Thursday, September 20, 2012

Adventures pre-italia!

September 13, 2012

As I patiently sit in the Casablanca Airport in Morocco at 9:12pm, waiting for my 1:00am flight to Niamey, Niger and then on to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, I’m trying really hard to motivate myself to write something for my blog.  I know, I know:  I’ve been absolutely horrible about posting updates the last 6 months, and that makes me not want to post anything at all just because I’m so behind.  But here goes a shot at filling you in on the basics since I last wrote on July 20 (almost 2 months ago!).

The end of July: Break-in
After I finished with mid-service conference in mid-July, I returned home to Lanfiera after being out of site for about 2 weeks.  My dog Sabari was overjoyed to see me and wouldn’t stop jumping on me and making whimpering noises.  She insisted on sleeping inside the house each night right next to my cot, and if I even tried to leave her outside, I would never hear the end of it – she howled and cried and barked and pawed at the door for over 20 minutes until I had had enough and let her in.  Sabari didn’t seem too skinny, so I assume that some of my neighbors must have been giving her food, thank goodness.  I think most of the village realizes that Sabari is “thee American’s dog” and wouldn’t be mean to her or let her starve…or eat her for supper…but ya never know… Since I was going to (again) be voyaging soon for another Peace Corps summer camp, I didn’t do much in village the week I was there, besides some work in my garden, chatting with neighbors, reading books, etc.  Unfortunately my few days in village were completely ruined by an unthinkable event:  my house was broken into and almost all of my money was stolen.  Although parts of this story are hilarious, much of it is just plain sad (and a little nerve-racking).  So here’s what happened:

The first morning after I got back, I was in my house reading or eating breakfast or something.  I then stepped outside to go to the latrine, when I saw a neighbor boy, Abou (about 12 years old), in my yard.  Many kids often stop by, since my house is right next to the water pump, and so Abou being in my yard with his slingshot was nothing out of the ordinary.  I said, “Bonjour,” proceeded to go to the bathroom, and when I went back inside my house about 45 seconds later, I saw Abou – in my house!!  He was not only in my house (as in, in the doorway or kitchen area), but in my bedroom!  I asked him what he was doing, and he looked completely shocked and scared.  But quickly thinking on his feet, he swiped his fingers across a shelf and replied with, “Madame, your house is very dirty.  I was going to sweep for you.”  I said I knew my house was dirty, and that I’d sweep my house by myself later.  I (angrily) told him that I did NOT give him permission to enter my house and that he needed to leave immediately.  And that was that.  Kinda weird, but at the same time, not too atypical for a Burkinabe kid, especially since I probably haven’t set as strict of guidelines and rules for visits to my house as maybe I should have.  Anyways, here’s where the real story starts. 

The next day, I was busy working in my garden tying my flowering bushes/shrubs to the wall to give them support to grow up, rather than just straight out -- they were starting to cover my entire garden ground with their long branches and needed to be staked up.  My metal house door was open, but my screen door was shut.  After some time, I noticed a group of 4-5 kids entering my courtyard.  They came to my hanger and stopped at the edge of the cement and sat/squatted down.  I said bonjour, finished the bush I was tying, and about 2 minutes later, stood up and left my garden to talk to the kids.  They were still squatting under my hangar, and as I walked by, I said bonjour again, and then stepped inside my house to grab my water bottle and wipe of my face which was covered in dirt and sweat.  As I turn around and look back at the kids, I see them running out of my courtyard.  “Well, that’s weird,” I thought to myself.  “Why are they running away so quickly?”  I had a bad feeling in my gut, and immediately glanced around my house, including my bedroom where I had caught Abou the day before.  And then I saw it.  I didn’t even have to look too hard.  Lying on my bed was my wallet where I keep my emergency money.  It was wide open, with a couple bills sticking out.  Of course I had not placed my emergency money wallet on my bed; in fact, it had been HIDDEN in my house, though apparently, not hidden well enough.  I picked it up, looked inside, and noticed all of my emergency money on the left side was gone – 100 mille (i.e. about $200).  The only money left was a few Burkinabe bills and some American money that had been in the right pocket.  My heart stopped.  I couldn’t believe it.  And the worst part was not that my money was gone, but that I knew exactly who had done it: Abou.  Just a kid.  Still in elementary school.  A kid in my village.  My neighbor.  I felt awful and angry and confused and offended.

I’m well aware that throughout the past year I’ve lived in Lanfiera some of my money (small bills or coins that I had left sitting out on my table) or other insignificant items, like pens and candy, have disappeared (aka were stolen by kids who I had let into my house to help me sweep or read a book…).  While I’m not happy about it, I just assumed that there wasn’t much I could do -- I didn’t know who had taken what or how much; I never caught anyone in the act.  And really, was it even worth it to track down money that equates to 50 cents American?  Besides, if I’m “stupid” enough to throw my change or some candy on my table, and then let kids in my house, I really can’t blame the kids for taking it.  Since most of them have nothing, it must be unbelievably tempting to see a few spare coins lying around, and God know that I’m not going to miss a few coins or a piece of gum or a blue pen. 

But this situation was different.  It wasn’t a few coins or some cookies.  This was my emergency money – to be used in case of a sudden event, like needing to evacuate the country and thus pay for a bus ticket, maybe a hotel, some food, bribing officials/police/crazy men to let me pass through the road, etc.  If something should ever go wrong, I can’t just find an ATM and withdraw money: Burkina Faso’s technology isn’t quite up to par with the rest of the world yet, and if I need to evacuate tout de suite, I can’t be worrying about how/where/when/if I can get money.  Consequently, all volunteers are strongly encouraged to put aside a sum of money between 50 and 100 mille in their house strictly for emergency purposes and not for daily living expenses, like buying food in the marché.  It had taken me a few months, but I had finally reached my goal of 100 mille hidden away – I had counted and changed my hiding place right before I left for Camp GLOW and mid-service conference.  And now it was GONE.  Stolen.  By a kid.

I quickly marched over to my neighbors’ house (the women) and told them what happened.  I wasn’t sure if I should go straight to the police, or confront Abou, or have someone else confront Abou….  They were shocked and seemed even more angry than I was.  Right away, Batamou (the main women I am friends with because she is kinda young, speaks French, and her 10 year old daughter Barikissa helps me with a lot of housework) went to her brother’s courtyard, just a few meters away.  I explained the situation to him, and he asked me to identify the boy.  Abou was still by the water pump, playing with his slingshot like normal, and I figured he probably had the money in his pocket.  I pointed him out, and the neighbors grabbed him and brought him to Batamou’s courtyard and proceeded to harshly question him.  Of course at first, he was really sly and quick-thinking and it was almost funny to hear his lies.  But it quickly turned into a disaster and a painful experience, both for Abou and for me to watch.

Neighbors: Did you enter the American’s house?
Abou: No.
Other kids: Yes you did!
Abou: No….yes.   Just for a minute, to drink some water.
Neighbors: What?!? She didn’t give you permission!! Did you take her money?
Abou: No.
Other kids: Yes you did, you came out of her house and stuffed money into your pocket!
Abou: No I didn’t.  They lie.  (Adults yell and whip him with a tree branch)….Yes, I did.  But I only took a 500 CFA coin, not 100 mille in bills.  It was Bouremia – he took all the money.

Before long, it seemed like almost the whole village was in my neighbor’s courtyard, watching the scenario unfold and laughing at Abou who just would not give his story up and kept blaming others, even though, for example, I had never seen the boy named Bouremia before, especially not in or near my house.  Poor Bouremia, when the men dragged him over to me, all he did was cry.  He had been in the process of eating a mango, but as soon as the accusation came, he choked up and just nervously played with his mango instead of eating it.  But unlike Abou, Bouremia seemed terrified (and truthful).  Abou kept a straight face almost the whole time and continuously had something to say or someone to blame.  But both boys got whipped continuously and screamed at, and even so, neither of them gave up any information as to where the money was.  Then they were stripped naked and their clothes searched.  Bouremia had not even a cent on him, but Abou on the other hand had a few crisp 2 mille bills, clean and colorful and never used, just as if they had come straight from the bank or ATM (which they had).  Obviously the bills were mine, but they didn’t even come close to accounting for the 100 mille that I had lost.  Then the whole village proceeded to search the grounds, looking in trees and under rocks, hoping that Abou had hidden the money nearby my house and water pump immediately after running away.  And all the while, Abou still denied having done anything, Bouremia cried, and both boys were whipped with tree branches and made to do these squat exercise things where they had to cross their arms and grab their earlobes while bending down touching their elbows to their toes.  I should have done something or said something, but I was so shocked about the whole situation, in addition to witnessing the excessive physical violence, that I just watched in silence.  This was probably not a good time to try to educate my village about non-violence techniques…  No money was ever found and the boys never did give up any information.  Several hours had passed by now, and the sun was beginning to set.  The village asked me what I wanted to do, and so I told them that if the boys would give me the money back anytime that night or by 8am tomorrow morning, we’d be finished and there would be no other consequences – I just needed my money back.  But if they didn’t, I’d go to the gendarmerie (police), and with the officials involved, things were bound to get even uglier.  Later that evening, Abou knocked on my door and gave me the 4.500 CFA that we had found on him that afternoon.  He didn’t say sorry (what a little jerk – he sure has some nerve!), but instead said, “This is all I took.  Someone else must have stolen the rest.  Not me.” 

I waited until about 9am the next morning, but no money showed up.  So I went to the gendarmerie.  They thought I was just there for a visit, to chat, to entertain them, and when I finally said I had an incident to report, all they did was laugh at me.  And then when I briefly explained the incident, they just laughed some more.  Then I told them how much money, and their laughing instantly stopped.  After all, 100 mille ($200 American) is a lot of money – more money than most Burkinabe see in an entire month, if not a year.  I had to explain the story several times and reiterate the events of yesterday afternoon with the village confronting Bouremia and Abou.  I know my French isn’t perfect, but for some reason the police just weren’t clearly understanding me; they weren’t taking me completely seriously, as if this was just a joke, and they even had the nerve to say, “Well you shouldn’t carry that much money in a bag.  Leave it in your house.”  To which I annoying replied, “The money was not in a bag…it WAS in my house and a kid entered my house without my permission and took it!”  Finally it all clicked and the gendarmes were shocked and went right to work.  Abou and Bouremia were rounded up and brought to the gendarmerie for questioning (and beating).  Still no money showed up, no hiding places were revealed.  But the money had to be somewhere.  There was no way they could have spent all of it (or even 90% of it) in the 15-20 minutes from when they had ran away from my house to when my neighbors had rounded them up.  What were they going to buy?  Bags and bags of candy?  Some loaves of bread?  It’d probably take them a week to use up 10 mille, more less the 100 mille that was missing.

The family of the two boys had come to the Gendarmerie also, in order to find out what was happening to their sons, and we all sat outside together in silence.  The parents look absolutely devastated and shamed that their children had done this to the village’s American.  After a bit of time (and still no progress), I called Peace Corps to report the incident.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the head officer called me over to his office.  There on the floor, shirtless and clearly covered in welts and bruises, was another neighbor boy, this time one of my students from my math class.  I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but before I could say anything, the head officer held out a key.  “Is this your key?” he asked.  I was stunned.  I didn’t know what to do or say.  But that was indeed one of my spare keys.  Why it was in the hands of the police officer, I didn’t know….but I knew the situation had taken a whole new direction now.

It was then explained to me that after much beating, Abou and Bouremia gave up that there were more people involved, including the student from my math class, Adolph.  Questioning (and beating) Adolph had revealed that the boys had a key to my house…and had had it for a while…like months…and had entered my house numerous times to take money little by little.
Talking to Adolph was almost funny:

Police: Where did you get this key?
Adolph: We found it.
Police: And you knew that it was Madame Hauth’s key?
A: Yes.
P: Then why didn’t you give it back to her?
A: I dunno…we didn’t find it.  She gave it to me.
Me:  WHAT?  When and why did I ever give you a key?
P: She did not give you the key.  Don’t lie!
A: She did!  She asked me to do some work for her inside her house.
P: What work was that?
A: She bought a sack of corn from Ouaga and asked me to move it for her.
Me: (laughing because this was so unbelievable and his lies were almost funny) I do not have sacks of corn in my house…why would I buy a big sack of corn…from OUAGA?  I don’t make corn tô to eat... 
A: (silence)….. (gendarme kicks Adolph)
P: How long have you had the key?
A: ……..a long time.
A:  I can’t remember.  Months.
P: What do you do with the money?
A: We split it up and bought things to eat every week at the marché, like yogurt, candy, meat, and Cokes. (gendarme kicks Adolph again)

So long story short, there were several kids involved over a period of time.  Over the course of months, they stole lots of money/candy/pens; but the thing was they mainly took stuff when I was not in my house (even though I still at site, in village), like when I would go to the marché or to a neighbor’s house.  But the specific emergency money that I thought I had caught Abou stealing was actually almost all stolen before that day, while I was gone for Camp GLOW and mid-service conference.  The day Abou was in my house he had tried to take the money that was left, just the few remaining bills.  The 100 mille of emergency money taken before that day was split between the boys involved, with the two oldest boys having taken 40 mille each and the little ones (Abou and Bouremia) taking 10 each – they were probably the lookouts, and unfortunately, received the majority of the beatings/punishments throughout this whole situation.  The police officially wrote down legal statements that stated that the parents/families would pay me back, and I agreed/accepted that it didn’t need to be paid back immediately – the families need money to eat, and their sons had taken a large chunk of money that would probably take weeks, if not months, to collect and set aside for me.  As of now, I have been paid back half of the money, and at the end of September, I will hopefully have the rest.

Many things make sense to me now:
1.      Why my dog absolutely hated the four specific boys involved – whenever they would stop by my house, Sabari would go nuts and try to attack them.  She’s always protective of me and our house, but is just especially viscous with these 4 boys.  But if they had been breaking into my house when I wasn’t there, of course my dog knew and had seen them, and thus didn’t like them…
2.      Why Abou was able to so quickly find my wallet of emergency money that day when I found my wallet on my bed just minutes after he had entered my courtyard (and obviously my house as well).  As I had said, my wallet was HIDDEN.  But if they had a key, they could have searched through my house numerous times during the 2 weeks I was gone, and thus eventually found my wallet.  Creepy to think that they had gone through my house and my things…
3.      Why so many times during the previous months, it just seemed like I never had money.  I of course was not poor or lacking in any means, and still had enough money…but just not a lot of money, nor any “extra” money.  While all my PC friends were taking trips to Ghana and Benin (using only PC living allowance money), I barely had any money left over each month, and I was not buying beers or hamburgers or cheese in Ouaga on a regular basis like most others….so I should have had more money than my friends…but instead I had less.  Weird.  But now it clicks.
4.      Why one of the boys involved was never in my class the last month of school.  I’d see this kid at school before my class, but as soon as it was time for math, he was nowhere to be found…or he’d show up an hour late.  But I get it now: If I’m teaching at school, I’m obviously NOT in my house…perfect time to break in.
5.      Why so many times I’d come back to my house and think, “Well geez, I thought I bought 5 mangos yesterday at the marché…and I only ate one this morning…but there’s only 2 left.  Huh.”  Or, “I thought I broke a 10 mille at the boutique a few days ago, and I threw the change on the table…but now there’s only about 4,650 left… I must have broken a 5 mille, not a 10.  Huh.”

So that’s my story.  It’s still not finished since I’m waiting for about half my money yet, but at least there don’t seem to be too many awkward feelings between me and the village (particularly the families involved).  But my door lock was changed and I have new keys now…pretty sure no one, at the moment, is able to enter my house…hopefully.

The very end of July: Bobo-Dialoussa
So after the break-in business, Careth and I made our way to Bobo-Dialoussa, the second big city/capital of Burkina Faso, also often called the “arts/culture” capital of Burkina.  Careth and I were both going to be working at FAVL (Friends of African Village Libraries) summer reading camps for elementary kids in villages near the Bobo area, and as I had not yet ever been to Bobo, it was time that I checked it out, especially considering I was going to be in the area.  We took the midnight bus from Guron, a nearby village….but unfortunately the bus never came.  We asked the guard who was sleeping at the station if the bus was on its way, or did it break down, or was it canceled because of the rain?  But he didn’t know and seemed very confused.  We finally got him to take out his phone and call the bus driver for information…but then, right before he dialed, he seemed to remember something, and then he clearly stated, “There’s not bus today.  Come back tomorrow night.”  What!?!?  No bus?!?!  Since when?  How were we going to get to Bobo?!?!  Only in Burkina Faso is transport is randomly canceled.  This ruined everything.  And it was presently raining, making the whole situation even worse and more depressing as we trudged through the gross mud to leave the bus station.  And by bus station, I mean a “designated” – unmarked – spot on the side of the road where there was a bench for the night guard to sleep on.  We decided that we weren’t going to give up on Bobo, and so we would take the 7am bus to Tougan, and hope to grab a bus or bush taxi to Bobo (or maybe even Dedougou – big city halfway between Tougan and Bobo) that same day or perhaps the next morning if necessary.

So a little before 7am, Careth and I again trudge through the gross urine/feces-infected mud all the way across the village to the road to wait for the Tougan bus.  While drinking some instant coffee at the kiosk, I notice a few big trucks (semis) going by and kinda jokingly but also rather seriously say, “Maybe we should just hop on a random truck.  They’re probably going to Bobo or at least Dedougou anyways.  It might be quicker than trying to get on a bus.”   And wouldn’t you know…three young men appeared behind us and ordered a coffee.  We asked where they were coming from and where they were going (Di to Bobo) and then they asked us (we were trying to get to Bobo, obviously).  And right away they replied, “Well if you don’t want to wait for the bus in this rain, you can come with us.  We have room in the truck and should be in Bobo by noon.”  Had I been alone, I of course would have at least hesitated to consider this, but since I was with Careth, my automatic reaction was, “YES!  Let’s go!  Now!”  I really wanted to go to Bobo…everyone has said such great things about it.  But Careth was a little more hesitant to jump in this truck.  We talked about it for a few minutes, and even the kiosk owner confronted the guys and probably said something along the lines of, “So help me, if you do anything to our Americans, I’ll kill you…”  The kiosk owner also checked out the truck and verified that it was clean and that there was indeed space for us in the cab (as opposed to just riding in the back, which, honestly, I wouldn’t have been all that opposed to either!), and he also bargained a price for – 4 mille each.  A bus ticket would be at least 5 mille.  So Careth and I decided to take a risk (you only live once!), and climbed into the cab in-between 2 of the guys – the other was sent to the back because he was the youngest, aka “le petit.”   The road, of course, was bad, but they did a pretty decent job driving, avoiding big potholes, slowing down around curves, etc.  It was probably the safest and most comfortable transportation I’ve taken in Burkina Faso, except for the occasional real air-conditioned coach buses that, surprisingly, do exist in Burkina Faso…just not near me.

We chatted almost the whole time, and the conversation topics were pretty enjoyable.   They didn’t once ask to marry us or for us to help them get to America, which is quite unusual for a conversation held between Burkinabe men and American women.  They didn’t mind stopping for  a few minutes in Dedougou so we could meet up with our PC friend Lynida (I had a shirt to give her and she had my tennis shoes and sleeping mat from when we had done Camp GLOW just a few weeks earlier in Dedougou).  The only problem we encountered was on the highway nearing Bobo at a police checkpoint.  I’m not sure what the official business of the police on highways checkpoints is supposed to be or what exactly they’re supposed to do…but I can tell you what they DO do.  Collect money.  And no, it’s not a set fee.  You get to barter the price with them and they’ll either let you across…or not.  So you better pay up.  When the police officers saw Careth and me sitting in the cab they immediately demanded our passports and of course had commentary for us:  “You don’t look like the girl in this picture.  Her hair is long.  Whose passport is this?  Did you take it from someone?  What are you doing in Burkina Faso?”  “We live here, we work in villages.”  “No you don’t.  You’re white.  You can’t live in village.  Pay 10 mille to continue.”   Our driver friends weren’t happy and attempted to argue the price down, and eventually paid 5 mille.  Just to cross the road.  Ridiculous.  And it’s not like this money is actually going towards something, like taxes, or maybe building new roads (something that Burkina definitely needs in order to develop), but rather a good chunk of it is put into their own personal pockets.   Corruption, at its best – straight from the local government and law enforcers who should be helping to crack down on all the corruption in this country. 

We eventually get to Bobo, but before we got out and flagged down a taxi to go to the small Peace Corps bureau in Bobo, the guys ask us out to dinner or to meet them for drinks that night or the next day.  Careth and I figured, “What the heck, we rode the 4 hours to Bobo with them, we might as well do drinks as well,” and so we set up a “date” for the next night, 7pm at a nearby popular outdoor bar/restaurant.  Then we said goodbye, caught a taxi, went to our bureau, checked email, chatted with the other volunteers who were in town, got a room at a nearby hotel, went downtown to look around at all the shops and street vendors, bought watermelon, a pineapple, and green beans from a fruit/veggie table on the street, then got ice cream, several types of cheese, and crackers from Marina Market.  At last, we were set to have a good 2 days in Bobo with yummy (but light and comparably inexpensive) food.  Mhhmm, fruit and cheese, it doesn’t get any better. 

During our stay we spent way more money than we meant to…but it’s not our fault!  There’s just so much good stuff to buy:  jewelry, artwork, bags, clothes, traditional pagnes, “real” food like croissants and coffee and pizza from restaurants, musical instruments, etc.  Plus we printed photos and paid to go swimming at a fancy hotel’s pool.  Favorite buys:  a medium-sized traditional drum (the seller then proceeded with 45 minutes of free drumming lessons!), some bracelets made out of Baobab wood covered in dyed camel skin (they’re awesome!), of course any food I ate, and some Sachet bags.  Sachet bags?  What are those, you ask?  Well, they are simple, but they come in a variety of designs, sizes, and colors (generally black with a colored line or two to accent).  There are backpacks, beach bags, purses, clutches, duffel bags, laptop cases, wallets, and more.  But the best part is that they are made from recycled sachets – sachets are the stupid little cheap worthless plastic bags that things are put into whenever you buy something.  Some spaghetti?  Don’t carry it by hand or put it in your own sack, sachet it!  A can of tomato paste?  Better double bag that!  And when you’re done?  Throw the sachet on the ground, of course.  Let them get stuck in the mud and add to the “good dirt” in the fields; allow them to blow up into the sky and get caught in the tree branches (decoration, right?); watch as animals eat them and babies play with them…  So yeah, sachets: not a good situation in a large part of Africa, especially Burkina Faso.  But at least we now have a somewhere to go and something to do with all these sachets.  A group of women in Bobo collects them, recycles (melts) them and essentially turns them into string, that they then weave into fabric and so together to make bags and what have you.  Their products are really nice and quite durable; you’d never guess that they’re made from old sachets.  I bought several items at the sachet store, thinking I’d send a couple of them home to America as gifts for my family.

While swimming at the pool, we saw a couple of young African men, with rasta style hair (think Bob Marley…or like dreaded hair with a ear piercing or two) and fancy European/American clothes (imagine dark jeans, fancy shoes, and stylish suit jackets over a shirt and tie).  They definitely looked rich…and like musicians, too.  I just had a hunch.  They bought Careth and me a beer to share while we were in the pool, but we had to race for it first.  I think Careth and I would both agree that we are extremely out of shape and our one lap down and back in the not-huge pool was way more tiring than it should have been…   We chatted with them for a while, and it turns out that my hunch was correct.  They were indeed musicians, currently living in AUSTRIA, giving concerts of traditional African drumming.  We made them speak in German, and yes, they fluently spoke German, as well as a good amount of English.  So I don’t think they were lying to us about where they’re from and what they do… plus they were staying at a fancy hotel and just looked way too rich and “un-Burkinabe-like” to actually (or at least currently) be from Burkina Faso.  They invited us to a local concert of live traditional music, dancing, and drumming that was going to be happening that night, with one of the guys adding that his little brother would be in one of the performing groups.  Careth and I already had our date with our truck drivers at 7pm, but this sounded more appealing, and so we began to contemplate what to do… until our musician friends added that it wouldn’t start until 10pm, so we could meet anytime around 9 or 9:30.  Perfect!  We’ll go have a drink or two with the truck drivers, then peace out, head to the fancy hotel, and meet our musician friends to go check out the live music.
And that is what we did.  We left the pool, went back to our hotel, showered and put “cute” clothes on (aka jeans and normal “American” top), then met the truck drivers, who were dressed all spiffy, definitely trying to impress us.  We ate fries, beef brochettes, and fried plantains (mhmm!), had a beer, and carried on a pretty decent conversation.  When we said we had to leave -- we felt kinda bad for ditching them so soon, especially after they had paid for our food and drinks, but we really wanted to go to the music! -- that’s when the marriage proposals came out.  Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad, I’ll give them some credit.  They never once mentioned anything about love or going to America…until we were about to leave.  But even then, they weren’t creepy or demanding about it, like most guys here are: “You will marry me.  You will take me to America, and also my other two wives and 14 kids and three goats…tomorrow.”  The “marriage proposals” towards me and Careth were more of a legit “what’s your number, can we call you, can we come visit you, will you come back and visit us again, you’re very pretty, we wish we could marry you someday please” sort of thing.  So no harm done.  In fact, they might have even flattered us a bit.

By the time we show up at the hotel to meet the Burkinabe-Austrian musicians, it’s almost 9:45.  Careth and I are both hoping they’re still there, waiting for us, even though they told us 9-9:30 and it was now after that.  Besides, this is Burkina and so you operate on Burkina time, if someone says 10am, they really mean 11ish maybe noon.  So what was 15 minutes late?  As we speed walk up the hotel sidewalk, I hear someone call out our names, followed by, in English, “You’re LATE.”  Haha, whoops.  So apparently these Burkinabe men don’t operate on West African time and actually stick to a schedule.  Oh well, at least they hadn’t left without us, as we didn’t know how to get to the concert venue.  The other guy pulled up to the hotel in a SUPER nice car – probably the nicest, newest car I’ve ever seen anywhere, even in America.  Careth was nervous about getting in the car with them, but I honestly was like, “What the heck.  They seem nice, we’re together and we have our cell phones, we’ve done far more risky things in Burkina Faso than get in a nice car with two semi-strangers.”  Careth whispered to me, “But what if they actually take us to the middle of nowhere?”  To which I replied, “Careth, we are in a big city.  There are lights and people everywhere.  If we are all of a sudden in the ‘middle of nowhere’ I’d hope we’d notice before we’re actually surrounded by nothing…and jump out of the car or something.  We’ll be fine.”

And we were.  They put on some non-annoying traditional music -- their car’s stereo system was awesome – and we jammed down the street for a few minutes until we were at this big outdoor stage with a fancy bar/restaurant area.   High class.  Even real toilets!  There were six different groups who performed throughout the night, complete with drummers in traditional costumes, dancers, acrobatics, singers, and “regular” band players (guitar, keyboard, etc.).  One of our musician friends even had an ipad (I told ya they were rich!) and went up to the stage, front and center, to videotape his brother’s group, and so we got to go with too and have an unblocked view of all the performances.  It was some of the best music and dancing I’ve seen/heard in Africa yet!  We decided to leave shortly after midnight, and after saying goodbye to all our new “friends” we stepped outside the compound to catch a taxi.  Y’all have heard of “Minnesota nice,” right?  Well maybe the phrase should actually be “Burkina nice.”  In general, everyone is always more than willing to help us, start a conversation, direct us where to go, buy us drink or share their food with us, etc.  And after our concert, this was no exception.  There were immediately 2 guys who hopped on their motorcycles to drive to the main highway and flag down a taxi and bring it to the concert venue, so that we didn’t have to walk anywhere in the dark (even the short and completely doable 2-3 blocks to the highway).  Another man brought out 2 chairs for us to sit on while we waited.  Within 5 minutes, the moto appeared again and right behind it was a taxi.  As we got in, one of the guys paid the cab fare for us.  How nice!  And we didn’t even know their names… Burkina nice.

After sleeping in a bit the next morning, Sunday, we went back to the Bobo bureau to check our emails for the last time, print some stuff from the internet, and make sure we had a map and knew where we were going.  We got to the taxi brousse stop around 11am, but it of course wasn’t leaving right away.  They said in just a few minutes…but we ended up waiting for over 2 hours, finally leaving just before 2pm to go to Sara (a village on the highway between Bobo and Dedougou), where Careth would be working for the week at the library camp.  I would also be going to Sara, but would immediately catch another car or taxi brousse to travel to Dohoun (a village located about 36km off the highway from Sara), to work the library camp there.  But when we arrived in Sara that afternoon, I was informed that there was no transport to Dohoun until the next morning.  Dang.  So I had to spend the night in Sara with Careth (we slept outside, sharing her bug hut) and thus I showed up late to work my library camp the next day.

When I left Sara that next morning, Monday, I boarded a sketchy looking overfilled van.  All the windows were broken out, and because it had rained a ton the day before (shortly before Careth and I had arrived), all the seats were soaked.  In fact, it was because of the rain that I was not able to leave the afternoon/evening I had arrived: the gravel road was washed out in a few spots and impossible to pass through.  But that Monday morning, only 24 hours after the huge rain, the road was better and passable…apparently.  As we drove along, we dodged puddles…no, lakes…right and left, and most the time weren’t even driving on the road.  And then whenever we were on the road – because there was nowhere else to go or veer off to – the driver would opt to go right through the puddles….and no lie, sometimes the water was so deep that I could have stuck my hand out the window (that didn’t exist) and felt the water that was swarming and rushing up the sides of the sketchy van.  Scary.  But somehow we made it.  And so started my 2 weeks of FAVL (Friends of African Village Libraries) Camp de Lecture (Reading Camp) for elementary kids.

July 30 – August 11: FAVL Summer Reading Camps
FAVL summer reading camps were held in 12 different Burkinabe villages this year, and each of the 12 villages has a FAVL started community village bibliothèque (library).  So there’s a real building (cement walls and floors), a latrine outside, a hand-washing station with soap, an outdoor seating area with a straw roof, and inside, there’s a few bookshelves of books in French (and some English) for all ages, but especially children’s pictures books, in addition to puzzles, crayons, pencils, paper, and Scrabble, and of course tables and chairs to sit at.  Each library, in order to function, has a librarian – someone chosen from the village – who works 20 hours a week, as well as an assistant.   All in all, a pretty good setup, all made possible through FAVL.  Here’s their website if you want to know more, donate money, or see some photos of the libraries and the kids at reading camp. 

The camps were for kids entering CM2, i.e. 5th grade, the last grade before they must take a test to enter middle school.  This is a critical time period, because if they don’t pass their test this next school year, they can’t go on with school.  But if they can’t read, they’re probably not going to pass their test…so they really need to improve their literacy skills in order to have a chance.  And that’s why FAVL chose to do reading camps with this age group.   A maximum of 25 kids in the class were randomly picked by lottery (a significantly smaller “group” than the typical 60-120 kids in a class), and they attended the day camp for 6 days, Monday – Saturday, 7am to 3pm.  They received matching t-shirts that they were required to wear each day, and during camp we did everything from read books, sing songs, learn about the different food groups, make liquid soap, perform skits, play games, dance, do art projects, and more.   Besides for the Peace Corps volunteers involved, everyone else was Burkinabe, which is a good thing.  The more involved the Burkina people are (and the less we do), the better.  During my week, I stayed with a host family who would prepare meals for me.

My week at Dohoun was wonderful: the camp itself was well-run and a lot of fun, I loved my host family, and ate pretty decent food.  It wasn’t great food (definitely a step down from my own, self-prepared village food and the families I eat with in Lanfiera), but okay food.  It reminded me of stage (training when I first arrived in country) and made me really grateful that in village my food situation is nothing I can complain about…except for the fact that there’s no eggs, cheese, limited meat options, we eat leaves…etc. but otherwise, not bad. 
I really enjoyed my host family stay because there was a daughter, Eugenie, who was my age, and then a few brothers: 19, 22, 24 year-old Eugen the twin of Eugenie, and 27 – well, there’s 9 “kids” in the Kahoun family total and the parents are in their 60s and don’t speak French.   Interesting fact: “kahoun,” which means “hole,” is a popular last name in this village that contains numerous caves used by the natives to hide and protect themselves during colonization.   I even got to see the “holes” and they truly were little caves and passageways that led from one end of the village to another.  Throughout the week, it was nice to be around people my own age who were also educated.  Eugenie is a student in Ouaga, studying Economics.  We even had several conversations in English.  19-year-old Parfait was hilarious.  When he got home from working in the field the first evening I was there, I was sitting under the porch with his mom and sisters, de-stemming leaves.  He looked completely surprised to see a “white” person there – maybe he didn’t know I was coming?  But he saw the book I was reading (obviously written in English), and so started speaking English right away.  “Good evening.  How are you?”  So in English, I responded and then asked him what his name was.  “My name is Perfect.”  I almost laughed.  Was his name actually Perfect?  Or was that his English “chosen” name?  Or did I not understand him?  So I asked him so spell it.  “P – E – R – F – E – C – T.”  Alright, I guess his name really was Perfect.  Cool.  Though later that night, I realized everyone actually called him Parfait, which is French for “perfect.”  But either way, still a cool name.  He currently is finishing up high school and that is very impressive for someone of his age to actually be “on-track” with the educational system and not have redoubled classes at least a few times.  He goes to school at a private, Catholic high school in Dedougou – wouldn’t you know, the same school we had held Camp GLOW at.  Ironic. 

Most evenings I went to chapel with them; the catholic church prays the rosary at 8pm each night.  I played soccer a couple times, went for walks, and chatted with the family.  One of the first nights, we were talking about where I was from, and when I said “Minnesota,” the mother’s head jerked up right away.  “Minnesota?  Minnesota!” she said.  Everyone laughed and then someone said something to her in their local language, Bwamu (of which I didn’t understand a thing), and the entire family laughed even more.  “Why are you all laughing?”  I asked.  Parfait then explained to me that when I said I was from the state of Minnesota, his mom thought I was speaking Bwamu.  In Bwamu, there’s a series of words that basically is pronounced like Minn-ee-sow-tah, meaning “le riz es gâté” aka “the rice is spoiled,” and that’s what she thought I was saying, until they had explained to her that Minnesota was the name of where I was from.  I couldn’t help but laugh with them.

I was kinda sad to leave Dohoun, but once Sunday arrived, I had to make my way to Karaba for my next FAVL reading camp.  Karaba is located just 5km down the road, so not far at all.  In fact, I walked there…granted, I first loaded all my bags and my water filter onto the back of a moto and a guy drove my things to Karaba so I didn’t have to carry them…but in the hot, sweltering African sun, just after noon, I set out for Karaba, accompanied by the librarian of Dohoun.

And so then started the Karaba camp.  My host family was not cool.  It was this really old lady (70-80 years old) who wore Jesus dresses every day and had several cats.  I didn’t realize cat ladies existed in Africa, but FYI, they do.  The food was both better and worse at the same time.  We were able to get someone to go to a nearby big city and buy bananas and eggs and peanut butter, and one night we had rabbit, but besides that, everything was watered down and flavorless…there wasn’t even salt or piedmont for us to douse our food with and cover up the weird flavors.  Furthermore, the latrine was located in the middle of a field, about a 2 minute walk from the house, which is not okay, especially at night, especially during rainy season when the entire ground is mud.  The house (though almost a “real” house and quite big) smelled weird, and the room where we slept lacked mosquito nets, and so every night I was attacked by bugs, even though I put on excessive amounts of repellant on my skin.  Also there was a crazy man who always rode his bike into the courtyard and spoke gibberish at us, and so we would just respond with head nods.  Except the one time when he (in understandable words) asked us if we were French, and we said, “Non, nous sommes les Chinoises” (We are Chinese).  And then he said, “Hee ho chang” or something to that nature.  It was weird…but kinda entertaining.  But to top it all off I ended up being sick for 2 days during the camp, so all I did was sleep, and then the camp itself was kinda worthless, not the kids of course, but rather the other helpers, i.e. the librarian and her assistant and the teacher.  They were lazy and didn’t care about the kids and had bad attitudes.  Here’s an example (that happened not once, but almost every day during the camp) of the Burkinabe leaders working with a group of 4 of the lowest-level kids – kids who truthfully couldn’t read a word and presently still struggle with the letters of the alphabet:

Teacher: Read the first sentence.
Kids: *silence*
T: I said READ!
K: *more silence…kids look away and just stare at a tree*
T: Can’t you see that?  Don’t you see the words?  READ.
K: *silence*
T: If you don’t read I will hit you, you disrespectful kids…are you blind?...Ha, you’re all blind and stupid.  You can’t read.  You’re not going to finish school. You should quit now.
K:  *kids look as if they’re going to cry…but still give no attempt to read, because they honestly can’t*

So basically, the week at Karaba was disappointing, especially in comparison to my first week at Dohoun, and I was more than ready to get outta there!  I left Saturday morning, the last day of camp, though I probably should have stayed the whole day and finished camp up with the kids, and just leave Sunday like originally planned.  But as already stated, I really wanted to leave and get back to my own village – I had been away from my village and my dog over 2 weeks already.  To make the return trip, I had to backtrack a ways, but it still my best option.  I got a bush taxi to Bobo, stopped at the Bureau to eat lunch and check email, and then continued on to find a bush taxi to go to Dedougou.  Ideally, I needed to go to Tougan, but transport options are limited, and so my only choice was to go to Dedougou, spend the night with Lyndia, and then take a bus or something to Tougan the next morning, and from there, wait for another bus that would pass through Tougan anytime from 3pm to midnight and would take me directly to my village.  Gotta love transport in Burkina Faso…always a struggle, always an adventure.

September 18, 2012
August 11-13: Dedougou

Surprisingly, getting to Dedougou was a cinch.  I met Lyndia in the march area, and we bought some goodies for supper (watermelon, bananas, wine) before heading to her house.  After I showered and relaxed a bit, we watched a movie, and then we went over to her friend Veronique’s house for supper: American style spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce, cooked by Veronique, taught by Lyndia.  It was delicious and so satisfying to eat something that included more than just white carbs and salt.  And I contributed some freshly cut watermelon – one of the first of the season! – which was a real treat for Veronique. 

The next day, we ate pancakes for breakfast (and more watermelon), and then biked out to the Catholic mission, located just 5km from Lyndia’s house.  We spent most the day there, taking walks through the woods, chatting with the nuns, and photographing the beautiful flowers.  We were invited to eat lunch with the sisters, sitting down to a family-style meal at a real dining room table.  They served us wine, juice, pop, ice water, and coffee, along with salad, fresh bread and butter, cheese, and the best part of all, fufu and chicken.  Delicious!!!  No wonder why people opt to become nuns/monks/priests (especially in poor countries) if you get to eat like that every day!  Definitely not your typical village cuisine…  So what’s fufu?  It’s kinda like tô, but significantly better in every way.  Sometimes it’s actually called foutou in Burkina Faso, although it’s not a very popular/staple food here, as sometimes its ingredients aren’t abundant.  It is made by boiling starchy vegetables like cassava, yams, or plantains and then pounding them into a dough-like consistency. Fufu is eaten by taking a small ball of it in one's fingers and then dipping into an accompanying soup or sauce. Our sauce was the chicken, cooked in a slightly spicy and thickened soup with some veggies.  I ate so much that meal, I was almost afraid I was going to get sick and throw up.  But I didn’t!  Naturally, following lunch is repose (nap/siesta time), and so the head sister gave us a room with two beds in it and a fan to sleep in for a few hours.  Lyndia and I didn’t object, immediately crashed as soon as we laid down, and woke up refreshed 2 hours later.  The nuns produce cheese and yogurt at the mission (which also serves as a retreat center), and so we each bought a chunk of cheese and a yogurt. 

On our short 5km bike ride back to Lyndia’s house, I practiced my “riding a bike with no hands” trick.  Many Africans can do it (while balancing a bowl of watermelons on their head and breastfeeding a baby), and so can a lot of American kids.  I wanna do it to.  So I need to practice and get better.  By the time we were back to Lyndia’s house, I could go 10-15 seconds before I’d get nervous and clutch my handlebars again!  Supper was simple (after all, we had eaten a ton for lunch): watermelon, cheese, popcorn, and homemade onion rings.  We watched a movie, then called it a night.  The next day, it was time for me to say goodbye.  We went to the bus station, and unfortunately I had to wait over 3 hours for the bus to show up.  By the time we hit the road, I was squished in the back of the bus against the left side window with 3 more people than there were seats on the right side of me.  The ride proved to be one of my worst travel experiences yet.  The road was so bumpy and rain-flooded that some of the bumps resulted in me literally flying up and out of my seat, despite me grasping the seat for my life with both hands.  It reminded me of all the times I went to ValleyFair as a kid and was scared of the roller coasters – not scared enough to not ride them, but just scared enough that I would wrap my arms around the front safety bar and brace my knees against the sides of the car and sometimes duck my head down.  That’s pretty much exactly what I was doing on this bus.  Another bump I went straight up a good 3-4 feet (my hands weren’t strong enough to maintain hold of my seat) and I hit my head on the metal bar above me…and started bleeding. Not a lot.  But nonetheless, there was blood shed.  Oh yes! And sometimes the bus was so far on one side of the road that the tree branches and thorny bushes growing alongside the road poked their way into the bus windows, resulting in a couple scratches on my arm and cheek.  Lovely.

Finally arriving in Tougan several hours later on what should have been a 2 hour trip, I ran off the bus as quickly as I could: it was 5pm, and while it’d be unusual for my village bus to have come AND gone already, it was entirely conceivable.  And sure enough, for once the bus had arrived come on time and departed…urghhhh!  Why?!?!  All the other times the bus doesn’t even show up until 6 or 7pm, and it’ll leave an hour or two after that.  But of course that’s just my luck to have missed my one and only bus.  Another whole day completely wasted by traveling…or rather, sitting on a bus but not necessarily going anywhere.  And now I was stuck in Tougan with way too much baggage to maneuver around by myself – I’d have to find a place to stay and safely keep my luggage.  Fortunately, however, my luck turned around just a smidge when I talked to the boutique owner and he told me that he was going to Lanfiera (my village) the next morning, and if I’d like, I could ride with him in his car.  Heck yes, I’ll ride with you in your car!  I had no desire to wait until the next afternoon…or more than likely, 7-8-11pm…for the bus to come and take me to my village with all my stuff.  Not appealing, I’ll take a comfy and spacious car with air-conditioning, in the morning, for free, thank you.  So I got a room at Hotel Zeela, took a real shower, and slept soundly.   In the morning I picked up some groceries, bought some tree saplings and flowering plants at the environmental center, and ate a yummy breakfast of yogurt, apples, and a fish sandwich (not kidding, the morning fresh fish sandwiches at Yogurt Place are AMAZING and so I ate two of them).   Of course the boutique owner’s claim of “We’ll leave at 8am, be ready,” really meant, “Perhaps around 10 or 11am, we’ll head out.”  Thus, I just sat outside on a chair in the shade and read a book the couple hours I waited.

Once back in village I attempted to unpack my things, but was much more tempted to just take a nap.  However, I didn’t get to do that either – the neighbors noticed I was back and everyone was making visits to my courtyard to greet me and welcome me back…no nap for me.

August 14 – pre-Ouaga/Italy

The 2 weeks I was back in village before leaving for Italy were CRAZY.  So much was going on!   I thought I was gonna have a lot of down time, I’d read a few books, clean my house (I have a junk room – I don’t know how it happened, but I have a room full of student tests, crayons, empty soup cans and pop bottles, etc.), straighten out my garden and develop a new paradise of plants in the front of my yard…. But with all the village events, not much of my list was accomplished.  Here’s why:

Shopping au marché
Baby Baptisms
My Homologue’s Wedding
Computer classes
Planting trees
Drinking tea
Getting lost in brousse

Ramadan:  Ramadan is not a specific day, but rather an entire month, much like the Catholic time period of Lent.  Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; Muslims worldwide observe this as a month of fasting, abstaining from ANY food or drink (including water) from sunrise to sunset (i.e. the whole day).   This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam.   According to Wikipedia, the month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in hadiths, but I swear everyone in my village claimed Ramadan was 40 days.   The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramida or ar-ramad, which means scorching heat or dryness… which makes sense if you think about the fact that your throat probably is scorched from not eating/drinking all day, especially if you live in sub-saharan Africa and work in a field under 120 degree temperatures from sun-up to sun-down…without water.   Fasting is wajib (obligatory) for adult Muslims, except those who are ill, travelling, or going through menstrual bleeding.  Most kids also participate. 
For me, it was quite an odd time period, the month of Ramadan.  If I wanted to eat lunch (or supper before 9pm), there weren’t a lot of options.  Most people weren’t eating so I couldn’t join them, and since 96% of the village wasn’t eating, the “restaurants” and ladies who normally sell rice or noodles weren’t preparing food to sell either.  Tough life.  So whenever I wanted to eat, I had to prepare something myself – not a problem for me, since I like to cook.  I just don’t always like eating alone.  But alone I had to eat:  how rude is it to eat my “fancy American food” in front of hungry people who can’t eat until dark?  Additionally, as most villagers weren’t eating, the kids had more than enough freetime to pass by my house, often right as I was in the middle of making something to eat…or actually eating.  So I would have to set my cucumber-cabbage salad aside, and by the time I’d get back to it (3 hours later) it was gross and soggy…but of course I’d eat it anyways.    When I joined people in the evening for breaking the fast, it was very interesting.  They always waited for the signal: the prayer over the loudspeakers from the mosque to signify that the fast was over.  Then they’d start by drinking sugar water or juice, followed by cold porridge made of rice or corn flour chunks so small it was kinda like tapioca pudding (they often put a few sugar cubes in my cold porridge – I’m special).  And after that, the normal standard of tô and leaf sauce.
When it came time to celebrate the end of Ramadan, conveniently the marché fell the day before the big party, and so everyone was able to buy lots of fresh veggies (cabbage, onions, okra, leaves, eggplant) to make the food for the feast.  It was a great marché, but slightly upsetting in the fact that clearly this produce was available this time of year – it had to be trucked in – and yet most the previous weeks (and the weeks that followed) the marché only had leaves and onions.  I kid you not.  Why?!?  But whatever….  If you check out my facebook pictures, most of my marché pictures are actually taken this day – the day before Ramadan – the day the marché was glorious!  After the marche, I went back to my village and visited my neighbors.  They were busy getting ready for the party, preparing lots of different kinds of foods: boulettes (boiled fish balls, kinda like meatballs), galettes (like little fried donuts but made from petit mil flour), caramel candies, and even chicken (they had butchered 2!).    While I “helped” them (i.e. sat in a chair and drank the cold juice they bought for me), Batouma henna tattooed my feet.  On the Burkinabe’s dark chocolate brown/black skin, the black staining is gorgeous, but on my pale white skin, it didn’t look quite as cool – still awesome, and EVERYONE loved seeing me with it, but still, just not quite as pretty.   It took 3 hours of sitting in the chair with my feet up as the chemical paste turned the bottom sides and stripe designs on my toes black, so I had plenty of time to read my book and also chat on the phone with a few friends.  Interestingly, one of my friends asked, “Is your village celebrating tomorrow or the next day?”  Turns out there was a big confusion/disagreement over when the actual fete day of Ramadan was, all based off of the moon and what all.  So while everyone in my village was getting ready and making tons of food for the following day, there were other villages who still would be fasting for an additional day.  But, late that night, on some official radio station, a Muslim leader announced that the moon was  not yet in the correct position, and thus Ramadan would not be celebrated tomorrow as originally stated.   The religious leaders in my village of course heard this announcement, and they spread the word.  Thus, in the morning, when I found out via a Peace Corps friend’s text message, I thought I’d see tons of people lost and confused about not having Ramadan but already having prepared a feast (without fridges, food can’t just sit out for a few days…), but it was as if Ramadan had always been planned for the next day.  No one seemed to care and went to work like usual, though the food may have gotten eaten at breakfast (before the fast started) or that night, with more food being made throughout the day.
So the day of the “real” celebration, I dressed up, putting on a white besin skirt, brown tank top, and a pink scarf.  I also put a small French braid around the front of my head and wore some jewelry.  Everyone kept commenting on how pretty and “young” I was that day, and they all LOVED my henna tattoed feet.  I ate at several people’s houses, food ranging from beef liver, spaghetti noodles cooked in salt and oil, rice with sauce, fish boulettes, cakes/donuts, candy, gum, various juices, popcorn, etc.  What a feast!  And we ate all day long!  The end of the night was wrapped up with a dance, which I enjoyed.  And then I crashed and went to sleep.
Shopping at marché:  Before heading to Italy, I naturally had to pick out some “gifts” to send back to America.  Daba, pagne, weird food, traditional dress, puzzle, etc. 

And unfortunately, I’m gonna stop here, as I am extremely tired and it is 4am here.  I need sleep! Because I’ll need to catch my bus to go back to village in just a few hours, I won't be able to finish this post..  Also, school starts in a week and I need my beauty rest!  But, as usual, more to come in the future!

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