hello and welcome to the DMV
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.