Adrien came to my village, about 300 kilometers away, because he thought life would be better. Since the soil is more fertile, he could find money to live on while going to school. The plan worked out for him for a year, and after that I showed up. Three years after leaving, his life is pretty good.
I arrived in the late afternoon on my way home from the safari. Not long after we arrived, I repacked my bags and we headed into the country to see his mother. Night was coming quickly so we decided to spend the night. Now in my village, going “au champ” means taking one of the many well beaten trails into the country. I figured I was in for a relaxing ride on a moto. Wrong. It turned out the ride involved me dismounting and wading through a river, along with getting my shins whacked by bushes and tree trunks.
|Adrien is helping push his brother's moto, pig in tow, across the river.|
Soon I was in a completely different world. His brothers are farmers, and their houses were surrounded by farms. We stopped to greet his one brother, than continued on to see his other and meet his mother. Their houses were all made with mud brick. Each group of houses was walled in and included a grain cellar. The walls of the houses were up to my shoulders, attesting to the fact that his family is observably short. Livestock was in my face. The oxen were tied up next to the house. Pigs, guinea foul, chickens, and dogs were all hanging around waiting for their next meal.
|The house where Adrien was raised.|
Most of the time was spent outside. His brother gave us a guinea foul to kill. Adrien performed the sacrifice and his mother began cooking flat bean pancakes for us to eat as an appetizer while is sister-in-law prepared the main course. His mother was old - easily 70 years old. Her presence was quiet. She was shy and didn’t say much. She didn’t speak any French so I had to talk to her through Adrien.
That night, Adrien, his friend Moïse, and I squeezed into a small room and went to sleep. The cold air woke me up in the middle of the night. The season harmattan is especially harsh in this part of the country, and the nights can be very cold. We huddled close for warmth and woke up early because of the cold.
Before leaving we took a series of pictures. Adrien with the cows. Adrien with the family. He wanted proof that we were there together, and pictures of himself with his family. We headed back on moto, taking the same path, crossing the same river, and shortly found ourselves in the city again.
|Adrien and his younger brother with a cow.|
|Adrien with his Mama|
We spent the afternoon in Tangueita, where we walked around greeting various family members. I caught myself getting annoyed and impatient as Adrien had to stop and greet every person he saw in his quarter of the city. We borrowed two motos and Adrien, Moïse, another friend Yempabo, and I headed out to see more of the city.
|Adrien and his friends|
They took me to see a mud structure where rituals of initiation are held. Teenagers are put in tiny mud huts and are left there for ten days. Small holes allow the family to bring food. At the end of the ceremony they are freed and make a sacrifice at a close-by baobab – fetish tree.
|Structure used for initiation into adulthood.|
After that we went to see the waterfalls. These waterfalls were smaller than the ones I saw in Tanougbou, but by far more adventurous. I knew that we would be hiking, but I didn’t know we would be rock climbing. “Teacher, c’est bon?” Adrien and his friends would say as we mounted are way through the rocks. At certain points, I was so frightened that he and his friend actually helped to lift me up to the next rock. Finally, just before we got to the last and largest falls, I stopped. The boys were about to climb a cliff and I said no. They taunted me and told me I could do it, but I refused. Upon the descent, I reminded Adrien that he didn’t want to say, “I was the one that talked John Mark into climbing the cliff that he fell off of,” to my mother. As we headed back down, we swam briefly in the falls, which were extremely cold.
|Me on a cliff.|
|The boys on a more difficult part of the climb.|
|In front of the falls I didn't see because of the climbing.|
We drank some Tchoukatou, a local alcohol made with sorghum and headed back to his brother’s house. We sat around and waited for night to fall. Sunsets are beautiful in this part of the country. The sun creeps its way behind the tired old mountains and makes the dust in the harmattan air glow pinks and blues. We ate and soon after that I was ready to go to sleep.
The next day we walked around, drank some more tchoukatou, and greeted some of his favorite and most helpful primary school teachers. In the afternoon I took a taxi back to the workstation in Nati.
This was probably one of the most unique experiences of my Peace Corps journey. Never in my life have I ever isolated myself so much from my “white” life here to really experience how the poorest people in Africa live. I’ve never had a more African experience. What is their poverty? His brother seem to have plenty of food (though I hear it’s less so during the off season), plenty of property, plenty of wives and children, but they still consider themselves poor – and they are by my standards. They struggle, but they aren’t miserable.
They aren’t miserable, that is, until the moto breaks or the baby gets sick with malaria. Until the vielle dies or your child wants to marry. Until you see the world and all the good things that exist there in, and know that you can’t have any of it because of your way of life is paralyzing. Their wealth is in the hard work they’ve put into developing land and businesses. Those things can’t pay for much. It’s the risk of self-sufficiency.
I can see why Adrien wanted out of this experience, and I think it’s good for him to go back and see his family, and remember where he came from. His family is all very hard-working. I can see that they love him much and wish he were closer. He’s the only one in the family to go to secondary school. Much of their hope rests in his potential success. I’ve never felt better about what I do for him.
NB: More pictures are available. Just click on one of the pictures above.