Sunday, April 17, 2011
Written by Chad
Thirty strangers. Three nights. One house.
I spent seven hours counting baobab trees out the bus window as we voyaged from our tropical bungalow to Burkina Faso’s capital city Wah-guh-doo-goo. We hopped off the charter bus in the big city with our luggage full of dirty-laundry-to-be and our hearts full of dreams. For dinner we taxied to the gentrified corner of town called Ouaga 2000 (a name that maybe sounds like an infomercial gadget). Indulging in coffee milkshakes and Mexican was a welcome departure from the purgatory of pasta meals that dominate our village diet. Our stomachs full, we returned to the Transit House, which one might define as a glorified dormitory for volunteers. It has a 24-hour guard, oodles of beds, a kitchen, WiFi connectivity, and a library of trashy romance novels. I haven’t read them all yet, but I’m leaning towards Team Edward.
Anyway, this was Thursday night and just after I changed into pajamas and checked the closet for monsters, we heard what sounded like popcorn popping. What do you know, it turns out to be the distant sounds of Presidential guards protesting in the streets. In response, the President famously announced his decision to dissolve the government. By the Friday morning Burkina Faso articles flooded international newspapers, many of which were perhaps reporting on it for the first time. Case in point: one American article called the people of this country “Burkanese” instead of Burkinabe. Amidst the hullabaloo, our headquarters obliged us not to leave the Transit House until the city lost its newsworthiness.
Thus began our stint as three-day unfilmed reality stars. Unfortunately, a lot of key reality show elements were missing: private confessionals, voting people off, and eating disgusting insects. Still, as thirty odd people cramped into a one-story building, we tried our best to be unhygienic, testy, and dysfunctional. In the picture below, David, Stephen, Brittany, Thomas, and I gathered together to play a game of “Texas Hold Them,” using tootsie rolls and moringa plant seeds as poker chips.
None of the usual restaurants were open for delivery, so we scrounged up a mountain of spaghetti and an ocean of tomato sauce, hodgepodged from cloves, red wine, cranberry jelly, and other ingredients as chaotic as the political climate outside the compound. See the iron chefs in this picture craft their culinary masterpieces while reciting excerpts from Mad Magazine. A dinner of a hundred homemade empanadas would follow, a feat worthy of the Guinness Book.
After dinner the mood struck some of my reality show co-stars to dress up in kitschy costumes from the thrift bin. Now I have blackmail fodder for Stephen, Casey, John, David, Thomas, Molly, and Hayley.
Saturday was another day confined to eating our diminishing rations within the ever-constricting walls of the Transit House, which was beginning to seem like a life raft in the eye of a hurricane. But before we were forced to resort to eating each other, our bosses had sent a driver out to shop for us. He returned with enough rice, eggs, onions, garlic, bananas, etc. to turn our famine into a smorgasbord. Our second saving grace came that afternoon. Our “How I Met Your Mother” marathon was put on hold when the guard spotted an ice cream man pushing his freezer cart by the compound. In moments all thirty of us twenty-somethings were throwing our money at the poor guy, buying every last bag of vanilla and chocolate. After gobbling down my dessert, I felt how a gerbil without an exercise wheel must feel. I had spent the last couple days sitting on my butt either on a bus or in this building, so my leg muscles were atrophying to near total disuse. David and I decided to powerwalk a few laps around the building’s perimeter. Our peers pointed and laughed at us.
Saturday night while Ouagadougou had a federally mandated curfew, we mandated a house game night, breaking out Scattergories, Apples to Apples, and Risk. I joined a friendly game of world domination with David, John, Stephen, Erik, and Meegan. I went with the Western Hemisphere route to victory but was trounced by the guy who won Australia. Why is Australia always the key to victory?
It was Sunday morning and the Transit House was starting to feel like home when the Ouagadougou streets settled enough for us to dispatch to our respective villages. So Tana and I, accompanied by Stephanie and Lorena, caught an approved taxi to the TSR bus line. We paid an extra two bucks for air conditioning, waited an hour to board, and then boarded a non-air conditioned bus. This bus took us across town to another TSR bus station. There we twiddled our thumbs for another hour to board a second bus, which this time had air conditioning.
Due to the political situation, there wasn’t any fuel to be found in Ouaga, so our driver decided to just continue driving to the destination city Bobo-Dioulasso until we found a serviceable gas station. He never found one and the bus stopped accelerating out in the middle of nowhere. While he was struggling to rev the gasless engine, a local man beside us joked that he wanted his two bucks back now that the air conditioning was cut. We hopped off the bus and sat in the shade for an hour until the driver produced enough fuel to get us to the next town.
In the next town when we stopped to fill the tank, the bus was swarmed as usual by a group of roadside saleswomen. Normally these women would offer ready-to-consume foods and drinks to passengers such as mangoes, breads, and sodas. You can imagine our surprise to see all fifteen women holding giant bags of onions. Each of the fifteen had her own onion bag. Why sell only onions to people who are hungry for an immediate snack? You can’t bite into one like an apple. We were taken aback to see passengers excitedly buying up these onion bags like they were the last food on Earth. I swear the strangest commercial phenomena seem to always occur on African buses.
After more than our fair share of delays, we finally arrived at sundown in the southern city of Bobo-Dioulasso (less than an hour from our village). Now Tana, Stephanie, and I are sleeping in the local Peace Corps office for the night. And I’m using the WiFi to type this. Tomorrow we’ll catch a cab and arrive safe and sound back home in village just in time for my birthday. Thanks, Carol, for the birthday present package. And thanks to you, international mail, for not delivering my taxes here yet.
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