Thursday, September 20, 2012

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.

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