“West Africa is a great place to ride a bike,” was my sarcastic comment day after day while riding home from the training site to our host families’ house in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso. Especially for those of us who were relative novice cyclists among the trainees, the second-largest city of Burkina Faso was, indeed, an obstacle course on par with the most grueling Marine Corps boot camp -- or at least we thought so.
It was the end of the seventh week of training for my community health position. I was excited that only five weeks remained, and that I would soon be in my village -- my home for the next two years. However, I was exhausted by the rigors of training and the continuous adjustment to the heat, the languages, and the culture of this foreign place.
On this particular Friday in July, there had been a two-day dry spell. In Burkina, that translates into two days of relentless stickiness and suspense, waiting for the rain to break. The rains in Burkina are awe-inspiring; they crash in like a tidal wave and leave the promise of a cool evening in their wake. For the last two days, I had endured more than my share of the sweaty, greasy, bloated-head feeling that high heat and humidity bring. Sitting through endless Dioula language classes and visiting the traditional healers in the markets while suffering through this heat had taken its toll on me. My roommate, Kellyann, and I grabbed our bikes and headed home, to the house where we lived with our host family.
The air felt like warm water filling our lungs as we pedaled our way along the railroad tracks, past the bustling crowds, with the oceans of children yelling “tubabu” (white person), and the random herds of goats, cows, and the occasional camel. To get home, we had to cross a main thoroughfare, which we approached with care, as it was usually packed with noisy mopeds, rickety green taxis, decrepit cars and busses, and donkeys pulling carts. My roomie found a hole in the congestion and immediately traversed the traffic.
I was not so lucky. I was deluged by a huge wave of kids before I even reached the street. They all surrounded me, yelling “tubabu,” touching my skin, and asking me questions. I was not in the mood. Then suddenly, one girl ran up behind me and smacked me on the rear! Almost immediately after that, a man who was passing by grabbed the back of my bike and shook it violently for no apparent reason. I gawked at him with big eyes and gaping mouth. Then, I checked the road again, and there was a break! I shot across the street, where Kellyann was waiting for me.
I then went into a ten-minute tirade about how I loathed Burkina, I was leaving that very afternoon, returning to the good old USA, never to return to this Godforsaken place. Being the good friend that she is, she humored me. “Okay,” she said. “Are you ready to go home now?” I had a fleeting vision of cool Maine evenings, feasts of pizza, and enormous stuffed couches -- then I realized that she meant the host families’ house. I grudgingly agreed. We jumped back onto our bikes and raced through the dizzying, fish-scented market and down the back way to our house. I was soaked with sweat and my head felt like it was about to explode.
Suddenly, the wind picked up and the sky filled with monstrous black clouds. People started running around trying to beat the rain. I pedaled more slowly. I turned my face to the sky and one giant raindrop fell on my cheek. I laughed out loud. It began to downpour. I slowed down even more. People dashing around on the roadside stared and laughed, wondering if perhaps I was insane. My smile got even wider. Everything was going to be all right. I was going home.
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