18 January 2009

Adventures in Vermin

18 January 2009

Adventures in vermin

I have lain awake most nights this week, listening to scurrying and surreptitious chewing in my house. I seem to have conquered the continuous ant onslaught (cinnamon on window ledges discourages them – plus sticky tack to plug up their little entry holes). But how the mice have returned in force and volume. On Wed night, I heard little footsteps scuffling around in the papers in my bedroom, so I grabbed my headlamp and fumbled around to turn it on. This is a much longer process than it used to be – I should be able to flick it on with a touch of a button, but somehow that mechanism has gotten stuck in the “on” position so the only way to turn it off is to take a battery out. So when I’ve finished my reading in bed, I take one battery out and try to place the lamp with its floating AAA battery is a “safe place” where I would be likely to be able to easily recover and re-illuminate it. This tactic rarely works. Triple A batteries are tiny and amazingly adept escape artists. The headlamp itself often gets lost in the tangle of sheets, pillows and mosquito net that is a result of my tossing and turning on hot nights. Once I find the pieces I then have to fit the battery in the right way around, with barely dexterous sleep-drunk fingers.
So, awoken by the tippety-tap of vermin, I fumbled around picking up the pieces and finally succeed in lighting up a frighteningly distorted shadow of large antennae by the side wall of my room. Instantly awake, I rip open the mosquito net, slip on my flip-flops and move closer to investigate, a shudder involuntarily running down my spine.
I identify cockroachus maximus disgustingus and accordingly throw the book at him – and miss. He scurries out of reach and I decide not to freak out and just go back to bed, carefully tucking the net around me.
I kept my ears perked, but was eventually pulled under in unconsciousness until I felt a little flutter on my knee, propped up on a pillow, instantly my body surged with adrenaline and I leapt up, reaching for the crank flashlight I’d brought into bed with me after my unsuccessful initial hunt. I swept the beam around my bed, searching for the offending ant or mosquito. Not finding anything, I took a deep breath to calm my pounding heart and adjusted my sheet to settle back down. As the folds in the sheet flattened, the culprit was revealed: Monsieur Cockroach had found the bed. Suppressing a girly scream, I grabbed a book and pushed it down on the bug. Unfortunately foam mattresses don’t provide much resistance so I’d succeeded in immobilizing but not killing my attacker. Like a good homo sapien, I quickly scanned the area for another, more effective tool and grabbed a pillowcase, shielding my hand, to pick up Monsieur le Roach and crush him. Then I threw the pillowcase out of bed as far as I could and let the involuntary shudders wave down my back and arms for a bit as I meticulously tucked in the net perfectly and searched the whole bed for any other unwelcome visitors. Then I tried to sleep.
The next night, my ears already extra-sensitized to creeping and crawling, I heard something coming from near the window. Having a full arsenal in bed with me this time around: heavy book, headlamp, crank flashlight and bug spray, I quickly trained the light toward the window. I didn’t see anything so I turned off the light and almost instantly the scratching started up again, I look up, a faint blueish glow from the window giving just enough light to see a silhouette darting around – tail, nose – definitely a mouse, but I couldn’t quite tell whether it was inside or outside. I got out of bed, trying to think of some way to get rid of the thing. I lifted my flashlight and the little mouse stopped, looking up at me with big scared eyes and little pink floppy ears. How could I kill this cute thing?
I chased it around a little, by tapping surfaces near it. I have no idea what I was trying to accomplish – keep in mind this was my second sleepless night in a row). Finally I decided a brilliant plan – drop it into a bucket of water! My toilet-flushing bucket was handy, so I pulled it under the window and clapped a plastic bowl over the mouse, slowly dragging the bowl along the screen in the window, pulling the mouse further down until it no longer had screen to hold onto and would drop right into the bucket. This could have gone all kinds of wrong. But luckily, the mouse did fall right into the bucket with a soft plop. The soaked vermin tried to climb the walls of the bucket, but couldn’t. Of course, the water level was just low enough that he was able to stand and keep his head above water. Floppy pink ears are even cuter when wet. I couldn’t bring myself to deliberately drown the mouse so instead I gingerly picked up the bucket, unlocked my front door to walk out into the yard and throw the whole watery mess out with a sudden jerk and scampered back quickly back to the house, where I made myself a chamomile tea and tried to stop shivering.
New Year’s Resolution: get a cat and wear earplugs at night

08 January 2009

Rest in Peace

RIP Arabella Togo Strange

My pretty little chicken was stolen just before New Years Eve.

I hope that whoever took her had lots of hungry children and they enjoyed a yummy Bonne Annee feast. And that this year they will have a really successful business so they can buy their own chickens for next year’s feast and not steal those of other people.

And then I cried (only a little).


Assorted pics of my borrowed kitten... now returned to L and I in Tsevie

Spiderman got his superpowers by being bitten by a spider. Spidercat got hers from biting the spider.

Kitten on a bike

Kitten practicing spidey skillz.

Kitten lounging – good thing I wasn’t too set on reading that.

07 January 2009

Party apres sunset

7 January 2009

The sun’s setting later now. Or perhaps I’m just staying outside later, now that the mosquitos have finally become less prolific. Yesterday I took out the headful of braids I had. After an hour and a half of pulling and fighting I gave up and headed out to the marche to buy a new marmite (big cooking pot). The woman selling them wasn’t out, so I sat down with the girl running the sodabi stand across the road. She and I had a good, although necessarily superficial introductory chat, her French is better than most – she was educated in Cote d’Ivoire, but only made it to 4eme (approximately 8th grad).
She helped me get the rest of my braids out and then, as the sun started falling beneath the horizon, led me on a confusing search through a warren of little alleys to find the marmite – seller who still hadn’t emerged with her wares. I carted my bike over low walls and up and down and around tight corners. It made me realize just how atypical and “up and coming” my area of Mission Tove is. My house is on a small side street where 2 families are constructing brand new compounds, a moto mechanic just moved his business, and a new plastics-biscuits-wine shop just opened. There are lots of open spaces and almost every homeowner also has a plot of land to cultivate not far from their living area.
By the time we found the marmite-seller (whose wares were stored in the house approx 5 feet from the little sodabi stand at which I’d passed the last 2 hours), the sun had set. As we picked our way back out of the neighborhood onto the main road, I noticed with considerable surprise just how busy it was. A generator softly whirred, lighting the new bar/cafeteria, five different vendors with little tables lit by kerosene lamps sold food ranging from brochettes to rice and beans. Living relatively far from this area (~5 minutes bike ride) I had very rarely ventured out after dark. I will have to remedy this tendency.
But should I venture out on bike or on foot?
As I rode back home last night, huge marmite strapped to teh back of my bike, I realized belatedly that my bike light is more useful in alerting people around me of my presence than in actually illuminating my path. I couldn’t see the path at all. It’s always bumpy, but something about taking the dips and clunks of potholes blind gave me that elevator-stomach feeling. It was almost a rollercoaster, I had a great adrenaline rush by the time I got home.

02 January 2009

rice and rivers and soul-cleansing

2 January 2009

Long skirts are not ideal for biking through rice paddies at high speed. When we hit the final stretch and, of course, a big unavoidable mud puddle it inevitably got a bit messy. I’d been following a boy on a bike for nearly 20 minutes, taking a side path off of the main road in the village to head directly for the rice paddies and the river Zio. We passed several families out working in the sun – the women still had their hair piled up in extensive braids from the New Year fete. – As they bent over their stiff knee- straight legs resembling small tree trunks rooted in the marsh, they reached into the mud to do whatever it is you do to cultivate rice (this is a gap in my knowledge that I should remedy) and their beads at the ends of their braids click-clacked audibly.
But we only had time to wave, shout greetings and continue our destination was the river, where three of my friends were preparing to be baptized. We pulled up along several motos and joined the gathering crowd (I discreetly brushed off mud splatters on my skirt and legs.) Pasteur B walked into the water - it reached his chest – and the women on the shore started to sing songs of cleansing, Jesus’ sacrifice, and joy to the accompaniment of the crash of water cascading over rocks on the other side of the bridge.

01 January 2009

Happy New Year!

1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

Yesterday I baked 4 platters of brownies. I had to call up my mom at home to ask for the “recipe” – adding 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup oil and 1 egg to Ghiradelli’s Abso-bloomin-marvelous Brownie mix. I gave a pan to my host family, one to the family of the pastor of the church next door, one to my homologue’s family and one for me. yum yum. It’s amazing what you can do with a “dutch oven”. Basically, I don’t have an oven, so I put a big pot with a lid on a low flame on my gas stove, pop a couple small empty cans into it and balance a small pan on top of the cans. (The pan has the baking mixture in it.) I have to be careful when taking the pan in and out – it’s really easy to either burn my self on the side of the pot or dip my be-gloved hands into the baking mixture (gooey ewwey).
It takes ages to bake things this way and I’ve discovered that “low” flame isn’t quite low enough – things tend to burn on the bottom before being done through. So I’ve developed coping mechanisms like turning the flame off for five minutes mid-baking to prevent it from getting too hot. It’s a fun little experiment.
I’m not sure how much people liked the brownies- you just don’t find things like that here – rich, gooey, chocolatey chewy. mmm.
I went to the New Year’s Eve vigil at the church next door, dressed in a new complet, my hair in hundreds of little braids. I sang and danced and jumped around until one. The service went on until 3 but I went home, put in my ear plugs and slept – all the way till 8! What a lazy morning! The church is beautifully but oddly decorated – a mini Christmas tree, a cross made out of sparkly streamers that still have tags on them proclaiming “Holiday Joy made in China”. Spotted around the room, seemingly haphazardly, are short strands of sparkle streamers, loosely and unevenly looped around ceiling beams or electrical cords. It’s really sweet and such a contrast to the serious and expensive business of Christmas interior decorating at all the Western churches I’ve been to. The lights are low, the microphones are scratchy and the drums are loud.

Current reading: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf