Harry Potter and the Circle of Life
- July 28th marked my first year living in Burkina. I believe
this milestone officially makes me an American African. I assume the
identity with pride. I've had to sacrifice a lot to make it this
far. One entire year without urinals (unless you count brick walls)
without elevators or escalators, without tofu. Without my laptop or
deodorant, and most painfully of all, without my hair gel. I have
no idea what the Oscar movies were this year, or what blockbuster
bonanzas are on the marquee this summer (aside from Star Wars), what
last season's hot reality shows were, or whether Will has finally
got himself a goddamn boyfriend. He's fictional, for chrissakes,
and still his love life is more pathetic than mine. Please! A year
without perpetual internet or constant electricity. No microwave,
no washer, no toaster, no appliances of any kind. I had a cell
phone, then it was stolen, then I had another, then it broke. It's
only a depressing reminder that no one's calling, anyway.
Surprisingly enough, I'm doing just fine without it all. Except for
the lack of hairgel, food, gay men, toilets, air conditioning,
working pens, beaches, and people to talk to, life is grand!
I thought this would be a good occasion for sentimentality, looking
back on what exactly was going through my naive little head those
first couple days in country.
First, though, let's examine what the hell I was thinking when I
applied. I started the Peace Corps application online late one
night in the fall 2003. In truth, I' here only as a result of a
spontaneous decision to start the application while procrastinating
a film paper due the next day. Afterwards I realized, oh shit, now I
still have to do this stupid film paper, and then I'm getting sent
to a tiny village in Africa for 2 years where I'll never get laid.
That'll teach me to procrastinate! I've learned my lesson, I swear.
The application asks for a statement on what motivates you to join
the Peace Corps. What DID motivate me to come here? I decided to
take a looksy. And I quote:
[ahem] Before I get entrenched in a career, I'd like to challenge
myself some more by living somewhere completely different from what
I'm used to, roughing it a little, and working hard to make a
positive influence in peoples' lives. [well, save the last bit, I'm
certainly meeting my goals!] Humanity's biggest flaw at the moment
is its inability to care for itself. [uh-oh... here it comes...]
As advantaged Americans, it should be our duty to end war, poverty
and disease for everyone, not limiting our efforts to within
national borders. [and there it is. Translation: I want to save the
world!] It's important to strive to balance the disequilibrium of
opportunity, health, education, and stability in the world by giving
a piece of ourselves to helping others. [Wow. I should be a
politician. Except then those photos would surely get leaked....]
And I end quote. Flash forward 8 months.
It's an odd experience opening a package in the mail that will tell
you where in the world you'll be spending the next two years of your
life. Almost as odd as boarding a plane to that place. In June 2004
I eagerly opened the green Peace Corps invitation packet and there
was my destiny staring at me in the face: Burkina Faso! I was
overcome with giddiness. Knowing now exactly what was in store,
that reaction seems a little irrational. Perhaps even insane. But
it was exciting just to have a spot on the globe to point to, even
though to me it was nothin more than that.
Tucked inside was an official letter of congratulations from
GW: "Take this opportunity to build goodwill and to help lay the
foundation for a more peaceful world." Uh... right. I will if you
The package also came with a little brochure describing the country
and our future job. It sounded like something out of Mission:
Impossible. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: You'll
be living in one of the poorest countries in the world, amongst its
poorest people, fighting against the evils of AIDS, malaria, polio,
and Guinea Worm. You'll be out in the middle of nowhere, in a
foreign land with a foreign tongue. No running water. No
electricity. Bats, mice and cockroaches might live in your house
[an actual quote!]. You'll be forced to fend off marriage proposals
on a daily basis [never imagined I'd see the day where I thought of
proposals as a regular nuisance]. The variety of fruits and
vegetables is somewhat limited, with only one fruit or vegetable
often available during any given season [and do you know what that
only fruit or vegetable is? Onions. For the past 4 months, nothing
but onions. And I have to bike 30k to get them.] Public transport
is slow and uncomfortable [the understatement of the century]. The
pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are
accustomed to [or maybe THIS is the understatement of the century].
All of this while sweating you ass off in 100 degree weather [try
120!]. Can you do it? Are you tough enough? Are you brave enough?
Are you good-looking enough?
Back then the answer was, Yeah! Bring it on! Watch your back
Malaria! Philippe's gonna fuck you up and then go after your
boyfriend AIDS! Let me at em! I can do it!
A year later I realize, no, actually, it's impossible. That would
be why it's called Mission: Impossible. How could you not get that?
I'm reminded of a headline from The Onion that a volunteer posted up
in our hostel:
NEWLY FORMED PEACE CORPS TO RID YOUNG AMERICANS OF IDEALISTIC
Reality is certainly humbling. But I don't at all regret taking the
blue pill. Or was it the red pill? Whichever pill it was that
brought me here. Before I came I had no concept of how much of the
world lives. While Burkina might be on the extreme end in terms of
poverty, I would guess that the majority of people on earth live in
conditions more like those here than those in America.
But even living in the midst of it it's easy to lose sight of the
reality. Too often I'm preoccupied with being annoyed at people.
Whenever somebody goes off on their sob story, about how America's
so rich, and Africa's so poor, and it's too hot, and life's not
easy, I think, oh Jesus, not again. I'm living here right next door,
and it's not easy for me either! It's just as hot in my hut! But I
forget that I have something they don't. A plane ticket home. I
forget that AIDS and malaria really do kill, that people have it
tough, that they go hungry part of the year. They have hopes and
dreams and ambitions--It's true, Africans are just like us!--but
they have far fewer opportunities and much greater obstacles to
So what can I offer? Pity for the poor Africans? No thanks,
there's more than enough of that to go around. (Though I'll
graciously accept pity for the plight of this poor PCV--send to
Philippe Gosselin, PCV, CSPS de Zamsé, BP 34 Zorgho, Burkina Faso)
What can I do? I still don't know. Maybe nothing. Maybe all I can
do is live alongside them for a while. Try to understand what their
life is like. Give them my encouragement, for whatever it's worth.
The mission pamphlet concluded, "You will rarely see direct results
of your work. But your presence alone is making a difference in the
lives of those around you." God, I can only hope.
So here it is: an exclusive look into Philippe's most intimate,
salacious thoughts from one year ago. It begins on Air France,
somewhere over Algeria...
28 July 2004
I keep wondering to myself, Why are these people going to Ouaga? I
can't imagine that many of them are tourists, but most of them are
white. I just never imagined anyone other than PCVs and host
country natives would have any reason to go there...
[I've sinced learned that actually, 198,376 tourists visited Burkina
in 2002. Of these, 55% were confused surfers who accidentally
bought plane tickets to Ouagadougou instead of Honolulu; 30% were
French sex tourists; 10% were victims of practical jokes (Oh,
Burkina's got great jungle safaris!); 4% were masochists; and 1%
were friends and relatives coming to visit PCVs (most of those for
Kaya, 29 July 2004
Arriving may have been a mind trip, but waking up to Africa was
something else entirely. Made it sink in, and I look around at
everything in a strange sort of awe. Everything s new, and it's
very refreshing to have no idea what to expect. The food, the
money, the toilets, the people, the critters (geckos and oxen and
goats... and who knows what insect freaks of nature we'll
encounter). [oh, Philippe, you have no idea...]
The drive this morning from Ouaga gave us our first look at the
people and the life here. We return their stares, because for now
they're as much of a curiosity to us as we are to them. It helps to
have a group to dissipate the attention--it might get tough
absorbing it all by myself in a village. [oh, Philippe, you really
have no idea...]
On the way from some place to another, I asked Courtney, a PCV
helping out with training, So where is Kaya? She'd said that Kaya
was one of the larger cities in Burkina. We walked along the dirt
street, mostly empty except for the occational goat or ass or shanty
along the sides. Oh, we're in Kaya, she said. [oh, Philippe... all
looks, no world experience]
I thought I would be stressed out of my mind, but instead I'm just
soaking it in, eagerly awaiting what comes next. [Patience,
Philippe. The stressed out of your mind part comes next.]
Boussouma, 5 August 2004
Our only instructions were to "integrate with the family." I was
all for it, of course, and went in with a positive mind, following
my new host dad on his bike to my new home for 3 months. When we
got there, they pulled up a chair and we sat in silence. The dad
left after a few minutes, leaving me with his teenage son, who
speaks a little French.
I tried to make conversation. I asked him how old he is (16), if he
was in school (no), if he played sports (volleyball)... What
else?? He didn't return the questions. I started to freak out. It
was 9:30 am and I had time to kill til 2. I'd already run out of
conversation. I hadn't been prepared for this! What the hell was I
supposed to do? I didn't think I could take it. I'm not cut out to
live in an African village! I can't handle it, especially not
alone! This was within the first 20 minutes. I sat with Guillaume
for a painful half hour then asked to take a nap.
There were so many formative firsts in Burkina: My first roach, my
first scorpion, my first shit...
6 August 2004
My first time squatting on the latrine, worrying about my aim (after
assuring myself there were no monster roaches in sight). I felt God
there with me when it went straight down the hole. I'm beginning to
see why they say this is the toughest job I'll ever love. Tough, but
boy did I love being through with it. I've learned that PCVs love
to talk about their poop, some more than others (ahem, Cassie). The
color, the texture, viscosity, is all a subject of conversation.
Not to mention the latrines themselves, and the process...
Adjusting to the food here does some weird shit to one's digestive
tract. For example, Cassie found it necessary to inform me that
hers resembled the slimy sauce she ate with her To as if it simply
passed through her unchanged. When I suggested she send in a MIF
kit to test for parasites, she said she'd have no problems
collecting a sample since she always misses anyway. This from a
small, pretty, proper girl. What is it about PC service that makes
people think it's ok to just plainly discuss the most unmentionable
of bodily functions? Better to share with Philippe than to write
home about it. [And then Philippe will write home about it later!]
It wasn't until after my first week that I saw the true extent of
the wretched human conditions in Burkina:
7 August 2004
Music video hell. I accompanied my host brothers to the village TV
on the side of the road. There were probably 50 young guys
surrounding the 14" TV captively watching some of the most bland
music videos I have ever seen. Maybe I was sent here to teach the
Burkinabé about production values.
While I was watching, one guy came up to me and rescued me from my
supreme (albeit amused) boredom by striking up a conversation in
shaky English... He told me about his desire to go to America,
where he could be rich, and escape the lack of opportunity here. He
brought up my American guilt by asking if he could go back with me,
or if I could help him. "I want an American boyfriend," he said
several times. "Can you help me get an American boyfriend?" I was
very amused by the wording, though I didn't point it out. I felt
guilty that after 2 years I'll be going home, but they'll be stuck
here in poverty with their shitty music videos. Perhaps I shouldn't
tell them what they're missing.
HARRY POTTER AND THE CIRCLE OF LIFE
As of July 4, I'm the only gay male PCV remaining in Burkina. The
only one who'll admit it, anyway... I notice the other boys stealing
lustful sideways glances at me when their girlfriends aren't
looking. Oh yes. In any case, on August 2nd, Air France will
deliver us 50 new trainees, contributing to the Peace Corp's
continual cycle of renewal, flushing out its jaded cynics and
replacing them with new batches of doe-eyed idealists.
This is the mother-load. The biggest incoming group of PCVs Burkina
has ever seen. For all of us here--well, all 3 of us who are still
single, anyway--there's only one thing on our minds. My mom says I
should leave more up to the imagination in these posts, and so I
will. Ok, ok, I will tell you that it involves Harry Potter Sex. I
mean, Sex! ...No, wait, I can say it: Harry Potter SIX. I'm so
desperate for Harry Potter SIX that I don't know what to do with
myself. If there's nobody on that plane who can "give it to me,"
well, gee, I'll be screwed. Or, more accurately, I won't.
And even if there is, we're not supposed to solicit Harry Potter SIX
from trainees, and after training they're stuck in village for 3
months, and if there's an even number of them they'll surely share
it with each other before I even get a shot, and then you gotta
factor in the chances of someone wanting to slip me the old "Oliver
Wood" and me wanting to "play Quidditch" with that particular
someone, and also that, as many cold bucket baths as I take, I still
reek of desperation. Also I just plain stink. And they could all
turn out to be lame-ass "Muggles." It's hopeless. Hear that, Love?
Hopeless. I'm still not expecting you. Love... the biggest bitch
of them all.
A TEST OF CHARACTER
Pretty much the only way to "Get the hell out of Dodge" (aka
and make a decent living in this country is to win a job as a
functionary, a government worker such as a nurse, a teacher, a
police officer, etc. There is a tiny private sector, but it is
overrun with nepotism. If you're not linked to someone high up
through your dad's 3rd wife's uncle Amadou, then you're shit out of
luck. A few lucky ones get jobs with rich development or aid
organizations (like Peace Corps). But for the most part, the only
viable way to get out of a life of farming in village is to get one
of these aforementioned jobs through an annual national
competition. The state provides full scholarships to the winners
and then after their training assigns them to a post somewhere in
the country. But the competition is ridiculous... For each slot
available, there can be something like 300 applicants.
My language tutor Souleymane is one of those bright, modestly
ambitious guys who just wasn't meant to live in village forever. He
took exams for a couple different positions last year. The
competition results were announced on the radio. Can you imagine
the nerves? Like having your SAT scores announced on MTV. He heard
his name and went all the way to Ouaga where he learned that SEVEN
Souleymane Ouedraogos won competitions, and he wasn't one of them.
So this year he's giving it his all to make it. He's taking 6
different exams, for nursing, teaching, accounting, etc. He wants to
become a nurse, but he's gotta take whatever he can get. He bought
the pricey study guides with all the practice questions, so I got to
see what he's up against.
My God. Each exam is 2 hours long. They're all essentially the
same, no matter what position you're trying for. A big section of
abstract problems, like out of an IQ test. Find the pattern,
predict the next number, which of these shapes does not belong,
etc. And then a section of questions on general knowledge and
current events. No easy shit like, Who is the President of the
United States? No, no... More like "Who is the king of Cambodia?"
Want to try some more?
1. Who was the first Chinese astronaut in space?
2. What is the Quebecois political party whose sole goal is the
legalization of cannibis?
3. What is the biggest optical telescope in the world?
4. Who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2004?
5. What is the smallest capital city in the world?
6. The UN charter is composed of how many articles?
7. Who are the biggest alcohol consumers in the world?
8. The first film was projected in what year?
9. What is the process of sperm production called?
10. In Greek mythology, who is the god of forests?
Applicants are expected to know the answers to questions like these
when they've never had access to TV, CNN, the Internet, textbooks,
encyclopedias, libraries, or even books. All they've got is radio.
Even Americans, who are constantly bombarded with all of these media
would be hard pressed to compete in a test like this. Sure,
exceptionally brilliant people like myself know off the top of their
heads that the answers are 1. Yang Liwei, 2. Bloc Pot, 3. Keck One,
4. Elfriede Jelinek, 5. Thorshavn, 6. A hundred and eleven, 7. The
Czechs (they beat the Russians and the Irish!), 8. 1895 (I was film
major, after all), 9. Spermatogenesis, 10. Sylvan, and that the King
of Cambodia is Norodom Sihamoni. But how the hell is the average
person supposed to know? It might be a good way to pick out
Jeopardy contestants, but to choose teachers? Nurses? Souleymane's a
smart guy, but more importantly he's good with people. Does the
test doesn't give a damn? Nope. Explains why all the functionaries I
work with are pretentious smart-asses.
In addition to all this, the exams require an in-depth knowledge of
Burkina facts and figures. I put my chin on Souley's shoulder and
give him backrubs while he studies. (Uh, they make you smarter, I
explain. But only if you're not wearing a shirt) I've picked up
quite a few interesting Burina tidbits by doing this, like the
number of tourists to the country cited above. Some more examples:
Cotton production makes up a whopping 31% of Burkina's GDP. The GDP
per capita is around $300 USD (in the US it's more than $30,000).
45% of the people live under the poverty level, on $2 or less a day.
The life expectancy in 1997 was 53.8 years. In 2001, 28% of the
population was literate. 8% have electricity. There are more than 60
ethnolinguistic groups in the country, living and starving together
in peace and harmony. 360,000 Burkinabé returned to the country
following the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire--they all go there for work!
Burkina produces between 50 and 60 thousand tons of onions a year.
Indeed, that's all I eat. There's a good chance that Shea butter
you pick up at Bath and Bodyworks originated here, since Burkina's
the world's 3rd largest producer of shea nuts. Burkina was home to
782,891 dogs in 2003, and 24 million chickens. And finally, Burkina
has 320 tourist sites--I assume these are all the places where you
can get a cold beer.
Souley's not taking any chances with the competition this year, so
he went and got his fortune told at the fêticheur... I don't know
what this is in English. Fetishist isn't quite right. It's
something like an animist witch-doctor. You go tell this guy what
it is you're after, and for 40 cents he'll tell you what you need to
do to get it. Usually it's something like sacrificing a chicken.
Souley tells me, "So I went, and instead of telling me to bring him
a chicken, he told me I needed to sacrifice a sheep!"
--Whoa... A sheep! Isn't that a bit expensive?
**I know! I tried to negotiate with him, and make it a chicken, but
he wouldn't budge! So I said fine. A sheep it is. But I don't
know what I can do... I can't afford a sheep! I still need to pay
my way in Ouaga.
--Couldn't you just forget it?
He gives me a look that says, you dumb-ass nassara!
**No I can't forget it! I need to win a competition!
--So you actually believe the guy? Aren't you muslim??
**Of course I believe him!
(everybody here, no matter what their nominal religion, still
carries around some animist superstitions and beliefs.)
--Didn't you do a sacrifice for your exams last year?
**No, and look what happened!
By now the subtext was quite clear that he wanted me to help him buy
the stupid sheep. It would surely upset the values of the Shave the
Sheep Vegan Society at Wes, but it obviously meant a lot to him, and
if helped boost his confidence... I agreed to give him an advance on
his tutoring salary.
--Can you at least bring the meat home to your family to eat?
**No! Not even. Sometimes you can, but not with this guy. He keeps
it for himself.
--Souley, I think you need to find yourself a new fêticheur.
**Yeah, you know what, I do. I'll look into it.
Don't tell him, but I've already decided to pay for his school if
these competitions don't pan out. It wouldn't be for lack of effort
or deserving. This guy needs a ticket out of village, and would
make a fine nurse. And I mean Fiiiine! UNH! I have the money
saved up somehow from my volunteer allowances. And if it can make a
real difference in somebody's life, hell, I won't miss it a bit.
Though a plane ticket to Paris would be awfully nice... And some
time on the Mediterranean... Study your ass off, Souleymane, and
let's pray this damn sheep sacrifice works!
THE STATE OF THE INNARDS
Philippe Gosselin here with your Peace Corps Burkina Faso 7-day
Bowel-Watch Forecast, brought to you by Giardia. We start off the
week on Monday with the usual light diarrhea. Look for conditions
to worsen gradually overnight. Runny all of Tuesday with a 30%
chance of leakage. Now we're keeping a close eye on this high
pressure gas system that's coming in on Wednesday, and may bring
with it painful indigestion and decreased appetite alternating
throughout the day with pangs of starvation for a decent American
meal. Or Chinese, or Mexican, or even Ethiopian. You'll want to be
especially cautious on Thursday as the gas system moves down through
the gut, potentially creating emergency conditions with explosive
spurts and a much higher than usual 60% chance of missing the hole.
Look for things to shift suddenly into Friday, which for now looks
to bring with it the start of another long bout of constipation
lasting throughout the weekend and likely well into next week.
Keep it tuned to RWO for further bowel updates and special alerts on
extreme gastric conditions. Or get reports by SMS, or by logging on
to our website. Or by phone, or by fax, or email. Or via post,
pager, telegram or RSS feed. Or by biiga, by carrier pigeon, smoke
signal, telepathic messaging, or prayer. Or remain blissfully
unaware of the horrors that lie in store the next time you eat that
sketchy street food. It's up to you.
A DISGRUNTLED POSTAL PATRON
When I first moved to Zamsé from my training village last October,
biked down to Zorgho to make friends with the good people of the
local post office. I explained to them that I live 45km away, and
that it would be difficult for me to come down every time I got a
package, cuz I have but a bike to get me here, and a round-trip in a
single day to pick up a package would just about kill me. My
counterpart, the head nurse, rides into Zorgho regularly on his
motorcycle. Would there be a way for him to pick up packages on my
behalf? No. Not if they're addressed to you. Really? Nothing I
can sign to give him permission? No. You understand that it's
difficult for me to come all the way down here? Yes, we
understand. Ok... What if I asked people to leave my name off the
package, would that work? Yes, that could work. Great! ... And so
I told y'all to send packages without my name. The packages would
just come to me, and I would be happy.
One day, my counterpart got a package slip, saying a package had
arrived from the USA. But they wouldn't give it to him. The nurse
was going away and wouldn't be able to pick it up for another couple
weeks. So the next time I was passing through Zorgho on my way to
Ouaga, I went in and said, hey homies, wazzup! I got this here
package slip, and that package there has got my name written all
over it. No, it doesn't. Well, you're right, it doesn't actually
have my name, like we agreed, but it's for me. You can't pick it
up. Only the CSPS nurse can pick it up. Well, the nurse told me he
tried and you wouldn't give it to him either! What gives? He didn't
have an official stamp. Great. I'll tell him to bring it next
time. But for now, since I'm here, and I just biked 45k, could I
pick up my package please? It's not for you. Uh, yes, you see,
that's my home address in the upper left corner. Helene Gosselin,
that's my mom. She sent the package for me. But it doesn't have
your name. No, you said I could leave off the name, and I wouldn't
have any problems! We can't give it to you. It's my package! You
KNOW it's mine! Yes, we know. So PLEASE JUST GIVE IT TO ME! I
WANT MY PACKAGE FROM MY MOMMY. PLEASE, JUST GIVE IT TO ME. IT'S
RIGHT THERE AND I'M RIGHT HERE AND I'LL JUST TAKE IT IF YOU DON'T
MIND. It doesn't have your name on it. AAAAAAGH!
You would think, this being a third world country, that they could
be a little lax about these things. Make life a little easier for a
brother. But no. The folks at the Zorgho post are the tightest-
assed tightasses I've ever encountered. As I walked out, fuming,
throwing an inner tantrum, desperate for the boxed piece of home
that was just on the other side of the counter, they called to me,
Make sure the nurse comes back to pick it up soon! We don't want
this thing lying around. There's no room.
On another occasion, I went to the Zorgho post with Imane. We biked
from Imane's village and arrived at the post around 11:15. She had
two packages to pick up (with her name, thankfully) and I wanted to
mail a letter with some photos I was sending to my former host
family. It took until 12:30 for me to get my stamps and Imane her
packages. There were no other clients. There were two people
working. I thought of tacking up a Bang Head Here poster to the
wall. Sure, you have to go through paperwork and sign in triplicate
and pay the fees, but seriously, folks... And when we finally left,
they called out: Next time, could you get here a little earlier?
Indeed, they had worked half an hour into their siesta.
Around this time I found out that Katy, another volunteer in our
area, had made an arrangement for a courrier to pick up packages
bearing her name from the post on her behalf. Interesting. Very
very interesting. She gave me a copy of the procuration agreement
she had signed and gotten officialized at the police. I took it and
copied it, had my nurse sign, biked to Meguet, waited an hour at the
police, paid the fee, got all the stamps, and then biked the rest of
the way to Zorgho. I strolled into the post with a victorious,
cocky, sweaty air. I gots a little sumthin for you folks. Perhaps
you'd like to read it? I handed over the contract. The guy at the
counter took it to the manager in the other room. Five minutes
later, he comes back with the paper. This won't work. Somewhere in
the back of my mind, I was expecting something to go wrong, and I
was ready to go off when it happened. WHAT? What do you MEAN this
won't work? My friend did this exact same thing! I'm doing
everything to make you people happy, and you keep giving me shit!
No, sorry, this needs to be done on our official forms. And he
handed me copies of the official form I needed to fill out and get
stamped in order to have someone else pick up my packages. Um, I
believe I asked you people for this a long time ago. Would have
saved me a lot of trouble. No you didn't. YES I DID. I ASKED FOR
IT QUITE SPECIFICALLY. Was it me you asked? No, it was some other
guy, but-- You didn't ask. JESUS CHRIST!
@@@ Yes, Philippe?
I'm not generally an angry person. I never yell at people. But,
Jesus, I can only take so much bullshit. What would you do in this
@@@ I would bust out the French.
And so I did: VOUS FAITES TOUS POUR QUE LA VIE SOIT DIFFICILE! J'EN
AI MAR DE CES MAUDITES CONNERIES! VOUS ETES DES VRAIS INCOMPETENTS!
VOUS ME FAITES CHIER!!
But I'm a blubbering mess when I'm enraged, and wasn't able to get
it out nearly as eloquently as Jesus might have. The guy chuckled,
and told me to calm down, there were other customers. I took the
new forms and huffed outside to my bike, but the guilt set in before
I could flee, so I came back with my tail tucked between my legs and
apologized for my outburst. ...Jesus told me to do it.
WHO SHIPPED MY CHEESE ECONOMY?
In spite of these difficulties (which I pray I've resolved), the
mail in Burkina is actually quite reliable. The only problems seem
to arise when West Africa isn't specified in the address. Most
people, American postal clerks included, don't think Burkina Faso is
a country. Recently I got a letter from Alpha Delt at Wesleyan (you
didn't know I was a frat boy?) that was stamped MISSENT TO JAMAICA.
Gee. Sure wish I'D been missent to Jamaica! But it found its way
to me eventually.
Only once did I think a package had indeed been swallowed by the
postal system. My parents sent it on January 13. It landed in my
hands on July 11. Why did it take so long? The package was marked
Economy Mail all over. I took a look at the customs form. Aha! It
was my dad who sent it. That explains things. The postage cost an
arm, but if he had just thrown in a leg I could have gotten it in 2
weeks instead of 6 months.
But no matter. It was in my hands. I was ecstatic. On top was the
Thermarest I'd asked for. My back had gotten used to sleeping on
rock-hard cot by this point. Oh well. There was also food. So much
food! And pictures of me from my college graduation over a year
ago. DAMN, I looked good back then! I was jacked. It's tough
stay that way when I'm eating for 300. Me and my 299 intestinal
But the most exciting of all was the Parmesan Cheese. I was gonna
eat me some CHEESE tonight!
It took me a while to admit to myself that the Parmesan cheese had
--Philippe, I think it might be bad.
**No, no, it's fine!
--No, really, Philippe, smell it. It smells like blue cheese.
**Well, what's wrong with that?
--You hate blue cheese, it's disgusting!
**It's an acquired taste.
--Philippe, the color's not even right. It's brownish-yellow.
**Well, who knows, it's reduced fat, that's probably what it's
supposed to look like. I'll just taste it, all right?
--Fine. Tastes disgusting, doesn't it?
**Well I don't know, I haven't had Parmesan in a while, maybe it's
supposed to taste--
--WAKE UP, Philippe! Wake up and smell the rotten cheese!
** Cheese doesn't go bad! Least of all delicious fake processed
reduced fat Kraft Parmesan! Maybe I just need a little more.
**Yes, I want more!
--You'll ruin your meal!
**Spaghetti with CHEESE!!
--PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER MAN!
**MORE CHEEEEEESE CHEEESE SAY CHEESE! .......Oh god. You were
--I was right.
**Oh, god, this is nasty.
--What'd I say?
**A whole bottle of Parmesan cheese and it's BAD! For once I get
cheese and it's ROTTEN! Oh god, no. No! NOooooho ho ho! Oh the
humanity! I'll never be hungry again!!
...It was one of the saddest moments of my life. This is what
happens when you send Reduced fat Kraft Parmesan cheese via Economy
mail. THIS is what happens! The cheese goes around the world on a
boat and when it finally reaches your self-sacrificing cheese-
starved child in Africa it's gone BAD.
I ate the spaghetti anyway. I'll give the cheese to Imane. Maybe
she won't notice.
You see, America is wonderful because you can have all kinds of
cheese. Mozarella, swiss, American. It comes in all forms--sliced,
powdered, individually wrapped. In chunks, in spray cans, in jars,
or old-fashioned wheels. Cheese goes in sandwiches, in chips, in
dips. Cottage, cream, parmesan! Spread it, spray it, melt it! On
pizza, on pasta, on salad, on cracker! On bread and on soup and on
fries and baked taters! Cheese is everywhere. And when it runs
out... you just go buy more! Brie, munster, goat, soy! My fellow
Americans, living in Burkina Faso, one learns what makes America
great. Tonight, after one year away, I can tell you that the
answer, my friend, is toilets. And KJ and Pepe, who, in my hour of
need, sent me black gay erotica, which doesn't go bad, thank god.
But most of all, it is great for its great abundance of CHEESE.
God Bless Cheese! And America. Goodnight!