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.