Friday, December 29, 2006

Manuscript Pages


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So this is what Africa translates into....pages.....pages of what I hope will be a children's book. In the next week, I have to spiff up my proposal and send it out. I've already drafted my proposal and sales pitch....and now I'm working on these pages...translating them from drawings to something someone else could read....in some ways it reminds me of drafting a screen play complete with stage directions because I'm telling the reader what type of pictures and illustrations go here and there and in what format. I'm not exactly sure this is the way most houses (publishers) like the information but this book is not only about information but about format, pictures and illustrations. Sometimes info that is started in one spot may be concluded somewhere else. For example, I talk about eating camel for dinner on one page....and answer how it tastes on another. (If you haven't dined on camel lately let me say that it doesn't taste like chicken...lol....it actually taste like beef but chewy and a bit sweet.).....
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My stomach is in knots every time I work....I feel like Cinderella ....oh please.....although I am sitting here with my hair in a scraggly ponytail, in mismatched sweats, and a pair of my son's socks....really truly..... just put that glass slipper on me....(tell me to ...send you more PAGES ) and I will truly turn into a princess.....really.....I promise......
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It's funny though.....I don't think the universe would have put me through the toughness of Africa and that whole travel experience not to have something in mind......there are somethings I've learned already...personal things...that I think Africa opened my eyes to.....but it seems there's a plan somewhere.....I just can't keep all this cool information to myself......so that might be the next challenge to find what the plan is.....I'm kinda hoping the children's book is the plan......but if not there will be something else.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Toy Boy for Xmas


Yes...finally a most useful gift....a toy boy for xmas....thanks to some funny guys at my bookstore who felt I deserved to take none other than Josh Groban home for the holidays....and though there is a slight problem (his personality is a bit flat).... I think he's cute enough to overlook that particular flaw....I placed him by our tree so he could enjoy a care-free night of festivities before becoming my personal slave in my computer room the day after Xmas.
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Early this morning, I came downstairs and was horrified to discover that either Santa or the bearded man I live with had obviously messed with my baby.....(and hey.... that's my new Victoria Secret's bra!) .....the changes appear to be temporary but Josh was visible shaken....(his cardboard knees were askew from his stand)....poor thing....I'll have to run my hands all over him and rearrange his parts....and then I'll take him to our little nest....yes...Josh and me together at last.....

I Don't Think Someone Liked My Baby


My shocking discovery Xmas Morning

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Tip-Toeing into Graphic Novels


Jason made me do it......

Okay so I like to read....but I was never into comic books even though I'm a very visual person....but I work with a guy at the bookstore....Jason....who is the supreme master...of Sci-Fi and Graphic novels.....the guy never gives up on me....lol......
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Last year, after much urging, I read my first Graphic novel....."The Rabbi's Cat"....which was very cool and funny. Here's the official synopsis.....
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The scraggly-looking alley cat who narrates the story belongs to an Algerian rabbi in the '30s. When the cat eats a parrot, he gains the power of speech and tries to convince his master to teach him the Torah and have a Bar Mitzvah. That's a delicious setup on its own, but when the cat loses his speech, the story becomes a broader, more bittersweet comedy about the rabbi's family and the intersection of Jewish, Arab and French culture in North Africa.
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And now one year later....I've just finished my second graphic novel......"Pride of Baghdad"....based on the true story of a pride of Lions set free from the Baghdad zoo courtesy of American bombs hitting the city when we first arrived in Iraq. Even I could appreciate the skill of the artists in creating dialogue, character, and conflict and combining it with stunning visual art....I feel like I'm cheating when I read a graphic novel.....because I'm getting free visuals instead of making my own......but I admit....their visuals were probably better than mine in this case.
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What's next in the reading line-up--- a saucy little book called.....They Call Me Naughty Lola... personal ads from the London Review of Books......catering to British intellectuals and eclectic.......I just started this book and I love it......here's a sample:
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Mid-forties man. Recently discovered guilt. Can't wait to try it out. Box 7297.
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Poet, M, 32. My career demands you break my heart. It also demands you buy all the drinks and have lots of strange sex with me. I'll give you an acknowledgement in my next volume, so it's not an entirely unrewarding relationship. Box no. 1873.
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!!!Someone has placed an industrial strength spiked egg nog on my desk....(so strong the cream is screaming in agony)...I feel this may be a suggestion to stop typing.......happy holidays.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My Personal New Year's Day

Solstice!!
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Well.....here it is solstice .....my own personal New Year's day....and I'm really excited. I'm going to spring outside in just a bit.....light a candle.....offer myself up to the universe.....and organize my Break Out Year.
Ohhh....I have interesting plans......everything from a new convertible......(I already had my mid-life crisis convertible so this is my ....I-really-want-a-convertible-convertible....) and ceilings I have to break in writing, my relationships, and my personal self. Maybe it was the rice pudding from the funky grocery store on Long Island....or something else....because there was a moment I just knew this is what I was supposed to do. And hell ......why not?.....lol.....
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I'm also excited because I finished Day 9 in my children's book (out of 14 days)....it was my goal...and I really did a neat day/section on the salt mines of Fachi.....I am now a font of knowledge on salt creation in brine pools....(that almost made your toes curl with excitement when you read that huh?).....and shall we discuss bezas...or kantos?......I have one week to get my proposal ready.....to send in to the publisher.....ain't gonna have the book ready....but by this stage....they'll either say....send more or hell no.
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Talk about a fucking risk....lol.....but....I am pleased with what I have done....I really like it....and I hope that passion translates....passion is good....beautiful.....a wonderful energy....and I hope this publisher feels it.....if not.....I'm fully prepared to assume a fetal position for a week or so while I sob hysterically.....then finish the book and get ready to take up my second invitation and then hunt other folks down if I have to.....
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Do you know what I did on Solstice last year?......I drove to the mailbox with my deposit money to go on my Sahara trip......I planned it that way........amazing.....and here I am tonight....shaped by Africa....and the people I met and the many things I internalized.....I am grateful ....for this....and even for all the dominoes that had to fall for me to get to that point....good and bad......
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My hope for all of you....is for a good personal year too.....filled with your own passion.....with kindness......and joy.....in whatever projects you take on....and whomever you choose to connect with.......
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Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Forest Meditations

Love
(a.gina.picture)

Jealousy
(a.gina.picture)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Monday, December 18, 2006

Recording Memories

I took a long walk today.....in the forest.....there are woods not far from my house and I'm sentimental about them. Growing up in Chicago, I didn't have access to a forest and although I've always loved to hike and walk.....forests were something I drove to and from...to experience. So having a forest I could walk to and meander in was something very novel.
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When I first walked through my forest....I was wary and uneasy. I certainly didn't expect wild animals to attack me but city girls are taught from a young age that bad men take you into the forest to hack you up..... so although I should have known better....my heart pounded and my ears were vigilant to pick up any little sound in those early days.
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Gradually, my fear subsided and my wonder increased. I found I had a knack for identifying wild plants...the "eye for the leaf" as my grandmother called it. I liked discovering that about myself. On my paternal side of the family, I supposedly come from a long line of women who were midwives or healers in their villages and so to find that the ability to easily recognize and categorize plants was in me....touched me....made me reconnect to my feisty little grandmother who came here from Lithuania....and always hoped that I had the eye.
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I knew 10 years ago when we moved here that the forest was destined to be ploughed down but many projects fell through, the economy swung up and down for development here, and the woods were saved. Until now.....now there are bulldozers....big bulldozers....whining and beeping in the woods as they push down the trees to make way for another mall. I had hoped a year ago when I heard about the plans for the shopping mall that it might fall through......but when the bulldozers arrived....and the smoke appeared...(they burn the roots on site) ....well.... you can't stick the trees back in the ground again.
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The picture I posted here today is from a cave in the Djado Plateau of Niger. I thought of it today when I walked through the woods and pulled it off my memory card. The thing that struck me about this particular picture...was the man's legs. He is painted in mid-step....and if you closely look at his gait.... you can see how much familiarity is in that step... as he approaches or walks among his horses......
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The cave now sits in a desolate canyon in the desert. Volcanic grey rocky cliffs without vegetation....hot white sand piled at the bases...and a particular almost cruel type of emptiness is all that is left of where he and his horse stood. 5000 years ago the Sahara was a lush Savannah that supported grass and small lakes......wildlife was recorded first.....elephants and rhinos...and then men painted horses and cattle which they must have brought into these canyons to sustain them.
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As I walked through the woods with an easy familiarity ....I thought of this man.....and how at this point both he and I were alike-- comfortably strolling in a landscape familiar and known. I have only a limited time left in this place....and I wonder if he knew that too about his landscape.....perhaps that's why we needed to record our memories--his in paint, mine in photos--because we sense it will soon be the only vestige of a particular place and time...that meant something to us.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Learning About Africa Restrospectively


Well....here I am on a Friday night, enclosed in my little computer room, working working working on my book. My writing group meets tomorrow and although I'm half way finished with the children's book, my drafts are handwritten and messy. I found I couldn't work on the computer. I needed graft paper and an eraser so I could play with the layout....a picture here....an illustration here ....moving a line here or there....when I could visualize the layout I could more easily see where the text should go and how much space there was for it.

In doing all this research on where I have been and what I have seen in Africa....I've stumbled into some fascinating stuff and well as some down right scary stuff that I didn't know at the time of my travels.

The fascinating stuff?.....well okay.....I remember sitting in the desert on a mat.....I pulled out my thermometer....this was a challenging thing to do since it was small and I kept losing it in my backpack all the time.....I remember the temperature registered between 110 and 115 degrees in the shade. One of my travel companions said why don't you measure how hot it is in the sun....and I answered, "Hell no, (weirdly appropriate at 110 degrees) I'm not going to stand in the sun to take a temperature" and that was that....

I felt a sudden small bite on my leg.....OUCH.....I looked down and there were ants on the mat....but not ordinary ones........ silver ones. It was as if someone had taken the ants and dipped them in chrome. I couldn't believe my eyes. Alberto said something about "Silver ants" and I tucked it away in my memory.

So I'm doing my research work and I stumble upon a wildlife article that mentions Silver ants of the Sahara. Okay not only do they exist but they exist weirdly......they emerge from their nests during the day only when the temperature is between 110-115 degrees....(the exact mat temperature if you remember) for about 10 minutes to swoop up dead things and the crumbs of puny white women and then go back underground..... AND to add to the strangeness......these silver ants are the tasty treats of a particular type of lizard that is inactive ......guess when...? ....when the temperature reaches 110 degrees!!!!!!.....Golly Gee ain't harmonious environments wonderful????

The scary stuff I've bumped into? Well, One of my favorite places in the Sahara was the Djado plateau.....and I discovered an article talking about the landmines that exist in the Djado....many still capable of killing you. Couple of tourists rolled over a few of them with their car last year. Timit....a beautiful oasis we visited....bandits swooped down a couple years ago and stole the cars, possessions, and cash of a whole tourist group......and of course .....just a week before we arrived in Niger......21 Italian tourists were kidnapped and held hostage for a week near Dogondoutchie......okay....like I said....sometimes it's good not to know things......
Ciao.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Gina's Got Legs! Nice Legs!

I've gotten a couple emails over the last couple months....asking me if I have legs since I always seem to be posting mug shots....so I thought I would post a pic of my legs.....in jeans doing some kind of twirly dance on the beach at Cape Cod.....yes the girl does have legs.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Got Cheche?


Brrrrrrrrrr........Don't think cheching is just for the Sahara.....here Diana and I ...decide to test out winter cheching on Cape Cod.......the strong cold winds off the ocean on Cape Cod spurred us on to do something..........but I think Diana looks better with all that curly hair billowing around her face.........I don't think I should cheche to the bank..........do you?

Even Big-Haired Women Need Cheching


Diana winter-cheched......

Our First Cheching in the Desert


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Leaving Long Island and It's Wicked Addictive Rice Pudding

Well Gina's little adventure is finished for now......I'm home from Long Island....where I stuffed my bags full of last minute treats from Fairway Grocery. If I didn't get home soon, my butt would have mushroomed from late night visits to that store to indulge in the most wonderful rice pudding. It's not that I'm such a rice pudding fan...in fact....I can't remember when I last ate the stuff....but I bought it on a whim....and it tasted just like the rice pudding my folks used to buy at a store in my old neighborhood....yes...the proverbial relic of childhood....all in a little plastic tub. I even bought a small container of regular milk to pour on top of it....(not 2%, not Skim, but oh my god regular milk!!)

Which brings me to another sin I indulged in at Fairway. Butter. Yes, since I went to Paris.....and tasted the most excellent butter....I've actually had a craving for the stuff. Not a lot but a little bit on good quality bread...which of course Fairway was all too willing to supply....Do you see a pattern here ? Thank God I got out of Long Island before I couldn't zip my jeans up!

Pictures in the next couple of days of winter cheching....and a motivational tombstone!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Spooky Serendipity on Long Island

Well I'm putting in my last few days researching and working on the Island. I'm sure if I don't get out of libraries soon I'm going to get moldy....but I'm in this classic struggle.......I want to jump in the rental car and drive out to the tip of the Island....and see Montauk beach (the site for one of my favorite favorite movies....Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) but I also realize more and more each day I'm here what fantastic resources there are here and I should work not play.......what a dilemna!

I've had some more spooky serendipity which also makes me think I should keep my nose to the grind......in the mountains of Benin we went on a guided tour by a naturalist type guy who hunts butterflies and also showed us marvelous paints that are obtained from plants...vivid oranges and reds that were just stunning and used in decorative painting around the villages and probably as face paint too.......one of the librarians here hooked me up with a reference librarian at the New York Botanical Gardens....a place gardening folks might call Mecca......and she was so intrigued by my descriptions and questions she's asked me to send her all my pictures and info and she's going to try and help me.....find out what the names for some of these plants and dyes. That's amazing.....

My other stroke of luck came yesterday. The Serious boy story I wrote....took place among the Taneka villages.....there are apparently several tribes that belong to this grouping......even using the big gun libraries here in New York....I have stunned librarians who can't find much written about the trip....oh there are all kinds of anectodal notes from travel companies on google....but you know someone can create myths and legends and they can just get perpetuated on and on ...on the internet.....so I was trying to find some real data.....the thesis I was hunting for might not be available....so I tried to hunt down the author....thanks be to Google.....I found he's a professor right here in New Jersey....and so far about the only guy I can find that's written things (in English) about the Taneka....so today I'm going to email him with fingers crossed that he will share a little info on the tribe.

The one startling thing I keep finding in trying to get background about the places I visited in Africa is......there doesn't seem to be much info on them......I can't tell you how many librarians I have stumped....it seems so unreal to visit tribes like the Taneka....or beautiful geographical areas like the Djado plateau....but when you want to know more details about them.....pow...you hit this wall of nothingness....perhaps there's more available in French which hasn't been translated.....but in the modern world it seems so odd to hit an info vacuum.....one of the librarians joked with me and said.....well why don't you go back and research the area and the people........and write about it......man....I'm hoping that's a seed that won't sprout.......LOL>>>>>>

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pass the Lobster and Clams on Cape Cod

I'm sitting here in a big white wooden rocking chair....enjoying the fading daylight and appreciating the white and grey feathered clouds....hard to believe I'm in Logan/Boston airport . Whom ever thought up the idea of putting these rocking chairs along this glass-wall was a genius. How many rattled nerves and rushed itineraries this must help......
I'm heading back to NYC....feeling like some big shot jetsetter... flying to THE CAPE and heading back to the CITY.....I will huddle down on Long Island again.....finishing my research...and hopefully going home with the data I need to complete my writing. I was real lucky and found that someone at Columbia University in New York did a whole dissertation on the tribe I need some information on.....and I guess I'll tackle the trains and head into the city to find the work. Sometimes when I get discouraged about writing....I think how many fortuitous things have helped me continue to do my research and I hope that is a SIGN.
Cape Cod was wonderful..it was great although strange at first to see Diana from my Africa trip..seeing someone outside of the place you know them is a bit strange..but she has the same energy and dynamism..and so although the setting was different.....the person seemed the same. Buddy seemed different and the same in his environment too....and is obviously an enthusiastic tour guide..we took some great hikes with invigorating winds along the cape which was wonderful. Buddy and his wife surprised us with a feast of fresh lobster and clams.....the lobsters were huge....and they showed us how to open the clam, drench it in broth....then dip in butter.......wow.
We took a ride into Provincetown which is at the very tip of the cape...quaint and interesting town ....small cottages...old white frame homes....narrow narrow streets....complete with seaside funkiness. I sometimes try and imagine what it must be like to live quaint instead of normal...but all the houses I've lived in have been normal..in normal neighborhoods....with normal views.
The sun is setting and the pink/lavender color is rising in the sky..I can't help but think how wonderful connections are.....how people and knowing people present us with so many opportunities.....to enjoy and expand.
Now if I can just get my rental car and maneuver myself out of LaGuardia airport .I'll consider it a good day ....a very good day.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

On the Road and In Another Scary Hotel Again!


Well...this ain't Dogondoutchie....but maybe I'd be more comfortable there than here. I'm on the road again and found myself in one of those weird situations were you accidentally get yourself into a scary hotel....near a big city....even though the rates would suggest that you should have a NICE place.
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I'm somewhere near Lagaurdia airport in a Ramada Inn that was supposed to be next to the airport (but it was a 10 minute shuttle ride away !) and at the stroke of midnight will become a Holiday Inn. There's a light bulb hanging from the lamp.....and there's a couple next door...who have been.....huh.....how shall I say this delicately.....having intimacies like rutting pigs for the last hour....plus somewhere down the hall there is a dog.....a yipper barking....needless to say I have bolted my door calculated how many hours I have before I have to leave the place and fly out tomorrow to Boston.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Honey You Ain't From Long Island.....




On the road again….this time to Long Island. I needed to do some research for my children’s book and the universities around here don’t have many African databases so the choices were to travel to Chicago or somewhere on the East Coast. Buddy, a member of our tour group, invited Diana and I to visit him on Cape Cod any time. So it seemed a rather perfect set-up...work hard for a few days in New York...meet up with Diana in Boston to visit Cape Cod and then go back to Long Island to do a little more work.

Long Island even in the short time I 've been here has been a hoot......starving....I found a diner....just a few blocks from my hotel.....the Plainview Diner (and it was a diner and it did have a plain view)…. My first reaction when I saw the place was….Am I in a time warp? My waitress was like a character out of a sitcom……late 50's.... layers of dark foundation make-up …..support hose with white scrunch stockings …. brilliant white tennis shoes....short short skirt....and an open blouse showing a wrinkly cleavage. And talk about hair extensions!.......As if several ferrets had nested in her hair! ..plus gummy black false eyelashes ...massive eyeliner....and the best part....a huge rhinestone necklace on her neck. She called me....what else?..."Honey"

Perhaps on Long Island....people are all a bit deaf....or the volume you talk at is naturally set high because I could follow one of several stories..There were the Hispanic women who complained about not having their Xmas decorations up....the two Jewish guys who discussed how much salt was in each of the specialties ...but the best story was coming from behind me from people short enough not to be seen over the booth but certainly long on volume....Claire who had been married forever to a good for nothing drunk....finally was getting a divorce.....he was not only a good for nothing drunk....but a mean one..and now he started gambling and Claire had it....just had it ...because the bills were piling up and he didn't care...and so after 28 years of marriage she was telling him to hit the road....and she was starting over......Thank god she still had a good job with some retirement benefits.cause you know some women aren't that lucky. By the time my coffee arrived, I was ready to cheer for Claire and hoped she got a damn good divorce lawyer.
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I also managed to hit a grocery store.....the Fairway.....an old store in an old shopping center a 5 minutes drive from my hotel..I walked in and was stunned....... even for a person who doesn't cook I realized I had hit the promised land....everything you can imagine was there and piled high on extra tall shopping shelves.so everything could be squeezed in.....Himalayan cherries? No problem..Cheese Blintzs?....No problem.....stacks of cheese from around the world?....how high do you want them stacked?.....and not bowls or trays but buckets of olives.....I mean like 20 gallon buckets…..they should have security cameras there…because it took real will power not to snatch one….Italian food….Jewish food….healthy food….very unhealthy food….and mounds of produce….Pineapples stacked a couple feet high…..

They had a cafĂ© and good thing it wasn't busy because it took me a long time to decipher the menu….there were so many additions and substitutions…cole slaw ..potato salad green been salad…green salad…..poppy seed buns…soft buns….Kaiser rolls…rolls with rosemary….rolls with kosher salt…..I was getting woozy…and hadn't even decided on the filling…….the lady next to me ordered a scrumptious looking roast beef sandwich….I pointed at it and asked her what it was…..

"A sandwich," she said seriously….and didn't say another word….

I had to bite my lip so I wouldn't laugh…..

I guess I don't look like I'm from Long Island…..

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gifting to the Gods


Wishes...hopes....troubles.....the animal world and their spirits are a medium to communicate with the Gods.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dogondoutchi and the Goat--Part 2

So..as you can imagine..going back to Dogondoutchie..and staying in that hotel for one more night...as we headed down to Benin and Togo...was not something most of us looked forward to....in fact, I believe I asked Susan, the trip leader, if I could sleep outside of the room in my sleeping bag....I was that anxious....about the darkness and the TICKS and CLINKS and especially that big metal door.
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When we arrived, I reluctantly put my stuff in my room. I was surprised, as my big dusty duffel bag hit the bed,.....the place didn't quite look as bad as it did the first time around..and having been through hot nights in a tent, paranoid nights on the sand..and hotel rooms where large hairy spiders fell from the ceiling....well...as I said...it didn't quite look as bad.....although the door remained ominous.
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It was dinner time..so I walked over to the outdoor tavern and restaurant across the street. I carefully maneuvered around a mangy dog lying in the road, piles of trash and few large potholes. Once you entered through the arched mud doorway in a wall...there was a courtyard with a TV on a stand and a few folks sitting around it in their lawn chairs..there was a covered area in the back...with old metal chairs which is where my group was sitting. I ordered quail and couscous....for dinner and even ordered a beer. I don't drink beer but it was ice cold and the dryness and slight bitter taste seemed more refreshing than a sweet soda. Sodas bottled in Africa ....Fanta, Coke, .....all have higher sugar contents than their European counterparts.
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Before dinner arrived, Alberto announced a surprise....he had checked around and found there was a fetish/voodoo ceremony in the works for tonight in town. He said....that although Niger was a Muslim country....in border areas like this...there were always groups of people who had stuck to traditional ways or who had moved into the area from places like Benin and Togo...where traditional religions like Voodoo had a large following.
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After dinner, we piled into the cars again....and rode down the dark dirt streets...it wasn't very far away..you could hear the drums beating loud and rhythmically from someplace in the darkness.
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We entered a large courtyard..where there was quite a crowd gathered....when my eyes acclimated to the dim light. I scowled.....there were 12 white plastic lawn chairs....the same cheapy ones you get at Wal-Mart.....arranged in a line facing the musicians. I never liked arriving at ceremonies were they expected us....it always made me think Alberto had paid them to hold the ceremony and we were not dropping in to the festivities.....but rather it was being put on for us.
I sat down in one of the chairs.....kids of various ages were standing behind us.. a few scrawny old men on the perimeter regularly charged the kids.....motioning them to step back from the chairs. I guess they didn't want them pressing down upon us....but it made me feel this was even more of a show than I wanted to believe it was......
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No matter what feelings I was having .....they all seemed to be siphoned away when the drums restarted..there were three men..kneeling in the dirt.....with the weight of their bodies resting on their heels....in each hand they had a short small narrow fan of twigs..and each of them was beating a large upside down calabash bowl which was directly in front of them.......
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The dirt had been raised underneath the calabashes which helped the acoustics.. the gourd drums had a surprisingly rich deep tone....with a touch of scratchiness from the twigs and a touch of hollowness ..the drum beat was powerful and loud..... you could feel the sound resonate in your chest....you could feel the beat inside you....dominating your heart and soul. I was amazed at the power of that feeling ...at the depth it sunk into you.....you couldn't help but become one with the music.
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The musician's arms seemed to move with supernatural speed...their black arms and faces glistened with sweat.... and in the midst of this intensity...this heat....small flower petals.....from the enormous honey locust tree they were sitting under....drifted down from the sky....looking like soft lazy gray snowflakes
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After a while, older women..moved from the edges of the courtyard..and stepped in front of the musicians....to dance....one at a time...although many of them were large women...their feet flat and wide and disfigured with age....they managed quick intricate steps...to the beat of the music.
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A pattern started to emerge ....a woman would step in front of the musicians....dance.for a few minutes then the drums would beat faster and faster.....the woman would move forward towards the drum....challenged to keep up with the beat.. these large beautiful black women...in long colorful skirts and puffy white blouses...would meet the challenge with unwavering composure and lightening steps and twirls....they made it look easy.....
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At one point, a few of the women pulled members of our group into the challenge .Ed was first and did surprisingly well for a white guy you would have assumed had no rhythm......Lucy, of course, Lucy was in heaven....being at the center of attention....and jumped and twirled .....and then me..ohhhhhhhhh..... I was totally aware of everyone's eyes on me.....and felt uneasy....but I pounded my feet in the red dirt and twirled as fast as I could.....and still the woman next to me......who was .perhaps in her sixties.....moved faster than I did......
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I walked like a drunk back to my chair....still spinning ....and out of balance. The woman moved away from the musicians....and a young man....leap in front of the drums and started to twirl and spin. His eyes were focused and intense but he didn't seem to be looking at anyone or anything in the courtyard.... he started to speak in tongues and saliva ran from the center of his mouth down his chin as he would dash into the crowd and then at the last minute pull away before crashing into someone.
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A short thin elderly man grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the chair again and then pulled Lucy and Alberto. I thought he wanted us to dance but instead he lined us up in front of the musicians....and indicated we should kneel..ohhhh I had bad feeling about this......
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The three of us knelt down and the Trance man.....danced around us ...suddenly the elderly man pulled Alberto up and said something to him....he grabbed Lucy's hand...and she grabbed my hand.....the old man and another man led us away from the musicians to the back of the courtyard.....now I was getting a full bad feeling alert....
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we were leaving the courtyard going into the darkness....somewhere back back back...out sight of the crowd..
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The men turned and led us into a small dark room that seemed to be the entrance to house. Truly it was no bigger than a pantry or a closet .....they told us to kneel in the darkness..one of them fetched a dim flashlight and turned a large morter upside down in the dirt. Trance man entered the room..wild..sweating....glassy-eyed.....saliva pouring down his chin. One of the men pushed him to sit down on the morter and held him in place ...a musician with a middle eastern fiddle came into the room.....there were now....seven of us...crammed into the tiny room...trance man..two assistants and the musician ....and the three of us...the heat was staggering. ....literally rivers of sweat rolled down my face and down my back....my knees were starting to ache from kneeling on the hard dirt...and although the drums were silent.....trust me my heart was beating just as fast and loud as they had been in the courtyard.
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It was getting harder to breathe...it seemed like all the oxygen in the room was used up..I wasn't too fond of Lucy at this point in the trip.....but I instinctively grabbed her hand and held on tight. I kept thinking about blood---blood letting....blood pouring....blood sprinkling.....was a sacrifice going to be made? Hopefully none of our blood was going to be needed..... Trance man suddenly started shouting and consequently spitting....with the force of his words....at first the assistants didn't say or interpret things for us. I had no idea what he wanted...by the light of the dim flashlight I could also see Alberto looked uncomfortable which increased my heart rate ten fold.....and my grasp on Lucy's hand.
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Finally one of the assistants bent over and spoke....a wish.....a wish can be granted.....do any of you have a wish?....I was immediately relieved that blood letting and decapitation was not part of the question.
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A wish
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Well.....I know this may sound a bit odd.... but I went to Africa....I had a couple of wishes prepared....I knew I would see shooting stars in the desert...and I knew the landscape of Africa had magic....I wasn't going to be unprepared for lucky events. I had packed three wishes..and tucked them in my memory.
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I leaned forward and in rough French told the assistant my wish.
I felt energized for a moment....unafraid.....clear and lucid....Trance man was quiet and leaning forward to listen.....then the assistant straightened up.....there was this moment of tension...of waiting.....
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The assistant starting talking to the other assistant...Trance man jumped up and raced out the door.....Oh great now what have I done....I mean really it wasn't such a bad wish.
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The three of us remained kneeling. Lucy whispered she was going to faint soon . Alberto had huge sweat marks on his shirt over his chest, back, and armpits.....Trance man suddenly reappeared.....with help from the assistants they forced him down to sit again.
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We need an offering of a chicken for the wish
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I didn't have any money. I whispered to Alberto who had his money belt on...How much does a chicken cost? Can I borrow some money?
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Alberto unzipped his money belt and handed me 4CFA...which I handed to the assistant.
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The second assistant......shown the flashlight on the two bills.....and held them above Trance man's head.......
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I thought everything was fine.....until the assistant leaned over and in quick French started talking.......
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Alberto translates.....your wish needs more power than a chicken....they will need to sacrifice a goat for your wish.
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Sacrifice a goat!.. this was serious now....a chicken didn't seem serious....but a goat did....I wondered if they were going to make me sacrifice the goat out in the courtyard or even here in the room....sacrifice was common in voodoo ceremonies....and then I felt a rush of guilt....were they really going to kill a goat to communicate my wish to the gods?
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I wanted to leap up and head out the door too...just like Trance man had done......this was too complicated to think about especially with my back hurt from kneeling....stale air....and every piece of clothing uncomfortable and soaked in sweat......
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How much for a goat? I heard myself ask Alberto....there was a flurry of talk between him and the assistants.....but a part of me wasn't really sure I had spoken at all....or was I just thinking this.....
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"12 CFA," said the assistant.
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Alberto unzipped his money belt and pulled out a few more bills. He handed them to me....and again I handed them to the assistant.
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Trance man now leaned over and pawed at the dirt floor....he found a few tiny rocks....made a circle with his finger in the dirt and and placed the rocks inside...he spoke to all three of us...he face was so close....he spit while he talked...interrupting that river of saliva that still flowed from his mouth.
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Yyou go home and bathe tonight....you wash with the rocks....it will make you .think..be smart....the other assistant reached over him and with great precision picked up two rocks for each of us,,,and put them in a small piece of paper and folded it over to make a tiny envelope. He gathered shavings that smelled like a combination of sandalwood and lavender....and placed them on a small square of plastic and then folded all of this into a square ..and handed it to us..Trance man jumped up from his wooden seat and left..Assistant indicated we could stand up.....we were still holding hands.
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We walked out of the little room. Alberto whispered to us....look serious...don't laugh...or smile. I guess that would have been an insult to the people we had been with.
~~~~~~~~~
It was obvious that the ceremony had ended...the musicians had stopped playing.....the courtyard was half empty....many folks in our group had headed back in the cars already....it felt so anti climatic....I was relieved not to see or hear.... a goat.
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I wondered if they would really sacrifice a goat for my wish... I read that in many African ceremonies...an animal was never just killed for the sake of killing....if an animal was killed it was then used as both food and a vehicle of communication with the gods...so perhaps my wish would be tacked on to a practical need for some part of the community.....a need for a goat for a celebration or festival.
As far as my wish.....well it hasn't come true yet.....but I'll know soon enough.....
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Oh and by the way....I didn't want to take any chances....I got back to my hotel room....needed a shower after the experience.....and washed with my two rocks.......why chance it?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Paying For Your Wishes--Dogondoutchi and the Goat--Part 1

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Dogondoutchi. I love that name....it sounds African and exotic and lyrical.
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Dogondoutchi..a name you could throw around at a hip cocktail party....I bought a lovely pair of hand carved masks in Dogondoutchi. I stayed several days and relaxed in Dogondoutchi.
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Unfortunately, the only thing lyrical about Dogondoutchi is....well you guessed it...its name. Although Lonely Planet describes this as a pleasant town....I am not sure where the pleasant comes in although it's obviously a town.
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On our trip, we stayed twice in Dogondoutchi....which is in the southern part of Niger...it's still savannah here....although shortly after you leave Dogondoutchi....the number of bushes and trees slowly and consistently multiply until by the time you reach Benin....perhaps a 4 hour drive.....you're shocked by the intensity and abundance of the green....especially after living in a sea of tan for weeks.
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I am not sure of the name of the hotel we stayed at....whatever the official name was.....it should have been named "The Solitary Confinement Hotel," because if you ever wanted to try out a cell block..this was the place.
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I don't think the hotel was very old, in fact, I think it was recently built. You passed a steel gate in a reddish brown tall mud wall and entered a parking lot. Beyond that, there were two rectangular buildings in perpendicular alignment. Between these two rectangles was a cement sidewalk. In an effort I assume to soften the atmosphere.....Bamboo was planted on each side of the walk creating a green tunnel. Every 10 feet or so.....there would be a path from the central sidewalk to a reddish steel door placed in grey cement cinderblocks.
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The door was enormous.....at least 7-8 feet high.....and come to think of it.....they were probably the same type of steel doors in the mud walls at the entrance. The door was heavy and there was almost an Adams Family type feeling you felt as you pulled on this heavy metal door to get inside your room. It creaked too..so you sort of half expected Frankenstein or one of relatives to greet you.
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Once you managed to get into your room....you found the switch for the one florescent light in the ceiling. The one thing I will always associate Africa with is the blue-ish gray florescent light that was ubiquitous at night. In every room... in every hotel...in every restaurant...its pale gray seemed to remind you this was a modern western invention which was cold and unnatural.
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The room itself was clean but bare; there was a swirled brown and white colored tiled floor, a sink, a double bed, and a bathroom which consisted of a toilet and a shower. In Africa, you rarely have shower curtains. Instead, the floor was dropped a few inches and a drain was there so that became your shower area. There was also one picture....and one utilitarian black and white clock....on the wall....at the juncture of the ceiling and the wall. It puzzled me why these items were so high up....(the ceiling was at least 10 or more feet high)..my best guess.....theft deterrent. There were no chairs......so if you were going to steal the clock or the picture, you'd have to be either very tall or able to jump very high.
There were no windows in the room....and there was an air conditioner in the wall. The air conditioner was essential since there wasn't any other ventilation and it basically determined if and how much you slept......if you were lucky you had a moderate amount of cool air.....and only an occasional thump of the fan.....in my first room in Dogondoutchi.....I had an air conditioner that was possessed by jinns (unhappy spirits).....it thumped....it groaned... it gnashed its own metal gears.....and generally allowed me to sleep only in 30 minute increments.....I know this......because that big fricking clock on the wall....ticked so loud .....it was the equivalent of some type of audio torture....TICK.....TICK....TICK..TICK......TICK.....
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When you turned out the light it was pitch black....no nite light...no outlet to plug anything into....and the door.....the door became scary.....African locks in doors are different that the ones we are used to....yes...there are normal looking keys.....but here there is a double lock system....you turn the key once and then you turn it again.....as it engages two mechanisms....you can't get out until you have opened both mechanisms....and if you don't do it right....you can just keep spinning and spinning your key in the lock and getting nowhere....because you door won't open. I never mastered the African lock.....if I got into my room it was sheer luck or because someone helped me..my African paranoia delighted in this little situation.....it was perfect for scaring yourself silly.....What if I needed to get out? What if there was a fire?......I ended up often not locking my door at night.....figuring I would take my chances versus being locked into my room with no hope of getting out.
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Also the bedspread looked funky and there were no sheets..so I guess you were supposed to lie on the bedspread? I just placed my sleeping bag on top of the bed.....snuggled in.....held my flashlight in a death grip on my chest.... tried not to think of the door......closed my eyes and listened to the TICK TICK TICK and the CLINK CLINK CLINK of metal in the air conditioner.
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By morning....if I had any secrets....I'd tell anybody who opened the big metal door ...everything....anything.....just get me out of here!!!!!!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006

My Hips Don't Lie....Finding My Middle-Eastern Pop Diva

What can I say? My hips have always had rhythm.....and some music.....gives them life without me even thinking about it......

In Tunisia...one of the members of our group wanted to look for a pair of sandals before leaving Tunis.....shoe shopping is no problem in this city....there seems to be a store on every city block.....we stopped in an athletic-type shoe store....Nikes....Addidas....they had a great sound system....in a few minutes....another member of the group tapped me on the shoulder, "Do you know you are dancing in the middle of the shoe store?"

Well what could I say?.....I looked down and there were my hips...moving moving moving.......so I went up to the teenage sales girl.....

Qui est chante?

"Sherine," she answered. She pointed to a tv monitor with Egyptian MTV on.....a woman with henna brown hair....was twirling with scarves....and giving those coy looks Egyptian singers give the camera. I wrote her name down on a little piece of paper and stuck it in my pocket.

I found that slip of paper recently....and I searched for Sherine....except I had written down Shereen.....I spent a long time on Google with confusing results...(she's not the only Sherine).....when you translate Arabic names into English there always seems to be variations on the spelling....finally my hub got into his i tunes account....played around in the world music section and viola.....Sherine Wagdy.......queen of Middle Eastern Pop music.....and the Pied Piper to my hips.

My son downloaded the album this afternoon and I grabbed the disc and headed off on errands. At a stoplight I happened to look over and saw these two older women in the next car were staring at me......I had the sunroof open... Sherine blaring.....and was wiggling and tapping on the steering wheel. You just don't find many blondes in the south cruising in the late afternoon sun with Middle Eastern music.

At home, I popped the cd in the stereo stystem with the BIG speakers.....even my deaf dog stood at attention looking around....the floor shook.....I shimmied round the kitchen making a Mexican dinner salad.....I was so happy dancing I didn't even complain about cooking....played song no. 7..... at least 10 times.....there's a part in this song when a chorus of men...well...i guess you would say ....they wail....that soulful call to your lover......and she answers.... it's so sexy and seductive....I just wanted to keep listening to it......I even considered retriving my cheesy coin belt which I saved after taking a belly dancing class a while back.....could I still synchronize my hips to get those coins to make music again?

I felt so enthusiastic about this music I wanted to find a way to share it.....and I have.....not on this blog......but if you go to utube.com and enter....Wala Laila or El Bard into the search engine....you'll find it......click on the titles and you can hear and see a 4 minute video....but PLEASE....minimize your screen....and just listen.......trust me you don't really want to see the video...they're culturally not MTV ....and one of them is a bit confusing....(the Nutcracker turns into a bull fighter).....these are not her most energetic songs....but at least you get a feel for why my hips are moving....and hey...your hips might move too!!!!!

as Shakira sings in her hit song:

Oh, you know I am on tonight
And my hips don't lie

And I am starting to feel it's right

The attraction, the tension

Baby like this is perfection!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Peeing in the Desert


Report on the Toilet Paper Dilemma
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Sue, a friend of mine since High School, and always one of those folks with an inquiring mind....sent me an email the other day asking about an update on the toilet paper dilemma. Way back in August before I went to Africa, I had a blog entry discussing my great anxiety over how much toilet paper to take for a month....and since the travel company was suggesting taking purse-sized kleenex packages....how many packages I should bring. Of course, life got complicated when I discovered at Wal- Mart-- large soft kleenex in packages looking like Dot Candy.
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Yes, well the good news was I brought way too much Kleenex....so I don't have any first hand accounts of using leaves or smooth stones (which is what some dessert folks use....of course the trick is finding a stone...and then a SMOOTH one.) Although I read pre-trip about how little you pee in the desert because of rapid dehydration (the humidity in the Sahara is around 2-3%)....I can tell you it's very true......despite drinking liters and liters of water per day...three trips to the bathroom for the entire day was about max...and even then there wasn't much volume.
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Sometimes it was a bit scary, I knew how much water and tea I was drinking and it was hard to believe so little was coming out! Out of the desert, in Benin and Togo, I was a human waterfall so I actually could see how much water I was losing....so again no big need for kleenex. I must admit ....on days when tummy problems struck....it was a luxury to have nice large extra soft packages of tissues to use (ahhhh.) They also came in handy for a fellow traveller who ran out of tampons and used these to make temporary tampons till we could unload the baggage in the cars.
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And since we're talking bathroom matters, let me say a few things on that..... First of all, I could have won a gold medal in squatting. Don't laugh....it takes a solid set of thigh muscles and a lot of savoir faire to pee correctly out in the open. Squatting way down....is good.....Learning how to pull panties pants or skirts away....also good.......and learning just how far you have to spread your feet apart so you don't splash on your sandals.... priceless.
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And just as the mantra goes in real estate....location location location. That's also the mantra for peeing ....location location location. At first, all of us girls....would leave the cars and wander off looking for that perfect bush. Problem---in the savannah there were only a few bushes....so I'd wander off only to find everyone waiting in line for the same bushes ( yes ladies even in Africa you have to wait in line to pee!) As the trip wore on, we learned the best place to go....was behind the last car.......this worked in the desert as well as other places since we were off road.
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One of the odd things that happened with bathroom breaks......is that by the end of the month....you sort of accepted everyone peed and needed to do so quickly and efficiently....it was no longer such a sacred private matter.....you didn't need your own bush....and you didn't need to make sure no one was within 50 feet of you. On one of the last days of the trip, there was an ideal location to pee behind a hut.....I found myself with two other women traveling companions....squatting and actually talking as we peed.....LOLLLOL>>>>>wow....you know have become acclimated when you can pee and have a group chat!!!!
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And as far as guys go.....here in the States...most guys just stand and aim....that's what most of the males did in our group......a discreet turn around.....BUT....in Muslim Africa...which was everything up above Benin.....men pee by kneeling down....or kneeling on one knee and pointing downwards.....this is a sign of modesty and respect.....so our drivers and the native population would kneel to accomplish things.....in a way....it did seem more appropriate to get closer to the grou when you didn't have trees and bushes...a bit more tidy too...especially if it was windy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pastis to the Rescue



One of the great things about traveling is all the new weird things you can add to your real life.

This week, I've had a copy bouts of tummy trouble. My hub, tapping into my residual African paranoia, teases me and suggests it might be the tapeworm acting up. Now, I know I don't have a tapeworm....but I guess my face registers that nanosecond of insecurity which he finds amusing.

Last night I was up late reading.... totally engrossed in a new quirky novel....by A.M. Homes called....This Book Will Save Your Life....when I finally decided to quit....my tum was a rumbling....so I thought about the bottle of Pastis I had bought and decided to try a little....and ohhhhhh.....after sipping a small glass....my tum was happy.

I was introduced to Pastis in the desert. Susan, our co-trip leader, suggested we might try a few drops in our water bottles. When you are drinking 8-10 liters of water a day....believe me.....you get "tired" of drinking water and tired of plain water. Apparently, the Foreign Legion, found that a few drops of Pastis helps fight water boredom and at 45% proof...might help you forget how hot you are.

Pastis is a famous drink from Marseille in southern France. Apparently it was created because brain stupifying absinth was banned and folks were looking for a substitute. I've never tasted absinth (although I learned there is a legal version of the stuff in Paris which we never tried) but I'll have to assume it has a spicy flavor since Pastis, depending upon the distillery, has about 25 other spices. When you open the bottle and inhale.....it's licorice and anise you smell. There's an art to drinking Pastis. You don't drink it straight...it must be diluted. You pour a small amount of Pastis in a glass....it's a clear amber liquid...and then you pour cold water on top of it. It immediately turns milky white...as in the picture and you sip it. It's touted as an aperitif.

I never liked it in the desert. I tried it in my water but licorice at 110 degrees just tasted weird. I'm not sure why I bought the bottle when I got home...I guess I was so excited to see something from my trip--- it was a classic impulse buy. I've tried it a couple times as an aperitif but found it .... odd. I tried it with ice cubes---something which people do---but the French find as reprehensible as discovering a dog turd in the middle of your living room. I remember reading some folks loved it as a soothing drink for digestive misadventures. So that's why I tried it last night.....and I can say it was just that....soothing and cool....and pleasant.

Perhaps my taste buds will always prefer wine as an aperitif......but as a pleasant after dinner drink and tummy soother it might just hit the spot.

Welcome Pastis.....and if you're traveling in Europe in the summer....and want to appear way hip.....order Pastis.....it makes you look ....so international.