Les blancs, part deux
One of the worries running through volunteers' heads at the end of their service after “Will I be able to get a job?!” and “Oh God, I hope I don't end up living with my parents again!” is “Will I be replaced?” Technically you can be replaced as long as you're not the third volunteer at a site. But since there are a ridiculous amount of young, eager, unemployed college grads applying to the Peace Corps crying, “Send me to Africa!” in reality, the rules can be bent a little. In Titao, for instance, there was a volunteer a few years ago named Tom. All I know about Tom is that he was well liked at the school and that he left one memento for people to remember him by: a really bad picture of himself with a mullet. The volunteer after Tom was a woman named Anne, who was apparently a feisty one. She left after several months because she pissed off the principal. Hearing this story, we were a bit wary of our principal, who is himself a feisty one. But he has turned out to be a nice man as long as you're not a punk ass student who mouths off during class (I'm looking at you, Hamidou).
Since Anne and the principal had a conflict, the Peace Corps waited a few years before sending another volunteer to Titao. Enter Jill and Markus. Despite being the third (and fourth) volunteers in Titao, because there was a gap of a few years between us and our predecessors, we were considered the new first (and second) volunteers. Two years later, enter Amy and Aaron, our replacements. Before actually meeting Amy and Aaron, we knew them by reputation. Which is to say, we knew the most important thing about them to Burkinabé and Peace Corps Volunteers alike: They're married. Since they're the only married couple in the new group of volunteers, we knew that they were destined for Titao.
When we arrived in the Paris airport on our way back to Burkina after Patrick and Connie's wedding, we immediately spotted the large group of clean, excited looking white people with matching ribbons on their backpacks setting them apart as Peace Corps. After introducing ourselves as Burkina volunteers, we were swarmed. Many of the new group apologized for being so curious, but we enjoyed answering all their questions—it's quite an ego trip being surrounded by people who are dying to know all the minor details of your life. We were curious too and asked several people where the married couple was, despite knowing from experience how annoying it is to be stuck with the label “the married couple.” Soon a friendly blue-eyed dude and his friendly blue-eyed wife sat in front of us and said, “We're the married couple.”
We shouted, “You're going to Titao!” and babbled all about the grill guy Moussa, who makes the best chickens in town; my students coming by the house because they didn't quite understand what a flower was; the great Friday marché, which has people coming from as far as Ghana; that time Markus had amoebas and E. coli at the same time (that was so gross); and that weird, huge spider Markus got squirted by when he stomped on it before they had a chance to say “What's a Titao?” After clearing up the confusion, Markus and I rambled on and on about how great Titao is while watching our replacements get more and more excited about the next two years.
But Peace Corps likes to play hard to get, which is why it took Markus and me over a year to get through the application process—“Won't you please just let us go to Africa to teach children math and science, please, please, PLEASE?!” So Markus and I weren't too surprised when our boss implied that the couple might not actually go to Titao. We were pretty bummed at the idea because when we paused in our Titao pitch to take a breath, Amy and Aaron managed to get a word in and turned out to be charming people who we liked a lot. After all, he cooks! She teaches biology! What's not to like? But we're pleased to find out that they will in fact be replacing us in Titao.
Being the kind-of-sort-of first (and second) volunteers in Titao, Markus and I haven't experienced Replacement Syndrome, which is when the villagers let the new volunteer know what the old volunteer was really like. Sometimes this means the new volunteer sees people crossing themselves and forking the evil eye whenever the old volunteer's name is mentioned. More often, this means the new volunteer is told that their predecessor had better French/local language/cooking/teaching ability/all around awesomeness than they do. This is just the villagers' way of expressing appreciation for the old volunteer. Complimenting people to their faces is just not done in Burkina. I've heard three, maybe four compliments about my work in two years. Those compliments plus the compliments I've given myself—I've actually patted myself on the back—and the nice things I hope people will say about us after we're gone have kept me going.
So, cheers to Amy and Aaron for being brave/stupid enough to take on the challenge of teaching the hoards of Titaoramba* and I hope they have as interesting and fulfilling a time as we did.
*Mooré for “Titao people.”