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