21 November 2011

New post, new design

I hadn't played with Blogger's templates in quite some time. They've got some nice ones! This one seemed like a good fit. I also removed the striking of "Peace Corps" in the title. As the current Country Director mentioned to me, just because I returned (for a given value of "returned") doesn't mean I'm not part of the Peace Corps family anymore.

Fair point, and it's a good lead in to today's post, which is the story of an event that happened during my service that came up in discussion last night. The discussion was about resistance to change.

One day, I visited my neighbor Pete in Boulsa, his site and my provincial capital. I went there every couple months to get supplies like mayonnaise and margarine - things I couldn't get in my own village. Pete was always a great host, and with few exceptions I generally spent a night or two there when I went. We often ended up cooking something that I wouldn't have the ingredients for in village and he wouldn't have the energy to do alone (I think we can all agree, cooking for one is really a hassle). This particular day, we decided we wanted hamburgers. That wouldn't have been possible weeks earlier, but one of the kiosk restaurants in town had recently purchased a meat grinder and was selling sandwiches. I headed over to bargain over the price of ground meat.

When I get there, it's some guy I'd never seen before. I roll up, we go through the usual salutations, and I ask him if they have meat today*.
"Yes," he says, "we've got some today."
"Great!" I reply. "I'd like to buy some."
"How many sandwiches do you want?"
"No, sorry, that's not what I meant. I just want to buy some meat. How much would it cost for the amount of meat you'd put into two sandwiches?"
He gives me a panicked look. "We don't sell meat. We sell sandwiches."
"I know," I respond gently, "but you could just sell me the meat too, right?"
"No. We sell sandwiches."
"Listen," I say, "You sell coffee here. With the coffee you use bread. So it's not like you won't use the bread I'm not buying. You'll still make your profit. You don't have to sell me the meat at cost, mark it up the same way you would for a sandwich**, and in fact you even make a little more because I don't want you to cook it!"
"Not ... cook ... no ... br - no, sorry, we don't do that."
"Please? It's really easy to do."
"Ok, I'll go ask the owner, I guess, but I think he'll say no."
"Thank you!"

He disappears around a corner, and reappears a few minutes later.

"No, sorry," he says, "I can't sell you the meat like that. I can only sell sandwiches.***"
I'm pretty frustrated by now. And hungry. "Well, that doesn't make any sense, but since I can't change your mind and I need to eat, I guess I'll buy two sandwiches. How much?"
"Sorry," he says, "but I can't sell you a sandwhich."
"We're out of bread."

*Note to anyone thinking about living in West Africa: this is ALWAYS the first step when ordering something at a restaurant. It drove my brother nuts when I visited home and at nearly every restaurant we went to, he'd ask me what I wanted and I'd tell him my first choice and my three backup plans in case they didn't have that. "David," he'd sigh, "yet again, I assure you, they have it."

**With a bit more understanding of the inner workings of business here, I realize how hopelessly unlikely it was that the server would have any understanding of the kiosk's pricing model. In fact, there's a 90% chance the owner himself didn't really track it; he probably set the prices based on what someone somewhere else was charging and assumed that at some point he'd realize his profit. This is a typical amount of bookkeeping for many of the illiterate/mostly innumerate entrepreneurs here, and is one of the biggest constraints on small-scale economic growth. If I joined the Peace Corps again, it would probably be as a Small Enterprise Development volunteer.

***I also realize in retrospect that there's a very good chance the owner was nowhere around, and the guy just went around the corner for appearance's sake. Third partying me when no third party was available. Ah, l'Afrique.

03 September 2011

Two stories

Nothing much to report from me. Work is going well, having fun with friends but haven't done anything spectacular (though my birthday dinner was yummy and my birthday presents very nice), looking forward to spending the holidays with family. So instead, this update I will give you two stories from other people.
A Tuareg in Canada

I recently met a Nigerien (note: "Nigerien" means from Niger, "Nigerian" means from Nigeria. An important distinction should you meet someone from one or the other, as they are very different countries) Tuareg who has spent the last several years in Canada. For his first couple years he worked at a nature reserve filling a function somewhat similar to a forest ranger - just patrolling the park, making sure the people visiting and camping were accounted for, nothing illegal happening, that sort of stuff. His colleagues were a few Canadians and another African immigrant.

Well, a few weeks go by, and winter has fully struck. It's some number of degrees below zero, and someone is getting lazy. The manager calls all the rangers in and says, "Look, I know you're cold, but someone is crapping behind the office without going to the toilets and that's just not gonna work. Who is it?" He's looking kind of pointedly at my friend and the other African. My friend says, "Look, I know why you think it might be us, growing up without plumbing, but if you think after living my whole life in Niger I'm going to go outside and take off any one of the five layers I'm wearing in this insane weather and let my balls get within 20 inches of that snow, you're out of your damn mind." At that point, one of his Canadian colleagues 'fessed up.
An American in Burkina

This one could have happened to me, but it didn't. So, a PCV I know is walking along in his village when he spies a little girl selling ... something. He asks her what it is, and she says it's samsa, which is a fried bean dish that is very common here. He doesn't think it looks like samsa, but she insists that it is, and anyway he likes trying new and interesting foods, so he buys 50CFA worth (about 10 cents, which doesn't put it in perspective, so instead I'll say about the normal cost of one full meal in village). He's sure it's not samsa, but he's excited about trying a new food and brings it to his Burkinabé friend to find out what it is and how he should cook it. His friend laughs and tells him that he's just bought 50CFA worth of mud! The little girl had just been sitting by the road playing, pretending to be a food vendor, and when the weird white guy came around asking what she was selling, she told him. How was she supposed to know he'd actually buy some?! White people ARE crazy. Sure enough, that evening, her dad came by his house to give back the 50CFA and apologize.

27 July 2011

Edamame Adventures part 2

Today I spent the morning filling out forms for a federal background investigation. Then I spent the afternoon in meetings. Until 7pm. Not the sort of day to make you glad to be leaving work so late, though I've had worse. Then I get outside and I have a flat.

It's difficult to describe how that made me feel. I've been sick for over a month, nothing serious but constant low-grade unpleasantness. I'm tired. It's been a long, long day. Work has been extra demanding, extra draining, extra futile it seems sometimes, and here I have a flat, and thanks to my friend buying me a full-size tire for a half-size spare, I have nothing to replace it with. I have already turned down two dinner invitations tonight because I want nothing more than to go to bed, and now this. Ugh.

And then two guys, Ousmane and Ibrahim, offer to help me out. Before moving here if that had happened (and let's face it, in the U.S. it wouldn't have) - I'd have said no. I'd have felt weird...less of a man I suppose*...accepting help for such a thing. I should be able to change my own tire. Heck, I help OTHER people when they need their tire changed.

That's not still the case, and I don't know if that's more because I live here or because I wear a suit to work now, but now if someone offers to help my response is more along the lines of, "Hell yeah, that sounds GREAT!" So I said yes.

But the real turning point in the evening was when I made a conscious effort to enjoy what was happening. One of the great things about this country, something that sets it way apart from the U.S. and even apart from the rest of West Africa, is the "on est ensemble" culture. These guys were helping, not because I seemed helpless, not because they expected a return on it, but because hey, we're all people with problems, and if I can help you out I will and if someone else can help me out in turn, they will. So rather than just doing the typical American thing of either chasing them off (see previous two paragraphs) or just accepting their help and maybe throwing them a few cents, I decided to buy the guys a beer and sit with them. Sure, I was tired and just wanted to be home, but the culture here is all about recognizing other people and I've been losing sight of how important that is too often lately.

So a night that started with an inconvenient flat tire ended with two new buddies, Ousmane and Ibrahim; I know where they live, I know where they come from, I know about their kids, I know about their dreams. They know about my work, they know about my love life, they know about my history.

What a good night.

*I also only thought "gender roles" were a consideration when casting a play, but that's a post for another time, I suppose.

03 July 2011

Edamame Adventures part 1

In my last post I told you about my new car. She now has a name, Edamame. For those who might not know what that is, it's a Japanese preparation of soy beans. The idea was to play off of both her country of origin and other things Volunteer friends might be jealous of. I was kind of partial to Unagi, but I got outvoted.

So far, she's mostly been in Ouaga, excepting trips to my girfriend*'s site, which is on a main road and an easy drive. Yesterday we took her up to a friend's site to the north for a 4th of July party. Roasted pig with barbecue sauce, macaroni salad, and copious amounts of beer - a good time was had by all.

The adventure part came on the ride back. We had just gotten in to the outskirts of Ouaga when we came upon buses and trucks lined up along the road. And then in the driving lane. Being a proper Ouaga driver, I didn't let this dissuade me, and we began driving in the oncoming lane to get a better look at what was going on. We eventually discovered that the road had been barricaded.

Now, when we first came up to the barricade, small cars were still going around on a dirt strip to the side of the road (less a frontage road and more the seating area of restaurants, but whatever). But for all my bragging above about being a proper Ouaga driver, I was loathe to drive us through a mob of people when I didn't know what was going on, especially given the protests over the last 5 months, so I had turned around to find a place to stop and ask around. Apparently, the folks in the neighborhood got fed up with the condition of the road, and as a resident explained to us, decided to "help" the government see the importance of repairs. He encouraged us to take the road around, that we would be fine, and to "n'hesitez pas." Unfortunately, we already had hesitated, and by the time we got back that side strip had also been barricaded.

So we went back to find our friend who had said there was another but worse way around. He pointed out the road, and we started. We didn't get far. The condition of the road was terrible, and it's entirely possible I left a bit of Edamame's paint on a wall when I had to come up the side of the road as close as I dared to avoid a mud hole. We asked a guy a couple blocks in where we could turn to get to Ouaga, and he told us that there wasn't a road our car could take. So we turned around to find our friend again.

We didn't find him, but someone else had pointed out a different road on the other side of the highway that we might try. Except by "road" I really mean "alley with a ditch running down the middle." And by "ditch" I really mean "place where running flood water has carved out a randomly meandering path." I saw that as ... not a great option. We asked some guys if they could show us how to get around, and while some claimed there was no way, one of them said he knew how we could get out of this, and he'd show us if we followed him on his moto. We agreed. The drive started out on roads that were clearly not intended for routine car use, but weren't so bad for all that. After a while, we started catching glimpses of other cars and 4x4s trying to find their way, but our guy never brought us quite the same way as them - he was better, and got us ahead of them. But it wasn't all coming up roses for us even so. The road got bad. More mud holes. Twice I had all my passengers get out and waited for the stretch of "road" (this time more like "pond") to clear out so that I could get some momentum and minimize my chances of getting stuck in the mud (like a 4x4 in front of me on the other side of the road we saw). We made it through the neighborhood and eventually ended up in an area that was neither being cultivated nor lived on, because it was all uneven rock. I finally did get stuck in a mudhole, but at this point there was no traffic, because we weren't anywhere remotely resembling a road, so at least it wasn't too stressful. And my passengers + guide pushed me out in no time anyway.

As it turned out, the scariest part of the drive wasn't mud, nor traffic, nor mobs, nor worrying about bottoming out on uneven terrain. It was the last part of this rocky formation we were crossing, where we had to cross a narrow strip between two gorges**. Just wide enough for the car and either side sloping off and gravel-covered. I was a little worried we'd end up sliding off. But not worried enough to balk, and we made it.

I hear the demonstration didn't last long, and we probably could have waited it out and possibly even done so without losing any time (our detour to get around this 500m stretch of road took over an hour). But hey, it's a heck of a story.

*The first time I've used that word on this blog. It should at least explain the "outvoted" comment above.
**Ok, "gorge" is a bit much. But we're talking a good 5- or 6-foot drop onto rock; these weren't just drainage ditches.

02 June 2011

I have a car!

An old beater, but it's nice to feel less exposed when I'm driving around at night. I still use the moto during the day because I'm much more comfortable on it in traffic...and I've been wondering what that says about my approach to driving. Of course, the fact that the car is a manual transmission - as they all are here - doesn't help; I've never had a manual as my main mode of transportation other than a couple days when my car was broken down and my brother-in-law loaned me his. Interestingly enough, that was in Atlanta, and the traffic here reminds me of Buckhead around the mall - a mass of people ignoring traffic laws in the hopes of getting one car-length ahead, with the aggregate result of slowing everyone down, even those who have gotten ahead.

A friend asked me yesterday if I got it for the same reason she did - that she didn't feel safe on a moto. I said yes and no. Like I said, I'm totally comfortable on the moto in traffic, so no. But should I happen across soldiers who have decided to take to the streets shooting in the air, I'd feel much safer in a car, so yes.

It's funny the way my friend E brags to people back home about the car. Imagine, in the U.S., your friend in high school getting the first car of any of you. And it's a lamborghini. And it fights crime. That's the level of excitement we're talking about here. For a 1987 Nissan Sunny, a car which my friend Carson was kind enough to research on Wikipedia: "In 1996, Jeremy Clarkson (of Top Gear fame) declared the Nissan Sunny to be the 'worst car in the world, ever' and destroyed one by flinging it from a trebuchet pulled by a tractor." Thanks, Carson! People here LOVE the car. I bought it from the consular, and embassy employees have particular guidelines about things like this, one being that they can't make money on the transaction. So he sold it to me for what he paid for it a couple years ago. The reader is at this point unimpressed; he or she is thinking "So what? You should have paid LESS, not more!" But gentle reader, to fully understand, you must take into account two more facts: 1-here, an old car means a car that has proven it can survive, and 2-the car is an import from a country where they are sold much cheaper. I bought the car for about half of what most used cars go for here, and it's in much better shape. All of the local hires at the embassy, knowing the price rule, hounded the consular to sell them the car, and when he sold it to me instead (another guideline - Americans get first shot at your stuff when you're leaving) they fell over themselves letting me know that the moment I wanted to sell it they were available. Anyway, being in the gray area of a consultant for the embassy rather than a direct hire, I'm not bound by the same guidelines, so this car can easily be thought of as an investment, not just a ride.

All that said, immediately after getting the car I had a problem with the battery. The previous owner drove the car every day, but after getting it I let it sit several days; like I said, I still prefer my moto. And then found the battery had died. The experience of getting it started again is definitely worth recounting here:

I drive my moto to my friend's bar to ask where I might find a mechanic in the neighborhood. She isn't there, but her 14-year-old helper is, so I give her my helmet (she gets a huge kick out of that) and she hops on the back of the bike to show me where to go. We get to the garage, they say they'll call the mechanic, and I bring 14yo back to the bar where she works (just had to emphasize that again). By the time I get back to the garage, an available mechanic has been found, and I tell him that my car won't start and that I'm pretty sure it's the battery, so he finds another battery and hops on the back of my moto. I take him to my house. He tests the old battery by putting a wrench on each node and touching them together. No spark. He takes it out, hooks up the new one, and does the same thing. Huge sparks. I note that he is not wearing gloves. He seems unconcerned. He has me start the car. It works. He expresses his opinion that the old battery is out of acid, and unscrews the tops to several cells to show me. It is not out. He proposes a second hypothesis: the acid is "weak." To test this theory, he DIPS HIS FINGER IN THE BATTERY ACID AND THEN HE TASTES IT. I hurriedly point out the tap in the courtyard so he can rinse off, and privately note that I now understand why his fingers seem slightly stubby. He tells me that he was right; I choose to believe him without replicating his experiment. He puts the old battery back in, connects the nodes between the new and the old by holding two wrenches across them, and tells me to start the car. I express concern again (he must think I'm one heck of a namby-pamby) that the resulting shock might ruin my screened-in porch as he is hurled through it, but he assures me that he is "ready." I start the car. It works. I drive him back to the garage, where they tell me I should drive around now to recharge the battery and replace it soon. I ask the owner of the garage how much I owe. He tells me to just give the mechanic whatever I feel like. I give him about two dollars, which is more than I would normally pay for 20 minutes worth of work with no new equipment being installed (similar work on my moto would cost about 40 cents), but I feel like it's worth building goodwill with the neighborhood mechanic. Though I'm walking a fine line between "goodwill" and becoming "that white guy that we can charge three times what we would everyone else." Both the mechanic and the owner express amazement at how good a shape the car is in, given its age. Then the owner turns to me and says, "Did a white guy own it?" I say yes, and both give the universal grin, nod and sigh of a mystery explained.

So, I mentioned above the soldiers. They're still at it. And everyone is tired of it. Really our threshold has gone way up; you don't hear people expressing fear anymore, just irritation. I won't go on a rant here, tempting as it is because it won't solve anything. I'll just leave it at this: it is still the case that foreigners are not being targeted for the most part, and there is definitely not an anti-Western sentiment. In fact, for the first time ever, last night a Burkinabé expressed concern to me that the riots may prevent foreign investors from funding development in Burkina. So don't worry too much.

16 April 2011

My computer moves in mysterious ways

Yesterday morning my computer decided it no longer felt the need to access any site that uses https. Upshot: No gmail, no facebook, pretty much no access to anything requiring a login. So I've been able to follow what's going on but not able to comment. Today I finally remembered that I still had Kait's old computer. It's on its last legs, but I got it running long enough to catch up on messages.

And now my computer is randomly working again. So I'll try to update while I have a chance.



The news wires are making a big deal out of Blaise "dissolving" the government, but that's less of a big deal than it seems to westerners. After every presidential election, the government is dissolved and new ministers are appointed; rather, most of the ministers are re-appointed, but those who didn't perform to the President's satisfaction are replaced. In other words, this dissolution is a sign that heads WILL roll, but it's not quite the drastic move it may seem.

This is an ugly situation. But I am ok. So far my neighborhood has remained calm. And in case any family of current volunteers are reading this, as usual Peace Corps is taking excellent care of them, and anyway none of this has spread outside of Ouaga.

If anyone wants to get in touch with me, let's assume email won't work since I don't know what caused my connection problem nor do I know what fixed it. Facebook should be reliable since I changed my connection settings, but as always the only sure bet is to give me a call. +

Du courage to all of us.

17 March 2011

Events haven't warranted

All has been calm since Tuesday, and what actually happened on Tuesday remains unclear. The students gathered in Zogona/Zone du Bois, but the military made it very clear that renewed demonstrations were not welcome. That there were injuries is certain, and I have a first-hand report of shots fired in the area...but the extent of casualties isn't being reported anywhere. Not too surprising given the treatment of journalists during the Friday march (Anglophones: I think that bit only showed up in one of the French articles I linked. At least one journalist says police struck him and took his camera; others have claimed they were chased away).

For some reason, all the news outlets seem to think that the University closure is the biggest part of the story, but while that's a big deal (though I recently read that the universities haven't been functioning for a year anyway because of unofficial professorial striking; frustratingly, I can't find that link again), it overlooks the equally important closure of ALL schools. This is ... indescribably unfair.

The life of a student in Burkina Faso is HARD. I had students who biked 15km every morning to come to class. Some of them didn't really have any family in our village, so their options at lunch were to bike home or go hungry - they certainly didn't have the money to buy food. In theory, the school had a canteen to serve lunch to just that population; in practice, said canteen was open for about a week and a half of the school year. Many of the students had no one to speak French with at home, so they barely spoke the language they were being taught in. Above the homework we professors gave, they have penurious chores, like hauling water 2 km or more in calabashes on their heads, or in certain seasons getting up at 3 in the morning to work the harvest. Often sick from malnutrition or contaminated water, students who miss class face more than just the loss of points for whatever assignments happened to be due that day - they will likely also receive a penalty deduction of more points. That can be avoided by going to the doctor and getting a note - but when you're sick, biking 15km is not an attractive option. And on top of all of that, many of the students aren't getting any support at home - a sad fact is many students are not only not encouraged to attend school, they are forced by their families to drop out so that they have more time to plant the fields, or work in their father's shops, or help their mothers cook for the passel of young children in the courtyard.

That's not all the challenges. Just some of the major ones, enough to make my point. Which is this: if you see a student in your class, they REALLY WANT TO BE THERE.

Apologies. In the next post I'll take a step back from the editorializing and get back to letting my friends and family know what's going on.

14 March 2011

Quiet today.

An impressively thorough report on Friday's protests. Even for you non-francophones, check out the video at bottom to get some idea of the scale of the march.

It's hard to know what will happen tomorrow. The report above says there will be a meeting at the university. The professor I met yesterday said the teachers would demonstrate. Various expats I've talked to have said that they've heard the students will try to march again, specifically to take the road that they were prevented from taking Friday (which would have led to the police headquarters). Some say it's calm today because they're all regrouping.

Updates as events warrant.

12 March 2011

It's not over...

Friday was quite a day. We had an interesting moment in the office as I and two of my coworkers compared our reactions. Without revealing who was who, as we watched smoke rise in the not-distant distance, one of us expressed annoyance at the logistical problems being caused by road shutdowns, another nervousness at the prospect of widespread violence, and the third excitement for the Burkinabé people asserting their rights.

The short version.

The long version (fair warning, some of these links are in French):

Despite my assurances in my last post, all has not been quiet in Burkina.

As I mentioned there, it all started on Feb. 22 with the death of a student in police custody in Koudougou. The police claim it was illness, the students claim it was brutality. I have no independent information to confirm or deny either cause; I can only say that either is entirely credible.

From there, protests quickly spread, many following the Koudougou example of violence and the burning of government buildings. The word on the street here is that in at least 20 towns buildings have burned. I sat down with a Burkinabé friend, and between the two of us we could list 13 of which we'd heard news reports or first-hand accounts:

Koudougou, Kongoussi, Kaya, Ouahigouya, Léo, Boura, Koupela, Pouytenga, Diapaga, Gourcy, Dori, Yako, and one I can't remember.

Above that number, I can name several more where I know there were protests or riots, but I don't know whether there were injuries or damages: Tougan, Sabou, Bogandé, Boulsa, Fada, Bobo, Tenkodogo, Gaoua, and Po.

In short, this thing is big. In response, university students in Ouaga planned a massive "peaceful" march for last Wednesday. However, other groups wished to join in (unfortunately, I've lost the link to that story), so the march got moved to Friday. There was also some disagreement about the route to be taken.

Yesterday, the roads were lined with police. The students marched, peacefully as planned, up until the intersection where the two routes (one proposed by the protesters, the other by the mayor) diverged; at that point, the students that tried to take their chosen route were teargassed. The smoke we saw from my office was the result of tire fires, which the students lit along their entire route - driving from work last night and back in this morning, I noticed at least a dozen charred spots along the roads (one exactly 2 blocks from my house!). From friends scattered around Ouaga, I heard about similar fires in Zone du Bois, Zogona, Zad, and possibly Pissy.

Other than that, I didn't hear about any injuries until this morning, when I stopped by my aforementioned friend's kiosk. In my neighborhood at least one kid was injured when another selling drinks hit him with a bottle. The news reports say there was at least one death yesterday, and that protests continue around the country, though I saw nothing driving into town.

There will be more Monday. While sitting with my friend, a fellow who works at the University joined the conversation and expressed in no uncertain terms his and his colleagues' anger with the government, both in general and specifically with their handling of this situation.

Last week was the students. Next week, the teachers. It's not over.

I admit it. Of the three of us in the office Friday, I was the nervous one.

26 February 2011

Who knew I'd post LESS once moving to Ouaga?

In the news:

Egypt is awesome. Gaddafi (or whatever spelling is currently in vogue) is a terrible human being. Cote d'Ivoire is on the brink of civil war. And in a surprise move, the New York Times has actually chosen to give Burkina a bit of coverage. Naturally about violent protests. I hasten to add that they are a) far from here, b) not related (directly) to the unrest in other countries, and c) demonstrably not in great danger of spreading (there was already a sympathy protest here in Ouaga that was entirely peaceful in nature).

In other news, I have a new address. I can finally stop using my Volunteer friend as my mule (for all the good that's done; my brother sent me something a month ago and she still hasn't gotten it).

David Duckworth
06 BP 10539
Ouagadougou 06
Burkina Faso

I now have about 10 minutes left to actually talk about my life. Fortunately, I have little enough to say...

The job goes on. Soon I will be entering negotiations for a second year. Both my boss and I will make a good faith effort to come up with something, I think - I like the job and she likes how I'm doing at it - but it is entirely possible she won't be able to come up with enough money for staying here to be the right career move for me. So we'll see, and that's all I can say on the matter at this point.

Two weeks ago I played poker with a mixed crowd of embassy and missionary types. I lost. Depressingly quickly. The next game is tonight, so hopefully I'll perform to a somewhat higher standard. That was pretty much the first time I'd hung out with anyone other than PCVs. Which is neither here nor there, just the way things are.

I now have a pool table at my house. I've had a Wii for a while. I'm on the brink of getting internet. Soon all the Volunteers will love me! I'm not above buying friends, don't judge me.

And now I'm out of time. I'll close with one of my new favorite quotes; it's great for both its cynicism and its perverse vanity:

"I hate mankind, for I think of myself as one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am." - by Johnson, Samuel

07 January 2011

New Year's Update!

Apologies to the parents, who requested I do this, well, actually on New Year's.

Further apologies to any reader who may already have seen my description below of New Year festivities, since I've used variations of it in a couple emails.

Happy New Year! My best wishes! May God grand you lots of prosperity, health, and all the good things in life!

Saying something resembling the above is more or less mandatory in this country the first time you see someone after Jan 1. Until at least about March. It is also typical-almost-to-the-point-of-being-rude-if-you-don't to send text messages with something like that to anyone you may not see in that time frame. My favorite this year came from my best student last year, one of the few I had who moved on to high school this year:

Je vous envoi un chèque de 100 ans qui je serai payé à la banque de santé,situé sur l'avenue prospérité,rue de la paix,porte du bonheur,guichet 2011.Bonne fète.
(For what it's worth, I didn't teach his French class. Don't blame me.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Spent Christmas in Bobo. Two years ago I spent New Year's there. This time we didn't go out to a fancy dinner and show, though; we cooked. We also each introduced everyone in the group to one of our Christmas traditions. I hope my mom will forgive me for the one I chose: I made peanut butter balls. I think she will, considering that there were almost nothing like the ones we make at home. The peanut butter was the local stuff (no sugar, preservatives, emulsifiers...just ground peanut and oil), and the chocolate was melted candy bars - no semi-sweet baker's chocolate to be found here! Nothing I could use to temper it! Which meant I had to keep them in the fridge. But they tasted yummy all the same. We also did Secret Santa pagne stockings. I received a new cap that I love (the attentive reader will notice that I got a hat last time I was there, too...new tradition?), in a stocking my mom would love - it says "Jesus est né" all over.
Did little during the lull between the holidays, and loved every minute of it. I went to work for a couple days and taught myself a bit about MS Excel pivot tables, but mostly I just goofed off. For several days, my friend E stayed in Kait's* room (yep, that's still how I refer to it. I've even heard some of my friends refer to my place as "Kait's house"!), so it was a lovely week of good company and no responsibilities.
Then New Year's itself rolled around. And in all honesty, I was considering skipping it. It's not at all my favorite holiday, staying up that late seems more like a chore than anything else these days. But I'm glad I didn't, we ended up having a crazy good time. Every time we hit a snag in the plan, it turned out to make the evening EVEN BETTER:

BAD: We couldn't find a cab.
GOOD: But the bus stopped for us even though we weren't at a stop.

BAD: But the bus wasn't going where we planned on going.
GOOD: But It was going to a different nice restaurant.

BAD: But it's a restaurant usually very full of tourists and with a snooty yet inefficient staff.
GOOD: But even though there were very full, the staff was on the ball, seated us right away, and was on top of our orders the whole night.

So from there we decided to go to our favorite bar, a little place run by a French guy who loves Americans and always has jazz or motown playing.

BAD: It was 1130 and they don't open 'til 1 AM.
GOOD: But he served us anyway, and we rang in the New Year shooting tequila with the owner.

Then, we decided to go dancing, by which I mean the pretty girls decided to go dancing and we guys decided that following them was better than drinking with each other.

BAD: They picked my absolute least favorite club.
GOOD: But there were no hookers in sight (seriously, that's why I hate that club, it's just depressing, I tell anyone who will listen that the hallway to the bathroom reeks of cheap perfume and broken dreams), the music was higher quality than usual, I danced with a very attractive non-hooker (um...probably, anyway), and there was a group of French guys who were hilarious and wearing crazy wigs. One kept insisting on unbuttoning my shirt.
So that was my holiday. It was a good one. Sorry, no photos - I still haven't visited my old village (shame on me), and my camera is still packed away in one of my trunks. Er, I hope.

*Wondering why in this case I broke my no-name rule? Because Kait is back in the States now, sad face, which means no discussion of her time here is likely to lead to badness. Miss you, Kait!