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Childhood Memories in West Africa
I grew up in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa and although I haven't been back for 30 years, I still have vivid memories of my childhood. Some of my memories are funny, others are frightening and anxious. Growing up in Africa for a Caucasian American girl is unusual, but for me it was normal.
One of the frightening memories is of the day my mother took my siblings and me to the local zoo in the capitol city, Abidjan. The zoo wasn't in great shape, and evidently the chain that kept the gorilla secured to a tree snapped. All of a sudden several men ran down the path, waving their arms and shouting, telling us to get inside the office building. The gorilla was on the loose! My mom herded us to the office and I remember peeking out the window, terrified that the gorilla would come straight toward us and bust into the office. Fortunately the gorilla was caught and returned to his tree. I now feel sad that the animals at the zoo were kept in terrible conditions.
Bonnie, my younger sister, had a little chair that she liked to carry out into the yard and sit in. One day evidently she carried her chair to the lot next door where an apartment was being built for another missionary. The septic tank was being dug and was full of muddy water. Bonnie didn't realize how close she placed her chair to the big hole, and soon we heard her screaming from the depths of the hole. Our helper heard her and rushed over to help. He lowered himself into the hole and helped Bonnie out. She was a little black girl for a few minutes, until Mom could calm her down and hose her off! She learned to be careful where she put her chair!
One day my mom was strolling my baby brother down the street, when the neighbor's monkey got out of his cage, jumped over the fence, ran accross the street and jumped on my brother. He bit Danny on the head and took off! He was alright although very frightened. To this day, Dan hates monkeys.
During rainy season, the frogs multiplied like rabbits, and they croaked all night for days on end. Our missionary neighbor, Uncle James, could be heard from the house next door, complaining about the "%*&%#^@" frogs that kept him awake all night. Bonnie and I thought it was pretty funny and we thought we could get him even more angry. We had a cassette player (remember those days?) and we recorded the frogs croaking. When they actually started to get quiet, we quickly replayed the recording and got them all going again. Uncle James was beside himself!
My family liked to go on outings in the rain forest at times and once we came upon sinking sand. I remember throwing a long branch into the center of the pool and sure enough, it was gobbled up by the sinking sand. I had nightmares for a while after that!
When I was a teenager, I had long blond hair down to my waist. One evening my Dad was showing a film in the tiny store front that served as the first Baptist church of Abidjan. It seemed there were a billion kids there, all sitting on the floor to see the movie. There were so many kids that the adults couldn't get into the building. I stood in the doorway and other adults were crowded around, trying to see the movie. I felt something pulling on a strand of my hair, whirled around just in time to see a large man, who was startled and was putting a small pair of scissors in his pocket. Then I saw a strand of my blond hair falling to the ground...I felt the back of my hair and realized that the man had been trying to get a lock of my hair. To this day I don't know what he wanted it for and I don't think I want to know!
I went to boarding school for 10th, 11th and 12th grade. It was a great experience for me, and I had awesome dorm parents, Warren and Marilyn Bottemiller. They were firm but caring, and did a great job of doing special things for each of us. Aunt Marilyn baked and decorated a special cake for each one of us on our birthday. Uncle Warren was always available to listen to us and give us advice. They were always respectful and assured us that our parents loved us and would love to have us at home if that were possible. For most of us, there were no other options for a good education (this was before home schooling was popular and our mothers also worked alongside our fathers in mission work).
A group of student volunteers went to a nearby village every Sunday afternoon to hold church services. I volunteered to go and play the guitar for the singing. At the village we were always greeted by a throng of kids who chanted something that meant "The white people have arrived!" There I met a leper who was one of the kindest people I ever met. I also met an old (VERY old) lady, who gave me a beautiful clay vase that she had made. I kept the vase for almost 20 years, until it finally crumbled after so many moves and transitions. I was given a chicken one time as a "thank you gift". The chicken was alive and I wasn't too excited about grabbing it by the feet. Later the boarding school gardener killed and feathered it, and I tried to cook it, to share a meal with my boyfriend. Turns out it was so tough we couldn't sink our teeth into it. It's the thought that counts, right?
I had two special "aunts" while I was growing up. Aunt Estelle was the older one. She took me with her to visit the sick at the hospital. I got to watch her in action, as she passed out Bibles and other books, Get Well cards, and prayed with each patient. Maybe she gave me my first introduction to Chaplaincy, which later was useful in my days as a Chaplain for the Hispanic employees at Tyson Foods, in NW Arkansas. Aunt Estelle also taught me my first lessons in oil paint. Aunt Wilma was the younger of the two and she took me to teach sewing classes to the women in the churches. They took afternoon walks together and often invited me to join them. We also had movie nights with popcorn and Coke. I owe both aunts a lot and am sad that they are now both gone.
During rainy season it rained day and night. Sometimes our yard would be a lake, and the ditches in front of our house were full. The street was covered and my sibs and I would tromp around in our flipflops or rubber boots. I remember the millions of tadpoles swimming around. Funny that I liked tadpoles, but later developed an aversion to frogs. In boarding school on several occasions I was in the shower and had a tree frog jump on me. No fun to be naked and have a frog stuck to your tummy. Lots of screaming.
So many more memories...but that will come in a later hub.