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!