Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yesterday was quite blogable. I drove the kids over an hour to an amusement park near Chambery, only to find that I didn't have my bankcards with me. And no checks. And only 100 euros in my backpack. So, we headed back to the parking lot and did some re-thinking of our plan.
The plan I came up with involved me being awarded some kind of "Most Stupid Human Ever" award. But my four kids have all been made very philosophical by their years in Africa, where things mostly don't go as planned. They handle disappointment very gracefully.
As I had a picnic packed in the car, I proposed them a day by the lake at Annecy, which is probably the most lovely town in France. I figured it would be cheap and fun and I was right. We had a great time and the weather was perfect.
Sadly, I don't have a lot of time to blog about all this. There's too much to get done this weekend! The wallpaper in the diningroom is only half down and Valentine's room is only half-painted...

So, I'll leave you this clip to watch. It's by two crazy comedians from New Zealand and I'm sure it will give you a mad longing to speak French, if you do not already do so.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ok- maybe my new car doesn't "excite" me, but we have finally bonded. It even has a name.

It's all Valentine's fault. We were in the village today, walking through the parking lot, hunting for our car. It's metallic grey, which is THE color for cars lately, so it was hard to spot. Especially as it's not all that tall.
"Considering that it has seven places, it's actually quite low", I said to Valentine.
"Yeah- but it's wide. And long. Look! There it is ! I see it!. " Then she turned to me and announced gravely: "Mom, our car has a big booty."

And she was right. There were all the Clios, Twingos, Pandas and other cute little cars with tiny flat back ends, like they do car Pilates 24/7 or something, and then there was my car, the back end sticking out very conspicuously.
Of course, as someone who looks like she has an end table stuffed into the back of her pants, my heart immediately went out to my poor, afflicted vehicle.

"Our vehicle now has a name. I'm calling it "J-Lo!" I announced. "Wear it proudly, little car. You are now one of the family."

Tomorrow, we are driving J-Lo down near Lyon to the Walibi amusement park.
Amusement has been kind of thin on the ground around here this summer, so I've planned a nice outing and picnic for the kids. Actually, I've built up picnics to the kids as big-time fun, as eating out is SO expensive in France. Heck, it's even expensive to eat in, especially with four children. Sev, in particular, is a bottomless pit into which we throw vast quantites of food as offerings. I'm 5 ft 7 in and he towers over me now. And he's only 12 years old!

Other news:
Mr. D. is doing ok. He's still walking kind of cautiously, but is expected to recover speedily.

Valentine's bedroom has been stripped and one wall was almost all painted yesterday...but then all the paint fell off in the end. So, the Frogman and Sev primed two walls today, hoping to solve the problem. We'll see...

The weather has been gorgeous all week long. This has set all the local farmers to cutting their hay. So, the air smells great- I adore the smell of fresh-cut hay! Of course, the one road through the valley is constantly clogged up by the tractors hauling wagonloads away to the barns, but I don't mind the delays. It's SO worth it!

Alexa's health has been excellent since we arrived in France. Shes' even eating a bit more!

It's almost my birthday. Just a few more days...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

We picked up Mr. D at the vet this morning, leaving behind a bit of his anatomy. He doesn't seem to be missing it much so far. He has spent the day lounging around on my bed, having the girls fuss over him. Mainly, he seems grateful to be back. I think he had begun to suspect that we'd dropped him off at the vet's office and had no intention of coming back.
Cleo, our female cat, seemed rather taken aback to find that we'd brought Mr. Darcy back home again. And come to think of it, she seemed to have enjoyed her day without him yesterday a little too much. In fact, we have a theory that SHE was actually behind Mr. D's bad behavior that got him sent to the vet for "re-adjustment".
"Go ahead and pee on the bed again. They LOVE that." she whispered in his fluffy white ear.
"Gee. I don't know. They seemed kind of upset about it last time..."
"No! Really! They thought it was ADORABLE.. I heard them talking about it afterwards."
"You really think so?" Mr. Darcy said doubtfully
"Absolutely. Trust me."
When her rival was carried off in the dreaded blue carrying case yesterday morning, Cleo thought that her diabolical plan had succeeded.
But Mr. D is back and better than ever, even if somewhat lacking in reproductive parts.

I haven't blogged about the goat village visit because we have been WAY too busy around here. We are stripping wallpaper, painting walls, repairing tiles and we just bought a new car.

Yes, a brand-new, straight from the factory kind of car. The kind that doesn't have to be repaired on a weekly basis.
It's a Renault Grand Scenic. The big attaction is that it has seven seats, but isn't as big as a minivan.
When I picked it up today, the dealer kept asking me if I was "excited". The answer is: no, cars do not excite me. This kind of crushed her. I guess she's used to people being wound up about buying a car?
I found it pretty strange.
Yes, I am happy to have a car that can carry my family and friends and that can haul around stuff I need. It's nice, but not exciting... Exciting is a word I reserve for great books, travel, goat races and, of course, the Frogman (aka my French husband).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

more animals

Guess where Mr. D is today...

Monday, August 25, 2008

France has a lot of history. It's positively jammed with it. Which sort of makes it funny that they would bother having Renaissance fairs and the like. The whole country is sort of like one big historical exhibit, isn't it?
But when I heard there would be a medival fair not too far from our house last Sunday, I immediately made plans to go and take the kids. It was to be held in the ruins of an 11th century Cistercian monastery.

Yesterday morning, I organised a picnic and we headed off, full of high hopes. I am a great fan of ren faires and have many happy memories of singing madrigals at the Kansas City faire over the years. So, I was really looking forward to this event near the village of Saint Jean d'Aulps.

Sadly, it wasn't all that great. Underwhelming is the word. The setting was amazing, as you can see in the photo, but there just wasn't all that much going on.
There were barely a dozen stands selling things. Besides that, there were four fat ponies, two goats , two chickens and a ferret. Saying that the entertainment was thin is being generous.
So, after we had our picnic, we headed farther into the mountains to the tiny village of Les Lindarets. It is a classic tourist destination and is often just called "the Goat Village" because it has lots of , well, goats wandering around in it. And I'm sure you all want to know everything about it, as it is well-known that this is a very goat-oriented blog. The goat races and goat weddings back in Africa made for some of my most popular posts. So, I'll certainly spare no effort tomorrow recounting our amazing adventures at the Goat Village of the French Alps.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Valentine and I were at the Emmaus today. It's sort of the French equivalent of the Goodwill or Salvation Army in the USA. It's a Catholic charity where people donate unwanted stuff that is sold to finance good works.

But I ask you- who wouldn't want THIS?

When I saw it I immediately said to Valentine "Blue Haired Sparkle Jesus is SO going on my blog!!" And I whipped out my handy little red cellphone. My daughter was somewhat mortified, but is pretty used to my strange quirks. I think she was just grateful that I didn't insist on buying the thing.

I LOVE the Emmaus! I'm an archaeologist by training and we are all scavangers at heart. Some may call it digging through junk, but I call it a treasure hunt.
And even when I don't find any treasure, I often find things that are entertainingly strange and/or ugly. Today, besides the BHSJ , other things of note I saw were:
1. a stuffed wild boar's head.
2. a cookie tin showing Santa chatting with two naked women with wings as an obviously traumatised child cowers in the background.
3. an eye-searing mustard colored sofa, SO stained and ratty and diseased-looking that I remarked to Valentine: "That's the ugliest thing I've ever seen in my life. And I've SEEN stuff!". One minute later, a guy bought it and carried it off as we stood there.
Valentine said "That guy's wife is going to KILL him if he goes home with that!"

We plan to comb through the local paper with particular attention tomorrow morning, looking for an article in the police blotter about some incident of severe wife on husband domestic violence triggered in the night by a household furnishing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My plan to post more photos was temporarily foiled by my server going down for a day.
But I'm back online and here with some pics from our day yesterday at Lake Leman (or Lake Geneva, as it is often informally called)
We went to a lovely beach on the Swiss side with some good friends from a nearby village.

Here are the twins just getting their feet wet. At 19°C, the water was cold for us!

Here is Rafael explaining to Severin that the boat works WAY better if you actually put it in the water.

Severin finally got the boat figured out and took his friend Patrick for a spin. His little sisters didn't rate a spot onboard and had to swim.

Valentine got sunburned and Mallory got stung by a wasp, but other than that, a good time was had by all.

Today we had good friends visiting from the north side of the lake. We know Jo and her family from Ouaga! But now, by some great stroke of luck they have ended up living just an hours drive away from us here in France.

And tomorrow promises more fun (plus pictures) as we head up higher in the mountains to the village of Saint Jean des Aulps where they are having a sort of renaissance faire. Srsly!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Today you all finallly get to see some pictures of what Burkinamom's life in France really looks like. As I drove around to drop off some recycling stuff and visit the mayors office, I decided to take a few pics with my spiffy new red cellphone so that I could share some of the typical scenes. First of all, here is a picture of our village : Saint André de Boëge. I parked my car beside the village church.
Here's the front of the church
The steeple.
Here's the Mayor's office. It was built in 1877, so it's pretty new.
The elementary school is also in the building, on the right side.
This is where the twins will go to school starting next month. It's a one-room school with only 17 students and two teachers. The girls are very excited and a bit nervous. But one great attraction is the two big farmhorses that graze just beside the school playground. Mal is VERY thrilled about that!

Pretty idyllic, non?

Hope you enjoyed the break from my overwrought prose.

More pics to follow tomorrow!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Here's the thing about an old house in the country: you can count on most things going wrong. The door latches jam, the facade cracks, the windows don't close tight and termites snack on the load-bearing beams...
And here's the other thing: most of the NEW stuff you put in your old house ALSO goes wrong.. sort of like it's been infected by some virulently contageous "old stuff malfunctioning" virus.
At least, in my experience.

Hence the middle drawer in the kitchen opening mysteriously as though pulled open by a ghost looking for a paring knife, the bathroom towel heater burning out ( you need it in the summer in the mountains, believe me), the oven giving out and the fridge falling to bits.
I could handle all that. Not exactly gracefully, but I have been SO happy to be back in France, the little problems in life (like the huge leak in our roof) have been as water (hah!) off the back of a happy Franco-American duck.
But the relatively new toilet in the master bathroom completely refusing to flush did tick me off. Up in the attic, accessible only by climbing three flights of stairs, the thing was hardly ever even used.

I figured I could fix it myself. It's a toilet, not the space shuttle, right? I have an advanced university degree (Ok- not in plumbing. But never mind that) and should be able to repair a common household fixture.
I confidently got to work.

Five minutes later I was bitterly discouraged and tempted to use Bad Language, despite the presence of the twins in my office nearby. I hadn't even been able to get the lid off the stupid tank! I felt like an idiotic loser, unfit to wear the proud name of "homeowner". Can't even fix her own toilet.
Not only would I have to waste money on a plumber, he'd also be a witness to my shameful incompetence. I'd be paying to be humiliated.
Let's just say that I was woeful and chagrined, shall we?

So, with a heavy heart, I phoned up one of the local plumbers. He showed up the next morning, a big, heavyset fellow with the lowest, gruffest voice that I have ever heard. I brought him upstairs and he set to work, whistling cheerfullly. For a guy with such a gravel-filled voice, he had a pretty musical whistle. Nice for him, but I was definitely less than cheerful. I slunk over to my desk nearby and listless sorted through papers as I mentally berated myself.
"I'm such a dope! I can't believe that I couldn't even fix it! Couldn't even get the lid off. I am SO moronic. If we have to call a repairman for each little thing that goes wrong, we'll be bankrupt in year!"

But then a funny thing happened. After a few minutes, the plumber wasn't whistling anymore. In fact, he was muttering to himself.
No was getting louder. ..he was cursing! Yes, definitely! He was swearing at my toilet! And there were sounds of struggle and vast effort.

I just HAD to see what was going on in there! And sure enough, there he was, cursing up a storm and trying to pry the lid off the tank!

He looked up. "This is a tough one" he said grimly.
"Mmmm" I answered, with what was probably a strange little smile on my face.

I SWEAR that you have never seen someone as happy as I was to learn that her toilet was hard to fix. A "special case", the plumber later called it. Not only was it hard to open, the whole interior mechanism was shot. Not in need of a slight adjustment, but in need of complete replacement. Plus, it was a special model, so he had no replacements in his truck. he ended up taking the thing to bits and leaving the pieces strewn around my bathroom for four days until he could get back to me.
But I didn't mind. Really! I was just so thrilled to NOT feel like a completely unskilled feeble idiot. My self-esteem was again intact.

Don't you love happy endings?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me about our family pets. Probably a big mistake, as she ended up with a loong email to read and WTMI about our two cats who were recently transplanted from Ouagadougou to the French Alps.
My answer went, more or less, as follows:

We have our two cats and that's trouble enough for any one family. Not that Cleo is a bother (except for her rare genetic illness that requires daily meds for the rest of her life, but I digress) She's the little muticolored cat that we found as a starved mom-cat, sitting out on our terrace in Ouaga one day, scrawny kitten in tow. I think the rest of the litter was eaten by a snake. At least, that is the family consensus, based on how Cleo hates and fears the vacuum cleaner. She hisses and attcks the hose bit of the machine like a lioness. Our other cat, a big tomcat who is usually Mr. Macho but also hates the vacuum, cowers behind Cleo for protection. It looks pretty comical, but it's quite an astonishing role switch for them.

The male is called Mr. Darcy. Gaspar Darcy, actually, but he is pretty dignified, so we mostly don't use his first name. He doesn't like it and it's best not to anger him. Unfortunately, moving to France made him very, very angry. Drugged and stuffed into a cramped Air France cat carrier bag, our normally laid back dude turned into Demon Cat. Srsly. He was scaring people, not least of all us. He growled, shorted, scratched and ripped the interior of the bag to shreds. And then he got REALLY angry. It was a race against time to get home before the bag fell to bits and the Hell Beast emerged to tear us all to bits.

Valentine found Mr. Darcy years ago as an abandoned kitten and bottle-fed him into a healthy, swaggering guy-cat adulthood. He was the King of Zogona back in Ouaga. However, here in the French countryside, he has fallen several rungs down the social ladder. His first night out, the neighborhood farmcats beat him up so badly that he has refused to go outside since. So much for the warm and simple hospitality of the rural folk. ..
So, he contents himself with terrorising me and the children here at home. We rush to do his bidding so that he doesn't pee on all our worldly belongings and/or bite us.
Not that it's easy to do what he wants. He doesn mew or gesture in any way. He just stares at us, sending telepathic messages about what his commands are. Sadly, the kids and I are NOT psychically gifted and he finds it very frustrating. That means I've been bitten on the calf twice and cleaned up mucho cat pee. He seems to have calmed down rece,tly, but just when I thought the worst was over, he managed to pee on top of a large box that I was using as a table. I'd placed some very important documents on it, including the forms and papers for the kids' bus passes for school. I scrambled around like a mad thing, blotting and cursing. Not that either did much good.
Then I got the idea of turning the hairdryer on them full blast. Now it smelled like hot cat pee. Great.
In desperation, I got out the lavender scented Febreeze and had at them. But to be honest, it didn't even make a dent in the stench.
Finally, I jammed them into an envelope and send them off. I had to or I'd never get the kids' bus passes in time for school.
Until quite recently, I was convinvced that the transport office had thrown our papers away, thinking they were a particularly disgusting practical joke.
But the cards arrived in the mail Thursday, so my kids will be able to go to school..

So, that's it, All about our cats- the only pets so far. We have no plans for dogs, rabbits, chickens or the like. Though we plan to "borrow" a small flock of sheep for half of each year. They'll keep down the grass in the back half of our property and provide a little fun for the twins, especially Mal who misses Aslan the Wonder Goat.
He is doing well, btw. Mallory talks often with his new owner (a friend of hers back in Ouaga). He wanders around the mini-farm, where there are horses, turtles, cattle and monkeys. There are also dogs, who scare poor Midnight a bit, but Aslan defends her valiantly, so we are told.

Finally: I guess it's about time to leave this blog and start a new one without the word "Africa" in the title. Any suggestions?

Friday, August 15, 2008

When I checked out my blog stats yesterday, I was pretty surprised to find that my month-long hiatus didn't cut off any traffic. In fact, there were just as many readers as ever, mostly reading really old posts. I guess I'll have to leave this blog up for a while, so people looking for in-depth info on what expat life in Burkina is really like will still have something to read.

Not that France isn't exotic in it's own way. The natives are kind of odd and have strange ways. Here too is fertile turf for the anthropological researcher.

For example, my quest to blend in as a French housewife (participant-observer is a classic research technique) nearly came to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago. My über-French mother-in-law had come for a visit six days after we arrived in France. I had invited her down, as I feel that she has spent the last nine years unfairly deprived of her charming grandchildren. She is very kind, in a brusque sort of way, and we get along really well, but she has definite ideas about how things should be done. I know that is in the nature of the creature that is the MIL, but still...

One afternoon, she asked me what I'd be making for dinner. I hadn't been to to the market lately, so it took a minute or two to come up with an idea.

"Cauliflower, I guess. And pasta..."

"Pasta?!" "With CAULIFLOWER?! exclaimed the French MIL in exactly the same tone of voice that she'd have used if I'd said that I was going to serve the cauliflower that night with a sidedish of poison, while wearing my underpants on my head.

Now, in my younger, newly-wedded days, I would have backed down in an instant, begging her to reveal the "real" way to serve cauliflower. But I am older now and less inclined to let people make me think I'm an idiot. I just looked at her.

"You would do that, you? Serve cauliflower and pasta??!!!!" She was looking sort of pale and panicky. This was obviously a big deal.

"What's the problem? What would you serve with it?" I asked, just because I didn't want her to have a heart attack right there in my kitchen.

"Well, I don't know. But not PASTA!!" She said "pasta" just like a non-French person would have said "snot". srsly.

Now, I'll admit that pasta would not have been my first choice. It would sort of make a very bland, monotone color scheme on our plates. But Yvette obviously found something far more sinister in the combination of foods proposed. It was just not "how things are done" or "comment il faut faire les choses" in France.

There's all kinds of moments like that here. There you are confidently cruising along in life, thinking you have it all figured out. Then suddenly you find someone staring at you, jaw dropped by your "shockingly bizarre" un-French behavior.

Despite my French passport, I still feel like a foreigner in many ways. And iIm guessing I'll never really "blend"- I'll always have a funny accent, be five inches taller than most other women here and have crazy ideas about what can and can't be eaten together...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Burkinamom has transformed herself into a French housewife, Burkinacat is doing her best to turn into a dog and a Life in Africa has morphed into a « Vie en Rose » in the Alps of the Haute Savoie.

We left Ouagadougou as scheduled on the 19 of July. Emotionally, I was all ready to go- don’t get me wrong. My mental bags were packed months before I physically packed up our belongings . But it seemed like they weren’t going to let us leave the country when I got to the airport that night . And that wouldn’t have been a good thing, as I think that even one more day in Burkina would have taken me beyond « edgy and stressed-out » and on onto the realms of « deranged and in need of medications ».

In the weeks leading up to our departure, everything seemed to go wrong. Hence my last post, which was, admittedly, a bit dramatic and worrisome.
Our house was robbed back in June and things just kind of got worse from there : endless car break-downs, money concerns, staff problems, etc… Add to all this the astounding work of packing up a six-person household after nine years , then mix thouroughly. Then preheat the entire country to 42°C and bake until done. Really done. And there you have the recipe for one miserable little muffin. That would be me.

I'll go into the details of the move and the trip home in a future was not pretty, is all I will say for the moment. It involved my weeping piteously at the airport, begging to leave the country. Like I said, not pretty.

But now I'm in the green mountains of France in my lovely old house (pics to follow, asap). And my little Burkinacat, Cleo, follows me about the yard as I hang out laundry and clip hedges. I think that she decided that a proper French house in the country really needs a dog and is doing her best to fill the role. I'm not sure about teaching her to herd sheep, but she seems game...

Anyway, I am fine, the children are fine and I am back online as of this morning at about 10am!

I will no doubt soon be moving my blog and reformating it to reflect the fact that I'm no longer Burkinamom. You will be the first to know.

BTW- Many, many thanks for all the messages of support and concern!

Also- Are the Olympics cool, or what? I woke up at 3am this morning to watch the swimming live on tv and got to see Alain Bernard take the gold and make a world record in the 100 meter freestyle!
And Michael Phelps???? Wow!!!!