On Sunday I did a very stereotypical tourist-in-Switzerland sort of thing and went to a yodellers’ festival. I was invited along by a Swiss girl a few years older than myself who I’ll call Stella. Stella is one of those people who lights up a room, who the word “ebullient” was invented for, who wears a big smile and big colourful beads. I think she’s beautiful, although I lacked the spine to tell her so. I wonder if she will ever read this and pick up on it. She was kind of sick, but she had promised me and two of her American friends that we would all go to this yodelling festival, so there she was at 9:45 a.m. on the train platform, armed with a bunch of kleenex, a mug of hot tea and that lightbulb smile.
The yodelling festival was really fun. The weather was perfect in Interlaken (where the festival was being held) and it was the perfect setting for a yodelling festival. Interlaken is kind of a tourist-theme-park Switzerland, in the shadow of snow-capped mountains, between two picturesque blue lakes hence the name, streets lined with wooden houses, quite a few of which are actually shops that sell chocolate, watches, pocket knives or antiques. For the yodelling festival hundreds and hundreds of people were wandering around dressed up in regional attire…hats with frilly coronets for the women from Valais, embroidered vests and single gold earrings for the men from Appenzell, who we called the pirates for obvious reasons, long handmade dirndl dresses for most of the women. Mostly men, although a handful of women and at least one teenage girl, gathered in groups to play alphorns, which are these long, long horns shaped like goats’ horns and the size of trees. The horns are so long that one end touches the ground, and they play several loud, long melodic notes. I think if I were a Swiss teenage girl I would love to play the alphorn…the whole festival, and the sing-along choral songs that everyone knew (everyone in Switzerland can carry a tune too!) did make me feel a bit awkward though, like I was intruding into someone else’s culture. That certainly didn’t disturb the yodelers’ delegation from Korea, who ran around in gorgeous red and black dirndls that kind of made them look like harajuku yodellers. Incidentally, there were also yodeler groups from Ukraine, from New Zealand and (flag waving and cowboy hat wearing like any red blooded Albertans) from Calgary.
Yodelling is not that tuneless, howling nonsense that we’ve come to expect from cartoon yodelling. Not “yodel-odel-ay-hee-hoo!!” From what I could gather, there are two kinds. One- spoken yodelling- is the kind of high-pitched whoop that North Americans do when applauding at rock concerts. “It’s like the Rebel Yell!” said one of the Americans who had joined us. The other kind is a kind of exceptionally loud, but surprisingly pretty, kind of choral singing: “Yo-do-do-do….”
We wandered around for awhile and got white wine and overpriced Rostis- Rosti is to German-speaking Switzerland what poutine is to Quebec. Fried-potato hangover food elevated to the level of national delicacy. We had ours with cheese, bacon and fried onions…heaven on a plate, second only to actual poutine. Funny Swiss tidbit: the language barrier between francophone and German-speaking Switzerland is called the Rostigraben (the Rosti-trench) because while the Germans love their Rosti the French won’t touch the stuff. I’m less picky.
We caught the closing parade, which was a great procession of rural Swiss culture- cows bedecked with bells and flowers (one of them, said the taller of the Americans who could see over the crowd in front of us, was called Cornelia), squads of flag-throwers who would throw bright Swiss and cantonal flags high into the blue sky and catch them to the claps and whistles of the spectators, people jumping around dressed in the horned and hairy costumes of carnival beasts, cheesemakers, winemakers and ice sculptors with their equipment, all the yodelling delegations and of course the inevitable floats, brass bands and street-cleaning trucks- which immediately followed the parade, that’s Swiss cleanliness and efficiency right there!
Afterward that night I had the privilege of going to a swing party with an amazing live quartet from New Orleans! My hip is still hurting though, especially when I do Charleston, so this week I’m going to tell myself not to move unnecessarily at all (no dancing 😦 ) and if it still hurts I’m going to break down and go to the clinic. I’m terrified they’ll either charge me a fortune or tell me I need surgery or have to go home, or both. But it will be reassuring to at least know what’s wrong…if I’ve lived with it for two weeks I can live with it until September. I am going to Africa if I have to go in a goddamn wheelchair.
On that note I realized that I will be leaving for Bujumbura in PRECISELY two months’ time. I just got an email from the program coordinator back there, M. Karayenga, asking me what ideas I had. That is where the “self doubt” part of the title kicks in. Tucked in with Karayenga’s message was an absolutely glowing recommendation of my colleague Jean-Sébastien, praising his professionalism and enthusiasm endlessly and inviting him back. I’m absolutely petrified that I won’t be able to live up to the wonderful act I have to follow.
I have had lingering doubts since interview day that I was chosen to go to Burundi not because I have any great skill but because I am bilingual. There’s a terrible Canadian joke about a lifeguard:
A public pool somewhere in Ontario or Quebec. A kid falls into the deep end. The kid’s father waits for the lifeguard to do something, but the lifeguard doesn’t move. Finally the father jumps in and pulls the kid out himself. He confronts the lifeguard:
Dad: What did you just sit there for?
Lifeguard: I can’t swim, but I’m fluently bilingual.
I’m having trouble shaking the notion that I was hired along the same criteria as that lifeguard. I’m afraid I’ll do something horrible like have a panic attack when I can’t find a stack of quizzes…that happened once in Ljubljana when I was being assessed…
Leave it to Mbonisi and Cam, the other two members of our little dream team, to tell me to stop that nonsense and that I am a beautiful child of the universe who won’t do anything other than an awesome job. What would I do without them? Couldn’t tell you.
They are in Kigali right now, staying in a haunted house. It once belonged to Théoneste Bagasora, one of the planners of the 1994 genocide. Mbonisi says he can hear the ghosts whisper at night. Why has a house like that not been demolished? A parting thought.