MK n. 1. Missionary Kid - the offspring of a missionary. 2. Sometimes referred to as a TCK, or Third Culture Kid, (Sometimes also called Global Nomad) "refers to someone who [as a child] has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture" (Courtesy, Wikipedia).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Small Town with a Big Name

That little boy--the one who blew out three candles on his cake on the day I was born, the one who would eventually become my husband--he and I had a lot in common right from the start. Not only do we grow older on the same day each year, but he was born in the Baptist Mission Hospital in Ferkessedougou. A year prior to his birth, my parents had served as short-term missionaries there, and my dad had since been called to fill the full-time Pharmacist's position.

I didn't go straight from my hospital bassinet labeled "Baby Girl" to the Dark Continent, though. We were six months in California before we said good-bye and began one of several cross-country roadtrips. Unlike subsequent trips, however, this one veered a little, or rather, a lot north; our destination was Quebec where my parents began their French language study. Their next step after Quebec was Switzerland, though I'm not sure why they couldn't just have completed their studies all in one place. I certainly wasn't asking any questions; I was just along for the ride.

At this point, I had already left my little baby footprints in three countries, and I was about to set a tiny foot on to the soil of another: Ivory Coast. I was two when we arrived in Ferkessedougou and filed it under the H for Home tab of our address book. And here's a little Town Education: dougou is like ville. Imagine the absurdity of a South Carolinian telling you he is from "Green", or a Texan claiming "Brown" as his hometown. But it wasn't absurd for the occupants of this overgrown village to shorten it to Ferké.

Ferké sits on the north end of the West African country of Ivory Coast whose name has officially been changed to the French Côte d'Ivoire. Should you enter Ferké from the south, your first impression would be much more positive than if you were to approach it from the dusty, arid north. If you were to, say, make the 2 1/2 hour trip from Bouaké in the heart of the country to Ferké, the first thing you would notice as you neared the outskirts of town are the lush, green fields. They seem to stretch on forever. And, boy, are they even more beautiful contrasted against the dark skies of an African storm on the horizon! These lush fields are sugar cane, and as a kid, I often got to explore rows upon rows of the sugary stalks, helping myself to the sweet, juicy, stringy, raw treat.

Just beyond that and over the hill is the town itself, sprawled out in such a way that it seems bigger than it really is. The first notable building you pass is on the left: the Hôtel Reserve. This was one of two European hotel establishments in the town. I say "was" because the Relais Hotel lost its luster long, long ago and was, from my understanding, abandoned at some point during my childhood. The Hôtel Reserve, however, was a favorite hangout. The pool was generally sparkling blue, and even when it went uncleaned so long that you could barely see the bottom through the murky, green, watery gunk, we still swam in it. In fact, I learned to swim in this pool. And one of my best memories here were Monday nights when we would swim all afternoon and into the evening and then enjoy delicious, poolside pizza cooked in the outdoors wood-burning stove. Now I often let my kids swim after dark because, for reasons I can't remember, I know what a special treat night swimming is to kids.

Continuing through town, the red dust is everywhere--on both sides. If you were to drive through Ferké back in the early and mid '70s, it would not have been a smooth ride. The main road had yet to be paved, and the only word to describe it is washboard. You know that sound you make if you open your mouth and hum while someone is pounding you on the back? A strange comparison to be sure, but that is sort of what you would sound like if you were trying to hold a conversation while bouncing your way through Ferké. And you would be sharing the washboard road with pedestrians, mopeds, taxis, buses, goats, and sheep. Yes, it would be slow going.

Through this dust you see various buildings--some homes, some little shanty restaurants, some magasins (stores), maybe even some huts mixed in. But nothing descript or notable. After you cross the bridge, though, the small town comes alive. There is a store on the left. Why can I not remember its name? I'm thinking perhaps Avion, which means "plane" and therefore does not make much sense, but that is what I recollect. Directly across from that is the open market where you can buy fresh vegetables, cloth, cheap jewelry, grain, and meat.

My mom occasionally bought beef from the open market but rarely any other kind of meat. We had our own chickens for meat. And the "Pork Guy" often came by on his mobylette to see if we wanted to buy the pork shoulder he had strapped to the back of his bike. Sometimes the "Frog Leg Man" would stop by too. He was crippled, so we always bought from him, if nothing else, to help him out. More than that, though, his visits were rare, so frog legs became a treat. We used to raise rabbits as well for meat, but once I began naming them and playing with them on a daily basis, we stopped killing them and just enjoyed their company. They taste like chicken anyway, and we had plenty of those.

As the market continues, across from it on the left is where the old post office sits. It was the post office for most of my life, so I barely remember where the new one is. Beyond the old post office are various other stores: Saci; a lebanese store whose owner, Fouzi, always gave me M&M-like candies when we paid a visit; various gas stations like the Agip whose logo is a black, 6-legged dog who looks like Toto (with a couple extra appendages). All along the way, the road is crowded; throngs of people walk the streets: women with huge loads on their heads and babies on their backs, men pushing carts full of drinks or ice cream bars called Sporty Pipos in them. The occasional mangy, stray mutt darts in to the road.

Way down on the left is where the Hotel Relais still stands, though vacant. And down the road that runs beside the hotel is the bakery where we sometimes ventured in the middle of the night to watch them make fresh French bread for the morning. Then we would sample it straight from the oven; even in the middle of the night, there is nothing more delicious than a fresh French baguette...unless perhaps you have some Nutella to go on top.

Beyond the bakery and Fouzi's house on the right is a large clearing. In my earliest recollection, I remember this clearing outlined by huge Kapok trees whose pods, when shed, looked as if they were filled with cotton. In later years, these trees were taken down for whatever reason. The missing trees took away some of the charm of the clearing in which stands a red and white statue, memorializing fallen soldiers from a past skirmish. It is a statue that a mixture of the dust and the hot African sun has faded to a subtle pinkish and dirty white. Behind this statue is a fenced and gated mini-compound which encloses a house and an office building. I believe the founders of the mission hospital first lived here, but I knew it as the Boese's house. Uncle Glen was the lab tech at the hospital, and his daughter Misty was one of my childhood friends.

Just beyond the clearing and the Boese's house is the road that leads to the Eglise. I am not entirely sure of the politics of the situation, but some time in my very later years, the church moved down the street. For me, however, this will always be the Ferké church. Church in this building was never a very delightful experience for me. The benches were uncomfortable, it was hot, and there was no English spoken. Especially torturous were the services that were translated into three different languages!

Back out on the main road on the right is where all of the blacksmiths do their work, saudering and hammering away at tools and pots and pans. Just beyond this is another bridge. You might see Africans working down below in the rice paddies. At least this is how I remember it. I think in later years, these dried up. It could have been partly due to the odd motel someone's bright idea concocted there on the right. Reminiscent of a very seedy American motel or truck stop, I never saw a single customer there, and from my last visit, I seem to remember weeds taking over the grounds and creeping over the threshholds of each tiny dwelling.

Beyond the strange little truck stop is the Prefecture on the right. The Prefect, I suppose, is equal to that of a mayor. And I guess the prefecture as a whole would be, in effect, sort of like the Police, though, like every other government entity in Africa, not nearly so honest as most Americans. I highly doubt their motto is To Protect and To Serve. There were also the gendarmes who served somewhat as police do. They were just as corrupt.

Directly across from the Prefecture is a village made up of an eclectic mixture of huts with thatched roofs and small, crude, concrete buildings with tin roofs. It's a neighborhood, really, and at dinner time delightful scents may waft through the air, scents mixed with the smoky smell of any number of fires burning here and there throughout the village. And sometimes even an unpleasant smell may rattle your senses for a moment, for there are not sophistated sewage systems here or garbage trucks that rumble down village paths every week.

The noises that emanate from this neighborhood, they too are just as much of a generous mix as the smells. If there is electricity, an African song may blare from a radio or a French commercial from a small TV set. Dogs are barking, and sheep are bleating as they bed down for the night. The delightful sound of children's voices mingle as much as their bodies during their soccer game. It is a quick, pick-up game that takes place in the waning light on a field with no boundaries set up in a very small clearing between a dirty, white building and an oversized hut. If there is a celebration--or a lunar eclipse--the somewhat cacophonous melody of balafones, drums, and handmade stringed instruments will echo a couple of miles down the road. Celebrations last all night long, and cacophony is welcomed in the event of an eclipse for it is the only way to frighten away the black cat before it completely devours the moon.

In that village is an oversized shack that, during the day, offers fresh baked French bread. And, though not quite as good as Nutella, a close second: Choconut. Whenever my cravings hit me, I would walk to this little shack-magasin and purchase my tub of Choconut, the little plastic cup of chocolate goo that came with its own mini-spoon. And maybe I'd buy a loaf of bread too and tuck it under my arm as I made my way home. Usually I wouldn't quite have the opportunity to scrape out every last bit of the chocolate delicacy with my mini-spoon during my stroll home...because home was just across the street.


TeacherMommy said...

Your memory is amazing. You've brought it all back to life for me--now that you write it, I remember the details all that more vividly.

Yes, the general store was named "Avion"--which never made sense, but there you are. And the "Boese" house was first the "Welch" house, the family whose father/husband was the first to ever reach out to the Nyarafolo peoples, who died so young in a car accident on his way home from one of the villages, and who inspired my mother to return to RCI to reach out to the Nyarafolo people some two decades later.

My one point of disagreement is your favoring Nutella over Choconut. Granted, it was harder (and more expensive) to get Nutella out there, and therefore it was a special treat back then, but I prefer Choconut to Nutella these days. Of course, that could be in part because it's so much easier to get Nutella than Choconut here in the States! The grass is always greener...or the treat is always chocolatier, as the case may be!

CrossView said...

Ok, I feel like I'm eavesdropping- LOL!
But your writing is amazing! I feel like I was there with you!

I'm so glad I popped in "just in case"...

And my 19-yr old is addicted to Nutella. =P

Kathleen said...

TeacherMommy ~ Thanks for being my editor and filling in the missing details. I had forgotten about the Welch's. And about the Choconut, it could be that it's been too long since I've had it whereas with the Nutella, there's always a jar in my pantry!

CrossView ~ Eavesdropping? Don't be silly! Although there's nothing wrong with that. Have I mentioned I'm a professional (eavesdropper, that is)? Your 19yo is so very talented, I'm guessing our mutual love for Nutella is probably all that we have in common. said...

That is so interesting! I know my husband would so enjoy your blog. He's been all over the place (in his teen years mostly... on his own), and I've only stepped just out of the states into Canada. :)

(Thanks for leaving me a comment on my blog, btw)

dclouser said...

I'm loving your story! It even made me appreciate Ferké a little tiny bit after reading your description. I've always referred to that place as "hole in the wall".

Kathleen said...

Yeah, Debbi, but it was MY hole in the wall! :-)

dclouser said...

You're so right! That's why I said it gave me a new perspective on Ferké. I'm sure Santidougou and Safané hold absolutely no charm for many who've passed through!

dclouser said...

PS: And you know Sarah was born there so we do have some history in that hole in the wall...

LoriM said...

Wa-ha-ha!! I'm homesick. I started smelling the smells as I read, even before you started describing them!! Oh the memories, this brings back. I was thinking about "Chaine Avion" store recently and wondering why it had that weird name. I remember seeing people buy yogurt (there?) and wondered how they kept it cool and realizing they probably didn't - and so I have no problem leaving my yogurt out a few hours (it's already sour milk - right?)

But I digress...

And I will remind you that the Welch and Boese home was also, at one time, the Gould Home.

I will print this up for my hubby to read. I can't wait to take him there - some day....

Lori (Gould) McKee

Kirk Slater said...

Very well done! It has been 19+ years since I've been been back home, and you took me there in many ways again. Thanks!

Hey, don't knock that ugly pepto-bismol pink... at least it didn't show the red dust!

The store- Chaine Avion. I remember that all the candy (especially chocolate) there was SO old that it was moldy. We'd just wipe that off, since it was that or go without!

Nutella- not bad, and my kids love it here in Uganda (Not that we can afford it! At least not until it gets old and almost moldy...) But far better than Nutella was Chocaleca! Do you remember that? Somewhere along the line the company went out of business, but for those of us that remembered it, it was the benchmark by which all other chocolate spreads would be measured- and fall short.

Keep it up!

Kathleen said...

I do remember Chocolicka! I associate it with snacks at ICA. Every day we would get bread with PB or jelly (never PB & J!), but Fridays...Fridays it was Chocolicka. And we would spend the whole 1/2 hour in class prior to Snacktime quietly bargaining with classmates to try to procure their snack. Then when the bell rang, it was a mad dash for the snack tray, which was usually sitting out by the playground or sometimes in Bethany or Bethel dorm. Yum!! I suppose that would be a toss-up with Nutella. So sorry to hear it is no more!

Thanks for more memories, Kirk! I always think of you when I think of that hill right before coming up to Ferke. If memory serves me, the night I went home from ICA with you and Jean Richerd, the car broke down right there at that hill. And I think you RAN all the way home for help??

LoriM said...

In my day at ICA (60's), we got bread and jam or bread and chocoleca in the mornings, I think with water and in the afternoons we got kool-aid (and no bread?). Seems we got chocoleca/jam on alternate days. (and breakfasts were alternating oatmeal/cream of wheat)
A friend who went to boarding school in Guatemala said their snack was called "cookie and water" (with cookies in place of bread, obviously). Not "snack" but 'cookie and water' as in "Hurry up you guys, it's time for cookie and water". LOL

Looking forward to your ICA post(s), Katy!

Nishant said...

the treat is always chocolatier, as the case may be!
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