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Singin' in the Bush

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  • pgosselin8
    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.
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 18, 2005
      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
      the airport.

      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.


      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.


      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.


      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



      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.

      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!
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