Big Up from Aribinda

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.