Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why the Monkey Lives in the Trees

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a book of traditional Burkinabè fables, the kind parents in the villages tell their children to teach them lessons that will prove useful in life. The first one is a good one that I thought I’d share with you. It’s entitled “Why The Monkey Lives In The Trees”. Here it is:

One day, a mother crocodile fell ill and it was evident that her days were numbered. A traditional healer said that he could heal her, but required the heart of a monkey to do it. “How in the world am I going to get the heart of a monkey?” thought the mother crocodile’s son. He decided to at least go to the edge of the river to see what he could do. Once there, he spotted a monkey in a tree.

“What are you doing up in that tree?” he asked the monkey.

“Looking for karité fruit,” replied the monkey.

“I know where you can find lots of them,” said the crocodile. “Big ones too! If you like, I can take you there.”

The monkey quickly descended the tree, climbed on the crocodile’s back, and off they went. However, once in the middle of the river, the crocodile began to cry.

“Why are you crying?” asked the monkey.

“My mother is very sick and I need the heart of a monkey to help her get better,” explained the crocodile.

The monkey laughed out loud and exclaimed, “Hey, I can help you! I can give you mine! However, I left it back there in that tree because we monkeys never go anywhere with our hearts for fear of losing them. Just take me back to the shore and I’ll go and get it for you.”

Once back on shore, the monkey quickly climbed back up into the tree and stayed there. Since then, monkeys always live in trees for fear that a crocodile will catch them and take away their heart. End of story.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a pretty cool story! I loved the monkey’s reaction to the difficult situation he found himself in. He did the completely unexpected: He laughed! And then proceeded to dupe the crocodile like the crocodile had duped him with the result that he was able to get himself out of a seemingly impossible situation and save his life. There’s a life lesson in that alright :) Now, if only I could think that fast!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Friend, Desiré

I just spent a pleasant hour or so with my friend, Desiré. I first got to know him in the days before digital cameras. He was one of the many guys downtown selling rolls of film, and whenever I needed another roll or two for my camera, he’s the person I bought from. Unlike many of the street vendors who were either downright annoying or constantly looking to take advantage of you (or both!), Desiré turned out to be a decent gu,y and our relationship as buyer and seller eventually became one of friends.

He’s helped me out numerous times when I’ve needed information or haven’t been able to find some item that I needed. He knows the downtown and its denizens on a level that I never could. Usually we’d get together whenever I had to run an errand or two in his part of the world. Lately, however, my current administrative responsibilities have not allowed me to get away so easily. It’s been four months or more since I last saw him. So today, he borrowed someone’s moto and came to my place instead.

We sat on my veranda, shelling and crunching on peanuts, and catching up on each other’s lives. It had rained in the morning, so the day was refreshingly nice and cool for a change. Unfortunately, the rain also brings out the mosquitoes and, despite my best efforts, some of the little beggars got me on my bare arms. I know, I know, I should have got up and put on mosquito repellent, but I was too lazy :)

Desiré lives with his wife and son in a row of cheap, crowded apartments where everyone shares a common courtyard and water tap. He still makes his living selling rolls of film as he is able (not many people use film anymore), but also takes photographs of people and events on demand. Not a very reliable way to make a living, though. There are weeks when there isn’t much call for his services. I’ve never heard him complain, but I know he runs short sometimes and stuff a bill in his shirt pocket quick and walk away before he has time to stop me.

Quite a difference from the young man that accosted me as I was leaving a graduation ceremony at a local church this morning and on my way to the reception. He asked if he could catch a ride with me. I remember seeing him in the crowd at the ceremony, so agreed. On the way, he told me that he was going through a difficult time and could use a little help. Knowing that many churches here have a ministry to respond to such needs (and not convinced he was telling me the truth), I asked him which church he attended. He indicated the one we were just driving away from. I continued and asked if he’d approached them for help. He said yes, that they’d given him some food a couple of months ago and he was ashamed to ask again. I said I’d think about his request at the reception.

Once there, I found the pastor of the church and asked him to confirm the young man’s story. He didn’t know the young man, but made some phone calls, including one to the person in charge of helping people in need. All yielded negative results.

After the reception, I took the young man back to the church to find the person in charge of helping people in need. He wasn’t there, but a friend of mine was. He didn’t recognize the young man. Neither did the pastor and his wife when they showed up a little while later. Frankly, this was beginning to look like a scam to me.

I finally decided to give the fellow a coin that would buy him supper and told him come to church the next morning (Sunday) and ask for help there. If he’s not genuine, he either won’t come, or the church folks will figure him out. When it comes to scam artists, us expats are generally a pretty easy target. But it’s hard to fool the locals :)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Out With Burkinabe Friends

Last week, my friend, Aristide, called me up and said that we needed to go out together some- where. This sounded good to me because when I’m at work, I think and talk about work. When I’m at home, I think and talk about work. When Kathy and I go out somewhere together, we think and talk about work. Well, it’s true that I love my work, but hey, once in a while it’s nice to have a change of pace, to think and talk about something different! For this reason, I’m glad that I have a few friends that are not connected to my work in any way whatsoever.

So on Saturday night, Kathy and I got in the truck and headed over to the other end of the city to Aristide’s place. He said that he already had a place picked out where we could go to eat. It was getting dark and rain clouds were gathering as we left our humble hovel, and lightning was flashing in the distance. By the time we got to Aristide’s neighbourhood, it was completely dark and the rain had begun pouring down. We could hardly see where we were going! In fact, it was a miracle that we found his place at all. I’d only been there a couple of times, and this time, due to construction and detours, had to approach it from an entirely different direction completely.

We stayed put at his place for the duration of the downpour. When the rain finally subsided sufficiently to think about heading out, it was already after 9 o’clock but we headed off anyway.

The road near Aristide’s place was completely flooded at this point. I stayed near the middle as much as possible to avoid the ditches on either side, but was no longer able to see the potholes. We hit some deep ones, but managed to make our way out easily enough. One car wasn’t so lucky. The driver had misjudged the location of the roadside ditch and one front wheel was clearly down in it, leaving the back end sticking up into the air. A small crowd of men was trying valiantly to extract the vehicle. They must have succeeded eventually because when we came back that way later on, the car was gone.

The place we went to was an African-style restaurant with metal tables and chairs set up outside. This particular one was renowned for the style of chicken it served. They boiled it in a yeasty broth instead of grilling it. Aristide and I decided that three chickens would do for the four of us (these are Burkinabè chicken, remember, and not the kind they serve in Swiss Chalet, where a quarter chicken has as much meat on it as an entire local chicken here!) and sat down with our wives to talk and wait. Unfortunately, the humidity at this time of the year brought out the mosquitoes, so Kathy and Mariam, being in dresses, spent much of their time trying to keep the little beasties away from their bare legs.

After half an hour or so, the chicken finally came. To be honest, I prefer chicken grilled to that boiled in a yeasty broth. But it was worth it for the opportunity to spend some time with friends, and think and talk about something completely different from our regular lives.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

That Explains It!

Last week, we were doing a Crisis Management Training seminar on our Centre here in Ouaga. At one point, it was mentioned that we should do our best to make friends with local Burkinabè who may be of help to us in an emergency or crisis. I shot up my hand and told how I’d made friends with many of the curbside vendors between our side of the city and the downtown core. These are young men and boys that sell recharge cards for cell phones, paper tissues, gum, and other handy commodities to the people waiting for the light to change at the various intersections along the road. Not exactly an influential section of society, but they’re nice guys and seem to appreciate having someone greet them and exchange a few words. And who knows, they may end up being very helpful if Kathy or I ever find ourselves stuck on the side of the road due to a break-down or an accident.

As soon as I said this, one of our co-workers looked at me and exclaimed, “So that explains it!”

“That explains what?” I asked.

“One day when I was driving your truck,” she said, “I couldn’t understand why all these young guys were waving at me and running towards me at almost all the intersections on the way to town! I thought there was something wrong with the vehicle! I had no idea what was going on at the time, but that certainly explains it!”

We all had a good laugh :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sorry for the Silence!

I must apologize for the paucity of blog postings over the past month. In fact, I was amazed to realize that I never managed to write even one post for the month of May! I got swamped with administrative responsibilities, a personal situation that took a lot of my time and energy, and an intensive leadership development workshop in BC. Something had to give and it ended up being the blog :/

So the rainy season has finally started in earnest here in Ouaga. Consequently, we’re enjoying some cooler temperatures, but getting less sleep (rain pounding on a tin roof has a tendency to keep me awake) and having to deal with increasingly messy roads. This morning as we were driving to work, trying to decide whether or not to go through some of those big puddles or around them (you can’t really tell how deep they are until it’s too late), I pointed out to Kathy that back in Canada, things feel clean after a rain. Not so here. Too much garbage everywhere. The environmental movement has not reached Burkina yet. They’ve got bigger things to worry about, like trying to make ends meet.

This week, we received a note from our guards asking for money for food. It’s that time of the year between the end of food stocks from last year’s harvest and the new crops that are being planted when prices go up. The night guard had asked me to begin taking a certain amount of money off his paycheque each month (starting this past month) to go towards the purchase of a moto. So I just turned around and gave him his savings back. I don’t think he was too happy about it. I think he thought I’d just give him money out of my pocket as a gift to buy food and he could continue to keep saving for a moto too. We’ve evidently got some cross-cultural differences at work here.

Last weekend was graduation time for the students of the International School of Ouagadougou. Several of our colleagues had kids graduating, so we went to the grad ceremony to share in the occasion. Believe it or not, Kathy & I ended up briefly meeting the wife of the president of Burkina Faso. Mme Chantal Compaoré came walking down the aisle on her way out of the building and stopped to shake our hands. No, she didn’t know us. We just happened to be in her way. Her bodyguards were pushing people back, but we had nowhere to go. Sometimes there are silver linings to having your back up against a wall :)

Well, I’ve still got a bunch of admin stuff waiting for me to do, so I’d better get back at it. Until next time!