Wednesday, December 19, 2007
On Monday, a day of no classes except calculating student averages some of my kids were all about working for candy.
We had a fraction fest with parentheses and brackets galore. It was fun and I liked it coz I could individualize the problem depending on the student's skill level as well as show each student what was wrong.
Sometimes the kids make me frown when they work on other homework from other classes or start gabbing when I'm talking.
And sometimes they make me smile at their enthusiasm to learn, hands stretched as high as they can go hoping to be the hand that catches my eye to be called upon.
Calculating the first trimester's grades for 260 students, weighting each subject differently, math and French valued more than the other subjects, plus having to have each student verify their averages by hand is time consuming. Time consuming! At least I have a calculator. I am thankful for my portable solar powered piece of technology.
Homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers are nothing new.
But peanuts, homegrown peanuts are new to me. Peanuts come on shelves in cans with a seal of freshness.
Washing off the dirt that provided the nutrients for my peanuts and then boiling them, or shelling them, or grilling them, or pounding them into peanut butter really puts you into the ground level of processing, a processing by the human hand instead of by an idea out of the human head that mass processes peanuts.
I don't know what I really want to say about this. All I know is that it feels different than picking a tomato, washing it, and eating it.
I have adapted and my world has equilibrated into normal:
the bucket baths
I remember my first days learning how to squat. My muscles complained and my aim was a bit off.
My first bucket bath wasn't very cleansing or conserving. Most of the water missed me washing the floor quite well, taking twice as much water as was necessary.
Star gazing used to be a favorite pastime, now I just fall asleep.
Instead of looking over at an alarm clock with big read numbers sitting on a nightstand, I peer out into the morning sky:
gray = not yet 6 am
orange = 6 am
back to gray = time to get up and get ready for school (6:10)
I never though in my life that I would have ever said the following:
I wish I had been a cheerleader.
It is the last week of classes at the middle school and the kids have organized a football tournament between the different grades.
The kids would love to cheer their team on with cheers. I don't know any cheers. They never stuck in my head while playing basketball or going to football games and pep rallies.
Man, I wish I had been a cheerleader.
My village in Guinea had oranges and avocados galore, a water faucet right outside my door, freshly baked French bread, and two kids who sold a table full of goods for their parents.
My Burkina village has a lot more amenities. It is a bigger village. Just like how a city has a certain coldness due to the number of strangers, my Burkina village has a certain coldness. Just like how it is harder to make friends, to find community in a big city, I also find this difficulty in my Burkina village.
My Guinea village was small and I was quickly absorbed into the community becoming an active participant, trekking 5 km by foot to attend funerals and fetes.
Sunday my Burkina village left for a big fete in a neighboring village. No one told me.
Half of the trip was on a good dirt road used by all vehicles. The other half was on a lonely dirt path in the wilderness. I'm amazed that even being in new territory on a new path, hills have a sense of familiarity. During a feeling of being lost, a small part of me felt not lost. I recognize that hill. I'm getting close to my destination.
One can never really be lost in the wilderness because all paths lead to people and water. And people will get you back on the right path that will lead to your destination.
It gets scary when a path turns into nothing. And voila you're in the wilderness, lost.
I have a stack of pens on my desk, nice gel pens from the US that have run out of ink.
As I was about to throw them out, my students said, "No, we want them."
I replied, "They don't work."
"They're pretty. We can attach it to our shirts and people will say that's a pretty pen from the U.S."
I gave them the pens. I guess they are more useful as a piece of jewellery than down the latrine.
It is a bit unappetizing being served a whole, hot, freshly, deep fried froggy in a clear plastic baggy.
Do I actually bite the head off and start chewing? the webbed feet? It kind of makes me feel a bit queasy.
I've had frog legs before. They were fried up and yummingly reminiscent of chicken. But a whole green frog that looks like it could jump off my plate?
Just close your eyes and start tearing apart!
Well it does taste like chicken a rare taste au village. Chickens are expensive. I miss chicken. Have I found the replacement? Frogs for a quarter each?
Hmm.... I'm not feeling too good.
The legs are tasty.
But I think I'll leave the back, a fried piece of green skin and the head for the dogs and cats. I'm not putting the head in my mouth at least not yet.
I don't know. Maybe I'll leave the frogs for the locals. I waste too much of it. A kid would love the parts I'm throwing out, but its dark and there are no kids around.
I hope my stomach can hold the fine rubbery delicacy.
I think I'll brush my teeth, not sure if my stomach likes the thought or feel of frog gristle between my teeth.
Would it live or die?
Could I catch and protect it till its mother came back?
I decided to wait and see how nature handled it.
Making her rounds with her 20 chick brood, she returned in search for my watermelon rinds.
Unnoticed to be missing, it ran to its family and stopped crying.
Life won today.
It is so much fun!
For the past two practices 20 girls showed up, showed up in skirts and flip flops, but what can you do it's all that they have.
We warmed up, clapping after each stretch. We ran and did pushups. We practiced bumping making our forearms sore. We laughed and enjoyed the friendship between us. And at the end of practice, we gave a rousing cheer, Gooooooo Girls!
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Thursday was a circus.
I wonder if the kids learned anything.
In my 9th grade class I handed out personal photos with captions trying to provide examples of indefinite and definite who clauses. Because the 10th grade teacher wasn't at school, the roar of 80 students looking at pictures didn't matter. Then we listened to Lean on Me on a cassette player provided by one of the students. It was a noisy 2 hour class.
Then after class we went outside. I wanted to show them a chemistry experiment on the combustion of a candle by setting a spoonful of gas from melted wax on fire, but the crowding and pushing of a ton of interested students was unproductive.
Then the school had student body elections where 400 kids voted for their representatives by standing in a line behind their choice. The longest line of students wins. It was a literal support, "We're behind you."
Then in my 8th grade English class we listened to a song from Beauty and the Beast. It was a competition to see how many English words they could catch and write down.
And during the 15 minute morning break we played frisbee. They are all very excited to play both boys and girls. Now I just need to find more frisbees. If you're interested, send me a frisbee or a volleyball. We have one of each, but with the tons of kids a few more would be helpful. I'm going to start a girl's volleyball team and introduce ultimate frisbee.
Monday I gave a 2 hour math test to my 120 students.
And for the past 2 days I've been living at school grading.
I teach for 4 hours and then in the evenings help other teachers by proctoring exams for them. They split their 110 student classes in two to help prevent cheating, but it means they need another teacher to help administer the test.
When I'm not in the classroom, I'm grading except for the 20 minute break I take to eat beans and rice and watermelon from the market ladies. I stay at school all day leaving as the sun is setting, the darkness telling me to stop. You can start again tomorrow.
Tonight though by candlelight I spent an hour preparing to teach my English class.
I'm learning how to be an English teacher by just getting in there and doing it. At the moment I'm doing a pretty bad job. The 90 kids hate it, their frustration audibly heard throughout the class which makes me hate it.
Why am I having a hard time?
1) It is my first time teaching English.
2) I don't have any experience with the teaching methods the kids are use to. My methods are new and probably confusing to them.
3) I don't really have a good idea of how much English they really know.
Their book which has absolutely no French in it, is basically full of texts and comprehension questions. It might just be way to advance for them which makes it hard coz then I'll need to write my own lesson plans with no guidance.
I am tired. Will Friday ever arrive?
There is continuous drumming,
the accompaniment to endless dust-filled dancing.
Today the village is celebrating one of its own.
He left the village 15 years ago
right after primary school to enter seminary school.
He has recently become a Catholic priest.
Friday, October 26, 2007
What do we talk about?
One asked, "Is it true that the US government pays you if you don't have a job?"
We discussed what is the minimum a family of 4 needs to live on if no emergencies arise? We calculated $120/month and that is still living pretty poorly.
Who makes the most money in the village? People who sell alcohol and gas. Women who sell fried fish and doughnuts to school kids make some money compared to other market women who sell dolo, the local millet beer, or who sell rice and sauce.
I rarely see men and women sitting talking to each other for long periods of time. How do husbands get to know their wives? I learned marriage is more of a functional union. Your same-sex friends are who you socialize with, get emotional support from, gossip with and have intellectual debates with.
The pains of the heart of rejected love yes, do keep those so inflicted tossing and turning throughout the night.
When market day comes people see a variety of new faces, some they find interesting, having a passing conversation here and there. And if a serious interest is felt, the man will send a representative to the woman's family. Gotta makes sure there aren't any conflicts between the two families before pursuing marriage. Think Romeo and Juliet.
One asked if I had heard about the Californian fires. I only listen to the BBC when I feel lonely or a sleepless night seems long. It's been a weeks since I turned on the radio.
We discussed China. Is it the next super power? What will the US do? Will Taiwan be the spark of WW III?
Can we go to mars?
We argued about whether it is possible to lose bone mass and argued about why muscles get sore. We each have our own ideas based on info we have heard and read. Are my ideas more valid just coz I come from a developed country with internet? Or are both of our ideas false and are only true because we believe them to be?
- a toddler walking around in his father's flip flops, 4 sizes too big
- a little girl picking out the onions and the green parts and the macaroni she's never seen before to eat only the familiar beans, a little pile of the unwanted beside her on the ground
- the older sister making the younger laugh in glee playing horsey and airplane, the youngster upon the older's shins
- the younger girl using her best defense biting down during a wrestling match against her 3 year old rival
They say it'll be so good, chilled just like out of a fridge.
They say 50 wagons full will come to market instead of the current 10.
They say watermelon is here till Christmas.
Maybe I should grow some.
She is smart, one of the top in her 8th grade class. She loves telling funny stories including all of the sound effects. She is a skinny youngster with a closely buzzed head who loves clothes and would rather buy a tailored made outfit than buy a compass for math, but she'll sacrifice her wants and buy medicine for her brother who has a growing infected sore on his leg.
She has all of the answers. I cut onions and garlic wrong. I dig worms out of sweet potatoes wrong. She takes my potatoes and does it for me. She is an excellent cook who knows how to do a lot of tasty dishes with so little. She loves to contradict me, but given a logical explanation she'll accept my reasoning.
She is a devout Catholic who loves to sing and dance and knows how to balance a cup of water on her head while shaking her hips to music.
I wonder what her future will bring:
a home in the village with a husband and children
a high school education
a college education
a paying job that is not farmer or market lady?
its curved threatening tail
spread upon the ground
tasty guts for the ants
It's actually quite entertaining watching the life that light attracts as long as it all stays on the other side of the net. I especially like watching the lizards line up for the insect buffet.
Last Monday my first day of class, the student's second week of school, I went not knowing what I was going to teach. The teachers' schedules hadn't been done yet. The principal worked hard over the weekend and that Monday I learned that I would be teaching 18 hours: 10 hours of math to two 8th grades (60 students per class), 5 hours of English to one of the 8th grades, and 3 hours of English to the 9th grade (90 students).
I threw all of my 8th graders into one classroom, 3 to 4 to a table and gave a review lesson on plotting points, flying by the seat of my pants.
There was very little teaching my first week of school for several reasons:
1) There were only two teachers for the whole school, both of us math and science teachers. Two teachers cannot keep a school with 6 classes and over 400 students running. We sent the students home early after teaching for a couple of hours.
2) The second day of class I could not erase my previous day's math review lesson because there were no erasers to be found in the village. I left that class went into the other 8th grade classroom which had a clean blackboard, gave a lesson, threw those students out, and brought in the other 8th graders for the same lesson.
3) On Friday, the students and I all came to school and were told to go home. It was a holiday, Ramadan.
4) On Monday, we all came to school and were told to go home. It was a holiday, the 20th anniversary of the president being in power.
Today I finally gave my first real lesson teaching 4 hours of symmetry to 8th graders.
Finally maybe school has started. Or maybe tomorrow I'll be sent home again. I am glad unlike some of the students I don't have to bike in 10 km to go to school.
My garden is brown.
The rains have stopped to the dismay of the farmers of unharvested dying millet.
The flies have disappeared.
It's turned hot.
Watermelon has appeared.
School has started.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
The 15 block walk to my 6th floor hotel room was surreal.
I walked down the middle of the street instead of the earlier weaving through the moving masses of car jams, carts, people, motorcycles, trucks. I walked unobstructed compared to the earlier feelings of being part of a video game hugging parked vehicles watching my feet and the protruding side mirrors of taxis as they beeped their way through narrow passageways.
It was a moment of silence.
The heavens were darkening with the setting sun. The sky was full of dark birds circling above. The air was full of prayers sung from loud speakers.
It was a moment of religious silence.
Everything seemed to be praying.
The narrow alley like streets below 2 story buildings were lined by non-moving huge trucks stacked high with bags of onions, by resting metal carts, lined by rows of men facing Mecca bowing in prayer, full of wooden benches of men breaking fast with coffee and sandwiches a feeling of a quiet rush to fill empty stomachs and wet dry throats.
I felt a sense of deep reverence, a sense of deep solidarity as a city prayed and broke fast.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
I walked into a HUGE supermarket, Wal-Mart and Target-like and was overwhelmed! So many choices food, housewares, so many products. I walked each aisle like it was a museum, an enjoyable way to spend out of the sun in air condition.
I bought cheese, ham, chocolate chip cookies, bread, and chips. It was so expensive, $12, but then I realized I had forgotten what supermarket prices are are like. I get $200 a month. Shopping in a supermarket is a luxury for special occasions. At least I didn't go on a shopping spree buying ALL of the temptations I could.
Maybe I won't binge when I get back to the states.
This small vacation away from village has given me a taste of the Western world: supermarkets, an all you can eat Korean buffet with raw fish, current movies, air conditioned hotel room, lots of merchandise to browse, lots of people watching, a favorite pastime of mine. Yet I am already tiring of it and am ready for the simple life au village.
In contrast though out on the streets among the street vendors:
Keep a poker face
Don't say anything
Don't open the door to be harassed and followed.
I feel like I don't get harassed that much maybe a total of 5 times per outing: hisses, Madame Chinoise, Japonese, Ni hao (at least they say it right here compared to in Guinea where it came out as hee haw).
Do I get harassed less because I'm Asian? There is a somewhat large population of Asians living here in Dakar, maybe the locals are use to Asians. Maybe it is because I wear African cloth and am conservatively clothed compared to those in shorts or tank tops. I don't have the air of a tourist. At one restaurant, the waiter correctly labeled me as Peace Corps. Maybe the lack of harassment is because I stay away from touristy spots or maybe I'm just really good at looking mean and unfriendly.
I'm just glad I've met friendly people and have not been harassed into an attitude of I hate this city. Downtown Ouaga in Burkina has that affect on me. I stay away from downtown, from the vendors who won't leave you alone. Take a bike so you can escape their clutches.
Here in Dakar, I'm happy exploring in peace.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I've got 20 mosquito bites on my ass.
There is no room for repellent anymore.
My ass would just burn from the chemicals coating infected sores.
Who puts insect repellent on their butts anyways?
Irritating bang, bang, bang
a ceaseless banging drives me from
my netted cot
to open the
to let the knocking frog free
from its quest to bang itself out of my latrine.
The National Peace Corps Director is flying into Burkina bringing an entourage of 4 from Washington D.C.
I got a call from Peace Corps Burkina. He's coming to your village. Organize something.
I've been in country only 6 months, 2 of those basically on vacation. The village is empty. My farming community has gone to the fields. How the hell was I going to organize anything? Guinea taught me the difficulty of organizing anything. No one ever shows up for meetings or maybe I never waited long enough. The philosophy of time is totally opposite of our American idea that time is money.
Here time is leisure, is visits with friends, is waiting for the rain to stop, a lack of watches, time told by the sun. Time is waiting for people to show up. Time is patience.
The Burkina philosophy is Ca va allez. Things will work out.
You will only worry yourself sick if you are a control freak.
As the day approaches things are slowly coming together.
My house is coming together, a leaking window fixed. My straw covered porch is finally back up after falling down for 3rd time a month ago.
A 11 h meeting was postponed till 15 h so that the girls could do their laundry. I think they are ready to sing. The organizational meeting took a lot of patience from me. It wasn't crisp and clean. It was a caos of girls who were happy to be together socializing. Everything was in Moore until I tried to force decisions about what songs they wanted to sing. Leadership was lacking. I didn't want to be the leader. I can't speak Moore. Even though they speak French they are more comfortable in their mother tongue. Eventually after what seemed like hours of giggling and endless chatter, I hope we have something organized.
Speeches have been written, but one of the girls pulled out for a trip with her church. Surprisingly another speaker quickly replaced her.
A skit in English on girls' education has slowly come together even with the rains that cancel practices and the inevitable buisness that pulls people away from scheduled practices.
What I've learned during this frenzy of planning is that I've got friends who know how to work in the leisure time scale of Burkina who are willing to make the event happen, who know how to gather people who will participate, even if it means walking kilometers to everyone's house to spread meeting times. It is my friends who are really making this even happen.
It isn't about being on time, or being efficient, or productive in a short amount of time. It is about having fun even if it takes more time to get a final product.
I'm planning an event where nothing is definite. Anything and everything changes. It's kind of exciting not knowing what is going to happen but believing Ca va allez that it'll all work out in the end.
The visit to my village was an enormous success! Students showed up. Songs were sung. Speeches were given and my high energy speech about Peace Corps and its work in the village was received with high praise. I am just super glad that it is over.
They scale the fresh water fish and then dip it in a wok of oil heated by burning wood. Then we eat . I've started learning how to crunch on the heads, a favored part of the fried fish. The kids are sad coz they use to always get my uneaten fish heads. Frying the fish is a way of conserving the meat for a few days. How long does it take for flies to lay eggs that become larvae? I hate having almost finished a whole fish only to find wiggling white larvae in the meat.
I could try binging on bread or pancakes, but I get awfully tired of eating them.
Amongst cheese, cookies, candy, ice cream, chips, fast food, restaurants, and piles of fruit and vegetables, I am afraid I'm going to binge.
Today was a day in African hell where one keeps running into difficulties and roadblocks yet you never get upset having learned to just go with the flow. In the end everything tends to work out. My proof? a bacon and cheese quiche sitting beside me.
My troubles began at 6 am. The month of fasting has started and I could not find breakfast an essential for a 30 km bike ride. I had planned to taxi into Kaya to withdraw money from the bank and then bike back not wanting to wait around till 3 pm for the taxi to return home.
The ride to Kaya was fun sitting in a big cab of a truck slightly afraid of going through a windshield that was well cracked. We stopped at one village for a long time.
A) Start worrying and panicking that the day is progressively getting hotter, each minute ticking to make a late arrival in Kaya resulting in a tortuously hot bike ride home or
B) enjoy the sights?
I enjoyed watching 3-6 women young, old, pregnant, some with babies tied to their backs, pull water from a well and lift heavy water-filled plastic bidons and locally made mud canisters above their heads to be balanced there as they walked off. The old women have lost a lot of their muscle yet they still pull, organizing their rope efficiently for repeat drops. I could tell that their strength was disappearing. Water was carried with a wobble instead of the centered stillness of the younger women.
I watched 5 young men lift a huge bull from a donkey cart onto the back of a big truck. It was to be sold for meat, a useless bull with a broken leg. We sat at that village a long time. The next thing I watched was a long argument about money. Fists were raised but we were soon on our way and I watched village tops roll by, their walls hidden by fields of corn.
I biked to the bank looking forward to later buying watermelon from the growing stacks of market day to send home with the truck. Instead I found the post closed. I needed money. I was down to my last $10 and I was flying to Dakar soon.
A) Wait till 15h when it was rumored that the post would re-open thus missing the 15h transport back home then A1) bike back arriving at nightfall or A2) spend the night in Kaya or
B) Take a bus down to Ouaga, withdraw money and catch the 13h taxi back home?
It was only 8:30 am giving me plenty of time to take the 9 am bus down to Ouaga a 100 km ride on paved roads (about 2 hours). I bought my ticket when the sky suddenly turned red and a rainstorm hit us. We sat at the bus station forever waiting way past the scheduled departure time for the rain to stop. Would I make it to the bank before it closed for lunch?
A) Ask for a refund and stay in Kaya hoping to withdraw money and if the bank never opened not having enough for a hotel. or
B) Continue to Ouaga where if the bank closed before you arrived you'd have to wait till it reopened at 15 h thus missing your taxi back home and thus having to stay in an expensive hotel?
I had the idea that the post closed at 11:45. We got into Ouaga at 11:30. They took forever to get my bike down from the top of the bus. At 11:50 I got my money and stamps with 10 minutes to spare. *whew* I got my money and even got to do some expensive shopping at a pastry shop and a grocery store full of Western food: raisins, powdered milk, cookies, baking powder, and a Mars bar. I caught my 13h taxi back home not getting any watermelon, yet still happy with my rare treat of a bacon and cheese quiche.
No matter how you choose your adventure in Africa, everything eventually works out.
My weight is directly proportional to my stress levels. Lately I'm feeling the pull to eat. Lucky for me there are no snacks here au village.
Not only am I teaching 18 hours a week, summer science and math classes, but now I'm helping put together a ceremony for a visit by the National Peace Corps director who is flying in from Washington: speeches, skits, and singing. As an American organizing a visit by an American to Burkina Faso is stressful. Working in a different culture with a different time scale is challenging.
When nothing is at stake, I'm stress free. Here in Burkina, I have learned to put aside my American need to have things start on time, to be overly prepared, and to feel in control. Bush taxis that break down have taught me a lesson that things work out in the end. I can relax for hours, waiting for repairs.
Why is it so hard to apply that philosophy to this visit?
I am stressed instead of relaxed! I am in an organizing, meetings galore frenzy. I'm tired. I just want to cook pancakes and to weed my garden. Instead I eat on the go, never at home. I'm bringing an American attitude to Burkina *sigh* Relax I keep telling myself. The visit will arrive and it will pass.
Tonight as the sun was setting filling the sky with pinks and oranges amongst the scattered grayness, I walked in my garden. The garden is beautiful at dusk. I felt proud finally understanding why dad would sweat so much for his garden. I never understood thinking he was a workaholic who couldn't take a break and retire. Still having a third of the bean patch to weed, I leisurely pulled up some. It was just an after thought as I was walking, not the goal oriented let's get this weeding done of earlier this morning. Through this relaxed state I found a secret. Don't pull and tug at the vines trying to find the weeds. Squat down, gently lift the vine patch, peer underneath and let your hand find the mauvais herbes, a much better strategy than this morning's frustrating tedious garden work.
The problem with enjoying cooking is water. Washing dishes uses a lot of water, a lot of water that is because each drop is pumped, biked and carried to the kitchen doorstep.
I should really stop eating the frozen fish flown in from Senegal that is deep fried, unless it is freshly fried. I am done with eating day old fish full of near invisible fly larvae.
But my tattooed body that so obviously bears the beauty's mark- almost every Burkinabe comments on my blemished skin- swings and misses. Who knew such a delicate thing could fly so fast, just like those monstrosities called flies.
I remember my younger years, years of struggle never believing a page long math problem would become as easy as 1+1=2.
I wonder would my graduate school problem sets ever turn into 1+1?
Holding summer school for 2 students who have already starting preparing for the end of the year national 10th grade test, my focus on the circuit problems strayed as the sound of a familiar song swept into the empty classroom. Shouted at the top of his voice a young shepherd, a kid was pushing his flock home with a song. Our class grinned.
Baking always seemed such a hassle in the US, all of the dishes and mess. Here it seems so much simpler. I wonder why.
It could be a new time scale, where taking an unknown amount of time doesn't feel like sacrificing anything. I have nothing else to do except to use up time. It could be that I only dirtied 1 spoon, 1 cup, 1 bowl, and a frying pan to make the pancakes, hardly any dishes at all. My wash basin is sitting outside filling with rain water.
Flies are horrible, pesky little creatures. The ones in my latrine are huge. Their wings audibly buzz at a frequency that tells me as soon as I lift the lid I'll be swarmed, my parts all of them attacked. Why must I pee? At least my friends the ants are trying to help, removing the eggs the flies lay. And today I saw 4 ants attacking one of the the hundreds, the ants being dragged from here to there by the giant.
The smaller ones are just as annoying. Their legs must be huge because not a one goes unnoticed as they land. While bent over doing laundry today, I had to keep a steady march in place to keep the 20 flies from making my ankles and feet a place to linger.
Brandi Carlie's song "What can I say?" is beautiful. In my restless state tonight, unable to focus on writing a letter, I've been singing along with Brandi in repeat for the past 30 minutes.
I completely understand how time stops with solitude.
But why am I not sad being alone?
Even tonight with my restlessness, with a desire to sleep- it's too early to blow out the lamp, only 8 pm- I do not feel sad or lonely. I feel a smile, a sense of love for my house, the outside darkness, the desk I write at, the dim light. The atmosphere makes me smile, happy. A lovely presence keeps me company on the walls of brightly painted pastels. The cool wind through the screen door caresses my warm body.
I love the state I am in.
I am alone, silent, and free.
Am I part of the village babysitting network?
Here okra is boiled into a stringy sauce. Like how we manipulate stress balls, millet toe, a more solid form of grits, is formed into a ball and dipped into an okra sauce. Toe doesn't really have a taste. It is the texture people find hard. For me it is the sauce that makes or breaks toe.
I am somewhat concerned that the square cement floor covering a square pit hanging on by its edges over a live smelly mess, made personally by yours truly will cave in. Rain is slowly eating away at the crumbling edges.
My nearest Peace Corps neighbor is a comedian, "I'd get a picture and then help you out."
I've been happy with Burkina's transportation. The roads are better. Buses leave on time. There are more runs per route making the bus less crowded.
Today though may have pushed me to start biking the 100 km. The only problem is I like starting at 5 am. I'm not sure the canoes used to cross a river 3 km from my village on the way to Ouaga are operating that early. Plus it would be kind of scary crossing a river in the dark. If I don't leave early for Ouaga though the sun will get me.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
The rainy season has arrived and I am slowly learning how to live inside. The flies are horribly annoying outside. It has turned cooler and I don't mind sitting at my desk writing as long as the flies are kept on the outside all whacked dead on the inside. Life these days remind me of the many hours at my desk in Guinea.
I am glad to be back in the writing habit.
I am glad to have a desk at which I can write without drenching each letter with a drop of sweat.
It isn't the silence of noise that pierces
for there is a lot to hear
the ringing of the 5:45 am church bell
the cackling of a hen chased from pooping on the front porch
the bubbling of water from cooking rice or the popping of cooking corn
the scurrying of lizards across my metal roof
the tearing of weedy roots like the sounds of ripping teeth from their gums
No, it is the lack of English that envelops me into a bubble of quiet aloneness.
I read a book a day filling my mental silence with stories and conversations for my eyes to devour.
My ears feel neglected.
Sound can be a touch of human contact.
When the sun sets, I imprison myself under a net with mosquitoes guarding my access to freedom.
Anyways there are no coffee shops, no theaters, or music halls to attend. Where else can I be but at home?
With the star-filled sky as the stage, I slip in a CD and listen to the dramatic brass, the sad guitar strings, the voices of theatrical emotion expressing love, rebirth, anguish, strength, justice, and injustice as tonight's hearing of Les Mis fills my need for contact.
And I cry when Eponine dies, a star shooting across the black sky.
And I cry when all of the songs on the ruined disc 2 skip, a 3 hour showing shortened to 1.5 hours.
The stars keep falling to the sounds of crickets, to the sounds of solitude.
And I am content.
I can hear without distraction.
I can feel and listen in ways that are lost in a developed world surrounded by English.
Yes I am at peace, a monk studying the art of being.
I scrub my feet
I sweep the floor
I separate beans from rocks
I cook a time-consuming dish
I read an entire book
All the little things combined with bigger tasks like weeding, visiting, and tutoring make up a full enjoyable day.
Even though you are
strangely decorated with
mixed matched colors
and weird designs like
how fast you dry
how little you wrinkle
how amazingly well you hide
dirt and sweat
You are practical
and that is
what makes you great.
Note: Pagnes are 1.5 meters of African cloth.
When we left Guinea, I also left the pillow.
My new bed is a foldable cot made out of woven plastic rope. It is a hard bed. I bought the rectangle foam pillows that they have here. I was able to fall asleep, but then the hot season came and it was too hot to use the pillow. So I learned how to sleep without a pillow and now I never use one even if I'm in a hotel with fluffy ones.
Funny how quickly a body adapts.
I replied, "Do you want beans?"
Only the youngest, a 3 year old nodded yes.
She gobbled down my black eye pea chili and when I asked again, do you want beans, the 2 others nodded yes.
I gave them spoons and was glad to see that I am not the only one who makes a mess when using a new utensil.
My Moringa trees that I have started in little bags have sprouted. My enclosed latrine is a great place to start a tree nursery well protected from hungry animals.
If I learned how to fix well pumps, I could do a bike tour across Africa re paring pumps in exchange for food and a place to stay.
Weeding is fun.
It is like a treasure hunt digging until you find the gold.
Airplanes are cramped ways to travel, an uncomfortable day to get from point A to point B.
I flew to Dakar, Senegal last week.
After a year of Bush taxis rides, airplanes are a first class way to travel
your own seat
hot food and drinks handed to you instead of thrown through open windows chased by foot for their money as the taxi pulls away
a smooth ride
Airplanes are definitely a welcomed bump up to first class.
How are you?
How is your family?
How did you sleep?
How is work?
God bless your day.
If I start a greeting in French o fin Moore I can be African polite, each question asked with a squeeze of the hand, at least 3 hand squeezes per greeting.
If I start a greeting in English, I am impolite with my minuscule greeting starting with good morning and ending with How are you running full speed into business.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
I am connected to 30 years of life on this earth, but do not feel connected to anything older. My genetic makeup is my tradition. I have no cultural tradition. I am an outsider looking in, a reader doing research at the library.
Am I burdened to forever wander, following me, for that is where my home is. I am my family.
Or does all of this have nothing to do with being adopted but has to do with age?
Am I in some common phase of life where 30 year olds think about their dreams, selfishly doing what they want following their hearts forsaking a life with family?
I have half an acre of land that I am planting using hand tools. A student plowed my land with a donkey while I was away.
Yesterday I planted peanuts and corn. Today beans.
I love physical labor feeling the sweat drip off of me like right after a cool bucket bath.
My 6 blisters hopefully will turn into calluses today rather than popped open sores.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
But tonight the rain drove us inside.
Inside is scary.
Winged wispy bugs as long as a pinkie
and a HUGE rat plump as a grapefruit
who wanted to go outside
I did not scream.
And then an exclamation from Damon of "cute"
a pea-sized frog that Damon helped outside as he did with the rat.
What will the rest of the night bring?
a lime sized frog crawling up the screen door
a turtle swimming in the newly formed pond of a yard
to see or not to see?
which is better?
kerosene lamp on or off?
My writing has taken a hit.
Africa, life au village, provided the perfect writing environment to write in my journal, to write letters, blogs, and even various essays about love and relationships.
my perfect writing environment
lacking electricity and distraction
endless hours of
me and my pen
But with the arrival of Damon, a boyfriend, my writing has taken a hit. Having a 24 hour companion to take vacations to Banfora, Burkina Faso and to Ghana to experience new African sites and sounds put a stop sign on my writing.
But that is okay.
I've had fun travelling around. I don't like travelling probably due to my lifetime of car sickness. Without a companion I probably would have stayed put in my comfortable safe surroundings of village. I prefer the familiarity of having adapted and been accepted to a new culture rather than the stress of new money, of a maze of a new city, of drowning in a new language.
As a tourist, a new country, a new city, a new village, is not fun for me. Having a companion made it easier.
I love exploring new cultures as a long-term participant rather than a hello goodbye tourist.
Friday, June 08, 2007
In the morning
gobble rice and goat sauce,
stir in a cafe au lait
(sweetened condensed milk with instant coffee),
with a buttered baguette,
chomp on a slice of coconut,
drink zoom koom (ginger drink),
open up a mango,
and mix with
dried manioc shavings and fried fish,
try a mouthful of warm millet beer,
share a plate of grilled goat and lung,
sip a bottle of hot coke along
with warm Guinness
ending by mixing the two.
An African Tapas experience au village
Let the stomach rumble and grumble till nightfall.
Then throw it up and piss it out your ass.
Welcome to Africa.
The ride was luxurious in a big 60 passenger bus, a five hour trip with curtains on the windows, with music and air conditioning. The road was smooth, flat, and straight.
On a dirt detour from the paved road being repaired, the bus stopped.
We sat outside on the sparsely grassed dirt and planned our trip to Ghana.
An hour later we flagged down a 12 passenger van and became two of the 19 sardined inside.
Luxury turned into reality.
Ahh... the adventures of travelling in Africa.
Thursday May 24
One of my favorite things to do in my house is to search for termite tracks along the white walls.
Termites form dirt paths as fat as my fingers that can be as long as my foot and even longer if you leave them be.
Termites don't bite. I just brush the crispy dirt away with my hands.
The only negative thing about termites is that they eat paper, precious reading material. Documents turn into dust.
I have to keep my eye and broom on those insects that give me something to do au village.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
I wonder if the elderly in Africa have trouble sleeping like my grandmothers.
Is my insomnia due to drugs, the infamous Larime, the excitement of organizing activities for a girls' club, or the excitement of Damon's visit?
It is a good thing I brought ear plugs.
The rain knocked down my straw roofed and straw enclosed patio where I sleep every night. Thankfully I was already inside my sturdy house. That would have hurt. Straw is heavier than you would think.
When the rain is pouring, know what I need?
a chamber pot
You know what I like about Africa?
You can leave a dead roach on the floor of your house and the next morning it will be gone.
And you know what the great thing is?
My village has a market day every three days, so if I need a bowl or a fork I can just walk 2 football fields and buy whatever I desire.
A co-worker has approached me with two ides for projects:
- to help start a program for families who take in orphans and need assistance
- to help with cultural preservation, the traditional masks of the village.
I have a few ideas, but would appreciate your suggestions, your expertise, and your experience.
At the school, I'm trying to start a Girl's Club. Empowering women and tackling women's issues must have an impact on poverty right?
Seeing people especially kids in need really hits me and I feel the urge to give, but if I started handing out 5000 CFA ($10) bills does that help anyone? It provides a temporary solution to my guilt of being privileged and a temporary solution to a person's hunger. After the money is used up though hunger creeps in again.
How can I have an impact on poverty? Giving money? Teaching skills that help people make money? Putting money into the local economy by spending? Planting a Moringa tree? What can I do to put a dent into poverty and hunger?
My 10th graders say, "We need jobs."
As I was cleaning the glass of my kerosene lamp, I thought to myself, "Wow. Every day you are living at a campsite: a pit latrine, a tent, light from a flame, and it's become normal, not weird or uncomfortable."
Life here has a simplicity that makes it a desirable and a wonderful life for me. Even though I'm covered with mosquito bites and rashes from the heat, I feel a sense of peace I rarely felt in the US. The burden of responsibility of having to make money to live comfortably was a dark shadow that made it heard for me to enjoy time. Here my shelter, food, health care, and spending money are all provided for me in exchange for teaching and cultural exchange.
Everything I need is here. I don't have to worry about how I'm going to make ends meet. Here I can enjoy. Even bouts of sadness, I seem to experience differently here. Au village, it is so much easier to be sad, to find peace with the sadness, and to watch it pass. In the US for some reason I held onto my misery for longer than I should.
I am provided for here. I feel safe. In this safety I don't worry. I exist with a sense of contentment, and if I do worry it doesn't linger. How strange that in the endless quiet au village, thoughts and worry don't spin in my unoccupied head.
I turned out the lamp and breathed in the wish that it wouldn't find its way into my protected space that has ample openings for it to discover.
Today I learned it was a harmless palm sized insect, called a transporter.
The rest of the time is spent eating and napping in the shade. Do I get bored? No way!
The most challenging part of the day is having visitors all of the time, visitors who lie on a prayer mat on the ground just napping. I let their presence frustrate me, allow them to disrupt my peace and my activities at home. I need to learn to just let their company be a comforting presence instead of an irritating chirp of a cricket.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Reminded me of playing the piano.
What were you typing?
I was typing a 3 page English exam written by the principal that will be copied using a manual hand crank replicator.
Rise and shine
My water girl showed up ready to move a pile of sand out of my patio.
Went and had a cup of instant coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk with a buttered baguette to dunk.
Went in search for veggies and salt, but the market was empty.
Went to the tailor
Started grading 80 math tests.
Went to the market and bought tomatoes, onions, okra, sugar, salt, and freshly butchered lamb.
Graded some more.
Started cooking spaghetti for five people using my one tiny pot.
Started and finished a book.
Crocheted a bag.
Braided my hair.
Took a bucket bath
Had tea with neighbors.
Put grades into grade book.
Read Where There is No Doctor for my continuously runny nose. Allergies to the dust? Take Dramamine it suggested.
Listened to music and fell asleep
I'm always afraid of dropping my
flashlight down the hole
like how my good soap from Mali
got away from me and plummeted to its death.
I knew a guy whose hat fell.
He fished it out.
Must have been a really special hat.
I knew a girl who lost 5 pair of sunglasses.
And I once heard the story of a kitten who skidded and couldn't stop.
No wonder the 3-year old goes in the courtyard rather than my latrine.
I've learned to scrub my sandals every night, my feet several times a day, and rinse my flip flops before leaving the house. I now understand better the washing of feet so often spoken of in the Bible.
I'm surprised that in this dusty, dirty, hot place, my pores don't clog.
Maybe sweating keeps the pimples away?
Maybe it is the lack of chocolate?
Or is that a myth?
It is hot.
It is still early only 8 pm.
I lie in the dark thinking up dresses I want tailored made.
I was never a clothes person in the US, hating shopping because nothing ever fit. Here though everything fits if its a good tailor.
I have a good tailor.
Send me pictures or patters of cute modest sundresses.
I left all of my clothes in Guinea.
The Burkinabe nuns live it up here a walled compound full of foodies: cold water, running water, toilet paper, popcorn, a fully cemented courtyard, flowers, and fruit trees.
About 500 people showed up for the 4 hour Catholic service, about 100 baptized, about 10 couples married.
Then the partying began, feasting on pork, lamb, and goat, washing it all down with millet beer.
I went and said hello to all the people who I see daily or who have helped me: the boutique guys, the meat guys, the coffee guy, the taxi guy, the street food ladies, the profs at the middle school, the family of the girl who helps get my water, my tailor, my carpenter, and the guys I drink tea with.
Then I hid away from the market drinking tea in a quiet courtyard away from the center. It is hard being the white person amongst a bunch of drinking strangers. So I sat in the distance watching the comings and goings of motorcycles that were going too fast for a heavily populated area. Thankfully he crashed instead of hitting a person.
There was a lot of drumming and dancing.
The night was full of joyful noise.
The kids come to school on time.
They attend office hours.
They know what 9x9 is at least some of them do.
They are quiet.
my 8th graders all 110 of them
my 7th graders all 88 of them
I'm impressed this week.
Things here just work better.
The quality is higher.
There are more choices.
The matches light on one strike.
Chalk doesn't break every time I write.
2 pieces can last 2 hours whereas
in Guinea I would need 10.
The taxi for Ouaga left on time
even 10 minutes early.
It was a cush ride.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Even though I have been swimming before I could walk, I have always felt much closer to earth enjoying the ground under my running feet, mud pies, clay at the bottom of a pond, the sound of gravel under my bike’s wheel, my bed inside a tent, worms hiding in the soil.
Now don’t misunderstand me.
I love drinking water.
It is my preferred beverage; however, I am a solid type of person rather than a flowy one, a person who loves to be grounded.
Water however has taken on a whole new perspective here in Africa.
My house is full of water: a large clay pot, three buckets, 2 bidons, and a huge garbage can. My water girl got over-zealous at $0.20 a bidon transporting 8 bidons of water today from the well. She wants to buy an expensive store-bought jean outfit for $10, to get dressed up for Easter.
Water is hard work here in my new village.
I have a new-found appreciation as I can down a liter and a half in 2 minutes, can take 3 bucket baths a day, and tend to drink at least 10 liters a day and still feel thirsty.
Water, more precious than the gold in the nearby mine.
After drinking a 6:30 am cup of coffee and after sitting at a table with thousands of flies thankfully more interested in the skinned lamb instead of me as I waited for my flat tire to be fixed, I arrived home to my two seventh grade helpers and a 3-year old sibling, all sleeping on my sand-covered patio.
We washed clothes, swept the house, and washed my bike. The two girls braved the hottest part of the day to make 3 trips to the well to collect 5 bidons of water wanting to get me water instead of waiting for hours during the cooler parts of the day when the line of women for water is extra long.
I babysat the cutest little boy. The 3-year old taught me how to say I want water in Moore. He learned how to operate a spigot on a water filter. We played with rocks instead of blocks constructing bridges. We put his baby to sleep, a tiny figure that his sister molded out of candle wax. He listened attentively as I sang the ABC’s and all the nursery rhymes I knew, hoping he would take a nap.
When his sister returned, I watched as she used one small clear plastic bag amusing him for half an hour making balloons of all shapes and sizes that go boom.
Today was a nice mix of chores and play.
The oil factor has turned me off of the always handy utensil.
My hand drips of oil, impossible to remove after a meal.
I’m either going to have to keep a spoon or a bar of soap in my bag.
In the US I am known for my never-ending questions. If I was in the US, what questions would I ask my friend in Burkina?
What is your living situation like?
I live in a tiny 2 room house full of sand and dust with an aluminum roof. It’s smaller than most of your garages. Can a car even fit into mine?
My latrine shares a wall with my house and has no roof. I wonder how that will be during the rainy season. I have a front porch, sand as the floor, enclosed and roofed by straw mats surprisingly private, a place to sleep in the heat. I write by kerosene lamp and have a couple of girls fetch water 2 football fields away from a wheel pump well. My house is empty except for a desk. I basically live in my porch. It’s too hot inside.
I don’t cook. There are too may food vendors: rice, black-eye peas and spaghetti ($0.20), corn toe (solid form of grits), fish and sauce ($0.20), bread and 1/3 cup of sweetened condensed milk and a spoonful of instant coffee, the rest water ($0.20), cabbage, lamb, rice, and spaghetti ($0.20), a huge plate of goat or lamp ($1).
Are you lonely?
No way. There is a ton of socializing here. Lots of people speak French. In the mornings, I have coffee and talk with students. In the afternoon I walk around town talking to whomever. Kids and students come visit especially girls. In the evenings, I eat with a family and drink green tea with a group of men.
How’s school and teaching?
Well I arrived during the last week of the 2nd trimester. Teachers were calculating grades and having the kids recheck the math.
My first impression is that it is a well-run school. The facilities are new provided by PLAN. They have 10 classrooms, a library, an administration building, a teacher’s room, a kitchen where the cafeteria lady cooks over wood, and nice homes for the teachers who are brought in by the government.
During the last week of the 2nd trimester, the students organized a football tournament, a traditional clothing pageant, a carnival, and a dance. I got to judge the pageant based on costume and a 5 minute speech on a theme like HIV/AIDS, child labor, excision, scholarisation of girls.
We are now on 2 weeks of vacation and I’ll finish the month and a half of the last trimester teaching 10 hours a week of math to 7th and 8th graders, class sizes of 80-100. That will be a challenge. I also haven’t done any geometry since 11th grade. I guess it’s good that I have a PhD, a badge of a self-learner.
Do you see any differences between your village in Guinea and your village in Burkina?
First off the village in Burkina has a Catholic church, a Protestant one and a mosque. It has pork running around as well as donkeys. It has cell phone coverage, cold beer, homemade millet beer, and cold cokes.
Another big difference is I see a lot of kids with big bellies which is something I never saw in my village in Guinea.
Here it is flat with sand, shrubs, and cliffs, kind of reminds me of Colorado.
I can’t get fruit in my Burkina village, but I can get cabbage.
There are cultural differences too, but I’m too new to comment on them.
I am very happy in my new home. I do daily 20-30 km bike rides and did a 60 km ride today. I am hoping to do the 80-90 km to Ouaga soon.
My house isn’t furnished yet. It feels more like a large walk-in closet. But this village feels like home. I have a daily routine, people to talk to, girls to teach how to make friendship bracelets, kids who come over to play. It is a community not a house that makes a home. I’ve never been a Martha Stewart. Who cares if my windows have curtains? I can be happy living outside on a cot as long as there are people who come to visit, people to cook for, people to share my huge bag of salted cashews with.
They say April is worse.
I sit legs spread not waiting the moisture of my thighs to touch into a sticky heated mess.
Why are clothes necessary for decency?
I move my cot out of the moving light, but it is impossible to escape.
The liters and liters I drink are as warm as a cup of tea and I rarely pee.
The hot breath of mother nature comforts me for a mini-second.
The droplets that flow down my chest are incredibly cooling.
Yet the heat is trapped here, a prison I cannot break free from.
At dusk when my eyes don’t seek shelter from the bright glare, its beautiful overpowering sphere, so moonlike, fills the sky, a huge presence whispering goodbye, its daily torture already fading from the memory in the awe of its beauty.
Reading by flashlight, upon my single cot outside under the tent of a mosquito net reminds me of my youth, the many nights enjoyed camping in the tight confines of a tent placed upon my single in my bedroom.
Why are tents so much fun when we are young?
the tents made from tables and chairs
the ones bought to place upon beds
the refrigerator cardboard boxes shelter upon a hard patio
Sushi is yummy. I used to get the clear raw sweet flesh of shrimp served along with its head deep fried, its long antennas making it barely manageable for my petit mouth.
I found a Burkina snack food that is like popping fried shrimp heads except I pinch off the heads, removing the icky taste, of the deep fried little fish, a salty delight in this potato chip deprived town.
Where do the fish come from?
I rode my bike to a nearby village. I rode past big fields of water. I bet the fish are local. In the neighboring village, they were selling shrimp.
Biking is easy 22 km (13 miles) in 50 minutes and I am out of bike shape. It is easy until the wind. It took me 1 h and 30 minutes to make it home. Winds are easier than the hills and rocky terrain of Guinea though, but the winds make the trip super long.
Can I make the 90 km trip to Ouaga?
Should I even try?
Transport is easy, cheap, and fast.
I sleep outside on a cot made of woven plastic rope, under a mosquito net hidden away by thick straw mats unable to see the stars.
My nighttime sleep weaves in and out of dreams of Africa and home.
My 30 some Catholic neighbors renting a courtyard until Easter are undergoing training before being baptized and they are loud: babies, chatter, and dinner. When they become quiet, the singing and drumming of choir practice at the Protestant chapel take over. Then the silence is broken by a random motorcycle, a bicycle that seems to stop at my gate, the loud action movie at the cinema hut, the thumping of the dance club. Then the loud braying of donkeys shatter the quiet, then the dogs, the guinea hens, the roosters, and then it is time for breakfast.
School starts at 7 am.
I’m in Africa, a dream soundtrack of a waking reality.
Silly us, complaining about the 5 am prayer call in Guinea.
Dust covers everything in my new home, yet I am very happy. The house is simple: two tiny rooms, plus a front sand filled straw covered patio enclosed by straw mats, an outdoor latrine lacking a roof that shares a wall with the house. What will that be like in rainy season? Water? A well, 2 football fields away.
My new village has meat everyday, lamb and goat, has boutiques stocked high with soap, sardines, spaghetti, all that you could ever want. It has bars that serve beer and cold cokes. It has donkeys, pigs, sheep, and goats. It has solar power for a TV with a satellite dish, car batteries for music and cell phones. It has a Catholic church, a Protestant one, and a mosque. It has a lot.
With all of the amenities, one would think my village has a large population, but it is about the same size as my Guinea village. It feels small, and I am glad. It is the community that will make or break a town.
My first impression is a good one.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Soon though I will see the village.
Yesterday I went on a bike ride. It was flat. It was on a paved road around a huge water reservoir, a big lake. It was fast and fun. Too many cars, motos, pedestrians, and other bikers. I actually passed a couple people on motorcycles. They were going a bit slow. I believe the challenges to biking here will be the wind, the dust, and mud, very different challenges than biking in Guinea with its mountains, rocky ravines, ungrated roads, and huge rocks.
Last night I went out to eat. It was nice. Before the meal there was all you can eat olives, soft tasty rolls with butter. For dinner I had a steak with mustard sauce and five tapas: frog legs, hummus, spinach fondue with shrimp, guacamole, and fish in a tasty oil sauce. For dessert I had a huge chocolate ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce and whip cream. Then they brought out little glasses of strong, strong tea and a bisap drink made out of hibiscus flowers for your digestion. There was lovely live music with local instruments and the walls were covered with local artwork. It was a fine dining experience. Something I never found in Guinea.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The trip from Mali to Burkina Faso was on a big bus, a bus with a schedule, each person with their own seat, a 12 hour trip on a ship tighter than an airplane with no air conditioning and windows shut.
Burkina Faso has been days worth of training. Moore is my new language. I have met tons of volunteers because of the film festival. I have been shopping to furnish a new house in a village without electricity or running water.
I have been busy.
But how have I been feeling?
Transferring to a new country is difficult. It is a challenge. I came to Africa looking for challenges, yet I didn't find many.
The other day I got teary-eyed.
I think I may have found my challenge.
It is hard leaving a village you love, a village you were only beginning to feel comfortable in, a place where you were starting to make friends. It is hard leaving that for something totally new.
Here in Burkina, my village will be big with daily transportation, with flat dirt roads for biking with an easily accessible nearest neighbor who shops at my market that stocks toilet paper and mayo, a village with class sizes of 100, with cell phone coverage, with internet 30 km away, with a mail system that actually works.
It is hard not to compare Burkina's village to my little isolated village in Guinea.
It can be a bit weird, overwhelming, sad having to say goodbye to something I really loved in Guinea to adapt to a new environment here in Burkina.
I can only hope that the Burkina village will one day become my home.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
If you are planner and need to know when and where, how and what, then the Peace Corps is not for you.
When my friend was going to visit her site for the first time in Guinea, she had to wait 10 hours for her taxi to leave.
Thursday we spent ALL day doing dental and sitting around the medical office waiting to get medically cleared.
Friday, we tried to leave Mali on Monday. The office closes at 11 am on Fridays. That plan went out the window.
Today, we tried to leave Mali on Tuesday. At 8 am, the coordinator said you are leaving tomorrow by bus. Would you mind leaving on a plane though? I replied, "I am as flexible as you need me to be."
We took the Peace Corps provided shuttle the 30 minute ride into town braving the horrible traffic and the kids selling stuff as they weave in and out of stopped and moving cars. I walked to get passport photos for Visas and then walked to the Mali Peace Corps office where we were told, come back around 3 pm. We will get your Burkina Faso visas and then we will give you money and a bus ticket to leave tomorrow.
We had a lovely lunch of falafels and yummy pita filled meat sandwiches. Then I went and had ice cream.
At 5 pm we learned that we would not be leaving tomorrow, but would be leaving on Wednesday on an 8 am bus. My friends who were looking forward to riding a bus to Niger learned that they would be flying. They were disappointed.
It was a day of waiting, of just being in the moment, of not worrying about plans, over the future, over anything, of just going with the flow of change. Funny how such a day was so stressful yet peaceful.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
I left the US for Guinea with 80 lbs worth of stuff.
I leave Mali for my new country with a week's worth of clothes, a headlamp, a nalgene, a pair of sandals, and a pair of running shoes. I left so much behind at my village to be given away.
It is a lesson in attachment.
It is a lesson in letting go.
It is a lesson in living at the bare minimum.
I use to say that air, water, food, shelter, and human companionship were the only things I ever wanted or needed in life.
It is being tested.
I wonder if it is still true.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
I sit watching the trees move in the breeze.
I am waiting for a transfer offer to a new African country for a 27 month Peace Corps tour.
If I say no, I will return to the US.
If I say yes, I will pack up my week’s worth of clothes, board a plane, and be dropped off alone in a new country.
I sit and I wait.
The viscious mosquitoes are tearing up my ankles and legs. I spray Off, yet my bites turn red, pus-filled, infected.
I wear long skirts, but they are sneaky little buggers. So now I wear pants found in the free-box left by Peace Corps volunteers departing for home.
Today I found a pair of jeans. It has been 7 months since I have worn jeans. Jeans and Africa do not exactly mix. It’s too hot for heavy pants, but today I have no new bites.
I feel so American in jeans!
What does that mean?
In Africa, I feel very female, a woman, a different sense of power as a second-class citizen compared to men. I feel the pressure to be a wife, a baby-maker. Wearing jeans, I feel tough, feel the girliness leave, feel the strength of being who I am regardless of my sex and gender.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Even with the energy of the Malian camp changing from hope to ugh
Even with drama, anxieties, boredom and goodbyes
I still laugh and smile.
I am still well.
The time in Mali is coming to an end.
I still do not know where I will be, but by the end of this week
the answer surely will be seen.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Last night, I went out into the city to celebrate a friend's birthday. We sat in a restaurant with a case of cakes and pastries, with a freezer full of colorful flavors of sorbet. I ate ice cream on an outside patio next to a main road full of cars and establishments with Neon signs. The city has stop lights and fancy hotels, dance clubs, and casinos, supermarkets, and an art museum.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
We have spent 14 days consolidated for training in Mali.
Au village, I was alone.
Au Mali, I am with 106 Americans.
Au village I ate rice and sauce, fresh fruit, and cooking project dishes.
Au Mali, I eat eggs and pancakes, rice and sauce, and Western food for dinner spaghetti, mac and cheese steak and green beans.
Au village, I finished 6 books, wrote 10 page letters, worked on art projects, worked on community building by going to ceremonies and carrying rocks.
Au Mali, I souvenir shop, play ping pong, ultimate frisbee, flag football, watch music videos and Gray's Anatomy, eat chocolate, take educational training classes for if we return to Guinea, talk with people about our futures.
Time in Mali is coming to an end.
Political unrest in Guinea is not.
Where will I be next?
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Roughing it in a tiny village of Guinea, wilderness camping has turned into car camping in Mali. My lifestyle has turned luxurious: stable electricity, water that doesn’t run out, huts with ceiling fans, internet, a dining hall that serves pizza, pancakes, and omelets, basketball courts and a football field, fancy international restaurants: Thai, Chinese, tex-mex and ice cream, even an oven to bake cookies with.
Am I on vacation?
For the past 3 weeks, I have not been teaching. I have been on standfast (told to stay put in my safe village) as the nation of Guinea has been striking for a regime and economic change.
Because Peace Corps had no way of contacting me, I rode my bike 5 km each day to a neighboring village to use the HF radio powered by solar panels. Each day I got the boring message, “Everything is calm here;” however, I knew protests were ending in deaths as radio listening teachers gossiped with me. I knew the Labe taxis were not coming to our market-day. The town was running out of cooking oil. The price of 1 liter sky rocketed from from 6000 FG to 12000 FG. Even though there were small hints that the nation was striking, in my village things were very peaceful and calm.
I was not hurting for anything. The local market ladies still had their tubars. Plus tomatoes were also coming back into season. One of my students even walked 10 km to get me eggs.
On Tuesday, the PC message drastically changed, from "All is calm, to “Pack a bag. We might be going to a training session in Bamako, Mali. Radio tomorrow morning for more information.”
On Wednesday morning at 8 am, the radio was not working. All I could hear was mumble jumble and static. People were talking, but I could not understand anything that was being said. I finally just tried to call in.
"This is Jennifer in Tounkourourma. Jennifer in Tounkourouma."
A driver answered in a clear voice, “I’m on my way to pick up a couple of volunteers. You are next. I’ll be there soon.” The one voice I could hear was the one with the most important message.
I got a boost of adrenaline as I pedaled hard the 5 km home even up the rocky hill I usually walk. I believed that I would meet the Peace Corps car, parked in front of my hut. I wasn't ready. I had assumed that I had at least one more day. My hair was only half-way braided. My things were spread upon the floor. I hadn’t packed my perishables to give the family. My heart felt disarrayed just like my house and packing.
I was ready to go very quickly though. My sac was ready with a few clothes, toiletries, meds, and things to entertain me like my journal, crochet, a CD player, and my running shoes. I packed an extra bag of food which could be left behind if there wasn’t room.
Then I waited.
As I sat on my porch, surrounded by kids, they understood I was leaving, but none of us knew when I would be back. They kept me company singing and dancing. My heart was heavy. I couldn’t leave my compound to say goodbye to my community. I told two key people who would inform the others, but it felt strange to just be one day shouldering red bauxite rocks to the mosque with the community to silently disappearing.
The Peace Corps SUV with an empty caboose except for two sideways facing benches picked me up, my next closest neighbors were already packed in. As we sped away, kicking up dust, my head and ass feeling the brut of the car, I was glad for my mother’s Christmas package that had luckily arrived full of Dramamine. We were in a hurry not because of danger, but because we had 12 other people to pick-up.
It was a LONG day!
The ride got easier though as more were packed in. Since we were hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder we couldn’t bounce as much, a solid unit keeping each of us securely weaved into a hard bench.
Keeping to non-main bumpy dirt roads, we arrived at a fellow volunteer’s site by dark. They were cooking pasta for us having spent the whole day trying to find accommodations for around an estimated 24. The village, the most generous people gave us their best beds. The bus full of the other half of the volunteers didn’t arrive till the next morning.
We packed the 25 passenger bus with 28 including a row dedicated to our luggage and picked up an additional 2 volunteers on our way to Kankan. We were six to a row for the 12 hour trip from the cool green Fouta region to the hot, dry dusty Haute Guinea region. It was an exciting way to see Guinea!
One group of volunteers had already left the Peace Corps house in Kankan, the Peace Corps regional capitol for Haute Guinea, leaving an empty house for the fifty plus volunteers who would be arriving. We were the first to arrive. Around midnight 24 others arrived. We filled the beds, the floor, the balcony, the cars trying to get a few hours of sleep before the 5 am departure time.
Fouta volunteers stayed one more day. Our passports were with a program director who was helping the other Fouta volunteers get to Mali. It was a welcomed rest to the 2 days of hard travel. We cooked, did laundry, went to the dead empty market. Our trip out of Guinea was like the empty market, uneventful. We saw absolutely no trouble, no road blocks, nothing. Many of us had stories of being in a quiet village during the challenging days of waiting in our villages, waiting for any news during standfast. Our trip was like our villages, quiet, unlike some of the stories I heard here in Mali from volunteers from some of the bigger cities where there were clashes between people and the military.
3 SUV’s arrived with the last volunteers going to Mali by car and we headed off the next day at 5 am, through beautiful country, mesa-like landscapes. We had no trouble at the border, just sitting in our cars as a Peace Corps staff handled our transition from one country to the next. On the Mali side, a peace Corps Mali car met us and accompanied us to the PC training center.
Wow and what a training center it is! It is a huge compound. I can run around it in a leisurely 15 minutes. It is big enough to give us 100 plus volunteers space. Gathering 100 people who survive in the isolation of their villages, sometimes isn’t easy on all of us who enjoy that solitude. It is like a small college campus. My education group are the freshmen, the most recent arrivals to Guinea, Group 12 (G12). G9 are the seniors who are about to graduate who were getting ready to leave in the next couple of months. We even have some grad students, volunteers from G3 and G7.
What next? We wait and see what happens in Guinea. We have a maximum of 4 weeks before we either go back to our Guinean villages, go back to the US, or get reassigned to a new country. We will keep busy with trainings, sport activities, projects, talent shows. We must or else face the symptoms of cabin fever, an unhealthy challenge for PC volunteers.
Peace Corps Guinea has been amazing. The staff ran a tight ship in a country were organization, order, schedules usually are put aside for flexibility. In this case the hard work of the chauffeurs, the program directions, the security officer, the office people, the medical staff, the country director, and the volunteers got us out in 4 days, an amazing feat! And now Peace Corps Mali has been extremely accommodating arranging the training site for our arrival organizing cultural events, safety and security sessions, and language classes.
It is amazing to feel the accomplishments of this Peace Corps community that I have become a part of.
My village has two parts: the village and the center of town.
The village is a huge area where most everyone lives. The area is surrounded by a man-made fence to keep livestock out. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other. It is a wooded area with lots of huts, cassava gardens, orange trees, bamboo groves, avocado and mango trees. The mosque is in the village towering over the trees.
In the center of town, there is a huge tree, a small mosque, and a couple of concrete buildings where a tailor stores his machine, where rice, flour, and other goods are stored. Here there aren’t many trees. It is mostly wide open land with concrete houses on plots of land surrounded by fences to keep the sheep out. There is a football field. Both the middle school and the elementary school are here. Here we have pump water powered by solar panels. In the village, they have wells. The well-groomed dirt road passes through this part of the village.
Sometimes I wish I lived in the village under cool trees, in a mud hut; however, I am also quite happy living in the center of town with my close by running water.
It is day 13 of nationwide strikes. Give up your Presidential power is the cry. As I was riding the5 km to use the nearby radio to check in with Peace Corps, I thought, I have seen my village. I have tasted its food. I have sat through its ceremonies, its deaths, it births, its religious rituals. I have experienced its generosity and hospitality. I have shopped in its market. I have played with its children and talked with its old. I have experienced a small part of Africa.
Is it time to leave? It isn’t as strange as I would have assumed sitting in the U.S. I haven’t eaten any insects, danced around any fires, seen any elaborate costumes, or strange ceremonies.
There isn’t any magic here in this village.
Today was a scheduled nationwide gathering to show the strength of the striking people. I asked if the village was doing anything. No way. We are in the country, not in the city was the reply.
Sitting on my porch on a stool, the floor as my table, scrubbing the dishes, I heard a distant drum. I have only heard a drum one other time when the village was called to pray during the end of Ramadan. Was this second drumming a call having to do with the strikes?
The children started jumping with excitement chanting, “Caillou, Caillou.”
Do I really want to go transport rocks from the hillsides to the courtyard of the mosque? I have nothing else better to do. Plus wouldn’t it be cool to leave something behind once I left Africa? How about a bowl full of rocks?
I followed some of my male students carrying a bowl of red stones upon my shoulder. I was afraid of the weight upon my head. At the mosque, I saw every familiar face of the village, everyone excited, everyone with a thank you upon their lips. I did two more trips with some of my female students, walking 500 yards to the hillsides, squatting in the brown dry terrain, gathering bauxite to fill the courtyard. The men enthusiastically grabbed my bowl spreading the rocks in the sacred yard, an area bigger than half a football field. Then I rested under a tree with 50 other females sitting on our overturned bowls.
I watched as 30 old women passed us bowls of rock upon their heads singing in Arab, one voice answered by the many. As they exited, they goaded us for sitting and I rose with the principal’s wife, Binta, to continue on with the group.
Reaching the hillside, we split off in multiple directions finding a spot rich with rocks. I followed the principal’s wife and we quickly filled our bowls. As I shoulder it to take off, she said, “Wait. We’ll wait here.”
The women regathered and then there was an uproar, a clucking of hens. I asked Binta to translate. She said, “Everyone’s yelling ‘Wait. Wait,’” scolding as one lone woman started to take off. When a mass of women had gathered, we started a slow steady walk, a tight group. I was in the middle of the tall female strength gazing between the pots of rock upon their heads, the towers of the mosque looming ahead. It was in that moment that I felt the magic of a community effort to build our mosque, finding the pleasure in being.
It isn’t the time to leave my village yet. There is more magic to be found.
In Seattle, a lazy Sunday would be spent in a coffee shop writing, sipping a Latte, a pastry waiting in the corner of my eye. Sometimes I’d stop and have an ice cream my spoon sinking into the soft cold sweetness.
In Guinea, a lazy Sunday is spent sitting at a desk, writing, sipping a full bottle of water, artwork and photographs in the corner of my eye, a cool breeze passing through the open door and windows. My spoon sinks into the yellow sweetness of a freshly picked papaya.
It just dawned on me. Vultures here in Africa are as common as red cardinals in Alabama. I forgot that you out there in the US don’t get to see them everyday. Today on my way home from a 5 km hike to a neighboring village for lessons on how to read Pular, I saw the most beautiful huge vulture, taller than my knee. It even had a mane like ruffle. I wish I could have finished watching it dine.
Five young kids were on my porch with 10 oranges to peel the special Guinean way, leaving the white pulp intact, slicing the top off so each child could suck and squeeze the juice out without getting their hands messy. This non-wannabe mother took a deep breath and started.
My 3 cockroach friends who live in the latrine have turned into 30 with one dead, a hundred ants attending the funeral.
Non,a Russian onion flatbread was a bigger success to my tongue than the tortillas. Cooking projects are fun during these nationwide strikes. Day 12 had arrived with no end in sight.
Needing to get out of my house, I sat in the town center under a tree, upon a rock, with the nine gathered there: 3 children at their near empty tables of condiments that are hard to find as day 8 of the strikes continue- the Labe trucks don’t come to our Thursday market anymore- several women selling tomatoes, dried manioch roots, and peanuts, and 3 women dressed in their best stopping to chat.
I asked the typical greeting in Pular, “Where are you coming from?” The mother of one of my best 7th grade students replied, “There was a death in the village. Have you gone? He was an old man, very nice.”
I was wondering where all of the men who typically gather in the town center. I continued sitting there as the mother continued on. She is one of the few women who speak French and indirectly hinted that I should go greet the mourning family as she said goodbye.
I sat for a while longer then stood, “Awa, see you later.” At home I went into the inner bedroom, lay upon my bed, and looked up at the metal ceiling through my mosquito net. I’m tired. I just spent a day riding 3 hours on my bike. I don’t want to go visit a mourning family. It’s late, 16 h. How will I find their hut? I ran across the mothers of my concession returning from their visit as I was returning from my bike ride. They are not going to want to stop their dinner preparations to take me. All the older kids have been sent to other villages to help with work. The younger kids won’t be able to guide me. Anyways what difference does it make if I go or if I don’t go. I’m tired. You’re just feeling guilty because you’re a people pleaser. What is the big deal if I miss this one visit? You know the village would be pleased with your presence. They’re probably just wanting money.
I took a few deep breaths, closed my eyes, and relaxed, observing how I was feeling, observing my breath, stopping the voice in my head for 5 minutes. Then pop, like a bullet out of a gun, I jumped out of bed through the opening of my net and grabbed my African clothes, my good sandals, wrapped up my hair, and locked up bringing only my keys, no money.
I took off in the direction that I saw the mothers coming from earlier. I walked with a 7th grade student, trying to get directions from her, a girl whose French level was low. I had to be clever in my questioning. Some people answer yes to every question coz they don’t understand all the questions.
There was a death in the village?
It’s late. Will there be anyone there?
But aren’t the men burying the body?
So there will be no one there?
So if I go over there will there be anybody?
Am I going in the right direction?
Is it near the mosque (opposite direction)?
Is it far?
As far as Lamba?
She pointed in a general direction as she left me for her own home. Well this is going to be an adventure.
I continued on and in the far distance two figures greeted me, “On Jaramma. Ko honto yahataa?” Hello. Where are you going?
I pointed in the direction, shouting, “There was a death in the village wasn’t there?
They shouted back, “Wait there. We are some of your students. One of us is going home and lives over there.”
Thank goodness. Now I have a guide and won’t be wandering aimlessly in he maze of paths of the densely packed village full of huts, fruit-trees, and gardens.
We twisted right then left through rock filled courtyards, past girls sifting pounded corn, always under rotting orange filled trees, past a bamboo grove, across a dry creek until we reached a gathering of women sitting on mats. I sat down.
Thank goodness in Forricarriah during training I had accompanied my family to visit a mourning family, the husband of a friend had died. That friend was even a friend of mine, a woman who often sat in our kitchen preparing dishes unfamiliar to my family, but believed that I would enjoy. She helped cook my birthday feast. She had labored over toe, a favorite of mine, a play dough like cassava dish. So I was familiar that consoling a family was by visiting and sitting for some time. You can stay for a long time or just for a couple of minutes. I had experience in a situation that can be culturally scary to a newbie.
Children gathered around me. The women laughed as two started crying as the two young uns caught my eye and my smile. I saw some of my students learning the death was an old teacher of Arab, an uncle of one of my students. I greeted the mourning wife, sat for a few minutes more, and took my leave, followed by 10 giggling kids accompanied by two students back through the maze.
I felt a sense of well-being as I learned the two female students’ names, a challenge I have been trying to overcome- learning 120 strange names. Little by little they say here in Guinea. Walking home I saw 6 girls playing soccer. Wow, what a find! Each time I leave my house I learn something new.
Returning home, 6 kids were singing and dancing on my porch. What have they been eating? Their explosive energy, moved through their feet, their arms, into their shoulders radiating through their smiles. I pulled out a chair and the kids lay in a semi-circle around my feet. “Teach us French,” Mamadou asked. I taught them the 2 French songs I know “Alouette” and “Frere Jacques.”
I asked them to do a recitation. Their first grade memorized speech was about the days of the week, recited without understanding. I then asked what today was giving them a lesson about Thursdays being market day, Fridays mosque day, and Sundays no school days. Then we practiced our sums. I tried to help them learn to count their fingers instead of just memorizing the answers, answers that have no meaning.
The sun set. I sent them to their house. I went to bed, content with the good things of this Wednesday