Had I known that mosquitos were as skilled in their hunting of prey as they are, I may have found a way to capitalize on it. I awoke this morning with another six new bites on me to add to the collection of two dozen I already have. THIS IS ALL WHILE SLEEPING IN A MOSQUITO TENT WITH A CLOSED BEDROOM WINDOW AND DOOR!! Varmints, I tell you. I am personally pushing the envelope to get my money’s worth from my malaria pills!!
We were up at the crack of dawn to prepare for a drive we didn’t need to be on time for. Africa time is very similar to Mexico time. There is a lot of hurry up and wait for something that may or may not happen. More on that later….
On the drive to Gindo, we went back in time. Marty McFly had nothing on us. The roads were lined with round wooden huts with straw thatched roofs, and hundreds of herds of animals running down the road in al directions, sheparded by kids no more than 6. They all have their own whipping sticks and aren’t afraid to use them. There were oxen being used to pull plows and most places have no electricity and none have running water. Little yellow jugs are strapped to a wooden harness that mules carry and kids sheppard with their sticks to either a brown creek or an artesian well and pump.
The tree most people associate with Africa (Or at least I do, and since this is my blog, that will be the default reality) is the Acacia tree. It tends to grow diagonally out from the ground and have the branches and leaves thick and tangled in a triangle shape. These trees line the roads and dot the landscape. Eucalyptus trees are another abundant type of tree here. They used the long straight poles to build everything here it seems. It is a very demise wood and is hard for bugs to eat through.
All right, here is one of the funniest things that has happened to us so far. We were on our three and a half hour trek to Gindo, and we stopped in Waleesoh to pick up someone also coming with us to Gindo, and to have a macchiato and to powder our noses. Though multiple translations and charades we made our intentions clear and we three women were taken down a hallway, around a corner and then suddenly we were stopped and brought back the way we came, past all our menfolk and down a different hallway. It was as though our guide was not sure where to take us. Travelling down the hallway we passed a few urinals and I wondered where we were being taken. The man leading us gesticulated that we had arrived at our final destination and we could relieve ourselves in any number of squatting potties in front of us.
For those of you who are unaware of what a squatting potty is, picture a hole in the ground that may or may not have a small foot rest or indentation for your foot to stand in, and a large expectation that you have good aim. Men are only subjected to them 50% of the time for obvious reasons and women are often appreciating the squatting potties that have a handle of sorts somewhere to grab onto for stability purposes. Hearing the panic in someone’s voice is very real when they are losing their balance in a squatting potty.
I digress….we are standing in front of tomb like entrances and Kari, Alynne and I spread out down the hall of doors to select the potty that sings to us. BTW, the hallway was singing when we approached. Singing in smells abound. As the three of us are trying doors, some are locked but the one I chose, was not. I opened the door and was not expecting to see the flashing of white teeth and the shape of a man hunched down taking a crunch over the hole only inches from my face. The sight was so disturbing and frightening, I leapt back letting out a blood curdling scream as my fight or flight instinct kicked in full force. I made eye contact with the ladies as I bolted away from the door, and I am told that the look on my face inspired abject terror in them, and so thus, they too let out blood curdling screams that them made me scream again as I was running away. It then dawned on me that I had abandoned my comrades in their time of need, so I ran back the ten feet I had gone….simper fi and all…..
Our screams had drawn the attention of EVERYONE in this hotel coffee shop and people came running from all corners of the building; Staff and constabulary alike. Our three menfolk were somewhat disturbed as they recognized the shriek of the North American Woman, but when the staff came back quickly laughing, and then heard the loud eruptions from our hysterics, they were quickly assured we had not met certain doom. I couldn’t explain right away what it was that had happened as I was laughing so hard, but as soon as I started to laugh, Kari and Alynne also knew that while it must be funny, they were still in the dark, both literally and figuratively….until the man emerged from the stall and refused to make eye contact as he exited at warp speed past us all. It all then made sense and so our fear and the humour combined into peals of laughter.
The escort that brought us there, then returned and re-escorted us back to where we were originally going to regular white porcelain toilets. Maybe that is all you have to do here to get one is to scream….(but make sure you always have a personal supply of TP because it is not standard fare to be supplied.
In the room with the porcelain toilets, there was a sign for the hotel with the rules on it. I wish I had taken a picture of it, because it was evident of time warp thoughts. For example, no two people of the same sex could share a bed, you had to surrender all your valuables to the front desk if you left the hotel etc.
We finished our business and all rejoined in the restaurant for a coffee ceremony. Once our caffeine levels were reestablished we carried on in our journey to Gindo. The balance of the drive was largely the same as the first two thirds in terms of scenery, but we also saw a bridge being built with men carrying large boulders with cot like wooden structures. The pictures will explain it better. It was like being back in time though, or watching a Flintstone’s episode. The whole time people saw us, because many had never seen a white person before, we garnered A LOT of attention.
We arrived in front of the centre to be greeted by the kids and staff alike. Lee got to have his own special greeting from a donkey braying as he exited the van. The centre was built by Canadian Humanitarian last year and it had a main hall, a second smaller hall, several offices, a kitchen, bathrooms, sleeping quarters for quests like us, two classrooms and a library. There was a playground with a slide, swing set, merry go round and a teeter totter. The whole area was secured with a 9 foot barbed wire fence. We would come to find over the next three days not only did it help keep the children in and the hyenas out, it also served as a barricade that was respected by the locals to keep the paparazzi of villagers who wanted to look inside the human zoo and peer at all the white people. It was very unnerving. I have been a visible minority in the past, but we all shared the same feeling of being zoo animals for villagers to look at with no filter in their interest.
We saw a bee the size of a small hummingbird that was completely black and so fast we couldn’t get a picture of it. We also immediately we put to work helping break rocks to make cement so we could secure the playground equipment into the ground. Literally breaking large 10lb rocks with a sledgehammer into small gravel sized pieces to mix with the sand. I was relieved of my sledgehammer for some unknown reason and I wasn’t allowed to dig the holes. Cultural or sexual reasons, I don’t know….but Lee was worked into a later in the hot sun until he too was relieved of his tools.
Sensing quickly our assistance was not required, we went to speak with the girls near the swings who were watching. One girl was getting her hair braided, so I asked if I could do it for her also. Another girl quickly offered her hair, and so while I was braiding her hair, suddenly mine was also getting braided too. Far more quickly, and with much more expertise, as no sooner had I finished three corn rows in my client, my whole head was done, and I was relieved of my job there too. Apparently braiding hair in corn rows was not to be added to my African resume with any sense of expertise. Near the end of this, the man we lovingly named “The Henchman” who had been supervising the playground and the cement making, he grabbed his stick with a leaf switch at the end and started whipping the girls and shrieking at them. I was quite taken aback, as though we had done something wrong and why were these girls getting beaten with a stick?!?! The girls scattered save a few who were helping with hair. When I was finished, I took out my hand sanitizer to clean myself, and I was swarmed with kids who all also wanted some. The bottle was quickly empty. It was apparent their lack of things makes them grab out at every little possible thing that they can get their hands on, even if they don’t need it, or want it, or already had their turn.
We would come later to appreciate The Henchman’s techniques, and in fact employ some of them ourselves…..
As Kari, Alynne and I were not allowed to do the manual labour part, and the hair was braided, we decided to bring out some nail polishes and do the nails of all who wanted a mini-mani.
Enter nail polish gate here….
What started out as a nice gesture quickly turned into a swarming event where the three of us were descended upon like a herd of locusts. Fingers grabbing, nail polish flying, hands beating on the table…the three of us were quickly overwhelmed. Alynne’s eyes were bugging out as far as their sockets would allow without losing the eyes completely, Kari started to tear up and I was shocked at the lack of manners. To date, all the other children at the centres we had gone to were very mild mannered and polite. This was something we were not accustomed to at all. We put the children on one side of the table and us on another. We tried having them have to sit on the chairs before they could get their turn, and we also tried sitting there waiting quietly until they were quiet. Nothing worked, and so we stopped doing it. The one who were initially polite asked for a base Color and “ Tok Tok Tok” which meant polka dots. We retreated from the hoarders and left to cloister ourselves in our room for a short reprieve and to gather ourselves.
After our lunch of jam and bread sandwiches and water, we started our dental and medical assessments and treatments. Nearly every child that came through had nits, lice or even fleas jumping off them. For the most part though they were very healthy, which was a nice surprise.
When we had finished the ones scheduled for the day, we got to wander down to their garden they had where beets, jalapeños, teff (their main grown grain they use to make injera (a form of bread, but with the consistency and taste of sour, spongy crepes), mais (their form of corn on the cob but nothing like what we eat) and kale. On the way there we passed a field where cows and/or horses and/or donkeys etc must have gone to die, for it was littered with bones everywhere. There we about six boys playing with either hoops and wires or tires and sticks. Very simple looking game, but harder than it looked to get the hang of, but quite fun once you did. We watched the boys have a race we organized, and then is whiteys had our own race…..it was good fun.
Speaking of bird sized bees, tonight I was writing this blog and a bug started trying to dive bomb us in the room. Where it came from I do not know, however had Lee and Alynne not been shrouded with their mosquito tent, they would surely have been killed….or at least maimed. I named it the African killer carpenter mosquito pillar. It was about two inches long and an inch wide, but it looked like a worm with armour and wings of titanium with enough determination that it wanted to eat one of us for snack. I was the only one awake, and thus the responsibility for saving my peeps fell on me. Armed with my Birkenstock I steeled myself for the possibility that I might not be coming back to Canada if I lost this fight.
I tracked it into the corner of the room with all the boxes stacked up, and there it hid, lurking, lying in wait for my approach. Bravely I jiggled the boxes to stimulate it’s exit from the corner and into my trap. I was so successful in getting it to come out, it flew straight at me and I threw my shoe shrieking obscenities at it. Sadly I missed, and now I was down a shoe. It turned to make another pass at me and I had to act quickly. Rushing at it, the beast was caught off guard and face planted into the tool kit. Quickly I grabbed my other shoe and as I leaned over the tools, I could see it was dazed and my chance to strike was within my grasp. However, when I pressed my shoe onto what I thought would be a quick and easy kill, I was surprised by the strength of the armour this creature had; there were more than a dozen crunchy strikes I had to make that includes breaking it into chunks before it passed to the other side. I thought perhaps it was going to the light and crossing over, but then it realized the light was coming from my headlamp I was wearing to write by and not some insect heaven.
Exhausted I thought perhaps I should take my oils and retire for the night, so I open the lid box and dumped the pills in without looking. Immediately I started to shriek as I would have bet a pay check that I had another one of these beats in my mouth because when I closed my teeth and tongue around the pills, a sharp metal-like poking happened in my mouth. My mouth flew open wide and I spat all the contents of my mouth into my waiting palm convinced I had another to the death fight on my hands. I had to laugh when I discovered it wasn’t in fact an African killer carpenter mosquito pillar, but just a foil wrapped sleeping pill I had brought just in case I needed it. Phew.
I fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle shortly thereafter. Seriously. The crickets were supersized as were their songs. Add to that, later the songs of the hyenas began and I was extra grateful for the fence. We plan to ask tomorrow if we can go on a hyena hunt…let you know how that goes!