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.