Saturday, March 29, 2008

Miracles happen...

Hello all! In my last post I mentioned briefly about my bag getting I thought for the sake of your curiosity that I would elaborate on that, and let you know is going on.

On Saturday, March 15th my mom and I were in OHG visiting my host family. It was an amazing visit all around, and really great for my mom to have an opportunity to meet with the family that she has been talking with for some time. We got up bright eyed and busy tailed to make it to the bus station to take the 9:00 bus. All was calm, all was bright. When we got to the gare there was a mad dash to reserve seats, and getting caught up in the frenzy (picture Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving) I joined in the sprint to claim a good seat. I had my backpack and a water bottle, and I reserved two seats at the back of the bus (let the record show, that it did cross my mind that it wasn't a good idea). I exited and stood right in front chatting with my mom and my host mom. Another volunteer showed up to take the same bus to go to Ouaga, and I told him to reserve his seat next to mine. At 8:55 the driver told everyone to load up, and as I got on the bus I noticed something missing...most notably my bright yellow bag. At first, unable to believe that this happened I assume someone moved it. I start frantically searching the bus, as I yell in a high-pitched voice, "ma sac, ma sac!!!!! C'est pas ici!!!"(my bag, my bag! It isn't here"). The bus is packed to the gills and is ready to pull out. I run outside to tell my host mom and the people working at the station. My poor Mom is just standing there, not understanding anything, and all she sees is her daughter running around like a banshee. I think at some point she may have started to cry. After a good 2 minutes of running around (like a chicken with it's head cut off), I just stopped. No amount of running around or yelling was going to get the bag back. Although, I will admit I did a good amount of threatening.

After a thorough look around the station, which included having everyone get off the bus and searching the bus again, we loaded up and the bus went to the police station. I didn't really want to report it, because in my mind there was nothing that could be done...and I (wrongly, I might add) assumed that the police weren't going to do anything (I am thinking back to my identity theft incident in NYC...geeze those cops were useless). I fill out a report and tell them what was in the bag, and I watch as their faces light up either with joy at the possibility of raiding my sack when they find it and giving it back to me empty ("sorry ma'am...they took it all"), or because they thought I was collossally stupid for having all that stuff in one bag. All the while my poor host mom, Ami, is outside crying her eyes out. She is so upset that the trip with my Mom went so well, but now my Mom would hate Burkina because of this. I tried to comfort her, and I told her really it was my fault for putting all my valuables in one place. As we board the bus to go back to Ouaga they vow to continue the tireless search for my valuables...and honestly in my head, I was like, "good luck" and didn't leave with much hope. The only shining ray of hope was that upon arrival in Ouaga, I discovered that I had the power cord to the laptop, and that the laptop was close to dead on power (thanks to a "Friday Night Light's marathon the night that show!!).

Now, many ask me, "Stephanie, why keep your 2 passports, birth certificate, social security card, driver's license, credit cards, 2 iPod's, laptop computer, and your lucky hat in the same bag? That doesn't seem smart does it?" Well it isn't smart...pretty stupid actually. So I don't really have a good response to that. Anyhoo, on with the story.

I stay in touch with my host family, and learn that they are going around to all the cyber cafe's to let people know about it, and they even put out a radio announcement about my bag. A week and a half later I am still in Ouaga working on training stuff with the new volunteers when I get a call. The most magical words I have ever heard come out of my host dad's mouth..."Stephanie, we found your bag!" WHAT?!?! In a city of over 300,000 people you found my bag?!?! With everything in it?!?! Oh yes! Truly, joy can not describe what I felt at that moment. Relief, was amazing. As it turns out, 2 kids heard my radio announcement, and when they saw the kid with my iPod they called the station. Additionally, a teacher at the local high school had been informed about the laptop with missing cord, and saw two kids with my computer walking around looking for a power cord. When the teacher saw them, he stopped them and questioned them about it. They didn't have any good answers, so the teacher took their name, and called the police. Truly, it was a joint effort...a community effort...that I don't think would happen in the States. I had lost all hope of finding that bag, but it is amazing what can be done if a community pulls together, and I can't thank my host family enough for their help! If it wasn't for them there is no way I would have found that backpack, and I still can't believe that they really did. Wow! Oddly enough, all my valuables were in the bag, but all the small cheap stuff was missing. All the cases to my electronics were gone; my wallet contents were in there, but not my wallet; my favorite Pink Auburn hat; my mom's Burkina Survival Kit (you will be happy to know that the kids used all of the hand sanitizer and left the empty bottle in the at least they were clean); and a few other little trinkets. The bulk of the stuff I got back though. The kid who stole it was 17 years old, and evidently had followed me on the bus, and gotten off shortly after me. Since I wasn't in Ouahigouya when they found the bag I can't tell you what his consequences were, or what happened with him (a lot of people are asking me if he got his hands cut off...and honestly I don't know...although I did ask them not to physically abuse him--for what that's worth anyway).

After that, my week really couldn't get much better, but for the sake of fueling a "laugh at Stephanie" post...I have another fun story to tell you. After returning from Ouahigouya we spent the next week and a half in Ouaga. Myself and another volunteer, Ryan, decided to have a "Make Your Own Pizza" party, and it just so happens that our new country director has a pretty sweet wood burning pizza oven. In an effort to recapture my Romano's Macaroni Grill days I offer to be the pizza chef. Firs things first though...I need my equipment...mainly one of those gigantic pizza spatulas to get the pizza in and out of the oven. In Burkina you can pretty much have anything by the next day I had commissioned a metal worker to build it for me. He called me that evening to come and pick it up, so I hop on my bike and head out. As I am riding the power cuts out on the road, and unfortunately for me I don't have a bike light. I turn off the road at the metal worker's little shack as I bike up to his door. I start to hear some man yell, "Attention! Attention!" and all I I have time to say is "Attention to what?" There are water drainage ditches all along the road for runoff rain water, and most of the time they are covered....except this one. There was only one little bridge to get across, and well, I missed that bridge. My bike launches into the ditch and the whole thing flips over (and me along with it). I slam into the concrete edge of the ditch (and I have massive leg bruises to prove it). All I remember hearing is a collective "OOOAAAHHH!" from the surrounding Burkinabe, and other than the person that came to help me up, everyone else just laughed. I try to pop up quickly, because aside from the pain I am just embarrassed. The guy keeps asking me, "I told you attention, why didn't you stop? There is a hole there." REALLY?!?! A hole? NO!!! At least he could have said, "STOP" or "HOLE!" But no, he just said "attention" like he was trying to cat call of course I ignored him. I tried to brush myself off as quickly as I could, and act as brave as I could. Honestly, I was pretty lucky that it wasn't head that's good. Aside from a bit of embarrassment, and a lovely purple and blue line across my thighs, the only thing that got hurt was my ego.

Well, those are all the good stories that I have for you today. I am heading back to village for a few days to get things rolling on my school garden, and then back to Ouaga for the weekend to attend the COS party. After that, I am village bound until this school garden is constructed! I hope all is well out there, and I will talk to you all soon. Stay cool, and stay safe!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Back to Normal...and the HEAT!

It seems that just as soon as my mom touched down on Burkina soil that I was escorting her to the airport to say goodbye. Two weeks passed by in quite a blur, and it was sad to see her go. Although, even she would admit that she was pretty ready to get back to civilization. Heat, dirt, dirt, and more dirt were just some of the elements that she had to deal with. God bless her and her patience with all the various difficulties that come with living here...including all days being at least 103 degrees or more.

In an effort to collapse our trip into one readable blog, I will a few of Mom's Burkina Moments:

  • Arriving at 3 a.m. and sleeping until noon the next day. We got a lot done that day!

  • Asking me EVERY TIME we ate, whether I thought what we were eating was "safe to eat." Then, refusing to use any glasses for fear of water contamination. Maybe I should have bought her a hazmat suit?

  • Watching 20 men push start our bus to get to Banfora, mom taking a picture, and then being accosted by those 20 men to pay for the picture we had just taken.

  • The look on Mom's face as our taxi pulled up to take us off-roading. Okay, granted the doors were about to fall off, and he had a rubber mat on the floor to cover the holes with which a foot could fall through. But, still, it was a trusty machine that got us from A to B...even if Mom didn't think it would.

  • The look on Mom's face when I showed her the bathroom/shower, and she looked puzzled as the shower head was right over the toilet...yeah...well at least you can pee and shower at the same time.

  • Mom running and screaming as the bat that decided to take residence in my house then decided to fly around the room. I swear if flew right at me! Even better...the look on Mom's face when the 11 year old boy in my courtyard attempted to kill it with a corn stalk. The bat ended up getting caught in spider webs near the ceiling of my house (I knew there was a reason I didn't clean those things out).

  • The curse of NO ANIMALS (aside from our bat incident I guess) - all Mom wanted to do was see some animals, and it seemed we were thwarted in every way. The game parks did not call us back to make reservations. The hippos (who are always at the same place in the river in my village) deciding to migrate downstream for the week. The DISASTER that was Boromo (including being stuck in the mud for 20 minutes and me getting covered in mud from the flying tires) and seeing TONS of elephant poop but alas no elephants. We didn't even get to see the pet monkey in my village. This trip was definitely devoid of all things "animal"."Wasn't meant to be mama!

  • Sadly, getting my bag stolen off the STAF bus on the way from visiting my host family in Ouahigouya. Unfortunately, there were a whole lot of expensive items in there that I won't mention...mostly to save myself the embarrassment of being thought stupid...

There were a lot of funny moments, some frustrating ones, and even a few scary ones...but over all I can not say how much it meant to me that she came. No one can understand what it is like here unless they come--and I think she would attest to this. There is no way to even imagine it in your head until you come here and see what my life is like...up close and personal. I am grateful that I had at least one person do that...someone I could talk to about it and they would understand. So, THANKS MOM!!

So, her time expired and here I am adjusting back to my normal life. I am in Ouaga for the next couple weeks working with the new volunteers on some training things. I am also working to organize the big blowout COS Party. It is a party held twice a year to say goodbye to those people who have completed their 2 year service. It is a day of events, and has definitely been a handful to organize.

On a good note, last January I applied for this grant from Disney called the Disney Minnie Grant. They give grants to organizations that are organizing events around Global Youth Service Day, April 25-27. I applied to get funding for my school garden that I am hoping to establish at my local middle school. I was under a hell of a crunch to get the application in and filled it out in a day (it was a 10 page application!!!). A few days ago I got the email and.........................I GOT IT!! Woo hoo! It is a $500 grant that will help me buy all the necessary equipment to really get this garden started. On April 25th we are going to have the inaugural planting of the garden, compost demonstrations (taught by students), health classes (taught by the students), and much more. I am really excited about this project, and a little scared because of the time crunch. But, I am just going to hit the ground running and get this thing together. The potential of this project to really benefit the kids is huge...SO YAY YAY YAY!!

The seasons are changing, the rain is coming months too early (thank you Global Warming), the air is stifingly hot...the hot season is fully upon us. There are tough times ahead...hope you are all staying warm there, while I try to stay cool here. I will keep you updated...stay close!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mom's Burkina Adventure Update!

Hello all! Well, I am just checking in as we do the Burkina Tour 2008 with my mama! Don't worry everyone...she is fine, happy, and (luckily) healthy! We had an amazing time touring Banfora, hanging out in my village for the March 8th Women's Day celebration, and although our elephant hunt was a bit of a bust (more on that later)...we are having a blast.

We are currently visiting my host family in Ouahigouya, and on Saturday we will continue to Ouaga for her to fly out. It has been an amazing trip. There have been adventures for sure, but I am sure she will be coming home with a lot of fun memories. I will elaborate on our trip later. For now, here is a little slideshow of our trip thus far. Stay Safe!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Eagle Has Landed!

Finally! After all the planning and organizing my Mom has touched down in Burkina Faso! I wasn't sure if it was even going to happen...what with all the riots, and almost canceled flight in Paris, and everything...but she persevered and at 3:30 am she walked out of that airport. So, for all of you who are worried about her, or wondering if she got in...she's here, happy, and healthy (so far).

My life is so drastically different and separate from my life back home, so to see a piece of my life at home show up here is a bit surreal. I am excited, however, to introduce her to the life that I have been living this past year and a half. I am excited to have someone truly understand what I mean when I talk about heat, people, annoying animals, adorable kids, pooping in a hole, etc. There is only so much that you can convey through words and pictures, and so much of this experience can only come through seeing and I am SO happy that someone will be here to experience it and join in it with me.

Our itinerary is pretty loose. We may go to one of the animal reserves to see some cool animals, and then after that we are headed to my village for the March 8th, International Women's Day celebrations--Question: Why doesn't the US celebrate this holiday as well? It is a HUGE holiday here, and I am told others around the world celebrate it as well. It seems odd that the "greatest country on earth," doesn't honor the women that brought it there...anyhoo...

Alright, well, I just wanted to let everyone know that Mom got in okay. The adventure begins!!! Stay safe!