Friday, December 29, 2006

A Ouaga newpaper called « L’Evenement » just published the list of all the convicts that broke out of prison on December 20. 537 names, along with date of birth and the names of their parents. I guess that’s a good way to help track them down, but it seems kind of hard on the poor parents! Their various crimes are also reported: plenty of robbery, murder and rape, with the occasional woman accused of excision/FGM. L’Evenement is one of the few papers here that is writing about what happened last week. They also have reported that their journalists have been harassed and had their cameras broken by the police when they tried to investigate the damage at the MACO prison and at the CRS camps. One female journalist was beaten. Where’s Reporters Without Borders when you need them?

Why did the army break open the prison that night? I’ve had a few people write and ask. (Hi Lyn and Andy!) Here’s the situation, as far as I understand it: Blaise (the president of Burkina) fears his own military. The only way he will ever leave power is through a coup and the military is the only force with any hope of pulling one off. And Blaise knows just what he’s up against. He came into power in the country’s bloodiest coup ever. And winning hasn’t improved him. Human rights organisations have recorded the highest ever number of political assassinations, hit squads and "disappearances" under his regime; one study puts the number of assassinations at about twenty.
Luckily, amazingly, and wonderfully, the Burkinabé are very mellow people. Even though their government treats them so very badly, they are in no rush for some kind of crazy upheaval. But still, certain military leaders do become popular with their troops and the possibility always raises its head: will this be the man to lead them against Blaise? I met one of the top candidates a couple of years ago. I was at friend’s house (all names changed or omitted, just to be safe) and there was a guy there lounging around eating peanuts. His suit was nice and he had a very small cell phone, but he still had the general air of one of the many slackers and hangers-ons that are always over at M’s place. After we left, JP told me that the fellow was General L. He was hugely popular and rumor said that he could lead a coup against Blaise any time he wished, but the Winyé are” too lazy”. - General L didn’t want the hassle. So they (mostly the Mossi) say. At least he managed to stay out of jail (Some of his supporters were not so lucky, though) Others suspected of being popular, but known to be more ambitious, have been thrown into prison, along with their supporters. It was a group of these accused coup organizers that the soldiers hoped to release from the MACO. They didn’t manage it. A large part of the general population escaped, but not the political detainees.

I don't usually get so polical in my blog. I don't want to get emails from wierdos and writing on politics is the best way to have that happen. There is also the off chance that Blaise has the media monitored here and one day the guys in black Land Cruisers come and take me away for a nice visit with the Presidential Guard. They do have a certain rep for that kind of thing....

Oh, BTW! To the wierdo that has already written to me: I am a heartless neo-colonialist gawking at the misfortune of others. I just wanted you to know that. Now go away.

Jeez. I hope I don't have to lock down my blog. I have "met" some very cool people that have stumbled fortuitously onto my musings. We shall see.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I finally have my computer back! At least for a few minutes. I'll have to write fast. On the rare occasions that I am at home with a moment to spare for blogging, there always seems to be one of the kids playing Zoo Tycoon, Roller Coaster Tycoon, or another new acquisition. These games are pretty fascinating. I make it a point to check them out, so I know what my kids are doing. ( BTW: did you know that in Zoo Tycoon you can make a Tyranosaur enclosure, then break down the gate and let the dinosaurs lose to eat all the zoo patrons? This works best if you block off all the exits.)

Our Christmas was good. Calm. No guns firing. But I did have to make food for nearly 20 people. Which, incidentally, did make me want to shoot myself at certain points. Luckily, Valentine was a great help and we managed a Christmas feast, American Style, for several of our Burkinabé friends. They weren’t quite sure what to make of the stuffing, but the turkey went down very well, as did the various pies and cakes.

Right now I am working lots for Papiers. The new workshop is nearly built and we’ll be moving soon. I’ve also been preparing samples and a catalogue for a big exposition in Los Angeles! I am really excited that Papiers has been invited. Too bad that we don’t get to go along with our paper samples! But it’s a VAO manager that makes the trip and takes the orders.

Today at Papiers, one of our newest big clients passed by. She’s a French jewlery maker that spends a lot of her time in Africa getting materials. She told me she needed to pick up her latest order a few weeks ahead of schedule (?!!) because she is catching a plane out a month earlier than planned! It seems that she was completely traumatised by the events of last week and doesn’t want to be in Burkina any longer. She was quite shocked at how suddenly life went from normality to terror. “I am an artist. I go by my feelings. And my feelings about all of this are very, very bad. I feel like anything could happen here.” She added that she plans to never return to Burkina. And I thought I was a Drama Queen. Geez.
Her reaction was very, errrr... extreme. Even when the fighting was bad on last Wednesday night, I never thought of calling Air France for reservations. I find that daily life in Burkina has such an ambiance of goodwill and peace that any variation from this can only seem temporary. (Now just watch them stage a bloody coup d’etat and make me eat my words while packing our suitcases.)

My main indulgence these days is to watch a few episodes of "LOST" every night! Yes, a local video club now has the first two seasons for rent! I am enjoying it, despite it’s obvious flaws. It’s amazing how all the crash survivors happen to be exceptionally attractive people between the ages of 20 and 27. They also manage to stay astoundingly well groomed considering that they spend months sleeping outdoors on the beach among the wreckage of a downed jumbo jet. And I can't imagine how they propose to eventually tie the "plot" together.....

Friday, December 22, 2006

Things here are quite calm. As I wrote to a friend earlier today: “you can unbate your breath now”.
Yesterday the curfew went into effect and the city shut down. The first things to close were all the gas stations, so lots of people got stuck without a means of transport. And a taxi ride that normally cost 30 cents cost $1.60, a huge price for the average Burkinabé that lives on a dollar or day.
But the curfew was lifted early this morning and the gas stations reopened. So, I went out on my day’s errands. My first stop was out in the shanty town at the east end of Ouaga. I visited my friend Yvonne there. I mentioned her a bit before in this post. She is a parapelegic widow with three small children. She is a really interesting person and amazingly cheerful in the face of her very difficult life. I stopped by to bring her a few things for Christmas. Last Christmas, all she could give her son as a gift was a bottle of orange soda. Kevin was really happy, as that’s a special treat to him. But when you think about the shower of gifts so many wealthier children get……..Anyway, thanks go out to my father and my pal Barb for their contributions. I was able to give Yvonne some fabric, a few toys for the children, some money and a bag of candy. I also had a sack of rice for them. Seven year old Kevin got the biggest smile on his face. It still amazes me to see a child get so happy about a bag of rice. It brings home so clearly how well they know what it is to be hungry.
In asked Yvonne how things had been in her neighbourhood during the attacks. She said that they hadn’t heard a thing, as they are so far from any police station or public building. But many of the escaped prisoners came to the area, hoping to hide and steal from easy marks. As the homes are just flimsy huts and there are no electric lights, the population is very vulnerable to crime. Yvonne was very worried, as she is alone, can’t walk and has young children. If you are the praying type , please pray for her and especially her younger son (just 1 year old), Jacob, who is ill. If you don’t pray, just send generic positive vibes. Can’t hurt.
Then I went to the VAO to check on things and then on to the Papiers workshop. Business taken care of, I went downtown. I got some food shopping done without the place being evacuated, so that was a nice change of pace!! But the normal food shipments have been delayed, so the shelves were pretty empty and many things are scarce. There's not much in the way of dairy products around, for example. I did manage to get some butter and sour cream, which was quite a coup.
But we still have a problem here in Ouaga. All the police have gone into hiding. I did not see a single cop the whole time I was out. What I did see (and feel, unfortunately) was huge traffic jams. And even worse, there is also that problem of those 600 prisoners lose on the streets. The word is out to be on the alert, as crime is exploding. Many motor bikes have been stolen and houses robbed, as my friend Yvonne mentioned. It hasn't been too bad here in the Zone du Bois, though. I guess it's harder to steal from rich folks that have cement walls, guardians and
electric lights in the street. The criminals prefer to steal the cooking pots and meager pagnes of the poor, as it’s less risky.

Just about an hour ago, I heard a series of loud bangs and ran out of the house with my heart pounding. “They started again??!!” I thought to myself. I listened and the sound repeated. Fireworks. Who on earth wants fireworks now?? I would have thought we were all fed up with explosions by now. I heard enough to last me a lifetime. I guess I have a mini-post traumatic stress thingy. Loud noises make me very jumpy today..... I am NOT looking forward to New Years’ Eve this year, when the Burkinabé love to light firecrackers. Luckily, they are too poor to afford many!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The gunfire died down this morning and after a couple hours of quiet, I went out to have a look. I drove over to the prison to see what the damage was. The main gate was broken, but everything seemed quite calm. I didn't quite dare drive over to the CRS camp. I'm not that imprudent and/or curious.
As everything seemed "business as usual", I decided to go into town and run some errands. I could see that the Bank of Africa was closed. And several other businesses hadn't opened. I continued right over to Marina Market to buy a few groceries. But as I tried to enter, they started evacuating the store. All those shoppers eager to part with their francs cfa had to leave, pronto. The guards doing the directing and prodding told me that things were heating up again near the downtown police station.
I got home and started preparing for Severin’s birthday party. Not the ideal day, admittedly, but the invitations went out a week ago. Unfortunately, the location was specified as the Rec Center and the place has just been closed down until after Christmas. (Last night Severin’s pal Samuel called and asked ” Since there’s a war, is Severin’s birthday cancelled?) No, not cancelled, but the venue changed. I called everyone and told them to come to our house. Only half dared venture out. Then, at 3:30, a curfew was announced. Beginning at 4pm all persons needed to be off the streets until tomorrow morning…..So, I had to call parents to come and get their kids before the curfew trapped them all at our place. It was a sort of abbreviated celebration.
Here’s the latest from the Embassy, from before the curfew:
U.S. Embassy - Ouagadougou
December 21, 2006 - 3pm
Due to the security situation in Ouagadougou, Americans in the city
should continue to remain indoors and avoid all unnecessary travel.
Although some areas of Ouagadougou appear to be calm at the moment,
there is concern that the conflict could flare up again, particularly
after nightfall.
According to reports from private sources and local authorities, the
conflict between the local police and the military has not yet been
resolved. Reports indicate at least four of Ouagadougou's eight police
commissariats were attacked last night and that approximately 600
prisoners were released from a jail in the Zone du Bois area of
Ouagadougou. At the present time, the airport is continuing to operate;
however, we have received reports that some stores and gas stations in
Ouagadougou have closed for the day.
U.S. citizens should carry a copy of the bio-data (picture) page of
their passport with them at all times, as local authorities have
increased identification checks within town. In the past, persons
holding no form of identification have been held in jail overnight.

We are all fine. No more gunfire to report. Those 600 prisoners have a little worried, though. Zone du Bois is OUR neighborhood!
Finally some news about the goings on here. It's not entirely accurate and the English is a little strange...
The intense fighting stopped around 11 pm last night. And it was just then that the US Embassy “sprung into action” somewhat after the fact, ordering me to call my citizens’ list and tell them to “stay indoors”. Gee, thanks for telling us.
There was sporadic gunfire at least until I fell asleep at midnight. Before I went to bed, I checked on our guardians. They were moving their chairs inside the courtyard, in violation of normal guardian procedure. Looked like a good idea to me
This morning at six we awoke to more shooting. After a particularly nasty bout of machine gun fire, JP turned on the radio to RFI to see if the story was in the news yet. There was a story “Calm has returned to Ouagadugou”, it began.
“Wow. Calm is so much noisier than I remember.” I commented to JP.
…..H is on the phone now to Isseuf. Their family is ok. The CRS camp is on fire, though. It seems that all the police stations in Ouaga were attacked last night….

Now I have the explanation for why the fighting seemed so nearby last night. The MACO (the national prison of Burkina) was attacked by military forces and 200 prisoners were freed. The back wall of the MACO is about a five minute walk from our house. No wonder the shots sounded so close.
The military is greatly feared by the president of Burkina, as a military coup is the only way he will ever leave office. Periodically, he shoves a bunch of officers into prison, accusing them of planning to overthrow him. Last night’s attack on the Maco was almost certainly aimed at freeing some of these political prisoners.

The electricity is off. And it seems impossible to get online. The phones are still working, so far.

In the midst of this chaos, I am somewhat busy patting myself on the back. I am in possession of no less than two turkeys (already dead and cleaned) and 30 eggs (The eggs are a big deal - very hard to get here. Weeks go by when you can’t buy any eggs at all!) I also have a good supply of flour, oil, pasta, sugar and other basics. Not to mention all the US cake mixes and frosting sent by my Dad in Nebraska. We WILL have Christmas dinner, even if we can’t leave the house! I just hope the power comes back so I don’t have to cook up both of those turkeys today.

I guess I won’t have to go work at the VAO or the exposition at the hotel
The latter is being held by the Lion’s Club at one of the smart hotels downtown, the Independance. Papiers was selected as a featured artisan and we managed to sell quite a bit over the last two days. But I doubt that “last minute Christmas shopping” counts as “necessary travel” for most people. I expect that shoppers will stay home today.

Our guardian says that there were people running by on our street all night. I guess old Moussa must have got up his courage in the night and peeked over the gate out into the road. . He thinks they were escaped prisoners.

I am going to try again to get online, post this and look for better news sources.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

You know those serious blogs? The ones that actually give you useful or interesting information? Well, this is generally not one of them. But today I DO have some breaking news that is nowhere to be seen on the Web yet. There’s crazy stuff going on here and nothing at all about it even on radio news. The schools have all been closed and everyone is waiting to see what is going to happen next. I don’t have lots of info, but here’s the basics: Last night a member of the CRS (the Burkinabe riot police) and a soldier got into an altercation and the “militaire” was killed. The two groups hate each other and this was just the excuse needed for their feud to escalate. This morning, a group of soldiers murdered a police officer in retaliation……No rioting has been reported, but there are big groups of pissed off, armed soldiers and riot police stomping around the middle of town, hating on each other. Sounds like a good place to steer clear of. The French Embassy has warned it’s citizens to keep a low profile (eg. stay home). Strangely enough, no word from the US Embassy. I’m a warden and I am supposed to get notice of this kind of thing so I can contact all the citizens on my list….
I will probably venture out, despite warnings to the contrary. I have Papiers stuff to take care of. If I see anything interesting, I’ll be sure and post again today. If I get hit by a stray bullet, Ill get JP to post for me.
On a happier note, today is Severin’s 11th birthday! His grandparents sent him a Star Wars Lego set that must have cost over $100 and have over four billion pieces. He’ll probably have it assembled in less than an hour.

......Ok, here I am, back again seven hours later. This is really NOT even mildly amusing anymore. AT all.
I couldn't get online to post my blog before, so I headed out downtown. I didn't see anything unusual. I was lucky. Shooting started up again late this afternoon, not far from the US Embassy. They had to evacuate the Rec Center.
Email that I just received from the US Embassy:
The Embassy of the United States of America would like to alert U.S.
citizens in Burkina Faso to avoid downtown Ouagadougou in the vicinity
of the Central Police Station due to an ongoing conflict between the
police and contingents of the armed forces. Although details and the
origin of the conflict are still unclear, gunfire in the vicinity of the
Central Police station was reported around 11 or 11:30 a.m. today,
December 19 2006. The situation is currently under control, but there
could be the potential for more violence.

We just heard three low, loud explosions. Mortar fire. JP called a Burkinabe friend that lives near the riot police headquarters. Isseuf says the police are under attack from military forces concealed in a park across from the camp.
The gun shots are getting louder and closer right now. We are really worried for Isseuf and his wife and kids. They live about 50 meters away from the police camp.

It is REALLY getting bad now. LOTS of machine gun fire. It's pretty near. The CRS camp is less than a mile from our house. I am a tad bit worried for us now.

JP has heard that the President isn't going to step in and stop this. The risk of it turning into a coup d'etat is too great.

There is SO much shooting going on. Unless they are really bad shots, there are going to be a lot of dead and injured.

NOTHING on the local news now. Nothing.

The gunfire is almost constant now.

The kids are pretty calm. Except Mallory is getting a little scared.
JP is trying to explain it all. Who can explain one group of people wanting to kill another group? There's no explanation.

What a Christmas this will be. Peace on Earth?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I think the « worst » is over. Not that I’ve been miserable the last week or so. Far from it. I’ve been very busy, but it’s been fun, in a strange, tiring way. My days since I last blogged have mostly been filled up by work at the VAO. I’ve been working there nearly every day from 8 until 3. Then I rush home to do all the computer stuff for the project: print labels and bills and keep up with the emails. My own computer stuff ( most notably: the writing of blog entries) kind of fell by the wayside. Actually, some people find it’s amazing that I blog at all. When I casually mentioned to friends in the USA that I have a dial-up connection here at home, they found it oddly quaint. “Wow, Beth!” they exclaimed. “We did not know you were Amish, shunning all modern conveniences. Do you card wool in your spare time?”
I admit that it does take about five minutes to open a single web page, but on the upside, it does give me lots of time to read while I wait.

There were also extra singing rehearsals in the evenings, not to mention the hoemwork to supervise and the dinner to get on the table.
I did take last Wednesday off from the VAO, though. The French Embassy closed the kids’ school, as it was the anniversary of the murder of Norbert Zongo and they feared demonstrations in the center of town. I remember when we arrived here in 1999, that December 13 was the one year anniversary of the event. It was chaos for weeks here- mobs were burning cars in the streets and public services, like water and electricity were cut off for days at a time. By New Years’ Day I was ready to leave the country, or at least to buy a gas-powered generator. Things calmed down by the summer, but heated up again the following December. The government here has learned to be cautious. Their first line of defence is to start the University holiday before the 13th.- that way the students are dispersed back to their home villages and protests are less likely to start. It seems to have worked, things were very quiet this year- just a few, rather quiet gatherings.
I used my free Wednesday with the kids to make Christmas cookies with them and a few of their friends. We also went to pick up two new family member: baby guinea pigs. Mallory’s is called “Bubbles” and Alexa’s “Patches”, aka “Albert”. They squeak a lot, as guinea pigs are prone to do. Their arrival has brought lots of opportunities for me to gross-out the kids with stories of how I was constantly served those small, noisy creatures as a main course at meals when I worked in Peru years ago. Not that I ate any, mind you.
What else? There was Christmas carolling at the US Ambassador’s residence on Friday night. Later that night, my small (only 8 people!!) choral group gave a small concert for family and friends.
Yesterday, our church held an early “Noël” mass, as so many members travel during the holidays. Then we went out to diner at the Verdoyant with friends.
I am fighting off a dreadful cold since about one week. I think I am loosing, as it is segueing into an uncomfortable cough.
Today, I am NOT working at the VAO!! I got down the box of Christmas dress-up close and the kids and their friends put on a very entertaining re-enactment of the Nativity. My camera conked out at the beginning, so I only have one, not very good, picture that Blogger won't even let me publish. Sorry. At least there was no fight over who got to be Mary, as might happen in other households. Luckily, Mallory always wants to be the animal in any pretend play the kids do. If there’s no animal in the story, they add one for Mallory. (Recently overheard: “And the secret agents have a rabbit, ok Mal? And she has x-ray vision and can bite people!” ) So, Mallory latched right onto the coveted donkey role. She sported unusually small ears. Maybe a result of that genetic engineering that we are always hearing about?
The nativity play went pretty well until Valentine, dressed as a shepherd, ran off with the Christ Child in her arms, yelling “And THEN Baby Jesus was kidnapped by an ambitious, unscrupulous shepherd who wanted to get his hands on the treasure of the Three Kings! Hand over the Myrrh or the baby gets it!!” Screaming bloody murder, the Angel, Joseph, Mary, King and the Donkey chased the Evil Shepherd into my office where I was TRYING to write this. No wonder I never get anything done.
That’s it. I need to go make chocolate mint pinwheel cookies and get ready for another church service this afternoon. We’re going to the Christmas worship being held by several missionary families. The kids aren’t too pleased to go to church again this weekend, but I promised them that the music and snacks will be excellent, so they are going without too much protest.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Severin was on the phone last night when I got home from teaching Catechism. "Can Samuel sleep over tomorrow?" "Yes! Wonderful" I replied with alacrity. This was the fist sign of a school friend since the year began. Severin is somewhat of a loner. Not the gun-in-the-belltower kind (I think!!!!), but more of a reading/contemplating/creating kind of guy. And I think he finds it hard to fit in with other boys at school. And he's certainly influenced by the presence of no less than three sisters....
Samuel, a little French boy, came over yesterday. I stress the "little" - he's Severin's age, but comes up to about mid-bicep on Severin heightwise. They had dinner, worked on their school project and then decided to watch a dvd. "Let's watch "Star Wars!!! Severin put on the disk and asked his guest: "So, which princess do you like better: Padmé or Leia?"
Samuel's face took on the blankest expression I have ever seen on a human face.
"Huh?" (subtext: what the HECK are you talking about?)
"Which princess? Anakin's wife or Luke's sister?"
"Who?" Samuel said coldly. Any colder and he could have given the Titanic a hard knock and drowned Leonardo Dicaprio.
No! I wanted to shout to Severin, Just LET IT GO !
"You know, in the movies." he continued. "I like Padmé"
"Whatever. Are you going to play it, or what?"
Severin gets along much better with his few American friends. They are all missionary kids, very sweet and polite. Even if they might be suprised to be asked which princess they like, they could at least summon a coherent answer.

Seen shopping: A plastic sack full of balloons and party hats. All the writing on it was in Chinese, except for the main label, which read: "Mao's Party Fun Pack". Wow! Nothing says "fun" like the name "Mao"! What a clever marketing strategy. My kids have a Playstation 2 game called "Dance Dance Revolution". Why shouldn't there be Mao Zedong's "Great Proletarian Cultural Cultural Revolution" ? For a Great Leap Forward, just press X and export all your food.

We're selling at the VAO!! December IS magic! The tour buses are coming through daily. Dazed, dusty people stumble out of the big white behemoths, ready for precisely 1.5 hours of "shopping: local crafts". Then, it's back on the bus and on to Niger, or Ghana, or wherever. I do feel sorry for them. The Americans seem to suffer the most from the language barrier. If you don't speak any French, West Africa can be tough, even with a tour guide.