Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rat de Brousse...A Burkina Delicacy...

WOW!! Back so soon! I know, I know…I just couldn’t stay away from you for that long. Actually, I came into town because one of the other volunteers in my region is “ET-ing,” something that isn’t all that rare in the Peace Corps (30% of all Peace Corps volunteers do it). What is it? Well, it is called “Early Termination” and that is when someone decides to go home…early. So, she was with my group that just arrived here, and she decided that it wasn’t for her, and she is heading back to the states on Wednesday. I am a little bit jealous thinking of her eating sushi dinners and showering a real bathroom, but I am not quite ready to pack my bags yet and head back. Honestly, I have no idea if I will make it here the whole two years, I wouldn’t even begin to try and guess, and I am just taking everything one day at a time. I know that I am pretty happy with being here, even if I miss my family and friends terribly, and when I am ready to go—whether that be at the end of two years or next month—then I will know it and I will have no regrets. Sorry to be all serious on you, but all this heading home stuff has really got me thinking about it…and I thought I would share with you. Okay…enough of that.

So, this week flew by so fast thanks to a little visit from my friend Nanette. That’s right…she felt so guilty for crushing me over New Year’s that she decided to visit Banzon. So, we headed back on transport together last Sunday when I was in town. The transport alone was memorable enough. I have begun to realize on Sunday’s that if the drivers of the large buses don’t feel like driving the route between Banzon and Bobo, well then they just don’t. So, as we stood waiting for a bus to pull up we realized that it was never coming. Our only option was this PETITE little Jed-Clampett truck with a little hood over the bed, and a rack on top. It looked like a toy wind-up car…but oh no…it was our ride home.

Here is a picture courtesy of Nanette:

Luckily, being foreign has some perks so we got to ride up in the cab with the driver and about 6 bottles of water that we had to continually pour on the engine every 30 minutes or so. Honestly, I feel like I could have jogged back to Banzon quicker. This poor little vehicle loaded down with about 15 people in the back and the three of us in the front looked like it wouldn’t even make it 5 feet, and a couple of times people had to get out and give it a helping hand. But, after much pushing and engine-inspecting by multiple people we were off. Aside from an odd naked lady accident, the trip went just fine. Naked lady incident you ask? Would you like to hear more? Every village has a few of what they call “foo’s.” It is the African name for anyone that is a bit crazy. Generally they are homeless, although in Africa there isn’t really homelessness because anyone would open their house for these people to stay in and offer them food to eat. But, during the day they wander around and ask for money, yell, rant (one even handed me a razor and asked that I cut my hair….wierd!), etc. As soon as our ramshackle vehicle pulled up to this down, and I saw the woman in reference, I knew exactly where we were. An old women with a TEENY loin cloth on and nothing else was sleeping on the side of the road. I looked at Nanette and instantly knew where we were and who she was, and when Nanette caught a glimpse of her she about fell out of the car. The woman had gotten up—when foreigners are around there is money to be begged for—and was approaching the car. She is probably in her 70s and her boobs were hanging down below her belly-button, and I know that I shouldn’t have looked but it’s kind of like a traffic accident. You know you shouldn’t look, but you can’t help yourself. She came over to the car and begged us for money, but all I had was the money for transport and a bag of bread…so I gave her some bread. Poor Nanette was sitting in the chair red-faced, and just couldn’t believe what was happening. Oh the joys of traveling to my village. Come on people…who wants to come next? I know you want to see the crazy naked lady, the chickens, and everything else.

Anyway, we arrived in my village just fine, and if one foreigner living there didn’t cause enough attention, well two did it. The village is just about used to seeing me around, and it is becoming less and less of a novelty, but with Nanette there once again the large staring crowds and trail of children commenced again. It was entirely worth it though, because I got the utter joy of speaking English around people when they couldn’t understand…finally they know how it feels when they talk about me in Moore/Joula and I have no idea what they are saying. We had a really great time…we went running, biked through the rice fields/mango groves, baked a chocolate cake, drank a lot of beer with the Majore (the head nurse/doctor at the government health clinic), ate Bush Rat—Rat de Brousse (it sounds so much better in French) and the time flew by. Did you do a double take there? Yes, Nanette and I ate Bush Rat which is basically a rodent that lives in the woods, about the size of a beaver maybe or a really large squirrel. It is a delicacy here, and aside from having to see the little claws still attached, it was really good. I know what you are thinking…GROSS…but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

After she left things got back to normal. I read, and ran, and read some more, did some Sudoku...and I am getting paid for this. Granted its $240/month, but here that makes me rich. Thank you tax-paying Americans! One very interesting development in my village has been the emergence of camels. That's right, camels...animals of the desert. Every year the Peuhl/Fulani desert people ride their camels to the South of Burkina and just ask for money along the way. Well, I didn't have my camera or money at the time, but when I get back to village I am paying some money and I am going to ride that freaking camel! They are SO big! It was really neat, and he only spit on me a few times...hehe! I can't wait to send pictures of that.

Now, I don't know what kind of weather you are experiencing back in the States, but right now I am experiencing probably the best that Burkina has to offer. It goes down to about 13 degrees Celsius (55 F) at night, but up to about 80's-90's during the day. It is absolutely perfect. Yet, I feel like I am in a perpetual "Sunday." You know what I mean...Saturday is great because you know you have Sunday to look forward to, but Sunday sucks because you know you have to go into work the next you never really enjoy Sunday because you are thinking about Monday. I am about to make sense...I swear. All I hear is about how BLAZING hot it is going to be in we are talking upwards of 47 degrees Celsius folks (117 F). WHAT?!?! So, while I enjoy this lovely weather that we are having now...this is not the norm...and all I do is dread the day when I wake up and it's blazing hot...I am just waiting for the floor to drop out. I am trying to enjoy the weather...but I am stuck in a perpetual Sunday dreading Monday...except my "Monday" is 6 months of BLAZING BURNING SCORCHING UNBEARABLE SOMEONE GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE heat from Hell. That's right, the devil is setting up shop next door and I will be living in Hell until next December when the "winter" comes. It can only make me stronger...right?

Anyway, I gotta run and catch my lovely transport back to times. I hope all of you are well, and you should start planning your trips to see me!!! Come on people...bush rat, naked old ladies, dead chickens, insane is a very attractive offer. See you all soon!

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Hello all...I popped into town to pick up some packages and for a meeting, but I wanted to let you know to check out my rockin' new photos...ALL 500 of them...THANKS DAVE! I hope you enjoy, and I will post something more tomorrow.

The link to my photos is under the links bar on the left hand side, just click on "Link to my online photo album"...ENJOY!!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Touching Poop is fun...No, really!

Hello All!!! I bet that title got your attention! feels like eternity since I last popped on the internet. I have spent close to three weeks in village, and I have to say that I am VERY happy to be back around a few English-speaking people again. Look, this isn't to say that I don't like being in village or the people there...but, I haven't had a grown up and real conversation with anyone for almost three weeks and it gets to you. In general, especially with my limited French skills, conversations consist of turning down marriage offers--I am already married thank you very much, detailing why I CAN'T get someone to the United States, and well...actually that's it. Three weeks of that would drive just about any sane person stir crazy. I even talked to myself once, and after that I knew it was time to take a trip into the city. I spent Tabaski (a Muslim Holiday--otherwise known as the Fete de Mouton or Party of Sheep) and New Years in my village, which was quite interesting...

My friend, and closest neighbor, Nanette was supposed to come and visit for the weekend of New Years. I had left to go back to village on the 26th feeling pretty good that at least I wouldn't have to spend New Year's alone with the villagers. I was like a giddy little school girl waiting for her crush to pick her up for their first date. I cleaned my entire house, organized everything, hung house looked perfect. I even bought a chicken--which was hanging out pooping in my courtyard--to kill for dinner. I was psyched that someone was coming to see me! Then, I get a text message from her saying that she had been forced to switch buses, and that the one that she was put on was NUTS! Either, she could sit on a man's lap for the 3 hour journey to my village or she would have to get off...and well if you know Nanette you know that she doesn't put up with shit like that, and she opted to get off. Now, I can write about this because its a couple weeks later and the "sting" of rejection has worn off, but to say the least I was VERY dissappointed. I had psyched myself up to have someone there, and when she cancelled at the last minute I felt like I had been stood up--a tear might have even been shed folks, I'll admit it. But, you try living in loneliness in an African village and you would have cried too! To ease the pain, I decided to bake a little...nothing wrong with a little comfor with food. I created a dutch oven with a giant metal pot and baked 2 types of cookies. Although I handed some out to the kids I ended up eating most of them...I was still moping at this point and ice cream wasn't an option. Surprisingly, it did the trick and I felt quite a bit better after that.

The next day was the Fete de Muton and everyone seemed to be gearing up for that. Earlier that week I had been required to get an outfit made for the celebration--each family has a cloth pattern that they wear for holidays, they call it the uniform. My homologue had brought home a goat the week before and had told me it was for the holiday, so I assumed that we were going to eat it, but that didn't stop me from befriending it. He was actually really cute. I named him Charlie, and occasionally I snuck little treats to him. I am such a sucker for animals! I live in a perpetual petting zoo! I am surrounded by lambs, sheep, donkeys (the baby one's are SO cute), chickens--of course!, and goats. Why I feel the need to pet them I don't know, because it causes quite a stir in my village. The only time they approach an animal to touch is to hit it or slaughter it, so the animals think I am nuts too. Anyway, back to my goat story. So, I leave to go get some flour to bake more cookies and 'Ol Charlie is just lounging in the courtyard. Well, when I come back from the boutique Charlie is there, but he is in about 20 different pieces. The youngest son of my counterpart is playing with the head, while the eldest is cleaning out the intestines and other internal organ goodies, which he tells me are his favorite--it's graphic I know, but take note how at this point it doesn't even phase me. Less than 2 hours later my counterpart presents me with a 10 pound bag of Charlie...well, Charlie's hind leg anyway. Now Charlie, you know I loved you...but DAMN did you taste good in my tomato sauce. I fed myself for 2 days on that meat (both the cat and I), and gave some away. It was amazing.

The rest of the day I spent being paraded around village in my outfit (which actually looked kind of cute this time since I got to design it), and having people talk about me while I sat there. I hear "Toubabou" and "Nasara"--Joula and Moore for "Foreigner"--and I get gawked at by everyone, but no one ever talks directly at me. You know that feeling when you go in a room and you KNOW that everyone just stopped talking about you? Well here they have no problem continuing to talk about you right to you face...except not in a language that I understand. I often wish that I had subtitles displayed for me...I wonder what they say? "God that white girl is pale," "Man, she just sits around all day and reads while I pound corn and haul water...white people are lazy"...who knows, and thing is I probably never will. Sometimes I get the urge to speak English, but then I would just be talking to myself, and that doesn't sound like fun--trust me, I've tried, and it isn't fun. It's a one-sided conversation.

The next day was New Year's Eve, and I wasn't sure how the village celebrated that holiday. Tabaski wasn't exactly a celebration. I was in bed by 8:30, my regular time. My counterparts son, who is 17 years old, was visiting and he kept telling me that we were going dancing, but somehow I wasn't so sure. I spent the day doing the normal things...eating, sleeping, reading, riding my bike a little--very taxing. Then 8:00 rolled around and no one showed up to go dancing. I was starting to feel sorry for myself again, and cursing Nanette for not showing up. So, I curled up with my portable DVD player (come on don't think I would leave home without that...I gotta have the amenities), and with a 4 hour battery life I was able to entertain myself with "Patch Adams" and "A Few Good Men." I was asleep right around midnight, and I don't think I even noticed when the clock struck midnight. Now, I don't know how you spent your New Year's Eve, but all I can say to you is "TOP THAT!!!" Hehehehe!

The next day I was awoken by my cell phone ringing, and realized that I was late for the infamous "race" that everyone had been talking about. I wasn't exactly sure what was going on, as is generally the case since with my French I only get an "idea" of what they are trying to say. But, evidently, every New Year's Day they hold a bike race. Now when I envisioned this bike race I pictured a couple of guys on their bikes riding in circles, but OH was I wrong. This is a community event! Everybody had shown up for this, and riders had come from all over the region to participate. It was a 2K course that they repeated 10 times for a total of 20K. They had the entire course marked, ropes set was really great. All the competitors lined up, and this was nothing like a race you would see in the United States. The bikes are from the 1970's, and by the end of the race half the competition had been disqualified because their bike had just fallen apart. Some had shoes on, other had flip was a menagerie of different people. As they flew around the course it made me think of the Tour de France...well this was nothing like that. Although they did call it the Tour de Banzon. In the end it came down to a rider from Banzon and a rider from Orodara (a neighboring city). As they were coming down the homestretch they let me at the finish line to take pictures. All of a sudden the entire crowd rushed out onto the finish line (and the race wasn't even over yet!). The riders, at full speed, were heading towards the finish line, and a mob of people--including me because the crowd swept me away--were directly in their path. Thebikes came careening through the finish line, and Banzon had won. Although, I don't know how they could tell that since the riders never even made it to the finish line because they crashed into people. All this time I am just holding my camera over my head clicking pictures...and I was a little bit scared because the crowd was pretty rowdy. Then all of a sudden someone started to run, and then it turned into a stampede. Now I know how stampedes start and how dangerous they can be. It was unbelievable. People were getting stepped on, it was exactly like what I thought it would be. Luckily, someone pulled me out of the mess before I tripped over a bike and got trampled. But, for a split-second I was genuinely scared that I was going to get trampled on. It was like a mosh-pit from hell. As far as I know no one got hurt, and the village celebrated their victory for the rest of the day by carrying the winner and his bike around the entire village. It was quite a sight.

It was an interesting end/beginning of 2006/2007, and one that I will never forget. Otherwise, life in village has been pretty boring and laid back. I decided to plant a garden in my courtyard, and that was quite an endeavor...and also explains my very entertaining and eye-catching title to this blog, "Touching Poop is Fun!" With all the time on my hands I pretty much just sit around an plan what I am going to eat next, and since the diet here consists of Toh, Toh, Toh, rice, and doesn't exactly help my figure. So, I thought I would plant a garden with some fun veggies that would prove to be a bit more healthy. It also proved to be quite a workout as well. First I had to lug bucket-load after bucket-load of rocks from outside my courtyard to the inside to make the lining of the garden. Then using a half-broken axe I had to dig up the dirt, which in Burkina is more like clay and rock. After that my counterpart approaches me and says, "It's looking good, but now you need to find the 'caca de bouef.'" Caca de what?!? So he hands me a box, and tells his son to go with me, and we go on a poop expedition. There are cows everywhere in my village, so there is no shortage of pooh around, but I never had any intention of actually touching it with my hands...I mean, who touches poop with their barehands? The people here, that's who. So I stand there while he picks up random cow patties and crumbles them in his hand. They have to be exactly the right texture/moisture level he tells me. Oh, well in that case...YUCK! Anyway, so I stand by and watch while he fills the box with crumbled cow pooh. Occasionally he tries to get me involved, but I have standards people! And, although they have been lowered quite a bit by living (I have no problem peeing in a hole, or eating something that had a bug in it), they have NOT been lowered that far...yet. So we go back and sprinkle--well I say we, but what I really mean is he...I just watched--the cow poop in my garden and plant my seeds. Anyday now, or next year, who knows how long it takes, I will have a gorgeous garden of watermelon, cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and one banana tree. I can't wait. The next day I was inspecting my flowers and garden (I planted flower seeds by my house), and I was picking the rocks off of them and seeing if they had sprouted. Well, in the process my hand grazed across some cow poop. At first I recoiled in horror, but then I picked it up--barehanded--and just threw it aside. That's right...I touched poop, and you know isn't that bad! As I grazed some more my hand ran across some other random pooh, and again, I didn't recoil in horror. I just picked it up and brushed it aside. No big deal...and for a second I was proud of myself. Now, as I tend my garden and flowers I just fling poop around like it were a piece of paper or a rock. What is happening to me?!?! Will I be suitable for life in the United States after this? You probably will be wary the next time you shake my hand, huh?

Everything else is going along really well. I have been meeting with a lot of people from the village, and I think slowly I am finding exactly what it is that I want to do here...albeit VERY slowly. At times I feel so lost, and that I am entirely useless...but then I have those "Eureka!" moments where I break through or have a connection with someone, and it reaffirms why I'm here. "The toughest job you'll ever love"...I don't know if I love it quite yet, but it is tough...and I am having a good time figuring out if I love it or not. Next week I am doing some activities with some students at the middle school (called "College" here), and I hope through that I can learn a bit more about what they want as a community. People are always emailing me and asking me, "so, do you like it there?" Honestly, it would depend on what day, hour, minute, and second that you asked me...because it constantly changes. The people here survive just fine...they have been enduring their hardship and they do it with a smile on their face, so it makes it difficult to see what kind of things I can offer. I am sure it will all materialize, but I just want to thank all of you for all of your support, calls, letters, and packages. It helps immensely and I don't think I would have made it this far without them. I have so much more I could write about, and I am sorry to leave you without a chicken story (I have one...but I am kind of tired now). So, for next time...I will have a great chicken story ready, and a fabulous roach story. And, for those of you fitnessed-minded people out there, stay tuned for "Stephanie's African Workout." Oh yes, on DVD and out in paperback next year...I will whip your butt in to shape with well-water pulls, water bucket bicep curls, rock hauling squats, and more. All in the next edition of my STAY TUNED!