Saturday, November 5, 2011

Questions and comments

Several people have responded to things in my blogs with interesting information that I would like to share with you. I will also answer a couple of questions people have posed.

Nancy Drew in French

Several people did internet searches and found information about the French translations of the Nancy Drew series. They confirmed my guess that the reason for changing the name is the difficulty in pronouncing Drew, just like the difficulty in pronouncing Larsen. R in the middle of the word here tends to come out as a W.

Apparently this was a very popular series over the years and there is a lot of information about the various translations at if you are interested.

Bird on the road

Here is the picture of that bird again.  My sister in law identified it and sent me the following information about it:

It is a Red-billed Hornbill. It lives in quite a few places in Africa. They feed by hopping on the ground, searching the surface and probing holes for insects. They follow the paths of game animals in order to hunt for dung beetles. As with most hornbills, the nest is in a hole in a tree. The female inside the nest, helped by the male outside, plasters the entrance with mud and droppings, leaving only a narrow slit. The male brings food which is passed through the slit, and droppings are squirted out. The female leaves when the young are half-grown, when they know to come to the slit for food. The parents reseal the nest until the young are ready to leave.

Quote on the carving in the forest

One friend suggested it was similar to an American Indian proverb:
We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

My daughter who speaks French better than I do, having lived in Paris for 4 years, said:

I would have read it more in the sense of something that is not our birthright, something that belongs to us and is ours to squander as we will (as an inheritance might be considered to be), but an obligation, something we have to protect for the future generations. I think that contrast between squandering and preserving, rather than the idea that the forbearers didn't think of it, is probably what the saying is about.

Answers to a few questions:


A friend reported that Cleveland has been having record rain fall this year, with 55 inches so far, compared to an average of 36 inches and asked how much rain falls in Burkina.  There is some variation, but the web indicates that the range is 23 to 36 inches.  The big difference between here and Cleveland is that here it all falls in the four months of the rainy season, June-September, and there is virtually no rain the rest of the year. I am in an area that is closer to the 23 inches.


Another question was why the schools are the way they are. I certainly do not know the whole story, but I am sure much of it is because of the poverty of the country. They try to get everybody to send their kids to school, but, in reality, there is not enough room in the existing schools. Why not build more schools? Buildings cost money, even if a community gets together and builds classrooms out of mud bricks. There is still the cost of doors, windows, and roofs.

Another problem is that teachers are paid by the Burkina Faso government, and not the local government, so money to hire more teachers competes with funding roads, water, electricity, and so on.  You have to get governments permission to build a new classroom because that will mean a new teacher will be needed.

Because teachers are government employees, the central government decides where they will be assigned, rather than local school districts hiring. That may be why it takes untile the second week of school to get teachers assigned to classrooms.

The Provisor, or principal of the local LycĂ©e or High School was just moved to another town and the new man arrived Monday.  I asked him if this was a promotion and he told me that this was about the same size school as where he was Provisor for the past five years, but the government has a policy stating provisors should not stay in one school for more than 5 years. The idea is that if you stay in one place too long you lose your edge for innovation and fall into doing things the way they always have been done.  When people move around they bring new ideas with them.  There may be something to that, but it must be hard to know you are not going to staying in a place and it might discourage people from taking on long term projects.

Teachers move around, too, but mostly at their request.  When you start out you may be placed in a less desirable location.  After you have been there for five years, you can request a transfer to a location you prefer.  You may or may not get the place you want, but your new place may be closer to where you would like to be.

Village Chief

I was asked about the role of the village chief and his relationship to other government officials there are in small town like the one I live in.  Please realize this is just the way I understand the system from talking with folks here and there could be some misconceptions.

The position of village chief is more or less hereditary, although I understand that the oldest son may not want to take on the responsibility or may be living in a big city.  In that case the community (somehow) selects the new chief who may be related to the old chief, another son, a brother or nephew, for example. It may be that the village can chose a man from a different family, but I am not sure about that. There is a sub-chief for each small community (or neighborhood), but there is an overall chief for the town, to whom the sub chiefs give homage.  There are responsibilities of these chiefs that I probably don’t know about. Someone told me that it can be a problem if the son who would inherit the responsibility has moved to the city.  He may not want to return to his village to take on the role, and he may not have been trained in in how to make the appropriate sacrifices and how to conduct the traditional ceremonies..  These folks have no official authority from the government, as I understand it, but they are still held in great respect. For example, the chiefs of the various sectors of Ouagadougou and the head chief were invited, along with government officials, to the swearing in ceremony for Peace Corps. The head chief of Ouaga has the right to say who can use the field where we played games with the students in the English camp last summer. They probably have other responsibilities I know nothing about.

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