Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Short Novel...


Something the roommate's were talking about last night that I thought would be interesting is a cultural difference here that everyone says what they think you want to hear. Though it sounds like it may be nice, it can get really irritating. An example of this is two week when our driver dropped us off at the market so we could quickly exchange some money and get a few groceries. He said he would park just down the street in a short twenty minutes. We were there in fifteen minutes and started the waiting game. Waiting... waiting... forty five minutes later, we called Sanusi and he said “yes, I am on my way.” Ok, annoying but wait a little longer. After an hour, we called again. Same response, “Yes, I am on my way.” This time we asked where he was and how long it was going to be, but he just repeated himself without answering the question. It was frustrating because we had just finished an extra long day of work and it was when I had my cold and just wanted to get out of the sun. An hour and a half after our meeting time, we called him AGAIN. Surprise! Same response. Finally, two hours later, he showed up apologetic and claimed he couldn't help it. We were pretty annoyed and asked what, exactly, he meant by not being able to help it when he was the driver of the vehicle. He explained that the hospital gave him the task of dropping of two doctors at the airport and he just picking up the doctors when we called the first time. We were so frustrated! We explained to him that we would much more appreciate him to be honest. If he had just explained that he was going to be a while because he had to run this errand, we would've happily taken a taxi home and it wouldn't have been an issue. He kind of understood what we were saying but couldn't get over the fact that he was supposed to be driving us, though, and would rather just tell us he was on his way and make us wait. Argh! Another example is one we deal with everyday, but isn't nearly as frustrating. While screening patients, we have to ask questions such as if their eyes are irritated or if they have any problems. The go-to answer when they can't understand us is, “yes” with a nod. We caught on to this pretty quickly so will ask the same question in the negative and find that the answer still remains the same. We've learned little ways to try to avoid this and, if nothing else, will get a translator in to get an adequate response. We've learned to just laugh at this fact, and any other frustrating cultural difference for that matter, because it makes it easier and more, ultimately, enjoyable.

Ok, now for my crazy scary experience! I have never in my life been such a whiny, scared, pathetic little girl as when this happened to me two nights ago. Mark was asleep and all the girls still awake playing cards. I was exhausted so decided it was time for bed. After brushing my teeth and collecting my things, I took off my house shoes and pulled open my mosquito net, foot up and ready to hop in. Just as I was about to put my foot on the bed, I saw it! The most disgusting, biggest, CRUNCHIEST looking bug I have ever seen in my life!!! I've seen big bugs here (bigger than anywhere else I've experienced) but not in my bed! I let out a pathetic squeal and jumped back, nearly falling. I threw on my shoes and ran out to the girls in the living room, hysterical, saying they had to come see this and help me. They thought I was being pretty ridiculous and reluctantly followed me to my room. Once they saw the bug, though, they freaked out too! Honestly, this bug was the size of a small hand. Easily four inches long, two inches wide, and very thick around! It looked like the ugliest cricket ever with the big bent hind legs, but it was the coloring of a cockroach and had four gnarly looking pinches in the rear. It had wings, but didn't fly well. The scariest thing was that he had gotten INSIDE my mosquito net! In my bed! Oh man, creeps me out just thinking about it. I was freaking out and didn't know how to approach the situation, I just knew I desperately wanted him out of my bed! I didn't want to squish it because it looked like it would make a wicked mess. I also didn't want to grab it, though, because it looks like it could pinch or bite. I told the girls they had to help me figure this out. CuRi ran out of the room and came back with her camera, bug spray, and a fly swatter. I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdness. Not only would it take a whole bottle of spray to poison the monstrous thing, but I didn't want my bed covered in deet! And the fly swatter? Yea right! The camera was brilliant, though, and it was necessary to take a video of us wussy girls and pictures of the alien bug. (I hope to post a picture of the nasty thing!) We did try to swat it, but it merely made him flip over and he'd jump right back up (which was scary). We tried waking up Mark, but he refused to wake up because he thought we were being stupid. I found a bag that I figured I could grab it with and bring it outside, but the girls said they wanted it dead. Meanwhile, the bug is climbing all over my bed, in and out of the sheet and my pillows (EWWW!). Finally, we decided the help of a professional. We went out to the night guard and told him we needed help with a bug. He started laughing but was happy to come in and help us. Marielle ran into the kitchen and refused to watch. The rest of us followed him in but when he boldly grabbed the bug with no hesitation, we all ran out of the room screaming. He was getting SUCH a kick out of us!! (We were being completely ridiculous.) On his way out of the house, bug in hand, he pretended to throw it at us which just made us freak out more. We thanked him profusely for “saving our lives” and brought him out an orange, bug spray, and water. He was grateful but thought we were pretty ridiculous. I promptly got a clean sheet and made up the spare bed in CuRi's room with a clean net, refusing to get into my bed until I could wash everything on my bed and check my room for a colony (which I never found). Everyone, except me, had crazy nightmares about the little bugger.

We told everyone the story the next day and, come to find out, they eat those things! They call them “panga” and (typically) boys will go searching in the cockroach holes and pull out a bunch at once. They drop them into water for ten minutes to drown them and saturate them, then fry them up in oil. It's extra yummy, apparently, over rice. Hmmm, interesting. They said it tastes like corn on the cob. I don't think I'll be trying that local dish...

Oh! So I always think it's funny to see the white girls with braids. Somehow, though, I was convinced by the roommates and Nurse Lydia to get my hair braided so my hair would be long enough to put in a ponytail without pins. HA! Sunday morning I went to a woman who braids hair for a few dollars and spent the five painful hours of hair pulling to get weave braided into my hair. In the spirit of the whole trip, I am interested in doing anything new because it makes for a new experience, which is what I am looking for. Oh, wow. After getting braided, they pour boiling hot water on the “hair” to straighten and soften it. This did make it look better, but it didn't make it look good! Has anybody seen Axle Rose since his awful make over?? Yep, I looked like a black haired Axle Rose, not cute! It was like having a carpet on my head! I kept it in for two days, but only because Nurse Lydia was so adamant about getting braided so I had to show her. Funny enough, she thought it was SO beautiful! She couldn't get over how “well it suited” me, which was certainly the exact opposite of my perception. Oddly, all the Africans thought it was beautiful. So funny because I thought it looks so ugly and funny to see the white girls with braids, apparently they love it.

We had an unfortunate experience the other day. Harsh reality of how people see us. We have been aware of the fact that people assume we are rich because we are white and from America (though it is assumed that all Caucasians are wealthy). This in itself is a frustrating thing because every one of us took out loans to pay for this trip, but they don't understand that. Dr. Wanye has warned us from the first day that we must be weary of people who want to be our friends because they may have ulterior motives and it may take weeks, even months, for these to surface. He explained it as that people think we have crazy amounts of money and don't know how to spend it all and are hoping to grab a portion of the “excess.” Well we finally got our first experience of this.

Olu is a Red Cross volunteer. He is very friendly and eccentric and has been eager to show us around since our first day meeting him. He took us to a futbol game the other day, which was exciting, and brought us to his house to see his monkey and python. He had become very close with Mark, who was always willing to take him out to lunch and dinner with the understanding that he would have to pay because Olu could not afford it, no big deal. We started having doubts about his intentions when he would ask for a cedi (equal to 1USD) here or there for a cab ride or whatever else. Mark had no issue of say, “no, I'm not your bank.” Then he asked CuRi for her to get him a US visa when she gets home. She had to explain she can't even get her Korean cousins visas so her answer was no, which he got upset about. He then started dropping hints about how previous volunteers and Dr. Wanye pay for his tuition and we should, too. The breaking point came two days ago when, after dinner, we were hanging out at the house and he was sitting in a chair while we were doing data entry at the kitchen table. We noticed he was being sketchy by getting a bag from the corner, going over to the side of the room that has all the glasses lined up by prescription, and filling the bag. He then sat back in the chair, pushing the bag out of plain sight, and looked around suspiciously trying to figure out if we saw him. Being aware of it, we locked the door (with the bag in the house) as he went outside to say goodbye to Mark. We tried to just say goodbye without him coming back in the house but he said he left something inside. We told him he didn't come with anything so what could he have left? He pointed to the glasses and claimed he was gong to drop them off at the clinic for us. This, of course, makes no sense because we are in charge of the glasses and the Red Cross has nothing to do with it, other than sending volunteers on the outreaches now and again to translate. We stood our ground and he eventually left, but we felt odd about the situation. That night he borrowed Mark's motorbike to go home (against his better judgment) and was 45 minutes late the next morning returning it. Mark had to wait for him, which he was wicked upset about because it made him late for work, and was really confused when our driver came back to pick him up because he explained he'd just take his bike in. Well we figured it all out at the end of the day when Mark rode his bike and realized Olu had crashed it pretty badly and done serious damage. Olu, trying to avoid confrontation, called our driver back to pick up Mark so he didn't find out right away. He never said anything and, when finally confronted, said he took it in to get washed and it must have happened there. Clearly the damage didn't come from washing (busted horn, brakes, alignment, etc), but he refused to come clean. Mark was totally ripped and, I think more than anything, was really upset with himself. We all made it clear to Olu that we weren't happy with his dishonesty and clear attempt to steal glasses. He hasn't come around since then and sent a text message to CuRi apologizing and saying it wouldn't happen again. Upon talking to Dr. Wanye, though, he's no longer welcome in our house and there will be no opportunity for “it” to happen again. Apparently there is reason to believe Olu stole from a generous volunteer last year who even bought him a passport! Also, he doesn't go to school so there is no tuition that has ever been paid by Dr. Wanye or the volunteers! We found out a plethora of lies he told us and were so upset to hear about it. It really hit home that you have to be weary of all “friends” because, thinking logically, they probably only want to befriend you for one reason. Mark was really upset because he has befriended a number of local who he now has to second guess, a sad reality. It is hard to decide who you can trust and who you can't, but to be safe you have to go with not trusting, which is such a bummer! Some traditional dancers came over the other night with Salam, who we were told is the nephew of our day guard, and while the dancers were talking to the girls, Salam told Mark that they are lying and not trustworthy and not really his friends. He said they had followed him and they are merely acquaintances, but don't trust them. Later that night, we find out Salam isn't really related to Yakubu and shouldn't be trusted too much, either. He is said to have a reputation of befriending the white people and then asking for money. It's so upsetting! The way I am trying to look at it is I will take each person as they come. I will not put myself in the position to be at a loss, such as leave my computer out when company is over and keep my wallet in my room, but I will be friendly and assume they mean well. If the situation of asking for money ever does come up, it won't be too hard for me to say no because I honestly can not afford anything and will then know what intentions the person had. It is just so upsetting that we are commonly seen as just money, not as friends. Oh well, I guess it's just the way it goes.

I think the past volunteers have added to the false perception of wealth because they did crazy things! Last summer, one girl bought Olu a passport (as I already mentioned) and bought a few girls school outfits. Another girl, a 22 year old Yale student, ADOPTED two students so she is financially responsible for them!! When Dr. Wanye asked her how she would pay for everything she said her parents would help if she can't afford it, which she expected to probably not be able to. Unfortunately, Olu is the person who she communicates through to find out what the children need and he has been caught, by Dr. Wanye, writing e-mails filled with lies of burnt down houses and sick mothers to receive more money. Finally, another woman told two children in our neighborhood that she will financially support them and send for them to come to America and attend private school. (naive) She realized how difficult it was to do that and is now sending checks periodically to them. It's a difficult situation. It's obviously really generous of them to do that but it makes it perpetuates the stereotype of us being made of money. A few of us were talking about if we feel bad for not doing as much or smarter for not being as naive and I said that I certainly do not feel bad. I am doing all I can do, even going beyond my means to do so, and I think that is more than enough. If I actually were made of money I would undoubtedly be doing so much more, but I'm not.

Ok, I think the novel I've written is enough for now. Oh except for one last thing that I think is SO cute. As I've talked about, our day guard, Yakubu, loves his chickens and guinea fowl. Well, given our crazy rain storms, all the houses are built with intense drainage systems with gutters that drop into a trench that surrounds the house. The chicks go into the gutters because it offers nice shade beneath the steps during the hot hours of the days. The other day we noticed that the little ones weren't able to hop out of the trench. The next day we saw a series of rocks piled in a way to make steps for the chicks to get out. The guard made steps for the chicks!! So cute!! It reminded me of the “Sammy-ramp” at the foot of my parents be so the little runt can get onto the bed. Aw, it was precious!

I'll be posting this as soon as I can and will probably be writing another one or two before I leave. Sadly, my time here is limited and I don't really desire spending it at the internet cafe so we'll just see how it goes. I'll likely post one last one once I return. Everyone take care! I'll talk to you soon!!


P.S. On the walk here we encountered a HUGE herd of cow! At least twenty or thirty of them walking our way that we had to walk through. It was funny and certainly the first time I've ever had to walk against a whole bunch of cow and bulls!

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