Friday, February 29, 2008

For excellent insight into the sitatuation here in Ouaga these day, please read this from a very good journalist living here in Ouaga ( just two blocks away from me, actually).
His is a serious blog, where you will learn useful stuff and not have to read about how he got headlice or hear him sing the praises of hot glue guns.

Everything over at Papiers was fine. The women told me that when reports that demonstrations had started reached the Village Artisanale, the guards had shut the gates to the complex. No one was allowed in or out until the evening. The management was avoiding any risk of damage to the 52 craft stands and all the other infrastructure they have built up over the years. The Papiers women said it had been ok for them- they'd already been shopping for their rice and vegetables early in the morning, so they made paper all day and had a meal together.

As for what went on elsewhere- here's what I've gathered from talking to people and reading a few different newspapers:
The morning started out calm. But there was definitely a military/police presence in the city. Troops were guarding many gas stations, banks and public buildings.

Many people had stayed home from work that day. Most shops were closed, as were most schools. But this latter information was not well- publicised. I had read it in the newspapers, but the message did not seem get out to most families. Many children showed up at school, only to find locked doors. I saw dramatic evidence of this that morning at the Ecole du Plateau- a really big public school near our house. At 7am, there was a crowd of well over 100 uniformed students left milling around the gates. I thought that was quite a bad sign. High-school boys are very suceptible to getting drwn into these protests, because it seems so exciting. How many of them never went back home, but went on to join in the vandalism?

The CRS riot police were also patroling the city, heavily armed. The Observateur says it like this: "These patrols, meant to secure the safety of people and goods and to prevent any vandalism, produced the opposite effect. The presence of these men in combat gear seems to have incited people to protest"

By 9:30, people had started burning piles of tires and trash out in the streets near the Rood Woko market. The usual way of getting these fires going is for the demonstrators to grab people trying to pass by on motor scooters. They are forced to watch as their gas tanks are emptied onto the barricades. The vehicle is usually returned, as long as the person hasn't protested too much about their "donation" to the cause.

At the same time, things started up in the Patte d'Oie neighborhood, near Ouaga 2000. When I write "things" I mean: destroying traffic lights, tearing down billboards ( especially the fancy electronic ones), burning tires and trash in the streets, blocking the roads and throwing rocks at vehicles that try to pass by. When you get down to it, it's not all that horrible. Yes, stoplights are expensive to fix, but at least they aren't trying to harm anyone. Most of thsi very minor vandalism is done by students- young men mainly.

Soon after, the northern neighborhoods like Tampouey and Dapoya errupted into similar bouts of mild vandalism. Some of the demonstrators were as young as 10 years old. In fact, the news accounts and the accounts of my friends all say the same thing: the protests here were unusual because there were many very young children involved.
The police arrived and made a show of force. The demonstrators threw stones. The police replied with tear gas. Cecile (our cook) says it was terrible.- the CRS in trucks, chasing down the people (many of them children!) as they fled the gas. The worst thing was that the huge clouds of gas affected even the people who stayed home, closed up in their courtyards.

It seems that this very violent reaction (approved by the mayor of Ouagadougou, who was on the scene) set off a much more violent chain of protest- The parking lots of two government offices were immediately attacked and many vehicles destroyed. Some bank builings and other office buildings were attacked. Lots of other cars and small stands were targeted.

In Nogr Massom (not far from where we live), the local mayor quickly brought out his own "security forces". While trying to "control" the mobs, one of the mayor's friends stabbed a young man. (He is intensive care right now) This completely set off the mob that went on to destroy some businesses known to be owned by Mayor Sawadogo. The mob even went to take revenge upon the daughter of the man that stabbed the protester. She was spared by the intervention of her neighbor, a Protestant minister.

SO, the protest against the high cost of living quickly turned into a protest of other things as well- such as shows of excessive force by the government and the attitude of the elites toward the average person.

That's as much as I know about it.
Today has been quite calm. As I drove through town today, I saw the black marks of the fires all over the streets and a few broken windows. The broken traffic signals were more of a problem. Traffic in Ouaga, already bad, just got a lot worse.
There's a huge military presence in the city - near the Moro Naaba's palace, I counted at least 60 stationed there. Truckloads of riot police are cruising around.
But I imagine that the weekend will be quite calm. I hope.
Still no email. Sorry.

Ouaga is recovering today. As I drove into the center of the city this morning at 7am, I saw soldiers and CRS agents (riot police) stationed at many intersections. The newspaper vendors were more busy than usual, too. Everyone that can read is eagerly searching for news, as so little was available yesterday. I managed to get a hold of three different ones. The headdline of the Observateur Paalga reads: "Business Dead, City Hot".
But most of my information this morning is coming from our driver(Mahama) and our cook, Cecile. They both live in the neighborhood of Tanghin (23). Along with the Patte d'Oie (15) at the opposite end of the city, it was among the hardest hit areas.

I need to get over to the Paper project now, so this is just a quick update to tell you all that we (and all our friends and helpers) are fine.

Also, there are still problems with the internet here. I couldn't get on at all yesterday afternoon and evening. And I still haven't been able to access my email. So, sorry about any messages I'm not answering. If it's urgent, it will reach me best through the "comments" on this blog.

In my next post (this afternoon, I hope) I'll write about yesterday's events from the point of view of Mahama and Cecile, who were in the midst of it all.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I was just finishing up typing my blog entry for the day about half and hour ago. It started out “The day of protest and demonstrations here in Ouaga has begun quietly, for most of the city”

I was interrupted by a call from our driver, Mahama, who we’d given the afternoon off. He told us that the protest here is Ouaga was heating up and that no one should try to go out. JP should definitely not try to get back to his office at the IRD.

Though things are calm here in the Zone du Bois where we live, the city is erupting into violence in the north, center and south. Mahama told us that one person has been killed.

I went into the kitchen to listen to the the local Mooré radio station with Fanta. We heard local grassroots activist Thibault Nana exhorting everyone to come out and join in the protests. In particular, the target is the ultra-rich neighbourhood called Ouaga 2000. It’s where the people that held last weekend’s chic birthday party live. President Campaoré lives there, too, in a mind-bogglingly sumptuous palace (Yes, I have been inside as a guest. I was his daughter’s sunday school teacher. True story).

The government had tried to head off major trouble by announcing yesterday afternoon that import taxes on certain staple goods would be lifted for the next three months. This was pretty tricky on their part. I think they counted on the fact that most Burkinabé people (who don’t have much education) would misinterpret their announcement. Maybe I’m being unfair- but I’m not so sure.

As an experiment, I asked some of our household workers about what they had heard on the radio. They told me that the government was lifting import taxes and that within three months, prices would all be back to normal.


I have read the press accounts in three different newspapers this morning and they all say the same thing: The import taxes will be annulled for three months, starting today. Prices might not go down immediately, as merchants sell older stock that they already paid tax on. But within a short period, prices ‘should’ come down. (NB: How this would happen was not made clear. They just seem to trust that all the merchants will lower their prices to pre-tax enforcement levels. We may equally imagine that some of them will lower their prices just a smidgen, so that prices are somewhat more palatable to the public, but they make larger profits than ever, thanks to the abolished taxes.)

When the grace period is over, the idea is that import tax will be reinstated. And I don’t think they have much choice. Bretton Woods institutions frown deeply and get crabby when governments fail to collect taxes.

Anyway, all the government could have hoped to do was gain a small breathing space- this was no real long-term fix.

But the government plan for peace and order was defeated because- guess what? It looks like Thibault Nana (and probably lots of other smart folks) know how to read. Foiled again, Blaise and fat cat pals! Nana and others no doubt listened to the radio, read the newspapers and immediately realized that the Burkinabé people were being thrown a bone. An insultingly tiny rotten bone.

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t know what to expect. I ventured into town twice (Curiosity hasn’t killed this cat. Not yet, anyway!) and found most of the shops and stands closed. Most of the larger gas stations were open, but heavily guarded by soldiers. At the Total station alone, I counted 10.

As we drove down the road, I noticed that visibility was quite bad . You could only see a few blocks ahead because the air was so hazy. It turns out it was mostly smoke from burning tires over in sectors 10 and 11 to the north of the city center. Friends tell me that the protests there started early this morning in these areas, also known as Hamdalaye and Ouidi . People living in those neighbourhoods couldn’t get out and go to work and people needing to pass through them were trapped as well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My light-hearted, mostly violence-free blog BurkinaMom’s Life in Africa almost became BurkinaMom’s DEATH in Africa yesterday.

As I have previously noted many times before, the people here are mostly INSANE drivers and one of them nearly did us in on Tuesday afternoon.

I was in the car, with Mahama driving as we returned from some errands in the center of Ouaga. Sev was in the backseat, absorbed in a game of Risk on his Nintendo DS.

Now, Mahama was going pretty fast as we tooled down the Blvd Charles de G. It is one of the very few straight, paved, four-lane roads in the whole country. It has wide dividers between the opposing traffic, separate cycle lanes and it boasts many stoplights- these are functioning, large-sized, highly visible traffic signals that tell you when to go and when to STOP. One of these fine, useful devices is located at the Babanguida intersection. As my car approached this marvel of modern technology yesterday afternoon, it was green. Not yellow. Not just about to turn red. It was good and green and my driver didn’t slow down.

Then, just for the fun of it (I guess) a car shot through the intersection from the left. If it had come from the other direction, we would have been fully broadsided and smashed to bits. As it was, the car crossed in front of the two left-hand lanes before getting into our path of travel.

This is when we found out that Mahama is not from the “pump the brakes” school of emergency manouevering. Though he has been a driver for many years, he apparently adheres to the “smash the brakes down to the floorboard in a panic” technique. This has the advantage of being instinctual, but it doesn’t work real well. The tires squealed, rubber burned, and my car (no surprise here) spun around like it was on ice.

It all went in slow motion, as these things tend to do. I saw the Kleenex vendors and newspaper hawkers standing on the corner with jaws dropped. A little tomato-can boy covered his mouth, eyes opened huge. I almost felt like waving and telling him “Don’t worry! This will probably turn out ok. Or not.” as we swung by. It seemed to happen that slowly.

Mahama and I didn’t have on seatbelts. Severin was silent in the backseat. I knew he didn’t have one on, either.

The other vehicle shot past on my side of the car as we spun. It was close- a foot to spare, if that.

My car finally stopped safely at the edge of the street, far beyond the intersection.

I looked back and saw the other car stopped in front of the grocery shop on the south. Their vehicle was also untouched, but like us, I guess they were just sitting there, shaking for a while.

Severin said “Umm…what just happened?”

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Part IV
In Which We Arrive in Nanou and are Properly Greeted

Of course you can't take a road trip in Africa without at least one spare tire. And even that's risky - two is better. None is completely insane.
So, we waited. It’s not all that easy to find a tire repair place that’s open on Sunday morning at 7am, even in Burkina Faso.

Mal had to call A and tell her we’d be late. The twins had invited their good friend to come along with us on the trip. A’s parents are Swiss missionaries and have been here almost as long as we have, so the girls have known each other since they were 3 years old.

We ended up leaving 45 minutes late and I began to fear that the trip was already spinning slightly out of control. It would take 2 hours just to drive to Boromo. Then, we’d have to drop off our car at JP’s camp and go with him in his truck out the village of Nanou, which is on a very rough track. That would take another half an hour. Here’s the problem: though JP’s friends out in the village were expecting us, they know better than anyone that things always go wrong here. The whole event might not even happen at all. So, there’s no use in starting to cook the celebratory meal until the truck full of guests pulls up in the village. And there’s no way guests can come and go without being fed.
So, I needed to get us out to Nanou so that the ladies would start cooking. That way, we could do the Ceremony of Gratitude (or whatever it was), greet various friends in the village, and quickly eat, so that we could leave by 3pm. That would get us back to Boromo by 3:30, where we could use a non-scary bathroom at JP’s house, load our stuff back into our own car and get back to Ouaga by 6pm. Any later than that and we’d be driving in the dark, which I was dead set against, especially with three children in the vehicle.
It all boiled down to this: if we left Nanou any later than 3:30pm, we would have to stay overnight in Boromo. Then, we'd have to get on the road by 5am on Monday morning to have the girls back in time for school, which begins at 7:30am.

All this in mind, you can see why the idea of being even 45 minutes behind schedule was grounds for gnashing of teeth, etc... If we had any kind of further trouble or delay on the drive out, it was guaranteed that we’d be sleeping in Boromo, which is not a thing greatly to be desired. As JP doesn’t have beds for four extra people at his compound, we’d have to stay in the best hotel in Boromo -which is like worst hotel anyplace else in the world, with cold water showers, intermittent electricity, plenty of mosquitoes and exceptionally dismal customer service.

The flat tire had me very depressed and we hadn’t even left the house yet.

By 8am, though, we were making our way out of Ouaga, heading west. The three girls were in the back, watching a dvd. Me, I have the enviable ability to read in moving vehicle with absolutely no ill effects. I pity weaker creatures (like JP!) that get headaches and nausea from it. I happily read an old mystery novel (Salt is Leaving) for two hours as we sped towards Boromo.

When we arrived, we quickly found JP’s camp, located at the south edge of town. The girls enjoyed having a look around as we transferred the gear to the truck. JP’s place is in a compound with a few other families, so there were some kids, chicks, a puppy and other attractions. But we didn’t have time to waste. We needed to get out to Nanou so the ceremony to thank the spirits could begin! Two years ago, the old Earth Priest in the village and his son (who’s next in line to inherit) carried out a twin’s “baptism” ceremony for our girls and asked for good health for them, especially Al, who had some cardiac issues that have been quite worrying. Now it was time to thank the spirits for their intervention. We had some gifts to offer and some cash to lay on the Earth Shrine. I figured on a minimum of fuss, a quick meal and then a return home in time for a 7pm phone call I was expecting, but precision timing would be required. Sadly, Africa is not big on precision timing. "It happens when it happens" is the motto around here. But I am nothing if not optimistic.

I dragged Mal away from the puppy and we crowded into JP’s field vehicle. It’s a very beat-up king cab pickup. Not that it’s really elderly, but it’s had a hard time in its short life, mostly jolting along narrow, chasm-filled dirt tracks. JP sat beside the driver with Alexa on his lap. I was in the back with Isseuf, JP’s field assistant, and the two other girls.

It took about half and hour to get out to the village. When we pulled up to the Earth Priest’s compound, we saw him and one of his sons napping outside in chairs made of wooden sticks tied together with goathide. Their little donkey stood nearby, chewing on millet stalks. As is typical, the women were not napping. Funny- it’s so much less frequent to see women sleeping during the day. (And, no, it’s not because they nap indoors. While the guys snooze, the women are walking around, doing stuff. Work stuff.)

We piled out of the truck and the Earth Priest and his wife came to greet us. Napping Son (a short 20ish fellow) didn’t stir. His mom kicked him a bit, not in a mean way, and he woke up to give us the all-important greeting. Though people’s lives here are simple materially, socially they are very complicated -probably more so than in the USA, where people put a premium on informality and practicality. No way was anybody sleeping through the arrival of guests! Every hand must be shaken and detailed inquiries made into the health of the members of the extended family. How are you? Your children? Your parents? All the people back in your home territory?, etc… None of this was in French, though. Not even Mooré. It was all in Winyé, which JP speaks pretty well, but I can’t even get through the greetings correctly! Some of the people that had joined us noticed my difficulty and started speaking Djoula, which is the trade language of West Africa. They were surprised that it didn’t help. While I can chat with ease in French and English and get by in Spanish and Mooré (the dominant local language), that exhausts my bag of linguistic tricks. No Fulani, no Djoula, no Winyé. So, I could only smile in what I hoped was a kindly and intelligent way, but I probably looked like a complete idiot. I seem to do that a lot.

That's it for today's instalment. I have managed to load some pictures in the Photobucket Album. So, if you want a look at the Carnival and Nanou, click on the link at right. It's all in the Feb 2008 album. BTW-The pic posted above is me with the Earth Priest's wife.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Saturday’s festivities went well. Much fun was had. I will mercifully spare you the details.

I am happily posting this from my HOME! Yes, I once again have internet and can both receive and (get this!) SEND e-mails again!! What fun! The only problem is that I suspect that many messages sent to me over the last week and a half have been lost. If you have been trying to contact me and had a message bounced last week, try again. Should work now.

Part III: In which an Elegant Event is Attended and a Trip Begins, Badly.

Well, the twins enjoyed the show and then hanging out with their friends afterwards. But by noon, we were home, having lunch, getting ready for the second half of the day. The twins had been invited to the birthday party of EC and R. They are b/g twins that are in their classes at school. The girls have played with EC (the girl) a few times at her home in the chic, uber-rich neighbourhood of Ouaga 2000. Mal informed me after one visit that at EC’s house “they have the air-conditioning on all the time! Even when they aren’t in the room!” – very unlike our home, where every hour that the roaring machines are on is carefully weighed against the eventual electrical bill to be received.

EC and her twin brother were turning 10 and to celebrate, their parents rented the restaurant at the most elegant and expensive hotel in all of Burkina. It is scarily inappropriate. ( I blogged about it here) The girls needed to be driven out to this hotel in Ouaga 2000- about a half and hour trip one-way. I had arranged a carpool with another mom, so that was great. The girls went off and I stayed home writing a bit and then rehearsing some songs. But very soon it was 5:30 and time to trek out to the Hotel Libya. Valentine went along, just out of curiosity, and it was worth the trip. When we got to the huge, elegant hotel restaurant, we found all the kids dressed in matching t-shirts that had been specially printed for the event. They were dancing to music played by a DJ . The buffet included a full meal and other kid-delights such as tiny little pastries and a chocolate fondue with marshmallows to dip. Very chic.

The Master of Ceremonies had just finished holding the “Miss Birthday Party” pageant. When the twins told me about it later, it sounded disturbing. The girls had all paraded around the room like it was a beauty contest. After a “clap for your favourite” vote, the MC declared that EC (of course) was Miss Birthday Party. My twins, of course, didn’t know what was so completely unacceptable about the entire idea of a beauty pageant. What they were stewing about was the fact that Alexa hadn’t been declared the winner.

“Everybody in the class says that she’s the prettiest and everybody clapped the most for her during the voting!” Mal proclaimed indignantly.

IMHO, the whole idea was completely creepy.
My kids once saw the film “Miss Congeniality” – that is the extent of their contact with beauty pageants. So, I haven’t really been inspired to give lectures on the evils of them. They were a non-issue, an antiquated institution, almost dead. I had heard that the last “Miss America” pageant had to be aired in the USA on the Country Music Channel, because no other station wanted it.
All this in mind, on the drive home we discussed the general dopiness of pageants and I explained that the contest had been fixed, anyway. The MC wasn’t going to ruin EC’s happy birthday fête by choosing another little girl to be the winner, no matter who actually got the most applause and wasn’t the whole thing just a bad, bad idea, destined to leave lots of people unhappy for absolutely no good reason?

The drive home took half an hour, so we got back at 7:40- which just gave me time to run in, get some cold pizza out of the fridge and load up Sev and his pal D., who were at the house playing computer games. We headed right over to Saturday night worship service, the kids downing the cold pizza as I drove. We got there with five minutes to spare. I drove fast.
I found it very soothing and refreshing, as I always do. They go heavy on the singing, which I really enjoy.

We were back home by 9pm and went to bed soon after, as my plan was to be up by 5:30 Sunday morning. I needed to make sandwiches, pack the cooler, gather up the last minute stuff and make sure the twins and I were all ready to leave by 7am at the very latest for our big adventure in Nanou.

The next day, everything went according to plan…for the first hour and fifteen minutes, anyway.

I’d packed the food and drink. The twins had eaten their breakfast and were dressed. I ‘d gathered all the gifts that JP had asked me to bring: cash, a watch, and school supplies. I also had a huge sack of cookies to share with the village children.

Then, I hauled the cooler, bags and boxes out for the driver to pack. Glancing around the yard, I didn’t see him right away. I finally found Mahama crouched by the side of the car, wrestling the spare tire into place.

“Completely flat” he told me sadly. “We have to go get it fixed before we can leave.”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Last night, "Radio France Boredom" turned into "Radio France Stardom"! JP came home from work and told me that an RFI journalist was doing a phone interview with him at 7pm. The reporter had been given JP's name as an authority on social issues in Burkina, so JP was to give his opinion on the latest unrest in Burkina.

I couldn't hang around and listen in, as our family had tickets to see the school musical (Grease!) over at the International School. So, I rushed the kids out the door and JP stayed to take his call. It will be broadcast on Monday morning.

The city is calm today. I didn't see any soldiers as I came into the center of town today.

No real news, so here's a bit more of the continuing saga of last weekends events. Warning- it's all about the Carnival, nothing about Nanou yet. Be patient.

Saturday’s Carnival experience didn’t turn out half bad. The advantage was that this was my NINTH one at St Ex. I’ll admit that in the early days I could get quite worked up at the bad behaviour of the parents as they stampeded to snatch a prime seat under the awning. And even more annoying were the ones who, in their quest for the best possible picture of their offspring would stand directly in front of the seated crowd, blocking others from seeing the show. In fact, for me, one of the “traditions” of the school Carnival was the part where I would decide to strike out in the cause of justice and yell at these anti-social morons, telling them that (and this is a quote from three years ago): “I am really not interested in viewing your butts. So why don’t you freaking move? Thank you.” This would get cheers from the crowd and the offenders would often slink off in shame. But fairly frequently they would just give me and the rest of the resentful crowd a bored glance that said “Oh. Roaches. And they talk. Whatever.” and not move. I guess sociopaths have kids, too.

Now, maybe it was my annual rage-fest that diminished the problem over time. But it was probably the letter that the principal of the school has sent to the parents for the last two years, warning them to back off, threatening that cameras would be banned at events if folks couldn’t control themselves. At any rate, that problem was greatly reduced this year. There was still lots of pushing and seat-snitching going on, but no blatant butt-blocking, so that was nice.

I really didn’t have much to complain about. As I was a classroom-helper mom, I got to go down before the huge crowd was allowed inside the gates, so I snagged a good seat in the second row. Why not the first row? Sure, those upholstered seats looked way more inviting than the rows of sharp-edged metal folding chairs lined up behind. But the comfy seats all sported big white signs saying “Reserved for Guests”.

Now, as I am not a student, teacher, administrator or part of the janitorial staff, I am a “guest” at that school, am I not? But I knew that the signs didn’t mean me. In the great French/Burkinabé tradition of elitism, the school always reserves the front row for the “important” parents. That means high-up government and embassy persons, and the owners/CEOs of big business concerns. That way, Mr. Big Deal, the CEO of a big cell-phone company here, can come in late, but still enjoy a perfect view of his child in the show from the vantage point of a fluffy cushion.

Now, I’m used to this, and all the anger has yielded to mild bemusement. But my pal C? That’s a whole different story. This is only her second year here, so she got pretty riled up. C. is French, but raised in the USA. She looks like the stereotypical Frenchwoman: small and delicate and so well-groomed it looks like it hurts. You’d think she has nothing in common with an amiable slob like myself, but we are actually spiritual sisters. Her years in the States (and subsequent life working with other Anglophone people) have made her very anti-elitist and very ready to express her opinion when things are unfair. While not building up the US as a paradise, she clearly has some issues with how the French (and French Africans) do things. The French motto is: Liberty, Fraternity , Equality. But at school it’s: “all parents are equal, but some are more equal than others”. And this got C. quite angry. She had the very American sentiment that the so-called “elites” should be treated just like all the other parents. And she’s right, of course. But that’s not how they do things here. The VIPs are entitled to their perks, even if they’re not all that VI.

C. and I chatted. Well, she ranted and I nodded sypathetically. She even got some of the French couples behind us involved in the discussion. They were very nice folks who all completely agreed with her. Or they were scared of her - I’m not sure.

We were further entertained by the fact that the “reserved” seats began filling up, but not all of the people were VIPs. Many were just folks that thought the seats looked good. They’d come in late, notice a couple of empty chairs in the center of the very front row and head straight for them. “Wow! Perfect seats left empty! I guess the people sitting behind are so moronic that they didn’t notice them. How lucky I am!” and they’d sit down right on top of the “reserved” signs taped to the seats. And when the Principal would come to make them move, they looked deeply shocked.

The show was pretty cute, so I watched quite happily, despite the fact that I had no kids of my own performing in the first few scenes. They start with the preschoolers, which makes sense.

Soon, I started getting nervous that Tony wasn’t going to show at all. C. kindly offered to lend me her camera during the scenes that the twins would perform in. So, I was sitting there holding C’s camera when Tony squeezed in beside me, handed me his digital camera and disappeared again, like some kind of audiovisual superhero.

Alexa’s strange little vignette was up next. As I reported previously in my blog, it was the story of a President being kidnapped and then rescued by some MIB-like secret agents. Alexa had snagged the very small, yet vital (well ok-not vital, just small) part of one of the three evil waitresses that serves drugged drinks to the bodyguards of the imperilled President. She looked very stylish and carried off her role with aplomb. It seemed very plausible that she could persuade a young man to accept a nice glass of spiked fruit punch from her. (Check out the photo at top of this post for proof.)

Her moment in the spotlight was very short and she watched the rest of the show from the sidelines with her two fellow waitresses. After the poisoning and kidnapping, the storyline became less clear. The whole thing was mimed to music, with no narration or dialogue, so the comings and goings of the different groups of armed and sinister looking persons were a complete mystery. In the end, the President was rescued, though, and waved to the crowd with his proud wife (mistress? bodyguard? cleaning lady?) beside him.

Next, it was time for Mal’s show. First, big easels were brought out. Then the groups of subjects arranged themselves. Finally, the painters trooped out. And it just so happened that Mal’s group set up at the back of the stage area, as far from me as possible. Even worse, my view was completely blocked by the kids on bicycles posing for one of the other artists. And the crowded audience meant that there was no hope of moving and jockeying for a better vantage point. By the time I made my way to another place, the show would be over. So, I watched the show. It went like this: kids posed, other kids pretended to paint them. Then, each group paraded around with a big poster of the famous painting that they had just “created”. Each was labelled with the title of the work and name of the artist. But as I wrote in my previous blog entry on the subject, I am an Art Dolt and hadn’t heard of any of the paintings.

Anyway, all this meant that I got no pictures of Mal at all- which was a shame, as it’s her last Carnival here in Ouagadougou.

That was the last scene. The show was over and I rushed over to the school library. That’s where the ticket sales windows were set up. I had volunteered yet again to sell refreshment tickets, which isn’t as altruistic as it sounds. Yes, it’s lots of work and you don’t get to enjoy the eating and socializing that follow the event. But there are many, many advantages: 1. You stand in an air-conditioned room, selling tickets through the window. This is less important at the Xmas Market, but gains in importance as the school year wears on and the weather heats up 2. You see all of your friends and acquaintances. In fact, you see everyone , because everybody needs tickets if they want to drink or eat anything. 3. There’s also a nice ‘esprit de corps’ among the ticket-sellers 4. Plus there’s the fun of being an ‘insider’, rather than one of the milling crowd. 5. Add to that the fact that I really hate wandering around in a huge crowd, trying to ‘socialize’. Quelle horreur! It’s SO much nicer to have a useful job and not be out there trying to have ‘fun’.

That's it for now. I'll post again on Monday with an account of the big birthday bash scheduled for this afternoon. Should be fun!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Still no internet at home, so I have once again ventured into the city center to post the latest news, which is there is lots of and check emails. Yes, I was finally just now able to get at my messages, but I still can’t send any.

Here’s the lastest:

While Ouaga has escaped any violent protests this week, other towns in Burkina have not been so lucky, as I explained yesterday. Bobo and Ouahiagouya exploded on Wednesday and one death has been reported, along with lots of damage throughout the town. Even today most people there are staying hoem and many businesses are closed- that’s the word from Mahama’s nephew that lives there, anyway.

Yesterday afternoon brought reports that protests and rioting had begun in Banfora. It’s a moderately sized city in the far west of the county. Kind of charming. The sugar industry is based there and it’s also near many tourist attractions, so it’s quite an important place here. I don’t have any specific news yet about how much damage has been done .

Many people here believe that this is not the end of the troubles, by any means. Until the government forces vendors to adhere to the price controls already in place and adds controls on other necessities, protests will spread. Rumors and printed flyers are multiplying. Yes, the protest factions are actually organised, to a degree. Ouagadougou’s protest demonstration is “officially” scheduled for Feb 28. But the rumors are more diffuse- The protest here could be on Monday, Thursday, Friday, or all three, if folks are really enraged.

This in mind, I went to the grocery store to stock up on supplies. I found the center of town choked with soldiers, Russian-made machine guns slung across their backs or carried for more convenient access. Looks like the government wants to discourage any ideas of a protest here in the capital.
I quickly did my shopping and headed over here to the cybercafé to post this. Then I’ll grab the kids at school and get them back to our calm, soldier-free neighbourhood.

With all the unrest around here, I listen to the radio more often. Reports of the rioting of the past two days even made it onto RFI (Radio France International) It's the French national news station- similar to NPR in the USA. Eldest Daughter calls it “RFB” -Radio France Boredom.

I am out of time. And I doubt I’ll be able to post on the weekend. Saturday we are having the twins’ birthday party, so I’ll probably be busy all day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Life without the internet at home has been good for me, sort of. Often, my morning routine normally consists of: 1.Getting online 2. Reading and answering all e-mail 3. Reading all the headlines on my iGoogle news page. 4. Clicking on and reading all the interesting news, which leads to clicking on other, related interesting news 5. Checking out what’s going on with various other blogs that I like…

I can use up one or two hours (or more!) before I actually get down to the task of writing for this blog. It can be very hard to get online here and when you do, the pages are really slow to load. And then the internet holds so many distractions, especially if you love to read. I was just talking to an American woman yesterday who was proudly proclaiming that she hardly ever uses the internet and has never been in a chat room, played a game, etc… She was amazed at my admission that I love spending time online and I spend it all reading or posting things that I’ve written. Possible slogan: The Internet: It’s Not Just For Socially Inept Teenaged Boys Playing RPGs Anymore.
But for the past few days I haven’t been online much and yesterday I couldn’t get on at all. I haven’t been able to see my emails since Saturday. Liptinfor (my internet provider) is down and I don’t know when it’s going up again. They say they have people “working on it”. I suspect that what they did was send in a team of nice folks to speak to the server in an encouraging tone and build its self-esteem. Which is nice, but not very effective. I mean it’s been five days now!

What I have been doing with my days is spending time at Papiers, running errands, exercising and writing more than usual. Much more. Yesterday alone I wrote five pages. Single spaced. Which is not bad for a woman with four kids, a husband, three goats, a paper project and a life.

This is all good, but I am getting pretty frustrated, as so much is going on in Burkina right now! I’d love to be blogging about it daily and also be publishing the remainder of our Nanou village trip. But the internet thing is such a handicap. I’m posting this from a cybercafé that uses a different server. But it’s really busy here and not very convenient, compared to blogging from home.

But enough of me whining.

Here’s what’s up in Burkina: The “ville mort” strike planned for Wednesday in Ouaga didn’t happen. It was headed off by the government, which announced on Tuesday night that the National Assembly would be addressing the problem of the skyrocketing cost of living in Burkina. They would be discussing measures such as price controls on staples. The public was requested to not hold marches, shut down the city or vandalize property. And in Ouaga, it worked. Wednesday was a day like any other. But in the second-biggest city in Burkina, BoboDioulasso, and in Ouahiagouya, it was a whole different story. In both cases, the day started with marches and banners, but quickly degraded into vandalism and destruction. Smoke from tires burned by the protesters mixed with the tear gas the CRS riot police used copiously throughout the towns. The newspaper L’Observateur Paalga lists the final damage in Bobo as: “traffic lights destroyed, traffic signs torn down, windows broken, vehicles damaged, shops pillaged, gas stations attacked, small vending stands demolished, etc…” I heard on the radio that the rioters/protesters also destroyed two monuments in the city. No was was reported as killed but there were some serious injuries.

The newspaper was quite critical of the actions of the mobs. Here’s a rough translation of one very pointed paragraph: “This movement, that certainly paralysed normal activities yesterday in Bobo, would have been important, if the main point of demonstrations were to have delinquents and bad elements that don’t have anything better to do work off their frustrations in the city streets and demonstrate their lack of public-spiritedness. And tough luck for the Burkinabé taxpayer who will have to pay for all the damage done during the demonstration.”

So, two big cities in Burkina exploded into violence, but Ouaga remained completely calm. Let’s just hope that the trust of the folks in the capital is justified and the government really will try to control spiralling prices. Many basic foods and supplies have risen by up to 60% in the space of only one month! For example, a “plat” (a local measure) of corn that used to cost 250 cfa (about 40 cents US) now costs 400 cfa. The cheapest soap that people here use used to cost 125 cfa, but now the price is up by 40%. And so it goes down the line. And when you remember that the average person here lives on less than one dollar a day, the impact really sinks in.

So, that’s the real news around here. I'm posting this from a cybercafé in town and don't have much time. But I hope to come back tomorrow and post a bit more of the Nanou saga, if nothing more important comes up.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lots of news around here, not all of it good:

Tomorrow is going to be a “Dead Wednesday” in Ouagadougou. As a protest against steep increases in the cost of living here in Burkina, most deeply felt in food prices, all shops will be closed tomorrow. Any place violating the strike will be vandalized, so my Burkinabé friends are telling me. I’m not sure what good this mass action will do. The Burkinabé government is not well known for rushing to the aid of its citizens. But at least the people in power may be forced to admit that there’s something deeply wrong.

Second bit of news: the internet connection here is extremely messed up since yesterday morning. I haven’t been able to read my emails from the weekend yet, so sorry to anyone that might be expecting a message from me. No can do.
Also, I can’t update my Photobucket album, which means the Carnival and Nanou pics aren’t up yet. Blogspot seems to load ok, if I am very, very patient. So, I should be able to keep blogging…
Which reminds me: Yesterday’s post was my 200th- which is maybe not big news, but it does give me a certain warm, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment.

More good news: Sunday night I was across the street at a neighbor’s house, translating a phone call (it’s a looong story. Good, but long) for about an hour. When the call was over, Solange and I had been chatting for a while when we heard a truck out in the road. When I got back home, I found my kids entertaining our good friend Greg from Canada!! He and his lovely family lived in Ouaga for years and now he is back, just for a short work visit. We had planned by email that he’d come for a tour of Papiers du Sahel Tuesday (today!), but Sunday’s visit was a complete surprise. A very nice one. Besides his witty banter, he also brought cake mixes and some cheese!

Final news: the saga of my exciting weekend will NOT be continued today. But I am hoping that tomorrow will be a little less busy and I’ll be able to spend a bit of my morning writing.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Here I am, back from amazing adventures in Nanou. We returned at six last night, somewhat sunburned and tired, and very happy to be back. It was a great trip and I’m glad we got to do it. It almost got cancelled. It’s a long story:

Eldest Daughter went to a birthday party Friday night, which was nice. Nice for her, I mean. I had the unenviable task of staying up until midnight to go fetch her. And my days of staying up late for fun are long past, thank you very much.

Sev and I put on a new Film Crew movie that we just got from the USA (Thanks, Mom and Dad!), but even that wasn’t enough to keep me awake.
By 10:30, I quit fighting it and went to lay down in bed. I set the alarm and drifted off for an hour. At 11:30, I jumped into the station wagon, feeling much better. But soon, I felt a lot worse. The car, bought at so much expense and with such great hopes only a few months back, was making a noise. A weird noise. A bad, weird noise that was VERY unwelcome, as I had a busy day ahead on Saturday and a big trip to the bush planned for Sunday.

I listened intently as I drove, trying to figure out what it could be. It wasn’t an engine-y thing. It was definitely a sound from underneath the car. A steering-y thing? I soon gave up, as I am completely useless with cars. May as well ask Aslan the Wonder Goat what was wrong with it.

I was pretty concerned, but kept driving. I figured that if it broke down completely, I could use my cell phone and call for a rescue.
Luckily, it wasn’t very far to the party. Eldest Daughter was glad to see me and expressed amazement that I hadn’t gotten lost trying to find the place in the dark - which (sadly) would not have been beyond the realm of possibility, but I had had that all covered. I’d cleverly brought along the invitation, which had the phone number written on it, so that I could call for further directions if I went astray. Well, it would have been a clever plan…but as my daughter spoke, I realised that I’d left my cell phone at home. Typical. It certainly made the drive home more stressful, as getting help would be quite complicated. There are no phone booths in Burkina Faso.

As we drove, she told me all about the party. She also told me about the huge porn movie scare at her school! Short version: some 6th grade boys(11-12 years old) were joking around a couple of weeks ago and said that they were going to make a pornographic film. Which is very scary. I don’t know what kind of lives they have that, at their age, they 1. know what a porn film is and 2. think it sounds funny. Anyway, some of the girls heard about it and apparently thought it was for real. Rumours flew around the school. Finally, it ended with upset parents calling the school. One parent reported that she’d heard the boys had made up a list of girls that were going to be in the film. The already huge scandal swelled and became gigantic.
The boys were called in and said it was “just a joke”. They have been suspended from school for a few days. And I guess they had a good talking to.
The Superintendent (Proviseur) had the teachers read a letter to every class in the school about “respect for human dignity, the psychological health of children, etc”.

So, Eldest Daughter told me all this, then she also mentioned that they’d be having a “sex education” talk at the school at the end of the year.
“I heard about it. They show you how to put a condom on a banana;” she said. “I didn’t know fresh fruits were so dangerous that you need protection. I’m going to be more careful at breakfast from now on!”
She’s a funny girl, even at midnight, long after my brain has shut down.

The car got us home just fine, but I knew I’d have to get someone to look at it right away if I wanted to be ready for the trip to Nanou early Sunday morning. I woke up early and got the twins ready for school. Yes, they had to be at school on Saturday morning- it was the day of the big Carnival show!. Like usual, I had volunteered to be one of the “helper moms”- getting kids into their costumes and makeup. As I’m lucky enough to have a driver, I had him drop us off at the school and then he continued on to the mechanic. I was really hoping that the weird noise would turn out to be a simple, inexpensive weird noise. If the car couldn’t be fixed quickly, Sunday’s village trip would have to be cancelled. And there would be no re-scheduling. This was the last weekend that JP would have free, as he would be travelling and wouldn’t be back in Burkina until May 3. By then, it would be too late, as contacting the sprits is a dry season activity. May is too late.

Anyway, the car went off and I went into Mal’s class, where the kids were getting dressed like painters and as the subjects of Great Paintings. Well, I guess they were Great Paintings. I hadn’t heard of any of them, and I am an art fan. Not like I regularly haul out big piles of art and stand around admiring it, but I have been to the Louvre, like, five times. (NB- If my blog were associated with the AFN, I'd make that "The French Louvre", so you wouldn't get it mixed up with the Louvre of, say, Northern Indiana). I didn’t recognise the paintings.

So, there were kids with big white shirts on, straw hats and lots of paint stains- that was the artists. The others were dressed like card players, cyclists, African women carrying gourds, baskets, babies, etc. and one girl wore a white plastic rice sack. Whatever.

I would have liked to be taking pictures already- lots of candids of the kids getting ready, but as I wrote in my last post, all our cameras were out with JP in the field. However, our kind neighbour Tony was supposed to come to the show and he’s quite a good photographer. So, I was counting on him for pictures of my girls performing.

Soon the kids were all dressed and it was time for me to go out and find a seat, which is always a big deal. The nice parents tend to stay nice, but the merely tolerable ones become horrible- pushing, shoving, blocking, and acting, in general, like they are the only people on earth that count. And the mean parents become absolute monsters. The seemingly benign world of school pageants brings out the worst in many. Scary.

Tomorrow: On With The Show!

(This is what they call a “cliff-hanger”- a cheap device to get you to come back tomorrow. Will the car get repaired in time for the trip? Will Beth get a good seat at the school program? Will Tony show up and take pictures? Stay tuned…)

Friday, February 15, 2008

The weekend ahead is looking extremely busy, full of strange activities that will, no doubt, be fertile grounds for future blogging:
Saturday morning, the twins will be performing their annual school “Carnival”. As in previous years, each class offers a skit or dance in a show that takes the whole of a morning, but seems to occupy an entire geological era. Over the years here in Ouaga, I’ve seen my kids perform as: roses, lions, Roman soldiers, geishas, Paleolithic hunters, Chinese coolies, bubbles, disco dancers, clowns, playing cards and the colour blue. SO, in keeping with a long tradition of bizarreness, Mallory is going to be a painter. (Hey! Nothing says “Showtime!” like watching someone paint -don’t you think? ) Alexa will be a waitress - an evil waitress that poisons the body guards of the President by bringing them a tray full of doctored drinks. Then the bad guys will come in their cardboard cars, but the secret agents arrive…is this making sense to you? Anyway, the real problem is that JP has our digital camera and the movie camera (see yesterday’s post for details) out in the bush with him. So, I won’t have any pictures to post unless I figure out a solution soon…

The second big event is a trip back out to the village of Nanou on Sunday. Long-time readers of my blog will remember that the twins underwent a traditional Winyé twin “baptism” ceremony there back in 2006. Well, that’s not the end of the story. We have to go back to complete the process and “thank” the spirits. So, we’ll be taking off at 7am on Sunday morning. We’re just going for the day, but I have no doubt it will be one chock-full of interesting, if not frankly freaky, incidents.

Add to this menu of delights the fact that tonight Eldest Daughter will be attending a birthday party. A real, 14-year-old kind of party: boys and girls, music and snacks, 7 pm until midnight. Now, I don’t have a good track record in this matter (see this post), but I’m hoping to do better this time around and not fall asleep, stranding my daughter with no transportation, leaving her to depend on the kindness of strangers. Well, not actual starngers. But still. .. Anyway, Severin has kindly promised to stay awake with me, watching stupid movies. I'm thinking Strange Brew. Or would that be considered child abuse?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I got some pretty great, original Valentine cards this morning, including this adorable sheep that was a joint Mal/Al production. No card from JP however, as he’s out in the field doing some research for a week.
Over the last eight years, he’s made many trips. He has a little house in Boromo that he uses as a base camp, but it’s pretty minimal. So, he has to bring a lot when he goes- drinking water, his cameras and tape recorders, his camp bed, etc.. You’d think he’d have the packing down to a science by now. But, yesterday morning he called me with a desperate request.

“I forgot my mattress! You have to send it!”
“Umm…couldn’t you just buy a new one?” (Hey-it was worth a try)
“No, I can’t buy a new one! Mine was really expensive! It’s a special one, for my back. Please send it to me before the night.”

So, at noon, instead of sitting down to lunch, I was driving over to the TSR bus station with a rolled-up mattress in the back of the station wagon. The terminal is just a couple of small metal-roofed, cement-brick building and a dirt parking lot. There was one bus parked there- presumably the noon-time bus to BoboDioulasso. Just what I needed! I hurried over to the ticket window. The girls there told me to track down the cargo-master. It turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. All I did was look for the cargo, which was not hard to find. It was a huge mountain of bags, bundles, boxes, furniture, bicycles and scooters. There was even a sheep tied up nearby, looking a less concerned than he should have been. I don’t think he quite realised that sheep aren’t allowed inside the bus, but are generally tied onto the roof.

Near the tower of goods, I found a young fellow- a kid, really- that seemed to be “mastering” the cargo. At least, he was taking money and adding stuff to the pile, so he had me convinced. I explained my problem and he shook his head.
“Lots of stuff today. No room.”
"But it’s a small mattress, all rolled up! It’s minuscule!”
He laughed and had me bring it over. He agreed that it was a pretty minuscule mattress and said he could leave it at Boromo for the low sum of about four dollars. He marked it with a length of masking tape added it to the heap.
I wrote down the number of the bus and then went home to tell JP to pick up his mattress at about 4 pm at the Boromo bus station.

The plan worked out fine and JP enjoyed a good night’s rest on his “expensive” mattress. He woke up feeling refreshed on Tuesday, ready to work. He was going to film the….no wait! Where was the video camera?
That’s right. He’d left it in Ouaga. So, he called me and asked me to please send it to him by the next bus.
Actually, I didn’t mind all that much. I figured it would give me even more ammunition against him the next time he made fun of me for forgetting something.
So, I wrapped up the camera equipment in a bunch of newspapers, taped it up inside a sturdy box and labelled it using a big black marking pen.
The young cargo guy was surprised to see me again. He asked for a thousand fcfa (about two dollars) and put it aside to go on the next bus. It would arrive by 2 pm.

JP called at 6pm last night.
“It’s not here.”
“It never came. We met the buses all afternoon and it never showed up.”

I felt like such a dolt. I didn’t even have the number of the bus. Nothing. I’d been so confident, as things had gone so well with the mattress the day before.
I jumped in the car and went down to the terminal. Cargo Guy had gone home for the night. I interrogated the girls at the ticket window.

“Maybe the bus broke down.” One of them said.
“The bus broke down?!”
“Could be.”

“The bus could be broken down and you wouldn’t know?” I asked incredulously. “It left here at about noon for a two-hour trip to Boromo and now it’s six in the evening. Nobody would call you and mention the fact that the bus was broken or hadn’t shown up?”
“That’s right.”
I must have looked pretty discouraged as I walked back to my car. I felt like a complete doofus, surrounded only by even more pathetic doofuses. (Or is the plural doofi?)
My only plan was to wait until morning, when the cargo guy would be back on duty.

I called Boromo at seven this morning. Isseuf told me that a bus had come into town at 9 pm and the parcel for JP had been on it. The bus had been broken down along the 106 mile road between Ouaga and Boromo

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Aslan the Wonder Goat was in the kitchen again early this morning, but not alone. He’d brought along Cougar, our small hen that keeps the twins supplied with breakfast in the form of tiny white eggs. The only explanation is that the goats have been talking, stirring up discontent out in the backyard. Why else would Cougar, normally a mild-mannered, even timid, chicken, suddenly be bold enough to stroll into the kitchen and have a leisurely look around? I suspect that Midnight and Aslan have been expounding daily on the unfairness of the fact that the humans live indoors, where they no doubt enjoy unlimited treats of crackers and dried bread, while the animals stay outside and eat millet with wheat germ. Completely unfair!
In the end, Aslan was content to leave after I scratched his head a bit. Maybe he’s an ideologue, but a he’s also a hedonist. But getting Cougar out was more of a challenge. She’d really settled in and I had to do a lot of broom-waving to persuade her to follow her pal outside. I just hope that the goats haven’t also been distributing subversive literature. I could be in trouble if they get a hold of a copy of “Animal Farm”.

And finally, here you will find the end of the Gourcy trip story. srsly.

Kindly overlooking the fact that I’d just trodden on his grandfather’s grave, Antoine was willing to let me go along and have a look at the village market gardens, of which he was quite proud. Using water from the nearby reservoir, the villagers can grow vegetables and fruits to sell for a good price in the big town a few miles down the road. The locals don’t eat much besides tô, millet-based dumplings with varied, often leaf-based, sauces. Lettuce, for example, is strictly for export to the city, as it never figures on the village menus.
There were several large, well-tended gardens scattered around to the south. Besides lettuce, they grew tomatoes, green beans, onions and cabbages. There were also zucchini, potatoes and lots of papaya trees. We all duly admired the tidy plots and healthy-looking plants as we stood around chatting with one of the gardeners. We all had a few polite questions, but one visitor wanted to get “helpful”.
Why don’t you grow radishes?”
The gardener explained that they don’t sell well in the town.

Why don’t you grow cauliflower?
The gardener patiently explained that it doesn’t grow well in the region.

Why don’t you grow broccoli?
The gardener didn’t know what that was. (NB: Burkinabé people rarely eat broccoli, or even see it. It's a food only grown near Ouaga to be bought and consumed by expats.)

Why don’t you grow beets? You should really get different seeds” she pronounced helpfully, “and try new things.”
She went on quite a while on the subject...
I think she deserved an answer along the lines of : Gee! Thanks, Smart White Person! I never would have thought of that! We’re all such dolts around here! I’ll just run over to the garden-supply shop right now and choose from the huge array of affordable seeds there! And then I ‘ll invest a whole season growing a crop of plants that may or may not sell! Freaking brilliant! Thanks again White Person!
That’s what I would have said, but Burkinabé people are generally very polite- much more so than I am. The gardener just gave a little “What can you do?” kind of shrug.
(-Just so you all know, it’s very hard to buy garden seeds in Burkina Faso, even in Ouagadougou. There are no garden-supply shops. At all. Just a little thought on the part of our brilliant interlocutor above would have quickly revealed that the local gardeners must get all their seeds from each other and have no easy access to new varieties. And it makes complete sense for the growers not to take risks, as market gardens are hard work. If your radishes don’t sell, there you are, stuck with a pile of food that your family doesn't really want to eat. It’s logical to grow common staples so that the family can easily eat any excess production. It's not like Ouahiagouya is a huge marketplace and transport costs here are skyrocketing, so any vague ideas that trucking stuff to Ouagadougou will make anyone good money are completely stupid.........Ok, end of rant.)

Next, Antoine took us to visit his family. He took us to the house of his “Petite Mama”- one of his father’s many wives. She greeted us kindly and berated Antoine for not giving her more warning of our visit. We looked around a bit. I took a picture of the kitchen, so you can get an idea of a typical village home cooking area. The other picture is JP in front of the home of the Oldest Person in Gourcy. They told us she was 120 - I'm not really sure that's true (um...probably not) but she definitely looked like she was at least 120. Maybe1200. She was tiny, shriveled, blind, all of her fingers had been amputated and she was very angry. I greeted her politely in Mooré and she promptly told me what a complete creep Antoine was for not informing her that company was coming, so she could make some snacks for us. I don't that think she could actually cook because, well, she was blind, had no hands and I think that she couldn't actually walk. But the thought was very, very kind.
After the visit, Pascal drove us all back to the site of last night's party, out behind Antoine’s own garden. The idea was to have a small picnic lunch. Well, I had understood it to be small. But more and more people kept showing up, until finally there was a huge delegation of elders sitting on metal chairs off to one side. They had chosen that day for presenting their “New Year’s Wishes” to Antoine. The Muslims drank Coke and Fanta. The Animists and many Christians had bottled beer- very fancy! JP had dolo (traditional millet beer), so I knew then that I’d be driving us home. A band of griots sang and played while we ate chicken and potatoes from the ubiquitous gardens of Gourcy.

It was time to go home. We packed up and headed south. The drive back was pretty uneventful. I just made a quick stop in one small village along the way- one well known for it’s “wild yams”. They are long, thin black roots that taste very much like potatoes. A girl by the side of the road sold me an armful and we continued on to Ouaga. I was making good time and figured we’d be home before five pm. In fact, we ended up getting home closer to six. We had the misfortune to get stuck in a huge traffic jam on the north western entrance road into the city. Traffic didn’t even crawl, it just sat there and vegetated. Which is very rare. We don’t really get traffic jams in Ouaga, except on major holidays. But this was strange for another reason: it was so completely calm! People seemed almost happily trapped in the heat and pollution. Then, JP remarked that many of the passengers in the crowed vehicles were wearing paper sun visors- the kind sold here at special events. I vainly tried to read the printing on one, but couldn’t. But then I noticed that many of the people were wearing dresses and shirts sporting big prints featuring Saint Mary and other folks popular with the Catholic crowd. It finally fit together. A traffic jam with no honking or even cross looks, paper sun visors and holy-themed clothing could mean only one thing: this was Yagma Pilgrimage Day. How could I have missed it? The last Sunday before Lent is ALWAYS the day when many Catholics go out to the shrine at Yagma for a special, day-long mass. Mystery solved.
We rolled into our driveway to less than thunderous applause. Actually, there was no applause. I don’t think the kids really noticed we were gone. They seemed to be having a great time. Valentine had a bad cold, but other than that, everyone was fine.

I had a big glass of water (yeah!) and went to bed early.

The End

Monday, February 11, 2008

The weekend involved much activity, not much of it associated with blogging. Mostly, I was helping my kids with their homework. Besides their assigned work from school, I try to give them extra help in French, because unlike most other languages, French was actually invented by sadistic insect-like aliens from a distant galaxy. Not many people know that.

We have to spend lots of time doing "dictées", which are like spelling tests, only more hellish. I read out a long text in French and the kids have to write it down, perfectly. Maybe it doesn't sound hard to you non-French speakers out there, but consider this: the verb "aller" (to go) is pronounced 'al-ày'. That's the infinitive. But there is also "allait", "allaient", "allé", "allée" "allés" and "allées" and they are all pronounced exactly the same!!! (See?! This system could only have been invented by extraterrestrial fiends.) You can only tell which spelling to use by looking at the context of the sentence. It's true of many, many French words and it's sick! And even a single, tiny missing accent mark makes the teacher count the whole word as incorrectly spelled.
As we worked, Alexa wished fervently that she went to "English" school, rather than French school, but I assured her that English would be just as hard. You just have to memorize a few things! I told her. But the fact is, I lied! It's evil and difficult. Cool. But evil and difficult.
Anyway, not much blogging went on, so here it is today: yet another installment of the Gourcy saga. It's still not done!

Part V: The Magic Pumpkins of Death
Sunday morning found the seven us crammed into Antoine’s SUV. Pascal was at the wheel, Antoine riding shotgun. Frieda and JP sat with Nicodemus, Antoine’s son. I was in the third row with Yann, fiddling vainly with the rear air-con controls. It was nearing midday and it was getting pretty toasty outside.
Antoine was taking us on a tour of his village, where he grew up until he went away to school at age 12. He was full of nostalgic memories and waxed eloquent about what he clearly remembered as the “good old days”. “Good old days” is definitely case specific, as it involved old ladies threatening small children with immediate, hideous, pumpkin-induced death.
In the village, Antoine explained, the elderly women too old for any other work were charged with keeping the children out of trouble. This mainly involved keeping the kids out of the pumpkin patches. This normally didn’t entail a lot of strenuous effort, as the pumpkins are always grown right up against the huts. Grandma just had to sit under a nearby shady tree and yell occasionally. But the flaw in the system was that the kids love to play outside in the rain and elderly ladies don’t, for the most part, equally enjoy sitting outside in the rain. And the wide green leaves and bright orange balls of the pumpkin patch look even more tempting when all shiny and wet…So, Antoine’s old granny solved the problem by telling the kids that when it rains, each pumpkin opens up to take in water. It’s how they get so big and juicy. BUT, it is INSTANT DEATH to gaze upon the pumpkins while they undergo this mystical process. Yes, witnessing the pumpkin rain magic would mean an immediate, painful demise, even for small, cute children. Not surprisingly, the kids avoided the pumpkin patch like…well…death.
Antoine chuckled. “She sure had us believing! We were all convinced that we would die! Really! It took me years to realise it wasn’t true. Ha, Ha!”
(Cucurbitphobia = fear of pumpkins. I just looked it up online for Antoine, in case he ever needs to seek professional help.)
Antoine’s entertaining tale ended just as we pulled up in front of the village reservoir. He was very proud of it, as it was the first big project ever funded in Gourcy and has provided water to the town for over 20 years. We all duly admired it and Antoine pointed out the many crocodiles sunbathing on the shores. There were four, anyway, which seemed like a lot to me. But we were told that in the evenings at least 50 of the creatures could be found lolling in the mud, snapping up the occasional unwary dog. But not to worry. They don’t attack full-grown cattle or adult humans! Mostly. (You can see the reservoir in the pic I posted. It’s quite big. Plenty of room for hundreds of canine-starved crocs. As you can see, there are no reptiles in the photo- just Frieda, JP, Nicodemus, Antoine and Yann the Accordionist)

By now it was time to visit Antoine’s actual home village/neighbourhood. It looked just like a typical, fairly isolated Mossi village. There were many low, round mud huts thatched with straw. Near the central clearing, a woman pounded millet while a big group of men sat in the shade of some straw mats laid across a framework of sticks. Right in the center was a tiny tree with shreds of filthy cloth hanging off it. Other, more mysterious objects were laid in the branches and underneath it were several broken clay pots. As we got out of the car, Antoine told us this was the “fetish” of his village. It’s a huge deal, as the earth shrine is the ‘heart’ of the village- where sacrifices are done and ceremonies completed. I didn’t quite dare to ask to take a photo. I circled around it at a respectful (so I hoped!) distance and stumbled over a rock. It was a fairly big, red volcanic rock, sticking up in a very inconvenient way. As I looked around, I noticed that there were many, many of these rocks, each about the size of a soccer ball, scattered all over the central clearing of the village. Why the heck didn’t they just move them? Somebody was going to break a leg or a neck!
“Oh- that’s Grandpa” Antoine said to me. He called over his son. “Look, Nico! Your Grandpa is buried right there.” And he pointed right at the rock I was standing on.
I was standing on his Grandpa. First, I spit out his tô and then I go and stomp on the man’s ancestor.
And yes, every single rock was the burial site of an important tribal elder...
I began to think it was time to go home….But wait! We hadn't visited the village gardens yet, or Antoine
's family. Plus, he wanted to have lunch with him. I was pretty much ready for that one, as I had heard early morning mass chicken death happening in the kitchen at the hotel. (Fancy Burkinabé parties nearly always mean mourning in the chicken coop.) So, this day's adventures would not be ending anytime soon.

Coming soon: Part 6-The End (I think)