Mar 25, 2009

School break!

I'm midway through the week-long school break, before the start of the 3rd trimester. I was planning on a nice, quiet, relaxing vacation but it has been anything but. Its been full of fun, discovery and excitement! But before I get into that I wanted to start with:
The Women's Day celebration in Pobe-Mengao.

Hamidou and I sporting our womens day pagnes!

Overall, I was really impressed with the celebration's organization. They had an area all set up for seating, speeches, and displays from a couple womens associations. There was a woman's footrace, bike race and soccer game planned out. Where I was dissapointed was in the participation...of the women! 6 am was the start time of the foot race. I arrived, set to compete, but there were no other participants! After 45 minutes there was myself, one other functionaire woman and all the rest were male students or teachers and functionaires who came to watch. In the end, since no women showed up, the race was canceled and everyone ended up just jogging it slowly together. (Later on the women complained to me that the start time was too early!) The bike race was later, and a bit more fun. By this time many villagers had come out, if not to participate, at least to watch. About 12 girls ended up competing in the bike race, including myself. The race was just 2K but every single girl shot out full sprint from the very beginning, so I pedaled hard right away just to keep up. In the end (maybe biking to Djibo is finally paying off) I ended up winning the bike race! It was hilarious because it was ALL people in Pobe could talk about. Everyone was shocked and impressed that I, a "Nassara" could beat a Burkinabe. "Wow, you can beat a Burkinabe on a bicycle, you are so well integrated!" they would tell me. "You are so strong!" Actually, I say the only reason I won is because I ride a 3-gear 7 speed bike while the girls' were old and rusted, with neither gears nor brakes. But if the villagers think more of me because of it, all the better!

Celebrating women, quite fashionably
The latest big news in Pobe: Sita's (my friend and neighbor) marriage! It was very interesting to see and take part in the ceremony. All the women were singing/dancing and eating at Sita's family's compound while all the men sat outside Sita's house in the courtard talking and listening to music. The celebration began at night, around 7p.m. and I spent most of the time with the women. I lay down on a mat, my neighbors infant baby in my arms and Dounia cuddled up next to me on my other side. Outside, under the stars, with the sounds of the women singing and dancing next to me, it was so wonderful. I just had this really amazing moment like I truly felt apart of Pobe and accepted by its people. Later that night I went back home and talked with the men outside. Around midnight, the new wife arrived at Sita's house to take her place on his bed.
Culturally, marriages here are just so different than what Im used to. Sita's marriage was arranged. He had never met or seen his new wife until that very night! Didnt even know her name. I remember, a few days later, asking him how he liked his new wife. "I dont know yet," he said. So wierd to hear a husband say that but obviously, things are done very differently here.
man taking the "ferry" in Kourpelle
So now, it being break, I went on an impromtu trip with Sita to visit his aunt and part of his family that lives in a village called Kourpelle. Its 15K from the town of Kongoussi and about 55K from Pobe. There is a water source, a large river/lake that runs for about 40K, including right behind this village. Because of this, Kourpelle is absolutely beautiful! So green and full of trees. Miles of gardens growing all sorts of vegetables. I still have yet to visit the South of Burkina, but lets just say I was very impressed with the greeness and beauty of Kourpelle! Its still in the North, but with a water source they can do so much! Water. Something I take so much for granted back home but how here I realize what a difference in makes in the peoples lifestyles! (Everyone here has work, they look healthy, eat good food and have a bit more money to spend)
Life is green green GREEN in Kourpelle!
Sita's aunt epitomized Burkinabe hospitality. I was shocked and overwhelmed by her kindness and generosity. Sita hadnt told her Id be coming along so she was surprised but excited to have a "Nassara" as a guest in her home. In the morning she walked us down to her garden plot and then Sita took me down to the water. Here we found small wooden boats where a man would ferry people and their belongings to the other side. He took me for a ride on the boat which was a lot of fun.
Kourpelle is also directly behind a gold mine, which we visited as well. It was incredible. We hiked up to the top of the hills and saw the men and the deeeeeeep holes (more than 100,000meters!!!) where they would dig for gold. The view from atop was incredible. Yet more incredible was to find, at the top, not just the men but many women with their infants attached to their backs and young children nearby. Apparently after the women work in their gardens they come to the mines and dig into the night, searching for gold. The people just work so damn hard here.
Women making the trek down from the gold mines
In the evening the aunt had cooked me fish soup, straight from the water, and fresh green beans. Then, if her kindness wasnt enough, she brings me this big fat, white rooster which I am to take back to Pobe and eat!
There was only one negative side to the trip, which I blame entirely on myself. I had forgotten to buy sachets of (treated) water and by the afternoon had finished my supply. It being hot, I was thirsty and ended up drinking pump water the rest of the day. I had done this before in Pobe and had spent the rest of that night in my latrine. But hey, its been 9 months now here in BF. Im well integrated right? Not so much, apparently. By late evening I knew Id have some troubles so I asked the women, where's the latrine here? Their answer? There is none! They just go outside somewhere! So I spent all night (at least it was dark) running back and forth outside trying to find a faraway spot (near a tree? Or maybe that cow?) where no one would see or hear me. Not too fun!
Overall though, the trip was wonderful. Tomorrow a fellow volunteer is coming to visit Pobe and then Friday we are off to Djibo to meet up with other volunteers. A while back I met a husband and wife, missionaries, who live in Djibo and they invited me over for lunch. So Saturday I will be lunching with missionaries! (Never thought Id actually ever say that)
Next week school starts, and itll be back to work but right now, Im definitely just enjoying the week

Mar 4, 2009

March Madness

Hello, Bonjour, Ney y beogo!
<-----(How do they DO this??)

The second school trimester is nearly over. The next two weeks will be busy, writing up/correcting 300+ tests, calculating/processing/and ranking/recopying each students' grade by stuff. But then its a week long break which I'm looking forward to!
An HIV/Aids sensibilization, run by Peace Corps, was held in Djibo in mid February. 11 volunteers, myself included, each brought four villagers to participate in the 3-day long teaching. The goal was to teach the villagers, each well respected in their villages, all about HIV/Aids so that when they return to village they can in turn discuss/teach what they learn with others. I chose three women and one man from Pobe. At the end, Azera, one of the women I brought, was excited to talk to me about an idea of performing an Aids-themed theater performance with my girls club to do in front of the I think the goal of the event worked out!
<-- (Leti, a student at the primary school in my homologue's classroom. The drawing done by yours truly )

A particular thing happened that I think is one of my favorite funny stories in Burkina (so far). The one man I brought was Hamidou, my friend and president of the Association Parents-Eleves. We arrived in Djibo at night, and the next morning the sensibilization was to start. It was late, dark and the volunteers just wanted to get all the villagers settled into their hotel rooms. Unfortunately, because we arrived too late, Hamidou's room was given to another guest. It being late and the other hotels full, Kevin (another volunteer) asked his Burkinabe counterpart if he'd mind sharing a room with Hamidou, just for that night. It was one room, one small bed. You could see the awkward/uncomfortable looks on both men's faces. Not too happy. (But who would be if you are a grown man and asked to share a bed with a complete stranger.) Now, if this were the United States this is exactly what would have happened:
Both men would remain in their awkward/uncomfortable state. They would have refused to share a bed and one man would have probably ended up sleeping on the floor. The next morning they would avoid/ignore each other, never talking or even making eye contact for the rest of their time in Djibo.
But of course, this is Burkina. Here's what really happened:
The next morning I found Hamidou and immediately apologized again, ensuring him that he would have his own room for the rest of his stay. He pulls me aside, a huge grin on his face, and says that in fact, he got along fine with the other man, and Hamidou doesnt want his own room, he'd like to stay in the room with his new friend for the rest of the week. Since he was smiling I tought he was joking and laughed along with him. "Wait, you're serious?" I asked him. Yes, he told me. He and the other man were now friends and in truth he's not used to sleeping alone, he usually always has his children in the same room with him. "Could I check with the other man to see if he'd mind?" he asked me. A little shocked, I went to Kevin and told him what Hamidou had said. Kevin burst out laughing. Apparently, his Burkinabe counterpart has asked him the same thing, he didnt want to sleep alone and wanted to see if my counterpart would stay with him for the duration of the event. Now, these are adult men, both married with children. There's absolutely nothing sexual about this. They are just two grown men not used to sleeping alone who enjoyed one another's company and became friends. Recounting this story makes me smile everytime because with all the liberalness of America, this situation would never have happened in the States!

(men hanging out at Pobe's marchee)
International Women's Day is coming up. I am told in Pobe there's events including an all women's bike race. Also men are supposed to do the work of their wives, including the shopping and cooking dinner. Not sure exactly how the day will pan out but I bought my colorful Women's Day pagne to wear and will be celebrating with the rest of them!

In other news, a Doggie Epidemic swept through Pobe. Many dogs throughout the village got incredibly sick, a few died. Unfortunately Dounia caught the epidemic. I returned from the Aids sensibilization to find him emaciated. For 5 days he didnt eat, he was throwing up and would only drink a little water. Near the end he was so weak he couldn't even walk. One night my mom called and I told her that I didn't think Dounia would make it. I went to bed. The next morning I was on my way back from getting water at the pump when I see Dounia bouncing up to me, tail wagging and tongue drooling. A doggie miracle! After just a few days he seemed at 100% and today he's back, chubby again and up to his dirty tricks of chasing after my neighbors' chickens, scaring little kids and creating mayhem throughout Pobe. It's good to have him back :)

I just finished reading a book, "The Village of Waiting," by George Packer that my father had sent to me in a care package. Briefly, it's the story of Packers' experience as a PC volunteer in Togo. I found the book both facinating yet upsetting at the same time. Reading it, I felt like Packer was writing about MY experience in POBE. It was eerie how many similarities there were, from the characteristics of the village women, the (inappropriate) behavior of the teachers, to his roller coaster feelings of loneliness/happiness/isolation. If any of you are curious to know more about my personal experience, read his book. What is a bit depressing though is that he was a volunteer in 1982-83...more than 25 years ago! I find it depressing to think that even after so much time has passed, village life throughout W. Africa remains nearly exactly the same. I found his critique of Africa to be a bit pessimistic and harsh. He didn't seem to have much of anything positive to say about the country (He didn't complete his 2 years). While on some issues I may agree with him, I find that despite all the poverty and corruption, there's still so much joy and beauty.

Lastly, internet MAY be coming to Djibo! Construction is underway at the Djibo post office for an internet cyber. I have no idea when it will actually open or if the connection will be any good, but Im definitely excited at the prospect of having internet only 25K away instead of the 100+!
(Changing times? A mud brick/straw house with sattelite!
Cell phone tower in the background)