This imissdennys blog post is dedicated to my friend Jean Paul.  In the first month that I was at site, Jean Paul showed up at my door and handed me his work certificate offering to cook, clean, sweep, wash laundry, and get water for me.  I told him no, that maybe I’d take his help with laundry from time to time but didn’t need someone to get water or cook or sweep.  I was pretty wrong, and he must have known it because he ended up coming over again and again until I caved and hired him.  There was some initial guilt over having a Burkinabe do all my physical labor, but we’ve become good friends and we often drink dolo and eat together–he’s over every day except Sundays, his day off.
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Here’s a picture of Jean Paul cleaning out my blackened cooking pot about a month ago after a nice Sunday evening oil fire I started while trying to make french fries.  My initial thought upon seeing the smoke and flames right next to my gas tank was to stand back and watch my cuisine explode, but I managed to smother the flames with an old pagne shirt after psyching myself up to be an oil fire smothering hero in front of all the kids in my courtyard.  When the pile of pagne shirts subsequently caught fire I threw water on it all, and through terribly thick oil smoke-induced tears and coughing fits I swore that from then on I would make salads on Sundays.

This past Sunday I didn’t have ingredients for salad, so I decided it was time to give fries another shot.  I put the oil on the burner like the failed first attempt but sat right by the pot while cutting the potatoes to be safe.  At some point when my head was down cutting potatoes the oil got to be too hot and smoke started filling my cuisine again.  I put on my oven mitts and took the pot off the burner to let it cool down outside but it immediately burned me through the mitts and I dropped it on the ground, splashing hot oil up onto my legs.  I should mention now that I was wearing short shorts.  It was much more startling than painful at first, I screamed and ran faster than I’ve ran in a while inside to my 100L trash can of water.
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I spent a good deal of my night pouring water over my knees in this trash can.  This particular selfie was taken a couple hours after the oil spill, as other volunteers grew tired of hearing me complain over the phone and I was done crying.  At one point I got up to find food (was pretty hungry, never finished the french fries if you didn’t guess) but ended up just running to a place that sold cold sachets of water, buying ten, then throwing them and myself back into the water trash can, returning to the only comfortable spot I could find in my village.  It was pretty painful.  I can see now why they poured boiling oil on each other in the middle ages.  Those guys really had things figured out.

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The photo on the left was taken the day after the accident and shows the coverage of the oil splatter on my legs.  My left ankle and shin got most of the action while my right big toe and knee took its fair share as well.  The picture on the right is an artist rendition of what my mom imagined my legs looked like.  As you can see in the picture on the right, the oil continued to burn for 24 hours after the spill and blood is spurting out of my left shin.  Most of those purple spots seen in the first photo have blistered and peeled off since then and my left food has swelled up quite a bit.  It’s much grosser now with swellings and skin peelings so I’ll leave you with your imagination and a picture from today after the doctor here wrapped me up:
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If anyone wants a more graphic picture of the healing process I’ll be happy to email it.  Thanks everyone for the support and thoughts and such.  It hurts but I’m in the med unit, getting paid $10 a day surrounded by leather sofas and ac and wi-fi and experienced Peace Corps medics.  I’m fine and will be back in site listening to This American Life snuggling kittens in no time.
Thanks Eric Hayden Weiss for the seamless photoshop job.

Operation No More Babies in Founzan
Or, I care a lot about decreasing the population of the world

In January all the volunteers from G28 met in Ouagadougou and Koudougou for trainings and action planning with our counterparts.  It was excruciating, and by the end of the week my counterpart and I had a sexual education secondary project planned out for the next five months that I was really looking forward to putting under some boxes and forgetting about until COS.  Luckily though my homologue is taking it very seriously, so throughout February we went around to different village authorities (Mayor’s office, Province Prefecture, the APE, the lycee Principal, police station) presenting the project and receiving feedback on our plans.  I am glad to report now that my initial disinterest in Operation No More Babies in Founzan has faded and I am looking forward to its final stages, in which I will sit myself in the marche showing people pictures of STIs and teaching them how to put expired condoms on a humbling-sized wooden penis.  I’ll take pictures.

Maskfest 2k14 Never Forget

Every two years at the end of February there is a international mask festival in Dedougou showcasing masks, costumes, dances, music, art, etc from all over West Africa.  I went to there.


This is a video of the coolest/most disturbing tribal dance I saw, put on by the Togolese.  I turned my camera off after a while, but basically what happened is these two hairy cones danced around a lot chasing/being chased by dancers.  Every so often a cone would stop and they’d lift it up to reveal a calibash of water or a bowl of candies to share with the crowd, with no cone person underneath to be seen.  It was like a fun magic show.  Then it was like a scary magic show.  Maybe you noticed in the video that there is a white chicken hanging upside-down from the purple cone, presumably against its will.  After the water from the calibash and bowl of candies were shared, they lifted the yellow cone a third time and there was a short, slate table.  One of the dancers untied the chicken from the purple cone, brought it over to the table, then placed its neck between his two big toes and ripped the head off by pulling upwards on the body.  They poured blood over the table and cones and cut open the chicken on what was now clearly a sacrificial table, revealing its insides to the crowd.  The yellow cone was replaced and it danced around some more, then when they picked it back up there was cooked chicken in the bowl.  They shared the chicken with the crowd and everyone almost forgot how grossed out and terribly shocked they were.

Djoula Lessons

For the past few weeks I’ve been taking Djoula lessons with a Founzan resident named Julien.  I call him Djoulien but I don’t think he appreciates or even realizes the pun.  My best pun to date needs a bit of a set up but I’m pretty proud of it so here goes:  in Moore the most common phrase is "Laafi bala" which means "everything’s good" or "peace" or something.  The Moore word for dog is "baga".  When my friend Inoussa asked where my dog was one day when I was walking past his video club, I responded that I didn’t know but "Laafi baga".  It killed.  Anyway, Djoula lessons have been going well, although the first session was a bit awkward.  I just wanted Julien to sit and talk with me in Djoula and correct my mistakes/help me with new vocab and sentence structures, but all he really wanted to do was translate Djoula to French or French to Djoula.  Here’s how it went:
Me (in Djoula):  Welcome, how was your day?
Him (in French):  That means welcome, how was your day.
Me (in French):  Right I know, but respond in Djoula and we’ll have a conversation.
Him (in Djoula):  Respond in Djoula and we will have a conversation.
Luckily we’re over that now and the lessons have become more structured and helpful and less like talking to a multilingual parrot.

The Guitar

Did you guys know I play the guitar?  This maybe shouldn’t be a topic but I’ve been playing a lot lately.  Last time I was near fast internet I downloaded a lot of Beatles tabs (pop group from the 60s) and have loved having new songs to learn.  When kids come over they help me play by putting their dirty hands all over the body and strings and tuning pegs.  Here’s a video of me singing a hilarious Beatles parody to my neighbor Fatao while his younger brother puts his hands on my strings and their friend Barkissa looks for chalk on my desk.  Fatao is on my left.

FDGC

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hole 4 fairway

Through January and February I spent a lot of time en brousse (as they say here in Africa, try to keep up everyone) mapping out this disc golf course that I’m totally serious about making.  It was a lot of fun getting the fairways to flow together without interfering–I’d be out there a couple hours a day with discs making sure the different lines worked and the basket placements were all possible to reach with putters (the average distance of a hole is probably 60 meters but there are a lot of obstacles).  There are 9 fairways ready and 0 baskets made so far, but I’ve got three bike wheels and a couple bags full of old chains waiting to be put together in my cuisine so I’ll get right to work on that once I’m bored of…

Kitties!

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That’s right.  For a couple weeks, my attieke tanti would say in Djoula "Do you want" then make cat noises and claw her hands in the air in front of her, so I was pretty sure this was about to happen, but it was still a surprise when her son showed up at my door at 10pm with a sack asking which one I wanted.  I chose the one on the left, then he suggested I take them both.  Ok, I said.  I don’t have names for them yet because I can’t figure out what sex they are.  I suppose if I don’t find anything they’re ladies?  If my homologue knew the troubles I was having with this he’d probably take me off the sexual education project.  Anyway they’re pretty great.  They wrestle and snuggle and hiss at Derek together.  I forgot about the state of cat/dog relations when I agreed to take them, and holding an excited Derek back as they arch their backs and hiss is becoming a bit tiring, but I’m thinking they’ll soon accept the fact that they aren’t the only living beings under my tin roof.  Or not, they are cats after all.

The Gens of Founzan

Yaku, Salimata, and Loucemane

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Yaku and his wife Salimata are two of my closest friends in village.  They run a bike shop/boutique  around 50m from my house and I spend a lot of time sitting with them as Yaku works, brewing tea and telling him and Sali about America.  Sometimes I bring my laptop over and make them watch videos of me and my friends playing disc golf and I kind of think they don’t hate it.  Their son Loucemane is two years old and just got a brand new bike with training wheels for the new year.  He loves wheeling it around but if you put him up on it and push him he screams until you get him back on the ground and yourself far away.

Mooré Man
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Ok I don’t know all the names of these people.  I see this guy every day though, he’s always sitting across the street from Yaku’s bike shop.  Mooré Man speaks only Mooré (biggest local language in country) to me which is actually how I came up with his nickname.  I think he’s under the impression that if he completely immerses me in Mooré during our interactions I’ll pick up on it faster, but our conversations really only ever consist of him saying something to me and me smiling and responding with "laafi" (Mooré for peace).

This Kid
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Well this might get embarrassing with how many names I don’t know, but This Kid is definitely worth mentioning.  He doesn’t speak any French but often comes over to draw on my porch in chalk or play disc golf.  My favorite story about This Kid is that one time he and a bunch of his other little friends were over at around 20h playing disc golf in the dark and I notice that a couple discs are missing.  I get my flashlight  and start looking around on the ground and eventually look up at This Kid, holding the elastic of his pants out with one hand and dropping discs down into his pants with the other.  The look he gave me was as if I had walked in on him in the bathroom without knocking.  I got the discs back.

Tanti Ouattera

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Tanti Ouattera was my first tanti in Founzan.  A tanti is a large, old, happy lady who feeds you fried goods.  This is at Tanti Ouattera’s booth at the marché where she sells benga/tomsoh (Mooré/Djoula) which is a fried crushed bean and water mix covered in salt and piment.  Her post on non-marché days is right across from Yaku’s bike shop so I buy from her a lot and she always gives gifts (nice lady).

Zuma and Guy
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Guy and Zuma are two Ouagadougou U students hailing from Founzan.  They come back and visit during the breaks to play scrabble (in French, I got beat but managed to get "faim" on a triple word for like 39 points) and drink tea with me.  Both speak some English and help me a lot with my French and local languages.  They’re back at school now so I’ll miss ‘em.  We do some non-alcohol related things together too but these pictures don’t really support that so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Tanti Buvette & co.
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Tanti Buvette is the tanti who works at my favorite bar in town along with a small group of younger tantis-in-training.  They’re all pretty fun to hang out with, and they ordered me two cases of my favorite beer in country (q.v. beer review post) so I can’t complain.  Tanti Buvette’s favorite joke is to tell me that she’s going to cook up my dog and eat it, but that he’s too small right now.  Pretty funny stuff.  She (and everyone else that works there) also likes to ask about my wife back in the states.  I tell them every detail about her except for her nonexistence.

Tanti Koko
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Third tanti of the post:  Tanti Koko and her son Abdoul.  I’m not sure what her real name is, my friend Leopold used to call her Tanti Koko when he was a kid so I just started calling her that too.  She calls me Tonton Koko.  Her son Abdoul calls me Toubabou.  Tanti Koko sells fried dough and gateaux near my house and I try to buy from her every day.  My favorite story about her son is that one time I was biking by and he was standing with his mom like this except completely naked.  I stopped and asked him why he wasn’t wearing any clothes but he just stared at me.  Tanti Koko translated to Djoula for me and asked him the same question.  Without taking his eyes off me he whispered into his mom’s ear and she laughed:  "he says he has no clothes".  Guess he found some after that.

Souleymane
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This guy is a member of possibly the worst group of kids in village:  my next door neighbors.  This is the troupe that popped my soccer ball, cracked my ultimate disc, lost my uno cards, and eat my lizards.  When they run out of things to kill, break, or lose, they get into fights, cry, and peep through my screen door looking for bananas, vache qui rit, sugar, tea, etc.  Ugh  I’m banning these dudes from my courtyard.  Souley’s cute face is a terrible representation for how these kids make me feel.

Complimentary Kid
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Ok I purposefully put Complimentary Kid up after Souleymane.    For the first month at site I was convinced that all the kids in Founzan were terrible, but I eventually found out it was just Souley’s gang.  There are a lot of great kids in town who just want to come over to hang out, play disc golf, listen to music, and just generally be not terrible.  Complimentary Kid actually isn’t his real name by the way, the truth is I’ve only seen this guy like two times, but he was really good to have around and kept complimenting me (my clean courtyard, how nice I am, how great my dog is, etc) and is more a metaphor for how all kids don’t suck.  Here he is by a drawing of my guitar that he drew on my door.

Mamadou
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The first time I met Mamadou I was waiting at the bus stop when he came by to check out the bracelet I was wearing.  He really liked it so I let him try it on and he immediately got up and started walking.  As he got farther and farther away, the guy next to me explained that he was crazy and wasn’t coming back, and the man who works at the bus station got on his moto to chase him down.  I got my bracelet back and the guy next to me was right:  Mamadou is crazy.  A week ago I went to the marché with my growler (empty 1.5L water bottle) to get some dolo.  Mamadou took me by the hand and said he would help.  He filled the bottle halfway up with water at a small rice stand (whose water source was questionable), gave me a high five, then walked away.  I wanted dolo, so I walked around the marché pouring water out in small portions onto the ground during the third month of the eight month dry season hoping no one would witness my wastefulness.  I was almost done pouring it out when I saw him again, and told him to just finish it for me.  He said ok, took the bottle, and filled it up to the brim at a nearby water pump.  Anyway, this story ends about 20 minutes later with a dololess Clay pouring out a bottle of water onto his papaya tree back home.  Mamadou is crazy though, and while his antics keep me entertained it’s probably best if I don’t hang out with him too much.

My first Christmas away from home was spent like any other–dripping with sweat and surrounded by Muslims.  Some other volunteers from my training group and I went back to Leo where we stayed this past summer to be with our host families for the holidays and things have changed a lot there.  My baby host brother has reached the stage of African baby development in which he’s noticed that white people look different from everyone else he’s ever seen, so he cried a whole lot, and my host sister Barkissa was 9 months pregnant.  The day after Christmas I got to talk with her over the phone as her newborn was crying in her arms.  It’s a boy, and I don’t want to seem unreasonable or dramatic but if they name it anything other than Clayton Blunk Jr I will be deeply hurt.  As I said, my host faimily is Muslim, so a friend and I got to introduce them to the whole Christmas tree/stockings/gift exchange deal.  I gave my host parents a chicken and a new tea set and I gave the kids a whole lot of candy and Fanta.  I was excited about giving the chicken as my host father had talked about wanting one but not having enough money, so I figured they’d keep it as an egg laying hen, but they just killed it for me that day and made me eat most of it so that kind of backfired (although I suppose it backfired in my favor so I can’t complain).

That night all the volunteers met at a bar in town for drinks and a white elephant gift exchange.  I’m pretty bad at gracefully receiving gifts, so when you throw gift stealing and so many other people into the mix, the part of my brain that controls social normalcy gets a little cramped and I end up forcing smiles till my face hurts, but it was fun to be with everyone again and no one stole my gift.

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This morning Derek and I took a bike ride SW of Founzan towards a small village called Lollio.  We ate galettes and I read birthday letters and texts under a tree.  It’s been a good day so far.  I’m in Boromo now (a town 52k east of me with internet) because I really wanted to get a blog post up, but I’ll head back soon and spend this evening at site.  This keyboard is really clunky though and my friend Amber is passed out next to me waiting for me to finish typing this so I should probably go.  In a week I’ll have faster internet and will be able to post more, so sit tight mom.

Clay

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Bobo tortoise

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hard as vince carter’s knee cartilage is

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work space

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Derek with Little Jerry and Joelle v.D.

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making a chicken house with some friends

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the biggest lizard I almost caught

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no sympathy for the kids who insisted on overpumping the Aduna ball so they could kick it farther

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the barrage of Pa, 5 km north of town

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biggest scorpion caught to date

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Little Jerry, Derek, and Shoshanna

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Hey guys I spent 1800 CFA on four 1.5 meter metal rods, bent them, then taped them together.

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Then I bought a metal basket for 1250 CFA and pushed it down over the rods.

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Then I threw an old 1000 CFA bike wheel on top and secured it with a 100 CFA rubber ribbon thing.

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After hanging old bike chains from the spokes of the wheel, some African kids came.

Woohoo!

I’ve been fantasizing about this since about the third day after my arrival in Ouaga.  I miss throwing plastic discs into metal baskets more than I like to admit, and I shouldn’t put this on the internet but I did get a little emotional after making my first putt in over five months (also happened to be the first one I attempted (still got it)).  There’s a moleskin notebook somewhere in my house right now with many embarrassing sketches of how this could possibly have gone down but I’m proud and surprised to report that it turned out pretty well.  Total cost:  4150 CFA.  After I managed to get all the supplies it only took a couple of hours to put together so I definitely plan on making more, hopefully the next will be permanent baskets in the land west of my house I’ve been scoping out to be the Founzan Disc Golf Course (FDGC) which I estimate will increase Burkina’s tourism 250% and lead it to economic stability in under 2 years making me the greatest Peace Corps Volunteer ever to live and likely also president of all of West Africa.

The lycée in Founzan is maybe 3 km south of my house which isn’t too far; it takes about 10 minutes to bike to school.  I’ve been trying to start this post for days now and that’s the best I can do opening sentence-wise.  Was it attention grabbing?  Would my 11th grade English teacher approve?  Ugh sorry Ms. Nasatka.

The first week of classes was all administration stuff:  I showed up ready to do an introduction and pretest to gauge the kids’ mathematical understandings but no classes were held, just payments for the year and schedules and such.  I received my schedule too and I’ve got to say I’m not sure they could have placed 10 hours of work more sloppily over a 5 day schedule.
Monday:  5eB 7h-8h
Tuesday:  5eB 7h-9h, 6eA 11h-12h
Wednesday:  6eA 9h-11h, 5eB 15h-17h
Thursday:  no class aka dolo day
Friday:  6eA 15h-17h
I have no basis for complaint, however; I’m a new teacher and I’m only teaching 10 hours a week while most other teachers are working around 22 hours a week.  5eB is my cinquième B class, the equivalent of 7th grade math but most of my students are 17 or 18 years old.  There’s a kid who sits in the very back who is as tall as me.  There are two little boys in the front row on the left who giggle so much that I had to look up the word giggle in french to address it.  6eA is my sixième A class which is the same as 6th grade in the US.  Both classes have around 75 kids plus 25 crowding the doorways and windows to watch the white guy show.  It’s a pretty cool show.  Involves me sweating profusely and struggling to teach math in french to a bunch of blank faced apathetic teenagers.

Week two was frustrating because most of it was spent trying to get the books for my classes from my homologue (ya know, so I could teach).  My ambition to be prepared and have my lessons planned out was met with a disconcerting amount of surprise and confusion from my fellow teachers and it took a few days of constant annoyance on my part before I got the books and was able to begin lesson planning.  All I really got done in the classroom this week was introductions (je m’appelle monsieur clay comme le clé de la porte je ne parle pas francais), a pretest (for 6eA I made it too easy and I think they all got right around 100%, and for 5eB I made it too hard and about two kids passed), and I gave the syllabi for the year.

During week three, with 10 minutes left in my Monday morning 5e class, some 2nd and terminale kids (equivalence of 11th and 12th grade) showed up at my classroom door and asked if they could have my class’s attention.  "Sure guys have my class’s attention come on in."  They took all my kids outside to the school’s main courtyard along with all the other students and called for a two day strike on account of the teachers’ questionable habit of not showing up to class.  So no classes Monday or Tuesday.  I showed up Wednesday morning for my 6eA class but it turned out the strike was raging onward:  all the students were in the courtyard and the teachers held an impromptu meeting which to the best of my low-level-french-comprehension knowledge had very little to do with the fact that they weren’t coming to classes and clearly the cause of the striking around us.

Week four was this past week and things went alright.  I don’t necessarily want to be a teacher.  I didn’t want to be a teacher in the US and it turns out I don’t want to be one in Africa either.  There was only one way to find that out for sure though so here I am.  It does give some structure to my day, which is really nice.  I was and still am more interested in the cultural exchange of things:  learning a new language, eating new food, wearing ridiculously patterned clothing.  And that’s all going well.  If I have to teach 10 hours a week to do that stuff it’s going to be worth it.

There’s more to be said but I’d really like to sleep now.  Thanks for reading.