Adventures on the Water

So, today, I was not killed by a hippopotamus.

Just need to throw that out, because it was, in fact, a possibility.

My boss (the Ambassador) wants to see every prefecture in Togo before he leaves in 18 months.  He’d recently seen the Prefect of Vo at a function, and decided it was time to visit Vo and its neighbor, Yoto.  I was put in charge of the program, which was for an overnight trip, for yesterday and today.  Also, I’d be going with him.

Unfortunately, there’s not THAT much to see in these two parts of the country.  My team had to search to find anything to justify an overnight visit, and most of the trip was dedicated to seeing large investments, either in terms of mines or cement factories.  The one highlight was getting up at 5 AM to try to go see hippos at a small eco-tourism site.

Of course, after planning this, my boss mentions that he’s seen a ton of hippos in his time.  In fact, he’d nearly been killed by one while fishing in some lake somewhere in southern Africa.  Yay.

Still, he’s always up for an adventure, and at 5AM we quit $20/night hotel.  (Side note:  seriously, this was one amazing place, one of the best places I’ve stayed at in Africa, and only $20 a night!  If there was anything else to do in Tabligbo, I’d recommend it.)  We were met just outside of town by the Prefect of Yoto, who accompanied us the rest of our time in his prefecture.  His truck guided us to the eco-tourism site.

After getting there, we had to walk a good ways through a village.  This was already a bad sign with regards to seeing the hippos, because people and hippos do not mix.  They are incredibly territorial and dangerous.  The prefect and the local guide then walked us all the way to the lake shore, and we were told to get in a boat.  Now, my friend Mr. Kate has been to this place several times, and never once mentioned getting into a boat.  Also, by boat, I do not at all mean an aluminum-hulled speedboat.  I don’t even mean a canoe.  I mean one of these:


Not my picture; it was taken by one Jon Ward, it’s from the wikipedia page for pirogue.

This was itself a scary proposition, as the boat didn’t look that seaworthy.  There was water all over the bottom: gross, dirty, possibly disease-filled water.  It also barely floated above the surface–the side edges were only an inch or two above the water line.

However, the Ambassador was in one before I could say anything, with the prefect right behind him, and so off we went.

Now, it was a gorgeous day for this.  The air was full of fog, and the water was perfectly still, making it hard to see where the air stopped and the water began.  Many of the boats looked like they were floating in the sky.  As long as I focused away from my own boat, I felt like I was in another world, possibly Faerie, possibly Purgatory, but definitely not normal earth.

Then I’d look down, and see the water right next to the boat, and the water in the boat, and the one dead fish, and … yeah, the illusion was broken.

It took a long time, but eventually our guides found a hippo for us.  Or, at least, found the line in the water where something big was moving.  They weren’t satisfied with showing us that, though–they knew we came to see a hippo, and by golly, they were going to show us one.

So, they began screaming and raising a ruckus to make it get up and show itself.  They were deliberately provoking the most deadly animal in Africa, for the amusement of the two yovos in the canoes.  I think my boss was likely to have a heart attack.

However, it worked.  Sort of.  The hippo moved away, probably thinking that we were all crazy but not worth the bother, and as it did so I got to see it come up out of the water.  Well, I got to see its eyes and ears come up briefly before it went back down.

After that, we came back to shore, and continued our day’s events (though I did it with the grossest possible socks).  I can now say that I’ve seen African megafauna, though I hope to never do it in that fashion again.

And, just to finish, nothing seems as appropriate as this:

 

7 months and an election: Or, Where I’ve Been

There’s plenty I should have updated about, and many pictures that were taken, and I’ve just kind of forgotten about it.  Part of it is that my life got VERY busy in the run-up to July parliamentary elections here.  Part of it has been dealing with some (long-standing, recurring, annoying) health issues.  So, to try to sum up:

In May, we had a wonderful party celebrating the Kentucky Derby.  As a kid growing up in Louisville, I never did anything for Derby if I could avoid it; but now that I’m abroad I want to share the best parts of it with everyone I know and just remember home.  I made a ton of mint juleps, we ordered fancy hats for the ladies, and we watched the race live on AFN.  I also recorded it, and the day after we had an official Embassy party at the horse club to show the race to Togo.  We ate “Chocolate-Pecan-Bourbon Pie” (if you’re from Louisville*, you know the one, and why I can’t call it by its real name*) and drank mint juleps.  It was funny watching everyone react to the juleps; even though I told everyone what was in them, the constant reaction was “that’s strong!”  (Seriously–mint, sugar, bourbon, ice.  Yep, it’ll be strong!)  Becca made cake pops as well, which really wowed everyone.  Everyone, even all the Togolese, many of whom had never heard of Kentucky or Louisville, got really into the race.  A very successful event.

June and July were devoted to preparations for the legislative elections here.  I took part in countless preparatory meetings, wrote endless reports, and in the end observed the election process here in Togo.  It was interesting to see it happen, but in some (fortunate!) ways anticlimactic, as nothing really happened.  It was gratifying, though, to see how seriously people took it!

August was slow, with many people on vacations and the country still deciding how to respond to the elections.  September, however, was our Big French Adventure, which I think will get its own blog post when I get around to it.  (Hopefully soon!)

If you have any questions about any of this, if you want me to expound, feel free to comment!

*I have been told that not everyone from Kentucky gets this reference, so I changed it to Louisville.  Also, to explain:  around Derby time, there’s a popular dessert made all over the city that’s modeled after a famous pie made by Kern’s Kitchen, a local business.  Kern’s Kitchen is famously litigious over its trademark on the name, “Derby Pie,” and so I can’t claim that what I made was a Derby Pie.  But damn if it didn’t taste good.  (For more, see here.  “Most litigious dessert in America!”)

The Capital of Voudou, the Route of Slaves, and One Difficult Night

One of the many things that made me bid Lome high was the fact that this region is the home of Voudou. (Vodun, Voudoun, however you like to spell it.  But not voodoo or hoodoo.  It’s a serious religion, let’s have some respect.)  However, the most famous religious place, the city to which people make pilgrimages, is Ouidah, which is next door in Benin.  We had wanted to go since getting here, but with the Teacher’s work schedule (the school doesn’t believe in holidays, it seems) and my own, it was difficult to set aside a day.  Until this past weekend–she’s on Spring Break, and it’s a three-day weekend at the Embassy.  We planned everything out–we looked up how long the drive was, I reserved us a room at one of the beach resorts, and we even had another friend who was coming with us.  We also planned to see many of the slavery memorials, to get a better understanding of that portion of our own history.

We left at 7:30, and despite getting slightly lost in Lome (yes, I still have trouble getting around this city), we were well on our way to the Benin border shortly.  We picked up our friend (who was staying slightly outside of town), and kept going.

The first thing of note: We realized about 1/2 an hour into the trip that our A/C was busted.  This is doubly bad–not only would our car be way too hot, we’d have to roll down the windows for as much of the trip as we could.  However, whenever going slow or stopped in a market type area (or anywhere on the road), we need the windows up for protection!  We adjusted, but it was difficult.  (It also meant that I didn’t have the normal tinted-window UV protection for my left arm, which has meant a deep and long-lasting sunburn!)

Next: The Togo-Benin border was smooth and easy!  I’d heard horror stories about being held up for hours, waiting for paperwork to “process”, as guards basically made you wait to pressure you for a bribe.  Nothing remotely like that in our case!  It did take some time for the guards to hand-write all the necessary information, but everyone was very polite and helpful, on both sides of the border.  Kudos to the two customs agencies!  (I am aware that I probably received somewhat special treatment, with my black passports and dip plates on my car.  However, it was other diplomats who had warned me about bribes and such.)

We only had one experience with someone asking us for a bribe the whole way, and that was at a checkpoint in Benin.  Honestly, our car could have easily just demolished the checkpoint (a thin branch pulled across the road), but we talked to the gendarme as he explained how hot it was outside and how hard it was to work in those conditions.  I patiently explained that I know it’s hot, but I couldn’t help him with that.  He looked at me for a moment, and then just let us go by.  (He was probably annoyed as all hell by me, but I’ve found that strategic “cluelessness” can be really useful at times.)

It was basically a straight shot all the way to Ouidah.  However, NOTHING in Ouidah could be described that way.  You need a guide to get anywhere–even directions will just leave you completely lost.  And, of course, every single one of those guides costs money.  If you go, just suck it up and hire one.  Preferably one who knows where they are going and can claim to be official (though it might cost you more).

Our first stop was “The Temple of Pythons.”  This was really the whole reason I’d wanted to come in the first place.  The name is a bit misleading, though.  It’s not a big or ornate structure, like the Cathedral across the street.

100_6370

This is the Cathedral. This is what I think of when I hear “temple” or “cathedral”. I need to learn better.

It was more of a garden, with a few places to pray and a big wall around it.  In the middle, was an unassuming hut. But, inside that hut, were the gods of the region.

100_6364

The stars of the Temple!

And I mean that literally–snakes are revered as gods in this city.  They are also completely docile and sweet.  They seem to love being held, or at least tolerate it as the price for a home without worries.

100_6356 100_6357

There was also a “God of Iron,” which I’d also seen at the Fetish Market in Lome. This one specifically guards against accidents.

100_6369

And that was all.  It’s small, but I felt the religious sentiment there, and the snakes were very sweet.  From here, we started on the “Route of Slaves”.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, Ouidah had been one of the most important slave ports in African, and many kings made fortunes selling people to white slavers.  They were sold for trinkets, for lanterns, for guns, and for anything else they couldn’t make at home.  The Beninese government has decided that this history must be preserved, and I’m grateful for that.  At the same time, it was pretty heavy to see, especially after the simple serenity of the pythons.

Almost everything that follows came from the oral history given to us by the guide (though filtered through my memory and my translation skills, which should be faulted before the guide).  The man claimed to be an official guide; he also had a distinct problem with his leg; it was either malformed or had been badly hurt in some kind of accident.  He led us on the back of a motorbike, and we paid both him and the moto driver in the end.  I acted as interpreter for the whole group, as the only French speaker among us.

We started at “The Place of a Thousand Sorrows.”  This was the main auction site.

100_6375100_6371 100_6372

It’s also directly in front of the preserved house of a Portuguese-Brazilian who served as viceroy of Ouidah and founded a dynasty of kings.  This family is still important, including a former President of Dahomey (now Benin), a Catholic  Bishop, and the current First Lady of Benin.  This man, Francisco Felix de Sousa, rose to fame as a slave merchant, even pushing to continue it clandestinely after the British had decided to shut it down.

There’s a reason, then, that his house needed cannons:

100_6377

We then saw his tomb, which is still preserved in a neutral way, which is a little disconcerting for a man who had built his wealth on a crime against humanity.

From here, we went on to see the other monuments.  In particular, there were a series of statues that led up to the “slave house.”

100_6384

The Pelican represents “the whites,” and the fish the Africans–basically, the whitest came and just took as many Africans without any consequences.

We saw another one (without a picture) of a wolf eating another dog, representing the Africans who sold off other Africans.  We saw a space dedicated to where the slaves were held, bound in utter darkness, after auction but before being transferred to the ships.  There were two statues, with hands bound behind their backs and bits in their mouths to prevent screaming, which demonstrated what it was like inside.  The people were packed so tightly, many died; their corpses were taken to the communal grave pit.  More depressingly, many in that room prayed for death, considering it better than the alternatives.  We saw the monument to the cemetery, which included the phrase (as I recall) “La Mort est la Liberte”.  Literally, death is freedom.

From the “black house”, it was on to two different trees.  The first was the “Tree of Forgetting.”  All slaves were made to walk around this tree, 9 times for men, 7 for women, in order to completely forget their past lives and lose all will to rebel.    (I’m pretty sure that a bit of Voudou was used as part of this.)  The other was the Tree of Return, where  a woman had been sacrificed in order to empower it to be an anchor to the souls of the slaves shipped across the ocean.  Slaves would walk around this one three times, in order to ensure that when they died in the New World, their soul at least would come back to their ancestral land.

Lastly, there was the “Point of No Return,” a beautiful beach where, 200 years ago, the little rowboats would come to transfer the slaves to the over-packed ships.

100_6394

To minimize the complete depression of the place, the Beninese government is also creating the “Point of Return,” a monument to all the members of the diaspora who have come to find their roots and connect with their ancestral soil, but it’s not finished yet.

At this point, we were all pretty emotionally drained and looking for something to cheer us up.  Of course, there were vendors along the road, and the Teacher and I found a small souvenir which wouldn’t depress us further.  From there, the guides took us to a small restaurant for lunch.  Despite looking sketchy and unsanitary, it had some quite delicious chicken and we enjoyed a leisurely meal with lots of liquid to bring us back to the modern day.

From there, we went to the Ouidah Museum, which is in the original Portuguese fort.  (Ouidah, unlike the rest of Benin, was originally a Portuguese colony, and they didn’t relinquish their official claim until Portuguese democratization in the 1975.  There, we were able to see more of the official history given to us by our guide.  Pictures of kings, descriptions of the town, and even the old chapel built by the early missionaries gave us the visuals to go with some of his stories.

From here, it was getting late, and it was time to head to the resort we had booked for the night.  I had done the reservations on the resort’s web page; two rooms with A/C, one for me and the Teacher, one for our friend.  The beach resort was a straight shot on the main highway back to Togo–nothing could be easier.  I’d even received a phone call at the museum asking me to reconfirm my reservation!

And then we got there.  My friend’s reservation had apparently just disappeared.  Mine had somehow gone from a “room with AC” to a “VIP room,” at double the price.  We had a decision to make–risk trying to get back to Lome that night (cancelling the room) or try to make it work with all of us in one room and ask for some money back later?    We were really excited about the beach, and they said they’d be able to put another bed in the room, and so we accepted.

By bed, they met mats.  They could put mats in the room.  (They seemed dumbfounded that I’d even ask about the possibility of putting a whole extra BED in a room.)

But, ok…we could make this work.  We took some showers to cool down from the heat (again, no AC in the car), and figured out what we were going to do.  It was going to be dark soon, which was good because both Teacher and I were BURNT.  (We’d brought sunscreen, but at no specific point had we expected to be outside for awhile.  However, the cumulative nature had been MORE than enough.)  We signed up for the dinner, and waited for the sun to be fully down before exploring.

Once it was dark, I walked out to the beach, and though I couldn’t see the waves (or much of anything–it was DARK), I could hear them, and it was wonderfully peaceful.  I was able to forget about the problems with the room for a second, and then…I looked up.  It was so dark on the beach, despite the resort behind me, that the stars would beautiful.  In that moment, all of my worries went away. I ran up to get the Teacher, and we spent several minutes just looking at the night sky.  From there, we went to the dinner, had some punch, and enjoyed the live Easter music.  (Very traditional singing and drums…it was nice.)

That moment made the whole resort experience worthwhile.  That moment, sitting at a table near the beach, with tropical music, and my wife, was so completely perfect that I will remember it forever.  It completely made up for the utterly lackluster dinner that followed and the crappy punch.

By the end, we were exhausted, and went back up to bed.  It was then that our suspicious about our room were confirmed–our AC did not work.  It blew out air, but it was no colder than the room itself (which was already much hotter than outside).  What followed was the opposite of that moment–I spent the entire night sweating and unable to sleep.  We even opened the screen-less windows (a real no-no in this part of Africa), just to get some slightly cooler air in.  I don’t know that I slept at all, and I spent the entire night mentally cursing the place and trying to marshal my French to explain the problems in the morning.

I got up with the sun, washed again, and walked to the beach.  There, I watched the waves, and even got my feet just barely in the surf. (You have to be a hella-good swimmer, like the locals, to actually go out into the ocean.  The current and waves are both strong enough to kill you.)  It did my mind good, and it calmed me dramatically.  I went to registration to lodge my complaint.

I ended up having to explain it twice, first to the lady who happened to be there and dutifully took it all down, and then to her boss.  Her boss was able to talk to the owner while we took our breakfast.  While dinner had been lackluster, breakfast was pretty divine.  (Well, after we sent back the first basket of bread due to it having ants.)  A perfectly done omelet with amazingly tasty peppers, tomatoes, and onions, soft bread with some kind of jam, and pineapple juice.  (Pineapples and pineapple juice can do more to make me happy than any other fruit on earth.)  After breakfast, I talked to the manager again, and he told me that the owner had agreed to a 50% reduction in the cost, back to the level it would have been if we had gotten the room I had actually reserved.  I agreed, and we left happy about the resolution.  (And the breakfast.)

From there, it was an easy drive back to Togo, with no hassles, no bribe attempts, and honestly no traffic.  We dropped our friend off at her hotel, got a little lost in Lome again (seriously, this is a difficult city to get around!), and came home and crashed.

Takeaways:

Ouidah is completely worth going to, if only for the whole “Route of the Slaves”. It’s powerful, and hard, but necessary for anyone from the US, especially Southerners.

However, don’t travel on Easter Weekend.  Every possible resort will be completely booked and you will get overlooked.

Snakes are awesome, and (much like cats) totally deserve our love and worship.

Having Staff

So, my good friend (she writes under her own first name) wrote a blog post about having, basically, a nanny as an adult.  I can’t do justice to her whole post (seriously, read it–Kate has a fantastic sense of humor), but it made me realize I’ve never addressed one of the oddest parts of living in Togo–having staff.

That’s right, we have people who work for us on a regular basis.  We don’t have anyone full time like Kate does, but we do have two people who work part time and we plan to hire a full time person.  And…it’s weird.

Just about anyone who knows me has heard plenty of the stories of my family, or about my growing up.  Needless to say, I never thought as a child that real people had servants, or hired people to clean for them, or anything like that.  When I finally met people who hired someone to come over for a few hours once a week to clean, I thought they had to be fabulously wealthy.

Now we have someone who spends two whole days a week cleaning and cooking for us.  She does the laundry, mops, dishes, everything.  It’s amazing.  It’s also completely disconcerting.

(And, since she doesn’t know about this blog, or that I’m talking about her, I’m not going to use her name.  However, in this case, I can’t use my normal type of pseudonym, because I think it would be demeaning to just refer to her as “Housekeeper,” so she’ll be E, for now.)

There were adjustments that had to be made on both sides.  For us, the biggest adjustment was letting go of some tasks and letting E take care of them.  The biggest two were the laundry and the cooking.  (I put up a small fight on cleaning the catbox as well, because it just didn’t seem right to have someone else do that.  It didn’t last long.)

The biggest adjustment on her end was, I think, linguistic.  E speaks VERY good English, but some words and phrases, I think, have different connotations.  As a white boy from the South, having a black lady call me “Master”, particularly in a phrase like “Would Master like a beer?”, gave me the heebie  jeebies.  (Now, she just calls me “Boss,” which I can deal with, though I’d still rather she called me by my  name.)

But it is amazing how much good it does us to have her here.  She knows how to take care of stuff that would leave us stumped, including a lot of the shopping.  She cooks when we’re too tired to.  (And she cooks really well.)  And, in the end, I know we’re helping support her family.

And if you worry about the fact that she’s only part-time with us, never fear.  She works two days a week at each of three houses.  She’s doing very well for herself, by Togolese standards.

The same is true of our gardener.  Personally, I hate yard work, so it was less of a struggle to convince me to hire someone for that.  And he does a fantastic job; all the plants are in bloom and our yard is beautiful.

Next, we have to hire a driver, if only because the Teacher’s schedule and mine do not mesh well.  He’ll also be able to help the other two out with errands, so that’s a bonus.

This is definitely teaching me something about privilege, though, because it’s quickly easy to forget how one lived before having these advantages.  How much easier it would be to never notice them if one always had them.  Part of me will be sad to leave Togo, and go back to the States where we have to do all of this ourselves.  But we’ll enjoy it while we can.

The Beach!

So, first things first: Our car has arrived!  Until now, to get anywhere, we’ve had to use the Embassy’s “motor pool”, and to be honest I don’t like the idea of calling someone up to come and take me somewhere.  (There are taxis in Lome, but we were encouraged to avoid them, due to some problems with thefts.)

So, in many ways, our car arriving means FREEDOM.  We can go places when we want, without worrying about tying up the duty driver for hours or anything else.  So, yesterday (Sunday), we got together with our friends and went to the beach!

 

I’ve wanted to go there since getting here.  Since before getting here.  I’d studied up on the beaches of Lome, and knew that we had to avoid the (close-by, free, public) beaches due to the crime and the killer waves.  (According to legend, the waves are strong enough that they once knocked someone over and broke their neck.)  In contrast, the private beaches have restaurants, security, and a BIG set of rocks/concrete that break the waves and make them manageable. But, I was constantly told that it’s a long trip to the private beaches.

Well, our friends had already gone a few times, and they navigated.  It probably took no more than 30 minutes to get there (the amount of time it takes to get anywhere back home), and then we were there.  We paid the small fee to get in, and settled down for something to drink.  As it is part of a “private beach”, you have to buy SOMETHING while you are there, or (supposedly) they’ll kick you out.  It helped that the Teacher was hungry, so I enjoyed a coke while she ate.

The beach itself was glorious.  The water was beautiful, the sand was perfect, and the temperature was pretty mild (for Togo).

Taken from the Coco Beach website. The hotel is supposedly not available right now.

However, there are definite signs you are still in Africa.  The first sign is actually as you are driving in–there’s a baboon in a cage just across the street from the entrance to the beach.  Fortunately, he wasn’t too excited as we came in, but I have it on good authority that his erection is half the size of his body.

More pleasant reminders included the really ripped guys practicing acrobatics, guys selling shells and statues, and stilt walkers.

And then there was the naked boy rolling around in the sand.  Seriously, this little kid (probably around 6 years old) had gone swimming, then stripped off his bathing suit and started rolling around in the sand.  Later, he washed off in the ocean again (still naked).   Just kind of creepy.

For myself, I enjoy the ocean (and water in general), despite not being a strong swimmer, so I probably spent a few hours just playing in the salt water.  Until one of the swimmers near me started waving for my attention to show me the jellyfish swimming about a foot from me.

At that point, I just about propelled myself out of the water!  My friend is an amateur zoologist, and he rushed over to take a look at it.  The other swimmers managed to get it ashore using their boogy boards and such.  I am no expert in jellyfish, and while I know many are harmless, I was not going to take any risks.  He said it looked like a “sea nettle,” though it seemed to only have one or two tentacles.  (It probably lost the others, in my guess, coming over the rock barrier into the protected area.)  So, it was dangerous, but not deadly.

It was another hour or so before I got back in the water.

But I eventually did, and stayed in until we got hungry.  Then we all went up to the restaurant, and had dinner.  I ordered the paella, because the waiter said it had mussels in it and by god it did and it was glorious.  (The calamari was eh, the chicken was WAY overcooked, but mussels in the shell are always DIVINE.)

We’ll be going back.  We’ll be taking my mother when she visits (so many, many months away.)  And I’ll luxuriate in the salt water again.

Though I’ll be keeping a better eye out for damned jellyfish.

Cocktail recipes and links from the party!

I have no pictures from the cocktail party, but I can share the different drinks that were had.  Most pictures are courtesy of Wikipedia, except for the Brooklyn, the Gin Fizz.  We start with the cocktails I made:

Bourbon Manhattan

Manhattan

This is my favorite cocktail ever.  My first experience with it was while emulating one of my grad school professors, who was and is something of a hero to me.  I immediately took to the taste, and fortunately so did my friends at the party!  We don’t have access to maraschino or preserved cherries of any kind here, so I used instead some preserved strawberries a friend had given me. This was probably the most common drink at the party.

Brooklyn

From Serious Eats

This is basically a Manhattan with cherry liqueur instead of a cherry.  This was almost as popular as the Manhattan at the party, and I could feel better about making it as I actually had cherry liqueur!  However, we used bitters instead of Amer Picon, because we don’t have that.

Bronx

The color is nice and striking!

A Bronx can be made in two ways.  The way I first found calls for equal parts orange juice, gin, and vermouth, thus making it a martini with orange juice.  This was how I made it (only one person wanted it), but he found it just delightful as it was.  Apparently, it is made more properly with  more gin than orange juice, and then half as much vermouth as juice, split evenly between sweet and dry (thus making it a “perfect” vermouth drink).  That is obviously more work, but I’ll be trying that next time!

 

 

Martini 

 

I don’t know what else can really be said for the Martini.  I had never appreciated the gin martini until I finally had some good gin to make one myself, and then I fell in love.  I had tried it several times before that, but it always fell short.  (Of course, a free “martini” in a plastic cup is NOT going to work well.)  If you don’t know or love this one, you must come to my next party. 

 

 

 

 

Gin Fizz

Picture from About.com

This drink, due to the soda water and lime, is more refreshing than most.  I only made two that night (the guests were just not that into gin), but they were well loved by those who had them.  Note: This is not be confused with a Sloe Gin Fizz, which requires a special liqueur known as (appropriately enough Sloe Gin.  I plan to pick up some of it the next time I’m in the States for awhile.

 

 

Mint Julep

Oh, a classic from my home!

I make no secret of my Kentucky origins, and when our English Language Fellow asked me to come up with something that represented my home (and used the good bourbon I’d brought with me), I decided it was time to induct him into the League of Southern Gentlemen.  While many in my home state actually revile the mint julep, I think it’s probably due to the mass production that occurs at cheap Kentucky Derby parties.  I’ve even heard it said that some use mint syrup instead of real mint.  Our ELF loved it, and at that moment I decided that we would hold a Derby party, and that the juleps will FLOW.

Clover club This came late in the night, especially as one of my friends got incredibly brave.  He had brought the shaker, which had different recipes inscribed in it, and he asked for me to make “whatever was next on the shaker.”  I explained that it had an egg white in it, and his response was “Sure!  Why not?”  (Remember: We’re in AFRICA.  There may be reasons not to…)  However, we all agreed that the final result was pretty tasty!  The egg white gets frothed enough that it’s not slimy or thick–it’s just delightfully foamy.  (I use the same technique in my eggnog.)

Margarita:

A timeless classic

 

Not everyone was so adventurous, and so one friend had one of these.  I want to note the absence of slushiness, of unnatural pinkness, or weird glasses.  Very clean, very tasty.

 

 

 

 

Shirley Temple Not everyone at the party was a drinker, so I made a few of these as well.  (I don’t question why a non-drinker would come to a cocktail party–these are my friends, and I was just happy to have them over!)  As sweet and innocent as its namesake, I can down several of these myself without really thinking about it.  

 

 

 

The Teacher took a turn as bartender as well, and she whipped up some of these:

 

Our stemware is not this exciting, though.

 

Tequila Sunrise

This has long been one of her favorite cocktails, and she loves to show it off.  The different layers and colors really make it pretty, and it tastes good.

 

 

 

 

 

One one she made up on the spot with the ingredients at hand: 

a Pink Lady (made up by my wife on the spot):

Vodka

Cherry/Lime Syrup

Sport Actif/Sprite

She also made some sangria, using the local citrus and grapefruit soda (the aforementioned Sport Actif).  It was a very nice addition to the party, as some people got a little tired of the heaviness of the cocktails.

 

All in all, it was a wonderful night, and I particularly enjoyed getting to try some older drinks (and enjoyed more sharing them with others!)  And, I’m going to have to try making more cocktails with egg whites.

Dysentery, DC, and Fetish Market

So, as is probably apparent by the title, the last month has been eventful.  Rather than string this out, here is the full update of EVERYTHING:

So, just before Christmas, on the holiday I actually celebrate more properly (the Winter Solstice), I wasn’t feeling well.  I had a slight fever and some tummy trouble.  (I intend to spare you any gross details.)  I was cheered by the fact that we had a long (4 day!) weekend ahead of us, and that I was going to be playing Santa the next day at the big Christmas party one of my colleague’s was throwing for everyone in the embassy.  Then, Saturday morning, I woke at 4AM with a worse fever.

By 8:30, it was 101.9.  I called the duty nurse, who had me rush into the embassy.  By the time we were both there and she was able to examine me, it had risen to 102.9.  She was worried; I was not entirely with it.  I spent the next 6 hours getting hydrated, tested, and pushed into taking cold showers.  I left, having missed the holiday party, and basically collapsed at home for the next several days.

Less than an hour after I left, my best friend here (“Mr. Kate”) went in also sick.  That was when we realized that, no matter how clean the restaurant, don’t order fufu from a local place.  JUST DON’T DO IT.  (Also probably a mistake to link to a blogger much wittier than myself.  OH WELL.)

A couple of days later, I got the diagnosis: shigella.  Which meant the antibiotics they’d given me weren’t doing crap, and they had to change them up.  So, I continued being sick well past Christmas, and was just recovering when New Year’s came around, though I probably imbibed enough alcohol to kill anything remaining in my system that night.  Someone in Togo owns a portable karaoke machine, and it was used through the night.  (Others were setting off fireworks–after the first one went horizontal, I decided to go in and sing.)

On December 5, I left Lome for DC, for some additional training.  (Some new stuff is being added to my portfolio.)  To celebrate before leaving, we had a classic cocktail party!  It was loads of fun (and a separate post shall follow with all the drinks and recipes).  I got to play bartender (though the Teacher took her turn a few times too), and got to show off…well, my research skills, because I’d spent two hours before hand learning as many “classic” (read: really old) cocktails as I could.

And it was the perfect send-off, as just about all of my friends were there, laughing and having a good time.  I don’t know that I’ve ever thrown a party that went that late, and it just made me extremely content to have friends over having fun.

Then, it was off to DC!  I spent a little over a week there, sending home Christmas presents and picking up some necessities for our home in Togo.  (That part turned into a bit of a scavenger hunt–I had no idea you would find meringue powder at a craft store.  I also had no idea meringue powder was a thing.)  Most importantly, I got to see some of my favorite people.  Some were from college, some from graduate school, some from A-100, and a couple even from Lome!  (My sponsor is already back in training for his next post.)  I also took the opportunity to get many delicacies I can’t get at home in Lome, such as a Wendy’s Frosty.

And, yes, that was the big thing I learned while I was there.  Lome is home, at least for now, if only because the Teacher and the Kitty are here.  I had fun in DC, but I missed my life in Lome pretty terribly.  I was extremely happy when the plane landed on my return.  (At least until I stepped outside into the muggy, 90+ degree weather.  Ugh…)

And, to bring us up to the present, yesterday the Teacher and I (along with a few other friends) went to the Lome Fetish Market.  For those unfamiliar with it, it doesn’t mean “fetish” in current sense, but instead in the Vodun sense.  Almost everything there was (as expected) a dried animal part, but there were some statues available as well.

We also got to meet the son of the chief of the market (the chief himself was out of town), who was willing to make us some charms and blessings.  We were given a crash course in Vodun blessings, including one for travelers, one for memory, one for personal protection, one for love, one for family protection, and one to help men. . .perform.  (Literally, he said if we used it we’d have to “work it like a buffalo all night”.)  Each of us bought one charm (I got the travel one), even though the price were pretty steep.

And that brings us up to yesterday.  Today was spent relaxing, finally recovering from all the excitement of the last month.  As glorious as it can be to be busy…sometimes sitting on your duff with video games is pretty glorious too.