I'm freshly returned from my first trip to the far north, the Sahel
desert region which makes Zamsé's sad landscape look like a lush
tropical jungle. No big pretty dunes either... The land is even more
utterly flat, its only distinguishing features a scattering of thorny
bushes and trees. So why would I ever want to go there? Well, I'll
KILL THE WORM! ERADICATE! ELIMINATE! RAH RAH RAH!
I joined 6 other volunteers for a Guinea Worm week around Djibo.
Guinea worm is something you get by drinking contaminated water. One
or more thin white worms grow inside of you for a year til they're a
yard long or so, and then they shoot out of your chest in a gory
shower of blood. Ever seen Alien? Actually, the worm is a little
less dramatic. It picks a part of your body, often the feet or
hands, but it could be anywhere: genitals, boobs, even eyes. The
emergence is a very slow painful process, taking a couple weeks. If
at any time you stick the affected body part in water (say a pond)
for some relief, it shoots out its eggs and contaminates the water
thatother people to drink. Of course you could die if the exit wound
gets infected, or, say, you've got 80 worms coming out of you at the
same time. Oh yeah, and once you've gotten it there's nothing you
can do but wait for them to come out. Sucks to be you.
The good news is that Guinea Worm is on the verge of being eradicated
in Burkina Faso, thanks in part to the dedicated work of handsome
gregarious studly PCVs like yours truly. In fact, I'll just claim
all the credit for myself, thank you very much. Most of the cases
left are in remote areas on the borders, and so we went up to 2
affected areas near Mali. We rode around in truckbeds all week, not
on roads so much as sets of tire tracks in the sand, got dropped off
in villages, each of the PCVs with a team of 3 or 4 local volunteers,
and we walked from courtyard to courtyard, across vast distances in
the beating desert sun, uphill both ways (even though it's flat!),
and educated every single person about The Evil Worm and how to crush
it! (with water filters, which we then distributed.)
Our job was to sit on our ass as the local volunteers did all the
work--hey,we don't speak the language! It's tough, but somebody's
gotta do it. Our official job was to manage the team, make sure the
sensibilization sessions were thorough and effective, and supervise
the distribution of filters. One of the first villages we worked in
was a gold dig site, not so much a settled community as a jumbled
collection of huts, with a somewhat rough-around-the-collar
population. Sheer chaos. Hundreds of kids following us around
everywhere. They didn't care what we were saying, they just wanted
whatever we had to give out. People pushing and fighting, kids
clawing over each other to get straw filters, which they quickly took
apart and dragged on the ground behind them, like they do with all
their toys. Fortunately I was there to impose order and save the day
("throw the filters and run!"). My contribution was to dash into the
crowd, say my piece to the team ("remember to wash out the cup!
AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!") and flee until I was once again needed. I
learned that sometimes in health work you can do nothing but try, and
hope that something was accomplished.
The rest of the week went much better. People listened and learned,
everybody got filters, and my team kicked some Guinea Worm ass!
Watch out, worm! Go pick on somethin your own size!
YOUR TENT, MY FRIEND, IS BLOWING IN THE WIND
At night we stayed at the local clinic where we were based. We had
to walk around with our headlamps vigilantly scanning the ground in
front of us lest we step on a scorpion or get a 2-inch thorn in our
foot. We had a number of close calls for both, but no puncture
wounds or poisoning, dieu merci.
We set up our mosquito net tents outside. My one-man tent ("the
taco") was the subject of much ridicule and cruel taunting from the
other PCVs. Our first night, Jackie, who was helping coordinate the
week, just stood and laughed for what had to be 20 minutes at my tent
as it flailed helplessly in the slight breeze, as I tried to go to
sleep. Ok, my tent is small. I admit it freely and without shame.
There's barely room for my arms, let alone another person. In fact,
it would be nearly impossible for another person to sleep in my tent
without having sex with me (the others suggested I find a way to use
this to my advantage). But it's not the size of the tent that
matters, people! It's... other things!
We got a taste of the weather up north in the form of wind and
sandstorms. These tended to blow away our tents when we weren't
inside, and even sometimes when we were, which led to some wild
chases across the desert.
While not making fun of me, chasing tents, or running from scorpions,
Andy and Pei, the Asian Americans in our group, were busy convincing
our burkinabe counterparts that Jackie Chan was their brother and
Bruce Lee their uncle. Burkinabe only ever watch Kung Fu/martial
arts action movies, and so Bruce and Jackie and Jet are the best
known celebrities after Michael Jackson. And of course since they
never see Asians in person, it's only too easy to convince them that
they'd better not pick a fight with Andy or Pei, cause baby, they got
some moves you don't want to experience first hand.
LAAFI LAAFI LAND
How's everybody doin tonight? Aw, come on, you can do better than
that. I said, how is everybody doin tonight?! Is there health in
the crowd this evening? Lemme hear you say LAAFI BEEME! Nothin but
health? Lemme hear you say LAAFI BALA! I'd like to start off with a
new number tonight. A little song I like to call Laafi Laafi Land...
It goes a little somethin like this:
Everything is Laafi
In Laafi Laafi Land
And if you mention otherwise
You're likely to get banned!
Beneath of every baobab
Inside of every hut
You'll find a load of Laafi beeme
And nothing but!
Sure we got malaria
And the runs can make us blue
But to us it's all Laafi bala
By the way, how do you do?
I don't care if you're dying
Or if your mom's not well
You'd better tell me Laafi be
Or you can go straight... to... the... SaHELLLLL! Hey!
Thank you! Thank you ladies and gentlemen and folks in between!
You're beautiful! I'll be here two years!
LAAFI LAAFI LAND: THE THEMEPARK
Yes, yes I can see it now. Laafi Laafi Land, Africa's first mega
themepark, and that will be its theme song. It's mascot will be a
loveable cartoon vulture with a squeaky voice. The park's main area
will be the Mossi Kingdom, a family fantasy-land of millet mazes,
donkey-cart rides, and lots and lots of hoes. We'll offer discounts
to families with over 10 children, and a tops-optional dress policy
will be popular with European and African women alike.
Later we can add the Lipicot Center, a futuristic space whose
centerpiece will be a huge round mud hut containing a time-travelling
ride. Recline on a cot and watch as two years of your life pass you
by. Then, once we've racked up the cash, we can expand and create
the Animal Kingdom, a zoo with a selection of Burkina's most
fascinating and exotic wildlife, ranging from goats to sheep to
donkeys to chickens. It's companion park could be the Insect Kingdom,
with swarms of flies and mosquitos, and rides like Scorpion Encounter
and Locust: Raiders of the Lost Crops. Then maybe add a waterpark,
Marigot Madness (watch out for that schisto!)... the possibilities
are endless, and the potential windfall for investors unimaginable.
Truly, Burkina is a country ripe for investment. I already mentioned
a while back the Burkinabe diet, which will trim you down with
intestinal parasites while toning you up with work in the fields, and
all the while not getting enough to eat. Shit, sweat and plow the
pounds away! Another entrepreneurial possibility would be to open a
chain of Sweatbox Yoga Spiritual Retreat Centers marketed to new agey
american tourists. In trendy cities like Chicago and DC, yuppies
flock to these places, rooms where they jack the thermostat up to 120
degrees and do yoga. But why bother with the heating bill? You
could do Sweatbox Yoga anywhere just by stepping outside into the
sauna that is Burkina. And what better way to find yourself, what
could be a more spiritual experience, than sweating profusely in an
Burkina is also well-poised to offer services to the fashion
industry. Open any catalogue and you'll see loads of pre-faded, worn-
looking, stone washed, frayed hemmed clothing. Americans are so damn
lazy that they can't be bothered to wear-in their own wardrobe, so
they spend millions of extra dollars buying clothes that have gone
through these fancy machines and acid-wash vats that beat them, fade
them and tear them. Instead, just send em to Burkina, where the
unclad locals would be happy to wear them in and beat them up much
more cheaply (and thoroughly!) before shipping them back off to
Abercrombie and American Eagle. And while we're at it, why not have
them take over the pesky chore of wearing in your new Birkenstocks as
I'M TOO SEXY FOR MY SHIRT
Actually, Africans probably already are wearing your clothing. If
you've ever wondered what happens to all those old t-shirts you dump
in the Goodwill bin, well, they end up here. Rumor has it that once
a volunteer spotted a villager wearing his high school's class t-
shirt with his name on the back. Volunteers love to dig through the
piles of clothes in the market to find campy shirts from the 80s.
But more interesting is seeing villagers walking around with t-shirts
with slogans in English that they obviously don't understand. Some
of my favorites:
--A guy wearing a D.A.R.E. to Keep Off Drugs! t-shirt, while his
friend standing next to him wore one with a pot-leaf print.
--"One by one, the penguins steal my sanity" in bright red on a guy
walking around ouaga.
--"Nuke a godless communist gay baby seal for Christ" on a guy
hanging out at a cigarette stand in Koupela.
A couple of times I've seen other gay references on t-shirts... One
of my village friends always wears a California Aids Ride tee with a
large logo for the LA Gay and Lesbian center. Another volunteer
apparently saw a singer on TV in a Burkinabe music video wearing a t-
shirt reading "I can't even think straight!" Oh, if they only knew.
Course, assuming that nobody can read the shirts backfired once for
my neighbor Imane. She found a shirt in a market in ouaga boldly
proclaiming "MASTURBATION IS NOT A CRIME". She had to snatch it up,
of course, how could she pass? She wore it a couple times in village
before coming to the realization that "masturbation" and "crime" are
actually the same words in French.
When I first got here, I couldn't for the life of me remember who was
who in village, because they've all got names like Issa and Issaka
and Issouf, and, frankly, they all looked to same to me! (and I'm
sure that now when I go home I won't be able to tell all those
nassaras apart--I'm having a hard enough time with the 13 new
volunteers!) I tried to remember them by their t-shirts, but then I
thought to myself, wait, when they change their shirts, I'll be
screwed! But after a couple of days, I realized that the shirts
don't actually change from day to day, making it quite possible to
remember people as Burger King guy or Pittsburgh Steelers chick.
It's not just what they're wearing, but how they're wearing it. The
unaboob look is all the rage amongst my village women, who keep a
single long breast hanging out of their Beckham jersey collars,
sometimes with a small child attached. Even though I've pretty much
seen it all, there are still those moments when I think Wow... that's
just surreal. Like the time a woman came into the clinic wearing a
fluorescent green mesh tanktop. She was exposing it all, which all
the women do anyway, but the mesh tanktop made it look quite naughty
and inappropriate to wear out in public. Of course then she whipped
out a boob to feed to her baby and normalcy was restored.
FROM SURFERBOY TO PUNKASS
And speaking of looks, I've recently given up on letting nature take
its course with my head. My hair grew, and it looked good when I
could keep it wet and kempt, which was never. It also grew wild, with
a number of small bug families taking up residence. And then the
small bugs attracted the small brightly colored birds and their
nests, which was cute, but the bird crap was just too much. I came
to Ouaga and before the party for the newly sworn in volunteers I
asked Chrissy to take clippers to my head. Shave it! And the hair
was shorn, and then there was a mohawk, and it was good. Better than
good, it was badasssss! Check out the before and after photoshoots:
(where you'll find a folder of simmering "Glamour shots" as well as
some new photos from Guinea Worm)
Then exercise your right and duty as an american and VOTE for your
and click on polls.
Not that your vote makes a difference, of course, unless it comes
with bribes. The mohawk feels so much better in this infernal heat.
And the new punk 'do comes with a phat new 'tude. Whatchou lookin'
at, kid? You gotta problem wid dis shit? No, you can't have the
damn nalgene! Ok, so the attitude is pretty much the same, but my
head will never be. I'll let you know what the village thinks.
Peace out, yo.