Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Impossible Task - TM Speech Level 4

Can I admit something to you?

The truth is, I don’t know how I am going to do it…

The task seems impossible, insurmountable, the idea is incomprehensible!

How can you explain Burkina Faso to someone who has never been here?

I have started to think about this question more and more lately. Sadly my time in West Africa is running out. I see the time like sand slipping through the hour glass and wish I stop it, slow it down, turn it over!

But I can’t and before I know it I will be faced with the challenge of making my friends and family try and understand what my life has been like over the past year.

People will ask, “Sara, how was Africa?”
“Sara, tell me about Burkina Faso!”
“Sara, what was life like in Ouagadougou?”

But, where do I even start?

I spent some time reflecting on these potential questions and my experiences in West Africa and I came up with list of things that stick out in my mind as really defining the culture here and that I would like to share with friends and family when I return to the US…

To begin with, I have never seen so many people using two wheeled modes of transportation in my life! Yes, I am talking about all the motos!

It took me a good month before the sight of a river of motos zooming past seemed normal to me. There are so many bikes there are two different stop lights one which directs bike traffic and the other to direct vehicle traffic!

My idea of what was possible to carry on a bike or moto, or even in a car or truck was dramatically challenged as I saw trucks with so much stuff tied on top it seemed they were defying the laws of physics. Bikers carrying so many yellow jerry cans from the back you can’t even see who is riding the bike!

Another thing I love is the fabrics.

I have never seen such colors and outfits before. Ruffles and feathers and zigzag hem lines. Woah.

I even like it when the panyas are mixed and matched. I have learned Africans can totally pull it off. On me on the other hand, it would look ridiculous!

Susan and I took many trips to the markets fabric hunting and it never ceased to amaze all the crazy patterns I would find. Fabrics with roller skates or lampshades printed on them in colors that can lift even the saddest of moods.

But my eyes are not the only senses that are engaged. No, the sounds of Africa are undeniably unique.

The music. The music has such energy and I think it that reflects the energy of the people.

I get an amazing sensation when I ride my bike past a kiosk that is blasting out African music. I can hear the drums and the balaphone going and I simply have to smile and think to myself happily, I am in Africa!

The ease with which people start to dance here is also impressive. It seems like there is a sixth sense that people have that tunes into the music and movement just flows naturally.

But in the quiet, when there is no music… the sound of the language is what is entrancing. It rolls off of the tongue. A sing song, up and down, loud and soft quality to what I hear. Sometimes it is staccato, sometimes smooth, but it is always mysterious and going at what seems to me to be a lightning speed!

Now I knew West Africa was a dry place, but the dust is something you have to experience to really understand.

I was struck by the reddish color. And since the dust is red so is everything else! The dust settles everywhere.

It is also much finer than anything I could have imagined. So fine in fact, sometimes when I blow nose the two reddish/brown dots left on the tissue is evidence to the fact that there is probably a nice layer of African dust now coating the inside of my lungs…

Speaking of my nose, the smells of Ouagadougou will knock you out. I mean they can hit you like a brick wall from out of no where!

I have come to appreciate that there are several types of smells; there are rancid smells, urine smells, the smell of garbage, a body odor smell, dried fish smells, and don’t forget the smell of exhaust or the unpleasant odor of burning plastic which somehow wafts through your house unannounced.

While the olfactory quality of the city leave something to be desired, the cuisine is enchanting!

I didn’t like mangos before I came to Burkina Faso. I think it was because I had never actually had a good mango before. Now I LOVE mangos. Love in capital letters L.O.V.E. mangos. Now I understand why everybody looks forward to mango season.

And don’t forget strawberry season, which happened to coincide with my Birthday in February… And papayas and bananas, and pineapples. You get the picture.

I also really like the rice with red sauce, rice with vegetable sauce and rice with peanut sauce the peanut sauce is my favorite and the fact that I can peanuts as a snack anytime I want from pretty much any street corner is awesome.

In November and December, I couldn’t believe people when they said that was the cold season… But now I understand. The heat is exhausting. I have perspired more here than I ever thought possible. I finish playing tennis and I look like I have taken a shower! The strength and intensity of the heat makes you feel like the sun has come unhinged and is on a trajectory path headed straight towards you and in a moment you will simply spontaneously combust! I may be being a bit dramatic, but… it’s true!

On a totally different subject, market vendors crack me up too… Figuring out how to bargain was a huge step for me. But I guess it paid off because when I traveled back to the US I was able to talk down the price of a new SIM card for my phone.

You see the skills I am learning here, they will be totally useful down the road ;)

I have learned how to handle sitting in a hot crowed bus for hours on end which will make the vacation trips with my family seem like a breeze.

I have learned how to carry my own toilet paper with me at all times.

I have learned how to politely refuse the constant stream of people trying to sell me something at every stop light.

However, adaptations aside, what I will bring back with me from Burkina Faso is a sense of inspiration.

The smiles I see are genuine. When it seems like there should be nothing to be happy about, I hear children laughing, playing. In the midst of poverty people find joy and that is inspiring. Joy should not be conditional on circumstance and I think that is one thing American’s would do well to learn from the Burkinabe or at least those whom I have had the good fortune of meeting.

Burkina Faso has challenged me.
Burkina Faso has changed me.

Burkina Faso has carved out its own special place my heart and infused my mind with countless precious my memories

For me Bukina Faso has lived up to its name as the land of the upright people in the friendliness and sense of welcome that are extended to visitors.

I have been privileged to be able to call Ouagadougou home, even if only for a short time and I sincerely hope I can to do justice to this place when the time comes to describe, to those whom I love, what Burkina Faso has meant to me.