vendredi 21 décembre 2007

Nasara Goes to Church

Many of my community members and students have been very concerned about my soul because of my lack of attendance at church. They know I am protestant and the Christian as well as Muslim students are all very concerned that I have not been spotted at any one of the four protestant churches, one catholic church, or even the one mosque. Actually, I find it crazy that any American would come here to prosyletize as the Africans keep prosyletizing me. I have, on a few occasions, tried to explain what I see as the difference between religious observations in America versus Burkina but it doesn't seem to make much sense to them so I just say to my students and neighbors, "nope. I havent gone to church yet." When pressed further i just shrug. There are so many differences that I like to really get into with Burkinabe: no, our black people are not slaves anymore . . . all americans are american and something else (chinese, german, mexican), there are more women in universities than men, women and men share work as well as household tasks, women marry around the age of 25-30 in USA (its more like 15-17 here) - you know things that freak them out and blow their minds. But, I didn't want to get into religion with them. Hah, everyone here is an animist as well as Christian or Muslim and they all really get along.

Anyway (en touts cas), one of my students mothers wanted to thank me for giving him a granola bar (thanks Katie and Sutton) after he cut this huge snake-bearing vine out of my courtyard. So, she invited me to church. And I went last Sunday. The student came to my house to show me how to get there. I put down my copy of Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion" and went to church in a tiny village in a remote country on a remote continent.

Imagine every stereotype you have in your head about what you think an African protestant celebration might be like . . . its all true. I arrived at 10 am and the men were seated on the right dressed in their sunday best: clean 'funtionaire' shoes, slacks, and shirts as well as some in the traditional full head-to-toe getup. The women were on the left with babies on backs and their wonderful african print matching outfits. Childen were at the front with the drum circle. I walked in the sactuary and immediately thought "yes! am i in a movie?"

The building is like all other African buildings: mud brick but then plastered on the outside and painted dark brown. There were a few windows and a small attempt at grand buttressed rafters. Or, you know, wood beams supporting the tin roof. Hanging in multitudes from the wooden beams were all these paper cut outs of flowers, spirals, shapes, stars, etc in colored paper that the children must have made. Purple, pink, white, yellow etc. Voila! The African equivalent of stained-glass. They were very sweet. There was one picture of a very feminine-looking anglo-saxon Jesus on the wall. A cross and plastic flowers in the shape of a heart framed the preachers head as he stood at the podium. A rose-window so to speak. We sat on small wooden benches - just typical african ones like i sit on when i wait for buses.

The service was in Moore so a really pretty and really nice lady sat next to me and translated the whole thing into french for me. Hah, wheni say "sat next to me" i mean in a Burkina way. Men and women - even married couples - NEVER touch each other in public. But, within the same gender there is absolutely no space. Men hang all over men, hold hands, wrap their arms around each other, touch touch touch. Women do the same with women. So the lady translating for me rested her arms in my lap and idly played with my skirt, knees, and hands. Which was very welcome because, since I work with mostly men I get almost no tactile comfort.

First, a man stood up front and would call out a phrase in Moore and we would sing the phrase together stepping and clapping with the drums and voices. Sometimes he would call on a member of the congregation for a song request. Men would sing something and women would respond. It was that kind of beautiful African singing where everyone is belting it out but no one is on the same key and yet it sounds so beautiful. As my translator wrote down the moore for me I would sing along with the whole group, about 50 people. It was so delightfully similar to being at camp mitchell in hoke right when all the campers are arriving and the counselors and CAs have to sing themselves silly.

We did the stepping and clapping for about an hour and then the actual preacher got and said something about sin and prayer. Then the whole group, except the nasara, errupted into shouts and erratic mumblings in moore with hands in the air many gesturing wildly. I would have loved to see the look on my startled face. Haha. Then he asked them to pray for peace and they errupted again in a chorus of babbles. This time i was prepared. No one looked at me funny because their eyes were all closed. Next, there were 3 readings: corinthians, then peter, and dueteronomy. And the preacher . . . preached. Mostly, it was about peace and loving your neighbor and living like Jesus - no guilt or tons of talk about sin. Then more emphatic erruptions of "tongues- sounding" prayer and finally, the best part: eucharist.

The eucharist was kept covered until the time to partake at the end. Nothing would have prepared me for what was under the cloth. I am only amazed I didn't burst into laughter. The precher removed the cloth to reveal . . . bits of bread soaked in palm oil and . . . Coca-cola. yes, Coca-cola. He calmly picked up the bottle and popped the top leaving me struggling to keep from laughing as the cool "phfffff" sound reverberated around the sanctuary. I still cant believe it. Africa continues to surprise.

There was more step clapping after that and all-in-all it was an awesome experience and I will be going back for sure. The whole time I knew it was one of those events that would have had my Auntie crying to see all these sweet people gather and worship together. They were so joyful and happy as Africans almost always are. My Uncle Jon would have been inspired and humbled. My Nana would have loved it and felt connected. My Dad would have been uncomfortable as many strangers would have been touching him - but he'd like it anyway. It was pretty cool.

vendredi 7 décembre 2007

It's me, Eloise

There is a new addition to my family of termites, spiders, and geckos.

Thats her. Eloise. Those are my bed sheets. They have green apples on them and say Merry Christmas. I don't know why. Africa has taught me to quit asking why.

Isn't she cute!!! Awww!! I'm quite smitten.

Don't worry Nana, i have good stuff to feed her and she's had a rabies shot. I'm going to try to get her spayed or she'll get knocked up by some ruffian en brousse.

jeudi 6 décembre 2007

I am eat of the Sagbo

Test giving and grading is my least favorite teacher task. Truly, grading 300 tests in french is really, really . . . what's the word . . . oh yeah, it sucks. Tests in Burkina are called "devoirs" (confusing because thats the french word for homework) and they are out of 20 points. Quizzes are called, and i love this, "interrogations" which sounds really extreme and intimidating. "That's right!" i say in commanding tones "It's time for an interrogation!! What," i demand "is the air speed velocity of an unleaden swallow?" Some things just dont translate.

Of course all the students complain and say how hard the test was and "Oh Madam! Je suis malcontent!" Yeah, well i'm "malcontent" that i have to grade 300 freakin tests. Really though, I'm a total push-over and they know it. To appease their sad faces I give bonus questions on my tests. Usually, I ask the students to write a sentence in english. Their responses are HYSTERICAL. The bonus question entertains me while i grade all those papers. For the most part i get the same responses: "God is One" or occasionally "Good is One." "I love you" is a popular response. Sometimes they ask God to bless someone; this is often me because they think they'll get extra points, but usually it's various rastafarians and 50 cent who are the aim of God's blessings.

The last test I gave i asked them to write their favorite meal, in english if they could do it, if not french was fine. Most often I got this hysterical response "I am eat of the sagbo" which i'm still giggling about. I must confess as a person who gets laughed at continually for their misuse of language, its rather satisfying to get to laugh back. It's not just the double verb and extravagant use of articles in the sentence that tickles me, it's the reference to sagbo. Sagbo is the Moore word for to, that west african staple i have told you about - it looks, feels, and tastes like white playdo. Burkinabe eat it at least twice a day in village. They just do not understand that Americans dont eat to. That's the whole point of speaking english - you dont have to eat to! One student understood that sentiment and had this to offer for his bonus question: "I like some rice of America." Me too. One very ambitious student wrote this for her bonus question:

madam rebecca is the Bess Prof.
God Bless madam rebecca
madam rebecca Love the carote ou madam
rebecca Like the carrote
a cucumber

I gave her 3 points for that slice of awesomeness.

When you give back tests it is an hour long event called "reclamation" that i loathe. Anal retentivenss is at its most picky when grades are involved and at least half the students want to argue with me about what i've graded. In fact, it so annoys me that i dont want to talk about it anymore.

Have some rice of America on my behalf!