Saturday, December 11, 2010

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.

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