Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Visiting Rosalie and the Mill

June 28th

I was drawn out into the dark by the flashes of light I glimpsed through my window, lightning without yet seeing a hint of wind, rain, or even thunder. A cloud, noticeably thicker and darker than the ones around it, seemed to be slowly swallowing the last edges of the moonlight, while a ripple of internal lightning would light up my courtyard instead. The frogs are still croaking outside, so even though I'm inside I still have yet to close up the windows and doors, trying to welcome the cool storm breeze into my little cement and tin oven.

I went to meet with Francois this afternoon about the library (I'd called him yesterday to set up a time to meet). Mariam the secretary for the Mairie and the Prefecture informed me that he had gone to OHG and wouldn't be back until late, so I told her I'd call him tomorrow and re-schedule. I also invited her to my as-of-yet-unplanned neem cream formation, which now that I think of it I should plug with the ASCs on Thursday at the pre-polio campaign meeting. There were some people there from OHG, they didn't offer why and I couldn't figure out a polite way to ask “what the heck are you doing in my village?” so I left it at that. One of their group came out of the mayor's office calling me nasara. I felt peevish so I didn't reply until he actually walked over. He then stated, in Moore, that he wanted me. Some days this is unbearably insulting and I feel the need to snap back, but today it took less energy to just joke back at him and tell him that it's too bad, I'm already married, my husband would be very angry, and no, I do not need another husband here while mine is so far away in America. Writing it out in English makes it sound like I was being rudely sarcastic, but I say it as a joke and everyone takes it as such, at least they seem to respond better than when I've seen volunteers get angry or upset. We all laughed and shook hands and went our separate ways.

Since there was nothing else to do at the Mairie, I was headed home and decided that as I was already on my bike I should go visit Rosalie and maybe see if I could find out more about Simon. She was cleaning dried corn kernels, standing up and pouring them from a calabash into a basin on the ground so the breeze would blow away anything that wasn't heavy enough to fall straight down, bits of husk and cob and broken kernel bits. She was taking it to the mill to be ground into flour. Having never actually seen one of the machines in action since stage, I volunteered to go with her. We got sidetracked for a little while when Koka pulled up and the two of them started to gossip, so I occupied myself by watching Rosalie's kids play in the dirt, making mounds of gravel and forming it into shapes they could sit in the middle of. Her son Isiadore was absolutely petrified of me, which of course made everyone laugh. I normally feel bad for kids who are scared of me, but he was at least 7 or 8, and at the sight of me arriving he had gone and hidden in the storage shed, curled in a ball and sobbing. Rosalie coaxed him out to shake my hand and he did so without too much trouble and had even stopped crying, but continued to regard me with great fear and did whatever he could to stay out of direct sight of me. His little brother, on the other hand, was happily showing off his skills at throwing rocks to chase away pigeons, chickens, and goats who were attracted to the broken corn kernels on the ground.

The machine was under repair when we arrived so we went and stood in the shade to wait and chat. She told me about the drama in the CoGES – she's no longer speaking to Binta because of some petty argument they had at the last meeting, Binta having shown up late and blaming Rosalie in a way that sounded quite excessive. She explained that Simon had taken a job in Ouaga, she thinks as a groundskeeper for a house, but she wasn't totally sure why he'd decided to leave and she did say his family is still around. I asked if anyone had his new phone number and she said she'd ask her husband. Mariam at the Mayor's office had hinted, and Rosalie confirmed, that there still hasn't been enough rain to plant all the crops, most people have planted their millet but are waiting to plant the corn, peanuts, okra, oseille leaves, and pois de terre (kind of taste like a chickpea crossed with a dusty peanut). We stood there for a while commenting on the fact that it might or might not rain tonight – in Moore you do a lot of stating the obvious or narrating out loud what's going on. Oh, and my CoGes president has truly gone off to Cote d'Ivoire, possibly for several years. I really need to hang out with Rosalie more – she's got all the gossip and information!

Interestingly, I think I remember writing a month or so ago that my number of marriage proposals has dropped almost to zero, but today I had not just the one at the mayor's office, but another waiting at the mill! Again, all parties were surprised that I understood what was being proposed, and again I joked that I was already married and he'd have to take it up with my husband in “white-person land”, and no I was not in need of a husband for over there and for over here. All I could do was sigh and laugh along with them.

So once the mill was put back together and functioning we went inside to watch. The machine consists of a large metal funnel that dispenses the item to be ground into a small horizontal trough suspended below it. The operator, sitting in a chair next to the machine, has one hand in the trough to move the grain through at the correct rate, and he also swings it back and forth a little so that more keeps falling from the funnel into the far end. He pushes the grain in small amounts into the opening at the top of the grinder, two vertical disks with a rather pretty pattern of grooves that are diagonally radiating from the center out to the rim (I got to see them when he was taking everything apart earlier, when the machine is running they're enclosed in a cast iron cover). The resulting flour is spit out of a chute into a waiting metal basin. Each run is put through 4 times, so when the trough is almost empty you grab the basin and dump it back into the funnel while he catches the last bits in an empty can until you put the basin back under the chute. The last pass is deposited directly into your rice sack or bowl that you brought the grain in, and then he grabs the next bag in line and starts again.

The price depends on quantity, measured in boites, the amount that fills an empty 1kg tomato paste tin (it's about a 6in diameter and 4 inches high). An American would fill it level each time, here it's customary to measure one boite as being the amount up to the rim plus as much as you can get to stay in a pyramid on top, plus a little spill-over. Millet is 50cfa per boite all over town, but corn, being harder and more work for the machine, is 75-100cfa depending on which mill you go to, the ones near my house in the market are apparently more expensive than this one only a 1 minute bike ride away. I know it's possible to leave your grain and pick it up later but the process did go smoother when someone was there to help him so he didn't have to get up or turn the machine off to put the flour through for another pass. Most people seem to send their children, although there were a few very old ladies there as well, Rosalie and I were the only people who weren't under 10 or over 60.

At that point it was getting towards 6pm, so I said goodnight and headed over to the CSPS to say hello, where I learned about yet another Polio campaign. I have come to dislike the drudgery of going door to door at any time of the year, but it's particularly frustrating to be sent during the beginning of rainy season when trying to find the kids under 5 is almost impossible - they're all out in the fields with their mothers, fields that are never located near the house. So we end up vaccinating any kids we meet as we go from house to house. We never find all of them, it makes marking the house with how many kids were vaccinated a nightmare, and it results in the numbers for each village being all messed up because we end up getting kids in our sweep for village x who belong to village y, meaning we will be sent back tomorrow to village y to find the “missing” children that got marked by the team who were assigned to village x. But it must be done, so do it we will.

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