The arrival of the first rains means it's springtime in Burkina, if
you can call it that after the 115 degree heat that preceded it.
Unfortunately, the humidity that comes with the otherwise cooling
rains means that the sweat runs down in even bigger gobs. If I manage
to dry off during the night, I'm up n soakin by 9am. The Burkinabe
sauna has become the Burkinabe steamroom. Burkina Faso: the
never-ending Spa. Don't forget your sweat-rag!
The herders are happy for the rain, since it means more abundant food
and water for all the animals. But for the vast majority of the
villagers, rain means it's time to buckle down and work their asses
off cultivating for the next 4 months so that they can grow enough to
feed themselves for the coming year. Unfortunately, they don't
harvest until October, and the stores of millet from last year's poor
harvest are already running low (especially in the north, which got
hit by the locusts), so for a lot of folks that means cutting back to
one or two meals a day during their time of huge physical exertion.
Yikes. Still, everyone is eagerly anticipating the rains' arrival in
full force. In addition to incessantly pointing out how hot it is,
the standard conversation now continues, So you think it's gonna rain?
When's it gonna rain? How bout those clouds over there, do you
reckon it's rain? Sure would be nice if it rained, cause, damn, it's
THE HORDE OF THE FLIES
The arrival of springtime also brings with it the arrival of new life,
new life that contents itself with crawling up my legs and buzzing
around my head at every moment of the day. In truth, the flies here
are almost as bad as the children! As soon as the sun peaks up at
5:30 am, I wake (alone, alas...) to the grating bzzzzzz of the flies
hurtling themselves at my one-man screen tent, and then, when I emerge
from my protective cocoon, hurtling themselves at me, like crazy
insatiable fans. Philiiiiiiippe, you so sexxzzzzzzy! Weeeee wanna
touch your abbbzzzzzzzzz! Can I give you a kizzzz? No? How bout
now? No? How bout now? How bout now? We lovezzzz you!! Kizz? No?
Pleeeeezzzzzz? [WHACK] OOO! Careful, you frizzzky!
Damnit flies, learn how to take a hint! It's not myself I'm trying to
slap over and over again! I'll autograph whatever, just leave me
alone! Please, I beg you!
The flies don't understand, simple souls that they are, their only
drive in life to be near my radiant beauty. They land on my nose, I
swat, they land on my nose, I slap, they land on my nose, I smack,
they land on my ear, I pound, they land on my other ear, I punch, they
fly up my nose... So on and so on, so that by the time I'm getting
ready for lunch I'm thouroughly bruised and battered, with a black eye
and bleeding from my nostril and gums. Have I killed any? Not a one.
They're impossible to kill. I've tried kung fu, jujitsu, judo,
karate, tae-kwon-do, boxing, bitch-slapping, etc, but the flies are
well versed in the art of evasion maneuvers, putting my superior
streetfighting skills to shame.
Naazzzzzzarra's getting sweaty! Oooo, we likezzzz sweat!
And then, to add insult to my self-inflicted injury, a randy pair of
flies, unbridled in their fanatacism, lands on my perspiring forhead
for a quickie. Why God, why? Why do such horrible creatures exist?
~~~BECAUSE, MY SON, IF THERE WERE NO FLIES, WHAT COULD THE SPIDERS
God, is that really you?
~~~OF COURSE, MY SON, WHO ELSE? I'M NO LARIAM HALLUCINATION! [hearty
Ok... but then why spiders?
~~~OH, I DUNNO, FOR THE BIRDS TO EAT...
Why don't they just eat grass or something? And while I'm asking, why
the mosquitos? Why would you ever even think to come up with them?
~~~WELL, BECAUSE... BECAUSE--JESUS!
(@@@ YES, GOD?)
~~~NO, I WASN'T TALKING TO YOU! LISTEN, KID, I'VE GOT WAY MORE
IMPORTANT CRAP TO DEAL WITH. I'VE GOT WARS, FAMINE, AIDS,
ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION, REPUBLICANS, AND WHEN I'M THROUGH WITH ALL
OF THOSE I'VE GOT JENNIFER ANISTON'S BROKEN HEART TO MEND. I HAVE NO
TIME TO LISTEN TO YOU WHINE ABOUT SOMETHING SO INCONSEQUENTIAL! HOW
DID YOU EVEN GET THROUGH? I'LL HAVE TO FIRE MY SCREENERS, GODDAMNIT.
DON'T YOU GIVE ME THAT DIRTY LOOK, JESUS! I CAN USE MY OWN NAME IN
Jesus Christ, God's got quite the temper!
@@@ YES, HE DOES SOMETIMES. DON'T WORRY, PHILIPPE, HE'LL GET OVER
IT. AND IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL ANY BETTER, I THINK FLIES REALLY SUCK
Thank you, Jesus. You can tune back out now.
@@@ ROCK ON.
Flies and mosquitos aren't the only things blooming in Zamsé, of
course. The past few nights in village I've had several dramatic
encounters with other members of the insect kingdom, all ending in
murder. One night I went to reach for the door to my hut when my
headlamp came across a large black spider right beside it. As soon as
the light hit it it sprinted away. I frantically tried to follow it
with my light, but I lost the dark blob somewhere on the porch. Shit.
Do I just let it go? NO! If I let it go, it will be back! It'll be
back and it'll make babies! It's the ones that get away that breed! I
must kill it! I looked all around the table where I'd been sitting
reading. Not there. And then it ran up on top of the table. I
cringed all over. As soon as my light hit it, though, it jumped off
the table and made a dash for it. I whipped a flipflop off of my foot
and dashed after it, hopping on one foot around my courtyard, waving
the flipflop in my hand. For some reason, my adrenaline told me this
was the best course of action. I smacked the ground twice and missed
before finally hitting it.
The very next night, I saw another similar spider as I came through my
gate into my courtyard. I freaked out again, of course, but this time
just stepped on it rather than going through all the acrobatics. Now,
I've heard other Burkina Volunteers talk about these spiders called
Scorpion Carriers that are up to 6 inches long, very fast, and
supposedly harmless, but you try sleeping with one of them wandering
around your hut! I've never seen one. These spiders weren't big
enough to be Scorpion Carriers, and besides, Scorpion Carriers have
nothing to do with scorpions, but for some reason I had the urge to
shine my headlamp up on my mudbrick wall and there I saw...
Awww, HELL no!
No. No way. No. You are NOT a scorpion. There is NOT a scorpion
sitting on my wall.
I went on like that for a good 2 minutes, but then it dawned on me
that actually, there was a scorpion sitting on my wall. What to do?
Think, think! No way was I gonna try and kill it with my flipflop... I
decided to face the scorpion like man. You stay put Mr. Scorpion, I'm
just gonna go right inside and get my little can of insecticide spray.
Would insecticide work on scorpions? We were about to find out. I
gave it a good long spray. The scorpion's tail unfurled. It just sat
there. Are you dead?
The scorpion answered my question, and I shrieked like a 4 year old
african village girl whose never seen a nassara before, as it ran off
behind the wall. Jesus Christ, what now? Jesus wasn't listening. Or
maybe he was just chuckling to himself. Run! Let it go! The scorpion
deserves a chance at life! No, you coward! You can't let it go! Look,
over there! A big stick! I grabbed the stick and went around the
wall. Fighting my instinct to flee the scene and run for a
biiga-child to help, I gave the scorpion a good whack. I gave it more
good whacks. It was finished. I dropped the stick to the ground and
stared at my hands. The hands of a murderer. What have I done?? I
went and ate my leftovers.
So now when I sit outside, I'm consumed with paranoia. When will the
next one appear? What will it be? HOLY SHIT, what's that crawling up
my neck??! Oh. That would be my overgrown hair. I've decided I'm
gonna order a bee-suit and wear it all the time. It's just safer that
RAISIN' THE ROOF
Every once in a while, I like to get up off my wicker throne, go out
into the village to mingle with the commonfolk, observe their quaint
ways of life, and vaccinate them. In May we once again had a four day
vaccination spree in all our satellite villages, with 7 teams of 2
going house to house to house giving out oral polio vaccine and
vitamin A to all kids under 5. That's hundreds and hundreds of
children. My job was just to keep count. Some highlights:
*A woman wearing Penn State Volleyball camp t-shirt
*An old grandma with an impressive pair of pecs underneath a saggy set
*A freshly killed goat getting skinned, and gettingits feet and head
chopped off. A ha! So that's why I'm a vegetarian! Well, all the
animals here are free-range, so at least it had a chance at a
fulfilling, liberated life of bleating and chewing cud before it was
*A man with elephantitis. It's a condition caused by a parasite
spread by, why yes, bites from a certain species of fly! With
longterm exposure it causes an appendage to swell up to huge size.
Sometimes it's an arm, sometimes it's a leg, and sometimes, as was the
case with this guy, who had very large unsightly bulge in his pants,
it's the balls. Ouch.
*Two weavers working on homemade looms. Very neat.
*Boobs and more boobs.
*Screaming children, though thankfully not so many this time.
*A runner. Sometimes the children kick and scream and spit the
vaccine out, but this time, a girl decided to run. Her mom ran after
her, but of course the girl was faster. She got a good 2 football
fields away, running back and forth along the horizon. Eventually one
of her older brothers caught up with her on his bike and held her down
while she was vaccinated. That girl was determined, I gotta give it
*A roof-raising. A family took advantage of our sinewy presence to
put a heavy straw roof on top of a new round mud brick hut. Everybody
gathered round, we lifted it above our heads and slid it into place on
the hut. Truly, it takes a Peace Corps Volunteer to raise a roof.
Every time I call home it seems my parents are asking me how my
language is progressing, and I feel guilty and inept, cause honestly
it's not. After 7 months in village, I should be able to say more
than Laafi Laafi Laafi, health health health. And sure, I am making
some progress, though not terribly substantial. I did end up hiring a
Mooré tutor, Souleymane, the guy I mentioned a while back. He's
my age, and one of the few good French speakers in village, but didn't
have the money to finish up school. The arrangement is working out
fine, he'll hopefully use some of the money to take the competitive
exams you have to pass to get any government job, like
nursing--basically his only possible ticket out of Zamsé. So
it´s his fault I'm not really learning anything.
He puts effort into planning the lessons, but really, it all goes to
waste. When I come over for a lesson, most of the time he's hanging
out shirtless. Can he be bothered to put one on? No. We sit next to
each other on a delapidated wooden schoolbench, and I spend the whole
time concentrating on nonchalant ways to rub elbows and nudge knees.
I nod and say uh huh uh huh while staring at his chest. I'll lean
over to look at his notebook, and sometimes he'll lean over me to
check if I'm copying correctly. I'm sorry, but it's just not fair to
expect me to learn anything under these conditions.
What have I learned in my Mooré lessons? Black is beautiful! The
blacker the better! Amiina! It would be a sin to ask him to cover up
that body, so I'm making due. Since we're also working on forming an
AIDS discussion/condom demonstration group together, I've had to ask
him about certain essential vocabulary, like the word "penis": YOORE.
(Mooré is prounounced like spanish, with the double vowels held
longer). Learning this word, combined with what I've already learned,
has significantly increased my conversational possibilities. Ahem:
FO YOORE YAA BEDRE BI BANOGO?
Is your penis big or small?
FO DAT N GUESSE MAM YOORE BII?
Do you want to see my penis?
WILIG MAM FO YOORE.
Show me your penis. (Mooré has no word for "please")
I was awfully happy with myself, until I realized that the word for
"name" is YUURE. That's an awfully subtle difference. Well, shit.
I've probably been going around village introducing myself saying,
Good afternoon. My penis is Philippe. What's your penis?
When we learn a language we only figure out after the fact that we've
been making complete asses of ourselves. Back towards the end of
training while I was getting to leave my host family, I'd packed up
all my belongings in a big trunk. I was gonna have trouble carrying
it all the way to the road, and when my host mom saw me, she
immediately called over my host brother, 10 years old and half my
size, and she put it on his head so he could carry it for me. This
was both impressive and quite humbling. I had just started Mooré,
I told his mom:
A TARA PAGA! A TARA PAGA WUSGO!
Wanting to say: He's got strength! He's got lots of strength!
Usually my host mom laughed and encouraged me when I learned to say
something new, but this time just smiled politely, obviously confused.
That's odd. When we got to the road, I helped the kid get the trunk
off his head, and I told him
FO TARA PAGA! You've got strength!
He seemed equally unimpressed by my attempt at speaking Mooré.
whatever, I won't even try!
Ten minutes later I kicked myself realizing the word for Strength is
PANGA, not PAGA. PAGA means "wife." He's got a lot of wives! Great.
People have been telling me I've gotta get some potassium to cook with
my beans so that they cook faster and don't make you as gassy. I
heard that the old ladies selling leaves and okra and tobacco under
the big tree in the marché usually have some, so I went to ask for
I thought that the word for potassium was ZHUIIM. But the word for
potassium is actually ZHUAYM. ZHUIIM is the word for blood.
Good afternoon! How's the family? The work? There's Health? Good. I'm
looking for Blood.
Blood. I want blood.
(What does he want?)
--He wants blood.
Yes, you know, blood, to put with beans.
--You want beans?
No, not beans, blood!
--There isn't any... Check over there.
There's no blood?
[Luckily here Isaaka strolls over and asks what I'm looking for.]
--He wants blood?
**No, he doesn't want blood, potassium!
--Ooooohh, potassium! say the 7 women who are now listening in.
Right, that's what I said, blood!
Turns out there wasn't any potassium either.
Course I'm not the only one who makes linguistic flubs. I found a
copy of the 2nd Harry Potter in French in the volunteer library, so I
brought it back for Souleymane to read, since he only has 2 novels
which he reads over and over again, and I was interested to see what
he thought of this one. He just started, but he's keeping notes as he
goes along, so I asked him to tell me what he had so far.
Harry Potter's a magician, and he's going to school, but at home he's
not liked because he lives with Muggles (Moldus in French) which are
non-magic people. He's not allowed to use magic outside of school
because he's underage, and every night he holds a big cigarette in his
--Wait, a cigarette?
Yes, he smokes a cigarette...
--What? I don't think so... do you mean a wand?
No, I read it, Harry Potter is a smoker!
Well, I think I would have noticed that, but what did I know? Maybe
the French version was adapted to make it more culturally relevant.
Souleymane looked up the passage in question. Turns out he misread
cicatrice (scar) for cigarette. He he he... Oh Souleymane.
AND speaking of the 2nd Harry Potter, not one person has responded to
point out the Burkinabe reference, and therefore, no one will be
receiving my undying admiration. Tough. If anyone's curious, Book 2,
Chapter 9, page 141, the self absorbed phony Lockhart mentions:
*** ". . . I remember something very similar happening in Ouagadogou,"
said Lockhart, "a series of attacks, the full story's in my
autobiography, I was able to provide the townsfolk with various
amulets, which cleared the matter up at once ...... The photographs of
Lockhart on the walls were all nodding in agreement as he talked. One
of them had forgotten to remove his hair net. ***
Ouagadougou is misspelled, but there's really only one place he could
be talkin' about. I am in that place called Ouagadougou. Funny,
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go fight the forces of evil!
...where did I put that spandex?
PS: You can put my name on any packages you send, and my counterpart
should be able to pick it up for me at the post in Zorgho.
CSPS de Zamsé
BP 34 Zorgho