Friday, June 02, 2006

Reality Check

Africa is not for sissies.

Even Ghana, which is known, in some circles, as "Africa for Beginners".

Perhaps, but we are still in Africa.

Yes, I have a swimming pool. But it was built by a man who has never seen a pool outside this country and who used bathroom tile, inside and out- the pool and pool deck is slicker than snot when wet, which is...well...all the time- it's full of water! Slip and fall accident waiting to happen, a few thousand miles from the nearest trauma center. Eek.

Yes, I have electricity and piped water. Each week, out of a possible 168 hours we have electricity from ECG, on average, slightly less than 100 hours. If that seems whiny to you, give it a try at your house. :-)

Occasionally, pull your circuit breaker. Not just at night, not just when you are going out, but randomly. Surprise yourself. Make it happen four or five times in one day. Practice wondering if it will come back on in a half hour or if it will wait for 10 hours. Make sure sometimes you are in the middle of watching a movie, cooking dinner, taking a shower, or entertaining friends. Just for laughs.

Now water- that's a whole other puzzle. It flows. It stops. We actually have fairly reliable city water compared to a lot of people we know. That means we get piped water often enough to keep our polytank filled so when the city water stops flowing we can turn the pump on and restore water to the house. Of course this is more problematic when you are IN the shower, alone in the house, and the water stops flowing. The pump, and its switch, are outside. Where Mark and the Guards are (praying the white woman never takes it into her head to make a mad soap-covered dash naked to the pump switch).

Food is plentiful. But don't set your heart on grape jelly, boiled ham, cheddar cheese, fresh lettuce (or a hundred other things you want). The store might have it, they might not. We have established a siege mentality and are currently the owners of no less than 26 boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (easily Cooper's favorite food) since we never know when, or if, it will return to the shelves. We are currently suffering from a lack of grape jelly (not a normal item for the British or Africans, so we wait), saltines (haven't had any of those since about February), and cucumbers (don't ask me- there just haven't been any for weeks and weeks). We suffer only so far as our cravings force us to- the lack of predictable grocery items has made us very creative in our meal selections and keeps us from humdrum dinnertimes.

We've pretty much covered the traffic, bad roads, crazy drivers and axle breaking ditches, but just as a refresher, as you drive today, imagine at every stoplight someone at least eight cars back in the line honking repeatedly the second the light turns green. Every stoplight.

I have learned economy in cooking utensils. I use the fewest pans possible to make dinner, serve up the plates in the kitchen to avoid using serving dishes, and still feel like all I do is...dishes. I haven't done dishes by hand since 1979 and when I leave here I intend never to do them again. I realize that makes me a whiny American housewife, but I don't care. And you can't make fun of me until you have washed the dishes for your family by hand for a year in a country where the hot water has to be turned on well in advance of the chore, the water itself may or may not be flowing, the lights by which you wash the dishes by may or may not be on and the availability of dishwashing soap at the store is never a sure thing. I'm just saying.

We noticed last week, while we all sat in the living room watching Hidalgo on TV (with the generator running since the power had stopped mid-movie), that it was amusing how calm we had gotten about sharing our house with dozens of lizards. We used to jump up and coax them onto magazines and relocate them outside. Now we just remark on the relative size of the one under the window on the wall and continue watching the movie. Our casa is their casa. Chasing lizards could easily become a full time occupation. Better to live peacefully with the natives.

Is it raining?

Then the house is leaking. We stopped caring about those, too. When the rain starts, one person gets a towel for Cooper's room, another person gets a towel for the dining room (at the back door), someone else checks the kitchen leak, etc. It's like clockwork. If the rain is heavy and wind driven, a couple extra towels go in Coop's room for the "special wind leaks". We don't even think much about it anymore. When the rain stops, we take the sopping towels out and hang them on the line.

The heat and humidity have warped my kitchen cabinets so that none of them close anymore without a three inch gap. Oh well.

All appearances to the contrary, we are getting pretty mature in our old age. Things don't bother us as much anymore. It just doesn't seem important most of the time. We have a lot, and so many have so little. We are learning to appreciate what we have and especially to appreciate the people we live among who are happy and productive and kind to us, even though they are making do with so much less. Less stuff, less opportunity, less help, less chances.

Why do we like it here so much? We don't know. It's a crazy place, and it's not an easy place to live, but it's a good place, a fun place, an interesting place. And the people are the best. Even if they do think we are completely lacking in good sense and judgment- they are willing to overlook our cultural shortcomings and befriend us.

Barring that soapy, naked dash to the pump switch...