vendredi 14 mars 2008

Worth Your Weight In Cows

In Burkina, at least in village, a man's wealth is measured by his number of cattle and wives.
"Mr. Sawadogo has 5 wives and 15 head of cattle!"
Being an Arkansan this is not such a foreign concept for me. I will relate a conversation between myself and a student to all of you - one i have about every week:

"Madame, will you take me back to America?!"
"Sure. You can stay with my parents until you learn english. But its expensive and I'm not gonna buy you a ticket."
"That's okay Madame. I have ten cows!"
"1o Cows?! Why didn't you say so!"

It tickles me that my initial reaction to this conversation is not: "What do cattle have to do with plane tickets and why is this kid bragging about his cattle herd?" but "Hot damn! 10 cattle? Come on to America then!"

I am slowly becoming more and more African. Thinking of wealth in terms of cattle is just one example. My ravenous cravings for American food have been replaced by a preference for Burkina fare.

"Yumm . . . which do you want: this juicy cheesy hamburger and fries OR this steaming plate of rice with tomato sauce?"
"Hmm . . . are those morsels of delicious sheep meat i see in that sauce?"
"Why yes they are"
"Shit! Hand it over. Screw the hamburger!!"

Who am i? Things that should not be common place to a naive white girl have become regular daily activities. Goats in my latrine, bones and rocks in my food, shoeless and bottomless dirt covered children, old men on bikes with cell-phones, women shouting and shoving peanuts at me at bus stations . . . all this stuff passes by me and rarely do I think . . . "ya know, 10 months ago that would have freaked me out." Burkina is becoming home.

I keep trying to look at my African life with my old eyes. The eyes that looked at the Peace Corps website pictures and wondered how Americans could live like that. The eyes that read my Peace Corps Invitation describing the next two years of my life and thinking "Holy shit. How am I going to do this? No electricity, no running water, huts, French, Africa, 70 students in a classroom?? How will I be able to do this??" But now . . . it's not only pretty easy to do, I really enjoy it most of the time. I really like living in Africa. I just never pictured myself here. So, when a kid in my class equates his cattle herd with his ability to buy a plane ticket . . . its these new eyes of mine that see what he sees. I continue to surprise even myself and it's only been 9 months. Pretty soon I'll be so well integrated that I'll discontinue using toilet paper and will opt for the "left-hand and tea pot of water" method. Haha. Don't worry Mom . . . that would probably take more than 2 years and if not, I'll keep that tid-bit to myself.

vendredi 7 mars 2008

Madame, They Will Hit you!

It was a regular wednesday evening. Nothing special. I was walking to buy bread from Alidou, my bread guy, and I saw a huge crowd of people along the dirt path. There were many huddled in a huge circle obviously watching whatever was going on in the middle of the circle and also many others selling typical Burkina snacks and chatting etc. I asked one of my students what was going on and they told me: Masks! Burkina, indeed West Africa, has a long traditional history of mask festivals so I was excited to finally get to see some for myself. However, my students quickly warned me, "Madame, they will hit you!"
"Did you say hit??"

Yep, they said hit. Part of the dance of these particular entourage of masks was to hit the crowd gathered around with sticks. Okay, no. They dont hit hard. It's more of a playful whack. The Mask dancers are dressed in what essentially looks like a series of mop heads made of big fat hemp. The Mask itself is wooden (i'm told, made from baobob wood) and painted. As far as i could tell it wasn't a representation of anything, just a mask etc.

There are bongo drummers who do a flirtatious musical dance with the masks. The drummer advances and beckons a mask forward. Then, the interactive dance begins: the masked dancer stomps in tune with the elaborate drum music. Jumping and kicking and whirling and whacking the crowd. It was pretty cool. Then that masked dancer sits down and another is beckoned forth. I was pressed in with the pungent sweaty crowd and anytime a mask moved in close the crowd would jump away trying to avoid being smacked with a stick. I'm white and therefore obviously not from Tougouri so they wouldn't hit me . . . not that I think it would have hurt.

I always like it when I see traditionally "African" displays of culture. After several centuries of colonial rule so much of the traditional culture has become replaced by "francophone" culture. French bread, tea, language, education system, lots of things are distinctly "french" though always with an African twist to it. But it's things like the Masks and To which make my African experience, African. En tout cas, it was pretty cool.

jeudi 6 mars 2008

Jesus and the Mullet Man

Well, I went to church again. This time to the Catholic Church which was, characteristically enough, completely different than the protestant service and exactly alike all Catholic services across the world. Last time I went to the Protestant Church they did "freestyle prayer" which is enough to make any good episcopalian completely freaked out. "Wait, are they freestyling?? Oh shit. If they ask me to freestyle I'll just recite something and hope they cant tell the difference. Oh shit. Dear God, please dont make me freestyle pray." This was one of the freestyle prayers going through my head. The other freestyle prayer looping through my thoughts was divinely inspired when the my fellow freestylers erupted into fits of crying and shouting as the force of the spirit made them either desperately irate or desperatlely thankful. I couldn't tell which as a beleaguered repenter screeched, "BARK-WENDNUM!!! and us fellow sinners boomed in response,"AMINA!!!" (Thanks be to God and Amen). Thus, the only prayer in my head was asking poor Jesus to please make these poeple calm down and stop screaming at him. I was a little freaked out but I'm a southern American so I'm at least a little used to this kind of "praise."

This brings me to two things I appreciate about the Cathies. One, no one is ever asked to freestyle pray, thank God! Two, no matter where you are, you know what to expect when you walk into a Catholic Church. Even in the middle-of-nowhere in Africa you can count on the presence of: a tabernacle, taperd candles, an altar draped in the appropriate color for the particular season in the church calendar, frequent use of the word pecher or "to sin", specifc readings and hymns, and a blessed quiet. Certainly there are a few deviances between the various parishes etc. The Catholic Church in Tougouri, Namentenga Province, Burkina Faso, West Africa, Earth, Milky Way boasts a spectacular fresco/mural. Typical of many religious murals, this one pictures "God" crowning "Jesus" before a "choir of angels" and a gathering of various "worshippers." What was so spectacular was the amazing and inspiring wimpiness of the "God" depicted. He was a 35 year-old with a yellow-blond page-boy haircut and matching goatee (how do you spell that?). What? The worshippers is attendance were my favorite part. They were a crowd of people around the angel choir which i'll get to in a second. Among the faithful watching "God" crown "Jesus" were three bishops - one was wearing aviators. One middle-aged men with a "high and tight" army style hair cute, aviator sunglasses, and a mustache. he kinda looked like a stormtrooper. One broad "King Triton" look-alike -- you know, from The Little Mermaid -- long white hair and moustache but he also had a tiny red ball cap on his head. My favorite was a middle-aged man resplendent in a white t-shirt, handlebar mustache, and long brown mullet. All he needed was a pack of cigarettes and a beer and it would have been complete. Really??? A guy with a mullett? All-in-all there were about 30 people there represnting all races except those of Asian decent. Ther cherub choir was also racially inclusive; black and white faces together watching "God" crown "Jesus" with equally yellow-blond wigs on to match that of "God's." Whatever.

It's funny to me what ends up being cross-cultural and what doesn't. In my experience, not interrupting, un-spoken laws about personal space, and critical thinking skills are things do not translate into the culture here. That is to say, i thought everyone around the world knew that it was rude to interrupt a conversation or touch strangers and that critical thinking was a genetic capacity and not a cultural one. However, the customs, mindset, and style of worship of Protestants (in this Assembly of God Protestants) versus Catholics seems to know no borders.