Love and Beauty in the Peace Corps, Burkina Faso

I  couldn’t look at her in that way. I wasn’t supposed to. I was a guest in their house.

My objectives were to learn French and Burkinabé culture, not to court the family’s youngest daughter. I kept with my French studies and spent evenings with her or her older brother, walking the sector, sharing dinner, discussing the differences between California, the United States, and Burkina Faso. The nights passed slowly and there were many. Saturday often involved study so there wasn’t much of a weekend and weeks blended one into another. Sundays were slightly distinct, in that they were for relaxing, and I did my best not to study on these days.

But French was beautiful, like Angèle, and I had to fight not to study. But she was so curious, calm, and reserved. And beautiful. I had never seen someone so beautiful. It was elegant, unmistakable beauty. I had to look cautiously. Was she looking back? I never thought she was.

We spent ten weeks together, though I was absent at training during the days. Early morning Angèle’s brother and I would eat breakfast and I wouldn’t return until the evening. I would bathe, and we would eat dinner. Mostly Victor and I, but Angèle would join us on occasion, and there were times when it was just the two of us. She would attempt to teach me the local language, but I wasn’t really interested.

She had such a soft, endearing voice, perfect for enchanting the world and the people in it, including me. I was enchanted, slowly, unknowingly, by her touch. Her voice somehow melted the words, like a candlelight softly waxing a polished wood table, coating it in uneven patterns, sticking.

Occasionally we would walk in the evenings, exchanging glimpses into ourselves, our pasts and our dreams. I was a guest and I felt at home.

One evening I stood outside my room during a dull moment, not thinking, enjoying the quiet at the day’s end. The moon lit the entire courtyard with a warm yellow haze, highlighting the red earth and dusty air. Across the courtyard Angèle stepped out from her sleeping quarters, wrapped in a traditional cloth from chest to knee and holding a galvanized-metal bucket of water. She was already several meters from her exitway when I noticed her. I wasn’t supposed to look, but the courtyard was empty and it was so quiet. I didn’t turn my head, but I looked. I looked. She only walked a few seconds before disappearing into the washroom, but the seconds were eternal. The dust in the air stood still as the moonlight illuminated her. I was in awe. But I wasn’t supposed to look, and I couldn’t say a word.

About Emerging Environments

Thoughts about environmental policy, sustainability, cancer, and more.
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