Friday, October 26, 2012

Things I Wonder About

This entry is a compilation of things i have been wondering about.
This shows a good part of the road – watch out for goats, though, who like to lie on the warm ground or wander across slowly…

Every time I go somewhere I think about roads.  I didn’t do that in the US except when snow or ice was predicted.  Here it is frequent.  When I walk, I can see the path where the motorcycles drive and walk to the side.  There are many more motorcycles than cars or trucks in Bohong, but still not many of those.  When it rains, there are, of course, puddles – sometimes mini-lakes.  Last week I saw a duck swimming and bathing in such a puddle. The road between Bohong and Bouar is not in good shape.  There are parts that are OK and a driver can even get into 3rd gear.  Most of the time the driver must be 2nd gear, though, or maybe first – navigating around and through puddles, gullies, and rough spots.  The trip between the two towns is 60 km. (37 miles).  On a good day you can drive it in two hours. That’s an average of 30 km. per hour (22 mph).  On one hill not far from Bouar the road is clay – we have a lot of that around Pittsburgh, too.  Imagine a hill like the one on Negley Avenue that is clay.  Then imagine lots of rain making a slick, uneven surface.  The last time I went to Bouar, a large truck trying to get up the hill got stuck ¾ of the way up going off into a ditch on the right side.  We were able to get around it without too much trouble.  On the way back, a 2nd truck, trying to avoid the first, slid off the other side of the road into another ditch!  As we came down the hill, I didn’t think our pick-up would fit through.  I was so glad Pierre was driving!  A man guided him with hand motions.  Even in 4-wheel drive, he slid a lot.  We did get through and then slipped and slid – and drove a little – on the rest of the way down the hill.  In theory, you drive on the right side of the road in CAR as we do in the US.  In reality, on unpaved roads, you drive anywhere that there are fewer ruts or craters, I mean, potholes.  
So, who decides when roads are repaired or paved?  I know it is a government job and it costs a lot of money.  I am very grateful that the European Union and China have decided to pave the main route between Bangui (the capital of CAR) and Yaoundé, Cameroon.  I am also glad that Bouar and Baboua are on that route.  Bohong is not… 

Some villages and neighborhoods take some repairs on themselves.  They put rocks, dirt, and even small cut branches in the holes – pot holes we would call them, but they are generally larger than any potholes I have seen in the USA.  Sometimes they ask drivers who pass to contribute money for the work.  Why not?  They are providing an important service.  So, maybe next time you see a pothole, don’t just complain, get some friends together and go fill it in!

One Young World
I listened to a report on the BBC World News on Saturday, October 20, about a conference in Pittsburgh called One Young World.  Young people from around the world met to discuss problems and possible solutions.  Any of you hear about it?  Did local news cover the event there in Pittsburgh?  I was glad to feel a connection with the city!

My Sango has advanced greatly.  I was even able to prepare a 6-7 minute meditation that I read during the morning chapel service.  I prepared it, but then had a lot of help from André to make it comprehensible.  Later he listened to me read it several times so that I could get the phrasing and pronunciation correct.  I think he know the work better than I did at the end!  Still, people were able to understand and even laughed a little at appropriate places.  On man commented afterward about the content.  So that has to be considered a success!  I wonder when I will get to the point when I can answer easily when people speak to me (more than “Hello, how are you?”) and when I will be able to understand everyone who speaks quickly or indistinctly.  I know I must be patient, because it has only been a month.  I understand quite a bit and can talk a lot if the person I am speaking to has the patience to wait while I think things through.  André has been great that way.  I really appreciate his help this week.  I have been able to make great strides with his help.

I have been doing some experimenting with what I eat lately.  I came to CAR with no spices.  I have been able to find beans and rice, so I am happy with the major staples of my diet – although I sure miss brown rice. 

In a store in town I found a man selling millet.  I bought some – after all, I had eaten it in Pittsburgh and it seemed to be a whole grain.  Good for me, too!  The first time wanted I cooked it; I found that it doesn’t look like the millet I have bought in the US.  Some of the grains had their little “caps” on and these had to be removed.  As with all grains here, a cook has to pick through them to remove little stones and then wash them to remove dirt.  I am still not sure I know how long to cook the millet, but it is edible even if I have not yet perfected the technique.

Greens and vegetables are harder to find here.  People don’t have the habit of eating them, except for cassava leaves.  Fortunately, one of the guards at the compound where I am staying grows and sells parsley and some other green spice. Those plants, bouillon called Maggi, onions, and salt have made up my seasonings.  Twice now I have bought greens in the market to prepare.  I have asked the women what they were and they answered, but I still don’t know since they answered in Sango...  I prepared them with a peanut butter sauce.  The first ones were a bit bitter.  The second ones are better.  I would buy those again.   

So who decided which greens we eat?  Why lettuce and spinach?  Why kale or other greens?  I don’t know, but I know they are important for good nutrition, so I will keep experimenting.

Last week I was trying to have a conversation in Sango with one of the market women.  She was selling what seemed to be spices and since I don’t have any, I asked what one was.  She confirmed it was a spice.  I asked what food I would cook with it.  She said all food.  I decided to try it out paying 25 cfa (5 cents), but when I got home, I was hesitant to put it in anything without knowing more about it.  I asked a couple of people who didn’t know.  André, during the break of one of my Sango classes, took me to ask a cook who prepares food for the girls at the school on the compound.  She said it is dried okra and is used to cook meats.  I am not ready to take on the buying or cooking of meat yet – or plucking my own chicken, so I will just keep it for now.

I wonder if I could find a pressure cooker in Bangui or Yaoundé.  It would make cooking grains and beans much easier!  I will have to look when I am in these two larger cities.

That brings me to something else I wonder.  What is a good way to cook okra?  It is in season now, but in the US I have never liked dishes I have had with okra in them.  Anyone know a good recipe?  Please remember I have limited ingredients…

Church Roof
I am happy to report that ¾ of the nearby church roof is now in place.  It should all be done soon.  Men from the congregation gathered to help put it up and women came to prepare food for them.  Have you ever thought about how a roof is put in place without cranes and other machinery?  It takes a lot of manpower.  And, a lot of women power to make the food they all eat when work is done.  The worked stopped until church members can rais more money to buy the rest of the supplies.  Here are a couple of pictures of the work in process.  Pierre borrowed my camera to take the pictures since I was in Sango class. 

In the afternoons I have been going to the clinic to volunteer.  It is a chance to practice some Sango although a few of the people, especially women, speak another local language and not Sango.  Still, I have figured out how to take their temperatures in centigrade.  (We do it under the arm to minimize the spreading of germs, although we have to add 0.5 degrees to the final temperature to make it match one taken in the mouth).  Many days all I do is take temperatures, but sometimes I can take a basic report of the complaints of the people.  I know how to say, “Do you vomit?  Cough?  Have diarrhea? And a few other similar phrases in Sango!  Hopefully, I will never need them to describe what is happening to me. 

This clinic is called Santé Maternal et Infantile (SMI) because it was built to service pregnant women and infants.  Now, though, they will treat anyone.  If cases are too serious, they are taken to the hospital in Bouar.  (Imagine traveling the roads I described before in the back of an ambulance!) 

Patients pay, but amounts are low.  It costs 100 cfa for a consultation.  Most medicines I have seen them buy are less than 1,000 cfa.  Remember that $1 US is about 500 cfa.  Still, these prices are hard for many people to pay since they earn little.  The clinic is also able to do blood and stool analysis although they do that only in the mornings so I have not been around to learn more about those.  (I am, of course, in Sango class in the mornings.) 

I wonder what people do who have no money or live too far from a clinic such as this one. 

Rainy Season
The rainy season is coming to an end.  Every wonder about how that would happen?  I thought that there would gradually be less and less rain – that is, rain on fewer days or maybe less when it came.  But that is not what is happening!  Recently, we have had hard rain all night several nights in a row.  We have also had more rain during the day.  I asked André about it and he said that is normal.  As the rainy season ends, they get more rain until one day it quits coming.  Interesting.  Anyone know why that is?

I have notices that the most common bars of soap and the laundry detergent often sold here both share a common quality.  The soap is hard to rinse off hands or out of clothes.  Anyone know why that is???

I was not wondering about this, but discovered that when some cuts grass it smells the same whether it is done with a lawn mower or a sickle!  (A man came to cut the grass around the guest house where I was staying in Bohong this week…)

So write to me about what you are wondering about!  Maybe it is about my life here or maybe it is about things around you.  I would like to know! 

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