Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Monday 26 March 2007

Even though I have been swimming before I could walk, I have always felt much closer to earth enjoying the ground under my running feet, mud pies, clay at the bottom of a pond, the sound of gravel under my bike’s wheel, my bed inside a tent, worms hiding in the soil.

Now don’t misunderstand me.
I love drinking water.

It is my preferred beverage; however, I am a solid type of person rather than a flowy one, a person who loves to be grounded.

Water however has taken on a whole new perspective here in Africa.

My house is full of water: a large clay pot, three buckets, 2 bidons, and a huge garbage can. My water girl got over-zealous at $0.20 a bidon transporting 8 bidons of water today from the well. She wants to buy an expensive store-bought jean outfit for $10, to get dressed up for Easter.

Water is hard work here in my new village.

I have a new-found appreciation as I can down a liter and a half in 2 minutes, can take 3 bucket baths a day, and tend to drink at least 10 liters a day and still feel thirsty.

Water, more precious than the gold in the nearby mine.

Chores and Play

Saturday 24 March 2007

After drinking a 6:30 am cup of coffee and after sitting at a table with thousands of flies thankfully more interested in the skinned lamb instead of me as I waited for my flat tire to be fixed, I arrived home to my two seventh grade helpers and a 3-year old sibling, all sleeping on my sand-covered patio.

We washed clothes, swept the house, and washed my bike. The two girls braved the hottest part of the day to make 3 trips to the well to collect 5 bidons of water wanting to get me water instead of waiting for hours during the cooler parts of the day when the line of women for water is extra long.

I babysat the cutest little boy. The 3-year old taught me how to say I want water in Moore. He learned how to operate a spigot on a water filter. We played with rocks instead of blocks constructing bridges. We put his baby to sleep, a tiny figure that his sister molded out of candle wax. He listened attentively as I sang the ABC’s and all the nursery rhymes I knew, hoping he would take a nap.

When his sister returned, I watched as she used one small clear plastic bag amusing him for half an hour making balloons of all shapes and sizes that go boom.

Today was a nice mix of chores and play.

No Naan *pout*

I thought I liked eating with my hands, mashing up rice and beans into a ball that neatly pops into my mouth.

The oil factor has turned me off of the always handy utensil.

My hand drips of oil, impossible to remove after a meal.

I’m either going to have to keep a spoon or a bar of soap in my bag.


Thursday 22 March 2007

In the US I am known for my never-ending questions. If I was in the US, what questions would I ask my friend in Burkina?

What is your living situation like?

I live in a tiny 2 room house full of sand and dust with an aluminum roof. It’s smaller than most of your garages. Can a car even fit into mine?

My latrine shares a wall with my house and has no roof. I wonder how that will be during the rainy season. I have a front porch, sand as the floor, enclosed and roofed by straw mats surprisingly private, a place to sleep in the heat. I write by kerosene lamp and have a couple of girls fetch water 2 football fields away from a wheel pump well. My house is empty except for a desk. I basically live in my porch. It’s too hot inside.

I don’t cook. There are too may food vendors: rice, black-eye peas and spaghetti ($0.20), corn toe (solid form of grits), fish and sauce ($0.20), bread and 1/3 cup of sweetened condensed milk and a spoonful of instant coffee, the rest water ($0.20), cabbage, lamb, rice, and spaghetti ($0.20), a huge plate of goat or lamp ($1).

Are you lonely?

No way. There is a ton of socializing here. Lots of people speak French. In the mornings, I have coffee and talk with students. In the afternoon I walk around town talking to whomever. Kids and students come visit especially girls. In the evenings, I eat with a family and drink green tea with a group of men.

How’s school and teaching?

Well I arrived during the last week of the 2nd trimester. Teachers were calculating grades and having the kids recheck the math.

My first impression is that it is a well-run school. The facilities are new provided by PLAN. They have 10 classrooms, a library, an administration building, a teacher’s room, a kitchen where the cafeteria lady cooks over wood, and nice homes for the teachers who are brought in by the government.

During the last week of the 2nd trimester, the students organized a football tournament, a traditional clothing pageant, a carnival, and a dance. I got to judge the pageant based on costume and a 5 minute speech on a theme like HIV/AIDS, child labor, excision, scholarisation of girls.

We are now on 2 weeks of vacation and I’ll finish the month and a half of the last trimester teaching 10 hours a week of math to 7th and 8th graders, class sizes of 80-100. That will be a challenge. I also haven’t done any geometry since 11th grade. I guess it’s good that I have a PhD, a badge of a self-learner.

Do you see any differences between your village in Guinea and your village in Burkina?

First off the village in Burkina has a Catholic church, a Protestant one and a mosque. It has pork running around as well as donkeys. It has cell phone coverage, cold beer, homemade millet beer, and cold cokes.

Another big difference is I see a lot of kids with big bellies which is something I never saw in my village in Guinea.

Here it is flat with sand, shrubs, and cliffs, kind of reminds me of Colorado.

I can’t get fruit in my Burkina village, but I can get cabbage.

There are cultural differences too, but I’m too new to comment on them.

I am very happy in my new home. I do daily 20-30 km bike rides and did a 60 km ride today. I am hoping to do the 80-90 km to Ouaga soon.

My house isn’t furnished yet. It feels more like a large walk-in closet. But this village feels like home. I have a daily routine, people to talk to, girls to teach how to make friendship bracelets, kids who come over to play. It is a community not a house that makes a home. I’ve never been a Martha Stewart. Who cares if my windows have curtains? I can be happy living outside on a cot as long as there are people who come to visit, people to cook for, people to share my huge bag of salted cashews with.

The Walk

I walk at the pace of the grunting mud covered pigs
the heat
yet I'm not miserable
there is a savoring sense like a good dark chocolate
this walk in the sun

The Heat

Wednesday 21 March 2007

They say April is worse.

I sit legs spread not waiting the moisture of my thighs to touch into a sticky heated mess.

Why are clothes necessary for decency?

I move my cot out of the moving light, but it is impossible to escape.

The liters and liters I drink are as warm as a cup of tea and I rarely pee.

The hot breath of mother nature comforts me for a mini-second.

The droplets that flow down my chest are incredibly cooling.

Yet the heat is trapped here, a prison I cannot break free from.

At dusk when my eyes don’t seek shelter from the bright glare, its beautiful overpowering sphere, so moonlike, fills the sky, a huge presence whispering goodbye, its daily torture already fading from the memory in the awe of its beauty.


Sunday 18 March 2007

Reading by flashlight, upon my single cot outside under the tent of a mosquito net reminds me of my youth, the many nights enjoyed camping in the tight confines of a tent placed upon my single in my bedroom.

Why are tents so much fun when we are young?

the tents made from tables and chairs
the ones bought to place upon beds
the refrigerator cardboard boxes shelter upon a hard patio

Writing Outside by Headlamp

in the heat
they lose their stiffness
flopping over

Food and Biking

Saturday 17 March 2007

Sushi is yummy. I used to get the clear raw sweet flesh of shrimp served along with its head deep fried, its long antennas making it barely manageable for my petit mouth.

I found a Burkina snack food that is like popping fried shrimp heads except I pinch off the heads, removing the icky taste, of the deep fried little fish, a salty delight in this potato chip deprived town.

Where do the fish come from?

I rode my bike to a nearby village. I rode past big fields of water. I bet the fish are local. In the neighboring village, they were selling shrimp.

Biking is easy 22 km (13 miles) in 50 minutes and I am out of bike shape. It is easy until the wind. It took me 1 h and 30 minutes to make it home. Winds are easier than the hills and rocky terrain of Guinea though, but the winds make the trip super long.

Can I make the 90 km trip to Ouaga?
Should I even try?
Transport is easy, cheap, and fast.

The Sounds of the Night

Thursday 13 March 2007

I sleep outside on a cot made of woven plastic rope, under a mosquito net hidden away by thick straw mats unable to see the stars.

My nighttime sleep weaves in and out of dreams of Africa and home.

My 30 some Catholic neighbors renting a courtyard until Easter are undergoing training before being baptized and they are loud: babies, chatter, and dinner. When they become quiet, the singing and drumming of choir practice at the Protestant chapel take over. Then the silence is broken by a random motorcycle, a bicycle that seems to stop at my gate, the loud action movie at the cinema hut, the thumping of the dance club. Then the loud braying of donkeys shatter the quiet, then the dogs, the guinea hens, the roosters, and then it is time for breakfast.

School starts at 7 am.

I’m in Africa, a dream soundtrack of a waking reality.

Silly us, complaining about the 5 am prayer call in Guinea.

Day 2 Au Village

Saturday 10 March 2007

Dust covers everything in my new home, yet I am very happy. The house is simple: two tiny rooms, plus a front sand filled straw covered patio enclosed by straw mats, an outdoor latrine lacking a roof that shares a wall with the house. What will that be like in rainy season? Water? A well, 2 football fields away.

My new village has meat everyday, lamb and goat, has boutiques stocked high with soap, sardines, spaghetti, all that you could ever want. It has bars that serve beer and cold cokes. It has donkeys, pigs, sheep, and goats. It has solar power for a TV with a satellite dish, car batteries for music and cell phones. It has a Catholic church, a Protestant one, and a mosque. It has a lot.

With all of the amenities, one would think my village has a large population, but it is about the same size as my Guinea village. It feels small, and I am glad. It is the community that will make or break a town.

My first impression is a good one.

Friday, March 09, 2007

City life

Burkina Faso is nice at least the parts I have seen, Ouaga and Bobo.
Soon though I will see the village.

Yesterday I went on a bike ride. It was flat. It was on a paved road around a huge water reservoir, a big lake. It was fast and fun. Too many cars, motos, pedestrians, and other bikers. I actually passed a couple people on motorcycles. They were going a bit slow. I believe the challenges to biking here will be the wind, the dust, and mud, very different challenges than biking in Guinea with its mountains, rocky ravines, ungrated roads, and huge rocks.

Last night I went out to eat. It was nice. Before the meal there was all you can eat olives, soft tasty rolls with butter. For dinner I had a steak with mustard sauce and five tapas: frog legs, hummus, spinach fondue with shrimp, guacamole, and fish in a tasty oil sauce. For dessert I had a huge chocolate ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce and whip cream. Then they brought out little glasses of strong, strong tea and a bisap drink made out of hibiscus flowers for your digestion. There was lovely live music with local instruments and the walls were covered with local artwork. It was a fine dining experience. Something I never found in Guinea.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Week 1 in Burkina

It has been many days since my last confession, and it is not much of a confession at all.

The trip from Mali to Burkina Faso was on a big bus, a bus with a schedule, each person with their own seat, a 12 hour trip on a ship tighter than an airplane with no air conditioning and windows shut.

Burkina Faso has been days worth of training. Moore is my new language. I have met tons of volunteers because of the film festival. I have been shopping to furnish a new house in a village without electricity or running water.

I have been busy.

But how have I been feeling?

Transferring to a new country is difficult. It is a challenge. I came to Africa looking for challenges, yet I didn't find many.

The other day I got teary-eyed.

I think I may have found my challenge.

It is hard leaving a village you love, a village you were only beginning to feel comfortable in, a place where you were starting to make friends. It is hard leaving that for something totally new.

Here in Burkina, my village will be big with daily transportation, with flat dirt roads for biking with an easily accessible nearest neighbor who shops at my market that stocks toilet paper and mayo, a village with class sizes of 100, with cell phone coverage, with internet 30 km away, with a mail system that actually works.

It is hard not to compare Burkina's village to my little isolated village in Guinea.

It can be a bit weird, overwhelming, sad having to say goodbye to something I really loved in Guinea to adapt to a new environment here in Burkina.

I can only hope that the Burkina village will one day become my home.