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.