Culture shock, or, Visiting America

Hi from the States. It is weird to be here.

I stopped in a gas station the other day to scratch my Diet Coke itch.  The attendant gave me change. I stood there and stared at it until I realized that I was looking at pennies and dimes.  They looked fake.

My cats are twice as big as I remember them.  I think I am used to small Togolese cats.  And the clouds are far away.

To get to America, D and I flew out of Accra.  We got a car at the border and got to Accra in like 3 hours.  The driver bounced through traffic with the sullen abandon of someone who has seen a piece of road too many times and would rather be almost anywhere else.  But we got there.  We flew to Amsterdam and then to Detroit.  We ate lunch with her parents, then I got a flight to Indy. 

I went to Walmart my second day back.  I have never been conscious of my eyes getting round before.  Then my sister told me that I couldnt carry a bag of cat food on my head. 

Its taken about 3 days for my head to stop hurting and for things to slow down.  Except for driving.  Americans drive way too fast.  I drove into town today.  Going the speed limit was bad enough.  Driving gives me the shakes.  Wheels literally do fall off of cars (true story).

There are new buildings, and some that have been torn down, since I left.  Various Dollar General stores seem to have grown like some malignant, oozing tumor in my absence.  I keep expecting them to burst and spew pus riddled plastic junk across the landscape. 

I have realized that Togolese actually have decent beer.  Not great, but drinkable.  Definitely better than the popular US brands that begin with B, M, and C.  Most definitely better than Ghanian beer too.

 Hi Ryan

Miracles do happen.  On my second day back I found a TV channel that was showing repeats of college football games from last year.  Ah. Bliss.

When I got back to my parents house I went to take a shower.  I left it cold.  Then I got out.  Into the a/c.  I started shivering. 

A/C has actually been a problem for me.  D and I were both freezing on the planes and in the airports.  It screws with my sinuses.  I sleep with my windows open at night because I'm more comfortable with the breeze. 

The second day I got back one of my mom's horses got colic.  This basically means its intestines got knotted up.  The vet came out, but there was nothing to be done.  One shot later and 1500 pounds of horse collapsed on the ground.  It was the horse that I'd learned how to ride on. Welcome back I guess. 

I feel like posting some pictures

Nighan and kittens before the departure

Snake killing outside D's compound just before we left.  It was in a concrete block.  Its some kind of cobra

the clouds coming in over a mountain outside of D's village

airport thoughts

Im sitting in the Detroit airport thinking about last week in Togo to stave off the eminent culture shock.

wait, first, two quick questions.  1. shorts? i dont get them.  2. why the hell do Americans always have to be cold?  seriously, no where does it say in the Constitution that a constant temperature of 68 degrees is an unalienable right.  end rant.

The following is a 3 part story.  The context is this anti-Malaria Bednet usage survey that we've been doing.

1. Last Thursday Richard and I went out to one of our assigned villages to do our survey.  Once we got there though, the chef told us that everyone was at marche in Namon.  Because the village is so far out thats the only marche people can get to, so the chef told us he couldnt tell people to stay home.  So Richard and I went to Namon and did the marche with Abby.  In a tchouk stand at some point in the afternoon, Abby and I were talking and she brought up the point that Togolese don't mess with baby names, or even really get excited about babies because there is a decent chance that the child wont make it. 

2.  One of the questions on the survey asks how many people of certain age groups sleep in a household.  That was the hardest question of the survey.  Many people had a hard time remembering which kids, ages 5-15 had slept in their household the night before.  I couldnt figure out why people had a such a hard time remembering kids.

3. Saturday, i heard that one of my friends had a death in his family the night before.  I was looking for Biliki anyway to talk to him about a project. so when i heard about the funeral, Muwaku and i went to his house to saluer him.  We get there and find out that his brother's eight year old son had died the day before from "a lack of blood," i.e. probably something to do with malaria.  Biliki invited me over to sit with the elders and other men.  When an old person dies, the funeral lasts almost a week and includes lots of dancing, drinking, and partying.  When a child dies, the men hang out under a tree and drink, and the women of the family hang out in the compound.  No dancing, partying, etc.  A pre-adolescent child isnt seen as a full "person" yet. 
Anyway, when it was time to leave, Biliki suggested we go saluer his brother.  So we went in his house.  The brother handed me a picture of a his child.  And almost broke down.  I've never seen a Togolese man that griefstricken before.  He was on the verge of crying.  It had been his first son.  I was painfully aware of how pitifully inadequate every condolence I know sounded. There was nothing I could say.

I know Ive blogged about this before, but infant/child mortality, and how societies have adapted to that, is something I still have a hard time wrapping my head around. Western society celebrates births because the child, in all likelihood will eventually become an adult.  This isnt something that should be taken for granted, but it is. 

Something else I dont understand.  Why does everything have to be automated?  I was in the airport bathroom trying to wash my hands in scalding automated water while the automated soap dispenser squirted soap everywhere like some demented frosting machine. Then the automated paper towel machine delivered me a square of paper large enough to dry 3 fingers.  I was so convenienced it was overwhelming.

American airlines need to take notes on how to treat their passengers from their European counterparts.  Seriously, a bit of style and class goes a Long way.

Something happened to me in Accra that has Never happened before.  When D and I got to the Accra airport (we flew out of Ghana instead of Togo), she developed selective observational skills in reference to the no-smoking sign in front of the airport and lit up.  Some valet told her she needed to move down or she'd get fined, so she left while I watched our bags.  2 minutes later a security guard comes up and asks me if I'd been smoking, and then grills me on whats going on.  Then he asks me if I smoke again, "no" (then). "Are you sure? Do you drink?"  "sometimes." he laughed and left.  D came back and we went into the airport.  We walked past the guard and he was like "I'm sorry about the smoking thing, I was just doing my job.  Please come back to Ghana, it is great here."  First time EVER an airport security guard has apologized to me.  I almost fainted.  


I've probably ate my body weight in peanuts in the past week. Seriously.  The pad of my right thumb is permanently numb. My new favorite thing to do is to buy 100 cfa worth when i get in a car and munch on them.  it helps pass the time.

i got home from Kara Tuesday and my house was empty.  Kittens and Nighan were gone.  Petit said they'd been gone for three days after a bonfire/party outside my house (the 'people of god' had been celebrating something). Petit had circulated through the neighborhood looking for them.  Nighan had made a couple appearances, but no one had seen kittens.  I was upset. My family was upset too.  Like 3 other people came over to saluate me and said that, now that I was back, the kittens would come home.

Nighan showed up at like 1800 and yowled a lot.

2130 or so I was sitting on my porch when I heard meowing outside my compound.  Then one kitten ran into my house.  Then another found its way in through the drain hole in my wall. . . . then the other 2.  My neighbors regarded it as a minor miracle the next day, or were like 'told you so.'

So, Saturday i left to bring 2 kittens to Bassar.  Saye is taking one and babysitting the other while i am away. When richard got there, i put them in a box, duct taped it up and we left . . .  2 minutes later 5 kids were chasing a kitten through the bushes.  petit and richard were like 'here in Togo, we carry cats in a sack.  here you go.'
 We left kouka about 1700, plenty of time to get to Bassar before it got dark. we were about 30 minutes down the road when i looked up and saw these bands of dark clouds oozing their way across the sky.  ****!
 We made it to Janet's (a homologue) house just as the rain hit.  It was one of those steady rains that fluctuates in intensity but never freakin stops.  About 1830, Richard was like, 'lets just go' because it was almost dark and we didnt have much choice in the matter.
So we put our phones in plastic bags and took off. i had the kittens in the crook of my arm. 
The road was saturated.  like, there was a slimy layer of mud on top of a gooey layer of mud on top of a squishy layer of mud. the rear end of the moto was like a piranha's butt in a feeding frenzy.  we went through some puddles, if you use the term loosely, that came past my ankles-- when i had my feet on the footpegs.
then it got dark and Richard couldn't really see the firmer parts of the road anymore. 
eventually we started slaloming between two ruts, the rear wheel kicked around, and we were on the road.  somehow neither of us wound up under the moto.  i landed mostly on my feet.  once we got the moto up and going again i realized that i hadnt go of the kittens the whole time. 
we lost control a couple more times, but we didnt go over.
Anyway, as we went along, it got darker, the road got worse, and it kept raining.  outside of manga there was a firm strip of road that was about 40 centimeters across. the rest of it was goo. 
the only other experience ive had like that is in a rear-wheel drive sports car in an ice storm. my world was moto engine, dim headlight, raindrops, and muddy darkness. 
ive never been so glad to see asphalt in my life as i was when we got to kabou.  my back was burning from the tension.  we were soaked. one of the kittens bit me through the sack.
the rest of the trip was relatively ok.  the rain stopped as we went south to bassar.  mist was doing weird things over the road.  richard's moto waited until we go to bassar itself to start refusing.  i just got another zed out to D's house.  it was on of the only times in Togo that ive been cold enough to shiver.

speaking of rain, its been weird this year.  or different from last year rather.  there have been mornings when i wake up to a long soaking drizzle.  then it gets hot like it usually does, then it rains again for like 3 hours in the evening.  last year there was a thunderstorm every other day.  this year its been raining almost every day, sometimes multiple times. petit says the peanut harvest wont be good because of all the rain.  he sounds just like my father.

we had a round of friendly matches between the girls football teams from manga, kouka, and nampoch.  my team got there late (long story), so we played kouka second.  still lost 2-0.  my coach says its because the nampoch girls are shy when they come in to kouka so they don't play well.  i can see that, although im pretty sure nampoch would have one if the game was scored by bruises dealt.

in the north, most peanuts are prepared either by steam, or by shaking them with hot coals.  i prefer steamed so i dont get charcoal all over me.  in the south, they sometimes roast peanuts in hot sand.  the problem with that is that it makes the peanuts gritty. 

one has to be careful when eating peanuts; you cant just automatically shell them and pop them in your mouth.  some of them are bad, some have started to sprout, and some house little steamed millipedes.

i got some cherry poptarts the other day.  wow.  thats all i have to say about that.

for the fourth of july (which i forgot about until Bry mentioned it at our football game), me, Bry, and Jenn roasted hotdogs over a charcoal stove.  We dressed them up and shared them with Kader and his family.  They weren't very impressed, except for Mamanatou, she came back for thirds.  But they were amazing.  then it started raining and i had to spend the night in kouka.

 I am getting really good at identifying snake killings.  I walked out of D's compound the other day and saw a bunch of workmen with big sticks standing around a pile of concrete block.  One of them was pounding a long stick into one of the block. there is one less cobra in the world now.  i guess its a good thing that it was a cool morning because the snake seemed pretty lethargic.  i poked around it after it mostly stopped twitching.  freaking long fangs.  i still cant get used to the fact that i probably walk by snakes like that every day, like i did that one. 


Richard brought me back from our conference in Kara last Tuesday.   Since we were on his moto, we came back the northern way.  This route passes through the village of Sarakawa.  January 24, 1974, the father of Togo's current president, President Gnassingbe Eyadema, was flying to his ancestral home in his C-47 when it crashed near Sarakawa.  The plane apparently broke into 2 pieces on impact. Eyadema emerged alive from the wreckage of the rear section while most of his entourage was killed (wikipedia and Richard differ as to how many others walked away).  The crash, and his miraculous survival, played a major role in the construction of the mythology surrounding Eyadema, and in the development of his personality cult that was partially responsible for the duration of his rule in Togo.
Anyway, I've always wanted to see this place, so Richard and I stopped by.  I wish I'd had my camera.  The rear section of the plane, basically the tail section, a couple engines, and one wing, was left as-is-- a crumpled pile of wreckage in a field. A concrete courtyard was poured around it, and a circular ceremonial reviewing hall that looks like a mausoleum was built around that. You can walk through the wreckage, spin the tail wheel, flick the propellers, run your hand along the wing, rap on the fuselage, if you want. Its kind of amazing that anyone walked away the wreck.  Richard, hat in hand the whole time, told me that Eyadema climbed out and ordered his rescuers to take him straight home.  The front half of the plane is still piled in a field. 

It was pretty cool to see.  Although we um, angered the 2 soldiers guarding it because we didn't . . . pass by their outpost behind the place and just walked in. The photo on wikipedia is worthless.

Then, back on the road, we went by the natural preserve in Sarakawa and saw zebras.  That was cool too.

El descanso del blogsodepaula

Shhhhhhhh! Hasta septiembre 2012 no volverá a estar en uso, no sirve para el examen de septiembre y hay que dejarlo descansar después de un año tan ajetreado.

something under my bed is growling

I am sick of traveling.

Two weeks ago, I was in Pagala as a trainer for the 2010 stage's Mid Service Conference.  Last week I was in Tsevie designing the syllabus for the incoming EAFS stage.  This week I am in Kara learning how to do this country-wide bed net survey.

Coming up from Tsevie was interesting.  We were about 15k out of Tsevie going north when the traffic stopped.  We got out and walked up to see what the problem was.  A Voltic (bottled water) truck went off a bridge and a crane truck was trying to pull it out.  The problem was that the crane was blocking the bridge. Of the only north-south paved road in Togo.  They moved the crane eventually so we could get by.

Being back in Tsevie was seriously weird.  Being back in Gbatope was weirder.  I hadn't been back since I swore in.  The place has changed a lot.  New marche.  Electricity.  The road still sucks and there was an accident on death curve.  Blood all over the road.  One guy's knee looked destroyed.  There were three charcoal circles on the road, so who knows what that means . . .

Anyway.  I saw a lot of my language teachers from stage.  Aisha gave me a big hug.  She's responsible for most of the french that I know.  I went with Alex one night to eat with my (our) host family during stage.  My host mamma about tackled me.  Daniel 2 knows enough french to talk to me now.  It only took me 4 hours in the bush taxi ride down to remember their family name.  ah well.  It was nice seeing people again.  Being in Gbatope and knowing enough french to figure out what is going on is a bizarre feeling.

Then it rained and Tsevie turned into a swamp.  And I wanted to go home back up north.

The thing growling under my bed was a kitten eating a small bat.

 Its finally happened.  Technology has passed me by.  What the hell is an "ultrabook"?  I was looking at laptops online last night (found a place with fast wifi in Kara) and I ran across them. 

 All of this traveling and stuff is stressful.  I like being in village. Its (mostly) peaceful there.  If I'm gone for a week, my garden goes to hell.  My house gets dirty.  I can't keep tabs on projects in village (i dont even want to know about the status of our rabbit project) and i feel generally out of touch with everything.  Is N'Tido going to CPN to keep tabs on her pregnancy?  Are the girls practicing football during the vacation?  Etc etc.

It doesnt help that i think im developing insomnia

fast wifi and hot showers are things of beauty.  A/C is a siren.  it sounds cool (haha pun!), but it screws you up in the end.

i promise this is the last blog post with a kitten reference in the title for awhile