Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sev is sick. We had the doctor come have a look at him last night. It looks like a throat infection and malaria, with bit of typhoid fever thrown in for good measure. I'll admit, it all sounds dreadful. But that's life in Burkina for you. The common cold is a rare bird. We go in for the exotic around here: meningitis, cholera and the like. But at least the cures are readily available, for the wealthy, at least. So, Sev is on antibiotics and Malarone. He's sleeping right now and hoping to be miraculously cured by tomorrow at noon, when he is scheduled to take off on an overnight New Year's Eve camping trip with a group of friends. The church youth group has been planning this since September, so he really doesn't want to miss it.
In the spirit of optimism, I did start gathing his camping gear today. (As it's a church activity, I figure that God might at least make a little effort in the miracle department) I got out the tents and asked Sev which he wanted. I was quickly informed that there was NO WAY he was taking something as geeky as a TENT on a CAMPING trip. Geez. What was I thinking? Only very uncool people sleep in tents. Cool people sleep under the stars.
And I predict that they will be very cool people, indeed, as the night temperatures here now drop down to below 60°F. That may sound warm to you folks living in temperate climates, but to those of used to tropical climes, that's freezing cold!

Friday, December 28, 2007

I woke up this morning to three goats in the kitchen. When Midnight saw me coming, she shot Aslan a look of pure panic "See!?! I TOLD you this was a BAD idea!! She's HERE!". Then Midnight and Dawn (her similarly skittish kid) scrambled on out of there like they were being pursued by the minions of Satan. But it was just me. And Aslan, at least, knows that I'm not a goat-eating demon. (although I have been known to occassionally chase livestock out of the kitchen with a broom, so he WAS being pretty brave)
Well, he settled right in and had a look around, scouting the area for tasty snacks. He checked out the fridge door for a while, but had to eventually admit that you can't open a refrigerator with hooves. He then moved on to the trash bin as a more likely spot. At this point I had to intervene. "Mallory! Come fetch your goat!" I yelled and she came right along, with her little goat-herding stick in one hand and a bucket of millet in the other. Aslan followed her out, just as sweet as you please.
If anyone out there is filming a remake of that classic tale of the Alpine goat-herding lifestyle "Heidi", I have three likely young goats to propose as cast members and one adorable little blonde girl that would be perfect in the title role!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What did I get for Christmas ? Two bars of scented soap and a calendar. I feel that I am already both prompt and reasonably clean, but maybe I’ve just been kidding myself….Anyway, I’ve had lots of time to puzzle over the question today, as I couldn’t go to work or run any errands. The car (yes, the “new” car) broke down in the middle of Avenue Charles de G. right in the middle of the morning rush hour. The pathetic creature had to be towed to the Garage Seid, where my previous vehicle spent so much of its leisure time. So, my little station wagon and Mr. Seid are spending some quality time together today. How nice for them. For me, not so nice, as I had other plans, including the Bank of Africa, the medical laboratory, video shop, and gym, not to mention a stop at Papiers du Sahel to see how the project is doing over the holiday. Instead, I’m at home, dealing with the kitchen sink- still leaking after two “repair” jobs- and trying to “work” online. Dial-up is just hopeless, isn’t it? I may as well incise my messages on clay tablets and ship them by sea. It would be less frustrating. But perhaps messier. Anyway, I’ve spent hours today trying to catch up on emails and trying to “upgrade” my blog. And I think I broke it. Yes. I broke my blog. My counter is gone , my little flags, etc. They say the original template is saved somewhere, but I can’t, for the life of me, find it. And none of the features work like they promised they would. Which is all par for the course when someone says they are going to “improve” something and make it “easier to use”. It’s never true, is it?

In a way, though, I’m glad I was home this morning. Our young friends Aisha and Mariam came by for a visit, which was very unusual. They know I am typically not around during the day. But, as it happened, I was. The girls told me that their father died this morning. It was quite sudden an unexpected, though he was quite old. They asked if they could leave the two younger children with me today, as their courtyard would be full of visitors. And they thought spending the day around their father’s dead body might be a bit much for the little ones, as well. So, Alima (age 6) and Moussa (8) are here. Mallory just took them out for a walk with Aslan and his little goat cart. Now they’re back, playing on the terrace. Like most young kids, they have hardly realised what has happened. It’s harder right now on Aisha (19) and Mariam (13). Their mother is severely mentally ill and I know that the girls are scared that the landlord is not going to let them keep their little home without a man heading the household. I think Aisha could hold the family together, but this society is still so sexist at base, it might not work out. The elder brother has come in from the village, though, so it’s to be hoped that he’ll be able to figure something out. Though if he comes up with something horrible like : "Aisha should marry some creepy old man", I'll definitely have to do whatever I can to keep her from that fate!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My (only slightly late) Christmas gift to you, to be sung to the tune of “Winter Wonderland”:

In the lane, trash is smokin’
In the house, French is spoken.
A maquis’s a bar.
Can you guess where you are?
You’re walking in a Ouaga Wonderland.

Donkeys bray, are you listenin’?
On your plate, tô is glist’nin’
It’s hot - don’t need coats.
Don’t need reindeer - got goats
Walking in a Ouaga Wonderland

In the street outside the trash is burning
The smoke’s so thick, can Santa find his way?
If he’s lost, we’ll find it quite disturbing
Because we’ll all get zip on Christmas Day.

You can wear tapettes and boubou
To Chrismas shop in Ouagadougou -
There’s just market stalls,
‘Cause we ain’t got malls
Walking in a Ouaga Wonderland.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I recently sent off an email in which I wrote that someone needed another something “ like she needs a hole in the head”- which just goes to show us yet again the dangers of stooping to writing in clichés. The moment I hit “send”, I started thinking “Well, your mouth is a hole in your head, as are your ears and nostrils. Who decided that a ‘hole in the head’ is the benchmark for the ultimate in the unwanted? That doesn’t actually make sense."Thinking about it further, I determined that the expression must really be: “like another hole in the head”, which makes way more sense. Maybe I have mis-heard the expression all these years. I figured that must be it. But a quick glance at yielded the following:

Have neither a need nor a desire for something, as in I needed that extra work like I need a hole in the head. This expression has such ancestors as "As much need of it as he has of the pip [a disease] or of a cough," from John Ray's English Proverbs (1678), and "As much need of it as a toad of a side pocket," from Francis Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785). [Slang; c. 1940]

So, that's it. It's an expression that is commonly used in English, yet makes no sense. I contemplated switching over to saying "like a toad has need of a side pocket". It's very colourful, but seems to be assuming a lot. Maybe toads would actually enjoy having pockets. They could carry around extra dead flies and such. Could be handy.

But today is a day to celebrate, not to obsess of obscure linguistic problems! It is Severin’s 12th birthday! He’ll have a party on Saturday with a few friends. But today we’ll celebrate with just the family. I asked him this morning what he’d like for his birthday lunch.
“Rabbit!” he said, with a wicked grin.
Valentine got right into the spirit of the thing: “Mallory’s are just the right size now! Individual servings! Tasty and tender tiny bunnies! Yum!”
Just then, Mallory walked in the door with her favorite baby bunny in her hands. Snow White is one of the litter of six that was born about two weeks ago. Very adorable, with tiny, fuzzy white ears.
“Hey Mal!” I called out. “Why don’t you pick out a few of the bunnies that you aren’t so fond of and put them in a box? Just leave them in the kitchen. Severin wants rabbit for his birthday lunch.”
She just rolled her eyes at me and walked back out.
JP started expounding on the joys of rabbits as a food source rather than pets and lamenting the fact that it is never served in our home. He then waxed nostalgic over his mom’s homemade terrine de lapin (smooshed-up rabbit meat spread, for all you non-francophones)
Just so you know, there will be none of that in my home. Bunnies are for cuddles, not casseroles.

As for Sev, for lunch he’s getting fries and dead cow, in the form of grilled kebabs.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Valentine just updated her blog yesterday. Check it out if you want her take on the Christmas show last week. She also mentions Friday's party at the US Ambassador's home.
The party was indeed very pleasant. Carols were sung and cookies consumed. I was looking fairly nice, as I had just been to the hair salon that afternoon, erradicating the grey streaks that, while perhaps earned as maternal badges of honor, don't exactly thrill me on the aethetic level. I even had Gaël "style" it, which involves flattening it mercilessly with a spiky brush and hot blowdryer. It is an effect I don't have the patience to get at home, but this guy does a nice job. It turns out all smooth and shiny and stays that way until the next wash, so it was still looking good when I went to church the next day. Now, when I say "it was looking good", you do understand, I am speaking the in relative, rather than the absolute sense. I mean : 'it looked good, compared to how it usually looks'. Imagine my surprise when two of my French friends that were there came up to me and started effusing over my exceptionally non-curly hair. It culminated in Christine saying "You look wonderful! You look like........oh! What's her name?...." I waited for what she would say. I guess I have a blank-slate kind of face, because over the years many various people have claimed that I looked just like a hoard of completely different people: Kim Wilde, Laura on General Hospital, Sharon Stone (got that a lot) and Cher (???), just to name a few.
She continued "You look like.... Paris Hilton!"
'Maybe I look like I ate Paris Hilton' was my immediate thought, which I found hilarious.
But my friends are nice people, unlike me, and would have felt compelled to give me further unreasonable compliments if I had said that out loud, but I thought it was pretty darn funny

Umm... I just made an appointment to get my hair straightened again on Friday. Not that I in any way buy into the idea that it makes me look like I am incredibly wealthy, famous for no good reason and weigh 118 pounds. But still...

Friday, December 14, 2007

The UNDP human development report is out for 2007-08. And that ever-dependable Burkinabé paper L’Evenement gave it front page space, above the fold, with the headline “Human development: Things haven’t improved in our country”. It was a very short article, very to the point. Burkina has moved down in the classifications and is now second from last place.

Here’s a rough translation of some of the article, which is too good to miss: “The reality is that we are LAST place. We have to say “last”, because the only nation we are ahead of is Sierra Leone, a country that has just suffered through a war. Why has Burkina for so many years continued to wear the dunce’s cap? The answer is to be found in the naval-gazing of our leaders, which makes them incapable of seeing any farther than the ends of their noses. The worst of it is that they don’t even accept this bad performance as a reproach to their governance. According to them, the fault all lies with the PNUD evaluation itself, which gives ‘too much weight to factors that are not representative’. Poor Burkina!”

Once again, the folks over at L’Evenement don’t hestitate to speak out against the absurd, incompetent regime here. Life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy, etc are all not keeping pace with increases everywhere else in the world. Burkina’s people are losing ground daily and the government thinks to distract them with the occasional pathetic parade or speech. Bread and circuses anyone? Hey-the average citizen here would LOVE some food and a good show. But the entertainment on offer is frankly sub-par. The parade on the 11th in honor the National Republic Day was mainly an opportunity for the elites to pat themselves on the back. Certainly none of the modest folks that I work with daily knew anything about the supposedly delightful distraction proposed by their loving government. As for those people working downtown, all it did was prevent them from getting to work on time for several days (there were rehearsals for the parade that shut down the center of town for hours a day). And as for the “bread” part of the equation, that would be much appreciated, as hunger and malnutrition are rife here. But there’s no free lunch. Or even a small free snack.

I'd rather write about my scissors being held hostage and other non-controversial drivel, but sometimes I can't restrain myself.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sunday night’s entertainment began with a couple of musical interludes and then segued right into a dramatic re-enactment of the ever-popular Rudolph saga. My twins sported small, festive foam reindeer antlers and pranced around in what they apparently thought was a very reindeer-like fashion. I guess those reindeer really know how to move. Who knew? Anyway, they, along with a couple of supplementary animals (not quite 8, but enough to give a good effect) danced around , while a much smaller boy had been recruited for the title role. Severin took on the part of Santa, complete with a pretty good costume. We had stuffed a pillow under the coat at rehearsal, but it had given a distressingly square form to Santa’s traditional jolly paunch. So, I got out the Xmas pageant costume box and found the oval chunk of foam that annually has served as Saint Mary’s expectant contours. Sev complained, of course. Not only did he have to be in a “humiliating” show with smaller children and perform it in front of all his friends, but now he was a… pregnant Santa! Oh, the shame of it. We all hastened to assure him that on him the foam block was very masculine, muy macho and as testosterone-laden as all-getout. And it was true. Nobody looks at a Santa in full regalia and thinks “Wow. A miracle of reproductive science. How many months along?” We somehow convinced him and , good sport that he is, he threw himself into the role. As the strains of Harry Connick jr played, he smiled genially, encouraging the small freakish deer's self-esteem with kindly gestures and gentle pats on the back. JP filmed it all, but I am unsure how it turned out, as technology is not his friend.
Soon after, Valentine and I sang “Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming”, a lovely old carol. I had asked a friend to come sing the alto part for us, but she came down with a bad cold this week, leaving us with two treble voices. But we dressed it up with a couple of solo bits and got through in good form.

Afterwards there were snacks and “”fellowship. I was worried about this last, as putting JP in a room with a bunch of protestant missionaries is never predictable, as he has no diplomatic skills to speak of. When someone is being an intolerant psychopath, I can just back away gradually and hide behind a shrub until they go away. JP is more likely to drive right in: “So. Intolerant psychopath, are you? How stupid.” He is the least hypocritical person I know, but you have to watch him closely in public. Can be awkward. Luckily, a Swiss friend was there. She’s a missionary, but very open-minded, as the best of them are, and was happy to debate with JP for a while.

The kids had yesterday off school. Most of the country was closed down, in fact, as it was the national holiday of the republic of Burkina Faso. The kids invited some pals over, so there were seven of them to keep busy. I mixed up a mega-batch of salt dough and had them make Christmas ornaments and whathaveyou. Mallory got ambitious and made her own crèche figures. She went heavy on the farm animals. In fact, she made so many that we had trouble stuffing Mary and Joseph into the stable with them.

The rest of the wedding story should appear soon, with any luck. I won't have much time to write today, though. I have to figure out what snacks to serve a group of 30 Christmas carolers due at my house at 6pm tonight. This is not the simple task it would be else where in the world. For example, if I want chocolate chip cookies for the event, I have to go downtown to a special shop, buy chocolate bars, take them home and chop them up. And on the way I'll have to remember to stop at the pharmacy to buy baking soda. They don't sell it in food shops. How's that for strange?


Sunday, December 09, 2007

I thought we could slip out unnoticed. That was my plan. We’d stay for the ceremony and then quietly get into our car and drive off. My plan went the usual way of all plans in Burkina: straight to hell. WAWA, as we say around here. West Africa Wins Again.
The invitation arrived weeks ago, tri-fold cardboard covered with gold script and drawings of rings, doves , bells, flowers, ribbons, and monogrammed flying saucers (as near as I could tell). There were also creepy disembodied hands and a very un-African looking couple in wedding finery occupying the central spot.
The marriage of Djakaridja and Banvin would take place at the City Hall at Bogodogo on December 8 at 4pm. This grand fête was to be presented by the Gnamou, Yao, Ganou, Tome, Lougue, Siripe, Sougue, Gnisse, Mien and Bitie, Damoue, Ivo, Ybia and Boudo families. Each was carefully listed, along with their respective villages of origin and residence. It made for about 20 lines of text. Reading a wedding invitation here requires serious time and commitment.
Frankly, I had other plans for Saturday. I didn’t even know these people. We got invited because JP knows Banvin through his work among the Winyé. But in the interest of marital harmony, I agreed to buy the gift, get dressed up and go to the wedding. I carefully avoided committing to the “lunch” that was being offered afterwards.
Getting ready to go was an epic saga. I had spent my day from 8am to 3pm at a jumble sale, melting in the heat, trying to unload outgrown clothes and toys so as to make room for incoming Xmas gifts. The second I got back home, I was set upon by various people needing money, medical help, or just stopping by to say “Bonjour”. The phone also rang for me constantly. All in all, it was pretty hard to get presentable in the short time allotted. At one point, I thought I was good to go, but JP sent me back, pronouncing my hair to be completely out of control: “en bataille” as they say in French. I finally got it subdued to his satisfaction and we jumped into the car, rushing to make it in time for the ceremony. A few minutes before four o’clock, we pulled up in front of the City Hall of …..Baskuy. Bogodogo is the other one, on the other side of town. Right. We turned around and headed east. We got there about 15 minutes late- far too late to get even a place to stand inside the tiny, crowded room where civil marriages are done. It’s a sad little room, hidden at the back of the building. Meant to hold about 50 persons seated, it invariably is stuffed with over 100, and the overflow crowds around outside the doors to peer inside. Marriages are, by definition, a big affair in Burkina Faso. Not to invite your entire village of origin is unthinkable. Of course, not everyone has the means to travel to Ouaga for a wedding, but it still makes for crowds far in excess of a few dozen people.
Anyway, we were late, too late to even get a good spot outside the door, so we sat in the shade out in the dirt parking lot, attending the wedding at some abstract level.

After the wedding were the photos. Many, many, many photos. A small garden area on the grounds provided the backdrop for every conceivable permutation of wedding picture. I even ended up in one. Next to me is my friend Delphine. She is a small, elegant person with a severe hat fetish. I have known her for about 15 years and over this period her headwear has steadily increased in size. If a strong wind caught one of them, it would snap her neck like a twig. Luckily, it was a calm day and the the picture session went well.
But the fun was only beginning. There was no escaping the “lunch”. JP had his heart set on joining the festivities, which were to be held at a nearby outdoor restaurant. But as we had no idea exactly where it was, we were obliged to be a part of the wedding cortege, a line of cars driving slowly along, lights flashing and horns blaring. We drove and drove and drove, blocking traffic for miles. We putted around for about 20 minutes, finally ending up at the restaurant – which turned out to be about two blocks away from where the marriage had been held.

The reception meal was astonishing and merits its own blog entry, which I hope to find time to write soon. Right now, I’m busy preparing for tonight’s Christmas program in church. Valentine and I are singing a duet and the other three kids are part of a dramatic re-enactment of the Rudolph saga. The twins are reindeer and Sev gets to be Santa. ( He does not, just so you know, have shifty eyes. I made that up.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A not uncommon sight in our home is me, stalking about the place muttering "Where are my scissors? Somebody has kidnapped my scissors!" They are supposed to repose in jar on top of my desk, but somehow never seem to find there way back there after they have been used to create some marvel of "bricolage" by one of the children. Hence, I spend a lot of my time wandering around like a demented old lady looking for her lost cat. "Where could they BE?" I demand querulously....
Then yesterday, all became clear. Well , as clear as it could be , given that some of the spelling was kind of creative. I found this RANSOM note laying on my desk.
It informed me that my scissors are in "captiviti"and if I wanted them back safe and sound, I would need to come up with 100,000 euros by midnight...
I suspect Severin is the culprit. He has shifty eyes. Also, there are bits of cut-up newpaper all over his bedroom floor. Take THAT Sherlock Holmes!