April 14, 2005

Thursday evening - cat fight, then other

Wow! I just saw the most amazing cat fight ever, from right outside my window. Anyone who uses the word cat fight as an insult is ignorant. This thing was crazy.

Two of the neighborhood Tomcats were perched face to face on top of the one cinder-block wide cement wall of the service quarters. It looked like one wanted to pass and the other refused. They stood whisker to whisker for about 10 minutes. At one point, it appeared that one of the cats was going to back off and walk the other way. Then, he pressed forward, with his face parallel to the other cat's. At that point, the other cat, fully hunched, wasready to fight. Moments before the action started, he even pooped.

Then, it was on. The whole fight lasted maybe 8 seconds. In that time, I saw both cats’ heads on top at different points. First the orange, then the white. It was impossible to tell who was winning. They wrestled around on the metal roof of the service quarters and the whole time I wondered if they would slide off the edge. Given its slope, it looked like they would. Then, suddenly, clenched together, both went tumbling over the edge for about a nine foot fall!

The orange one popped up moments later outside my window sill, panting heavily, but seeming in tact. I haven’t seen the white one since the tumble. After the fight, clumps of fur danced in the air. I was partial to the orange cat because I’ve seen the white one bullying other neighborhood cats. It is the orange one, however, who I’m always throwing stuff at. Wow! That was amazing.

My wife and I visited the pre-natal clinic this morning – things are moving along at a nice clip. Apparently, the baby is making some good kicks, though not strong enough for me to feel them yet. This morning was my 5th or 6th trip to the pre-natal clinic. On the last two I’ve been much more participatory.

Probably not so different than the U.S. Today, they rubbed some kind of sound monitor on my wife’s belly. You could really hear it when it went over the baby's heart. Pulse, pulse, pulse. Something like 150 beats per second. She’s not quite ready to compete with her father yet in terms of physical fitness (resting heart rate of 60), but she’s within long-range striking distance of her mother. Just kidding.

While speaking with the doctor, my wife told her that she’d been performing some physical activity. Shortly thereafter, a group of nurses and a janitor were standing around the TV in the lobby. I didn’t know what they were up to, but I was praying they weren’t going to play a video. No longer having a satellite at our house, I was just waiting for the chance to switch the station to CNN. (I hadn’t been able to change it up to that point because the waiting room was seemingly engrossed or at a minimum indifferent to one of the movies from my youth, “White Water Summer”.)

Just as the helicopter passed overhead to rescue Kevin Bacon and Cory Feldman in the last scene of the movie, the team working on the television, who had by this point recruited one of the innocent husband onlookers, resolved whatever technical difficulty was obstructing them and the television suddenly switched to a video I wished would have just gone away - “Yoga for Pregnant Mothers”.

The film dragged tears of boredom from me. A number of times, I was obliged to point out to my wife that this was her doing. Apparently, the doctor and nurses, concerned that my wife was doing physical activity that wouldn’t be good for the pregnancy, decided to show her alternative exercises that would be much better for her. “Yoga for Pregnant Mothers” lasted the longest 60 minutes of my life. “Inhale”, “Exhale” repeated the lead instructor in a silky yoga-like voice. I imagine the video would be great for sleep therapy, or even pregnant mothers interested in following along with the activities. Judging by its reception in the one ante-natal clinic’s waiting room in Addis Ababa, “Yoga for Pregnant Mothers” has a very short future in Ethiopia. By the end of the video, the 10-15 people that had been sitting with us at the beginning of the film had migrated to the entry hall and other locations.

By comparison, the rest of the visit was fairly eventful. At one point, I was standing outside talking to a colleague on my cell phone, when all of a sudden, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a rush of people coming towards me. I quickly realized they were carrying someone, and that it was a woman, probably about to deliver. She’d been brought in one of the shared mini-bus taxis, a story I’m sure the driver would relate to his friends at the end of the day. It was amazing; as soon as three men got her through the front door, one female nurse took her in her arms and carried her off to some unknown room. I’m not sure if it was a pregnancy, but being a maternity hospital, that seems most likely. Maybe I should start making arrangements for a standby taxi and a bulky nurse. Actually, I’m fairly muscular, so I could probably handle it.

From one waiting room to the next. I spent a good deal of my day. In the afternoon, it was off to the dentist. My wife is preparing to leave her job and we decided to take the opportunity to undertake health check-ups that we’d been delaying. So in the afternoon, I found myself parked inside a dentist's office waiting for what I assumed would be a routine cleaning. It was a cleaning, but it was not routine, at least not the routine I’m accustomed to. Four hours after the fact, my gums are still tingling, but it’s a nice tingle.

Anyway, before the dentist's chair, we were sitting in the waiting room. Like the pre-natal clinic, it was equipped with a TV, set on Channel 2 of Nile Satellite infamy. No, Channel 2 is a great channel. They play all sorts of great movies and have fairly limited advertisements. I do find it an interesting cultural observation that the Channel is more than happy to edit even the most innocent encounter between the sexes, but anything violent is a full go. Strange.

This afternoon on Channel 2, a funny high school comedy called “Can’t Hardly Wait” with Jennifer Love Hewitt and some others was playing. I don’t know if I can describe it – it’s similar to other comedies about being in high school. Some American Pie, some Road Trip – you get the point. It was hilarious to watch with mostly middle-aged Ethiopians waiting for the dental check-ups.

At one point in the movie, one of the characters, kind of a geeky, valedictorian type, gets his moment to shine. It’s at a party of the whole high school and he’s been doing drugs and drinking and suddenly his wild side just bursts out. His chance to be in the spotlight comes when the band, another group of high schoolers, has a disagreement and walks off the stage. In the interlude, another high school kid jumps up and says, “I’ll be the band” while whipping out his boom-box and starting Guns ‘N Roses’ song “Paradise City” (or was it “Welcome to the Jungle”? – Scott help me out on this).

Then, our the geeky, valedictorian goes on the stage and takes over the song. At first, everyone is just amused like, “Who’s this guy”. But, then a few people start dancing and then it turns into a wild event, with the whole party dancing. At that point, one of the girls in the audience (a room full of high school kids) who happens to be stationed on the shoulders of another reveler, lifts up her shirt to show her boobs to the guy on stage. This is a classic happening at Guns ‘N Roses concerts, so I’m told.

I thought it was hilarious – very imaginative that this would happen at a high school party just like at a concert and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I was the only one. I thought it was quite funny, so my laughing continued for a bit, but nobody joined in. It was a 100% Ken moment.

There were a few others scenes where I found myself laughing out loud. All the time, I was the only one, though. It made me start to wonder what the people watching the film thought of it. “Can’t Hardly Wait” is moderately benign, in terms of American movies about high school kids. Actually, probably all movies on that subject are relatively benign. But Ethiopia is a hugely conservative society, so images of high school kids making out, girls exposing themselves, and two guys pulling a practical joke on their supposed tormentors by knocking them out with chloroform and then undressing and photographing them might not go over in the best light. I’m just thankful it was sexually edited Arab television – imagine if they’d seen the real version.

My dental visit wasn’t limited to amusing myself in the lobby with high school satires. When it came time for me to enter the examination room, I was completely unaware that a lot of pain was waiting for me. I have never seen the instrument the dentist used – it’s called a “scaler." It could be that I’m not very good at handling pain, but it was downright horrible. When I returned to the lobby after the cleaning, I had the remnants of tears in my eyes and on my face. Well, it could have been from the mist spraying everywhere, but I think I was definitely generating some of my own wet stuff.

American dentists of the world, I salute you. I think the last time I experienced pain in the dental office was when Wes Johnson hit me while we were waiting for the school bus. Technically, that wasn’t even inside the dentist office and really had nothing to do with dentists. Oh wait, there are the orthodontists, but they are a special breed not to be considered here. No, I’d say almost all of my dental experiences have been positive, decidedly the opposite of what happened today.

The contraption looked harmless enough when the dentist held it up for me. He seemed to hold some button for awhile and then, after 10 seconds or so, a small trickle of water came out the end. The next thing I knew, it was in my mouth and causing pain. I guess it works by injecting a super-concentrated blast of hot water combined with some kind of ultrasonic vibration. I know the latter was true because when the tip passed over my upper molars, my eardrums started ringing like I was standing inside a speaker, but worse. Like 10 times worse. Fortunately, that part of the experience only lasted a second or so for each side.

To be honest, my teeth feel great, but the true test of this visit will be if I have the gumption to go back. Smart money says I will, but probably not for a year, six months more than I usually do. I’ll just tell you to be thankful for the great, painless dental work you receive abroad. Or, maybe I should think of this another way; I should be considerate for my American friends who say they fear the dentist because all it ever delivers is pain.

What else is happening? We had a gentle rain yesterday afternoon. A little light for my taste, but hopefully it foretells of more rain to come. Today, there was a welcoming layer of clouds sitting over Addis all day, but as of yet, they’ve delivered no rain. No progress has been made in the brother-in-law maid rift of 2005 (or 1997 in the Ethiopian calendar). Both my wife and I are trying to encourage the opposing sides to come to the bargaining table. The maid seems willing, but my brother-in-law seems to want to hold out a bit longer. He’s probably able to do this because it’s the fasting season right now, when Orthodox Christian’s aren’t supposed to put anything in their mouths from dawn until about 3:00 from early March to the end of April. Once the fast is done, though, I have a feeling his stomach will get the better of him and peace will prevail. Peace will overcome.

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