26 March – Kossouka, 9:17pm
The rest of IST did get better – I didn't actually improve the amount of Moore in my working vocabulary all that much, but I have a lot of notes that I can study and got a lot of clarification on things I say regularly, like the proper responses to greetings that we didn't learn in stage but everyone in my village uses regularly. I'm glad to be back in village, but it was fun to spend a week with Emily and Alicia and the kittens (yes, they came too!). I'll admit, I will miss getting to watch the news in English during breakfast with the fathers (we stayed at the Catholic Relief Mission), but otherwise I'm glad to be back to my routine.
Today was the marche and the Napusda (I think that's how it's spelled on the polo shirts), the traditional festival/fete held by the cheif every year. I had intended to go with my CSPS staff, but didn't talk to them yesterday and did a little laundry this morning (so I'd have something clean to wear) and by the time I went out, they had left! So I made the interns take me instead. :) We passed the parking lot of motos, bikes, and even 10 (!) cars as we walked up the hill to the cheif's concession. We followed the crowd into the maze of houses, and I was quickly greeted by Sarata (she's one of the cheif's daughters), which made me happy. Her new outfit (that matched the rest of her siblings) was lovely and made me smile because I could compliment it in Moore. We greeted three women from the family, all of whom were touchingly enthusiastic about meeting me and I made a mental note to go back, even if I don't want to be totally associated with the chief (you never know who doesn't get along with the cheif and will thus boycott your projects). We waited with our chairs while a flood of millet heads, woven together at the base so it formed fluffy bouquets, were moved past us before ducking into what surly must be a child's playhouse and out the other side into a huge courtyard. I was stunned at how many people had gathered back here, and couldn't tell exactly if it's normally a part of the concession or if it's just the open place behind it. Our chairs were placed near the other “special” people, although as late arrivals we weren't under the tent and actually were almost in an aisle being used by performers entering and exiting.
The singing admittedly caught me off guard. I saw a guy in incredibly elaborate formal bubu robes, and asked Ken who he was, thinking maybe some kind of dignitary. “That's the singer.” Eh? Lo and behold, he took a microphone and this unexpected high, nasal drone came out of his mouth as he sang – I don't think I've ever heard anyone sing like it before. All I could catch from time to time was “Naaba” (chief) and “Kossouka”, but it was pretty cool with the drummers (playing giant halves of calabashes on the ground in front of them) and the back up singers just droning the same sentence over and over, almost hypnotically. The rich people under the tent started coming up and giving him money while he was singing and it turned into this bizarre production, counting off crisp bills and stuffing them into his hand one at a time to show just how much they were giving. It got worse during later acts, with people being egged on to give more and more, carelessly flipping them into the air at the performer or even sticking them to the facial sweat of the singer and his drummer. One guy was right in my line of site and peeled off 8 2,000cfa bills. While 16,000cfa is only $32, it's an unimaginable amount to hold at one time for most people here. And this guy was peeling these off a stack of bills! The performers were being very well compensated for their time, let's put it that way – I'm sure the groups of dancing girls (especially the one with the little girl showing off amongst her teenage brethren) might have raked in 100,000 cfa. That's the amount given out as a national lottery prize! I later learned that this might not be completely normal, or at least is considered distasteful by the functionares when done in view of people who can't even scrape together 5,000cfa for a hospital bill, but here it is being thrown to the ground in a display of wealth by a few. Very interesting indeed, the giving and the reaction by people who aren't rich but are certainly very well off by village standards.
The dancing was incredible. There was one woman in an otherwise male group and I swear watching her dance made my breath catch. There were a few parts that were quite sexual, but she looked the best when she was just letting her body move in these great, huge, unconstrained swings of movement, arms arcing, feet pounding, knees kicking up high, head flinging back and forth with her motions. It was wild. One of the girls troups (the one with the little girl) were the same – smiling and feeding off each other's energy as they just let loose to the beat of the drums and the balafone. The men's troup was doing acrobatic stunts, building human pyramids and towers while still dancing all the while!
After the performances were over we all left in a cloud of dust and Ken took me to sit in the place were we'd had the CVD meeting. We sat waiting for the chief to greet him, but after an hour of texting Emily continuously we were still no closer to seeing the elusive head of the party, so we gave up and went outside to watch some of the villagers dancing. It was hypnotizing, with very repetitive drum beats and kind of cow-bell-like instrumental additions. We took a detour to meet Ken's family, just the next concession over, where he told me the blacksmiths live. Sweet! We greeted his father, who gave me an entire bag of onions, and then his mother who invited us to eat with them. Thankfully it was rice, and not only that, it was delicious! The sauce was a mystery, but very tasty, and there was some kind of mystery meat (not chicken or goat, but beyond that, who knows) that was very good as well. He told me to come back and chat with them, and I know it will be frustrating at first, but I think I'm going to try and get the nerve up to go again soon. I really want to adopt a family, and be forced to speak Moore, although it'll be hard if no one can translate from time to time. Still, I want a family that won't laugh at me when I screw it up, or at least who laughs in a nice way. But I have to give it a chance, no? Went to chill at the major's for a little, found out she's leaving Tuesday (maybe). I'm bummed, but better while I'm still here for a few days to meet the new one than while I'm away.
In other awesome news, Simon agreed to be my counterpart! I guess if I help him with the library, he's willing to help me with my health projects. And I talked to Odille (my bissap lady) today and she promised me green beans, and once I got home some random woman came and knocked on my door to offer to sell me potatoes (I had been asking around the marche), so now I have beautiful potatoes for dinner!