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.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April 10th

Big news: Once again I've got internet only 45 kilometers from my front door. It was out for a few months (sorry about the decline in entries), but now hopefully I'm back on track. I've forgotten the french keyboards already so for a few weeks I'll be pulling a Dad or Grant Davis (they type the same way, one finger hesitantly extended like a bomb dewiring device, poking one key at a time with all the swiftness of an ice age).

As far as village goes, everything is moving along. It has actually started to rain where I am, and it's not nearly as hot as it is in Ouaga or the North of the country. My tree project is going well. The goats are always eating the leaves, so it's slow because each tree needs a barrier, even if that means only some thorny branches thrown around in a haphazard circle. If you are interested in the Moringa tree, or bored at work, go to for some information.

This weekend I'm building a hangar to give my courtyard some much needed shade. I actually bought the "ceiling" (branches and grass) a while ago, but of course I haven't gotten around to it. A few days ago my neighbor told me that they'll spoil with the rain if I don't do something soon, so to make good on my 4 dollar investment I'll try to do it this weekend. I'll take a picture once it's done and try to get it on here.

I keep trying to buy a canari (sp?), but each week at my market they're too small. I'm talking about a terra cotta type vase that you surround with sand and fill up with water to make your water cold. Everyday between noon and 4 it is so hot that I'm drinking hot water. Not warm, hot. It's best to drink water right when you wake up in the morning. It's cold. Or cool.

If you're at all curious about Africa, I recommend Kapuscinski's Shadow of the Sun. It is the best book I've read on Africa since I've been here. Not only is his style the closest thing I've seen to great minimalist writing since Hemingway (Sorry Raymond Carver fans, I just don't buy it, not completely anyway), he lived and traveled throughout Africa for close to forty years. He was a Polish journalist and possible Soviet spy, and was present through most major coups and revolutions during the sixties and seventies. Now this shouldn't give you a false impression about what I live through day to day, but it is a great book on African social life, the countryside, and the "African" mentality, if there is one (Africa being so large and all - no one says there's an American mentality which includes everything between Canada and Patagonia). Most PC volunteers will recommend Dark Star Safari by Theroux, but I liked Kapuscinski a lot more.

I think that's about all for now. I'm mailing a bunch of letters this week, so start hovering around your mailboxes the middle of September. All my best, Clay

Sunday, April 6, 2008


I'm trying to print off some work stuff, so I can't explain much until tomorrow, but I ran into some elephants the other day. The middle picture is a baby elephant. Cheers.