Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Aslan the Wonder Goat was in the kitchen again early this morning, but not alone. He’d brought along Cougar, our small hen that keeps the twins supplied with breakfast in the form of tiny white eggs. The only explanation is that the goats have been talking, stirring up discontent out in the backyard. Why else would Cougar, normally a mild-mannered, even timid, chicken, suddenly be bold enough to stroll into the kitchen and have a leisurely look around? I suspect that Midnight and Aslan have been expounding daily on the unfairness of the fact that the humans live indoors, where they no doubt enjoy unlimited treats of crackers and dried bread, while the animals stay outside and eat millet with wheat germ. Completely unfair!
In the end, Aslan was content to leave after I scratched his head a bit. Maybe he’s an ideologue, but a he’s also a hedonist. But getting Cougar out was more of a challenge. She’d really settled in and I had to do a lot of broom-waving to persuade her to follow her pal outside. I just hope that the goats haven’t also been distributing subversive literature. I could be in trouble if they get a hold of a copy of “Animal Farm”.

And finally, here you will find the end of the Gourcy trip story. srsly.

Kindly overlooking the fact that I’d just trodden on his grandfather’s grave, Antoine was willing to let me go along and have a look at the village market gardens, of which he was quite proud. Using water from the nearby reservoir, the villagers can grow vegetables and fruits to sell for a good price in the big town a few miles down the road. The locals don’t eat much besides tô, millet-based dumplings with varied, often leaf-based, sauces. Lettuce, for example, is strictly for export to the city, as it never figures on the village menus.
There were several large, well-tended gardens scattered around to the south. Besides lettuce, they grew tomatoes, green beans, onions and cabbages. There were also zucchini, potatoes and lots of papaya trees. We all duly admired the tidy plots and healthy-looking plants as we stood around chatting with one of the gardeners. We all had a few polite questions, but one visitor wanted to get “helpful”.
Why don’t you grow radishes?”
The gardener explained that they don’t sell well in the town.

Why don’t you grow cauliflower?
The gardener patiently explained that it doesn’t grow well in the region.

Why don’t you grow broccoli?
The gardener didn’t know what that was. (NB: Burkinabé people rarely eat broccoli, or even see it. It's a food only grown near Ouaga to be bought and consumed by expats.)

Why don’t you grow beets? You should really get different seeds” she pronounced helpfully, “and try new things.”
She went on quite a while on the subject...
I think she deserved an answer along the lines of : Gee! Thanks, Smart White Person! I never would have thought of that! We’re all such dolts around here! I’ll just run over to the garden-supply shop right now and choose from the huge array of affordable seeds there! And then I ‘ll invest a whole season growing a crop of plants that may or may not sell! Freaking brilliant! Thanks again White Person!
That’s what I would have said, but Burkinabé people are generally very polite- much more so than I am. The gardener just gave a little “What can you do?” kind of shrug.
(-Just so you all know, it’s very hard to buy garden seeds in Burkina Faso, even in Ouagadougou. There are no garden-supply shops. At all. Just a little thought on the part of our brilliant interlocutor above would have quickly revealed that the local gardeners must get all their seeds from each other and have no easy access to new varieties. And it makes complete sense for the growers not to take risks, as market gardens are hard work. If your radishes don’t sell, there you are, stuck with a pile of food that your family doesn't really want to eat. It’s logical to grow common staples so that the family can easily eat any excess production. It's not like Ouahiagouya is a huge marketplace and transport costs here are skyrocketing, so any vague ideas that trucking stuff to Ouagadougou will make anyone good money are completely stupid.........Ok, end of rant.)

Next, Antoine took us to visit his family. He took us to the house of his “Petite Mama”- one of his father’s many wives. She greeted us kindly and berated Antoine for not giving her more warning of our visit. We looked around a bit. I took a picture of the kitchen, so you can get an idea of a typical village home cooking area. The other picture is JP in front of the home of the Oldest Person in Gourcy. They told us she was 120 - I'm not really sure that's true (um...probably not) but she definitely looked like she was at least 120. Maybe1200. She was tiny, shriveled, blind, all of her fingers had been amputated and she was very angry. I greeted her politely in Mooré and she promptly told me what a complete creep Antoine was for not informing her that company was coming, so she could make some snacks for us. I don't that think she could actually cook because, well, she was blind, had no hands and I think that she couldn't actually walk. But the thought was very, very kind.
After the visit, Pascal drove us all back to the site of last night's party, out behind Antoine’s own garden. The idea was to have a small picnic lunch. Well, I had understood it to be small. But more and more people kept showing up, until finally there was a huge delegation of elders sitting on metal chairs off to one side. They had chosen that day for presenting their “New Year’s Wishes” to Antoine. The Muslims drank Coke and Fanta. The Animists and many Christians had bottled beer- very fancy! JP had dolo (traditional millet beer), so I knew then that I’d be driving us home. A band of griots sang and played while we ate chicken and potatoes from the ubiquitous gardens of Gourcy.

It was time to go home. We packed up and headed south. The drive back was pretty uneventful. I just made a quick stop in one small village along the way- one well known for it’s “wild yams”. They are long, thin black roots that taste very much like potatoes. A girl by the side of the road sold me an armful and we continued on to Ouaga. I was making good time and figured we’d be home before five pm. In fact, we ended up getting home closer to six. We had the misfortune to get stuck in a huge traffic jam on the north western entrance road into the city. Traffic didn’t even crawl, it just sat there and vegetated. Which is very rare. We don’t really get traffic jams in Ouaga, except on major holidays. But this was strange for another reason: it was so completely calm! People seemed almost happily trapped in the heat and pollution. Then, JP remarked that many of the passengers in the crowed vehicles were wearing paper sun visors- the kind sold here at special events. I vainly tried to read the printing on one, but couldn’t. But then I noticed that many of the people were wearing dresses and shirts sporting big prints featuring Saint Mary and other folks popular with the Catholic crowd. It finally fit together. A traffic jam with no honking or even cross looks, paper sun visors and holy-themed clothing could mean only one thing: this was Yagma Pilgrimage Day. How could I have missed it? The last Sunday before Lent is ALWAYS the day when many Catholics go out to the shrine at Yagma for a special, day-long mass. Mystery solved.
We rolled into our driveway to less than thunderous applause. Actually, there was no applause. I don’t think the kids really noticed we were gone. They seemed to be having a great time. Valentine had a bad cold, but other than that, everyone was fine.

I had a big glass of water (yeah!) and went to bed early.

The End

4 comments:

babzee said...

Valentine has THE COLD? Everyone in Georgia has it! Molly does, all her friends and classmates, and all the people I work with (I'm much too cool). Eli and all his co-workers have it, and he hasn't been home in weeks. I thought it was only Atlanta, but it seems to be straddling the equator!

somebird said...

great blogging beth. i love the wole story, but Magic Pumpkins of Death was so funny and i love your snittiness about the Smart White Person. brilliant!

give the kids my love and tell JP congrats on his book from me! i want to attempt to read it, it might take me a decade to finish however. my speaking has gotten quite efficient here (i've acquired a bit of a quebecois accent tho), but i'm such a slow reader when it comes to academic work in french.
how's papiers doing?

Dirk Gently said...

What I don't understand is, why don't they grow asparagus? Everyone likes asparagus. And it only takes three years to get your first crop. Seeds aren't a problem, either, since it is almost impossible to grow from seed anyway.

BurkinaMom said...

ASPARAGUS! The wonder-vegetable that will save Burkina! In a few short years, all the gardeners will be driving SUVs!! I officially confer upon Dirk the title of SUPER Smart White Person!

Leena- Papiers is doing great! When I was there on Monday, there were journalists from the Sidwaya there doing a story on the women!