Sunday, December 12, 2010

Greetings from Bobo

Happy independence day! Although it's still hot here and I feel like it should perpetually be summer in the U.S. as well, I know it's not July 4th. I am currently in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina's second biggest city (I think), and am returning to village today after over a week here. It's been strange being gone from Navielgane for so long, but the week has been busy and fun with more than twenty five of my closest friends living in a 3 bedroom house celebrating Burkina's 50th anniversary of independence.

I arrived here on Thursday the 2nd after a long, hot, five hour bush taxi ride. I have never been to Bobo before and didn't exactly do my research in terms of transportation here. I had heard that I could take a bus around 8 or so in the morning straight from my village so I was out on the highway nice and early that morning. I'm no stranger to catching busses from the paved road that cuts through the middle of my village, however, each time I get a little nervous the busses won't stop, I'll get on the wrong bus, or something of that nature. Every time I gratefully accept help from one of the many villagers having coffee etc. at the kiosk near the road. This time, however, I got peer pressured to take a bush taxi. Not awesome. I was warned by another volunteer that this was risky, as what should be a 2 hour trip frequently turns into 5 or even 8 hours in a van. Because of this I was looking forward to taking a nice comfy bus from a company I use every time I go into Ouaga. But like I said, peer pressure. A teenager in my village was on his way to Bobo, and perfectly content with taking a bush taxi himself, I was talked into taking it as well. As I feared, we were held up several times along the way and I didn't get in to Bobo until about 1 in the afternoon. Luckily, Keith was waiting at the Peace Corps "office" with a diet coke in hand for me :-)

We didn't all descend on Bobo just to celebrate the parade, it was a pretty productive trip as well. The trainer for the Small Enterprise Development (SED) sector in Peace Corps Burkina organized a gardening formation (I don't know if that makes sense in english) for some volunteers and organizations in the area. Wednesday and Thursday a group of people spent the day with a group of inmates learning gardening techniques and brushing up on their Dioula skills. Friday and Saturday, another group (including me this time) went to an organization called REV+ to do the same. The organization works with HIV and AIDS positive members of the community by teaching them certain skills (including gardening) for generating income and nutrition education among other things. I really enjoyed learning the things I would need to start up a community garden (or even one in my own courtyard) to bring in revenue for my primary school (or just fresh veggies for myself). At the end of the two days we donated tools to the organization to continue the garden on their property.

On the agenda for the weekend was also a celebration for International Volunteer Day. Unfortunately, a mix up at the printers led the government of Burkina Faso to leave this off the programme for the events of the week (from what I understand) and the event was just cancelled all together. In the end we all got t-shirts for the event that never happend and I"m not quite sure what we actually were scheduled to do in the first place, so I didn't mind the free time on Sunday.

Next up was parade practice which lasted Monday through Thursday for about 5 hours each morning. Basically this consisted of all of us standing around, playing cards, eating, applying sunscreen etc, until about 11 when we would practice marching the route of the independence day parade, and then go home. I've never been in a parade before, but they were pretty serious about everyone marching with the same foot, swinging their arms, etc. Luckily, the gendarms who were assigned to watch our group had a good sense of humor (and weren't to hard to look at either). Saturday was the actual day of the parade, and while it was a long day of standing around, it was pretty cool to march past tons of Burkinabe changing "Obama" or "USA" as we walked by. I feel pretty special to be able to say I was one of 25 Americans to march in the 50th anniversary parade of Burkina Faso's independence, kind of cool right? We all wore traditional completes made out of the 50th anniversary pagnes, and although I felt a little toolish at times, I think we all looked pretty great. Pictures to come soon hopefully!

So now the week is over and I'm headed back to village for a short 2 days. After that it's of to the first of two In-service Trainings (IST). I"ll be spending the week with a small group of volunteers to work on language training. Unfortunately I'm the only volunteer from my training group or "stage" that is currently learning Dagara, so I"m going to join some others learning Dioula which is also sometimes used in my site. I think it will be helpful because many of the fuctionairres in my village speak it as well, and it is more widely spread throughout Burkina than Dagara.

All in all the week was a success. ALthough it wasn't exactly luxiourious having 25+ crammed into a house all week, (but of course luxury to me these days includes anything better than a thermarest to sleep on and a diet of rice, so I was living like a queen all week), I really enjoyed getting to see many of my closest volunteer friends as well as learn a few things that I think I'll be able to implement at site. Until next time!

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 9

So I’m sitting in my house waiting for my cell phone battery to charge at the tailor’s and I thought, what better way to pass the time than writing a blog to post when I’m near a computer. I just got back from a weekend in Ouaga and am suffering what some of my friends and I call the Ouaga funk. After a great weekend, it’s always kind of hard to get back into the swing of village life all over again.

For the past two weeks there has been an arts festival happening in Ouaga called SIAO. It happens here every two years and is basically a giant air for arts and crafts from all over Africa. I kind of felt like I was at a really classy state fair, without the livestock/side shows/rides, but with pretty African crafts instead. My friends and I spent pretty much all day there on Friday and I managed to blow a chunk of CFA considering my current financial status (poor). I picked up some cool art from Ghana and Togo (that I will hopefully one day able to hang on a wall not made of solid concrete), and among other things a few too many pairs of earrings.

This trip was especially interesting for Kristin, Austin and I because we weren’t able to make reservations t the transit house. Instead, Gwen secured a couple of rooms at a nearby hotel. Well, apparently in Burkina you have to respect imaginary check in times, and by the time we arrived (about 6PM) our rooms had been given away. Luckily (or unluckily) there were some rooms available in the adjoining Catholic mission behind it. We stayed there the first and after not the best night’s sleep, decided we would check out some other places nearby. Friday we decided on a place that turned out a little more expensive than we were hoping for. Luckily we saved our selves a little money the next night...by not sleeping at all and just napping the next day. Sunday, I was planning on returning to my site but my friend Keith accidently left his bag in a cab on our way to lunch (where I randomly met some missionaries from Franklin, NC) so I decided to stay behind with him and wait to see if the cabbie would return his things. Luckily he had dropped us at the old American embassy where there were security guards. They took Keith’s number and luckily they managed to get a hold of him a couple of hours later when the driver noticed the bag in his trunk. Of course by then tons of other people had gotten the idea to extend their weekends in Ouaga and the transit house was full again. Round three of looking for a place to say. This time we settled on the Red Cross because it was on the way to the bus stop where we needed to be in the morning. Long story short, four nights, four different beds – quite a whirlwind weekend. Needless to say I was asleep within minutes of my head hitting the lit pico once I was back in village. All in all, great weekend – I was able to see friends I hadn’t seen since training, hear about everyone’s villages, and of course, check out just about every hotel in the Zone du Bois of Ouagadougou.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

October 22

It's been a while since I last posted in Ouaga and school here in Navielgane is finally in full swing. Lately I've been spending a couple of hours each morning observing different classes at the primary school near my house. One thing I know is that I'm glad I went to school where I did. In the younger classes kids sit up to five in a desk (which are wooden benches attached to narrow tables) and hitting isn't exactly uncommon. The first graders come in not knowing any French so the teachers spend the day speaking at them in a language they're not used to, hoping they'll understand, while trying to teach them to read and write. The day I sat in on 1st grade, they were going around the room pointing out things that were white and saying "c'est blanc." I was terrified the entire time that one of them was going to come over and point to me (its not out of the ordinary having kids scream "la blanche" at me as I walk/bike around my village), but thankfully not of them caught on. Even though I'm not going to be teaching, it has been good to see how the classes run here and to know what conditions the kids are learning in. One thing that is cool is that they each have their own little chalkboard to practice writing on - I know I would have thought that was pretty sweet when I was a kid.

I finally made a visit to my local CSPS (clinic) with my homologue. It's in another village about 5K away. Another volunteer was supposed to live their from the health sector but unfortunately she had to go home. Luckily a new group of volunteers arrived last week- all from health and small enterprise development - so once their training is over I should have a new neighbor. So anyway, I visited the CSPS just to get an idea of what it was like/let them know i was here, etc. A popular activity among many volunteers is to participate in baby weighing days, so I asked about that. It worked, out that the next day was a baby weighting day so I went back on Thursday to see how it all worked. It was pretty hysterical to watch because they put the babies in this harness and hang them from a hook in the center of the room. Their eyes would get all wide as they swung around until a good measurement could be taken and a lot of the time there was screaming and kicking involved. They encourage mothers to come in once a month to have their babies weighted, measured, vaccinated etc. Each person has a little booklet in which they keep track of all the measurements to chart if the baby is malnourished or not. The woman in charge of the maternity clinic also spoke to the women for several minutes on the preparation of something called boullie (which is something like oatmeal) to start incorporating into the babies diets. The whole process took up most of the morning. Afterwards, they had me sit in on a couple of consultations which was mostly just awkward and a little confusing since everything was in Dagara. All in all it was an interesting and eye opening experience. Although I'd like to help out thee when I can and am needed, my visit made me a) glad I'm not a health volunteer (I don't think my queasy stomach could handle being there every day) and b) reaffirmed the fact that I don't want children.

I continue to have lots of free time (which I don't think I'll ever be lacking) and managed to fill some of it with a little home improvement. I finally finished painting and although I did a far less than perfect job and it kinda looks like an easter egg exploded in my house, its done and is better than looking at dirty, brown walls with cement patchwork everywhere. I also hung some curtains that I made from traditional Dagara tie dye pagnes that I think are pretty spiffy.

In other news I am currently sporting a rather 90s Coolio-esque hair style. My neighbor decided she wanted to fix me up with a new 'do' and that meant that I sat for several hours on Monday while she attacked my head with a comb and some rubber bands. I thought I was going to end up with some corn rows but oh no, I have a gangster's paradise look going on with braids sticking out in every direction. She was pretty proud and someone suggested we take a photo together...I can't believe I'm allowing the evidence to exist.

Another new thing that has been occupying some of my spare time is a game here called "Ludo" (although they pronounce it "Lido"). I'm pretty sure its from Nigeria and basically it's the African version of "Sorry" - dice, little colored pieces you move around the board etc. A bunch of guys sit around playing it and drinking tea near the kiosk where I sometimes buy my bread. My neighbor saw me playing with them one day and then took it upon herself to buy it on a trip to Diebougou (the same trip where she bought rubber bands for my hair do) so we could play it at her house. She's a little competitive and alot better than me so playing with her can be a little intimidating (silly I know, it's just a bored game) but I'm getting better.

On my way home from a trip to the CSPS, my homologue and I stopped at another primary school to chat with the director/ After introducing me to all of the classes (in one he asked if I had a message for the kids, to which I responded "stay in school" because it was the only thing I could think of in French) we were standing outside talking and he asked "So, in reality, what are you actually doing here?" This wasn't the first time I've gotten this question and people in my village have been asking when I'm going to start working. Technically, we're not supposed to 'stat' anything until our in-service training in January. This preliminary period is supposed to be for assessing the needs of our communities. For me this has been a source of frustration for me as much as I'm sure it is for the people here who thought I was going to come in and make drastic changes. Unfortunately the parent association (APE) of my school still hasn't gotten together and I'm told that the mother version (AME) doesn't really function here. One of the volunteers who worked at our training said we would lean alot about ourselves during these initial months. One thing I I've definitely learned is that I like having actual goals to accomplish which is almost contradictory to many facets of Peace Corps life. For now all I can really do is wait - for the cultivators to come in from the fields, meetings to happen, January to come around. But for now I'll just go back to "integrating," getting my hair braided, drinking tea, and catching up on all the reading I haven't made time for in the last several years.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Yaani

I'm officially a month into my service and decided to reward myself with a trip to the capital this weekend. Well that, and it was Austin's birthday. Ouaga seems like a whole other world after being in the South West for so long. Pulling into town I realized how lucky I am to have a site that's nice and green and hilly...nothing against the dusty air of Ouaga..

There is still not much for me to report in terms of work since school hasn't started. Well officially it started on Friday but I'm told the kids and even all the teachers won't really get back for a week or two. Once classes start I will be able to observe classes and start meeting with parents and hopefully get started on a few projects.

I've had a few interesting days in my village since I last posted. One morning on the way to my latrine I was stopped by some guy who wanted water, I gave him a cup of water and then he (a teenage boy) started asking me if I had clothes that I could give him, to which I said I have clothes for myself but not for a boy. Then about 10 minutes later a guy came into my courtyard with a live chicken and asked me if wanted to buy it from him. To that I said, maybe next time. Before I had even sat down to have breakfast a whole crew of kids came to my door to say hi, I taught them handshakes and then they started asking for candy. Not the most relaxing morning I'll have to say, but it was one of those times where I think "only in Africa."

Two weeks ago I had a little excitement...any by that I mean I found two giant scorpions in my house within two days of each other. Luckily they're not poisonous here (so I'm told) but that doesn't make them any less scary in my opinion. Needless to say I was glad to leave my house for a day after that. I'm not sure if I posted about it but a few volunteers organized a bike tour to raise money for different projects in the Gender and Development committee here. They called it "Sur nos velos pour le Faso" and have a blog of the whole trip somewhere on the internet. They stopped through Diebougoug (13 k from me) on on of their last days of the tour, so I headed up to see them. We ended up with about 14 people in a tiny Burkina house for the night. I was glad to not be joining them for 90K of cycling the next morning.

Other than that, not much else has been going on. I had Dagara lessons last week and spent some time with my neighbors. I finished up the Steig Larssen trilogy that Allie and Christina sent me and have moved on to the random books I brought with me. Luckily here in the transit house (a house in Ouaga for all the volunteers to stay when they come) there are tons and tons of books that anyone can take back to their sites to read. I picked up a few that I'm excited to start up when I get back to my village.

A couple people have asked what my house looks like so here are a few pictures. I haven't gotten around to painting all the rooms yet (and the color was a litttttle brighter than I expected), and I still don't have much furniture, but here it is:




Saturday, September 18, 2010

23 with 23 Months to Go

It's been a while since I last posted and both a lot and a little has happened. I moved to my village in the southwest of the country and have been quickly getting into the swing of things there. Two days after swear in I took a 5 hour bus ride to my provincial capital where a Peace Corps driver met me to take me the remaining 13K or so. My homologue, Jonas, met me at my house and there were several neighbor kids who were quite eager to help bring in all my bags. My house is a concrete house with two bedrooms, a 'salon'/living room, and an indoor shower (room with a pipe leading to the outside). The driver helped me set up my stove, changed my lock, and was off to drop off the next volunteer. I was glad I didn't end up one of the horror stories where the volunteer runs crying after the Peace Corps car as it pulled away. (There was a small issue where my latrine didn't have walls for the first night, but that was quickly remedied the following morning.) I was excited to be there and Jonas was eager to show me around and introduce me to some of my neighbors.

I'm living about 200 yards away from the primary school and my closest neighbors are teachers. My first day I met some of them and then, since it was a market day, went to the market to buy some veggies and continue meeting people. We stopped at a little kiosk in my village and had some coffee before Jonas left me to get settled in in my house. That night his daughter brough by some to for dinner (mmm) and was back the next morning to show me around. I quickly got into a routine of drinking tea with some of my neighbors and for the most part just listening to their conversations. My french is getting a little better - as in I'm able to get by and do the things that I need in my village - but it's still not quite advanced enough to have too many complex conversations.

My first couple weeks have been full of meeting lots of new people. One of the most interesting encounters would have to be meeting my closest Chef du Terre who didn't speak a word of French. Jonas interpreted the Dagara (my local language) for me and told me that he wanted to give me a chicken to welcome me and would give it to me at a later time. I've also started Dagara lessons with my tutor who works at an organization called ASUDEC. I have lessons three times a week and soon I think we're going to start "practical" lessons where we go out and I try to talk to people in my village. I've been able to start greeting people in Dagara, and am often met with laughter at my pronunciation, but I can tell people appreciate the effort.

My 23rd birthday was last weekend and was able to come up to my provincial capital for some good food and cold drinks. I'm only 13K away and it was an easy ten minute bus ride. The volunteer that lives there, Gwen, hooked me up with some delicious funfetti cake and a few other volunteers came in to celebrate with me. I'm lucky to be so close to my provincial capital where I can get pretty much anything I need that I can't get in village.

My village, I'm told, has about 6000 people, but I think that might be a little bit of an exaggeration. There are two primary schools and basically the equivalent to a middle school in the surrounding villages. As far as other 'establishments' go, there are a few small boutiques that sell soap, pasta, and other random neccessities, a kiosk where I buy my bread, and thats about it. There is a tailor in town which also happens to be where I'm able to charge my cell phone battery (via car battery) since there's no electricity in my village. The big social events are definitely centered around wherever the marche happens to be that day and people can sit and drink dolo. Our village has a marche every 5 days but it moves to the other nearby villages on off days. I'm able to buy veggies and a few other things there, but it has been nice to come into Diebougou to get a few more obscure things. I also have a new post office box there. The address is:
B.P. 21 Diebougou
Region de Bougouriba
Burkina Faso, West Africa
I got my first package to that address this week so I know it works! That's definitely the best place to send things since I'm not sure how often I will get to the capital to get the mail that is sent there. I sent out letters this week and last weekend so some of you should be getting them pretty soon.

I'm sure there are plenty of funny/obscure stories that I'm leaving out, next time I post I'll try and look through my journal to see what I'm forgetting. Hope all is well at home, and happy belated birthday Dad!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Off to Site

This post is going to be short and sweet because I am le tired. Our swearing in ceremony was yesterday and we're all now officially volunteers! A few trainees did speeches in the local languages that they were learning and everyone did an awesome job. The president of Burkina's wife was the guest of honor and she gave a small speech too. We all took the oath of office which was slightly intimidating but really cool. All in all there are 76 new volunteers that got to swear in together. Afterwards there was a reception inside the embassy and we spent one last evening with our LCFs and trainers and a few host families that came for the day. My sister and mom (and sister's friend?) ended up coming and it was nice to see them one last time.

I head out to my site early in the morning and will be sitting in my house tomorrow evening. I'm taking a bus by myself to another volunteer's site where her counterpart is going to meet me and help me buy a few things for my house. Afterwards, a driver will come pick me up and drive me to my site where I'll meet my homologue at my house. From there I'm on my own and the 24 months start ticking away. I am both excited and nervous but I know it will all feel natural soon enough. I know I'll gladly accept any skype/calls in the next few days! I'm not sure when the next time I'm able to post is going to be, but I'm sure I will have some interesting/funny stores to tell, can't wait!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Two Month Mark

Monday will be the two month marker for my time in country so far and the past two weeks have been pretty busy. Stage is almossst over and I’ve only got a week until I’ll be sitting in my new house! Disclaimer: this post is probably going to be long, boring, and full of lots of pictures (my parents don’t believe that I’m actually in Africa).

First, Dad - this is what my bike looks like (and yes that is a bell that says “I love my bike” on my handle bars, and no, I did not put it there):

Two weeks ago we had our site announcement ‘ceremony.’ Our LCFs (or some other talented artists from the bureau) put together a giant map of Burkina and all of one by one we were given a little paper doll with our faces on them to put up on the map:


I’m really excited about my site which is a town of 6,000 in the South West. I’ll be the first volunteer they’ve had, but from what I’ve heard from the volunteers who helped develop my site, they are a very motivated community and seem excited to have me. I found out some more about my house as well, which is apparently conveniently located very close to the primary school, marche, some NGOs, and is just off of a paved road (no electricity, so Sam, no I won’t have anywhere to plug in my straightener). I was also really glad to hear that I’m only 5k or so from my closest volunteer another trainee from the health sector who I’m really looking forward to working with.

Other noteworthy things happening in Burkina lately: I’m not sure if I mentioned in an earlier post that GEE was running small girls/boys/youth clubs with the students from the summer school courses being taught by the secondary ed folks. My group held a small theater club with kids in troisieme (I think) which is roughly like ninth grade in the states. Each week we would start with an ice breaker and briefly talk about some small aspect of theater (although none of us had any sort of background) and then the kids would talk decide on topics for the themes of their sketches. I was really impressed with how motivated and intelligent the kids were (granted they were opting to attend summer school in the first place). Theater is huge in Burkina as a method for distributing information and raising awareness on important social issues. Although we listed a few ideas, the kids came up with some really great skits about forced marriage, excision, and various topics involving the importance of staying in school. Other groups had clubs that were focused on health, planning for your future, English and various other themes.

We each met with our clubs four times and at the end of the month we merged some of the groups together for a one day “youth camp.” Again, the groups could choose their topics and the group I was a part of decided on team building activities. We ended up turning it into a mini ‘field day’ but I think we managed to get some important ideas across about communication etc. The first activity that we did was the human knot which was pretty funny:

Another activity that went over really well was the blindfolded obstacle course where one person had to lead their friend through a maze that we drew on the ground in chalk:


We did a three legged race that I even participated in, and I have to say, Ebben and I had a pretty awesome showing during our heat. At the end our group preformed their final skit on forced marriage for everyone which went really well.

I will admit that these types of activities are ones that I am normally a little nervous about since my French skills aren’t quite up to par, but it ended up being a really successful day and the kids seemed like they had a lot of fun. The whole group:


This week was a pretty full week as well. All day Wednesday and Thursday each sector had our Counterpart Workshops where our homologues from each village come to learn about what their role is, what the Peace Corps is, and of course meet us. Each community selects two main counterparts for their volunteer, one to be a sort of supervisor, and one to aid with our integration into the community, show us around etc. My supervisor couldn’t make it, but I did get to meet my community counterpart who is a pastor at one of the churches in my village. He was very nice, and despite the language barrier, I think it was a very good jumping point to get me started in my village.

In other news, there are crocodiles in Burkina! Most of the sectors have taken a little field trip to a nearby town called Sabou (?) to see some crocs and Saturday was GEE’s turn. We took the nice air conditioned Peace Corps bus to this compound and basically walked out onto this swamp where there were crocodiles just chillin in the water. There were some ‘guides’ who dangled chickens in front of them and pulled them towards us so we could take pictures (really humane/safe, I know):


So that was a fun change of scenery and a nice little treat for having completed our final language test of stage.

We’re gearing up for swear in next week and I’m definitely having some bittersweet feelings about it. We’re having a mini ceremony for our host families on Monday and then move out Tuesday before heading back to the capital for swear in. I’m very excited for the long days of training to be over, and even more excited about eating some awesome food at our party. But sadly it also means that on Sunday we’ll have to say goodbye (for now) to all the other trainees and volunteers for a while and move out to our villages. I am pumped to get into the meat of why I’m really here, but I would be lying if I pretended I wasn’t the slightest bit nervous at the same time. Thankfully Sam sent me an awesome Glee poster to hang in my house, so I’ll have the fine folks of McKinley high to keep me company.

On that note, thanks so much to everyone who has sent me packages! I’ve made my friends a little jealous because I’ve become notorious for receiving a package almost every time mail comes to our training site. I am also selfishly starting ‘what I want’ and ‘what I can find here’ lists (mostly for mom and dad) but feel free to peruse. I have been terrible about writing and sending letters so far, but no worries, I think I’ll have plenty of time for that in the next few months/ two years. It is hard to believe that it is already August and for the first time in 17 years I won’t be going back to school. Hope all is well with everyone at home and those at Wake are getting excited for their senior year. That’s enough from me for now, lots of love!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Someone is Punishing Me

So this will be a short post but I felt the need to share two small anecdotes with you all, one far more interesting than the other (I think).

A few days a week, after a long day of training, some of the stagiers enjoy going to one of the many local establishments in the area to have a cold beverage and decompress. This week, I think someone is punishing me for this little habit.

Tuesday night, as I rode home on my bike in the semi-dark (with my helmet on of course) I came upon a road block that forced me to get off my bike and walk down a small ditch for a few meters and back up on to the road in order to continue. This would have been all well and good had the sign not been placed only a few feet away from the place in the road that no longer existed – almost sending me to my demise. Thank god for Peace Corps issued bike lights, because I think it would have been a little difficult to explain to my host family why I was covered in dirt, considering I can barely tell them what I want to eat for dinner each night.

Wednesday night was a little more eventful. I returned to my house after a couple of Brakina’s (thankfully this time more aware of giant section of missing road), took a shower, had a lovely meal of petit fois, and then went to use the latrine before bed. To my surprise as I opened the door to the latrine, armed with only a headlamp, I was greeted by something flapping violently around in the room which quickly disappeared down into the latrine. A bat. I had heard stories of bats in latrines, and to each of these I have replied “I think I would have a minor heart attack if that happened to me.” Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but I was too terrified to actually go in to the outhouse, and it took me several hours to gather the courage to re-enter Dracula’s new home. I think if I came running and screaming out of the latrine, it would be a little difficult to explain my situation to my host family, as I still don’t speak French, and they already think I’m a weird American.

Thursday I decided to play it safe, and went straight home after training. No surprise detours. No bats. Is someone trying to tell me something?

Monday, August 2, 2010

One Month In

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted so hopefully I can think of something interesting to say. Our time in Ouaga is up, but the plumbing and wifi were nice while they lasted. The past few weeks have been pretty much non-stop training from 8-5 every day: we spend several hours a day working on language (I think I’m getting a litttttle better) and then have other sessions about health, safety, and GEE related activities. It has been long and exhausting but the bucket bath when I get home usually makes for a nice end to the day.

Two weekends ago the GEE group got a little break from training to go on ‘demystification.’ We were split up into groups of three or four and traveled to a current volunteer’s site for three nights. The town I visited was a provincial capital and most of Friday was spent in transit. We left Ouaga around 7 on Friday and took a bus halfway to our village. Apparently we were pretty spoiled because our bus was complete with upholstered seats and we were lucky enough to have some Chinese action flicks dubbed in French for our entertainment. We stopped for lunch before continuing the rest of the way on a bush taxi. Bush taxis are a primary mode of transportation here in Burkina and the staff and volunteers did a good job of talking them up beforehand. I unfortunately missed the day of training where a bunch of the LCFs (Language and Cultural Facilitator) presented a skit (complete with a live goat) about the conditions of a bush taxi. The gist was that there would be upwards of 20 people in a van, the taxi has a high likelihood of breaking down, we would probably share it with some type of animal, and people just might hand us their children to hold for the entirety of the ride. My first bush taxi experience wasn’t half as bad as I was expecting. I was with a group of nine people who piled in first, but before leaving the town, what was probably meant to be a 15 passenger van was carrying 22 people. I was a little disappointed when there wasn’t any form of livestock on board (no comparison to another group who had upwards of 20 goats on top of their van) but we did have a couple of men standing on the rear bumper, hanging of the back of the van for the entirety of the two hour drive. By the time we finally arrived at the volunteer’s site, it was probably about 3 in the afternoon.

We stayed with a volunteer, Joanna, who lived in a small house that was part of a family compound. She had two rooms in a house to herself and electricity (!) that she shared with the other houses in her courtyard. We spent the weekend visiting her school, library, and meeting various people she worked with. Oh, and did I mention an LCF came with us? So of course we had our 2 hours of language each day. It was quite a relaxing weekend and a much needed break from training. The idea behind demyst was to be able to see the type of work other volunteers are doing, see how they live on a daily basis, and give us a better idea of what we are looking for in a site (running water and wifi?). Monday we returned to Ouaga before continuing to our new training city. There was a minor miscommunication where we thought we would be staying the night there before moving on, but we were able to make an afternoon bus and met all of the other trainees here that night.

Last Tuesday it was back to the 8-5 grind of training. That Friday we got new host families (yay!). This time around they paired everyone up – apparently it’s a bit difficult to find 80 families willing to host trainees in a matter of a week, strange. Now I’m living in a family ‘compound’ with another Secondary Education volunteer. We have our own ‘house’ which consists of two rooms: one sitting area and our bedroom. The house is complete with an indoor shower (corner of the room with a hole in the wall) and electricity. The family owns a small restaurant/kiosk that they run out of the front of the house. I’m still not entirely sure the how the family is structured, but I do know who the mom and dad are and there is one sister who eats with my roommate Roxanne and me every night. Although I don’t interact with them as frequently as I did with my family in Ouhigouya, they have been really accommodating and welcoming. I do have to report, that due to my lack of French skills and fear of being an inconvenience, I have given into eating meat. I had my first chicken wing last week and it wasn’t half bad. Thankfully I was in the shower when my family caught and slaughtered the chicken in our courtyard – I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet.

As far as ‘work’ goes, we started girls/girls and boys clubs last week with the students in “model school.” Model school was set up so the SE trainees get a chance to practice teaching, so a ton of kids basically signed up for summer school and a lot of them have been awesome enough to sign up to come in on Saturdays to guinea pigs for the GEE trainees. I’m working with two other girls with a group of troisi√®me kids (basically ninth graders) in a small theater club. The first two meetings went really well and while there have been the expected snags due to communication difficulties, the kids seem to really be opening up and enjoying themselves. You don’t have to be in this country for more than a day to realize that just about every Burkinabe is a natural born actor.

In other news: I went to the tailor for the first time last week to have a couple of skirts made and they turned out surprisingly well. The way people buy most of their ‘traditional’ clothes here is they go to the marche and buy pagnes (rectangles of fabric), take them to a tailor, and have something custom made. A couple of people’s host families have gone crazy taking them to the tailor or having tailors come to their houses. My experience was part of a French lesson to basically see if I was capable of completing the entire transaction – and I did it!

There’s not too much else to report. I’ve been pretty healthy so far, which is more than a lot of people can say. I missed one day of training which I’m pretty sure had something to do with eating vegetables in a restaurant that weren’t bleached to my tummy’s liking. I think my body is starting to acclimate to the food and weather slowly but surely. There have been a few nights that I’ve even had to pull up a sheet over myself in my sleep which I thought would never happen. Luckily we are in a big enough town that we have easy access to internet cafes, can get cold drinks whenever we want, and have decent selection of fruits and veggies.

I guess that’s all I’ve got for now. I have been getting mail (yay!) so the address I have posted does work. Thanks to Al and Tines I have the beginnings of a small pantry, and art for my walls in the form of post cards provided by Ouisie. Hope everyone is doing well at home, I certainly miss everyone like crazy and will try to be better about updating on a more regular basis. Until next time!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Back to Ouaga

My last few days have been a littttle eventful here in Burkina. To fully explain what is going on here, it’s easier to give a little insight into what was supposed to happen…

So the last time I posted I was in Ouaga. I spent two nights there, getting oriented to training and all that. Friday came and we all took a bus to Ouahigouya. There, we spent three nights in a hotel, meanwhile getting to know the area, getting our bikes, and preparing for ‘adoption’ into our host families. On Monday, we had a ceremony where we all met our host parents and went back to their houses with them. My host family was small in comparison to many others: I had a host dad named Richard, a mom named Florentine, a brother named Brice and a one and a half year old sister. They were really nice, Catholic, very patient with my lack of French language skills, very accommodating to my veg needs (no I haven’t eaten meat yet).

I spent three nights in my host family, and was really beginning to become accustomed to the daily routine of 6am wake up calls, a full day of training, and returning home to eat dinner at home and spend some time watching world cup games or my brother teaching me French before retiring to the lovely oven of a room that they were providing me. This was supposed to continue for the full 9 weeks of training.

On Thursday, the last block in our training schedule was reserved for a “community meeting” where all the sectors (GEE, Heath, Secondary Education, etc.) were going to get together to discuss the highs and lows of the week, our plans for a fourth of July party (yay America) and a few other things. We started the meeting of and were told that our security officer had an announcement to make and would be joining the meeting shortly. Congo, the security officer entered the meeting a short while later to tell us that the Country Director had received notice of a kidnapping threat in our town of Ouahigouya. The ‘warden message’ wasn’t read to us at the time, but we were told that we would be spending a night in a hotel in Ouhigouya and not returning to our host families that evening. The health volunteers, who were living in families in villages surrounding the town, were told that they would be escorted to their villages at that time to pack up all of their belongings before returning to spend the night with the rest of us in a hotel.

Once everyone was finally together and somewhat settled throughout two hotels, Congo then came around to read us the warden message which went a little something like this:

"The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou is issuing this Warden Message to update U.S. citizens on security concerns in the vicinity of Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso.

The U.S. Embassy has information that a group associated with Al Qa’ida in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) plans to kidnap an unidentified U.S. citizen in the vicinity of Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso. If the group is unable to locate a suitable U.S. citizen in the area, it intends to find another westerner to kidnap. The U.S. Embassy has declared the city of Ouahigouya and surroundings off limits to official U.S. government travelers unless prior authorization for such travel is expressly given. U.S. citizens are strongly urged to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary travel to this region.

This information is distinct from and in addition to the Warden Messages issued on June 5 and June 7, 2010, regarding the northern border regions of Burkina Faso."

We were told that we would be traveling to Ouagadougou in the morning, that the Peace Corps would be going around to all of our houses to collect our belongings, and we would most likely be staying in the capital for two weeks. Friday we arrived back in Ouaga, and yesterday our things finally met us here.

This chain of events was somewhat disheartening and a little frustrating to a lot of us. While we only had a few days to spend with our host families, there were volunteers in the region that were forced to pack up their things after almost two years in their villages. As of now, our training is supposed to start back up tomorrow and we will stay here until new host families can hopefully be arranged somewhere else in the country. Our director seems optimistic that training will remain on schedule and things will go back to ‘normal' as soon as possible. The things I’m certainly not complaining about right now are the WiFi, air conditioning, and plumbing- however it is going to be difficult to readjust to training in a whole new location, and without the total immersion that our homestay experiences were giving us.

Despite all the chaos, we had a nice 4th of July celebration today. We were able to rent out the pool at our new training site. We spent all days swimming (yay), eating hamburgers, and doing other American things. I think everyone is still in pretty good spirits and hopefully this little hiccup won’t effect our swear in date too drastically.

I received my first letter this week (thanks mom!) so I know it is possible to get mail, yay! Hope all is well in the land of the free and that everyone is having a fabulous holiday. I miss and love you all!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Philly, New York, Paris, Ouagadougou

I'm here! After a quick 4 hour bus ride to JFK, a 7.5 hour flight to Paris, a few hour layover, and a 5 hour flight to Ouagadougou, I'm in the hotel in Ouaga. The past couple of days have certainly been a whirlwind to say the least. There are over 50 volunteers that arrived in Philadelphia for staging on Monday, and 20 or so that left a little earlier that we'll get to meet soon. Staging in Philly was basically 5 hours of logistical information, a little cultural training, yellow fever shots (I already had mine, woo!) and then free time to tie up loose ends, buy the last minute things we forgot, and soak up a little bit of America for the last time. I spent my time abusing the a/c and internet at our hotel and then was lucky enough to meet Carolyn for lunch right before our bus left for NYC (hi Carolyn!). Going through the airport was a little bit of a nightmare with so many people, but that was to be expected. The flights weren't too bad and after a nice nap on the floor of the Paris airport I'm feeling pretty good. Our country director Shannon, along with a few other volunteers and staff, met us in the airport and drove us to our hotel. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we not only have a/c, but free wi-fi, so I thought I'd take the time to post the boring details of my travels so far. I will be here in Ouagadougou until Friday, when we will take a trip to our main training site in Ouahigouya. Tomorrow we will be meeting with our Assistant Peace Corps Directors (the people charge of our specific programs - one for Girls Education, one for Secondary Education etc.), getting all sorts of malaria meds, being tested in French (yikes), and all that good stuff. I guess thats about all I've got for now - I'm lucky the good old think pad battery has lasted me this long. I promise to post again when I have something far more interesting to say than I have tonight. Thanks to everyone who called/texted/emailed throughout my last week, it really meant a lot to me! Lots of love!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bonjour!

A few people have asked me to start a blog to chronicle my time in Africa, so as a way to procrastinate learning French...here ya go!

For those of you who don't know, I submitted my application to the Peace Corps in September, 2009. After over 7 months of additional paperwork, medical exams, and waiting, I received an invitation at the beginning of May to serve in Burkina Faso (West Africa). I will be leaving on June 22, 2010 and I am scheduled to remain there until August, 2012.

The project I was assigned to is Girls Education and Empowerment. I will not be teaching, but instead I will be working with a number of people and organizations to encourage the education of girls in a particular community. I will spend the first several months in training with a number of other volunteers before moving to a village by myself.

I will most likely not have access to internet on a regular basis once I arrive, but until then I will try to keep this site updated with new information. Thanks for your interest in my 'adventure'!