You know you’ve spent too much time in sub-Saharan Africa when: you rip your favorite pants while re-boarding the bus you evacuated not three minutes earlier, and are more concerned about the hole than you are about the fact that the bus may or may not still be on fire.
A lot of you know that in early December I was in a moto accident. I fractured a rib and somehow managed to permanently (?) bend my right ring finger without breaking it (??)
(Recently, I met a physiologist who took a look at the aforementioned bent finger. Her reaction? “Whoa, that’s so weird.” Exactly what you always want to hear from your medical professional. But then she told me it’ll probably heal completely in around a year, so my dream of becoming a professional free-climber-slash-hand-model is alive and well.)
Anyway, The Accident makes for a decent level of excitement and intrigue, I think, so this is more or less what happens when you crash a motorbike in Cameroon (I can’t say I’d never wondered):
I had a village visit planned outside of Ngaoundéré to attempt some data collection, aka “productivity” with Benjamin, a friend who would double as Fulfulde translator and navigator. The goals for the trip were basic: meet beekeepers, informally interview beekeepers, visit hives, distribute surveys if beekeepers deemed receptive to research, etc. Instead, I crashed my motocyclette fifty kilometers from city centre.
I don’t think I’d ever been in immediate shock before that accident. It’s surreal to look back on. I don’t entirely remember going down, but I do remember hitting my head (without so much as a subsequent headache—THIS IS WHY WE WEAR HELMETS, KIDS) and standing up. I don’t think I was on the ground a noticeably long time between those two things.
The first thing I did upon standing was pick up my bike and try to keep it running. It promptly sputtered and died, what with having gone from 4th gear to sudden stop in .2 seconds and all. Brief panic followed by incredible calm. I remember looking down at my right hand and wondering how so much skin could be missing with no blood, no carnage to speak of. Just dust covering different shades of skin.
I felt no pain, though based on observation I quickly decided that I had to go back to the city, so I calmly took my phone out of my bag to call Benjamin to tell him to turn his own moto around, that I probably needed to visit a hospital. I crashed exactly in front of a chefferie so we were easily able to finagle a way to get my moto back to Ngaoundéré. Once that was figured out, the freaky, shock-soaked phone call I placed to my doctor friend went something like this:
“Good morning, Max, I hope I’m not waking you.”
“Not at all, Gretchen, I was just finishing my breakfast.”
“Oh, good. Listen, Max, funny story: I’m on my way to the hospital. Bit of a moto accident, you know. It’s fine, but I think I may have a broken finger or hand, possibly also a broken rib. I thought I’d stop into your office and say hello.”
*cue laugh track*
Fast forward, and I’m out of the hospital within three hours, X-rays confirming a rib fracture and an otherwise very, very lucky body, painkillers in hand. I spent the next 48 hours holed up watching House of Cards (omg Kevin Spacey.)
I have to be honest, the accident has made me far less likely to drive here, which is disappointing. I don’t consider myself risk-averse, but it’s taken time for me to fully get back on the horse, as they say.
But enough about accidents. Here’s a business idea for you: Bus Sauna. You sit in a really hot bus in West/Central Africa, sweat, and call it detox. Plus you get to do it all in an exotic location. BUS SAUNA IS MY LIFE IN CAMEROON. Patent pending.
I recently received an email from my grant program that informed me (within a melange of, if I may be frank, mostly useless information) that a paramount goal of the grant experience is “to make international relations human relations and to encourage attitudes of personal empathy, the rare and wonderful ability to perceive the world as others see it.” I can’t even begin to tell you how large my sigh of relief was, that reassurance that I need not wonder nearly every day if I’m doing even remotely meaningful work. In fact, if I may quote—the goal of this blog being, of course, not to expose you to my own, questionable thoughts, but to reference as many brilliant others as possible—Lily Stockman from a few blog posts back:
“You know, you’re down in your windowless basement studio making these weird little paintings and you’re thinking, HOW AM I ADDING VALUE TO THE WORLD? What’s at stake? And then you go and make yourself a sandwich.”
I can relate so hard it hurts.
My life here is anything but balanced. A recent email from a friend asked me to “describe your routine. What’s a typical day in the life look like?” and I laughed out loud when I read it (not at you, Kel, with you, ya know?) Some weeks, I feel like I’m doing ALL OF THE BEEKEEPING THINGS. Other weeks, I’m deliberately avoiding emails (or, even worse, there’s just truly no work to be done) and spending hours reading on my terrace instead. I’ve already read almost 3,000 pages in 2015, but that small success certainly isn’t the result of any predisposition to Excellent Time Management. The work is just. so. sporadic. And sometimes I truly do not have the energy to force it into happening. Nine months is not enough time.
Among the books read so far this year is The Secret History, which I think I liked better than The Goldfinch. That I can relate at all to Donna’s (can I call you Donna? Yes? Great, thanks.) cold, calculating academics reminds me that a tendency to remove oneself to just a step outside of reality, to compare real life too often to literature, is not as delightfully romantic as Midnight In Paris makes it seem.
—He was looking over the hills, at all that grand cinematic expanse of men and wilderness and snow that lay beneath us; and though his voice was anxious there was a strange dreamy look on his face. The business had upset him, that I knew, but I also knew that there was something about the operatic sweep of the search which could not fail to appeal to him and that he was pleased, however obscurely, with the aesthetics of the thing.
Henry saw it, too. “Like something from Tolstoy, isn’t it?” he remarked.
Julian looked over his shoulder, and I was startled to see that there was real delight on his face.
“Yes,” he said. “Isn’t it though.”—
After a hellish search for a Roof Over My Head (four months ago… LOL TIMELY BLOGGING), I stumbled upon perhaps the greatest apartment this city has to offer. I somehow got it into my head that roof access could be a thing here, despite having no evidence to back it up. So I started asking around at office buildings, asking whether any of the spaces were vacant and livable. I’d nearly given up (I also wasn’t having much luck with houses) when I found the one landlord who was willing to let me have the very top space of his building. Six stories above the street, ten minutes’ walking distance from city center, exclusive access to the roof terrace.
Anyway, I’ve promised my mom that I’ll send photos for approximately three months, so without further ado (and it’s about damn time), here it is: my dusty, wonderful, fake penthouse of an office apartment.
Those last two photos from the terrace (^^^) are the stark difference between harmattan days, when Ngaoundéré is absolutely shrouded in dust, and clear days, when we don’t feel quite as much like we’re suffocating every time we take a breath. It’s no small wonder that a solid 80% of the population had a chronic cough for the first two months of the dry season.
Especially in the dry and hot seasons, I go to water whenever possible. The Adamaoua is full of secret crater lakes, rivers with unexpected waterfalls. These places sate my need, for the most part, and when they no longer do the trick, I take trains and buses south, then west to the Atlantic.
Read so far in 2015 (and all in their proper, papery forms, DAD):
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
Lucy: A Novel, Jamaica Kincaid
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Philip Gourevitch
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
The Circle, Dave Eggers
Love Will Steer Me True, Ellen and Jane Knuth
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The Blue Nile, Alan Moorehead
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead
The White Nile, Alan Moorehead
GRETCHEN, “YOU ARE ALIVE!”
Ok, enough theatrics! Yeah, right.
OMG, you make Camaroon feel like my next vacation destination, no kidding.
It has “been awhile” since your last post, or no? I always read’em.
GOD, I miss you!!!!!!!!
You write like an Angel, I want to read YOUR book SOON.
I’ll help you schlep it from venue to venue.
Be AWESOME, but that is one of your natural atributes….
Also, Charlee will be 5 years old on the ides of March……so a photo is attached. She’s wearing her ELSA dress I made WITHOUT having to sew.
Carrie, it’s so good to hear from you! Thanks you for your words; I so appreciate you reading. You haven’t missed anything… I’ve let the blog fall to the wayside recently. Forever trying to be more disciplined with this!
When I someday end up back in Michigan, I look forward to seeing you and Charlee (all grown up as she is!)
Love the photos, Gretchen! Still miss you!