Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why it's been so long since I updated my blog

There are several reasons; mainly a combination of malaria & typhoid, plus technical problems (not the least of which was forgetting my password for the blog). Since early April I've had malaria 3 times, and 1 very stubborn bout of typhoid. That's meant many days in bed, getting up only as needed - which was often due to LOTS of diarrhoea & a little bit of vomiting. Then on the days I have been well enough to go around the corner to the cybercafe to benefit from the quicker internet speed the net was often down, either because of a power cut or simply because that's the way the net is here.
But not to worry, I haven't been TOTALLY inactive. Easter was great,
and my friend Elizabeth came to help me cook a meal for the church's potluck - there are still heaps of leaves and veges that I don't know what to do with so her help was great. Before we got to eat the meal though we sang and danced for about an hour - I'm getting the hang of dancing Burkina style - very cool! And I love the music: drums, clapping, and maybe a couple of shakers but boy can they play and sing loud! They really know how to party.
I got my hair plaited for the Easter celebrations, which took 1 lady abut 4 hours. She insisted that I have hair extensions put in, hence the reddish-brown look. And the other photo is the frizz I was left with once I took the plaits out after a couple of weeks!
So for now that's really all my news
. I'm still not quite over the typhoid but am resting up and being well looked after...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm now safe and sound in my new home in Banfora! Through the church I contacted a guy who rented me a truck for the move. Michel, the driver, came by the Sunday before to see how much stuff I had, and we agreed that he'd come back on Wednesday afternoon so that we could load the truck, and then be good to go on Thursday at 4am. So far so good.


1700: no sign of him. I try to ring him but his number is "temporarily unavailable". I try again several more times only to get the same message...

1900: he rings to say he's broken down & that he'll come on Thursday morning between 8 & 9.


0920: I ring to see how far away he is, and he says he'll be there soon...

1030: He arrives with 6 keen young blokes, who proceed to cart my stuff outside and then onto the truck. (All of my furniture came from Eileen, who retired a couple of weeks ago.) The truck is really old and well used although not that well cared for. It's a flat-bed with sides but no roof. That's OK since rain's not expected for at least another month.

1130: We're good to go. Willie & Mark pray for me and we're away. Michel and 1 of the keen young blokes in the front with me, and the other 5 blokes in the back with all my stuff.

And just after 4.30 we arrive in Banfora. Caroline (one of my team mates) is there to let us all in. The apprentice welder (a teenager) and his helper (about 10 years old) are there putting a lock onto the gate. The 6 keen young blokes quickly but not very carefully unload everything. Then they get back in the truck to head straight back to Gaoua. Caroline is chatting to the welder, who by this time has turned up, about the state of the mosquito-netting door which the apprentice fitted – it doesn't stay shut. That kind of defeats the purpose! While she sorts him out I start the unpacking job. She has got clean (filtered) water there for me, as well as 20L of dirty (tap) water. At about 6pm the guy turns up to switch on the electricity – yay! Caroline's also got dinner there for me – bonus. The next afternoon the guy turned up to switch on my water so now all set.

On Saturday afternoon Caroline & I went to the Dioula literacy class. It was amazing to see how much they've progressed since my visit here in October! While I can read OK I don't understand much yet, they understand heaps but find reading difficult. It's good for my pronounciation and comprehension, as well as getting to know women from the church.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Exam time...

Having completed my first 3 months of studying Dioula, I needed to sit my first exams: written & oral. This meant that I had to go to Bobo-Dioulasso (AKA Bobo) where another missionary, Esther, could supervise my exams. I'd got a ticket for the 8am bus so I could have some time in the afternoon to do some last-minute study, before sitting the exam the next morning. Just a couple of doors from where I live there's a guy who owns a taxi, so the day before leaving I went to see him & asked if he could pick me up at 7.15 the next morning. (It's only 5 - 10 minutes drive to the bus station, but I wanted to allow plenty of time). "No problem," he said, "See you tomorrow." The next morning at 7.20 he still hadn't turned up, so I decided to walk to his place. No taxi.
No man.
Fortunately I had his cell phone number, which I rang. "Oh," he said, "I'm in Ouagadougou." (5 hours away). "But I can get my brother to pick you up, no problem." But yes there wa
s a problem because the I couldn't make out if he'd already told his brother or if I needed to ring him. It was getting complicated! "Don't worry," I said, "I'll ring someone else." Sophie works for Eileen and lives just a couple of minutes away, & although she doesn't start til 8 it was only 7:35. Fortunately she answered her cell phone, so I asked her if she could come quickly because the taxi had let me down. I sat at the bottom of the drive and waited... until she arrived 15 mins later. The busses are known to leave early, so I asked her to go quickly. Her 80cc Yamaha struggled along with the 2 of us, plus my heavy bag. Well, we made with about 90 seconds to spare - whew!
Even better - I passed the exam :) One of the hardest
parts was having to recite the names of the months - October is 'Saminyalabankalo'. They're all long names!
This past month I've also been house-hunting in Banfora, where I'll move in a few weeks. I had a look at about 5 houses, and found 1 I liked. It's got 3 bedrooms, a toilet and shower inside, cold running water (bonus!) and a kitchen... which is outside. Since most cooking here is done over wood or charcoal, kitchens are usually a small separate building. But I'll use one of the bedrooms as a kitchen, and keep the external kitchen to store my motorbike.
I've also been driving in the past week or 2, since my International Drivers' Permit FINALLY arrived. It sure is different here - you have to contend with goats, sheep, pigs & dogs wandering on the road, not to mention people who don't indicate much less look before they pull out. And so far I've only been on tar-sealed roads,
whereas most are di
rt, with many pot holes. But so far, so good.

On to much more serious matters: the earthquake in Christchurch. Thankfully I was able to ring home and all my family is fine. I'm just waiting to hear from a few more friends. It's just a mess - 75 confirmed dead, and 300 missing.
Sobering stuff. Makes me grateful that I know where I'm spending eternity.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Christmas in Gaoua

It sure was Christmas with a difference! The party got underway at about 9pm on Christmas Eve, and we sang & danced til we could no more. Well, the locals danced and I watched, amazed at their rhythm and how bendy they are! Just as well there's a week between Christmas & New Year's Eve; you need a week to get over the first party and psyched up for the 2nd. After snatching a few hours sleep early Christmas morning, it was back to church at 8am (rise & shine eh). It was a shared lunch, and boy was it a feast: rice, yams (the huge potato things called yams; really they taste heaps better than yams), veges, beef, sauce, fish, drinks... Then back home for a siesta (I love this country), before another shared meal at another church: couscous, salad (at last, something that we'd have at home on Christmas day!), drinks, veges, & beef. Then it was decided that we should have at least a veneer of healthiness in the day so it was down the road for a stroll. Then back home for another Christmas mince pie and a cuppa tea. (The other kiwi here made the Christmas mince pies - what a good woman!) Check out the church material - every Christmas the women get some material made and you can not, under any circumstances, wear it before Christmas Day! This year there was a choice of yellow & orange (made me look sick) or green & brown (more like me).

Our team celebrated Christmas & New Year's Eve together in Banfora. The region is known for the waterfalls and rocks, which are similar to the Pancake rocks at Punakaiki. It was lovely to enjoy the scenery, the quiet, & the green trees. We had a relaxed time together and it was fun. And since I've decided to move to Banfora, I'll be able to go there often - sweet as! I'm planning to move in the middle of March, but before then I'll have my first Dioula exams (3rd Feb). So between now & then it'll be head down! In Dioula, everybody gives blessings & one of my favourites means "May God make the road better". If you could see some of the roads here, you'd understand why such a blessing is used!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Road rash

Soon after I arrived here, Eileen (the other kiwi here) got the old bike fixed up for me to use. Someone had borrowed it and returned it in a poor state - he'd broken the frame in 2 places. This was hard for me to understand how he could have done that, but since then I've seen some of the loads people put on their bikes. Like 50kg sacks of maize. Anyway I've been using that bike quite a bit and it's old as but no worries. A few weeks ago I was biking up one of Gaoua's 2 hills when something felt very wrong. I realised that I was falling off... and landed on my knee on the dirty roadside. Hence the road rash on my knee. (Since there's no rubbish collection here, there's rubbish all over the place.) It so happened that 2 young girls walking by saw me and came to see if I was OK - which I thought was very nice. Then one of them offered to push my bike for me to the nearest bike repair place. The other girl was carrying a chilly bin - on her head of course - so couldn't really push the bike. She probably makes & sells juice and keeps it cold in the chilly bin. It's not the done thing here for anyone to let someone older than you carry anything, so I knew it was quite normal for the girl to push my bike for me. Anyway, not far away we came across a bike repair guy who soon had my pedal back on, good as gold. But then he saw that where the handle bars had been soldered on (after the bike had been borrowed) there was a big crack. The crack was so big that the handle bars were wobbly! I'm so glad they didn't fall off on me!! Once home I cleaned my knee and put a bandage on it, sweet as. But a few days later it got infected - so I learned a lesson about how easy it is to get infections here. It's all healed up now, & I got the bike sorted out too - new handle bars for $8 so cheap as.
I'm still having fun learning Dioula. Fortunately the 4 part-time staff at the mission are very accommodating of my attempts at talking to them, as each week I need to practise something 40 times. This week it's 'What are you doing?' or 'What did you do yesterday?' or 'What are you doing tomorrow?' So I have ask those questions a total of 40 times. Then I say things like 'Are you sweeping?' 'I am making lunch.' I feel like a 5 year old kid learning to read - but bit by bit I'll get there! It's a buzz when I understand people and when they understand me.
Last month I stayed for a week with Mark (from the UK) & Caroline (from Burkina) and their daughter Naomi - the last of my team mates to visit. They live in Banfora, which is about 4 hours drive to the west of Gaoua. It was cool to see what they're doing, and meet some of their friends as well (see the photo). One day Caroline & I went to the market where we bought a T-shirt. The guy originally asked 6000 francs for it (about $18) but she bargained him down to about half of that! I would've been happy to pay more, so I learned about bargaining!
The week before last we had the team's annual conference, which although full on went well. All decisions affecting the team are made by the team, and there was lots of info new to me. Of course it was all in French so all that hard work in France is paying off! It was a good chance for me to get a grasp on the big picture of what the team does here, as well as get to know everybody better. We also made plans for our Christmas celebration - we're going to Banfora for a couple of nights so we can check out the waterfalls. There are also rocks there similar to the Pancake Rocks just out of Greymouth. Watch this space for photos!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pegs, taxis & dentists

A while ago I needed to buy some clothes pegs, but had no idea where in the market to find them. Going to the market always gives me the chance I need to practice Dioula so I decided to combine my 2 needs. I greeted a lady who was selling bananas, & asked her how much they were. She answered me in Dioula (naturally) so I needed a minute to work it out. (When talking about money, they talk about how many 5 franc coins are needed, based on an old system, so everything has to be multiplied or divided by 5). While I was still thinking about it, a lady nearby told me the price in French and so the 3 of us had a laugh as they could tell I was just a beginner. Having bought the bananas I asked the 2nd lady if she could tell me where I could buy pegs. She didn't know, but motioned for me to follow her. As we weaved our way through the market she called out to various vendors that she knew, asking them where to find pegs. None of them knew either, but they spread the message to all their neighbours so soon lots & lots of people knew that I was looking for pegs! And it wasn't long before we came across a guy who sold pegs so the deal was done. Just like that!

By the way - no photos this time sorry: I couldn't upload them for some annoying and unknown technical reason.

My orientation to my team mates and their towns continues, and I spent an enjoyable 5 days in Batié, which is about 70km south of where I'm staying in Gaoua. Sjon & Peggy (Dutch) have lived there for 11 years, and run a library, youth meetings, and an English club (among other stuff). Actually my stay was mostly enjoyable - apart from a tooth ache. I decided that I should get it checked out sooner rather than later, so asked around for a dentist. To be sure of getting a good one (you know, someone who sterilises the instruments between patients), it meant I had to go to Ouagadougou (5 hours drive) or Bobo-Dioulasso (3 hours drive). I ended up choosing the latter, and had just 1 night back in Gaoua after my trip to Batié. Travelling is tiring here, so even though they were short trips they were pretty taxing. The VERY bumpy dirt roads are full of pot holes and the busses always play loud music. This time though, the music wasn't so loud that it distorted so that was a nice change. While I was getting off the bus in Bobo, a guy asked me if I needed a taxi, which I did. All the taxis that I've seen here are old Peugeouts and the colour of this font. None of them would ever pass a warrant - I haven't yet seen a taxi whose 4 doors still open & close properly, and they are all very tired looking. The taxi driver's young mate got in the front beside him, and soon asked if I minded if he smoked. I said that'd be OK I'll just wind down the windows - then I saw that both handles in the back had broken off. Fortunately he didn't light up cos I can't stand the smell of smoke. Then he asked me if I would marry him! I'd been warned to expect proposals so I knew exactly what to do - laugh out loud. I did that, but it didn't seem to deter him at all. Not to worry, I had other cards to play: I asked him how old he was. He told me 22, so I again laughed at him and told him that I was FAR too old for him because I'm 36. Then he pulled out his identity card to show me that he is in fact 29. So then I told him that he smokes and he lies and since I don't like either of those things we DEFINITELY couldn't get married. He still went on (persistent eh!) so then I told him that my dad would ask FAR TOO MUCH for a bride price and he could never afford it so that was that. Fortunately by then we'd arrived at where I was staying so I paid the driver and got out. While I was walking away the other one asked me for my cell phone number! I told him "no sorry" and then ignored him as I walked away, glad that was over.

The next day I went to the dentist and was pleased to see things like gloves, disposable cups, and a clean and tidy room. It was way flasher than I'd expected - he took an Xray which instantly showed up on a monitor that I could see. And the good news was that the pain was caused by a gum infection not a cavity. No worries - mouth wash for a few days and it's all honky-dorey. And all up it was not even $20 so I was very pleased. While in the big smoke (Bobo is the 2nd biggest city in BF) I checked out the market. It is HUGE! Unbelievable how many boutiques there were selling anything and everything. They're very good salesmen, and I had to be very firm not to yield to them other than buying a cool pair of earrings.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A frog, a cat, & a snake

Last week I saw my 1st snake - there are heaps around, I just haven't gone looking for them. I was a bit disappointed when I saw this one cos it was only about 30cm long. But then I found out it was a viper so size doesn't matter! The snake was dead because the cat, Tui, is awesome at killing snakes. (Big ones, small ones - no worries). Then we saw the frog a metre or so away, & so we think that the snake was attacking the frog when Tui saw him and took his chance! Unfortunately the frog wasn't quite dead, so I put him out of his misery. (Cats don't usually attack frogs because they spit poisonous stuff at them). Frog: 0 points. Snake: 0 points. Em: 2 points. Tui: 10 points. I don't usually like cats that much, but Tui has shot up in my estimation. Makes me even want to get a cat for myself.

The rainy season is nearing its end, which is a good thing because in several places there has been flooding due to unusually heavy rains. Actually quite a few people have lost their entire maize crops this year, and if it rains much more in the next week or so everybody's millet will rot. Heavy rains also means that lots of houses have collapsed (most houses are made from mud bricks, which although cheap aren't sturdy). The other problem affecting nearly everybody in the country is the fact that there's no gas. The price of charcoal went up so much that it was cheaper to cook by gas, so demand went up and then supply ran out. A couple of lots have recently come into Ouagadougou (the capital city) but fighting ensued as demand far exceeded supply. In the meantime my supply is OK, but if the gas crisis lasts much longer we'll have to buy charcoal (which has gone up by at least 300%) and cook over that. It's alright for me, I can afford to buy the charcoal but many many others can't. Think about running a restaurant without gas to cook with, or how hospitals will cope without gas for the gas fridges.

Someone recently asked me about what I eat, & I figured others of you would be interested in that too, so here's the deal. Guinea fowl is pretty common (think of a small and skinny chicken) and that's nice, although sometimes they can be very tough. Meat is very dear, but in Gaoua (where I'm living) you can get pork, goat, beef, chicken & fish so that's a good variety. However, the meat market is open to flies and every other type of insect so yeah, that can be a bit off-putting. Whenever one of us missionaries go to 1 or other of the 2 main cities, it's usually with a shopping list for the others too. Pretty much all the fruit & veges are seasonal. At the moment there is cabbage, yam (kind of like a HUGE potato), cucumber, onions, guava (very nice stewed), okra (slimy if boiled but pretty good when chopped & fried), bananas, oranges whose skins are green and whose taste is rather tangy, and even apples (1 variety). There's also things called custard apples, so named because of the texture of the flesh I think. They're nice, very sweet, and not to be eaten when in a hurry because they're filled with big black pips. In the market I've also seen big green leaves for sale, which are used to make a sauce to go with the staple diet of tô (this is kind of like a solid porridge made from ground maize or millet). I don't know if I'll ever like tô, but if I can get to the point where I can eat enough of it so as not to offend those who have generously shared it with me, I'll be happy. My tolerance is improving though: the first time I managed only 1 mouthful, the 2nd time I probably had 2 or 3 mouthfuls, and the 3rd time I had what I would call a good helping, but was still probably only 1/3 of what they'd eat. If I keep increasing the amounts like that though I'll be rather overweight in a year! If ever someone's hungry while travelling, apart from being able to buy hard boiled eggs from the road side, you can also buy roasted maize - pretty healthy takeaways eh?

While staying with Alice, a Swiss missionary, I asked her to pass me the purple bucket - at least I meant to. I said: "Tu peux me passer le peau pourpre?" instead of "...le seau pourpre?" So what I asked for was the purple skin! I'm sure there are many language mistakes awaiting me... I start studying Dioula next week with a friend of a friend. I'm looking forward to it though! (As long as she's got a good sense of humour). I'll keep you posted.