[A follow up to this, based off three months in Burkina Faso. Happy Pride]
When I feel comfortable enough with him, I say I find attitudes towards homosexuality here difficult. We talk it through, from afar. I say what is legal – and now normal – in Britain. He says that in the neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire, if a gay couple are seen on the street they’d be stripped naked in order to humiliate them. Far worse things happen too.
I say that’s sad. Homosexuality, and all the other letters in the acronym, are normal. There’s nothing wrong with it.
He tries explaining it to me through physics.
I sit up, disappointed, though I know I can’t really blame him. We’re lying on a plastic woven mat under the mango trees, and I turn away and pick up my book. After a while, it’s time to go back for lunch. Attend, he says, wait, and he chucks his notebook onto my lap.
The first night we met properly, he came and sat with me on the steps by our block of flats, in the school in Loumbila we were using as a training ground. It felt less dusty as the dark fell, the smell of overuse of deet strong from African first timers. “Is that your perfume?” one of the Burkinabés asked when one of the Brits sprayed herself from head to toe.
That night he asked me to help him translate something he’d written about the day. What we’d done, eaten, what was good etc. We mimed out words we became stuck on, neither of our languages confident enough to explain everything properly.
Since then, when we’ve had a phrase that’s difficult to say, we’ve written it down. The other day we were having a conversation in the courtyard about our attitudes to marriage, and because we knew our host mama might disapprove, we moved it to paper when voices became too loud.
Under the dappled light, as a pig snuffles about nearby, I read his note. I’m sorry if i said a thing you did not like. I did not mean to. I’m sorry. I pass it back. I find it a hard part of this culture to accept, I write, knowing my grammar is wrong somewhere. I understand, but this is the culture I grew up in, he adds below.
We walk back in silence.
A few weeks later, we talk about it again. The sun’s gone down. We’re sitting out under the stars. It’s a clear night so they’re bright, but there’s a power cut so the phone torches are the only accompaniment to the natural light. We’re on little wooden benches, the scratched metal table that the dog sometimes licks scraps off touching both of our knees.
I tell him. At first he asks why. C’est comme ca, I say, getting a small smile in return as I gently chuck the phrase at him, one he uses all the time when I don’t understand something about his culture.
“Okay”, he says, “It’s your life.”