2006.04.01: April 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Burkina Faso: COS - The Gambia: Raritan: The Gambia RPCV Chris Walsh writes: "Burkina Faso: Walden in West Africa"

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Burkina Faso: Peace Corps Burkina Faso : The Peace Corps in Burkina Faso: 2006.04.01: April 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Burkina Faso: COS - The Gambia: Raritan: The Gambia RPCV Chris Walsh writes: "Burkina Faso: Walden in West Africa"

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-245-111-32.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - 70.245.111.32) on Saturday, June 17, 2006 - 6:37 pm: Edit Post

The Gambia RPCV Chris Walsh writes: "Burkina Faso: Walden in West Africa"

The Gambia RPCV Chris Walsh writes: Burkina Faso: Walden in West Africa

The typical American woman one encounters in West Africa is a Peace Corps volunteer, a missionary, or a Foreign Service or NGO employee. She is white, well-educated, well-intentioned, sandal wearing, makeup eschewing. The PCVs are tan and often don't shave their legs or armpits. The missionaries are usually very pale. Bonnie wore makeup and pumps. Unlike the NGO or Embassy people who would say, "Don't worry about that spill, staff will take care of that," she was not used to having a maid.

The Gambia RPCV Chris Walsh writes: "Burkina Faso: Walden in West Africa"

Against Fluency; or, Walden in West Africa

Apr 1, 2006

Raritan

I WENT TO Conakry because they invited me there to speak. I'd never been invited anywhere before, not "to speak." I liked the ring of that.

[Excerpt]

Africa would be balm. As a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia a decade before I had come to feel that life has wider margins in Africa. Things move more slowly there. One can take one's time, one can take naps. And one can, thanks to widespread illiteracy, escape the written word.

Now, illiteracy is a terrible thing. There are brake-fluid bottles on which raised plastic letters announce, WARNING: POISONOUS. DESTROY THIS CONTAINER. DO NOT REUSE FOR DRINKING WATER. I have seen these bottles, a handy six-ounce-or-so size, several times, and in only one place-the hands of young West African mothers, raising them to their babies' puckering mouths. Illiteracy is terrible.

The illiterate, however, have better memories and longer attention spans than we do. The unschooled African villagers I have known have struck me as there in a way no hyperliterate person (always consulting his mental notebooks) ever is. Walter Ong noted that while the spoken word brings people together, literacy isolates them. Milan Kundera laments the modern phenomenon of "graphomania," in which people use words not as bridges but as walls. But there I go quoting people again.

Ouagadougou, unlikely as it sounds, would be my Walden, the site for my self-repossession. The capital of Burkina Faso, the city has a million people, maybe a million and a half. There are radio stations and newspapers and internet cafs, but Burkina is one of the poorest countries in the world. One evening I sat at a little outdoor bar and had poulet televise. This is a whole chicken-they run very small-roasted on a spit behind a glass window. Delicious with salt and hot pepper and cold watery Brakina or Flag beer. A child of ten or so bussed my plate away and called a friend to him. Together these boys stripped away the bits of meat I had left on the skinny bones.

They ate the cartilage and sucked the marrow.

At rush hour the main intersections of Ouaga fog over with the exhaust of mopeds and old Mercedes, Peugeots, and Renaults. These cars are the most lasting legacies of the many aid organizations that have alighted in Burkina. Off the bustling and desperate drags, though, the roads are sand and dirt, and one feels the quiet of the village, a quiet made deeper by the village sounds-a cattle's low, a roosters crow. Peddlers walk by selling shoes, blankets, chickens. A singing boy tends a herd of goats. Stalks of millet dry on rooftops. Watching a hobbled donkey kick up dust into the late afternoon light, I felt there was something positively biblical about the Sahel: the open wells and thorny bushes, the date palms and hot sun and arid, colorful marketplaces, the asses and camels.

These are all symptoms of "underdevelopment," I suppose, but that doesn't mean they don't have a wonderful simplicity and peace. The endemic fatalism, the god-willingness of everyone, is kind of nice, too. In sha'allah, people often say here-if God wills-and they mean it.

I went to Ouagadougou, more practically speaking, to teach American literature. (I may have soured on the literary enterprise, but I had also unfitted myself for most other life endeavors.) The university students were on strike when I arrived. Then the government shut down the campus. When the authorities came to terms with the students, the professors went on strike. These troubles gave me time to work on my French, explore Burkina, and play softball.





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Story Source: Raritan

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

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