06 July 2009

I can't say I'm a fan of July

For one thing, it's the month my brother was born. Ugh. Just kidding! (Or am I?) But really, I am feeling sorry for myself as most of our second-year SE and GEE volunteers pack it in and prepare to move back or move on. Good for them, of course, but it's a loss for us. You will be missed, folks.

Ok, enough of the touchy-feely crap. I'm back in Ouaga, working again. Most of my secondary projects seem to be more involved with the infrastructure of Peace Corps Burkina Faso than with the development of resources for Host Country Nationals. This is not good or bad in and of itself, it's just the milieu I am most comfortable in. But it does make for bad numbers on my quarterly reports, which focus on number of HCNs served and have no place to discuss how our work might be of aid to current and future volunteers. Anyway, on to the format I've found works best for me: random paragraphs!


Yes, sheep and goats are different. You can tell by the tail. Usually, that's the ONLY way you can tell here. But recently I saw a sheep that actually had wool on it! A first for me here in Burkina. It still wasn't covered all over, but it had a good clump over its front haunches.

Interior decorating

When it comes to style, folks here take a relaxed attitude to ideas like "clashing," or "loudness," or "appropriateness." The last time I left site was in a taxi brousse; the driver had decided to spice things up by using shelf liner as a decorative adhesive over every surface to which it would stick. A lovely floral print.

Game day

Last month, a HUGE soccer match took place in Ouaga: Burkina vs. Cote d'Ivoire. This was a big deal because of our group of four, we are the two contenders to earn a spot in the 2010 World Cup. I attended the game against Guinea a few months earlier, and was looking forward to attending this one too. Unfortunately, due to safety issues the Peace Corps office decided at the last minute to ban volunteers from attending, but I came to Ouaga anyway, to at least watch the game on a good TV. Ouaga during an important soccer match is like Mardi Gras! People were honking their horns driving down the streets, screaming, waving huge flags on the back of tiny mopeds; it was great. One guy had even painted his face and body in Burkina colors - a really cool idea, but somewhat ill-advised given the lack of availability of paints made for said purpose here. I suspect his choice was an acrylic-based paint that is popular for coating the mud walls found in village construction. Whatever it was, he was more or less incapable of moving his mouth due to the paint on his face. Like I said, a cool idea...but I worry about that guy.

Unfortunately, we didn't win the game, but it was still a blast to watch - which many of us did on a big-screen LCD TV in a bar named Titis (and yes, we pronounce it in the most offensive way possible). My favorite player Pitroipa, number 11, had some fancy moves - but coolest move of the night goes to the goalie, who would routinely throw the ball to his teammates while performing a flip. I was unimpressed with Cote d'Ivoire's number 11, Drogba, the most internationally well-known of the players there. But it's entirely possible I'm just bitter. But even though we lost, we held our own against a team that won its last match 5-0. And with the collapse of a wall in Abidjan's stadium, it looks like our rematch will not be held in Cote d'Ivoire, but in neighboring Ghana. Which slightly increases the chances that we could still end up in the World Cup. I'm not holding my breath (not least because that match isn't until September).


It's interesting how traditions persist in a society that is, in many ways, moving forward so quickly. On a bus sitting in front of me was a woman who was functionnaire through and through; she had the clothes, the attitude, and the French. My point is that this woman was well educated. And she still had a penny-sized sack of burlap pinned to her hair: some fetish to protect or aid her magically. Its copper coloring matched her outfit; I wonder if she has several to accesorize with.

Working stage

They're a great group! I do have a couple of funny stories, but I won't crack jokes at their expense in so public a forum. Instead I will simply say that I very much enjoyed working with them, look forward to doing so again, and even more look forward to working with them after they become Volunteers.

An aside that fits here only because it happened while I was in Ouahigouya - while I clearly can and do go weeks at a time sans computer, when there's one available the addiction comes right back. Once while at the PCVF house alone, I actually caught myself about to turn on the laptop someone had brought just to play solitaire - when there was a deck of cards right next to me.

The Sunday after I worked at training, I went to hang out at the pool - a common hangout for both PCVFs and PCTs. For the first time in this country, I saw a monkey! Some guys had one on a chain outside of the pool. I don't know why. Just for kicks, I guess. I didn't get too close because it seemed rather nervous about white people. Go figure.

Leaving stage

I'd done laundry a couple days before my week with the trainees was done, and left it out to dry (atypically, it took more than 24 hours, due to high humidity. Ah, rainy season.) When I got back from the pool, it was gone! I searched high and low, convinced that my peers had decided to pull one over on me. My mistake was looking inside. As it turns out, there was no practical joke - one of the staff had kindly pulled my clothes off the line and put them under shelter...but respecting our privacy, she didn't want to go inside, so she put them in the garage. In short, one person's kindness had me thinking that all my colleagues were jerks.

Bus trouble

Leaving was itself a two-day ordeal. The first bus I wanted to take was so late that a)I'd have perforce travelled at night, and b)even if I'd been willing to break that rule, it would have gotten trapped by rain halfway to my destination thanks to its running late. So after spending a night more than intended, I took morning transport the next morning. And took 12 hours to go 113 km (I could have biked it in 6).

First step: arrive at bus station, discuss disposition of bike with kind of shady guy who insists on calling me "mon blanc" and further insists that I respond "mon negro" (he actually corrected me after I overcame my embarassment at the possessive pronoun enough to say "mon noir"!). Yeah, THAT's not intensely uncomfortable for someone from the States. I try to explain that this sort of exchange would be entirely unacceptable in the US, but he is uninterested.
Second step: wait two hours for bus to arrive.
Third step: push, shove, but stop short of elbowing and biting people to get on bus in order to reserve seat. Normally I hate this step and will take slower bus companies to avoid it, but for this trip there was no choice - and frankly I was ready to take out some aggression anyway. That feeling would prove to increase all day.
I'll stop numbering them now. Next: Stop for...well, I don't know. Though I'm pretty sure everyone else on the bus did. Some guy was either hurt or sick. We waited for about 45 minutes for...well, I don't know that either. Something changed. Maybe someone from a nearby village arrived to help him. Maybe 45 minutes is just the culturally appropriate time for a bus to wait for someone to see if he'll get better. Presumably he didn't, since we left him. Or hell, maybe that was his stop. Things like this happen all the time - and by "things like this," I don't mean people dropping their pants to rub toothpaste on their legs (something he did while we were waiting); I mean things that everyone around us understands intuitively but that we don't even have the basic knowledge to ask the right questions to find out what's going on.
Next: Stop again, this time to switch buses. The route is blocked because at a place where it is only one-lane (because of a new bridge being built), a mango truck has possibly broken down and definitely dumped its load of mangoes all over the road. This in itself should only cause maybe a half-hour delay...
Next: Get to bus on other side of mango truck to discover that it's not being reloaded, because the staff have decided to take this opportunity of its lack of cargo to change the leaf spring. This turns out to be an unfortunate decision, since there is no replacement handy. Four hours later, they've found one, reinstalled it, and we're ready to go again. One moment of levity: while reloading, the staff are trying to lift a motor scooter onto the roof of the bus, and unlike at the station they have no platform to do it from. There is one guy alone on the roof to pull it up after the three on the ground have managed to lift it over their heads. One of those three, as soon as the weight was being held by the one on the roof, ran as fast as he could, certain (as I was) that the roof guy was going to drop it. He didn't - but the runner and I shared a laugh.

When we stopped, I should have just biked on; but by then it was three in the afternoon and I'd eaten nothing all day (there's a lack of opportunity to eat when your bus is stopped in the middle of nowhere for repairs). Naturally by then I was frustrated, tired, hungry, and generally grumpy - and I knew that if I tred to bike anything more than 5km I'd be sick at the other end of it. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover upon our recommencement that we were, in fact, less than 5km from the next village.

Fortunately, the only other incident of note during that trip was that at one stop, my seat neighbor bought me a Fanta. When buying food or drink on the bus, it's typical to either buy a small piece of food or sachet of water for your neighbor (at the very least, you should offer to share what you've bought for yourself), but a soda is more expensive and a very nice gesture.

With friends
I spent the next couple of days with friends, which was relaxing, and there's nothing to report except that I have awesome friends.

4th of July
First, the 3rd-
The plan: if we can't find transport, bike with my friend Y from Djibo to a small village 40km away. This plan surprised me, since up until a couple months ago Y was vehemently opposed to biking if she could avoid it. But I was game.
The execution: We got a bit less than 20km down the road (but I couldn't accurately judge as we're going Y's pace, not my own). At that point we should have passed another village, but it had yet to appear. Y made the crack, "Do you think we made a wrong turn?" She thought this was funny because there's only the one road; there ARE no turns. And yet, her comment made me think...was this really the right road out of Djibo? Now that I think of it, it wasn't really the right direction...So I made a call, and sure enough, I'd led us down't the wrong road. Clever me! It's not that I hadn't TRIED to verify that I knew the right road, just that I hadn't quite asked in the right way when I did, and so thought that the directions I was given jibed with the road I thought I should take. Anyway, we turned around and went back, and basically biked 40km just to end up where we started.

And then, Y said let's just try again! She was willing to bike 40km again the same day! I was shocked - but again, game. Fortunately, there WAS transport on the correct road, and we were spared an 80km day. We got to C's (have you noticed I keep mentioning the same people...er, letters...in this blog? I'm nothing if not consistent) in time for dinner, a wonderful beef stew prepared by D. Not me D, another one. I did, in fact, prepare lunch the next day, but it was not wonderful, merely passable.

Now, the 4th-
This trip was only part vacation, it was also part work. More so for D and another volunteer, E, who were there at C's village helping all week with a girls' camp (a common secondary project for volunteers during the rainy season, with the goal of encouraging girls generally to take more ownership in their lives and specifically to pursue their education), but I helped too for one session. I led a session teaching the girls origami. I enjoyed it so much that I agreed to work at another girls' camp in a few weeks. I was very impressed with the girls - for young girls from a small African village, they had very good French and were very willing to laugh and help each other and work with me (once they got over being shy with me, which took almost no time at all). Clearly, C has had an impact in that village - and credit where it's due, it was equally clear that the (male) teacher she was working with made a point to encourage these girls. Rare here, and gratifying to see.

In the evening, we had another great dinner prepared by D, this time chili. And fireworks. Kind of. For the second day in a row, a sarcastic comment saved the day (the first one I'm referring to is Y's wrong turn comment). We were sitting on the porch when Y heard a small popping sound and said, "What's that?" I noticed that the inside of the house seemed brighter than before, and I half-jokingly said "C, is your house on fire?" She ran inside and screamed, "YES!!" A candle had caught her bookcase on fire. Fortunately, there were buckets of water available and nothing important was burned. Though it was a close thing - there was a lot of money nearby, and the closest item which would have probably caught in less than a minute was a tube of rubber cement marked "highly inflammable."

Then we watched Breakfast at Tiffany's, and really I just don't get it. Audrey Hepburn's character is just AWFUL. And the male lead isn't much better - sure, he's a nice guy in his way, but given Holly GoLightly's personality, there can really be only one reason he likes her so much - she's beautiful. How is this movie so popular? One character who has devoted her life to using people, and the other is as shallow as an uninflated kiddie pool. I can't deny we laughed at it, but not for reasons I suspect its creators would approve of. I know I have at least one friend that I'm going to catch all kinds of crap from for not liking this movie, but I'm sorry. I don't.

Return trip
We biked it. This time in the right direction (my colleagues very helpfully pointed many, many times to make sure I turned the right way on the one road that runs through C's village.) It was a pleasant ride, though the wind slowed us. Y can most certainly not claim to be a non-biker anymore.

Being white
A couple of times recently someone has shouted some form of greeting to which I've responded only to find they weren't talking to me. Because, being white, they almost always ARE for me. It's downright offputting when they're not!

More bus travails
Ever been kneed in the neck? I have. On the way from Djibo down to Ouaga for my current project, a kid working for the bus was clambering down the aisle as best he could (it was full of people) by walking along the armrests. And naturally we hit a bump as he passed me. Bus travel here is something I would strongly recommend to anyone with a masochistic streak. Or a sadistic streak for that matter, you could get your own in pretty readily.

Current project
And what am I back in Ouaga for? This time, I'm working with another volunteer and an APCD to prepare an agriculture manual for PCBF. Actually, we're putting together a couple of documents, but that's the big one. Our main resource is a similar document for a neighboring country, but we're adapting other materials also. It's an exciting project, and our hope is that our work will lay the groundwork for eventually introducing an agriculture or environment sector into the country. Of course, that's an administrative decision and thus I can't comment on its likelihood. But I can say that from the volunteers' view on the ground, it would be a worthwhile endeavor. This country is struggling with desertification and crop failures in a major way.

Whew! Another long post with no overarching theme. Hope you had more fun reading it than I did writing it! Today I find out who my new neighbors will be, but I won't bother waiting for that before posting this, since I make it a policy not to share information on other volunteers' placements (nor even their names, generally. That may seem hypocritical given that I have names attached to the blogs I link to, but in each case I checked to see that they themselves share that information in their blogs. At least, I *think* I did - if you happen to read those and know that I'm wrong, do let me know and I'll change link names as appropriate.) Also, I hope you like my new PC banner on the right. I thought it was pretty nifty.


eileen said...

Nifty-galifty! It was a treat to read. About the movie:totally missable, but would have loved to hear the comments ya'll laughed at.
I'm sure your brother appreciates your nod about July...:] Guessing he has similar feelings about August.
How's the neck doing?
We're all looking forward to the next Harry Potter movie but, like the book, I'm afraid I won't like this one so much. ttfn

Greg said...

I'm sorry I haven't been keeping up with your blog! I forgot you were doing one. Are there any books you'd like to read that you can't get your hands on over there? Meg and I have been collecting, plus there's a used bookstore in Oxford now. Also, if you'd like to learn bridge (you mentioned cards being available) I can send you books on how to bid and play; maybe get your friends to play? If there's anything from Mississippi you've been aching for, please let me know. I feel bad for not keeping up with you. Glad to see you well and happy!