The Little Piggy That Could
- 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?
MORE ADVENTURES ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT, or THE LITTLE PIGGY THAT COULD
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...
THESE PEOPLE??? THIS CONTINENT??? DO THEY NOT CARE? HAVE THEY NEVER
HEARD OF CUSTOMER SERVICE?? RAAAAHHRRR!! GAAAAAAHHH!!! I kicked my
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
HOOOOOOOONK HOOOOOOOONK HOOOOOOO--CLUNK! Whoa! Apparently
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
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
THE LITTLE PIGGY THAT COULD
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