Big Up from Aribinda

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ramadan... Again

Written 29 October

Another year, another Ramadan. My second trip around the block, needless to say, was a totally different experience.

I am a mainline veteran now, a grizzled, burly Sahelian. I have been in-counry for nearly 17 months, 17! Even I can’t believe it sometimes. This Ramadan, however, I was ready. There was no getting drunk at my muslim proviseur’s house, no going and eating a lot of food. Just a lot of the whole ‘bonne fête’ (good party) thing and then my mixed reactions to it.

First of all, let me explain to you how it works. People who have a little bit of money, they get hit up by villagers. Let’s call them the bereft. Or children. Mostly women, or small children. OK, women and small children. When men said bonne fête to me, they just continued by, big grins on their faces. I think they don’t want to start taking from me. Well, if someone says bonne fête to me and I say it back, that means I need to give them something (read: money). Well, I like to give money to the community in other ways: my missed opportunities in America add up to money being spent here. Also, my American sponsored money is going to Africans. And, I have been planting trees in the community. Is that selfish of me? No. As I have said, I am giving my time and I already spend money in the community. So, I give candy. In special cases I will give money, but it isn’t much. I learned it was OK not to give money from the Burkinabé themselves. My colleagues showed me that much last year.

So, the kids start coming over, but not in the droves I thought they would come in. I start handing out toffee. No problem. Day goes by, I tell my buddy Adama I’ll take him for a beer. Issouf jumps in and says that I will buy him a Fanta. Well, I do like Issouf. I’ll buy him that Fanta. But, I don’t like the way he chimed in like that. You don’t pull shit like that in the States I thought. But hey, Africans who eat millet all the time without fail, who don’t and never will have an idea of what variety is, hell, this time I’ll buy him the Fanta.

We head down to the local watering hole, CPL. We get some beers, Issouf gets a Fanta. But, Issouf doesn’t sit with me. I take that as an affront. I buy you something, you should show me a little respect, sit with me for a while. Adama and I are enjoying our cool SOBBras when two of my students show up. We do the whole exchange:

Me: Bon soir, ça va?
Them: Oui, bon soir monsieur. Bonne fête.
Me: Bonne fête.

The candy comes out. That happens a few more times. I recognize my friends greeting me, a few drunks want to talk to the local nasara. I see my students come by, giggling, their smiles light up in the single vertical tube suspended above the raised circular cement dance floor. Then, I spot a few Mossi women, one is my vegetable lady. They come up to me. Bon soir. The hand shake. Bonne fête. I reply. Then, the people just stand there. I am caught in this weird spot. Can I give candy to this middle aged woman who rips me off on vegetables? Adama and a few others, while she stands above me, waiting for her present, explain to me that now I have to give her something. She wants a Fanta. Here we go again! I am a volunteer, I live here like you, I don’t make a lot of money. Sorry, here’s some candy. She was actually satisfied with that. But you know, I tell people I’m a volunteer. They don’t care, to them I’m rich. Well, I am going back to the States. I am not rich over there.

Time goes along. I meet the guy who manages the water situation in Aribinda. He’s a real nice guy, we talk for a little above the blaring Ivoirienne music that’s knifing my eardrums. He’s so drunk he buys me a beer then he gets on his moto and he’s going home. Issouf’s brother comes up (forgive me, don’t know his name! Too many faces in village!). He bullshits me into buying him a Fanta too. Adama tells me to stop doing that. I tell him it’s for the brothers. I am stopping at that point.

Then, I am done, tired, I’ve had enough of this scene. Adama tells me I should buy beers for his two amigos sitting with us. Huh? No, I didn’t bring money for that. For me, you, and a few others. What is this system of giving cadeaux (gifts)? How did it start?

Well, I was happy when I got home and lie back on my cot. No more cadeau giving, no more bonne fête bullshit. Well, sure enough, more little girls show up around noon. I tell them to go away, the party was yesterday. It continues to happen. I continue to scold the children, telling them they’re crazy. Then I go into town to eat. Some people ask me if I am coming to the fête tonight. I tell them no. Ehh, attendez. La fête elle continue ce soir? Oui. La fête continue pour combien de jours? Ehh, 3 jours. I ask some other people. They give me 7 days. What is going on? I mean, that’s a gap there. Sure enough, close to the time I get home, I hear voices of women. Sounds like they are coming closer to the house. Bon soir at the gate. Then, bonne fête. OK, there are 4 of them. Give them 100 francs (about 20 cents) and be done with it. They accept and file out. I punch my lights out then start reading with my Freeplay lamp.

Next day, no more bonne fêtes. I am glad that was my last Ramadan in village. It is confusing and it just makes me feel bad. I mean, am I giving enough? I guess I just don’t know.

Now, I am going to extend this blog to a few other things that have happened that caught my attention. I recently ran into Edouard, a Burkinabé guy who lives in Aribinda who speaks English well. He studied it in school and used to be a translator for FESPACO, the international film festival that rotates between Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and Tunis, Tunisia every year. In 2009, come February, I’ll be at one of the biggest parties in West Africa, let it be known. Back to Edouard. He works at the medical center. I asked him how work was, a very important question in Africa for the most part I believe. He told me it had been hard of late. He spoke of infant mortality, talked about how he knows it’s not their fault, but whenever a child dies, it still feels like it’s their fault. Man, ground zero as far as I’m concerned. Child mortality is a big thing here. I guess it never touches you until you witness it. It was a touching conversation. I tried to sympathize with him, telling him I can only imagine. I always am so careful, never saying ‘I know’ when I know that I don’t know. That’s the wrong thing to say. Sympathize and try to empathize, that’s my thing.
What a good guy, doing such a tough job in a marginalized place such as this. Kudos to that guy.

Another conversation stands out in my mind. Issouf, one of my neighbors came over the other day to just have a conversation with the local American representative. Namely, this guy. We talked about random this, cette chose-là, this other dealie and that. Then we got on the topic of there being no work in Burkina. The population here is truly jobless, I don’t know what the unemployment rate is, but probably on at least 80-85% of the peoples ID cards it says ‘cultivateur’ or ‘cultivatrice’. He told me that he was redoubling the 4th level. That means he didn’t pass his freshman year, so he has to do it again. But, he says after he gets past that year, he’s going into the military. He tells me it is possible to get into the military at that point and at a certain age if you can pass a certain test. I tell him to do it, it would be a good opportunity. Then he tells me he would like to be placed in the south, far from home. I ask why not Djibo, why not be close to home? He tells me that if it were like that, with everyone from home so close to him, it would be too easy for them to frequently ask him for money. If someone dies, if there’s a wedding, if there’s a baptism, the list goes on. My buddy Pete told me the same thing about one of his buddies, a teacher colleague. He was getting sent back to his birth region, back to where he knows a lot of people. He expressed the same hesitations and fears to Pete that Issouf convince me of. Burkinabé, yeah, if they’re broke… Yeah, they’ll ask you for money. It’s just that way. I don’t question it anymore. You would lean on your patron, hell, I would lean on mine if I had one. Any spare change? I need to get some rice with sauce man, I haven’t eaten in a day and a half. Yeah, I would definitely be begging too! Gotta eat some how…

1 comment:

Muhannad said...

You are giving more than enough, my friend.