Saturday, January 30, 2016

omg it's chinatown in yangon

so the other day we went to the bogyoke market to feed my insatiable appetite for fabrics and baskets. carsten yawned and followed all bored but i told himhe should probably stay home and it's his fault he didn't. we found a post office. open on a sunday! staffed by a nice little lady with no teeth. i bought stamps with photos of the capital on it and sent postcards to my friend's kids kindergarten, who had just learned about geography and the parents are getting postcards sent from all over. so far they've gotten cards from exotic florida and spain, wait till the teacher has to figure where burma is!
then we bought our weekly staple of grapefruit/pomelo. huge grapefruits, ok, but what's even better? These ladies peel them completely and remove the seeds. it's just pure, juicy, plump grapefruit flesh with none of the mess and it's the best thing ever. my brother would go apeshit over this.
we crossed the pedestrian bridge over bogyoke street, past the dude who has little birds in a cage, whom you pay to free the birds. the birds look all stressed and tired and then he kicks the basket every once in a while to check they are alive. i've heard that when they get released they die almost instantly of exhaustion. doesn't really jive with the whole Buddhist thing in my opinion, though everyone is super nice to all the street cats and dogs. they get fed and have their heads rubbed all the time. even the gross mangy ones.

anyway, the other side was chinatown, and i was ending my three day quest for a bathing suit (i forgot mine in bangkok). until now i have seen lots of places that sell totally slutty underwear, and when i say swimsuit and make a swimming motion, they show to a pile of hideous burkinis. like with knee coverings and a turtleneck and frills everywhere. the first time i totally laughed, and felt bad when there was a lady in an actual total face burka next to me. i would have atually bought one to get a good laugh but no one has my size. they do not condone showing skin, apparently. so i'll be swimming in my new slutty underwear thankyouverymuch.
so chinatown. fascinating, depressing. all the cheap as can be electronics, (carsten bought a new smartphone for 50$), pastel colored plastic as far as the eye can see, mis-spelled bags and t-shirts, you name it. i saw a woman, with a mentally challenged child and three other babies in tow, and her shirt spelled "DIRTYFUCKINGKIDS". but it was all in sequins so i guess it's classy. there's a lamp street, a cable street, even a rug and hardware street. we bought a pair of home-made scissors that smell really bad. 

and then there's a food street.
now this was crazy, you have a block just chock full of open stores, and vendors either behind little booths or on the ground all with barely enough room to squeeze by and amidst the people, the carts, and then, in this mess - the fucking cars drive through. i noticed this one night on 19th street, it's a block full of restaurants and patios, and bbqs, where you fill a basket with mystery meats and they cook them for you - well the cars actually come through there. oh, and then honk aggressively while doing so. so every ten minutes you have to pick up your plates and drinks, and grab your plastic table and chairs while some taxi or whatever comes through, horn blaring. game off! wayne's world style. and then game on, you put your drink down and sit down and - damn! another car!
everyone says how two years ago, there were no cars. none. you waited an hour for a taxi. so in 700 days, not only has the number cars soared and choked the streets, but the drivershave alll learned to assholes. there are two points in my daily walk to work where i have to frogger it across four lanes. you can only really do one lane at a time, and often i get stuck in the middle between two lanes and they honk and don't even try to swerve and the rearview mirrors swipe my backpack. it's crazy. i have never, ever, once seen a car let someone pass, even when it's an old crumply hunched over lady who's holding my wrist as she gets ready to RUN. oh man, and do these people HONK. all day, all night, honk honk honk! i often daydream of the upcoming inauguration of aung san suu kyi, where i imagine her proposing to bring peace back to myanmar..but outlawing unncessary honnking.
anyway, back to chinatown. so this is a narrow street with a row of people selling their goods, sitting on the ground and everything in these little backets, some of which are placed precisely in the middle of the street..leaving two tire lanes? yup, so that the cars come and actually drive over everything and no one has to move their goods. i can't imagine what the exhaust, oil leaks do to the live fish, or the chickens with their yellow feet up in the air, but this is how it goes.


honk honk!

all your meat, freshly hacked

more meat and fish, kept warm by exhaust and the tropical sun...

in between these streets i noticed these dark alleys people were coming out of so we took one. inside was a totally trippy covered market, grimy, dirty, dusty rows of meat on one side, cheap fabrics, food coloring, you name it. i have never seen anything like it. there seemed to be barely any customers, but plenty of rathter friendly vendors who were just surprised to see white people who might potentially buy 2 gallons of glue. yes, here in yangon white people are still a novelty, especially in these hellhole parts. on my way home from work i get waived at by little girls all the time who scream haiiiiii! you actually wonder how long this innocence will last...    

Thursday, January 28, 2016

what we eat

so it's safe to say it's actually more expensive to cook at home than to eat out. mostly because you either get your vegetables at the supermarket, which is stupid expensive, or at the little market stands who have no qualms about ripping me off with these totally random prices. the other day i paid 10 cents for some red onions, and the same for a head of cabbage, and then i felt bad because i only had a 1000 kyat note, so added a carrot to round up the price, but somehow it cost about one thousand times more than all the rest. still, i made some noodles and rice once in a while, but the rest of the time, we just eat out.
our vegetarian roommate has shown us the little south indian neighborhood. a little 10 minute walk where you pass through rows and rows of street samosa vendors, and the delicious samosa salad, which is actually samosas cut into pieces with scissors and served in a soup. why is it a salad? then everyone sits on these miniature stools, which i can't wait to see 1m95 carsten on one but these places are a food poisoning gamble. once i buy some activated charcoal tablets we'll be trying that out.
so there's one place, that serves dosas or chapati on a metal prison-style tv platter, with the little compartments. a guy comes around with a slop bucket under his arm and a ladle and dumps as much potato and veggie curry onto your dish as he can. free refills. it splatters all over the place. orange is the new black style. it's best not to look into the kitchen. total cost: 1000 kyat. less than 1$. which is the same price as a watermelon juice. to compensate we'll often go to the fancy coffee place and get a 2500 kyat coffee.
most places have convenient menus of pictures, and no prices. but it doesn't matter because it's all cheap, and your meal costs the same as a beverage.
for lunch i place an order with the office receptionist, who translates whatever i want into myanmar and hands it to the cleaning lady who goes to some street stand nearby and brings everything back in these mini plastic bags with the little handles tied into a slip knot. rice, too. most of it is unbearably spicy, and also meat in a bag is somehow unappealing to me so i've mostly ordered the vegetables. which are delicious. watercress, corn, bok choy, and the cauliflower. sometimes i get a perfectly fried egg, all for under 1000. i was a bit troubled about all the plastic waste (every restaurant serves their take-out in styrofoam, which makes me cringe) so i bought one of these metal hot pot thingies which everyone carries around, especially the monks, like when they walk up to someone's door and start singing, they hand over their hot pot so it gets filled with yummy food.


i got a little one with two tiers and kinda small, which will keep me from stuffing my face like a slob. i showed it to the cleaning lady and via translator asked her to get my meals in it, and she smiled gracefully at my assimilation. it also helped that i was also wearing my new longgi, one of those long skirts even the men wear. but man try walking up the stairs in a longgi, and you step on the front of it on the upper step, and the only way to free yourself is to sit down and walk backwards and did i mention we have this grand stairway in our office like in a mansion? yeah they all saw me. anyway, i put my name on my hotpot and i eat out of it with all the other people who bring their lunch to the office. everyone likes to share and offer me stuff, like, have you tried this sour fish (awful)? how about some spicy beef balls (my face was on fire). but all with a content do-gooder feeling of reducing my garbage just that much. until one day, i saw the lady bringing the food back from the street stall, all in plastic, and then putting everything into my hotpot with her filthy hands. so much for trying.      

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

a typical day at the office...

so i'm in the office, where i sit on the second floor. instead of the air conditioner aimed right at my face i like to open the door to the sunny balcony, and see some of the happenings on the street below. the swaying Palm trees with birds, ladies with painted faces walking by scream-singing whatever they are selling from a big basket on their head. usually pineapple. a utility truck comes and a bunch of guys in uniforms come out and start inspecting the telephone/electric pole which has a huge mess of wires at the top. the guy climbs up in his flip fops and he's perched atop, sifting through each wire like he's untangling a braid. he's almost exactly at my eye level, chilling there, and i see the beads of sweat on his temples. i go back to my emails for a bit, and i look up and he's still there sorting the cables, connecting some, and then picks one and he pulls out a big pair of clippers from his back pocket. he's still sorting, sorting, re-sorting until finally he finds the one and clip!
and out goes the power, followed by a huge grumbling throughout the building as the air conditioners choke up. his colleague now in a mini tractor thing who was digging a hole yells up something, and then he sorts again, looking for the right wire this time. Which is apparently our fiber optic internet cable and so then our people come out, and the dude on the ground gets all angry and so they switch and well, a bunch of other stuff happens but our internet is out for 3 days. and so everyone hotspots their phones and you can see all these wireless networks pop up when you search and you can see who has an iphone. i say to shoon, who sits behind me, you don't have to brag that you have a 6S dude. then he tells me he has a better provider and can stream movies while i can barely send a 6kb email. previously we had a good laugh with shoon, whom you can address by saying "co shoon" which means brother shoon. though with the belgian guy we say "cochonne" and shoon asks what it means and i say well google it with your fancy 3g 6s and a second later i hear, hey, that's a lot of porn. i thought at least a pig would be top billing on the results but it wasn't. who knew.
i went to the bathroom and shoon warned me you can't use it when the power is out. so that's how it goes here, you quickly adjust to things. like eating rice at every meal. every meal! i buy coconut sticky rice from a nice street vendor lady in the mornings for 500 kyat. so after i used up all my data plan in a few hours and the power didn't come back, i went to the fancy shanngri-la hotel for a toilet, a 5$ watermelon juice and the fastest wi-fi i've seen in weeks. you have to know where to find the few things you need to stay sane. like the kushmi green detox tea and aveda curly hair products that were the best gifts ever from mother that keep my stomach and hair in lines but are quickly running out...the cold showers every morning, i actually like them now and was able to stay in for a whole three minutes today. everyone has been warning me, that in less than two weeks the heat will be so unbearable that cold showers three times a day will be blessing. so soon it will be hot, my hair will be a mess and i'll be drinking lipton. i guess we'll wait and see.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

a little trip to Twantay

since we have so much time here in Yangon, we're not in that much of a hurry to see and do stuff. just as content to hang around the apartment and cook cabbage and any weird stuff i can pick up from the street vendors, which i've gotten really good at.
so one sunday, i finally motivated some friends to take a trip across the river, which i have heard is an easy escape to the country side. we took a ferry from a dock downtown, where this little girl came up to us and shows us how to buy tickets, and was eagerly practicing her bits of french, nearly fluent english and we were teaching her german. i was asking her what there was to do on the other side of the river and she was like a human travel guide. my friend john said hey you should come with us, as a joke and she was all, ok i will! for 20,000 kyats! and then we agreed it would be a little strange to have this young girl with us, and she would probably have to ride in the trunk of a taxi since we were already four so we declined. the ferry was fun, full of all these people selling bits of food. these ladies carry around the little stools and when you order they sit in front of you and chop the mango, or put the little hard boiled quail eggs into a bag. there's a "foreigner only" section which we stayed clear from and instead sat in the cool lounger plastic chairs. there were clearly no life vests and the two-level ferry was overwhelmingly full but you try not to think about these things.
  


the clear waters of the irawaddy




unknown Food for sale
the ride was a short skip to the other side. upon arrival at the dock we were overwhelmed my rickshaw drivers offering rides, people with food, just a mess of people, over which carsten's head towered...throughout the crowd we managed to find a dude with a cool straw hat, very hip arm tattoos and passable english. we negotiated with him and hoped he would be our driver and guide for the day but it turns out he is just a manager/arranger/negotiator for a fleet of taxis. i felt like i was in a cock fight, me and the guy negotiating amidst a circle of spectators, including my useless friends. i finally thought i was getting somewhere when john just pulled out a bunch of bills and was like, let's just go. amateur! he ruined my game and who pays a taxi first? The guy is totally going to ditch us somewhere now. anyway, we get in the all the guy does is just smile, smile this huge smile, he's the happiest. i see a guy on a bike carrying like, 20 chickens and i scream chicken! and he screams chicken! and then every time we see chickens we all scream chicken.
CHICKENS!
this is the extent of our communication. then he says "snake pagoda!" ok! and then we went to the pagoda in the middle of the lake that was 27 fat burmese pythons and you can barely even see their heads they are just knots of snake. very weird.
nice window Dressing
there were goats and friendly little kids. the taxi driver did not bail on us and in fact he stayed with us the entire day and just brought us places without even being asked to. he kinda just led the way.
goats, snakes, whatevs.

so we did this little tourist tour but saw only one other set of tourists, an old german couple who have been to burma like a million times. they were on motorbikes, poor fools.

our trustworthy Driver


pagodee monkee
my companions got quickly tired of visiting towns, markets, pottery places, and pagoda after pagoda after pagoda, unlike me and so they voted to give the driver the universal sign for "let's drink a beer." so we stopped for a few beers, and the day was clearly winding down, but the taxi eventually stopped on this street and just said walk! walk!
extra large pig crossing

i was sure we were going to have to hoof it or hitchike back to the ferry, but anyway we took our things and walked. there was kind of nothing to see, just some random little villages and stuff until finally we saw some sort of parade, with people all dressed up, gold parasols and pushing these little kids on bikes. a woman at the front is throwing Little bills into the air and all these little kids are scrambling to pick them up.  the highlight was the music float, another bike setup with MASSIVE speakers and some drunk clown dancing in front to this repetitive, awful tune.
bumese Techno Parade

your lucky day, bud
little held me back from wanting to jump in and play the baseball theme because the keyboard was totally on "stadium organ." but we stayed respectfully at a distance, and just enjoying the scene, which was quite the highlight to our day, and to our delight our taxi showed up and took us back. unfortunately, he immediately drove right through this lovely procession, impatiently honking at everyone to move out of the way, which they did, scramling terrified into the dusty roadsie, which was rather embarassing. we found out later it was some sort of ritual for young monks. we drove back 70km/hr to the ferry and hesitated before the thousand or so bike shops, wondering if we should buy one when we thought, eh, we can come back anytime! because we live here!
     

Saturday, January 16, 2016

So i'm in Burma

Yeah so i'm in Yangon, Myanmar for the next 4 months. Not too sure how i ended up here, and i think i'm still in a bit of culture (and weather!) shock. How to describe this place. It's a fascinating mess of old delapidated magnificent colonial architecture, combined with the chaotic mess of asia. Huge knots of power lines, stinky streets, mangy stray dogs (though everyone is super nice to them), barefoot monks wearing dark red robes and carrying parasols and their lunch in little stacked steel containers, to keep your rice separate from the rest. I'm totally getting one.
Our apartment is an office guest house for visiting staff. It's a david lynch style thing with flickering lights in creepy hallways, and bugs. We live on the 4th floor, with an elevator, in which the 4 button doesn't work. Given the number of power outages i prefer going to 3 and walking up or avoiding it altogether. Our room is on a bustling several lane street on which honking your horn seems obligatory 24h a day. You can't open the windows because of the mosquitos, though my next purchase is one of those tennis racket bug tasers, and a fan. That should do it. 
Despite the relative classyness of the apartment (teak floors, recessed lighting and fake marble tile, and international plugs which accept virtually any socket type), there are a few oddities, like, all the light switches are 10 cm from the floor? Which is great for me! none of the sockets are grounded so shorts are common, which makes ironing rather scary, and it unfortunately afflicted the hot water heater on day 1. i had one warm shower and it was my greatest moment here. Ok, it gets a little better each day but the bitterly cold shower with brain freeze each morning actually gives me nightmares. I alluded to asking to have it fixed and the roommates are all, what did you say little miss mansion fancy pants? The weather is ok now, cool in the nights, but apparently in a few months we'll all want to dip our heads in a bucket of ice cubes.    
The streets are peppered with shops with very weird names, like "most wonderful everything" and "mrs. Cow sorts" though we found our drinking spot called the "double happiness bar." Yes with two p's. And also the ubiquitous little food stands, next to which people eat while sitting on tiny children's stools, with their knees at their ears almost like they are squatting to poop. Why not just get normal sized chairs? I bought a couple for the balcony though, they are cute. 
Things oscillate between normal asian prices and bare bones cheap. A decent dinner is 5€. But i order lunch from the office secretary and she brings back little plastic bags of rice, curry, veggies for 900 Kyat which i guess is about 75 cents? Which hasn't made me sick yet. I'm going to get those steel pot things and ask for dinner, too. Everyone eats lunch together and share all their food from home (which they bring in warm, which means they cook in the morning? We had a myanmar roommate for a few days, she cooked mushrooms and rice and fish for breakfast) but i can't eat any because it's mega spicy. 

I have stopped trying to negotiate with taxis, instead, i just get in and pay them the correct fare. Until now no one has complained. Though i'm interested in testing out the rickshaws, these rickety bikes with sidecars driven by indians who until they have a customer lounge and read the newspaper, until i get the courage to ride my own bike. The way to work is actually quite mellow, through little side streets. I buy my veggies from old ladies and their kids wave to me and there's a spot under a tree where some kittens hang out. Kittens!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bangkok: so much food on these streets!

i left our house in bangkok one morning to go to an early meeting. all along the way, people sitting outside their little row houses, you can often peek in and see a huge mess and folks sitting on the floor watching tv. so much tv. out front, old guys with no shirts hacking meat, shucking corn, and then, just in front all these little stands with tasty dumplings, women selling fruit, people putting that fruit into blenders to make smoothies, summer rolls, everything! they don't joke when they talk about a street food craze. it's like all people do is eat on the street. i bet they never cook at home, who needs to? 
so i made a mental map of each tasty stop for the way back, to bring some stinky breakfast goodies home. two hours later, i walked the exact same way, but nothing was in the same place, twilight zone, all the people were different, there was no fruit, only nasty meat, stinky spicy curries in big aluminum pots. what happened to noodle lady? i started to think my mind was playing tricks on me, too much jetlag, or maybe i took the wrong subway exit, how could this be? 
well, turns out, this is just how it is. the street food is like an endless conveyor belt of ever ephemeral changing vendors, who come and go like the warm breezes that scuttle through the buildings. even when i asked noodle lady when she comes, i believe she said every day every day! but no one never saw her again. so if you have a favorite, just carpe diem. or carpe waffle on a stick? truth of the matter is stay away from street food anyway, to avoid any potential sidewalk pant explosion. very dangerous for the tummy when toilet paper is as scarce as people with a full set of teeth. i stick with the fruit, blended, and only touched by someone with plastic on their hands. 
yes, scorpion on a stick is food!
my boyfriend carsten however has no boundaries and chose the waffle on a stick. a big long tube kind of thing. there were a few to choose from, chocolate, marbled, he went with plain and when he picked it up the weight indicated that it was certain to explode with nutella-y goodness. one bite and - wait, there's a sausage in it! it was definitely a waffle, and it certainly had a hot dog inside! i'm sure that's not the last secret sausage to pop up during our stay...   
fruit lady



Tuesday, June 16, 2015

cambodian hospital.

so yeah, cambodian hospital has now been officially checked off my bucket list.

i wasn't feeling so well, had this nasty cough, which turned into a truly painful cramp on my side. not good. as i laid there sorrily in my lovely hotel bed, i grabbed my phone to start googling my symptoms and diagnosed myself with either a collapsed lung, an oncoming heart attack or pneumonia. when things didn't get better i then looked up the french embassy and called myself a nurse listed on their site. she sounded quite terrified when i told her my symptoms and showed up in less than 5 minutes. a sweet young girl my age. she was very reassuring, very nice, but said yeah, i'm pretty sure you have pneumonia, but i'm just a nurse, we need to call a doctor.

she calls her doctor friend and convinces her to do a house call, which she never does, but, i guess i was pretty bad, and she made a quick 70$ for prescribing me codeine and general antibiotics, which my thankfully very helpful dutch co-worker, Ludo went out into the dark of the night to find.
the antibiotics started working immediately, the goo coming out of my lungs quickly changed color, a more reassuring chocolate than lime green. but at some point in the night i thought this isn't going away, i'm going to have to be airlifted to Bangkok and Ludo will have to sort through my dirty underwear and just the thought of Ludo and my underwear terrified me more, and made it even harder to breathe which gave me more pain and ultimately, i waited around until the more appropriate hour of 5:46 to call back the nurse. i only had to whisper this isn't good and boom, she showed up, took one look at me and said, nope, and tuk tuk is not going to cut it. she called her other buddy who runs an ambulance service, worked out a bed in a clinic, called my insurance etc..etc..wonderful.
she starts telling me her life story, two kids, a husband, they love phnom penh, trying to make a living, i'm in a huge daze but somehow scramble out of bed because i really wanted to give her a WWF t-shirt? I was loopy, codeine. whatever.


a little later this old barefoot cambodian man with a alpine rope toss hairdo in a white gown is sitting indian style in bed next to me. there's a portable heart monitor and another asian nurse in a mask, lots of other people and stuff. hotel staff, ambulance people. Ludo is in the ajoining room, sleeping through it all. but i let him. the doctor speaks this choppy french and tells me he will take me to a hospital. and in one sweep lifts me up and carries me away like we're on a honeymoon...down two flights of stairs and through the hotel restaurant and onto a stretcher. ambulance sirens, lots of honking, crazy morning rush hour as far as i can tell. the nurse follows us on her scooter.

i got a chest x ray, lots of juice through an IV and suddenly i felt awesome. like a million bucks. lots of nice french doctors and staff, and a little guy comes with a take out menu, i can order whatever i want! iced cappucino and 2 hard boiled eggs? sure.
i'm brought into my own room, and the iv juices keep flowing, there are a million channels on TV, including this fantastic japanese game show re-runs which is my new favorite thing.

Ludo comes in and is all, hey! they have that show in holland, and then we watch funny dutch youtube copies, with wee man and celebrities. i watched hours and hours of animal planet, just smiling.
at one point a nice fluent French speaking doctor came in and encouraged me to "get out and walk around a bit." he pulls the curtain open and i squint and hiss like a vampire - out there is a crazy asia Scene, People cooking on the sidewalks, hacking at fish with giant cleavers, the orange shrouded monks with yellow umbrellas begging for food.
another doctor working the night shift did not speak such good French. he only said two words: pipi caca? and i didn't know if this was a yes no question, or maybe a what Color and texture kind of deal, because really, i just pooped a gay pride flag, doctor.  
lots more visits from Ludo who brought random take-out and assured me "really, it's just smelly asia out there-you're better on the inside." he spends hours on the futon at the foot of my bed, inspecting all the papers they give me to sign. one night my ambulance driver offered Ludo a ride back to the hotel on his motorcycle and it was not only thrilling, but funny because this cambodian guy apparently owns a 70s dutch police jacket, and a whistle.

there are blood tests and more visits from this lady in a turquoise suit who keeps bringing up the bill, my insurance, whom, whenever i call they say, yes, yes, we have talked to the clinic, and the clinic keeps saying no no, money money, and then they take my passport. the nurse comes back and she's like, don't let them take your passport! you won't be able to leave the country until you pay! another colleague comes and gets it back, and finally i'm discharged on a sunday, while i keep telling them, it's still saturday night in Germany, they won't answer, just be patient. finally, they dump all my medical reports on my chest and wheel me out to the fanciest tuktuk i have ever seen. the cadillac of tuktuks. the guy is even polishing it with a cloth.


back at the hotel, Ludo and i lounge by the pool and catch up and order watermelon juice. i go through the medical report and see all the drugs they pumped me with: Xanax. tons of it. no wonder i had such an awesome time! Ludo starts googling all the pills they sent me home with. Ulcer medicine? the nurse calls me hourly, helps me sift through the what i actually need to take, and what i can sell or give away, and i keep saying that she should just come by, and i will pay her, for her time, she really saved my life, doesn't even know me, i'll give her a t-shirt!

when the hotel manager guy comes over and he's all wishing me well and then starts asking for my nurse's phone number. i'm thinking, sorry, buddy, she's married, not for you, and he's all no, no, she was here last night, and well...she never paid her bill. and i'm thinking, this makes no sense, she lives here, why would she come to a hotel? she has a husband, two kids, she knows i was in the hospital, who? what? and Ludo is already rolling his eyes. the manager says he has video footage of her (there are cameras everywhere) but i am presuming this is a case of all white people look alike.

that's when Ludo and i go into sleuth mode: the mystery of the sexy nurse! i keep saying, there's no way, she's a respectable nurse! and so i track down through my phone all the times i called and then she came to see me, and we find her on the hotel cameras, with her red scooter, helmet, we are zooming in and screenshotting just like they do on TV. this is so law & order! we bring up the morning they carried me away! and then...3am saturday night, while i was in the hospital, yes, it seems, she arrives in a hot pink dress, with a man, drinks, goes to a room...and they leave out a back door (which she knew because of me!) on the same red scooter. the hotel manager calls her number, and her husband answers, he explains, husband hangs up. then she doesn't answer my calls. silence. nothing. i sent her a text - really? was it you? come on, i am dying to know....sexy mystery nurse, this story is better than what's on animal planet!

Friday, May 29, 2015

chiefs

we are working on some projects with some villages in another province. we invited two chiefs to our workshop. they told me they took a 28 hour ferry down the congo river and are now in the capital. they attend all our pre-workshop meetings with a translator, always dressed in their official color: red. no one else in the village is allowed to wear red. 
one has a christmas sweatshirt and an inner tube covered in red fabric around his neck with real lion teeth on it: passed down from all the previous chiefs. he holds a wand with horse hair to wave away spirits and his hat has red feathers. the other one has a satin red shirt, a wooden baton and women's fashion glasses with rhinestones and a hat with shells sewn on. amazing.   
at one point they told a great long story, how if you want to marry a woman, you have to court her, and show her you are serious about your love. this is how things work in their village. and so if WWF wants to work with their village then we have to prove our love, and prove we are serious.
how do we do that?
we'd like two motorbikes please. we were promised motorbikes, but we have none, and we are tired of walking everywhere.
is that all your love costs? motorbikes are cheap.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

unstoppable...

I found it a bit odd when I called Taxi Papi about our dinner plans his wife Mimie kept answering his phone. And why isn't she at work? And he didn't offer to come pick me up? It's ok, I found another guy with a really nice Japanese car, Vincent. He's a tough negotiator and drives a Toyota with the steering wheel on the right and a gps screen all in Japanese, with cartoon anime sky scrapers on it, like a video game set in Tokyo. This car is literally straight from Japan. He had a lot of interesting stories to tell about his days of driving ministers around and I even recommended him for a job at WWF. He said I was a blessing from God and gave me a pamphlet of gospel.
So I arrive at Papi's building, the trippy tall one with the Samsung sign on top, with amputees and beggars everywhere and Mimie is waiting at the entrance. They have a maze like path to their apartment across balconies and ledges and we walk through a little work zone where a guy is welding one of those cages you put air conditoners in. Sparks flying everywhere, and instead of welder goggles he has sweet aviator Ray-bans. Probably fake ones. I'm trying to take a picture when Mimi stops to tell me the bad news. Papi had a terrible accident, run over by a car on the huge boulevard. They didn't want to tell me on the phone.
We enter and there is Papi, smiling as ever with a huge head wound, foot cast, messy scars, it's absolutely awful. I dress their baby, Melchi in the Deutschland national team soccer jersey I brought and they tell me how it happened..middle of the busy morning, hit and run in the crosswalk, driver took off and they found the car later but can't locate the owner.
Papi looks tired and sore and I remark that at least his face is intact, which is most important, right? The cast on his ankle looks like a child put it on and I can only imagine what level of care the Congolese hospitals provide.
We eat a quiet meal while the baby sleeps in his chair on the floor. They keep trying to make me eat but I can't, because I feel sick and because the dish is full of teeny tiny fish you eat whole and are oh so spicy! 
Later on the extended family arrives and the apartment is full of people and kids trying to lighten the mood. The kids are arguing over the baby's uniform. World Champions I say, Germany! and they respond with Barcelona? Ronaldo? And I'm like, no, not Champions League, World Cup! They look at my blankly. ahhh, I guess DRC never qualifies so they don't care...We are all sitting in the living room in front of the TV. The brother in law comes in full camouflage military gear, and stores his red beret in the flagged flap on his shoulder. I quickly hand him the remote and salute him to change the channel, my colonel, but he's not the laughing type. 
We eat some pineapple and relax a bit but I can see Papi is clearly in pain so I decide to call it a night. Papi says the brother in law will bring me home, who looks at me with his beady red eyes and asks in a deep rumbling voice: "vous n'êtes pas véhiculé?" I am unvehicled, sir. 
My apartment is basically two rights at the intersection where the patachoux bakery is but there is a lengthy discussion of directions in Lingala with hand movements and "nonono! Pas la! Plus loin!" And then more Lingala, until finally he angles his beret on his head: time to go.
We exit downstairs where all the beggars scatter like ants, military guy apologizes for the state of his vehicle: an 80s Mercedes Sedan that is so busted up it looks wrinkled. Color: dull army green.
The door doesn't even close I have to hold it towards me with the handle which itself is barely affixed. The windshield is cracked in so many places it looks like it was pelted with baseballs. You hear all the parts of the undercarriage rattling and wanting to fall off, and I am dreading the turn into my dirt mess of a street which has potholes so deep there are small forests growing in some of them.
We cross all the intersections with non-working lights where you see the pedestrians racing terrified across the boulevard. At least at night I understand accidents can happen but during the day? ...
We turn well before the patachoux and meander through all these streets I have never seen, breezing through checkpoints and even past my old villa near the president's house. The driver is not talking, he is just turning left, and right, and left, and right and I am thinking he probably wants to disorient me before he pistol whips me. Suddenly we are in front of my house. But...how did you do that? My street is a dead end! He shrugs, smiles and reaches over to open the door. I get a beret salute and off he goes. 
The adorable, adaptable, ever surprising and completely undefinable Congolese.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

is this africa?

they say south africa isn't like the rest of africa, it's more europe, or the states, a world apart. well the world i am in jo-burg is sadly, like something out of alabama or the saddest part of kentucky or neveada, or...i don't know.

usually, our meetings in the south africa region are always in delightful safari lodges in bostwana, log cabin things where you can do a morning safari before breakfast and all the staff are attired in khaki. meals are outdoors on the zambezi river with lots of bug spray and everything caters to the australian tourist.
well my people didn't arrange this meeting, someone else did, and they wanted something convenient, easy to get to, and what is more accessible than the holiday inn johannesburg airport? not much. 
video
and so here i am, 22km from O.R. Tambo airport in a desolate expanse of strip malls that doesn't look any different from M.L.K. highway in Durham, NC. every 2 and a half minutes a deafening roar rises from the east, shakes all the buildings and glassware, a top gun flyby, with a peculiar engine grinding, metal on metal, every plane sounds different, you wonder if that's what's normal. moments after the plane seems to clip the 70s looking palm trees, with a dark shadow of the plane cutting through every sunbeam. it's totally trippy david lynch. our hotel suddenly had no power, each hallway a cave of darkness. no internet, no hot water. i thought jo-burg was europe! 
so i took the shuttle to the local mall. which was across the street but we had to meander through these different 6 lane highways. i asked the driver what people who don't have cars do and he laughed. he dropped me off at this rusty decrepit looking shopping centre called the East Rand Mall, but the s was missing so it was Ea t Rand. I asked him if I was going to have the time of my life there. ha. 
the major attraction was the "liquor zone," a series of low-cost beverage stores. there was a supermarket called the "pick n pay" and a really sad arcade. felt like a time warp. it was a maze of hallways, all under construction, and no maps. it seemed everyone was walking determinedly somewhere, like this was just a passage. i didn't recognize any of the shops. Woolworth still exists?
i found a store selling billtong, the classic dried beef jerky stuff. it was run by a real nice old lady who apologized profusely when i ordered 6$ worth of biltong, but when she weighed it, it was worth 7$. she was super sweet and had long fake nails and let me taste all the flavors. when i said i wanted it vacuum packed she sent me to the sister shop a few complicated bends down into the mall. there, i arrived and met her tired husband, who said he was closing shop after 20 years, and that i was leaving the tastiest biltong behind: bacon biltong, which is the best thing ever. and it was. all best quality beef! where do they make this stuff, in their garage?
i ate a sad salad in the foodcourt in a coffee shop, taking advantage of some free internet and hoofed it back to the inn. every parking lot is ringed by high fences with barbed wire, so you can only go out the auto exit through the booth. several times i found myself cornered like an animal, thinking if i could actually fit through the bars. i would turn around and walk around a building to find the staff of fastfood restaurants taking their smoke breaks and checking their cell phones. ony guy had taken off his shoes and was picking at his blisters. 

when it came time to cross the street back to my hotel, i was at some awkward multi-way intersection. no crossing lights for pedestrians. it was like double dutch jump rope, you observe the patterns for your opening and then you just hold your breath and go. it took a couple of cycles, but then i had it. i was at the corner on this green grassy knoll where women in blue jumpsuits were picking up garbage and speaking in their dialect. every stoplight had its homeless guy, begging, or a dude with sneakers around his neck to sell, along with car cigarette lighter phone chargers. what cars still have cigarette lighters? across the way were even more guys with sandwich boards, selling phone credit or house insurance. human billboards. rock bottom was the guy with one shoe and a half torn cardboard sign offering "same day, pain free abortions." shudder. everyone eyed me cautiously, like what is this white girl doing here? like how in Durham the only people walking MLK boulevard were the mexicans. Maybe south africa really is america, but this isn't the part you would ever want to be in. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Like-a-inhaca

as much as you struggle for good hospitality in africa, sometimes it just works out.
on the last night of our workshop i sat next to abdul, from the university. he lives out at the research station on inhaca island. i was meant to fly to south africa the next day for a lovely weekend stay at the jo-burg airport hotel, but he quickly persuaded me to change my flight. inhaca is paradise!
a bit buzzed after half a bottle of vinho verde i called over to my colleague carl sitting at the end of the dinner table, hey wanna go to inhaca this weekend? 
ok.
i arrange everything, says abdul. 
far out.
on saturday morning we arrive skeptically at the fish port, i am half expecting this to fall through and am already scrolling through the number of tour operators and hotels i stored in my phone during my brief research of the island - which didn't bring much, mostly hotels closed for renovations and numbers with insufficient digits to make sense.
at the port we are escorted to our reserved seats on the vodacom boat. a clear better alternative to the rusting movicel vessel half sinking portside. 
we lounge in our red plastic molded seats and two hours later come upon the quaint, idyllic ilha inhaca. 
we pay the little reserve entrance fee, and a man comes and introduces himself, fernando, he will take us to our house in his land cruiser. we drift over the sand dunes and beach and through a small village, until we are shown a rather nice half thatch/half cement 2 bedroom house which is essentially what might call a "condo." replete with a living room and bar with 8 stools, fully stocked kitchen and a porch that lacks little but a hammock. the yard is under construction but there are satellite tv's and stone floors.
i ask when we need to pay and fernando says, "whenever."
we walk out to the beach and hike southward, in search of the university research station abdul raved about.
as soon as we are on the beach, various guys stop us and ask if we want to take a tour in their boat and we're like, nah, not really but ok we'll take your number in case.
we continue for a bit of a hike, we walk and walk and walk and i can feel the sunburn sink in, amplified by the terror thought that we are about as far from any restaurant at exactly high noon. 
finally we arrive at the research station, evidenced by a securty guard sleeping in a beached canoe. we enter the natural history museum of jars and preserves of all local beasts and animals and species, all explained by an eager portguese speaking tourguide. the specimens are in the same jars i make my pickles.
far out. 
i understand bits and pieces of his spiel, there was a leper colony, the island is 7km wide, which is the same distance we just walked, this is a 3m long python skin, the scorpion fish is bad news and here are lots of ants.  i ask to for the bathroom and the guide leads me to an outhouse - but first asks me to wait, as he inspects every stall for cobras. there is even a sign, please watch out for forest cobras. this is their home, he says. 
far out.   
at this point we have little desire to walk the 7km back to town and we are starving so we ask the fishermen there if they would take us back to town. they wince and shake their heads, so we call one of the guys who stopped us on the beach, flavio.
flavio says he can pick us up in a jeep or by boat, which do we prefer?
i say i don't know, which is cheaper and he says 1000 meticais either way.
boat or jeep, which do you prefer?
i say whichever costs 800 meticais and flavio says i come in the boat. 
:)
it's low tide so we walk out in the really shallow ankle deep water to the channel's edge. i take pictures and am terrified of dropping my camera in the water, as well as stepping on sea urchins. 
we are almost 1 km from shore and i start to have my doubts about flavio. if the tide comes in we are essentially swimming back and i call him again and he does not answer. i figure, it's either a bad sign, or a good sign, because the boat engine is running and he can't hear the ring?
within seconds i hear the faint roar of an engine, and a speedboat racing towards us. carl says, "there's no way that's flavio's boat, it sounds way too fast," but it is. and we hop in. i complain about the lack of cold beer and flavio says if you had asked for beer i would have brought beer. 
flavio shows us his fancy tour guide id, which is just a laminated business card with rusty staples in it. carl remembers he has the lanyard name tag thing from the workshop. we put flavio's badge in there and i high five him. he is the happiest guy ever. legit. the crystal blue waters bow under our powerful engine and we are at the town in seconds.
far out. 
flavio takes us to some breezy patio where we eat the freshest calamari, doused with many beers. we watch the lazy village life before us, and then search endlessly for a beach but find mangroves, which aren't so bad because that's why we're here, afterall. 
after a sunset swim back at the dock we are discovering cold beer in the condo fridge when fernando finds us to say he needs two people to fill the boat trip to portguese island the next day and because it is split 10 ways it costs almost nothing. ok, why not? 

the best vacations are when you don't have to make decisions, the decisions just come to you. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

international women's day #2

so there's been a bit of a baby boom in yaoundé, a lot of the women i know are all with young kids or on maternity leave. as my housemate, rizbo, new father of a young cute half german baby says "congratulations should be in order for the cameroonian men! these fellas work hard!" fist pump. yeah, maybe. still, women get to celebrate with a vengeance on march 8th.

i actually spent most of my afternoon waiting for my colleague who had invited me over for lunch. he showed up around 4pm, as i should have known. he was sad that i wasn't wearing my special women's day dress! his wife had offered me one the week before, a truly touching gesture, only....well, it was more of a mumu, a giant dome like thing that fell to the floor and got caught under my shoes. so i sheepishly handed it off to my seamstress (you gotta have one in very city), wearing her own elegant, perfectly fitting slender outfit, whistled and said yeah, i can make 10 dresses out of that if you want. and a tote bag. so i was more westernly adorned as we headed off to the edge of town - literally, behind the breezy house stood vast forest covered hills and the view from the porch, sweeping, dusty yaoundé. 4 kids, no water. you have to get it at the well. 
i got bitten by mosquitos and sweated a storm before the main course was served, a nasty looking freshwater fish we had bought on the road the day before, stewed in peanut sauce, which made it delicious. after dinner (630pm) we hit the johnny walker black and boxed wine until we all decided to go back into town for the real festivities. we got stuck in a major traffic jam due to rain, but also seas of people, mostly women, flooding the streets, drunk, pretty, jovial. 
we decided to go to the bar across from my house, and also one of the other guests who was my neighbor. i arrived to high five the owner walter, "hey weren't you here a year ago?" the bar hadn't changed much, except for the addition of a billiard table, which was unfortunately, just about as big as the room as it was placed in. after inventing a new women's day drink consisting of guiness from a bottle, jagermeister, and schmirnoff double black (emphasis on the double black) i challenged my cohorts, button up shirt and tie wearing phDs to some pool. they have never even picked up a cue before. the antics of this game proved hilarious, as i was trying to explain the rules, but also you couldn't take any shot without jamming your stick against the wall, so you would perch it awkwardly vertically and had no chance of htting anything. ridiculous. i finally showed them that we could unscrew the cues into two parts, and then we played on this giant table with what were essentially toothpicks. speaking of toothpicks, i was later challenged by a visitor, a giant man with a golden michael jordan cap and zero facial expression, half open eyelids, with an immobile toothpick between his lips, which would remain unmoved as he suavely smoked his cigarette. he also smoked me in pool in less than 10 minutes, somehow suavely squeezing around the 10cm open perimter around the table -which was unfortunately also on the way to the bathroom, so anyone going to the loo would also have to squuueeeeze through and you would end trying to hold your drink above your head but then spilling it everywhere or touching someone you really didn't want to. the DJ came around with his wirless mic, signing over the nigerian gangsta rap with his own french lyrics, waving his fist at us "les femmes! ouais ouais!". later on, my colleague gaston who was oddly missing, we figured he was stuck in traffic, came in, completely soaked. what happened?
car broke down.
where is your wife??
waiting with the car.
gaston! i smack him on the head. it's women's day! you go wait with the car in the pouring rain and let her get a drink!
the thought had never even crossed his mind...
we continued to play doubles, my guys still not comprehending the rules, moving the balls with their hands when they wanted, playing out of turn, holding the cue backwards. they seemed to enjoy all my double entendres about touching balls and sticks until we segwayed to the sexy move rule, where each player had to jam their butt up against the wall like in a beyoncé video while they took a shot. but that proved too hot for this party. every time someone attempted, the power would go out. pitch black. we waited during a few hopeless tries to get the generator going, but it wasn't enough to fuel both the strobelights and the DJ booth, only one or the other, and that was my cue to leave. cue. hehe. get it?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

road trip cameroon

so before my trip i casually said to my colleague Gaston, over Skype how i've been looking at this forest block for years in a satellite image, but i've never actually seen it, you know? What do you say we go there and do some reconnaissance. sounds good he says, it only takes a day to get there...ah the last time an african told me something is a day away!
i suggested we leave at 6am, always better to be on the early side. at 9:30, i was still waiting. i call gaston "i wanted to print some maps before we go"
i printed a bunch, i brought them to you
"but they are too nice to bring to the field"
he ended up taking 2 hours to re-create the same maps i made -he could have just used my files, but no, he started from scratch, and what's worse, the black and white printer doesn't really convey all the sublte hues of greens and blues. he basically brought a grey map in the form of eastern Cameroon. nice one. 
we finally hit the road with emmanuel, the driver, whom i want to call manu, but he insists: emma. kinda girly but ok. we have congolese music blasting (my buddy fally!) and are in search for supplies. many, many bottles of water, but i really have my eyes set on the fresh baguettes, avocados, peanuts, and pineapples. i could survive on that. every time i see a stand, or someone with what i want on their head emma and gaston say, no, not here, just a bit further. finally we are out of yaoundé and i'm seeing my opportunity fade. i better see some pineapples! don't worry, says emma, we will pick some up in hawaii. 
hawaii? 
aloha!
yup, lo and behold an hour away mountains, and mountains, and mountains of pineapples. 5 for a buck, ladies coming from all sides and throwing them into our car. in the next town i am told, "too late for peanuts," until a guy comes cruising along with a big basket on his head. it's 500 francs for one dented ammunition casing full of peanuts. yesss!
in the next dusty town gaston says it's our last chance for a restaurant. already this town is without power and only one bar of cell phone network. we buy some beef from a guy grilling it over a warm fire. he hands over a slice and a toothpick to taste and we nod, ok, we'll take it. he tears off a piece of dark paper that was formerly a cement bag and wraps it up with some plantains to go. to my dismay the yellow powder he pointed to which i said "yeah, go for it!" is suuuuuuper spicy. the only beverages available to wash it down are 65cl bottles of fanta. 
i ask emma how much further and he says, so it takes 9 hours to get about halfway there, and since we only left at 10, well...he trails off. you're not supposed to ride in the dark so using simple math it seems we have spent a whole day on our voyage but are only 1/3 of the way...
later on the tarmac ends and the road turns into a mars red dust bowl, kicked up by 18 wheelers hauling giant, gargantuan loads of massive tree trunks, meters in diameter, hundreds of years worth of natural, brown wood, spray painted with codes and company names. the trucks keep coming, and coming. 
the front..
and the rear

all the vegetation lining the road is the same bright red, along with all the houses, the kids, their soccer balls. "and this is where the cameroon forest goes!" screams gaston. it's just like the movie i watched on the plane, i can't imagine what it's like inside of these huts with no window panes, with african print curtains as doors. dust probably covering everything. the houses are mostly crooked drab huts, with well appointed gravestones centered in their front yards, presumbaly the patriarch. they are covered with bright clean blue and white tiles and free of red dust, either maintained by their owners, or the goats who sit on them contently, probably enjoying a cool surface. close your windows! we resort to the a/c. our vehicle slowly turns from white to red. the houses that are just a few meters further from the road seem spared, why aren't the houses built further away? or maybe they were here before the road. who knows. every once in a while there is a truck broken down, or worse flipped over in a ditch, spilling its contents into palmy forests, somehow just managing to avoid the villages. except when it's the onion truck, then people are all scurrying to scoop up errant vegetables as we run them over plop plop plop. 

not a scene from interstellar

 we finally arrive to some town that resembles all the others, and check into a hotel, which is really just some relic house way past its heyday with a bunch of guys scurrying around. it was probably grand back in the day, but the picture frames are all dusty and broken and crooked, the oulets hang awkwardly out of holes in the walls and the screen windows look like someone punched their giant fist through them. there's a restaurant, but no one serving food, and the beer is lukewarm. there's a generator though, i delicately plug my computer into a dismembered socket and see sparks fly. there's actually water in the shower, though it's kinda brown. i show gaston how to toss the frisbee and as we are playing i see a fluffy white dog standing delicately atop his dog house, he looks like a polar bear balancing on the last piece of arctic ice. i go over and he wags his tail eagerly. the stench of piss and shit overwhelms me and i hop back from sea of termites and fire ants all around the tree which he is tightly chained to, the leash actually stuck in the ridge of the roof of his house holding him at an awkward angle. his food and water bowls are as dry, flipped over and haven't seen any contents in days. i look closer and notice his nose is basically rotting flesh, covered in flies and bugs, it's almost falling off. this animal is being tortured and he will haunt me for the rest of my life. every time i approach he gets all excited and wants to come and get pet, but i'm worried he has rabies, or maybe flesh eating disease and i'm scared to get close. i toss over some biscuits and he paws them and devours them with a rage. i ask one of the employees sitting under a tree if he ever eats or gets water, and why they are torturing him and i get the usual laugh, haha, white girl, it's just a dog. it's actually the same laugh i got when i asked if they serve breakfast (i was merely pointing at the yellowed sign that read breakfast: 7-10am). at night all the dogs of the village howl together like wolves in a sort of trance and i dream about letting the fluffy boy go. in the morning i make an attempt, his chain is literally drilled into the tree and he's too fucking stupid and affectionate for me to get close without him trying to nuzzle and snuggle his nasty wound towards my waist and i back away with tears in my eyes. i actually hope that he dies quickly and painlessly, though my biscuits ironically probably gave him more days to suffer.    
as we load up the truck we notice it has a flat. the driver replaces the tire and we need to bring the flat one to get fixed. this gives us a chance to go into town and get some coffee, and some nice guys cook up an omelette served with avocados and onions and mayo. gaston asks me if i have food allergies and i say no, and he says, "because the last guy i took out here spent a week on the toilet."
oh, that kind of food allergies! well i have a stomach of steel, mostly. gaston says good, because that meat from yesterday made me quite sick. that's a good sign... 
i am drinking my instant coffee with condensed milk when this man comes by and i'm like, he looks old, yet, young...wow, he's just really small! gaston introduces me to another gaston, a ba'aka pygmie who works for WWF. mini-gaston! i exclaim before i instantly regret it and wince at my words. he asks for a ride to his village and we're all sure, just meet us over there at the truck. he rubs his chin and says, i need to go to the coiffeur, but i will be fast, don't leave without me! 20 minutes later the spare is repaired and we are driving up and down the little main street, calling out, gaston! gaston! and honking. we go to every hairdresser - this town has 400m of a mainstreet and about 20 places to get your haircut. we pull up to every one and emma yells out, hey, have you seen petit gaston? he's really small! little ba'aka guy, can't miss him! and the person would respond, oh, that little man? he was just here but we were full so he went there...finally i say listen guys, we are so behind, sorry but we can't wait for petit gaston anymore and we drive away when suddenly petit gaston comes running, his little legs moving so fast i am making the giddeegiddeegideegidee sound in my head and he jumps in. i forgot a sweater! he says. it's 35 degrees and he ran back to his house to get a wool sweater. 
we continue along, going over a cool river ferry with some fun people who enjoy having their picture taken. we get to gaston's village and yup, it's ba'aka. cool leafy huts and tiny people. some guy comes over from the road and photobombs our session and pretends he's the ba'aka's best friend, but he's actually a gold miner, coming to ask them to take him into the forest. we talk about it later and yeah, everyone comes and exploits the poor ba'aka, known for their excellent forest and hunting skills, while their forests and wildlife disappear... 
pre-photobomb
we carry on through more villages and smouldering fields which used to be forest, and trucks with logs. we start our work, getting out occasionally to walk into the forest or a field and take some GPS coordinates and photos. we find a place that is selling plantains and he haggle with a bunch of shirtless guys. we go to put it on the roof of the truck and emma lets out a howl. put his back out or something...shit. he can barely walk but he drives us to the nearest clinic - 30km of bumpy roads away. we get to this desolate building and it's all ebola posters, and a few scary ones about genital herpes, and an official price list for operations. 60,000 CFA for a hernia, 80,000 if it's complicated. 
the end is the worst part
i'm thinking they'll give emma a massage or crack his back or something, but no, they give him an injection. the doctor is a young handsome fellow wearing a WWF shirt. i elbow Gaston, joking, turning the tables for once, hey, is the young doctor single? gaston says, "that man has a job, he certainly got captured by a cameroonian woman long ago." i say, winking, polygamy, right? emma winces in pain - i have two wives! gaston nods in dismay "and you have twice the problems, my friend." i later find out that all of emma's 8 kids are from the one wife. the other "does not give birth, she just helps with care." interesting. i think of all the guys who blow me kisses from the side of the road (which i theatrically catch and land on my cheek) they are just losers who only like me because i have a job!
we are soon back on the road, after visiting a chicken coop set up by a peace corps volunteer some 5 years back. they all talk animatedly about her, she was so dynamic! she did wonderful things! i think, now that's a pretty badass legacy to have...will people remember me? 
occasionally pass these police checkpoints, with a gendarme sleeping under a tree, while his wooden board with nails on it stops all cars coming through. they amble over and shake our hand, trade pleasantries with emma. this one guy looks right at me, "ashley's replacement???" you know ashley? she was my neighbor! and he goes on and on...sacrée ashley...
they guys notice i have become quiet, i've stopped saying eeeeeee! every time i see a baby goat or pig, i no longer take pictures of gaston, mouth breathing while cluthing his worn paperback entitled "everything is negotiable in life."
are you sick?? do you need to stop?
no, i'm just thinking...