Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Life In General - Reading, Cleaning, Action Plan For The Next Two Years

10 January – Kossouka, 1:21pm

I've been reading an almost ridiculous amount. I usually leave my house by 8:30 or 9 am, come back for the repose when the CSPS closes between 12 and 3pm, and then go back to the CSPS until the sun sets around 6pm. This leaves me an incredible amount of free time – I read, I play sudoku, I learn new versions of solitaire, I cook, I clean my house, I make shopping lists, I listen to music, I nap, I study French or make lists of words in Moore. Honestly, it's nice. I wish I had my college text-books – I feel like I could learn so much more here without the stress of having to memorize anything for a text, of just learning for the sake of learning.

My next big challenge is finding more people in the village who speak French, or someone who can translate for me. I want to start asking questions about how people perceive health, what concerns them, what they want to learn about, what they already know but don't put into practice and why. The problem is that the people I can easily ask – the people who speak French to me – are almost all from other places. Governmental workers are affectated to a village where they're needed, never to their home village, so all of the CSPS staff and school teachers and people working at the mayor and prefet's offices are out. I want to ask my CoGes staff, but I feel like they're so involved in the health care system that they would tend to be the exception in their health beliefs rather than the rule for the general people of the village. Perhaps they could act as facilitators and translators, introducing me to people they know? At some point we'll actually have a CoGes meeting and I'll be able to come up with a good plan with them as to who can help me with what.

I did get my first notion of a project that is desired! Moussa, the English teacher, said he'd really like it if I could come to the school and do sensibilizations on family planning and contraception because they have a pretty big problem with teen pregnancy. I know I have a lot more to learn about it before just charging in and giving a condom demonstration, but it's nice to at least have one concrete identifiable thing that someone besides me has identified as a priority.

I've also started to really enjoy cooking for myself – it's been challenging to come up with different meals with the same basic ingredients. If you have any recipes that use: tomatoes, onions, garlic, spaghetti/macaroni, rice, lentils, oil, peanut butter, sugar, sweetened condensed milk, sweet potatoes, tomato paste, flour, soy sauce, fake cheese (Laughing Cow), peanuts, instant coffee, tea, margarine, and occasionally green peppers, limes, eggplants, please send them along! So far I've made tortillas (veggie fajitas, quesadillas with tomatoes, with spiced sauteed onions), rice (with steamed veggies, with peanut sauce, with salt and pepper, with lemon-pepper tuna, cooked with chicken bouillon, with curry powder), spaghetti (with tomato paste and cooked vegetable sauce, with stewed tomato/onion/ garlic/eggplant/green pepper/cumin sauce, with olive oil/basil/diced tomatoes), macaroni (with the same as above, with cheese and diced green peppers), green peppers braised in tomatoes and cumin then stuffed with the cooked tomatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, fried sweet potatoes, tomato soup with veggies, soup mixes with lentils and/or oatmeal (when I still had oatmeal), black-eyed peas (they take much too long to cook, even after soaking for 24 hours), canned chickpeas (with spices, with rice), and sandwiches (cheese and tomato, peanut butter and banana, peanut butter and jelly, cinnamon-sugar and butter).

I haven't made much in the way of desserts, but my chocolate rice pudding was quite delicious and I think next I'm going to try and make cookies to give to my CSPS staff. Actually, now that I've written all that down I'm pretty impressed with how much I've done! Besides being an unwilling almost-vegetarian, I'm clearly not going to starve and I haven't had to resort to rice twice a day like some volunteers. I'm actually kind of bad at cooking rice without it either being soggy or burned – I got so used to using my rice maker that now I have to re-learn how to properly make it in a pot. I'm going to be very sad indeed when tomatoes and onions are out of season since right now they're the base of most of my sauces, along with either cumin or basil and parsley. There's always tomato paste, but it's just not as tasty.

I've also finally figured out the lazy way to do laundry. It still takes a ridiculous amount of time, but less water and less effort – instead of soaping up and scrubbing each article of clothing multiple times, then wringing and rinsing multiple times, I can follow the directions on the back of the soap packet and just let them soak in soapy water for 15 minutes, quickly scrub them once, and then rinse. Huzzah! Oddly I don't really miss having a lot of the conveniences of the US. While a microwave would be nice, I've gotten used to either figuring out another way to heat something or just going without heating it. A washing machine would be easier, but I feel really accomplished when I finish all of my laundry by hand and can watch it flapping away on the clothes lines that criss-cross my courtyard. I would be happy to have a Swiffer, but all those disposable cleaning clothes would be a pain here since all of my garbage goes into a little pile in the corner of my courtyard that I set on fire from time to time, thus ensuring that I will give myself lung cancer from inhaling burning plastic while simultaneously killing the environment along with all of my neighbors. Plus, what would I be saving time to do? I already have too much time! I was struck by a sentence in The Tao of Pooh, talking about how we work so hard to be able to afford things to save us time so that we can work more. While I think my sudden abundance of time has less to do with a lack of modern conveniences and more to do with a lack of regular working hours, the implication of causation isn't entirely inappropriate.

It's interesting to watch a country going through growing pains. A lot of the things people tell me are comparisons between Burkina and the US/Europe, appropriate not only because I'm from the US but also because Burkina and much of West Africa is in the process of becoming more Westernized, trying to navigate between notions of tradition and progress, of what is appropriate, what is modern, what is both. There's definitely a lot of understandably conflicting feelings – they want electricity, but don't want television shows that constantly show them all the things they don't have. They want to be modern and respected on the international stage, but don't want to lose traditional systems of power like the chief and the chief de terre. They believe that to be modern entails being educated and having to move away from their family compound to find a job, but they also want to hold onto the unity and power structure of the large family courtyard. There's a pride in “progress” that has happened so far, but also sometimes an almost accusatory tone towards me (representing all the new concepts of modern/progress/globalization) and a sadness for all the things that are changing. Now the chief doesn't pass down his power to his first son because his first son is the one most likely to be educated and employed by the government in another village. Progress, one that people agree is important and good, but at the price of something old that was also agreed to be important and good.

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