what i do
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.