Monday, November 1, 2010

Seb and School

Ever since school started, I feel like I haven't had much time to breathe, not that that's a bad thing. I started with three difference classes and coincidentally three different subjects: 6e earth/life science, 5e math, and 4e physics/chemistry. Those 12 hours a week were plenty to keep me occupied, especially since I, unlike most Burkinabe teachers, give more than two tests per trimester; I like to give at least three and I often grade a minimum of two homework assignements. With 130 in 6e, 105ish in 5e, and 61 in 4e, I've got my work cut out for me. No worries though. Teaching is coming along much more smoothly this year; it's already a habit, almost natural. And thankfully, my discipline has improved, including my ability to think on my feet when a student misbehaves in class. My students are still a handful; however, so we'll have to wait and see what this year has in store for me. I'm not losing control without a fight, I can tell you that much!

Our English teacher was a trainee who missed the first week of classes (not abnormal here), then the second (still, not out of the ordinary), then around the third it was brought to our attention that he failed is instructional classes and would have to retake them this year. Translation: no English teacher. So, to make along story short, I took on 4e English, adding three hours to my schedule because there was no way I wanted five additonal hours with 6e, the youngest group who literally start talking 2 seconds after I've asked them to stop, we got a teacher from a neighboring town to teach 3e and 6e, and my neighbor who works at the mayor's office in town took 5e (He taught English at a neighboring village last year, but they found a teacher for this year.) He's really quite good with the language. He understands some meanings and uses better than I do! I'll have to work on that.

Last week I made a trek to Ouaga, yes a trek, and it started out badly. Last Tuesday I taught for 5 hours in the morning and was planning on leaving that afternoon for our neighboring town, to spend the night with a Burkinabe friend/second or third mom and to continue on to Ouaga the following morning. Well, all that did happen as planned, but the entire mood was changed. I got a call from our directrice during my final hour and final class of the day. Not ordinary, not good in this case. Our secondary education Area Placement Country Director-I think that's what it stands for-(APCD), Sebraogo Kiedrabago, aka Seb, who had been battling colon cancer and just came back to work two weeks before hit a fall for the worse again and passed away Monday evening, the 25th of October, 2 days before his 40th birthday, leaving behind his wife and 2 young kids. I can't express how sad and gutwrenchingly awful this is. This man was amazing: he treated everyone with genuine respect, love, and care. He followed up. He smiled a lot. He was low-key and honest and kind. He didn't fit the Burkinabe male stereotype at all. He was a great person. No, he was an exceptional person. He will be greatly missed and I'm sorry the new volunteers never got the chance to know him. I'm sorry a lot of people never got the chance to know him.

Thankfully, I had the chance to visit and pay respects to Seb's wife (sorry, I don't know her name) with my fellow Peer Support and Diversity Network volunteers on Saturday morning. I spoke on behalf of everyone after we arrived and shared words and thoughts from my heart. The driver who went with us also shared some extremely kind words. So sad.

My trip to Ouaga went okay overall. I did get a cold probably from the weather changes and Ouaga dust/pollution that I'm getting over now. I also had some fun GI issues again and I'm not sure exactly why, but such is life here, at least for me. But not to worry, I'm tough, I'm used to it, I can handle it.

Until next time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Can Make a Difference

I can make a difference
Little steps at a time
Kindness here; smiles there
Joviality everywhere

Exemplify good nature
Fueled by sincerity
Harmony promoted
Bright moments created

Exuberance contagious
A ball of chain reaction
Goodwill spreads
The world a better place

I can make a difference
By developing potentials
Productive, fulfilled, joyful
One more able to shoulder the weight
I am but a tiny seed
Within a multitude
But like a purple heart
I can make a difference

-(taken from Classroom Management page 90, a Peace Corps book)

"A Child Learns What He Lives"

If a child lives with criticism
He learns to condemn
If a child lives with hostility
He learns to fight
If a child lives with ridicule
He learns to be shy
If a child lives with shame
He learns to feel guilty
If a child lives with tolerance
He learns to be patient
If a child lives with encouragement
He learns to try his best
If a child lives with praise
He learns to appreciate
If a child lives with fairness
He learns justice
If a child lives with security
He learns to have faith
If a child lives with approval
He learns to like himself
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship
He learns to find love in the world

-Dorothy Law Nolte

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Finally Found my Groove

I finally got back to my village on September 1st after three months of being away. That's a long time when I'm only around for 24 months total. Luckily for me, my village wouldn't be upset about that because they're used to teachers not being there during the summer. In fact, I got more surprised reactions than anything. Plus, I wasn't gone from village on frivolous affairs, so I'm trying to cut myself some slack.

I was welcomed back by my friend A.S. by a beautiful garden he made for me in my courtyard complete with moringe, beans, onions, hot peppers, okra, aloe vera, citronel, corn, etc. etc. Amazing. It makes it that much homier and comfortable to be there.

It was great to see him and my other friends again, including my colleagues who were there. I got a visit from our PC directrice that first week back which was nice. It was fun to show off my village and stop in to say hi to a bunch of people.

Toward the middle of September I left to visit my buddy L.S. in her new village before joining the bike tour in Bobo. I spend a day there with my fellow PCV's and attended a ceremony they held for us as international volunteers. The following day, L.G. and I were bike buddies, the 80km to Orodara (about 50 miles). I ended up spending the night at Sita's with L.G. and I.T. It was great. I especially enjoyed that evening after being disappointed by my fellow PCV's when they opted out on our dinner plans with a woman who has been like a second mother to me. It was a lack of awareness coupled with poor communication issue, but I was still hurt. They tried to solve the situation like many US Americans do by throwing money at it. People sometimes think if they pay for something, then everything is okay when in reality there are times when people and relationships should take precedence.

The next day was a much shorter ride to Takeladougou to be present for a big party thrown for us and also to honor a PCV there. I enjoyed it and was bummed that I was too exhausted to dance.

Next day was a car day, although half of our crew decided to bike the 160km instead, that's how crazy hardcore they are. I enjoyed breakfast at McDonald (no, there's no 's!) where L.G. and I split an omelet and French toast (pain perdu) before the 5 of us left on the bike tour not biking took that bumpy nauseating ride to Loropeni. We walked the market for dinner and slept soundly at a school. I biked my best time that last day into Gaoua, 36km. I visited my village friend's brother and his wife's mother. It was nice meeting them and having the time to stop by the market where they worked to say hello. I saw a few friendly PCV faces I hadn't seen in a while and spent the day enjoying their company. We celebrated a fellow PCV birthday that night and he and I slept at the home of a newly wed husband of an RPCV who just returned to the states.

I headed to Ouaga to spend some time working on a grant application to build a library student center desperately needed in my village and to run some errands, including filling out forms for the guitar I had brought back for a friend that Air France lost. It was a very productive few days.

Back in village, I started the school year off right going over school rules and expectations with my students. I made it discussion based instead of authoritarian and think it went well. The participation from my 5e kids pleased me to no end. I got through my first week and for the last time and headed back to Ouaga for a Youth Development meeting.

I did a short stint in Ouaga and will be heading back to site tomorrow to start week number two.

I find that I've hit a groove here, finally. I'm comfortable with my language, with this culture. I have friends, a support system. I know this place. And I really like it here. Most days I'm very happy to be alive and to be here. It's funny thinking back a couple months ago when I was wishing my service were only a year long and that I didn't want to teach again. And now, here I am, already worrying about how fast this time will fly and how difficult it will be to leave. If you had asked me two months ago if I loved it here, I'd say no, but I like it here. Now, I still don't know if I'd say I love it yet, but I could see myself getting there before my service is over which by the way is in 10 months or less. Insane.

Plus, things are really great with my partner right now. Whoever said you can't maintain a healthy long distance relationship with someone back home while in the Peace Corps was wrong. Now, perhaps we're one of the exceptions, but if you want it badly enough and you're willing to work at it knowing that all relationships take work, then it is completely possible. It's just a matter of what you're willing to sacrifice and go through not to lose someone who is so important and irreplaceable in your life. Food for thought.

Enjoy life. Live each day to the fullest. Push yourself. Do something you want to do even if it's a little crazy or makes you a little uncomfortable. Don't be complacent!

Until next time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

“Americaland” and Getting Back into the Swing of Things

I got pulled into stage and couldn't come out to give an update until now after working four weeks of stage after a week of TDE (training development evaluation) and a week of TOT (training of trainers) and 5 weeks home in the US.

Those six to seven weeks before my visit back to the US were insane. I definitely earned my vacation. I started as a member of a new committee: Peer Support and Diversity Network (PSDN), gave my input during preparation stages for the new trainees, and guided our 22 new secondary education trainees during their first three weeks in Burkina Faso. They're a fun group, one of the best. Each person bring something to the table and they've had quite a range of personal and life experiences ranging from teaching in Peru, living on a boat for a total of five years, and working in Kuwait to just graduating from college a week or two before and finishing high school and college in six years and already having three to four years of work experience despite being the same age as many recent college graduates. They have good attitudes and are fun to be around. It was sad to leave them after our time together, but I knew we would be reunited after my time home.

My time home was amazing. It was tough getting back into the swing of things with my partner what with being apart for over a year, but we managed to figure it out and still have fun in the process. I spent time with my parents, brother, friends, grandparents, and my beau-famille. I went sailing in Chesapeake Bay with family and friends, bringing my partner, who loved it, for the first time; went to the beach in Michigan; had dinner with my parents and with my grandparents; enjoyed the luxury of a US hotel; visited our local zoo; went on a wine tour and did a brewery tasting; ate a lot of delicious food I had been missing; went to the Cottage; rode in a power boat and went tubing after not seeing and real body of water for a year; went on two picnics; I even ran a few times. The best part about being home was seeing those I love and had missed all year. Time sped by and my 22 hour trip back to Burkina was difficult. The most difficult part besides leaving my family was leaving my partner, again. I knew it would be.

I've taken my days and hours at times slowly since I've been back while trying to ease back into a life that now seems so familiar to me. I've done it once already, so I know I'm capable of another year. And while it was tough coming back, I'm happy to be back and I do like it here.

I got back just in time for our second official PSDN meeting followed by our Mid-Service Conference (MSC). [In case I haven't told you already, Peace Corps is doused with acronyms, they can NEVER get enough!] During said conference, we had one day of conferencing and two involving TB tests, physicals, and a trip to the dentist.

The dentist was an interesting experience. I thought it was cool to go to one in another country and also where we spoke a different language. It was fairly routine and comparable to the states until the cleaning part. He, the dentist, checked my teeth to make sure I had no cavities, and cleaned them after taking new pictures of each one. The pictures were taken with the same type of cylinder and instead of using disposable lead strips coated in plastic, a rectangular prism wrapped in a plastic bag was used to isolate my teeth. The cleaning was interesting. Instead of a spinning plastic tool to put on toothpaste and rub off the plaque, a tool that shot a speeding saline solution was used seemingly to use water pressure as a de-plaquing technique. Interesting. Thankfully, I had enough paper wrapped around my neck to keep my clothes dry for the most part, other than that which dripped down the middle of my neck. It did not taste good, but that meant I was not dehydrated, so I had that going for me at least!

The conference part went well. I did not feel like being there at the start but things improved when we were given two hours to chat with each other about what went well, what didn't go so well, and how we can make it better. It was great because we were able to pick each other's brains and share advice and ideas.

Next I went north to Dori to do some tree-planting. We planted 20,000 trees with several other groups of volunteers from all over, including Burkinabè volunteers, too, of course. We spent the night, enjoyed good food, speeches, and a looong bus ride. Other than actually planting trees, I think I liked the kick-off bonfire the night before best. There was dancing and cheering and presentations – I enjoyed it a lot.

I spent the night in our capital before heading out early back to the training city to be reunited with SE stagiaires and to also meet the newbies whom I was only fortunate enough to welcome and not get formally introduced before I left.

I got back in time to watch two classes taught by two different trainees and watch a small group try their hand at PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Participation). I enjoyed lunch with stagiaire D to catch up on everything I missed and attended the social relationships cross-cultural session which GEE also attended.

Today, Saturday, our SE stagiaires had a field trip language session 24 K away. I biked with two other PCV's since there weren't enough spaces on the bus. We got to see crocodiles, get pictures with them, sit on them, and pull them back by their tails – there are just some things you don't get to do in the states!

Tomorrow's plans involve biking nearby to go hiking on a beautiful hill L. spotted on our bike ride today. Another day. Another adventure.

Until next time.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Celebrating School's End with a Focus and Work Change

In 15 days I will have been here a year. A year! I cannot believe it. I am officially finished with my first year of teaching. I buckled down a bit with my students and tried to be more strict. I introduced the sentence, “Je ne dérangerai plus le professeur et les autres élèves,” to my students when they misbehaved or talked or whatever during class. I had them write their name on the board and then by 7am the next day they were to give me that sentence written 200 times. If not, I took away a point. If they skipped one number or word, I took away a point and they had to redo it. They did not like that! I had a couple students who correctly pointed out that they stopped talking in class after having to write that, so it did have some effect. Unfortunately, it only helped so much. My 5e kids remained out-of-control, reminding me of D.D.'s advice during stage: start out stern because he found that his worst class was the one he was more lax with from the get go. Come to think of it, many of my favorite and most respected teachers followed that motto. They started hard and loosened up throughout the year. That is my plan for the following year.

After giving my final tests and calculating averages I was free [at least until next fall]. I continued my regular routine of hanging out with my major friend each evening even though M.K., my friend and his wife, has been in Bobo since early April in order to give birth there. She gave birth on May 1st to a beautiful baby girl; I saw pictures. It's funny thinking about it because she's my age and I can't picture having kids right now. I definitely want them, probably at least 3, but I am not ready yet. [Then there are my students, 6th graders (older, 13, 14, still not old enough by any means) who are pregnant. It's disheartening and very sad and unfortunately far too common.] I can't wait to meet my little niece.

My two women colleagues finally made it over to my house when I was there and we spent time together chatting under my hangar. I shared my gummy worms with Mme D.'s little baby girl who loved them. She kept making an almost-mmm sound as she was eating it, perfectly content.

I spent more hours volunteering at maternity. One Friday I arrived to find the acoucheuse alone, because her colleagues had left on a vaccine campaign, possibly for polio. I'm glad I was there to help her that morning, get patient files, fill out forms, hold babies, take blood pressure. I enjoy that work a lot. It is very interesting and again, I feel good knowing that I'm helping, even if only in very small ways. If I can lessen the burden just a little, that's good enough for me.

I spent time with A.S., a 40 year old man who I have become surprisingly close to, surprising because he's a 40 year old man. We have had some great conversations. We've talked about my students, Rastus (the word is not offensive here), homosexuality, adoption, female genital mutilation, sexism, women's rights... He's an extremely bright and kind man. He finished primary school only and continued with self study at a seminary where, I believe, his father was. He speaks French well and has helped me a lot these past few months. He and S.K. are two friends whom I feel comfortable enough with to ask questions about French. I love that they correct me, because that's the only way I can learn and improve my language. I feel like I've improved light speeds in such a short time due to their insights.

I was also blessed to enjoy a few times listening to F. and A. play guitar and sing. Love it.
One day as I was visiting with A.S. under my hangar, we got a surprise visit from another friend, A.S.'s cousin, F.S. I was happy to see him. Sadly, he was there because his pregnant wife, F.S., was having complications and reached a point where she couldn't breathe. Scary. She saw the nurse and was prescribed medication. As the two men were looking for it, I set up my lit pico and let her and her daughter take a load off chez moi. I found the best thing I had for the little girl and brought out paper and pens for her to draw. I wish I had had something else, but I don't think I did. The guys eventually found the generic brand of meds and F. and F. left with mom-to-be much more at ease. She left with some tasty leaves from my courtyard that up until that day I had not known were edible.

Since my buddy, L.S., went back to the states for a month (after 2 years in away from friends and family back home, she deserved that time) I decided to visit her best friend and boyfriend in the city 25K from me. I chose to catch a ride with the PC car the day our doctor came for a visit. I was so excited to see him and one of our drivers in our region. I love having visitors. He stayed for a couple hours mostly talking and having great conversation. He told stories about his time in Cameroon and Gabon. He has great stories, and he always makes me laugh. We're lucky to have such genuine caring medical staff on board here. So that Thursday I quickly packed my bags and headed 25K away. I spent the night and the following day there. I had planned on spending two nights before I received a call telling me I needed to be in Ouaga for training that coming Monday (after they had originally told me I had to be there and recently called to tell me I was not going to attend – gotta love Peace Corps!) So I divided my trip having needed to return to my village to gather my things for the following week.

It was great to see the bff, S. and the bf, A. I spent lots of QT with them. Chez S. I hung out and enjoyed her cooking and wonderful company. You could tell she missed L.S. a lot by her stories of how they met and several memories of theirs. She also told me about breaking down the night before she L.S. left. Since L.S. is moving to another village, albeit nearby, Sita realized they didn't have much time together and even though they'll have 3 more months, it's during the rainy season, so she'll be spending most of her days in the fields. She was bumming. The two of them have made such a great connection and the nearing of separation is starting to hit. Sucks. We had some lighter conversation, too, as I became more at ease in her hut, playing with my little 5 year old buddy, Z. I had lunch with A. the following day before I had to head back to site for the night. I hung out briefly with my friends after running around and taking care of a few last minute things with the end of the school year. I saw two students for the last time in a few months and I'm glad I got that opportunity. I let one borrow an English booklet and the other my French/English dictionary. When I gave S. my dictionary he kissed it! A.S. and Y.T. walked me to the car the next day when I returned to the same city I left the day before. When I arrived at the gare and inquired about paying the attendant told me not to worry about it. Bizarre. Nice, but weird. Okay. So, I opted to use them to go to Ouaga the following day instead of the other company like I had been planning. More QT with my buddies before bed and an early following day.

The following week was TDE (training design and evaluation) for the incoming trainees. All of the PCVFP's (Peace Corps Volunteer Facilitator Permanent) for each of the four sectors worked with the staff to get on the same page, talk about the basics of the training, especially because it will be a group of 78 trainees, the largest group they've ever had here, write learning objectives and competencies, putting in core sessions into the calendar of training events (COTE), and then planning our individual technical sessions for each sector within our own schedules. It was great seeing some familiar faces from my stage, many of whom I hadn't seen since I left Ouahigouya last August. It was a tiring, productive week. I now understand all that goes into such planning and why changing the schedule is not as easy as we thought it was while we were in stage. There are so many different parts and aspects you have to keep in mind. It's nuts. I'm enjoying working on this. I'm excited to be one of the main PCV's to welcome the new trainees. I think my energy and attitude makes me the perfect person for the job.

TDE ended on Friday. My plan was to go to Bobo for the weekend, visit with some friends, then go back to my village for a few days before having to be back the following Thursday for my next Youth Development Committee meeting. That was before our new country director (CD) explained that we, PCV's, can in fact be on more than one committee, we simply need the permission of the CD. So, my buddy, M.B. and I were bummed because we wanted to be on the Peer Support and Diversity Network (PSDN) but did not know about the 2 committee rule: we were under the impression that only one was allowed. Then, we thought we were too late to join that committee. It wasn't until a current member advised us to ask our nurse if we could still apply; that happened Thursday night. So, early Friday morning I got the go ahead from our nurse, permission to participate in two committees from our CD, wrote my application while working on TDE things, submitted my application before noon as I was told and got accepted all within a matter of hours. I was so excited. The catch was that training started on Monday. So much for my plan.

New plan: leave early Saturday morning, arrive back at site by around 5 pm only to leave early the following morning for Ouaga. I had never made that trip in one day and was about to do it for two in-a-row.

I had around 12 hours at site in between my travel. I quickly put things away, packed my bags for 3 months, emptied out my buckets and water filters, and gave away any perishables. I spent time with S.K. who offered to moto me in early on Sunday so I could take the first car to Bobo. What a good friend. I also saw A.S. who was still using my courtyard. He had since done some landscaping. I now have a few new rows of plants including aloe! The stay was too short, but better than nothing. I got into Ouaga by 4 pm on Sunday with plenty of time to make the dinner our PC nurse invited us to. So good to us. Good food and great company.

The next 3 days were filled with PSDN training: active listening, which questions to ask and not to ask, how to help a peer arrive at a solution and sort through a problem without giving advice or any personal opinions. We talked about the differences in individual values, red flags, how to take care of ourselves. I enjoyed the training very much. It was exhausting, but great. It makes me wonder if I'd like to go into counseling or psychology. Although, there's a fair share of that in medicine, so I think I'm alright. Became an official PSDN member and got voted to training manager/coordinator again with M.S., the same PCV who is sharing the PCVFP position with me. He's right, we do work really well together. And our work will come next may when we're planning and running the training for the next year's PSDN members. It'll be good.

Thursday was my day off so-to-speak. I ran some errands in the morning, biking to the post to take out money and stopping at the bank to exchange CFA for dollars, taking care of another traveling back home preparation. People think I'm nuts to have my 2 checked bags packed already, a month in advance. I'm glad because I don't want to be stressed the few days before I leave. Speaking of, I am so flipping excited to go home at the end of June. 5 weeks with my partner, time with my family and friends. It's going to be great.

I ran Thursday morning with J.B. for the first time in months. It was difficult but I felt good afterwards. I bonded with C.R. and E. over lunch and then spent a couple hours working on the technical training sessions for the new stage with H. Friday, today, was our first Youth Development Committee (YDC) meeting. We talked about the resources we found and where we'd like to go next as in our focus. We're going to help with training sessions in four general categories, starting at first with one. It'll be interesting to see what becomes of this baby committee.

We have another meeting tomorrow and then I'm off until Tuesday when I'll take part in our Training of Trainers (TOT) for stage followed by more preparation for a few days before the new trainees arrive and stage is in full swing. Lots to do. Can't wait!

Be well. Live life to the fullest. Take chances. Don't be afraid to try something new and push yourself. Be the person you want to be, because only you can control that.

Until next time.

Monday, April 5, 2010

People. Importance is with people, with relationships.

I've had computer access for over a week and have been stubborn and unmotivated to write a blog. It isn't because I don't want to, but I'm having difficulty figuring out what to say.

I've been here 10 months now and I'm not the same person I was before I left. I've certainly grown in small ways: my patience, my understanding of people, my view of what's important in life. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we're not here to make people think like us and change mindsets and ways of life that have worked for hundreds of years. We're here to help make things work a little better, improve efficiency, help people with problems they feel need to be fixed. It's funny, because so many have the ignorant belief that we need to go to third world countries to save those people who are viewed as savages, simply because they were “unfortunate” enough to be born into the 2nd most illiterate country with over 50% of its people living on less than $1.25 a day and over 80% living on less than $2 a day. That type of mindset goes along with our US American need to view progress as something tangible, something you can quantify, and the faster we can do it, the better...

Being here, I've learned to slow down [at least somewhat!] Instead of focusing on fixing the problem, I know you can't do good work if you don't have people behind you supporting you. And you can't gain such support if you don't talk to people, get to know them, listen to them.

It's funny that there are those who think they need to save the people here while there are many important lessons the Burkinabè can teach others if they only took the time to listen. The focus on people here is where I think the focus should be. It's not about how much money you have, how many things you own, which prestigious people you know. It's about how you care for and maintain your relationships, how you are with people, and how much of yourself you give to others.

The way people give here continues to astound me. Perhaps the solidarity does only exist because of the omnipresent poverty. It's that solidarity that keeps such strong bonds between the people here. You don't need to know someone on a familial or personal level. If you're passing through an unfamiliar village for the night, you can stop by the nearest home or case and not only will that family give you a place to stay and food to eat, but they will welcome you and treat you as though you were a sister or a brother.

Another example. A new neighbor moved in a few months ago. When he came to introduce himself to me, he brought me a watermelon as a gift. He continues to give me fruit as gifts and even made me a well-wishing New Year's gift out a a calabask, the outside of a round melon-like inedible fruit here, often used as bowls.

As for me, I'm trying to do the best I can here. I'm making friends with my neighbors, even though I still cannot communicate with them in Jula, their language. I say hello. I'm trying to learn names. I'm keeping a positive attitude and trying to figure out what more I can be doing here.

My third and final trimester began Friday. It's the shortest with only 6 weeks to get grades. By the end of May I'll be finished with my first year teaching. I still cannot believe it.

I've been way too nice with my students and that finally came up to bite me in the butt my last week of classes at the end of the 2nd trimester. Based on their disrespectful and out-of-control behavior, I've finally decided to kickstart the discipline and hold them accountable. They'll be shocked the first day I'm back teaching because I'll be doing a complete and necessary turnaround. It's what's fair for me and for the 50 or so good students who come to learn, who ask good questions, who try, who come to my house for exercises and questions when they don't understand something. They'll be my motivation. I'll let you know how it goes!

I started volunteering with maternity at out local clinic. I really enjoyed it. I actually felt useful. There's a woman who works there, an accoucheuse. She's a strong, confident woman who is respectful and kind to the women who come in. I think I will learn a lot from her. The first day I went in I helped fill out the 3 separate forms necessary after every prenatal checkup. It was interesting. It still blows my mind that I'm doing all of this in French.

I had a 2 week vacation in between trimesters and spent the first half in Ouaga with my fellow volunteers. I attended my first COS (Close Of Service) party for the volunteers who will be leaving the country for good in the coming months.

Next I went visit my host family in Ouahigouya. It was great to see them. They welcomed me and treated me as though I was a member of their family and reinforced my mutual feelings for them. I hung out with my little brothers and sister. I spent an entire day talking with my Maman as she did my hair. I felt much more comfortable and at ease this trip. I'm more competent with my language and understanding of the culture here and it's made all the difference.

It was weird going back to a city that encompassed my first 3 months here and all that came with my training, my immersion, and my introduction to Burkina Faso and its people. It was great to realize all I remembered and learned in that time, even after 7 months of being away. In a way it felt like coming home which must also explain why I was sad to leave. It wasn't the city though, it was my family. I was blessed to be brought into that family in June 2009 and blessed to continue my relationship with them. I'm lucky to know them and I enjoyed having family to spend Easter morning with. It's my Burkinabè home.

I hope this hasn't been too sporadic. I wanted to provide an update on my life here and it was important to include my thoughts and realizations, because life is not all about doing. In fact, that's not even the half of it. I think the sooner people realize that, the sooner people can find true happiness and purpose.

So talk to people. Get to know them. Be kind. Be respectful. Forgive. And love. There's nothing greater than love.

Until next time.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy, Motivated, and Saving the World One Student at a Time

Le 12 février 2010

I forget if I made a special shout out to my family and friends who have sent me packages, so I'm starting this blog with a big THANK YOU to all of you who have sent me packages or letters: I love them and really appreciate them.

My In-Service Training in Ouaga in early January went well. And it was nice to see everyone whom I spent my initial training with again. We talked about how our first trimesters went, shared ideas, commented on our initial training, learned about starting libraries in village, soap making, starting a garden. We had our usual medical, administrative/financial, and security sessions. We enjoyed each other's company and I enjoyed my internet and skyping time. :)

My second trimester started with a bunch of nerves, anxiety, and uncertainty about how it would go with my nearly complete class schedule change. I went from 4 English classes and one environmental science/biology (SVT) class to one math class and 2 environmental science/biology class. I no longer teach the 2 older grades, so it was a change.

It wasn't too long before I found my own and got into a groove that I found much more quickly the second time around. I find I really enjoy teaching math. I like the subject matter a lot which I think helps. SVT is coming along. I'm getting into the human body with my youngest kids and I find that much more interesting and applicable to their lives. The class where I talked about STI's was interesting. I had a couple smartypants students tell me they didn't know what sex was. I was surprised to learn that they didn't know the word vagina, especially since it's a basic and integral part of female genital anatomy. That was fun explaining in words they could understand!

I give more tests that other teachers do. We're required to give 2 per trimester. And that's what most people give: 2 and only 2. I think it's much better for the students to give more than that. With math I can even assign homework to collect and grade. Giving at least 3 tests gives the students less material to study for each test, a greater chance to pass when averaging 3 grades as opposed to 2, and it also gives the me the option of rewarding my students for good behavior by taking the 2 best grades. I will not be doing that. My students talk way too much during class. I'm sure a large part of it is because I'm too nice and let it go way more than I should. I'm working on it. I started a new technique where I write a -1 on the board and start to draw a box around it when they're talking to much. If I finish the box, everyone receives -1. If my students stop talking, I stop writing and they don't. If I start this 10 times in one class, it's -1. That works a little bit, but often it'll work for the 5 seconds I'm writing it on the board and then as soon as I stop they start up again. We'll see. I need to be more strict, because it's disrespectful and not good for the students who actually pay attention and want to learn.

I started a girls club with my youngest girls and I have around 20 who show up every Tuesday evening. We spend the first hour doing an activity that I choose and the second hour is for them. They have thus far opted to use it to do schoolwork and homework. And then I”m there if they have any questions or need explanation. The first week I did an informational meeting to introduce the idea and talk about what we could use that time for each week. The second week and first official meeting, we played a name game and started putting together money by each of the interested girls to use to throw a party at the end of the year. The third week, I tried a Life Skills activity to introduce the terms aggressiveness and passivity. It all but crashed and burned which I initially thought was because of my poor French. I learned later figured out that it was because of their poor French. Their level is so low, it's no wonder they don't understand a lot things, including notes I give them in class. And of course, they don't ask questions when they don't understand, even though I've told them more times than I can count that they need to ask questions if they don't understand something. Anyways, for the third week I decided to find an activity that would force them to think and use the brains I know they have and also something that they couldn't or shouldn't copy their friends and neighbors. I don't know if it's laziness, a lack of self esteem and self confidence, a mixture of the 3 or what, but they're complacent with repeating what their neighbor or friend tells them to say. They're complacent with looking at something once and telling me they don't understand instead of trying to use the knowledge they do have to figure it out. Frustrating. One of the reasons we emphasize critical thinking here and try to find ways to work that into our teaching, because it's not often taught here. It's typically route memorization and that does nothing. So, after giving it some thought, I had them write a list of life goals, because I figured that no one has ever had them think about that. It took me 30-45 minutes to explain what goals were and how to write their list and how they didn't need to copy down everything I had written on the board to explain the activity. After we went a bit over the first hour, I wanted to give them time to do their schoolwork, so I told them to bring the lists next week, because we're going to share goals. And I'm making each girl share a goal that's different that all the others. I will not accept a repeated goal. Then I think I'll give them time to think about what they can do, what steps they can take to make their goals a reality. In any case, I often feel awkward and unsure when I'm doing my girls club activities, but I must be doing something right, because my girls keep coming back.

I spent about 5 weeks at site without leaving for the first time and could have stayed longer. I'm definitely coming into my own and getting comfortable with where I'm at. I visit a couple who are my friends every night, I started djembe lessons, and I am slowly and inconsistently incorporating working out into my schedule. I like my site, I like my colleagues, and I like my students, even though they frustrate me and drive me up the wall sometimes [read often].

Right now I'm spending the weekend in Ouaga to participate in an ISO softball tournament. We tied the Japanese team 6-6 today in the last inning which is a total bummer because we were up! Oh, well. Next game. It was a blast and we looked pretty decent. We've got another game tomorrow and then on Sunday. A second game on Sunday if we win and are in the finals. I'm going back to site Sunday and will therefore sadly be missing any and all games that day. We have subs though. However, one particularly awesome female volunteer said she would offer bribes for us to stay... :-)

Life is good. Can't complain too much. Wouldn't want to anyways. I'm happy.

Oh, also, I'm probably going to start my first grant-writing experience to help my CEG get a library and possibly help with raising money to build a second building in order to divide the classes and make them smaller. I'm excited because I've never done anything like this before and it'll be a great learning experience. We'll see. It's going to be a lot of work, but I have absolutely no problem with that.

Until next time. An bi dòni. (See you soon – been taking Jula lessons, too.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

End of Trimester and Holidays au Burkina

Le 09 janvier 2010

It's been a while since I last wrote and updated a blog due to business and lack of motivation. So now, I will do my best to update you on as much as possible since my last update.

Before I get into all that, in true Burkina fashion, I'd like to wish all of you bonne année, bonne santé, et j'espère que tous vos souhaites sont realizé pendant la nouvelle année.

In three days I will have officially been in country for seven months and as of now will be home to visit in less than six. I completed teaching my first trimester which ended the week before the Christmas holiday.

That last week of classes I had intended on teaching in addition to giving my students their calculated averages, but as things often happen in Burkina, my plans were forced aside by the regular happenings within Burkinabè culture. That Sunday I found myself feeling slightly under the weather and nursing a fever that didn't want to leave, much like the flies once mosquitoes in the Ouaga transit house. After talking to my PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) I did malaria slides and started my precautionary malaria treatment only to learn the following day that my slides came up negative for malaria and I had bacterial enteritis. I purchased the necessary medicine at my pharmacy and planned on resting that Monday not feeling up for teaching only to learn at my kioske where I stopped to drink some tea and wait for transport to pass by so I could send my slides that there was no school until Wednesday due to the 9 year anniversary of the murder of a well-known journalist.

The rest of my week was filled with finding time to talk with my classes to read off or give my students their averages, so they could calculate them and verify that I recorded them correctly. Then I had to write by hand the grade for each student on each bulletin (report card) along with the appreciation.

The rest of my time at site was mixed with an orphaned student who wants to come live with me, marché day, preparation for my Christmas with L.S. and friends and my post Christmas bike tour, and visiting with my couple friends every day.

My Christmas holiday was fantastic and although I missed my family and wished I was home to celebrate it the way I have for the past 22 years of my life, my chosen alternative this year was a decent second best. We had great people and therefore a light, fun, and inclusive atmosphere. Furthermore, we had a cultural exchange by having some Burkinabé friends share and celebrate the day. We gave stockings to two little girls who I don't think knew what to do with all that stuff. The gifts given to L.S.'s closest friend resulted in said friend dancing around and chanting about how we made her pretty (I.T. purchased a necklace and earrings for her).

The food was excellent. We prepared a Slovakian (I think...It begins with an S and I had trouble keeping it straight even then much like my past presbyterian/pentecostal issues.) meal which L.S. explained as the poor person's meal eaten and prepared the night before the big feast. And since my Polish background had its similarities, I prepared my Dad's famous mushroom soup, very successfully.

The day after Christmas we said our goodbyes to a few volunteers and friends before packing up, singing a few disney songs, and hopping on our bikes to head toward Banfora.

We made it as far as Beregadougou staying the night with an extremely generous family related to our sole Burkinabé biking buddy. That stay involved a relaxed atmosphere, good food (fish from Mauritania), and a tour of the local sugar factory. They cultivated sugar cane there and once you got within blocks of the factory you could smell sugar in the air. Sweet! (Pun intended.)

The following morning we continued on and stopped in Kerfigula to visit the waterfalls and the domes and to experience an unpleasant moment in 'tourist country' before heading over to visit another volunteer whose village threw a huge party in celebration of her having spent a year at site. They prepared food and had traditional African music with balophones, karis, and tambés. I danced a bit and had too many children grab onto my hands and arms...

After waking up very cold in my tent the following morning we biked to Tengrala to see the hippos while sharing a wooden canoe. I should clarify and say see the hippo heads, but it was cool.

That day we spent a few hours in Banfora before catching transport to a village 15K from where L.S. Lives.

I spent the next couple days in village and celebrated a low-key New Years at my friends house where I wanted to go to be at 9 but managed to stay awake with my buddies watching music videos, eating friend chicken, and drinking malta guiness (without alcohol) and pop.

Then after another day I started my trek to Ouaga for In Service Training. More to come later.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Football, Cheaters, and Tabaski

Le 2 décembre 2009

I've been here over five and a half months now and still find that no two days are alike. The proof is being more than halfway through my third journal.

Last week one of my students told me about a football (for you US Americans out there, that's soccer; I don't know why we're the only country to call it as such) game that would be happening Tuesday evening at 16h. The game reminded me of powder puff football because it was my 3e and oldest kids against the three other classes, anyone who wanted to play (sort of). I decided to see what this game was all about and show some support, so I headed over a little after the game had started. What I found gave me flashbacks to high school and the games we used to go to after school to support our friends and socialize. My experience here was more similar than different. There were three branches used at either end of the field for a goal. The two serving as posts had a small 'V' carved into the top, so the crossbar could rest in place. The field was mostly dirt, sand, and rocks. There were no lines or machines to create them, so someone took the time to carve the shape of the field including the center circle and line our of dirt. The students playing did not where cleats or shinguards. Heck, half of them didn't wear shoes at all. The keepers (les gardiens) had no gloves or special equipment either. The shoes that were worn were these flimsy-looking white sandals or some other type of sandal that would stay on their feet. I don't recall seeing the usual flip-flop worn. I say usual because the majority of the population here wears them on a regular basis.

When I arrived I headed over in the direction of the bureau where the teachers usually sit and found three of my colleagues. (The field is located in between the school, a four-room building, and the bureau, a smaller building with more rooms.) They had a student fetch me a chair from inside and I watched most of the first half behind a tree and a bush trying to soak up as much shade as possible. We moved to the other side of the field toward the end of the first half. I took that opportunity to purchase some bananas to share. Our concession stand was a woman sitting on the ground selling bananas out of a large bowl. She's the same woman who sells little gateaux and small bags of peanuts during our school's “recreation”, a fifteen minute break each day at 10am.

Once on the other side we were in the thick of the teams playing and the crowd of student spectators. You found your usual clumps of friends, kids laughing, goofing off, running around, being silly. The parallel was neat. And I also liked being in the position of supportive teacher as many of my teachers had been. I'm still not exactly sure who won, but I don't think it was 3e. One sole goal was scored toward the end of the second half to clinch the win.

Last week I gave three exams, two English to each of my older kids, and one in biology, SVT, my younger kids of 120. They must have thought being so numerous that I couldn't see them cheating (talking amongst themselves, eying each other's papers sometimes for more than several seconds...) Well, I was on my game that day and wrote down over 10 names of cheaters. The first two boys I caught were straight up having a conversation and laughing away. I mean c'mon. Seriously? I'm glad I used the idea of a fellow PCV and instead of having them hand me their exams when they're finished which promotes cheating when a large group of them come up and crowd around me at once, I had them turn their papers over and leave a rock on top. Then they were free to go. This also helped me write down the names of several cheaters after they left. Oh how they'll be surprised today when I give them back their exams and they see a -3 on top. It's minus three out of twenty, so that's significant. One of my colleagues said he's going to come in with me next time and kick out the first two students he sees cheating. That should put the rest in line, he said. That'll be next week...

Everyone had Friday off from school and work because it was fête, Tabaski, a Muslim holiday. A majority of Burkinabè are Muslim, so their holidays are a big deal here. Tabaski celebrates the story (found in the bible and I'm guessing also the Koran) where the man was going to sacrifice his son to God, but God switches his son with a sheep at the last minute. So, the celebration consists of praying at the mosque in the morning followed by a day of killing and eating mouton (sheep), visiting with friends and family, and eating a lot/well.

My friend N.D. came by a little after 12. He saw my complet and said ça c'est propre. Then we headed out to make the rounds. First stop was at my next door neighbor. We sat down, ate some riz gras, visited a bit, and continued on our way. We stopped by one of my teaching colleagues next after walking toward the school. There we talked a bit. My colleague asked what I thought about white people bringing religions here and more specifically about my thoughts regarding families with a lot of children, 10 or 20. We were given chicken and popcorn. Delicious. Next we wandered back to the marché area. N.D. wanted to break some bigger bills in order to have change to give to kids and students that we found along our way. Apparently that's another part of the fête. We stopped at the president of his APE (an organization for the father's of students) where we were given uncooked mouton and some money. We stopped by one of N.D.'s teaching colleagues where I ate foutou (tô made out of ignames = yum) with sauce, chicken, and fried plantains (yum). We stopped by the veterinarian's house next before making a long pause at our friends M.K. and S.K. There, in a familiar atmosphere we ate salad and shared drinks of pop, N.D. had a beer, of course. Our final stop was at the treasurer of my APE, because N.D. told him he'd come by. I was more than full at this point and believe it or not did not want to consume anything else, but it's rude if you don't ate least have a “taste”, so I managed to put in a few more mouthfuls.

All-in-all it was a great day, tiring, but good. I love the atmosphere during big holidays. It's fun seeing a bunch of people walking around and enjoying themselves and each other's company. I like seeing everyone with their hair done and showing off their new clothes that they've recently had made or had been saving for a special occasion such as this. The next big holiday her will be Nöel i.e. Christmas, but I will be celebrating that with some fellow PCV's.

One other cultural note before I go: I was visiting with my neighbor this past week during lunch time, so naturally I was invited (and expected) to eat with him. I took a little less than a third of the rice available still operating under US American standards where you don't want to be rude and take too much when he made the comment about how I don't eat very much or hadn't taken much and that I must take more. He then explained that here people are content and happy if their visitors eat well, so in fact it's actually better if I take a lot than if I only take a little. They could even be offended or think that I didn't like it if I don't eat/take much. Still adjusting!

This weekend I go to Bobo to celebrate Thanksgiving with my fellow PCV's. It sounds like it'll be quite a party given that last I heard we had over 30 people coming! We've already got a local restaurant cooking the turkeys, so we'll just need to provide the sides. Can't wait.

Until next time.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A melange of my life in Burkina

Le 7 novembre 2009

My school meeting over a week and a half ago went very well. Thinking back on it, that time seems like forever ago, much like most of my time here. I've almost officially been here for 5 months and I've been in my village for over 2 already. It's crazy how time works sometime. I think it will never cease to amaze me. So, my rencontre. It took about 2 hours and natually didn't start right on time. There's something to be said about WAIT (West African Internation Time). But I was able to follow a majority of everything said. Plus, the new directeur was nice and from time to time verified that I understood and occasionally broke it down and re-explained some things just to me to be sure. He's a young man and he has this suave air about him. There's something about the way he says “d'accord” that just screams, I'm cool, calm, collected, and very comfortable in my own skin. I envy that in people. Half the time I feel so awkward or weird or out of place. Sometime to strive toward. I am liking him so far. We've been talking more and getting to know each other. I've explained a little more about how long I'm here and who I work for and whatnot. After having met and not seen each other again for about a week, during our next encounter he gave me a hard time (not in a bad way). He asked where I had been and said that I need to come by and chat, because that's how they do things here in Africa.

It takes me back to a conversation I had with my buddy and fellow PCV, L.G., about how people can't get lonely here or be left alone too long, because it's not in the culture. At that time, she told me how her language tutor here, if he went into a restaurant or somewhere and saw sometime sitting alone, he'd go sit with them. Very cool.

During out meeting we discussed grading and when it was due, the end of the trimester, discipline, collaboration groups for the teachers, and possible after school activities such as clubs we can start for the students. The directeur asked me if I had time to do an English club. I agreed, hoping not to start that until I'm teaching less English and more math and science. I also said I'd like to start a math and science club where students can go when they have questions about their assignments or topics in class. I'm not sure when or how those will start up, and I wonder if that's more up to me than anything.

After the meeting we hung out for a bit and chatted. I listened more than chatted, if you can believe it, but I think that really helps with my comprehension. I do need to try and speak more in order to improve that as well, but I'm coming along. Every now and then something happens where I realize my improvement and I feel good. Just yesterday, my supervisor/superior who is in charge of all the secondary education volunteers gave me a call. He's doing site visits next week and wanted to verify that I got his text and that the timing works. He spoke all in French until the last sentence and I, too, responded only in French. The conversation was short, but I have 2 points: It's a big deal because he called me on my cell phone and I understood a lot of what he said. Cell phones are the worst, especially when people here like to talk so quickly. Whenever my buddy N.D. calls me I often cannot understand him because he talks so darn quickly. The second point is that after my sector director ended the conversation saying something like “I'll see you next week,” I responded “À bientôt, S.” To that he said, “Wo-ohw” which I took to mean he was impressed with my language. That made me feel good and I realized I have come a long way. I still have quite a ways to go, but I've got the time and I'm making improvements, so things are going well.

After our meeting we were treated with pop or beer, naturally I had a coke and then a fanta, and a big bowl filled with meet which I later learned was a mixture of pintade (guinea fowl – apparently a big deal here and more expensive than chicken) and chicken. That's it. You'll often find that here: people sharing a large plate or dish or meet. There may be some spices, or in our case mustard, to dip it in, but that's it, nothing else with it like you'd find in the states. Interesting. And delicious.

I walked a few yards with one of my fellow professeurs who told me if I ever have any questions or problems that I need to come to them, because that's how they do it here. There's something to be said about the solidarity here. People weren't kidding. There are some things being poor can teach a lot easier than otherwise. Overall, that evening left me feeling great, because I felt like an equal during the meeting and afterwards my conversations felt inclusive and like I wasn't alone. I don't have to worry about not knowing everything or getting confused etc., because I can always ask someone for help or advice. I guess I'm starting to fit in here. Cool.

Last weekend when visiting my friend L.S., we met up with my Burkinabè buddy N.D. who came to town that Saturday and went to a local Burkina version of a nightclub. Music played, there was a room with a dance floor (equipped with disco ball and bright changing rainbow-colored lights!), a room with a mostly opened ceiling in the center where people sat and drank pop or juice or beer, and a small room next to the dance floor where the DJ sets up. N.D. is actually friends with the DJ whom we learned was the surveillant (or disciplinarian) at a local lycée. Let me tell you what, I could not for the life of me picture him as such! He laughed and joked and sang along loudly to the music, especially when it was a song in English. He even danced in his seat which is not typical here. It was a great night. I don't think I've laughed that much since I've been here.

This past week flew by like any other, and I hope they continue to do so. It means I'm enjoying myself and/or at least getting things done.

Naturally, a month into classes, I received my second schedule change. I don't mind it so much. I can adjust and usually it's not a complete change. Maybe a few classes get switched around, but my times are about the same. I feel bad for the students, because I think the schedule change will take place the following week, but my directeur tells me that the new professor and reason we needed a schedule change is already here, so it's effective immediately. The problem is when I find out the change on Wednesday morning and am supposed to go to different classes. The students, or course, were not informed of the change ahead of time, and those with class all of a sudden on that day don't have the right notebooks with them. It can be frustrating, but I made it work. I ended up giving exercises to the one class complaining to me. What I should have done was give them a quiz for the way they acted, but I couldn't help but understand a little. It's just frustrating because I had nothing to do with the change. No worries though. Ça va aller.

I played jeopardy with my 6e class this past week to prepare them for their exam. It was a way to do a fun review and reward the winning team with +1 on their exam which is a big deal: they're exams are only out of 20 points. I think they enjoyed it and definitely got into it. They would clap when someone on their team got a question right. It was great. And they cheered at the end when I wrote +1 for the winning team.

The devoir went off without a hitch, other than the copies being a bit terrible and me having to read aloud each question. I finished grading the exams yesterday. While grading I was hit with one of those profound realization moments: wow, I'm actually teaching. I'm preparing lessons and trying to find ways to make it interesting, get my students up to speed, make it fun, give them adequate practice. I'm giving quizzes and pop quizzes and tests. I'm assigning homework and sometimes grading it, because as I said, I must be a closet masochist. I'm doing it. And I'm doing okay. I had some anxieties a couple weeks back where I felt like I was floundering, like I didn't know what I was doing, and like I wasn't doing a good job. I don't need to be the best teacher there ever was (although I'm not opposed to the idea), but I want to at the very least be decent. And I want my kids to enjoy class a bit and most importantly to learn something. I also hope that they'll learn more than just the subject material. I want to instill some notions of respect and politeness. I want to teach them about little ways they can improve general health here such as by using soap when they wash their hands particularly after using the bathroom and before eating. I hope to do some other sensiblizations as well. We'll see.

Speaking of, I volunteered at my CSPS again as I do every Thursday after class. I walked onto the grounds and found my major sitting under the shade of the overhanging of a building, so I joined him. He explained that it's slower now because palu season is ending. So, for the next 2 hours we talked. He asked me about the states and about social differences. I mentioned salutations and how people greet everyone here and in the states you typically only greet those you know. I talked about their solidarity here and how I know someone will help me if I need it, but in the states there's no guarantee. And like L.S. said last weekend, in the states you also have to worry about the person trying to help you being a creeper. I mentioned “vous êtes invité”. Here, others are always invited to eat with people. If someone is eating and they see you, they always tell you you're invited. And what's more, they mean it. In the states, I explained, that when people eat it's for them alone and if they want to they can share, but often they do not. Or they'll only share with a friend or family member. My major explained that here they don't just prepare enough food for their family and they never eat it all. Whenever they prepare a meal they always make extra for any friends or strangers/foreigners, or people who may stop by. And whether they've already eaten or not, they'll have something to offer any visitors. This is probably also another reason no one goes hungry here. A concept the US can't seem to grasp. Maybe someday. I also mentioned the difference in poverty. That in both cases people don't have or don't have much money, but in the states people are starving and homeless, but here no one goes hungry and everyone has a place to sleep.

Our conversation also led to health related topics. My major wants to set up a day with my directeur for him to come and talk with the students at the CEG. It's one way to sensiblize a large group at one time. Plus, even students as young as the 6e kids need to hear and learn about certain things sooner rather than later. Things like VIH/SIDA (HIV/AIDS), how it's transmitted, how you can protect yourself and decrease your risk, why it's important to get tested and go to the dispensaire (CSPS). Things like pregnancy, grossesse. My major explained that many young girls are getting pregnant and that's not easy if you're in school. I'd imagine it's nearly impossible at some point. This is why know about contraception and using it are important. Although, my major also explained his frustrations with his sensiblizations. He said he'll talk to people about these things until they understand, but they still won't go to the dispensaire for testing, they still won't come and purchase contraception (even when it's inexpensive), and they still won't use or even try condoms. So, he said, while the occurrence of HIV/AIDS in my country is decreasing, here, it's increasing. What can you do? You explain it to people until they understand it, but then they still don't change. I guess that's a facet of life that one experiences across cultures: stubbornness and people getting stuck in their own ways. It's sad in a way and I definitely understand the frustration. And knowing that certainly isn't going to keep me from trying. I figure, if I can change one person's mind, get one person to think twice, get one person to go back and talk to their families, I've made an impact, however small. I mean, after all, Peace Corps really is a grassroots organization. Everyone dreams of changing the world and making large lasting improvements when in reality we can at best hope to change and affect a few lives for the better. Fulfill the needs that our country of service asks for. Maybe put some lasting small changes in effect whose impact won't be seen for years to come, long after we've returned home to the states, forever changed by this experience.

I'm definitely getting used to life here, especially in village. It's nice. I don't often feel rushed. People sit around a lot and visit and enjoy each other's company. They make tea, delicious sweetened tea that they share with everyone sitting around. And you drink it out of a shot glass. When you walk, unless your a young kid or a student, you walk slowly. You have time to enjoy and take in the beauty of the land without it being overcrowded with buildings, cars, and industrialization. I can see the stars at night. And without the streetlights, the moon actually lights up the land enough to see and move around outside without a flashlight. It's amazing.

Another way I've chosen to spend my time is with a woman friend of mine, M.K., who just happens to be my age. She's married and I thought she was older at first. She, too, seems very comfortable in her own skin. I've taken to visiting her a bit and we've started exchanging recipes. She showed me how to cook ignames and what I like to call a Burkinabè version of meatballs, and I taught her how to make banana bread in my dutch oven after sharing some with her. We also have some good conversations as well. We've talked about excision (female genital mutilation which does happen here – it's illegal now, but still occurs), elections including Obama and the upcoming election next year here (they've had the same president for 20 years!), the difficulties of being a woman in this country and how men just don't get it, etc. etc.

Yesterday was marché day. I love marché day. There are a bunch of people around, the sun is shining, you can find a large variety of food you can't get here on a regular basis, you can just walk around and look at what different people are selling, you can haggle, you get to see your friends and say hello...I just like it. I hit up the marché a couple times before enjoying Burkinabè spaghetti at M.K.'s, yum. They prepare it like riz gras by making a sauce, adding the spaghetti, and then boiling off all the water leaving the spaghetti flavored. Next I visited my buddy N.D. Of course, he wanted to go to the buvette claiming that he, too, wanted to drink Dafani. I've taken to teasing him about alcohol. He enjoys beer, and dolo, and bandji (the 2 latter drinks are made here and can be found sweet or fermented depending), but I haven't seen him abuse it. It's still fun to tease. When the woman at the buvette told us there wasn't any Dafani, N.D. ordered a beer and I a coke. You see many people pass by the buvette on marché day. I experienced a man come by and sit on the ground next to us, asking for money. I experienced I man who sat next to and chatted with N.D. bug me about drinking a sucrerie (sucre = sugar) and not beer. The I'm-not-going-to-use-profanity-in-my-blog even made the comment that sucreries are for women. Oh, what ignorance. Something else that withstands across cultures and in this case, unfortunately. Luckily, like anywhere else, there is a mix of people and I haven't had too many encounters with people like that man. I just did not appreciate that at all. I'll never understand why it's a big deal when someone isn't drinking or isn't drinking beer. Who cares. For, me, it's not the alcohol, although I intend to be very careful here with that, I don't like the taste. Why would I drink something I don't enjoy? That's idiocy. Oh, well. Some people just don't get it, but I'll keep challenging them. N.D. told me that this man has 2 wives and is looking or wants to get a third. So I asked, do your wives have 2 husbands. He didn't get it. I'm not surprised.

All in all, things are coming together nicely. I'm liking my village and village life more and more and I'm getting more comfortable here. I'm making friends and spending time getting to know people and talking with people. And I'm coming into my own with school and my classes. I'll tell you what though, it sure isn't easy. But as my someone close to me once said, if it were easy, then it wouldn't be worth it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Quick Update

I finally got my but in gear and gave my students a quiz. In fact, after being sick and missing half a week of school, because for me I only teach for 4 out of 6 days each week, I decided it'd be a good time to give each class a pop quiz. I'm sure they weren't pleased, but I'm the teacher. Plus I specifically told them they must study outside of class: they wrote that down as the final expectation for the class.

Giving the quiz was the least of my worries. Luckily, one of my colleagues told me to let him know when I'd be giving a test or quiz, so he or someone else could accompany me in class and help watch the kids and keep them from cheating or at least try to. I had him help me with my 6e class. Grading the quizzes was the “fun” part. Let's see, I learned that there are 121 students in my 63 class, 101 in my 5e, around 70 in 4e, and around 50 in 3e. So no matter how simple I can make a quiz, grading still takes time. And then I add an extra step of alphabetizing the names, because that saves time when recording their grades, les notes.

So, you'd think when I got to the third to last name I'd be almost done grading, right? Well, you would be oh so wrong. Half of my class was made up of Traoré's! Heck, three names, including Traoré and Coulibaly make up ninety percent of my students! It gets so crazy with the names here, that students have to add de plus a letter and sometimes de plus two letters to distinguish themselves from other students with the same name and prename.

I did manage to grade them all and after finally assigning homework for the first time in 4 weeks, I decided to collect that from 2 classes and grade it! Maybe I'm a closet masochist.

Oh, home news, I finally caved in and bought a battery and light. But I chose the much cheaper and easier route. Instead of dropping 150 mille on a solar panel, car battery, and light and prise setup, I just got a lower voltage battery and one foot-long florescent light. And let me tell you, it literally lit up my world. I smiled the first time I turned it on when it got dark. That alone told me a made the right decision. It should last me about a month and it provides me with a couple more hours of light each night which are very much appreciated.

Here's how it happened. I was talking to my tutor friend and he said if we're going to continue with tutoring, it'll have to be after school and it gets dark within 2 hours after school lets out each day, so I'd need a light. I went back and forth and didn't know if I wanted to spend my money on that. Plus, I didn't want to just buy one at the marché, because I'd have no way of telling if it was a good quality or not. So, my tutor buddy got in touch with a friend about a battery and light for me. Friday morning he sent me a text saying I could meet his friend at the marché about the battery. I found a familiar friendly face. It was the same man who helped me find hooks for my house. He called the man who sells batteries and told me to do go do my shopping around the marché, so he could get it for a good price. One of my students and neighbors came to find me after the battery was dropped off. After realizing the first connecting wire was a dud, my friendly-neighbor-man, the father of my student neighbor, helped hook everything together. He's also the person I will go to when my battery needs to be charged. Charging it will be very cheap.

Yesterday was my C.E.G.'s (my middle school) conseille de rentrée, the meeting each school has each year to discuss the schedule, when grading is due, discipline, possible extracurricular ideas, collaboration, etc. Shouldn't that happen before classes officially start, you ask? Why, yes, one would think so. It sounds like you're lucky if it happens a day or two before classes start. My schedule changed a week ago, this is the fourth week and we just now got our notebooks to write down absences. But then we don't have a list of students, so we couldn't actually take attendance! We should have that by next week. We'll see!

I'll have to tell you about my meeting next time. I need to catch a bus back in a few. Until then.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cultural Corner: Burkina

October 14, 2009

Since someone who will remain nameless, L.G.!, ragged on me for writing an entire blog about food, which I would like to say I did because an old professor requested me to write a guest blog for her about food, I find it necessary and appropriate to fill this blog with more cultural tidbits and interesting facts to know. And of course it will include an update on my life and my first two weeks, officially, as Madame professeur.

Cultural point number one: I believe I've already touched on this, but greeting people is very important in this culture. In fact, as my previous homologue told me, if you do not saluer someone, they are likely to wonder why you are upset with them or they will become upset with you, either way the result is no good. Plus, it's nice because you don't have any of those awkward I'm-looking-right-at-you-and-we're-in-very-close-proximity-and-yet-I'm-going-to-keep-on-without-acknowledging-you-even-though-we-both-know-the-other-is-there moments one has so often in the states. Now, I just have those oh-shoot-I-just-said-the-greeting-for-the-evening-and-it's-still-9-am-in-the-morning moments or the moments where I greet someone in Jula and they keep going beyond the few phrases I know: the basic greeting for each of the 4 times of day (morning, afternoon, evening, and night), how's your family more specifically those in your home or courtyard, how's work or your services. I also know the phrase where are you going, because people here always walk with a purpose as my buddy L.S. explained it. She explained this to me while we were just taking a walk one day in her town, something the Burkinabè don't really do. I guess that's cultural point number two.

Cultural point number three: I haven't heard it quite as much here, in my village, yet, but I have heard it, even today, Vous êtes invité (You're invited). This is said whenever someone is eating and you greet them, walk by, or just happen to be in their general vicinity. And here, unlike in the states when so-and-so is enjoying their candy bar and this person politely asks if you want some, with the known implication that it isn't really an offer. Here, they actually mean it. I asked about that. At my marché last week a man sitting with a friend of mine on the main road invited me to share his fried patates. I politely declined, because I feel bad eating other people's food (perhaps I should say stranger's food or people I don't know very well!). He gave me a hard time about it saying oh, you'll eat patates, but you won't eat mine. So, I sat next to him and shared his plate and had a chat. I thought I had strategically left him the last big piece by taking the smaller one, but my plans were foiled when he told me I should take the bigger one and then left it there for me to eat. Don't ever let anyone tell you they can't share or be generous here.

Cultural point number four: Typically, especially in more rural areas, women keep their knees covered. Often times the only women who will show more than that are prostitutes or those living in bigger cities where the implications aren't the same, much like in the states. The irony in all of this is that you'll see women topless, with shirts falling off, pagnes falling down to reveal the twins, rather frequently. Additionally, breast feeding is viewed in a much healthier way over here, meaning that women will just whip out the twins whenever their baby or small child is hungry. I also think breasts aren't as sexualized over here as they are in the states which is nice change of pace. Although, coming from my culture, it's been an adjustment and still is. It's just different for me to have women freely and openly show off their ladies. I'm glad about the breast feeding though: women should have to hide it or severely inconvenience themselves just because people think it's inappropriate or whatever to reveal their breasts in public. I'm sorry, but can you explain to me how a child her or his mother's breast for food and nourishment is in any way sexual? I just don't see it.

Cultural point number five: Men hold hands with other men. Women and girls hold hands with other women and girls. To show their affection for each other, but now like you'd think. Here, it's completely platonic. It's ironic, too, considering that married couples will never hold hands or take part in any form of public displays of affection. Heck, it'd be difficult to know if two people were married if you just saw them on the street. I had a conversation with a volunteer who is COS-ing (close of service) within the next month and she said that in general, romance isn't the main goal in marriages here from what she's seen. That's not to say those types of relationships don't exist here, but often people marry for stability and children. The man wants someone to have kids with, to cook and clean for him, etc. The woman wants someone to support her and her children. It's an interesting concept, but being the romantic that I am, and being that I found the love of my life, I don't think I could ever fit into that mold.

Cultural point number six: Women carry everything on their heads: water jugs? Yes. Large metal bowls filled with anything and everything? Yes. Large bundles of wood probably as long as she is? Yes. Food or whatever item she is selling? Of course. Buckets filled with anything and everything? Definitely.

Babies? No. (Okay, fine. Maybe they don't carry everything on their heads, but they do a lot.) Women, teenage girls, and even younger girls bend over, prop the baby on their backs piggy-back-style, then wrap a pagne or piece of cloth around the baby and her body, so the baby's head and often arms and shoulders are sticking out of the top. Then she ties the top of the cloth together around her chest and the bottom around her belly. Next she proceeds to carry on conversations, walk wherever she needs to go, and do her daily tasks. It's interesting. I worried that when the babies were young, especially, that perhaps it's be bad for their heads because nothing was supporting them, so they could just be flopping around, but they've been doing this forever and I have yet to see signs of brain damage associated with such phenomena. That was cultural point number seven.

Cultural point number eight is that the brain damage is more likely to be caused in schools where the children are taught to merely memorize material and regurgitate it back. Hence, Peace Corps aim of incorporating critical thinking and warning that the students may not get nor like any attempts at first. But by golly, my kids will use their heads if it totally exhausts me and leaves me a frustrated lump on some days!

That's all I have for you know, more to come later.

I have a couple cell phone towers in my village that look totally out of place. Take this beautiful southwestern Burkina village where you're surrounded by a green paradise accented by the clay-colored earth and put in two giant bright unnaturally white and red metal structures. But even though these monstrosities clash with my pretty little village, I thank God for them every day, even if the reseau is unreliable and it seems to block incoming calls from the states whenever it rains, even though my phone continues to show full bars.

So, school started last week, for me and our other woman teacher at least. She teaches math and PC (physics and chemistry) which is a big deal here, because not a lot of women do. That's great, but then again, not so great for me who wanted to teach those subjects. I certainly don't want to take those classes away from her. Maybe I'll get a math class or two. I'm thinking I can kiss teaching chemistry goodbye. Oh, well. Ça va aller.

Since the third woman teacher or second before I got here, is enceinte aka pregnant, she can't teach this trimester and I seriously wonder about the second trimester as well. I also wonder why the word trimester doesn't exist in French and that even though there are three, they still call them semesters or semestres to be more exact. So this pregnant teacher is the only English teacher and has therefore left me with teaching English for each of the four different levels at our C.E.G. (middle school equivalent). I'm okay with that for now. The plan is that she'll return to teach during the second trimester when I will give up two English classes and hopefully take an one or a couple math or science classes. We'll see what happens. I feel as though I may end up with the same schedule for the rest of the year. Although by the time switching time comes, I may prefer that. I've been teaching nearly 2 full weeks now. So far it's going decently well. I was a ball of nerves my first week, because that is how I am, but I think my energy would be better suited and spent lesson planning, finding ways to get students to learn and retain information, and finding ways to make classes fun and appeal to many different learning types including right and left brain learners. As you can see, I've got my work cut out for me.

Today I did my first sensibalization in 3 of my classes. Tomorrow is Global Handwashing Day, didn't you know my birthday was a big deal?! Since I only have one class tomorrow, I talked about handwashing with soap and why it's important, especially before you eat and after you use the bathroom. Statistics show that not washing your hands causes 3.5 million children deaths each year due to pneumonia and diarrhea. The class was discussion-based and I had decent participation. Try explaining all of this in a second language of which you have a limited vocabulary – yeah, not so easy is it? But I think I got the point across. I hope at least one student goes home and talks to his family about the importance of using soap, especially during those 2 times. The best part or most fun part of the class was when I taught them the song. It goes to the tune of Micheal row your boat ashore and the lyrics go something like this: Si tu veux la bonne santé, lave toi les main. À l'eau et du savon, lave toi les mains. It's cute and cheesy. My students loved it. I'm not sure what they enjoyed more, however, singing the song themselves or hearing me sing it first. It's a good thing I have a sense of humor and just went with it. Good times had by all.

Cultural point number nine: When you buy things in Jula you must multiply the number you said by 5 and that is how much it costs in CFA. Example: If I ask how much the small piles of tomatoes are, the woman selling them will point to a few piles and say duru, duru and then point to another pile and say tan, tan (you don't pronounce the 'n' of course). Duru is 5 in Jula and tan is 10. Does that mean that the first pile costs 5 CFA and the second costs 10? Absolutely not. The first costs 25 CFA and the second 50. Now try to hear a number, figure out first what it means in Jula and then multiply that in your head by five to get the amount it actually costs. Not so easy. I'm getting used to the simple numbers like duru, tan, keme (100=500 F). With time I'm sure I'll have it down like the back of my hand. Speaking of, do a lot of people really stare at the back of their hands so much that they could tell you every tiny little detail, because if so, I am not one of them. Who has time to stare at the back of their hand all day anyways? Just a thought.

Today, my closest neighboring Peace Corps Volunteer, biked in for a visit. It was a nice change of pace. Plus it was interesting getting her perspective on things considering her 2 year service is up in a month and mine has barely just begun. We bought some popcorn (that they do not eat with butter, but do eat with salt, although we think they used enough oil to make it taste like they used butter) and some gateaux. I found a kind I like that look like mini cinnabuns without the cinnamon and super sweet glaze. I mixed up the cost of one thinking one cost 50 F when actually you get 2 for that mean, so we ended up with at least 20 of these little guys, too many for even 2 of us to finish. So, tonight, because I hate wasting food, I walked out of my courtyard, looked around, and headed to my nearest neighbor. She's a really sweet woman with a couple kids and a friendly young husband. I handed her the bag after greeting her, of course, and she naturally said Aw ni ce. Her husband came by my place not too long later to thank me as well. He then proceeded to point out my weed problem and that it is particularly bad when it grows near walls. So, he started to pull up the weeds along nearly half of my courtyard wall before saying he'd be back the following morning to get the rest. All this because I bought too many gateaux and didn't want them to go to waste. The people in my village really do take care of me and spoil me a bit. After all, I'm the lazy one who didn't want to weed her courtyard and was perfectly content to find out if a jungle could actually grow in my Burkina backyard. I guess I'll never know.

Until next time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Random Burkina Smiles

October 3, 2009

I biked into my neighbor city today like I've taken to doing every Saturday. Arguably I should have stayed home and made the trip later on in the week or held off until the following week because my stomach wasn't feeling very well, but I made the trek in anyways.

My first stop was la poste (post office) to mail out a letter and take out some more money from my account. The way you do that here is by writing yourself a check and then cashing it at une poste.

I was still not feeling my best and I just biked for an hour and forty minutes up and down about ten rather intense hills, so I saluer-ed my buddy behind the counter after he called me up by name and went about my business. My buddy, Th. who works for la poste knows L.S., a fellow volunteer who lives in the city I visit each week and the two of them like to speak a little English. After calling to verify that I had the money in my account, I believe, he told me, in English, that it'll be a minute. Then, the young man standing next to me asked Th. a question (in French of course) and Th. responded, “I'm sorry. I don't understand when you speak French. You must speak English.” To which I quite literally laughed out loud. Then, to make the situation even better, the young man next to me responded, “Do I put the numbers in...?” To that I laughed even more. It was a much-needed release and interaction and one example of the friendly and humorous people you can find here.

Until next time.

Burkinabè Solidarity and Relationships

Le 28 septembre 2009

I've had a tutor now for about 2 weeks and things have been going well. N.D., my tutor is a younger man who teaches at one of the primary schools in my village and is concurrently taking classes at a university, eventually hoping to get his masters, I believe in business management. Anyways, our sessions last about 2-3 hours and consist of grammar using a book loaned to me by the Peace Corps, Ultimate French, and reading a text from a sixième history book aloud, going back through and asking for clarification of any words I don't know, answering comprehension questions following the reading, and then answering questions N.D. poses to spark conversation. The sessions work well because I'm working on 3 of the main facets of learning a language: speaking, listening, and reading. Perhaps I should try to incorporate some writing, too...

Today, N.D. let me choose a general theme from the book and then which text I'd like to read. I chose a topic under health about le sorcier (It roughly translates to sorcerer, but our definition of a sorcerer doesn't apply. A sorcier in Burkina is a tradipraticien, someone who practices traditional medicine.) After reading the text and asking some general questions about health such as is there a mix of people that use traditional and modern medicine her (yes), what are the most common illnesses (malaria, coughing due to dust, kids get earaches and also a sickness where they get a lot of bumps on their body possibly caused by the heat...), N.D. wanted me to talk more, so he had a question for me: When your 'husband' asks about Burkina and life here, what do you tell him?

I started off saying that when I talk to anyone in the United States about Burkina I often compare the two countries. I mentioned the basic physical differences included lack of widespread toilets, electricity, running water. Then I got into the more interesting and noteworthy things.

People take the time in Burkina to saluer or greet each other. Not only do they take the time to greet each other and the time to respond, but they listen, too. It hasn't turned into a meaningless habit often found in the US where someone says hello, how are you, simply because it's something to say when they fully intend on not listening or even caring about the response of the person asked.

If I were to have an accident such as my bike breaks down and I can't fix it and I'm on a road a decent ways from a village or town or city, it is a sure thing that a Burkinabè passing by will stop and help me. Back in the US it's by the luck of the draw and there is definitely no guarantee that someone will help me.

Another important difference is the emphasis placed on relationships here. Relationships have the highest importance: friends and family take priority, always. Too often I'm disheartened in the US to find people putting money as they're focus and primary objective and forgetting the complexity, compassion, joy, and meaning found from cultivating and maintaining good, strong, healthy relationships with other people. Now, I'm generalizing. This does not mean all American put money as their priority over family and friends, but it is too often the case and much more often the case than in Burkina Faso. Money is important in so much as it's necessary for survival, but that's where I think it should end. I think people forget that sometimes.

Lastly, we talked about poverty, notions of and differences between North American and Burkinabè poverty. When I visited R. in Bobo she actually brought the comparison and reality up in conversation and it has stuck with me. In coming here, R. and I had notions of poverty and what it meant: someone without a home or shelter, someone without food to eat, someone without money or with very little. Coming here and living here now for three and a half months we've found that everyone has a home, somewhere to sleep, and no one goes hungry, there's always food to eat. So, the third notion is the only that rings true: people in poverty here have little or no money. But something else worth mentioning is that on average people spend $2 a day, that's 1000 CFA. You could easily live on about 1000 per week on food if managing it well and especially after having a base and general supply of cooking supplies. I find it ironic that the US is one of the richest countries in the world, certainly richer than Burkina Faso, and yet the poverty is worse. The US has the money and the means to feed and house everyone and yet there are many homeless and many starving people. Yet, in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world, no one is starving and everyone has a roof over their head.

This leads me back to Burkinabè relationships and solidarity. Their solidarity is shown through how they interact with each other, saluer-ing each other and engaging in those conversations, helping people when in trouble whether they know the person or not (While biking into town last weekend I passed a woman walking and carrying a decent load only to be passed by a her sitting behind a man on the back of his moto. I'll bet good money that they didn't know each other and that she had not called him to come pick her up. That's just the Burkinabè way. And I like it.), and putting relationships with family and friends above all else. This part of their culture is inspiring and it's an example of how an underdeveloped, poor country can have important meaningful lessons to teach those in other cultures living in other countries, even those more developed. It makes me wonder if being more modernized is necessarily a good thing? Not always as the comparison between Burkina and the US illustrates.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Integrating Well Despite Myself

September 24, 2009

Last weekend was my first weekend in Bobo since affectation. I stayed with a friend, R., who generously opened her home to me. I definitely enjoyed the free WiFi, electricity, and sense of comfort that trip brings, but concurrently worried weekends like that only hindered my progress in village and made me an unsuccessful and poor volunteer – that was the over-achiever in me talking (I can't seem to drown it out, but then again, I'm not sure I want to.).

Filled with pride after making sure my bike was loaded onto the bus, I found my seat on the first bus trip I've taken in Burkina alone. I kept busy eating peanuts my friend M.T. from village so kindly keeps replenishing and reading Lord of the Flies. I have to be honest, so far, I'm not impressed and I am now more than half-way through with the book. Upon arrival I biked my way to PC's free internet, electricity, comfort, and safety where I would enjoy most of the day relaxing, surfing the net, and visiting with a small group of friendly and welcoming women volunteers.

R. showed up at one point and by 16:00 we were on our way to Marina Market after a stop by the poste. I haggled with some venders outside the post office while R. picked up her package. The same men I had been haggling with were apparently “friends” of R.'s. They had been bugging her for weeks to look at and purchase necklaces (that's how it's done here in BF) and R. used all the techniques we learned in training: la prochaine fois, je n'ai pas d'argent aujourd'hui, etc. etc. But to no avail. In fact, they were rather upset with her this day and it only infuriated and frustrated her more, because those were the types of interactions she had with people and it seemed that everyone wanted something from her, so she had no real friends. That's one of the drawbacks to living in a big city, but the positives include electricity, running water (having her own sink and toilet! not to mention lights), easy access to a post office, a constant variety of fruits and vegetables, access to other things not found in village such as olive oil, certain spices, yogurt, ice cream (if you're lucky), and a variety of restaurants and facilities and shops.

That night we met back up with our new volunteer friends who shared what was left of their Mexican feast (amazing salsa recipe requiring nothing but fruits and veggies: tomatoes, onions, piment [hot pepper], pineapple [key, mango would be good, too], and green peppers) before we watched the film, Lost in Faith. I enjoyed being enveloped in familiarity and a comfort level that seemed like a pastime. After 23:00 came and went, R. and I decided to make the 20-30 minute bike ride back to her place. I wasn't feeling very well and neither was she. I wonder if it was the Mexican food or the place we ate brochettes and rice with sauce for dinner. Either way, my stomach was in knots and I ended up being sick outside the boulangerie where R. bought bread for the following morning and again in the middle of the night. I have to say, thinking back on it, it was nice to have a toilet during such circumstances. By morning I was feeling significantly better. I planned to go easy on my stomach for most of the day and relax and enjoy internet time and skyping with my baby and my parents. I cannot tell you how wonderful that access was; I felt so spoiled. After skyping one last time with my partner I made the ride back to R.'s place to rest one final night before heading back home the following morning.

Up early I had bread and tea again for breakfast while hoping the rain would stop before it was time to leave. By 6:40 I was on the road biking back, trying to find the gare for my bus. After getting slightly lost and sent in the opposite direction (I asked a few people and since Bobo is so large, I believe there is more than one gare for this bus, but only one going to the city I needed to reach), a man walked me and my bike the 3 or so blocks to the gare. I knew I was close at this point, I just couldn't pinpoint exactly where it was. Never take street signs for granted, please. Once at the station I learned that my bus wasn't running today due to the holiday, it was Ramadan, but there was a van prepared to leave. I arrived before 8 and was told they were leaving right away. So, naturally we didn't leave until after 10: welcome to Burkina Faso and African WAIT time.

I was oddly excited to be slightly packed in with a group of Burkinabè all traveling with a purpose. Thank God for my attitude, I suppose. By 11:30 I made it back into the city that was only a 25K bike ride from home. I wasn't feeling up to the ride due to a lack of sleep for the previous two nights, but I made it anyway. I stopped for 20 minutes when I was a mere 5 minutes from village to try and fix my bike chain. The derailler was hitting the chain and keeping me from shifting into 3rd gear or it knocked the chain completely off the track. I couldn't fix it then, but was lucky enough to be able to keep it in 2nd gear and fair just fine.

Exhausted I returned home, unlocked my gate and door and unpacked. Instead of sleeping like I wanted to, I forced myself to go find some friends to celebrate the fête. It's important culturally to spend time with people, especially when there's a celebration going on. Plus, I like being around people anyways. I didn't find my friend M.T., but I did find some women who were headed to the CSPS (the medical facilities in village, a step down from a hospital). They motioned for me to follow along, so I figured why not, while secretly wondering why they'd be going to the CSPS that day. We entered one of several buildings to find a woman sitting up on a bed next to a piece of cloth. The women who brought be motioned me closer to the cloth that I soon learned had two new-borns nestled underneath. I witnessed a ritual of rubbing the babies with a lotion and black ash and sat next to two women who got the privilege of holding the babies. I figured out that the new mom had fraternal twins being that one child was a girl and the other a boy. What a happy occasion and a great day for a fête!

We left the CSPS after some of the women helped clean up and gathered together the new mom's belongings and trekked back to her home. I wondered what happened to the babies until I saw one woman unwrap one from behind her back. That's how babies and young children are carried here: a woman or teenager or young girl leans forward, props the baby on her back, piggy-back style, then wraps a piece of cloth or pagne around the baby and ties it off in two places in front around her chest.

After spending some time with mom and the new borns I followed some women to nearby courtyard where I was given rice with a fish sauce. I'm glad I had eaten fish like that before during stage, because otherwise I think I would have been much more awkward. I was bad enough as it was sitting there with a bowl of rice on top of a bowl of sauce just staring at it looking confused after a couple women told me to eat. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to share, to use my hand, or what the protocol was. Luckily, a woman brought me a spoon this time and my friend C. spoke French: il faut manger. Then M.T. brought me more rice and another sauce and walked me to my house to transfer both dishes into my own pots before returning to their courtyard. First, we stopped in to visit the babies and I was blessed being given the opportunity to hold each one. They were so precious. It's interesting holding someone so new to the world and wondering what they'll be, what they'll do, what her or his life will entail. It was definitely a smiling moment and one worth remembering. I spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening helping some women remove leaves from a pile of branches in order to prep for making another sauce.

The next day I decided to have a look at the bike manual the PC gave us and try to fix my bike. First, I needed to fix the 3rd flat I've gotten since affectating to village. I'm glad it didn't get flat like that until I got home: it's much easier fixing them with a bucket of water and it's much nicer not being interrupted mid-trip to fix a flat for 20-30 minutes. After that I set to work on my derailler. And what do you know, I managed to fix it! I felt so good afterwards. My front gears wouldn't shift to 1 or 3, but I figured out what I needed to change and alter in order to make it work as good as new. Ah, the little victories. Then, I moved my bike seat forward where it belongs (it had been wobbly, but I didn't realize it slid back like it did) and after realizing I did have the right size tool, I tightening my seat back in place. Self-sufficiency is enough to leave you feeling good for the rest of the day.

I met with my tutor whom my buddy L. helped me find twice this past week. He's a teacher or maître at the primary school in village and he's been a great help thus far. We go over chapters and exercises from Ultimate French to work on my grammar and he brings small textbooks with Burkinabè stories to read aloud, go over any unknown vocabulary, answer the questions following the text, and then use the topic to have a discussion afterwards. Most recently, I learned about how cases (pronounced coz) are constructed. Cases are the round houses here with the thatch roofs.

Yesterday, the moment of the day occurred after I went to find M.T. only to learn she and the others were en Brousse cultivating. Some women tried to explain where the others were and then a man handed me a large bowl filled with peanuts. As I said earlier, I keep getting them – the people here are so nice. As I was leaving to walk back to my house I heard a young teenage boy saying something in French. It was only after hearing anglais said a few times and looking back that I realized he was talking to me and not about me. He asked how you say peanut in English. “Peanut.” “Peanu.” “Peanut.” “Peanu.” The best part was not that he was standing on the roof of one of their huts, but that a smile grew across his face as he made an excited jump in the air upon learning this new word. That was my smile and perhaps happiest moment of the day.

Today I planned to finally after being at site for 4 weeks stop by my CSPS, say hello, and offer my services. The nerves were definitely there, but I fought against them and continued through with my plans. After waiting less than 10-20 minutes, the major came out, said hello, and led me into his office after learning of my intentions and purpose for being there. The major is the head nurse (l'infirmier), he's a l'infirmier d'état, having the highest degree of the at least three different types of nurses here. We talked about my experience and that I hoped to go to medical school after my two years of service here. He explained that it's the season for Palu aka paludisme (malaria) here and that a lot of kids are sick. He talked about the different departments and facilities there including a building where one can purchase medication. I asked if the people could afford the medication and he said they could because they use generic brands. He mentioned VIH and SIDA (HIV and AIDS) and how the biggest problem is people don't understand it or how it's contracted and spread and many don't even come in to be tested. He said he meets with troisième students to have a sensiblization about HIV and AIDS, but he doesn't have time to meet with all the students and there are sixième girls getting pregnant (Reminder: sixième is three levels below troisième). I suggested that I could help with that and do some sensiblizations with the other kids. He said we could go over the topic together and that it's a possibility. We talked about how I'd like to learn Jula when I become more comfortable with my French. He thinks I can learn it in a year and that once I do I could do some sensiblizations with the women here (because many woman don't speak French and have minimal education, unfortunately) and they'd be more likely to come and more likely to listen to me because I'm white. I guess there's a positive that comes with my skin color. I still wish it didn't matter, but I might as well use what I've got to my advantage, especially if it can help others.

After some time we moved outside and the major moved a bench under a tree, so we could enjoy the shade and any breezes that came our way. We continued to talk and our conversation moved to other topics. Around noon we headed back to his house just behind the main building where we shared a meal. Apparently, I like goat, and Madame major is a good cook. I spent the next hour having one of the first real or more in depth conversation than I've had in a while, not including my English escapades the previous weekend. We talked about jobs and how once you choose one in Burkina you keep it and can't change unlike in the US where you can change your career as often as you'd like, so to speak. We also talked about how they don't have debt here which is good, but that also means you can't borrow money and therefore do not have the opportunity to do things you can't afford...The major also gave me an open-ended invitation to come by if I ever wanted to eat. The cool thing about that statement is that here when people say things like that, they mean it.

I hope to volunteer at the CSPS at least once a week provided my school schedule and more notably workload allow it.

So, my integration continues, everyday is different than the last and finishing my 2nd journal today proves that I'm finding things to say and write about, and I'm loving my village and more importantly my community more each moment spent here with them.

Aw bi doni.