Wednesday, February 06, 2008

This story is turning out to be somewhat of an epic. The Bad Guest part of the tale will have to be told tomorrow. Today we have:

Part III in which Burkina Mom Totally Rocks Out. Not.

It was time to face the music, in every sense of the word. After shaking hands with several of the local bigwigs, I was ushered to a seat of honor in the front row, which happened to be right next to one of the giant speakers. The mega-loud (goes to 11!), crackling, fuzzy-toned sound system is the staple of any “modern” West African festivity. But very soon they turned off the deafening pop music and got the show started.
First off, there was a traditional Mossi dance troupe with blacksmith musicians drumming on goathide djembés. (Sorry, Aslan) The men wore fluffy cotton, fringed pompom belts. Very cute. It’s to emphasize the all-important hip area, where most of the action takes place. They were good and danced for quite a long time.
As the applause died down, Yann leaned over and took out his accordion from it’s old brown case. It was time for some squeezebox! All I can say is, when Yann went into development work, the world lost a great entertainer. He was amazing! ( I probably should not admit this, but as I already have the fact that I am a geek advertised in the name of the post, I won’t hesitate. I kind of like accordion music. It probably started when I was a little kid, watching The Lawrence Welk Show (Wunnerful, wunnerful!) with my beloved grandparents. I rejected it in adolescence, as befit a “cool” person of my generation. But I eventually realised that “cool” was way over-rated. So I liked it again, especially French accordion music-Gus Viseur, Emile Vacher, etc..)

Yann walked around the stage, really confident, working the crowd. And they LOVED it! This was the first time the villagers had ever seen or heard an accordion. They seemed to appreciate the lively tunes and Yann’s obvious skill, smiling and clapping along energetically. Then one of the young “bouncers” stationed at the edge of the stage came up and did a little accompanying dance, much to everyone’s delight
It was great fun, but all too soon, Yann put away his instrument and I was called up onto stage as well.
Sort of.
“Now” the announcer said “Monsieur will sing with his wife”.
This was ok with me. What a relief. I would stay sitting in my chair behind the speaker and Yann’s wife Frieda would go up and sing! My quick “prayer” in the car had been answered and what quick service! They actually forgot me! Thanks, God!
But no, Frieda stayed seated and Antoine ushered me onto the stage.
I stood there beside Yann , looking at the crowd. There weren’t thousands of people, but there were certainly hundreds. I thought I would feel really, really bad. But I didn’t. I love to sing and the pieces we had were easy ones that I knew well. The crowd was friendly. And as for my appearance, I realised: ”Hey-these people don’t even know what a baby shower is!
My various insecurities calmed, I was ready to sing. I wouldn’t say it was flawless, but it was pretty darn good. Love’s Old Sweet Song is a schmaltzy ballad, which I , in all modesty, excel at. Avril Lavigne I am not. In fact, I am lacking in pop sensibilities of any kind. But if you want something performed that was composed prior to 1900, I’m your girl.
Anyway, we got lots of applause and everyone was very kind.
I did little introductions for each song, as we didn’t sing any in French and I thought I should explain them. But even French speakers were few in the audience. Most of them only spoke Mooré. So, it was all about the music. They seemed to like “Malaika”, as it is quite lively and expressive. And Yann really nailed the “day-oh”s on the last number. Just as good as the Harry Belafonte version, if not better!
We got lots of thunderous applause at the end and it was over. Time to sit down and enjoy the rest of the show.

The French farmers were then called onto stage. They didn’t have to sing or dance, just make a speech and accept some gifts. There was a big square box for Marie-Gabrielle and an ominous, wide, cone-shaped parcel for Gilles. To us old-timers here in Burkina, getting a cone-shaped gift can mean only one thing: you have just received your 30th Mossi straw hat. If you are a reasonably kind-hearted expat person living in Burkina, you will receive at minimum one or two of these hats every year as a gift. The first few are a novelty and get hung up around the house. But after 7 or 8 years, the sheer volume gets kind of cumbersome.
The gift for Marie-Gabrielle was a three meters of very fine hand woven cloth strips. The traditional cotton cloth here is made on looms that are only about a foot wide. You buy cloth in strips from the weaver and then take them to a tailor to get it them sewn together. Then the tailor cuts up the cloth to make your clothes. Quite involved. Very lovely.
Next, our Dutch friends got called onto stage. Yann made a short speech commemorating the end of his time here in Burkina. Then he graciously received his hat. He’s only lived here three years, so he probably doesn’t have too many.
Then, to my utter surprised, JP and I were called onto the stage. I had seen that there were two more gifts onstage, but I had assumed there were some other guests of honor at the party and I just hadn’t been paying enough attention to the introductions when we arrived. But no, it was us. I nearly tripped on my way back onto the stage (told you I’m a geek) but made it with no real mishap. JP gave a nice speech. Then Antoine tried to give me the microphone. My mind went blank. But then Antoine suggested that I talk about…Papiers du Sahel! So, I grabbed the mike with some enthusiasm and chattered away about the paper project for a few minutes. It’s always fun to talk about it to people, as it’s kind of an unusual and inspiring story.
Then I received a box of lovely cloth.
I like to complain in my blog about all the crazy stuff that goes wrong in my life here and what bad luck I have, but it really is just for laughs. Here’s the truth: I am very lucky and people are usually much, much kinder to me than I deserve.

The final act of the evening. was another dance troupe with Fulani musicians playing gourd drums and flutes. They also had an excellent singer. And the dancers were 10 adorable, talented young girls of about 12. They looked very sweet in their hand woven white dresses and their dancing was phenomenal.
Finally, the show was over and it was time to eat. We were led through the back door of the compound. It was quite dark, but it was clearly….a garden!

Tomorrow: Burkina Mom is a Bad Guest. srsly.


babzee said...

I remain unconvinced that BKMM can possibly go from /visiteur par excellence/ to Hell Date in a single evening. With bated breath....

The Stewart Report said...

I am officially addicted to your blog!! I grew up in Lome Togo, one of the MK's. Reading your blog takes me back home in an instant. You have an amazing gift for writing about West Africa. Even just the words pagne, mango rain and sardine can lanterns make me so homesick I can't stand it. I am so sad that I only discovered you yesterday and you're leaving Ouaga.

BurkinaMom said...

Thanks! I'm glad that general opinion (ok- two people)has it that that I'm 1.) a normal, non-doofus kind of person and/or 2.) a good writer.
But if #1 was true, I wouldn't have anything interesting to write about. This would mean that #2 would probably no longer be true, either.

At any rate, I am counting on both of you to buy a copy of my book, when it's finished and if it ever gets published. Between you guys, my mom and my Grandad Art, that's four sold right there! Fame and glory awaits!