La Stagiaire

Last Sunday was the first full day I spent with my host family, being that Sunday is the only day of the week that we do not have programming. I must admit, when Saturday night came I was moderately terrified: All the activities I had planned for the day were impossible without a left thumb. I couldn’t help them pound the millet for to, play the guitar for them, or even help with laundry or dishes. What, then, to fill an entire day with? If I couldn’t think of anything I knew most of it would be spent sitting in the shade while being stared at by small children or being laughed at by older women. Neither seemed appetizing.

Sunday morning I had thee audacity to wake up at almost 6:30am. My host mother came knocking at my door to make sure I wasn’t dead, so I rolled out of bed and prepared for my twice daily bucket bath. This is, I am convinced, the best way to bathe by far. In the evening, my host mother takes my bucket and fills it with a mixture of hot and cold water and deposits it in the outdoor shower area, a barely private concrete square with a tiny drain. With my little cup and my little Moroccan scrubbie glove I dispose of the day’s grime, wiping away layers of dust, sweat, sun screen, bug spray and all of the other terrible substances that visit the body throughout the day. My morning bucket baths, while much less extensive, are equally as pleasant.

I took my breakfast in my room as always, Nescafe with powdered milk (which is growing on me), and two oily little dough balls the Burkinabe call “gateaux” but might be classified as a “beignet” in English. When I had finished I had only two ideas: to exhaustively take photographs (which the Burkinabe love), or to go analog. I grabbed my sketchbook and a pencil and headed outside.

I greeted my host mother with a smile and sat on a stool near where she was working. Ousman was playing with Marwan, his younger brother, so I sat and sketched them as they played. My host mother looked over my shoulder and smiled. As visitors came in, all of whom I had seen and none of whose names I remembered, I asked them if they wanted to be drawn. My request was always met with a bashful but enthusiastic yes, so I sketched my host mother, two older women, one of the teenage girls (maybe a cousin), three children, my host father and one of the older boys. Each time I asked them to spell out their name for me so I could attach it to their face. It was enormously enjoyable for me, and seemed to really tickle my host family, so I kept at it most of the day.

I put down my sketching however when my host mother beckoned me to the well to fetch water. Accompanied by a small army of children, we trekked up a brushy path to one of a few community wells where a young boy was ready to fill the two enormous pails we had brought. My host mother helped me hoist the smaller one onto my head and fill it. Then I followed her, sloshing this way and that down the path that now seemed impossibly long and treacherous. I likely spilled about a third of the water and probably sprained a neck muscle on the first trip. On the second trip I think I pulled hamstring. I pulled something. But Samisiatou, the five-year-old who joined us for the second trip, was easily carrying as much water as I was, and seemed injury free at the end of the arduous journey. Go figure.

When we arrived back at the compound, my host mother showed me how to do laundry. With my gimp thumb I helplessly watched in fascination as she scrubbed my pants. I had strategically omitted my underwear from the laundry pile, not desiring the embarrassment of seeing my delicates strewn across the courtyard’s laundry line. Those I would wash and dry on my own. 

 Later that day, sitting under the shade of thatched shelter and hiding from the sun, I managed to communicate that I wanted my hair braided, and one of the young women from the village came and spent two hours on me, gently taming my hair into two dozen even, neat corn rows. Thank goodness: it is very hard to make a pony tail with only one thumb. You try it. Oh, you can do it? Now try it with my hair. Impossible

At the end of the day, I felt good about what I had accomplished: 10+ drawings of family members, neatly braided hair, and no sun burn. I fell asleep stuffed full of to and dreamed of finally killing and eating that rooster that wakes me up every 10 minutes from 3:00 to 5:30 in the morning.