Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Me Mine

Monday, 18 January 2010, my new digs in Accra--

Every weekday, I call Desmond at noon or just about after.  It’s 7am, then, for him, and his alarm is—without fail—going off every five minutes until it’s 8 o’clock, when he has to be at work.  I wish him a pert good morning, as I’ve already been awake and moving for about six hours, and chirp on about how my sleep was and what I dreamt about, and how my day has been thus far or how hot it is—you know, basically all the simple, routine topics that aren’t really that important because I know he has yet to take a piss or brush his teeth or probably even open his eyes, meaning he isn’t really awake…which means it’s possible that nothing I’m saying is being registered…which means I should keep the conversation small and light. 

The point for me is that I get to wake him up.  It’s a part of my daily routine that I take unconditional delight in because it’s sweet and it’s comforting and it’s mine. 

I don’t know what time it is where you are—perhaps you’re just awaking or perhaps you’ve been data inputting for a few hours—but did you hear what I just said there?  Did you hear the key word in that last sentence?  Routine!  BAM.  I somehow have a routine these days!  As in, things that I do on a regular basis…favorite spots that I frequent for dinner or drinks…familiar roads that I travel, and people I pass.  I know what time to expect hundreds of bats to leave the trees near 37 Military Hospital and take to the dusky sky, and I watch them return to their branches every morning on my way to work.  It’s as if, you could say, I’ve settled in.  Adjusted.  Finally taken the clothes out of my suitcase, separated them accordingly and put them in actual, functioning drawers.  It’s a good feeling, comforting and mine. 

I made my official “move” to Accra this past Sunday, renting a room in a breezy, third-floor apartment in Nyaniba Estates.  I was told—and given pitiable expressions when being told—that finding decent, affordable housing in Accra would be difficult, especially considering I’ll only be employed, and therefore living, in Accra through June.  Apparently most landlords in Accra insist that you pay, at minimum, one year’s rent upfront—a popularly rigid, ludicrous prerequisite for many and, for me specifically, absolutely incompatible with my timeframe. 

It was serendipitous, then, that I met Ryan at a bar in Osu as I was returning to my table after having gone to find the toilet (side note: NEVER go into a bar or anywhere else in Ghana for that matter with a preconceived idea as to what the bathroom facilities will be like).  Ryan, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, had just moved into a new place with his girlfriend, Asha, and their dog, Cleo, and they were looking for a temporary roommate to help defray the cost of furniture, water, digital satellite (sweeeet; American football!), etc.  

Enter me.  Excited me. 

Ryan and Asha’s place is a dream of an offer for someone in my position: new to the city, late-twenties (notice I did not say “young”), flexible, semi-transient, possessing NO furniture, cutlery, dishware or awkward artwork, etc.  Available to me in this apartment is an actual bed, a bookshelf, a set of drawers, a WASHING MACHINE, two leftover crates of beer from a Christmas party, a pet, and—I’ve been told it’s coming soon—the Internet.

What’s more, Ryan and Asha are awesome.  Ryan’s been living in West Africa for the past six years and gave me a tour of my new neighborhood on his motorcycle…a ride that was exhilarating, yes, and utterly unnerving.  Almost unbelievably, a conversation we had about his PC stint in Guinea revealed that we have a friend in common: a fellow intern of mine at the State Department was a fellow PC Guinea volunteer with him.  Small, crazy world J Asha is beautiful and cheery and chill.  She’s from the Central Region in Ghana, which means her family is nearby and I hope to meet everyone sometime before I leave.

I’d also like to meet my crazy neighbor and strangle him.  The first few nights I spent in my new bed were miserable, as some man was chanting himself into a feverish frenzy about God and Jesus going on two hours straight, from about 1am-3am.  Truly, I’ve never wanted to choke someone as much as I wanted to choke this man and stop him from wailing.  He’d start low and even, speaking gibberish or in tongues or in a language that doesn’t sound real, then his wails and chants would get louder and faster until he was “PAAAAA  PAAAA PAAAPAAAPAAAPAAAPAAA”-ing nonstop and THEN he’d launch into English ravings about God and Jesus and thank you this and thank you that. 

It was beyond maddening.  It was infuriating.  It was horrible.  It was sleep-depriving and hate-inducing.  I’m not kidding, I wanted to march down to wherever that man was and tell him where to go and how to get there, and please, don’t mind these 4 cedi I’m shoving down your throat, sir, it’s for the taxi fare, so go keep someone else up for hours on end with your lunacy. 

Believe me, the pleasure would have been alllllll mine.  

Testing, Testing...

Thursday, 7 january 2010, Alone in Accra--

A cold Star beer, hot white rice dressed up in bright red Sriracha, one smoked-and-dried, bought-off-the-street-side fish, a quiet house and an excellent day: that’s what’s for dinner.

I had a good day today.  One of those days that everyone has every once in awhile, when you feel good about the decisions you’ve made that have lead you where you are. 

I love Africa.  I love Africa!  I love that I’m here and that I can say that I’m here.  Despite its intensity, I love what I do here.  A friend of mine who works with the International Red Cross described Africa as a place that is “so violent, and yet so fragile,” and her portrayal couldn’t be more accurate.  You see stuff here that you just don’t see anywhere else—which is crazy to say because there’s stuff exactly like this going on everywhere in the world, every day, all the time. 

But Africa is different.  It’s always different.  I’ve developed various, unoriginal theories as to why this is so—the insidious impacts of colonization, riotous corruption at every level of subsistence, relentless and protracted ethnic warring, the fact that Africa’s the place where AIDS came from which makes it kinda okay to not give much of a humanitarian shit, plus they’re black people anyway, etc. 

Ultimately, though: what the hell you gonna do about it?  ANY of it?  What am I gonna do about it?  Why does anyone even really care?  What—on Earth—can possibly be done to fix the intricate and innumerable problems that obstruct the growth, development, education, health, democracy, racial equality, and on and on and on, in Africa?

For starters, I can eat this dinner, drink this beer, say nothing.  Perhaps that sounds callous and base, but I mean it.  Sometimes, that’s the only thing I can do here that feels right enough to me, because, really, who the f*ck do I think I am, living here, somehow enjoying myself? 

I don’t have an answer.  But I have a theory…

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Trophy" Wife

Tuesday, 5 January 2010, Just Woke Up:

First off, welcome and warm birthday wishes to Parker Ryan Melin, who turns celebrates his first birthday today, and to Lauren Strickland Akesson, who’s age shall not be revealed as I have not been given verbal or written permission to do so.  We are, however, the same age now, so use what you know of me and figure it out yerself.

That being said, despite how well you think you know me (uh, most of both sides of my family and lots of my friends), let’s see how well you do on this pop quiz:

  1. Where am I in the world right now?
  2. Do I have a boyfriend?
  3. What is his name?
  4. Have I recently become engaged to said possible boyfriend, and if so, how in the crap did THAT happen?

The answer to the first question is: Africa.  It’s hot-ass noon on Tuesday in Accra and I have just woken up from what seems like a long, strange-with-dream winter’s nap.  Only a few days ago, I was in snowy Amsterdam, visiting beautiful bout-to-burst Birgit and the-man-who-dutifully-puts-on-her-shoes Manu, enjoying a midmorning snack of eel and drinking multiple REAL coffees.  Less than a day after that (and without my dadgum camera, which I had left in the dadgum Netherlands), I was back in America…in Tallahassee…in the arms of my boyfriend, Rev. Desmond Ares D’Angelo (Leisa was there, too!), who was waiting to pick me up at Tallahassee Regional Airport in a green tuxedo…with a ring nearby which he very soon intended to put on my finger, and which I would very soon agree to wearing.

Huh, I guess that whole paragraph pretty much answered most of those pop quiz questions save: how in the crap did all this happen.

Desmond accomplished the unthinkable, in my opinion, when he sold enough stuff on eBay to buy me a ticket home for the holidays.  I had sincere reservation concerning his ability to:

a) make enough money, as round-trip tickets from Accra to Tallahassee were running $1700 at the cheapest

2) make that amount of money in time

d) understand exactly what sort of feat he was undertaking

On the other hand, I never doubted his resolve or determination to get me home, as he’s a stubborn sonofabitch of tireless, albeit occasionally belligerent and aggressive effort, if he wants to be.  And, as it turns out, I should have given more consideration to his degree of Absolute and Unapologetic Nerdiness, as Desmond has unofficially mastered the field.  Someone give the man a diploma!  Or better yet, a trophy!  Apparently, my fiance has more nerdy, of-demand, packrat bullshit—er, I mean, Prince CDs, a ridiculous variety of Muppet collectables, Jay and Silent Bob figurines and other bizarre paraphernalia (such as molar extractors)—stowed away in boxes and closets throughout his house than I could have ever imagined.  I was positively f*cking amazed to learn that all the crap—again, sorry, I mean, the beloved stuff he’s collected for years and years and years and years—he posted for sale on eBay fetched way more than the necessary $1700, and to this day, he’s STILL cashing in. 

So, anyway, long story short, he bought my plane ticket (in fair exchange: I’ll buy him a ticket to come visit me in Africa sometime later this year), picked me up at the airport late on Christmas Eve, took me home and popped the question.  I said yes, and there you have it: betrothed people J  Check out our pictures on facebook.  We’re colorful, and, in some, a bit tipsy.  Fair warning.   

I could go into the romantics of it all, but there really weren’t many cliché moments in either our courtship or his proposal.  He proposed to me with a plastic Green Lantern ring (look it up.  Green Lantern.  It’s a comic book thing), which I accepted out of sheer love and appreciation for it’s distinction.  It also nicely offsets my huge knuckles, so that was a bonus.  I, uh, er, also kinda had an idea what type of ring to expect, but that’s a whole other story…

He didn’t get down on one knee—at first—but stood in the doorway of his kitchen and took the box out of the fleece he had brought to the airport for me to wear if it was chilly (which it wasn’t; ah, weird Tallahassee weather, how you often and impenitently thwart) and presented me with the offer.  Later, when I was on the phone with my relatives in Kansas on Christmas Day, Grandad Leis asked if Desmond had gotten down on one knee.  Desmond was within earshot when I answered, no, Grandad, he hadn’t—at which Desmond promptly got down on his knee, pointed directly at me, and winked.  

Award-winning move. 

Also, come to find out, the Green Lantern ring was just a decoy and my actual engagement ring is an untraditional stunner that used to belong to his grandmother: filigreed platinum band with a rectangular face that flips sides, from either a pearly cameo to a setting of onyx and diamond.

Success!  You win!  Take your place among the family, Desmond.