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


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.