Here are some lists I’ve compiled during my now-abundant down time since finishing Harry Potter. Enjoy!
7 reasons why I love my village
- Because I can nap at work, and it’s OK
- Because I can barely communicate verbally and they still like me and have forbidden me from eveer leaving
- Because I can wake up, throw on a sheet of fabric and a tee, and I’m good to go
- Because in the right seasons, an avocado sandwich costs $0.30, a pile of tomatoes costs $0.20, the most delicious mangoes cost $0.15, and a forty (approx) costs $1.50
- Because only in P—, Burkina Faso, could I have learned to be the world’s best American rock-out-of-rice-picker-outer (and if that’s not a marketable skill in this economic climate, then I don’t know what it)
- Because it’s really, truly, supremely hard here, but I think I’m doing all right (which is worth everything)
- Because of her:
7 reasons why this country frustrates
- Because there’s no such thing as a line
- Because people are still defending the calendar method as an full proof means of birth control
- Because it’s socially acceptable for 3-month olds to consume alcohol
- Because Burkinabè have a tendency to laugh when being confronted with a customer (me) telling them of a job poorly done
- “Nassara!!! Nassara!!!”
- Because the “God Willing” mentality causes people to ignore the rewards of personal effort, perseverance and intelligence, while excusing laziness, poor work ethic, and ignorance
- Because of guinea fowl. I seriously loathe guinea fowl
7 things I miss more than you can imagine
- Efficient service, with a smile
- My family
- Talking to people for more than a combined total of one hour per day
- Disappearing underneath my down comforter with 5 overstuffed pillows around me and watching the chilly and gray city out my window
- Live music
7 lessons learned
- You can get used to almost anything
- There’s always more to it than meets the eye (especially when you’re essentially in the dark)
- “Common Sense” isn’t real; or at least, it’s not innate and it’s definitely not universal but the result of too many social, cultural, environmental and traditional factors to fully grasp
- There’s no limit to how stupid shirts can be (: “read with the motto of dialzing new tralls enjorment reference”. Can someone please explain that to me?)
- Kids make all the difference
- Ladies: moving to Africa for two years is absolutely 100% not an effective way to lose weight, contrary to what you assume or imagine
- You can connect to people even in the most random circumstances
7 of my most stomach clenching, Burkina Faso experiences
- That time a bat flew out of the latrine hole I was squatting over
- Waking up with a scorpion next to my face (not my idea of a snuggle partner)
- Eating bugs
- Riding a donkey
- Eating congealed blood from an assortment of different animals (this is for real, I really did this)
- Having a gas oven explode at me, effectively singeing off my arm hair, my eyelashes, and my forehead wispies
- Holding a chicken (doesn’t seem crazy, but it’s kind of crazy)
7 books I’ve most enjoyed while in Peace Corps
- East of Eden
- Three Junes
- Let the Great World Spin
- The God of Small Things
- The Big Short
- Things They Carried
- The Harry Potter series, which for the purpose of this list shall count as one book
And, last, but not least:
7 reasons why NOT to read Harry Potter while a PCV in Burkina Faso
- Because there “really are” sorcerers in village life and customs, so all attempts to explain the wizarding world as an amazing fantasy fiction that has completely engulfed you will inevitably prove futile
- Because when you are walking along with your villagers, and you suddenly stop mid-stride because you’ve come across a stick of wood that looks like it’d make a great wand, your villagers are likely to think you’ve lost your marbles
- Because when you’re supposed to be focusing on projects or integration or “development” when you’re out and about in your community, you’re instead quiet and closed off because you can’t stop internally hypothesizing answers as to WHY Severus Snape killed Dumbledore
- Because it becomes surprisingly easy to fake illness in order to rush back to your hut and spend every waking minute with your head buried in your — uh — kindle; the next thing you know, villagers are telling you to get yourself to the hospital to diagnose the illness
- Because when you finally finish the series, the loneliness and emptiness you feel because you have to say goodbye to these characters who have kept you great company, could easily (easily!) turn into a mild case of depression (because, you know, you live alone in a hut and so emotions can run wild)
- Because you start seeing the personality of Dolores Umbridge (bleh) in lots more places than you’d really like to
- Because you start analyzing (rather seriously) what qualities and aspects of your personality made that online test sort you into Hufflepuff. And even when you reach a conclusion (fierce loyalty, of course), you still have plenty of time to ponder what that “means”
Blogo-Soundtrack: Amélie soundtrack
Rather than dive into a long story about fellow PCV Hayley’s visit or PCV Rhoda’s agreement to accompany me on the pilgrimage (take 2), I’m going to give you pictures. It’s been a long time since I’ve added pictures on my blog, and while I’d like to lie to you and say that it’s because a baobab tree seized my camera or a village elder ordered its sacrifice, the simple truth is that WordPress changed (had changed and now has changed back?) its format and for the life of me I – being the IT layman that I am – was unable to upload more than one gigantic photo at a time; even then, the internet speed here wouldn’t let it post. Fear not though, because WordPress has backtracked and I have re-figured out how to post photos; they’ll even have captions to go along with ‘em!
Here is Hayley S., while visiting my site! We cooked a romantic dinner of Pad Thai by lantern light. She’s quite the chef: who else do you know that can cook up a delicious storm with the light of a fading, defunct, “lantern”?
Ingredients’re ready! GARLIC (“smells like garlic in here!”), BROCCOLI (oh my god I found broccoli in this country!!!!) and tomatoes (unexciting: they’re everywhere). Don’t they all look so sexy by candlelight, though?
Oui, c’est moi! I’m sporting my wonderful headlamp, aptly named the Sun (the Sun Junior, as the Sun Senior died when I dropped him on the floor). Thanks Dad for insisting I bring this with me to Burkina!
Longshot of the veggies, the olive oil, and the acid wine. You’re probably feeling real jealous of my gastronomic options right about now. Well, don’t fret: I rarely eat this well in village; it actually only happens when I have another PCV around to impress.
The following day, after a comforting dinner, Hayley’s ready to weave up a storm. That’s my counterpart, Jo, in the background coaching her along. Notice the lovely floral tank she’s wearing, courtesy of that-American-girl-that-lives-in-her-village (Christmas brought some nice American tees along with it this year).
And now we are off to greet the village elders for their annual greeting celebrations! Behold, the place where dolo is born. The dolo is used as welcome “water” for the many visitors, including us, that stop by throughout the day.
Monsieur Le Chef de Village. (High on my list of priorities is to get me a pair of these sunglasses: all the cool old people have a pair and I’m determined to get my hands on some before I leave).
From left: Natalie, Jo, Clementine and her second set of twins, Mr Cheif, Agiara, and Alima. Behind folks on the left, the token Burkinabe trying to get a snapshot of the village blanche to show his friends in Waga. Fast forward to a week later in the market and a Burkinabe filming me playing with a baby: my ladies flipped their lids and got into a screaming match in order to defend me and call him out. It was very special
Here I am with The Queen, we’re just hanging out like old buddies. Actually, we haven’t seen each other in awhile, so she spent the first half of our catch-up hiding behind her dad’s legs.This photo was snapped right when she started liking me again. You can tell she still has her doubts. I, on the other hand, am happy as a clam to see my old friend again.
And here we are, a week later, at Yagma. Yes, that’s right, I voluntarily committed to doing the pilgrimage again this year; this after swearing to myself and my villagers that nothing they could say or do would convince me to wake up at 2:00am and embark on this journey again. After being convinced, I promised Jo and Alima that if they abandoned me (as I accused them of doing last year) I wouldn’t speak to them for a month. They laughed, and laughed even harder when I recounted the story of how last year I had to run, half-awake, to catch a public bus that was the beginning to a largely exhausting and unanticipated day of prayer. (For thos interested in last year’s pilgrimage, feel free to read my blog post recounting that experience.) This photo is Yagma at 3:00am, upon arrival.
This is what I wake to, after a restless nap. 5:45am.
8:00am. Rhoda, my brave guest, sleeps under that blue pagne. The women behind her shelter themselves from the cold, and surely ask themselves what the hell it is that we are doing here.
Of course, the cold wears off. How could it not: this is Burkina. Pagnes are strung together onto the leafless trees to shield from the sun. This is about mid-5-hour-long prayer.
Happy campers, despite the tiring circumstances.
Prayer and song end, so what could we possibly do but head directly to the dolo den (or, the cabaret as it’s dubbed in Burkina). Too bad for Rhoda, she doesn’t like dolo. My ladies and I, however, savor it.
Jo and Alima buying kitty souvenirs for their kids back in the village. They literally thought I was nuts when I told them to put the masks on themselves. Child’s play, they claimed. But they laughed pretty hard when they saw the picture. This one’s getting printed out for them, for sure.
On the bus back: cramped, hot, and prone to breakdowns every 2 minutes (this is not an exaggeration). See next image.
Moussa and Edith waiting patiently for our replacement bus. Our original finally decided to go bust completely. Here we are waiting in a parking lot for the next vehicle to pick us up and schlep us back to village. Rhoda’s thought when the bus broke down the first time: ‘Oh good, now we can just go back home to bed.’ Rhoda’s thought after the 3rd breakdown: ‘Stupid me. How could I think that a stubborn and broken bus would be any match against the will of the Burkinabe to get from point A to point B’ (especially if point B is the social highlight of the month, and the biggest prayer of the year).
Our replacement. Need I say more?
Just one thumbs up, not two? Let’s get this show on the road. More accurately: let’s get this dump truck on the road.
I had the best seat in the house because I was smushed up right between Jo’s legs. Luckily I have an amazing, ill-fitting and filthy headscarf to protect my ears.
Finally we make it home. Here I am with my ladies; they look clean and happy whereas I look dirty and disheveled (of course). But I’m happy, too.
Blogo-soundtrack: a recent acquisition of a recording from Bonnaroo which can only bring a smile tomy face
I found her last night at a funeral. Yesterday afternoon, Alima stopped by my house to let me know that the weaving center was closed for the afternoon: an old village vieille (old person) in our neighborhood had just died.
I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, as I didn’t really know the woman, and had only been to greet her once since she’d been ill for months now. I came back into my house and opened up my GRE book, dismayed mostly that I was doing so poorly on the reading comprehension section. Finally, after some deliberation, I admitted to myself that it was completely acceptable to show up alone (the uncertainty of whether or not this was acceptable was tantamount, I imagine, to wondering whether or not its worth it to show up at a high school dance alone); I am now a part of this neighborhood, if only fleetingly, and I rationalized that it’d be ruder to not pay my respects.
I didn’t dare venture into the small, circular courtyard where all of the elderly women were sitting around. I sat outside with someone I recognized and patiently waited for the priest to come. After he arrived and said his prayer, the congregation of men charged with getting the body out of the small, circular, straw-topped hut (with an unusually small door, almost like it was made for a hobbit) arrived and proceeded to bicker, I assume, over the best way to pull the woman from the hut. An understanding having been achieved, a few crawled in, wrapped her in a natte (a thin plastic mat that most sleep on), and dragged her body out and laid it in a side nook adjacent to the house. A group of elders pulled the straw partition to a close and began undressing her and removing her jewelry. Though I couldn’t see in, I think that this part of the ceremony was in order to clean her.
What I thought would happen next didn’t. While all of the praying and the sitting and the staring into space was taking place, the men were busy digging her grave behind the courtyard. In my naiveté I expected the body to be carried to her grave and buried. I’m glad I was wrong; instead, they placed the body back in her hut, and proceeded to sit back down and stare and mourn (though I saw no tears). Feeling out of place since I was alone, I walked back to my house (this is where I spotted the sliver moon that’s been hiding from me this past season). Walking home, I came across Jo and Alima carrying clay bowls on their heads. They smiled big and told me they would be filling the pots with water and would be beating on them all night long, partying it up as they like to do. “All right, well… bilfu then.” (See you later).
Snuggly back in my hut, I almost didn’t go back out. Again that stupid wavering resolution of mine: should I go? Is it inappropriate to come alone? Is there really a celebration? (I’d like to take a moment to explain where this seemingly unreasonable fear comes from. I can’t even count the number of times that Jo has told me of some party happening, some festivity with food and dolo and dancing and singing, some really great time that is going to be had, only for me to go because, you know, I’m expecting a party, and be met with silence and a normal routine, basically nothing. So you see… I was skeptical.) But as I approached her house, I heard percussion and song, foot stomping and chatter. Noise is always a good sign.
I dropped by Jo’s to drink some dolo, even though it was well past my bedtime (9pm, can you imagine?). She’s always a sure bet for the dolo. I then made her take me across the path to the courtyard of the woman. There were at least a hundred people cramped into the small courtyard, and Jo shoved her way through to the hut and dragged me in. So there I found myself standing inside a hobbit hut, with one candle lighting it up, staring down at the small, fragile, wrinkled body of Awa. She’d been laid on her side with her arms extended away from of her face, and was covered by a thin pagne, but her face remained exposed. Jo bent down and touched her cheek, but in a rushed, rough enough way that made me think she was inwardly criticizing the way they’d arranged the sheet around her face rather than out of any kind of sorrow or nostalgia. She said something, someone picked up the broom of twigs, swept the floor near the door, pushing a mound of dirt onto my shoes waiting for me outside, and we left. I’ve only seen a dead body once in my life, and the feeling around it was very different and much gloomier.
We walked outside into the dancing and beating of calabashes floating on water and calabashes turned upside down on the ground, with 4 women beating on their given instrument, and everyone singing. Butt shaking was happening, as everyone chirped in with her own celebratory two cents (“Yy Woddo!”). I explained that this was not the type of ceremony we held for our dead where I’m from, and was explained to in turn that this can happen because she was so old and that the women are the only ones to sing and dance, since the men are responsible for digging the grave (the men obviously got the short end of the stick on that one, for once).
This woman, Awa, was probably in her sixties, though she could have passed for about 90, if you take into account how withered and small she had become with age and the hard conditions of life here. She was likely born in the 1950s, though no one can know for sure, least of all her; her tombstone, if she gets one, will probably say that she was born in 1913 or some other ridiculously impossible year. She’s been in the village for maybe 40 years, probably more given that girls get married off when they are just that: girls. She probably helped raise at least 30 children, if not more (because that saying about it taking a village to raise a child is actually accurate and real here). And just like that, she’s gone and all that’s left is her shrunken body in a little hut with a candle. Cause for mourning, we’d say. But what’s so beautiful about what I got to participate in last night (and this morning, since the festivities continued through the night and into the sun today) is that it is a celebration to her life, a moment to come together and dance and drum and sing for her, while all the people that she’s known and even ones she hasn’t known come to send her off with such enthusiasm and joy. We could seriously take lessons from theMossi.
This morning they danced and sang and drummed as they again waited for the priest. She was carried out of her hut wrapped in a Jesus sheet (just what it sounds like: a sheet with pictures of Jesus on it) atop a wooden platform. They put her in her grave and shoveled the dirt that was blowing everywhere as again, everyonesang. I saw two women walk away with their face in their hands, weeping for their sister or mother, or maybe just because it’s hard to say goodbye to something that’s been so solid in your life for as long as you can remember, whether it’s a blood relative or not. I got this deep, sinking feeling that we’re very alone in spite of the masses that surround us, but then the crowds dispersed so they could stake out a spot of shade and drink and drink and drink dolo, until all of the jerry cans scattered about dry up, while they talk, laugh, socialize and remember.
blogo-soundtrack: thishas been stuck in my head for about 4 days now
And I’m back!
After spending the holidays in Americuh, I am once again back on Burkinabè soil. I didn’t really flinch twice as I boarded the plane to come back to Mossi-land, but the minute I landed and stepped out into the heat that is December in West Africa, my exact thought was, “Oh… riiiight.” I’ve got to say, it kind of felt like I ran straight into a wall. I spent two weeks running around San Francisco and its surroundings, and I’m sure that to any bystander I looked something like a chicken with its head chopped off, running from here to there to everywhere trying to see everyone; I maybe got a total of 5 hours of sleep per night on average. Then I got back to West Africa, and remembered that the entire world does not operate at this type of pace. I also slept for about 14 hours straight.
It’s been almost two weeks, and I am finally getting back into the swing of things: my African groove, if I ever had one, is coming back. For one thing, being in the company of people who understand the idiosyncratic pleasures and pains of the sort of quirky life we lead as volunteers without having to try to explain (poorly) every little aspect of every little thing was a huge buffer to my return. (While all at once thrilled to relate stories and anecdotes of life here to those back home, I somehow always felt like I didn’t have the right words to accurately describe every little bit of every little thing – which was hard.)
But the best part about coming back was the return to my village. After decompressing as much as Waga will allow, I made my way back to P— and couldn’t have been more overwhelmed with welcome. I swear to you that some of the women in my organization were more excited to see me than some friends back home. WTF?! How can it be that these women, whom I’ve known less than a year, with whom I can sometimes barely communicate, and for whom I have really done (tangibly) very little for, be so ecstatic to see me? Sometimes the world just doesn’t seem to make much sense (and I mean that in the best possible way).
A quick once-over of my village for you: the garden is still alive, and sprouting! The women of AFEPO are now strutting around with some genuine American apparel (probably manufactured in China) and loving every minute that they get to show off their new shirts. My neighborhood kids have participated (perhaps for the first time?) in the democratic decision making process that was a caveat to getting the soccer balls so kindly donated by my old high school. I was even approached by the mother of one of the girls in my club in the marché to thank me for the work I am doing (“work” I am doing) with them every week. And, at last check, the village school is pulling together a budget and determining a possible village contribution for a world map project that we’re eager to complete in the coming year. All promising things, and all in all I am happy to be back and anxious to complete my second and last year here.
The trip home wound my batteries in a sense. It was so comforting to be in the company of my family and realize that without exception, things just fall back into place with them. The hiatus from being a grungy PCV also put a lot of things in perspective. I found myself feeling more disjointed than I would have anticipated at moments, and more connected at others. I caught myself playing devil’s advocate for issues that previously seemed so clearly this way or that. Being home just drove home the reality that everything, everything, is so nuanced, more so than we are probably perceiving, and that a lot of the worries and concerns that eat away at us at home are pretty much just silly and trivial. It was nice being reminded of that.
Now, it’s strawberry season in Burkina, which is a short but sweet time of year. All of the green is gone and you can see through the used-to-be fields, all the way to large looming baobab trees that will probably never die (what is a baobab’s lifespan, anyway?), it’s windy and the air is unbelievably dry, the kids are bundled up for the cold and even I’m chilly in the mornings, and mango season (and oppressive heat) are right around the corner!!
Blogo-Soundtrack: hustle and bustle of an almost-real café ‘cause I forgot my headphones
I know, I know: It’s been too long. I hope this post finds everyone well, preferably still stuffed from a delectable Turkey Day dinner. Over here in the BF, I actually got a chance to celebrate American style with my fellow volunteers at our Country Director’s house, and the food was never-ending. And delicious.
I was prepared to feed you all the same excuse for why I haven’t written in so long: nothing’s happening/it’s all so normal now/what do I even really have to say? Truth be told, however, there’s actually plenty going on (how can there not be??) and I think the real problem is that I’ve been updating this blog so infrequently that when it comes time to sit down and jot something down, I just don’t know where to begin. But today I’ll give it a shot.
For starters, you can all give me a round of applause for completing my first year in country. And, in 14 days, I will be celebrating my one-year anniversary as an official Peace Corps volunteer. [Here, I take a bow]. I can’t believe it’s already been a year, OVER a year: it’s flown by but it’s also been the longest year of my life. This is, after all, one of the most underdeveloped (and lovable) countries in the world and therefore not always the easiest place to reside. But I’ve survived, and at this moment (I’m at a high today) I am feeling motivated and excited to start my second year. The hope, of course, is that I will actually get something done. DunDunDun.
We started our garden today (!!!) and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am, because I think my lovely ladies are thrilled. Hopefully in a matter of months we will have some perfect eggplants and tomatoes and onions to show for it. This little project is showing promise for the coming year.
I also organized a huge sensibilization with the help of some of my fellow volunteers: we walked into a school and taught 120 kids about reproductive health and family planning. It was (IMHO) a huge success, namely because a) the anonymous question box threw some doozies our way, which is a good thing (like, What do I do if I want to use birth control but my husband won’t let me/What do I do if I want my partner to get tested but he won’t) because it means they were actually listening, and thinking and, b) Luis and Doug got to teach pubescent boys a thing or two about the facts of life. The success of this event was much needed, and put me in the correct state of mind to live out my last two weeks in village before my first vacation, which I will be spending stateside for the holidays. (Need I delve into the specifics of how thrilled I am? I think not.)
My (revamped) girl’s club continues to go well, though it still will likely be a little while before it truly gets back into the swing of things. Last week I blew their minds by encouraging them to get creative with some crayon drawings (they freaked out at me). This coming Saturday should also prove to be very interesting because I am going to let one of the girls lead the demonstration on proper hygiene. That’s right, she’s leading it; I will be a simple bystander (hopefully) as she teaches the girls why soap is so important. This may very well be the beginning of me working myself out of a job (properly). Update to follow.
A lot of things have been happening in my village: lots of drama, lots of gossip, lots of everything. I’ve been struggling to keep my head above water with all this, and trying to remain impartial while at the same time involved. I’m definitely no expert when it comes to this type of subtlety, but at the end of the day I have to remind myself that though this is my home today, it won’t be my home in a few years: it’s their life, their story, not mine. And in truth this has been one of my biggest struggles during my time here, as I try to reconcile wanting to be helpful with not interfering to a debilitating degree. I have yet to strike the right balance, but overall I feel as though I’m getting the hang of it as much as I’ll be able to.
With all of these projects and potential projects in mind (a world map project is next on the list) I can’t help but be slightly obsessed with the world of development and the huge failures that arise from seemingly well-meaning intentions. I could go on about this for pages and pages, but today I’m going to ride the wave of contentment and talk to you about all that jazz another day. Or, even better, face to face when I’m home for Christmas (you can write these dates in your calendar: December 14th through January 4th).
And with that, I’ll end on a new-agey note:
I have this friend (she’s actually one of my best) who has often talked to me about the book The Power of Now. I tried to read it once, as I was lounging happily under the non-African sun up at the Russian River – one of my favorite places on earth – but I couldn’t get through it. Crazily enough, however, I’ve been finding myself listening to her wonderful advice now/finally: Just Stay Present. Easier said than done, is what I wanted to yell at her through the computer as I read her kindly-meant email. But the more I think about it the more I know she’s completely right. This life that I’ve got going for myself here lends itself all too well to thinking about the past, and more scarily about the future; about all those things that I maybe could have done differently, and about all the opportunities that lay ahead (even more sleep depriving). Here I am though, exactly where I fought to be, and the silliest thing for me to do would be to escape this pretty unique experience by checking out mentally so early on in the game.
So the word of the day, even though I board a plane to go home pretty damned soon, is FOCUS. The more lengthy version would be STAY IN THE NOW, but just the tone of that transports me back to Whole Foods/Yuppie-New-Age-Central which makes me a little queezy (especially since being here), so I’ll just stick to FOCUS.
Blogo-Soundtrack: Beirut and The Antlers
It’s been forever and day since I’ve updated this blog: in the beginning, everything felt so new and crazy and intense, but as the days pass and I come up on my one year (one year!) mark in country, all of the things that shocked me and felt share-worthy have lost either their glitzy glam or their menacing scariness. I know that this doesn’t cut it as an excuse for people back home, namely my family who are constantly asking about when the latest blog post will be published, since the world here is so wholly different from the world there; but, I’m getting acclimated and as a result, I’m feeling less wowed or shaken by the little village idiosyncrasies that I encounter on the daily.
The past month has been very atypical of my ‘normal’ routine in that it’s been busy. I participated in the Tour du Burkina, a volunteer initiative to raise money for Peace Corps Gender and Development projects, in which volunteers bike across Burkina, stopping at different volunteers’ sites along the way. I participated in the Fada to Po leg of the tour, and ended up biking something like 340km in 4 days. The mileage was less than I had anticipated, but we were hit with one day, the Tenkodogo to Beka leg, that ended up being 116km long. I’m not going to lie: I thought I was going to collapse. I also felt like a rockstar for taking part in such an awesome experience, and for physically pushing myself in a way that I didn’t think I was capable of. I saw parts of the country that I would never have seen otherwise: in Fada, the amazing volunteers there put together a fair showcasing locally available resources; in Nakaba, volunteers alongside village petits competed for the best dance performance; in Beka, we were welcomed by the entire village, literally, as we rode into a huge celebration with traditional Bissa dancing and drumming; on our way to Po, where we planted trees and were welcomed by an awesome hostess, we stopped in Tiebele to visit the traditional houses, which are Burkina’s second largest tourist attraction. We have few, so to see this traditional/ancient (?) village was pretty spectacular (in this village, these houses, caves almost, built basically into the ground and enclosed so that to enter you need to crawl in on your hands an knees, a house without bats is considered unlucky, and will be destroyed within a matter of days if bats do not inhabit it after construction).
After Po, some of us headed back to Waga to begin work for the 50th anniversary fair. This year, Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th anniversary worldwide; Peace Corps Burkina chose to highlight this with a three day fair, designed to swear-in the 48 or so new volunteers who’ve spent the last three painful months in ‘stage’, welcome the bike tour, and most importantly, showcase the collaborations between Peace Corps Volunteers and the Burkinabè. The prep was intense and insane, and though I was technically part of the committee that was in charge of executing the fair, the truth is that I did little more than run around in a squirrelly type of way, trying to be of help when needed but more importantly, trying to stay out of those really calling the shots’ hair. It sort of worked, but though I was low on the chain of command for this shindig, somehow I got swept up in the stress and drama and craziness that the 3-day fair had to offer. Little help was it that on the first morning, after having awoken at 5am to arrive at the venue in time to set up and correct any last minute details that needed correcting, a HUGE wind/rain storm descended upon us, ravaging all of the tents. There was screaming and hysterics from volunteers as metal tent poles fell around us, tents caved in, wind drove the rain sideways, soaking everyone to the bone, soaking everything to the core. Never mind that there is currently a drought in Burkina, threatening food security and the crops of pretty much the entire country – all any of us could think was, “Are you effing kidding me?!” I’m not exactly convinced there is a God, but let me tell you, this storm made me think there must be, since (S)He is clearly having a HUGE chuckle at our expense, trying to pass along the message that this type of stuff is not worth the drama and headache that it often causes.
That being said, the fair was awesome and a huge success. My ladies sold lots of woven goodies, and more spectacularly were able to make it out for the fashion show that my fellow PCV Ebben put together, using essentially all of our Association’s fabric. The event was really fun, and I think that everyone from my organization thoroughly enjoyed it. I promise that pictures will come soon!! In the meantime, feel free to check out these YouTube videos about the fair: video one and video two.(I haven’t seen these videos because they take too long to load – hope they’re good!!)
I finally came home, only to open my door and nearly step on a dead bat. Termite hills like monstrous varicose veins on many areas of my newly painted walls. The lizards have reproduced (unsurprising given that this is Africa). I went to sleep to the buzz of crickets in my hut only to wake up to a not-really-dead-but-not-really-alive bat sleeping about 7 inches from my head. And have I told you about these ants here in Burkina that bite you in the middle of the night, and you wake up from this throbbing yet also stinging pain, and you swear to god a scorpion has just stung you. Or you wake up to a toad moronically jumping repeatedly into your screen door. All of this within 48 hours of my return.
And it’s ironic, because in truth, I really believe that these, and the no electricity or running water, are the least of my troubles and frustrations. Yeah, bugs (and bats and toads and lizards and snakes) suck. Yeah, the food is less than stellar and I have this horrendous fear that I’m becoming lactose intolerant. Sure, I’m going to spend two years sleeping on an itsy-bitsy Thermarest, either on concrete floors or on the dirt outside. I’ll spend close to 800 days of my life sweating every single moment of my existence and wondering why the hell it has to be so hotttt. But my village and my organization and the amazing girls who actually take the time to listen to me when I tell them OK now you are going to take this condom and blow a balloon with it so you’re less frightened by it and hey by the way let’s talk about all of these amazing family planning options at your disposal – all these things outweigh all those other things in a heartbeat.
The source of my frustrations, of late, is that this place is like the DMV. I would never walk into the DMV pretentious enough to believe that I could change the system, so I’m unsure of what I thought I’d be able to accomplish coming here. I never anticipated changing the world, but I think I thought I’d be able to leave a mark, or at least accomplish something on the ‘development’ front. I’m not so confident that this is even possible. What I do believe, though, is that friendships can leave marks, interactions can change mentalities, if only the slightest bit. No one will get anywhere without knowledge, and as it turns out, bringing electricity and running water and shiny buildings and new ideas fit for places other than this one don’t spread knowledge and rarely propel people forward. (Obvious, right? But obviously not, because this is development’s approach, it seems). I’m beginning to see that, IMHO, the only path to change is education and knowledge. What is that stupid cliché saying? Knowledge is power? Isn’t that the slogan of an energy company? Well, in any case, it’s also the truth and perhaps my plan of attack. Knowledge means choice, and that means the ability to say no to the status quo.
I guess the question then becomes: by imparting knowledge (or the concept of efficiency, perhaps?) and engaging in a meaningful interaction, can you change the mind of one DMV employee? Or: as an outsider, can you change the bureaucracy that defines the entire system? I’m not sure – I’ll have to report back to you in 15 months, in my exit interview.
Blogo-Soundtrack: Shania Twain and Hootie and the Blowfish, courtesy of Drop’s iTunes
Alright, alright. I’ll admit it, it’s been ages and a day since I’ve last updated my blog (much to my dad’s disappointment) but I just haven’t had any crazy, fun, oh-my-god! stories jump out at me of late. That being said, I can still fill everyone in on what’s been going on here. You know, like, what it is exactly that I do with myself…
Let’s start out in my village. It’s rainy season, which means that most everyone is spending at least 5 hours a day (usually more) cultivating in their fields. What this translates into is a severe slow-down in weaving activities. We’ve switched to an every other day type of policy for the women, so as to allow them to spend a decent amount of time in their fields. They come into work, about an hour to an hour and half late, and are just dead tired, which is unsurprising. I’m sort of beginning to realize that any solid or concrete work, other than slinging scarves to Peace Corps volunteers, will be taking place after this season has come to an end and they’ve harvested all of their grains etc. No one has enough motivation or energy to place into changing systems and modes of operation right now. Coming to terms with this fact has been a little bit hard, but it just is the way it is. N’est ce pas?
The soap-making project I started with my ladies has been going really well. They make about sixty bottles every two or so weeks, and have been successful in selling all of whatt they make. They are fully responsible for selling everything they produce, and they’ve just recently taken over for me with the numbers side of the operations. Ironically enough, now that I’ve handed over the reigns – reigns I didn’t even want in the first place – the two women in charge got very serious about accountability and having a locked money box: clearly it’s a concern to them if money is stolen or lost when they are in charge of it, yet when I am in charge of it they don’t seem to mind. In any case, I’m happy that they are excited about it, and they’re taking this project on almost essentially by themselves.
I’ve also started a girl’s club with some of the 5th graders in my village (see pics below). This endeavor is by far the most rewarding, useful, and awesome thing that I’ve gotten up and running as of yet. The 5th grade teacher, whose name translates to Mrs. Tomorrow, was instrumental in helping me get this off the ground, and I am so glad to have a powerful and motivated woman living in my village. To date, we’ve done everything from playing hot potato as a get to know you game (What’s your favorite animal? Goat! What’s your favorite food? To!) to hygiene sensibilizations to HIV/Aids sessions during which I explained the immune system, facts about HIV/Aids, and crucially, how to protect yourself (the condom balloons were a huge hit, though the wooden penis really made them squeamish). Right now there’s about ten girls who come regularly, but I’m told it will increase when school is back in session. Maybe I’ll divie the group up so as to keep the numbers manageable. After a fact-and-fun-filled hour or so of learning and empowerment, we go outside and play soccer. The girls can often be heard saying something along the lines of: “No, don’t let Kailey be goalie! She always lets them through…” What can I say, I’m no soccer champ. C’est la vie.
I am now really interested in doing a crash course boy’s club, so that kids of both genders are being educated on these issues, namely family planning and HIV/Aids. After all, in this culture, it’s the men, more often than not, who are making the key decisions. Though the HIV/Aids rate is relatively low in Burkina, illness from lack of visits to the health clinic is rampant (the men often don’t dole out the funds until the situation is très grave) and the birth rate is high. Maybe I can teach these young little guys some things about making educated and smart decisions when it comes to your and your future family’s health. On va voir.
Last week, I spent the week volunteering at a reading camp hosted by a village library (founded by the Friends of African Village Librairies, an awesome NGO bases in San Jose) and had an absolutely amazing time. The camp and the library restored some of my faith in outside NGOs and their ability to implement sustainable structures that benefit and involve the communities that they serve. The camp was for a randomly selected 25 students in 4th grade, and it promoted reading and visits to the library; it even included arts and crafts (something the kids here never get a chance to do), singing, and small ‘causeries’ or talks about topics like HIV/Aids and maternal and child health. We also sang and did yoga-esque squats and stretches in the morning to get the brain juices flowing – something that isn’t so unusual back in America-land but is unheard of here. The village librarian, who is chosen and employed by the village if I understand correctly, was truly amazing; he was patient and great with kids – something that is rare and as such, inspiring to witness (see pics below for a peek into the camp). The camp was also great inspiration for my own girl’s club, and after having participated in this camp, I’ve decided that I want to host a camp next summer in my village. Ca va être bon, dat.
After the camp, I trekked down into the Southwest region to visit my fellow volunteer, Hayley. I got completely pampered, ate well, was surrounded by greenery, and we biked 30km to visit another volunteer living down in that region (up a hill) in a Lobi village. It was great to see some other parts of Burkina, to visit different ethnic groups (Bwaba, Dagara and Lobi, whereas I am in a Mossi village), and to see where and how other volunteers live; it really drives home the point that no one experience here is the same; there is almost no room for comparison – even though all we do is scrutinize and compare our interactions and experiences with those of other volunteers. Overall the two trips – down to the Bwaba village for the reading camp, and then down South to visit people – were a great mental break.
And finally, I will be participating in the Tour de Burkina, a Peace Corps sponsored bike tour to be ridden by volunteers in order to raise money for gender and development projects. I’ll be biking the 353 km from Fada ‘N Gourma to Pô. I’m nervous because I am desperately out of shape, but I am really looking forward to what for me will be a big challenge. I’ll only be biking for about 4 or 5 days, but 353km just seems like a daunting distance. For more information (and to donate, if you feel inclined), visit our bike tour’s blog. Below is the map; cities and villages aren’t specified, but the distances are and that’s really all I’m thinking about! Check out a map of Burkina to see where Fada and Po are…
So there you have it. That’s what I’ve been up to as of late. Some days it’s a lot, and some days it’s really a little. Such is the life of a Peace Corps volunteer.