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!

1 comment:

Sara said...

Hey Steph!! I love reading your blogs!! Your house sounds great and I'm glad to hear that everything is going well!! I'll call you soon!! Love You!