lundi 8 juin 2009


This is my student Kirsi. His name means "first son born after twins." No joke, that's what his name means. He is the nicest kid. To come to school he bikes 3km and once his bike chain broke so he was having to walk all that way (My principle likes to use information like this "oh! The children walk so far! look how hard their lives are!! They suffer! We are poor!" to make me feel guilty but I know these kids that walk all that way to school and it's true they walk far and school is expensive and they DONT STUDY or pay attention in class and therefore they might as well stay home for all the good it does them). Kirsi however works his butt off. He was first in his class this year (6th grade). Anyway, that time that he broke his bike chain our Secretary bought him a new one because he was a nice kid who worked hard. Well, Kirsi was so touched that he has been pumping three buckets of water for her everyday since (this was months ago) to show his thanks. I was looking for a source of regular water so I told Kirsi if he would pump two buckets for me everyday for 6 weeks I would buy him a soccer ball. A soccer ball is a big deal - they are highly coveted and very expensive. You can't even buy them in my village. Kirsi said he would be so so so happy to get water for me but he didnt want a soccer ball, if I could just buy him a pair of pants that would be payment enough. Oh Kirsi. So, when the six weeks were up I told Kirsi that we would go shopping together the next market day. I told him he was to pick out a pair of pants, a shirt, and a pair of shoes. He tried to refuse the shirt and shoes and I had to use my teacher authority to make him accept the offer. We shopped around for the items and the picture above is of Kirsi in his new outfit. What a sweet kid. He went around for a day showing everyone his new clothes and wasn't madame rebecca so nice to buy him a gift. He is also his class representative and during our end-of-the-year meeting he stood up and said "I would like to thank all the professors for teaching us. Mme Rebecca bought me pants." I was a bit embarrassed. Anyway, the point of this blog is how sweet Krisi is not how nice rebecca is for buying him clothes. I will tell him that I worte a story about him on the internet (this necessitates explaining the internet . . . hmm . . . that might be impossible) and it will make his day.

Banfora or Bust

All of us volunteers up in the north of Burkina experience a very different climate (thus totally different scenery) than those in the south. In the North it is MUCH hotter and drier. The rains end in October and return in June. In the south it is much cooler (like 20 degrees cooler) but more humid and the rains return in february. The north is BROWN and the south is GREEN. So another volunteer and I took a short 3 day trip down to Banfora to bask in its verdant richness. The area boasts a waterfall (what?? water?? I havent seen water in 6 months! jokes.) and a geographical phenomenon found in Burkina and Australia but nowhere else. The latter are rock domes formed by water and wind erosion. Here are the puictures:

Thats me at the domes.

More domes.

The upper portion of the waterfall. Is that grass?? I havent seen grass in MONTHS.

Lower part of the upper part of the falls. Thats not cunfusing.

Same thing.

The bottom of the falls. Thats our guide who requested he have his picture taken. We said ok and he immediately without provocation struck that pose you see there. Why? I dont know. They love karate movies here and thats the best guess i have. I decided to join the theme.

TREES!!!! The name of that tree in french is Fromager. It is only found in southern Burkina and makes buttress roots everywhere - Ive not noticed any other species of tree with buttress roots in this country. It's seed pods are a lot like milkweed - they POP open with a burst of wind dispersed cotton-y fluff. Trees! Trees!! I miss trees! All i have are scrubby acacias with no leaves. Yuk. Even I cant muster the enthusiasm for acacia.

mardi 2 juin 2009

Goodbye Party

The high school threw me a party to say goodbye and thanks. I forced everyone to take a picture with me:

Me and the Principle and his wife (left) and her sister (back)

Mariame the secretary. She is one of my neighbors and she loves to agitate and aggrivate me.

Salmad, Mariames baby and frequent guest on the blog and indoor pooper

Diallo and little Saidou are my favorites. Saidou smiles all the time and Diallo explains everything to me when I dont understand which is often

Giatin, one of the english teachers. he loves to make me mad by telling me women have rights in Burkina and then I get all huffy and start lecturing him on the plight of the african woman

They're presenting me with my gift. They gave me a "tradtitional" Burkinabe outfit. The one I have on in this picture is typical of contemporary african clothes.

Im at the big kids table. Burkinabe are really into protocol so the most important people are always seated front and center and by themselves. So, Im with the Mayor, Prefect, and the Principal.

Sodray, the other english teacher. he moved into my old Jesus dirt house. He's a bit drunk already . . .

Yelkouni is also a bit drunk already and he really likes to dance Dance DANCE!

Ok. Pierre is like the school gopher, he does odd jobs and he and I are making sad faces because . . . well . . . its a long story that would take more cultural explanation than i feel like getting into. I will spare you.

Bazie, chem/physics teacher and i like talking to him because he is very smart and makes interesting observations about development in Burkina

Bado, history/geography teacher. He is very short like me and he talks in a really low voice but then makes these really high pitch squel noises that make me laugh . And he's a snappy dancer

Bonane, philosophy teacher. He has a really big vocabulary and talking to him is like talking to Robert my brother-in-law but in French so i understand even less. And yes, philosophy is part of the educative program for the higher grades but really its also religion, psychology, politics ect all that stuff

Dipama, math and biology teacher and the school clown. He is always talking and developing new catch phrases that are infectious and you find yourself talking like him. He is up to noooo good.

Konate, math and biology teacher and long time neighbor and good good friend. She is very sweet and patient and I'd be screwed (oh no Jay bird the S word!) without her

The Serveillant, he is in charge of discipline and he is VERY drunk in this picture as it was also a market day and theerefore a day for sampling the dolo beer

Sawadogo, math teacher. Those little feet you see sticking out from behind her back belong to her baby boy Alverique

Wrapping things up

Peace Corps service is wrapping up. The rains are starting to fall on Tougouri. There are tiny ambiguous green plants proudly pushing up through the red sandy soil. My neighbors are preparing their feilds for farming. Corn, millett, sorgum. I really love the rainy season and its my last one. I love the blessed cool air. I love that bright color green of plants that are newly showing their leaves. Two weeks ago even the acacia trees were bare. Brown. Brown. Brown. Sand. Dirt. Dust. The rains will wash the dirt from the earth and all will be green again.

This is a new event of course. Three weeks ago I could not have imagined what it felt to be cool to not sweat all night long. Around the 13 or so of May I was busy teaching my very last hours of school. Ever. EVER. The rainy season was a distant memory from last year. I was in my favorite class teaching our last hour of the week (and consequently our last hour of the year, of my life) and, chalk in hand, I found myself writing the very last sentence and then the very last period. Remarquez-vous classe! Cest notre derniere phrase!! I finished the sentence, poked the chalkboard with my chalk punctuating the sentence and began to cheer. All 90 students got up and cheered with me. Any excuse to be loud right? What a moment! It was made even more complete when i realized I had made a couple of french mistakes and hod to go back and erase. Typical.

Pretty soon I was teaching my very last hour of my very last class - the class that i really really despise and i didnt even teach the last hour because they made me so mad i walked out. I gave my last test

I corrected my last test

I filled in my last report card.

My last last last. To me, that was the emotional peak of leaving. All the "lasts." You all say how proud you are of me . . . but I am proud of myself. I dont think Ive ever learned so much in so little time. When I think back on my first weeks and months here I just laugh at how much I didnt know. The language and customs and general "way of doing things" etc. If i knew then what i know now. I cant even explain this because it wouldnt make sense to y'all. Let me put it this way, Ièll never say that I cant do something and I ill never feel like i cant figure something out because I can.

If the world ends the only survivors will be cockroaches, glitter, and peace corps volunteers.

Here I am at the very LAST staff meeting. It lasted from 7am to 1:30pm. Burkinabe have lots of opinions and everyones has to be heard even if its the same opinion over and over and over again. The teachers gave me a present and Konate and Diallo wrapped it in blue plastic and made flowers and ribbon out of pink and white toilet paper. I was tickled.

lundi 18 mai 2009

Big Thank You

I am very very happy to say that this past Friday (May 15th) the Principal and I went to the capitol and bought the generator for the school!!!!!!!! We were very excited and got exactly what we wanted. This is going to greatly improve the functioning of our school. I should say their school as i am a week away from the official end of my last school year in burkina! I just wanted to say thank yout to all of you who contributed to the project. Your generosity was much appreciated by the community of Tougouri, especially the students and personnel of the school, and of course me too. Thank you for supporting me and this community. This will help us do a lot of basic things . . . like print tests. Yay!!!

I will take some pictures for you guys and post them as soon as I can. Thank you again!


The traveling salesman has been sighted three more times!! I took poictures to share with you people but ... alas they have disappeared. No worries I still have 9 weeks and three days or so . . . i'll get him again. He has added mystery chinese lotion to his repertoire to soothe aches and pains and . . . probably Dengue fever . . . just as a bonus. Sheesh . . . if only i could get him hawking malaria meds we'd be in business.

I recently broke another pair of glasses and peace corps gave me replacements. They are very very art deco and grape purple. Mac says i look like a european lesbian . . . thanks. Sorry Mom about breaking the glasses. I had set them down while i was doing laundry and stepped on them. I was pissed.

Sazlmad has woken me up with poop twice this last month. The first time i was asleep inside my house. It was 5:30 am and i sense some motion going on beside me bed. The next thing i know there is a little black fist shoved in my face and it releases a handful of dryed up goat poop onto my mattress. Good freakin morning. About two weeks ago Salmad let himself into my house at about 6am. I was up sweeping and he was just chasing me and my broom. Then he drops into a squat right on my "kitchen" floor and poops . . . goddamnfreakinwhatthefuckshitass . . . Mariam!!! Come get your kid!! Hes pooping in peoples houses. Actually he has a bit of a record of this kind of behavior and his courtyard nickname is "Shieur publique" or "public shitter"

My friend Marty has a neighbor whose dog got rabies. It started acting all crazy . . . and well . . . rabid. Totally creeped Marty out. Well the dog had a violent episode and actually fell . . . oh my goodness . . . it fell in a latrine. Thats right, a six foot pit of human excrement. Oh my geez . . . i cant imagine a more horrible end. Rabies and then you fazll in a latrine. If any part of me ever touched the inside of a latrine, id have to be institutionalized for post traumatic stress syndrome. Eventually they had to get the dog out and they finally took it off somewhere and ended its suffering

One day I was headed off to the Marché. I get all toughed out if im going to be spending extended periods of time in noon day sun. This partiocular day I am decked out in my Barak Obama t-shirt, long flowy skirt, bandana, and my shades. I look really really Peace corps-y and not a little bit mannish. Anyway, im biking along and when i bike (just like when i walk) I look at the gound right infront of me. I get a whiff of something . . . stinky . . . a zoo smell . . . i look up and not 3 meters infront of me are three camels wamlking side by side. Its a wall of smelly camel butt and i am about to bike into it. A quick swerve to the left and all was good . . . what a peace corpsy thing though . . . silly white girl, barak obama tshirt, camels, etc...

vendredi 27 mars 2009

Safari Bitches!!

It is spring break here (i have ten days off from teaching) and so I went on a short safari. There are several animal parks in Burkina - all of them are in the south. I went to a park called Arly near the border with Togo. This is the truck we went in. It was crazy windy and sunny up there.

Eventually i got in the front with Adama - the sun was killer.

This is the first "animal" we saw . . . and its a dead one. A dead elephant. But dont be sad because we saw a lot of live elephants too. And baby ones!

Like this elephant here! He was the alpha male elephant and he ran at us and attacked that big tree in the bottom right corner of the photo. Sorry!

They are so wonderful!! Oh the wee ones are so cute!!!!!!

Here are some hippos.

And some warthogs . . . and yes, i DID call the hogs while on safari.

lundi 23 mars 2009

The Travelling Salesman

I have a huge crush on a travelling salesman. He's been on my bus three times and he flirts with me and gives me freebees. This is not in itself outstanding as i like to flirt and tend to have multiple crushes at any given time. What is outstanding is that there is a traveling salesman on my bus at all. Let me explain...

The first time i saw him was on the STAF bus on the way to Ouahigouya last July. I have taken A LOT of buses in my 21 months of service and I was confused when a man got up and stood in the center aisle of the moving bus and began addressing everyone. My first thought was - wtf? i hope its not a proselytizing christian! I gave him a disinterested cold shoulder when he started passing out candy to get peoples attention. Great! A proselytizing christian with shitty candy! This 3 hour bus ride is going to be fantastic!

He began his speech and to my surprise it wasnt about Jesus and eternal damnation at all! He was talking about health of all things. Now this was a surprise! Culturally speaking, in Burkina people do not really talk about their health. When you're sick it's because someone cursed you. Babies grow in the stomach. Meningitis comes from eating green mangos. The menstrual cycle and pregnancy have nothing to do with each other. There is very serious ignorance in this country when it comes to the human body and its quirks and functions. And here was a man talking about health!

I was very confused and listened in to what he had to say. He was talking about menstrual cramps! Infertility! Malaria! He was telling men that it was okay to have sex with their pregnant wives and that it wasnt good to look for another woman in the mean time! What what what??? Yes! Finally there was someone talking publicly and without embarrassment about health and the humna body! I quickly discovered what was going on because the guy started hocking weird "chinese" medicine to cure any number of ailments. Fatigue, heat rash, malaria, muscle pain etc. First of all - the Burkinabe are used to getting things from China - cheaply made shirts, plates, jewelry, everything! They call it "la chinoiserie" and they think that the chinese have lots of secrets and answers so random chinese medicine being sold on a bus was a hot item. The guy started selling tons of the chinese tea stuff. They couldn't get enough of it! Try to get them to take quinine for malaria or wash their hands and its a waste of time but mystery chinese medicine?? It sold like hot cakes. Geez. The guy was so charming and funny that even I was thinking - hey, maybe this stuff would be good! Geez.

Well, it didn't stop there. The chinese tea was only item numbe one. Next, he had these weird patches that you apply to the skin. Large white tape rectangles that stick right on the skin. I read the directions - its like a trans-dermal analgesic something or other. Wow I thought mystery mentrual cramp tea was popular! The people on the bus were pointing out places on their bodies that have been suffering from pain for years! The travelling salesman assured them that the patch would soothe their stiff necks, feet, hands, backs etc. I got off the bus three hours later and half the passengers are covered from head to toe in white sticky patches. The driver even had one across the top of his head. Pasted on feet. Slapped onto forearms. It was hysterical!

I think two things here. I think first off - I am so glad that someone is actually talking about the menstrual cycle and malaria and diarhhea and not claiming these health issues as curses but as actual diseases with logical and avoidable causes. Awesome! The second thing that occurs to me is that buying mystical chinese tea from a travelling salesman on a bus isnt all that different than a visit to the witch doctor for a traditional tea brew to ward off curses. So, there is a small gain - a window of communication was opened albeit by the hand of magical chinese tonic. I still have a huge crush on the travelling salesman - he really is so charnimg. Argh! Freaking salesmen!

dimanche 22 mars 2009

Cursing Nuns

Note: This blog post contains the F-word so if you dont want to see the f-word continue elsewhere

Have I mentioned my lovely and enthusiastic group of nuns that I teach english to? Of course I have. English class is going well and they are almost fluent . . . well not fluent so much as . . . well, lovely and enthusaistic. One day we were playing the game 20 questions to practice vocabulary etc. The object chosen by the Nun in question was "fork." Well, this was all fine and good until the end when the nuns started to practice the word "fork" and hit a little too close to the word "fuck." Well, we can't just have Nuns going around saying "fuck" and i certainly can't be responsible for this transgression. So, to make a point of it - i told the nuns to be careful.
"Sisters! Be very careful. When you are pronouncing the word "fork" it sounds very like another word in english that is very bad."
Of course this small tidbit peaked their curiosity and bade me explain further; afterall ignorance never helped anyone and i found it more than amusing to explain the word "fuck" to a group of nuns. I'm sick. I know.
"Well, the word means to have sex but in a not very nice way. And it is the strongest word in the english language. I do not know of a stronger word and if i were to say this word in front of my mother she would smack me for saying it" (totally not true but it gets the point made).
"Ooooh . . . no this is not good." Good. The nuns have understaood the gravity of such a pronunciation mistake. "Say the word for us again so we will be sure not to confuse the two."
So i repeat, "Fuck."
And . . . God forgive me . . . all the Nuns repeat in unison and with boistrous clarity "FUCK!"
Noooooo!!!!!! All the Nuns just said fuck!!!!!!
"No no!! My sisters do not repeat this word! God will strike me down." Now we are all laughing and some of them keep saying "fuck" just to watch the shame play across my face. Eventually we have the two words separated out and they can say "fork" without dropping the "r".

That's one wild bunch of Nuns.

dimanche 1 février 2009

General Update

Hello People! I'll see you all in 6 months! Yay!!

Yes, I may be counting down the months BUT things are going well in Burkina. I'm just ready to be part of my own culture again and more than anything a tangible part of y'all's lives again. With only six months left to go I've thrown myself into my village trying to get everything out of it that I can. I just spent 5 un-interrupted weeks there and I'll probably only leave village once a month for the rest of my service.

One reason that i'll be leaving less is because I have started a new project. There is a group of 7 nuns that live in my village and run several operations. They are all Burkinabe excpet one who is

Ivoirian (Ivory Coast). There they are in the picture up above! Two of them work at a private catholic elementary school. Two are nurses. One runs a pharmacy. One runs a girls technical school (the girls learn how to sew, knit, crochet, and dye fabrics). The last one (the one seated at the far right), Sister Anastasie, teaches french at the high school with me. She was telling me one day that the Nuns all love English and would like to learn so i offered to teach them. We have class on thursdays and saturdays for one hour. I ADORE them!! They are super cute and laugh a lot and give me things (yogurt, lemon juice, pagne). So, i like to stay on the weekends in village now because i don't want to lose an hour with the Sisters. Also, we are planning to do some other projects together on malnutrition.

Other than the Sisters, much is the same for me. School started the 5th of January and goes til the 21st of March. EEK!! L'enseignement vas me tuer. C'est sur. So my life is lesson planning and grading tests. And dreaming about being back in America. AMERICA!!

I'll be back in Ouaga probably around the 28th. That weekend is FESPACO which is a huge african film festival that Burkina hosts every two years. Should be interesting.

Eloise is (i'm pretty sure) pregnant again. Well, last week she started acting all crazy and these two boy cats kept hanging out at my house making all kinds of racket and keeping me up at night. One even followed Eloise inside my house through her "kitty door" in the window. Not cool. I've had enough of this kitty kat courtship business and Eloise will be getting spayed here shortly (slash maybe an abortion depending on how you look at things). Kittens! I am tired of kittens!

Let's see . . . can't really think of anything else. My life is cool but not a lot happens. Ok, c'est tout. A bientot!


January 20th.

There was no way I was gonna miss the inauguration. I, like so many Americans, am suffering from chronic Obamania. I wanted to hear the world change, hear his speech. However, you have to have a pretty fancy radio to pick up BBC in my village. No prob Bob, my neighbor David inherited a satellite radio from the volunteer i replaced and lent it to me for the special event. On the 19th I checked to make sure the batteries were good and the radio was in good working condition. I was trying to be (however uncharacteristically) prepared. The radio itself has a 20 ft or so cord that connects its to the antenna. I tried to find a good spot that got reception and was out of the way of Salmad the one year old's curious hands. Again, are y'all proud? I was planning ahead!! Not one of my best skills. All was working and looking good.

The 20th arrived and I was kinda anxious because the broadcast started at 5pm out time but I was giving a test at school that ended at 5 so i was gonna have to haul ass back home in order not to miss anything. I leave the school a few minutes before five. Im basically skipping with joy as I arrive home. Two of my neighbors were there and Bienvenue. I go inside and bring the radio out and set it up in the exact configuration that was working the day before. And SILENCE. What???? SILENCE!!!???? NO!!!!!! The speech! The Speech!!! History is being made!! Come on!

I'm cursing in english at this point. Quickly i grab my bike and book it over to a colleagues house. "Yelkouni! Does your radio get BBC??!"
"Bon soir Rebecca! But why are you not listening to the broadcast?"
"Radio's not working. Does your radio get BBC?"
"Oh, BBC? No but if you . . . hey! where are you going?!"
And I'm off back to my house - certainly i can get that thing to work. I get home and start yelling for Bienvenue "Bienvenue get over here and grab ahold of this radio while i run around the yard looking for reception!" So I start trying different spots in the courtyard wandering around the yard (ok running around) trying to get some seception and basically dragging Bienvenue who is attached to me with that twenty foot cord between the radio and the antenna. I send him up on the roof. Silence. I am definately cursing. But wait!! Aha!!! I finally get a signal with the antenna perched up on my courtyard wayy by the gate. Quick Bienvenue bring me a chair! Bring me a table!! Quick!

And there is Barak's deep comforting voice talking about the economy, the war, foreign aid, etc and I can't help but feel like I am in a movie. Im sitting in a chair made out of skinny tree switches and translating this great man's speech into french. Close up it's me and the radio. The camera pans out. There's a twenty something dusty white woman sitting in an even more dusty and barren courtyard speaking to a 15 yr old African kid, another twenty something african woman doing laundry with her hands deep in a plastic bucket, and an elderly woman with carmel colored paper like skin. The camera pans out further. The courtayrd is surrounded by a bunch of huts. Women are walking with babies on the backs and 40 pounds of god knows what balanced on their heads. There are some scrubby trees and a dusty breeze. Its the middle-of-nowhere deep in the middle-of-nowhere in west africa. And the soundtrack is this man's speech and all the hope and promise that he is bringing. He's talking about his roots in a Kenyan village not too unlike the one in which I am in translating his words. It's very peace corps and even i cant be too cynical not to feel that the moment is unique and special.

samedi 31 janvier 2009

Test Questions

In 6th grade at the end of the unit on plants, we talked about the importance of plants and why we should protect them. The kids at Lycee Departemental de Tougouri are HORRIBLE students. In part because they dont see the benefit or value of education . . . because they are majorly unsupervised at home . . . because they dont speak french . . . myriad reasons.

ANYWAY, hardly any student studies at all. Just to give you an idea of the absurdity i submit to every time i sit down to grade papers here is one question i asked and some of the funnier responses. The question is taken from a test I wrote on the above subject - the importance and protection of plants in burkina. Obviously not a difficult subject - mostly common sense etc. So here you go:

Question (roughly translated):
Give a strategy on how to fight against deforestation and cutting down too many trees.

You must avoid a lot of trees.

To fight against abusive tree cutting we must have a better knowledge in our lives


It allows animals to live

Bush fires

Wood allows us to light fires

When men cut trunks the tree our country must to be the desert

Dry wood to cut for selling

One can create life

Cut wood with a machete

When people cut the trees the rain doesn't rain anymore and when the rain rains the seeds grow the animals eat

When people cut the trees the rain doesn't rain anymore when the rain doesn't rain anymore the people will die at the also the animals

Vertebrates and Invertebrates

Oh my!! God bless those children. Hmmm... I don't think they understood. Vertebrates and Invertebrates???? What does that have to do with deforrestation?? BUSH FIRES??? Umm . . . kinda the opposite?? Geez - on the one hand its stuff like this that makes me want to stay because its so freakin funny and on the other hand its stuff like this that makes me want to go home. But for now I'm laughing and I hope you are too.

Spectator Sports

I've never really been one for spectator sports. There's too many rules to follow and i don't like crowds. Considering my level of boredom in Burkina I have put aside my prejudices and have become a watcher of spectator sports. Well . . . kind of. One sport. And really, I can only stand to watch some of it.

The sport i am talking about is none other than "cat and mouse" or . . . lizard . . . or bat . . . or other unwelcome creature in my house. Lke the proverbial car wreck, when eloise brings in her kill, no matter how disturbing, i just can't not watch. She maims the little meal just enough to impair its ability to run away easily - takes a foot or bites its head etc. Then she plays with it swatting it and jumping on it while i jump around the house crying out "Oh!" "Oh my God oh my God!" "Eloise!!" "Just eat it!! Oh!!" When its been still for awhile and unresponsive to her whacks she lays down near it pretending to be bored hoping it will make a run for it which it invariably does. "Oh Eloise!! There it goes! get it get it!!" After about 40 minutes of all this she finally eats it and goes out for another one. Im half disgusted and half entertained. One can only stare at the wall for so many hours a day.