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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Its been a while

I’ve defiantly been falling behind in my post entries, but I hope these stories do something to make up for that.


Bus vs. Cow

Bus wins, no contest.

Let elaborate though. The main system of transport along the main paved highways in Benin is to either cram into 60 year old bush taxis (read past entries for more info on bush taxis), or pay the same price and ride in a coach liner bus where you get your own seat, air conditioning, and if you’re lucky, a broken sound system (nobody wants to hear Beninese soap operas for 11 hours strait.) Call me crazy, but I prefer the bus (as bush taxis lose their allure after about 30 minutes.)

On this particular ride I was in the very first seat, passenger side; meaning I had a direct view as to what’s in front of us.
Five hours into the Beninese equivalent of “As the World Turns” (soap opera) when the evil twin came out of a coma for the third time and impregnated the heroine by pretending to be the good twin, some real life drama was about ready to unfold and I had front row tickets (literally, first row bus tickets . . . get it . . . cause . . . whatever, I’m funny damn-it.)
About 100 meters away (or yards for those metrically challenged) a herd of cattle begin to cross the highway.
Remember those word problems from back in High School? Well, if you’re traveling at 100km/hr and there are cattle 100m in front of you, how long will it take to hit the cattle? Answer, less than 3 seconds.

Most of the cattle got out of the way, but one got confused and changed its mind/direction halfway across the road which turned out to be its fatal error, as half a second later the bus turned over 500lbs of cow into 500lbs of ground beef.
The disturbing part was that the speed bumps before major cities gave the bus more of a jolt than hitting a full grown cow.

When it happened, the entire bus went into an uproar and the first question I heard was “is it alive?” to which I couldn’t even begin to formulate a response, much less in a response in French. We did slow down so the bus attendant could lean out and check for damage while we were still moving (turns out there are cattle guards on buses for just this reason and there was only a red splotch) but they wouldn’t stop to compensate the kids herding the cattle.

Another quick bus related side story (taken secondhand from another volunteer).

When the bus arrived, there was no windshield.
Not cracked, not with holes in it, but entirely missing.
During the hot season this can be pleasant and refreshing, but during the rainy season, not so much.
That said, due to the strange pressure in the cabin, about halfway through the trip, the back windshield blew out.
This essentially made the bus into a giant wind tunnel which would simulate a hurricane anytime it was raining outside (which was apparently most of the way to her destination).

Road Repair

News Flash!!!
“Tractors attempt to repair roads foiled due to the destruction of said tractor by the road it was trying to repair. “ (Beninese Satire International) [B.S. International]

The dirt road to my village cannot be classified as a road. I personally believe it could benefit from a light bombing as that would even out the craters.

Recently the Mayor’s office decided it was time to fix the situation. When they shipped in the bulldozer to level out the road, they decided (for some reason that still confuses me) to start in the middle. In order to accomplish this they brought the tractor in on the back of a flat bed semi-truck.

This backfired

Halfway there,  the truck overturned, dumped the tractor so it landed on its roof, and promptly sank into two feet of mud as a result of the recent rainstorm. In order to solve this problem they had to ship in another tractor (even larger than the first) in order to tow the first one out.

Not kosher: piggy discrimination on bush taxis

4th of July, the day of American Independence, fried foods, grilled meat, beer, and fireworks; just because I’m in West Africa at the moment doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate like my stateside counterparts. It does however mean that I may run into some hiccups along the way.

Our plan was a get-together for a pig roast, gather whatever flammable objects we could find (turns out fireworks are extremely difficult to find here), and wave American flags (at least tiny keychain sized ones).

I was in charge of the pig, which in retrospect was a fantastic (if frustrating) decision. There are no supermarkets here but there are wholesalers . . . of a sort. I know three pig farmers in the vicinity, and after looking into proximity vs. pricing, I found my match. For a bit of background, I have never cooked anything larger than a turkey before, so  was completely lost because if you think about it; how the hell do you cook an entire 4 legged 35lb animal in one go?
After some research I decided to take the Hawaii pig pit roasting method (more to come on that later).

The first step though is to acquire the pig.

Skipping the random small details, I arrived at the pig farm ready to pick up the swine on a motorcycle taxi (they strap live bulls to motorcycles here, so what’s a pig right?) Here comes problem #1: Muslims don’t touch pigs, and most moto-taxi drivers in the north (including mine) are Muslim. So when we arrive and I tell him I want to take a live pig to the taxi station, his fear became palpable. His eyes go wide, he starts sweating, and he is physically backing away from the pig oinking towards him.
But I’m nothing if not culturally sensitive by this point in my service, so I pay the man and decide to try to find another way to transport the hog.

This is where problem #2 raised its ugly humanlike screaming voice; killing the pig.
I’m not morally against eating meat, but I like to imagine it’s just some imaginary fantastic food that doesn’t have a face, and/or is like the cow in ‘the Hitchhikers Guide’ and wants nothing more than to be eaten. This is not the case, and the farmer is insisting that I kill it (so I know it’s fresh.) After arguing about how I don’t know how, etc. etc. I let him talk me into it; because honestly, on some base level, I want to do it.
They don’t have ‘humane’ controls here though; there are no air guns like in ‘no country for old men’, no antiseptic wipe before the injection, and no machine that will do the deed for you. There’s just the knife (That’s not a knife, THIS is a knife!  *read in Australian accent), the pig, and you.
After it was done (gory details aside), shaved and gutted, we crammed it into a cooler so it would stay cold and the taxi drivers wouldn’t see it. They’ll take any animal, dead or alive from A to B without questions accept for le porc. Once again, most taxi drivers in the north are also Muslim which means the piggy is a big no no.

We (the pig and I) eventually get to our destination and I begin work on digging the pit to cook the meat in with Bij (my Kandi brother from another mother . . . and father). Ironically, Bij is also Muslim, but I guess that as he didn’t actually touch the pig, everything is a-ok.
A meter and a half deep and three hours later, we decided to change our mind on the pig pit. Solid rock is rather difficult to dig through, and I’d rather not die in the attempt to reach two and a half meters which is essentially grave level.
Anywho, after prepping the pig with a machete, a few pounds of rock salt, god awful amounts of honey/spices/garlic, etc. and 7 hours of cook time over a recessed cement lined grill; I succeeded in cooking a pig, minus the head and inedible organs.

Bucket list item number 42; check.

You know that feeling. . .

. . . When you realize that after thinking everyone else was crazy, maybe it’s actually you? This isn’t that case, these guys were freaking insane.

As I’ve said before, my village is slowly in the process of getting electricity. The flip has been switched, people are getting counters (electricity monitors? I forget what Americans call them), and shenanigans are occurring as a result.
For instance, there are many houses that are farther out that the professionally installed power lines reach; the solution? Home-made power poles/power lines. This includes spiral duct-taping wires to form a sheath, and then using burned down tree trunks as a power pole.This isn't to say everyone is doing this, just these guys in particular.

Here’s the best part. During the most recent homemade ‘power tower’ installation; they dug the hole, lifted the recently burned down tree into it, then without even solidifying the base, one of my village friends fearlessly climbs up said ‘dead tree post’ to secure the wire at the top.
In order to understand this, try picturing burning down a 40 foot tall Aspen tree (its springy!), taking whatever was left, then sticking it in a 2 foot deep unsecured hole (as in no solidifying cement, rocks, or even sand around the loose space in the hole) before climbing it barefoot with no ropes
I’ve seen people fall before and it isn’t fun, so my reaction is to yell at him to get the hell down, but before I can open my mouth, he does come down . . . the fastest way possible.

Luckily he’s not hurt cause the tree didn’t land on him and he was only 15 feet or so up.
As I was recovering from a sympathetic heart attack, they pick up the tree and DO IT AGAIN!!!

This event cycles a total of 3 times before I’m able to convince them to secure the base before Mr. Red Shirt climbs the death pole again. I felt like I was in the twilight zone during a time warp episode (or at they very least, an extra in ‘Groundhog Day’).

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