Like many Americans, I couldn’t sleep Tuesday night. I live on the West Coast and only had to stay up till about midnight to learn the results, but I still had one of the worst sleeps I can remember. Wednesday I had a headache for most of the day. I cried multiple times, once in traffic and I had to pull over to the side of the road.

I was only a kid during the 2001 terrorist attacks, but I still remember clearly the day after, waking up and realizing I was living in a different world because of what had happened. A world I never believed could exist suddenly did, and there was no going back. That’s a loaded analogy to make, so let me just go on record saying that Donald Trump does not equal 9/11. But to me, November 9, 2016 felt a whole lot like September 12, 2001.

Another parallel that I can’t stop thinking about is a couple years later, April 2003, when America was in its war against Iraq. I remember watching the coverage of explosions over Baghdad on the TV in our living room. My mother cried in her chair:  a more vivid and powerful memory for me than the actual attacks on US soil two years prior. There was hate in the world and America chose to hate back.

Well, here we are again. Fifteen years later there’s still hate in the world and America has again chosen to hate back.

It’s not easy being a white male in all this, believe it or not. When I was downtown yesterday there were two women, one white and one Latina, trying to get their baby to stop crying in the car outside of JC Penneys. They looked at me as I unlocked my bike from a rack. What do I say? “I voted for Hillary?” “I’m sorry?” Should I buy a Clinton shirt, get a blue “H” tattoo with an arrow through it?

It’s not really about me, the white male, though, is it? My mother woke up November 9th to a country that chose an elitist bully over our first female president (who also happened to be the most qualified candidate for presidency we’ve had in decades). Millions of Latinos woke up to a country that chose xenophobia and walls over togetherness and diversity. Our current president is black, but our future president thinks Black Lives Matter means blue lives don’t. What a step backwards. For two years I told Muslim friends in Burkina Faso, including my host family who housed and fed me for three months, that they were always welcome to come visit in the US. Yesterday they woke up to realize that this may no longer be the case. It breaks my heart.

There was one conversation (among many) I had been putting off for most of the day, and that was with my Peace Corps community counterpart, Dabire Kourwar. In the months leading up to this election, every time we talked over the phone he went immediately to US politics. He wanted to know everything about Donald and Hillary, how such distrusted and detested candidates could make it so far in the system. I told him that Donald was a joke, and I stressed how important Hillary’s presidency was going to be for feminism in America.  I promised him she would win.

I had a missed call from him Wednesday morning and I decided to just send a text. “I’m embarrassed to be an American today,” I told him, and it was true. Dabire responded later with the words, “Bon courage,” literally “Good luck,” but with more sincerity, and eventually I gave him a call. He wanted to know how Pennsylvania—the state that raised me, the place I always told him about, showed him pictures of—could have gone red on the electoral map he had seen on TV. I don’t know, I said. Dabire heard the sadness in my voice and thanked me for calling.

So how do I (we) move on from this? Yesterday I felt devastated, embarrassed, ashamed—and I still feel all that—but today I feel empowered. Here’s why: I had an interview this morning. It was with a non-profit that focuses on youth development in a community that has a large economic divide and a growing Latino population. The position I applied for is one that matches at-risk teens with adult volunteers in the community. I hope I get the position, but even if I don’t, that job will happen. A Trump presidency can’t stop that.

My father works at a non-denominational retreat center focused on racial reconciliation in the historic slave trade capital of the country, Richmond, VA. Every day he dedicates himself to healing wounds hundreds of years in the making. President Trump isn’t going to stop him or his work there (dad already lost his job to Donald once).

My significant other, Rebecca, is the one who originally had the idea that from this political turmoil comes empowerment in our daily work. She tried to cheer me up Wednesday night by making the argument and it’s really resonated with me. Rebecca works with victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, many of whom are from Mexico, at a non-profit in town. She goes to court with survivors of domestic abuse and translates restraining orders from English to Spanish and back again. A Trump presidency won’t stop her from helping those in need.

If it’s not already evident, I got way into the election cycle this time around. People say these were the most hated candidates ever, but I loved watching them interact and blunder and conquer over the past year (even you, Johnson and Stein, you morons). I think my daylong headache on Wednesday had a lot to do with the extent to which my face has been glued to a screen watching this all unfold over the past months.

Well it’s over now, and I’m done following it. I’m not reading any more articles on my phone and I’m not going to pull over to the side of the road to mope. There are too many good people in this country (my parents, brothers, friends, and other loved ones) doing good work at a grassroots level for us to give up and jump ship or collapse and wallow.  So here’s to four years with the worst president we’ve ever seen (congrats Bush, you moved up a slot), and four more years surrounded by a people rich in resiliency, diversity, and determination, dedicated to making this country and the world it resides in a better place for all.


Months before my last days in Founzan I was getting excited at the opportunity to write about leaving. I’d probably come up with some kind of beautiful, articulate way to express the drastic contrast of emotions I’d be experiencing—those conflicting feelings you get when you’re simultaneously going to see old friends and family again and say goodbye to all your new ones. And then the last days came and it was too much to write. During my final days in Burkina, one of my closest friends wrote a rap for me in English about how much he’d miss me; my community counterpart took public transport from Founzan to Ouaga and back in one day (~4 hours and no legroom both ways) just to buy me a beer; the first Burkinabè friend I made in country, a guy named Guy, gave me a traditional Bwaba blanket that belonged to his father who passed away when Guy was in high school.

People ask if I’ll ever go back to Burkina. I think anyone who’s read these entries or listened to me talk about my experiences in person know the answer already, but I welcome the question because it sets me up for an articulate response: I tell them that knowing I’ll go back was the only way I could allow myself to leave.  How could I possibly make these connections and live in that community for two years to leave and never come back?  Similarly, the Burkinabè response to my departure is to demand why I’m “going home and leaving them there”. In the same way, I tell them that isn’t possible.  Africa isn’t a place I feel like I can leave–it’s a part of me–and I’ll be going back to it for the rest of my life.

Bwaba blanket from Guy

Bwaba blanket from Guy

After a relatively underwhelming close of service ceremony in Ouaga (as in, relative to a traditional Bwaba blanket from a best friend, a small Peace Corps Burkina pin from my boss doesn’t seem so cool), some friends and I jumped ship for Togo, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire, a little post-PC West Africa vacation.  It was remarkable how nice the roads and geography got in the minutes after we crossed the Southeastern border to Togo, and hard to imagine that a culture could be so similar to Burkina’s and also have a beach.  We did our best not to get jealous of the Volunteer who lived on the cliffs near Dapaong that looked out for miles over the valley’s villages and lakes, or the fact that in Ghana they sell fresh oysters on a stick for like $0.20 and there are beach resorts all along the coast with hilarious Rastas selling percussion instruments and patterned parachute pants.  The drive through Southeastern Côte d’Ivoire was through beautiful banana and palm tree groves over rolling hills, and Abidjan was like an enormous, developed Ouagadougou, with malls and sushi restaurants and freeways that sprawled out for miles and miles.  I missed Burkina.

Kpalimé mountains

Kpalimé mountains aka my roots

we are cool

we are cool vacationing volunteers

The day after I returned home in September, the Burkina Catholic Delegation for the Family (a group of eight USA first timers that I agreed to help show around the Mid-Atlantic) arrived in Philadelphia for the Catholic World Meeting of Families Conference. It was a really special way to transition back to life in North America: after two years of being welcomed, taken care of, and led around Burkina, I got to turn around and return the favor. And I had a lot of help too–from meals and lodging offered up by generous host families in State College and Philadelphia, to the good people of NYC who didn’t completely flip out at us when we would literally stop in the middle of the sidewalk to take pictures next to large, potted plants–thanks so much to everyone involved in making the trip possible.

wasn't kidding

saw the empire state building, broadway, this plant, statue of liberty, etc.

In their almost three week stay, the group got to attend a huge Catholic conference in Philly, see the Pope in person, and visit State College, NYC, and DC, but I think my favorite memory with them was at the Philly Pretzel Factory in Jefferson Station the morning of the first conference day. After trying to explain what a pretzel is (“salty piece of bread”, I think I said) to the uninterested group, I bought myself one in the subway to eat on the walk to the conference. Upon seeing the weird processed knot of dough, a couple Burkinabè in the group changed their minds and had me get in line with them to translate their orders. Once we were through the line and had our Philly Pretzel Factory pretzels, some others in the group noticed and showed interest in that greasy pretzel-wrapped hotdog thing and I had to get back in line with them to translate their orders. Meanwhile, the first few patrons of our group have all received winning Philly Pretzel Factory lotto tickets with their orders that grant them free pretzels and dips and buy-one-get-one greasy pretzel hotdog offers so they all want to get back in line as well to claim their winnings. The nine of us turn into a perpetual pretzel consumption machine: order pretzel, scratch lotto ticket, redeem prize, repeat, and we spend 30 minutes on the bench by the Philly Pretzel Factory eating pretzels and sharing dips and winning prizes.

The Philly Pretzel Factory in Jefferson Station exists solely to save time. It’s fast food, the pretzels are disgusting, and their whole mission statement is that if you hand them a small amount of money they’ll hand you a pretzel and you can leave the subway to do more important things. Time is money, fast pretzels save time, etc. In Burkina however, time is time and money is scarce, so when you find cheap pretzels and a lotto ticket promotional offer that gives out free stuff with every order you slow down and enjoy the pretzels.

made it to Philly

group photo in Philly

And now I’m unemployed and live with my parents.  Let’s not dwell on that though, let’s talk about how before I left Founzan I wanted to leave little gifts for the neighbors and friends I made over the years, so I carried around my digital camera and took pictures of myself with some of my favorite people in town.  I want to close things up here by sharing that.

Abdoulaye Teguera, neighbor and student, borrowed and broke most of my possessions

Abdoulaye Teguera, neighbor and student, borrowed and broke most of my possessions

Lawson Armel Somda, best second language rapper I've met, artist and brilliant student at university

Lawson Armel Somda, best second language rapper I’ve met, artist and brilliant student at university

Mamounata Dabiré, neighbor and rice cook, very patient with my Dioula

Mamounata Dabiré, neighbor and rice cook, very patient with my Dioula

Deaf guy whose name I never learned because no one in town knows it, lover of millet beer and Derek, great dancer

Deaf guy whose name I never learned because no one in town knows it, lover of millet beer and Derek, great dancer

Pierre Nambié, Beyoncé superfan and master of jenga

Pierre Nambié, Beyoncé superfan and jenga grandmaster

Nicole, neighbor and mother of Fatao and Saiouba, never paid me after I babysat her kids for two years

Nicole, neighbor and mother of Fatao and Saiouba, never paid me after I babysat her kids for two years

Fatao and Sayouba, professional lockpickers, seasoned dumpster divers, and lifelong cry babies, the two kids I most want to track down during my next trip to Burkina

Fatao and Sayouba, professional lockpickers, seasoned dumpster divers, and lifelong cry babies, the two kids I most want to track down during my next trip to Burkina

I’ve loved writing on here.  Thanks to everyone for reading and encouraging me to do so, and to my mom for always linking to me on her Facebook page and spamming our extended family with mass emails about me.  I couldn’t have done it without you.


Clayton Blunk
Burkina Faso RPCV, 2013 – 2015

Replacement Volunteer

Replacement? Replace me?! Ha! Well, meet Troy: a tall, dark haired, male Caucasian who wears jean shorts (not pictured) and tolerates long games of jenga with small children. I guess I can be replaced.

copy cat

copy cat

Two years ago I was a bright eyed Peace Corps Trainee seeing Founzan for the first time during what’s called Site Visit, and now all of a sudden I’m the expert, showing Founzan’s second Volunteer—Troy the English teacher—down the winding dirt paths and directly to the best cold beer and dolo joints this town has to offer. Funny how that goes. I gave him the tour of his house (our house, he insisted), pointing out the hole in the ground he’d soon poop over and the spot on the courtyard wall that kids have learned to climb. I took him around the neighborhood. “This is the deaf guy who only ever wants to drink dolo,” I’d say, “there’s the child who will make you insane.” It was self affirming and very exhausting.

Of course, it was also super weird. When you leave a normal job, you don’t have to show the new person who will be taking your position around the office, to your old bosses and coworkers. And then you certainly don’t walk them around your neighborhood and give them tips on living in your cement block house with no electricity or running water. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s very strange to look at the people you’ve formed these relationships with over the past years and say, « welp gotta go here’s the new guy from now on call him Toubabou. »  It’s like when a sit-com adds a new character to combat low ratings and he busts in with some catchphrase and a big smile and everyone is scratching their heads.

But that’s not exactly what it’s like.  This is how Peace Corps functions; Troy isn’t a zany, forced sit-com character.  In fact, he’s a super nice dude.  My neighbors and colleagues were excited to meet him and he was already thinking of possible community projects and ways to landscape my (our) courtyard lawn (a pressing issue).

As for the old, dried up first Volunteer of Founzan, ça va un peu. It just occurred to me this past week that I have only one remaining month left in village. People back home have asked what it feels like to almost be done in Burkina, and I don’t want to bum anyone out but it doesn’t feel that great. My life is in West Africa now, and my mind won’t stop working on « this could be the last time I do [fill in the blank] » thoughts.  But that doesn’t get me anywhere so for the moment I’m just trying to enjoy the time that remains and not overthink things.  I’m excited to come home but I’m not rushing it.  There’s no rush.

July 1



Noooo! Hole 2 down. My friend Tiken thinks a bull sat on it and I can’t imagine a better explanation given the damage. The second basket is closest to the entrance of the bull pen hazard so it’s not that surprising of an occurrence.

What is surprising is that fixing it was probably the most eventful part of my day. Now, I’m not saying I miss the sweat lodge of math-phobic teenagers that is high school here, but when I have an hour or two of classes to teach, my day has purpose: there’s a clear problem (kids can’t factor) and solution (you bet I can) to my daily schedule. During the summer months it’s possible to go entire moon cycles without that feeling of purpose, especially when all of my friends are either cultivating in their fields (summer season is also rainy season) or laying around in the shade all day fasting for Ramadan.

There’s nothing to do, woe is Clay, how could this happen to him, etc.

And then it hits me: in two months I’ll be unemployed in my parents’ basement. What more do I want now than to go to the marché with Saiouba on the back of my bike and have dolo with a bunch of old drunk ladies? Or to play a round of disc golf with a student named Gilles and talk about who we’ll support during next week’s episode of WWE Raw? I’ve been here over two years but that American mindset of always keeping busy, always working towards something, is still so deeply ingrained that I haven’t quite managed to shake it. So deeply ingrained that I still forget how simple and beautiful life can be in a place with no processed foods, fast paced TV commercials, or Buzzfeed “articles”.

So anyway what I’m getting at is that during the summer when a bull sits on my handmade disc golf hole I jump on the opportunity to do something with myself. The day has a distinct problem and solution and all is good.

there's nothing to do

there’s nothing to do but wait for a bull to sit on one of my things

July 13

I take it all back! I did things!

The Saturday after I wrote out those few slightly depressing paragraphs, Founzan saw its first ever primary school end-of-the-year girls soccer championship game. This was an idea I brought to Dabire (my community counterpart) as I was going through somewhat of a mid-service crisis last year and was feeling like I hadn’t done anything for Founzan’s primary schools.  There were already boys teams and a big championship game for them so I kind of saw it as my own little West African Title IX.  Besides its conception, I can’t take any credit for this project.  I had a few soccer balls given to me and a trophy and medals that my mom donated, along with a small amount of funding from a family friend*, but besides handing those things over, Dabire took care of everything.  So, on the day of the event when Dabire called me and told me that I needed to dress myself well, I was confused.  I told him I’d wear pants.

I biked across town with Derek trailing me and Saiouba on the back of my bike, a pair of pants professionally secured to my waistline.  When I arrived, I was promptly sat down with the fonctionnaires (fonctionnaire is french for « holier than thou »), dead front and center under their big top, next to the provincial prefect and the provincial directrice of education, with Saiouba in my lap and Derek at my feet, growling at important people walking by who he didn’t trust.  My donations of soccer balls and a small trophy apparently went a long way, and I suddenly understood why this primary school soccer match wasn’t pants optional for me:  I was a guest of honor.  I also noticed that none of the fonctionnaires around me had come to the game accompanied by their dog or their squirming, snot nosed, 2-year-old neighbor, who kept sprawling out on the empty chair next to me and climbing into my lap trying to take my glasses off my face and saying things in Moore that I didn’t understand.  Having an antsy toddler squirming in your lap teaches you more about family planning than any high school health class ever can.

Anyway it was pretty embarrassing.  The MC directed everyone’s attention my way to thank me for my contribution while Saiouba wriggled around, stretching himself over my legs and spreading toddler snot everywhere.  Then I got to go down the line of girls to shake their hands before the match and Derek got up to follow me, scaring little girls as I wished them good luck.  After opening the game with the « first kick » (didn’t know that was a thing), I angry-biked both Derek and Saiouba home, then reclaimed my front and center fonctionnaire seat and did my best not to nod off during the game.  Woo soccer.

opening ceremony

ready to kick some balls

far off worthless shot of girls playing soccer

the girls are too small to see but they’re playing soccer

go kovio

kovio wins!

Again, I really didn’t have much to do with this; it was almost all Dabire.  But I’m super proud that it happened and it meant a lot to me to hand the trophy over to the girl from Kovio who scored the winning goal during penalty kicks.


*Thanks Judy Heald!!


I’ve spanked two kids during my past couple months here in Founzan as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It’s been quite some time since I reviewed the Core Expectations for Peace Corps Volunteers, but I’m pretty sure that “Administering swift slaps to the butts of disobedient host country children” wasn’t on that list, although neither was not delivering said swift butt slaps, so… Let me point out now that I never had the intent to actually harm either kid. Also, I have soft and tender palms, so my loving slaps couldn’t have been very painful, they maybe even felt good on the bums of these two (and hopefully only) spanking recipients.  I’m pretty anti-hitting kids, but recently I’ve realized it might be the main reason they break into my courtyard with sticks at all hours of the day and demand things like candy and decks of UNO playing cards.  No adult who hits or threatens to hit a kid has to deal with that.

I allowed myself to consider LIGHT physical punishment towards neighbor-kids after an incident with who-else-but Fatao, my 4-year-old, cute faced, chaotic-neutral neighbor, who stole a key chain of measuring spoons from a bag I keep tied to my bicycle and scattered each individual half and quarter tea and tablespoon out around the clusters of houses surrounding his and mine. As if I needed any other obstacles in the way of making pancakes from scratch. When I found out what he’d done, I went to tell his mother Nicole who, despite having introduced this world to Fatao, is pretty cool and educated and speaks great French. I was hoping for some good old North American style kid shaming—make him apologize, tell him my house is off limits, that kind of thing—but she responded instead by informing me that if I ever wanted Fatao to listen to me I’d have to hit him.

Getting permission to hit her son wasn’t what I was looking for from Nicole, and I told her that I probably wouldn’t do it because that’s not what was done to me (and I turned out, right??), and also that I didn’t think it was OK to hit a kid. I knew though that if I were going to hit a kid who was really asking for it, what’s the funniest and least painful place to smack? Hands down, the butt cheeks. So not long after, when I was at my house eating or knitting or whatever I do when the main door is padlocked, and Fatao wanted in so badly that he was throwing a tantrum and also his own body into the large metal door, and when after I decided it best to ignore his fits he began throwing small stones over the wall at me and then at the house after I went inside, I threatened to hit poor, innocent Fatao. The rocks continued to fall on my roof and porch so, since he’d been warned, I put down my lunch or knitting needles or whatever, unlocked the main door, jogged (4-year-olds aren’t known for their speed) after my now giggling neighbor and laid down six or seven careful spanks to his bum.

I didn’t enjoy it, I swear. Even with the humor I seem to find in spanking, I know that violence of any kind only encourages more violence, especially when introduced at such a young age.  The “This hurts me more than it hurts you” cliché rang true in my ears as I walked back to my courtyard to the sound of Fatao’s delayed cries. In hindsight I think I did the right thing: it’s sad and I don’t agree with it, but at his age that’s the only feedback to which he responds. I’ve spent just under two years in Founzan telling kids in French, Dioula, and Moore (in decreasing order of fluency) that when the door is locked, I don’t want to hang out. And I’m never taken seriously, but since this particular incident Fatao hasn’t thrown any tantrums or rocks at the sight of my locked courtyard door.  In this respect, Operation: Bum Slap was a success.

I hope it’s clear that I’m struggling with this. The outcome of spanking Fatao worked in my short-term favor but it’s still objectively wrong to hit a kid. I’m definitely not making a habit of it. Wait, did I say I spanked two kids in the past couple months? Ha ha, oh right. Well that second kid totally deserved it. He was older and, on top of throwing rocks and taunting me (yes, I was taunted by a child) late at night, he was climbing up on my courtyard wall and knocking over the top row of bricks. He also received multiple warnings before I put a flashlight in my mouth, running sandals on my feet, and threw myself over the 1.75 m wall, sprinting after him for the better part of a minute through the neighborhood and into the night. When I finally got to him and kid-justice was served, I received applause from a group of women sitting out in front of their houses. Haven’t seen that kid since.

But don’t worry, Fatao is still over daily and we’re on good terms.  In fact a few days ago I shaved racing stripes into his hair, free of charge.  Check it out.

haven't heard from Nicole yet

haven’t heard from Nicole yet

And why not more pictures? Here’s Saiouba wearing one of my shirts I gave him last year because I was tired of seeing him walking around naked, then Yacouba painting Derek’s paws green.

fits like a glove

fits like a glove

not sure why I allowed this to happen

not sure why I allowed this to happen

The highly anticipated second half of the April Audiofest has arrived.  I tried to write a little more for each recording to make things less boring, so if the first one put you to sleep maybe still give this one a shot.  Enjoy.

Edit:  A couple recordings were mixed up or non-existent.  My internet isn’t fast enough right now to upload the missing clips so I encourage readers/listeners to use their imagination when it comes to my Dioula proficiency level or exactly how annoying guinea fowl are.  Thanks.

Thursday, April 16th
Some of these clips are sounds I feel like I hear all day long, but then when I pull out a recording device to document, Founzan immediately turns tranquil and silent and I can’t hear a thing. This is a case of that. Goats bleating everywhere 24/7 and then when I want a twenty second recording I have to chase one around on my bike to get it to yell.

Friday, April 17th and Saturday, April 18th
If I had recorded one clip of Volunteers just talking and hanging out in a regional capital it would have been so terribly far from interesting or worthwhile that I’d probably throw up. Somehow I managed to do this twice, back to back. Here we are:  obnoxious, loud, self-important U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers in Bobo-Dioulassou for a birthday party.  Don’t listen to these.

Sunday, April 19th
Burkinabé are a passive folk. A noteworthy aspect of this is how no one is annoyed or perturbed in the slightest at the presence of very loud, headache-inducing noises. So if, for example, the driver of your Rakieta bus (think dusty Greyhound) wants to listen to his ridiculous rap music from Côte d’Ivoire at 100 decibels over the bus’s sound system, nobody will speak up. Here’s that.

Monday, April 20th
When I grade tests, I’m careful to clearly mark with oddly colored pens (as in, not blue or black) correct and incorrect responses. If I don’t, kids will go back after they receive their graded tests, changing 3’s to 8’s, moving decimals around, and sometimes just writing solutions into blanks spaces, claiming I missed them when grading. This last one is the hardest to look out for, so if there’s ever an open spot where an answer probably should be, I mark it off and write zero and laugh and laugh. Here’s a kid named Tiono Alassane trying to argue his way into a couple extra points for his blue pen answer that was clearly written over my green pen marks after the day of the test. I’d translate this but I think what’s being said is clear in Alassane’s tone. I’m right; he ain’t.

Tuesday, April 21st
Some kids came over this particular evening to greet me (“bonsoir monsieur”), then all started greeting Derek too (“bonsoir Derek”). It’s almost cute how hilarious they thought it was. Almost.

Wednesday, April 22nd
Time to show off my Dioula on the internet! This is a conversation I had while buying tomatoes from a woman on the side of the road.  I don’t know her name, but « Tomatitigi » is Dioula for « person who sells tomatoes » so let’s call her that.
Me: I’m going to make some spaghetti.
Tomatitigi: (Oh wait crap, I’m not sure exactly what she’s saying here.)
Me: Are you going to come? You’re going to come eat (the spaghetti, with me)?
Tomatitigi: [Dioula laugh] I’m going to come. We will eat. Your dog there, he doesn’t bite?
Me: The dog? He can’t do anything.
[Derek starts to walk away]
Tomatitigi: He’s leaving.
Me: He’s going to Pa (the next town over).
Tomatitigi: He’s going to Pa? [second great Dioula laugh]

Thursday, April 23rd
If you’re not of West African descent and you walk around in West Africa, it’s pretty likely that kids are going to chant things like “foreigner” and “whitey” in your direction. One of my greatest accomplishments in Founzan is that, after months of responding to calls of “Toubabou” (Dioula for “white”) with “Farafeen” (Dioula for “black”), kids around town now call me both. Here’s a recording of them getting into a good “Toubabou Farafeen” chant. This breaking down of racial barriers is probably a large reason for my nickname MLClay, given to me by the Mayor of Founzan*.

Friday, April 24th
I wanted to get a recording of the call to prayer at the Mosque in town for a long time because it’s just so pretty. I went in this Friday and participated in the whole service, and I really like the clip I snagged because you can hear a guy’s cell phone going off in the row next to me.

Saturday, April 25th
Sam Dol’s on the balaphone and is taking care of vocals; I’m banging away on the table with assorted pieces of scrap metal that is arguably too close to my recording device to sound good.

Sunday, April 26th
My courtyard door has a pretty basic latch on the inside to keep burglars and annoying people out. My 4-year-old neighbor Fatao knows he’s not among either of these demographics, so he’s figured out a way to slide the inside lock over with a stick through a small crack in the wall to let himself in.  You know, for those days when his neighbor Clay has the door shut but still wants to hang out with him.  On other days when I definitely don’t want Fatao around, I tie a chain through a loop in the door for extra security.  Here’s Fatao trying to get past the chained door with the same « stick through crack in wall » method.

Monday, April 27th
This one is like the 16th; I couldn’t get a pintard (guinea fowl) to make its horrendous squawk so I had to chase one around while recording to get the terrible noise. Normally these birds offer this sound up unsolicited at all hours of the day. I haven’t been eating meat for about a year now and this stupid animal is the strongest argument against vegetarianism I’ve encountered yet.

Tuesday, April 28th
This is the inspiration for the April One-A-Day Recording Project, so I’m excited to finally get to it. There’s a video club (like a movie theater) down the street from me that turns their giant speakers out into the neighborhood when they play movies and TV shows, I guess as a way to share the wealth even with those who can’t afford the $0.20 entry fee. Anyway, Tuesday nights from 11pm to 12:30am they play an episode of WWE Raw, often so loudly that it sounds like the oiled homoerotic men are wrestling in their underwear and talking trash right in my very courtyard. Really an experience. This particular recording is even louder because I went out to the video club myself to watch.  Here’s some muscly guy talking about how good he is at fake fighting some other muscly guy.

Wednesday, April 29th
Ok I can’t get enough of these balaphones. They just sound so awesome. Here’s a recording of a dude playing it in my marché at a dolo cabaret. He let me play it too, and my deaf friend ran over from another dolo cabaret and started dancing to the tunes so I must be pretty good.

Monday, May 18th
I totally forgot to make a recording April 30th. So I guess I blew it. No recording for every day in April, sorry everyone. Here’s one that I took just a couple days ago of a serious rainstorm in Founzan. This was on my list of sounds I wanted to share but unfortunately it didn’t rain at all in April in my site. It’s a legitimately scary experience to be in complete darkness (new moon was that same night) and to also be deafened by the sound of rain pouring down on the tin roof. That leaves smell, taste, and touch as senses that will help me identify intruders in my house in the middle of the night. Creepy.

To my brother Andy in Peace Corps Ethiopia: I’m very sorry to hear about the severity of your soccer injuries and that you’ll be away from village for so long. I’m certain though that you’ve already made amazing connections and friendships in your short time in site so far, and that everyone in Lima Bean will be so happy to see you when you get back. Bon guerison.

*No one has ever called me that, especially not the Mayor of Founzan

Artist Spotlight

Name: Traoré Oumarou
Artist Name: Sam Dol
City: Dano, Burkina Faso
Style: Pan-African Expressionism
Medium: Oil paint and markers on paper, cardboard, various fabrics, styrofoam, scrap metal, etc.

Sam Dol and workspace

Sam Dol and workspace

The first time I met Sam Dol was almost a year ago at the Musée de la Femme in Dano with my family in his cluttered art/music room. He explained to us in a mix of French and English how the broken fence leaning against the outside wall of his building was his representation of the struggle of woman, then proceeded to bang on a wooden xylophone (called a balaphone) for us until our guide Malick interrupted him with applause and led us out of the room. I remember thinking he was pretty crazy.

Turns out I was right, but luckily he’s only crazy in the way any good artist is supposed to be crazy. Sam Dol will show you a table covered with a hundred small rocks and pebbles he found around town and go on about how isn’t it amazing that these rocks were in these exact shapes when he picked them up off the ground? Look, this triangular one kind of resembles a heart! There are pieces of styrofoam covered in sharpie scribbles tied up in the trees around his display room, and his paintings are strewn across the floors and stuck to the walls crookedly and carelessly with packaging tape. He’s disorganized and eccentric and passionate. I realize now that if Malick hadn’t interrupted his balaphone jamming when we first met him, Sam Dol would likely still be playing for us now, looking up at our faces and reactions in between swift strikes to the large, wooden keys. He’ll play forever, so the best thing to do is to jump in with him on an extra balaphone or drum or the Bjork-inspired collection of percussive scrap metal on a table in the middle of the room.

The thesis of his art can be broadly and simply understood as “Peace in Africa”. The recent civil war in Côte d’Ivore, the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria, ebola, and violence against women are frequent topics of Sam Dol’s work. There’s an anti-genitalia mutilation tree outside of his display room that splits into three or four large branches about two meters up with a large, painted clay pot covering another broken branch, protecting it. He describes the extending branches that aren’t broken as arms being held back.

anti-excision tree

anti-excision tree

"+3000" deaths in the Ivoirienne civil war

« +3000 » deaths in the Ivoirienne civil war

"ebola" written in red droplets across the top border

« ebola » written in red droplets across the top border

Recently, a lot of his paintings are about the historic transition of power that took place here in the Faso last October. For Christmas, my parents received a Sam Dol original depicting the National Assembly building in flames in Ouaga, the proud work of fed up citizens after a vote to change the presidential term limit was announced. Upon receiving it, they told me through tears of gratitude that I was their favorite son. Sam Dol’s second favorite country after Burkina has got to be America. He painted a portrait of Obama with red eyes on a large, thick piece of cardboard with the “Yes We Can” slogan on his tie (which is pretty scary coming from an Obama with laser vision) and his 10-year old son, little Barack Traore, is named for the same robotic president. Sam Dol’s artist name is also confusingly patriotic: he told us that the “Sam” stands for Uncle Sam and the “Dol” short for dollar. Something tells me that if an artist in the states named him or herself after our country’s weird, skinny uncle and its base unit of legal tender they wouldn’t encounter a whole lot of respect from the art community.  Or maybe ironically they would?  I don’t know a whole lot about art.



the national assembly building is on fireee

burning national assembly building painting is way to parents’ hearts

Sam Dol’s work stands in stark contrast against the unimaginative, cookie-cut, overtly sexist stuff aimed at foreigners that you can find in most other places.  Take the Artisan Village in Ouaga, for example. This is where most whities go to find souvenirs to display their impressive levels of cultured-ness in first world living rooms and kitchens across France and America. Go to the Artisan Village if you want an iron sculpture of a woman carrying a bowl of water on her head with a baby tied to her back, or a tie-dyed tapestry of many women carrying bowls of water on their heads with babies tied to their backs. The “art” sold there serves only to remind mission group and tourist types years later of their 10 to 14 day stay in Burkina, the magical place in West Africa where tall, beautiful women carry bowls of water on their heads and babies on their backs. Sam Dol’s art isn’t strictly for monetary gain (despite his name’s origin) and it certainly doesn’t consider a foreign demographic’s misinformed perception of Africa. He produces because he needs to: because something restless within him shifts and twists, begging to be let out into the world, and his only mode for releasing it is with a couple cans of paint, a handful of sharpies, and some styrofoam. He’s a cool dude.

scrap metal sculptures in the musee de la femme

scrap metal sculptures in the musee de la femme courtyard

inside Sam Dol's house with his wife and Barrack

inside Sam Dol’s living room with his wife and Barack