Dec 1, 2008

School, Thanksgiving and sacrificed goats!

Life continues to roll at Pobe. School is keeping me pretty busy. A few weeks ago I gave my first test. Correcting nearly 300 was not particularly fun but it definitely kept me busy! It was wonderful to see the students who studied and understood the material do well. I gave candy to the top 10 students in each class and the smiles on their faces and sense of pride made it all so worth it. It was difficult though to see the students who not only didn’t study but clearly don’t understand or pay attention. Asking a simple question like ‘What is your name?’ and having their answer look like Ancient hieroglyphics rather than English is not a fun feeling. Cheating is another huge problem; students were constantly looking over at their neighbors’ paper. I even took away the test of one student who was cheating so bad throughout the test. On the other hand, when you are squished elbow to elbow with four other students at your desk, I can imagine how hard it would be NOT to take the occasional peek. Despite feeling upset over the students who clearly weren’t getting it, I always manage to find even a little humor in some bad. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself while correcting when, asking students to look at a picture and describe what the people were wearing, I had one student who could only remember the word for shirt but seemed to forget how to spell it. His answer? “This is a black shit. Awa is wearing a black shit and Karim is wearing a red shit.”
Disciplining 100 plus students in each class continues to be my biggest hurdle. I knew I would be working with many of these kids more frequently outside of the school through clubs or sensibilizations and what not, therefore I wanted the students to be comfortable and relaxed around me. I initially approached teaching wanting to be the “Cool Aunt Em” type. This has totally backfired on me. It’s hard to get the students to settle down and be quiet when I ask them too. Lately I’ve been kicking students out of class or docking points from their test, which seems to be helping the situation. But learning to have a balance between authority and fun has been difficult.

Recently in Pobe there was the “Fete du Chef” but since the Chief is dead it was more like a memorial celebration than anything else. It was definitely interesting. People came from ALL over the country to honor him, I had never seen Pobe so crowded with people. Women were all dressed up, music played, a show was performed in the evening. But the highlight for me was when I went to visit the Chief’s home to find a dead goat and chicken, throats’ slit and the blood splattered around the door. Apparently the sacrifice was done in honor of the chief. The funny thing is that when I don’t think that it's blood, the colors in the picture are actually quite nice!

In other news my friend Sita, whose family owns the compound I live in, is now my new neighbor! He just built a house directly behind my own. Seeing the process of building a house was fascinating. From getting water at the local pond, making mud bricks and "African cement" (mud and water), how the whole community came together to help build the home. There was food, music, dancing. Who knew building a house could be so fun!

I also held a community meeting recently that gave me a chance to tell the community exactly what I’m there for and how I could help. It also enabled me to hear from the community and assess their needs. Honestly I only expected a handful of people to come. But with the help of Hamidou, who served as my Moore translator, I was pleasantly surprised to have about 70 people attend and it was all sorts of villagers, men and women, young and old. I learned a lot about their needs and things I can (and cant) help them with. It made me happy a couple days later when Sita told me how so many villagers were coming up to him talking about it and saying how happy and excited they are to have me there. It definitely made me feel appreciated but again, right now it's all talk. If I am successful in actually getting things done, then I can be proud.

Recently I’ve been having very minor health issues related to protein deficiency, not eating enough meat…(sorry if goat meat that’s been sitting out all day and covered in flies isn’t appealing to me). My family has been great about sending canned meats like chicken and beef. But there is good news in Pobe. A new little “restaurant” was built where they set up tables and chairs, just outside of Pobe. With the help of a generator I can listen to loud music and get cold drinks and beers. But recently there’s been a man that has starting selling pork once a week or so. It’s delicious! I told Sita I didn’t understand why a man would chose to sell pork in a mostly Muslim community but apparently even some devout Muslims will secretly come out in the dark of night to buy the meat (and even beers!).
This arrival of pork comes at a great time. I recently had a strange (but oddly fitting) dream:
I was in this tall skyscraper building crowded with people. A Godzilla-like creature was terrorizing the city, destroying buildings. The police were trying to evacuate the building I was in because the creature was right outside and if he knocked into the building it would crumble and kill us all. While thousands of screaming people pushed and shoved to get out of the building, I adamantly and stubbornly refused to leave. Why? “I have to finish my shopping!!” I said. I was with my mom who was petrified but refused to leave me alone so she followed me as I marched up the stairs to the top floor, level after level, while people shoved us around trying to get down. We finally arrived to the top floor of the building. What was on this top floor? A meat department. I grab my shopping cart and proceed to load it up with every meat possible, chicken breast, ground beef, steak…you name it. So as you can see, the arrival of pork in Pobe is a wonderful thing.

My first Burkina Thanksgiving was a lot of fun. Several volunteers met up at the home of married volunteers’ Amy and Aaron Rose. They had bought a pig and several chickens…which volunteers (not me) actually killed themselves! With the help of the Roses’ Burkinabe friends who cooked the meat, we had delicious kabobs, pork, chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, string beans, banana bread, cookies and brownies. To me Thanksgiving is all about being surrounded by great company…and getting stuffed! Thanksgiving in Titao was exactly that. Amina!

My Christmas plans include the Roses and several other volunteers. We’re planning a 5 day hiking trip in Dogan Country in Mali. I am so excited as it is supposed to be absolutely beautiful! I’ll be sure to update the blog with details and pics of the trip.
A bientot!

Nov 9, 2008

Bored no more!

First things first: Yeah Obama! All day Nov. 4 and into the wee hours of Nov. 5 I sat glued to my radio listening to the elections on BBC and Voice of America. It was so interesting to hear the opinions of people across the globe. It seemed the whole world was celebrating CHANGE! I for one was pretty emotional. My dad called me at 3 am to give me the good news. To hear him say that after having a great grandfather a slave, and my father himself having to drink water from separate fountains and sit in the back of transportation because of the Jim Crow laws, that he never imagined seeing a black president in his lifetime….how could I not get emotional? Which is exactly why, when my mom called me 2 hours later, I bawled like a baby. It’s just amazing to be apart of such a momentous time in history.
SO…to celebrate I threw an Obama party! I bought a chicken which I watched Sita kill, pluck and cook into a delicious soup which we ate with village bread. Also, I cant get vegetables in my village but I was able to find wine in a box! So we ate chicken soup and bread while drinking boxed wine and listening to cassette tapes from Sita’s boom box that he had charged with an old car battery. Good times!!

I’ve mentioned over and over the roller coaster of emotions that I find I go through here. If you’ve read my last posting about boredom, this new posting will prove it. Lately I’ve been super busy with lots of different things going on, like school.
During the first week of the start of school I went over to the primary school to observe and see if I could help the teachers out a little bit. To be completely honest, my first impression of the primary school: complete and utter horror! I was horrified on so many levels. The conditions of the school. The walls are dirty and cracked. The desks, which should seat 2 students but seat 4 to 5, are completely falling apart. Of the 500 students (aged about 7 to 12), every single one is too skinny. Most are malnourished with bulging bellies and knees twice the size of their legs. (Our school is lucky to have the help of the World Food Program, where students receive a free lunch meal of rice or couscous. Having this program actually drastically increases student enrollment. For most, this is their only meal of the day.)The majority wear the same old, torn and ratty clothing day after day. Half of them have shoes to wear. In class they have limited school supplies. The children receive a couple notebooks and pens. None have textbooks. Those that can afford it have rulers and such. But the teachers!! I don’t know if it was because it was just the first week of school, but the teachers were so unmotivated. In the classes I observed the teachers would constantly leave their classroom full of students to go chat with another teacher. During break or after lunch they would arrive up to an hour late to their classes. Worst of all…the beatings. I heard during training that some teachers hit students. But I never expected what I observed. One particular teacher would hit, smack, slap, and actually whip students (her preference is with this rubber whip-like object with little metal teeth.) And she would do so for no reason at all. During my week-long observations she spent more time beating students and no time teaching any type of lesson. In one case a young girl was so scared she peed herself. I thought the teacher would at least let her go clean up. Instead she made the girl turnaround and sit back in the desk, crammed next to another 4 students, and had to sit like that for the rest of the day. During their break time the children have nothing to do or play with, not even a single ball. They just stand around, others chase and hit each other (what else are they going to do?). It was really tough to see but gave me some ideas in the future. For example a tutoring club to try to help out the (hundreds of) students who don’t understand a lesson and get left behind. Also just getting a soccer ball for the kids to play with during break. After that first week of negative observation though, I needed a little change of scenery so I went to the secondary school (CEG) to if it was better. To my surprise, it was much better.

Thanks to a foreign NGO the CEG has a new building and supplies. The students are older and appear a lot healthier. After speaking with the school director, however, I learned that they were short 4 teachers so for much of the day students just hung around outside. He asked me if I could help by teaching English. Technically I’m not supposed to teach since that’s not what Im here for, but we were able to work something out. Basically Im “teaching” English by holding English clubs during the class times of three different classes. 2 Classes are learning English for the first time and the third class is older, this being their 3rd year of English. Teaching has been challenging yet so fulfilling at the same time. It’s challenging because the class sizes are enormous. 2 of my classes have more than115 students! Also challenging because there are so few supplies and resources. The students don’t have a textbook nor supplies asides from notebooks and pens. But this has forced me to be imaginative and creative in the lessons and teaching. The disciplining aspect is not fun, but overall I’ve had such a great time teaching. It has also helped me in the GEE aspect because Im meeting so many female students and developing bonds/relationships/trust with them. They are the ones I hope to be working with and forming Aids/sex ed sensibilizations and clubs with in the near future.

Also, I no longer live alone. I think Hamidou was sensing my boredom a while back so one day he surprised me with…a puppy! I now have a 2 month old puppy who is so cute and fun. At first I had named him Naba, which means Chief in Moore. But after a couple days I was told I should change his name because I had insulted quite a few members of my village (note to self: don’t name the dog Chief when your village’s own chief recently died!). So I let my friends rename him and my puppy’s name is now Dounia, which means “the world” in Moore. While Dounia is currently going through what appears to be his “terrible twos”, biting and chewing everything in site (including peoples toes) he’s so much fun and definitely keep me busy.
I've also discovered many Burkinabes enjoy the taste of dog. While its prohibited in the Muslim religion to eat dog, there are many "lax"Muslims in my village. Almost every day my friends come to tell me how nice and fat Dounia is getting and how delicious he will be. They are joking, but still, I cant help but wonder about Dounia's fate after I am gone. (One particular villager was surprised to hear Americans dont eat dogs. He asked me "What are hot dogs made out of then?")

This weekend I came down to Ouaga with a couple other volunteers for SIAO, the bi-annual, world renown art festival. It was amazing. Lots of beautiful and colorful art from vendors not just from Burkina but all around W. Africa. Bargaining with the vendors, trying to get them to reduce their outrages “white foreigner” prices can be a hassle. But I ended the day with some great purchases and an even greater love of African arts and crafts.

I will be coming back to Ouaha in early December for more GEE training and to talk to my supervisor about the specific programs and ideas I have. I have so many ideas now, including building a library, forming clubs, holding sensibilizations and helping teach local women and girls that never attended/dropped out of schools an income generating skill or activity. I know not all these ideas will pan out but Im just excited to get started!

Oct 7, 2008

Highs, Lows, and Donkeys...

Amidou (shown left grilling corn in the courtyard) told me he would be going to Ouahigouya to run some errands for the primary school so I took the opportunity to come, help him out and use the internet! On the ride over here the bus broke down twice and we arrived 3 hours late. In other words, a typical day for transport.
If I could sum up these past couple of weeks in one word, it would be BOREDOM. I knew this experience would be tough and challenging but I never really expected BOREDOM. The all-caps is done purposely. If you live anywhere in N. America, you have no idea of its true definition. For example, if you are bored you can go to the park, to the movies, shopping, watch TV., play on the computer or even go to the gym. But here, when you are BORED there is literally nothing to do. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Nothing. Highlights of my day included going to the water pump, (picture above) washing my clothes, and having tea in my courtyard with a group of men who sit for hours talking in a local language I don’t understand. One can only read so many books and complete (O.K, attempt) so many Sudokus. The volunteer before me left a “Cracking the GRE” book and I’ve been reading it for fun, seriously contemplating studying and taking the GRE. If that doesn’t scream BOREDOM I don’t know what does! Luckily it didn’t hit me until week 3 after Sita, my friend , personal tour guide and running partner returned to Ouaga.
Luckily, this period didn’t last too long because this week, school has started! (In all my life I’ve never been so excited for the start of school). The first day was mostly just a long meeting for teachers but I got to see most of the young students of the primary (like elementary) school (picture above.) Even though I’m not here to teach, I emphasized to the director how much I want to help out. With more than 500 students and a shortage of teachers (right now there are 5, one whom is pregnant and will be arriving later) they are obviously grateful. I'll be helping out as a teacher’s aid for a couple of the teachers in the classroom plus I volunteered to be in charge of any sports/recreational activities! Things are finally getting started and I’m anxious to get busy! The past couple of weeks have been tough but I know over the next 23 months there will be plenty of highs and lows, excitements and BOREDOMS, the good and the bad.
In the meantime I’ve continued biking to and from Djibo once a week. At first it was fun and exciting but now it’s slowly becoming frustrating. Every time I bike I feel like I go so slow and it always takes me much longer than it should. Its hot, exhausting and having men young and old follow/try to race me so they can be close to the Nassarra on the nice bike when Im dripping sweat and dreading how much farther I still have….not always fun. I thought it would be great exercise and help tone down my carb-loaded belly but all it has given me so far are calves the size of a WWF wrestler on steroids. But anything is better than being stuck in a broken down bus so I grit my teeth, suck it up and swear under my breath up and down the dirt road.
Thought I’d end with another little incident that occurred. So I get a call from mom in the midst of my BOREDOM period. Obviously I’m thrilled. I step outside and lean against the wall to get some fresh air and privacy. A few minutes into our conversation a sudden movement nearby catches my eye and I look up. It looks up too, and straight at me. We stare at each other and in my head I’m begging for it not to do it. My telepathic pleading doesn’t work. It opens its huge mouth and releases…The Sound. How can I describe The Sound. Imagine the screams of someone going through the most excruciatingly painful experience ever. Imagine a saw cutting through metal, kids playing on a rusty seesaw and a woman scratching her 5 inch nails down a dry chalkboard. Add in the sounds of 2 people having loud obnoxious sex after a particularly long and angry fight. Mix it all together and you get…
Mom: Emilie…what the HELL was that?
Me: (Sigh)…that mom, would be a donkey
I believe that a braying donkey is one of the worst, most annoying sounds ever. But at the same time, I guess not everyone can say they’ve had a call from mom literally interrupted by an ass!

Sep 19, 2008

Arrival in Pobe Mengao

This past month has definitely been exciting and interesting. I am now living in my new home in Pobe-Mengao and am settling in quite nicely. I arrived to find the local school-parent association had planted a few eggplant, bean and a tomato plants in my courtyard as a gift, which was a pleasant surprise. As far as my home goes, it’s a main room with kitchen area and then the bedroom. I haven’t really been able to add anything to the house yet so it basically looks just like it did when the other volunteer I replaced was living there. I have yet to sleep in the bedroom (too hot!) and have no real furniture in there besides a bed so right now it’s my storage room. I have plenty of time to make it more homey. My only complaint about the house is that when I arrived I found it completely infested with both termites and cockroaches. While I’ve been able to slowly eradicate the cockroaches, the termites are still in full force. Let me just say that keeping house is no easy task ! I have to sweep daily to keep the dust (and scorpions) at bay, cook, wash dishes and wash clothes by hand. Add the fact that I have to fetch my water with a big jug from a pump everyday, it makes things interesting.

The market that happens every 3 days in my village is terrible in terms of food… there is none. (I’m lucky if I can find onions. I can find pasta and bread however at one of the little boutique stores). So I’ve been biking the 25K to Djibo every Wednesday for veggies and such. With the rainy season the dirt roads are awful but the scenery is beautiful. Sometimes Ill find myself daydreaming and forget where I am. Then 6 camels will trot past me and Ill remember, oh yea, Im in Africa! So far I am really enjoying the biking…we’ll see how long that lasts.
Truthfully I NEED to enjoy biking, since I plan to depend on bus transportation as LITTLE as possible. I’ve already had a couple transportation incidents that haven’t been too enjoyable. To make a very long story short, during one bus ride (that was supposed to take 1 hour) the bus broke down for about five hours. The sun set, it was dark and I started panicking a little after a man said no other bus would come to our aid and if we couldn’t fix the problem we’d be spending the night where we were…in the middle of the African bush ! To solve the problem a man went to chop down a thick tree branch, made a log from it, from which the driver used as a make-shift part for the bus. The bus shaked rattled and rolled (with a few nuts and bolts flying off as we headed over pot holes and ditches) but we finally arrived at our destination. I am not a very religious person but I have never prayed so hard to God, Allah, the bus spirits….anyone listening to help survive the trip !!

In terms of integration, I have to say I am truly happy that I speak French (thanks mom!). Because of it, I have been able to quickly befriend two village locals who went to school and speak French. However because I do not yet speak Moore, Fulfulde or Karumfe I have yet to really integrate or get to know the majority of the villagers, especially women. I can’t imagine being a volunteer alone in a new site and not speaking French, let alone the local language.
So I quickly befriended Amidou and Sita, two brothers whose father owns the compound that I live in (there are four other homes in the same compound). I spend most of the day relaxing with them, talking, drinking tea and eating maize (corn, which is now in season, that they cook over coals and you eat right off the grill…delicious ! I can eat 4 at a time.)
Sita has not only become a friend but my personal tour guide. He’s been taking me all around not only Pobe-Mengao but the surrounding areas. The village truly has a rich and ancient Karumfe culture which is fascinating. So far I have seen gorgeous views from cliff tops, ancient drawings sketched onto rocks, old statuettes and artifacts, and elephant foot prints imprinted permanently onto rocks from back in the day when elephants used to roam the north of Burkina.
I have been trying to keep my days busy but despite all this sometimes the days seem to pass by so slowly. People literally sit around outside their home all day, talking, sleeping and drinking tea. Now apparently it’s the busy season because most people are out cultivating in the fields. I can’t imagine what its like for villagers once their work in the fields is done. There are no jobs for them, there is literally nothing to do. I’m not supposed to start any major projects until November (we re supposed to spend time integrating, developing people’s trust and getting to know the real needs of the community first) I plan to help out in the schools as a teachers aid starting in October. Not only will I be able to help teachers in the classroom, (student teacher ratio is about 120 to 1 but it will help me get to know the students and children better as well.
Overall I am definitely enjoying myself, my health is good and so far Im adjusting surprisingly well, although Ill be the first to admit there are good days and bad days. A bientot!

Sep 1, 2008

Officially a Volunteer!

First post as a Peace Corps Volunteer! Took (and signed) an oath so guess it's now official...Im here for good!

Ouaga, the capital, was fun and entertaining. It’s got the large city feel but you definitely still know you are in Africa.
We stayed at a hotel which after living in a mud hut for 3 months, was amazing! Beds, real toilets, showers with HOT water…amazing. We also ate delicious food at restaurants including pizza, ice ceam, crepes and even Chinese food. During training we would always hear about how when we get to Ouaga, we need to shop at the Marina Market, how its an incredible place. I wasn’t sure what to expect and didn’t exactly get my hopes up about it. Well, let me tell you, walking into there I was like a kid in a candy store. Its like an actual grocery store just like in the U.S, like a Safeway! It was amazing and I couldn’t stop smiling or saying “Oh my GOD” everytime I saw something. The store has everything from shampoo, chocolate, cereal, a meat and pastry counter…everything! Wonderful.
While I enjoyed Ouaga, I have to admit Im glad I will be living in a village and not a city. Its fun but very expensive. Also, if you walk outside you are constantly hassled by people trying to sell you stuff because any "white foreigner" must be a rich tourist. It gets annoying after a while. And while Im slowly getting used to unwanted harrassment and attention, having random strangers grab at you to get your attention is not really my cup of tea. You also have to remember that Ouaga is a capital city and has its crazies and violence. During the time we were there one volunteer had two guys on motos try (unsuccessfully) to grab her purse. On a separate occasion two other volunteers were walking together in broad dailight when a “fou”, or crazy guy, jumped on the male volunteer's back and tried to kiss him! When the female volunteer tried to get the guy off him, the “fou” slapped her! Some gendarmes (police) were luckily nearby to grab the guy off and apparently beat him up pretty good before taking him away.
But between good food, going out with friends to listen to live music, seeing the beautiful art available, I really did enjoy my time there.
The Peace Corps swearing in ceremony was nice. It was at the U.S ambassadors house (HUGE!!). Everyone had on beautiful and very colourful outfits! The ceremony was fairly short, several speeches and then ourselves standing up to take the oath. My host brother was able to attend the ceremony, which really made my night because I didn’t think the family would have the money for him to come. But ends up--proving how hospitable Burkinabes are--one of the teachers who taught during training heard about it and not only drove my brother from Komsilga to Ouaga but let him stay the night at his home! It was definitely nice to see him one last time before heading out.
Another fun thing was that there was media, both a television and radio station, at the ceremony. I was interviewed for both of them, which was fun but I didn’t think much of it. I am now currently back in Ouahigouya (about a 2 1/2 hour bus ride from Ouaga), and THREE times today Ive been stopped by Burkinabes who say they recognized me from TV as the Peace Corps volunteer heading out to Pobe! Didn’t realize Id actually make it on tv, let alone on a station playing across Burkina…kinda funny but also pretty cool. Too bad I was hot and sweating balls during the interview!
So as I said I am currently back in Ouahigouya. Tuesday morning a driver from the Peace Corps will come to help myself and another volunteer move into our new homes! Very excited and definitely MORE than ready to get there. The past few days Ive been shopping for things for my home, mostly food (cant wait to cook for myself!) and furniture.
Obviously from this point on my internet access will be much more limited. However I have made a deal with myself that I will travel to the city for internet and email at LEAST once a month. So I will do my best to keep my blog updated.
The next three months will be tough, challenging, lonely and I will have PLENTY of time on my hands. However Im ready to immerse in the culture, get to know and develop friendships with the locals and hopefully get ideas on how best I can help.

Aug 22, 2008

Last post as a PC trainee!

This will be my last posting as a Peace Corps trainee. Next week we are off to Ouagadougou, the capital, to finish our last week of training. We will stay there for the week and then have our swearing-in-ceremony to officially become Peace Corps Volunteers! Everyone is excited, it's a pretty big deal (held at the US ambassador's house, 300 people invited). Another plus is that we all get to dress up, most of us had outfits made here in Burkina so it should be very colorful! Just a couple days after we will all be dropped off at our future homes! It's fair to say nearly everyone (both trainees and staff) is getting a bit antsy and ready to end training...we're all going through a bit of senioritis and finding it hard to listen or pay attention in the training sessions.
As excited as I am, I will definitely miss my host family. They have been so generous, kind and were a great deal of help in my integration/adaptation here during the last 3 months. On Saturday there will be a party in Komsilga to celebrate and honor the families that hosted Kait, Brian and myself. There will be music, food and fun so I'm definitely excited!
I will be sure to post photos of the party, as well as photos from Ouaga and the swearing in ceremony before I head out to Pobe Mengao.

With training and my home-stay experience ending, I can't help but look back on the last 3 months and think of how much I've gone through and learned. Here's a look at a few of those things:

Things that I've learned/have experienced/have gone through during my training:

-time = W.A.I.T (West African International Time). People here have no sense of time. Arriving to a meeting one hour late is considered arriving early. I've definitely had to learn patience and flexibility while here.
-navigating through the city streets of Ouahigouya is a risk to anyone life!! People here do not believe in following traffic rules/laws (a red light has no meaning to many). I've learned to bike very cautiously and am always constantly aware...dont let your guard down and trust no driver! Example, just recently one trainee was biking down the street when a man on a moto, driving with one hand, and carrying a large metal door on his shoulders with the other... cut off this trainee who was trying to turn left and sliced a piece of the trainee's ear off!!! It was literally dangling by a piece of skin!
-having said that.... while I was riding my bike I did hit a little boy trying to cross the street...but it wasnt my fault!! (and the little boy was fine!)
-since the rainy season started in July, I have never had less than 30, yes 30, mosquito bites on my feet and ankles
- You are going to be called "Nassarra" (white foreigner) at least 20 times a day by all Burkinabes, men, women and children. Get used to it and dont take it personally.
-street food sold by vendors is the BEST and CHEAPEST food!! Anything from corn and peanuts to meals like benga (beans and rice, etc...soooo good and easy on the wallet)
-the fashion here is definitely.... interesting. The crazier the patterns and colors you wear, the more fashionable you are!
-I love bucket baths!!
-I know I've somewhat adjusted when I can go to the bathroom at 2 am and the sight of 10 cockroaches crawling around and flies buzzing all over me doesnt faze me in the least.
-the best way to integrate and adjust to life in Burkina.... learn to laugh at yourself.
-I can greet a Burkinabe in FOUR different languages (Moore, Fulfulde, Koromfe and French)
-trying to go to the marche and buy stuff in local language is hard! Their money system is difficult and confusing. Not only is it difficult to mentally translate whatever number they are saying, which can be anywhere from 25 to the thousands, but whatever number they give you you have to multiply it by 5...and that is the real amount that you confusing.
-People in my village work so hard. I went to work with the men one day cultivating the field.
Such freakin hard work !! I spent 2 hours weeding with the hoe so the « mil » can grow. After 2 hours I already had blisters all over my hands and my back hurt, so the men told me to stop and rest. But these men do this all day for months at a time !! (see picture above)
-lastly, as much as I love being here and can say Im here trying to do good, there is no denying that I am a privileged person. I have complained about the food on my blog, eating nothing but carbs like pasta, rice etc. My family has never complained to me or asked me for anything. But during a conversation with my sisters they talked about how difficult their lives were, how hard they had to work and how having enough food is their #1 concern. All they have to eat is "to" a bland mushy dish made of a type of grain which they grow, and sauce. Exact quotes they told me(translated):
"I hate 'to' because we eat it 3 times a day, everyday, but its all we have to eat."
"I force myself to eat to because Megan is still breastfeeding and I need to eat to be able to produce enough milk for her."
"I hate being so skinny. I hate that my bones stick out."
Not exactly things that make you feel great after just chowing down on half a pound of pasta. I guess hearing things like that from my family, who ALWAYS have a smile on their face and are so generous to me, really hit home. I am in Africa, I am in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world. Even though I am here as a volunteer and just paid a stipend to live on, I am still receiving more than most villagers. Just something I know I have to keep in mind during my entire 2 years here.

Aug 12, 2008

New Address and Wish List!

See my new address (I will be there at the end of the month for the next two years) and my wish list on the right hand side.

Jul 27, 2008

The past couple weeks of training seemed to have gone by so slowly. I know training is important but there are things about it I really dont like, for example at times I feel like Im just in a 3-month long summer camp. Im anxious to get to site and start feeling productive. There's only 3 more weeks of training which is pretty exciting!
Interesting events that have happened within the last 2 weeks:
I played basketball for the first time since my arrival here! A few of the trainees and I went to play at an outside court and ended up playing against some of the local guys here.

Lucky for us the national sport in Burkina is soccer, not b ball, so we short, pale, nerdy trainees didnt get our butts killed lol. Had a lot of fun playing and it felt good!
The GEE volunteers wen to AIMEE, a local NGO that specializes in health but also specifically on HIV and Aids. We learned a lot about what the NGO does, not just physically taking care of the sick but going out to small villages to educate and increase awareness. But the most interesting part for me was separating into small groups and informally talking with several patients and Burkinabes living with HIV/Aids. It was my first time ever talking one-on-one with someone living with AIDS, let alone living with AIDS in Africa so it was an incredible experience for me. I talked to 3 different people, one of whom was this motivated, pro active woman who told us everything from how/when she found out she was HIV + to the barriers she faced along the way including the perceptions/stereotypes of those ignorant about the disease, especially in villages. When I am at site I have already planned to do a lot of sex education for young girls but I think HIV/Aids is also near the top of my list. Even though the percentage is low in Burkina compared to other countries in Africa, its still high and more education/awareness about the disease and prevention is always needed.
Those whove talked with me know that FOOD has been an issue for me (the fact that I am unable to cook for myself or get any variety.) So obviously our tech session on nutrition where the trainees in each village were able to cook their own meal was amazing!!! All the cooking tools were brought to Komsilga where Brian, Kait and myself cooked up a delicious brunch.
On the menu: homemade banana bread with M&Ms!!! (Amen to care packages!!!), scrambled eggs with onions, green peppers and tomatoes, french toast and fruit salad! It was soooo good. Obviously, we had some minor setbacks. One being when the PC arrived with our cooking supplies from the city they forgot one critical thing: the stove... so they had to go back to get it and it took more than one hour. We started very late and ended up delaying everyone elses cooking time as well. As for the banana bread, the recipe asked for baking powder but all we had was baking soda so the banana bread didnt rise and turned out more like banana mush/cake....however it was still delicious!
Ever since training started I have been learning the local language of Fulfulde. Yet at my site visit i quickly leaned that unfortunately, Fulfulde is not really spoken in my village. The main languages spoken there are Moore and Karunfe. SOOOO...Ive had to start language over again, this time learning Moore. The fun thing about it though is that because of my situation where unlike the other trainees I dont have to take French, I have my own one on one tutoring with a man called Patrice. Patrice is a young, energetic, "cool" guy but an intense teacher. Moore is tough! And being the only student in the class, I have no chance to daydream and not focus. Hes always quizzing me, asking me to read/repeat stuff...I feel like Im back in school again!! But over the past couple of days with him I have learned 2 very interesting things. One, hes not just Patrice the teacher but Patrice the music star. He came out with a CD a couple years ago and is currently working on a new albulm set to come out around November. PLUS, 2 years ago Patrice also had a music video that played on the tv stations here! He showed it to be on his cell phone. Music-wise, it was actually really good stuff. Id say a mix of traditional/modern African music. But the video is hilarious! In several scenes he's decked out in a gray pin striped-suit singing while sitting on the diving board of a pool of some huge house in Burkina. And its not big chested women dancing in the background but stick-thin men in matching outfits, swaying their hips and snapping their fingers. Its Big Pimpin Africa style. I loved it. Im defintiely buying his new CD when it comes out...I guess you never know who your teachers are outside the classroom.
Something new I learned on Burkinabe culture: Thursday morning Patrice is lost in thought, not really concentrating so I ask him whats up. He tells me Wendsday night his wife gave birth to their first son!!! Im like "Patrice, what the hell are you doing HERE go see your wife and new born son!!" Ends up he cant just leave work like that, he has to wait until Saturday before he can go back home in Ouaga. This is where I am confused. You see, here in Burkina, the grandma of your wife's friend's sister's neighbor dies and its EXPECTED that you NOT come into work because you have to go to the funeral and pay respects to the family. But your wife gives birth to your newborn son and you cant leave work to go see them? Patrice explains to me that here, culterally, sad events are treated a lot differently than happy events. You can leave work for sad events, but aparently its a lot more difficult when the event is joyful. I learn something new everyday.

Jul 20, 2008

Site visit!

So last week was by FAR my favorite week since Ive arrived here. The first 3 days consisted of a counterpart workshop where I met with the person who I'll work closest with once at site and help me in the integration proccess.
My counterpart is a woman who teaches at the local primary school in the village and lives there with her children. I'm lucky because quite a few other volunteers werent thrilled with their counterparts or had a hard time connecting because of the language barrier. I totally clicked with mine. She's such a great woman with a lot of great ideas and opinions. We already talked about major problems in the village, things we could do, things I can help with, etc. For example sex is a very tabboo subject here. She says girls never learn about maturation/sex education/prevention methods from their parents or others. She had nine girls in her class this year drop out because they got pregnant. So just awareness and education for girls would be huge. Anyways in summary the workshop was great, we totally clicked and I cant wait to get to site and get started!
Thursday through Sunday I went to Pobe-Mengao to visit my site and future home! I stayed with Joel, who is the volunteer that I will be replacing. The weekend was amazing. Pobe is much larger than I expected, a town of about 5-6,000 people. Transportation to and from Pobe is great, it's right off the main road so I have easy access to big cities like Djibo and Ouahigouya. Only problems are the roads are dirt so during the rainy season they get flooded and transportation is either extrememey delayed or comes to a halt.
Pobe has a primary school and a brand new CEG school (kinda like high school) which will open up once I get there. Theres also a health and maternity clinic, a small marchee every 3 days that sells seasonal foods and some very small boutiques to buy things like soap, etc. Ill still have to bike or bus to Djibo weekly to get foods like canned goods, oatmeal, fresh fruits and vegies, etc.
As far as my house goes, I am sooo excited to start living there. Compared to the mud, thatched-roof hut I am currently living in....I am MOVIN ON UP! My future home is concrete, rectangular shaped, with a tin roof. Its got 2 rooms, the main room and a small bedroom. What is great about replacing another volunteer is that Joel is leaving me nearly everything including a small table, stove, cot to sleep outside, and a cool kitchen furniture piece with counter and shelves. Hes got plenty of cooking spices too which is so key here!! Another big plus is he's leaving me some books! Everyone says volunteers have a lot of extra time and spend a LOT of time reading, so having these books is definitely amazing. There are some things I still need to buy but I am so excited about decorating my home! Like I plan on painting the inside walls and buying a couple other furniture pieces like a bookshelf. There are 4 other homes in the compound but I have my own little courtyard complete with hangar (like a patio area) to sleep under during the hot nights. Despite my total lack of a green thumb I am sooo planning on starting a small garden, so in the future Ill be adding seeds to my care package wish list!
During the weekend I got to ask Joel the hundreds of questions that have been on my mind, learned what he has done in the village, met some key/important people, toured around (cool fact: in the village there are a couple of small lakes made from the rain and there are Caimans, which are crocodiles living in them!). Just taking a break from training to relax and see my future home was wonderful. Overall great weekend.

What happened just a few hours after my arrival on Thursday, however, was by far the most unique part of my visit:
Upon arrival Joel tells me the village chief has died, the funeral is that day, would I be interested in going...of course I am! SO we go. Need I remind you I am in an African village in Burkina Faso...this is no ordinary funeral.
So we go to the chief's courtyard where the funeral takes place. Here I learn that the chief was like 105 and died a few days ago. After he died they sat ( and tied) his body to make him sit up, and barricaded the body in his home for 3 days. Then on the 4th day, the day I arrived there to witness this, they tore down the wall and removed his (very smelly) body and wraped it up in layers and layers of cloth. Then several villagers picked up the body and carried it three times around the courtyard and then proceed to carry the body 10K away to the burial site.
Some interesting characters at the funeral: the old women wailing "ayiii ayiiii", some old guy who could barely carry his own weight carrying this HUGE rifle and shooting it every now and then, 5 feet away from us. Oh and this other old guy carrying this bloody hatchet which I swaear looked like it had strips of meaty flesh hanging from it leading the people carrying the dead chief.
So I got to witness everything (except the 10K walk) which was so INSANE considering I had just arrived a couple hours earlier. If things could get any more crazy, there were a lot of people from other villages and cities who came to pay their respects. Now I know cell phones are HUGE in Burkina and even villagers and the poorest of the poor somehow have a cell phone (there is a cell phone tower directly behind my future home). But I just found this whole funeral ceremony thing so ironic. Why? During this very traditional, African ceremony that is happening to honor an old village chief, complete with bloody hatchets and wierd traditions/superstitions with the body, there are literally five men chasing after the people carrying the body, snapping photos of the ceremony with their camera phones.
And that was my welcome to Pobe-Mengao.

Jul 12, 2008

Funny story

Thought Id try to add a little humor to my blog. The following is a true story:

NOTE: 1) everyone is given a black medical kit filled with everything we need from insect repellent, sunscreen and cough drops to malaria pills and oral rehydration tablets. 2) An LCF is a local well-ecucated Burkinabe hired by the Peace Corps to teach French, local language and cultural adaptation/integration to the trainees.
For my story the LCF will remain anonymous and go by the name of "Burkinabe Bob"

So all the GEE volunteers are going through a particular tech training course. We re all sitting on "nats" (mats) under a grove of mango trees. During the class I am half-mindedly cleaning out my swiss army knife that has collected quite a bit of sand and dirt.
Notice I said half-mindedly. I cut my finger. The cut itself is not too big, just about the width of my finger but the cut is pretty deep. Blood immediately begins to pour out and starts to drip on the ground. I head around to the back and ask "Burkinabe Bob" to bring the med kit.
"I need some cleansing stuff and some bandaids!" I say
Now Burkinabe Bob is a very fatherly type of person who constantly worries. He sees the blood and I notice the mild panic in his eyes. He doesnt speak any English, so he is unable to read any of the medication in the med kit. While grabbing my hand I am trying to help him find cleanser and bandaids. At this point my finger is bleeding pretty heavily so I turn my attentinon toward my hand to try to find out exactly where the cut it.
"I have it! I found it! Here you go!" yells out Burkinabe Bob
I look at what he is handing me. I stare for a good 5 seconds. I then look him in the eyes to see if he is being serious. He is dead serious. I cant help but laugh.
"Burkinabe Bob those are condoms! I dont need condoms I need bandaids!"
Luckily Steven, a fellow trainne is witnessing this small mayhem that is happening and quickly rushes over to find the necessary materials.
Now my finger is clean, disinfected and nicely bandadged...and not wrapped in a latex condom.

Jul 8, 2008

Survived 1 month

So, Ive got some good news and bad news!

The bad news is that, as delicious as the food was at our 4th of July party, it made many of the volunteers sick....including me. Many were sick with high fever/vomiting/diarrea. Ive had a high fever and non stop diarrea. Feeling very weak and tired today but definitely feeling a bit better. I had a very rough night, but hopefully the worst is over!

The good news is that I know where I will be living for the next two years! This afternoon all the Girls Education and Empowerment and Secondary Education volunteers were told where we would be located. I will be living in small village called Pobe-Mengao located up in the north, about 25K from the city of Djibo. I do not know much about my site yet. All I know is that i will be replacing a volunteer, and that I will live in my very own private home complete with a large enclosure/courtyard. It seems there are about 3 or 4 different local languages spoken in my village, from Morre to Fulfulde to the main one, Kurunfe (spelling?). So I have a feeling I will be depending more on my French than anything else, which is fine with me.
Next week we will be going on site visits! We will visit our sites, meet the volunteer we are replacing, and meet our counterpart. Our counterpart can be a teacher or someone else in the village who speaks French and the local language(s) that will be helping us and that we will work closely with during our 2 years at site.
My site seems very exciting so far! What is great is that i am not too far from other volunteers so times when i need some american companions they will be just a short bus ride ( or maybe even just a long bike ride?) away. The only negative i have seen so far is that the city I am closest too is Djibo and aparently there is no internet not too sure how often i will be able to check email or update the blog. Could be only every 3 to 4 months or so...ill find out more.

I will be living with my host family and going through training here near Ouahigouya until the end of August. Our swearing in, going from trainees to official volunteers occurs in Ouagadougou August 29 and after that we are off to our sites!

Jul 5, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

Hope everyone had a great 4th of July !
Over here the volunteers and staff had a nice party in the city with lots of great food…which included mango pies and goat kebobs! (We slaughtered the goat given to us by the big chief on our arrival here…delicious!) We ate, drank and danced it was wonderful!

Training is going by slowly but surely. It is definitely starting to get more detailed and specific which is good. Were also learning a lot of cultural integration things including a recent class on nutrition, what foods we can buy and the seasonal foods available. We even received a cookbook made by past volunteers which has some pretty cool and interesting recipes that I am anxious to try. Next week we all find out our site location (our home for the next 2 years!!!) And the week after that we actually go out on site visits to see our future home.

As much as I love being out in village, I do enjoy being able to come out to the city once a week to see the SE volunteers, run errands, have electricity and enjoy city life! A few days ago when we spent a couple days in the city for training, myself and some other volunteers played in a soccer games vs a local girls team. We lost big time… 4 to 1 but it felt great to be out there and play, get some exercise a little bit! This girls are tough!

The rainy season is definitely here. It will be nice and sunny when all of a sudden the sky goes gray, and the wind starts to really pick up….thats when you know to duck inside as quickly as possible because when it rains, it rains hard. Sleeping outside is great but being woken up at 2am to quickly disemble my tent and rush inside...not so fun. But its great because after the rain the weather is much nicer and cooler. I would say lately its been raining about once or twice a week.

My family life is still going great. As time goes on my family is giving me more and more independence. Im learning how to wash my own cothes and I’m getting cooking lessons on meals I can make when I’m at site! Things like potatoes and sauce with onions and, and this really good meal of beans and rice called Benga. Ive also showed the family how to play "Yum"... this dice game i used to always play as a kid. They had never seen dice before and they LOVE the game. They ask to play every night...everyone from the kids to the fathers. Its a fun game plus it involves some math so I think its good :)

Ive gotten quite a few questions from people about what its like to live in a Muslim family. To be honest, its not what I expected at all in terms of religion and conservativeness. Yes, my family is very religious and prays five times a day. There are specific gender roles with the women’s role being to cook and clean from early morning to late at night. But in terms of dress, they are really not that conservative. The only time I have seen women veiled is when they pray (and the women have to pray behind the men.) But other than than, it’s pretty lax. They wear tank tops and jewelry. I’ve joked that I’ve seen more breasts in the past couple of weeks than I have in my lifetime! Breats are definitely no big deal. My family, including men women and children have been really busy during the day planting and cultivating.
However I will say that adjusting to gender roles in Africa as a whole has been interesting. Yesterday we learned that an elderly woman in our village died, so we went to pay our respects to the family. We were a few volunteers (white) and our two male and female language teachers (black). The family gave us to mats to sit on and we told to sit separated, not by color but by gender. So while they say female volunteers are typically treated as a 3rd gender...we are STILL women, and treated differently for it.

Lastly, I got my first letter by mail here! (Thanks mom!) And let me tell you it was absolutely wonderful to get mail. It totally made my day so please please send me letters (or packages) I have been feeling homesick, not to the point that I wish I were back home but I definitely miss my friends and family and think of you often. Even being in such a large family, its amazing how alone I can feel out here. When everyone around you speaks this completely foreign language and are completely different from you, it’s hard to relate and its very isolating at times. So, the connection to home is greatly appreciated. Also, thanks so much for those that send me emails! I love reading them and i applogize for my late replies. But here internet is slow and I usually only pay for 1 hour. Im still adjusting to the strange keyboard here and i never get a chance to respond to all. But please keep writing!
Things on my wish list right now: dried fruit, nuts, peanut M&Ms, hard candy or any type of non perishable american food snack, little packets of tissue (great for toilet paper!), hard candy or anything I can share with the kids! Thanks to all
-Jariatu (my African name given to me by my famlily calls me Jari for short)

Jul 2, 2008

Jun 19, 2008

Hello from Burkina Faso!

It has only been about 2 weeks since I have been here but I feel that so much has changed! After arriving in Burkina Faso the volunteers spent some time in Ouaga (the capital) and Ouahigouya. But now and for the next 3 months I am living with my new adopted family. While the secondary education volunteers enjoy the "luxury" of living in the city with electricity, all the GEE volunteers are located in small, rural villages.

I and 3 other GEE volunteers are living in a small, remote village about 8 to 10K from Ouahigouya. I absolutely love my family. My family is a very large Muslim family (and by large I mean 34 members living in the family compound!!). The family includes my father, his 3 wives, their children, the sons'families, gandchildren etc...Most do not speak French. However one teenage daughter Kedija speaks French very well which is great for me. Several of the others speak a little french as well.

Despite the language barrier my family is sooo nice, friendly and welcoming. I already feel like i am apart of the family. They are excited to teach me how to cook, wash clothes and dance! Every night after I return from training I take my bucket bath (which may not sound like much but in this crazy hot weather my 2 bucket baths morning and night are the highlights of my day!), eat and all the kids and family crowd around me outside my hut to talk, laugh, and teach me Fufulde, the local language that I am currently learning! One of the earliest coping methods you have to have here is how to laugh at yourself. People here love to laugh, with you and AT you, especially when you try to speak their language. I love that sense of humor is so important here.

The only hard adjustment right now I would say is the food...carbs carbs everywhere! One of the sons is responsible for my breakfast and dinner. Meals cooked for me, include one pound of spaghetti with oily sauce or 1 lb of rice with oily sauce and I'm often served an entire loaf of baguette. A reality check for me was realizing children do not all have big bellies because of lack of food here. They have enough food it is just WHAT they eat. They are very much limiited by what they can eat....very little fruits, veggies, protein and other important nutrients. Luckily during training we are a bike ride away from Ouahugoya where I can buy fruits, nuts and even some "American-like" things.

My home is a small but very nice mud hut located in the middle of the family compounnd. It is nice but extremeley hot at night, so one of my favorite times is at night. I sleep under the moon and stars (and my bug tent!). About four of the girls sleep on a mat by my side to "protect" me and keep me company. Such an amazing experience and great way to escape the heat! Like i said my family is Muslim, so every morning around 4:30 to 5 am I am awakened by the call to prayer, and their mosque or prayer area is literally 20 feet from my hut!

I may not have been here long but i absolutely love it here. i feel like i have learned so much in such a short time....taking pleasure in all the little things and realizing how much i take for granted. Whether it is learning Fufulde during my language lessons, biking into Ouahugoya to purchase a mango from a street vendor, or spending time laughing with my family, i am loving every minute of every day here.

Till next time :)
P.S. I am having problems uploading photos so next time i will try to upload them to another website and see if that works... hopefully i can get them up soon!

Jun 9, 2008


I arrived in Phili Saturday evening. I've been shocked with the weather. It's extremeley HOT and HUMID. At 8:30 p.m. it was still over 94 degrees. I guess it's good prep for Africa!
Our pre-service training has been interesting...and a bit long. There are 31 of us off to Burkina Faso, split just about evenly but maybe a few more girls than guys. Everyone's young, in their mid or late twenties.
Basically we've spent the entire past two days in one of the hotel conference rooms going over pre-service training, things such as the Peace Corps mission, our aspirations, fears and other basic things. A lot of it was writing down things on a notebook and drawing pictures, at times I felt like I was back in 2nd grade lol. We had no time to sight see in Philadelphia. However a few of us arrived Saturday on early flights. So on Sunday Leah, Elsa and I (all from Cali...way to represent!) went on a long walk around Phili, got to see Penn University (such a gorgeous campus!) and wadded in the fountain at Logan Circle.

Tomorrow we start the morning with some shots!! Then we head to the airport and are off to Ouagadougou!!!! (with a stop in Paris). I am soooo excited and so READY to get there. Still not nervous, just ready. Let's get this started!

May 28, 2008

My Assignment

I will be working as a Community Education and Development Outreach Agent in the Girls Education and Empowerment Program in Burkina Faso. In short, I will be working as a liaison between schools and communities and creating programs encouraging girls to go to, stay and succeed in school. I'll work with organizations, professionals and families on projects large and small. As most of you would expect, one goal I'm hoping to be able to accomplish is to start a girls' sports team, basketball, if possible.

June 7: Fly to Philadelphia for Pre-Service Training
June 10: Leave for Ouagadougou for Training
Sometime in September: Sent to project site

Facts on Burkina Faso
-landlocked country in West Africa
-language: French and local African languages like Moore, Fulfulde, Gourmantchema etc.
-population: 14 million
-rainy season June to October (90+ degrees), dry season November to May (100+ degrees)
-it's one of the ten poorest countries in the world
-86% of population lives on less than $2 a day

-average life expectancy: 47.5 years
-literacy rate: 32%
-50% Islam,
20% Christian, 30% indigenous beliefs