Friday, November 23, 2012

The Fat Lady Has Sung

I feel like Liz Lemon. I’m currently in the Ouagadougou airport dropping my things all over, I’m pretending I remember how to wear layers relatively unsuccessfully (maybe I’m “power clashing,” like Jack Donaghy? Stripes on stripes because I can?) And to top it all off, my shirt was actually tucked into my underwear which was coming out of the top of my pants.

On the bright side, the entire Burkinabe soccer team is on my flight with me. I am not sure how that’s the bright side, especially since it makes me sad. Anyone who would care even a little bit is nowhere around and in fact the people that I want to tell most I will most likely never talk to again in my life. I can’t stop thinking about Rahim, a boy who participated in my summer camp. He is such a good kid, very sweet with a beautiful smile but the reason he is relevant to my thought process is because he really likes soccer. When we did sessions encouraging the students to think about their futures, he said he wanted to be a pro soccer player. So he would have thought it was so cool that I’m surrounded by professional soccer players.

I can’t believe it’s been two years and I’m leaving Burkina. As I stood in line to check my baggage, I suddenly felt like I was a sleepwalker snapping awake thinking “Wait, how did I get here? The last thing I remember doing was getting off a plane being welcomed to this country in what I imagined had to be the poorest excuse for an airport in the world. Now I’m in this relatively respective looking airport boarding a plane to leave?”

Of course I did not sleepwalk here and I remember getting here quite well. It started a couple of weeks ago. Most of my things were packed. I had a couple of goodbye dinners in my honor. I said goodbye to almost everyone I care about in my village. My friends kept telling me I shouldn’t leave (thanks for making this easier for me, guys). My kids hung all over me for a couple days saying with pouty faces “Lindsy, don’t leave. Please just stay. You’re not mean. What if the new person is mean? You should just stay here.” I assured them she would not be mean but they continued their pouting. The morning I left, the kids came to my house before school to help me clear the last few things out of my house, sweep, etc. Then we sat on my porch waiting for the taxi moto to come pick me up with all of my things. The taxi moto came and as it pulled away all the kids ran after us yelling “Bye! Lindsy! Bye!” and waving like crazy. And that’s as far as I get in my departure story until I get choked up.

But don’t worry – nothing too interesting happened after that. A long bus ride, medical appointments (no problems there), and running around making sure all my i’s were dotted and t’s crossed and suddenly boom! I’m no longer a PCV – I’m an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer).

It’s funny – some moments, like when I’m walking around doing errands and feel like the sun is literally baking me or when something that should be easy takes hours and a pile of frustration to complete, I can’t help thinking “Get me out of here NOW! I am ready. I’m so over this!” But I’m going to miss my friends here a lot. My relationships with numerous people who are very important to me are changing drastically. I’ll only talk to friends in my village on holidays. And it won’t be about anything at all, just “Hello, Merry Christmas, how’s the family? Good bye.” I’ll probably never talk to my kids again, a few of which were my best friends. My relationships with PCV’s are changing, too. Any time I was excited or frustrated or bored during the past two years, I had so many people I could call who knew exactly how I was feeling. I know we’ll still keep in touch but it won’t be the same. After all, what are we going to talk about once our bowel movements are normal and we aren’t comparing village horror stories? But I’m prepared for these relationships to change (by prepared, I mean I’m expecting it, NOT that I’m happy about it). Possibly the most rattling prospect is the change that will inevitably take place in my pre-Peace Corps relationships. I will physically be in the same places I was 2 years ago with the same people doing many of the same things but, to sound cliché, I won’t be the same. I don’t feel like I’ve changed that much but when I talk to my friends and family about my rapidly approaching homecoming, it’s clear that I have. I wish there was another way I could say this because it makes me sound like a moody high school student but people aren’t going to “get” me the way they used to. And I probably won’t “get” them either. Even if it’s a tiny change, we’ve just spent the last 2 years of our lives doing drastically different things. It would be silly to think we’ll all be the same people. While it flew by, 2 years is a lot of time. And I will leave it at that, before I ramble on too much and (more importantly) before I have a panic attack in the middle of the airport.

Peace out, see you soon, America!

Latrine Update

Well, it’s taken a while but we haven’t forgotten about all of your wonderful contributions to help our village vastly improve our sanitation through building latrines and hand washing stations. It took a while for things to get started because of rainy season. However, even once rainy season drew to a close, people still seemed to be taking their sweet time digging their holes, making their bricks, and building the latrines. As my depart from village drew near, I began to get more and more worried. Could they possibly build all of these latrines before I left? I was doubious.
Less than a week before I was scheduled to leave village, my counterparts took me on a tour to see the progress of all the latrines. It was very disheartening. “Guys!” I exclaimed. “I’m leaving in FIVE DAYS and you’ve barely started!” But leave it to my village to surprise me. A couple days later, we did another tour and I was blown away. The “most improved” award was a three-way tie between families who had not even started digging their hole at the first tour. Bricks had been made so all they had to show for months of supposed work was a pile of bricks. In a matter of only two days, they had dug a hole (2m x 1m x 1m, which is pretty big), lined it with bricks, set the platform, and were finishing the walls. Over half of the latrines were completely finished and the rest were very close. I was so proud.
We gathered at least one representative from each family to come to a hygiene lesson. We talked about how to maintain a clean latrine and then about hand washing. Each family, along with various “restaurant” owners (restaurant in this case mostly refers to a woman on the side of a path from whom you can buy rice for about 40 cents) received a hand washing station. These were made from plastic jugs that we put faucets on. The owner fills it with water then has easily flowing water with which to wash their hands. Otherwise, they usually dip their hands in a big bowl of dirty communal water. We explained that this method is essentially just everyone sharing germs with each other and emphasized the importance of using clean “running” water and soap. Everyone also received soap. We played a little game where we asked the group hygiene questions and those who could respond correctly won soap.
All in all, I am very satisfied with the project. It wouldn’t have been possible without all of your contributions and I can’t thank you enough. If you have any questions about the project, feel free to ask. Otherwise, I’ll leave it at “Thank you!”

A family with their latrine and hand washing station (the latrine is not quite finished - the walls will be a little higher)

I'm "helping" dig the latrine hole ;)

People with their hand washing stations sitting through a lesson on how to properly maintain latrines and wash their hands etc.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Let's Do Sports!

As my time in Burkina draws to a close, I’m finding myself stressed, irritable, and tired more than usual. While this is never a desirable state to be in, it’s particularly undesirable to pass the last days I will probably ever spend in this village in such a mood. In efforts to boost my spirits, I took someone’s advice and decided to get some exercise. I changed into some running clothes and stepped outside, ready to work off some stress, release some endorphins, be at one with nature, and all that jazz. Unfortunately, any plans made in Burkina, no matter how small, usually don’t go the way you want them to. This run was no exception.

“Lindsy!” kids greeted me as soon as I walked out my door. “Lindsy! Hey, Lindsy, what are you doing? Where are you going?” They noticed I was wearing sneakers instead of my usual flip flops. “LINDSY! You’re going to do sports?! We want to come with you! We want to do sports too!”
“Guys, listen,” I said, knowing how my run would play out if I let them come. “I’m going to run. I’m not going to slow down for you, I’m not going to stop and walk for you, I’m not going to take breaks. I don’t even want to talk to you. You shouldn't come.”
“It’s okay, we won’t stop either! We want to come do sports!” was their enthusiastic reply.
“Actually, what I’m trying to say, guys, is don’t come. Stay here.”
“Oh, no, we’re going to come! We won’t stop, don’t worry. We know we’re going to just keep running.”
“But…I…it’s…*sigh* Okay, do whatever you want. I can’t stop you from running down this path but I am NOT waiting for you. You’re doing this on your own.” I know when I’m fighting a lost battle.

So off we went, me running followed by 4 giggling girls between the ages of 4 and 8. As I predicted, the girls were straggling after about a quarter of a km. From time to time, I looked back over my shoulder at these silly giggling girls running along arms and legs all over the place. For the first half of the run, I remained true to my word and didn’t wait for them. After a couple km, I turned around to follow the path back to my house. I caught up with the girls who had also turned around and the littlest cutest one looked up at me with her big eyes and just said “Lindsy.”
“What?!” I said, slightly exasperated with them. With that, she simply reached up with her little hand, grabbed my hand, and started walking. My tough, no-nonsense attitude melted immediately. I smiled ruefully and knew we’d be walking sweaty hand in sweaty the rest of the way.

So, I didn’t get in quite the workout I was hoping for. But somehow, meandering along looking at clouds and talking about trees and cows and anything else we happened to come across, yielded the results I was looking for in the first place.

Conversations with a Villageois

During my time here, I have had countless conversations with people trying to dispel myths about America and its infinite wonders. Don’t get me wrong, I think America has a lot of great things to offer. But I know that everyone there is not instantly rich and you can not just work hard sweeping streets and make a living and send your surplus money back to your family in Burkina (the first reason of MANY this doesn’t work is that we don’t have people who sweep streets.)
The other day, I had a fun conversation with someone about the States in which we got past how rich everyone is. Here are some interesting excerpts from this conversation.

Villager: So, you need to have a job before they even give you a work visa? How can you get a job if you aren’t there yet?
Lindsy: Well, have you heard of the internet? [villager nods hesitantly] People find jobs searching on the internet. Or they already work for an organization that also operates in America so they can get transferred or something.
V:[ pauses and seems to be thinking intently about something] So if I wanted to go over and get a job washing dishes in a restaurant, I could find one on the internet?
L: Um…I mean…not really. I think to get a work visa, you have to have a more…specialized skill. Like if someone already worked for an NGO in Ouaga, maybe they could get a job with the same NGO stateside. But I don’t think they give work visas for dishwashers. We have enough people who can wash dishes there already.

V: I hear people there can make over $2 a day.
L: [choking back a laugh] Yeah, there is actually a law saying that employers have to pay employees a minimum amount and while I don’t know exactly how much it is right now, I think it’s over $7.50. An hour.
V: WHAT?!? An HOUR?!
L: Yes, but even if someone works every day for that much, it’s really hard to afford a place to live and stuff. Things in America are really expensive.

V: So when you go back, you’re not going to live with your parents?
L: No, I want to move to a different city.
V: Are you going to build your own house? Or who’s going to build it for you?
L: Hm. In America, we have a lot of houses and places to live. None of them are built out of sand so they last a lot longer than houses here. Also, people move a lot. Most people don’t stay in the same place their whole life. So I’m just going to move into a place that’s already built. I don’t have to build my own house and will probably NEVER build my own house. Ever.
V: If you were staying in the same city, though, you’d live with your parents?
L: Uh…no. Probably not.
V: Why not? Wouldn’t they let you?
L: Of course if I really needed a place to live they would let me live with them but…I like being independent.
V: [blank stare]
L: Being able to do things myself…provide for myself…take care of myself…that’s important to me.
V: [blank stare]
L: Americans are like that. We like to be able to take care of our own needs and not depend on other people and…oh, nevermind.

V: America is the place where they have skyscrapers, right?
L: It’s one of the places, yeah.
V: And they can be, like, 20 stories tall, right?
L: They can be 100 stories tall.
V: What?!? What if you lived on the 54th floor? How would you get there?
L: There are these things and it’s like a box and you get inside and it takes you to the floor you want to go to.
V: Like a vehicle?
L: Yes, like a vehicle. A vehicle that takes you up to the floor you want to visit.
V: Can it go sideways too?
L: Nope, just up and down.
V: How does it know which floor you want? Does it just know?
L: No. There are buttons on the inside with the floor numbers. You push the button of the floor you want to go to.
V: And what about when you want to go back down? How does it know you’re waiting? Do you just have to wait until someone else comes to your floor?
L: No, there’s a button you push to signal you want to go down. Then the vehicle comes up and you can go down.
V: So this vehicle takes you right inside your house on the 54th floor?
L: Usually there are more than one house on the same floor and the vehicle lets you out in a hallway. Then you find the door of the house you want.
V: So if I wanted to go say hi to my friend on the 54th floor, I would just have to go up there and then be like “knock-knock! Hey!” and then if they weren’t home? I’d just wait there and when no one came out after a little while I’d go back down?
L: Actually, in America we don’t usually visit someone unannounced. We plan it in advance and then we know they’re home and not busy and stuff.
V: Oh. What about trash? Do you just throw your trash out of your 54th floor window?
L: No, that’s illegal. You have to take your trash to a big dumpster then a truck comes and gets it and brings it to the designated spot where we put all our trash.
V: But if you just threw your trash out the window and there are 54 floors, how would they know it was you?
L: Maybe the first time they wouldn’t know it was you. Or even the second or third but after a while, they’d figure it out. Someone would see it and people don’t like trash thrown on the street like that.

V: Say I got a visa and put your address as my contact in America. But then when I got there, went to the other side of the country and wanted to stay there. They wouldn’t know, would they? They couldn’t track me?
L: Not technically, no. But if you wanted to get a job or anything you’d have to show you were allowed to be in America. Either that you’re a citizen or that you had a visa. People don’t want to hire people who aren’t allowed to be there. It can get the employer in to trouble, too.

Village Girl in the Big City

My best friend in village is my 15 year old neighbor. This may seem strange to non-PCV’s but I could probably write an entire separate blog entry on why kids/teenagers make the best friends in villages. For now, though, you’ll have to take my word for it – they make some of the best friends.

Anyways, my friend, Odile, has barely left village. The few times she has was to go to the small town 12 km up the road, which hardly counts as leaving village. So, since she’s been my friend for almost 2 years and I’m leaving soon, I wanted to do something special for her. I decided to take her to Bobo.

We started our voyage at 8 AM the Friday before school started. Or at least we were SUPPOSED to start at 8 AM. Of course for a Burkinabe (especially a villager) meeting times are really just suggestions. Having never left village, Odile didn’t seem to realize that when a bus is supposed to leave at a certain time, it’s generally a good idea to be at the bus station on time. Especially when you’re taking one of the 2 bus companies in the country that usually leave on time. Luckily, I had anticipated this when I planned to leave at 8.
So sometime after 8 AM, we’re on the road. I expected her to be giggly and excited as she had been all week leading up to the trip. However, she IS a 15 year old girl so the other option for 15 year old girls is to act very cool like she takes buses to the second largest city in the country all the time. Odile chose this option. (Though a 15 year old girl who takes buses all the time would probably have slept during the trip instead of staring incredulously out the window and asking “Is this Banfora? Is this Bobo?” every time we came to a village or town along the way).

We got to Bobo at lunch time and had some tasty kebobs and fries before going to relax at the PC office. The PC office is full of wonders for someone coming from a village. First of all, there is a toilet. I can confidently say this was Odile’s first time seeing indoor plumbing let alone a toilet. In addition to a toilet, there is a shower. When it came time to shower, she said “We should go get water, huh?” “Oh, no,” I smiled, “Follow me!” and showed her the marvels of the shower – just turn a knob and as much water as you want falls on your head! Genius!

There is also a refrigerator/freezer at the office. Odile wanted to fill every bottle she’d collected during our trip (every villager knows you can NOT throw away a plastic bottle – there are so many uses for them!) with water and leave them in the freezer. Hours later when she pulled one out that was entirely frozen, she cried out in amazement. “LINDSY! It is all solid! The whole thing! And so cold!” I can go out on a limb and say she has never seen ice before our trip.

So, the office was full of wonders, surely the rest of the city must be too. We went to the Grand Marche to look around. Odile was insistent about buying things despite my continuous warnings that the Bobo Grand Marche would not have much to offer her for $4. Certainly not the pair of pants and school bag she was hoping to buy for herself and the toy she wanted to buy for her little sister. As we walked around, I let her do the talking since I certainly didn’t want to try buying anything in that ridiculous market. She very quickly learned how far her money would go – the answer was not very far at all. After half an hour, she had spent almost all of her money on a pair of pants and much to my relief, she was ready to leave. I took us instead to the market I prefer – the western style super market. We bought a variety of things including sausage, cheese, a pineapple, and chocolate cake (none of which she’d ever tasted – a problem I eagerly sought to rectify.)

We took our goodies back to the office where we ate and watched a movie on my computer. Here is where I thought I would get more of a reaction from her. Until this point, she had not seen my computer. She had certainly never seen anything computers can do like go on the internet, talk to someone on another continent for free…but none of these things seemed to impress her. Eventually I concluded that this technology was so far beyond what she had ever seen before, she didn’t really grasp it. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself because I personally think the internet is amazing so everyone else should too.

After spending the night in a hostel (where she was too cold because I kept the fan on all night)we had a leisurely breakfast and got ready to go back to village. When we got back, I started wondering if the trip had been as special for her as I’d wanted it to be. I didn’t have to wonder for very long. The next day, Odile’s little sister came up to me and said, “Odile said you guys slept in a bed and had a fan. And that you didn’t have to go get water it just came out and you stood under it. And…” I smiled as she continued, satisfied that even if the trip wasn’t quite what either of us had imagined it would be, neither of us would forget it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bike Tour 2012

For the past few years, Peace Corps Volunteers in Burkina have organized a bike tour. The purpose of it is similar to that of a walk-a-thon. Volunteers advertise what we’re doing and try to raise money for gender and development projects. This year, I participated in the tour from Ouahigouya to Fada, totaling over 400 km. We biked different distances each day from 20 to 80 kilometers. Here’s a look at a typical day on the tour:

We woke up very early, between 4 and 5 AM. We hit the road early before the sun was up while it still wasn’t too hot. Each morning, I’d start out full of optimism ready to go. I wouldn’t even listen to my iPod the first 10 or so kilometers. I would bike in silence and enjoy the early morning with birds chirping and the sun rising and appreciate it all. But after a while, nature wasn’t enough to distract me from my sore butt or my aching back and I’d start jamming to my bike tour playlist. That was usually enough to keep me going until our snack break which generally came a little over half way through our day. My breaks were pretty short because I was close to last every day so by the time I got there people were ready to start back up. But the breaks were enough to give me some oomph to continue on. However, after the first few days, I would get tired pretty quickly after this break. I’d need to take frequent breaks just so I could be in a different position for a few minutes. I became quite the dawdler.
*Addition* I can't believe I forgot to mention my favorite part of the tour: When I would be biking and children on the side of the road would jump up and down pumping their fists in the air and cheering for me like I was Olympian or something and high-fiving me as I passed. Adorable, and nothing gives you an energy boost quite like being treated like a superstar.

Once we’d arrive at our destination, we’d lie around, eat, and relax (and sometimes shower!) In each village, we’d do something “Peace Corps-y” like planting trees, malaria sensibilizations, reading with children, etc. Then the riders would hang out, play cards, eat more (I wanted to do nothing but eat all day on this tour!) Overall, I had a great time biking through north-eastern Burkina and hanging out with other volunteers in their villages.

A map of the tour:

For more information about the bike tour, visit :

Friday, September 14, 2012

Parents and COS Conferences and Reading Camp (Oh, my!)

Well, who knew a year ago when I wasn’t writing out of a lack of material to write about that in one short year I’d neglect writing because I was doing too much? I definitely did not see that one coming. In any case, let’s play catch-up, shall we?

In the beginning of August, after 22 long months of not seeing each other, my parents came to visit me! We spent a couple days in the capital to let them adjust a little bit to Burkina before heading out to Bobo/Banfora to hit some of the awesome tourist sites here. And while that was a little sarcastic because it's hard to imagine people who'd come here for purely touristic purposes, we did have a lot of fun. We biked out to the Domes of Fabedougou, which are rock formations that were made millions of years ago when BF was supposedly under water. From there, we biked to the waterfalls. My parents were great sports even when I maybe didn’t know the way exactly and when it started raining and we were biking through mud.

Then we went to my village! We did the usual village things – sat around, said hi to everyone, played with my neighbor kids…there isn’t really much else we could do. I should add that dad fixed my gate and my bike; I don’t think he can just sit and do nothing.
Overall, their trip was a LOT of fun and a LOT of work! I had to translate everything and do everything and fight off all the faux types (sketchy people) and basically be the parent. It was weird!

After my parents left, I was in Ouaga for my COS conference. COS stands for “Close of Service” which is the official way of saying I’m going back to America soon! The conference was three exhausting days of sessions about job hunting, resume building, grad school info, how to say good bye to our villages…by the end I just wanted to go back to village where everything is so simple and where I have finally reached the point of knowing what is going on (or not caring when I don’t). It was great to see everyone in my training group again (and for the last time all together) and much of the information we listened to was useful but I was glad when the conference was over.

After this, I spent a short week in my village before leaving again to FAVL Reading Camp. FAVL (Friends of African Village Libraries) is a really cool organization that makes books in local African languages and in an African context. They also build village libraries. At each of the libraries in Burkina (and perhaps other countries, though I don’t know) they hold a summer camp. There is a combination of reading practice and appreciation, health lessons, and games. As someone who loves ALL of those things, this camp was great. They even let me check out a Roald Dahl book in French to read in the evenings. What’s not to love?