“Do you have Jack Bauer's address?”
This is the question that one my neighbors asked me. I guess that the national television station has been playing episodes of 24 every Tuesday night, and he's been watching and has become quite a fan Jack Bauer—episodes of 24 also explain why everyone is terrified of an assassination plot against Barack Obama. Anyway, I felt like if I told him that Jack Bauer wasn't real it would be like telling a little kid that Santa Claus didn't exist. Instead of crushing his hopes, I just told him I didn't have the address because Jack Bauer wasn't a personal friend of mine, but that I would ask around regardless. This still seemed to be less than satisfactory; so please, if anyone is a personal friend of Jack Bauer and could give me his mailing address, that would make one little kid very happy.
In the way of actual events, I just returned from a vacation to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to see the African Film Festival “FESPACO.” It takes place every year, but is only held in Ouagadougou every odd year, so I'm thrilled that the timing worked out for me to travel. I went with a fellow female TEFL volunteer from down south and besides all the wonderful sights and sounds of the trip, it was interesting for me to make my first trip without a male. Actually, I shouldn't say first. Earlier in the week, myself and several other female volunteers did a day trip into Togo for lunch and shopping—it's the life of the rich and famous here in Peace Corps. My experience crossing the border into Togo and my experience at the Film Festival would lead me to conclude that without another alpha male around to “regulate” the situation, most Beninese men (or Togolese) feel obliged to behave as despicable as they can. While crossing the border, we had to marry ourselves off to the military men at the border just to get across and then we were slipped the dreadful dirty finger as we entered our taxi—all of this goes without a word from us, of course, because in this instance the men definitely held the power (most literally in form of guns strapped to their backs). While in Burkina, I think that myself and my fellow traveler could have made a pretty penny if we were given money every time some guy tried to get our attention with “Ma cherie” “Mes filles” “Bebe” “Jolie Fille” “Ma blanche” or “Belle fille.” Lesson learned: When traveling in a group of only females, assume that every single guy is out to take advantage of you in whatever way possible, and therefore, always be on your guard. This last part, always be on your guard, would have been more exhausting if I had not already spent the last twenty months of my life living in Benin and perfecting the art of “being on my guard.” Thus, it would seem that no amount of “Pretty Baby”'s could ruin my time in Ouagadougou.
Visiting Ouagadougou itself is wonderful, but visiting Ouagadougou in February during FESPACO is the stuff that dreams of made of (all relatively speaking of course). Our time in Ouagadougou was brief—only four full days and only one actual full day of films, but in the short period, we saw five full lengths features and just over a half dozen short films covering everything from the apartheid in South Africa to female genital mutilation in West Africa to an entire film highlighting female artists in Africa. In addition, we soaked up the festival atmosphere by attending the opening ceremony (think pint-sized Olympics), dining on fresh strawberries and dates, sipping on cold beverages under giant tents while live music played and meat sizzled on the grill, shopping in seemingly endless rows of artisan booths carry everything from welded metal figurines to hand-dyed fabric to homemade jewelry—all of this hailing from just about every country in West Africa. Truly, this was an amazing experiencing and I would be happy to one day find myself back in Ouagadougou eating strawberries, seeing African films and getting hit on by Nigerian men.
After all the fun and excitement, it's always a nice slap of reality to go back to school where I have kids constantly picking their noses in desperate attempts to find the answer, boys zoning out in class as they become mesmerized by their newly developed muscles, and an administration that threatens to beat and fail kids who can't afford to pay their school tuition.
Actually on a lighter note, as I walk to school, I've been reminded of late, by the students whizzing past me with a fleeting and breathless “Good Morning, Teacher,” of my brother and me trying to catch the bus on cold Michigan mornings. My Mom would calmly sit by the living room window reading a book or watching some good morning TV show and keep watch while my brother and I frantically ran around the house trying to gather all of our stuff last minute. A loud, “BUUUS!,” bellowed from our mom would indicate to us that big yellow beauty had pulled up onto our street and consequently, gave us approximately thirty seconds to grab our things and dash out the door and across the lawn to the neighbor's driveway where the bus stopped. Rarely did we ever make it on time and on more than one occasion the poor bus would have to patiently wait for my brother and I as we trekked through the snow with big gym bags, instrument cases, backpacks, and posters in tote. I suppose it may be no surprise with this method of catching the bus that it also wasn't unusual for my mom to make a special trip to school just to drop of my permission slip or my essay or my basketball shoes or whatever the particular forgotten item happened to be. Thank goodness for Moms.