Big Up from Aribinda

Friday, July 4, 2008

'weather' to sleep in it or not

This blog was written 4 July. Happy Independence Day people, someone, please drink a Terminal Gravity IPA for me, cool?!

This is simply a bitching-blog. I want to tell people of the hardship, the frustration I encounter with living where I do. Namely, the Sahel of Africa, that sparsely wooded, semi-desert strip of land that exists right below the Sahara. Many volunteers, including myself, often refer to it as the Sa-HELL, it is so damn hot! I like to equate it, some times, to living in an oven or kiln. Sometimes it is that unbearable.

The other night, I tried to sleep inside. Well, it hadn’t rained for two days, so the sun just beat down on the house that day. Plus, my being somewhat not with it from time to time, my cot is near a wall, which soaks up, and conversely, bleeds heat rather well. I need to simply move my cot away from the wall, but sometimes that doesn’t work.

I finally got up at 12:30. I went to bed at 10 that night. So, I tossed for over 2 hours. I finally got up and dragged the cot outside. There were bats screeching and flying overhead, other little creeping noises I don’t like disturbing me. Dreaded scorpion carriers, big spiders, crawling up on the cot with me, that nightmare stuck in my head. There are so many things that could stress me out while I try to sleep. Warm winds, ever present heat seeping from the ground and nearby walls, packs of dogs fighting, squealing, barking, donkeys hee-hawing, sheep and goats braying, cows grunting, cats crying and fighting in my courtyard. The only thing that could soothe me is the black blanket covered with stars that covers the hot earth. I finally pass out.

Eh, what’s that? Oh man, the wind has picked up. Ahhh, it’s alternately warm and cool, sand whipping through it. OK, dust storm, get your ass inside now. I get in the house and place my cot, look at the clock. Oh, 2:40 am. Maybe I got 2 hours of peace. The dust storm whips and howls outside, a few spatters of rain smack the tin roof. Will I get any peace tonight? Probably not. My eyes, dead and so red, I drearily get up for a snack of a few dried apricots. More rain. OK, good luck getting to sleep tonight. It is significantly cooler now, so maybe. The rain picks up, beating the roof. Sleeping in this din will be next to impossible. Somehow, I fall asleep. Then, I wake up at 5:30, donkeys and cows doing their thing. Man, sleeping has never been such a challenge.

With the rainy season here, the storms can be incredible. I got in the shower the other day. From there, I can see one of the granite hills. It was partly cloudy, a few sunbreaks to the west and north. I then looked to the southeast. Oh, wow, look at that wall of dust. Usually, before the rain storm hits, there is a dust storm. They can differ greatly in intensity. Just by looking at this one, it looks bad. I start to bathe, dumping cups of water over myself. Oh, I don’t have but three minutes, that thing is screaming towards me, the pre-blast cool winds picking up already. I finish quickly, the great wall of brown and menacing black clouds gathering on the eastern horizon. I run inside, grab my camera, snap a few pictures. With sand shooting into my nose and mouth, time to retire. I shutter the windows, but unfortunately, in village, no windows are sealable, you can just limit the draft. The light goes from yellow, to reddish-orange, to brown. My headlamp’s glare shows the diffuse dust flooding my house. It is so dark, brown and deep red lights coming from the mostly-shut windows. I sit there for 15 minutes, seeing the reds, browns, yellows, and oranges coming from outside. Then, a little rain, more rain, and an intense pounding of my roof. Coolness and that smell of rain, I love it. It’s misty outside, some blacks and deep grays in the clouds. Lightning rips to the north over the biggest hill, which I am just south of. Another wicked fork of lightning to the northeast, the converging rumbles of the electrostatic blasts ring in my ears. The sheep and goats huddled up close to a wall, profiting from the warmth of the wall and their collective body heat. Another wicked flash… THUNDER! I love electrical storms and this region must have some of the best in the world!

Contending with the mud and wet sand afterward is somewhat of a pain. However, it’s nice and cool, I can deal with this. Oh, man, I forgot about the bugs and their reappearance! Man, I better just grin and bear it. Nobody wants to hear my whine about it.

name calling

This blog was written 4 July.

I am so sick of getting “treated poorly” on transport. I better toughen up, thicken my skin a little, because I got another year of it. I remember thinking I wanted to know what it felt like. I know it now, without the racism. And I am thankful for that. Now after being pointed out, obviously, for the difference of my skin color, it just aggravates me. On having to take transport in this country, my comportment changes from amiable to pissed-off. I don’t want to talk to anyone, be involved with the Burkinabe at all. They all seem to piss me off when I am on transport. That’s just me not being zen, because so many of the Burkinabe on transport are very nice.

I was recently going back to Aribinda and we stopped in Gorgadji, a village about 45 km east of my site. I was getting out of the taxi brousse and a Burkinabe simply just says le blanc. He didn’t even address me, he just said it. He didn’t ask a question, nothing. I almost grabbed him by his shoulder and turned him around just to ask him why he did that. A cooler head prevailed. I walked away and just thought to myself what a stupid asshole he was. Why not just say monsieur? Instead, my color exposes me to this. It is just cultural, yet I still have a huge problem with it. I’m a celebrity, mostly for the tinge of my skin and my being an American. People in Dori do it to, to an excessive extent. They just don’t know it pisses us off, it’s just they way they do it and look at it.

When we arrived in Aribinda, that same guy got to see how the villagers in Aribinda embrace me. Monsieur Mac, c’est comment? I looked at him, and he was looking at us, a blank stare on his face. I am more a part of the community then just white. There is more to me than just being this pale, pasty guy. I also remember getting off the bus in Ghana on that nightmare of a ride from Ouaga, the first thing a Ghanaian calling to me was Hey, White! I started laughing so hard, I mean, what the hell is that? The Ghanaian started busting up too. It was just otherworldly. I mean, this is the culture. Just gotta breathe and practice that meditation the Dalai Lama taught me.

Finally, I have never experienced in-your-face racism here. I hope I never do and I can’t really imagine what it would feel like. I read Black Like Me and man, was it good. I can’t remember who wrote it, but wow. His perspective of being a white man from Texas and knowing many blacks who were involved in the civil rights movement gave him a great vantage point from which to write. I remember him speaking about the ugliness of it, how it made you feel subhuman, a kind of stain or filth. People were, better yet, are, made to feel inhuman, less than a person. An ugliness incomprehensible to me. I think that is a book all should have to read. Plus, it’s short and a page turner.

Let’s have some compassion people. Embrace and love diversity, it will set you free.

nasty, yet a little funny, business

This blog was written 4 July.

So I am going to give you a tale of utter frivolity. It is something that a lot, but not all, volunteers go through in Burkina Faso. I am not going to name most of the people who are guilty of the same ridiculousness. This so-called ridiculousness doesn’t involve any malfeasance, non whatsoever in fact. No, it involves people, in particular places at just the right time under certain physically stressors. You’ll get the gist of the subject fairly quickly, I am sure.

So, as most of you know, the food in Burkina Faso is so much different than the food here. When we first arrived over a year ago, many of us had difficulties with the food dealing with texture, how much oil and salt was in it, the lack of vegetables or the ever-present mystery meat that was floating in it, plus we were getting a different E. coli. The list goes on. Lots of us, most of us I can attest, had one if not many problems with our alimentary canals. I think you’re catching on. The latest saga just has me as the main character! ;-)

I tripped to a friend’s site to check it out. We are out of school, so I wanted to see where Clay lived. We spent a few days just hanging out, not doing much. Another volunteer came down to hang out with us. We’re having a good time, going on ville, relaxing, reading a lot. We go into town one day and eat some rice with peanut sauce. This plate as I remember was pretty sub-standard. I didn’t enjoy the street food at Clay’s site. We then toured the marché and grabbed a few things. We were walking along the road to grab something at a boutique when I started to feel the rumblings. I asked Clay and the other person if they had any lotus tissues, they said no. Then, they asked me the inevitable question: How you doing? I replied, Ca va venir! It’s going to come!

Clay suggested we take the quick, 5 minute shortcut back to his house. At this point I figured I could hold it. But, you never know. Given the situation, in this country, a volunteer never knows what to expect. Transport is especially daunting if you don’t know the condition of your ass, speaking figuratively. As we walked, I recalled a story that the other volunteer who was with us is famous for telling. She had a very hilarious thing happen to her during stage in her host family’s house. But, hey, that’s a different story. But, you now know everyone is susceptible.

As we neared the house, my situation went from an overheating code to near meltdown. We were roughly 80 yards from the house when Clay pointed it out to me through the trees. I started a rough jog, not going too fast because I was afraid of egging the turtlehead on. I became even more stressed about 30 feet from the latrine when I felt it coming. I couldn’t contain it anymore, it was on me! Clay’s neighbors new something was amiss because I was not greeting them. Instead, I was flustered, running/limping for the latrine. I get up to the latrine path and there were two goats lying right there in the shade. I stop and scream GET OUT!, the goats sprint out of the way, and I run into the latrine, knowing that I had missed the target by 30 feet! The damage was done! Shortly after, Clay and the other arrived. A few painfully humiliating moments later, I asked Clay to come here. He asked if I needed a new pair of boxers. I said yes, and could you bring me a half-drawn bucket of water? Thanks man, I need to bathe!

Yeah, the other volunteer’s story about pooping in a bag in her room due to someone occupying the bathroom in her house because she couldn’t hold it. Diarrhea just exacerbates the situation. Another volunteer crapped his pants while teaching. A volunteer shitting herself on transport, probably about 30 minutes from Ouaga. One of my buddies shitting the bed while his wife and he were asleep in it and the further madness of that story! Stories of people puking and shitting their pants at the same time. This place will make you lose it, I mean it, yes! One story another married couple told me about. He shit his pants in village, so she asked him WTF?!, you a baby or what? Then, two days later, she soils herself! Oh, man, that shit stinks! I am a 30 year old man, and I just recently pooped my pants. Wow. And, oh yeah, chickens shit on my bike last night. I’m always getting my nose rubbed in it here.