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 there...so 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 village...my famlily calls me Jari for short)

Jul 2, 2008