Monday, April 23, 2007

I just stumbled onto this out there on the internet. It's an unauthorized version of me, pasted together out of bits and pieces of myself that I've left scattered around the web. I found it a tad creepy at first. It was definitely unexpected. But then I thought "Hey! This person likes me enough to spend time tracking me down, cutting and pasting. I have a! And as I live in an obscure African nation, there is only a very slim chance that this person will fly here, break into my home and rearrange my underclothing drawer. So, there is no downside, as far as I can see. Cool !"
So, go have a look around the site. There's only one page of Burkinamom, the rest is collected bits and pieces from elsewhere in the world. Some of it is quite interesting.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Daytime temperatures here are consistantly 104°F or above, but the early mornings are still somewhat cool. It would seem to be a nice time to go out on the terrace and enjoy a coffee before the day starts. Unfortunately, it's hard to find a good place to sit. Goaty seems to have decided that the table is a cosy spot to spend his mornings. Great minds think alike, I guess.
As I don't relish having my breakfast in such close proximity to Mallory's pet, I move further down the terrace to another seat, only to find:
Nowhere is safe.

And then there's these guys:
They are often napping in the middle of the living room, so you have to be alert and nimble to avoid a tragic accident. There's actually seven of them total: Crystal, Lucky, Bronwen, Darwin, and three others that have not yet displayed enough personality to earn a name.
Lucky got his name by being found drowned in his mum's water dish. Mallory rescued and, amazingly, recussitated him. Thankfully, it did not involve mouth to mouth. She rubbed him with a towel and he began to breathe again. It took him a while to recover, but he seems quite well now.

And now for something completely different: I have some friends here that have an amazing non-profit org devoted to opening libraries in villages. These libraries mean the world to the people in these villages, who often have no access to books at all. This is a great project!
Read the blog here!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Now (finally!) a change from mildly amusing anecdotes about my strange home life. Unfortunately, this is all about death. Here's another excerpt from my favorite local newspaper.

Meningitis Epidemic : Getting rich off the misery of the Burkinabé people.

By Ramata Soré from “L’Evenement” April 10, 2007

“What’s happening with meningitis? There seems to be a general feeling of powerlessness that condemns us to die in silence, because we can do almost nothing. The vaccines are very expensive and almost impossible to find. Even if we had the money, there aren’t enough laboratories making the vaccines quickly enough to help us. We here are more vulnerable to meningitis than to HIV/AIDS. Why? Because in the latter pandemic, even though it’s not curable, we know how to avoid it and how to live as long as possible with the illness. There is none of this for meningitis. Every year, without fail, meningitis kills thousands of us. We cannot prevent and often cannot even treat it. There are questions of money and knowledge involved….But there are also criminal elements in this story that we must find the courage to confront. We have discovered a hideous illegal business built upon vaccines. It is completely unacceptable, but tragically very common.”

The article goes on to cite several major problems:
The proper storage of vaccines: The article claims that vaccines are often stored at incorrect temperatures. Specifically- the “chain of cold” is being broken, often multiple times. So, the potency of the vaccines used is questionable. Why isn’t it kept cold? In part ignorance and in part due to item number two:

2) The Bidding Mafia: The need for refrigerators, appropriate vaccine transport containers, etc has led to a big business, not much of it aboveboard. The contracts don’t go to the lowest bidder. The representative of one company that bid and lost claims: “We offered the exact same items for 50 million cfa (100, 000 dollars US) less than the winning bid. It’s not right.”
And once the contract is granted, lots of the material paid for and much needed never shows up. In one case, 15 electric generators were sent, instead of 25. These are desperately needed in the rural areas that have no way to power fridges for vaccines.

3) Underestimating the problem: “One source, close to an internatonal health organisation, believes that the official figures for meningitis in Burkina are seriously off-target. Our source says that in the 11th week of the epidemic, there were already 200, 000 cases, rather than the 10, 796 claimed by the government. With a mortality rate of 20%, that means about 4000 deaths attributable to meningitis, rather than the official figure of 801.”

4) Lack of medical training: “The government claims that all health structures in country have personnel that are qualified to diagnose and treat meningitis. Nevertheless, the reality is that there are serious problems. Many healthcare personnel can’t recognise meningitis. It’s often the case that sick people have to return several times to the clinic, insisting that they have a serious problem. Sadly, many people here die because the symptoms of malaria and meningitis are often confused. This has been documented by us at several clinics in Ouagadougou The situation in rural areas can only be worse.

5) Improper use of vaccines: Vaccination campaigns have been going on since March, but no records are being kept. This means that some people are getting vaccinated every year. The meningitis vaccines are meant to be administered only every three years. It’s both dangerous to health and wasteful not to keep immunization records. Considering that the vaccines are in such short supply, it is particularly terrible to waste them.

6) Stolen Vaccines: “In 2003, 1000 doses of vaccine “disappeared from a Health Ministry cold room in Ouaga. A manager in charge of vaccines (Etienne Kyendrégeogo) was found to be at the origin of the theft. He and his accomplices still work at the Ministry. Some of them boast that they have even been promoted, despite their wrongdoing.

The fact that these people have gone unpunished has prompted others to imitate them. Double books are kept and the “surplus” vaccines are sold for a profit. In one district, the manager took 26, 000 doses and sold them for a profit of 3,900, 000 cfa (about 8,000 $ US). This is not uncommon. The PEV (which manages vaccines in Burkina) has no internal monitoring and misconduct is not punished.

Right now, someone who is responsible for stealing
millions from the vaccination effort is a top employee at an International health organisation.”

And I just received this in my inbox a minute ago:

U.S. Embassy, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Warden Message

April 19, 2006
The U.S. Embassy is issuing this Warden Message to alert you to the meningitis in
Burkina Faso. As you may already know, this year's cyclical meningitis outbreak
has been particularly severe. According to the Ministry of Health of the
Government of Burkina Faso, as of April 4, there already have been 19,549
cases of meningitis, 1,337 of which have resulted in death. These totals
significantly exceed those of the last major outbreak in 1996. The World Heath
Organization estimates that an average of 4,000 new cases of meningitis and 200
related deaths will occur weekly until the end of the forecast epidemic in late May.
American Citizens should confirm that their meningitis A, C, Y, and W135
inoculations are up to date. Further information on meningitis can be found on
the World Health Organization site:

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I have a friend here that has no children, but she claims that she loves to hear about mine “Your kids are a riot!” she says. “There’s always some crazy thing going on over at your house!” And I am proud to say that it’s true.
They are a pretty creative, funny bunch. And their tendencies have only been enhanced by living in Africa and not being very exposed to modern media. We do have a TV, but it’s only for dvds and videos. And their viewing is limited to the weekends and then just for a couple of hours. As a result, my children don’t depend much on outside entertainment. But on the other hand, it can leave certain gaps in their knowledge. Severin, for example, has seen “Spy Kids”, but hasn’t seen James Bond, or anything of that type. So, he ran into trouble recently while playing some elaborate game with his two good American pals.

The boys ran across the living room, Severin shouting “ The enemy has been…..fertilized!”
His friends just looked at him, nonplussed.

Valentine helpfully whispered from the corner where she was reading, Neutralized, Severin. It's Neutralized”.

I felt kind of bad. Maybe I should let him watch Rambo, or something….

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

At last! The picture of the historic meeting between Goaty and my long-suffering kitty.
And here is a portrait of the little stinker. He does have a cute little face.....

Anyway, as you can see, I finally got JP's camera figured out. Mine is, sadly, officially dead. But at least I can use his until I can get to the US this summer and get another one.
BTW- pics of the goat wedding should be available soon - whenever my pal G. gets a chance to burn a disk for me.

The wedding on Sunday was everything a person could ask for in terms of a goat wedding. The girls had rigged up a veil for Midnight out of some white fabric, a pink plastic flower and a pipe cleaner. There were two holes for her horns.
Goaty sported a ribbon around his neck and had been recently bathed. Not that it helped in the aroma department. But he looked pretty sharp, for a goat.
Alexa, dressed in her nicest gown, walked down the garden path, scattering bougainvilia petals. Mallory was Goaty’s “best man”. Their friend S. was the presiding religious official. S’s sister was in charge of the bride, who was intent on eating the cushions on the garden lounge chairs and showed little interest in marching down the aisle. We tried coaxing her with dried peanut leaves, to no avail. I finally grabbed her . My friend Gina, the photographer for the event, said something about forced marriages in West Africa. “Ha ha!” I said, wrestling the goat up to the altar.
Our Goaty was very thrilled by his intended bride. You know how at some weddings you get 'tears of joy'? Well, we got the 'urine of happiness', which did somewhat take away from the decorum of the event. It resulted in four nine year old girls running around saying “EWW! GR--OSS!” for several minutes while a bucket of water was fetched and all was made clean again.
The witnesses all signed the register and then we went inside to enjoy the wedding cake. Yes, I made a goat wedding cake. It had pink icing, sprinkles and two small plastic goats graced the top of it. I quite fancy myself the Martha Stewart of Burkina Faso, minus the financial shenanigans and stint in prison, of course.
After the goats enjoyed their snack of grass in the garden, the girls put them on leashes and took them for a walk around the neighbourhood. Mallory later reported that during the outing, Goaty had seemed to like Midnight and was showing a certain enthusiasm for his conjugal duties. But Midnight was not interested at all.
I figure she wants to concentrate on her career before starting a family.

But soon after the honeymoon, Midnight was whisked away in the back of a car. Goaty is once more alone, with just the chickens, cats, turtles, guinea pigs and rabbits to bear him company. Not to mention Mallory, who almost constantly reeks of billygoat these days In church on Easter Sunday, she looked like an angel, but smelled more like her beloved pet. I asked her if anyone at her school has remarked on her new eau de parfum à la chevre. She claims that nobody has said a word.

Just now Mallory came in and asked me, “Mom? Have you ever heard of a house goat? Like, living inside? With people?”

“Umm…no. Why?”

“No reason. Just asking.”


Sunday, April 08, 2007

At 7am this Easter morning, I woke to the sound of Mallory’s urgent whisper : « Severin ! Severin! What’s a ….’Peep’???”
I heard his sleepy, patient reply: “It’s a small marshmallow candy, typically in the shape of a chick or bunny. Can I sleep now?”
The Easter Bunny passed by this morning, with help from my parents in the US, so there were a few exotic candies unknown to my younger kids. Mallory wasn't sure if Peeps were a food or brightly colored plastic toys. The candies were just left out on the dining room table, as we did all of our egg hunting yesterday at a US Embassy sponsored event. I had thought about opting out, as last year’s egg hunt had been decidedly miserable. The candies melted in the scorching heat, there was no coffee and the drinking water ran out early on. Imagine 40 young kids that have been eating jelly beans in 44°C heat with no water and tremble, my friends. I finally decided to risk going again this year, but wisely brought my own water supply, plus I had a coffee before I left home. And I was completely justified in my distrust. The only thing that saved them running out of water again this time was the cooler temperature. And there was no coffee. Because of the US Congress. It goes like this: The Congress slashes the State Department budget. The State Department takes it out of the Embassy operating budgets. The Embassy then gets a budget cut of 30% and has to figure out where to cut corners. The first things to get hit are the salaries of the local Burkinabé employees and the amenities of the little community events the Embassy hosts. Hence, no coffee and little water. Thanks Congress.

The good news? The mango rain came on Thursday, none too soon. For the week leading up to it, Ouaga had been suffering the most terrible dust storms ever. A yellow fog of grit covered the city, reducing visibility to just a couple of blocks, sometimes even less. It was very unpleasant. Even Goaty got sick. He was coughing. Have you ever heard a goat cough? Very disturbing. Also, he had a runny nose, which the twins lovingly kept clean with the better part of a box of Kleenex. That was also pretty strange. He’s better now, though. Which is good, as Goaty is getting married today. Yes, the twins found him a bride: Miss Midnight. She is dainty, with a glossy coat and she smells like a veritable rose. My girls were having such a good time with Goaty, that their friends’ mom was inspired to get her girls a goat as well, but she had the wisdom to opt for a female. So, as soon as Alexa has finished her homework, I have to drive over to pick up the stench-free Midnight and her lucky, lucky owners. The girls have been planning the wedding for a week. Once again, I am very, very sorry that my camera doesn’t work.

Last night, I drove to church with the car packed full. Ten people, plus hotdish casseroles for the supper afterwards. Severin’s two best friends were with us. I heard Daniel ask Valentine how old she is. “13, going on 14” she said.
Severin burst into song:
You are thirteen going on fourteen
Baby, it's time to think
Better beware, be canny and careful
Baby, you're on the brink
”, he sang in a very nice tenor.
He even knew the second verse!
You are thirteen going on fourteen
Fellows will fall in line
Eager young lads and rogues and cads
Will offer you food and wine”

His friends just looked at him tolerantly. I was just grateful that they are both sweet MK’s (missionary kids, for those of you who don’t know the expat lingo). More typical 11 year old boys would no doubt be harsh on a pal that bursts into show tunes at the slightest provocation.

On the bright side, maybe we can get him to sing "One Hand, One Heart" from 'West Side Story' for the upcoming goat wedding.

Monday, April 02, 2007

I just got home from my second trip over to the school already today. I had dropped off the kids just before 7:30, but then had to rush home and grab Severin’s school bag, which languished, forgotten, under the coffee table.
When I got out of the car after my frantic to-ing and fro-ing,, there was Goaty to greet me. Now, he and I haven’t really spent any quality time together. The reasons are as follows: A). He reeks like a giant, terrifying, slightly rancid goat cheese, and B) I don’t want anybody getting the mistaken impression that this goat is my responsibility. Feeding him peanut plant leaves, washing him with lemon-scented soap and telling him he’s adorable are all strictly Mallory’s burden to bear. So, as he followed me up on to the terrace, I didn’t really pay him too much attention…..until he came over and started rubbing his little head against my knee and raising up a tiny, supplicating hoof. He was really just like a dog wanting to be petted. So, I sat down, patted him and, ahem, told him how adorable he is. He gets lonely, poor thing, without Mallory around. The chickens he shares his cage with are pretty good company, it seems, but not soul-mates.
Now , all this was observed by my cat, tail switching and little kitty brow furrowed. She wasn’t pleased. And she was even less pleased when Goaty came over to see her. “I’m cute! Pet me!” he seemed to be saying, sticking his face right down into hers. She hissed and snarled something that sounded remarkably like “ The hell I will, goat-boy.” Goaty retreated to the back of the house and I went inside to get JP’s camera. I thought he had taken it on his trip, but I discovered yesterday that he’d left it here at home. So, I figured I’d try to use it to get a picture of our newest pet. I went to the back yard and sweet-talked the goat, trying to coax him to look at me for a photo. The cat came to investigate, looking very pissed off that I was speaking to the reeking, ill-mannered pest in the same tone of voice I use to talk to her. Poor Goaty, clueless as he is, caught none of the nuances and ambled over, sure that the cat had changed her mind about petting him. She hadn’t.
The thing is, I got a picture of their second encounter. Which is amazing, as I invariably miss “the moment” when I am trying to take pics. But, sadly, I cannot find any cables that can hook up my computer to his camera, or any other way of downloading the pics. I’ll be able to get them eventually…in about two more weeks.