samedi 20 décembre 2008

Genies and Sorcerers

"They sold their blood??" I can't believe it.
She explains: "Yeah, at the clinic in my village they were pulling more blood than necessary for HIV/AIDS tests and selling the extra blood to the fetisheur!" 
Sarah, a fellow PCV, works at the local clinic in her village. As all Burkinabe are first animists and then Muslims or Christians, visits to the fetisheur (or witch doctor) are frequent. I was aware of the not-so-under under current of animism among burkinabe but the particulars and superstitions were not clear to me. Stories like Sarah's above are shocking but not unheard of. SO, like i always do when then nuances of Burkinabe ways and means evade me, I asked Konate.

"Konate, tell me, what exactly are genies and sorcerers?"
She's not surprised I'm asking of course and jumps into a brief break down.
"There are two kinds of genies. Genies that work for good and genies that work for bad. The people, they believe when something good or bad happens to them its because of the genies." Seems simple enough and not unlike American ghosts.
"Do you believe in Genies?"
"Me? Hiya! Things happen. You dont know." She is a math and science teacher and is avoiding just flat-out saying YES because she wants to be 'western' or 'rational.' Often, when babies die or the rains dont come or you fail a test etc. Burkinabe just say . . . that's a bad genie! One week Salmad was being weird and fussy and not his usually giggly self and Mariam kept saying "What is with my baby? Theres got to be some kind of genie in the courtyard." Of course she is half joking but she really does believe in that genie half. There is a really really smart kid in my 5eme class. His name in Dramane and his test scores are always way above everyone elses in every subject. Bienvenue, who is in his class, says,"Hiya! When you look at Dramane . . . in his eyes . . . he's got to be a genie." Of course, Dramane just studies which is a foreign concept to the vast majority of students. But genies are only part of the story.

"What about sorcerers Konate? What do sorcerers do?"
"There are good and bad sorcerers too. They curse people." She seems more confident about this aspect of animism.
"Would you ever go to a sorcerer?"
"Me? Whyee! If someone put a curse on me I would definately go get a counter curse. You've got to protect yourself. People are mean, they'll curse you. They get jealous. The bad sorcerers, they are just bad mean people. Thats how you know them. You know a good sorcerer because their family and friends prosper and they are very nice." Apparently, sorcerers dont advertise, its all speculation.
"Do you know of anyone that you've suspected to be a sorcerer?"
She gives this some thought . . . real thought.
"No . . . well . . . hmm . . . n-n-nooo . . . No, I dont know anyone ive suspected of sorcery. C'est du mal" It's not a good thing. Intriguing

I tell her the story at the beginning of the post about the clinic taking extra blood to sell to fetisheurs. She's outraged. "People" she says "Ah! They can be bad!" Then she tells me that some people get rich by selling people they know to fetisheurs who kill them for their blood. What??? For their blood??
"Yeah, you see africans with cars . . . where did they get that money??"
Geez! Obviously this doesnt happen toooo often but i believe her that it does indeed exist here.

We talk about how people hide behind sorcery and genies to explain illnesses and poverty because its easier than the alternatives: western medicine, admitting that the environment of the country isnt intended to support life (theres no water here! you cant grow anything!). Of course all this was done in french and i might have misinterpreted some things but i think not. 

Hah. Africa. No matter how long a person lives here, a person not born here, they can never really understand this place. Every month Im more and more aware of how much there is that i can just never understand. I can be culturally appropriate - know the people in that sense, their practices, daily lives, etc. but something will always be amiss. A lifetime wouldnt be enough.

vendredi 5 décembre 2008

Learning me some kids

My everyday and official job is as a teacher. There are many facets to being a peace corps volunteer; every volunteer has their "primary project" and their "secondary project." The former is your official assignment - be it teacher, health volunteer, small business development, agriculture, etc. Your "secondary project" is anything other need your community has that you try to fill outside of y our primary role. So anything i do outside of the school is a secondary project etc. Teaching takes up a lot of time - for instance i have 600 papers to grade this weekend and a two hour lesson to plan. Really, the perk of being a teacher in peace corps is actually having a 9-5 job . The other sectors (health, business development, agriculture, etc) have to kinda wing it. Also, no matter what I say about development , i think teaching is one of those things that can only open doors to people. In Burkina there is a lack of science and math teachers (really a lack of all teachers in all subject and of actual schools in general) so we , as peace corps volunteer teachers, fill that need as well as being a full-time teacher the school doesnt have to pay. So, here are some pictures of me in the classroom learning some kids about plants.

This is me and Marie Sawadogo talking about asexual plant reproduction. My resources as a teacher are scant and include an official Burkinabe text book, some various colored chalk, and a chalkboard.

Probably 12 out of every 90 or so students are girls. Here are three of them from my 6th grade class.

The buildings in the background are our new PlanInternational classrooms. There are super nice and well appreciated. Gotta love acacia trees. I think that one is Acacia senegal.
This is one of my 6th grade classes. There are 98 of them

That is a cluster of Neem (Azadirachta indica) which is a pretty neat tree - its leaves make a very effective insecticide. I heat the leaves and put the infused water around my other trees to keep termites and locusts away. It also helps keep the skeeters away. Oh yeah, and obviously makes for good shade for bikes and old fashioned between classes hanging out.

That is where i spend my days... Im in class 15 hours a week monday through thursday. I meet with each class (i have 2 6th grade, 2 7th grade, and 1 8th grade class) twice a week. Once for one hour and a second time for two hours. I hate teaching a will never ever do it again. Teachers dont get near enough credit for all the shit they have to take from ungrateful teenagers. (However, I do love peace corps/living in a crazy weird context at least half the time and enjoy other volunteers and like hanging out and cooking with my neighbors etc. so there are other things to get me through the week.) I sort of realized recently that I dont blog much about my actual peace corps job so i thought i'd give you guys an idea. Besides, i think the general idea people have about peace corps is that it is development work. In a way, it is - but that slow kind of development that takes generations to see. Peace corps is really more cultural exchange - like . . . wow in Burkina you do things this way?? Well in America we vary the things that we eat so our nutrition is more balanced! etc. Ok, i'm done rambling. Enjoy the pictures.

My Peeps

Out of sheer sloth i havent posted pictures of the "who's who" in my courtyard so I will do so now to give faces to names you all have heard before.

This is Bienvenue Banhoro. Yes, for you french novices he name does indeed mean "welcome." He is Konate's nephew and a student in one of my 7th grade classes. He's cutting up a chicken in this picture. On va bien manger!

You all know Salmad. His full name is Ibn Abdoul Salmad Konate. He and his mother share the same last name as my neighbor Konate (yes, she goes by her last name. This is very common in Burkina. I hope you arent confused). They are Muslim so his name is, as I'm told Arabic. My neighbor David always jokes that he can never go to America because he has an "Al-Queida" name.

That is Sidonie Catherine Konate - or as you are used to seeing just plain Konate. She is cutting some veggies. She is of no relation to little naked Salmad there. She teaches math and biology.

This is Salmata Diallo. She rocks my socks and is excellent conversation - a natural teacher. She teaches french. On the 11th she is scheduled to give birth to her first child!! Soon there will be two babies in my courtyard. For those of you who are curious about birth practices in Burkina, there are both extremes. The real villagers have been known to give birth wherever and whenever the moment strikes - alongside the road, at home, in the market etc. Some women choose to walk out into the bush to do it alone. More and more there are women who go to the local clinics to give birth. There are also those women (mostly functionaires - or people with real jobs i.e. not farmers) like Mme Diallo who have their babies in hospitals and get sonagrams and receive pre-natal care.

This is Mariam Konate, the school secretary and Salmad's mother. She is loud and funny and a mooch.

The only person not pictured is David, the school vice-principal and my duplex mate. He is not pictures because he is almost never around - i think that is in part because he works a lot but also because he is one man living with four women. Who can blame him? At least he never has to cook or do his laundry. Just to give you an idea of the ethnic diversity in the country all five of us are of different etnicities. I'm white, Mariam and Salmad are Djoula, David is Mossi, Mme Diallo is Peuhl, and Konate and Bienvenue are of a tiny ethnicity that I can neither pronounce or spell.

Random pictures of life in Burkina

So I was just walking to my marche one day at noon minding my own business etc. you know like you do . . . when I walked by my local chiefs house (he lives like a 2 minute walk from my house). Outside were two men dressed in traditional gard with the big cloth head wrap and heavy cotton robes astride equally tarted up horses. To have a horse is Burkina is a big deal - they are expensive animals that take a lot of water, food, and more water. But they have a lot of social and historical significance to the various ethnic groups. I asked some students who were standing around what was going on. What with the fancy horses and all the drumming and women ululating I thought maybe there was some kind of holiday i was unaware of etc. But the students were equally amused and interested as I was and just said that the neighborhood chief was celebrating just to celebrate. Ok i thought. Snapped some pics and went to the market. At lunch there was some crazy 15 minute bar fight at my lunch place where i eat rice and peanut sauce every market day. Seriously, there were like 6 people involved, men and women. One lady even chased the bar man with a machete. It was nuts. Certainly one of those experiences that assures me (for better or worse) just how used to Burkina and confident in my surroundings I've become because i was just watching that crazy bar fight eating my rice as if I were in a movie theater eating popcirn in an action movie (mental image of Eddie Izzard munching popcorn while talking about The Great Escape versus A Room With a View etc). Be assured no one was injured. Apparently the bar lady was asked to serve someone and she refused. That was what the 15 minute brawl was about. I consider bar fights of this nature out of character for Burkinabe - they prefer naps to fights.

Another picture of the same thing. Obviously.

That is just dangerous. Dont worry mom, when i ride in these cargo trucks i always ride in the cab.

Tabaski (the Muslim holiday 40 days after Ramadan) is the 8th and so sheep are a hot commodity right now. Actually, the bus station attendants had written this sheeps destination on his horns before putting him up top like common cargo. Once, when Mary Elizabeth and I were in Bobo-Dialosso taking a bus to head back to Ouagadougou, I was busy discussing something with a bus attendant while MEP was watching the guys load up the bus. Among the rice sacks and motos were a momma goat and some baby goats that they were just shoving under the bus, again like common cargo. Anyway, I was watching MEP from afar to see what her reaction was . . . she looked a bit disturbed. We ended up sitting in the seats directly above the goat family and could feel their eeeeehh's vibrating under our feet. In america we are so far removed from the living aspect of the animals we eat - you just pick up the lovely pink tenderloin from the butcher. You dont ride on a bus with it first. I actually dont know which method i prefer.