Mama Disheveled


(“We’ve got it together!”)

There are days when I’m in my groove; I’m speaking the language, I know how to do the handshake, I successfully navigate the market. And then, there are days when I feel painfully awkward.

Take yesterday, for example. Peter and I walked the village road to the local church. I wore one of my new outfits made by my favorite local seamstress. She used old measurements, which meant the skirt was slightly baggy. (Good enough to wear, but the nagging feeling my skirt was falling down never left my mind.)  I didn’t have time to drink my coffee before leaving the house, so in a true American fashion, I poured it into my travel mug and hit the road on foot. Baby on front (not “African”!), travel mug in hand (also not “African”!), and huge bag filled to the brim with snacks, diapers, water bottle and reading material on shoulder (again, not “African”!).

We arrived a little late, which was partly strategic because the services are quite long for bébé! As an expression of honor, the greeter sat us front row center. We sang a few upbeat songs, listened to the fantastic choir, and after about 15 minutes, I’d opened all of the snacks I carried with me. Peter downed a handful of crackers and a package of breakfast cookies. He played with my Bible and a pen for a few minutes, but he soon began to screech and cry. Quelle horreur. I quickly took him outside, which meant walking past the entire congregation — hoping they wouldn’t us. Oh rats, I left my travel mug under the seat. Along with some of the contents of my bag and the baby carrier. I handed Peter to my friend, Essi, and “snuck” in front of the congregation to retrieve my items. As quietly as possible, I clumsily gathered the items in my arm and made certain to pinch my skirt in place.

The rest of the service involved me bouncing Peter around and trying to keep him as calm as the local babies who played contentedly on their mothers’ laps. The entire time he reached for the women around me, as if to say to me “You don’t know what you’re doing, woman!”. At one point, I threw the nursing cover over him (not “African!”) and attempted to feed him. Unlike the matching skirt, my outfit top was too snug for a discreet feeding session. Peter grew tired of me fumbling with it and fussed and kicked his way out from the cover.

We eventually said our au revoirs and slowly made our way down the village road home. I sighed when we got through the door, set bébé down for a nap, and resolved to get my skirt taken in and try village church again another day.



Veggie Lady Saves Mondays

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Setting up a home in rural Africa is not for the faint of heart. And I am by no means roughing it. Unlike my closest friend here, a schoolteacher living in the heart of the village, I have fresh, clean running water and modern conveniences like a washing machine and an oven. You won’t hear loud complaints from me, though I do occasionally mention how lovely it would be to have a Whole Foods around the corner and some Friday evenings I all but reach for the phone to order a delivery pizza, only to remember that won’t work here.

I get our produce weekly. I have the choice of going to the Monday market or buying from a lady who peddles her veggies and eggs on the compound grounds. Monday Market is a sprawling, somewhat raucous bazar where one can find food, housewares, fabrics, and clothes. I once saw a collection of what looked to be bonafide Hunter wellies at the Market, not far from the vegetable sellers and the rat traps. There’s an entire section of used clothing referred to by the locals as “the dead yovow (white person) market”. (They name it that because it’s unfathomable that a living white person would get rid of their clothes).

Market isn’t for the feeble yovow. It’s hot, crowded, stinky, and exhausting. It can be fun, but only if you’re very prepared and you don’t mind hot, crowded, stinky, exhausting fun. When we take the boys, each of us straps one on and walks as confidently as possible. We typically emerge after an hour without much to show for it…

….Which is why I typically buy my food from the vegetable lady. She arrives mid-day via moto from Kpalime, carrying a large baskets of produce and eggs behind her. A second moto transports another stack of produce for her. The selection varies some by season, but I typically have the choice of zucchini, beets, tomatoes, green beans, pineapple, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, green apples, and eggs. I usually spend around 7,000CFA, or $13-$14 for a week’s worth of vegetables and eggs.

Upon returning home, I throw the purchases into sinks full of bleach water. The produce is cleaned, rinsed in fresh water, and stored away in the fridge. This process takes time and it is a little unsettling to bathe my food in bleach, but it’s a necessity here.

The whole week is a game of figuring out delicious, or just plain edible, foods I can make with the options we have. Last night, for instance, we had company over for zuchinni fritters served with homemade labneh, haricots verts with butter and toasted almonds, homemade tortillas, and herb roasted potatoes. It was pas mal.

I’d say two important themes drawn from my life in Africa so far are: 1) You can live with fewer options than you think you need, and 2) Necessity is the mother of invention!




Essi’s First Day


They say the dry harmattan winds seem to give some relief to the sticky heat that visits Togo during the rainy season. Yesterday was the first day the air felt fresh and somewhat cool to me, as if the wind was foretelling the newness of the day’s mood. I was ready for the relief. These early weeks have been difficult ones for me. I’ve spent many moments leaning over a sink full of dishes, remembering times that I displayed grit in my life. A marathon, years of schooling, carrying a baby, anything that I could draw on to give me the confidence to stand tall, joyfully while I push myself out of this stage when my legs feel wobbly. It’s far too easy to give up when things are hard.

Essie came yesterday. She’s a young woman, probably a few years younger than me, with mama hips and a quiet, warm disposition. She knows more about motherhood than me, and definitely more about how to keep a house in Africa. Without much instruction she set out to wash the floors, make tortillas, manage the laundry. I was so grateful for the hand. For the first time I felt I could see my way over the mountain of housework that I could never se time to get ahead of. For the first time, I could imagine successfully living here for two years. We had black beans and fresh tortillas for dinner and it was perfect.