Monday, November 29, 2010

Other Blogs!

29 November – Koudougou, 12:15pm
Should you be interested, here are the other blogs from the people in my stage! The ones with the star live with me in Romongo, the rest are in Koudougou.
Chad and Tana –

Book Eating Termites, Hair Cut, Sunday Lunch

28 November – Romongo, 9:59pm

Damn it's late! Yesterday we had language, a feedback interview with our program trainers Hamado and Justan, a class on bike repair from Al and David, and a long lunch followed by an extra class on FGM. I also learned why books should not be put against or near a wall, as evidenced by my new book (The Dante Club) which has been eaten away by termites that live in those mysterious little mud trails on my walls. Thankfully they didn't get far, but I imagine that with another week or two they would have reached the text instead of just nibbling the margins.

Lunch was fun, at the gas station restaurant. Grace and I wanted to share a pizza but there was no cheese to be had, so we had a burger and fries instead. It was the first time I've been in a group without any Romongo people – weird. But clearly we had a lovely time, with Tana designing dresses for us, Scott showing off Thanksgiving photos, and Grace and I discussing lack of attachment to our hair and desire to cut it off. I returned back to AP alone where I was soon joined by Lindsy and Wendy. I was anxious to get the hair cutting finished before class and asked if they'd like to do it, but both demurred so I impatiently waited for someone else to return. Bridget was enthusiastic once I reassured her that there was absolutely no way to cut my head with the clippers and guard, and happily went to town. As more people returned it became more entertaining, although I flat out refused Rob's request to keep a mullet for a day. When we got home and my host family realized that I'd cut off my hair they were incredibly amused, and really seemed to like it. Then again, a shaved haircut on a woman is not at all unusual here – my oldest host sister has hair shorter than mine is now.

NB – I had been considering cutting my hair, which had gotten quite shaggy, when Daniel showed up with his clippers. Antoinette was brave and went first, and thus reassured I decided I should do mine. So now my hair is very very short, ¾ of an inch according to the clipper guard. I don't really see mirrors ever, so I don't really know how it looks, but it's fun and soft when I run my hand over it, doesn't itch the back of my neck, and drys really fast. If I get a chance I promise I'll get someone to take a photo that I can put up here – it's probably not that different in length from the one already up here, just less fancy and layered.

And today was Sunday fun day! Slept in until 6:20am (!) and leisurely got ready. Did my laundry. Mamu and the other very young kids kept trying to help but I was a little afraid that their concentrated scrubbing and pulling at one tiny corner of a shirt or skirt would result in it getting stretched out or ripped, and I was glad when my host dad came to put them to work. Salimata (my host sister) helped me and it was finished pretty quickly, even with a second rinse that got all the soap out! I hung everything up and set to cleaning my room, moving the table, knocking down termite tunnels, even washing the table and the shelf below. I rearranged all my books and paperwork on top of the table, and the food on the bottom shelf. I left the spiders alone, hoping they'll continue to leave me alone.

After cleaning I did some laundry and waiting for Emily to come by so we could continue on to Alicia's house. Salimata kept telling me to go outside to greet the cheif/Imam/important person who had come to speak across from our house, but I felt really awkward interrupting a very large meeting just to greet someone so I sat and watched the crowd grow from my seat in our side courtyard. Emily and I left my house, met up with Alicia, and finally found Bridget who took us to her house where Steve joined us. We made grilled sandwiches on local bread, spread with VQR and Italian spices and stuffed with sauteed cucumbers and onions seasoned with garlic salt. Delicious! We sat on mats under her tree and played UNO with her host dad and cousin, who are 24 and 17 respectively, and ate rice with a peanut sauce made by her host mom. We drank some dolo with the old men, and hung around talking until 4ish before heading our separate ways. I really enjoy our Romongo lunches, and I think that's one thing I'm going to miss most about going to site. Lucky for me 4 of our 6 Village People live within 100k of each other, and 2 are within a day's bike ride from me!

Thanksgiving, Burkina Style

26 November – Romongo, 8:38pm

We had already argued our way out of afternoon classes, so getting them to drop our lunch-time language hour wasn't too hard since we were all eager to start cooking. Antoinette, Em and I headed over to the market to buy supplies, then biked over to Antoinette's house. It was really nice, with multiple latrines and showers, electricity, a television, a bike room, and a gas stove. Interesting, what it takes to impress me these days! Our rice and couscous with yellow onions, green onions, garlic, salt and pepper were both delicious, albeit a little odd on texture, especially with the couscous being quite thick and sticky (too much water? Not enough time cooking?). Still, we ate some of each with a little VQR and I would be very content to make both again at site or for my family. The TV was on while we cooked, so we got to see the reading of the election results by district and candidate. I can't believe people could just sit there and listen to lists of numbers – it was horribly boring, although we were surprised to note that there was a small screen in the corner showing a man signing the results for deaf viewers. We talked and played gin rummy while waiting for the car to come get our food, and I'm glad I got the chance to hang out with two people that I don't often spend time with.

Thanksgiving was a lot of fun! The food was abundant and absolutely incredible. I ate way way way too much, as is proper on Thanksgiving. We had quite the spread – traditional baked turkey with carrots, patates (a starchy purple-skinned root, kind of like a yam), and oranges (incredible!), fried turkey, fried chicken, fried barbeque chicken, orange chicken, pasta salad, rice and couscous, fruit salad, guacamole and salsa with homemade tortilla chips, salad, stuffing, green beans, crepes with banana filling, garlic bread, mashed patates and drinks – beer, liquor, soda, and bissap (iced hibiscus tea with mint and sugar). It was not only delicious in terms of a great meal, but doubly satisfying because all of it (with few exceptions like the bissap) was made from scratch by ourselves, even the tortillas that became the tortilla chips for the fresh made salsa. I'll admit, I was totally impressed and proud, and would have appreciated it all more if I had eaten less and thus felt less ill. I guess my stomach was unused to so much rich food!

By knowing vaguely how to carve a chicken, I was ordered to the kitchen to carve up the turkey, which I now know is nothing like carving up a chicken. For one thing, the drumstick was as long as the chicken that had been stuffed into and baked with our turkey! But we made it work, and the pass though window into the room with the rest of the food and people was nice so that we could still be part of the action while working in the kitchen. Plus when you control access to picking off the bones, suddenly you become very popular! ;)

We drew hand turkeys on a big piece of paper (vampire turkeys, to be specific, not sure why), danced, talked, laughed, ate, and generally had a fantastic time. Our LCFs and staff joined us for dinner, but left us to our dancing and carrying on after. The French tourists staying at Abbe-Pierre popped over for a bit to say hello, although I didn't get to talk to them. After a while I went and set up my tent so that it would be ready for later, joining the growing collection of tents accumulating next to the gazebo. Yay Bug Huts! The night was lovely - it was cold and I slept soundly, wrapped in my sleep sack and crew jacket.

Today we woke up, cleaned up while eating leftovers for breakfast (where did the turkey go?), drove to Romongo, and did a little language before going to watch the women at the Catholic Mission CREN make bouillie. The one with the sugar and dried fish was admittedly not a favorite, but the one with moringa and sugar tasted a bit like green tea and I bet moringa in green tea would be pretty tasty. After we left the CREN, Aaron and Rob biked back to Koudougou while the rest of us returned to the CSPS for an awesome session with Gwen on IGAs (Income Generating Activities)/Moringa (the wonder tree)/Credit Clubs, then another language class where we played 99 again, but in Moore!

Cooking Day, 99, Mind Over Water

24 November – Abbe Pierre, 1:11pm

Today we showed up, did some Moore (frustrating, but useful), and then went to our cooking session! We had grand ambitions to make breakfast burritos, fried cheese balls, and coffee cookies, but our flour was somehow not right so our dough for the tortillas just wasn't working very well – either too runny or too chalky, never sticky or doughy. So we gave up and made scrambled eggs and used the dough for the cheese balls. They were good, but definitely were lacking something. The eggs were very tasty, not overly fried like they tend to be prepared here, and with nice crisp onions, green peppers, and tomatoes, and a little bit of VQR. The cookies from the dutch oven were pretty good if a little dry, and the frosting was kind of like coffee ice cream. We fried the rest of the dough which was absolutely a horrible idea and just absorbed all of the oil. Ergh. Overall, an awesome session, learned a lot, and who doesn't like a class that involves making and eating food?

Romongo – 8:50pm

Our French class, which I wasn't looking forward to all that much, turned out to be quite fun! We played 99, a game of Miriam's. The goal is to get rid of all of your cards first, dealer goes first and each person in turn puts down a card, counting up the total of cards played as they go, but the total cannot exceed 99. Kings are worth 4, Queens 3, Jacks 2, and Aces 1 or 11 as you like. 8's and 4's are worth zero, so you save them until the end to play when the pile is at 99, and 8's reverse the order of play. 10's take off 10 points from the pile and are also useful at the end for allowing everyone to play one more round. The rest are worth their face value. If someone is unable to play they take last place for the round and the remaining players continue. The first person to go out is the winner, but play continues until the rest of the players determine their order, with going out earning you the subsequent places, or being unable to play earning you places ascending from the lowest. Ex: If player 1 of 4 is unable to play, s/he takes 4th place and players 2-4 continue. Player 3 goes out and takes 1st place, and players 2 and 4 continue. Player 2 is unable to play and takes 3rd, so player 4 takes 2nd place, regardless of his/her ability to play.

After we got the hang of it, Miriam instituted a new rule – winner gets to ask the group a question. We started with fairly simple things: if you could go to anyplace in the world, where would you go. Miriam said to Spain – apparently in addition to French, Moore, and English she also speaks Spanish! I said Scotland for family, tea, and curry. The next was mine – if you were on a deserted island, who or what would you take? I took the easy answer – Jean-Luc, because we'd talked about it earlier and he's both funny and useful as a doctor. Miriam said her granddaughter who is 9 months old. Alicia and Emily debated the relative merits of various family members. The third soft question was a favorite food. I had tea on the mind and all the memories of family, Scotland, and college friends connected to it. Alicia described a delicious burrito that had my mouth watering, and Miriam wanted chocolate mousse. By the end of class we were all very hungry!

Just finished reading: Mind Over Water – Life Lessons from the Art of Rowing. I wish I had read this while I was in college, although I made a point to avoid reading about rowing and just try and enjoy the sport for what it was. Although it explains the rowing terms that it uses and might be of interest to non-rowers, I'd really recommend it for rowers or perhaps people who know a little about rowing through a friend/relative/etc. Although it's a little more philosophical than I typically look for in a book, it really does have a lot of good points and the rowing metaphors and examples are something I can clearly connect with. His writing style is very engaging and you can hear the cox giving the commands, feel his inner turmoil during a hard workout in a single, recall the sound of the crowd at Head of the Charles and the tension of sitting at the catch at CRASH-B's. I think that's why I liked it so much – even though he only coxed for Harvard for a semester his first year, he still describes the sights, sounds, and memories I have of being a collegiate rower in New England. I've had the privileges of rowing the Charles, of participating in CRASH-B's, of traveling to many regattas and experiencing the things he's describing. It of course also conjured up plenty of bittersweet crew memories, the celebratory highs, working through the difficult lows, being surrounded by a group of fun and diverse teammates who always kept things interesting, to say the least. I believe that being a member of the crew team stands to date one of my best life decisions, and one of the things I've done in my life that I'm the most proud of. And I'm kind of glad that I brought along a book that spells out some of the things that I had internalized from my particular rowing “tribe” as a reminder that in this new challenge I have the skills and experience and personal drive to be successful. Pretty nifty. (can you tell it's late at night? I seem to get philosophical the later it gets)

Looking forward to Thanksgiving tomorrow! We're all staying the night at Abbe-Pierre, so no drunken peddling back home, and we have time to just chill and unwind together now that we all know each other a bit better. I'm sure it will be a good night with good food and better company. Plus dancing! It might not feel like fall or the start of the holiday season, but we're going to do our best to celebrate in style.

CREN and Malnutrition

22 November – Romongo, 8:57pm

Had an interesting, productive day, with the field trip to the CREN (a center for rehabilitating malnourished children) kicking off two sessions on the topic of malnutrition. I was surprised that we only saw one severely underweight infant, but in our session after we talked about health markers (weight for height, height or weight for age, arm circumference) and a type of protein deficiency that actually results in edema of the limbs, so the baby looks fat but is actually dying of malnutrition. Whudda thunk? It was really interesting and enlightening to learn about different types and signs of malnutrition and deficiencies that we might encounter, and how to treat them. While we were at the CREN we also leaned how they make enriched bouillie, a flour porridge of boiled corn, millet, peanut, bean, and rice flour, mixed with sugar. Bouillie is a common staple food for most families, but by adding different flours you can make it significantly more nutritious along with warm and filling. We also learned about Plumpy Nut, a Nestle product that is essentially enriched peanut butter that makes malnourished kids gain weight like crazy, but has a lot of issues with distribution and reaching the target audience for various reasons.

Language was a bit frustrating, but as Miriam pointed out, her goal isn't to get us to speak Moore, it's to give us the rules so that when we get to site and have to speak it we have the rules to refer to as we learn. That made me feel a bit better – right now I practically have to spend 5 minutes planning every single sentence I want to say unless it's a greeting or responding to a greeting or blessing.

New Puppy, Sunday Lunch, Election Day

21 November – Romongo, 8:44pm

We have a puppy! So much cuteness! I was sitting outside after dinner when a man rode up on his bike and my host dad paid him for the little bundle of shivering fur he was carrying under one arm. Poor thing was obviously terrified, so I went over to pet it. He was initially pretty hesitant and didn't want anything to do with any of us, and was crying and fighting against the leash tethering him to the chair (his first experience being tied up). I went over and started to pet him when he wasn't struggling, letting him fight it for a moment before pushing him towards the chair a little and resuming my petting. After a while he fell asleep and I curled up near him on a mat, dozing in the cold in order to stay next to this dirty little pup who just seemed to embody how lost and out of place I felt at first, complete with the kids laughing at his struggle against the collar and leash. I wanted to take him to my room but didn't want to make him bond with me first when I'll be leaving, so I left him asleep on the mat, bid my host father goodnight and went to my room. I was dozing when I heard a howling over the television in the house across the street, and went outside to find the pup crying next to my father's room. I asked if I could take him for the night, and happily carried him into my room.

I wrapped him in my sheet, mindful of the likelihood of bugs. He seemed good for a little while, but then got antsy and started to wander. I tried to confine him to one side of the bed, but after falling off twice I just put him on the ground, tethering him to my bedpost to stop him from wandering too far, and giving him the extra sheet to sleep on. He proceeded to pee in his water, pee on my floor, and howl and whine all night, waking me every 30 minutes or so. I was not a happy camper, especially because I'd gone to bed quite late as well. This morning he at least waited to poop until he was past my door frame, but I vowed that, cute as he was, he would not be sleeping with me again. He clearly feels comfortable around me though, and escaped the kids playing with him to curl up on my flip-flops in front of my door that I'd closed to force him to make new friends.

I also gave him a bath, trying to remove the clumps of dirt on his ears especially. He shivered uncontrollably the whole time and I felt terrible, but it absolutely needed to be done. He slept in the sun while I did my laundry, then sat outside in the front yard doing TDAs and finishing a book. I also tried to de-tick him, but damn if the poor thing isn't infested. His gums were barely pink, and even after taking off so many little bugs there are enough left that I'm a little worried for him. He has a number of large ones deep in his ears, and I can't hold him steady enough to pull them out, but I got a number of the ones on his ears (the “dirt clumps”), between his toes, on the bottom of his feet, and scattered across his body (they look like skin spots until you realize they're not pigment). I must have taken off over 100, but there are still tons, mostly very small ones except in the ears where they're pretty large.

Around 12:30 people started coming over and we made a giant, delicious pot of mac and cheese! We sauteed some onion and tomato first in a little oil, then added water and pasta, draining it carefully before adding 6 VQR slices and some Nido, and lots of salt. Delicious! Followed up with some popcorn that we shared with the kids. Sat and talked to Emily and Anna for a good while and had a lot of good conversations on PC, training, health care, BF, politics, etc. I'd missed talking about science! After they left I started being harangued by two of my kids and their friend, all around 3 to 5 years old. Mostly just talking at me in Moore and laughing when I didn't understand, or demanding water or bonbons or cookies or popcorn. I hate language barriers – it's so frustrating some days! Even if I know the word in Moore or they know it in French I still don't know what they want me to do or understand about the word.

And after dinner (and helping fill the storage hut with millet) I immediately begged to go to bed. I even pawned off the puppy, although I did feel a little bad about forcing him to go with the kids. Time for real sleep! Oh, today was election day. No big hoo-haa, everyone voted and then went to the fields.

Mossi History and Nutrition

18 November – Romongo, 9:08pm

Days like today are hard to journal because nothing too extraordinary happened. I wasn't overwhelmed with emotion in any particular way out of the ordinary, but I guess it had it's moments worth remembering.

Classes were pretty good. I was disappointed that our cross-culture session on ethnic groups was only about the one where we would be living, but it was ok. I liked the story of Princess Yannenga, the warrior princess of the Mossi who was beloved by all (especially her father, the king) for always returning victorious from war. But one time on campaign her horse ran off and they became lost in the woods and her troops returned home to tell the king that she had disappeared. The horse led her to a house in the woods, and she stayed with the man (sorcerer?) there. As happens after a time together, they fell in love and she became pregnant. Their son they named after the horse who had brought them together – Ouedraogo. The eventually set out to visit her village. The king received them warmly and was so pleased with his new son-in-law and little grandson that he threw a huge fete. The family moved from Ghana to what is now south-central Burkina, and Ouedraogo and his descendents continued to conquer the land around them. The superiority of fighting on horseback was undeniable, and over the generations they eventually conquered all of the land that is now part of the Mossi kingdoms. Ouedraogo continues to be the most common family name among the Mossi, and although horses aren't used much anymore they continue to be a powerful symbol of the group. Cool, huh?

Our med session was one of those “break into groups and teach each other” but this time we had reference materials! It was pretty fun to look up all of the tropical diseases that we might be exposed to while in BF, and Sylvie did a very good job of explaining what we'd missed. It would have been easier to learn (I think) if she had taught it, but it truly was more interesting doing it for each other. Our second med was food! I was thrilled to get my cookbook “Where There Is No Microwave (or refrigerator)”, brought to us by the amazing Gwen, our PCVf who was there our first week and is now back for this week. We have a practical exam next week – our group is making breakfast burritos, fried cheese balls, and brownies – yum! We also had bissap mixed with citron (lemonade), cravettes, popcorn, dried mango and coconut, and peanuts.

The PCV relationship with food seems to be an interesting one. When you find food that you want to eat, you eat as much as you can, particularly if it's free. For men this somehow ends in their losing massive amounts of weight, to the point of malnutrition in John's case (but he's special). For women the carb-heavy diet seems to result in weight gain. And as Gwen pointed out, food is a comfort, something familiar in a place that is so different in many aspects. Eh, either losing or gaining weight, I'm just happy I now have a guide to delicious food that I can actually cook here! I won't have to live off of rice and sauce after all.

Health Sensibilization and New Ways to Learn Moore

17 November – Romongo, 9:03pm

Today we started our day with a fairly substantial bike ride out to the sector 5 CSPS, to do a health sensibilization of some girls going to a trade school nearby. While I'm still a little frustrated that no one has actually explained how one goes about sensibilizing, I think it went pretty well and I guess learning by being tossed into the deep end of the pool is one way to go about it and seems to be working.

We enter a small stand-alone classroom building, a narrow rectangle half filled with metal benches facing a decently sized chalkboard that's on a stand at the other end of the room, near the door. The left-hand benches are occupied by about 14 girls, who look to be around 16-18 or so. We sit on the right-hand benches, then get up and mix in with the students since we're all here to learn. Each of the 5 PCT groups gives their presentation and/or activity, and candy is handed out liberally in response to questions. I'm amused to see distinct personalities emerging from the students – there's the know-it-all who always has her hand up and answers at length, sometimes on the topic you've asked for, sometimes not; there's the shy but knowledgeable who is reluctant to raise her hand but knows some of the harder answers; there's a number who work up the courage to answer and smile brilliantly when we tell them they're right. In general it's not as hard to get answers out of this group as it was at the elementary school, and a lot more calm!

We put them through a gauntlet of hand-washing (pimant exercise), HIV/AIDS prevention (condoms over cups), reproduction and STIs (drawings and demonstration), nutrition and breastfeeding (house and food types), and things available at the CSPS (interactive listing). Somehow they seem to hang in there and actually know a fair bit in preventing HIV, and the girl next to me asks if we can leave the nutrition poster so she can copy it down later. I guess we take for granted knowledge of some odd things. And in explanation of the parentheticals above: Pimant exercise – you get a few volunteers to come up and dip their hands in pimant, a powdered hot pepper, then ask them to touch their eyes with dirty hands, with hands dipped in a bucket of water, with hands rinsed under running water, and with hands washed with soap. All but the last will refuse because they know that touching your eyes with pimant residue stings like crazy, opening the door to a metaphor of other bad things that you can't see on your hands but can still harm you unless you wash your hands with soap before you eat.

The condom over cups demo was a great idea by that team, who made us split into two lines and pass a plastic cup of water down the line without using our hands (passing between elbows). The cups cracked, the water splashed – it was hard. But cover each with a condom and suddenly the water doesn't spill, the cups don't break, and it's much easier. Follow through with a discussion on how the condoms protected you from the water/HIV as it was passed from person to person. This led into reproduction and STIs, where they had the girls come up and label parts of the reproductive system and genitals of a woman (ran out of time for the man). They wanted to do a condom demonstration, but all the condoms had been used for the previous group! Lessons for next time. Oddly, even being located next to a CSPS we were unable to procure a condom for some reason.

My group did nutrition. The way nutrition is talked about here is as three groups – Constructor foods, Energetic foods, and Protective foods. On Demyst our PCV had talked about using a house as a metaphor, so we did asked the girls to help us list what you needed to build a house. The foundation and walls were “Constructors”, the proteins needed for a solid, strong body. The fire that cooked food and kept the house warm was “Energetic foods”, carbohydrates and fats that power the body throughout the day. And the roof, which keeps the family sheltered from the rain were “Protectors”, vitamins and minerals to keep the body strong to fight against diseases. We had drawn up examples of each, and also threw in that breastmilk is all that an infant needs to eat for the first 6 months of life because it contains all the elements of the house in the right amounts for a little “infant house”.

And finally we talked about services available at a CSPS. They had a pretty good idea of most services, but we were able to add a few to their list. Overall it was nice to see that we could be successful with a variety of different teaching methods, although I did feel bad that they had to sit through the whole thing!

We biked back to Abbe-Pierre just in time for our Food Security lecture. Dan was awesome and actually delved deeper into ideas than just the surface. He was critical. He was funny. He went off on tangents. It was awesome, and I know why SED loves him so much. I wished we had more time to explore better what specifically a volunteer can do for Food Security besides the tangential teaching about nutrition and income generating activities to improve access to larger quantities of higher quality food. But then again, I guess pretty much anything we're learning kind of comes back to things like that – a lot of health issues can be traced back to chronic malnutrition and/or hunger so intervening there is a pretty big priority.

It's our last session of the day and I'm feeling kind of nervous about our first Moore lesson with our new LCF, Miriam. I already miss Pierre and Amadee. Plus, to make things worse, Alicia isn't feeling well and is napping in the infirmary, so it's just Emily and me. We sit down with Miriam. I'm nervous. Then she announces that we're going to start making a verb chart and figure out all the rules of turning a conjugated verb into all of the useful tenses. Brilliant! Thank you, this is exactly what I need – rules! Thankfully, apart from all the words being new and unrelated to anything we've encountered before, Moore is actually a fairly simple language. All verbs are conjugated the same in the present for each person – I eat, he eat, we eat, etc. and for the regular verbs (most of them) once you know which of the three endings the verb will take in the present form, you can transform it into the past tense, and then add various modifiers in front of one of the two forms to make it future, imperfect, conditional, past conditional, etc. Each verb in the present and past has 3 forms – long, middle and short, depending on if it has an object following it or if it is in a negative sentence. Ex: N ri – to eat. Present: ritame, rita + obj, ri if negative. Past: riime, rit + obj, ri if negative. Add combinations of “da/ra” and “na n” in front of it to form all the other tenses.

Simple, right? Ok, not totally, since every word is from scratch, but this was literally the first language lesson I've been happy in – even Emily pointed it out. I was so relieved to have rules, something I could follow in order to form a sentence. I even think it might be easier to learn Moore than it would be to go back and correctly learn tenses in French (which I still have a very hard time with). I know all my sessions won't be like this, and we'll soon go back to trying to shove 100 words into my head a day, or actually implement these rules, but having them so simply written down fills me with hope that I might be able to do this, that I might actually be able to more accurately explain myself in Moore than in French. The time passes quickly and we're all surprised that 5:15pm has snuck up on us so suddenly.

Romongo says goodbye to everyone and hops in our ambulance van. We have our usual gab session on the way back to the village, discussing classes, Shake Weights, music, and 100 other random things that have us laughing and smiling. I return home and sadly find that the gumbo has been cooking on the gas stove next to my door, so the area outside my room smells quite strongly of my least-favorite sauce. I make sure to re-close the solid door that I usually leave open to air my room, then go to the courtyard to give bon-bons. I don't hit everyone since most people are at the market, and after I shower and eat (watermelon for dessert!) I go sit with my little family in our yard. I'd forgotten how much more peaceful it is – less interesting, perhaps, but much calmer. I haven't given candy to many of the people – guess that'll be tomorrow?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Site Announcement, Tabaski, "If on a winter's night, a traveler"

15 and 16 November – written 16 November - Romongo, 8:45pm

We're biking back to Abbe-Pierre and the mood changes palpably as we get closer – we're going to find out our sites! Aahhh! There's a skit on how they chose a site and prepare it (a year long process condensed to 10 minutes). Then, after Scott and Al greet Theio in two languages besides French or English (they choose Spanish and Moore, respectively), a huge map of Burkina is taped to the wall. On it are labels with each new site. I can't describe what I'm feeling, sort of an overwhelming sense of “holy shit, my future – the place I will spend the next two years of my life – is up there somewhere”. Descriptions are read and we guess who is going to each city – for the most part we're pretty spot on with the first or second guess, especially for Health. Sabce is named, and my heart sinks as the description mentions lack of biking and high availability of fresh veggies. Hmmm..those were not things I mentioned in any of my interviews or paperwork, and we all know that this will be Wendy's site. I'm happy for her, and I'm pretty quick to get over my disappointment. I had been aware that I was building it up in my mind, and that if I had gone there it would have been tough to overcome my expectations. A clean slate, while a little disappointed, is probably better, going to a site I don't know anything about.

“Congratulations! You're going to Kossouka! You said you wanted North...” the description is read and we all know from the second sentence that it's mine, the sole person who actually requested the North. It sounds pretty good, and I'm genuinely excited as I go up to place my little person up next to the name of my village. My immediate concern is how far I am from a bigger city – 40km from Kongussi and 60km from Ouahigouya. I had expressed the desire to be within biking distance if possible, to get to internet and post regularly, but the description mentions good cell coverage, so I start thinking of the internet “keys” one can buy from the cell company to get mobile internet coverage. Maybe not the best speed or quality, but it might be worth it to stay in touch better. And I can always take a bush taxi to either city, it's just a little more expensive and a bit of a hassle, not the easy jaunt I was hoping to make once or twice a week to Skype with the US.

Once all the names are read and all the photos placed we can look and see where our stage will be going. Amusingly, my two closest neighbors are current Village People – Emily is 15km away through the backroads, and Alicia is 30km away on a major unpaved road. Kongussi has a handful of us within distance, but the party is in Ouahigouya, with about 8 of us within 60km – I'm the furthest out, and Al is the closest at only 10km away to the north. Ok, maybe this really is do-able. We stand and chat with the staff for a bit, drinking soda and eating peanuts and candy. The decision is reached to go to El Dorado to celebrate – Romongo goes and talks to Sanfo (our usual driver) about leaving a little late. We wait around for a bit to pay for our swear-in pagnes (yay!), then I'm part of the first wave to the bar.

We arrive and inform the poor staff that the usual huge crowd of nasaras (“foreigners”, often yelled by children and even adults as we pass on our bikes) will be on their way and many tables are necessary. We start with three, but by the time Stephen and I leave we're up to 6 at least. It's so nice to just chill with everyone and I envy the people who get to do this every day, although I know I've spent exponentially less money being forced to return to the village. Our car with our new LCFs stops at the grande alimentation on our way out of town where we buy bon-bons for Tabaski and snacks for ourselves. We encounter Pierre outside and it's almost sad how happy we are to see him – I'm really going to miss him as a teacher and as a friend, even though I know I'll see him around at Abbe-Pierre when we come into town.

I get home and don't plan on much for dinner after all our snacks, but it's couscous with a decent sauce (the tomato one without meat), so to make my host mother happy I try and eat a very large serving. I'm quite full, but then they bring in a plate with cravettes and popcorn! I eat a cravette (a fried snack chip thing – I'll bring a box and make them for you when I get back) and it's so delicious that forcing myself to finish the couscous is difficult. I attack the fried snacks with gusto, but not a moment later my host brother appears with a giant plate of papaya! I had seen my host father cutting it up earlier, removing the skin from a fruit bigger than a watermelon. It doesn't have all that much flavor but I know I can always use the vitamins so I take a deep breath to pack down my full stomach and polish off two slices of papaya. For the first time since being in my homestay, I am *full* - over the top, cannot eat another bite full. It's amazing. I still get chided by my host mother for not eating anything; like always I explain that I'm very very full but this time I mean it.

Today I wake up reluctantly (all three alarms go off before I get out of bed). I debate what to wear, but settle on my usual skirt because biking in my new dress seems like it would be tricky – I should take it back and get more fabric added to the skirt. I eat, forget to give my camera to my father after he reminds me before breakfast, and go to the CSPS with a plastic bag of cravettes and popcorn from my unusually cheerful mother. “Class” thankfully turns out to be “Appropriate Moore for Fete Days”, something for once that I can apply immediately. After an hour we say goodbye to our new LCFs and return home. Stephan comes with me and Bridget goes with Emily since their families are Christian and won't be going to prayers. We bike home, put our bikes in my room and put on sunscreen (careful to keep the door open and/or one of us outside the room at all times – no need to cause a scandal!). I change into my dress and wonder about a headscarf but it's hot so I decide against it. Stephan and I are sat out in the back courtyard, and Bridget and Emily walk by. They return in a minute, telling us that my father is over in front of the cheif's compound and we should come over. We grab our bags and tag along.

Now we're faced with an issue. The men are sitting together in one place, the women in another. Do we split up and send Stephen, who speaks even less Moore, to sit alone with the men while we sit with the women? Stephen goes and starts greeting the men while the three of us stand awkwardly until my father waves us over. Apparently that 3rd gender nasara thing is true – we're seated on our own bench while most people sit on the tree roots of a deadfall next to us. It's kind of weird to go from being a 22 year old woman to a 65 year old man in terms of social status, but in this case I'll take it because frankly I want to be in the thick of the action and today that's clearly with the men. At some invisible signal we are told to get up and we walk the long way around the cheif's compound to a back entrance. A bench is procured and the nasaras are told to sit down – we're the only ones sitting.

We sit around for a minute, but suddenly the men standing behind us start to sing. After vehement urging for the 4th time from my host father, I take out my camera and sound-record a snippet of their song. We are told to take photos of the chief when he comes out in his costume – we're worried this might be rude, to interrupt a religious ceremony for photos, but they are so insistent that we wonder if it would be offensive to *not* take his photo. We sit and listen to the singing as various children and lower family members pop in and out of the courtyard, then are told to stand as the chief and his entourage emerges. I only get one photo at the moment, but the sight is quite spectacular. A man walks in front, carrying a large round leather cushion on his head. He is followed by the 'large pointy spear' carrier. And after him, under a multicolored, faded umbrella, is the chief. He's wearing a bright orange hooded robe with black tassels on the corners of the hood, and we try to avoid meeting his eyes while also taking his photo.

Now we're following the chief and the crowd of singing men back into the fields. We do our best to keep up, but the crowd around us is rapidly swelling as the town joins us. My father stops us as we get to the field near the mosque and tells us that he's going to sit with the men, but we should stay back here and take photos. We find a shady spot among the rows of women and children and stand, taking photos occasionally, getting started at quite a lot. There are prayers for a little while, but after a bit people start moving out of the lines and into the shade. We wish we had brought a mat to sit on. Watching people pray is interesting, but we feel kind of like we stick out to say the least. A sheep is brought on a bicycle, but we can't see where it went – we presume it met it's sacrificial end.

Now we join the crowd lining the route, waiting for the chief to pass by. We identify my father in the crowd and follow him back to and through the market. We stop at the cheif's house, where there are some women dancing in front of the compound for him. The crowd parts so that we can “take a photo, take a photo!” but only Bridget and Steve take advantage of the overly enthusiastic offer. We retreat to the shade, and walk back over to my house next door. We watch the killing of our sheep – actually, I look away for most of it. They sop up the blood with dirt and one brother starts making little blood-dirt balls. I express out loud my fear that one of those will end up on my plate, but thankfully (?) the kids start picking off pieces to smoosh on their forehead, Ash Wednesday style. I try not to shake hands with the kids if I can help it – I know that there's no way they're going to wash their hands after playing in the blood-dirt. My family serves us a huge pot of zom-koom, a sweetened millet-flour water that we pray has been boiled at some point to save us from amoebas. Ah well! Emily and Bridget leave, and Stephen and I spend the rest of the day eating lunch, talking to my host father, and then just talking between ourselves. We say goodbye around 4:30 or 5pm, and I go over to sit with my family across the street, next to the remains of all those peanut plants that I think are finally finished being stripped of peanuts. I took a few photos of Mamu getting her hair done as the sun set behind us.

Dinner, amazingly, was rice with fish sauce! Fish? It's Tabaski – you just killed a sheep! Thankfully the sauce was a peanut sauce, so I forgave my mother and enjoyed the new sauce. I ate a lot – it was good! Dessert was a banana that I'm saving for breakfast. The kids were being kids, one minute being good natured and friendly, the next demanding gifts and confusing me, with some kids demanding that I watch them jump rope and dance, some wanting English lessons, and some deciding it was time for me to learn words in Moore. I remember that nose and mouth are really similar, but I've no idea what they are and I warned them pretty quickly that there was no way I was going to remember all this. An aunt chided me and said I needed a notebook so that when people said anything I could write it down. I tried to explain that I already have a book – a notebook won't be more helpful, the problem is a lack of being able to remember 100 new words a day. I was feeling stressed out by all the noise and commotion, so I “went to bed' at 8pm. Whew! But now it's past 10 and I'm exhausted. I think that's about it for today.

Finished “If on a winter's night, a traveler” by Italo Calvino. It explores the relationship between a book and the reader by following the path of a Reader (which is sometimes you) on his (sometimes her) quest to finish “If on a winter's night, a traveler”, a book that turns out (for you and the Reader and the Other Reader, both of whom are sometimes you) to be 10 books in one, each story being cut off at the climax for various reasons, forcing you/the Readers to start a new story in hopes that it will be the continuation of the one you had already started and been unable to finish. It's a bit of a mind twister and you have to pay attention while you're reading but I absolutely loved it. I looked at my photos on my computer and came across the one of Katie reading it to me. :)

Random note: The kids told me I owe them money tomorrow, in celebration of the fete (I guess it's kind of like their Halloween), but they're going to get the candy I bought – they failed to mention that candy is an acceptable substitute for the money but thankfully our LCFs are looking out for us. Oh! A singing man came by and sang this afternoon after the big ceremonies were over. I asked if I could take his picture at the prompting of an aunt and recorded him a little. He asked me for money, but seemed only a little disappointed when my aunt gave him a bag of food. Long day, but learned a lot!

Laundry, Peanuts and Thinking Time, Fried Chicken, "The River Why"

14 November – Romongo, 9:16pm

My first Sunday with the family! Re-set my alarm for 6am but my mother pounding up dried okra in the kitchen outside my door didn't exactly allow for restful sleep. At least she's not being put out by my presence? Finally got up, said hello to people. I had preped my laundry pile and when my mother told me after breakfast we were going out to the fields I asked to wash my clothing instead. I went out to the yard with my small pile and the wash basins, and the older girls were so bemused at my pathetic attempts that they helped me, which certainly resulted in cleaner clothing than last time (plus there was less of it). I had to re-rinse a couple of things before hanging them up, notably my sheet about 3 times, but it was worth it and everything dried really quickly.

I went outside to remove peanuts for a couple of hours (I gathered that this was what my host mother had meant when she said “the fields”). It was simple (and dusty), and would have been a good “talking” work except that talking here takes a lot of effort and I was with the women, some of whom speak moderate French, some who don't really speak any at all. I alternately had periods of time when I was being ignored, and times when the women were SPEAKING LOUDLY SO I COULD UNDERSTAND THE MOORE BETTER despite my assurances that, volume aside, the issue was that I don't speak Moore. They didn't get it. I was happy for the excuse to go clean up and get ready to go to Emily's.

It was such a nice break to the day! Alicia and I were the first to arrive, followed by Al and Anna, and finally by Stephen. We ate a tasty mix of lentils, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and the inevitable Maggi and oil, courtesy of her family. It was really very good and I enjoyed just having something we had made and seen prepared according to US hygiene standards (sorta). The neighbor generously killed a chicken for us and cut it up regardless of our request to let us (but did a pretty “American” job, so we didn't whine). We walked over to the market for spices and oil – it was time for fried chicken. We returned, added eggs, pepper, salt, garlic, and two mystery spices, then a handful of flour and went to town. It was delightful, and I will absolutely be doing this at my site.

Went home around 3:30pm, continued with the peanuts for another 2 hours or so. Being around people speaking a language you just cannot understand at all is very isolating and left me very much trapped in my own mind. My thoughts played hopscotch through my memories – merging onto 6th Ave from Sheridan while talking to Caitlin, scrapbooking with Deidre's family when we were probably about 7 or 8 years old, going dancing in Denver with an assortment of friends and flings, Divas in NoHo, watching championship races from the beach at Woostah, my neighborhood, my dorm rooms, my friends from elementary school up through just kept going on and on. On the one hand it was really nice to recall old memories, to turn them over and shine them up a little bit before letting them move on to another montage. On the other hand they were downright depressing – I'm here in Africa, pulling peanuts off of roots and being laughed at and pestered by every.single.person who walks by. And then I realized that I'm in Africa shelling peanuts. I've wanted this, I've waited for this for years, and now I'm here doing something that 99.9% of the US population will never do – shelling peanuts with a family in Africa. Is it glamorous? No. But it's real, and it's that little day-to-day activity that helps you fit in with a community, to let people know that you're here and you're willing to help them. And here I am.

My mood kept fluctuating between “God this sucks” and “Wow, this is so surreal and awesome” but I was generally able to pull it back to the later after my little realization moment. I babbled about it in bad French to Alassane, one of my host brothers – I'm sure he didn't really get all of it, but he patiently just listened as I talked to myself out loud. I think he has a bit of a crush on me – he's the one who is magically always there to carry my bike inside or outside, and tonight he walked me to my door from the big courtyard outside before returning to rejoin the group. Awww! He's probably 14. :p Overall it was kind of an odd day, but I appreciated the time to think as much as the fun time cooking with friends. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday – next week it's my turn to cook and I'm thinking Africa mac and cheese with Laughing Cow cheese, onions, tomatoes, and green peppers. Maybe a touch of curry powder. Delicious!

Finished “The River Why,” the book about a boy who grows up obsessed with fly-fishing and his journey of self-discovery while living in a cabin on a river in Oregon. It didn't end how I expected it to, but I definitely enjoyed it and feel like it's the kind of book you could read over and over. In fact, I'll probably ask David if I can borrow it again over the next 2 years. If nothing else it's great for a laugh! I'm sure I startled my family more than once with my failed attempts to suppress my giggles and amused snorts while reading at night or during breakfast. Even if you know nothing about fly-fishing or don't generally go for “self-discovery” books, you should try this one – the humor will win you over and the out-there but somehow believable characters will keep you into the story.

School Sensibilization - Hand Washing

13 November – Romongo, 9:03pm

I wake up and do my same morning routine – turn off my alarm, go back to sleep, bolt up and dress quickly, eat my bread and coffee while reading, greet the family, and head off on my bike towards the CSPS. I sit and read, greeting Steve as he arrives. He starts recounting stories of the evening before, so I put my book away and laugh with him while we wait for the rest of our group. We have a block of language (for my homework I talk about going camping with Robyn this past summer), but after our break at 9 we join the rest of the group and start planning our TDA at the school. My duct-tape and toilet tube roll “fly” goes over well. We're going to introduce ourselves to the CM2 class (5th grade, 11-16 year olds), then do a skit of two girls – one who washes her hands and covers her food while her friend does not. Then we'll do a demonstration of how our fly's q-tip feet pick up mud and splatter it on uncovered food but covered food is clean and safe, followed by a hand washing demonstration and then we'll watch all 100 of the kids wash their hands in order to get a cookie.

We pump some water into buckets and a bidon to bring with us (there's no pump at the school), then head over. The staff is in a PTA meeting (with my host father – apparently he's the head of the PTA for all the schools in Romongo) so we stand in the courtyard between buildings like lost sheep, immediately surrounded by a growing crowd of children. We watch them as they watch us, smiling and waving to our host siblings, trying not to be overwhelmed by all of the small upturned faces that seem to always be about to ask for something along with the rising smell of bodies that bathe daily but hardly ever see soap. Suddenly we're moving, parting the crowd that collapses behind us, filling in the space as we vacate it. We're ushered into a room, full of overcrowded desks that point towards the chalkboard and we start setting up our materials. We can't seem to find the teacher or tell who he/she is, so we skip that part and go straight to the introduction to the students.

Thankfully they seem to understand our French, for the most part. It all goes off well until the hand washing. We have a volunteer demonstrate, then upon realizing that there are 15 cookies per package, we decide to have 15 kids come to wash, give the leader the package, and have him/her distribute the goods. But we planned on being outside where assembly line washing was possible – now we're stuck inside because of all the kids not in class who would also demand a cookie. Suddenly we're limited to one receptacle bucket, making the process of washing all 100 hands into a very tedious one. Justan proposes making the group leader the only person who washes, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise, handing cookie from clean hand to dirty hand to mouth. Someone brings more buckets, and with three lines going we quickly speed through the class and hand out their reward. Pierre makes them promise to wash their hands before meals and after using the bathroom. I still can't believe that 1 – this worked, and 2 – that it was necessary to tell them to wash their hands after using the toilet when direct prompting failed to elicit any response other than “after a meal”. Yes, your hand is obviously dirty after a meal, but that's literally the least important time to wash it compared with before the meal and after using the bathroom and wiping with your hand. I was afraid that they were going to be really bored and annoyed at our patronizing sensibilization, but I guess it really was useful to emphasize the need to wash one's hands, even with older kids.

Having To Change LCFs Is Sad

12 November – Romongo, 9:30pm

Today was our last day with Pierre and Amadee, our two wonderful LCFs. I'm truly sad that they have to rotate out of the village since we've all come to love and depend on them so much. They're like a cross between the coolest teacher you ever had, your hip father, and your awesome big brother – they teach us, they take care of us, and they make us laugh and laugh with us. We had some watermelons with lunch to celebrate, courtesy of Justin and Audrey who came to visit for the TDA. We took a group photo and generally goofed around, repeating our favorite “Pierre English Phrases” like “Personal Sleepy Time” and “Small Red Beans.” They don't actually have much meaning, we just love when he speaks English, and laughing with him has helped us to understand why our families love to repeat what we've said while laughing – it's not laughing at our attempts in a mean way, more in an amused and happy that we're trying way.

Family, Mornings, Fun Day in Koudougou!

8 November – Romongo, 9:13pm

As usual this morning I wake up multiple times before my alarm goes off. Most of the time I can't identify what has pulled me out of sleep – the heat, my sweat-soaked mattress, the donkey or rooster who are obnoxiously loud, trucks and buses passing on the major road just outside my window, or the sounds of movement outside my screen door as the women start working before the sky is light. I get up and finish typing my blog, keeping my screen door closed when it's usually open by now. My host mother (Zalissa) brings my pot of hot water for my Nescafe with Nido followed by my Lipton with Nido (my 2 liters of liquid in the morning are a good part of all the water I drink in a day). I pack my bags for the day, adding a swimsuit and grabbing a little extra money for food, the internet, phone credit, and the pool. I leave my tea to cool as I go and greet the family, starting with immediate family if I haven't seen them yet (Zalissa/Saiedou/their 5 kids), then greeting the crowd of young kids as a I venture out into the main courtyard with sticky/damp handshakes and a grinning greetings of “ca va?”

If the old man (Moussa?) is out I greet him first, but after that I either greet any women who happen to be crossing the courtyard or I turn the corner to visit the oldest woman (Alimata) and the other old man (not sure of his name – Mohamad, I think) who lives in the house next to her. Then I swing out to all the other houses, greeting the women I missed on my first entrance (Mariam, Rosmata, Fati, Aisseta) and re-greeting most of the kids a 2nd or 3rd time. If the young men are in their small courtyard I greet them too, but I'm not actually sure if they live there or who they are. They must be the nephews (according to my family tree – Ibrahim and Balguissa?) – I'd say they're students, perhaps around my age, but we don't really interact at all. If a lot of people are missing the kids direct me to the yard outside where I'll greet my family and any neighbors who have stopped by to pilé with the women, as well as yet more children.

That's a pretty typical morning. Usually I go back to my room, gather up my things, and as I start to move my bike through the door frame my host brother Alassane is there, waiting to take it from me and start navigating it outside through the too-narrow doors while I lock my door. But today I have extra time, so I stand outside and talk with the working women, taking a quick turn pounding peanuts out of their shells. I explain that I'm going into town for a birthday, and my host sisters/cousins look amused and disappointed as they ride the donkey cart out to the fields – they wanted me to come help them even though I'd probably only be useful for comic relief. I kind of want to stay, but the lure of the internet and food I can choose for myself beckons. I return to my room and pull my chair outside to work on a TDA, fill out my site-placement questionnaire for Dr. Claude, and eat bouille with Saeidou and Mamu. He said it's made of rice, cooked into a kind of viscous gruel that you then add milk and sugar to, although this seemed to have chunks of something like bread added to it. It's a little sour, but not bad – I'm amused that all the women are out working and my father is still in his pj's, eating with his 3 year old.

It's time to go, so I head over to the CSPS only to return home to get my phone (glad I did! My parents called!). I find my host father in the front garden pulling something up – at least he's doing something, right? The labor division here is...different – another post for another time. We start biking to Koudougou, and somehow it seems shorter than it did that first time. We go to the cyber cafe, which is awesome – I love being connected to the world! It's kind of weird getting off-line, like I've been back in my known world for a little time and now I've had to return to my current reality – that outside there are still women selling fruit on the side of the road in front of sketch food places where you go up and ask what they have that day, then decide if you want it or not. They may have a menu, but they probably don't have more than one or two things from it on hand, so it's best to just go and ask immediately. This also applies to “sit down” restaurants. Maybe it's not that getting off-line is weird so much as getting on-line is such a break from my current reality that it's a little disorienting.

After that we bike down the road to the infamous second story of the gas station that I keep hearing about, which is actually a 2 story building behind a gas station, not a balcony above the gas pumps as I assumed. We order, blow up balloons for Kayleigh (the package said Happy Birthday but they turn out to be wedding balloons!), welcome more people, and talk and laugh. It's nice being out of the village, and while my chwarma isn't fantastic it's at least ok and the beer is cold. I decide to leave since I need to be home by 4 to start the beenga (beans and rice) my father has decided I will learn to prepare, and I'm ready to go by myself when 4 of the six village people decide to come with me. I get home a little later than I said I would, but the company was worth waiting for, and we talk and laugh the whole way home.

When I get home the beans are already cooking in a giant pot. I saluer the family, ending up across the road with all the women and the old men removing peanuts from the roots. There is a small mountain of peanuts, and they assure me that there are more in the fields. Good think I like peanuts? They give me another peanut butter cookie/ring thing, but what I really want is peanut butter. Mmmm... My father calls me across the street to go look at the unattended beans, and my mother tells me that in a little bit we'll add the rice. Ok. I return to my peanut removal, lost in my thoughts as people come up to chat and say hello. We start to go inside as the sun is setting, and the beans and rice mixture has turned red, probably from the Maggi cube that goes into everything here. I take my shower – it's actually a little cold out so I ask for some hot water from the pot over the fire reserved for this purpose. I should have done this sooner! The warm water is amazing, and actually seems to wash the soap off my body! Warm and toasty, I wrap myself in my pagne and go back to my room to change.

I sit down to eat my beenga but as usual the moment something is served I just can't possibly eat more than a little bit. Eating here is weird – I'm hungry all day, but when we get to meal times I seem to have no appetite whatsoever, even if I was just hungry. I mix some of the beans with the sauce and salt, then add curry to a little more. My mother asks if I've eaten all of it and gently chides me for not eating very much food. I tell her it's the peanuts I ate while removing them from the roots. I go outside even though I can hear a lazy patter of rain on my roof and join Mamu on the sheet-covered mat, curling up with her fingers around my pinky, and we fall asleep in the cold and light rain. I'm invited to eat with the men and decline since I already ate, and go back to sleep, finally waking up and coming inside when the rain intensifies. So now I'm in my room, typing this and listening to music. I think my iPod is stopping me from going insane – I love having a little bit of home that I can hold onto whenever I need something besides Mamu singing “Ma Main” at the top of her lungs (that song haunts me! I only know the three words she can pronounce in French, but it won't ever leave my head).

"Pastwatch", Laundry is Hard, Food Prep

November 6 – Romongo, 8:45pm

Book review detour: I just finished “Pastwatch – The Redemption of Christopher Columbus” by Orson Scott Card, of “Ender's Game” fame. I picked this one up a couple of years ago, having been a fan of his books when I was younger, but never got around to reading it. I'm kind of sad that I didn't, because it's a great read! It follows a future, seemingly-utopian civilization that has the technology to watch the events of the past in great detail. One woman has set her life goal to study the history of slavery, and comes to be obsessed by Christopher Columbus as the major fulcrum for the spread of European ideas to the New World, and the beginnings of the large-scale international slave trade. *Slight Spoiler Ahead* The Watchers pinpoint exactly when Columbus decided to sail west and why, and realize that it was due to the interference of a different advanced civilization, one that gave up their existence in order to send a hologram back to Colombus' time to change the course of history. When it is revealed that their own finally-peaceful world is about to be thrown back into chaos and war due to past ecological damage that makes it impossible to produce enough food for the entire world population, the people vote to do the same, to send three people back in time to change the course of history once again and try to prevent the exploitation of the New World, the rise of slavery, and the chaos and conquests that led to the destruction of the earth in the first place. It's very idealistic, but the characters are memorable and engaging and it's a great and interesting “what might have been” mental exercise, with all the personal imponderables like: if we have the ability, should we change the past to alleviate past suffering, or just to prevent current suffering? Who has the authority to decide that? Would the world really just wink out of existence or would reality branch to encompass the many paths that could have been taken?

Anyway, needless to say it was awesome. After a lovely long afternoon spent reading after our morning classes (we finish at 12:30pm, but after lunch we took a repose under the tree until 3pm) I returned home, determined to do my laundry (and rinse all the soap out!). I used the soap we made with Sara, although she was right in saying we should let it cure for a few days – the unreacted lye was burning the small cuts on my hands a bit. Ah well. Laundry is hard work, man! I totally didn't appreciate how much work Habibu did for me that first time. Some of my clothes are really heavy and hard to handle when they're waterlogged, and getting everything sufficiently soapy was difficult. Overall it turned out pretty well and only took a little over an hour, but my hands were shaking a little bit at the end and my grip had gotten weak from wringing out the clothing so many times. Some of my clothes smell a little musty, but I think that's from hanging them to dry and then having a few days of cooler, damp weather, not from a huge laundering error on my part. I do, however, understand why a lot of volunteers eventually give up and pay someone to wash their clothing – they will always be able to get it cleaner than I will, faster, and not feel the need to haul extra water for a third rinse basin for those last items that stubbornly remain soapy.

I went into my room to sweep and clean since for once I was home when the sun was out and could see things, but after asking a host brother to kill a few spiders for me my host father appeared with a can of bug spray and began to douse my room. While it wasn't an unpleasant smell in particular, I quickly realized that if I wanted to continue breathing I would have to vacate the room for a few hours. I went outside to read a little but was called inside by my host father to peel patates, a starchy root kind of like a yam/potato with a red/purple skin that you have to remove. It was nice to sit down and occasionally talk with him, although mostly we just worked. Somehow my hand became a mess of sticky, dirty starch-glue and it took vigorous scrubbing with the pot scrubber to get it off. They went into a ragu for dinner, quite tasty but I couldn't eat much after eating a raw patate earlier along with some tiny cooked potato-root things. Too much starch.

I also witnessed how the chicken was dismantled. While I appreciate and think it's impressive that they eat most every part, I also know that any chickens I cook will be cut up American style. The only things that didn't make it in the pot were the gullet, the contents of the stomach, and the gallbladder. The rest was cut apart and tossed in. I appreciate that it means more people get a piece of meat, but the bone fragments created from cutting the thighs, legs, shoulders, spine and neck into pieces are just not my cup of tea. Also, the head is cooked with the feet stuck in it's mouth. I guess you learn new things every day? I'm sure I will find appreciative neighbors who will want to share a chicken with me – even though these aren't force-fed giant chickens, I know I can't eat one on my own and a lack of refrigerator means that you make friends by sharing your leftovers. The idea of singeing off the pin-feathers was a good one and to my great surprise didn't really smell bad.
5 November – Romongo 10:14pm

Habibu (the oldest daughter, the one who speaks to me) told me she's going to Bobo for lycee (high school). I'm really happy for her because a lot of girls from farming families don't get that chance, especially as the oldest girl who might otherwise stay home and help care for the other kids. The downside is that I'm going to miss having someone nice to talk to. She's going to go live with a distant family member, who will pay for her schooling but presumably in exchange for working around the house. She already works incredibly hard right now, so I can't imagine it would be worse, but I still think it's brave to decide to go away for school and not be able to come home again. I wrote her a letter and put the dreamcatcher and a postcard in it – I'll give it to her right before she leaves.

General Day to Day

2 November – Romongo, 9:13pm

A sharp rapping noise interrupts my dream. I'm back in Africa, sweating under my mosquito net as my host mother raps on my door – I've overslept my alarm and it's past 6am! Time to get up and start another day.

Breakfast is my usual Nescafe/Lipton routine (one very large cup of each, with Nido and sugar), but today I get a corn gruel called buille (“bweee”) with my bread. It's served hot, and my mother tries to explain the use of the little hollowed out half-gourd she has handed me with it. I think I'm supposed to use it as a spoon...we'll go with that. It has a hint of cornbread, but mostly tastes warm and slightly sour. I eat a little but I've filled up on my tea and coffee, so I save the bread for later and pack my bags before going to greet the whole family. As I return my host mother is standing there laughing at me – apparently I was supposed to add sugar to the buille before eating it. :p She demonstrates with the small bowl and packet of sugar being held by the nearest child, who howls in indignation as his sweet treat is dumped entirely into his breakfast, depriving him of the ability to save a little for later.

Our last class today was on making soap! We already learned liquid soap on Demyst, which sells well and enjoys a decent profit margin in some villages, but in other places people prefer hard soap. It can be less profitable depending on what oils (shea butter/coconut/sesame/etc) you are using – one village group was actually losing money when the PCV pointed out that perhaps they should try liquid instead. After a powerpoint that breaks down the financials for a village where liquid soap was more viable vs. one where hard soap was preferred, we go outside to mix the lye now so that it can set and be ready for tomorrow. We've been warned numerous times by Sara (our PCVf) that the caustic soda reacts quite violently to water, fuming and giving off heat. We add our powder to the 4L of liquid and...nothing happens. We stir. We dissolve completely. No heat. Maybe it's salt? We call over Andre, who purchased it. We hand him the bag with the remaining kilo for inspection. He looks. Our eyes widen as he moves to touch it, and we all audibly gasp and jump back as he licks his powder-coated finger, as though he might explode or crumble to the ground in excruciating pain. But neither happens – it's salt. Oy! We dump out our salt water, and Sara says she'll start the lye when the actual caustic soda arrives, but it's time for us to go home.

We stop at the grande alimentation on our way home. I kind of want something to horde in my room in case I don't really like dinner, but can't find something I want so I leave empty handed. Lucky for me, dinner is wonderful! Well, rice with sauce, but I added some madras curry powder and salt, and it's fantastic. My host mother was stung by a scorpion today – her finger is noticeably red and swollen even though they aren't poisonous here. I check my room but all I have are spiders on the ceiling and dead crickets on the floor. I do my homework outside, getting bitten and smacked in the face by innumerable bugs attracted to the flashlight I'm holding in my mouth – I think I'll just have to be antisocial next time and do my work in my room. I fall asleep in my chair as usual, being woken to go inside but then subjected to a lesson in how to learn Moore. I'm expected to have a list ready tomorrow night of words I want to learn and my father will go over them with me. *sigh*

Still, overall I'm feeling more at home with my family. I like greeting everyone, and listening to the kids babble in Moore. Mamu (the youngest daughter) held my hand today as we walked around the courtyard! Small things, one step at a time. We got cards today from PSDN, which were surprisingly helpful and sweet. I hope when Shannon comes tomorrow I have some mail! And I found out today that my language is Moore, so at least I know I'm going to the central or northern region!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

We Love Abbreviations in PC, etc.

Everything here has an abbreviation! Here's a few that I've used/will use in future posts.
Abbreviations Etc.
Affectation - when we are sent to our site after training
APCD – Associate Peace Corps Director, the person who is in charge of a program (ex:APCD-SED)
ARV's – Anti-RetroVirals, drugs given to slow the progression of HIV replication in a body
Beenga - Moore for beans, or a meal of beans and rice
Bobo – Bobo Dialasso, the economic capital of Burkina, located in the southwest
CD – Country Director, Shannon
Demyst(ification) – a training trip during stage to let trainees live with a current volunteer and get a sense of what it's like/what you do/how to cook American food in Burkina
Enlever - a French verb, useful for describing the process of removing peanuts from the roots of the plant
GEE – Girls Education and Empowerment
HE – Health Extension (APCD is Dr. Claude)
IST – In-Service Training, occurs after 3 months at site
KDG – Koudougou, a regional capital 100k west of Ouaga, our home base for stage
LCF – Language and Culture Facilitator, Burkinabe teachers who help us learn French or a local language as well as explaining the culture and customs of different regions in Burkina
MST – Mid-Service Training, occurs after a year at site
Ouaga – Ouagadougou, the official and political capital of Burkina, located in the Central Region
PCV – Peace Corps Volunteer
PCT – Peace Corps Trainee
PCVf – Peace Corps Volunteer Facilitator, the current volunteers who come to help train PCTs during stage
PCMO – Peace Corps Medical Officer, Jean-Luc and Sylvie
PF – Family Planning in French
Piler - another useful French verb (not sure on the spelling), the process of pounding something in a mortar and pestle to either remove it from the shell (in the case of peanuts and beans) or to make it into a powder.
PSDN – Peer Support Diversity Network, the Volunteers you call when you need help staying sane
SE – Secondary Education
SED – Small Enterprise Development (APCD is Dan)
Stage – the 9-12 weeks of pre-service training for each Volunteer
The Zak Ramba – The name of the monthly Burkina PCV newsletter. A Moore word, literally “courtyard” but meaning “all the members of your extended family who live with you”

Bus – can either be for going from city to city, where you buy a ticket and generally you are sure to get a seat, or around a major city (not sure how that system works)
Bike – our very own BMW for the next two years, our Trek bikes get us where we want to go with minimal effort compared to the 1-speed bikes here.
PC Car – rare, only used after extensive approval, and we probably won't see one often during our service unless we need to get to Ouaga for medical attention right away.
Bush Taxi (Taxi Brousse) – what we will mostly use for transit, these vans are meant to comfortably hold 3 rows of 3 people plus the driver and passenger. Typically then end up holding 4 people per row, plus an extra row of 2-5 people facing the first row on a padded bench, and 2-3 passengers in the front seat next to the driver. You might experience transport with live animals like chickens and sheep. Bikes, motos, and baggage is lashed to the top, and the assistant usually sits up there with his legs hanging off the side. Sometimes more people sit up there or hang on to the ladder on the back when the seats are full. Terrifying and uncomfortable but cheep and get the job done, albeit slowly as people can get on and off whenever they want.

I typically get served by myself in my room. This initially bothered me but now I love the ability to eat what I want, to examine the meat chunks to determine where it came from, to add my own spices instead of the offered sauce.
Rice – usually a safe bet, I like being served rice because I can just eat it with salt and pepper instead of sauce
Couscous – see above
Spaghetti – they break it into small pieces in the package before boiling since people eat with their hands. Sadly usually comes already doused in a sauce.
Sauce – really hit or miss, but typically not something I eat a lot of. There's the sauce with leaves that smells good but has a weird texture, the green sauce with a lot of okra, a tomato sauce with oil, dried fish, and okra, and another tomato sauce with chunks of fish in it. Sauces at restaurants are usually a bit better – I had a delicious yogurt sauce with couscous one night. My family hasn't made it for me, but my experiences with peanut sauce have been pretty good as well.
Tô – a staple food here, made by cooking any kind of flour with water, then scooping it into individual portions with a dried gourd scoop dipped in water. Very hard work physically to make, and pretty tasteless. Gets sticky when smooshed, eaten with the hands by dipping it in sauce.
Beenga – beans, specifically black eyed peas, but also a mixture of beans cooked with rice into a bland reddish dish typically eaten with a sauce or oil and salt.
Bread (local and city) – local is hit or miss, but often tasty and moist, kind of like a sourdough. Beware of rocks and grit that might crack a tooth. City bread is your typical baguette, although usually a bit stale by the time I get it for breakfast. Not as tasty, but a known quantity.
Fruit – very seasonal. Currently we're eating delicious small bananas, watermelons, and oranges (which are green-skinned and taste a little like a grapefruit).
Drinks – Beer, Nescafe, Lipton, Nido, Filtered Water, Sodas. Beers here are served in 66ml (about 26oz) bottles and are a bit stronger than most beers in the US . There are about 4-5 brands you can find nationally. Nescafe instant coffee and Lipton yellow label tea are my staples for breakfast, although I don't actually like either all that much. Nido is name-brand powdered milk and gets added to my coffee and tea, although self-stable milk is available in some places. Filtered water would be what comes out of my giant two-tiered bucket system. I'm sure it tastes fine, but after adding the drops of bleach to kill the viruses it tastes pretty nasty, even if you cut back to half of the recommended amount. Improved with flavor packets – Bridget has blueberry pomegranate, which is pretty tasty. Sodas available are full-sugar Coke, Sprite, and Orange Fanta, served in glass bottles that come in two sizes (large and larger).

My Typical Day
Since we've been moving around a fair bit since we got in country, my typical day has changed a fair bit. When we arrived in Ouaga we stayed in a hotel/dorm type place with a roommate and communal bathrooms, eating in the cafeteria without paying for our meals and spending our days in welcome and basic orientation sessions. We got some vaccinations, did some administrative stuff like getting fitted for our bikes and receiving our per diem for the next two weeks, and generally hung out and got to know one another.

After a few days in Ouaga we moved to Koudougou, to a compound that is now our home base for training. We stayed in the dorms/hotel in the compound, 3 to a room with communal bathrooms at the end of each hallway, and spent our days in classes from 8am-5pm, with an hour and a half for lunch and a morning break and afternoon break. We had internet access intermittently, but after the second day it was broken and we've just had to go without.

They gave us the bare minimum that they felt we needed to survive, then kicked us out into host families, which is the situation and thus the day-to-day that I currently find myself in. As mentioned in another section, I live in a very large, wonderful family that I have yet to fully comprehend but it's been quite the fun and interesting adventure so far. My typical day here really consists of two patterns – one when we go to KDG, one when we stay in village. Regardless of the day, I generally wake up between 5:30am and 6am. If I'm up early I might shower (bucket bath, actually), pack up my bags for the day, eat my breakfast of Nescafe with Nido, Lipton with Nido, and bread, sometimes with the addition of eggs, tô, spaghetti, beenga, or whatever else is around. Usually just bread – I bought some knock-off Nutella to put on it but it tastes more like chocolate donut frosting than Nutella. I greet the entire family in Moore, resorting to French when they go past my limited repertoire of questions I know and can answer.

I bike to the CSPS by 7am, and if we're there for class I have an hour to read and study. If we're going to KDG we load up the car after parking our bikes in the empty ambulance hanger and drive to the compound where we have class. We have class M-F from 8:00-10:00am, 10:30-12:30pm, 2:00pm-3:30pm, and 3:45-5:15pm, and a half day on Saturday with only our first two classes, followed by lunch and a nap under the tree at the CSPS before going home to do laundry and help out around the house. Sunday is our day off, and the Village People have started making it a habit to bike into KDG to use the internet cafe and meet up with other trainees. It takes a little over an hour each way, but is mostly flat so it's not that hard. This might be changing in the near future as we've discussed making Saturday afternoon “fun day” so that Romongo has a chance to hang out and party with the rest of the group, ferried into town by PC car after our morning classes at the CSPS. I imagine that Sunday will become family day instead – that's a lot of family time, but they'll be in the fields for most of the day and we'll either be out there with them or left to our own devices.

That's pretty much it. Any free time I have, I tend to spend sitting with my family, tidying up my room, reading, journaling, and trying to study, or talking with friends if we're in Koudougou. It's pretty predictable, but there's nothing wrong with that for the moment.