Friday, July 16, 2010

Our Forced Migration!**

On Thursday, July 1, all 79 of us trainees had a weekly community meeting.  It was the last class session of the day and the meeting started out with the normal “lets discuss the good and the bad that happened this week”, followed by some details pertaining to the upcoming forth of July party.  I was dreading the 10K bike ride back to village when the next announcement was from Congo, the safety and security coordinator.  He causally announced that the US embassy had received information that called for enlarging the pre-existing “no-go” area for Americans and Westerns in the North of Burkina Faso, not only for Peace Corps, but for the safety of the general public, which included the area of the country we were in.  (I cannot state what this information was, but the US embassy issued a warden message that is available for the public to read on the US Burkina Faso Embassy website.  Go there and you can read it yourself.)  No big deal, but all the heath trainees would be driven to village to gather all our possessions and then join the GEE, SE, and SED kids at a hotel for the night.  After waiting about an hour for the cars and drivers to be ready, we were instructed to leave our day bags at the training center (because of limited space in the car) and head to village.  We were escorted by host country nationals to our home-stay and instructed to gather only what we had brought and leave anything that belonged to the Peace Corps (for space reasons, I’m sure).  I’m very curious to know what was said to our families, as Moore was spoken (rightly so, my family didn’t speak much French),  but we went straight to my room and they helped me shove everything I had unpacked back into my two bags.  We weren’t exactly rushed, but the driver eagerly hurried me along.  Then off to the next house. 

Once back at the hotel we (79 trainees plus any volunteers who were in the area) all sat down to a group meal of spaghetti before retiring to bed.  I was lucky and got a 10 person dorm-style room with 8 other health girls and Sam.  Some of the other sectors were stuck with mattresses on the floor of a large dining room, but what do you expect when trying to house around 100 people on such short notice. 

We finally got to sleep-in in the morning, the first time in country, and breakfast (bread with jam and tea/ nestcafe) was from 8-10.  We were told to have everything packed and ready to leave by 10, but it wasn’t until 12 that we actually left the hotel, where all of us caravanned together in PC busses out of the Ouahigouya area to a safer part of the country.  We arrived that evening to an even nicer hotel with air conditioning and wifi, which we would call home for the next two weeks.  Unfortunately none of our bags made it until the next evening, including my day/overnight bag which had also never made it to the hotel the night before, so I spent the night and next day with nothing but the book I had grabbed for the car ride and my nalgene.  I didn’t even have my phone or wallet, which had been left at the training center in my daypack.  This is what really made me feel like a refugee, but that was quickly overcome by the nice beds with an almost real pillow and the hot indoor shower.        

For anyone who is interested, and speaks French (perhaps the website has an English option?), there is a very amusing, and exaggerated, article in Burkina’s main national newspaper about our forced migration from the north.  Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the newspaper, or the web address, but I’m sure google does.

Evacuation was really no big deal. There has never been an incident in BF and treats are extremely rare, that’s why this one had to be taken seriously.  All that really happened is there is a grey area near the Mali/Niger boarder that is a no-go zone for American workers, and that no-go zone grew, slightly, including the area where our training center was.  We were just re-located.  Burkina Faso is still a safe place, and the Burkinabe are not a part of the danger, just the some people in Mali/Niger that we have to be careful of.  But it was still a crazy and exciting hiccup at the time!  

That Saturday we got the day off, so a group of us went into town to eat some delicious cuisine and see the city.  Then on Sunday we had a huge 4th of July party at the International School.  There were two fields, so there was a game of soccer and then a game of ultimate, which I was thrilled about.  There was a delightful pool, which most of the afternoon was spent in.  The school even had real toilets and toilet paper! Around noon there was hamburgers and potato salad, and the country director surprised us with a real American style cake.  A day by the pool with cold drinks; we couldn’t ask for a better 4th of July!  


On Monday we started back into training, which was now held at a really nice expat school.  There is nothing to complain about having class there: the water fountains are filtered and cold, there are European style toilets and paper, and the classrooms have air-conditioning.  Yup, this is as good as it gets.  Unfortunately, we are moving to a smaller city on Sunday to finish out training and get back into home stays, but life was good while it lasted.  Another added bonus to the school was there are about 5 giant tortoises that roam the campus.  This little guy decided he wanted to join our French class:

P7130031       Last weekend all the health trainees went on demystification, which is a fancy word to mean we went to stay with a Health PCV at site for the weekend to see what life is really like in village.  My language group traveled with our LCF 2 hours east, via public bus, to spend the weekend with Sara.  It was a lot of fun and great to see what an actual PCV site looks like.  Sara has a really cute 2 room house (with electricity!) that she has painted and decorated really cute.  She shares a family compound with one other lady, and has a dog, kitten, and 3 baby chicks.  Being in her home made me really excited to get to my own site.  We got to tour her CSPS, as well as the center for malnourished children, and a hospital.  We also got to watch her give an HIV/AIDS sensibilisation to a group of peer educators, which was a good look into what we will be doing in the future.  We watched the world cup finals at her neighbors house and got to experience the dolo bar (dolo is a homemade millet beer) and learn how dolo is made.  The dolo culture is interesting, but I will save that for when I get to site, since I’m sure the dolodrome will play a key part in integration.      

That pretty much brings you up to speed on life in the BF.  This week has pretty much been more of the same- a lot of French, longs training days, getting use to the food, quoi quoi quoi.  Tomorrow, Saturday the 17th, we have a half day of training and then the afternoon off before heading to an alternate training facility for the duration of PCT.  So I will leave you with my highlight of the week- A group of us health volunteers decided to celebrate hump day on Wednesday by going into downtown and taking advantage of the good food while we still could.  About 10 of us went and had the best Chinese food one could ask for in West Africa at Restaurant Chinese.  This place is owned and run by real Asians, so it was pretty ligit.  Best damn wanton soup I’ve ever had.  

**For my friends and family that actually follow my blog- yes, this is an revised version for a previous post.  I was kindly asked to edit this post, as I had divulged “way too much detail” about our “re-location” incident.  To the PC staff who is following up with my edits, I hope this my more PC approved.                         

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