Sunday, March 30, 2008

We had electricity yesterday all day long, which was very appreciated What I did not have was even a minute to spend on the computer, blogging or keeping up on emails...
It was my own fault, really. In an attempt to avoid brain-exploding cognitive dissonance, I ended up with a very, very busy day.
You see, I think of myself as a nice person, so it kind of locks me into doing lots of nice things.
If I don't do nice things, that means I'm not nice.
And If I'm not nice, I'm probably bad.
And bad leads to evil.
Oh no!
So, I had to say 'yes' when asked late Friday night if we (Valentine got dragged into this as well. She's also really nice. ) would babysit a friend's four children Saturday morning. Then half an hour later, she called to ask if the four children of one of her friends could come as well.
The parents would all be at a wedding in a nearby neighborhood. They said it would take an hour...which I knew was just completely mad wishful thinking. There's no WAY a Burkinabé wedding could be over in one hour, ever. Just isn't possible. And I just couldn't see consigning 8 young children to sitting outside in the heat on metal chairs with nothing to do for hours. That would be definitely evil.

So, the eight children were brought by on Saturday morning. Plus I have four of my own. Plus my twins had had a sleepover, so their friend L was still at the house. And then their friend A (of Earth Shrine fame) called, sounding sad and bored. So I said she could come over, as well. Heck- when there's 13 kids in the house, one more is not going to make or break you.

The littlest one was K., who Mallory was excited to see ("She's so sweeeeet" Mal says) K is a characater straight out of a Dr. Seuss book- The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
No, she's not large, geen and hairy, harboring a grudge against a major Christian holiday.
She's "Cindy-Lou Who, who was no more than two".
Valentine had special charge of her, as she wasn't feeling well and the big crowd of kids was a bit overwhelming. So, Val carried her around, played with her, jollied her out of a crying jag and in general was a great babysitter the whole time.

The rest of the group was much older and a lot less demanding. The boys (Two 11 year olds, a 12 year old and an admiring 7 year old) stayed in the livingroom, occupied with board games and then a movie.
As for the girls, there were two 5 year olds, a seven year old, and five 10 year olds. My main task was to watch them in the pool. (We have a very small, shallow pool that can just about hold nine pre-adolescent girls.)

The only real challenge was feeding them lunch. It hadn't been planned on, but as noon rolled by, I figured that food would have to be found. I fed them pasta in plastic bowls and I assure you that it looked like a scene from a low-budget orphanage. Valentine even came up to me with her empty bowl in hand and said "Please, sir, I want some more."
It's lovely to have a teenager that quotes me Dickens rather than, say,Larry the Cable Guy. (He's from Nebraska, srsly)

Actually, I lied (Not about Larry- he really is from my home state) But the fact is that it was not any real hardship at all to have 14 kids at the house for a few hours. They were all really well-behaved and lovely to be around. In fact, they were almost supernaturally good and polite.

So, I kept my reputation as a non-evil person, with very little actual cost to myself. Way to go!

And Valentine was, quite rightly, given some cash by the appreciative parents for her efforts.

Other than that, there were errands to run, homework to help with, and all the usual weekend stuff. Plus, I started my kids on a program of viewing the old "StarTrek" films. Last week, I realised that the phrase "Beam me up, Scotty" meant nothing to them. Horror! So, I hurriedly found a copy of the Wrath of Khan at the video club. They didn't have the first ST film, but that's ok because I seem to remember that it wasn't very good. On the other hand, Wrath rocks and the kids loved it.
Next weekend will definitely find us watching The Search for Spock.
Live long and prosper!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Once again, I blog to you from a cybercafé in (way too) sunny downtown Ouagadougou. The power cut out in our neighborhood at about 7am this morning and who knows when it will be back on... My technique is to spend the maximum amount of time out running errands in cool places like banks and supermarkets. My car (repaired now!) is also a nice place to be, as the air-con works really well. Nothing else does, mind you, but the air-con is fine.
I am just hoping that we're not headed for a long, hot, electricity-less wekend.
Curse you, Sonabel!

My mailbox today contained an invitation from the US Ambassador to attend the groundbreaking for the new compound that they will be building over in the über-chic neighbourhood of Ouaga 2000. It’s on April 1st. I’ve thought about going, just so that I can have the experience (and blog about it, of course!). But it says that “office attire” should be worn. Office attire??? I guess I could stick post-it notes all over a t-shirt and have my girls make me some nice accessories out of paper clips… And heck, even if I did own such strange things as a skirted suit and heels, I wouldn’t put them on and stand around outside in the 110° F heat.

So, it looks like I won’t be reporting on the groundbreaking ceremony, but I’m sure that some other interesting (if not frankly bizarre) thing will happen to me, providing plenty of blog-fodder. I just hope it’s nothing bad - nothing like the horrible and mysterious guinea-pig plague that swept through our pet population on Wednesday.

That day we lost three one-day old babies (who had seemed quite healthy for several hours) and also the mom pig Patches. The post-mortem c-section that the vet’s assistant and I did revealed three more dead pups, so we lost seven in total.

I have been involved in two c-sections for human friends since I have been in Burkina. I only had to pay for them- I didn’t have to assist the surgeon (How thankful am I for that? Very.) Of course, they cost a lot more- about 100 dollars. I paid about 80 cents US for the one at the vet’s office.

I’m very happy to report that the human cases both had much happier outcomes. Live babies and moms. Not that the average Burkinabe maternity clinic is a walk in the park- it’s not even a short stroll somewhere vaguely pleasant. In general, to give birth, you lay on a cement slab in a stifling room (you’re lucky if there’s a fan) while overworked nurses bark orders at you and even insult you. I’m not saying this always happens, but I’ve talked to lots of women and spent many hours in maternity wards… (Plus, JP’s research team has done research on the topic! Fascinating stuff!)

If you are lucky enough to get out of that alive, (which is quite a trick-1000 mothers in 100,000 die in childbirth. 36 babies in each 1000 dies as a neonate) you get a cracked vinyl mattress in a hot, dirty ward jammed with women and babies. Plus, each woman has a female friend/family member staying with her at all times- even sleeping at night on the floor next to her mattress, on a bit of cloth or a plastic mat. You have to have this help because there is no help at all for you in the ward. You have to be up washing diapers in a bucket, heating bath water over a fire, etc…there’s lots of hard physical work that need to be done. Plus, there is no food at the hospital- at all. There's no food service, no cafeteria, not even an old lady going around with a pot of rice to sell. Nothing. Someone has to cook for you there (over a wood fire) or bring food in. If you are a woman on her own, you have no help and no food.

One of the friends I mentioned is paralysed due to childhood polio and gave birth to twins, so her case was very difficult and she was in the hospital quite a long time. I brought her her breakfast every morning and spent time visiting with her. This gave me lots of time to observe the goings-ons. It was a very eye-opening experience, to say the least.

There is lots of pressure on women here NOT to give birth at home with traditional mid-wives. Everyone is supposed to go to a hospital and be “modern”. But based on what I’ve seen, I certainly understand why many women resist. If I were given a choice between giving birth in a local maternity clinic and doing it in a mud hut- frankly, I’d choose the mud hut.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Today consisted of power outages and blasting heat. Oh- and yet another major breakdown on the part of my Toyota Corolla from Hell.

Furthermore, I came this close to performing a solo emergency c-section on a dead guinea pig on my dining room table. But as I rummaged around frantically, realising that I had no knives sharp enough- not even a razor blade, I came to my senses and rushed off to the vet's office that is not too far from our house. The vet herself was out, as that's the way my luck has been going lately. But the assistant saw that I was very upset at the idea of live babies trapped in a dead mom pig- so said he'd do it -if I could help. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
I won't go into details, but it was grim.

So, I really needed the boost that this lovely article gave me. It's yet another great piece by journalist John Leiberhardt. Once again, he has kind words for my blog and that of Valentine.
He refers to Burkina Mom's "warm-hearted honesty", which certainly made my day.
He doesn't mention my skills as a pet surgeon, but that's ok.

The article is also a way to discover other nifty blogs about Burkina, all written in English. Click around and check them out.
Just don't like them better than me, ok?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My life here lately has been sucking technology-wise. You'd think I lived under primitive conditions in darkest Africa or something.
Oh wait. I do.

My specific complaints:
1. On Easter Sunday, I couldn't phone any of my family in the USA. Couldn't get a line out.
2. After being off the internet a tiny bit that day- just long enough to post a short blog entry- I got kicked off and haven't been able to get back on since.
3. Yesterday, the electricity was off in the eastern part of Ouaga for much of the day. This, of course, included my house. And as temperatures yesterday reached over 107°F (42°), my house was not a good place to be, especially considering that it has a
4. metal roof. It's the most common kind of roof here, as it's the cheapest- unless you go for straw, which brings with it it's own issues of leakage, rot and dust, not to mention insects raining down into your food, onto your head, etc. Corrugated metal roofs are cheap and insect-free, but very, very hot. Take it from one who knows.
5. So, here I am at the internet café, trying to get my cyber-life back in order, but my e-mail seems to be blocked. No access...I guess it's issues with Liptinfor. They have many.

Well, that's my litany of complaints/excuses. So, no ending for the tax story as of yet. I am hoping life will be a little more normal soon and I'll be able to get back to writing the big, long, epic blog entries you've all come to know and possibly (hopefully!) like.

Late breaking news: This just gets better and better! I was just just clicking the "Publish Post" post button when the power here at the internet café went out! Luckily, Blogspot is good about saving automatically, so when I finally got back online (it's a looong story) , my post was saved and I didn't have to re-write it all. You guys wouldn't believe what I go through some days to get a post up on this blog! Crazy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

First of all- hope you all had a nice day yesterday. Ours was great- we were at church in the morning, then had a nice meal with friends that night.

Now here it is- Easter Monday. The kids have the day off from school. And, as is typical on the weekends and holidays- my email is down. So, all messages for me today should be left for me on the comments section of the blog.

Now, how about a little more of the story of how I tried to pay our taxes here in Burkina? It was quite a challenge..
(If you just got here and missed it, go back to the March 19 post to begin the epic tale)

So, there I was, wandering around this huge building, without a clue as to what to do next. In my defence, I saw lots of Burkinabe folks in similar straits, looking just as miserable and confused as I did. So, it wasn’t just me being exceptionally clueless. It looked like no outsiders (also known as “taxpayers”) were being allowed any information that might actually help them to pay their taxes.

I randomly knocked on the door of an office. I played my role of the completely baffled foreigner to the hilt - a very sweet and vaguely stupid creature from a foreign land. Loosing your temper avails you nothing. Charm and calm carry the day. As a result, the fellow there took pity on me, left his mountain of dusty papers and actually guided me all the way to another big office and introduced me to the three people there.
I explained what I needed for the NINTH time.
They were very kind.
Of course, everyone until now had been kind- but they’d had no freaking clue how to really help me and had sent me all over town on a morning-long wild guinea fowl chase. (That's a wild goose chase, Burkina-style.)

But this crew seemed pretty convincing. They told me that Mme D- was no longer taking care of expat taxes (rats!) and that that function had been transferred to a building in Passpanga.


I went back down the stairs, alert for stray aliens carrying advanced weaponry (didn’t want to startle one and get accidentally disintegrated).

Back at the car, Mahama (our driver) had news: he’d gotten a phone call that said Valentine needed to be picked up at school right away. They’d been trying to contact me, but as I’d brilliantly left my cell phone at home, no one could get in touch with me. The message had just been to come and get my daughter. I had no idea if she was ill, injured , or perhaps expelled for excessive niceness, cuteness and brilliance. (She’s too wonderful to get expelled for any bad reason, of course!)

I couldn’t call easily or quickly, as Mahama had no calling credits in his phone.

Now, the strolling phone card vendors here in Ouaga are usually very present and very persistent. At almost every street corner they descend upon you en masse, waving their little wooden boards covered with the brightly-colored cards. Even after you have rejected the first one, and the second and the third, they keep coming- as though after rejecting five different vendors selling the exact same thing, you’d suddenly have some kind of streetside-shopping epiphany. As though the 20th person to wave his cards in your face in the last two minutes would open your stingy little heart and you’d say: I know I just mercilessly and without hesitation rejected every one of your card-selling buddies, but I like your looks! I’m going to buy one from YOU!

Of course, now that I actually really did desperately need to buy a card, there was only a scattering of vendors in sight - none of them selling the brand I needed. I didn’t waste time hunting around - we took off for the school, back at the city center.

That's all I have time for now. I'll try to wrap this up tomorrow.
It has a happy ending! Really!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Joyeuses Pâques!

May your Easter Basket runneth over with good things.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Don't you just hate it when you are trying to get out of the driveway, but you can't, because there's a camel blocking the gate?

It happens to me with surprising frequency. I think it's because the local guardians like to hang out beside my front gate. (The first thing I did when we moved here was build a shady lean-to there, so it's quite the attraction.)
Well, all these guardians end up chatting with the people that wander through the neighborhood.
And at least a few times each month, we get a Tuareg tribesman coming through. They come down from the north of Burkina, or Mali or from over in Niger. They're here to sell things they've made and to just check out life in the big city. And when they start to run low on money, they can usually pick up coins by going through the residential areas, where parents will pay a few cents for their children to ride a camel for a bit.
This man didn't speak much French or Mooré, but we did understand that he had come down from Gorom Gorom. I gave him a bit of money and then asked if he'd move the camel, so I could go run my errands today. But then I got the idea of taking a picture.
Our guardian, Salfo, is on the right. I printed out copies right away, which delighted them both. Then I went off to the grocery store.
Just another morning in Ouagadougou!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Yesterday I was back in my bedroom and heard screaming. It sounded like my children were being dismembered , or at least being kidnapped by people planning to do so.
I tore out to the living room to find Alexa rushing to find me, sobbing piteously. No axe-muderers or kidnapper in sight.
I was then made to understand that my girls had been through a hideous experience. They'd been in Valentine's room when a crazed gecko jumped off of the top of the mosquito net and onto Valentine's head.
She screamed.
The gecko ran down onto her face.
She screamed louder.
Then she brushed it off (who can blame her?) without paying much attention to where she was aiming. She ended up flinging the little lizard onto Alexa's head- which resulted in even more huge amounts of screaming from everyone, including Mallory, who was the horrified witness to all this.
Ah.. Life in Africa.

I still have no e-mail, so keep the comment/messages coming. I forgot to mention, for those of you that don't know how it works, that I can read the comments and then NOT publish them on the blog. So, messages to me do not become automatic entertainment for the whole blogosphere.

I have to run several errands today, so the tax story will have to wait yet another day.

If you want to read something funny, go over and read Valentine's blog today. She gives a big write up of her impressions of the amateur rock group we went to see the other night.
You should definitely read it if you are over 30 and thinking about fulfilling that life-long dream to create a band with the help of your equally decrepit pals from work. Ouch.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The kids have the day off from school, as it's the day the Muslim community observes Mohammad's birthday. To celebrate, you might want to be extra nice to your cat today.

So, we're having a day at home, playing Kingdom Hearts II on the Playstation and trying to keep cool in the heat. We'll be decorating Easter Eggs later on.
We're sure not going anywhere, because I have yet another flat tire today. I plan to ignore it. It's way easier just to stay home.

One thing I cannot do today is keep up with my e-mails. There is a big-time problem over at Liptinfor (my server and where my mailbox is) There is no access at all to my mail- I haven't been able to send or receive a thing since last night. So if you really need to contact me, either call or to the blog. I'll check the comments section from time to time today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Twas the night before Easter, when all through the house, things got pretty disturbing...
Humorous Pictures
see more crazy cat pics

I could say that yesterday morning was « taxing », but that would mean I was making a very cheap pun. I’ll instead tell you that my efforts trying to pay our Burkinabe income tax were frustrating and insanity-provoking.

Taxes usually aren’t my thing. JP has always taken care of this stuff. But this year, he told me that it had to be paid before the end of March and then got on a plane for Switzerland.

“Talk to Mme. D- at the tax office. She’ll help you. See you in two months” he said.

And there I was.

After the bitterness died down (just kidding. haha. sort of) , I decided to go take care of it. That was yesterday.

I got in my car with Mahama, our driver, and headed off to the Tanghin neighbourhood, in the northern part of Ouaga. We hadn’t gone far when I realized that’d I’d forgotten my cell phone, but I didn’t go back for it. Big mistake, but more on that much later.

We continued on and in about 20 minutes had arrived. I recognised the building, as I’d been there once before to drop off some papers in years past. But it looked different now - really different - as in completely abandoned and about to be levelled by bulldozers.

I quickly asked some neighbourhood guys hanging around where the office had moved to. They told me it was all in a big new building in Tampouey, on the Ouahiagouya road.


That’s a neighbourhood in the extreme northwest of Ouaga. It’s certainly not one I hang out in often, so I had no clue where to go. I never would have found it without Mahama, who knows the city really well.

The new tax building was absolutely huge by Ouaga standards- five stories, the exterior entirely covered by white ceramic tiles. It looked like the world’s largest public restroom facility.

It was so big, it was impossible to know where to enter. I randomly chose an entrance. I went up to a window and asked the man behind it where I could find Mme. D- and take care of an expat tax matter. He had no clue, but sent me over to a colleague at another window.

He had no clue either, but sent me across the way to an office. I explained to the man at the desk what my problem was. He had no idea, but was sure that a fellow on the other side of the building would know.

So, I trudged around the maze of offices until I found this fourth fellow. And I explained for the FOURTH time what my problem was.

He seemed to know something. He told me that this was not at all the building I needed to be in. (What a surprise!) In fact, I would need to go to the other new tax office, over in Gounghin. There I would find someone that could take care of my problem.


I got back in the car and we headed south.

We’d been told that this new place was near a certain truck repair garage. Luckily, my driver knew it because he was a truck driver before coming to work for us. If I’d had to find all these places on my own, it would have taken me two days, not just a single morning!

This new building was only three stories high and much smaller. I thought it would be much easier to find my way. I was completely deluded, of course. Once I got inside, I was sent to three different people on the ground floor. The last one informed me that I actually needed to go outside, around the back of the building and take the stairs there up to the second floor.


I went around and up.

It was a brand new building, but built in that Burkinabe way that is very strange, unattractive and uncomfortable. None of the corners are square, lots of wiring is exposed, and the stairs are not designed for the use of humans. I think that aliens from outer space must pay their taxes here in Burkina, because we have their stairs. Each step is a different height, either too high or too low. The handrails are too high and made out of sharp-edged metal. (the aliens apparently have tough protective plates on their appendages.) The windows on the landing are tiny and set at human knee-level. The elements combine into a very weird, difficult to use whole.

Because of the step irregularities, you feel like you’re going to fall, but if you use the handrail, you cut yourself. And the small, low windows mean it’s very dim inside, adding to the creepiness. (note to general public: Appreciate your stairs! You never notice them until they are gone and replaced by constructions from distant planets.)

I lurched up to the second floor, nicking my hand in the process. Up there, I found yet another maze of offices. As in all these places, the doors were either unmarked or were labelled with a piece of paper bearing some mystifying notation like “Sec./Tr. 1- 56RTRX”. Looking back now, I now believe these papers denoted the rank of the alien Pod Leaders within.

As this is getting really long, I'll write and post the rest of the story tomorrow. It goes on and on and on....

Monday, March 17, 2008

I have gotten a couple of emails that read something like this :

Dear Beth.

I read in your blog that you aren’t happy with your car. If I sign a statement agreeing that your car is the Spawn of Satan On Earth, Working Evil Upon You and Your Family, will you PLEASE write about something else? What did you do all weekend anyway? You live in Africa and all you did was sit around and gripe about your car? Nothing more exciting going on? Really?



Puzzled Friend

Well, actually the emails were way more polite than that, but I think that’s what they meant. At any rate, since they asked so nicely, I will tell everyone about my weekend.

Friday night, Valentine and I went with a friend (who has a working car!!!) and went to go see a band in a maquis/nightclub. It was a group made up of teachers from Saint Exupery School. There were seven people in it, all in the 30 to 50 year old age range, just out to have fun. Alexa’s teacher was the lead singer, Mallory’s geography teacher was the lead guitarist and her 2nd grade teacher was the backup vocalist.

I wouldn’t say they were a garage band. They were more of a “garden shed at the back edge of the property, well away from the house” band.

Saturday morning found us at the US Ambassador’s home for the annual American community Easter Egg hunt. Everyone had to bring a dish for the brunch, so I had made a pecan pie with some precious pecans from my freezer and a bit of that rarest of all fluids: corn syrup. ( I don’t think any nation on earth uses the stuff except for Americans. Nobody else knows what to do with it..) I managed to give myself a nasty round burn on my wrist with bubbling hot syrup and sugar.

Somebody at the party remarked “So, burning ourselves with cigarettes again are we?”

“I just wanted the voices in my head to stop!” I answered, a little too loudly, earning me a few inquisitive looks.

If the Ouaga Rumour Mill starts humming with news that I have a major mental disorder, I won’t be too surprised.

The afternoon passed quickly after we got back home. We invited over a few friend to watch the first tape of American Idol.

Yes, we’re just getting started over here!

I have to be very careful when I’m at the gym watching the television, because people often put on an entertainment/celebrity show while I’m there (it’s on right after Dr. Phil). The show often mentions what’s going on on Idol. Once again today I saw the AI logo come up on the screen and had to avert my eyes, plug my ears and drone “la la la la ” until it was over, so I wouldn’t get even a hint of what the news was. This behaviour might also be contributing to any reputation for mental instability that I may be developing here in Ouaga.

That evening, we went to Mass. No chance of missing it, because from 4 pm onwards, Mallory was asking every ten minutes “Is it time to go yet? We need to go early you know. Is it time to get ready yet?” You have never seen a child in such a hurry to go to church. You’d think they were giving away free Barbie dolls.

But no, Mallory wanted to get there early so that she’d be assured a place as one of the four altar servers that would assist the priest during the mass.

Now, the twins have served at the altar several times and enjoy doing it, but this time they both seemed especially adamant that they would get the coveted white albs with red crosses over the heart. I kind of wondered about it.
A sudden religious fervour, perhaps? Future twin nuns?!

In the car on the way over, I was quickly disabused of any notion that an elevated spirituality was behind this sudden overwhelming desire to get to church early and help our kindly Burkinabé priest, the Abbé Anicet.

“Charlene is EVIL” Mallory announced.

“Uh…she seems like a perfectly nice girl.” I ventured.

But no, it seems like the Anti-Christ is alive and well and going to Sunday school with my daughters.

“It’s all an act” Alexa informed me. “She pretends to be all nice around the parents, but she’s really MEAN and HORRIBLE!”

“And she’d do ANYTHING to be an altar server!” Mallory added

“Yes! I bet she’s already there! I bet she got there an hour ago!” Alexa said indignantly.

By this time, the older kids and I were starting to really laugh.

Valentine said “Actually, I heard that Charlene took her tent and CAMPED out in front of the church last night so she’d be sure to be the first!”

I couldn’t resist, either.

“Well” I said. “I heard that ANOTHER little girl had had the same idea and camped there first, but Charlene killed her! Then she burned the body and the tent and buried the ashes so her horrible crime would be hidden. Yup. She’d do ANYTHING to be an altar girl!”

So, we definitely all had a severe case of the giggles by the time we pulled up to the church. (Valentine remarked just the other night as we sat around laughing: “I’d sure hate to be in a normal family”. -which made us all laugh harder, but I think this is the kind of thing she thinks she’d miss by being “normal”)

The twins scrambled out of the car as fast as they could. There were already a few vehicles there. Competition!

We saw no evidence of camping, thank goodness.

The twins quickly claimed two of the coveted positions in a distinctly un-Christian spirit of complete victory and went off to get suited up. Two other kids were chosen (neither of them was the “evil” Charlene)

I sat down with my older kids, near the front -which I came to regret..

As it was our Palm Sunday service, everyone was given a cross made from a palm frond. But in the hands of my son, a palm frond is a dangerous thing.

As the choir sang “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” I looked over and saw Severin lip-synching, using his cross as a microphone. I wanted to look severe, but it was all I could do not to laugh.

“Dude! If the priest sees you doing Jesus Karaoke you are SO busted!” Valentine whispered to him in mock outrage, which about did me in totally.

I figure it’s all my fault. I let them watch way too many Monty Python dvds.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A few months ago, we replaced our elderly, troublesome Toyota Land Cruiser with a slightly less geriatric, supposedly less misery-provoking Toyota Corolla station wagon.

All I can say now is: I would rather eat a caterpillar sandwich with broken glass garnish than buy another Toyota anything.
Even if Toyota engineers suddenly designed comfortable, flattering pants that instantly made the wearer look 20 lbs thinner, I would shun them, knowing that they would malfunction in some horrible way. They’d probably fall off me in shreds the minute I went out into public and I’d be so traumatised I’d have to undergo very long, very costly therapy sessions for years afterwards, completely impoverishing my family.

That’s what the Toyota name has come to mean to me: total humiliation and a money haemorrhage to follow.

Yes, as a matter of fact, my car DID break down again.

How ever did you guess?

It was very exciting. It got stuck in third gear during Friday afternoon rush hour traffic in the middle of downtown Ouagadougou.

It was so exciting that I cannot describe how exciting it was. The part where we didn’t die was my favourite bit, of course.

I contemplated not getting it repaired – maybe just pouring gasoline over the whole thing and throwing a match on top of it? But I guess that’s pretty dangerous and a poor example for the children. Not to mention that it’s bad for the air quality.

The best solution is probably to just keep the car in the driveway as a very expensive Burkinabe-style status symbol (“Look! We own a car! ). Then I’ll buy a nice little donkey and cart.

But with my luck, I’d no doubt end up buying an unreliable used donkey. One suffering from severe ear mites and terminal cancer.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The air is Ouaga was exceptionally humid yesterday and I had the hair to prove it, which was particularly sad because it was the day that I HAD to get my pictures taken for my French passport.

Getting this passport was a big deal. Mine was stolen about five years ago and I have been trying to get it replaced ever since. But this situation that should have been easily remedied quickly turned into the stuff of nightmares. The people renting our home in France “misplaced” a box containing all our important documents-including the ones pertaining to my naturalisation years ago. And requests to the French Administration at Nantes yielded the news that they had never heard of me – all my records there were lost, as well!

Every attempt to fix this situation failed for four years, but about a year ago, JP found someone here at the Embassy in Ouaga willing to help me. After many letters and much to-ing and fro-ing, yesterday I got the news that they had all the papers they needed and I could get my passport replaced.

My question is this: why do they still have to use photos on passports? This is 2008. I’m all for finger prints and retina scans. My fingers are quite slim and I feel that my retinas are probably super photogenic. But no - I had to make a trip to a local photo shop and have the dreaded ID pictures taken.

Resigned, I went to a place that the French Embassy recommended. It was near the municipal stadium and located in a nice new building. It even had a waiting area with seats! It boasted digital cameras and a viewing screen for approving the pictures before printing them! Very posh.

I paid 3000cfa and went into the studio area. The photographer sat me down on a small, unsteady stool made of very shiny, very slippery red vinyl. I am thinking that the seating must at least somewhat explain the odd expression I had on my face in the first picture he took.

Another problem was that my hairstyle (such as it is) does not, apparently meet with French Embassy standards. The pictures have to show both of your ears. So, I had to gather up my frizzy hair and shove it behind my ears, which are not small and dainty. They don’t stick out, but I don’t consider them to be two of my finer features.

I fussed with my hair a bit, then he took the first picture.

Looking at the television screen nearby, I saw a particularly careworn 89 year old woman with tiny pig eyes, Albert Einstein hair and an expression of extreme dismay on her blotchy face. Judging from the ears, she also apparently had some elephant blood in her ancestry.

Oh wait. That was me.

We tried it again.

And again.

I made the photographer keep taking pictures until the receptionist from out in the waiting room started poking her head in the door, wondering if we had ducked out for a romantic lunch together.

“That one is good. I like that one. It’s really nice. Perfect!” the photographer said after the 20th attempt. The words were flattering, but said in a tone of voice that held desperation and potential violence.

I told him to print it.

Maybe it isn’t that bad, I told myself. Maybe it just looks scary because it’s blown up on the screen. In a smaller format, it might look completely normal!

He printed the pictures, trimmed them and handed them over to me.

Well, I thought to myself optimistically, These could be useful eventually! If I have him take me in profile now, I can use them as my mug shots if I’m arrested for shoplifting Metamucil when I’m 90.

Ever practical, I stuck them in my purse. Then I headed over to Photo Luxe. It’s where we usually get our ID pictures done. I didn’t care what the Embassy “recommended”, I was going to have to keep this passport for years and I didn’t want to look like a depressed, elderly elephant pig on it.

At Photo Luxe, Moussa took my picture. One picture. Click. No fancy TV screen.

Out in the crowed, dirty, no seating whatsoever waiting area, we waited a few minutes and then Moussa ripped off the plastic covering so he could place the sheet of pictures in front of a fan to dry.

I had a look. It was not bad. I looked very serious, rather smart and quite “severe teacher about to ask you to recite all the countries of South America, including all major cities and principal exports”. I can live with that. Shooting for “completely hot sex-goddess supermodel” would only lead to bitter disappointment and tears.

As for the humidity in the air? Well, we waited all day for the Mango Rain, but all we got was the Mango Spit. Mango Spit contains little actual water and much dirt. It does not give you any desire to go out and frolic in it, even if you haven’t seen precipitation since October. So, the day was a bit of a disappointment, weather wise.

It was midnight when the real Mango Rain came. It poured down for about an hour and cleaned things up nicely. When I woke up this morning, everything was cool and freshly rinsed.

So, that’s done. The dry season will really set in now. Things will heat up dramatically and there won’t be another drop of rain until June. I miss weather. All we have here is climate.

BTW- As soon as I got home, I ripped up the first set of pictures and threw them in the bin!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I know that I complained in a recent blog entry about soumbala and gumbo. But there’s foods far more exotic than that in West Africa.
By "exotic" foods, I mean foods that back home in Nebraska we'd describe as 'different'.
'Different' is a way to say 'really, really bad' in Midwestern Understated Dialect. If you invite a Nebraskan to see a politically-inspired modern dance piece featuring nude performers, scrap metal and chunks of raw meat, chances are he or she would say afterwards : "Thanks. That was different." We are a polite, cautious people.

So, being Nebraska born and raised, I'd have to say that caterpillars are different.

Now, I like caterpillars when they are A) humorous sidekick caterpillars, as featured in popular animated films, such as Bug’s Life. Or B) colourful creatures that stay outdoors, not making personal contact with me and eventually turning into butterflies.

I do NOT like caterpillars when they are C) dried, toasted and presented to me as my lunch.

Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina, is famous for its edible caterpillars. It’s not a culinary oddity that the thrill-seeker has to laboriously ferret out. People present the things proudly at the town’s main market: bag after bag of the chubby brown bodies.
They are commonly eaten in sauces, but also in salads. And instead of a boring old mushroom omelette, in Burkina you can have yours with caterpillars.

I’ve posted a picture above from a cookbook called “Culinary Arts of Burkina Faso” (It’s published by the national tourisme office here). The book features several typical Burkinabé foods: tô, degue, zoom-koom, dolo, etc. and right in there among them are recipes for salad and omelettes featuring sitmus caterpillars.

Roasted grasshoppers are another somewhat alarming specialty. My friend Delphine loves them and nothing makes her happier than when a friend from Niger sends her a bag full of the crunchy treats. When she urged me to try some, I gingerly picked past the whole insects and found a small leg. It was not horrible, but I couldn’t get past the idea.
Eldest daughter (then age 6) is far more adventurous than her mom. She carefully chose a whole insect and popped it in her mouth. She thought it was great and settled down beside Delphine to eat a few more. She reported that the heads were a bit icky, but the bodies were pretty good.
Just like potato chips, but with more protein, I guess.

Folks in Burkina also eat bats. This was a source of a minor misunderstanding when I first arrived in Ouaga. I haven’t tried it – and probably won’t. But you can order stewed bat in some local restaurants.
Agouti (or grasscutter) is also frequently found in restaurants here, even though they live more to the south in places like Ghana.
Monkey meat is sometimes found. It's euphemistically called "bush meat".

Of course, the average person here doesn't eat much meat at all. And when they do, it tends to be either goat or mutton. Neither of these dishes are ever served at our house, though -especially the former.
Aslan the Wonder Goat is our friend, not our food!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

We’d been in Ouaga about one month when I met the French aristocrats living down the street from us. Their kids rode horses regularly, of course. What else would French nobles living in Africa do for fun?

I was afraid that it would be an expensive hobby and and maybe the people doing it would be scary (“The Burkinabé peasants say they have no tô” “No tô? Let them eat rice”, etc…) But Valentine, just turned six, really wanted to try.

So, the neighbours took us along out to their club to check it out, as we didn’t have a car yet.

They brought us to the Oasis du Cheval –one of no less than three very good riding clubs located in Ouagadougou. The infrastructure was pretty basic, but the atmosphere and horses were both great, thanks in great part to the owner, Modibo Traoré.

The Oasis became “our” club, too. Valentine took weekly lessons. When the twins were about two and a half years old, they started riding, too. Over the years, we spent a lot of time at the place and I have mentioned it in passing several times in my blog.

The club improved steadily, as Modibo is all about the horses. He and his wife Valerie have spent lots of money to make the club beautiful and the horses more comfortable than any other animals (and many people!) in Burkina Faso..

The upsetting news that we got recently was that eleven horses from the club have burned to death in a terrible truck accident. I don’t know lots of details, mainly because I am not actively gathering info on this. The less I know, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

But here’s what I’ve been told so far:

Eleven horses were being transported in a big truck to a special riding event. Modibo was following in his jeep. And the truck caught on fire- I am told it was a “short circuit”. Whatever it was, it was very sudden. Modibo had to be held back and prevented from rushing into the flames.

I know that Jaguar, the twins’ favourite, is gone. He was a dappled grey stallion with lots of Arab blood in him. And Muffin, the horse that used to belong to our good friends Jo and Sophie, is gone, too. So are Diabolo and eight others.

Nobody is feeling very well today. I just took the twins over to the orphanage to help out with the babies there. I knew they were shorthanded today and figured it would take the girls’ minds off the horses for a while. It did. Though for me, it was a little more ambivalent. There is one toddler there whose case is being toyed with by the social services agency here. It’s a long story, but in short: the girl spent some time living with a lovely US family here in Ouaga that was going to adopt her. Then social services made them put her back in the orphanage. When I arrived at the orphanage, this child crawled immediately into my arms. I think it’s because as a tall, blonde white woman, I somewhat resemble her adoptive mother. When I finally had to leave, she cried and screamed and I felt awful. I almost felt like I shouldn’t have gone at all…Did I make her feel worse in the end?
But on the other hand, the caretaker there really did need the help with the smaller babies.

Rough day.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Protest-free day in Ouaga.
Except for me- I'm protesting because the power is down again.

There is very bad news about the Oasis du Cheval riding club, but I don't have the heart to write about it tonight. It is very, very sad.
I picked up the phone early this morning to call a friend on the north side of Zogona, to ask if they had electricity or not. I figured that would be a good indicator of whether or not we'd keep ours in the afternoon. The line was dead. I shouted across the garden wall and asked our neighbor if his phone was working. No phone for them either.
I thought that maybe the protests had begun and the lines had been cut as a result. Luckily, I have a cell phone and was able to call around to other friends. I found out that 1. Everyone seemed to have electrical current 2. the city was quite calm and 3. the phones were out all over the Zogona/Zone du Bois area for some unknown reason.

So far, so good. The phone came back on at about 2pm. It's now 3pm and the power is still on! I've been out driving around a bit and everything seems very calm, at least on the east side of town. The University is quiet, as is the area near the French Embassy.

It looks like International Women's Day is going to be celebrated with the scheduled bike race and NOT by another wave of protests and violence, which is good!

But I certainly support the release of Thibault Nana who has been accused of "sedition" by the Burkinabé government. I hope he doesn't end up like Moussa Kaka, in jail for months with no end in sight.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The power was only off from 3pm to 8pm today. We aren't sure if the Part arrived from Germany, or we are just suddenly being accorded a little more electricity per day, but it's great!

Tomorrow is International Women's Day- a big deal here in Ouaga- but festivities might well be overshadowed by the following: The politician Thibault Nana was arrested for his involvement in the protests in Ouaga recently against rising prices. An "unauthorized" demonstration is now being planned by a group called "La Coordination de Jeune pour la Liberation de Nana Thibaut". (The Young People's Effort for the Liberation of Thibault Nana). They are going to demonstrate tomorrow (Saturday, March 8) and demand the release of Nana Thibaut.
The CRS anti-riot police will be everywhere in Ouagadougou- but rather than prevent rioting, they may well escalate things.
My info is coming from both the Ouaga Rumour Mill and a Warden Bulletin from the US Embassy, so this seems like it's really for real.
And here's an interesting point to ponder: The bulletin advises that we all avoid travel and stay out of the center of town. But the MACO (the Ouaga prison) is just a few blocks from our house. I imagine that Nana is being held there. Does that mean our neighborhood will be in the protest/vandalism zone? Hard to say.

No electricity here yesterday from about 3 pm until midnight. And there won’t be any power again today. To be honest, we are all a teensy bit sick and tired of it.

Yesterday, as soon as the power shut down, I put the kids in the car and sought distraction. We had to drive even more cautiously than usual, though, as all the traffic lights were off, of course.

We wandered around Orca a bit. It’s a Lebanese owned store that is kind of like a Bed, Bath and Beyond, only 10 times smaller and 10 times more expensive. We bought a few extra candles there, though, as there was a 30% off sale on them.

The fact that something I actually needed was on sale tricked me into thinking it was my lucky day. It wasn’t. I didn’t find any D cell batteries at all in any of the shops we tried.

So, I finally gave up and we headed over to the Rec Center. I figured that the kids could swim while I worked out in the gym. But the power was off there, too. And no WAY do I work out in 105° F heat with no air-con. And I hate swimming. (I am secretly convinced that I died of drowning in a previous life. The fact that I don’t even believe in reincarnation is no obstacle)

We ended up over at the CCF (the French Cultural Center). Now, just because it’s called that, please do not imagine a place full of blindingly white French folks gathered together to sip fine vintage wines and congratulate themselves heartily on all the Great Culture that they have created (the Louvre, Moliére, Monet, Haute Couture, the metric system, big metal towers that attract hoardes of toursts and tiny cups of really strong coffee)

In fact, when we showed up, we were the only expats there. The outer courtyard was full of Burkinabé people enjoying an exhibit of the work of local cartoonists/ caricaturists. When we entered the library, it was full of Burkinabé children quietly reading. This is very typical. The CCF is used much more by locals than by expats, as it is intended as a sort of community outreach center. Yes, the French high school puts on their school musical there, but local dance companies and theatre groups are more often the performers on stage.

We stayed in the air-conditioned library, reading comic books and magazines, then went on over to the Verdoyant to eat a quick dinner of (yes, it’s true) ice cream.

When we got back home, we lit some candles and played board games until about midnight. Then the power came back on!

Today’s Ouaga Rumour Mill bulletin is that the Part we are all waiting for is coming from Germany. Of course, there is no direct Germany to Burkina flight, so it has to pass through Paris, anyway.

The Part did NOT arrive on last night’s plane, so it will come on Sunday night. We hope.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

My pals over at the electric company are waiting for a vital Part to arrive from France. And the lack of this object is ruining my life. Well, ok- maybe not ruining it, but still managing to make it far less nice than it could be.

You long-time readers of my blog know these guys- they’re the national electric company called Sonabel- the nice folks that regularly make things burst into flame at my house.

Well, for the last three days, they have been having problems over there, as they can only keep about half the residences in Ouaga on the electrical grid at the same time, due to the lack of some vital Part. At least, that what my source says- a Burkinabé friend whose husband is retired from the Sonabel.

I guess that two sections of the grid are doing a time-share thing with whatever vital bit that there is now only one of. In the morning, it’s plugged in on one side, so that we here on the south side of the Zogona neighbourhood have power. But that means that there’s no power to the north and in the Zone du Bois. So, at about noon, they pop the precious piece out and use it to provide electricity to the folks who were deprived all morning.

But that leaves us over here with a long, powerless, miserable afternoon and evening. The power doesn’t come back until about 10 or 11 o’clock at night, so it’s pretty dark and boring. And very hot.

The twins and their pal who was sleeping over last night played a board game by candlelight. Val and Sev sang duets from High School Musical for our entertainment.

Mostly, we complained about how hot it was. The daily temperatures here are up to about 103° most days and don’t cool off much at night. So, not even having a fan to stir the air was a bit miserable.

No, I was being brave and stoic. It was actually very, very miserable.

No TV, no computer (my battery lasts about 40 minutes, tops), no radio, not much light.
Plus, it was hot. Did I say how hot it was? It was very hot. Even my Burkinabé pals that resist the heat better than I do are complaining about how hard it is to sleep with no fan. Lots of folks are sleeping outside, which only helps a little. And with the shoe-thief still at large, we are sure not sleeping outside at my house.

Last night, almost every battery in every flashlight in our house gave out at the same time. We also burned through most of the candles. And I hate candles, anyway, as does almost every Burkinabé person I've ever met. They cause many, many house fires and deaths in this country where people have no, little or sporadic access to electricity.

I'm trying to be prepared. I went out foraging in the shops today and bought all the D-cell batteries I could find. I got enough to fill our big lantern, but that’s it.
I’m going to have to go out again and hunt around in some different shops this afternoon. (I would kiss the floor of a Walmart if one magically appeared in Ouagadougou right now)

The shops and business in the city center are all open. It’s just certain neighbourhoods that are being affected by the power cuts. So, after lunch, I’m taking the kids and going shopping for batteries. Then we’ll go visit various friends that have afternoon/evening electricity.

I hope The Part comes soon. I am about ready to jump on a plane to France and go fetch it myself.
But then, once I arrived in Paris (current temperature about 5° C ) I'd go to the Louvre, visit friends and do some shopping. I wouldn't come back to Burkina, ever.

But I'd at least make sure that The Part got loaded onto a plane and shipped to the Sonabel in Burkina.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Very Last and Final Episode of
My Extremely Long Story About How We Visted a Winyé Earth Priest, Sacrificed Chickens, Saw Lots of Bats and Gave Away Some Cookies.

Within a few minutes, the ceremony at the Shrine of the Elephant Hunt was complete. The girls and I got out of there with what might well be described as relief.

It was over! We made it! I had the girls stand in front of the door to the hut and took a photo. (It’s the pic I posted yesterday. Now you know why Mal doesn’t look like her usual cheerful self in it. )

So, there I was standing by the door, putting the camera away and wondering why the guys weren’t coming outside. And JP says “Come back in! We had to give the gifts now at the Earth Shrine.”

There was NO WAY I was making the girls go back in, but I figured I could manage a final effort. I sent the girls to go sit in the shade and I walked back into the hut. Not surprisingly, I was confronted AGAIN by a mass of bats, this time moving out of the Earth Shrine and back to their usual home in the Shrine of the Elephant Hunt.

I waited for the traffic to die down and then made my way to the back room. There ceremony was very simple and quickly done.

Now, all we had to do was make a few social visits around the village, eat lunch and then leave. It was only about one o’clock and it was very possible that this day could actually stay on schedule!

We needed to go greet various friends/informants of JP. Not like we needed the company. There was plenty to be had in the compound of the Earth Priest, believe me. When we had arrived, it had been a quiet place, but soon after we had arrived various folks began dropping by to say “Naa Fo”. And there were the kids. Very quickly, there were about 20 of them, all staring fixedly at the twins and A. It was a bit sad, as there were many school-aged children. They all had parents that either could not afford or did not want to send them to school. And because they didn’t go to school none of them spoke French- and the girls with us spoke no Mooré. So, communication was very difficult.

After a bit, Mallory got the big bag of cookies out of the truck. I’d brought them from Ouagadougou as a sort of “ice-breaker”. And they were certainly a big hit. The girls handed out treats to each child and there was lots of smiling both sides.

After that, JP announced that we could start our round of visits. The village is quite scattered and the whole area mostly devoid of any shade or ground cover. So, it was very, very hot and very, very dusty as we crossed the village. And we were not passing through unremarked. As we walked, we collected a train of village children.

By the time arrived at our destination, we had over 80 kids in our retinue. The adults sat and drank the inevitable gourds of millet beer and the girls distributed the rest of the cookies. (See picture posted above. We can see that Mallory likes sharing cookies far more than visiting mystical bat chambers. Can’t blame her, really)

We visited a bit and then trekked back towards the Earth Priest’s compound. On the way, we stopped and visited the compound of the Griots. They are the traditional musician/praise singer caste. If I have to be reincarnated as a Burkinabé village woman (seems unlikely, but stick with me here) I fervently hope that it is as a Griot lady. They are the only village women in Burkina that seem to really have any fun. The minute we came into their compound, the women poured out of the interior of a nearby hut, laughing and joking. And soon the singing began, with impromptu and apparently very funny lyrics describing our visit. In a manner rarely seen in Burkina, the men were definitely in the background and it was a group of jolly, loud, fun women center stage, welcoming the guests.

Soon, we were back at the Earth Priest’s compound. It was 2 pm now and I was getting worried again about the deadline. If we weren’t in the truck and heading back by 3 pm, we’d have to stay overnight in Boromo. And that would NOT have been a good thing. But there was no imaginable way to leave before the meal was served an eaten.

But within a few minutes, we were ushered into a small hut to the right. You have to eat, but you don’t eat together. The Winyé are not big on communal meals. Guests don’t eat with hosts. Even in daily life, men don’t eat with the women and children, but are served first in a hut reserved for them alone.

So, Isseuf, JP, the girls and I were in our little hut, sitting on tiny wooden benches. Burkianbé benches are typically very, very low- intended to keep your rear end out of the dirt, but not by much of a margin. But as they don’t have tables, it makes sense. The communal bowls are placed on the floor and everyone digs in. We had a huge serving platter of millet tô (sticky dumplings) and a pan full of chicken parts and sauce. We ate with our fingers, in keeping with good Burkinabé non-table manners. Our twin daughters and A are quite good at this style of eating, as they all grew up eating local foods sitting on the kitchen floor with household helpers. For the less habituated, it’s hard to do without dripping sauce down your arm or onto the floor.

Soon, the meal was over. We thanked our host and hostess many times and slowly began the process of “asking for the road”.

Finally, amazingly, our visit to the village of Nanou was at an end. By three o’clock we were getting back into the truck.

With Isseuf translating for her, the Earth Priest’s wife jokingly asked if she could come along with me, as we gotten to be friendly, despite the language barrier.

I put my arm across her shoulders and asked Isseuf to say that she was coming with me to Ouaga for a nice rest and that the Earth Priest would have to do his own cooking and laundry for a while. We all had a laugh ( though actually I was more than half serious and if she shows up at my house, she’s than welcome. )

The trip back was uneventful, except for Mallory making me swear that I would never take her there again. Ever. I guess she’s not going to grow up to be an anthropologist like her dad.

Anyway, that’s it.


No more about our trip to Nanou. On to other things, which there are plenty of, believe me. Burkina is bracing for some more demonstrations against the rising cost of living here (or “la vie chere” as they call it) The US Embassy just sent out a warning that action is expected today in the town of Koudougou, not far from Ouaga. CRS Riot police are being sent out from the capitol to control any unruly mobs that arise.

Less serious, but more annoying: yesterday the electricity was cut almost all day. As the weather is getting hotter, it was not that fun trying to manage with not even a fan. Plus, I was worried about the food in the refrigerator. I was envisioning my kilos and kilos of strawberries half-unthawed and ruined.
The power finally came on again about midnight. Hope today goes better!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Enter the Bat Shrine of Doom. Yeah. Real high on my “To Do” list.

But there was Isseuf, chortling gleefully and giving me a “You white girls are such sissies” kind of look. And I WAS pretty curious, I have to admit.
And the bats DID all seem to have relocated, at least for the moment.

I told A to go wait outside. No telling what would go on in this next, more mysterious shrine and I figured that NOT bringing the 10 year old child of missionaries into might be a good plan.

But, amazingly, A. wanted to come along and Alexa, too, was ok with it.
Mallory, unfortunately, was at the end of her patience with all the weirdness and was already outside. And I wasn’t going to make her. I’d let her brilliant anthropologist father figure that one out.

I gathered the other two girls right up behind me, figuring that I could block any stray bats that might have missed the initial bulletin that strangers were invading their home.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could make out that this room was about the same size as the Earth Shrine, but far more roomy. Instead of an elaborate altar at the far end, there was a very simple one, mostly made up of a big, black pottery jar. I don’t know what was in the jar. I was never even tempted to look. I was just relieved to see that there was a bench for us to sit on along one wall and that the floor was quite clean. Maybe the Earth Priest gets his wife to sweep it out regularly. At any rate, it was not the nightmare of bat droppings that I had been expecting.

I sat down with the two girls on each side of me and Isseuf was crouched near the Earth Priest. He translated the Earth Priests words to me:

“This is the Shrine of the Elephant Hunt. Now, of course, laws prevent us from hunting as we used to in the past, but we still keep our shrine. Even though we can’(t hunt elephants, we can ask here for help with other problems. Our troubles and obstacles can be lifted. We can ask for protection and prosperity. That is what I am going to do for your daughters. They will be protected when you leave our lands and go back to France.”

It was all very wonderful - but our last eight years in Africa have probably been far more risky than our eventual future in Europe will be. No malaria or meningitis in France! But going to live there no doubt sounded like a pretty perilous undertaking to an elderly Earth Priest who has never even been to Ouagadougou

And his previous demands for better health for Alexa seem to have worked wonders. So, why not?

I contemplated all this as I listened to JP trying to persuade a very reluctant Mallory to enter the Shrine of the Elephant Hunt. He had her in the doorway, but she wouldn’t come in. We all assured her it was fine (very clean, bat-free and far less scary than the Earth Shrine) but to no avail.

JP finally half-carried her in and sat down with her on the far end of the bench.

No sacrifices were even required here. We just sat respectfully while the Earth Priest chanted.

Tomorrow I hope to get to the end of this VERY long story...