Thursday, February 5, 2009

I'm Not the Boogie-Man!

Sunday afternoon after siesta, I was sitting out on the porch in front of our little place in Ouaga, working on repairing something, when I suddenly became aware of a little face peeking through the holes in the courtyard wall. Unlike most courtyard walls in Burkina, ours had a section with decorative holes in it. We’re not sure why the owner had that done. Our guards don’t like it because it allows passers-by to look in and watch them. We don’t particularly like it either for exactly the same reason. Children are particularly nosey, always waiting for the opportunity to look into our courtyard to see what the “nasara” (white people) are doing. We’re a form of entertainment :)

That’s apparently what was happening now. Some kids were no doubt looking in to see what we were doing, taking advantage of the fact that there was no guard on duty on Sundays to chase them away.

A small voice said, “Bonjour, monsieur.” I looked again. Now there were two little faces peeking through, and I could see a hand waving back and forth in greeting. Knowing that they would probably stay there indefinitely unless I chased them away or went out to talk to them, I debated which course of action to take. Well, they weren’t being rude, just friendly, so I decided on the latter.

When I opened the gate, I was surprised to see three young girls standing there. I was expecting boys. It’s rather unusual for girls to approach strangers like this. Nevertheless, I greeted them and asked them their names and how old they were. At 13, Zenabo was the oldest, balancing herself on a well-used bicycle. Alizeta was 11 and spent most of her time smiling shyly. Falidatou was only 9 years old, but was the most outgoing and talkative one of the bunch. She stood next to me as I squatted down and leaned back against the wall to talk with them.

“Your hair looks really smooth,” she interjected during a lull in the conversation. “That’s the way most white people’s hair is,” I replied. She was silent for a moment. “Can I touch it?” she asked. I laughed. “Sure,” I answered. “Wow,” she said after a few seconds, “is it ever smooth! Our hair’s not like that!” “Oh?” I replied. “What’s your hair like?” She grimaced. “Ours is hard and stiff.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Well, can I touch it?” I asked. “Okay,” she said :)

A few moments later, she continued. “I can see your veins,” she said, pointing at the back of my hand, then running her finger along several of them. “I can see yours too,” I replied, pointing to one protruding slightly on the back of her hand. She ignored me.

By the way she and the other girls continued to marvel at my skin, I concluded that they were probably confirming the fact that I was a real person and not just a ghost! Everyone knows that ghosts have no skin colour, right? They’re white, just like us westerners. Which probably explains why some village children have run off screaming at the sight of us. Or maybe it’s because their parents have told them that if they don’t behave, the white man will come and get them. They must have been pretty naughty children!

Then it was time for them to go. “We’ll come back next Sunday, okay?” said Falidatou as they walked off. I guess they concluded that I wasn’t the boogie-man after all.


Laura Dun said...

Nice one, Mike!

Mike Steinborn said...

Haha, if anyone can appreciate that one, Laura, it's you :) You've been there!