Big Up from Aribinda

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.


Iraqi Mojo said...

Another great post, Hamidou! By the time you get back to the US you'll be able to do anything.

Robin said...

How cool, Mac. Son, you're changing the world with your passion for life for everyone. Love, Mom