1 January – Kossouka, 12:41pm
Where to begin? I guess I'll start with yesterday. I started the day off with a triumphant moment – I went and found bread for breakfast! Trust me, little things like this count a lot when it's kind of intimidating to step outside of your gate. I figured that the two big mud-brick domes behind my house were ovens, so surely someone was selling bread in the mornings. Lo and behold, there's kind of a cafe back there, tucked into the edges of the market area and they gave me a quick and friendly Moore lesson in how to ask for bread (mam data buri-ye or buri-yi if I want two). The bread was warm, the people were friendly, and I had to stop myself from doing a little jig as I returned to my house.
I talked to a couple of friends and was excited to hear about their holiday plans, but was a little uncertain as to what I was going to do myself. My CSPS staff had all left for Ouaga and I wasn't really looking forward to celebrating the new year myself. But lucky for me, my major came back that morning from her training trip (since it was right before her vacation time she'd been gone almost the entire time I'd been here). I ended up wandering over to her house from the CSPS as the sun was starting to set, and essentially invited myself to her party by sitting down and helping with food prep with a bunch of other women in her courtyard. When I went back to my house to grab a jacket I asked if it was ok for me to stay for dinner and she was really enthusiastic that I should come back, so after that I relaxed a bit.
Things I re/learned about Burkina cooking:
-chickens are not cooked whole, they are disjointed and cooked in pieces, always. Thankfully this time we threw away the feet, innards, and heads! I love functionares.
-carrots are grated into mush, not strips
-you cannot eat the seeds of tomatoes or cucumbers – these are thrown away and people are very surprised if I tell them that Americans leave them in
-cutting takes place in ones hands, not on a cutting board.
-can openers do not exist – you pierce the lid of tins with a knife, working your way around. This perhaps explains why there are no sharp knives in Burkina.
-salad dressing consists of half of a large jar of mayo mixed with spices and whisked with oil. I think I now have the recipe to fatten all of the malnourished children in record time.
-we were all puzzled at our host family thank you ceremony that we were told to make up plates to serve to the important guests when we'd assumed it was a serve-yourself affair. But really, that's apparently how it works. One of Sylvie's friends made plates for each of us – men first, me next, the rest of the women after – and set it at our feet one at a time. Sylvie also got a drink for each of us, opened each one, and then went around to pour each one into a glass. The plates were washed and the second course was served the same way.
Aside from those little factoids, the story continues. We were preping food for quite a while, and I was really thirsty and cold, so I went home for some water and my jacket. I returned and it was getting pretty late at this point. While we waited we ate some french fries and cravettes, and Sylvie arranged the salads (carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, canned peas, raw onions, canned ham, and the dressing) on large platters, and brought out one platter of fried potato chunks and one of french fried patates (kind of a sweet yam/potato) to be covered and wait for the arrival of people. It was 11pm before people arrived, looking very fancy. The women were dressed in an odd fusion of American and African – a long skirt in a modern fabric and cut, pin-striped jeans that clung tightly, tank tops and heeled shoes. Sylvie's son somehow managed to dance around (naked) for a couple of hours, generally getting into things and being a pest but still amusing, especially because no one seemed to find it odd at all that he was naked even though everyone kept saying it was cold.
My suspicions about the functionare housing were correct – it's much nicer. Her house is raised above the courtyard on a cement foundation, with a separate living room, kitchen, and I believe (from what I glimpsed down the hallway) an indoor bathroom and at least one bedroom. She has her TV next to a car battery but clearly has wired electricity from somewhere – I didn't hear a generator so perhaps a solar panel. She has a beautiful new laptop and someone brought in and hooked up a huge speaker system for us to play music and dance. It was very impressive to say the least!
We sat and watched TV and I felt out of place in my nice but ordinary day-to-day clothing. Sylvie reappeared just 20 minutes before midnight, her hair down and styled, wearing a very modern knee length skirt and fitted jacket – I actually didn't recognize her she looked so different. I also really want to copy her outfit – it would be perfect business wear in the US but in a fun fabric! Drinks were poured while we watched some karate-type movie (think Hero or House of Flying Daggers) and at midnight we prompted someone into saying a few words in honor of the new year. We clinked glasses, Sylvie went and formally greeted each of us (cheek kisses for the women, forehead taps for the men), and we ate.
After dinner most of the men left and the rest of us started dancing. They seemed very amused with my American dancing, but I just kept at it – they don't know if I look ridiculous or not by American standards so why care? I'm sure I looked just as silly attempting to copy their dancing, but it was a lot of fun to try something new. The music was kind of a modern twist on traditional Burkinabe music and I found it a little of hard to dance to simply because it was a bit lower energy than most “dance” music and each song tended to just have a single arc that it repeated over and over for about 6 minutes, which is much too long for my attention span. Still, it was fun dancing and being with a bunch of people and when I went to bed at 2 am I could still hear people partying outside my window.
I woke up this morning around 8am, pure luxury! I went to get bread again, ate my breakfast and went to the CSPS where I saw Sylvie. She asked if I wanted to come help with a delivery. Eyes wide I said “yes please!” and followed her into the birthing room, where I've never been before. I tried to introduce myself to the mother in Moore and asked in French if it was ok for me to be there. She just stared at me, not in a particularly friendly manner, but neither Sylvie nor the old woman standing in the room moved to translate. Sylvie parked me in a chair at the mother's head, which was fine with me. The mother was so skinny I could hardly believe that she was having a child – lying on her back with her long, skinny thighs pointing into the air, hands gripping tightly to her boney ankles, breathing heavily through each contraction but otherwise silent. I guess that whole thing about not crying in front of anyone translates into not showing pain as well.
The birth proceeded fairly quickly after that and seemed to be very matter-of-fact – both women had clearly done this before. The baby was cleaned and weighed, then handed to the old woman (I'm assuming she's an accoucheuse villigoise – a village midwife trained to assist the CSPS staff) and the mother followed them to the recovery room on shaky legs a few minutes later. Sylvie cleaned and sterilized the room and the instruments, and that was that. It was incredible and an honor to be present at this woman's birth, the first of the new year, and I do hope that I get to see more births in my time here. Maybe next time I'll actually know the words in Moore to offer a bit of comfort and support!