19 June 2010

Is this how other volunteers live ALL THE TIME?! Cont

He says, but that was yesterday. And anyway. It wasn't here, it was in
a village 7km away. I'm irritated. But then, wednesday, there IS
something - African Children's Day, a fête that most regions here
don't recognize, but in our province the NGO PLAN International is
very active in children's education, and they host a celebration. This
year, in my village. Great...except that almost noone knew it was
happening. Rumor has it they donated 1.5 million CFA for the event, of
which about 300,000 was actually spent (none on publicity,
apparently); the rest was skimmed. Even that number seems high
considering what materials were used - two speakers, two tents, and
some milk cans* - but for all that, at least some masks did come back
out for it, so I got some better pictures. Also worth mentioning is
the traditional music they played on those two speakers, which at one
point aired a local stringed instrument playing the unmistakable tones
of "If You're Happy and You Know It."
*Carny games again. Milk can ball toss described previously, though
this one wasn't rigged. Other games: kick a soccer ball through a
tire, grab bags (black sachets, naturally), and walk a wavy line using
a mirror to look at your feet. The kids had fun, I concede that.

I haven't been idle. As I said, these parties interrupted (not a
complaint!) my work. I'm planting my own little field of sorghum and
peanuts, using a soil-preparation technique called "half-moons". I
haven't led any formal classes on it, but seeing the white guy hard at
work is enough to make most passers-by stop and stare, so I take the
opportunity to explain it. So if it works, several farmers will know
how to do it. If it doesn't, well, only the rich white guy wasted his
time and money. Plus this has given me the opportunity to appreciate
just how hard people work here - I'm working a tiny plot, a tenth of a
hectare, and it's exhausting. Mais ça va aller, en tout cas!

Is this how other volunteers live ALL THE TIME?!

When school ended last year, I was ready to get out of dodge. Most of
my projects last summer were in other cities and villages. Combined
with the vacation I took, I spent around three weeks total in village
between May and October, usually only a few days at a time.
This summer, with so little time left, I'm spending as much of it as
possible without leaving. I begrudge the fact that I'll have to spend
a few days in Ouaga for paperwork and language tests even. Long story
short, this is the first time I've really gotten to hang out and do
projects without the specter of school constantly over my head. And
while I've said for two years that I'm best suited to be an education
volunteer, having a day-to-day job rather than unprogrammed, hazy
ideas of what to do like other volunteers, I'm loving this freedom.
This week, I was working my demo field and 3 times someone came by and
told me about a celebration somewhere. And I did what I could never do
with classes - I dropped what I was doing and went and celebrated with
my community.
The first was a Catholic baptism. Several dozen, actually, of many
ages. The next, two days later, was a Muslim "baptism" - I doubt
that's really the proper word, but that's what people call it. These
happen 7 days after birth (or some other multiple of 7 if the family
can't scrape the money together the first week), in this case a
Tuesday. I wore my boubou, with a muslim cap even. And just to
underline the enviable religious tolerance here, the (Catholic) girl
who presented the infant to the imam was wearing her Sunday best - a
complet with "Christ Is Risen" all over it. The third was ... but
first, a flashback.
Saturday, I commented to a friend how sorry I was not to have gotten
good pictures of the masks at the recent fête. He said not to worry,
the mayor had just announced a second, smaller fête. It would be in 4
days, and some masks would be back. Monday, I mention to another
friend that I'm excited about the fête on Wednesday. Tbc...

17 June 2010

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 17 of 17)

So, getting chased, even getting hit (indeed, to properly greet a
mask, you bow to it three times, putting your hand on the part over
the head in what is nominally a gesture of respect but I suspect has
more to do with helping them not fall when they bow back, then allow
it to hit you), is all part of the fun. Usually.
But this year they were in a bad mood. They hit hard. They spent more
time chasing people than they did dancing, and they chased more
earnestly than usual, too. Some carried knives. It was a bad vibe.
They even hit a couple people hard enough to send them to the local
medical clinic.
We still had fun, don't get me wrong. We went out the morning after
the masks arrived. There were a dozen or so, the number growing all
morning to about thirty by the time we left. Fun, but it was a lot
more intense than usual, and we were pretty much constantly on our
toes to avoid getting hit (with 67% success), not just from the ones
in the dancing circle but from the others arriving from all
directions. So I didn't get any good photos - I tried to take some on
the sly, but only from a healthy distance; I also arranged with one
guy to have one mask he knew meet us for a photo, but my friends were
tired of the heat and the tension at that point and didn't want to
wait. The guy was pretty mad when he found me later.
After my friends left, I went back out in the evening, not even
bothering to bring my camera this time (night shots are harder even
under good conditions; dust being kicked up from dancing and running
and constantly worrying when you'll have to run yourself are not good
conditions). By this time there were 40 or 50 out, and one chased me
hard enough that I lost a flip flop. (That would normally slow me down
on our rocky terrain, but not with that thing coming after me!)
Despite knowing there would be even more before the night ended, after
finding my shoe, I decided I'd had enough fun; by now it was full
night and visibility was low. I'd gotten both my adrenaline fix and my
exercise. What else do you need?

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 16 of ?)

They're always kind of mean. That's just part of it. I think I've
discussed this tradition before, but just in case...
When a person puts on the mask (and it's not JUST a mask, it's a whole
outfit), they are no longer that person, they ARE the mask. These
beings are neither ancestors nor gods, nor do they have specific
magical powers. All the same, they are supernatural entities, and as
such are sacrosanct. They can do anything and get away with it. No one
will question a mask. And the person inside can't be held responsible,
remember - they aren't in control. In fact, the kids are even led to
believe that there IS no person inside. You can't talk about that
aspect in front of them; it's a lot like Santa Claus. Even most adults
believe the masks are real entities - they refer to them as "living"
in a nearby sacred hill - but they are aware that there are people
inside. And though that person may not be in control, you'll find that
the person's friends never seem to get hurt by his mask. As to who can
be a mask, I've heard two stories - one, that it suffices to know the
person currently inside and offer to take their place (the outfit is
hot and heavy, and when I expressed an interest in trying it out
everyone said I'd just fall over - the point is, wearing it is hard
work, and doing it in shifts is believable, especially since they
often stay out for 24 hours or longer); the second, that it's a role
handed down within a family. Since family ties and close friendships
so often go hand in hand here, these two are not so mutually exclusive
as it might appear at first blush.
So, however it's decided who wears one, the masks come out of their
hill for certain occasions. Whatever the occasion, their actions are
invariably the same: they dance, they greet people, and they hit
people. Everyone will gather around to watch them dance, but they're
always ready to scatter when the masks start running after them,
usually with a stick or knotted rope.

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 15 of ?)

to keep goats from using my hangar as shelter when it rains and peeing
and pooping all over my porch. Nice thought, but two years ago - or
better, four, for the volunteer before me - would have made more
The mistiming gets better. They build the whole wall before installing
the gate. That doesn't seem like a problem, does it? Except that the
gate is a wood and tin affair affixed to the walls with mud. Which
means that in order to have any chance at all for it to hang true, it
needs to be well supported and HELD SHUT WHILE THE MUD DRIES. I spent
a whole day having to jump the (brand-new!) wall in order to get to my
own house. By the way, the gate still doesn't hang properly.
But wait, there's more! A week after my forced gymnastics, my hangar
finally gave in to years of dry rot and termites. My porch no longer
has a roof. So it no longer offers shelter to goats when it rains.

Finally we get to the vizards, and just so you know, I scanned through
the "V" section of my American Heritage just to find a word to make my
alliteration work. The masks are definitely "lively" (though in truth
the word vivacious to me calls up more the image of teenager going on
her first date than of scary masked men looking for people to hit.
Still and all, they are "full of animation and spirit," that last
quite literally if you believe the tradition), and they do come out
"in the evening," though since they stay out all the next day,
vespertine was a bit of a stretch.
Anyway. I've seen them before, of course. I've talked about them here,
and a long time ago even posted pictures. But this fête is a big one.
I didn't get to go last year because of a meeting, so I was really
enthusiastic about getting to go this year. In fact, I was so enthused
I inspired a couple friends to make the trek to join me.
The two things that stood out at this fête as opposed to the other
times I've seen masks come out (for smaller festivals and funerals):
1-there were a LOT of them, 50 or more; and 2-they were MEAN.(tbc)

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 14 of ?)

A few times while in Europe, I caught myself feeling suprised by how
young kids acted. For instance, at that last mall I remember thinking,
"Wow, if my six year old were still sucking his thumb, I'd be a little
worried." Before that, on the Paris metro I remember thinking a mom
was being awfully indulgent to let her 4 year old use baby talk. It's
not until I get back that I realize how silly I was being (leaving
aside that it's silly of me to be that judgmental anyway) - that
little boy wasn't 6, that little girl wasn't 4. They were probably 3
and 2 respectively - they grew up eating well and thus were twice as
big as what I'm accustomed to seeing here!
While still in Ouaga, a friend asks me to go with her to an artisan's
shop, which it turns out is run by Jeanne, our CD's housekeeper, thus
the woman who took care of Pat the mornings we were in Ouaga. She asks
how he is, then tells me a funny story from his last day, when I was
in Paris. After he got up, she tried to tell him that the RPCV wife of
one of our APCD's had stopped by, but he was still asleep, so she'd be
back soon. But Pat doesn't speak French, nor Jeanne English, so all
she can do is watch helplessly as he leaves.
As an aside, I owe Jeanne a really nice present. As if it wasn't
enough how hard she worked to make Pat's stay a pleasant one, when I
visited her shop she gave me a scarf - her specialty is high quality
traditional fabrics. It's a beautiful pattern, named in Mooré after
the Guinea fowl, as it looks a bit like their feathers.

Finally! I got back on the 2nd, and don't want to have to leave again
until my COS. But I will - ending Peace Corps service involves a lot
of paperwork, so I'll need to go to Ouaga soon to work on that.
For the last two years, my courtyard has only had a wall around half
of it. Animals have been free to roam through, which is sometimes
obnoxious. Now, with two months left and no new volunteer coming in,
my landlord decides to finish the wall and install a gate, (to be

13 June 2010

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 13 of ?)

and make it at least a LESS painful experience to try to navigate the
station and the trains.
We get to the bus station. Our bus is late, and when it does arrive
the ticket guy can't be bothered to announce it, so we almost miss it.
We don't though, which means we get to experience sitting for an hour
at the Paris peage while the police search a few peoples' luggage
quite thoroughly. Whoever they're looking for, it's not Americans -
mine and Pat's passports get only the most cursory of glances. Lucky,
since I'm travelling on my peace corps passport, which features me
sporting no hair and 50 more pounds than I currently carry (even
taking into account the hair I've allowed to grow back).
The combination of delays puts us back in Paris too late to do
anything other than check into our hotel, catch a cheap (but still
yummy!) dinner at a kebab place, feel sorry for ourselves to see
posters for Les Mis, because how cool would it be to see it IN
Paris?!?, and hit the sack.

I will now be moving away from the day-by-day format, as the rest of
the story has some gaps of uninteresting time spent on a flight, then
in Ouaga, then in village. But I haven't forgotten that I still owe
you the vizards. And then I can finally drop this silly title.
So...since while in country I keep my journal notes on this same phone
that I'm using to update that same journal, you'll have to put up with
another "to be continued" while I transfer them to paper...

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 12 of ?)

For the second time, I make a bad bus choice. I'd booked us tickets to
leave to go back to Paris around 3, having misunderstood Pat's
expressed wish to ARRIVE around 3. But I chose not to change the time,
telling Pat that the 5 hours at the Louvre he planned that evening
would only make me angry. We agree instead to have a relaxed morning
in Brussels, walk by and maybe through the botanical gardens on our
way to the bus, then when we get back to Paris catch the boat tour
we'd missed the other night.
Silly me, I'd forgotten we were no longer in a country where the rain
is completely predictable, and when it does rain you've no need to go
anywhere because everything shuts down anyway. The morning of day 6 is
cold and wet, and I have nothing to wear against the rain.
To slightly change a bad quote from an unmemorable movie, "I'm a Peace
Corps Volunteer. We don't plan, we improvise." Pat has the suit he
bought in Ouaga. That means he has a suit bag. A couple quick slits of
a knife for armholes, and voila, not only do I have rainwear, but it's
Armani. The most stylish piece of plastic I've ever worn.
While I'm no longer getting wet, our bags still are, so the rain blows
the botanical garden plan. Instead, we step into a mall, meaning both
the things I set out to do on day 1 without Pat I also ended up doing
with him (the other was McDonald's, remember?). We browse an
electronics store looking for a tip to a car charger he'd given me. No
We take a train again, figuring going one station over shouldn't be
that hard. It's not, though we've probably done it illegally: there
are no turnstyles there, so we just hang onto the undated tickets we'd
bought two days ago. I guess it works on an honors system? There are
machines to destroy used tickets, reinforcing that theory, but not too
many people seem to use them. Generally I'm an honest guy, and I
considered paying for another ticket, but in the end I decide that if
they want my money they're going to have to meet me halfway (to be

12 June 2010

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 11 of ?)

From there we go on to St. Katherine's. You'd think we'd be tired of
cathedrals by now but first, you'd be wrong anyway, and second, this
one has a feature we just have to see for ourselves - a urinal on one
side. Not a Port-a-Potty, this is just two half walls and water
running down the walk of the cathedral itself to allow people to
relieve themselves and show exactly what they think of Mother Church
in the same go. Or perhaps a kinder interpretation would be that they
can get physical relief outside and spiritual relief inside. In either
case, neither Pat nor I use the facilities, on my part less out of a
sense of propriety for the church and more of one for myself - those
walls aren't that high, and it's right next to a high traffic road.
From there, we go get the first two things people associate with
Belgium - chocolate and beer. This time we go for the much more widely
famed trappist ales. We see the Mannekin Pis, which is exactly as
interesting as you'd expect it to be, but since it's on pretty much
every postcard I got for my Burkinabé friends, I figured I ought to
see it. Research the stories about why it's there, though, reading
them is much more fun than actually being on a street corner looking
at a sight I see on a daily basis in Burkina. Though to be fair, in BF
the streets usually aren't paved.
We find another local tradition, fries. I mean, I knew Europeans take
their fries with mayo - I love it myself - but if the tradition wasn't
started here, don't tell the Belgians. Toward the close of the day we
find the hat Pat's been looking for, pick up a couple of Cuban cigars,
and head back to the hostel. Tonight we find our room being shared
with an animated, opinionated Nigerian who lived for a few months in
Nashville and is now based in England. We chit chat about what's
ailing West Africa and I find myself for the most part in agreement.
Pat and I hit a nearby outdoor pub to enjoy our last on-site Belgian
beers and smoke our cigars - mine a Romeo y Julieta, his an H. Upmann.

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 10 of ?)

The hostel we're staying at has a map/guide to the city which mentions
a type of beer I'd never heard of - gueze, apparently only found
locally. We head to a place that has it on tap. The menu refers to
this type of beer as "self-fermenting." I don't know what that's
supposed to mean, but the beer is yummy - though it doesn't taste like
any beer I've had before. It's so sour, it tastes more like lemonade.
They do a cherry kind that is even better.

We start the morning finally getting that coffee we've been talking
about all trip. It's instant, a freebie in our hostel's lobby. Then we
go and get the third thing everyone thinks of when they think of
Belgium - waffles! This would not even have occured to me were it not
for the frozen waffles they sell at the front desk to shut up the
wise-asses. We go to a place in the galleries that does them up right
- I get mine with ice cream and chocolate sauce, Pat gets a cherry
concoction. We head out and hit the highlights - the flea market, the
palace of justice (which does not disappoint. Seems like the sort of
place that would be impressive, right? Here it is. Paris, not so
much.), the museum area (though the only one we're ardently interested
in going in, which has underground 15th century ruins, is closed), the
royal palace and gardens (pretty enough, but no Jardin du Luxembourg),
and St. Michael's Cathedral. Along our walk I notice that the city
planners have used the perverse strategy I hated so much in Atlanta of
giving one street many names, depending on which block you happen to
be on. We go down four different streets without once turning to get
to our next destination - a parking garage. Its view from 11 stories
up is recommended as one of the nicest in town, and it's free. We see
much of town, including in the distance the Atomium, which we didn't
visit (it's touted as Brussel's Eiffel Tower, and like the Tower it's
expensive to go up and not particularly close to anything else we were
interested in.

09 June 2010

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 9 of ?)

Anyway, we've chosen this particular one because there's a statue
surrounded by a prism of fluorescent lights on it, and we figure
that'd be worth seeing at night. But we'll never know, as the lights,
which had been on all day, turned off as the sun went down. We head
back to the hotel.
As we're sitting in the lobby, with it's two chairs, we make the
acquaintance of two very attractive young American women, one of whom
had actually been to Burkina the year before planting Jatropha. She
was in a village not far from my own and doing work very similar to
what I've done with Peace Corps, so in other circumstances I'm sure we
could have had a lot to talk about, but the hotel lobby was simply not
conducive to socializing, nor was it in a part of town where we could
easily go out and find a place to hang out. Oh well, she was too young
for me anyway.

And the return of alliteration...
We stop at the front desk on our way out to see about reserving a room
on our return trip, but weirdly, it costs MORE to reserve the room
while there than it would to do it online through a hostel aggregator
website. We tell them nevermind - as you can tell from yesterday's
entry, we weren't particularly enamored with the hotel; it just would
have been easier to be able to leave Pat's big bag there.
We have surprisingly good hotdogs and surprisingly bad doughnuts at
the bus station, then head out to Brussels. We mostly ignore Get Smart
along the way. Anne Hathaway is quite pretty, but so is the European
countryside, with its sparkling new windfarms next to ancient
We get there and find the Brussels metro to be extraordinarily
user-unfriendly. Hostile, even. A typical sign at an info booth: NO
TOURIST INFORMATION HERE. And for whatever reason, while all of the
pamphlets on the buses are available in 5 or 6 languages (Russian,
even!), the one on the trains is only in Dutch. After one train ride
we decide to walk. We find our hostel, which is right downtown. No
metro needed - we can finally stay out late!

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 8 of ?)

Perhaps less grand than Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur feels more sincere.
And the mural in the cupola is breathtaking. Before I left my CD had
told me she found the latter more beautiful; I entirely agree.
We head out, making our way back downhil through le Square St
Louise-Michel, a pleasant little park that looks more like a cliff
from a distance. We decide now is a good time to plan the next days of
our trip, if we can find an internet connection. We walk to a cafe
district in hopes of finding one with wifi. Many do, but Pat's iPod
can't connect to them. We need internet to get internet! Because if we
had a connection, we could pull up a map of all the hotspots in Paris.
Finally we find a shop that offers a free 20 minutes that P can
actually connect to, enough time to pull up a map...and find that the
nearest McDonald's, where we know we can get a connection, isn't near
at all. Still, there are worse fates than to be forced to walk around
the prettiest city I've ever been in. On our walk, I realize that it's
not only the architecture that's beautiful. Of course, in a city of
millions, there's bound to be a large number of beautiful
people...still and all, the number in Paris seems disproportionately
In the evening, we wander the art district near the Louvre, and it's
just as well that the galleries are mostly closed, as judging by what
they have in the windows we couldn't even afford to walk through the
doors. We head back to Pont Neuf, near Notre Dame, where we'd planned
on catching a boat down the Seine, but we're a bit late. There's
another in a half hour, but we worry that we'd get back too late to
catch the last train to our hotel at 11, and the night buses don't
start running until 1. So instead we decide to watch the sunset from
the bridge. When I go back someday, I'd like to walk all of the
bridges in the city. If it's a long trip, maybe even watch sunset from
each. (to be continued)

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 7 of ?)

We start out the morning by going to check out where the Bastille
stood. Tours of the opera house that now stands there don't interest
us, but P was born on Bastille Day, so we're kind of obligated. We
luck out - turns out on the weekends there's a big open air market. If
Pat hadn't just picked up souvenirs in Burkina, he could have
believably faked it shopping here. He stops at a hat stand. And I
encourage him to buy a Panama Jack - EVERYONE looks good in a Panama
Jack - but he's in the market (no pun intended) for a black felt
fedora. To try to state things the right way around this time, I
observe that in retrospect I can see the influence of this market
tradition on NOLA, and even more so Charleston, SC. Not to mention
chez moi, of course, though even in Ouaga the fish never looked this
We mosey up the Blvd Magenta, where I kick myself for having just
bought a suit in Ouaga (they have them here for 35€!) to our next
stop, the one place every single person I talked to recommended we
visit: Montmartre and Sacré Coeur. It turns out to be a steep walk,
but well worth it - our direction of approach has allowed us to bypass
the majority of tourists and end up smack in the neighborhood itself.
Which is beautiful and wonderful and I completely understand why
everyone told us to go there. We stop at a small cafe and have
tartines and wine. Mine has bacon, plum, and one of the dizzying array
of cheeses available in France. Since we're on Rue Lamarck, I spend
all of lunch humming one of Enjolras's solos from Les Mis.
Afterward, we make our way around the backside of Sacré Coeur, where
we find all the tourists we'd temporarily shaken. We also find ice
cream! When I go back someday, I'll want to try the popcorn flavor,
but for now I stay a bit more conservative and get peanut butter. We
walk past what I am convinced is the single water fountain in the
whole city (silly me, I didn't think to pack a Nalgene to go to
Paris!) and finally arrive in front of the cathedral and enter. (to be

08 June 2010

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 6 of ?)

to get to the top of the bell tower. And it was worth it. We got into
the room to see the bells just before it closed to tourists because it
was about to start tolling. Which meant we were right on top of them
when the evening carillion started. The view up there is one of the
best we had the whole trip, and FEELING the bells as much as hearing
them only added to the experience. I joked with Patrick that it was
too bad we didn't get the chance to climb the Washington Monument
during our vacation to DC in 08, but this was an ok 2nd best.
Before calling it an evening, we hung out in the literary district. I
had fun window shopping at the bookstores, though I don't suppose it
meant much to Pat. Again I was struck by the influence of Paris on New
Orleans; we could have been walking through the Quarter.
We took the opportunity to have a nice beer with dinner, chuckled over
the fact that while Pat did get carded every time when we got him
reduced prices on tickets for being under 26, no one once questioned
his right to enjoy a drink.
Despite our observation on the way back that the subway brakes screech
like a thousand condemned souls, after a day of walking the city we
have no trouble falling asleep.(to be continued)

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 5 of ?)

I wouldn't have it any other way - I'm pretty sure if I get on a bus
or train I'll never find my way back. We manage to find each other and
get the metro to our hotel. We leave our bags, make it back to the
metro...and realize we've left our malaria medicine behind and have to
go back to get it. This will also turn out to be a theme of the trip:
every evening we'll plan to get out early and have some coffee, then
when the morning arrives we'll forget something, or end up somewhere
other than we planned, or find we need a wifi hotspot, and by the time
we're ready for coffee it's practically lunchtime!
First stop - the catacombs. Which it turns out are flooded. Since
we're nearby, we walk over to Montparnasse cemetery, where several
famous people are buried. The tombs are neat. I mention to Pat that it
reminds me of New Orleans; he very reasonably points out that it's
really the other way 'round: New Orleans is reminiscent of Paris. We
move on.
The garden in front to Luxembourg Palace is possibly the prettiest
green space I've ever seen. When I live in Paris, I'll go there every
weekend. You know, with my supermodel Nobel-Prize-in-Physics-winning
wife, right after we hit the biggest lotto jackpot in history.
We wander over to the Pantheon, an impressive structure from the
outside, which is all we see since you can do that withOUT paying 9€.
From there we head up to Notre Dame, stopping along the way in a
smaller but also impressive church whose name I've forgotten. The
inside of Notre Dame is...certainly impressive, but to me all the
statuary has a vibe of High Church at its worst - lauding the Church
rather than the Faith. I'd bet money that many of those statues of
"saints" look an awful lot like whichever archbishop commissioned
them. But still, it's an experience not to be missed. After touring
inside and being possibly the only two people to respect the no flash
photography rule, we wait a really long time and pay a not small
amount of euro for the privilege of climbing way too many stairs (to
be continued)

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 4 of ?)

Discovery number 1: despite being on almost the same longitude as
where I live, Paris is TWO hours ahead. Good to know - never mind the
nap I had planned! This means I need to get used to sunset after 9pm.
Since I have this day to myself, plus since I'm staying near the
airport rather than in town, it seems to make sense to do all of those
things that a Peace Corps volunteer would do after 2 years in Africa,
rather than the things a typical American tourist would do in Paris -
I'll rate those to do with Pat. I walk around the Roissy area, which
is basically in industrial park, but a much nicer one than you'd find
in, say, Atlanta. Certainly nicer than Ouaga. I walk. I enjoy the
cold. I buy a jacket, and wish I had more money for clothes - even the
discount stuff is really nice. I stroll through an Ikea, then a
shopping mall, stopping for lunch at McDonald's. I have dinner at what
I take to be the French version of Appleby's (the name translates to
Shortstraw). None of it stuff Pat would have been interested in, but
every PCV reading this is jealous. On a side note, in what will prove
to gold true throughout the trip, I notice that people do NOT switch
to English with me, despite the Parisians' reputation. Not that they
can't tell my French is not theirs...but I suspect that my African
accent is so strong that it masks any American accent, and they're
just not sure where the hell I'm from.

It's weird to see a sunrise with no dust. Equally weird to see birds I
recognize from Africa in trees I recognize from the US.
Poor Pat will never agree to meet me at an airport again. I'm a bit
late getting there; while the 20 minutes I was told it would take to
get to the airport was not wrong, it was misleading - CDG is BIG. To
actually get to the terminal I want takes another 15 minutes, and when
I get there I find that his arrival gate has changed. The lady at the
info desk is very apologetic when telling me that the only way to get
to the new gate is to walk, but (to be continued)

07 June 2010

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 3 of ?)

THAT was atypical. I just found out (though we'd already suspected
given the frequency of the word "nasara" in the preceding argument)
that they'd been talking about us. The kickee had been insulting us.
The kicker decided to defend our honor. More than any other time in my
service, I wish now that I'd focused more on Mooré so I could have
defused that situation. Anyway, as I said, that was unlike anything
I've ever seen here, and I hope it's not what Pat walks away

On Wednesday we discover Pat is leaving as planned on Friday, but MY
ticket is for Thursday! Uh-oh! We spend the evening frantically
calling Air France, Delta, and Orbitz, and eventually find that to
change one of the flights will cost about $700. The cheaped solution:
find me a hotel room online and thank the lord I've got good friends
in Ouaga who can take care of my brother for the soon-to-pass weird
situation of 24 hours in which *I*'m in Europe and my brother is in

We run around being tourists, with a side trip to the embassy, which
was holding BOTH my passports. Can I describe how much stress I was
under knowing I was flying out that week and having no passport to do
it with? Not adequately. You see, I'd submitted my PC passport with my
application for a personal one. No big deal, except for a string of
events which prevented me from getting there to pick them up until the
day of my flight, several weeks after receiving a phone call telling
me my PERSONAL passport had arrived, but the photo wasn't quite right,
and in response to my query, oh yes, my PC passport "should" be there
too. Finally, the day I'm leaving, I get there and all is well - the
photo's contrast is not great, but it's passable, and my PC passport
is indeed there (though I spent an ugly couple of minutes before they
figured out that a friend of a friend had put it in the safe for me to
ensure it wasn't lost). With a much lighter heart, I accompany my
brother on a souvenir-hunting trip before leaving.

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 2 of ?)

change your mind twice about whether that was really a good idea.
We get to Bani late and tired, but Pat gets to meet my best friend
here, and dinner is grilled chicken with ranch dressing and sweet
potato fries, so all's well that ends well.

I hope you appreciate how hard I'm working on this alliteration. It
probably won't continue.
We spend the morning exploring the Bani mosques, which belong to a
cult whose story I'm fairly certain I've recounted elsewhere on this
The plan is for 6 of us to mount 4 camels that afternoon to visit a
gold mine. Thanks to a heavy dust storm and light rain, it ends up
being twilight before we can start. We name our four camels to an
Aladdin theme: Jafar, Abu, Jasmine, and Raja. Though we did this early
on, it turns out we got their personalities pretty well - Jafar is
mean as a snake, Abu really overexcitable, Jasmine nice, Raja
implacable (except when it came to anything on two wheels...whenever
Emma and I saw a bike coming, we knew our shared mount was about to
leave the road). 7km takes two and a half hours. We're sore and tired,
and our guide is dying to tell jokes and riddles. The jokes were
terrible, but the riddles clever.

We check out the gold mine, which was bigger and more interesting than
I expected (the last time someone offered to show me mines, in Fada,
it turned out just to be deep holes in the ground). We chat with
people in the mining camp about the process, then head back into town
to catch a bus then a bush taxi to get to my place. Transport is
typical (read here "unpleasant") and uneventful.

I exaggerate, my place isn't that bad. Anyway, Pat gets to see what
life for me here is like. He even helps me calculate grades for my
class! Since for me this was just everyday stuff, you'd do better to
ask him what was the standout moment of this part of the trip. Not
counting the old guy kicking the other old guy in the jaw, (to be

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 1 of ?)

As I've already crowed about here, my brother planned a visit. Well,
he's come and gone, and I hope he had as much fun as I did. Which was
a lot! Though the trip wasn't without its bumps...

I get to the airport right around the same time Pat's flight did. So
I'm expecting a wait. What I'm not expecting is to spend 2 hours
watching ALL the other passengers leave with no sight of my brother.
Finally, I ask permission to enter the (restricted) arrivals gate,
where I finally find him at wit's end because his luggage isn't there,
and he can't leave to find me because he's afraid they won't let him
back in! English may be the international language of aviation, but
that's a pretty loose standard at the Ouaga airport, so it's not 'til
I find him that he learns his luggage has been left in Niamey (where
the flight stops for an hour. Get that? It's not a transfer, just a
stop. They had absolutely no business taking his luggage off the plane
there), but it will come in on the next flight tomorrow evening. Too
bad tomorrow evening we'll be exploring the Sahel.
After arranging for another volunteer to come get the luggage, our
Country Director, who has already graciously allowed Pat to stay at
her place (he had nicer accomodations than I did!), invites us to
dinner, assuring that Pat's initial African repast is a lovely one.

Today we begin exploring the damage a daily regimen of French has done
to my English. I refer all morning to taking my brother to the
"bureau" rather than the office. By either name, we get there, I
introduce him to my better-paid colleagues, and we head to the bus
station (which I insist on calling the "gare") to get to the start of
the real adventure - camel riding in the Sahel! After assuring Pat
that I've chosen the most reliable bus company on our route, naturally
our bus is 2 hrs late leaving. Which is only to be expected when you
load lead pipes too long to put anywhere other than the main aisle of
the bus, then load the passengers, then (to be continued)