(continued post from “Travel, Chicken, & Starry Nights”)
We arrived at our site on Wednesday and stayed until Saturday morning. Thursday was fairly uneventful. My counterpart took us to breakfast at around 8 am. We went to a small café that was clearly a community favorite.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that women here don’t tend to go to restaurants. I have seen two Burkinabè women at restaurants in the over a month I’ve been here. I have some guesses as to why this is, but without definitive answers, I don’t wish to conjecture or make judgements that could prove to be false.
The café we were taken to was packed with men enjoying breakfast with tea and conversation. We hadn’t expected breakfast; so we’d already eaten my remaining two apples and some gateaux Josh had purchased in Ouaga. This meant that we just ordered some coffee. At our site, they make this by taking a spoonful of Nescafé, adding it to a 6 oz. glass, and then adding hot water until the glass is about a third full. It’s pretty strange here for us to drink our coffee black, because normally, they’d fill the glass three-quarters of the way with sweetened condensed milk, a spoonful of Nescafé, maybe a cube of sugar, and top it with hot water. This has been given to me by mistake before and it’s pretty awful, especially all that sugar first thing in the morning. But the way they made our coffee was surprisingly wonderful as it almost tasted like real coffee!
We hung out here for a bit, wow-ed them all with our Mooré, and then went home and played cards for several hours as we slowly accumulated an ever-increasing audience of kids who steadily got bolder and bolder until they were sitting on our porch within touching distance. We went back to the same café at 12 pm for lunch and got riz gras (see post on food). This lit my mouth on fire! We then continued playing cards with our crowd back at our house until 3 or 4 pm when Josh’s counterpart came by with his brother-in-law, and we went out for drinks.
At the bar we went to, we ordered beers for all (except me as I don’t enjoy the beer here) and a plate of chunks of grilled goat. It was a lot better than it sounds. We had a lot of fun talking in a mix of French, Mooré, and English. Josh’s counterpart is an English teacher, which helps a lot with language barriers. Our conversation varied from culture in Burkina Faso to the accents that South Carolina boasts, including my inability to understand the accent I grew up in, let alone the accents of the Burkinabè. After 2 plates of goat meat, 2 beers per person (2 sodas for me), my impromptu Mooré lessons from the exceedingly friendly bartender/goat cooker, and finding a new hang out spot, we piled into Seido’s (Josh’s counterpart) car (with air conditioning!!!) and headed back to our house (no air conditioning).
By this point, it was about 8:30 pm or so; so of course we decided to play some cards by our lamplight. Within minutes of beginning our card game, we hear a quiet “bon soir” outside our door. Our next door neighbor (keep in mind this isn’t our permanent house), the chef (chief) of the something in the village (we met so many chefs, I cannot keep them all straight) was at our door with a bucket of food to help welcome us to the town. This was an extremely flattering gesture! A man so revered by the community that his name cannot be spoken has thought to bring us food himself! Now I only wish that I hadn’t filled up on so much goat meat!
The food he’d brought us was tô. As this is the traditional meal, I was not surprised in the least. This tô is different from the type our host family makes for us. It is less gelatinous and has more of a gooey grits texture. I don’t think I will ever actually enjoy eating tô, but this was certainly more enjoyable than our usual. The sauce wasn’t bad, but as the traditional sauce typically has a mucus texture, I don’t see myself ever really enjoying that either, sadly. Josh, once again, took one for the team and ate the lion’s share. We, then, politely returned the food and thanked the chef and his wife profusely for their generosity.
On Friday, we biked somewhere between 9 and 12 miles (depending on who you asked) to a nearby large town where Seidou lives and Josh’s district head is located. This was easily the longest consecutive ride that Josh and I have ever taken. We brought one pack for our waters and switched this between the two of us. An hour later with shaking legs, we arrived at where we believed we were to meet Seidou. After standing for about 5 minutes, I decided I couldn’t take anymore and unceremoniously plopped to the ground. Josh shortly followed suit. We spent barely a minute on the ground before the kids behind us brought over two stools that they had been using. Of course we had spoken to them and the adults when we’d arrived at this place, but never would I ever expect someone to take the seat out from under them to give to me. The everyday kindness and consideration these people show continues to awe me.
I was very grateful for their selflessness as we waited here for over an hour before realizing that we’d misunderstood and were, in fact, in the wrong place. We quickly hopped on our bikes and made our way to the proper meeting place.
After we met more people, we went out for drinks and lunch with Seidou, Josh’s principal, Josh’s principal’s brother, and a woman whose relation to everyone else I never was able to figure out. Once again, beers all around (except for the women) and at about 1 pm, two grilled chickens were brought to the table, head, beak, and all. As I’ve mentioned before, I knew they ate a lot more of the animal than we do, as I had encountered the organs, but I never expected to be served a plate with a full cooked chicken head. How tedious must that have been to pluck?!
Immediately, the principal and Seidou each grabbed an end of a long, knotted thing, that I can only guess is the gizzard, and ripped it in half. Seidou then offered the end he isn’t holding to me to do the same. I try to politely deny this offering for a multitude of reasons which I think are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s considered highly offensive to reject food; so it was my turn to take one for the team. I pulled off my portion and quickly ate it. Soon thereafter, I picked up a piece of chicken that included a lot of organs. I don’t know what they were except that it definitely had the heart and lungs. I offered these to Seidou, thinking if I can’t reject him, he can’t reject me! It worked, for the most part. He left part of the lung, which I then offered to Josh, quietly reminding him of the possible gizzard I just had to swallow. He acquiesced and I thought I was safe. Little did I know that I would be unlucky enough to get another lung. I had to eat this. And thus is my tale of the first chicken organs I have ever consumed, but I would be amazed if these are my last.
After a few hours, we got back on our bikes for the return 9-12 mile ride. Fortunately, our ride back was mostly downhill. While Burkina is primarily flat, there is a slight grade, that, when mixed with a strong wind, can make biking (for those of us not big into biking athletics) pretty tough at times. Exhausted, sweaty, and slightly sunburned, we did very little for the rest of the day.
At one point, we sat outside as a crowd of children once again gathered. An old, shirtless woman from one of the neighboring houses saw this group and quickly rushed to our aid to shoo off the multitude of kids. I would love to describe this scene, but I fear that some may take my comments negatively, and as I have no desire to express anything but positive things about this sweet woman, I will refrain. Once her task was accomplished, she introduced herself to us in Mooré and we had an awkward interaction of bowing and handshaking with grins galore.
Soon after this, one of the other chefs rode up on his moped and opened conversation with us in Mooré. He quickly switched to English, explaining that his English wasn’t very good because he had learned it over 30 years ago in school. In all honesty, his English was probably a lot better than my French. We had a wonderful exchange. He asked us questions about our stay and told us of his successful tutelage of Mooré, which means that I’ll have someone to go to to improve my skills!! He then asked when we would return. I responded with September. As he got back on his moped he told us that he’d be here “if I don’t die!” and then busted out laughing in a hilariously maniacal fashion as he attempted to start his moped. This would have been a wonderful ending note as he sped away into the sunset. Unfortunately, his moped didn’t start. So he just continued laughing for a solid 2 minutes until his moped finally kicked on. Josh and I felt it only polite to laugh with him the whole time, as it was truly amusing. This was by far one of the highlights of my visit as it was such a truly genuine moment.
I think this is the perfect anecdote on which to end my stories of my site visit. Everything hereafter was pretty standard. Travel back to Lèo was the same as to our site so no real reason to reiterate the super cushy Burkina bus experience.
As always, thank you for reading and if you have anything you’d like to know more about that I haven’t covered, feel free to shoot me an email!