Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

jeudi, novembre 23, 2006

Yard Cleaning (November 17, 2006)

I do not teach on Fridays and as I was coming back home around 9:00 in the morning after getting coffee (horrible stuff but I go to integrate in the community) at a small stand near the market, I saw a group of students in the distance holding many different varieties of bladed objects. They had congregated in front of the entrance to the elementary school, which had closed gates. The principal of the school was standing off to a distance and I immediately wondered if there had been some sort of student revolt or protest at the school. Not wanting to cause trouble, I veered left towards my house just as a student in one of my classes comes up behind me on a bike.

He says, “We’re here.”

Confused, I ask him who the we refers to and why are they here. The we was all of the kids with scythes and other blades and the why was to clear away the jungle surrounding my house. I don’t call it my yard because I am not sure if I have been given yard space, but the area surrounding the house enjoyed a healthy grow during the rainy season and the following weeks. The grass in front of the house had reached heights well above my head.

Students continued to pour in. Some were on bikes, other on foot. Some had bladed objects, some hoes and many were empty handed. Seydouba, a boy in one of my 8th grade classes, arrived and quickly organized the others. He divided them into groups for each side of the house and the kids began. Some would work for 5 minutes and then give the tool to another who would work for a bit before passing the tool on. At one point, I counted 80 people running around. Most were lounging in groups talking and seemed to be enjoying hanging out but all seemed to rotate in the activity. I was amazed. In a little over an hour, the jungle was gone.

Friday morning is also my scheduled drum lesson. When the guy teaching me showed up, I told him to dedicate today’s lesson to playing for all of the students working. He grabbed my two drums and started. The kids loved it. Some stopped working and danced and everyone had a smile. I brought out my camera and the kids went nuts to have me take their photo.

Towards the end, I gave a student money to get water for everyone. Hoses that magically transport water are not an option here and the concept of a water bottle has not caught on. Everyday, I see people (usually girls) at the pump filling 50 or so plastic bags with water. This water is then sold as drinking water. So, the student left with a large bucket to fill with plastic bags of water. When he returned, chaos broke out. I did not anticipate the lack or order in distributing the water. People jumped at the person carrying the bucket to grab one as fast as possible. Remember that many of them are equipped with some sort of bladed tool. For a moment, I though that someone would get cut but few bags of water were the only casualties.

Music, photos, lots of laughing people and a stripping of my yard was the definite surprise for me this Friday. My neighbor was perhaps the happiest as she can now spot all of the snakes that were hidden in the tall grass.

Later that evening, I watched small groups of little kids come through to collect the spoils. There is no trash collection system here and people just toss things on the ground. The area around my house had probably not been cleaned since the end of the rainy season last year so there was a year’s worth of stuff to be found. The kids looked like they were on a great treasure hunt as they left with pieces of wood, empty cans and many other objects.