Wednesday, June 29, 2005


On integration
I am settled. or as settled as im going to be in africa. i have become accustomed to my
village and while i havent exactly fallen into daily routines, i see them coming on the
horizon. That was step one. The idea behind our 3 month lockdown in village is that we
become settled, accustomed, and then we work on becoming integrated. Now what does that
mean? Mostly, living like a villager, and being accepted as a villager. How have I

living like a villager

I think i receive decent marks here. i dont eat to, i dont think i ever will, but i often
eat benga, rice and sauce, a lot of bread, and pasta. While having cheese with my pasta is
clearly bourgeois, i think that can be excused. Also, i bought cereal in fada and sometimes
have corn flakes and fruit in the morning, another black mark. but i do drink bissap daily,
and i do eat street food. Which leads me directly to my next point.

i dont have malaria but like all villagers i am constantly battling diarrhea, almost
certainly a result of the street food and something which is not helped by my respites of
mac and cheese. On the malaria point i have another interesting story to relate, interesting
to me at least. Whenever i get sick, its happened about three times now (not including
diarrhea) and i tell people about it the immediate resonse is c'est le palu? Is it malaria? Often among friends back home whenever they get sick, i say something ridiculous like, its probably
cancer or herpes, or ebola. Of course when i say that im joking. Of course when the africans
say it, they are being entirely serious. Malaria is the common cold of tropîcal africa. But
even knowing that, i am shocked every time i hear it.

mixed marks here - for the black marks, i read. only functionaires read here, even if the
villageois could read, very likely they wouldnt. also i go to the pool occasionally. There
are never any africans there, not even functionaires. on the integration side, i often hang
out with salif at his boutique and serve as the encyclopedia for all things western
(yesterday, the topics were can you seed the clouds with rain, apparently the government
recently bought some cloud seeding technology from the koreans, but all the seeded clouds
floated south to togo ghana and cote divoire, and also how did arnold get to be governor of
california and the phonetics of the h sound in french where it doesnt exist and in english
where it does, so pretty varied) and i go to the movies with the locals (the movies involves
a hot shed packed with burkinabes and a tv hooked up to a video cd player which invariably
shows films from a repertoire that involves kung fu, chuck norris, van damme, and arnold. i
saw commando the other day. it was awesome. usually the movies are in french with either
french or english subtitles but sometimes they are in english, with chinese subtitles
because that is where everyone gets their bootleg movies. i know from experience. not that
the language really matters in these movies). I also stare at the wall which is a very
burkinabe thing to do. And i take walks which is neither good nor bad for integration
(sometimes the dog, the previous volunteers dog, comes with me and chases goats until i throw
rocks at him. its really funny when the goats are tied together. normally it wouldnt bother
me since i hate the goats here with a passion but it does seem to bother the goat owners).

The home
failure. i have electricty which is a point im sure the other volunteers will never let me
live down, but it is well worth it. I cannot express the gratitude i feel to electricity and
to the dam which provides it when i sleep under that glorious glorious half broken fan.

the language
middling marks. my french is decent, although not really improving, but ive put off studying
moore until i get settled. guess i better start.

failure. but its not my fault here. teachers are functionaires in burkina, not members of
the community and invariably they are always dreaming of that glorious transfer which will
put them in ouaga or bobo. WHile on the topic of teaching, which i wont start doing until
october so i dont really have a job right now, i have an intense desire to relate a story
here. While i was doing my practice teaching in gourcy i was answering questions about
america from the students. One of the students asked, what can someone do for a job in
america if they dont speak english. Im sure you all know the first thought that popped into
my head but just in case you dont, here it is, verbatim - dont say taxi driver, dont say
taxi driver, dont say taxi driver. After i was able to push down that impulse, the next idea
was - they could be mexicans. wait, thats not a job. they could do what the mexicans do. So
i said they could be manual laborers, which they all seemed satisfied with and they were all
ready to get on the plane and begin doing landscaping or working in strawberry fields (i
apologize if i offended any mexicans, landscapers, or strawberry field workers. but not taxi
drivers, you know you cant speak english).

Being accepted as a community member

mixed, but mostly failing results. The locals are becoming accustomed to me, something that
was helped greatly by the previous volunteer. But i have slowly come to the realization that
has probably afflicted many a black man in the south and other parts of the white world. I
will never escape the color of my skin. no matter if i eat to, no matter if i speak fluent
moore, no matter if i use the teapot method. I will always be white in a society where there
are no white burkinabes, there are no white africans. I could write a very long article
about this and i probably will someday. But for now, i want to leave you with the words of
the children as a pass by, showing clearly that they see me as not a seperate distinct
person, but as one aspect of the continuous white behemoth - Hello Ms. Schenk!


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