Thursday, January 31, 2008

Yesterday I finally received a Christmas card from some friends living in N'Djamena. (Chad isn't all that far away from Burkina, but it took about a month to get here!) And yesterday's e-mails included one from a pal living in Canada- someone who lived in Chad with her family before moving to Burkina and then finally back to Alberta. So, Chad was definitely on my mind this morning when JP came into my office and told me that he had just heard on RFI (Radio France Info) that things in D'jamena are quite bad. Schools are shut and the city is locked down. He heard that UFDD rebels are again in the capital ( just like last April when the government forces had to fight them off)
Most people know at least a bit about the situation in Sudan, but many(in the US, anyway) don't realise that there are serious problems in their neighbor to the west. Chad's unpopular dictator/president is under pressure from rebel groups- groups that the government claims are created by and are tools of Sudan. Right. It's impossible that his own people could just be unhappy with his tyrannical, single-party rule.
A joint statement released Tuesday by some human rights associations and the largest trade-union group in the country recently denounced « the return to dictatorship in Chad. » The manager of FM Liberté radio was arrested recently for refusing to let the police to monitor all news read on the radio station and for " allowing the leader of the Liberal Party of Chad to denounce the anti-Sudanese demonstrations in N’djamena. The ruling party organised the demonstrations, accusing the Sudanese authorities of supporting the rebels hostile to President Idriss Deby Itno." You can read about it here.
Anyway, all this is going on and not a word about it could I find on my iGoogle headlines this morning. I have it set to show me: Reuters, CNN, BBC, MSNBC, Fox, New York Times, NPR, USA Today....Nothing obscure or specialised. I use it to give me an idea of what the "rest of the world" is hearing about. And nobody seems to be getting much info about Chad. At least Kenya's plight is getting good media coverage.
I am just hoping that Anne and her family are safe. I have sent her an e-mail, but I have no idea if she'll be able to access it.
Blogger is threatening a "scheduled outage". Don't know when I'll be back.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm spending this afternoon printing out a hard copy of my blog. What if the Blogspot servers were consumed in a tragic fire? Engulfed by a tsunami? Attacked by blog-hostile aliens getting crazy with the EMPs? Living in Africa really drives home the absolute knowledge that Something is Going To Go Wrong. Disaster isn't just around the corner. Disaster is already at your house, sitting in the best TV watching chair, eating all the cashews out of the mixed nuts.
So, being very closely acquainted with all that can go wrong in life, I have decided that I really need a tree-based, plastic-encased version of Burkinamom's Life in Africa. That way I can reread it when I get back to France. I'll be sitting on a blanket in the green grass, admiring our view of the Alps and Burkina will seem very, very far away.
I've got 100 posts printed. Only about 85 more to go!
I couldn't print anything at all this morning, as there was no electricity. It goes off most mornings, as does the water.

Monday, January 28, 2008

When I go to the gym over at the Rec Center, I watch TV. In fact, the TV is what has kept me going there over the past few years. While my rear has not gotten discernably slimmer, I have gained a low resting heart rate and a great appreciation for Dr. Phil. He's on at 9am (local time) on channel 2 of the AFN. That's the Armed Forces Network and it's a trip. For those of you not familiar with it (and I bet that's most of you) it's the satelite network that supplies TV shows from the US of A to all of our soldiers all over the world. Lost, American Idol, House, and other delights are all on offer 24/7. We get it at the Rec, because the club is affiliated with the US Embassy here.
Actually, what's really striking about the programming is the commercials aimed at the military audience. They are not actually ads, per se, but public service announcements. Apparently, the members of the US military need to hear A LOT about the evils of: gambling addiction, suicide, domestic violence, credit card debt, dehydration, shaken babies, crash diets, rape and depression. (and who wouldn't be depressed after all that. Sheesh). What you get during the breaks between shows is a couple of these cheery PSAs, along with one exhorting you to become a demolitions expert or a Navy SEAL. Very strange.

Today 's Dr.Phil was about the pros and cons of the "baggy pants" worn by many" fashionable ghetto-rific persons and ghetto-rific-wanabes in the USA. By "baggy", they don't mean "large", they mean: hanging down so low your underpants are on prominent display. This strikes me as very silly, but not worthy of concern, but I guess several US cities have banned the style and impose fines. It was all very goofy and easily got me through a one hour aerobic work-out. Adding to my entertainment was the short "Guess this state capital" featurette that was on right afterwards. "My state capital features a replica of the Greek Parthenon!" the nice lady informed me, as they showed a tape of a big building that looked just like, well, the Parthenon that is in Greece. But this one looked lots newer. Now even a cursory glance at Wikipedia informs me that the Parthenon in still "one of the world's greatest cultural monuments". I had kind of been wondering if that had changed. Like maybe it had been decided that the Parthenon just wasn't "all that" and people were no longer being told that it's the most important surviving building of Classical Greece? Like maybe if they didn't specify that it was a copy of the Greek Parthenon, we might all think it was a replica of the Chicago Parthenon (which is a nice little restaurant on South Halsted, but pretty unprepossessing, architecturally speaking. Why the heck would somebody copy it?)
BTW- AFN is showing American Idol on Thursday night and the ad said they would be showing the auditions from Omaha, Nebraska!! Go Big Red!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Call me biased, (heck, I’ll do it myself "BurkinaBIASEDMom, that's my name. Don't wear it out!” ) but an article written by JP was published in yesterday’s issue of L’Evenement and it was pretty brilliant.
Here’s a little background for you. I won’t go into great detail, as it’s pretty complicated, but this is the outline: There is a small community in eastern Burkina called Kounkounfouano. It’s probably not on your map. It’s been a good place to grow crops and raise cattle but not anything to get excited about. It’s so small that it doesn’t have it’s own chief. They have been under the jurisdiction of the chief of Natiboani (a nearby village). And things worked out pretty well, until gold was discovered in Koukounfouano. All of a sudden, the chief of Boudanggou/Gonaba was claiming that the hamlet owed him allegiance (including, not surprisingly, a share of the gold). Well, the King of the Gulmou got wind of all this and called both chiefs to his palace in Fada so he could resolve the conflict. Both chiefs are under him and have to admit that the King is the “Boss of Them” (as my younger kids might put it.). So, the King had a listen and pretty quickly decided in favour of the traditional authority of the Chief of Natiaboani. And he told them to go home and play nice.
And it looked like things were going to be ok, until the government started mixing into matters they didn’t understand. It was small things at first. When it was time to vaccinate the kids in Kounkounfouano against measles, they tried to send health workers from Boudango/Gonaba , rather than from Natiaboani. The villagers thought it was another political manoeuvre to undercut their recognised chief and refused. Next, the government sent census agents from the wrong village. And the people of Burkina don’t much like census agents in the first place……After some other events, things escalated. Men from Gonaba attacked Kounkounfouano. The government sent in the CRS (riot police!!) on December 19. Two men were killed and many homes destroyed.

So, what does my dh have to say about the problem? First of all, he remarks on the title of the newspaper article that described all the events that I just outlined above. It was called something like “Rural Land Rights- A Deadly Powder Keg”. He points out that this is very unfair, as the rural areas of Burkina are remarkable for the very small amount of conflict there is over land. And certainly there is very little real violence. Problems are usually well-regulated by traditional authorities.
His next point is that the government needs to realise that the services provided to rural populations by the local authorities are seen by the people as a means of creating their identity and of either reinforcing or undercutting their political allegiances. It matters very much to these people where their police/vaccines/census takers come from, as they see it as a way of saying where they do or don’t “belong”, who they do or don't have to listen to. And in this case, they don't want to obey (and give crops and gold) to the Chief of Gonaba and want no confusion about the matter.
His main point, to sum up the rest, is that the government administration here needs to be better organised and to respect the local populations more. No arguing with that.
When the article, which is quite long, ends up on their online version of the paper, I’ll link to it asap.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Instead of blogging yesterday, I made the colourful, possibly blinding, cake at left. Why is it that many things intended for young children are very, very bright? They are not all sight-impaired, just small and incontinent.
Anyway, the confection features “Dora the Explorer”. For those of you that aren’t in touch with the trends in little kid entertainment over the last decade, Dora is a cartoon child that wanders around a cartoon forest promoting bilingual education. Her parents, if they exist, are extremely neglectful. She is alone all day long in the woods, with only a perverted money for company. Boots (the monkey in question) hangs around wearing ONLY a pair of boots. That’s it. Kind of creepy. They need to decide: either he’s a normal money and has no need of any clothes or he’s a completely anthropomorphic primate and should be given a pair of pants. Just boots is kind of kinky, IMHO.

Well, it’s not my call. I just make the cakes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Morning is the best part of the day in Ouaga. The sun is always up around 6:30 am all year long. (It's that equatorial thing. No long, dark winters for us!) The birds make a pleasant racket outside in our treetops. The guardians make a somewhat less pleasant racket with their transister radios as they listen to the news in Mooré.
This morning was pretty typical. JP was up, per usual , around 5:30am. He's an early bird, though I cannot say that he is particularly interested by worms. He usually likes to read in the early morning. The rest of us were up by 6. I got the breakfast ready. Not like it’s an intricate task - we tend to eat cereal, though I do try to make something nice at least once a week. This morning there were whole wheat pancakes- healthy pancakes, if there is such a creature. By 6:33 the sun was up and Mal was out in the backyard pampering her beloved goats. JP was still getting ready in the bedroom : exercise, shaving, shower, etc. Now, I consider the pre-bedtime shower indispensable to any hope of an organised morning. So, while JP goads me about my forgetfulness (or not-so-early-onset senility), I tease him about his drawn-out morning rituals. It takes him forever to get ready to go anywhere! But at least he doesn’t fit the stereotype of the hygiene-impaired French person, which, btw is not an entirely unfounded one , as we shall see.
As usual, Aslan found his way into the kitchen. He had to be coaxed out by Mal waving saltine crackers and brandishing her trusty herding stick.
Al needed a hairdressing services, as I had put curlers in her hair last night. Her hair is so long that they took ages to put in and even longer to take out. It turned out very impressive, though, trés Sleeping-Beauty. The envy of the 4th grade class
As 7 am rolled around, I was afraid the twins would be late for school. Their carpool ride was behind schedule, not for the first time. Al remarked to me: This morning it’s X’s dad- he’s always late. He takes a long time to get ready in the morning -kind of like Papa. But I don’t know why. He doesn’t smell very good.” Ouch. She said it in a nice way, just remarking casually. But still…ouch. I tried not to laugh and suggested that she not mention it to him, as it would hurt his feelings and probably have no effect on his aroma. She assured me, rather offended, that she wouldn’t dream of it and then added “It’s just bad now because it’s cold in the morning and he keeps the windows up. It will be better when there’s more air.” Ever the pragmatist, that child. I didn’t have the heart to point out that the hot season will arrive in March, which will doubtlessly mean more sweat from the Euro-Dad , plus closed windows with the air-con on!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Happy Belated MLK JR Day. Sorry I missed it, but this cartoon is a brilliant tribute. It combines repect for Martin Luther King Junior's accomplishments and a hatred of dopey, made-up names for innocent babies. I am not alone in my aversion. There is even an entire, very funny, website for people that think naming your baby something like "Mackaylan Neveah" is not, perhaps, giving her the best start in life. They check out the various baby-naming forums, unearthing all the latest atrocities. "Trinnitey" is one I spotted today. As if 'Trinity' correctly spelled wasn't bad enough. You have to see it to believe it. And all the snarky comments are very entertaining.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two updates:
1. Things are going relatively well for Aisha and her family. She explained to me that her father "put a blessing" on his children before he died. And what he did NOT do was give Aisha's half-brother living out in the village the power to marry off the girls. So, while Aisha won't be getting any help from the extended family (due to a longstanding feud between her father and his brothers) she doesn't have to face getting married to an elderly stranger, which happens to many young girls here. On the other hand, she has a severely mentally-ill mother and three primary-school aged siblings to support. They will also soon have a housing problem, as the people that own the two rooms where the five of them live want them to leave asap.
Besides some direct financial help to get them through this hard time, I also managed to get Aisha a contract to sew costumes for the school musical at the nearby International School. So, she's really pleased to have some well-paying work. As for the long term, I'd really like to be able to help her buy some inexpensive property to live on and open a small sewing business. I have already had a couple of wonderful people in the USA say they could chip in money to help her out. And I have some money set aside to contribute, too. Right now, Aisha is looking at places, trying to find someplace cheap, but not too far out of the city.

2. As for the Niger situation, here is a comment just posted by a good friend:
Thanks, Beth, for being one of the few people writing in English about the Niger situation. But hey, it's all fixed, no? The two French journalists who were detained--completely horribly--have been let out on bail. And that's all that matters, right? Of course, their local chauffeur remains in jail on serious charges; and Moussa Kaka, the radio journalist in Niamey, remains in jail; and Diallo, the writer for the Air magazine, is still jailed in Agadez; all on the same b.s. charges of helping the rebellion by just doing their job.

Let's hope that the same pressure that freed the French reporters is brought to bear to show the unjust treatment of their local counterparts. I'd love to believe we've moved beyond colonialism far enough to get there. Yeah, right...


Thanks for the guest appearance, MLW. You said it all.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Everything has been going well at the paper project. The college students have done lots to help and don’t seem that offended that I can’t really remember their names. As there is no real news on that front, I think I’ll finally write and tell you the end of the story about the wedding that I really didn’t want to go to. Part I is here.
And now: A Wedding in Bogodogo, Part II.
We drove south, following the long line of cars and scooters belonging to the wedding party and guests. That’s the tradition: you drive very slowly, horn blaring all the way to the reception site. The parade turned west, then north. And then we turned east and drove a bit more. We’re having some fun now! The cars slowed…we had arrived at the reception, finally! But the neighbourhood looked quite familiar. We had been driving for half and hour and ended up at a restaurant/bar about ONE BLOCK away from where the wedding had been held! It had the look of many local nightspots in Ouaga and seemed rather unwelcoming. A wedding planner had NOT selected this venue, that’s for sure. It was surrounded by a high cement wall that had “Defense d’uriner. (Don’t pee here) written on it in huge red letters. And they don’t write that because the dogs here can read.
I knew what it would be like inside. A bunch of sharp-edged metal chairs sitting outside in the gravel. Sticky plastic table coverings. Dim light bulbs dangling. Questionable kitchen hygiene. Latrines scary enough to send you scurrying back out the gate to pee in front of the Forbidden Wall and risk dire punishment.
I just couldn’t face it.

But JP REALLY wanted to go in. Just for a minute. Then we can leave. He promised. And I hadn’t had anything to drink for a few hours now, so I figured it would be ok. By the time I needed a proper bathroom, we’d be back home.
We can just slip out, I told myself. We can just drop our present onto the gift table, look around a bit and head on home. Right. The minute we walked in the gate, we were taken to the “Protocol”. He’s the man that makes your Burkinabé wedding reception happen. He decides where people sit, makes the schedule, recites the speeches. The Protocol always wears a very sharp suit and always takes himself very seriously. His job is to make sure it all goes well and looks good.

I looked around. All the tables in the open, gravelled area were gone. There was just row after row of grey metal chairs, all facing a raised area that had two long tables and 20 or so chairs. It was all decorated wth tableclothes and flowers and was obviously intended for the bride, groom, and guests of honor.
The other
guests were taking their places like an audience getting ready to enjoy a good show. It looked like it was set up for a medieval feast. But the Protocol led us right past these rows of chairs. I looked longingly at two empty ones near the back, close to the gate. But no, we were being brought up to the front. Feelings of dread started to build. It's not possible, I thought to myself. I don't even know these people.
But it was true- we were being taken up to the head table. Jp and I were going to be part of the show that everyone was getting ready to enjoy.
I was shown to my place – Not only were we at the head table, I was given a seat one chair away from the bride and groom!!!! So much for slipping out discretely. JP and I were the only white people at the party, so we were already kind of not blending in. And now we were center stage, literally. This was going to be a long night.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We had eight US university students helping out at the Papiers project today. They were as cute as a boxful of baby bunnies. But more articulate and with more sophisticated social skills. Would have been even nicer if they spoke some French, but you can’t have everything (unless you are talking hotdog garnishes). That meant that my day had to be spent babysitting, as they needed my translation skills to communicate with the project women. They were quite useful though, helping get lots of cards and bookmarks decorated. The women have been so busy with special orders lately, they haven’t had much time to restock the shelves.
Tomorrow, we will be sent eight more students, to replace today’s group. Which I am really not happy about. Not because of the fact that we have to start again from zero, explaining what the project is and what their jobs will be for the day, but because I’ll have to learn eight new names. Oh the humanity.
I am, you see, name-impaired. JP will vouch for this, he claims he has never seen someone forget names and faces as fast as I can. And it’s not like I don’t make an effort! I do. One technique I use is mnemonic devices. But that often doesn’t work, or even worse, it backfires. For example, I met a woman named Sally and thought “Ok, It’s Sally - like in the Peanuts cartoons. I’ll just imagine her eating peanuts with Snoopy and that will help me remember her name. “ Classic mnemonic trick, when carried out by a normal human. I, on the other hand, ran into her two days later and proudly said “Hi Lucy! How are you?” Typical of how it turns out for me. Today, I managed to call Mark “Mike” and Kirstin became “Caroline”. I probably shouldn’t be allowed out in public.

But actually, it’s not my fault. I have this theory. My brain has a faulty sorting mechanism. It throws out useful stuff, like people’s names, and keeps junk. I envision it as a tiny, insane old lady rampaging around among my neurons, muttering to herself. She is very irritable and unreasonable. The Crazy Lady throws out perfectly good items, like common Spanish vocabulary words, and yet she seems to think there is plenty of space for the lyrics of every ABBA song ever recorded.
I promise this is true: I was in a restaurant in Spain once and wanted a spoon. I could not for the life of me remember the Spanish word for spoon. All I could think of was the word for “poison”, which does not even bear a passing resemblance to the word for “spoon” and is far less useful in daily life. So, there I was. I was capable of asking for a nice big glass of cold poison (Deseo algo veneno frio, por favor!) , but the Crazy Lady had obviously thrown out every Spanish word related to eating implements.
She also dumped all info pertaining to JP’s pants (mentioned in yesterday’s post).
So, that’s my excuse: I am being sabotaged by a tiny insane person living in my brain.
It’s a crazy world.
(That’s a line from an ABBA song, BTW)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I am kind of forgetful lately. JP is asking me if it’s early-onset senility. But he’s just crabby because he has had to wear the same pants for about a week. I dropped off his other two pairs at the tailor and kept forgetting to pick them up. But I feel like I do have excuses for my forgetfulness. Yesterday, for example, besides writing a huge blog entry, I was also much occupied by Sev. He was pretty ill. Malaria, again. He woke up complaining of nausea, but as it was well-known in our household that Sev had a big geography test that day, his claims were met with a certain amount of scepticism. His siblings were merciless. I, being the mom, was kind but firm. I took his temperature (normal) and told him that without a fever and/or vomiting, there was no way he was staying home. He listlessly ate a bowl of cereal and then promptly threw up all over the bathroom. It was extremely convincing. So, he and I spent a pretty rough day. But thanks to the proper medications and a good night’s sleep he was perfectly well this morning.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ouaga was calm this weekend. The Lebanese shops usually open on Sunday were all closed and I think that rather short-circuited any plans for “retaliation”. Also, it was announced last night that Damin was finally in police custody. He arrived back in Ouaga this morning at 4am and he’s in prison here now, awaiting trial.

Actually, Burkina is a relatively safe, calm country. It’s a bit more perilous than living in, say, Michigan, but a good deal safer than Kenya. I have been keeping up on the situation there through a very interesting blog by a fellow expat mom. I discovered it by chance browsing through a directory and was charmed by the earnest, literate style and the exotic details of life in Kenya. Then, when the election troubles started, it turned out to be a fascinating source of news about the latest developments. Don’t like her better than me, ok?

Even Burkina’s nearest neighbours are far more troubled than we are. Niger is a major source of bad news these days. I previously mentioned the case of Moussa Kaka, the director of Radio Saraouniya and a correspondent for Radio France International and Reporters without Borders. He has been tirelessly committed to fair reporting in his country. His efforts to tell the story of elements unhappy with the current government, the Tuareg rebels ( AKA the Nigerien People’s Movement for Justice or MNJ ) landed him in trouble . His contact with them by telephone has led the government to accuse him of “complicity in a plot against the authority of the State”. This charge carries the death penalty. He was thrown in to prison on Sept 20 and is still there. On October 9, 2007, Ibrahim Diallo, director of Radio Aïr and the newspaper Aîr Info, was thrown into jail up in Agadez, Niger. He is still there and has had no trial yet. He is accused of “criminal association. He, too, dared cover the story of the MNJ rebellion. Ready for yet more exciting news about Niger? On December 17, 2007, two French journalists were arrested for ignoring the ban on travelling to northern Niger, the main rebel stronghold. They are accused of spying, which carries the death penalty. They are still in prison. All in all, there is incredible pressure on journalists not to report on the rebellion at all. They are brutally imprisoned and also frequently threatened, according to this article.
Another radio journalist was killed on January 8, 2008, when he drove his car over an anti-tank mine placed in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Niamey. Abdou Mahamane was the head of Radio R&M and the government is blaming his death on the rebels. But is it true? Here’s part of an article on a Tuareg-oriented news site:

“The government blamed Tuareg rebels who launched an uprising last February to demand greater autonomy for their homelands in the barren, uranium-rich north. The insurgents have mainly targeted army patrols and remote garrisons in the Sahara.
"This attack can only be the work of armed bandits in the north who are trying to establish a campaign of urban terrorism because they are incapable of fighting a conventional war in the region where they launched it," Communication Minister Mohamed Ben Omar said in a communique broadcast on state radio.
The rebel Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), which has killed at least 49 soldiers since launching its revolt last year, vehemently denied responsibility for laying the mines, instead accusing the authorities of trying to tarnish its image.
"This regime which has lost any sense of direction is laying mines everywhere it needs to in order to accuse the fighters for justice, who condemn the use of mines particularly against citizens," the MNJ said on its Web site.”

Despite the problems of Burkina, we don’t have anyone laying landmines around Ouaga and we don’t have any journalists in prison facing the death penalty. Yay for us!
If you want to send a message of support to Kaka ( even in English!), here’s the address: The messages in this mailbox are being used to show that there is international demand that he be released.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Last night, the nation television station here read a government communiqué regarding the murder that I wrote about yesterday. I didn’t see it myself, but today I received an article by email from Ramata Soré at L’Evenement, Burkina’s best newspaper. Yesterday’s rumours mostly had it right, but the money changer was the Burkinabé man and not the Lebanese.

The Ministry of Security has just announced that police in the Bogodogo neighbourhood in Ouagadougou have discovered the body of a young Burkinabé named Idrissa Ouedraogo, called Daouda.
According to the Ministry, he was murdered by a Lebanese man called Abas Damin, present in Burkina for the last 8 months. The killing took place the night of the 9-10 January 2008 at the home of the Lebanese. According to the announcement made on television, the Lebanese had called Ouedraogo, a money-changer, to his home under the pretext of wishing to exchange CFA francs for American dollars.
Once the crime was committed, Damin left Burkina. He was located in Abidjan by Interpol, but has not yet been apprehended. According to the announcement, the Lebanese community is also active in seeking the killer. The government asks the population to remain calm and practice restraint, promising that the crime will not go unpunished”.

The article then goes on to reprise the Kundé bar murders of last March. I’m not exactly sure why, as it has nothing to do with this case, as far as I can tell.
After the end of the piece, there are a few comments, one from someone signed “a Concerned Citizen”. Among other things, he complains that:

'This murder is the result of the real chaos that reigns in all the sub-Saharan nations and the demand that all foreigners
be treated like kings. So, it is by no means surprising that the latter, Européens or Arabs, turn out to be the worst cases. This culture of impunity towards foreign rich people, constantly supported by the corrupt police force, is very well known in Ivory Coast where many young men from Ivory Coast have been assassinated or wounded by weapons fired by foreigners. And even in Burkina, there are examples ,such as in Bobo where a young man was shot by... a rich Lebanese, because of a money problem between them.
I will avoid citing the Lebanese particularly, even though it is them in general who carry out these kinds of acts with the support of politicians and police officers greedy for briefcases full of cash. I will not to call for a popular uprising against this community, of which some members are now real Burkinabès and take an active part in the construction of our Nation. But we must recognise that a considerable number of foreigners think that this is still the Africa of the ' dirty negro slaves’ where everything is permitted to them .”

The next commenter remarked that “A Concerned Citizen” really needs to start a blog, as his remarks are so spot-on. It all gives an example of the negative general tone of the relationship between the Burkinabés and the large Lebanese population here.

So far there has been no public action. The Ouaga rumour network seems to say that there will protests at the funeral of Ouedraogo. Who knows?

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Ouaga rumour mill is grinding away at full force this evening. The info is often unreliable and garbled, but the radio and tv stations here are under pressure from the government NOT to cover "sensational breaking news" (as we'd call it in the USA). The powers that be have determined that letting radio stations give out news about events( like last December's clashes between the police and military) serves no purpose but to frighten people ( And perhaps to tell other discontents where the action is.)
So, the rumour mill turns...
I was in a shop near the Lycée late this afternoon. When I came back out to the car, I noticed many children leaving school early, being picked up by parents and drivers. My own driver was full of the very latest Ouaga news. He had been gathering all the details from the other drivers, vendors and folks out in the street. Mahama reported that the story making the rounds is that a Burkinabé man had gone to get fcfa for Euros at the home of a Lebanese money changer. Upon seeing that it was a huge amount of money, the Lebanese man killed the Burkinabé, took the cash, locked up the house and left the country.
As he told me all this, I saw that some of the shops were closing, even though it was only 5pm.
They were all reacting to the rumour that this death was going to be "avenged" by Burkinabé mobs, who would come and attack Lebanese businesses, which are numerous here.
I don't know how much of this is true...It certainly all seems highly unlikely. But listening to the radio yields nothing. All of downtown could be on fire and you wouldn't hear a word of it in the media here.
There is certainly lots of tension between the Burkinabé and the Lebanese community in daily life. Many of the latter have been here for generations, but retain a very separate identity. As a general rule, the Lebanese are resented for their prosperity. They are also seen by the Burkinabé as harsh employers.
I am hoping that it all comes to nothing. But I'm glad that I did my grocery shopping already and won't have to venture out tomorrow. People are saying that the weekend is going to "chauffe" (get hot!).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

We watched a lot of films over the holidays. Some were old holiday favourites, like “Christmas in Connecticutand “White Christmas”. I love old films: snappy dialogue, elegant clothes and lots of great music. In newer films, obscenities seem to take the place of witty banter. Fred and Ginger are replaced by pole dancers. I know there are good new films out there, but there is so much trash!
And I have another complaint: One night we watched
Next, a sci-fi/action film with Nick Cage. The cardboard cut-out bad guy terrorists Hating Our American Freedom and hell bent on blowing up California were a bunch of … French people! The next night was Spiderman 3. When Peter Parker went to a fancy restaurant to impress his sweetie, who was there to greet him? The ever-popular Snotty French Waiter with a Silly Accent. The next night, we watched The Matrix Reloaded. Who’s the bad guy? The Frenchman- yet another arrogant greasy-haired snot with a ridiculous accent and an oversexed girlfriend.

It was getting to be kind of a theme. The next day, I wrote to my fave email pal, Babzee:

My kids found it all pretty strange. "What's up with that?" they asked. I joked that many Americans must have an inferiority complex vis à vis the French and Hollywood tries to prop up their sad little egos by making French people in films ALWAYS be the 1. snotty waiters and/or 2. evil bad-guys.
Severin said "So, one half of me secretly hates the other half?" and he pretended to choke himself, falling to the ground.”

Babzee quickly wrote back with a more thought-out answer to the question. Her answer is much better than the silly one I gave the kids:
“I haven't seen Next but I remember the ads for it. Not crazy about Nick Cage (but ConAir is a fave). I think there's even more to your psychoanalysis of the American (trash) filmmaker: the French represent the most "foreign" a movie enemy can get without involving race and (real) politics. We used to use the Germans but the stereotype is virtually exhausted now (particularly after the Die Hard series) and the World Wars were a long time ago. "Arabs" (describing everyone from Pakistan to Morocco) are too tough a target right now, unless an undefined zealotry and no dialogue are part of the story), Asians get their own genre. That leaves (as far as Yanks are concerned) Italy (mobbed-up), Russians (we have no idea if there are still Russians, weren't they all retired in 1991?), Balkans (Jack Bauer did it on 24), and Spain, which we really can't tell apart from Mexico. The rest of Europe is France, right?

I saw a movie on TV in which they explained Jean-Claude van Damme's Belgian accent by saying he was from Canada. I love Severin.”

Thanks to Ms. B! She said all I wanted to say and did it better, in the bargain.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I am so excited! I wish it was breakfast time! But it's seven pm, so I had better not give into the temptation to break out some of the fabulous COFFEE that my parents just sent me! Chocolate truffle flavour coffee! CINNABON coffee!!! How decadent! How blissful!
I am in heaven just sniffing the packages!
When we first got to Africa, I schooled myself to enjoy whatever breakfast drink was available. Most often there was the inevitable instant Nescafé with sugar/without sugar/with or without condensed milk - all those endless permutations that make West Africa wake up in the morning. Sometimes there was dangerously strong, gritty Lebanese coffee. Sometimes there was Liptin tea. And it was all ok. I learned not to expect much, take what I could get and be pretty happy with it. If you're just going to eat, drink and do all the same stuff you do back in your home country, why leave?
But I have recently realised (only took about 9 years!) how REALLY joyous good coffee makes me ( my definition of "good" being arabica with some crazy flavoring added in) . I even discovered the joys of grinding up whole beans with a sleek black machine (borrowed from an Embassy pal).
This summer I brought back some good coffee from the USA. I underestimated quantites, but now my parents have come to the rescue. Tomorrow morning I'll be drinking Cinnabon coffee! Bet I'll be the only one in all of Burkina- maybe in all West Africa!

Monday, January 07, 2008

« My daughter doesn’t have a dog.” I told the woman at the park entrance. The Burkinabé tend to be patient and to enjoy a good story, so segued into my request gradually -gave her some back story. “She would have liked a dog, but we got her this goat instead. It’s a nice goat and she has it all trained. It even takes walks on a leash. I wonder if it would be possible for her to bring her goat? Here to the park? To walk? Like a dog?” My weird question got a laugh out of her and she said “Sure! Bring him!” I think she would have said the same even if I had proposed bringing in a pet grizzly bear. She just wanted to see what would happen. ( I later told JP: “I like to think that the entertainment our outlandish antics provide for the locals is our way of ‘giving back’”)
That was Saturday. And Sunday afternoon found me again at the park, with the goat in the back of the station wagon. Aslan travels pretty well, though he’s never quite sure how things are going to end up. Usually, a car trip ends in a play date with his little goat friends, but occasionally it ends in a session at the veterinarian. And as the last time he went to the vet, there was a painful incident involving his privates and a pair of pliers, a person wouldn’t blame him for being a tad skittish. But when we pulled up I front of the park, I think he realized that fun was in store, because he scrambled out quite willingly and trotted along right behind Mal.

Now, JP had promised the twins that they could visit the small menagerie at the park. So, we went up to the woman that had helped us yesterday. She was still in the same spot, a small table set up in the dirt in a shaded corner. She’s in charge of selling the park entrance tickets: 100 cfa for adults and half that for kids. (100cfa is about 20 cents US). It’s a bit more to see the animals. The guide in charge of the menagerie told us not to bring the goat on our visit, as it might excite the jackals and hyenas in a “Yay! Lunch is early!” kind of way. So, Mal tied up Aslan in a shady spot with lots of dried leaves to munch on. But when she tried to leave, he started to cry. And by the time she was out of sight beyond the gate, he was screaming his head off. We kind of figured that he would eventually get distracted by the tasty food and calm down. But here’s my theory: Aslan is so well fed and pampered, that his mind is elevated to a higher plane that that of his brethren, who are concerned about where their next meal is coming from. As a result, our goat has an unusually rich emotional life. Dried leaves are as nothing to him compared to his beloved Mal, light of his goat life.
In the end, I had to go back for him. When he saw me, the intensity of his cries died down a bit, but didn’t stop. I untied him and then he quieted right down. He was a now a Goat with a Mission: Find Mal! He took off trotting towards the gate. He didn’t exactly drag on the leash, but made his wishes known. We quickly found JP and the girls, who were checking out a monkey and her funny little baby. Mom Monkey didn’t mind us humans looking at her little one, but Aslan kind of creeped her out. So, we cut our visit short and went on our walk through the park. It’s a small wilderness area that is the only untouched green space in Ouagadougou. (If you are interested in more description, check out this blog entry about the place.) It is a very popular site on the weekends, lots of people showing up to exercise pets, kids and/or themselves.
Before we arrived, JP had been sceptical, suspecting that the goat would idle, lollygag and just generally be a goat-type slacker. Instead, he cast all those other, more banal pets in the shade! He walked tirelessly right alongside Mal, completely undistracted by leaves , grasses and any other items of potential interest to goats. He was happy just to be out in the fresh air, having a nice walk with the Goddess of his little goat existence. Most people we passed mistook him for a dog and the few that did realise did double takes. He'll definitely get to go on lots more outings to the park!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Title of today's blog entry: The Wisdom of the Papaya Master
Being a twin in Burkina is special. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes bad. Among the Winyé, for example, the birth of twins can be interpreted as either 1. a reward: What a good mom you are! or 2. A punishment: Doom in the form of two small infants. But once you have got past those early days (which could potentially end up in infanticide), being a twin is good stuff. You weren’t killed, so you must be some of those “Good Luck” twins! At the least, you get “Hey! Twins! How wonderful!”. Even better, as a twin, you often get offered small amounts of money and gifts when you are out together in public, all of which are impossible to refuse, as the giving confers good luck upon the benefactors.
Today I had my twins with me as I ran errands in town. I stopped at the marché to buy strawberries (Yes! It’s finally strawberry season!) and the girls were welcomed with open arms and two fat papayas. Now, this is sad, but my girls HATE papayas with a passion usually reserved for tyrannical despots that abuse kittens in their spare time. It’s really a shame, as we live in Papaya Central, but there you go. The girls thanked the fruit market ladies politely and climbed back into the car, discussing who could be the lucky beneficiary of this fruity windfall. I could hear them discussing it in the backseat as we drove home, deciding finally to give the fruit to some of the “tomato can boys” that line the Blvd Ch. de G. These young kids are sent out by their Islamic teachers to beg for coins. They are supposed to give everything to the teacher, who in turn is supposed to care for them and teach them. These Koranic “schools” are often to only “education” poor families can afford, as the marabouts usually ask for no money from the parents. On the other hand, these boys are often very young and spend their days out on the street in dangerous traffic. And some of the teachers don’t seem very good about using the money to buy food for the children or to look after their welfare. (Please read this for further info on the subject.) I certainly don’t like to encourage this dubious system that at best results in these kids memorizing bits of the Koran in Arabic. Not really a useful tool for their future. And oh yeah- they learn to beg. Great. Anyway, I DO like to give these boys food, which they can enjoy and are not obliged to bring back to their marabouts.

Well, the twins gave the fruit to the Koran school boys. But before they did so, there was much discussion in the backseat. I couldn’t make out much, but I heard Alexa mention “…the Wisdom of the Papaya Master”. I’m not sure what that is, but it sounds terribly interesting. It’s good to know that even though papayas are not tasty (I find them disturbingly squishy and overly sweet), they actually possess some amazing, unsuspected qualities. They bestow wisdom! Who knew?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Here is a picture of JP and I at a Christmas party. Maybe it isn't that great, but it is such a rare item, that I felt I had to post it. My husband and I are seldom in pictures together. It seems like it's always me holding the camera, taking endless shots of the kids. Which is only right, as I feel that my children are getting more beautiful with age. I am sorry to report that the same cannot be said of me. But this pic is nice a souvenir of a really lovely night at H's house.
BTW-Valentine has posted again. Go have a look!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

We went out for New Years Eve, the girls in tow. Severin was out in the bush on a camping trip, so that left just the five of us. We had arranged to meet some friends at a Chinese restaurant downtown. Yes, there is Chinese food in Ouagadougou. I can't say that it's really good. It's kind of difficult to get the ingredients they need, except maybe for dog, but I really don't want to go there...
We got dressed up and headed into town. But the minute we sat down, Mallory ran over to me and whispered "My chickens! We forgot to shut up my chickens!" This was indeed a matter for concern, as her flock has recently been ravaged by some predator- probably feral cats. Two nights ago, JP and I heard a rukus out in the animal pen, so we grabbed some flashlights and went to investigate. We only found three of Mallory's four chicks (well, they are more like teenager-chickens at this point). No feathers or blood, just gone. Even worse, in the morning, there were only two. It was then decided that all the chickens had to be shut in at night - but somehow in all the excitement of a trip to the Restaurant du Chine, we forgot. So, that was a concern, but I had more pressing problems. We had come late to the gathering and the others (an all-American missionary crowd) had decided to segregate the seating. There were all the women at one end and the men all at the opposite end of the table. The center was occupied by a hoard of small children. After one look at the table, JP shot me a look of the acutest misery. He's an anthropologist and knows that foreign cultures have their own customs, but he finds this particular one very painful. He sat down among the men and they tried to draw him into the conversation with such gems as "What's your favorite winter sport? and "Where are the next Olypmics being held?" Now, my husband loves to chat about politics, philosophy, current events...anything EXCEPT sports. I could see that action had to be taken. I somehow managed to convince the other women that the kids would be happier at a table of their own and the xx and xy camps could be combined.
Dinner was nice. We didn't have the elaborate, tasty-looking buffet though, which at 35$ per person was not getting many takers. We were at the restaurant from 7:30 to 10pm and in all that time saw only ONE group of people partake of the fancy buffet offerings. It was a wealthy Burkinabé family. Their two little boys were wearing suits!
At 10 we went right home to close up the chickens. They were all fine and Mal was much relieved. It had been weighing on her. That done, we continued on to K's house, to play Pictionary and eat chocolate chip cookies. Around midnight we all went out to light fireworks. K's dog took advantage of our distraction and pushed her way into the house. She wolfed down all the rest of the cookies and then washed them down with a whole container of grape Kool-aid. I'm afraid that poor Minuit spent the first few hours of 2008 with a bit of a belly ache from a junk-food overload.
This morning we had a visit from a group of griots- traditional musicians/praise singers. They go from house to house during the holidays, performing wherever asked. They sing a few songs, inserting the names of theirs hosts into them. Sanou and his fellow griots turned out to be from a village that JP worked in years ago. They were nice fellows and very fine musicians. Wish I had an mp3 to share with you. It was so good!
Happy New Year 2008, everyone!