Dec 29, 2009

Dad and Keiko's visit to Burkina/Ghana

My dad and Keiko's visit to Burkina overall went very well. We did a lot of traveling and visiting in the days they were here but the few minor problems we came across mostly occured during the beginning of their trip. They didn't even have to step out of the airport for that....the airline lost their suitcase (Welcome to Burkina!) After that issue was settled (they found and retrieved their bag the next day), my father's first words outside the airport had me worried about what they'd think of the rest of their trip.

Dad: "Is there a fire? Look at all that smoke in the air!"
Me: "No dad. That's....just...dust"

Luckily I have a family of troopers. This was Keiko's first time to Africa and my father's second (he was in Africa 40 years ago) so its fair to say that while both didn't know exactly what to expect, they were ready to rough it out and were up for anything. Right from the start I was impressed with their easy going attitudes and willingness to go along with whatever I planned. The first couple days we stayed in Ouaga and had my friend tour them around. For their first lunch meal in Burkina my friend took them to a restaurant that served nice local food. To my surprise both Dad and Keiko ordered 'futu', which is basically a variation of "to" served with sauce.
"Now this," my friend says "is a local dish that you eat with your hands." This is where I held my breathe and waited for the disgusted look on my dad and Keiko's faces.

As my friend dug his thick hands into the soupy sauce Dad and Keiko didn't even hesitate...they dug right in and began chomping down, sauce running down their arms. Looking around the restaurant I couldn't help but notice that not a single Burkinabe was eating with their hands, they were all using forks and spoons.

After touring around we headed up to visit Pobe-Mengao. The visit itself was great. They met my friends and coworkers and really got a sense of the place I now call home. What wasn't so fun was the ride UP to Pobe. Since the morning of our departure my dad was feeling a bit sick to his stomach. Although it can't be proven, I beleive it was the BUSH RAT he chose to eat for lunch the day before. After a long and uncomfortable ride (we were crammed into the back seat of a car with two HUGE women. Cramped space + 2 fat Burkinabe women + pot-holes in the dirt roat + 7 hours is NOT a fun combination.) Then about 7k outside of Pobe the car's gas line snaps, leaking gas all over the place. Then we get a flat tire. Then, while the car is pulled over, Dad steps out and...yes, throws up (what I STILL say is bush rat) outside the door. When we finally arrived Dad was so sick he collapsed on the bed and remained there for the rest of the day. Luckily, he had cipro with him.
I have to say, Cipro is a hell of a drug. He took it and felt much better the very next day. We were able to spend that day touring around meeting and talking to people, seeing the sights Pobe has to offer. It was a wondrful experience for all of us. I think they both were able to really see the kindness and appreciation of the people. Everyone seemed to come by to welcome them, women came to dance for them. With them came praise, thanks and gifts. I think the best part of it all is how great it is for me to have my parents know this part of my life here. I know im lucky that all three of them came and not only witnessed but became part of my life experience in Pobe.

The great mosque in Bobo; Sindou peaks near Banfora

After Pobe, it was then off to visit Bobo, which was interesting; and Banfora, which was incredible. I couldn't beleive the difference between this area and Pobe. So green and lush. So many different sights to see. With the help of a friendly guide named Gabriel we were able to see beautiful sights like the Sindou peaks, Hippo lake, the sacred Baobab and the famous waterfalls. The waterfalls were by far my favorite part and after a long hot day of traveling everywhere it was a great way to end the day.

Keiko at the 'falls; Gabriel the guide cooling off


I complain all the time about traveling in Burkina but I have to say, I never experienced such awful traveling as I did going to and from Accra. The bus itself was relatively nice but it is soooo long. Going to Accraa it took 21 hours, gong back 25. But it was oh so worth it!

Cape Coast; Kokrobite

In Ghana we were based in Kokrobite which is about 30k from Accra. We stayed at this place called Big Milly's Backyard, which was very nice and right on the beach. It was a pretty but rather interesting place. A lot of young European hippie women trying to hook up with wannabe rastafarian men, all of whom look like they'd been smokin waaaayyy to much of that ganja! But it was still fun and again, right on the beach so I of course loved it.

We did a couple day trips into Accra and another day into Cape Coast and El Mina to visit the slave castles. Accra was ridiculously busy. I had never seen traffic so horrible in all my life (Let's just say L.A traffic has NOTHING on Accra). What was entertaining while we were stuck in gridlock traffic though were all the vendors walking by with their merchandise to sell. They were all selling the most random things: fruit, bread, clothes, rabbit ears for t.v., toilet scrubber, soccer balls, coat hangers, brooms, etc. "This is better than wallmart!," my Dad exclaimed.

Slave castle in El Mina

The slave castles were really interesting and a very somber and humbling experience. Its hard not to feel anything when you're going into the dungeons where men were branded like cattle and the women raped, the slaves all crowded for months like sardines into the dark and dank room before being shipped off to work a life of hard labor. I couldn't help touching the walls, trying to imagine what they went through though I know there's no way I can even begin to imagine that hell.

I was surprised by the level of development in Ghana compared to other W. African countries. There were tall apartment buildings, fancy stores and the roads were in pretty good condition, there were even sidewalks! Though it was obvious to see the vast poverty. Big Milly's was beautiful but completely surrounded by old dilapillated and cramped houses, children still dressed in grungy rags. I was surprised by the amount of Christians in Accra. Every storefront seemed to have some religious title, and wierd ones at that: Lord's Victory Beauty Salon, With God's Blessing Linnens, Jesus Loves Me Shopping and Christ's Chicken were just a few I remember.

The rest of our time in Ghana was nothing except total relaxation: eating great food, lounging around the beach, drinking beers and eating some more great food. Funny lil story that happened on my way to the bus station to return to Burkina. Im in the taxi alone with the same driver (Felix) that drove us around previously on our trip.
Felix: "So I see your parents left already. How did your mom like the trip? That was your mom right?
Me: "Well actually she's my stepmom"
Felix: "Ooooohhh! I THOUGHT so. I knew she couldn't be your mom. I knew it because you are so tall, and she's much shorter"
Me: "Oh're right" but what I'm thinking is "Uh...yeah. I'm taller. THAT'S the main difference people see between me and Keiko. Not the fact that she's Japanese."
Ghana was all so relaxing. But the 25 hr return bus ride quickly got me used to life in Burkina. Stepping off the bus, the incredible heat blasting into my face. The dust instantly gushing up into my nose and turning my clothes a rusty red. Taxi drivers hounding me, "Nassarra!" ringing in my ears.

Home Sweet Home

Dec 9, 2009

Emilie's 1st Birthday Party

Winter is here!
Shivering students--huddled close together--pass by my house every morning while walking to school. The ski coats and huge puffy jackets, along with mittens, snow hats and even earmuffs have all come out. Women cover themselves with layers of pagnes while selling their fried cakes in the morning. Grown men sit around with each other complaining about the cold.
It was 88 degrees yesterday.
It sounds ridiculous and to my California-sunshine roots, it is. Though I will admit that while this “cold” weather is perfect to me during the day (sweating profusely 24/7 is not my definition of nice weather), it IS chilly at night. If Im outside in the evening Ill bring a sweatshirt. I sleep indoors and use a sheet and blanket to keep me warm at night.

Turkey in a box; waiting for transport to Djibo

Like last year I remained in the North to celebrate Thanksgiving. This year’s feast was in Djibo. Overall the weekend was fun, catching up on the Peace Corps gossip always guarantees some laughs. I even organized a guy to come with a camel so the others could go for a ride.
A man in Pobe actually raises turkeys, so I bought one, never imagining that I would ever eat turkey in Burkina. (Side note: You would think that boarding a bus carrying a live turkey in a box originally intended to hold pastice would be unusual. Of course, not in Burkina. I boarded transport, sat directly in front of a man carrying four live chickens and, if I counted right, I believe there were eight sheep riding under the bus in the cargo area.)

Not exactly like Spencer's BBQ turkey back in Cali, but it works.

We ran into a few problems during our thanksgiving feast. We celebrated on the same day as Tabaski (Muslim holiday)and at the hotel they were blasting Burkinabe music in order to attract clients from all over town. The music was so loud that we couldn’t talk to eachother; couldn't even hear the person sitting next to you. Yes, it was Tabaski and we expected loud music and partying, but not at FIVE p.m.! The guy controlling the music refused to turn it down, saying they’d loose clients. Clients? Who the hell comes out to party at the bar at FIVE p.m.?? Even worse, we were the only ones there! Finally we ended up moving to another area so the rest of the evening was ok.
So, asides from that unfortunate incident, the weekend was great.

Would you like a side of condoms with that?

December 1st was World Aids Day. Nothing was organized in Pobe to I thought Id take advantage and do a little sensibilization. Since it was a Tuesday I waited until 6pm so that all the secondary school students (my prime target) and adults could attend. Nearly all HIV/AIDS sensibilizations revolve around explaining what HIV/AIDS is and how its transmitted.
While maybe not everyone knew every detail about HIV/AIDS, I knew that most had the basic facts and knew the best way to protect themselves. What frustrates me in Pobe is that everyone will say that wearing a condom is important yet so few actually buy them (they are dirt cheap and sold at nearly every little boutique in town), let alone use one.
Comdoms are still such a taboo subject. If a young man buys them, others laugh and tease him about his going to be with a girl that night. If a young woman buys them, shes a whore; if a married man buys them, he’s being unfaithful to his wife. All these assumptions make people embarrassed and ashamed to buy condoms, even though all they’re doing is being safe and taking precautions.
So, I decided the night’s theme would be: “Protegeons-nous. Il n’y a pas de honte dans ca! »
During the evening Hamidou (who was the Moore translator) and myself talked about the importance of removing the tabou of HIV/AIDS in the community and the need to eliminate this shame and embarrassment in buying condoms. A Q&A session followed and then the winners of the AIDS-themed poster/essay contests I had organized were awarded in front of the community. We ended by showing a 30-minute movie on HIV/AIDS while I passed out free condoms to the audience.

World Aids Day (night) in village

A lot more people turned out than I expected. Lesson learned: if you want people to show up to something, show a movie! I borrowed a VCR player and videos from an NGO in Djibo and the TV, speakers and generator from a friend in village. Any meeting or gathering here will start 2 hours late, people taking their sweet time showing up. But the minute they saw us setting up a TV, people immediately started fighting for a good spot. A good number of the crowd were children 10 and under--not exactly the crowd I was hoping to reach. Yet the vast majority were students from the secondary school-my prime target- and adults so I considered the evening a success.

Cheri and "sa blanche"

Last week I went to my very first birthday party in Burkina. Birthdays are NOT celebrated here (no big surprise when you have 7 kids and no steady income). IF celebrated, it would be by a rich functionaire from Ouaga or Bobo. But just recently a new accoucheuse (midwife) was affectated to Pobe. She's a hilarious and outgoing woman who Im really looking forward to getting to know. She decided to throw her daughter a party for her 13th birthday.
We were told to arrive at 4pm. I arrived at 5pm, finally conforming to the Burkinabe system of never showing up on time...and I was still the first person to arrive. The tables were drapped with linen, deliciously prepared food was served on "silver" trays. Cokes and Fantas were served in wine glasses. This was a high-class affair.

There were quite a few difference from a typical American birthday party. All the party guests were the mother's coworkers and friends, not the birthday girls'. The entire time the birthday girl was doing all the work, serving people food, getting drinks, cleaning up after everyone. The girl cant even get a break on her birthday! I think my favorite part though, was the birthday cake. And when I say cake I mean a tall, cylinder-shaped pedestal made out of blue plastic with a big bouquet of fake flowers in the middle. 13 candles were lined around it...and that was the cake. You work with what you got.

the birthday "cake"

One of my favorite new little people in Pobe is "cheri", the youngest daughter of the new accoucheuse. She has absoluely no fear around me and since day 1 has declared me as "ma blanche" (my white lady). Any kid that doesn't scream in utter terror when they see me and burst into tears is a kid that I like. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

December is going to be wonderful. My dad and Keiko arrive TONIGHT! After visiting Pobe with them Im taking some vacation to tour around the south of Burkina (Bobo and Banfora) and then its off to Ghana for Christmas! Im a little apprehensive abotu the visit. My mom's visit went off without any major problems (she didn't even get sick!)...hoping this visit will be the same.

Nov 24, 2009

Em the...secretary?

Since my return from Morocco, life in village has been busy. Yes, BUSY! When I think of November 09 compared to that of 08, well, they just don’t compare. The reason for this, I’ve happily realized, is the difference then and now in terms of my integration. When I got back to village, it felt like home, back to coworkers, friends and family and I automatically went out and jumped right into things. Last November I sat at home, waiting for the action to come to me, versus the other way around. I realized that now I not only have the trust of the people but the confidence to try to do new and different things.
So for this month of November, I have become: a teachers aid, nurse and secretary.
Even though I know they need the help, I have refused to teach this year because I really want to focus on the different projects I have going on. Though like last year, Im continuing to help my counterpart in her CP1 classroom. CP1 is the first level where students enter the school system, so they don’t speak any French. Its hard to personally work with the students at this level so I mostly help her organize activities and assignments in the classroom. Even on day one, I noticed all the teachers had their little ‘whips’ in hand, hitting any kids who misbehaved or made mistakes. I’m ashamed to say that after a year of witnessing this so much, I’ve become somewhat immune. I no longer stare wide-eyed with my mouth hanging open as the teacher wacks the kid around a couple times while yelling out “Imbecile!” Though, the sound of that little rubber whip on fresh skin still makes me flinch everytime.

a happy camper getting weighed

An activity I wanted to get into my second year was helping out more at the CSPS, the local health clinic. Now I head over to the maternity clinic every Tuesday where it seems a hundred moms and babies wait for hours while we weigh and measure their children. The majority of them are all there because their babies are malnourished and qualify for the World Food Programs' free bouille (like porridge). I help the nurse and her aid take measurements and record info. There are three of us yet the work is exhausting, the hoards of never-ending women waiting in the next room never seem to diminish. Babies don’t really like to be poked and prodded, surprise surprise, so the room is filled with nonstop high-pitched screaming, writhing and peeing. I like to bring a bottle of Advil when I go.
I enjoy the work, but have to admit that there have been really tough days; days when I see a baby so thin, skin literally sagging over their bodies, they don’t even have the strength to cry. There is being malnourished, which is awful, but there’s also seeing a kid literally starving to death, which is just heartbreaking. The worst cases are the babies of those who live in secluded huts made out of what looks like straw and rags that are spattered around the outskirts of Pobe. One difficult case that I saw (yet sadly not the worst), the kind that made me have to get up and leave the room after to get some air, was when Mamadou entered in the arms of his mother. Mamadou had these big beautiful light brown eyes but that was the only thing beautiful about him. What little hair he had was in patches, his head hung low because he couldn’t hold it up, he looked like a 90-year old man in a babies body, his skin so wrinkled it sagged over his bones. Mamadou is 17months old (1½yrs old) and weighs 12.4 lbs.
When I looked over at the mom, tall and rail thin, I couldn’t help notice her bulging belly. Seing this made me want to get up, grab and shake her while yelling “Your kid is DYING. You can’t afford to take care of a child yet you continue to have more! WHY!"
But I already knew the answer: Ignorance. Lack of knowledge. Its difficult, but working here once a week made me see what a great place it would be to have family planning sensibilizations.

Azera making copies on "the copier"
One of the most fun and entertaining jobs I’ve done this month, which I shouldn’t admit since it really has nothing to do with girls education and empowerment or any other Peace Corps sector, is being a secretary at the CEG.
As secretary I greet and help out the students/parents with any administrative problems they have, serve as an aid to all the teachers and help the main secretary by typing up any documents, official papers and/or tests. Typing? In village? It is possible, since by typing I mean typing on a typewriter that I’m pretty sure was made the 1960s.
I type fast and well on a computer so I thought it be easy. Well, not so much. You know how it can be hard to teach an elderly person how to use a computer, because its something so new to their generation? If you do some role-reversal flip around, that’s exactly how I felt.
Azera, the secretary, has been great and very patient while teaching me how to use it.Here is a typical one-sided conversation I would go through that first week:

"Hey Azera where the hell’s the delete button? What do you mean there’s no delete button. No no, it’s nothing. I’m just typing up this class list of 118 students and realized I skipped the 78th student. I know I know, my bad, so what do I do? Can I just add her name at the end? What do you mean I can’t fix it. What do you mean it HAS to be in alphabetical order! What do you mean START over! I just spent one freakin hour POUNDING at the keys, developing tendonitis and arthritis, causing stress in my wrists, fingers, neck and shoulders and you are telling me to START over?! Are you KIDDING me? Okay fine, pass me the damn carbon paper.”

Damn Burkina for always having to have every document, even a stupid class list, be so perfect and official.

Me, struggling with the typewriter

It took about 2 1/2 weeks of this before I finally got the hang of it. I’m slowly learning the little tricks and secrets of how to hide an error without starting the whole thing over again, though I still go through stacks of carbon paper. But Azera has been great. She’s one of the few women here that I’ve been able to develop a close friendship with (the fact that she speaks French and we actually understand one another makes all the difference) As I’m busy pounding away, developing tendonitis, Azera is sweating over "the copier" (I don’t even now how to explain how this works but lets just say it involves the typed up carbon paper, a tube of black goo and a hand-powered turn-knob). Who would have thought that being a secretary could be such a physically demanding job. But between Azera and I always laughing and gossiping, the work is a lot of fun.
I'm currently prepping for a Thanksgiving fiesta in Djibo with several other volunteers in the area. Also I’m organizing a little sensibilization session outside the CSPS on Dec 1st, World Aids Day.
My dad and Keiko arrive on Burkina’s Independence Day, December 11th!

Pobe's Library is UNDERWAY! Much progress has been made this month.
Check out for more info!

Oct 8, 2009


The rough start to our Morocco trip (arrived at airport only to find our 2:30 a.m. flight to Casablanca was canceled, had to wait 24 hours till the next flight out) by no means reflected the rest of our trip. Morocco did not disappoint! The colors, the architecture, the crafts, the beach! It was all so amazing.


The first thing that immediately stood out to me arriving in Marrakech, was the architecture. The buildings are all relatively the same, reminding me of identical houses all lined up in American suburbs, but here the shapes and earth-tone colors are so beautiful. In both places where we stayed the 3-4 story riads were square shaped, the center area completely open without a roof and a garden area on the bottom floor. Both were located right in the Medinas.
In Burkina people wear bright colors. In Morocco, they sell them, the different hues reflected in the vendors’ stalls. Piles of red, yellow and green spices lined up on old barrels, multicolored lamps shining brightly, beautiful silk and stripped cotton scarves hanging down from the ceiling, and jewelry of all the colors you could imagine hung along the doors. Imagine all this showcased in long, narrow, alley-like streets, inundating you with all the colors of the rainbow. Quite a sight to see.

A stall in the souks; The Majorelle Gardens

In Marrakech mom and I visited many touristic sites including Ben Youssef Madrassa, the Majorelle Gardens and Djemaa El-Fna. It was fun but there were way too many nassarras for me! Because the city is so touristy, everything revolves around money. Compared to Burkina I found the locals unfriendly, rude, and not very accommodating. There were so many beautiful things/people I wanted to take pictures of but if anyone was in it, they would seem annoyed and would always demand money for it. The people and vendors were like vultures, grabbing your arms to bring you to their shops, literally standing in front of you and blocking your path so you wouldn’t leave. At a couple places the vendors were so rude, not even saying ‘thank you’ or ‘have a good day’ after we made a purchase. It reminded me how nice it is to be surrounded by friendly people in Burkina.

hiking to the waterfalls....or not!
One day we went into the mountains to see the waterfalls. I stubbornly refused a guide and ended up going the wrong day, hiking straight uphill for 1 1/2hrs before admitting I didn’t think we were headed in the right direction. The view from our little detour however was so beautiful that mom and I actually were happy to get lost.
Our days in Marrakech consisted of going out in the medina for some browsing and touring, always coming back to lounge around on our favorite roof top terrace sipping tea before going out to eat dinner. Could life get any better? Apparently, it could…

Doors in Morocco are so beautiful, whether it's a school, mosque or home!


Essaouira was, to put it simply, AMAZING. It is a much smaller fishing town right along the Atlantic Ocean. The OCEAN! I didn’t realize how much I have missed it until I saw it again. The first few days we were in Essaouira it was very foggy along the beach, yet the weather was still nice and warm. My mom and I kept saying how much it reminded us of Santa Cruz.
Essaouira was so much more relaxing and peaceful because it is not nearly as touristy as Marrakech. The people are friendlier and less aggressive with their hassling. The prices are cheaper too. Our days consisted of browsing, shopping, reading on the beach and eating out: such tough days!
Food in Morocco was honestly a bit disappointing. It wasn’t bad, but I thought it’d be better, more flavorful. I loved the meat with dried fruit tajine dishes and hope my non-culinary self will try it out when I get back home in the states. Every meal or drink we were served came with olives, which I happily gorged myself on the entire trip, at least 3 times a day. I hate olives, so that shows you how delicious they were in Morocco!

camel and horse along the foggy beach; Mom enjoying the water
On our last full day the owner of the riad where we stayed took us out on his boat! We took a short 1 hour ride around the coast and it was absolutely beautiful. It was wonderful to see Essaouira from a different view.
Now it’s back to Burkina but even after the luxurious of Morocco, Im happy to get back to village. I missed it, and I have a lot of work and activities to plan. Mom has left to return to Cali and once again I have to say how amazing she is and how wonderful it was to have her here. I am very lucky and grateful. Especially grateful, because I will be seeing more family shortly: my dad and step mom! They announced they have bought their tickets and will be arriving in December. This year, I’ll be celebrating Christmas with family!

P.S My mom is going to kill me for announcing this embarrassing (for her) news but it must be said: I beat my mom at scrabble for the first time ever…in French! A memorable milestone for me, but a shameful night for my mother that she'd love to forget!

Sep 24, 2009

Spectacular September

(mom drinking her 3 cups of tea with Hamidou in Pobe)

With my mom here in Burkina, the entire month of September has been amazing. We've toured village libraries in the south of Burkina, bought lots of great art souvenirs, eaten at nice restaurants, visited parks and met a lot of interesting people. For most of this month my mom has been working hard with the students of the SCU study abroad program in Ouaga, but for 3 weekends in a row she came to Pobe, the first time by herself and the following 2 with students. Each time, the weekend was a blast. The people of Pobe accepted my mom like she was their own. EVERYONE stopped by my home to meet and greet her, calling her "maman." They were so genuinely excited to have her in Pobe. Everyday it seemed someone new arrived with a gift for her, everything from beautiful art crafts, woven scarves, eggs, corn, watermelon and even a big bag full of charcoal (a gift from my 10-year old friend). One evening a group of women came and officially welcomed her by singing and dancing for her. My mom told me she’s never felt so welcome anywhere in her life! It made me love Pobe and its people more than ever. I also think my mom enjoyed Pobe so much simply because it offered total peace and relaxation compared to the craziness of Ouaga life (traffic, being hassled downtown, working so much with little downtime)
The students who came to Pobe enjoyed themselves a lot too, as Sita and I ensured their weekend was packed with different activities and outings, like visiting Adama’s museum, holding the Mamyou, weaving cloth pagnes, and riding bareback on horses.

(pictures SCU student Brian took while visiting Ibrahim's family)

By far the most fun outing was a visit with my mom and students to the family of my Tuareg friend Ibrahim, 8K outside of Pobe. The Tuareg are a Berber nomadic people who originate from North Africa. Think of those world magazine photos of Arab men completely wrapped up with loose, solid colored cloth and turban headdress, riding camels in the middle of the dessert. Ibrahim and his family live under sparse, thatched-roof "houses" covered with plastic to prevent the rain from entering. The Tuareg typically raise animals, and Ibrahim’s family raises camels! We knew which dwelling was theirs because of the 20 camels sitting around it! Even though only Ibrahim spoke French, his family was so accommodating, sitting us down on mats with cushions, making us tea and answering any questions we had about their life and culture. We also got to milk and ride the camels! Milking was interesting; harder and more awkward than I expected. I think I got more milk on myself than in the bowl. When we left they gave us a large bottle of the fresh camel milk. It is very rich, which made for a delicious hot cocoa when we returned.

My mom has been here for a month now, but the craziness of Ouaga didnt take long to show itself. She has had to share and cram into a 20-year old taxi cab with 7 strangers, been yelled at by a taxi man, and has had to walk 20 minutes to the main road to find a taxi at 4:30 a.m. She has also taken a 7 hr transport bus BY HERSELF, getting splashed by mud water the whole trip because the windows were busted out AND the bus broke down while en brousse out in the middle of nowhere. She has encountered what we thought was a 'dead' man sprawled out on a secluded dirt road, only to find the guy was just passed out, high outta his mind. She's had to wait while a transport car is repaired because the entire muffler had fallen off, and by repairing I mean the muffler was retied to the car with old rope. She’s been caught in a record breaking rain storm that caused massive flooding and left 150,000 homeless. And all this happened just during her first FIVE days in Burkina.

Unfortunately, I have realized that many of these "experiences" she’s had have been partly my fault. Because I am a Peace Corps volunteer and make $8 a day, I have become, well...extremely cheap! For example, I’ve made my mom wait anxiously on the side of a very busy road after turning down countless taxis because I was being told to pay the "nassarra price." Later I realized that the difference I was arguing for was equivalent to less than $1. Though I can be damn sure she has not embraced my being cheap here, I do think it is very fair to say that my mom is just amazing, having yet to complain about anything.
Imagine you are on a bus that’s about 25 years old. Parts are missing, holes in the floor, seats are nearly gone, and the suspension non existent. Speeding over the pot holes on the 115K long dirt road, flying out of your seat ever 2 minutes, getting splashed by mud water thats most likely contaminated with God knows what. Despite this my mom, sitting in the window seat, her face and clothes splattered with mud, her hair wild and flying all over the place because the bus's windows are missing, manages to joke: "Well a least it has air conditioning!"

My mom is definitely a trooper for coming out to Burkina and I have been amazed at how well she is doing here, how open she is to trying new things even if their are gross/unsafe/unsanitary. It has simply been amazing to have her here with me in Burkina and to have her love Burkina (especially Pobe) just as much as I do.

Between our visits to village libraries, her visits to Pobe and our time in Ouaga, time has been flying by. In just over a week the two of us are heading to Morrocco! I can't wait for the beautiful scenery, the delicious food and, so i hear, the beautiful men!

(mom, never without a smile, in a millet field in Pobe)

Aug 24, 2009

Mom is here!

Summer continues and it is going great! Even after Pobe's Girls Camp, things have been very busy and fun. I helped with our final Girls Camp of the summer in Djibo. Well, helped is not exactly the best word. More like, I went to Djibo but just laid around taking advantage of Sara's electricity, computer and fan. Why, you might ask? Well, after biking into Djibo I went straight to the post office to pick up mail and fainted. Yes, fainted.....again! I seem to always choose public and embaressing places to do this. If you read this blog you'll remember that I fainted a few months ago while teaching in front of my 110+ students (who, thinking I was possessed by some genie, screamed, stampeded and trampled eachother out of the room, leaving me sprawled on the floor!)
Well this time it happened in the Djibo post office when it was, of course, packed with people. I remember feeling a little dizzy. Next I knew random men were surrounding me, one throwing water on my face to revive me. After they saw that I was awake, the men promptly returned to work or to their seats, leaving me dazed, confused and embarrassed on the floor. Needless to say I wasn't much help for the Djibo camp. (No worries. During my Mid Service Conference, which included a dentist appointment and physical exam, all tests turned out fine. The only thing bruised was my ego.)

With the rain we've been getting recently Pobe has transformed into a sea of green! Even my garden is coming along, corn, tomatoes and eggplants growing, flowers blooming! The end of August has meant the beginning of Ramadan, where Muslims fast for an entire month, only eating at night and before the sun rises in the morning. Thank goodness I'm not Muslim because in all honesty, there is no way in hell I could do this. In fact, I wouldnt even be able to go longer than 1 hour 38 minutes. I know this because, it has been proven.

A couple friends in village decided to tattoo my feet (its like henna, temporary) before I left for Ouaga to meet my mom. This is a long process that should be started at night before going to bed because your feet are wrapped in plastic sachets and you can't walk at all. In the morning the last of the dye is put on. Well, because the decision to do this was so impromptu we did it during the day for just a few hours. After the first part was done I was left to sit outside for 5 hours, with strict orders NOT TO WALK. I thought I'd be fine but this proved impossible. After just 7 minutes I started thinking about food, after 46 minutes I began seriously considering getting up to cook something and after 1 hour 38 minutes I actually did (During this time I also constantly stared at my watch). So this proves that not only am I incapable of staying still but the idea of me ever attempting to fast during Ramadan is ridiculous. (note: the end result of the tattoo is actually supposed to be dark black but because I didn't leave it on long enough it ended up being light brown)

Family reunion: Harouna (host family brother), Charlie and I; Representing the Hard Corps North: Thomas, me, Sara and Charlie

The swear in ceremony of the new GEE and SE volunteers occurred Aug. 25 at the ambassador's house. Great excuse for me to dress up for once and actually feel like a woman again. Also a great excuse for free drinks and food! Can't believe the stagaires are now volunteers! Out of the 32 new PCVs only one is located near the Djibo area. Charlie is replacing Christina (who is doing a 3rd year in Togo) in the village of Belehede. Welcome Charlie!

My most exciting news? My MOM is here!! Yep, after months of anxiously waiting my mother has finally arrived in Burkina. Her visit is going to be so exciting because she'll be here for over a month! She is working with Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL), whose director teaches at Santa Clara University, where my mom also works as a librarian. Michael (the director) is bringing several students to Burkina for a study abroad program. Knowing that my mom both speaks and has taught French, and knowing I'm in Burkina, Michael asked her to come and work with the Burkinabes that will be teaching French to the American students. While she will be busy in Ouaga during the week, on weekends she'll come visit me in Pobe, each time bringing a few students to experience "village life." After being gone 15 months, Im so thrilled to finally see her and be able to show and share my life here with her. After her work with FAVL is over we will be heading to Morocco for vacation before she heads back home!!

Aug 2, 2009

Pobe's Girls Camp

Pobe's ¨Camp des Filles Modeles¨ is officially over and it went....GREAT! The camp was amazing, the girls were amazing and so far I truly believe it's been the most fulfilling activity I have done so far in village.

I don’t think anyone, villagers or girls, were expecting much from the camp or had any idea how it would go. But everyone, including myself, were impressed and had so much fun. Even other volunteers that came to help me out, those who had been doing camps for a second year, were impressed. The girls were fun, respectful, easy-going, active and participated in all sessions.

Like the previous camps I helped out with, mornings were reserved for educational sessions with a half hour break and snacks (peanuts or crackers) at 10. At noon they would go home to eat and rest before returning after the repos at 3 for a more fun, leisurely session.

The schedule for the week looked something like this:

Day 1: opening ceremony in the evening. Register and welcome girls, go over schedule and rules of camp

Day 2: Sessions on Self confidence/self esteem; Your Goals and steps to achieving them; Art in the evening (Origami and colored ‘stained glass’ designs to decorate)

Day 3: Sessions on Gender Roles; The history and preservation of Korumba culture (led by my expert friend in village Adama); Music (learned about notes, sang and learned a song in English)

Day 4: Revenue Generating Activity (how to be good/successful merchants); Intro to theatre; Soccer (led by Sita)

Day 5: HIV/AIDS (led by nurse from Pobe's health clinic), theatre; kickboxing

Day 6: HIV/AIDS prevention including condom demonstration; theatre; kickboxing (the girls begged for another session!)

Day 7: practice theatre skits and kickboxing routine in the a.m., closing ceremony in front of parents and Pobe’s civil authorities in afternoon

Christina leading the popular kickboxing sessions

Of all the leisurely afternoon sessions, kickboxing was the biggest hit, so much so that we did a second session the following evening AND the girls created a routine to perform during the closing ceremony! (I even got it on video but unfortunately my camera doesn’t record sound!)

The girls loved theatre and created 4 incredible skits showing how to overcome peer pressure situations (like drinking or sex , for example) which they also performed during the closing.

Playing the Glove Game during the HIV/AIDS prevention session

I was alittle worried about the more educational sessions and whether or not the girls would understand, pay attention or participate; issues we dealt with at the two previous camps. But not only were the girls respectful but they actively participated, took notes and even asked questions. Even during the condom demonstration, led by yours truly. There were obviously some nervous giggles and laughter (even from me) but during an evaluation at the end the girls said they were grateful to actually be able to SEE how a condom was put on.

Another hit was the session on Korumba culture. While a vast majority of the girls are Korumba, few actually knew anything about their language and culture. After the session Adama even took them to his home, where he keeps hundreds of old and incredible artefacts found in the surrounding areas that his family has been collecting for hundreds of years.

While the camp itself was great and I knew the girls were having a blast, it was the closing ceremony that really sealed the deal. It started with stress, of course. The ceremony was supposed to start at 3 p.m and by 4 not a single person (besides the girls) had shown up. The first person didnt arrive until nearly 4:20! Lateness....its the Burkinabe way! After that people started trickling in. While not as many guests as I would have hoped for showed up, it was still a good crowd, a nice mix of functionaries, village authorities and parents. We went over what the girls did and learned at the camp and then they performed their skits and cardio kickboxing routine. It was obvious everyone was impressed. The Prefect stood up and made a speech about how great the camp was. Villagers asked if the camp could happen next year, if they could help run/organize it (sustainability!!!) and even recommended other educational sessions to add for next year. The closing ended with a feast of zoom koom and riz gras. The girls also received certificates of participation, which, honestly if we were back in the States no one would really care about. But here the girls were so excited and proud to receive this certificate, since most had never received anything like it.

Again, I am beyond pleased with how the camp went. In such a short time span I was able to see the girls' positive development. They were able to learn new things and ask questions in a comfortable and safe environment. I literally saw shy, quiet girls become confident and outgoing. For example, one girl was very young and small and barely said a word at first. But once the theatre started she went on stage and totally transformed, literally becoming her character with the most powerful booming voice! It was incredible. Another girl was shy and too scared to participate in the skits during the closing. I told her Id like her to participate in the skit but wouldn’t force her. But at the end she found the courage and, despite her nerves, performed in the skit. I love my girls!!!!

Chistina, myself and the girls during closing ceremony

As wonderful as I am feeling about the Girls Camp, it's bittersweet. I recently found out my grandfather passed away from cancer. Because the death was so sudden making travel plans to attend the funeral in Montreal dont make sense. Its hard to go through, being so far away from my family. I just wish so much to be with them now. But on a positive note my mother visit is just days away. Shell be arriving in Bukina at the end of August and I just cant wait to see her, I've missed her so much!

Papa Gilles, tu me manques. Je t'aime pour toujours. Je pense a toi XOX

Jul 19, 2009

Summer Days

Pobe's crocodiles

For a lot of volunteers, summers can be long and tough. Most of the teachers have left for their homes in the city. Nearly all the villagers--husbands, wives, children--head out to their fields (which sometimes can be up to 5K away) to cultivate. In other words, villages become ghost towns.

For fear of boredom creeping up on me I made sure that my summer was busy. I'm helping out as a Peace Corps Volunteer Facilitator for the new group of trainees that arrived in Burkina in June. Basically I come to Ouahigouya for a couple weeks to help run training sessions, answer any questions they have and help them adjust to life in BF. It's been fun yet strange at the same time. I'm "experienced" now. I'm able to answer the trainees' questions on language/culture/life in Burkina and share my experiences. I see the curious, shocked and confused looks on their faces and it feels like just yesterday that that was me! It has truly made me realize how much I've learned and how much I've adjusted to life here.

Another summer activity I'm involved in is Girls' Camps. Three other volunteers and myself are running girls camps in each of our villages. So far we've run two camps in both Christina and David's villages which are within 40K of Djibo. Helping run the camps were a lot of fun. Basically about 25 to 30 female students are invited to participate for the week-long camp. Mornings are for educational sessions on issues like self esteem, hygiene, HIV/AIDS, etc. Afternoons involve theater or other fun activities like soccer, music and art. Being apart of both David's and Christina's camps has given me a lot of tips and ideas for my own upcoming girls' camp that starts July 24th. Im really excited about it and will write all about how the camp goes on my next posting!

When you see this......RUN! ....or you'll be eating sand for lunch.

The rainy season has finally arrived up North, which is obviously a great thing. The villagers are completely dependent on the rain, otherwise crops don't grow and there is nothing to eat! The people of Pobe are woried, however, because it seems like every year there is less and less rain. Every year more crops dry up because of lack of water. On days when it finally does rain, the children shriek with excitement and jump about in puddles. The men sit calmly on a bench outside, but you can see the relief and happiness in their faces too.

Storms here are something else; I've never experienced anything like it. It starts with huge dark clouds of dust and rain that you can see coming at you. When you see this you drop whatever you got, run your butt inside and close all the shutters. I learned this the hard way...twice. The first time I had just spent an entire morning cleaning and scrubbing everything in my house. Then the storm came and literally left about 2 inches of sand and dust everywhere! I couldn't even see or breath in my own house it was so bad. The second time I went to get water at the pump. There were several other women there and after a while we all saw that large dark cloud coming at us from the ground. Most of the women quickly grabbed their bidons and ran for home. Me, thinking I was tough and it was just a rain cloud, stupidly stayed, determined to fill up my water bidon. Within minutes wind and sand were blowing everywhere. I couldn't even see my own hand in front of me. By the time I finally made it home I was covered head to toe in sand and dirt. The poor white t-shirt I was wearing will never be the same.

The rainy season is obviously a wonderful thing, except for one area: transport. Rain storms and dirt roads are not a fun combination. Transportation has become a nightmare! A couple weeks ago I was heading back to Pobe from Ouahigouya, usually a 2 1/2 hr bus ride. It took 20 hours! After a long rain storm, part of the road had literally turned into a river. After hours of waiting they realized there really would be no way for the bus to cross. I ended up having to stay the night at the closest village and wait until the next morning. Luckily I was with another volunteer so it wasn't too bad. But this was at the START of the rainy season, I cant even imagine what it will be like during the next couple months.

A car crossing the "river" (It made it across but obviously the car wouldnt start after)

May 25, 2009

Summer is here and its been one year!

School is over and summer vacation is here, woo hoo! I survived the school year. One question: teachers, how do you do it??!! The experience of teaching was fun, exciting and fulfulling but also so challenging and tough! Many times I would leave the classroom angry and frustrated. But while there were some students I wanted to strangle at times, others continued to amaze me. I had a student, 13-year old Awa, who frequently comes over to hang out at my house. On a Saturday she found out her mother, who went to the local health clinic with a sore throat, had died. Her death, although completely unexpected, seemed so casual and normal to people.No one understood or questioned why she died but it was just accepted, "her destiny" they said. There was an English test that Monday and I told Awa not to come to class and not to worry about the test. Awa not only came to school that Monday but took my test. I was shocked. But here, death is truly just a fact of everyday life.

the (numerous) students of my 6eme 1 class

Frustrated with my utter lack of ability to speak Moore, I've started taking Moore lessons from one of my friends in village. Slowly but surely I'm improving. Moore is fine grammatically, verbs and tenses are fairly easy to comprehend. My problem is vocab. For one, in English and French to make a noun plural you typically just add "s" but in Moore it will be a completely different word. Also, one word can have multiple meanings, all depending on HOW you say it and where you put the stress. For example, the word "saaga" can mean either rain or diarrea. No matter how many times it's repeated to me I just cant hear the difference, let alone speak it. So when I greet people and talk about how nice it is to finally have some rain...I just hope Im saying it right!

On May 27th I celebrated by 24th birthday! The day of my actual birthday was pretty calm, I hung out with my village friends, listened to music and I even baked a cake which, despite my non existant cooking skills, actually turned out pretty good! My b day surprises occured on the eve and day AFTER my birthday. On the evening of the 26th I was prepping for bed when Sita calls for me to come out, he has an early birthday surprise for me. When I come out I see him holding up...a dead goat (what else!) Aparently he and his friend were walking back from playing soccer when they witnessed a crocodile attack and kill the adult goat. They both quickly grabbed it before the crocodile had a chance to eat it. That night I watched them skin, gut and cut away the dead goat right outside my house. It amazed yet repulsed me at the same time. Watching them work reminded me of dissecting frogs in high school Biology....except this was obviously 100 times bigger and better!

The day after my birthday I was heading to the marche when Sita approaches me...riding on the back of a camel with a Twareg man. Sita had run into the owner at the marchee and asked to come to my house. The man was so nice and let me climb and ride the camel and take plenty of photos, it was soooo fun! So I had wonderful birthday surprises in village :)

I also finally got to see the famous Mamyo in Pobe. Mamyo is a fertility statue thats been an important part of the anamist culture in vilalge. In the late 1990s the status was stolen and sold to a German collector. After relizing this, the statue was finally returned years later. A German NGO helped create a museum for the village to keep the Mamyo safe, as well as other artifacts of the Korumfe culture. However, the villagers dont trust that the statue will be safe so it is kept hidden within the village compounds.

In June I will have been in Burkina for one year!! Time is flying by, I cant beleive how fast. I now truly feel comfortable and happy in Pobe. Nearly everyone knows me in village. Instead of hearing 'Nassarra' yelled out they actually use my real name (and some even use my village name). During the summer months I will be busy cultivating in a small field given to me, running several girls camps with the help of other volunteers and also working as a facilitator for the new group of volunteers arriving in June.

Lastly, I am working on a project to get a library in Pobe! Its a great project that the villagers are so excited about and are helping me with. Please look at the link for more information how how to help and donate!