Mike Hirschbach




Part Four - April, 2004

This is the orphanage where Andre and I taught. The 15 trainers we were teaching were in turn responsible for teaching circus arts to the younger kids twice a week. This aspect of giving back to the community, of becoming teachers and role models themselves, is an essential part of Cirque du Monde, and a key to its success.

Bobo Dialosso: Moussa and I took a 5 hour bus ride to get here, the second largest city in Burkina and his home town. This morning we just missed the 08:00 bus, so we walked around the large and bustling market nearby for an hour or so before taking the 10:30.

Incredible day. Astonishing day. We walked through la vielle quartiere (the old town). This is where Moussa grew up, and he knows everybody, and is related to every second person. We walked through the old town, the original town, still inhabited after…well, I wasn't quite sure. Was it 500 years, 1,000 years? The first house in the village was still there, still inhabited, and by direct descendants of the original residents. Here the streets are far too narrow for vehicles, and the people walk with unhurried, sedate movements

Moussa had promised me that I would see a different side, the traditional society, and it is different indeed from the scrabbling, capital city. I would find it very difficult to live in Ouaga, but Bobo had a real attraction. Giant, leafless banyan trees line the streets. As everywhere, comme un blanc, I'm a target for every vendor, taxi driver, and urchin who see me as an ambulatory money dispensing machine. A quick "Non, merci'" takes care of all but the most persistent.

Today I saw a couple holding hands. Displays of affection in public are common among males (they can hold hands), females (they can hold hands), but infrequent to the point of non-existence among opposite gender couples.

I'm drawing every day, sitting in meditation every day. Travel's always good for resuming the essential habits, my refuge in otherwise unfamiliar surroundings, new customs and uprooted routines.

Today is the Muslim holiday, Tabaski, which signifies the end of Ramadan. Yesterday there were goats being herded everywhere, this morning there are no ambulatory ones, but many being turned on spits in preparation for tonight's festivities. Tonight is a special celebration, where family's dress in their best, and visit with friends and relatives. Later in the evening crowds gathered by the river that runs through Bobo, waiting for the Sacred Crocodile that resides there to emerge (apparently an auspicious omen should it occur).

We walked again through the Vielle Quartiere, with Basile and Evelyne who were also visiting. Because of the holiday and Moussa's family connections, we visited several houses. In one we sat and drank home brewed beer out of a calabash. In another, we ate a meal of rice out of a large common bowl. These are extraordinarily warm and welcoming people

The centre of the city is an awe-inspiring, ancient mosque, with wooden beams jutting out in all directions from the bleached earthen walls. We were invited inside, and after removing our shoes, walked quietly through on the hard packed floor. The extrusions are part of a series of regularly spaced stress bearing columns made of earth, and the roof is packed onto de-barked long poles. This is one of the earliest structures in the city, and the feeling of enclosed space and mystery was palpable.

Meanwhile, I'm dealing with carnivores of a different variety, and celebrating the holiday by playing the nightly game, "Slap the Mosquito." The small, inelegant hotel I'm staying in costs 3,000 F, much less that what I pay in Ouaga. The shower drenches the whole desultory bathroom with its tepid spray, the bed sags alarmingly in the middle, and the décor is Early Monastic, but I have a mosquitaire. This is mosquito netting which completely covers the bed and in which I'm ensconced for the night, reading comfortably while the insects natter in tiny mosquito drones about my puzzling inaccessibility.

Here I have a late cosmopolitan dinner of a baguette and The Laughing Cow cheese; it's not my favourite, but it is available everywhere. As is instant Nescafe coffee, but fresh brewed is rare. So, my coffee jones is…gone. I've had three cups since arriving here; the potential consequences of drinking local water's just not worth the risk.

An uneventful trip back yesterday from Bobo, with little to do on the bus but sleep, read "Alice in Wonderland" in translation, nap, look out the window, and rest. The bus stopped twice at designated places where all descending passengers were mobbed by vendors selling the same sesame cakes, carbonized beverages, water in plastic bags, and roasted meat.

Mama: On returning I finally got in touch with my old friend and fellow graduate from the Lecoq School in Paris (1984-86), Mama Kouyate, who I hadn't seen for 17 years. She looks exactly the same, and it was as if I'd just seen her yesterday at the school in Paris. She's doing work similar to Jeunesse du Monde, and runs an arts-based school for orphans.
Mama then drove me to her village des artisans. This small village, which she's been creating, building and nourishing since 1988, is an amazing accomplishment.. Kids without parents live there full time, and the basis of the education is artistic. When I arrived the older kids were in rehearsal on an outdoor stage, about 20 of them performing a complex choreographed drumming and dancing show.

As the coordinator/founder/director, Mama was much in demand and I was left on my own much of the time. I talked with the kids about their rehearsal schedule and performances, and did a juggling demonstration. I had hoped to come back the next day, but Mama's aunt had died, and so she'll be away for the next 3 days (Mama, not the aunt; well, the aunt too, but she'll be away longer).

The kids tour their show, which generates money for the school, which has clean, modern structures, and ateliers where the kids learn batik, weaving, dyeing, dance and music. There must be about 150 kids of all ages here. It's so good to see Mama again after 18 years, and so involved in such a worthwhile and important project. It's impossible to see all this without comparing it to the freedom and choices we enjoy in Canada, the enormous wealth and resources of our country, and the political stability and readily available, free medical treatment.

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