Wednesday, July 26, 2006

We are in France now, installed in a funny old farmhouse in the north, just five kms from Belgium. It's in a tiny farming hamlet called Petit Xivry. The owners of our rental house mostly have milk cows... very friendly and curious (owners and cows, alike). The kids like to go over and see the animals every day. It's convienient, as the back half of the house IS the barn. We distinctly hear mooing as we shower, as they are just one stone wall away.
The farm cat has adopted us. She arrived early the first day and moved right in. We fed her copious amounts of milk as she was hugely pregnant and has a very imperious mew. Wednesday of last week, she made me follow her out to the barn. I watched a lot of "Lassie" reruns as a kid and I KNOW when an animal is demanding to be followed. I just hoped nobody had fallen down a well and need rescuing. That happened in several episodes, I think. Anyway, she indicated that I should follow her in behind the stacked hay bales. But the spider quotient seemed pretty high back in there and I declined. She seemed pretty peeved. But the next day when I woke up, JP told me that the cat had been by early in the morning looking for me. He'd had to open the door and tell her that I wasn't up yet.(JP knows all about inter-species communication, too) When I finally went out at 7am, she came running and brought me over to the barn. I could see that she looked quite a lot thinner, so I braved the spiders and was treated to the sight of six sweet little newborn kittens- "chatons" in the local lingo. The mom cat was quite proud and let me hold them. The twins were delighted by the good news and have been having lots of fun with them.
There's lots of hay, ladybugs and kittens. It is SO not Africa nd I am loving it.

What else? Alexa has been to the hospital twice for some check ups. The first Monday we were here, we drove her up to Thionville to see a specialist about her tonsils. We waited over half an hour past our appointment time, but the visit went fast once we got into the examination room.. Alexa laid down, Dr. Klink had a look in her throat and said "Good grief! Have you SEEN her tonsils?"
"Yes" I replied. Impressive, aren't they?"
Alexa sat up and Dr. Klink declared that the tonsils MUST go ASAP. Unfortunately, in the public health sector, "as soon as possible" dosn't mean all that soon. Her operation is scheduled for August 16. She'll be in hospital for two nights, as she is a "difficult" case, due her her heart condition.
Looks like we won't be going to Brittany...we'll be back up here for the last weeks of our vacation.

My camera is malfunctioning, so I have no pics to share. Maybe check out We visited the Fort de Fermont and it was pretty amazing.

I am hoping that I will have better internet access in the Haute Savoie. We leave on Saturday and by Sunday will be in our old house in the Alps.
More soon, I hope!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Winyé Baptism for the Twins-----
I am STILL miserably packing, but not non-stop. I have had to go to the bank, pay bills, balance books and clear up things over at the paper and soap projects. I am SO looking forward to getting on that plane!
But I DO rather feel like posting something, so here’s some interesting stuff taken out of some of my e-mails in January. That was when we went out to one of the villages where JP does ethnographic fieldwork. Why? Well, that’s actually a very interesting question…read on.
BTW- Alexa is drinking dolo (millet beer) in the picture. She kind of likes it.

Taken from an email to Art on Jan. 30, 2006:
“On the 28 of this month, we will be out in one of JP's villages near Boromo. The diviners say that Alexa's health problems are linked to the fact that she is a twin and has not got a proper relationship with the hill spirits and they are unhappy. So, we are going to take the twins to Siby for a little ceremony. Some chickens will have to die.
They ( the twins, not the doomed chickens) will also receive bracelets that they will have to wear until they are grownup.
Let us hope they are attractive bracelets…….”

From subsequent email sent to some friends and family:
“We were only gone overnight, but it seemed like AGES! Guess time flies when you're having fun and we weren't having any. So time dragged on a bit.
Actually, the ceremony was a traditional "baptism" for the twins. The diviners say that Alexa has health problems because we never did this. She's the older twin, by their estimation, so the brunt of it falls on her. Most peoples here believe that the younger twin is born first, as he/she has been SENT OUT by the elder twin in order to verify that it is safe “outside”. Once the junior twin has given the “all clear”, the elder emerges. That’s why they believe the younger twin is born first.
Anyway, the hill fairies were especially mad that we didn't do it in a timely fashion, as the twins were born in the mountains of France and so are spiritually linked..
So, Saturday afternoon we drove out to Boromo. First, we had to smear honey on the tires so that fairies would not cause us to have an accident. The twins were concerned that the honey would stick the tires to the ground and we wouldn't be able to take off. Anyway, the fairies did not give us a hard time and we got to JP's little house in Boromo. He rents a place there to stay while he does field work. It's pretty basic, but there is electricity and running water. (Yipeee!) We had to wake up at 5 am the next day, buy fresh millet beer, two chickens and two guinea fowl and then be out at the village by 6 or so.
We were in place, goods in hand, by6:30, but they weren't ready. So we waited. And waited. Then waited some more. I had a nap in the truck. Finally at 9:30 they were ready to get on with it. We had to go into the's a tiny room full of REALLY strange stuff- pretty much crazy witch-doctor territory. I did manage to get one photo but it’s not very good. Mostly, I filmed with JP's video camera for research purposes. It's a private ceremony, so unless you have twins yourself, you'll probably never see it done. So, I filmed all the chanting, etc. Then Alexa had to grab one of the chicken by the legs and hand it over to the earth priest to be sacrificed. She was not thrilled, but did it. The twins hid their eyes in my lap during the actual killing and sprinkling of blood on the shrine. Then Mal had to hand over a chicken. Then Al handed over a guinea fowl, and Mallory did the same. (All poultry participants were eaten later by the villagers, with great relish). Then we got to leave the shrine for a little rest while they prepared the livers of the deceased fowl for sacrifice. (They have to be cooked). So, we hung out outside some more. A little girl took the twins down to the marketplace to have a look around and buy cakes, but the twins were so astonished by the huge audience they gathered that they turned back before they got there.
So we waited.
The livers were ready. We went back in and they were divided up and spread around.
Then back out again to wait while they mixed up our leftover honey with shea butter. We had to go back in and the earth priest spit the mixture all over the shrine! The girls and I were really...uh.....surprised. It was just darn good he didn't spit it on the girls! I would have got them out of there but fast!! We had to drink some of the mixture, too. It was nasty to taste, but would make a good skin cream.
Anyway, we went out again. The meal was served. The bowl of stewed chicken had the feet on top, as though it were an attractive garnish. The girls didn't eat any, as you may have guessed.
Finally, the priest presented them with their bronze bracelets and they got new names: Alexa is now Bwé (Rock) and Mallory is Kabou (River). The bracelets have a spiral design to represent turtles.

So, that’s today’s story. I thought a last good look at Africa was in order, as BurkinaMom in Africa is moving on to France tomorrow!!!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Why have I not been blogging away faithfully? Because I'M going to FRANCE and you're NOT. Nyah, nyah, nyah and general jeering in your direction. Well, I guess you COULD be going to France on holiday, but the probability is pretty low. I wish you were, though. It's fabulous. I know I've already blogged at length about the terrors of French, but France itself is so lovely- my favorite place on Earth and I've been around a bit.
We are leaving on Friday for six weeks. Packing is a nightmare, as you may imagine. Air France recently doubled the baggage allowance, which has made it all worse. Just the sheer volume of 240 kg of baggage is scary. (That's 528 lbs for all you non-metric folks.) Pre-upgrade, I had to just pack the minimum and it just barely fit. Now the lure of 240 kg of cargo has led me, umbrellas, extra's positively decadent and a heck of a lot of work. It's pretty much a full-time job packing it all up and getting the house battened down against the dust. Anything we leave out in our home will be wrecked unless it's put away ot covered up. No window or door can keep that Saharan dust from creeping in. You are obliged to dust once a day here, if not twice. Everything gets covered by fine orange grit. I won't miss that while I'm in France! Lovely, green France.
I will try to get to an internet café once a week or so and blog a bit during the holiday.
The picture I've posted today is from a little trip that JP and I took Sunday. A little French town near JP's natal village is funding several projects in a very poor village to the east of Ouaga. We drove for an hour and a half over very bad roads. (I got carsick, which I never do, normally). We visited the sewing workshop that has been set up with old machines from France. Sadly, many of them are so old that nobody can find any parts to repair them. So several of the machines are unusable and the students don't get to sew much during the classes, as they must take turns. It would have been wiser to buy simple pedal-operated machines here that are easy to fix. But nobody asked the advice of the "beneficiaries". Typical African aid project.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Our neighbor Tony is a SAHD and cineaste manqué. He makes the best home movies ever. They are in direct contrast to any home film ever attempted by me. He actually edits them (good idea, that), splices in bits of other movies, adds on soundtrack music and does all the special effects….quite impressive. His films are very entertaining to sit through, which cannot be said of most folks’ home films. He’s also done a great short film of the Winyé mask festival. I like Winyé drumming, don’t get me wrong- but I find that the mask dancing is only improved by the addition of James Brown.
Anyway, Tony has applied his crazy Australian sense of humor to our Christmas holiday in Ghana. He and his wife Kirstin came over last night with little Zoe and we all watched it together.
The story is: our two families went down for a 10 day vacation in December. We went on Antrak Air, the Ghanian national line. It was the only plane I have ever been on that actually had cockroaches. Well, maybe I have been on roach infested planes before and didn’t know it… but these were numerous and bold. They waved their antennae at me in an insolent manner and then demanded that the air hostess bring them drinks. They were out of control. For some reason, Tony left out the roaches and also the part where Zoe (his sweet, small daughter) vomited continuously in the minivan for four hours. But he got lots of beach footage and it’s interesting how he put it together. I can be seen dutifully smearing 4000 spf sunblock onto all four of my kids. Then Tony cuts to JP yawning and scratching his head as he lounges in a beach chair. Then you see me tirelessly pulling the kids out into the surf on boogie boards. Cut to JP looking even sleepier. Then again Beth, industriously helping the kids build an enormous sandcastle. This all finally culminates in a great shot of JP deeply asleep, mouth gaping open.
As a stay-at-home-dad, Tony seems more attuned than the average male is to the division of labor in family life. Sadly, he is less than attuned to the fact that someone with thighs like mine would probably just rather NOT be included in the “Fun at the Beach” video.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Party Animals...But What Species, Precisely?

Possibly guinea pigs or maybe turtles. Something very calm, at any rate. Not that is was precisely boring- but Tuesday is really not a party night, especially with the Germany-Italy match on and us with no TV.
People were kind enough to say that the decor was lovely and the food was good. But a few more guests would have been welcome. We had about 8 no-shows (due to illness, the aforementioned World Cup soccer, etc) so that put us at 12 adult guests. As a result, we will be eating leftover hummus for several days.
Actually, the whole thing went off much better than I expected. Everyone came on time, ate the exotic fare with signs of enthusiasm and didn’t seem petrified with boredom. All the classic signs of a successful fête.
The real coup came today, however. JP arrived home from work just now and told me that his Burkinabé co-workers were complimenting the very fine music played last night. How could a “nassara” (white chick) possibly know all that great African music? , they all wanted to know. I feel that my coolness quotient has expanded by at LEAST a factor of 10. a very un-looked for development. I had thought that avoiding humiliation was the most to be hoped for.
A few selections you might find as an mp3 or in a shop in the US;
“Aisha” Khaled
“Dhol Track” Sahara
“Laisse Parler les Gens” Jocelyne Labylle
“Le Malin” Le Pouvoir

Monday, July 03, 2006

If I never post again in this blog, it's not because I lost interest. It will be because I have perished in a raging fire in my home. A few nights ago, there was yet another incident. I was going to bed and for some reason decided to have a look in my office before heading off to the other side of the house. I was greeted by the acrid smell of melting plastic. I threw open the window and had a look around. The power cord of my Mac was melted and smoking. The computer wasn't even on!
I am running on battery power now. I hope I can get a new cord here.

We are having a party here tomorow night for JP's co-workers and interns. He hasn't been here to plan it, as he is currently off doing research. Sadly, I am crap at grown-up parties. Give me thirty 7 year olds and I can work it. But adults? If only they would be satisfied with Pass the Parcel and all-you-can-eat candy.