Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Fair

I know this post is 3 months behind, but a lot of folks at home have asked me what this Peace Corps fair thing was all about.

Peace Corps Burkina Faso hosted a 3 day 50th Anniversary fair to celebrate Peace Corps’ 50th birthday and all the work that volunteers do in the BF.  The first day started off with a rainy swear-in of a new group of volunteers, and the whole thing ended with a celebration with the First Lady of Burkina and a concert by Floby, a popular Burkina singer.   

I worked the Food Security booth for all 3 days, handing out Moringa tea and orange marmalade samples, making Moringa doughnuts, and teaching people about the benefits of Moringa and food preservation techniques such as jam making and food drying.  I also dressed up as Moringa Woman for a morning. 

Here are a few videos made by other PCVs to give you a look at the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Fair!

Day 1 of the fair

Floby’s Peace Corps Song!

This one gives a pretty good overview of the Peace Corps Burkina Faso program

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Huffington post article

This article so completely describes my Peace Corps experience I had to share it. 

What the Peace Corps taught me about failure

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bike Tour

A special treat for everybody, I thought a video would better portrait when the Bike Tour came to village then a written post.  It took some work to get it together, but I hope you all enjoy! 

Sorry that the quality is so bad, the chief’s son filmed it. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pink Toes

While home in the US for my sister’s wedding I enjoyed a spa day with the bridal party.  It was an intimate group, just my sister, my sister’s best friend whom we’d grown up with from our neighborhood, and me.  It was the usual pre-wedding package- message, facial, manicure, and pedicure- which I did not mind one bit after a year in Burkina.  I actually felt it necessary to apologize to my nail girl for the condition of my feet, which were in sad, sad shape.  My sister was in the chair next to mine during our pedicures, and when it came time to choose a paint color I asked if she had anything in mind for her bridesmaids.  No, do whatever you want, she said. “Just don’t pick something boring, like you always do!  Like clear or something!” she says, just before I ask the lady about some neutral options.  She had a point, the novelty of nail polish wore off all most as soon as it had started in my girlhood, just after Nany finally allowed me to take Dana’s and wear it.  As soon as I started playing sports I could no longer be bothered with the stuff- it was always chipping off and I had to keep my nails short anyways.  As for toes, well, I was just lucky to have toe nails.  I went through a nail buffing stage, but upon entering Asheville School it was all I could do just to keep up with the high expectations they have for their students, and well kept nails was not one of them.  To be honest, I hadn’t worn nail polish since my senior year prom, 6 years ago.  After a slight panic attack as to where to begin I decided to follow my sister’s lead- what color are you picking?  All three of us girls picked a deep pink color that matched the bridesmaids’ dresses, watermelon or some fuchsia-esk color.  

For the rest of the vacation, I have to admit, I couldn’t help but admire my pink toes every time I looked down (She did a very good job).  Every shoe looked just a little better on my foot.  Every outfit just a little more put together.  I felt just a little more feminine, an established adult, a real person, an American.  It’s amazing how something so small, so normal, can make such a huge difference.  But the real difference came when I returned to Burkina.  I held on to those pink toes as long as possible, and each glance at my feet took me back to America, to boating with my family on Torch Lake, to being introduced to Josh’s life in Texas.  For just a moment I was still in America, I was a normal American, or maybe just a typical ex-pat.  And my feet were stained orange from a red sand beach, not a red dirt desert.  The children screeching in my ears were just neighbor boys playing, not neighbor boys constantly asking for something, ready to steal from you at any time.  The buzz of bleating farm animals, chickens clucking and donkeys, could just as easily be the buzz of traffic.  One look at my toes and I was no longer dirty and gross, in old funky clothes, but transformed to pretty, clean clothes, that dared to show my knee, or maybe my shoulders.  For just a moment I felt normal, pretty, clean.  I could be anywhere in the world, not just a mud-brick house in the middle cornfields in Africa.  Even Josh couldn’t help but comment on my pretty pink toes every time he saw them; so out of place in the Burkina world.  And then the moment would pass and my reality would solidify; I was still in the middle of West Africa.   

I remember packing for the Peace Corps- didn’t bother with any type of hair product and only the bare minimum make-up for special occasions, like swear-in.  Didn’t pack any clothes I would normally where in the US, I knew everything would get ruined here.  Even disregarded my one usual jewelry habit and didn’t pack any necklaces, and brought only one pair of silver stud earrings, which my grandmother had given me right before I left.  Why on earth would you bring make-up and hair gel to Africa?  I will admit I even scoffed at the girls who brought hair straighteners to the Peace Corps- What?  Are you going to straighten your hair in village?  With the current from a solar panel and car battery in your hut?  Or the girls who wore make-up everyday- Seriously?  Who are you trying to look good for?  We’re in Burkina Faso, just taking a shower is an amazing feat.  We’re constantly sweaty and dirt stained just from being.  I really don’t think your eye-liner is going to make a difference here.          

But now I understand.  This country has a way of wearing you down.  Maybe it’s not Burkina, necessarily, but this lifestyle.  All your clothes are ruined- dirt stained or bleach stained or falling apart and discolored or a cheaply-made pagne has bleed on your one white shirt.  Even the clothes you never wear to keep nice turn out ruined.  Just walking from the shower room to the house makes my feet as sandy as if I was walking on a beach, and our courtyard is cement.  No mater how are we try, the bed is always filled with sand and bugs (we have a bed net- how do they get in?!).  We are always dirty, sweaty, and smelly.  My hair is always knotty from wind and sweat, and I just realized I haven’t looked in a mirror in at least 3 weeks.  We joke that you can pick a PCV out in a crowd of ex-pats because we will be the ones in village clothes, dirty, and look like we just come from the bush.  And it’s true.  It’s easy to loose your sense of self-identity here, to loose yourself, your confidence, and just melt into the surroundings.  One might need to wear nail polish to feel like a normal human being, to remember there is more out there beyond the huts and millet fields.  Maybe eye-liner and make-up is what one needs to feel pretty, to feel like they, the person they were before the Peace Corps, still exists, when everything else is filthy.  If that’s what it takes to get through this experience, I understand, and I’m all for it.  I will admit that I now have a stash of fashionable clothes in Ouaga, the make-up and hair-curl cream I needed for Texas and Paris, and now I make a point of it every time I’m in Ouaga to dress as Western as possible.  Ouaga is a real city, with lots of foreigners; why shouldn’t I look like an adult American women, clean and put-together? 

After a month the opportunity arose to take off the nail polish.  I was at another volunteer’s site and the remover was on the table in front of me.  My toes were starting  to look bad anyways, but I was still sad to see them go.  I briefly thought about re-painting them, but the moment had passed for painted toes.  It was time.  I still have to thank my sister- thanks to her I realized there is more to nail polish, and beauty products, than just vanity.  And maybe I needed that here, too, to get me through the Peace Corps. 

I followed the lead of my sister’s best friend, a very successful business women, and did a nude color on my finger nails.  I thought it looked more professional.  But now I wonder what bright pink fingers would have done for me.          

Our First Sensibilisation- June 29th

It only took us a year of being in country, but finally we planned our first sensibilisation.  Sensibilisation doesn’t really translate into English, the Peace Corps calls them awareness campaigns, but it’s more of a short lecture or lesson.  Basically, it’s speaking to a group or an individual on a specific, usually health related, topic- sharing sensible information-and it’s one of the main things volunteers do.  We had a ready made audience- after weeks of attending baby weighings three days a week I was well aware that these mothers arrive around 8 am, or before, and that nothings gets started until 8:30 or so.  It seemed like the perfect platform to give a sensibilisation and get my feet wet in projects in village.  We were a bit in limbo project wise, waiting for grants to come in or the school year to start, but this we could easily do now.  And the maternity offered an easy topic- infant nutrition.  Recently at a dinner with Antoinette she had told us how she would go around village with Jamie, an old volunteer in our village, and talk to people about family planning and other health topics.  She practically offered to be our translator and help us do the same.  Perfect, we had a Bissa translator.  Now we just needed to coordinate with the CSPS staff and pick a date.  We went to talk to them on a Monday, hoping to do the sensibilisation on Wednesday.  Wednesday baby weighings are the day they give vaccinations, so there are always more ladies on Wednesday.  When we arrived at the CSPS there were quite a few people in the waiting room, rainy season had started and therefore malaria season had started.  We wanted to run the idea by the Major first, following the chain of command, but when we went into the office only the midwife was there.  Both the head nurse and nurse were away this week leaving only the midwife to hold down the fort.  There were no baby weighings this week.  This news made a small part of me sad- why didn’t they let us know? We should have been called in to help.  Josh and I had had discussions with the midwife before about baby weighings and all had agreed that the two of us could do them on our own.  We knew the drill and how the books worked, we just couldn’t give any vaccines.  But, alas, we were not asked to help.  She agreed that a Wednesday would be best for a sensibilisation and we agreed on the following week. 

When Wednesday rolled around we arrived at the CSPS early and waited for Antoinette and everyone to arrive. That Wednesday also happened to be an inventory day at the pharmacy, so all the COGES members were suppose to come to help.  The CSPS staff leisurely motoed up to the clinic around 8:30, all of them taking their motos a grand total of 100 yards from their house to the dispensaire.  Ganga, the COGES president and Josh’s counterpart, biked in and started preparing for taking inventory.  Finally, just before 9, Antoinette arrived.  We had arranged for the sensibilisation to start at 8, so it would not interfere with the midwife’s usual routine.  Furthermore, inventory was to start at 8, and as treasure of the COGES Antoinette was a necessary component to keeping inventory and making sure all moneys were accounted for and medicines restocked, so her lateness was, well, annoying to say the least.  Antoinette tells us she is ready to give the sensibilisation, but first must real quick say hello to the pharmacist and check in on inventory.  We wait another 15 minutes for her, then walk to the maternity together.  As soon as we get there she says she must real quick go get Ganga.  We wait another 10 to 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, the midwife is solely waiting on us to start baby weighings and 60 or more women are sitting/standing around with crying babies waiting to get weighed.  Finally she comes back, this time with Ganga.  Sib, a nurse, arranges us in a corner and I pull out the nutrition poster I brought for a visual aid.  Sib places a stepping stool behind me and I think wants me to sit, but instead I stand on it so more women can see the poster.  Antoinette is standing beside me, then sneaks out of the room right before we start.  Guess she didn’t want to translate for us.  But Ganga was there and he understands us better anyways, so it worked out.  Josh gave the lecture in French and Ganga translated, while I made sure key points were remembered and repeated and held up the 3 food groups poster.  Sib and the Major, who joined us half-way through, threw in things here and there and reinforced what we were saying.  We briefly went through exclusive breastfeeding, proper weaning and complementary foods, and the 3 food groups and basic nutrition.  The whole time most of the women looked bored or as if they didn’t understand what was going on, and only a handful were interactive when we asked questions.  The actual sensibilisation didn’t take more then 15 or 20 minutes, or so, and I’m not sure I’d call it a huge success, but at least we did it.  If just one woman out of the 60+ there learned one thing it would be worth it, but there is no way to know that.                                       

The Floppins Experiment (or my best day in village)

I had been looking forward to this day for a week.  Our friend Christina had introduced us to a teacher friend who happened to raise rabbits.  It was love at first site.  Josh didn’t even have to ask me, one look at me gushing over the babies and he asked the man how much.  Since they were babies and we only wanted one, also since the rabbit was to love and not to eat, he said we could have it for free.  we had a planned trip to Ouaga in a couple of days, so we made arrangements to come back on our way home in a week and pick out the newest member of our family. 

For a week I had thought of nothing else.  I had a name all ready, Floppins, taken after my sister’s rabbit, Marry Floppins.  I prepped the courtyard and even made her a two-story house out of care package boxes, which read “Maison de Floppins” on the front in big letters.  We tapped up cardboard on the courtyard gate so she couldn’t hop out under the door.  We even discussed potty training her, like Big, so she could come in the house.  And now it was finally the day. 

The anticipation made the 4 hour bush taxi ride seem like a breeze.  I scouted out the options and picked a cute little white and brown bunny, big enough to leave mama but small enough to make love me, confident/ strong enough to easily adapt to a new home yet still sweet enough to cuddle with me.  My little Floppins. 

After I got my new play thing it was time for Josh to get his.  We had been saving my monthly PC allowance and finally had enough to get a big home purchase- a solar panel and car battery.  Josh was almost as excited for this as I was for the bunny.  I sat in a chair at the hardware store while Josh talked to the shop keeper about batteries and panels and wires, holding little Floppins close to clam her fears, while people gave me the what-is-that-crazy-white-women-doing-with-a-baby-rabbit look.  Wanting a baby animal over an adult is crazy to them, because you can’t eat a baby; petting an animal or showing affection is even crazier.  After a while we headed home, Josh’s new toy strapped to the back of his bike, mine riding in my satchel because she was just too big to fit in my shirt pocket. 

Once home I set Floppins up in her new corner of the courtyard.  It took her a minute, but after an hour or so she was eating and hopping in and out of her house like she had always enjoyed a two-story villa.  Josh also rather enjoyed the afternoon putting the solar panel and battery together; made him feel like a man doing men’s work.  And I have to admit, the set-up revolutionized my life in village.  We now had a light for the evening hours and could charge things at will, as long as there were sunny days.  That evening I cooked dinner by florescent light while watching Floppins flop around the courtyard.  With the flip of a switch Burkina went from one of the shittiest places on earth to live to, hey, this is not so bad. 

While Floppins adjusted to life chez moi we adjusted to life with (almost) current.  She right away started pooping in the latrine, which made it easy for us to clean up after her, all we had to do was brush her droppings down the hole, which also meant she was allowed in the house.  She lazed around in the shade and learned to go in her house when it rained.  She even adjusted to me and my frequent need to love her.  Even Chicken was getting use to sharing a courtyard with her, and they even started eating off the same plate at the same time.  Life was perking up.     

P5140857        P5140860 


Unfortunately, two weeks later we had to go to Ouaga for a meeting.  We debated locking Floppins in the house, but decided there was too much damage she could do there.  So we set out ample amounts of food and water, and reinforced the cardboard on the gate.  We even locked the gate with a lock and key from the inside of the courtyard so that kids couldn’t open the door and let her out.  But, alas, upon arrival home there was no Floppins.  There were no signs or hints of what happened, just an empty courtyard, but she was too little to eat, so our best guess is that she escaped from under the cardboard on the gate.  It was a good too weeks while it lasted.     

Dinner parties

After we got home from Ghana it was time to settle into village and establish ourselves both as a married couple, but also Peace Corps volunteers.  Josh decided the first step to doing this was to have dinner with people.  But first we needed the invite.  His first prey was Antoinette, a young women (24 it turns out) with a school-age daughter and a 2 year old son, who is the treasurer of the CoGes of the CSPS and was very good friends with a past PCV here.  Getting the invite turned out easy; we saw her in the marche and made small talk, then Josh threw in how much he liked To and how I didn’t know how to make it- Bam! You must come over and learn how to make To.  The date was set for May 3rd.  We showed up around 5 like she said, just as she was starting to cut up the okra.  She gave us chairs to sit in and brought us a box of wine.  We were not to do anything in this cooking lesson, just sit, drink, and watch.  She talked me through the whole To-making process, including the okra sauce, and than ate it with us, even forming the To balls for us because it was too hot for our fingers.  While there were awkward moments, everyone in her family sitting and staring at us, it was quite nice.  We learned some about the old volunteer and the projects she did and about the community. 

For his next dinner venture, Josh decided to invite Ganga, his counterpart, and his family to our house for lunch, which I had to cook.  The plan was to make riz sauce tomato.  Two days before I was preparing a shopping list  and asked some of the girls in our courtyard how they make tomato sauce.  I know how Americans make their tomato sauce, but Burkinabe like it a bit different.  Well, one of the girls must have thought we really wanted to eat that and I couldn’t cook, so that evening she brought over a pot of rice and a casserole of sauce, which was very sweet of her, but this was after I had already made dinner.  We ate what we could and I took notes for when I cooked it, and then we packaged the rest up for tomorrow.  Sauce doesn’t keep after one meal, but the rice should be fine for tomorrow. 

The next day we had 2 neighbor volunteers visit, one of which was about to leave us, and I made such a huge feast of goodbye mac’n cheese that we couldn’t eat anymore that day.  Rice should keep for 2 days, right?  I started cooking early, well 10 am, the next morning to make sure every thing was ready for when Ganga came.  The rice smelled a little funny, but I hated to waste good rice so I threw it in the pot as I cooked up some fresh rice. More water and heat and it should be fine, right?  I tried my best to make the sauce Burkinabe, but I think it turned out more American, mainly because there were no hot peppers in it.  It was still delicious, I thought.  The lunch started off well, we presented our guests with welcome water and a box of wine.  Josh made small talk while I finished cooking and brought it all out to the table.  Just before serving the rice I tasted it to make sure it was done; it still had a slight smell to it and was slimy like it had been over cooked in too much water.  Shit!  It was too late now, everyone was waiting on me, I had to serve it.  Ganga and his wife ate it fine, but their son just picked at it.  In every bite I took all I could taste was funky rice.  Everything else went fine and Josh thinks our lunch date was a success, but damn that 2 day old rice!  I don’t think they will be coming to eat with us again soon.   Also, shortly after that event I learned the reason Burkinabe cook with hot peppers is to mask the taste of gone-off food.

To thank Antoinette for dinner we sent her apples we had purchased in Ouaga.  This, of course, resulted in another dinner invite.  This time dinner started out like the last- welcome water and sitting on a bench by ourselves as the old women and children stared at us- but this time Antoinette told us we must say hello to “the old” (what they call old men), and led us into another courtyard where her husband’s father was sitting, the master of the household.  She set out chairs directly in front of him and told  us to sit, then left us there.  The old man spoke French, but apparently conversation is not a big part of the culture and we sat mainly in silence.  After 30 or so minutes we started wondering if Antoinette was coming back for us, which was answered when she brought us a big plate of beans and placed it on a small table in front of us, then left again.  Then another women brought us omelet sandwiches, another, the man’s wife, brought out To and sauce, and finally, the man pulled out 2 sodas in glass bottles.  First of all, there’s no place in village where you can buy soda in glass bottles; this is how we learned that this man owns a bar in a near by bigger village.  Second of all, we’re lucky to find omelet sandwiches in the closest town, much less village. Third of all, how on earth are we suppose to eat this much food (and it’s rude not to eat it)?  These people were definitely putting on airs for us, but why?  After we ate as much as we could our plates were cleared and Antoinette finally came and sat with us.  We talked for a bit and took our leave.  We were headed to Ouaga the next day for a meeting, but Antoinette insisted the day we got back we came for dinner again.  This dinner was much like the last- was taken to sit and eat with the father-in-law, only thankfully this time we were just served To.  I know in this culture it’s proper for guests to eat with the head of the family, but it defeats the purpose of us trying to eat and talk, become friends, with our potential counterpart, Antoinette.  We were glad no dinner dates were set after that. 

Our latest dinner venture has become an exchange.  Massie was the women who took in the last volunteer as her unofficial host daughter, and they ate dinner together every night.  She is a bit older, 30’s maybe, with several children, including Fatiema who just got accepted into middle school.  It took her a little while to warm to us, but after a few occasions of chatting in the marche she invited us to dinner.  Dinner went well, not as awkward because she or her daughters actually conversed with us, and we actually ate in the same courtyard as her.  Although she did serve us our own bowl of To and sauce and we ate before the rest of the family.  We tried to reciprocate and invite her to dinner at our house, but she has to cook for the family and can’t leave.  “Just send food”, she told us.  And so we did- a few days later Josh made rice and sauce and sent a child to deliver it.  Since then, every few days we receive To and sauce or beans in a casserole dish and a few days later we’ll send rice or something back.  In between we’ll greet and chat a little here and there.  It’s perfect- maintaining a good friendship without all the awkwardness or hassle of leaving home!