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.