Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My 15-Minutes (or actually 24-months) of Fame...

Celebrity, Fame, Recognition...all the most sought after and revered things in American culture...and all I had to do was join the Peace Corps to get a taste of what that's like. In an African country it goes without saying that being the only white person in my village makes me stand out a little. There is no hiding from the prying eyes and curiosity of villagers. From going to dump my trash (which they then sort through and take their faves...tuna cans seem to be the big prize), to buying rice and sauce in the local language, walking, cleaning my house, eating with my left hand (I'm left-handed and that is a major NO NO in this culture)'s all fair game to them and they have no qualms about staring, yelling, taunting, touching (yes...they sometimes just poke me to see what happens...Pillsbury Dough Boy ain't got nothing on me), shaking my hand, and more. When I first arrived in Africa close to 2 years ago it was a novel and rather interesting occurence. Who thought little old me could garner such crazy attention. I am like the Angelina Jolie (looks aside...except for that one time when I ate a mango and got an allergic reaction that caused my lips to swell up just like our lovely Angie...not my shining moment) of Africa. What I have found most interesting is how intoxicating, yet at the same time daunting, "celebrity" can be...even in Africa. My status as the "toubabou" or foreigner in the community provides me some pretty interesting privileges. I am always invited to local events and I get a chair in the shade! I get to cut the line for food, I get the choicest bits of fish head and cow liver, little kids always offer to carry my bags home from the market, they sweep my house, and even come by my house to say hello and ask to do my dishes--now that is something I could get use to!! No matter where I am if I want a coke, beer, food, bread, whatever...I just stop a passing child and give them money to go fetch what I want (don't think poorly of's just the custom here). Off they run, no matter what their previous plans were, and they bring back exactly what I asked for. Can you imagine doing that in the States? "Excuse me little child, could you get me a Coke from the corner store?" Aside from screaming for the police, or just taking your money and leaving for good I highly doubt you would ever get that Coke. It is scary how easily you fall in to this trap of "entitlement." When I went home for my visit in the States I was appalled if I didn't get what I wanted..."What?!?! No caramel dare you do that to me. Do you know who I am?!?!" Well, in the States one 25 year old white girl is no novelty...darn! It definitely has it's perks, that is for certain, but every upside has a downside...and mine is absolute lack of anonymity. I can't go anywhere or do anything without a posse of people following me, talking about me in a language I don't fully understand, laughing, staring, and poking. It grates on you after a while. All I want to do is go sit somewhere, but even that becomes a chore. 20 kids follow me and then sit 3 feet away and just's hard to feel like a museum exhibit, and it's hard to be constantly laughed at--even if it's not meant maliciously. Occasionally I get phone calls from home while I am sitting in my the end of my 5 minute phone call I can have an audience of 30 people just staring and listening to me talk the "toubaboukan" language. If I try to text message I can turn around and see 5 people watching my every move. Any amount of privacy that I ever had went out the window once I moved to my village...I can't burn my garbage, wash my clothes, or even go to the bathroom without half my village knowing about it. My experience makes me feel bad for even Britney Spears (well sort of...I don't make millions of dollars...) I have found myself looking for new bike routes that allow me to bypass certain houses. What's funny though, about this whole "celebrity" thing, is that on the one hand you get tired of the annoyances of constantly being recognized and harrassed. But, there is an upside to my "celebrity" lifestyle here...I get pretty much whatever I want whenever I want it. If I want trees planted in my courtyard, or someone to come and fix my leaky roof, all I need do is ask and I shall receive. The other day I was in someone's courtyard and I saw that he had this really cute sign, in Burkina fashion I said, "hey, that's really nice. I want that." Normally Burkinabe say that knowing that the other person isn't going to give it to them. It is meant as more of a compliment. But, for me the "toubabou" within 2 minutes it was strapped to my bike and I couldn't make him take it back. Here is a picture of that fabulous sign now hanging in my house:

Last week I ran into the Principal of the middle school and he asked that I come to the school tomorrow for a meeting with a women's group that wants to work with young girls on empowerment and sexual education. Great! I love the theme...that is until I walked in to the school the next day to realize that it wasn't just a meeting. There were 200 girls piled into the classroom waiting for my class on Sexual Education and Behavior...WHAT?!?! If my experience here has taught me anything it was to do things on the off we went. By the end of the class, and by talking with the women I learned something really interesting. Elementally, at our most basic level, we are all the same. The director and the women start going off about how students don't respect their elders anymore, it isn't like it was years ago, and that there should be more pressure put on the parents at home to instill good values in their children. "What can school teachers do if the parents don't enforce rules and teach morals?" Does that sound like a familiar discussion? Girls are running around after boys, and vice versa, and they are ending up pregnant. This year out of 100 girls there are 5 pregnancies. A rather astounding proportion. My Burkinabe counterparts were surprised when I told them how interesting I thought this discussion was, and that it mirrored EXACTLY the debates that we were having in the States (role of school and family, etc.). No matter where you are, no matter what your status in the world, we all suffer the same trials and tribulations in the same way...even if the setting is different.

As a sidenote, I thought I would include some recent photos I took in my village...Enjoy!

Some hippos who came a little close to the shore

Here are some little kids that came to watch us make Enriched Porridge Flour. The little one in the front HATES me...moments later she ran away screaming!

Zalissa and another group member holding up the finished product! Baga Mugu (Enriched Flour).

A picture of one of the literacy classes that my organization sponsored this year. With these classes over 20o men and women learned to read and write in their local language.

The women performing the theater sketch for World Malaria Day/Global Youth Service Day

The two little girls who were in the sketch...don't ask me about the powder...I have no idea

Here is our villain...the Mosquito (Moustique in French, and Soso in Joula)

Anyway, I guess that's all for now. I am headed to my friends village to draw and paint a World Map. Hope all are well...miss you all, and stay safe!

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