I’ve been at site for three weeks now. If you thought I was a Peace Corps Volunteer back in June when I left disc golf and fly fishing and microbreweries and bbq sauce and personal space and all else that comes with living in the US of A then you were wrong. I was a trainee, comfortable in my warm pocket of faux-America that my stage mates and I built in Leo, Burkina Faso during the training months of summer. Three weeks ago though I was sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer and promptly dropped off at a small concrete house with no running water or electricity and no Americans within a 70 km radius. I am currently living the life you probably thought I had been living for the past three months.
There’s nothing to do. Few people know my name. I rarely have pants on before noon. I wake up around 800 to the sound of someone pounding on my courtyard door. It’s either kids looking for the soccer ball or a neighbor coming by just to say good morning or my school director making sure the goofy white teacher who doesn’t speak French is still alive. One morning it was a drunk guy who said he installed the doors and windows in my house. I let him in because not a single door fits into the frame and I was excited to share this fact with him. He spent a good 20 minutes drunkenly explaining to me that it was the mason’s fault for making the walls too close together. I haven’t seen him since. I try to go back to sleep after an encounter like this but often can’t so I sit on my cot and play guitar or knit or listen to music or read. I’ll cycle through these four activities (five if you count sitting on the cot) until I feel my sanity slipping, and then hopefully it’s around lunch time.
Luckily my town is big enough to have fresh bread every day and my neighbor Diallo sells smoked goat meat on the side of the road so I can make “le mouton qui rit” sandwiches (goat meat with laughing cow cheese) with banana dogs for dessert. About a week ago some terrible switch went off in the collective mind of the neighborhood kids that made them no longer afraid of the six foot four inch foreigner who moved in next door, so after lunch I’ll have kids at my courtyard door again trying to come in and play uno or soccer or guitar. I take a deep breath and open the doors to the amusement park that my courtyard has become.
Later on some friends might come over and I’ll teach them chords on the guitar. They sometimes want to hear me play American music. Here’s how our jam sessions normally go:
I begin picking something agreeable like Sufjan Stevens or Iron and Wine
“Do you know reggae?”
I stop “No I don’t know reggae.”
Someone gets their phone out and starts playing Bob Marley for me
“No, I know reggae I just can’t pl–”
We listen to reggae for 40 minutes
For dinner I’ll make cucumber, tomato, and onion salad. If I don’t have cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions I’ll spend an hour trying to start my charcoal grill to boil water for spaghetti and then give up and buy a plate of spaghetti at the boutique down the street. I might actually have a butler though; this guy Jean Luc has come by a few times saying he’ll cook for me, do my laundry, get my water, etc, so I can continue into my mid-20s not knowing a thing about food preparation or physical labor. I have mixed feelings about it, more to come on the butler situation in future posts.
Sometimes after dinner I’ll head over to the dolo hut where my friend Guy’s mom works and I’ll have a calabash of home brewed millet beer. Maybe I’ll review dolo in the future, I’m just having a hard time thinking of a number low enough for it on the Pabst scale. Once it’s dark out though there’s not much else to be done. I’ll retire chez moi and read some more or listen to music. If my computer has any juice left in it I’ll watch some old disc golf videos I took with my flipvid camcorder and I’ll wonder what any of my friends do without me to organize disc golf gatherings. You guys must be so bored.
School doesn’t start until the beginning of October, so I actually have no real work to do. It can be frustrating and exhausting and lonesome at times but for every five frustrating and exhausting and lonesome experiences I have, I’ll have one experience that somehow makes it all worth it. I’ll successfully exchange salutations with someone in local language, or sit with a tanti and eat cadeaux, or go on a bike ride to the lake north of town and explore, and at the end of the day I’ll feel like I accomplished something even if 80% of my day was spent sitting in my underwear eating trail mix with a spoon (mom please send more trail mix).
I miss everyone. Thanks for reading. Stay well.