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I am sure there are a few of you that have been waiting to hear: FREDERIC IS HERE! 

Actually, he has been here just over 2 weeks and is enjoying it! 

Gosh, I don’t even know where to start. For the first couple of days we kept pinching ourselves and each other to make sure that we weren’t dreaming. We had been waiting for his arrival for just over 9 months and it seemed so surreal for the longest time. But, we have definitely been enjoying our time together. I have been reminded that Frederic does not move very quickly and I have to tell myself that he has never lived in the “time is money” culture. I am usually ready to go and he still has to put on his cologne or brush his hair or go to the bathroom and sometimes I am ready to go and antsy to leave! He has reminded me to slooooow down! 

Since his arrival I have tried to expose him slowly to American culture. The Thursday after he arrived we took a trip up to Spartan Country (East Lansing, MI) and I gave him a small tour of Michigan State University’s campus…. Only one of the greatest places on earth! A trip to MSU is not complete until you get some Dairy Store ice cream! He enjoyed that but had a lot of comments to make about the clothing that people were wearing! We don’t dress quite so modestly here in America as they do in Burkina! 

It seems that some weeks I end up going to Meijer (a grocery store in the area) multiple times a week. So, I have taken Frederic there and I think he is more fascinated by it all rather than overwhelmed like we all assumed he would be. He got his first dose of buy “x amount” get “x amount” free. Normally we see this as “buy one get one free”. He was very excited about this and now every time we go to Meijer he is on the hunt for those signs! We were there the other night and they had their “buy 10 for $10 and get the 11th free” sale where they have several things that you can get for a dollar and if you buy 11, you get that 11th item free. Now, as you may know, you don’t always need or even want some of those items that are on sale. But, Frederic was ready to throw everything that was included in the sale into the cart! It is kind of like having a child :) We also spent over an hour there during this last trip because he was so enamored with the selection of everything. For me, the selections overwhelm me and I tend to get in and get out as fast as I can, knowing what I want – which also helps reduce the bill at the end. Not this time! Frederic had to check EVERYTHING out. So, my patiences button had to be pushed and I had to remind myself that this is all new to him. (However, I have a feeling that even when it’s not-so-new he will still have to look at EVERYTHING and we will take our time in Meijer.)

Another day, I came home from work for a quick lunch and there really wasn’t much to eat at the house. So, I made the decision to grab some sandwiches from Scholtzky’s Deli. The one by the house has a drive thru, so I went home and got Frederic and took him through the drive thru. As we were leaving, I thought nothing of it, but upon arrival it started to hit me that this is a new thing for Frederic. I order for us by talking to the mysterious person behind a box and then I pull forward and pay first (which is weird – in Burkina you pay after you get your food) and then we wait a few minutes for our food. Sure enough, it comes, its passed through the window and…. VOILA! You have food and can drive where ever you need to go never having gotten out of the car. Frederic just laughs and says, “Oh you Americans and your love for everything EASY!” 

Frederic has been adjusting well. His English is coming along. He still responds to you in French, but he understands a lot of what people are saying. Mom has given us some books that are around a 3rd grade reading level that he reads to me at night so he can practice saying words and get examples of sentence structure and be introduced to new words. In the 2 weeks that he has been here his English is coming along, but he’s still working on gaining his confidence and switching his brain over to speak in English. 

Last weekend we moved into our own apartment, so we have a place of our own now. This is a first for us to have our own place together. We are slowly getting moved in and settled, but this weekend we are back at Mom’s dog sitting while they are out of town for a wedding.

I have been told by co-workers that I am a horrible American because I have yet to take him to McDonalds, have him eat a hot dog or take him to a baseball game! But, it’s only been two weeks, so we have some time! Any other suggestions of things we need to do are welcomed! 

Since my return to the US I have been trying to get my life “together” and ready for Frederic to come. I mentioned in the last post that I not only had a job but that I was still living in Mom’s basement! I got my “big girl” job and have been getting adjusted to a “regular” “daily” schedule that doesn’t include waking up when I want (or really I would wake up just early enough that I was not judged to be lazy by my neighbors for sleeping until 6am), showing up to the local market to hang out every 3 days, and spending time at the health clinic to help promote nutrition and maternal/child health.  I had a “schedule” while I was in the Peace Corps, but it was not a time-is-money and gotta-get-things-done type of schedule. So, it has been a bit of an adjustment to have a gotta-get-things-done schedule, but at the same time it was welcomed with open arms. 

So, I got the job thing down and I am getting used to my work schedule. I think it really helps that I enjoy my job too. The next step to completing my “big kid” transformation will be getting my own place. Things have wrapped up quickly with Frederic’s visa and I realized I should start looking for a place for us to live, unless we wanted to live in Mom’s basement for a while. However, I don’t think either party involved would have appreciated that for too long! So, I started the apartment hunt. For those of you in the Battle Creek area, you know that there are not a lot of choices. Well, there are a lot of choices, but not all of them are ideal, safe or clean. It just kind of happened that I found an apartment with the help of Mom and Carl and I could move in September 21st! 

At about the same time as finding the apartment I get a phone call from Frederic telling me that he turned in his papers to the embassy and they said to come back 2 days later for his visa interview! He then received his visa a week later and the big decision of “WHEN ARE YOU COMING?!!?!” had to be made. I knew I had some work things to do the middle of September, so we discussed him coming before or after that. We ultimately decided that coming after would be best. In looking at plane tickets, we found an easy flight for a reasonable amount of money on September 24! 

The other decision that was made during all of this was when THE BIG day would be. Frederic has received a Fiance visa and the terms of this visa state that we have to be married within 90 days of his arrival. So, I also knew I needed to pick a date soon to be in compliance with the visa conditions and have enough time to put a wedding together. So, we have chosen December 8, which is the same date that we were engaged on last year and had the big party with Frederic’s family and friends in Burkina Faso. 

Frederic is just as anxious to come and asking lots of questions which includes a lot of vocabulary that I don’t know in French! We are still learning to effectively communicate when it comes to new situations we never encountered in Burkina – such as American living and lifestyle. Of course we always end up laughing and knowing that it will all work out. 

Quite literally, everything has fallen into place. I have a move in date which is just a few days before Frederic’s arrival and a wedding date! We are putting the wedding together and getting the details sorted out for that! It has still been stressful getting things bought for the apartment, preparing for Frederic’s arrival, preparing for a wedding and of course working! But, all in all, things are working out just the way they were supposed to.

Start your countdown! 33 days! :) 

P.S. If at any point you have questions about anything from Burkina to transitioning to visas, please feel free to ask! 

Hello everyone!

It has been quite sometime and you may have thought you would never hear from me again, but here I am! I thought I would start over again and continue using this to share my new adventures of starting my life here in the US with Frederic. He has never been here before and the time is coming soon for him to arrive! I thought it might be a good idea and eye opening for some to hear about his transition and fun new things that he/we will do together! :) 

So, for the last year or so we have been working to get Frederic his visa to come. Before I left Peace Corps and Burkina Faso we were in the midst of getting Frederic a passport and filling out the required documents for the petition. Getting a passport in and of itself was quite the experience. I should have known, after being in Burkina for almost 2 years at this point, that nothing ever goes smoothly or as planned! Low and behold, this process had a lot of obstacles. We got his passport after several trips across the capital to an office that makes passports. (It’s not one place like it is here in the US – which seems a bit on the sketchy side that you can go to different people to get this done.) Anyways, during this time we were also on the hunt for all of the required documents Frederic would need for the application and we learned just as we thought we were done that all of the documents needed to be OFFICIALLY translated into English! We then had to find a place that would do that and that took even more time to complete. We could then finally send in the documents to the US for the petition, in other words it was an application for an application and another way for them to make money! I sent all of the papers to my mom and she mailed them into the correct mailing facility for our application. It was all received the beginning of November, but we started preparing for this the beginning of July… 4 months of prep work! 

Then began the REAL waiting game. We had no idea what to expect other than processing times were about 7 months for our particular visa. So, we waited and waited and waited some more. Finally, on June 20th we received notice that our petition had been APPROVED and the process would then move to the US Embassy in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (the capital) for Frederic to complete. He was notified by the Embassy a couple of weeks later to come in and get a checklist of things to complete. I had prepared a lot before I left and all that was left for Frederic to do was to complete the medical exams. He must have done it in record time because the Embassy was surprised to see him back so soon. That was yesterday, Tuesday, and they told him to come back for his interview Thursday morning! 

It sounds like soon he will get his visa and we can buy a plane ticket for him to come! He will definitely take some time to say good bye to family and friends but not too long because he is anxious to come!

I did leave  Burkina Faso in December and have been living in my mom’s basement ever since (Thanks Mom!) Transitioning back has been hard and I do get some serious bouts of homesickness for Burkina and its lifestyle. I miss it like crazy and often times think about quitting my job and picking up to move back there. The idea of moving back was also an appealing one during my job hunt that seemed to yield no results until May. Maybe one day I guess I will go back and possibly live, but not any time soon. Since my return, I have found a job and am currently working at the Battle Creek Community Foundation as a College Access Network Associate. I help out the scholarship team and also work in the schools to promote college K-12 grades. I started here in May and have loved it ever since.  

My plan is to keep you posted on the arrival of Frederic and all of our new experiences once he arrives! I hope you look forward to hearing about them because I am anxious to get him here and let the adventures begin! 

Believe it or not, 2 years have gone by since I have started writing this blog about my adventures in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso. In those 2 years I have had many ups and downs and have learned more than I thought imaginable. I have laughed. I have cried. I have been the teacher. I have been taught. I have had the experience of a lifetime that I wish more people would be open to doing. These last two years have flown by. However, at times I never thought they would end. But, here they are. I will try to explain to you a few of the things that I have learned. There is no way I can possible write everything because I myself possibly have not even realized all that I have learned. But for the time being, I have written a few of the big things that I will carry on with me for the rest of my life.

#1. Patience! Ever since I was a kid, I can remember people saying, “Patience is a virtue”. And Americans SAY this all of the time, but they don’t actually LIVE it. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to wait, and while sitting there, wondering, “God, is this a test? Is this you teaching me patience?” Being patience also means slowing down. Here in Burkina TIME ≠ MONEY. Things happen when they are supposed to happen or when everyone is there. That being said, many times, I can arrive to something early and find no one there. I can even arrive “late” (after the said arrival time) and still be the first person there! So, what do you do…? WAIT! Because I am waiting, I can never be in a hurry. If I were in a hurry I would go crazy waiting. The one really really REALLY good example that I can give of my patience being tested is a day when I wanted to return back to village.

My transport to and from village by bus was limited to 2 days a week. To village were Sundays and Wednesdays at 8 am and to the capital was Mondays and Thursdays at 8 am. Not a whole lot of options, but we made it work for 2 years. One day, I show up a bit early knowing that we never leave at 8 am exactly, but usually by 9 we are on the road. I left the Transit House by 7 and was at the bus station by 7:30. This particular day, I could just tell that my bus driver was not in a hurry (more laid back that normal). Nine o’clock arrived and they all kind of gathered around the bus and kind of decided to leave. I already knew something was up, but had yet to find out. Normally, leaving the bus station we turn right and head north. This day, we turned left and headed south. Initially, I was not concerned. I knew that often times we would pass by other places and pick up other things being commissioned by villagers to bring to village. I noticed we were driving around and heard the bus driver start yelling at another guy about where we were going because he could not find the place. Again I wasn’t alarmed, it’s normal. We arrive at the destination, still in the capital, but in the other direction of our final destination. At this point its about 10 am, 2 hours behind schedule. But still, no worries. The driver and his staff get off the bus and pretty much say to me, “It’s going to be a little while”. I have learned that this does not mean what most Americans would mean if they were to say it. Here in Burkina “a little while” can mean 30 min, 2 hours or 4 hours. You never know. So, I waited. I was in no rush to get back because usually we would get back around noon, and it was hot and a cloudless sky filled with sun that made my pale skin turn red just thinking about going outside. Knowing that we were waiting a bit would get us back a little bit later in the afternoon, and I was OK with that. So I waited. And, I waited. Got some street food that I found next to where we were. A little while later, I grabbed a beer to pass the time. By this time, it is noon. 2 hours of waiting and they are still saying, “It’s going to be a while”. Finally at 1 pm a bus full of people shows up from the Ivory Coast. Several of these passengers head straight for our bus. Oh, but these people didn’t travel lightly. Most people go to the Ivory Coast to look for work, so when they come back, they have a bit of money and of course gifts and necessary things to bring back to the family. So, of course, we had to wait for the arrival bus to unload all of the baggage, then our bus had to load all of it back on. Not a simple or quick task by any means for the amount of people we had. Now it is 2 pm and we are about ready to move. By this time I was getting a bit antsy, but knew the bus ride was about 3 hours, so I still was not worried. It gets dark at 6:30. We would be home by 5. We pass by the original bus station and not to far past that… we stop again. We add some more things (completely unrelated to the people we just picked up from the Ivory Coast). Now, I am a bit perturbed. Why did we not do this while we were waiting for how many hours for these people?!!?! Now we could be on our way!!! That takes a bit more time and now it’s about 2:30-45ish and I’m tired. We finally move and we make it to Tougo at 6 pm as its getting dark. I jump on my trusty bike and pedal my 5k home to Rassomdé. By 6:30 I am home. Remember, I left at 7 am for a bus ride that only takes about 3 hours. It took me almost 12 to get home! Talk about patience!

#2. Gift Giving. In the U.S. we have many holidays where we give gifts to people. Why do we give gifts? I believe its because it is expected of us. If its my friends birthday and I don’t bring him/her a gift or do something “special” for said birthday person, it is possible that the person will believe that I do not think of them as a true friend because I didn’t buy anything for them. (Yes, this is not true for everyone. Just an example that can be true from time to time.) I know that the holidays are just around the corner. What does everyone do the day after Thanksgiving? Which is now becoming the day of. But that’s a different story) People go out and shop for Christmas gifts. Why do we buy people Christmas gifts? Because people expect them. How many times have you bought a gift with a gift receipt, just in case they don’t like it? How many times have you wondered, “What can I buy for this person? Will they like it?” We come from the land of plenty, where people can be more choosy in their possessions.

I have lived the last 2 years in one of the poorest countries in the world (Burkina is in the bottom 10). I have lived in relative poverty with this people. By no means can I compare my living standards to my villagers, but I have seen it and lived it with my own eyes. What have I learned? I have learned the joy of gift giving. To see the joy on people’s faces when you give them a gift and they TRULY appreciate it, is amazing. Not saying that people don’t appreciate gifts in the U.S., but there is definitely a difference between the haves and the have nots. Just recently, I was on my way to the market and I cam across a woman from my courtyard. It was early in the morning and had already been to Tougo and was on her way home. She had gone to the health clinic and wanted to go to the market as well, but at that hour not many people were there yet. She asked me if she gave me money if I could buy her daughter some shorts. Of course I said yes, however feeling a little daunted at the task of having to pick something out for someone else (the American in me). Later that day I venture into the market on the search for some shorts for the little girl. I find a vender who is nice and start to ask prices. I find a few pairs for 300 cfa (25 cents). The woman asked me to buy just one pair and to return with the change. I decided that I would do as she asked, but also use my money to add a second pair of shorts knowing that money was limited for them and clothes for kids are not priority. (Also this little girl was one of my absolute favorites). I come home and find the woman anxiously awaiting the shorts. I handed her the bag with 2 pairs and she looked at me with anger in her eyes. Before I could explain that I paid for one, she assumed that I bought the 2 with her money. So, in my broken Mooré, I explained that there was 700 cfa change for one pair and that I added another with my own money. He anger quickly disappeared into appreciation and amazement that I would do something like that. The next morning she thanked me profusely along with the other women in the courtyard that had heard what I had done for the child. After this the little girl came to me and asked me if it was true that I had bought her the shorts (she had already put them on). I said yes, that I had wanted her to have 2 pairs of shorts and she replied with, “BARKA! Wend na reegay!” Which means, “Thank you, may God see what you have done”. This little girl is about 4 years old and even though I had given her a simple pair of shorts, you would have thought I had given her the world.

When people have so little, the smallest gifts mean the most. The joy that filled my heart at that moment cannot begin to be put into words. I have felt that many times here when I have been able to help someone and their appreciation has been more than genuine. It is a feeling that you do not get from your everyday gift giving and that most Americans have never experienced, that I had never experienced before. This is definitely something that I will bring back home and never forget. Open up your hearts (not just for the holiday season) to those that do not have much. It might burden you until your next paycheck, but the joy that you will receive will be worth spending those few extra $$ on someone else. You do not have to buy them the world, but it will mean the world to them.

#3. You cannot force people to change. Again, this one seems obvious. But from the eyes of development work it is the first thing that everyone must learn. The problem here in Burkina is that everyone has been doing the same thing for generations upon generations. They do not know another life. What they do know is what they currently do barely gets them by, but it works. What they do not understand is that this situation can change, if only they are willing to take the risk and break the cycle of what has been done for many years. One of the things (obvious) that will break the cycle of poverty is an education. For many people in village and certain ethnic groups here in Burkina, girls do not go to school. The girls are seen as an expense and not someone that can be a “breadwinner” for their family or someone that can contribute later in life. So, money spent on a girl’s education is money wasted. It is highly unfortunate, however, in my courtyard almost all of the girls go to school, one of them having been 3rd in her class last year! The biggest challenge that I ran into though was my work with my assigned women’s association. If you have never been to school, how can you appreciate learning something new and the transfer of knowledge? It is difficult. Why learn something knew, when you know what you are doing is getting you by some of the time? Why take that risk to change from what works some of the time to what could possibly fail and work none of the time? When you are poor, you don’t always want to take that risk. However, in my eyes, it is those risk takers who can break the cycle. Obviously, what is being done here has been done for years and it isn’t working. Something needs to change. This is where Peace Corps comes in. This is our job as volunteers to help those willing to change and motivated to better their lives. I struggled to organize my association to even meet with me because they often told me they didn’t have time to work with me because they had to go out to the fields. They were afraid to leave that work for an hour or two to come and learn something from me that might or might not work to make them money, when they know that those tomatoes out in the field will make them some money. Unfortunately, in my two years I never found the right incentive for them to give me a few minutes of their time to teach them some things and hopefully make them some money. They were more looking for handouts of money (as they specifically asked me for money on several occasions). It was definitely frustrating, as I could see the value of teaching them something new, but could not make them see it or convince them to take a small risk of not going out to the fields for an hour or two and coming to learn something from me. Maybe it was a character flaw on my part, but either way, it was a failure! I tried several times to explain to community members ideas that I had and explain that I wouldn’t take a whole lot of time, but they always told me, “We are poor. Sorry, we do not have time to work with you because we are poor.” You can’t make them change, they have to want it and be willing to learn and take small risks.

#4. Failure is OK. We often say “Learn from your mistakes”. Well in the Peace Corps we can learn from our failures and it is perfectly ok to say, “I HAVE FAILED!” In America we don’t like to think of failing. It’s the worst. The end. Failing means that you are the looser. Not only admit your mistakes, but also it is ok to fail. It means at least you tried. I would by no means say that my Peace Corps service was a failure, but I have done things that I have failed at. There is an emotional depth and learning that comes when you say, “I have failed” “I have not accomplished grandiose things” “I didn’t do what I expected I would do”. But it doesn’t even have to be the extent of failing. In Burkina and West Africa when you ask people how their work is going, or their family is they will tell you its going “little by little” or “slowly its coming along”. They are honest that their life is not measured by huge accomplishments. The one thing that I have learned is that I have grown as a person because of the struggles and difficulties and yes failures that I have encountered in the Peace Corps.

Those are 4 of the take home messages/lessons learned in the last two years. I can feel that I have changed and grown as a person. I have learned patience, confidence and to enjoy and live life one day at a time. Last week I did one of the hardest things in the world. I said good bye to my village. I never thought that these people would find their way deep into my heart and make a cozy little home, but they did. They are there. I know that one day I will go back and visit, but who knows if that will be 5 years from now or more? I told them that I will come back one day, but the first volunteer has been gone for about 3 years now and all they say is: Look! She hasn’t come back yet! One day. One day I will return and see my little children and how they have grown and visit all of the women. But for now, I have to say good bye not knowing when I will be back. I would love to bring them all with me, but that’s in line right after impossible. So, for now, I will keep them in my heart, look at their pictures, and remember fondly of all of the good times we had together.

Two Years. If you are willing, a lot can be learned in two years.
You could learn a lot in 2 years as well. Anyone can do Peace Corps. I highly recommend it. Its tough. Its hard. But you gain so much from it all in the end. You can’t put a dollar amount on growing as a person, but its worth the two years of being a volunteer.

Fun Fact: I don’t know if I ever mentioned this, but the name of my village is Rassomdé, which means “the good day” and there is a benediction in Mooré (there are tons of them!) that says “Wend na ko-d Rassomdé”. It means May God give us the good day. It is usually said to pregnant women and when other happy events are coming up!

 

Hello all! I hope you have been well! I know it has been a while since I have posted and my most sincere apologies for that. To be quite honest I haven’t really felt like there has been anything “note worthy” to write about because life has become normal and I have gotten into a routine in village. But, I know people have been wondering if I am ok and what the word is here in Burkina Faso. Happy Reading!

 

So lets back up a bit. Last year if you remember rainy season never really came. It usually starts in June and goes until September. Also during rainy season it will rain several times a week. Last year, this did not happen and therefore everyone in my village had a bad harvest. This year however, for the most part the rains came! Thank God! I know everyone was really nervous because there is no way they could handle another drought with a bad harvest. Starting about May the rains came and the people in my courtyard were one of the firsts out into the fields to plant (my theory is they were so worried, so when they did see rain they didn’t hesitate to go out and plant). So on that front it seems that all is well. The rains came right on schedule and it seems that it has been sufficient enough to warrant a good harvest this year. I can literally feel the sigh of relief from my village because they have started harvesting the black eyed peas, which had a very meager harvest last year. The millet seems to be in good shape and will be cut shortly (which is the necessary staple to make tô!). Also, peanuts should be ready soon too and those were NON-existent last year. So, everyone is happy and we should have a good celebration for Tabaski (the Muslim holiday to celebrate the harvest and sort of a thanksgiving) the beginning of November.

 

However for most of rainy season I was out of village. In June I took my last 4 weeks of vacation and stayed here in Burkina Faso. I spent that time with my boyfriend Frederic (who is Burkinabé). We went and visited his family (my host family) in Koudougou that I lived with at the very beginning of my service. It was nice and relaxing to be out of village, but I felt horribly guilty being in Burkina and not in village even though I was on vacation. It’s hard to explain the feeling, but anytime I’m not in village I feel like I NEED to be there even during rainy season when there was nothing going on except planting and weeding. 

 

After vacation I went back to village for about a week and a half and then went to Kaya (a small city in the north-central region of Burkina) for a leadership camp. Last year Peace Corps volunteers organized the leadership camp for boys and girls and this year the Burkinabé government said that they wanted to take over because they thought it was such a good idea! So, this year Peace Corps volunteers co-organized it with the Ministry of Youth and Secondary Education. For a week we had a 112 boys and girls for Camp G2LOW (Guys and Girls Leading Our World). The camp is Peace Corps wide, not just here in Burkina Faso. Here in Burkina there were 4 camps held in 4 different cities around Burkina. The camp focuses on issues that are important here in Burkina but might not always get discussed in school. The topics we covered were nutrition; hygiene – washing your hands after using the bathroom, before eating, keeping food covered from flies, etc.; the reproductive system and puberty including the menstrual cycle and “teen pregnancy”; family planning, which includes contraceptive methods and HIV/AIDS and STI prevention; gender equality; violence – what it is and how to respond to it. During the week there were several Peace Corps Volunteers and Burkinabé counterparts that facilitated that camp. The kids came from neighboring villages so everyone (boys and girls) stayed at the school, ate at the school, lived at the school. The camp also included a bon fire where we made S’MORES! Something the kids had never had and the Burkinabé thought we were crazy for burning a bunch of wood just to sit around and roast some marshmallows! Also included was a talent show at the end of the week.

 

This week was probably the hardest (from working with civil servants as opposed to your average villager) but the best week that I have spent here in Burkina. Each facilitator was given a group of 10 kids to eat with, work on the camp journal and prepare for the talent show. My group of 10 were some of the best kids in the whole group (if I do say so myself). They were very respectable and well behaved. I had one particular girl however, that was incredibly shy and ALWAYS looked like she was on the verge of tears and I think most of the time she was. She would usually refuse to talk unless someone greeted her, but from what I got was that it was her first time leaving home. Crying here in Burkina Faso is taboo especially in public. You just don’t do it, so the moment that I saw her crying I tried to pull her aside into a classroom so not all of the other 111 kids would be talking about her for the rest of the camp. I don’t know if I accomplished anything with her, but by the end of the week she was participating a little and we got her to crack a smile, or at least I think it was a smile, it was small and only lasted a split second. The other 9 kids in the group were great with her. I had to explain that they couldn’t be in her face and asking her what her problem was because that would only make it worse, and the respected that. They actively encourage her to participate within our group and ask for her input. I was very pleased with the way they handled her, because most kids (probably anywhere in the world) can be mean. By the end of the camp I was dubbed the “happy police” because I was so intent on making this little girl have a good time, or at least not be utterly depressed to be away from home. The week was difficult because the idea of Camp G2LOW is obviously an American idea of a summer camp, therefore the expectations of the facilitators/camp counselors was normal for us and also all of the Americans saw this as a “fun week” to hang out with kids and educate them on things we think are important to make them the leaders of tomorrow. However, the idea was a bit foreign for the Burkinabé that we worked with. They were all civil servants and had other jobs, families and priorities to deal with, so they were not present all the time. Also, the way I interpreted it, is they did not see this as a fun week, they saw it as another job. So there was a huge difference in attitude between the Americans and Burkinabés and unfortunately we clashed a lot, but I feel like both sides learned a lot from the experience. In the end I considered the camp a success and I believe that the kids had fun and learned a lot. 

 

After the camp in the month of August Peace Corps held our 3 day long Close of Service (COS) conference. That’s right! CLOSE of service! Its insanely crazy to think about. I have been here for almost 2 years and its time to start thinking of what comes next! I had talked a lot from the beginning that I was going to stay for a 3rd year here in Burkina as a volunteer, but recently I have decided that my heart isn’t in it. I still love Burkina, but mentally I am ready for something else and a little bit of my “normal” life back. The conference was extremely useful in explaining the benefits of being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, resources for us to use, job searching, grad school options, résumé writing and interviewing. It was a long 3 days filled with lots of information but it also made me even more nervous about what’s next. What is next?!!? That is an excellent question! Would anyone like to answer it for me because I am at a loss? I have learned a lot about myself during my time here as a PCV, and I know that for a year after Peace Corps I have Non-competitive eligibility status for government jobs. Meaning that it shortens the process for me to apply for government jobs (since it’s the government its long and complicated), so that helps a bit and I am definitely considering looking in that direction, but the government is a big place and I know I would start looking with the State Department, but I am not sure if I will find anything that I would find “appealing” as a career. So, I will consider other options too. As I just mentioned above the week of Camp that I facilitated was one of the best weeks here in country and it was because of the kids. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with kids and educating them, however I am not sure I want to go the teacher direction. My mind is going in circles and a hundred different directions at the same time, but I have a bit of confidence that once I am home and start my job search, get an idea of what is out there and network, I can narrow it down and I will find something that will be fulfilling. Also, I am considering going to grad school, but I need to get a job first and get on my feet, so that will come later. As an RPCV I have PC Fellowships open to me for life for grad schools, so there is no rush there, but still something to consider for the future once I have more of an idea of what field and line of work I’m going into. So really, any suggestions would be helpful and welcomed!!! 

After the COS conference it was time to go back to village and I had hardly been there in about 2 months, so it was a struggle to go back and get into a routine again and be “alone” in my house. I say “alone” because I am never alone, there are always children at my door or I can hear the neighbors in my courtyard reminding me that I am never alone. By now it is the end of August and the rains are starting to slow down and the temperature is starting to go up up up again! I remembered that around the month of October we hit a mini hot season where the rains don’t come to break that heat, its just constant heat with the only relief being the month of November with the temperatures will start to drop and it will get to “bitterly cold” that you think its going to snow by the way people are dressed, but we are still in Sub-Saharan Africa not too far from the equator, so I don’t think snow has ever been seen here. So, HELLO! Mini hot season! You know its getting hot again when you are sitting around doing nothing and sweating and also when you get the food sweats – when you are eating and start sweating uncontrollably. Again, sweat is no biggie here, everyone does it, no need to be ashamed, but I still find it gross for me to be sweating because I am sure that everyone is saying, “Look at that Nasara sweating!”

So, now I am in the capital for my COS med appointment, where I get a complete physical to make sure all is A-OK for my return to the states. I am officially done with Peace Corps November 16! So, that means that the next time I go back to village is the LAST time I will be coming back and the next time I leave will be the LAST time I leave… I will spend about 4 weeks in village and then have to say my good-byes. The thought crosses my mind and I always get a bit teary-eyed so I try not to think about it, but I know I am going to be a mess the day I leave village.

After I leave village and am done with Peace Corps I will spend a month here in Burkina Faso before I come back home. I will officially be home December 19! So mark your calendars! For the month in between I will be with Frederic and most likely his family in Koudougou.

So, that’s the story! I hope this satisfied all of your blog reading appetites since it has been a while. Until next time, and hopefully it won’t be as long as the last time! 

Ça fait deux jours! It’s been two days! That’s the crazy French way of saying it’s been a while!

Since Dad left I have been hiding in village and actually WORKING! Things have progressed with my English club and have enjoyed getting to know my students. The title of this blog is a quote from one of my students that took me off guard for 2 seconds until I caught on. Thanks to Mom, we have been doing some DOL’s that we did in Elementary school. So, I give them between 5 and 8 sentences and they have to correct the mistakes. Most are grammar but some are spelling. One of the sentences was “Mom and I ate ice cream”. After correcting the mistakes to get the correct sentence, one of my students raises his hand with a confused look on his face. He asks, “But Mrs., you cannot eat water.” He was trying to day that the verb needed to be changed from eat to drink. I stopped and thought. It finally hit me, the word for ice cream in French is “glace” the word for ice in French is “glace”. Therefore there is no differentiation in the language between frozen water and the deliciousness that is frozen flavored cream. The student, knowing that “glace” was in reality water thought the verb needed to be changed. So, then I explained… in oh so very much vain, ice cream. First of all, ice cream is hard to come by in Burkina Faso. It can be found in Ouaga (the capital) but it is a bit on the expensive side and mostly just the Nasara’s eat it. Secondly, we are in a village where most of my students have never been outside of the village. So, trying to explain that ice cream was more than just frozen water was difficult. And as I’m trying to explain ice cream I thought, “WE CAN MAKE IT!” Then I was brought back to reality REAL FAST and remembered we are in the middle of nowhere Burkina Faso without any electricity. Sigh. My students will continue to not know the wonders of ice cream…

I have also been spending a lot of time at my school. For almost 2 weeks I was there everyday working with the students on our world map! It turned out fantastic and the students loved to help. It is a little bit bigger than 3 x 6 meters. I am really glad that I did the map because as we were painting each country there was a teacher quizzing some students on the continents. He gave them the country of Angola (a country here in Africa that the students should know) and as them what continent, also he had the visual of the whole map. He said he didn’t know. Then he asked them which continent Ghana was on. The student replied, “Uh, America…?” It was quite frustrating to stand there and listen. The school has a small globe, but when you are one of 100+ students in a room and just a tiny globe, you don’t really see much. So painting the map on a wall at the school has been quite the experience. And everyone, even the teachers all commented on how small Burkina is relative to the rest of the world. The teachers joked that I didn’t accurately draw Burkina, that I purposefully drew it extra small. But in reality Burkina is a little bitty country (about the size of Colorado). So, when you do see Burkina on the map, it looks insignificant. After all of the hard work that I put into it and with the help of students, it is almost finished. All that is left is to write on the names on the countries.

La chaleur has arrived! The heat has been slowly making its way into our lives here in Burkina. As the days have passed I have come up with a list of ways you know its hot:
You stop boiling water to take a bucket batch
Well water is warm to the touch
To boil water takes a significantly less amount of time
The Burkinabé complain about it
You have accepted sweating is not embarrassing
You sweat sitting and doing nothing
You embrace the sweat and the breeze, its quite refreshing
You wake up in a pool of your own sweat
The Burkinabé say things like: the sun will hurt today
When the Burkinabé open windows on the bus
When you start sleeping outside again
The Burkinabé sleep outside
Dust storms are welcome because the sun doesn’t come out (you are literally in a cloud of dust – its actually disgusting, but it doesn’t get hot!)

I have been curious to know what the temperature is, but I don’t have a thermometer, so I turn on my thermometer to take my temperature and it tells me at about noon its 95 degrees in my house. Yay! Oh heat…

So, as I mentioned in my last blog I got a dog! Her name is Luna! All dogs here are like a lab, mutt mix. Luna is a golden tan color with some white. She enjoys chasing after chickens and barking at goats in the middle of the night while everyone is trying to sleep. She also enjoys chewing on shoes (not only mine) and drinking out of the womens’ water basins at the well, which gets me into big trouble! I have discovered that the women aren’t keen on having water that a dog has already drank out of. If my dog happens to take a lick of water (which I have still yet to see, but has happened twice) from the basin full of water, they will dump it all out and start over. It drives me nuts because I know that “my dogs mouth is cleaner than my own”, and there are people that eat and drink after their dogs. So, it drives me nuts that they waste all of the water. I dunno. And I see them do so many other things that would be considered unsanitary, yet they dump out water that my dog may or may not have taken one lick from. Oh well. She will learn, they usually give her a good whack with a rope and she runs off and does something else.

Despite all of the troubles she has caused me, I have been happy with her presence, even though she spends more time with the kids than with me. But it has been a good thing with the kids. Like they know not to hit my dog because it is not nice. They don’t bother her when she’s sleeping or eating (because you don’t want to be poked and prodded and hit either). The other thing is that dogs here in Burkina are just guard dogs, and some times they don’t get fed. They are not a member of the family, like dogs are in the states. It is a cultural thing, and something that took a lot of getting used to, but not something that I will accept with my dog. They think its strange that I give her her own bowl for food and water. They think its strange that I give her water (but I know if I don’t she will for sure be at the well drinking out of basins). The women get mad if I give her “raaga riibo” (market food) or greet her first before I greet the other women. It has been a learning process for us all. Overall, they have just come to accept that the crazy nasara that lives with them just got a bit crazier. But, Luna is loved by most of the kids here especially a few boys that have taken a liking to her and she loves them too.

I just took a couple days of “repos” to rest. After 6 weeks in village and doing the world map, I needed a break to the real world. So, now its back until Easter when I will leave again and possibly be with my host family. It was a wonderful break, which makes it hard to go back to site. But the fact that I have done something that I can “see!” Its nice to drive by and see the map from the road (and it actually looks like the world).

Well that’s about it. Life goes on, in the heat. We are down to about 9 months left before the 2 years are up, so I need to start looking into options for a third year, or not. Until next time.

Greetings from a thankfully cooler Burkina Faso (but if your dad, its hot)!

We have arrived again in the “Cold Season” where the Burkinabé dress for a blizzard. It still amuses me to see them in their winter coats, gloves, hats, earmuffs, scarves, etc, however, I have to admit, that I find myself a bit on the cold side. Ok more than a bit, often times at night I feel like it could be freezing outside! But once I think about it, the temperatures in the north on average are over 100 degrees and during cold season it can get down in the mid 50’s low 60’s at night. So, subtract 40 degrees from the norm and its downright cold! If we translate this into Michigan weather, when it starts to cool off in the fall, after having had some nice sunny days around 80 degrees, subtract 40 and you think it’s about ready to snow! (Well, ok it is getting close to snowing at 40 degrees.) Anyways, so what I’m trying to say, is that I guess I have acclimated a bit and find 60 degrees to be a bit chilly. However, during the day, when the sun comes out, the sun can still be downright painful. That is when I get confused as to how people can be working with said clothing mentioned above. Yes, the air is cold, but being in the sun and doing manual labor… its warm! I wouldn’t say hot, because It’s not anywhere close to what “hot” can be. (Look forward to March and April for HOT!) So for now, we have nice cool nights and warm sunny days. In the north its very dusty and the Harmattan (cool winds from the north) will be starting and cooling it off a bit more. Then we get to March and the hotness come – lets just say, I’m NOT looking forward to it, but know that its bearable.

I hope that everyone had happy and healthy holidays! Mine were eventful, traveling around the country visiting my host family. It was great to be back again. I hadn’t been to visit them since July and once again upon arrival I was handed… a beer! In the last year my host dad has fallen ill and cannot eat salt or drink beer (amongst other things, but those are the 2 I find to be the most tragic!) so, I feel that because he can’t drink, I have to make up for it! Ok, not really, but he did make sure that I was never thirsty! They are a wonderful family and always make sure that I have eaten enough. If they don’t think I’m eating enough, they put some more on my plate or bring out something else to eat! The great part about this time of year too, is that there is salad! (And since they were my host family, they were trained on proper cleaning of the veggies so I don’t have to worry about falling ill!)

Then shortly after the New Year I took a bus from Ouaga to Accra, Ghana. The bus ride itself isn’t horrible. It just took about 20 hours to get there and the bus ride was freezing because they ran the air conditioning at about 62 degrees the whole way down! Then when I got off the bus I was hit by a wave of humidity that doesn’t exist in the desert here in Burkina! It was awful and I wanted to run back on the cold bus because I almost instantly started sweating. We left at about 9:30 am and got into Ghana at 5 am. Dads arrival wasn’t planned until the following afternoon at 2 pm, so I had quite some time to relax and hang out, but I had no idea how I was going to do that because I knew nothing and no one in Ghana. I had found a place to stay so I decided to try my luck and see if they would give me a bed a few hours before check-in started. I was in luck, so I cleaned up and hung out for the day. The following day I hung out until checkout at noon and went to the airport to wait for Dad. It’s a good thing that I’m good at waiting! I got there around 12:30 so I knew I had some time to kill, unfortunately the arrivals terminal in Accra doesn’t have a whole lot to look at… So, I waited. Around 1:30 I got up and checked the screen and it said that the plane was coming in about 20 minutes early! I thought this is great! I don’t have to wait as long now! So, I waited. And waited. And waited. Around 2:15, after seeing many people from the same flight, I started to wonder if they didn’t make the connection flight, or decided not to come!? (Because we didn’t know if my phone would work we set up a plan that I would check in with Mom if there was any news). So, I called Mom to see if she had heard anything from Dad. Nope! At this point there was the last few passengers coming through the gate. So I look back and I see them standing at another counter, but they actually hadn’t come out yet. I was able to talk to them and figure out what was going on. Welcome to Africa (and more to the risks of traveling and having a layover)! Their bags didn’t come! Now, normally this wouldn’t be so bad, but one of the bags that they checked was full of delicious Americaland food for me!!!! Haha so it wasn’t too tragic really. The connecting flight was in DC so I had the confidence that it was probably still in America and not roaming around somewhere in South America. So, we found our taxi driver that the resort had sent to get us at the airport. We gave them my number and we got one for them and would be in contact if there was any news.

Now, the adventure that was Ghana was just beginning. We put the few bags that we had in the taxi and took off. Already my impression of Ghana was that it was already much better than Burkina. And by better I mean that you could visibly see that the country was poor, but it was much more developed than Burkina. The infrastructure was much nicer and everyone spoke English, so I was ready to change my Peace Corps post instantly. We then quickly discovered that traffic in Accra was not so fun! There was some construction that was causing a huge backup! Our taxi driver said that he knew a shortcut to bypass all of the traffic. So we said ok! Great! Well, the shortcut… also had lots of traffic. I guess his shortcut wasn’t a secret. So, we still ended up sitting in traffic. It took us 2 hours to get to the resort. Upon arrival we were greeted with a bunch of people and the OCEAN! We were right on the ocean, which was fine by me since I live in a landlocked country in the desert. The next day we called and the said the bags would be there, so we got our taxi driver and went back to the airport, which took about 2 hours. Then we had to eat and go back to the resort… another 2 hours. So, it was a whole day going back to get the bags. Both times, he said he knew a shortcut so that we weren’t sitting in traffic, but we still sat in traffic for 2 hours. We weren’t in any sort of hurry so it wasn’t awful, we just learned that when he said he knew a shortcut, not to expect to get anywhere fast. Overall, Ghana was good. I would go back, especially because it was so easy to get to (except for the 24 hour bus ride). The people were nice; the food was good; there’s a beach!

The news back in village: So Dad came out to village for 4 days. We started by taking my normal transport out. We arrived in village and had a warm welcome from all of the adults and children (well most of the children, some were scared of a big white man!) That night we started off by visiting my current house and the first house that I lived in. In the time that I had been gone, 2 babies had been born, so I had to meet them too! Everyone was happy to meet dad, but they all wanted to know where my mom was (sorry dad, they were happy to see you!) Then we got back home and the head of the courtyard was waiting to give us a guinea fowl as a welcome gift for us.

Day 2 was a market day, so we went to Tougo to visit the CSPS (health clinic), CEG (middle school), and of course, the market! I think it was a bit surprising for them how few options there were for food: tomatoes, onions, cabbage, and carrots. We were lucky that the last big village we go through before getting to village (the day before) was a market day and they had more options that we took advantage of before continuing to village (potatoes!) It was long day, but we got a lot accomplished and they were able to see some of the work that I’ve been done and see my students that I have been working with and the midwife from the health clinic. Dad also tried tô! I don’t think he particularly liked it, but if he had to live off of it he could.

Day 3 we had to visit the chief of the village, just to present the “strangers” and explain who they were and what they were doing. He is a very old man, I’m just learning that hes probably in his 80’s, which is very old for a Burkinabé because they normally only live into their 60’s. We went back home and spent the day resting up. Later that night, one of the children of the chief came by with a chicken for us!

Day 4 we went out to the fields to see where everyone in my village is growing onions and tomatoes. Again, everyone was happy to see us and show us what they were doing. We took an abbreviated tour of the 30+ hectars of land (over 60 acres) that has been converted into a giant garden. Dad even got to educate one of the men on fertilizers and what the numbers on the bags meant! After that we went back home and rested for a while before continuing on to where the women’s association make tomato paste. We took the short tour and then they gave us a small jar of their product! So Dad is taking that home to cook with! Then that night my good friend in village gave us another guinea fowl to welcome us to the village! So we had plenty of meat to eat!

The 4 days were filled with adventure. Then it was time to leave village, and we really got a full “Burkina” experience. The guy that normally drives the bus that I take in and out of village had his bus break down. He just got a newer-ish bus that is bigger and holds lots of people and is pretty nice for Burkina. So, we had in his place just a bush taxi that holds maybe 15 (not comfortably). So they got a good view of what “transport” is and can be like here!

Other news that I haven’t updated! I got a dog!!! Before Christmas the kids were hanging out and I thought I heard a puppy barking. I went out to investigate and sure enough there was the cutest puppy! They told me to take her, and I couldn’t really say no, because she was so cute, I just had to take her. So I took her in and she has been my little companion in village since!

Now, Dad is on his way out of Burkina back to the land of plenty and unimaginables. As for me, back to village! I have been having a little down moment again. I have realized that I only have a year left and I haven’t done as much as I would like and am worried that this next year is going to pass before me and I will be horribly unsatisfied with my work. I’m trying to make the most of it and find motivated people to work with and sustainable projects to do, but getting things put into action isn’t always easy. I’m sure things will work out, but for now I’m kind of in a slump and not sure if I will be able to do get anything I want done accomplished. We will see.

Other than that, I hope everyone is well and staying warm!

P.S. Comments are always appreciated! ☺ Its nice to know who is reading and what more you want to hear about!

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