Saturday, March 31, 2007

I'm going to go on a walk in a few minutes. I try to get in some excercise each day, often at the gym. But today it is breezy and seems cooler than usual, relatively speaking. I just looked up the Ouaga weather update on Google. They report: "105°F, feels like 98° F". Well! No wonder I feel so frisky. 98°! What a treat!

A. got sent home from school yet again yesterday. She was so pale that it frightened me. But she felt better in the evening and looks/feels pretty good today. I've just been trying to hold out until her heart specialist appt on Monday evening. But NOW I've learned that the Maouloud holiday has been changed yet again and is now scheduled for tomorrow. And by law in Burkina, when a holiday falls on Sunday, the Monday after is a legal holiday. ("Our country is really screwed up, so let's have LOTS of paid holidays!" seems to be the government's philosophy) The actual day of Islamic holidays here are fixed by the appearance of the moon, as determined by the marabouts (muslim religious leaders). So, up until the last minute, rumors fly. "The Prophet's Birthday will be celebrated on Saturday." "No! I hear it is Sunday." "No! Friday!" But now it's been announced on the radio that it's on Sunday and Monday is "ferié", as we say around here. That means no appointment for A. And she'll have to wait another week, as the doctor only consults on Monday evenings. What that is all about, I don't know. We do have a golf course just south of Ouaga. Maybe the MD keeps busy on the brown, crispy "greens" out there.

I will do my best to somehow get a picture of Goaty and the chickens. (Note to self: form rock band and call it "Goaty and The Chickens") My camera is broken, but maybe I can borrow one from a friend....

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My daughter Mal wants a horse of her own. Passionately. With all her heart.
I said "no" to a horse. But I did not deny her a goat.
Now, the goat thing really was all her idea. When Mallory saw that no horse was forthcoming, not even an elderly shetland pony, she started thinking outside the box. (a little pun for all the horse-lovers out there) I had already said "no" to a dog, so what was left? Well, how about a goat? Teach it to go on a leash and you've got a pretty good pet, she reasoned. I heard her out, and as I felt bad that neither a horse or dog would be do-able, I consented. But she wanted to get started training it immediately. So, she went off in the truck with Fanta and Arouna to go to the animal market. I had a meeting I had to get to, but when I got home, there was Mallory, garden hose and soap bottle in hand. The little goat was bleating for all it was worth. I don't imagine the poor thing had ever been bathed before. It certainly didn't smell like it, anyway. Somehow, Mal had ended up choosing a male goat and his aroma, even at his tender age, already leaves to be desired. And I know very well how bad he smells, because I found him in the middle of the kitchen at 6:30 am this morning. He reeks, despite Mal's best efforts. She'd brought him in beacuse "he gets lonely out there with just the chickens".
He lives in a pen in back of the house with our two chickens: Snowflake and Jaguar. Mal has said that she is going to call her new pet Aslan, but keeps forgetting and just calls him Goaty. I think the latter certainly fits him better.
Lots of people in our neighborhood keep goats. They're not at all an uncommon sight in the street. But as you may have guessed, they are destined for the dinner pot, not a life of luxury.

Alexa is much better, thank you. She went to school this morning and stayed until we picked her up at lunch.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Yesterday, the school called yet again for me to come fetch my unwell daughter. She came home and slept 6 hours. I woke her up so she could eat something. Then she went back to bed and slept until this morning. The bloodwork we had done on the weekend doesn't show any problem. But the labs here are notoriously unreliable. They have trouble with their equipment and the proper storage of the substances used in testing... Anyway, she's home today resting. I have stayed home withe her. I managed to do an exercise video. Then I sat down to read the newspaper again. Big mistake. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it is certainly more comfortable.

Below is another article from L'Evenement. First, just a little backgroud to help you understand it better: Burkina is undergoing major land-reform right now. The idea of land ownership is quite new to this country. Out in the villages, families work in feilds that their families have worked for generations and it is never sold or traded. It is not considered an object of ownership like a bicycle or a goat. And certainly there are no written records, titles or deeds.
But all that is changing. Government agents are slowly sweeping through the country, drawing lines on the ground and writing up titles. But there's a catch. You have to pay for it. Yup. You have to pay to "own" the land that has been in your family for generations. And that plot where your home is located ? You better be able to pay for that land when the agents come through or your ancestral home will be bulldozed. And your millet crop? You better be able to pay, or your food staple for the year is gone.
Now, often the land prices are not expensive, by developed world standards. I have one friend that was going to lose her home and it was a matter of 70$ to pay for the land and get a title. But that was a huge sum for her. Far more money than she sees three or four months! And many poor people here are in this situation, scrambling desperately to hang on to their families' homes. And guess who snaps up all this cheap land when the poor can't pay? Could it be.....wealthy elites that like to dabble in land speculation?

So, I present, once again, a very fast and rough translation of a one-page article in a respectable local newspaper:

The Forgotten of Balkuy (an article by Idrissa Barry and Claire Pinsard)

The SOCOGIB company just received a government permit to “improve” the area behind the President’s new palace in Ouaga 2000. This improvement project consists of building a luxurious housing development. Only, there’s a problem: all of the land designated for this project has been occupied for generations by the peasants of the village of Balkuy for their fields and the Peul herders for their animals.
Since October 2005, the peasants of the village of Balkuy are at an impasse. They don’t know what the future holds. Their source of livelihood may well be taken away from them by SOCOGIB, a company owned by the ultra-rich Alizeta Ouedraogo. To better understand their peril, it’s good to look at how the situation developed over the last year.
During the rainy season of 2005, earth moving equipment arrived out in the peasants’ fields. They suppressed some small paths and created others, dozens of meters wide. They set out markers in the center of each field.
Upset, the farmers went to their village chief, Issa Tabsoba. He knew no more than his villagers did about the matter. He decided to contact the director of SOCOGIB. He obtained a meeting for October 31, 2005.
The SOCOGIB official informed him that luxury houses were going to be built on the site. He said the fields, being located just behind the President’s residence, shouldn’t be “naked”- wasted on millet crops and cattle of villagers But the official promised that an inquery would be made into their claims. To date, no one has shown up, except for one agent that counted the number of Peul herders using the land.
Seeing that the situation was going nowhere, the villagers formed a group “The Crisis Committee of the Peasants of Balkuy”. The head of the group is Alexis Ouedraogo (no relation to Alizeta O. It’s just a super-common last name here).
He decided to get things moving and sent a letter in September to the Mediateur (Ombudsman?), the Mayor’s office and to the SOCOGIB. In November he sent another letter. All in vain. His desperate calls for help elicted no response whatsoever, except for the acknowledgement of receipt from the Mediateur. The Mayor’s office of Bogodogo, which is responsible for the village, showed no interest in the problem of the peasants.
But peasants are not the only people concerned by this. There is a charitable orgaization called “Vision for Burkina Faso” that owns two hectares in the area affected. This association has planted tree to “contribute to the fight against the desertification of Burkina Faso”. Also, there is a 56 meter deep well that is intended as part of an information and training center they wish to build. How can all of these investments just be ignored? That’s why the organisation is asking that they be paid 10 million cfa ($20,000) in reparations so they can buy another parcel of land elsewhere. Until now, they have received no response to their request.

Behind all of this scandal lurks a woman of undeniable power: Alizeta Ouedraogo, the director of the AZIMO real-estate company and mother in law of Francois Compaoré, younger brother of Burkina’s President. One of the threatened peasants put it this way : “If this woman is allowed to do such things, it’s because she is protected by Francois Compaoré and the President himself!” Sadly, the peasants are so desperate and hopeless that many of them are thinking this way. But the fact is that the core of the problem is really that these simple farmers and herders have no titles to the land in question. And in cases where there is no title, the land belongs to the government….So, if the housing developers have reached an agreement with the government, they are technically within their rights to construct there, destroying all the fields that provide a living for hundreds of people.
But there is a problem in all this that the developers have forgotten: we are in Africa and our traditions are oral, not written. Titles to land are a very recent thing. And how can you demand these kinds of papers from a population that is mostly illiterate? It’s a cruel joke.
The peasants of Balkuy work these fields because their fathers before them did so, just as their grandfathers did and long generations of their ancestors.
The problem might be simplified if there were not such enormous communication problems. Nobody in the land development company will even dialogue with the peasants or their representatives. The SOCOGIB says they have “announced” that work will begin when the time is right (?!!?) and that people will be compensated for any losses. The peasants will also be “prioritized” in the allotment of house plots for sale in Balkuy proper. But none of these propositions were made directly to any of the people concerned. In any case, the villagers are not impressed. The problem isn’t housing or money. The concern is about having fields to grow food in.
“What next?” is the question everyone in Balkuy is asking. They don’t know where to turn, as all doors seemed closed against them. The situation needs to be resolved. Burkinabé citizens shouldn’t have to live with such incertitude about their future. It’s not about the houses that are going to be torn down. For the farmers and herders, it’s all about the land, without which they cannot live. Land is heavy with symbolism. You cannot alienate it without alienating African Culture. Even today, many Africans still believe in the power of the Ancestors and the Land.
It is scandalous that these people should be left like this. A financial solution seems the most realistic way out. Furnishing alternative arable land seems too complicated….unless maybe there is some land not too far away that would be acceptable (ie; not in the President’s backyard). But there is no way to know about any of this, as those in power refuse any kind of contact with the villagers (or even the media).
The villagers of Balkuy aren’t against modern progress, but they would like things to made clear and fair. We can only hope that our President, who doesn’t want “naked” land behind his residence, doesn’t keep neglecting the fact that he needs to pay attention to the people, who have been living and working on the land since long before he came.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I didn’t update as promised because too much has been going on. The mask festival will have to wait. Today’s news is as follows:
Though A. went to school on Friday, I got a call from the school at about 10am to come get her. She was very unwell, short of breath and having chest pains. Luckily, I was not far from the school and got there quickly. I drove her to the medical clinic where we spent about three hours. She soon felt better, but the MD has no clue why her meds are suddenly not working. We’ll get the results of her blood work today at 1pm. Hopefully, they will provide an answer, or at least a clue.
She has been feeling pretty well today, just one short, non-painful incident of tachycardia this morning.

Just over a week ago, I was teaching KT (French Catholic sunday school) and one of the other teachers warned us all to avoid going home through the center of town. There were demonstrations at the police commissariat. The rumor was that someone had been beheaded?????!!!! Needless to say, we took the long way home. I later got the real story from JP and the details have been coming out in the media over the course of this last week. Today, I bought one of the best local newspapers “L’Evenement”.
To keep you up on the latest news, here’s a rough translation of part of one of the articles:

Maybe it is time to face reality. From September 2006 to March 16, 2007, three big events happened that should open our eyes. First of all was the ‘Helmet Rebellion’ of September. It was a determined, yet spontaneous reaction of a certain class of Ouagadougou society against requiring motor scooter riders to wear helmets. The people went up against the police with rocks and bitterness. This reaction was so unexpected and so strong that the authorities had to back up. The law was not repealed, but it’s application is not in effect.
Next, there was the military mutiny of last December. For two days, young soldiers ruled over all of Ouaga. They violently reacted against anything even symbolizing the police force. They broke prisoners out of prison, They disobeyed direct orders and forced the President of Burkina to cancel two major international summit meetings that would have crowned him the de facto president of then CEDEAO and the UEMOA (NB: That’s the West African Monetary Union. A big deal )
Here again, the reaction was not in proportion to the triggering incident. The young soldiers reacted to get revenge for an offence, real or imagined, of some members of the CRS (Riot Police)
The final event is, of course, the horrible events of the 16 and 17 of March. There was a violent and determined popular reaction that arose suddenly at the discovery of two mutilated and dismembered corpses. This event unleashed a violent reaction from our citizen, an expression of their unwillingness to to put up with current conditions. People have absolutely no confidence in institutions here, which is why the demonstrators attacked the central police station, demanding that the accused murderers be turned over to the crowd for justice to be served to their satisfaction.
One aspect of all this that struck those who have seen images of the demonstration is the hatred with which people attacked and destroyed the Kundé Bars in Ouaga. All the branches of the popular Ouaga nightspot were levelled because of rumors that one of the accused killers was part-owner of the successful business.

This violence certainly has causes and tells us three important things about the political climate here.
There is a deep desperation in a large proportion of our population. For these people, who no longer believe in this system or in their country, the desire is to do to everything what was done to the Kundé Bars. They want to destroy everything and perhaps oblige the elites to rebuild Burkina in a better, more fair way. When people no longer expect even one good thing from the status quo, things get dangerous.
There is a total lack of confidence in the justice system. The military mutiny and the events of this month highlight the lack of trust in justice by the extremity of the acts committed.
And finally, we see that the people reject everything that the Kundé Bars represent. Sudden wealth that comes from very unclear sources. In the ‘Helmet Rebellion’ we already saw bthe people refuse to contribute to the enrichment of already wealth people that stood to make a lot of money from enforced helmet sales. The young soldiers were also rejecting the elites- those with money and power that have lost touch with the harsh realities and hardships of life in the barracks in the Burkinbe military.
Before any social explosion, there are signs that are often not noticed or are minimalized. But these events show everybody that eats at least two good meals a day that they are in danger. They are now confronted with millions of their citizens that no longer have any hope for the future.”

Again, this article was in one of the top Burkina papers, not their version of “The National Enquirer”. This is real.
More details on the murders: Two men were taken by one Mr. Modibo Maiga to go see a used truck for sale. They got into his car and were never seen alive again. Their dismembered bodies were discovered, piece by piece the 15 of March. They had been hit by a truck, shot and dismembered. Very, um, thourough. The heads were found a day later, near one of the reservoirs not far from our house. Blood was found on Maiga’s truck. Then witnesses came forward saying they had seen him do it, with the help of two accomplices. All three men are now in jail awaiting trial.
Now, the police very quickly released the various body parts for burial, but were slow to release the heads. In fact, one of the major demands of the rioters that attacked the police station was that the heads be given to the families ASAP. “ The murdered men were both of the Bissa ethnic group and their tradition demands that they be buried with their heads.” was what the paper had to say on the matter.

And what was really behind the nightclubs being destroyed? Well, many people here believe that prosperity can be bought with “wack”: black magic, often involving human sacrifice. The perception was that this Maiga was one of the owners of this very prosperous business and the success of it was due to human sacrifices. “Coupure de tête” (Cutting off the head) is a hallmark of these “ceremonies”. Even the Burkinabé president’s name has been linked to a killing- the murder of an albino man. ……….
Most of the time, Burkina seems so calm. So normal. Then, all of the sudden, things go very, very wrong. I wonder if the people really are preparing a revolution. … They certainly need one. The corruption of the elites is so blatant. And economic opportunities for the poor are rare to non-existent.
BTW, yesterday I noticed a worker filling in the last few bullet holes in the Police Headquarters downtown. In December, the soldiers had shot hundreds of rounds into the building. It was completely pockmarked on all sides. They only just now have got all the windows replaced and holes filled in. Luckily, the average Ouagalais doesn't have access to firearms. Otherwise I don't think the place would still be standing.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

When JP had asked when we planned to get to the mask festival, I’d said « Oh…around 11 or so ». “No, no!” he told me “Show up at 10:30. I’ll be there and if everybody shows up on time, it will start earlier.” Luckily, I ignored him -not that I recommend this as a technique for building healthy marriages, but it does cut down on aggravation.
As you can guess, it didn't start anywhere near on time. We got to Oullo at 11am and JP’s field team wasn’t even there. The dance site was inhabited only by a few bored village kids, a couple of sad chickens pecking at dirt and a short American guy with a big camera. An academic interested by “Performance Art”. I was a little afraid for him. He looked like he needed a Starbuck’s Grande Latte Big 'ole Superchino, or whatever the heck they sell, plus maybe a copy of The New York Review of Books. Poor thing.

Our kids had quite a time, as news of their arrival in the village spread. Soon the Land Cruiser was surrounded by children. The girls retreated to the roof rack to escape the crush and get an overview. Until the masks showed up, we were the best entertainment in town.
When JP and his team finally arrived, it was nearly noon. The dance area was being sprinkled with water to help cut the dust. A couple of guys arrived pulling a big handcart piled high with benches from the school.
As all this went on, the mask dancers were to the west, in the forest getting sewn into their costumes. Once you are in it, you are stuck for the day. You can’t eat or drink until it comes off.
They arrived in procession at about 12:30, the griot musicians playing their drums and whistles. They paraded around the dance floor a few times. The masks were organized into groups: buffalo, antelope, beauty (designated by a woman), “The woman has no house” (which doesn’t look like a woman at all), Kalé (the clown mask that gets to mock all the others) and the tall “mosque” masks. There are many other types of masks, but they had performed the other two days of the event and weren’t there Saturday.
The dancers found spots in the shade to sit down and the griots tapped out another complicated rhythm. The antelope recognized their signal and two of them stood up. It became evident that one was a very experienced dancer and the other a neophyte. Often, one of the mask “handlers” would grab the younger mask by the shoulder, make him stop dancing and get him to watch more carefully what the older dancer was doing.
There was dust. Lots of dust. Which is good, kind of. That’s one of the functions of masks- to cleanse the earth of impurity. But at a festival, they don’t need to emphasize that function. Hence the water. But that water that had been poured on the ground before the event had evaporated in about five minutes. I thought of the other American woman that had planned to come along, but had backed out at the last minut because her asthma was acting up. How right she was. Due to the dust, I spent the whole time sucking on my inhaler so hard that it's amazing it didn't lodge in my throat. " US Citizen Dies in Freak Ventoline Mishap at Mask Festival" the headline would read.

That’s it for today. Alexa is home with her old heart ailment. It had looked like her medications were completely controlling it, but it has been recurring lately. She had trouble with it at school yesterday and ended up sleeping all morning.
And as she was so unwell yesterday, I checked her blood sugar, just to see if that old problem really was not a factor. She was somewhat high….
So, fun as this is, I have other, more pressing duties.

I’ll update tomorrow, for sure.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How about a few more pics?Here are JP and I enjoying our status as VIPs. We have chairs!!

Here are the twins and Zoe exploring around the village. The small round huts are for grain storage.
When these dancers arrived on the dance floor Mallory said "Look! Here come the cheerleaders!" She particularly admired the white tassels.
Actually, they are from a lineage that is not allowed to own masks. The story is that ages ago, the founder of the lineage was trying to return home from his fields, but a mask kept blocking his way. He finally got frustrated and shot some arrows at the mask. since then, the bush fairies don't allow the family to own any masks.

A cute little friend that the twins found in Oullo

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I can't seem to write today. So, here's some pictures from our mask festival adventure.
Worth a thousand words, right?Here is the scene as we drove into Oullo. People running last-minute errands before the ceremony begins.
A few friends we made. They were very interested to meet the twins.
A couple of mask dancers resting in the shade.
This is NOT a bunny rabbit. It is a viper (python) mask

Monday, March 19, 2007

I think I have already established my «AdventureGal» credentials beyond a doubt. I live in a place that most people can’t pronounce and have fought off malaria in the hospital no less than twice. I got through the riots and car-burnings when we first arrived here and have been to no less than seven Winyé mask festivals. Did I really need to see another? What did I have to prove?
Well, what I did prove was that huge amounts of dust do make asthma worse (I’ve got to remember that one) and if your car is a piece of crap, you should maybe not drive it through the less inhabited expanses of West Africa
After last year’s fiasco, I had no great desire to go back. I even started getting sick with a bad cold on Tuesday. It seemed like a message from the mischievious bush fairies. "Stay away or you're in for a replay of last year, you miserable loser" was their exact wording.
But a nice Fulbright prof staying here for a few months wanted to experience a mask festival with her two daughters. These are the American twins that are in school with my twins….So, I thought it would be “fun” to go together. Even my pal Tony from next door decided to come along and bring his three year old.
So, we set off on Saturday morning at about 7am. My car took the lead and Tony was right behind us. His truck needs a repair to the steering and tends to shake distressingly when forced over 100km per hour. (Why not repair it? Good question. The part has been ordered for months and just never shows up) And my Toyota? Well, I have a deep and not completely unfounded fear that the left front wheel might just fall off at any given moment. It happened once already, on a trip back from the north of Burkina. The thing is supposedly repaired now, but that is a term used very loosely here. It wasn’t exactly the blind leading the blind, more like the badly injured leading the grotesquely maimed. But we figured that the odds were low that both cars would break down. We took it slow and the trip up went quite well. The four twins sat on the back bench seats in the Land Cruiser and had a great time. They like to play lots of role-playing games (not like their big brother’s D&D) more along the lines of: “Let’s all be orphans? Like really, really poor? And we have no home, just an old blanket?” If the tentatively proposed scenario is accepted, they all rush to assign themselves good parts. Mallory invariably complicates things, as she almost always insists on being some kind of animal. In this case, the others maintained that the tragic orphans were much too impoverished to care for a pony or even a smallish cat. Mallory finally gave in, thought a moment, then announced: “My name is Amber. I’m nine months old. And I bite!”. She sounded disturbing- just like a child in a 12-step program for demonic offspring. Next up would be the little boy from “The Omen” saying: “Well, I’m Damien. I’m 10. And I’m the Antichrist”

G. and I chatted, the girls played. We stopped once near some shrubs that had more than the average amount of leaves for this time of year. Little Zoe needed the cover, as did G. Then we went on another hour towards Boromo. This part of the trip Zoe spent in a complete, frantic panic. Tony later told me that he had quite a time trying to drive and decipher what his over-excited three year old was trying to tell him. He finally worked out that she had seen G. get out of our car, but hadn’t seen her get back in. She didn’t know Gina well, not even her name, but was quite beside herself that we had just taken off and left some poor lady stranded out in the bush. Maybe Zoe thought it was the start of some sinister trend. Who knows who would be left behind next? Makes a person think about drinking a lot less water, that’s for sure.

We got to the small hotel in the center of town at about 10am. This year I had reserved early, so we weren’t forced to stay in the nightmarish place that we did last year. To our surprise, we found that the old Relais Touristique had made (gasp!) improvements! The rooms all have air-con now!!!! And (get this) the rooms all have a TV! Granted, it only gets two channels. And the channels mostly seem to play cheesey music videos. But still!
Now, I’ll admit that the bathrooms still close with just stained curtains, rather than doors, and the rooms are still only about 9’ x 9’, and the water is still cut most of the day. But at least they provide a bucket now, so you can keep a reserve on hand. So, it’s actually quite improved. It’s now achieved the level of a very scary, extremely primitive Motel 6. But for the middle of Burkina, it’s pretty great. So, we happily and quickly unloaded our suitcases and got ready to head over to the small village of Oullo, which would be the site of the day’s ceremonies.

More to come……..

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I just got a comment on one of my very early blog entries- one about learning to speak French. It was from a concerned reader that thought “the french (sic) might get mad”.

It just so happens that I have met the cheese-eating, snobby beret-wearing enemy… and she is me. I have been a French/US double national for over 10 years now. And I feel like it provides a lot of opportunities for a confirmed old grouch like myself. I feel free to rant and complain about both nations and their respective citizens, as I know both places so well…..
But I have to admit that it gets harder and harder to keep up with US culture, the longer I am away. For example, I finally saw “American Idol” on Tuesday night. I had heard lots about the show, but never, ever had seen an episode. I love singing and a friend of mine just got satellite TV, so why not? Why not, indeed.
I thought it was supposed to be all about discovering talent. But I soon noticed that the good singers were cut off very quickly and told “Yes, you’re in”. The vast majority never got to finish their song. But most of the profoundly bad ones were allowed to slog on until the horrifying end. And we watched it all, kind of the way people slow down to take in a car wreck. Simon was rude, bien sûr. I live in Africa and had never seen the show before and I knew that Simon was going to be rude. His rep has spread to the most remote corners of the planet. Paula was nice and actually would writhe in embarrassment at Simons’ antics. I probably could go on about it until the cows come home. But as the exact date and time of bovine arrival are not scheduled yet, I’m not sure how long I’ve got. So, I’ll spare you the long version. I’ll just say that I found the whole thing disturbing. It was mean-spirited and left me with a bad feeling afterwards. Yes, the 400lb guy singing Bohemian Rhapsody in a strangled falsetto was very funny, but is laughing at humiliation that much fun?. Why is this show SO popular? It seems pretty nasty to me.
And it’s interesting that while the show is imitated in the UK, Australia and Canada, there is no French Idol. They have a show called “Star Academy” where very attractive young hopefuls live in a mansion together and vie for stardom. But there are no excruciating audition sequences that go on for days, showing obviously disturbed people humiliating themselves in an attempt to get on the program.
I’m afraid there’s no defending the American public. I have also seen “Jackass”, god help me. The USA is doomed.

Well, sounds like the cows are home…No! Wait. It’s just three 11 year old boys arriving at our house for a sleep-over. That’s why I’ve spent “International Womens’ Day” at home making brownies, pizzas and other goodies. All is ready.

BTW- our rabbit just had five baby bunnies last night!!!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

We were in the car when I asked my children « What’s your first memory ? » It’s always a wise idea to chat, sing and generally keep busy in the car. With four kids in the back (often even more!), the risk of bickering and/or bloodshed is very high unless you keep a grip on things.
Alexa was the first to answer :” I remember when we saw Grammy and Grampy!
“That was just in 2005!” exclaimed Valentine. “She means, like, from when you were really little.”
“I can’t remember stuff from then!" protested Alexa. " I wasn’t even there yet!”

Two nights ago, Mallory went out onto the front veranda to get her guinea pig out of his cage. She wanted Bubbles to come in and watch a movie with her (Open Season. Pretty funny, btw.) As she went out, both our cats came inside. But Mallory rushed back in two seconds later, sans guinea pig. “Mom! You have to come out with me. I just saw a big black mouse. It…looked at me!” As we went out, she told me: “It was bigger than my guinea pig! That’s a big mouse! ” Ick. Obviously, one of the giant rats that prowl the neighbourhood had taken advantage of the absence of our cats to cross the yard. When they had surprised each other, it had stopped and turned to stare at Mallory, quite close-only about four feet away. Close enough. She said it seemed “smart, but creepy.”

Saturday, March 03, 2007

It’s the last day of FESPACO today. About time. I have already admitted in this blog that I am a hermit. Did I mention that I’m grouchy, too? And nothing brings on a bout of crabbiness quicker than the FESPACO film festival, the supposed Jewel of African Cinema. Bah humbug..
As I checked on Google for a link for this post, I came up with results from other blogs that had phrases like ”…of course, I have always dreamed of going to Ouagadougou for FESPACO!!!” I, on the other hand, have lived here for almost eight years and have never gone to a single film. Not one. The first few years, I was tempted, but I was much too busy. Papiers du Sahel always had a sales stand in the artisans’ market set up especially for FESPACO. I spent eight or more hours each day at the main festival site and afterward just wanted to go home and rest! But while I worked the stand, I’d chat with the customers- people who had come from all over the world to participate in this event. There were people that showed up for a four film session, but only two were shown. The other films never arrived. And there were people that waited hours to see a film, being told every half hour “It’s coming! Don’t give up!”. Of course, it never came. I heard lots of stories…..

Add to that the fact that even after running this festival for 20 years, there are never enough schedules. Ever. They have come up with brilliant solutions, though, like handwriting it on a big sheet of paper and posting it on the street corner near La Surface supermarket, miles away form any FESPACO film site. By the time the event began this year, they did get a schedule up on their website. But of course, not many of the tourists know about it or have internet access. So you see them (and there are a LOT of them) haplessly wandering, their noses buried in their huge “Guide to West Africa” travel books. Their khaki shorts and huge sunhats are also a dead giveaway. None of us “local” foreigners would be caught dead in a sunhat. Yes, they are practical, but you look like a geek. The Burkinabé sure as hell never wear them.

Of course, the poor tourists are also invariably followed by a huge entourage of local vendors trying to force them buy djembés and toy bicycles made out of old bug spray cans. “Maybe this foreigner doesn’t want a toy bicycle right now…. But if I wave one in his face every three minutes, he might discover a hidden, burning desire to own one. Or possibly two!!!” And their success at bullying the tourists just makes them harder for the rest of us to deal with. During the rest of the year, vendors can be discouraged with just a friendly comment along the lines of “Not today. Maybe another time. Good luck.” But FESPACO time means long explanations and a firm tone of voice. “I’m not a tourist. I’ve lived here for eight years. I have everything: sardine can thumb pianos, bogolan tablecloths, djembes… We have 4 djembes at home! Really!”
And there’s this: most of the time, there’s not all that much to do in Ouaga. Yes, I know. I make this place sound like the Fun Capitol of West Africa in my blog. But really, it’s a little dull. But then when there finally is something to see, it floods with tourists and you can’t even get tickets to many of the good events. So, I have decided to stay away and let the tourists enjoy their films and buy their knick knacks.
Not that I would probably enjoy the films anyway. Frankly, most Burkinabé films are very depressing. Take Indian cinema: in general it’s very escapist, entertaining, colourful and very, very popular. My pal, K. who lived for years in India, has told me how practically everyone there loves to go to the cinema. It is their main form of escape from the drudgery of daily life. Kind of like the USA during the Depression.
Then there’s Ouaga: the movie theatres here are CLOSING! That’s right. In the showcase city of African cinema, people aren’t going to the movies and theatres are going out of business. It was hard to find enough places to show the festival films this year. Many of them are being shown outdoors, on the lawns of local hotels and parks.
Why don’t the Burkinabé go to films here? Well, the films made by Burkinabé directors tend to be gritty, realistic stories of village life. Very authentic. Very depressing. Many of them are almost like a documentary, such as the one that shows the hard life of a goldminer here. But these kinds of films do not interest the average Burkinabé filmgoer. At all. So, why make them? Here’s my theory: They make them to suck up to the European cinema world, that’s why. Their goal is not to make films to appeal to the Burkinabé public. Their films are carefully aimed at the (predominantly white) people that give out prizes and make it possible to get the hell out of Burkina Faso. And what do these white folks want to see? The real Africa of masks, excision, poverty, dust, villages……and, to be fair, Burkina is all those things. The problem is that because the Burkinabé actually live all that, they’d like to see something a little different. And not kung fu movies or the latest Hollywood car-crash crap. They like humour, music and magic, not earnest, dreary depressing films about being poor.
So, that’s really my main problem with the film festival. I feel that it’s actually poisoned the development of cinema here. There are local tv shows that are funny and clever and have large local audiences. But the world of film is crippled by “Fespaco-itis”: the strong tendency to pander to the expectations and tastes of the European audience.