Thursday, January 27, 2011
Written by Tana
Here are the blueprints to our non-air-conditioned, non-running-water abode, in case you want to plan a heist.
Our porch with a straw-mat lattice to give us some shade while we sit and do Sudoku.
The living room and somebody who thinks he's cool.
It's reasonably cheap to get quality custom furniture here. The carpenters in our village made us these, a kitchen table, and a shelf for the shower.
We hung up the pictures you sent us. You can click on the picture to enlarge.
Here is our kitchen, complete with a canteen, a desert fridge, a water filter, and a stove.
We store water in this barrique that I have to transport on my head from the nearby well with the help of our neighbors.
The scrub bowl and the rinse bowl.
The volunteer before us, Amanda, left us a humongo bed frame and the only real mattress in a country of foam mattresses.
The bathroom has a hole in the floor for water to escape. We brought a solar shower and had a shelf built for convenience. To use the latrine, we have to leave our house and walk a ways.
Here's your room, the guest room. Your accommodations include one bed, one water filter, one candle, and one mosquito net. We always have our staff place complimentary mints on your pillow each night.
The length of the hall is perfect for practice triple handsprings.
Special thanks to Carol, Janet, Jeannie, Pat, and Bob for the care packages! We love everything and are trying to pace ourselves so we don't eat all 2 tons of it this week. Bob, those parmesan packets you smuggled from Papa Johns taste amazing. Rest assured that the jail time you may have to serve is well worth the yumminess.
Written by Chad
Who could have foreseen the horror that would befall our village's beloved sugarcane plantation that fateful January evening? The towering plume of smoke. The shouts of children going berserk. A cataclysmic brushfire of doom raging outside our window. Would Tana and I escape the jaws of fiery death or perish in a burst of flames?
Ending spoiler: Okay, so we weren't in any imminent peril at all- it was less a catastrophe and more a spectacle. I just wanted to add some over-the-top action for the eventual animated Disney movie adaptation of our blog. Needless to say, we, the titular heroes, broke away unscathed and have lived happily ever after. That's not to deflate all the drama though, since the fire was pretty freakin huge. And it led to the demise of a field near and dear to us. RIP, Fieldy McFieldington.
Just the day before, we were lounging at the edge of the Fieldy and sipping Coca Cola from glass bottles. Looking across the sugarcane plantation is a lot like looking at the ocean from a beach chair. The wind sweeps across the rolling acres, almost like waves. Sometimes I can almost see a dolphin fin emerging out on the horizon. Actually that's not true, but what I'm trying to say is that it's very pretty, if you're into that treehugger nature-is-beautiful kind of stuff. Which I may or may not be, depending on whether that will diminish your respect for me.
Not only are the fields aesthetically pleasing to the eye, they're tasty too. Neighbor kids sometimes bring us cane stalks as gifts that they sneak from the fields. Even though it tastes really good, it takes way too much general effort to get to the edible part. My guess is that you expend twice as much energy tearing the stalk apart with your teeth, fingernails, and knees than you gain from the subsequent ingestion. The process is simple to understand but difficult to master- just savagely attack the stick with your entire body and soul and repeatedly bludgeon it against the concrete. After all this toil, more than the taste itself, biting into the sugary core instills a sense of achievement over nature. It's the same achievement that cavemen may have felt after skewering and barbecuing a mastadon or an American might experience after carefully assembling the meat, cheese, and crackers of a Lunchables. Of course, Lunchables isn't quite the same full-body workout as sugarcane.
By the way, you don't actually eat it- you just kinda gnaw on it. It's like sinking your teeth into wet plywood. You can't swallow the splintering little woodchips and must therefore spew them from your mouth with all the elegance of a vomiting beaver. Eating sugarcane is one of those things you do for the journey, not the destination, I guess. Anyway, back to the action.
It's not half as gratifying to yell "LE FEU!" in French as it is to yell "FFIIIIIRRE!!" in English. When we looked out the window and saw the huge red wall of flames, it was the same feeling conjured up by all those natural disaster movies a couple years back. We were clueless as to why there was a ten-foot fire. Maybe this was how Mrs. O'Leary felt after her cow kicked the lantern. The surrealness of it all was only enhanced by the fact that a happening of this grandeur should occur on 1/11/11, a date just begging for a happening.
Some of our younger neighbors met us on the porch and accompanied us to the edge of the fields set ablaze. They explained to us that this happens once a year. In early January, the SOSUCO Corporation that owns the plantation uses controlled fires to help harvest the crop. Burning the stalks, it turns out, somewhat helps the laborers circumvent the aforementioned hassle that stands between the village kids and their sugarcane fix. As we all watched, the president of the mango union at which I work told us that he thinks it's not the most environmentally sound practice with the smoke pollution and all.
The principal reason they scorch the fields is to kill off insects, weeds, and animals. This is fortunate for the village kids who stand at the edge of the brush to intercept all the little critters scurrying out of the fray. Just when the mice think they've reached safety, they scurry straight into the kids' hands. You should see the children beaming so proudly, each showing off his dead mouse carcass as if it were an Olympic medal. Even seemingly innocent girls merrily join in the slaughter. Some of the kids will make a tasty meal out of the mouse meat. Others just like playing with dead animals. And who doesn't?
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Written by Chad
Even though mankind follows the seven-days-in-a-week rule, our sister village across the gorge has market every five days. So, each time we correctly calculate this clumsy interval, we go through our market day routine: rise and shine, slurp down our instant coffee, trade out our pajamas for dress casual, and kick open the double doors. Time to embark once again into the throes of danger, to scale the canyon, to buy carrots.
As we make our way out of village, we greet women wearing multi-gallon bowls like hats and kids kicking ragged balls in the dust. We shout our Jula greeting "ani sogoma" to everyone within earshot. Oftentimes, a neighbor waves us down, waylaying our galavant with an invitation to kick back in hammock chairs and sip some tea.
Here, tea parties are not rendezvouses solely attended by little girls and their teddy bears. It's adult men who crowd around their meticulously maintained tea sets, pouring an intensely potent Chinese blend into shot glasses. Once brewed, the teapartiers repeatedly pour it from one cup to another, aiming to maximize frothiness. The ultimate mark of a Burkinabe renaissance man, I've learned, is his proclivity for producing an excessively frothy brew. The target ratio appears to be 75 percent foam to 25 percent tea.
Exiting the village, we tread through a papaya grove and past a big termite mound, coming face to face with the half-mile-wide gorge. At the precipice you can look across from either side and see the stone buildings and tin roofs of the adjacent villages. Looking down, it's all treetops. This marks the ideal spot for the hundred-foot zipline I've been dreaming about, should they ever decide to convert the gorge into an amusement park. A zipline or maybe a bungee jump.
The farther you descend into the belly of the canyon, the more tropical greenhousey it gets. The creek in the middle, surrounded by an orchard of banana trees, is passable in winter by way of a two-log bridge. Come rainy season, however, if you're not Michael Phelps, it's best to just bike the three-mile detour. Down in the ravine, women are always washing their clothes. The hodgepodge way they lay out their clothes to dry makes it look like somebody's hamper exploded.
We saw a snake down here last time, but it saw my muscular physique and wisely fled the confrontation. It was hardly the life-flashing-before-one's-eyes kind of safari moment that one leaves his birth continent to chase. But wait, stay on the edge of your seat: by night there is danger afoot in the gorge! The creek is home to a band of nocturnal hungry hippos who consider the nearby cornfields an all-you-can-eat buffet. Tana and I are in talks to assemble a hippo-watching troupe. We will scale trees on summer mornings and train our binoculars on the depths of the creek. Just as birdwatching enthusiasts call themselves "birders," history will know us as "hippers."
Not to mention, there are these giant komodo dragon-esque reptiles called monitors. Modern-day dinosaurs. Tana was lucky enough to see one at a restaurant in November. Her local counterpart and mentor Ibrahim is to monitors what Steve Irwin was to crocodiles, minus the Australian accent. When Ibrahim captures a monitor, an entire family can eat from all the meat. Ibrahim has vowed to let us sample this delicacy following his next hunt. That's an especially awesome bullet point on my bucket list.
The ascent to the destination town involves climbing narrow red clay footholds. Pretty steep and not yet wheelchair accessible. Market is about as busy as Wal-Mart on Black Friday. It's a sea of people cramming through a tight labyrinth of unlabeled products. To avoid head trauma, you have to limbo under the protruding sticks of the vendors' wooden huts. At times it feels like traversing the tubes and ball pits at a McDonald's playplace.
All around you are tons of unidentifiable meats and colored powders in baggies. Products of all shapes and sizes and species. A table full of dried anchovies reminds me of the fishhead on my plate the other night that I respectfully declined, citing lack of courage. They also sell rocks here you're supposed to eat (especially pregnant women, we're told). I might as well try that while Uncle Sam's footing my dental bill.
Wow, I just realized this entry is way too long. I promise I'm not trying to punish you for caring about our whereabouts and whathaveyous. I just need to stop having thoughts, that's all. Maybe take up a hobby like widdling figurines out of soap.
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