Saturday, February 26, 2011

Summery, How Are You?

24 February – Kossouka, 9:56pm

I'm sorry that it's been so long since I've updated! Internet access (particularly reliable, prolonged internet access) is very rare indeed. Life has been busy – up days, down days, lazy days, busy days. In general it's been good, a slow but steady sense of finding my place here. Talking to older Volunteers has also helped me to be a bit more realistic about my expectations for myself and my service here. What have I been up to? I've found our community library (started by the last Volunteer, the only library in our area) and convinced the librarian to be my Moore tutor, I've weighed countless babies every Thursday, I've helped in a door-to-door malnutrition campaign funded by a local NGO, I've biked to some of our satellite villages, I've been to a funeral mass in Moore, I've sat and chatted with my prefet and adjoint mayor, I've tried to explain why I'm not married and finally just started agreeing to marry everyone who offers (I do tell them that they will have to share my affections with their 4 co-husbands and can rotate cooking duty), I've adopted a group of old men as my “Burkina baab-ramba” - my Burkina fathers (who would very much like to meet and take a photo with my American fathers and send their good wishes for your health and wives and fields), I've watched births and vaccinations and no longer feel totally nauseous when watching someone get stitches, I've had discussions about International Woman's Day (March 8!) and about being white in Burkina vs. being white in the US, I've finally tried tô with a sauce I liked, I've learned to love any veggie available (even green beans – aren't you proud of me, mom?), I've read more books than I care to count (although I do have a list going, thanks to Bridget's suggestion), I've gotten bug bites while being entranced by all the stars I can see at night (I see at least one shooting star almost every night, sometimes up to 5 or 6 – it's amazing!), I've traveled by bike, bus, open-air camion, and jam-packed “car” (actually a van, supposed to hold 21 but they can still sell 30 tickets and we'll all be made to fit), and I've started listening to the radio (BBC, Doitchavella Radio – however it's spelled, it's in English from Germany, and occasionally the Voice of America) to get my daily dose of world news. Busy and happy - it's going.  I miss you all, and if you have time you should write me (an email, a letter, a facebook message, a text, etc) and tell me what is going on in your life! I'm so glad I get to share my stories and adventures with you, so I'd love to know what's happening in your neck of the woods.

2nd Northern Gathering, 50th Anniversary of PC

22 February – Kossouka, 8:53pm

Spent the weekend up near Ouahigouya. I was going to catch the twice weekly car between Kongoussi and OHG, but with many conflicting reports on the pickup location and time, after waiting beside the N15 for a while I gave up and biked into Seguenega. I had at least an hour until the camion left, so I took my time and in the cool morning air it only took me about 35 minutes to reach the center of town where a guy flagged me down to tell me that his truck would be leaving soon – 15 minutes or at 8am at the latest. Uh-huh. He knows Alicia, which was cool, so we talked about our IST in March and learning Moore. The thing I noticed biking into town is that everyone started greeting me in French instead of Moore, a welcome if unhelpful change. After the truck left and returned from picking up some bags of grain, a stop in the market to get lumber, a stop to get gas, and a stop to chat with some guys, we were finally leaving town at 9am – not bad, all things considered. I called Alicia and she met us in Nong-Farie and we sat and chatted the rest of the very slow, bumpy ride into the city.

Lunch at the Caimon was unexpected and fun. We met Mike Levoy, the President of Friends of Burkina Faso, who introduced himself and his Burkinabe friends in French, but when we were just speaking amongst ourselves without him we did tend to switch back to English. He's a very interesting guy – high energy, very enthusiastic. We also met Anne Knight, an awesome RPCV-BF 01-03 who had taught in Titao and had fantastic stories, advice, and food(!) to offer us, which we took full advantage of. She's been living in Germany working for the Department of Defense, which sounds so shocking for an RPCV, but she works for a sector that trains African militaries how to abide by international human rights standards. Perfect example of how PC trains you to work in anything. The Caiman was suggested as going along with Mike's theme of a crocodile having to follow the zig-zags of a river, which I still don't really understand in the context of celebrating the 50th anniversary of PC, but I like the restaurant so no complaints.

We stopped in the marche to pick up some veggies for dinner and I'm so jealous! I love that my market is right outside my door, but I might be tempted to bike 7 km each way like Bridget if it meant access to so many options. Not only was the variety there, but things were America-sized! Green peppers, eggplants, onions, tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, mangoes, oranges, bananas, cucumbers, fresh ginger – it was amazing. We parked our bikes at the STAF gare and hopped on the bus to Zogare. David's house is a bit away from the main road, like mine, but his village has solar-powered street lamps (Eh?). We went to meet David's counterpart Maurice, and drank honeyed dolo, ate tô with oseille sauce flavored with pork fat, bread dipped in pork fat, and the pork itself. I have never enjoyed tô up until this point, but this was fantastic. Tô is an amazing substance with the heat retaining properties of potatoes, leading to burning your fingers with every bite as each scoop sticks to your fingers before you can extinguish them first in the sauce and then in your mouth. David has developed scars and callouses from eating hot tô regularly.

The next day was the marche, so after blueberry pancakes (!) we walked around and bought gateaux to dip in our chocolate frosting (courtesy of Anne). We made lunch of taco-flavored veggie surprise and french fries, and planned a dinner of Velveeta mac and cheese (courtesy of Bridget's care package). Al came from Ouaga and David found he had to go to Ouaga, so the hand-off of Simba (Al's puppy who had been staying with David) was going to work out perfectly. We reposed for the afternoon, then went to work in the garden David's been planting with Maurice. We hauled water from the well, transplanted tomatoes, and talked in French, English and Moore. We went home as it was getting dark and spent the evening eating amazing food and talking late into the night.

Thankfully, coming home from a trip to a village is totally different from coming home from Ouaga and I was so happy to be home. It was a good afternoon, and today was nice as well – I met the superintendent of the lycee (yes, it's actually becoming a lycee – a high school - not just a CEG – middle school - like I'd been told) and the French guy from the transport yesterday made a surprise visit to my village. We said hi, he asked if I wanted to get tea, I said yes, after I talk to the librarian, and then after a brief visit in the middle of my Moore lesson, he and his friend were off. It was actually quite odd to have another white person who wasn't a friend of mine in my village – I guess I've become rather possessive of my status as the resident nasara even though I often wish my every move weren't so fascinating to everyone, something that would probably be improved if another foreigner were to settle here.

March 8th is International Woman's Day

17 February – Kossouka, 8:36pm

I'm sitting in my courtyard, under the brilliant full moon. Today is our 2 month anniversary at site, or almost 5 months of being in the Faso. It's incredible how hard it is to keep track of time when there isn't the familiar pattern of the changing seasons accompanied by the ebb and flow of the academic year. How in the world do “adults” function without the schedule of first-days, exams, due dates and finals? :p

I don't do all that much talking in village besides a ton of greetings (have I mentioned that you stop and greet nearly everyone?), attempts at conversation in Moore (no I don't understand you, yes I understand when you tell me I don't understand), and occasional chats with my CSPS staff. But when Moussa comes to talk to me in English I finally get to expand on a topic, to the point that he now jokingly calls me “the philosopher”. He inevitably gets me onto a topic that I have trouble explaining in English, let alone French, so after trying for a minute and not finding the right words I switch back into English and he surprisingly seems to get most of it.

Today our subject was March 8. While this day doesn't really hold much significance for most Americans, in the rest of the world it's International Woman's Day. I always loved receiving my annual CD from Stephanie of music by female artists in celebration of the day, but admittedly didn't see the big deal until I got here and realized how much it means to Burkinabe women (and this is just based on what women have told me!). So when Moussa declared himself to be 'against' March 8th I was taken aback – I could hardly imagine anyone saying that, even if it was how they felt! I was really curious to see where he would go with this, so off we went.

His argument seemed to be that there are better things to do to advance women than to have an international day, specifically through pushing education for women. He said that he respects women who have an education, and that if the government gave more scholarships for women and if women worked hard to earn respect from men they would have it. He also was concerned that women who think they are better than men can't find husbands, because what husband wants to be pushed around by his wife? And finally, if there is a single day for women, does that mean the rest of the days are for men?

I started trying to share my opinion in French, but this was going to have to be another thing better expressed in English. I honestly ignored his joking comment about all the rest of the days being for men – I knew I wouldn't be able to argue it convincingly on the spot without coming across as totally defensive. While I completely agree that education is a huge factor in advancing equality and respect for women, I was a little puzzled that he felt it was an either/or situation – we can have International Woman's Day or we can have more women being educated, but not both. We got a little sidetracked on the subject of education and respect, with me pointing out that in the US there is also a severe lack of respect for the uneducated, and that without an education one cannot do much of anything in terms of work. He said “well, you know, you don't need a degree to work in a bar or something like that” and was shocked when I told him that, in fact, you do need to go to bartending school and be licensed to work in a bar – education is everything in the US and while it's legal to drop out at 16, you're going to have a very hard time. He was a bit surprised.

The issue of respect is an interesting one that I started thinking on more once I got home. Moussa, as a teacher, respects women if they are educated. What about Americans? Stereotypically, the person who garners the most respect is a middle-aged, well educated, decently but not obscenely wealthy white male, preferably who either comes from a well-off family, although a lot of respect is also afforded to those thought to have “pulled themselves up by the bootstraps” so to speak. People who are not “well spoken”, who have not graduated from college or high school, who don't move comfortably through middle class society or have the wrong skin color or the wrong bank account balance – these are the people who are not granted that “automatic” respect. The rich older white guy could be dumb as a brick, or cruel, or a criminal, but he will still have a measure of that automatic respect – people will pay attention to him and what he says. The poor immigrant woman who speaks broken English will be passed over without a glance, even if she has earned a PhD from her home country – until people learn that there is a reason to respect her (her high level of education), she won't be respected very highly.

The point that I did make to Moussa is that, no matter what their education or background or skin color or job or sex, people deserve our respect for being human. He said he respects the women of our CSPS staff because they're clearly educated. But we should equally respect the illiterate woman who never went to school sitting next to them, because she's human and her life has value. Burkinabe women work incredibly hard with very little appreciation for their work. They are the first to be pulled out of school when it gets too expensive, they are expected to do chores (and not easy chores – carrying water on your head when you're 7 years old is hard work) while their brothers play, they do the heavy labor of the farm (harvesting, threshing millet, crushing beans) while the men drink coffee and dolo and sit as Presidents and Treasurers on community committees.

So we find ourselves in a chicken-and-egg situation. Men will feel that women deserve respect if they are educated and demand respect. But women won't demand respect or be educated until men feel like they deserve those things. You see the problem. This is where things like March 8th come into play. Will a parade solve the ills of the world? No. But (and here is where I earn my nickname from Moussa and my staff) people need to be given hope. They need to have dreams and aspirations and examples that they aren't alone and that they are valuable and have potential. That is what Woman's Day is about – taking the time to see and celebrate the many accomplishments of women all over the world, to show women that they can have aspirations and hope, to show men that women can do it, that they can be successful in business, in politics, in education, in the home. It's not just a parade to let women march down a street with a sign saying “Look at me! What an oddity – a female lawyer/banker/miner/doctor/mayor/head of household.” It's a parade to let women say “Look at that woman! She started out just like me and now she's accomplished so much – if she can follow her dreams, maybe I can too.” It's a parade to let men say “Look at that woman and how much she has accomplished! Maybe if she deserves my respect, so do my wife and my sisters and my daughters.” It's a parade to let children say “Look at that woman! She's doing something I thought she couldn't – maybe men and women can do some of the same things in life and it doesn't have to be a man-thing or a woman-thing, it can be a person-thing.” A parade will not change the world. It probably won't be a revolutionary or mind-changing experience for most people who see it or even who are in it. But societies and opinions change slowly, from many small things chipping away at the status-quo, and something like a parade and a day to celebrate women and to make people think about the value of women in a society – that's one more small step contributing to a larger movement towards change.

While I didn't change his mind of the importance of Woman's Day, I'm glad I got the chance to think about it and articulate it (sorta). There are a lot of things like this that I have a really strong gut reaction towards, but can't really explain or defend. While I know there are holes a mile wide in my arguments, I also know that there is a reason for International Woman's Day, that even if not everyone values it, it makes a difference to some people, which to me is a good enough reason to have it. I think it certainly says something about the value it holds for women here that I've heard quite a bit about it before even getting to experience it myself, that people ask me questions about it and how it is(n't) celebrated where I'm from (France? Canada? Who knows.).

Little Things Make Life Happy

15 February – Kossouka, 7:45pm

Salad. I love it. I have it. It's good. Boreima didn't take me to the barrage but my staff sent Fatimata, a secondary student, to take me to the cafe to buy a giant bag of lettuce (so that's where they hide it). Wonderful.

It started as a short bike ride...

12 February – Kossouka, 8:50pm

So I intended to go for a quick bike ride – 30 minutes, maybe an hour. I left the house around 8:30am, chose a road, and set off. I tried to get back to the house of the adjoint priest and ended up chatting with some guys who then asked what I was going to give them. I laughed, said goodbye, and continued on my way. I was back on the main road and soon realized it was the road to Rambo that also leads to Emily's village.

Suddenly, I hear furious pedaling behind me. I ignore it for a while – kids love trying to race the nasara despite my advantage of having a bike with gears. Finally I turned and looked, and who should it be but the guy who gets water for the CSPS staff! I say hello and he asks (in French-Moore) if I'm going to Inou. I didn't really have a destination in mind, so I shrug and say “sure”. We're soon joined by three women I know (I think they're AS's, or maybe AV's – they're around the CSPS, if nothing else) who said they were going to the mass in Inou. But it's Saturday – mass? They bike off and the man and I keep going. He points out the schools as we pass – Kossouka Primary C, Iki Primary, Inou Primary, and then leads me to the Inou CSPS.

We meet the major outside and I'm happy to see her – she's a very sweet lady who occasionally visits our CSPS with her beautiful baby girl (no kidding, her nickname is “Jolie”). She takes me on a tour of the new building and I'm impressed. Instead of multiple buildings in a line, this CSPS is smaller and all one building, with a circular hallway leading to all of the different rooms. The waiting area is indoors, everything is new (and some things have yet to arrive, like all of the tables and beds), and there's a skylight/atrium where they've planted a banana tree! Turns out she was also planning on going to this funeral, so despite being underdressed and without a single cfa with me I decided to tag along.

We biked a little further on the road and pulled up next to a large tent serving as a church. Well, it was more of a metal support frame with tarps tied as a roof and two sides covered with bamboo mats and woven straw walls. A picture of Michel, the man who had died, was resting on a pagne-drapped chair next to a pagne-covered alter that had a small battery-powered lantern serving as a candle. I shook hands with a few people and then sat myself on a bench next to a well dressed woman and her young daughter. She's a merchant from Bobo – I have no idea why she sells way up here in Inou, since it's so small and the trip must take at least two days, but I didn't get the chance to ask.

Mass was very interesting. It started with the choirmaster raising his hands and eliciting a type of singing that sent surprised shivers down my spine. It was almost nasaly or droaning, like a bagpipe, in kind of an erie minor pitch. There was a lot of singing through the 2 hour mass, but it was neat to hear and I even could fake my way through the choruses when the video camera started coming in my direction. The pastor must have shouted for almost the entire time – I'm impressed he still had a voice at the end. I've clearly forgotten the order of mass, because I kept trying to figure out what part we'd be at in English and failing terribly. It would have been more interesting in French, so I'd have a hope at getting the gist, but in Moore I was almost utterly lost. Still, a very exciting and unique experience – I'm glad it's considered socially acceptable to just show up to a funeral without invitation (or maybe that only works if you're the nasara – I'll have to ask).

After I was pointed towards my major, who had apparently returned from her trip, and we followed someone to a house for lunch. I was seated with all the heavy hitters – the mayor and adjoint mayor and prefet of Kossouka, the priest, the majors of both CSPS's, and a couple of people I didn't know. I had a nice conversation with the mayor before realizing he was the mayor, but at least now I can go say hello (you can't go visit someone until you've been introduced...meaning someone has to stop their own stuff long enough to head your pleas for an introduction). It was a good lunch – veggie mixture with a mustard vinaigrette (potatoes, green beans, carrots, raw onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes), riz gras with the usual meat/cabbage sauce, and some kind of cooked meat. I was given a black can emblazoned with “Biker Beer” on it, which pretty much tasted like every cheap beer you've ever encountered, and chose to stick to the zom-koom after that (a drink made with millet flour).

We finally said goodbye and walked back to the place where we'd left our transportation options (my bike, their cars and motos). I made a date to talk with the prefet on Monday, and promised to return to Inou soon. I like it – it seems like a nice village! I went to fetch my bike and ran into our water guy, who parted the crowd of children gathered around me and insisted on walking my bike out. I figured it was just to get past the crowd, but then he kept walking down the road with me. Through some gesturing and misunderstood questions I figured out that a) he was not on his bike because he wasn't going home yet, b) he intended to walk me to the CSPS to meet up with the major, and c) he was going to have to let me just get on and bike home because the major had already left the CSPS. By this point the kids had caught up and crowded around us again – there must have been 50 of them! He commanded them to get out of my way, and as I got settled on my seat a tunnel opened up in the sea of children. I said goodbye to my escort, then, like the beginning of some bike race, I gathered speed as I rushed past my starting gate of kids who then broke rank and chased after me shouting and laughing. I couldn't help but laugh back, and wave over my shoulder as I quickly outpaced them, and I kept smiling for a good while as I enjoyed the beautiful bike ride back to Kossouka.

I had to rush when I got home because Sylvie told me (as we were leaving Inou) that there was going to be a meeting of the AS's (Agents de Sante) at 1500, and it was already 1400 when I got back. I dashed to the water pump, said hello to Luddi (the younger sister of Djeneba), and got two bidons of water so I could shower and have enough left to start laundry early tomorrow, before the water turns on again (it's solar powered, so only works from about 9am to 5pm). Quick shower, then over to the CSPS. The meeting didn't start until nearly 1600, but I know that the one time I'm late it's going to start on time, so I still get there when I'm told to. Didn't get to go to the marche, but I didn't need anything too badly. The meeting was entirely in Moore and the bits I did catch were so out of context that it just left me confused. Next time, I'm asking for the cliff notes version the next day instead of sitting through it.

After the meeting, Boreima asked if we could change my tour of the barage to Tuesday, which I of course said was fine. I can't wait! Not only will I see another satellite village, I'm going to get just-picked lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots! Score. They don't sell in our marche for some terrible reason, so I'm guessing I'll be making return trips – for lettuce, it's worth it. He also asked the CoGes women (who all teach Moore) if they could start tutoring me, and they all seemed very reluctant and non-committal. While it would be better if I had some kind of consistent “you will have a lesson on these days so you better study in between” to motivate me, I think I'm doing alright on my own now that I have Simon to answer my questions and help me work through my new workbook.

Happy Morning, Kossouka's Library

8 February – Kossouka, 7:58pm

This morning I was feeling all inspired from my lists yesterday and intended to head over to the CSPS to talk to the staff and get some recommendations on how to approach people around the village. Instead, I ended up meeting Rakietu. Rakietu is a grandmotherly lady, who initially greeted me with the same old conversation of “you don't speak Moore?” but with such an incredible grin that I couldn't help but stick around to see where this would go. With a little help from a younger woman who spoke French and Moore, we established that I wanted to learn Moore and Rakietu, still with her warm grin and sparkling eyes, started to teach. I don't really remember much of what was pointed out to me, but the process was delightful. She waved me into the cooking hut outside of the maternity, a comfortably warm room scented with woodsmoke that sheltered 3 mothers and their newborns from the wind. I was introduced to the babies (2 girls and a boy), and then we proceeded to name fire, water, pot, oil, wood, feet, hands, lips, eyes, clothing, breasts, and shoes in Moore. My immediate thought was that I wanted to adopt her as my grandmother, and perhaps I should be writing this all down. There was a lot of laughing, but it was so nice that it was laughing with me, in delight of my new-found knowledge and desire to repeat new, tongue-tangling words instead of the typical sense I get of being laughed at for my ignorance.

Rakietu was pulled away and I eventually drifted over to the CPN office to listen in on the pre-natal consultations and birth control shots. A group of men from the district office showed up and started a “hygiene inspection” which was clearly making the midwife nervous since she kept looking out the window at them while doing the consultations. After all the women had left, I went to sit outside and work on French when some men showed up and started sitting down. The first introduced himself as a teacher at the middle school, and we sat in companionable silence as more people started to drift over. Moussa showed up with a big group, and they all trudged into the maternity. When they came back out he introduced the other teachers to me, which was awesome. One was a guy who I see at coffee in the morning, so now I'm going to ask him to explain what people are saying to me.

The repose was nice – I could get used to this 3 hour break in the middle of the day. After a relaxing afternoon of lunch, reading, and talking to friends, I headed out to try and find the library. I actually, unbelievably, got to use the sentence “Ou est la bibliotheque?” with the guys at the photocopy building and they pointed me in the right direction. I was welcomed to the Maison des Jeunes by the gardian (I guess it would translate to the proprietor) and he introduced me to the gardian of the library and gifted me a Fanta. I was hesitant to accept it since a young woman taking a gift from a man can be quite suggestive, but he explained it was to welcome me and I decided to take it at face value – I was thirsty.

I talked with Simon in the library for a while, explaining that I was looking for books to help me with Moore and perhaps even a tutor. The books to teach Moore to kids here weren't very helpful since they're for teaching kids who speak Moore how to read, not to teach adults who can already read other languages how to speak Moore. But I showed him my list of verbs and he slowly helped me to fill in a few until I felt like we should probably stop so I could get a handle on those verbs before making him trudge through the next 3 pages. We agreed that I'll come back in a few days to learn a few more, and I paid my 500cfa to become the 149th member of the library and checked out a children's book in French and a book of African myths, also in French. When I go back to Ouaga I'd like to see if I can buy some cheap books for the library, or even some that are bilingual French-English for all the people who keep saying they want to practice their English. He was very nice, and I left with a big smile.

Overall, it was a good day. I kind of want to keep the momentum going and talk to the mayor tomorrow, but I'm not sure if I can just drop in. And part of me wants to go back and see if Rakietu is still around the CSPS. We'll see. I'm so excited to feel like I'm getting somewhere!


7 February – Kossouka, 8:31pm

It's been getting hard to force myself out the door some days. I don't mind going to the CSPS if I can hide in the vaccination room and work on French or Moore, but facing people just seems more than I can take right now. I know I'm not doing myself any favors, but I just feel like I need more language before I can even begin to approach anyone who doesn't speak decent French, and without a tutor I'm just not making any progress whatsoever. I need to set goals for myself, things to do. Small is good to start, but there has to be something.

Things I could do now: track down the adjoint priest, track down the family with the screened windows, go to the library, go sit with the CoGES president, talk with the woman from Terre des Hommes, talk with people in the marche, visit the mayor and prefet, go on bike rides through the village, buy cloth and get local clothing made.

Things I can do with help: visit the chief and chief de terre, go on vaccination sorties, take tours of other villages, take tours of our village, talk to CoGES about the PACA tools and enlist their help in implementing them, find out what community groups work in Kossouka, ask what the Agents de Sante do in each village, meet the inspecteur and take tours of all of the schools.

Things I can do when I have a little more Moore: talk with the women in the maternity, read Moore books, talk with kids and teens, start developing sensibilization materials, get a better idea of what people see as health problems here and what I can do to help.

Steps I need to take to do these: get out of my house, ask my CSPS staff for protocol surrounding surprise visits to people and greetings as I bike by (do I stop? Do I just wave?), ask for help finding a tutor

Huh. Now that I've written it all out, I guess there's a lot of little steps I can take now without waiting for my Moore to improve. Cool. Sunyata was right, sometimes you need a list, but sometimes you have to understand that you won't get it all done, that sometimes each thing takes an infinite number of steps. That said, I can't allow myself to become as passive as I've been. It's going to happen with time, but if I don't try at all I'll never get anywhere. I've been complaining that my Moore isn't improving, and it isn't, but now it's time to do something about it. I've been complaining that I don't have many friends and I'm not well integrated, but now it's time to leave my house and do something about it. As we said – a house is built brick by brick, but one cannot build up those bricks into a solid house if one doesn't get off one's behind to form the bricks in the first place.

Back to Village, Malnutrition Campaign

3 February – Kossouka, 8:29pm

The trip back to site was the easy part. This morning I went shopping with Sarah and Karey Kelly, two awesome volunteers from the stage before mine who kind of reminded me a bit of Caitlin Pritchard. I changed my mind at least 10 times about going home today, decided on a yes and got Harouna (my new favorite taxi driver) to whisk me to the STAF station where he helped me find my bus and haul my giant bags on board. I will call him again and even overpay him if it means he continues to be so incredibly nice and helpful! The trip was long and dusty, and then I couldn't get any water once I got home because it was after sunset (solar powered tap) and the pump was locked. It was hot so I drank most of the water I left and used just a little to wipe myself off from the dust – a shower would have to wait. Lesson learned – don't worry about the water molding, do not leave all the water containers empty.

It's been a hard transition back to village life, and I was really caught unprepared. 5 days was just too long to be away, and being in Ouaga meant being around lots of Americans, to the point that it was hardly necessary to speak French at all, let alone Moore. I got off the bus and had to fumble for the evening greetings in Moore (since hardly anyone speaks French), and suddenly the French-Moore melange that my CSPS staff speak among themselves seemed even more confusing than normal. I totally understood Shannon's reasons for not wanting us to come to Ouaga during our first 3 months, but I don't think she has to worry – we'll come in when we have to or if we have a very compelling reason, but I can't imagine making a regular habit of it if the shift back to living in village is this...abrupt.

Lucky for me, my transition back was helped by having a job to do. We started a malnutrition campaign today, funded by Terre des Hommes. I found out that health agents in the villages get per-diem for doing stuff like this, which was kind of discouraging as I don't have 30,000cfa to drop every time I want them to do something with me (although, granted, I hope I won't be asking them to go door-to-door in every single village). What kind of ideas can I bring to bear on the problem that's better than going to check every single child for malnutrition? Our team in Napalgue only found 3 who qualified as being moderately malnourished, and one of those turned out to be 4 months too old to qualify for the target group (59 months or less). It was frustrating that this child, small enough to still be malnourished by younger-child standards, was basically ignored because she didn't fit the criteria. I did realize logically that they need to reach out to the most vulnerable population and that they can't afford to help every single child in need of more food, but it was still really sad even though it made me see an opportunity to maybe start a project in the future.

In Ouaga

29 January – Ouagadougou, 4:21pm

It's weird being in the capital and not taking advantage of being here besides seeing Americans, using internet, and eating at restaurants. I've been here for over 24 hours and have yet to pick up my packages or go shopping, or even buy phone credit. I picked up some new books from the TH, checked my facebook and email, and had our first VAC meeting this morning. It's kind of weird being here, but also still easy to fall back into more familiar surroundings – electricity, showers, fans, movies, etc. I've been meeting a bunch of new people from other stages, and after following them around I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable navigating around Ouaga.

Cheif de Terre, Marche

22 January – 9:11pm

Today, as always, was an adventure. The coffee guys this morning were very into speaking with me in Moore, which is always a bit challenging since they refuse to translate even when they know how to say it in French. There was something about my name that was fascinating them this morning – they just kept repeating “Ouedraogo Alimata, Alimata Ouedraogo” over and over and laughing. They laughed uproariously for a good minute when I tried to say “I'm going to go eat” in Moore and wouldn't tell me if I had said it right or not so I said bilfu “see you later” to the general crowd and took my bread home for breakfast.

Then I went to meet the Chief de Terre! (a position in the village passed from brother to brother to son or nephew - whoever is the oldest and wisest) The CoGes member, who I was afraid didn't speak French, actually speaks quite a bit, and we also went with my major to a part of the village I hadn't seen before. I need to practice my moving speeches in general so I have a good response when they shower me with every benediction they can think of – it seems to happen every time I'm introduced to someone and I feel bad that I don't have very much to say back besides “Thank you”.

I got a new giant bag of rice (next up, finding flour), onions, almost decent-sized eggplants, almost normal sized citrons (not sure if they're limes or lemons, honestly – they're kind of in between green and yellow), onions, carrots, green beans (!) and peanuts at the marche. Ilias said he was coming for lunch, as did the guys at the botique where I bought my macaroni and rubber bike strap, but I'm glad I didn't actually make anything because none of them came. I ate samsa and gallets for lunch, with bissap, gingembre, and degue (millet soaked in milk) from Odille, who speaks French and teaches me Moore. I was so full and it was awesome. I lounged, did a little work on the monthly reports, talked to some girls who stopped by (always awkward but kinda nice) and made a delicious dinner of tomatoes sliced with salt, pepper and olive oil, followed by green beans and carrots fried in oil with soy sauce, ginger, and sugar. Next time I'll use a little less oil or try using water, but it was so tasty!

CPN's, Birth, Family Planning, Scorpion Killing

January 21 – Kossuka, 2:01pm

Yesterday morning Emily came with me to baby weighing and ended up leaving atound 3:30pm, just in time to find out that there was going to be a CoGes meeting! Finally! I went and sat around and started pulling data from the monthly reports for 2010 that Sylvie gave me, but nothing actually got going until after 5pm. One CoGes member is going to come take me to meet some people tomorrow, but otherwise I didn't really get to ask for much help, which was disappointing. They asked if I had plans for sensiblizing for the month, and I explained that at this point I haven't the foggiest what I should be working on, but could use some ideas. Nothing further was said. Oy.

And then to this morning. I finally washed my hair and “bathed”, and I can't wait to clean my house and go to the market tomorrow. I went to the CSPS and sat in on CPN's (Consultation Pre-Natal)– one woman came in and was about to go behind the curtain when said she was bleeding. We took her into the birthing room and Salmata explained that she was having an abortion. We got her on the birthing bed and she looked pretty full term to me, and then the midwife said that actually, she's giving birth right now! She barely has time to put on her gloves and get a bucket of soapy water ready for the used instruments before this woman, with barely a sigh, is pushing out her baby. It was pretty intense, and the baby actually looked stuck for a good few minutes, but all of a sudden the head was out and it started screaming like crazy. Despite how skinny the mother was she gave birth to a very healthy looking 4kg (8.8lbs) baby boy. Salmata guided out the placenta and showed me how to check to see that it was whole. Cool stuff!

We finished the CPNs and I was happy to see a middle school student (age 16) come in for a birth control injection. Salamata and I talked about birth control use in BF and the US (I tried to explain that people generally expect you to use birth control but there's also abstinence only education that leaves some students in the dark about options). I would love to get to sit down and talk to her about it more. We also discussed how people end up working at CSPS's – you need your BAC to become a State Nurse (IDE – Infermier d'Etat) but only to finish terminal (12th grade) to go to nursing school to become a midwife or other level of nurse (at least, I think that's how it works).


I killed my first scorpion! I was sitting, reading in my chair and felt a bug on my arm so I turned to look so I could brush it off, but caught a glimpse of something moving on my wall. I said a few choice curse words very loudly, then grabbed my headlamp and heavy sandal, moved my chair, and smacked it. Thankfully it was just a little bitty one, less than 2 inches. They aren't poisonous but the sting still hurts quite a bit for a couple of hours (as we found out from Bridget in Romongo). I'm glad I sleep under a mosquito net! Overall, my house is relatively bug-free so I should count my blessings. I scraped a few termite tunnels off the wall above my stove today and I occasionally find crickets (dead or alive), but I've only seen a rat outside on my garbage pile once and the cockroaches know to stay in the latrine pit. I ignore the spiders who occasionally show up on my ceiling, although the one that fell on me while I was reading I felt totally justified in killing. I encourage the lizards to come inside and eat whatever they happen to find – in fact, I thought that's what the scorpion was at first. (As of now - Feb 26 - I have yet to see another scorpion, thankfully!)

Meeting Up With Friends

20 January – Kossouka, 1:07pm

Sometime you need a mental break from being in Africa, so you meet up with a bunch of Americans and have a party. We had made plans to meet in OHG to go to Al's village about 17km away, and despite not feeling totally ready to leave my attempts at becoming integrated in my village, I was really excited to get to see everyone. Getting into town proved to be quite the adventure, but we all made it and I was the first to be waiting in front of the Post for the rest of our little group.

I told the guy who worked at the art stand next to the Post that I wouldn't be around very often so I would not be able to teach him English or stay with his family once every few weeks, but offered David as someone closer by who could teach him - for some reason he didn't seem very enthused by this prospect. We biked over to the cyber cafe for a few minutes, then went out for a delicious lunch of salads, fries, and amazing garlic chicken. We stopped to get a few things at the alimentation, then started biking back to Al's village. Even though I love Al and her house, I will not be making that bike trip again anytime soon. It was almost completely uphill, with 4 very large hills that had me going very slowly indeed. Al, David and Bridget took off, and Alicia, Emily and I were the slow goers, out of sight of the fast bikers, but in the end we all made it.

We stopped in the village next to hers to get more stuff at the marche. We had quite the crowd following us! We continued the last 3km, then saw the CSPS and settled into her house. It's very nice, and even though my house is bigger I feel like hers is more solidly set up. The furniture is minimal, but sturdy and practical, and she has electric lights and outlets! Her shower drain didn't work, but her latrine area was huge and had a secondary drain as well so we showered in there. She sleeps on a lipicot, and between the two rooms we had plenty of space for all of us to sleep on the floors.

The first night we made beef stew – meat for two meals in one day! We browned the meat and onions in giant skillets, then added the potatoes and carrots and spices and braised them in chicken-bone water (we had brought the rest of lunch with us for Al's puppy - Simba). Delicious! We sat and talked, drank the dolo that David had made, and generally had a good time remembering life among Americans.

The next day we woke up with the sun, ate pancakes with M&Ms and the rest of the fried dough balls, and made benga with salt and hot sauce for lunch. We then had cabbage salad with tomatoes and mayo/mustard dressing, and veggie surprise of sauteed green beans, green peppers and carrots in hot sauce and salt. Have I mentioned that Al is an amazing cook? We started watching Avatar, but halfway through Al's counterpart came to take us on a tour of the village. We started at the barage where we saw the gardening, the available land, and the crocodiles. There's an airport (of sorts) up there and we visited a lot of neat places – I wish someone in my village could take me on a tour like this! He explained that all the piles of wood near the only area with trees each belonged to a certain family, and no one would take wood from a pile that wasn't their family's pile.

We returned home and the fast bikers went to Youba to get food while the rest of us did dishes. We had beef soup when they got back, with bread, then started making a new veggie surprise – green beans and carrots sauteed with sugar and salt, and then mac and cheese. We finished the movie, looked at some photos, and quickly fell asleep. The next morning we watched Fern Gully (!), cleaned up, and headed to Ouahigouya. We had a delicious lunch, went to the internet cafe (never enough time) and said goodbye.

At 3 Alicia, Emily and I got to the gare to catch our camion, but of course it didn't arrive until close to 5, and after loading everything we pulled out around 5:30pm. I found myself in the back of an open-air transport truck, sitting on a bench among piles of food, luggage, and supplies, topped with passengers. The moon was full, but it was still dark when we got to Alicia's village where we left her and about half of the stuff in the truck. It was getting cold and we were all covered in a thick layer of dust, and Emily and I weren't looking forward to the bike back to my village from the drop off at Seguenega, 11km away. We pulled up through the town, getting a glimpse of the nightlife, and we were tempted to ask if they would go on to my village until they backed into a spot that left them clearly pointed back towards Ouahigouya.

We had just started loading up our bikes when the truck next to us started it's engine. We hurriedly asked around in French and bad Moore where it was going. When they said Ouaga we finally found the driver and offered to pay if he'd drop us next to the road to my village. Although desperate, we rejected the first price of 1,000cfa each because we'd paid 1,500cfa for the last truck to take us 5 times the distance that this one would be, but quickly agreed to 500cfa each. We hopped into the back of the open topped, tall sided cattle/transport truck and high-fived in our delight. I'm actually impressed we didn't go deaf with how loud the truck rattled and shuddered as we bounced along the road. They said they were going to pull into the town for us, which I took as them being nice, but it turns out they were offloading some of the stuff in the truck in my village anyway, so I guess we still were overpaying for our quick ride. But it was absolutely worth it, and I quickly found my house in the dark. First travel adventure – successful.