Big Up from Aribinda

Friday, April 18, 2008

un melange la pluparte triste

This blog was written on 14 April, 2008 and concluded on 18 April, 2008

Just finished with a training in Ouahigouya today. Two of my colleagues went with me, Compaore and Guire. There are both cool guys, both biology teachers. We were doing a formation on Life Skills. Well, they dropped the HIV/AIDS hammer on us. We had to do the wooden penis-condom thing, the whole shebang. Everybody knows about that. Well, it was especially good for my colleagues. They hate Aribinda and it was good to get them outta site. Plus, they learned a lot. It was definitely frustrating at times. Sometimes they act like I don’t understand a word of French. That is particularly annoying. I’ll give you an example. We had a conversation regarding a plan of action for site. Well, I understood them perfectly clearly and they told me I didn’t understand. So, we discussed it for another 5 minutes. Then, I had my APCD come over. Seb speaks English well, and of course, his French is great. He’s Burkinabé, a great guy. I am lucky to have such a good boss. They explain the exact same thing to him and he tells them the same thing I said, just in much more concise, cleaner French. Seb gets up to walk away, thanking the guys. I get up. We give each other the same look, one of those ‘Man, sometimes it just ain’t easy.’ We laugh, shake our heads, then me and the guys made a new plan, my French a little sharper.

Something different. The other day we had some people come in who were HIV/AIDS positive or their family’s had been ravaged by the virus. It was sad. I saw how close I was to it. But it’s just worse in places like Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, etc. 70% of all people who die from AIDS in the world are from Africa. I need to talk to my students about it. It’s so important to use that condom, or to practice abstinence. But with this whole la vie chere thing (expensive life: this is the price augmentation scheme the government here has enacted that has been affecting all the poor people), it’s too damn expensive to buy condoms. C’est grave ici. On doit trouver une solution. So many problems, sometimes I can’t see the light. And these people are so strong. They call me strong, but I will only live here for about 2 years. They’ll be here all their short or long lives. Mon Dieu, s’il vous plaît, aidez les gens vivant…

The other day I arrived in Ouahigouya. I went to Emily’s house and we shortly left to go eat at Maison de Jeune, a popular buvette. They got good benga (beans in Mooré), what can I say. There were three Japanese volunteers there. Emily knew 2 of them and we striked up a little discussion. I told them I lived in the Sahel, in between Djibo and Dori. The first thing one said was ‘al Qaeda?’ I was rather astonished but tried not to show it on my face. Al Qaeda, WTF?! Are you that prejudiced? She went on to talk about the muslims there. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The muslims there treat me very nicely. Yes, they treat me curiously, but they are very kind people, Mossi, Peul, and Fulse people alike. I told her yeah most of the population was muslim. She then mentioned al Qaeda once again. We ended the conversation and Emily and I went and found our own table. We looked at each other like “What was that?” I didn’t like that exchange. I don’t think the Japanese volunteer meant anything bad, but I could feel the skepticism as she spoke. Muslims, for the most part, are wonderful, kind people. They are just like Christians, Jews, Animists world round. Most are beautiful, empathetic people. A few bad apples spoil the whole group some people think. Let’s stop the prejudice people.

Let’s change gears. So, there I was, getting infinitely frustrated again. They switched us from a taxi-brousse to a small truck for the ride to Aribinda from Dori. Well, needless to say, this truck is too small for everybody to fit… comfortably. My colleague Thierry and I, being fonctionnaires, were expecting to ride up front. As I waited for the transport haranguing to end, I noticed a group of white girls and what looked to be some African-American girls. I thought, “Eh, just some French people touring.” I remained leaned up against the truck, laughing about the travesty I was once again having to endure, Burkinabe arguing in Fulfulde, laughing and carrying on. Then this group of girls make their way over to me. One sees my shirt (Umpqua National Forest Fisheries, yeah!) and says, “Oh, tu connais l’anglais.” I nod my head yes, give them a brief once over. Americans, I figured, given her American-accented French. Then, I say, “What the hell are y’all doing here?!” One girl, a huge grin on her face through the American laughter coming from the group, shoots back, “What the hell are you doing here?!”

“I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer.”

“Oh. We’re teaching [something or other] in Ghana. Are you going to Gorom-Gorom?”

“No, I’m headed to my site, Aribinda. How you guys like it up here? Having fun?”

“Yeah, we’re having a great time, except the guides won’t give us a good price.”

“Yeah, those fuckers. The white price, not the right price!” Laughs come from the group. “Well, have fun and don’t let them get to you too much.”

They take off, walking away from the gare (French for station). I continue to wait. Then, after another 20 minutes, I get crammed into the back seat of the cab. The ride wasn’t bad, but I hate transport here!

Just yesterday, I took the STNF bus from Djibo to Ouahigouya. I got a good window seat and the trip was actually one of the better bus rides I have had in a long time. Yet, there was still something that bugged me. Here, I am a celebrity. No one knows me by my name except for my Burkinabé friends, my fellow vols, or Peace Corps staff. So, I constantly hear nassara, tubaku, or tubak. Why can’t I just be another face in the crowd. In Spain, I was just another stupid American giddy. Nobody cared. Here, I am nassara. It is just cultural. But man, I can’t stand that either. Sometimes being called nassara is funny. But when Burkinabe sit there, talking to each other in their not hushed tones, casually look your way then refer to the nassara, it is annoying. Why can’t I just be lui, something that doesn’t make me stand out so much. But now it comes to me. I signed up partly for this feeling. I wanted to know what it was like. I just have to endure, sois dur.

Here is the part of this blog that I felt I had to write. While my folks were here, my dad bought a goat and beers for all of my colleagues and we had a little party at my house. It was cool. My mom and dad met Mathieu, Issoufou, Koueta, Bama, Barry, Guire, Compaore, Igor, Jean, Boukary, and a few of my other colleagues. Guire and I became locked in a conversation about the kids. He started to tell me about those students who ate once a day. I don’t know what my problem is. Here I am, living like a king. I eat 3 squares and snack chaque jour. However, some kids here are underfed. At that point, I realized it still hadn’t hit me. Until you actually see it, smell it, touch it, it’s not real. Since I haven’t run into this problem head on, I just ignore it. Convenient, to say the least. We went on to talk about the issue. It is the most serious of things to me. You must eat to survive. Everything depends on it. On Saturday, I was reading outside underneath my hanger. One of my students, Moussa, a regular at the house, came to see me. We started the typical dialogue, asking how things were, what’s going on. Then, he asks me for some oil. I tell him I can’t give him any oil. If I gave him oil then I would have to give everyone oil. I start quizzing him more. As we go along, I become more and more heart-broken.

He goes on to tell me he eats once a day. I continue to prod. I ask him what the situation at home is like. He is living alone. I remember when he told me his last remaining grand parent died. I ask him if his mom is still in Belehede. He says she moved to Bobo for the time being to get work. She is a nurse. That means he gets no money, her being so far away. He has one can of beans left, eating a mere handful at noon everyday. Also, getting water is not easy in this part of Burkina. I am struck, this kid having to persevere like this. His average is almost 13 out of 20, a decent if not good average compared to his fellow students. His average in math is in the bottom third at around 6. If his average in math were better, maybe his overall would be around 16, which is a top 5 out of 90 placement in this part of Burkina for kids at CEG or lycee or equivalent middle school + high school in the States. He tells me that’s why he does so poorly in math class. I tell him of course, if you can’t eat, who gives a rat’s ass? I tell him that if he were eating more he’d do better, be right up there competing for the top moyenne (average en Francais).

I sit there, dumb struck, trying to ease his mind. Then I cook up a plot. I tell him I am going to give him a little bit of money today, like around 50 cents. He can have a decent meal and buy a little oil to help his calorie intake. I tell him to keep it secret. So, we go eat together. He pays for his meal with the money I gave him. Then he buys a little oil and he goes home. Later that day, I finally realize that that’s it. I need to do something about this. This kid is the future of his country. For him to actually be doing so well is remarkable. Now, I have decided to make him my bon, meaning make him my errand boy. He can wash clothes, help me clean the house, get water for me, and I’ll pay him for it. That would help both of us out. I just wish I could do the same exact thing for more kids than one.

To my family, spread out in Oregon and Spain, your African son and brother loves you. I know I saw most of you very recently, but I miss you like hell. Especially you mon frere. You fly safe. Remember I think about you all everyday. Stay well, I’ll be home soon!

Hasta la Victoria, Siempre!


chris dziubek said...

Mac, this is one the best blog entries yet, anywhere. I got a little teary eyed as I read of your decision to take on the helper. Compassion. Live it. I am trying to live up to your example.

junderscore said...

Hey, man. Hope you're having the time of your life!

Robin said...

Mac, how is it working out with your helper? Your dad and I think what you are doing is awesome. You are a blessing to Aribinda and they know that. How cool.

We've been showing the powerpoint of our Spain & Africa photos to as many people as we can. It's quite a good show. I have the wedding party and Consta's family's photos in it. I'll send you a copy with the next package I send.

We love you so, take care, son.

mere et pere

Ariel Eberle said...

Hi Mac Daddy. I miss you, but I have to say I am so glad that you are in a place where you are able to make such a difference. This entry is bittersweet, and I know it must be difficult to stay positive when there are so many things that seem as though they aren't as they should be, but I am proud that you are there turning it right. Even if it's only 50 cents, one handful of beans, or one inspiring conversation at a time, the difference that you are making is unmeasurable to the people that it directly effects. You are enriching their lives, and I'm so glad that you have this opportunity to be enriched, likewise, by this experience. Carpe diem my friend, I have said it before, but I will say it again, I have so much respect for you!

I love you and miss you friend :)