vendredi 21 décembre 2007

Nasara Goes to Church

Many of my community members and students have been very concerned about my soul because of my lack of attendance at church. They know I am protestant and the Christian as well as Muslim students are all very concerned that I have not been spotted at any one of the four protestant churches, one catholic church, or even the one mosque. Actually, I find it crazy that any American would come here to prosyletize as the Africans keep prosyletizing me. I have, on a few occasions, tried to explain what I see as the difference between religious observations in America versus Burkina but it doesn't seem to make much sense to them so I just say to my students and neighbors, "nope. I havent gone to church yet." When pressed further i just shrug. There are so many differences that I like to really get into with Burkinabe: no, our black people are not slaves anymore . . . all americans are american and something else (chinese, german, mexican), there are more women in universities than men, women and men share work as well as household tasks, women marry around the age of 25-30 in USA (its more like 15-17 here) - you know things that freak them out and blow their minds. But, I didn't want to get into religion with them. Hah, everyone here is an animist as well as Christian or Muslim and they all really get along.

Anyway (en touts cas), one of my students mothers wanted to thank me for giving him a granola bar (thanks Katie and Sutton) after he cut this huge snake-bearing vine out of my courtyard. So, she invited me to church. And I went last Sunday. The student came to my house to show me how to get there. I put down my copy of Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion" and went to church in a tiny village in a remote country on a remote continent.

Imagine every stereotype you have in your head about what you think an African protestant celebration might be like . . . its all true. I arrived at 10 am and the men were seated on the right dressed in their sunday best: clean 'funtionaire' shoes, slacks, and shirts as well as some in the traditional full head-to-toe getup. The women were on the left with babies on backs and their wonderful african print matching outfits. Childen were at the front with the drum circle. I walked in the sactuary and immediately thought "yes! am i in a movie?"

The building is like all other African buildings: mud brick but then plastered on the outside and painted dark brown. There were a few windows and a small attempt at grand buttressed rafters. Or, you know, wood beams supporting the tin roof. Hanging in multitudes from the wooden beams were all these paper cut outs of flowers, spirals, shapes, stars, etc in colored paper that the children must have made. Purple, pink, white, yellow etc. Voila! The African equivalent of stained-glass. They were very sweet. There was one picture of a very feminine-looking anglo-saxon Jesus on the wall. A cross and plastic flowers in the shape of a heart framed the preachers head as he stood at the podium. A rose-window so to speak. We sat on small wooden benches - just typical african ones like i sit on when i wait for buses.

The service was in Moore so a really pretty and really nice lady sat next to me and translated the whole thing into french for me. Hah, wheni say "sat next to me" i mean in a Burkina way. Men and women - even married couples - NEVER touch each other in public. But, within the same gender there is absolutely no space. Men hang all over men, hold hands, wrap their arms around each other, touch touch touch. Women do the same with women. So the lady translating for me rested her arms in my lap and idly played with my skirt, knees, and hands. Which was very welcome because, since I work with mostly men I get almost no tactile comfort.

First, a man stood up front and would call out a phrase in Moore and we would sing the phrase together stepping and clapping with the drums and voices. Sometimes he would call on a member of the congregation for a song request. Men would sing something and women would respond. It was that kind of beautiful African singing where everyone is belting it out but no one is on the same key and yet it sounds so beautiful. As my translator wrote down the moore for me I would sing along with the whole group, about 50 people. It was so delightfully similar to being at camp mitchell in hoke right when all the campers are arriving and the counselors and CAs have to sing themselves silly.

We did the stepping and clapping for about an hour and then the actual preacher got and said something about sin and prayer. Then the whole group, except the nasara, errupted into shouts and erratic mumblings in moore with hands in the air many gesturing wildly. I would have loved to see the look on my startled face. Haha. Then he asked them to pray for peace and they errupted again in a chorus of babbles. This time i was prepared. No one looked at me funny because their eyes were all closed. Next, there were 3 readings: corinthians, then peter, and dueteronomy. And the preacher . . . preached. Mostly, it was about peace and loving your neighbor and living like Jesus - no guilt or tons of talk about sin. Then more emphatic erruptions of "tongues- sounding" prayer and finally, the best part: eucharist.

The eucharist was kept covered until the time to partake at the end. Nothing would have prepared me for what was under the cloth. I am only amazed I didn't burst into laughter. The precher removed the cloth to reveal . . . bits of bread soaked in palm oil and . . . Coca-cola. yes, Coca-cola. He calmly picked up the bottle and popped the top leaving me struggling to keep from laughing as the cool "phfffff" sound reverberated around the sanctuary. I still cant believe it. Africa continues to surprise.

There was more step clapping after that and all-in-all it was an awesome experience and I will be going back for sure. The whole time I knew it was one of those events that would have had my Auntie crying to see all these sweet people gather and worship together. They were so joyful and happy as Africans almost always are. My Uncle Jon would have been inspired and humbled. My Nana would have loved it and felt connected. My Dad would have been uncomfortable as many strangers would have been touching him - but he'd like it anyway. It was pretty cool.

vendredi 7 décembre 2007

It's me, Eloise

There is a new addition to my family of termites, spiders, and geckos.

Thats her. Eloise. Those are my bed sheets. They have green apples on them and say Merry Christmas. I don't know why. Africa has taught me to quit asking why.

Isn't she cute!!! Awww!! I'm quite smitten.

Don't worry Nana, i have good stuff to feed her and she's had a rabies shot. I'm going to try to get her spayed or she'll get knocked up by some ruffian en brousse.

jeudi 6 décembre 2007

I am eat of the Sagbo

Test giving and grading is my least favorite teacher task. Truly, grading 300 tests in french is really, really . . . what's the word . . . oh yeah, it sucks. Tests in Burkina are called "devoirs" (confusing because thats the french word for homework) and they are out of 20 points. Quizzes are called, and i love this, "interrogations" which sounds really extreme and intimidating. "That's right!" i say in commanding tones "It's time for an interrogation!! What," i demand "is the air speed velocity of an unleaden swallow?" Some things just dont translate.

Of course all the students complain and say how hard the test was and "Oh Madam! Je suis malcontent!" Yeah, well i'm "malcontent" that i have to grade 300 freakin tests. Really though, I'm a total push-over and they know it. To appease their sad faces I give bonus questions on my tests. Usually, I ask the students to write a sentence in english. Their responses are HYSTERICAL. The bonus question entertains me while i grade all those papers. For the most part i get the same responses: "God is One" or occasionally "Good is One." "I love you" is a popular response. Sometimes they ask God to bless someone; this is often me because they think they'll get extra points, but usually it's various rastafarians and 50 cent who are the aim of God's blessings.

The last test I gave i asked them to write their favorite meal, in english if they could do it, if not french was fine. Most often I got this hysterical response "I am eat of the sagbo" which i'm still giggling about. I must confess as a person who gets laughed at continually for their misuse of language, its rather satisfying to get to laugh back. It's not just the double verb and extravagant use of articles in the sentence that tickles me, it's the reference to sagbo. Sagbo is the Moore word for to, that west african staple i have told you about - it looks, feels, and tastes like white playdo. Burkinabe eat it at least twice a day in village. They just do not understand that Americans dont eat to. That's the whole point of speaking english - you dont have to eat to! One student understood that sentiment and had this to offer for his bonus question: "I like some rice of America." Me too. One very ambitious student wrote this for her bonus question:

madam rebecca is the Bess Prof.
God Bless madam rebecca
madam rebecca Love the carote ou madam
rebecca Like the carrote
a cucumber

I gave her 3 points for that slice of awesomeness.

When you give back tests it is an hour long event called "reclamation" that i loathe. Anal retentivenss is at its most picky when grades are involved and at least half the students want to argue with me about what i've graded. In fact, it so annoys me that i dont want to talk about it anymore.

Have some rice of America on my behalf!

lundi 26 novembre 2007

Je vais ajuter

I forgot to explain the title of the previous entry. The classrooms dont have lights and board visibility relys on the very particular ratio of light from the door and windows. The students are always disagreeing back and forth between the sides of the classroom about which exact windows should be open and if the door should be open etc. . . this is always a source of amusement to me becasue the students become very angry and window and door openess becomes an important issue. "Madame! On ne peut pas voir le tableau!" "Madame! Ouvre le porte! Il fait chaud" back and forth . . . back and forth. The two sides battling it out until just the right combination of windows are opened and i am able to continue teaching. "Ok classe! Haha. Ca va aller! Haha. Ce n'est pas grave! Vous peuvez regarder le cahier de vosvoisins" War inevitable breaks out no matter what i say. Eventually they let me teach.

Madame, I Cant See the Board

It has been requested that I explain some of my actual job to all you faithful blog readers. It's just a lot of info but i will do my best to give you a picture of what it is like.

First, the Lycee is a typical West African lycee. The buildings are made of cement blocks or mud bricks and then plastered over. There is no glass or wood or screen for the windows and doors. Instead the square hole or "window" or "door" is equipped with metal slats like blinds that open and close. Each class/grade has their own classroom and the teachers move between the classrooms. There is no electricity. There are no bathrooms. The students sit in 2's 3's or 4's at bench-like desks. Some of them have the text books some dont. They all love to write in blue ink (which is deteste!). They all have notebooks. There is only the chalkboard which often has a crack and the teacher as resources. My Lycee serves 42 villages and many students bike to school from 10k away or more. School begins at 7am, there is a break between 12 and 3 and then it continues until 5pm. They arent in class the whole time though, some afternoons they have off etc. There are about 70-100 kids in a classroom. A classroom is about the size of an average american living room.

They take biology, english, history-geography, french, math, PE, the older kids also take physics/chemistry and philosophy. All of this is really challening for the kids to actually comprehend because it is essentually impossible to do experiments with the kids (no electricity and a class of 100 students - yeah thats what i call impossible). So they rely on their abilities of memorization. Critical thinking is really hard for the students because the lack of resources makes it difficult for them to be able to synthesize and understand the information.

Some kids (the ones who are better off and dont worry about having food and water) tend to value their educations. They want to learn and they see what can come from having an education. The poorer kids have to foremost worry about their families work in the fields and the pressing needs of the home (getting water, making food etc). This means that the poorer female students tend to be taken out of school or fail out at a young age (the age for girls to marry is around 17 - hint hint). This is why Peace Corps has an entire sector of volunteers who work for the empowerment of women. The roles and attitudes of the two genders here is very much like victorian america. Strangely the literature of Jane Austen and its themes applys to life in West-Africa.

Lets see . . . the schools operate on a trimester system that accomadates the rains as well as Muslim and Christian holidays (Ramadan . . . Easter etc). In village, education is secondary to the harvest and God. Age and grade are not very correlated - you can have an 12 yr old and a 15 yr old in the same class and it wouldnt be that strange. They three grades a trimester and each grade is over 20 points. Students are happy with a 10 out of 20 - in fact thats a pretty decent grade. They pass if they get an overall score of 7 out of 20. The Ed system is really different than what im used to.

I like teaching. As far as Peace Corps goes it is an easy way to be effective. Other people have assignments that are completely ambiguous but with teaching it is very clear what and how to be an effective volunteer. But we also have a ton of work - last weekend i had to correct 300 hand-written tests. Eeek! I teach 12 hours a week. The average teacher does about 15-20 hrs depending on the subject they teach. I actually do not find the classroom of 70 african kids who speak french to be that scary. At first it was frightening. I'll never forget the dread and terror i felt just before i walked into my first official classroom. They behave as well as 13-15 yr olds can be expected to behave. We laugh a lot. I however am not cut out to handle 70 15yr olds and it wears on me - patience not being one of the traits granted me by God. But it could always be worse. At least its not 140 kids.

This was a bunch of info but i hope it gives you and idea of what i do. I am in village most of the time. About every two weeks I go to the capitol or to a friends village and i speak english, sit in air conditioning, and eat tasty food for the weekend. I do need my little America fix. Honestly, the best thing about Peace Corps is that I can say, for the first time, without any hesitation that yes, I am immensely proud of me too. I dont know how or why but I can do this and it really isnt that difficult for me. Challenging but very do-able. You just never know what you are capable of.

The "Entergy" of Village

It's 7pm in village. I step out of my hut to dump my leftover onion and bread bits in the compost. "What is that light?" I search for the offending light post in vain . . . that light is the huge, smoky and still luminous moon. Life without electricity makes you in-tune to so many things you would never notice otherwise in your bright, air-conditioned den with the reflection of the tv screen on the windows. I do not miss electricity at all. Sure, some nights i wish i could plug-in a fan . . . maybe i iwsh it were easier to charge my ipod and cell phone but thats all. In place of "Entergy" in village we have the glorious luminosity of Monsieur the Moon. Do you have any idea how bright the moon is? I thought i did . . . you know from being at the farm or at camp etc i thought I knew how brilliant the moon and stars could be. I was mistaken.

When you live in a place where the production of light is a small miracle you cant help but be startled at the moon and stars capability at flinging their endowment haphazardly towards your mud hut. They are like people with an immense natural talent that they dont appracitate and squander. During the growing half of the moon, the full moon, and then a little bit of the diminishing half one cannot help but want to chastise the moon for his waste. "Hey Moon, cant you spread out this light distribution? Hell, at this rate in two weeks you wont have anything left to spend and then i wont be able to find my latrine in the dark!" I get so excited when the full moon comes back. You can walk around village without a flashlight at night, i can find my latrine in the middle of the night without having to light my lantern, and of course not to mention how beautiful the moon is.

The light breeze at night after the ridiculous velocity of the afternoon harmattan winds, the tiny cheerful pinpricks of the stars like GOD is filtering the magnificence of heaven through a collander, the fluid Milky Way which winds carelessly languidly over the roof of my house, and then the audacity of the moon. I drink a cup of tea. I take a deep breath. I enjoy the marvelous pyrotechnics of the night village sky. These are things you can only see when the nearest gaudy artificial light is 80k away.

samedi 20 octobre 2007


This is a blog entry for all of you who have expressed worry for my safety -- being a young naive single woman living alone africa and all. No worries! I several roomates to look after me now! Some of them I dont really like very much - they hog all the limited space of my hut. Some keep out of the way pretty well and earn their rent. Others are there for entertainment. I am talking of course about the 'real-world' africa drama played about between my various arthropod and reptilian roomates and myself.

First, the most numerous and determined of the loafers, the termites. Man, i both love and hate termites. I admire their organization and distribution of tasks (they are a colony much like ants and have different roles etc). Because of this, i am in a daily full-on battle with these greedy guys. Seriously, i spend time each day attempting erradication. I'll take my little broom and sweep their tunnel off my wall and then a few hours later they will have built it back! Arhg! The battle is on and I will be the victor! Truth be told, it is their house and im the renter.

Next, spiders. I used to be so afraid of spiders and they just dont really bother me much anymore. When i first got to my house there were millions of them and i kicked them all out. But now, they are starting to return slowly. Fortunately for the spiders, they have proven to me that they can earn their keep in my home . . . by eating the termites. Spiders love to eat termites and i love for them to be eaten. So, if a spider can prove, upon inspection of his web, that he will kill termites for me i let that spider stay. This is however only a deal ive worked out with spiders in the corners of my house. The ones in the windows and on the ceiling perish as soon as they are spotted by me.

My last fellow tennant is a gaggle of 'house geckos' that live under my tin roof and on my walls. As termite eaters, they are also allowed to stay put. However, the house geckos offer as a bonus excellent entertainment. They are my new favorite tv show. They click and charge each other and scrabble around . . . good times had by all. I only get mad at them when they poop on my stuff. "Not cool, house geckos," i say "Not Cool!" Maybe if i say it in clicks they will understand me and stop pooping on my clothes. You have to shake out your clothes here before you put them on because there may be a gecko or a bug hiding in them. Oh! such fun!

So those are my roomates. We have a nice little rapport going. Everybody gangs up on the termites. I pick on the spiders some. And the spiders and I think the house geckos are a riot. Good times had by all indeed.

samedi 6 octobre 2007

Running Water

In America, if you need water you go to the tap and fill up a glass. You step into the shower and turn some knobs. You load a dishwasher or washing machine and push some buttons. Eureka!In America, there is the luxury of running water. In Africa, its not quite so easy. The good pump nearest my house is about a five minute walk away. I dont know if you remember or not but water is really freakin heavy. really. So, i pay a neighbor to get water for me. All functionaires (people with government jobs like teachers) pay kids to do stuff for them like their laundry, fetch their water, do their dishes etc. So, I pay Bienvenue, a 13yr old boy who lives in my courtyard, to bring me water. Bienvenue straps jugs to his bike and goes off to the pump returning 20 minutes later with my water. Thus, i have running water too only mine comes to my home on a bike.
I must say it is astounding to see the women at the pump. Fetching water is for the most part a job of the women of a household. They fill up a 5 gallon jug with a hand cranked pump which is work in istelf. Then, they lift the full 40-50 pound jug of water, balance it on their heads, and walk several kilometers home. Wow. And I think my life is hard?

Ethnic Groups

In Africa, ethnicity is not bound by country borders and plays a huge cultural role here. I can think of 6 major groups that Burkina has but there are certainly more. The Mossi are the most ubiquitous of the ethnic groups and they speak Moore. For the most part they live in the central part of Burkina. Tougouri is on the edge of Mossi country. They are very patriarchal and make a lot of jokes. The Gormanchi live in the east and on into Niger. They speak Gormanchima. They would be the mid-westerners of the US. They are docile and unassuming. The Fulani speak Fulfulde and live in the Sahel and on into Mali. I have a lot of Fulani in my village too. The woman are beautiful. They plait elaborate silver discs into their hair. The Fulani raise cattle and a Fulanis cattle are at least as important to him as his family is. They take cattle very seriously. They would of course be the south-westerners. In the South are the Lobi, Bobo, and Djoula. The Bobo and Djoula speak languages by the same name and would be the new-englanders and west coasters. They are educated and progressive. The Lobi speak lobiri and are the southerners of Burkina. They like to wrestle, carry rifles for no reason, and are loud. These are the Arkansans of Burkina and like Arkansas the area of the country they live in is absolutely gorgeous. There is a little cultural tid-bit for you all!

If there is anything in particular that I havent covered that you want to hear about let me know. I kinda forget what i have and have not explained.

Male Horse Woman

Here are some Burkina tid-bits that make me smile.

My neighbors gave me a local name. I am Mossi so I needed a name to fit my new ethnicity. Almost all the people in Burkina - especially the Mossi - have the last name Ouedraogo. Seriously, at least half my students have that last name. So, naturally I made that my Mossi last name. My first name is Poco. Now, in Burkina, family names are first and the personal name second. Par example Hedges Rebecca. Only now, I am Ouedragog Poco. What does that translate to you ask? I am glad you ask because it translates to "Male Horse Woman." Yes. My name is Male Horse Woman. Awesome.

The rains have ended and it is 100 degrees in my house. Help. Im melting

In Ouaga there are a bunch of taxis. In order to be a taxi driver all you have to do is get a license. Buy a car. Paint it green - like pea soup green. And drive around. There is no regulation etc. Why pea green?

The food of choice here is something called to. Many familys eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner. It is made from millet or sometimes corn. It is white and has the consistency of playdough. You eat it with your hands and dip it in a sauce. I like sauce oseille. Burkinabe never believe me when i tell them that we do not eat to in the United States. "You dont eat to?!" they say in complete disbelief. "No, we dont eat to" i say trying not to giggle thinking of all the tasty delights America has to offer. "Okay, well certainly you eat corn to." they respond with satisfaction. Its not so much a question but a statement. And i assure them "No. There is no to in the United States." Personally, for me, this is the point of living in the United States. You can eat cheeseburgers, mexican food, and pumpkin pie. You dont HAVE to eat to.

In Africa, you drink beverages out of little baggies. Really. Yogurt too. You buy what i guess you could liken to a zip-lock bag but it ties instead of zipping and it is filled with some beverage. Zoom Koom, Bissap, Jus de pain de sange, Tamarin, Gingembre, water, yogurt, degue etc. And you bite off the corner and suck the liquid out of the bag. When you are done with the bag you throw it on the ground. I have to admit the first time i bought a beverage like that it kinda grossed me out. Especially the yogurt. But now . . . not at all. When I come home we can all fill up zip-lock bags and drink out of them. Hahaha.

One thing that continually frustrates me in this country is the lack of change. You have to make your own change when you buy something. They will take the money you guve with the bill at a restaurant and come back and the two of you (you and the waiter) will together make correct change for the bill. Both of you contributing. For someone afraid of math like me this is a nightmare. A clusterf$#@ of mathematical logistics that leaves me in total bamboozlement.


About a month ago, I was bee-bopping around en brousse (in the wilderness) just exploring, seeing if i could come across any cool trees. I climbed some awesome Baobabs. I mounted this rock formation. It was pretty cool. When I was going back I got kinda lost. There was a framer in his field working and so i approached him and asked him in Moore if he could show me what direction Tougouri was in. With a look of disbelief and shock he indicated the direction and I went on my way. As i was walking i was thinking about what that experience must have been like for him. To have a white lady show up in his field and ask in a local langiage where the village was. It must be the equivalent of this:

John lives in a nice quiet suburban cul-de-sac. It is sunday morning and he goes out to retrieve his paper. As he stretches and rubs his cheeseburger american-food belly he hears a clear bright voice at his right. Standing there is an African man, in traditional garb - the robe, cultivateur hat, a rudimentary hoe over his shoulder, elaborate face scars to indicate his ethnicity etc . . . use your already existing stereotypes (i know they fit me from time to time). He says to John, "Good morning neighbor! I seem to be lost. Could you indicate the nearest starbucks. How i long for a carmel frappucchino!"

That is what is must be like for the Burkinabe, to see me appear eb brousse and speaking their local language. haha. I thought it was funny.

jeudi 6 septembre 2007

Ritual and Moving In

When i moved into my house in Tougouri, no one had been inside for three or four months. And you could tell. It took me two days to clean it and make it liveable. However, the volunteer who lived there before me left everything there so i actually have furniture. There is a small living room/kitchen. Then a joining small bedroom - it is the perfect amount of space for me! Slowly I have been starting to build ritual for my days. Comfort in the familiar, right? My days revolve around the marche schedule - because a marche day means VEGGIES! yay! nutrition! At 6:30 i get out of bed and eat leftover french bread and drink earl gray tea (with powdered milk in it - i know . . . but actually it is really good). Then i do chores, read, sudoku, and kill time until 10 when i go run errands on the main road and/or go to the marche. I buy things for my house or for me . . . burkina faso football jersey . . . buckets for water . . . cookware. And of course bread and veggies and things like that. The marche is only every three days so i have to make the veggies last. Then i go take a nap. Around 5 i go for a walk and maybe hang out with my Dolo lady who is really nice to me (dolo is a barely alcoholic libation made from millet and fermented for 24 hrs - i really just partake for the socal aspect). Theni ride my bike by the barage for sunset. Man is that gorgeous or what? The barage (reservoir) is a huge oasis and there are lilly pads, huge gnarly trees (that look like live oaks and pecan trees), people walking with 40lbs of stuff on their head, and unfortunatley an occasional bather ("Hey! That's my drinking water!" is what passes in my head - dont worry mom i filter and bleach my water). I nest and make my house MY house. The days are slow and full of languages i barely speak. I love the solitude far more than i thought i would. Slowly my two rooms are becoming mine and eventually that will stretch out into my courtyard and that space will feel like me too. Then, it will go even further and i will be Burkinabe and they wont shout Nasara! at me. And i can finally start to do what i originally set out to do. You cant make any kind of sustainable difference in the lives of a community if you remain outside of it - integration is why peace corps works. so thats what i gotta do.

How Did I Get Here?

Well, yes . . . obviously by plane (actually people ask me that alot - how does one get to africa from the us?) But what im really marvelling at is all the things i do everyday that i would never have expected i could or would. I remember once about 6 months ago I was reading a personal testimony on the peace corps website about Burkina Faso. The woman was talking about how she has to pick bugs out of her rice before she cooks it etc. and how she lives in a hut. It made me cry - I though what in the world do i think i am doing? Bugs in my food? I dont DO that! But now, i DO do that. And you know what? It is not a big deal at all. I love my tiny hut/house (i have a metal roof so it is not really a hut). I take transport alone and can manage just fine. Sometimes I even find myself speaking french or understanding french without having to think first. I make Burkina-ism's all the time just naturally. Cool.

Where I live is on the outskirts of town. There is a main road that runs right thru Tougouri and i live off of a foot path off of the main road. The walk from the main road to my house is about 6 or 7 minutes long and it is glorious! It is a narrow dirt/mud path that winds through squat baobabs, portly straw thatched huts, corn, sorghum, millet. There are herds of animals, the resevoir off in the distance, tall fluffy clouds with broad flat bottoms as far as you can see. Women with babies on their backs and buckets of water on their heads. How did i get here? It just fills me with joy - I almost shout "THIS IS SO COOL!!!!" I cant believe this is my life. How cool am I?

dimanche 19 août 2007

les choses très amusant!

Sorry for the french, it is getting increasingly difficult to just use one or the other - je prefere un melange! Which is good because no one here speaks english except the other volunteers. So, i havent blogged in awhile cause i havent had much to say - yes everyday is still ridiculous and amusing but that in itself isnt new so . . . i didnt feel like i had much to say.

Alors, I have been taking local language classes and some of the words for things are pretty funny. Well hold on, i just need to give you some background information first. Im white. In Africa. I am aware of my race every second of the day (okay, not when im sleeping but you get it). Sometimes the sight of me frightens small children - the belief in ghosts (ou bien, les genies) here is taken very seriously and i think they must think we are genies. Sometimes adults and older children ask me for a gift or money in french (im white so i MUST speak french . . . all white people speak french) and then I ask them for money in Mooré. Its hysterical, they cant believe that i speak mooré and then they think it is so funny that a white person would ask them for money. Sometimes from what people say and ask about the states, i think they really have the idea that money literally grows on trees.

Anyway, the point is that the local people are fascinated by my skin color - they are never rude about, it race isnt loaded with tricky conotations here. Well, at least not negative ones. So, the word in mooré for a stranger or white person is nasara (which i know i have mentioned) and most people here will just call you that as if it were your name. My mom had a woman helping here around the house for a few weeks and the lady always addressed me as nasara. Eventually i told her, in mooré, to call me Rebecca. To this she fell out laughing and still calls me nasara. White skin is just such a novelty here. In mooré, airplanes are called nasara-eagles and airports nasara-houses. Haha! That just cracks me up. I have decided that the one quality you have to have for peace corps service is a sense of humor. Without it you would just have to go home.

I move to my village in a week and wont start teaching for real until october after the rainy season ends. I cant wait to nest!

dimanche 29 juillet 2007

The Poop Scale

We volunteers live in a constant state of colon troubles. It is usually not really a problem - mild discomfort or inconvienance - but you dont usually feel all that sick. So bowel health is a regular topic of conversation here. Thus we have a poop scale. It goes from 1 to 3. 1 is essentially water. 2 is normal. 3 is if you havent visited the latrine in a few weeks. SO conversations go like this:

Becca: hey boo how ya doin?
Ray: Im alright i was up all night in the latrine.
Becca: Balls! What are you rockin?
Ray: Well I was at a 1.2 but Im back at a 1.6
Becca: Well thats not bad. Im at a 1.8 myself

Just an example. Awesome.

Ode to Jelly Beans

Back in the states i didnt really like jelly beans . . . they were okay and all but not at the top of my candy list. So when i got a bag in the mail that my darling mother sent me i was glad but they got pushed aside for more important things like gummi bears. Until, two nights ago, I was sitting on my bed like i do at 830 every night - i read or journal etc and enjoy the breeze from my glorious fan - and I got out the jelly beans. DEAR LORD! They are so glorious. I put a cotton candy flavored jelly bean in my mouth and i almost burst into tears. It tasted just like America! One by one i popped them into my mouth savoring the memories they brought back. Buttered popcorn - Im at the movies! Watermelon - canterbury night at camp. Cinnamon - Christmas time. I was laugh/crying with joy! I wish i had an iced tea flavored jelly bean or a pumpkin pie . . .

America is the most awesome place in the world!

Model School or "Faites Attention!"

Hello . . . I used to be an upper-class white girl who got a brand new car when she started driving . . . my dad graciously paid for my very expensive education . . . yeah i had jobs but i was never financially independent. I was a student riding the dole. And it was awesome. I know it now and I knew it then. The food was good too.

Now I live in Burkina Faso. Most of you if not all of you didnt know that BF existed. I have a real job and a salary (actually i make the exact same amount of money here as i did every month in school). I speak a language that, two months ago, i didnt really speak at all. I teach in a classroom of 90 kids of various ages . . . in French . . . and no electricity. I should be in shock. I know I should, but Im not. That is just how my life is now and I have two options: Find things about it that i love or admit defeat and go home. The latter involves tasty food but the former is the stuff of building a character . . . which is something that is hard to do as an upper-class white girl in a world cushioned from challenges. The world i just left . . . best decision ive ever made.

So, yeah Model School! As part of training we SE volunteers teach at a Lycée (high school) for an hour a day. The kids attend as prep for national exams or to get a head start on the next year. There are three subjects that the volunteers teach: SVT (biology), PC (physics and chem), and Math. I teach SVT, of course. This is because BF has a huge shortage of teachers especially in the three areas i mentioned above.

There are 4 grades in the first cycle of Lycée and right now I am teaching what would be the equivalent of 8th grade. The science they learn in 4eme (8th grade) is geology so i am teaching about volcanos and earthquakes. This presents a prolem because there arent either of those things in Burkina so it is difficult to explain things to kids who have very little, if any, opportunity to see, hear, touch, smell, and, god forbid, taste things in the biological world. There arent any oceans, mountains, or forests where i am teaching so there is a lot that they learn about that theyll never experience. Protists are out too because there arent any microscopes. Just me . . . a cracked blackboard . . . chalk . . . and the hope that Im more creative than i think I am. On the upside, the kids want to learn and they want to do well.

So, at 8am the "cloche" rings and the kids kinda start going into the classrooms (even school is on africa time which is to say not on time. As a side note: i have yet to see two clocks here that have the same time). I usually start teaching at 10 after. I actually teach two hours a day right now so when I am not in class I am making my lesson plans. I am giving a test on wednesday and after that I will see how much they were able to understand. Classes are over at noon and then i have language class.

The level of french that i have is very similar to the level the kids are on which is a really good thing because they can learn a lot of SVT from me because I will be speaking on a level that they can comprehend. Also, the culture of the Chief is so ingrained here that every class has a "chef de classe" or class chief i guess. The chef does everything for you - erase the board, fill out all the teacher stuff, take roll, tell the other kids to can it etc. Its pretty awesome.

I guess that is it for now. I teach biology two hours a day in french as part of my training for the real thing in October . . . just to summarize.

dimanche 22 juillet 2007

Goats Are So Sweet!!

Yes, goats are such sweet animals. I say this because when I am riding on a bus in BF and someone puts a few goats on top of the bus the goats dont seem to mind too much. Wait . . . what?! They are putting goats on this bus?? Transportation in Africa is so freakin funny it may be my favorite thing about BF.

Things to remember about Burkina: it is basically desert and sand cannot be driven on. There is a season for rain which means that the ground and roads cannot handle rain when it does come. Floods. Keep that in mind.

There are a few paved roads in Burkina - my town happens to be on one because I live inbetween two main cities (Ouaga and Dori). The next grade of road is dirt road which is decent by Africa standards. There are a lot of ruts and you shake around a ton. Next is "brousse" or the brush which is bascially the great wild open and you just point the car in a direction and go. It is pretty hysterical. They have placed all of the volunteers in my group on at least paved or dirt roads. Thank God.

There are three types of transport in Burkina. The "bus" is about the size of a regular American bus but the interior is very different. On one side of the aisle is a row of three seats with two seats across the aisle. They are really camped and the bus driver usually lets on as many people as can pay which means that someone is usually sitting down in the aisle. It is not uncommon to stop every 20 minutes and the bus people have to rearrange all the baggage and get goats and motos off the top and the people sitting in the aisle get stepped on etc. I mean it's crazy. The last stretch of transport that I took was supposed to take 2 hours and it ended up taking 3.5 just because they kept stopping and picking up extra people. At one point we got to a big stop/bus station (a "gare") and I got off the bus to pee. I inquired as to where the latrine was and the guy pointed around the corner of the building. Come to find out the yard was the latrine and there were like 8 people, men and women, peeing against walls. What? Needless to say I turned right around and got back on the bus. Volunteers had always told me to watch how much water you drink on transport so you dont have to pee and now i know why. Even I have to draw lines somewhere.

For some reason they always BLARE Bob Marley on the buses here which never fails to crack me up because it makes feel like I am in a movie. Typical. Buses never leave on time which is fine - Africa cant be predicted so I understand. At the gare is the only place where i am glad to be a white woman because the gare attendants do everything for me - they take care of my bag and they make sure my velo is on the bus etc. This really is awesome because sometimes your bag just never makes it on transport or they take it off at the wrong spot. I always say that if you care about tardiness or losing your possessions - travel in Africa is not for you. Hahaha. A sense of humor goes a long way here. I am exaggerating here of course.

If you do not live on a paved road then you get to take a taxi brousse or a cargo truck to get where you are going. Hah. Goats and sheep actually get on these. These are like those big vans and are usually called "Air Buolsa" or "Air Titao" even though air is not involved. Or at least I hope not.

I could go on of course but i have run out of time on the computer. basically you have to see it to believe it. so come see it. ill take care of you i promise!

mardi 17 juillet 2007

Tougou - quoi?

Last Wednesday I traveled to the glorious town of Tougouri. Tougou what? Tougouri (too goo ree with emphasis on the too)! I spent several days there seeing the sights - there weren't many to see so I got bored pretty quickly. The region is called the Centre-Nord and is at the edge of the Sahel. The Sahel is a geographical feature where the Sahara meets savannah and it is characterized by brown dirt and small trees. yay! Actually I will take this time to list for you the types of trees that i see all the time: Baobabs, Tamarins, Nins, Eucalyptus, Papaya, Mango, and a few others I have yet to identify but I have to years so dont lose hope! That is a Nin tree you see up above - he's just a baby.
So that is a picture of my home for the next two years! I have two rooms and a cozy courtyard. I am inheriting this house from another volunteer and you can tell that a twenty-something guy used to live there. I am super-psyched about all the home improvements I will get to make. First on the list is fixing my hangar (that is the straw-roofed porch that you see) and second on the list is painting the inside. Before the other volunteer lived there some missionaries did and they painted some pretty creepy pictures of Jesus on the wall with scary religious phrases so that is getting painted over the first day. See all that green in my yard? That is really green by Tougouri standards so I am thankful for that. The picture on the right is of the right side of my house and shows my douche on the left (thats a shower) and my latrine on the right (thats a hole in some concrete).
So my courtyard is a courtyard inside of a bigger courtyard. Inside the bigger courtyard are three small houses where three single men live. Yes, I live in what is called a celibatairium - a singles community (I wonder what Gob Bluth would call it? Anyone?). So thats fun. They will be very protective of me and they are my co-workers at the Lycée so thats cool. There are 8 teachers at the Lycée and I am one of two SVT (biology) teachers. Tougouri doesn't have any official restaurants but there are some places that sell cold beer. The village is really spread out and there seems to be a lot of people - 6,000 or so - but no restaurants. I live on a pved road which is a glorious things because transport on non-paved roads is interesting. Basically you would have to hitch a ride on a cargo truck with a herd of goats and a donkey or take Bush Taxis which are never predictable. But hey, what about Africa is predictable?
The best thing about Tougouri is the barage. A barage is a man-made resevoir that basically collects water for the village in the rainy season and then stores is for the rest of the year. It is a gorgeous place. I got bored so I went biking around Tougouri and decided to go see what the barage was like. What was it like? A giant oasis of gloriousness!! There were tons of huge trees and grass and people bathing and huge groups of women carrying things on their heads shouting "Zaabre kebaré!!" (good evening). It was awesome. My new favorite place in Africa.
So that's Tougouri. Next time i will tell y'all about transport in country. It should be a riot.

lundi 16 juillet 2007


There are moments everyday where I think to myself . . . WTF? How is this my life? I live in Africa. I LIVE in Africa. At least twice a day I am floored by the crazy occurances of my everyday life. Most of these are good moments but not all. There are still some things i just cant get used to. I cant believe that two months ago I was a college student . . . thats a bonus on leaving the country immediately - i got a lot of collegiate closure and feel like I have begun writing a whole other chapter.

Sometimes these WTF moments happen when I am on my velo (bike) at a stop sign (these for some weird reason say "STOP" even though no one here speaks english) and a herd of about 25 goats rush up behind me and i find myself in the middle of a goat herd on a paved road as a mercedes drives by the ensemble. WTF? Large herds of animals are now a part of my eveyday life here. Goats (which always make me think of my friend timmy), pigs with baby pigs, donkeys, and sheep (which for some reason look almost exactly like the goats) have become a part of my daily life as i repeatedly dodge them when i bike places. WTF?

Another WTF moment I had was last thursday when I was in Tougouri. I was visiting my Lycée and the director invited me to his house for lunch. I went to his house and sat under the big Tamarin tree in his yard with the director and two other professors. The mans wife brought out lunch - riz avec sauce d'arrichide (rice with peanut sauce) - and he asked me "ensemble ca va?" or essentially is is alright if we eat this as a group? With a comical smirk on my face I said "oui bien sur" or "why the hell not!" I had not eaten as a group like that yet and there were no utensils so i was half laughing at myself and half excited - I felt African. So, I sat under a Tamarin tree and, with my hands, ate off the same plate as three other Burkinabé men and spoke a little french and even less mooré. WTF? Needless to say I had a little bit of the rhea a few days later but it was negligable and the experience was totally worth it. I cant wait to do it again.

On saturday mornings at 730 my host family watches a french exercise program. They dont exercise to it, they just watch it. That in itself is a WTF? But the best part is the music. Usually it is a remix of U2 or classic rock - I dont know why. Once I couldnt control my laughter and I had to excuse myself to laugh hysterically in my room. I think this is one of those things where you had to be there. It was really weird - I thought "how is this my life now? I am in an African living room watching french exercise programing to the tune of a techno remix of 'More Than a Feeling' WTF?"

Transport in this country is so much fun. It is in itself a metaphor for Africa and deserves an entire Blog entry so all Im gonna say is when they put two goats and a sheep on top of my bus and then I leaned over to see two chickens across the aisle that was filled with people I thought WTF? I spent all day Saturday on transport and I had diarrhea (thanks for the immodium katie) and it was raining Africa style so I got drenched on three seperate occasions and it was so comical that it was one of the better days ive had here. WTF?

Those are just a few moments. I have several everyday. You never know what to expect here and I do things all the time that I would never ever have thought myself capable of. I have lost so many of my fears already. I love Africa - everyday is a new day here.

jeudi 5 juillet 2007


Tougouri - Where the hell is that? Many of you had never even heard of Burkina Faso much less the small town of Tougouri. Get used to the name now -- it is my future home. I found out yesterday what my site would be and I am very happy with the result. It is located in the south part of the north of Burkina Faso. It makes a triangle with Ouagadougou and Ouhigouya -- two of the largest cities. So not quite sahel but pretty close. Here are some stats

population 6000
its on a paved road which is huge deal
it has a decent marche
the lycee has 900 students
there is already another PC volunteer living there
I have 4 other volunteers from my stage living nearby
I will have my own house and my own courtyard
There is no electricity -- of course
The nearest cyber cafe is about an hour or two bus ride from Tougouri

All in all I am very pleased. They asked me what my one wish would be for my site and it was proximity to other volunteers -- and I definately got that. It is not very green and when the Harmattan picks up Ill have some good stories for yall. This is the very first peice od real estate that i will be able to call my own. Ill be given some money to furnish it etc. and I hope to plant a garden because otherwise veggies are difficult to come by.

Next week I will be travelling there to see my site and meet the school principal (my new boss). Ill get to see my house and the school Ill be teaching in . . . I am nervous about it but excited. I really am a Burkinabé now. So, go find it on a map and start planning your trip.

samedi 30 juin 2007

My Host Family

I live in the third largest city in Burkina Faso -- Ouahigouya ( from now on just "OHG") -- and my house is just a few blocks away from the training center for peace corps. All the people here live in a courtyard style set-up. So, behind one courtyard wall there may be anywhere between one and four houses. Usually the extended families live in separate houses in the same courtyard etc. I live with what must be an upper-middle class family. Actually, its pretty ridiculous how much my family has compared to some of the other volunteers staying in villages or further out in OHG. Okay, so my family has electricity, which means i get to sleep with a fan every night -- its the most awesome thing ever! Also, we have a TV and a satellite dish in the courtyard so we get like 20 channels. Hahaha. I know it sounds pretty ridiculous. The TV is turned on constantly -- i mean my siblings here make American kids look like they play in the park all the time. I watch a lot of dubbed spanish soap operas and TV5 France. Also, we have a refrigerator and a freezer -- these my mom uses to freeze the juices she sells.

Our house is the only one in the courtyard. Most of the volunteers in OHG have their own small room apart from the main house but my is inside next to the living room. So, there is a straw roofed "porch" in the front and then you walk in the front door and you are in the living room. This room is about the size of my kitchen at home. Off of the living room are two short hallways and a door. The door leads to my room at the back of the small living room. One of the hallways doubles as a kitchen and leads to the back part of the courtyard. The other hallway gives access to my parents room, the room all three kids share, and the indoor shower. Both of these rooms are about the size of my bedroom at home -- definately smaller than my dorm room in new south. The indoor shower is a small tiled room with a drain in the floor for your bucket shower. All of the rooms have lights -- this is also atypical of the majority of the volunteers home stay experience. Another cool thing is that we have a water pump right in my courtyard -- most people have to carry all their water to their house. Not me!

I live with a family of five. My dad, Abou, teaches math. He is the most outgoing member of my family and he likes to make me use my french. None of my family speakes more than 5 words of english. My mom, Amie, is my favorite. She cooks me all kinds of good food and makes sure I am always comfortable. Shes real sweet and she works really hard. Everytime she makes a new beverage she gives me a little with filtered water. Bissap is definately my favorite. Her french is a little harder for me to understand -- Africans talk really fast. I have three siblings. The oldest, Raicha, is 12. She helps with all the house work. She is really shy. My middle brother, Chaquie, is 10 and hangs out with his friends all day. He is really shy as far as Im concerned. The youngest, Papice, is 2 and he is super precious. He comes in my room just to stare at me. He is mostly just fascinated by my foreign-ess.

In the back of the house is the latrine. It has no door and no roof. I really dont mind the latrine at all. Okay, so thats my situation with the host family. I am sure I left something out but thats all for now.

jeudi 28 juin 2007

L`Hiver Nage

Well . . . it is the rainy season here in Burkina or locally known as L'Hiver Nage becasue when it rains it gets really delightfully refreshingly cold. And by cold i mean 75 or 80. My entire definition of hot has completely changed. The low 90s are toally comfortable and 80 is freezing cold. So, every couple of days we get a good rain -- and by a good rain I mean thunder and lightning for 12 hours. This poses a few interesting issues. Firstly -- there really isnt any grass so rain and dirt just become mud. Mud is really interesting to ride your bike in. And really its not just mud but a certain latrine smell that kinda complements the red dirt and covers your bike in all kinds of fun. I love the thunder and lightning -- it gets so cool at night and if I close me eyes it fells like i am in arkansas. The craziest part of the rainy season isnt the rain but the gale force dust cloud that swallows you whole just before the rain hits. I was on my bike riding to class when the dust cloud ate me alive. The whole sky just becomes orange with dust and its hard to see becasue the wind is blowing all of it right in your face. Usually these storms come at night and i just listen to the doors shake. Even under my mosquito net, inside my house, with my one window i can taste all the dust in the air. Its really crazy. Life in Burkina is always interesting. Some things are easy to adjust to (like bucket showers) and others not (like the absence of privacy). Flat tires on my bike always ruin my day but a good storm at night always sets me right.

lundi 25 juin 2007

Food for Thought

I thought I would give you all a small glimpse into Berkinabé life by relating the various foods, libations, and customs. Get ready.

Food. Pick a carb, any carb . . . rice, cous cous, yams (okay this isnt what you think of as a yam. Really it is just a big potato), an occasional potato, or millet (it has a fishy taste to it that i dont care for). Next you add a sauce. My personal faves are onion sauce -- so tasty -- ragout, tomato sauce, bean sauce -- also good -- or peanut sauce. On occasion you might find some "meat" in your food. I am never quite sure what animal it used to be and it is usually mostly tendon and bone. I dont know how this works out but there are always tiny fragments of bone in your food that you have to pick out with your fingers. The same goes with fish. Sometimes we volunteers splurge and get brochettes which are little meat kabobs -- these are oh so tasty and of a much higher quality. In general, a regular meal here costs a dollar.

Other faves include Banga which is just mashed up beans with a flavored oil drizzled on top. Sanwiches full of delicious avocados or eggs are another favorite of the volunteers. Berkinabé yougurt is so amazing -- its just plain yogurt but it tastes like dessert. Sometimes it comes with rice or millet in it and then it is called déguè. All liquids here are sold in little bags which are tied off at the top. You just rip a hole in the corner with your teeth and go to town. After you purell your hands of course. Beignets are another breakfast time favorite. They are a chewy salty dough that they fry. My friend Clay gets these for breakfast every morning. All I get is baguette.

Beverages. I already told you about Bissap. There is also Zoom Koom, Jus de Gingimbre, and Jus de Tamarin -- these are all natural laxatives if embibed in great quantities. Jus de Pain de Singe is made from baobob tree fruit. There are also several local beers that we volunteers enjoy -- Flag, Sobbra, and Barkina. Single beers here are twice the size of regular beers and they cost the equivalent of a dollar.

Okay . . . now some nuances of Berkina culture. You cant do anything with your left hand. Here, in place of toilet paper, the locals use a teapot of water and the splash action of their left hand. So, handling food, taking money and especially greeting people are all done with the right hand. There are some people here who are left handed and its been pretty funny for them. Also, you dont wear your regular shoes around the courtyard and house so my host mom bought me a pair of flip flops for our area -- she is really sweet. The local language here in Oahigouya is Mooré adn when you greet someone in Mooré you go through a long discourse on the other persons family, job, health etc. This is not just with close friends but with anyone you stop to greet. Okay, I am out of time. I hope yu have appreciated this update. Next time I will tell you all about my host family.

samedi 23 juin 2007

A Day in the Life

It is 530 am in Oahigouya, Burkina Faso and the sun is coming up and so I am waking up. I stay in bed and listen to the various animals that live in the street outside my courtyard. Donkeys, roosters, pigs, goats, and some insect or bird that makes a sound very similar to an alarm clock.

Finally at about 630 I get out of bed, wrap myself in my pagne and fetch water for my bucket shower. There is a faucet in my courtyard so i dont have to go far. I love a bucket shower. You toss cupfulls of cool water on your body and dont think about how hot it will be at 2 pm. In Burkina, it is rude to talk to anyone before you have bathed and brushed your teeth so i dont greet my family until i sit down for breakfast which is always bread and hot tea . . . if I am feeling brave, i risk a little butter too.

And then I hop on my bike and ride the 3 minutes it takes to get to ECLA -- the base for Peace Corps Training operations. On the way 20 or so strangers shout "Nasara Bonjour" which means white person or stranger. I laugh and say hello. One time i stopped my bike and 4 kids came up to me and touched my arms -- Nasara! nasara!! I feel like Brangalina. I sit in language classes or technical training classes for 8 hours. At least once a day I have an ADD meltdown and decide that i cant sit still anymore!! Five minutes later i am over it and back in class and reminding myself that training is only a few months and my actual job will be very different. Its an exercise in patience which I can always benefit from.

After class I go home and try to communicate with my family -- African French is nothing like French French and most times i cant even tell if my family is speaking mooré or french. At about 730 it is dinner time and i love Burkina food! It is pretty much always some kind of grain and a sauce. Rice and onion sauce . . . cous cous and tomato sauce . . . plantains and sauce . . . bean sauce . . . beans and oil . . . actually it really is tasty. There are also a ton of special beverages. My mom makes several and sells them in the village. Everyones favotite is Bissap which is made from hibiscus flowers and then sweetened. It is magenta in color and oh so tasty. My host mom makes me some with my filtered water so i wont get sick.

After dinner, I retire to my room -- about 830 or 900 -- and journal, read, or do a little homework. I point my fan -- which the family went out and bought for me because i kept fanning myself -- directly at my bed and tuck my mosquito net in around me and hope that i wont have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The next morning i do it all again.