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!