samedi 20 décembre 2008

Genies and Sorcerers

"They sold their blood??" I can't believe it.
She explains: "Yeah, at the clinic in my village they were pulling more blood than necessary for HIV/AIDS tests and selling the extra blood to the fetisheur!" 
Sarah, a fellow PCV, works at the local clinic in her village. As all Burkinabe are first animists and then Muslims or Christians, visits to the fetisheur (or witch doctor) are frequent. I was aware of the not-so-under under current of animism among burkinabe but the particulars and superstitions were not clear to me. Stories like Sarah's above are shocking but not unheard of. SO, like i always do when then nuances of Burkinabe ways and means evade me, I asked Konate.

"Konate, tell me, what exactly are genies and sorcerers?"
She's not surprised I'm asking of course and jumps into a brief break down.
"There are two kinds of genies. Genies that work for good and genies that work for bad. The people, they believe when something good or bad happens to them its because of the genies." Seems simple enough and not unlike American ghosts.
"Do you believe in Genies?"
"Me? Hiya! Things happen. You dont know." She is a math and science teacher and is avoiding just flat-out saying YES because she wants to be 'western' or 'rational.' Often, when babies die or the rains dont come or you fail a test etc. Burkinabe just say . . . that's a bad genie! One week Salmad was being weird and fussy and not his usually giggly self and Mariam kept saying "What is with my baby? Theres got to be some kind of genie in the courtyard." Of course she is half joking but she really does believe in that genie half. There is a really really smart kid in my 5eme class. His name in Dramane and his test scores are always way above everyone elses in every subject. Bienvenue, who is in his class, says,"Hiya! When you look at Dramane . . . in his eyes . . . he's got to be a genie." Of course, Dramane just studies which is a foreign concept to the vast majority of students. But genies are only part of the story.

"What about sorcerers Konate? What do sorcerers do?"
"There are good and bad sorcerers too. They curse people." She seems more confident about this aspect of animism.
"Would you ever go to a sorcerer?"
"Me? Whyee! If someone put a curse on me I would definately go get a counter curse. You've got to protect yourself. People are mean, they'll curse you. They get jealous. The bad sorcerers, they are just bad mean people. Thats how you know them. You know a good sorcerer because their family and friends prosper and they are very nice." Apparently, sorcerers dont advertise, its all speculation.
"Do you know of anyone that you've suspected to be a sorcerer?"
She gives this some thought . . . real thought.
"No . . . well . . . hmm . . . n-n-nooo . . . No, I dont know anyone ive suspected of sorcery. C'est du mal" It's not a good thing. Intriguing

I tell her the story at the beginning of the post about the clinic taking extra blood to sell to fetisheurs. She's outraged. "People" she says "Ah! They can be bad!" Then she tells me that some people get rich by selling people they know to fetisheurs who kill them for their blood. What??? For their blood??
"Yeah, you see africans with cars . . . where did they get that money??"
Geez! Obviously this doesnt happen toooo often but i believe her that it does indeed exist here.

We talk about how people hide behind sorcery and genies to explain illnesses and poverty because its easier than the alternatives: western medicine, admitting that the environment of the country isnt intended to support life (theres no water here! you cant grow anything!). Of course all this was done in french and i might have misinterpreted some things but i think not. 

Hah. Africa. No matter how long a person lives here, a person not born here, they can never really understand this place. Every month Im more and more aware of how much there is that i can just never understand. I can be culturally appropriate - know the people in that sense, their practices, daily lives, etc. but something will always be amiss. A lifetime wouldnt be enough.

vendredi 5 décembre 2008

Learning me some kids

My everyday and official job is as a teacher. There are many facets to being a peace corps volunteer; every volunteer has their "primary project" and their "secondary project." The former is your official assignment - be it teacher, health volunteer, small business development, agriculture, etc. Your "secondary project" is anything other need your community has that you try to fill outside of y our primary role. So anything i do outside of the school is a secondary project etc. Teaching takes up a lot of time - for instance i have 600 papers to grade this weekend and a two hour lesson to plan. Really, the perk of being a teacher in peace corps is actually having a 9-5 job . The other sectors (health, business development, agriculture, etc) have to kinda wing it. Also, no matter what I say about development , i think teaching is one of those things that can only open doors to people. In Burkina there is a lack of science and math teachers (really a lack of all teachers in all subject and of actual schools in general) so we , as peace corps volunteer teachers, fill that need as well as being a full-time teacher the school doesnt have to pay. So, here are some pictures of me in the classroom learning some kids about plants.

This is me and Marie Sawadogo talking about asexual plant reproduction. My resources as a teacher are scant and include an official Burkinabe text book, some various colored chalk, and a chalkboard.

Probably 12 out of every 90 or so students are girls. Here are three of them from my 6th grade class.

The buildings in the background are our new PlanInternational classrooms. There are super nice and well appreciated. Gotta love acacia trees. I think that one is Acacia senegal.
This is one of my 6th grade classes. There are 98 of them

That is a cluster of Neem (Azadirachta indica) which is a pretty neat tree - its leaves make a very effective insecticide. I heat the leaves and put the infused water around my other trees to keep termites and locusts away. It also helps keep the skeeters away. Oh yeah, and obviously makes for good shade for bikes and old fashioned between classes hanging out.

That is where i spend my days... Im in class 15 hours a week monday through thursday. I meet with each class (i have 2 6th grade, 2 7th grade, and 1 8th grade class) twice a week. Once for one hour and a second time for two hours. I hate teaching a will never ever do it again. Teachers dont get near enough credit for all the shit they have to take from ungrateful teenagers. (However, I do love peace corps/living in a crazy weird context at least half the time and enjoy other volunteers and like hanging out and cooking with my neighbors etc. so there are other things to get me through the week.) I sort of realized recently that I dont blog much about my actual peace corps job so i thought i'd give you guys an idea. Besides, i think the general idea people have about peace corps is that it is development work. In a way, it is - but that slow kind of development that takes generations to see. Peace corps is really more cultural exchange - like . . . wow in Burkina you do things this way?? Well in America we vary the things that we eat so our nutrition is more balanced! etc. Ok, i'm done rambling. Enjoy the pictures.

My Peeps

Out of sheer sloth i havent posted pictures of the "who's who" in my courtyard so I will do so now to give faces to names you all have heard before.

This is Bienvenue Banhoro. Yes, for you french novices he name does indeed mean "welcome." He is Konate's nephew and a student in one of my 7th grade classes. He's cutting up a chicken in this picture. On va bien manger!

You all know Salmad. His full name is Ibn Abdoul Salmad Konate. He and his mother share the same last name as my neighbor Konate (yes, she goes by her last name. This is very common in Burkina. I hope you arent confused). They are Muslim so his name is, as I'm told Arabic. My neighbor David always jokes that he can never go to America because he has an "Al-Queida" name.

That is Sidonie Catherine Konate - or as you are used to seeing just plain Konate. She is cutting some veggies. She is of no relation to little naked Salmad there. She teaches math and biology.

This is Salmata Diallo. She rocks my socks and is excellent conversation - a natural teacher. She teaches french. On the 11th she is scheduled to give birth to her first child!! Soon there will be two babies in my courtyard. For those of you who are curious about birth practices in Burkina, there are both extremes. The real villagers have been known to give birth wherever and whenever the moment strikes - alongside the road, at home, in the market etc. Some women choose to walk out into the bush to do it alone. More and more there are women who go to the local clinics to give birth. There are also those women (mostly functionaires - or people with real jobs i.e. not farmers) like Mme Diallo who have their babies in hospitals and get sonagrams and receive pre-natal care.

This is Mariam Konate, the school secretary and Salmad's mother. She is loud and funny and a mooch.

The only person not pictured is David, the school vice-principal and my duplex mate. He is not pictures because he is almost never around - i think that is in part because he works a lot but also because he is one man living with four women. Who can blame him? At least he never has to cook or do his laundry. Just to give you an idea of the ethnic diversity in the country all five of us are of different etnicities. I'm white, Mariam and Salmad are Djoula, David is Mossi, Mme Diallo is Peuhl, and Konate and Bienvenue are of a tiny ethnicity that I can neither pronounce or spell.

Random pictures of life in Burkina

So I was just walking to my marche one day at noon minding my own business etc. you know like you do . . . when I walked by my local chiefs house (he lives like a 2 minute walk from my house). Outside were two men dressed in traditional gard with the big cloth head wrap and heavy cotton robes astride equally tarted up horses. To have a horse is Burkina is a big deal - they are expensive animals that take a lot of water, food, and more water. But they have a lot of social and historical significance to the various ethnic groups. I asked some students who were standing around what was going on. What with the fancy horses and all the drumming and women ululating I thought maybe there was some kind of holiday i was unaware of etc. But the students were equally amused and interested as I was and just said that the neighborhood chief was celebrating just to celebrate. Ok i thought. Snapped some pics and went to the market. At lunch there was some crazy 15 minute bar fight at my lunch place where i eat rice and peanut sauce every market day. Seriously, there were like 6 people involved, men and women. One lady even chased the bar man with a machete. It was nuts. Certainly one of those experiences that assures me (for better or worse) just how used to Burkina and confident in my surroundings I've become because i was just watching that crazy bar fight eating my rice as if I were in a movie theater eating popcirn in an action movie (mental image of Eddie Izzard munching popcorn while talking about The Great Escape versus A Room With a View etc). Be assured no one was injured. Apparently the bar lady was asked to serve someone and she refused. That was what the 15 minute brawl was about. I consider bar fights of this nature out of character for Burkinabe - they prefer naps to fights.

Another picture of the same thing. Obviously.

That is just dangerous. Dont worry mom, when i ride in these cargo trucks i always ride in the cab.

Tabaski (the Muslim holiday 40 days after Ramadan) is the 8th and so sheep are a hot commodity right now. Actually, the bus station attendants had written this sheeps destination on his horns before putting him up top like common cargo. Once, when Mary Elizabeth and I were in Bobo-Dialosso taking a bus to head back to Ouagadougou, I was busy discussing something with a bus attendant while MEP was watching the guys load up the bus. Among the rice sacks and motos were a momma goat and some baby goats that they were just shoving under the bus, again like common cargo. Anyway, I was watching MEP from afar to see what her reaction was . . . she looked a bit disturbed. We ended up sitting in the seats directly above the goat family and could feel their eeeeehh's vibrating under our feet. In america we are so far removed from the living aspect of the animals we eat - you just pick up the lovely pink tenderloin from the butcher. You dont ride on a bus with it first. I actually dont know which method i prefer.

samedi 29 novembre 2008

November down . . . 8 more months to go

Just two pilgrims giving thanks.

This is a mosque in Bani 40 kilometers north of me. There are about 6 mosques, one of which faces Mecca and the other five are centered around and facing that first mosque. Bizzare.

This is Dori where we celebrated Tday this year. Its sandy. Really sandy. My village is about 65 kilometers south.

This lady was trying to see me some kind of mystery grease ball. No thank you mam. Wend na lok raaga!!

This is the Thanksgiving day party. A bunch of volunteers gathered in Dori. We had chicken, grilled pork, salad, stir fried veggies, mashed taters, and rice ans peanut sauce. It was very tasty. I made hats. As you can see. What?? I get bored in my village.

That is little Aida Rebecca Zongo. She is one month old and so precious!! And peeing on me in the course of this picture. She is Karim Zongo's first child (he's an english teacher at my school). My life is full of babies. Later this same day Salmad pooped on my foot.

The kittens have gotten bigger and will be going to their respective families in a few weeks. Geez! They are cute and entertaining. The mostly black one is the little girl "Petite" and the mostly white is the boy "Petit." Petit will be living with the Ouedraogo family 4 doors down and Petite is going to live with two students, the Kafandos. I am 95% sure that they wont be eaten by their families.

The school year is in full swing now. I have papers and more and more papers to grade. See the stacks upon stacks on my desk. It drives me to the drink - 100 percent alcohol for me and a 50 percent average for my students.

dimanche 2 novembre 2008

New Editions

There have been several new additions to the courtyard. As you can see from the picture on the left, Eloise had two new kittens. Thank goodness they are already spoken for. I can't be living alone with 40 cats. My self-esteem couldn't take the blow.

Three new professors have moved into the courtyard as well. Like I've said before I live in what translates as "a singles home." Meaning that in the courtayd are several small houses for people who live alone. A new english teacher moved into my old house. We got a new secretary who has a baby - that's him on the left. Also, there is a new french teacher in the courtyard who is pregnant and due in december. So, its kinda like a sorority house. There are now 4 women, two men, one baby, and one 14 yr old student living in the courtyard. The women, being Burkinabe, gossip and chat all day long and are all up in my business and want to know what im doing and whats that and aren't i hungry and oh i need to get fatter and why dont i come outside and chat too. I am never wanting for company. Its really kinda fun. They crack me up and are all naming future babies after me.

Scorpion Carrier

That is a picture of what the locals call a Scorpion Carrier spider. I don't like them. They are sinister looking and huge. And they insist on living in my house. I see two a week or so. I can catch their movement from across the room out of the corner of my eye. This particular one crawled across the length of my body to finally rest there beside my head at the edge of my chair. Yuk. Im not as afraid of them as you'd think a person would be. Sure, I keep my distance but I dont scream and shout and stay awake at night worrying that they are crawling on me and laying eggs under my toe nails (they dont do that it just seems like something that would keep up at night). I dont even kill them. I'm too afraid that they can think and I'll find out that they do indeed bite. I mean, look at those pincers. They don't seem to be too afraid of me and so its up to me to relocate when they want to hangout by my right ear like this guy. Ive never ever seen them in the day or discovered a spider web or spider hovel etc that they would live in. And I don't really want to. The arthropods in this country way freak me out and when I'm trying to work by lamplight while simultaneously flicking away praying mantises that want to pinch me, mosquitos that want to give me malaria, locusts that want to make loud noises while jumping in my hair, and beetles (sp?bea?) that want to walk slowly across my lesson plan, and my neighbors one uping each other on the most horrible scorpion sting stories, and what not and I think "GEEZ!!! What is wrong with this country?!?!! Can't a person work without worrying about freakin bugs?!??!! I want to go baack to America!!!!!!"

samedi 1 novembre 2008

You Have to At Least TRY

I haven't posted in awhile. Sometimes I just don't have much to say about PC that you haven't already heard. Hard to believe but true. SO I'll just update everybody on recent events what's been shakin in Burkina.

The first day of school was the 1st of october, a wednesday. 5 out of 11 teachers were actually in Tougouri and showed up at school on the first day, myself included. I didn't even go back to the school until the monday following. By that monday morning (the 6th) about 8 of the 11 profs had arrived and were at least going into the classrooms. I was able to go into every class and talk to them about what we would be learning etc and what it means to study science and why its important to their lives. By the next monday morning all 11 of the profs had arrived. I began formally teaching!!!!!

Teaching is much easier this year but I don't like it any better. Here are the figures for this year: I teach (am in the classroom) 15 hours a week
2 6th grade classes @ 100 kids each
2 7th grade classes @ 90 and 93 kids respectively
1 8th grade class @ 60 kids
I teach in the mornings mostly except for wednesday afternoons which sucks big time because its hot and im usually in a heat induced lethargy that doesnt make for stupendous teaching.
No classes on fridays. sweet. escape.
All told, I'm very pleased with my workload and schedule. My only complaint is ... um ... well having to go into a classroom.

I did have one of those supremely peace corpsy moments the monday morning i began actually teaching. Usually the teachers all stand around in the mornings and chat a bit before going into class. We're just avoiding the inevitable. Anyway, as I walked off toward my 7am 7th grade class I was thinking about the exact same moment the year before . . . . . . (flashback) . . . . . .

I had been in the country almost 4 months exactly. The first three months of which I spent in training learning how to be a teacher in Burkina Faso. The fourth month was spent figuring out how to live and not die in my village. There are many aspects to what exactly PCV's do everyday. My "on paper" job is just one small thing BUT it was the shape that PC service had taken in my mind before i set off on the adventure - I AM A TEACHER. So it had taken me 4 months to get to the day when I started my job. Up until that point it was all training and now it was time to put it all to use . . . money where my mouth is etc. So i stood there outside the classroom that first day of real teaching last year and thought . . . geez, this is it. This is the exact moment where you decide if you really want to be a PCV. You can walk in the classroom and teach and live in an african village for two years and do all that goes with that OR you can go home and enjoy all the comfort and peace that goes with that. In one step I was deciding to be a PCV and I really considered both options. The only thought that was in my head was this: "Well, you have to at least TRY. Yeah . . . i do. I have to try. Its gonna be hard. Yeah its gonna be hard. I have to try. Deeeeeeeep breath. Ok. Fuck it. Here I go." And I walked in and decided to be a PCV. (END flashback).

This year was not nearly so pivotal in my mind but I had a little giggle and burn of pride in thinking about how FAR i had come and how much I had learned since then.

mercredi 3 septembre 2008

Benefits of a Concrete House

This past June, indeed for my 23rd birthday, i moved houses. This was easily the best b-day present I ever received. Before I lived in a filthy old mud hut. I think it qualified as a hut at least - no the roof wasn't mud but tin - however, there were bits of straw sticking out of my walls in some places. I would brush against the wall and have a spaz attack because I knew that a freakishly poisonous animal was about to strike and I would be seizing on my floor and no one would hear me because i would be too paralyzed to scream. Turning to face my inevitable end and it would just be dirty straw that was coming loose from my wall. When the wind would blow hard, small rocks and dirt would fall on my head. There are myriad joys and annoyances of life surrounded by dirt. (That's my old house on the left)

But then on June 2nd I moved on up. To a deluxe apartment in the sky. Or at least a deluxe concrete two room house in the west African Sahel. I'll take what I can get and that's it to the right with the awesome smurf pride blue paint. Really, though I love the concrete house. It's new so the bugs are just now moving in (I killed 3 small scorpion carriers last week) and when the wind blows my house doesn't crumble on top of my head. It's wonderfully cool compared to the old house which had low ceilings (friends over 6ft tall had to duck to get in the doorway). But these all pale in comparison to one other bonus that my neighbor David pointed out to me . . .

One day right before moving into the house David and I were discussing all the wonderful things about concrete houses. The house David and I live in (he lives in one half of the concrete duplex paradise and I in the other side) is the ONLY concrete building on my side of town except for the high school. These glorious sentinels of sensible housing are rare in villages so the fact that David and I were actually discussing the joys of getting to live in one makes sense. I mentioned all of the things I said earlier in this post and then David mentioned just like it was a normal thing that the best part about living in concrete is that your neighbors won't push through your walls and steal your stuff. Geez! Push through walls?? That is soooo typical of Africa. How do do-gooders expect to start "sustainble" business or education or any foreign project etc. in a place that doesn't even have sustainable buildings. Most buildings in the more rural parts of West Africa build with mud and sometimes a bamboo lattice (but that's only in countries that can grow things). Eventually houses literally melt away from wind and water abuse. There is a Mosque in Mali that is the largest mud structure in the world which has a festival every year where people come and "build back" the Mosque where it has wasted away over the previous year. As far as houses are concerned, a family will just build a new mud house when the old one gets beyond repair. It's essentially free because the earth under your toes is belongs to who stands on it, just mix it with straw and water and you've got a house.

Geez. Now I've gone and abused my Peace Corps soap box when really I just wanted to laugh about what David said. Hahaha push through the walls!

samedi 30 août 2008

Stealing from the Poor

In rural Africa, homelessness is a realtive term. Buildings are little more than enclosures that keep some of the wind, dirt, and rain out of your face. People don't really live in their houses and are likely to sleep anywhere. In every village however, there are les fous or people with mental illnesses who are family exiles and their care becomes the responsibility of the neighborhood. Neighbors make sure they get some food, enough clothingm, an occasional handout etc. There are 4 fous in Tougouri.

I bring this up because I recently found out that i've been stealing from my fous. I told some of you about how I find money on the ground and will ask around, "hey, is that yours? No" Nobody ever claims money found on the ground. I always thought this was kinda strange in a country so poor. Anyways, if no one would claim the money I'd pick it up for myself. Well . . . I was talking about this to another volunteer who informed me that Burkinabe never pick up fallen money because it's God's way of giving income to les fous. Like manna from heaven.

So shameful!! I've been stealing from the poor and needy. I have stopped picking up fallen money and reformed my ways.

Happy Anniversary

I just recently celebrated two major Peace Corps milestones. My one year anniversary as a Peace Corps Volunteer and my one year anniversary as a resident of the genial village of Tougouri in the Namenatenga (province) which is part of Centre Nord (region) in Burkina Faso (country), West Africa (continent) on Earth (planet) . . . to be specific. Congrats to me et felicitations! I am intensely proud that i've made it so far.

Both special days turned out to be nothing quite special at all. They were typical days in village. I woke up around 7am and journaled while I breakfasted on oatmeal and coffee. I alternated staring into space and chores and reading. Everday I make myself go for a walk as the sunsets. I say "make" because somedays I just dont have the patience or am not in the mood to be stared at and called white every 3 seconds. But I always make myself go. On the anniversary of my arrival in Tougouri I was walking down the paved road in my village like I do every evening. I bought some bread etc. and I am just thinking about how amazing and ridiculous living in a village in Africa is and enjoying the beautiful sunset and the general absurdity of my being there in the first place. I hear this rumbling behind me and panicked voices. I turn around and almost got gored by some runaway bulls and a goat tearing through the middle fo town. How wonderfully appropriate. Twenty paces down the road and Bundi, one of my little neighbor children, brings me a galette for a present which is a kind of fried doughnut made from millet. So my anniversary was celebrated by two of my favorite things about living in this country: the wonderful hospitality and warmth of its people and the ridiculous and bizarre circumstances I find myself in.

lundi 11 août 2008

Second Hand T-Shirts

One of the perks about living in the third world is the t-shirts. All those clothes out there that are donated to charity by countless self-less Americans end-up in open markets across the world. Burkina Faso is no exception. The market in Tougouri is no exception. I see Africans wearing the most random and ironic t-shirts. Just today, somebody put an "I'm Big on Little Rock" t-shirt in my box. Some self-sacrificing Arkansan decided to share the joy of Little Rock with Africa and now the t-shirt is mine! Some things I see are just sort of . . . incongruous. For example, I saw a huge grown man . . . you know, the type that would be cast in movies as the semi-neanderthal who stomps about grunting. A really big guy. And he was wearing a t-shirt that said "Princess" in pink sparkles. Seriously. In Tougouri we have something called APE which is the Burkina equivalent of the PTA. It's made up of rich parents in the village just like in America and the president (an important man in the village) often sports a shirt that says "It's gettin Hot in huuuur! So take off all your clothes!" Soooo professional.

When men wear ridiculous shirts its funny but when it's little girls in wildly inappropriate garb it becomes kind of tragic. For example . . . we PCV's really try to get involved in International Women's Day (March 8th) because the women of this country are at best second class citizens. I had a friend who was playing soccer with a bunch of neighborhood girls when she noticed one of her team mates (a 12 year old girl) was sporting a t-shirt that read, in puff paint, "A suck, a buck." I'm sure some sorority girl donated her shirt to a "good cause." Gee whiz. Another time i was proctoring a test in my 7th grade class when I noticed one little girl wearing a shirt that said "I killed a 6 pack just to watch it die" I don't even know how I would go about explaining that. Ridiculous.

The weirdest thing about all this is that they don't even care what their t-shirt says. I love explaining to Burkinabe what their t-shirts say but they never really care. In America we are always conscious of what our t-shirts say: what will people think if I wear this "Phish" t-shirt?? Will they think i'm a jobless druggie?? What if I bump into a really big Phish fan? Will they think I'm a complete phony if I don't know all the words to Reba?? Maybe that's just me. But these Burkinabe honestly dont care if they are a man wearing a shirt that says "I have the p@#$y so I make the rules."

So if you have a particularly offensive shirt you might as well donate it to Africa because they don't know what it says nor are they effected one way or another by the t-shirts meaning. So keep on keepin on America! Donate those t-shirts!

vendredi 18 juillet 2008

Peace Corps Part II

It's funny how I feel like I've been here before. I'm in the Memphis Airport NWA terminal on a LONG trip to Africa. This last June (2007) I sat in a very similar terminal waiting for one of many flights drinking my Starbucks Latte and saying to myself "This . . . is your last . . . vanilla latte . . ." When in reality I'll probably have about three more latte's but every one could be the last good one. Maybe they'll burn the coffee or put too much vanilla in the coffee etc. After this it's back to insatnt coffee . . . (bereaved sigh). I'm even listneing to my iPod like i was last time. And listening to a song that I was obsessed with when I left the first time: John Mayer's "Stop This Train."

13 months ago I was completely freaked out and feeling naive and out of my mind. Who moves to Africa? Especially someone who considers themselves a major home-body. Nothing like 2 weeks in your parents house will help cure you of that latter sentiment. But I do miss Little Rock very much when I'm gone. It's so cute. I am sitting in this terminal and thinking . . . I have a second chance. It feels so much like I'm just doing it over again. Let me see if I can explain a bit. I have already been there over a year and feel like I've seen all there is to see and now all i have before me is the opportunity to do it again but maybe better this time. The learning curve has dropped off and along with it most of the novelty of living in Africa. Things that were once cute are now annoying ("Nasara!! Nasara!!"). Things that were once insane are now commonplace (Ladies biking while talking on cell phones with 20lbs of stuff on their heads and a baby on their back). I already feel like I'm doing it all over again (13 months of being a teacher gone and 13 to go) and the added scenery - airports and their endless terminals of "lasts"- last coffee, last burger, last good beer, last country full of cute well-dressed men etc - leaves me feeling like I have been given a second chance to do things with my service that i wanted to get done but hadn't yet.

So Peace Corps round II here we go! Allons-y!! This time around I have some SERIOUS advantages. I speak French and Mooré. I know how to live in Africa. I have a pumice stone. I packed a bag full of the things that really matter: tuna, chicken, folgers individual coffee bags, books, and clothes made of cotton. This year will be much easier. There are two things I really want to work on and get going in my community:

First: Moringa!! Moringa is a tree that grows in Burkina (it's native to India) and is rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, and proteins. It actually is richer in vitamin C than oranges as well as richer in calcium than milk. Needless to say, in a village abounding in malnutrition this is a miracle tree. The thing is to make its growth sustainable and to educate the people about its use. Really, the most sustainable way I can see of spreading it around is to grow the trees for my immediate neighbors and educate them in a really informal way. The only stipulation being that they grow seedlings and give trees away to family and friends. My fingers are crossed but I've been in Africa long enough to know not to get my hopes up.

The second project I want to do is Women's Health. This will hopefully meet two important goals: the first being to empower girls to take care of their own mental and physical health and secondly to teach them about basic health. I have already mentioned this particular project in past blogs but I hope it goes well. These girls are just not in charge of or educated about their own bodies and it makes me sad. My hope is to bring in locals (the midwife, the doctor, etc) to educated the girls.

So, yes - I am glad to be going back. So many of you have been asking if I am sad to be getting back to Burkina after being on vacation, i mean, being in America. I have built a life there, I have a nice little niche that took time to create. So my hopes this time around are to really do some things that could benefit my community. So much of my last year in Burkina was devoted to learning how to simply not die and not freak out constantly. This is why PC is two years long - it has to be in order to be effective and sustainable. Lesson learned. So now I can get back to business.

Thanks to all you faithful blog readers out there!!! I really appreciate y'all's enthusiasm and comments. It was good to see you all and to be a part of Mobert's and Jarkie's nuptials. Congratulations.

Yes, I'll have the Crunchy Rolls

Greetings from the Detroit Airport. Man . . . I love America. I am on the internet while drinking a Blue Moon . . . and its cold!! So awesome. Maybe I'll have sushi for dinner . . . or mexican? I don't know!!! Anything is possible!!! Goodbye land of cold beverages! Land of free education!! Land of English speakers!! Before I moved to Africa, I liked America - you know, we have our share of political . . . how should i say it . . . embarrassments and idiocies. Is that a word? I'm not sure but Im American; therefore it is now. That's how America works. You are born there and are privy to its free education (until 12th grade and after that you basically have to sell your soul to government loans or to your parents) and then all you have to do is work hard - and you'll be rewarded (of course this doesn't include people on minimum wage). But in Africa you can work hard all your life and its like treading water.

This is my answer to a question that was posed my direction repeatedly over my visit to the Glorious Land Of The United States of Cold Libations and Tasty Food of America. The question being: Doesn't being over there just make you really appreciate what you have here." Yes. Dear God. Yes. Everyday, I see something that makes me soooo glad that I had the luck and fortune to have been born in America. My life is insanely easier just by virtue of being born in this wonderful place.

mercredi 18 juin 2008

Props to MEP

Props to world traveler extraordinaire MARY ELIZABETH PRITCHARD!

No worries friends and family - MEP is safe and well (for the moment). She arrived about a week ago at the humorously dilapidated Ouaga Airport. Use your imagination and all your pre-existing mental images from movies about what an african airport might look like and voila! There aren't terminals - everything is done on/off the tarmac. There are only three rooms. The middle one is baggage claim where the jolting rubber conveyor is buffered on the sides by old used tires. The noises it makes inspire every confidence that your bag has been eaten and shredded by whatever is making that sound if not just lost in somewhere in the International Airport of Addis Ababa.

Out in the arrivals area outside the airport i was nervously awaiting MEP's arrival. Excitement, nervousness, and one generous white russian all mixed together had my synaptic celfts firing furiously (or at least it felt that way. what with the vodka and all my nervous system was taking its sweet time). Anyways . . . i was freakin excited. And there she was - I saw this little person pop up above the crowd searching for my face. There were gasps on either side of the dividing people and them she bursts out from behind the divide and it's true MEP actually came to africa. I couldn't believe she was there. Someone from my previous life made it into this one. There were some teary eyes and lots of hugs and squeling. I think it freaked the africans and europeans out. I have never been so overjoyed in my life. To see a friendly face like that after a year - someone you have already done all the work with, who knows you, and accpeted you a long time ago . . . well, i just didn't realize how much i missed all of you. I could feel the absence from my sinuses to my gut to the arches of my feet. All of that represented in this little messenger MEP. It's like wearing spandex all day long and then you get home and put on your favorite sweat pants . . . sweet reflief. Don't be sad Mom. It'll be ten times more intense when i see you in a couple days. YAY!!!!!!!

So I took MEP to a bar and we got kinda drunk. Ok . . . pretty drunk. It's the best way to get someone used to the time change and erase all that discomfort of air travel. We stayed in Ouaga a couple days and ate good food. Then we moved to my village for 5 nights. Poor MEP . . . i'll let her describe it all in her guest blog that she will be posting . . . but she discovered the freakish amounts of flies that exist (much to her displeasure). She did laundry by hand, dishes by hand, ate To, used a latrine, bucket bathed, ate with her hands etc. I told her that it gets hotter at night. The sun goes down and the thermomeer goes up - she didn't believe me but found out soon enough for herself. We went to the market.

After 5 days though we needed to get moving. So we headed to see the elephants. They were spectacular!!!! Or at least they would have been had we seen any. I don't want to talk about it.

After that we went to Bobo-Diolousso which is wayyyy cute - you know, if Burkina were Arkansas, Bobo is the Eureka Springs of Burkina. Sadly, MEP got one of those 24 diarrhea/vomit bugs and we spent most of it in our room. Which is fine cause it rained anyway. I got over-confident and let her eat raw vegetables. oops. She's fine now no worries and no more raw veggies.

Next, it's off to Ghana!!!! So, that's it for now. I just wanted concerned parties to know that we are alive and having a grand time.

mercredi 28 mai 2008

Either Kill Me or Come Get Me

Here is a health update for all of you who are concerned about me and my horrid kidney stone.

The Sunday evening before last I passed a kidney stone . . . that is to say I gave birth to a rock. I have been told that the pain is worse than child birth and I can see how that would be. It hurt. A lot. About 5pm after chugging halk a liter of water i got huge cramping in my abdomen and left side and, being the science nerd that I am, knew exactly what it was. "Oh GOD! Not a kidney stone!! Please GID don't make me pass a kidney stone alone in my hut! Please Please Please!!!" Well, GOD did not answer that particular prayer and that's okay - no hard feelings. By 5:30pm the pain was bad enough that i was onlyhalf conscious. Also, my phone wasn't working - i couldn't call people and they couldn't call me. Just text messages. So i sent this message to our PC doctor: "kidney stone. please help." A few hours went by and the doctor hadn't contacted me (i didnt know my phone wasnt working) and so I sent this message: "come get me or kill me. i cant get up" and about 15 minuted later my homologue (a colleague who helps me out integrating in my village etc...) came over and i talked to the PC doctor on his phone. Then Nikiema (my homologue) went in search of drugs. Glorious glorious drugs. About an hour later he came back with the doctor in charge of the clinic in my village and they gave me the most refreshing IV injection i have ever had! Twenty minutes after the injection and 4 hours after the pain began I was doing okay - no longer screaming, thrashing, or pulling out my hair etc - there was pain but it wasn't nearly as bad. Eventually I passed out and woke up stone free!

My whole village thought I was dying and everyone has an opinion as to why I got sick:

"You shouldn't live with your cat like that! You can't touch it!"

"You eat out too much!"

"It's your water! There is too much calcium in the water!"

The PC doctors agree with the latter (my homologues opinion) and I will probably have to take some meds to help my kidneys out. But I should be fine! No worries everybody. The thing about kidney stones is that once you pass them - it's done. The pain is gone. Anything is better than Malaria!

Hope you are all doing well and I CANNOT wait to see all of you when I come home in July!

dimanche 11 mai 2008

Je suis plein!

This is a blog post for any of you out there who have been through the ridiculous and confusing task of learning a new language. French is especially interesting, i feel, because english vocab is 60% french. So there are a lot of words that are the same but pronounced differently. Take the word "different," in french it is "different" or "sensation" which is "sensation" in french. Actually, pretty much any word that ends in -tion in english is probably the same in french. Same with words that end in -ive in englsih are probably the same in french only with a -if at the end. However, sometimes I find myself trying to talk with somebody and I will need a word . . . "Oh what's the word?? what's the word?? comment on dit???" My mind searches and searches and comes up with nothing. SO, I just take the word in english and pronounce it in french. This often works. Like . . . "distruction." But sometimes it doesn't. Like the english word "partition" you would think that you could just pronounce the same letters but in a french accent . . . think again! "Partition" is a musical score in french . . . the word I needed was "cloisin." Argh! It's so frustrating to always sound like an idiot.

Pronunciation is always fun but even more tricky is trying to figure out if something in english translates into french. For example . . . if you want to tell the restaurant guy that you want to take your grilled chicken "to go" you have to think . . . "hmm . . . i wonder if that translates . . . i'll try it." and you say in french "pour sortir" and voila! he understood you. However, sometimes you want to tell people that you are excited about the upcoming marriage of your neighbor and so you think "surely 'excited' translates!" so you say "Je suis tres excite pour vous!" Well, what you think is "I am very excited for you" actually translates into "I am very horny for you!" and now you have offended some people. The same goes for the french word for "full" or "plein" but when you have eaten a lot of food and you want to tell your hosts that you can't eat anymore goat testicle - that you are full - you cannot say "Je suis plein" because that means that you are pregnant and then they will probably just want to feed you more.

My other favorite activity is circumlocuting a word you don't know. I can never remember the word for speakers so I am always saying "You know . . . the thing that you attach an mp3 player to and sound comes out . . . what do you call that?" Like the other day I wanted to use the expression "Wolf in sheeps clothing" but couldn't remember the word for wolf or coat (not that they would understand it because there aren't wolfs here) so I ended up saying this "You know the savage dog who wears the hair of the sheep and he is not nice like the sheep and he eats of the sheep but it is hidden because he wears of the sheep hair like the other sheep" Good GOD these people must think I am an idiot.

That is just a sample. You people who have learned another language know what I'm talking about. It is a bumpy bumpy road. Hmm . . . I wonder if that translates . . . le chemin est . . .

samedi 10 mai 2008

Long Time No See

Hello friends. I have not blogged in a really long time and i beg your forgiveness. i am not dead or sick or sad. I just haven't had anything interesting to say! I am approaching a year in Burkina and miraculously, this is becoming "old hat." Having said that, I hope that I have used that expression correctly. Recently the fine lines between French and English have become blurred and the first thing to go was my ability to navigate idioms and english is FULL of idioms. The Americans I interact with regularly speak the same language i do - franglais - and so any language fumbles are rarely noticed. I was speaking with my lovely sister M0lly the other day and we were talking about her rehearsal dinner and, in wishing to express my excitement, i said, "Oh! I will be at the top of the page!" There was a confused silence on the other end of the phone and it occured to me that what I just said may not be an english "ism" afterall. "Wait . . . what does that mean?" Molly politely asked and . . . i had no idea what it meant or where I came up with it. Top of the page? It's not even a translated french idiom. So excuse me when I say weird things. I know not what I do.

How have I been keeping myself occupied lately you ask?? Well, I have been teaching Sex Ed. That's right. Sex Ed. In Africa. In french. Actually the french makes it easier because I don't react when i say things like "muqueuse uterine." Pleasant. I had to draw lots of diagrams of the reproductive organs on the board for the students . . . in colored chalk. Corpus cavernosum in purple. Oviduct in green. It was a good time. They had many many mis-understandings about the origins of pregnancy which I was very sad about because they tend to become sexually active at young ages here. "Madame, is it true that if you only have sex during the day you won't get pregnant?" "Um . . . no. That is NOT true. The time of day has nothing to do with it." We talked about STD's and condom use. Family Planning and the menstrual cyle. There are several illigitamately pregnant girls at my high school and I really feel strongly about teaching sex ed. I must admit though, and its difficult to admit this to myself, but I fear that it all went in one ear and out the other and then when it comes down to it they will side with their traditional beliefs. Argh! This is development. You battle mind-sets and points of view and its a lot of work for not a lot of gain. You can give a day-long sensibilisation about the evils of female circumcision (which is illegal and yet still rampant in Burkina) and then have someone approach you and say "Sorry I can't meet your for tea tomorrow. My daughter is getting circumsized." Wait . . . what?

On a lighter note. There has been an addition to the fam in Tougs. Eloise had a baby! Just one. Clay calls Eloise "Louis" and started calling the kitten "Clark" which he is allowed to do because it will be his cat. So Clark currently lives under my bed and makes a lot of cute noise. My camera is broken so I don't have a picture but she is all white except for her tail which is black and gray stripes like Eloise.

It is very hot. Never below 90. Not even at night. I sleep outside and it's annoying because the mosquito net blocks the breeze and the animals make lots of noise and wake me up at 4:30 am.

I am approaching a year! And about to have a birthday! The novelty of living in Africa is wearing off. It's becoming "My life" and not "My life in Africa." Things that were crazy to me a year ago have become normal and uninteresting. Holding someone's chicken while they get on the bus . . . ladies on bikes with a baby strapped to their back and a huge bowl on their head . . . the food . . . warm beer . . . these things are just kinda normal. Wh0 new you could get used to a life in Africa?? Of course there are still some surprises. Here's a good story for y'all: This didn't happen to me but it could have because it happened on the bus I take for transport to the capitol. An old Fulani woman (the Fulani are a really marginalized ethnic group here - they are truly villagois) stood up out of her seat on the bus and placed a kalbash (a bowl made of a gourd) on the floor of the bus and squated over it and actually peed right there on the bus and tossed it out the window!!!!! Hahaha!!!

What's next you say?? June is taken up by my lovely friend Mary Elizabeth who is coming to BF for the whole month!! yay! I hope she has fun. Then in July I have Molly's and Jackie's weddings and AMERICA!! Also, in July and into August I am helping to train the new group of teachers who will be arriving in June. Nana and I are taking a trip in September! And then the school year starts again in October. I am spoiled. But I dont mind.

samedi 26 avril 2008

Peace Corps Burkina Faso Pack List

This post is intended to help out the group of incerdibly fortunate americans about to depart for BURKINA FASO!!

So, this is what I would pack if I could do it all over again: (sorry - its kinda girl specific)

1 light weight rain coat
1 jeans
2 pants - cropped
2 skirts - below knee because knees are "sexual objects" here
4 short sleeve shirts
2 tank tops
2 long sleeve
2 t-shirts
*note: thats a lot of clothes but really - just because its hot and dusty doesnt mean you wont care what you like. I have specific clothes that i wear to teach in and specific clothes i wear when i am at PC functions in the capitol etc . . .

15 undies - cotton
2 underwire bras
2 comfy bras
2 sports bras
1 pair chacos/keens/sporty sandal
1 running shoes
1 maybe flip flops
1 sleep shorts
1 longer comfy pants/pj pants

soap, shampoo, razor and blades, deoderant, contact lens and accoutrement, make-up (once again, if you cared about what you looked like in america that wont change just because you are in burkina. trust me.) face sunscreen, rubber bands, bobby pins, etc . . . bascially a 3 month supply of stuff you already use in america

travel pillow (not necessary but i LOVE mine)
tent (bughut or travelscreen)
world map
scientific french-english dictionary if you are a science teacher
nalgenes (2)
IF you ae a glasses wearer - bring two pairs of glasses and i also really LOVE my perscription sunglasses
computer and accoutrements and carry case
iPod (any gadgets that help you maintain sanity)
your hobbies (for me thats knitting maybe a guitar etc - dont abandon your hobbies just cause ur in africa)
sewing kit
duct tape
tapes (tape players are everywhere!)
car chargers (i'll explain later)
cell phone - it will probably work in burkina and you just get a SIM card here
bike helmet
mini sewing kit
stuff to remind you of home and family
camera and extra card
memory stick
cash (200 bucks maybe for vacations to Ghana etc . . . PC will give you a living allowance all thru staging etc.)

med sized back pack - like a hikers pack
huge duffle
large satchel/sm back pack - for weekend travel etc.

- if you want to be able to access your bank account get a visa card and there are ATM's in the capitol you can access. You can get by without this, of course, but it might make some things easier.
- this is not a camping trip. so dont pack like you are going camping for two years. You will live here, cook here, you want to be comfortable
- Ok. I tried to pack as little as I could - like 45 lbs i think it was. In hindsight, I would pack much more.
- This is how electricity works here: some people -very few- will have electricity. For everyone else you use solar panels to charge a car battery or Solios. You get a car lighter socket that hooks up to the battery so anything that can charge from a car lighter socket you can charge in your village. Awesome.
- Burkina is very brown so everything you own will be brown eventually, So when packing keep in mind that its best to bring things that you can bleach the crap out of, or that wont turn brown as easily.

Hope all that helps! If you have any questions just send me an e-mail:

vendredi 14 mars 2008

Worth Your Weight In Cows

In Burkina, at least in village, a man's wealth is measured by his number of cattle and wives.
"Mr. Sawadogo has 5 wives and 15 head of cattle!"
Being an Arkansan this is not such a foreign concept for me. I will relate a conversation between myself and a student to all of you - one i have about every week:

"Madame, will you take me back to America?!"
"Sure. You can stay with my parents until you learn english. But its expensive and I'm not gonna buy you a ticket."
"That's okay Madame. I have ten cows!"
"1o Cows?! Why didn't you say so!"

It tickles me that my initial reaction to this conversation is not: "What do cattle have to do with plane tickets and why is this kid bragging about his cattle herd?" but "Hot damn! 10 cattle? Come on to America then!"

I am slowly becoming more and more African. Thinking of wealth in terms of cattle is just one example. My ravenous cravings for American food have been replaced by a preference for Burkina fare.

"Yumm . . . which do you want: this juicy cheesy hamburger and fries OR this steaming plate of rice with tomato sauce?"
"Hmm . . . are those morsels of delicious sheep meat i see in that sauce?"
"Why yes they are"
"Shit! Hand it over. Screw the hamburger!!"

Who am i? Things that should not be common place to a naive white girl have become regular daily activities. Goats in my latrine, bones and rocks in my food, shoeless and bottomless dirt covered children, old men on bikes with cell-phones, women shouting and shoving peanuts at me at bus stations . . . all this stuff passes by me and rarely do I think . . . "ya know, 10 months ago that would have freaked me out." Burkina is becoming home.

I keep trying to look at my African life with my old eyes. The eyes that looked at the Peace Corps website pictures and wondered how Americans could live like that. The eyes that read my Peace Corps Invitation describing the next two years of my life and thinking "Holy shit. How am I going to do this? No electricity, no running water, huts, French, Africa, 70 students in a classroom?? How will I be able to do this??" But now . . . it's not only pretty easy to do, I really enjoy it most of the time. I really like living in Africa. I just never pictured myself here. So, when a kid in my class equates his cattle herd with his ability to buy a plane ticket . . . its these new eyes of mine that see what he sees. I continue to surprise even myself and it's only been 9 months. Pretty soon I'll be so well integrated that I'll discontinue using toilet paper and will opt for the "left-hand and tea pot of water" method. Haha. Don't worry Mom . . . that would probably take more than 2 years and if not, I'll keep that tid-bit to myself.

vendredi 7 mars 2008

Madame, They Will Hit you!

It was a regular wednesday evening. Nothing special. I was walking to buy bread from Alidou, my bread guy, and I saw a huge crowd of people along the dirt path. There were many huddled in a huge circle obviously watching whatever was going on in the middle of the circle and also many others selling typical Burkina snacks and chatting etc. I asked one of my students what was going on and they told me: Masks! Burkina, indeed West Africa, has a long traditional history of mask festivals so I was excited to finally get to see some for myself. However, my students quickly warned me, "Madame, they will hit you!"
"Did you say hit??"

Yep, they said hit. Part of the dance of these particular entourage of masks was to hit the crowd gathered around with sticks. Okay, no. They dont hit hard. It's more of a playful whack. The Mask dancers are dressed in what essentially looks like a series of mop heads made of big fat hemp. The Mask itself is wooden (i'm told, made from baobob wood) and painted. As far as i could tell it wasn't a representation of anything, just a mask etc.

There are bongo drummers who do a flirtatious musical dance with the masks. The drummer advances and beckons a mask forward. Then, the interactive dance begins: the masked dancer stomps in tune with the elaborate drum music. Jumping and kicking and whirling and whacking the crowd. It was pretty cool. Then that masked dancer sits down and another is beckoned forth. I was pressed in with the pungent sweaty crowd and anytime a mask moved in close the crowd would jump away trying to avoid being smacked with a stick. I'm white and therefore obviously not from Tougouri so they wouldn't hit me . . . not that I think it would have hurt.

I always like it when I see traditionally "African" displays of culture. After several centuries of colonial rule so much of the traditional culture has become replaced by "francophone" culture. French bread, tea, language, education system, lots of things are distinctly "french" though always with an African twist to it. But it's things like the Masks and To which make my African experience, African. En tout cas, it was pretty cool.

jeudi 6 mars 2008

Jesus and the Mullet Man

Well, I went to church again. This time to the Catholic Church which was, characteristically enough, completely different than the protestant service and exactly alike all Catholic services across the world. Last time I went to the Protestant Church they did "freestyle prayer" which is enough to make any good episcopalian completely freaked out. "Wait, are they freestyling?? Oh shit. If they ask me to freestyle I'll just recite something and hope they cant tell the difference. Oh shit. Dear God, please dont make me freestyle pray." This was one of the freestyle prayers going through my head. The other freestyle prayer looping through my thoughts was divinely inspired when the my fellow freestylers erupted into fits of crying and shouting as the force of the spirit made them either desperately irate or desperatlely thankful. I couldn't tell which as a beleaguered repenter screeched, "BARK-WENDNUM!!! and us fellow sinners boomed in response,"AMINA!!!" (Thanks be to God and Amen). Thus, the only prayer in my head was asking poor Jesus to please make these poeple calm down and stop screaming at him. I was a little freaked out but I'm a southern American so I'm at least a little used to this kind of "praise."

This brings me to two things I appreciate about the Cathies. One, no one is ever asked to freestyle pray, thank God! Two, no matter where you are, you know what to expect when you walk into a Catholic Church. Even in the middle-of-nowhere in Africa you can count on the presence of: a tabernacle, taperd candles, an altar draped in the appropriate color for the particular season in the church calendar, frequent use of the word pecher or "to sin", specifc readings and hymns, and a blessed quiet. Certainly there are a few deviances between the various parishes etc. The Catholic Church in Tougouri, Namentenga Province, Burkina Faso, West Africa, Earth, Milky Way boasts a spectacular fresco/mural. Typical of many religious murals, this one pictures "God" crowning "Jesus" before a "choir of angels" and a gathering of various "worshippers." What was so spectacular was the amazing and inspiring wimpiness of the "God" depicted. He was a 35 year-old with a yellow-blond page-boy haircut and matching goatee (how do you spell that?). What? The worshippers is attendance were my favorite part. They were a crowd of people around the angel choir which i'll get to in a second. Among the faithful watching "God" crown "Jesus" were three bishops - one was wearing aviators. One middle-aged men with a "high and tight" army style hair cute, aviator sunglasses, and a mustache. he kinda looked like a stormtrooper. One broad "King Triton" look-alike -- you know, from The Little Mermaid -- long white hair and moustache but he also had a tiny red ball cap on his head. My favorite was a middle-aged man resplendent in a white t-shirt, handlebar mustache, and long brown mullet. All he needed was a pack of cigarettes and a beer and it would have been complete. Really??? A guy with a mullett? All-in-all there were about 30 people there represnting all races except those of Asian decent. Ther cherub choir was also racially inclusive; black and white faces together watching "God" crown "Jesus" with equally yellow-blond wigs on to match that of "God's." Whatever.

It's funny to me what ends up being cross-cultural and what doesn't. In my experience, not interrupting, un-spoken laws about personal space, and critical thinking skills are things do not translate into the culture here. That is to say, i thought everyone around the world knew that it was rude to interrupt a conversation or touch strangers and that critical thinking was a genetic capacity and not a cultural one. However, the customs, mindset, and style of worship of Protestants (in this Assembly of God Protestants) versus Catholics seems to know no borders.

samedi 2 février 2008

Where Does All My Money Go?

What the hell do I spend money on in a village? Good question. I often wonder where all my cfa goes (thats the currency here about 500cfa/1$). Let's break it down shall we? Here are provisiona for a month

2 boxes of oatmeal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2000 cfa
1 box powdered milk . . . . . . . . . . . . 1200 cfa
"cheese" (vache qui rit) . . . . . . . . . . 1600 cfa

Every marche day (market day) i buy:

tomatos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 cfa
onions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 cfa
curi-curi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 cfa (this is cat food/these fried peanut things)
minnows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 cfa (cat food again)
lunch (benga or riz sauce) . . . 100 cfa
other veggies/fruits . . . . . . . 150 cfa (it depends on whats in season: cabbage, bananas, sweet potatos, cucumbers)


gas for my stove . . . . . . . . 4000 cfa
petrol for the lantern . . . . 500 cfa
beer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 500 cfa (like i said, i teach 16 yr olds. sometimes you need a beer or 3)
bread (everyday) . . . . . . . 150 cfa
cellphone minutes . . . . . . . 1000cfa a week

so yeah. That's basically what i spend my money on. Sometimes I have to buy little things like matches, flour, margarine, pagnes (bolts of fabric that africans use for clothing, luggage, bath towel, curtains, sheets, pagnes do it all), or yogurt. It's the trips to Ouaga that make me poor - ice cream, chicken sandwiches, cab rides, beer, iced tea, pizza etc. Not that budegeting has EVER been one of my talents.

vendredi 1 février 2008

Mud-Colored Month

All volunteers have the goal to spend an entire month in village. Usually, PCV's will do two or three weeks and then take a weekend in a bigger city or visit another volunteer etc. Mental health - you know how it goes. I just spent all of January in Tougouri and loved it. I really like being in my village. I became so much better integrated this month - I actually have Burkinabe friends!

My neighboor, Konate (ko' nah tay), is my best friend in village. Quick profile: Katherine Konate is 24 years old, teaches math, dates the censeur, is very timid, very funny, and lives in the celibatairium with me. She thinks im crazy . . . which i am. We make food together and bitch about african men and the role of women in africa. It's fun! Another woman moved into my celibatairium too. Her name is Fathou (fah' too) and is the Lycee's hard-working secretary. Because she lives alone and thus has beaucoup de leftovers she cooks for me a lot. Friday nights, I go over to the other celibataraium where the other teachers live and we talk about African and American politics. Good times.

My triumph for the month was blowing my students minds with my national geographics. I love national geographic. When I explain the pictures etc in NG students look at me in horror or disbelief . . . depending on the photo i guess. Whales, Dubai, Volcanos, women who smoke, anything that lives in the ocean - it all freaks them out and I am happy because I know I am broadening their perspective on the world. Yes! Sustainable development! Albeit, on a small scale. However, I am more than content with that.

The real Harmattan began this month. WOW. How do I describe it? The Harmattan is an amazingly gusty and constant wind that sweeps across the Mahgreb and the Sahel knocking over all the sky scrapers, light-up signs, electrical poles, and trees in its path. That last part was a joke. We don't have any of those. It is sooooo gusty! It moves my outdoor chair arround and lifts my tin roof. The thing you must remember is that we've not had rain since early september. This coupled with persistant gale force winds means that the ground is now in the air. There is a general haze all the time because of all the dust and dirt in the air. Is dirt a greenhouse gas?? Haha. No, really? If I dont keep my mouth tightly closed outside, my teeth will wear dirt sweaters. Gross. Teeth are not the only things that suffer. There is a constant battle between me and the perennial layer of dirt covereing my house. Thank you GOD that I only have a two-room crumbling shack to sweep out. My entire world is the color of mud . . . my clothes, my skin, my formerly white cat, the air, the ground . . . the harmattan displaces what usually stays beneath my feet and repaints the whole world.

My exercise regimen in village is very intense. I run in the mornings - but thats the easy part. Getting water from the pump is a great total body workout. You bike to the pump. You pump the pump which resists your mighty efforts to "enleve l'eau" so you have to jump as you do it to add to your pump force. Then - the worst part - you have to lift the water jug (20 liters of water or 5 gallons) and get it back to your house. Africans can strap it to their bikes and bike it home. Or, they put it on their heads. I can do neither so I strap it to my bike and walk the bike/water home. Man . . . you gotta love a faucet. Watch-out for my wicked water-toting biceps. Another favorite exercise routine is doing my laundry. By hand!! Basically, its an hour of being bent in half while rubbing cloth against itself. My hanstrings are sore for three days after doing laundry. Life is hard people. If you come visit me I will let you pump water and do my laundry just so you can have the full experience.

The month of February will be another village month for me. I am looking forward to all the tasty tasty To Konate and i will make. Between watching my cat eat lizards, reading 3 books a week, and teaching I will be very very busy. Or not . . .

King of Siam

There are many cultural differences between my native glory-land of America and my current dust-bowl country of Burkina Faso. Some of these never fail to confound me even though I have had 8 months to get used to them. Specifically, teacher-student customs. For example, when a teacher walks in a class all the students have to stand. Thats not all that weird. BUT, there is one custom that always makes me feel awkward. It is routine for students to bow to the teachers. In fact, all kids bow to teachers. Ok, when I say 'bow' i dont mean that they bend in half or curtsey or anything. They cross their arms high-up on their chest and then bend at the knees and say "Bonjour Madam!" I just dont really like being bowed to.

This in itself is pretty goofy but the best part is how the little children who live in my neighborhood bow to me. Je m'explique . . .

I'll be walking down the "road" past where my gaggle of children are always playing. They will immediately stop what they are doing when they see me - this happens a lot with people of all ages. Then, the kids all-out run towards me and throw themselves directly in my path blocking the road infront of me, and in slow-motion cross their arms over their chests, bow down really low and, with huge eyes and a look of bewilderment on their face cry, "Bonjoooour Madaaaaam!" Sometimes they call me monsieur . . . they dont really speak french. I mean . . . we are talking LITTLE kids. Like 4 or 5 years old. They line up behind in each other and bow to me like i'm the King of Siam or something.

mercredi 2 janvier 2008


Ghana rocks. They speak english there and the scenery is amazing. You should all think about going for your next vacation. This is just a brief summary of my trip to Ghana. Actually, there are three posts about the trip but this one is all-encompasing. Don't forget to check out my pictures. The link is on the left.

I went with three boys: Clay LaPoint (his blog link is on my blog page - i reccomend it, he's a great writer), Adlai Mast, and Mac Wisdom (his blog link is also on my page). Going from Ouaga on a volunteers budget meant, however, that i took a 20 hour bus ride to go from Ouaga to Takoradi (it's like going from Little Rock to Dallas). Whatever Africa! Takoradi is a really cute beach town - you know, cute for west africa. Most buildings were two-story, the bank was air-conditioned, all the buildings were painted bright colors etc. We just stopped there for an afternoon and ate our first Ghanaian local food and I got my Christmas present from the Western Union. Thanks Dad! From there we made our way to Ezile Bay.

When we arrived in the village of Ezile Bay - because that's what it was, a village (they didn't even have street food to buy) we had to hike to the resort. That was really amazing. There were mountains, colorful huts, wooden canoes, happy well-fed children, and pristine beach. Everything is cuter in Ghana: the poor villages, the goats, the dogs, everything! We only stayed there one night and then we moved on down the beach a little bit to Busua.

Busua Beach is . . . one of the best places in the world! We stayed at Dadsen's Inn and it was perfect. We had a huge room with a porch. That's where we celebrated Christmas. Our Christmas celebration was tons of fun but uneventful. We sat out on the porch and danced around, listened to music, took tons of pictures, and then went to the restaurant and ate tasty food. While at Busua Beach we frequented the Black Star Surf Shop and made friends with its lovely patron Charlotte. We ate fish burritos, Red Red, Jollof Rice, so much awesome food. The fish was so fresh and they have veggies there! It was heaven! Ghana!!!!!

We just sat around on the beach for the most part. Except one day we went to Butri Beach which was just down the beach from Busua. Our friend who worked at the Inn we were staying at knew a guy who would take us down the Butri River. So we climbed in a hollwed-out log/canoe and paddled down the river. It was pretty neat. We were surrounded by mountains and mangrove forest on either side - which is pretty cool if you are a bio nerd like me. There were beautiful birds and mudskippers and crabs. Then, when we were turning around the guy asked if we wanted to see where he makes palm wine. "Hell yes we want to see that!" I felt like Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart as we pulled over to a hole in the mangrove forest and followed a jungle path to the guys palm wine factory. It was pretty cool. They just take the phloem out of the palm tree and ferment it in barrels. The guy also takes the palm wine and distills it into a liquor that tastes like PGA. Yuk. I had a sip and lost a substantial portion of my brain cells. I'll never get 'em back. That was all we did in Busua and Butri because we spent the second part of our trip hiking and sitting on tro-tros.

Okey dokey . . . where to next? Wli Falls outside Hohoe. What a spectacular sight. Look at the pictures. It was essentially a one and a half hour vertical hike. It kicked my ass but it was sooo worth it. Those glasses you see me wearing in the pictures are Adlai's second pair because i lost mine in the ocean trying to kayak out to an island. That's why you bring a back-up pair. I look like a lesbian.

The next day we hiked Ghana's tallest mountain. It was actually a pretty easy hike compared to the Wli falls hike. I was the tallest woman in an entire country for about 30 minutes. That is a first and last for my five foot two inch frame.

The next day, I fed monkeys. They were swo cute! And that was the end of our trip. I am tired of writing now. So I will stop. Look at my oics. They will say it all.

mardi 1 janvier 2008

What Can An Ocean Do For You?

Apparently, a lot! On the coast the villagers are plump. Even the dogs aren't starving. There is food and industry! It's kinda like how people shouldn't live in Nevada or Arizona - no water etc. but they have California and Iowa to help carry them. If only Ghana and Ivory Coast could help out Burkina.

The Mamba's Bite

This is a true story. I wish I was making it up but I'm not. Even Tom Robbins couldn't invent such ridiculousness.

It was a cool evening at Busua Beach as myself and three buddies made our way up to the restaurant atop the peninsula. The place is called "The Black Mamba Corner" and I would rather face a black mamba than ever go to that house of insanity ever again. The place is run by a nutsy hefty German lady named Gabriella. She is about 50 and has a hunk of dread locks oddly extending horizonatlly out the back of her head. You can tell Gabriella is at least bi-polar if not also schizophrenic after about five minutes of talking to her. In the time it takes to place an order for pizza she could go from being whimsical and goofy(with hysterical fits of laughter) to deeply upset and irritable. She has one guesthouse that sits at the bottom of the peninsula and runs a small restaurant on the patio of her own house. Alex, her live in boy-friend, is a rastafarian Ghanaian who, as she told us, has wrecked three of her cars. I'm pretty sure he's always at least profoundly high if not on shrooms or "tse magic mushrooms" as Gabriella called them.

All we wanted was some pizza but what we got was something truly horrible. We tromped through the wilderness leading up to her crazy compound - at high tide it is about a 5 minute walk on a wilderness "path" to get to her peninsula from the road. When we arrive, we notice that Gabriella's rastafarian friend is acting really wierd. I thought: he's a rastafarian so he's probably just stoned. I wish. Then he got really angry and kept pacing around the restaurant (we were the only patrons that night) and shouting ridiculous things at what he kept referring to as "the foreigners." Really, it was a domestic squabble and we were just caught in the middle. The things he was saying were soooo hysterical. I kept almost spitting out my wine as he paced around accusing us and Gabriella. Here are some of my personal favorite Alex phrases (use rastafarian accent):
"Fuck you and your fuck money!!" (ew.)
"I am not a dog! I am a human being!"
"You and your fucking money eating pizza while i am eating this slop!!"
"You are not safe here!! She will poison you!!"
"Call the police!! She will poison you!!"

Yeah. We were FREAKED out. Gabriella did NOTHING to appease Alex's crazed state and only succeeded in antagonizing him. Gabriella is just as crazy as he is if not more. The conversation topics she chose as she joined us for dinner (damn it!) were things like this (use german accent):

"They hate us becasue of our skin. But look at their country. They are sitting on gold (gesture left)! They are sitting on diamonds (gesture right)! But they want to be white."

"I was twice in Mexico but I never eat the taco. What is this, the taco? Is it like pancake?" No you crazy bitch it's not a pancake! How do you go to Mexico and never eat a taco?

"I don't know how much I should tell you (Oh God! Don't tell us anything!) but he does the cocaine, the magic mushrooms, the marijuana." Please stop talking lady!! She talked the whole time (almost three hours) about ridiculous shit while Alex oscilated between tripping and being angry. I had multiple safety action-plans in my head. Honestly, I was afraid that if we just got up and left she would poison us or sick her 14 dogs on us and we still had to walk en brousse for 5 minutes before getting to the road.

Gabriella's idea of sensibilizing men on the role of women in African society is this: "I say to the men: why then do the men have the breast nipples? why? They have the breast nipples like a woman" Oh my God. Stop saying breast nipples, i'm trying to eat my pizza.

When it came time for the check she totally fell apart. "Please. You must help me! It is so difficult!" It took about an hour to add up the check and there were four of us and a calculator. I couldn't believe she didn't make the meal free considering there was a drugged rasta man and a loony german lady interrrupting our expensive meal. WTF?

Finally, we start back and we are all freaked out. We walked in silence for about a minute just in case she was following us with her 14 dogs. Then, there was some creature in the bushes staring at us and that just did us in so we ran the rest of the way to the road. The "Black Mamba Corner" was reccomended by our Lonely Planet travel guide as the best pizza in west africa. The pizza was okay but the ambiance freaked me out. If you go to Busua Beach, stay FAR AWAY from the Mamba.

Why Why Why Please!!

The official langugae of Ghana is English . . . supposedly. Indeed, you can get by in Ghana with English but most Ghanaians can't really converse in English - no talking about religion, postulating about philosophy, or indicating where the bathroom is. Actually, I understand about as much Burkina French as Ghanaian English. It was like another language sometimes. The phrases that they use were so funny to me as a native English-speaker. You can throw the word "please" in any sentence you want. For example:
"Do you have any bread?"
"No please"
"Wait . . . does that mean yes or no?"
"No please"
" . . . ok . . ."
When a taxi sped dangerously through the beach village a concerned villager shouted, "Why! Why! Why! Please!!" at the driver. You can't say they're not polite.

Also, one does not "eat" in Ghana, one "chops." I don't know where it comes from . . . maybe chomp? Who knows. But yes, you "chop" bananas. When you are hungry, you want to "chop" chicken. There was even an official sign that said it was illegal to "chop" turtles.

The speech and grammatical patterns of Ghanaian English are also a source of amusement for the native speaker. Very often a sentence would be worded in a way that only Yoda could have understood. Here are some examples:
"Coming I am please!"
"Chop rice you want to."
"Good price I give you please!"
I had no idea Yoda was from Ghana. By the end of the trip my fellow travelers and I started talking like Yoda and interjecting please in every sentence. It was really nice however to travel and use English. There were some Ghanaians with pretty good English, but for the most part reversed the sentences were please.