Tuesday, November 27, 2007

a large blog entry

Wow, it has been an awfully long time. First and foremost, happy birthday to my old man. Love and miss you over here. And Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Everything is good here, had a rough time getting access to the internet for over a month now, but I'm back in action for at least the next few days. So what's been going on here in Burkina? Hmm, why not start with a picture of Kampti, since that's where I've been spending 99 percent of my time.


School has finally started, and I've been following classes and getting to know the teachers and students. I've also met with other volunteer organizations in the area, the local medical center, and the caisse (the village equivalent to a bank). On top of that I've been getting my clubs started. I would like to concentrate on literacy, confidence, creativity, motivation, and broader thinking. To do that I'll have a reading club, but I'm going to incorporate a drawing club into that as well, since the kids here love to draw. Each week during the club, I'll write a short story to go along with our drawings (I'll draw on the board and they'll follow, step by step, onto their notebooks), and I'll also have guest speakers come and give presentations on things like daily health, the importance of school, sports, and anything else that sounds like a good idea. Through the club, I'm branching out into other things that are also important to me (and the kids), including a geography club, a huge world map we're going to paint on the side of the school, and a library project. I'm also interested in working to plant special trees that have nutritious leaves that can be added to their diets, begin gardening programs to raise money for the orphanages here, and building cheap courtyard fireplace things (I don't know the word in English, sorry) that are fuel efficient. This will singlehandedly save the environment and allow girls to study more, as they won't have to go look for brush all evening long. Okay, maybe it won't do that, but it's a decent start.
These constitute about a tenth of all the projects I'm working on, but I'm going to email my Mom a detailed description of everything I'm doing that's work-related. A lot of you have expressed interest to help me out financially (with one project in particular), and I've got to say that I've never been more touched or felt more blessed than I do when I hear from yall about that. I always knew how great all of you were, so I can't say it's a surprise, but to be reminded like this is really something else. So you can email my Mom if you want that (I'll work on it tomorrow and Thursday, and have it done by Friday).
Also, I talked to an uncle of mine the other weekend, and he asked about the practicalities of washing clothes over here. I thought that I'd share with yall in case anyone was sitting at work and wasting time thinking, how does Clay wash his clothes? Well, step one: Get a metal bucket. Step two: Go to the well on your bike with two empty jugs and fill them up. Go back home, balancing the jugs of water on the back of your bike with one hand, and steering with the other. You could pay someone to do this step, and it would be less than 3 dollars a month, but cmon, then you wouldn't be able to say that you pumped your own wellwater. Step three: Add water to the bucket, and add soap to that. Step four: Start scrubbing the hell out of your clothes until your arms hurt and you have to retreat from the advancing sun into the trenches of your windowsdown house (step four takes about three hours). Step five: Get out of your house, you're not done yet. Hang up your clothes on your latrine and cantine (the building you cook in) walls, and on the clothesline going in between your house and the cantine. Voila, you've now done your laundry (This is usually followed by an hour long nap, and then lunch at a restaurant down the road. No one should have to cook for themselves after doing laundry).
I remember one time when I was a kid. We had just moved into our new house, and my Dad was making me build the back fence with him. All day long we dug holes, mixed concrete, and hammered in posts; it was boring, and the outside air wasn't airconditioned. It went on for a long time. At the end of the day when we'd finished, my Dad stopped me from going inside and made me sit down. He told me to look at the work we'd done, and said that after a day of work you should always look at it and know that you've done it. Then he just sat there silently, and looked at it for a full quarter of a minute, thinking some thought that would probably put the pragmatist Tolstoy to shame. I sat there thinking about how the Super Nintendo sat there unused inside, and how the refrigerator door was closed and should be open, with me peeking in. I didn't get it then, and maybe I don't get it now, but either way, here's a picture of laundry day.

And now, about cooking. I cook a lot. It's enjoyable, and it's cheap. I use a gas stove. Things are seasonal here, so it makes it hard to cook lots of big combinations. Well, things are seasonal everywhere, we just have the farming and transportation equipment to get things from all over the world into the Pflugerville HEB all year long. It is a feat of modernity I never appreciated until here. Yes, strawberries are expensive out of season, but you can still eat them all year long. That is a beautiful thing.
For breakfast, I usually make banana pancakes. My neighbors have chickens, so I walk over there and get eggs, and this family down the way sells cold milk for a few months out of the year that I can have. The cows don't get enough water during the other months, so it's back to powdered milk mixed with water. The stuff is surprisingly good though, and after six months here I really enjoy sitting down to a nice tall glass of room temperature powdered milk. I also make oatmeal and mix in some peanut butter I have made from a woman in the village.
For lunch, it's all about the restaurants and street vendors. I eat rice with a peanut sauce and some type of meat, usually goat or sheep or something I can't identify. I usually get a coke too, and then for dessert some yogurt. It is goooood and cold.
Snacks keep the hungries away. I eat snacks like they're going out of style, and manage to eat about six bananas a day and at least four packages of peanuts. The bananas here are good, and I'm not allergic to them the same way I was back home. Also, plantains (sp?) are really good, and I'm thinking about making some banana chips with them. That would be ridiculous with some yogurt.
I like dinner, but HATE cooking by lamplight. This means I usually cook around five and eat before six. The sun is getting lower and lower earlier and earlier, so I have to keep rolling my dinner dates back with it. It's a headache for my social calendar, but I guess it keeps village life interesting. I love making pasta with toms, onions, and garlic. I remember when I went to Yellowstone with my aunt a few years back, and I told her that I didn't like onions on my burgers. She looked at me and said, for me, onions make the burger. I thought at the time that cheese made the burger, and I continued to hate onions for another two years. In 2006 I started liking onions for some reason, and I'm glad I did. They are the most common thing I can find at the market, and I love em. With my pasta I usually buy some meat from a street vendor. He has a good selection, and calls me chief, so I go there every day. I switch it up from time to time, but lately this has been what I've been going by. A few weeks ago I got a package from my mom with velveeta and rotel. I only used a little bit of the rotel to make the cheese sauce, so what I had left I poured into some rice, got some mint and rosemary, and had that with lamb. It was the classiest thing I've ever tasted.
Phew, practical things like food and laundry are getting to me. I think I've already posted a picture of my friend Adlai, so here is one of my other best friend throughout this whole ordeal, Becca.


In that picture she had just given me a haircut. She's from Arkansas, and consequently the best Arkansan hairdresser in the entire semi-continent of West Africa. She's also a teacher up in the Sahel, where it is hot and dusty, and therefore I will never visit her. Just kidding.
As far as getting together goes, I spent over a month in village without leaving. I thought it was important to do, for self sufficiency and getting over the fears of speaking french and local language for such a long period of time, but after going over a month without hearing English (except for my family and Jennifer through the phone), I was glad Thanksgiving decided to poke its head through the door. Here is my turkey story.
The turkeys in the South are about 15 to 20 thousand francs each. In the North they are over 45 thousand. So it was my job, since the big thanksgiving feast was uncomfortably in the Sahel, to bring the turkey. My neighbor had three of them, and told me I could buy one of them from him the day before I left. I said okay, and was happy with the arrangement until I woke up the day before Thanksgiving and realized all three turkeys were dead. They had eaten something funny and died in the middle of the night. Oh man, I thought, and I jumped on my bike and went up and down 45km of hills to Gaoua, where they have a big market. I looked for a turkey but couldn't find one. Someone said they saw some in Batie, another 65km, but I couldn't go that far. I jumped on my bike and headed home, flagging down a truck on the way that gave me and my bike a ride the rest of the way. I jumped off the truck, said a quick merci, and biked home, dejected, until I heard a villager yelling my name. It was Gladys, my counterpart. She was waving from the corn fields, making local village beer, called dolo, and wearing a philadelphia 76ers shirt. I told her what I was looking for, and she took me straight for a woman that speaks only Lobiri. I followed this woman on a small path through some trees until we hit a clearing, where about eight or nine turkeys were hanging out in the middle. 90km, and they were right there behind some trees. I sat down with the owner of the turkeys, drank some dolo, and struck a deal after discussing down the price. 15 thousand, and not a minute too soon.
The next morning, at around 6:15am, I went to her place to pick up my gobbler. I needed a box to put it in for the twelve hour bus ride (changing buses and busstations two separate times), and I found one. I put the guy in the box and he started freaking out. The villagers said, take him out of the box, that's why he's so nervous. I told them that I thought he would just run away, but they insisted so I took him out anyway. He immediately started running away. I caught him, but as I picked him up he decided to use the restroom all over my left arm. The villagers surrounding me then asked why I took him out, and as I was losing my temper the bus honked. 6:30, time to go. I jumped in the bus, hung my head out the window, yelled for a cup of water, and grabbed the cup and washed my arm off, leaning out of the window as the bus pulled away. I threw the plastic cup behind me for a kid to come fetch. What a way to start the day.
But the next day was great. I met twenty two of my best friends that I hadn't seen in three months, and planned our vacation to Ghana. We killed the turkey, a pig, and ten chickens. Here is the pig. Markus also made sushi with seaweed he had sent from America.


His name is Charles In Charge. I named him Charles In Charge because I thought it was funny, as he obviously wasn't at all in charge. He was a smart pig though, and drank all the water we gave him throughout the day before we had to kill him. By the way, never try to kill a pig with an unserrated, dull knife. It is the most horrible thing in the world to see and hear, and I now know where the phrase "squeal like a pig" originates. Thanksgiving was great though. I loved seeing everybody, and seeing people like Mac was especially great. Mac is an Oregonian chemist, and he is one of the wisest guys you'll ever meet. We sat around the table before we ate, and went around a circle telling everybody what we were thankful for. It was a surreal experience, and the night was followed by a bonfire. Jennifer called me the first night I was there, before the feast, as I was getting into my sleeping bag under the stars. She asked me what I was doing, and I looked at the pig sleeping a few feet away, the house next door which belonged to the prince of the entire area, all the other volunteers falling asleep in their sleeping bags and tents in the courtyard, and the constellations unfettered by any artificial light for miles, and didn't really know what to say. I guess I can say that it was a Thanksgiving unlike any other.
As far as Thanksgiving and the annual procession of fall and winter go, it hasn't felt much like November here. It is cooling off, yeah, but it's still in the nineties everyday and is a bit different for other reasons. So as some of you are getting comfortable and cozy in your winter coats, or at least long sleeve shirts in Texas, I've had to look elsewhere for that invaluable lived in feeling. What have I done? Reread the good ones of course. I picked up a book of American Haiku by Kerouac I've always loved, and the short poems have been great. He basically took three short lines, removed all movement, and then injected a little bit of verb back in, hoping to create a larger effect with a smaller catalyst. I do them all the time, and I've gotten a couple other volunteers to text me the ones they come up with each day (we have a lot of free time in village). When I'm really bored, and I can't sleep, I draw something in front of me and then write one about it. Here's a sample.


I'm also trying to write a novel. I had intended it to be strictly about air conditioners, one of the reasons being that I hate it when movie producers, in the predictable hype preceding opening day, say something to the effect of, "football, although a big part, isn't what this thing is about. It's a vein through which people experience real emotions, and grow together." I hate that. They do this only for the girlfriend effect. There's more of a chance that the girlfriend or family of four will be persuaded to go if there's even the slightest hint of a love interest. My book isn't a vein for anything, I wanted to say. It's a dramatic novel concerning air conditioners. Take it or leave it. But, alas, my info man has been too busy making a living for our family to get back to me, so I've had to add characters and a human-driven plot line. We'll see how it turns out.

I've read a lot, and I'll give people book reviews that really want them (you can email me and we can go on and on), but I'll just say one thing about one book that I really liked. I was lucky enough to find Salinger's Franny and Zooey, and it is one of the best examples of good writing I've ever seen. It's a short read, taking only about an hour or so, and I have read it at least three times a week for the last couple of months, enjoying it and at the same time searching for some type of "error." I still haven't found one, and as far as dialogue goes, and spirituality, and the good domestic loving family, and a good look at New York intelligentsia life in the fifties, it cannot be topped. The first story is good but not great, but the second story (they're both related) is the best thing I've ever read in my entire life, tied with Hemingway's short stories. Argh now I've gotten started, so forgive me if I mention one more thing. I was lucky enough to read Faulkner's Light in August a week before reading C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, and they somehow make a great spiritual contrast. The characters in Faulkner's work always feel that God is behind their actions, while Lewis writes of the importance of having God in one's actions. It is the thinking that having God behind one's will is what can be monstrous, and I loved The Great Divorce. I talked with a good friend of mine named Pete, another volunteer, and we were talking about what we've been reading and I mentioned it to him. He immediately said that it was his favorite book in the world, so check it out. 2 people out of 7 billion recommend it. Okay, enough talking about books, sorry.

As a nice segway, here's a picture of my kitchen area.

This is where the magic happens. It's usually about this messy, and the velveeta on the cutting block is thanks to Mom. I had taken a nice picture of it when everything was arranged and neat, but that wouldn't be very honest. On the left are my spices. I use curry powder on just about everything that isn't spaghetti. I love it. When I run out I'll start making curry from scratch. It's the new thing at the LaPoint household in Kampti.
Here's a picture of me. During Thanksgiving I was having such a good time that I forgot to pull my camera out and take any pictures. However, this one was taken at some point before I went to sleep at some point in the last few weeks. I promise I'll take some pictures soon. I think Becca might have taken one of my covered up in sheets and blankets while everyone else was eating breakfast. Another volunteer sat on my head, and I didn't even wake up. It was vacation, why in the world were people getting up like it was a regular day in village. The sun doesn't stop me, nor do the Muslim prayer chants at five am, so there was no way I was going to let a bunch of my colleagues get me up any earlier than 6ish.

Okay, this next little piece is something I wrote on the bus when I was bored and tired of reading after a few hours of losing my page each time the bus jumped up and down over a pothole in the road. This first one is about the wind here at night.
The wind here at night I can hear before I see the lamplight feed and dance, wrinkling across my page if something so liquidlike can wrinkle before smoothing out flat and flush, again leaving the shadows to the purlieus of the desk. But it is heard before it is seen. Indiscriminate in its request it rouses everything of substance into augurs of its arrival; leaves are not leaves but cue cards, screendoors banging nothing more than gossips going on about a collective whoosh that after so many generations leaves us still and listening. And that is both to what we listen and why. Like a strand of lit up christmas lights unexpectedly seen out of season, it brings us back to an age, some call this innocence, when we were all helpless in our demands.
This next one is about the full moon, and how much it keeps me up at night. Here's a picture of it.

The full moon comes and stays and is too much, a cloying ratiocination managing form. The shapes of the trees down to the leaf stay exact, are sharper even as they are no longer limping away from the day's heat, but afixed like those faded plastic stars always present on kids room ceilings, chiaroscuros without the expense of an art history class. A lamp isn't needed to walk into town. At ten pm you don't even have to squint to make out the person behind the good evening. You see him, his face, his walk, the gravel he kicks underfoot as he walks past your porch. The moon is useful then but unwelcome. At two am you can't say that the dog next door has woken you up again; you were never asleep to begin with. By four am crossword puzzles, french newspapers, music, and calculating your quarterly budget have all become partners in a foolproof dragnet. But sleep escapes. Seven am, it is time to go to school. You walk to the fifty yards and stand respectfully at attention for the raising of the flag, think how similar it is to your own pledge of allegiance, and wait for the three hour sieste to start at noon. Only then, with the heat blurring everything together and all energy spent, will you fall off into the contented static of a happy and healthy exhaustion.
Alright, I think that was the longest blog entry of my life, and I'm going to ride my bike home and get some sleep before my meetings start again tomorrow. I hope everyone is doing well. Don't worry about me, everything is good here, and I promise I'll be better with updating. I love doing it, and it's good for me to stay in touch. And Larry English is flooding my Mom's email with requests - her boss is starting to complain. Just kidding about that last one. Here's one more picture, the first picture I ever took with my digital camera, and it's from last Christmas. It's me and my Dad living it up in the ol' cul-de-sac. Happy Birthday again Dad.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pictures!



Hey there, welcome to Kampti. Sorry I haven't written lately, the internet in Gaoua and I aren't on the best of terms. This first picture is of me, I'm out in the bush exploring. But rain is a comin'.





I head for the hills, well, a hill, to find shelter. Halfway up everything is "shrouded in mist," "veiled in haze," and (to use a more personal description) the trees look like little broccoli crowns fresh out of the steamer, just before the carrots find their way into the packaged melange that is the jason's deli side of steamed vegetables (a good thing to get if you really want the california club but don't want to skimp on nutrition).



But the rain clears just as I reach the plateau. It looks like this. Exactly like this.


It's kind of high up, should I jump?


Nah, too lazy. I'll just turn around, scratch my neck, and smile.


The next day I stumble across the ruins of Loropeni, about ten miles from home.




Neat huh? I'm pretty tired at this point, so I head home. From my porch I can tell that it's a good thing I left the ruins when I did, night's on the way.


There ya go, hope you like em! Oh and for some reason I never got around to taking an actual picture of my house. But I took one of my desk. No idea why.

I can't tell you why I, when describing pictures I'm posting, write like a 4 year old explaining the steps one takes when making a peanut butter sandwich. For some reason, I get the vague feeling I'm an old person in a curtains drawn living room showing you my slides from a vacation you made the mistake of asking about. So I fight that thought back with childish minimalism. But in any case I hope you like the pictures. I love the area I'm in, and I'm really excited that I'm able to share it with everyone I like and love back home.

The last couple of weeks have flown by. School is starting up this week, so I'll be sitting in on classes and getting to know everyone a bit better. I've read some great books too. Dry by Augusten Burroughs is good stuff, as is anything and everything by David Sedaris. Also, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Robbins is okay, but not as accessible or rewarding as Jitterbug Perfume. Atonement is awful, don't ever buy it. Winesburg, Ohio is good but repetitive, so you can stop after the first story. Mother Night by Vonnegut (I can never spell his name) turned out to be really well done, a lot better in my opinion than Breakfast of Champions. I've forgotten a few others, but I'm loving the fact that I get to read so much. When I was a kid every so often I used to wake up in the middle of the night and then read until just before morning, when I stole an hour of sleep before Cheerios and school. Now I have plenty of time to do all the reading I want.

So what do I do for fun out in village? Well, I'm lucky in the fact that there are restaurants around me. My favorite is Le Prestige. I actually ran out of gas to cook with, so I've been eating out every day for the last two weeks. It's not that I can't get gas, just that I realized I can eat out 4 times a day for about a dollar and seventy five cents. Also, there is a movie theatre (or a place where you sit outside in plastic chairs and watch the side of a building). A guy comes around and you can order Cokes and grilled chicken from him. Each movie is 50 francs, or ten cents. So far I've seen two Arnold Schwarzenegers, a Jean Claude Van Damme, some french films, and french dubbed episodes of Two and a Half Men. So to answer the question that opened the paragraph, I eat out and watch movies and TV. Oh and I read and write. And talk to Mom and Dad on the phone.

I hang out with my neighbors and some kids that come around and want to talk. Also, anytime you see people eating here in Burkina, they always let you know you're invited to join them. Not one to refuse such an invitation, I usually drink tea three or four times a day with various villagers including, but not limited to: the guy I buy phone cards from, the woman I buy bananas from, the kids I buy milk from, the woman I buy beans from, the guy I go biking with, the local military officer, the school teacher, the guy I buy bread from, and the guy I buy eggs from.

Speaking of all this food, I have a bit of an appetite. See you all not soon enough, Clay.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Anytime I See Park Benches I Want to Smash Them

When I was a senior in college, something wonderful happened. Actually, two things. The first was that I became aware of the Mcdonalds 50 piece bucket of chicken nuggets, with ten sauce cartons, for only eight or nine dollars. They only did this on home football games, which served another purpose as it saved me from having to wake up early, and, half asleep, attempt to tailgate, at which time I gave up before starting and stared with no hesitation or time limit at pretty sorority girls who came to the games with their equally feminine fraternity boyfriends. To this day I have no idea who spent more time or money shopping for burnt orange clothing. Not that I was any better than them. At least they knew how to drink before 10am and didn't wear burnt orange "soccer" shirts, as did I, hoping someone would recognize and congratulate me on the genius wit required to wear shirts which played on the different meanings of football on the two sides of the Atlantic.
The first discovery was tertiary to what came next. Activision games released X-Men Legends for the X-box, Gamecube, and PS2. If it didn't change my life, it sure made it a whole lot better. All of a sudden, with three friends, I could play as the comic book characters for which I'd grown up searching odd corners of the house in order to scratch together enough change to buy comics I still reread today. Not finding any substantial change under the sofa or in the vacuum cleaner bag, my mom would overpay me for the small jobs I should have done for free anyway. Not only could I beat up on bad guys, but with the correct button manipulations, I (as Jean Grey) could fling mailboxes across the screen using telekinesis. And as Wolverine, I could size up any park bench I wanted, and then smash it. As you progressed further into the game, your powers grew. Whereas ten hours ago it would take 6 hits to demolish a city bench, now you could reduce two in one punch into something that termites wouldn't even call an appetizer. Thankfully, my friend Phil and I were luckier than these termites, as we each had a bucket of nuggets, with ten sauces, close within reach.
The other afternoon I was at my kitchen table, working on some reading that had been abandoned since breakfast, when I was surprised to see a giant lizard crawl out of the rafters, shimmy down the wall, and strut out of the front door. My surprise wasn't about the lizard's sudden appearance, but that I hadn't seen a lizard in my house in such a long time. It had been three or four days, and I was starting to wonder where they had gone. Maybe with the end of the rainy season they've looked for water elsewhere, I thought. Or are they tired of my steady diet of oatmeal, propel water, peanut butter, tomatoes, and beans? I had no idea, but I wished they'd been thoughtful enough to leave a note.
The weekend after, I was in Ouaga having coffee with two other volunteers who just happened to be married to one another. They were busy showing me the apartment they had decided to rent after another year of service. Staring at pictures of a hardwood high rise in Seattle, I was quick to ask a ridiculous question: Does it have water and electricity? Everybody at the table laughed, passing my query off as a statement on the reality of 99.9 percent of the houses here, but I had been serious. For a split second, I was actually thinking I was doing them a favor, reminding them not to skip over that ever-important detail before signing the dotted line. What is happening to me, I started to ask myself. Thank God I already knew.
Playing X-Men Legends and, a year later, X-Men II: Rise of Apocalypse, had taught me a lesson which was just then appreciated. Descending the stairs to the equally bohemian and conservative streets of West Campus (Each, may I add, making the other seem even more so. I mean seriously, do a bunch of gutted televisions aligned on your roof in a strange crown of performance art really make you a hippie, and does wearing two polo shirts, crisp khaki shorts, and brown loafers while driving in your "W" embossed Tahoe with people that are indistinguishable from you really make you a part of the fraternity crowd?), I saw park benches and mailboxes, all of which I wanted to smash. Not only that, I thought I could. All I had to do was approach one, punch it, and watch as it slowly faded away into video game graphic heaven. Not only that, people blocking a doorway on 6th street during that phase of my life required only an optic blast by Cyclops. Nothing too extreme, just enough to move their conversation to the more polite arena of the sidewalk. As I was still connected to reality, I never actually tried any of these superpowers. What's more telling is that they were placed so firmly in my mindset.
Some people falsely think of me as mildly creative. Actually it's just the opposite. I'm so uncreative that I just soak up whatever is around me, and expound on it internally and externally to anyone unfortunate enough to be near. I'm also the laziest person I know. So lazy, in fact, that I just use the technique mentioned above, and allow its results to shape my mentality. Whether that something is using superpowers on inanimate, tax-funded objects, the accepted presence of lizards as roommates, or the general idea that houses don't come with running water or electricity, I'm not choosy. I'm not a sponge, but a 6 foot Frankenstein made from velcro and bubblegum. I'm not absorbing anything I come into contact with, I just can't help but come into contact.
As kids my sister Katie and I went to see Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Immediately after getting home, we went into the backyard, picked up the ends of croquet mallets for stakes, and kicked down a few fenceposts. We weren't angry, nor were we suddenly in love with our neighbors and wanting a communal lawn; no elemental change had occured in us. What had occured was that we had just spent two hours in the dark, watching a nice looking blonde girl kicking things. And that was that. At a young age, we somehow knew that life is what you see in it. My dad of course came home, noticed our victory over the vampires, thanked us for saving the neighborhood, and nailed up the fallen boards.
Keeping all this in mind, I wasn't at all surprised that, while biking to the bus station in Ouaga last weekend, I passed a bus-stop bench under an awning, and, without giving it a second's thought, said to myself, two punches, maybe three.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hmm

I thought the computer was doing something funny while I was writing that last blog earlier today. I just looked and there were words and letters added in, weird. Anyways, I just came from the post/bank, and the guy said he didn't have the key for the post office part of the building, so for at least the next month I'll have the same email address. Instead of Clay LaPoint, PCT you can now write Clay LaPoint, PCV, as I'm now a Peace Corps Volunteer instead of a trainee. Honestly though I don't think it makes a bit of difference what you write, as long as something close to Clay LaPoint is scratched somewhere on the front. Oh and for faster communications, the email in my town is down for the rainy season. They'll fix it sometime after that's over, in a month or so, but I wouldn't put an exact date on that. I figure I'll bike into Gaoua (where I am now) once a week and check email...And my phone is doing better now, that guy still hasn't found the right charger for the phone he sold me, but I've been using my solar charger and it's been working well (thanks Mom and Dad). If some woman starts speaking French, that means my phone is either turned off or out of battery. I actually was able to set up an answering machine thingamabob, but Mom said when she tried it the same woman came on speaking French. Maybe if you press 1 or 2 or something it'll take you to the answering service where you can hear me say a lovely message in French (in case somebody from work calls), followed by the same in English (in case someone in my beautiful family or group of friends calls). I'll try it again tonight or something and see if I did something wrong, which is a good possibility. And if you are using a cellphone, you can always send me a text to see if my phone is working before you call, I'll text you back and let you know asap. As far as more news from here, it is HOT today! It rained pretty good last night, but this morning it was as hot as ever. I can't even imagine how it must be for my fellow volunteers up North. Also, I was at a restaurant between this blog and the last one, and some little girl comes up to me and starts speaking in English!! Haha, it was such a shock that I didn't even know what to do at first. Her family, who I think must be British based on her perfect British accent, was eating inside and she was strolling through the courtyard when she decided to tell me all about how she likes to skip and drinks Sprite and Fanta but not Coke because her mom says it is forbidden. Then she said that it is important not to start a panic in the lunchroom just because your friends don't have an empty seat for you, because they have other friends that need to sit there too. This little girl was very wise. I told her that I like Sprite, but Coke is really good too. Then we watched David Beckham play soccer against some team called Chivas (sp?) until she and her family left, and me and my bike left. It was a nice lunch. Okay, see you soon, Clay

Yes, those kids are doing karate moves in that last pic

more The kids here, for the most part, only know about America through Jean Claude Van Damme movies, with theerudite movie buffs also knowing Terminator. And for music, horrible rap music that revolves arounddiamonds, money, and negative connotations for women. I keep thinking they must be pretty disappointedonly seeing a bunch of skinny white people all the time here in Burkina...
My last day with Beth was fun. We biked in the rain to a nice restaurant, found the dining room completely empty, and ordered beers as we sat down. Dripping wet, we were quite the pair of foreigners. The Burkinabe have motorcycles, and generally know when it's going to rain; they have a better chance of staying dry than us. After ordering our second and third choices, we then waited for our food. I say second and third, because, although the menu boasts two pages complete with: hot courses, cold courses, side dishes, breakfasts, main courses, drinks, desserts, seasonal courses, and courses alimentaire, the restaurant only has one or two offerings at any given time. I settled into my non-decision to eat rice and tomato sauce for a second time that day, and was excited when my food arrived. I love rice with tomato sauce, it is great! Last night actually, I made some fried rice with eggs from my neighbor who has chickens, and I think it turned out really well. But back to the restaurant. After dinner, Beth asked about the crepes. Oui, nous avons les crepes. Sweet, can we order some for dessert? Oo la la, we will have to prepare a minimum of three crepes. Oh, okay, I guess we can order three plates of crepes, if that's the only we can get them. How much are they? Oo la la, une mille (1000) francs for each plate. Sigh, alright, bring em on. Twenty minutes later we were eating crepes, and I realized, wait, was it too good to be true? Was I actually....full? I was, and it's a feeling I'll never forget. Beth had still yet to try her dessert, and asked me about it. I looked up, mouth stuffed, and said, "they're good, just like country pancakes." Beth took one bite, agreed with me, and said back, "well, these are some expensive country pancakes." I looked up and said back, "yep, we paid a whole 6 dollars for em." Haha, we laughed and laughed and I felt like some contented redneck happy to be out of the rain. Anyways, it was good to have a neighbor as nice as Beth, even for a week. I'll miss her.
As for me, I'm doing well. That first week was hard. I was nervous, exhausted, hungry, and completely unfamiliar with my new town. But each day is better, day by day it's changing. I still think about home a lot, and I probably always will, but it's good. And the longer I'm here, they less I think about things back home, just people. I'd love to take my little sister to get ice cream after a hard day of navigating the halls of a new school, spend time with my friends and Katie and Ben, do the Sudoku with Mom, or watch movies with Dad, but that'll happen soon enough. And the pace of life here is pleasant. People have plenty of time to stop and chat with eachother, and its simple and good. The rooster wakes me up around 6:30 or 7, I make oatmeal and coffee, check my phone, read, and by 9 or so I'm thinking about what I'm going to do to make it an honest day. It's good work if you can get it. I've got some good book reviews too (I know how you all love them).
But first, and I don't want to sound preachy at all, but malaria is a huge problem here, and July's Natl Geographic has a good article on its resurgence. We don't even think about malaria in the US, but it's definitely real here, and should at least be heard about. On a personal note, even with my net, I get bitten pretty often, and I'd be scared of going to sleep without my anti-malaria medication. Having to be afraid like that for yourself and your family, I couldn't even imagine.
On a less preachy note, Harry Potter, wow times 7. Thanks Jennifer for sending it. I don't want to say anything though, in case someone hasn't read it, so I'll mention another book that I read. A Year In Provence is so good. This british couple moves to Provence after vacationing there every year or so, and it's their story of their first year there. The writing is a little too British, or should I say rather too British, but it is still a great short read, and you'll feel like you're actually spending time in Provence while reading.
Every day is different here, so each time I want to give you a general outline of life here I struggle. I'll try to say a few things now, though please forgive my tangents. The marché, or market, is a 5 minute bike ride down one hill and up another. I pass the police station, some bars full of plastic and wooden tables, and people drinking dolo (the local beer) at them, and some little boutiques. The boutiques sell dry goods, soap, lottery tickets, cell phone cards, pasta, toothpaste, etc...a bohemian Walgreens as far as I can tell. I leave my bike at one close enough to the market, and head in.
When I go into the marché, I first see and smell fresh bread being baked and sold. I like to buy a loaf or two there, rather than at the boutiques, as the bread is warm and smells pretty good. I continue on and buy vegetables, rice, and sugar. For rice and sugar you tell the vendeur how much you want, and he weighs it out on a scale, bags it, and trades it for a few hundred francs. For vegetables it's just as easy. On tables are stacked little clumps of veggies, 5 toms here, 3 peppers here, etc. When you ask how much, you have to listen to the response. If the girl says 50 50 you know she is talking about about the group as a whole for a total of 50 francs. If you ask the price for garlic, she's more likely to say 50, meaning that one bulb is 50. People usually don't buy groups of garlic, except for vampires of course, who do it in an attempt to corner the market, thus driving the price for garlic so high that your basic vampire hunter can't afford to stay in business. Such is life. Now, if they like you, they'll give you one or two extra vegetables for free, as a thanks for business. To guarantee this present, all you have to do is try a little local language. For example, when the girl tells me the price in French, I respond with the number in my butchered attempt at Lobiri. All the girls and their mothers and grandmothers laugh, and my extra veggies are in the bag.
After twenty minutes of the marché (I'll tell you about buying fabric next time, as I only have a few minutes left here), I'm ready to go home. I head back to my bike, tell the boutiquier thanks for letting me park there, and head for home, my spoils dangling from the handlebars, crashing into the bike bridge like some drunk metronome, staggering home after dark, keeping time only for himself.
Okay, gotta go. I'll write soon about my phone, new address (if I have one), and some more parts of life here. Love you and be safe.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

3 Pictures

A little crazy this week, but some pictures...


Above, some of the guys at our swear-in ceremony.
Below, a typical road in the Southwest.


Now compare this with the village I lived in, before the rains came...

Pretty different huh?! Okay I just tried to add a couple more, but they were taking too long. Have a good week and stay in touch.
Clay

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Almost there...

The end of staging is here, just about. Tomorrow we will swear in around 11am (you can never be too certain with african time, which is good for me since I'm usually not the most punctual), and by 2 in the afternoon I'll be on a bus headed for Ouaga, where I'll look for cheeseburgers, milkshakes, gardening supplies, and a typewriter. Then, on Sunday, Beth and I will head for the Southwest and spend the night in Gaoua. The next morning a van will meet us somewhere in town and drive us to our individual houses, and I will be all alone for the first time since having an efficiency in West Campus 4 years ago. Staging has been the longest time of my life, I'm certain of it. Those first few days before having a phone and internet access each seemed like a month. Two weeks after being here, I felt like two years had passed and I was ready to go home. That first time I tried to use the internet, it was slower than anything I remember after 1998 in the United States, the keyboard was french-oriented, and after writing an email to Mom I realized the page hadn't fully loaded and it wouldn't send! I used my last 600 francs and made a two minute phone call to her cellphone, which thankfully she answered. That got me through those first couple of weeks. After that, it was up and down. I've been lucky in that I haven't been sick (although I've lost about 25 pounds), but the loneliness was really something. I would stay awake nights and just be lonely, with no one to talk to or visit. It wasn't like I was the most social person back home, either. For the most part, I would go upstairs and watch TV and leave my family downstairs to watch Everybody Loves Raymond. But it's one thing to be in a comfortable house on the second floor with your family all downstairs safe and sound, and another thing to be on a bed with one sheet and zero pillows, hearing languages you can't understand through the windows, and knowing even if you got up from where you were right then and started walking, you wouldn't be home soon enough. So after a month and a half of that I thought I had scratched even: it wasn't worth it to keep going, but it wasn't worth it not to. I figured with that mindset, I could just wait it out and see what came. Then something happened, I thought that, yeah, if I wanted to go home I could do it. I could call the Peace Corps and be home in a couple days; that part didn't scare me anymore. What did scare me was that I wouldn't be able to come back. So that's where I am right now, waiting patiently to be able to see family and friends again, but loving every minute of this. Yeah it's hard - the food, the work, the languages, all of it. But I'm also so lucky to have the chance to do this. How many generations of people have had this opportunity, to go somewhere completely foreign and do some cool stuff, and then come back and get on with life? Not many.
I guess that's all for today. I'm going to be taking a lot of pictures down in Kampti. I've been hesitant taking them around here, since I've lived with a host family and haven't been able to pull the camera out without dozens of kids appearing from every direction all at once. But that'll change in the next few days when I have my own house and can go exploring on my own. Also, there is a UNESCO world heritage site about 30 kilometers from my house with the most well preserved ruins in West Africa, so I'll be there soon to take some pictures.
Oh and one more thing: they started harvesting a lot of the corn and mill yesterday, which, combined with the wind that has been sweeping through town, has awoken the beast which is my allergies. Does anyone know any good non-medicinal treatments? I heard that eating local honey is good, so I'll buy some tomorrow, but if you have any ideas, please pass them on.
Okay, hopefully I'll be able to write on Sunday or Monday. Thanks again for all your thoughts and support (and letters and packages and emails). Clay

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Nothing much to say other than...


This is from the group birthday party a couple weeks ago. The wreath is something Heather made for all of us birthday kids. Marty took the picture and photoshopped it while I was in village. Okay, gotta go buy going away presents at the market. See ya soon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday afternoon

Hey there, like I said before, I really love the peace corps' approach to language class, so I'm going to include a little summary of it, and how I'm applying it to Italian. It's not official by any means, just a general idea. So far is what I've learned about languages, starting with the most important.

Hi is the only word that really matters, the rest is just specification. With that in mind, always start with the different ways to say hello, good morning, goodnight, goodbye, etc. A salutation is the start of a conversation, a way to greet people on their birthdays or when they're sick, even a way to evaporate tension built up from seeing darkened figures walking toward you on a dark street when you're alone. Basically they're great. After that, I think it's good to know a few verbs, and most languages have an action verb (to do, to make), a going verb (I'm going to the HEB), a have verb (I have a cat named Ronald Weasley) and a being verb (I am happy). After knowing how to go somewhere, you will probably be curious and want to know some places to which you can go. That brings us to questions. Who, why, what, where, etc - just a few words and you're set. Then, once you've gotten somewhere, you're probably going to want to do something (eat, for instance?), hence some new verbs. Just a couple will do to get you started. Then, directions are important; we're all tourists. And what if you give directions to someone (being the nice person that you are), but they're still a bit confused? Adjectives. Big, small, etc. Nothing too fancy, unless you're a poet that takes himself too seriously, in which case you wouldn't read a language book but would instead have already scraped together enough change to buy a plane ticket and would be sitting semi-comfortably a few ten thousand feet above the Atlantic right now, looking at the Sky shopping magazine with a mixture of amusement and disgust. Thankfully, not many of us are like that. After adjectives, I'd add a few more verbs, and then the past tense. For French and Italian, the past tense uses the being and have verbs, so it's not at all hard. After that, review and you're all set. I'm about halfway through my Italian lessons, and this structure is helping a lot. Don't get too caught up with specifics, just try a few things out, and think how much easier your trip will be if you spend fifteen minutes a day in traffic doing something other than searching for a good song out of the millions of stations all playing truck commercials. Above is the schedule I made for Italian, if you're curious.

I'm going to go eat some lunch. I found this bean place that gives you a bowl of beans, rice, peppers, onion, cucumber, and green toms for only 100 francs. And best of all it's behind a billboard at an intersection, you have to duck under a bank advertisement to get to it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Deep in the foothills of the Sahel, a proverb is well known

It reads - As one loves his beard, one should also love his mother. Admittedly it's not an old proverb (I just wrote it), but it serves its purpose. On a completely related note, during class this morning Delphine stopped my french monologue, reached her hand to my face, and pulled a spider out of my beard. It had crawled down from the rafters and found a new home in the follicle radiations spiraling out of my right cheek. Thus, I will be relatively clean-shaven for swear in.
About swear in, it gets closer every day! By next Friday I will be an official volunteer, and on Monday I will be in my house drawing up plans for my garden. That makes me think of cedar chips, which I heard practically spontaneously combusted the other day somewhere in Texas. Is this true?
As far as things I'm reading go, Jitterbug Perfume is a great book by Tom Robbins, and All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren is wonderful. The language is smooth and not too heavy.
Language classes are still going well. I'm getting pretty along in Lobiri, and I'm really enjoying Italian. It's a nice hobby and for the most part completely unrelated to West Africa, which makes for a good break from everything. The other night I was studying alone in my room before bed, and somebody startled me with their yawning. The Idiots Guide to Learning Italian is so involving that it took me a few seconds to realize it was me.
The Peace Corps has a good structure to their language teaching, and I think I might summarize it in a blog soon. It cuts out a lot of structure at the beginning in favor of "survival" language, which is really easy. After only a few hours you can ask directions, order food, and tell somebody your name. You won't be fluent by any means, but it's a start. I don't know if that would be helpful for any of you, but I think it's helpful enough to pass on.
This week has been really interesting, but I'm going to have to use some of my free time tomorrow morning to tell you about it, the computer is telling me I only have three minutes remaining.
Clay

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Drinks

And I already forgot something...I wanted to mention the different kinds of drinks here in Burkina but it slipped my mind. The first difference you'll notice is that most drinks are in bags, not bottles. Milk, citron, bissap, baobab, water, they all come in these little heat-sealed bags that you bite a corner off of, tip up, and drink. Yogurt is like it too. Go-gurt, in Africa. They also have bags of cold water that aren't heat-sealed but tied, but I'm thinking those aren't filtered and I avoid them at all costs.
Okay, milk is milk. Citron is just like lemonade. Bissap is this super sweet, almost cranberry juice that I drink when it's free. Baobab juice is like the ginger juice I used to find at school and is good for a cold (or at least I think it is). Water is water. Yogurt is goooood, and different from the kind back home. It is really sweet and fresh, plus I get the idea that it is healthy for me.
Oh, and the water here tastes surprisingly delicious. I get it out of a well when I'm in village and then filter it. We're supposed to you use two drops of bleach for every liter, but I average about a half drop to the liter. A) I don't understand science and don't see the difference between what two drops will do versus half a drop. Isn't there some law in science that says the lesser substance will mix with the larger substance until there is an even consistency? So if I put half a drop in there, then shake it up, the bleach will just get to everything anyway, or not. B) I don't really care because drinking bleach water tastes disgusting and is just a slow death anyways. Without lots of bleach the filtered water is great and doesn't taste like the limestone in Pflugerville water.

Bottled drinks are mostly coke, sprite, fanta, fanta fiesta (strawberry fanta), and beer. The soft drinks are made with sugar instead of corn syrup, and I can easily drink a coke a day. And the beer is pretty bad. At best it tastes like Coors Light, and at worst...I can't even say. Although this makes me think of something else: Benin and Togo.
One of those countries, I forget exactly, was partly colonized by the Germans. As such, the beer is supposedly awesome. I talked to this one guy that was hiking over there and came upon this German chateau tucked away in the mountains. That would be a wild vacation. And speaking of crazy cross-culture mix-ups...
Last night I got to watch the only tv in my village. We watched this Latin American sitcom called something like Maria de los Barrios. All the people in my village love it and this morning were talking about last night's cliffhanger. Apparently Maria just discovered that her husband, with his slicked-back hair, is having an affair with the hopelessly flighty and chatty Brazilian maid. Needless to say it's a good show.
Alright that's all I have for today. Bleach water, german castles, strawberry fanta, and a very sad Maria from the barrio. See ya later.

p.s. Is anyone learning Italian? I just got an Italian book from mom for my birthday and I want to practice. We can go to dinner once a week, or email back and forth. Whatever's easier for you.

p.p.s. Thanks for the Italian book Mom.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Burkina Faso

Hey, no new pictures to put up, but I thought I'd tell you a bit about Burkina Faso. Here we go.

Size & Geography: It's about the size of Colorado and, although landlocked, has a pretty interesting range of geographical features. The extreme north of the country is the Sahel. There it is mostly sand speckled with fake lakes called barrages (sp?), where people garden and grow maize and millet. The people up there are generally known as cattle herders and some families have thousands of cows. Where I am right now for training is Ouahigouya. It is a little south of the Sahel, and here you can find a good amount of small hills, red dirt, sand, and low shrubs and trees. It is actually a lot like some of Texas or New Mexico. And there is a huge difference between the dry and rainy seasons here. When I got here I couldn't find the trail home because of all the sand, and now it's all I can do to see over the corn. In the center of the country, near Ouagadougou, it's a little greener than here but mostly the same. Further south, in Bobo Dioullaso and Gaoua, it is a lot greener. There are large rolling hills, tall forests, and waterfalls. Bobo is the tourist capital of the country, and it is supposed to be gorgeous (I haven't seen it yet). Kampti, my town, is pretty much the same. It receives more rainfall than any other place, and it is cooler but humid.

Animals: So far I haven't seen anything really "African". There are gorgeous birds though that I've never seen before. They are long and slender and have bright orange and yellow and blue feathers. Also, there are lots of lizards and frogs. At night after a rain the frogs get pretty loud in the village. Around Kampti there is an elephant sanctuary and a couple national parks that have monkeys, rhinos, hippos, and lots of other stuff, so hopefully I'll be able to see some of those soon (How cool would that be?!). Also there are lots of butterflies.

Seasons: There are four seasons here. I learned about them all but I've actually forgotten, sorry. It also depends a lot on the region you're in. For example, there is something called the Harmattan (sp?) that amounts to a long season of sandstorms. I won't see any of that in Kampti, but I'll see a few more months of rain. I saw a few sandstorms here in Ouahigouya before the rainy season started, and man are they crazy. It is like a wave coming right at you. One time, I was eating chicken at this place about a mile away from where we were staying, and I saw the sand coming in. I jumped on my bike, but the sand caught up with me; I could hardly see. I pedaled faster though and actually made my way out of it and to the hotel. There, I waited for a minute or so and the sand caught up to me again and just swept over everything. It is pretty powerful.

Languages: Burkina Faso is a pretty interesting place. Imagine Colorado, but with over 60 languages spoken. I am learning Lobiri (or Lobi), and when I get stuff right in class my teacher says "ahhh Lobikuhn," which translates to "Lobi Man." Haha. I don't often get things right though. Lobi is really interesting though, especially because it is spoken in Burkina, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana. Because of the English influence in Ghana, you can find lots of words in Lobiri that are English. If I want to buy a bucket, for example, all I have to do is ask for a bucketi. Pretty funny.I was also learning Mooré, which is the national language. Everyone is kind of unified I guess by the French language, but it is hard to know who speaks French and how much they speak. And then there is my French level. I can get by, but it all depends on the context. Today I tried to do a short seminar on AIDS, and I got up there and realized I know nothing. I've never used those verbs or nouns before. I guess it's just what you're comfortable with. Every day I get better and better, but it's a process that comes with a lot of mistakes.

Roads: It's pretty different than the United States. I'm very lucky in that Kampti is one of the few villages in the country to be located right on a paved road. Most of the roads are dirt roads, and an SUV is a must. They are supposedly building a lot of paved roads, but I haven't been here long enough to see. For instance, if I want to go to Ghana, sometimes (depending on the rain) it's better for me to go all the way back to Ouaga, and then go straight down into Ghana on a paved road, rather than risk the 40 miles or so on a dirt road.

Location in West Africa: Burkina Faso is centrally located, which is great for travel. I can go to the beaches and jungles of Ghana, Benin, and Togo. I can also go to the Dogon country in Mali, which has these unbelievable cave dwellings. I think they might be pretty famous. I also want to check out Gabon while I'm in Africa. I've heard they have the best animal parks in the world there, and it is practically untouched. Also, because of Burkina's central location, the annual film festival is held every February in Ouaga. And in the mountains of Benin and Togo, apparently there are these areas where huge numbers of butterflies live and migrate (do they even migrate?). I think that would be cool to check out.

Food: Honestly I don't know a lot. I can tell you what I eat though. Today I found this bakery that sells good bread with chocolate, and right down the street is a place that sells fresh milk. They pasteurize it every day. And I like the one place in town that sells cheeseburgers, although they are too expensive to eat more than once a week. I also like chicken and onions, very good stuff. But for the most part I'm in village and it is just rice or noodles with some type of sauce made out of oil and a peanut sauce.

Communication: Most people in the cities have cell phones, and reception is pretty good. In my village right now reception is spotty, but in Kampti it's pretty clear. It reminds me of early car trips in Colorado, when you wouldn't have reception while at the bottom of the mountain, but once you cleared it you'd have it again. Calling is really expensive though. It's about 300 francs to call someone here in Burkina for less than 5 minutes. And to call the United States for a couple minutes would be around 2000. A text to the US, however, is only 70 francs, and to someone here only 30. I send a lot of texts. To put it in perspective though, I think it's about 465 francs to 1 dollar, so it's not all that much.

What I've been doing: Training is winding down and most of our stuff is finishing up. Today we did a radio program and I asked my "Dad" here, who is the village delegate for Bogoya, some questions about building a school in town. It went pretty well. And every week we have soccer games and meetings with the girls in the village. We'll also have a theater performance early next week, and I've done a couple of practice teaching sessions to summer school students to practice French and group work. It is hard, teachers should have all the respect in the world. Oh, and I'll officially swear in on August 24th, and it will actually be nationally televised throughout Burkina! They asked me to give a speech in Lobiri for a few minutes, so I'll try to find a way to tape it so that I can send it back home or put it on the internet for yall.

I think that's about it for right now, but if anyone has any specific questions please just ask, I'd love to share. Okay, I hope you're doing well and enjoying the end of summer. Love you and see you soon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.


It happened. A Dr. Pepper has been consumed in Burkina Faso. Traveling from the Davis residence in Austin, TX, it must have been scared from time to time tucked away in a taped off flat-rate ups box beneath snickers bars and comic books. No one will ever know for sure what really happened, but I imagine the propel fitness water packets (talkative as they are) in the far corner talked to the 5 Dr. Peppers, hopefully ameliorating the collective chariness inherent to any cross-Atlantic journey: the slips of the jetstream, endless visa checkpoints, language barriers, not to mention the jetlag in Casablanca where not even the Spiderman comic book caught a second of sleep...phew...Right when the box pulled up in the car I used the freezer at the training center and cooled one down until it was ice cold. Delicious - just like it used to taste all the way back in May of 2007. The rest of my birthday was great as well. Adlai came in at about 6:45 and said, "Hey man, happy birthday. Here's a snickers, pack your bag cause we're spending the night in Ouahigouya, and one more thing, I need your cinnamon. Don't worry though, it's for a good cause." You know when your day starts out like that, it can't be bad. By 7pm we were making mexican food (see below) and french toast (cinnamon).

After that it was nighttime, and the right time to put on sunglasses and dance (I haven't turned hip-hop mogul, my sunglasses are prescription). Oh and that haircut I got? It was just a trim. I think I'll cut it before I move to site, but for now what respectable liberal peace corps worker wouldn't grow out his hair for at least a few weeks. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young did say something about a freak flag, if I remember correctly. Plus I'm an employee of the federal government, I'm as straight-edge as they come.

Sorry mom, and yes I will be a clean-cut looking kid when we go to Italy in March. All in all my birthday was great. I'm nursing a bit of a summer cold here this week, but even that is preferable to seasonal allergies in Austin. See you guys soon.
p.s. For those that read this for actual news about Africa: It's hot, people eat a lot of rice, and I speak a lot of French.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Some days are the best days


Sometimes things work out so perfectly that you don't have a say in it and don't even want one. Yesterday I got a birthday package from Aunt Gail and inside was the summer issue of Poetry. Just last week I had been wishing I had some poetry to read, the books I thought packed underneath socks I still haven't worn must instead remain propped forgotten between those I didn't intend to take. So, for the most part lacking poetry or anything else good to read, I opened the book to the first poem, titled Barton Springs. I am in West Africa, reading a national poetry publication sent to me by an Aunt that knows I love poetry, and the first poem (placed, I should add, in front of poems by some of my favorite writers such as Updike, Billy Collins, and Richard Wilbur) just happens to center on Barton Springs, the center of my favorite town in the world. Then I flipped open the issue of Texas Monthly Aunt Gail sent me, directly to an article written by a former professor of mine - talk about the right place at the right time. And this morning I had the most American morning I've had since, well, America. I woke up an hour and a half later than usual, 7:15, made fresh coffee, read an article about canoeing down the Mississippi, lost track of time for a while, ate some biscuits Alexia sent me from Paris around 8 or so, and then read about Iron Man's fallout with Captain America in The New Avengers, sent all the way from Chicago by Jennifer. What a great, lazy Sunday morning. Oh and that picture above is what I see out of my back window in Kampti, right next to some little corn fields. If you take the path behind those trees you'll end up at the creek, easily crossed, and then you'll find yourself nearing the market, where you can buy most anything you need for only a few hundred francs. Life is good and I think it'll only get better. And another realization before I head over to the hotel to watch the last leg of the Tour with some people that actually like cycling -- I admittedly do not. Even though they make non-left turns, which Nascar does not, they still lack engines and everything else I like about racing -- there are no coffee shops here in this part of Burkina. Yesterday, wanting to read some of my new presents with coffee, I searched for a Quack's or JP's look alike, or maybe even a Starbucks offshoot, but to no success. Thinking about this, I realized what missing something is worth. Before I would have said that, when missing something, forget about the pain that comes along with it and focus on the good things you have in front of you. But that's ridiculous to me now. The pain isn't negative, just misunderstood. It's a marker telling you that what you're thinking about is important, and worth thinking about, and in that way is more valuable than anything else, save the person or thing you are missing. Basically, it's worth it. That is something I would have never learned without being here. Alright, I'm going to head to the hotel and try to see if they have french fries today, yum. See you soon. Oh and this last picture is my birthday present from Jennifer. All the kids thought it was pretty, and I got to give them a little cross-culture lesson on the importance of wrapping presents and such in the United States. Not that I follow that rule, but it's good for them to know in case they ever head to the Occident.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

"I'm not a cult leader I just play one on TV" or "There is nothing more beautiful than the awareness of poetry and comic books in your backpack"


Last Thursday we had a session on nutrition, so we all got to prepare a meal to practice cooking and review such rocket-science level material as the food pyramid. My group made fettucini alfredo with tuna. It ended up like tuna helper without the flavor, but at the same time managed to be the most nutritious and best-tasting meal I've had here, other than the cheeseburgers in Ouaga. The best part about the session, however, was this picture. Our medical advisor/nurse/doctor took it, and it is pretty emblematic of a few things. Firstly, look how green things are, even in a little village bordering the Sahel. Also, it looks like we're part of a cult or commune somewhere in Kansas. Actually that's not far from the truth. And that v-necked guy you see in the middle, the one that even 20 pounds ago was too skinny and now just looks like he hangs out in front of gas stations in North Campus and talks to you about all the poetry he hasn't really read? That's me. After being sick a couple times, and eating a different diet for the last month or so, I'm thinking I've lost a little more than 15 pounds. I don't really notice that often, except when I have to hand my bike up to the guys on top of the buses for transport. I never lifted bikes above my head in the United States, but I'm guessing that now I can only do it for about 4 seconds, whereas before I could hold a bike (without my arms trembling and showing their lack of any real usage) for around 6 seconds, maybe 7 if I had a Clif bar or Odwalla juice right before. Once I am in Kampti, I'll be able to cook for myself, and most volunteers I've talked to gain almost all of their weight back once they live in their own towns and villages. I even saw a juice place down the street from me, with fresh banana and mango juice. Sweet.


Here's another picture, this time from Ouaga. This isn't actually my beer that I'm holding it. It's not at all that I'm against drinking beer, I'm just too cheap, ahem, frugal, to buy a one liter beer that costs what I make in half a week. I just wanted to have a "living it up" picture from the big city to show you guys. While I was there I picked up a few books and have read three of them. One of them, Tin-Tin in the New World, or something to that effect, somehow made its way into the New York Times Notable book of the year club, although I don't really see how. I won't ruin it for you, but at least now I know that to get into the New York Times Notable book of the year club all I have to do is use all of my GRE vocabulary words in long sentencelike structures, inject about 1/3 tsps creativity (a dash, to be precise), and then go on and on without any point or movement in plot except to make the book long enough so that it is an actual book instead of a novella, which by specificity alone isn't allowed to be in the book of the year club. It would have to instead make do in a novella of the year club, which don't exist, at least to my knowledge. To its credit, though, it did make an excellent sun-shade when I fell asleep while passing through Boromo and the sun came over the hills and I woke up remembering how my sunscreen was packed away on top of the bus.
Tomorrow I'll going to put up more pictures of me and my site, right now I'm going to make it back home before dark and head over to Adlai's to share some of my coffee I got from Nanny. It's hazelnut and cinnamon and it's the best thing I taste every day. I love you Nanny, thanks. Until tomorrow...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Whoa, ten days.

That's how long it's been since I last wrote. Did you notice that I finally found the apostrophe on the keyboard? The little guy was scared at first and hiding under the 4, but now we seem to be getting along splendidly. The guy running the internet café is playing that song "red, red wine," and before that I heard that song "I Swear" by All for One. It's a little like a sixth grade dance, except that my mom's not here running the refreshment counter. But anyways, to Africa. I went to Ouaga and ate a lot, and got sick a little. All in all, it was sweet. It is bizarre though, your standards really do change after a while. The first time I saw Ouaga, all I noticed were the animals in the street and the trash, but now I think of the grand city and beautiful, expensive restaurants come to mind, alongside pools and embassies. Then I got on a bus and headed down to the Southwest. Around Boromo, the trees start getting taller, and in between there is grass instead of red dirt and sand. You know how when you are heading to Bastrop or Houston, and the trees change? It's kind of like that. Then, you get further South, and the bus screams up a paved road and all of a sudden the view opens up and you are in a steeper Texas Hill Country and it is beautiful. When you reach Gaoua, you get off the bus and people are selling roasted corn with real butter and it's like nothing else. You don't have to get off in Gaoua, but it is a nice stop and if you visit we'll probably go out to eat there. When I was walking around Gaoua I suddenly remembered Harry and the Hendersons; the scenery looks just like it. So Matt, you are pretty much there with the trees and the french cooking (although yours is admittedly better). I spent the night there and then jumped on a bus to Kampti, about 35 minutes away. The bus passed bursting, clean-looking barrages and maize and houses etched into hills before pulling into my town, only 15 miles from the Ivory Coast. I checked out my house, very nice. I sat in my living room and talked to Mom, so the reception is perfect (except for when you called Dad, a storm started up and messed with one of the towers). Okay, my town. I am a 2 minute bike ride to cold coke and beer, a 5 minute ride to an internet café, and an 8 minute ride to this place I found that has juice. I cross the river, go next to the market, and I can buy pineapple banana strawberry juice, ha! I will put up some pictures, the few I have, tomorrow since this is a different internet place and it is slow (although now Kelly Clarkson is playing). What exactly did I eat in Ouaga?

Sunday morning: snickers bar
Sunday lunch: double cheeseburger, fries, chocolate milkshake, snickers bar
Sunday dinner: Steak sauteed with mushrooms, french bread, pizza, heineken, roquefort cheese
Monday morning: real coffee and bread with real jelly
Monday lunch: deconstructed salad, chicken, garlic
Monday dinner: Various dishes at the Chinese restaurant, tiramisu ice cream
Tuesday morning, lunch, dinner, Wednesday morning: nothing, I was sick
Wednesday lunch: double bacon cheeseburger, fries, strawberry milkshake, coke
Wednesday dinner: cheeseburger, fries, coke, brochettes

Whew, that was nice to think about. Okay, time to head back, someone promised to try to cut my hair tonight. Also, I met an Italian couple that lives in the city today; we're going to do dinner once or twice a week for Italian lessons. I'll write tomorrow.

p.s. How is Harry Potter? Actually I take that back. PLEASE don't say anything about it until it gets here and I've read it!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Clay's Site Announcement: A Picture Book

It was the big day. At the training center, a buzz of excitement filled the air as the Girls Education stagieres converged under the hangar to find out where they would live for the next two years. One volunteer, Clay, waited anxiously. He wanted to live in the Southwest, but there was a problem. Only two out of the twenty six sites were there!


He waited and waited as the teachers and facilitators unrolled a huge map of Burkina Faso and attached it to the wall. It was time for each person to receive a site! Which one would he get? The first person was selected, but it wasn't Clay. Then the second, then the third. What was he to do?! He started to bite his nails, and fidget his legs, and his stomach knotted up into a huge ball of yarn! Then, after the 8th person, it was Clay's turn to get up. He slowly moved to the front of the audience and read a small description.

Here is what he read:
--Kampti is our largest forest here in Burkina. You will have a lovely view of the hills up and down into the Gaoua area, and you will see green for a long, long distance. Kampti has many Christians, but a few sacred places still exist. To visit them, you will need prior permission from the elders.--
Clay jumped for joy! He placed his stick figure next to his village, which he realized is a short bike ride to the Ivory Coast, and an hour's bus ride to Ghana. Also, when he looked at his map, he found out that elephant, rhino, hippo, and monkey sanctuaries surrounded him and his green village. He couldn't have been happier. He waited until the end of the ceremony, quickly called his mom to spread the good news, and sat down with an ice-cold Coke.
The End.

Hey guys, I hope you enjoyed my story. I'll be living in Kampti, in the Lobiri, or Lobi, region of Burkina. They are famed for making some of the most beautiful and important wooden statues in all of Africa, so don't be shocked if that is your souvenir! There are gorgeous hills, animals, and Dr Pepper is only a short trip away in Ghana. My region is the most interesting one I've come across in Burkina thus far (although I am a little biased). Apparently, during French colonization, the Lobiri people built their homes without doors and used ladders to get in and out of windows on their roofs. This way, they could keep invaders out. Also, grass grows on the roofs of the region, and during the hot months people sleep outside on top! The word Lobiri actually translates to Les Enfants du Foret, or Children of the Forest, so you know it's an interesting place.
Okay, another update: On Sunday I'm leaving for Ouaga, the capitol. I'll be eating cheeseburgers, pizza, Chinese food, milkshakes, etc etc etc, and maybe I'll have time to go to the ex-pat supermarket and buy snickers bars. Then, on Tuesday or Wednesday, I'll take a bus down to my site, where I'll stay for four or five days. Basically, next week is going to be sweet. It's no substitute for the Harry Potter and Transformers movies, but it's a distraction.
And another update: I got two more letters from Mom today. Wonderful. The few I've already received have been read and reread more times than I can count, and they've really helped me. Have I said anything about Grant and Bert's letter yet? I received it only a few days into this whole deal, which means that they sent it a week or two before I even left the United States. Those first few days were loooong, and that letter really helped me through. I'm not saying anyone has to write, but trust me, they do get read.
Alright, I'm too excited to wax poetic, and the picture-book theme is still stuck in my head, making any fluid or post-5th grade writing impossible. I love yall, and I'll write from Ouaga.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Saturday the 7th

So remember that one time (yesterday) when I mentioned how green its getting? Here you go.

Pretty beautiful. I took this on my way into town this morning. I pulled my bike over under some shade, said hello to the Burkinabé who were out planting seeds, had a drink of the Gatorade my mom sent in a package, and snapped this picture. Its been a pretty relaxing Saturday, and its only 2:30. Today has been the hottest day in the last few weeks, but I really cant complain. The heat now is nothing compared to my first few days in the country. We got here during the hottest part of the hot season, and I felt like I had been practically siderated the first night when I tried to sleep in Ouaga. Now its nothing like that, and the wind keeps me nice and cool, even though its hard to bike into. Alright, Ill write more next time. Im at a different internet café this time and its un-airconditioned, so everything takes a little longer. See ya.

Friday, July 6, 2007

La santé in Burkina

What did I eat yesterday?
A quick recount:
Lunch - lamb, maybe goat, whatever mouton is in english
Dinner - skewered beef, and a bag of chicken, piment, and grilled onions
What did I do today?
A quick recount:
Morning language lesson at a café - stood up to go to the bathroom across the street and threw up. I couldnt make it all the way, and had to stop around the corner. Then, I make it to the street, repeat. I then cross the street frogger-style in between cars, motorcycles, and animals, and do the same thing on the other side. I then get to the courtyard where Im told a bathroom exists, and repeat in said courtyard. By the time I actually get into the latrine, I no longer have anything left in my stomach. I went back to the café and returned to my lessons.
The rest of the day after biking back to school from the café - pretty much the same thing. Everything is fine now, thats just what I get for eating three different types of animal in one day in West Africa. I feel great now though, and Im going to eat something tonight.
Okay, its getting dark so I should go back to my village. Tomorrow Ill upload plenty of pictures sometime in the afternoon; its starting to get really green here and I cant wait for you to see the change. Oh and Ill have phone service for sure tomorrow and all day Sunday, so call me if you have my number and if you want to!
Love you guys, Clay

p.s. I got a letter from Nanny and a package from Mom/Dad. Awesome. Really awesome.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Aaand boom goes the dynamite

It is saturday here in Burkina, which means Im back at the internet cafe. Okay, picture time. I was a big spender and paid for 2 hours here instead of my usual one, so we might actually get some pictures uploaded. I dont know how big these will end up, but this whole thing is a learning process anyway. This first one is a HUGE baobab tree down the way from my quarter of the village. It is huge and pretty lion king african.


Okay, this next one is of laundry day here in my courtyard. I keep trying to do it myself so that I wont be helpless when I move to my next village, but the kids here wont let me do anything on my own. Adlai and I were talking about it and we decided that it is like we are infant-kings here. No one expects anything from of us, and they take care of us like we are little children (and get ridiculously happy when we get an entire sentence of Mooré out without messing up). But at the same time they really respect us and listen to what we have to say. Its a bit like the movie with Robert Redford and the last emperor in China, or something to that effect. Either way, when I pull up to my house I have about two dozen children running in from the fields to help me put my bike into my house.


Who is this Adlai character, you ask? Hes a faux type that lives down the street from me and weirds everyone out by constantly trying to sell furniture, trinkets, and fake pearl earrings. Just kidding, he is actually another volunteer that lives in the same village as me, and we are in the same language class. Here is a picture of us back in Ouahigouya last week.



That was a few days ago (I think); the days seem to blend together. Alright, here is a picture of my village, with a mosque in the center. It is beautiful when the sun starts to set, and now that the rains have started grass is beginning to grow and everything is a little greener. I wish you all could see it. Well, I guess that last sentence is true, but if any of you actually decide to come visit I might have to talk you into Ghana, they have Dr. Pepper.



I hope that is big enough to see. I stopped on the way home from the city the other evening and took this picture from the road. In Africa, or at least this corner of Burkina, you can actually see the sun when it gets low enough, and if you have enough clouds you can actually look at it. At one point two nights ago I looked in one direction and saw the moon going up, and in the other saw the sun settling down. It was pretty nice, and reminded me of the time Wisdom became poetic and told us how lucky he was to see the sun rise on the East Coast, and within the same week, see the sun set over the West. Ha.


Okay, I am really hoping this works, so Im gonna send it while I still have some time left. Love you guys and hope you are well. Clay

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Okay, Ive got 20 minutes

Hey, first of all, I have no idea how to do an apostrophe on this french keyboard, so Im not even going to try right now since I dont have much time. The rains have come, and the cooler weather is great. It still gets into the hundreds, especially in the village where I live, but its a lot better than 120, and a cold drink every few days makes everything perfect. A few of the city people are coming into the villages after our soccer game today to spend the night with us, I cant wait! They have fans, electrical appliances, cold drinks, and ridiculously good food every day, so its going to be great seeing all of them out in the village. My Mooré is starting to get better, so Ive been practicing with the kids each evening before I finally go to bed at 8 30 every night. Things are still hard, actually not things, just one thing - missing everybody is by far the hardest thing Ive ever had to go through in my life, but this is such a good experience. Tomorrow will make it 3 weeks since I left for Philadelphia, and Im honestly surprised that Ive made it this far. Whats an average day like here? Ill try to explain:
6 15ish - I wake up and take a bucket bath, which is by far my favorite part of the day. Its the only time I have to myself and its great to watch the sky take shape and feel the wind and cold water before the sun heats everything up. After that I have beignets and coffee, my french press is one of my favorite things in the world right now, and a certain Aunt will be getting a letter in the mail very soon explaining how much I love it.
8 - Language class usually consists of french and mooré and me sitting outside on a rug looking at the village and everything and being half freaked out that Im here and half loving it with all my heart.
12ish - lunch time and a nap
2 - more language classes until 5 30ish, when i go back to my house and straighten up my house and courtyard, and hang out until dinner.
rinse. repeat.
As you can see, things are really structured right now, and its actually pretty hard. Once Im an actual volunteer Ill have tons of flexibility and free time, but right now its all about culture classes and language classes. Its great, though, and Im learning a lot. I stepped over a snake a couple nights ago, and I probably jumped 10 feet into the air, but other than that Ive been healthy and out of danger. Okay, I dont have enough time to send pictures. Tomorrow is our day off, so after I get a couple beers with everybody Ill come back and see if I can get some on. Trust me, I actually am in Africa, haha. Alright, love you guys and hope you are doing well. Clay.
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