There’s a saying in French here “Ca va aller.” It basically means, “It’ll be fine” or “Don’t worry about it.” It’s a very useful saying here. It works when I’m frustrated about something, when I’m stressed out about something, or when I don’t know what’s going on. It also works when I don’t understand what people are saying to me in French. I say it and people seem to just laugh. I have a feeling that “Ca va aller” may be a theme throughout my next two years here…

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What Will I Leave Behind?

What will my legacy be? I admit, it’s quite a selfish thought, but one of my most frequent thoughts during my last month in village was “What will they say about me to the next volunteer?” (For those of you who aren’t familiar with how Peace Corps works, most positions are filled by three volunteers in a row, each serving for two years, for a total of six years.) I was the first volunteer in my village, so I had no expectations to live up to. For better or for worse, the next volunteer will face expectations I have left behind. Will they say I spoke horrible French? (Well, kinda true.) Will they say I spoke fluent Bissa? (Definitely not true.) Will they say I did all these projects or will they not really be able to remember what exactly I did? Will my family talk about all the horrible American food I made them eat?

But after these two years, I know that the legacy they left with me is undoubtedly greater than the legacy I have left behind. I hope some people in my community think more about health, have more knowledge, or feel inspired to promote healthy behaviors. I hope Madame Gouba feels encouraged to keep making enriched porridge even after I’m gone. I hope that just a few men start to see gender equality in a new light and set examples for their community on respecting and empowering women. But the one thing I don’t just hope, I know, is that I am forever changed because of my Peace Corps service.

Now I’m sure you’d like me to just list everything I’ve learned about myself and the world right now. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Peace Corps is something that continues to change you. And I’m not sure I have the words just yet about what Peace Corps means to me. (I know, I better figure it out quick for some job interviews.) I haven’t finished learning from this experience. It may be over, but as I reflect and adjust to life back home, I will take away new things from my service. It has certainly opened my world view and understanding. It has developed a sense of compassion mixed with deep-felt responsibility and respect for initiative. It showed me reality and the inspiration that lives within it.

One of my most inspirational moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer happened towards the end of my service. My last blog entry, I told you about the Men as Partners Conference, where we brought male counterparts to learn how they can be partners in women’s empowerment. My counterparts felt really convicted about the need to advocate for women facing domestic violence. My APCD (program director for the Health Program in PC/BF) came for a wrap-up site visit. She asked my counterparts to talk about what we’ve done together and what they’ve learned. Oussoudoma, one of the men who attended to conference with me, spoke about gender equality and its importance in his community with such passion and conviction that his eyes started to water, which is a lot for a Burkinabé male. Both my APCD and I were incredibly moved. It is so vital to empower women. For a country to develop, the entire population needs the opportunity to contribute to their fullest capacity. I have always been awed by the strength of the women in my village. But this moment was particularly inspiring because it was so against the status quo. Not only does this sort of view take understanding, it takes courage. Many volunteers don’t like to work with older people – they say they’re too stuck in their ways and they won’t change. They say you need to work with the next generation if you want lasting change. This man is a testament otherwise. His youngest son is in high school. He has gray hair and a beard. Old by Burkina standards. People like this inspire me because I realize that change is possible – it’s not some light we chase down a never-ending tunnel. And not change in a generation or two, but change tomorrow.

I somehow managed to be almost all packed by the morning of my last full day (very odd for me). In the afternoon, the two men who attended the Men as Partners Conference did a gender sensibilization. All in Bissa. Other than ask, “When are we going to do this sensibilziation?” I did nothing else. They came to our prep meeting with the lesson plan already written out with a case study and comprehension questions. Now I know most people don’t pride themselves on having nothing to do with an event, but our job is to work ourselves out of a job. It was a great way to end my work in village. Later that evening, the health center staff threw me a going away party, which no one informed me of until 4:00 pm to be there at 5 or 6 pm, although we didn’t actually start until 7:30 pm or so. We exchanged thank yous and goodbyes. And later that night, it quite fittingly poured. My first day in village, it poured, so of course it would rain my last. Being in Burkina gave me a new appreciation for rain. It brings new life and energy. It’s refreshing. More importantly, it means crops can grow and it means everyone sits in their house and does nothing until it stops. Unfortunately it rained from 3 am – 9:30 am, which meant my transport wasn’t leaving that morning. I was up and ready to go by 5:30, but wound up sitting in my house for two hours, waiting for the rain to stop. My host sister said it was Burkina telling me I shouldn’t leave. Nonetheless, I somehow managed to make it out later that morning. A few days later, I got a call to tell me that my sister-in-law had her baby. Since I was in the capital for another three days finishing up paperwork, I decided to go back to village for the night. While it was sad to say goodbye again, it was certainly a joyous occasion. She is a beautiful baby girl who I hope is never limited by her gender, but has all the opportunities to succeed and become a role model for other young women in her community one day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Girls’ Education in Burkina Faso

Just wanted to share this with you. This is one of my favorite parts of being a PCV, conversations like this. I worked with the English teacher to do informal conversations to help the students work on their English oral abilities. We’ve discussed lots of interesting topics like forced marriage, goal setting, the role of women, and girls’ education. I’m also writing with a high school class in the States and below is what I shared with them when we discussed girls’ education at the school here. I hope this conversation was the beginning of more conversations and a way to start looking at the questions from different perspectives for the students because it is definitely an integral part to the development of Burkina Faso.  Thought others might enjoy as well.

Background: Promoting girls’ education is an important goal in Burkina Faso. In a culture where men precede women in the social hierarchy, there are many opportunities that girls do not have compared to their boy counterparts. Whether it is her father or her husband, girls and women tend to take direction from the males in their families. Traditional attitudes still present among some groups. Some include: wives should always obey their husbands, education isn’t as necessary for girls, and women’s role is in the household and with the children. In a family, if they only have the money for one child to go to school, it will usually be the boy. While cultural attitudes are certainly changing, it takes time and rural areas (such as where I live) tend to be less progressive than urban areas. Women are underrepresented in many fields of work, including education. In my village, only 2 of the 6 primary school teachers are female and none of the 8 teachers at the high school are female. Both principals are males. There are many programs and organizations working to increase girls’ access to education, encourage girls pursuing education, and promote women’s advancement and equality. In fact, there are Peace Corps Volunteers in Burkina Faso whose job is based on promoting girls’ education. In our English Club last week, we talked about the importance of girls’ education. These are some of the student responses.

Question: Why is it important to educate girls?

Student Responses:

· Education will prepare girls for their future

· Educated girls will respect their elders and husbands*

· Educated girls can work and contribute to the development of the country

· Educating girls will decrease excision, forced marriage, and early marriage

· Educated girls are more aware of health issues and are more likely to practice healthy behaviors, such as family planning

· Educated girls can educate their children

*I found this comment interesting – it was said twice, once by a female student and once by a male student. The week before, I had the students debate the prompt “A wife should always obey her husband, even if she does not agree or it puts her at risk.” The idea that women should always obey is very ingrained in their views on marriage in both male and female students.

Question: How can we encourage girls’ education?

Student Responses:

· Send girls to school

· Raise awareness among parents and the general population

· Offer reduced school fees

· Help girls find jobs (so they can pay their own school fees)

Other questions for consideration:

  • Do girls have equal access to education as boys in the United States?
  • What unique challenges do girls face in education?
  • Does equality in education translate to equality in the workplace or elsewhere?

May 23, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reflections and Travel Adventures

June 15, 2012

The things I am looking forward to the most about coming home (besides family and friends) are washing machines and organized trash disposal.  When I first arrived in country, I immediately noticed the black plastic bags everything, seemingly decorating the landscape as polka dots. I swore I would never come to littering. And I tried so hard at first, but it’s hopeless. People laugh at you if you try to save trash until you find a garbage can (likely not until you get home). Everything here is put into plastic bags to sell –you drink water from saches, market snacks are sold in saches or wrapped in paper. And there are no trash cans anywhere. But even more than organized trash disposal, I miss washing machines. I can’t wait to have all of my clothes except for the clothes I’m wearing be clean. Actually, I just can’t wait to have clothes that are actually clean. Before leaving for Peace Corps, someone told me they had read or heard a PCV say that her clothes had never been so clean and white because she had to scrub them herself and she could just see the dirt coming out.  I find this entirely false.  Yes, you scrub yourself and yes, you can see the dirt coming out, but you have to scrub really hard!  I can’t get my whites white again (in fact, I just don’t wear white anymore) and it’s exhausting!  I only kind of get my clothes clean. And even if they are clean, they get dusty and sweaty within 10 minutes of wearing them again, if they haven’t already gotten dusty sitting in my dresser. 

As I’m getting ready to leave, things are already becoming bittersweet.  Even as I was washing my laundry yesterday, I had a moment of “Oh this isn’t that bad,” (that thought didn’t last more than 2 minutes though).  I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by – I will be leaving my village in just over a month!  At this point, I’ve started to reflect; was it what I expected, was is what I wanted it to be.  No.  I came in with very few expectations, but they were still somehow completely turned upside down.  Language was much harder than I expected.  From what I read, I must have thought people magically learn languages.  Nope.  It was harder to get stuff done than I expected.  You make a mental list of what you want to accomplish and within one month at site, you throw it out.  You make another one, and two months later, you throw it out again.  You learn to always expect lots of unexpected delays and roadbumps (this rule applies to transport here as well). The projects you do are a mix of what you want to do, what your community wants you to do, and what your community wants to do themselves.  You think you will integrate easily into your community, yet even after almost two years, people make jokes and I still just don’t get how they’re funny (and it’s not the language thing).  Don’t get me wrong, despite all of this, I still feel like I am a successful, well-integrated volunteer.  Your terms just change slightly.  I am so thankful for the family I live with – they are fantastic and I feel very much part of their family.  Despite the total lack of privacy, having brothers who will get the bats out of my house makes it worth it.  I love the feeling of going to the market, greeting everyone on the way in Bissa, and everyone knowing my name. I feel like I’ve been successful in my work.  There’s always those moments of doubt where you think you could leave tomorrow and no one would be able to tell you were there, but writing my final report of my service, I’ve realized I’ve accomplished more than sometimes think (not saying there are still things I wish I had done or had done differently).  But the most important are the one-on-one things.  It’s not what I do, but what I can get someone else to do.  The mom you motivate to change her child’s diet so he’s not malnourished, someone who starts thinking more about HIV prevention because of something you say.  We try to look for organizational or institutional growth, but more often as a Peace Corps volunteer, it’s the effect you have on individuals that causes something to change.  Certainly there are things I wish I could have done, should have done, but overall, I am very happy with my service.  I feel like I’ve been exactly where I was supposed to be the last two years. 

IMG_4668 Projects in village the last few months have been going well.  In March, I finished my second malnutrition rehabilitation program working with the mothers of moderately malnourished children.  My counterpart and I changed the format this time.  Instead of 12 days in a row, we worked with the mothers over one month, meeting twice a week to make enriched porridge and teach a small health class.  I did home visits during the program and talked with the fathers of every child so he can support the mother’s behavior change. 

In addition, I started working with the theatre group to put together a proposal for a hygiene performance.  They are asking the mayor’s office for financial support.  They wrote a budget, which has usually been our point of contention.  They consistently want more money for the performances, I think it’s too much.  As they wrote the budget and looked at the total, the president said “Gee, that adds up to a lot,” and lowered their price. We also started writing interior rules and a constitution so they can become an officially recognized group (which means instead of proposing projects, the health district or the mayor’s office can hire them).  It was cool because it was one of those moments where I actually felt like I was involved in the capacity building of an entire group.  I was there as support, but they took the initiative on the work. 

I’ve also continued health education at the high school. I worked with the PE teacher and we did health classes on HIV/AIDS. It’s cool to see the students open up and ask lots of questions. I am constantly amazed by their desire for more information and I wish I had more time with them because they certainly could use more time on health education. I also started doing informal English classes focusing on oral expression. We’ve discussed interesting topics like gender roles, girls education, and forced marriage. For the session on forced marriage, they performed skits. They really enjoyed that. Forced marriage is something that doesn’t happen as frequently here as it used to, but it’s still important to promote the idea that women can and should be involved in their life decisions. We also had a great discussion on girl’s education.

IMG_4948 I’ve also worked on more latrine buildings, which I’ll admit hasn’t been one of my favorite projects. It’s logistically very difficult and also difficult to mobilize community members. The latrines were funded by a Small Project Assistance grant that US AID gives Burkina Peace Corps to administer. We’ve built the latrines in public places, like mosques and churches. This also works better than markets for example because there is a specific community it is for and then the pastor or imam can mobilize those communities.

Finally, I attended the Men as Partners conference in May with two community counterparts, Andre and Oussoudoma.  They’re community health agents and already tend to be more progressive, so I wanted to bring them because I felt like they’d be great role models for women’s empowerment.  The conference focused on how to implicate men in women’s development.  We talked about definitions and stereotypes of gender, domestic violence, HIV, and family planning. They were great and really enjoyed the conference.  After the sessions, they both came up to me and said, “Erika, this is really important.  Really important!  We need to do something about this.  But we need to start within our families.  We start in our houses then other people see us as an example.”  It was really cool to see how convicted they were about the topic.  We’re planning on doing a gender sensibilisation in July, talking to men and women about what gender is and the stereotypes that limit each gender.  They want to start with this because this needs to be understood before change in any of the other topics can happen most effectively. 

I also had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling. I traveled with fellow volunteers to Togo and Benin, mostly to hang out at the beach.  We left for Lomé on Thursday April 5 and arrived late that night.  IMG_4732 We had an exciting trip down, almost leaving behind two in our group at various points during the journey. Once we arrived, it was a whole lot less stressful.  We enjoyed a few days at the beach and I celebrated my birthday in Lomé.  We found a beach resort (too expensive for us to stay, but you could pay for the pool and beach swimming for the day). We thought we were in heaven! We also thought the same of the espresso at our hotel. We went to one other beach town in Togo before continuing on to Benin.  Our first stop in Benin was Ouidah, an old slave trading port, where we visited the museum and the Door of No Return.  IMG_4780 (The picture on the left is of the Door of No Return in Ouidah.)  The next day, we continued on to Cotonou to get a bus back to Ouaga.  One of the highlights there was the Thai food we ate (we don’t have Thai restaurants in Burkina). When we arrived, I saw signs for a half marathon, scheduled for the afternoon I was leaving.  I decided to stick around and get a bus the next morning so I could run the half marathon.  It was exactly how I expected a half-marathon in West Africa to be.  We waited in the sun from noon until 4 pm to register, which was a complete mess of people pushing trying to reach the desk with the computers to register where I was registered by someone who was using a computer for the first time.  The race started at 4 pm.  (Yes, it is still quite hot at 4 pm.)  I helped a Nigerian runner register because she didn’t speak a word of French.  It’s turns out she’s an aspiring Olympiad.  She was scheduled to run the trials in Canada.  She was waiting for me at the end to help her with a taxi back and had obviously been waiting a long time.  The most bizarre thing about Cotonou was the crocodile in our hotel. Live crocodile. In a cage, but a cage with openings wide enough for an arm.

I also traveled to Ghana with a few other volunteers in May.  IMG_4896 We spent most of our time in a beach town, Cape Coast.  The town was charming and the ocean views were so beautiful. There was a vegan moringa restaurant that had amazing iced coffee!  I had some every morning.  (Moringa is a tree whose leaves are filled with lots of good stuff, vitamins, protein, etc. It’s used a lot for malnourished children, but everyone can benefit from it. A lot of Peace Corps volunteers work to plant moringa.) One of my favorite scenes of Cape Coast was the fishing boats.IMG_4885 My first day there, I watched about 10 men in a boat paddle out trying to get past the waves.  Compared to some fishing boats in America, these were like ants lined up next to elephants.  We also visited a monkey sanctuary, where monkey’s eat out of your hand!  IMG_4927 Got some great pictures there. 

Like Ouidah, Cape Coast also used to be a slave trading port. We visited the museum in the Cape Coast Castle (old fort). Especially compared to the museum we visited in Ouidah, it was very well organized and the artifacts were very well preserved.  Both museums had interesting sections on the African Diaspora. The site of the museum used to be the actual port where slaves were kept before they were sent out on boats, usually across the Atlantic. We were shown the rooms were slaves were kept waiting. Extremely cramped and not hygienic can not even begin to capture the conditions that slaves experienced while in the port (and on the ships). Anyone that gets a chance, I recommend standing in those rooms, standing under the Door of No Return, and trying to grasp the magnitude of the human cruelty, suffering, and injustice that happened in those places that today seem so serene and picturesque.

Despite the beach in Togo, Benin, and Ghana, I’m glad I’m in Burkina Faso.  In the handbook, it says the people of Burkina are its greatest assets.  We always joked, “Well, it’s that because there is nothing else here.”  But traveling to other countries has really made me appreciate Burkina, particularly the people here in Burkina. 

On May 26, I ran the Burkina marathon.  It was… really hard!  Glad I did it, but wow!  We started at 6 am, but unfortunately it gets hot here by 7:30.  My time was terrible, but I’m just glad I finished!  It was a brutal course – we were on a road with lots of cars for a bit, breathing in way too much exhaust.  Then we were just running out on pavement towards a random village with a pretty dry landscape on either side.  Not that encouraging.  But I finished, that was my only goal.  About 500 people were registered, but I don’t think 500 showed up that day.  Although 15 women were registered, I only counted about 7 or 8 that morning.  I’d say at the very most, half of the people that started actually finished the course.  Only three women finished, me, Sara (the other PCV), and a Burkinabe female.  

My goal for June and July is to enjoy the time I have left here, because, soon, the things I think of now as normal will be gone.  This is an experience I will never get again.  My favorite chore is going to the pump to get water.  I actually really enjoy it.  I like hanging out with the women.  They mostly speak in Bissa, so I don’t understand much, but I pick up bits and pieces.  I can’t really explain it, but it’s just this social ritual that happens every every night.  It’s fun to observe and soak it all in. I’ll never get this level of integration again – even just going to the pump is observing a social custom here than any other outsider likely wouldn’t understand. Living with a family has also provided me with experiences that no other foreigner can ever truly experience and understand. I’ve had the chance to not feel like I’m always looking on from the outside, but feel like I’m experiencing something from the inside.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hot season has arrived…

And I swear it’s hotter than last year.  The nice, cool breeze has now turned into a heater blowing hot air at your face.  If I get water at the pump and leave it in my house, the next afternoon, it is too hot to shower with. 

Work is going great, still super busy.  We finished the HIV awareness project we were working on.  IMG_4572 We did a mural at the primary school, an HIV lesson with the oldest primary school students, a community awareness day, and three theatre performances.  The picture to the right is from the community awareness day – it’s me with all the community health agents.  The other picture is from one of our theatre performances.  It’s been very interesting talking to people about HIV and seeing the cultural differences in how people view HIV.  One of the most interesting is talking about what advice you give to people living with HIV and their loved ones.  I was at the pump one day and a woman was asking me about HIV.  And she said (granted in Bissa so this is a rough translation,) that HIV wasn’t a problem anymore because now there is medicine for it.  Yes, ARVs are available (actually for free here IMG_4618at the district hospital), but it’s not a cure.  It makes sense why people might think that because in pushing for early testing, people always talk about the free meds and it can easily be misinterpreted.   So, while we were planning the theatre performance, I wanted the group to be very clear that the ARVs are not a cure, but something to prolong life and that once a person has HIV, they always have HIV.  It’s important for them to know that so they act responsibly and prevent transmitting HIV to others.  The community health agents took issue with that because they said culturally, you don’t tell someone so directly such bad news.  You should say that they will get better.  It’s a tough balance between being culturally sensitive but presenting correct and important information.  

I have continued health classes at the secondary school.  There are six classes, so I do each topic with each class before moving on to the next one.  This is probably my favorite activity because I really enjoy working with the secondary school students.  We are now doing an HIV/AIDS lesson.  I love how interested the students are, open, and willing to ask questions.  They can be challenge (for instance a lot of “well what if…, couldn’t that transmit HIV” questions), but it’s a good thing that they don’t just take what people tell them, but they think about it and challenge it.  And just last week, I started what will be a weekly thing with the English class at the secondary school.  We do activities so the students get a chance to practice speaking English.  I am trying to incorporate life skills and health topics.  Last week we discussed goal setting.  This week, we will have a discussion related to Women’s Day which is Thursday.

I have also started another malnutrition program.  We weighed babies in 2 villages and identified malnourished children.  We get together twice a week to do a cooking demonstration and talk about different health topics.  It’s been a lot of fun and the women involved are great.  They seem really motivated and interested in learning about health so they can help their children.  We’ve focused on malnutrition, but also incorporated other things that relate.  For instance, if a malnourished child or child at risk of malnutrition is sick, they will not gain weight.  Therefore it is really important that the mothers prevent against other sickness, particularly malaria and hygiene-related illnessIMG_4587.  The only frustration is just people showing up late, but other than that, things are going well.

In honor of Super Bowl Sunday, I made buffalo wings (actually the whole chicken) and had ranch and hot sauce for dipping.  I explained to my family that men watch for the game, women watch for the commercials.  To the right is my Super Bowl chicken that I bought at the marche and biked home on my handlebars.     

This past weekend, I traveled to Dedougou with other volunteers to go to the mask festival.  IMG_4647It was awesome!  So they use the French word for mask to describe it, but it’s really full costumes.  They came from all over West Africa and the significance varies by region, but usually they appear at funerals and are in general associated with animist religious practices.  We don’t have them in my region, so it was interesting to see this aspect of traditions here.  There were performances, but then all the groups also walked around the town in their masks as well.  At a village ceremony, you are not allowed to take pictures, but for the festival, you were allowed to photograph.   One night, we were walking through the craft mIMG_4648arket and saw one of the masks walking around.  The picture to the left is while he walked by.  When you do take pictures, you give a small contribution.  So when he saw the flash from my first picture, he turned around and approached me.  We were eating dinner so under a tent.  I took the picture to the right as he ducked to leave the tent after I gave him some money.  The other photos are from performances.    

IMG_4631   cropped mask festIMG_4633 IMG_4637

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Only in Burkina Faso, Part 2

I know a little late, but Happy Holidays!  I hope that you enjoyed the season and got to celebrate with people you love.  The holidays here in Burkina were exciting this year.  For Christmas, I went with a few other volunteers to an elephant park.  We went out on one ride through the park and saw just about all the types of animals that are here in Burkina (no, there are no lions here, no there are no giraffes).  That included lots of elephants and a few different sorts of antelope-type animals.  On our way out of the park, we saw a baby elephant in a group of adult female elephants.  He was encircled by the herd as he played in the mud.  At one point, one of the adult elephants actually sat on him.  We were a little worried as he struggled, but apparently they were just playing.  After a little bit, one of the elephants noticed us, slowly walked away from the group, trumpted to warn us, and then charged towards our car.  I mean, what would you do if a bunch of people were watching your kid play? (Pictures coming soon – they charged per camera, so we shared a camera and I still need to get the pictures.)

I celebrated New Year’s back in village.  The day before New Year’s Eve, I went into my district capichieftal for a traditional Bissa New Year’s celebration at the chief’s house.   There were TONS of people there – crowd certainly wasn’t as big as Inauguration Weekend in DC, but I’d say my fear of being trampled was equal.  They were doing crowd control on horseback.  And by they, I don’t mean a police officer trained in crowd control or even horse back riding.  I mean a few random guys in the chief’s family.  To get people to move back, they charge towards them on the horse.  It gets people to move, but is also causes people in the back to randomly start getting pushed back by everyone in front of them.  I went with a cousin of the director of the school in my village, and I clung to her for dear life.  The ceremony was pretty basic – the chief came out, walked down the aisle of tons of people, anddancers sat down to make the sacrifice.  I was expecting a chicken or goat, but all I could see him put down were a few feathers, some dolo (local millet beer), and a few other random trinkets.  Not like I really would have watched a goat or chicken be sacrificed anyways.   Then, men played the drums for the chief and women danced.  I tried to ask my friend the significance of the ceremony, but I really couldn’t get more out of her than the basics – health and luck in the new year.  The next day, I went back to village for the real New Years.  I made a village version of Pad Thai for my family and then we went to see a concert.  So I thought that celebrating at midnight was a universal thing.  But apparently it’s not.  I was counting down, watching my phone.  But when it turned midnight, no one seemed to notice.  It took about five minutes for people to start realizing midnight had passed and slowly, people started cheering and celebrating in their own way.  Time is not as fixed of a concept here as it is in the States.  Sometimes for a meeting or activity, a sufficient meeting time to set is simply morning.   

So I usually think I’ve gotten used to most aspects of life here that seemed bizarre at first.  Chasing a chicken out of the maternity ward or my house, cramming onto bush taxis, the market.  But there are still those moments where all I can say is “What now?”  The other day, there was someone that was referred to the district hospital in Zabré from our health clinic.  They had called the ambulance to get him.  My brother, the pharmacist, who also raises and sells livestock, had some turkeys he needed to get to Zabré.  So he asked the head nurse if he could take advantage of the opportunity and put them on the ambulance too.  And yes, he sent his turkeys to sell at the market in Zabré with the ambulance.  How many health codes would that break in the States?   The next day, I had just arrived home from the market when my mom pointed towards the path leading to our house – there were two camels.  Now I don’t live in the desert, but the northern part of the country is the desert.  There were two men ridding the camels.  They had


left the north and were riding around the country begging essentially.  They go house to house asking for money or millet.  Camels are surprisingly tall.  They are also quite loud, particularly when someone tries to mount them.  Only in Burkina Faso.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Only in Burkina Faso

November’s been an exciting, but busy month. It’s flown by! I can’t believe I’ve been here for 17 months already! Wow, and just thinking about the fact that next Thanksgiving I’ll be at home celebrating with my family, crazy.

At the beginning of November, we celebrated a Muslim holiday called Tabaski.  On Tabaski, Muslims sacrifice a sheep. It’s a big party in my village. I was on my way back to village that day – I was on transport in the morning, but got to celebrate with my family in the evening. The day before, I was in the capital city. It was really funny to see sheep and chickens invading the streets. Because of the upcoming holiday, people were selling sheep and chickens everywhere, and I mean everywhere. The sides of the road were lined with them. Here, it goes without saying that they’re live animals. People rode their motos, even bikes, with a sheep attached to the back or between their knees. I was in a cab on my way downtown to run errands. The guys in the cab happened to be Bissa, so we chatted as much as my Bissa would allow me to. All of a sudden, I heard a noise and pounding from the trunk. It seemed as if someone was trapped there and trying to get out. All I could think was “what sort of cab did I get into?” Then I heard what sounded like a baby screaming when I realized it was a sheep. Sheep’s “bah” sounds exactly like a baby. I could feel the sheep kicking in the trunk on my back against the seat. The weird part – none of this seemed unusual to me. When I realized it was a sheep, I was like, “Oh yeah. Tomorrow’s Tabaski.”

IMG_4511 We also had a fantastic Thanksgiving celebration here in Burkina Faso. I went into my district capital and celebrated with my neighbors. It was a legit Thanksgiving. We bought a turkey, and when I say we bought a turkey, I mean we bought a live turkey, had a neighborhood kid kill it and clean it, and then we cooked it. It was so delicious! This was all accompanied by mashed potatoes, garlic cheese biscuits, green bean casserole, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. It was a great way to celebrate and I know I have a lot to be thankful for this year – I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be here, experience a place I never would have known otherwise, live in a fantastic community with a great host family, be inspired and encouraged almost daily, and most importantly, have all the love and support I need back home from my family and friends. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving too with lots to be thankful for!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stage, Part II

October 29, 2011

(Stage is French for training period. Also pronounced differently.)

We recently welcomed a new group of 25 trainees to Burkina Faso and I was lucky enough to host 3 of them for demyst, a weekend trip trainees do during their training to see the life of a volunteer. They came to my site about 2 weeks ago. They had been in country for one week and two days when they arrived in my village, so just off the plane. We had a lot of fun and they were a really great group – and really good sports about lots of biking! They arrived in my village on a Thursday. We ate lunch at the marche on the road and then biked back 9 km to my site. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at my house and then went to greet a few people. Despite my insistence to the chief that it was proper for us to go greet him at his house, he insisted that he come greet us at my house (which is really bizarre and not at all traditional for a chief in Burkina, but it’s definitely refreshing to have a chief like him). On Friday, we did a family planning sensibilisation (health talk) at a mosque after the 1:00 pm prayer (Friday 1 pm is the big prayer where everyone goes to the mosque). It overall went really well. The imam was really supportive and I was really happy at the end when he added a comment about how using family planning methods allows Muslims to practice Muslim values but protect women’s health at the same time. Saturday, we went to the marche and then met with the CSPS (health clinic) staff and community governing board. I was really excited to share my experiences and my village because I live in an amazing village with an awesome family. It was also a cool chance for me to look back and reflect on the past 16 months. I don’t always see how I’ve grown, but moments like that, I can.

It was also exciting because I finally got around to doing something I’ve wanted to do for a while (well decorating my house too, but that’s not the important part). I’ve wanted to sensibilise men on family planning for a while. During the family planning sensibilisation, we focused on the importance of family planning and I particularly focused on the role men have in this decision. There’s this approach Peace Corps talks about called Men as Partners. It’s really important, especially here. You can’t empower women without getting the men on board. It would be dangerous to the social dynamics and brews resentment. Any time you talk about women’s development and empowerment, you have to talk about how men are involved, what role they play, and how you can encourage them to be supportive. Anyways, using this approach, I’ve wanted to talk to men about what people usually consider women’s health issues, such as family planning. Because it was successful, I am going to try it in other villages and on different topics (like the importance of giving birth at the health clinic versus at home).

I am now working the training for the new volunteers for a week. It’s exciting, but definitely lots of work. But again, also a good chance for me to reflect back on the work I’ve done the past 14 months, recognize success and see what I can do better and set goals for my last 10 months. It’s also cool to realize how comfortable I am here – I feel adjusted and integrated into my community. Things that I thought would never become easy are second nature now.

Projects in village are going well. Moving forward on the World AIDS Day project. We are doing an awareness campaign. We will train community health agents on HIV and then on World AIDS Day in December, they will do educational activities. We will also have a theatre performance and a soccer game. Right now, I’m trying to get the mayor’s office involved in this as well. School started mid-October, so I’m doing more health classes. Just last week, I went back to the school to do a health class. I am finishing up hygiene (which I started last year, but I wanted to do hygiene with the two newest classes before I move on to a new topic).

Last blog, I mentioned that I was doing the malnutrition program again, but with some modifications. It’s the same thing I did back in May – find malnourished babies and do a rehabilitation program with them. You met with the moms every morning for 12 days, make enriched porridge and do health education – mostly nutrition, but other topics as well as they are intertwined. It’s gotten off to a slow start this time. While it’s cool that I have 3 counterparts trained on the program and it’s a chance for me to be more hands-off and let them learn by doing and empower them, it’s also logistically less organized. While it may have more bumps along the way now, it leaves them with the skills to do this project when I’m gone.

One thing I’ve learned about malnutrition recently is how much it’s related to so many other health topics. I used to just think about malnutrition in terms of food. But what I’ve seen recently though is that children that are always sick become at risk for malnutrition or fall into malnutrition. A big issue here is hygiene-related illnesses. If a child is always sick with a bacteria infection, parasite, diarrhea, or other hygiene-related illness, they lose weight, lose their appetite, and can’t retain the nutrients they take in, meaning they don’t eat and don’t gain weight. Same thing with malaria. I had a mom come in with her child and the child was moderately malnourished. After talking to her, I realized she understood nutrition and tried to feed her child well, but the child didn’t want to eat and because she was always sick, she was losing weight to the point where she fell below the line into malnutrition. So particularly for malnourished children or children at risk of malnutrition, it is important to talk not only about nutrition, but preventing other illnesses (such as hygiene-related illnesses or malaria) so that the child has the opportunity to eat well and gain weight. That’s one thing we need to focus on more during this second try at the malnutrition program.

I harvested my peanuts finally! As usual, it turned out to be way more work than I expected. Seriously, every time I went to work in my field, I swear it grew larger. Because I only weeded once, it was tough to get to all the plants, but apparently they yielded really well (according to my brother, I have no frame of reference). I averaged about 10-15 peanuts per plant, although some had almost 30 peanuts. Of course, now I’m trying to figure out how to get rid of all these peanuts because I’ll never eat all of them. And I always get gifted peanuts because I live in the peanut region.