Monday, June 27, 2011

Kid’s birthday party

Remember the parties you had when you were a kid? Imagine being a girl here in a village in Burkina Faso on your 9th birthday. There is what it would have been like. When you get home from school at 5:30, some of the neighborhood kids are already there, waiting for you. While you go into the house to wash and put on your party clothes, they sit quietly on a bench, waiting (something African kids do amazingly well).

Your best friend goes into the house with you and puts on the clothes you wore to school, because they are prettier than what she was wearing. When you have on your party dress, your adopted “extra grandma,” the Peace Corps Volunteer, takes your picture.

Your mom has brought the tables and adult chairs out onto the porch and put on the nice table cloths. There is a big plate of the kind of shrimp chips we get in Chinese restaurants as appetizers that your mother made. She gets a package of little disks at the boutique and drops them into hot oil. They expand and get crispy as they cook.

After a while your father rides into the courtyard with a bag of things from town. He went to look for candles and something for the adult guests to drink. Your mom and big cousin, who is living with you so she can attend the Lycée, put each candle on a little piece of cardboard to make it stand up and to catch the wax. Your mom puts a big thermal insulated bowl and a couple of metal cooking pots on the table, along with a few plates and silverware for any adult guests who might want to use them, and dinner is ready. You look at the table with your nine candles spread all around and wonder how you are going to blow them out.

Fortunately your mom and dad are joking with you, and they gather them together so you have a chance to blow them all out at once. A few people try to sing “Joyeux Anniversaire” (AKA Happy Birthday to You) but they do not seem to know the tune. You try to blow out the candles, and, success! Maybe your wish will come true.

Your mom spreads a mat on the porch for the kids to eat on and reminds you all that you need to wash your hands. While everyone is running to the water buckets, Mom gets a big bowl of spaghetti ready putting sauce on the top. When everyone is gathered around the bowl, you all dig in, eating only with your right hands, of course. It is hard for you American friend to believe how quiet and cooperative all the kids are. She takes their picture, too.

While you all are eating, the adults are served on plates at the table, and they even get pieces of fish on top of their spaghetti and sauce. Unlike a birthday party for kids in the US, there are no party games, and no favors to take home, although Mom does package up some of the shrimp chips or spaghetti and sauce to send home with some of the kids. There are no presents from your friends and no birthday cake, although your neighbor baked something chocolate, called brownies, in her Dutch Oven. They were yummy! Quite a different experience.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Mass Baptism

A Mass Baptism
June 1 was Ascension Day, a legal holiday in Burkina Faso. I was informed that there would be a big Mass at the Catholic Church, at which a lot of young people would be baptized. I wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate for me to go, but my friend who co-leads the sex education meetings for girls invited me to come. I asked what time and she said 9:00. Remembering all the times I have waited for a hour for a meeting to start I wondered if 9:00 meant 9:00, but like a good American I got there at 8:55. Much to my surprise, it sounded as if things were already in progress. When I parked my bike and headed toward the church one of the ushers (designated by a green sash with a red cross on it) came over to me and directed me to the door to the front of the church. There I was again, in one of the seats for special folks, right up by the altar. There was not room next to my friend, who was a few rows back, so the usher directed me to the bench right behind the nuns. The mass really had not yet started, but the folks were all saying the rosary.

When I looked out over the congregation I was stunned to see how many young people were there to be baptized. You could tell who was in the group by the fact that almost all were wearing clothes made from the same material. The styles were very different. Some of the boys wore just shirts of the pagna, but others had matching pants, long or short, and others had tunics and pants, which that remind me of men’s pajamas. The girls had a wide variety of styles. Some resembled ball gowns, with lots of satin or other material in addition to the pagna material. Some looked like a typical American little girl’s dress, but many were in a traditional African style, with a fitted bodice and pagna, wrap around skirt.

The boys were all seated in the front rows of one section, and the girls in the front rows of another, and across the chancel from where I was sitting the other side was filled with teens and young adults. I tried to count the boys, to get an idea of how many were in the group. They were in the first seven rows of benches, with about 25 boys on each bench. Comparing that to the space taken up by the girls and young adults I guessed between 300 and 500 people to be baptized. Later I was told several “official” numbers that ranged from 425 to 475. In any case, a LOT of people.

The way they managed this was, when it was time to baptize people, three priests and a couple of helpers created three baptizing stations. Each person to be baptized had a piece of paper to hand to the priest, giving their name, much like the cards the students hand to the Dean at graduation at John Carroll. They also carried white candles, unlit. One of the helpers handed the priest a small gourd filled with water. Another positioned the person over a big bowl and the priest tipped water onto the person’s head three times (in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I presume, but did not hear). While people filed by to be baptized the choir sang a series of songs. Even though they sang in the African style that I find hard to listen to for long, I was right next to the choir and could appreciate the harmony and watch the choir director, which was interesting. By the way, the Mass was all in Moore, as were the songs. I couldn’t understand a thing that was said.

After everyone had been baptized, they all filed around again for the priests to make a cross on their foreheads with holy oil. That went a bit faster, but I kept thinking about how tired the poor priests must be getting. I wonder if they needed someone to message their thumbs and wrists after the service! With everyone back in place, the priests and their helpers passed the flame from the big Christ candle to the newly baptized folks until all the candles were lit. There was a short prayer, and everybody blew out the flames. I wondered what an American fire marshal would have thought of so many young folks waving around lighted candles at such close quarters. They newly baptized folks then each held up a crucifix on a cord of some kind. The priest said a blessing (and I noticed that the man sitting next to me had help up his rosary, too). They, in unison, they all put the symbol of their new status around their necks, reminding me of the Masters degree students putting on their hoods at graduation.

Then it was time for the Eucharist, and the newly baptized folks had their first communion, followed by the rest of the congregation. Not exactly like a first communion in The States! After the Mass I visited the homes of a couple of people I knew who had relatives who had been baptized. At each home, food and drinks were served, and music was playing. At one home I visited the neighbor was having a similar party and there was loud music playing at each. Once in the court yard I didn’t notice the competing music, however. I think a lot of folks had several calls to make.

I wondered whether the reason there were so many children being baptized was because the church is relatively new in the town so they had not been baptized as infants. Close, but not quite the right idea. I was told the reason was that infants are only baptized if their parents have been married in the Church. Otherwise, they have to wait until they are old enough to understand things and go through two or three years of preparation before their baptism and first communion. I think those baptized at birth have a different time for their first communion. In any case, it was a stunning number of new members for this church! I understand that these same folks will not have two or three more years of classes before they are confirmed by the Bishop of the region.

A note about the weather
It has continued to be hot, but now it is a bit muggy. Everyone is waiting for the rains to begin. We have had several days when it looked like there might be a storm, and even some strong winds with the smell of rain, but the ground is still bone dry. A neighbor, who is a cultivator, told me that, if it does not rain enough for folks to plant the seeds of some plants, like millet, before June 15, there will not be enough time for the grain to fully develop before the rains end in the fall. The result would be stalks without good grain to provide food for the coming year. This could be a serious problem.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Another wedding

Another wedding

I was invited to another wedding at the Catholic Church. I had met the father of the groom, but no one else in the wedding party. This wedding was on a Saturday at 10 in the morning. When I arrived at the church there were lots of cars and motos, and even a bus. In the front of the church was a small band, consisting of two keyboards, a bass guitar, a drum set and a trombone, playing rather up beat music that sounded like it could be European popular music. There were orange and white balloons at the ends of some of the rows of benches, like you might see flowers or bows at the ends of the pews at an American wedding. There were six or eight men running around with video cameras. I think one was an official videographer and the rest were friends of the bride and groom, but they went around like a swarm of bees, filming every moment. There were at least that many people with cameras clicking away so I kept my camera in my back pack until the reception, when I felt more comfortable taking pictures of these folks I did not know.

There were eight girls in matching pagnes with matching peach colored satin tops with a strip of the pagne material sewed on them diagonally. You can see two of them in the picture below that I snapped at the reception.

The procession started with a boy carrying the crucifix, followed by a flower girl in an orange dress, the girls I described above, and the bride and groom arm in arm, the bride in a flowing white dress and veil like you might see at an American wedding and the groom in suit and tie. Here they are at the reception

They were followed by 10 priests. The processional music was Mendelson’s wedding march, the one that is often played as the recessional music at American weddings. After getting the bride and groom settled in their chairs in the front row, the girls all rushed off the join the choir that was seated in the front four or five rows. Throughout the Mass, the choir, over 50 voices strong, sang many songs that were literally music to my ears. They used beautiful European style singing for some anthems that were probably from the classical repertoire, and enthusiastic and joyful voices on some other numbers that sounded like gospel music. There was not a screeching voice to be heard.

The service was entirely in French, so I could follow most of what was said. The bride read from one of John’s letters and the groom did a reading that, if I understood correctly, was from the writings on one of the Saints, although I did not catch the reference. His reading was accompanied by background music from one of the keyboards. This had clearly been carefully planned and rehearsed. This church is quite large and has a good sound system. Microphones were used throughout so it was easy to hear the bride and groom say their vows. They had either memorized or were reading them, but they did not do the “repeat after the Priest” type. After the Eucharist, the bride and groom said a prayer together, and then the groom ran over to join the choir for the Hallelujah chorus from the Messiah. It was clear he was a popular member of the this choir that had come from Ouagadougo (on that bus I saw) to sing at his wedding. They ended with another song that sounded like it could also have come from the Messiah, and they sang it in English. The main part was “forever and ever” repeated a lot. Then the band broke out in another upbeat tune and the bride and groom lead a line of dancers around the church. All of this lasted about two and a half hours.

There was not the traditional receiving line at the church. People just left the church and headed down the road into town to the reception. The midwife who does the sex ed presentations with me met me there and guided me through proper behavior for this part of the event. We started out walking to town, wheeling my bike. Eventually someone picked her up on a moto, I hopped on my bike, and we joined the long line of cars and motos going to the reception.

There was a head table for the newlyweds and their parents, and another table for special guests, mostly the priests and nuns.

The bridal party and special guests were served from platters onto china dishes, but the rest of the crowd (a couple of hundred, I would guess) were given Styrofoam boxes packed with two kinds of rice and sauce, a very small piece of chicken, lentils, some kind of meatloaf thing that may have been sausage, and, of course, tô and sauce. No silverware, unless you were special, like me. I ended up taking the box with me and passing most of the food on to the family of my community homologue, who had given me the message that I was invited to the wedding.

There was a time for a toast to the newlyweds and remarks from the families. The bride’s father talked for her family, all in Moore, so I have no idea what he was saying. The groom’s brother told a story, in French, that was the story of the romance. It seems that the groom started in school at the “petite seminary” at the center where we had language training, which I wrote about before. When it came time to decide whether to go to the university or “la grande seminary,” he chose to go to the university, where he studied philosophy. The bride was in her last year at the lycée and needed a tutor in philosophy. That is how they met. Even though the groom decided not to be a priest, it was clear that he is very active in the choir at the Ouaga church.

The wedding cake was actually three little cakes, which were put on a stand designed for this purpose. There were crowds of people with cameras around the cake cutting. They did not do the “feed a piece of the cake to your new spouse” ritual you see at American receptions, however. In the picture below you see the cakes and, in the background, a guy eating from ome of the Styrofoam boxes

The choir gathered in front of the bridal party table and sang a couple of numbers to the bride and groom, ending with the “forever and ever” one. That got a big laugh. Then they began the process of presenting the gifts to the bride and groom. The bride and groom stood in front of the table and people filed past to present their gifts. The guy with the microphone announced the name of the donor for each one. They you could congratulate the bride and groom, and one of the attendants gave you a little net sachet with a couple of nuts and a mint, kind of like the table favors you might have at an American wedding. At that point people started to drift away and helpers started taking down the decorations. Party over. All in all, it was very interesting.

As I rode home I passed the house of the groom’s parents, and there was a big party going on there, too. I think it was the party for the neighbors and that the bride and groom would appear there later for the singing and dancing, but I did not stop so I am not sure.

As you can tell from the description, these are relatively well to do people, and the bride and groom have adopted a lot of European culture. It was quite a contrast to the other wedding I described last fall, and was also very different from a Moslem wedding I (sort of) attended recently. More about this in a future blog...