Monday, January 21, 2013

Confessions of a Charge

Between my time in the Peace Corps and traveling, I've spent some time in West Africa, so I feel pretty comfortable saying I can "do" the region-- for the most part. I can haggle down from the tourist price to the local price, I can find almost any obscure thing I need, I can verbally beat the crap outta any jerk who demands a bribe in order to do his job, and I can make any child (read: person) laugh by doing my funny white lady dance (it’s basically the Carlton mixed with River Dancing, and it’s awesome, although Mr. Kate assures me people just think I'm having a seizure). 

Before we arrived I was determined to keep certain things minimal. I would not remain in a little American bubble, as it seems so many expats had the opportunity to do-- I would experience the wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) things that made this country what it was. I would live by incorporating myself into the world around me.  I would not hire a chauffeur or a housekeeper or a cook. I know how to take a taxi, I know how to clean (well, perhaps Mr. Kate knows better than I), and I know how to buy vegetables and cook them!
And then we got here.

And as I continued with my job search, finished up some work from home, took French classes, started an online certificate program, walked to the market, cleaned the house (sometimes), walked the dogs, cooked dinner and received crate after crate of stuff to be cleaned, organized and unpacked, things became somewhat chaotic.
One day Mr. Kate received a call from our predecessors' nanny. Since our predecessors had left she had been out of a job and was wondering if we might consider hiring her? Even though she was a nanny before, she also did the cleaning, shopping and she could cook, too! Mr. Kate hired her immediately (I think he was sick of doing the dishes) and she started the next week.
When Pierrette arrived, life got better. My clothes were clean. My dishes were clean. Even Mr. Kate seemed clean(er). I had someone to speak French with, and a buddy to help me haggle. My ADD no longer had an excuse to exist—I now had plenty of time to complete endeavored tasks. Like the addition of Michael to the Jackson family, life became awesome with Pierrette, and incomplete without her.
Last week, we received our final shipment of unnecessary things from the US. As we were putting the last of the boxes away, I pulled out our Bocci ball set. I love Bocci ball, so naturally, Pierrette and I went outside and played. Later that night, as I was telling Mr. Kate all about the Bocci ball champion I had trained Pierrette to be, he started cracking up. “Good thing we hired a nanny!” he teased.
That night as I was going to sleep, my mind started racing. “My god, we have hired a nanny,” I thought, "and I am certainly her charge."* There was no doubt. The sequence of the past few weeks played through my mind.
My days all begin by being awakened by my sweet Pierrette, with a cup of tea in hand. After we chat about what we did the night before, we discuss what we will do that day. Then I go to my computer and work for a few hours. Around 11:00, lovely Pierrette interrupts me and asks me what I want to eat for lunch. I insist that a croissant or leftovers are fine, as she demands I eat a large meal and bien grossir (this is a very real possibility, as anyone who knew me in the Peace Corps can tell you. I readily succumb to “Il faut manger”).
After my large lunch, I am praised for all the hard work (or Facebook, or blogging) I’ve done throughout the course of the morning and sent to my room to take a nap. Resting is good for your health, my angel reassures me. After I wake up, we hang out together, unpacking boxes, going to the store, chasing down the ice cream man or playing Bocci ball. Then, as I take my afternoon shower, she makes dinner, making sure to exclude any meat products, and cuts our fruit into pretty shapes so we’ll be more inclined to finish our plates.
When she leaves for the weekend, she makes meals for the next 2 days, lest we starve to death. When I’m sick, she makes me mint and lemon grass tea and brings me medicine. When I forget to brush my hair she gently pats me on the head to remind me. When I try to walk outside without shoes, she squeals and pulls me back in. She never gets mad, but if they spoke the same language she and my mother could start an I’m-not-mad-I’m-just-disappointed club. How does this girl keep forgetting shoes??
As I worried, I found solace in the fact that there must be someone else in the world like me: an adult who is perfectly normal, but likes having an "adult nanny," and I had just the tools to find out: the INTERNETS. As my friend Disco says, "When placing bets, check the Internets."** 

So I googled "adult nannies" expecting a statistic from the Bureau of Something Important  that told me yes, in fact, one out of ten people have adult nannies, confirming my normalcy. And it turns out, there aren't many people with my problem. Except this guy:
...And he got a reality TV show on TLC out of it. This, in turn, game me an excuse to sit and watch several episodes, for "research purposes." Reality TV, like heroin, can be terribly addictive, making the viewer lethargic, unmotivated and defensive of both the characters and herself. As I fell deeper and deeper into reality TV land, I came to understand and relate to Stanley.
The next night, as I was explaining the benefits of an adult nanny to Mr. Kate, I mentioned Mr. Stanley Thornton Jr. and how it's possible that we are kindred spirits. As I explained his life story, Mr. Kate interrupted me, "Have you been watching reality TV again?"
"No, of course not!" I lied, "It was on NPR. Diane Rehm found him fascinating!"
He didn't believe me. 
I start a new (temporary) job next week, and I am already distraught thinking about how much I will miss my wonderful Pierrette. What will I eat? What if I work too hard? Who will remind me to rest? How will I attain my daily intake of tea? But, these are all concerns for another time because, right now, Pierrette assures me I have worked WAY too hard this morning, and it’s time for a nap. 

*Email between me and my mother:
Kate: What does a nanny call the children she nannies? Her charges?
Satan: Yes. You were often also referred to as "little shits."
**She has actually never, ever said that, but it'd be cool if she did. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kpalime -or- La Crise d'Essence

Our second week in Lome, I was lucky enough to get a surprise visit from my friend Ian (otherwise known by his more appropriate nickname: Fâché). Fâché and I met in the Peace Corps, so our first few days together again in West Africa were spent rejoicing in the glory that is ex-pat living. We lay by the pool, we went to the grocery store and bought CHEESE, we savored the air conditioning, we played on, and downloaded things with, our computers and fancy internet, we relished being in a West African country that had beer (and bars!) and we lamented our lack of these glorious novelties during our time as PCVs. This took a solid week of our time.
We are drinking beer! And eating cheese sandwiches! And being happy!
 The second week of Fâché's visit Mr. Kate suggested we try to go outside a little, while glancing at our growing beer bellies.  After pretending to be offended for another day, Fâché and I got out, played around town and planned a weekend excursion to Kpalime. Mr. Kate was ecstatic-- Kpalime was a birder's paradise. We were also thrilled-- we had heard rumors of waterfalls and ruins --and a little Belgian lady who ran an amazing restuarant with imported beers.

The day our trip was to begin, as I was picking up the rental car, I recieved a text from Fâché: "Demonstrations and gas shortages expected for this weekend."
"So, what you're saying is, we're in Africa?" I responded.
"Basically. Pas de problemes."

Soon after, we loaded up our stuff and the dogs and went on our way.

The happiest dog ever.
Most of our weekend was spent climbing, hiking, swimming and eating at Le Bon Vivant-- the small,  miraculous, hidden-away, mirage-like restaurant that actually does exist! Mr. Kate even woke up early and got some good, quality bird-watching time! We were able to take the dogs almost everywhere with us-- on the hikes, to the waterfalls, to the restuarant and through small villages. They were "well" recieved by most everyone (from a very far distance), until Loki took it upon himself to take a refreshing dip in the hotel's swimming pool. No one was really thrilled about that.

So far, traveling with dogs in West Africa has been relativley easy and oddly helpful. Do you want to escape your car for a few minute break on the side of the road, but have concerns about being overwhelmed by gateaux ladies? Let the dogs out! Do you need to use a toilet (aka. side of the road), but you don't want anyone else to stop to see whats going on? Have Mr. Kate stand by the car with the dogs! The gendarmes want a bribe? Perfect time for a doggy pit stop! In fact, I may never again travel without dogs.

Because upon seeing our two large dogs exit the car, most Togolese in the immediate proximity run away screaming and flailing. And that's just the men. Next the children scream and cry hysterically, and usually the mamas stand their ground, grab their babies and laugh at the men, while maintaining an appropriate distance from the dogs. But the level of overall fear exhibited in response to the dogs is only equaled by the level of astonishment shown in response to dog "tricks."

Our dogs can sit on command. That's it. One can sometimes do another thing called a "prarie dog." But that's it. They sit. And yet the enthusiasm is endless. Anytime you make the dogs sit, everyone gathers around as though you have been touched by the hand of God-- or at least the hand of the Dog Whisperer. And then they get up, you make them sit again, and voila!! The magic never ends!

These girls were literally running from us- until I made the dogs sit. 
Then they ran back towards us and wanted a picture taken with Loki, the magic sitting dog.

We had an amazing weekend and we made some great friends (mostly through dog tricks), but Sunday afternoon, it was time to go. As we were leaving town, we noticed the gas gauge was a little low. We were slightly perplexed. "How did the gas tank get so low?"
It turns out that, during Mr. Kate's early morning bird pursuits, he had driven far and wide to find as many birds as possible-- leaving us with no gas.

This is a blatant plea for Mr. Kate's birding buddies to come visit.
This normally wouldn't be a problem, but we were stuck in the middle of a "Crise d'Essence!" There actually was no gas in the entire country. At that point, we did what any normal person would do.
We found a gare full of taxi men and asked them to buy the gas in their tanks.
The transfer of gas was going smoothly until one of the taxi men looked in the back window, saw the dogs looking back and screamed. At that point, all the men dropped their funnels, their filters and their bottles of siphoned gas (they came prepared), and stepped back. One man jumped back about 10 feet and wouldn't stop screaming "Whoop! Whoop!" while running back and forth between the other cars, keeping as many vehicles and as many people as he could between himself and our car at all times.
Eventually, Mr. Kate and Fâché pulled the dogs out, made them do the sit trick, and voila! Everything was right with the world again. The guy even stopped Whoop-ing.

The taxi-men resumed pouring the gas, all while complimenting our glorious beasts, at which point Mr. Kate jokingly told them the reason we were keeping them was to take them home and make some great brochettes (meat-kebabs).* He expected a chorus of "No! No! Why would you eat magic dogs that do everything you say!?" But instead he recieved a cacophony of excited mumurs, head nodding and doggy fat pinching-- all acknowledging the promise of a fine meal. One man offered to let Mr. Kate give him the smaller dog (Kima) in exchange for the gas. They were really ripping us off with that gas, so we thought about it for a minute. But in the end, we got the magic dogs back into the car with a half tank of gas and empty wallets and made it home.**

It was a great weekend.

*Sarcasm is not a language spoken in West Africa. Ever.
** Upon returning home Loki dug a hole in the yard and we are currently re-evaluating the brochette decision.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Up, Up, Up and Away!

I could spend our first blog post since arriving in Togo documenting the extensive and exhausting work it took to get the dogs here with us (a ton), or the exceptional warmth and kindness of the Togolese people we’ve met so far (incredible), or even the other Americans and expats here, complete with links to Stuff Expats Like.

But I won’t. I’m sure those things will all be discussed in due time.  In fact, I’m sure you’ve read that blog before-- 1000 times.  Instead, I’m going to talk about how awesome my friends at home are.

Now, I don’t really like one-uppers. In fact, I find them quite annoying.
Me: “Yay! I just booked my ticket to Mexico!”
One-upper #1 (the negative type): “I lived in Mexico for years. It sucked. You’re going to have a horrible time.”
One-upper #2 (the enlightened type): “I lived in Mexico and became fluent in Spanish and was fully integrated into my community and inducted into to the local hall of fame for building a hospital/library/school and no one will ever, ever forget me. Ever. Oh, I also saved all the babies.”
One-upper #3 (the blatant one-upper type): “Oh, my dad is BFFs with President Nieto. I’m basically his son. NBD.”

But, as much as I dislike one-uppers, I’m totally going to one-up all of you. Right now.

My friends are actually the best friends ever. Better than yours. They're basically Nieto's kids. NBD.  
Besides being wonderful and thoughtful, they are just awesome. You want some proof? When we were about to leave, we received a barrage of presents, which might have been bizarre to some, but were perfect for us. That takes love and talent. So much so that I thought I'd blog about it... 

Present #1: Geeky science t-shirts. 
I think maybe the reason I stayed in grad school so long was to have an excuse to wear geeky science t-shirts as often as possible. Towards the end of my grad school career, after working in a lab several days a week, coupled with my clumsiness, my geeky science t-shirt reserves had been slowly diminished (read: I accidentally burned holes in a lot of them). 
So, over the course of the past few months I have been sent back-ups (or maybe my boss knew no one else would hire me with holes in my shirts). In addition, having been unemployed, I have found that my geeky t-shirts are a perfect complement to both hippie skirts and pajama pants, 2 main staples of my clothing diet. 

Present #2: A Little Disease Magic...

Included with this gift was a note, which read: "Don't get too much diarrhea. Although, I hear it's a great diet."
Not only have these been extraordinarily fun daytime reading for the unemployed-- leading to daydreams of newly discovered parasitic species, preferably via Mr. Kate, rather than myself, but these came in very handy during Mr. Kate's first battle with West African E. coli (he was very excited to learn he had probably contracted it through ingestion of contaminated feces).

Did you really stop reading that horrible book to me just so you could take a picture?
Leave. Me. Alone.
Also, you're right, it is a great diet.

Present #3: Arizona
Mr. Kate and I love this one. It's made of bamboo and I'm sure it's supposed to be a cutting board, but as soon as we get our things, I'm hanging it on the wall. This has been very perplexing to the woman who does the cooking during the week-- why would we not use a perfectly good cutting board?
The little heart is over Tucson! 

Present #4: Love books
Two of our most wonderful presents currently sit on our coffee table. One is a book made by all of our friends, to remind us that no matter how far apart we are, we will always be together. The book includes pictures, stories and quotes from amazing times we have had with everyone we love. The other book is a handwritten book of blonde jokes, made by two of my very favorite people. These books give us constant reassurance ("you guys are amazing!"), love ("we love you even if we don't want to go to all the weird places you'll live"), and life lessons ("Do NOT try to sniff the scratch and sniff sticker at the bottom of the pool. It is a trick!").

And last, but certainly not least...

Present #5: The Winerack
I'm not sure if any present will ever surpass the awesomeness that is The Winerack. Made for discreet wine drinking, the wine rack fits easily under your shirt and makes you appear to have huge boobs. Then, you drink all the wine through a tube that goes down your sleeve, until- voila!- the wine is gone and your rack has returned to normal! Perfect for a small, pleasant  dinner with the ambassador and his wife.
That's basically what I look like when I'm wearing it. NBD.
The best part of this present is the card it came with, which read: 
Kate, you are going to be the BEST diplomats wife EVER. Go make us proud!

Mr. Kate might get to do some cool stuff for the next few years, but he will never get to wear the wine bra. No matter how much he begs. I am going to wear my Winerack to build a school, culturally integrate, and save ALL the babies. I win.