Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A warm Burkinabe welcome...sort of...

Hello all! That's right...I am writing you from Burkina Faso. The eagle has landed! Wow...I am still reeling from all the things that have happened in the past several weeks, and reflecting on how much fun I had while I was home. I got to spend 2 wonderful weeks with Mike in New York City, eating my way through every restaurant I ever wanted to visit. We went up to Boston and explored the town. Then I migrated to the South--to much more welcoming weather--where I spent two weeks with my family. With my Dad's wedding, Thanksgiving, and of course THE IRON BOWL, I had little time to breathe. But, I tell you, I don't regret one busy second of it. Everything just tasted a little sweeter, was just a little better, and I have Burkina to thank for this new found appreciation.

Now here I am back in life has recommenced. Of course, leave it to Burkina Faso to offer me quite a rousing welcome in my first full day. I got in last night around 8:00. Thanks to some delays in Burkina we say in Niamey, Niger for an hour and a half. We finally land and I singlehandedly lug all 3--that's right, I said 3--suitcases into a taxi and back to the apartment. I absolutely crash, because I am running on zero hours of sleep. The next day--i.e. today--I was supposed to take the bus up to Ouahigouya to work the training for the new volunteers. All is going well. I get a taxi to pick me up at 9:00 and I head to the bus station. Of course, as the taxi pulls away I realize that I have (a) left my brand new Nalgene bottle in the car and (b) left all my medecine sitting out in the hostel. Way to go...and such a typical "Stephanie" move--those of you that know me are just snickering right now...STOP IT!

I get on the bus and off we go...seemingly without a hitch. I do have to get used to EVERY guy hitting on me, asking me to give them money, buy them a soda, and the "oh, if you need someone to accompany you on your bus ride" offer. We get about 30 minutes outside of Ouaga when the bus stops. I have my iPod running, so I am spaced out. But, time starts slipping by, and by, and by, and by...and then I realize that it has been an hour. I get out of the bus to ask what is going on, and all I get is jumbled responses in French--and man is my French rusty. Someone says something about our driver not having papers, and that they sent for a new one. Well, turns out the second driver didn't have papers either...go figure. Time is going by, and I am trying really hard to tap back into my "African Patience" that I packed away while in the States. Another hour goes by and there I sit in the hot sun on the side of the road. Finally, I ask that the driver give me my bag that is packed on the roof because I am going to hitchhike--I know it sounds scary, but it really isn't. Well, at this point--2 hours into our joy ride--he has been getting yelled at my the other passengers, so he refuses to take my bag off. He keeps yelling about another bus coming, and that I would just have to wait. I watch as other bus lines pass by...the passengers seemingly laughing at my poor ass sitting on the side of the road, water, no fun! So, we tick through the 3rd hour, and still no one. Now, we tick into the 4th hour...and still there we sit. If only I had the guts to climb to the top of the bus and just unstrap my bag. I am cursing in English, and it makes me even more mad that no one understands me and that I don't know how to curse in French--note to self: learn to curse or be mad in French. Finally, in the 5th hour...yes the 5th hour...the driver tells us we are turning back around. I ask him again to just give me my bag back--forget about my money, I don't even want it back--so that I can just hitch a ride on another bus. Again, he refuses. At this point, there are like 5 other Burkinabes telling him he should give me my bag, but he feels like being a jerk and refuses. So, I hop back on the bus to take my ride right back to where I started...or so I thought. Rather than going back to the station he gets taken by police escort to their impound. We pull in and everyone is asked to pile out. Again, I ask for my bag...just my I can get out of there. Again, the driver refuses to take it down. He says he won't take anything down until we reach our destination...HELLO...we are never getting there!! I am furious. I start asking the police for help, but they say they can't do anything. So, there I sit in the police compound while a policeman draws lines on a piece of paper with a ruler, and stares at a sheet of paper. My adventure started at 9:30, and we are ticking past needless to say I was a bit upset. With my last ounce of credit on my phone I call Erica and ask her to see if she can contact Peace Corps to get me some help. I don't want to board another bus, I just want my damn bag, and I want out of there. Finally, our security director gets the police, the bus service, and the chauffeur on the phone. Within 2 seconds of him talking with them my bag was unloaded and I was out of there. Now come on people...was that really so hard? All he had to do was get his ass on the top of that bus and just give me my problems. I wasn't asking for my money back, or for an apology...I just wanted my bag so I could leave. I couldn't help having the thoughts of, "is this what I came back here for?"

So, 6 hours after I left for what should have been a 2 1/2 hour ride, I return back to the hostel. I wish I could say I learned some valuable lesson in all of this, or that I reached my Zen place...but...I didn't. I just wasted an afternoon sitting in the hot sun, starving and thirsty. In the end, no matter how I felt or what I said, the situation didn't have to just shake your head, grit your teeth, and say..."Burkina!"

To add to my first 24 hours of bad luck,
my fabulous tub of grits completely busted open in my bag. Like...everything was covered in grits, and it looked like it snowed on the floor. Not to gross you all out, but I ashamedly shook them out of the bag, swept them up, and put them in a plastic baggy. I ate some this morning. Look, if the title of my blog gives you no clue, I really like grits, and it would take a month to get more sent to me. So, I am willing to sacrifice and lower my standards.

It has been a bumpy first 24 hours back on Burkina soil, but I guess I can take solace in the fact that (a) it can only get better, (b) my cat, Shea, is still alive, or so they tell me, (c) my house is still standing, (d) it's getting cooler, and (e) the taxi driver returned my Nalgene bottle! YEAH!

I want to thank everyone at home that I saw, and those I didn't, for your thoughts, phone calls, gifts, well-wishes, etc. I had such an amazing time visiting with all of you! Stay happy and healthy...and of course, stay close!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I've only got one word for you...

I completed my 14 hour "hell-flight"--not including the 13 hour layover that I had in Paris...and here I am Stateside for the first time in 14 months. Before I get into the details of how the trip is going, I need only to tell you that being here has been pretty excellent. It isn't that I have done anything crazy, it has been the simple and ordinary that I have enjoyed the most--going to Starbucks for coffee, meeting with friends, watching TV, walking around the city, running in Central Park. I never realized how much I missed this life...and not the complexities, but the basic everyday. After only 2 weeks Burkina Faso seems like this dream. Does it really exist? Do people really live their lives there, while we live our lives here? It is so difficult to fathom that the two worlds exist in the same time-space continuum...they couldn't possibly be any more different!

My flight over was anything but fun. Thanks to yours truly and my fabulous packing/planning skills I forgot both my only sweatshirt and my only jacket...they have been keeping my empty hut in Banzon company. So, armed with a short sleeve shirt, pants, and flip flops I braved the cold weather of Europe. I FROZE my ass off in 5 degree (celsius) weather in Paris. Yup, those dreams I had of hitting up the Starbucks in Paris...FOILED AGAIN! Instead I wandered around the Charles de Gaulle Airport (which by the way is the WORST and most BORING airport ever!) for 13 hours drinking nasty Lavazza coffee. Could I have braved what from my perspective was the Artic Tundra come to life in France? Probably. Would I have gotten dirty looks from stylish Parisians as they scoffed and said, "humph, stupid Americaine..."? Most definitely. Would I have enjoyed my Starbucks? With my luck...probably not. It would either end up closed or out of coffee for the day. And, lord knows with the way the French strike I would probably have been stuck paying another 20 Euro for a cab. Thanks to the less than stellar US dollar...NOT WORTH IT...even for Starbucks!

After my very long 3-continent adventure I finally arrived safe and sound into New York City. The "City of Lights," "The City that Never Sleeps," "The Big Apple," "The Melting Pot of the World"...okay, enough with the nicknames. Mike met me there, and I swear it was as if I had never left. After 14 months away, I was able to adjust right back to life here as if I never left. Aside from the culture shock, that for the most part is just internal thoughts running through my head ("don't throw that away," "Oooohh, those onions and apples are huge," "Turn off those lights," "You mean the chicken is dead before you buy it? GREAT!"). It is really hard to believe that my two lives and there. There are times when an image or memory of my life in Burkina comes rushing forward, and all I want to do is tell someone about it, but in a lot of ways they wouldn't understand. So, I just sit there laughing to myself about the grocery stores, the toys, the food, the drinks....and a lot of words and feelings run through my head:


But, in the end...there is only one word that can truly sum up all that I have been feeling and thinking in the past two weeks (and it seems all too appropriate for this upcoming holiday).


I am grateful for the choices and opportunities I have in life--choices/opportunities that my friends back in Burkina will probably never get. I am grateful for my family...I am grateful for Mike...I am grateful for my friends (here and in Burkina)...I am grateful for my health...I am grateful for a shower...I am grateful for the changing colors of the leaves...I am grateful for the crisp Fall air...

As cheesy as it sounds, I can't help but smile and be grateful that this is my life, I am who I am, and I have the choices and options that I have. I know first-hand how easy it is to be blinded by other things--my job sucks, I don't have enough money, this guy in front of me is slow, where the hell is the bus!), and I think that in my trip home I have realized that I attained one of my biggest goals in gain perspective.

So...if you are reading this...STOP! Stop for just one second and think about your life...about all the good things that are in it that maybe you have overlooked or taken for granted. Be grateful for those things, and maybe send some good vibes/prayers/whatever you do over to those in the world that don't have the choices and the opportunities.

Okay, that was my "Oprah" moment. I hope that everyone is enjoying the holidays, and if you haven't already...get in touch with me while I am home! Stay Safe.