We’ve been back from the villages for a couple of days now. I can’t believe how close I’m getting to the end of my stay here. We’re off to Ghana for Thanksgiving and when we get back to Ouaga all of our essays and projects are due not to mention we take our finals before we return to the village one last time before we leave. It’s a whirlwind of schoolwork right now to say the least and everyone is feeling the pressure!
The village stay was an experience of a life time, but there were many moments where everything seemed perfectly normal. It’s surprising what one can get used to! I lived with one other girl in a small, two room brick house in a village called Dohoun. All of the student villages were located along one long road in the Tuy region. Cotton is a major crop in this area and provides a fair amount of money to the village (compared to more impoverished villages in the north). The house I lived in is owned by a wealthier farmer in the village. He had his own compound with a nicer house with a covered terrace area and a solar panel provided electricity for the indoor and outdoor light. Our small house, as well as a mud-brick house where a school director lives, was also in his compound. I was gone for so long and a fair amount happened but I’ll give you all some highlights –
Perhaps my favorite part of the day was sitting outside at night. The days were still pretty hot, which sometimes made it nearly impossible to do anything besides lay around between the hours of one to three. At night, however, it would cool off considerably. Sitting in these African style, lean back chairs, I would sit outside in my pajamas to cool off before heading back inside the hot house to sleep. Sitting in these chairs, I would just look at the sky. There were a few night when it was clear and the moon was new, and the stars were incredible. Even back at home, outside the city, there are always large evergreens blocking the view of the night sky (not to mention light pollution). But here, I had a clear view of the entire night sky, which seemed to continue endlessly. And I’ve never seen more shooting stars in my life. There were some nights when I would comment on the beauty of the night sky to a villager, and every time they would always sigh and say, “ah, c’est la richesse d’Afrique” and would continue to explain that while my country has money, Africa’s wealth is the beauty of nature.
For the Catholics in the village, all saints day is a legitimate holiday. No one works or goes to school and after a special mass there was a big afternoon dance party next to the church. Luckily I brought my camera, got some awesome pictures, and have ended up doing one of my photography books on the celebration. Part of the reason for our village stay was to produce children’s books that are pertinent to their lives. A lot of the books in the library are French, and feature people, lifestyles, and situations that are totally outside these kids’ experiences. Anyway, at the all saints day celebration, I was followed by a swarm of children, all begging to have their photo taken one more time, tapping me on the knees and pulling on my skirt. I was also asked by couples and families to take group pictures, a bunch of which I’ll be sending back when I get them developed! For the celebration, there were men playing the balafons and the tam-tams (xylophone and drums) as many others danced in a circle. Others sat on benches under a big tree. Women with their small children talked together as older men and women sat and drank dolo (traditional alcoholic drink made from sorghum). Even towards the end I joined in the dancing as one woman attempted to teach me the few dance steps. Compared to every other African I have absolutely no rhythm – these children grow up in a community that seems to be constantly playing music and dancing and from a young age these children are dancing with the adults. Needless to say, even the village children are more coordinated than I am. It’s so cool though that they grow up in this environment where dance is emphasized and where everyone dances to celebrate.
Awanki and Awanko are twins from the village that help us with meals, tours of the village, talking with villagers, etc. Awanki is our cook and she boils water in the morning for tea and Nescafe and brings us bread and then will make us lunch and dinner over this small gas cooker, usually rice with red vegetable sauce or peanut sauce. Awanko is our guide and shows us around town and helps us communicate with the villagers as not everyone speaks French. In fact, many people in this village speak Bwamu, the language of the Bwaba people. It’s a lot of words without vowel sounds and I only know the most basic greeting. The twins are very nice to us and help us out with everything, but they are also very quiet and timid, not just with us but with all the other villagers as well. This makes it a little difficult because, as our guide, Awanko is supposed to show us around and tell us all about her village but she barely speaks and we usually have to ask to go see something.
Villagers here, for some strange reason, absolutely love really bad, really corny, Chinese kung-fu movies. Three nights a week there is a movie showing. It’s byoc – bring your own chair – and the cost is about 10 cents a movie.
Sundays here are the big party day. Because it’s harvesting season, Monday through Saturday the village is much more empty. Sunday, however, everyone stays in town and doesn’t go out to the fields. There is a small market all day Sunday where one can buy pagnes (cloth), shoes, mats, cheap jewelry, soap and brooms, and some vegetables. There are also ladies that sell beignets d’haricot that are small little fried things made from beans that taste exactly like French fries! In the afternoon, all the adults sit around and drink dolo and a lot of people usually get pretty drunk. The twins are Catholic and on two Sunday mornings I went to mass with them. The village doesn’t have a priest so there was no Eucharist, but it was cool how I was able to keep track of what was happening in the mass, even though it was all in bwamu – readings, homily, kiss of peace, etc. Instead of saying “peace be with you” with the response “and also with you”, as we do at home, they use their local greeting.
During our village stay, we visited the other major city in Burkina Faso. Bobo has an old quarter that has a really cool Sudanese style mosque. We also walked around some of the oldest houses in the city. In the city there is a river that has sacred catfish in it. No one can kill the catfish and when they die (naturally) they bury them in a special fish cemetery. We also visited the grand marche in Bobo where we got followed by a bunch of men who try to be your instant friend and then try to sell you stuff in the end. So annoying. Bobo is such a nice city though. The streets are all lined with trees and it’s slightly cooler in the city because of its higher elevation. The downtown is pretty small and nice to walk around and our hotel was walking distance from the city center.
We’re off to Ghana on Monday morning to go see elephants! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!