Thursday, May 10, 2012

Maternity Leave, Sali's Mom Visit

May 4th

I think I might be coming down with a cold. I'm kind of at a loss as to how I should go about fighting it off. It started this morning, just that feeling of your nose being kind of thick and congested at the back. No coughing, no nasal drip, I've been sneezing a lot the past few days but that could easily be the dust I'm inhaling day and night. At home I would drink my orange juice and try to avoid contamination, but I have no orange juice or vitamin c or zinc or any other placebo-inducing pill I can take, and I work at a health clinic and am greeted by dozens of children every day, most of whom probably never wash their hands.

Today we got right underway at the maternity, it was actually quite impressive. Sali and Alain (I finally learned the name of the intern!) weighed and took blood pressure, Belem and I did the exams and the paperwork, respectively. Once they were finished outside, Alain took over the exams, Belem went to the other room to do the post-natal consultations, and I handed the paperwork over to Sali so I could bike out to Ecole D. I timed it perfectly, I pulled up just as they let out for their 10am break, and talked to the director. We planned for me to come back next Tuesday afternoon to talk to the APE about moringa and give them the seeds, and he told me about a giant “recitation” happening tomorrow at Ecole A with students from all 14 schools in our district. Not sure what it involves, but I'll go and say hello at least.

It was fun being back at Ecole D, the director is so nice and the other teacher, Janine, was back from her maternity leave. She named her son “Oswald”, all I could think was “that poor boy”. It's not a name I've heard here before, but living in a Muslim village I don't get to hear many non-Muslim names so I guess it could be really popular in other places. I realized this afternoon why she looked so familiar when I first saw her at the school – it's because I met her at Sylvie's house when she was still the Major here! It clicked today when the director told me her name, and when she told me that Sylvie is posted in OHG now, and I remembered eating attcheke with her and Sylvie's little sister and telling her that I had a friend in the US named Janine. Now I know why she was so friendly the first time we met at the school. Functionaires here have amazing maternity leaves – 3 months with your family, you can bring your baby to work, and you officially have up to an hour and a half of breaks each day to nurse. In the US I think you get 2-6 weeks? And nursing at work?!

I went back to the CSPS as the break was finishing, watched Mariam do a very impressive IV insertion into a severely dehydrated and malnourished child (I couldn't see a vein to stick the needle into, but she apparently did), then went back to the maternity side of things and helped Belem with post-natal consultations in the birthing room (thankfully no one was in labor). She did a Jadelle insertion for the woman who had the stillborn twins, I really wish I could have understood what they were saying to each other in terms of if she had wanted the babies and why she was choosing to wait at least 2-3 years before trying again, if ever. Granted, from an American perspective having 4 living children by the time you're 30 sounds good enough, but that's still a relatively small family size here and she would be expected to have more. By the time they're 40 and on their 12th pregnancy (as one woman today was, although 2 ended in miscarriages and 1 had died so she “only” had 8 living children to care for) they look so tired and worn down.

In the afternoon I got some water for laundry tomorrow, and just as I was getting out of the shower I got a call from Sali, which is very unusual. She said she was at home, that her mother had come to visit. I had been hoping to lounge around in my pagne after my shower, so I reluctantly took that to mean I should get dressed and go over. I did and it was a lot of fun! I didn't stay for dinner (the sauce sounded quite tasty until she said that the first two ingredients were soumbala and powdered dried fish) but I greeted her mother, talked about cooking, foods you can and can't find in the US (we don't eat bean leaves, for example, but do have beans), her trees (one is malnourished and needs to be de-wormed, the other is beautiful and you can see how much it's grown in her years here by the laundry rope that got stuck in a groove and is now high out of reach), and looked at photos including a few of Sali with Lauren, and the ones I gave her. It made me so happy to see them there, to know that I'll be remembered. What I need to do is take photos of me with each person and give it to them so they can prove they knew me :) She and her mother spent a long time on the photo of Mom and I with some of my nurses, pointing out how similar we looked “like sisters” with our glasses and short hair and big smiles.

Malaria and HIV

May 3rd

Sensibilization mania! I went to Ecole C in the morning with my ASCs for a 40 minute malaria talk. It went pretty well, but I'm learning that malaria is a subject best tackled with only 2 or 3 ASCs instead of 6, there's just not enough for everyone to have something to say on the topic compared to hygiene where each person could pick a different aspect to talk about. Still, this was the first time all month that all 6 have shown up, so I maintain that it's better to plan for 6 and have one day where people feel redundant than to plan for 2 people and have neither show up.

We got back to the CSPS by 9:30 and I watched them finish weighing and vaccinating the babies. One of the interns has started doing small causaries before PAM and baby weighing, which makes me so happy! Even if he's not my favorite person in the world, I appreciate that he's putting in the extra effort to use the large gathering of women to teach something, particularly since I've been trying unsuccessfully to convince my staff to do this for the past year.

Kalsoum and two of her friends came by during the repose to bring me some food! I forget what it's called, gnaore? She said it's made from benga, but had a wonderful texture, kind of like tofurkey, actually. Mayuure kept insisting that I couldn't learn how to make it, but I'll ask Kalsoum one on one and I bet she could explain it to me. I thought it was delicious and happily ate all of it while the three of them sat and chatted to me and to each other.

This afternoon brought a return to Ecole C, this time with Mariam and Belem to talk to the CM2 about HIV. It was...informative. Belem did a lot of repetition, I think we said nearly everything at least 10 times (I'm not exaggerating). Apparently it was necessary, because even in the end we would ask a very basic question and no one was willing to answer. She finally resorted to asking a question and then calling on people to answer but then stay standing. Once the answer was complete to her satisfaction, they would each repeat their piece of the answer in order over and over to the class. Then another question, and so on. Boring as all get out for me, but I guess it seemed to be working in a painful blunt-force manner of forcing them to hear the information enough times to be able to recite it back even if they didn't actually absorb it completely. We did the whole thing in French, only to have the teacher (who was also speaking French the whole time) tell us at the end that the students don't understand French very well. Goodness, if you'd said that at the beginning instead of talking in French to them, we would have done it in Moore! It ended on a high note when they did one of those fancy rhythmic claps to thank us for coming, and we all left smiling.

Burkina Education

May 2nd

Sali didn't get her concours. Last year she was on the waiting list, meaning she was less than 5 spots away from getting a place, but this year she didn't even score high enough to qualify despite there being ample spaces left. She had left the exam feeling really confident, and to not have gotten it, after so much work, was devastating. It's the first time I've seen anyone here cry.

The education system is quite different here than it is in the US. While both have their pros and cons, I'm very grateful to be from the system I am. In the US your first 12 years of education are, at least in theory, free, and compulsory up until age 16. No matter how badly you do, you're probably not going to be held back. Your education after that is a matter of money, grades, and how many schools you're willing to apply to. You may not get the school of your dreams, but the system seems to have room for just about everyone who wants in, from the community colleges to trade schools to the Ivy League. Let's say you take the route of getting a bachelor’s degree from a 4-year college or university. It's probably a liberal arts degree, meaning you focused in a topic but aren't really prepared for a specific job – a music major can still go on to become a doctor, a biology major can found an internet start-up, and both of you could apply to law school, perhaps with a quick detour to a community college to pick up a few extra courses. For some people it ends there – they learn on the job, work their way up, go back for re-training as necessary, and eventually retire. But for an increasing number of jobs it's becoming necessary to go to grad school for 2-4 years. This usually does prepare you for a specific job field – medicine, social work, law, education, etc rather than requiring you to train on the job, and you'll probably enter at a higher level compared to people who entered after an Associate's or Bachelor's degree. By now you've spent 18-20 years in school to become qualified to do a job, and amassed who knows how much debt, so you better be going into something that pays well.

The Burkina education system is based on the French system, with a few unique twists. Students enter school after they turn 6, but continue to start school until about 8 or 9 years old, so you have a span of ages in each class. Kids tend to get passed through the first few years without being held back for poor grades, but in 5th grade they take a qualifying exam to get into middle school, which most students fail at least once. You can repeat the grade and re-take the exam annually until you turn 16, then your education is finished. If you pass, you go on to middle and high school. There's another qualifying exam after 9th grade, but now if you have poor grades they can hold you back. One failed year means you can re-take the grade at the same school. Failing twice means you have to switch to a different school, often presenting an impossibility due to lack of transport to another town with a school that goes beyond the primary level. If you do make it all the way through, then there's the BAC. If you pass all kinds of doors open up to you. If you don't, you still have options. You can take the BAC annually, as many times as you want, and there are people who continue to take it well into their 20s and 30s (some people don't finish high school until their mid-20s, so it's not quite as dramatic as it sounds).

There are several paths you can take here without your BAC – nursing, education, police/army, or local government. With your BAC you can essentially do those things at higher levels – doctor, professor, police/army, or higher up in the regional government. This is where the system differs from the French, in that there aren't many options available except to become a functionaire – someone who works as part of the functioning of the country, getting paid by the government. Working hard to escape life in village means that you will finish your schooling and be sent back to live in a village. After several years of experience, you'll be eligible to do a concours. From what I can gather you write out an extensive document showing your qualifications, experience, and aspirations to move higher up in the system of whatever domain you're in. You take a long written exam, which seems to consist partially of practical questions in your specialty but largely of logic problems simply to weed people out since thousands of people apply for only a handful of spots each year (typically 55 to 120). If you get selected you leave the village you've been living in, go back to school for 2 years, and then get posted to a larger village or town, maybe a city if you're lucky, and start the process over again.

So in Sali's case, she is currently an Accouseuse Auxilliare. There's also Accouseuse Brevite, but I'm not sure where that is in the hierarchy, perhaps between AA and SF, but maybe it's before AA. The one Sali was applying for is the highest she can aspire to, the position of Sage Femme. Above that is Gynocologue but to become one you have to have your BAC and have gone to medical school instead of nursing school. While there are programs in the US specifically to aid this transition, here it's pretty much impossible to go back and change once you're on a track – teachers stay teachers and don't become professors or nurses, nurses stay nurses and don't become teachers or doctors.

I'm occasionally frustrated by the fact that I have a degree that says I have the capacity to learn but doesn't directly qualify me to do more than earn $10/hr at Starbucks (if I'm lucky, having never worked in coffee before). Still, in the face of this I do appreciate the flexibility of the US system. I intended to become a doctor but now I will be applying to nursing programs after this little 3 year break from education. I can do that by taking 3-4 courses at community college and applying to enough schools of different calibers to ensure I get into at least one. If I change my mind in 10 years and want to go to med school or law school or get my teaching license or work in a lab or open a coffee franchise, I can do that without too much of a problem. I appreciate the system here in Burkina because trade schools and apprenticeships are emphasized (in fact, they're almost the only thing around, especially if you don't finish school) and it is possible to get a decent job even without going to school for ages, but it's frustrating and disheartening to see people work so hard competing for so few spots in order to advance, without the option to apply to multiple schools (because they don't exist in the country) or many places to work outside of the governmental/public function system.

(*note – I later found out that you can go to school to become an AA with just a primary school diploma as long as you pass their qualifying exams. I asked three of my nurses and found out that one only has her primary diploma, and two have their BEPC, the degree after you pass the exam at the end of 9th grade.)


May 1st

Hey look – it's a new month! And in 10 days I leave village to being an epic journey that will take me to 9 cities/villages on 3 continents over 5 ½ weeks (Ouaga, Paris, Washington D.C., South Hadley, Albany, San Francisco, Ouahigouya, Zogare, Koukouldi). Doesn't that sound impressive? Also sounds like I'm going to be out of site a lot, but I swear it makes more sense this way than going back to village for all of 4 days before leaving again for my VAC meeting.

Today was (maybe?) the last day of our meningitis campaign. I finally helped out a little, marking the number of children vaccinated, re-consituting freeze-dried vaccine, and holding screaming children (it occasionally took 3 people to hold some of them still). I got some wonderful photos of most of my staff and a few ASCs which made me really happy. There's even one of me re-constituting vaccine, and one wearing Belem's headscarf (Sali had a lot of fun trying to get it to stay in place properly over my “slippery” hair). I had to take it off very quickly – for a thin material it sure trapped heat effectively! We finished up by noon, had a small supervision visit, and that was that. I went to the marche, sat and talked to Collette for a while – she said the women want to sit and chat with me! I didn't get into specifics of which women or what they wanted to talk about, but enthusiastically agreed and now have a meeting with “the women” on Friday morning under “the tree” which I'm hoping means the one next to my house because otherwise I could be searching for a long time to find the right tree.

I returned home with my sugar and samsa, and had a visitor waiting for me! Kalsoum and I chatted in Moore/French (some of which I didn't really understand but we made it work) and shared the samsa. She had brought me a little dish of what I deemed “re-fried benga”, essentially pureed black-eyed peas. The oil on it tasted a bit fishy, so I tried to avoid it, but the beans themselves were pretty tasty and very filling along with the delightful crunchy-soft goodness of samsa, which of course is black-eyed pea flour that has been mixed with water and fried. There was a lot of protein in my life today, and it was delicious. It was so much fun talking with Kalsoum, I really like just hanging out with her one on one. Maybe next time I'll ask her to help me “prepare for a sensibilization” and use the time to start spreading some health messages that she can then pass on to the other CSPS kids who can get them into the schools.

Kerry Day 2, Meningitis Campaign

April 29th

Yesterday was Day 2 of Kerry's visit, I was just to busy to write about it. We woke up a little late, showered, and read for a little with our tea before walking out to the lycee to take photos with my AIDS Day mural. I've never walked there before, it took about 25 minutes each way, and Kerry said it was about the distance between her house and her CSPS which made me appreciate mine being right next door. We stopped by the marche on our way back to buy some veggies, greeted the CSPS staff, and got water to do our laundry and dishes. It was so nice and relaxing despite the brutal heat, in fact it was so hot we weren't hungry for lunch until 2pm. We made mac and cheese, dinner was cucumber salad and tomato/basil sandwiches with garlic salt. I think it's better with butter, but it was still very tasty and probably a bit healthier without (and I'm out of butter). The wind kept blasting us with dirt and there was some lighting and thunder, we decided to try sleeping outside and got lucky in that it didn't rain, but we both slept pretty badly with the constant gusts of wind.

To catch the bus this morning we got up at 5am. Kerry got ready while I made pancakes for breakfast since it's too early to buy bread. We went to the WPK gare but no one was there. The first STAF came and left, as did the first TSF, and I texted Major who said the bus is broken. Still? How annoying! I avoid TSF because I don't know how to get downtown from that station, having never taken that bus to Ouaga, but STAF is frustrating beyond belief, completely packed to the point that you're lucky to get on at all, let alone have a seat for the 4 hour ride. Kerry got the last seat on the 2nd bus, sitting next to the same person she sat with on her ride out.

I thought vaccination yesterday was busy, today was packed! To my amazement the kids were even in a line, an almost mythical appearance here. A few months before I came to Kossouka they did a large vaccination campaign against meningitis A. I believe it was an experimental vaccine, available in very large quantities, so they vaccinated everyone 0-29 years old. This time they're vaccinating with a combined vaccine against meningitis A/C/Y/W135 (I think that's what they were) so due to cost and limited resource they're only vaccinating kids 2-14 years old. We've had several meningitis deaths in just the past week, so the timing is good. Unfortunately they believe the recent deaths have been a strain called “X” that doesn't yet have a vaccine available here, and it seems to be particularly aggressive. I haven't heard the particulars on the cases, age and general health, etc, but it's still a frightening proposition. Meningitis is a fairly contagious disease so all Volunteers have been vaccinated against it, presumably with the nice expensive one covering all the strains including the mysterious X, but I'm still kind of glad I work in the maternity side of the CSPS, a whole separate building apart from where they deal with diseases. Since it's an injected vaccine I can't even help out very much – a nurse has to give the injection, so I would be relegated to registering names or marking how many kids we'd injected.

Since the ASCs get paid to do this and the group outside the CSPS seemed to have a nice system worked out, I went home, did the rest of my laundry, and spent the day reading and planning what to pack for my trip! I know I still have over a week to figure it out, but since it's on my mind I might as well, right? It helps that I'm busy all week, 3 sensibilizations and several meetings with directors to schedule meetings to talk to the APEs (the parent-teacher association) about moringa and to distribute the seeds and information directly to them.

Last night it was so dusty and windy that I had to stay inside. Tonight looked calm and promising until a huge gust of dirt caused me to slam shut my computer and scurry inside. Now it's raining, beautiful thundering rain pounding away on my tin roof, lulling me to sleep with the cool wind coming in my windows.

Kerry Visit

April 27th

Kerry's here! Her trip to Ghana got delayed, so instead of staying in Ouaga she came to visit me for a few days. So far I can say her visit has been all about food, as in I've eaten more in the past two days that I usually consume in the better part of a week. We started out last night with a soup mix I had for a hearty black bean soup (thank you Erin!), quite delicious, with cornbread on the side (thank you Mom!). Between dinner and breakfast today we polished them both off, but then around 9:30 this morning we were sitting at home and hungry again, so we bought some bread as well. Then we greeted the CSPS staff, sat and talked for a bit, then went searching for eggs around 12:30. None to be found, but we bought a bag of rice and made salmon cakes from the can Chuck and T mailed for Easter. Not only were they delicious, but a lot of fun to make.

We sat out a terrible dust storm that we hoped would bring rain but only brought dust, listening to podcasts by Dan Savage and changing/cleaning my water filter. Around 5pm things had calmed down, so we went to Belem's to learn how to make benga. We picked through the beans, I got a few good photos of Mariam and Kalsoum, and we just sat and talked to Mariam and Belem about work, sensibilizations, teen pregnancy and what happens if a girl gets pregnant, and the meningitis campaign starting tomorrow (as we were informed at 7pm). Kerry and I talked about how to spin our work for interviews, books, language nuances. By the time dinner was cooked we were both pretty tired and looking for bed more than food, so when they offered us our food in separate containers to take home if we wanted, we went ahead and said goodnight and enjoyed our benga for breakfast instead.

HIV Conference

April 21st

What a delightfully happy day! Well, actually, parts of it were boring, frustrating, and bemusing, but the end of the day was so wonderful it has absolutely colored the rest in a lovely way.

This morning we had our “conference” on HIV/AIDS for the middle/high school kids. The biggest difficulty is the age range – in the US you can predict a child's age fairly accurately within a grade, but today we had kids that easily ranged from 12-22 years old, and it's hard to present age-appropriate information to all of them at once, particularly on a topic like sex. The director was late showing up, the guy from Seguenega with the DVD was late (and then the DVD was so scratched we couldn't get it to play). Thankfully we gave up on it after 40 minutes or so, but it was a long wait. We started out with a big crowd at 8am, around 200 kids by my estimate, but by the end we were down to about 100; apparently you don't face consequences for just walking out of presentations here, even as a student in front of your school director (who wondered in and out throughout the morning).

It mostly consisted of Major lecturing dryly off his notes, with the guy from district getting up and asking questions of the students and clarifying points. He leaned over at one point and asked if we'd brought condoms. I had thought that I would be leaving the condoms and wooden penises at home, as the director had made it very clear that they were not welcome, but at the last minute I tossed them into my bag and was glad I did. I told him that the director specifically asked us to not do a demonstration for fear of repercussions from angry parents who would see it as the school condoning sexual activity among the students. But when it was his turn again he asked if anyone could demonstrate how to properly use a condom, and (to my delight) out came the condoms and wooden penis. There was a lot of laughter, and all of the volunteer students had very shaky hands, but one did a decent job of explaining important steps that often get missed, like checking the expiration date, and making sure to throw it in a latrine so kids don't find it and play with it. The director was out of the room for this part, which helped, but pretty much the whole time Major was desperately trying to get back the microphone and stop them from continuing the step-by-step explanation. It wasn't perfect, but it was a lot better than not doing anything, and I was feeling very grateful to this guy from Seguenega that I usually only see in the context of supervising polio campaigns from time to time. It still boggles my mind that the director can tell me that unwanted pregnancy is a big issue in his school, but still be against teaching them how to use a condom.

They wrapped it up around 11am, which was nice for all of us. I had actually been ready to speak about almost anything, but the microphone never made it to me and I was ok with that, just sitting watching the students. Some were falling asleep. Some were taking notes. Some looked interested. Many looked embarrassed. But I felt like we were getting through to some of them, and at least the information was out there for all of them, more relevant for some than others, but available to everyone.

After lunch I was sitting in my courtyard reading when I heard a knock on my door. Lo and behold, it was Juliette, Rosalie's daughter! Normally I'm super awkward with kids, and this wasn't a huge exception, but we sat in silence for a while, punctuated with small bursts when one of us would babble at the other for a minute before lapsing into companionable quiet again. She offered to get water for my plants, but I insisted that Saturday is a day of rest in my book and no work will be done until tomorrow. She has this great smile and lively eyes, so unlike the timid girls today with their downcast eyes and determination not to answer questions. I'd love to photograph her with Rosalie, actually, they both have such open warm faces when they smile.

I kept reading until 3:30, then went to get some water and my computer that I'd left to charge at the CSPS. I had a delightful French/Moore conversation with Luddie, who starts all her sentences to me with “Jessica?”, and then even a decent exchange with the one girl whose name I can never remember, the one who is usually quite rude to me. But she said she wanted to talk to me about the conference we had today, and I told her to come over and talk anytime – I'm always willing to answer questions. This could be a really good way of getting out some information, since she's been here and in the school system long enough to know a lot of the girls from the village. I went back to my house very happy indeed, and then talked to JK and Dave! Such a good day.

Well Budget, Spicy Cabbage

April 19th

Got a nice budget for the well at Ecole C all drawn up this morning! The total cost came to about 370,000cfa, $700 or so for a 25m well in soil that's so rocky it doesn't even need any kind of reinforcement to prevent collapse. The terrain adds to the cost of digging, but lowers the cost of materials, so I guess it evens out in the end. The surprise big cost is the edging and cover, which adds up to close to $150 including supplies and labor, a big part going to a custom-built half-cover in metal that will be easier for the kids to use than trying to shift a cement lid without dropping it on their feet. I had a little niggle of worry when they talked about locking the cover. I agree that we don't want kids using it or falling in when there aren't adults around, but I can see it becoming a situation like the CSPS tap where I have to go track down some child to get the key every time I want water. I don't want the well to be only available to the teachers with keys, I want the kids to have access for drinking and washing and watering, although I'm a little suspicious of how they're going to haul up water from that depth even though I was assured it would be fine. At least it'll only be that deep for a couple of months of the year. The APE president and treasurer were very helpful in bolstering my view that you can't dig in rainy season, since the water can get as high as 10m below ground-level, meaning any well would then have to be extended as the water table drops, and it's better to just dig the whole thing at once. I'll write everything up in the grant form and leave it for the next PCV, who hopefully will see it as an opportunity and not an imposition, as well as talking to Pascal about the NGO he used to work with.

The APE treasurer was the neighbor who just dug the well, he's related to some big-wig who put up the money. We went to see it after our meeting, and were ushered into the courtyard of this beautiful 2 story house with glassed-in windows, nice metal doors that hang properly, cemented walls, and dozens of trees – palm, mango, raisin, moringa, and several I didn't know. Nearly the entire courtyard is shaded, the patio is tiled – it was stunning to say the least, a beautiful house in a jungle of a yard that seemed very out of place in my village.

I went to the marche, sat with Collette for a few minutes, and talked to a few ASCs and updated people on our sensibilization schedule. Belem has been asking about it since I explained the process several months ago, so I made a large batch of spicy fried cabbage for my staff, and much to my surprise they actually liked it! Here I was expecting to have a bunch for dinner but instead I made couscous since they ate all of it, 2 cabbages worth. Belem says they do something similar, soaking cabbage in vinegar with maggi (a bullion cube), then draining it and adding mayonnaise and tomatoes. Hmmm. If you'd like to make it yourself it's very easy, kind of a warm sauerkraut. You cut the cabbage into strips and put it in a very big bowl with some vinegar (½ cup), 2 or 3 crushed cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne. I use Cajun salt instead, with just a little fresh pepper and peimont (our version of hot pepper powder). You let it soak for 1-2 hours, turning it over from time to time, then you drain it, heat a little oil up in a skillet until it's very hot, and then fry the cabbage for a few minutes until it's warm and soft and delicious.

France French is really fast

April 18th

Finished the mural, rescheduled Ecole C for May, started reminding people to show up on Friday for the sensibilization at Ecole A, helped distribute PAM and organize the paperwork – I'd say it was a very productive day indeed. Tomorrow I have a meeting at Ecole C about the well that we won't be digging, then the next big step is the fencing for Moringa Project - finding out where it is, how much there is, and who I need to pay to get it where it needs to go. I've decided that since the tree planting at each school has been so dramatically scaled back that I'll give the extra seeds to the APE (the parent's association) to distribute to each courtyard along with a quick lesson on why moringa is good, how you plant it, and what kind of protection it needs.

On a random note, I was helping Major with his computer today and found that he has Nikita in French. I thought it was funny since I've been watching it in English on my own computer. He put on an episode that I recognized, but even knowing what was going on I was still having a really hard time with the speed and accent, something that does not bode well for my trip to Paris in a month!

Painting Day 2

April 17th

Painting went well today. I was pretty much finished by 10, but then someone pointed out that I'd miss-spelled “scolaire” as “scholaire” so I painted over it and I'll go back tomorrow to finish that last bit. The white paint is super thick, helpful for covering mistakes, but even in Burkina heat it takes a few hours to fully dry on the textured wall and I had no desire to sit around and wait, since by then I would be in the mid-day sun. I biked home, made lunch, and sat around, read, and caught up with friends – a perfect afternoon.

Painting Day 1

April 16th

Talk about a mountain out of a molehill. Today I painted the white background of the mural and it was just such a relief to have this project finally, visibly underway. The director made a few trying comments but was generally jovial and helpful. They brought me a lovely metal ladder that's very sturdy, much better than the wooden type I had imagined I'd be using. We agreed to move the mural to the side wall, and made it a reasonable size instead of trying to paint the whole wall. We also changed the wording a little so that now I'll be painting “Ensemble, Luttons Contre Le VIH/SIDA En Milieu Scolaire” (literally - “Together, fight against HIV/AIDS in the school setting”) which is at least easier than “Ensemble Nous Luttons Contre Le VIH/SIDA, Lycee Departmental Yanogo Ouedraogo de Kossouka” even if it doesn't quite make sense in English. Painting on the texture wasn't the most fun, in fact it required me to forgo the roller and do the whole thing by hand, but it beats popcorn ceilings any day because at least this texture doesn't come loose and fall on your head! For some reason there was magically always a crowd of kids around staring at me, literally watching paint dry as it were. I couldn't figure out why they weren't in class, but there was maybe only 20 minutes when I was alone during the whole morning, from arriving at 8 to leaving at noon. They talked amongst themselves for the most part, not asking questions of me or even really responding to my questions or comments – it was a bit odd really.

It wasn't until I was almost finished when a student finally asked me what I was doing! He asked if I knew the volunteer who was in the village last year, Jessica, and was shocked when I pointed out that I was still around. He apparently lives in Kossouka with the primary school teacher from Margarougou, my former Moore tutor that I saw twice a month ago for simple computer lessons but who has again disappeared. He was a nice kid, talkative, in the 5eme, and seemed interested in my description of the sensibilization for Saturday which made me smile.

I finished right as the sun started hitting the wall I was painting, perfect timing. I had forgotten how tiring it is to be on a ladder for so long – the minute I got home I drank 2 liters of water and almost fell asleep in my chair. It was very hot out, but it's still getting a little chilly at night which is a nice contrast. I went to the maternity after 3pm to get water and charge my phone, and just ended up sitting with nothing to do for a few hours, although I did listen to Mohamadi and one of the interns talk. Tomorrow I'll go back to do the lettering and then we'll be all set for Saturday!

Painting Tomorrow

April 15th

I've been kind of nervous and out of sorts all day, having a hard time focusing even though all I'm doing is laundry and reading. I'm thinking that a big part of it lies in my trepidation for tomorrow. I'm not feeling too friendly towards this lycee director so I'm not particularly looking forward to showing up tomorrow to paint. His idea was to paint it above the classrooms, on the part of the wall that sticks out to cover the patio area, but I would like to try and move it to a side wall so I'm not 10 feet up in the air the whole time, which means further negotiations potentially fraught with more...cultural nuances like I experienced last time. I also need someone to help me transport the paint there – that giant can is a little too heavy to transport on my bike. Maybe we can transport paint in the morning and I can start painting in the afternoon or tomorrow morning? At least I have an old skirt and a faded t-shirt from the “free bin” that I can use as painting clothes! I knew they would come in handy some day.

Talking to Risnata

April 13th

Another exciting and busy day in village! I bought paint for the mural at the little hardware store near my house, helped Sali take out her weave with what appeared to be a small ice-pick and a very thin and dull razor blade, ate a delicious butter/garlic salt/fresh basil sandwich (where do these ideas come from?), and had a nice long conversation with Risnata, the woman I buy peanut butter from in the marche. Her husband keeps giving her STIs (they both seem to get treated once or twice a year according to her health notebook) but he refused to come visit the CSPS after her last visit so she's refusing to sleep with him until he and his two girlfriends get treated. Honestly, it seems like her only option at this point, and I was proud of her conviction even as I worried about what kind of reactions he would have if this went on for too long. With 2 girls on the side I hardly think he should be complaining, but I'm not a Burkinabe husband with a wife who has her own income and a much higher level of education. For her the biggest motivation is this pregnancy – she's miscarried many times, most likely because of the near-constant infections, and this would only be her 3rd live birth. It's a hard situation all around, but I was really glad she was willing to talk to me about it and let me see into her life a little more.

Lycee Frustrations, Happy Sensibilizations

April 12th

I try so hard to be calm in my dealings with people here. To be culturally appropriate. To not reveal how confusing and frustrating it can be. Today I didn't completely lose my composure, but it was a struggle. The long and short of it is that I had a meeting with the director of the high school to get permission to paint a mural about the fight against HIV/AIDS on one of their walls, timed to coincide with a talk on the subject by the Major. I got the money for the paint as part of a grant that was done by CHAT, our PCV health committee, that supplied money for murals all across the country, easily involving over half of the volunteers in Burkina. It was for World AIDS Day, back in December, but due to delays in getting the money most of us are doing it now. Each volunteer got a detailed budget, a list of things the community could donate to make up their contribution, a sample mural, ideas for activities that you could do in conjunction with your mural, etc.

The director agreed to at least let me do the mural and I think we'll work out the frustrations over the next few days. Mostly I think it's a difference in Burkinabe vs. American humor – they find some things very funny that we take to be downright rude. If I had more time and another location to put the mural I would strongly consider it, but it's almost the end of the school year, I'm leaving on vacation in a month, and since this mural is a part of a grant from many volunteers meaning that we need to hurry up and finish so we can submit the completion report. I'm not the last person to do my mural, but I don't want to be the one holding up the process.

We're still deciding where to put the mural, and what it will say – right now he'd like me to paint “Lycee Departemental Yardego Ouedraogo de Kossouka s'engage contre le VIH/SIDA” which is a lot to fit on the wall where he seems to want me to paint. I'm going to try and get him to move it, mostly because the wall he wants doesn't even start until 10 feet off the ground, and I'm much rather not be up on a ladder quite that high! We'll see, I'll make some sketches and I'll talk to him again on Monday.

On the other hand, the malaria sensibilizations at the primary schools yesterday and this morning went really well! Yesterday with Rosalie and Kimdaogo was, as always, a delight – the students were really getting into it and we asked them lots of questions to make sure they were getting the facts correct (you can't get malaria from eating green mangoes even though they ripen at the same time of year when people get malaria, etc). This morning 4 of my 6 ASCs couldn't make it, so I ended up doing most of the talking with Boureima translating (the two that were left aren't very talkative and I finally gave up on prodding them to speak and just did it myself). I thought it went really well – I like doing the lessons for the younger kids because even when they mix up the information they're just so eager and earnest about it, and they love when we call them up to act things out, in this case the girl who sleeps outside and gets malaria from a mosquito bite but goes to the CSPS for medicine and then sleeps under her mosquito net so she stays healthy. I found out that April 25th is World Malaria Day (maybe it's just a Peace Corps thing), so the timing of these sensibilizations is unexpectedly quite appropriate. 3 more to go!

CSPS Morning

April 10th

I got to the CSPS a bit late around 8:15, and it was one of those mornings where everyone was there but no one had actually started working yet. I went around organizing, and grabbed the interns to help weigh and take the blood pressure of all of the women, which took around 30 minutes. We seemed pretty ready to start with the consultations, but then Major and Sali said they wanted to do a causarie (a little health lesson/talk). WHAT?! You mean the thing I've been trying to convince them to do for well over a year? Be still my heart. I had been pushing for topics like “these are the medicines we give you during your pregnancy and why” or “this is what you should bring to the maternity when you give birth” or “we're glad you're here for a consultation and here's why you should give birth here too” - something that would take about 5-10 minutes. They instead decided to explain the HIV rapid test, now that we have them available again. I assumed it would be pretty quick, since when they explain it to each individual woman it takes about 1-2 minutes max, but they spent the better part of an hour! We didn't start the actual exams until 10am, which was really frustrating for me since we all get pretty tired and cranky the longer we stay past noon. With 4 of us we managed to finish a little before 1pm, but I do hope that on Friday when we repeat this little exercise that we can either start earlier or do a faster talk about the test. After all, we have less than 10 HIV+ people in our village, several of whom are married to the same man, so explaining the treatment plan years down the road to women who are almost certainly HIV-negative seems excessive. Still, I guess I can't complain too much, it makes me really happy that they're at least taking the time to properly explain and do the testing.

Happy Easter, First Rain

April 8th

Happy Easter! To celebrate, today we had our first rain. It started out nice and gentle, but quickly turned into a pounding, roaring storm, blowing rain in through my closed windows while I made pancakes for brunch (with Easter colored M&Ms, courtesy of Chuck and T!). I was disappointed that the wind blew the cover off of my cannery, which I had finally washed out and filled with nearly 20L of filtered water that is now the color of mud. Oh well, tomorrow I'll start again. (A cannery is an unglazed ceramic round pot that you fill with water and as it leaks through to the outside of the ceramic and evaporates, it cools the water inside – the change is very dramatic!) I did my laundry early in the morning, so thankfully I didn't end up with muddy sheets, and my water barrel is full so if the tap doesn't work tomorrow I'm still set for a few days at least (the tap where I get my water is solar powered – no sun=no water). The only downside to the clouds is that I use a small solar charger to charge my lantern batteries every day, meaning I'll need to switch to using my headlamp and it's non-rechargeable batteries that need changing. I think this is only the 2nd time since January that I've changed them, so that's not too bad really. I just hate having so many dead batteries that I don't know what to do with. You aren't supposed to burn them, although most people do, and you're not supposed to put them down your latrine because of leaching, but that's really the only other option unless you want to see a toddler picking it up and chewing on it. Makes me miss home – recycling is so easy!

I had been hiding out in my house after the rain had stopped when Mariam came to see me and told me to come visit. So off I went and sat over at Belem's with all the women from the CSPS and we laughed and ate (boy did we eat!) and David brought us sodas (as the sole practicing Catholic on the staff it's his job to pay for the sodas on christian holidays). It was a lot of fun, although the conversation tended to elude me being almost entirely in Moore. We shared 2 types of rice and sauce, riz gras, and then gallettes, all on top of the pancakes that I'd eaten only a few hours earlier. My stomach hurt so badly, but it was just so tasty. We all went home as it was getting dark, and they laughed at my shock when they said they planned to still eat dinner after showering. This wasn't dinner? How could they possibly eat any more after all that?!

Party at the Chief's House!

April 7th

Happy birthday to me! 24 years of bumbling around...I mean, gracing the world with my presence – it's almost hard to believe I've made it here. I woke up to the wind, and as I drifted, refusing to get up, Sunyata called to be the first to wish me a happy birthday. What a nice motivation to finally get up! I enjoy celebrating birthdays, which makes it all the sadder that I don't often do much to celebrate. An evening with friends, a special meal, a night out dancing, a movie, a day off work – all sound like perfect celebrations to me. Burkinabe don't celebrate birthdays, the majority of people don't know the year let alone the day they were born. Plus if you want a celebration you pay for it yourself! So instead I'll go to the Chief's party, eat his food, watch the dancing, and pretend it's for me :)

I had told the teachers and Major that I had in mind a 30 minute puberty sensibilization for this morning, but somehow it turned into a 2 hour lecture on HIV/AIDS. While it wasn't what I'd expected, Major started talking and we just went from there. It was a bit of overkill, but I was happy that it happened and I think we did a pretty good job, although I don't know how much the kids got out of it. I was glad that we emphasized the ways you can't get HIV, like eating with someone, wearing their clothing, touching their sweat or tears or saliva, or getting bitten by mosquitoes (that one was 50/50 for the kids – half thought it was possible so I was glad we brought it up specifically). Belem was a little overly cautious and kind of using scare tactics on things like the clothing, saying you could get HIV if you share clothing with someone HIV positive who has lots of cuts and open sores, when really, the chance of HIV being present in high enough quantities in a smear of dried blood and managing to get into your system in high enough numbers (assuming you also have an actively bleeding wound at the same place) seems so implausible as to not even be worth worrying them about.

It was super windy and dusty all day, but particularly in the morning – walking outside was just asking to get the top of your skin sandblasted off. Good thing I wore brown today, although I did have to wash my face and arms about 5 times today to get rid of the gritty feeling.

I hung around the CSPS during repose to charge my laptop, and got to see Mariam stitch a woman's foot. The most amazing part was that the woman showed absolutely no indication of pain until she stood up and didn't put her shoe on that foot, and kind of hopped and limped when it was time to go back to the other room. Wow. I told her (through Mariam) that I admired her, that I would have cried like a child if it had been me, and that at least got a quick smile out of her.

I met up with Djeneba and Sali around 2pm to head over to the chief's house, and guess who was there to greet us? My fou (crazy person) from Manegetaba, the one who speaks some English and gleefully laughs and yells “Nasara, f*** yooou!” with a huge smile every time my bus stops in that village on the way to and from Ouaga. He, of course, did the same thing here in Kossouka, and later waved goodbye as he caught a ride back to his village on someone's moto. I swear, he acts pretty smart for a fou.

I had already had a decent sized lunch, but I did happily partake in the cucumber and egg salad, even eating some of the meat and a bite of the fish. So much protein today! When we went to the courtyard for the entertainment part of the afternoon we were seated in the front of the “important people” section, and as the singers sang and the dancers danced, people brought them money. It was a little less ostentatious this year, only a few people threw the money, it was more likely to be smaller bills, and no one tried to stick the bills to the sweaty forehead of the performers. But I did see one guy who was passing out 10mille bills, and he easily went through over 100mille while I was watching. Where is this man when I need immediate funding for a well? I did get hit up for money from one singer, and had to borrow a mille because I had absolutely no money on me. Should have known better. While they sing they weave in names/job titles to get those people to come pay them, so the Major, the Mayor, and the Prefet all got called a few times since no one needs to know their name, just their title, to hit them up.

Then people came up by village to present their gifts to the chief. Some gave money, anywhere from 500cfa to 10,000cfa, but the more impressive thing in my mind was the growing pile of millet, the stalks woven together to make a handle for the bundle. The chief spends an unimaginable amount of money on this fete, what with food, the drinks, the thousands of sachets of water, renting the tents and speakers and chairs, paying the performers (actually, they make so much money I bet they show up for free). Traditionally this was a fete held at the end of the harvest, when the whole village would come to help the chief bring in his fields. The date changes every year, but this year April seems to be a pretty poor choice if you're trying to get people to bring you food, considering we're getting into the hungry season pretty shortly, the time of year when you've eaten down your stores from the last harvest and you haven't yet planted or are waiting for this year's harvest to grow, surrounded by food that's not ready to eat while you work all day and eat maybe one meal. I didn't see the pile of millet last year, but it did look pretty small this year, considering how many people attended. Still, the whole experience was a lot of fun, especially seeing it for the second time and knowing what to expect.

First Malaria Sensibilization

April 5th

Crazy to think that my birthday is coming up – doesn't really feel like it. As Sunyata pointed out – a lot has happened in my 23rd year! With many more things to come for year 24, I have no doubt.

Not much to say about today. Finally did our first malaria sensibilization! It didn't go off quite as smoothly as I'd hoped, but it was ok and the students seemed moderately engaged. One ASC didn't show up and Catherine didn't talk at all, but the other three that were there did a pretty good job, although next time I'd like to prep a bit more. Next week I'll be working with two of my favorite people, Rosalie and Kimdraogo, both of whom speak French, so I think a quick planning session would work really well before we begin, agreeing more clearly on the points we'd like to cover. Emily mentioned that one ASC at each CSPS is supposed to be responsible for malaria information and trainings, so I'll ask Major tomorrow if we have one. Saturday is a busy day – our first sensibilization on reproductive health for the CM2 (5th grade, ages 11-16) at Ecole A, then the Napuusam at the chief's palace, his annual party for the villages under his domain.

All the school directors in my phone are labeled "Director"

April 4th

Up down. As always. C'est comme ca, en Afrique. (It's like this, in Africa – a common saying here) I went to help with PAM distribution this morning, ended up leaving early but instead of visiting Ecole C, I called the director and asked him to meet me at the CSPS to talk about the well. When he showed up I knew something was off, but started talking about the well project, only to realize that he was the director of Ecole D, the next number in my phone. Oops! He thought this meant we were coming to sensibilize today, so I explained that instead of profiting from the marche being today, we actually were trying to avoid marche days because so many ASCs also sell in the marche and I didn't want to take them away from their work there. I should probably call tomorrow and apologize for the confusion, although I'm more amused than embarrassed by my mistake.

I got some water, went to the marche, and called the right director to set up a meeting for this afternoon. I went over and we talked for over an hour, outlining everything that needed to happen, all the different ways for this project to get done. We can a) do the grant quickly and start digging in June despite the rain, b) do the work for the proposal and I'll shop it around to other NGOs to see if they want to pick up the ball, or c) we can do all the work for the proposal and hope that the next volunteer won't be too angry about being dropped into an unasked-for project, albeit where all she has to do is ask for the money. I'll talk to Major tomorrow, but I'd also like to call Dr. Claude and maybe Paul to get an opinion on what the best route would be. My biggest fear is that I'm going to fill out the grant, get the money, and then the well will be put off for the planting/harvesting season and won't get done, forcing us (probably me) to pony up the money to pay back the grant when we have nothing to show for ourselves except a bunch of supplies that were purchased but not used. Or, that we can find people in village to front the money (Major suggested the APE and CoGES could probably find enough to get us started and be reimbursed by the grant), we dig the well, and then the grant doesn't come through, again making me feel it necessary to pay for the project out of my own money, which I would like to avoid.

Still, it felt good to at least start the ball rolling. Awareness of how things work here in reality means that I would rather not apply for the grant and take on the headache that this project is absolutely destined to become on such a short time-frame in a country where setting up a meeting can take weeks. Speaking of, we did schedule a meeting for next Thursday with the APE and the people who just dug a private well next to the school grounds in order to get everyone on the same page and to draw up the detailed budget. Since we're digging in rock it the APE will need to donate their 25% of the project directly through supplies and materials and leave the grant to cover the labor, which it seems will need to be paid, not voluntary, since the well needs to be about 22 meters deep. In that case it almost makes sense to try and get it to be some kind of pump, or to install a pulley system of some sort, because despite everyone assurances I still have my doubts that kids can haul a bucket of water up over 65 feet. I need to talk to Pacal (a driver for PC) about the turning-wells-into-pumps NGO he works with.

I'm not totally optimistic that we'll pull this off, but now that we've started we might as well give it a shot, even if all we accomplish is showing the community that they have the motivation to do this little by little on their own.

Evening Noises, Site Visit from Sylvie

April 3rd

One thing that struck me about Amy's house was how quiet it was. At first I didn't think she was terribly isolated, and I always kind of saw my house as fairly isolated, but just comparing the level of noise at night makes the difference really apparent. She's about the same distance from the CSPS as I am, and people pass by the path near her house, but just sitting outside at 7pm I hear motos going by my front gate, people in the coffee shack next to my wall, my neighbors talking next to their house, the moulin still put-putting away grinding flour, children screaming and crying and yelling, some soccer match or video playing at the video club, music from someone's radio or cell phone – it's noisy! The predominant noise in her courtyard is the wind in the trees. Very peaceful, but I never realized that all the noise near my house is kind of protective, it makes me feel that even alone in my courtyard I'm clearly not all alone, there are almost always enough people around to hear me if something was wrong.

Today I had my site visit from Sylvie (one of the medical officers), which went really well. I was super chatty, and we talked about a lot of things in addition to the questions she had to ask on her sheet, then toured my CSPS and had lunch at the Maison des Jeunes. I was feeling very contemplative and reflective, saying that she had caught me at the point in my service where things had made a 180 from my first year, that now I'm much more “ca va aller,” able to go with the flow, to go along with the jokes that sound insulting from an American perspective, able to feel productive while being more realistic about what I can and cannot do. She suggested I write something for the PSDN newsletter, reflections on a second year, kind of letting new volunteers know that it gets better in ways I never could have imagined last year. The rest of the day was full of frustrations, but at some point I'll get around to writing it.

Learning Lessons

April 2nd

It's 9:45pm and I'm finally back in my own courtyard, drinking tea, enjoying the breeze while my house cools down. A few hours ago I was so emotional, so angry and upset and frustrated and embarrassed that I couldn't wait to sit down and type it out, but after so many hours of transport I'm kind of numb.

Emily and I left the transit house around 1pm, pretty typical to catch our buses that leave at 2. I had purchased my ticket with a new company, WPK, so we passed my STAF station, dropped Emily at Air Rondo, and successfully located the very tiny kiosk that marks the stopping point for WPK. As we pulled up the taxi driver queried if we had the right place – where was the bus? We were still a bit early, so I wasn't worried until the guy approaching our taxi from the station looked apologetic. WPK only has one bus. The bus broke down. The bus couldn't be repaired until tomorrow. Normally this probably would have sent me back to the House, but I have a site visit and a sensibilization tomorrow, so it was back to the STAF station.

STAF is very chaotic, to say the least. Buses leave for a dozen destinations around the country, and there are usually 4 or 5 leaving every hour. You know the bus is yours after a crowd has already swarmed it, followed by the placement of a metal sign on the front grill. Some only arrive to unload or refuel, sit a while, then pull out empty. For the bigger destinations like Ouahigouya or Bobo, you buy your ticket and then sign up on a list which is then read and when your name is called you get to chose your seat. My Seguenega bus is typically a free-for-all – you try to guess if the bus pulling in might be it, rush over, confirm that it's going to your destination, push your way on, dump your bags onto a chair to claim it, then fight against the tide of people to exit and bring over your bike so it can go under or on top of the bus.

Normally I sit and wait for the bus to show up, but today I was restless and kept wandering around in the staging area where everyone dumps their oversized baggage and motos. I ended up in a crush of people around the first Seguenega bus, where to my shock they were actually calling names! I explained to several people who asked why I hadn't registered my name that usually (aka several months ago when I took this bus) I can get on and buy my one-way ticket while we're underway. In fact, one time I tried to buy a ticket for a one-way trip and they refused to sell it to me, saying I should just pay on the bus. But alas, I was told to go buy a ticket for the second bus. Disappointed, I went to buy my ticket, stuck it in my pocket with the receipt for my bike, and kept wandering and waiting for the bus, following any that looked hopeful.

I got a text and didn't have enough credit to text back, so I went to grab my wallet because I always stock up on recharge cards when I'm in Ouaga (to avoid shocking my village with how much phone credit I buy a month). No wallet. I search all the pockets of my bag. No wallet. I walk around to places I've been standing since buying my ticket. No wallet. Now what?

I've been here for 18 months. Admittedly I've become rather complacent and comfortable, and my wallet was in a pocket on my shoulder bag (the same one it's always in), covered only by a flap rather than secured by a zipper. My first reaction was that there wasn't anything I could do. But I figured I should at least call Congo (our Safety and Security Coordinator) and ask if there were any steps I could take, just in case. Congo, of course, was wonderful, and told me to go to the ticket counter and ask to talk to someone in security. The ticket guy referred me to the “patron”, the boss – not terribly descriptive of who he is or what he does. So, still holding back tears, I explain that my wallet has been stolen and while I'm not sure what he can do, my coordinator of security told me to talk to him and see what could be done. He asks what I've lost. Luckily I don't carry much money around, I only had a little more than 20 mille in cash ($40), but I did have 45 mille in phone credit ($90) which I was much more upset about losing. He said to wait, he'd come see what he could do. I think I made a rather unhelpful remark asking what he was going to do, but obediently went to go keep looking for my bus. I wasn't too concerned about money because I had my bus ticket and cash waiting for me at site. But as the realization of it sank in, a big part of me wanted to just go back to the House and get my cash there and try to leave again the next day, and I started to feel a bit overwhelmed and panicked that I didn't even have the money to pay for a taxi to go back across town.

I started calling my major to explain the situation and to ask about rescheduling the sensibilization, but then the patron came over so I hung up and followed him a little way from the crowd. To my shock, he pulled out a wad of 10mille bills and started giving me money! I'm apparently not very quick on my feet in situations like this, but I hope I managed to convey my utter gratitude to him, particularly when he pushed me towards the entrance of the station to buy more phone credit before my bus left (I told him my “marie” would thank him, and even remembered to say a benediction in French and Moore, as is appropriate in situations like this). I asked for his name but all he said was that he was the patron of the station. Oh, the BIG patron! Oops. I called Congo after to ask if it was kosher for me to be taking this – he seemed surprised but certainly thought it was fine and asked if I could try and find the guy's name and number so we could thank him formally for helping me. I still have kind of amused, shocked, grateful, mixed feelings about accepting the money (albeit from the guy in charge of a wildly successful transport business). I'll admit that I calmed down a lot and felt more secure knowing that I at least wasn't (momentarily) penniless. I did as he said and bought some credit, then found my bus, claimed a seat, had to go back out and frantically search for my bike (it was nearly hidden under giant sacks of who knows what), then hopped back on the bus.

If all that wasn't enough of an adventure, we then drove about 5 minutes away and stopped for over an hour, apparently due to some kind of mechanical issue. I bought a few more mille of unite, a sandwich, and a FanLait (a frozen vanilla milk). The only other things that were in my wallet were my credit card and a blank check for the Poste, so I asked Mom to help me cancel the card (thank you!) and conference called with Nadine and Combaire at the Bureau so we could figure out which number check to cancel. I wasn't too worried about anyone using the card before it was canceled, the number of places that accept credit cards in the country are maybe up to 10 and very few people would know what to do with one. Even the blank check wasn't too big a deal, I'd just been to the Poste this morning to take out my monthly allowance so all that was in there was maybe 30 mille at most, not a tragic loss. I'm rather sad to have lost the wallet and lanyard itself – the wallet was the one I used at college, the lanyard was from my trip to Australia 9 years ago, so they had a little sentimental value. Still, considering the wallet was on top of my camera and one pocket over from my iPod, I think I got off pretty lightly. I feel really embarrassed to have become so complacent about my money, and I'm glad there wasn't more taken. The trip took forever, I'm exhausted, and I think now my house has cooled off enough that it's time to go inside and go to bed. Cliché as it sounds, I think I can safely say “lesson learned”.

In Gogo

March 30th

Amy and I spent the day exploring her village. We retrieved her puppy from the family who was watching him while she was gone (he promptly ran back over there once he dug his way under the gate) and stopped to talk to her CSPS staff. We spent 30 minutes trying to find the vegetable section in her enormous marche, then finally asked for directions from someone she knew. We cooked green beans for lunch with couscous – I added pretty much every spice she had just to see what would happen, and it was surprisingly delicious. It was a lot of fun seeing her CSPS, talking to her staff, and just seeing another site and way of living here. Every volunteer and every site is different, so it's interesting to see how you each react to common situations. It's been fun visiting Amy, I'm almost sad to leave tomorrow! But the COS party will be a good time, and I'm looking forward to going back to village and (hopefully) getting things started up again.

Heading to Gogo

March 29th

I remember when coming to Ouaga was an adventure to be prolonged for as long as possible, whereas now I really am content when it's more of a way-point instead of the destination. The benefit of Ouaga is that there's always friendly faces, and fast internet! Yesterday was a day for both, so today I bummed around the House all morning and then came with Amy to visit her village Gogo! Isn't that a great name for a village?

It was my first time at Gare Routiere, and I will hopefully never again experience such a chaotic travel hub, taxi brousses to everywhere, almost stacked one atop the other, very aggressive sellers trying to entice you to buy fruit, brochettes, tissues, gum, kola nuts, drinks, and more. We talked nearly the entire trip, probably to the annoyance of the other passengers but no one said anything and the little boy behind us seemed to take quite a liking to us when we would turn around and smile at him. The bus let us out near the marche, only a few minutes away from her house by bike. We greeted her CSPS staff, cleaned her house that had been uninhabited for 3 weeks, showered, and sat down to talk our way through some instant mashed potatoes and a bottle of wine (I know, we PCVs are the masters of haute cuisine)