Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Holidays from across the Globe!

Well, Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Merry Kwaanza! Happy Tabaski! And, finally, Happy New Year!! The holiday season is upon us, and I have to say that it feels like it snuck out of nowhere. It feels anything but like a holiday. It isn’t that people here don’t celebrate Christmas, or other holidays…but without family it just isn’t the same. So, I have decided that I am putting Christmas on hold…a rain check if you will…that’s right ladies in gentleman. When I come visit next September we are going to have to celebrate Christmas 2006 and New Years. So, don’t throw away your tree quite yet, and keep those goofy 2007 glasses and crowns that I know you are going to wear on New Years in your drunken/partying stupor…if it goes poorly the first time, don’t worry, because when I return to the states for a visit in 9 months you will get to do it all over again. Sound like fun?!?! I think so…

It hasn’t actually been that long since I last posted. Thanks to the holidays I was able to come up with a good excuse to come back into Bobo, and bask in the glow of lights and the sound of television. I know many of you enjoyed my transport story from the last time, and I didn’t want to bore you with another one, but it was just so interesting I can’t help myself. With the onslaught of all the Christian/Muslim holidays, most people have decided to take a break…including all of bus drivers in my village. Which left me with no options to getting into the city from my village…well, no options that my mother would approve of anyway. So did I walk the 65K (roughly 35 miles) into Bobo, ride my bike, crawl? No sir, I did not! I stood out on the side of the road, stuck my thumb out, and hitched a ride on a Brakina Beer truck that was picking up empty bottle along the way to drop off in the capital. How very convenient for me!! I got to sit up front in the VERY small cab of the truck with 3 other friendly Burkinabe men, while we bumpily made our way into town. To be honest, it was the fastest and smoothest ride I have experienced thus far…and the best part was that it was free. I must have charmed their pants off. AND, what transport story would be complete without a chicken story??? I know Erica’s dad, Bubba Baker, likes them!! Hehehe! Halfway on our journey we stopped and picked up a woman holding 4 chickens and a pintard (a bird that resembles/tastes like a chicken). Luckily for me, but unfortunately for your entertainment, my travel this time included no bites or run away birds…

Life in village is slowly settling into my bones, and I am getting my house more and more set up everyday. I have to say, I am pretty pleased with the way it is turning out. My biggest thing was that I didn’t want it to look like a “hut”…it had to look as close to a “home” as possible. I needed to feel as settled as possible in it, and I think I have accomplished that…I will try and post a few pictures of it now, but all my pictures are currently in the mail on their way to the United States where my lovely brother will post all the pictures that I have taken thus far.

Since I last spoke to you not much has been going on. I started running in the mornings, and I am really glad that I finally got on this wagon. First, all I eat are carbs, carbs, and more carbs…and although being “gross” (or “fat” in French) is attractive to people here, I have no intention of coming back looking like a beached whale or a in my community, a “hippo.” Not only that, but I find that it relieves a lot of stress that builds up throughout the day. Stress you say? How could I be stressed, you’ve seen my daily activities schedule…it isn’t all the reading that does it. You would be very surprised just how stressful and draining it is to live in a village with no other French speakers, and to have to constantly be “on” when you walk out the door. Every time I want to go to the marchÈ I have to greet EVERY person that I pass on my bike, I have to smile, I have to turn down 4 marriage proposals, I have to laugh, and shake hands…and it gets tiring. All I want is a tomato or a cucumber, and I get mobbed everytime. Now I know what a celebrity feels like…and you know what…I don’t particularly like it. I know in time the attention will wane as they realize that I live amongst them, and they can see me everyday…but for the first few months I have heard it’s hard…and I am experiencing it now. I try to be as gracious and inviting as I possibly can…but come on folks…everyone has their limits…even selfless and helpful Peace Corps Volunteers…hahaha! I can see how people become hermits…I would prefer to sit and read or do a puzzle then go outside and fumble through my French/Joula to have a conversation with someone. It is a challenge. I never realized how therapeutic running was until I started and now I think I am addicted. I step out of my house every day at 7 a.m. to go on my jog (and at this time of the season I can see my breath in the air…it is about 55-60 degrees in the mornings), and there dutifully waiting for me is my homologue’s son, Ali. He trails behind me in his flip-flops with a glowing grin on his face. I went to all the fuss (and money) picking out the perfect running shoes for my gait and my feet, the perfect running shorts and dry-fit top…and there he is trailing behind me in his jeans and t-shirt with his foam flip-flops…and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t keep up with me for most of the way, and he NEVER stops to walk. I am really impressed! It is the one time in the day where my mind clears and I can just take in the scenery…I run past the hippo lake, and so far I have been lucky enough not to run into one (they may look like lovely creatures from afar, but from what I hear they are pretty vicious). I figure if I ever run into one then it’s just motivation to move faster right? Everyone needs some motivation every now and then. I hope this is a habit I can continue…for my sanity, my health, and my growing derriere!

I am trying to diversify my diet a bit, and I have started to venture out to the various meat sellers in my village. I will admit it, I am a carnivore, and I love it. Chicken is my favorite, but with all of the killing and feather-plucking it seems like too much work. So, I have moved on to easier “viande”…the meat of “mutton” (sheep) and “bouef” (beef). Men set up little grills all around town, hang a few sheep legs from a hook, and all you have to do is pay them some money and they will give you some hunks of already dead meat…no killing involved thank you very much. I like this much better. So, the other day I was dead set on having some beef for dinner. I stopped by the meat sellers shack and sitting there on disply was the ENTIRE head of a sheep! I know this is gross, so if you don’t like this kind of stuff stop reading here (Morgan, I know you love this crap and can’t wait to continue reading…hehehe). Blood was still seeping out of the thing and I immediately turned around…I was seriously re-thinking my desire for meat at this point. But, my stomach won over and said…”you want meat…this is where meat comes from…deal with it!” So, I pleasantly asked them to remove the rotting “tete” (head) from the table…which they did promptly. I could continue. Sitting on the table was a gigantic hunk of meat that was entirely covered in flies…and once again I started to rethink my decision to buy meat…but I forged ahead, Hey, a girls gotta eat! I asked them for a “filet” of beef and he pointed at the rotting cut of meat on the table. I quickly told him that “homey don’t play that”…and I pointed to the gigantic beef leg hanging from a hook under the hangar. This at least had less flies on it, and it looked like a “leg”…I don’t know why that helped me, but whatever. So, with the quick slash of his machete I had a bug chunk of beef leg handed to me in a paper bag…TASTY! I got home and realized that the skin was still attached so worked with my knife to get that off. They tell us that the meat should be red and elastic in texture…and this was definitely neither of those, but the hunger in my stomach overrode my fears of e.coli or bacteria poisoning. I then proceeded to attempt to tenderize the meat, because if you don’t, then it will be as hard as a brick. Without a mallet or a hammer I had to turn to my broomstick handle. Now, as a white person I am already an oddity, but as I stood outside beating a black bag with a broomstick handle, I became the CRAZY ASS white girl. About 4 people lined up to watch me. It wasn’t until I revealed to them what was in the black bag that they finally all laughed, said “toubabou feu” (white girl crazy) and walked away. Oh well…I had soft and chewy meat that night…so whatever. After 30 minutes of cooking (because of my fear or worms and disease) my meat, that started out about the size of a dinner plate, was about the size of my palm…it was still good. Man did I feel accomplished at the end of that meal!

My kitten, Gateau (here is a cute picture of him enjoying some lounge time on my hangar), is doing very well. He is definitely my companion and my family here, and I don’t know what I would do without him. I do fear, however, that he has narcolepsy. Now, I know you think I am crazy, and maybe it is the heat of the day…but I swear…that cat runs around my house like a wild banshee and literally two seconds later he is passed out asleep on the floor. I can’t understand it. Is it the fish I am feeding him? Is there some disease? It’s pretty funny to see him one minute playing in my backpack, and the next minute his head is half hung out, mouth open, sleeping like a baby. It provides me with entertainment I guess, and a reprieve from him wanting to get into everything.

Well, anyway, I am probably boring you to death with the mundane details of my village life…the cat fell asleep reading this…so that can’t be a good sign (or it is just proof of his narcolepsy…I don’t know of which). I hope that everyone is enjoying the holiday season…because for the most part I am trying to push it from my mind. I would rather ignore it than think about what I am missing. I hope that everyone enjoys the holidays, and think of me as you dig into your turkey, roast beef, leg of lamb, wonderful side dishes…because my mouth is watering already.

I am heading out to my village tomorrow, and I actually don’t know the next time I will be back in town. I am going to try to stay out there for 2-3 weeks or longer without escaping to the city. I feel I need to have a constant presence in village so that people get used to seeing me, and realize that I DO actually live there. It makes a difference on how I am perceived…trust me. My phone always works so feel free to give me a call or pop a letter in the mail…I will respond to EVERY letter, and that is a promise. Take care. A plus. A la procieme.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Toh, Toh, and more Toh....oh yeah and fish...

HELLO!! Wow, it seems like a long time since I last wrote you, and it’s only been a week and a half. It is interesting how time moves here…so SLOW, yet so fast at the same time. I am officially “en brousse” in my village, and I can’t possibly think where to begin to describe what has been going on here.

I had a lot of time to think about it on my 2 ½ hour “bush taxi” ride into the BIG city of Bobo-Dioulasso, my new home base. And, I am still not sure how I sum up 10 very interesting days. Firstly, I must describe to you my voyage to get here…that in and of itself was an experience. I don’t know if you have heard about transport in Africa, although I know you can use your imagination. What classifies as a vehicle and what they put on it are very loosely defined. Honestly, it makes my Chinatown to Chinatown bus to Boston look like a limo ride…yeah, I will never complain again about public transport back in the United States. So, the car goes by my house at 7:30 in the morning, which is very convenient. So I sit outside waiting for it to pull up…and in the distance it appears. It looks like an oversized VW Bus, except with a lot more holes…and I certainly have never seen a VW bus with goats tied to the roof and people riding on the top. I literally started laughing out loud when I saw this “vehicle” approach. There were people hanging out of the windows, goats strapped to the roof standing up, people strapped to the roof, rice, bikes, luggage, chickens, you name it and it was on there. We were a land-faring Noah’s Ark…but not as sea worthy. I hop on, and what do you know…they had saved me the one seat that was left—it’s good to be a foreigner sometimes…hehehe. So, I sit down and prepare for my bumpy 60 km journey into Bobo. I had taken the road to get here in a cush Landcruiser Peace Corps vehicle, and it had been hard then…I had no idea how this car was going to make it. I pop on my headphones look out the window and eventually semi-doze off. That is until the attack of the chickens. Now look, I know what you’re thinking, another chicken story?!?! I don’t know how I attract them, I don’t know what I have done to deserve it…but as long as I don’t have bird flu I am totally fine with that. So, I am sitting there listening to a little Toto, “Rains Down in Africa” (very appropriate right?) when I feel a little nip on my foot. I look down and I am so shocked at what I see that I literally jump onto my seat. The poor elderly woman next to me thinks that I am absolutely nuts. It wasn’t the chickens that scared me…but the surprise that (a) I was being bitten by a chicken…do they even have teeth? And (b) what the hell are chickens doing by my feet?!?! That little bugger bit me about 4 times the entire ride. What the hell! The funny thing about all of it is, by the time we got to Bobo all I could think about was…”mmm…I bet he would be really good for dinner.” Oh goodness, that is what Toh and fish sauce everyday will do to you. Alas, I arrived safely…we all did. We didn’t break down, the car didn’t flip, and I didn’t get to eat the chickens for lunch…an interesting ride that I am sure to experience many more a time. I am now in Bobo enjoying electricity, decent food—SCHWARMA!!, and the company of my fellow volunteers…I never thought I would be so happy to see English-speaking people.

So, I arrived in village on Wednesday a week and a half ago, I would equate the whole affectation/move-in experience to college—except this time I didn’t cry (yeah, ask me about that later). You drive along this horrendous dirt road until you come up my village. It is a pretty large village that appears out of nowhere…one minute nothing and then BOOM…my village. So I pull in with furniture strapped to the roof, in a cushy Landcruiser brimming full of luggage, beds, stoves, etc. That doesn’t attract attention, right? Hah, I think the entire town came out to see what was in this car…I think they were disappointed it wasn’t gifts for them…oh well, I think I am a pretty good gift. So, the Peace Corps driver helps me unload my car, I get a tour of my house, we sit in awkward silence for a little bit—sometime that happens quite a lot—and then he hops in his little vehicle and is off to the big city. There I stand, surrounded by all my belongings, 20 Burkinabe people…all alone. Just like college, I sat down in the middle of my room and I said to myself, “what do I do now?” Luckily, I had my lovely kitten with me who could cuddle and make me forget that I just got dropped off at a house with people I don’t know, in a third world country, 2 ½ hours from a city, no electricity/running water/decent food/English speaking people, no family…I am surprised that I didn’t freak out, but I think really I have to hold it together, because if I don’t then nobody will…it is just me out there people!

I spent the first several days meeting important people, the mayor, the chef du village, the Majore (head nurse at the clinic), head of every agricultural organization. It was tiresome. I repeated the same introduction over and over again until I thought I would pass out. “Je suis Stephanie. Je suis un voluntaire avec le Corps de la Paix…” AAAAHHHH! The one thing that has kept me sane, besides my kitten, is the fact that the landscape is so beautiful. Truly, it reminds me of Africa out of history books. We have a river that flows through the village which is utterly amazing. There are mango groves, banana groves (I never want another banana again…), rice fields (my village is the rice capital of Burkina), corn fields…it really is beautiful. I spend a lot of my days just riding through them, or sitting and reading by the river.

After meeting all the necessary people I took it upon myself to do some small home improvements. I had a bookshelf and an armoire built at the carpenter’s, I had them cement my courtyard, I organized, I am going to paint. I have tried to keep myself busy…maybe I can keep myself distracted long enough before I realize what I have gotten myself into. For you readers at home though, how do I capture what my life is like? Well…one thing that might be helpful for you is a “Day in the Life”…that sounds like fun, right? Well, I am gonna write it anyway…here is a day in the work week of Stephanie…

Stephanie's Daily "Work" Schedule:

6:30 AM - Wake up and run to the bathroom (will my bowel movements ever be solid and controllable anymore?)

7:00 AM – Boil water for hot tea and instant grits (ooohhh, yummy)

7:15 AM – greet my counterpart before he leaves for the marche, get some hot water from his wife for my bucket bath (it is COLD here right now in the mornings…)

7:25 AM - Take my bucket bath…refreshing? No. Do I feel clean? No.

7:30 AM - Eat my breakfast--which consists of powdered milk and corn flakes, or instant grits...thanks Mom!--while simultaneously greeting people in Moore, Joula, and French. That’s right folks…three languages are spoken in my village, and everyone assumes that in the week that I have been there that I have become fluent in all three…WHAT?!?!

8:15 AM – Sweep the layers of dust that have caked up in my house

8:30 – 10:30 AM - Read whatever book of interest I have…anyone have any good suggestions?

10:30 AM – go outside and sit with 1 of the 2 wives of my counterpart while she talks to me in Joula, and I just nod my head like I understand. This is also the time when children and adults come over and laugh at me for a reason I still don’t know.

11:30 AM – Ride my bike to the marche where I sit at my counterparts boutique, talk about America—tell him no it isn’t possible to take a bus to America…at least I don’t think so, greet people as they ride by, walk through the market and buy some veggies for lunch. Realize that I am about to have an explosive diarrhea attack…run home and hopefully make it to the bathroom in time (it’s gross, but I promised I would be honest with you guys about the reality of my life here…so that’s the brutal truth…take it or leave it).

12:00 PM - Make lunch, eat, pretend to eat the Toh and fish that my counterpart’s wife makes for me, sweep the layers of dust that have accumulated out of my house, and take a midday nap.

3:00 PM – wake up from my lovely nap and go sit out front again with my counterpart’s wife while people laugh at me and talk about me (I have no idea what they are saying…but I hear “toubabou” (white person)…eat fried patates (like sweet potatoes)…get laughed at when I use my ketchup.

4:30 - Sweep the layers of dust that have once again accumulated in my house. Stand over the well in my courtyard and with rope and bucket and draw water from the well to fill my water container…this is another time where people like to stare and laugh as well.

5:00 PM – go to the marche to hang out at my counterpart’s boutique some more…walk around…talk to people…read. Run home with most likely another explosive bathroom attack…oh my poor poor bowels.

6:00 PM – it is dark at this time. Take my second bucket bath, brew some water for tea, make something (most likely Easy Mac or powdered mashed potatoes—which by the way have NEVER tasted so good—THANK YOU DAD and HONI!)

7:00 PM – eat dinner with my counterpart’s wife and his two kids (boys, 2 years old and 10 years old). Watch as they spill food everywhere which then attracts an entire colony of ants which I battle with for the next hour. Pretend to eat the Toh and fish sauce…

8:00 PM – Sweep the layers of dust that have accumulated in my house. Blow my nose and watch the Kleenex turn brown. Or, if I don’t have Kleenex, blow a snot rocket on the ground…yeah, who wants to waste precious toilet paper on their nose…not me, not when NO toilet paper is sold in my village. Lie in bed, read a book, listen to my satellite radio.

9:00 PM – ZZZZzzzz….and get up 1-2 times a night to run to the bathroom because whatever I ate has made my bowels saying, “HELL NO!”

That, with a little variation here and there, is what my days consist of right now. The Peace Corps tells us not to start any projects…just observe and get habituated into your community. So, that is my busy busy day…a little different than a work day in NYC huh? Aside from my occasional hippo hunting session (that’s right…there is a hippo lake literally 400 yards from my house). We tried to go see them, but once I realized that I was stuck in mud up to my knees, probably getting Schistomastiosis (an interesting disease that I will have to tell you about sometime), trying to find one of the most dangerous animals on the planet…I decided to turn around and go home. I will wait for another time to see them…when I am not stuck in mud and unable to move…a perfect target for a stampeding hippo.

All in all, I am very happy (I don’t know if I conveyed that in my daily activities schedule). The people in my village over all are very nice, my counterpart is nice, his wives (that’s right…plural) are nice, his kids are nice…I am just taking it all in. The organization I work for is very motivated, and I think there is a lot of good work to be done here. First, I have to acclimate to this new lifestyle…more shockingly different then I would have thought. My house is great; it is starting to look like a real home. I am going to plant flowers and a vegetable garden. HAHAHA, I sound like a 60 year-old retiree…and you know what, I will enjoy it while I can. I know what the working world is like…and I am in no hurry to return. This is like a vacation…that is if your idea of a vacation is torturing your body, living in a country where you don’t speak the language, not having electricity/running water, eating Toh every night, and being thousands of miles away from family/friends…so far that’s my idea of a pretty good vacation, and I get to live it everyday…are you ready to join me?

Well, it is back to the village and isolation I go. I get cell service so feel free to drop me a line…would love to hear from you. With the holidays coming up I will be coming to Bobo a couple of times…but after that it is village life with the occasional visit to the city. So, I hope to post another entry by Christmas.

Happy Holidays to everyone, and I am sad I am not there to share in the festivities. Mom, thank you more my sax-playing/dancing Santa Claus doll…they searched all my packages when I picked them up at the post and I was able to distract them with the dancing Santa Claus while I hid the DVD’s and electronics from their eyes (I don’t want to have to pay taxes for that). To see grown men in military uniform ooh and ahh over a dancing stuffed animal is a sight to see…truly.

Happy Chanukah…Merry Christmas…Happy Tabaski…or whatever holiday you are celebrating! Talk soon!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gateau...a tasty cake? I think not...

Wow, I can't believe how much has happened in just the few short days since I have written. I am writing this from the cush offices of the Peace Corps in the Burkina capital, Ouagadougou, as I wait until tomorrow for my dentist appointment. Honestly, it couldn't have worked out better for me. I have been staying in the Peace Corps transit house (a hostel for PC Burkina volunteers), eating tons of junk food--ice cream, pizza, cheeseburgers, chocolate shakes--and just hanging out with some of the other volunteers who are in the capital. I am living it up!!! Thank you rotten teeth...that is all I have to say!

I am now OFFICIALLY a Peace Corps Volunteer, and no longer a Peace Corps Stagiare/Trainee. It is such a strange feeling. One minute I was stepping off the plane into the hot Burkina air wondering what the hell I got myself into, and the next minute I am finished with training and I am heading out on my own. How did this happen?!?! It seems to have gone so fast, yet so slow! I am ready to move to my village and start my two years of service, but I can't help but be frightened to death of being alone, lonely, bored, confused, scared, misunderstood, stared at...and a multitude of other emotions. Truly, I have to take everything one day at a time...if I think too far into the future I stress myself out. So, one day at a step at a time...or "baby steps..."

Luckily (and at the same time unforunately) I have my kitten Gateau (French for cake, Spanish for cat). Some volunteers think it is a poor choice for a name since people do eat cats here, and naming your cat a tasty treat doesn't help much...but I say bah humbug. That's right...I adopted a kitten. I couldn't help myself, and for those of you that know me, you know that I have a soft spot for things like that. He is SOOO cute! He is black and grey tiger-striped, and is just the most rambunctious needy little thing ever! He is so adorable, but traveling with him on transport while trying to drag my suitcase and bike, and then having him at the hostel with 10 other people makes it hard. Plus, he seems to like this brown couch on the screened-in porch, and likes to use it as a litter box...not exactly appreciated by the other lodgers in the hostel. I basically run around doing damage control. Hopefully, once I get to site he won't be so antsy. Truly though, I am glad to have him around. He likes to crawl up and sit on my shoulder like a parrot while I walk around doing errands, brushing my teeth, going to the bathroom!! That's right...I have to take him with me, because if I don't he screams bloddy murder outside my door. Oh god, someone help me...I didn't intend to adopt a child! It is endearing, for now anyway!

Before I sign off I want to leave you with a quick little story. I left Ouahigouya and my host family on Friday. I went over to my host family's house to have breakfast with them one last time before I left. So, as I came in to the house the grandmother approached me. This woman is missing most of her teeth, and doesn't speak French all that well (as far as I can tell) so mainly I NEVER understand what she is saying and I just nod my head and say "ya soma" (Moore for "it's good") or "Laafi" (Moore for "It goes well"). Anyway, she shook my hand and placed 200 F.CFA into my palm (equivalent of about .50 cents). I was so shocked, because I know she doesn't work, and I didn't understand why she was giving it to me. I told her thank you and walked into the house to ask my mom about this gift...why? What was the significance? For people that have so little, it makes me uncomfortable to accept monetary matter how small. So, my mom told me that it is customary when a grandchild goes o a long trip that the grandmother gives that child a little money to buy bread and some water. Honestly, I almost cried. It seems so insignificant, but at that moment I truly felt accepted by them. They have helped me so much by showing me around, telling me when I make faux pauxs, helping me navigate the marche, buy things, etc. Never once have they been frustrated or dissapointed. They have simply been there...and I can't imagine an America family showing that same hospitality.

It sounds so cliche, but it seems to me that it is the people that have the least that give the most...something I am learning a lot about here. I don't know...just a little food for thought.

So, tomorrow is my appointment with the Burkinabe dentist. Hopefully, all is well and I will ship off to my site on Tuesday. Stay tuned!

Thanks for continuing to read. I don't think I will get to post for a while as I transition into living in the middle of nowhere, a good 35 miles away from internet/electricity/etc. Stay tuned though!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Volunteer...Almost!

Hello all--

I wanted to check in with you...especially before it got too crazy here. Today is the day!!! In less then 3 hours I will be swearing in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. I am truly amazed by how fast the time has gone by so far, and I am still not sure how it happened, and I am certain that I am not ready--I feel ready, yet in my gut I am a ball of nerves. It seems like yesterday that I stepped off the plane wide-eyed like a little baby bird, and here I go getting kicked out of the nest...

I finally met my counterpart/"homologue," which is the person that I will be working with--and living house is in his courtyard--for the next two years. Out first meeting was so angst-ridden that the night before I could barely sleep...but here is how it played out:

There was such an air of anticipation on the day that we were to meet our counterparts. We knew they had arrived and there were Burkinabé standing around, but we couldn't figure out whose person was whose. I felt like I was in an orphanage, or like I was Orphan Annie, walking around trying to find the person with the matching locket necklace. We all sat down in a big room, the Burkinabé on one side and us on the other. At this point they had name tags on and I spotted my guy from across the room. So far, so good, I thought to myself. He looked normal enough to me...he seemed harmless. So, finally they tell us to go find our counterpart and introduce ourselves. I walk over to him and in my mostly horrible French start telling him who I am, etc. He looks at me with this blank look on his face. I start worrying that I al not saying something right, and he continues to stare. After a good 5 minutes of me gesturing like a mime and trying to get my name across I realize the problem...HE DOESN'T SPEAK FRENCH!!! That's right folks...all that hard work to learn French and my counterpart doesn't speak it very well. On top of that...and I want you all to know that this is in NO WAY a hit against him, because he is a really nice intelligient guy, but he can't write either. It became quite a problem when he had to present me to the room and he couldn't remember my name, or anything else.

Now, I know most of you are thinking..."are you freaking out right now?" Honestly, my answer to that is no, because I am certain that with time, and some good drawing abilities we will be able to communicate. However, it did take the wind out of my sails a bit...oh well, as is the motto here, "ça va aller!"

Anyway, everything else about my post sounds pretty enticing. They built me a BRAND NEW house inside his courtyard, and from what I have heard he has one of the nicest houses that my boss has ever seen...and mine is being built in that one can only hope right? I live right off the main dirt-road through town, and close to the marché for shopping. Really, overall I am quite content with my site. I am eager, anxious, nervous, excited, happy, sad, and everything in between about going to site...

It may be a bit before I get to update you--although I will try to do so after my dentist appointment on Monday...I am sure you are all dying to know what a Burkinabé dentist experience is like.

I hope to give you more details about my counterpart, etc. later when I have more standyby! Enjoy the holidays as they approach, and think of me here in Burkina!! Miss you all, and thanks for all the support.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Oregon Trail" anyone?

Hello all--

Well, you will be happy to know that I was recommended for swear-in, i.e. they said I can become a volunteer...YEAH! Not that any of you had doubts I am sure. I did...I was a little worried about my language level, but luckily I achieved the level of Intermediate High, which is one step above what I needed. I attribute it to all that studying...hahahaha! Okay, so I didn't really study that hard, but still...I am doing pretty good.

So, I know you are asking yourself, why did Stephanie title her blog, "Oregon Trail, anyone?" First off, who didn't love that game? Come was awesome!!! But, the real reason for mentioning it is that unfortunately for the past several days I have been sick. I know, feel bad for me... :-D. The nurses who gives us first aid training gave us this book called, "Where There is No Doctor," which we are supposed to reference when we aren't feeling well, and now I truly understand all the ailments that my pioneering Oregon Trail family was going through. With the symptoms I have it could be Typhoid Fever, Malaria, Dengue Fever, or just the flu...oh well, right? I picture myself as one of those little pioneer people as I travel through this experience. Should I rest now, so that I don't get sick? Should I go hunting so that I don't starve? Should I trade an Indian for some buffalo pelts...okay well that doesn't really apply, but stick with me here. It's a plethora of various diseases that I get to choose from, and unfortunately I don't have computer telling me what I have, nor does resting for a week help or apply here. Is anyone getting what I am saying? My brain has been frying at a temperature of 101-103 F for about 4 days now, so honestly I don't know if this will make sense. Oh well, ça va aller, right?

Anyway, just thought I would share my general health condition with all of you...I know you are intersted! Everything else is going really great...I designed a dress for the swear-in ceremony, and I have to say that for someone with little to no fashion sense, I would make the judges of "Project Runway" proud. I designed a baby doll sundress with an empire waist and a little belt thing, it is very cute. Hopefully I will have some pictures posted soon so you can see my clothing design skills first hand.

Anyway, stay healthy, and enjoythe cold weather. Oh, and will someone go and eat a Dairy Queen Blizzard and then email me in detail about the taste...gosh I miss that. Hehehe! Talk soon...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

GRITS Introduces Grits to Burkina Faso...

Hahaha, okay, so you know it had to happen sometime! That's right, thanks to the fabulous generosity of Mike's brother, Jonny, I was able to enlighten my family on the beauty of this fabulous Southern Cuisine!! They really liked it, or at least they lied and said they is hard to tell which is true here.

First I wowed them with my skills in the kitchen in regards to my boxed macaroni and cheese. Now, I whip out a teeny brown baggy, and with simply adding boiled water and covering for a minute I can make breakfast. Oh the magic of grits. Now, I know what you are thinking. From the fabulous Academy-Award winning movie, "My Cousin Vinny" - thanks to Marisa Tomei's Best Supporting Actress Award - "No self-respecting southerner uses instant grits!" Well, you know what I say to that...TOO BAD, that's what he sent me and I enjoyed them anyway...southern heritage be damned!!

I think my next step is trying to make grits with the dried corn kernels here. Is that possible? Does anyone know?

I tried to tell my Dad, "Oh, j'aime le grits! C'est le gout de ma maison!" - "Oh, I love grits! It is a taste of my home!" - I don't know if that really makes sense in French or not...but it made him laugh.

So, you ask yourself, what is next on Stephanie's culinary agenda. What other culinary delight will I introduce to my Burkinabe' family? Well, next up on my menu:


~Fried Chicken - thanks dad for the recipe, plus as most of you know I have now mastered the slaughtering of chickens, right? - okay, I know this isn't a Thankgsgiving food persay...but come on...we don't have ovens here so roast turkey is out of the question. You work with what you have people!!!

~Mashed Cheese Potatoes
(Potatoes are in season, and thanks to a can of powdered milk, and Velveeta cheese from Mike's brother Jonny - this should be a yummy dish.

~Green Bean Casserole -
all I have to figure out how to do is make the cream of mushroom soup

That's right folks...clogging Burkinabe arteries with southern delicacies one family at a timeI will keep you posted on how that actually goes!

So, time is ticking away...I have 10 more days here in the BIG city of Ouahigouya before I get shipped off to my village in Banzon. Once that happens, I fear that you will have to wait quite a long time for my next blog--no internet service there...sorry!

One exciting new occurrence that y'all might find interesting is that I have a dentist appointment! That's right...dentists in Africa?!?! I don't like the idea either, but I fear that I may have some cavities. I think I would rather get dragged around by a donkey, but I don't think I have a choice. Depending on what they say I may have to get the cavity filled here, or get medevac'ed to Dakar, Senegal for more involved dental work (i.e. root canal). I can think of about A MILLION things I would rather do than this! So, think of me, and send good wishes to my teeth!! NO CAVITIES...PLEASE!

And, for those of you French level has gotten SOOOO good, that i was able to convince my host father that I DON'T have to walk around wearing my bike helmet. Only when I ride my bike, thank you! Even with all my French neglection I have ascended to Intermediate Advanced in French...oh yeah...moving on up...

I apologize for my blog being a random amalgam of things. I am having a bit of a "stream of conciousness" kind of day. A lot is going through my head as I prepare to move into the middle of nowhere for two years. Hope all is well, and I will keep you posted on my dental and culinary fiascos.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Team USA vs. Team Burkina

Okay, so right now I should be studying for a French Oral Exam that I have in an hour, but instead I decided to write this blog entry…yeah, that’s right, I am throwing caution to the wind…French level be damned! Anyway, I promised to tell you all about the famous Youba soccer match, and I couldn’t leave you waiting now could I.

So, every Wednesday we have been playing soccer against a local girls team here in Ouahigouya. It has been very interesting getting schooled by girls playing in bare feet and sandals…I have quite enjoyed it—although surprisingly we have tied them each time. Well, word of our athletic prowess spread rather quickly through Burkina and we were challenged to a “real” soccer match in a small village about 15k outside of the city. So, being that Peace Corps never turns down a challenge, we headed out in vans to play the infamous men’s team. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up to go out there, and I have to say that I was shocked. Youba is a small village consisting of maybe 2000 people—pretty much all of which showed up for the game.

Our opponents were 15-20 year old boys…a bit more formidable than the 12-17 year old girls that we had been playing. I had thought that it was merely a small scrimmage, but we arrived to quite a fanfare. I have never in my life seen so many children in one place at one time…I felt like The Beatles, N’Sync, and New Kids on the Block rolled into one. Oh yeah baby! I am a celebrity here…hahaha! I can’t take all the credit…all you have to do is be white and you’re a celebrity here. Anyhoo, back to the story. So, upon arrival we were issued uniforms! I couldn’t believe it…we donned “Nick & Stef’s Garage Service” jerseys…who knows who Nick and Stef are, where their garage is, or how in the hell they got sponsored shirts to Africa…but it was fun all the same. We finally make it to the field, which is a spectacle of its own. The field is ENTIRELY surrounded by people, rows and rows deeps. Everyone is cheering! The community pooled money together to line the soccer field with white rocks, and they had even cleaned the rocks off the field…it was a pretty sweet deal. There was still a gigantic baobob tree at half field (that interfered with the game several times, but luckily I never ran into), and the field was covered in goat poo…but to them it was like an Olympic Stadium, and for a little while it felt like that to me too. We even had a half-time show…well, okay, it wasn’t a half-time show exactly, it was just a stampede of goats on the field, but come on…use your imagination...this is Africa after all!

We played 40 minute halves and truly were outmatched, but I have never had so much fun playing soccer. We slipped and slip and tripped and fell…and I had a blast. We lost 3-1, but in the end the score didn’t even matter. The entire town showed up and they were so happy and honored that we had all come out. It was amazing…you can make SO MUCH out of SO LITTLE when you want to! What was really a crummy scrimmage in the middle of nowhere, was actually an Olympic game of Team USA/PCV vs. Burkina Faso/Youba. There is almost no way to describe it! Hopefully I will have some pictures posted soon, for now I will post a picture that I took while we were pulling away at the end of the game. The vans were mobbed by about 200 kids and I had to snap a picture…I don’t know if it even captures the madness, but I thought I would post it anyway.

Take a nice sip of ice water for me!

Also, a HUGE thanks to those of you that sent me packages (Mom, Dave/Lindz/Drew, Mike/Julie/Nancy--I didn't call you Mrs. Kaplan this time!, and Jonny!! I can not tell you how much it brightened up my day! I loved it so THANK YOU!! Now, I didn't mention this as an endorsement to send me packages (although if you do I promise to mention you on my blog...hahaha). Just kidding...truly, letters are just as good, sometimes lets keep 'em comin! Thanks to everyone for their support...I just want you all to know that I appreciate it!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Yes, another chicken story!

So much has happened since I last wrote my blog that I don't even know which story to share with you. So, this entry may be a little jumpy, and I apologize for that. Time is slowly ticking away to the day when the Peace Corps vehicle drops me off in my village and leaves me to fend for myself. Hah, so it isn't that bad...I will know one person there, but I get more nervous as the day approaches. I am happy for the coming independence, yet frightened of being alone. Oh well, it is inevitable, so I must close my eyes and embrace the unknown...something that I have been doing a lot here.

So, since everyone seemed to enjoy the "chicken incident" story, I figure I will start with two funny animal stories...well I don't know if funny is the correct word or gross, but that seems to blend quite a bit here.

First, everyday we generally have language class, and we have class at some establishment in the community. On this day we decided to go to this restaurant. So, we are sitting at this kitchen table under a hangar. Just as a sidenote, while sitting there we get approached at least 20 times by various people selling their 'wares or asking for money--which as unfortunate as it truly is, it grates on you after a while...maybe it is my NYC mentality coming out--ANYWAY! So, as we are playing French Scrabble for the 3rd time that day we hear a commotion coming from across the yard. Looking up, we see this man tying up this poor squealing pig. He is hog-tying it and the thing is just screaming bloody murder...I am sure that little piggy is going to market..hahaha, funny joke...come on, laugh! Anyway, so he finally gets it tied and it is squirming and squealing the entire time. He attempts first to attach it to his handlebars, but he crashes about 5 times. This little pig is fighting for its life. So--for those of you animal lovers/squeamish people out there, stop reading here--he proceeds to start kicking this daylights out of this pig as punishment for the bike accidents he was having. He picks it up and tries to ride away again and falls over once this point everyone in my language class is just falling over laughing. The guy gives up with the handlebars and straps the pig to the back of his bike and rides off--I am not even sure why he didn't do that in the first place. I am assuming he was successful since we heard no squealing after that...but it makes me glad that I don't eat pork!

Okay, now onto my other animal story, and I know you will like this since it has to do with a chicken!! Yeah! So, once again I ws commisioned to cook a dinner for my family, although this time with a lot more notice. So, I decided that I wanted to learn how to cook a least now I will be supervised, so I thought it was a good time. Now, back home I would just pop into the supermarket and buy myself some tasty Perdu Boneless Chicken Breasts...but here it is quite a different story. Off I go to the marché with my cousin and my brother to "choisir" (to that French usage?) my chicken. We walk up to this guy and he has all these wooden cages around him full of different chickens. I tell him that I want a chicken, but that I didn't know how to choose. Well, he reaches in his little cage and pulls out this enormous "cock"...NO I am not being sexual or dirty-minded...a make chicken is called a cock (South Carolina Gamecocks ring a bell?). I had thought it would have been easy to choose a chicken for dinner, but then I looked it in the eye and suddenly got very sad. We continued to barter and settled on a price...all the while I am looking at this poor chicken, and I know it knows it's fate. I even got so sad that I pet the chicken...that's right I did. Luckily, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Minh, was with me and convinced me to stop and look away. Then the word came in..."tuer," which means to kill. Luckily, in Burkina, women are not culturally allowed to kill animals, the rationale is that we bring life into the world...we aren't allowed to take it away. So, for an extra 50 CFA he offers to kill it and clean it for me. My brother offered to stay with the chicken when it was being killed and take it home. I told them, "J'aime le poulet, mais je ne veux pas voir cuand il tue le poulet, et je ne veux pas aporter le poulet avec moi." (basically, I love chicken, but I don't want to watch it get killed or carry it afterwards). So, we finished up our shopping and went home. Now, as soon as I have my pictures sent home to be put on the internet you will understand--because this definitely warranted a picture--but my brother pulls the cleaned chicken out of the bag. I about fell over!!! WARNING!: If you are squeamish don't read beyond this point. They had cut the foot off and put it in the chicken's throat. So it was a whole chicken with a foot sticking out of its throat!!! It's beady little eyes were staring back at me, and finally I just asked him to cut it up and put it in a pot, because I couldn't bear it. About an hour later I go to prepare the chicken for dinner and what do I find in the pot as I am seasoning it...yep, the entire head of the chicken...eyes and all. They offered to take it out, but I figured that if someone eats it, then I should cook it...NOTHING goes to waste in Africa. So, throughout the preparation this little chicken head was staring at me...I felt so guilty. That is until I ate hime, and I have to pat myself on the back with this one...but it was darn good. All you need is some tomatoes, onions, garlic, oil, and lovely season salt frol home and you have a darn good chicken. Let me just tell you that after this experience I will NEVER look at chicken in the grocery store the same way again. But, this is Africa and I felt like I needed to embrace it! I would rather know where my meat is coming from here and know it is prepared correctly. Who would have thought that I would one day be here and be doing this! I al realizing that I am capable of doing so much more than I ever thought, and this chicken is just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyway, I had so many more stories I would like to share, but I am running out of time at the internet cafe, so I must leave you with only these. Next time I will share about the enormoius soccer match that we played against a neighboring village. About 700 people showed up to was amazing. Complete with goats in the field and a gigantic tree growing at midfield! A truly African experience.

Hope all is well, and stay in touch. Feel free to leave comments questions in the comments section and I will try and answer it!Mo

Monday, November 06, 2006

The same...but different...and other musings...

Okay…so a lot has happened in the last several days and I have a lot of to write about. So, this entry is going to contain a lot of different things.

Here in Burkina—although during the week I am extremely busy with French and other aimless learning tasks—I have a lot of free time to sit, observe, and people watch…something that I wish I had done more of in the past. One thing that I have learned about things here is that when you boil things down to the essentials…things really are not all that different. Relationships, families, emotions, etc. Yes, the customs differ a bit here than they do from the States, and yes there is definitely more poverty here, but regardless of this fact things are “the same…but different.”

I sat in my courtyard and watched as my brother made fun of my sister as she did her homework…”trop facile” he kept saying, and he would laugh and walk away. He continued to return every few minutes and laugh and poke fun at her. It made me think of the times that my brother, Dave, would do the same thing to me. I don’t know why I noticed it so much, it just seems like such an irony that with all the differences here in living style, poverty levels, etc. that at heart people are exactly the same. It is a very comforting realization for me as I sit on the outside looking in. For me, an obviously white American, there is no way for me to blend in…no matter how hard I try or how long I lay out in the sun. So, at least I can take comfort in the fact that we share at least a few things in common. I think that it may keep me sane while I am here. Hahaha!

Okay…enough with my introspectiveness…

SO, it is official…I have a village, I have a home, I have a job!! YEAH! Here is the
rundown on where I am going to be and what I am going to do.

I am going to be living in a medium-sized village called Banzon. It is in the Southwest of the country…about 60 kilometers from Bobo-Dioulasso (the 2nd largest city in Burkina). When they interviewed me about my desired site I told them that “green” was very important to me…and green is what I got. This is the fruit basket and rice capital of Burkina!! From what I have been told I will have mango and orange trees growing in my backyard!! It sounds so peaceful doesn’t it? There is not a whole lot of information available on the villages of Burkina, but from what I have gathered I will have cell phone service…and I will NOT have running water, electricity, or internet. Sadly, my closest neighbor is a 60k bike ride/transport ride I may get lonely out there. Hopefully I won't start talking to myself. If I can make sure that doesn't happen I will be fine. I will have to bike or take transport into Bobo to get my mail and to use the internet, and hopefully there will be some form of access to charge electronics in my village (i.e. someone with a car battery).

One thing that may surprise you is that this former city girl will be working in Agriculture. That’s right…I will be teaching some of the world’s best farmers how to be better farmers…HAHAHA, yeah right. They also want some help with “elevage” which is animal raising. I know a whole lot about that…NOT! These are just a few of my duties, on top of helping them with petite commerce and marketing for their Shea Butter and Rice. At least I know I will have very soft skin! Hehehe. No, really, I am actually very happy with my village and my assignment. I think in general with the Peace Corps everything is VERY general, and you may not even end up doing what you were assigned to do…so I look forward to making this experience my own.

It is a NEW site, so I will be the first volunteer at this village, and I can’t wait to get there and start fixing up my house. I have GRAND plans of a screened in porch and more. I have been assured that there will be TONS of time to do projects with my house, and to be honest I look forward to a little quiet time. Thus far I haven’t been able to have that, and I think I need a little time to myself to process everything that has been going on here.

So, 4 more weeks of training, including not only mastering the French language, but I will also begin learning a language called, Joule. This is a language that is spoken throughout West Africa…so I am racking it up when it comes to languages…can we say tri/qua-lingual…WOO HOO!

Now I have something to look forward to, and that is a good thing.

Also, some of you will be sad to know that I experienced my first instance of absolute SICKNESS! That’s right..I finally succumbed to the inevitable. We went to the capital, Ouaga, for a couple of days to tour the PC Office, and to check out the largest arts and crafts fair in Africa, SIAO. Well, the first night we decided that we wanted some tasty Chinese Food…good idea??? I think not! The food was amazing (going down), and I had duck curry. Very enjoyable. That is until about 2:30 that morning when my body rejected the wonderful cuisine and I proceeded to throw up and poo for about 6 hours. Now, I know this may be gross for a lot of you, or shocking, but here in Burkina (and I would imagine the Peace Corps in general) it is pretty normal to discuss your bowel movements without embarrassment because once you get here there (a) isn’t much to talk about, and (b) it seems to be the most volatile and changing thing about your body. So, if you are blushing right now just skip down to the next paragraph. Anyway…I continue. So, I proceeded to vomit and poo (at the same time…if you even knew that was possible). Finally, my roommate Erica got the nurse and she gave me some fabulous anti-nausea medication that stopped me from vomiting. Unfortunately, I never made it to SIAO, and spent the rest of the day sleeping and recovering.

It was a sad and hard day for me…but I pushed through and chalked it up to the fact that by deciding to live here I better just embrace the sickness and nausea as a part of the process. All it can do is make me stronger right? Shoot, for those of you that know me and understand my GIGANTIC fear of needles…you will be happy to know that I take ‘em like a champ now…not even a flinch…so even in just 5 weeks here I am stronger than I was when I arrived. Just think how strong I will be when I get back in 27 months.

Alright…well, I have written for way too long, and since I have no internet time and no money to spend I don’t even have time to look back and see if any of this makes sense or is entertaining. Feel free to complain in the comments block below.

Also, for the person that wanted to know the time difference from here to the states…for those of you in the Eastern Time Zone you are 5 hours behind me, and those of you in the Central Time Zone you are 6 hours behind me. I generally keep my phone on me…so call anytime really.

It is now “winter” here, which means 70 degree weather in the morning. This translates into people walking around in GIGANTIC parkas and wool hats…a la Ralphie’s brother in “A Christmas story”…it’s ridiculous. I love it...heated up water for baths…cool air to sleep in…it’s the season!!

Talk soon y’all…stay safe.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Extra, Extra!! First picture from Burkina Faso!

Hello all!! I found a way to post this up there so I thought I would grace you with the FIRST EVER picture from Burkina Faso.

I have to send the rest of my pics to my brother on a disc and he wil upload is WAY too slow here to do it. I wanted to wet your appetite with one picture first, though.

From left to right it is my Dad, Saba Moulaye; a neighborhood kid--don't knoz his name, the brother of my dad-I think; Me; my mom-Aminata, and my brother, Nayeem--who is turned around in this pic.
At about 6:00 my family sprung on me that I was to make dinner that night. So, I rushed to my box of goodies that was sent by my Dad's girlfriend, Honi, and the box of stuff from my mom and grabbed the first things I saw...Kraft Mac & Cheese, and garlic salt. After rushing to the market to get some powdered milk and margarine--which I was surprised to find doesn't need to be refrigerated-- I whipped up the Mac & Cheese and Garlic Bread. It was an ABSOLUTE hit. It took me a good 10 minutes to describe the idea of powdered cheese...they were absolutely amazed. My mom wants me to show her how to make the garlic bread on another night, and my dad was basically licking the plate when it was gone. I was so worried that they were going to think it was a "cheap" meal...their meals take all day to prepare, and this took me maybe a total of an hour...but they loved it, and I was really happy that they were happy.

It was a good night for all...I shared a bit of "American Culture" and the Macaroni boxes are still being used for multile purposes such as pot holders, decorations, play toys, etc.

Anyway, this is a picture of us after dinner. I was a little sick that I don't look that great...but this is Burkina, so what can I say! Enjoy, and I can't wait to send more pics your way!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Two posts in a day!?!? WHAT!? I am that call me!!!

Okay, it's just that I am bore and also because they paid me today so I have money...YEAH!!

For those of you that so desperately want to call me, and I know there are a lot of you out there--come on, don't be shy!!! I have discovered a pretty cheap calling service that some of you could take advantage of.

Here is a link to the site. Copy and paste this link into your browser.

Use the promotion code (#073320) and sign up for an account. I am pretty sure that you get some free minutes to start off with, and it is the cheapest that I have found so far (.21/minute)

Come on...I know you have been itching to call me and say WHAT'S UP!?!? Plus, how cool is it that you get to talk to someone in Africa...really?!?

Just kidding...I have been getting a lot of requests about this subject, so I thought I would go ahead and put up a post today. Because, once I move to my petite village in the middle of nowhere I won't get to talk to anyone. So, take advantage of me while you can!

Hope everyone is well...doing well, feeling well...about all I could ask for at the moment.

Fan or Computer...That is the question...

So, I am sitting here at 12:23 and for some odd reason I just can’t sleep. Wait…I know what that reason is…IT’S HOT!! That’s right folks…It’s another hot one in my room. Honestly, I would prefer to sleep outside except that I don’t want the ridicule and stares that come with whipping out my crazy Tropic Screen Tent to protect my fragile body from the crazy mosquitoes. While everyone else sleeps on a straw mat and using a rock for a pillow (and I kid you not on that one), I will be in my “space pod” with a mattress and a pillow…hmmmm…I don’t think so!

Anyway, so I am sitting here sweating bullets while I type this. It is a horrible trade off…fan or computer, fan or computer…they can’t both be plugged in at once—I only have one outlet in my room. I chose the computer for now…but pardon me if this is a short entry. I received my first packages today…THANKS MOM! It took quite a while for them to get here, and one of the boxes had to be bagged in a sack because it absolutely fell apart. So far though, NO LETTERS!! Where are you guys? Are you out there? You can’t be that busy…come on! Hehehe…just kidding.

I just realized that the reason I might be so awake is because of the sugar high that I now have from eating all the candy that is in the box my mom sent me…hmmmm….good idea/bad idea? Whose to say.

Anyway, back to my train of thought…which there really isn’t one, but stick with me here. I had my interview for site placement, and I will find out next week where in Burkina I will be living, and in what job I will be working. When I say “job” I mean that in the loosest sense possible…because generally you end up doing a lot of things. I am in the SED Program (or en francais, Petit ey Moyens Enterprise). There are 4 main areas that we can work in: (1) Tourism, (2) Agribusiness/Artisans, (3) ICT – Information/Communication Technology, and (4) Microfinance. In my interview I basically said anything would be fine except Microfinance…can any of you see me working in a bank?? NO!!!! Hehehe. I really don’t know where I am going to get placed, and although it worries me a little, I am sure that things will work out for the best (I say that now anyway). I told them that I wanted a smaller village, and that as long as I had cell phone service I didn’t care whether I had electricity or internet access. I also said that I wanted to live in the SOUTH of the country…like FAR SOUTH…so hopefully that message got through to them. I hear that there are palm trees, rolling hills, green, veggies, and all sorts of fun stuff down there…and I want to go. No desert for me thank you very much! I know you are hanging on the edge of your seat waiting to find out where I will be living…it’s okay…next Thursday is the day.

Anyway, I need to focus on something else. I realized today that it is exactly 4 weeks today that I have been living in Burkina Faso. So, let’s have a “4 Weeks Later Update.” I have found here that the longer I am here the more “accepting” I am of a lot of things. Most of this applies to things related to hygiene and cleanliness, but I will humor you with some stories.

When I first arrived, I was appalled by the look of the flush toilets. I wouldn’t even THINK about plopping down on one of those without breaking out the toilet seat cover. Now, 4 weeks later…flush toilets are a thing of beauty…no matter what condition they’re in. I can’t wait to get back to NYC and think that the local Starbuck’s bathroom is the freakin’ Ritz!

In the good ‘ol US of A I would not have put up with bugs in my food. No siree! But, 4 weeks later…I figure what the hell…all I have been eating is carbs, and that is a good source of protein!

When I first arrived I found it a bit odd that people just dug around in their nostril for whatever prize or booger they were looking for. Now, it doesn’t even phase me that she is able to eat, hold her child, talk, and pick her nose at the same time. I think it’s a real skill…truly.

Originally upon arrival here I cringed at the site of ANY insect. However, yesterday when I had my first cockroach attack I barely flinched. I opened the door and when I saw it I started backing away..I kid you not, that sucker (which was about the 3 inches long) followed me around the living room while I backed away from it. It wanted me bad…but then my host sister came in and smashed it with a shoe…there is no way in words I could ever describe the “crunch” that it caused.

Well, like I said…it’s either fan or computer…and I am frickin’ hot now…so I am gonna cut this little exercise short and say goodbye (au revoir). I have my LPI on Saturday, so wish me luck…I need all that I can get.

Also, I have been encountering a lot of questions via IM and email…so I have an idea. Below each blog entry is a comments section…leave your questions in the comment section and I will be happy to answer them as soon as I can. The Peace Corps is all about cross-cultural exchange, and sharing my experience…so let’s get to sharing! What do you want to know?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

C'est normal? Je ne pense pas!

How is everyone doing? I hope you are all well and enjoying the cool weather in America. Things have been moving a long rather well, minus a few minor episodes of frustration/sadness. I will be getting my work assignment/living location in a week, so I am very excited to find out where in Burkina I will be living and what kind of work I will be doing. I already have fabulous ideas for my house that include screened-in porches and wonderful dinners!! Anyone want to come over for a dinner party/house warming? Start saving your money now, and I promise to make you a good dinner!

I was having a conversation with a few of the other trainees here, and it is funny how even in the few weeks that we have been here that our senses have been a bit dulled to the surroundings. Things that would absolutely blow you away in the United States just doesn’t seem to phase me here. So, we came up with a bit of a slogan that we constantly repeat now, “C’est normal? Je ne pense pas…” (Is it normal? I don’t think so.). Here is our ode:

A man feebily attempting to navigate his bike down the road with 10 live chickens strapped to the handlebars.

C’est normal? Je ne pense pas!

Walking in to my living room only to be surprised that the chicken we will have for dinner has invaded the living room. It proceeds to squawk and fly around until my mother comes in and brushes it outside.

C’est normal? Je ne pense pas!

Walking into my bedroom and become witness to GIGANTIC fire ants ripping apart a live grasshopper and carting it away…this is some National Geographic stuff.

C’est normal? Je ne pense pas!

Being called “Nasara” or “blanche” pretty much ALL day long - in English, “Whitey” pretty much.

C’est normal? Je ne pense pas!

Constantly scraping off layers of dirt from my skin…even if I shower 3 times a day!

C’est normal? Je ne pense pas!

Dodging run away baby goats every time I try to get to my house.

C’est normal? Je ne pense pas!

Being told by my host father that I have to wear my bike helmet...EVEN WHEN I GO FOR A WALK! (sounds ridiculous...but I swear this is true...I think he doesn't want to be the one guy who breaks his white person!)

C'est normql? Je ne pense pas!

Eating pigeons that my brother caught in our backyard--and then trying to explain why we don't eat any of the many NYC pigeons (all in français).

C'est normal? Je ne pense pas!

Oh there could be so much more! I am sure after a few more weeks here it will just be a normal thing. But, sometimes I can’t help but look around and think to myself - ”THIS IS CRAZY.”

Yesterday was the end of Ramadan, which is fabulous because we didn't have class, so all I did was sit in my courtyard and eat WONDERFUL food. I brought out my satellite radio and sat with me dad and listened to classic rock for hours. It was hilarious seeing him dance and sing to Bad Company, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Bruce Springsteen. He loved it! Later, we rode around to other houses to greet people for the holiday. Every house you go to you are obliged to eat whatever it is that they give you. I swear, I just stopped asking what things are..just eat it. Every time I sat down to eat another fish head I thought to this the one that is going to make me poo all night long. Luckily, I am feeling I guess I avoided any of the crazy stomach-thrashing microbes. I'm staying strong!

Anyway, for those of you interested, I finally have a cell phone and I have listed the number on the sidebar. I have cell access all day for the time being, so feel free to give me a ring if you would like. I love speaking English!

Stay cool!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Iron Bowl Lives in Burkina Faso…

Okay, so I know all of you have been sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for my next post. You don’t have to admit it, I already know. Hehehe.

Things here have been moving along as best as they could be. Il Fait Chaud dans Burkina Faso!! Or for those of you English speakers….IT’S FREAKIN’ HOT! I go to bed hot, I wake up hot, I only get hot water to drink—whether that be tea, or the sun-heated water in my Nalgene. No other way to describe it but hot. Honestly, I have a much higher tolerance level for heat than I had ever imagined. In New York I kept my bedroom a comfy 69-72 degrees Farenheit, but here in Burkina Faso I get a nice toasty 85-89 in my room. That makes for a good night sleep, let me tell you! Truly it sounds a lot worse than it is…I think anyway. I am lucky in that I live with a wonderful family that has electricity, so I get a fan that blows on me at night. So, thank heavens for the small things.

Not to get all sappy and philosophical on you guys…as you know that is generally not my nature…this experience, even in the small amount that I have had so far, makes me realize and appreciate SO many different things. To even talk about it will sound cliché, but I am constantly amazed at the resilience and stamina of the people here. Life here is so vastly different from that of the United States, yet everyone here seems fairly content with the way their lives are. In my time in New York I found myself getting caught up in the non-stop life of “wanting” and “needing” so many things, and here the only thing they have are the things they “need.” I constantly found myself moving from one “want” to another, and never being satisfied. Now, that isn’t to say that wanting things is bad…I just think in my case I was never satisfied. I don’t know whether an experience like this can cure me of this bad habit…but for me to even be thinking about it is a good first step. Sometimes I have to look around and pinch myself…am I really here. It feels like an extended vacation (minus a pool, beach, friends).

Anyway, enough of that…back to more important things. Last night I had a wonderful time with my family. We stayed up extra late to watch the season premiere of “24.” That’s right….the Burkinabe LOVE Jack Bauer. Hah…and you wonder where they get their preconceived notions about Americans. We are on Season 2 here, and my dad was SO happy for it to finally be in TV. Watching it in French was interesting, and even though I have seen this season I still had no idea what the hell was going on. Lord help me when it comes to French. They say that one day it will all just click…I’m waiting!! A not to those that might be able to help…if you have any of the season DVD’s of “24” and you know how to burn copies, I would LOVE to give my dad a few seasons of “24” for him to watch. He has a DVD player here, so it will work. Anyone help me with this?

I know you must be wonder what I meant by my title, so here is the story. We started a savings and credit club here Ouighouya. Basically, you get a group of women together and you teach them how to save money, and every week they put some money in a box. They can either pool their money for some business purpose that will hopefully reap them a profit…or they can just save it for the joy of saving money. Anyway, as we are leaving this guy approaches. What do I see him wearing but an Alabama vs. Auburn Iron Bowl T-Shirt. I about fell over when I saw it, and for a second I thought I was home. I sat down next to him and in the most perfect French ever told him the significance of the Iron Bowl, the history, etc. I really made a connection. OKAY…just kidding. Since I have about a 1st grade knowledge of French, I sat down next to this guy, in broken French said I liked his shirt and that I was from the state of Alabama, and then he started to give it to me. Quickly, one of my Peace Corps partners jumped in and rectified the situation for me. Evidently, when you tell someone you like something they are in some ways obliged to give it to you. It was pretty hilarious. It was nice to see though…a taste of home in the hot, far away land of Burkina.

Today I got my first cooking lesson. I learned how to make sauce de arrachide (?) – Peanut Sauce. It was a lot of fun to make, but it also means standing next to a wood fire and stirring a pot for 4 hours…while it’s 100 degrees out. It was a tough experience, and next time they told me that I have to make it along with no help. So, as long as I don’t hurt myself or someone else in the process then I will be okay.

Anyway, I am rambling, so I will let you all go. Again, thank you for all the support and the emails. I am adding below a little “Communication Addendum” so as to clear up an confusion:

(1) Email/Internet: At this point I have fairly regular access my email/internet. However, it is costly (by Burkina standards), and is at times VERY SLOW. It took me 30 minutes just to look at 2 emails!!! So, I just want to let you all know that I DO read all of your emails, however it is a little difficult to respond. Now that I have my computer up and running I may read them at the Cybercafe, go home and form my response, and then go back later and send the reply. But, for now it is difficult…so continue to send questions and well-wishes and I promise I will read them and respond as soon as I can.

(2) Mail: I would absolutely LOVE to receive any form of mail whether that be a letter or a package. It truly doesn’t matter. I hate being the only one without a letter when they do mail call…Boo! Hehehe. As for right now, I have to be fairly discriminate on what letters I send to the states. I get a weekly per diem of $25 right now, and a letter to the states costs $1.50…so it doesn’t quite fit into my budget at the moment. If you send me a letter I promise to send one back…so I guess, as harsh as it sounds, I am instituting a “give and get” policy. Once I move into my village and have more money I will be more apt to send letters to those that haven’t sent to me yet…but I just wanted to warn you…so don’t feel neglected. As you can see on my blog there is a wish list or items…so feel free to donate to the feed Stephanie real food fund. Hahaha…

(3) Phone: I have finally turned my phone over to the very wise current volunteers, and I am waiting for them to return it to me unlocked and with a Burkina cell phone number. Until then, calling is VERY expensive. I am in the process of getting a headset to use with Skype, and I will try to make some calls with that when I can…it only costs me .02/minute. So when I get it up and running I will be making some calls to people. Otherwise, at the moment I am fairly limited. If you are interested, download Skype (, and we can talk for free computer-to-computer or you can call my Burkina cell phone for .24/minute…which is pretty good I think. I have used Skype and in general it works really well. Anyway, for those that haven’t received a call, don’t fear…once I get my headset and my phone we can try to keep in touch.

Alright, I think that covers me for the communication portion of this blog. I hope everyone is happy and healthy back in the States! So far, I have had NO real episodes of sickness (i.e. diahrea, vomiting, etc.) and I consider myself obscenely lucky up to this point. Keep your fingers crossed for me and my bowels. Stay close.

Also...WAR EAGLE!!! and Let's Go Mets!!

Ag Jamm—


P.S. Pictures will be coming soon. I have to send my USB Drive to my bro back in the states, and he will put it on Flickr. Stay tuned for that.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Here and safe...except for the chicken incident...

Hello all. Before I go in to the "chicken incident" I will update you on the happenings here in Burkina. Well I have made it to Burkina Faso in one piece...thank heavens. The flight was VERY long, and all the cold air made me sick. Oh well, sick will be relative onceI get SICK here in Burkina--which they assure us will happen.

I have been here for a week and so far so good. It is almost impossible to describe all that has happened in the past week, but it has been really great. The country is unbelievably beautiful in its own way. We landed in the capital where we stayed for a few days to get our vaccinations and to get settled. Then we moved up north to a city called, Ouaighouya. That is where we started training and got placed with our host families. There are two groups of volunteers here together, Health and Small Enterprised Development (my group). Our host families are based in the city so I have electricity and television. Don't let that fool you though...I still have to go poo (that's right, I sad "poo") in a hole about the size of a small soccer ball--VERY hard to aim, and I shower with a bucket in a stall. Luckily though, just for me, my host family put a door on the "bathroom" so that no one had to see me doing my business.

My host family is amazing!!I have 3 brothers and 1 sister. One of my brothers is 2 years old and he just has a run of the place. He runs around carrying random things as toys, and for fun likes to chase insects. It is so cute. They are so nice, and are extremely patient with me since I can't speak a drop of French really. There was a white woman on the news last night when we were watching television and they said that in two months I would talk like I am putting my faith in them!

We have 9 weeks of training in language and my technical area before I become a volunteer and move to a site by there is a lot of work ahead.

Okay, enough update...I know you are only here to hear about the "chicken incident." So, on our second day in Ouaighouya we had to go to the palace and salute the chief of the region. It is customary for us to pay our respects. Well, of course our group had to bring a gift right? I was the lucky one selected to bring this gift to him. The gift turned out to be a live chicken and some kola nuts...YEAH! So, we are sitting in this hot room waiting for him to come out and greet us. I have the LIVE chicken in one hand and the bag of nuts in the other. After a while one of the Peace Corps staff tells me Ican set the chicken down on its sad (it won't run away he says). A few min. later, while the king is addressing us someone starts whispering, "chicken, chicken." I was like "I know, I's not time yet!" I thought they were telling me to take it up there. Well, they were trying to tell me that the chicken was on its feet...STANDING!! I look down and as soon as I do the thing darts away from me. One of the host country nationals reaches her hand out SO fast and grabs the thing by the ass and quickly hands him back to me (keep in mind this is happening all while the king is speaking!!!). The thing skwaks a bit but nothing too bad. Well, as I am holding himb by his feet he decides he doesn't want to be there anymore. He starts flapping around like crazy and all I cand do is close my eyes? hold him out to the side of my chair by his feet, and hope he doesn't fly away. Luckily, I held on and presented the gift to the chief. WHEW...I avoided a rqther embarrasing situation, but oh was I embarrassed! My fist encounter with holding a live of the many new encounters that I will have here.

Anyway, this is long and I am hungry so I am gonna sign off for now. Thanks for reading and PLEASE stay in touch. The address listed on here is CORRECT so get those letters written. I promise to write back. Love you all, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Bon soir!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Off we go...into the wild blue yonder...

Hello everyone! I wanted to post a quick little entry before I lose my internet access for a little while. I have been at training for a couple of days now, and I have to say most of all that it is overwhelming. There is so much information to process...I think my brain is on overload. Add into that all of the feelings I have about leaving home, friends, family, and my's pretty difficult. I am excited and sad at the same time. It is a tough combination to deal with.

Anyway, on to more fun stuff. So, I have been in Phildelphia since Sunday for Trainee Orientation. This is where we meet all the other people that will be serving in our sector (mine being Small Enterprise Development), as well as meeting some Health sector trainees that are going over as well. It has been a lot of fun meeting so many people from ALL over, and everyone is so excited and we share such a common bond. We are all trekking off into this unknown land...and at least we have eachother. There is something very comforting in that.

Everyone knows that my favorite day is tomorrow. What is tomorrow you might ask? Well...VACCINATION DAY! WOO HOO! Um...NOOOOOOOOT! I have a the craziest fear of as long as I don't physically harm someone while they try to poke me I will be okay. Lord help me tomorrow...I am going to need it.

Anyway, back to my update. We leave tomorrow night to take a flight from New York City to Paris, and then we go from Paris to Ouagadougou (the capital of Burkina Faso). From there we are going to be transported to a smaller city in Burkina for our PST (Pre-Service Training). Upon arrival in the smaller city we will go through an adoption ceremony, where we are officially adopted into a local Burkinabe' family. We will live in their village with them for the 3 months of training. That is where we will be bombarded with tons of language, health, and technical training....OH MY! It should be a pretty intense few months. I am sure I am going to wish my francais skills were much better.

For those that are concerned about communication, I will have VERY limited access to internet and phone. Text messaging me is probably the best option for now...once I get settled in my adopted families house (which is supposed to happen on Oct. 1st or so), then I will work out the internet. I want to get to my village and get a "lay of the land." Then I can figure out what internet cafe to go to, etc. may not hear from me for a while.

Anyway, things are really good so is exciting, daunting, nerve-wracking, challenging, and all around wonderful. I just want to thank EVERYONE for their calls, their emails, and their messages. I am going to do my best to get in touch with everyone personally...but it is a lot to deal it may take some time. Thanks to EVERYONE for their thoughts, their prayers, their well wishes and more. I can not tell you how much I appreciate it! My address is posted on the if you are ever bored, pop a letter in the mail. I plan on writing to everyone at some don't be shy.

Thanks for everything, I love you all, and "Ag Jamm!"

Monday, September 18, 2006

Battered, bruised, excited, sad, nervous...and on and on...

Well, my brother and I finished the Coosa River Challenge. I have to say that it was a lot harder than I had expected! The mountain biking portion was rocky--and that is putting it mildly. I made good friends with a tree and hopefully haven't broken a rib...although I don't have medical insurance to even find out...hah! I am sure the pain will go away eventually. Besides that it went pretty well! It took us about 5 1/2 hours, and we did everything from trail running, mountain biking (or in my case--crashing), canoeing (or in our case--tipping), mud pit crawling, bow and arrow shooting, 15-foot cliff jumping and much more. We don't really have any pictures during most of the race, but here are a couple that Lindsay (my brother's wife) got of us:

Here is a pic of us rowing across the river--and yes, our canoe is backward--shush!!

Here is a pic of us FINALLY crossing the finish line!

Even though it wasn't always fun, we had a great time. Even better, Mike was there at the finish line to greet me! He came down for the weekend to hang out, and to come to my Birmingham going away party and more. Here is a cute pic of us after the race, while we were watching the Auburn v. LSU game (WAR EAGLE!)

There are more pics available on my brother's Flickr page which you can access through mine I believe...his username is SteelerDave.

My mom threw me a little going away party on Sunday, which was great. I got to see a lot of great thanks to them for coming out. It is getting closer and closer, and as it approaches the more insurmountable the challenge seems. I finally finished ALMOST all of my that's good. As far as that 80 lbs. limit that I am supposed to have...I just have to say, HAH!

Well, I have had a wonderful time home. I got to babysit my nephew, hang out with my sis, relax, spend quality time with the 'rents...overall it's been great. I am sad to leave, but I know it isn't forever...

Anyway, this has been a bit of a long post. I guess I am feeling a bit more apprehensive and scared as it approaches. I leave for NYC on Wednesday and to Philly on Sunday for training. Let the games begin!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Parlez-Vous Francais?...Ummmm, not really!

So, the days are really ticking down now, and it seems like it is FLYING by. I don't think the idea that I have to say goodbye to my family for 2 years (or at least a year until I come visit) has sunk in yet. I started to picture what it would be like the night before I left and I had to push the idea of it from my mind. I have been having so much fun spending time with my mom, and with my little nephew Drew (picture below...isn't he adorable!).

It's hard to imagine that the next time I see him he will be 1 1/2 or 2 years old. I will have to send him pictures and gifts so that he remembers who is Auntie is, and knows who to come to when he wants to get spoiled!

All my preparations seems to be going pretty well. I have almost all that I need to finish packing. I have a few more doubles on my toiletries that I have to times. Mike is coming down this weekend to watch me run in the outdoor triathalon with my brother, and to come to a going away party on Sunday. It will be nice to have him here with me.

I have to admit that I am getting a bit nervous about this whole French requirement. Yes, I fulfilled what the Peace Corps asked of me (to pass through Level 1 and Level 2 of college French). But, my speaking skills are less than stellar, and I am so scared that they are going to boot me or something because of it. I am trying to study on my own, but without speaking it to anyone or even hearing it, I am finding it pretty difficult. Anyone have any ideas?

C'est la vie I guess...A bientot.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cruisin' Along...

**A picture of Mom and I with the captain of the boat and a pic of Mom and I in Costa Maya!!!**

Hello all (or the 2 people actually reading this--and that includes my mom)--

We just got back today from our WONDERFUL cruise to Mexico. We left from Mobile, AL and took a 5-day cruise! It was our last chance to spend some quality time together before I ship off to Africa for 2 years...and it was definitely time well spent.

As you can tell by the pictures, which you can access at:, we had ab absolute blast. We met some amazing people who made the trip so much more worthwhile and fun! We danced, drank, talked, tanned...everything that we had hoped!

I have 13 days and counting before I leave for NYC, and 17 days until I will be in orientation for the Peace Corps. It was a bit odd to be cruising around, and thinking about the decadence that is a cruise...and then comparing that to what I am about to encounter. I felt a little bad that I was enjoying such frivolities...but, at the same time I wanted to enjoy myself and be happy for the time I spent with my Mom.

Regardless of my sometimes sad thoughts I had an amazing time...thanks to my Momma and everyone that we met on the cruise for making it memorable!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sweet Home Alabama

So, I have been home for 3 days now and I have to say that I am hot, and officially bored. I probably shouldn't complain about the heat considering what I am about to encounter in Africa though.

The 1/2 Marathon went wonderfully, and I am posting a picture of me crossing the finish line! WOO HOO! My eyes were closed, but what can I say...I was pretty tired at this point.

We drove to Alabama the next day and that was a tough feat as well. We drove straight through in one day...which is about 1000 miles. I was seeing colors by the time 10:30 rolled around. Thankfully, we got home safely and without I really can't complain.

I am preparing to leave on a 5-day cruise with my Mom to Mexico, and then I will be back to pack my stuff, and to prepare for the outdoor triathalon that my brother and I are doing together ( like to punish my body, hahaha!

The countdown continues!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Just Keep Running...

Today is the day...the day that I must say goodbye to New York City and move home to Alabama. What better way to say goodbye to my beloved city than to participate in the first ever New York City Half Marathon!

I have to say that I was a bit nervous going into this event. As some of you know, I ran the NYC Marathon last year and I had a blast. I was supposed to be running the Chicago Marathon, but I will already be in Burkina Faso, so this would have to do. The race laps around Central Park and then we run down 7th Avenue, through Times Square, and then down the West Side Highway to Battery Park/WTC. Even though I haven't been running for the past several weeks due to sickness, vacation, etc. I was surprised to run as well as I did. I finished it, and in a fairly decent time...which is good enough for me. Plus, it allowed me to say the grandest of goodbyes (even if it was pouring down rain).

Nothing's better than getting up at 5 a.m. and running with crazy people in the rain...sometimes I wonder what I'm thinking.

Anyway, less than a month to go before I leave for Burkina...and I wake up tomorrow at 5 am, hop in the car, and head to Bama. SO SAD...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


I have been asked an array of quesions lately, so I felt that it might help if I answered the most common ones in this posting (For those of you who don't know where Burkina is, sbove is a map).

Alright, here we go:

(1) What will you be doing there? - According to my assignment booklet I will be in the Small Enterprise Development Program and my title is "Small Business Advisor." Sounds official enough huh? They say my main duties will be:
(a) working with entrepeneurs and cooperatives to provide business training.
(b) help create market linkages (anyone wanna buy Shea Butter? It's their biggest export and it's great for the skin!!).
(c) Asssting the organization of Savings and Credit Clubs, Advise on and Facilitate product development, packaging, and promotion.
(d) Assist entrepeneurs to develop business plans, maintain financial records, conduct financial analyses, and make informed business management decisions.
(e) Work with other institutions to promote export of products

It seems complicated, but consider this. Most people there don't understand what a "profit" is. They may buy something for $50, and sell it for $25 and still not understand that they are operating at a loss. So, that is what my "vast" expertise is there to teach them.

(2) How long will you be there?
- I am supposed to be there 27 months (3 months of training in the country, and then 2 years of service on site). But, they don't force you to stay, if you want to leave you can.

(3) Where will you live? - Although the Peace Corps keeps us mainly in the dark about this one, chances are that I will live in a rural area, in a mud hut or some other form of a house. Thanks to the Peace Corps though I get a cement floor, windows with screens on them, and a door! Compared to those living there I will be living in the lap of luxury! The Peace Corps quotes, "Animals might wander around your house and bats, mice, and cockroaches could likely live in your house. You will have no running water or electricity." -- aside from the running water and electricity how is living in NYC any different??? Well, maybe it's not that bad...

(4) Will you live with other volunteers?
- This is definitely a question that has my mom worried. But, NO, I won't live with other volunteers in my village (chances are anyway). I will however in all likelihood live biking distance from someone. The Peace Corps issues us mountain bikes and that is how we are expected to get around.

(5) What is the weather/living conditions there?
- Burkina is a Sahelian country with some forsests in the South, woodlands in the center, and desert in the North. The tropical climates has rainy (June-September) and dry (October-May) seasons . Temperatures range from 50 degrees F in the early dry season to 104 degrees just before the rainy season. Pretty much it's just DAMN HOT all the time... :-D Chances are I WILL NOT have electricity or constant access to internet...but I will have a cell phone that will work in the main areas.

(6) What language will you speak?
- I will be learning at least 2 languages during training. The first is French, and the second will be a tribal language...most likely something called Fufulde or Moore'. Fun times!

(7) What will you eat?
- The locals mostly eat maize or millet flour paste (yeah...I have no idea what that is), or locally produced rice with leaf sauces, local veggies (okra, eggplant, tomatoes, and meat (lamb, goat, or beef). Generally it is heavy on the carbs, light on the protein...YUMMY...

(8) Are you scared? Excited?
- YES! I am scared as hell about this entire thing. But, I figure some of the most worthwhile things in life are all you can do is just jump right in. I may love or I may hate it...but I have to go to find out. I am a little worried about getting sick...not deathly ill or anything like that because the Peace Corps takes good care of us...more worried about little intestinal parasites taking up residence inside of me and making me eject my food from all places (sorry...I tried to make that as PC and clean as possible).'s to hoping I have a strong stomach. I will be on so many medications for malaria and every other disease that I am not too worried about that.

Anyway...I am a bit tired so I will stop here. The movers are coming in a moment to move stuff out of my apartment. If you have any more questions leave them in the comments section or email me and I will post them up here...

THANKS to anyone who is reading this, and I hope to see some people at my going away party this evening!