong, but this was a rather emphatic thump. Then another thump. Then a thump and a creak. And then a psychotic MEOW. Felix had made it in the door. So I ended up getting up thirty minutes later to push him outside, where he wanted to go anyway (since he still had plenty of food and water in his bowls).

Felix sleeping on the couch with his butt on my water bottle.
Did I throw a bat at him and jump on his head?
No, because that's frowned upon in polite society.



So I got up at 5am. And then at 11am, Emelie brought in the mail, with a package from the lovely and very contrite owner of Felix who feels terrible about her misbehaving baby. I immediately ate all the “strawberry cables,” which were great—Haribo-level gummy candy. I’ll save the cat food hearts for Felix just before I head out on this trip with the Chadian government officials so that he will have fond memories of me while I’m gone, and not stay at home brooding about how I robbed him of his prey and threw a handful of water from his water dish at him when the spray bottle didn’t soak him as fast as I wanted to after the bat incident (I was a little hysterical, but it gave me the super-power of being able to throw a handful of water at the little miscreant).

Thanks, Naomi, aka the only person who cares enough about me to send me packages.
Also, I know I look crazy. I never sleep anymore.