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!