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The Little Piggy That Could

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  • pgosselin8
    It s hot. Yaa tulgo. Yaa tulg wusgo! En tout cas, il fait chaud. Yup, it s a hot one. Damn, it s really hot. Thus has been the sum total of my verbal
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 28, 2005
      It's hot. Yaa tulgo. Yaa tulg wusgo! En tout cas, il fait chaud.
      Yup, it's a hot one. Damn, it's really hot.

      Thus has been the sum total of my verbal communication for the past
      month and a half, because really, actually, it's hot. And for some
      reason, we all feel the need, even the villagers, to point it out,
      multiple times to every person we see: It's hot. Amen to that! You
      be speakin the truth sistah! Tell it like it is!

      I spend the hours between 10am and 4pm sitting in the shade on my
      porch, my eyes glazed, my mouth hanging open, moaning softly to myself
      as the sweat beads trickle down my forhead, down my prominent
      dignified french-canadian nose, over my pouty kissable lips, down my
      strong jaw, down every part of my sinewy rippled torso, down through
      the crevaces of each abdominal of my 6-pack... twitching and slapping
      myself every few seconds to shoo the flies, which usually turn out to
      be yet more beads of sweat or stray strands of hair. Really, can
      insanity be far off?

      Occasionally a light breeze will help me cool off, which feels
      especially nice when I'm entirely drenched, except when it's a hot
      desert breeze that stings my eyes.

      In the evening, I brush the dried salt off of my forehead into my
      soup, and I journal about how hot it was that day. I drag my cot
      outside, cause sleepin in is out of the question, and stick my one-man
      mosquito net on top (most volunteers have roomier 2-man mosquito
      tents, but I'm just not that optimistic). And I lay down inside,
      sweating, though not quite as much as during the day, and I pray for a
      breeze so I can fall asleep. Or I point a twig at the sky and shout
      VENTILIARUM! which usually works. (Yes, I started Harry Potter last
      week, and I'm now on book four). If I do fall asleep, I wake at 6 am
      to a burst of heat as the sun climbs in the sky.

      The animals are also suffering. My dog lies on the floor, her tongue
      hanging out of the side of her mouth onto the floor into a puddle of
      drool, panting at 80 mph for the better part of the day. Sometimes
      her doggy friends will come over and lay down and drool on the floor
      beside her. I went to visit Imane, to chat about the weather. She
      has a scrawny little overly-affectionate roach-eating black cat with a
      big hernia in her side that she inherited from the previous volunteer.
      She had her mouth hanging open, breathing heavily--the cat, that is,
      not Imane--and I do believe that's the first time I've seen a cat
      panting. Only in Africa!

      And the villagers are quick to point out that the heat, life in
      Africa, it's not easy! Because, well, it's not, and therefore it
      should be pointed out in every conversation at least once. And when I
      think about how not easy it is, about the heat, and the lack of
      burritos and gay men, and that somewhere out there there's a cool
      paradise with an abundance of both burritos and easy gay men called
      Castro Street, then a year and 6 months to go starts feeling like an
      awfully long time. But I've got this huge stack of 50 books waiting
      to be read, a bunch of care package food and spices waiting to be
      devoured (and for which I'm terribly grateful!)... and it would be a
      shame to leave when I've still got a motherload of complaints to air
      and you, my loyal, devoted, faithful readers clamoring to hear them.
      So until I do run out of all of the above, I'll stick around. And the
      latter in particular could take a while. So lets get to it, eh?


      Coming back from our recent trip to the prettier, greener, cooler
      south, my friend Katy and I had to pick a bus line to bring us back to
      Ouaga. No, bush taxis aren't the only option for transport. We've
      also got big tall busses, of the Greyhound variety, with luggage
      stowed underneath and stairs going up to the seats on top. The bus
      lines aren't up to Greyhound's exceptional standards of comfort, so
      they squeeze 5 seats to a row instead of 4, but it still beats taking
      a crammed bush taxi any day... one would think!

      <cue ominous music>

      Since Bobo-Dioulasso is the 2nd biggest city in Burkina (no, I don't
      know how they come up with these names) there are lots of buslines
      that make the 5 hour trip on the paved road to Ouaga. For an extra
      $2, TSR had an airconditioned bus leaving at 2 oclock. Also, if you
      stay on the bus after the 1st stop in Ouaga, the bus continues on to
      the 2nd station, which happens to be right next to the Peace Corps
      hostel. No dealing with taxis or biking through Ouaga's chaos, a nice
      air-conditioned trip through this hot-season inferno... Sold!

      We got to the TSR station around noon, and I stood in line to buy
      tickets while Katy watched the bikes and bags. The sun was beating
      down as I waited, but the woman behind the ticket window took her
      sweet-ass time. Even without a computer, how it could take so long to
      sell a bus ticket I could not understand, but 20 minutes later the
      line in front of me had dwindled down from 6 and it was my turn.

      Two tickets for the 2 oclock bus!
      It's sold out.
      What? But surely there's room...

      We heard that the more expensive air-conditioned bus was hardly ever
      full, but oh well, there was another bus leaving at 3 minus the AC. I
      spent the last of my cash buying the tickets.

      What about the bikes? I asked.
      That's somebody else.
      Of course, but who?

      Of course it couldn't be simple, where we could buy the bike tickets
      along with ours, I knew that. You order a drink at a street
      restaurant and the waitress says, Whoa, whoa there buddy, that's not
      my job! Ask the drink lady when she idles around. The ticket window
      lady told me to ask one of the bagage handlers in the blue jackets.
      And so I went off, looking for blue jackets, around and around I went,
      until finally I realize that there aren't any. We needed to get the
      bike business cleared away to make sure they saved room for them on
      the bus... Unlike the bushtaxis, they can't just throw em up on top
      along with the goats and your mother.

      I handed Katy our tickets and she asked if there was anything she
      could do, as she stood sweating and applying sunscreen. No, no, I'll
      take care of it.

      I got back in the ticket line and waited my turn again. The ticket
      lady didn't sympathize that there was no one to ask about the bikes,
      so I stormed off, muttering to myself profusely. This is
      @$&@#$@bullsh#$... haven't you ever heard of @#$!@ customer service
      you #$@%&@#%@$? Now I'd learned in dealing with these situations that
      I just gotta muster up all my patience and keep my cool, but the sun
      sure weren't helpin none. I ambled back over to Katy, who'd stripped
      down to a bikini and was working on her tan to the bemusement of the
      ogling muslim men feigning shock. Actually she was fully dressed and
      having about as much sweaty fun as I was. She asked, Is there
      anything I can do to-- No! I'll handle it!

      Behind her was something that looked like it could be an office, so I
      walked in to inquire about the baggage people. The blue jackets, a
      girl said. There are none! The girl came out of the office to take a
      look. Do you believe me now? She pointed me to another room next
      door, which was supposedly the baggage office. I climbed over the
      bags and waiting passengers in the packed hangar and looked inside the
      door. Inside were indeed 3 guys in blue jackets. Sound asleep.
      EEERRRGGH!! Must I really wake them up? Umm... excuse me? No, I
      can't. I climbed back over the bags and people to Katie, exasperated
      and flabbergasted and friggin hot, what with my wet shirt clinging to
      my impressive pectorals, the sweat dripping down my tight round butt,
      down my thick hairy thighs, etc etc. WHAT... IS... WRONG... WITH...
      bike just because. Katy wasn't able to respond to my queries to my
      satisfaction, but thank god she was there to take charge, cause she's
      got more balls for these kinds of situations than I do.

      Somehow, after a couple minutes, she got a guy with a roll of tape to
      come over and tag our bikes. He started to walk away, so I ran after

      Hold it! Where do we pay to load the bikes?
      That's not me.
      Right, of course not, but who? And where should we put them?

      Rather than respond, he chose to walk away, just like that. But fine,
      we tried. The bikes were marked. Let's go find us some cool
      beverages and shade, shall we?


      We came back around 2:30 to get ready for the 3 oclock bus. There
      were actually 2 busses waiting with hoardes of people and bags
      surrounding them. Were we late? Turns out that because it was the
      end of a holiday, they'd called up an old reserve bus to fill the
      extra demand. The first was already loaded and ready to go, so Katy
      and I hurried to get our bikes and bags through the chaos and loaded
      onto the second one.

      We found our friend from earlier, Mr. Unhelpful. After asking him
      twice what to do with the bikes, I grabbed and asked, which worked
      better. He told us to wait with them there and they'd take care of
      it. We waited, and I could see the seats on the bus filling up, so I
      told Katy that one of us had better go save our seats. She took
      charge, and said You go get seats, I'll take care of the bikes and
      bags. Are you sure? I asked, meaning Yes, please do that, thank you!
      I got on the bus and scrambled to save us two seats, difficult when
      they were almost all being saved for other people. I could see our
      stuff out the window, and Katy ran off to find someone to help. After
      a couple minutes, she reappeared under my window, slightly frazzled.

      There's no room for the bikes!
      Of course there's room, this is Africa, there's always room!
      They keep telling me there's no room!
      Just keep trying! I shouted.

      Katy ran off again as I slumped in my seat. Oh my god... this trip
      just wasn't worth it. I can't take the stress!

      A gray-haired guy in a blue jacket holding a wrench showed up and
      wheeled Katie's bike to the other side. FINALLY, they're loading the
      bikes. Sigh of relief. When the gray-haired guy came back around and
      walked past the rest of the stuff, I shouted out to him

      The other bike! You have to load the other bike!
      What? You mean this is yours too?
      Yes, the bike and the big black bag!
      There's no room!
      Yes there's room! You must try!

      Next thing I knew, my large black hiking pack was coming through my
      window. There's no room for the bike! he shouted. Your friend will
      have to take the next bus at 6!
      There's gotta be room! Try! I felt bad for yelling at the guy, cause
      he WAS trying, and he was the only person from this station who'd
      wanted to help us at all. He shook his head and said sorry. Oh no...
      The next bus was in 3 hours, and wouldn't get to Ouaga til 11. Katy
      came back around, her long blond hair standing on end.

      Where's my bike??
      They loaded it...
      I'll have to see if they can change my ticket for the next bus... I
      guess I'll just take your bike with me.
      Can't you try--
      I tried, they can't. I'm gonna go see if they can change my ticket!

      I felt terrible. I should be a gentleman and offer to let her take
      this bus. It was her bike on board, after all... But the thought of
      waiting another three hours in that purgatory... I need my ticket! I
      shouted. She handed it to me and went back out of sight. Oh... Karma
      will make me pay, I thought. I supposed it wasn't a good time to also
      ask her if she could loan me $10, as I was broke.

      The driver placed a guy in the seat next to me, the last unoccupied
      one on the bus. But--but--that's for my friend! I whimpered to
      myself, dejected. Before I could see if Katy had gotten everything
      straightened out, the bus was lurching out of the station. Shit shit
      shit shit shit. Could this get any worse?

      <ominous music refrain with hint of danger>

      I fidgeted in my seat, shooting a dirty look at the guy who was
      sitting in Katy's spot next to me, though he was kinda cute. Skinny,
      but cute. I could go for him, I supposed. Oh, Katy! Damn it all. I
      tried to read, but I couldn't concentrate. I needed to chill out. I
      was on my way, there was nothing I could do. I opened the window and
      sat with the breeze in my face, watching the scenery pass as we left
      Bobo behind. I needed to sleep, I decided.

      The thing that makes sleeping on the bus between Bobo and Ouaga
      difficult, besides the normal difficulties of sleeping on a bus,
      craning your neck every which way, and the potholes, is that the bus
      blares its horn every 20 seconds or so to signal the donkey carts and
      bicycles and motos and people and cows to get outa the way, cause the
      breaks don't work. I was desperately tired, but the sleep didn't
      come. Not with the HOOOOOOOOOOOOONK coming through the window. Two
      hours later, as the sun was getting low, I was on the cusp, ready to
      finally pass out, having been hypnotized by the endless HOOOOOOOONK
      something... someone? didn't get out of the way in time.

      The bus chugged and slowed, pulling over to the side of the road, I
      assumed to go check on whatever had been hit. Word got around that it
      had been a pig. And when everybody started getting off the bus, I
      learned that they hadn't stopped out of concern for the poor animal,
      but because by giving its life, that little piggy had brought our
      goliath 50 ton bus to its figurative knees.

      Oh well. It'd give me a chance to stretch my legs and piss on a bush.
      Since I had no idea what was going on, I figured it would be a good
      chance to bury the hatchet with my seat mate and make friends, so that
      he could tell me. After about half an hour of waiting around,
      watching a group of men hover around the engine, my informant told me
      that word had it TSR was sending a replacement bus from Bobo. You're
      kidding! It's really that bad? A replacement bus would take at least
      2 hours to drive from Bobo, then we'd have to transfer all our stuff
      over... Ugh, what a mess! Well Katy, looks like we may be getting
      into Ouaga around the same time after all!

      Since this was gonna take a while, I took a seat by the road next to
      my skinny, semi-cute friend, a Molecular Bio student at Burkina's one
      and only university who spoke french a mile a minute. He offered me
      some palm wine, the alcoholic beverage of choice in the south, what
      with all its palm trees. They tap the tree at night and collect it in
      the morning, and it ferments naturally as the day progresses. I
      accepted to take a sip. Instead, he filled my entire nalgene with the
      stuff. It was easily one of the nastiest beverages I've encountered
      in my life, but I couldn't exactly tell him that since he'd just given
      me a liter of it. He asked if I liked it, and I told him it was...
      interesting... tastes a bit like sulfur, like rotten eggs, wouldn't
      you say? I forced myself to drink, and anyway, I needed a drink.

      We sat, and so did everyone, watching as the sun set, and as the
      busses from the lines we should have taken passed us by.


      Now pitch black outside, word had gotten around (because no one was
      actually telling the crowd what was going on) that the people working
      on the bus were going into the town a mile or so up the road to find a
      welder, and a replacement part had been sent on the next bus from
      Bobo. What the hell was going on? Wasn't the replacement bus due
      sometime soon? Skinny-boy told me it was gonna be a while longer and
      suggested that we take a walk to the town ourselves to get food and
      water. The walk took a good 20 minutes, and we came upon a fairly
      bustling town that had built itself up with boutiques and restos along
      the road, like all the towns on this route. I wanted to buy myself a
      plastic bag of water, since I couldn't afford anything else, but my
      friend insisted on buying me an expensive bottle instead, worrying
      that I might get sick from something else, and he was a molecular bio
      major after all. Listen, buddy, if anything's gonna make me sick it's
      this shit you gave me, I wanted to say, still sipping my nalgene of
      palm wine, my stomach indeed protesting, masochist that I am. But I
      graciously accepted his gift, as I had no other choice.

      We walked the long walk back. It was getting close to 8, and Katy's
      bus would be passing by sometime soon. I wanted to be there when it
      did, so I could find her and shout that, Hey, I'm stranded here, don't
      expect me to be back in Ouaga when you arrive! The TSR bus containing
      Katy and her bike finally did arrive, pulling over further along the
      road. I ran up to the bus, but it took off as soon as I reached the
      spot, so that the other stranded passengers couldn't storm it.

      The latest press release circulated through the crowd. Apparently our
      replacement bus had just left Bobo. WHAT? It was supposed to have
      left 3 hours ago! Now it won't be here til after 10, and we won't get
      into Ouaga til 1. Oy. Well, it was a good thing my black bag wan't
      locked underneath the bus. I climbed aboard and pulled out a pillow.
      I took it back to my spot by the side of the road, and I lay down and
      stared up at the stars. Ah, the stars. Huh. This whole mess was
      almost funny.

      <bathroom break>

      I managed to doze a bit inspite of lying on gravel with traffic
      zooming behind me. I woke up from the tentative sleep and checked my
      watch. 10pm. The men were no longer working on the bus. The natives
      were getting restless. They were demanding an answer. And the answer
      was, the bus just left Bobo! Obviously you're lying, they all pointed
      out, since the bus had previously just left Bobo at 5 and 7 and 9.
      Were they gonna let us stay stranded out here all night? How about a
      refund? The bus guy laughed. Ha ha ha. What? What's the problem?
      he seemed to say.
      RWO April 28 2005

      I tossed some bothersome rocks out from under my back and lay back
      down and fall back asleep. Round midnight the kinda cute guy stirred
      me. The bus lights were on, and people were getting back on board.
      We're leaving? We're really leaving? It was true. Wow. We're
      leaving. I gathered my pillow and got on the bus. The bus started
      up, and we got back on the road. We were moving. Moving at 20 mph,
      but moving. Since it was midnight, the road was empty and it was
      thankfully no longer necessary to honk everyone off the road. The bus
      stopped in the town we had visited earlier for 20 minutes to fetch
      some water to pour in the busted radiator. And then we moved again.

      Unfortunately now that I was back on the bus, I couldn't fall back to
      sleep. I pulled out my headlamp and my current book, A Million Little
      Pieces, a true autobiographical story of a 23 y/o guy who'd been an
      alcoholic and drug addict since 14. He wakes up from a blackout with
      a punctured cheek, his teeth all busted, his body gone to waste, and
      decides to go into rehab. I was at the part near the beginning where
      he goes to a dentist, and has to undergo a double-root canal without
      any anaesthetics, which he describes in excruciating detail over 10
      pages. I really need to get better reading material for transport.

      Unable to read, I lapsed in and out of restless sleep. The bus was
      moving at a donkey's pace, stopping every half hour to find more water
      and pour it in and fix it up for the next half hour. On and on.
      3:30, 4:30, 5:30... The sun was rising up over the horizon when we
      finally pulled into the first bus station on the outskirts of
      Ouagadougou at 6:00 am. My friend was also going to stay on until the
      second station, but he got out to make sure his stuff stayed on. I
      stayed put and asked him to make sure Katy's green bike stayed on as
      well. I stayed put for a little while by myself on the bus before he
      came and told me that the bus wasn't going on to the second station
      after all. We were on the complete opposite side of the city from the
      hostel. I deplore biking in Ouaga. The only reason I took this damned
      bus was so I could get dropped off near my house. I cursed
      incoherently under my breath. A plague on TSR! Incompetent #@$@%! I
      #@$@#@$ want a #$@#$@ refund #$@$@@#^&#!

      I bid farewell to my skinny somewhat handsome friend that I could be
      interested in in the right circumstances, and only if he did the work
      of making the moves, put the front wheel on Katie's bike, strapped my
      heavy pack to my back, swallowed my nerves and pulled out into the
      swelling traffic. I biked the entire way across the city of Ouaga in
      rush hour on a bike built for a person a foot shorter than me (sorry
      Katy), strung out and stressed and groggy. I asked for directions
      from the other bikers while stopped at lights. I arrived at the
      hostel around 7. I had time to shower before we had to leave to catch
      an 8 oclock bush taxi back to our villages (Katy lives along the same
      road towards Zorgho but closer to Ouaga). I wondered where you were!
      said Katy casually. It's a long story, I said. I was ready to tell
      her, but she didn't ask. She did lend me $10 to get home, however.

      <the pause before the epilogue with the moral of the story>

      The bush taxi home, as always, offered yet another new transport
      experience. I'd never seen them fit 5 grown men onto a single bench,
      since it's already a snug fit with 4, but alas, they did, and I was
      there in the middle of it. I was sitting on the end of the bench in
      the front row of passenger seats, the one that faces the extra row
      facing backwards, with the knee-crotch-knee-crotch configuration.
      Before taking off, they put a young firm-bunned man next to me. Since
      there wasn't room next to me, they put him there anyway and then
      slammed the sliding door on him so he would fit somehow. Half his
      hard ass was on my thigh, the other over the gap by the door. Of
      course the only place for me to put my arm was around his shoulder.
      What would happen if this door slid open while we're moving? I
      wondered to myself. Surely enough, as we rounded a bend, the sliding
      door, which was only being held shut by a strap of rubber, slid open.
      I immediately grabbed tight hold of the firm-bunned man. I saved his
      life that day. Actually, he was holding on fine himself, and I just
      groped him gratuitously. Hey, I take it any way I can get it. All
      this goes to show that getting from one place to another in Burkina
      never ceases to be an adventure.

      <cue Indiana Jones action adventure theme>


      I had planned as always to include more, but since that turned into an
      epic and a half, instead I'll promise that my next email will be short
      in coming, and will be even more jam-packed with nail-biting
      hair-pulling teeth-clenching FrustrAction (tm). Incidentally, my
      undying admiration will go out to the first person who points out the
      Burkina reference in Harry Potter #2.*

      And with that I return to the hazards that await me in the urban
      jungles of Burkina. I'm Philippe Gosselin. You stay classy,


      *Undying admiration not redeemable for goods or services; expires
      after 3 months unless renewed by another act worthy of my undying
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