Sunday, November 6, 2011

Participating in Camp Glow, the Bike Tour and organizing the 50th Anniversary Fair made for a pretty hectic summer. I thought that life would calm down, but completing these activities motivated me to do some projects in my own community. I felt really great for my accomplishments this summer, but I wasn’t completely happy knowing that I hadn’t done anything that directly affected my village. Camp Glow took place in Kaya and the participants were middle school students. Since Forgui only has a primary school, nobody from my village could come to the camp. The Bike Tour made a brief breakfast stop in my village and then we continued on our way. The volunteers only had the chance to greet a few members of my family and then they whisked me away for 2 weeks on the road. The 50th Anniversary Fair took place in the capital, Ouagadougou. Most of the villagers have never left Forgui, so making a trip to Ouaga was far too expensive and unrealistic for them. I feel like I can only explain so much to my villagers about the work I’ve done so far, but it’s not easy for them to understand. From their perspective, I haven’t accomplished very much because they don’t see the work that I do unless I am weighing their baby or assisting in their pre-natal consultation at the CSPS.
Since arriving at my site and talking to other volunteers, I have been constantly adding to my list of project ideas. I never felt like I had the support in village to get any projects completed. I’ve recently begun collaborating with new people in my village. My pharmacist has turned out to be a great friend- he has no ulterior motives. He wants to help me with my projects and doesn’t want anything in return like money or marriage and a visa to the US like the other professionals in my region. I also began working with the primary school in my village and the director is great. He met with me and had already brainstormed ideas of how we could collaborate together on projects. He also supports all of my ideas and wants to help out in any way possible.
So, here are the projects I’m working on so far this year:
I am making hand washing stations for the village. They are a metal or plastic water canister with a faucet attached so people can wash their hands easily in villages with no running water. I applied for and received funding to build hand washing stations at the school, health center and market in village. I am experimenting with the hand washing station design by adding a “lost well.” This is a hole dug into the ground and filled with layered rocks in varying sizes. The lost well allows water to filter into the ground instead of gathering into a puddle of stagnant water, which attracts mosquitos and therefore malaria. Once the hand washing stations are installed, I will be doing lessons on hygiene and the importance of hand washing. I will also be demonstrating how to make liquid soap, which will then be used at the hand washing stations. I created laminated signs with images reminding people to wash their hands. This may seem like an unnecessary project, but people in village really do not wash their hands, which results in numerous cases of diarrhea and giardia.
I’m organizing a Girl’s Camp for winter break in December. It’s going to be a short camp; only 3 days from 8am to noon at the primary school in village. I am collaborating with my school director and the supervisor of my health center. We’re invited all adolescent girls to openly discuss puberty, adolescence, unwanted pregnancies, forms of birth control, menstrual cycles and future aspirations if they stay in school. Burkina Faso is a very male dominant society, where young girls are sexually harassed and abused and forced into marriage at a young age. The school system does not address sexual education and many females (including older women) are completely uneducated about their bodies. I want to encourage these young women to stay in school, to protect themselves and to value themselves. It will be like a mini version of Camp Glow taking place in my village.
I recently applied for and received funding for a Women’s Day celebration. March 8th is international Women’s Day and it is celebrated by the majority of Burkina Faso. It is one day where the women are recognized for their contributions to society. I was very disappointed the previous March to see that my village does not recognize the holiday. The villagers did not even know what Women’s Day was. After my girls camp in December, I am going to invite these young women to join the planning committee for Forgui’s first Women’s Day celebration. I will teach the girls how to conduct health awareness campaigns and we will prepare a theater presentation. I am going to let the girls run the event and pick the subjects they would like to address. We will also host a women’s soccer match; soccer is the biggest extracurricular activity here and women are frequently excluded from matches. The celebration will highlight women’s impact on our community. The planning committee will learn how to run the event themselves so they can carry on with the celebration annually.
After the girl’s camp and Women’s Day planning committee, I hope to start a Girl’s Club with the same girls. I want to meet with any girls interested after school every once in a while to discuss different health topics with them and to play soccer. The females in our community receive so few opportunities in Forgui, so I want to offer them a safe environment with me where they can relax and enjoy themselves. In the future, I hope to paint a world map at the school with these girls and start other projects with them as well. One project will be painting AIDS murals in December for world AIDS awareness month at the health center and the school.
The director and teachers at the primary school requested my help in building new school latrines. A latrine is like an outhouse in the US; it is a hole in the ground with a cement covering used as a toilet in Burkina Faso. The current ones at the school are inadequate; they are falling apart and were not built properly so they are unsafe. We found a latrine specialist who will build safe, functioning and durable latrines for the school. There will be one latrine designated to each of the 6 classes; the students will be responsible for maintaining their latrine. I will also be teaching each class the importance of using latrines; this will hopefully decrease the amount of people “relieving” themselves in public in the fields surrounding the school and my house. I am currently applying for funding for this project.
I am working with a men’s association that puts on health awareness campaigns. There are 30 men interested in participating. They drum and dance to gather an audience, then they perform a theater piece about a health topic of choice and show a film using a projector and car battery that they own. They have asked for my help with information on different health topics so I will be working with them. The have been inactive for 4 years and want me to help them become an established and functioning association again. This association is intriguing since it is very rare that men want to help inform the public on health topics.
I am looking for funding for stairs and ramps at my health center. Our CSPS is poorly designed. It is one long building, separated into 2 sides. The left side is the maternity; there is a consultation room for pre-natal and post-natal consultations and birth control options, a birthing room and an overnight room. The right side of the building is for all other health consultations with an overnight room for sick patients. There is currently one set of stairs located in the exact spot where a dividing wall connects the two sides. This poor placement makes the stairs almost impossible to use. The foundation of the building is about a foot off the ground and it is a big struggle for the elderly, pregnant women, sick people and children to access the building. I see children slip off every week and I myself have fallen off on numerous occasions. My community would like to build stairs and ramps along the front of the CSPS.
I am hoping to have a huge impact on my village in my remaining time there. I also want to help with the bigger picture, so I am organizing a Women’s Health Conference. I am a member of the Gender and Development (GAD) Committee, a committee comprised of Peace Corps volunteers interested in advancing the equality of genders in Burkina Faso and fostering opportunities for females in this country. We are planning a conference for volunteers and female counterparts from their villages. We will be discussing pertinent health topics such as hygiene, reproductive health, health services available and malaria. We are going to train the participants to be health advocates; they will learn teaching and communication techniques so they can bring this information back to their communities. The women will learn fun activities and games that they can use in their health sessions to grab villager’s attention and to leave a lasting impression on their communities. I am in the process of organizing this conference with our office in Ouagadougou and I am currently applying for funding from Washington.
Volunteers have access to different funding options for projects. There are grants we can apply for called SPA grants. They have a long application process in order to ensure that the projects are community initiated and not just a project a volunteer wants to take place. There are also requirements on budgets and allocations of funds. Volunteers can receive funding for projects in the following categories: Maternal and Child Health, Family Planning and Reproductive Health, Water and Sanitation, HIV/AIDS. It is not an easy process and can take months, but it is one of the only options for funding for projects. Our salary is not enough to fund projects; we only receive enough for living allowances. The other funding option is offered by my committee, the Gender and Development Committee. We raise money through events like the bike tour and silent auctions. Volunteers can apply for money to fund small projects relating to gender and development in Burkina. I have currently received two SPA grants, one GAD grant and am applying for many more.
I hope to complete all of the above projects and will write about them when I do! Thank you for all of your support J

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Burkina Bike Tour 2011

Bike Tour!
I recently participated in the Burkina Bike Tour! The bike tour committee spent a lot of time mapping out the route for the bike tour this year and they improved the purpose of the tour by including activities at different volunteer sites. The 3 goals of the bike tour were: 1) celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps worldwide 2) visit volunteers’ sites and participate in their activities 3) to raise funds for volunteer projects supporting gender and development.
I joined the bike tour for 8 challenging days! Some of the routes were dirt roads in very poor condition, some were paved road with many trucks passing by, some days were extremely hot and others we had rain, some stops were in small villages, others in large cities. It was such a great experience and I’m really glad that I got to take part in it. Here’s a quick recap of the days that I participated in! I put in the kilometers per day, but I’m still waiting to get the exact ones…so for now, these are some estimates!
Kaya to Boulsa (85.3km): The road was unpaved and in poor condition. It was definitely over 100 degrees this day. We stayed in a volunteer’s house that had recently finished their service so there was nobody currently living in the house, but a new volunteer would be arriving in a few weeks. When we got to their house it was absolutely filthy. We were exhausted from the bike ride and the heat, but upon arrival we spent hours cleaning the house so we would be able to stay there that night. We had to clean up garbage and dust throughout the interior and weed the exterior so we would have enough space for all of us to sleep and a place to bucket bathe! After biking and cleaning, we had to rally our energy to give a lesson on Moringa with an association of widows. We taught about 25 widows of varying ages about growing moringa trees, how to use the leaves for nutritional benefits and the importance of its’ nutritional properties. The women did not speak French, so we did the lesson in Moore with the help of a translator. It went really well and they were very appreciative of us being there.
Boulsa to Bilanga (87km): This was a very challenging second day. The route was predominantly inclined and it was a bumpy dirt road. Towards the end of our bike ride to Bilanga, we ran into a huge dam that we were supposed to cross. Normally, cars and bikes pass over the top of the dam, which is cemented. However, with the recent rains, the dam was overflowing. The water was a strong current going over the dam wall and down the other side, making a huge waterfall. I hesitated before crossing, but noticed that other cars and bikes were going across. It was not easy to cross! The current was pulling us towards the edge, which had no barrier stopping people or their belongings from shooting down the waterfall. There were many times when the current almost took me off the side. It was a terrifying experience! We stopped in Bilanga proper to have a big luncheon with all of the officials in the area. There were musical performances and speeches from various people. It’s nice to have big ceremonies where we get to meet people, but it was also strange because we go directly to these events. So, we’re sitting there with nicely dressed officials in our biking spandex and t-shirts, completely covered with dirt caked on by our sweat and our skin is red from the heat and the exertion. After our lunch, we had to bike another 15km to where we would be staying that evening in Bilanga-Yanga. We were so exhausted that it we all showered and went to bed. It wasn’t easy taking bucket baths on the bike tour because there are so many of us, one region for bucket bathing one at a time, and our water has to be brought over by children, one canister at a time.
Bilanga to Fada (127.5km): Due to the rains, the road to Fada was closed to vehicles. We’re required to have a Peace Corps car following us throughout the bike tour in case of accidents and to keep us hydrated. Since the car could not pass the road blocks, we had to reroute ourselves and bike 130km instead of 80km. We ended up having to bike on roads that we were going to return on the following day, so we would be backtracking. The first part of our ride was 50km of dirt road to Koupela. The rest of our ride was on paved road, with lots of uphill climbs and lots of large trucks passing by. It was very hot biking on pavement. We were given the option to ride in the car for part of the leg. I didn’t think I would need to and I really wanted to finish the entire trip. But, my body was so sore from the previous days (I haven’t had any physical activity like this since coming here 11 months ago) that I ended up taking the car for a little bit of it. I was so happy to arrive in Fada and to have the following day off! The volunteers in Fada had planned a little fair and invited the local NGO’s and other small businesses to come and set up tables to showcase their groups. We had some theatrical presentations on health topics, soap making demonstration and musical performances. It went really well and it was a lot of fun to participate in!
Fada to Nakaba (61km): I resented the ride to Nakaba in the beginning because we were backtracking from our long ride the day before. It was frustrating to have to alter our course so much! But, the ride was mostly paved road and there were more declines since it had been inclines in the other direction. So, the ride was pretty easy that day. We got to Nakaba, a small village, where 22 of us stayed in 1 volunteer’s small little house. He had planned a great activity! We were divided into groups with children and given the assignment of creating dances that represented the themes assigned to us. My group’s theme was “cultivation.” Once we choreographed our dance, we practiced with a local drummer and prepared to perform. We performed in front of the villagers and a group of judges. In the end, my team ended up winning! The kids were really excited and they got candy as a prize. Each theme was planned to encourage gender equality amongst the villagers. Both females and males can perform tasks like cooking for the family, cleaning the house, cultivating and constructing structures. It was a lot of fun for everyone! Later that night, we were woken up abruptly by the police officers telling us that a storm was coming and we needed to find shelter quickly. There were 22 of us in a very small house, so we all had to disassemble our bug huts (little tents/mosquito nets) and crammed inside of the house while others ran down to the health center to look for shelter. It rained all night and into the morning so our departure time was delayed for the next day. But it turned out alright because it was cooler outside that day because of the rain so we didn’t need to leave as early.
Nakaba to Tenkodogo (72km): This ride was all paved road, so it wasn’t too bad. We did have 2 injuries along the way, but only minor scrapes and bruises. I was exhausted every single day of the bike tour. My entire body ached and I was always sleepy because we had to wake up so early to beat the heat on our rides. I did feel like I got a little faster and stronger every day!
Tenkodogo to Beka (116km): The ride to Beka was another long one! It was supposed to be around 80km (or so we thought because of google maps), but it turned out to be 116km. I guess it was better to not know that it was going to be longer because we just kept pushing through and were really surprised when we arrived and the GPS said it had been over 100km. We were so exhausted when we got to Zabre so we stopped to eat something. Then, the ride to Beka was a short, but terrible 9km more! The road was full of sand (which is really hard to bike through) and huge puddles that we had to bike through. The road was narrow and really bumpy. It was not ideal for the end of such a long day. We pulled into Beka, all completely covered in mud from the terrain, and there was an enormous welcome for us. Every single villager was there, standing on both sides of the road cheering as we biked in. Then, we were swarmed and surrounded by all the villagers taking video and pictures of us on their cell phones. It was so overwhelming. We sat down for a big ceremony with speeches and then we divided the men and women to do 2 lessons. The men learned about malaria and mosquito nets while the women learned about nutrition. It was so great to see so many villagers supporting us! It was very overwhelming and we were exhausted but it was such a nice gesture!
Beka to Pô (89km): The bike ride from Beka was not too bad...except for the big hill at the very end! On the way there, we stopped in Tibila, the painted village. We got to tour through the kings royal courtyard and see all of the traditionally painted houses and tour inside of them to learn about the history of them all. It was so amazing to see! It was funny touring inside the houses because there are still people living there, so it felt like we were intruding on the older women doing their household chores. They were all very friendly though. After our tour, we went to a dance performance organized by the volunteer living there. It was a fun little break on our way to Pô. Once we arrived in Pô, the volunteer there had organized an awesome tree planting activity at her school. It was a great way to end the bike tour!
After Pô, I had to head to Ouagadougou to work on the 50th Anniversary Fair! It was a lot of work but it turned out really great! More to come about the Fair in another post…


Total Km Biked= 637

Monday, August 29, 2011

Camp Glow!!!

Camp Glow has begun and it’s going great! The kids here are the top 60 students from 15 different schools. They’re very well behaved and very smart.
I ran the tie dye session and it made me miss Cal Aggie Camp (CAC) back home! Tie Dying in Africa is not the same as at home. The Burkinabe had never heard of what we were going to do when I told them about it. When I taught the students how to rubber band their t-shirts, I only had to demonstrate it once and they all had made perfect spirals and targets. The dye we used is very toxic and burns your skin. We bought the thickest gloves we could find and it wasn’t enough so we ended up doubling up and wearing two pairs each. When we mixed the ingredients, it bubbled up and smelled awful. It felt like a science experiment. During week 2, some of the die got into my gloves and burned my arm pretty badly. Since the dye is so toxic, we couldn’t let the students apply the colors themselves. We had to soak their t-shirts into the dye for them and they could only pick one color. When we were mixing the colors, they would look like one color in the bucket and when on the t-shirt, then 5 minutes later when they were ready to rinse, they would rinse out to another color. So I was worried the entire time that the shirts wouldn’t turn out good and the kids would be disappointed! So, when we were making yellow shirts, they would be dark blue in the bucket of dye and afterwards they looked brown, then when they were rinsed out, they turned bright yellow! In the end, they all ended up looking great and the kids were so happy with their work!
The kids seem like they’re having a great time. They’re so proud of all the work they’ve done. At the end of our first full day, they were beaming about their t-shirts and the journals they had decorated. Burkina doesn’t have anything like summer camps for children, so they’ve literally never seen or heard of anything like this. I think they’re overwhelmed with happiness and excitement because they’re experiencing for one short week the kind of childhood that most of us experienced for years. So, it’s easy to incorporate education into fun activities for them because they cherish anything that resembles a game.
We had one mishap in the beginning. One kid laid down during some downtime and took a nap. We lock the kids’ rooms when they’re not in there to avoid thefts. Well, we ended up locking in one of the students. He was trapped in the room for an entire session and missed tie dying his shirt! Nobody was around to hear him calling to be let out, so he just waited until the next person opened the door. I felt terrible about this, but he just bounced right back and jumped into the sports rotation he was up for next. That’s another difference between camp back home and camp here. We don’t constantly watch the kids and treat them like babies. Burkinabe children are pretty responsible, so we don’t have to constantly be checking if the entire group is present or stay glued to our group the entire time. They listen to what they’re told to do and for the most part, they go where they’re supposed to go. They don’t want to miss out on any of the sessions, so they don’t. It’s very refreshing! The downside of this is that I’m not getting to know my campers as well as I do at CAC.
We made a rule that everybody has to speak French at the camp so that we could try to avoid campers from the same schools being exclusive with each other. There are many local languages in Burkina so people usually stick to local language when possible. When a camper is caught speaking anything other than French, they have to wear a sign that says “Arachide” with a picture of an arachide on it (a peanut!). Apparently, campers don’t like being called an arachide, so having to wear this sign is a bad thing. They’re having a ton of fun with it and they keep catching up speaking English with each other and making us walk around with our arachide sign around our neck until the next meal.
We started having problems with our Burkinabe counterparts after only a few days. They have a completely different work ethic in this culture. Burkinabe (especially the men) will not take the initiative. They are not aware of the work around them. They can’t see what needs to be done around them and do it themselves when they’re available. You have to delegate tasks to them if you want anything done. For instance, after every mealtime, the lunch room is filthy. So, 3 times a day, we need to sweep this room. Me and the other volunteers are always in there after a meal to sweep. We’ve asked the Burkinabe many times to help us with this task. They will never just show up and do it. They only help when you specifically go up to them and ask them at that very moment if they can come help you. And even then, you sometimes have to return 3 times to ask them before they’ll actually get up and do it. The men in this country really do NOTHING productive or helpful! It’s so confusing because they don’t like being told what to do by a woman but they won’t do anything if you don’t tell them multiple times!
Once the girls’ week of camp came around we had new problems with our Burkinabe counterparts. They wanted to make the girl campers do all of the work because it’s their culture. Out of habit, the girls were offering to wash our clothes, sweep the rooms for us, get water from the pump and whatever else they saw that needed to be done. They’re used to beginning household chores when they’re as young as 2 years old. And they usually get in trouble if they don’t take the initiative and do something when they notice it’s needed. They’re the exact opposite of Burkinabe men. We told the men that we wanted the girls to have an equal experience as the boys since we’re teaching gender equality. They got furious with us and said that’s not how their culture works. They said the girls needed to do these chores for them because they need to learn how to please their husbands since it’s their inevitable future. We were sick of sweeping the meal room by ourselves so we asked the counterparts to come help us. They said “No, I don’t sweep. That’s a woman’s job. Make the girls do it.” This really set us Americans over the edge. I started yelling at them about the main objective of Camp Glow, which is equality of gender! I said they were being terrible role models and I was disgusted with their attitudes. Then other volunteers got upset and started saying that just because it’s Burkinabe culture does not mean it’s right and that they’re culture is the reason we are here as volunteers because it’s wrong! They got really upset and we had a huge fight of Burkinabe men vs. American volunteers. We had to have a meeting to diffuse the situation. We explained to the men that this is an American summer camp and it’s going to be run with gender equality. The girls were going to be treated exactly as the boys were the week before- which meant no pumping water for the men to shower, no washing the men’s clothing, no sweeping for the men. This camp is a place for the girls to learn important topics that they don’t get a chance to learn otherwise because they’re doing all the work in the community.
During camp, all of the volunteers and counterparts sleep at the school with the students. We’re they’re chaperones. One night all of the counterparts disappeared. They didn’t tell anybody they were leaving. We just walked outside and they were all gone. We signed a contract to be here for the kids and not to leave camp without permission and not to drink alcohol during camp. It was midnight, so we decided to lock the school up since they were nowhere to be found. So, we basically locked them out to teach them a lesson. We can’t leave the gate open because we have 60 students sleeping here and all of our supplies. The next morning they were all there. I don’t know how they got in! They must’ve scaled the wall because the gate can’t be opened from the outside. They never mentioned it to us and we never brought it up. I guess they learned their lesson because it never happened again!
There was such a drastic difference between boys’ week and girls’ week. The boys were exploding with personality. They were so much fun to be around! We were constantly goofing around with them and laughing. They demanded a lot of attention and they loved to participate. If you asked for a volunteer, every single hand shot up with kids saying “Me! Me! Me!” Boys’ week was really energetic and tons of fun. We taught them a lot of important information, but I would say we had more fun with the boys and they maybe didn’t learn as much as the girls. The girls were much more timid, reserved. They definitely opened up more after a day, but they still stayed pretty calm. It was interesting to see the difference. During outside activities and sports games, they had fun but were much calmer than the boys. During classes, the girls seemed engrossed by the topics like they were absorbing so much new information. They were so interested in the sessions and it seemed liked they loved the opportunity to learn, which is not something they’re always given. Girls’ week felt much more rewarding for me.
I ran sessions on reproductive health and puberty. We discussed the genital organs for males and females, how they function, what changes occur during puberty and how sexual relations work. We discussed menstrual cycles and how pregnancy occurs. The girls were so interested in learning about their bodies and what’s happening inside of them. They don’t have science classes like we do in the US and they certainly don’t have Sex Ed classes like we do. Male and female reproductive organs are not really discussed here. There are so many topics that are just not discussed ever, like girls getting their periods and what having sex means exactly. How can you tell a population of young girls to not get pregnant if they don’t even understand how it happens? I also taught sessions on different forms of contraception available in this country and the importance of protecting yourself.
Then, I ran a session on making reusable pads for their periods. When a girl gets her period in this country, she is usually forced to stay home because she has no way of living a normal life during it. There are pads and tampons available in big cities, but they’re expensive and not accessible to villages. Most women use extra fabric they have or tissue (which is only available in cities). We discussed with the girls that they can live a normal life while on their periods- they can still go to school, play sports, be active and not just stay at home in solitude. So, we worked on a design for a reusable menstrual pad made out of old fabric that they have lying around the house. I had to type up instructions in French, which was not easy. I made a prototype, wrote out all of the steps, and then I had to ask one of the male counterparts to help me correct some terminology so it would make sense to the girls. The Burkinabe men didn’t really understand what I was doing, so I had to get the prototype and a pair of my underwear and demonstrate for them. It was EXTREMELY AWKWARD! I was not surprised when all the Burkinabe sat out during that session…the girls loved each making one. It was a little difficult at first. They never had arts and crafts like we do when we’re young, so they don’t have basic skills like tracing something and cutting it out with scissors. It was really difficult for them to trace the patterns onto the fabric and cut them out. We had to walk around the classroom and help every single girl with their stencil and scissors. But, we made it through alright and afterwards everyone asked for extra instructions and stencils so they could show their friends or family! It felt great that they liked the activity because it’s sometime that they can definitely use in village and teach to other people.
We try to encourage questions so we have an anonymous questions box always available. Some of the questions we get are really funny and some are really intelligent. The box is always full! One day we were answering the box questions and we ended up having a discussion on excision and fistulas. These are topics we’re taught with the Peace Corps to not bring up on our own for our own safety. They’re very sensitive topics in this country and it can be dangerous for a volunteer if older members of the community disagree with us putting down their traditions. So I was really excited that this topic came up and I was able to explain it to the girls. I talked about the different degrees of excision and why it’s dangerous. We discussed how it can lead to a fistula and what that means exactly. The girls seemed really interested and a little mortified, probably because the majority of them in the room were excised. When I help with prenatal consults in my village, every single woman has a second degree excision. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN. There is not one woman in my village that is not excised. This has been a really challenging topic for me. I’ve heard my family talk about excising their girls and I’m not allowed to talk about it! One day I couldn’t stay quiet any longer and I got into a fight once with one of the wives in my family. I told her the dangers and that she could kill her daughter. She completely disagreed and started getting angry at me. We reached a point where I had to walk away because I didn’t want to completely ruin my relationship with her. So I was happy to have a safe and open environment with these 60 girls at Camp Glow to discuss this taboo topic and to tell them the truth about it.
On the last day of camp for the girls I taught a session on self-esteem and having confidence in yourself. I talked about how negative comments and thoughts can weigh you down so it’s important to give yourself and others positive reinforcement. At the end, we did an activity where each girl had a piece of paper on their backs. We all walked around and wrote down positive things about that person. I told the girls it was an activity so they could see the positive qualities they have that others see in them. Everyone had a great time and we even extended the time because people wanted to comment on each other’s. At the end, I had the girls remove their papers and read all of the positive comments about them. Some of them came up to me and showed me that people had written negative comments. Some girls had written things like “bête” (stupid or beast), “impolie” (impolite), “villageoise” (poor) and “sale” (dirty). These girls that came up to me were so upset and embarrassed. I felt terrible and guilty that I had caused them so much pain with my activity. I had intended for this activity to be a self-esteem booster. I told the girls beforehand that whenever they were feeling bad about themselves in village, they could look at this paper to remind themselves about how great they really are to feel better. Some selfish girls had ruined the activity for their peers. To see the hurt in these girls’ faces made me feel absolutely terrible. I announced to the group that I was upset at what had happened and asked why people had written such mean things about their peers. Then, others came forward and showed the negative things they had on their papers too. Some girls were laughing while I was trying to discipline them and the offended ones started to cry. I went and got one of the Burkinabe counterparts to help me diffuse the situation. She came in and asked the girls what happened and why they wrote hurtful things. One of the girls said “Well, it’s the truth.” I couldn’t believe the amount of hatred in the room and I couldn’t control my emotions so I left to cry in the other room. Some of the other volunteers got upset by the situation also and had to leave the room. Two of the Burkinabe counterparts came in while I was crying and said I needed to come back so the girls could apologize to me. I said I wasn’t ready to yet because I was still processing the situation and still very angry and crying. Then the counterparts got upset with me that I wouldn’t return. In this culture, people don’t show emotions and you’re not allowed to cry. Their favorite motto is “ça va aller” (it’ll be okay).
 I didn’t know what to do so I called the director of Peace Corps Burkina who was in town to help out with some camp sessions. She came over and we had a meeting with all of the camp counselors. All of the Burkinabe said that agreed that what had happened was not okay. However, their reasoning made it seem like they didn’t quite understand what was wrong about the girls’ actions. They said “they’re kids and kids are mean to each other,” “they say they didn’t understand the exercise so it’s ok,” “some of them cried so you have to forgive them,” and they also said they were mad at me that I didn’t come directly back into the room and accept their apology. I didn’t want to accept a false apology. The girls did not understand why it was wrong to write hurtful things on each other’s backs. They absolutely understood the exercise, they were just being mean and they thought it was funny. The girls who cried were the ones who had their feelings hurt by other girls. I felt uncomfortable and like they blamed me. I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to finish out the camp because it was so uncomfortable. I sat there red-eyed and sniffling while the other counselors discussed the situation with the director. In the end, we sort of just agreed to disagree, blaming our differences in culture, but to move ahead with the rest of camp. We all hugged it out (which is not normal for a Burkinabe) and then we went to talk to the girls. We told them that they need to support each other because when they put each other and themselves down, it empowers men to belittle them as well. The kids apologized and we moved on with camp. I knew I had to get over my feelings quickly and put on a positive face and attitude even if it was fake to continue with the rest of the camp. This is another example of the almost unbearable cultural differences we deal with every day here.
Overall, Camp Glow has been an unbelievably rewarding experience. I have so much more confidence in my ability to make a change here and teach about these difficult topics.

Rainy Season!

Rainy season has finally arrived! Rainy season is also cultivation season. The rain came late this year and has not been as abundant as normal, so villagers have been worrying over drought and famine. The rains finally started to come, but in strange sporadic storms and not a steady rain. Each day before and after a rain storm, it is extremely hot. I guess its nature making us suffer before we’ll be given some rain! Every single villager is in the fields cultivating- the older people and the small children too. My village is like a ghost town. There are no sick people at the health center. It’s not because they’re all healthy. Even if you’re sick, you still need to help the family out in the fields to cultivate. So, people will not come to the CSPS this time of year unless they are deathly ill. Normally, I’m never alone in my courtyard. But now with everyone busy in the fields, I’ve had so much quiet time. I read 3 and a half novels in one week at site. Sometimes the lack of privacy is frustrating, but now that I have no visitors, I realize that I’d much rather have twenty people in my courtyard than none.
I had always assumed I would just know what to do in case of an emergency, like the correct reaction or answer would come to me naturally when I needed it. I recently learned that my adrenaline does not kick in like in the movies. I actually tend to freeze up, freak out, not react for a few minutes, finally react, and then later on realize a better way I could have handled the situation. Some recent examples…
Wind storms come with rainy season. Mortifyingly and involuntarily, I bared it all in village. I was in my shower area taking a bucket bath and a strong gust of wind blew away my pagne (what I was using as a towel)! My courtyard is located along a main road and I have lots of neighbors. I immediately panicked and froze in the shower. I was peaking over my shower wall checking to see if anyone was around. I had to wait about 5 minutes until the coast was clear, then I made a run for it! I slouched down and ran out of my courtyard into the millet field (too bad the millet hadn’t been planted yet so it was an open field) and grabbed my pagne and ran back. I called my friend Kate to tell her my horror story later and she said “Why didn’t you just run into your house instead of out into the open?” Well, that would have been great…had I thought of it myself.
I was cooking in my mud hut kitchen and all of a sudden my camp range stove top blew up in flames. There was a huge fire coming out from under the stove and it was rising up towards my straw ceiling. I didn’t even take a step back; I literally just froze in place and couldn’t move. In my head I was thinking “Oh my god, what am I going to do?” my lack of reaction resulted in the arm hair on both of my arms being singed off by the flames. The smell of burnt hair triggered a reaction from me, but it wasn’t a good reaction. I wanted to put out the fire and all I could think to do was blow on it, so I started blowing on the giant flame as if I could put it out like a candle. Well, of course that didn’t work. So then I started thinking about how I could get water to put it out. Finally, I realized, I could simply turn off the gas seeing as it is a gas camping stove. Once I did this, the fire stopped. I would think I would have learned my lesson…apparently not. The same thing happened the next day and I froze up again for a few minutes. I think I need to work on my reaction time…

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Long overdue update!

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve had an update…but I swear it’s not my fault! Life has been hectic here in Burkina. There have been some issues with the government, military, etc…but I’ve felt safe the entire time and I’m doing great.
A Peace Corps Volunteer in another country recently told me they read my blog and my life sounds crazy challenging compared to theirs. I won’t deny that I’ve had my fair share of challenges (and still have them about every other day…sometimes every other hour). But I finally feel like I’m getting settled into my community. I’ve been working on home improvements, I’m establishing my role at the health center, I’ve made friends and I haven’t been violently ill in a few months! Hooray! So, I wanted to recap on some things that have happened since my last post. Warning: it is going to be a collection of very short, random stories…possibly in no particular order. Well, here it goes!
***
I’ve been working really hard on planning Camp Glow. It’s a 2 week long summer camp for 120 motivated students from 15 different communities. At the camp, we’re planning a ton of leadership activities and providing lots of information on improving the health of themselves, their families and their communities. Also, we’re throwing in some fun camp-like activities such as tie dying t-shirts! Which I happen to be an expert at from Cal Aggie Camp…so I’m excited to pretend I’m not missing out on CAC this year! We’re also having a career panel to show the kids what kinds of jobs they can have if they continue their education and work hard. I think the camp is going to be great and it’s going to positively impact a lot of communities in my region. To those of you who donated some money, a big thank you for all of your support!
***
I made my first garden attempt in my courtyard. I got my entire family involved- the women, husbands and children all came over to help prepare the soil. It was a lot of fun taking turns breaking up the concrete that they call soil here! Burkinabe have this notion that white people are very frail and cannot possible stir a pot of porridge for more than one minute. So, they were very concerned for my “feeble, white hands.” They wouldn’t let me take a shot at hoeing until I put on my biking gloves for protection. I looked awesome. After putting on the gloves, I was still only permitted to hoe for about 2 minutes at a time.
The next step was adding fertilizer to my garden. I decided to walk around outside my courtyard and pick up some animal poop. So, I went into my handy first aid kit that my sister made me and grabbed the surgical gloves. I put them on, grabbed my plastic bag and started collecting poop. This was no challenge; my house is surrounded by animal poop. But people kept looking at me oddly. I figured it was because I was wearing latex gloves. After I collected an entire bucket’s worth, I went back home and started to break up the poop so I could mix it into my soil. When I was all ready to mix in my poop, my family came over to help out. They were so eager to help out the night before with the hoeing so I was very surprised when nobody grabbed the poop bucket out of my hand to help out! I was really confused, so my friend Sala said, “Nobody wants to help you because we’re afraid that you picked up our poop. Everyone uses the field next to your house to go to the bathroom.” Well this was very unfortunate news…especially because the surgical gloves had ripped in multiple places while breaking down the poop. So my hands were covered in a human/animal poop mixture. I still used the poop because it took me a long time to get it ready and I wasn’t going to let all my hard work go to waste. But I definitely washed my hands at least 5 times before dinner that night.
***
I think one reason the kids in my neighborhood love me is because I play with them. Children in Burkina experience little to no childhood because they’re forced to grow up so quickly. When the women head to the pump to get water for the family, they leave with large canisters and their little daughters tag along carrying small containers or bowls to help contribute to the effort. They also start carrying their baby siblings on their backs once they are old enough to walk. The little boys have a little more of a childhood. They make sling shots out of sticks and rubber to kill lizards with rocks (which they later eat- gross!) and they play soccer.
One day, the kids grabbed some garbage that had been burnt and they used it as charcoal to draw all over my house. They’re very creative with the games they do play. I brought out markers and paper one day and they went crazy. After a few minutes, they’d ask for more paper to keep drawing. Then, their moms came over to see what we were doing and they wanted to draw too.
It’s really interesting that the Burkinabe kids play some of the same games that I did when I was little. It makes me wonder if we got these games from Africa, or if we both ended up playing the same games by coincidence. If so, that would really show how similar we all really are despite how different the US and Africa are. For instance, I noticed the girls playing with some string one day. They were doing something that looked like cat’s cradle. I haven’t done cat’s cradle since I was in elementary school, but it came back to me right away. I taught them how to play the game with each other and soon the moms were joining in and asking to learn. Even the little boys wanted to play. The kids also play jacks with little pebbles they collect and they dig shallow holes into the ground to play mancala.
***
With all of the problems going on in the country, we were pulled out of our villages in case anything was to happen that might endanger us. I was in Pama, which is over 500 kilometers from my village.  I was away from my village for a few weeks. It was great to be with other volunteers. It’s interesting how different each region of Burkina Faso is. Pama is in the east of the country and it’s a lot greener than the north where I’m located. It was also very humid, whereas the north is a dry heat. Pama is also great because there are lots of animals and we were able to go on a safari! We saw herds of elephants, lots of deer/gazelle like animals and warthogs. We also saw wild buffalo and then ate buffalo steaks for lunch. We told our safari guide that we wanted to see a lion. There aren’t a lot in the region, so my friends jokingly offered my hand in marriage if he found us a lion. I laughed and agreed to the contract since it was such a long shot. But then, we actually saw one…and we saw its lunch that it left behind. It was an animal carcass (bones and skin still attached). Burkinabe take their marriage offers very seriously here…my future husband Bouba still calls me every once in a while to confirm our nuptials.
On the way home from Pama, 20 of us crammed into a bush taxi. To fit us all, there was an extra row of seats taken from another van put into the trunk area. I sat in this make-shift row with 2 other girls thinking I had the best seat of all because these happened to be cushioned and there were only 3 of us to a row in comparison to the 5 per row in front of us. It was too good to be true…about 20 minutes into the drive, the trunk suddenly flew open and our row of seats shifted backwards 6 inches. We almost flew out the back of the bush taxi! All 3 of us screamed and grabbed onto the row of seats in front of us. The driver stopped the car and the 2 men sitting on top of the van climbed down and put our row of seats back in for us. For the rest of the trip, these 2 men sat with their legs dangling over the trunk door to hold it shut, while the 3 of us clung onto the row in front of us. It was a less than comfortable 6 hour ride!
***
Family structures in Burkina are very confusing. If you remember me talking about my host family, random sisters and brothers would just appear after weeks. It seemed like the family was infinitely expanding. At first I thought it was because of language barrier and just being new to Burkina because let’s be real…absolutely everything was confusing at first. As it turns out, I will always be confused by families here and new children, wives, husbands, etc. will always appear, even after 5 months.
In my family in village, there are a lot of children. One day, I made my friend Sala sit down with me and we drew family trees of each husband, his wives (some have more than one) and all of their children. A lot was clarified this day…I felt like I had a revelation and everything became more clear. There’s an older daughter, Safi, who’s about 16 who gets my water at the pump for me. She and her sister whose a few years younger than her, Asseta, happen to look like twins. I was always really confused because Safieta would come with my water then a few minutes later I would go to the family courtyard and see Asseta. I thought they were the same person for 5 months. I was confused why she changed her clothes and hair style so often (sometimes multiple times a day). When we drew the family trees, I learned that Safieta lives in the second family courtyard that I was not aware of existing. I was always confused about how many children there were during the day versus at night when it was time for dinner and bed. The number of children dwindled when the sun set. I didn’t know if they were working or sick or some other excuse?  It blew my mind to discover a second family courtyard right behind ours!
***
After a few months at site, volunteers have In Service Training (IST) where we discuss what our village experience has been like and we plan projects to bring back to village. I just completed mine and it was great! But before I left, I said to my health center staff, “Je vais aller à Ouaga pour mon IST pour 3 semaines” which means “I am going to Ouaga for IST for 2 weeks.” Everyone reacted very strangely to this comment. Then, I looked behind my coworker at a poster on sexual health hanging in the consultation room and I noticed the section on STD’s, which in French are called “infection sexuellement transmis”…which is called an IST for short. So, I had just informed my coworkers that I would be leaving for 3 weeks to take care of my STD in the capital. I was horrified at what type of STD they must have been imagining that would take 3 weeks at the medical ward in Ouaga to treat. They were relieved when I explained what IST I was talking about!
***
More random stories to come soon…

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A New Project!

 
In addition to getting settled into my village and working at my village’s health center, I have been invited to collaborate on a new project with seven other volunteers in my region of the country.
This new project is called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)! Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have been organizing Camp GLOWs for young women throughout the world since 1995. This year, Peace Corps Burkina Faso’s PCVs are working to make Burkina Faso the 23rd country to house a Camp GLOW. In addition to adding Burkina Faso to the list of host countries for Camp GLOW, we also want to make Camp GLOW even more unique by hosting Camp G2LOW (Girls and Guys Leading Our World). There is no denying that, in Burkina Faso’s patriarchal system, there is a need to empower women, but it is our belief that the only true way to empower women is to educate young men, and teach them the importance of working with women as equals. 
For its inaugural year, Burkina Faso PCVs will organize two regional Camp G2LOWs—one in the Central North Region and another in the South West Region—with a total of 120 girls and 120 boys, from 30 different villages. In addition to the buy-in from the two regions, host-country nationals (HCNs) will aid in the facilitation of the camp. Camp participants will attend sessions led by PCVs and HCNs that will teach healthy living practices, the development of leadership skills, and methods of promoting gender equality by studying and discussing goal-setting, reproductive health, women’s rights, and safeguards against sexual harassment and domestic violence. By facilitating this exchange of ideas, HCNs and PCVs will help young men and young women work together as partners, and take charge of their futures by confidently asserting themselves while making responsible decisions.
Growing up in a philanthropic family and previously working with underprivileged youth in the United States, I cannot even begin to explain how close this cause is to my heart. True development starts on the ground level. With this development model in mind, we are confident Camp G2LOW will aid in the development of Burkina Faso by instilling a sense of commitment and dedication in the youth of Burkina Faso to better their communities and country as a whole. Camp G2LOW will also build the capacity of host country nationals on interactive and participatory teaching methods which will empower the camp participants even more.
In order for Camp G2LOW to take place, Burkina Faso PCVs as well as Burkina Faso HCNs must raise $20,000.00. We are off to a great fundraising start, having already received money through USAID Small Project Assistance grants.  Additionally, the target communities will raise 25% of the total amount needed. 
This is where your generosity can help!  With your help and donations, we will be able to achieve our goal in time.  Any donations, big or small, will greatly be appreciated.  We will be applying for funding through the Peace Corps Partnership Program.  We are hoping to raise $8,000 through the help of our family and friends.  If you are interested in making a 100% tax-deductible donation, please visit: Peace Corps Partnership Camp GLOW

I hope you all are doing well back home and I cannot thank you enough for your support!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Public Transport

The road from my village to my regional capital, Kaya, is unpaved with quite a few inclines on the way. So, I recently looked into alternatives to get to Kaya instead of biking (which can take an hour and fifteen minutes to over two hours depending on the speed and direction of the wind). So, I asked one of my coworkers at the health center what my options were. He asked around and said there was a “car” coming at 4 o’clock. I asked him where to go and he said to just stand on the side of the road and wait.
So, like a typical American showing up for transport a little early just in case, I got to the side of the road a little before 4. This waiting location is an excellent spot to stand if you want to greet every single member of the village…which was not on the top of my to-do list at the moment. It’s our “main road” in village because it’s the road to Kaya. On one side is the health center and on the other side is the school and little boutiques where people hang out. Along the road there are some women selling fried dough and millet cakes. I stood there, waiting, greeting every single person that went by.
An hour later, when daylight was starting to disappear, a giant truck starting coming towards me on the road. This truck was a small semi-truck transporting everything you could possibly think of. I flagged down the driver and he slowed down a bit, but never quite stopped. The back doors flung open and a Burkinabe man reached his arm out to me and pulled me into the back with my bag. Then, another man jumped out and grabbed my bike and threw it into the back, then ran to catch up with the truck and jumped in himself. The back of the truck was completely full. There were enormous, white rice sacks full of various vegetables and grains. On top of these sacks there were piles of people’s belongings and piles of people themselves. I had to climb over mountains of crap with people helping push me along the way, until I was in the middle of the car sitting on top of 3 sacks piled up so high that my head was touching the ceiling of the truck. The truck was so full that people were hanging out of the open sides. Every time another car would pass us on the road, everyone’s heads would promptly swing inside in unison to avoid being hit. Those of us on the top of the piles had to shield our heads from hitting the roof, which was common on this bumpy, unpaved road. This was a great way to experience public transport for the first time by myself in Burkina.
Unfortunately, this uncomfortable and inconvenient semi-truck is not always available and never predictable. It leaves on random days, at random times. So, on my way back from Kaya it wasn’t available. Instead, I went to the bus station and found a bush taxi. A bush taxi is typically a broken down mini-van. The concept of a bush taxi is a lot like the game where you see how many people you can fit into a car or a telephone booth in London. In this particular bush taxi we fit 34 people inside the car. On top of the car everyone’s luggage and bikes were strapped together, along with 5 additional people sitting on top of our belongings. I was given a seat in the middle of the van leaning against the window. I had an older man in front of me leaning back onto my chest, a small child to my side leaning his head on my shoulder and a woman with a child on her lap behind me, kicking me constantly (and at one point this kid fell asleep on my back and drooled on me).
With this many people in the mini-van, we were driving around 10 mph the entire way to my village. And with all of the weight, we had to lighten the load each time we encountered an incline or decline in the road (which is pretty often on my road). So, every ten minutes, half of the van would get out and walk next to it for a while, then pile back inside. And did I mention that the door was broken, so each time this had to happen, someone had to jump off the top of the van and take off the entire door to the van to let everyone out, then put the door back on before the car moved forward? I could have walked to my village faster than this bush taxi trip. I got to my village by nighttime and immediately went home and took a bucket bath to remove the sweat, dirt and drool from myself.
I think I might be sticking to biking from now on?