Saturday, June 30, 2007

I feel like I'm on the deck of the starship Enterprise. My mom's nice Dell PC is charging up Valentine's new Nano as I'm blogging and checking emails on her even nicer Mac. To my left, my laptop is busy doing all the downloading/upgrading that I never get to do in Africa. As I switch back and forth between the three machines, I get a very Uhura vibe, minus the mini skirt, of course.

Vacation. What can I say? The kids are having a great time- playing with my parents's dog, eating fast food, shopping, rolling in the uber-green grass, going to movies, etc.
We went to the Farmers' Market this morning for sweetcorn and other good stuff. There was someone there selling goatcheese and Mallory got a bit lonely for Aslan, her precious goatling. But mostly she is more than satisfied by the splendors of Bridget, my folks' Wheaten terrier.

Alexa has just dicovered the Beatles. She came up to me, headphones hanging down "I am the eggman'?? What's that all about? " she asked, completely mystified. Alas, I could not tell her.
"What do you think it means?" I cleverly asked.
"That he's weird?"

Friday, June 29, 2007

I can't believe we made it! Here I am, typing a blog entry on my mom's Mac. As I am so unused to USA-style keyboards, it's a real hunt-and-peck fiesta of frustration, but that is more than made up for by the sheer speed of the connection. My blog page loads in two seconds instead of five minutes. What a concept!
Our trip here was quite interesting. When we boarded in Burkina, security was good but not over the top. They open bags and wave the wand and on you go. Paris was another matter. They were in full pat-down mode. Not a sort of desultory, symbolic tap about the ribs and ankles, but a top to botttom touchy-feely that was frankly not nice. As I stood in line and watched a nice elderly lady get 'the treatment' I thought: 'The terrorists won. Thanks George. We are all doomed." I guess I knew that already, but this really drove it home.
At least they weren't subjecting the children to it, thank God for small favors.
Anyway, we flew from Ouaga to Niamey and then sat on the runway there for two and a half hours, waiting for lightening storms to abate.
Then on to Paris, where we rode their delightful little shuttle buses around and around and around. We left about an hour late and were worried about our connection in Detroit. There are only a couple of flights per week between Detroit and Lincoln. But the security in Detroit, despite being strict, went really, really quickly. They processed a huge amount of people in a fraction of the time it took in Paris. They were saving time by not feeling people up, which was nice.
But the connection ended up being a non-issue. Thunderstorms kept us on the ground and the flight left late. We easily amused ourselves visiting the airport shops and being amazed by all the stuff. We bought a People magazine (Special Wedding Edition) and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. God Bless America!
Now here we are, in the Heartland of America. (I wonder which state is the Bileductland of America? They sure keep quiet about it.)

More soon, hopefully with pictures!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Not like I have a lot of spare time these days, but I somehow recently found myself sitting on the terrace leafing through a collection of old (« classic » as they term it these days. Nothing is just old anymore) Doonesbury cartoons. I vaguely remember reading the strip back in the 1970’s and finally understanding about 30% of the humor by the end of the decade.
This time around, it struck a nerve, as you could just replace the word “Vietnam” with Iraq and have a completely 21st century twist on all the black humor.

What also struck me was the house plants. Yeah, Zonker and his talking plants. What a 70’s thing. In the 1960’s, plants grew outside. The yard was their natural habitat and they pretty much stayed there. With the notable exception of Christmas, when you got to kill a tree, drag it indoors to give off that delicious piney fragrance and create a major fire hazard that could turn your joyous holiday home into a tragic inferno. But I digress.

I distinctly remember that until 1970, I grew up in an entirely houseplant-free home. Then, suddenly, everybody was lugging big pots of dirt into their living rooms. You’d have ferns and possibly philodendrons. These were the aspidistra of the era. They'd sit in a place of honor. A wrought iron plant stand was considered nice, but the style benchmark was, of course, the macramé plant hanger. For those of you young enough and lucky enough to have missed that whole macramé thing, think knotted rope and wooden beads. The macramé aspect is logical, of course, as the entire houseplant movement was a complete hippie conspiracy. They were known as very dirt-oriented persons. Woodstock was not talked about for decades afterwards because of the clean restrooms and excellent shower facilities. So, it was definitely the hippie movement that was behind the “lets bring large quantities of dirt into our homes” concept.

I am an adult now and have my very own houseplant-free home. The idea of having containers of dirt sitting around in my clean house is distinctly disturbing. My attitude towards this issue is no doubt somewhat influenced by an incident from the spring of 1978, when my junior high Spanish teacher invited the class over to her home for dinner. I went into the bathroom to wash my hands pre-paella, and was confronted by one million (possibly more, I didn’t count) tiny baby crickets bursting out of the dirt around the “attractive” houseplant sitting on the vanity. Since that night, I have hated both crickets and houseplants. And I’m not all that keen on paella, either.


I don’t know why I wrote all that. I should be packing, for pete’s sake.
I guess it’s been festering. All these years, I have been wondering: What’s the deal with houseplants? The 70’s are over. Throw the damn things out, people. They’re just havens for bacteria and cricket eggs. Ish.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Maybe some of you have been concerned that the long blog-silence was caused by my kidnapping and subsequent murder at the hands of Sofitex agents? Ok, Norbert Zongo, I am not. It would have made for an exciting story, though. But the explanation is far more banal.

The 13th through the 16th, I spent any free time I had editing another short film. ( It’s alarmingly addictive) Then on Saturday night, there was a rainstorm, as happens so frequently in the rainy season and it knocked out the phone lines in our neighbourhood. Now, this “rainy season” happens every year, at exactly the same time. And every year the phones go down several times because of it. And the phone company seemingly is oblivious to the fact. You’d think that, even if they couldn’t improve the equipment ( by not making the cables out of cystallized sugar, for example), they would at least hire extra repair techs for the period. It took four days of near-constant begging to get somebody to come and fix our line.
Then, when phone service was finally back on, the internet server was having trouble, kicking me off every five minutes. So, I found other, non-internet things to keep busy with.

The weekend was also occupied by guiding Severin through the intricacies of Powerpoint so that he could do a presentation at school. He chose “garbage”, which is kind of cool, in a strange way. Here are some of the pictures we took . I thought I’d share them. How many people know much about trash in Ouagadougou?

Most of the trash in Ouaga is collected by women that drive donkey carts. It is supposed to go to intermediate collection sites like the one above. But it often ends up dumped elsewhere.

The sign reads: "It is forbidden by law to dump trash on this site, punishable by fines." I'd say most of the trash in Ouaga ends up at places like this.

Now you know.

I can’t promise good blogging in the near-future. Or even bad blogging, full of pictures of trash. We are heading to the USA, people! We leave on Tuesday.

Mallory’s thoughts on the subject, as confided to me recently: “When I talk to Grampy on the phone , he asks me if I’m excited to come see them and I say “yes” like this, all calm. But I really want to yell like this “YES! YES! YES!” because I’m so happy!!! But I might scare him.”

I am excited, too. But hopefully not in a scary way.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Cotton is what makes Burkina go. It is the country's main source of foreign currency and contributes 5-10 per cent to the gross domestic product. More importantly, over two million people depend on it as their primary cash crop. People here can grow their own food, weave their own cloth and do without luxuries like motorbikes. But without cash in hand you can’t buy tires for your bicycle, send your children to school or pay for medical care.
Since 2004, the price of cotton has been going steadily down. In 2003, a farmer could get 210 fcfa (about 42 cents) for a kilo of cotton. Right now, it has reached a low of 145 fcfa. It’s a 31% drop that affects more than two million people in a country with a total population of under 14, 000, 000 ! Just imagine if 15% of all Americans, for example, had to accept a 31% drop in wages this year. That would affect about 45 million people! Needless to say, this is going to have a major affect on the quality of life of the average Burkinabé person. We’ll see even fewer kids in school in the fall, less food on the tables and even more deaths due to preventable and curable diseases.

They just had an article on the subject of cotton in my favourite newspaper, “l’Evenement”; It documents the unrest of the desperate farmers, plans for a possible boycott and searches for alternative buyers. And the answer to the problems, according to Sofitex, the main buyer of Burkinabé cotton? In a brilliant move, they have dispatched agents to the villages to “encourage” the farmers. Yes, they have sent out guys to tell the farmers to cheer up! Very helpful, I’m sure. “Gee, we never thought of it that way” the farmers will say to themselves. “We just need to brighten our days with a smile and all will be well. Thanks, Sofitex!“
Funny how the Sofitex, that had to be recently bailed out financially by the government, has plenty of money to pay for the salaries, vehicles and gasoline to make this silliness possible, but very little to pay the farmers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Here is a helpful hint that I will share with all my blog-land friends out there: Don't try to download a six minute film onto YouTube using dial-up in Africa.
I worked for hours yesterday editing my first-ever video, but have spent a long, frustrating Wednesday trying to get it downloaded. My only hope now is to find an internet café that has adsl.

Hopefully tomorrow will bring success and a new video posted to my blog!!
This one is guaranteed 100% goat-free.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Here's the reason why Valentine was recently condemned to "Nun Boot Camp": The Profession of Faith ceremony at our church on Sunday morning. Valentine's class had to prepare for this special ceremony where the young people get up in front of the congregation to commit to Christ and to "renounce the works of Satan". The latter being, I feel, always a good policy.
It was a reasonably nice day for the ceremony. It was only about 100°F and a bit breezy. Valentine was lovely in her long white robe and seed pearl headband. We'd had to have the robe sewn specially for her, as the church didn't have any that were long enough.

Here's the big moment: Valentine makes her speech. Beside her is Abbé Anicet. He's the third priest we've had in eight years. Some of the other Catechism teachers complain that he is too authoritarian, but they haven't been around as long as I have. Father Anicet is a beacon of democracy compared to past incumbents.
Crowd of pals all there to support Valentine. I'm there in the purple shirt.

I hope to have a short film of the ceremony up soon!!