C’s: Camp, Cat, Celebrations

31 Jul

About a month has gone by since our Camp G2LOW in Niangoloko. I’ve mentioned these camps before, how it started out as Girls Leading Our World. However, in Peace Corps Burkina Faso we believe that in order for lasting change in communities to occur, both guys and girls need to be on the same page. Thus, the G2. 58 students, ages 13-15, were selected from six volunteer villages to participate in the camp.

Throughout the camp we discussed several health topics, environmental issues, leadership and gender equality. Several interactive activities were included in this year’s camp. We made soap to go along with hygiene lessons. Women were brought in from the community to teach how to make tofu, which went along with nutrition lessons. Campers planted trees, built water filters and conducted a community clean up in conjunction with environmental discussions. Doctors from the hospital came in to discuss HIV and other STIs with the campers. Local community leaders from various fields were invited for a discussion panel to aid campers in thinking about future planning and possible career options.

And it being camp and not class, students had time to hang out and play games. Campers played several soccer matches and volleyball. A few nights they even did Insanity with a few PCV counselors, which was pretty entertaining as Burkinabé don’t really do workout videos (goal #2! Haha) The campers also learned a dance to Pharrell’s “Happy.” Hopefully we can get that video up soon!

The goal of the camp is not only to benefit the campers themselves, but for their communities to benefit as well. Students are encouraged to share their experiences with their friends, families and communities. Throughout the camp, campers were given time to discuss and plan how they could improve their communities, how they could share what they had learned. We also hope to make these camps sustainable by working with community counterparts so that in the coming years camps can be completely community led, with little or no outside aid. The Burkinabé counterparts who worked the camp are high school students or older. Already as a result of the camp, counterparts from Niangoloko have started to meet in order to create an organization that will work to bring gender equality to the area.

I had the opportunity this year to co-direct the camp with my site buddy Matt, with additional support from our neighbors Rebecca and Barry. Months of planning go went into camp and would not have been possible without host country nationals and PCVs teamwork! We had 10 Burkinabé and 11 American PCVs who worked as counselors for the camp. Thank you so much to everyone who made Camp G2LOW Niangoloko possible!

Victorine and other campers dancin it up!

Moving along…I have a temporary roommate now. Her name is Ashes. She was Matt’s cat, but he just finished his service. Hopefully she can take care of my mouse problem before she is adopted by another volunteer. However, she keeps running out of the house at night, which is when the mice come out. Then she comes back at around 3am, climbing up my screen window, whining to be let back in, waking me up. Not cool, Ashes. Not cool. Okay I think that’s enough writing about a cat.

No picture of Ashes yet, so here is Matt, on his last bush taxi ride in Burkina. He was her dad, but he abandoned her :)

No picture of Ashes yet, so here is Matt, on his last bush taxi ride in Burkina. He was her dad, but he abandoned her 🙂

Last week I was going to write a blog post to inform you all that my grant for our well project had been approved and was now on the Peace Corps website, waiting for your donations. Originally, I had written a grant to receive funds for two covered community wells through our Water and Sanitation Fund. This was back in February. However, this fund ran out of money. I then had to file the grant as a PCPP, which means I ask you all for donations for the project. I was a bit worried that the project would not get fully funded as we are on a time constraint with rainy season and me nearing the end of my service. I was praying for the project to be funded quickly. Then a crazy thing happened. The project was posted to the website and the next day was fully funded! What?! This was in thanks to Water Charity. You should check them out here and like them on Facebook. They have funded several PCV water and sanitation projects around the world. Thank you God for generous people working to improve the lives of others! And thank you to my mom as well for being the first to donate to the project! 🙂 Since the project was fully funded, her donation was moved to our Gender and Development Committee fund for our upcoming Bike Tour. (More information to come later, but check out donation page here! If you do decide to donate now, make sure you write in the comments section “GAD Gender and Development Committee” so it gets to the right place. )

The wells will be constructed in one of our satellite villages, which is technically still a part of my village. This community started by the Mossi people who moved from northern Burkina in search of fertile farm land. Over the course of around 40 years the community has been growing and is now up to around 700 people. Next year the government will begin construction on an elementary school. The community has only one well and while we were working on the well grant, another organization built a pump. The houses are pretty spread out and these two water sources are not sufficient. Community health workers and community leaders approached me about the lack of water and thus the project began. Not only will we be working together to build wells, but a hygiene campaign will be conducted throughout the community to improve their overall well-being. When you add up materials and labor costs, the community contributed to 70% of the project! The outside funding is mostly going to the cost of cement. We will continue to hold meetings, but construction will begin after the rainy season. Prayers would be appreciated for successful teamwork and no complications!

Monday was Ramadan, celebrating the end of fasting for Muslims around the world. In Burkina, Muslims do not eat or drink while the sun is up. At night however, many people eat porridge to break the fast and may eat rice or toh. This goes on for forty days. During this time is one of the few times that I saw the whole family praying together. Ramadan is not as big as Tabaski here, but is still a day prayer, time spent with the family and good food (if people have the means!). Many people killed chickens or guinea fowl to eat as a special treat. I spent the day visiting several families around village, enjoying some good meals and conversation. I love how in Burkina, Muslims and Christians can share their respective holidays together, inviting one another to celebrate in each other’s’ homes, peacefully discussing their differences.

Continued prayers: LESS MALARIA! We are in the middle of rainy season, which is prime time for mosquito breeding. Each time I’m at the clinic, the waiting room is full of patients who have tested positive for malaria (thankful for rapid tests though that help with giving proper treatment). Among the sick, small children are the majority. Unfortunately, the mosquito nets from last year’s distribution are no longer killing mosquitos as the insecticide has diffused out and the nets themselves are not great, leading to easy entry for mosquitos. Continuing to look for solutions, as telling people to sleep under a net is not enough. Early treatment is usual the best case scenario. Hopefully there has been progress on that vaccine!

With rainy season also comes caterpillar season. Sold by the tomato paste can full, fried up, sauteed however you like em. I've had some...not half bad!

With rainy season also comes caterpillar season. Sold by the tomato paste can full, fried up, sauteed however you like em. I’ve had some…not half bad!


Life by the Numbers

11 Jun

First post of 2014?! Where has the time gone?! Quick recap for y’all:

Month One
Got to ring in the new year with old friends back in the Good Life. During those few weeks back home it was awesome to be able to catch up face to face. And of course enjoy delicious American food. We have SO MANY options available!

We had our Mid Service Conference with our stage in Ouaga. Medical tests, talking about our past year and planning for the second half of our service. What a crazy week it was, both personally and professionally! But in the world of Peace Corps, it is difficult to separate the two.

Month Two
Strikes happened at the high school level. Teachers demanding better salaries, students wanting better use of the fees they pay each year to the APE (Like a PTA in the US, but often prone to corruption).

Dedougou Mask Festival! I posted pictures of this annual event on Facebook a while back. Many ethnic groups have their own masks that they bring out only for special occasions, but at the festival you get to see several from around the continent (Mali, Togo, Benin…). The masks may be used as a way to bring about a better harvest for a village or as a way to increase fertility. And as you will see from the pictures, these masks are not just for the face, but cover the whole body. How they danced and did acrobatics in those things takes some skill!

Month Three
Began working on a grant for much needed wells in one of our satellite villages. Unfortunately our USAID Water and Sanitation Fund ran out. (I guess it’s not that unfortunate though since that means there are lots of great projects happening right now in volunteer communities across Burkina!) This means that I will be turning to you all back home to help out our village! More to come on this later as the grant is still being reviewed before it can be opened for donations.

Continued house visits with community health workers in the villages serviced by our clinic. This is our way of following up on the mosquito net distribution that happened last August. This activity has taken a little bit longer than expected! Results to come in month seven!

G26 COS Party. COS=Close of Service. This happens about three months before volunteers finish their service as we do not all leave the country at the same time. G26 is the group that came in right before us, in June 2012. The party was comi-con themed. People went all out on their costumes! Smash Brothers characters, Dragon Ball Z, Frozen…such a good time!

Month Four
Chad came to visit! We were volunteers in Mali together, but he transferred to Botswana and is now an RPCV. Congratulations again Chad! He had seen all there was to see of stereotypical Africa (safaris, Victoria Falls, etc.), but just couldn’t stay away from West Africa. We nice people here! J Thanks again for coming all the way to Burkina Faso to visit! And jealous you got to go to visit Mali! Someday soon I hope…

One of my good friends was medically evacuated, meaning that Peace Corps thought it best for her to return home before her COS to heal up. But she is now an RPCV. Congratulations lady! I know we will see each other again one day. Keep your schedule open beginning of December for a visit J

Handwashing Station Project. This was a PC Burkina wide project put together by one of our third year volunteers who works with USAID WA-WASH. See pictures on Facebook (sorry Burkina internet is a bit slow to upload directly on the blog!)In setting up these stations, the goal was to provide an easy way to wash hands and to promote hygiene in general. Our hope was also to encourage villagers to set similar stations up in their homes that could be made cheaply from wood or other available items. I set ours up at the elementary school. We also did lessons with the kids on the importance of handwashing, diarrhea and Oral Rehydration Salts. The kids loved using the station and I hope they continue to use it!

Niangoloko goes loko! (Or was this in March? The days blend together…) Students were fed up with no answer on what happened to APE funds. Made a list of demands: fans in all classrooms, lighting, better computers, wifi. When the demands were not met they went on strike. Then others took it to the next level, vandalizing the house of the APE president and lighting fire to the bar he owned. A representative from the department of education came to talk with the students and their parents. Somehow the money magically appeared and the students got everything they had requested. Though I do not agree with the destruction of property, I am glad to see the funds are now being put to good use!

Month Five
Mini malaria bike tour. PCVs and one ex-pat from our region biked around the Banfora area doing malaria activities in a couple volunteer villages. I love collaborating on activities, making it more enjoyable. Lucky to have such great neighbors!

Lots of time in Ouaga for meetings. Regional Malaria Coordinator Training. The RMC program was set up to help provide resources for PCVs across Burkina to work to reduce the number of cases of malaria. The hope is also to create a data base of PCV projects so other volunteers have activities available to them ready to go.

Also had our Youth Development Committee meeting. Lots of preparation going on for summer camps across the country, even right here in Niangoloko! And we will be holding our dance marathon in October.
We also said goodbye to a few volunteers from G26 who finished their service. Congrats to you all as well! Again, cannot believe how time flies, even when the days seem to go by slow at times.

HOT SEASON. Seemed to linger this year. Lots of time sleeping outside on the ground in my bug hut and still sweating. But no heat rash this time! Haha Oh the simple things in life.

Doing more to work on malnutrition in our village and surrounding villages. Community health workers were trained again on how to measure upper arm circumference of children 6 months to 5 years as a way for screening for malnutrition and how to make referrals to the clinic. Already have done a couple ameliorated porridge demonstrations to show mothers how to make nutritious food for their kids with local ingredients.

Prepping for Camp G2LOW, which starts June 27th. We will have around 70 middle schoolers (8 coming from my village) for this educational and fun summer camp. Update on this to come next month!

Rainy season has begun! Villagers are heading out to the fields to start planting. And things are cooling down. It also gives me an excuse to stay inside with some coffee and a good book. Just finished The Fault In Our Stars, which I would recommend! Now reading Friday Night Lights in preparation for this upcoming football season. Nebraska is mentioned a few times in the book, back in the glory days. Go Huskers!

World Cup starts tomorrow! Bought a US flag tank the other week in Bobo so I am ready. USA! USA! USA!

Weird/sad/great news: Sunday night the guard of our clinic found a newborn in an old well in our village. Somehow she had barely a scratch on her and is now being taken care of by an old woman at our clinic until they can find a home for her. They caught the mom Monday and she was taken into questioning by our head nurse and the police. Supposedly she is from Côte d’Ivoire, but had fled from there and had been living in our village for about five months now. For some time now, people would tell her she was pregnant, but she was in denial. She claimed it was just because she had drunk too much dolo (local sorghum beer). I cannot imagine what was going through her head when she thought she needed to kill her newborn baby girl. Though it was a horrible act, we do not know her situation and I hope she gets some help and support. She is still going through medical treatment in our maternity, but later will go to prison. People keep stopping by the maternity to see the baby girl. One of our nurses joked that we should start charging admission. It really is a miracle she is doing alright. Praying she gets the loving family she deserves.

Miracle baby girl

“Well” baby!

Genies and Sorcerers?

22 Dec

***This was supposed to be posted before Halloween. Though this is something you might attribute to a “scary” story depending on your beliefs, this is part of daily life in Burkina Faso, especially in villages***

Another ordinary day in village. C’est toujours la même chose. Nous avons notre santé… I was chatting with the teachers at the elementary school. About fifty feet away, a crowd of students started to circle around someone. That someone was a girl of maybe 12. She was crying and swatting at her back like something was scratching her. No one was touching her.  “I wish those genies would just leave her alone. She suffers too much,” our school director commented. “Genies?” I asked, “What is that? Like evil spirits?” “Yes, exactly. In the Western world you have angels. Here in Africa we have genies. There are good and bad genies. Her parents have already taken her to the priest and the imam. They stayed away for a little bit, but now they are back.” “Hmm. That’s weird. Why are they messing with her?” I responded. “We don’t know. However, it is usually women, since they are weaker and more susceptible than men.” The girl was crying for around 20 minutes. She then got up and left the school grounds, looking exhausted. One of the students sounded the “bell” (old tire rim that they hit with a metal rod) to end the recreation period and the students returned to their classes.

At lunch I decided to ask more about these “genies.” I had heard villagers talk about them in passing like they are just another part of life. However, one time someone told me not to go by some building because there were bad genies there that could hurt you. Oh, alright. I’ll take your word for it. “So where do these genies come from anyway? Are they tied to any religion?” I said to open the conversation again with the teachers. “No they are just another part of the world. They eat and drink like we do. They cannot be seen normally, but sometimes present themselves to different people.” What? I was so confused. They could see this. “You don’t believe in this kind of stuff do you? It’s always hard for white people to understand. It’s part of the mysteries of Africa.” It’s not that I didn’t believe in that kind of stuff, but I always had it pinned down to coming from God or the devil. I had never heard of spirits that are just part of the world like that.

We then got on the subject of féticheurs. A féticheur is like a witchdoctor, passed from one son to another (or at least to another male in the family).  One day while I was riding my bike, I stumbled upon a cracked gourd with leaves and kola nuts in it, sitting in the middle of the cross roads of a path. I also had seen similar things in Niangoloko, a neighboring town. I asked about what I had seen. They said it was someone that was making a sacrifice, that it was a féticheur who told them to do that in order that their request would come true. People have also gone out en brusse to sacrifice chickens in order that they may have a good harvest. Sometimes though the things people are making sacrifices for are not so pleasant. Like they want to bring harm to someone they know. Creepy stuff. Yes, Burkina Faso has Muslims and Christians, but many still practice animism alongside these religions.

And last but not least, the hunt for witches still continues in le pays de l’hommes intègres. People still get accused of being witches and yet again, the vast majority are women. How do you know that someone is a witch you might ask? No, it is not if she weighs more than a duck or a goose. Those are scarce here. Let’s say you have a funeral where someone died of what were supposedly unnatural causes. You need to figure out who the killer is and since there is no CSI, you resort to a more traditional method. You grab the corpse with the help of others, lift it up and carry it around the circle of guest there to lament. Ah! Look out! The body just jumped and in the process touched his or her killer. Oh and guess what?! It’s the old spinster that hasn’t been able to have children and is basically an outcast of the community (Convenient, isn’t it?).  Since we now know she is a witch and a killer, we must chase her out of town!

Thankfully I have never witnessed this happen in my village. However, this has been quite common throughout Burkina Faso’s history. So common that there is a center devoted to helping women (and a few men) who have been kicked out of their villages because of accusations of being witches or mangeuses d’âmes ( soul eaters). Centre Delwendé is based in Ouagadougou and has been functioning since 1965. Earlier in the year, my school director gave me a sociology research paper about the center written by three university students titled, Le Phenomene de l’Exclusion en Mileu Mossi: Cas des femmes accuses de sorcellerie à Tanghin. This is how I came to find out that this problem of exclusion even existed. The center acts as a sort of trade school, teaching women various skillsets in order to support themselves and start a new life.

Why is it for the most part women that are targeted? I was not convinced by my school director’s explanation. Seems to be yet another aspect of Burkinabé culture that creates challenges for women.  As development continues, will beliefs like these fade away? In U.S. history we too had our own witch hunt. Or will Burkinabé cling to these traditions not wanting to lose parts of their culture? Only time will tell.

Where The Wind Blows

5 Oct

Ouaga had sucked me in and now I am finally going back to my village tomorrow. I’ve had so much access to Internet that it actually made me a little crazy. So naturally I wait until my last night here to update. Why was I in Ouaga you ask? Or maybe you are wondering what is “Ouaga?” It is still Burkina Faso, but not the BF we are accustomed to in village. For example, this evening we went to the American Rec Center for an Oktoberfest put on by the US Embassy. Four different types of brats grilling, sauerkraut, potato salad, home brewed pumpkin ale and other beers. Red velvet cake, homemade cookies, apple pie type dessert. The new US Ambassador sits down at our table to chat as he is a huge fan of Peace Corps, having worked for them in the past. Where are we again?!

Our bike tour ended on September 13th when we biked into Ouaga to our transit house bringing the total of kilometers biked to around 560. We were feelin good. In the Southwest at our first stop on the tour, we spent the morning learning some traditional African dances. In the afternoon we met with a men’s group and a women’s group, separately, to talk about the differences between sex and gender and how communities could work toward equality between the sexes. At my village we discussed mosquito net usage (why you use it, who should use it, etc), did a little skit and played a game with a mosquito net. For the central tour we had a lot of malaria focused activities as well, with a couple skits in markets that drew large crowds. At another site, the youth theatre group did a play on HIV/AIDS and the importance of getting tested. We visited 10 volunteer sites on the tour and it was great to see how excited their communities were to have volunteers. We had some great village parties along the way with some amazing rice and sauce and fun community members. The bike ride was also not too bad. We got off to a slow start at the beginning leaving our first village because of flooding and bike problems. We definitely had a lot of flat tires and other bike issues throughout the weeks, but luckily we had some great drivers there to help us with spare parts and repair. Thanks Vincent and Moussa! Another volunteer who hosted and was on the tour put together a video so hopefully I can get that to you all later.

Oh and in between the two tours some of us went to the World Cup qualifier game in Ouaga: Burkina Faso vs Gabon . What an experience that was! Natalie and I got there late because I was just getting into town from bike tour. Outside the stadium was packed with cars and motos. We then had to walk around the stadium looking for tickets, as there is no official ticket window at that point. After bargaining with a guy we finally got a good deal. However, when we tried to enter our gate, the police would not let us in. There were crowds of people standing outside each gate trying to get into the game. They had oversold tickets. At one point we tried to go in the gate to the Gabon section, which was empty. Security didn’t believe us that we were fans of Gabon, so they wouldn’t let us in. Sometimes they would open the doors and let a few people in. This was when it got a little scary as people would start shoving, trying to get in. The police and gendarms (kind of like National Guard) were quick to pull out their batons to keep people back. Ahhh! Oh and did I mention the waterfall of pee spilling out from the door? Guess there were not any bathrooms inside and people didn’t want to miss the game so they would just pee up against the door. Yeaaaaah. We were finally able to get a hold of another volunteer inside. He came down to our gate and talked the policeman into letting us in. At about half time we finally made it in. Once inside it was great and we were able to watch the BF Stallions score and win 1-0. Kind of a big deal as Burkina has not qualified for the World Cup since….never? Next game is in a week against Algeria. Allez les Etalons!

After bike tour I was excited to keep up this whole working out everyday thing. I was off to a good start when I decided to bike from Banfora to Niangoloko (50km), even after being on a bus all day. However, just a few days after finishing the tour I got sick. It started as what seemed to be a mild fever, which then quickly jumped to 104 degrees. My muscles were aching as well, but thought that was from all the biking. I rested, drank ORS and took Ibuprofen to lower my fever. After lying in bed for two days with no improvement, with my fever coming and going, I called our doctor who works for Peace Corps. First I took a rapid malaria test at our clinic in village. Came back negative. I was then sent to Bobo to a clinic there and they thought the fever was being caused by a cut that was supposedly infected. I was given an antibiotic and cream. However, they still wanted to run a few other tests so I was taken to our Peace Corps medical office. I developed some weird redness on both legs. My platelet counts and liver enzymes were all over the place. They still weren’t sure what was wrong. A few days later I was diagnosed with Dengue Fever. I felt fine not too long after arriving in the med unit. It’s amazing how much A/C, good food and a comfy bed can help. Since they were waiting for my blood work to come back normal, I got stuck in Ouaga for a while.

Our med unit is in our main Peace Corps office. I felt so anxious being there! Because of this I almost felt guilty for not having much to work on while I was there as I saw several staff and volunteers working around me. I just kept thinking, the majority of my work requires me to be in village! On a positive note, I got to enjoy some good food and hang out with some volunteers I don’t get to see very much. My village is not close to Ouaga so I do not come in very often and thus do not get to see many volunteers from the region. I also got more time to talk to friends and family back home. Countdown: 74 days. I cannot wait to see you all! I will be jumping in snow in pagne clothing…this is my written commitment to the you all. It is gonna happen

Today some of us watched The Great Gatsby and I am currently listening to the soundtrack as I write to you all. LOVE the music and Leonardo DiCaprio…you are one of my few celebrity crushes from way back when who is actually still out there doing great things. After watching the movie though, my first thoughts were: I remember liking this book after reading it in our high school English class….but why? Was it because of Ms. being such an amazing teacher? Because it sure is DEPRESSING. To me, without reading too much into it all, the story is saying you can give everything for someone you love and you will still be screwed. Wow. I had more angst than I thought back then. I need to find the paper I wrote over that book. I do remember there being a lot of color analogies in there. Analyzing this story could be another blog post in itself. We’re all just chasing after that green light…but what does it represent for you? Could it be the same for us all? Have I mentioned I’ve had WAY too much time to think lately? I need to get back to my village! N bena segen na sini! K’an ben Ouaga!

Despite the shortage of rain, the corn is still growing!

29 Aug

August 29, 2013

At the maquis (bar) in village so I can borrow some electricity and update you all on what’s been going on. Ça fait deux jours! “It’s been two days” is the literal translation, but means “It’s been a while since we have talked/seen each other!” I keep getting distracted by news articles, emails, Facebook. A few boys are looking over my shoulder wanting me to play some videos, but I said movie night is tomorrow. Just finished reading an article about the NFL facing a lawsuit over former players who have developed serious health problems as a result of concussions sustained during their careers. In the article there was an ad with an older man skydiving. “What’s that? Is that water?” The boys asked me. Oh the weird things I explain to people here in French/Jula. Reminds me of when I was still in training with a host family and I tried to explain vampires to my host dad. Not sure how we got on the topic, but I think he understood haha
I will now try to recap the past couple months for you all without writing a novel. Ok….go!

Anna’s Birthday
Travelled 11 hours to the village of my fellow volunteer to help celebrate. There were 4 other volunteers who visited as well. Partied with her friends in village at the local maquis where we enjoyed yummy grilled chicken and even more delicious German chocolate cake and apple pie. Anna you are an amazing cook and I did not know those sweets were possible in this country! Thank you for being born!

4th of July
Banfora. Pool. Hamburgers and fries at McDonald (no that is not a typo, that is the name of the restaurant). Pizza. Music that included Otis Redding and CCR. As American as you are gonna get in Burkina Faso!

Camp G2LOW-Girls and Guys Leading our World
Took place in Banfora at one of the high schools. We had 60 students, ages 14-16, from volunteers’ sites in the area. About 15 volunteers and even more Burkinabé helped this camp go smoothly. Each day was made of lessons, sports and electives. Lessons were over topics such as leading a healthy life, planning for the future and gender equality. I personally taught lessons along with a Burkinabé counterpart, over Family Planning and Active Listening. In the evenings, kids had a choice between various electives: arts and crafts, salsa dancing, yoga, science experiments, card games, and astronomy. Also kids learned about future careers by visiting local businesses and participating in a career panel. At night we would close with a bonfire, which often turned into a dance party. The first day the kids were divided into six teams. Our group was Les Dragons Verts, for which I think you can figure out the English translation. Throughout the week teams were awarded points during activities such as a spelling bee, geography bowl, math bowl, talent show and Olympics. Our team was trailing all week, but ended up winning the competition because we killed the Olympics. Allez les dragons! On the last day, when it came time to leave, kids started crying. Haven’t seen that much emotion in Burkina and I have already been to quite a few weddings and funerals. I think that means it was a success! Such a great group of kids. Everyone worked their tails off to make the camp go smoothly. A special thanks to Matt and Chula (Jess) for all the time and energy you put into all the advanced preparations for the camp. You are awesome! Also, I would like to thank all the camp counselors and mission trip counselors I have had throughout my life. Camps/trips are so much fun, but can be stressful to always keep your energy up on little sleep and with all the planning involved. I would be a counselor again in a heartbeat though. Camp Glow also gave me ideas for activities to do in my own village, but on a smaller scale.

Mosquito Net Distribution
We had two sites for the distribution that happened over 4 days. Five community members and I handed out nets to households at our CSPS. At the end of June, all the households serviced by our CSPS were visited, the number of habitants counted and then each household was given a ticket to keep that would work as a coupon for their free nets. Originally the government said it was a universal distribution, ie one net for every two people, but this was not entirely true. For a household of 8, they should of received 4 nets, but were only given 3. I asked why this was, since it was kind of false advertising. The explanations varied: that is just what the people at the top told us, since they did a distribution in 2010 the government claims the number of malaria cases are down and thus they do not need to give as many nets…what?! If you don’t have the funds to do a real universal distribution, just say it. It is still amazing that they are able to provide that many nets though! Just at our distribution site 480 households benefited and we gave out 1,294 long lasting insecticide treated nets. My part of the distribution was to explain how to use the nets and why it was important. I spoke in Jula, rarely French. I had mixed results: some people answered questions easily and understood my accent, however, there were others that had a little trouble or were just in a hurry to take their net and go. “Why do you sleep under a mosquito net?” I would ask. “Yes, yes. I understand.” was the response of some. A little frustrating, but was thankful for Brahima, from a neighboring village, who would step in and explain for those who could not understand. Sometimes people only spoke Mooré or Gouin, which explained the misunderstanding. So many languages! All in all, the distribution went smoothly. Now it is time for follow up!

Mali’s Has a President!
I ni baara! Way to go! After about a year and a half without a democratically elected president, things are slowly falling into place. You got a lot on your plate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Ala k’an deme. Ala ka heere di Mali ma!
Girls Camp
Went back to Anna’s village to help with her day camp for girls in 4th and 5th grade. Similar to Camp Glow, but on a smaller scale. The girls were timid at first, but opened up a bit more towards the end, ironically when we started talking about the male and female reproductive system. I would like to model some of these same camp activities in the form of a girls’ club this year.

Swear-In Party/Ouaga visit
We aren’t the freshman anymore, as a new group of education volunteers swore in on August 20th. Welcome G28! Went out to Tip Top, one of the bars in Ouaga that always lets us play our own music. Lots of dancing and pizza eating!

Okay, yes, I said it would be short. Thought you would want lots to read since you have been missing out on posts lately.

And now THIS Sunday starts our Tour du Burkina! I mentioned this before, but didn’t go into the details. First, take a break from all this reading and watch this: http://vimeo.com/71670937

Doesn’t that just make you want to get that bike out of the garage and ride for miles and miles, like you were riding with us? Oh wait. From what I hear it is in the hundreds over there in the good ol US. Soooo instead you could be there in another way through prayer and donations. Yep I am asking for some of your wari, that’s Jula for money. I know you all get hit up by organizations all the time, but we would appreciate anything that you could give! And the money will be going directly to the communities where we volunteers live and work. I will be biking around 300km around the Southwest and Center of the country. At 10cents/km, that is like 30 bucks. If that is too much, really anything would be appreciated! Below is the official letter:

Dear Family and Friends of Peace Corps Burkina Faso,

Beginning September 1st, 2013, Peace Corps volunteers from around Burkina Faso will be participating in Le Tour de Burkina, the fourth annual country-wide bike tour to raise money for Gender and Development projects in Burkina.

Gender and Development projects encompass a huge variety of volunteer projects, be they organizing a girls’ camp to promote self-esteem and goal setting or helping a women’s group conduct an income generating activity. These are of critical importance in Burkina Faso and represent a significant component of each volunteer’s work. The Gender and Development (GAD) Committee exists to support volunteer-initiated, gender equity projects around Burkina Faso; with Le Tour de Burkina we hope to generate funds so the GAD Committee can give small-scale project grants and volunteers can continue the essential work of promoting gender awareness and equality in Burkina Faso. We’re proud to say that last year’s tour raised nearly $6,000.

Please help us reach this year’s fundraising goal of $6,000 by visiting our website and making a donation:

To be certain your donation reaches Gender and Development projects, be sure to specify
“GAD Gender and Development” in the Comments section.

In Burkina Faso, one dollar goes a long way, so even the smallest contribution will make a big difference.

This year we will be riding for 15 days, covering about 500 kilometers, and passing by about 15 volunteer sites. The tour will increase awareness of Peace Corps Burkina Faso’s activities and reinforce the relationships within volunteers’ communities.

Thanks for your support!


Peace Corps Burkina Faso
Gender and Development Committee

Ok Bike Tour plug over! Thank you for taking the time to read all that! And seriously, keep us in your prayers! It isn’t hot season, but we will be biking some hilly terrain…hope my derriere and legs can handle it! We will be visiting my village on Friday, September 6th. Woohooo! Cannot wait to hear about a Husker victory this Saturday to help spur me on! Which reminds me….I was biking back from Niangoloko the other day and ESPN’s Game Day Theme came on my iPod. Thanks Kelli! (Wonder if you remember giving that to me, during our filming of Santa’s Workshop vs. The Nativity Scene). Ugh! No football watching until 2015! But soccer is back in action in Burkina on September 6th when they take on Gabon in a World Cup Qualifier.

Getting attacked by mosquitoes! Finally switched malaria medications, from mefloquine to doxycycline. Was having weird side effects for a while (nightmares, kind of depression, anxiety). They would come and go, and I thought part of it was just from living in a developing country, but after the article I read in the NY Times, thought it would be a good time to switch.

How to wrap up?


La saison des pluies

17 Jun

The rains have begun. The heat is not as bad. The villagers have started moving out to the fields to prepare for planting. The weddings and baptisms have tapered off. The school year is coming to a close.

Rainy season…pretty quiet in village now. And it has not been raining as much as past years. Maybe I’ll just have to go out to the fields to lend a hand.

May was somewhat of a busy month though. Celebrated Cinco de Mayo in Bobo with some fellow volunteers. No margaritas unfortunately, but did have some White Russians while watching the Big Lebowski.

Had two trainings in Bobo: Coaching for Hope and a Malaria/HIV/AIDS Training of Trainers.
Coaching for Hope is a British NGO that uses soccer as a means to disseminate information on HIV/AIDS and other STIs. There was about 10 of us PCVs there and each brought 2 counterparts from his/her village. We had some basic overview of HIV/AIDS, but most of the time was spent on drills and how best to work with various groups in our community. The drills used not only improved soccer skills, but also usually was a metaphor for various impacts of HIV/AIDS. Example: you have two small teams, one defending a goal and the other is trying to score, like a 3-on-2 drill in basketball. The defensive and offensive team starts out with the same amount of players. Overtime you start taking people from the defensive team and adding them to the offensive team. Afterwards you explain that this is what happens to your immune system when you are infected with HIV, your body is not able to fight off other infections as well.

The second training over malaria and HIV/AIDS was run by a couple of PCVs and our health program coordinators. The focus was more on malaria and the upcoming treated mosquito net distribution. We saw creative ways to decorate nets in hopes that this would cause people to use them more. We also learned a bit about creating radio spots in local language. Each counterpart wrote a script or used one already available to talk about malaria or another health topic. Ours was in Gouin and focused on early treatment of malaria. Our closest radio station is in Banfora (60km away), but I would still like to see if there is a cost to put PSAs on air or how that all works. Since a major part of the population is illiterate, this is a great way to get messages out.

At the end of the month we had our second passage for the National Polio Vaccination campaign, known as Journées Nationals de Vaccination (JNV) here in French speaking West Africa. This campaign involves the whole country of Burkina Faso and is sponsored by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Rotary International, among other organizations. The focus is on vaccinating all children age 5 and under against Polio, but the second passage we also gave out Vitamin A supplements and a deparasiting pill. Teams split up and go door to door, while others are at police check points along the road. I was with the group that was at the check point that is at the border with Côte d’Ivoire. Here we would stop people who were exiting and entering Burkina Faso via bus or taxi brusse. We would sometimes go into the buses to check for children as well. Sometimes parents would refuse the vaccine for their child, but since the police were there, they were almost forced to take the vaccine. Another challenge was how, I not really looking like a West African, people would not understand me or were literally afraid of me. I can kind of understand children crying at the site of me, but grown women running away from me? Strange. “Right now is the vaccination campaign to prevent Polio. Has your child been vaccinated?” I would say in French and/or Jula as passengers exited the bus or approached the police check-in point. A lot of the women would look at me as if I was about to steal their child and would just keep on walking, ignoring me. Others though it was no problem and would willingly show their child had already been vaccinated at the previous check point or in another village (We would mark the left pinkie of the child with a permanent marker once he/she had been vaccinated). During the four days of the campaign we vaccinated around 2,500 children in the area.

Photo break! Since I have trouble loading pictures directly on my blog, you can follow the link below to see a few recent photos:

One Thursday night, Adama and I went to church in we attend in Niangoloko as they were having a sort of party with other churches around the country. Most of the service was in Mooré and then translated into Jula, thus it was at times a bit hard to follow. The different choirs were fun though with some of the best harmonizing I’ve heard yet here in Burkina. I love how it is usually like 10 year old kids playing the djembe and other percussion instruments. They really get into it and have great rhythm. At one point the building lost power and everyone just whipped out there cell phones for light and kept singing (eventually it came back on). Service started at 8pm and was still going when Adama and I snuck out after 11pm. Arriving back at the house, I went to use the latrine. I was doing my business, using my phone as a flash light and not sure exactly how it happened, but… PLOOP. It went down the hole. NOOOOOO! I yelled out loud enough for all the sleeping neighbors to hear. Yes, the phone only cost the equivalent of $20, but when you only make about $250/month, that is kind of a lot. Adama then joked later that maybe that happened because we left church early. If that was the case, sorry God. Praying late at night in a foreign language makes it kind of hard to concentrate. I have since then replaced my trusty ol Samsung with a little Nokia and was able to keep the same number.

June has been somewhat sloooow. Which is yet another reason I should have updated you all sooner. Oops. We have two primary schools and one of them I did not get to when I was doing the malaria activities. So I set aside a couple days to talk to them about mosquito net usage and malaria prevention. I have also been playing soccer with the girls, but not as regularly as I had hoped. I want to get a consistent schedule down for next year like they have with the boys. There is a sort of league for the boys (CM1 and CM2) between the primary schools in the commune. This year Yendéré made it to the final match for the first time, playing against one of the schools from Niangoloko. It was a bigger deal than I thought, as I arrived at the field with hundreds of other spectators. They had tents set up and had invited the mayor and other big wigs. Yendéré unfortunately got spooked by all this attention and lost 0-4. So many of the kids were crying. People tried to cheer them up and explain how you have to support your team no matter the outcome. Losing though, especially when you are that close the championship, is never fun. However, for second place they still picked up some good prizes: $50, two new soccer balls, a bunch of school supplies and sodas. This also gave them some recognition as the parents in Yendéré had not supported the team too much throughout the season and should help with increasing support next year. I would love the girls to be able to have a tournament like this. We will see!

Still waiting to hear back on when the mosquito net distribution will be happening. I’ve heard though most likely early July. In the mean time I want to do some random checks of households to see if they have mosquito nets and if so, are they being used consistently and properly. I’ve also been working on growing moringa to give to the school and any other community members who are interested. I planted one in my courtyard, but for some reason it is starting to wilt. It was doing so well in the pépinière (aka water sachet), but now that it is the ground I don’t know what happened. I am also in the process of starting a garden in my courtyard, so we will see if that works.

Missing everyone back in the States like CRAZY. The other day I was not feeling my best and just thinking about all that I am missing out on in the States and how 18 months is just too long and am I really making a difference in my community and how it really isn’t about me, but all of us working together and how can we get more motivated and why does my boyfriend’s boss keep not paying him, making it now almost 3 months without pay and why is it so hard to find jobs in this country and why do people take advantage of others and the man, man always trying keep you down and how to you translate “the man”, figuratively into French? Then the pastor of our protestant church and his assistant stopped by to chat and we prayed together. This was the first time in Burkina Faso that someone had prayed for me, with me and it almost brought me to tears given the kind of breakdown kind of day I was having. I then got a text shortly after from another PCV with whom I served in Mali that said that our old country director from Mali would be filling in as acting country director here starting July. I got so excited and then had to just yell out, “God, you are awesome!” Here, I was freaking out and he just sent good news at the right moment, letting me know it is all going to work out. Fully trusting God and not worrying is always a constant battle, but I just have to keep trying. God is good.

Upcoming Events:
June 25th: Anna’s Golden Birthday Celebration
July 4th: America! F-YEAH! DEDEGOU!
July 18th – 26th: Camp Glow in Banfora
August – COS Party for G25 (group of Health and CED PCVs that started October 2011)
September – Tour de Faso! Bike tour across the country to raise money for Gender and Development (GAD) committee to fund future projects

Palu, It’s a drag

8 May

Salut tout le monde!

Things have started to pick up, which I am happy about. As much as I enjoy just chatting with people in village and relaxing I am thankful to have more to do. At the beginning it was difficult to get started, but somehow things have begun to fall into place.

I mentioned in the last post about how I was going to be teaching malaria lessons at the primary school. I started out with the youngest classes first, with the director making the introductions for me. The first couple days, the teacher for the CP1 class (equivalent of kindergarten/first grade) was not there or came in late. The kids (about 65 of them) started out quiet, but then got super loud towards the end and did not really listen. At one point one kid was full on punching his neighbor. What?! As soon as they saw their teacher coming, they immediately got quiet and sat up straight. I wanted to say, “Is it because I don’t hit you that you don’t listen?” Yes, here in Burkina Faso the teachers are not supposed to hit students, but it still happens. With one teacher for so many students I could see how they might resort to corporal punishment. I do not agree with this form of punishment, but it is what the kids are also used to in the home.

The other classes were less challenging thanks to the teacher always being in the room. They also were a huge help when kids did not understand how I was speaking. (I do not take this personally though because often they cannot even understand accents of French people). I taught each class for 3 days, but only one day for the whole morning for the CM2 class (6th graders). For the younger classes I stuck to the basics of explaining that it is only mosquitos that can give you malaria. The emphasis was on sleeping under mosquito nets every night.  By doing so, you can achieve your goals because you are not sick all the time (or dead. WAN WAAAAN).  Malaria is the biggest killer in sub-Saharan Africa. Of all the malaria cases in the world, 90% of them are found right here in Africa.

Just last year our clinic saw 5457 cases of malaria. 5457! And 12 of these cases resulted in death. And they were kids under the age of 15. I explained these statistics to the older classes. People in Burkina Faso and other malaria-zone countries tend to minimize malaria, like it is just some fever you get and then it goes away. We discussed the importance of early treatment by going to the local health clinic. Some people self-medicate when they are not 100% sure it is malaria, which can lead to drug resistance. Thankfully our health clinic always has rapid-tests on hand that can tell if someone has malaria within a matter of minutes. These are sent through the President’s Malaria Initiative (US org started in 2005) who partners with PNLP-Programme National de Lutte contre le Paludisme(Burkina’s org to fight malaria).

Each day I would ask who slept under a mosquito last night. It was only a handful. During hot season people sleep outside and most do not bring their mosquito nets out too. They claim it is too hot for mosquito nets, they don’t let air through. Also they claim there are not any mosquitos out. It is true they are less at this time, but there are still some! And people still get malaria. There was also the problem that many students did not have mosquito nets. Burkina Faso has national distributions to give treated nets to everyone every 2-3 years. However, people are not always home when this happens or they miscalculate how many are needed. Also some people sell the nets or keep them tucked away for safe keeping, as it is something new they don’t want to ruin. This June is supposed to be the next distribution. Just in time for rainy season, when there are more mosquitos.

We completed some other activities as well. I showed the kids how they can set up their nets outside and then taught them a song about malaria prevention that I wrote in French. I put it to the tune of a song that is popular here right now called “Chop My Money” by P Square feat. Akon. I think this may have been their favorite part. I also gave tests to the CM1 and CM2 classes. CM2 did very well, but the CM1 still needs to work on overall comprehension. It was nice to see though that they understood the basics of malaria and how to prevent it.

Here is the song below, along with the translation. Every now and then kids will come up to me and start singing it. Everything is easier to remember when it is a song! (If only I had had my physics text book to a song…)

C’est la nuit et on est prêt à dormir
(It’s night time and we are ready to go to sleep)
Mais il y a une chose ce qu’on peut sentir
(But there is something which we can feel)
C’est une moustique qui veut nous piquer
(It’s a mosquito who wants to bite us)
C’est paludisme qu’elle peut nous donner
It’s malaria that it can give to us

Palu, Palu
(short form of the word “paludisme”-malaria)
Il donne le corps chaud et on ne bouge pas
(It gives a fever and we don’t move)
Palu, Palu
Est-ce qu’on veut la meilleure santé ? Donc,
(Do we want the best health ? So,)

Evite le palu,
(Avoid malaria)
Evite le palu,
Evite le palu
avec une moustiquaire
(with a mosquito net)

Evite le palu
Evite le palu
Evite le palu
avec une moustiquaire

Une mousitquaire (x3)

Ça peut sauver nos vies
(It can save our lives)
Une moustiquaire (x3)
Ça protege nous-mêmes
(It protects ourselves)

If you are interested in learning more about malaria and how it is being fought today, I would recommend reading The Fever by Sonia Shah. Did you know we had malaria in the United States not too long ago? You will learn about this and much more in this book. Also feel free to ask me as well!