15 and 16 November – written 16 November - Romongo, 8:45pm
We're biking back to Abbe-Pierre and the mood changes palpably as we get closer – we're going to find out our sites! Aahhh! There's a skit on how they chose a site and prepare it (a year long process condensed to 10 minutes). Then, after Scott and Al greet Theio in two languages besides French or English (they choose Spanish and Moore, respectively), a huge map of Burkina is taped to the wall. On it are labels with each new site. I can't describe what I'm feeling, sort of an overwhelming sense of “holy shit, my future – the place I will spend the next two years of my life – is up there somewhere”. Descriptions are read and we guess who is going to each city – for the most part we're pretty spot on with the first or second guess, especially for Health. Sabce is named, and my heart sinks as the description mentions lack of biking and high availability of fresh veggies. Hmmm..those were not things I mentioned in any of my interviews or paperwork, and we all know that this will be Wendy's site. I'm happy for her, and I'm pretty quick to get over my disappointment. I had been aware that I was building it up in my mind, and that if I had gone there it would have been tough to overcome my expectations. A clean slate, while a little disappointed, is probably better, going to a site I don't know anything about.
“Congratulations! You're going to Kossouka! You said you wanted North...” the description is read and we all know from the second sentence that it's mine, the sole person who actually requested the North. It sounds pretty good, and I'm genuinely excited as I go up to place my little person up next to the name of my village. My immediate concern is how far I am from a bigger city – 40km from Kongussi and 60km from Ouahigouya. I had expressed the desire to be within biking distance if possible, to get to internet and post regularly, but the description mentions good cell coverage, so I start thinking of the internet “keys” one can buy from the cell company to get mobile internet coverage. Maybe not the best speed or quality, but it might be worth it to stay in touch better. And I can always take a bush taxi to either city, it's just a little more expensive and a bit of a hassle, not the easy jaunt I was hoping to make once or twice a week to Skype with the US.
Once all the names are read and all the photos placed we can look and see where our stage will be going. Amusingly, my two closest neighbors are current Village People – Emily is 15km away through the backroads, and Alicia is 30km away on a major unpaved road. Kongussi has a handful of us within distance, but the party is in Ouahigouya, with about 8 of us within 60km – I'm the furthest out, and Al is the closest at only 10km away to the north. Ok, maybe this really is do-able. We stand and chat with the staff for a bit, drinking soda and eating peanuts and candy. The decision is reached to go to El Dorado to celebrate – Romongo goes and talks to Sanfo (our usual driver) about leaving a little late. We wait around for a bit to pay for our swear-in pagnes (yay!), then I'm part of the first wave to the bar.
We arrive and inform the poor staff that the usual huge crowd of nasaras (“foreigners”, often yelled by children and even adults as we pass on our bikes) will be on their way and many tables are necessary. We start with three, but by the time Stephen and I leave we're up to 6 at least. It's so nice to just chill with everyone and I envy the people who get to do this every day, although I know I've spent exponentially less money being forced to return to the village. Our car with our new LCFs stops at the grande alimentation on our way out of town where we buy bon-bons for Tabaski and snacks for ourselves. We encounter Pierre outside and it's almost sad how happy we are to see him – I'm really going to miss him as a teacher and as a friend, even though I know I'll see him around at Abbe-Pierre when we come into town.
I get home and don't plan on much for dinner after all our snacks, but it's couscous with a decent sauce (the tomato one without meat), so to make my host mother happy I try and eat a very large serving. I'm quite full, but then they bring in a plate with cravettes and popcorn! I eat a cravette (a fried snack chip thing – I'll bring a box and make them for you when I get back) and it's so delicious that forcing myself to finish the couscous is difficult. I attack the fried snacks with gusto, but not a moment later my host brother appears with a giant plate of papaya! I had seen my host father cutting it up earlier, removing the skin from a fruit bigger than a watermelon. It doesn't have all that much flavor but I know I can always use the vitamins so I take a deep breath to pack down my full stomach and polish off two slices of papaya. For the first time since being in my homestay, I am *full* - over the top, cannot eat another bite full. It's amazing. I still get chided by my host mother for not eating anything; like always I explain that I'm very very full but this time I mean it.
Today I wake up reluctantly (all three alarms go off before I get out of bed). I debate what to wear, but settle on my usual skirt because biking in my new dress seems like it would be tricky – I should take it back and get more fabric added to the skirt. I eat, forget to give my camera to my father after he reminds me before breakfast, and go to the CSPS with a plastic bag of cravettes and popcorn from my unusually cheerful mother. “Class” thankfully turns out to be “Appropriate Moore for Fete Days”, something for once that I can apply immediately. After an hour we say goodbye to our new LCFs and return home. Stephan comes with me and Bridget goes with Emily since their families are Christian and won't be going to prayers. We bike home, put our bikes in my room and put on sunscreen (careful to keep the door open and/or one of us outside the room at all times – no need to cause a scandal!). I change into my dress and wonder about a headscarf but it's hot so I decide against it. Stephan and I are sat out in the back courtyard, and Bridget and Emily walk by. They return in a minute, telling us that my father is over in front of the cheif's compound and we should come over. We grab our bags and tag along.
Now we're faced with an issue. The men are sitting together in one place, the women in another. Do we split up and send Stephen, who speaks even less Moore, to sit alone with the men while we sit with the women? Stephen goes and starts greeting the men while the three of us stand awkwardly until my father waves us over. Apparently that 3rd gender nasara thing is true – we're seated on our own bench while most people sit on the tree roots of a deadfall next to us. It's kind of weird to go from being a 22 year old woman to a 65 year old man in terms of social status, but in this case I'll take it because frankly I want to be in the thick of the action and today that's clearly with the men. At some invisible signal we are told to get up and we walk the long way around the cheif's compound to a back entrance. A bench is procured and the nasaras are told to sit down – we're the only ones sitting.
We sit around for a minute, but suddenly the men standing behind us start to sing. After vehement urging for the 4th time from my host father, I take out my camera and sound-record a snippet of their song. We are told to take photos of the chief when he comes out in his costume – we're worried this might be rude, to interrupt a religious ceremony for photos, but they are so insistent that we wonder if it would be offensive to *not* take his photo. We sit and listen to the singing as various children and lower family members pop in and out of the courtyard, then are told to stand as the chief and his entourage emerges. I only get one photo at the moment, but the sight is quite spectacular. A man walks in front, carrying a large round leather cushion on his head. He is followed by the 'large pointy spear' carrier. And after him, under a multicolored, faded umbrella, is the chief. He's wearing a bright orange hooded robe with black tassels on the corners of the hood, and we try to avoid meeting his eyes while also taking his photo.
Now we're following the chief and the crowd of singing men back into the fields. We do our best to keep up, but the crowd around us is rapidly swelling as the town joins us. My father stops us as we get to the field near the mosque and tells us that he's going to sit with the men, but we should stay back here and take photos. We find a shady spot among the rows of women and children and stand, taking photos occasionally, getting started at quite a lot. There are prayers for a little while, but after a bit people start moving out of the lines and into the shade. We wish we had brought a mat to sit on. Watching people pray is interesting, but we feel kind of like we stick out to say the least. A sheep is brought on a bicycle, but we can't see where it went – we presume it met it's sacrificial end.
Now we join the crowd lining the route, waiting for the chief to pass by. We identify my father in the crowd and follow him back to and through the market. We stop at the cheif's house, where there are some women dancing in front of the compound for him. The crowd parts so that we can “take a photo, take a photo!” but only Bridget and Steve take advantage of the overly enthusiastic offer. We retreat to the shade, and walk back over to my house next door. We watch the killing of our sheep – actually, I look away for most of it. They sop up the blood with dirt and one brother starts making little blood-dirt balls. I express out loud my fear that one of those will end up on my plate, but thankfully (?) the kids start picking off pieces to smoosh on their forehead, Ash Wednesday style. I try not to shake hands with the kids if I can help it – I know that there's no way they're going to wash their hands after playing in the blood-dirt. My family serves us a huge pot of zom-koom, a sweetened millet-flour water that we pray has been boiled at some point to save us from amoebas. Ah well! Emily and Bridget leave, and Stephen and I spend the rest of the day eating lunch, talking to my host father, and then just talking between ourselves. We say goodbye around 4:30 or 5pm, and I go over to sit with my family across the street, next to the remains of all those peanut plants that I think are finally finished being stripped of peanuts. I took a few photos of Mamu getting her hair done as the sun set behind us.
Dinner, amazingly, was rice with fish sauce! Fish? It's Tabaski – you just killed a sheep! Thankfully the sauce was a peanut sauce, so I forgave my mother and enjoyed the new sauce. I ate a lot – it was good! Dessert was a banana that I'm saving for breakfast. The kids were being kids, one minute being good natured and friendly, the next demanding gifts and confusing me, with some kids demanding that I watch them jump rope and dance, some wanting English lessons, and some deciding it was time for me to learn words in Moore. I remember that nose and mouth are really similar, but I've no idea what they are and I warned them pretty quickly that there was no way I was going to remember all this. An aunt chided me and said I needed a notebook so that when people said anything I could write it down. I tried to explain that I already have a book – a notebook won't be more helpful, the problem is a lack of being able to remember 100 new words a day. I was feeling stressed out by all the noise and commotion, so I “went to bed' at 8pm. Whew! But now it's past 10 and I'm exhausted. I think that's about it for today.
Finished “If on a winter's night, a traveler” by Italo Calvino. It explores the relationship between a book and the reader by following the path of a Reader (which is sometimes you) on his (sometimes her) quest to finish “If on a winter's night, a traveler”, a book that turns out (for you and the Reader and the Other Reader, both of whom are sometimes you) to be 10 books in one, each story being cut off at the climax for various reasons, forcing you/the Readers to start a new story in hopes that it will be the continuation of the one you had already started and been unable to finish. It's a bit of a mind twister and you have to pay attention while you're reading but I absolutely loved it. I looked at my photos on my computer and came across the one of Katie reading it to me. :)
Random note: The kids told me I owe them money tomorrow, in celebration of the fete (I guess it's kind of like their Halloween), but they're going to get the candy I bought – they failed to mention that candy is an acceptable substitute for the money but thankfully our LCFs are looking out for us. Oh! A singing man came by and sang this afternoon after the big ceremonies were over. I asked if I could take his picture at the prompting of an aunt and recorded him a little. He asked me for money, but seemed only a little disappointed when my aunt gave him a bag of food. Long day, but learned a lot!