Parza: Writing His Name

– Mark Canavera, RPCV Burkina Faso

Funny, that I thought writing my partner’s name, “Parza,” would be a relief. Oh, it may not look like much to you since you’re reading it in Times New Roman or maybe Arial, who knows. But know that when I write it, when I really write Parza with a thick pen that’s purple or green or royal blue, it swirls on the pages with curlicues, basking in its newfound glow of legibility. It sounds even better. Read it out loud: Parza. Do it, read it: Paaaarza. Rolls off the tongue with a zing, doesn’t it? PAARZA!

You might have read about Parza before, just without knowing it. In an earlier edition of this newsletter, Parza was P_____, my anonymous Burkinabè lover (February 2003, see I wrote anonymously as well since this newsletter is sent to Peace Corps staff in Burkina Faso and both Parza and I feared losing our thin veil of secrecy. We’re no longer anonymous: P_____ is Parza, and I am Mark. I had thought that writing Parza, outing Parza, declaring Parza, would rush through me like an electric wave, a thrilling release, a throwing off of the protective cloak of anonymity. A naked jump into icy waters. Writing Parza was supposed to be a Defining Moment, both his coming out and ours.

Parza gave me permission to write about him by name about three months ago, some two years after my departure from Burkina Faso. “Write it all,” he said. “Everything! Don’t leave out a single detail.” At the time, I itched at the prospect of artfully sketching vignettes of Parza’s coming-out process: the day he learned the French words for “homosexual” and “fag,” our first kiss, the time he saw Doug kiss his boyfriend on “Melrose Place” (yes, it showed in Burkina), and finally, triumphantly, the moment he declared to me, “Voilà! That’s who I am – a man who prefers men to women.” All interesting in their own ways, but stories like these have already been told a thousand times.

Parza’s story has more. In May of last year, Parza, who like me is 27, faced increasing pressure from his family to get married and to start a family. To stem the tide of marriage proposals, he decided to tell his father about our relationship, one-upping me. I feared that he would be chased from the village, ostracized. “What did your father say?” I asked with baited breath. “He asked to see your picture,” Parza replied. We have his family’s felicitous and unexpected blessing.

Writing Parza was supposed to be a declaration of commitment, a putting to ink of our love. But seeing it now, written in Times New Roman (yours might be Palatino Linotype or Garamond, but no matter – they’re all typewritten), “Parza” looks vaguely lifeless, an inaccurate transcription of our spoken affair. Read it out loud again and you’ll understand how much is lost in the typing: Paarza! ParZAAH!

There are irreducible ironies. For starters, we speak almost daily but have not seen each other in over two years. The cell phone keeps us close just as plane ticket prices, immigration laws, and cultures keep us distant. We never talk about “us” anymore; we just enact the day-to-day drone of married couples. Parza is working in a bakery right now, rolling baguette loaves from 3 to 7 am. I just finished a final paper for a political philosophy class. Our lives seem to exist in two different spheres, the dusty streets of Ouagadougou and the pristine halls of academia, yet our conversations are filled with quotidian banalities, hardly the stuff of star-crossed lovers. We no longer love each other exotically.

Parza and I have been together for more than four years now, two of them together and two and a half of them apart. Never once has the end goal been apparent. A counselor I saw recently raised his eyebrow and said, “You call that a relationship? Whatever.” Somehow neither of us seems to let the obvious questions grow too loud: where are we going, or even more basically, what direction are we headed in? Those sounds of those questions remain, but they are reduced to a soothing hum, the purr of a well-constructed Cadillac engine. For now we just keep coasting, somehow together but viscerally apart.

“I’m so lucky,” I used to tell other Peace Corps Volunteers in Burkina. “I’ll never have to think about where my relationship with Parza is going, never have to worry about visas or marriage or long-term prospects. This relationship is only what it is right now, and right now it’s a lot of fun.” Those words are some of the only ones I have ever regretted uttering: “I’m so lucky.” Maybe they were a curse or a jinx. At the very least, they prophesied our separation.

Writing “Parza” was supposed to be an explosion of truth, an outraged outcry for our rights denied, a pitched squeal against the manmade barriers that separate us. But it’s not. Maybe Parza and I will just keep coasting for a while, on autopilot, until we turn some unexpected corner onto vast turquoise horizons, unimagined possibilities. And maybe Parza will never be written, preferring instead to be spoken and sung.

Mark Canavera can be reached at

About LGBT RPCV Association
We are an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and others who are Peace Corps volunteer alumni, current volunteers, former and current staff members and friends. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1991, we have several hundred members throughout the country and around the world who have served in Peace Corps since its beginning in 1961. We are an active affiliate member of the National Peace Corps Association.

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