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 them...it 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 day...so 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 bored...so 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 myself...is this the one that is going to make me poo all night long. Luckily, I am feeling good...so 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 (www.skype.com), 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 her...so 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 myself...so 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 know...it'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 chicken...one 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!