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Harry Potter and the Circle of Life

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  • pgosselin8
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 30, 2005
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      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
      will, Dubya!

      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
      DELUSIONS

      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
      fulfilling them.

      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.





      PHILIPPE'S DIARY[AH!]

      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
      Chrissy).]

      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
      Zamsé)
      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,
      I
      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
      situation?

      @@@ 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
      my
      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
      to
      stay that way when I'm eating for 300. Me and my 299 intestinal
      worms.

      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
      gone bad.

      --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.

      --No, Philippe!

      **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
      right.

      --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!

      --Philippe
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