Monday, February 11, 2008

The weekend involved much activity, not much of it associated with blogging. Mostly, I was helping my kids with their homework. Besides their assigned work from school, I try to give them extra help in French, because unlike most other languages, French was actually invented by sadistic insect-like aliens from a distant galaxy. Not many people know that.

We have to spend lots of time doing "dictées", which are like spelling tests, only more hellish. I read out a long text in French and the kids have to write it down, perfectly. Maybe it doesn't sound hard to you non-French speakers out there, but consider this: the verb "aller" (to go) is pronounced 'al-ày'. That's the infinitive. But there is also "allait", "allaient", "allé", "allée" "allés" and "allées" and they are all pronounced exactly the same!!! (See?! This system could only have been invented by extraterrestrial fiends.) You can only tell which spelling to use by looking at the context of the sentence. It's true of many, many French words and it's sick! And even a single, tiny missing accent mark makes the teacher count the whole word as incorrectly spelled.
As we worked, Alexa wished fervently that she went to "English" school, rather than French school, but I assured her that English would be just as hard. You just have to memorize a few things! I told her. But the fact is, I lied! It's evil and difficult. Cool. But evil and difficult.
Anyway, not much blogging went on, so here it is today: yet another installment of the Gourcy saga. It's still not done!

Part V: The Magic Pumpkins of Death
Sunday morning found the seven us crammed into Antoine’s SUV. Pascal was at the wheel, Antoine riding shotgun. Frieda and JP sat with Nicodemus, Antoine’s son. I was in the third row with Yann, fiddling vainly with the rear air-con controls. It was nearing midday and it was getting pretty toasty outside.
Antoine was taking us on a tour of his village, where he grew up until he went away to school at age 12. He was full of nostalgic memories and waxed eloquent about what he clearly remembered as the “good old days”. “Good old days” is definitely case specific, as it involved old ladies threatening small children with immediate, hideous, pumpkin-induced death.
In the village, Antoine explained, the elderly women too old for any other work were charged with keeping the children out of trouble. This mainly involved keeping the kids out of the pumpkin patches. This normally didn’t entail a lot of strenuous effort, as the pumpkins are always grown right up against the huts. Grandma just had to sit under a nearby shady tree and yell occasionally. But the flaw in the system was that the kids love to play outside in the rain and elderly ladies don’t, for the most part, equally enjoy sitting outside in the rain. And the wide green leaves and bright orange balls of the pumpkin patch look even more tempting when all shiny and wet…So, Antoine’s old granny solved the problem by telling the kids that when it rains, each pumpkin opens up to take in water. It’s how they get so big and juicy. BUT, it is INSTANT DEATH to gaze upon the pumpkins while they undergo this mystical process. Yes, witnessing the pumpkin rain magic would mean an immediate, painful demise, even for small, cute children. Not surprisingly, the kids avoided the pumpkin patch like…well…death.
Antoine chuckled. “She sure had us believing! We were all convinced that we would die! Really! It took me years to realise it wasn’t true. Ha, Ha!”
(Cucurbitphobia = fear of pumpkins. I just looked it up online for Antoine, in case he ever needs to seek professional help.)
Antoine’s entertaining tale ended just as we pulled up in front of the village reservoir. He was very proud of it, as it was the first big project ever funded in Gourcy and has provided water to the town for over 20 years. We all duly admired it and Antoine pointed out the many crocodiles sunbathing on the shores. There were four, anyway, which seemed like a lot to me. But we were told that in the evenings at least 50 of the creatures could be found lolling in the mud, snapping up the occasional unwary dog. But not to worry. They don’t attack full-grown cattle or adult humans! Mostly. (You can see the reservoir in the pic I posted. It’s quite big. Plenty of room for hundreds of canine-starved crocs. As you can see, there are no reptiles in the photo- just Frieda, JP, Nicodemus, Antoine and Yann the Accordionist)

By now it was time to visit Antoine’s actual home village/neighbourhood. It looked just like a typical, fairly isolated Mossi village. There were many low, round mud huts thatched with straw. Near the central clearing, a woman pounded millet while a big group of men sat in the shade of some straw mats laid across a framework of sticks. Right in the center was a tiny tree with shreds of filthy cloth hanging off it. Other, more mysterious objects were laid in the branches and underneath it were several broken clay pots. As we got out of the car, Antoine told us this was the “fetish” of his village. It’s a huge deal, as the earth shrine is the ‘heart’ of the village- where sacrifices are done and ceremonies completed. I didn’t quite dare to ask to take a photo. I circled around it at a respectful (so I hoped!) distance and stumbled over a rock. It was a fairly big, red volcanic rock, sticking up in a very inconvenient way. As I looked around, I noticed that there were many, many of these rocks, each about the size of a soccer ball, scattered all over the central clearing of the village. Why the heck didn’t they just move them? Somebody was going to break a leg or a neck!
“Oh- that’s Grandpa” Antoine said to me. He called over his son. “Look, Nico! Your Grandpa is buried right there.” And he pointed right at the rock I was standing on.
I was standing on his Grandpa. First, I spit out his tô and then I go and stomp on the man’s ancestor.
And yes, every single rock was the burial site of an important tribal elder...
I began to think it was time to go home….But wait! We hadn't visited the village gardens yet, or Antoine
's family. Plus, he wanted to have lunch with him. I was pretty much ready for that one, as I had heard early morning mass chicken death happening in the kitchen at the hotel. (Fancy Burkinabé parties nearly always mean mourning in the chicken coop.) So, this day's adventures would not be ending anytime soon.

Coming soon: Part 6-The End (I think)

1 comment:

Pardon My French said...

Wow - crocodiles and death weekends are very tame in comparison. Btw, I gave you an award on my blog. Thanks for making me laugh! I love your stories.