Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pediatorkope: First Night in a Hut

I went inside the hut to drop off my backpack and food, and started to feel a little nervous. Huts look romantic on the outside, but the inside is dark, dirty, cluttered, and very hot. I was glad to see that I would be sleeping on a bed; the only bed in the hut. I wondered where they would be sleeping. Would we be sharing the bed??? Or was there a bed somewhere else?
I met my new brother Robert. He was 39, and recently returned from Accra. He took me around the village and introduced me to everyone. I was starting to get tired and feeling a little shell-shocked from being separated from my friends, in a new place, surrounded by people who didn't speak my language, and it seemed already expected me to understand theirs. Robert would take me to a new family, introduce me, and they would smile, and laugh, and chatter at me in Adangbe. I would say "Hello", "how are you", "I'm good", and then shrug and smile while they continued to ask me questions. Heck, those who spoke English were hard enough to understand.
The introductions seemed to last forever. When I finally had met every last living soul in the village, we went back to the hut for dinner. I met all the grandkids. They were inquisitive and hilarious, and almost all were boys. We started playing games: I taught them thumb wars and tic tac toe. We went for a walk down to the river bank, where they threw off their clothes and dove into the water to play and fight. They filled some empty gasoline containers with river water for cooking, drinking, and bathing, and we walked back to the village.
The kids were fascinated by my crank flashlight: "batteries?" "no." "Solah powah?" "no." Then they'd look at me like we had run out of options. I'd show them the crank and let them play with it. They were all glad to have another flashlight around, and resumed playing tic tac toe in the dirt, with the aid of my flashlight.
My new mother brought out dinner, which consisted of banku and fish stew. Banku is a mixture of fufu (pounded cassava) and corn flour, mixed with water and cooked like porridge, except it has the consistency of cookie dough. Everyone reaches into the bowl and breaks off small pieces of it, dips them into the fish stew, and swallows them whole. I kept gagging on the banku until I learned to grab smaller amounts at a time. The stew was very fishy-smelling and full of bones. I had a hard time eating enough to claim I was full: I kept thinking about river water carried in a petrol container; I thought about typhoid, food poisoning, etc. and was glad when I somehow convinced them I was full.
I went to my hut and promptly stripped off my shirt. I was covered in sweat. I spread my twin sheet from Walmart over the musty-smelling bed and laid down. The rest of the family was still listening to Bob Marley on the radio and washing dishes from dinner. It was very hot inside, but after an hour I finally managed to fall asleep.
It was a night of suffering: I woke up after only an hour, feeling wide awake. I felt on the verge of heat stroke, or dehydration, or just hysteria. I was drenched in sweat. I could hear the ticking of the clock on the wall, the sheep bleating outside, and these cursed frogs that actually sounded like legions of people snoring. It was impossible to sleep, but for some reason I never got up to find my ear plugs--the fatigue from the heat made me unable to move.
I closed my eyes and tried to tune out the other noises. Every time I would check my watch I'd notice that only ten minutes had passed. Time slowed to an agonizing crawl. I found out that everyone in the family crowded onto a palm mat in the front room, under a mosquito net. I could hear parents in the other room snoring, kids giggling, and people going to the bathroom in a chamber pot. I prayed that God would allow me to sleep, or at least massacre all of the frogs in the village. Finally, around 3:30 am I fell asleep, and woke up at 5:30 so glad to get out of the hut.


  1. David, I'm really proud of you!

  2. Makes you appreciate the good U S of A, eh?

  3. hmmmm... you are a good writer. It makes it real and you dont sugar coat things.