A Cure For Culture Shock

I’m entering stage two of culture shock. According to the psychologists, you go through a bit of culture shock after a couple of weeks in a new place, then move on and grow out of it, but around the six-month mark you can settle back into it and it can become serious.

The other day, as I was riding back up from la Patte d’Oie around the roundabout at the south end of the airport road, somebody on a motorcycle cut me off from the right, treating me to a few choice expressions in passing. The appropriate response was to say to myself “oh, those whacky Burkinabè, aren’t they so adorable in their insanity,” or, at worst “ooh, anus-clenching adventure!” Instead, for about 30 seconds, I became that stereotypical third-world white guy, riding down the road screaming at another driver and making rude hand gestures. Not a smart idea, I might add, when riding a bicycle in heavy urban traffic.

When I was in Haiti, under a great deal more work stress than I am here, I got really poisonous in this way for a while. My friends had to do an intervention and tell me to calm down, whereupon I mostly did and had a good time for the rest of my stay there (aside from work, which didn’t get less stressful). One thing I did was get into the habit of getting out of town on weekends and visiting the beach.

So I decided to spend a pleasant day at a nearby resort, the Loumbila Beach Club. I’d actually planned to go on Sunday, which is Valentine’s Day, with another temporarily-single guy I know, Todd Sargent from the embassy Public Diplomacy section. Todd is a young, vigorous sort, just the fellow to go on a 20 km bike ride with me to the beach. On Sunday they had a buffet. But Sunday was Pape’s funeral, so we postponed the trip to Monday, which was Washington’s Birthday and a day off for the American embassy. My students in European Expansion were done with their presentations and I am done with grading them so I was free too.

Here’s the gate of the Club. Lots of attention to decoration and statuary all over the facility:

Loumbila beach

I especially liked the big fat guy in the chef’s uniform you can see in the distance next to the interior gate. In America, people used to have statues like this on their lawns, of dark-skinned servitors, as a sign of gentility or some such. But we came to see them as somewhat racially charged and mostly they are gone, replaced, if anything, by pink flamingos. But the smiling fat guy at the door is still around in Africa.

On the way, we noticed somebody who really likes Vache Qui Rit cheese. This, for those who (happily) aren’t familiar with it, is a sort of indestructible cheese-like product that has the consistency of soft putty at pretty much any temperature and tastes somewhat like what you might imagine putty tasting like. If you left it out for a while. Vache Qui Rit is the only kind of cheese widely available in Africa and makes a pretty fine road sandwich when combined with canned sardines.

Vache qui rit

Apparently, on further enquiring, this is a farm that sells, not Vache Qui Rit, but actual goat cheese. They weren’t around on Mondays, though. Next time.

Who knew Burkina Faso has beaches? Actually it doesn’t, strictly speaking, unless you think of the Sahara Desert as the world’s widest beach and the Mediterranean as the ocean. But there is a body of water at Loumbila, a reservoir on the White Volta River, I believe it is, and the resort is located next to the lake:

Angel Loumbila

There is a swimming area and a dock with paddle boats and wave riders for rent. I resisted temptation, ensconcing myself in the very nicely appointed bar watched over by this giraffe

Loumbila giraffe

Right next door was the merry-go-round, not in operation on Monday morning but certainly an attractive feature for somebody with kids like Todd. His two are something like three and six, and very cute, and his wife is currently back in the States awaiting a Blessed Event. So there will shortly be some more passengers for that merry-go-round.

Loumbila international airport

As resorts go, having seen a bunch in Haiti, this one isn’t bad but isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen. I should say, though, that the cooks are certainly up to the comparison: our pizza was the best I’ve tasted in this country so far. I didn’t have any alcohol but the bar looked well-stocked. The menu was extensive and the prices not extraordinary. The hotel looked comfortable though the room prices were pretty high – over $100 a night for a room for two with three meals. But if I had somebody to spend the weekend with, especially if that somebody were about 6 or 7 years old, this would be the place to do it.

I did feel better after I got back. Especially since I made it home with only minor symptoms of saddle soreness while Todd appeared whipped. He’s got to be 20 years younger than me, too. So all that zipping around on my bike is doing me some good, even if I’m not losing any weight.

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