Thursday, September 20, 2012


September 19th

I had a moment today of really feeling the imminence of my leaving, several actually. This evening I sat outside with Djeneba eating the first corn of the season (grilled on a charcoal brazier for us by her teenager sister/nieces) and talking about how some day she'd like to move up in the system and become a pediatrician (she's an IB, one step above an AIS, but below an IDE and then the pediatric attache). We watched Rashid play, giggling, eating (and dropping) his corn, as we looked at Mariam's photos and commented on the ones of ourselves. When Mariam and Mohamad got back from buying juice she and Djeneba started talking in Moore. I considered leaving but stayed, enjoying just being in the presence of people who make me so genuinely happy to see them. I love that when I see my staff or my ASCs for the first time after being away I just feel so giddy, like my smile can't get any bigger because I'm so happy to have the chance to exchange the same old greetings, attempting to infuse them with the joy and warmth I feel so they know that for me it's not just the same old rote speech, that I actually want to know about their family and their health and their fields and their work.

When the mosquitoes were getting thick and it was getting dark I finally excused myself to come home and drink my tea and read my book. I'm reading an anthology of travel stories, and now have about 20 more places on my list of places I want to visit. One was about Orr Hot Springs! I couldn't help but giggle, I can't wait to go back someday. The one that got me out of my book and onto my computer to write was a guy visiting Dubai, describing his flight as he left. I remembered that I, too, will be taking an Emirates plane and changing flights in Dubai, that I'm about to embark on a series of flights that will be longer than any trip I've ever taken. I guess LA to Sydney, Australia was the longest single flight, but I'm going to have 3 flights on this trip of at least 8 hours apiece (Ouaga to Adis Ababa to Delhi, then from Doha to London). And the thought made me really excited! Even the hassle of air travel still holds a level of wonder and adventure that I remember as a kid. Then the image of leaving the Ouaga airport for the last time made me almost cry. I don't even begin to know how to work out my feelings of being here, of preparing myself and my friends for when I leave here. Every time someone asks and exclaims over how soon I'm leaving I tell them (only half joking) that they can't talk about it, it makes me too sad. Even the frustrations, the delays, the annoying idiosyncrasies of being here – I'm going to miss them. I'm going to miss searching frantically for PAM papers and notebooks all over the CSPS, miss the fact that I can show up late to anything knowing it will never start on time, miss the amusing frustration of microphones that never ever work even though people insist on still using them despite being totally incomprehensible to the audience.

That last part actually takes me to this morning. After breakfast I went over to the CSPS to help with PAM distribution. Just as I was sitting down to start matching books to papers, Major arrived and said that we were doing a presentation at the CPL (the Maison des Jeunes) and that he was going to make all the women go to that and come get their rations later. I, as always, was resistant to this change in plans, but he seemed determined and announced it and off they went. I helped move our papers and such back inside, then biked off to meet them there. Lo and behold this was a “conference”, a presentation of several hours to easily 100 women and their babies, about birth control. I declined to present anything, the guy from Seguenega almost got booed for only speaking French, but then I was handed several cameras and became the official photographer. I also took some for myself, including a series of this adorable toddler, maybe a year old, who seemed to be enthralled with a beer cap, particularly putting it on his head and then trying to toddle off until his mom gently grabbed an arm and pulled him back.

After it was over (and our supervisors came and made us do part of it over for their benefit, for the 15 women still in the room waiting out the rain), I went and bought gallettes from Alimata, who was thankfully feeling better (someone had told me this morning that she was sick), then sat at home with some jasmine tea and read while it kept raining. I left a bit before 15 to help with PAM, stayed there for a few hours, and then had my time sitting outside with Djeneba and Mariam, talking, taking photos, laughing. I love that I can have a morning full of boredom, an afternoon full of frustrations, and still get to the evening after sitting and talking with friends for an hour or two and remember my day as happy and beautiful, even in the bored and the frustrating parts.

Insomnia Guilt Trip

September 13th

68 days left in country, something like that. I woke up this morning at 2:30 and then tossed and turned for an hour, suddenly only able to think guiltily about my promised West African French vocabulary project for Madame DeMarie (my high school French teacher who let me sit in on her classes before I came to Burkina) and the pictures I could use for it. I finally gave up trying to sleep at 3:30, made myself some mint green tea, and got started. I don't know if my computer's fan is broken and things are overheating, my hard drive is overly full, or if the file is just too large, but it takes an inordinate amount of time to select and change items or to save the presentation. Still, I got some done, wrote ideas for needed pictures, and started writing some descriptions in the notes in my pidgin village French. I've also been organizing the massive amount of digital resources I got from Lauren Savoy, including a video from a PCV in Guinea where the first 5 minutes are a perfect example of a West African market. Apparently everyone there eats rice at home and in the market, instead of here where everyone eats tô (although I guess it is rare to buy tô in the market, but millet or beans or manioc is more of a market staple than rice in my village).

I watched the sun rise and heard the village start to wake up as I worked, it was surprisingly nice even though it felt weird to be awake so early. I started my laundry around 7am, and had the first load up and drying when the slight overcast became dark and it started to downpour. After 30 minutes the rain stopped (the sun had started shining brightly about 10 minutes previously) and that was it for the day! So strange, the weather near the end of rainy season.

Science Camp

September 12th

Science camp ended up being awesome and totally worth it. I had a team of 4 girls – Justine, Roukieta, Salimata, and Edwige; our team (as dubbed by our overly forceful, always right, never present facilitator/homologue) was the Etalons (the Stallions, the Burkina soccer team). At first the girls were silent, not responding to eye contact or direct questions or pleas for input. But, beautifully, over the week they started talking, one by one. Roukieta was clearly dominant and loud, but by the end when we were writing our poster for the science fair even Salimata (the youngest and shyest) was finding ways to get her opinion in. The experiment and write up itself – dissolving sugar into hot, warm, and cold water – was painful in the extreme, but talking to them about their classes, answering questions, and demonstrating the Macarena and YMCA were fantastic and unbelievably touching. I totally admire teacher PCVs for their patience with the kids all day every day, but I now better understand the rewards that make it worth it. For example – it takes an incredibly long time for even a 9th grader to write down a sentence, especially if it must be formulated independently and not just copied (although even taking direct dictation was very very slow). But when they suggest ways of keeping variables constant without prompting when setting up your experiment or smile talking about dissection or making circuits light up – you can't help but smile and feel proud.

The 38 kids took 2 courses a day, each about 2 hours plus a 30 minute break in the middle. They had a health lesson for an hour 3 mornings of the 5, and an astronomy lesson on 2 nights. The whole thing of course had it's ups and downs, with issues sprouting up left and right (late meals, building showers for the kids, water shortages, very late transport arrival, forgotten pre-tests, egotistical counterparts, too many PCVs, illnesses). But in true PC fashion it didn't seem to phase us, we just kept finding work-arounds.

We left on the morning of the 9th, on Visionaire where we managed to rent out the entire bus and get it to come pick us up at the high school instead of carting the kids and our stuff to their station. Luba, Emilie, Marisol and myself didn't have kids to deal with so we walked out to the main street and caught a cab to the House. For the first time in about the past 6 months, it wasn't full! I got to talk to Wendy, who had just gone to a fistula conference, and then had lunch with Wendy, David B, Emilie, and Jose. Went shopping for veggies and had borscht for dinner courtesy of David – I expected to not like it but was pleasantly surprised. This is the volunteer who makes pot stickers from scratch in village, approximately 1000x the amount of effort I put into most of my meals, and I can't wait to ask him for recipes to add to my cookbook.

Return To KDG!

September 5th

Welcome to Science Camp! Being here does have it's ups and downs, but overall is going really well. I do think it's safe to say we have an excess of volunteers. Most of my work is in bursts, a lesson, someone asking for me to go get something, a meeting with my team of kids, supervising shower time, but there's still a lot of down time (which can be very nice, but on some days is just too much). Still, as people are getting sick it's handy to have extra hands to take over. All of the other PCVs are from the stage after mine, and I'm really enjoying getting to know so many new people who are all so passionate about science and teaching!

The story that shouldn't have happened but was funny in the end was trying to get to La Reunion the first night I was in town. I thought I remembered it, out past where the paved road ends, but Drew kept saying it was close enough to bike with people on the racks of our bikes, so I assumed I was thinking of a different restaurant. Turned out it was the same one, but due to construction and our unwillingness to actually look and see if we could get around or over the big pile of dirt we ended up going on a wild detour a huge way out of the way. We waded through mud, biked over washboard roads, and ended up having to pass our bikes and jump over a 3 foot ditch from one re-bar-spiked cement ledge to another. It was terrifying, it was unnecessary, but we made it and had beer and alloco and frites and laughed and talked and it was good and somehow worth it after the fact. :)

These women that Marlow and I are working with for the health lessons – Esther and Gloria – are simply amazing. Their title is “assistant sociale” and they not only counsel students, but do health lessons at the school on all kinds of topics. They've been doing it a while, Gloria mentioned 1996 as the time of one particular affectation. They've been all over – villages, cities, North, South, East, doing stuff in schools on family planning/prostitution/staying in school/early pregnancy, with villages to teach on forced marriage/early marriage/excision/covered wells/building latrines, etc. Gloria is doing another camp this week as well, a “Camp for Success” where kids from middle school up to university come and learn about how to do well in school and how to get into a trade or become an entrepreneur. It has a strong religious theme as well. They start at 5:30am and keep going until 8pm, which just seems crazy to me. The two of them are currently employed at the high school where we're doing the camp, which is how we ended up working with them.

Yesterday we caught frogs for today's dissection, but I didn't go watch, it seemed cruel somehow even though I remember enjoying dissection in school. It rained today, finally, really hard but only for a few hours. I've been eating way too much gateaux, but it's just so tempting, especially since people keep going to buy more several times a day! Otherwise I've been keeping busy by talking to people, doing odd jobs like refilling hand washing teapots, and working on my resume and DOS.

Where AM I From, Exactly?

August 31st

This morning as I was buying bread I kept getting called “La Russe” by a guy I didn't know at the coffee shack. Since when have there ever been Russians in Burkina? I understand when they call me “La Francaise” or even “La Belge” since French and Belgian (and even German) NGOs have a fairly big presence in Burkina, but Russian?

I don't know what it is, but I'm feeling better about going to the science camp, even staying the whole time (earlier I'd been hoping to leave early since I have so little time left in village). It could be simple resigned laziness, or my feelings about working at the CSPS this morning, but I'm looking forward to the time away so that I'll appreciate all the more when I get to come back. I've still got some stuff to work out on my way home at the Bureau, paperwork and appointments and this issue Jeff called about. They apparently got our COS date a little wrong and now I officially COS November 16th (instead of the 15th), That's fine, but he said that since the 12th is a holiday I might want to come in on the 9th to get stuff started, which seems excessive. I'd really prefer not to be sitting around for 3 days over the long weekend just to have one extra day to do Bureau paperwork, so I'll ask Jeff if there's anything I can do to get things done in advance of those final “COS” days.

Buzzards and Monkeys, Oh My!

August 30th

I lay on my back at the end of my yoga this morning and stared at the sky. It was a dreamy morning blue, with the faintest suggestion of wispy clouds if you imagined hard enough, clear and bright but still easy on the eyes. I watched the buzzards soaring and wandering aimlessly on the thermals, first a few, then a dozen, then breaking off in groups and pairs, circling over and over yet moving slightly each time to the right or the left, appearing at the edge of my vision and gliding across until I couldn't see them anymore, then turning and crossing again, hardly a waver or a flap of a wing, breathtaking in their size and ragged grace. They're beautiful in their own way up there, much different from the startling WHUMP scrabble scrabble when they land on my thin tin roof – no matter how often they do it, I still startle every time.

I was cleaning out the junk side of my second shelf, the one that has come to accumulate letters, papers, games, cards, nail polish, a sewing kit, and who knows what else – I even found a Koosh ball! Remember those? When did that show up in my house? I also cleaned out my luggage canteen (a big metal storage trunk). Somehow it's the only one that has escaped taking on a funny smell, I'm trying to clean and air out all the rest. At one point I went outside to throw some trash down my latrine, and right as I was getting to the door I heard a little tapping on my roof, the way it sometimes creaks in the heat. But as I went outside I realized it was raining. Not hard, but a steady drizzle, the sun shining away bright as anything. It made me laugh, I had been completely caught off guard! A monkey's wedding, as my mom would say. It kept raining for a few minutes, then the sun came back out, a nice little pause to the day.

Busy Small-Small

August 27th

I wasn't planning on writing, but today was so productive in little ways that I felt compelled to prove to myself that I'm a useful volunteer and human being. I got up pretty early, had my tea, and since it hadn't rained I started my yoga before 8am, which was very nice indeed. The air was cool, my hamstrings were sore and tight, and it was delightful to just relax and stretch. I started to read, but then kicked myself into cleaning off my side table, where I came across a bunch of papers to organize for the new PCV. Then I sat down to finally start writing this mythical document I keep promising to produce for her with information on the house, the village, helpful contacts, and a history of past projects Lauren and I started. There's even a whole list of project ideas, which kind of makes me feel guilty about all the things I didn't do, even though I do think the things I did do have been pretty successful. I know there's no way she'll do all the things on the list, but I hope it'll be helpful as a place to start.

This afternoon I went to get water at the CSPS before starting to work on a mural I'm painting at the despensaire. I saw Belem at the maternity and realized I could sort through the PAM papers while I waited, since there were too many patients waiting to be seen for me to move them to make room to paint. Belem said Sali hadn't been feeling well that morning, so we went over to check on her, then I settled back in with my 5 inches of paperwork. We have about 240 people in our program, a huge change from last year when we might have been lucky to have 100 at any given time. Major came over with his register and that sheet where we mark the ages and distances of everyone who came to the CSPS in the past month, so after I was done organizing our paperwork I helped with that too, reading off the data for him to mark (it went much faster compared to yesterday when I was trying to mark what he was saying).

It was getting kind of late, so Major told me I could stop to go paint my mural. Now I can successfully report that I have....a big white rectangle on the wall! Ok, it's not too exciting, but for now it's a step, tomorrow I'll grid it and draw the outline properly, then it's time to start mixing paint! I also gave Major my “Ou Est Jessica?” (Where is Jessica?) calendar outlining my travels the next 11 weeks. I cut out Bobo and decided to go to OHG for a few days instead before swinging through Ouaga at the beginning of November. I remember Kerry saying she was always in Ouaga for something or another right before COS, but I'm hoping I can get the entire month of October in with my village before leaving again. I'll be gone nearly half of September, the week of the camp and a week of VAC plus a side trip to Fada, home all of October with a quick visit at the end, and then leaving for good in November. I still need to write my DOS (Description of Service) and my recommendations, and take a look at that terrifyingly long check sheet. Today marks 80 days left in country, and I'm pretty solidly ignoring my feelings about this.

I'm reading a really good book right now, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It's a book within a book, and it's so creative and engrossing. The way the narrator talks about her love of books, the way she reads, why she reads, how her reading has changed since childhood and her adult reading is almost an attempt to recapture the way books felt and meant as a kid – it's like someone put me into words, it's amazing. I'm not a twin missing my twin, and I certainly don't like writing biographies, but I love how the main character just can't get enough of stories, and how this book manages to twine together some rather disparate threads in ways that somehow should come off as awkward but don't at all, they just weave in and out but you can still keep track of them as separate but together.


August 26th

I've been thinking a lot about my service, especially because leaving feels suddenly so close. Why did I join PC? Why Africa? I guess it was a lot of things, and I'm sure my answers have changed being on this end of it now. But from what I remember I think that something about PC had always appealed to me. Maybe I saw PC as a low level trial run of sorts for my desire to join Doctors Without Borders. I was still fairly certain at that point that I wanted to go to med school, but was starting to have some doubts. I also wasn't sure of my ability to get into a med program without a thesis, any internships, or anything beyond the bare minimum of having gained my BA. I saw PC as a way to stand out, as well as something I wanted to do for it's own sake. I'd definitely romanticized the idea of being a volunteer – the no electricity, remote from a city, living in a hut in Africa somewhere – thing. I had no idea what I'd be doing, but I assumed it would be health related, weighing babies, teaching lessons, I didn't really care as long as I got to go. When my recruiter asked where I wanted to go I knew I would truly be ok and come out with a good experience no matter where they sent me – Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, some Caribbean island. But when pressed I said I wanted to go to Africa, that's just where I'd always imagined going. I admittedly didn't exactly anticipate coming to BF specifically, I was kind of rooting for Rwanda or Madagascar (both on my list of PC countries that spoke French), but I was still excited getting to look up information on my new home for the next 2 years.

People come to PC, to Africa, for so many different reasons. It's pretty clear that, while I did sign up to help and give back and “make a difference”, a lot of my motivation for being here is fairly selfish. In the 'it'll look good on my resume/get me into grad school' sense, but mostly in the personal development sense. I knew that if I did PC I would become a very different person. Not that there was anything wrong with who I was at the time, but I realized kind of unconsciously that I needed and wanted something else, an experience totally different from the life I'd lived. Being a PCV isn't exactly living alone in the African bush, it's very hand-holding and structured and in this day and age involves quite a lot of contact with people in America. But being here, living here, speaking new languages and eating new foods and doing my laundry by hand and not having electricity and especially meeting new people – all of these and so much more have clearly changed who I am and how I think and act. I don't know how much will translate to living in the US. I'm not actually sure I want all of these changes to stick, some of them feel very “temporary adaptive” and should stay that way (such as eating out of my cooking pot to save doing another dish, or only connecting to village friends at a somewhat superficial level due to cultural and language differences).

Other things feel like they're just beginning, starting to blossom, and almost feel like they can't continue until I leave. Burkina has been the catalyst to start the reaction, but it's also the limiting factor and the process can't continue until I leave and have new inputs to keep it going. Burkina has given shape and new definition to my life path, has shone a light in new and exciting directions, has started to help me expand my view of the world and is teaching me to think differently and see deeper levels of meaning and repercussions. I don't think it could have done those things if I wasn't already open to them on some level, and I know there are still many levels that have yet to be raised to a conscious plane, but I know they're there, and I'm ready to try and dig down to them, and that's scary and exciting in so many inexpressible ways. So I guess right now the most I can say is that I'm glad I decided to come here, for whatever mix of reasons, and I'm glad it was here. I'm sure that my experience would have been very different if I'd gone elsewhere, or even come here at a different point in my life (not in a positive or negative way, just different).

COS Conference Recap

August 23rd

Where to begin? As always, taking a break from writing leaves me with a lot to say and little patience to try and recapture it all.

Visiting Wendy and JK: What fun! I got off the bus in Sabce around 8am, and quickly found my way to Wendy's house. We walked a couple of km out to one of her villages where she's starting a woodlot. It's a big fenced in area where they'll plant trees, then teach an older woman from each nearby courtyard how to cut wood without killing the trees so they'll stay productive for a long time. Having the wood close by is safer, easier, and gives the women an important job and role in their families. Wendy had received the grant money just before leaving on vacation, but the project needed to be done before the rains really got started so she crossed her fingers and wrote a huge check to the material supplier and handed it over to her counterpart. He had told her that the fencing went up, but this was the first time she'd seen it herself and I think we were both delighted to see that the project had gone forward even without her there. We took some pictures, talked to some people farming nearby, and walked back to make lunch. We sat around her house for the rest of the day, talking, reading, exchanging pictures, sending emails. Mariam, her adopted daughter/friend came over and sat around inside, taking advantage of the fan. The next morning we weighed some babies (her CSPS has a vastly different system of handling malnutrition than ours does, to the point that even after an explanation I still don't get it), and then I ran to catch the bus to JK's village.

I got on the little TSR mini bus and immediately noticed another nasara. Despite this being pretty rare, etiquette demands that we not make assumptions of each other, and since he didn't try to catch my eye in return I kept moving and sat 2 rows behind him, near the exit for a quick escape since I was only going 20km. Not a few minutes from Yilou he flips the top of his bag so I can see it between the seats – a Peace Corps patch. Ah, this must be that new Kongoussi Response volunteer. But now it was awkward so I got off directly in front of a smiling JK and she confirmed that it must have been Sam, and that he's pretty shy and doesn't speak up much. We dropped my stuff at her house, then went to go greet some people in her marche. We talked almost continuously, especially when it started raining like crazy and we were trapped inside. Thankfully by the next day it had stopped raining. We carried all our stuff through the mud to the bus stop, hopped on a bush taxi, and headed for Ouaga.

COS (Close of Service) Conference: As Kerry said, perhaps the most useful training we receive from PC. We were put up in the Excellence Hotel for the conference and the following party. I ended up rooming with Lindsy and Antoinette in a suite on the first floor, complete with lounge, air conditioning, and a TV with the news in English! Our door overlooked the pool, but it admittedly smelled a bit funny, didn't seem to have any kind of filtration or cleaning system, and did have a large population of hungry mosquitoes.

We had “class” from 8-5 daily, a stark change for most of us used to village time, but we managed alright. Just about every session was useful for some and not for others, but overall it was bearable even when it was something that didn't concern me at all (for me the sessions on Peace Corps Response and how to get a job with an NGO were less compelling than the one on how to deal with questions we'll be asked by friends and family when we get home). The resume session was long but needed, and Ellie, our facilitator, helped me go over mine line by line one evening. We did a feedback session for the Bureau that Ellie couldn't stop raving to me about; I think I was lucky in that I kept going first on each section so I got to say all the thank you's when discussing things said by the Health PCVs. Still, her praise gave me a lot more confidence in my ability to be diplomatic even when I didn't think I was doing that great of a job.

On the last day of the conference comes the COS party! Planned by the stage following the one leaving, there's usually food, drink, and inflatable pool animals involved; this time was no exception. The slideshow, compiled by Emily and Scott in my stage, was incredible, complete with a sequence of photos and superlative for each person as well as a bunch of photos from times when we were all together. I was nominated “Stage Mom” which made me laugh and think fondly of being “Mama Jess” to the crew novices. After that we had a champagne toast, some photos, a nacho buffet, and dancing! I ended up in bed by 1am, but I'm told that the festivities continued until 3 or 4, including several brave souls taking a dip in the potentially hazardous pool with the above-mentioned inflatable sea animals.

The day we were supposed to go home was Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan, which created some problems since it meant that the country pretty much shuts down and everyone is home with their families. In our case it meant that buses didn't run and we were all still stuck in Ouaga. I wanted to talk to people in the Bureau and get money out of the bank, and since the holiday fell on a Sunday everything on Monday was closed as well! Thus I was in town for a bit longer than expected but ended up getting some work done as well as having the chance to skype with a few friends! I'm trying to convince Kerry that she should move to St. Louis with me in January, I think we'd actually make decent roommates and some of the 2 bedroom apartments we found on Craigslist were really nice and surprisingly reasonable (especially to her, having lived in NYC before coming to Burkina).

I decided to go home on Tuesday, and ended up setting a new record for total travel time to my village. After I got to the station it started to rain like crazy, the bus was late by several hours (it's usually late but I always get there early because on a few occasions it has left earlier than planned), and getting on was just crazy, everyone shoving and pushing with more energy than usual, trying to get out of the rain. Someone offered me a seat he'd reserved – I had been reluctant to take it but eventually I was very grateful; we got on the bus around 3pm and didn't get off until nearly midnight. We made it to Kongoussi, packed some more people on, but then the rain barrier was down due to flooding and we just had to sit and wait at the edge of town. Several hours later we were allowed to go, but the bus broke down not 30 minutes after and we were stuck waiting for another bus for a few more hours. A new bus finally came, we transferred everyone over, and off we went. I slept a lot of the way there, the old lady next to me woke me up when we got to Kossouka, and I hopped off directly into a big mud puddle. I was in awe of the stars, you hardly ever notice them in Ouaga but in village they're just overwhelmingly beautiful! It made me happy, like the little girl who fell asleep against my shoulder on the bus. I walked home, marveling at the milky way and mourning that this will soon be gone when the next PCV gets here and the new street lamps get turned on. I opened my gate and, to my delight, my yard was free of weeds, someone had tidied up my hangar, and my basil was over 2 feet tall! What a wonderful gift to come home to, even (especially) at midnight.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Send me your recipies for my cookbook!

August 9th

I now understand why people used to live at home until they got married young and had a big wedding with a gift registry – because buying all the things you need to set up a first home is expensive! I'm going through piles of papers and magazines in my house and have started compiling a number of recipes for dishes and desserts that I'd like to try when I get home. All of these of course call for basic kitchen implements that I realize I'm going to have to collect from scratch. While I can certainly feed myself adequately with a pot, a frying pan, a spatula, a serrated knife, a cutting board, measuring cup and spoons, and dishes, many of these dishes call for things that are slightly more complex and I really would like to be able to make something fancier than my all-in-one-pot meals that tend to revolve around beans and rice and some type of sauce or mix of spices. It's getting dull. I think longingly of my parent's kitchen, with at least 2 of every specialized gadget you could possibly want – baking pans in every size and shape, waffle and panini presses, stirring spoons in various sizes/materials/slots, a nice heavy duty cuisinart mixer with attachments, pots with steamers and lids and different depths. Even making a list of what I would consider to be the very basics looking at the recipes I want to make just seems to be getting longer and longer. Time to hit creigslist and the estate sales Mom keeps talking about!

In work news, I'm pretty much done with my stack of papers, having separated out things I'll be using in the next 3 months, set aside personal things I want to take back to the US, and organized and labeled the papers that I'm leaving for the next PCV. I still need to print and add my Etude, both my and Lauren's DOS, a list of projects we both did, the PCPP for the library, and a general description of Kossouka, what to expect, what is and isn't available, transport options, etc.

I went to the CSPS this afternoon but ended up just keeping Djeneba company and counting out sachets of PlumpyNut for the MAS kids. We had one who came back from the CREN (a rehabilitation center for severely malnourished children with complications that can't be treated at the CSPS level) that we were supposed to enroll in the program but he was clearly very healthy, wasn't even close to being at all malnourished, let alone severely – he had fat rolls on his neck for goodness sake! But we had the referral sheet, Major wasn't around to override it, so we put him in against our better judgment. The upside is that we're at least doing our best to make sure he never gets put back in the program – after another 8 weeks in the severe program eating an extra 1500 calories a day of PlumpyNut and then 3 months in the moderate program receiving enriched porridge mix he should be very well protected against temporary food shortages.

Child labor...I mean, help

August 5th

Well, it's been a lovely weekend indeed. Both mornings it threatened rain and kept me from starting my laundry only to clear up later – typical! So I split it half an half, yesterday I did things that dried quickly and today obliged me by being warmer to help dry my heavier items. This morning I headed to the marche earlier than usual, around 9am because I was hungry but didn't want to have to go out more than once. I decided on a whim to buy my sugar from my usual guys instead of at the boutique like I'd planned, and as I was passing the veggie stands I noticed a beautiful, unusual sight – there was color! More than onions! In fact, I was able to buy some decent looking baby eggplants and some of those weird skinny lime-colored green peppers. I bought my spaghetti and tomato paste, got gallettes from Alimata and bread from Boukare, and headed home for a delightful relaxing day of laundry and house cleaning.

I received a weird text from someone I didn't know this morning, saying that they were in Kossouka. I was worried that this meant I was going to have some random person I didn't want to see knocking on my door. When someone did knock on my door around noon I was a bit reluctant to go open the door. But it was Juliette! She said hi, it was a bit awkward when we had nothing to talk about after the usual greetings, and then she started examining my garden. I pointed out the basil and lettuce and moringa, and then made some remark about all the weeds, that I keep pulling them up and they keep coming back so now I only pull up the ones in the garden. As I said it, I grabbed a few poking up near the basil, and she responded by starting to pull up great handfuls of the big weeds by my wall. Grateful for the help and motivation I started to do the same, expecting us to just do a bit before stopping. Well she was on a roll, despite my insistence that it was fine and she could stop. So we kept going until my yard was, while not weed free, certainly a lot shorter and less green than previously.

I sadly had nothing to offer in the way of a thank-you, my candy stash being all tapped out until I get the rest of it from my locker in Ouaga, but I did offer water to drink and wash her hands. She accepted the drinking water, but then headed out of my gate, saying she was going to get a daba to clean the rather impressive lawn of wild grass growing in front of my gate. I called her back and we managed to extract mine from under the wreckage of my hangar, and she went to town. Every time she cleared a rectangular-looking chunk I told her that was good, but she insisted on keeping it up. I was gathering up and disposing of the grass into my neighbor's trash pile, but then 3 other girls came up and they all started taking turns. Feeling very bien integre on the one hand, having petites doing work for me without being asked (!) and horribly exploitative, having small children feeling obligated to do manual labor for me on a warm sunny day when they, for whatever reason, weren't in their own fields. When they started making moves to dismantle the mess of my hangar (they're just young girls – that wood is heavy even for me!) I finally convinced them to stop by insisting they wash their hands and take 200cfa to go buy some cookies as a thank-you. I'll never know if they actually went, but I did say they could come back next week if they really wanted to help clean more. Maybe by some miracle my hangar will be back up (yeah right) and they can help me weed under it, they're much more motivated than I am, I usually get bored and stop after a couple square feet.

Neem cream success!

August 2nd

I believe I will remember today as one of the best, happiest days in my service. It was that good.

I've been trying to plan a demonstration of how to make neem cream for the past 2 years. (The leaves of the neem tree are a natural mosquito repellent, and you can make a repellent cream with them using soap and shea butter) Last year no one really showed much interest – I'd tell people about it and get a polite but obvious brush off. This year people seemed more interested, but there's such a big gap between “that sounds interesting”, “yes, let's do it”, and the logistics involved in setting a concrete date and time and getting people to show up with the materials necessary. While Aicha's visit has yet to produce any action on the library (somehow the mayor is always coming back to town “tomorrow”), it did push Francois to help me set up a day to make neem cream with a group of women (it only took 3 date changes, not bad considering).

The group of women we selected were representatives from all of the surrounding villages, who had come to a formation on making improved stoves that hold in heat and thus burn less wood. They were coming back to Kossouka to get their certificates, so Francois invited Kerry and me to talk to them about making neem cream. I mostly spoke through a translator, but they seemed unusually engaged and enthusiastic about the idea, and I figured I might get a handful to actually show up for the date we'd chosen, the next marche day. I told them they could come just to observe, but if they brought soap and shea butter we could make it together and they could take it home.

I got a call this morning from Francois, saying that he was on his way to OHG to see the dentist but that he asked Harouna to come help me (I'm not sure of Harouna's official position but I see him around the mayor's office fairly frequently). When I arrived at the Mairie at 9am (the time we told the women to arrive, assuming they'd actually arrive at 10) there was already a big crowd waiting! I greeted everyone and sat down to wait a little to see if more would show up and to wait for Harouna to come and help me translate. The two women in the group who spoke good French had to leave so I was really hoping he'd show up. But it being the market day I didn't want to keep people for too long, so as it got near 10am I decided to try and start and hope someone came along soon. Through a wonderful mixture of terrible, simple Moore and some pantomiming and a lot of laughing we got a few women to start grating their soap with my cheese grater, figured out who had brought supplies, explained why oil wouldn't work in the place of shea butter, and sent someone to get water. I asked the Prefet next door for some wood and matches (I figure I should make him some neem cream to thank him once I get my hands on some shea), and then decided that we might as well keep going since things seemed to be going ok.

I was surprised at how many women had brought soap and shea (and even leaves from their own neem trees!) and it was immediately evident that my little tin pot (the biggest one I own besides my dutch oven) was woefully inadequate, we could only make about 2 L at a time. So we stuffed that 2L of water with as many neem leaves as we could, then sat to wait for it to boil, fiddling with the clay enclosure a bit until we had it positioned so the wind could blow into it properly and keep the fire going. We used a big slotted spoon to remove all the leaves, then added the shredded soap. When Kerry and I were experimenting we used the local village hard soap, which grated into a rough yellow powder. But the packaged soap some women had brought grated into beautiful fluffy curls that looked exactly like white cheddar cheese – it was positively cruel! We mixed it in, turning the green leaf-water into a rather unappealing brown color, until it was all melted and mixed. Then it was time for the shea butter. I never knew shea could come in so many colors and consistencies! For some women it was entirely liquid, others a creamy or gritty-looking solid, others half and half, ranging from white to yellow to brown or grey.

I had gathered everyone around to look at the color of the water when we took out the leaves (that's how you know they've been in there long enough, when the water turns green and smells spicy), and they all came to watch as we stirred in the shea. When I declared it done, ready to come off the fire and settle and solidify until tomorrow night, something really unexpected happened. We were all so happy and proud of ourselves, smiling and laughing, but then one woman who had been helping me explain as we went along (I spoke bad Moore and mimed with my hands, she turned it into understandable Moore) started clapping and singing! The other women clapped in rhythm while she sang a thank you song to me, for coming there today to be their teacher and help their families be healthy. (at least I'm pretty sure that's what she was saying) I stood there, probably blushing, definitely cheek-hurting smiling, and tried to accept their thank you's while also thanking them for being there. I didn't have any way to tell them how grateful I was to them all, for coming all the way from villages up to 15km away, for listening to me, for understanding my bad Moore, for being willing to put their own money into trying something that they didn't even know would work, for celebrating working and learning together, for joking with me and teaching me new words and being patient. It was the most amazing feeling in the world, so happy and grateful and humbled and touched. Women here have the most amazing spirit. A good deal of the time they're quiet and shy and deferential to pretty much everyone. On occasion they're fierce and loud and almost cruel-humored. But today they were among women, brash and generous and funny and compassionate and understanding. Amazing.

There was a scramble to split 3L of neem cream 40 ways so everyone could take some home to try, resulting in several people (including the women whose soap and shea we'd used) not getting any. So we decided to go ahead and make more! A woman took a bucket to get more water, the cheese grater got passed around, and off we went. A good deal of the women left after the first batch (and after I made them repeat the formula several times – 1L water, 1 ball of soap, 8 small balls of shea, many many leaves) but the 15 or so that stayed ended up making 4 more batches. We got to see the effect of different soaps - village soap makes the mixture much thicker – and everyone ended up taking home as much as she could carry, even my second pot (the one we'd been grating soap into) was loaned to Mariam the 2nd deputy mayor so we could split up the product of our work. We stayed until about 1pm, then washed up and everyone started going their separate ways. I was tired and dehydrated, but so filled with a sense of pride and joy. Not only did the whole thing go really well, but I did it myself! I got to interact with the women without a translator, and even joked and laughed with them. They probably would have gotten more information if I'd had someone there to help (I did call Sali to ask if someone could come over after work but they must have finished late because no one came), but they all seemed to understand at least the basics I could explain, and were really enthusiastic about it, some even started making plans to get together and sell it! Ah, it's like a Peace Corps dream day, the kind that makes it into pamphlets but only happens rarely in your service.

Sunyata was sad that I didn't take any photos. I thought about it while I was there, and I'm sad I didn't, but I honestly don't think I'll forget it and I didn't want to risk changing the dynamic if I pulled my camera out. The 4 women sitting in a semi-circle, taking turns grating soap onto a rice sack. The piles of different colored soaps, all being tossed into the pot together. A women scooping shea out of her little plastic pail and forming it into sticky balls on the lid. The growing pile of limp, boiled leaves. The big soapy bubbles that formed behind the spoon as we stirred the pot. The tight circle around me, clapping and grinning. The women walking away towards the marche, pots of various sizes balanced carefully on their heads. Using dirt and leaves and dried neem cream to wash my pot out. The old woman examining my hands and tsk-ing at my crazy suggestion that I could come help her weed her fields (I told her I have my own daba, but the truth is that it's trapped under my collapsed hangar). Them telling me alternately that I did or didn't speak Moore, and that I need to teach my husband in nasara-tenga to speak it so he can come live here too. One woman asking me as we were leaving if I would be her friend.

And then I biked home and proceeded to drink about 6 L of water and tea in the past 7 hours. Much better! Right now it's Ramadan, where most of my village goes all day without eating and drinking for 30 days (while working in their fields all day). The no-eating I could do, it would make me grumpy but it seems feasible besides the fact that I don't want to get up to eat at 4am before the sun rises. But not drinking for just a few hours gives me such a massive headache, going all day would truly be a challenge.

Grad school research

July 30th

Today I worked at the CSPS for the first time in a while. Major had told me that Sali was at a formation and Belem was all alone, so I decided to do the nice thing (since I really truly had nothing else to do besides read) and went to help her. It went pretty well, actually, we worked out a good system and got through all 27 women plus a few random extras by noon. I ended up not going back out in the afternoon, but I did do some GRE practice and weeded my garden.

In awesome news, I've been doing some more research on my school choices. I had printed out the sample curriculum lists from UCSF, BC, and MGH, but didn't really see much of a difference between them until I wrote them out side by side and tried to find equivalencies. Suddenly I could see huge differences! BC, which up until now looked pretty promising, is probably out of the race at this point. The program is only 19 classes (although it does require more pre-req classes) and jumps right into clinical, but overall seems very thin, more of an overview or a certificate that I would want to get if I was already a nurse rather than a program to train a bachelor’s-holding student into an advanced practice nurse. The big plus of BC the fact that it's only 2 years instead of 3, the tuition is about the same as other places but I'd only be paying rent and such for a shorter time.

UCSF was far and away the most extensive program, with 42 classes plus clinical rotations every quarter for the last 2 years. It breaks down a lot of the material into separate classes, in theory allowing us to go into more detail. The focus is heavy on ante-, intra-, and postpartum rather than general adult and women's health, but I think it would allow me to get a feel for both and would certainly open up the door to both roads if I should decide that I truly am in love with a job as a midwife. I feel like this program would satisfy my curiosity and desire to learn in a way that no other program would, it includes rotations through most of the major specialties, so I'd get a taste of surgery, pediatrics, ICU, geriatrics, etc. UCSF also runs several clinics and outreach programs around the Bay area that just look fantastic. There are a handful of unique classes, like one focusing on rural health care. Plus I would get to be in San Francisco! The downside is the lack of any overt alternative/complimentary medical component (besides the midwifery commitment to seeing birth as an innately healthy and natural process to be supported instead of a problem to be managed medically), but I'm sure I could dig something up in the area. Interestingly there isn't an ethics class listed as a requirement, but the syllabus on the website could be old, like their course pricing. Even with my estimates of the raised pricing the program is still the same cost as the others, making this one hands down the best value for the money, if at the same time the busiest, most time consuming program.

MGH was right in the middle. It's a decent sized program – 29 courses with clinical rotations, 3 years long but only Fall/Spring instead of UCSF's all year long. It has many of the same courses as UCSF but skips the pregnancy and birthing ones that make up so much of the curriculum, instead focusing on Adult and Women's health courses, with several classes on ethics and issues in nursing. While it would pigeon-hole me into only having the option of being a WHNP, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing to directly pursue what I currently think is what I want. MGH is the only program that confers both a BSN and MSN, plus it has a Mind/Body/Spirit certificate that I could add on to the end, Boston is apparently known for their acceptance of complimentary medicine. It remains to be seen if I could tack it on to the end of a degree at UCSF. The downside is that it's in Boston, which most everyone I've talked to seems to think is a terrible place to live. I'm sure I'd be just fine for 3 years, but I do really love the idea of living in San Fran. And while the program seems newer and more flexible to student demands and interests, it doesn't have the reputation, recognition, or alum connections that UCSF does, I believe the institution is only 30 years old compared to well over 100. While name certainly isn't everything, there are, unfortunately, plenty of situations where coming from the 'right' school can help a lot.

Since I feel silly applying to just 2 schools, I pulled out my old list and started going back through it to identify a few more contenders. Salem State and Columbia University seem to be at least mildly promising, and I tossed in Ohio State College since I could remember why I'd eliminated it so early on, and it might be nice to not have to not have to move as far. Several schools got the definitive ax, whether it was due to location, program length (anything under 2 years or over 3.5), or weird pre-reqs (come on, I'm not going to take 9 classes before I apply, you should teach me pharmacology and abnormal psychology).

Overall I'm super excited about the future. It's a shame that the applications are so far apart, I'll have to reply to UCSF before I hear from MGH, but I think I'd be ok with that. Visiting might change my mind (I should have asked if there was some kind of tour at UCSF) but for now I think going for the bigger program seems like the best bet. It might over qualify me for some jobs, but I tend to think that it's better to be overqualified than having to go back to school again at a later date.

So many weeds!

July 23rd

Ah, it is so nice to be home again! My garden and yard are full of weeds. The only things that have survived are my basil (doing very well indeed), the lettuce (I'm thinking Kerry and I will have salad and I'll plant new ones), and the moringa. The spinach has been swallowed up by the weeds, the swiss chard is looking pretty sad indeed. The moringa is taller than I am! In just a week it grew about 8 inches! Other changes include new additions to the power lines, extra bells and whistles on the pole nearest to my house for who knows what purpose.


July 17th

Finally found a free minute! Why did no one tell me how busy camp is? I caught the new transport (a modified minivan in surprisingly good condition) from my village at 6am to OHG, and we even picked up Alicia in Nongfaire! Sadly she got stuffed in the back while I was trapped in the front, so we had to exclaim over seeing a cow transported in a taxi moto once we got out. (Imagine a motorcycle with a small pickup truck flatbed welded to the back with two tires for stability, like a tricycle motorcycle. Now put a full grown cow in it) Yesterday I spent the morning helping Chris set things up, and then last night and all morning we've been corralling kids in and out of sessions. It's tiring, but it's going! Pretty well, all things considered – they seem to be having fun, we haven't lost anyone...seems like a good start to me!

Rude awakening

July 14th

*bam!bam!bam* “Jess-si-ka! Jess-si-ka!” *bam!bam!bam!* I had no idea what time it was but it was clearly very early, the sky was light but the sun hadn't come up yet, and someone was pounding on my gate and yelling my name very insistently. My mind jumped immediately to the worst – is someone dead? A house on fire? Civil unrest so bad we needed to leave immediately? The people threatening my pharmacist have come to make some kind of example of the rest of us? I ungracefully fumbled my way out of my bughut, grabbing a pagne to wrap around myself as I headed for my door, yelling “J'arrive!” to the person who was continuing to yell and bang. I opened the gate to find Belem's son. I don't actually remember the exact words that were said, I was very hyped on a surge of adrenaline. I remember him telling me that he was Belem's son and thinking I know that, I see you every day! He said he was there to ask for moringa seeds. It took my mind a moment to get a grip on that. Not an emergency. No one died. He wants seeds. At a time of day when any sane American who went to bed past midnight should clearly still be asleep. I do remember my reaction, not quite yelling but very loudly asking “Now? What time of morning is it?” and him replying that Belem wanted them, she was going on a trip. I couldn't come up with a good reply to that in French, I just wanted to go back to sleep, so I stumbled into my house, threw a handful of seeds and a booklet in French into a black sachet lying on my counter, and handed it to him with a “Bon voyage” before getting back in my bed and calming my heart rate enough to go to sleep. I think I sent an irate text to Sunyata, as no one else in my phone would be awake at what I later discovered was 5:30am.

Honestly, 5:30 isn't an entirely unreasonable time to expect someone to be awake, but I'm pretty sure it's not very nice to be disturbing people that early regardless of if they're awake or not. I feel bad for being harsh with him, I've thought of several better ways of dealing with the situation, but I maintain that she still should have sent him over last night instead of scaring the bejezus out of me this morning. I'll go apologize when I get water tomorrow.


July 13th

As I was walking home from the tap I was struck by the ugliness of the new power lines. My view of the sunset used to include my hangar, the roof of my neighbor's house, and a tree with a full, bushy top. Now it includes 4 lines running west through the destroyed top of the tree and one line running north that mysteriously stops between my hangar and the neighbor's house, and frankly it's just ugly. I know this is “progress”. I know it's good in many ways for my village. I know that I see power lines all the time in the US, that they get in the way of my sunset photos so frequently I try and make the horizontal stripes into a pleasing part of the composition. I know the next PCV won't know what she's missing, and won't care if she has a fan and a light. But I care.

Pharmacy part 2

July 12th

I talked to Boureima tonight, asking about this pharmacy-threatening issue. First he said that the issue was that there's some kind of issue between people from Napalgue and people from Kossouka (we're so close together that Napalgue is now considered a neighborhood of Kossouka), and the pharmacist is from Napalgue so people from Kossouka are threatening him. But then he was talking with Rosalie and Binta (they were speaking in Moore but Boureima kept replying in French so I could follow the conversation) and said that people were accusing the pharmacist of stealing (drugs or money I didn't catch). The three of them clearly thought the idea was preposterous, and Boureima, the CoGes treasurer in charge of the profit from the drugs sold, pointed out that if stealing was going on there was no way the treasury would be as rich as it is now, apparently we've got something around 7 million cfa in the bank (where is all this money when I need projects done? What else are they saving it for?!). And if drugs were being taken it would be obvious when they do inventory audits.

The three of them are members of the CoGes, the group of elected villagers in charge of the functioning of the CSPS. They said they catch flack from villagers for their work, since people see them work with functionaires but don't see any extra money flowing back to the community, which they expect to happen if they know someone who works with someone perceived to have money. I still don't get what changed, why the pharmacist is now being threatened for work he's been doing for 11 years. I suspect there might be something to the stealing charge, no reason this many people would get upset if it were truly nothing, but Boureima was explaining how Salim's been making a profit on the side raising and selling animals, the proceeds from which people might assume came from the CSPS and are jealous that they're not getting a cut. It was discussed having 2 pharmacists, which would be nice, given that the pharmacist needs to be on duty nearly 24/7/365. We'll see how things work out. Oh, and since I've been having so much trouble getting a hold of Francois, I told Boureima about neem cream and he was super excited. I said I'll call when I get back from OHG and we'll do it immediately, several times if we can arrange it. Awesome!

No pharmacist?

July 11th

There seems to be a new situation in my village, which might make the last few months of my service a little tricky, and could make it very difficult indeed for the next PCV. Salim, the pharmacist at the CSPS for the past 11 years, is apparently experiencing harassment and threats because of his job. I couldn't quite get anyone to explain the nature of the threats or exactly why anyone feels the need to threaten him, but they apparently started about a week ago and have been sufficient to get him to stop coming to work and ask to be released from the position. Many people have tried to convince him to stay, including the MCD, chief, and CSPS staff, but it seems to be a no-go. To get a new pharmacist would require putting out a notice in the village, creating a committee to chose an applicant, and then sending that person to be trained – a process that would take about 6 months. In the meantime we would have to send people to the market pharmacy or to Seguenega to get any drugs or materials required, including things we normally give out for free or don't charge for, such as folic acid for pregnant women and gloves for exams. The state normally underwrites a large part of the cost of giving birth in the CSPS, bringing the price from 3,000 ($6) to 900 ($1.80), and that 900 is currently covered by an NGO in our district. But now that we aren't using state supplies, women will have to pay for everything at the pharmacy or will have to go to another CSPS.

Kerry's village also doesn't have a functioning pharmacy and the attendance dropped dramatically, hardly anyone goes there if they can help it. I'm afraid the same thing will happen here, which I suspect will lead to staff apathy, boredom, and a decline in standards of care and work ethic. It also means that I'll have less of a reason to go there. The staff was preparing themselves for some kind of anger or retaliation from patients and upset relatives who will arrive during an emergency only to be told that no drugs, bandages, or supplies are available immediately. It seems a bit unlikely and I don't think I'll get caught up in it personally, but I'm still concerned for my friends.

In random other news, it rained again this afternoon. My bike tipped over into the mud but I'm trapped by the lake standing between me and my hangar, so it's just going to have to stay tipped over.

Bus confusion

July 8th

Back in village, finally! Camp planning went well. I felt a little less than useful, having come in a bit late, so I ended up sitting around while other people worked on lesson plans or handouts, but I did feel like I contributed some good ideas, helped as a sounding board, and even provided some handouts of my own (the ones recently taken from Halley to use for the September science camp). It's fun getting to know a new group of volunteers, and I'm looking forward to working with them, as well as hanging out with old friends.

I got home tonight after a bit of bus confusion. Major never called back to tell me if WPK was running but it worked out for the best, I caught the STAF at 1:20 as it was pulling out of the station (40 minutes early, I might add) and made it home just before it started to rain, which it has continued to do for the past 5 hours. My moringa, that pathetic looking stick a few weeks ago, has now impressively turned into a tree again! I might just pull up my newly sprouted one and put it elsewhere. The lettuce and basil is looking good, the swiss chard is sort of ok and the spinach is looking pretty small still, not sure why. No carrots, onions, tomatoes, or lavender, but I'm hoping the rain tonight does them all some good and encourages them to sprout. It's good to be home, I'm actually really sad that I'll be leaving again in just 8 days.


July 1st

My parents are going home on Tuesday from their very long stay in Scotland, and I'm going to Ouaga! And, after threatening for days, it's finally raining, a nice solid hard rain that will make everyone very happy after 3 days without any. Plus the ground will be soft and I can try to re-start my carrots, onions, cilantro, lavender, and tomatoes :)

Mystery bug?

June 29th

Why do I feel so reluctant to write recently? During the day I have thoughts I want to record, but at night when I put down my book to pick up my computer I can only think of how today was just another day, why bother? But I tell myself it's like yoga – once you start you're glad you did.

I got to the maternity around 9, and to my dismay the annoying Seguenega supervisor was there, as he always is on polio days. At least there was no marriage proposal this time. We worked until pretty late, nearly 1pm or so, because we just had an overabundance of women for some reason including 13 for their first CPN, normally it's less than 5 any given day, and new women take so long with all the questions we have to ask them and the longer physical exam. Mariam came to help me write and brought us each a bite of peanut butter sandwich, which allowed Sali to take over questioning the new women, which sped up the process quite a bit.

I headed home to read and eat lunch, then got water for laundry tomorrow. I was getting ready to walk back to my house when I had a sudden prickling sensation on the back of one thigh, almost like a thorn had gotten stuck in my pants even though I hadn't brushed against anything or sat down. I tried to find it, but it seemed to keep moving across my leg in a way that didn't seem to change no matter what I did to my pant leg. I went home and took them off, expecting to see a thorn or even a bug, but nothing. Washing the area didn't stop it, almost made it burn worse, and it looked like I was breaking out in hives. I tried anti-itch cream but it just kept burning and stinging no matter what I did. Satisfied that it didn't seem to be spreading, and convinced that my pants were probably safe, I put them back on and got my last bidon of water. It's been a few hours and the hives have gone away, and it only prickles a little. I wonder what it was?

Visit From Aicha

June 28th

Dear Journal (and friends reading this once I put it on my blog) – you better be feeling quite appreciative, because I am only writing this out of a deep sense of obligation to record what was actually a surprisingly productive day. I would much rather be finishing my book or watching Glee, just so you know.

*deep breath*

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night because the howling wind was threatening to tear my roof off. I closed the windows and the door, and somehow, even with a piece of corrugated tin roof slapping against the side of the coffee shack next to my house, fell back asleep. Deep asleep enough that I didn't hear the rain when it started, but saw the evidence when I woke up and my yard was so flooded that I couldn't even get to my latrine without wading through several inches of water and mud.

I prodded myself into doing yoga in my living room, and I'm really glad I did! It felt good, an encouraging start to the day. My moringa sprouted! And the old one that I took for dead is even trying to make a comeback, I'm crossing my fingers. Insects or animals ate it while I was gone, it was just a 3 foot tall stick, but now a little branch is sprouting off one side.

At 9, as agreed, I biked over to the Mairie to see Francois and find any paperwork we needed to show Aicha, coming from Ouaga to visit and help with the library situation. He wasn't there. After waiting a bit I called and he said he was at a funeral, he'd call when he was on his way. So I went home. 30 minutes later, near 10am, he called and said he was on his way. I waited 5 minutes and biked over. Still no Francois. So I sat and read until he showed up just before 11am, right on village time. We walked over to the library and started talking about what the payment system for the library was (finally!), what we could offer to pay a new librarian, and when we can have a meeting to discuss finding one. Man, I should have just lied months ago and said someone from the Bureau was coming! Although when Aicha showed up we did have a more in depth discussion, just the fact of her arrival started conversations that I've been trying to have for ages.

The way she went about it was very different from an American, and I'm curious to see what happens. I would have barged in, asked to see the financial reports, demanded action immediately, and probably made them feel guilty for not taking good care of the library or the librarian. Aicha listened, asked a few questions, and started praising all the things they were doing right, all the plans they had made to work on the problems they'd identified. I was sitting there thinking that everything Francois was saying was probably made up on the spot to appease her, but she took it at face value and appreciated the steps they had taken rather than berating them for the ones they hadn't yet done. I'm not sure if it will help, if her praise and trust will be more encouraging of tangible action than my berating and disappointment would have been, but we shall see. There were a lot of specifics I had been hoping to hammer out, like a drawn up contract detailing where the money goes, who gets it, and how much gets set aside for new books and such, but maybe later. I've realized that I need to take a much more active role in this, which is frustrating but at least gives me something to do.

Aicha also had tons of good suggestions for new projects, like sensibilizations to teach students how to take care of library books since they get handled a lot and start falling apart if people aren't careful. I mentioned talking to the secretary at the Mayor's office about making neem cream and Francois was all over that, telling me that we'll pick a day when I get back from Ouaga and he'll have 3-5 women from each village waiting for me to teach, that he'll tell them what to bring and how much, and maybe the Mairie can chip in a little from it's budget for some of the supplies. Um...sweet!! How did I never realize that this is how to get this kind of thing done? Here I've been trying to do it through the CSPS when really I should have done it this way. I should probably talk to the Chief as well, he'll be angry if I don't, and of course I'll tell and involve my CSPS staff, maybe we should aim for a Saturday so it's nobody's day of prayer and functionaires have the day off. We talked about making liquid soap and handwashing stations at the Maison des Jeunes as well. Overall, very productive indeed! I'm happy but not overly optimistic, everything seems to always fall apart at the last minute, but at least I've got something to aim for.

We ran into Major and the people from TDH (a child malnutrition NGO), but couldn't go greet the CSPS staff since Aicha had to get back to the bureau by 18h and it was already nearly 15h. I went home and called Al back, then headed to the CSPS to charge my phone and help with the polio campaign paperwork. I requested to not be part of a team, so from 2-8pm I drew maps, made charts and grids, re-copied paperwork, and fended off the flying termites that flocked to the lamp over my head. It was tedious but I do feel a little less guilty about not getting up early to help tomorrow morning, having stayed so late tonight.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Visiting Rosalie and the Mill

June 28th

I was drawn out into the dark by the flashes of light I glimpsed through my window, lightning without yet seeing a hint of wind, rain, or even thunder. A cloud, noticeably thicker and darker than the ones around it, seemed to be slowly swallowing the last edges of the moonlight, while a ripple of internal lightning would light up my courtyard instead. The frogs are still croaking outside, so even though I'm inside I still have yet to close up the windows and doors, trying to welcome the cool storm breeze into my little cement and tin oven.

I went to meet with Francois this afternoon about the library (I'd called him yesterday to set up a time to meet). Mariam the secretary for the Mairie and the Prefecture informed me that he had gone to OHG and wouldn't be back until late, so I told her I'd call him tomorrow and re-schedule. I also invited her to my as-of-yet-unplanned neem cream formation, which now that I think of it I should plug with the ASCs on Thursday at the pre-polio campaign meeting. There were some people there from OHG, they didn't offer why and I couldn't figure out a polite way to ask “what the heck are you doing in my village?” so I left it at that. One of their group came out of the mayor's office calling me nasara. I felt peevish so I didn't reply until he actually walked over. He then stated, in Moore, that he wanted me. Some days this is unbearably insulting and I feel the need to snap back, but today it took less energy to just joke back at him and tell him that it's too bad, I'm already married, my husband would be very angry, and no, I do not need another husband here while mine is so far away in America. Writing it out in English makes it sound like I was being rudely sarcastic, but I say it as a joke and everyone takes it as such, at least they seem to respond better than when I've seen volunteers get angry or upset. We all laughed and shook hands and went our separate ways.

Since there was nothing else to do at the Mairie, I was headed home and decided that as I was already on my bike I should go visit Rosalie and maybe see if I could find out more about Simon. She was cleaning dried corn kernels, standing up and pouring them from a calabash into a basin on the ground so the breeze would blow away anything that wasn't heavy enough to fall straight down, bits of husk and cob and broken kernel bits. She was taking it to the mill to be ground into flour. Having never actually seen one of the machines in action since stage, I volunteered to go with her. We got sidetracked for a little while when Koka pulled up and the two of them started to gossip, so I occupied myself by watching Rosalie's kids play in the dirt, making mounds of gravel and forming it into shapes they could sit in the middle of. Her son Isiadore was absolutely petrified of me, which of course made everyone laugh. I normally feel bad for kids who are scared of me, but he was at least 7 or 8, and at the sight of me arriving he had gone and hidden in the storage shed, curled in a ball and sobbing. Rosalie coaxed him out to shake my hand and he did so without too much trouble and had even stopped crying, but continued to regard me with great fear and did whatever he could to stay out of direct sight of me. His little brother, on the other hand, was happily showing off his skills at throwing rocks to chase away pigeons, chickens, and goats who were attracted to the broken corn kernels on the ground.

The machine was under repair when we arrived so we went and stood in the shade to wait and chat. She told me about the drama in the CoGES – she's no longer speaking to Binta because of some petty argument they had at the last meeting, Binta having shown up late and blaming Rosalie in a way that sounded quite excessive. She explained that Simon had taken a job in Ouaga, she thinks as a groundskeeper for a house, but she wasn't totally sure why he'd decided to leave and she did say his family is still around. I asked if anyone had his new phone number and she said she'd ask her husband. Mariam at the Mayor's office had hinted, and Rosalie confirmed, that there still hasn't been enough rain to plant all the crops, most people have planted their millet but are waiting to plant the corn, peanuts, okra, oseille leaves, and pois de terre (kind of taste like a chickpea crossed with a dusty peanut). We stood there for a while commenting on the fact that it might or might not rain tonight – in Moore you do a lot of stating the obvious or narrating out loud what's going on. Oh, and my CoGes president has truly gone off to Cote d'Ivoire, possibly for several years. I really need to hang out with Rosalie more – she's got all the gossip and information!

Interestingly, I think I remember writing a month or so ago that my number of marriage proposals has dropped almost to zero, but today I had not just the one at the mayor's office, but another waiting at the mill! Again, all parties were surprised that I understood what was being proposed, and again I joked that I was already married and he'd have to take it up with my husband in “white-person land”, and no I was not in need of a husband for over there and for over here. All I could do was sigh and laugh along with them.

So once the mill was put back together and functioning we went inside to watch. The machine consists of a large metal funnel that dispenses the item to be ground into a small horizontal trough suspended below it. The operator, sitting in a chair next to the machine, has one hand in the trough to move the grain through at the correct rate, and he also swings it back and forth a little so that more keeps falling from the funnel into the far end. He pushes the grain in small amounts into the opening at the top of the grinder, two vertical disks with a rather pretty pattern of grooves that are diagonally radiating from the center out to the rim (I got to see them when he was taking everything apart earlier, when the machine is running they're enclosed in a cast iron cover). The resulting flour is spit out of a chute into a waiting metal basin. Each run is put through 4 times, so when the trough is almost empty you grab the basin and dump it back into the funnel while he catches the last bits in an empty can until you put the basin back under the chute. The last pass is deposited directly into your rice sack or bowl that you brought the grain in, and then he grabs the next bag in line and starts again.

The price depends on quantity, measured in boites, the amount that fills an empty 1kg tomato paste tin (it's about a 6in diameter and 4 inches high). An American would fill it level each time, here it's customary to measure one boite as being the amount up to the rim plus as much as you can get to stay in a pyramid on top, plus a little spill-over. Millet is 50cfa per boite all over town, but corn, being harder and more work for the machine, is 75-100cfa depending on which mill you go to, the ones near my house in the market are apparently more expensive than this one only a 1 minute bike ride away. I know it's possible to leave your grain and pick it up later but the process did go smoother when someone was there to help him so he didn't have to get up or turn the machine off to put the flour through for another pass. Most people seem to send their children, although there were a few very old ladies there as well, Rosalie and I were the only people who weren't under 10 or over 60.

At that point it was getting towards 6pm, so I said goodnight and headed over to the CSPS to say hello, where I learned about yet another Polio campaign. I have come to dislike the drudgery of going door to door at any time of the year, but it's particularly frustrating to be sent during the beginning of rainy season when trying to find the kids under 5 is almost impossible - they're all out in the fields with their mothers, fields that are never located near the house. So we end up vaccinating any kids we meet as we go from house to house. We never find all of them, it makes marking the house with how many kids were vaccinated a nightmare, and it results in the numbers for each village being all messed up because we end up getting kids in our sweep for village x who belong to village y, meaning we will be sent back tomorrow to village y to find the “missing” children that got marked by the team who were assigned to village x. But it must be done, so do it we will.

Laundry, Simon Left?

June 25th

Yesterday I finally broke down and bought new basins for washing laundry, tired of using my cramped buckets. They cost more than I really wanted to pay, but it was gratifying to be able to wash more laundry at one go and I'm glad I got them. I was reading under my hangar, waiting for my laundry to dry, when a rainstorm crept up on me. Normally rain is proceeded with thunder, huge gusts of wind, dark ominous clouds, but this was just a slight darkening of the sky and the realization that the tapping sound I was hearing was rain hitting the wooden table next to me that wasn't under the protective cover of the hangar like I was. I got my laundry inside just in time, put the last damp items to hang over chairs, and that was that. The calm drizzle intensified into a thunderstorm so violent and directly overhead that I almost tore a hole in my GRE book when I was circling an answer just as a clap of thunder shook my house. It continued on for another hour or so. I was worried for my garden, which looked to be in peril of drowning, but for the most part the little mounded hills I dug stayed above the waterline. The drizzle following the violent storm continued until I went to bed at 9 – I had been trapped in the house for 5 hours, I was bored, so I went to sleep. Oh rainy season. At least it was good for the fields!

With such a sunny start to my day this morning after sleeping almost 10 hours I felt all bouncy and productive, so I swept the house and started GRE problems. I tried calling Simon to tell him about Aicha's visit on Thursday, but his phone still said it was turned off, adding weight to my suspicion that he doesn't have it anymore or doesn't use it, since it haven't successfully connected in about 6 months. I decided to go visit Rosalie in the afternoon to get directions to his house, and in the meantime I went to the CSPS to get water, say hello, and keep studying with some company. There must not have been many CPNs, because they were finished when I arrived! What a nice change from the usual crowded Monday. I went home when people started leaving at 12:30, still plugging away at GRE math problems, which didn't go perfectly but not nearly as bad as I'd expected. I ate lunch and kept at it, then went back a little before the end of repose to get my computer and another bidon of water. I ended up talking to Belem and Nacoulma for a while, then headed home to put down my stuff and go visit Rosalie.

I first called Francois, the mayor, to tell him about the meeting. He told me that Simon left! He's in Ouaga looking for work, he turned in the keys to the library a month ago! I'm so disappointed and sad, I feel like it's my fault he's there instead of here, if he'd actually been getting paid he might not have had to leave. I don't know if his family went with him, I guess I'd be surprised if they did. I wonder what happened – did his fields last year do so badly that they didn't have anything to plant this year, forcing them to find some other source of income in order to eat? So far this year is shaping up to be a good rainy season, I really hope someone is planting his fields. I've only met his wife once over a year ago, I don't know if I'd actually recognize her if I went to go talk to her (if I could find the house) and I don't remember if she spoke French, but I seem to remember that he had a daughter who had made it to 6eme before leaving school, so she might. I really want to talk to him, but I have no idea how to contact him. I should have asked Francois if he had a different phone number, I'll do it when I see him tomorrow.

So instead of going to see Rosalie, who everyone assured me would be in her fields until dinner, I sat with Belem in the shade next to her house and read my Maternal-Neonatal book. She was so excited about it, and kept lamenting that it's wasn't in French. I told her to keep an eye out for the maternity/midwife book I found in the CSPS last year, that I had enjoyed reading it and it was all in French. She asked about me teaching her yoga, so maybe tomorrow I'll take my mat over there and we can start doing some exercises to help her back pain.