Big Up from Aribinda

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happenings in Aribinda with my Parents

Live from Spain, what's cracking? I'm just getting a little R&R after close to 7 months as a volunteer. It's Easter Sunday here in Utrera. Andalucia is cool. The food is incredible, partly because of a dearth of tasty treats for culinary Western snobs, comme moi!

So, my folks spent 13 days in Burkina. It was fun, they were tough. I did a week at site with them. While they were here it was the break in-between the second and third trimesters. It was perfect timing, besides the fact the temperatures were ramping up to their inevitable high point which comes in April here. The parents had a problem with the heat and the Ouaga fumes. I had never noticed the fumes in Ouaga that much. But, if you stay in centre-ville for a few days, it's much easier to notice them. I'm usually at the transit house or in the bureau off Charles De Gaulle. They stuck it out though wherever, in Ouaga, in Dori, and most importantly, at site in Aribinda, au Sahel.

We did a lot, had a lot of visitors. It was good, most of the time spent at the house. The heat was really a shock to them, coming from Spain and Oregon where the temps can be right around freezing. Personally, I didn't think it was that hot, but I have become Burkinabe. Yeah, that's right. I am a little African now folks, for better or worse.

One of the nights, we attended a wedding party. I took a cadeau for the couple and told my folks we would stay for 15 minutes, give the gift and leave. Well, we stayed for 2 and a half hours, my moms camera go some use, and we were honored more, I felt, than the wedding party. It was strange, the PCV and his parents, the foreigners, being honored so much by these wonderful people. I didn't like the feeling that our presence superceded everything. We were there to celebrate the union of two people, but they wanted to honor the guests. It was interesting. More to come on that experience later.

I took my folks over to Consta's house to meet his family two days later. One of the village handy men, Consta Kobre, had been bugging me to come to his house to meet the fam. He was good friends with the other volunteers in Aribinda before me. So, I told his son Hamadoum to come and get me and I would bring the folks over, you know, really honor them with my folks presence too. We went over there, I translated, and my mom took pictures. It was cool, but and eye-opener for my mom. We stayed a half-hour then went home. When we got home, my mom started crying. She talked about how beautiful the people are, how they are stuck, they don't have much. It was a teary moment, my eyes and my pops getting moist. I told her she had to tell everybody back in the States about it. I also talked to her about how they just become accustomed to that life. It is difficult, so difficult I can't even describe it sometimes...

My driver flaked on me, so we had to stay another night up there, but it ended up being fine. They got to take Salif's taxi-brousse. It was more packed than it had ever been and for the first 45 km of the trip, I sat up on top of the cab with Salu, Salif's son, as he and I bracketed the bikes on the roof. My folks sat shotgun. It was an interesting ride, starting at 6:30 from Aribinda and ending around 11:30 in Dori. Yaneth's neighbor at one point told me my French wasn't good. That bummed me out, but I was so sick of trying to carry on conversations with people. Everyone wants to talk to the nassara and when there are multiple nassaras, it's like a party. Yeah, she's right I need to work on my French, but yeah, I didn't appreciate that. Stuggling, that's what a PCV does.

Segue to the night before the taxi-brousse ride. I am walking by the transport gare in Aribinda. I see this truck with a few nassaras in the back. The guy sees me and, grinning really big, emphatically waves to me. I said, OK, let's go talk to these people. I walk over and start a conversation in French. After a few seconds really, I make a reference in English. I could tell they weren't French because of the accent. Then, the girl says, "Oh, good, English!" They were a Dutch couple and had been in Aribinda since Monday, a day after I pulled into site with my folks. We lamented over how we had not crossed paths and now they were leaving. They were extremely friendly. I was very disappointed that we hadn't met earlier. They talked about their stay for a second, then proceeded to tell me that the people love me. They said they talked about me alot, that they are proud they have a hard working volunteer, and they were very happy that I spoke so much to everyone. I was so happy about that. Sometimes, I just get lost in it all. I don't know if the people like me that much, should I be doing more to integrate myself, etcetera. But, that really reassured me. As the truck rolled away, I told the couple to enjoy Burkina, bonne route, and they yelled back see you later and keep up the good work. That was so refreshing, something I really needed. I have only been at site for 7 months now. I still have work to do, but I guess I have done a lot to ingratiate myself with the people. Satisfying, to say the least!

More stories soon, hopefully in April. Hot season, I think it's gonna be around 120 degrees at site for close to two straight weeks. Eek, I am gonna be so lazy, just hope the kids are going to like an introduction to functions and the beginnings of algebra.

Take care, beaucoup d'amour de l'Afrique de l'Ouest!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

An Island of Plenty in a Sea of Destitution

I want to preface this blog with a few observances and notes. I hear three languages at site outside of French. Koromfe is spoken by the Fulse, the main ethnic group in my very near area. Next, there is the ever-present Fulfulde, spoken by the Peul. Some people will know them as the Fulani, the cattle raising, nomadic herders of the Sahel. They inhabit Burkina, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Cameroon, amongst other African countries. Lastly, there are many people in village who speak Moore, the most common language of the Mossi, the largest ethnic group in Burkina. My French improves on a day to day basis, but I still have a long way to go. Les choses complexes, or the complex things wreak havoc with my tongue. I have also finally decided to abandon the ‘ne’ of the ne…pas negating scheme when I can feasibly do it. OK, to the main blog body.

Also, a book I want to recommend to everyone. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. This masterpiece drew me in and never let go. Oh my goodness, parts ring true in it for volunteers, as far as the living and many other things about the culture. If you have time, do check it out.

This blog was written 03/05/08

Village life for me is hunky-dory when compared with the bereft individuals that box me in. On a chilly January day in Djibo, I stepped outside of Hotel Massa to go and check out Salif’s taxi-brousse for my trip back to site. First thing I see is the cute little African kids with their back packs. They are toting their lunch pails to school as well, being in Djibo most are well dressed. I step onto the cool earth, my flip flops smacking the ground. I round the corner next to the gas station and check out the early goings in the marche. Then, I see the ultimate contrast: the destitute. The well-off versus the have-nots, the well-dressed versus the tattered-sporting, way oversize just-to-cover-myself-up kids trying to stay warm, the hopefully well fed versus the body-aching hunger that I hope I will never know. The truly hungry kids are following the women who precariously yet expertly balance a tray with gateaux or a large bowl with freshly-made rice inside. I myself received 7 packages that weekend, the kids and others gawking at me as I make my way to the taxi-brousse gare.

Later on, I get on the taxi-brousse. Needless to say, it takes a while for us to take-off. I see poor Muslim fellas stepping up to the cab where Salif le Patron sits. He sees them, knows what they want… and desperately need. He gives each one I see come up to him 100 francs, enough to get some benga (beans in Moore) for a good breakfast.

I see the kids whose stomachs are distended in Aribinda a lot. That means they aren’t getting enough protein in their diet and their bodies are struggling to rein in the mass of their internal organs. People eat the To, the complex carb, protein-free (to the ire of many Peace Corps Volunteers) over protein, fiber-rich benga because of the status recognition. Benga is the food of the truly poor, whereas To is more high class. What?! Personally, I think To is disgusting. I love benga and I push the protein-rich diet on people when I can, trying to be a health volunteer where the people truly have a need of realization.

Back in December, the recently finished former Country Director Marily Kniereman visited me in Aribinda with the cool chauffeur Pare. I got to hitch a ride to Dori with them (always good to catch a ride in a white Land Cruiser when you can!) to see Yaneth before I had IST formation. She had given me a care package with raisins in it. We stopped at the hotel and Marily and Pare went inside. A poor kid sees me in this 4x4 vehicle and makes a B-line right for the window. He puts his face right up next to the window, silently urging me to give him those raisins. Two thoughts come to my mind: ‘I am gonna knock you out because I want to eat my delicious raisins in peace’ AND ‘Oh man, this kid is hungry. Give him the raisins. I gave him the raisins and started on a mandarin. I ain’t hurtin’. Then, there’s this crippled dude who lives in Dori. The first time he accosted me, telling me he lost his dad, his mom. A truly sad story. He has get to be in his 40s. At first, I reject his initial requests. I didn’t have change, honestly. He gets angry, as if I owe him something. Well, that really got me pissed. I had to go into the supermarche and get a few things. I acquired change after buying this and that and gave the guy around 130 francs. I thought he didn’t show enough appreciation and his initial overtures set me off, so the next time I saw him in Dori, I told him to get lost. I can’t give money to everyone.

The donkeys, the fighters and workers of Burkina, needing water. I show up at the pump by the lycee one morning to get water to do my laundry. There is a group of like 7 donkeys hanging out, waiting for someone to pump a little extra so they can get a share of precious desert l’eau. One of the donkeys was anathema to any of the other asses getting his water. I watched him jut those ever present teeth out, pin his ears back and nip at the back of a donkey that wasn’t having any of the tough guy routine. This donkey gave a little typical rear-it-back and kick. Good old double-up my hooves to your muzzle you jerk. The animals are also left to fend for themselves in this harsh environment.

Then, there are the little brats of Aribinda. When I say things like this, I mean no offense to the culture. But, these kids stole my Solio solar charger after a week at site, they have stolen a bucket of mine and my bike lock. You stole the Solio and my bike lock for what? You can’t possibly use them for anything you morons. They come into my courtyard sans permission. That really messes with me. Nassara will get no peace I think sometimes. These kids are among the bereft, wanting cans for toys. They have nothing, so they know nothing of propriety or of maintaining a useful something or other.

The latest episode is disgraceful, so of course, it doesn’t involve me. It involves another Nassara (Moore for foreigner, by the way). This nassara sired two children by a poor Mossi girl. One day, my colleague Mathieu and I are walking to the bar. This woman wakas us, tells us to come here in Moore. Luckily, Mathieu is Mossi so he speaks Moore. I can see they are talking about another nassara. They carry on, she makes a ‘wipe my hands clean’ expression, which basically means being done with something. In this case, that involves leaving, so called dereliction of duty. This prick had two kids with a poor Burkinabe girl and then just takes off. We spoke some more with a blind 90+ year old woman about it. They wanted to know if I knew anything about this nassara, because, bien sur, I am a nassara, so maybe I know about this scumbag. Damn, that irks me. A different experience, let me tell you. Two Mossi women, quizzing Mathieu et moi. A weird and shameful experience for that individual as well.

Yeah, it’s tough. Unless you’re me. I have enough to eat and more than enough money. Praise be, I have my health, my family back home, all my beautiful friends, a great African fonctionnaire house. I just need to poke my head above the clouds every once in a while to get a dose of that sunshine when I get down. I realize how much I have. Be grateful for what you got my people. So many don’t even know what a good pair of shoes feels like.

Comedy and Incredulity at The Black Mamba Corner

This blog was written 01/06/08

As you all know, I recently took my first Xmas break as a teacher in the Peace Corps Burkina Faso. I wanted to trip to Morocco to see my sister who is teaching English in Andalucia, Southern Spain for those of you who don't have your degrees in geography. Due to monetary shortfalls, I tripped to Ghana with friends Becca, Clay, and Adlai while my sister ended up in Amsterdam for New Years. The details of my sister's trip not yet heard, here is a story of a crazy German woman who lives close to Busua Beach. She is married to a looped-out Rasta named Alex and owns The Black Mamba Corner, a picturesque guest house and home that sits on the rock outcropping that marks the west edge of Busua Beach. What follows is a tragicomedy, maybe even a travesty. You have to decide.

Becca, Clay, Adlai, and I went to this place and placed our order for dinner. Gabriella certainly showed us hints of here sociopathic side right there. She dominated the conversation, talking about everything from movies, Ghana, and the guest albums, where patrons leave their indelible marks for this woman who, frankly, I believe, brings disgrace to the gender! We left after making our dinner order to go have some Castle Milk Stouts at the Orkowye Tree Restaurant on the beach, which sits next to the Black Star Surf Shop:

We returned at 7, the time at which we requested our pizzas to be done. She was chatting up a nice Austrian couple in German. And there was a Rasta, at first unseen on the periphery, choppin' something. Chop is to eat in Ghana. We sat down, and this Rasta starts hollering, "Go and call the police. She will poison you!" Turns out this Rasta is Alex, her husband. Gabriella told us about this Alex's inability with automobiles. Well, apparently this Alex also has a good rapport with marijuana, booze, and whatever other kinds of mind-benders he partakes in.

So, we all get up to saluer this guy. He gets up, we shake his wrist and he says, “I’m eating here.” Then, Gabriella comes and sits with us, a look of morbid dread on her face. She says, “Please, help me. Just ignore him.” Then, Alex starts telling us to call the police. “Yes, they will come here to get you.” Gabriella then tells us never to marry a Rasta! I was incredulous! This is your husband?! Why do you put up with this?! He’s obviously high as a kite AND probably drunk! Why?! Of course, all these things are swirling around in my head.

So, we start exchanging pleasantries while Alex continues to eavesdrop and then drop seemingly incongruous retorts.

“Yes, call the police.”

“You are not safe here!, she will poison you!”

The whole time this is going on, I am thinking, “C’est une grande plaisanterie!” She gets up to get us our food. I felt a surge of relief in me, thinking there’s no way this woman will just sit here and talk to us while we eat. Well, I was wrong. BIG TIME! And the conversation seemed to digress. She would make aversions, Alex still chopping away at the other table, still throwing insidious remarks our way. The typical broken dialogue was of Gabriella’s nonsensical bullshit, the quartet’s furtive glances and looks at one another of WTF? and then Alex, in all his great ignominy, kept the tragicomedy/farce going like this:

“I tell you never mary a Rasta. Please, just ignore him. They have these magic mushrooms here. It is so difficult.”

“Call the police! You are all foreigners here!”

“Yes, we are all foreigners. Look at him, he needs a father… These people don’t know how to read and write (where’d that come from?!)… They are sitting on gold and diamonds, it is so beautiful here. (?!)

Further degeneration of the conversation. I wish I could’ve captured the looks on Clay,
Becca, and Adlai’s faces:

“Yes, I used to have 14 dogs… and 70 pigs.” She shifts in her seat, adjusts her crappy looking moo-moo, fidgets with the now broken glasses that abut a bizarre vertical 5-inch cylindrical bun that springs from the crown of here defunct, crazy head. “Now, grain is so expensive, I am getting rid of the pigs. I have 4 dogs now, and they eat a lot of pork.”

Then, Alex spouts gold: “And look at me while I sit here and eat this slop! I’m a human being, not an animal!” I almost lose it. I can barely contain myself.

“Please, oh, this is so difficult. Please, help me, just ignore him.” She then keeps weaving a beautiful loom of discursive, utterly ridiculous statements. Alex gets up, walks by us We are all incredulous listening in awe to this long gone European specimen. Alex, who put on a bou-bou, walks by, and says it:

“You and your fuck money.”

I notice Becca blink and hold, bite her lipe to stifle the internal laughter, wrinkles and creases furrowing her brow. “You foreigners.”

Gabriella, once again distraught, asks for our patience. She then continues with her craziness.

“So, I am in Mexico for two years and I never have one of these tacos! (WTF?!) Are they like pancakes?” (Are you delirious woman?!)

“And so, why do men have breast nipple? (?!) It is because woman came first. (?!?)

My patience was gone. The humor was no longer with us, the disgusting comedy in the form of Alex was passed out somewhere in a chair, a bong precariously jutting from in-between his scrawny legs.

Then, the crazy one became the crazy cashier/accountant. “Please, please help me, this is so difficult.” The same old bullshit, melodramatic to its very core. She told us of a 15% tax we had to pay (?!), did the math that looked correct, passed the calculator to Adlai(?), and he did the calculation. His was close but didn’t match hers. She snatched the calculator from him and sets it in front of me. Well, I messed up bad somewhere. She gets an air of angriness and snatches the calculator from me. Adlai calls me out. At this point, I was infuriated, so I tried to come back at Adlai nicely. We owed about 58 Cedi, Ghanaian currency, nearly $1=1 Cedi. $58 for this crap? She used imitation cheese that came in triangles, so she couldn’t even cover 50% of the pizza surface. Plus, the tomato sauce wsa too sweet. And, Alex’s words rang out with prescience: “She will poison you!”

Later that night, Becca puked and Clay got la diahrrea! We each dropped about 16 Cedi, gave her a little extra so we could shut her up real quick and bailed. Turned out we were stuck in that time warp for nearly 3 hours! We could’ve been eating fresh lobster, had 3 Castle’s, and been flirting with the Charlotte, the cute Ghanaian chica who worked at Orkowye Tree Restaurant for under what we spent a la Madame Folle’s!

What an experience. She was so quotable. However, I never wish that on anyone else. Another Burkina PCV, my buddy David (with Jenny, PCV stationed in Gorgadji and his buddy Jonathon) had a funny experience with her as well. She spoke about a trip to the health inspectors’ office for a test to get a license to do business in Ghana. She told them she had eaten something funny, probably going off for 10 minutes on the topic. She described her leftovers as her toilet. “You should have seen my toilet, it was terrible! Alex asked me, ‘What have you been eating woman?’”


Because she was so quotable, Becca and Clay would bust out at random times with her or Alex’s maniacal quotes on the latter part of our adventure. Best sixteen bucks I ever spent to get a wonderful view… of crazy.

Just don’t go to The Black Mamba Corner when you go to Busua. Get a board at Black Star or a sea kayak at the hotel, or plant your ass in a chair in the shade of the Orkowye tree and have a Castle. Don’t try and sell crazy here, we’re all filled up.