Last month, my family (my real live family from the United States of America) got to come and see exactly how sweaty and dirty I’ve managed to get after a year in Africa. We had a great time touring the capital city of Ouagadougou, the smaller training city of Leo, my site Founzan, and the tourist city of Banfora in their three week visit. I’m proud of them for coming and staying in the country so long; most families and friends only visit for a week or so before continuing on to vacations in Ghana, Togo, Senegal, Morocco, Paris, Turkey, etc. Anywhere but Burkina, really.  I couldn’t believe they took the time and money to come see me, and now that they’re gone it’s hard to believe it ever happened. It was amazing to be eating my host family’s rice with peanut sauce in Leo and look up to see my parents across the table also having a bowl, or to bike out for a beer at the maquis in Founzan knowing my brothers were right behind me.  Thanks for coming guys.

mom with host sister's son

mom with host sister’s son

When we first arrived in Founzan, just by chance, some of my least favorite elementary aged neighbors came over in curiosity. They happened to be on their best behavior though, so introducing them was frustrating: “Ok see that kid sitting and smiling politely next to you? That’s the guy who stole my laughing cow cheese and squeezed it when I tried to get it ba–NO DON’T SMILE BACK WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” Maybe I should give those kids another chance. That night we ate lentils inside as a huge dust storm tested the structural integrity of my house. Looking back, I’m able to classify each day by one seemingly small task that ended up taking just about all of our time and energy. One day was the marche day, another was spent trying (unsuccessfully) to meet the mayor, on Friday we traveled south to Dano, my regional capital, to use the internet and treat ourselves to some slightly better food. Our first full day was spent simply walking down the dirt road near my house introducing family members to the people of Founzan I see on a day to day basis. We met the women who sell beesap, the bread ladies, Yacouba at his bike shop, the girls I buy fanta and pelforth from, and small boutiques owners. The woman who sells attieke at the end of this road didn’t initially understand that it was my family, but held out her arms in front of her stomach and gestured from me to my mom, asking something in Djoula. I don’t know what exactly she said but I guessed it had something to do with me and my mother’s uterus 24 years ago, so I nodded and her expression changed to surprise then excitement, enthusiastically greeting my parents with “momma” and “poppa” as she realized they were my real family from the states. On Thursday we spent the day at the dam fishing in canoes, trying to keep Derek from capsizing the boat and wondering just how serious schistosomiasis really is. « N ma foiy solo barragi ra bi » is Djoula for « I didn’t catch anything at the barrage today », a phrase I’m getting pretty good at saying lately. At the end of each day’s adventure we were exhausted, but that’s kind of how things go here: you set one goal for the day, attempt it, then sit back in a wooden chair all evening thanking the African gods for things like breezes and cold water sachets.

what not catching fish looks like

what not catching fish looks like

repose after a long day of walking up that one dirt road

some repose after a long day of walking up that one dirt road

free dolo in the marche

dolo in the marche

I had to remind myself multiple times a day to stop stressing and relax. To settle down and enjoying being with my mom when we’re in the marche scrambling to find onions, cucumbers, peppers, and garlic for dinner as a storm approaches and the marche is closing early but mom is “just sure we can find fresh parsley if we keep trying”.* Or one evening when more and more people were coming over to the house for tea and dad looks like he’s about to cry over the recently gifted and slaughtered chicken and I’m the only medium of communication between family, friends, and students and Jean Paul keeps telling me we need to kill the beautiful red gecko in the corner of the courtyard because, if it throws its tail at you, your arms and legs will fall off. Other volunteers whose families and friends had visited warned me about how stressful it is to suddenly bring your past American life into your new Burkinabe one. They were right, but it wasn’t any one person or group’s fault—it was more that, to use the words of George Costanza, “worlds were colliding”, and I put it all on myself to see that the worlds didn’t collide too harshly. Later when I apologized to my family for how flustered I’d been they told me they hadn’t noticed, so maybe I hid it well.

you can't see my face here but there's a flustered expression on it

you can’t see my face here but there’s a flustered expression on it trust me

After a week in site, we said goodbye to Andy in Ouagadougou then traveled down to Burkina’s old, creepy, French guy capitol, Banfora. Banfora is a medium sized city located in the cascade region of Burkina, famous for its rock formations, tropical waterfalls, and hippo lake. We, however, were impressed enough with the small kidney shaped pool at our hotel and the nutella crepes across the street that most of our time in Banfora was spent swimming in, hanging out by, and jumping into said pool, taking breaks once or twice a day for nutella crepes. After the unnecessary amount of stress I put into hosting everyone at site, Banfora was a great vacation, and we did end up doing some of the touristy stuff that that town actually is (locally) famous for. Here are some pics.

cascades near banfora

cascades near banfora

peaks of sindou

peaks of sindou

according to the guy paddling our canoe through hippo infested waters, hippos yawn when they're hungry

hungry yawn

Again, it was a great trip, and I’m really proud to say that my whole family came and spent so much time in country.  It was a rich time of my service, and I wish I could share all of what happened during those 18 days in Ouaga, Leo, Founzan, Dano, and Banfora.  I can’t, but here’s a few other fun things that ended up happening.

Notable Moments

  • Beat Andy and Nate in a disc golf putting game where the loser had to agree with everything dad said for the day. They spent the afternoon helping him set up tents in the yard, agreeing with his tent set-up techniques, and complimenting his tent placement ideas.
  • Mom keeps asking what’s wrong with the donkey when it makes its normal donkey noise.
  • First full day in Ouaga I was by far the sweatiest.

    clearly the sweatiest

    what kind of sweat pattern is that even

  • At a hotel in Leo the woman at the desk wanted to charge Andy and Nate an extra $20 to share a room because they weren’t a married couple and I had my best haggling line to date: “they’re twins, they were inside my mom at the same time and now they can’t be inside one of your rooms at the same time.” She dropped the extra charge.
  • Planted a baobab tree in courtyard on our last full day in Founzan to remember time together or something.

    and it's grown 0.045 mm already!

    and it’s grown 0.045 mm already!

  • Cats begin suckling at Derek for milk in what I hope will remain the most uncomfortable thing my pets ever do when I’m around


    more disturbing than the fact that I’ve referenced my mother’s womb twice in this blog


So who’s visiting next?


*I actually did, to my astonishment, find fresh parsley in the marche last week. I’d only ever seen it in Ouaga and Bobo before, so my mom received an apology text for how crazy I thought she was that day.



8 réflexions sur “

  1. how you have captured this so beautifully and concisely Clay, I’m amazed. Thank you for the best re-telling of our time with you that I can imagine. love you dearly – and am so grateful for the life you’ve carved out for yourself in Burkina – land of the upright people and in Founzan – justly named for it’s claim that there will be no more war.

  2. Clay – I love reading your stories. You are the best that America has to offer the world. Stay strong – and know that there many here who think of you often as we send our prayers and good thoughts your way. I wish I could send cookies to you to share with your people….

  3. BTW – this AM at State College Presby – over 100 people – some who’ve been a part of your life since you were 4 years old – gathered in Westminster Hall to hear about life in Burkina. It was a wonderful experience for us to share the time we had with you – what we learned from you & your Burkina peeps.

    • I loved seeing the other part of your family in Clay’s world — you seemed to fit right in. The pictures and stories are priceless ! I love the where’s parsley? story … lentils definitely need a
      bit of bouquet garni` !

  4. Hilarious and very honest, Clay. Thanks for continuing to share this wild, wonderful adventure with those of us living mundane lives stateside.

  5. I LOVE this post ~ your words and the pictures ~ wonderful!! We were all so excited as the time grew closer for your family’s journey to you ~ both for them and for you (and Derek). Thanks for sharing this Clay …. I think of you every day and am always happy when there are new words that you’ve shared. Be well.

  6. Hi. Your post and pictures made me smile and laugh. In July, my husband and two children moved in next door to your family. We are so grateful for such wonderful neighbors. What a neat experience you are having, and how neat that your parents and brothers made the trip. We look forward to meeting you someday. Be safe. Keep writing. And enjoy!

    The Petrich Family

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