Big Up from Aribinda

Saturday, August 2, 2008

They Come and They Go: Changing of the Guard

This blog was written 1 August.

Once again, I am back with a few more stories that I find funny that highlight some of the differences between Burkinabe and Americans. The first story is my most recent arrival back in Aribinda. I came in off of Abga’s taxi-brousse, can’t remember the day. Of course, I was greeted in the standard way. It’s like a party when I come back to site, the people always welcome me warmly. Let’s me know they still enjoy my presence. One of my biggest fans, Harouna, an oft-drunk local, always loves to help me with my bags coming or going. This time, he was on the receiving end of my Outrider 75. I was coming from Ouaga, so I had a few goodies to deposit at the house. My bag was especially heavy. As he unloaded the bag, I said:

“Heavy huh?”


“Yeah, got a dead body in there.”

He looked at me like I was a nut job. Nothing funny about that apparently. It was funny to see the way he measured me, his eyes squinted for a second, mouth drooped a little. Then, after a few awkward moments of silence, I told him it was an American joke. He looked at me in a bizarre way and gave me a nod, his mouth still drooping a little.

The second happening occurred a few days ago in Djibo. I had had enough of site and was due to come to Ouaga in a few days, so I hopped Abga’s car and headed west. In village, I had been stressed out over a tree planting project that I had started and was evolving ever so slowly. During the rainy season, there isn’t a lot to do in village. All most the whole populace is en brousse, in the fields, planting millet that will feed them for a whole year. So, there isn’t anybody to really talk to or hang out with. Plus, a lack of classes really gives me time to concentrate on book study of my French, read, figure some crosswords or do sudoku. Not much else. Being so stressed, I also think I made myself sick. I won’t go into details ;-).

When I got into Djibo, I went to the DPEBA hotel and asked for a room. I sat down with two Burkinabe gentleman who were in the office as I waited for Ahmed, the kid who runs the hotel. We exchanged the normal pleasantries. How’s the family, how’s work, did you sleep well? I told them I was sick. They asked in what way. Quickly, the conversation turned to diarrhea. We talked about preparing food yourself and also going from a more village setting or small town to Ouaga. That seems to change your poop. I know, lots of poop talk, but hey, that’s what I deal with here. Not only do I still have poop talks with all of my fellow volunteers, but guess what: I can have ‘em with Burkinabe too! That makes my day a little brighter!

Le sujet à discuter would be the change of the guard that is taking place in the ranks of Burkina Faso Peace Corps Volunteers. This simply means one group is leaving and another is coming in. I have worked one week with the new kids. I like them, yet some of their behavior has been a little suspect. For one, they have a newsletter. Huh? During stage, you are around each other so much, who the fuck needs a newsletter?! Quite ridiculous and a waste of paper people. Secondly, during a med session on drugs and alcohol, our wonderful PCMO, Cameroon’s finest doctor, Jean-Luc Eyango was giving out bags of chocolates for correct answers. He gave, I believe, three bags away. I wanted some of it. I wanted to holler out to Jean-Luc, gimme that bag, I’ll open it. These kids, I mean, just got here. Yeah, stage is stressful, but gimme some frickin’ chocolate. Well, the three or so kids who got a bag of Snickers or whatever just opened their knapsacks and dropped the bag in. I was disappointed, that’s for sure. I didn’t find that too weird until later, when Kevin mentioned that during his stage, if somebody got a bag of chocolates, they opened them up and shared them right there. So, yeah, that behavior is bizarre. I do remember my group sharing. Who could eat the whole bag, right? Plus, we were all stressed out.

Changing of the guard, the passing of the torch. That’s what I am going to call it. Arriving in-country last year, I remember how I looked up to the volunteers when I was just a trainee. I was impressed that a group of individuals could do what they have done for a year. For a pampered American, such as myself, this is a difficult place to live. You can ask my mom and dad, they saw me doing it. I remember telling Joel I just wanted to be a volunteer, I wanted those initials PCV, not PCT, as in trainee. He reminded me of that just the other day, the day I said good-bye to my Coloradan brother. Miss you man, drink a Trippel for me, cool?

But they did something and continue to do something as they leave the country. They are passing the torch onto us, to show another group of newbies how to walk and talk in this so-called strange place. It’s only strange when you first arrive. And that’s when you are most impressed with the people who have spent 9 months, 1 year, almost 2 years here. Then, that kind of wears off. You become a veteran, a Hard Corps member yourself. Especially if you live where I live. I am a Sahelian volunteer, I put up with more than your typical volunteer, in Burkina at least. I have no problem telling you that I am tougher than most of the volunteers here.

So, as Joel, Jill, Markus, Brooks, Jenny and all of my other friends leave, I know they are happy to be going home. And, they are also happy that the group of trainees that we once were are now good volunteers, capable of bearing the role of model volunteer. That first year flew by. They tell me to watch out, the second year will go by even quicker. A big shout goes out to my RPCV peoples, you know who you are. You were bold and succeeded. Much love, big up!

But, on the flip side of that, I am here for two years. As I rode the STAF bus from Djibo to Ouaga yesterday, I reflected on my first year. Difficulties, successes, the future, blah blah blah. Then, I saw this beautiful little African baby, sans britches, messing around by the water pump. Cute, I said to myself. Then I thought, this is it. This is all that little kid is probably ever going to see. I was thankful. For me to sit here and think that I am tough, hah, that’s a laugh. Look at these people, struggling. As the bus went by, the people in the field, bent over their hoes, would straighten up, stare at the bus as it rambled by. I almost felt like time and modernity, some comfort, were passing them by without giving any thought. I am blessed to see and be able to do so much. Be thankful people.

Shout goes out to my family on this day before my birthday. I love you and miss you so much. Keep the river clean and drink a Pabst, a TG IPA, a Pine Marten Pale, and a Brutal Bitter for me. Next time you’re up by the Saw Tooth Ridge, tell Thielsen I’ll be back soon to dominate it. I miss those mountains and rivers. Big up my beautiful Oregon. I better stay like Zane Grey though. Don’t talk about it too much, people may get curious and start going there!


Joel said...

Mac. I miss you too, buddy. I haven't yet tipped back a trippel, but I had my fair share of tasty beverages while in Prague.
Best of luck in this, your second (and might I say, best) year as a PCV. I'll see you soon in OR, alright??

Markus said...

Diddo what Joel said, but I've tipped back so many trippels I'm probably drunk right now. We're on our way to Seattle and we'll drive through your hometown. I'll throw a lime on the road in your honor