A celebration at the church
Early this fall there was a very special celebration at the Catholic Church in my village. The Bishop of Burkina Faso was there to officiate, and my community homologue was busy for a couple of weeks getting things ready because she is president of the Catholic Women’s Association (or whatever the official name is). The church was repainted and redecorated, and this was a very big deal. I wasn’t going to go to the mass, but several people I know well encouraged me to come so I decided it would be a good idea to show up. I went to the protestant service first, but left a bit early to get to the church a bit before 9, when the mass was to begin. I followed lots of people heading to the church, many carrying their own benches and chairs. I arrived to find the church surrounded by people seated on their own benches and on the ground. After putting my bike in the paid parking (not a usual feature of the services here), I marched right up to the front door and was immediately invited to come in and sit with the dignitaries. My homologue had told me she would reserve a seat for me, but this was beyond what I had expected. I sat right behind the nuns and the brothers who were not participating in the service, up by the alter, so I could really see what was going on. The benches for the congregation were packed and it was standing room only. The building is a pretty big space and I would guess there were easily 1000 people in the church, with at least that many sitting around outside.
They had a small electronic piano, set to sound like an organ, to play along with the choral selections and the hymns. The organist set the automatic rhythm and played the melody, and there were several drummers, someone playing a percussion instrument that had the sound of metal hitting metal, but not tuned like a triangle, and a couple of guys playing some kind of whistle, like an ocarina, that made only one sound and that did not seem to be tuned to the melody. The procession of priests was lead in by a group of women and girls who danced them in, and danced three or four other times throughout the 3 hour service. The Mass, which lasted about 2 of those hours, was primarily in Moore, although from time to time there was a bit of French. There were several rituals that may be familiar to those of you who are Catholic. At the beginning of the service, a number of calabashes were filled with water that was blessed by the priests who walked around, inside and outside the church, sprinkling the congregation with holy water, dipped from the gourds with a bundle of straw which serves as a broom in the village. The altar was bare when the service began but, before the Eucharist, they used the sensor (with incense) to bless it, walking around it three times, and put a new alter cloth on it. At the end of the Mass, the dancers lead a dance up and down the aisles and some of the people in the congregation joined in. After the Mass there was about an hour of thank yours and gifts to the church and to the sisters who were opening a new convent.
When my homologue and I left the church we walked over to the new convent. After the convent was blessed, there was a big feast (rice and sauce, tō and sauce, and so on). People were fed in groups based on where they lived. My community homologue took me to the area for our village and I waited around with everybody else while she got things organized. After about an hour she came back and took me to a room where the functionaries and westerners were eating with plates and silverware. Quite an event!
As I think I have made clear, the average citizen in Burkina Faso does not have a car. In my village there seems to be a bicycle or two in most families, and the more well-to-do have a moto. Motos are bigger than mopeds, but smaller than the typical US motorcycle. They do have a long enough seat that two can ride on them. For carrying things, there are also the donkey carts.
You may remember that I was not able to get propane gas for my stove when I arrived. I bought a canister to be ready to get gas when it was available and my community homologue gave me her gas canister to use. In early November I got the news that there was gas available, so I got my good neighbor, Prosper, to take my empty canister to get it filled. He returned with the news that there was not yet gas for the kind of gas canister I had. After waiting a month, I asked him to get a full canister of the kind of gas that is available and he did so. He and his wife, Martine, came over to help me set it up and we discovered that the handle for turning the gas on and off was bent and I was not going to be able to manage it, so I asked him to take it back and get another one. Prosper and Martine carried the canister between them for a little way, but it was very heavy. They were about to set it down when Martine told Prosper to help her lift it up onto her head, and she walked the rest of the way back to their place carrying it alone. Incredible!
I see women carrying the most amazing amount of stuff on their heads. They certainly get a lot of weight bearing exercise. Maybe that is why there is so little osteoporosis here! They even ride bicycles with a baby on their backs and things balanced on their heads, like a bucket full of water or things to sell at the marché. It is amazing what they can carry and how great their skill at balancing things on their heads.