31 October 2008

Hopefully a long post - I certainly have a lot to say

But my connection is slow, as is my typing on an american (and very small) keyboard, so we'll see.

I went to the Catholic church because my best village friend is Catholic. He showed me in to a seat - then went back outside to chat with other people while I sat through an hour of service. In Moore, natch. At the end they announced something, and some people left while others stayed (my friend was still outside), and I wasn't sure what was going on. One of my students who was there saw my confusion and explained. The hour I'd just sat through was the PRE service...now we were waiting for expected visitors. A half hour later the service resumed, or rather, started. Three hours later it began winding down. Someone, possibly the priest, switched to French long enough to thank the nasara who visited and stayed through the long service that he clearly didn't understand.

Next time I'm trying the Protestant church.

I recently visited a friend in her shockingly small village of cattle-herding Peuhls (aka Fulani). My site is nearly in the Sahel. My friend's site is unquestionably in the Sahel. The view over her courtyard wall is an incredibly uninterrupted view to the horizon - no vegetation, no hills, just red dirt and rock baking in the sun. Beautiful. To the north distant hills are visible. Well, they seem distant in the dust haze.* In fact, they're not far. I know that because we biked from her site to nearby Bani, where the hills are. The point of interest? An imam in the 70s founded his very own sect of Islam. He had built a huge mud-brick mosque in the center of the town (it's just large enough to deserve that appelation, rather than village, I think). It has figures carved in of the traditional kneeling postures of Islamic prayer. It's awesome, and beautiful outside and in. We went in, shoeless by Islamic tradition and flocked by children by nasara tradition, and walked through the banded dark amongst large pillars. On arriving at the back, we climbed a shockingly steep, completely unlit, and partially crumbling stairway to the roof. The view of the city is really worth the climb, even the climb back down, which is even scarier. The roof is rock and sand, and very hot as you might imagine. I didn't walk around much (we were shoeless, remember?), but the kids did. My friend did too - she definitely earned hardcore points for that.

Afterwards, we climbed the surrounding hills, which very strongly reminded me of climbing out on the rocks in Monterey to get better pictures of the surf. The kids did this barefoot too. We weren't just climbing to climb - I haven't told you the most interesting part of this imam's wishes. Aside from the grand mosque, he had 7 other mosques built in the surrounding hills, and possibly uniquely in all the Islamic world, they do NOT face toward Mecca - instead, they face toward the central mosque. Also he apparently wasn't a big fan of upkeep - two have crumbled completely, and none are usable.

I forgot my camera on that trip, which I'm sure my friend got tired of hearing me bitch about. She did let me use her camera, AND I will be going back - there's talk of a camel ride fr0m Bani to a gold mine and maybe even sand dunes.

*You know those pictures in National Geographic of Africa where the sun is a beautiful orange ball low in the sky? Yeah, it's not clouds causing all that beautiful refraction. It's dust. Beautiful at a distance - the sunrises and sunsets here are pretty much ALWAYS spectacular. But the dust is playing merry hell with my sinuses, now that the rain is gone. Hello, 9 months of head cold. Actually, hello 9 months of Claritin and dust masks.

Cell phones
The BBC recently reported on how Japanese cell phone companies have a hard time selling to the world market because they add too many functions to their phones, and most people prefer to have phones just to make phone calls. They should consider the Burkinabe market. People here don't carry radios, they just play music on their cell phones. And I've seen a huge number of cell phones with LEDs flashing red, blue, and who knows what else. I bet they'd buy those Japanese phones. Although in all reality they wouldn't be able to afford it.

Daylight savings time my friends! You do it, we don't. So however far our time difference has been up to now, add an hour. One immediate result is that instead of staying up late to listen to election results, I'll get up early.

Went today. Thought to bring my camera to Ouaga - then didn't think to bring it to SIAO. But honestly, it wouldn't have done much for me. Some of the wares were interesting, but the format looked like that of a consignment shop or flea market. And a good number of the merchandise would believably exist in those places, as well, or the African store in the mall. I did make what I think were some good finds:

Dogon door - the dogons live in Mali, in an area so well-defined ethnically that it is called the Country Dogon. I *think* they have a mask tradition like so many ethnicities in this area, but they also have traditional doors, which I've not seen from any other ethnicities. The carvings on it represent the male and female ancestors, the male and female principle more generally, and their descendants. The doors are always kept closed - their purpose is to bar the entry of evil spirits. I bought a small one. Since I won't ship it due to both expense and worries of durability, I'll go ahead and say now that this one is for you, Mom and Dad. You'd better like it.

Tuareg lock - a small but expensive purchase, this one for me. I was suckered in because I love puzzles. It's not truly a puzzle, but it's not far from being one. There are three keys, the first opening a panel to allow access for the second, likewise the second for the third, and the third allows the lock to pull apart.

Mask bottle openers - I got three. These were small, and not inexpensive, but not on the same order as the other purchases. One for me, one for my brother, and one for Christoff, the shopkeeper/bartender who has really helped me settle in and begin integration.

Reading list
Yes, life is busy. But all the same, you need downtime, and I've always been a voracious reader. Here's a list of the books I've read since June, and note that only the first two were during training and ALL THE REST have been at site.
Don Quixote; the Kiterunner; Middlesex; the Dark Romance of Dian Fossey; Her Majesty's Wizard (my guilty pleasure, a not-so-well written fantasy novel that I love both for being the first fantasy novel I ever read AND for leading me to Spanish Trail Books for the first time, looking for a copy. I've read it three times since getting here); the Handmaid's Tale; Holder of the World; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; Obsessive Genius: the Inner World of Marie Curie; Alias Grace; the God Delusion; Wilderness 911; Card Games for One (I've played all of them for both one deck and two, some 150 games in all); the Art of Travel; Lucky.

Wish list addition
I didn't bring a CD player because of the dust. But it occurs to me that small capacity SD cards are dirt cheap these days. And I just happen to have an mp3 player that takes SD. So if you would like to send me music, just load some on that little $7 card and send it on over in a regular envelope.

04 October 2008

Village Recipe

Peel and cut five of the smallest onions you've ever seen - cripes lady, would it kill you to leave them in the ground a week longer before bringing them to marché? Peel and dice some garlic, because you don't want to have to clean out the garlic press later (note: not worth it. The press is a pain to clean, but it still beats dicing the garlic). Peel and dice a whole ginger root (even though you know it's too much, because how can you store the leftover?) that you bought purely because you knew how to ask for it in mooré (note: Dicing again, bah. garlic press + ginger? hmmm...) Sauté in oil a few minutes, then add brown sugar to candy because you saw someone else do it recently, and when you don't know what you're doing, copy others (according to a landlord I once had who had worked with Lise Meitner, that's what Einstein did). After candying, add leftover of a small tin of tomato paste, because if you don't use it today, you don't want to at all. In fact, it already smells a little weird...oh well, throw it in. Add water, and boil, because you definitely want to kill whatever that was you smelled. Taste. Way too sweet, though yummy. Add red wine vinegar. Taste. Still sweet, add regular vinegar because God only knows when you might be able to buy red wine vinegar again (red wine + regular vinegar? hmmm...) Taste. STILL sweet. Screw it, you tried not to use salt because you already eat so freakin' much, oh well, add salt. Ah ha! Yummy. Cook rice. Flail at flies who are currently in love with your lantern. Pick up crank handle that fell off due to flailing. Crank. Check rice. Taste sauce again. Add pepper. Add sauce to rice, and eat. And feel vindicated - you were right, it was too much ginger.

But it was yummy all the same.

Site is good. My teaching schedule was changed this week. We had so many students sign up that we split the sixième class (roughly sixth grade) into 2 sections, which means I have to teach 20 hours, not 15. If you think that sounds like a light schedule, please remember that my French is still only so-so. 15 is recommended for 1st year volunteers. Anyway, I won't be teaching Physics & Chemistry, just math. So, I have two classes of sixième (sixth-grade) math, one of cinquième (7th grade) math, and one of quatrième (8th grade) math. Class sizes are 102 and 100, 97, 63, respectively.

Before I left, I put out a general call for addresses for people who want to receive mail from me here. Well, bad news - I can't find my list! But that's ok, I have a solution. YOU mail ME first (and in case it's not clear, include your return address on the envelope!), and if you do I promise you at least one written response while I'm here*. You can find my address here. To give you an idea on the Boulsa address, today is 4 Oct and I had a letter from 22 Sept in the box. Not bad! Of course, it may have gotten here even sooner, you also have to take into account that I only come here about once a month.
*Hi Sally. Yes, you've already sent me something. But I cleverly threw away the envelope before writing down your address. If you email me your address then you'll get the response you're owed.

A big thank you to PLAN for sponsoring my internet time this week!