Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year...and a stack of green beans!

So, here we are officially into 2008! Every time the clock strikes midnight I feel like things should be different, or that I should feel different...but alas nothing has changed and time keeps marching relentlessly forward. Surprisingly in Africa, the land where time stands still (or at the very least is irrelevant), the New Years celebration is quite an event. Last year I spent my New Years huddled up in my house watching "A Few Good Men" and munching on popcorn. Not exactly the New Years I had planned or wished for, but as the new white female in town I didn't feel like facing the barrage of marriage proposals and "je t'aime's", so I opted to stay in. This year however was completely different!

My friend Radhika--of Christmas Pepperidge Farm beef log fame--came to my village with the intention of staying until the 30th, and then departing to spend her New Years in the big city. However, after just 3 days in my village she she fell in love and said that she couldn't imagine spending her New Years anywhere else--well, actually everyone canceled on her and she had to choose between New Years alone in Bobo with electricity and running water, or New Years at my house with bucket baths and battery-powered lights. I am happy to report that I won out on this occasion! SCORE! Her visit proved to be very productive and motivating for me. In the days she was here I learned where green beans come from, purchased a new table and completely re-organzied my house, hung all new pictures, fixed my bike, cleaned the spiders off my ceiling, and came up with 3 new project ideas. 2008 is already shaping up to be a good one!

One of my best treats for New Years has been the re-emergence of my favorite green vegetable...the green bean! After Radhika's arrival we went touring around my market to greet people and see what we could make for dinner. My friend, Rasmane, approaches us and asks if we would like green beans. Well OF COURSE I do!! He tells us that we are going to get green beans, but that I can't buy any of them. Hah...we'll see about that. After a long walk we arrive out in in this huge field. Thirty or so people are sitting on mats sorting through piles and piles of green beans, while others are out in the field picking them off the plants. Green beans grow on this rather pretty flower (above ground). I know it seems stupid, but it looked so strange to see this thing that I eat still attached to the plant. We were immediately put to work sorting green beans with the rest of them--assuming that I would of course get a cadeaux for all of my hard work. Turns out sorting green beans is a lot harder than I thought. I got yelled at several times for not throwing out bad ones. They only accepted perfect un-blemished green beans to be packed in the box, the other rejects got piled on the mat. The good beans got packed in boxes and were being shipped to France, while the bad ones would be eated or sold in our market. As I sorted my beans I couldn't help but think about the destination of these veggies. Right now, somewhere in Paris, someone is standing at the grocery store putting green beans in their little plastic sack...and they probable aren't thinking about the little old Burkinabe lady that plucked it from its plant, or the mother with her crying child strapped to her back around the pile sorting all of the beans in the perfect direction, or the little kids whose job is to shuttle the packaged beans to storage. Here in a small African village that no one has heard of in a country that most people don't know, there are people picking and choosing and organizing these beans. All to send to some unsuspecting person who decides to buy them at the grocery store. The next time you are in the grocery store buying yourself an green bean, apple, or a head of lettuce, ask yourself where that came from? back to the festivities of the New Year. Throughout the day Radhika and I were continually stopped and asked what our plans were for celebrating the New Year...and could our plans include them? After much deliberation we decided that we would go to the bar early to avoid the real drunks, and just leave before midnight. Being a girl here is so much harder than you would come at you from all directions asking you to dance, give them a correspondent, be there girlfriend. Earlier that day I had to fend off my friend, Abou, who kept telling me in his broken English, "I love you. You are a pretty girl. I am a gentleman, and you are a pretty girl. I mean, woman. I love you." It then took me 5 minutes to explain to him that he didn't love me, he couldn't love me, and that I was married. Which evidently didn't matter to him because he is married too. Oh well. At about 8:45 we left my house to go have one beer at the bar and then we were going to hole up in my house. When we got there the place was packed with little kids dancing their little hearts out. Sadly, at 9:00 they ushered all the young'uns out and it was adult dancing hour. Let's just say that I was surprised to discover how many prostitutes were in my village. After our beer we packed up and went home. Just as I was getting in to my pajamas I get a call from my friend Mattias telling me that they were waiting for me at the Prefet's house (the prefet is like a governor or mayor figure). Interesting....I never got the invitation. I reluctantly hopped back in my clothes, and we walked over to see what all the fuss was about. On our walk over I kept promising Radhika that we would only stay for 20 minutes, say our "Bonne Annee's" and be out of there. Oh...little did I know what we were in for. Upon arrival I noticed 5 large tables organized in the yard. This is ALWAYS a bad sign, because that means that there will be a meal and other organized events involved. How naive of me to assume that this was going to be simple. The Burkinabe have a strict class system--and thanks to the poverty there is only two classes, poor and kinda poor. The tables were organized based on importance. At the head of the courtyard were 10 cushioned chairs, reserved for all the "important" people in the village including the prefet, the head nurse, the head policeman, etc. We were not included in this "elite" group. We got the two uncushioned chairs right next to the comfy "elite" table. This, as I was told by my friend Radhika who has done these things before, is quite an honor. We are like B-list actresses ready to break onto the A-List scene! Woo hoo! I felt bad for all the poor ostracized people at the 4th table in the row--they were the Kathy Griffin's for the evening. This party was very much in contrast with the one we had just left at the bar. It was like going from a bonfire party in the backwoods to taking high tea. In one party people are really loud music, dancing, drinking, yelling, and talking...and here....well, people just sat there. Occasionally, when a good song came on they got up to dance. But, this mostly consisted of people standing in a circle moving back and forth from one foot to another. They weren't even smiling. I couldn't tell if they were having fun, or wishing they could get out of there as much as I was. After an hour of sitting there they finally brought out refreshments, which consisted of little cake pieces--which we started eating immediately, but were then warned to stop because we had violated some etiquette because the "elite" table hadn't gotten theirs yet. I kept asking my friend if I could go home, but he kept telling me to wait. "Things" would be happening very soon. Thank goodness Radhika was there or I don't know if I could have stomached the evening. We just sat around and joked about things. At one point I made a joke about "sharting" (if you don't know what that is I am not going to explain it) which point she started cackling so loud that we had to be hushed by two different people. Our laughing was probably about the only laughing heard all evening. I don't know why, but the "elite" of Banzon don't know how to throw a party. People just sat in their seat staring off into the middle of nowhere or sleeping. A few got up to dance, but otherwise it was a pretty quiet party. The New Years passed and we all got up and hugged and did the Burkinabe head tap. At this point I was hoping to leave, but thanks to Burkina ettiquette and procedure I was told I could not. Radhika faked sick and snuck out at 12:45 leaving me all alone. Evidently, they were going to serve more food and there would be more "partying." At 1:30 the food finally started leaving the whole chicken for everyone--I wonder who was paying for all of this...the town of Banzon perhaps? After that the Prefet stood up and gave a rousing speech telling eveyone that the "funcionnaires" (i.e. rich people...compared to everyone else in the village) should stick together, and do these kinds of parties more often. I couldn't help but feel a bit elitist...while we were having this reserved soiree, you could here the blaring music and hollering of the villageois. If given the choice, I might have preferred the villageois/common folk. After I picked apart my cold chicken, I stared at all the sleeping people at my table and decided it was time to go. Overall, this evening was vastly different than the one I spent in village last year...and regardless of all the unexpected events I can't help but relish every moment...from the crazy bar to the reserved party...from the dancing and drinking and eating.

I don't know if it is because of my eventful first transition into 2008, the fact that I am finishing my service this year, or the presidential election (thank goodness)...but this year feels like it is going to be an exciting one. To everyone reading this I wish you "Prosperite. Fidelite. Sante. Longevite. Et Plus." Happy Holidays...I miss you all...Stay close!


Professor Howdy said...
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NanettePC said...

Hey darling!! Happy New Year! I'm so happy you and Radhika got to spend it together! You are right, this is going to be a fantastic year! I saw Erica on New Year's Eve. She's so funny. Best of luck in Burkina my dear. I miss you much!