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.