Sunday, August 7, 2011

And then there were four

As in, four full days left for me in Kongoussi, and it's finally starting to feel as though reality is lining up with my mind.

Had a big huge party for myself on Saturday night, with all of my neighborhood folk in attendance. Kids of course were the first to show up, before I got down there with the first wave of food, carried on the heads of my lovely wonderful girls from Sainte B's. Tiny legs and arms flailing everywhere in wild dance, with my lil' bro Mathurin (20 or 21 I believe) commanding the DJ post, a stereo and some pretty impressive speakers hooked up to a car battery. He, in fact, was my savior for the night, listening to me gripe about the awkward surprise arrival of some dude, reassuring me that other grown-ups were going to come (three hours later than programed, duh), organizing the food-doling, letting me know when relative Big Shots showed up, and informing me continuously in various ways that since he is the oldest brother presently in Kongoussi, it's his job to make sure everyone knows how much his family cares about me by making sure that everyone is having a good time.

We had a ridiculously huge amount of food and there were some ambitious youth who stayed and blared music (really, really loudly) until literally 7:30 in the morning. I had turned in around 1 for good, and don't know if I ever actually fell asleep. Things were roaring out there still, and I was honestly enjoying being inside and on my bed as people were laughing and dancing and as Mathurin continued to come in to heft more rice into huge bowls and to partition the millet beer as he saw fit (he had a pretty good time). At around 6:30 I came out to enjoy the cloudy early morning sky and to sit in my one remaining intact chair and listen to Red Red Wine (without the rap verse at the end, which makes the song a lot less exciting, if possible) for approximately the trillionth time. Mathu by then was the lone man standing, if you don't count the dude who calls me "mariAM!" continuously every time he sees me, who had left at some point and ventured back in the morning. I'll always remember Mathu sitting peacefully behind the stereo, turning to me with a smile from under sunglasses and a winter hat as I emerged into the daylight. And then we fed lots of children the leftover rice.

I absolutely loved preparing for this party. I loved giving people the opportunity to help me out, as silly as that might sound, and I loved leaning on the different relationships that I've formed. Sister Elisabeth, Robert, Andrea, Claudia and her family, my cuisinaire girls, all of the 15 or 20 girls from my neighborhood who woke me up the morning of with buckets of water on thier heads, anxiously awaiting my sleep to finish so they could get started helping me with things. (It was, of course, six in the morning and I was outside under my mosquito net when I awoke to them looking down on me.)

And now, the real goodbyes commence. I've started with the goodbye warnings...that is, everyone who needs to know I'm leaving on the 12th knows. Today I went around the market in an attempt to say real goodbyes to the market ladies, but they refused and told me to come back later in the week to REALLY say goodbye to them. (I wish my camera wasn't broken...the market is nonexistant in my collection of photos, and my good vegetable-selling friend from way back in the day is one whose face I never want to forget.) My plan is to make Wednesday my final In Town day. Then Thursday is my final At Home day. And then Friday morning...bye bye!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reflections at a place so near to -- but not quite at -- the end

All over the place, I am! A swirling tide of emotions, waves crashing on the beach of my place in the world, with tears of rage and impatience, interminably slow minutes ticking away on the face of my cell phone...and then fleeting full happy moments that I capture with my heart and lock away in a special place forever. Time with the kids of my neighborhood, running around my yard frantically making me a meal with the leaves they've collected cooked over a fire of the wood they've gathered, spiced with all sorts of flavors I've given them money to run off and buy. Time with my favorite nun, surviving the whipping hurricane winds of the year's first storm while sitting in her house eating nõose and drinking beer. The number of days between me and a Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee is not very big, and I've been having pretty much every conceivable reaction to this fact.

New volunteers are in training right now, having arrived early June on the tail end of all of the civil unrest wildness that has defined 2011. There's been a whole lot of questioning on a whole lot of levels whether Konguossi would be getting one replacement volunteer or two, and where that volunteer would be working. Thomas and I have hashed and rehashed our opinions, thinking about things together and apart, pondering the degree to which our insights and ideas will really affect what the Peace Corps ultimately decides (and how much that, in turn, will actually come into play in the next person's experience).

Imagining someone else coming in to live where I've lived for the past two years -- where I've made impressions, both good and bad; where I've in some places succeeded, in some placed failed, and in others haven't even tried -- had been a roller coaster wave of emotions for me. But it's my town! What if people forget about me? What if they like this new person more than me? What if he or she accomplishes more, is a better volunteer, is more beloved by more people and my legacy, whatever it ends up being, is lost? What if people say negative things about me? If they comment on how much time I spent in Kongoussi instead of my house, if they talk about how few classes I had the year that I taught, about how much printer paper was used up by my lessons?

Along with this have been feelings of entitlement for my site. For my school, that deserves a volunteer after all the obstacle-surmounting they've done with the Peace Corps over the past four years. For Kongoussi in general, which really is a great place to live (and probably a lot more of a relaxing one if you don't have breasts and internal genitalia).

But really, it's been so difficult to imagine What Comes Next. So hard to get out of my own head, to not think of myself as the upstanding example of How To Be A Peace Corps Volunteer. How To Live In Kongoussi. How To Do It Right.

I recently had the pleasure of spending several days helping to show the soon-to-be Kongoussi Nasara around his future home. He came to town with his very dynamic counterpart, Madame Diallo, my school's French teacher. He stayed at Thomas's house (soon to be his, unless some drastic change occurs). And I...well, I freaking love him. He is simple in the best, most Burkinabè meaning of the word. He is kind, open, excited to be here, happy about Kongoussi, taking things as they come, going with the flow...the one thing I will, most likely, always insist is a prerequisite to Doing It Right. He's great.

And he's different than me. Of course he is. Everyone is their own person, everyone will approach their Peace Corps service slightly life. And he'll do things differently than the way I've done them, or that Thomas has done them, or Justin, or Robert, or Talato (bless her), or any of the other volunteers who have hefted their luggage out of the Peace Corps SUV and onto the red dirt of Kongoussi. He came to visit and I could feel Kongoussi as it began to become his town, as the Peace Corps moment started to shift out of my service and into his. And I was so happy to have been there to have this moment of transition with him, and I am so glad that he's happy to be taking on this adventure and this challenge. And I am happy and ready to leave my town, my little African home, to him to trip in it and live in it and laugh in it and learn from it.

A happy exchange. A good way to reach the end.

I'm content, and I'm ready to go.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hellooooo America

To all your blog-reading, Burkina-bound folk out there... are you psyched??

Have a good last few days in the States, and a good trip out here!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

my day

Things I have done today:

* Ran for the first time in a while (I have a bet to win!)
* Thought my bicycle was irreparably damaged
* ...had it fixed using only gasoline and for less than ten cents
* Sat down to eat yogurt with the benevolent frat boys of Yaourt du Centre Nord behind the marché (and was comped an ice cold sachet of water)
* Stopped in at the tailor to verify my rendez-vous (always a good idea...we pushed it back, but I stoked the fire)
* Biked up the hill to my old internet place to see if it was up and kicking (because this week, unbeknownst to me until my arrival at the post, is Internet Week, whereupon the internet is free for all who want to come learn how to use it and not only is the place hopping but I also don't want to take a computer away from other people)
* Biked back down to the post (and here I am)

I have a few things on my to do list today and I'm going to get 'em all done. I told my students that I'd be willing to have class again for the last time tomorrow for anyone who wants more free time on the comuters, but my principal didn't seem the most thrilled when I told her, so I'm going to have to check with her today to make sure that's ok. I won't be too sad if it's not. I just remembered, as I was giving back final assignments and verifying grades with my students yesterday, that there are a lot of them that I really like, and that a lot of them have really enjoyed my class...especially 5eme and new students. So it wouldn't be too bad to open up the lab for them again. But I wonldn't be surprised if my principal's hesitation is in part an issue of money.

I have a couple of dresses in the works at the tailor's (see above) that I am excited about having for my birthday weekend. I've been wearing the same clothes for a very, very long will be very nice to have some new fabric wrapped around my bod.

I have a little heaviness in my heart due in part to some frustrating stuff that has happened over the past week or so. Depending on how things go this week, I might write about it all here. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

I'm just gonna keep plugging through the week. I have a lot of school wrap-up stuff to do. The final conseil de classe, the end-of-the-year mass and prayer (during which I will give a speech thanking my school for letting me be a part of the community for the past two years), and a final PTA general assembly. Right after that last one, an adventure will begin...a weekend with friends, a birthday in new clothes and a new place, and some galavanting around Banfora and Sindou to see waterfalls and climb weird rock formations. I'm looking forward to it.

Just gotta get the heaviness out of my heart.

What? Only 80 days 'til I land in America?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Enjoy the time you have left

I know. And I am! I'm trying to, at least. And I am. ...but not in ways that I don't normally enjoy my time here.

Every day is potentially rife with frustration. Bibata doesn't understand why I let Tel borrow my bike to run an errand but I won't let her take it to go halfway into town (I'm getting ready to use my bike myself...and besides, Tel went out to get bread for me and she also gets me water now and then). One of my favorite kid's obnoxious father is beckoning for me to come over to where he is drunkenly not working to support his family under a hangar, and I have to pretend I don't hear him. And no, you idiot fools on the backroads behind Mont Blanc, I am not Talata...she hasn't been here for two years, which goes to show that yeah, you and her really had a solid connection if you don't know that, and by the way, not all white people are the same.

I'm not going to pretend that these things no longer get under my skin, especially when it's approaching high noon and the rain has not come and I'm sweating litres of sweat over whatever it is I am doing and I was woken up at 5am by a rooster who wandered over to my bed and there's no breeze and I haven't had lunch yet. But I am going to continue to see the value in the things that I love.

I love spending time with the nuns at my school and being able to help them out with the work they are doing, whether it's typing tests for Sister Françoise, my principal; helping to translate a grant application into English (and make it sound really super good) for Sister Charlotte, who is trying to get a dining hall built on campus; or being a sounding board for Sister Elisabeth, who lets me follow her around and just talks with me about so many things (including what a dolt the above mentioned drunk and not-working father is).

I also love spending time with my cuisinaire girls, with whom I am always comfortable, who call me tantie or karensamba or Molly, all things I love hearing myself called.

I also love life discussions with Thomas, when we happen to find ourselves somewhere peaceful in town and our conversation happens to build and build and when we talk in tangents and circles and zig zags and whirls.

And I love Claudia, being a part of her life, being welcome in her courtyard even if it's been a while since the last time I visited. And I love Andréa, who always comes over to say good morning, who busts Thomas's ass for not visiting her, who laughs with her whole entire body a hundred times a day.

I don't always love the extent to which the joke animosity between me and Rond Point Tantie sometimes escalates, but I love that I have a place there, and that she's tactful enough to take things down a notch when she sees I'm getting bothered.

I love that even when the power was out and the internet was down, I was able to take out my monthly allowance at the post office here because the guys know me and like me and didn't want me to have to bike into town again.

I love sleeping outside and waking up to the slowly lightening sky.

I'm going to climb my birthday mountain again. I'm going to see my best PCV friends before they leave the country. I'm going to write math problems on my metal door in chalk so that my band of little girls can impress me with their skills. I'm going to take cool bucket baths in the middle of the day. I'm not going to go out of my way to do things I wouldn't do otherwise, just because I am leaving...I'm going to enjoy spending time where and with whom I want to spend it, even though that means I have to put up with the frustrating things too.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

From May 4th. Here it goes!

Well! That certainly was an interesting little bit of time there, now wasn't it? Travel restrictions, stand fast, lock down, PCVs here in Burkina experienced a whole bunch of all that as our lovely host country went through a bit of turmoil and what could be classified lite civil unrest. (...though is it “civil unrest” when it applied to the military? Military unrest? Well, there was a bunch of that too).

Knock on wood, but it seems like things have simmered down. School is back in session (mostly) all over the country (and in most cases, it has been for almost a month now). Those of you who are invested in my good friend Denise Kinda's educational experience will be happy to know that she is totally continuing to kick butt here...eighth in her class of 51 for the second trimester, and she's also become the class president. WAY TO GO! I will be sending her letter of thanks home soon so that it can be shared with all of you.

So yes, school is in session, the police have stopped shooting their guns into the air during the night (once here in my town), the military has stopped ransacking markets and shops, shop owners and people who sell things at the market have stopped setting fire to government buildings in retaliation, the grossly unfortunate death toll seems to be stopped at six...everything seems to be back to normal.

Have you knocked on wood?

So here I am, officially at the end of my service. For those of you counting, there are exactly 22 weeks left until I am no longer a Peace Corps volunteer as of today...this number, of course, is subject to change. How will I be spending the next 147 days of my life? Well, I've been planning little adventures here and there to give myself things to look forward to, little bits of differentness to break up what are otherwise very routine (and not necessarily very busy) weeks.

For example, last week I decided to hop on a 6:30am bush taxi (old, slow van) to join my neighbor 12k to the south for a delicious breakfast that included the yogurt produced in her village. Man, I love that stuff. There are three distinct varieties of yogurt between my town and her village and my addiction rotates. So anyhow, I woke up with the rising sun, walked on down to the road, and chugged on south past the Center North's beautiful hills to enjoy some yogurt, tea, and bread with cinnamon and sugar as well as some lovely conversation. Was back in my town by 9:00 and enjoyed a whole bunch of walking around until the hazy clouds lifted and it became too scorchingly hot for my delicate white girl skin.

Another thing I did last week was bike out 7k with my village momma Claudia and her youngest daughter (who I honestly do not think I could love any more than I do) to visit the village where she was born and raised. The trip took a little bit of time to get started as it involved some tire pumping and reparation (which involved waiting for the bike mechanic guy to open up his little shop for the day), but we arrived in good health and spent most of the day in a little grove of mango trees. Prisca ran around playing with five of her cousins – making airplanes out of leaves, chasing each other on a too-big bicycle, playing some sort of hopscotch/rock kicking game. I thought a lot about me and my cousin – playing in trees, running around our Auntie's back yard – and was just so tickled by and happy with the universality of childhood. Claudia and I napped in the shade on a tarp spread out over the know you're really friends with someone here when you nap together. At least that's been my experience. The whole trip was just so comfortable, so nice...I loved meeting Claudia's father, I loved spending time with her younger brother and his children, I loved being charmed by their puppy, I loved eating mangoes pulled off the tree, I loved (loved!) having Prisca on the back of my bike on the ride there and on the ride back. And it rained that afternoon, as soon as we returned to our houses. Big fresh rain that cooled the air and sent Claudia's other daughter, Rose, mischievously over to my house with the hopes that I would let her in to wait out the storm with me (I did). It was just a lovely day.

What other lovely days will I have in my near future? Well, I am planning a trip to a town called Boromo, which I've heard has elephants for the viewing. If everything works out, I will be taking a little Molly trip down there to see for myself. Sometime in June or July I will be taking two or three weeks to lead sessions with the new training group that's coming in soon (how y'all doing out there, you ready? Yeah?) and in July or August I will be traveling to the loveliest named country on the planet, Mali, whereupon I and my travel companions (hoping to have a few of those) will enjoy some hiking and some meandering down one of the most important rivers in West Africa (and not just because it's one of the only ones, ba dum ching). So those are big adventures.

But small small small is good too. I've got extra classes scheduled for this week (what a good teacher I am). I plan to hike my birthday hill again before leaving my little home here. I plannnnn toooooooo watch a rugby match with my friend Ousmane whenever it being on television corresponds to him watching it. (When my friend Stef was here visiting me, we went over to visit Ousmane and he made us omelets composed of something like 20 eggs, it was unreal and delicious.)

For now, I have a class to teach (actually a test to give, mwahaha) and will probably bike into town after this (after, of course, fixing an inevitable flat tire). Maybe some very routine but not un-delicious town food will be eaten. Yum. Also, I want to walk around the market tomorrow just to say hello to my friends there, and I'd also like to do some future-related research on the internet either this evening or tomorrow morning as well.

One day at a time, all 147 of them that I've got left.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Just a quick little note about life

It is possible that months 18ish through...whatever last month was...21?...were the most difficult months of my time here in Burkina. The repetitive comments, sexist "jokes", the calling of "nasara" were all getting old, very old, wearing away my last nerve old. I began counting down in earnest the time I had left before I could go home, determined to stay a full two years until August 25th instead of taking advantage of our option to leave a month earlier. The two-year mark has been symbolically important to me. Two Full Years.

But something happened after my Close of Service conference, and I'll tell you what it was. I was hoping that the week spent with volunteer friends, talking about our lives and our activities and our hopes for the immediate future, would inspire me and reignite my motivation for this last chunk of time I have here. ...but it didn't.

The morning I left the hotel was a morning without fanfare...everyone was dispersing and I walked through the doors alone, meandering through many hot under-construction roads before finally finding a taximan willing to not ask for a ridiculous fare. Got to the bus station and definitely did NOT make friends with the lady in the ticket booth who not only didn't seem to want to do her job but also didn't seem to want to be polite about it. My patience snapped and I was preeettttyyy American in my response to her reprehensible customer service. Finally I got on the bus and just sat there in indignant upsetness. What the hell? Why are little things like this so hard, that used to be so easy?

The bus ride was ok, and I spent my first day back in Kongoussi with Thomas, talking about our weeks and our lives, trying to figure out the logic puzzle of my post Peace Corps travel plans and how they will fit in with the rest of my time here. Not easy to do...I want to work during the coming Peace Corps training this June, I want to visit Mali...but I want to be in my community for a good solid time towards the end. I could try to arrange an internship with a local organization for a month or so during cultivation season, or be in the fields with my friends, or run some activities that I've always thought about running...but what about getting home to travel with friends? Or seeing bits of the world on my way back? In bed at my house the following evening, I tossed and turned with manic excitement and a new resolve...the way to fit everything in is to go PAST my August COS date to September...not to COS a month early or even right on time, but to take the offer to stay an extra 30 days. Six more months.

Six months! That is its own legitimate chunk of time. I can face these six months as though they are months of their own, not the end of a culmination of 27 of them. Living in Kongoussi is not something I will easily be able to do again. Traveling to neighboring countries is much easier now than it'll probably be for a long while, if ever.

I don't know exactly how I did it but I forced a change of attitude, a new mindset. I am more willing to see frustrations as adventures, to detach from my life here in a way that allows it to become vacation like, not holy-crap-I-need-to-get-through-this like. To enjoy my neighbors, my kids, my town, my life.

I'm feeling good these days. I am full of new resolve and new plans.

It's gonna be a good six months.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peace Corps benefits ... people.

Here I am. COS. Close of Service. In Ouagadougou. Preparing for the end of my Peace Corps stint. Unreal. I am here spending time with my Peace Corps group, enjoying the good company, being reminded of the wonderful connections I've made (and am making) with some extremely interesting, motivated, intelligent, fun Americans.

My good friend Julie is one of those Americans, and she's got a pretty ambitious project going on in her teeny tiny little village down south near Ghana. I have been very lucky in finding people to help me with getting funding for Denise's school year, so I wanted to share this other meaningful project with everyone who reads my blog.

"Each year hundreds of students in this rural district of Burkina Faso are unable to continue with their formal education due to a lack of resources and a dearth of available places in the only secondary school within a 35 kilometer radius. These out-of-school youth then have few options other than following in their parents' footsteps, which means subsistence farming for boys, and marriage and babies for girls. To combat the social and economic problem posed by this growing wave of out-of-school, unskilled, and unemployed youth, the community is creating a vocational school to provide young people with real-world skills and continuing education."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The sun is shining and it's not so hot...yet.

Past the year and a half as a volunteer mark.

Today is going to be full of funeral festivities. Got a late start on the day because yesterday was also full of funeral festivities...I was up 'til one in the morning. Whoa, baby. I might be missing the church service this morning but since I sat in on two of 'em last night I don't feel so bad about it.

I don't want the experience I end up getting out of my two years here to be "ugh, I survived that, it was hard and look at how tough I am." That really diminishes the value and importance of this place and the people I know. I'm very glad to have opportunities to be a part of life, to celebrate with my friends and neighbors like I did yesterday and will be doing today. It gives a bit of balance to the days when I really DO feel like I'm surviving here and it's hard.

I had more eloquent things to say about this but I am a bit sleepy and I have to get ready for the day. Hello, day!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

So You Want To Join Peace Corps?


watch this:

Run for fun?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. The completion of an entire marathon begins with one step. Now there may be some of you who have not heard of this goal of mine. That's ok. It's a pretty recent one and I am living far away from most of you readers at the moment, with sketchy access to the internet. But anyhow, marathoning is not the point.

While visiting my dear friend Marita, who threw herself a birthday party for town friends and PCV friends alike, I allowed John to convince me to take a morning run with him. I finished red-faced and sweating (and very impressed with my rugby-playing college self) and absolutely not wanting that to be as difficult as it was, so I decided to let the momentum continue into everyday life here in Kongoussi and have been running every other morning at least and loving it. Looking forward to it.

Unfortunately I did not run this morning...I woke up later than I intended to wake up because of some righteously terrible dreams and lamented that the cool morning weather had already disappeared. ...I was a little bummed on biking over to the internet (where I find myself now) to discover that it really hadn't gotten too hot yet by 8:30. I may try to run this evening to make up for my loss, because I don't intend on trying to squeeze a run in on Wednesday mornings, when I have to be up at the school to teach classes by 7. It's possible...but there's not a whole lot of room for error, so I don't want to count on it.

Anyhow, running is great. I've been starting slow, working the kinks out of my body as I get these particular muscles used to moving again. I take in the landscape as I go, I listen to music with the one side of my earphones that works, I take time for myself to do something good for my body, and it feels great.

Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, socially, sexually...there are many different facets of well-being that can be attended to. I've started relecting on this lately because getting through the days seems to be taking a lot more out of me the second time around. I need to find ways to take care of myself so that I can keep putting a good amount of effort into the things I am doing here. It's not always easy. Having everything I do be can wear on a person after a while, especially for those tasks that no one really holds you accountable for. Self motivation...perhaps something I should write a little more about here sometime soon.'s what gets me up and running.

Monday, February 21, 2011

mortal combat yuurle

Thought I could go the entire two-plus years without it happening, but no! Saturday night I was stung by a scorpion, on the ring finger of my left hand. Ouch, baby.

I had been dumping my bucket of dirty kitchen water out into my latrine (sometimes I just dump it over my wall so that the animals can come by and eat the bits of food in there, but it was a little too intense this time around). When I had finished pouring everything into the bottomless abyss, I put my hand against the mud brick wall and PING! A white hot bolt of electric pain surged through my hand. At the same time I heard a weird rattlesnake-like bark-y shriek from whence the pain had come. Looked up and saw not one by TWO big momma scorpions there on the wall. Got my butt out of the bathroom and over to the porch outside of my house where I stood clutching the fingers of my left hand and using the Lord's name in vain. For a good minute or two I was convinced I was never going to stop squeezing my hand ever.

After the pain subsided a little bit (perhaps because it had diffused up into my entire arm), I went on a search for someone brave to come and kill the b@$+@&#s for me. I heard Antoinette in her courtyard, talking up a storm with someone else and figured, hey, 16 year old girls are incredibly brave, aren't they? So I called over to her, but she didn't hear me. A few seconds later, however, two nine-year-old girls came walking by in the dark so I called THEM over instead. "Are you brave?" I asked. "Oui," they replied...but changed their tunes a little bit when I told them their task.

Ok, so I didn't make the nine year olds kill the scorpions for me, but I did have them follow me back into my latrine so that I could be brave. By this time a pretty large crowd had gathered in my courtyard by the light of the moon, mostly kids and teenage girls. Claudia's two nieces did a very thorough inspection of my latrine with my phone flashlight and determined that the scorpions were nowhere to be found. Several people suggested that they had moved into my house. Pretty much everyone asked me if the sting hurt, and then agreed that yes scorpions do hurt, and wanted to look at my finger (which I had let go of by this time, sort of enjoying the throbbing pain in a masochistic way).

Several remedies were suggested to me, one of which included blood letting and Maggi cooking tablets. I refused that one. The best thing woulda been ice, but that was obviously not going to appear from anywhere.

Knowing it wouldn't do me any harm and enjoying having pretty much the entire quartier occupy themselves with me, I allowed myself to be led across the quartier to the house of an old old woman who mixed some powdered leaves with water in her palm and then rubbed it all over my fingers with her leathery hands. Didn't you know scorpions sting? she asked me in Moore. Why did you touch one? It took me a minute to figure out what she was asking me and to explain with a laugh that I just hadn't seen it sitting there.

The kids were crowded around me as I sat on the little wooden stool in the old lady's courtyard, and they moved back to follow me as I got up and thanked her and walked away. At this point, Claudia came out with a long white scarf, which she tied around my upper arm to stop the pain from spreading. "Wend na kof laafi" she said with a smile as she turned to saunter back to her house and I continued on my way.

...and you know kids, so considerate...two crowds of them showed up at my house at 11pm to check on me. I was in my bed, which is pulled up next to my door to catch the nighttime breeze, dressed in very not-public sleep clothes. Never am I even out and about after 8pm, so this 11pm call was super special. The silly full moon with its ability to keep children out all night long. I created quite a ruckus in my telling the rascals to get the h#!% away from my door, to leave me alone, that they are very nice but this is not normal, that I would see them in the morning.

They must have thought I was weird. Why wouldn't someone want to be woken up by a swarm of children in the middle of the night--twice--to ask about an insect sting?

They really are sweet kids.

Cross cultural fun.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

hot hot heat!

The heat is coming! The wind is here! The blinding dusty wind that smacks your face like a blowdrier on full blast! It's nice to feel the change of seasons. For some reason it seems like it's energizing me.

Energied! And it's not too cold to take bucket baths anymore, so I hope to not ever get as gross as I have very recently been! Cold season over? But what about my warm fleece blanket?

I like my village and my kids and my Caludia's family. My schedule is fairly full and weekends feel like weekends. And I'm looking into getting a little boat made for me to take out on the lake here. I think that'll make me happy.

Good almost-February to you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Whatcha doin' prunie? Stewin? Mmmmm?

I just took a bath in the med unit of our bureau in Ouagadougou. I had an offical errand to run in the big city (getting money out for Denise's scholarship...yay!) and had just been thinking about the fact that my last bath was in the States, and sort of lamenting that I wouldn't be able to take another until my return. I'm rul durty, I've been noticing. The cold season makes it very very difficult to bathe and so I have been caked in dirt and kind of smelly.

But then I realized...I could take a bath in Ouaga! So I came in, hopped a taxi, got Denise's scholarship money (yay!), and picked up soap on my way to the bureau.

Before feet:

After bathwater:

I don't know what's much dirt came off my body or how much DIDN'T. I did some serious scrubbing!

Fortunately I am a very good Girl Scout and left no trail. If you are the next in the bathroom in the med unit, you will find it clean as can be (with a nice bar of soap for you to use if you'd like as well).

Friday, January 21, 2011

Things I have been doing lately

Hello hello! I have myself an internet key plugged into my laptop USB style, and am sitting in the office of the administration building at my school, hoping to be inspired to write a blog entry worth reading. I had a busy morning this morning, and grabbed a sachet (little plastic bag) of baobab fruit juice ("twega" with a super nasally "twe" is how you say it in Moore...I'm not sure how it's actually spelled) and a fish sandwich (super garlicy and oily fish paste spread into a skinny piece of village bread) from some lady street vendors on my way from the high school to my school where I am now. Figured if I had some food in my belly I could come here, get my work done, and then just blah blah blah on the internet 'til the time for my next obligation.

A month has passed since last I've written, and what a full month it's been. To save you all the suspense, I am feeling a lot better about being here than I was before my super-necessary vacation. I think that a break from all of the ridiculous little bits of ...stuff... that I have to put up with every day did my psyche good.

I had a blast spending the days leading up to Christmas and Christmas itself with Thomas and his brother Justin who had come to visit. Christmas in Lioudougou was great...lots of giving candy to kids (very Halloween-like) and me running around like a madwoman making pancakes for everyone and giving them out (pancakes were a hit when I shared 'em a while ago, and they were a hit on Christmas too...not without stress, though. Holidays). The day AFTER Christmas is actually the big party day for the folks of my region here, whereupon people sing and dance from dusk 'til dawn. I was really anticipating to that...I'd been a part of it last year when I lived up in the castle and was looking forward to being there now that I actually live here and know the ladies and gents and teenagers and kids. Unfortunately, my neighbors slightly less than one year old baby died that morning, out of the blue suddenly. Ridiculously terrible, right? No carefree party for our neighborhood this year. Instead, Thomas and Justin and I went over to my friend Claudia's courtyard where we passed the time chatting with her kids and the various young guests that were there while Claudia sat by laughing at particularly funny things or making comments about the chatter she heard. I think that it was nice for her to have a full yard that night...her husband passed away very very recently (did I write about that?) so this Christmas was not, I imagine, the most joyous for her.

I have a deep and true familial love for Claudia and her seven children. I passed along some Christmas presents from my parents to her just the other day. Aren't my mom and dad great, sending over Christmas presents for the family that has been so kind as to adopt me over here in little Lioudougou?

Vacation in Togo was...well, it was quite the adventure getting down there, that's for sure, but it was nice and relaxing after we finally arrived. It relaxed and refreshed me so that I am now able to better face my days. Which is good, because there are a lot of them left here and they are relatively full.

Remember that thing I said about wanting to help out Sister Elisabeth with her classes when she is unable to be there? Well, it's happening! Felicitations to me. I've led her two Tuesday classes twice so far. The first time the girls drew pictures of where they wanted to be in 6 months and in 10 years, and then we talked about short term and long term goals and how to decide upon/plan for them. The week after that we talked about peer pressure and strategies for resisting it, and they role played some situations, including one that had to do with SEX which they were pretty much all really excited to talk about. I feel like I've built a good little foundation and can go in a few different directions with them now...we can talk about decision making and weighing the pros and cons of our choices, figuring out personal values, strategies for communicating our feelings and opinions, sex and all sorts of stuff that goes along with that.

I'm a GEE volunteer! Who knew?

Another thing I've got going on, as always, is computer class. My 5eme girls are currently working on typing personal letters to the people of their choice, and a great number of them are writing to students at my old middle school in the States. Typing skills, English skills, describing yourself skills, asking questions skills, learning that there are other people in the world many skills. A ridiculous amount of planning, but lots of skills.

Lots and lots of time goes into planning my computer classes. It almost seems like it would be less work if I had class more often because things could carry over easier. I'm in the midst of figuring out when and how to give my 6eme and mixed class kids their first test, and how to grade this letter thing that I'm doing with 5eme. There are also of course the inherent difficulties of being a teacher. ...and the added lovely difficulties of being a teacher here, where critical thinking is not high on the priority list. Unfortunately for my students, I am not going to immediately explain to them how to do something that they've already done before and could figure out if they took a minute to think about it. Unfortunately for me, I get asked how to do things that they've already done before and could figure out if they took a minute to think about it ALL THE TIME.

Teaching here will perhaps be a good thing to have done. It is not always my favorite thing to be doing.

Which leads me to something else I am doing, at least for today. Thomas is in the big ol' capital for a IT Committee meeting this weekend, and I am filling in for him in his two English classes substitute teacher style (a system that, surprising or not, does not exist in Burkina). So I went in this morning and taught the little boogers the days of the week and the months of the year, and harassed them a bunch by making them "stand up," "jump," "turn around," "sing," "sit down," "be quiet" every so often. It was pretty fun, and I've got another of his classes in about an hour. Mostly I'm just happy to help out someone who's always helping me out.

I am continuing to help out with baby weighings and vaccinations Mondays and Fridays at the CSPS (health center), though I doubt anything further will come out of my relationship with the place. It's starting to get too late for new big projects to take place, and no real internal push is happening among the staff there. So that's fine. Aside from the sexual harassment and continuous annoying questions I have to endure from the staff, it's not so bad. I actually have things to do when I'm there and so if I can suffer through the initial arrival part of the morning it ends up working out alright. Except for sometimes. The absolute and total lack of respect that certain CSPS men show for the mothers who sit waiting for their babies to be vaccinated drives me to the edge of my patience. And it's treated like a joke. And the women take it because here there isn't the expectation that your doctors should respect you, should explain things to you, should pay attention to your individual needs. The women come, they sit, they wait for EVER sometimes, and then they are hurried through like animals and told brusquely to go home. I take every opportunity I can to tell them what good mothers they are for bringing their children in, I agree that they have been waiting a long time when one of them tentatively mentions it, I make goofy faces at their babies, I clarify respectfully when they have maybe come in too soon for a certain vaccination and are told without explanation to come back next week.

Some of the CSPS people are really good. They work with the resources they have, and they do their job the best they can. Sometimes though...we seem to forget that the essence of being a "civil servant" is doing a job that is FOR the people. Not just for you. that's that. Still going on with my test typing and proctoring, and I stop in during homework hours from time to time. My Thursday study group has been slow to start back up, but will get rolling again. My cuisinaire girls and I still meet at least once a week to work on writing and reading skills. ...and one of them came back! She had been taken away again by her father, and I don't know where she went or why or how she came back but she's back, and because I feel secure in my place here and comfortable stepping over lines that I tried not to cross initially, I'm gonna ask her all about it. ...and what else. Extra study/typing time for my computer class kids who are struggling will happen soon, next weekend I think. I'm going into Ouaga to take out the money that has been donated to Denise's scholarship fund this weekend (yay!). While I'm there, my boyfriend (yeah I said it) and I are gonna go out on a little date to celebrate the anniversary of one of our several relationship milestones (you can take the girl out of the gay but you can't take the gay out of the girl).

So's ok. It's not always full of things I necessarily want to be doing, but it's good to have things to do. I'm happy to be at a point where I am thinking about what I will be doing next. I'll save speculations and such of that nature for another day.