Wednesday, September 27, 2006

When I lived in Chicago, I loved reading « News of the Weird » in The Reader. I don’t know if this latest news from me is “weird”, but isn’t normal, at any rate.
1.) Say you are in Burkina and you want to phone a pal in Benin, Togo, or maybe Mali. If you dial directly, you will try and try and try and try. Only a benevolent intercession by a deity will get you a line through. BUT, you CAN get a line to the USA, usually. Weird, right?. Even stranger, if you have a call back system, you can ring a computer in the US that will phone you back and allow you to make outgoing calls on US lines. To make a long story comprehensible: to call Mali, you call Florida and Florida calls Bamako, Mali. It makes NO sense. It’s like a person in Nebraska not being able to phone to Iowa, unless they call through Moscow.
2.) Lumbago: weird, or what? I thought is was what old people discussed at nursing homes when digestive problems got boring. I thought I had many happy lumbago-discussion-free years ahead of me. But no, it’s on the conversational radar now.
Monday, I got a call from Mali (JP is there for work) and JP’s co-worker told me that his back was hurt and JP couldn’t walk. This was a very bad, non-Florida line, so I couldn’t understand half of what she said. That call left lots to the imagination…..polio? car accident? trampled by rabid camels? I spent ages trying to call JP. When I finally got through, he told me he’d thrown his back out. The dreaded "L"-word was mentioned and something about displaced vertebrae.
Now, several injections later, I am happy to report that he can walk a bit and will be home on Friday.
3.)Inter-racial fashion-tips. Just say “no”. Valentine was rushing off to school this morning . She flew past me to look in the hall mirror before going out to the bus. She looked a bit puzzled as she inspected her white pants.
“Umm, Honey? Are you wearing black underwear?” I asked cautiously.
“Well, yeah. Dorine told me that if you don’t want your underwear to show, you wear black ones.”
All became clear. Valentine’s best friend Dorine is black. And I then understood why Valentine was under the impression that purple eye shadow looks “natural” and a host of other puzzles. My glow-in–the–dark white teenager has been getting fashion tips from her black friends and African fashion magazines. And it’s not like I have been a resource of info on makeup and such. I did share with her the idea of matching the skin tone, though, so we got the undergarment situation under control.
4.)This is weird in a very bad way. Alizeta is in a lot of danger from her crazy husband. She came in to work on Monday and told me that her he has been threatening her with a knife. He stands outside the gates of her brother’s house (where she is living now) and threatens to kill her when he gets a chance. He blames her for Safie’s death. Fortunately, her family is trying to protect her. But things could easily go badly.
The file is not yet finished, so it's not at the Palais de Justice (courthouse) yet. Safie’s death is still being investigated.......

Friday, September 22, 2006

According to the United Nations' Human Development index, I live in the third "least livable" country on the planet (2005 rankings). Only Niger and Sierra Leone rank lower. Since I moved here in 1999, Burkina has held the spot. I spent the day trying to "do good".....but it's really just a proverbial drop in the bucket. And the bucket has holes.
Today I distributed school supplies to nearly 50 children. The catechism classes at our church had given a donation last spring and I kept it for the upcoming school year. Each child got a notebook, three pencils, two pens, an eraser, a ruler and a little box of colored pencils. I know that there are poor people in the US and Europe, but I still can't imagine that their children would get too excited over some yellow pencils and a plastic ruler. But these kids today were over the moon. They treasured this stuff and were all excited about going to school.
I had also done some fundraising last year to put some girls in school. I got sponsors willing to commit for at least four years. JP and I sponsor a few kids, as well. I make a special effort for the girls, as so few go to school here. Only about 8 percent of all adult women can even read. The figure is close to 20 percent for men.

I have no news from Alizeta about her court case. I am hoping she'll be at the project Monday. I doubt I'll see her daughter. Her second oldest was helping out at the project and bringing news from home, but Alizeta's husband came by last week. He told the girl she had to stay home from now on. There's no reason why...he is just an abusive, stupid man. (Alizeta moved out with the children two years ago) But he still has authority over the kids, so she had to leave. it's all very messed up.

The soap for Tess is all done, as well as the 50 boxes!! She finally came today to pick them up today, but wasn't happy! Some of the soap tags were on colored paper, rather than natural. She hadn't specified at the time of her order, so I had printed up a normal batch. Between her confusion on the pickup date and this, I am not feeling so kindly towards her as I did in my previous post on the subject. I gritted my teeth and offered to reprint the labels and have the soap re-tagged. The customer is always right, even when she is a pain in the butt.
Luckily, the work doesn't have to be finished quickly. Tess' truck is completely broken down and she'll have to buy a new one before she can leave for Agadez!
Ok- I admit it. I paid a Winyé Earth Priest to put a curse on her Jeep. She deserved it.
Should give us plenty of time to finish up the order. Heh, heh!

BTW- I'm going to a goodbye party on Saturday for a German friend. She's moving to Niger! The worst place in the world!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I went to pick up the children at school today. The crowd was milling around outside the front gates of St Exupery. I thought maybe I should hide in the car, so I wouldn’t humiliate my kids.
Well, there were the Burkinabé moms, dressed to the nines in tailored outfits of bright colors. The skirts are ankle-length and the tops very form-fitting. They often have long sleeves, but these women don’t seem to sweat. In fact, they look supernaturally clean, as though they were just sanded down and freshly painted. They invariably wear very high heeled, viciously pointy shoes, impressive hair extensions and designer sunglasses. The fingernails tend toward red and talon-like. No simple pagne wrap-skirts for these ladies. That’s strictly the uniform of the lower classes.
There were the French moms: cropped, perfectly coiffed hair, pink manicured nails and painfully thin physiques. They carry tiny handbags the size of a guinea pig. How they manage, I have no earthly idea. I carry a huge purse full of bandaids, sunscreen, kleenex, pocket knife, glue....ok, maybe I'm a little over the top. But still. They never wear local-style clothes. The fashion tends towards very short shift dresses. I imagine that they look perfectly chic in Paris, but in Burkina something that short is called a “tunic” and you wear it with pants.
The French and Burkinabé look odd together-the French women barely dressed and wilting in the heat alongside the Burkinabé women covered neck to toe, but looking cool and crisp.
There were the Lebanese moms, too: tight jeans and even tighter shirts, lots of gold and lots of makeup. They have teeny-tiny cell phones that they use continuously, even while deep in conversation with people actually standing in front of them. Real multi-taskers.
There was also the battalion of nounous (nannies), all ready to pick up their young charges. The uniform of the nounou is a gingham-checked, loose-fitting tunic and pants, usually pastel-colored. The few wearing a pagne and t-shirt are probably the employees of new arrivals that haven’t had uniforms sewn yet. (NB: I have my workers choose their own fabric for work clothes. They always choose flowers, never gingham checks)
Then there was me. My pagne was wrinkled and my t-shirt covered with fuzzy scraps of paper from working at Papiers all morning. I started picking the biggest bits off, but as I bent my head, more paper fell out of my hair. Oh dear. And my fingers were tacky with glue and blue with dye from the paper, my sandals far more comfy than stylish. And don’t get me started on my hair. In the rainy season humidity it is sticking out in demented curls. As for makeup, does lip balm count?
Maybe I’m a clueless looser, but I just don’t get it. Even the nounous look better than I do. Do all these women spend hours each morning showering, fixing their hair and putting on makeup? How do they stay pristine? Don’t they work? Even when I do make a bit of an effort in the morning, by noon I am a wreck. (Note to self: look into getting laminated)
It just doesn’t seem worth the effort. But then I go to the school, and I feel kind of bad. Not that the kids make a fuss, bless their hearts. Their only request is that I quit getting super-short, G. I. Jane haircuts. Which I have done. But now I have a huge blonde afro and my husband calls me “Sheep”. Not good.

The only way I see to solve this problem is to leave work early, rush home, clean up, change and then drive over to the school. Seems like a painful waste of time. Oh well, I’m always telling my girls “You go to school to learn-it’s not a fashion show”.
(BTW: Do you remember that Will Smith song “Parents Just Don’t Understand”? It features a mother saying exactly that same thing, as she forces her son to wear polyester pants to school. The first time my kids heard it, just a few months ago, they howled with laughter. “That’s you, Mom! You always say that!”)
To be fair, I should admit that I never spend more than 10$ on an item of clothing and that could have something to do with why I don't have that chic je ne sais quoi.
As you may guess, I fit in just fine among the women I work with in the poor neighborhoods. I get lots of compliments on my outfits, even! It's just when I get among the upper classes that I feel conspicuous and that I'm ruining the social cred of my kids.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Why no posts since Thursday ? Because on Friday morning I got a phone call.
“Hi Beth, This is Tess. How are you?”
“Hi. Fine. You?” I couldn’t talk in complete sentences, as I was thinking too hard. My mind raced: Is she calling from Sweden? No, the connection is too clear. Sounds like she’s in Ouaga, but that’s IMPOSSIBLE. Her last email said she wouldn't be here until October…...
“I’m fine. How’s the soap? Can I pick it up?
The soap. The SOAP!?! In July, Tess had ordered 400 bars of handmade shea butter soap in a custom recycled paper wrap from Papiers du Sahel (the women’s group I work with). The delivery date was supposed to be the 1st of September. But in late August, Tess had sent an email from Sweden saying that she’d be picking up the order in early October.
“The soap is ready, Tess” (Thank GOD!) “But it’s not wrapped. Your email said October 11 and we had some orders to get ready for the USA …..”
“Oh, no! I’m sure I said September”
“Well, you wrote October in the email you sent me. I thought you'd had a change of plans.”
She was sorry, she had made a mistake- but the fact remained that she needed that soap wrapped, beaded and tagged by Monday. She would be driving her truck up to her hotel in Agadez, Niger (It is gorgeous! Have a look here and here)and the soap, plus the 50 boxes for shower caps needed to be ready to roll.
Tess is a nice lady and a good customer, so I assured her we’d figure something out.
I rushed over to the project. (The project phone is broken, so I couldn’t just call).
Eugenie (the project president) and I cautiously opened the metal chest that had been holding the drying soap for the last two months. The mice hadn’t gotten at it, by some miracle. The women started wrapping, a couple went off on bikes to buy cotton string to tie on the tags. I rushed home to design and print up 400 soap tags. Then I rushed back to help wrap.
By Saturday night, all 400 were done. But not the 50 boxes. That night, Tess called with the news that she’d be leaving on Wednesday, not Monday. Joy!
I went to the project this morning, expecting to se at least a few finished boxes ready. Nope. We hadn’t made any since last January and the women had completely forgotten how. Isabelle had unfolded one and was trying to figure it out, not having much luck. Fortunately, I vaguely remembered the technique and we got into gear. When I left the project at noon today, half the boxes were finished.
So, the whole order will definitely be done by Wednesday morning.
And what did I do over the weekend when I wasn’t wrapping, printing and folding?
I made a My Little Pony birthday cake and got PAID! Yes! I will not post a photo, as its bright pink and blue splendour would doubtless blind you, my reading public (or perhaps make you want to claw your eyes out, depending on your level of kitsch tolerance.)
I took the twins for a riding lesson at the Oasis du Cheval, one of our three riding clubs here in Ouaga. I will doubtless do a whole post about the place, one of these days.
I went to a VERY boring school bus cooperative meeting. JP wouldn’t go, the coward. There were about 18 of us there. “Do you want some water?” the hostess politely asked. “No. No thank you.” I answered. With the silent subtext “Start the meeting NOW! I want to leave! I do not need snacks. Really.”) Unfortunately, everybody else said “Yes”, god help us. They don’t have water at HOME, these people? How long are they planning on BEING here???? They sent the hostess scrambling for bottles of mineral water and 18 glasses. 15 minutes. I timed it. Then, once we were into the meeting, were repeatedly stalled by one concerned mom that wanted to know why the bus couldn’t stop in front of her house. “It rains, sometimes”, she said. It was politely pointed out to her that it rains on ALL the children, but the bus cannot possibly stop at all the houses. I thought about cluing her in to that great modern invention, the UMBRELLA, but I just wanted it all to be OVER.
That night, I went to see “The DaVinci Code”. How could you make a trashy thriller about the Holy Grail into a boring movie? That seems impossible, yet Ron Howard managed. The presence of Tom Hanks was a constant distraction. Why doesn’t he wash his hair? Cut it? Am I really supposed to believe he is a university professor/genius-level puzzle-solver kind of guy? Could there be any less attraction between him and our heroine, Audrey Tatou? She’s so cute, in that deer-in-the-headlights kind of way, and yet you’d get more chemistry out of two teaspoons of baking soda in a glass of water.
And that’s basically it for the weekend. Just throw in a swim at the Rec Center, a reorganization of the kids’ toys, browbeating Severin into practising his piano lesson….Extremely busy and very boring.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Summer Vacation, Part 2
As I mentioned in a previous post, we rented an old farmhouse while we were in the north of France near my MIL. We stayed there two years ago and it was lovely. Whenever I’m in Petit Xivry, I fantasize about buying a farm in Lorraine and raising a herd of sweet-faced dairy cows. The fact that I know nothing about farming or cattle doesn’t stand in my way. In my imagination they are fly and manure-free. They mostly just eat grass and look pictuesque.
For those two weeks, we visited my MIL every lunch time and stayed until the night.
She lives alone in a small rose-covered house in the village of Saulnes. It’s the house my FIL grew up in with his two brothers and a sister, but it must have been a tight fit. When JP and I arrive there with our four kids, the place seems to shrink to the size of a shoebox. So, in the interests of everyone’s sanity, we never stay there. Not that I don’t get along with my MIL. Au contraire, she thinks I’m fabulous. When JP and I got married, he was 40 years old. She had long before given up all hope of ever seeing him wed and getting a few grandbabies out of the deal. Imagine her surprise and delight at JP bringing me home: I turned out cute babies like nobody’s business AND I drive, a big plus. My MIL doesn’t drive, but loves to shop. When my FIL was alive, he took her shopping every week, but now she depends on friends or her grandson that lives nearby. So, one of my jobs while we visited was SHOPPING. Which was just fine by me. I spent hours hypnotised by the French “hypermarchés”. All that STUFF!
The kids had a great time. They spent their mornings on the farm, running after the cat and jumping off hay bales. In the afternoon, they played with the children that live on my MIL’s street. The first day it looked like there was going to be a problem. The twins and Severin came in the house, saying that kids were throwing rocks at them and insulting them when they went in the front garden. I think being called “Americans” was the principle insult of choice. Instead of going out to tell them off, I went out and said “Hi! We’re here visiting from Africa”. As I predicted, they weren’t rotten kids, just bored. They were thrilled to have “Africans” to play with and question rigorously (“Do you have any food there? Why aren’t you black?, et al) The kids ended up being great friends and did lots together.
Mallory’s favourite activity was going up to the park and riding the fat pony in residence there. Lulu was a spoiled little thing that could barely be coaxed into a trot, but Mallory adored her. (Valentine took some fabulous pictures of the two of them. Do check out the Photobucket Album link at right and go to the French Vacation sub-album)
When I wasn’t shopping for groceries, school clothes, Xmas gifts, etc, I was cleaning house. My MIL is getting near to 80 now and her hip replacement had about worn out. The whole place needed a thorough scrubbing. I cannot describe the state of the shower, oven, walls, etc. I spent lots of time trying out miracle cleaning products. It was entertaining (in a sick way), as all we have in Burkina is plain old bleach, soap and Ajax powdered cleanser, if you’re lucky. In France, you can find a cleaning spray called “Cillit Bang”. Is that a cool name, or what? I think it really resonates to the fact that after two weeks of constant housecleaning, you just want to blow the whole damn place up.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Part 1
(I haven’t done one of these since I was in primary school. What fun!)
We arrived in Paris early in the morning on the 15th of July and rolled our mountain of baggage over to a café in the terminal. We were starved. The breakfast on the Air France flight had looked kind of nasty - the so-called madeleine had looked suspiciously like a fruitcake and the kids hate the watery pseudo-hot chocolate they serve. So, we ordered REAL hot chocolates, pain au chocolat, chaussons aux pommes, pain cremes... everything the kids’ hearts desired. When it was time to order for myself, I thought: This is decision time! A fresh French pastry or that shiny Granny Smith apple over there in that fuit basket? This choice would determine the course of this vacation! Would this be the Summer of Healthy Eating, or a Pack-on-the-Pounds Estivale Extravaganza?
I chose....THE APPLE!!!!!
Did it make a damn bit of difference in the end? For my end?
Anyway, we finished up breakfast and with great difficulty managed to find the 12 year old child that was supposed to drive us over to the car rental lot. ( I know I’m exaggerating. Everybody looks so young to me now. He was probably really 14.)
The rental lot was a zoo when we got there. I finally found someone to start helping us out, but he kept referring to us as “The Americans” in a very loud voice. “Hey, Fabrice! You got the car for The AMERICANS yet?” and “Is that paperwork for The AMERICANS done yet?”
I wasn’t sure if he meant it in a good way, like: “Look at me helping the exotic foreigners!” or in a less good way, as in: “Look over here at the imperialist scum that ride rough-shod over the rest of the world!” He was hard to read.
I couldn’t figure out a subtle way to inform the staring crowd that our family is actually FRENCH, not just American. I just quietly told the kids to stand straight and try to look angelic. “You’re representing all of the USA” I whispered inspiringly. “ If you behave like deranged lunatics, as you so often do, they’ll think that all Americans are deranged lunatics”.
That was good for about two hours of exemplary behaviour, long enough to get two cars rented and packed.
Then, there I was- ready to hit the open road. The car was loaded, Valentine riding shotgun. JP was ahead of me in a grey Kangoo (a kind of über-nerdy French mini-van) with the three other kids. Yeah, all ready to go. Ready to drive out of Paris and race five hours down a superhighway to my mother-in-law’s house near the Luxembourg border. Have I mentioned that I only learned to drive a manual transmission about one year ago and I had NEVER driven on the highway with one? I’d never even been into 5th gear!! I’d only driven around Ouagadougou, which is a big town, but it ain’t Paris. I was a wee bit stressed, as you may conjecture.
Valentine saved me. She has a soothing presence and she gamely stayed awake, chatting and keeping good music going in the Clio's cd player.
By the time we pulled up in front of my MIL’s house, I was feeling very confident, which was good, as we did a lot of highway driving during the holiday. The house we rented was a half-hour drive away from my MIL’s place and that had to be driven round trip at least once a day. So, I got lots of driving practice. But driving in France has nothing in common with driving in Ouaga. It’s crazy here. You share the road with hoards of scooters and bicycles, as well as donkey carts, hand carts, camels, and horses. It’s interesting to watch this melange of traffic, but it’s not fun to drive in.
Coming soon: Part 2

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

She had just turned seventeen when she found a job as a housemaid. Safia was a lovely young girl, very short and slight with a kind, intelligent face very much like her mother’s. Safia’s parents were thrilled she’d found a job. The family was barely getting by, despite her mother’s job at the recycled paper project. Safia would be working at the home of a well-off Burkinabé family and receive two meals a day, as well as a small salary. What a great piece of luck.
Only it wasn’t. Two months later, Safia was dead.
Her mother came to work that day in July and told me that Safia was dead.
“I’m so sorry. I can’t believe it. Was it an accident?” That was my first thought. If she had been ill, her mother would have mentioned it.
“No, she was sick, but we didn’t know. She was at work and she had to sleep at the house of her employer most nights.”
We talked a little more. I was very sorry that I was leaving and could not go to the funeral.
When I came back to Burkina , I went over to the project and asked after Alizeta. She wasn’t at work because the baby was sick. Her brother and sister in law had died of HIV last year and she has been taking care of their baby daughter ever since.
When I asked about Alizeta yesterday morning, Eugenie (the president of the paper project) told me that Alizeta was at the Social Services office trying to see a lawyer.
“She’s suing that woman” Eugenie announced. To say I was astounded is putting it mildly. The Burkinabé legal system is not big on suing (like the French) and the whole thing is heavily weighted against the poor.
But Eugenie explained that there had been an even more horrible end to Safia’s story than I had known. When Alizeta and her husband got Safia’s body for the burial, they also got the death certificate and they knew something was very wrong. The death certificate read “meningitis”, but Safia had obviously been badly beaten around the head.
Safia had mentioned that her employer hit her. Sadly, this is not uncommon when young girls go to work for Burkinabé families. She didn’t like it, but accepted it as the price of having a job in this land of high unemployment.
It looks like the woman she worked for beat her so badly that she died of a head injury and then paid a doctor to write a false cause of death on the certificate.
For many people here, slavery is not a relic of the past.
No wonder the most prized jobs here are the ones in the homes of foreigners. At least you won’t be beaten and possibly killed for improperly ironing a shirt.
I am so disgusted.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Things fall apart. You may think it’s the title of Chinua Achebe’s famous novel of post-colonial Africa. It is also the description of my house, my car, my clothes…even the bloody furniture. I went into the kitchen this morning and was confronted with a large amount of sawdust scattered around a small stool. Has someone been doing late-night carpentry?

No- closer inspection yielded multiple termite holes. I hoped fervently that none of them had gotten to snacking on the table or the cabinetry and threw the thing out the back door, cursing mildly as I stepped in a puddle of water. What’s this? A leak under the sink, bien sûr. The plumber had just spent two whole days here fixing the sink and toilets, and here is the result: Lake Tengrela transported to my kitchen.

I mopped up and stuck a bucket under the trap. That was VERY brave of me, as I live in dread of the giant roaches under the sink. I usually only open the cabinet if I have a can of bug spray with me or one of the cats as a bodyguard. But I was rewarded with only ants, which I can bear. But they have invaded the walls. I think they are eating the wiring. That could explain why our electrical system bursts into flame regularly. The ants and the leaking roof could both be causing that. Severin’s bedroom has a huge leak in the corner, as does the storeroom. The later is more serious, as the fuse box for the whole house is there. (I took a photo of the fusebox so that I could post it so you could all see that I'm not some completely hyper-perfectionist, delusional, depressive, paranoid lunatic. But Blogger isn't letting me post pics today for some mysterious reason. Conspiracy!!!!!)

Will the owner fix any of this? No. Have we tried to? Yes, but it’s useless. The roofer comes, but two days later, the whole mess is leaking again. The same for the plumbing and electricity.

And the car is definitely falling apart. I tried to put the Toyota into gear yesterday, and it wouldn’t budge. At first I thought maybe one of the kids had sabotaged it. I had told them last night that we were going to church Sunday morning and they were less than thrilled. And I know they’ve seen heaps of films where the clever protagonist rips off the distributor cap to prevent the bad guys from making a vehicular getaway (The Sound of Music springs to mind. ) But no, Hassan the garage guy has just informed me that the clutch has a problem. An expensive problem, of course. We had him “fix” the problem and we have just been out for a test drive. In first gear the whole truck shudders like an elephant with malaria, in second it jumps and howls like a snakebit hippo. It runs pretty well in third, which is good, because I am fresh out of bizarre metaphors.

Trying to leave the house and go for a swim, JP noticed that the front door lock is nearly broken. The lock on our house in France is 100 years old and it works just dandy. What IS it about this place?

One theory could be that a European lifestyle is completely incompatible with the West African eco-system - that maybe the habits of living that developed there do not translate well. Maybe running water, electricity and locked doors just shouldn’t be here.

Then again, it could be that JP offended some bush spirit while he was out doing research and now we are CURSED. That seems much more likely.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I am FAMOUS! Possibly, sort of, in a kind of way. A few days ago I got an email along the lines of "Hi. Read your blog and would love to interview you for our website. How about it?"
I was astounded. Now I had actual proof that people I don't know are reading my blog. Crazy.
Still shaking my head, I checked out the site ("Expat Interviews ") and found it to be pretty entertaining. The name pretty much says it all- the site consists of interviews with expats from all over the world. There were quite a few from Europe, but few from Africa. I decided to make my contribution.
They sent me the list of questions and I worked on them for a couple of days. I had a lot to say and it ended up embarassingly long. I edited it. Still too long, but I sent it, along with a picture of myself looking like a sheep badly in need of a good shearing. They had asked for a photo of the author and I didn't cheat and send one from seven years ago (tempting, that). I had Valentine snap a pic of me yesterday morning at 7am. I figured I could use that as an excuse for why I look so bad- who looks great at seven in the morning?
Anyway, do go have a look
It all turned out pretty well.
Where is the long-promised tale of French adventures? Well, I used the time that I WOULD have used to write up our vacation to write the interview answers.
Mallory is much better today.
But Alexa got sent home from school with a bad spell of tachycardia.
"If it's not one thing, it's another", as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

When I picked up the twins after their first day of school yesterday, Mallory came flying down the stairs, full of the big news. There is an ANGLOPHONE girl in her class that speaks hardly any French!! Mallory was assigned to take care of the new arrival. She was telling me how she had had to translate for the girl, show her around the school and just sort of explain the mysteries of the system. I asked where her new class mate had come from and she had no idea. I’d seen a car with Canadian embassy plates near the school, so I hazarded that as a guess. Then I heard a voice chime in slightly American-accented French: “We are from the United States”.
The woman who had spoken turned out to be a newly-arrived Fulbright scholar in Burkina for a year of research. I had just started to chat with her, when Alexa came tearing down the steps, telling me all about her new job taking care of some new American girl….It took a while to sort out, but it seems that Jill the Fulbright scholar has twin daughters: one is in Alexa’s class, the other in Mallory’s. And my twins have been put in charge of her twins.
All last night, my girls could talk of nothing else. They were SO pleased to finally have someone to speak English with at school. I really did TRY to explain that they should actually help Sophie and Ella improve their French….
It got to be bedtime. I read the kids about four chapters of “The Lamplighter”, that infinitely entertaining Victorian novel aimed at the moral improvement of Young Persons. A wretched, unloved orphan girl undergoes many trials and grows up into a fine, virtuous young woman who can paint charming watercolours. The best sentence in the whole book regards the heroine’s little pet kitten that has been thrown into a pot of hot water by the cruel foster mother: “The little animal struggled and writhed for an instant, then died in torture.” They don’t write books like that anymore, I’ll tell you that. And my kids are loving it, the little savages.
Anyway, I got everyone off to sleep and went myself, only to be woken at 3am by a very panicked, feverish Mallory. 102.5 and rising. I dosed her with Motrin and tucked her into my bed, but she was still very restless. She began to cry. “If I am too sick, I can’t go to school tomorrow. What will that girl DO? She won’t be ok. I HAVE to go to school.” She was quite upset, but I assured her that her new friend would get along just fine and she finally went back to sleep.
Morning came and Mallory felt even worse, but she crept out of bed and got dressed. She emerged unsteadily from the bedroom, all ready for school.
“Mallory, you have a huge fever. You have to stay home.”
“No, I can go. I’ll be ok. I have to help my friend with French. She won’t understand anything, otherwise. She’s only been here 10 days”
She didn’t convince me. I made her stay home and took the other kids to school.
In the schoolyard, I saw Mallory’s teacher. I told her Mal was home sick. She, in turn, told me what an extraordinarily good translator and guide Mallory was for the new girl. Apparently, Ella had been very nervous but Mallory had got her calmed down and functioning happily in the classroom.
Just after that, Ella and her mother came up to me, looking for Mallory.
“Well, honey, Mallory is really sick and can’t come to school today.” I explained to the girl.
Ella immediately burst into tears and started sobbing miserably.
So much for “she’ll be just fine”. The poor child was inconsolable.
Alexa got busy, little arranger that she is, inviting Sophie and her sister to our house to play on Thursday. That didn’t work miracles, but the sobbing got somewhat quieter.
I tore out of there like the coward I am and got home to poor Mallory. She spent the rest of the day vomiting and had to have a blood test, two of her least favourite activities.
Mallory asked about Ella
“Fine.” I said. “ She’s fine. You just sleep now.”

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I gave myself a birthday gift yesterday- I DIDN'T open up the PC even once all day. It was a great relief not to have to face it. Is that pathetic, or what? I did get a few other gifts. The children gave me various objects they had made for me out of melted plastic bits. My friend Dana gave me a book:"Twenty-four Italian Songs and Arias of the 17th and 18th Century For Medium High Voice". I have a rather better idea of what to do with this.
Today, I am 41 years old and once again girding the beast in its lair- or rather, in its soft-sided carrying case. Today's mission was to load pics on Photobucket and do a nice blog entry. Things are looking grim on both counts. It takes ten minutes to load one picture. So, I have not made impressive progress downloading all those French vacation souvenirs. And I'm not at all sure this is a "nice" blog entry, or even a faintly interesting one. I really do plan to blog about our stay in France, but the atmosphere around the house is not conducive to organizing thoughts in a coherent manner. School has not yet started for the junior members of the tribe. That means that they and their approximately 3000 little friends are rampaging around this house 24/7, what with the sleepovers and such.
School starts on Tuesday, then I can start to recover from my so-called vacation.....