Ugly Beauty

My friend who lived in Burkina Faso with the Peace Corps was recently in Rwanda working on a project for grad school. Over WhatsApp, she raved about the hills, the greenery, and the coffee, and I said “if you end up staying there forever, be prepared for all the houseguests,” to which she replied, “if I chose forever, I would choose Burkina….it’s got that ugly beauty going on.”

Ugly is a strong word for a place…but I know what she means. When I visited her village (because when you’re traveling between Alaska and South Africa, everything is “on the way”), I found surprising details almost everywhere: when digging holes to help a neighbor plant seedlings in his field, I found plastic bags and rubbish under the surface (ugly), and at the weekly market, the glint of metallic thread and saturated color in this dyed fabric (beauty). When I heard the local language spoken in the background, the local accent almost sounded like American english (ugly, I’m told by non-Americans, but familiar and beautiful to me). I remember the horizontal bands of color that made up earth and sky, all smudged with a grey, cloudy, dusty tint.

If I had to choose forever, I’m not sure where I would go. I tend to lose objectivity with places I love, but like my friend and Burkina, I would want to go somewhere with ugly beauty, somewhere where I could still see the details.


Image: Fabric stand at the market, Kalsaka, Burkina Faso, 2012.

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