May 26, 2010

bike race, computers and....extension?

Claiming my prizes; Amy and I before the race

After 2 years of bike parts constantly breaking, changing flat tires on a weekly basis and biking 25K just to buy vegetables….it’s safe to say that I truly hate biking. Ironically, I feel like it’s biking that I will be most known for in Pobe. It started with last year’s Women’s Day bike race. (It wasn’t until I won the race that people started calling me Emilie instead of Nassarra). And this month, apparently, I have “saved the name of Pobe” with another biking feat.

I participated in a bike race in Djibo organized by a big mining company. There was a 25K men’s race from Pobe to Djibo and a 5K women’s race in Djibo. When I said I wanted to sign up for the men’s race (It’s the exact course I bike for veggies anyway so why not?) I was told no. I flipped. “That’s ridiculous! I can bike 25K! WOMEN can bike 25K! I vowed to bike in the race no matter what. I imagined flying past tired sweaty men with a sign attached to my back reading “Vous venez d’être dépassé pars une femme!!” (You’ve just been passed by a girl!) I’m a GEE volunteer. This was going to be GEE at its prime.

Then I was told the winners of both the men’s and women’s races got big prizes including new bikes and lots of cash money.

I registered for the women’s race. (Add prizes and cash money to anything and any PCV turns into a competitive, money-hungry beast….I can always empower girls another day.)

I convinced the Roses and Thomas to also compete in the race, so we all got together in Djibo the night before. The race itself went very well, I won first place! I won a sweet biking jersey, a new bike and nearly $300 worth of CFA!! All because of a FIVE k race! The mining company was literally throwing money around, creating a big hoop-la over nothing. Ever participant had to wear a t-shirt that had the face of the Minister of Mining plastered on the front. Coincidence that all this occurred just a couple months before elections? I think not. It was kind of ridiculous, but I still gladly accepted the prizes. All the money went to the library (more books!) so at least it was for a good cause.

A big secondary project that Amy and Aaron Rose did was create a computer room in their village of Titao. After getting it up and running they decided to conduct a week-long IT camp to introduce computers and how they work to students and functionaries. Three other volunteers including myself spent the week helping them, teaching everything from the parts of a computer to how to make a power point presentation.

Now, those that know me know that I am one of the most computer incompetent people, so the idea of me helping out, showing others what to do was a little scary. But the camp went well (minus constant power cuts) and I probably learned as much as the students!

Emilie Crofton, computer guru?

This month, my time in Pobe has been strange emotionally. In village I have been really bored, lazy, frustrated, anxious and even somewhat anti-social. I realized I am going through what I like to call Africanized Senioritis. I’m nearly done with my projects and work in Pobe, ready to move on to other things. Although, unlike the majority of PCVs, I won’t be moving on too far away.

I remember a phone conversation that I had with my mom several months ago.

Mom: “I just read another volunteer’s blog about how they decided to extend their Peace Corps service for another year. Emilie, I want you to come home after 2 years. PROMISE me now you will not extend!”

Me: “Mom, believe me, I am coming home after my 2 years are up. There’s no way in hell I am extending, I PROMISE!”

Well, here I am announcing that I have officially extended my Peace Corps service (sorry mom).

A couple reasons why Ive decided to extend:

-I feel like it took me a full year before I was settled, felt integrated in the community, developed the trust of the people and did meaningful/sustainable activities that were actually needed. This second year has just flown by, there’s still a lot more that I can and want to do.

- I am interested and curious about working in the NGO world. I could go back home and work some lame desk job with some NGO, or I could stay here with an NGO and work directly in the field, learning skills and experiences that will truly help me see if this is what I want to do or not.

For my extension I will not be in Pobe-Mengao. While I will still be a Peace Corps volunteer, I will be “working” with Friends of African Village Libraries (the NGO that helped me with the library in Pobe.) Having worked extensively with them, I really like and respect what they do and believe they make big impacts in village communities. I think it would be wonderful to be apart of that. I would be splitting my time between their bureau in Ouaga and their village libraries (most of them being in the south-west part of Burkina)

Here are some of the projects/activities the director sees me working on:

- Speaking to Ministry, WB officials and other NGOs to get larger scale production of appropriate children’s materials

- Leading a workshop for 100 Maires on “Establishing a community library”

-Helping create a set of six workshops for improving library services

- Networking with cellphone/software engineers and cellphone companies to pilot web-interface for FAVL librarians to do their monthly reporting

-Helping create 25 illustrated children’s books for young readers

-Working with a local printer to produce children’s books

-Working on normal FAVL activities at the different libraries such as literacy camps, reading programs, etc.

-Helping in running/facilitating the study abroad program

While Im really excited for next year, I am honestly looking forward to my upcoming home leave. (If you extend, Peace Corps flies you home for one month). I will be home the month of August and am looking forward to seeing family and friends, eating good food, and not sweating 24/7. Amina!