Hommes Comme Partenaires! (Men as Partners)

23 05 2011

Salut! Je viens de terminer avec l’atelier “Hommes Comme Partenaires”.  The conference was awesome! It took place in a northern city of Burkina Faso called Ouahigouya.  If you have a good memory, you will recall that it was the village where our first trainings where held when I arrived in Burkina Faso exactly 11 months ago today.  To say that it was interesting being back in Ouahigouya would be an understatement.  I couldn’t believe just how different everything seemed to me while all still being so familiar.  It’s as though I was looking at a memory of my past but through someone else’s eyes…someone better adapted to African life, more comfortable in their skin.   I really appreciated the experience of being able to see that village again now.  One night we went and had dinner at one of the very first places I ate, Madame Coulibaly’s.  I vividly remember that first avocado sandwich I ordered that day.  I remember being so nervous about ordering myself a sandwich and how proud I was afterwards when I realized she understood my demand and was indeed going to give me a sandwich.  Compare that timid scared Keith to the Keith who is now giving presentations, holding business meetings, and living everyday in French and Dioula, and even more foreign language.  It was incredible to see just how much I have changed in only 11 months.  Oh and for any other volunteers from my stage who might be reading this blog…yes Ouahigouya was still as hot as hell!!! I’m so grateful I live in the Bobo region where it’s less hot.

As for the conference, all I can say is AMAZING! I was truly happy with how the overall conference turned out.  Of course there were a few small bumps in the road, but I think as a group, we handled them pretty well.  I ended up being a lot more involved in the conference then I had previously expected.  I lead two sessions and helped in several more.  I think I added some good perspective and some useful examples/stories to help stimulate the conversation.  The Burkinabe counterparts that attended were also amazing.  They were open, engaged, and really excited about getting back in to their communities and bringing back some of what they learned.  It was great to see those “uh-huh!” moments on some of their faces as they came to some new realizations over the course of the three day workshop.  I think one of the greatest moments was on the last day when we sent the volunteer/burkinabe pairs out into the community of Ouahigouya to give small sensibilisations on topics that we had covered the previous two days.

This conference couldn’t have come at a better time, since you all know I was hitting a low point in relation to my motivation and feeling of accomplishment.  This workshop showed just how much I can do, even on a small scale, to change even one person; to be able to be an advocate for change in Banzon, one villager at a time.  I think after the success I saw during the Men as Partners workshop, I really want to try and use the new Technical Center that I’m building to hold sensibilisations on similar topics that we discussed.  I think Banzon would really benefit from some of the same lesson plans that we used.

So now I’m sitting in Bobo at the Peace Corps office getting ready to head back to Banzon tomorrow! Super excited to get back and just dig in with work and closing up some loose ends.  Tonight for dinner I made a really delicious spinach pasta with garlic gouda, chorizo, and provençale sauce. It was rather indulgent, and kind of expensive, but since I’m heading back to village I decided to splurge 😛

I’m hoping to make some moves with UDTER, my ADF associated women’s group, since I had a meeting with the Ouaga counterpart and we worked through some of the roadblocks.  Fingers crossed for that! Also I need to make the final push in setting up all the students who are going to attend Camp GLOW this summer.  I need to get a list of 32 students’ names and get their parent permission slips as well.

Well I guess that’s all for now…just wanted to write a quick update while I still have electricity and internet!

Really missing my family and friends these days, but also really looking forward to the next few months here ❤


Projects, camps, and grants…OH MY!

15 05 2011

]I wanted to spend a blog post talking about how I reacted to the whole scenario of my vacation mixed with the events that occurred in Burkina Faso while I was in France. After sitting down and writing it all out, I feel a lot better. I’m not sure if I feel the need to publish it anymore…I don’t want to just whine. I will probably send some people separate e-mails with a little summary of how I felt and that’s that.

So in any case, how is my work going? Well let me break it down for you by group/projects:

Faso Gnataga: The literacy campaign is coming to an end. We have successfully carried out the Dioula/Moore alphabetisation classes and, as a whole, our teachers and the auditors feel as though there was a strong attendance record and enthusiastic students. The financial accounting side of things were a little more shaky. I worked really hard with the association on trying to keep good track of expenses and receipts and overall this went well. The problems started when it came down to me trying to streamline their reporting process. They are rather stuck in their ways of doing things and when I tried to explain more efficient ways to get things done, they were adverse to changing it. Also, I was really frustrated that the work they kept wanting to give me was just busy work. For example, they keep a running handwritten track of their expenses and savings, and they asked me to re-copy their handwritten files in a newer clean book, exactly the same way, while they sat and watched. I did not come to West Africa, with hopes to bringing some kind of capacity to a village in need, just to sit down and re-copy itemized expenses while I sweat through all of my clothes. Anyway, this is something I’m going to confront them about, so we will see if this changes.

Also with Faso Gnataga, as many of you know I am working on a construction project to provide both Faso Gnataga as well as Banzon on a whole a new Center for Literacy and Technical training. I worked really hard on getting my grant application approved and through all of the necessary steps and it is now available on the Peace Corps Website!!! I have already reached out to a lot of you, or my boyfriend or dad or several of my great friends have forwarded it to you. It will be a great addition to Banzon and will allow Faso Gnataga to do continued development work even when the literacy campaigns aren’t in session. Please go and check out the website here and donate…any amount will make a difference. We are currently at about 37% funded so I still have a lot to raise. Please, please, please forward this on to friends and family as I feel really strongly about this project and think it will be a great addition to Banzon. See my project here: https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=686-144

Lastly, back in January, I applied for a small assistance grant from the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso. Faso Gnataga and I would like to start a grain storage campaign where they buy grains (like corn, rice, sorghum, etc…) when the prices are cheap and then re-sell them during the season where their prices are higher. So my counterpart, Ouya, and I filled out the application and forwarded it onto the Embassy representatives. I believe that they have gotten through all the applications and chances are good that we will be getting that grant as well!!! So I’m super happy about that as the grain storage program will be a great way to create a sustainable stream of revenue for my association so they can keep building their efforts.

UDTER (Timpia): I don’t know if many of you know about my second host association. UDTER is a women’s union who buy rice in bulk from the community cultivators and transform it into what I guess we would call parboiled rice. This women’s group is rather successful, benefiting from already having two years of funding from an NGO, and who have also signed a contract with the African Development Foundation (ADF), a US Government program focused on building capacity for African entrepreneurs. So, what do I do with them? Well, I am basically there to help them keep on track with their accounting, financial reporting, and schedule. It has been somewhat confusing thus far with them because I’m coming in almost a year after they had signed this contract. Even now, some eleven months after, they only just received their first disbursement of funds and still haven’t received their initial formations, their computer and electronic generator, or other materials needed to upscale their production. Therefore, I have spent my time recently meeting with the ADF on ground representative to get a better feel for what’s going on, what is holding up their progress, and how to avoid these roadblocks in the future. I had a great meeting with my ADF counterpart on Friday morning! I was happily impressed with my level of comprehension of conducting a conversation about financial reporting and accounting in French, even though afterward I could tell I was really mentally fatigued haha. Right now, I feel a lot better about the whole situation and have a clear list of action items and deliverables to go back to village with. This should be a really rewarding and challenging facet to my Peace Corps experience, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops.

Men As Partners: Actually, starting this Thursday, I will be attending and help facilitating the first annual Men As Partners Workshop here in Burkina Faso. The purpose of this three day workshop is to educate Burkinabé men on how to become positive examples for other men in village to follow. By positive examples we mean men who treat women respectfully and equally, provide proper nutrition to their kids, practice family planning, and appreciate their children’s education. We will cover all of those topics with both Peace Corps volunteers and their chosen counterpart from village whom the volunteers thought would be good positive examples in the future. I’m really looking forward to this and will try and write a good summary of what happened after we finish this saturday.

Camp G2LOW: I am also participating in a great camp this summer. Peace Corps around the world has a camp called Camp GLOW which stands for Girls Leading our World. It has shown to be very successful and rewarding and thus many different countries have started their own programs in hopes to gain the same results. Our program stands for Girls and Guys Leading our World. For our camp, we are hoping to educate both young girls and young men! We think that if you really want to help create gender equality, not only do you have to start at a young age, but you need to include boys as well. Here is a quick blurb from the lead volunteer’s blog about our camp:

Project Description:

Excited by its success in other countries, Peace Corps Burkina Faso has decided to host its first Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). In hopes to become the 23rd Peace Corps country to house a Camp GLOW, we also want to make Camp GLOW even more unique by giving it a small twist to transform it to Camp G2LOW (Girls and Guys Leading Our World). There is no denying that, in Burkina Faso’s patriarchal system, there is a need to empower women, but it is our belief that the only true way to empower women is to educate young men, and teach them the importance of working with woman as equals. Camp G2LOW is a week-long leadership training camp geared toward school-age male and female students across the world.

Camp G2LOW -as it pertains to Burkina Faso- will focus on three subfields: 1) healthy lifestyles, 2) development of leadership skills, and 3) promotion of gender equality. In order to address the subfield of healthy lifestyles, camp counselors, which will include Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and host country nationals (HCNs), will lead educational sessions focused on proper hygiene and safe sex practices, as to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and lower the rate of unwanted pregnancy. To develop their leadership skills, Camp G2LOW participants will take part in activities to teach critical thinking and decision-making skills. Lastly, camp counselors will aid in the promotion of gender equality by leading sessions that focus on ending domestic violence, as well as working with members of the opposite sex as partners on the same playing field.

So overall, I have plenty of work going on right now which makes me really happy (aside from the bizarre busy work with Faso Gnataga). I’m slowly getting back in to that happy place I was in before I had left for Paris. I knew that it was probably a small bit of depression because I had just spent two amazing weeks in a beautiful city with my boyfriend, so I’m gladding I’m starting to get over it. I’m looking forward to the next few months of work as it should prove to be very productive and I can finally start to feel like I’m doing something measurable/tangible rather than just these very amorphous blurry goals I’ve been setting and reaching.

Also – I need to get back into my hardcore Dioula training. I have fallen off the wagon a bit, I mean don’t get it twisted, I can still chat it up pretty well and at a good level, but I need to step it up. I have been at site now for 8 months and it’s completely unacceptable that I’m not yet fluent 😛 haha.

Also, I brought back three great French grammar books from Paris so I want to work on that as well. Need to keep pushing this language learning so I can make the most out of my immersion environment while I still have it.

OK, I think that’s all for tonight. I’m so sorry I dropped off the radar for four months, I’m going to try and be better! I miss you all so much! Love and hugs xoxo

– Keith


Happy 50th Birthday Burkina!

12 12 2010

Aw ni su! Somogow do? Barada do?

Hey everyone! So I have been in Bobo-Dioulasso for 11 days now…exciting, relaxing, stressful, and exhausting.  I have had a great time, gotten to hang out with a bunch of my close volunteer friends, and was able to be a part of some amazing things while I’ve been here.  Let’s talk about what I did!!!

First, I arrived in Bobo on the 2nd of December for a Gardening Formation.  There were about 20 of us volunteers who came in to Bobo to help give gardening formations to two target groups: prisoners and women living with AIDS.  I wasn’t in Bobo for the gardening project with the prisoners, so I had the opportunity to work with the women living with AIDS.  It was a great experience that taught me a lot and allowed me to have some great interaction with some extremely interesting and friendly Burkinabe women.  We spent two days going over the basics of what a garden is, what a garden can provide for us, and what the best practices are to ensure a good return. The instructor was my Tech Trainer from my initial training back in the summer, Andre.  He is such an amazing resource here in Burkina and I admire his skills, knowledge, and never ending positivity so much.  The first day we did introductions and basics on what a garden is before we actually got a chance to go outside and get our hands dirty.  We transformed a small plot of ground around the women’s center into four different gardening beds.  This was a really exhausting process but was super fun.  I never realized how hard it is to create a good garden.  Before that day, people around village had often made remarks like “Oh are you going to go into the fields and cultivate? You can’t, your too fragile” or “Just let us garden for you” and other small funny comments along that line.  I always thought it was just joking or a little rude, but I realized it was kind of true when after about twenty minutes or less of gardening with the local tool called a Daba, I had not one, but two blisters on my hands! Haha…guess they were right huh? I really enjoyed learning how to transform a regular plot of dirt into a well functioning garden space.  It allowed for a lot of interaction with the women who already knew so much about gardening and even ended up teaching us some stuff as well.  I of course took every chance I could to speak in Dioula with the ladies and ask any fun questions I had.  They absolutely loved it.  It was in this gardening trip that I realized I’m not the only one obsessed with Dioula.  My good good friend Erika Marshall is also a Dioula freak! We spent every waking minute over the past ten days trying to infuse Dioula into everything we did hahaha.  Needless to say, there were a lot of people that were annoyed by us after about thirty minutes.  She is really good at Dioula and it ignited my desire to learn once again.  We sat down often and exchanged notes and tried to teach each other little nuances we might have picked up in our own villages.  IT WAS AMAZING!!!

The next day we actually got around to transplanting some tomato plants from the nursery and planting some bean, hibiscus, and moringa seeds.  After two days of gardening we were extremely exhausted and extremely dirty…many rounds of showers and naps ensued!

The second reason why I was in Bobo for this long was to march in the 50th annual Independence Day parade for Burkina Faso! I was super super excited when I heard about the opportunity to march in the parade and signed up as soon as I could.  It was a really intense experience seeing as we had 4 days of practice before the actual event.  No joke! The Burkina Faso government really wanted to make sure everyone was good at standing, waiting, standing, waiting, sitting under a tree, standing again, waiting, and finally marching about two miles.  We had to get up at either 6 or 5:30 every morning and go stand in formation for about three hours for four days.  A basic summary of what one of the practices was like would be:

1. we would show up, in two waves since the car Peace Corps provided wasn’t big enough to transport all of us at once

2. stand around for about twenty minutes then decide to sit down on rocks or cardboard or a tree stump and listen to music or play Monopoly Duel (an awesome card game I suggest you all try out!)

3. hear a whistle so stand up and run into our formation lines as a random car with soldiers drived past staring us down and verifying that we could make straight lines

4.then more sitting along with buying of random street comestibles such as bread from Ghana, peanuts, bananas, meat sandwiches, and various cold drinks like water sachets, frozen bissap sachets, mugujii, etc.

5. Then more false alarms with gendarme (soldiers) coming over and making us get into formation.  P.S.- short side story…we had a specific gendarme gentleman assigned to us to keep us on track and help us march correctly and everything.  His name was Jean Luke…and I totally had a crush on him (sorry Tim, don’t worry it was definitely like a third grade crush and not threatening at all haha).  He was super nice to us and was very patient since we were never doing what we were supposed to be doing, we were rowdy, and we looked like a mess marching the first couple of times.  He had the brightest smile and he really enjoyed hanging out with us…for the short 5 minutes spurts where he wasn’t being all official and hot…sorry Tim.

6. Then finally we would get around to a dry run of the march.  The parade route was pretty much a two mile straight shot all the way to the big football (read soccer) stadium.  And oddly enough we had to do a very dictator like march…you know the whole straight arm swing straight leg left right left right left walk.  I found it kind of alarming at first and felt uneasy when we practiced walking past the president’s seat and we had to turn just our heads and keep marching like that…reminded me too much of old videos of Nazi Germany.  But it ended up being really great and we looked amazing by parade day.

The day of the parade was absolutely amazing.  We showed up super freaking early around 6 am.  It was still dark out, a wonderful chill was in the air, and all of the parade groups were donning their best 50th anniversary fabric in different blues, greens, yellows, and browns.  Everyone was super excited to see the American groups decked out in very traditional outfits (the girls even had to wear foulards which are pagnes wrapped around your head like a hat).  We received a lot of encouragement, smiles, hand shakes, and laughs.  After that a lot of pictures ensued as anyone who has recently looked at my facebook profile could tell you.  Everyone wanted their picture with us, and I wanted my picture with everyone haha.  Once the parade actually started the energy was crazy.  The crowds lined up on each side of the street were really excited to see us and all the other groups.  I was marching on one of the ends so I was able to shout some Dioula out to the bystanders which they loved haha.  There were some Obama chants that happened along the way, lots of applause, maybe one or two taunts, but overall they loved us.  After the parade people who habe seen me have been congratulating me on a good march since they were either at the parade or watched it on TV.  It’s been such a cool experience.  I can’t believe that I am 1 of 25 Americans that can ever say that they marched in the 50th Independence day parade of Burkina Faso!!! I will never forget this experience and want to thank everyone that experienced it with me whether it was chatting under a tree during practice, relaxing at the bureau, catching up on Dexter/Glee/Modern Family/Cougar Town/ Vampire Diaries (yes I do watch that!), indulging in really expensive, delicious food, or grabbing a drink at night after a long day.  I have had such an amazing eleven days and couldn’t ask for better friends or experiences right now.  I know that if you speak to me I can complain a lot about missing things like running water, ice cream, donuts, or cold weather…but honestly this experience is so amazing and I’m loving almost every minute of it.  I have never come out of my shell like this before and I’m seeing just how outgoing and confident I can be even in a whole new world with strangers, even stranger languages, and no family.  I can only imagine the strong confident person I will be when I get back to the states in two years and hope that I can continue to share this experience with those of you who are following my blog.  Thanks to my family and friends back home who have given me continued support, wonderful care packages, and warm wishes. I miss you all so much, especially during this holiday season.  But just know that as I’m cooking up a storm on Christmas day, wearing my newly tailored Christmas pagne shirt and drinking tea with my courtyard family and village friends, it is all of you that helped me get here and helped me be who I am today.  If I don’t talk to you between now and the holidays have a merry merry Christmas and an absolutely amazing new year!!!!


almost 5 months already?

17 11 2010

Hi everyone! I’m so sorry it has taken so long to post. I’ve been really occupied lately and when I have had access to real internet there have either been too many people around or I had to run too many errands. Anyway what’s going on with me?!

First I have made some improvements as far as dioula learning is concerned. I found two great books in Bobo for learning dioula. One is actually an introductory course written in French by some local company that does a pretty good job of explaining grammar and simple sentence structure things I had been missing before. The second is a book of fables for children like fairy tales and stuff used to teach children some important morals. So I read the fables and try to translate them into English. When I don’t understand something I just sit down with one of my friends in village and chat about it. It has been a great bonding experience because surprisingly a lot of my friends here can’t actually read well in their own language. So they ask me to read aloud to them and then they can explain what it means to me in french. They find it really impressive that I can read in dioula, even if I can’t understand it lol. They also seem really impressed that I’m interested enough to want to sit and read a book in dioula. They seem even a bit flattered that the local toubabu would take the time to do that. Also my current tutor and I have moved on to a different book and we are working on more translation type stuff which I like. It allows me to pose more grammatical questions, not that he can always explain what I want to know. I can’t tell you all how frustrating it gets sometimes. I want to know why this word is here, why those two words together mean that, what does this structure mean etc. But a lot of times in dioula you just can’t translate literally, it honestly doesn’t work. For example there was a sentence that I directly translated into “a person didn’t take from another person” but in the context of the story it meant we are all the same and that we aren’t separated. I just don’t see how I will ever be able to make that leap between literal translation and understanding what the person actually wanted to get across. Why can’t they just say we are all the same? Doesn’t that expression actually exist in dioula? And how will I ever understand that in spoken word? It is one thing to digest that in a written context, but when just listening to someone speak? Oh boy haha. I will just have to hope that with enough practice it will come.

In other news…can you all believe that I have been here 5 months already? I can’t. Everything felt like it was going by so slow but then October was over in what seemed like a heartbeat. Let me name a few things that I am now used to in Africa.
1. I am used to riding my bike through crowds of women carrying everything from fruit to tables on their heads while dodging cows, donkeys, sheep, goats, and pigs all within 100 meters.
2. I have gotten used to having flies land on me constantly. Sometimes I don’t think to swat at them until I realize they have been sitting on my arm for about twenty seconds.
3. I will eat food that I have spilled on my floor without thinking twice. No one wastes popcorn/goldfish/oreos in Burkina!
4. I have gotten used to zero personal space. On buses or just sitting with friends you pretty much should expect to have people on your lap or hanging on you. It is really strange how comfortable men are here with physical touch. I will be sitting with my two guy friends and they will have their feet in the other guys lap and he will be holding his friend’s feet. Or when my friend is sitting and chatting with me he will just rest his hand on my leg or arm and hold it there. Or my friends will walk with me while holding my hand. Its amazing the general intimacy that exists between same sexes here and then to contrast that with the utter lack of public affection between opposite sexes.
5. I’ve gotten used to people either picking their nose or blowing snot rockets right in front of me during conversation like its nothing.
6. I have gotten used to eating weird chewy bits of meat often with bone in it. In the states you wouldn’t see me eat too close to the bone on a piece of chicken. Here you will see me gnawing every scrap of meat off a drumstick… it is actually super attractive.
7. I have gotten used to eating and drinking out of plastic bags. For example all drinks come in little plastic sachets. So you bite the corner of the little plastic bag and suck out either the water or bissap or mugujii (my favorite local drink!). Also if you want some street food like beans or rice or fried potatoes you either have to have your own plate or you’re gonna be walking a way with your rice and beans in a plastic bag.

In terms of work related activities there have been some developments as well! For one I have started an English club with the highschool in my village. Its been really great so far and the students really seem motivated and interested in speaking English with each other.

I also had my first Gender and Development committee meeting. That was great. I got to see how the grant application process works and what kind of work people are doing now in their villages with gender development. I’m going to be working a lot as the liasion between the peace corps office and the individuals getting funding. Yay for a pretty excel spread sheet! Its like I’m back in consulting again!

in terms of upcoming events there is going to be a crazy month in December. First we have a gardening campaign some volunteers will be doing with needy individuals in Bobo. That will be a three day event including some initial training for us volunteers so we understand gardening in Africa better. Then there is national volunteer day which takes place actually over two days on the 4 and the 5. We are going to go around to local health clinics and help clean and organize in hopes to help facilitate better practices. There will also be an event to meet all volunteers from different organizations in Bobo. That will be really cool I think. Volunteers from France and Japan and Canada oh my! Then I will spend the next couple of days learning how to march in Burkina’s 50th Independence day parade. The Burkinabe are obsessed with repetition so we need to practice for two or three days before the actual parade haha. Regardless I think it is awesome I will have the chance to walk in a national parade here in Burkina. Plus we all will be getting matching pagne shirts made! Woo!

Then after those twelve days of glory I will get a short stint back in site and then I have to head off to our language in service training. This will be a week long training in our local language or French if people still need help with that. I’m excited to get to ask some burning questions I’m having and get some better direction on what I can focus on to take my dioula to the next level! That will be from the 15 through the 21st. Then bam! Christmas will be right around the corner. I’m still deciding if I will do Christmas in my village or I might go visit my friend’s site, Oradara, because its a bigger city and its more catholic so it might have a bigger Christmas spirit.

Phew it is exhausting just typing that all out! (especially since its on my blackberry haha).

Ok well I think I need to end this blog here because my thumbs are starting to cramp. But I just can’t believe where I am these days. I’m living in a fifth world country as some people would say. I’m speaking four languages, some much better than others, I’m living completely by myself in a completely foreign culture, I have successfully integrated into a new community and have even made some friends. I even managed to find some friends here who like my sass and who throw it right back at me (in french no less, gosh my short lived French teacher in New York would be so proud.) I spend my nights eating and reading by a solar powered lantern. I sleep outdoors with the music of roosters, donkeys, and other animals that go bump in the night. Instead of a ceiling I fall asleep looking deep into the countless stars and planets that I swear weren’t as numerous back in the states. I wake up to the call to prayer and to the bustling sounds of all the women sweeping and washing and cooking for the new day. I’m just living a much simpler, much more people oriented life and I am certainly learning to love it.

Until next time I love you all and stay safe!

Ala ka sanwèrè yira an na. That’s a dioula benediction that everyone says during the fete of tabaski (which was yesterday) that means may show is another year.


Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry (read – please forgive typos!)

Ceremonies, Conferences, and Culinary Indulgence!

25 09 2010
Hello, hello! I’m currently sitting in the transit house living room.  It’s about 4 in the morning and I can’t seem to sleep…so, since I have to be up in about an hour anyway to catch my bus back to Bobo at 6, I thought I would use this time to update my blog.
So let’s begin on Monday of this week.  Monday morning I caught the 8 am truck into Bobo from my little village of Banzon.  The best way to describe the truck is to think of a large truck with wood paneling as it’s side walls.  Inside they have rows of two person leather seating (some of which are perpetually in a reclining position, to the dismay of the person left sitting behind that row).  There are no windows since as I’ve said the walls of the cabin are just some wood panels.  That means there is a ton of open air running through the car.  However there are some rubber tarps pulled down around the back of the rows so if you prefer less wind, you should sit near the rear 🙂 All of the luggage or supplies being transported is thrown on top and strapped down with some rope and tarp.  Then you pack twice as many people as should theoretically fit inside and you are on your way! Now the ride should really only take about an hour and twenty minutes, but the driver stops on the way anytime he sees someone on the side of the road who might be potentially interested in traveling to or from Bobo.  It’s quite annoying haha.  Regardless, I finally arrived in Bobo at about 9:50 at the station where the Banzon bus drops and picks up passengers.   It’s at a gas station near the Bobo Grand Marché.  Now I need to find a taxi.  This is one of the most annoying things in Burkina as a whole.  I say that because each time you have to haggle with the taxi driver, try and explain where you are going, convince them you are not a tourist that you actually live here and know what the prices of the trips should be…then after about ten minutes of chatting and pretending to walk away to find a cab with the correct price, he loads your luggage and you either wait for more passengers or if the cab is already full you squeeze your ass into a 3 in by 1 foot bit of seat in the rear of the cab loll. (P.S. I got a bit hungry so I broke into my bag of goldfish – AMAZING! Thanks mom and dad!) Finally I get to the Bobo Peace Corps Bureau/House and to my wonderful surprise a lot of other volunteers from the area were already hanging out there.  The reason for the big get together was to celebrate the Bike Tour making it into Bobo. Later that day there would be a big ceremony celebrating what they’ve accomplished so far and what they have left…all taking place at the Governor’s building in Bobo.  It was really great to see some of my other stage mates from my training group and we all got to compare our first weeks at site.  Overall we all sound like we are having a pretty positive time which is awesome.
That night after the ceremony took place, me and a few of my fellow stage mates went to La Pacha.  This is a slice of heaven in Burkina Faso.  It’s a hotel/camping ground/restaurant/pizzeria.  It has the best pizza in Burkina Faso! Honestly no lie I could see myself spending good money in the states to buy that pizza! I usually get the Quatre Saisons which is a pizza that has four different sections: Ham and Onion, Artichoke, Peppers, and finally mushrooms.  So, so delicious.  Also they have the Alsacienne which is a pizza with cream, bacon, and caramelized onions – so amazingly rich and belly warming.  So once we all spoiled ourselves with pizza and pop (that one was for you Mich!) we headed over to the hostel that Peace Corps had arranged for us that night.  Now we all weren’t expecting the best accommodations seeing as we knew the price for the night at the place had been negotiated to 1,000 CFA a person.  That’s only $2.  That being said, we show up in some far away part of Bobo proper to a room with two sets of bunk beds, a single cot/bed, and 6 mattresses on the floor.  Just a 12′ x 15′ room with no screens on the windows and some need for cleaning.  It ended up being fine, but I will admit it was not one of the most glorious of hotels I have stayed at in my life 😉
The next morning, Althea and I needed to get to Ouaga and luckily enough we were able to get spots in the Peace Corps vehicle that was taking Dr. Claude and Zalia (Assistant Peace Corps Directors for Heath and Girl’s Education and Empowerment) back to Ouaga.  It was really nice to get to interact with two other sectors’ APCD’s as well as eat some great bananas and bread along the way.  Also, I was able to borrow a pair of shoes from the driver that I could use for the next two days at the ADF Conference (since I meant to get into Ouaga early enough to buy a pair of shoes that were somewhat fancy, but the car wasn’t going to get in early enough….so I borrowed the drivers haha).  Just another example of how sharing and friendly the Burkinabé people are here! That night we had been invited to the Country Director’s house for dinner! Now for all us Volunteers, we know that an invitation to dinner at Shannon’s house is like a gift from heaven since it undoubtedly means great food and homemade cookies for dessert! At the dinner were the three of us new volunteers attending the ADF Conference, a few 1-2 year in volunteers, and a couple of third year volunteers.  We were there to meet with the West African Peace Corps Security Officer to chat about our experiences so far and to see what is new with the surrounding countries.  Dinner was amazing and the conversation was great.  I was over gluttonous and had 4 servings of enchiladas and probably about 8 cookies, so I left pleasantly in pain.
The next morning at 7:30 we left for the ADF Conference! Dan Rooney, the Assistant Peace Corps Director for the Small Enterprise Development sector came to the Transit house (think Peace Corps Ouaga Frat House) and brought us over to L’Hotel Independence in centre ville. This was amazing.  Three ADF Washington employees were there to facilitate the training, three of us volunteers, our Technical Trainer from Koudougou Yassine was there, and 5 West African ADF National teams were there: Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger.  The whole point of us being at the training was to better understand the mission and philosophy of ADF (African Development Foundation – a US Government organization focusing on enterprise development and capacity building in African countries) as well as learn about Grant Startup, Financial Systems, Auditing, and Performance Management and Goals.  The entire conference was in French which was awesome for my confidence since I understood everything that was going on, which I didn’t expect going into it.  Also it gave me some great new vocabulary on financial terms and other technical french terms that will definitely come in handy for the coming two years.  One other thing that surprised me was how passionate and opinionated the African representatives were.  I so far have only seen examples of slightly passive participation from the Burkinabé in group discussions or training formations, but these people had comments for everything and were heated in a lot of their discussions.  It was great!
After the first day was over and we were able to make some great contacts with the ADF Burkina staff, the three of us volunteers went out to dinner with Yassine and the Senegal team at a great restaurant near the Transit house.  We ordered 5 poulet braisé à l’ail – braised chicken in covered in a garlic and seasonings.  We also had fries and fried plantains as the sides.  The dinner was awesome and I had such a great time chatting with the Senegal team (all in french!) about life, development, future goals, and where to visit in Africa.  A year ago I would have never thought that I would be eating grilled chicken and fries in a restaurant in Burkina Faso discussing development and ADF with a bunch of Senegalese aid workers…SO COOL!
Then we had the second day of the conference which was just as great.  We now have such a good idea of how we can move ahead with our partner organizations back at village and know what we can do to help facilitate their project success. After the second day we were all invited out to a big group dinner down the street from the hotel.  It was at a great outdoor restaurant with a live band and great food.  There was a short power outage so for a little while we were all sitting together chatting by candlelight…seriously how awesome has my week been?!  I got to talk to a Malian aid worker that night and he spent most of his time trying to convince me how great Mali is and all the reasons why I should make a trip out there.  Dan and Virginia – looks like I’ll be needing a place to stay in Mali!
Then Friday was my last day in Ouaga.  I used my free time to get in my travel reimbursement forms from Affectation (installing in village), printing out the ADF documents in French so that I have them in both languages, visiting the PC Staff, eating a wonderful lunch at the American Recreational Center, hitting up Marina Market for some last minute additions to all the food I’m bring back to site, and then hanging out with two wonderful friends, Marina and Kathy, in the med unit for dinner.
Overall this has been an amazing week and I am so pumped and prepared to get back to site and start getting more research done for what role I can play over the next two years.
Small side note – while in Ouaga I was able to get internet put on my phone so I will be better at responding to e-mails.  SO PLEASE SEND ME E-MAILS!!!! I want to know what’s going on in your life and need to hear your electronic voices haha.  Also if you have a blackberry in the states, e-mail me your PIN so we can BBM all the time for free!
LOVE YOU ALL and miss you more than words can express. Keep safe and send me some love.
Ala ka tile heere di!

Let’s play pass the Keith!

22 09 2010

Since my last post i have spent another wonderful week at my site in Banzon.  The agenda for the past week was to kick off my Dioula tutoring lessons and start a rotational program where I go to see the farm/place of work of each member of the association I’m working with.  Each morning I would be picked up by someone in the association and we would head out to their field or in one case their little boutique so I could get a better sense of what work they do on a daily basis outside of Faso Gnataga.  Mixed in with these visits (which were supposed to occur every day at 10 am) I had three Dioula lessons at 8 am, chez moi – tres pratique!  Also on Monday I had my first visitor at site! Stephanie who is a year in to her service here in Burkina paid me a visit.  She was in need of training so she biked to my village, 25 K from her village.  She is participating in the Burkina Bike tour which is a means to raise money for the Gender and Development committee which disburses funds to volunteers who have projects focused on gender equality and development.  You can check out the blog/donate to the cause here : http://burkinabiketour.blogspot.com/

we spent the morning catching up, chatting about our villages and the bike tour, and organizing my living room (SHE offered, how could I say no?!)  For lunch we made two boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese!!!! I added some sauteed onions and garlic + some spices to make it fancier haha.  It was soooo delicious and bien sûr, we finished it all! It was a great release to have someone in my village to speak english with again haha. The only problem thogh is whenever we would talk about our lives back home it sent us on a downward spiral of what we missed most (Besides air conditioning, food usually was the most popular). Later that day @ 1 pm I was to have a meeting with my association Faso Gnataga. I got to the office at 12:55 thinking I was cutting it close, yea right! The next person didn’t show up until 1:20!!! That’s Africa time for ya, well I should actually be greatful, often times volunteers have to wait an hour or more to have their scheduled meeting finally start. The meeting was rather frustrating…i don’t really want to go into detail here, but let’s just say they were spending the whole time expressing their thoughts that they (as well as other villagers) had already made crystal clear over the past two-three weeks.  Hopefully that is done now and they can actually start focusing on the fact that there is a new volunteer, ME! haha, and there is a whole open road ahead of us to plan and execute.

After the meeting I went back home and said my goodbyes to Steph as she set off on her way back to village.  I tidied up the dishes lefr from making lunch and then relaxed for a few minutes before my first Dioula lesson.  Thank God I brought my iPod, it is soooo essential for having some personal dance parties and belting out Glee songs 😛 The tutor showed up and we began our first lesson.  I brought my intro manual to Dioula that Peace Corps had given me and I saw that he brought some books too.  Now in all honesty, we’ve only had three sessions so far, but I don’t think I’m finding it to be useful.  He uses the books from the association’s annual Alphabetization workshop which teaches people who speak Dioula how to write and read it.  I don’t speak the language yet though…so I need to be taught the structure of sentences, verb tenses, vocab, and to practice speaking in a natural setting.  But it might turn out the help since we do learn new vocab in each session, and as long as I focus my outside time the manual Peace Corps gave me, I should be fine teaching myself the grammar and verb tenses etc. My tutor also mentioned that next time we are going to do a practical lessons at the market where we can review the names of things, how to buy stuff, and how to bargain the price down.  I’m excited for that, especially since I’m already good friends with a bunch of the ladies in the market.  As far as the visits went this week I visited a Banana orchard, a corn field, and a boutique in the market.  One day got cancelled due to rain, and the other day the guy forgot about me and went into the bush without me haha…but 3/5 isn’t bad right?

P.S. – have you guys ever seen a banana orchard?!  I felt like I was in Avatar or something haha.  The banana trees have these huge purple flower things that look like alien vegetation hanging off of them.  It’s where the bananas start sprouting from…soo cool, I wish I had brought my camera but the clouds were pretty grey that day so I was afraid of la pluie, the rain.

Also, I love it when it rains in the morning.  It’s so nice to wake up to the music of a soothing rain on my iron roof. It also is a lot cooler and breezy when it rains so I can even sleep/curl up under a sheet!

I have made some great friends so far and really enjoy getting out of the house and just hanging out in the center of village.  I love practicing my French and Dioula and I love hearing the Burkinabe thoughts on American culture.  It’s so wonderful to be a part of a cultural exchange every time I step out of my house.

On another note, cooking has been going really well! I make a mean marinara sauce and a sinful spicy ginger garlic eggplant dish.  I love that I can cook for myself these days and not worry so much about my stomach.  I weighed myself today, after eating a huuuge chicken and fries dinner in Ouaga (the reasons for me being in Ouaga will be in the next post :P) and I have lost about 15 pounds since being here.  I’m assuming I had lost even more at one point but being able to cook for myself and eat all the amazing food my parents and family have sent me has helped me put some weight back on.

crazy happening this week:

– riding in a truck next to three children sharing a small seat on my left and an ancient looking gentleman on my right with two chickens at his feet, while there were three live goats strapped to the top of the truck!

– seeing an eight year old hog tie two sheep, hoist them up into his bike basket, and ride off in a flurry of blood curdling sheep screams.

Cravings of this week:

– Nutella on a slice of whole wheat bread (what….I finished my Nutella already!)

– sitting in a movie theater alone, eating M&M’s and drinking an absurdly large and overpriced diet coke.

– the Madame Q martini at Q lounge in Philly.

– apples

That’s all for tonight, I need to write about this past week and my travels in Bobo, the African Development Foundation conference here in Ouaga (thus why I’m here and with internet!), and my latest happenings.

Miss you all! Will write soon (hopefully tomorrow night!)

Finally on my own again…wishing I had electricity :P

11 09 2010
Hello world!
So I have now spent an official week and 4 days in village.  My village is awesome.  Key word here is VILLAGE! For some reason I guess it didn’t hit me that I was going to be leaving the bigger cities of Burkina, and now I’m living in a small village in the middle of nowhere, no electricity, no other americans anymore, just me…my thoughts…and the bugs haha.
I’ve made some friends already! There is my 18 year old friend Amadi, he is really nice and super helpful when I need to find stuff or if I’m hungry lol – for the big celebration that ended Ramadan he grilled me an entire poulet!!! Delicious haha. I have made friends with a butcher, Boulo le boucher haha…but let me explain what the imagery is like so you can understand what butchers are like here in smalltown Africa 😉
So…He has a little stall…walls are made out of secko fencing, ceiling as well. Secko is like a woven grass that the Burkinabe use all over for fencing, ceilings, roofs etc…the whole set up is probably only 8 feet by 12 feet.  He has a basket on the floor where he keeps extra raw! meat, otherwise the raw meat is hanging from a hook or sitting on his little wood desk (which I haven’t seen him ever clean…)  The way that he cooks the meat is over a wood burning fire that is incased by four walls and then he places a big sheet of metal on top of the fire that he has hammered holes into to allow for smoke to get through.  So he throws chunks of goat or sheep meat onto the big metal sheet and it cooks slowly comme ça. The other day he brought a leg of meat from the day before and I mentioned that I was confused how it was still OK to eat, that’s when he explained he uses the “african fridge” which meant he cooked it partially and then today he was going to finish it.  I politely suggested I would take meat that he killed today 🙂
I have a few ladies in the market that I always stop by and say hi to, I have my family that I live with in my courtyard, and there are some other people that I have started hanging out with as well.
Onto my house.  I have a two room house, the entry room is my living room/kitchen/entertaining room. Then I have my bedroom that has a little walled off corner that serves as an indoor showering area ( I know super fancy!). I have an outdoor latrine all to myself…and the likes of spiders, mice, frogs, and of course some roaches haha.
For the first week I have been going around and meeting the local officials, police, other associations and stuff like that.  My host association is called Faso Gnataga -Gnataga is the Jula word for development so the organization is focused on development in Burkina Faso.  They work on health initiatives, education initiatives, farming sensibilizations, and animal husbandry best practices.  So I will have a ton of projects and flexibility over the next two years!
I’ve been struggling with a bit of guilt, frustration, and lack of purpose this first week.  Being all alone and just hanging out with the locals, while I know is the whole purpose of these first three months, makes me wonder why I’m here when I could be just hanging out in the States.  Also, when people tell me that they are so proud and thank me for doing what I’m doing it makes me a feel guilty since I don’t think I’m really doing anything yet.  Perhaps I will like those comments more once I actually start working with someone.  Everyone in the Peace corps has been warning us new volunteers that these first few months are going to be really difficult, and they weren’t lying.  This is the first time since being here that I’ve really thought about coming home.  Not because it’s horrible here…more because I haven’t started working and don’t see a true purpose and need for me yet.  Right now I’m only chatting and meeting people which wouldn’t be enough to keep me here in the long run, so hopefully this feeling of uselessness will go away once I’m knee deep in work.
I’m feeling better lately and am looking forward to starting my formal Jula lessons on Monday – I can’t wait to start speaking Jula more fluently with all the people in Banzon.  That will make life so much cooler and I will feel more included.
Otherwise, things are great – my site is beautiful, my french is still getting better, I’m getting more comfortable in my African shoes day by day, and I can see the light at the end of the three month tunnel where I will be doing my part to make a difference.  OH! I got invited to go to an African Development Fund conference at the end of September because I will also be working with a Rice field co-op who just got some grants from the ADF.  I wish I could stay on here and write more and more because I want to give more descriptive imagery for you all, but I have to go catch my bush taxi back to Banzon, otherwise I won’t be able to get home tonight haha.
I love you all and miss you like craaaazy!
Things I’m craving this week:
– oreos
– whole wheat bread
– grimaldi’s
– Joya pad thai, Joya curry, Joya anything
– cool breezes in Central park
– Magnolia bakery
Crazy incidents this week:
– Being splattered with raw meat on the chest…so sanitary
– having the baby from “Babies” (the namibian baby) walk into my courtyard completely naked
– seeing goats hang off the side of the bush taxis coming into Banzon
– Seeing more stars than I realized existed…even the like “solar clouds” in space around the stars…whoa!