May 26, 2003 - Raging Face: War Story -- A Peace Corps Language Teacher's Ha-Ha Cruelty

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Burkina Faso: Peace Corps Burkina Faso : The Peace Corps in Burkina Faso: May 26, 2003 - Raging Face: War Story -- A Peace Corps Language Teacher's Ha-Ha Cruelty

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, May 26, 2003 - 12:02 pm: Edit Post

War Story -- A Peace Corps Language Teacher's Ha-Ha Cruelty

War Story -- A Peace Corps Language Teacher's Ha-Ha Cruelty

War Story -- A Peace Corps Language Teacher's Ha-Ha Cruelty

I think the language teacher was glaring at me, but his crossed eyes sort of made me wonder. Was there another guy, just behind me, who had also just said something offensive? Had a chicken fallen from the sky just outside the back of the little straw hut we were sitting in? Was that what he was looking at?

We stared at each other for a few moments. Actually, I know I was staring at him, but God knows what Mamadou was staring at.

"What do you know about war?" he asked, in his West-African-accented French, pointing his long index finger at me. Yes, he was pointing it directly at me. The index finger worked just fine. He was pointing it at me, in my face, not in the face of the imaginary friend his left eye couldn't avoid watching. It was like some hawk lived in there, in his head, separate from his brain, a lonely animal that had only that one window, the language teacher's left eye, onto the African desert.

"No . . . that's not what I meant," I stammered, in my American-accented French. I'd just finished college, started Peace Corps training here in Mali three weeks earlier, right at the start of the hot season. I couldn't respond to him in Bambara, the most-spoken language in Mali and the one I'd end up speaking all during my Peace Corps service, because in that language I could still barely say my name or count to three or ask where the bathroom was so I could exhale another load of explosive diarrhea. "I'm not saying I know anything about war . . . I was just wondering if you had to kill people during Mali's battles in Burkina-Faso."

It was 120 degrees. Dust from the red-dirt road blew by outside the straw hut we were sitting in. A three-legged dog, it's short blonde fur sticking out in all directions, galloping along like a rocking horse, scooted by us.

There had indeed been a war between this country, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Two, actually, the first in 1974-75 and another in 1985, over territory. It was now only 1992, so a young man like Mamadou could definitely have fought in it. Except for the eye thing, he looked healthy enough -- full head of hair, tall, thin, strong arms, white teeth. Lots of educated men here served in the military.

"In war," he said to me, softly, "men kill each other. That's war. Killing. I killed five men. I looked them in the eyes as I jammed knives into their hearts. I enjoyed it."

"Yes, I understand," I replied.

"Good. Moving on -- let's conjugate the verb "yala-yala" (to walk around)."

After class finished, I went with my co-trainee and friend Peter to the cement sinks to wash our hands before lunch. Another language teacher next to us, a Muslim, washed his hands, too, and his ears and nose, and his hair. He might have been going to pray.

"Did you hear what Mamadou said about the war?" Peter asked me. "That shit was crazy!"

"You've got to understand," I said, shaking my head a little, knowingly, "People in other parts of the world view killing differently. War is a part of life here. I don't think we can judge him based on that."

"What?" he demanded. "That's crazy! He's fucking insane!"

"I just don't think we understand," I said. "It's a different culture."

Peter shook his head and snorted a little, the physical equivalent of saying, "whatever."

Two days later, I lounged in a plastic chaise under a straw shelter and read my Paul Bowles book, sweating, drinking a large Castel beer, which they sold for about a dollar at the bar, run by a guy from the nearby village who loved to sing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You."

"I could kill you right now," a voice above my feet said, in French.

I looked up. Momadou. Glaring at me again. I consciously tried to look sympathetic, understanding, wise. "I know. I know." I said.

He started laughing, pointing at me, just like he had that day in the classroom, straight in my face. "Ha! That was so easy!" he said. "Did you really think I fought in Burkina?"

"What?" I asked.

"Yes!!" he shrieked, clapping his hands and jumping up and down, the back of his Chinese flip-flops trailing his heels by a couple of inches. "Yes! Yes!"

"You never fought in . . ." I asked.

"NO!!" he replied, leaning his head back, like a kid at the top of his back-swing on a swing set.

I looked over at Peter, who sat on my right, in another chair, reading an old issue of GQ. He laughed, too. The words I'd said to him at the sinks sounded in my head: "I just don't think we understand," I had said. "It's a different culture." Just as I started to remember them, Peter started saying the same words, imitating my deeper-than-his voice.

"That's one of the best ones in a long time," Momadou said. "It's a different culture," he mocked, in heavily-accented English.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Raging Face

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Burkina Faso; Stories; COS - Mali



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.