Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What's more fun than having a really rotten case of the flu?
How about having the flu AND having about a quarter of your maxillary 2nd premolar break off?
That's some fun.

I wasn't even doing anything- just chewing on a lightly toasted and marmite-covered bit of bread.

To top it off, the dentists around here are booked up like you wouldn't believe. I called several offices and most could only offer me an appointment around mid-October. When I finally contacted a place that would give me a slot for Monday afternoon, I was pathetically grateful.

But now it's starting to hurt more and I'm thinking that the next five days might get pretty grim...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I woke up on Saturday morning and my first thought was "OMG! I have a hangover?!"
Then I realized that:
a. I hadn't drank any alcohol the night before. At all.
b. I hadn't had a drink all month, even.
and also
c. The last time I had a hangover was probably 20 years ago.

This didn't actually make me fell any better. Quite the opposite. I would have been comforted to have a simple cause behind the dry mouth, pounding head, nausea and general that would mean it would all go away by the end of the day.

Alas, the convulsive sneezing began and kicked off a long, miserable weekend that promises to turn into a long, miserable week.

I've missed my blog and my blog friends. I haven't had my computer on for the last three days. That means that not only have I not been posting, I haven't even been able to keep up with my fave blogs and leave comments, as I am wont to do. Rest assured that I have not abandoned my blog, or yours.

Also, many thanks to those of you have sent kind emails asking about my unusual silence.

I am off for a nice lie-down now....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I saw the previews on the internet and they made the show look very amusing. But I'd learned my lesson with "The Hangover" and was not going to take anything for granted.
Maybe it was a trick.
So, I looked up the dvd of "Lost in Austen" on and read the reviews there. They were nearly 100% raving positive. Adjectives like "delighful", "light-hearted" and "fun" showed up often. And I was was repeatedly promised that any true Austen fan would simply adore this British TV mini-series.
Reassured, I carefully downloaded the original, full version and then settled down to watch it with my children.
And guess what?
I didn't like it.
At all.
It was badly-written, vulgar and had plot holes big enough for a particularly large apatosaurus to walk through. And how I wished one would have done so and mercilessly trampled the people responsible for the script. But I digress...

First of all, here's the Amazon blurb describing the plot :
"Amanda Price is sick of the modern world. She yearns for the romance and elegance found in the books by her favorite author, Jane Austen. But she's about to get a rude awakening as one fateful evening, she is propelled into the scheming 19th century world of Pride and Prejudice while that book's Elizabeth Bennet is hurled into hers. As the book's familiar plot unfolds, Amanda triggers new romantic twists and turns within the Bennet family circle as she clumsily tries to help the sisters nab husbands and even captivates the tantalizing Mr. Darcy herself. But what about Elizabeth...and what will become of one of the world's greatest love stories"

Not that it's accurate-from the moment the heroine steps through the magical bathroom wall-door, nothing goes according to the plot of the novel. And it's strange that this supposed "fan" of Austen, who has read 'Pride and Prejudice' a hundred times, doesn't even blink an eye when a major character shows up immediately, long before he's supposed to.

The problems with the plot are too numerous to go through one by one. But here's an example: Amanda prances around the Bennet household for a day wearing her 21st century pants and top. Nobody seems the least bit surprised or shocked. And when one of the sisters finally remarks on her "unusual" clothing, she tells them it's her "otter-hunting kit". Right.

The really horrible moments, though, arise from Amanda's 21st century vulgarity. While she's supposedly someone whose always dreamed of living in the elegant civility of the past, she seems to have a LOT of trouble curbing her mouth and her behavior. She gets drunk at a ball, insults people (even when not drunk) with charming epithets such as "bumface" ('buttface' to you Americans out there) and just basically wreaks havoc. So much for making an effort at fitting in.

Many of the plot problems stem from the fact that the scriptwriters apparently never read the original book. For example, when Amanda arrives, Mr. Bennet offers her Lizzie's bed. Anybody who has read the book even once knows that Jane and Lizzie share both a bedroom and a bed. But Amanda goes upstairs to the room and it's all hers alone, with a single bed. And then she wakes up, surprised and shocked to find Lydia in bed beside her. She accuses her of looking for "girl on girl action" and then, in the biggest gross-out moment of the film, she flashes her "pubes" at poor Lydia and talks about her "landing strip".
Are films based on Jane Austen booked supposed to have gross-out moments?
I don't think so.
It was really repulsive and gratuitous. It has nothing to do with the plot- in fact, it made no sense at all, and was not even funny. Especially for people trying to watch with their family.

It's such a shame, as the idea was cute and there were a few good moments in the film. Not many- but a few.

Frankly, I don't know what to make of all these self-described "Austen fans" who "love 'Pride and Prejudice' saying that this is a great show and that it does Austen proud.
They are possibly all on crack.

finally, since I hate write only negative things... which I seem to do a lot of lately - here's my hint for the day to make your life better: If you are an "Austen fan" just because you have read 'Pride and Prejudice' (or because you think Colin Firth is hot when he's all wet), please take the time to read some OTHER novel by Jane Austen besides P&P.
May I suggest 'Persuasion' ?
It's the last book that Austen finished before her death at age 42. It's my favorite and is probably the most deeply touching of all her novels. If you must have a movie, get the Amanda Root (1995) version, NOT the 2007 version. The latter makes too many changes to the plot. On top of that, male characters tend to spend 'quality time' together, confiding their innermost feelings to each other...I was expecting a drum circle at one point. This male-bonding advances the plot faster, but is not very true to the spirit of the novel.
Anyway, I hope you'll read it. And if you've already done so, maybe I've inspired you to get it out again...

BTW: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"? No, no and again, no. Thank you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My two eldest start rehearsals this Friday night. Yes, the local 'School of Rock' is finally in session! They are, as you may imagine, pretty excited.
It all seems quite well-organised. There is a large, well-equipped rehearsal space in the basement of a defunct post office and teachers that seem very competant and well-liked by the students. They even have the year's schedule worked out already and we've been informed that the first concert will be held in mid-December. The theme this year is... Pink Floyd.
Not that I have any kind of grudge against the music of Pink Floyd.
It's just so...old.
And even worse , the theme last year was....wait for it....The Beatles. It was a great choice- can't go wrong-something for everbody, etc... But why did they have to choose another group from the exact same time period for this year's show?
While I'll admit that the 60's and early 70's were very important (crucial, vital, etc) in the development of modern rock music, time did not stop in 1975.

The middle aged guys behind this local conspiracy would probably argue "It's classic! It's Rock Canon!" But I'm not sure that's the best criterion. For example, I love listening to Sarah McLachlan and Paula Cole. Heart-on-the-sleeve women songwriters like these owe lots to Joni Mitchell. Thanks very much, Joni. She's "canon" and "classic" and all that good stuff. But do I really want to listen to her? Not so much. In fact, I cannot stand listening to old Joni Mitchell stuff. "Both Sides Now" actually makes me throw up a little.

I feel the same way about Pink Floyd. Thanks for influencing groups like Genesis and Nine Inch Nails. Now let's move on, m'kay?

I don't really feel that I can burst in on their little male, past-worshipping enclave and give my opinion, though. Though the fact that I'm US-born probably gives me a certain amount of musical cred, it will only take me so far. Which is not very. So, I'm thinking that I'll have to at least wait until next year to give my input. Certainly if they come up with Cream or The Who, Something Will Have to Be Done. It's fine stuff all, but it's just more of the same.

Have these people never heard of U2? REM? The Police? And how about newer groups like Green Day and Muse? I have to think this would be more fun for the kids than ressurecting the same dusty old zombies year after year...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We were in the car by nine this morning, heading to the local thrift shop. Thrift shops aren't that common in our region there's just one and it's always terribly crowded. The best thing to do is get there before opening time and wait in line.

This early crowd is full of old, only slightly seeding-looking, white Frenchmen. These are the brocantes- the guys that own antique/secondhand/junk shops. They make their living by getting in early and snapping up all the good stuff befor anyone else can buy it. Then it goes into their shops to be sold at a huge markup.

To be fair, the competition (aka the rest of the clientele), for the most part, is not looking for charming antiques that have been unwisely thrown out by people who didn't realise their value. Most of the folks are minority families -folks that probably weren't doing that great even before the current economic crise. They are quite often North Africans with quite a few kids in tow and looking for a sturdy bunk bed or a working stove.
There are only a few families that look like they might be a bit more like my own- relatively privileged, but still trying to keep within a sensible budget.

I was mainly looking for books. I'm a bit of a book addict and if I bought only new ones to feed my habit, we'd be broke in a few months. Luckily, my parents are great about sending books and I also have some friends in the village to exchange books with.
Then there's the "Livres en Anglais" shelves at the Emmaus.
Today I found a recent biography of Jane Austen by Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Shields. It was marked at 2 euros and the guy sold it to me for 1!
I also bought an AC/DC songbook that the kids wanted for their fledgling rock band. It's from the US and marked at $ 24.99 . But the Emmaus had it priced at 3 euros.... and sold it for 1. Another epic win!
We picked up a few other things, but those were the highlights.

After lunch, we walked up to the village (about a mile away) for Saint Maurice's Fair, which is held there every September. There were stands selling candy, clothes, baskets, chairs and just about anything else you can think of. There were also plenty of cattle being shown off in the competitions, sporting wide, heavily decorated leather collars and huge bells. Mallory was worried that they must be too heavy for the cows' necks. I, on the other hand, thought they looked rather proud of their fancy gear...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I found this in my gmail inbox this morning:
Dear BurkaMom*-
I was searching for reviews of my new album on Google today and came across your blog post which placed my song Beth in your top 5 "in" things. I've no idea how you found it, since I didn't promote that album at all, but I'm glad you did, and thankful for the mention and your patronage.
My new album, "The End of Suffering", comes out on November 3 on Incurable Eclectic Records and will be available on iTunes, Amazon et al. Hopefully you'll find something to hum along with on this album as well!
Ken Flagg
(* he later sent a second email, apologising for misspelling my 'nom de blog')

When I was a kid, I never wrote to my favorite stars. One of my friends wrote to Donny Osmond. Twice. And never even got an autographed picture (with which she was hoping to torment the rest of us into fits of terrible jealousy, so that probably worked out for the best).
At any rate, this early experience, indirect as it was, put to rest any vague thoughts of fangirldom.
And that's good.
Otherwise, after listening to the song "Beth" obsessively every day for a month, I might have written to Ken Flagg. And he would have thought I was a pathetic, yet creepy, stalker.
But instead of that, he wrote to me! How cool is that?

I thought it was very gracious of him to thank me for my very brief mention of his work in my previous blog post. He seems like a nice (as well as obviously talented) guy. In fact, he seems so nice and talented that I've taken the trouble to track down a few of the songs off his unreleased album, give them a listen and review them here on my blog.

So, here it is- the first ever music review by BurkinaMom!

"The End of Suffering" is very different from Flagg's first album. This time around, he seems determined to show what he can do - and that seems to be just about everything. He slides between genres with ease and grace, always adding his own quirky signature to everything he touches.
"Pieces" is a heartfelt ballad that showcases the sweetly intellectual side of him, which is what first hooked me on his music. It's definitely one of my favorites.
In direct contrast is "Mountain Girl", a determined rock anthem, complete with screaming guitar solo. He does indeed "rock the hell" (as one reviewer wrote) out of the song. I won't go into the lyrics here ("your peaks sublime", etc), but I think (fervently hope) he means them as a parody of silly rock songs.
"When the Sun Sets in the Eastern Sky" is Brazilian on the surface, but delightfully geeky to the core. Flagg admits in his bio to being a geek. Hey- who else would rhyme "myriad dreams and hopes" with "barren field of isotopes"?
"Candyman" has an infectious alt-rocker energy and sounds like something my teenagers will want to load on their iPods.

I haven't heard full versions of every song, but I really get the impression that this is a strong album. The variety of musical styles could have led to a very disjointed feel. But Flagg's musical vision is very keen and he keeps everything on target. The songs are all very different, but all very "Flagg".

I wish him the best of luck and healthy sales figures!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another Awesome List

In keeping with the great "Taciturn Tuesday" tradition, I reduced yesterday's post to complete silence. Which is as taciturn as it gets. So, like, yay for me, right?
It's Wednesday morning and I've just gotten home after driving JP to the Swiss border for his bi-weekly commute into Geneva. I typically enjoy the drive a lot. On the way there, JP and I chat. Then on the way back, I listen to some awesome podcast or another.

But today, I didn't listen to my lastest download. Instead, I pondered this: I love lists. I really do. I usually start my day with a to-do list and then take probably an unhealthy satisfaction in crossing off each item as it is accomplished.

I enjoy responding to the Facebook notes that ask me to name my favorite movies, books, cities, whatever.

And when I read a blogpost in list-form by someone else, I think it's SO interesting, be it "My ten favorite non-prescription medications" or "Forty two reasons not to annoy my cousin Chad".

So, it's very odd that I actually post very few lists on my blog. I think there's just one- the one that gives several key signs that you have lived in Ouagadougou too long.

That being the case, today I present to you no less than TWO lists: What's In According to BurkinaMom and What's Out according to BurkinaMom. These aren't thoughtful and long-considered- they're just some of the things I currently like and some of the stuff I am So Over.

What's IN:
1. A Way With Words - It's like broccolli for your brain, but it tastes GOOD!!!   This public radio show is where Martha and Grant make you smarter in all things English language related and at the same time, show you a good time.  A GREAT time even!!!( I keep telling you to download this show.  DO it!!)

2. Marmite on whole wheat toast- It's like having a big lump of salt for breakfast, which to me is fabulous. Jam is out, yeast spread is in!

3. The song Beth by Ken Flagg - "She never smiles the same way twice and she always gives me good advice." I listen to it almost daily. (Find it on iTunes.)

4. Bella Buttons necklaces. I REALLY want one. I might just have to order one soon and call it an early Christmas gift to myself.

5. Episodes of The Guild on YouTube. - If you have ever played World of Warcraft, or know someone who does, you should give it a try. So funny. Felicia Day is a genius, bless her nerdy gamer heart. I read recently that the show is 'like "Friends" for geeks- only it's actually funny'. Very accurate, IMHO.

6. France- Yes, the entire country. I wrote some mean stuff in a recent post and I am apologising by declaring France Very In. (What I wrote was all true, though.)

What's OUT
1. Chai - I am SO over this. I drank lots in Ouaga and now I can't stand it. Can't say why...

2. 'This American Life' on NPR- This former fave of mine broadcast a few dull and/or lazy episodes last spring and they lost me. 'The Friendly Guy" and "Classifieds" were a couple of the culprits. (This one will probably be back on my 'in' list soon, but not quite yet. I'm still pouting.)

3. Television - You have to watch the programs according to a schedule determined by other people. How lame is that? I don't have the time to mess with it. Until I get TiVo (which in France will be, like, NEVER), I am declaring TV out.

4. Washing windows- I don't mind most housework. Really, I don't. But washing windows has got to be the most frustrating and thankless task of them all. So, washing windows is now officially out. I'm just going to keep the curtains closed 24/7. It's almost winter anyway and curtains keep the heat in, right?

5. The Sex Pistols- I listened to them when I was a kid -who in my generation didn't? But when I hear their old hits these days, all I can think is things like 'Why are they so angry?', 'Why do they have to yell all the time?', and 'Why are they on my childrens' iPods? Isn't this the 21st century?'

6. Couscous- It's like sand, only less tasty. And no, adding raisins doesn't help. I'm never eating or cooking it again, ever. It's out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

You may be familiar with the old saying 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas' ?

Well, on Saturday night, I needed what happened in the Rialto Cinema in Geneva to stay in the Rialto Cinema in Geneva.

The film ended and the lights came up. People started standing up and filing out.
I just sat there a while. Some kind of PSTD, I think.
Finally, I gathered my strength, turned to the four teenagers sitting beside me and said "We will never speak of this again. Ever. And for God's sake DON'T tell your parents about it."

It seemed like a good idea at the time is my only defense, and it's a pretty feeble one, I know. Anybody else in her right mind would probably know better than to take four teenagers (two of them not her own) to an American-made film called "The Hangover". Just from the title you know you're in for irresponsible drinking behavior modelling, at minimum.

I normally stay far away from "crazy bachelor party films". It seems like the absolutely laziest concept for a comedy, ever. But the preview I'd seen for this one made it look so...cute. It prominently featured the following: a fluffy white chicken, a Bengal tiger and an adorable baby wearing funky aviator sunglasses. What's not to love??

Well, a lot, it turns out- especially if you have a couple of 13 year old boys with you.

I actually don't go to many films. When I do, they tend to be kid/family films. I like nice films where you get to the end and the dialogue has not once included the word f**k.
Yes, I sure do.

This film, on the other hand, had that word and many other words, too. And also body parts. And one of the characters pretended to molest the tiger.

Looking back, I clearly see that we should have left. But the thing is, it was actually an ok film in some ways. The idea was clever and the story really drew you in, if you didn't think about it too hard. The main characters were likable and you really wanted to know if they'd find the baby's mom, get the tiger back to Mike Tyson, return the police car and get back home in time for the wedding.
And after each event/word/body part display that gave me qualms, I'd think Well, that's probably the worst of it. It will be fine now. But it never was.

And so it was that I found myself ordering the kids not to go into details when telling their families about our nice evening at the movies.

The film has been getting lots of love in the press. But some hate, too. My favorite, most scathing review is this one. And it's where I learned to be SO glad we didn't stay through the credits!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

A rather brilliant blog-friend of mine recently wrote this:

If, as my Japanese Japanese-language instructor was fond of saying, "In English, the purpose of communication is to exchange information. In Japanese, the purpose of communication is to not hurt anyone's feelings." Then, in French, the purpose of communication is argumentation.

I don't know Japanese and I've never been to Japan, so I can't speak to the truth on that matter. But as someone who is up close and personal with the French language and French culture, all I can say is: It's SO true!

Of course, French isn't all about the argument.
Oh no.
It's also about hiding information.

English is (certain scientific papers and purposely abstruse novels aside) all about clarity, brevity and giving 'just the facts, ma'm'. It can be a playful language, but in general, it doesn't jerk you around.

French, in contrast, is excellent for talking endless circles around a point and never getting there. And I'm convinced that this is so because French people don't want you to know anything.
Kind of.

Over the years, with the full agreement of my very French husband, I have come to the conclusion that French culture is, at some deep level, an insiders' culture. The basic information that you need in order to get around, work and live is not easily available. Even if you peruse all the booklets, read all the road signs and just ask right out, point blank, you ( the sad outsider not lucky enough to be born and raised in France) will find it very, very hard to find out the basic things you must know to get by.

Whereas US culture often seems like it's aimed at a population that has no common sense (hence we find the plastic coffee cups that read Caution: Hot beverages are hot! and the packages of peanuts that say Warning: May contain nuts), French culture and the resulting societal infrastructure assume that if you don't already have certain information, you probably don't really need, deserve or have any right to it, anyway.
So, why should they make it easy for you?

Just driving on French roads is a trial for someone used to the well-marked highways in the USA. JP and I made lots of roadtrips in the States, back in the day before GPS and GoogleMaps, so I can attest to the fact that you can actually use roadsigns to find your way around the US.
In France, not so much. The indicators tend to be sporadic and disappear at crucial junctions. This is particularly true on the 'departement' roads, where one minute you're driving to Tours and the next you're at a roundabout that indicates four different towns, none of them Tours.
If you don't already know where you're going, you're never going to get there.
And, sadly, this is true in most other areas of French life.

This year, our daughters started at collège (see previous posts for details). The school sent reams of paper, chock- full of information. We were informed of the many classes there were, shown the floor plan of the school and told that the principal was hoping the children would have a good rentrée. We were NOT however, given any info about things like how to use the cafeteria or take the bus.

When JP went to the "information" evening at the school, they spent 2 hours reading outloud all the information off the papers they'd previously sent to the parents. Any word about buses or lunches or any other pressing matter not covered by the papers?
The "information night", it turns out, was more of a social event than an actual tool for giving out useful facts. French people are nothing if not very social. They like that sort of thing. They'd much rather sit around chatting with each other in a classroom than sit all alone at home reading a silly old bit of paper.
And the details of school life? They know it all already. Nearly all of the parents went to the school when they were kids. It's obvious how the cafeteria works and the sports association and the bus service. Perfectly obvious. If you were born here.
If you weren't, your only dependable source for info will be other parents.
The trick is, of course, getting them to talk to you. It's a problem because French people deeply dislike talking to people they don't already know. In fact, most of them don't even like talking to people who aren't in their own family.

While the average US citizen can handle being addressed by a stranger in the street and, in fact, is usually pleased to be able to show how much they know about the neighborhood, local restaurants, buses, etc, the average French person is taken aback and, though he might possibly answer your question, no elaborations will be offered. You'll get the strict minimum.

Confused American: "Excuse me. Is this the stop for the bus to Annemasse?"
French person also standing at the bus stop: "Yes." *moves to stand as far away as possible*

In contrast:
Confused French person: "Excuse me. Is this the stop for the bus to Omaha?"
American person also waiting: "Why yes, it is. But you have to be careful. You want the number 32, not the number 23. That one also stops here, but it will take you to Red Cloud. I'm going to Omaha, though, so you just get on when I do, Ok? And you have correct change for the fare, right? You have to have correct change. Good. So, where are you from? Would you like a piece of gum?"

We see in this sample conversation (which I completely and totally made up, but which manages to convey the underlying structure of many, many exchanges I have seen or been in) that the French person is not sharing what he knows. In fact, the French person in the first exchange knows that the day is a public holiday and no buses are running at all. He is not waiting for a bus, but is actually waiting for his cousin to pick him up. But he wasn't asked for details and sure as heck isn't going to volunteer any to a complete stranger! Quelle horreur!

On the other hand, in the second scenario, the English-speaker offers lots of other relevant information ( as well as a confectionary treat!). She assumes that if you asked about the bus, that means you probably want to get on it and go somewhere. And she is pleased that she can help you with this is some small way.

With the French, everything is assumed, and nothing. They'll assume that you have plenty of friends and family and have no need of any friendship from them. They'll assume that you have all the information that you need for your life to function smoothly. Doing otherwise would be, for them, tantamount to assuming that you are an idiot- which isn't very nice, right?
So, they don't mean it in a bad way, really...
On the other hand they wouldn't dare assume that just because you ask about a bus, you might want to actually ride on it. Or just because your kids are enrolled in a school, they might need to eat lunch there. That would be so presumptuous!

Actually, I'd have to say that they mostly just plain don't like outsiders. And helping outsiders become insiders is not the French idea idea of fun.
Being a foreigner in France requires becoming a skilled player of Twenty Questions. You ask and ask and ask some more. You persist until you are pretty sure you have the subject narrowed down to its smallest elements. And even then, there's probably stuff nobody's going to tell you.
And don't think you're going to use the internet to help out. There's lots of vital stuff in France that has no web-presence. For example, my kids' schools (both big schools-one private and one public) don't even have websites.
There's too much stuff they just don't want you to know.
It was Sir Francis Bacon who wrote that "knowledge is power". (He was British, but don't think that the French don't believe this with every fiber of their being.) It's power and not something to be freely given to just anybody, especially if that anybody is not exactly from around here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Growing up, I read the entire series of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books approximately eleventy billion times. I'm talking major love, here.
Drawn from her real-life adventures, Wilder's mostly gentle descriptions of her 19th century farm life made me dream of being a pioneer girl (minus the diptheria and crop failures, of course).

Her books did not, however, make me dream of going to or being a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. Her mother taught in one before getting married and Wilder herself went to a few different schools as her family moved around the country. At age 15 she earned a teaching certificate and taught for a few years. So Wilder knew the topic quite well...and what she had to say was not good. (I won't go into detail. Read the books, if you haven't yet.)

But when we put our twin daughters into the local school here in our little corner of France, I went in with an open mind. Optimistic, even. One room, one teacher, three grades and 17 wouldn't be so bad. It might even be good? It's not the 19the century any more. It's not even the 20th century, right?

I ended up spending a lot of time helping at the school. About once a week, I ran the tiny village library so that the students could check out books there. I was always available to accompany the class on outings ( ski week, folk dancing, cross-country racing, etc..) And finally, I ended up teaching English there twice a week for about five months.

This gave me a chance to see how a small school in a tiny French village actually works. And this is an interesting question. The village school is a point of pride to many small communities in this country. Few villages, no matter how minuscule, seem to want to have their children put in vans and driven off to a bigger school, no matter how nearby and well-equipped that school may be. They all want their own school- and that means the old one-room schoolhouse format is still a going concern in France. That's not to say they do it very well, but these schools are still very common. And there is a huge uproar when local councils try to close them down due to lowered enrollments and/or lack of funds. (Here's a recent piece from Le Monde where a teacher reports about the horrible state of a village school in France. I'm not the only one saying this stuff.)

There was sure an uproar around here last spring when the council announced that the La Corbiere school would need to be closed down. That's the school near our house- the one that housed a single class of first and second graders (CP + CE1). The one that I helped out at was the main school in the mayor's office- a single room for the 17 third, fourth and fifth graders (CE2, CM1 + CM2). The threat of the closure of the Corbiere school had the locals all up in arms. There were meetings and protests and all kinds of fuss.

Me? I just stayed out of it. I had no desire to start an argument and become a pariah in this small village of just over 500 people. I have enough trouble fitting in, thanks very much. Despite all my friendly ways and volunteer work at the school, I figured that my village cred could all be undone in an instant if I voiced my true opinion of the beloved one-room village school.
But I'm feeling a tiny bit brave today (and somewhat annoyed- you'll see why a bit further down) so I'm going to share my concerns with you, my faithful blog-friends.
Here's the deal: I lived for nine years in West Africa.
I visited many schools, I went to elementary schools to give presentations and I even taught sunday school for many of those years. Burkinabé schools typically have more than 80 students in one small, hot, dark classroom. Over 100 is not uncommon. But when an adult walks into the classroom, be it the teacher or a guest, you can hear a pin drop. A small pin covered in bubble wrap. Seriously. The kids are quiet and they listen when an adult speaks.
French kids in France?
Not so much.
And I suspect that French kids are no worse than the US ones, Canadians, or kids anywhere else in the developed world. In general, they don't have any kind of automatic respect for the authority of adults- even teachers. Most of them know that if there is any conflict or problem in the classroom, their parents will support them against the teacher. Also, they expect to be entertained all the time, even in a classroom environment. The days where the teacher could expect the students to sit for an hour and work on memorising the major exports of every nation in South America are long over.

A one-room school can work well if the children are polite, respectful, obedient and hard-working. (These kids do still exist, as I mentioned previously, mostly in Africa, as far as I can tell.)
If , however, the students are accustomed to interrupting others, doings as they please and can't concentrate for more than five minutes at a time, the formula is not a successful one. The classrooms are noisy, nobody can work effectively and the overwhelmed teacher ends up spending far to much time on discipline.

I was lucky to be teaching English- the students found it interesting and saw the point of learning it. And I was able to find and/or invent lots of games and creative ways of teaching. We'd sing and dance, I'd bring in props, we'd go outdoors, I'd bring in guests, etc.

But the regular teacher, struggling to teach all the usual subjects to all the different levels of student? Good luck making that constantly fun and fascinating. A lot of learning is just work, and that's all there is to it.

All this in mind, I didn't see the closing of the Corbiere school as a bad thing. On the contrary, I thought that putting the students in the bigger school in a larger town about 4km away would be a good thing. They'd be in dedicated, single-grade classrooms, have access to a gym, more computers, better equipment...and probably a less stressed teacher.

But this was NOT a thing to say to someone in our own little school-proud village. So I kept my mouth shut and ignored the fuss. My kids were leaving the village system anyway, getting ready to go to the junior high (collège) in town.

So, it was only this month that I found out that the Corbiere students were NOT sent to the well-equipped school over in Boege.
Oh no- that would make too much sense.
What happened was the children were all sent to the tiny village classroom where I taught last year- a space that had already seemed crowded with 17 students. This year it holds 26. They range from 1st grade to 4th grade (CP to CM1) and there's one miserable teacher trying to deal with them all. How that poor woman is helping the little ones to get on in a real school (as opposed to maternelle/kindergarten) and teaching them how to read at the same time as teaching all the older ones, I really don't know.

On Saturday afternoon, I saw one of my English students from last year. She's in CM1 this year. "How's school going?" I asked her.
"The teacher yells a lot", she answered. "More than last year."
I'm not saying that's a good way to deal with an unruly classroom, but I can only feel completely sorry for the unfortunate teacher and students forced into this situation...

Monday, September 07, 2009

School started last week and all four of my kids had different reactions: Mallory was thrilled, Valentine pleased, Severin zen and Alexa completely distraught.

The twins just started "collège" this year- it's the equivalent of the US junior high, but goes from age 11 to 14.
As indicated by the student-generated poster above, our local collège is known for its ski and snowboard team. (I'm not sure what's up with the cow. It's not, as far as I know, a bovine-oriented school)
Anyway- Mallory, luckily, is finding her new school delightful. She's excited to be like the older kids- eating in a cafeteria, taking the bus, changing classrooms every hour, etc...

Alexa, however, is feeling stressed out over the big change. I hope that she starts perking up soon. It probably doesn't help that she's not sleeping that well.
Why is my darling not resting peacefully, you may well ask ?

Well, that would be because she and Mallory have been sleeping in the living room for the past week due to the fact that their bedroom has been invaded by wasps.

It turns out that the crack in the front of our house goes all the way in and ends up in the ceiling of the twins' bedroom. and pumping poison into it from the outside gave the wasps only one place to go...

Over the past week, I've cleared a couple hundred wasps out of their room. They're slow, sleepy, half-dead wasps and I've only been stung once...but still.

It was last Tuesday that a strange little man with two gold teeth in front came to "get rid of" the wasp/hornet problem around here. But I'm hoping the problem is finally nearly at an end. Today, I've only found about a dozen, so things are definitely slowing down.

Never a dull moment...

Also- Many thanks to all the people expressing an interest in Papiers du Sahel! The orders for products and the kind words of encouragement mean a lot to the women of the project.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

I had better luck on the phone today and managed to get in touch with the Papiers du Sahel women! Their store and outdoor workshop are both fine. Nearly all of them escaped Tuesday's flood with no major problems. Sadly, the home of one family (Ramata's) collapsed and she and her children are now lodged in a school building with hundreds of other families. But at least they are unhurt and safe.

I chatted awhile with Haoua and learned that the women are getting pretty discouraged with the project. Sales are way down since I left the project and few orders are coming in.
I was happy to be able to tell her that things may get better in the future. This month, a French bridal magazine gave about half a page to Papiers du Sahel wedding invitations!
The women now have one small order for them, but lets hope for many more to come...
If you'd like to see what the women make and how they do it, check out this site. If you'd order, that would be even better. They can't ship tiny orders to the USA or Europe, but if you'd like to give a bunch of Papiers stuff as holiday gifts, or sell it at a craft fair/Christmas fair/whatever, you can order in quantities they can ship.
If you don't speak any French, contact me and I'll take care of the ordering for you.
(NB: If you live in Australia, order from these nice people here. If you live in Utah, visit these good folks in Logan. )

Thursday, September 03, 2009

If you have some money to spare and feel that you'd like to directly help flood victims in Burkina Faso, you can send your contribution to my friends in Ouaga. I have known Steve and Amy for years and know that they will do their best to really help the people that need it most.
Here's the appeal that they just sent out:

Greetings from Burkina Faso,

In a country where 14 inches of rain would be an annual rainfall, we received 14 inches in less than 12 hours. This was the largest rain since 1919. That’s going back a ways. The canals that normally evacuate the water run-off quite adequately, were incapable of doing so this time. The result was that many neighborhoods were overcome with water. In the poorer neighborhoods of the city, many of the mud brick homes were unable to withstand the rush of the water and, as a result, came down! Today, it is estimated that 150,000 people are homeless, living in schools or with family. Some lost every bit of their personal belongings, even though they never had much to begin with. A number of people lost their lives in the rushing water. Bridges and dams have been destroyed. One of the main generators, that powers electricity to the capital city, was destroyed. We were already having significant power cuts due to the inability to provide electricity for the whole city at one time. This will likely aggravate the situation even further.

The relief and development organization of our church, ACCEDES, is planning to do something tangible to help meet the needs. They certainly can’t help everyone, but they can help some and we can help with them. The plan is to provide food for 500 people for 2 months, and to provide three changes of clothing for 500, as well as to provide medicine for those who may need emergency medicine. The total cost of the relief effort is estimated at about $24,000. About $10,000 has been promised from CAMA Services. We are trying to partner with ACCEDES and CAMA to find the funds to help with this need.

If you or your church would like to help in some way, you can send a gift to CAMA Service, P.O. Box 35000, Colorado Springs, CO 80935-3500. Be sure to note that it is for Burkina Flood Relief.


Steve Nehlsen
Field Director – The C&MA in Burkina Faso
I've been trying to phone Aisha all morning. And I've been wondering about Yvonne and her children, too- but she has no access to a phone. In fact, I've been worried about everyone in Ouaga- especially my many Burkinabé friends whose simple mud-brick homes stood little chance of surviving the terrible rains of Tuesday, September 1st.

Yesterday I didn't even turn on my computer or television, so I only found out about this disaster this morning. My Facebook page was full of news from many friends in Ouaga- lucky friends with internet access and sturdy homes - though there was flooding and lots of property damage everywhere.

In just 10 hours, over a foot of rain fell. Houses collapsed, cars floated away and bridges washed out.
The only bright spot is that there seem to be relatively few death reported- only five so far. The downside is that with 150,000 left homeless and this year's food crop damaged, there may be lots more suffering ahead for many people.

Here are a few photos:
This one was taken the morning of the 1st, just outside the ISO gates, very close to our old house.

These cars floating away were photographed along the Blvd Charles de G. It's the road we'd take every day to get to school and work.

This is also from our old neighborhood:

Here's one man try to keep the water out:

Here are some pictures from the next day. They show what happens to mud brick houses when it rains too much, too hard.
One of the deaths was caused by a collasping house. Luckily, it seems that most people managed to escape their homes before they fell in.

(NB: These were taken by Alice and Pete- friends from Ouaga. They are lovely people and doing all they can to help out in this difficult situation.)

Burkina Faso is already a country with many issues- education woes, poverty, corruption. The government is trying to meet the challenge of this disaster...That's what the Burkinabé press reports, anyway. But they have little/almost no money, no experience (the last flood was in 1919) and lots of other problems to deal with.
I really fear this flood will be responsible for even more hunger and disease in an already difficult environment.
In the meantime, I try the phone again.
And I wait.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

I was born on September 1st at 8:47am, a certain number of years ago.
I had a sturdy build (8lbs 8oz), a decent amount of hair and lips that looked like I'd been given a dose of pediatric Botox.

My birthdays after that were usually good, though less eventful, of course.

Here's a Kodak Moment from my third birthday-

(Could also be a cute poster for the NRA):

Today I've had a pretty nice birthday, too.

I got some lovely cards, an armful of lillies and this fabulous work of art by Tya:

(It was much too big to scan properly, but you get the idea.)