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!