Wednesday, January 31, 2007

82. Can you believe it? This is my 82nd post on this blog. I'm amazed that I'm still here and still manage to find something to write about. Admittedly, maybe the Happy Donald Hamburger House is not the most exciting subject, but there has been the occational rocketfire to make up for it.
Today was payday at the paper project. The women are in charge of all the money now, so I was just there pasting together bookmarks and lending psychological support. The cash was handed out as each woman stepped forward. But at the end, the President had one more woman to pay and was 10,000 cfa short. The money had just been counted fifteen minutes before, so the hunt began. We all hunted under the tables and behind the shelves. Finally, each woman came and showed the money she had been given. Amazingly, the mystery was solved. Mariam had gotten 40, 000 istead of 30,000 cfa. Two bills had been tightly stuck together and she hadn't noticed. We're lucky she's so honest!
That taken care of, we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was a very short sigh. Eugenie, the president, couldn't find her money. She rumaged in her purse, then we all started a re-enactment of the search we had just undertaken a few minutes before. We'd been looking for about half an hour when I opened a notebook that had been sitting in front of me. I paged through it and found the money. I handed it over to Eugenie, saying "It wasn't me! I swear!" which the women all thought was very funny.
All the excitement certainly has me thinking that payday is going to have to be a little more organized in the future.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I found this site on pal's blog and I just wasted at least half an hour on stupid (but fun!) quizes. Below, for example, is my true personality revealed. Consider yourselves warned.

Your Geek Profile:

SciFi Geekiness: Highest
Academic Geekiness: High
Gamer Geekiness: Moderate
Movie Geekiness: Moderate
Music Geekiness: Moderate
Fashion Geekiness: Low
Geekiness in Love: None
General Geekiness: None
Internet Geekiness: None

Give it a try.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'll call this entry : "Spoiled Expat Brats in Ouaga". Too bad they're mine. sigh.
We went out to dinner last night. It wasn't as easy as it sounds. The electricity was out in many areas of Ouaga last night. Our first choice restaurant, a crepe place owned by some friends, turned out to be in a dark zone, so we drove on. The girls clamoured for Chinese, but as I know Severin hates it, I suggested we try a new restaurant. I'd noticed a new "American-style" place in the center of town. It was called "Happy Donald Hamburger House. What's not to like? For some reason, though,the twins were not having any of it.
As we drove up, the clamour edged toward riot level. But as the other four people in the family were looking forward to a cheeseburger, and I don't give in to tantrums, we stayed the course.
The tables were all outside and a monster-screen tv was showing a popular soccer match. We ordered. Everyone but the twins. Alexa threatened to throw herself in front of oncoming traffic, so that her death would make me sorry, sorry, sorry that I ever made her come to such a place. I finally threatened them with a week of no Nintendo DS. Mallory glared at me and crossed her arms. "Donald may be happy, but I'm not happy." she grumbled.
Things settled down. The food came after about an hour. Fast food just isn't very speedy around here. But it was actually really very good. The best hamburger I've had in Ouagadougou. Ever. And the twins ate their hotdogs and french fries (crinkle cut!!) with enthusiasm.
Yesterday, you saw that I'm a bad mom. Today, we have evidence that I've got bad kids. I guess it all balances out.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

As has been previously documented in this blog. I am a far from an ideal parent. I even edge over towards being frankly bad. Latest example: Valentine’s vaccines aren’t up to date. At our latest doctor visit (just a check-up), the medecin waved the Carnet de Santé at me and said that she should have had a booster over a year ago. Ooops. Big oops, even. In a country where polio is at high risk of reappearing, it’s nothing to get lax about.
So, the great treasure hunt began. Finding vaccines here is no simple matter. The most basic childhood vaccines are often not available for months at a time. The drug companies have a lot to answer for. I hunted all over the city and no DT Coq Polio shot was to be found. I snatched up the last DT Coq (diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough) at a pharmacy in the center of town. But it lacked the polio vaccine.
I took Valentine to the nurse at the health center, so she could have the stuff injected.
The nurse suggested that we track down some oral polio vaccine. We tried at the Burkinabé national health unit downtown where they give yellow fever shots for a dollar. No luck. They said to try the Dispensaire Urbain, one of the national health clinics downtown.
It took a bit of searching, but we eventually found the group of low, crumbling cement buildings. It was very crowded, of course. The government health services aren’t free, but they cost much less than at private clinics. Valentine and I wandered for a while and ended up behind one of the buildings, where a young woman was scrubbing out a huge cooking pot. I guess we looked just as clueless as we felt, as she abandoned her dirty pot for a moment and kindly led us around front to the main door of the pharmacy in a large hallway. There were four other doors, all with long lines of people waiting to consult a nurse or doctor. The pharmacy line was short, but there seemed to be a problem. A slight young woman with long braids was pounding on the door.
“Sylvie!! Sylvie!! I know you’re in there! Open up!”
She pounded some more. Then she opened up her cell phone and had a go at that. No answer. Then she started pounding and shouting again.
Valentine and I watched the show and speculated. Who was Sylvie? Why would she lock herself in the pharmacy? Her pal pounding on the door sounded mad enough to kill her. “I don’t think I’d open the door until that mad girl gave up and left” observed Valentine wisely.
Then, a Person in Authority arrived. You could tell by the markers of power: A hefty physique, a huge pale-colored boubou in stiff, shiny, crackling bazin and plenty of gold jewelry. She sized up the situation and asked “Are you sure she’s in there?”
“Yes” the girl in blue answered ferociously. “She’s turned off her phone and locked the door, but I KNOW she’s in there! And nobody else has a key!” It was 4:30 and the pharmacy had been closed since lunch.
The boss-lady took the young woman outside and they walked across to another building.
I turned to Valentine and said “Enough fun. Time to investigate.” I’d been reading Lord Peter Wimsey stories lately and was feeling inspired. We went outside and turned right. A little farther on was a window, partially open. Using my razor-sharp detecting skills, I figured out that had to be the pharmacy. We strolled over and had a look. We could easily see in.
“Well, unless Sylvie is crouched under the desk in the corner, I’d say she’s not in there”, said Valentine. And she was right. The room was quite bare. Just one desk and some shelves. No rogue pharmacist was barricaded within.
As is too often the case in Burkina, the shelves in the pharmacy were very empty. There were just a few sad, scattered boxes. No sign of a refrigerator for storing vaccines. We turned towards the front gate and started walking to the car.
Life here is many things, but never boring.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I said "yes" when I should have said "no", which is how trouble always begins, right?
I normally systematically turn down updates for my anti-virus, browser, etc, because nothing downloads right. Dial-up in Burkina Faso just ain't All That, is what I'm saying. But when the pop-up read" new verion of Internet Explorer", some inner demon prompted me to press "accept". Which resulted in distaster. It blocked my computer so I couldn't get onto the internet! Much weeping, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments and other traditional activities associated with misery ensued. Then I took my laptop to the guys at Liptinfor and confessed my sin. They kept it for four days and I was kind of angry. And when I showed up on Monday, they had unblocked it, but hadn't installed Firefox or a new antivirus. Which made me even more cross. I guess I was in an evil mood as a result of internet-deprivation. And I heartily regretted my snappishness, as the kind-hearted tech quickly installed the two programs, cleared up a few more problems and then refused to take any payment. "It's no big deal" he said. "Enjoy". I tried to press a few bills on him, "to buy a Coke after work", as we say over here. But he refused. A random act of kindness if I ever saw one.

Here's the short version: I"m back.

Valentine FINALLY posted again to her blog. Check it out at

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Here’s some good news, for a change : though tensions are still running high in Ouaga, the roads have all been open the last two days and heavily armed soldiers have been less in evidence.
Things are going great at the VAO. The tourists seem to love Papiers stuff and are snapping it up. The project women are working hard to get organized and keep up with the heavy demand.

On the home front: During the hot, humid period of October and November, Mallory got used to the soothing hum of the window air-con in her room at night. When December hit, I wanted to keep it off at night, but she protested so vigorously that I took the path of least resistance, turning it on to “fan”, so she’d have the noise, but not the blasts of cold air. But in this “glacial” month of January, I decided that enough was enough. Electricity here costs the earth and any savings would be much welcomed (Related item: our health insurance premium has just been raised by 27%) So, I told Mal: No more air-con fan. She cried. I held firm. She cried some more. Lots more. JP was all for giving in. He’s such a softy. He cannot bear to see one of his kids in tears. I, on the other hand, have a heart of stone, or at least very sturdy plastic.
I put the girls to bed, Mallory still crying. After about 20 minutes, she quieted down. When I peeked in, there were the twins together in Mallory’s bed. Mallory’s eyes were peacefully closed. Alexa was gently fanning her with a Chinese folding fan, while softly humming, trying to sound as much as possible like and air-con unit. That’s true sisterly love, folks.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

All the news, none of it good
First of all, Alizeta’s court case against the people that killed her daughter has been thrown out. (See my post from Sept 12 if you don't already know the story) From what I understand, it is mainly because the family did not have their own autopsy performed immediately. This seems suspicious to me. I figure that the legal authorities have been paid off by the so-called “respectable” people that killed Safie. Thank about it - no Burkinabé family of modest means would think of having an autopsy done, and how would they pay for it, anyway? Certainly, staggering under the shock of Safie’s sudden death , that wasn’t what occurred to her family.
I offered to help look into the case (not like I could do anything, but I felt I had to offer). Alizeta graciously refused, saying that she just needs to let the matter drop, as even if she won, it wouldn’t bring her daughter back to life.

One of the other women I work with, Cecile , had adorable twin girls just seven months ago. She called them Olivia and Olivie. Olivie just died in the hospital yesterday. It happened quite suddenly, so I wasn't able to go. When I presented my condolences, Cecile thanked me. She said that she was grateful for the Paper project that allowed her to earn enough money to take her sick child to the hospital. I was stunned. She told me that it made her feel better that she knew she had done all she could, that she hadn't been forced to sit at home with a dying baby, lacking money to pay for medicines or doctors. It took all I had not to cry. What grace, to absorb that loss and then go on the thank somebody for helping you earn money to pay for the medical care that was ultimately useless. The fact is, the hospitals here are not good and many people die here that would easily be saved in Europe or North America. It’s one of the least bearable things about living here.

All is not so calm in Ouaga. It seems that the Burkinabé soldiers are still very, very unhappy campers. As I picked up the kids at noon from school, the center of town was a maze. Many of the main streets were blocked off by armed soldiers. Tensions are running high again, it seems. They have left off demanding revenge for their slain comrades. They’ve moved on to internal conflict: the problem now seems to center on the discontent of the lowest-ranked soldiers. The officers live in luxurious villas (often two or three!) while the common soldiers are barely paid. In fact, their families have to come fetch a rice allotment at the camp every day, as the soldiers are not paid enough to buy basic foods. So, I’d say they have a legit gripe or two. Let’s just hope they don’t get out the machine guns and rocket launchers again.
JP just drove back downtown to go to work. He promised to keep an eye out and buy a copy of “l’Evenement”, which comes out on Wednesdays. Maybe I can get some more news. The US Embassy hasn’t sent out a warning yet, but as we all know, that doesn’t mean much. They don’t warn you until the bullets start flying. Or, conversely, they panic people for nothing. On the day of Hussein’s execution, they sent out a warning. I guess they don’t live in the same Burkina as the rest of us. In my Burkina, there is no anti-American Muslim sentiment. At all. It’s just a non-event. The Burkinabé are completely live and let live. Animist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or all of them at once, it’s not a biggie. The risk of being a target of Crazed Muslim hatred here is about as great as that of seing Blaise Compaoré in the local karaoké bar singing "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", wearing only a red satin g-string. Which brings us to:

The final bad news. The guest of honor slated to appear at FESPACO 2007 was James Brown. He's not going to make it, is what I've gathered off CNN. And now who is Blaise going to find at the last minute to replace the Godfather of Soul? FESPACO begins Feb 24!! Send me your suggestions! Maybe we can help out, here!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

We ended up having dinner with our friends who just got back from Timbuktu. They said it was a long, beautiful drive and had the pictures to prove it. They reported the town itself to be underwhelming. Small and filthy pretty much summed it up, though there is an interesting document restoration project going on at the Library there. The highlight of the trip was a camel trek north of Timbuktu ending in a camp-out in a very huge, posh tent. Their worst moment came as they left the town of Dori in northern Burkina and tried to drive down to Niamey, Niger. What was marked as a road on their map turned out to be a faint dirt track. They got rather lost and stops at the few, scattered villages were useless. No one in these places spoke any French. They spent about three hours driving in circles until random chance put them on the right track. As the track got closer to the Niger border, it was even paved. Sort of. G. took a photo of the road at the Burkina/ Niger divide. The Burkina pavement is grey, potholed and chewed away at the edges as if by giant guinea pigs. The Niger side, in stark contrast, is wide and pristine, even boasting bright white paint markings. Niger is actualy poorer than Burkina. Burkina is fourth from last, while Niger this year was number 177 out of 177. I guess that means they get more outside aid when it comes to infrastructure, because it sure LOOKS richer than Burkina.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

There’s a special promotion going on at the veterinary clinic near our home. (Yes, there are lots of vets here. So many people keep livestock at home that it’s a good business) A banner three feet high reads: “Protect your family: Vaccinate your dog – cat – monkey”. You just don’t see signs like that back in Nebraska or in the Haute Savoie.

Also seen on the Boulevard Charles de G.: A little wooden stand painted bright blue. It looks just like the typical place where people grill and sell beef kebabs. But this one is even more specialized. The sign on it is a list about four feet high. It reads: “Beef tongue, stomach, intestines, kidneys, testicles”. oh. yum. And get this: the first four delicacies are written in black paint, but “testicles” is in white, to sort of highlight it. Like it’s a special treat, or something.

The new ad campaign for the national lottery (LONAB) is on the streets now. The slogan is: “Another Life is Possible”. Implying that your life sucks so bad that if you win the lottery, you had just better ditch the whole thing and start over. Whatever. It’s not like you can win enough to start over as Donald Trump. Or even Donald’s housekeeper. Over the holiday season, the big LONAB campaign bragged that there was “10 Millions à Gagner!”. Well, 10 million here is about 20, 000 US dollars. And that wasn’t even a Grand Prize for one person- it was the TOTAL to be shared out in smaller prizes. Even in Burkina you can’t buy a WHOLE new life with a fraction of 20, 000 bucks. You could somewhat improve the one you have, but heck - you wouldn’t even be able to afford to buy a car. Nobody’s going to be climbing into the lap of luxury with a boost from the LONAB, even with a winning ticket

JP should be back from the bush today. He’s been out near Boromo doing fieldwork. We’re having quiche and tomato soup for lunch in his honor. (When he’s working out there, he lives on spaghetti and rice.) For dessert we’ll have a “Galette des Rois”. It’s Epiphany today (celebrating the visit of the Three Wise Men). In France, you mark the event with a special cake that is typically made with almond paste filling. Hidden in the filling is a small ceramic token- often in the shape of a king, or some other figure from the Nativity. You divide up the cake so it is shared between everyone present. Then you eat, cautiously. Don’t want to break a tooth. The person that finds the fêve in their portion is the “king” and gets to wear a gilt paper crown. There is usually a second crown so that the sovereign can choose a consort. It’s very politically charged, as you can imagine. You have to keep an eye on things so the kids don’t come to blows over who gets picked. Sad, how religion can lead to violence.

Some pals of ours just got back last night from a big trip to Niger and Mali. They were even up at Timbuktu. If they have any good stories to tell, I’ll faithfully report them here tomorrow. .

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year! It was a quiet celebration around here. Lots of people stayed home on the 31st, as the security situation is still not the best. The police are still not back in full force. In fact they are using the Gendarmes to direct traffic in the city.
On January 1st, we did go out in the afternoon, paying a visit to some old friends. M. is a big wheel in the Assemblé Generale (the Burkinabé equivalent of the Senate). His terrace was teeming with various local politicians downing impressive quantities of whiskey and very nice French champagne. Much nicer champagne than WE had at Christmas, I assure you. So, I took advantage and our hostess, D., regaled me with the story of how they experienced the pre-holiday CRS/Army clash. D and a friend had driven toward the center of town to join their husbands at a wine tasting, but then turned back when they saw soldiers “armed to the teeth” stopping cars and harassing drivers. Back at home, she phoned M., who told her to come anyway. “It’s nothing”, he assured her. She set out again and did get stopped this time. When the soldiers inspected her ID papers, I guess they saw she was someone not to mess with, but were not happy about it. They threw her papers at her and told her to move on. As soon as she and her friend reached the meeting place, they all left again for home. They got back with no major problems, but during the night the fighting was close to the home of the French couple. They got a round fired through the wall of their living room.
I found it interesting that M., as someone high-up in government circles, got no info or warning about what was going on. At least the US Embassy eventually got around to issuing a warning to citizens.

What I saw yesterday:
The guardian at the front gate of the ORSTOM (where JP works), wearing a crocheted scarf wrapped around his head like a turban. Multicolored. It looked like a Home Ec project gone very, very bad.
Our guardian, Salfo, bundled up in a long down jacket, with a ski hat pulled down nearly over his eyes.
Our other guardian, old Moussa, wearing something over his hands. “Are those mittens?!” I whispered to JP. No, they were socks. A pair of men's brown dress socks.
Next: A baby bundled onto his mom’s back in a bright red and purple cloth . The child was dressed in a pink winter coverall like I used to put on my kids during the snowy winters in the French Alps.
Everybody here is talking about the freezing weather! Yes, it’s Winter in Ouagadougou. The temperatures are below 90° F every day and plunge down to 60° at night. I guess you become accustomed to heat eventually, but even after seven and a half years here, I don’t find 84° “cold”. I am actually finding it very nice and wish it was like this all year long! I could do without the pervasive dust, though. The skies are a permanent yellow-grey haze. Out of curiosity, I googled to see what the world had to say about Ouaga’s weather. The BBC reports that visibility in Ouaga is “excellent”. I guess it is if you think visibility of about one city block is good.

Valentine has one more week to finish her art project for school: a patchwork quilt in the shape of a country. It’s about halfway done. I don’t know how people that don’t have a sewing machine at home are managing. I guess they have to take it to a tailor and have it sewn. Which sort of detracts from the learning aspect. I can’t imagine they mean for the kids to make them all by hand. That would take so long that they wouldn’t have time to do their other homework. Uh oh. I just overheard Valentine showing her quilt to Severin and his pal Daniel. “Umm….. It’s a chicken?” Danel ventured. It’s supposed to be the United States. I better go see if I can help her to get it looking less animal and more continental..