Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Part IV
In Which We Arrive in Nanou and are Properly Greeted

Of course you can't take a road trip in Africa without at least one spare tire. And even that's risky - two is better. None is completely insane.
So, we waited. It’s not all that easy to find a tire repair place that’s open on Sunday morning at 7am, even in Burkina Faso.

Mal had to call A and tell her we’d be late. The twins had invited their good friend to come along with us on the trip. A’s parents are Swiss missionaries and have been here almost as long as we have, so the girls have known each other since they were 3 years old.

We ended up leaving 45 minutes late and I began to fear that the trip was already spinning slightly out of control. It would take 2 hours just to drive to Boromo. Then, we’d have to drop off our car at JP’s camp and go with him in his truck out the village of Nanou, which is on a very rough track. That would take another half an hour. Here’s the problem: though JP’s friends out in the village were expecting us, they know better than anyone that things always go wrong here. The whole event might not even happen at all. So, there’s no use in starting to cook the celebratory meal until the truck full of guests pulls up in the village. And there’s no way guests can come and go without being fed.
So, I needed to get us out to Nanou so that the ladies would start cooking. That way, we could do the Ceremony of Gratitude (or whatever it was), greet various friends in the village, and quickly eat, so that we could leave by 3pm. That would get us back to Boromo by 3:30, where we could use a non-scary bathroom at JP’s house, load our stuff back into our own car and get back to Ouaga by 6pm. Any later than that and we’d be driving in the dark, which I was dead set against, especially with three children in the vehicle.
It all boiled down to this: if we left Nanou any later than 3:30pm, we would have to stay overnight in Boromo. Then, we'd have to get on the road by 5am on Monday morning to have the girls back in time for school, which begins at 7:30am.

All this in mind, you can see why the idea of being even 45 minutes behind schedule was grounds for gnashing of teeth, etc... If we had any kind of further trouble or delay on the drive out, it was guaranteed that we’d be sleeping in Boromo, which is not a thing greatly to be desired. As JP doesn’t have beds for four extra people at his compound, we’d have to stay in the best hotel in Boromo -which is like worst hotel anyplace else in the world, with cold water showers, intermittent electricity, plenty of mosquitoes and exceptionally dismal customer service.

The flat tire had me very depressed and we hadn’t even left the house yet.


By 8am, though, we were making our way out of Ouaga, heading west. The three girls were in the back, watching a dvd. Me, I have the enviable ability to read in moving vehicle with absolutely no ill effects. I pity weaker creatures (like JP!) that get headaches and nausea from it. I happily read an old mystery novel (Salt is Leaving) for two hours as we sped towards Boromo.

When we arrived, we quickly found JP’s camp, located at the south edge of town. The girls enjoyed having a look around as we transferred the gear to the truck. JP’s place is in a compound with a few other families, so there were some kids, chicks, a puppy and other attractions. But we didn’t have time to waste. We needed to get out to Nanou so the ceremony to thank the spirits could begin! Two years ago, the old Earth Priest in the village and his son (who’s next in line to inherit) carried out a twin’s “baptism” ceremony for our girls and asked for good health for them, especially Al, who had some cardiac issues that have been quite worrying. Now it was time to thank the spirits for their intervention. We had some gifts to offer and some cash to lay on the Earth Shrine. I figured on a minimum of fuss, a quick meal and then a return home in time for a 7pm phone call I was expecting, but precision timing would be required. Sadly, Africa is not big on precision timing. "It happens when it happens" is the motto around here. But I am nothing if not optimistic.

I dragged Mal away from the puppy and we crowded into JP’s field vehicle. It’s a very beat-up king cab pickup. Not that it’s really elderly, but it’s had a hard time in its short life, mostly jolting along narrow, chasm-filled dirt tracks. JP sat beside the driver with Alexa on his lap. I was in the back with Isseuf, JP’s field assistant, and the two other girls.

It took about half and hour to get out to the village. When we pulled up to the Earth Priest’s compound, we saw him and one of his sons napping outside in chairs made of wooden sticks tied together with goathide. Their little donkey stood nearby, chewing on millet stalks. As is typical, the women were not napping. Funny- it’s so much less frequent to see women sleeping during the day. (And, no, it’s not because they nap indoors. While the guys snooze, the women are walking around, doing stuff. Work stuff.)

We piled out of the truck and the Earth Priest and his wife came to greet us. Napping Son (a short 20ish fellow) didn’t stir. His mom kicked him a bit, not in a mean way, and he woke up to give us the all-important greeting. Though people’s lives here are simple materially, socially they are very complicated -probably more so than in the USA, where people put a premium on informality and practicality. No way was anybody sleeping through the arrival of guests! Every hand must be shaken and detailed inquiries made into the health of the members of the extended family. How are you? Your children? Your parents? All the people back in your home territory?, etc… None of this was in French, though. Not even Mooré. It was all in Winyé, which JP speaks pretty well, but I can’t even get through the greetings correctly! Some of the people that had joined us noticed my difficulty and started speaking Djoula, which is the trade language of West Africa. They were surprised that it didn’t help. While I can chat with ease in French and English and get by in Spanish and Mooré (the dominant local language), that exhausts my bag of linguistic tricks. No Fulani, no Djoula, no Winyé. So, I could only smile in what I hoped was a kindly and intelligent way, but I probably looked like a complete idiot. I seem to do that a lot.


That's it for today's instalment. I have managed to load some pictures in the Photobucket Album. So, if you want a look at the Carnival and Nanou, click on the link at right. It's all in the Feb 2008 album. BTW-The pic posted above is me with the Earth Priest's wife.

1 comment:

babzee said...

In a future incarnation I hope to use the phrase "me with the Earth Priest's wife". I might even use it as a book title.

But as far as this life cycle is concerned, I -- or anyone else -- would be hard pressed to match your eloquence and charm, your mastery of storytelling, even if I were making it all up! To have lived these extraordinary episodes and gone further to reach out and share them with the rest of the world is staggering, and almost inspires belief in a coordinating Power.

You. Go. Girl.

(Emails are not going though again, but I'll keep a-tryin'.)