Friday, August 31, 2007

RIP - My Kitty, Gateau

Well, I had heard a few days ago, but now with his continued dissappearance it is confirmed. My wonderful cat, Gateau, is gone...

I know he is just a cat, but having been with me since the beginning he has become my family and my best friend. He took care of all my creep crawlies, snuggled on my lap, and was my companion.

I am still in Senegal, so I feel a bit powerless about the whole thing right now, and as you know I have a LOT of free time on my hands right now, so I made this video...

Hopefully, I will be back in Burkina next Thursday. I will keep you all posted. Stay close!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

More Misadventures as GRITS navigates West Africa...

Hello from Dakar, Senegal! Sorry it has taken me so long to provide an update...I do have a lot of free time, but somehow it flies by so fast. I had a pretty interesting last night in Burkina Faso before I left to come here.

Myself, and two other volunteers decided to go out and have dinner and drinks in downtown Ouagadougou. Now, ask anyone and they will tell you that Ouaga is one of the safest capitals in West Africa. The evening goes by without incident, save for a few street sellers being a little more than persistent. We finish dinner and head out to the road to catch a cab. One cab stops, and as usual because we are foreigners, we get quoted some obscene price, so we say no thanks and move on to the next cab. We finally agree on a price, and hop in. Now, I will admit that I wasn't being all that attentive...but as we are sitting there I am texting away on my cell phone. A hand reaches into the window. Now, logically I should have been surprised by this fact...but in typical Stephanie fashion...i was completely oblivious. I thought, "why is that guy reaching in here? Is the other taxi driver pissed that we didn't go with him?" Hahaha...well, I learned pretty quickly why this hand was in the car. Yup, this little street urchin wanted my cell phone. I send my text message, and as the cab pulls away I realize that it isn't just my hand on my cell phone...but his too! He starts running by the car, and we engage in a tug-of-war of sorts over my cell. I have two hands on it, he has one. Jerk, jerk, jerk...I let out an "Eek!" type scream--like if you saw a roach on the wall or something. Everyone in the car is unaware of what's going on. After several tugs back and forth, and my child-like screech, I win the cell phone! HAHA...VICTORIOUS! I wanted to go back and confront the guy, but the taxi just kept going...and little did I know that not only was my fun-filled night not over, but that the taxi had an important role to play.

We round the corner, only to be flagged down by two women on the street. My first reaction is, "hell room." Well, as it turns out this poor woman is actually in labor! Yes, my friends, when they go into labor they calmly stand outside and hail a cab. We all got out and offered her the cab, but the driver insisted that we come along. He promised it would only take a few minutes to drop her off. I am sitting in the backseat scared to death that her water is going to break on me or something. She seems so calm, even while knowing that her birth would be performed withou anesthesia (hah...epidural? What?) and in a room furnished with 2 buckets (if she is lucky). As we speed along I look her way and see that she has her head buried in her mother's shoulder, and she is whimpering. To break the tension, I ask them whether it is a boy or a girl...they don't know. "Do you have any names picked out," I ask. No...they haven't thought that far ahead. Well, I say, don't worry...if it's a girl you can call it Stephanie and if it is a boy it can be Stephane. Problem solved. They both giggle, and I see the tension wipe from the girl's face...for just a second. We pull up, she gets out, we wish her the best, and we're off. Crisis averted, and no need to deliver a baby in a taxi. Whew!

It was an interesting night, to say the least...and if anyone asks you what really happened. I slammed the robber with the door, kicked him in the groin and rode away laughing. I then proceeded to deliver a baby in the taxi, and in my honor they named it Stephanie. Now...start that rumor mill!

Now, here I am in Senegal in the middle of my dental work. By the time I am done I will have a brand new tooth (not a gold one unfortunately...I tried). Senegal is pretty's crowded, busy, and modern...and most importantly has sushi, imported beer, and ice cream. Truly, I couldn't ask for more. I have even been keeping up on my running. I met a member of the Senegal National Junior Track Team, and she offered to run with that has been quite an experience. I warned her ahead of time that, "white people can't jump...or run...especially this white person." So, if she is happy going at a pace that I am certain she could crawl at...then I would be happy to run with her. Luckily, she obliged...and being that she is a sprinter and only does the 200m and 400m races, I actually outrun her at times. Now THAT is a boost to the ego.

I have another week and a half here as they make the crown, and ensure that the infection has entirely gone away. Most people would think that I am living in the lap of luxury--and don't get me wrong, I am enjoying myself!--but I will be honest with you cheesy as it sounds...I miss my village, I miss my friends, and I miss my cat. Home is where the heart is...and never before has that rung as true for me. Burkina Faso may not have the food, the beaches, the beer, and the ice cream, but in the past 11 months it has become a sort of home to me. So, I am looking forward to finishing here and heading back.

For those of you that are reading this twice, or are just bored, here is a little present. I finally, with all the time I have here, have been able to edit my first little video. My neighbors were cementing their courtyard so that they could dry all the surrounding neighbor women got together and was really and see:

The countdown continues to "Stephanie's Tour d'Etats Unis"...2 months! DON'T FORGET...hop on to my marathon fundraising page to make a donation to the Children's IBD Center of Mt. Sinai (Click Here: Steph's Fundraising Page). $5, $10, $20, $100...whatever! It all pushes me closer to my goal of raising $ pop out those wallets and get to donatin'!!!! Support me as I raise money and train to run in the 2007 ING NYC Marathon!

I hope you are all well, safe, and dry--for those of you in the Midwest. I am thinking of all of you. Stay Close!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Life is a just put your hands in the air

The longer that I live here the more that I am not only learning, but more importantly accepting, that things don't always go the way you want them to, or as smoothly as you want them to. Most of you know me, and in my life I like to be in control...I like to "plan" pretty much everything. My mom will tell you that by 9th grade I had my entire high school curriculum planned out for every year until graduation, and I already had my college and major selected 14 years old I knew exactly how I wanted my life to go. I have always been like that...well, that is until now. I have been in Burkina Faso a little more than 10 months, and in those 10 months I have learned so much about myself. I have learned that I am capable of a great many things (and that doesn't just mean poo-ing in a hole and living without electricity), and that I am capable of handling a great many things--setbacks included. The easy part is realizing that things don't always go your way or how you planned, the hard part is ACCEPTING that things don't always go your way or how you planned.

This has been an extremely busy least by my African standards. I just finished my shea butter training with 25 women in my village. This experience, as difficult as it was at times, was so extremely rewarding for me. You all know my love of the shea butter process and the teamwork it requires of women, and my women were so amazing and inspirational. Here is a picture of them at the end of our formation holding their certificates:

The weather conditions were anything but perfect! The first day we stood for hours holding a plastic tarp over two women who were roasting the shea nuts while it downpoured. After doing that for two hours, the women decided they would rather move the fires into a one room hut and sit in there--with the smoke and heat!!--and roast them in there. least they were dry. The next day we got another torrential downpour that completely flooded the village--we are talking like over my knees, river rapid, type flooding. Yet, the 5 women who were participating from a neighboring village 5 kilometers away still road/walked their bikes in (with babies strapped on backs) to the formation. It was an amazing testament to the work ethic and resilience that exists here amongst these people. I was like a mother watching her children perform in a recital...I was absolutely bursting with pride!

Looking back on this formation, there were ups and downs...I couldn't control the weather, I couldn't control the women and whether they showed up on time, and I couldn't control their enthusiasm. The day before the formation I was threatening to cancel the whole thing because the women were not showing up for the preliminary orientation meeting, and for a moment I almost lost it. Then, I had to stop and cliche as it is..."Let go and Let God." All my life I have been told that, and all my life I have said, "oh yeah, absolutely." But, I never really meant it. Now I am truly learning the meaning of this saying, and positive impact it can have in my life. If I worried about controlling every aspect, it would drive me insane...and at one point I almost let that happen. Things here in Burkina Faso are never perfect...but in the end I am not sure I want to strive for utter perfection. I am learning that I am just happy to get to that "mediocre" level. If I see a light of recognition flash in their eyes, or a smile and a laugh...I am okay with that. Of course I will never stop striving for the best, that is in my nature, but I think that I am learning to be satisfied with the simple things...which for me I think is a step in the right direction. Here are several pictures from the shea butter formation, you can go to my Flickr site to see them all:

Here is a woman (with baby!) in the smoke filled one-room hut, roasting the shea nuts

Here are the women working together to wash the raw butter before boiling and cleaning it again as an oil

Here is your's truly getting her hands dirty

Here is Fatou, showing off our freshly roasted shea nuts

Here is a participant skimming the impurities off the top as the oil boils

I am experiencing the same thing with my girls camp as well. Again, I can't control the weather and I can't control the girls. I can only worry about the program and myself...the rest I have to leave up to them and to fate.

Here is the Welcome Sign on the first day of the girl's camp.

Some days it rains, some days the girls don't all show up, some days my speakers cancel on me, and some days the girls look bored. But, there are the days that they do all show up, and the days that they laugh and participate, and the days that they give the right responses, and the days where they look at me and I see in their eyes recognition and pride. It is those days that happen more than the bad...and it is those days that buoy me on to the next, and re-energize me. I may not have exactly the impact that I planned on from the beginning...but if just one girl learns something new, or feels better about herself...that is okay too. That is all that I can really strive for, and for the first time in my life...I am okay "letting go, and letting God."

Something very interesting to experience here in Burkina Faso is the rainy season. Wow, they don't joke when they mean it rains...just for fun, here is a "before" the rains picture of my street, and here is an "after" the rains picture...I feel like I live in a river bed.

My village before...really green isn't it?!

During a rainstorm...we'll call it the "River Banzon"

The last unexpected turn of events would be my health...definitely one thing that I have no control over! If you have been reading the blog, you are aware that my dental problems have been extensive here. I don't know what it is about Burkina Faso...but my teeth have just said "screw you!" Well, I am currently in Ouagadougou, the capital city, because it looks like I will be flown to Dakar, Senegal for a root canal procedure of some kind. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of details. A few weeks ago an abscess appeared in my mouth, and from there things have just been spiraling. My dentist back home said I have bone loss?? Could require a bone graft?!?! And definitely a root canal?!?!?!?! I have conquered my fear of needles thanks to Peace Corps and a list of vaccinations a mile this should be a peace of cake right? What's one more phobia to conquer? This is just another reason to let go of the situation, since it is entirely out of my control, and go with the flow...or as I said in the is a it's time to open my eyes, let go, lift my arms in the air, and enjoy the ride.

Hope all is well...don't forget to look at the entry below for my fundraising website link, and for the new pics. Et aussi, n'oublie pas, I am coming to the States Oct. 30 - Nov. 26 so clear your calendars! Missing everyone...stay close!

Monday, August 06, 2007

NYC Marathon the love baby!!

Hello all!

I know you are going think I am crazy...and nothing is certain 'til I strap on the shoes and go to the starting line, but the rumors are true...I am running in the NYC Marathon this November 4, 2007!

Go to this link to support me as I run in support of the Children's IBD Center of Mt. Sinai! They work with patients suffering from Crohn's/Colitis. I have to raise $ that is 250 $10 donations, 25 $100 donations, 500 $5 get out those wallets people and support this wonderful cause, and me, as I strive to train in Burkina Faso, West Africa!!!

Here is the get to clicking!

Steph's Fundraising Page

Thank you for all of your continued support. I will be back with a more detailed post of all the new happenings here in the Faso...but am a bit limited on time!!

Also, n'oublie pas...check out my photos page for a few pics from my girls camp, and lots of pics from my shea butter formation! It has been so much fun and interesting...

Steph's Pics

Stay Close!