Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hot Box With God

Ey yo. I know I have been a bit negligent in the blog writing department of late. There have been a bunch of reasons for that but the biggest is that days have a way of slipping away unnoticed around here. I’ll get up Monday morning with the first call to prayer (we live across the street from a mosque), buy some tomatoes from the women on the block, make a few omelets, eat a few bananas, have a cocktail, take a nap and wake up on Thursday.

It is pretty wild here. I live in house in a little gated compound that we share with one other house. A doctor used to live there but when the government stopped paying doctors’ salaries he was forced to emigrate. It’s remained empty since except for a memorable three weeks when the entire twenty seven man policemen’s soccer team moved in for their annual tournament with the military team. Our other neighbor over the fence is the Pilipino slot machine king of Kara (the name of the town is Kara) but he lives in the capital now so we never see him. He does have a really cute doggie and a pretty friendly staff so that’s a bonus. Across the street we’ve got a hair-cutting place, a few general type stores (dried pasta, tomato paste etc etc) and two bars. One is called Bar Euro Chic and is run by this super sweet lady, the other we call “the ass hole bar” and it is staffed by ass holes. Down the major street perpendicular to our street is a small outdoor market with tomatoes and onions and ginger and stuff and then the rest of the block is taken up by chook stands. Chook is a kind of warm and fizzy alcohol made of sorghum. Chook stands are shacks with a circle of benches around a plastic trash can where a, usually insane, women spoons out big calabashes of the stuff for about 11 cents each. In my experience about five percent of all chook sold is consumed by infants. At night the street fills up with vendors selling fried snackies like yam fried with spicy chili sauce and fermented bean beignets. On the next street is a big outdoor bar with two food stalls that sell bbq’d goat and guinea hen as well as fish and street salad. Did I mention the food here is bangin? Who knew? For breakfast there are omelet sandwiches and coffee made with sweetened condensed milk and for lunch the local nomads, the Fulani, sell homemade farmer’s cheese which is served with either a tomato sauce or a spicy sesame sauce. The staples here are fufu or pate with is basically just a super starch made by pounding either rice, corn or flower until becomes a big gummy pasty lump. It’s actually really bangin. Most of the food is fried carbohydrates (they sell deep fried baguettes here), so it is pretty funny when a Peace Corps Volunteer is assigned to assist a small, impoverished village and ends up gaining a hundred pounds.

Everyone here thinks I look like Jesus for some reason. Everybody calls me Jesus. They cross themselves on the street and give me the thumbs up. It’s all very strange because this is an extremely religious country. No big deal but it does get awkward when local children stream out of their houses with smiles and tears in their eyes and hug me whispering “Jesus”.

The hair here is fucking wild. I remember watching the Ricky Lake weave contests when I was home sick from school and they have nothing on African hair. Women here change their hair style dramatically almost every single day so on one day the market lady will have ass length braids, then a super modern bob, then Coolio braids. Some of the shit is so awesome. I’m thinking about making a new photo blog called West African Weave Enthusiast.

Because Liza is in the Peace Corps we can use the ambassador’s residence’s pool and tennis courts when we are in the capital. Last time we were there, relaxing poolside and drinking the cold sodas his staff had brought us, we heard a shot fired just on the other side of the wall. No one reacted and the staff did not even look up. Some minutes later more shots fired, this time with screaming and the sounds of a ruckus. The sounds died down and still no reaction. Upon leaving the compound people were going about their business as if nothing had happened. Although we did see an escalade truck full of soldiers and with a mounted machine gun driving down the street. The whole experience made me feel like a real ex patriot.

For Christmas Liza and I went on a road trip from where we live to the capital, then across the coast to Ghana, then across the whole coast of Ghana and eventually to the capital of neighboring Cote D’ivoire. Ghana was AMAZING. Everyone should stop what they are doing right now and go. Now is the time. Everyone in Africa loves America now because of Obama. Most cars have little American flags in them and lots of bars and restaurants are painted with American flags and named Obama Its even wilder in Ghana where Obama just visited. The roads are lined with billboards of him and the Ghanaian president under the heading “Catalysts For Change”. After backwards, impoverished and oppressed Togo it was wild to see a thriving, vibrant democratic state just next store. When we were there people were enraged at Vodaphone for raising their rates so picketers gathered outside of Vodaphone head quarters until the management agreed to meet with them and lower rates. How wild is that! Can you imagine going down to protest AT&T in the US? Ghana had malls, cinemas nicer than in the US, Internet cafes, restaurants and roads. The mall was especially nice (I found out later it is actually owned by the president of Togo that corrupt bastard). They had a food court and an apple store. There was a grey goose promotion on when we arrived so they gave you free shots when you walked in the door. We spent an about ten hours there. Although impressive, the whole mall concept seemed a little new to some Ghanaians. Floor to ceiling display windows in one store had suction cup signs up that said “CAUTION GLASS”, Liza laughingly asked the proprietor whether they had a lot of people crashing through the windows before the signs went up, he looked away embarrassed and said “no no no of course not”. Well, less than an hour later I was standing in another store, this one without signs on the windows, and watched as a confused looking hipster guy walked face first and hard into the window. Nose pressed against the glass, arms and legs splayed out like a bugs bunny cartoon, face full of disbelief and shock.

We spent Christmas itself on a beautiful beach near the Ivorian border drinking the milk out of the coconuts dotting the sand and floating in the luke warm water. On Christmas Eve I watched 53 baby turtles hatch and scamper to the ocean. We went out partying twice in Ghana once we stumbled in to an all you can drink Christmas party at a bar and stayed for about six hours. When the music was playing people went buck wild and the place popped off harder then anywhere I’ve ever been (not counting the Gangway) but about every three songs this dude looking like the muscley Neville brother would stand up and do pop ballad karaoke. Everyone would look disgusted and sit down. After about the fifth time this happened Liza asked the owner (a lovely and charming two hundred pound British soccer fan) what the deal was. He explained apologetically that if they didn’t break up the music then the revelers would go into a frenzy and tear up the bar. It sounded a bit racist to me but by one o clock they had over powered the karaoke singer and were using the mike to freestyle (incredibly) and frenzy was so obviously immanent that the owner had to grab the mic himself and calm everyone down with his rendition of Eric Clapton (my darling you look wonderful tonight…). The next time we went out we met a secretly married gay couple. We drove around in their land rover listening to techno and ended up in an empty club eating cheeseburgers. It felt like coming home.

One day at a beach side bar we heard a fight break out and looked up in time to see two disreputable looking African women screaming on either side of a sunburned and bald white guy in a polo shirt and cargo shorts (the uniform of the sex tourist). They kept screaming, the man remaining silent, until the angrier of the two reached up into his shorts and grabbed his penis, hard. She then shook it angrily until the other woman backed down. The man did no react at all. I have no idea at all what was happening. It was one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen.

The Ivory Coast is completely insane. For decades it was the sole example of a prosperous modern West African state and then in the nineties it descended into over ten years of death squads, warlords and wide spread atrocity. Now it is apparently safe as long as you don’t mind showing your passport to cops and soldiers every ten feet but boy oh boy is it weird. The Miami skyline is still in tact, the modern freeways, the wide Parisian boulevards and large parks are all still there but it feels empty. The windows are broken or boarded up, buildings are sun bleached and peeling, roads are mostly empty and trash strewn, the large leafy trees that shade the streets are all swarming with bats who in the evenings swerve and dive around the sky scrapers filling the air with bat-chatter. The fact that Abidjan (the capital) still has Mercedes filled with fat French men speeding though its streets, fancy restaurants, modern hotels and large over-air conditioned super markets make it even weirder. It feels like walking around a zombie movie. Something is definitely not right there.

As I write this we’re back from our vacation. We had a New Years Eve party here at the house that got pretty wild and partly as a new years resolution and partly in response to our life style on vacation Liza and I are starting a health kick, cooking more and walking everywhere instead of taking motorcycle taxis. I’m taking French lessons, cooking everyday and missing you all very much. Life is simple and moving slowly in that really really good way. Come visit me.

P.S. The word for joke in French is Blog. I think that’s about right.