24 March 2012

Less Serious, Probably More Boring

The last two posts were serious, and had little to do with what I've actually been up to, so here are a few random, short, potentially funny stories and updates.

1: I recently survived a crocodile attack. True story. More or less. True, it was only a baby crocodile, only about ten inches long, and it 'attacked' me only when I picked it up: it twisted its head back around, hissing, to bite me on the back of the hand between my thumb and index finger, and held on for a good ninety seconds before finally giving up its grip. And true, it didn't actually really break the skin much, but there were definitely teeth marks, and it was bruised for a few days. And that's how I survived a crocodile attack. It's actually not quite as cool as another time when we went to see the baby crocodile (it's in this little concrete pit enclosure down the hill from a place we stay in Jinja; I don't know why, but it is) and a friend of mine picked it up, it bit him on the finger, and his first instinct was to get it out of his hand. By throwing it. Right into someone's chest. So he actually wins, I think, as the only person (probably) ever to throw a crocodile at someone else. (I also got a pretty gnarly spider bite recently, which was much worse than the crocodile bite, and is probably actually going to be a nice scar. Uganda is apparently trying to eat me.)

2: Here's a list of some of the things that I've eaten recently, between various things trying to eat me–
  • Cow shin: I've had this several times now, though it made me a little bit nauseous the first time. I ate it first when I went to my counterpart's home and she assured me that 'the part that presses the ground is the sweetest part.' It's not. I ate it for a second time when I was at the ajon circle (the local-beer-drinking place) and they had started serving food now, and I was told I had the choice between goat and cow, and I chose cow, for some reason, as if either would actually be a decent cut of meat, and it turned out to be the 'part that presses the ground' again. I'm pretty used to it now, though, and actually just order it willingly – when the choices are limited, that is.
  • Goat pancreas: I've had this a few times, too. And it's actually good. They serve it dried, so it's kind of like if you were to make jerky out of liver and salt it. That sounds like something you'd want to eat, right?
  • Goat tongue: The last time I was at the ajon circle and ordered the cow shin, I ate all of the meat –read: skin and gristle and fat– off the bone. I thought. Because there's not much there, so it's hard not to eat it all. I thought. The next time, though, we ordered food and my friend Martin turned back from the lady who makes the food to me, and said 'She is wanting to know if you would like the tongue of the goat.' I wanted to make sure I had heard correctly, and pointed inside my mouth: 'The tongue?' The laughter died down, and Martin said, 'Yes.' And I said, '...Sure.' She went off to serve up the food –the meat, or 'meat', comes with katogo, which is bananas boiled in a savory broth, and is one of my favorite foods here– and Martin leaned it and said, 'She is fearing that you don't like the molokon [cow shin] because you did not eat all of it last time.' Apparently, cleaning a quarter-inch of skin and gristle and fat off the six-inch-long, inch-and-a-half-diameter bone is not enough. I must have left an eighth of an inch of fat on there. Silly me. So I ate the goat tongue instead. Which was fine – I've eaten the entire face of a goat before anyway, in South Africa. No big deal.
3: There are a handful of work things that could keep me relatively busy for the last six months of my service, which makes me happy–
  • The HIV counselor project is continuing and we've had good success with that; I'm going to try to go out with some of the counselors and collect first-hand (well, translated-first-hand) some of the success stories, which I think will be cool to see and meet these people and hear and record their stories directly.
  • One of the counselors has created a group of people living with HIV/AIDS in his community who want to start a turkey-keeping project as an IGA (Income-Generating Activity). This comes after the handful of turkeys he already owned were stolen in the middle of the night, and the seedlings for the citrus-growing project that was supposed to start in their community were also stolen. But they put together an outline with a significant community-contribution and sustainability plan, which is always a good sign that it's going to be taken seriously, and so I'm going to be working with them to try to make that happen.
  • Another counselor has people in his community saving money or pooling money together to buy seeds for keyhole gardens. I had told all of the counselors to encourage keyhole gardens (the mound-of-dirt style garden I planted –there are pictures on the blog, somewhere– which is good for people with HIV/AIDS as it allows you to grow the same amount of produce without having to move up and down rows in the garden), and they did, which was great – except that they all came back and said people needed seeds. I told them that people could mobilize –a favorite word in development-project-speak– for seeds, and I would love to help construct and plant the gardens. This was six months ago. I'd heard nothing back, other than that people wanted keyhole gardens and needed seeds, until a week or two ago. Finally.
  • I'm going to get the life-skills club up and going again at the secondary school.
  • I'm also going to try and start a football –soccer– league for kids who aren't in school, with a life-skills component, and I'm looking forward to that, if we can make it happen.
4: I killed my first chicken a couple weekends ago, a milestone moment in any white-guy-in-Africa story, and the only time I've ever killed anything but insects and spiders. I had gone to church with Mr Olinga, the security guard from my organization, because they were doing a fundraising auction to raise money for an event celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Diocese. People brought in g-nuts, cassava, chickens, goats, flour, among other things, and everything was auctioned off. I bought about seven pounds of g-nuts, which is awesome, and should last me probably until the end of my service. I was also given a chicken to auction. I awkwardly stammered through my Ateso numbers and the word chicken and the phrases 'Who wants?' and 'Any more?' until finally the bidding ended. I went to give the winner their brownish-red new chicken, its feet tied together with string, when they told me they had actually bought it for me. Someone I'd never met, and actually didn't end up meeting at all, spent 10,000 shillings on a chicken for me. Really nice of them, and it led to, later, after the auction was finished and we were clearing out, a sentence I'd never thought I'd hear in church: 'Daniel,' someone called out. 'Where is your cock?' I assured them I knew exactly where it was. When we left the church, we stopped first for lunch at the primary school across from the church, and then Mr Olinga and I went on to his place, walking between and over giant boulders, thin threads of pathways through tall grass, hot and bright sun, through homesteads of huts built up against the walls of rock, nothing else in sight but more rocks and grass and brush, me with a chicken in one hand –holding it by its feet, it hung upside down with splayed wings and flitting eyes– and a black plastic bag full of g-nuts in the other, and Mr Olinga with three more chickens and his wooden folding chair that he'd brought with him to church, and it was possibly one of the most visually 'African' experiences I've had, and then we were at his place, four or five huts and a mango tree for shade, the last homestead before the swamp. He showed me how to kill the chicken, then, after sharpening the knife on a rock. I yanked out a handful of feathers from the throat and, standing on the feet, took the head in my left hand and drew the knife across and back and across, and I must have done something not quite right, because blood sprayed out and speckled my pants and feet, hands and arms, but I finished and ten or fifteen seconds later, the chicken was finished writhing around, too. We put it in a pot of hot water, which makes it easier to pull the feathers out, and easier to strip the skin off the legs and feet. Mr Olinga's son and granddaughter finished cleaning and gutting it, and I walked home through the village with a whole raw chicken in a black plastic sack, salmonella probably festering in the 95 degree heat. I boiled the entire thing with I got home, for about an hour, and was proud while I ate an animal that had been alive an hour earlier and that I'd killed with my own hands (and a knife).

5: We're supposed to be at the tail-end of dry season right now, but it feels like we're still just right in the middle of it. It's been unbearably hot the last week or two, mid-nineties during the day, and not a whole lot cooler at night. My tap ran dry a few weeks ago, and stayed dry for about a week. I'd recently gotten an accidental buzzcut, though, and it proved to be the best accidental haircut I've ever gotten. It's much harder to tell that I haven't bathed in six days when my hair is only half-an-inch long. The smell is probably still there, but, hey, you get used to that. They've also started load-shedding again, which means they shut off power for any seemingly-random number of hours. This means that, without the fan on at night, I've taken to sleeping on my concrete floor. It's the only way that I can get moderately cool enough to actually get some sleep. We've been teased with rain over and over again, but I don't think it's rained for more than three hours total so far this year. I can't wait, though. It's like this, actually:
Sweet summer night and I'm stripped to my sheets, my forehead is leaking, the [fan] squeaks. A voice from the clock says 'You're not gonna get tired,' my bed is a pool, and the wall's on fire. Soak my head in the [basin] for a while, chills on my neck and it makes me smile, but my bones have to move and my skin's gotta breathe. Slide down the stairs to the heated street and the sun has left us with slippery feet. Rip off your sleeves, and I'll ditch my socks. We'll dance to the songs from the cars as they pass, weave through the cardboard, smell that trash. Walking around in our summertime clothes, nowhere to go while our bodies glow. And we'll greet the dawn in its morning blues, with purple yawn we'll be sleeping soon. When the sun goes down, we'll go out again. When the sun goes down, we'll go out again … Let's leave the sound of the heat for the sound of the rain. It's easy to sleep when it wets my brain. It covers my rest with a saccharine sheen, kissing the wind through my window screen.
6: I also recently saw a baby monkey drink beer out of a guy's mouth. Africa!

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