First, I would just like to point out that while I have mentioned more than once how cool C and Y are, it needs saying that C's friends, J, S, and M are also awesome. M had spent a few months in Ghana studying turtles (how freakin' cool is that); S and J had never before been to Africa. And none of them speak French. Yet they were fearless during this trip.
Dec 31, Day 5: New Year's in Bobo
We got up early and took the bush taxi back into Banfora. Fortunately, we didn't go by the same bus stop as before, so I didn't see my new faux type fan. We hung out at the gare waiting for the bus, and as it was a long wait some of us decided to go for a walk. J, S, and M went off by themselves (see how cool they are? No French, but they just went wandering without any of us with them to interpret. And they got by just fine), C went to find a phone to call a friend, and I wandered about too. Y (and another volunteer, K, and her RPCV boyfriend, B, who had joined us; sorry that I forgot to mention them sooner.) stayed with the bags. On my perambulation, I found McDonald's, which I'd heard about before. It's not a part of the fast food chain, but still it's a funny name here, and to add to the strangeness their decor is mostly Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. I also stopped in a "Chinese Health Store" because I was curious what such a place might sell. Mostly erection-enhancement pills with incredibly graphic pictures on the boxes, if you were wondering.
After we were safely on our way to Bobo, I texted my new boyfriend to tell him that I'd left Banfora and wouldn't be back for a long time, as I live very far away. He still calls. Thank goodness and Nokia for number screening.
After arriving in Bobo, we tried to stay at a place called La Pacha (I don't know what that means), but they were jerks so we instead chose to stay at Casa Africa, which was definitely the better way to go. We found that several other volunteers were staying there too (so of the 9 rooms, PCVs had at least 4 of them). Dinner was great, though I found my steak to be incredibly tough compared to everyone else's - until I realized that they had gotten actual steak knives and I had a butter knife.
I tried to take a nap, as all the others were doing, so that we could stay up for the New Year, but just couldn't get to sleep. So I ambled into the lobby and started looking at the carvings and musical instruments on sale there. I met the man who makes them, and when I told him I was a Peace Corps volunteer, he became downright effusive. He loves the PC, it turns out. Since Casa Africa is a common place for volunteers visiting the region (or those who live nearby taking a weekend trip to Bobo), he has many friends who are current and returned volunteers. Apparently, one even ordered jewelry from him and sold it in the states for him, and the profits were enough for him to buy a motorcycle. He said that now, whenever a volunteer finishes service, if they want to use a moto to travel Africa, they can always borrow his, because it's an American moto. Then, he said that since I was a volunteer and it was a holiday, he would give me a gift - a small wooden elephant, which is now a permanent fixture in my pocket. He promised to teach me how to play a game that looked similar to Mancala the next day.
Everyone else got up, and we went to Bois d'Ebene (Ebony Wood) to celebrate the New Year in style. It was expensive, but we got a four-course meal and a hell of a show. First a band that did traditional music and dance, who played almost entirely for our group as no one else had showed up yet, then a band that played a mix of latin, French, and Burkinabe music, plus one Credence Clearwater Revival song. They were lots of fun.
And here in the story I must pause and direct your attention to my posts from 19 June and 5 July 2008, where I mentioned that I don't enjoy dancing. What I failed to mention was that I enjoy it so little that at the 4th of July party I ranted at someone about not wanting to dance - and it wasn't even one of the people who had been harassing me.
Well, it's a new year. I danced. By choice, without a drop to drink, and in fact without even being asked. *I* asked. I told Y that her new mission is to teach me to dance, and that I wanted to start right then. And we did. And it wasn't awful. I still feel like an uncoordinated fool on the dance floor, I can't change that overnight, but I can decide not to care. So we danced and had a good time. I didn't exactly make dancing a New Year's resolution (my actual resolution is that every day I will use at least one French or Moore word or grammar point that I don't have a good grasp on), but I do plan on going dancing pretty much whenever I get the opportunity so that I can learn. Whether I'll ever love like I've never been hurt or work like I don't need the money remains to be seen. One thing at a time.
Jan 1, Day 6: Sya
We walked around Bobo the next day. Being a holiday, very little was open, but we did discover to our chagrin that faux types don't take a break. It was really ridiculous, it seemed like we couldn't take three steps without ONE of us getting harassed. Mostly the girls, of course. C really went off on one guy, and he still then tried to get me to talk to her to calm her down so he could talk to her some more. I need to learn the French equivalent of "Go piss up a rope."
We hired a guide and walked around Sya, which is the name of the original settlement that became Bobo-Dioulasso, and where people still follow many of the original 14th century traditions of the settlement (with the 19th century addition of Islam into the mix). Often our tour guide answered our questions with "C'est le secret, on n'explique pas," ("That's a secret, we don't discuss it," a response C said she would use the next time a faux type asked her name). Basically, it was a tour of gift shops, but they were some of the coolest gift shops you'd ever hope to see. There was a mask shop with some really fascinating work (out of my price range), a mud-dyed cloth shop (I got a hat), and a bronze worker who makes things that are surprisingly modern-art style and absolutely beautiful and I hate that I didn't take any pictures there. While at the mask booth, C observed that successful shopping in West Africa is much like Zen Buddhism - you must free yourself from wanting.
Walking back to the hotel with the group, I almost got arrested. Apparently, the Burkina flag is lowered twice a day, and when this happens, everyone stops to watch. Well, we don't have a flag in my village. They're usually at the police or gendarme station, and we're so small that we have neither. I'd never, ever heard of this. So we heard a police whistle, glanced over and saw that the policemen were not looking at us, assumed that the whistle was for the traffic they'd been directing and kept walking. About 30 seconds later, a HUGE police officer comes running after us, yelling. We stop and turn, and he points at me with a furious look on his face and tells me that I just disrespected the whole country. Why me and not the other 5? Maybe my silly goatee, maybe my new hat...but most likely the simple fact that I am a man (as is S, but he doesn't speak French, so just as well I was chosen to bear the brunt of this tirade) and therefore the leader of the group (completely untrue, I could never coordinate a trip like this with the suaveness and assuredness of C, our fearless leader). This guy just couldn't wrap his head around the idea that I might not have known what the whistle was about. I apologized profusely and obliquely offered to pay a "fine", because the guy was so upset that I really thought it was going to be that or go to jail. But he was, in fact, truly offended by our not "stopping for the colors," as this practice is called, without being corrupt - after several minutes of haranguing me, he sent us on our way. I've been cagey about hearing whistles ever since.
After a dinner of Africanized curried chicken, I went to bed tired, ready to leave Bobo, and hoping that my new wooden elephant (and J's, she'd gotten one too) would bring us luck at our next stop, Boromo.
Jan 2, Day 7: Koro
But before leaving for Boromo, we decided to bike out to a cliffside dwelling called Koro, a governmentally sponsored tourist locale. In what had by now become the theme of our trip, the bike ride was longer than expected. As to the site itself, if I had it to do over again I'd have lobbied to join K and B visiting the sacred catfish ponds instead. Oh well. There's really not much to say about Koro otherwise. There were some good views, but the tour was very short, and our guide was not very interested. And so neither were we.
From there we caught a Rakieta bus to Boromo, and while we'd seen the scenery before on the way down (dead flower-tree!), the bus itself is worth mentioning. It was like being in America. Large, cushy seats, air conditioning with adjustable vents, drinks sold ON THE BUS, TV screens that folded down from the ceiling, even a BATHROOM! I'd better not ever hear those Southwesterners complain about transport. It was downright bizarre after months of buses crammed with people and animals, stifling hot with all the windows closed (Burkinabe hate opening windows on buses, I don't know why) unless you're lucky enough that one of them is missing. We got into Boromo without incident, and found a hotel. And after lugging around a tent, ThermaRest and blanket the whole trip, I finally had a chance to use them, as it was much easier than taking a room. The staff at this hotel was incredibly helpful, and while they didn't serve food there the proprietor took our orders and went into town and delivered our dinner to us. J, S, and M finally had the chance to experience a bucket bath and a latrine, as this was the first place we'd stayed that did not have toilets and showers.
Jan 3, Day 8: Boromo
I haven't mentioned why we stopped in Boromo, though I've dropped a hint. Why did I hope our wooden elephants would be lucky? Well, for one thing, because that's what they're supposed to do, bring luck. But for another, the reason we'd stopped in Boromo was because there is an animal reserve there with several herds of elephants.
We'd negotiated a price the night before to have a 4x4 pick us up at the hotel at 6 and drive us to, and through, the park. What we GOT was a four-door midsize sedan at 8:30 that drove us to the park and then stopped, as the noise would scare off the elephants. On the plus side, this meant that we payed much less; on the minus side, it meant we - no, not "we," C and Y, have I mentioned how awesome I think they are? - were arguing about the new price right up until we left town. Anyway, we got our tracker and went into the park on foot. We passed by elephant dung, which I considered taking a picture of in case we never saw elephants, so at least prove that we'd been somewhat near them. I decided that I'd take a picture on our way out if it came to that.
There are no pictures of elephant dung on my camera. About a half hour into our walk, the guide stopped and asked if we'd heard that sound. I'd heard nothing, but he said it was an elephant sound and we needed to be quiet. We were, and we followed, deep into grass which had been obviously trampled in parts, until he stopped us and pointed - and just on the edge of visibility due to the high grass, we saw them. A group of a couple dozen, including young elephants (which by the way, makes it a dangerous group to approach, you don't piss any animal moms off if you can help it, and elephants are no exception). We raised our cameras to try to get some pictures, thinking how cool it was to be just a couple hundred yards away, even if we couldn't see them well. After a few minutes, they ran on, and we took a different route to where the guide thought they might go.
He was right, and this time we were both closer and had a better view - maybe 100 yds away. Really, really, really awesome. But it got even better. He'd put us in a place where their path brought them even closer...maybe 50 yds away at the closest. We were just half a football field from real, wild African elephants! Like I said, the best part of the trip. Good job, wooden elephants. A side note - after telling us to be quiet and making us crouch down to avoid scaring the elephants, our guide got A PHONE CALL. And he answered it and talked on the phone, loudly. These elephants aren't all THAT scared of people apparently.
Apparently he'd been talking to another guide; we met up with another group and continued our hunt. Unfortunately for the others, we did not see any other elephants, nor any other animals. They were really upset, and I did feel bad for them, but it was hard to feel too bad after our elation at seeing them ourselves.
That evening we made it back safely to Ouaga, and stayed out ridiculously late dancing. I didn't dance very much this time, but I did some. And a final note on how cool my companions were: when we sat down, everyone got up to dance, except me. J and M noticed and asked why, and I told them someone had to watch the bags. And so they picked all the bags back up and carried them for a song so I could join them. And then I sat back down because by then I was quite drunk (and I didn't enjoy this club as much, too loud and full of, um, ladies of negotiable affections). But a good time was had by all.
End of vacation
Well, for me. As I said, C, J, S and M kept traveling (Y went back to her site), but I have had to stay in Ouaga for IST. Which has been ok, but nothing worth writing home about. I've gotten some great ideas about what I want to do at site over the next couple months, and equally importantly I've gotten some lesson plans from other people, so I'll actually have the time to DO some of those things.
Since I've spent so much time away from site, I probably won't leave again until February, when I will come back to Ouaga for the meeting of a committee I'm applying to be on. Until then, take care, my friends, and if you've texted me and your name is not Joey, be assured that I have not received it. Sorry.