Big Up from Aribinda

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cultural Misunderstanding

I want to preface this with a few notes. Much love goes out to Nick and Jaci in Bend and Mo Zainy. Thanks for the packages guys. It means so much. I do live OK, but having a few extra little things in the diet and some reading material are great. I love to hear about some of the things that are going on back ho

me. I love you guys. Also, a little note, I get Newsweek for free out of a Peace Corps bureau thing, so I would especially love the Economist, Time, maybe a New York Times from time to time, maybe even a Washington Post, if you feel like recycling them in Africa!

I would also like to add some prefatory remarks to the front of this shorty. I have a great fondness for the Burkinabe. Their culture is very interesting, new nuances I discover daily. However, some things become annoying and make me angry. I know the women have it worse, but here goes.

As for cultural misunderstandings, this is brief. I usually travel to Belehede where my closest neighbor Christina lives for some good conversation and some R and R around a fellow American. Fellow PCVs are like a cultural extension, something that all PCVs need. Well, my proviseur (the director at my high school) as well as others think we are romantically involved. This is absolutely not the case. She is like my sister. I love her to death, but it's ridiculous. He always says to me en Francais:

"Et Belehede?" et ma reponse:

"Ouais, ouais, elle va bien." Ouais, for non-Francophone individuals, basically means, yeah, OK, right. It can mean 'I know what you mean' or 'uh-huh, whatever.' They just don't understand my thoughts on the issue of intra-PCV relationships and the fact that Christina is my sister for Pete's sake!

Then, when Christina comes to my village, people come out of the woodwork talking about 'I'll give you a Caranfe wife... If you give me her!' Heh, you fucking prick, piss off. And it's funny, cause they always say we are friends, this Burkinabe and me. Many of these cats I don't know. Beaucoup de visages, n'est-ce pas?

Also, I love it when Muslims are wearing things that have drug paraphernalia on them. No offense, they just aren't exposed to or have no clue of a bud leaf that they wear on their beanie! That is haram my friend. My French is just not good enough to tell you how yet, but soon!

But, yeah, a few more experiences Burkinabe. Hey, Merry Christmas goes out to everybody. My family in all Spanish speaking areas, I love you. Drink a Dos Equis loaded with lime for me, esta bien? (couldn't find the upside down question mark for the front, doh!)

Big up big up!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Senses Burkinabe

As a typical Haole in the Sahelian bush, I get a pretty cool perspective, though it is uncomfortable from time to time. All the senses coalesce, bringing strange feelings and insight. I remember taking Salif's small truck to Aribinda from Dori. We stopped at a small village between Dori and Gorgadji. It was a warm, breezy day, the palm fringes were whipping in the breeze on the barrage, things starting to brown because the rain was done falling for the season. I remember feeling like a sideshow attraction for this village. Everybody just stared at me like it was so weird for someone to be white. I sat in the back of the truck, the stench of nasty barrage fish frying burning my nostrils.

Walking through centreville in Aribinda one Wednesday morning at 6:45 am, feeling like I was in a warzone. Delapidated structures all around, bricks lying unclaimed, not part of their former, greater corps. While this was happening, Burkinabe were sitting around, drinking Nescafe and munching baguettes with extremely too much butter.

Incessant visitations, always with a clap-clap before they enter your courtyard. Taking a little green tea with your sugar. My stomach is already revulsed by it. The sweet taste of ripe guavas, the hard seeds hopefully not undoing my two fillings! Juicy, pink watermelon. Always such a treat.

Watching cows and sheep wander into peoples' houses. Then, watching the reaction of the people who discover them and chase them out. Hearing the piercing yelps of helplessness from a much-maligned puppy the kids are tormenting.

The scores of hardworking donkeys, braying so loudly and being whipped so much for working hard. Cows, cows, and more cows in Peul country. Hearing their annoying calls and flatulence and smelling their ubiquitous by-product, which I need to collect for composting. Guinea fowl hopping around in large groups, squawking for no apparent reason. Goats and sheep and pigs, their never ending calls and acts of stupidity, always trying to steal Idrissa's watermelon slices only to be popped in the face with a rock. The sight and feeling of cutting a turkey's head off with a Burkinabe knife, which was about as sharp as a spoon. I was wanting to kill that thing so much faster I can't remember the profanities escaping my lips! My homeboy Adlai, who killed the pig with my Gerber my brother gave me. What a noise, mon dieu! A sight too, watching two Burkinabe hold that sucker down while Adlai stepped on it's head. Most burly thing I've camera-taped.

The colors of clothing, the turbans, the hair, the stares that make you feel you are like a ghost as you walk through the busy market. The small orphan, slightly chanting what sound like Qur'anic verses to you while begging as you get a group of four beautiful green onions to cook. He looks pathetic, and it is difficult to turn him down.

The further pathetic looks and feelings of doom emanating from the kids in your class during an exam. The tension and dismay palpable as you move by them to answer another question. Walking into the middle of a discussion with your fellow colleagues, some angry, some incredulous, some diffident. You, you're just giggling because you don't know what they started talking about, you just hear something about devoirs, homework, and notes. Funny, that rapid-fire French.

Sitting at the taxi-brousse gare in Djibo with another volunteer, listening to the poor little kid cry. His mother gets so fed up with his antics she grabs a light-weight, weak reed stalk from a millet shoot and cracks him over the head a few times, his cries amplifying. She finally breaks the stalk after a fourth good whack. The big Mossi woman at the buvette in Aribinda, giving a hard knuckle to the face of one of her kids as she yells in Moore.

Finally, the sunset and sunrise du Sahel, especially on the stone hills that sit so close to your house. Rising and going out to the wintry breeze that blows from November to February, able to take in the breath-taking vistas of the new day before the groans of the ever-present cows starts to rule the sunshiny, clean air.

Those are just some of the things I get to sense. Much love and take care.

Teaching the Little Ones

Teaching a hundred little brats all at once tests the patience. Of course, not all of them are brats. Some are great kids. Age range is crazy. Size in American classrooms always varies, but age may only vary 5 to 6 months. Not here. There's this one little guy who sits right up front. He is a shy kid with a kind face. I get the feeling he got pushed through primary level cause I know he doesn't get a feeling like he understands what I am trying to teach.

Lots of the kids don't understand homework or studying. Some of them need it desperately too. One challenge that teachers in this country face is a language comprehension issue. Of course, the education language in this country is French. But there are 6-plus major ethnic languages spoken. When kids go home, especially in real remote areas, they are speaking Fulse, or Moore, or Dioula, or something even less common. They aren't speaking French and it is a problem. We had a discussion in class the other day and the kids found out I speak a little Moore and Fulfulde. They asked if we could speak in Moore, the most dominant local language here. I asked them if they wanted to go to America. The majority answered yes. My response: Il faut apprendre le Francais d'abord, puis, l'Anglais. The kids think it's a real hoot that I understand a little, c'est drole!

Also, there are no electives in school, at least at a high school level there aren't. I mean no cultural judgment but teaching kids English when they barely (and sometimes don't) comprehend French is a huge no-no.

I genuinely like the kids. Teaching is usually fun. The kids are normal enough as in one-on-one they are respectful. Get a grip of 'em together and they stop being respectful. The sign of respect and submission here is rather comical. When a little kid sees us "professeurs blancs" they, individually, go up to each Haole and do an arms-folded-across-the-chest combined with a slight courtsey. At first is almost seems like they're mocking you. It's a shit ton of courtsies with 40 kids and 5 profs around and it happens too often!

I remember I told the kids my first day never to come to my house. Wrong move. So many of the kids need and/or want the interaction. I have also learned the value of one-on-one or small group instruction. The kids seem to feel good about it. I am also able to demonstrate more clearly to finer, more specific needs. The relationship/rapport building and language nuances are also ameliorated when les enfants viennent a la maison.

Things seem to get better after every lesson, after every devoir. The kids are now required to turn in homework and I know that benefits them. After I begin a few secondary projects, things will be even better.

Beaucoup d'Amour du Sahel!

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Here it is, my first Thanksgiving away from the nest. This year has been a cool mélange of firsts and given new lessons learned a year of lasts.

I remember telling people I wanted to know what is was like to be poor. How naïve. You should see me in Africa. I'm like a king amongst the bereft, the destitute. I remember seeing an African transient during stage. I again remember thinking how he was the poorest of the poor. He truly stands upon the edge of the precipice.

I have learned I can observe, teach/inform, sympathize, empathize, and, most importantly, help.

What a first 3 months as a volunteer. Already I learned so much. But now, it is time to give thanks.

First, to my beautiful, wonderful family, now spread out over 3 continents, always inter-connected by our psychic/spiritual Wisdom antennae. I have been truly blessed in having an intrepid father, who taught me tolerance, patience, virtue and with my savvy mother also taught me unconditional love and generosity. My bigger little brother, also my best friend, who has shown me resilience. My sister, her hallmarks of enthusiasm and kindness I cherish.

And to all my friends, much love goes out. Dave Hartmann, Scott, Jud, thanks guys for always giving me perspective and slapping me around mentally when I needed it. Ariel, Malia, Jenny. You three have always been ready to listen. I love you. And to so many of the others. Bobby, Jake, and Jason, my brothers-from-other-mothers. Pattie, for being the first one to send me a care package, yay! Aimee, Staci, Steph, Leslie, Karly, of course you guys deserve a shout. But, there are too many to name. Then, of course, I gotta give props to the soldiers sans guns crew, my fellow PCVs in-country. Christina, you truly make it great au Sahel. I couldn't have asked for a better neighbor than you! To all the PCVs world wide: “Hasta la Victoria, Siempre!”

Just remember, wherever you are, says thanks today, hug, and kiss someone. Talk about love, respect, empathy, aid. Think about Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck rocks!) and his lessons of understanding and compassion. And, drink a TG IPA, a Rogue Chocolate Stout, a Pine Marten Pale, a Jubel, and a Celebration for me. The beer here is a terrible imitation. Gives me thanks I am from the Beer Capital of the World, where volcanoes and rivers rule!

Beaucoup d'Amour from your brother close to the River Niger. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Hours, Days, Periods for a PC Volunteer

Until recently, I hadn't been spending much time in the community. Sometimes you are just satisfied to just sit in your house and read. You're happy. But, you realize something is amiss. That something is communicating with other people. Like, par exemple, your friend and colleague Mathieu comes over. He talks to you and you understand almost everything he says. Except, you can't find the words to respond. Then comes on of my favorite French adages, which I created: Il faut parler beaucoup. It is necessary to speak a lot. If you want to really communicate, you have to speak, not just comprehend, read, and write. Il y a 4 ou plus d'aspects en apprenant une autre langue. Given that realization, things have been good. My French makes strides everyday, whether it's becoming familiar with another idiom or understanding the mode of a few simple words and when and where you can use 'em. The people here are great. The kids, however, are little demons. Having a white person around is fun, especially when you can go into his courtyard when he is gone and steal a can, a can! that has toilet paper in it. The little ones also stole my Solio solar charger, but we won't get into that. Just another example of people stealing something they have no use for and don't even have the necessary ins and outs to make it work.

The older, wisened people are the ones you wanna talk to. They relate so much better than students or the teenage kids. They have been here a long time and know the environment. The kids, my childhood shenanigans are so much different from theirs. I must admit that talking to them about school and the United States is fun. I enjoy having them at the house, usually, to give them little lessons, info sessions that will hopefully give them more ambition, more insight so they can succeed. But the older people, they are savvy. They know what's going on, they can relate what they have seen to where the country is going developmentally. I have recently started going to my new friend Douna Ousmane's house for tea. We discuss the main issues facing Burkina today. He works in the health part of Burkina's public sector. Indeed, Burkina has so many problems. Another problem, befitting discussion, is which problem is the greatest, or, put differently, which problem leads to the other problems. Dicey stuff, that paradox shit.

Then, realization hits. Oh, man, there are a shit ton of problems in this country (right now Christina is telling me this is my parlance, the sometimes derogatory fillers I use!). From that cognitive point, you start a downward tumble. An hour, a few hours, a day, maybe two.

Then, something funny occurs. You think of something hilarious, I guess. “The sun'll come out, tomorrow!” You know the song, I think it's from Annie. I admit now I wish I didn't know that! Then, the sun quits the sky and the beautiful African canvas paints it all black, except for a sliver d'une lune and beaucoup d'étoiles.

You wake up, think about Burkina's problems and your's, think about taking it easy with the students and moving slower in class with them. You pick back up 'Tis by Frank McCourt (a great book) and laugh. He is saying some hilarious shit. As the people who know me can attest to the fact I am sometimes divisive in my diction, here's a little snippet from 'Tis where Frank is getting admonished by his friend for a dispute he had with his summertime All-American girl. Frank and Paddy, two boys from the Old Country, were definitely raised Catholic, yet they don't act it, to a certain degree. Frank's girl, Alberta, well, here's the book exchange:

When I told him about Alberta Small and the tie he wasn't a bit sympathetic. He said that's what I get for running around with them fookin' Protestants and what would my poor mother say back in Limerick.

That paragraph had me going for 5 solid minutes. You see how some Irish say fuckin'?! That's funny to a sometimes crass asshole like me!

Yeah, Frank McCourt is great. His philosophy on the “f” word (he equates it with hate, so he doesn't like using it) has made me ponder it more. But, back to the sun coming out. I teach a class and it goes well. I talk to a few people and have some more great exchanges. Then I head en ville pour chercher la nourriture. J'ai tres faim. I go to the Mossi woman's (I forgot her name, dammit!). Ney y windiga. Y tuuma kibare? Laafi. Y zak ramba? Laafi bala. She has made riz sauce with a shit ton of cabbage in it! Needless to say, I am in heaven. I gobble that down, pay her, then go see if my vegetable commission worked out. Oh, yeah, my day is getting even better. I got a cabbage the size of a house, a bunch of onions, hot chilis, and some gorgeous tomatoes. Then, I walk down and talk to more of my voisins, or neighbors, en Français. Like the Gza once said, “but the sun'll still come up tomorrow and shine, shine, shine.”

So, I guess the indecipherable, undetectable part of my story is my life as an étranger en Afrique is very up and down. And who knows, I could be down for two hours, up for 4 days, go into a 36 hour slide, then come back up and glide happily for a week. And for all kinds of shit. Language issues, the kids making me sorry I came, a tinge of homesickness (Mom, Dad, keep shining bright for me. You are my clearest, most inspiring beacons!), amongst a slew of other things. And Frank McCourt, sometimes called Mac himself, he'd just say, “ 'Tis quite a ride.” 'Tis!

My first... Ramadan? abroad

As a prefatory note, the reason I named this blog in this manner is because I have experienced one major US holiday in-country. This of course being the 4th of July. Now, living in a mostly Muslim country where animist feelings are shared by nearly all, this is my first major fête. One would usually think, “Hey, I wonder what Christmas will be like in another country?” Well, now I am in an Islam-dominated world, and it's really cool.

The lunar calendar tells the tale. When does the month of the fast from sunup to sundown start? When does Ramadan end? Aribinda's month ended on Saturday, the 13th of October this year. For Muslims here, when the crescent of the moon is just a slight sliver (a few days from new moon phase), they start Ramadan (en Septembre), then a month later when that moon reappears, a fête ensues. I'll just say this now. I don't have much knowledge on the matter of Ramadan. If I am making mistakes, please, forgive me!

The director (proviseur) of my lycée, Boukary, invited me over to his place for a beer. I amble down past the high school to his place and David the treasurer was there when I arrived. Come to find out, Boukary is a Muslim and doesn't drink, but he doesn't mind dispensing the drink out to his fellow, hard-working teachers. (Here, I got a very informative lesson from Boukary and David concerning names: are they Christian or Muslim?) Shortly after I arrive, Mathieu, Igor, Maré and Bana show up. Over a good typical Burkinabé lunch of spaghetti and chicken, the topic turns to that of the school system and politics. I had started drinking before I ate anything and I am now kind of drunk. I listen as the 6 men proceed along in rapid-fire French about the school system.

“A Gogadji, ils sont...”

“C'est pas suffit...”

“Mais, Compaore a fait...”

“Ils ont pas de raison. Ils sont fou!”

Other things came up. I was happy to just listen, now on my third beer and drunker on a Muslim holiday. I mean this as no offence to Islam or believers. I was just partaking, perhaps wrongfully, on this holy day, from my Muslim boss. People know me as a kafir, but a truly good, striving-to-be-a-Buddhist kafir! If it worked for my Muslim boss to give me beers on his day, hey, works for me! It is a well-known fact that a great deal of the Muslim population here in Burkina abstain from consuming alcohol, as pertaining to the writ of the Q'uran. I was hoping the community wouldn't chastise me for it and they did not.

Then, they started talking about me. David mentioned a chance encounter between me and some hot-shot African woman on the road to Djibo in-between Aribinda and Belehedé. I was 25 km from Belehedé (again, my in-country sister Christina's site) when I blew a tire. I pulled over and up-end my bike and outta nowhere (millet fields and trees at both flanks) a Mossi fella speaking Mooré and un peu de Français pops out. A few more women come out as well and I saluer'd them in Mooré and me and the dude finish repairing my tire. A round of barkas come out (thank you en Moore). An SUV pulls up, fully loaded with Africans. The woman riding shotgun appears to be the honcho. She quizzes me, asks me what's going on. As David recounted the story for the others, it sounded as if I made a few rookie mistakes when chatting this woman up! It made the six of them howl in laughter. Me being drunk, at this point, was laughing at my own lack of cultural awareness. My culture and language skills are still back a ways, let me tell you!

We end up leaving Boukary's, then we head to chez Igor and Mathieu, where I eat once again. Many little girls, older women come by calling out “Bonne fête.” It is Ramadan, so yeah, it's a good party. I guess the thing is if you say bonne fête back to your interlocutor, you then have to give something. Candy, money, something. Well, my fonctionnaire friends don't have much to give, so they do their best to ignore. That taught me a lesson. The poverty is so tangible in Aribinda that you can taste it. I had been busy giving money out before I went to Boukary's, so it is good for me to learn that you don't have to give everything away.

We finish eating, have a conversation, then take off. Mathieu wants to go to the cops place. So, we meet some more people, then head to the commisariat's house. He is a really nice guy (can't remember his name though, too many names for me to remember, damn!) and a Muslim, but he still has a runner go and get beers for all of us fonctionnaires who show up. We imbibe and eat more. At this point, my night is over because my stomach is screaming at me. This happens often in Burkina, at least to me! Le ventre me fait un peu mal! More people begin to arrive as we leave. One gentleman asks me about my Mooré, do I understand much yet. I reply 'bilfu bilfu,' a little bit in Mooré. That draws raucous laughter from the new arrivals. Then, the commisariat explains to everyone when he first met me I introduced myself as Maiga, Hamidou, my Burkinabé name. The people loved that too. Then, as we finally got outta there, Mathieu told me I was already popular. I just hope it keeps getting better!

So, a night where I had fun and learned a ton, simplement.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ooooh, Camel meat!

One day in Belehedé, Christina, David, and I decided we were gonna get some goat meat. So, we went to Hussein's meat stand. But, lo and behold, they had la viande du chameau! We took a grip (about a dollars worth). I wanted to add it to the riz gras I was making. Then, we got a watermelon. Eating watermelon is quickly becoming my favorite thing to do when communing with other volunteers. Such a water-rich, sweet treat. I think drinking cold water's a treat now, hell! Hardly any refrigeration in the Sahel, let me tell you.

While munching watermelon, we realized it was our 4 month anniversary of being in-country. We also were happy because the night before, Oct 5, PC Burkina was supposed to be receiving its newest trainees for the small enterprise development and health sectors. So, we were no longer the greenest in-country. Watermelon and new trainees, all right. Plus, Camel meat.

Well, we all know camels are beasts of burden and the only reason you'd kill a camel was if there was something very wrong with it, or it dies of old age. Well, when we cooked it, it gave off a pretty nasty odor. We tasted it and it wasn't too bad. Then, we added it to the riz gras (literally, fat rice - it's delicious when tomato based and reeking of large amounts of cabbage and onion!). Shoulda stuck with the goat (which is dee-lish!). Yeah, the novelty of the eating camel quickly wore off when we realized it tasted like shit!

But yeah, volunteer life moves along. With teachers coming back for the upcoming année scolaire, I am realizing there are two cultures: villageois and fonctionnaire. All the languages being spoken, the lack of variety in my diet, and lots and lots of cows in Aribinda. La vache, c'est la vie de la Fulani. Hopefully more to come in December. Since I am in a place with no reliable or frequent transport (except my bike!), blog entries and such will be few and far between. Take care and more stories soon!

Friday, October 19, 2007

I Don't Know What To Call This...

It was a Wednesday and it started off as good as any partly-cloudy, Sahelian day. The market day in Djibo is every Wesnesday, so it's the place to be on Tuesday night as well. I rode the 50 km to Belehedé to hang with Christina on Monday. After spending some good time reflecting on the first week of village life, we had a good dinner and then went to bed. The next day, we rode the 22 km to Tongomayel. There, we surprised David. A good birthday present for the guy. We all leaned on one another hard. That first week of village life was absolutely incredible. So much culture shock. We hung out for a little while and then rode the next 18 km to Djibo, our regional capital. That's a total distance of 90 km, along a poorly constructed, rough, thorn-ridden dirt road. That is my route to the regional capital of the Soum. We met Ami at the library and hung out with her for a while. Had a fantastic evening. The next morning, marché day, Ami took me shopping. It was a fun, try-your-Fulfulde-and-Moore experience. I got a head of cabbage, a gang of tomatoes, onions, and green peppers. I stuffed them into the nice rice sack Ami gave me, specifically for those purposes. I then bought a watermelon and we went back to Ami's. Bryan cut up the melon and he, myself, Ami, Natalie, David, Christina, and Kim, a good collection of Djibo area volunteers, munched the cool treat. It was one o'clock, so Christina and I decided to go find the east-bound camion on which would deliver us to Belehedé, then Aribinda. We found it easily and Hassan, a handsome man, introduced himself from under the camion, in the shade. Christina made his acquaintance and secured passage for us under the rig as legions of strong African backs packed the camion to the gills. Christina mentioned her African name. Her nom is Maiga, so Hassan gave me Maiga, Hamidou. That's my Burkinabé name now. So, I was now Christina's brother. That is funny that we are brother and sister now, we talk about being close like that all the time.
We waited til 3, watching ridiculous South American soap operas with Africans. It is funny to see how captured they are by TV programming such as that. Then we looked outside and people were scrambling up the high walls of the truck, looking for a perch on top of boxes, rice sacks, bags of cookies, you name it. We hopped up and found some "relatively comfortable" spots to sit. But, it's a funny thing. You think people are done getting on, but they're not. The truck finally pulled up to the north edge of Djibo about 20 minutes later and stopped again. I think about 15 more people got on. It was ridiculous. Our seats were now a third size they were when we first got on. Being our first camion experience, Christina and I giggled to one another.
The camion took off again. There we are, rambling along, we cross the barrage, and BOOM! We get a blowout. Damn, this is gonna takea while. Plus, the buried the tire in the center of the bed, beneath a ton of rice, somebody's bag of plastic plates and bowls, buckets, and someone elses bag of cheap-ass plastic flip-flops. (The cheap flip-flop is so ubiquitous at least in Burkina. Not uncommon at all to see a well-used flip-flop bereft somewhere in the dirt.) We can still see the comm tower, the water tower, and the three minarets of the Grande Mosqueé, all framed by, now, a menacing, darkening sky. I pull my rain jacket out the Terra 40, checking all my electronics. Thank goodness, got my wallet, cellphone, camera, checkbook in Ziplocs, a must have during rainy season. The whole sky seems to swallow all the light around as Christina and I hear nervous Moore being spoken. Then, they throw a tarp over us. Can't have all that rice and other junk get logged with water. Then we'd have a real load to deal with. It takes them what seems 45 minutes to fix the flat. It never does rain and they pull the tarp from off us. The sky just holds, the clouds' menacing stained nickel-plated cover never cheering up. And then, we're off again.
It's getting dark and we don't know how far we are from Tongomayel. Christina and I giggle, time slowly but surely ticking away. And then, another stop. This time, it's the cops. Every camion gets stopped and inspected. Benjamin, the policeman from Tongomayel (whom we had not met yet) is the one checking everybody's ID. He calls everybody "jeune" and demands the IDs, impatiently. He's got an AK-47 draped across his chest, so you could figure he could look a little freaky! He is a really nice guy though. He is making his way towards the front of the rig and he hasn't seen les deux étrangers yet. I start pulling my Burkinabé/Le Corps de la Paix ID out. He sees me flashing it and his eyes get huge. "Non, non, ça va." Christina and I are giggling more. Hey, pourquoi est-ce que vous avez les étrangers dans le devant du camion?" He chastises the locals for not being nicer to us, but we don't see any problem with our spots. Except they really aren't spots, but hell, when in Rome! Benjamin gets off, wishes us a bon séjour, but we aren't moving yet. All the Muslim brothers are on the side of the road, paying homage to the East. If that's all we gotta stop for I'm cool with it. But then again, you can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up first!
Finally, we're off. I think it was another hour until we got to Belehedé. Torch time, cause now it's dark. I tell her see ya soon and Christina adroitly maneuvers down the steep side of the camion. I buy some still hot gateaux (sweet, sugary cakes) from a girl and scarf 'em down. Last thing I ate was that Kit-Kat knockoff with Christina en route. The camion groans to life and we're off. At this point, it's damn near close to pitch black and we're still 50 km from Aribinda. About 2 km after we pass over the barrage, the camion stops and the engine cuts. I figure, time for some maintenance and I pass out. It's so damned uncomfortable, my head leaning against a top-tier metal beam, and it still looks like it's gonna rain. I wake up a little while later, pitch dark now, and put on my rain jacket. "Man, what is going on?" I hear Moore, Fulfulde, and Fulse being spoken. "Looks like a few people are setting up camp on the side of the road? What gives?" A torch is coming my way, up the front of the bed box just behind the cab of the truck. C'est Issouf, and new friend of mine. He's a strong African back, one of Abaga's main liners (that's whose camion I am in).
Finally, a little French. "Time to go to sleep now," he tells me. I am beside myself, with anger and amazement, but when I get pissed, je prefère parler l'anglais, so nothing comes out. I just give him a tacit agreement, the only thing I could do. I was completely shocked. I wondered to myself, "WTF? Why am I doing this to myself?" I know it's not Issouf's fault, but what is happening here? Then, reality sets in. I am kinda warm in my rainjacket and, oh, here comes the tarp again! The Burkinabé whose head was about 20 inches from mine is now about 6" away. It is now downright hot in my rainjacket and the recycled air is humid and stale below the canvas. I struggle out of my rain jacket, turning this way and that. There is one sharp box jamming me in my lower back and another poking me in my side in my left ribs. There I was, between a box and another sharper box. The Burkinabé laying to my left rolled over (he's got that much space?!) and nudges my legs, which are killing me. Since it was my first real bike ride, my knees were aching like a SOB. Either way I tried to place them, I couldn't get comfortable. The snores and sounds of the Burkinabé that I was "sharing a pillow with" didn't help either.
All through that night, I wondered to myself, "Is this what camion trips from Djibo are always gonna be like?" I pulled myself up at 5 am and was glad. Out of that box. I was in a pissy mood though. Yet the Africans could have seemed to care less about the situation. Around 6:30, Issouf told me we had another blowout, that a tire was on its way from Djibo. He got me some bread and took care of me, told me we'd be in Aribinda at 10 am. I thanked him.
The tire didn't show up until 10. What a travesty. We pulled into Gaik-Goata, a small village about 17 km west of Aribinda and the crew took to unloading nearly the whole camion into a small storage shed! All that stuff, just for that one little spot! You have got to be kidding! Not even 1/3 of the original load was making it to Aribinda! They finished unloading, and everybody hopped back on. Then, we waited. 10 minutes. 20 minutes. 4/5 of the Africans dismount the camion. Half-hour, 45 minutes. The Africans scamper back up the walls. And, you know all the space that was left vacant when virtually the whole box was emptied? No one chooses to sit there! Everybody has to sit on the stack. I never moved while they unloaded. I was ensconced up on point, right behind the cab. Now, I am sewn in. On African transport, at least dingy buses that lack shocks, cans with wheels appelées taxi brousses, and now big trucks, there is no personal space. I remember when I road from Ouaga to Djibo and for half the way, this lady's buttcheek did not move from the back of my hand!
Now, I had someone's feet in my lap. To cut to the chase, we got to Aribinda at 3 pm. 24 hours to go 90 km. At this point, I want to say certain things, but they could be taken as culturally insensitive. So, just this one thing: apparently, in a lot of places in the world, people have nowhere to go... and fast. I witness it everyday. And I realize things I miss and love about my own culture. But, it's just different here. I got in my house at 3:15, unpacked, and unwound. 2 hours later, I was laughing. What else can you do? I though ETing would have been hilarious, absolutely no way I could do that. Then, I remember something I tell myself everyday: You asked for this. Straight-up. You asked to go to West Africa. You don't get to fill in the specifics. This is what you get. Take it or leave it. What's it gonna be? What a deal, I am so lucky to experience this?! Think about those poor Sudanese Lost Boys who have to walk across hundreds of miles of desert just to get to a black hole conveniently described as a refugee camp. Their families killed, their Dinkaland pillaged by the corrupt government in Khartoum. I got it easy.
I texted Ami after about another hour. Went a little like this:
So, it took me 24hrs to go 90km. 2 blowouts & a night in a camion (doubling as a Burkinabé sardine can! I spend the night with a Burk's head 8" from mine, snoring toute la nuit!) I hope camion rides aren't always like this!
There is an old Haitian proverb that goes, 'The rocks in the water don't know how the rocks in the sun feel.' So, that's it. I remember talking about things I wanted to get done here when I was first coming, involving solar power and deforestation topics. You know, change Burkina drasticly. I am still going to sensibilize my community, especially my students, but those drastic change things, they are gonna have to come one slow camion ride at a time.

"Dateline: Ouaga"

A young Arkansan is getting done with her shopping at Marina Market, the most Western-like market, probably, in Burkina Faso. She gets a green taxi, asks the driver to take her over by the Croix Rouge, close to the soon-to-be-closed transit house. As the driver is placing her bike, she is accosted by an overzealous (as they usually are) street salesman.

"Hey, Américaine, you like?"
"Non, merci."
"C'est bon marché! I give you good price!"
"Non, merci."
"Look, look! De la bonne qualité!"
"I don't want it!"
"Look, c'est pas cher. I give you best price!"

The man drops his arms to his sides, a look of disgust on his defeat-stricken face.
"You are bad! You are bad! You are terrorist! Motherfucker!"
"Ah hahahaha. Hahahah. The young woman exhorts in her always endearable laughter.

Just one of the many things you gotta put up with in Ouagadougou. And, of course, certain parts of this capital city are not Africa-like at all.

Here's Where the Real Fun Starts

As Robert drove "the White NGO Cruiser" due west, the sound of the road was like heavy bass you hear at the movie theater. It was Monday, August 27th, and I was finally going to site in the Sahel. Arbinda, or Aribinda, seen it both ways. During the rainy season here (mid June to mid Sept), the Sahel is beautiful. Not forest, but sparsely wooded plain. Moringa trees abound, occasionally the grand Baobab tree dwarfing the others, as if proclaiming its superiority. Little finch-like, bright red birds shooting around, irridescent blue birds with graceful, fluttering long tails drifting forever on the wind. Little African kids playing in the "lakes" from the intense rains.

Black faces staring blankly at mind, probably saying, "Here comes another Tubaku." All of a sudden, we're 20 km from Arbinda. The past 80 km flew by. The ever present rumbling bass intensifies, like this is the climax of my African thriller. But, it's just really the beginning. Robert m'a dit, "Là, la montagne d'Arbinda." We finally get to the house followed by a grip of Burkinabé children. The wanna see the new Malcolm. That's the name of the volunteer I am replacing. I open the door to the big, 3-room house. Oh, Malcolm dropped a shit bomb in here and didn't clean anything up! That just means it's is filthy. Robert tells the kids to start cleaning up. Man, they do a pretty bang up job. That night I just continued to clean and meet people. It was a pretty good first night.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mac Wisdom, Volontaire au Corps de la Paix

So, I have done it. Tomorrow I will officially be a volunteer, a dream come true. This training has been hard, and yes, I am sick again. Just a little, but it still sucks.

That has been the worst thing, being sick. We moved out of the host families houses the other day and back into ECLA, our training base en ville in anticipation of swear-in. Being sick is the worst because of course you just don't feel good. Secondly, your surroundings are so alien and not as comfortable and commode as in the States. Thirdly, my family just didn't understand why I was sick. I guess it's hard to describe to them. I wasn't even about to start trying. So many times I get started with my French, then I get into something to complex, and I arrete. It's all good. When I come back to see them en Decembre, my French will be better and then I can explain to them.

I am traveling up north on Sunday, then going to site probably on Tuesday. It is gonna be fun and crazy. I am one of the only people who has not been to site. That makes it a little more interesting. Most new volunteers have seen their site, met a lot of people, including gendarmes, policiers, les autres fonctionnaires, etc. Me, I have met my proviseur and three fellow teachers. They all seem like great guys and they are going to be the main avenue for improving my French, if they don't mind practicing with me. Plus, the Peace Corps has a tutor fund it will pay for a year for further languaga tutoring. I am definitely doing that, in French and Fulfulde. The local language will be really good for when I talk to the community about secondary projects and also for when I talk to the APE. I need to pay attention to the girls needs too. That is super important in a developing country like Burkina. The girls must be empowered. My opinion is a country is only so powerful as are its female citizens. That is the overwhelming truth in the world today.

Much love goes out. I hope to speak to you all soon. Take care!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Presque à la Fin!

Of stage at least! Things have been good, it has been raining a lot. The rain cools it down significantly, but makes it a pain when you're on a bike. That's all I do, ride a bike and sit through alot of tech sessions, language classes, cross-cultural classes. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's not.

But, I see the end. Feels like it has been 4 months since I got in-country. The real thing is about to begin. We swear-in as Peace Corps Volunteers in a week, on the 24th. Then a week from Sunday I will get dropped off at my site, in a predominantly Muslim village. The main ethnic group is Fulani. They are the West African herders you may have heard of. They speak
Fulfulde, which I will also be learning at site.

My French is alot better, and it is soon going to be good. I have 5-6 weeks in village before I start teaching, so I will be getting acquainted with the locals, learning French, lesson planning and experimenting, and just hanging out. Mom, I am gonna call on you for a book order and some more packages soon. I hope you can oblige.

Much love and more soon. Hope the temperature is right where ever you be!

Saturday, August 4, 2007


We just got done with our third French interrogation, where they interview you, en Français, to assess your progress and give you a level. I currently sit in the middle of the totem pole, right where I think I should be. I am at intermediate mid, needing to be at intermediate high to go to site after swear-in. I am close. The last three weeks have been difficult. I spent a lot of the month sick and just being tired. My appetite was next to nothing, then with my malady, I couldn't keep anything in my body. It's funny, when you go somewhere marginalized with a bunch of well-to-do Americans, you can talk about bowel movements and not bat an eye! Quite frankly, we almost don't find those kinds of things funny anymore!

But yeah, got three weeks of stage left, one more interrogation to go. Now that I am well, I plan on studying more to bolster my French and get to that level. We'll see what happens! And after stage, I get to go to my site and then the real adventure begins. I will be a PCV, not just a PCT. I am super excited, this is so crazy. I don't know if I have every said anything in my blog about it, but everyday, I am sitting there, and there comes a moment. I look around and realize again what I am doing, where I am at, and who is right next to me. I realize how cool this is. How many people get to do this? The Peace Corps is so cool. Yeah, training is hard, but come on, this is what it's all about.

Much love goes out to everyone in Oregon and elsewhere, especially the family. I hope you guys had fun on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River. I missed out, I know, but I know you guys represented for me. Pops, let's do that Middle Fork of the Salmon in July or August 2010. Wisdoms, we gotta do that river!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Teaching, en Français

So, I continue to teach in French. The kids are pretty good, they pick up on a lot of things. Some of the things you would think they know about they don't. Heck, some of the things in academia kids pick up on in the States involve fleeting commentary on the TV or something they see online. With so many more media sources and influential media that there are in the States, some kids have clear-cut advantages to learning. Words here and there, resources you take for granted. A troisieme class (approx 9th grade), filled to the max with 120 students, is difficult to teach. This is also the grade where they take the BEPC, the test they must pass to qualify for the lycée, the equiv of our high school. The only subjects on the BEPC are the ones the kids learn that year. So, every grade up until then is still extremely important.

There are so many other obstacles to kids learning here. Most of the country lies hidden in darkness during the night because there isn't much electricity. So, if kids lamps run out of kerosene, they don't get to study. Then, some kids live 10 km away from school. So, they have to travel, sometimes by foot! Infrastructure, media variety, and overall resources are huge factors to kids' performance. There aren't enough teachers either, did I mention that?

Well, I plan on making a difference. I need to hook it up with some more nonprofits, get some solar panels and batteries for the lycée in Aribinda. That way, maybe I can teach study hall too. Give the kids extra incentive to learn, not just get the things they need for survival everyday, another huge task. If you can't get the things needed pour la vie, who gives a shit? Gotta eat, and it's hard enough to get water here, take my word for it.

The people here will always be here, living a hard life. I know they must help themselves, but no country has ever done it alone. There have always been helping hands. Let's help Africa people!

Beaucoup d'Amour!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sick Again

I hate getting sick here. Nothing is that comforting. You feel as if you lay in a bed you have never been in. Everyone speaks a language you can't understand, to a certain degree. Really, one of the only things bolstering you is the rally cries from you fellow stagiares. Thank goodness for them.

Teaching intro chemistry now, combustion reactions to 8th graders. I guess it's just combustion. My French level makes it interesting. I have only been here for close to 7 weeks, so I haven't given up yet. I need more study time. My vocabulary is so bad, that's the main thing stopping me. But it's hard to study when you're sick, your diet is completely shot because you're sick and you hate the food in the country that seems to reject you everyday with something. Also, you are woken up by torrential rain slapping the piss out of your tin roof, or you gotta run to the latrine, parce que tu est malade encore.

Can't wait for stage to be over. Yet, it is an important part of the journey. Just a few more weeks, that is what I tell myself.

OK, time to go study, or do something constructive. Much love goes out to all the Leos too, Happy Birthday my fellow cats of large stature!

Much love from Son Sagesse,


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Day In The Life

Imagine you just woke up in a bed where the mattress is too big for the frame. You slept in the convex trap all night, probably snoring toute la nuit. Then, you go for an omelette with your friend to the local kiosk. As you eat this very sub-average meal, you are nearly eaten by flies. Your left big toe is infected, which the flies love. The amoxicillin you bought from the local pharmacy, sans prescription, is doing the toe good however. After crappy petit dejeuner, you stroll over to the boutique and grab a few sachets de l'eau fraiche. You run into the local doctor, who also happens to be the person who runs the hotel you are staying at. You greet him, see he has a leash in his left hand. You follow the leash down to its terminal end and there it is, a monkey. Pretty sweet one too, like the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The other stagiare shows up. She's a cool chick who graduated from Okla St. You and the two others decide to make the bike ride up to Bryan's site, can't remember the name, the next day. It's a 30 km trip. The next day, you wake up late, eat nothing in the morning, get on your bike with 2.5 liters of agua and your heavy Terra 40 on your back. The ride is good at first, hardly any hilly terrain along a rough clay road. It rained a few days ago, so you expect some road blow-out. Then, the wind comes. Then, you start feeling ill. Le ventre me fait mal. Your stomach rumbles. Having been sick for the past week and a half doesn't ease your mind here. The wind comes, harder.

A guy on a moto lashed to a camel passes you. You are a fast bike rider so you lose your compadres. You pass the guy on the moto with the camel. You stop and take a picture of the guy on the moto and the camel as he passes you. You start to crave water, although your stomach is feeling queasy. You get back on your bike when your friends catch back up with you. You whine more than Bryan or Cassandra because you feel ill. You start gung-hoing it, right into the stiff breeze. The wind comes, harder.

You get to maybe the 6th low-road point meant as drainage zones for water. The Sahel this time of year is pretty green. You see many Burkinabé tilling soil, calling out to them Bonjour! They yell back ça va? You say ça va. The Baobab trees sticking up everywhere are incredible. I don't think they compare to the Ceiba trees in the Central American rain forest, but they come close. You see this pair of Baobab trees mired in a barrage, many bird nests in the contorted limbs which sway little in the intense wind. You see wonderful birds. Yellow, red, green with blue hints here and there. When you stop, the goats take off. An African rides past you. After you saluer him, you notice he has a dog hog-tied and muzzled on the back of his bike. You drink some water, hop back on the Trek 3700, and pass the African with the bad dog, whimpering incessantly cause he can't bark. The wind comes, meaner.

You stop ahead where Bryan tells you. You start to swirl. You wait for your compadres. You drink your last bit of precious water. You take pictures of your backpack with the Peace Corps patch. You wait for your compadres. Cassandra and Bryan reach you, both of them walking. Cassandra has a flat. Bryan pumps it up. Le ventre me fait mal. You get back on the bike and start pedaling to Kevin's site of Dotoka, which is about 1.5 km away. You get off your bike and start walking with the others, you see the spires of some of the clay huts rising in the distance. Alec Guiness starts invading your senses. You hear Obi-Wan Kenobi say "Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke. Luke, trust me." You trust him. You get to Dotoka and Kevin hooks you up with a good drink. You down the sugary tasting liquid over 40 minutes. An hour after that, your stomach starts fighting an internecine battle. You use the latrine to no relief. Then, you wretch. You haven't eaten anything today, but you still do it. You pass out for 30 minutes. You come to. Every muscle in your body aches. You are severely dehydrated. You beg for ORS to replenish your salts. The rest is history as you daze off. You wake up refreshed, hang out with everybody. Then, the dust storm hits. You wait out the rain and have a much better bike ride back.

Just a day in the life. I thought about ET many times during that trip, due to the wind, my illness, and how I hate the food in this country, outside of benga, chicken, and brochettes. I dreamed of wrestling you dad, in between you and me consuming a cold Sirius watching Hard Ball. Then, Jake came in, asking for our help. He wanted to prep the Odyssey for a North Umpqua run. I heard mom talking to Evan about Spain. Then, I heard Howlie bark at something. Geez, i miss Oregon.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Hey hey again from the Dark Continent! I got my site placement today. Arbinda, in the north Sahelian section of Burkina. It is fairly close to the Mali frontier, in Fulani country. I will be teaching at a lycée (high school) that goes up to premier, maybe even términale. The major local language is Fulfuldé, but of course, I will be teaching in French.

I got food poisoning the other day, so no more eating at La Famille! I have been well otherwise though. The Secondary Ed group is leaving for Ouaga on Sunday for Counterpart Workshop, then site visit! I am excited to see where I am going to be ending up. I guess it is a sandbox up north, with some cool hills and good rock formations. I am gonna make my area green by planting mango, papaya, and banana trees, amongst other flora. I will also start composting, thinking about my secondary project, etc. My housing will be functionnaire housing, which means it will be better than most volunteers places. The volunteer who left that post, Malcolm, I guess left furnishings there, so I am gonna get the hook-up.

Well hey, it's all good. To my brother Jake, I was stoked to hear that the Blazers made the right move and took Oden. When I get back and the Blazers are better, you gotta take me to a game. I am already excited for Rip City to be back! I miss you brah, you take care and I will have many stories to tell you about my students. Then, we can compare notes!


Saturday, June 30, 2007

Village Life and Such

Hey hey hey, what's going on? Nothing much in Ouahigouya, just relaxing on a Saturday afternoon. Heard the Blazers took Oden. Good, just what I wanted. Hopefully when I get back, they will be an upper echelon team and Oregon will be excited about Rip City again! Oh, and congrats to the Beavers for an unprecedented back-to-back national championship in Baseball, right on!

Things are good here in Burkina. I have still yet to become ill (knocking on wood currently!). My family is well here and my language comes along, doucement! I can and tend to move at a snail's pace with it, not ready to abandon my English just yet. I can comprehend a lot more, so I am stoked. It's funny to be with my family and hear them code switch between Mooré and French. It makes it difficult because I comprehend so little Mooré. Oh well, in due time.

So, the village trip with Christina and Zach to Komsilga was awesome. It's a sometimes lovely half-hour bike ride north of Ouahigouya. A storm was approaching us as we rode out. It was so beautiful, the sun was completely visible through broken clouds as it set, laying Baobab shadows across the clay desert African ground. Then, we got into village and Christina introduced us to everyone, most people speaking Fulfuldé, a local language. I just kept saying fofo (don't know how it's spelled) which means thank you. Then, we played card games with a bunch of kids in Christina's cabana. It was surreal. I kept telling myself, TIA, this is Africa. The lightning that night was incredible. After cards, we walked to Yaneth's section of the village to meet the others. The village elder greeted us in immaculate Burkinabé French. When I rose, he thought I was older like himself! He thought that because of the shaved head! He then went on to say how myself and my buddy David were the strongest Peace Corps members he had seen. He was a warm host and a great guy, can't wait to go out to Komsilga again and talk more with him.

The lightning that night was great too. I got a good shot of a bolt cracking well behind a baobab tree. About pictures, it is hard for me to upload stuff, so I am looking for ways to do it in a more expeditious way. Don't worry, you guys will be getting a visual of Africa soon!

Well, much love goes out. Take care and let's all remember: Obama in '08 baby!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Sights of Africa

Lot's of cute little kids, some rolling spent tires down the clay road for fun. Others just loitering around. Lots of Zach Randolph jerseys. Hell, mon frère Ismail has one. Saw a Rod Carew #7 the other day, that was funny. Goats, sheep, pigs, some suckling in the middle of the road. Ouahigouyans pumping water from the well. A row of Muslim brothers bowing to the East in unison. Crazy marché. Pops, we may have thought that one in Santa Elena was nuts. I think in your travels you may have seen other things like it, maybe Iran, maybe some casbah locales like in Morocco or something. I miss you dad.

Things are good here. Everyday I learn something new, comprehend more. I get to teach a 15 minute leçon le lundi en Anglais, puis un 15 minute leçon le vendredi en Français. Kinda freaked out for that one.

But yeah, lots to see in Africa. The Burkinabé are wonderful too. So hospitable, so interesting. I am going to the village tonight with mon amie Christina. My first African village experience, gonna blow my mind. I promise, pictures to come. Things are always frantic here. C'est la vie.

Hasta la vista

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Comme ci, comme ça

Hey hey, what's happening? I am having a good time over here. Everyday is new and I must take advantage of the time I have. My family is great, they actively help me by posing questions to me from lists I create. Outside of language class, there is other homework. But most of my time is spent studying beaucoup de Français! There is only work and study it seems, but my family is so great that they help me pass the time with ease. I keep saying I got lucky. My family is just flat out awesome.

We are starting to do small training sessions where we get up and teach other stagiares, stagiares being my fellow trainees. Tech advisers and trainers also critique us. I hope to teach chemistry and math. I do not want to teach such a high level of physics that i mess up the kids, meaning they have to re-double a grade, Burkinabé for retaking a whole block of classes. It's hard here for the kids. Not many teachers. I was au marché aujourd'hui and saw Africare. That made me happy. Maybe some more Africans can go to school and some can be educated about AIDS. The more people get educated, the more opportunity they will have, heck yeah!

Well, language session calls. Encore, beaucoup d'amour y hasta la vista!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Hey hey everyone, I am back again. I promise, next Saturday, I will post pictures of ma chambre, ma famille peut-etre, and many other things.

Peace Corps is hard. They drive you and you don't get much personal time. I have laid new ground rules for my independent learning time, as I need more study time. Things are well, my family is great, I haven't gotten sick yet, etc. Just need to put more time in. I knew this wasn't gonna be easy. Hell, I got a chemistry degree, I can do this!

I miss cold drinks, that's it! Lot's of people, the world over, don't get to open a refrigerator and pull out cold water. This trip has already changed me. The first of many changes for me no doubt!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Land of Upright People

I made it, I am now a Peace Corps Trainee in Burkina Faso. Just yesterday, my presence stopped a soccer game. Shock, to say the least. My French continues to come everyday through language lesson and home stay with my wonderful Burkinabé family. It is raining now and there is a hell of an electrical storm going on. I love semi-desert regions!

I'll just take you through a typical day. The muezzin or the chickens wake me at about 5 each day. I love the thought of eating chicken now more than ever! Usually Ahmed or Asata (my siblings) bring me water for my bucket bath. Then, je prend du pain (bread) et du thé noir (black tea) with Oma and Ahmed at about 7:15. Then, i hop on my sweet Trek and head to ECLA, the local training center. For about 8 hours per day, we engage in language sessions (français et mooré), cross-cultural training, medical, and technical training. Training is fun and hard all at once. But that is what trips like this are all about, paradox. I go home around 5 and Asata or Ismail bring me de l'eau once more for a bucket bath. After my washing, I sit with mon père Oma et mes frères Issaka et Jacques. It's fun stumbling through French with them, but my language is coming along nicely.

Burkina is great. The people are so nice, the little kids constantly yelling 'nasara!' at me, they are so cute. It is just so damn hot! I drink so much water it's ridiculous. Ma chambre feels like an oven at night it is so damned hot here!

All the cultural stuff is great too. The African sky is truly beautiful. I think I can see more stars just because there aren't as many lights in Ouahigouya. All the intricasies, like small minarets with the aformentioned blaring muezzin summoning people to prayer, the pigs and goats running amok through the clay streets, and of course all the cute little African bébés running around calling out "white person, white person" whenever one of the PCTs comes around. Africa rocks.

Beaucoup d'amour et bonne chance!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hesitation, Apprehension

Last night, amidst the chattering and hollering of my fellow sots, I became fidgety about Africa. My friend Justin, whom we lovingly refer to as Jud, opined to me his trepidation concerning my very near Peace Corps duty. He knows I am very tight with my family. He knows I will be all right, but he also acknowledged how hard it would be. That is comforting, yet disconcerting in a way. My friend Chinh, who taught English in Vietnam for a while, has also told me how hard it was, how you don't have the same support network in-country when you are, let's put it, in-your-country.

To leave things behind is not how I choose to look at my upcoming adventure. I look towards the future, toward the horizon and what lies ahead. My family will always be with me, maybe not there at a moments notice. I keep them close to me, as I do my friends. I am also being trained with more English speaking volunteers, who I will bond with. Of course, it won't be the exact same.

Turning my focus to the future is good, however Zen buddhism has taught me to think in the present. Do not dwell in the past and try not fabricate a future. There is hesitation in me, but little. I will get over my homesickness, and I really wanna hear French and tribal African tongues, and I yearn for that feeling of becoming culturally endowed, and, wondering do I have the mettle to deal with this situation. I know I have the gusto, my joie de vivre will carry me through hard times. Knowing that my family is with me, in a psychic sense, is comforting.

It will be difficult, but it will be a blast. Paradox, that is what many journies are made of. Like Chris Stevens once said, "I feel like my karma's all dressed up with nowhere to go." I know where mine's going: to Africa and to good fortune.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Anticipation, Expectation

As the Dark Continent looms on the horizon, I believe it is time to reflect on what I have done with my time up until now. I have done well and learned a lot about where I come from, where I am going, and now I must find out what I need to do. Leaving this beautiful Oregon is going to be hard, but not that hard. I mean, Africa, are you kidding me? I am so privileged, so lucky to be able to do this. I have always wanted to be trilingual (French, then maybe Dari, Urdu, Pashto, Farsi, Arabic, or Hindi) and be in the minority. I will be in a very well-to-do minority, however, so it doesn't really measure up. But it will have to do.

I know I like to think the culture shock won't be that bad, but I am in for it. I love French and I think I will pick it up quick. Picking up Mooré may be more difficult though. Hopefully learning them concurrently will be advantageous. I guess I should just not anticipate anything. Go into this wild safari with no expectations, no visages of what will transpire, what I will see, what emotions will course through me.

Having no expectations is impossible. I dream about Africa, about seeing the Volta Rouge all the time, running along clay roads and through the savanna, about checking out the beach at Accra, at Conakry. It's gonna be something else when I can't understand half the things my host family is saying to me though! Expectations were meant to be smashed and unmet, in some cases, anticipations made to be mistaken. That is part of what this journey is all about.

In any case, I am happy to be doing it. I am gonna have a blast and learn many more lessons and have so many more experiences than so many people can possibly imagine. Fortunate and grateful am I for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Carpe diem, something I am guilty of not always adhering to