Friday, March 23, 2007

Burkinabé Culture 101

Hello all…again. Now, I know what you are thinking…how can this girl post so much? Isn’t she in Africa? Well…yes I am, and yes I have been posting a lot. I have returned from my week long local language training in my village and I am taking this opportunity to send this out to everyone because I don’t know when I will get internet access again. I want to give you an update on my cat, but I have a little fun Burkinabé culture lesson first. I was talking to some friends about some odd Burkinabé quirks that we have noticed are picked up. It is a little early to be worried about this just yet…but I often wonder how I will ever be able to make the change back to America…the pace of life…working. I mean, what would my boss say if I said, “well, I’ll take the job but I would like to have a nap time between 12:00-3:00 thanks.” I think that they would look at me like I just grew a third arm…here are a few other quirks of Burkinabe culture that at this point seem common place:

  • Nose picking – remember how your mother always told you… “don’t pick your nose dear…that is impolite and gross.” Well, guess what all you closet pickers in the world (you know who you are…you’re the ones that glance around to make sure no one is looking and then you take a quick dig up there…you were just scratching right?) Well, in Burkina Faso you are free to dig for gold ANY TIME YOU WANT. In the middle of a business meeting…go right on ahead, get that booger obstruction out of the way and flick it on the floor. Having a serious conversation about global politics…dig around in there for your buried treasure. You can dig through your nose anytime, anywhere, and in the presence of anyone…it isn’t faux pas ladies and gentlemen.
  • Snot Rockets – Piggybacking on the whole nose picking topic, there is the always lovely blowing of snot rockets. That’s right, projectile mucus shooting…we could even have a competition. Now, I will admit to this one…look toilet paper and tissues are precious and with the sinus infections I have been having I don’t want to waste precious paper products on my nose. So, what do I do? Bend over at a 90 degree angle and make sure your nostrils are pointed towards the ground—you don’t want snot splattered all over your shirt do you? Hold one nostril closed and blow with all your might out of the other…if you are lucky you will get a perfect yellow projectile that shoots on the ground. It is okay to do this, just like the nose picking, anytime, with anyone, and anywhere.
  • Earwax Cleaning – in the US we use cotton swabs or Q-Tips…in Burkina that is a little bit of a waste when there are so many other adequate objects that can do the job for you. Look no further than your key ring for a perfect earwax digging device. The medical clinic in village sees a lot of cases where things have gotten lodged in ears, etc…maybe it’s time to rethink the whole car key method…

  • PDB (Public Display of Breasts) – Boobs, boobs…everywhere! Calling all men, calling all men…if you love breasts then Africa is the country for you. Actually, Africa will cure you of your breast addiction if you had one. Or, as Ben, another volunteer here just said, “It sure makes you appreciate the good ones.” Here in Burkina you can walk topless, pop your boob out to feed your baby, or just let ‘em swing in the breeze (and let me tell you they swing!). Truly, it is amazing. Imagine this…or don’t, whichever you prefer…these women have such saggy breasts that they can pick it up and flop it over a t-shirt collar no problem! It is truly a sight to see…and unfortunately for me I see it all the time. It is acceptable to do it anytime…the waitress wants to feed her baby while taking my order? No problem…just pop one of those suckers out and swing the baby under your shoulder like a purse and let him go to town. I will never look at breasts the same…can you imagine if in a business meeting or in the office in women just walked around with their breasts hanging out feeding their babies? Well, that’s how they do it in Africa. Now for those of you wondering…this is one habit that I haven’t picked up on…mostly because (A) I’m not pregnant and therefore can’t breastfeed, and (B) my chest is WAY to small to sling anywhere…
  • The World is your Bathroom – who needs a toilet? Using the bathroom on the side of the street was reserved in the States for when you are so drunk you aren’t even coherent enough to know what a bathroom is. As my Dad always told me…”just pop a squat!” If you see anyone squatting down, they aren’t looking for a dropped contact lens…chances are they’re pooping or peeing. Look, when you gotta go you gotta go…and I will admit that while running I have had to run into some small bushes…I don’t think I need to remind you of the explosiveness of my bowels…’nuff said I think.
  • Man-on-Man – This is an odd one I have to say. I would like to preface this by saying that in Burkina homosexuality is taboo and not talked about, and in all local languages the word for "homosexual" doesn't even exist. In the States a heterosexual man would never hold hands with another guy, or sit on his lap, or rub his shoulder, or squeeze his knee…it just wouldn’t happen. However, in Burkina Faso…it’s not a problem. There is no taboo when it comes to male-to male contact…aside from kissing. It is very interesting, and VERY different from American culture…

These are just of few of the strange cultural quirks that I am beginning to pick up the longer that I live here. I will admit to snot rocket blowing, and maybe an occasional nose pick…but NEVER have I cleaned my ears with car or moto keys.

Okay, so I kow you have all been dying for the news about Gateau my cat...hanging on the edge of your seat…sending out little animal prayers. I saved the news for last for two reasons: (1) because I wrote this entry last week before I knew the health condition of my cat so this is an add on and (2) I didn’t want to depress you. Well…ladies and gentleman I now have a one-eyed cat. As it turns out, some kids in the village shot a metal spike-looking object at him and hit him directly in the eye. I had asked my homologue and neighbor to take him to the vet, but evidently that didn’t happen and all they were giving him were these eyedrops…but guess what people…when a cat HAS NO EYE an eye drop is no good. I swooped in and took charge and had the veterinarian come over to take a look at him. You know it’s bad when a Burkinabé recoils from looking at him okay! Anyway, he gave the cat a shot of antibiotics and tried to look at what was left of his eye. His eye is “casse” – or broken. I was pretty upset about it, and more upset that children were shooting metal spikes at things—not just my cat—so I decided I would confront the little buggers. Well, that turned in to quite an ordeal. The kid that lives in my courtyard, Ali, saw the kid shoot at my cat—which makes me wonder why he didn’t stop him but that is a whole other issue—so he walked me over to meet this little terror. I carried the cat with me, and literally as soon as I was within earshot he starts yelling and telling me it wasn’t him and he points out another boy. That boy eventually implicates his older brother who isn’t even there. Well, I drew quite a crowd, and since the police station is so close they came to see what was going on. One thing led to another, they intimidated the kids a little bit, and we finally uncovered the culprit. That evening, as I was having a meeting with my organization this kid comes into my courtyard trailed by about 6 other children. He comes up and the poor guy is shaking and crying. He has the slingshot in his hand and he hands it over to me. I felt really bad…I don’t want them to be scared of the “toubabou,” and I had no intention of making it such a big deal. I told him not to worry, that I just wanted to talk with him and that I didn’t want anyone to get “frapped” – spanked. The next day I had a meeting at the police station with the chief of police, the two boys involved, their uncle, and their father. I basically said nothing, and my homologue spoke in Joulé most of the time. I told them at the end that obviously there is nothing that can be done now, but that I was just upset because in America we don’t value animals the same way they do here. I don’t mean it as a bad thing, I just mean that in America animals are like members of the family, where as here they are DEFINITELY not. A little cross cultural exchange… Anyway, I highly doubt that from this moment forward anyone will dare touch my cat…or at least I hope so. It was a huge ordeal, but in the end it was handled how I think it should have been. I don’t want to be the scary white girl, but here kids don’t respond to someone being totally nice…sometimes it’s good to scare the pants off of them to gain respect. I didn’t want to do it…but after talking with my homologue he told me that it was necessary. So, I have a one-eyed cat, who at the moment is a bit of an eyesore. I am hoping the bloody crusty part will fall off and it will heal up on its own. I didn’t post pictures for obvious reasons, but if you do want one let me know and I will email it to you…I have to admit…it is a bit gruesome.

Anyway, enough of the sadness…I will leave you with that. I hope that you are all doing well. The heat has officially come (it was 105° at my site) and I am already wondering how I am going to handle it. Honestly, I cannot even tell you what sleeping in 95°+ weather feels like…I kept my room in NYC at a comfortable 72°!!!! Oh Lord give me the strength, that is all I can say. Thanks for reading this far…as always, Stay close…and here is a new Joule phrase that I picked up:

Ala ka su heere (tile) di! – Have a great night (afternoon) – depending on when you read this!

No comments: