Big Up from Aribinda

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Volunteer for a Year... A Hard Year

This blog was written 23 August and completed 30 August

On the eve of having been a volunteer for a year, I guess I don’t have many things to say on the subject. I guess I am just happy that I have been able to do this, to survive. I have not thrived. Rather, I have struggled. I thought so many things before I came. I remember talking to people in the States, telling them how I didn’t want to have expectations. Having no starting point, that’s how I wanted it. I had no idea what sub-Saharan Africa was, it was just some spot on the map that represented a hell of an adventure, possible tribulations.

Having been here, I have learned so much about myself. My connection with my “Americaness.” My love of information. How much I miss my family, my friends, how much I rely on them. How much I miss my culture. I have been, for a majority of my service, the most northern volunteer in Burkina Faso. Also, the teacher with the least amount of hours in a village with a dearth of resources. Of course, being the most northern volunteer is nothing compared to the junk that volunteers in Niger and parts of Mali go through. But, being in the Sahel and having 5 hours of class a week has tested my resolve. Because I had so few hours, I found myself in a deep depression in January and February. Nothing to do, I recoiled from the community, didn’t practice my French as much as I would have liked. I would call it a success now though. I could have bagged it, just said fuck it. Well, here I am.

And I am staying. After living here and doing my thing for the first episode, I gotta see what happens during the second episode. What’s the end gonna be like? How will my work expand during the second half of my service? I feel like I don’t want to let my community down. Andrea and Malcolm did it for two years, I sure as hell can. Andrea had it that much harder too. No cell phone, transport was harder. Come on, I got it relatively easy.

Well, I have 11 months left. And yes, I am counting. I am split, torn between two different worlds. Here, in Burkina, serving and trying to make a difference. Needless to say, struggling for a pampered American. Over there, in Oregon, finally appreciating the rain, cooking for my mom and dad, taking the dog out on the river or up the mountain with my brother and sister. Going out with my friends, laughing it up, seeing what people are up to. Well, we never grow by taking the easy route do we? Yeah, I like to refer to myself as du Hard Corps, like the stage that showed me how to roll. Plus, I’ve already been here for close to 15 months, what’s another 11 months? Gonna go by fast I’m told.

And the new stage just swore in last night. Reminded me of how I was. Nervous to go to site. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, how hard that first month was gonna be. Well, I am staying to teach, plant trees, and serve people who have accepted me into their community and gave me another reason to live and show my love.

Going to Benin and Togo next week. I’ll have more soon, hopefully on the topic of voodoo, ooh!

Wish me luck, I’m gonna need it! Much love!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Of COS Parties

This blog was written 16 August.

So, I am writing this with a body that is broken down into a series of pain zones. My head is swirling right now actually after getting 4 hours of sleep. Clay and I got back to the transit house around 3:30 last night, then we gorged ourselves on the wonderful guacamole Patrice made. Then, I passed out.

Needless to say, I am hung over. On Flag, that is. I like it more than Brakina, or SO. B. Bra, the typical three beers they serve in Burkina. Ooh, the monitor is fluttering, eek. I planned the COS party (Close of Service) with Babette. We typically have these parties to send the COSing group out of country. It is a celebration of their service. I am going to miss Leslie, Aaron, Jeremy, Ben, Josh, and all the others. I have really bonded well with the group that came in-country about 9 months ahead of us, they are really cool.

We started the party at the transit house then after 3 hours moved it to a club close to centreville Ouagadougou called Le Pandora. It's a cool spot. Thanks to the Peace Corps, who gave us a vehicle and one of the coolest drivers Idrissa, getting to the club was cool. A big shout goes out to administration for being so cooperative with the COS party planning. They showed a lot of support and offered some good critique.

Overall, the party was good. Some people got way too drunk way too quickly, as is usually the case. I won't name names. The house party went well, then we got to the club, and about 3 people left right there. Two were sick, one from being too drunk, and the third was just too drunk to really function. Caleb, we love you, you are hilarious! Everybody was having a good time. There were some Americans there, as well as French. It was disappointing to see some people were taking from our 60 L of beer we had bought. One cat, a Brit as it turns out, was taking beer as he pleased. I didn't like the looks of him, but Clay and him struck it up and it turns out I probably would have gotten along with the guy real well. Clay started talking to him about Oregon. The guy said he lived in Corvallis and went to OSU for 9 months. He hated Corvallis. Yeah, it's not the greatest place, but it isn't that bad. He asked Clay if I hadn't given up my pocket knife yet. They were talking about the kind of professional class in Oregon that loves to get out into the wild, run trails, check the river, hike the mountain. He thought it was ridiculous. Funny to see some Brit in flat Burkina talking about a place I lived as he drinks beer provided him by the US Government and some of it's best workers. That's a blatant shout out to all volunteers.

Outside of somebody peeing underneath an A/C unit near an electrical hub, the night at the club went well. The DJ was a fuck, not letting me speak on the microphone to announce the King and Queen of the COS stage for our Homecoming themed party. Clay and I also had a near altercation with a Ghanaian taxi driver, but we cut on him and took Omar's cab. But, the dancing was fun and the food wasn't bad. I did have some fun, maybe too much at times, as I was one of the people in charge of making sure nothing bad went wrong. But hey, we did it up and didn't break or ruin anything, so I would say we did quite well.

OK, happy trails. More to come soon. Headed back up to Ouahigouya for week 10 of stage. The new kids are coming around. Funny I was like that once! Much love!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

They Come and They Go: Changing of the Guard

This blog was written 1 August.

Once again, I am back with a few more stories that I find funny that highlight some of the differences between Burkinabe and Americans. The first story is my most recent arrival back in Aribinda. I came in off of Abga’s taxi-brousse, can’t remember the day. Of course, I was greeted in the standard way. It’s like a party when I come back to site, the people always welcome me warmly. Let’s me know they still enjoy my presence. One of my biggest fans, Harouna, an oft-drunk local, always loves to help me with my bags coming or going. This time, he was on the receiving end of my Outrider 75. I was coming from Ouaga, so I had a few goodies to deposit at the house. My bag was especially heavy. As he unloaded the bag, I said:

“Heavy huh?”


“Yeah, got a dead body in there.”

He looked at me like I was a nut job. Nothing funny about that apparently. It was funny to see the way he measured me, his eyes squinted for a second, mouth drooped a little. Then, after a few awkward moments of silence, I told him it was an American joke. He looked at me in a bizarre way and gave me a nod, his mouth still drooping a little.

The second happening occurred a few days ago in Djibo. I had had enough of site and was due to come to Ouaga in a few days, so I hopped Abga’s car and headed west. In village, I had been stressed out over a tree planting project that I had started and was evolving ever so slowly. During the rainy season, there isn’t a lot to do in village. All most the whole populace is en brousse, in the fields, planting millet that will feed them for a whole year. So, there isn’t anybody to really talk to or hang out with. Plus, a lack of classes really gives me time to concentrate on book study of my French, read, figure some crosswords or do sudoku. Not much else. Being so stressed, I also think I made myself sick. I won’t go into details ;-).

When I got into Djibo, I went to the DPEBA hotel and asked for a room. I sat down with two Burkinabe gentleman who were in the office as I waited for Ahmed, the kid who runs the hotel. We exchanged the normal pleasantries. How’s the family, how’s work, did you sleep well? I told them I was sick. They asked in what way. Quickly, the conversation turned to diarrhea. We talked about preparing food yourself and also going from a more village setting or small town to Ouaga. That seems to change your poop. I know, lots of poop talk, but hey, that’s what I deal with here. Not only do I still have poop talks with all of my fellow volunteers, but guess what: I can have ‘em with Burkinabe too! That makes my day a little brighter!

Le sujet à discuter would be the change of the guard that is taking place in the ranks of Burkina Faso Peace Corps Volunteers. This simply means one group is leaving and another is coming in. I have worked one week with the new kids. I like them, yet some of their behavior has been a little suspect. For one, they have a newsletter. Huh? During stage, you are around each other so much, who the fuck needs a newsletter?! Quite ridiculous and a waste of paper people. Secondly, during a med session on drugs and alcohol, our wonderful PCMO, Cameroon’s finest doctor, Jean-Luc Eyango was giving out bags of chocolates for correct answers. He gave, I believe, three bags away. I wanted some of it. I wanted to holler out to Jean-Luc, gimme that bag, I’ll open it. These kids, I mean, just got here. Yeah, stage is stressful, but gimme some frickin’ chocolate. Well, the three or so kids who got a bag of Snickers or whatever just opened their knapsacks and dropped the bag in. I was disappointed, that’s for sure. I didn’t find that too weird until later, when Kevin mentioned that during his stage, if somebody got a bag of chocolates, they opened them up and shared them right there. So, yeah, that behavior is bizarre. I do remember my group sharing. Who could eat the whole bag, right? Plus, we were all stressed out.

Changing of the guard, the passing of the torch. That’s what I am going to call it. Arriving in-country last year, I remember how I looked up to the volunteers when I was just a trainee. I was impressed that a group of individuals could do what they have done for a year. For a pampered American, such as myself, this is a difficult place to live. You can ask my mom and dad, they saw me doing it. I remember telling Joel I just wanted to be a volunteer, I wanted those initials PCV, not PCT, as in trainee. He reminded me of that just the other day, the day I said good-bye to my Coloradan brother. Miss you man, drink a Trippel for me, cool?

But they did something and continue to do something as they leave the country. They are passing the torch onto us, to show another group of newbies how to walk and talk in this so-called strange place. It’s only strange when you first arrive. And that’s when you are most impressed with the people who have spent 9 months, 1 year, almost 2 years here. Then, that kind of wears off. You become a veteran, a Hard Corps member yourself. Especially if you live where I live. I am a Sahelian volunteer, I put up with more than your typical volunteer, in Burkina at least. I have no problem telling you that I am tougher than most of the volunteers here.

So, as Joel, Jill, Markus, Brooks, Jenny and all of my other friends leave, I know they are happy to be going home. And, they are also happy that the group of trainees that we once were are now good volunteers, capable of bearing the role of model volunteer. That first year flew by. They tell me to watch out, the second year will go by even quicker. A big shout goes out to my RPCV peoples, you know who you are. You were bold and succeeded. Much love, big up!

But, on the flip side of that, I am here for two years. As I rode the STAF bus from Djibo to Ouaga yesterday, I reflected on my first year. Difficulties, successes, the future, blah blah blah. Then, I saw this beautiful little African baby, sans britches, messing around by the water pump. Cute, I said to myself. Then I thought, this is it. This is all that little kid is probably ever going to see. I was thankful. For me to sit here and think that I am tough, hah, that’s a laugh. Look at these people, struggling. As the bus went by, the people in the field, bent over their hoes, would straighten up, stare at the bus as it rambled by. I almost felt like time and modernity, some comfort, were passing them by without giving any thought. I am blessed to see and be able to do so much. Be thankful people.

Shout goes out to my family on this day before my birthday. I love you and miss you so much. Keep the river clean and drink a Pabst, a TG IPA, a Pine Marten Pale, and a Brutal Bitter for me. Next time you’re up by the Saw Tooth Ridge, tell Thielsen I’ll be back soon to dominate it. I miss those mountains and rivers. Big up my beautiful Oregon. I better stay like Zane Grey though. Don’t talk about it too much, people may get curious and start going there!