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!
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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!
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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 √† 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!
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More random stories to come soon…

2 comments:

  1. Awesome Hayles! Sounds like you are having a blast! Do you find that you have enough art supplies? That might be a good thing to send you. I'm taking sidewalk chalk with me to Kenya! Maybe the kids will decorate the walls of my house too! Anyway I'm so happy you are safe and I miss you dearly my friend! Love you!

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  2. yay an update! i miss you! and hopefully ill be able to figure out how to text you soon! <3

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