Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where in the World is Burkina Faso?

After my husband and I put up his giant map of the world in the basement this summer (see July 24 post - How To Wallpaper Together and Stay Married), I found myself going down there several times a day just to stare at it. I'd be going about my daily routine and suddenly I'd realize I was going down the basement stairs again. Something was pulling me toward the map. Perhaps magnetic north? I don't think so. I think I was compelled to face a weakness. I've always been really bad at geography. Whenever a geography question came up on Jeopardy, I'd do that thing where you blow out air through loose lips and swat my hand in the direction of the TV. Geography? Really? Ask me something else.

Looking at the giant map was like looking into a mirror and seeing Ignorance stare back at me.

I decided to turn a weakness into a strength. I decided to study geography.

I found a geography game online . A pleasant female voice said the name of a country and I'd click on its location on the map. I started with Western Europe and moved my way east. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.  I studied for weeks, usually late at night, with a bag of chocolate chips at hand. (Did you know that chocolate stimulates brain function? Just a theory I have.) When I got to Africa, I initially felt overwhelmed. How am I going to do this? I thought. But the nice lady on the game had Africa broken down into small, manageable areas, and I got through it in a few nights. I have since gone all the way around the world. I still have to work on all the small island nations. There are so many of them and they all look the same - tiny specks in an ocean.

I told my family about my project. They immediately started throwing out names of countries to try and stump me.


"Up on the northeast coast of Africa," I confidently replied.


"In the eastern interior of South Africa."


"Next to Thailand."

Phew. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had passed.

"What do you do? Go down in the basement and stare at Dad's map?" they asked me.

"No. Well, sometimes," I admitted. "And I play geography games online."


"Right by Armenia."

I continued to study. I'd tell other people what I was doing and they'd also quiz me.


"East of Ethiopia, on the coast of Africa. Just south of Eritrea."

"Burkina Faso?" My neighbor Beth asked me.

"It's right above Ghana. How do you know about Burkina Faso?"

"All  my kids did Burkina Faso for their World Fair project at school."


I was doing really well. Nobody could stump me.

And then one day,

"Lizzy, Sister Gassman* is learning where all the countries in the world are. Ask her where something is."

Lizzy is eleven years old. She's a very smart eleven-year-old. She thought for a moment and then said,

"New Guinea?"

I immediately thought of Africa.

"Well, there's Guinea and Guinea Bissau on the northwest coast of Africa," I responded.

Lizzy got a confused look on her face.

"I was thinking of the island down by Australia."

Ha! I should have known that. It's not even a small island.

Well, I was humbled by a child. I still have a lot of work to do. And I'm going to have to constantly review what I've learned so far until it's really cemented in my brain. And borders will change. I'll probably never really be done. 

But I'm having fun and hopefully staving off Alzheimer's. 

My Jeopardy stats have improved. 

And I just feel like a better citizen of the world.

*This was a neighbor child who belongs to our church. In the church, we use Brother and Sister like Mr. and Mrs.


  1. I thought of you today when I turned on NPR and they were discussing a book with its author called The Revenge of Geography. Sounded very interesting--all about how geography is central to understanding world history and the future.

    I should probably have Lizzy read it. :)

    1. Maybe I can borrow it from Lizzy when she's done!