Saturday, November 29, 2008

More Photos Mostly from the North

porch view (up)
Roadtrip (down)

Thanksgiving (up)
Post-transport fatigue (down)

Donkey cart playing it safe at the stop sign (up)
Mac (down)

Becca, no one will love you if you continue to smile like that (up)
The Emaciated Cro-Magnon and the Infants: The Musical (down)

Out of coffee (up)
Coca-Cola bear (for the Christmas spirit) (down)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Photos from the North

The indirect route North to Dori. Dropped off the bus 85km from Tougouri at 11am. Harmattan winds were picking up and I had bags of water tied to the bike. Caught a cargo truck and hitched a ride on top of rice sacks after only 15km. A line of sand dividing the Sahel from the central plateau. Dori. Thanksgiving dinner last night. The best pork, chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, generic oreos, olives, brakina beer, stir fry, and rice with peanut sauce I've ever had. Woke up this morning to sand and more sand; the ocean is in hiding. Went to the market and picked up limes for tonight's beers and looked at blankets for Mom. Writing notes on the specifics of the trip, might be able to post them later. Rereading Faulkner, the short plays of Wallace Stevens, Invisible Man, and French copies of The Hulk. Happy birthday yesterday to Dad and Grant. Nan, happy belated birthday, I tried to get a text out but the solar panel in village isn't working too well. Happy Thanksgiving, love you, and I'll see you all in three weeks.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Sorry. Sous-verre translates to underglass, not undercup. Parisian French is like an ice carving on a cruise ship. My French is like the terrible, I mean beautiful, mask I picked up for Mom. Love you Mom! (Can't wait to get that thing displayed in the living room, or should we go for the dining room?)

Blog entry that was going to be HUGE but now is prolly petit b/c I still can't get any photos uploaded. Maybe I'll get some uploaded. I'll try.

Mwaa haa haa. Happy Halloween. That's from the catacombs in Paris. A sentence Matt and I liked from the sign: Until 1788, cartloads covered with black clothes, escorted by priests chanting the office for the dead, crossed Paris by night to deposit their remains.

(Not sure if pictures will work...trying...I may refer to pictures that aren't there, you'll have to pretend...also, haven't actually prepared anything for the blog, been too busy buying souvenirs at the SIAO festival. Mom, I picked up a 7 foot tall postmodern fertility mask that I think will look perfect in the living room. It's made out of recycled corrugated tin and hippo hair, and was EXPENSIVE. You have to display it. It can double as a cheese tray for large parties.)

Almost as scary, my lack of picture taking skills. Here's my cousin Matt in front of a bus. To be fair, we did have lunch reservations in the next arrondisement.

My view from my spot at a cafe.

The museum of Orsay, or musee d'Orsay if you're in the know.

Me. Or moi, if you're in the know.

The stained glass at Saint Chappelle looks like Tetris.

The first picture of Paris, still on the Metro steps. The Our Mother. Or Notre Dame (if you're in the know).

- Work -------------------------------------------------------
I've been waiting for the end of the rainy season to start my painting project. Next week (weather permitting) we're painting a world map at the elementary school.

Just finished giving out all of my moringa trees. I have another 50 seeds. I'll get them started soon.

English club at the middle/high school. Doing the same thing I did last year.

AIDS day. Coming up next month. Going to a village down the road for an awareness thing.

Soapmaking. We sold out. The lemon scent I paid a little extra for really made the difference. Buying two soccer balls for the school with the money we got and hopefully we can do it again.

Here's the courtyard I came back to in September after teaching English in Ouaga for five weeks.
Not a gardening project by the way, just the rainy season. Oh and I built both the wall and the hangar. Never used it though. Afraid it'll fall in on me.

Before I Forget: Yesterday on the way back from breakfast the cab driver couldn't find the gear. We're on the highway and the car is shaking so badly that the passenger door opens. A guy on the moto drives by as if on cue and pushes the door closed. Oh Burkina, sometimes we get along so well.

Last week I didn't feel so well. I woke up with a fever one night and had such bad chills that I first put on socks. Then more socks. Then gardening gloves. Then I took the laundry basket of dirty clothes and covered myself with the unwashed masses. Then up to grab a hat. Then back underneath the pile of dirty clothes. I woke up an hour later sweating like crazy and reversed all previous decisions.

25 - 0 - 08
Caddy held me and I could hear us all, and the darkness, and something I could smell. And then I could see the windows, where the trees were buzzing. Then the dark began to go in smooth, bright shapes, like it always does, even when Caddy says that I have been asleep. The Sound and The Fury

23 - 10 - 08
Early evening, rain falling down amber. The clouds are not thick, it cannot last long. Making curry and rice. Reading The Road again.

French phrase: J'ai rien a voir avec ca. I don't have anything to do with it.
French word: Ecraser. To crush. (Thanks to French editions of The Hulk I found in Paris)

New dish I make: beans. I can buy one cup cooked for 100 francs. I can buy ten cups uncooked for three hundred. And sorting out rocks and bugs by lamplight is good for my eyes.

Q: How much money do I have in my wallet right now?
A: 10,000 francs. 50 dirham. 30 cedi. 10 rands. 20 bucks. 5,000 francs is on the floor next to Mission Impossible 3 which I watched last night.

French word for coaster? Sous-verre. Literal translation of sous-verre? Undercup.

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of Updike's The Poorhouse Fair.

I'd like to thank the Catholic mission in Kampti for inviting me to their party a couple weekends ago. They were great hosts, and their English is excellent.

Picked up Crest toothpaste yesterday. Not gel, not foaming action whatever whitening blah. Just paste. Was afraid it'd be boring, but really liking it so far. Kinda like twenty years ago when Mom would only let Katie and I eat Honey Nut Cheerios instead of sugary cereals. After months and months HNC would get pretty lame, but sure enough, after waiting a week or so they'd be good again.

After reading that last paragraph I realize I have absolutely nothing to say. See you in 7 weeks. Clay LaPoint

p.s. I also bought Dove shampoo. It is terrible.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Headphones follow up

Or headphone follow up, since the left one went into hibernation a little early. Almost ready with a massive blog attack...will send updates, some pictures, life from a three room house (four if you count my outdoor kitchen, five if you count my outdoor powder room - don't get them mixed up if you come visit) situated in between the villages of Kampti and Bouti and surrounded by fields of sweet potatoes, peanuts, and beans that feed off the barrage from Poniro, a village 6 km up the hill with a man-made lake that drains into the small but existent Kampti basin where the maize stalks are drying up and gold and almost romanesque-looking now that they've been harvested. In the Africa that I know the fields are the only places you see straight lines. There is no logic to the cities. Unless you are on the coast there are no natural barriers to account for, and even then the constraint is limited. There are no neighborhoods or suburbs with streets based on land subdivisions and dirt distributions. New cars are few, houses have leans to them, even the spoons are bent and wimpled like old New World silver.....ah I'm getting away from myself. I was writing to say that since only the right headphone works, when I'm listening to Hendrix now I'm only getting one feed and Long Hot Summer Night is completely a cappella. It would be good with a stand-up piano. Oh and I'm back in Ouaga because I've been sick for the last ten days but today I feel like a hundred bucks and I'm going to a restaurant with singing nuns tomorrow night and a crafts festival this weekend. The restaurant is called L'Eau Vive which means the living water or, my preferred translation, The Water Lives. Hi, The Water Lives? Yes this is The Water Lives. I'd like to make a reservation for two at The Water Lives. Will the singing nuns be there? Yes here at The Water Lives the singing nuns are here every night. Perfect, Clay, C L A Y LaPointe, table for two, The Water Lives. Yes sir. Thanks, see you tomorrow. Very well, thank you. Click.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

October 4th, Gaoua

Biked in to the post office today. While in Ouaga I couldn't get any photos up from Paris, and when I stopped on the side of the road to take a picture this morning of the countryside my battery died. I think this could mean that a career in photography, even developing them in HEB, isn't in my future. Talked with Dad on the phone last night until my phone died, and come to think of it the left headphone for my iPod fell apart and I now only have the right one; not that it matters since the iPod's battery died this morning as well. What is the word, Luddite? I think that might be someone that dislikes technology. If so it doesn't work for me: I love technology, it just doesn't love me. My dad will probably put pictures up on the TV while I'm home at Christmas, so just come over then and watch. As far as things back here in village? Last night was nice and quiet, interrupted only by the hesitant knocking of rain on the tin roof. Thank God I dropped and broke my radio a while ago or I would have missed it.

All my best, Clay

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I'm writing from a shop near Les Halles. Just wanted to say that I made it here alright; I'll upload some pictures when I get back to Ouagadougou.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

It's 11:26am and I just remembered

how I woke up this morning. I've got to run to the market to get vegetables before the ladies fall asleep for their sieste, so I'll try to make it quick. I went to bed and it was completely quiet and still. I woke up at 6:30am and the sky shouldn't have been dark but was dark blue and grey, the color you see in movies when a small fishing boat is about to be destroyed. People were running around, moving furniture away from the screens and toward the walls. Mattresses too. A chair was pushed too hard against my bed and it fell over onto my legs. The wind was twirling dirt and dust like a father dances with his daughter and I went back to sleep immediately. After sleeping here for 5 weeks, on the same spot on the same porch, I knew that my little corner is safe. No matter how much it rains, I won't get any more than a mist letting me know my bike seat will be wet when I ride to the bureau or post office or market, where I'm going now.

Monday, September 1, 2008

American Language Center summer photos

Some pictures from this summer. I don't have much to say and am listening to new music (well, new for me) that Lindsey sent over, so the first picture is me in the classroom working with students and using a mixture of french and english known as franglais. I think this class was pretty advanced, so I would always try to first use English (minus words like ain't, y'all, ain't'cha, what'cha...actually, this is pretty interesting, in the most advanced class I could speak at almost full speed and the kids would understand almost everything. Once they asked me if there were any regional words that I used, and I wrote some sentences on the board for them. I told them that earlier that day I'd turned to Adlai and said, "Man, it ain't nothing but hot out here." Adlai said back, "Yep, it ain't." We also talked about y'all and how it goes in a full, quick sentence: Whatayalldoin instead of What are you all doing? It was impossible for them to understand. Don't feel bad for them though. Their French is ridiculous. When I get a text it takes me about 20 minutes to even read it. Demain is 2main, Bonne soiree is BnSre, tout de suite is tout2s8, et toi is e3, etc etc etc) and if they couldn't understand English I'd switch to French which they wouldn't understand any better because of my French. This next picture is either of me standing up while everyone sang Happy Birthday, or I'm just standing up in the middle of a meeting for no reason. Throughout the summer, we had competitions with the kids. The picture here is of Adlai declaring the winners of the 3 legged race. The little kids had lower centers of gravity and destroyed the competition. Last week we had the Olympic Games to cap off the 4 week course. The events included stuff like sack race, another 3 legged race, water balloon toss, the cracker challenge (where you have to eat a bunch of crackers and then whistle), and the spoon egg race. It was hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, and it's one of the only days in the last fifteen months that's been strong enough to give me a sunburn. It was fun though, and the kids got into it and had a good time. At the beginning here I'm a little hesitant to get started. It was hot. The next picture is of a younger student in the sack race. We got huge 50k bags of rice and used them. The rice sack was almost too big for this little guy! Teaching this summer was a great experience and I really enjoyed being here in Ouaga. I'm headed back to village either tomorrow or the next day (I need to buy paint for the world map we're doing the last week of September and some lye for the soap the AME (Association des Meres d'Eleves I think is what it stands for - Mothers Association) is making, and my director hasn't been able to get ahold of a cassette tape he wants so I might try to find that too). I'll basically clean my house, make sure at least a few people in village still remember me, and then I'm off to Paris via Ouaga to meet up with my cousin Matt. I'm so excited about Paris that I haven't been able to hold off and've been choosing things off the menu that are way beyond my means. The other night I had a steak au poivre vert with a side of ratatouille, and yesterday Becca and I split a cote de veau cordon bleu (veal). Tonight I went a little more African and had petit pois - peas cooked in a tomato sauce and some type of meat or no meat at all. It's one of my favorite dishes here, and I never would have eaten peas back home. I found an Ivorian restaurant here in Ouaga that is wonderful, I want to learn how to make a few dishes before time is up here in Africa. Lately I 've been smart with my money in only one way: instead of buying Le Monde for 1600 francs, I'm waiting until I'm in Paris to buy the Parisian paper. Also, my cellphone doesn't work that well anymore. The company I use now, Celtel, is changing its name to, or has been bought out by, Zain, and I don't know if it's that or just my phone but it doesn't work that well right now. A Burkinabe told me the other day that the reseau est tres sature - the network is very saturated. So maybe it's the phone company. I saw on espn that the Horns squeaked by something like 52 - 10. I also saw that we aren't ranked in the top ten. What?? Mags, I think we picked some good poets to study for English class. When you said Roethke I thought of James Wright and his famous poem in a Roethke type of style that says: Therefore,/their sons grow suicidally beautiful/At the beginning of October,/And gallop terribly against each other's bodies. That made me look up college football this afternoon. Dickinson is for Grandma, Frost is to study dialogue and shaping, Mr. EE is because he is creative, Stevens is concrete imagery, and the other one that we picked was....? I forgot. Anyway I think we picked some good poets for you, even if they are a little too classic for me. Dad sent me two dozen pens and I bought some journals, and while I'm in Paris I'm going to look in the English bookstore for Quiet Days in Clichy and Against the Day, and then I think I'll be set for a long, long time. Thanks again for all of your packages, letters, and emails. I don't know if I've said this before, but when you go off by yourself to do something by yourself and to make something of yourself by yourself, it's nice not to be by yourself. All my best, Clay

Monday, August 25, 2008

Non-Clay Blog
I just saw this on the nytimes. Every day this website is releasing a page from George Orwell's diary 70 years ago to the day. It even has transcriptions of the newspaper cuttings he pasted to his journal every day; they piqued his interest enough for him to include them just so he'd have them for later on. My grandma used to cut out comics from the funnies, and it's a rare end-of-the-day that the sumtotal of my pockets don't have at least one scrap of paper with an epigram or word or question or date or recipe scribbled down that I know I'll forget, so I think I can relate to George, and I think so can you. I once heard Danny Devito say (not directly but through a radio show) that he still goes to the movies about 5 times a week. When the radio host asked him why, he said, "Because I wouldn't want to miss that." I'm not much for quotes, I kind of think they're lazy, but I love that. The guy has an interest in things around him, not because he's bored or wants to show off or separate himself, but just because he's here and so is it, a thing that, at least partially, fulfills him. Alright, back to The Sopranos and another cool night sleeping out here on the porch. Clay
ps: By the way, Mom, I love your JFK and Eleanor Roosevelt quotes.

The Sopranos

I'm 4 days into Chinese-made Sopranos DVDs. The video quality's iffy, but Tony's anything but. So is his psychiatrist, Melfi. Other than them I can't stand anyone except for his mercedes car dealership short-term girlfriend. Someone just walked by and asked, Hey Clay, have you moved since 1pm? Well, actually, I have. Adlai and I had to carry a table back to our director's house. It was as long as it was heavy, so we sandwiched pillows and carried it on our heads. Also, I woke up this morning to Adlai sitting on my bed taking pictures of his neck beard. A neck beard is when you shave your face but leave the beard on your neck. Yes, it's as disgusting as you think it is. Adlai went to work with it and the Sprite vendor said, non, pas barbe, c'est pas jolie. I just feel stupid with it, he said when we got home. I can't go to work like this. I'm starting to get a cold. How am I supposed to go to the bureau and talk with the medical personnel with this thing? No no no, don't talk like that, I said. Kim, when you see a neck beard, what do you think: beautiful or disgusting? When I see a neck beard, Kim said, I don't think either of those things. I think: why would you have a neck beard? Stop it Kim, it doesn't have to be this way, alright? Adlai, I kept on trying, I have two things to say. A) the neck beard is great, keep it at least until Becca gets here. She needs to see it. B) Of course you look stupid, you're wearing a neck beard. When you were shaving, did you think it would end up any differently? It's great though, keep it. He didn't keep it, it's gone.
Back to The Sopranos. If you were wondering how my last days as a summer English teacher were going, you now have your answer. Oh and I've discovered where Dad and I are going for his first African dish. It's semi-authentic, and clean enough to keep him healthy.
All my best, Clay

Monday, August 18, 2008

Coffee shops in Paris

Does anyone have a recommendation? In Rome I got to go to the BEST coffee shop, according to Frommer's and thenytimes, and I want to do the same thing in Paris. I've been googling in two languages but haven't found anything. I guess it's not life or death, but it is a pretty good part of life. If you have a place dear to you, please pass it on. Clay

Barack Obama,

I wish you'd leave me alone. I mean, I love our relationship, but every time I check my email I have a dozen from you. I keep thinking my friends and family have sent me messages and all I get is your name over and over again; seeing it like that, it's paramount to a laundry list of socks. Socks, socks, socks. Can you imagine the boredom? And it's not just the amount of email, the promises in the titles are a bit hurtful to be honest. The first to know. You can make a difference. We need you. And tonight? It says Backstage. Backstage? I doubt it Barack. I haven't heard or seen the news in about fifteen months. I'm not backstage, I'm in the parking lot behind the theatre scrounging around for breakfast tacos and hot sauce containers to reuse as makeshift swimming goggles in case it ever rains - I've got Phelps fever, what can I say. Listen, I want you to win, honest I do. But like most Americans, I like my democratic process lazy. I want the smooth transitions of power and possibility of an actual say in my life, but I don't want to have to actually say anything. Or read things other people have said. So, even though this hurts, it has to be done: I won't be opening any more of your emails. I hope after a while you'll forgive me and we can go back to how we were. And remember, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.
Good luck this November, Clay

Phew, that was tough. Okay so today was pretty fun. I filled in for a teacher and taught some English. The kids were great. They sang some two part harmony Bob Marley for today's song competition and most of the words were right on. I stubbed my toe on a brick outside the front door of the volunteer house, so now I have a bandaid and scotch tape wrapped around my foot. Today for lunch I spent 750francs and got a french fry and chopped vegetable lebanese wrap. It was delicious. Then I went to the embassy to watch the Olympics. It started raining and I fell asleep to powerlifting on channel 1 and 3metre diving on channel 2. Talked to a few volunteers today. About four or five people from my group are thinking of extending for a third year. I am not one of those four or five. Today's trouble words for my class: heels, hills, bass (music), bass (fish). We practiced those four words alone for about 30 minutes. Who is this group/person Taken by Trees? I have heard them about twice in the last week from different people back home. Speaking of back home, I was flipping through a Newsweek yesterday and I got to an article about the poverty in Niger. There was a fullpage photo of people walking their donkeys across the desert with plastic water jugs and buckets. And the first thing I thought? Or not even thought. Felt? Home. Am I missing village? I don't think so. But after a year of it, everything was comfortable, if a bit lonely. Although I'm really comfortable here, so I can afford to wax poetic about my village. When I have to confront the 8 hour busride to reach it I probably won't be so romantic. I'm going to the mosque with some of the teachers on Friday. It should be interesting, I've never been to a mosque before. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Take care, Clay
p.s. Mags, I got a text from you at 6:30 this morning. Has the schoolyear started back up yet? You need to be in bed before 2:30 in the morning!!!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday afternoon for me late morning for you

The dentist was a beautiful woman with a Parisian accent. It's not good when the dentist is beautiful, you start to worry about all the flying spray from your mouth. I thought I'd learn some good French vocab from her. I understood vas-y since it's the same thing I yell at the kids sitting on my front porch every morning before school. It means Go. Her assistant's name was Suzy, so it rhymed: vas-y Suzy. I have no cavities.

These kids I'm working with this summer are a bit different than what I'm used to in village. A student pulled out a new iPod last week, and I asked her if it was the iPhone. She said, No, the iPhone is for a man. If I want to go out and put it in my pocket, I can't. No, I like having them separate. I'm filling in the next two days for a prof who is in Ghana. The new experience'll be fun. I don't want to work with kids the rest of my life (please, please, no), but this has been a good thing getting up in front of people and testing my cliches and confidence over and over again.

I'm going to Eurotex, the fabric store, tomorrow to buy some materials to have pants made for Paris. It's only a month away. I'm thinking black pants and one other color. As far as French goes, here is my level: yesterday Zach had trouble ordering food over the phone. Finally he came up to me and said, here, Clay, talk to them, I can't understand him. Okay:

I want three plates of spaghetti, two steak sandwiches, three fries, and three steak plates. No, not three more steak sandwiches, three steak plates. Steak plates? Yeah, the plate I usually order. It comes not on bread but on a plate with a sauce. Steak sandwich? No, well yes, two of them. But then three additional steak plates where there is no bread, just steak. The pieces of meat are directly on the plate. Instead of the sandwiches? No. In addition to? Yes. I'm still not getting it. Umm. Wait, steak simple? What is simple steak? The stuff on the sandwich but without the bread. Yes, that is what I want, three of them. Did you change the name of it or something? Never mind. Okay, see you in thirty minutes.

We should have a grand time as long as Matt doesn't want a steak plate/steak simple.

I've been watching the Olympics on the TV at the embassy. I haven't seen much since Friday, but we should be winning every sport we enter into. We are such a huge country it's a loss if we don't win everything. Now that I'm kind of thinking about it, I did see some equestrian events. Let the others have them.

I saw Iron Man and The Hulk last week. Both of them are great. I liked The Hulk more, but I can see how people could prefer Iron Man. It's faster-paced and flashy. And The Dude is the villain.

I've been sick this week. I think it's all the smog from living here. Sometimes at a traffic light I'm surrounded by dozens of motos. It could be worse though. I read somewhere that living in Cairo is the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, the pollution is so bad. I also read that the doctor in House has a Burger King gold card and can eat at any Burger King in the world for free. What do I have to do to get one.

Okay, time to do some work. Hope everyone is good. Clay

P.S. Happy Early Birthday Katie

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Early August

Ouaga, I'll say once more, is great. I took Mac out today for his birthday. He had a pizza. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich, creamed spinach, and potatoes. Last night we made mexican food with actual chips and salsa, guacamole, and tortillas. I have hot water, electricity, fans, a mattress, and a computer. I've been able to find out the meanings of epicanthic, sirocco, geodesy, and chthonian. has failed me on desuperpollicate and quincunial, but I have a month to find them elsewhere. I found a journal of poems in my box at the house that must have been there for months. One such says: Hemingway, why do I stay up nights, finding your sadness sweet, while Nabokov, the genius, puts me straight to sleep? John Mayer has new music out; if you don't find the song Say inspirational, i don't know what to tell you. Thanks to friends and family (and the modern postal system) I have 7 bags of coffee on the shelf. Tonight I sat outside and drank coffee while watching the sun steal down into pink rainbruised clouds. At least I did until the mosquitoes found me. The weather here has been gorgeous, I think it's actually hotter in Austin. Adlai, one of my best buds here, is also teaching English this month. It's good seeing him. His girlfriend is from Dublin and has a deadly accent. She and her mates and lads have a good time going to the pub and getting pissed. When it's too bloody hot they sit inside with the air con. Last night I stayed up pretty late with Mac and everyone. Someone built a three story castle of Uno cards, and I was able to place my empty Dr Pepper can on top, a true feat for Clay Shaky Hands LaPoint. On my birthday we were prepping for class, and all of the other Burkinabe teachers sang happy birthday when they found out. A nice way to spend it. Next year I'll either be in Morocco or Austin, TX. If I'm home by then, I hope Mom's not too busy to make poundcake, and Dad not too much to play Butler International. Maggie can drive me around in her car, and Katie....well, I'm leaning on Katie to support me until Maggie is old enough to, so that's enough of a present already. I'll be here until September 1st, and then I'll go back to village for ten days before heading back here to go to Paris for a week with my cousin Matt. Vraiment la vie est chouette. Truly life is...I think chouette means sweet, cool, neato, that type of thing. One time a Belgian girl picked me up on the side of the road and took me to the bus station, and she said ahhh c'est chouette when I was telling her about working in a village. Chouette is a chouette word. I read another McCarthy called Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West (I think that was the title). That guy builds scenes better than almost anyone. It's like a clinic when he gets started. I have to go to the dentist this week for our mid service medical. Not the biggest fan of going to the dentist, I'm pegging my survival rate at 50/50 right now. Alright, that's all for now. Hope you're well, love, Clay

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Late July

It's been so long since my last time at the internet that I can't think of anything to say. It's overwhelming. I'm sitting here picking at my fingernails and can't think of what to say or any sites I'd like to visit. I stared at the US govt homepage for half a dozen minutes before opening my email.

I was in Niger last week for a short vacation before my English teaching program in Ouaga with the American Language Center. I'll be here until the beginning of September. Being in Ouaga, and knowing I'll be here for more than three or four days, is insane. I can't get over it. On the way home yesterday I was daydreaming about what Adlai and I could go out and do. I thought, hmmm, should we do happy hour half price White Russians at Showbiz, or go to the Blue Marlin for the steak plate and garlic fries, or should I stay in, make some real coffee, and write, or should we go to the Paradisio for pints and cheeseburgers....The very idea of having options, it's nice. Hopefully Grant and I'll be able to get some more of our comic book done with the amount of time I'll be at the computer.

Nanny, I opened your package today. Thanks for the twinkies, and good call with putting them in a jar. Also thanks for the shorts, I feel like one of my favorite journalists, Hunter S. Thompson, in them. They were also a reminder to get to the tailor and have nice pants made for Paris. And the shirts are the softest I've worn in a year.

Mom, when you said I'd know for sure what it was you put in my package, did you mean the saffron rice or the Dr. Pepper? Thanks for the packages Mom and Dad.

Aunt Edie and Uncle Gordon, thanks for the package. I finished a book a while ago that I loved called The Intuitionist, and it was said to be an allegory on par with one you sent me. I'll read it and get back to you soon.
If you sent me something recently and I haven't thanked you, I'll be here for another month and I'll try to say thanks. I'm sorry. These pictures are taking forever and I want to post a few.
Here are some pictures of giraffes I saw in Niger.

The picture of me trying to smile is pretty painful. That was by far the hottest day I've ever experienced. The sun bouncing off the hot sand was terrible and beautiful. The beautiful is dependent upon the number of litres of bottled water in your bag. My camera must have mixed a few of the pictures in with Venice. I'm glad it did. Our hotel in Venice looks pretty sweet from that angle.

Here is my cat, Norman H. LaPoint. He's a great cat. I only get half my pillow now because he takes up the other half, but other than that he's a great roommate.

****Pretend this is a nice collection of photos of Norman. The security guard just called and is kicking me out. I'll put some up tomorrow or this weekend.****

Here is outside the hacienda. I made a flowerbed, and the corn in the field out front has just started growing. I was gone one weekend about a month ago, and when I came back my neighbors had found and planted all the flowers for me. La vie est bonne avec les voisins, life is good with neighbors.

I bought a copy of Le Monde yesterday and read the translation of Obama's speech in Germany. It's the first campaign research I've done. Have the Olympics started? I'd feel a bit out of the loop except that I'm so outside of the loop I've forgotten about the loop. I'm loopless.

Sorry I never got around to posting my one year anniversary blog entry. I can't say if I've learned anything or not this last year. Even if I have it is too soon to write about it, even on a blog.

Adlai and I joined the American Rec Center here in Ouaga for the month of August. I've never been a member of a country club before, and I've got to say the confidence boost alone is worth the 10,000 francs.
Okay, I'd update you more, but I'm getting kicked out. It's my fault though, I spent most of my time looking at vocabulary words I can't get in my dictionary from village, and looking up Henry Miller quotes.
All my best, Clay

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Early June

Howdy y'all, no huge anniversary post today. This morning I repacked my backpack to put in some Newsweeks a car washer here likes. He doesn't actually wash all that many cars and likes to practice his English in between jobs. It was early in the morning and I forgot to repack what I had written. Sorry. I'm going to Ouaga this Sunday, and I'll make amends.
Mom's led me to believe that anyone reading this thinks I hate my mother. Well, I don't hate my mother. In addition to being my mother, she is pretty funny, and one of the most thoroughly decent human beings I know. The only reason I didn't say Happy Mother's Day was because I thought I'd be at the computer the day of. The only reason I didn't say thanks for the plane ticket home was because I made all the plans with Dad, so he was in my mind when I said a quick thank you. I know it's your money too, don't turn into Chief Sitting Bull (One time the Wendy's people forgot to put a spoon in the bag with her frosty. She was not pleased. I don't know whether it was Dad or Katie who used CSB, but she was not pleased. Reading that I put this on here, I assume she will not be pleased.).
Another thank you. I just got a package from Grant, Britt, and Chris two days ago. It had a dozen comics, No Country For Old Men, a nice note, and a book by Karl Pilkington, the genius behind the Ricky Gervais Show. It also had some Dora the Explorer gummy candy that was gone in less than four seconds, and a used Chapstick that is on my nightstand. That was just a convenient term, I don't have a nightstand. I have a sudoku book, Ha Jin's War Trash, and Catch 22 stacked up next to my bed. It's on top of those. The book is probably the funniest thing I've read in a long time (not Cormac's novel - that would be kinda sick). Every night when I can't sleep (that is every night) I listen to the Ricky Gervais radio shows on my iPod. I don't have all the shows though, so it was hilarious reading all their conversations; by now I've listened to them so often that I know their accents and pauses, so I was reading with their voices and not my own. Also, No Country For Old Men is great. The pacing is so self-assured and the dialogue is probably the most realistic dialogue I've ever read. It is like Frost's dialogue in his poetry: back and forth, not too long, and revealing. I stayed up last night until 3 reading it start to finish. It makes you think about what kind of writer you want to be, and maybe even can be. I'm glad to see one of my personal favorites is back. The Hulk. In an entire productline of superheroes, he's the only one that is without a doubt a danger when he uses his powers. Everyone else tries to stabilize society, but he just smashes things. Good fodder for a story. And I like seeing (fictional) things get smashed.
As far as things being smashed, I also got a package two days ago from the bank. Now Christine is just as big a Lost fan as I am, so I'm kind of thinking there were hints about last season inside. The reason I'm leaning this way is because inside the box were: Reese's pieces (melted into a solid pound brick), a note in either Japanese, Korean, or Mandarin, and an instruction manual for what I think might be a security camera. It has to be the strangest package ever to sit on my stoop. Still though, thank you.
Also a thank you to Rashid, my neighbor. He helped me build my hangar this last week, and we put the finishing touches on it yesterday. Finding wood was kind of a nuisance, and he had to climb into the tops of many a tree with a machete to cut the branches. The branches were still living, and as such pretty full of water inside, so I had to climb up with him and hang on the branches as he cut them. My weight would bend them down until I was on the ground. I always say, If you can't think of a smart idea, just risk your life. But it was a pretty good experience. And now I have a shady place to sit outside.
Right on Mom, the goat picture last blog does include the morengas, in all their pre-pubescent, startersack glory. It also has two baby mammoth sunflowers that I'm hoping will rock my neighbors' worlds. I miss eating sunflower seeds, so I'm going to try to bake some and see how it works out. Note to anyone that might send a package soon. I miss eating sunflower seeds. And reading poetry.
I had the craziest dream last night. It was cold back in Pflugerville, and I was out on the backporch. I felt the cold in my lungs and my throat, and I felt the way it's cold under your feet against the concrete. Standing there I even felt the hems of my jeans and the long unkempt strands that were messy without being run down, like a missed haircut during summer. I looked through the window. Mom was making potato soap, Dad and Mags were playing Stratego, and Katie was camped out on one of her pallets ontop of the hunter green carpet, probably watching a movie about whales. I opened the door to go inside the same time I woke up this morning, and for half a second I could smell our house at Christmastime. I woke up at 6am to my phone ringing. It was Mom telling me that it seemed like I left only yesterday.
Work is good. A volunteer is going to be placed only 15k from me (a neighbor!), and right now I'm just figuring out ways to keep busy this summer. I'm planning a trip to Niger this July to go on a mini-giraffe safari. Hmm I guess that's a little ambiguous. I don't mean miniature giraffes like shetland ponies, I mean that the sightseeing will be only a day or two.
Okay, I think that's about all today. The place next door has egg sandwiches, which I've just got to take advantage of.
As always, all my best, Clay

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Hope everyone's well. I don't have anything planned to write today, and this air conditioning is making me sleepy, but I wanted to post some pictures of my kids writing letters to their new penpals back in Tejas. Also there's a picture of two goats standing in the shade of my outdoor kitchen.
This weekend was pretty sweet. I headed up North to visit Lauren. We were in her house, playing Boggle, and I looked at the shaded thermometer by the door: 107. And it wasn't a hot day. The mercury in the thermo was cheering me on, but Boggle is no Scrabble, and I lost over and over again.
Nanny sent me an electric toothbrush. I use it every morning and night, but only when my neighbors are playing music. I can't let them hear me revving up or else they start asking questions I can't answer. Why do you need an electric toothbrush? Actually, I don't know. Now leave me alone so I can finish my ablutions. I don't mind the company, just the staring.
The rain is still coming down in Kampti. Every night a group of frogs moves on to my patio and huddles in with the moringa trees. They sing songs that I like hearing.
Don't have any book reviews. Been writing a lot though. Grant just sent me his ideas for our idea.
Work is rewarding. This summer I'm going to help out at the medical center. Weighing babies, taking temperatures, etc, and learning a bit. Health and education go hand in hand. Unless you want to be a poor, dirtbag writer, you can't have one without the other.
Two weeks shy of a year in Africa. Maybe I'll do a huge one year anniversary blog when I'm in Ouaga next for Becca's birthday party(June 6thish). You're invited to her party.
Learning some Dioulla from my neighbors. Right now I can say Anye Sohoma and Nya. That's it. It doesn't matter what they mean, just say them and you'll agree with me that it's the most beautiful language.
Had a dream a few nights ago where I was a character in Kafka's short stories. It was a lot of sitting in cafes. Lauren had some Bukowski, forgot how good he could be.
Drinking a lot of bissap in village. It tastes and looks like cranberry juice, and you can buy it frozen so that it melts throughout the hot day.
Just watched The Office for the first time in almost a year. Remembered what I've been missing.
Thinking about a short summer vacation to Niamey for a few days to check out the last giraffes in West Africa. I only have a few days left, as Aunt Gail just got me tickets to Paris for a week, and Dad is bringing me home for Christmas. Can't thank them enough.
Just got an account at my local bank in village. It feels pretty cool, and they are nice to me and give me small bills instead of 10,000 franc notes that I can't break. Also, the census guy came by and marked me down for Kampti. He knocked on my door while I was eating dinner, so I gave him a bite of curried mac and cheese. The next day I saw him at the market, and he made me some tea. The world population is now over by one person, as I'm marked in Pflugerville and Kampti. Please alert the proper authorities.
Mary, for the penpal program, I'm going to give a few of the cards I have left to some kids that live in the North. I want your class to get a complete idea of Burkina, since it is such a crossroads of West Africa. A two hour drive away from my village looks a lot different than mine, and I want you to see and learn about as many areas as you're interested in. And the French practice will be great, for my kids and yours. And me too. Also, I talked to a computer guy who can help me put together a website, so now I just have to remember to take my camera around and take some photos to get it ready for next school year.
All my best, love, Clay

Friday, May 9, 2008

Quick note/Petit Mot/Noto rapido?

Calendar? Just got my etickets and I'll be home December 20ish thru January 4th. Can't wait to live like an American again.

And Mary, the village internet is too slow. I'm sorry. I'll be at the Peace Corps Bureau toward the end of the month and I'll be able to post the pictures. I'm also going to take pictures of the school and my house and such for a little show and tell, and this summer I'll go around the entire village and take pictures of various things, and maybe even make a little website if I ever figure out how to do it. There is an official program called something like the worldwide schools initiative that I think I can sign us up for; I'll look into it. Tell your kids hi for me and that they should get their letters soon(ish).

Okay, c'est tout. See you soon.(ish).

Clay Reichenbach,

there must be a rogue reader out there, because I counted you as one of the three. Also I didn't have a title for this one so I went ahead and used your name. Hope you don't mind. For this one I tried to jot things down, on the bus, at my house, waiting for one of my clubs to start, so you could see a bit of what I do on a day to day basis. Unfortunately, I'm rereading it now and it's just more of the drivel I've been writing all along, with datemarks added, so sorry for the lack of insight.

First, for you almost new arrivals, I never got around to making a packing list, but one of my best friends here Becca has an excellent one on her blog, I think that's the name, but if not just google words that are close and you'll find it. But I'll add one thing for those of you in the South: the lightest possible sweatpants you can find. The bugs are horrible here when it rains, and you need something to cover you up without getting too hot. Oh, and bring some money. The Peace Corps will give you some, a lot, actually, when you're in Philadelphia or wherever you go, but you might want a little extra to buy a cellphone during your training. It really helped me through. Only a month to go!

Rain accompanies the bus back to Kampti. I'm sitting halfway back in a blue seat, they are all blue seats. I always sit at least this far back, persuaded by a story I heard involving a bus and a cow. When the two met the force was strong enough to break the legs of everyone in the first ten rows. I have a few manners, I don't know how the cow managed. So here I am: lucky number eleven. Lye, for my womens association, is stowed away above my head, and I can't help but think what will happen if this bus leaks. In my lap is The Intuitionist and in the bag below my seat are The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Chabon, The Lost Steps by Carpentier, Islands in the Stream by Hemingway, and (for good measure) Black Rose by Nora Roberts and an LSAT study guide. Black Rose is the middle sister in the trilogy and I doubt I'll read either of her siblings. Then again, according to averages I've got a few years left and I should Never say Never. The sprinkling on the windshield, no more smothering than a motheaten blanket, is backed up by a sheet spread against the glass to shade the driver, and my companions and I, for the bus is completely full, look like we're mermaids in a velveteen aquarium. In my pocket is a handkerchief I got in Venice and some Kleenex. This morning I hit my head against a window shutter. Nothing serious, but with Dad's thin blood and Mom's thin skin I knew it would bleed in the heat and I didn't want to stain my souvenir from the cloth shop in the corner of St. Mark's plaza near where the gondoliers smoke and make jokes and when Mom and I found it we'd walked all the way across Venice toward the hotel in which I felt out of place, on the way stopping to share a dessert neither of us can name, and I summoned my courage and asked the woman for a ristretto with the proper pronunciation, and now for the rest of my life I can say I've had my favorite coffee in Venice. Even if I stained or lost the kandkerchief I wouldn't lose the memory, but you want to be careful with such things. It was a good thing I bought some tissues in any case because I had to run to catch the bus and three different times had to wipe my forehead. The bus now is going slow and safe; it just passed Boromo, the village with the elephants. If you borrow a dotted line from a blueprint and run it straight down from my nose, you'll hit the floorboards. This is a nice bus. The other option is a cheaper, faster bus, but there are holes in the floor and you'll get motionsickness looking at the pavement beneath you. Also in my lap is an article on ground-coupled heat exchangers for something I mentioned months ago about air conditioners. Mac, Becca, Lauren, each are texting me: It's raining here! It's raining down here too! I text back. It's raining everywhere in Burkina. My friends and I will sleep well tonight. Last night I went bowling with Adlai and two volunteers from Niger. Before bowling we went out to a bar in Ouaga and I had one of those moments I have here sometimes, and I looked around to take it all in and make sure that even a bit of it was real. If the cigarettes weren't the candy variety, the TV not taken from a model home, the tables and cars not pieces crafted for a movie set. There Adlai and I were, Americans in Burkina talking to Americans in Niger, helping them arrange guides into Mali. The whole thing was so incredibly international that I felt like going out and celebrating, but the only people worth celebrating with were a few volunteers in their villages and everyone back home. And Adlai and I technically were celebrating already. Here on the bus the air is cool with the rain and we're listening to African music that I can't understand a word of. I can't translate it, I can't even parse one word from another: the volume is up so loud everything is mashed into the pulp you find at the bottom of the carton if you don't shake often enough. In the left windows I can see huge clouds dominating the skyline, so big they seem to be disappointed in the smallness of the red dirt, trees, and bus below and are waiting for something else to arrive. I think of Poorhouse Fair, Updike's first novel that he wrote in his twenties, and how the character Hook looked up and into "the mammoth sky." You don't see phrases like that everyday, or the skies.

Riding my bike today I ended up in one of those clusters you want to avoid on the highway. This time it was a dirtpath, bicycles only, and four Lobi each with a rifle slung over the shoulder. I immediately felt underaccessorized.

I read the line, "Every woman has the heart of a policeman" toward the end of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and I used it in my English club. Most everyone thought it meant something like, "she will always find out," but I thought that'd be more like a detective than a policeman, and offered, "every woman is used to living with disappointment." No one got that, including me, so we conjugated irregular verbs and called it a day.

I watched Becca sew my flip flop once and I copied as best I could later on to make a pillowcase. I did a terrible job but the fabric stays together alright. I used it for a couple days until I changed it for my tourist shirt from Busua Beach, Ghana. The shirt is too small to wear now that I've gained some weight back, and I slipped it over the pillow if just to see it and be reminded of the vacation. It's a yellow shirt on the lime green cot I use for a bed, and I feel as if I'm a miscast, blenched actor in the Hooray!Beer commercials. It's very tropical. I just started twenty more moringa seeds in the plastic bags used before you put them in the ground. I'd wanted to work earlier but decided on writing another letter to send off since it was nice and cool this morning, and I like to write when I'm not sweating on the page and the ink stays together. I stopped at twenty because the heat today is something fierce and I could see on the ground all around me that I was losing more water than I could possibly drink. It's 11:30 and for lunch I'll make spaghetti and read some Rilke, who writes about the cold so well, even when he doesn't mention it, that you can feel it stay with you after you've finished reading. It's a palliative I'm happy to take.

Last night after the heat came the strongest storm of the year. I picked up the lye off the ground and closed the window closest to my books and letters, and placed my cot next to the table so I'd have some light to read by. I read like this for awhile, with the light coming in over my left shoulder and not a shadow on the page if I held the book a certain way, until the wind blew hard into the house. Two calendars, an X-Men poster, and the tin I use to wash my clothes fell and started up a symphony soundcheck with the concrete floor, and my lantern was blown out. I'd misplaced my flashlight and so got up, found the matches with my hands near the stove, and walked around the cot to the table. In the pitchblack I then had the misfortune to step on a jellyfish. It was the ziplock bag variety, but a jellyfish all the same when I wasn't expecting it. It felt just like one, or a man-of-war, even though I've never touched either save vicariously through books, movies, and relatives. I know Burkina is landlocked, but it took my heart longer than my head to recover from the jellyfish in my living room.

Today we're making soap. There isn't much to say about it, we'll see how it looks in a couple days. I texted Adlai to find out what he used to shape his, and he texted back: That's the problem dude, it's just lying on a plastic bag. Me and this 80 year old lady are rolling it into balls. It stormed yesterday.

Alright, that's all for the next couple of weeks. All my best, Clay

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Quick Addendum

The blog entry is below, but I wanted to say that I'm working on a packing list for incoming volunteers to Burkina. It'll be extensive, but right now some pressing things to ponder:
Don't be a hero, bring your iPod. If you think you want an antideluvian experience here without technology, you're wrong. Songs, podcasts (the ricky gervais show is so, so funny), etc. Just do it. Don't fill it up with music you think you should listen to, there's plenty of time for selfconscious elitism back home. Put some Journey on there if you really want. My friend Grant Davis listens to Meatloaf and is one of the happiest people I know. And don't worry, you'll have all the nature you can shake a stick, or a handful of sand, at.

Prescription sunglasses. Pourquoi pas. Yes. Oui. Bien sur. I was an idiot and got a cheap pair that resembled official Keanu Reeves The Matrix movieware, but from the kids section. I wouldn't get a terribly expensive pair, because you could lose them in the Gulf of Guinea on the beaches of Ghana. But don't go too cheap. Just remember that you'll be outside far, far, far, far more than you'll be in.

Peanut M§Ms. They get along with me, and you will too.

Oh and go to wikipedia and look up Thomas Pynchon, the writer I mentioned earlier. He be interesting, big time. And out of the three of you that read my blog regularly, I'm counting on just one to read M and D by July 2009 so we can sit at Quack's and discuss. We can even bring our copies there and look postmodern. Anytime someone comes up to us we'll just say, tomato, and look at the wall.

Monster in Kampti

I have the feeling from time to time that my neighbors think I'm a bit bizarre. Somehow it is completely natural for them, when asked where to find the best bread, to say, "Go down the trail between the termite mounds, take a right at the House of Fetishes, and stop at a place just past." Ask, "Where exactly?" and the response will be: You know, the boutique with the three-legged dog. Oh okay, thanks. Although he's not there all the time, they'll add. And it's me that's slightly off. By the way, a fetish is a statuette used to keep evil spirits at bay. It's West Africa's version of a Consumer Reports Buyer Beware article, or the charmingly suburban sign: Beware of Dog. Alright, some recent Clay sightings.

Every other day I walk out of my house, birds singing, sun shining, stomach satiated thanks to pancakes and homemade syrup, and I collect bags full of shit with my bare hands. Listen: I know people from my hometown church read this, not to mention my grandmother (Hi Nannie, love you!), but I think this is actually a technical term, not just a mild expletive for a late realization of fast-food chicanery ("Where's my foot long coney!?" as you pull into the drive). It even appears in my dictionary in village, so it's useable. I need the fumier to plant my moringa trees, and to find it I head to the Fulani section of town, the cowherders. Their houses are close together, and I basically have to walk through their courtyards and trampse through any personal space they once thought they had. It only takes a few minutes for the gnats to find me. Whether it's my Dove 2 in 1 shampoo conditioner they find so appetizing, or what's in the plastic sacks swinging from my arms, I'll never know. What I do know is that when one finds me, they all do. I bat them away as best I can. Also, shaking my head to keep them off my brow, I'm now imitating a mixture of bad freestyle swim technique and the least cool kid at a rave. Remember that in my swinging hands are by now heavy bags of cow dung. The patties themselves aren't heavy, it's the calisthenic accompaniment that'll do you in. Now, my glasses start to slide down my nose, and my shoulder comes to the rescue every six seconds, pushing them back up. While doing all of this, I'm still bending over constantly to add to my collection; we can't forget our objective in the madness of battle. And let's not forget the true sufferers (or suffragettes?) here, those unnoticed remainders of the equation. Not myself, no, I signed up for this. It's the neighborhood. Nowadays a Fulani woman can't even start a fire, prepare rice/sauce, and breastfeed (all at the same time) without a strange white man flailing around her front yard and muttering to himself in some foreign tongue (for I'm usually thinking outloud by this point). Ah, where are the good ol' days, I see her sighing over corn meal she's been mashing for the last 3 hours. But fear not, homemaker, by this point I'm already homebound, thinking of nothing more than a nice, warm bucketbath.

One of the most satisfying things I do each week is burn my trash. Or more specifically, watch it burn. I do this for two reasons, the first being that I like to. The second is that, if I don't, small children passing my house on the way to school will see what to them is a fresh bag of goodies and peruse through it. They will, without a doubt, be sure to taste everything they find. Jettisoned packets of velveeta-like Vache Qui Rit cheese will be licked clean, just like what I thought were empty tomato paste cans. I find the whole thing kind of disgusting; I prefer to burn. I'll even burn plastic bags: the more colorful the smoke the better! But the environment!!?? I too once felt your pangs of conscience. But I ride a bike as my sole form of local transportation, and I use hardly anything that leaves a wrapper in its wake. I'm probably the most carbon neutral I've been since I had the comfortable, if cramped, sublet of my mother's womb. And did I mention that I really love burning my trash? So one night I found myself with a full box of trash (this is where your boxes go when you send packages) and nothing else planned. Afire in my courtyard, I saw that it was burning quickly, too quickly. This was my whole evening! I can't reread Harry Potter 7 again! (Alas, yes I could, and yes I have). In a race against time, I ran to the field next to me and grabbed dried cornstalks by the armful, returning to feed the fire. I was doing this, going back and forth, a few times before I realized two elderly village women were staring at me, dumbfounded. Did I mention that they sincerely believe large fires at night attract cannibalistic flying sorcerers? Sweating, sootcovered, realizing what I'd done, I thought only to say, "Ne t'inquiète pas! La madame ma voisine est chrétienne et a prié pour nous! Toute la domaine scholaire est bien protegé!" Or: Don't worry! My neighbor is a christian and has prayed for us, all the area around the school is well protected! And it is, or so she has told me multiple, multiple times. Thankfully, they probably couldn't hear me as the tall, contented flames crackled happily, noisily, into the night.

I've had the same pair of reef flip flops for four years. Mom picked them up for me when we were in Dillards, in Highland Mall, after buying me khaki shorts and a brown shirt at Banana Republic. And they say we don't remember what they do for us. I could take a stab at it and say we had pizza in the foodcourt before browsing the video games, but that'd be pure conjecture and might ruin my perfect record in this particular paragraph. This week the right flip flop became a little too, well, floppy. The bottom started pulling away. I got a needle and some red thread and got to work. I couldn't see by lamplight so I strapped to my forehead the LED miner's light my dad got me. Also, I felt like listening to some music, so I hooked up my iPod to the portable solar charger. Together they were too bulky for one pocket, so I put the charger in the left pocket and the iPod in the right, the various cords hanging out in front of their own accord, with the headphones running up to my ears. About this time, the mosquitos got to be a a bit of a nuisance, so I pulled on some soccer socks up to my knees. I was in the backroom, working away, when I heard a knock on the door. Getting up the spool of thread fell to the floor, and as I tried to multitask I only ended up wrapping it around my legs. Some of you (like me) who don't enjoy slapstick have stopped reading by now. For those of you still here, I want to assure you I'm not ripping this off from a 1950s sitcom, it's unfortunately real. She squints through the screendoor into the dark, lamplit house. The moon is nowhere to be found. Suddenly, a tall object, is it alive?, turns the corner and shuffles toward her. Speaking too loudly, moving unnaturally but commitedly forward, it asks, "Who is there? Who is there? I'm coming, wait, I'm coming." Wanting to know more about the approaching creature before giving herself away, she shields her eyes from the light shining from its head, only to see wires hanging all around, feeding this crazed monster. This monster in Kampti.

As far as work goes I have few complaints. This summer should be a good blend of work in and out of village. In village I've got my trees, an army of women making soap to raise money for the school, a goat raffle, and gardening. Outside of village I'd like to see other volunteers' sites and maybe get involved with some health projects.

Italy pictures:
Mom displays the ancient granite countertops. Now Dad has no excuse.

Dad wanted to do a Where's Waldo in this picture. Try to find him.

Enlarge and turn it. I wanted a good picture of the girls and this is what Katie gave me.
I'll be in Ouaga next Wednesday, I hope, and I'll update again. Until then, I'll be enjoying avocado season. Remember, if you're ever hot, dirty, tired, and surrounded by fifty miles of non-English speakers, you're not that far from

yours faithfully,

p.s. Something I want to add. Books. I think I may have found my Don Quixote. Steinbeck and Foucault reread the knight errant annually. And although there are some books I'll always reread (The Good Earth, Rabbit, Run, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ) I've never found one that was magnificent enough to compel me to mark the calendar. Mason and Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon, I hope to read every March for a long while. A fictional account of the astronomer/surveyor who marked the boundary commonly named after them, it encapsulates, without lending itself to, Gothic and Romantic literature, and is unique in a sea of modern good books that are all the same. One chapter is about a mechanical duck that comes to life and haunts a Frenchman all the way to the New World. Another page and Mason, discussing Indian customs while trying to apologize, says the word sari and is interrupted by Dixon, who says, But no, twas I that was sarong. I recently read Middlesex, which was perfect, pristine, but lacked all heat. It was a dissertation, a thesis. Modern novels try to include a little bit of everything. Writers study film to learn scene spacing, and read short stories to better understand the passage of time. This is good, we have great writing, especially in America. But the study often takes over the writing; widescope inclusion draws you too far from your work, so that you lose the sound of your words in your mouth. Read Faulkner and you will always get lost, you will lose where he is going, but you will always follow. Pynchon handles the workload of Middlesex five times over, but is rollicking, warm, melancholy, and hilarious. A quote I read before reading said that it matches only Huck Finn in literature about male friendship. Another said it was the new great American novel. Both are, without a doubt, right on the money.

p.p.s. It is over 700 pages and often talks in 18th century English. Buyer Beware.