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.