Thursday, November 29, 2007

Early yesterday morning was a time of much rejoicing. Unto us a pig was born! (Hey-it IS almost December. Just getting into the holiday spirit.) Mallory’s beloved guinea pig (Bubbles) had given birth in the night to a fuzzy little baby. He was already stumbling around the cage, squeaking mildly. It might have been tiny cries of distress, as he had undoubtedly overheard the twins discussing his name. Candidates under consideration were: Gingerbread, TwinkleStar and Sugar Cookie. God bless 9 year old girls.
In the end, they went with just “Cookie”.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Corruption in Burkina Faso: Business Climate Really Improves!" was the headline of an article in one of today's newspapers in Burkina Faso. Here's a translation of how it began:

"Without a bribe, you may have to wait years for your merchandise. There's nothing you can do..." says a Burkinabe small-business owner. The report "Doing Business 2008" that outlines the business environment of variuous nations was published on September 26 by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation. It ranked Burkina as 37th in Africa and the 161st in the world rankings, out of 178 countries. This is relatively better than previous years and the progress is much touted in the local newspapers, as well as TV and radio. Burkina was 165th in 2007......

The press releases from the World Bank , Burkinabé government, and etc. are relentlessly upbeat. L'Evenement isn't buying the offical line, though. I love how the bold black type claiming that the business climate is "Really Improved" is immediately followed by a quote illustrating how bad it still is. I also enjoy the subtle dig at the local tv, radio stations and many rival newspapers that never seem to research anything. They just publish the government press releases and keep their heads down...which is probably wise. A top journalist in Niger was just thrown into prison last September for annoying the powers that be. He is still being detained and faces life in prison. Being a journalist is hazardous stuff when done correctly, especially in West Africa.

Friday, November 23, 2007

We had an excellent Thanksgiving Day and I hope to soon have a short movie on YouTube to prove it. Not like it was easy, mind you. When I called the supermarket that morning to inquire about my fat French turkeys, I was informed that they hadn’t arrived. Due to the strikes in France, the cargo flight on Wednesday night never left the ground. OK. On to Plan B….except there WAS no freaking Plan B. So, I quickly moved on to Plan C, which involved throwing myself upon the mercy of the shop owner, begging him to find me enough turkey to feed 20 hungry people. He (a nice Lebanese gentleman) said he’d call around to some of his “connections” and get back to me. My cell phone rang 15 minutes later. I felt vaguely like I was involved in an illegal drug transaction. I was told that I could pick up my “package” in one hour.That was good, as it gave me time to pass by yet another (5th!) pharmacy in search of the medications I needed, and mail off a Christmas parcel to some American friends in France (Hi Gina, Gaetano and offspring! Merry Noël!). At the supermarket (which is about the size of a medium-sized 7-11 in the USA) I picked up a few last minute items, then went to the butcher's counter, only to be told the order hadn’t arrived. I hung around for half an hour, making impulse purchases (I came home with a bottle of whole cloves and discovered that I already had a nearly full bottle sitting on the shelf. I guess we can make some of those spiffy old-fashioned pomanders out of apples and ribbons…..BTW-What are you supposed to DO with them.? Does anybody still use them? Do you WANT your clothes to smell like mummified fruit? I just don’t know.)The birds finally arrived, their corpses still warm and legs sticking straight up in the throes of rigor mortis. ( Yum!) The meat-counter guys stuffed them into a plastic sack, but it was too small and the stiff yellow feet poked up out of the top of the bag like a flower arrangement for the Addams family. I put this attractive bundle into my cart and rushed to the front of the shop. I had to get home and get them cooking or they’d never be ready by 6pm. And all the delay had put me behind schedule for school pick-ups…..Anyway, I finally got home and got to work. I had two boxes, as the check-out guys at the shop had separated the birds and sealed them in cartons with tape. I cut the tape and looked inside. The things looked big. Really big. Like, SO big that they would never, ever both fit into my oven, which admittedly does bear some resemblance to the Easy Bake Oven of my childhood -though it does work with a gas bottle and not a lightbulb, which is good. But I digress. I mixed up the stuffing, frantically trying to figure out who could lend me their oven for four hours. Most of the people invited to the event already had their ovens occupied by bread, green bean casseroles, pies. And my Burkinabé friends that live nearby don’t have ovens. Finally, luckily, I remembered that pal H. might have some oven space, so I ended up rushing one of the foil-wrapped monsters over to her house. When I got back, I found our Cecile (our cook) , Celine and Fanta (the maid/nannies) almost in tears over the burnt-orange tablecloths I’d had sewn up the day before. They had dried on the line wrinkled and the heavy fabric was impossible to smooth with our feeble Chinese iron. Next, they had borrowed the neighbour’s nicer one from Germany, which also couldn’t cope. It’s lucky I came home in time to prevent a melt-down. They get upset about this kind of stuff. As nearly as I can make out, they find it distressing that people would think that I have useless home helpers- the kind that don’t even know how to provide starchy-crispy table linens. After some effort, I got Cecile and Celine to leave the linens to their wrinkly fate go on home.
Then Fanta (no relation to the soft drink mentioned is my last post) noticed that the turkey was no longer cooking. Really. So, we made the world’s quickest trip to buy a gas bottle. Then there was me accidentally breaking off the pull-ring of the protective plastic tab that covers the nozzle. Time was passing and the stupid turkey was just sitting there in the rapidly-cooling oven.

Then the home haircut lady, Marte, came to cut Severin’s hair. I got a neighbour to come over and help us with the gas bottle. The flower guy showed up with the floral arrangements. I set the tables and started making the gravy. Then H. called and said their car was not starting and could I please pick them up? I grabbed my keys and headed out to the car, passing by Marte, waiting to be paid for the haircut. I took care of that and was back in 15 minutes with the H. family. I walked in the door and caught sight of Severin. Marte had given him what is best described as a Dorothy Hamill wedge. He looked adorable- just like an 11 year old girl. But hey- no time for fashion recriminations! The party was starting!
The décor was much admired. Nobody cried out in horror at the tablecloths (or at Severin's hair. Alothough Tony snickered to himself. I saw that!) The flowers and candles looked great and the food was excellent. But I had to leave for a while right in the middle, as I had to pick up two little girls arriving from Mali (friends of the twins, here for a track meet). So in the end, there were 23 people at my little party!
After the meal, T. (a former Seattle barista turned missionary) made coffee and we played Apples To Apples until late in the night.
No Friday off for us. No Black Friday retail madness. Just business as usual today.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Yesterday was a busy morning, as I scurried about, getting ready for the big Thanksgiving feast scheduled to occur at my house today at 6 pm sharpish.
There was the usual stuff to buy….well, not so much. There's no cranberry sauce in the shops or canned pumpkin. But I did buy bread at the bakery, so that I could make the stuffing. I also hunted around town, trying to track down some decent soft drinks for my guests. For years, all you could get in Burkina were Coke and Orange Fanta. Over the past few years, the local bottling company franchise added Fanta Citron (lemon), Fanta Cocktail (citrus+mango) and, finally last year, the piece de resistance: Fanta Fiesta (strawberry!!). As I think Orange Fanta is a tool of Satan ("Welcome to Hell!" says Old Nick "Have a drink of this Orange Fanta, then we'll get you right to work raking live coals with your bare hands"), I was much heartened. But it was not to last. They quit making Fiesta a couple of months ago, and the Cocktail and Citron are nearly impossible to find. But after visiting several distributors yesterday, I happened upon a cache of Cocktail. Victory was mine!!!
As turkeys are rare birds (ha!) around here, I had to order ours a while back. In the interests of our holiday protein intake, I went by the butcher’s yesterday to verify that the promised birds would show up as scheduled this morning. I had to order two, as I was told they’d only weigh between 6 and 9 pounds each – a far cry from the 25 lb Godzilla-turkeys that roam the freezer sections of American supermarkets. Later, I was tempted by some inexpensive harvesty-colored fabric at the marketplace, so I suddenly decided to have new tablecloths sewn up for the event. As if I needed more to do. That involved a trip to the tailor, then they had to be picked up later, washed and ironed.
I also had a doctor’s appointment, had to get my head examined (X-rayed, specifically) and then there were many (4!) drives to various pharmacies searching for all the needed meds. My allergy woes and stomach ailments are too numerous and boring to go into. Suffice it to say that the amoebas will be gone soon and my cranium, while having a nice symmetrical configuration, has less than lovely sinus cavities.
While I was in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, I was re-reading Eat, Pray, Love. (thanks Babzee!) I came to the line where The author writes that her sister has described her sartorial style as “Stevie Nicks goes to yoga class in her pyjamas”. I once again had a good laugh at this, but glancing down at my worn tapettes, old pagne, grimy fingernails and frizzy, demented hair, I thought “Geez- My style must be: Stevie Nicks’ poverty-stricken sister goes to yoga class in her pyjamas during the sack of Rome.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

As if I needed any further distractions, I recently found THIS very entertaining and useful site. You define a series of words and earn 10 grains of rice per correct answer. It shows you a little picture of a wooden bowl that gradually fills, but it's not just virtual. The rice really is donated to the United Nations World Food Program and goes to feed hungry people.
If you have a spare minute, it is worth the time!
The difficulty of the words increases as you answer correctly. The words are divided into levels from 1 to 50 and the site info says that people rarely go beyond level 48. Vocab maven that I am, I reached the mid 40s within minutes, but can't seem to stay at 50 for long. Guess I don't know every word in the dictionary. .....
Still more interesting news: If you check the links at right, you'll see a new one for my recycled paper projet here in Ouaga. The site is up and running at
More news, but maybe not so interesting: Aslan has been under the weather. We had to take him to the vet, where I got to demonstrate yet again how good my command of the local lingo is. "My goat has sores on his butt", I said clearly and confidently in well-accented French. How many times in your life do you get to say something like that and really mean it?
The chickens all had to visit the vet's office, as well. They have....... Chicken Pox. Really. I'm not kidding. It's called that for a reason, you know.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

He nearly sliced the thief with his trusty machete! Our elderly guardian may look frail, but Salfo apparently does not lack courage. It was 2am on Wednesday morning when Salfo spotted a young man climbing over the garden wall that separates our yard from that of our neighbors on the right. He had been on the lookout, as we have had two thefts within the last few months. In July, two pairs of JP's shoes were stolen off our terrace. Then, while I was in the hospital with malaria, the thief struck again, carrying off no less than three pairs of expensive shoes. This left my older kids with no tennis shoes to wear to school. Which is a problem, as they are required for gym class. For reasons I will explain below, it is VERY hard to replace shoes here, so it really is a problem. For the moment, Valentine and Severin are sharing an old pair of JP's tennis shoes. They alternate wearing them. It's kind of like "Little House on the Prarie" where Laura and Mary have just the one pair of lace-up boots to wear to school and have to share.
Anyway, when the thief showed up a third time, we were all ready. The shoes were all under lock and key in a cupboard and the guardians on full alert. Salfo heard a sound up by the terrace, grabbed his machete and came to investigate. A young guy wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt was climbing over the south wall. Salfo ran up and took a few swings at him. Completely paniced, the thief fell backwards over the wall and back down into Tony's yard. He scrambled to his feet and sprinted towards the back wall, which faces an abandoned lot. He quickly vaulted it and ran off into the night.
All the racket woke up Tony and Kirstin. As their bedroom is on the south side of their house, they were right next to all the action. Our bedrooms, however, are on the opposite side of the house, so we slept through it all, despite our open windows.
We only learned about all the excitement when we woke up the next morning. Salfo was very pleased with himself. He was very brave, but I'm still glad he didn't actually chop anyone's limbs off.
We are hoping the robber won't be back. But who knows? In the meantime, I have to figure out the shoe situation. It's complicated. Here's a short tutorial on Shoes in Burkina:
"Tapettes". In the USA we call them flip-flops, beach sandals or thongs, the latter term NOT to be confused with a "thong", which is very uncomfortable type of underpants. Tapettes are the most typical kind of footwear found in Burkina. They are cheap- the going rate is 600 cfa a pair (just over $1), so they are affordable and available, arriving by the container-load from China. You can easily buy them in any marketplace and no haggling over the price is required. Any other type of shoe, though, is a completely different matter. For any style other than a simple tapette, you need to go to one of the special shoe markets. There you find open-air stands full of a myriad of styles- shoes that also come from China and tend to be very cheap imitations of popular brands. So, you browse, checking out the shoddy "Nikes", "Air Jordans", etc. Then you start to talk price and things get bad. If you are a non-local, especially a white-colored non-local, the vendors take you for a complete idiot and start quoting very high prices. Prices far beyond what I would even pay in the USA. It's completely ridiculous and frustrating. You see Burkinabe kids wearing these shos and you know their parents did not pay 60 dollars a pair or even 30 dollars. It drives me mad and I refuse to pay even $30 for a bad pair of shoes that I could get at a Walmart for $9, all because I'm the wrong color.
So, here we are, one month later and I have still not solved this problem.
BTW, In another shoe-related incident, my tapettes disappeared on Friday night, then mysteriously reappeared on Saturday morning. I had been to a party at a friend's house that night and left my shoes on the terrace, as is good manners here in Burkina. But when I went to leave, my black tappettes were gone and in their place was a brown pair. We figured that one of the other guests must have slipped mine on my accident. But who? It was a mystery. Saturday morning, I ran some errands. When I got home at 10am, the brown tapettes I'd left on my terrace by our door had been replaced with my own black ones. I later thanked my friend for finding my shoes, but she had no clue what I was talking about. Very odd.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pulling a cart did not figure high on Aslan's list of "Fun Activities for Goats". I doubt it was even in the top 50. But Mallory's love and patience has paid off. Now he pulls the cart all around the neighborhood. He doesn't even have to be bribed with tasty snacks.
Today, he even gave a little neighbor girl a ride all the way around the block. I wanted to get some good pictures, but the battery in the camera ran out before I could. But here are a couple of Aslan and Mal that I managed to get before the camera shut down on us.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Good news: the Papiers du Sahel website will rise again. Eventually. We lost our old domain name and the site is down, but it will be all be replaced under the name, or something similar. I am not sure when, but it will happen!
More good news: JP (my oh-so-clever DH) just got another book published this fall. You only want to try to read it if you a.) speak French and b.)are very smart. On the other hand, there are several pictures. Which is good for me. Anyway, if you are a brainy, French-reading person interested by land tenure issues among the Winyé of Burkina Faso, this is the book for you.
Yet MORE good news: Valentine has been blogging a bit more regularly. Check on her blog from time to time. She's a funny girl.
And finally: those wishing for a closer look at the winning Halloween costumes of the Jacob family have only to click on the photo album link at right. From there, click on the Oct 07 album. Many, many pics.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Here's a cake I made on the weekend for the birthday of little Zoe next door. This is just to show you that I keep busy while not blogging.
Also: I have had a few people write and say that the Papiers du Sahel website seems to be down. When you try the link, you get a sanitation project site. Now, I am all for sanitation, but I think it's pretty mean they grabbed our site name. I have written to my helper in Canada and asked "What's up with that?". I will doubtless soon have some info for you all.
More news: I finally managed to sell my demonic Land Cruiser. It is no longer mine and there is a song in my heart! I am now driving a Toyota Corolla station wagon that does not seem to break down on a near-daily basis. Which is nice.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The week leading up to Halloween was spent in a frenzy of sewing, cutting, gluing, measuring and the application of lots of shiny black paint. The result was some pretty great costumes and prizes all around!
The kids went trick or treating through the US Embassy grounds. We used to do a house to house thing, but the security officer for the Embassy now says it's a "security risk". So now the kids go round from office to office and get their sweets.
Then there was a great party over at the Rec Center. There were lots of games and a costume contest. Mallory carried off first place with her pirate costume. Severin came in second as Darth Vader. Alexa came in fourth as a goth girl/vampire, but friends assure me that it must have been a political decision, as letting the Jacob family take all three top places might have been looked upon dimly by some.
The other big news around here is that the goat cart has arrived!! Aslan finds it rather alarming, but I'm sure Mallory's patience will win him over. Right now when he's hitched up to it, he can only be coaxed into taking a few steps when bribed by massive amounts of saltine crackers. Expect pictures soon!