Friday, November 25, 2011

November, Chad and Tana, Learning Failure

Back in town for Mid Service Conference (MSC) and Thanksgiving! I hope all of you celebrated yesterday with lots of good food like we did. I think the only things we were missing were cranberries and candied sweet potatoes - we had turkey (3 Butterballs from America-land!), ham, green bean casserole, empanadas (delicious!), mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, 3 kinds of stuffing (I helped make one with green olives, artichoke hearts, chestnuts, and mushrooms), 3 green salads, 2 fruit salads, chopped veggies with hummus dip, a corn casserole, and a couple other things that arrived after I was too full to go back through the line. For dessert we made cinnamon sugar cookies, Dutch apple pies, apple crumble, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, and a rich chocolate mousse, along with mulled wine, bissap, and sodas to drink. As you can see, it was quite the feast! And the Transit House is bursting with leftovers today, some of which are going to be coming home with me in the form of a turkey and stuffing sandwich for the bus ride (yum!).

MSC was our chance to talk about our first year at site, celebrate our successes, brainstorm about our challenges, and make plans for the upcoming year, as well as get a general medical screening and dental cleaning. The dental experience was surprisingly different than US dentists in some ways (mint-salt foam blasted at your gumline that have made my teeth look slightly larger) and similar in others (those metal tooth scraping picks must be universal).  We had two days of medical/dental (along with time to hang out, shop for the holidays, and catch up with each other) and one day of the actual Conference. We're all pretty used to the village work schedule by now - arrive late, 3 hour break for lunch, end early - so we were all dragging by the time we finished near 6pm (after starting at 7:45) with the more American one hour for lunch (plus the Burkinabe coffee break at 10am). This does not bode well for all of our discussions of plans for jobs/grad school! But we'll get there.

The information we got was useful and hearing other volunteers talk about things they do gave me a ton of ideas for simple things I can try in my village as well! One volunteer does daily teachings on warning signs in pregnancy and what to bring to the maternity for the birth before they start pre-natal consultations. One has taught the kids who come to her courtyard the importance of washing their hands to the point that they now ask for soap and water when they arrive and she offers them food. One has a counterpart who makes and sells baby weighing harnesses so that women can have their own, arrive with the baby already in it (saving time) and it's so much more hygienic (kids here don't wear diapers under their clothing. Thankfully, it's good luck if a baby pees on you, but I'm not too convinced about the luck if he or she pees in your baby weighing harness). We learned how to make water filters out of stacked canneries (round ceramic pots) filled with layers of sand, charcoal, and pebbles. We got a lot of helpful and motivating information on the new PC initiative to "Stomp Out Malaria" and heard of a village in Senegal that has lowered their cases almost to zero through massive pressure by village leaders to improve village hygiene, water storage, and early treatment of any fever.

I'll be back in a week to teach first-aid to the new stage and for a VAC meeting, so I'll try and have more by then. In the meantime I highly recommend reading Chad and Tana's blog - I was reading it while uploading pictures to Facebook (a very time consuming process, 5 photos at a time) and they are so funny! While some of their experiences are a little different down in south-west Jula-speaking land, most things are universal and will give you a different perspective on life here. Find them at

And on a final note, we've all been passing around this article by an RPCV (returned peace corps volunteer) published in the Huffington Post that has started a lot of interesting discussions on why we're here, what we can and cannot do, and what lessons we take away from our time here and how that impacts the kind of people we are when we return to the US. If you're interested, it's at:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ca fait deux jours, no?

Hello everyone! Sorry for the massive pause in updating - I got busy and lazy, to be honest. "Ca fait deux jours" means "It's been a while" or literally "It's been two days", and no matter how long it's been it's an appropriate way to greet someone you haven't seen for a few days/weeks/months.  I'm headed back to site in a few hours, but I wanted to say that I'm still alive and chugging along here in the Faso. What have I been up to? Well...

-The bike tour came through my village at the beginning of September, to resounding success. I got to cook lots of food (lasagna, mac and cheese, cornbread, cookies), my village was very honored to play host, and I used it as a kick-off to generate interest in my meeting the next day.

-The general meeting the next day was to propose a project idea with Emily, the Kalsaka volunteer. We want to get community health agents into primary schools to teach the students about various health topics, and to convince people to go along with it (and to improve nutrition at the school lunches) we want to plant moringa trees, 5 for each student, as a growing competition. In April we'll measure the trees, give out prizes, and hold a party to celebrate the end of the project and to let the students show off some of the things they've learned. Moringa is an amazing tree with leaves that are packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals, and the powdered leaves can be added to just about any dish or sauce, including the daily student meal of beans and rice. We met with the representatives of the PTAs for each school, the health agents, and local VIPs who need to give their ok. It went quite well, and felt like a good start.

-My mom and uncle came to visit in mid September for a week! It was amazing to have them here, to let them see what my life is like, and to take in some of the more touristy things that I otherwise probably wouldn't have seen (like the amazing granite sculpture gardens at Zinare). They came to my village, met my host family in Romongo, and adventured around Ouaga with a good sense of humor and a willingness to go along with my crazy plans. It was a lot of fun, and Shannon has invited them to become Response volunteers. ;)

-Just after they left I had a VAC meeting and then we jumped into swear-in for the newest group of volunteers, plus a 3 day fair to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. It rained like crazy the morning of the first day (causing chaos and confusion) but we got it together and overall things went really well. We worked hard, but got to go out and celebrate for a night before all heading back to site.

-At site I've been working a lot at the maternity and trying to get this moringa project going. We've had a few setbacks (our funding request getting caught in the end-of-fiscal-year shuffle, so we won't get the money for fencing for another few months, no more moringa seeds available for a few months, every decision requiring several meetings spread over several days or weeks), but we're slowly plugging away and hope to start the health lessons this month and wait to plant the trees until January (which is actually a better time to plant them anyway, it's cooler and won't cook the saplings). We've also done several Polio campaigns in the past few months, and I've enjoyed visiting the smaller villages in my area and meeting new people. Also, on the last campaign I got a bug stuck in my ear, but my CSPS staff drowned it and washed it out with a syringe full of water, and laughed at me for being worried about it.

-Halloween was a blast! Dave came out to my site on the 29th and spent the night in Kossouka, then we biked to Seguenega and hopped on a truck to go to Kalsaka to celebrate with Emily and JK. We carved a little watermelon to look like a jack-o-lantern, made lots of delicious food, baked a Funfetti cake (!), and danced under the stars.

-I've been in Ouaga the past day doing some work, following up on moringa project requests, and researching grad schools! I'm currently looking into programs to become a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, which would allow me to work in a variety of settings (hospital, clinic, birthing center, private practice, college campus, etc) and do just about everything a doctor does (write prescriptions, order and interpret lab results) but with the nursing focus on holistic and preventative care. The degree is a masters or post-masters, and typically requires a bachelors in Nursing plus being a certified RN, but I've found several schools that have bridge or direct entry programs for people like me who already have a bachelors in something other than nursing. I'd have to take 2 or 3 classes before I can get into the program (Microbiology, Nutrition, Anatomy since I only took Physiology), but I'm really happy about the different possibilities and options that I have. It also looks like I might be back in Massachusetts, in Boston this time!  A lot of things need to fall into place, but it's exciting to start looking and making tentative plans.

-And next on the list is back to village (for more moringa meetings!) and then Mid-Service Conference at the end of November, a chance to check in at our 1 year mark, get a health checkup, receive a little more training, and prepare for the coming year. In December I get to teach the first aid session at stage for the newest arrivals here in Burkina, and then I'm going back to the US for 3 weeks for Christmas! So much to look forward to.  With that, time to go pack and catch a bus! I hope all of you are doing well in your various endeavors, and finding lots to smile about.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bike Tour!

Regular updating is momentarily suspended to bring you information about the Tour de Burkina! You clearly don't have to donate if you don't want to, but should you have some dollars or euros or pounds or cfa lying around burning a hole in your pocket, this is a great cause. I'm not riding on the tour but I am hosting 11 riders in my village on the 9th of September. So, in their support, here's their fundraising letter:

August 19, 2011

Dear Family and Friends of Peace Corps Burkina Faso,

g August 31, 2011, Peace Corps volunteers from around Burkina Faso will be participating in Le Tour de Burkina, the second annual country-wide bike tour to raise money for Gender and Development projects in Burkina.

Gender and Development projects encompass a huge variety of volunteer projects, be they organizing a girls’ camp to promote self-esteem and goal setting or helping a women's group conduct an income generating activity. These are of critical importance in Burkina Faso and represent a significant component of each volunteer’s work. The Gender and Development (GAD) Committee exists to support volunteer-initiated, gender equity projects around Burkina Faso; with Le Tour de Burkina we hope to generate funds so the GAD Committee can give small-scale project grants and volunteers can continue the essential work of promoting gender awareness and equality in Burkina Faso. We’re proud to say that last year’s tour raised nearly $5,000 – enough to fund 35 GAD grants.

Please help us reach this year’s fundraising goal of $6,000 by visiting our blog and making a donation:
To be certain your donation reaches Gender and Development projects, be sure to specify
“GAD Gender and Development” in the Comments section.

In Burkina Faso, one dollar goes a long way, so even the smallest contribution will make a big difference. Follow the blog to learn more about the tour, which projects were funded last year, and to stay updated while we’re on the road.

This year we will be riding for 23 days, covering 1,700 kilometers (that’s the distance from New York City to Orlando), and passing by 32 volunteer sites. In addition to kicking off celebrations of Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary, the tour will increase awareness of Peace Corps Burkina Faso’s activities and reinforce the relationships within volunteers’ communities.

for your support!


Peace Corps Burkina Faso
Gender and Development Committee

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fantasia Lightning, Weekend Chores, Going to Ouaga

July 31st

I woke up at 3am yesterday and couldn't figure out why, but then realized that my eye mask had slipped and there was so much lightning brightening the sky that it almost looked like day time. It was incredible. I could hear the wind picking up, rushing through the leaves of the tree outside and throwing gritty gusts of dirt against the tin roof. So I shut the windows, grabbed my pagne, and went outside to look. It was like something out of Fantasia – all it needed was a Beethoven symphony with lots of kettle drums to match the continuous rumble of the thunder. You couldn't see any individual bolts, but different bands and banks of the clouds along the eastern horizon would light up in succession, then all at once, back and forth like they were part of a call and respond song. It was even light enough to take pictures, so I did, but right before I went back to sleep as the rain was just starting to fall I realized I should have taken a video. It was amazing, I've never seen anything like it before.

It's been a pretty nice weekend, really. I thought it was going to rain yesterday so I was kind of lazing about, but then the sun came out so I got water and did my laundry. Just as I'd finished and was deciding if I was hungry or not for lunch, Ilias knocked on my gate. I was surprised to see him, but he didn't admonish me too much for not calling, and he came in and sat down. He stayed for about 3 hours, just talking while I did my chores, but it wasn't bad to have company, even if that company sometimes repeats himself several times, asks if you're listening and understanding, calls women cowards, and asks what you're going to feed him for lunch. I warned him that I wasn't going to cook until I got hungry, and he said it was alright, he'd already had lunch, he was just still not quite full. Boys. He passed his BAC, although he got a 6/20 on the English section. He's excited to spend the summer in Ouaga, and starts school in December at the University of Ouaga to study medicine. In the meantime I weeded my yard, did my dishes, took down clothing as it dried, swept the house and patio, and translated English song lyrics for him into French so he'd know what they actually meant. Thankfully he didn't ask for translations for anything that I wouldn't want to translate! We talked about music for a while, which was fun. He saw my book and asked about it, and if I knew how to read. In French and in English? Yes, I know how to read, in both, although English is easier being my first language and all. Oh really? Yes, really.

After he left, Drissa came over for a few minutes, but it was mostly to say hello and tell me about his week at the mine. Then I could shower and yoga – I've figured out that it's a lot easier to do tree pose if it's still light out, but by the time I'm finishing the stars are all out. I saw three shooting stars while I was stretching! One was particularly bright – it was beautiful. I hope I never stop feeling that jolt of happy surprise when I see one. Speaking of tree pose, I not only have finally gotten to the point of holding my foot against my thigh (instead of my calf), but I can hold it almost to a count of 20 before I start to fall over! :D It's the little things here.

Today has been lovely and lazy. I've written some emails, I've read a little, I've drunk tea, I've greeted a few people walking by on their way to church or their fields. I just talked to my mom, and very jealous of the fun they're having in Florida. I'm sitting in the shade on a sunny warm day, so why can't I quite convince myself that my courtyard dirt is as enticing as the ocean waves?

I think there are little red birds living in my secco, the woven straw covering my hangar. I'm ok with this – they're pretty cute. I wonder if birds eat flies? I seem to have a lot of them in my yard, it would be awesome if the birds would eat them.

I think it's time for another cup of tea and some yoga before it gets too dark for me to find my balance. Leaving for Ouaga tomorrow!

Cooking Morning

July 29th

I'm sitting on my patio drinking my breakfast tea and getting ready to start cooking. It's very gray this morning – it rained like crazy last night. Just as I was getting ready for bed the wind picked up, to the point that I had to shut the windows and even my front door to stop the dust from swirling in. But at least now I don't have to water my garden! I've already got watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, green beans, and butternut squash sprouting, and possibly basil, although that could just be the little weeds that are impossible to pick out until they get a bit bigger. I'm slightly worried that my tomatoes, cilantro, sage and onion seeds were just too old, but we'll see – it's only been 6 days after all.

I guess I should get going, it's 7:30. Time for the tortilla-chip extravaganza! Cooking with Sali yesterday was a lot of fun, and we made, rolled out, and cooked about 25 tortillas, which, along with 2 dozen cookies, took a little over 2 hours. I'm afraid it won't be enough for all of the people I want to feed, but everyone will at least get a little.

PAM, Marche, Puppy!

July 27th

Another evening under the beautiful stars – I wonder if it's possible to ever get sick of looking at the stars? I mean, I know there are some nights I don't sit outside even when the stars are out, and some nights I sit outside even though it's cloudy, but whenever I do look up when the sky is clear I can't help but be almost overwhelmed at how beautiful it is. It feels like I could fall into it somehow.

It somehow feels like today was especially long, but I'm not sure why. Not in a bad way, certainly, in the way that you suddenly try and tell someone about your day and can't quite recall if what you did this morning was this morning, or maybe it was yesterday morning?

Where was I? The morning. We were supposed to have an inspector from the world food program come to see the food distribution so we had brought all the records up to date, cleaned the supply room, and even hauled out the scales, yardsticks, and arm bands so we could take all those measurements that we're supposed to. I was really excited because I'd mentioned a few times that it wouldn't be too hard to add those in, and certainly would make it simpler to see if a child was actually improving on the program or not. Plus, how could anyone reviewing our paperwork not be suspicious that each child grows exactly 2 cm over the 3 months, and gains 100-500 grams every 2 weeks, and each woman gains 2mm every week on her arm circumference?

When we finally started (a little late but nothing terrible, perhaps 8:30 or so) she called to see if the person was coming soon. They told her they'd get back to her and she told them we were starting anyway – the women wanted to get back to their fields and wouldn't stick around if we were just sitting and waiting for an hour or two. So I started weighing children and she started weighing women, and the end was in sight by the time they called back and said that the inspector had gone to Rondo instead. We laughed, and I pointed out that things had actually moved really quickly even though we were doing the measurements for all 60 people. She told me that when she'd been working alone it had taken her until 2pm every distribution day to take all the measurements herself, and it was because there were two of us. So I said something along the lines of it being easier to just have the real numbers instead of having to make them up, especially now that she had me and the interns and Julienne, and she agreed that we could keep doing them properly. I almost felt like jumping up and down and saying “Victory!” but I confined myself to mental celebrations of finally having seen something I had tried to change happen.

I understand why she had stopped doing the measurements – if I were there by myself every week for 6 hours straight in the sun I'd be pretty grumpy and not as concerned about doing it right as much as getting it over sooner. But we finished by 10am on a moderately busy day, showing that even if I'm not around she just needs one person to help her for 2 hours and then they'll both be available to help with the rest of the work at the CSPS, plus the data collected will actually be useful to people further up the line because it'll be true instead of unnaturally perfect and expected. I also realized that I've never seen anything change just because I said “Hey, why aren't we doing this?”, but now I'm starting to see changes when I start helping and show an interest and things get done faster so there's suddenly room to do the things we weren't doing. I think I could probably guide the process a little more than I did in this case (unfortunately there aren't inspections for things like CPNs or baby weighings, to the best of my knowledge), but I'll be thrilled if we can get into the habit of taking PAM measurements every week, not just when we expect someone to come watch with a check list. Then – on to the next goal!

By 11am the place was deserted – no women waiting to give birth or have a consultation, no patients waiting with fevers or injuries – and we all went to the marche. Occasionally it's annoying when I feel like I'm in a hurry (why?), but today it was a pleasure to spend a few hours sitting and talking to people. Alimata said she'd come visit me tomorrow with Fati, her daughter who is feeling much better and has even gotten to the point of not being scared of me anymore! Odelle must have been around, but even though I kept checking on her coolers and even asked the men standing around where she was (in Moore!) I couldn't find her. But I ran into Sali who introduced me to a man selling very tiny overpriced but worth it green peppers, and we wandered around for a little bit, stopping to talk to people. I bought some rice and chatted with the spice and fish guys (I've seen them in Seguenega too – they always set up right next to each other even though they seem to sell separately), and Sali confirmed that they sell the best rice in the marche.

So then I went home and read and drank my tea and ate my samsa – what a lovely afternoon! I left again after the repose with the intention of getting some water to do dishes, but ended up helping Julienne plant part of her peanut field. Well, actually, I planted about 10 peanuts and realized that unless I was going to go get another daba (a planting implement here, consisting of a narrow wooden handle with a short flat blade that angles back towards the handle, making it look like a “7” with the top being the metal blade) I was kind of holding her up since she could somehow dig, seed and cover 3 or 4 holes to each of mine, so I gave back the daba and started pulling weeds instead. We attracted quite a lot of attention and I got a considerable Moore lesson/mental workout in vocabulary surrounding planting and fields and working and obscure greetings that I still haven't quite figured out the proper response to. Still, it was fun, and when I finally broke away to get the key to the robinet from Luddie, I found out that Julienne had brought back a puppy! His name, of course, is Rex, the other two options being Lulu and Bobbie (the latter is one I've never heard, but Julienne assured me that it was one of the three approved dog names when I joked about the popularity of the name Rex). He's so tiny and cute! I was a little concerned at his apparent lack of curiosity when I went to interact with him, but eventually I convinced him to come say hello and he even started trying to catch my hand when I was scratching his ears and nose – not with a ton of enthusiasm, but he seemed to be getting the hang of it. I'm so excited that we'll have a puppy around! Even if his name is Rex.

And with that, it's bed time for sleepy village-time PCVs who have to get up and weigh lots of babies in the morning. Tomorrow afternoon I'm going to start cooking for the polio campaign, and Sali said she wants to come help! I'm excited to get to share with her, and to get help on making lots of tortillas and cookies. Maybe we can make it a regular thing and I'll get her to teach me how to make that awesome spaghetti sauce she had one day when I shared lunch with her.

Campaigns, Neem, Stage

July 26th

Today was a rather unusual morning at the CSPS. I got there at 7:30, as usual, and Sali wasn't there but I decided to go ahead and start without her so things would be ready to go when she arrived. Normally we have 20-25 women waiting for CPNs or birth control, but today we only had 6! I think it must have been the rain last night – it had been so long since the last rain that people had stopped working in their fields, and with the sudden ability to start planting again most people must have decided to come another day. I handed out the numbered cards anyway – people have a tendency to keep showing up until about 8:30, and started weighing and taking blood pressures. Two women had come in a month before their next scheduled exam, so I gave them the anti-malaria and anti-parasitic drugs that they were due to receive, and asked them to wait for Sali so that she could give them their tetanus vaccine injection. The 6th woman said she was ill, and I tried to figure out if she meant ill as in pregnant, ill as in aborting, or ill as in having malaria, mainly so I could determine if it was necessary to give her a maternity carnet and weigh her. I asked the major to question her further, and after he just said that she would wait for Sali, so I figured the carnet could wait as well.

Then we sat. Sali showed up for half a minute, but left again and didn't return. I was surprised at how frustrated I felt – I logically knew she probably had a reason for being at the CSPS but doing something besides her regular routine. But I also felt annoyed that we'd been sitting for over an hour waiting for her when these 6 consultations would easily take less than an hour, allowing her to go back to whatever she was doing and allowing the women to get back to their families and their fields. She came a bit before 9am and we were pretty much finished by 9:45, even with a surprise walk-in who requested a Jadell birth control implant which typically takes a little bit of time. I asked where she had been all morning and she said she had arrived at 5:30 to clean out the PAM (world food program) room, since they're coming to inspect the food distribution tomorrow. It made me somehow feel better, and guilty about being frustrated, to know that she'd been working and not just refusing to come to work, but then I wondered why having a reason should make me feel so differently when I logically knew the whole time that she probably had a reason for not coming on time. I also was surprised she hadn't asked me to help, but I guess between cleaning spider webs and sitting listening to the women I'd prefer to sit.

So instead of leaving early after we finished I ended up sitting and talking to my major, which went surprisingly well. Recently I've tried to avoid being around him too much because he irrationally annoys me, but one on one he's a lot easier to handle. I think when he's around a group he has to entertain and joke a lot, and I tend to feel like the butt of his jokes, or as though he's using his joking to criticize something I've been doing or not doing. I'm probably overly sensitive about it, I just don't like the constant implication that I'm not working, or that I have so much time on my hands that I won't mind doing his work for him. We talked about batteries (I'm thinking of buying a small one so I can have a lamp, not just my lantern), and I asked him about housing people on the Tour de Burkina fundraiser bike tour and who in the community I needed to officially inform about the arrival of a dozen nasaras.

We had just started talking about the possibility of me doing a sensibilization on baby-weighing days when people from the schisto campaign started returning. I swear, the poor ASVs have been doing campaigns almost continuously since I got back – first it was polio, then it was lymphatic filarisis, now it's schistomiosis, and while we were talking the major said that another polio is starting on Friday! While I'm typically of the mindset that vaccinations are a crucial part of public health, and getting vaccinated more than the minimum doesn't hurt, it seems bizarre to re-vaccinate the exact same population a month after the last campaign. People are in the fields and take their children with them, meaning that we have to go field to field and somehow try and make sure we're getting the people in that village (and not the neighboring village, or the percent coverage numbers get messed up), as well as attempt to determine what house they belong to so we can write down the number of children vaccinated on the side of each concession. The ASVs do get paid to do these campaigns, but I'm sure they must be kind of sick of them at this point – I'm tired of them and I haven't even been going out with a team since the polio campaign when I first got back, just collecting papers and adding up totals. So I promised that, for this next campaign, if the major helps me find flour (or buys it in Seguenega for me) I'd make snacks for everyone on Friday morning (I'm thinking of giving tortilla chips another try, and possibly the lemon cookie recipe in the cookbook).

I've been talking to Emily and I think I'd like to do a demonstration at baby weighing on how to make neem cream and use it in conjunction with other measures to prevent malaria, but I realized that to actually get the majority of women I'd need to do it every week for a month or two. This isn't a big deal, and I really mind paying to make small batches to demonstrate every week, but I was also debating trying to use neem cream as an IGA (income generating activity), possibly for someone like Colette or Koka or one of the other women who is an ASV and/or CoGES member and is already invested and active in the health of the community and familiar with the CSPS. I didn't think it would be very nice of me to do a demonstration every week and then expect someone to try and sell the same product the next day in the marche. But I realized that perhaps if I teach someone to make it and ask them to help me do my sensibilization and use the opportunity to sell neem cream (the batch we demonstrated with the week before, since it has to set at least overnight), it would be a way to pay for the materials for the next week, earn some money for these women who work very hard and often without pay at the CSPS, and offer a product to women that they may not have the time or motivation to make on their own.

Now, to present the idea to my staff and the 5 women I suspect might be interested in doing this.

I'd ideally like to get started right away, but with yet another campaign starting I think I'll have to wait. Plus next week I'll be gone nearly the whole week. I'm working stage the 3rd and 4th, but because of MSC for super stage, Sylvie can only meet with Anna and I to go over the first aid material on the 1st. So I'll take the bus in on the 1st, be in Ouaga/Saponey until the morning of the 5th, and return to site on the 6th by way of Nongfaire, Alicia's village. She didn't say why exactly, but she invited a handful of us to come visit and I'd love to finally meet her family and see where she lives. Thus, neem cream will have to wait for a little, but with any luck the campaigns will be over for a little bit and we can focus our energies on other things. The major did say that everyone is really tired of doing campaigns, especially polio, but that a child in Mali (or maybe a child in Burkina who recently came from Mali) had been diagnosed with polio in the past week, so the North region is doing an extra polio campaign in response to make absolute sure that everyone is covered and the disease can't possibly spread. It makes sense, I just wonder how people in the village think of it. Do campaigns lose a bit of their effectiveness when they become routine, when seeing vaccinations come to your house is no longer an interesting and unusual occurrence worthy of curiosity and attention? Do mothers lose their faith in the usefulness of a vaccine or medication if it's being given to her child on a monthly basis to prevent a disease she hasn't seen a case of in years, possibly her whole life?

Lazy Sunday

July 24th

Today was a very calm and lazy Sunday. I turned over the soil in the garden and planted all my seeds. I baked banana-nut bread to take to my CSPS, but no one was there so I decided to save it and give it to them tomorrow. I talked with Sarata and her friend, who hung around for quite a while, playing with my hair and examining my bug bites. I forgot how much I like having my hair played with – short hair can be good for getting people to run their fingers through it, but long hair inspires playing. She tried to braid it, but told me I should grow it longer so it'll be easier – I said I'd think about it. They were fascinated by how white my scalp is, and how it got red if they pulled my hair to the side and then let it relax back into place. After they left I read, and drank tea, and took pictures, and made pesto macaroni, and talked to Emily for a bit. Overall, a very satisfying day.

Unexpected Day

July 23rd

I was challenged to do something unexpected today. “Unexpected?” I thought. “Well, I'm already planning on doing my laundry and digging up and watering the places where I want to plant my garden tomorrow, so what can I do that is unexpected with that?” I decided that while I was thinking I should go get water, since the hour to think was bound to help. I had to go searching for the key (not unexpected), but did find out that nearly everyone was at work, even though it was a Saturday. So I asked Sali for the key, got my water, and came and sat down to chat with Ken, one of our interns, and his friends. Salim (the pharmacist) came and sat down with us, and we talked in a very strange combination of French/English/Moore, which lead to a lot of confusion and laughter. I asked Ken if he would take me to see his family again since I'd really liked meeting them the last time he was home, so we're going tomorrow or Monday afternoon – he said his father was asking after me, which made me happy.

Julienne came back last night, so we sat and chatted a little but avoided anything too serious. I'm glad she's back – I'm surprised to admit that I missed her (her humor tends to have a bite to it) but I did. I headed home to start my laundry and promised a surprise for everyone. Laundry and dishes went pretty quickly – music helps. ;)

So then my adventure with tortillas! I had noticed a few weevils in my flour the last time I checked, but there didn't seem to be too many so I didn't worry. I decided to go ahead and sift all of my flour and put it in a new container, and removed a surprising number of little bugs and larvae, but hoped that it would still be ok for cooking. I rolled out all the dough and started to fry it, and noticed that it smelled kind of funny, so I only made three to start. I ate one, and while it was ok, I noticed that it tasted a little odd, especially after I was done eating. Maybe it'll be better once they're fried into chips, I thought. So I added more oil and cut up the tortillas I'd cooked and tossed them in. They turned into beautiful looking chips, but even over the fried salty deliciousness I could taste that they were off somehow. It might have been the sudden influx of fried foods after not eating a lot of oil for a while, but I wasn't feeling all that great, so I decided to be on the safe side and scrap my project rather than foist off dubious chips onto my friends. I'm disappointed that it didn't work out, but I'll buy new flour and try again – it really was old flour and about time to get rid of it anyway, I guess.

What else? Unexpected. I sat out in the light rain talking to Drissa, the miner who has come over a few times to say hello. He repeated a lot of our last conversation, but I didn't really mind. I suddenly realized sitting there that I'm really tired! I thought about it, and I guess I've been on my feet getting water or doing laundry or cooking for the past 7 or 8 hours, so it makes sense – I'm just surprised I didn't realize it until I finally sat down.

I had a really long talk with Ebben last night – he called because he was looking through his phone for people he hadn't called in a while. We agreed that the longer we're in Burkina, the less solid our post-Peace Corps plans seem to get, as though we're losing the ability to predict what we want to do or where we want to end up. It's sometimes so easy to daydream about the future, and yet other times it's hard to imagine anything past the next day or week or season. I think it should have a name. Burkina Time. Or maybe Volunteer Time – I wonder if this happens in other places too?

While I was doing my laundry I found the tiniest little lizard in my bucket. I picked her out and she just sat on my pointer finger, no bigger than the space from the first joint to my fingertip. She seemed pretty content, so I went and got my camera and took her picture. I could feel and see her heart beating. I finally convinced her to climb off onto the seco of my hangar, and she quickly scuttled away into the layers of straw – I hope I see her again.

Time Use

July 22nd

I feel like I want to use this time here in Burkina, here in my courtyard, here during rainy season, to allow myself to be introspective, to ponder, to write, to try and continue the long road to figuring out who I am and molding myself into who I want to be, but I also want to live in the moment, to experience what is here to be lived and learned. I know by shutting myself off from my village, I'm cutting myself off from those potential experiences, but some days I can't seem to get myself out the door. How do I become the person I want to be, the person who has the courage and the drive to leave the sanctuary of my courtyard and my books and my thoughts? Do I force myself out? Give myself goals? Re-read old journal entries? Make deals with other friends who do the same thing? How do I change, and hold onto those changes? Is each time I do force myself out of my gate an exercise, a repetition, a flexing of a muscle that will get stronger? I've gotten to the point that I can leave my courtyard every morning because I've set up expectations that I'll be some place. Could I do that with my afternoons? Do I want to?

I know I'm enjoying all the time to myself, away from people laughing at me for no obvious reason or telling me to learn Moore or asking me what I've brought them from the US/Ouaga/Europe/France/Etc. But could it be more valuable, more worth it, to just spend a few more hours outside my house every day? What could I do? I can go to the library and hang out at the maison des jeunes. I can find a Moore tutor. I can go sit out under the tree and read there or talk to my neighbors. I can study French. I can ask Ken to take me to see his family. I can go visit Simon's family and help in their fields. I can go on bike rides, although it's a little hot. I can leave my gate open. I can go visit Colette and the other ASVs. I can plan sensibilizations with my CSPS staff and the schools. I can finish my Etude. I can have more to tell my friends and less time to do it. Is it bad to make changes you want to make to yourself if they're motivated or inspired by the need and desire to impress someone else?

Three little baby lizards are running around my hangar. Two just jumped/fell off, and I can hear the third trying to decide if he's going to follow. The first two landed with a bounce and scuttled under a piece of seco.


July 20th

Today I finally was out of oatmeal, so I went to 'Starbucks' (the coffee hangar behind my house that I've privately nicknamed) to buy bread. Everyone was surprisingly warm and welcoming, although I think it helped that there was only a handful of customers instead of the usual crowd. There's something to be said for getting up earlier now, and being forced to get dressed and out of the house quickly meant I had a luxurious amount of time to sit and drink my tea outside (English Breakfast). They welcomed me back, and as I expected, asked where I had been. I had considered trying to plan a response to this in Moore, but never got around to asking someone to help me with it. Thankfully I was saved by one of the friendlier older men who I've spoken to a few times (in French he almost understands and Moore I barely understand), who seemed to be explaining my reason for being away in the US accurately (I caught the handful of key words I would have been trying to use). I was really glad that word had gotten around since it helped me avoid having to say it again, and everyone was very sweet and didn't even ask me what I'd brought them (I don't know if they will ever know how grateful I am for that, but I am).

Weekend Cleaning

July 17th

I intended to go into Kongussi today, but after talking to JK and realizing that some places would be closed on Sunday, combined with the fact that my laundry still wasn't dry when I went to bed...well, I decided to push back my adventure by a day. So I slept in a little (I've discovered the secret to sleeping better – earplugs and an eye mask!), took down my laundry as it dried (it was too cool and damp yesterday afternoon when I hung everything up), went over to check on getting a new bottle of gas and stayed for a bit to talk to the people at the restaurant, finally put away all of my clothing and wrapped the shelves in an extra sheet to stop them from getting dusty, swept the house, did my dishes, read a little, went back to the maison des jeunes to ask again about the gas, convinced someone to bring it to my house and hook it up for me, made tea and dinner, showered, yoga-ed, and now I'm sitting outside counting shooting stars (2 so far, plus a satellite). I always feel good when I end my day and feel like I got a lot done, even if it's just chores that I was putting off. Plus now I can cook again! It wasn't the cooking so much as the inability to heat up water for tea when I wanted to – sitting a metal dish in the sun only heats it to about lukewarm, and I missed my tea.

Day in Village

July 15th

Today alternately felt good, long, dull, sad, irked, happy, accomplished, amused, and calm. So, it was a normal day. I've really been having trouble sleeping through the night, with or without the melatonin that I got while I was in Ouaga and absolutely unable to sleep. I suspect the problem now is that it's because I'm too warm inside, but every time I'm ready for bed it's cloudy and I don't particularly want to risk sleeping outside if it means I'll have to wake up at 3am to move inside. But tonight it's quite warm inside, so I might give it a try since tomorrow I can sleep in if I want to (or if I'm able to ignore the sunlight coming in the door). Anyway, once I got over being grumpy about my alarm and sat up, I felt pretty good and even my gas tank running out didn't really bother me too much, probably because it had at least finished boiling the water for my breakfast and tea. I've been drinking tea almost constantly – it's somehow very comforting as well as delicious.

Sali got a call yesterday saying that Julienne's mother passed away, so she left to go pay our respect and give the condolences on behalf of the CSPS. I kind of wish I could have gone, but I guess I'm not particularly close to her like Sali is, I just feel compelled to reach out to her. I imagine losing a mother is a lot different than losing a father, but I'm sure it all depends on the person and how she relates to her parents.

The effect of her leaving is that we now have 2 people staffing our CSPS when there's normally 5 (our other nurse, Djeneba, just gave birth to a healthy baby girl, so she's on maternity leave in Ouaga for 3 months), so they're both very tired and feeling overworked. The major was working in the maternity and told me to go weigh babies and take temperatures at the dispensaire, so off I went. A surprisingly large number of people were there for wound care – I was very proud of my stomach for being able to look at wounds that, when I arrived, would have made me nearly faint. I still haven't figured out why so many children seemed to have deep gouges out of the back of their heels, it seems like an odd place to get injured. That part was interesting, but sitting and listening to consultations (and taking more temperatures) got very long and dull – about 10am I seem to get very sleepy if I'm stuck in a room sitting down.

When I was walking home, I was stopped by two ladies who came up to me as though they knew me, I was a little concerned since I didn't recognize them, but they responded to my hello and were asking something about why was I, the nasara, here? Do I speak Moore? I laughed and explained that I'm not a nasara, I'm a Burkinabe, I'm learning Moore, and I live here in Kossouka (Right here? Yes, that's my house. That's your house? Yes. Ahh, very good) and work at the CSPS but I'm not a doctor. We were already laughing at this point, but when I told them my name is Alimata they were thrilled, with the first one hailing me as her friend and the second one telling me that her name is also Alimata. I declared that we must be sisters, we all laughed some more, and they said goodbye and kept walking. It was so nice and amusing to have what felt like a real conversation in Moore and not have them realize that they had just heard a good majority of my vocabulary.

I tried to get a new bottle of gas, but they said the brand I use is all out for the moment but maybe tomorrow or Sunday. I'm a little bummed since most everything I eat seems to involve hot water, but I think finding cucumbers at the market right after made up for it. Speaking of which, they moved my marche! It's right next to where it used to be, but now there's just a bunch of empty hangars chilling out next to all the new ones. The new setup is a bit more open and the stalls are tall so you don't have to hunch over anymore, but now I have to find everyone again. Still, there are worse things than market adventures. I did manage to locate my peanut ladies, the dried fish man who I sit and talk with, and one of my veggie guys (who sold me the cucumbers and gave me onions for free – perfect!). I couldn't find Odelle, the woman who sells bissap, but a few people asked around for me and said she was there but must have been going around the marche at the same time I was instead of sitting with her coolers. Maybe on Monday.

While I was doing some laundry this afternoon, a head popped over my wall and started talking to me. I thought it was someone I knew, so I laughed and pointed out that he should use the door next time, not the wall, when he wanted to talk. So he came around and sat down and introduced himself. His name is Drissa, and he's a miner in Gambo (Rondo?). He's 20, his family lives just on the other side of the CSPS, he bikes to and from the mines every day, and apparently people are afraid to come talk to me because they think I'll keep them prisoner in my courtyard. I told him that if his friends would prefer to come and sit with me outside my courtyard to prevent any imprisonment, that would work for me. It wasn't a particularly deep or thoughtful conversation, but it was nice to have someone to chat with while I was taking down dry laundry.

Work and Alimata

July 12th

Apparently all I needed to do before now to ingratiate myself with my staff was to do just this, being somewhat more active in helping them with their work. I'm only weighing women and then writing down the observations that Sali calls out to me from the other side of the curtain in the exam room, but my major seemed quite impressed when Sali told him that I now know what medications a woman is going to be given based on the size of her uterus. There were quite a lot of women and we got started late because Sali was attending a birth and I was speaking with Abdoulye (the owner of my house who helped me remove all my weeds), so we didn't finish until nearly 1pm but we did manage to see all the women who had been waiting. On a tangent from the morning, I wasn't sure about proper protocol for thanking the owner of the house you're renting when he does your yard work for you, but he refused all offers of coffee, tea, breakfast, and only used the water I left for him to wash his hands when he was finished. Hmm. Still, he was very nice. He said a woman asked if she could plant peanuts in the plot of land next to my house, and I said that would be just lovely.

Instead of going home and taking a nap, I headed to the marche, but got waylaid talking to Alimata for an hour and decided that I didn't really need onions that badly so I headed home with my samsa and galettes. I'd missed talking to her – it was really nice, especially the Moore/Francais mix that lets me try and pick up new words a little easier. We talked about what I did in the US (didn't work, just was with family), Lauren's visit (her Moore was very impressive), my eating habits (I've gotten skinny and should never travel again – I need to stay in village and get fat and strong so I can find a husband – have some more galettes), and her family (her daughter is sick, they just started planting a few weeks ago but it hasn't rained in 4 days and everyone is a little worried).

Visit with Simon

July 11th

Today was a really good day. While my weekend of hiding in my courtyard was helpful in it's own way, getting back out and feeling like I was accomplishing things made me a lot happier, just settling back into a familiar groove. I got a call from my major at 7:20am, which kind of irked me, but he was just checking up on me and I told him I'd be there soon. So at 7:30 (my usual time) I went over and helped Sali weigh women and write down information from their exams into the carnets. We didn't finish until noon, and so I went home to eat and relax before spending the afternoon at the maison des jeunes, waiting for Simon and talking to the people sitting at the little restaurant in the corner of the courtyard.

My conversation with Simon was really interesting and kind of surprising in a few ways. Dr. Claude and Emily both told me that he had come to IST in Bobo and was really enthusiastic about starting projects when I got back, but what they didn't tell me is that he didn't know I wasn't going to be there until he arrived. In my rush of leaving I asked Dr. Claude and Justin to call my homologue and let him know, but he said he was really confused and worried when he arrived and couldn't find me, until Dr. Claude told him what was going on. I felt bad that he walked into that completely unsuspecting – I'd assumed that they'd contacted him and told him to come anyway. Now he has a cell phone, but at the time he didn't so I guess communication was probably a factor. But he did seem to have really enjoyed the information they gave him, and thought the idea of Care groups was a good one and he's willing to help me find a good village or quartier for starting one, which was really exciting.

(A Care Group is a new idea that Peace Corps is picking up to use in spreading health messages. You survey a community and find 10 interested and respected women who then become responsible for 10 families each. They attend a monthly meeting where they learn to teach a simple health concept, like how to put up and properly use a mosquito net and why it's important, then they have the month to teach it to each of their 10 families, effectively reaching 100 families on a very personal level by a neighbor that they already know and respect. It also tends to give the women involved a higher level of status and respect by being visibly involved in the improvement of their community.)

But the theme of the conversation was, unsurprisingly, wait until after the harvest. I said I understand – a big spectacle can sometimes get people to come out after their work in the fields where a smaller gathering might be ignored in favor of going home, but he said that I should take the time to repose. I smiled and said that I'd done a lot of reposing this past weekend and was actually kind of excited to be out doing things, but he shook his head and told me that it's important to rest my spirit after such a long voyage. I was so shocked that I don't think I even responded to the comment directly – I've never heard anyone here talk about taking care of one's mental or spiritual heath. Thinking about it now, it makes me feel really happy to know that he's willing to listen and understand that I was away for something difficult that might take time to recover from, which is even more surprising contrasted with most everyone else who offers their condolences and then expect life to resume as usual (which, granted, it usually does for the most part in their eyes). It made me really happy to have found such an impressive person to become friends with, and I'm really glad he's agreed to help me in my work here as well as be my friend.

4th of July

June 8th

Well, safely back at site. Emily had been planning a 4th of July party for longer than any of us could remember, so I got a map from Sali and hopped on my bike bright and early to go and find the bush route between our villages, in theory only 25 km apart. Well, it exists, and I suppose it could be 25 km, but on a flat paved road that would take about 60 or 90 minutes to bike. This took me 3 hours, mostly because there were a number of very steep hills that I ended up walking up, and several places where the road was flooded and I had to walk through the soggy fields until the path became passable again. Needless to say, I was very glad Emily hadn't told me the truth of how hard the route was, because I probably wouldn't have come otherwise! We had a lovely time though, cooking all day for a huge crowd and sitting and chatting while we snacked. They had made bagels! We also made guacamole, salsa and hummus for lunch, then fried chicken, beans and rice flavored with taco mix, mango fried rice, cookies, roast pork (we put it in the ground to cook but it kept catching on fire, so we gave it to the butcher to finish in the oven), and several other things I'm forgetting at the moment. I ended up staying a few days extra so I could help clean up and to avoid biking back on that terrible route.

Twice a week there's transport that leaves her village, so I took the 5am camion to Seguenega, then biked back to Kossouka. It might have been that I had significantly less to carry, or that it was earlier in the morning, but the ride back was a lot easier than I remember it being when I returned from our language IST. I got to the CSPS just in time to be informed that the entire staff was going to Seugenega for a formation (I had passed Sali on the road and wondered where she was going on baby weighing day). So I stuck around and helped our visiting nurse from a nearby CSPS, taking temperatures and listening to consultations. He was nice and seemed to actually care about figuring out the correct diagnosis for each person – I found myself wishing that he worked here all the time and could be a motivation to the other nurses. I went back in the afternoon, but the staff hadn't come back, so I went home and started The Invisible Man, and talked with people who poked their head in my gate. Check (the boy whose name I thought was “Crash”) came to say he'd take me to look at paint tomorrow, and his little brothers came and walked with me to get water.

I was finishing my shower and getting ready to yoga (which I had actually been looking forward to all day) when someone knocked on my gate. Normally people will knock continuously until I open the gate or they'll open it themselves, but this person waited and it made me curious. It turned out to be Ilias, my petit Africain, who again started out the conversation by saying he was mad at me for neglecting him. I was going to stand outside my gate to try and keep the conversation short, but he told me to go ahead and get dressed, he wasn't in a hurry. We ended up sitting down and having a pretty nice time talking, although he did stay a lot later than I really wanted (I think he finally left around 9:45, which left me a little cranky because I was tired and didn't feel like I had time to do anything before going to bed). It was nice talking about life here compared to life in the US, and it made me happy to hear him say that he was proud to be African and he wants to live in Ouaga and help the country develop, even if it means getting affected to a village even further en brousse than Koussouka. We talked about why I like living here, about what he wants to do after he takes his BAC this weekend, living in a global society and the importance of getting to experience a life different than your own – it was nice to actually have conversations that went past day to day living.

Iki and Smile Train

July 3rd

Another day of Polio campaign. We were supposed to meet at 5:30 at the CSPS, but the rain that started at around 3am (forcing me to quickly move my tent inside) and was still going when my alarm went off, so I went back to sleep. To my credit, I did re-set the alarm and peak out at the CSPS at the appointed time, and upon not seeing anyone in the drizzle, hopped back in bed. I was woken up a bit past 6 by Binta knocking and calling my name. As I was unzipping the tent to get up and go to the gate, she came around to my window to peak in! Oh dear.

We went to Iki, a village I hadn't visited yet. There aren't very many people, but all of the concessions (a cluster of houses, all part of one extended family, usually linked by walled pathways and/or sharing a common courtyard) were impressively large and well maintained, and I noticed that several of them also had very elaborate raised graves for elders, not just with signs but also with fancy black and white metal fences around them. Apparently all of the small children live in one huge concession – most had between 4 and 10 kids under 5, but one had 35! When they say it takes a village to raise a child...

I had a really nice moment today at the CSPS with the AVs (village midwives, who advise women in their villages and bring them to the CSPS to give birth). They were asking me questions and speaking to me in Moore, and I was actually able to at least hazard some answers to a few of them, but once it got to be too complicated I was rescued by some of the women on the vaccination campaign arriving. Koka explained to them that they were confusing me with Lauren, who was here and did speak Moore, with me, who is new and still learning Moore. She put it in a really nice way, so that all the women were very sweet and positive that I would learn Moore and they were glad I was here. Small but happy.

I had brought a Popular Science magazine with me and opened it up, feeling a little guilty to be kind of blocking myself from interacting with people, but they were all speaking Moore and the meeting looked to not be starting anytime soon. Lo and behold, my magazine started attracting attention immediately, and got passed around and started a lot of discussions – it was really neat and felt nice to share a little bit of 'me' with the ASVs and my staff. They were particularly fascinated with an ad for the Smile Train, the group that uses donations to perform surgery on kids with hare lips and cleft palates. Sali and the major kept telling me that there's a group in Ouaga who does that – those kids in the photos just need to come to Burkina! No one here has that problem, because NGOs take care of it. I pointed out that this was possibly the same NGO that does the surgeries in Ouaga, but that part didn't seem to sink in, that the NGO operating in Ouaga can do so because it solicits donations in the advertisements of American magazines.

Polio and Child Visitors

July 2nd

It's funny, Sylvie was easy to call by her name, but I don't know what to call my new major – everyone just calls him “Major”. I guess I can stick with that – he seems ok with it. I guess that might be why people persist in calling me nasara. It's crazy annoying, but I can think of a number of people who get called by their job or title, so I guess that could be seen as my “job” - I'm the foreigner, the nasara.

The latest and greatest Polio campaign started yesterday. The major mentioned when I got back that one was going to happen, but when I showed up at the CSPS yesterday morning he asked why I hadn't gone with any of the teams. The campaign started already? I love it how people tell me things after they happen and then ask why I didn't show up. So I got up this morning and arrived a few minutes before 6, as I was told, and discovered that everyone had already left at 5:30! When we have a meeting scheduled for 11am, it doesn't start until noon or 1pm, but suddenly when we have to meet as the sun comes up, everyone is in a hurry? The major came out of his house and told me everyone had already left (I gathered) and he took me to meet up with one of the groups. I went with Binta and Issac to Napalgue, a village so close by that you can't even tell you've left Kossouka (and, indeed, the neighborhood of Kossouka closest to it is also called Napalgue, just to add to the confusion). We finished quickly, and sat around with the other two teams for the village before, at some signal I didn't catch, it was decided that we were leaving. We stopped to pick raisins (they were small, grew on a tree, and the seed was nearly the entire fruit, but I guess it tasted kind of like a grape), which was fun although I felt bad taking some random person's fruit. Clearly we weren't the first ones – we had to bend branches towards us to find ones that were ripe.

I had child visitors today! Nice ones, that is, in contrast to the other day. Sarata came by to say hello, helped me pull a few weeds and promised to take me shopping for bug killer tomorrow to take care of the infestation in the section of my hangar that blew down months ago, so that when I put it back on it won't infect the rest of the roof. I realized that without the cats I could leave my gate open (I guess now I'd probably do that anyway since they're bigger and vaccinated), and as I was sitting reading while the sun was setting, 4 boys poked their heads into the yard. Normally seeing groups of young boys makes me a bit nervous since they tend to be the most obnoxious with their teasing of the uncomprehending nasara, but these were the sons of some functionaire (a government employee, educated in the city and sent to work in a village) and they were really quite sweet and patient with me. The smallest boy stood and let me hold his hand in mine for a few minutes, and when they left he kept looking back over his shoulder at me and smiling. The oldest boy said that during the summer they help at a boutique nearby that sells paint, so I asked him to come back next week and take me so I can start painting my house. He's in the 6eme and wants to practice English, so I said if he'd help me with Moore we have a deal. :)

Back in Site

July 1st

I guess I should catch everything up to this point, even though I did say most of this in my last post. Ok, so I left village for a VAC meeting. I went to Koudougou to visit Sunyata and drop off the cats, then returned to Ouaga for the meeting. After that I went back to KDG, and the day before I was going to leave, got a call saying that the people in KDG and the villages surrounding it were being consolidated as a precaution against rumors of a demonstration the next morning. So we got up early and caught the bus to a village called Sabou. We thought it would just be for a day, maybe two. But upon arriving, we found out that every volunteer was being consolidated into 13 locations around the country to ease the burden on the Bureau in locating and informing all 150 of us during the period of uncertainty and unrest in a lot of cities. We celebrated Easter, then all got to leave and head back to site. I was sick, so stopped in Ouaga at the med unit for 5 days – it was rather complicated with the cats, but we managed alright. I got back to my site, cleaned my house, and left 4 days later for IST (in service training) with the rest of the people in my stage. We went to Bobo, the biggest city in the southwest and second biggest in the country. It was fantastic to see everyone, and to be in such a big city with such wonderful food. A few days into our stay, I got a call that my Dad was in the hospital. I left IST and went back to Ouaga to make arrangements to fly back to the US on Emergency Leave. I was there for a week before he passed away, a time I'm so grateful for that words don't even begin to cover it. The next week was preparing for the funeral, then my mom and I flew to New Orleans to be with my step-family upon hearing of the illness of my grandfather. I returned to New York after a week, drove to see Katie (and hold her hand in the hospital – what is it with everyone?), then left for Burkina a few days before the funeral of my grandfather, the only way I could have stayed longer would have been to interrupt my service with Peace Corps and re-apply later.

So I returned and jumped into a shortened version of the IST I'd missed. I'm very glad that the Bureau let us make up some of the very useful information, but admittedly my head wasn't in a particularly receptive place – I'm glad we have handouts. I stayed in Ouaga for the next week or so, being with friends and helping Sunyata in her COS (close of service) process, mostly running around trying to determine if Air Burkina had a policy on pets, and what it was, and who we had to talk to in order to get the cats back to the US. It took a few days, but with some help we got it worked out, and now the boys are living in California, chasing field mice instead of waddling fat lizards that hide behind my furniture. I came back to Kossouka near the end of June, and now here I am! Who knew I could smash the events of 3 months into 2 paragraphs – I'm rather proud, despite the poor grammer.

And now I'm back in my village and it's raining like crazy outside! I spent the morning at the maternity with Sali doing CPNs (prenatal consultations), and leaned how to write down the results of the exam into the CSPS notebooks and the individual carnets that each woman has. I had a nice little conversation with a student who had come in for birth control – it always makes me happy when the 16-18 year olds are there with the green family planning carnets instead of the blue maternity ones. I wanted to do my laundry, but after getting water and sitting around at the CSPS waiting for everyone to come back from the Polio campaign it started to thunder so I decided to keep reading my book, and now that it's raining I'm inside typing this!

My little cement house with it's corrugated tin roof is like being inside of a drum when it rains – it's so loud I can hardly hear myself think. It would be a perfect time to call a friend, but even with our phones on the loudest setting it's pretty hard to hear each other. Still, the breeze coming in the windows feels cool and is blessedly free of dust. There's a cow somewhere outside who is clearly unhappy at the rain – I would imagine he'd be used to this happening, but maybe that doesn't make it any easier.

I said goodbye to a friend today – Moussa, the English teacher here at the middle school. I hope it's not for good and I know I have a lot of time left here, but I'm not sure when I'll see him again. He and I are occasionally of differing opinions on things, but he's probably been the person in village that I've had the best discussions with, the person I feel at least knows a little of who I am. He takes the time to listen, and lets me ask him questions about nearly anything. When I can't explain it in French, I know he'll understand when I say it in English, and he lets me switch back and forth so he can help me say what I mean in French. He's been teaching here for 8 years, but this year he's clearly been unhappy, burnt out and ready to move on. He was talking about staying for another year, but yesterday he said it was over and today he came to say goodbye. He's going to Ouaga for now to be with his family, then he wants to take a solo trip, possibly to Cote d'Ivoire or Ghana. He said he didn't know what he was looking for, and that people didn't understand why he wanted to leave. I said that sometimes we need change in our lives, and if he's not happy it's clearly time for a change – going to a new place is a good way to let you examine your life because you're removed from your routine. He said he'd be ok teaching if he could do it in Ouaga or Arbolay, but I suspect he might decide to go back to school pursue his dreams of becoming a lawyer or college professor. I hope he does.

I keep seeing this silly waddling little lizard all over the house! I miss the kitties – they'd have eaten him, or at least chased him outside. I've been cleaning my house from the accumulated 2 months of dust (disgusting), and every piece of furniture I move seems to be the one he's chosen to hide behind.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Quick Update (I love you all)

I suppose everyone who actually reads this is a friend or family member so you know what's been going on, but I'm feeling guilty that my last post was nearly 2 months ago. Thus here is the shortest condensing of 2 months that I can manage. I haven't been journaling for the last month, so it might never appear on here, but April and early May still have a chance at some point.

Since April 12th, when I last was in Ouaga at the VAC meeting: I left Ouaga to visit Koudougou, and as I was going to return to Kossouka I was consolidated to the large village of Sabou with 10 other volunteers from the region. We stayed in Sabou for a week, where we played cards and Bananagrams, cooked large delicious meals, and celebrated Easter with dyed pintard eggs and mimosas.

Upon returning to Ouaga on my way home, I was detoured to the med unit for 5 days and after I was on the mend I went back to my lovely village. I did my laundry and kind of tried to lay low, because 4 days later I had to leave again for IST - In Service Training, our chance to get our questions answered and begin learning ways to start the work we came to do.

The first few days of IST were lovely, getting to see all my stage friends that had been scattered around the country! The kitties came along, of course, so they got to meet all kinds of new people. :) I was sadly only there for a few days when I received a call that my dad was in the hospital, in the ICU.

I drove back to Ouaga and flew out the next evening, and I've been in the US since. I've gotten to see a good number of family members from my dad and step-dad's families, as well as a lot of friends at MHC graduation (congratulations 2011!).  There have been emotional ups and downs, and I'm absolutely still in the raw stages of processing everything. I've been lucky enough to see just how many people around the world I have in my life who love and support me. I've gotten a bit of a chance to continue to reflect on my time thus far in Burkina and many opportunities to practice determining what I truly want. I've had hugs and tears, good days and bad, support and stress. It's been worth it, and now I'm getting ready to return to Burkina tomorrow (well, today I guess, it's past midnight), to begin rebuilding my life and my life there.  I'm excited to sit in my courtyard at night and watch the shooting stars.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hi again!

It's been so long since I've seen internet! I'm in town for a VAC meeting, and I promise that I will finally work through all my emails and messages and write you back, either this trip or next week when we start our IST for two weeks.  I hope life is going well with all of you, and thank you for the outpouring of love on facebook and in my email and mailbox - it made me so happy. Here's what I've been up to in the past 6 weeks, and there are officially photos on facebook - go check them out at .

Prepairing To Leave Village

8 April – Kossouka, 9:53pm

It's amazing how much I seem to have to say when I actually get back into the habit of writing it all down! This morning was amazing, followed by the rest of the day that was just busy busy busy. I was just finishing my breakfast and contemplating starting to pack up when Simon knocked at my gate a bit before 8. I told him I would be right out, I just needed to get my bag and greet people at the CSPS. He went over there to wait for me, and suddenly not two minutes later I had children in my courtyard! Three or four, to be specific, that I don't think I've seen before. They said hello, I introduced them to the cats, and proceeded to continue packing up my tent, putting air into my bike tire, putting on my sunscreen, and getting ready to leave. We went outside, they said goodbye, and off I went. I greeted everyone, told them I was leaving, and hopped on my bike to follow Simon.

We went past a big fenced in forest, which of course caught my eye and reminded me of the big forest in Ouaga. I asked about it and Simon said that it's called Bilya (I think that's what it was) and it's a sacred forest where you go when you need to ask for something, and that they fenced it in to protect it from animals. We pulled up to his house and greeted his wife and 5 kids (Claire, Bernadette, Michel, and I forget the last two, maybe Clarissa), his mother?grandmother?, the wife of his brother who is in Cote d'Ivoire, and his neighbors, the patriarch is the retired catechist. We had coffee, and then zom-koom (with rice flour – a very different flavor but I liked it), and then they gave me a big bag of peanuts, and then they gave me a rooster! I was beside myself I was so honored and pleased, and I can't wait to go back, although I hope they won't be giving me things every time or else I'll start to feel guilty indeed. We left after about 40 minutes to go home, but on the way he asked if we could stop at the PTA meeting at Kossouka D, where three of his kids attend. I of course said yes – anything to meet new people. We went in, greeted everyone, and sat down to listen. At first glance everything looked nice and new, but then I noticed the extensive cracks that had been re-cemented in the floors and the walls. The meeting was gathering money from all the members in order to help construct a latrine, something lacking when they built the new school. They also want to build a teacher's lounge, but that can wait. It was so encouraging to see their motivation!

The rest of the day was work. We vaccinated until past 1pm, with these terrible gusts of dust hitting us every 20 minutes or so, until I could brush the accumulated piles of dust off of my clothing and could feel it turning to mud in my nostrils. Gross. I was hungry and cranky and still had a long list of stuff to do, so I cut out pretty quickly and went to get some bidons of water. I swept and dusted, did my dishes, fixed my flat tire and cleaned and oiled the chain, ate lunch, tried to figure out how to keep enough water for the chicken for the week (I ended up giving him to the CSPS guardian to keep an eye on him), figured out what I wanted to pack, took a shower, and did my laundry. Whew! I ended up not going to the stations of the cross because I lost track of time when I was in the middle of finishing everything, and pleaded my apologies to Simon when he walked by the CSPS while I was on my way to get my chicken. He was completely understanding and we made plans for the next Friday I'm back in village, but I still feel quite guilty for not paying attention. I went and sat at the CSPS and chatted with an intern and my major until past 8pm, when I went home to cook my rice, listen to the BBC, take down my laundry, and now I'm finally sitting, finishing my tea, under the stars. Busy busy, but worth it, and tomorrow I'm leaving! I'm actually kind of sad that I'm finally getting somewhere in village and now I'm leaving it, but such is life – there's still time, thank goodness.

Birthday Fun!

7 April – Kossouka, 9:09pm

Happy Birthday to me! I have officially graced the earth with my presence for 23 years. What did I do to celebrate? Well, I took the scones I managed to not eat to the CSPS this morning, arriving before 8 to things already starting since the interns are still new and eager to get going. Baby weighing went about as smoothly as usual and everyone seemed to enjoy the scones, although they told me to bring more next time. We planned out the vaccination campaign that starts tomorrow and continues for about a week (measles) and finally were free to go to the marche around noon. I had a lovely time – I was gifted a bunch of carrots (the guys have apparently forgotten that I haven't bought anything from them in over a month at least since all they have is carrots, which they keep gifting me), bought tomatoes, and turned around from greeting my peanut ladies to see a beautiful sight indeed – bananas and apples! Holy goodness, yes please – it's been a month since I've seen either. So I paid 200cfa for an apple and considered it well spent, as well as 200cfa for three giant mangoes the size of my hands, and 50cfa for some little bananas. So much goodness!

I went and sat with Odille who had brought me one of the books she uses to teach women to read (“Mam Moor Pipi Sebre” - My first moore book, or literally “My Moore First Book”). She seemed shocked that I could read the sentences and I explained that reading wasn't the problem – I know how to do that – but could she please tell me what the sentence I just read means? So we went through the first 10 lessons together (each one only has one main sentence and then becomes about practicing a certain letter) and she explained that when she teaches the literacy courses each one begins with a little health lesson since most of the example sentences have to do with health. I was thrilled, and said that perhaps after my training this month I will look for the literacy teachers here in Kossouka and see if they do the same, and if not see if we can change that. She was very supportive and said that if I wanted her to come do a project she would! She's also very insistent that she will teach me how to make degue (millet couscous in milk) and gingembre, and maybe tô if no one else shows me first. Just you wait – I'll come home and be forcing you all to try these strange Burkinabe foods because now I'll know how to make them properly! Although millet is oddly expensive in the US, unless you buy it as bird seed. Here it's a staple grain and is consumed in some form nearly every day, either as galletts (millet pancakes), degue (millet couscous), as a part of buille (porridge made of boiled flour mixture) or as the ever popular tô (boiled millet flour beaten until it becomes a gelatin-like solid). I had a conversation with a guy at Starbucks (the coffee shack behind my house where I buy bread) the other day about how you have to eat tô for breakfast, because nothing can “donne la force” (give the strength) for the day except tô – everything else just makes you weak and leaves you without force for the rest of the day.

Anyway. So had a lovely time with Odille, the rude samsa lady actually called me by my name today (!), fruit galore, and then I went home to feed the cats and eat samsa and degue and to make cornbread. I'm telling you, this dutch oven is amazing. I needed something to take to my prefet, and decided to give some to Simon as well, but also sampled quite a bit myself. By the time it was finished (talked to Doug most of the time – he's made a chicken pot pie at site! What?!) it was past 3:30pm. I waited for Lion to finish eating his lizard and left to battle the wind on my way to the prefecture. Asked about the list of community organizations, got some vague promise, was asked when I'm going to get more library books, and generally chatted. I don't think about it often, but the last time I was in his office I was new in town and could hardly carry on a conversation in French. Now I can chat politely and deflect rude advances for over an hour without problem, at least in bad African french. Cool beans.

I realized much too late that I intended to go back to the CSPS for food distribution, but I had already gone home instead and started my lasagna. All told, it took me over 2 hours from chopping the veggies to making the sauce to boiling the noodles to letting it bake in my oven, but it was delicious! I made too much, but it was my smallest pot, so I either need to buy a smaller pot or start making enough to easily share with many people. Talked with lots of people which made my day – thank you for calling! And now I'm going to bed to get ready for my busy day tomorrow!

Scones, Under the Fig Tree

6 April – Kossouka, 9:02pm

Up down. Well, today itself was pretty good. I managed to wake up before my alarm went off, but lounged in bed for a bit longer anyway, then got my breakfast bread and made my coffee and sat outside with the cats before heading to the CSPS at 8 instead of 9. I was apparently still too late and the women had already been weighed, but perhaps if I get there a bit earlier tomorrow I can help out. There weren't many women this morning – we were done before 9, a very rare event indeed. There was an inspection by the district and the NGO Medicus Mondi to check our staff's knowledge of the new national protocols for malaria treatment. I learned a bit more about malaria, they answered a bunch of questions and were told that they should have staff meetings to share information learned at formations and conferences, and then I left to go to the tap to get water.

In celebration of my birthday tomorrow I decided to bake! I finally got out the dutch oven, and I am happy to report that my first baking expedition turned out wonderfully and I firmly plan on doing so more often – next up, cornbread and lasagna! The lemon-ginger scones are delicious and I have eaten more than my fair share, but the rest are going to my CSPS staff tomorrow and I'll figure out something for the prefet when I go to bug him for that list of community organizations. I was going to go today, but just as I started baking Sali (my midwife) came to ask if I would take her to the mango grove Moussa had mentioned. I was a bit surprised, but said I'd be happy to, so an hour later, off we went. Walking, none the less! I think we got more stares from people accustomed to seeing her moto everywhere (even from one end of the CSPS to the other) than from me being the nasara. We decided that the mango grove was too crowded, so we sat under these two giant old twisty fig trees and I read and did sodoku puzzles while she studied for her concours that starts the 10th. I still don't quite get what it is, but I think it's a big test/training/application to continue on to the next level in the medical hierarchy, to move from an Accouseuse Auxilliare to a Sage Femme. We headed home when it was starting to get kind of dark and stormy looking, but it didn't rain.

Annee Blanche, Nice Day

5 April – Kossouka, 9:04pm

National News: Apparently the declaration of an annee blanche depends on students missing a certain number of hours of class time before the minister of education can begin to decide yes or no. If strikes would continue to the end of the week, they would meet the hours. If they go back now, they have to learn two trimesters worth of information in one, knowing that little to no real work will happen the first week as people get back into the swing, plus most students actually stop going to classes in the last month or so of school because they're needed to help plant the family fields. While an annee blanche would be terrible in a lot of ways, at this point it's likely that most students will fail their classes should the year continue, forcing them to repeat the year anyway. In secondary school you can fail a year once and transfer to another school to take it again, but after that you're done with your education if you don't pass. With an annee blanche, the year is erased and started over, no harm no foul. But if they don't declare it and kids who have already failed once fail again because they just weren't in class to learn the material, their education is over, unless they pay to go to private school in a big city. Basically, it's a bad situation all around, but a fair number of people think that it would be better for students if it were called.

My News: Today was a good day. I wandered over to the CSPS around 9, as usual, and had a decent conversation with my new major, who was actually in the process of fixing mistakes in the monthly report. I was convinced I was the only person who ever looked at them after they were (half) filled out, but here he was correcting the total columns, moving numbers so they lined up in the right boxes, and checking to make sure things were consistent throughout the report. What? He also showed me a section I had always ignored because it was always empty, but apparently the CSPS itself is supposed to be doing sensibilizations to teach people about health topics, and there's a place to report the number planned and the number completed for each month. I mentioned my surprise and asked if he could inform me of any upcoming ones so I can observe and learn how to do my own. He was incredibly enthusiastic and said that not only will I be observing the sensibilizations, but I'll be going on the vaccination sorties to the satellite villages (you know, what David has been assuring me for months he will do but then fails to tell me when he's going until after he comes back). I'm trying not to let my hopes get raised too high, but I'll admit that this is very encouraging.

He then took this all to mean that I'm too bored, so he called in the midwife and told her to make me weigh and take the blood pressure of the women who come for their pre-natal consultations. Well, that wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it'll be nice to be useful, even if it means getting up earlier (I'm going to miss not having to set an alarm, but life is about compromises). I sat in on the rest of the morning's consultations, read some more of the obstetrics book, and went home for lunch. I played with the cats and called a few people, and then after the repose was over I went to the library.

Have I mentioned how amazing my librarian/counterpart is? He found me the written history of Kossouka (7 pages of handwritten Moore) and then told me the story - once I type it up for my Etude I'll definitely post it here because it's quite the incredible tale. He then taught me about the traditional fete's held by the different groups here, and a little about traditional customs and spiritual beliefs. After a good 2 hours (with interruptions to greet the gendarmes, students, and teachers who showed up) we called it an evening. I'm making an effort to try and be more social and bien integre, so I started by asking if I could come and greet his family sometime this week. He seemed delighted and we decided on Friday morning – he'll come get me from the CSPS and take me to his courtyard, and then I'll meet him again that evening at the library to go do the stations of the cross (for my first time, in Moore) with his church group.

If that wasn't enough of a good day, I then went back to my CSPS to say hello, even though it was already about 5:30pm. I was having such a good time with the major and our two interns that I ended up staying until nearly 7:15pm, well past sunset, because they were all so nice and engaging and wanting to help me learn new things about medicine and Moore and Burkina in general. What a difference! We had a late arrival patient, but since it was the father of the adjoint mayor we all went and the major did the consultation. Not only did he do a decent exam and create lots of teaching points for the interns, he did a malaria rapid test and when it was negative he did not prescribe malaria medications. While that seems pretty obvious, the vast majority of people who get rapid-tested are negative for malaria but still get that as part of their diagnosis based on their symptoms and are given the pills to treat it. I was so impressed I almost hugged the man, especially for teaching such a crucial lesson to the interns – when you have the technology to rule out a disease, it's a waste to treat for that disease when the test is negative.

So it was a lovely day, a lovely evening, and then I came home, showered, made garlic mashed potatoes while listening to the news, and typed a bit while drinking my tea under the starry night sky. *happy sigh*