Monday, February 26, 2007

Notes from village...

My backyard...jealous yet?
Originally uploaded by GRITS in Burkina.
Hello all! It hasn't been too long since you last heard from me, and since I am sure you are still recovering from all the laughter, I will keep this kind of short. I am testing out this new thing where I can blog from Flickr--the place where I post all of my photos. I thought I would post a couple. Definitely go to my photo album to check out the photos...I finally got to meet a hippo up close and personal!

Things have been going pretty well since I last more gigantic roach colonies in the bathroom, thank goodness. I have had a few in my house, but the cat promptly gobbles them up...good kitty. I am headed to the capital to attend the FESPACO Film Festival...the largest film festival in Africa! I am SOOOO excited, I can not even tell you! It is going to be amazing. It will also be great to see some of the other volunteers that I haven't seen in the last few months. And, how could I forget...but YEAH ice cream and pizza! By the time I get back I will deserve the "Stephanie, tu devien grosse" comment...and you know what...that's okay because it will all have been worth it! Hah!

I have been helping out at the English college in my, not what you would think of a college. A college here is the equivalent of a middle school in the States, except the students are anywhere from 12-17 years old. Kids kind of attend school off and on depending on if their parents can afford it that year or not. Anyway, it has been great, and truly it is a little selfish on my part because I really like to go talk to the English teacher...he is the only man in village who speaks English and he is only in village on Saturdays. Anyway, I pull up to the school on my bike to find the entire class (of over 115 kids) crouched on their knees in the gravel under the hot sun. Let me tell you, this sun is SUPER strong and we are talking about 100+ degrees at this point. Anyway, when I ask the teacher why they are out their he simply says..."oh..punishment." There is no explanation as to what kind of punishment...but I think they might have been talking to loud. Who knows! To anyone that complains about their class size teachers...put a cork in it. There were about 150 kids smashed into this teeny school room sitting on benches. 15 of the 150 actually had the English textbook, so the teacher had to write the exercises on the board. I was really blown away. It is so hard to comprehend, coming from the American education system, that the government can't provide the school with books to loan out to the students. I remember every school year getting my new/slightly used book and writing my name on the inside...and it was mine. These kids here, they can't do that. It really motivated me to try and do something like a fundraiser to raise money to buy loaner books for the whole school.

Anyway, enough Debby Downer attitude. I have a GREAT story to tell you. My friend Veronica...yeah the same girl with the roach-infested bathroom...came to my village to visit, and we decided that we would bike the 55k (roughly 30+ miles) to her village. The route between my village and hers isn't even on a map. It is just a dirt path, so wider than a couple feet, and little did we know that it would splitabout 10 times. Luckly, I had my handy dandy compass--well, we had it...I didn't say I knew how to use it. So, we packed our stuff and headed out. Little did I know that we would be riding across a freaking beach for 3 hours. Yeah, I thought I didn' live in the desert but I was all wrong! Have you ever tried biking across sand? It's HARD! By the time we reached our first stop, a town called Djigouera--only 30k on our 55k journey I thought I would die. But, it was too late to turn around at that point. We stopped in Djigouera to get a cold coke and have bite to eat, but little did we know that we would meet a very friendly, very strange, Liberian hooker. Yes, you heard me right...a Liberian hooker. Her name escapes me let's just call her Jade. Why Jade? I don't was the first name that came to my head. Wait, I'll do one do you construct your hooker name again? First pets name and your street name? Okay, so we will call her Buffy Dovercliff...or Buffie for short.

Anyhoo, I digress. Back to Buffy the hooker. So, we pull in and she immediately comes up. It's a given that she has no bra and that her boobs hang WAY below her elbows...but I just wanted to give you a visual. She was actually very manly looking, and if not for the breasts I might have thought her a man. To even begin to describe the way she talked would be impossible, but as soon as she found out we were American she began to speak her completely unintelligible English. And, she absolutely had to add "man" at the end of every sentence. She tells us how she fled Liberia because of the war, and starts to tell us she was a prostitute...but because this part was in French I didn't exactly understand. I am sitting here thinking she is telling an entrepeneurial success story about how she fled Liberia to open up her own bar...but Veronica is looking at me really weird. So, I ask her to explain again and she says, "No, Oui, moi, je vende mon corps...personalmente." (No, i sell my body!") So, it suddenly dawns on me...OHHHHH....Eureka. She continues to elaborate and say, "tu comprend? No, to ne comprends pas." (do you understand? No, I don't think you understand). My face is beet red, and she is just starting at me...hello... AWKWARD! Needless to say, we high-tailed it out of there pretty quickly before she charged us for the conversation. Very odd...meeting a Liberian hooker on a village road. I never had it on a list of things to do before I died, but I gotta say it was pretty interesting.

I am writing you this email, so it is obvious that I survived our ride...but, just barely. By the time I made it to her village I was completely delirious. I could barely even walk...and I don't even need to tell you what my butt felt like. I won't be doing that for a while.

Well, I have written much more than I thought and I gotta run and get ready to head out. Thanks for all of the packages and support...again and again, I couldn't do it without you! Stay safe and stay close!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On a funnier note...roaches, pooh, and oh so much more...

Hello all. Well, I am stopping off in Bobo on my way back to village. I decided to go to my provincial capital, Orodara, to visit with another volunteer, Veronica, and some government bureaus. In my village the government built a BRAND NEW Maison de la Femme (a house which the government designates only for women and where they train them to do skills like sewing, cloth dying, etc.)...but thanks to the overwhelming efficiency and competency of the Burkina government, they put no equipment in it. So, for 2 years it has sat empty and unused...a great use of government money I would say. Anyway, I have to deal with various government bureaus to try and help the women get equipment and furniture to put in it (sewing machines, tables, soap making equipment, etc.). I also want to start holding health classes and maybe French or English classes there...I have a lot of plans for this place. So, off to Orodara I went to kiss some butt for a little bit and see what I needed to do to make things happen...

Anyway, I went to the dentist and again they say that nothing is wrong with my teeth...except that I was prescribed 3 medications and now the entire right side of my mouth aches so bad I am virtually on the verge of tears. I have special mouthwash, special toothpaste, pills, and the worst toothache ever...that they chalk up to a receding gum line!! WHAT?! Anyway, if in two weeks it hasn't improved I may have to go to either Washington or Senegal for consultation with another dentist...good and bad at the same time. But, honestly I would delighted for my teeth to just stop hurting because it is getting unbearable. Oh well, ça va aller.

My trip to Orodara was EXTREMELY interesting and entertaining! I was hoping that with my friend living off the goudron (i.e. cement/paved road) that our ride there would be smooth...however that was not to pass. I think I brought my bad village transport luck along. About 3/4 of the way there our reliable bus decided it just couldn't make it any further...the steam coming out of the engine was quite an indication. So, everyone starts piling off the bus to sleep on the side of the road until someone came to pick us up. They were getting comfortable...which made me nervous. Surprisingly, it only took about 15 minutes for the rescue bus to show up. Veronica and I are standing there and all of a sudden people start making a mad dash for the rescue bus (it reminded me of the people at Target on Black Friday after Thanksgiving). It was hilarious. Veronica gives me a look and then she was off too...she succumbd to the peer of course--hiking backpack and all--I take off towards the bus. The backpack proved to be a great blockage device as people tried to cut in front of us to get a seat on the much smaller bus. Yet, all was for naught because there was room for everyone. But, at least it was entertaining. Now, before I get ahead of myself i have to rewind a moment...I forgot an integral and hilarious part of our story. As we were waiting for the bus we were observing this mother and her newborn baby. "Oh what an adorable little baby...kinda gross he doesn't have on a diaper...but cute all the same. Oh, what is that baby doing? that what I think it is...oh god!" Yeah, well, in Burkina Faso I have yet to see a diaper so here was this little baby taking a nice poo on his mother's leg. She is just chatting away jiggling the baby smearing the saffron--I like to be descriptive--colored poo all over her leg. Eventually she looks down and realizes what happened . Calmly she picks up some leaves off the ground and wipes the poo frolm her leg and then uses a piece of trash paper off the ground to wipe the poor baby. That poor baby is just sitting there looking like he is in pure would be like getting wiped with sandpaper. And to think of all the wipes and poweders that my brother Dave had for his baby...geeze Dave you know you could have saved some money on diapers and wipes by just letting him poop anywhere and use old trash or leaves for his butt...this baby didn't seem to mind too much. After, still with the poopy remnants on the baby and on her...she straps the baby onto her back (where later I am sure the baby probably peed on her...oh well)

Now, the fun didn't just stop at our transport. We arrive at Veronica's house around 5 and I have to say that it was SO cute! She has the cutest little 3 bedroom reminded me of an apartment back in the States. She had electricity and a spicket this is like heaven on earth for me...that is until night fell. There is only one slight drawback to Veronica's cute little oasis...and that would be the bathroom. As you all know my bowel movements are anything but regular or around 8:00 I had to go out and use her bathroom. I stroll quickly--because I have about a 1 minute window before "take off"--only to be confronted by a freakin' colony of roaches taking up residence in her latrine. Holy hell...I can handle lizards, flies, mosquitoes, spiders, hippos, chickens, and goats...but I CAN NOT handle roaches. It was right then and there...make a decision...piss and probably poo yourself or go Nike says, "JUST DO IT"...well, I couldn't. I run back in and ask Veronica to come out there and help me...what she was going to do I don't know...offer moral support? Talk me through it? Go in guns blazing with some roach killer? I like the last one best...but that isn't what happened. The countdown continues on my colon letting go, so she tells me to use her host families bathroom next door. In a mad dash I sprint to their toilet and I just pull my pants down...there is no waiting now. I look up while in there and there are 3 freaking HUGE roaches staring back at me from 6 inches away. So, I fight the urge to scream, die, run, pass out--I don't want to get poo on me thank you very much--and just finish as fast as I possibly can. I sprint out of there and pray to god that I don't have to go back to her bathroom at night ever again (which I did...but it gets a little easier every time...and I armed myself with rocks the next time). Things like that build character I roach-infested bathroom, I say to you, "BRING IT ON...cause I am ready now!!!" Hehe...hats off to Veronica for living with her bathroom at night, when the creepy crawlies come out to play...she is a trooper!

Anyway, other than the whole life scarring bathroom incident at Veronica's we had a blast...we sat up talking girl talk, eating cookies, cooking fabulous cheesy Orzo by Matthew Pava (the unholy badass of the kitchen...I bow down to you and thank you so much for my package and recipes). Now, here I go trooping back to village with my bag full of goodies that I received in the 7 packages that came (THANK YOU Mom, Matt, Cindy, Tiffany, and Mike's sister/mom/dad). I can't wait to get home and cook and read and eat...I do that everyday but it's more exciting with stuff from America. I hope you are all wall and I will keep you updated on the happenings. Training and FESPACO are 2 weeks away and then after that it is a I get to look froward to a rendevouz with Mike at the end of May (We were going to Paris, but now it turns out we are probably going to Israel...I AM SOOOOOO EXCITED!!!). I will let you know what my plans are...but darn I am a WORLD TRAVELER...hehehe! Miss and love you all...Stay close!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

And on a more serious note...

Okay, so I said I would post this last week...but thanks to the lovely infrastructure in Burkina the internet was out in the ENTIRE city of you had to wait a bit. Now I am back in Bobo because my teeth have decided to mutiny, and I have another appointment with the Burkinabé dentist...WOO HOO, wish me luck for that one!! Without further is the promised post:
I'm realizing that I am a development worker who's not completely sold on development. Maybe I'm just disillusioned with where all the newfangledness of Western life has gotten us. Maybe I see here what we lack: simplicity, community, a non-commercialized, revered culture.

Community in Africa still's the glue in the face of catastrophes like AIDS and unrest. In the village no one falls through the cracks...I don't want to watch rituals crumble. I don't want to see children's games replaced by insipid images on a TV screen. I want no hand in Westernizing this village.

-- Nine Hills to Nambonkha, Sarah Erdman
I have a lot of time to read and this is one of the books that I came across, and in particular this quote rang true to me. For anyone that is more curious about what life is like here definitely check out this book. This was written by a Peace Corps volunteer in neighboring Cote D'Ivoire and the similarities are can definitely get an inside look on what it is like (emotionally and physically) to be here.

It goes without saying that I have found harships beyond belief here, and before coming here I had done all of my necessary research. However, I have stumbled upon something so unexpected and unbelievably beautiful. In most representations of Africa (in the news and in any other media outlet) you hear and see images of starving children, warring tribes, sad and destitute people living in conditions that are completely intolerable. However, upon coming to Burkina Faso I have realized that these things exist, but not in the way that I would have imagined. These people are not sad and they aren't wasting away. I have found a vibrant and thriving culture that makes the best out of what it has...which in most cases isn't much. It is truly amazing to witness. I was having drinks with the English teacher at the local school, and he put it so eloquently in saying that African's are rich because they are poor. It seems such an odd thing to say, but after being here only 3 months I see how that is true. I expected to come into a society and culture that needed my help and assistance, but what I found was culture and a society that I need much more than they need me. They understand the true simplicity and importance in life and community. They can make something out of nothing...and that is something that we as a developed society have lost. And as the continent strives to become like its Western neighbors, I fear its identity will be swallowed whole...lost forever in a stream of 50 Cent T-shirts and R Kelly CD's--I can't tell you how troubling it is that the idols for African youth are 50 Cent and Nelly...carrying smoking guns no less. Alas, not much can be done about it I guess...the ball is rolling and there is no stopping it now. Although I feel priviliged to at least get a glimpse into this society before it becomes something entirely different. I believe in helping these people to better their own lives, but I come up against a wall. I don't want to be responsible for aiding in their modernization (and inherent loss of culture)...I don't want to help Westernize them no matter how badly they think they want to be. So, where is my role here? What is it that I want to do exactly? That is something that I am still searching for...

I know it is so easy to get caught up in life and never think about these things, and believe me...I am not solely criticizing the United States. Honestly, I have never felt more fortunate in my life to be from the US. We have opportunities there that cannot even be imagined here, and I am SOOOOO thankful. I just can't help but think that rather exporting our culture, we also need to be taking cues from some of our "less developed" neighbors. It is a lesson that I never could have learned without coming here...and something that I want to challenge you to think don't have to be in Africa to do that (but feel free to visit anytime!)

Anyway, thanks for bearing with me there as I got on my soapbox...I promise to follow up with a funny post soon. Again...THANK YOU to all who have sent packages and letters!!! I received 7 packages today...and I can't wait to open them. Thank you so much for all of your support. Things are heating up here...and I am getting ready to bunker down for the 2 hottest months of my life...then the glorious rains come. Stay cool...Although from what I hearabout weather in the States right now that isn't hard to do...Talk soon.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Je Devien Grosse!?!?

Alright folks…I’m back. Two weeks in village and I decided to pop out to celebrate Groundhog’s Day with the other volunteers. Although, no matter what Punxatawney Phil says (Kerry...can you let me live there!)…I don’t get more winter (not that I ever had one), and I only have the heat to look forward to. It is like someone switched the light on the sun…it is unbelievable. The air is still a little crisp, but in the sun I just absolutely roast. It is so sad…the honeymoon is over folks.

The last couple weeks have been surprisingly busy. Well, Africa busy anyways. My supervisor visited me at site and met my organization and toured my town. I did some activities with villagers to try and figure out what the hell they want me to do. I read a lot. Ran a lot. Slept a lot. Read some more. Cooked homemade bread (I am freakin’ Betty Crocker now!). It felt like a productive past couple of weeks. I have 4 more weeks at my site, and then it is off to the capital for some more training, and the fabulous FESPACO film festival. I knew there was a reason that I was placed in Burkina, and the fact that it hosts Africa’s largest film festival seems like fate to me.

Before I came to Burkina I had done SO much research on the country, on the volunteers here, and what the experience would be like. For those of you that know me…I am a research freak. I don’t even buy pair of pants without comparing prices and qualities first. Well, anyway, one of the things that I had been told numerous times was that I should be prepared to be called “Grosse” on more than one occasion. In Africa it is “en vogue” to be “grosse” (or as the French Dictionary translates it: big, large, stout, fat, thick, broad, heavy, or swollen). It is a sign of status…it means you can afford to eat well. Well, you know what…in the United States it is NOT polite to tell someone that they are “devenir grosse” (becoming fat). Anyway, one morning after my run I went into town to buy some bread (maybe that is my first problem…carbs). The lady that makes my salad every night for dinner is there in the morning selling rice and beans for breakfast. Anyway, as I approach she says the dreaded words that I knew would be coming, but that up to this point I hadn’t heard. “OOOOHHHHH, Stephanie. Vous devenez grosse! C’est bonne!” Well, in hearing that I about fell over, and probably developed at least two eating disorders. I spent the next 20 minutes telling her that it isn’t polite to tell people that, and spent the rest of the day thinking that I was fat and disgusting. I immediately upped my running/exercise regimen to an hour of running everyday, and I didn’t eat for the rest of the afternoon. Before I came to Burkina I had been told by so many people…”they are going to tell you that you have gotten fat, they are going to try to fatten you up.” You know, I expected to hear it…but whether I expected it or not, it still hurt to hear it. In the States there is such a stigma around being skinny and in shape…it can’t be a coincidence that the term for fat here is “grosse” in French, and that “grosse” means…well…gross! It doesn’t help that most of you thought that in my coming here I was also getting free admission to the best fat camp in the world. I would like to disspell a myth…Africans may have malnutrition but they certainly are not starving…at least not in my part of Burkina Faso. My diet consists of carbs, some more carbs, oh yeah some carbs, rice, spaghetti, bread, and sauce. So, don’t be surprised when I step off the plane for my visit in September and you don’t recognize me. Oh god, I probably have about 3 mental disorders related to my weight now.

I have been running every morning, and besides the fact that it is to stave off any more “grosse” comments, I actually enjoy it. In the States I could always find a reason NOT to go running. “I have to go to work in two hours…I can’t possibly run,” “I don’t want to wash my hair,” “My favorite TV show is on,” “It’s cold outside/It’s hot outside,” “I don’t have any clean clothes.” But here, if I don’t go running in the morning there is NO excuse. Truly, one of the main reasons I go is because it takes up at least 3 hours of my morning. I go running for an hour, I get back and do crunches/dips/etc., heat water for my bath, heat water for breakfast, eat, and bathe. By that time it is usually 10:30. It’s almost lunch time. The villagers have slowly warmed to the idea of my running for, god forbid, exercise. At this point they know my route and wait for me to pass so that they can yell “Madame” or “Toubabou”…or greet me in Dioula of Moore. I have my own little cheering squad. On my path there are also tons of different kinds of animals. At first when they saw me running towards them I cause a mini-stampede as they rushed to get away, but now they just sit there watching me and probably thinking, “what is that crazy white girl doing?” One thing that does scare me a bit though are the enormous cows that line the paths. Most people here have cows…gigantic ones with enormous horns (think running of the bulls, Pamplona). Normally it is just a few, but lately they have been herding them across my path to the greenery near the river. So, the other day I was running and I was at this narrow portion of the path where there is a fence on one side and trees on the other…no escape. I slow to a walk, because I have no desire to start a stampede and get trampled. Well, as I pass by the cows evidently one of them didn’t like what I was wearing or the way I looked at him, but he turned to the cow next to him and speared him, and in turn that cow turned towards me and was headed straight towards me with its huge horns. I had always thought that if it happened (kind of like with the Hippos…if it is chasing me I have resolved to climb a tree) that I would jump out of the way or something…but no, I was scared to death. I just stood there with my face scrunched up in horror waiting for it to spear me. Luckily, the little girl leading the cows started beating them with a stick and they turned away from me. I don’t even think I realized how dangerous the situation was until later, or how close I came to being speared. Oh well, I chalk it up to life experience…and I will never get that close to those freakin’ animals again unless I am eating a fat juicy steak.

Okay, now I know that I have been seriously lacking in chicken stories lately, and for that I apologize. When I arrived back home from my last trip away I discovered that the hen in my courtyard had hatched some eggs. There were about 7 little chicks running around. I LOVE baby doesn't even matter what they are...I love them. Well, one day my organization is having their weekly meeting and I see that one of the baby chicks has fallen in the water bowl. Me being the animal lover that I am can not bear to see this poor little thing drown...everyone else was just staring and laughing--survival of the fittest and this one just didn't cut it. So, I go over there to fish the poor little guy out of the bowl. Everyone is staring at me and I have no idea why...but whatever, I am stared at all day long so how is this different. As I reach in to pull out the little chick the mother hen sees me, and rather than thank me from saving her chick from certain death, she attacks me!! She comes flying at me, wings out, skawking and pecking. I turn around and run and the damn thing follows me!!! WHAT?!?! All I was trying to do is help you stupid little soon to be dinner entreé! Anyway, while the chicken chased me and everyonelaughed as I dart around the courtyard someone snuck in and plucked the chicken out of the bowl. So, in the end I did aid in the saving of this poor chick's life...but I hadn't intended to be bait. Chickens are vicious little creatures...don't let "Chicken Run" fool you. They are mean! They attack me if I come near them, they attack eachother. The other day some of the chickens died in my courtyard...I know what you're thinking...BIRD FLU! But, it zqs some other crazy weird disease...anyway, when one of them got sick the other chickens ganged up on him and started attacking him. It was so crazy. I always pictured chickens as cute and docile creatures...but they are really blood-thirsty little varmints. I am learning so much here! I live in a little National Geographic documentary.

As the hot season approaches so do the roaches, scorpions, lizards, and crickets. What do they want, you might ask? Well, with the blaring sun all they want is to live inside my house. I am now learning all too well the worth of having a cat. Gateau is a vicious hunter. Every night I have had either a roach or a lizard in my house and every time he has caught and killed them. It is entertaining to watch...he throws his prey in theair and catches it. He flings it around for a bit..lets it go and then chases it some more. It is hilarious. There have been times where I have seen a roach and physically brought Gateau inside to show him...then he does his thing. He is my precious, adorable, cuddly, and efficient killing machine...exactly how I trained him. He had a lizard out in the courtyard and I felt bad, so I tried to take it away from him...OHHHH NO! He about clawed my eyes out to kill that thing...the little lizard got over the wall but Gateau leaped off the 10 foot wall; caught the lizard again, and brought it back in to my courtyard to play with some more. I feel bad for the lizard, but GOOD KITTY!

Alright, well I don't have much more time left today...I have a more serious post that I would like to add and I will get to that tomorrow. It can't all be laughs...there are some serious lessons to be learned by living here. Alright, well until tomorrow. A demain!