Sunday, June 12, 2011


It's been a LONG time since I wrote in here but finally found the time and felt up to it, so here it is again:

My time is coming to a close which is bringing a lot of different emotions and thoughts. I reached my 2 year mark in Burkina on June 12 but my service will finish in August.

Part of the reason why parting will be difficult is because of the amazing friendships I've formed and inspiring people I've met. I'd like to take the time just to mention a few of them and show their faces to you all and they've been irreplaceable in my experience here.

Mariam Tabadou, neighbor, tanti, constant listener and advise giver. Not a day goes by in which I'm not thankful for Mariam. She is this wonderful woman, about 45 and originally from a neighboring village, who works for an organization promoting sanitary initiatives in Bilanga and surrounding villages, like building latrines. She has one of the most heartbreaking stories I've heard, I know very few women who could've experienced what she has and still astonish me with her encouraging and positive demeanor.
Mariam and I have a relationship that I love. I borrow her broom, she feeds me, she gives me advice and tells me how to get things done in village when I'm completely clueless, tells me when it's going to rain, sweeps for me when I'm away, puts up with my obnoxious cat, keeps me company, constantly, and lets me complain about the heat endlessly. In return, I run errands for her, send her phone credit when she's run out, unbraid her hair for her, provide her with ridiculous stories, listen to her worries about her children, share my cot on hot days, open her gas tank with my nifty pocket knife kit, and eat her leftovers.
Being neighborly is something I've learned from Mariam among many things, especially about being a strong women in Africa, and she provides me a daily source of companionship. We've even programed our sleeping hours to coordinate, both going to bed at the same hour and her radio as my wake up call in the morning. I'll never forget one night we sat on my porch, under the star-lit sky, telling each other ghost stories late into the night until I told her I was scared to sleep so she spent the next 15 minutes reassuring me that none of the demons could come in town, and then endlessly teased me about it the next day.

Nahomie, teacher, club co-ordinator, best friend. Out of all my Burkinabe friends I have, I would have to say Nahomie is my soul mate friend. We are so similar in some ways and so complimenting in others that I often feel our friendship was meant to be. She is a teacher at one of the primary schools here, 28, married with a 2 year old adorable boy. Nahomie was difficult to get to know at first. Last year she approached me and asked me to help start a girls group with here. Since then we got together occasionally for work but it took many visits to her house to show to her that I genuinely wanted her as a friend and for us to both get past our shyness.
This year, we are constantly together. She includes me in everything which is something hard to find. She comes across as completely shy and timid but in reality she is just kind and humble. Her quiet interactions with officials and the “vip” of the village always surprise me because later she'll make me dance around in her house and crack up to ridiculous stories about men. And then you put her in front of a group of students or young girls and wow, her ability to relate and connect to them, to get them involved and excited about whatever topic, amazes me.
Another aspect I love about Nahomie and our friendship, is the fact that we fight. Yes, that's right. Nahomie and I get in little bickers and arguments more than any of my other friends here. Part of that stems from our similar personality, but also to me, it shows our incredible closeness, both of us feel comfortable enough with the other to show our true selves, and to say to the other when they've done something that wasn't ok. Especially in the context of a cultural that avoids confrontation if at all possible. Nahomie has also opened up to me more than anyone else I know, and for that I feel incredibly privileged that she would choose me, an outsider, to be her confidante and that she trusts me enough to tell me her problems and dreams.

David: helper, listener, neighbor, brother. I find it slightly ironic and serendipitous that the boy who I would come to call my brother in Burkina shares the same name as my real brother back home. David is 22, a student at the high school, chief of his class, and my closest neighbor. His case/hut is at most 10 feet from my house, his uncle is the landlord but he kinda keeps charge of the property. David is one of the most honest and genuinely kind boys I've met here. Maybe I'm biased as we basically live together, but after interacting with many others, I've decided I was incredibly lucky, or blessed, to be paired up with him. His life is busy, as often is mine, so somedays our paths don't cross as much, but often at noon we both hunker under my hangar, avoiding the heat of the sun, and chat or feel comfortable just sitting around each other doing on our own thing. There have been many a times when I've felt overwhelmed by one thing or another and David shows up and sits by me and listens to whatever worry I have and always, always, gives me some encouraging words and reassures me that it will all be okay, and you know it, he's always right.
Another aspect I admire in David is his dedication to school. He is fairly old for his grade level but I found out it was due to the fact that his parents never enrolled him in school. At the age of 13 or 14 he decided himself that he really wanted to go to school so enrolled himself and since then has been working hard. He's unfortunately not the brightest of students, and because he started late, so it's a struggle. But incredibly honest, he doesn't aspire to cheating as he believes that even if he has to repeat a class multiple times, he wants to learn and master the material, for knowledge's sake. During the summer he cultivates a lot and earns enough money to pays for his school fees, materials, food for the year and is incredibly independent.
Because of David, I have a whole slew of “brothers”; his friends that come to hang out with him and they've been a constant source of laughter and companionship that I'm constantly grateful for, except when it's hot and I need some quiet moments.

Lompo (Jean): le mechant, teacher, friend, colloegue, supporter, constant source of laughter. Lompo is a teacher at the primary school where I do most of my work. About the same age as me, with wife and adorable 2 year old girl. His family comes from the east (I'm in the east) but he was raised in Ouagadougou (the capital). Last year and this year he's taught the CM2 class, (6th grade) which is the group of kids I work with the most and has allowed us to get to know each other and support each other in our work. Lompo is what we would call a bandit, kinda a trouble maker, but has a good heart. No one has encouraged me as much as he has with my work at the primary school, nor been as helpful in all my projects. Know throughout the area as “le mechant” or “the mean one” I was a little concerned and weary of him at first, but later found out it was a nickname given due to his ridiculous soccer skills (seriously best played I've seen in this country).
Despite the fact he would like to hit the kids more than I'm comfortable with, he is an incredible teacher, dynamic and makes the students love learning. It started last year with him giving me exercises to do with the girls I was working with and him encouraging me with the soccer clubs. This year he's helped me plant many trees, multiple times as many died, steward the school garden, paint a giant map or the world on the school house, accompany me in my girls soccer match, listen to my worries and ideas and offer suggestions and just provided constant encouraging words and support.
Not afraid to make fun of me and tell me exactly what he thinks, it's allowed for our friendship to grow. He's told me several times that he'd do anything to help me, and then lived up on this when I needed him. Lompo makes me feel a part of the school community and makes me, and the rest of us, laugh constantly. His childlike humor and genuine heart and turned him into a dear dear afriend, who I will greatly miss.

Adjima: mother, friend, constant inspiration and support. When I try to imagine my experience in Bilanga without Adjima and her family, I honestly can't imagine how I would've made it through. I'm with them daily and their home has become my second home. The friendship started with her husband, Dapouguidi, a tailor and teacher (of tailoring), approached me and asked me to play guitar with him. I was confused but grateful for someone to spend time with (people were scared to approach me at first) and soon after I was introduced to his wife, Adjima, who quickly became my closest friend in village. 36, mother to 3 beautiful girls, vegetable seller, local literacy teacher, and president of the school's mother association, she is one of the most hard working individuals I have ever met. I have to say I was a little scared of her at first because she is an incredibly proud and strong women, rare to find sometimes, and I couldn't figure our if she really genuinely was nice or if she was just faking it in order to gain power in the weird dynamics of village life. Then one day I saw her outside of the school moving several motorbikes into the shade, no one had told her to, nor did anyone care if she did, she just thought it was a nice thing to do. Since that day, we've been glued at the hip and I've only been consistently amazed with her kind soul that really does just want to serve people.
She takes care of me more than I would say anyone else, and because of my constant presence at their house, I've dubbed her and her husband my village mom and dad. I remember one time I really needed to travel into Fada, our regional capital, but was pretty sick. She tried to convince me to stay and relax but when I insisted on traveling, she grabbed my hand and brought me to the driver of the car and said, look, she's sick and might need you to pull over, can you make a spot for her behind you so you can hear her when she needs to get out. That's just one of many, many examples of her taking care of me. I know if I ever, ever, need anything, she will do all possible to help me.
I've had the joy of being here for the birth of her third and last beautiful child and witnessing the first several months of her life, as well as giving one of her 3 names, Hope, as she and her family gives me hope for this country. My two years here are full of memories shared with her, moments of laughter, genuine conversation, and even a few tears. Nights laying on her bed outside under the stars telling each other about our lives, walks to visit other women in the village, many a shared meals, and most recently a trip and training in Ouaga which resulted in her helping run sessions with my girls clubs. And I'll never forget how she and her family received my family when they came to visit, so excited to share their love for them, as previously been shared with me.

There are countless other names and stories I'd love to share with you all, but seeing how this has already gotten quite long, I'll end here. I guess I just wanted to introduce you all, my dear friends and family from home, to those who've been my friends and family in Burkina these past two years.

Gri, a friend, with David (host brother) and Ann Gevock who flew in, all sitting around about to enjoy xmas dinner

Neighbor and tanti Mariam with my family when they were here.

Lompo painting our wall "ocean blue" for the world map we painted on the side of the main primary school in village, he did most of the drawing.

Adjima braiding and fixing my hair for March 8, international women's day, big celebration in Burkina

Myself and Nahomie getting ready to go eat for the Women's day holiday.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

it's raining, it's pouring,

It was raining and pouring when I started this post, but rainy season is just wrapping up. It might sprinkle or lighting some in the next couple weeks and then another 7 months of dryness!
Anyways, I experienced rainy season last year but it has seemed like a novelty to me again, probably because it had been so long! And it was fun to experience the whole season in Bilanga and watch how the landscape changed as well as the people.
Starting in June, Bilanga's population decreased in half, if not more, due to everyone heading to the fields to start cultivating and growing corn, millet, beans, peanuts and other fun things to last the year. School gets out as well for rainy season so all the teachers and students who come in leave as well. Which leaves a very quiet village.
I had to leave often to help train the new volunteers but while I was around I enjoyed the beautiful scenery and down time just to hang out with folks. I also attempted cultivating some peanuts (see pictures) which was an experience.

Anyways, some pics to better explain rainy season. But once again, they are backwards.

One day my friend and I took a 13k trip out to see his fields and passed some beautiful baobob tress along the way. It was quite an adventure as we had to wade through water knee deep a couple times and go through some serious mud, but it was sure fun!

Here is my friend (mentioned above) and his sesame field.
Bestie/tutor standing next to some millet in september. Millet is probably the biggest crop grown in Burkina.
My peanuts up close. This is in early september. (planted in june)
Peanut field.
One day it rained so hard our courtyard started flooding. A little bit more and my neighbor's house would have been in trouble. Late July to early September, when it rains, it pours.

Just taking a bike ride around and enjoying how green things are looking.

This was back in July when I took this of my friend and same millet you see her next to up top. It grows fast!
My peanuts back in early august.

Hanging out at the dam.
Bilanga hosts one of the biggest dams in the regions and on rare occassions not even trucks can pass and people have to use the canoes you can see in the background.

Okay, just a little info on what's happening here.
my parents and brother will be here with me in 2 days which is quite incredible and will have a couple fun weeks hanging out with them, then back to school and programs, it should be a full year!

Monday, September 13, 2010

bikes and fetes and adventures

Hello all,

I just wanted to write about the past few days before finishing up my post on the rainy season.

Peace Corps Burkina is currently doing a Tour de Faso, bike tour around the country organized and run by volunteers in order to raise money for our Gender and Development group. It also happens to be Peace Corps' 50th anniversary. So I got to join for a few days and it was quite an adventure. check out

About a month ago Peace Corps gave me a letter to give to my Mayor informing that several volunteers will be passing through Bilanga on the bike tour. What does my Mayor decide, Fete! (party time)

So a week before the arrival of my friends, we sat down and planned the craziness that was about to occur. The accountant of the Mayor's office is a really good friend and basically took the whole thing on and began planning, along with my best friend/tutor, and I just sat back and waited.

The couple days leading up to it, I started realizing how much my village was putting into this party, and it really touched me to see so many working so hard, essentially for me and my friends. I went to my friend's house the night before and saw the goat they were gonna kill for us to eat. And not to mention all the chickens.

So, Friday comes and I head over to my best friend's house, after running some errands, who scolds me for showing up late to help with the cooking. She had a team of 10 people, all folks I know, preparing and cooking away. She put me to work pounding leaves and garlic and pepper and who knows what. I attempted to stir the giant pot of chicken parts but after 30 seconds of the smoke I started crying and was pushed aside and told to cut up eggplants.

Then my 2 closest PC volunteer neighbors called and said they were almost there so went to go bike around and pick them up and in the middle of all that the group of bikers called to say they were about 10k away!

Shoot, they're about 2 hours ahead of schedule and we are not ready for their arrival. Can't get a hold of my friend who's responsible for the whole thing, and start running around like a crazy person. Grab benches from the Church, tell the group to stall for a while, then finally get a hold of my friend who says that it'll be okay, we'll tell the group to go to the dam to meet them and instead of going to the center directly, they'll escort the group to my house.
The mayor calls and tells me to get the heck over to the dam to welcome the group but we're short a bike, but it all works out. The 9 bikers start walking across our crazy dam of gushing water as kids help carry their bikes and the support driver follows. My village selected a group of people to dress up in tradition garb and bike the crew to my house, pretty cool welcome if I do say.

After a little respose time, we get picked up again and head over to the community center and were welcomed by singing and dancing and lots of people. It was one of the most awkward events of my life as I tried to balance the desires/expectations of my village, (my villager friends and then the authorities as well) and all the volunteers who came to stay with me and are exhausted. They place the 12 of us facing the rest of them and I'm the only one who knows anyone and don't really know how to handle it all. But it was so great and I was so impressed by how cool and ready everyone was.

They start by serving the group drinks, and not only do they bring sodas, they bring bottled water as they know I don't drink unfiltered water in village, and even thought to bring napkins and water to wash hands and just put so much thought into the whole thing. They also knew to pull out the chicken heads and feet as we americans don't really know what to do with those parts. It was just amazing how much thought and consideration they put into all of it, I was so impressed and touched by it all.
My mayor gave a speech all about the Peace Corps program which surprised the heck out of me and all my fellow volunteers were so impressed.
We handed out a few certificates and posters as a way to say thanks which again was tricky to decide who all to give them to, but in the end, everyone seemed happy.
Many pictures were taken and while a highly stressful event for me, it was one that I will never forget, to see all the people that I have been trying to live in community with for the past year come together to help celebrate the arrival of my friends.

There was supposed to be another cultural night/event that night but it ended up raining all night long, so we just crammed in my house, ate spaghetti and drank some wine.

The next day the car was supposed to come in the morning half of the day but delays happen and didn't show up until 3 or 4. So we chilled and ate out and meet the village Chef and other folks and generally had a good time.
That night was a whole other adventure of riding around burkina in the dark, car breaking down in the middle of no where so pulling out a laptop and movie while random burkinabe came by and watched and then finding some other random village to eat but only finding bread that tasted like kerosene and baggies of fish. But that whole day we were in my province so I got to see a lot more of my area and try out speaking Gulmanchema, my local language, throughout the area. And it was all with good company and a spirit of adventure, so basically a blast.

Didn't make it to the next place till around midnight, crashed on the porch, woke up at 5 to bike 45 miles in really hot conditions to Kaya. That night I said goodbye to the crew and caught a ride with the driver to Ouaga.
It was just a few days but quite defining in many ways so I thought I would share it all with you.

Check out the pictures to better explain the adventures.

Here's at the Fete, getting ready to eat soon. Mayor is giving a speech behind.

When the volunteers just go across the dam. Getting ready to follow those who awaited them.

Entering Bilanga, 3 good friends in front, excited to make it.

The whole group crossing the dam.

My friends awaiting the group in their traditional gear, about to show the way into town and my house.

Some of the group right after the fete.

The group and my chef as we went to see him the next day to "demande la route" for leaving

We happened to be dressed in rainbow that day, so decided to take a picture, my brothers are the clouds on the sides.

Getting ready to leave to the next village, posing with the mayor and some other folks.

Broken down in brousse (bush), pulling out a laptop and watching a movie while waiting as the other driver went to go look for parts. One of the highlights of the trip as this book group of ladies and kids watched behind us and I understood little comments they made in Gulmantchema.

Monday, June 28, 2010

one year in!

Hello friends and family and everyone,

It's been a while for me contacting most of you all, my once a month internet access doesn't ever seem to be sufficient.

Anyways, I've been in Burkina now for a year which is kinda of crazy to think about. When I look back at when we all first arrived in Burkina, it doesn't seem like such a long time ago, but when I reflect on all that I've done and experienced, a year doesn't seem like it was long enough to include all that.

I don't think I could justly summarize my year here so far. It's been a roller coaster ride in many ways, ups and downs and surprises, but for the most part I am enjoying the ride. But some thoughts and updates:

School finished up this past month, so it's rainy and cultivating season until october. The school system here is very different and it's been frustrating trying to find ways to help or contribute or even get involved. I've had a lot of disappointments but a lot of beautiful moments as well. I've been working really closely with the girls in CM2 (6th grade, last year of primary school) as they have a huge test they need to pass in order to get into the CEG (jr high). A lot of the girls had taken it once before already and if they fail multiple times they can't continue with school, and a lot are getting too old (girls are 12-18yrs in this class). We did revision nights, after playing soccer, every week and I got to know the girls really well, about 40 of them. Well, if you look at the passing rates, it wasn't too great overall. But it was much better than we expected, and my girls did really good overall. Almost all the schools in the district, the boys got a way higher percentage of passing than the girls, but not Bilanga, the girls did better than the boys. I was really proud of them, but there were definitely those who did not pass and it's hard to look at them and tell them it will all be okay, when they've worked so hard, and honestly I don't know if it will be okay. But as we say here, ca va aller, it'll be okay.

My favorite project has been soap making I would say. We learn how to make liquid soap during training and a lot of volunteers introduce it to their villages as an income generating project. I've been involved with this group of jr high girls through the church which we meet every week or two, with a couple lady teachers in the village. We'd been talking about teaching them different things to make money, as often the girls don't have any and then can't take care of themselves properly (like health issues) or go to boys to find money. So we did soap making, and it was a huge success and blast. Liquid soap is a pretty rare thing in Burkina if it's not in Ouagadougou, so it was pretty hilarious to see people's reactions as we put in a few drops and the whole bucket foams up. It was a bonding experience for us all, and the soap sold, fast! We ended up doing it 4 times and now people are demanding for more, but ran out of materials for the moment. It was a blast and I'm hoping to work with the same group next year and make it a regular thing.

Currently made a bike trip into Fada, my regional capital 76k away, with another volunteer in the region, who will be leaving next month. All the volunteers who came before my group are heading out this summer or early fall, so it will be pretty different, but we're getting 75 new ones, who just arrived this past week! I'll be up in Ouahigouya (where I did training) for a couple weeks during the summer to help with training so that should be fun. Other than that I don't have a lot going on the next couple months, except maybe working on a field of peanuts. Hopefully my host brother and I are going to plant some peanuts together and see how it goes, we'll see.

I hope you all are doing well. I miss you and think of you all often. I'm impatiently waiting the arrival of my parents in October and some friends in December. which is pretty incredible. My village has recently gained electricity which has been exciting to see the development it brings (no I won't have it in my house) which has brought talk from a friend of mine of internet, so we'll see!

If you get a chance and I haven't heard from you in a while, please send me a quick e-mail of your updates, even if I don't have time to write back for a while, I'd love to hear about what's going on over there.
Thanks and take care!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

more pics

here are a few more

1st - front of my house, I can't get the pics off my camera with a better picture, but this will have to do for now
2nd - my spare bedroom, my house consists of a salon and 2 rooms
3rd - my little bandit cat who likes to steal from the neighbors, but I love him anyways
4th - my "kitchen". we have gas stoves for cooking


some pictures for your viewing pleasure. camera was broken for a long time so just started again.

1st picture is inside my house. you'll notice yellow bidon on the floor, that's how I go and get water, attach to my bike fill up and bring back. the white jar on top of my shelves is my filter. the sac on my wall is basically attached to me.
2nd - my shower, quite lucky I've got an insider place for bathing
3rd - my bedroom, clothes and what not. my "bed" is outside in this photo, but I sleep inside when it's not crazy hot.
4th - one of my brothers, david, cooking for me on women's day (see previous post)
5th - my hangar, when I hang out to stay out of the sun, basically live there actually, you can see my bed and bike in the back, where I sleep too.
6th - me with the crew of 100 girls from women's day, the girls that I was responsible for in the parade
7th and 8th - my girls marching in the parade!
9th - one of my students braided my hair for women's day
10th - kassiom my other brother is the one sitting down

Thursday, April 1, 2010

une journee pour la femme

8 Mars, in case you didn't know (march 8) is international women's day, and a large holiday in burkina faso. wasn't really aware of the day before coming here, heard of it but didn't think much about it, but in Bilanga, you better believe we're celebrating.

first off, let me say, it ranks up there as one of the most exhausting days of my life, but also up there on best days too

wake up around 6, get ready for the bike race. they say assemble at 7, which means it starts at 8. david gets my tires freshly pumped, I run around getting my skirt tailored correctly (everyone gets the same material for the day and makes something with it) and pass by the gare to see if the women have started heading to the dam (starting point) and am met with some cheers by the women of the gare who are rooting for me in the bike race. one of them told me to get over to where they were starting so I headed over to the dam and waited with our group of 30 women who were starting the day off!
so, little history, women's day is celebrated all over burkina, but not in all the villages yet, it takes someone to start organizing it all and making it happen. It started 3 or 4 years ago in Bilanga, and it's pretty typical in burkina to start the day with a women's bike race. this year, they decided to nearly double the distance of the race!
and the distance doesn't normally seem that long, but when you're going as fast as possible and the dust is like nothing you've ever experienced and you can't breath, all you can think about is, when is this over!
I came in third, which I was really excited about, my brothers wanted first, but most of the village seemed to think third was a good thing.

I was rushed over to a crowd and chairs and heat and confusion and the most incredible thirst and pain in my throat and nose I could imagine. All the dust from the race entered my system and I kid you not, I sneezed close to 100 times that day.
I'm getting concerned as I am responsible for the 100 girls who are starting to line up to march in this parade thing and I need to get back and changed and blow my nose and I don't know what is going on as this crowd stands around the 10 of up who came in first from the race. I some how gracefully excuse myself, race home, bucket bath, change, grab tissue and am back at the school grounds.

so every year they have this parade, march thing, with different women in the village and other groups who want to participate. somehow, I get the girls organized for it this year, all the girls in CM2 and CM1 which amounts to around 100. We had 2 days of practice with the gendarme (mix between military and police who are in bilanga) which were equally exhausting but exciting. I had no idea what I was doing, but luckily the girls knew how to do it already, they just needed to practice with the music.
anyways, they did wonderfully, and I was super proud of them, and super tired of the sun.

we all rush over to the ceremony which I think would've been really interesting if I knew what was going on. the microphone wasn't working, but they were saying a lot of really great things about women's rights. there was also a lot of dancing, yes I got roped into that too, and music and presenting prizes and everything.

repose time, thank goodness. I crawl home and fortunately my brothers are there and agree to cook for me, as they all say this is the one day of the entire year where the men cook for the women. it wasn't exactly the most delicious food ever, but it worked and it was really great that they thought enough to do it. sleep a little then get ready to go again.

soccer game time! the women against the vieux (old men of the village), yes it was as hilarious as you can imagine. our team consisted of a bright and energetic group of random women in the village, mostly who've never really played soccer before, except myself. and the men were old expect for the 2 gendarmes they threw in and the mayor who was a ridiculously good goalie. after some falls and hand balls and trick moves, we made a victorious end, 2 to 1.
and then we got in a circle and danced and danced and it was beautiful.

the evening was pretty calm with some hanging out and music and such. like I said, overall completely exhausting, but amazing. so glad I got to be a part of this wonderful day in bilanga and looking forward to next year!