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

I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts during my time here.  There are some really good ones out these days, and on top of that it’s very comforting to hear someone speaking to me in English after a long day of French, Dioula, Moore, and sign language.  Even if that voice is Dan Savage’s screaming about sex and politics in America, or one of those really nasally contributors to This American Life, laying in my hammock and podcasting is often a highlight of my days.

What I’m doing now, on the other hand, would make a really really bad podcast.  I decided this April I wanted to take one short recording (15 to 20 seconds) a day and share them on here to give people a little window into what it’s like to be in Burkina–short, audio snapshots of a West African Volunteers’ life.  So plug in some headphones, sit back, and enjoy the soothing sounds of the developing world in the first half of this sound project, loosely inspired by the podcast boom of the 2010s.

Wednesday, April 1st

There’s a 5e (7th grade) kid named Pierre who comes to my house nearly every day.  I like him a lot and often give him my mp3 player and speakers to listen to while I’m eating or knitting or whatever.  He loves Beyonce but I can never get him to sing along.

Thursday, April 2nd

Derek panting in the mid-day heat of hot season.  If you listen closely at the end, you can hear my tin roof cracking and popping in the sun like an old oven warming up.

Friday, April 3rd

What a 5eA class sounds like as I’m getting ready to start my lesson.

Saturday, April 4th

A couple Volunteer neighbors and I visited my artist friend Sam Dol in Dano at his display house in the Musee de la Femme.  We jammed on drums and wooden Burkinabe xylophones called balaphones.

Saturday, April 4th (bonus!)

Ok I couldn’t help it and did some multiple recordings.  This is on my porch late one evening with Pierre, Jean Paul, a Ouaga U English student named Armel, and my neighbor Abdoulaye playing Jenga.  It’s Armel’s turn and Abdoulaye is the one saying « tombe! tombe! » (« fall! fall! ») as Armel tries to slide a block out and put it back on top.  Jean Paul is offering words of encouragement and Pierre takes Abdoulaye’s side, saying the tower is definitely about to fall.

Sunday, April 5th

Abdoulaye borrowed my battery and solar panel to listen to music while building another house in his courtyard with family and friends.  I went over to buy peanuts from his mom or something and all the neighborhood kids were dancing on the porch to this as Abdoulaye & co. laid bricks.

Monday, April th

What my cat sounds like as it eats my leftover rice.  Actually this is gross.  Skip this one.

Tuesday, April 7th

I went to the video club where movies, soccer games, and wwe matches are shown to watch some American Western b-movies.  This is during an especially dramatic scene, and my friend Zacki walks in and says hi in Moore (he called me « Ahmed », if you can hear it).

Wednesday, April 8th

Turn up the volume on this one, it’s pretty hard to hear.

Wednesday, April 8th (bonus!)

Ok sorry about that last one, here’s a better clip.  It’s of Derek barking at a camel as I talk to the owner, a Touareg man (Saharan nomad) passing through town.

Wednesday, April 8th (double bonus!)

Wednesday, April 8th was just so good.  Packed full of short audio clip opportunities.  This one is me at my friend’s shop with some kids.  They asked me to buy them candy and I responded by saying « N bina bogo », or « I’m going to hit » in Dioula and then LIGHTLY tapped them on the heads.

Thursday, April 9th

Hmm I don’t really remember where this is.  Sounds like it could be the marche, I can hear a « ka nene » in there from me which means « to taste » in Dioula, so I was probably at a dolo cabaret in the marche.

Friday, April 10th

This one definitely is at a dolo cabaret.  It features my deaf Bwaba friend singing as we take dolo together.  The guy can’t hear a thing but loves to sing and dance, he’s often seen in the marche with a tin guitar he made, playing music for other drunk Bwaba people and getting 100CFA tips.  Fun guy.

Saturday, April 11th

On this day, m friend Frankie and I went to a huge Catholic celebration down in Diebougou.  It was on a hill outside of the city and was great big Christian music festival with mangoes and tofu brochettes (if you can possibly imagine that).  Here’s the priest pumping the crowd up with some jamz.

Sunday, April 12th

My bike chain needs greasing.

Monday, April 13th

Jean Paul comes six days a week to cook and clean.  This is a recording of his arrival.

Tuesday, Avril 14th

Laying down to sleep after a long day of work.

Wednesday, April 15th

This is what neighbor kids asking for bonbons sounds like.  I hear this noise dozens of times as day.

Thanks for listening!

Spring Break here was spent in AC’d, day-long meetings in Koudougou, Burkina’s third largest city, at the G28 COS Conference. “G28” stands for “Group 28”, the group of Volunteers that I belong to here in the Peace Corps Burkina Faso Universe, and “COS” stands for “Close of Service” (or, “Continuation of Service”, my boss informs us, beaming at the brilliance of an acronym with more than one meaning). It’s the last official conference for Volunteers before they become RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) back in the USA (United States of America). I’m noticing now that I forgot to mention what AC stands for. I hope I didn’t lose too many readers there.

The conference leaders treated us Volunteers as if we were actually already back in the US, congratulating us on jobs well done, giving tips on ways to reintegrate ourselves back into American culture, and helping us come up with coping mechanisms for the months of unemployment to come. At one point, our Medical Officer got up and talked to us for an hour about the RPCV health care plan, which is a very impressive amount of time to talk about something that barely exists. Then one full day was dedicated to resume building, interview strategies, and networking skills. I squirmed in my chair and counted down the minutes until the stale croissant breaks. On the last day of the conference we had a party with a slide show of pictures and superlatives, in which I was crowned the most likely to become a leg model. From what I gather, leg models don’t spend too much time on interviews or resume building, so my superlative was a relief to me.

After the COS Conference, some friends and I went down to Gaoua, a city about two hours south of Founzan in the hills. It was interesting to be there as I’ve heard a lot about it from friends in site and had this idea of it in my head but had never visited during my 22 months (!) in country. What I learned is that it’s a pretty big attraction for foreigners—the gold mines in the mountains reel in a lot of weird Australian and Canadian gold companies, and its ancient city ruins and rich cultural history bring in the digital camera carrying, map unfolding tourist type. I didn’t know this, and unfortunately whatever it is about me that seems to always make me stand out as a non-native here in West Africa permitted the people of Gaoua to classify me as either a gold mine exploitation specialist or a dad on vacation.  It was frustrating to not be welcomed and accepted as a foreigner in the same way that I am in other parts of the country, and I was grateful to not have been placed closer to Gaoua than I already was.

I will admit to one incriminating tourist-y outing in Gaoua though, and that is our visit to the Poni Museum. Poni is the province containing Gaoua, and home to the Lobi people, an ethnic group from Northern Ghana somewhat infamously known by other ethnic groups here as being bloodthirsty warriors in the hills with poison arrows and porcupine quill helmets. And I have to say, the Lobi ancestors earned their legend-like status. The warriors in the tribe would chip away at their teeth until they were sharp and pointed to scare off their enemies in battle; then they’d wear nothing but a cord around their upper waste holding up their Lobi parts, perhaps to instill similar feelings of confusion and discomfort in the hearts of enemies. There was one large, blunt object with a handle that was on display, labeled in French simply as a “Break-Head”. The Lobi women had piercings in their upper and lower lips that they’d put a rod through when they were upset with their husbands, “going on strike” against him, our guide explained. The women wouldn’t eat, drink, or talk until their husbands shaped up. Pretty brutal.

Things in the Hauts-Bassins are moving along. A couple days ago I had the honor of being beaten by three strokes on the disc golf course I built and designed myself, which proved to be a humbling moment. I left a handful of discs with my friends Armel and Tiken and told them to practice while I was away from site. When I realized how much they’d improved I considered taking the discs back. The third and final trimester of school is just over a month long, and while the COS Conference left me with very mixed feelings about my last months at site, I feel comforted at the thought of me sweatily trying to explain math concepts in French coming swiftly to an end. I’ve had a good run as a teacher, now someone please hire me to be a beer taster or disc golf course designer. Otherwise I’ll have to go polish my resume and work on my elevator pitch.  Please help.

Gaoua at dusk

Gaoua at dusk

The first ever International Woman’s Day Girls’ Disc Golf Tournament held at the first ever disc golf course in Burkina Faso began at 10 AM on the morning of Monday, March 9th. When my site neighbor Amber (her village is ~77 km from Founzan) and I biked out to the course at 9 AM to set up for the day, there were already two girls waiting, ready to play. If you know anything about West African punctuality, you know that two teenage girls being an hour early for an event is something unprecedented and special. They each picked out a disc and warmed up as Amber and I drew out the scorecards and the other eighteen girls slowly showed up.

When everyone had arrived and we were ready to start, I held a small opening meeting at the first tee-pad. The girls patiently listened to a short impromptu “when I was your age” speech, in which I told them that this was a sport I played with my friends since I was in middle school, and so I built the course here in Founzan to share that with the youth here. I was tired of only seeing little boys coming out to play, I explained, so this was an opportunity for them to learn a new sport that they could come and play again whenever they wanted. Most girls had come to training days I held in previous weeks so they already knew how to play and throw with confidence, and when Amber read off each group’s starting tees, they were eager to get the tournament under way.

sign in 9:30 to 10

sign in and disc selection 9:30 to 10

group #1 teeing off hole 1

group #1 teeing off hole 1

bad etiquette, Awa walks right in front of a throw

putting hole 7

putting hole 7 past the scraggly tree hazard

The rounds went by fast. I spent them speed walking from hole to hole taking pictures and telling the girls to slow down and to not throw when their group mates were standing immediately in front of them (difficult rule for beginners).  When you play at tournaments in the US with the caricatures who take this sport super seriously (yes there are real tournaments, yes it’s a sport), people pick out specific discs and line up their shots and think about their whole lives from infancy up until that exact point in time until their eyes finally narrow and they make the throw. That is to say, tournaments in America that I’ve been to take all day long. This tournament was different in that the girls would walk up to their disc, look to the hole, and chuck the plastic at the metal in complete West African pragmatism, so I was constantly busy trying to keep groups from catching up to the groups in front of them and telling girls to take their time and focus.

After the first nine, there was a pause with bissap and cold water sachets which were gone in minutes. It was hot out, and my biggest mistake was somehow forgetting that we were in landlocked sub-saharia during the main hot season of the year and that 20 girls walking through woods and fields throwing discs at metal baskets require water. I was running around and stressing about it and trying to find ways to get more water fast but I think I was the only one really freaking out about it.  A little after 11 AM once everyone was watered, the girls got back into their groups and out onto the course for round two.  I continued to run around, sweatily taking pictures and encouraging girls after missed 5 foot putts (though there weren’t many of them!).

Soma Soho of 5eA flicking hole 8

Soma Soho of 5eA flicking down hole 8’s gut

hole 4 to tee 5

hole 4 to tee 5 with spectators

teeing hole 7

teeing hole 7, the FDGC open bomb hole

For lunch I asked Jean Paul to cook up some of his special rice with peanut sauce, funded with a donation given to me almost eight months ago from a family friend.  As the girls ate rice with their hands in the shade, I counted up the scores and prepared the prizes.  First place was a girl from my 5eC class named Ouedraogo Christine, a favored older girl who is pretty athletic and amazing at rolling her eyes in class.  She was actually in my 5eB class last year but didn’t pass on to 4e, so it felt good to shake her hand and congratulate her on two rounds well-played.  She shot a 28 and a 26, putting her total strokes on 18 holes at 54, par for the course.  The next three closest girls were all tied at 60 strokes, so we held a tie-breaker for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place.  Sawadogo Awa took second place with a par on hole one while the other girls tied with 4 strokes and continued to tie through sudden death up until hole 5 when Baye Bielweli went one stroke up on Baye Madeline to take 3rd.

3rd, 2nd, and 1st place

trophies and shiny new pink z buzzz for first place

I wanted to know 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place because I had trophies sent from home for the finalists, which was exciting for everyone and fun to give, but they didn’t compare to the hand crafted blessing bands from Mindfully Made Studios sent from Amy Frank in central PA.  The bands each feature a word of encouragement in french on the outside and the common blessings said here in both main local languages written on the inside.  Also, I know it’s not the point of International Women’s Day, but the boys who came to spectate were so totally jealous.  Check it out.

in your face boys

in your face boys

asked Ouaro Mama (center, looking at camera) to show her bracelet and only everyone else did

I asked Ouaro Mama (center, looking at camera) to show her bracelet and only everyone else did

cm2 student (~5th grade)

this girl came just as I was handing out the bracelets and food, so she’s probably pretty smart

empowerment bracelettttsss

empowerment bracelettttsss (look at the camera girls!  dammit!)

So special thanks to Amy Frank of Mindfully Made Studios for the blessing bands donation and to Judy Heald for the delicious rice with peanut sauce.  The tournament was a success, and in June when I meet the volunteer who will replace me I’m probably just going to be hinting to him or her the whole time about how they have no choice but to do a second annual women’s day girls’ disc golf tournament.  They better like disc golf.

There are lots more pictures let’s just do this:

"if you angle the disc up, it's going to go up" demonstration

« if you angle the disc up, it’s going to go up »

keeping score at hole 2

keeping score at hole 2 and doing the classic « show the disc » pose

blessing bands

blessing bands: gratitude, compassion, hope, and joy

forehand putt on hole 8

forehand putt on hole 8, toddler-view

catherine marie is a 5th grader who didn't get to play and would have totally taken first place

catherine marie, a badass 5th grader who didn’t get to play because of class and would have totally taken first place

third place at closing ceremony

awarding third place at closing ceremony

rice with peanut sauce (I told them to bring utensils!)

rice with peanut sauce

sudden death play-off for 3rd place

sudden death play-off for 3rd place: Baye Madeline v. Baye Bielweli

art shot

arty shot, will take professional photography positions starting september 2015

closing ceremony/lunch

closing ceremony/lunch in the shade

happy international women's day!

happy international women’s day!

Thanks for reading/just scrolling through and skimming the pictures!


A couple nights ago I got into an argument with Jean Paul and my 19 year old neighbor Abdoulaye about polygamy. Their view on the topic is that a man with multiple wives is more powerful and wealthy (more wives equals more money), and that he is doing a service to the world and his family in adding to the population by impregnating more women. My view is that having two or more wives would be about as fun as having two or more full time jobs that are constantly frustrated and disappointed with you, but I have to admit that I have zero marriages under my belt. I’d also argue that the number of wives you acquire and the amount of money in your bank account likely works on an inverse relationship, but again, I’m unmarried.

They pressed on about how I should have two wives because like all foreign people, I am wealthy, to which I finally explained that, even if I wanted it, I’d have a pretty hard time finding two women who would be into marrying the same guy. Jean Paul then dropped a piece of Burkinabe logic that has made me cringe since I first heard it over a year ago: « Since there are more women than men in the world, » he said, « marrying multiple women is our responsibility as men. » Y’know, since in places where polygamy isn’t practiced there are thousands of single ladies wishing that the married men would do them a favor and take second, third, and fourth wives. Jean Paul never made it through elementary school, so I laughed and looked to Abdoulaye who is currently in the equivalent of 9th grade. « It’s true, » Abdoulaye said, « in geography class we learned that women are 51% of the population while men are 49%, so yeah, men should have more than one wife. » Suddenly, this was no longer a debate on the morality of polygamy but an easily provable question of mathematics and logic, and it dawned on me that I have a degree in mathematics and philosophy from a prestigious east coast state school, so I ran inside to get some crayons (the golden tool of all math/phil majors), thinking I’d settle this once and for all.


I started by saying that, with the definition of a percentage, Abdoulaye’s fact about the population of the world (which I’m not even sure is true but am willing to accept) means that in a group of 100 people, we can assume 49 are men and 51 are women. I drew out 49 blue dots and 51 red dots. I asked Jean Paul how many women each men in this group should marry, and he said four. I drew four lines from each blue dot branching out to marry each red dot beneath it, and as the first five or six men took nearly half of the available women, Jean Paul interrupted me.  « Wait, from now on each guy can only have two wives, » he said. Alright, now the remaining women are taken by the next dozen or so guys and we’ve got about 30 dudes here to the right who haven’t even gone on a date. I was pretty sure I’d proven my point, but just as I was about to call all my engineering friends and tell them that my math degree really was applicable to the real world, Jean Paul noticed something. « By this point though, » he started slowly, « these first guys with four wives will have had daughters of their own.  The single guys off to the right can take their daughters as wives. » Abdoulaye agreed, my red chalk blue chalk model didn’t account for the ages of the men, so some could be in their late 50s with perfectly weddible* daughters that the left over single men would no doubt marry.  Ugh.


I took a more basic approach, imagining now that that same group of 100 people are all in their twenties. Again we have 51 women, but now the 49 men are going to come along and each take one and how many are left? We all agreed that 51 minus 49 equaled 2, but I had already missed my chance to convince them:  they were too focused on the fact that the first four red wives would probably have given birth to a half dozen girls between them by now so there would be women everywhere! What do we do with all of them!

It occurred to me that I wasn’t having a conversation with people who really cared to know the truth of things. The fact that there are more women than men in the world is a comfort to Jean Paul and Abdoulaye, and they weren’t going to see the other (only) side of that fact no matter how many different colored crayons I had. Realizing my math teaching skills weren’t enough to prove that if every man in the world aimed for polygamy we’d have huge global unrest was a blow, but I was outnumbered on my porch and let it go.

This un-winnable argument reminded me of another I’d heard a few times against homosexuality. The argument is simple:  if your father was gay then you’d have never existed, therefore homosexuality is wrong.  I have to say, of all the pathetic arguments against homosexuality, I kind of like this one.  It’s valid and hilarious.  I try to explain though that, while it’s true that if I went back in time and managed to convince my father to switch teams, I’d fade into the abyss à la Marty McFly.  But, my dad’s not gay and I exist:  the argument is based on a false premise (told ya I have a degree in philosophy).  This is the same argument I heard when I was doing my sex ed lessons in the marche, that if your parents had used contraceptives you’d have never existed so like stop handing out those condoms and start thinking about all the babies that don’t exist yet.  It’s pretty frustrating once you realize people are serious, and really frustrating when you see that, like Jean Paul and Abdoulaye, they aren’t interested in changing their minds.

Happy International Women’s Day!  I’ve got my new Journée Internationale de la Femme 2015 pagne print pants on and I’m headed back to site soon to prep for tomorrow’s first annual 08 mars girls’ disc golf tournament.  Women’s Day here is celebrated with a new fabric that everyone wears, women’s soccer games, dancing, partying, and dinners cooked by husbands.  So cook a meal for your wife, mother, or lady today!  Why not!  And later this week when it’s not International Women’s Day maybe continue doing that because designating one day out of 365 to do the right thing is kind of silly.




*definitely not a word