Rose Colored Memory
Something weird happens every time I take transport in Burkina. I sit on a sack full of carrots, struggling to avoid the pointy ends and waving my hands around to keep the carrot-loving fly army at bay. One, two, six hours later the bus shows up. Or rather the ex-bus, considering how many vital bus parts are missing--windows, seats, axles, tires. I push, pull, and bite my way through the crowd to get a seat and we're off. Kind of. We'll get going once the driver feels like it and right now he's more keen on eating, praying, and holding hands with his buddies than driving a rickety old bus. At last we shake, rattle, and roll our way down the scenic dirt roads of Burkina, and I keep my fingers crossed that the bus doesn't run out of gas, break down, or explode. But as soon as I get to where I'm going, I'm so happy to be there that I immediately forget how horrible the experience had been.
I feel the same thing happening with my Peace Corps experience. Already the view's getting rosier, which is great. Bring it on. But I don't want to completely forget the bad things. That sounds so pessimistic, but nothing's more obnoxious than listening to someone returning from living in Africa who won't shut up about how cute the kids are and how interesting the culture is and how pretty the language is and how delicious the food is. Yeah right. No PCV goes around all day saying, “I'm so happy to be here! This is just so amazing!” If they do, they should probably cut back on the Larium. Instead we struggle through all the little difficulties and actively try to have a good time, which most people succeed in doing. No one would stay for two long years if they weren't having a good time.
But it's been really hard, and I'm glad I'm leaving. Most of my problems with this place stem from my being a married woman in Africa. It's not culturally appropriate for men to be friends with married women, so after greeting me, they turn to Markus and don't look back. That's the official line, anyway; I think the real reason men don't talk to me is because they're not at all interested in what women have to say. Men and women have very little interaction aside from the obvious, which they do all the time judging by all the tiny, pantsless kids running around, so they don't know how to talk to each other. Even the Burkinabé men working in the Peace Corps bureau--educated men who work with Americans--treat me differently than Markus. After two years the head of Secondary Education still isn't quite sure if my last name is Markus or Fleisch, but he's pretty sure it's Markus.
Not only does Markus have the good luck to have been born male, he also happens to be nice and charming. So after the initial, “You have a penis?! No way! I do too! Let's be best friends” interest died away, the Burkinabé stuck around because they liked him and became even less interested in me. Our neighbor, who is also a teacher at the school, would come up to me and say, “Go tell your husband that he and I are going to go get some beers and leave you and my wife at home.” Instead, Markus and I went out for beers and left him at home. So at least I got to benefit from Markus being nice and charming.
I don't want to forget what it was like to live and work in a village where no matter how many times I corrected people, they always called me Madame Markus because that shaped every aspect of my experience here. Paradoxically, it made me enjoy teaching even more than I would have because I relished hearing my students call me Madame McKay and listening to everything I said--they might not have respected me as a woman, but they sure respected the red pen I wielded. I also really enjoyed teaching because although the digestive system of a cow isn't a lifelong passion of mine, I love biology and I like teaching, especially when I get to do goofy stuff like pretending I'm a crab walking sideways. Teaching was my therapy for the neurosis I developed from the way people who weren't my students treated me.
No transport story's complete without describing the goat that peed on your foot, the baby that vomited on your lap, and the spit from the dude in front of you that flew back through the window and smacked you in the face. So I'll definitely come back with rose colored stories about how much I enjoyed teaching in Burkina, but I'll also tell poop brown/snot green/yellow vomit colored stories of sexism.