Setting up a home is a tricky thing—it’s the fantastic alchemy of searching out random objects and settling in with them. In my case, it’s taken a little while. I was trying to figure out why this was, for I usually make great efforts to establish myself wherever I am. Unfortunately, I really have no answers. It just is. But what’s fascinating is the assortment of items I do have around me:
I’m sitting on a woven cot that I bought in Ouaga and transported to a hotel strapped to a run down taxi. In front of me is a coffee table I had built in Gouran made from repurposed wood from an old sign I found by the road. I biked that back 15 km to my house only to saw off the legs, which were far too tall. On the table sits a ceramic bowl I bought at our Peace Corps fair in Ouaga. A volunteer’s women’s group made it. The two chairs across from me I bought in Tougan, transporting both of them back to a hotel, strapped to the back of my bike. Maps: The National Geographic Institute of Ouagadougou; an incredible walk around Ouaga in the midday heat. Shelves: wood bought in Gouran, with my landlord bringing back on his motorcycle and banko bricks given to me as a gift. On those shelves are transit house books, care package books, a cheap souvenir from Dakar, candles a volunteer bought for me in Dedougou, and a wine bottle filled only with rocks and pleasant memories. Fabric rests all around me, coming from all parts of this country—mostly scraps from clothes I’ve had made. I have masks from Festima, a bench from my neighbor, curtains made by the women of Koumbara, Ivoirian plastic mats from all over the Sourou Valley, and a Bates College pennant I bought at the 2011 graduation. Next to that pennant is my bike helmet that I bought in the States before coming to Burkina. I can still remember the salesman telling me I that looked like Lance Armstrong when I tried it on. Even more memorable is how his singeing brand of gloomy condescension made me squirm in my own skin. Moving to my kitchen, you’ll find a long counter I designed and had it built in Gouran—again my landlord bringing it back on his motorcycle. It’s almost two meters long. You’ll also find more fabric, a gas tank from Tougan that I’ve had to refill in Guiedougou, a horribly unsafe tabletop stove from Ouaga that is missing a knob because of catching on fire (twice), and a jubilee of care package spices. Guarding the entrance to my bedroom are nametags I’ve acquired as a trainee and beyond. Inside my bedroom is another cot from Ouaga, a cement bag filled with assorted possessions, a miniature Eiffel Tower that sits on my windowsill to remind me of a dear friend, and the same mosquito net I was given when I first settled into my house in Ipelce—of course patched with duct tape that I bought at an REI in Baltimore.
I’m most certainly aware of the cliché that “every item tells a story.” And in directly playing into that tired adage, I can assert that nowhere have I ever been so aware of the varied stories behind everything in my home. Transporting items around Burkina is frustrating and exhausting under optimal conditions. With that in mind, it feels nothing short of miraculous that anything made it in here at all.
So, with that intro, check out the pictures of my (finally) set up home. Now when you think about me living in a mud house in Africa, at least you’ll know what it looks like.