Homeless and Unemployed

As some of you may know, the Peace Corps evacuated all volunteers from Burkina Faso due to security threats. Further information hasn’t been provided.  Josh and I left a week prior to this decision for personal and medical reasons.  Neither of us are suffering from any major medical complications, but we were forced to consider these when we made our very difficult decision to leave a country we had grown to love so much.

Since arriving back in the States, between stuffing my face as full of junk food as possible, we have been weighing our options and trying to decide our next move.  After a week spent on a Mexican beach with too much sun and too many cocktails, we decided that since we were lead back home so soon after setting out on our adventure, staying in South Carolina would be the best move.

Frustrations abound as we realize how much we gave away and sold while preparing our lives for West Africa, but we are extremely fortunate in the family and friends we have surrounding us, offering us places to live so we don’t have to spend our days and nights under the I-77 overpass.  While we’re having to restart our lives in the United States a lot sooner than we had anticipated, it is giving us an opportunity to really look at what we want and where we want to go.

Right now what we know is that we want to be close to family and friends, we want to have a decent sized property to raise bees (and I still have my dream of raising goats and making goat cheese), and we want to be close to the mountains.  Other than that, a job that pays us well enough that we can still adventure and help people is preferred, along with benefits that allow me to continue to be clumsy and uncoordinated without draining our savings entirely.  So if you know of jobs like this, keep us in mind!

Thank you for following our adventures in Burkina Faso. I hope that someday my life will once again be exciting enough to write a blog about.  In the meantime, I appreciate your time and dedication to my ramblings and hope you were able to find some joy in reading this blog.


An Amalgamation of Anecdotes, History, and Culture 

Over the past couple of months, we have gotten to know our host family decently well–as much as is possible considering the language barrier.  While learning about the family structure, we have also gotten to observe interesting interactions.

One day while playing Uno with Nadia, Latifah, Nouhman, and Martin, Taïba waddles up, with no pants, and plops down next to Nadia. She takes off her flip flop (just one) and promptly sticks it in her mouth, just doing baby things.

She then moves into a squat, drops the shoe, and starts peeing…all over her shoe, right next to Nadia. Nadia doesn’t even bat an eye. Not even when Taïba picks up the shoe she’s just peed all over and smacks Nadia soundly in the face! The kids explode with laughter.

So last time I told stories of Taïba, she still needed an older kid to hold her and escort her to us for her nightly greeting. The Queen has since warmed up to us–sort of. She even got to the point where she would trot over to us on her own accord to shake our hands. I was able to get her to timidly give me a half smile from across the courtyard.

One night as we arrived home, Babu approached with Taïba in his arms to greet us. He decided it was time for us to hold Taïba after she’d shaken our hands. He held her out to me; I reached for her; Taïba started screaming. Babu chuckled and pulled her back close. It was Josh’s turn. Once again, Babu held her out; Josh reached; she started screaming. That was enough for one night.

A couple of weeks later, Babu stopped by while we were eating dinner. It was after dark and he had Taïba. Taïba had her back to me as he slowly moved her away from his body into my arms. I had done it! I was successfully holding the Queen! And then her head turned, her eyes widened, and she began to cry.  She hasn’t come close to me without one of her siblings/cousins holding her since. If I’m in her presence,  she must be held. I make myself feel better by reminding myself that the 30 seconds she let me hold her is more than Josh has gotten!

One Sunday, after having finished the laborious chore of laundry, Josh and I were sitting with Latifah and Nouhman. They were just yammering away in an unintelligible language. By this point, I knew enough French to understand what was being said, and enough Mooré to pick out the language. What they were speaking was neither of these. So, naturally, I asked what language they’re speaking. Shyly, Latifah responds that they’re speaking Gurunsi, the native language of the Gurunsi. I asked how many languages they speak.  Latifah starts listing them as Nouhman ticks them off in his fingers: French, Mooré, Gurunsi, Nuni, and it keeps going. 9 year old Latifah and 7 year old Nouhman each speak 5 languages! (They speak another African language which I didn’t list because I don’t have a clue how to spell it.) To be fluent in 5 languages by the age of 7 is absolutely astonishing to me, as is the fact that it’s extremely common to be fluent in several languages before you’re a teenager! They learn French in school, and English when they get older (if they reach that level of education), but all other languages are taught to them by their families.

In Burkina Faso, the national language is French, but there are approximately 70 native or tribal languages spoken. The most common of these is the Mossi language Mooré.

The Mossi, in precolonial days, immigrated from the north of Ghana (according to legend, an Amazonian woman mothered a son with a Ghanian warrior, named him Ouedraogo, and started the Mossi people) into Tenkodogo in the central east region of present-day Burkina Faso. From there, they took over much of the country, including the capital Ouagadougou. Because of this the Mossi are the largest ethnic group in Burkina, and Mooré is the most prevalent local language. So if you ever encounter someone with the last name Ouedraogo, they are Mossi.

Because my site is peopled by the Mossi, I know a lot more about the history of this group than any other. My host family is Nuna, which is a subgroup of the Gurunsi (explaining why the kids speak Nuni and Gurunsi). The Nuna live primarily in southern Burkina and have a strong presence in Lèo and nearby village, Sanga. Unfortunately, that’s all I know of this ethnic group.

Hopefully, as I spend more time here, I’ll eventually be able to do an entire post on culture and history.

Thanks for reading and if you have anything you’d like to know more about, please feel free to reach out through a comment or the contact page!

Cramped and Confused

As our time with our host family is drawing to a close, I thought I would take this opportunity to explain the interesting dynamic and to correct some errors I have made in previous posts in regards to the family relationship.

I have created a family tree (not the most beautiful of things due to a lack of resources, but sufficient for these purposes) to make it easier to follow along (attached below).

The oldest member of the family is our host grandmother Dagana Abibatou (they put last names prior to first names). Her husband was Nebié Moussa Mambié, now deceased.  Abibatou is a sweet woman who speaks no French.  I assume she speaks Gurunsi  and/or Nuni. Our host father is Souleymane. He is 62 years old and works as a corn farmer. I believe that he owns his own field, but as it is 15km from our house and the only viable means of transport is bicycle, we haven’t yet visited.

His wife is Aïssatou (most women’s names end with “tou”, but they are often just called by the syllables prior, i.e. Aïssa). We have had very little contact with her as she seems to be extremely busy.  We see her infrequently.  Together they have 7 children, 4 who currently live with us.

In Burkinabé culture when a son gets married, it is typical for his new wife to move in with his family.  They live with his family and their future children forever and the cycle continues.  The daughters of the family, however, move in with their husbands and they continue that tradition in their husband’s family’s household. Because of this, only one of Souleymane’s sons does not live with the family, while 2 of his daughters have married and moved in with the families of their husbands.

The oldest son Razaq is 38 years old.  If I have met him, I am unaware of this and have never held a conversation with him.  For the most part, the sons tend to ignore us completely.  He is divorced; so his wife no longer lives here, but he has two daughters, Maïssatou, aged 15, and Niamatou, aged 12.  To my knowledge, I have also not met Maïssa, but Niama has made an appearance in many of my photos.  She’s an extremely, helpful, vivacious girl.  I assume she spends time between her mother’s family and her father’s as I have not seen her in several weeks.

The next son is Issaka, 35. He is married to Awa.  Awa has also made an appearance in my photos (I’m still working on getting these all uploaded to my blog, but shaky internet and lack of funds has made this difficult).  They have 3 children, Azizu, 14, Martin, 9, and Labibatu, 7.  Martin has been my champion mouse killer since Josh has officially declined the role.

Moumouni is Souleymane’s third son.  He lives in Ouaga.  I believe that I may have met him during the celebration for the 10 year anniversary of someone’s death (I was told it was Souleymane’s mother, but since his mother lives with us, I haven’t figured it out…).

Youba follows as the fourth son at age 30.  He is married to Afissatou.  Afissa has been the main cook for all of our meals and has helped to further our Mooré.  Their children are Nadiatou, Nouhman, and the famous Taïbatou.  All three have been major features in our pictures as they are the only ones who are consistently around and very much enjoy being social.

Souleymane has two daughters that we’ve never met, Aminata and Kadijdatou, and his youngest daughter Ramatou.  Rama is still in school, but I’m unsure of what year.  I made a slight taboo by asking the ages of some of the women, which is apparently culturally inappropriate everywhere, and was apprehensive to make the same error with Rama.

Some other notable Nebiés that you may have read about that I thought were my host siblings/grand-siblings (??) are Dramane, Babu, and Latifahtou.  Dramane greeted us with Souleymane when we first arrived in Lèo and fully gave me the impression that he was our oldest host brother.  I was sorely mistaken.  Dramane is 21, very nice, patient, and understanding of our language barrier, but he is not Souleymane’s son.  He is Souleymane’s nephew.  Babu, who I believe is 15, is Souleymane’s grand-nephew.  And Latifah is an unknown relation whose story was clearly not one that I should have been inquiring into. Ironically, I see Dramane, Babu, and Latifah much more frequently than I do many of my host siblings and grand-siblings.  Latifah is always sure to lend a helping hand when laundry day comes; Babu makes a point of greeting us each night; and Dramane often stops by in the mornings and evenings to ask how we slept and how our days went.

The family dynamic here is so different than at home.  We often have, at any given time, at least 3 to 5 people living/staying in our house who I don’t know at all.  Currently, there are two women, who have never been introduced to me, cooking for us, and two children who insist on following us everywhere who just appeared.  There is clearly some family connection, but it has never been explained to me.  Additionally, as new people show up, those I recognize disappear.  As I mentioned, I haven’t seen Niama in weeks! She used to be a constant companion, but now, I don’t know.  The school year hasn’t started and I can see no obvious solution to this puzzling mystery.

To make matters more confusing, they don’t use words like niece, nephew, uncle, aunt, etc.  One day Dramane was holding Taïba and playing with her.  He then states that she is his daughter (in French, so not just bad at English).  Josh and I were highly confused as we knew she is Afissa’s daughter–breastfeeding is a pretty obvious giveaway on that one–and there seemed to be little to no relationship past maybe siblings between Dramane and Afissa.  That’s when we found out that regardless of your actual relationship everyone is either brother/sister, mother/father/son/daughter.  This also helps explain how Souleymane’s mother could have died 10 years ago and yet still be living with us (I don’t think they’ve found the secret to reanimation). This woman who we celebrated the anniversary for must be Souleymane’s aunt or something along those lines.

I will now describe what our house and courtyard are like so you can understand how we can live in confined quarters and still have no idea what is going on.  Our courtyard abuts a busy street.  Once inside the large metal gate, to the immediate right is the donkey’s shed.  Behind this is two tin doors, the left leading to the “shower” and the right to the latrine. To the left of the gate is a small hut that seems to be used for a combined purpose of storage and changing post-bucket shower.  Opposite this is our house that consists of a living room, bedroom, “shower”, and a door to the living quarters of our mice.  I actually believe this door connects our living area to the rest of our house, as we seem to live in a much larger structure than what we see, but the room directly behind the door seems to be used primarily for storage.

If you continue going into the courtyard, you see a building to your left that seems to be Souleymane’s living quarters as it houses the TV.  There’s another entrance behind that (same building) that seems to hold a “kitchen” and the rooms of other family members. Directly across from that is a building (attached to ours) with another “kitchen” and presumably more living quarters.  Straight ahead is a small structure that appears to be a storage shed of some sort. Tucked away to the right is a little house.  If you turn left by the main house, you’ll stumble upon 3 graves, one of which is for the woman whose death-a-versary we celebrated in July.  If you continue walking around the corner, you’re in the neighbor’s courtyard, which means that some of these random people I don’t know are very likely our neighbors and what are sure to be their many family members.

Hopefully, with this post I answered more questions than I generated, but I deem that highly unlikely, as I spend a vast majority of my time in this domicile confused.

So, enjoy your non-complex family systems and count your blessings that in the United States you are not required to continue living with your parents, your siblings, and all of the combined children in what amounts to a 6 bedroom village on a quarter of an acre of land (with no real toilet or shower).

Family Nebie

So…what do you do?

The three goals of the Peace Corps are to provide trained men and women to a country who has expressed the need, to teach the country’s people about the United States and it’s culture, and to teach Americans about the culture of the country.

The first goal is our main focus while we’re here. This is the reason that each volunteer is designated a homologue (or counterpart) at their site. Each homologue is a professional in the volunteer’s sector.

As a community health educator, my homologue is the major at the CSPS. A major is a nurse who manages the CSPS. A CSPS is basically a small, local level hospital/doctor’s office that handles all of a community’s healthcare needs from malaria to birth to malnutrition. Each CSPS ideally serves an area encompassing 5,000 people, but often, the number of people served is much larger. The workforce in the CSPS consists of the major, a community health worker (known as an AIS), and a professional to deliver the babies.

The nurse must complete 3 years of nursing school after their senior year of high school. The community health worker must have completed primary school and 2 years of training, similar to what an EMT in United States would be trained on.  I’m unsure how the professional for delivering babies is trained, but they are not trained as highly as the nurses.

These local healthcare facilities that serve a minimum of 5,000 people have 3 healthcare workers, no doctors, and only one professional with what is considered extensive healthcare training. And me, with my background in English, History, and Marketing.

Don’t worry, I will not be providing any healthcare to any individual at any point in my service. My job will primarily consist of (what I know for sure) home visits, where I go to various homes in my community and the 30 surrounding communities to help educate them on the services provided by the CSPS (free healthcare to all pregnant women and children under 5), how to prevent malaria, issues associated with malnutrition, the importance of expectant mothers to go to the CSPS to give birth and for their 4 prenatal appointments, etc.

Along with my homologue, who is going to be an extremely valuable resource in determining the needs of my community, I will have an ASBC. An ASBC is a community health worker, similar to an AIS, except lacking any formal training beyond basic first aid. I am expected to be more educated on things like the signs of malnutrition and malaria prevention, but they will speak the local language as they will be originally from my community. Together we will complete these home visits, educate the public, and in doing so, I will train the ASBC in various areas and the ASBC will help me bridge the culture gap.

The ultimate goal is to train enough people in the community on health concerns that they no longer need someone to educate them past the members of their own community. Once this occurs, the community can begin to eradicate cases of malnutrition and decrease the number of malaria cases each year (currently it’s fairly average to see 400 cases of malaria per week), and by doing so, decrease the number of preventable deaths.

Since I’m not qualified to treat anyone, I will also have the freedom to help the community in other areas. My community has indicated that they would like to learn more about income generating activities for youths. This includes stuff like soy transformation into tofu, making liquid soap, and, in my case, when I effectively buy a goat and teach myself how, making goat cheese! These activities not only help families to earn money by selling the products, but help with malnutrition and cases of diarrhea, which add to malnutrition. I’m extremely excited to not only share knowledge in these areas, but also to go out in the field and learn how they farm, not that I expect to be anything close to helpful!

Josh’s set up is similar to mine, but as he is a math teacher, it is a bit different. He will possibly be teaching 3 different levels of students math. He could teach 6th, 7th, or 8th grade depending on the school’s specific needs this year. His homologue is an English teacher at the same school (one thing to note is that our homologues, if not originally from Burkina Faso, are originally from West Africa, and have lived in Burkina for many years).

Josh’s class will consist of approximately 80 students in varying ages. The official age to start 6th grade is 12, but there are cases of 17 year olds just making it to 6th grade due to obligations in their family such as household chores or the need to work on the farm. One of Josh’s main goals as a teacher is to help move towards gender equality. It also gives him a platform to talk with students about health issues they may never have considered. For instance, a women’s menstrual cycle is not discussed. Many young girls don’t know about it until it happens. Because of this, they often don’t know of methods for handling it, and, therefore, miss one week of school per month. This puts them behind in their classes and they either end up failing or dropping out.

Because of our sectors of health and education, Josh and I are in an unique position to be able to pair up and tackle these combined issues. We will also be able to utilize both a female and male perspective. I’m very excited to see what we’ll be able to accomplish together.

Goats, Lungs, & Mopeds

(continued post from “Travel, Chicken, & Starry Nights”)

We arrived at our site on Wednesday and stayed until Saturday morning. Thursday was fairly uneventful. My counterpart took us to breakfast at around 8 am. We went to a small café that was clearly a community favorite.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that women here don’t tend to go to restaurants. I have seen two Burkinabè women at restaurants in the over a month I’ve been here. I have some guesses as to why this is, but without definitive answers, I don’t wish to conjecture or make judgements that could prove to be false.

The café we were taken to was packed with men enjoying breakfast with tea and conversation. We hadn’t expected breakfast; so we’d already eaten my remaining two apples and some gateaux Josh had purchased in Ouaga. This meant that we just ordered some coffee.  At our site, they make this by taking a spoonful of Nescafé, adding it to a 6 oz. glass, and then adding hot water until the glass is about a third full. It’s pretty strange here for us to drink our coffee black, because normally, they’d fill the glass three-quarters of the way with sweetened condensed milk, a spoonful of Nescafé, maybe a cube of sugar, and top it with hot water. This has been given to me by mistake before and it’s pretty awful, especially all that sugar first thing in the morning. But the way they made our coffee was surprisingly wonderful as it almost tasted like real coffee!

We hung out here for a bit, wow-ed them all with our Mooré, and then went home and played cards for several hours as we slowly accumulated an ever-increasing audience of kids who steadily got bolder and bolder until they were sitting on our porch within touching distance. We went back to the same café at 12 pm for lunch and got riz gras (see post on food). This lit my mouth on fire! We then continued playing cards with our crowd back at our house until 3 or 4 pm when Josh’s counterpart came by with his brother-in-law, and we went out for drinks.

At the bar we went to, we ordered beers for all (except me as I don’t enjoy the beer here) and a plate of chunks of grilled goat. It was a lot better than it sounds. We had a lot of fun talking in a mix of French, Mooré, and English.  Josh’s counterpart is an English teacher, which helps a lot with language barriers. Our conversation varied from culture in Burkina Faso to the accents that South Carolina boasts, including my inability to understand the accent I grew up in, let alone the accents of the Burkinabè. After 2 plates of goat meat, 2 beers per person (2 sodas for me), my impromptu Mooré lessons from the exceedingly friendly bartender/goat cooker, and finding a new hang out spot, we piled into Seido’s (Josh’s counterpart) car (with air conditioning!!!) and headed back to our house (no air conditioning).

By this point, it was about 8:30 pm or so; so of course we decided to play some cards by our lamplight. Within minutes of beginning our card game, we hear a quiet “bon soir” outside our door. Our next door neighbor (keep in mind this isn’t our permanent house), the chef (chief) of the something in the village (we met so many chefs, I cannot keep them all straight) was at our door with a bucket of food to help welcome us to the town.  This was an extremely flattering gesture! A man so revered by the community that his name cannot be spoken has thought to bring us food himself! Now I only wish that I hadn’t filled up on so much goat meat!

The food he’d brought us was tô.  As this is the traditional meal, I was not surprised in the least.  This tô is different from the type our host family makes for us.  It is less gelatinous and has more of a gooey grits texture. I don’t think I will ever actually enjoy eating tô, but this was certainly more enjoyable than our usual. The sauce wasn’t bad, but as the traditional sauce typically has a mucus texture, I don’t see myself ever really enjoying that either, sadly.  Josh, once again, took one for the team and ate the lion’s share.  We, then, politely returned the food and thanked the chef and his wife profusely for their generosity.

On Friday, we biked somewhere between 9 and 12 miles (depending on who you asked) to a nearby large town where Seidou lives and Josh’s district head is located. This was easily the longest consecutive ride that Josh and I have ever taken.  We brought one pack for our waters and switched this between the two of us.  An hour later with shaking legs, we arrived at where we believed we were to meet Seidou.  After standing for about 5 minutes, I decided I couldn’t take anymore and unceremoniously plopped to the ground.  Josh shortly followed suit.  We spent barely a minute on the ground before the kids behind us brought over two stools that they had been using.  Of course we had spoken to them and the adults when we’d arrived at this place, but never would I ever expect someone to take the seat out from under them to give to me.  The everyday kindness and consideration these people show continues to awe me.

I was very grateful for their selflessness as we waited here for over an hour before realizing that we’d misunderstood and were, in fact, in the wrong place.  We quickly hopped on our bikes and made our way to the proper meeting place.

After we met more people, we went out for drinks and lunch with Seidou, Josh’s principal, Josh’s principal’s brother, and a woman whose relation to everyone else I never was able to figure out.  Once again, beers all around (except for the women) and at about 1 pm, two grilled chickens were brought to the table, head, beak, and all.  As I’ve mentioned before, I knew they ate a lot more of the animal than we do, as I had encountered the organs, but I never expected to be served a plate with a full cooked chicken head.  How tedious must that have been to pluck?!

Immediately, the principal and Seidou each grabbed an end of a long, knotted thing, that I can only guess is the gizzard, and ripped it in half.  Seidou then offered the end he isn’t holding to me to do the same.  I try to politely deny this offering for a multitude of reasons which I think are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s considered highly offensive to reject food; so it was my turn to take one for the team.  I pulled off my portion and quickly ate it.  Soon thereafter, I picked up a piece of chicken that included a lot of organs.  I don’t know what they were except that it definitely had the heart and lungs.  I offered these to Seidou, thinking if I can’t reject him, he can’t reject me! It worked, for the most part.  He left part of the lung, which I then offered to Josh, quietly reminding him of the possible gizzard I just had to swallow.  He acquiesced and I thought I was safe.  Little did I know that I would be unlucky enough to get another lung.  I had to eat this.  And thus is my tale of the first chicken organs I have ever consumed, but I would be amazed if these are my last.

After a few hours, we got back on our bikes for the return 9-12 mile ride. Fortunately, our ride back was mostly downhill.  While Burkina is primarily flat, there is a slight grade, that, when mixed with a strong wind, can make biking (for those of us not big into biking athletics) pretty tough at times.  Exhausted, sweaty, and slightly sunburned, we did very little for the rest of the day.

At one point, we sat outside as a crowd of children once again gathered.  An old, shirtless woman from one of the neighboring houses saw this group and quickly rushed to our aid to shoo off the multitude of kids.  I would love to describe this scene, but I fear that some may take my comments negatively, and as I have no desire to express anything but positive things about this sweet woman, I will refrain.  Once her task was accomplished, she introduced herself to us in Mooré and we had an awkward interaction of bowing and handshaking with grins galore.

Soon after this, one of the other chefs rode up on his moped and opened conversation with us in Mooré.  He quickly switched to English, explaining that his English wasn’t very good because he had learned it over 30 years ago in school.  In all honesty, his English was probably a lot better than my French.  We had a wonderful exchange.  He asked us questions about our stay and told us of his successful tutelage of Mooré, which means that I’ll have someone to go to to improve my skills!! He then asked when we would return.  I responded with September.  As he got back on his moped he told us that he’d be here “if I don’t die!” and then busted out laughing in a hilariously maniacal fashion as he attempted to start his moped.  This would have been a wonderful ending note as he sped away into the sunset.  Unfortunately, his moped didn’t start.  So he just continued laughing for a solid 2 minutes until his moped finally kicked on.  Josh and I felt it only polite to laugh with him the whole time, as it was truly amusing. This was by far one of the highlights of my visit as it was such a truly genuine moment.

I think this is the perfect anecdote on which to end my stories of my site visit. Everything hereafter was pretty standard.  Travel back to Lèo was the same as to our site so no real reason to reiterate the super cushy Burkina bus experience.

As always, thank you for reading and if you have anything you’d like to know more about that I haven’t covered, feel free to shoot me an email!

Travel, Chicken, and Starry Nights

(Written 7.20.17)

Yesterday, we left Léo at a stunningly early 6:30 am to take a bus to Ouaga. Packed in tight, we had to spend the 3 hour trek with our backpacks and bike helmets in our laps (my pack at 40 liters and Josh’s at 55 liters).  After arriving in Ouaga, massaging the feeling back into our legs, and wiping away some of the sweat, as our bus did not include air conditioning, we searched through the piles of bikes to find our name and then locate a matching tire (you must remove the front wheel for travel). Once accomplished, we tracked down our work counterparts (blog post to come explaining this dynamic) and stood helplessly by as they decided the best way to get us to site.

Soon, we piled into a small taxi, 5 people with 5 bags, to make a short 15 minute drive to the other bus station. Vendors galore selling their gateaux, cell phones, and fruit, we carefully made our way to the ticket counter. A small price of 2,000 cfa (approximately $4) per person and we were all set to make the trip to our regional capital.

While waiting for our bus to depart, I made the mistake of trying to buy a banana. I apparently chose the wrong vendor as I started a screaming match between two women. Overwhelmed and wanting to just escape the situation, I walked away with 3 apples, completely confused, unsure where I went wrong, and having spent more money than I’d intended.

The bus pulled out at 11 am with my knees pressed into the back of the chair in front of me, and once again our bags in our laps.  My feet began their descent into numbness long before the man in front of me leaned his seat back.  With a continued lack of air conditioning and a window that wouldn’t open, I was beyond grateful for the kind soul behind me who left his window cracked on this second 3 hour bus adventure.

The first hour was spent stopping every 10 minutes to allow vendors on the bus to sell their bread, gateaux, and apples.  The bus would stop, allow vendors to get on, continue going, then stop again, and the vendors would get off.   At one point a woman rode the bus for a solid 20 minutes before exiting.  I pray she had a ride or at least arrived where she needed to be, because I cannot imagine she possibly made enough money to justify that walk in the sweltering African sun.

So 3 hours–and I was convinced one dead pinky toe (due to lack of blood flow)–later, we had arrived on the side of the road in our regional capital, Koupela, attempting to put our bikes back together.

We then spent a very confusing several hours being introduced to people.  Having woken up at 4:45 am, travelled for hours, and eaten nothing all day but an accidentally purchased apple, my brain was not at a high enough functioning level to comprehend French, let alone respond coherently.

Finally, at around 3:30 pm or so, our counterparts took us to a restaurant, after asking Josh what he likes to eat and receiving the response of chicken. We walk up, my counterpart asks for 2 chickens, and we wait.  An employee approaches with 4 chickens (live), and my counterpart deftly chooses the 2 “best”. We request grilled chicken, and then sit down to wait.

Josh’s counterpart graciously bought us a selection of baked and raw peanuts while we waited.  I wish I had the words to describe what these peanuts were like, but I simply do not.  The best I can do is say that I will continue to eat whatever peanuts I receive, but I look forward to the day when I can once again have boiled or roasted peanuts.

Since the restaurant had to literally slaughter our meal, we did not get food until about 4:30 pm, but, man, was it delicious! Here, it is frowned upon if you waste any food. When it comes to meat, this includes tendons, skin, organs, and gristle (at a family function last weekend, I left taut skin across chicken bone on my plate as I saw no conceivable way to scrape it off. When the woman next to me realized I wasn’t going to eat that, she magically removed the skin from the bones and made meat appear where I would have sworn was just bone). Josh made the unfortunate selection of a breast that included a lung. He had to very politely offer this piece to someone else (later on in this journey neither he nor I were able to get off quite so easily–complete story to come).

After enjoying our fresh, never frozen, free-range chicken, we set off for our site. Upon arrival, we were met by a group of at least 30 men, consisting of about 10 to 15 chiefs of the area and surrounding areas. We were given seats of honor as they made small speeches of welcome, my counterpart introduced us, and we were given local names (Raogo for Josh and Poko for me) as ours are too hard to pronounce. I delighted them with my tidbits of Mooré and we were given the traditional welcome water (in water sachets–bags–for the health of the Nasaaras).  This is simply water offered to a guest to show that they are welcome–pretty self-explanatory.

We were then taken to meet various important men in the area, who after greeting me, all spoke directly to Josh (challenge accepted). At around 7 pm, they brought us (we had a fairly large entourage this whole time) to the house we’re staying in during our visit (our permanent home isn’t quite completed). It’s a very spacious 2 bedroom with a living room and 2 rooms for unknown purposes. Our mattresses and mosquito net fit quite nicely. At 8 pm, we were finally alone and decided to test out the newly built latrine.  And that’s when the stars captured our gaze as we stared heavenward into the diamond-studded velvet that will be my night sky for the next 2 years.

The land is green and lush. The sounds — I cannot describe.  I think it’s frogs and crickets that fill my nights with music, but if it’s frogs, they are louder than any I’ve ever heard. The rooster outside my window diligently begins his call at 5 and persistently continues until even the laziest of people arise from bed at 8 am (if those people even exist).

I cannot adequately express my delight and amazement that I have been put in such a beautiful place inhabited by such friendly and generous people.

As hard as training has been, coming here gives me renewed vigor and excitement to start my work and find ways to validate the investment these people have made into Josh and me.

When our house is complete, I look forward to delineating exactly how much of an effort these people have put forth to have us here. Not that their excitement over THEIR luck at getting 2 volunteers doesn’t say it all.

Additional Notes:

  1. As I read this back to Josh for the sake of accuracy and ensuring I didn’t leave anything out, a group of about 15 kids gathered around to listen intently to my story as though they understood every word. As I finished, they quietly and slowly dispersed.
  2. (written 7.24.17) So many more hilarious and interesting things happened while we stayed at site. Due to this fact, a continuation of my site visit will be up soon in a separate post.  I hope to have this completed tomorrow.

Food in Burkina Faso

As I sit here drinking my water from a bag, I’m reflecting on all of the food I’ve experienced in the over a month I’ve spent in Burkina. Some experiences have been better than others and I can say without a doubt that I am very much ready for the day I can cook for myself again. However, with that being said, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had (especially not for the more than 10 pounds I’ve lost).

For those of you who’ve seen on Facebook, my typical day (everyday) starts with 2 omelettes for Josh and me and either 6-8 gateaux or a loaf of bread the length of my leg (only a slight exaggeration). Our family brings this to us at a prompt 6:30 every morning.  Josh eats one of the omelettes and maybe one gateau. I eat 2 gateaux or maybe a quarter of the loaf of bread. The omelettes are packed full of onions and while I can tolerate onions, that just pushes me past my limit. Our breakfast is completed with the very delicious and super prevalent instant coffee. Adding a sugar cube to this makes the drink slightly more tolerable. I look forward to the days of having fresh-brewed coffee again.

For lunch, we eat at one of the local restaurants. This is where variety is introduced into my diet. At Maison de la Femme, my favorite meal is a truly delicious ragout de pomme de terre. This is simply potatoes in a tomato-based soup and small chunks of tender meat (basically all meat that isn’t fish or chicken is a mystery to me – it’s probably either beef, sheep, or goat, but I never really know).  Another favorite haunt of mine is L’Or Blanc. Here Josh enjoys sipping a cold Brakina (the local beer), while I enjoy the avocado sandwich (after meticulously removing the onions) and their fries. Burkinabè apparently love their onions and their mayonnaise as onions accompany simply everything you order and the only condiment available is mayonnaise. You want salad dressing? It’s a tasy mixture of mystery oil and mayonnaise! You want something to dip your fries in? Take some mayonnaise! You need a non-tomato-based sauce for your pasta? Here’s a brillant concoction with mayonnaise! By sheer exposure, I am growing to tolerate, if not enjoy, the favorite Burkina topping. I wish the same could be said of onions, but I fear the opposite is happening in that case (hence my eagerness to once again be my own cook).

The most inexpensive place to get your lunch is what we volunteers affectionately know as the benga place. Across the street from our training center is the most adorable, lively, good-natured woman, who, for a mere 200 cfa (that’s about $0.30), will give you a gigantic bowl of rice, beans, cucumbers, onions, and some root that I couldn’t spell if my life depended on it. A surprisingly filling and nutritious meal, it’s a wonderful option for the volunteer on a budget. Be prepared to speak Mooré when you go though, as that is what the owner speaks and she knows that we volunteers must learn! She is wonderfully patient and her face lights up in the most contagious way when you effectively speak Mooré back.

Finally, there’s Cafè Elim. With options ranging from the standard Riz Gras or Riz Sauce (rice with tomato sauce or rice with peanut sauce), by far the most wonderful thing they offer is the gataeu de banane (note: we quickly found that they call A LOT of things gateau). This is the most delicious, moist banana bread that I’ve ever had (in Africa). To go back to the riz gras and riz sauce, these are pretty standard Burkina staples. It’s not always rice, though. Oftentimes, it comes with couscous; although, it really makes no difference in the flavor. The tomato sauce is clearly a tomato-based sauce often accompanied with fish (fish is another staple here). The peanut sauce is a thick sauce that has a similar flavor to peanut butter without any sweetness or salt and a lot more oil. That’s the best I have on that description, sadly. I will say that it is a lot better than it sounds. It also typically contains an unidentified meat.

They have spaghetti here, but instead of beef in the sauce it’s fish. I’ve grown to really dislike fish, unfortunately, due to the fact that it is always served bone-in whether as an entree, in a sauce, or a soup.

At night, our family brings us dinner promptly at 6:30 once again. We receive either tô, black-eyed peas, pasta shells, or rice all with the same fish sauce. On occasion we do get a mystery meat sauce. From time to time, we get a plate of chopped cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes with the previously mentioned mayonnaise and oil dressing. This week we got chicken soup with bone-in chicken in a tomato based soup. I’m sure many of you are unfamiliar with tô. It’s fairly straightforward. This is the main component of many Burkinabè’s diets. It is a white, gelatinous substance made of millet or corn. In and of itself, it has no flavor. And that’s really all there is to it.

As far as for the time in between meals, Burkina has the world’s most delicious mangoes (that just went out of season). Fruits offered also include oranges, apples, bananas, papaya, coconuts, and a local favorite called l’aîne, for which there is no English word. L’aîne is a small fruit that you pop open between your hands to access the soft, orange inside. It is already sectioned into cubes with a hard pit in the middle of each cube. With an initial taste like pumpkin, it soon grows super sour as you slowly suck the meat around the pit. The taste buds of these Burkinabè are clearly much stronger than my own as I can barely make it through 4 cubes before my mouth is so puckered I fear I will never look the same again.

Another great snack is degue. This is simply plain yogurt with millet in it. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you have extremely limited options for cold food, you take what is offered with a smile on your face knowing the calcium, protein, and probiotics will do you well and enjoy every minute of it.

Another nutritious snack option offered are tofu kabobs. I don’t know how they make it here, but it is incredibly delicious. Josh, a vehement tofu hater in the States, loves the tofu here. It is placed on a kabob separated by none other than slices of onion! He enjoys adding piment, which, from what I can tell, is a crushed powder form of pimento. It adds a nice kick to really jumpstart those taste buds.

Finally, they have peanuts. Somehow, they taste nothing like our peanuts, but they’re here and they’re peanuts; so you’ll hear no complaints from me.

One thing I’ve noticed is that all of the food is smaller here. The produce, the meat, everything that is grown/cultivated is significantly smaller with significantly less food per item (i.e. a lot less meat per chicken). Other than that things really aren’t that different, just prepared differently.

As always, thanks for reading and if you have anything you’d like to know more about, please don’t hesitate to reach out! And please think of me every time you eat a piece of cheese!

The 26 Year Old Grandparents

Monday after class Josh and I sat with our family, enjoying the sweltering heat of the day. The dust in the air created the perfect ambience for a broken french conversation as we languished in the most comfortable chairs Burkina Faso has to offer, plastic lawn chairs.

Neuman and Latifah are enjoying the feel of Josh’s hair when Josh decides to break the news: he’s decided to shave his head. The kids are devastated, but his mind has been made up. Despite the super attractive Alfalfae-esque cowlicks, the perpetual greasiness, and the ever present sweat, he will not be swayed from his decision. With heartbreak in their eyes, the kids ask, with never-failing hope of a positive outcome, if he will also shave his beard. At his negative response, Martin speaks up and says it’s because he is a grandfather. I turn to Martin, confused by this statement and ask him to repeat what he’s said. He confidently says that Josh is a grandfather and I am a grandmother. That’s why they named me after their grandmother (upon arrival it’s common for the host family to give you a local name).

When I respond that I’m 26 and Josh is 27, their jaws hit the floor. The surprise they express is enough to make you wonder what you actually look like as you haven’t looked in a mirror in a solid 2 weeks. I haven’t worn make up since I arrived in Africa, but I couldn’t possibly have changed that much. I quickly do the math of a fairly standard age to have your first child (in Burkina Faso) and double it–nope not there yet. So I ask why they thought we were so old. The answer: Josh’s beard. I’ve heard theories that the men here simply cannot grow beards, particularly not like Josh’s, until an advanced age. I’m unsure of the validity of the statement, but one thing I can attest to is that beards are not common. I have seen no beards here except those worn by American men.

Age is also fairly hard to tell. Whether the date of birth is not accurately recorded or what, my host father is said to be 75 years old. If I had to guess, as a stretch, I would say 55. His mother is still very much living, cooking, punishing the kids when they misbehave, and cleaning. I’d say this woman is easily stronger than I am! (When I determine the appropriateness of it, I hope to get a picture of her- I don’t believe she speaks French.) So clearly, just as I am unable to tell their age, they’re unable to tell mine. Although, I do tend to err on the side of younger.

So skip ahead to Tuesday night. Josh is seated outside our door as I pull out the razor so generously loaned to us by another volunteer. As soon as I turn it on, a crowd immediately forms around us. My first haircut ever and the pressure is on! Fortunately, using a razor with a guard means that my task isn’t too difficult. Minutes later and my task is complete. Once more the kids ask if I’m going to shave his beard. With a vehement no from Josh, the question is answered despite pleadings from all corners, including my very pragmatic argument that his face would be a lot cooler. He will not be dissuaded from his decision. So we will continue being the youngest grandparents with no children.

And thus concludes the story of the 26 year old grandparents and the most highly viewed haircut in the history of my short haircutting career.

The African Washing Machine

(written 7.1.17)

Today my host siblings helped me wash clothes. Let me just say that this was much more of a task than I could have anticipated.

This was the first time that I’ve washed clothes since being in Africa. 17 days in country plus 2 people–you can imagine how many clothes we had to clean. 

I had to wash our clothes with a combination of body wash and shampoo, as Josh was off at the market and he had all of our small bills. Without the appropriate denomination of currency, I was apprehensive to visit a small boutique on our street to attempt to purchase the proper soap. On the bright side, our host siblings were very excited by the smell of our soaps.

I simply do not understand how these women here are able to stand up straight without severe back problems.  I would say that a solid 80% of the tasks that they are expected to do are performed bent double at the waist. After the first bucketful of clothing (we easily had 6 bucketfuls worth), my back was absolutely screaming and that was with switching back and forth between bending double and squatting.

For those of you who haven’t recently washed your clothes the Burkina Faso way, it’s a fairly simple process.  After walking maybe 200 yards or so to the well, filling two large jugs with water that weigh easily fifty pounds each when full, and walking back, you empty the water into a large bowl with clothes and soap. Mix everything together to increase the suds. You then take each individual piece of clothing and scrub every inch of it by rubbing two sides of the fabric together. Don’t worry, if you’re not good at it, your host sisters with yell at you and show you how to do it repeatedly and very patiently, until finally they can’t take anymore and they do it for you.

Once you’ve sufficiently scrubbed the garment, you wring out the excess water and soap and place it into large bowl number two filled with water and soap.  After fully cleaning all of the clothes in bowl one and placing them into bowl two, you repeat the same process. Again, you scrub, wring, and place into bowl number three. Bowl 3 is filled with water, sans soap. Upon finishing all the laundry in bowl 2 and placing in bowl 3, you take it to the cable that serves as a clothesline.  After cleaning the cable, you painstakingly wring out your shirts and pants–again, don’t worry, if you’re not good at fully wringing out your clothes your host sisters will happily take them from you and do it better.

After taking up the entirety of the clothesline and most of the outer wall of the complex, you are officially embarrassed by your materialism.

On a more positive note, my host family were highly amused by my struggles with carrying the water jugs as well as my pruney, dry hands after spending 2 hours washing clothes. I have to say, when I don’t have my host family looking over my shoulder, I really doubt that I’m going to put quite so much care into the cleanliness of my clothes.

And for those of you enjoying the wonderful use of washing machines right now, think of me every time you put in a load.

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