Friday, January 23, 2009

A twofer

Mo: I’d be one UGLY woman

Androgyny used to be a sore subject for me when I was younger. Until about the age of 13 or 14, if anyone outside my family called the house and I answered they would immediately assume one of a few things, all of which pinned me as a female. It irked me, but it never really bothered me until I found out that it was supposed to bother me, at which point I stopped answering the phone until my testicle dropped into their right and proper place: the end of my coccyx. Until I turned 25 or so, no one really made that mistake. I kept my hair short and made sure to make well-timed references to football, steak, beer, and killing bunnies, erm, rabbits; often enough to keep the Fraternity at ease, but not so much as to arouse suspicions of overcompensation. Then, I grew my hair out and pierced me ears. Let’s be honest here, there are people out there who think I’m as pretty as a filipino cabin boy can get, but with my hair long, and if the sun hits my derriere just right, and with my legs freshly shorn (which are killer by the way), well, then you have yourself one fine woman. I’m not ashamed. I’ve grown to embrace it and not be scared off by it. I’ve come to realize that it’s just what happens when you’re born with the natural beauty the powers that be have bestowed upon me (plus I’m modest as hell!). Sorry ladies, but I’m taken.

Anyway, if it can be called a “problem,” I’m having it again here in Ghana. While I’d like to think that while sampling the people are looking at Katie and I with an earnest interest in our work, when half of the people you meet in a day ask our guide whether or not I’m a woman, I get a little disheartened that they’re more keen in sizing me up and categorizing me as this or that than why and for what reason these people are here testing our drinking water. The classic scene of the day, however, was when I was returning to our house to be greeted by a handful of children as such: “White lady! You are welcome!!” Just so you know how I looked on that day, here’s a picture (
I'm in the middle) of myself not five minutes after this happened. You be the judge.

At the end of the day, I can’t be mad, because what’s a Chinese/Korean/Caucasioid martial arts expert she-male gonna do when you don’t speak the local language?

Katie: Yes, yes, yes . . .

I guess it is now my turn. The “season” has changed again from dry and cool to blustering and cooler at night and in the morning. The wind has been blowing so much that the sky actually looks grey and foggy because of all the dust that is being carried around. All this wind coupled with roads made of sand has made the past few days of sampling very tiring. Let me outline a typical day of sampling with a new contact. So, the day before we plan to go someplace new I ask Richard at the District Assembly to get me a contact for the region. The inquiry is always met with “yes yes yes” and “okay okay okay”, and a promise to call me later with the details (which never happens). So, Mo and I rise early because we usually try to get to the community by 7:30 am so as to get an early start and, more often than not, there is no one waiting for us when we arrive at the community. Having the cell number of the person usually does not help much since either they do not speak english or the network is in varying states of suck. So now I have to go around to shops (read: wooden stands with tin roofs and people standing around staring at the two pretty white women) asking if anyone knows where I can find “Roger” or “Tony” or “Asangare”, because I am only given one name and I have to hope that this community does not house more than one “Tony.” My favorite was asking for “Asangare” because no matter how I pronounced it, all I got was furrowed brows and “Who?...Oh AsANgare!”, that is what I said. After much confusion and many people asking me “Where are you going?” only to have my response of “I am looking for Tony HERE” to be met with laughter and disregard. Hmmmm. After about 10 minutes of asking around I usually find someone who, miraculously, speaks english, knows who I am looking for, and is willing to send someone to go get him. Now we wait . . .and wait . . . and wait. Then comes the next round of awkwardness when the contact arrives.

“Hi, I’m Kate . . .” (btw, I’m “Kate” here since it is a very common name and the extra letter and syllable in “Katie” always causes a lot of confusion. Plus, there is enough confusion when Mo introduces himself since “Mo” is pronounced the same way as “More” here, and they always want to know why he needs more) “. . . and this is my husband Mo . . . did Richard tell you about us?” This one is always the fun question. Usually they will know OF us, but not what we want or why we are here or what we need of them or . . . well, you get the point. So now we have to explain what work we hope to accomplish today and hope the person has a working bicycle.

I know I sound cynical, and to a certain degree, I am. The people who promised their help have done very little of it, and the little they do is half-hearted and always accompanied with a sense of imposition. BUT, so far, we have been lucky and it has worked, but it is always met with a morning of awkwardness, especially when the contact does not have a cell phone, does not expect us, does not speak english, and we are given a name with a rough approximation of where this contact lives (directions are not a Ghanaian strong suit). Above was a direct transcriotion of what happened in Bongo Soe (pronounced “soy”), and we spent 2 hours just trying to find the person, who then helped us find someone who spoke English, who then had us following him to go find another person who could help us find the assemblywoman who knew another guy who knew someone else who could help us find the boreholes. Every day is more than one adventure!

So, cynics? Not really, since we are finally getting real work done. It’s a small price to pay to feel like I’m accomplishing something, plus I get to see what true untrammeled Earth looks like. As it stands, we are about 2/5 of the way done (if 300 is an accurate approximation of the number of boreholes) with 120 samples taken and 10 broken or capped boreholes identified for later sampling (if we can open them). Yea! The levels are MUCH higher than I was told and there are many more boreholes open considering the levels are higher than they should be. I am trying to get a hold of the paperwork that is associated with each borehole drilled to see what the “original” levels were, but each time I ask for them, well, re-read the above passages for an idea.

1 comment:

tadpole said...

Kate, I'm now going to use "borehole" innapropriately as much as possible.
Mo, I'd put a wig on you.

John Updike, Fulbrighter, just died of lung cancer. I thought of you two. Although you're unrelated, I must ask that you stay safe out there.