15 December 2009

That title is meant sarcastically. I'm in Ouaga, and this weekend I leave for Togo - and today I have to go back to site for all of three days. Argh. But duty calls; I have to fill out report cards for the end of the trimester, so as convenient as it would be to stay, it just can't happen. Bummer.

This post's shoutout goes to the usual suspects: my brother, who is planning to come visit me; and my parents, whose most recent package was full of top-notch goodness (the Pizza Hut parmesan/romano cheese packets being particularly exciting - they didn't last long).
Ouaga safari

I had the chance a few weeks ago (just after my last post) to visit one of the president's alternate residences. It's not technically in Ouaga, but it's pretty nearby. The reason people visit this presidential palace in particular is the menagerie: the prez keeps a zoo on the grounds. It was, well, sad really. The enclosures are awfully small for the animals kept there. Also, the enclosures are just chain link fence: not something that would even register when watching antelope, but being less than 10 feet from a couple of the largest species of wild cats (a bengal tiger and a pair of lions) with nothing between you but hurricane fencing is pretty exhilerating. Hyenas are much bigger than you'd expect if your only exposure to them was The Lion King. And LOUD. Again, nothing but chain link fence, and this one not even very high - about head level. The guide, to get them riled up, kept putting his foot on the fence; the hyenas would then very sincerely try to eat it. At which point he would kick their snout. Burkinabe have a very different outlook on animals in general than we do. They wouldn't even really understand the concept of "cruelty to animals" without in-depth explanation, in the same way we wouldn't understand if someone berated us for cutting out grass. Yeah, it's LIVING, but that doesn't mean you worry about its FEELINGs.

The primate enclosures made the space given to the predators seem kind: for example, 3 adult baboons were kept in a cage I'd say was about 5' x 5' x 10'. There was also a cage containing a few monkeys of various ages, who displayed a very direct form of displaced aggression. The guide would poke the oldest with a stick; being unable to attack the guide, this monkey would then attack the next younger, who would in turn attack the youngest.

The hippos were nifty. The guard, thankfully, chose not to taunt them. The most startling thing that happened there did not, in fact, happen there - after we walked away and were gone at least 150 yards, one of the hippos roared; it was so loud I really thought it had somehow escaped and was right behind us.

The only other thing of note on our "safari" were the ostriches, which ran entirely free. As in, I've now had an ostrich basically BRUSH past me (there was not any physical contact but only because I moved - I did NOT want to piss off a bird several feet taller than me that kicks like a mule).
Senior moments???

It's not ENTIRELY my lousy memory that causes me to routinely use my geometric tools when I'm lesson planning or test grading. It's also the fault of whatever jerk decided to make them of clear plastic - I set them down and they disappear! I tore my house apart while making up my last test, scattering papers and other items all over - only to find the ruler sitting in what would be plain view on my table if not for the fact that it's basically INVISIBLE. Stupid ruler.
Well, that's kind of mobid

I may or may not have mentioned this before, but while I live in a courtyard by myself, there are several other apartments there. They just stand empty. I found this somewhat strange my first year, but figured it was just a question of supply exceeding demand...until recently my landlord (who is quite old) began construction on another. I asked him about it, and it turns out those apartments aren't there to be rented at all. My landlord has had this entire courtyard of apartments constructed so that, when he dies, the family who will come in from other parts of the country will have places to stay. I found this remarkable both for the offhand manner in which he spoke of his own death and for the amount of foresight it shows - most Burkinabe are very in the moment. But I shouldn't be too surprised by that latter - I've always just assumed my landlord was a villager with an above-average education. In fact, it turns out that he was a very powerful figure in this country in the 60s. I haven't asked him about this directly because it's a conversation that couldn't help but be very political in nature, but I'm trying to find a solid history book so I can get a more complete story.
Good music (part 1)

Thanks to the acoustics in my area, I can very clearly hear the tv at the video club I've mentioned in the past, despite its being, if not far from my house, not particularly close either. I often go when I hear it fire up, but sometimes I'm not in the mood - the people who go are their to see action, not plot, so I often can't hear dialog and therefore have a hard time following movies (too bad, it WOULD be a good way to improve my ability to understand a European accent). One night I was feeling that way so i stayed in, and it worked out beautifully - they were playing things louder than normal that night, so I could hear the tv perfectly but without the background of burkinabe watching. Which of course wouldn't be very interesting if they were watching a kungfu movie, but in fact they were watching some locally produced variety show, which featured at one point a 15-minute long piano solo. I didn't know the tune, but it sounded very Gershwin-esque. It was just beautiful, I could hear it very clearly and with no interruptions. It was a nice 15 minutes.

One interesting thing about being a second-year volunteer is the opportunity to compare and contrast with my first year. There are definitely some similarities. For instance, the week of Thanksgiving was hands-down the worst week I had in the classroom all year last year - the students were just uncontrollable. Same problem this year. Like last year, thanks to the rainy season, my hangar (the thatched ceiling of my porch) is drooping and needs to be re-positioned. I've started attending video club again (which I did fall of last year, then stopped after the holidays). I've once again attempted a compost pile. Not everything's the same (I haven't been baking this year, for instance), but enough is that it's kinda weird.
Speaking of the video club...

It was funny and sad when watching one of the Blade movies how shocked all the Burkinabe seemed when a woman was one of the kick-assinest martial artists. They just couldn't shut up about Cette femme est forte! Unrelatedly, I mentioned above the problem of chatter there. For a long time the video club was making me insecure about my French, because of the fact that I couldn't seem to follow the movies well unless there were subtitles (even subtitles in French work well enough for me now). Until we watched a movie in English and I STILL couldn't follow. All the same, I should try to listen to RFI more.
Positive feedback

A comment made by an APCD in regards to a proposal our Food Security Committee made to the office here regarding tracking food security projects among volunteers: "It was so popular it was passed up the chain. It's in Washington on the agency director's desk right now." Go us! Our work also apparently had a starring role in a conference in Dakar, Senegal, a week ago. It's nice to be appreciated.

The last couple of times I've left site, I've come back to find that someone has taken the soap out of my outdoor shower. It's a small thing, but it's extremely frustrating - until now I've always felt like I was in a small enough community to not have to worry about theft, and now I just can't be sure. It's small, I know, I know, but that's just the thing that bothers me - it's SO small a thing that it's something everyone can already get. Soap is made locally and extremely inexpensive, so this theft, though not of anything I can't replace, feels like it's all about ME rather than about the THING being stolen. Plus I hate having to lock my bathroom after almost breaking a key in the door trying to get in one evening before I pooped my pants.
Good music (part 2)

I have Les Mis stuck in my head quite a bit these days. Partly because I'm reading the book, but more so because in one of my favorite songs ("The Confrontation") Javert refers to Valjean as Monsieur le maire, a phrase I hear two or more times a week, since that actually IS how one addresses the mayor here.
Ethnic identity

After being here for a while, you get to be able to tell the differences between the major ethnic groups. But some people can be of one ethnic group genetically but of another traditionally (a past history of slavery will do that). So it's weird seeing a clearly Mossi girl in full-on Peuhl garb - it made me thing of high school spirit week. I don't know, maybe I shouldn't include this blurb, I don't think I can explain it well.

Our masks came out for an annual local holiday in my village (another parallel to last year...). Last year I'd gotten the impression that people don't talk about who wears the masks, because once they put them on they're not themselves anymore, they ARE the persona of the mask (an ancestor, specifically). Well, more recently I found that some people are quite willing to talk about who wears them, and MOST recently I found out why the dichotomy - you can talk about it, but not when kids are around. Because you don't want the kids to find out that's really their Uncle Jimmy in a fake beard and a red suit. Er, I mean vegetable stalks and a wooden mask.
Respect for disabled people

I recently waved and said hello to a deaf guy in our village. And it broke my heart when he turned around to see to whom I was talking, because it's so unusual for them to be treated as normal citizens.
Is this some kind of metaphor?

A few volunteers were out at the bar the other night when some guys came by selling (fake) Christmas trees. We decided to chip in and buy one for the transit house. We come traipsing into the house a bit later and start hollering about our find - only to find we're interrupting the celebration of Hanukkah that one of our Jewish volunteers was sharing with the group. Crass commercialization, meet sincere expression of faith. Fortunately, he was an extremely good sport about it.

That was the word used by a Burkinabe to express how impressed he was with my friend K's fluency in Fulfulde. She elicits somewhat similar expressions often (I've referred to this more than once), but to hear it in English gave it a more visceral reality. The guy, as you might guess from this, spoke great English; he'd studied something or other in Arizona.
Good music (part 3)

The setting for that last encounter was a concert at the French Cultural Center, where I got to hear a group called the Mountain Men. A French guy on guitar, an Australian with kind of Marty Feldman eyes on harmonica, and some of the greatest blues I've ever heard. I closed my eyes and I was home for a while - especially when they played "When the Saints Go Marching In" followed by "Georgia on my Mind". They also played a couple pieces with a Tuareg group, which produced an interesting fusion.
In closing, what can I say except "Who dat?" Sorry, Maggie, but when the Saints and Colts go undefeated to the Superbowl, I'm gonna have to wear black and gold. I like Peyton a lot - but I've liked the Saints much longer.