Thursday, November 30, 2006

Here, at last, is a pic of the fabled Thanksgiving cake. Valentine's first comment upon seeing it was: "Well, as long as it's not turkey flavored, I'm ok with it."
I haven't been blogging the last few days because I knew that if I sat down to write, I would only rant about my car. This last month it has spent more time at the repair garage than at home. I am now beginning to suspect that is is possessed by demons. When I add oil,which is often, the car just kind of rinses its mouth with it and delicately spits it back out. Huge, expensive pieces of metal in the engine keep breaking off. It's grim. Add to this the fact that I keep getting stranded all over town and have to flag down "green taxis". These are unmetered, barely road-worthy taxis driven by men notorious for gouging tourists. This is a rather fatiguing, as it usually takes a while to make the driver understand that I am not going to pay 10 times the normal fare. It's sometimes hard to keep cool. "I'm not a tourist!" I want to shriek, "Look at me! Am I wearing brand-new safari clothes head to toe? Am I wearing socks with my sandals? A giant sunhat? Shorts? It should be obvious that I'm not going to pay 1500 cfa for a 150 cfa taxi ride!"
On the other hand, things at the VAO are going great. We are set up over there and starting to sell a bit. It's a bit slow, but the other vendors assure me that things pick up in December. That's tomorrow!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Well, the turkey décor cake astounded and delighted everyone yesterday. Not like there was that much competition in the astonishment department. We had Thanksgiving dinner with a whole bunch of Southern Baptist missionaries. They make great cornbread stuffing, but are not very full of surprises. None of that disturbing political talk that mars so many holiday meals. The main topic of conversation was: “God: How Great is He Anyway? Extremely or Profoundly? Discuss.” Which is a perfectly excellent topic for Thanksgiving Day chatter. Certainly better than getting all worked up over Iraq, risking poor digestion and getting depressed.
I doubt much could lower my spirits today, though. We are in at the VAO!!!! Yes, it’s true. Eugenie signed the papers this morning and they handed over the keys. Papiers du Sahel Recycled Paper Women’s Cooperative is now a tenant of the Village Artisanale of Ouagadougou! I can’t believe that it happened so fast. I figured it would drag on into January. And here we are scrambling to get shelves built and concrete poured. Yes, we have lots of work ahead. The “boutique” part of the place is there, we just have to furnish it. But we need to install our own workshop area behind the main building. Luckily, it happens that we have about a million cfa at our disposal to take care of this, but it’s still quite a job to figure out what we want and how to do it…… But that will all get settled pretty quickly. The main thing is that we can set up and be selling for the holiday season!!!
BTW-I am having trouble with my camera, so I have no pictures to offer of my cake masterpiece or our space at the VAO.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

As soon as the SIAO finished, I embarked on a program of household improvement, to make up for the month or so of neglect. First of all, I had the house fumigated. (Fewer bugs is definitely an improvement, don't you agree?). The problem was ants. Previously, they hung out in the kitchen. I was ok with that. But recently, they started venturing out into the livingroom. Onto the sofa, even. I think they were just hoping to have good seats if the kids put on that Bug's Life video again, but that's no excuse. Anyway, filling the house with poison meant we had to go live in the house of our kind neighbors for three days. They are in Germany right now and said their casa was our casa. Not to say that it was stress free - I spent the whole time lunging at the kids shrieking "DON'T play with/touch/use/look at/breathe on that! This is not our house!". Few things kill a friendship faster than having your home destroyed. (Don't worry, Tony and Kirsten. Your house is still standing) We ended up staying about a week, as I had our place repainted immediately after. Then a mason joined in the fun, as there was a hole in the wall to repair and new tile to install. Then the water heater had to be replaced...It often seemed overpopuated around here, what with my three household help women, six painters, a mason , two air-con installers, the carpenter, the plumber, the gardener, the security guard and the driver...not to mention the four kids, their pals and a partridge in a pear tree.
No wait- that's next month.
The house is taking forever to finish. My car has been breaking down every two days. Alexa has a cold. Mallory has headice. Again. And gave them to ME, which I figured out at about two in the morning, which caused me to LEAP out of bed as though I'd received a severe electric shock via a cattle prod to my pancreas. I spent the next four hours shampooing my hair with lethal poison and combing it with a tiny, sadistic comb. Yeah, lice. I am about ready to set off a thermonuclear device on top of my head. I figure the residual radiation would kill off any lice left on the kids. Damn I hate these things. It's roaches for hair! How messed up is THAT? A good (?) pal of mine just wrote:
"I guess that the shortcut of locking Mallory in the house whilst it was being fumigated didn't occur to you, did it? You should consult with me on these things." Always one step ahead of me, that Barb!

Anyway, what with all the running (and riding) around for Papiers, organizing the house and keeping up with life in general, I have been getting a tad exhausted. My solution? Take eight children camping in the African wilderness! Of course! The kids rode bikes, rode horses, played baseball and re-enacted all six StarWars films. I got no sleep. The four younger girls, who I had thought would chatter all night, promptly fell asleep, while the three boys howled like maniacs until about 3am, at which point I unleashed my flying monkeys.
I am still not feeling very perky, but life goes on. The car is still not fit to drive, so I am home today, blogging, answering emails for Papiers and making a giant cake shaped like a turkey. Don't ask.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Tuesday morning, I had an early meeting with the head of a major French NGO here in Ouaga. She was interested in ordering Xmas cards for the organization. She’d seen Papiers at SIAO and asked us to work on a special design for her. None of our usual designs would do. We have 30 different ones, but they weren’t quite right. So, Valentine and I spent Monday afternoon working up four new designs for her. The new designs were good, but she ended up choosing one of our old ones…And she only ordering 100 cards, rather than the 200 she had mentioned. And she is being very fussy about the colors (we have to mix special ones and she has to approve them) and bargained the women down to their lowest price. I find it is typical that the smallest clients are the biggest pains in the rear.
(Contrast that to this morning, when I met with the head of the Swiss Cooperation and she ordered 200 cards withou any fuss. She even accepted the first price we quoted her. Nice doing business with you!)
Anyway, after Tuesday’s first meeting, the project cell phone rang. It was the Village Artisanale of Ouagadougou (VAO)! They said that the jury would be passing for a site visit sometime between 9:30 and noon. We were very excited. Maybe it’s really going to happen!! We’ll really get a place at the VAO!
We settled down and got to work on greeting cards for a normal client ( not Ms. Hard to Please) Right then, a small film crew showed up. A Burkinabé NGO in information technology is making short digital films about local projects of interest. We had been recommended as real showcase of Burkinabé creativity! We thought it would be fun and useful- we’ll get a free copy of the film to copy and distribute as we please to potential clients. So, we all worked gluing paper camels onto their dunes and got interviewed.
Time passed and soon it was noon! The VAO hadn’t come and I needed to pick up the kids at school and run to the grocery shop. I was already late. Well, it’s not like I’m indispensable. I had wanted to be there, as it was going to be a historic moment for the project, but the women don’t need me. They are perfectly capable of showing off the project to a jury…. Besides, I figured that the the VAO had too many site visits planned and would put us off until another day.
Well, I was just in front of the US Embassy when Awa called my cell phone in a panic. “They’re here!! I showed them around, but they insist that they have to see you! Please hurry! They say they have to leave soon!”
I told the driver to turn around and head back. We were back at the project in about ten minutes, but there was no sign of any vehicles parked outside our site.
“They left!” Awa wailed. “They said you should go to the VAO right away and wait for them.”
I was pretty angry, which made it hard to think fast. I grabbed a scrap of recycled paper and made a quick grocery list. I gave my driver all the money I had (only about $10) and told him to get the kids and take them shopping. Arouna left.
Then I realized that I should have gone with him in order to get dropped off at a main road. There was no chance of getting a taxi in the quiet neighborhood where the project is. Plus, I had no money now. Right. I asked the women to lend me a bit of money out of the cash box. They figured I was good for it.
Then I called for a taxi. None available. At all.
I started walking. It was pretty hot. I stopped in at the restaurant over at the orphanage just down the road. I greeted everyone there and asked advice on getting a taxi fast. The orphan girls that run the restaurant had no clue. Guess they don’t take many taxi rides. But I was overheard by a very good-looking young guy with a very new, good-looking motorscooter.
“I’d be happy to take you out there to the VAO” he said “but I haven’t much gas left.”
Luckily, I had the 500cfa the women had lent me and we had a deal! I jumped on the back and we sped off.. Taking back roads, we got to the VAO faster than I ever have. Let me add here that there is an art to riding on a scooter while wearing a pagne. It's easy to end up with bared thighs. But as a seasoned Burkina resident, I managed to keep my clothing intact, even at high speeds.
Fifteen minutes later, we had arrived. I thanked my hero profusely and ran into the admin building.
The jury wasn’t there.
I ended up reading old newspapers for half an hour. They finally showed up in huge black four wheel drives.
We all went into an air-conditioned office and I was asked to give a short explanation of why Papiers should be at the VAO.
I was puzzled. I raced here like a crazy woman for this? Why did it HAVE to be me? Awa is the Vice-President of the group and speaks perfectly good French… I guess she can be a bit shy around groups of “impressive” people, but the only way to get over that is by taking on the challenge. Anyway, I did my best and think/hope that I was very convincing.
They said we would hear from them “soon”.
After all that I went through, the answer had better be "yes"!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Recently, Valentine was looking at an old catalogue with a picture of a button in it that said « You are looking at a Winner ». She remarked: “I remember that I showed this to you a couple of years ago and you told me ‘My child, here are words of wisdom from Mom: Anybody who would wear that is a LOSER!’”
So, I guess I can’t very well get a button or have a t-shirts printed up. My daughter would think I’d lost my mind. But I am feeling VERY much like a winner these days (despite the fact that I am a negligent blogger). Though my previous blog entries had endless complaints about it, the SIAO turned out great! Wonderful! In fact, for the first time ever, Papiers du Sahel won an award at the event! The project got the Celtel Award for Excellence in Recycled Products !!! When I arrived on Saturday morning (the 4 of November) Eugenie gave me the news! A 1,000,000 fcfa ($2000) prize for us! I was pretty astounded. I feel like the paper project is amazing and the women are so deserving, yet big-time recognition had always escaped us. And it finally came!! A huge awards ceremony was scheduled for that night. We were only allowed one entry ticket to the event, though, which was kind of odd. I went up to the Awards Office to beg a couple more tickets, explaining that we are a cooperative and the credit for our work goes to many people. Plus, I figured it would be depressing to go to such an event all alone. But they were unconvinced. So, we just had the one ticket. I thought that Eugenie (as the president of the cooperative) should go. But she said her health was not good and she’d prefer to forgo it. We had a group meeting and the women insisted that I go. It was very sweet of them. I think it was considered as my part of the award, as they know that none of the money will go to me, of course.
So, after working from 8 to 4 at the SIAO, I rushed home and got the kids ready for church. ( I had to lead the singing, but hadn’t rehearsed with the choir, as I had been so busy with SIAO. God did not let me humiliate myself too badly, I’m happy to report) We hurried home afterwards, I quickly changed and jumped in the car. As I pulled up in front of the Officers’ Mess, I could see it was a huge event. There were hundreds of people seated at tables in front of a big stage. I showed my invitation card and tried to find a place to sit. That’s when my shoe broke. Yes, my platform shoe no longer had a platform. At that point, I definitely felt like a “You are looking at a Loser” button was in order. There was no way to repair the shoe. Should I just go barefoot? Maybe not - the Burkinabé put a great store by in being properly dressed. These things always start late, anyway. I jumped in the car, drove across town and threw two pairs of shoes in the backseat. (An extra pair, just in case.) I got back at 9 pm, just as they started the ceremony. The first thing they did was start announcing the awards! Ours was about the fourth one announced. There was lots of press there and I smiled in front of the blinding lights, secure in the fact that I had two intact shoes on my feet.
After that was done, they started into the “Miss SIAO” contest. Extremely nervous girls explained why they wanted to be elected “Miss SIAO”. “Because I really, really, really like African arts and crafts” was the standard, if uninspired answer in all cases. After the first round of the competition, the buffet was opened. Instead of heading for the food, I made for the door. My work there was done. I had the check in hand and hadn’t embarrassed my co-workers by falling on my face. I figured I’d better quit while I was ahead.
Part of the ceremony was on local television Sunday night. I’ve had a few people tell me they saw me on the RTB news. The announcement of the awards has also been in many of the local papers over the last week.
Monday we took down our stand at SIAO. We were all tired, but happy. We were also all sick, I should add. The terrible dust and heat in the stands has made many of the exhibitors fall ill- lots of bronchitis and sinusitis. It certainly triggered my asthma. Eugenie isn’t well at all and has missed three days of work this week…..
But things will hopefully soon be back to normal. Right now, we are waiting for a visit from the directors of the Village Artisanale. For those of you that don’t know it, it is a sort of arts and crafts shopping mall here in Ouaga. It is a huge center, sponsored by the European Union and is one of the few things here that really works. There are dozens of nice workspace/shops for selected local artisans. It’s very organized, pleasant and is on every tourist itinerary, as it is one-stop, hassle-free souvenir shopping- a rarity in West Africa. Now that we have won the Celtel prize, the Village is interested in giving us a place! We’d put in an application last September, but we were just one among hundreds of demands for the mere 12 new slots available! But now we stand out from the crowd and have a real chance!
I guess this post is long enough! I am just so very happy!!!! The Papiers women and I are all wearing invisible "You are looking at a Winner" buttons. I guess that's the only cool kind.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The winner of the Ouaga Rec Center Halloween Costume Contest was Mallory in her geisha outfit!! The winner of the pumpkin carving contest was Valentine. Severin took second place. (I hasten to add that there were MANY kids at the party, not just Jacob progeny)
There was Trick or Treat at the US Embassy. The kids went from office to office getting goodies and being made much of.
There were plenty of fairies and princesses. Alexa decided that she was sick of that kind of boring stuff and decided to be a Vampire Girl. Note the rubber boots. That's what vampires wear so they don't ruin their good shoes with blood. Imaginative, that child.
Severin and his two best pals had decided back in September that they were going to be the Theree Musketeers. I designed the costumes and had them sewn here....
BTW-there have been major problems at Blogger (the site where I write these posts). Everyone has been prevented from publshing for days. I have been wanting to publish SIAO updates, but it has been impossible. Hopefully, the problems are over now....
Also- check the Photobucket album for more Halloween pics, if you like that kind of thing.