Lots has happened since my return from Senegal last month. First off
was In-Service Training, which reunited our entire training group for
4 days in Ouaga. Then was the huge FESPACO film festival, which I'll
talk more about next time. I came back to Ouaga this week for more
training, and just 2 nights ago the latest group of stagiaires, 15 of
them, 9 girls, 6 guys, coming to work as Education volunteers, touched
ground in Burkina Faso.
The intrigue we felt at having new volunteers arrive in country
bordered on pathetic. Word has it that in previous years, volunteers
have chosen their future husbands and wives from the photos of the
newbies before they even arrived, then graciously offered to help with
that person's luggage at the airport. We didn't go that far, but
there was some strong curiousity over the fresh meat that was coming
to join us for 2 years. Of course they themselves will also feel the
same way next year. We made cookies and posters to go greet them at
We applauded as they stepped outside, waving our signs and hooting,
which had been a special touch for me when I'd arrived in country.
What I didn't know was that as I walked out of the airport, all those
people cheering were really rating my looks and checking out my ass.
We easily outnumbered them, some of us gathering around and engaging
in small talk, while the rest stayed back and stared at the new
Nassaras, judging them and weighing our chances, while we devoured the
cookies that had been baked for them. We appreciate the cookies way
more than the newbies at this point anyway.
I expect to get regular reports on the new stagiares from the
volunteers working training. We will hear everything.
FROM THE EDITOR:
Now I've had some complaints about the amount of foul language in my
newsletters. Namely from my mom, and my friend Lena, who says that
because of my dirty mouth she can't share my letters with her 6th
grade French class in Albany. Now I'll have you know that aside from
the subject line, my last Valentine's email had NO cussing, except I
guess hell and damn, which you can hear in PG movies. My parents get
annoyed when I swear in English, but for some reason they get a big
kick out of when I swear in French. So in this email, I'll limit my
profanity to French. I must warn you that the Quebec swearing I
learned from my parents and uncles growing up is based on religious
blasphemy. Hopefully this will also be educational for Lena's kids.
ENFER ON WHEELS
Lots of people assume that Peace Corps Service is like the army, in
that once you sign up, you're stuck there til the 2 years are up. But
this isn't the case. No, if you give the word that you're ready to
leave, you're on a plane home within a week. Of course there are lots
of stigmas attached to leaving early, some self-imposed, and your
terminating status is different than if you stay to the end and
complete your service. Still, a plane ticket home is always just a
phone call away.
On bad days, the option is sitting there, calling you like a siren
from the back of your mind: Warm baths, burritos, gay men...! But you
know that soon the feeling will pass (hopefully) and the rollercoaster
will continue on its way.
Only once have I been so completely flustered that I was ready to
throw in the towel right then and there. Never have I been more
tempted to make that phone call and call it quits than on one
particular ride in a Bush Taxi. This is a bunch of MARDE, HOSTIE
CALICE, I can't put up with it, CA ME FAIT CHIER, I'm LE MISERABLE,
I'm going home, PUTAIN!
It started out like any other ride in a Bush taxi. I was going back
to Zamse from Ouaga. I'd skipped the early morning transport that
goes to Meguet, Imane's village, but the transport's to Zorgho leave
regularly, so I was gonna get off there and bike the 45 or so km to my
village hopefully before the sun set at 6pm. That meant getting to
Zorgho by 3 or 3:30 at the very latest. It was quarter to 1 when I
got to the gare. No problem.
Right away I was surrounded by bush taxi drivers trying to get my
business. Since there's only one car a day going to Meguet, usually
there's no choice, but the cars leave regularly for Zorgho and the
transporters try to snag you before the others, already taking your
bike and packs before you've had a chance to negotiate. I pretty much
always let them put me where they will. It's all the same to me.
Since I had a time restraint, I was sure to ask when the car was
leaving. The answer is always "Tout de suite!" Right away! Of course
I expected this, but I only asked to justify my getting angry and
telling them off later should the need arise. Not that it would do
any good. To drive the point home, I told them I needed to be in
Zorgho by 3. No problem!
I considered myself somewhat acculturated by this point, so I knew
that "Tout de suite!" generally means around half an hour. So we
should leave by 1:30, which would work out fine. People were already
loading up, which was a good sign, so I got in to save a seat in the
rear by the window. Beside me were two women, one with a kid on her
The bush taxi is your typical white van. The windshield is invariably
smashed, the doors held shut by rubber straps, and often you can see
the road through the holes in the floor. Anything and everything can
be loaded into a bush taxi. The bikes and motos go on top along with
the sacks of grain, the furniture, the larger livestock, and the
passengers who don't fit inside. This makes the vehicle what some
theoretical physicists have come to call "top-heavy" and "flip-prone".
Yes, in addition to being one of the unpleasant experiences in
Burkina, bush taxis are also the most dangerous.
It was now 1:45, and I began to get agitated. We needed to leave now,
but the transporters were still milling around outside. Meanwhile,
I'd been sitting in the car 45 minutes ready to leave at any moment
and it was sweltering. I began to fidget and clench my teeth.
2:15, still parked. Two of the large, air-conditioned busses have
come and gone on their way down the main road through Zorgho. I'd
only gotten on the bush taxi cause I'd assumed it would leave much
earlier. I'm getting ticked off EN TABARNAK. We're gonna get there
late, the suns gonna set and I'll be FOUTU. I whimpered something to
the driver. He was, needless to say, unsympathetic.
The thing about bush taxis is they WON'T LEAVE until there's
absolutely no room left in or on the vehicle. It was at this point the
man with the briefcase motioned to me to scoot over on the bench.
There really wasn't much room to scoot without overlapping the women
to my side. I mean, I can only make my hips so small. I protested,
but the man told me "It's 4 to a bench!" Does this kid not count? I
countered. Apparently not, was his understood response as he climbed
through the window and squished me against the woman and child. My
knees were pushed together, and I now had negative elbow room. MAUDIT
I've been in many impressive contorted positions while riding for
hours in a bush taxi. Behind the driver's row of seats is a seat
facing backwards, to maximize passengers. Once I got stuck in this
row. Of course we sit facing the people in the first row facing
forwards, and we have no extra legroom to share. The passengers
actually have to negotiate whose knee goes into whose crotch.
Remember this next time you're complaining about coach class.
Another time I was lucky and got invited to sit in the front, beside
the driver, with another guy sitting to my right. Peace Corps says
it's safer to sit safely padded between people in the back, but I
don't want to do that to myself every time. I'm happy to have some
space. My happiness was short-lived, however, cause soon we stopped
to let another guy into the front seat. There was a gap between my
spot and the drivers seat where the gear shift was and I was pushed to
the edge. Finally the new guy got off, only to let on an even larger
man a few minutes later. He seemed apologetic as I was forced even
further into the gap. Now my leg was literally on the gear shift
half my CUL off the seat. The big guy leaned forward so I could put
my arm behind him. To change gears, the driver had to jam the stick
into the bottom of my thigh. This would normally drive me crazy, but
for some reason I got a kick out of it. Maybe cause the driver was
kinda attractive. Still, I wanted to tell him to speed up into 5th or
slow down into 3rd, cause 4th gear isn't workin for me.
Back to the story: Fifteen interminable minutes later, the car lurched
into motion. Thank GOD. I counted the people in the car, just to
humor myself. 22. We're jammed. Only 2 hours, I tell myself.
We're on the road. Five minutes later, we stop for gas. The driver
chats with his buddies. After another 5 minutes on the road we stop
again, the driver does some shopping, and load 3 more passengers. The
pain is unbearable. I begin to lose sensation in my legs. My
COUILLES are killing me. I'm beginning to develop Tourettes.
And so it goes, starting and stopping, going at a snail's pace all the
way to Zorgho, as I try to control my seething rage at this backward
country with its backward people, wondering how in ENFER I'm going to
get back to village tonight. Why am I busting my CUL to help these
people? No, this is it, I'm done. I'm going home. Except for the
moment I'm stuck on this PUTAIN DE bush taxi.
I remembered that the Zen book mentioned it's during these most
challenging of times that it's most important to practice. Take in
the sensations without reacting to them. Let the sounds and feelings
and smell and sweat wash over you. Just be.
Breath in. Breath out.
....MARDE, that Zen lady must be high on crack.
Desperate for another way to escape, I open my book, always an
essential item to carry on transport. The problem is I was reading
1984 at the time, and I'd reached the part in which what's his face
gets tortured in the Ministry of Love for 40 pages. NOOOOOO! The
We arrived in Zorgho at 5pm. I was in an apoplectic coma. My feet
had long since fallen asleep, and now back on the ground were shooting
sharp pangs up my legs. The kids at the stop swarmed my bike, playing
with the bell and the gears, trying to help tie my pack to the bike.
I told the little BATARDS to get away. I tied it myself with some
difficulty and went off to race the sun. I wasn't gonna make it all
the way to my village, but perhaps I could get to Imane's, which was
down the same road but only 25 km from Zorgho.
I ignored the calls of NASSARA! and TOUBABOU! I ignored everybody on
the road. My only objective was to beat the sun. Well, 6pm came and
went, and darkness settled, and I kept biking. I got to Imane's at
6:30. She was surprised to see me, showing up unexpected after dark.
She fed me and listened to me bitch, and somehow everything was
already much better.
SINGIN' IN THE BUSH
Those of you whom I've ever chauffered know that I have a habit of
singing along with whatever song comes out of the radio. I go all out
when I'm alone, belting at the top of my lungs. something about the
private enclosed space of the car is conducive to it. Wouldn't you
know, so is biking alone for 15 or 40km through the middle of the
African bush! I stupidly didn't bring along any music (for which I've
gotten shocked looks from other PCVs) but fortunately I have a wide
repertoire constantly playing on the radio in my head. When the
voices go away, that is. Anything from Britney, to Christina, to
Avril, to Madonna, to Backstreet boys, boys 2 men, N'sync, South Park
the Movie and every high school musical I've been in (something like
I belt freely and carelessly as I ride, trying to get just the right
vibratto, and sometimes I go on bike rides just to sing. So what if
some goatherd boys happen to overhear? There's something profoundly
liberating about knowing that whatever you do, people will still think
you're a freak.
One Saturday evening as I was riding back from a visit to Imane, I
happened to be singing a classic from The Artist Formerly Known as Cat
ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT AND I AIN'T GOT NOBODY
NA NA NA NA NA AND I CAN'T GET LAID
AND A DA DA DA DA I GOT NO ONE TO TALK TO
I'M IN AN AWFUL STATE
My voice cut out and I started gagging. I felt it moving in my
throat. No longer breathing, I breaked and pulled to the side of the
road, and hacked and gagged and choked until finally, into my hand in
a puddle of saliva, I spit out a large fly.
Perhaps this was Somebody's way of telling me to shut up. I hummed
the rest of the way. I don't know if the fly made it.
WE'RE HAVING A HEAT WAVE
Winter's long gone! It's the hot season now. Want to see the
forecast of how much I'll be suffering?
Happy St. Patty's!