Big Up from Aribinda

Friday, December 19, 2008

La Première Dame Rend Visite à Nous

This blog was written 18 December

One day in village, I notice a flurry of activity. This activity was along the lines of a massive clean-up of my neighborhood. I didn’t know what was going on because the people, for the most part, don’t paint the tree trunks that annoying white, clear brush and trim those same trees, or burn slash on weed-infested grounds. We just let the place go. I mean, who would come and visit us?

Well, actually, the 1st Lady of Burkina is coming to visit us. Huh, that’s interesting. But, why? Well, she wants to promote Burkina’s HIV/AIDS programs and take a little Sahelian tour. What’s on tap? Well, first, she’s gonna give a little speech at the mayor’s, some even in Koronfé! (the Fulse, the main ethnic group of Aribinda, speak Koronfé; the first lady is Ivorienne: I don’t know what she speaks), then she is going to view the animals and sample some of the local dairy products. Oh, is Saga going to be involved? (Saga is my neighbor and his sons occupy a courtyard near my house. They are my closest family acquaintances in Aribinda) Yes, he is one of the main participants.

So, with that little dialogue for you, you understand what the purpose of her visit was for. After the clean up was completed, the villagers waited eagerly. Some even claimed it would be a huge fête (party in French). I was skeptical. I mean, what could this possibly do for us?

As the days dwindled before the fête, I started becoming more interested. Fleets of horses and camels starting coming in out of the bush, school was canceled for the day, it seemed people were having clothing made especially for the event. I didn’t know if I was going to attend or not. Finally the day comes. I hear frenzied activity, knowing the population of Aribinda had, probably, at least doubled. I had a beer with a Jean Zongo, my surveillant one night, and I saw some acquaintances from Djibo who had come just for the party. At that point, people started to tell me that all of the mayors and people of important station from all the towns and villages in the Sahel were going to be in Aribinda. I could just see them, patiently waiting and talking quietly with one another, anticipating an audience with the first lady, their chance to get some individual attention.

I put my jeans on and grab my camera. I stop by my colleagues’ place and they inform me they aren’t interested. I’m going to see Africa, take some pictures. Barry tells me that Madame Compaoré came in a Hummer 2. I feel disgusted. We have a small conversation about how much fuel those things consume, the problems this world, particularly Americans have, with petroleum consumption. I take my leave and start walking over. On the way, I see my buddy Yacouba and we walk over together, where we get separated. The first thing I notice: Camels! And a shit ton of them! I get excited. I start asking the turban-sporting brothers if I can take pictures. Yeah, go right ahead they assure me. I wondered what ethnic group they came from, Fulani and Tuareg are some of the first that came to mind. I take a few pictures and then start to make my way around the mass of people that flew like an uneven rainbow around the eastern end of the Mayoral complex, one end terminating in a line toward the cell-phone tower. Damn, everbody had clothes made with the same pagne, or cloth design. Halloween orange with a large flower motif in blue and white. I see several students, exchange a few pleasantries, then make my way up toward a group of people who are even closer to the action.

I get up to the roped-off guard line, boys in blue moving around with Kalashnikovs draped over their shoulders, Croix Rouge workers moving up and down the lines, sticks in hand ready to smack somebody if they get outta line. Crowd control troops, sporting fashionable green camo, their flexible, steel-embedded tipped batons arched in half at their hips by a band, sauntering around. I see some more students, engage in the standard greetings, tell a few kids they need to study, then spot Idrissa, one of my neighbors and a son of Saga, tending his biggest cow. Mokhta spots me, starts hollering at me to come over. “Viens, viens! Et amene ton appareil!” Bring your camera he says. Eh, the insatiable appetite for pictures the Burkinabé have. I look up at the Africans in the acacias, still climbing for a better vantage point, trying to get a better look. Oh, Africa, I am here today! What an event for me to witness, so totally Africa, so totally awesome. I walk up to a policeman at the line, close to an entourage who is definitely traveling with the first lady. Speaking French, asking the police officer if I can enter and stand with my neighbors, the others start jawing at me.

They start speaking Mooré to me, telling me I have to speak Mooré to get in. I tell them the ground is Fulse, you need to speak Koronfé, at which point the Mossi brothers start laughing (the Mossi speak Mooré, they make up the largest percentage of the indigenous population of Burkina Faso). They notice my less-than-Français African accent. One starts asking me in broken English if I am American. I reply in English. Somebody mentions Barack Obama. I reply with glee, relating my happiness over his election to our highest office. Then another of the entourage, in injurious broken English, offers, “John McCain is your president.” Whoa brah, you’re African. I’m American. I get pissed off a little, barely containing myself and reply in acid French, “You’re not American, I am. Et John McCain, je le deteste. Il est cafard (cockroach), comme George Bush. Les deux, je les deteste. George Bush, particulièrement, je le deteste tellement!” They looked at me like I was crazy, like if they said the same thing at that point about their president Blaise Compaoré they would face a firing squad. I turned away, disgusted with the whole John McCain-is-your-president-thing still fresh in my mind because of the color of my skin. The policeman, amused with my rant, granted me permission to join my neighbors.

I saunter over to my neighbors, start taking pictures of Issouf and Mokhta, with the horses, with the cows, with whatever animal. I spy Konsta and his son Hama, who delivers my water. I exchange a few greetings. Turns out they are giving sheep to the first lady. I learn that other people are giving her a horse, a few cows, and some other goats and sheep are going to Ouaga too. The big cow shits, a tiny drop of the plop rebounding off the ground and striking the left leg of my jeans right above my knee. Shit, literally! The bull, must be Aribinda’s biggest, being tended by his Peul guardian, his latest offspring with the aforementioned cow gamboling about. Then, all the speakers are finished with their discourses. Madame Chantal Compaoré starts making her way over to the tents where the cows and various milk products are being kept, flanked and tailed by a huge procession, brothers in suits, some other well dressed African women, older, official looking cats in what appears to be Burkinabé military uniform. She gets close and with all the activity, the bull flips out. He takes off toward the green and red podium, placed in the middle of the mayoral grounds where speeches were delivered. A little African pandemonium breaks out, oohs and aahs, the Peul cattle guardian giving chase, trying to calm Saga’s bull. I let out a little giggle. Yeah, sweet, sweet, sometimes crazy Africa. A few minutes pass, Chantal samples some yogurt and milk, then the H2 starts backing down into the fray to retrieve it’s presidential cargo. The boys in blue and green camo start making a perimeter, the first lady approaches and then steps into the American-made gas guzzling trap. Her window comes down, she waves to the jubilant crowd, then the H2 slowly ambles away.

I tell Issouf I wanna see camels. He escorts me over to the other side, where I take a ton of pictures of the camels, my jubilation not rubbing off on the Africans. Here I am, the local Peace Corps volunteer, acting like a tourist. I take a video, more pictures of the camels, a few pics of a group of horses. Sated, I tell Issouf we are following the camels back to the house. I get back to the main entrance road of Aribinda, police and gendarmes start spreading out along the road. I get to my colleagues’ place once again and the Kalashnikov-sporting gentlemen start cordoning off the road. Then, the automobile procession comes through. I don’t know how many cars there were, but it was an odd assortment of Croix Rouge 4x4s, the H2 about 10th in line, UN WFP cars, maybe a CRS Land Cruiser, gendarme-laden trucks in the front and rear, rifle barrels to the ever-blue sky. They pull around to a house near mine. I visit with my colleagues for a few moments and then head home, getting permission from a trooper to walk to my house.

Huh, that was interesting. But what really happened? At that point I just started thinking about another cool experience that Africa and it’s wonderful people shared with me. More thoughts on this as they come…

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