Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Site, Family Photos, Flags

8 December – Romongo, 10:44pm

Another long but productive day with my CoGES treasurer. Things I now know about my village:
-it's quite large - there are three primary schools and a middle school (which has English teachers!)
-it also has a mayor and prefet, governmental representatives only found in larger villages
-my house is very close to the CSPS and the market, and my nearest neighbors are my Major and Accoucheuse (head nurse and midwife, respectively)
-my district capital, Segenega, is 11k away
-there are daily buses to Ouaga through Kongoussi, but only twice weekly to Ouahigouya. While there is a post office in Segenega, I might get my mail faster if it goes to a regional capital like Kongoussi and then I can share the post-box with a couple of volunteers, hopefully one of which will be close enough to check the mail regularly for those of us who are further away
-my health district that I will work in has 7 satellite villages, but thankfully they seem to be close by, within 3-12km from Kossouka
-my Major is a woman, who has been there for 3 years so she worked with Lauren, the last volunteer
-my village is a mix of Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and Animists
-everyone speaks Moore, although there is a population of Puehl's who also speak Fulfulde
-there is a market every 3 days, and tends to have a decent selection of foods and goods, although I can always bike to Segenega or Kalsaka
-my house stands alone, but it sounds like being near the center of town will save me from feeling very isolated
-the best cell reception in the town is Zain, the one I'm already on and can use to call other volunteers for free. Perfect!
-the CSPS has solar panels that I can use to charge my cell phone, and perhaps eventually my computer if I don't get a car-battery set-up

I really think that our Q&A time with our homologues was the most useful part for us, although I'm really glad they got a bit of information on who we are, what we want to do, and how Americans tend to think and act (and what to do about that). For example, Americans expect people to be on time, to be direct, to separate their personal and private lives, and if you tell us to stop crying we will only cry more so it's better to just wait until we're finished. Oh, and we've given up a lot to be here, especially cheese (which was a word my homologue didn't know in French so I presume the village isn't exactly swimming in cheese) so please be nice. We learned that the separation between private and professional lives are significantly less distinct here, and if we start crying they will likely be quite upset and not know what to do, so try to go home before giving in to frustration. They had a medical session without us, where we joked that they were teaching our homologues how to take care of their American, such as watering it twice daily but only with filtered water, and never feed it tô with gumbo sauce. Improper handling of your American might result in severe illness, so take care to let it go ahead and eat the strange foods it will prepare for itself, no matter how disgusting or unhealthy they may appear. Actually, I'm sure Jean-Luc told them to make sure we're taking our malaria meds, and to call him should anything go wrong instead of taking us to the CSPS for treatment unless we're literally about to die before the car can get there from Ouaga.

Got home relatively early and decided to take some photos. Practically caused World War III in my courtyard as the kids fought to be in the photos, or to convince me to take photos of just them in some pose while simultaneously fighting off all the other kids who tried to get in the picture. I did get a good one of my host mom cooking, and of my favorite aunt Fati, and even Nana Alimata was getting into it, asking me to take her photo with a bucket of water on her head! It was kind of exasperating, especially because my battery was dying and I wanted photos of everyone. Then again, the death of the battery did save me from having to take more photos, and the kids scattered pretty quickly when they realized that the fun was over. For some reason two of the girls (maybe around 10-12 years old) wanted most of their photos to include them holding red and blue plastic cups, which puzzled and amused me.

After I got to just sit and talk with Fati while she cleaned the millet by tossing it into the air and allowing the dust and dirt to blow out onto a mat in front of her. The tween girls reappeared and grabbed plastic strands from the grain sack they were sitting on, tying it into a circle and surprising me by making string shapes, the same ones I used to make when I was young! Suddenly I was 5 again, at a sleepover at my best friend Larissa's house, racing her to see who could make Jacob's Ladder (the most complicated shape we knew) first. I showed it to them and they clearly recognized it and knew how to get there. I tried to teach them Cat's Cradle – couldn't get it to work but now I think I know where I went wrong and maybe tomorrow I'll show them again and see if they know it. It was really neat, and I liked getting to interact with some of the kids in a smaller group, rather than in an overwhelming clamoring gaggle.

After showering and eating dinner, I wrote the numbers from 6 to 30 out in English, and then by 10's up to 100 and drew the American flag for my host cousin, the one who seems to have accepted that I will not bring her cookies but will give her lists of English words. The Burkinabe clearly made a good choice with their simple flag if only because it's much easier to draw - yellow star in the center, top half red, bottom half green. After measuring out the 13 stripes so they would be about even, I realized that I don't know how they space the stars to fit 50 properly. I'm pretty sure it's 5 rows of 10, but the way I'd drawn my flag didn't leave room for that, so I did 7 rows of 7 and I'm guessing they won't realize that I left out a state (sorry Hawaii). It took a surprising amount of time since I was trying to make it relatively accurate.

Host Family, Counterpart Workshop, "When Christ and His Saints Slept"

7 December – Romongo, 9:17pm

7 days until I leave my host family. I'm going to miss some parts of it, but I'm also looking forward to living on my own. I have a few relatives here that I genuinely like and enjoy being around. My host aunt, Fati, intimidated me a bit at first but now I love going to greet her at the end of the day when she has a few minutes to sit and talk to me. Actually, she's usually bent over her fire and I'm squatting down beside her, but it works. She returns my greetings in Moore, and when her questions finally leave the familiar she kindly translates into French. She explains what she's cooking, what part of the harvest we're in, what she and the other women will be selling at the next market. Even her small Moore lessons are kindly offered, never in an overbearing or condescending manner, and I make a point of trying to remember what she's said so I can show her the next day that I listen to what she says. She rarely asks for gifts, and when she does it's very clearly a joke that we both laugh at. We commiserate at how hard the women work, and she laughs when I tell her how much I admire the strength of Burkinabe women who do work that in the US would be expected to fall into the domain of men (sexist, perhaps, but true). While I'm fond of a few the other women, she's really the one I'm sad to leave. While language may not be necessary (such as with my host aunt Mamuna) to be fond of someone, it absolutely helps that Fati and I can communicate pretty easily, and highlights how important it is that I learn Moore in order to make those connections with more people than just those who know French.

But in addition to a little piece and quiet (I've never felt so obviously an only child as I do here surrounded by so many small children demanding my attention!) I'm also looking forward to a bit more privacy and autonomy. Although it's nice to not have to worry about making food after a very long and full day, I fully expect to have a fair bit of down time at site in which to cook what I want, when I want to eat it. I like not having to boil my own water in the morning, but it would be nice to be able to get my tea when I'm ready for it, not sit helplessly in my room after greeting everyone, watching the time ticks by towards my departure, knowing that I'll have to water down my tea with cold water since I don't have time to wait for it to cool. And I'll be able to make things I want to eat! I can't wait to try out some new recipes and feel like I'm able to eat something besides carbs all the time (even though that will probably still be the staple food group). Bring on the veggies!

Today was the first day of our Counterpart Workshop. Since there was suddenly a meningitis vaccination campaign most of our ICPs (Infermier Cheif du Poste – the head nurse/medical person at our CSPS, also called the Major) couldn't come. I met Boremia Ouedraogo, the treasurer of my CoGES (the people who run the pharmacy and use the income to support the CSPS). Although we didn't have an instant connection, he seems like a really nice man and I think he'll be a very good person to know and be close to in my community. While he's not the most talkative person - kind of a problem since I was also feeling pretty shy - we had a few good conversations, mostly revolving around the village and my future house.

It sounds almost ideal – a posting to a larger village in a stand-alone house that is very near the CSPS and the center of town. The district is only 11k away and has a post office and electricity for charging things, although I'm considering a car battery and trying to figure out how to wire it for a computer. Boremia also said that he checked the house of the last volunteer before coming and that all the stuff is still there. I'm thrilled, because according to Dr. Claude's list there is a ton of stuff there. Dear Lauren, the volunteer who COS'ed 9 months ago – I can't thank you enough for saving me from having to buy so many things. Truly you've made my moving in process that much less stressful for not having to worry about immediately furnishing and stocking an empty house. If it's all still there, she left her stove, an empty gas tank, pots, pans, dishes, utensils, beds, a cot, sheets, spices, tables, bookshelves, chairs, and mats. While I'll probably be buying some things for myself (sheets, possibly a mattress), and replacing things that the bugs have claimed as their own (potentially the spices and the wooden furniture), I'm so happy that I will be able to spend my move-in on niceties like paint, a hangar to shade an outdoor sitting area, or a good supply of staple foods rather than on minimal home furnishings.

I finished another book – it was fantastic! When Christ and His Saints Slept is a fictional retelling of the meticulously researched history of England and France from the end of the reign of Henry I to Stephen I to the rise of Henry II. Henry I died with over 20 sons born illegitimately, but his only legitimate son died in a crossing of the English Channel. He named his daughter Maude (the recently widowed child-bride of the German High Chancellor) as his heir and forced people to accept her, but there was absolutely no faith in the ability of a woman to rule, so upon her father's death her cousin Stephen seized the throne and began two decades of war for the crown. While he was very well liked as a man and respected as a solider, he was a pretty bad king and Maude almost won the crown back. Upon realizing that the people truly would never accept her as queen when she was chased from London and eventually forced to return to her lands in Normandy despite having won many strategic battles, she turned her focus to securing the crown for her son, Henry, who we follow from childhood into his successful war campaigns as a teenager, culminating in him making peace with Stephen and succeeding him on the throne of England at the age of 21. It's a hefty book, over 700 pages, but it's an incredibly fast read if only because it's so enjoyable. If only all history texts were like this! If you have any interest whatsoever in English history, I would highly recommend this book, and she's written a number of others following the events before and after the time frame of this book that I'm eager to get my hands on.

Romongo Sunday Lunch Day

5 December – Romongo, 9:31pm

Another lovely Sunday. Slept in until 6:30ish (!), then got up and had a lazy morning of reading, eating, drinking tea, and only saying hello as people passed my door. I did my laundry with help from two of the girls and it went very quickly. I bathed the dog and adding some warm water seemed to help a lot, even if it had little bits of tô in it from breakfast. I removed the mothballs from my trunk, cleaned it, and put some papers in it. If possible I'd like to take it – for one, it'll make transporting all the new papers and packages easier, but we'll see. On Emily and Anna's advice when they arrived, I threw the mothballs in the latrine since I was afraid that the kids would try and eat them if I threw them in the trash. Aunt Fati had asked if I could show her my photos of my parents today, a day when we she knew I had more time (I thought that was really sweet of her to think of that!) but she was at the market so I sat and read for a little before meeting up with Anna, Emily, and Al to go over to Alicia's house.

Lunch was lovely – a cucumber, tomato, onion, corn salad with oil, vinegar, chili powder, basil and too much salt, and sandwiches with VQR, pesto, and tomatoes. We wanted avocado, but now that the Cote d'Ivoire boarder is closed there are no more avocados to be found. We also made popcorn with bright orange powdered cheese, courtesy of Steve's family. Yum! I went with Alicia and Anna to the market after lunch to walk around and so that Anna could buy a pagne for a skirt. I hope at our site we'll get to the point that a crowd won't feel obligated to follow us, but today we had our usual gaggle. I do like Koudougou for that – at least people don't follow us around the market and stare at us. I know we're a novelty, but it's still feels a bit odd to say the least.

I went home and read outside, talking to my host dad and trying out the occasional Moore sentence on Mamu, the youngest daughter. I went and sat in the big courtyard instead of hiding in the smaller side courtyard as it started to get dark, and was rewarded with a calm evening after the oldest girl (who I just can't seem to remember) chased away the little ones who kept greeting me over and over as they tend to do. The aunt who visited a few weeks ago was back and she sat down with us. They chatted a little in Moore, they got me to sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider, and the aunt sang traditional songs softly as I stared at the stars. I really want a constallation book, now that I can see all the stars! It was so calm and peaceful and unbelievably idylic, like something out of a movie. She eventually got up, did a small dance for about 20 seconds, then went inside as I laughed and clapped for her. The girl and I sat in companionable silence for a while before she suggested that it was time for us to do the same, and we returned inside.

I also had a kind of neat experience with two men who were looking for my host dad. While my host family clearly knows that I can greet them (and that's about it, as they told Alicia, imploring her to help me study :p), these men found it absolutely shocking and delightful that I could welcome them in their native tongue. Lucky for me they switched to French right where my Moore ran out, and I told them that, while I'd last seen Saidou across the street he might have re-entered through the other courtyard and they were welcome to check. Another flurry of amused amazement when I replied correctly to their benedictions left me in a cheerful mood, because even though I clearly have a lot to learn it's nice to know that I've made progress, enough to win at least the approval and amusement of these men.

Mud Stoves

3 November – Romongo 9:28pm

We got to play with poo today! ;) Well, we were building a mud stove; while I managed to avoid touching the dung directly, it turns out that a good mud stove is made by mixing 4 parts dirt, 1 part dried crumbled dung, and 1 part straw. Put in a pile, add water, and dance vigorously on it to mix, then let it sit covered for a few days. We'll be coming back on Monday to remix with a little more water, then we'll pile it up around three rocks that hold up the marmite (the big round pot used for cooking everything here) so that the flames are contained under the bottom of the pot instead of flaring up around the sides. The point of a mud stove is that it's not only safer than bending over a pot with flames shooting up around it, but it's also more efficient. It does need to be protected from the rain (I wonder if you could coat it with something waterproof that wouldn't release harmful chemicals when heated?) and tends to last about 7-8 months before you have to make a new one. Not bad for something that's essentially free to make – everyone has dirt, dung, and straw doesn't seem too hard to come by for a farmer in village. I was actually kind of looking forward to dancing in the mud, but I scraped my toe on a rock today and didn't think the healing process would be helped by forcing dirt into it, so I stuck to smashing the rocks in the dust/dirt/rock pile.


2 December – Romongo 9:49pm

I got packages today!!! It was like Christmas in the conference room (there were 34 packages!), and the outpouring of happiness from everyone almost made it worth the waiting and anticipation. I was thrilled at all the useful gadgets and delicious food, but what I quickly realized I missed the most were photos. Robyn managed to choose almost all of the photos from the Laurel Parade and this summer that I had put on my computer with the intent to print out (but ran out of time in the hustle of moving and traveling between AZ and CO), and it absolutely made my heart happy to see my friends and family in a medium that I could hold in my hands and share easily with my friends and host family here. (NB – Caitlin Parsley, there is an adorable picture of us that made me miss you something fierce. You really should consider options for study abroad in West Africa, just sayin'). I showed them to my host family tonight, who seemed surprisingly comprehending at my photo of me with all three of my parents (it's such a great photo!), but do seem to find it a little odd that I'm an only child. They also remarked that I have very friendly looking parents, that should any of them come to Burkina they would be very happy to greet you and have you stay here in Romongo, and that I now should take pictures of my Burkina family to send to my American family so they can get to know each other. I agreed that it was a fine idea – I think Sunday will make a lovely photo day since it's the only day I'm at my house during the daytime.

Please don't think that I don't also appreciate all the food! All of my friends say thank you as well – I had many people share their goodies with me earlier in stage so it was time to pass on the favor and feed people who didn't get two awesome packages like I did. And I'm so happy to know that now I have insurance against nights when I'm served soumbala-fish rice or okra-sauce tô. As one would expect, the minute I have things that I really want to eat I'm served something I like for dinner! Well, it was rice with a separate sauce, so I had salt and pepper rice (which as you know I happily eat in the US), and was given an orange *and* some watermelon for dessert! I managed to somehow jam some orange peel under my thumb nail and even when I removed it, it really hurt! I think I lifted the nail off the bed a little bit, but now that it's been about an hour it feels much better. I've been really lucky so far (knock on wood) and have managed to avoid pretty much all of the maladies plaguing my stage-mates.

The puppy is currently scratching at my door. I bathe him weekly, but after a day or two when I scratch him I can see the dust fly off. He's pretty adorable and besides an affection for nipping at my feet/pants/skirt/anklet/toes/etc, he's not bad to have around. I try to keep him out of my room mostly because even when he's in here for a few minutes I seem to always end up stepping in a mysterious little puddle an hour or so later when I go to get something at the other end of my room. I've never potty trained anything besides asking toddlers if they have to use the bathroom every half-hour, so I deal with it by petting him for a minute and scooting him out of my room ASAP. He scratches at the door and has learned that if I don't latch it he can throw his weight into it a few times to get it to open, but I just keep scooping him up and putting him back outside. It's getting colder at night so tonight I made him a little nest of dirty clothing under a table to shelter him from the wind, and next to a wall which absorbs a bit of sunlight during the day, so it radiates heat at night. I'm not sure what they do to the mud bricks that make up the walls of most houses, but they absorb and hold heat like no other! My bags that rest on the wall are quite warm to the touch, even after it's been dark for a while.

"The Dante Club"

1 December – Romongo 8:17pm

Another day of classes, mostly language and “personal study time” since we were in Romongo. I finished The Dante Club, the one I rescued from the termites. Set in post-Civil War Boston, it follows a group of scholars and poets who are working on translating Dante's Divine Comedy (the true part of this historical fiction) when a rash of murders based on the book among the Boston upper class forces them to try and find the murderer. While I'm not convinced that it will make the top 10 list of books I've ever read, I very much enjoyed the story and learned a lot about the poets of the era and what was going on in 1800's Boston. It even made me want to search out The Divine Comedy, although I suspect it will be written in a significantly less engaging, older writing style compared to this modern murder-mystery that describes it.

Gender and Development, Send Me Your Homework, Happy Language Moments

30 November – Romongo, 9:35pm

We had a session today on Gender and Development, which was pretty interesting, although it really made me miss Mount Holyoke and all the Gender Studies classes I've taken. It sounds kinda nerdy (or really nerdy) but I'm thinking of downloading all those papers from ELLA that I skimmed for classes and actually taking the time to read them. On that note, if you're in a class and you happen to have a vaguely interesting paper (that you're reading or that you've written, any topic) I would love to have more reading material! Email it to me (seriously) and I'll save it on my computer to read or print later. Although medicine and the idea of doing public health is still really interesting to me, I was surprised at how happy I was to be back in a situation where we could begin to explore sex, gender, and gender-roles as they apply to Burkinabé and us as Americans in Burkina Faso.

Tonight I had a happy language moment! I had just arrived home, put my stuff in my room, and gone out to the big courtyard to greet everyone. I found my host mom resting for a minute next to the laundry tubs, and stopped to chat for a minute when Mamu, her youngest daughter, came up and started pestering “Ma, ma, ma, ma.” We both looked at her questioningly, and she whined “Mam rata sagbo” which I understood! It seems really simple, but it's the first sentence besides a greeting that I've fully understood in Moore without really thinking about it. Yay! Now I just need to learn more things than “I want tô.” How do you say “how often do you go to the CSPS and how do you pay for it?” in Moore?

And on a happy family note, in general I'm feeling closer to my host family. I like going to greet the women, especially Fati who speaks a fair bit of French and Mamuna, the women who lives next to her. Fati was pretty intimidating at first, but she's really nice and takes the time to chat with me for a little about what she's cooking, what I'm learning in class, and maybe teaches me a few words in Moore. Mamuna hardly speaks any French, but greets me with such enthusiasm in Moore or with “Ca va? Ca va!” that I can't help but smile and laugh back. It's interesting that the person I can hardly communicate with is one of the two that I feel closest to, but she doesn't try to say lots of things I don't understand, she's clearly welcoming and friendly, and although I don't hang out with her for long I don't think it would be hard to have a companionable charades with her.