Meetings here….

1 02 2009

The last few weeks have been an absolute blur of new faces, new culture, and new language. In a very concentrated effort to integrate me with my new Niankorodougou comminity, my counterpart, Zongo, has arranged meetings with all of the responables here. For going on about the third week, I have had meeting after meeting. Mayor, dugutigi (local chief), library committee, cotton union president, gendarme, police, womens credit clubs, womens cooperatives and representatives…..basically if you oversee more than 10 people in my village, chances are we’ve had a little chat. Aiding me during all these meetings is my counterpart who often runs these meetings so seamlessly in Jula that I often wonder why I show up (surely the only white woman in village  can be deduced to be the previous sole white woman in a town of 5’000’s replacement!). Nonetheless, I am learning bit by bit the importance of “protocol” here and thus, every hand must be shook. I only wish I were capable of saying more than “I togo ko Ade,” “I bi bo Ameriki,” “Ala ka tile heere di,” in Jula which amounts to “My name is Ade” (easier to say than my full name), “I am american,” “may god bless you with a peaceful day.” Since all of these meetings are being conducted in Jula its safe to say that I’m understanding about 5% of the conversation and my counterpart is doing a lot of improvisation on my part. I just smile and hope that international goodwill gesture will get me by. Its also super fun I might add when my counterpart translates bits during the meeting into french, which I of course…..also don’t know. What all this means is that I have had copious time to observe and ponder the logistics of the typical Burkina (and prob w africa for that matter) village meeting. So without further intro, here’s a little ode to Mr. D Letterman:

Top Ten Burkina Meeting Oddities:

10: L’heure du Afrique (Africa Time)

So your meeting is set for 930AM. Bank on 10 for first arrivals and 1030, possibly 1045, for starting the meeting. That is if enough people show up to constitute the meeting (generally a 60% quota). For those of you privy to my pre Burkina tardiness….I am sorry. I get it now. Though in my defense I will say I’m a chronic 15 minutes late person, I never had the excuse of children or “ha[ving] to wait in line to pump water” which is the burkinabe rebuttle. Its frustrating because often I know these people are simply twiddling their thumbs and staring off into space as their wives (I know- blatant sexism) pound millet and sweep the “dirty” dirt from their courtyards. Then again, this may be the best lesson in promptness I ever receive..

9: 20 Questions Game

It doesn’t matter if we saw each other this morning and our meeting is for the soir, we’re gonna ask each other a lot of questions before we get down to business. Most of these questions will be in the reduntant format of “I X do?” (How is X? In Jula). How are the kids, how’s your husband? How’s the work? How’s your health? How are your neighbors? It tricks me up when they stick in a “where are you coming from” because you can no longer roll with the “Aw ka kena” (its going well) response. I can’t say a thing in Jula past the saluations so its enevitable that the questions end faster with me than between the locals but then there’s that whole fact that you need to saluate everyone individually. So these 5 questions to each individual become multiplied by the 20 women in the tantine (micro credit) club. Its a lot and pretty funny as long as you have arrived early and taken a seat….thereby having others come to you instead of doing an awk foot dance to squeeze in between chairs and properly saluate.

8: Clean Mouth Rule

As lovely as the 20 questions rule is, in formal settings, that’s not even coming until after youve been given a cup of water. This symbolically demonstrates just how hospitable this country is. No one speaks until you’ve been greated from your voyage with a big gulp of water. If there are more than one of you coming to someone’s home, the host will often personally hand the goblet (big plastic cup) to each person regardless of whether they are sitting next to you on a bench!

7: The Filler Rule

Doesn’t matter who its with be it the mayor or your neighbor, nor the topic…its gonna be “c’est bon,” c’est dure,” and a few clicking noises. At first when I heard this I always thought, “I must have missed something,” but over the course of the last few weeks I’ve had enough practice to know now, its a local thing.

6: Everyone is a Secretary

After all the saluations are done, its cahier (notebook) time in burkina meetings. What’s funnier than the fact that people just write the date, your name, and number down is when after the meeting they want you to verify the info and there are no meeting notes. Just your contact details. Burkinabe memories are amazing (no sarcasm, they really are- this is land of the oral tradition)

5: Symbolic Offering

Another meausre of just how generous and kind burkinabe people are is the fact that I keep bringing stuff back home. Who doesn’t like a cadeau? So far: kg of peanuts, a canery (tera cotta pottery), a coq, a pintart, bananas eggs and corn.
4: Negative Nancy Moment

You don’t know when exactly its coming but IT will happen. “C’est difficile” or “pas bon” with accompaning index finger windshield wiper movement,  shaking head with slight snarl, and once again, the side-mouth clicks.

3 Relative Culture:

They’re is a larger influx of french culture here than american (french news, very familiar with french cities, gov) but pop culture is as per usual—-very american. Its funny what tid bits they latch onto.  Of course obama-rama is rampant here too (hats, belt buckles, shirts, notebooks) but what has struck me in a village setting is the prevalence of “vingt-quatre” Jack boueeer, and that wave swimmer movie with all the blondes. Blue crush? Really? And of course when I say I’m from Texas, there are the cowboys and indian references. “Bang, bang!”
2: Akon and Shakira Will be There

Everyone here has a cell phone. Even the people who speak only Senufu have a cell phone.  If your meeting is predominately women, chances are you will notice the cell phone as women take them out to examine the time (even though I think time here is laregely relative—see above). If men are present in prodominant numbers, then the cell phone game changes. Since I can blanket generalize that men here spend more disposable income-theyre phones show it. The cell phone is the statement piece here. You have never seen a burkinabe upset until you run across one that just broke their celly or is experencing bad “rezo” (coverage). Because cell phones these days are pretty high tech, on a village level-you can download Zain, Celltell, or Telemob songs. Translation, if the meeting becomes stale at any point and is larger then 15 people, at some point, you’re gonna hear Shakira or Akon. No one will pause and give it much attention, but if they’re sitting in a mass and want to catch the white girls attention, they’re going to blare it to show you what a cool phone they have. Naturally, I’ve already given my heart away to a rod stewart fan.

1: Naked Babies

Once again, no matter how formal you think the meeting is, in a village setting–youre going to see a naked baby. If you’re lucky the baby will just wave but occaisionally there’s the crier. Several children have never seen a white person before. I don’t know if they think I’m a ghost, but def something not normal. The crier is taken pretty seriously. The parent either takes the child away somewhere where you’re no longer in view, OR for giggles, takes the child right to you., placing a whaling, frantic child on your lap. I’m the youngest in my family. My only younger cousin is a year younger than me. If that naked child only knew, I think babies are pretty scary too. That 30 seconds holding a crying, arm flailing, naked  baby so everyone else can laugh is a little odd to say the least. The entire time I’m thinking this kid has no diaper…..yea. Sometimes, business goes bad.

*Naturally, a few of these are exagerated a bit (not occurance, but irritation level). I’m sure burkinabe would find a few things about our power-point based meetings pretty hilarious or frustrating as well.

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