28 December 2008

Freezing at 60degrees F

28 December 2008

When R called up the butcher at 10 am and the cow still had not yet been killed, we started to get a bit worried about our barbeque beef kebab Christmas Eve dinner. M successfully distracted us with homemade eggnog (real cream! brought in from the big city) and before I could start fretting, the meat was delivered and we got our hands dirty chopping and tenderizing and marinating. It was bitterly cold – about 60 degrees Fahrenheit and we were all dressed in layers. Under the noon sun out walking to fetch beers or new arrivals from the center of town we sweltered in short sleeves and light pants. But as soon as we hit the shade of the paillote in R’s compound, the strong Saharan breeze (called the Harmattan) ripped through our light clothing and sent us in search of pagnes to wrap around our shoulders.

The whole trip was a bizarre step outside of normal life in Togo. Four of us caught a bus up to Kara from Lome at 7am. An air-conditioned bus – where we each got our own seat – and they played Vin Diesel’s silly XXX in French. Wow. Normally travel in Togo means going to a taxi station around 7am, waiting for a car to arrive for about 30 minutes, waiting another 30-60 minutes for the car to fill up (filling up means at least 4 people in every seat that should hold 3), then trundling off creaking and spluttering, the driver occasionally stopping the car to perform typical maintenance like using his mouth to suck the fuel out of one part of the engine and spitting back into somewhere more useful. (!!!) The traditional entertainment is playing the ‘name that body odor’ game or avoiding the sharp beaks of the live chickens at your feet or in the lap of the woman with whom you are sharing a seat. I was inspired by rumors that one of the volunteers who just finished his service used to meditate in the back of bush taxis and I gave it a try one time. Nothing jerks you out of a zen-like calm faster than a nibble from a chicken on a sandal-clad foot, I’m telling you!

So, what with the on-time departure, amenities, and hip-room, our bus ride was amazing and made the trip seem like a real holiday. Being able to spend quality time with friends, eating good food and playing absurdly violent games of spoons was a fantastic way to spend Christmas.

I was so happy to have received my hand-knit-by-my-mother-when-i-was-a-tiny-child Christmas stocking in a parcel the day before heading north. My stocking wasn’t exactly “hung by the chimney with care” rather, it hung from the end of a very well-endowed wooden penis (for condom demonstrations) being used as a coathook, which epitomized the brilliant melange of festive and fou (French for crazy).

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