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When It Poured [Tar]

February 25, 2016

The last two weeks have been crazy.  Mostly in a good way.  We were busy preparing for and holding our open house (we had about 40 people!), hosting people traveling through town, and welcoming our Vanga family to stay here during a week of business in Kinshasa (and had nine different people sleeping here at different points during that week, on top of the five of us).  We also hosted a pirate-themed murder mystery party, went without water, had our car need further maintenance (still getting it up to speed, not finding new problems – yay for that), but not discovering it until we were driving downtown, and little things that come up in the middle of it all.

While I would definitely say it was stressful at times, it was so great to have our friends visit and the parties and dinner guests were so much fun!  By the time our last guests were preparing to leave, I was glad that the kids decided to go hang out outside, so we could visit and get some computer work caught up.

So, as we chatted around the table in between typing and browsing, I heard the water pump keep coming on.  I poked my head out the back door and saw my three sweet angels, playing happily together, painting a piece of cardboard, but using water from the outside faucet.  I asked them to stop using the water, since we had been short this week, but that they were fine to continue “painting.”

I sat back down and was surprised when Levi knocked at the back door a few minutes later.  I opened the door and looked down at what appeared to be my child.  Except, this child was covered in black paint.  His hands were completely black, as were his feet, his shins had spots all over them, his clothes were smeared, his arms speckled, and a huge smear from his nose straight up into his hair.

But upon closer inspection, it was not paint.  It had an odor.  A very strong odor.  Motor oil, maybe?  But from where?  I freaked out and had him lead me to the source of this black substance…but we only got as far as his two siblings, who by now were less angelic and more sheepish.  The cardboard was entirely coated, as was the grass around it.  Hands, clothes, feet, everything was deep black.

I ran inside for my phone and called Matthew.

“Oh, hey, honey, yeah…what is the black stuff in a bucket behind our house? … Mmhmmm, tar, you say? … Okay, yeah, and how do you remove tar? … Oh, from anything… Skin? Clothes? Hair? … Oh them? … Mmmmm, yeah, they’re covered.”

Innocently, this plastic bucket had been sitting behind the house, tar from building our animal pen, to keep the wood posts from rotting in the ground where they had been placed.  It had been warmed by the hot African sun and was as liquid as paint.  And so fun to paint with, as my children discovered!

So, removing tar from the skin is normally done with gasoline.  You know, when you get a smudge on your hands from a project, use a dab of gasoline.  Somehow, the internet is lacking instructions for what to do when your small children practically bathe in the stuff.  Strange.

Matthew said anything with an oil base should work.  Then you just have to get the oil off.

I went back inside (after having the three tar-covered ones sit in the grass with only permission to breathe) and distractedly told our friends what was going on.  Thankfully, he is a handy guy and also said gasoline.  But he is also a pediatrician and said, maybe not gasoline on small children.  But palm oil should do the trick.

Palm oil here is not the same as what you buy in the states.  There, you buy processed oil byproduct.  It’s just vegetable oil, usually mixed with soybean or sunflower, no big deal.  Here, though, the palm oil is truly pressed oil out of the palm nuts.  It is neon orangey-red, stains everything, has a delicious taste, and is supposedly very good for you.

I had a big jug I had bought when we first arrived, but had hardly used.  Our workers, as we moved our kitchen things a few weeks ago, said I shouldn’t use it because it was too old, but I kept it anyway.  And I dragged the huge bottle outside, along with the dish soap.  It was time to wage war on the tar.

I helped each kid strip down to their underwear (or diaper) and tossed their clothes in a pile.  I would worry about those later.

Next, I stood up the first victim and began the oil application.  It was so thick from sitting that I turned the 5 liter jug on its side in the grass, knelt on it with a knee, and it oozed out like Vaseline.  I scooped some off the spout with my fingers and applied liberally to their hand.  It worked!  It turned the neon orange to black and spread it around.  Up their arm and up mine as well, but it was at least doing SOMETHING.

I applied as much as I could stand.  The problem was, mostly, that I couldn’t stand.  I could squat, but only for some time because this baby belly is rather large and the baby is in the way and blood was not getting to my toes.  I could kneel, but it wasn’t much more comfortable.  So, up and down I squatted my pregnant-self, applying oil to each kid.  By now, I was blackish-orange up to my elbows, and it had transferred to my clothes as well.

And everyone knows how good oil is for your clothes, right?

Next it was time to try removing the mixture…I went over to the water spigot, got a ton of dish soap on my hands, selected the first child and went to town.  Thankfully, the water was mostly cool, because I was sweating and not minding getting soaked.  I did occasionally think…what if I run out of water, right now, with my arms covered in this?

It didn’t happen, but what was happening was a miracle: the soap removed the oil, which had clung to the tar in a cool scientific experiment that I would have appreciated much more had it not been under these circumstances.

But, being the homeschool mom, I did try to explain to them the science behind it as much as I could between bouts of gritting my teeth and trying not to laugh at the absurdity.

Eventually, I had soaped and rinsed all three kids, my legs were burning from lack of blood flow, my knees were embedded with rocks and grass, and oh my pregnant back, but we weren’t finished yet.

Tar still remained, so we repeated the entire process…back to the oil, back to the dish soap and the rinse cycle.  Then I had them sit in the grass while I went inside and prepared the bath tub.

Thirty minutes later, we had washed off most of the tar and oil and the kids were ready for lunch, and I made some quick tuna salad, sat them down at the table, where my friends (who had offered to help, but I declined, citing their need to stay far away from this version of chaos as they were hours away from a plane ride across the globe) tapped away at their keyboards and probably tried not to laugh.

Then I left for my own shower, so desperately needed.

And the clothes will never be the same, but they’re still wearable for outside play (but not in the back…ever again).  My shirt recovered and my skirt was too dark to tell.  The shoes that two of them had been wearing will remain to be seen, but oh well.  And now we have a story and maybe something to laugh about…later.  Oh, and Levi’s hair is much shorter, because I slathered on so much oil that after two showers and lots of shampoo, it was still not coming out…

And, seriously, this makes that time two weeks ago when they found their third razor blade in a week (because this had been a construction site for so long) and someone FINALLY cut themselves enough to leave a blood trail into the house while screaming, but then they learned their lesson…well, it makes it seem not so bad.  Because, TAR.

The past two weeks have been insane: when it rains, it pours.  Hopefully the next three weeks will be a little calmer, because then it is time to head out to Vanga to await the birth of this baby.  And hopefully his or her siblings will teach them not to ever touch anything ever.  Or something like that.

Parenting is fun, on any continent.

Tar Kids

The only photo I took…enough evidence, though I don’t think it fully captures how much tar was involved.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ariena permalink
    February 25, 2016 0829

    This one time I found my children (the three youngest) playing in poop, a lot of poop. It was on them, a lot on them. It did not go well. I am proud of you.

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