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.