Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


4 Comments

sura saame: Peace Corps Burkina Faso Evacuation

21534563_10155052277527058_1063598224_o

In photo: the last minute with Nebie, my best friend in Burkina Faso, as the Peace Corps car arrived to pick me up and take me out. There’s a glint of smile behind my (very real) sad face, because Nebie was telling me my sad lip was too much. My emotions were all over the place.

It’s been a full week since I first heard the heart-wretching news. I kept wanting to post online to tell my family and friends about it but I never felt like there was a good time or I had found the words. I now know there will never be a ‘good time’ and I’ll probably never find the right words.

The Peace Corps Burkina Faso program has ended and all 124 volunteers have been evacuated. It has been a tremendously difficult, sad, and confusing week. Over the weekend we were, with almost no information given, bussed to Ghana, our primary evacuation route. We have been in a fancy hotel in Accra for the past several days doing extensive paperwork, getting medical examinations, reviewing mental health best practices, making big decisions about the coming year, and mostly just supporting each other as we all wrestle with intense emotions. Oh, and we have hot showers and delicious food.

We still have received no information on the specific reasons for evacuation at this time. We are told that the decision was made based on volunteer safety and security. Besides the larger terrorist attacks in Burkina that have made national news in the past couple years, volunteers have heard rumors about other security threats. Ultimately we will probably never know the details of the evacuation decision or whatever became “the last straw”.

I am first and foremost devastated. I left my home in the middle of the night, rushing to pack the most important items into a backpack, saying goodbye to no one. I left behind just about everything. It’s not about the clothes and the kitchen things and my furniture. I left behind my chickens, no goodbye. I left behind my neighbors and co-workers, no goodbye. I left behind my village and the dear little children, no goodbye. And they’ll likely never know, and really never understand, my exit.

I am upset a little bit too, which often comes with feelings of devastation, but it’s different. There is not a place on the planet where I’ve felt safer than I do in Burkina Faso. Although I am not privy to the highest intelligences that government decisions are based on, I never felt the least bit threatened in my daily life. I’m upset that the place I felt most safe in has been deemed off limits for my security. I wrestle too with complicated emotions that involve privilege: of being white, American, and relatively rich – the fact that I can escape danger zones and travel anywhere in the world I want. For many people I love, this will never be an option.

I am trying to attach my situation and emotions to other people and places, past and present. I think about the various refugee crises and how I can now better relate to aspects of refugee experience, including leaving all your possessions behind and having no time for goodbyes or producing closure. Then sometimes I feel guilty for comparing my experience with the refugee one: the links are minimal and I am still so so blessed, so fortunate. No one I know was hurt. I have money and a place to go home to. I am surrounded by and connected to a government and individuals who look out for me and support me. I’m so okay.

I watch the news (in English! It had been a year and a half.), about the hurricanes hitting the U.S. this week. I can’t imagine the loss and destruction, or the experience of losing loved ones in such a way, but it helps put my experience in perspective. Absolutely nothing in this life is certain. Certainty is foolish, fake. The least expected will happen, someday.

As for my immediate and long-term plans: I do not know. Thanks for accepting ‘I don’t know’ as a response, and thank you for praying that God will guide me through the next several months.

For now I am in Accra, with no plane ticket or travel plans out. I might go to Togo. I might go to Cote d’Ivoire. I’m interesting in exploring and recovering in west Africa, spending a few days in Europe perhaps, and then making it to Michigan before September ends. Peace Corps has given me airline money and little bit of evacuation cash. I have absolutely nowhere to be, no commitments to anyone. I’m free, with cash in my pocket, in my absolute favorite corner of the world; I’m so okay.

Learning Moore: sura saame (a broken heart)

Learning Twi: Me wo Ghana. (“I’m in Ghana.” Want to meet up?) P.S. Accra was the first I’ve ever seen of Africa, back in 2013. I’ve stayed in contact with a “host brother” (of sorts) that I stayed with in 2013, and I’ve spent a lot of time reconnecting with him this week. It has been amazing, and I know he’ll be an ever-important person in my life. I also visited my Accra “host family” this week, including little Maxwell who didn’t remember me but loved seeing photos of himself cuddling with me way back when…

maxwell

In photo: Maxwell (age 5) & me, circa June 2013, saying goodbye as I packed my bags. Accra, Ghana. I was so happy for the unexpected “hello again” this week.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Burkina with a side of Senegal

image.jpeg

In photo: Ataaya and a view with Yama in Yène Guedj, Senegal on August 20th.

Village life:

I’ve been in Burkina for about 14 months now. The first year, overall, wasn’t too difficult: I learned the local language (Mooré) quickly, developed deep friendships, and felt accomplished in my work. I also was remarkably healthy. And happy.

The most recent 2 months have been challenging. I could name various reasons for this. One reason could be the overall vibe of the village; it’s cultivating season so people are busy in their fields all day. There’s not the normal village hustle and bustle, (by which I’m referring to a dozen people drinking under a nearby tree or the bike repair main with a line of a few broken bikes, as examples). Relatedly, the harvest is a couple months away which means now’s the time when families are running out of food and, relatedly, money. If there’s a month of hunger it’s now. Of course I’m not starving, but it affects me physically (almost no food available on market days for purchase- most of my food I transport from the city for now), and mentally, as I wrestle with the fact that people I talk to every day actually are hungry. “Hungry”: do I even know the feeling?

A couple weeks ago I made really good tacos and was so proud of them. I took one to go walk around the market area, hoping someone would ask, “Alima, what in the world is that?!” They did. I convinced a good friend (bike mechanic) to try a bite, and he did! He was better at convincing people to try it than I was, and soon the taco was gone as the men all wanted to taste and see. “What’s that?”, pointing at the tortilla shell specifically. “Uhh… bread”, I said, knowing I could rack my brain forever and not find a better Mooré word. “And that?”- lentils. “Beans”, I said. “And… that….?” – melted cheese. “Milk sauce!”. I really got creative with my language usage. Maybe such a bizarre food tasted so good because they were simply hungry!

A second reason that village life has been hard the past several weeks is I’ve been a little sick, but not in an easily explained way. I had a slight but steady fever for a week- probably longer. I had absolutely zero appetite: part of this could be due to having limited ingredients and therefore strange meals; part of this could be due to the fact that I was emotionally off, feeling isolated, unproductive, and un-useful. I recently read online that gastro-intestinal issues and mental health are closely linked. I’m not sure if this is true, but it sure seemed that way. I might have parasites of some sort, and if I do they’ll be detected next month at my medical examination.

A third reason for having a rough patch in my service could be contributed to an overall fatigue/temporary burn-out period. In the 14 months I hadn’t taken a vacation. (I have now! I’m currently in the airport in Dakar heading home after a nice 2 weeks here.) My phone service in village had gotten terrible so I wasn’t able to even call people without much effort. I knew lots of crazy things were going on in the world (attacks, American politics, etc.) but I had no news access or reliable souce of information. My main work was paused because of both the school break and cultivation period so I was home and alone and lonely a lot. On one hand I needed a rest from it all; on the other hand it felt like all I did was rest. I felt guilty.

I think this rough patch is over! As I head back to village soon, I plan to arrive refreshed and motivated. I’ll great people ethusiatically, cook appetizing meals, and start a few new projects. I’ll try to convince myself that spending a day at home reading and resting is not something that should produce guilt.

Just peace. Jamm rekk.

Senegal vacation:

“Jamm rekk” is actually not Mooré but rather it’s Wolof, the language I’ve been immersed in the past 2 weeks. My Wolof skills, which were sharp a couple years ago following a semester of intensive study in Dakar, are terribly rusty. However, a shocking number of Wolof words came back to my mind in the exact moment I needed to say them. Everything around me became a cue or a trigger, and my memory served me phrases on a platter.

The vacation was interesting. It had already been weird before leaving Burkina because I had a dramatic incident where Peace Corps required me to change my dates of my trip at what I considered to be the last minute. I felt awkward telling my host family and friends in Senegal about the switch in dates. ..they think I’m not coming at all… they think I’m crazy… they think I’m finding an excuse to wait a few more months, or years, to visit….

Not too mention my poor, confused chicken babysitter in my village who believed I hadn’t left my house even though I told her I had. (She was right- I hadn’t. Still hoping it wasn’t a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation and she’s been feeding my chickens the past 2 weeks.)

Anyway, I was able to spend a bit of time with friends and host family members in Senegal. I also visited old beach towns I’d loved before. Being in Senegal after having lived in Burkina (and having become Burkinabè even) was interesting. I could compare the two countries on a deeper level.

Senegal felt different a little bit. Like it had changed. Or maybe I had changed? I never remembered the beach at Yène being so dirty: was it dirty last time but I had been wearing romantic, rose-colored glasses and accepted the trash as a part of an African beach?

During my vacation, I hated my 1 visit to a big market in Dakar. The sellers were touchy, pushy, loud, and impolite. Had the market atmosphere always been like this, or could it have gotten worse? Maybe it has changed, but more likely, in this situation, it was me who changed. I may have used to accept this market atmosphere as a normal west-African phenomena. But after visiting countless markets in Burkina- where sellers are totally calm and would never touch me, I felt differently, (and didn’t like), the Dakar shopping experience.

Language was different. My French has truly have taken on the accent and grammar of a Burkinabè speaker, shocking and even saddening my closest Senegalese friends. Wolof sounded different, and I was newly interested in it’s grammar and cultural elements, (for example, the Wolof system of counting money). Relationships were different too, some for the better and some for the worst. It was surprisingly easy to re-connect with my host siblings and I was more at ease with them than I’d ever been. My relationships with my two closest friends in Senegal, contrarily, were emotional and difficult for me. I wanted things to have felt the same like before, but the distance that had formed between us became suddenly evident and painful.

Anyway I know my eyes and my head and my heart has changed dramatically since study abroad a couple years ago. And I know Senegal is changing a lot too. I asked Yama, and yes.. the beach hadn’t been so dirty last time. The market, this time around, may have been extra chaotic because of the approaching holiday (Tabaski). But I knew my eyes were much more critical as well. Too critical at times, comparing too much instead of accepting Senegal as it’s own seperate entity, unlinked. Senegal and Burkina are as different as an American would find them similar.

American Ambassador to Senegal!!:

One of the best days of my academic/professional life was visiting the American Ambassador Mushingi in Dakar. I could go on and on about the day at the embassy and my conversation with him… I hope to post a seperate blog about it someday soon. You guys know how infrequent my blogging has been; no promises on “soon”…

Future plans:

I’m eager for the school year to start back up in village. I want to add soccer to my girl’s health club, meaning we would have soccer practices and games, but health topics would be woven into our meetings. (There’s a popular Peace Corps program like this.) I also hope to re-integrate, more deeply this time, into the CSPS (health center) work.

In December my parents and little sister will come visit Burkina Faso. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for something in my entire life. I have lots of plans for us, but mostly just sitting and talking and looking at eachother. It’s been awhile.

 

Learning Mooré: bēndga (a trap)

Learning Dioula: fey (verb ‘to have’)

Learning Wolof: niakk (word to describe someone from the “true west African bush countries” like Mali, Burkina Faso, etc. In Senegal, friends and strangers alike were hugely entertained to meet a Toubab who had become so exactly a niakk).

Learning French: casanier (a homebody)

 


Leave a comment

Chickens & Life

(photo not uploading! will come “soon”…)

In photo: me with two functionnaire guys who teach at the primary school near my house. To my left is the director of the school. To my right is a teacher who helps me run my health club. They were showing Burkina pride for an upcoming soccer match.

I’ve been through a couple hens since last we’ve talked. After coming home from a little New Year’s vacation (traveled to a friend’s village), I thought someone had stolen my hen! She had been so faithful, but suddenly wasn’t coming home at night anymore. Theft increases during the holidays.

A few days later, the midwife came to me with bad news. Your hen is at my house! She’s been laying eggs there! But she died…

She died on top of her eggs. Of the dozen or so eggs, 6 of them managed to hatch. Six little chicks marched around the health center grounds, without a mother. By day two, 6 became 4, and by day four, 4 became 2. Those two, those two strong little orphans, are still alive today, spending lots of time in my courtyard. One is deformed and sick… but I give them lots of love and have a world of hope for them.

Shortly after her death I asked Paul, my counterpart in the village, to search for a hen or two for my cock. A few days later, for the American dollar equivalent of about $4.00, he came back with a hen for me.

I waited for eggs. After just a couple weeks she laid one! At my home in her chicken house. After a few days there was still only one egg. “She’s laying them somewhere else”, my tutor explained knowingly. I didn’t really look, my idea being that one night she’d come home with a family of chicks behind her. I wasn’t going to count my eggs until they hatched, and after my last hen’s misfortunate,
I wasn’t going to get too excited over the pregnancy.

Although I didn’t know where she was laying her eggs, I knew something was up with her; pregnancy was a logical explanation. Every morning at 6:20 or so, my hen (instead of a cock) was my alarm clock. She cried and cried at the courtyard door, waking me up, and I would go and let her out. This wasn’t her normal behavior, usually content to rest chez moi until 8:00 even, and never in a rush to leave my peaceful yard. I assumed, every morning, that she had an egg inside her she just had to get out.

You know, before chicken raising in Burkina, I guess I just assumed that chickens lay all their eggs at once and sit on them awhile and then they hatch. To have a dozen child-fist sized eggs inside one hen all at once I guess, now, seems a bit too incredible. But I never imagined the process of just laying the eggs taking weeks.

About 4 days ago I was greeting a neighbor, a sweet woman who I don’t know well but whose 3-year-old son often visits my courtyard and we eat peanuts together. I mentioned to her that I had hen who, for the past few weeks, had been laying eggs somewhere. She said she hadn’t noticed anything, but that she would keep an eye out, and oh we can look around her courtyard to be sure there’s not an egg stash somewhere.

Sure enough, in an abandoned mud building designed to serve as a kitchen, we found eggs. A neat pile of 9 eggs, in a secluded corner of an open but unused building. I was excited! So my hen has been laying eggs, and there’s nine already, and she’s not even done! Still I kept my eagerness somewhat low and very quiet, mentioning my excitement to just 2 out of my many friends.

Two was too many, my hopes falling in just 36 hours. Two days ago I woke up at 7:10am… “7:10am?” I asked myself, as I instantly thought of my hen. I got out of bed faster than I ever have, to see what was up with my chickens who were a little too quiet for comfort. Sure enough not-quite-mother hen was still inside the courtyard, laying on the roof of the hen house. I approached her and she layed still, showing no excitement or fear that I was a mere foot away. So I started throwing feed on the ground and this pregnant mama didn’t even budge. Man, I thought. She’s gonna die.

I kind of knew that was the end of it, largely because another neighbor guy, a teacher at the nearby elementary school, recently lost 4 chickens to a chicken sickness going around. I had watched 2 of them die just the night before.

The story I’m telling could go on and on. If I gave all the possible detail you’d be reading for another forty minutes. But in sum, I rushed out of my house to ask for advice handling my sick chicken. “Give her fresh hot peppers!”, one friend said. Another said, “This isn’t a crisis. Kill and eat her.”

So I killed and ate her, this soon-to-be-mother of nine or more. I cooked yaasa ginaar- a Senegalese dish requiring chicken and including onion and spicy mustard. I shared some with my tutor and the neighbors. I could only eat a few pieces of her… just a day before I was excited for this new mom! “…And eat her eggs too!”, every knowing party reminded me. “Of course”, I said, with half of my heart.

Childbirth is hard, and in this region of the world it’s especially arduous. I recently heard an African birthing proverb saying that the beginning of life is the closest to death. There’s an abundance of African proverbs alluding to the unsureness of pregnancy and birth. It truly is the most dangerous moment, the most life-threatening event, that most Burkinabè women will experience. The life is the baby is never sure.. The life of the mother is never sure. The husband waits, sometimes outside the birthing ward but usually far, far away.. he awaits, with a fear that eats the excitement.

The first time I witnessed a birth since living in Nassoulou, the baby was born dead. For an hour the midwife hit him, trying to envoke a response. Nothing. After his birth, which took a couple hours, I sat just outside the birthig room for a couple more, quiet and yes sad, but kind of unsure how to feel. Man, is this how it is then, sometimes? No one around me was surprised- yeah, it’s like that. We can’t win every time. I’ve never talked about that day with the midwife or other nurses. We tried to forget about it.

When my first hen died during childbirth, I found it uncomfortably ironic then that she had died at the midwife’s house. When my second hen died, I wanted to believe that it was just the “chicken flu” that killed her… Except that the guy who came to slaughter her told me that it was because of her pregnancy and she had a ruptured egg inside. I asked myself if maybe it was my fault she died. Did she wail at 6am but I had slept through it and since she couldn’t lay her egg it exploded inside her? I haven’t had the courage to witness another birth at the CSPS, fearing that even if it wasn’t me who brought bad luck to the birthing room, if I witnessed another still-born everyone would think so.

Birth and life aren’t givens. The percentage of time death wins is higher in Burkina than most other countries. But these experiences have reminded me that we aren’t garunteed tomorrow. Our life tomorrow isn’t garunteed, the the life of our children tomorrow isn’t garunteed. God gives and he takes. We can count our blessings only when they hatch.

Site life is great and recently has gotten very busy. Busy is good, because it doesn’t allow me to get bored. And someone once told me it’s not possible to be lonely unless first you’re bored. I think I disagree, but nevertheless, boredom and lonliness haven’t stuck around lately.

My biggest project accomplishment has been starting my girl’s health and hygiene club. I have 15 sweet girls, ages ranging 10 to 16. We meet for a couple hours every Tuesday night, and a teacher friend helps translate and teach. The objective is that these 15 girls will be trained and soon able to educate, on their own, their classmates and other villagers. We are in our fifth week and the girls are starting to open up and gain confidence in speaking. I have so much hope for these girls, and see them becoming leaders in their communities.

I’ve started a few other smaller projects and have lots of dreams I hope to soon begin realizing. I drop off a couple letters everytime I make it to a big city, and love communicating cross-continent. I reply to every mail I receive! If you want to chat snail-mail, you can hit me at:

Alyssa Feenstra, PCV
Corps de la Paix
01 B.P. 6031
Ouagadougou 01
Burkina Faso

I love you guys! Thanks for the support, and talk to you soon!

Learning Mooré: “Bi-yam n daad a ma samsa.” A smart child buhys cakes from his own mother. Instead of shopping elsewhere, a child should support his mother. Investing in her is investing in himself.


Leave a comment

Journal Excerpts 1

 

image.jpeg

In photo: Me, on Christmas, with my homologue and his grandson (Ashad, who loves me almost as much as I love him).

Every few months I flip back through my journal to read and reflect. Sometimes I surprise myself. Sometimes I’m able then to recall things I’d otherwise forgotten had happened. Mostly I’m able to see how much things are changing, and how much I am changing too. I’ll share a couple of the less personal excerpts, and ones that don’t identify particular individuals. I imagine this will relay in a different way the things I experience here.

NB: words in curled brackets are things I didn’t write in my journal but I’m adding now for clarity.

Sunday, October 2

“He asked me if, in America, I had learned to read or if it was natural. Amused at the thought of Nasaras {white people and/or foreigners} being born with the ability to read where Burkinabè must go out of their way if they’ll ever learn, I explained that in the U.S. most of us start learning around 5 years old. That all happened exactly a week ago, and I’m contemplating the question more this morning than ever. Behind the humor, he’s right. It is, more or less, a natural process for Americans. It’s normal – it just happens. It may be hard work for teachers and parents, and many kids may fall through the cracks, but overall it’s the natural way of things – that a Nasara will know how to read and a Burkinabè villager may not. And THAT isn’t funny; it’s injustice.”

Monday, October 10

“The CSPS {health clinic} is busy today. It’s also market day. I hypothesized that maybe the two were related, although I have no evidence because it’s something that just came to mind and I’ve never tried to observe it before. Reasons could include that coming from 12km away is long, but on market day you can kill two birds with one stone – bring your sick child and do your market shopping (or selling). {In Nassoulou, the CSPS and the market are close by eachother.} Anyway so I’m sitting with Marso now, and Madame walked in. The CSPS is full of sick today, right Alima?, she told me instead of asked. I took the opportunity, and particularly the chance to have two sets of listening ears (Marso’s and Madame’s) to ask my question – the relationship, if any, betwren market day and CSPS traffic. Madame didn’t really answer I guess, and was on her way out. But before the thought left the air I caught it, asking Marso more directly.

She answered, and gave me a perspective I hadn’t previously seen the issue from. I wouldn’t have, I guess, because maybe I don’t understand (yet, if ever) the depth of poverty here. She told me that yes, the CSPS is busier on market days. On other days, someone wouldn’t have the money to pay for the medicine, so on market day they come, they sell some stuff just until they have enough money – and then they come buy medicine for their child. I’m asking myself now to what extent that is true and frequent. It’s hard to believe, but I guess why wouldn’t it be like that? Marso was explaining the reality. It hurts. My whole life seems to hurt right now.”

Wednesday, October 26

“I went to work on time for once – making a special effort to do so – but no, bad idea. I’m back home sitting on the bed. I’ll go back soon and hopefully we’ll start (baby measuring).”

Tuesday, November 29

“Little heartwarming moments. This guy with fast speech and a rough smoker voice trying to talk to me at the bar. This is normally a “don’t even try too hard to understand him” situation. I’ll probably like him more if I don’t know what he’s trying to tell me. But he’s with his wife – (first time I’ve ever seen husband/wife drinking a beer together in Nassoulou). The wife “talks to me” through the husband.

He asked the question they always ask first, but when he asked it was different somehow. So I told him yes I have a husband. He said that’s what he thought but his wife was saying when she saw me she knew I wasn’t married. Actually throughout the conversation his wife was always “wrong” about things she was actually right about. I felt a sudden pang of guilt, remorse. But I guess that’s how it goes, right? Wife’s always wrong but somehow – how? – so right.

I tried to say something that could give the wife some points. “But I don’t have any kids!” Then the guy started saying a bunch of stuff I couldn’t understand. Seeing he was insistent I understand, and after him saying again, “Wait you do speak Mooré right?” and me saying, in Mooré of course as the whole conversation had been, “Yes, a little!”… so I told him, okay talk slowly. He started again… No!, I said slowly. So he said it slowly then finally. Like magic I understood. “May God bless you with a child.”

The wife said I was a doctor at the CSPS. I said I’m not a doctor (point for husband), but I live and help at CSPS (point for wife). She weighs babies, the wife told the husband to tell me. Oh yes, yes I do I said.

The husband said I needed to eat better/more. Why was I on my phone with the plate of rice in front of me only half gone? Eat a lot, he said. And have a baby and breastfeed! All sound ideas, thank you sir.

When they were leaving he stood his wife in front of me and complained that she wasn’t big enough. Doctor feed her! The wife was timid and embarassed, her standing while we looked on and commented on her size. Your wife is perfectly big, I insisted – which was true. She was tall and heavy – but only to a healthy degree, how a fit person might become fat a bit in their fatigued old age. No quesrion was she strong and healthy, and cozy in bed too. Poor woman. But she smiled away all the shots. Her sanity, I knew, depended on it.

Although the conversation felt long to me, because it was all in Mooré, and holy moly I could understand all of this in Mooré?! it was really like five minutes. Burkinabè drink a relaxing beer (and bottles are double the American size) faster than any others I’ve met. Their normal is my pre-game chug.

The next guy came in. Alone, just him. Still drinking fast. Still asking me about my husband and kids and why no kids? He asked if I wanted 1 or 2. Three I told him, being contrarian by nature, and so he wasn’t right about Nasaras/Westerners wanting just 1 or 2. He’s the kind of guy with a warm face and careful way of talking and he’s safe and not creepy. His smile it is. And his dirty work clothes and expensive boots. He’s hard working and spends his money from rice cultivating over a cold beer every couple weeks. He was maybe even faster than the wrong wife and her embarassing husband.

Last sip, tap glass stand up.
“Bon?” {he said. This is random French word Burkinabè love to use to note that their leaving}
I throw Mooré. “Wend na kod nidaré! {See you next time if God’s gives it}”
Nindare! Then they make comment I don’t understand and I do the uhuuuh, the noise they do when the mean “yeah!”. By now I’ve convinced them that I understand everything perfectly and they leave smiling, two steps away muterring under their breath “Oh Nasara…” Boom, I made their day.”

Learning Mooré: “Wend na kod veere!” May God give us next year!, a phrase I’ve loved throwing around to n’import qui this holiday season.


2 Comments

Updates a pigg laa ta

A DOZEN & ONE UPDATES

image

In picture: Pascaline cutting up pork for our impromptu Thanksgiving meal

Since last time I’ve written, just about everything in my life is new! I’ve had to re-start, yet another time, the settling in process. Finally, however, I am content with my situation and have established a great foundation for a successful two years of service.

1. House

At the start of month two at site I moved into a new house; it has finally become home. It’s big and beautiful and I am blessed by the shade (and soon fruit) of a mango tree. I even have a guest bedroom with a nice bed and mosquito net! Visitors I’m ready for you! I have a very large courtyard, my latrine is within the courtyard, my shower room is indoors. I had a little bit of a mice problem for awhile but I think, for now, they’re gone. My only housing “issues” are I’m concerned my latrine (hole in the ground with a cement cover and walls around it, for pooping) will fill up before my two years of service, and that my courtyard (still) doesn’t have a functional door meaning my privacy (and maybe security) is greatly reduced. The Peace Corps will likely deal with the full latrine (but I’m not sure how) in the event I can fill it. And I’m currently “pestering” some community members to work on getting me a door. Nothing happens fast. Oh and lastly, my place also came with a little chicken house in the courtyard!

2. Health staff

I mentioned in my previous post that soon all my health clinic (in Burkina it’s called a CSPS) staff would be replaced/new. Well sooner than I expected, yes, they’re all gone! We have a new major (head nurse), a new nurse, and a new midwife. They’re all females (which rarely happens), and that’s cool by me. I think we’ll have a lot of fun together. The new nurse, who from the beginning was quickly becoming a good friend, is still one of my best friends in country. Despite language and culture barriers she is beginning to know the real Alyssa, which is saying a lot in this completely foreign environment. One of the best parts of the staff being women is that that means they have kids with them. (Their husbands stay in the cities but kids almost always travel with mom’s work assignments.) All three of my co-workers have young children that I’ll be able to watch grow up a little bit.

3. Chickens

I’m in love with my chickens and chicken raising. The first chicken I bought, who I mentioned in my previous post, has been eaten now. My friend visited and killed the chicken for me. I made the best version I could of yaasa ginaar, a meal I used to eat in Senegal. (Rice with sauce of onions, dijon mustard, and chicken.) It was great. I had boughten for this cock a wife. Now I have, officially, two chickens- one cock, one hen. My goal is to get eggs, but so far it hasn’t happened. I’m not opposed to eating either of them though, if the occassion arises… espcially if she doesn’t hurry up and give me eggs. Unofficially, four chickens sleep at my house. They say that because my hen sleeps with three cocks every night eggs are sure to come. I’m waiting.

4. Work

As of today, my introductory/non-work period has ended. Pretty soon I can start projects. I’ve treasured the months at site where my only assignments are to study Mooré, get familiar with the village and its people, and start figuring out what the village needs are. It’s hard to explain sometimes what my work will look like. I’ll be focusing on village health education and maladie prevention. For example, in January I’ll start a health and hygiene club for girls at one of the elementary schools near my house. For the village, I’ll plan programs, camps, and sensibilations (teaching sessions) on topics like family planning, malaria, or nutrition. Even already I work with mothers of malnourished babies, mostly every Wednesday morning. However, over time I will develop programs that focus on educating particular groups on particular subjects. Of course for now I have no project results to report! I will keep you updated as my work evolves.

5. Food

I’ve been learning and loving Burkina cooking! My house is well stocked with non-perishable foods now, and whenever I have the opportunity I buy a couple fruits or veggies (veggies are available every few days, fruit maybe once a week). Peace Corps gave us a cookbook created by decades of Burkina Faso PCVs (it’s amazing), and I now have the ingredients on hand to make almost any item there. Except baked goods. There are not ovens in this country, but many volunteers set up a dutch oven – involving a metal cauldron, sand, some tomato paste cans… And then you set it over your gas-powered stove top burner and bake in it! I was’t too much of a baker in the U.S. so we’ll see if I ever get around to setting up a dutch oven.

6. Village integration

Every week I am becoming more familiar and comfortable in village. I have a church that I go to every week and even did the congregational prayer once, (in English which of course no one understands but in prayer something is transmitted anyway). I have a couple new hangout places where I can go and relax and be myself. People for miles all know my name and I’m “bothered by men” less and less (it will never go away entirely). I have more preferences now, like the shop keeper I prefer and the time of day at the market I prefer (hint: the morning before drunk people hangout there). I even know almost exactly what time the baker will have his first loaf of bread made in the morning, depending a little bit on the day of week, and this is probably something he doesn’t even know about himself.

7. My health

No news is good news on this one. I don’t have anything to report other than, grâce à Dieu, I have stayed very healthy! The occasional headache or bellyache is all I’ve been dealt with, unavoidable in any country. I haven’t even vommited or had diarrhea, quite an accomplishment I think, but I already knew from my previous African adventures that I had a strong, or perhaps part African, stomach. Thank you God for my strong and healthy body! Pray that I’ll continue in good health.

8. Language

My Mooré is improving quickly and every day! I just finished a 3-day language training session in Koudougou with a really good Mooré professor who works for Peace Corps. The training was encouraging as I realized just how far along my language skills have come, and I also realized that I can say almost anything I need to say on a daily basis. I also got a wealth of new vocabulary that I can begin putting to memory. My language tutor (and her son) attended training as well. The idea is that Peace Corps would invest their resources in training tutors who can then better train us in our villages. Definitely not a bad idea. We’ll see how much my daily tutoring sessions are different now after the training of us both. During the training in Koudougou there was a huge bi-annual festival. Vendors come from all over West Africa to sell goods, often handmade. I ran into several Senegalese people and was excited to use my Wolof with them. Although they were still impressed to have met a white person or westerner speaking Wolof (and to have found her outside of Senegal), I was sad that I had a hard time remembering even basic Wolof phrases. Mooré has really moved in, and for at least awhile, is here to stay.

9. Burkina friends

As mentioned, the nurse (Jacqueline) is one of my best Burkinabè friends. I’m also really close with my tutor (Pascaline), and her son although he’s 2 years old. (You’d be surprised though how in an environnment like this you can make a good friend out of oddly young people or really old people). One of my best memories of Pascaline is when she came to my house for tutoring on Thanksgiving and we decided to cook a big meal and invite a few people. We made riz au gras (oily orangish rice) and bought pork at the market to cook up. It was delicious, and was so nice to eat a big meal with some of the people I love most here. Beyond these two, my circle of friends is growing wide as I interact with the same villagers day after day and as I meet new functionnaires (French speaking, educated outsiders assigned by the government to come work in my village), recently lots of school teachers.

10. Peace Corps friends

My PCV friends have become even more important and enjoyable than I would have originally imagined. I recently spent almost a week with 5 of them, as there were 6 of us at the language training in Koudougou. Outside of these 5, I have 4 PCV friends who I talk to the most, and they are such a comfort to me here. People from home often ask me how closely I live or work with other Volunteers/Americans here. I am the only one in my village, and there are not many in my region of the country. There is one PCV who lives 7 km from me, but she came two groups before me and is about to leave Burkina! Her 2-years is over. Still, before she goes, I’ll make an effort to spend time with her a couple more times because having a neighbor that close is a treat. After she leaves my closest American neighbor is a PCV who lives in my regional capital, Koudougou, and after that I’m really not close to anyone.

11. Home friends (and family!)

I miss you guys! It’s weird thinking about (many of) you guys bundled up against the snowy cold while I still sweat while doing and wearing nothing. The best way to communicate with me is through Whatsapp. Contact me any way you know how and I can give you my Whatsapp number.

I’ll say that I haven’t been good at getting letters out but it’s happening slowly! You all are (way) more than welcome to mail me letters or packages and I’ll certainly send a reply!

Alyssa Feenstra, PCV
Corps de la Paix
01 B.P. 6031
Ouagadougou 01
Burkina Faso

12. Things i’m missing! / package requests

My mom has been great at sending me things that I ran out of or realized I need. Still, items that I will always enjoy include:

-Snacks (savory ones like chips, cheeze its, etc. or sweet ones like non-meltable candy… but if I get melted chocolate I’ll still love it)

-Yogi brand tea (any variety)

-Candles

-Spices or seasonings (anything will be enjoyed! Off the top of my head my requests would be curry powder and taco seasoning. Feel free to get creative.. Like ranch dressing mix or something could be cool!)

-dried lentils (green, red, brown, whole or split, anything works)

-moisturizing lotion! I didn’t bring any but realized I should have and the ones here aren’t as great as from home.

-clothes? I can’t imagine most of you/any of you necessarily buying clothes for me but… underwear is awesome (size medium at Aerie for reference). A pair of socks or two (but not more) is fun. I’m a medium in most shirts, particularly if they have some stretch to them, but even if they’re too big I can wear them around the house or to run quick errands.

13. Near future plans

My birthday is coming up! I’m not sure yet where I’m going but I’ll leave my village for a couple celebratory nights in a city. We have more freedom of travel now that we’re finished with our 3-month village-obervation period. For Christmas I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing. I’m thinking what may be best is to spend a few days with other PCVs to celebrate, but then be in my village on the day of Christmas. I was invited to spend the day at the home of my homologue (an older man) and my language tutor (his daughter-in-law). They’re going to kill a pig. For the longer-term future, I haven’t planned any vacations yet but hopefully in the spring my best friend from the U.S. and I will get together. It’ll be nice to be with someone again who knows me deeply and who I don’t have to explain myself to.

Learning French: chaud chaud (literally translates as “hot, hot” but you might use it to describe someone reading, writing, working, trying… with intensity or deep concentration.)

Learning Mooré: baagnem (dog meat… because people eat that here. I haven’t.. Yet.)


2 Comments

Settling In

 

image

In photo: The health workers love bringing me fresh babies because they know they’re my favorite thing in the world. This one is a few days old and remains un-named.

Written: September 10, 2016, afternoon
From: a moto repair shop in Koudougou
Feeling: fatigued but relaxed
Hungry for: something cold
Missing: my car

As I begin better learning Mooré, the city becomes louder. When you don’t speak the language, even the most bustling, busy places can be deafeningly silent. When you can’t understand their words, all smiling people are friendly and polite, a potential friend. Most interactions are one sided as voices enter your ears but hardly actualize as words in your brain. And you have so much to say but you can’t so you smile and nod. Even the sounds of a place are at first in another language. I was once getting anxious waiting to catch a bus that comes less than every 24 hours. The person with me who knew that the bus would look like seemed to not be watching for it, not paying attention at all. “We’ll hear it”, he said. And he did, although I was still deaf to it’s sound. In the village, I’m learning to distinguish different animal and insect sounds. I can hear footsteps outside my courtyard and know if it’s a neighbor or stranger.

I’m currently sitting in a moto sale and repair shop, with an emphasis, I suspect, on repair. Being in a moto shop is a foreign place for me all on it’s own. But it’s a nice place to sit and zone out, and there’s always something going on to watch, mindlessly. Only two of ten men are ever working at a time, so you can talk if you want to but it’s loud enough that talking doesn’t feel like an obligation either. I’m in the city for the day, not by choice. I came here to Koudougou two days ago with the intention of doing some major shopping to furnish my basically empty home. I’m almost forced to spend the night with the way the bus schedules work, so I arranged to sleep at the house of a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in the city. So yesterday I was supposed to catch the 2pm bush taxi back to my village, but it never came. Having no other options for getting home (especially after having bought a few big peices of furniture), the moto repair guy let me keep my furniture in his shop and I went to get a hotel room.

It was a relaxing night. I went with the mechanic to get chicken and beer last night before crashing, exhausted and sunburnt, in my luxurious hotel room — luxe because there was a ceiling fan and a screen on the window. I slept soundly and woke up, for the first time in a long time, without sweat on my skin.

Another foreign noise just took over my world. A guy’s voice over a speaker, sounding like an auctioneer too close to his microphone, was so loud the whole street of people could hear. Although it drew everyone’s attention for a second, they turned back to their work unphased for the remainder of his message. They were used to this. My first thought was that it was something religious, the sounds coming from a mosque or a church or a guy walking around with a loudspeaker calling people to prayer or repentance.

Just now, it arrived. The booming voice was a passing Airtel truck with massive speakers, advertising and promoting the day of 200% bonus. Airtel is a phone company here, and the one I use. So today if you spend 1000 francs on phone credits, (roughly $2), you’ll actually get 2000 credits. Good deal. With a discount code I can send a text to most people in country for 1 credit. Unfortunately it costs 20 credits to send a text to the person I text most here, because there is bad service in much of the north and east of the country.

Today — with moto repair shops, busy streets, and voices over loudspeakers — is not representative at all of my life in Burkina. Assuming the bus comes today as it’s supposed to, I’ll soon return to my little village, which is actually not that little but still very much village. In land area and population the village is huge. But the village doesn’t have running water, electricity, or stores. We don’t have bars or formal restaurants. Of course we have village equivalents of all these things: water pumps, solar panel energy, the man who sells rice and phone credit, the tree where the dolo-seller sells, and freshly prepared beans and corn for sale on market day. Dolo is a locally made alcohol, reddish and bitter, and its alcohol content? One can never be sure, and it’s changes day to day, seller to seller. Market day is every 3 days.

I live on the grounds of the CSPS, the CSPS being the village equivalent to a community health center, doctor’s office, and hospital. On site we have 4 health workers, semi-equivalent in American terms to a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist, and a woman in charge of the maternity ward. These four serve 10 to 12,000 people, covering an area a few dozen kilometers wide. So I’m the fifth health worker on site, the volunteer who so far doesn’t really do much for community health but will be active soon, after she is about three months settled in and speaks Mooré a bit more.

Overall I like my house, although I felt more comfortable in my Sanga room. But that will change soon, as I work to make my house a home. Right now my biggest stressor in Burkina is the rodent problem in my house, specifically: bats and mice. I have reptiles (lizards) and bugs (cockroaches, beattles, spiders, flies) too, but those hardly phase me by now. Actually they bother me a lot sometimes but it’s just life here. Apparantly so are the bats and mice, but my tolerance won’t stretch that far.

I’ve been cooking meals in my home on a gas burner. So far my favorite meal was spaghetti noodles with lentil sauce. I used whole green lentils I had leftover from the day before and added some tomato sauce. Cooking for one is hard, but luckily sharing food with neighbors and strangers is normal here, if not required.

Most of my days are spent relaxing, talking under a tree with various villagers, mostly men (unfortunately). Of course I don’t mind being in the prescence of men, usually, but I’d love to integrate as a Burkinabè woman here; that will be really hard. I guess it’s largely that my demographic — a woman old enough to be married and have children but isn’t and doesn’t — doesn’t exist here. After 7 or 8pm women stay home. But I cook dinner earlier than they do, have no children to wash, and have to husband to tend to. I’m also a night owl, and love drinking tea with people. So of course at 8pm I’d want to be in front of my house drinking tea and talking. I’ll either have to turn down this opportunity or accept that I’ll almost always be the only woman.

Other interesting things… I ate goat testicles for the first time the other day. I guess it didn’t taste bad, but it’s not something I’ll ever seek out/pay for. Even here I love painting my nails, but for the first time I left my right hand unpainted. That’s the norm here (even beyond Muslim circles) because your right hand should be clean for eating. I want to be able to reach my hand into any bowl of tô that comes my way, without feeling like people might see my painted hand not approve. They probably wouldn’t care, but still I guess it’s a small part of integration for me.

___________________

Written: September 21, 2016, late morning
From: the Marie Stopes International waiting room in Koudougou
Feeling: energized and excited
Hungry for: salad, fruit, or beer
Missing: my host family near Léo

I’m in the city again, this time by choice. I came with another PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) who lives in a village near mine. She has been here for a year and half, and is leaving soon, but I’m trying to spend as much time with her as possible and inherit some of her special connections and learn her tricks of the trade in this country before she leaves. We biked here. From my village it’s somewhere around 36km, a long but basically pleasant bike ride.

I’m at Marie Stopes, but no I am not here to get contraceptives or learn about family planning. I’m here to use their electricity (to charge my phone) and internet (to blog). As an American in Burkina, or in most western African countries, there are special permissions you obtain just from showing your face and greeting the staff in the local language.

Village life is crazy but it’ll work itself out eventually. I trust I’ll feel at home and comfortable soon.

The health facility in my village is undergoing massive changes right now. The major (head of CSPS in the village), the main nurse, and the midwife are not native to the village but are assigned and posted there. In French we call them functionnaires. So in my village there are three of them. One of them, the nurse, left the village (permanently) yesterday. The midwife is leaving this week. And the major is leaving in a couple months, as soon as he helps settle-in a replacement nurse and midwife.

So basically, in a couple months, I will be the most senior of the health workers at the CSPS. I’m excited about the change overall, but it’s also sad that many of the people I know best in Nassoulou are leaving. Recently the midwife and I have become good friends. I’ve slept at her house with her the past several nights because of the pest problems chez moi. Last night I told her I’m ready to go back to my house and sleep. She explained: no, Alima. I really don’t mind you sleeping at my place. Come again, one more night. Okay, I said. I didn’t need convincing. It’s so nice not sleeping alone in a dark home, in a village you’re not totally familiar with, with bats and beetles…..

Anyway, last night she and I had what is likely to be the last sleepover. We ate spaghetti with dried fish and talked for several hours before falling asleep. She likes to sleep with bright lights (powered by the solar panel battery) and the radio on — men speaking in French about who knows what, and sometimes it’s mostly static. But I like it now too. The light informs you that there’s no bats in your room. And the radio masks the creepy sounds of who-knows-what going on during the village nighttime.

There is a long story behind this, but quite simply I’ll say: I’m likely moving into the midwife’s house when she leaves. So although I’ll be sad for her departure, it comes with a big, bright silver lining.

I had a fancy city breakfast today: café au lait, with powdered milk instead of sweet and condensed milk that they serve in village; a veggie-filled omelette on bread; cold, clean water to wash it down.

Soon I’ll be eating a fancy lunch too. I’ll probably order salad and green beans and a Guiness with an ice cube. This is the meal I dream of, and what makes the 36km bike ride to Koudougou worth it.

My language learning is going well. Most people are impressed with my Mooré skills having been in country for only a few months. And everyone in village considers me perfectly fluent and French, and tend to blame themselves (and not my bad accent) when they can’t understand me. However, I desperately need to devote more time, on my own, to start memorizing vocabulary I have written down. I could write a book in Mooré if I was allowed to reference my extensive language notes. But I can’t take my language notes to the market or to the bar when I want to speak Mooré. Just kidding, I’ve done it before. People don’t ask why I look at notebook before asking them a question. But, no. I need to devote more time to memorizing.

Meal-wise I’m doing fine! I eat 2 or 3 meals a day. I often cook at home, making mainly oatmeal, spaghetti, and lentils. These are my staple meals for now only because these are the groceries I bought, and I want to use up all my current food before getting more. Basically I’ll eat the same few things for a month, and then change it up based on my new groceries and the new foods available at the market based on season. I can say that I’ll probably get really sick of spaghetti throughout my service here, (but I did splurge in Ouagadougou and bought whole-wheat noodles, so that makes me feel a little better). There’s also a small village restaurant a few minute walk from my house. She usually serves food at lunchtime; it’s always rice. I’ve really made this place my own, and even her children are warming up to me. I’ve gone there several times, sometimes eating but often just sipping a beer while I read a book or study Mooré.

I just finished a book last night: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s been on my to-read list for years, and Peace Corps gives you the opportunity to do a lot of the little things you never made time for in the U.S. Like reading for fun. I’m really hungry for books here, and I look forward to my next trip to the capitol so I can take more books from the Peace Corps library.

It’s hard to blog. I have to travel to a city to find Internet, and even then sometimes it’s a challenge. Also, to blog, one has to feel inspired. I can’t force inspiration for writing just because I’m in front of a computer with some sort of Internet connection. Anyway, I’m working on creating a system or schedule that is condusive to blogging, (e.g. write from my village on my phone, email it to myself, and post it when I find wifi). But most days blogging is my last concern, as I work to get settled into my new life.

So I guess that’s all I have to say for now! (Actually I could type forever, but from my phone it’s not that fun.) Thanks for being patient with me and my limited blogging.

Learning Mooré: Mam nooaga bee ye? (Where is my chicken? I bought a cock a week and a half ago. He sleeps at my neighbor’s house but wanders around the village during the day. Now that my neighbor moved out yesterday, I’m not sure where my chicken is. I’ll have to ask around…)


3 Comments

So Faso Good

image

Photo: my host mother cooking dinner with baby Ibrahim on her back.

I’m eating peanut butter cookies that taste so strikingly similar to my mother’s homemade ones it’s comforting. The internet connection is down again at the Cyber Café where I planned to blog today; there’s never been a more fitting time to say ‘if it’s not one thing it’s another’. Anyway, I’m resorting to blogging from my phone using cellular data I purchase by the month. We’ll see how it goes.

There’s all sorts of things I could say. The first month in a totally new environment will naturally provide countless stories of surprise and confusion, happiness and triumph. There’s also a slew of information thrown at me daily that would be interesting to write on, and of course so too would be the things that for me have become mundane basics but are still relevant for readers trying to imagine my new life.

African style, I’ll talk about my family first. I live with a Muslim family. My host father has two wives. Altogether there’s 11 children, so our family is 15 including me. The children are as follows:

Sankara Musa, boy, 14
Sarata, girl, 13
Adama, girl, 12
Rabiuatou, girl, 11
Abubakar, boy, 11
Sakinatou, girl, 7
Noufou, boy, 7
Alassane, boy, 5
Samiratou, girl, 4
Mussilime, boy, 3
Ibrahim, boy, 2

So yes, we have just about every age represented. I adore all my siblings and by now they’re all more than comfortable with me, (although only mom can satisfy a crying, hungry baby). Unlike many of the situations for other PCTs, Peace Corps Trainees, my house is seperate from other houses and who is my sibling, and who is not, is clearly defined. When my parents are home, the only children at our house and these 11 – and they’re always all there. I’m thankful for that because it has allowed me to become closer to my siblings and spend lots of time with them.

Samiratou is my baby. The family even refers to her as such: Alima’s baby. (You should know that, like in Senegal, my name is Alima here.) And she is. She can’t speak any French (and I speak only a few phrases and random words in Mooré so we can’t talk), but we have a good relationship. I favor her, you could say. But everyone is okay with it.

I haven’t talked to my host father too much yet, and I’m not sure about his French abilities, although I assume they are somewhat limited. Someday I’m sure we will have a conversation beyond basic things. Neither of my mothers speak any French, so it’s mostly just smiling and laughing and basic words like “bucket”, “water”, “beans”, “thank you”, in Mooré. However, my three oldest siblings speak French because of school, so they are useful and very appreciated translators. No one here speaks English.

We live in a small village called Sanga, so small that you won’t be able to find it on a map. Our compound is towards what I perceive as “the back” of Sanga, about 10 minutes by bike from the main road. There are a few homes visible from my own, but my home is fairly secluded, with fields on 3 sides, trees all around, and the forest behind. My home is built around a large courtyard where you can find three mango trees, three cows, numerous chickens, and sometimes visiting goats, (most recently a baby one at my bedroom door this morning who wouldn’t budge, apparantly too young to fear people yet). On the eastern edge of the courtyard we have an open air kitchen, where we can make 3 or 4 fires at once to prepare meals or hot water for bathing. Around the courtyard stand 6 buildings, made with a cement-like mud. Five of them are roofed. The eastern-most building is a kitchen, especially useful when it’s raining outside. This is also where we store some of our nicer kitchen ware and maybe some food. I haven’t explored in there much yet. On the roof of the building, I learned recently, we dry things like shea pits that can later be used for shea butter.

Clockwise, the next building is where my host father sleeps. I’ve never been in there. Next, past the cow mud, is the building where Sankara Musa sleeps, the first born son. He’s 14. Sankara, however, just left the family for a couple months. I’m not exactly sure where he went or why,  but seeing as how he is one of my main translators, and a good friend, it was very sad. I guess the next time I see him we can converse in Mooré. Next is the building without a roof, where we store random currently useless items that someday will probably become useful. It’s also, informally, a compost area.

Next is my building… or should I say palace? I am truly in love with the part of the home I get to call my own. When you walk in my door, you enter my bedroom/sitting room/kitchenette. My kitchenette is just a table with food necessities and my water filter. The sitting area includes an old cloth bench from a bus, and a metal table with a silk tablecloth. My bed, with 4 posts and a glamorous mosquito net, is suitable for a princess. My room also has a hallway that leads to my shower. It’s an indoor shower, with a window and a stellar view. Of course we don’t have running water or any plumbing, so my shower is just a cement slab with a hole in the side of the mud wall, but it’s probably my favorite place in Sanga. Also off from the hallway is my 12 by 18 foot walk in closet – an open room with a clothes line, and the place where I store all my belongings.

Between my building and the next is my latrine, where I poop. It’s a simple hole in the ground but I don’t mind it at all. For those curious, and I’ve already had a few ask, I don’t use toilet paper anymore. Don’t worry, I stay very clean. I’m comfortable talking about the subject further for anyone interested.

The final building before the door of the compound is the room where the women and children (except Sankara) sleep. My building, for just me, is bigger than the room where 2 women and 10 kids sleep every night.

I’ve do all sorts of things with my family several to pass the time. Several nights, between 7 and 10 of us gather on my bedroom to color. A kid will rip out a page, color it with my fancy roll up crayons, and then give it to me to check. “Yaa soma!”, I say in Mooré. Good job! I look it over for a couple minutes, really studying it so they know I care. Then there’s a section of my wall where I tape them. I told them they could take their pictures with them but they like their art being in my gallery. The coloring book is Disney Princesses, and it’s fun watching even my brothers take it so seriously. Actually, I recently learned that Abubakar (boy, 11) is the best artist of them all and, as he sat down to start, the other kids warned me of this: “Watch, he’s really good”, they explained.

We’ve also all gathered around on a mat to watch a movie on my laptop. There’s 2 English words the kids know. The first one I taught them is “Good night”. The first few nights after they learned it they lined up at my door, one by one, to all tell me “good niiiigh”. They still do it every night, sometimes at my door. Anyway, the second word they learned was “télé”… which actually I didn’t teach them, but one of them taught all the others. Télé refers to television which is what they call my laptop when they want to watch a movie.

However, my favorite thing to do with my family is lounge in the courtyard and just observe, talk, cuddle with the little ones, tease the older ones, and all around just serve as the entertainment. All the attention I get in Burkina (for being a foreigner and/or white) gets tiring sometimes, but I love being the reason why all 11 kids are talking and laughing (and sometimes fighting) on a mat that normally would seat only 3 or 4 people comfortably. My moms join in on the fun too, and if dad’s around he usually watches quietly from a short distance away. I wonder what goes through his mind.

As to not be overly ambitious posting from my phone with mediocre internet connection, and because my lunch break is near over, I’ll end this post here. I already have 2 more posts planned and partially written, and if this posting goes well, will post the next within the week.

That said, if you have any ideas for things you would like me to post about, please let me know! Also, I’m compiling a list of questions from family/friends/readers, so feel free to ask anything and I’ll anonymously respond to them all in a future post.

Lastly, if you want to send me letters or packages, you can do so at:

Alyssa Feenstra

s/c Corps de la Paix

01 B.P. 6031 Ouagadougou 01

Burkina Faso

 

Contact me, or my mom, for package content ideas, or wait to read my needs/cravings in a future post. Thank you!

Learning Mooré: Mam nonga benga, I love benga. (Benga is a bean grown widely in Burkina, and is my favorite food here. Yesterday I went to my family’s fields where the task of the day was planting benga seeds. I think they’re what we call black eyed peas.)


2 Comments

Destination: Burkina Faso!

In just a little over a week I’ll be on my way back to west Africa, the place I miss most…

I will serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in west Africa, slighter bigger in size than the state of Michigan, with an estimated population of 17 million people and a life expectancy of 55 years.

I will do pre-service training for the first three months in a village called Léo in southern Burkina Faso. Following training I will serve for 2 years in another village, TBD.

My job title is “Community Health Educator”, and my work may be centered around things like maternal and child health, nutrition, malaria prevention and treatment, hygiene and diarrhea prevention, HIV/AIDS awareness, and teen pregnancy reduction.

Language wise, my French skills will be a huge asset. However, I will also learn at least one other local language. The one I’ll start with is called Moore. Where I’m placed for my 2 years of service will determine if I have to learn another language (on top of French and Moore), and if so, which.

I don’t know many details about how life will look, but I’m excited to share my adventures with my family and friends at home (and in various places around the world).

This last week consists mostly of family time, time with some friends for sure too, and a little bit of organizing/packing.

Next weekend I will first fly to Philadelphia, spending a few days there with other Burkina-bound Volunteers. After that it’s from Philly to Brussels, and Brussels to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso…

Learning Moore: Laafi bala, I’m feeling good. (Used as the response for many greetings.)


4 Comments

So many are coming

You can take the girl out of Africa, but you can never take the Africa out of the girl.

Just after I got back from Senegal, one of my girlfriends texted me, “Hey are you done with Africa?!”

I answered politely, “If you mean am I home from Senegal, yes I am.” But even though I knew what she meant, the question bothered me a little. I am never “done” with “Africa”.

In fact, every single day since I’ve been back (not even missing one!), I’ve been fortunate enough to still interact with Senegal on some level. There are countless and unbelievable examples of this.

Some of you know that one of my summer jobs is related to African immigration to Detroit. I’m hired by the University of Michigan Department of History and am involved in a large research project about recent African immigration in Detroit. We are specifically interested in learning about African spaces in Detroit economically and socially. Our method is to conduct interviews with African entrepreneurs and business owners. My main focus is on women African hair braiding salon owners, but I interview other people too.

Currently I’m sitting at a Barnes & Noble. I conducted an interview in Redford (just outside of Detroit), and couldn’t even wait to get home to start putting my thoughts into words. It will probably take me days to mentally process what happened this morning.

For his confidentiality, I won’t give too many details. However, I interviewed a man who inspired me, encouraged me, and ultimately reaffirmed that this passion I have for Africa is real and God-given. At the beginning of the interview I told him I had been to Ghana, his country of origin. His eyes lit up in excitement, because he could stop saying “Africa” when he referred to where he came from — I had heard of Ghana? I knew of Ghana? I had been there?! I had loved his home country.

He wanted to know all about me then. I told him that after the interview we could talk about me, but first, him. After the hour or so interview went past, he said “Okay, so what are you? Who? Tell me.” So I turned off the recorder and told him about myself.

I told him I was an International Studies and African Studies major. I told him that I spent time in Ghana last summer and then recently four months in Senegal. Then I started telling him why and when I knew my heart was for Africa. I told him about Foday. I told him that as a young, naive, innocent little girl, it was half interest and half frustration that started me on this Africa thing, and I haven’t once looked back.

I’ve left Africa and I’m still making grown men cry.

He just cried. They were silent but quick dripping tears. He didn’t wipe his eyes for awhile, just kept listening. After a few minutes he said “Oh you’ve made me cry”. He said that my story and my passion were beautiful. He said I was beautiful.

My favorite part of the whole thing came next. In all my life, I will never forget it. He was asking me about Senegalese love interests. He asked if there was any romance. I said:

“You know, yes. There is some romance. However, I am waiting. I fully trust that God will bring me a Christian man.”

“So many are coming,” he assured me.

At this, we were both beaming. Laughing, but mostly just looking at each other in the eyes with wide, sure grins. The moment was so full of sincerity and peace. Sometimes it’s so hard for me to believe that yes, God is bringing me a perfect Christian man. Not perfect in your definition of “the perfect Christian man”, but a Christian man who understands me and likes me and understands or wants to understand my passions and life goals.

But when this joyful, wise, Christian, loving, encouraging Ghanaian man looks at you with tear filled eyes and tells you that “so many are coming”, guys… you have no choice but to believe him.

We were blessings to each other. He encouraged me and influenced me in ways I would have never imagined as we sat down to the interview, him still being so skeptical of why I wanted to talk to him.

This is my life and my passion. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Learning Wolof: Jabar: dekel, dundal, dekoo. It is a husband’s responsibility to shelter, feed, and satisfy sexually his wife. (While reading a research report about Senegalese hair braiders in the U.S., I came across many interesting Wolof phrases relating to gender and equality both in society and in the household.)


2 Comments

A little reflecting on little changes

IMG_8613

In picture: Me and my globe pillow I’ve had since I was a baby.

PSA to everyone in my life: I live in Ann Arbor, in a big beautiful house with 9 beautiful women. My bedroom is modest but nice. It’s not fully unpacked yet, but that’s okay. You (every one of you) are welcome to come over whenever you want! It’s something I loved so much about Senegal and will miss dearly: it’s not expected, and even can be rude, to ask to come over. Don’t wait for someone to invite you over: they won’t. And if you want to go over, don’t ask. Just go! If that means you are over every day, okay that’s fine. If that means you come over when your friend isn’t home – okay, fine, turn on the TV. If that means you come over when your friend is sleeping – okay, nicely wake him up, or not, but you can stay and hangout. You can treat my bedroom like a Senegalese one, if you want. Stop by! If I’m busy with something important I’ll make just a little time for you, but you can still eat some food and chill while I continue my work. I’m sure just about none of you will take me up on this offer, but it’s honestly there – if you show up at my house unannounced and ask for a drink and snack I will love you for it.

I’ve been home for ten days now and I finally feel like I am able to reflect on my time in Senegal and leaving Senegal. For the first week, it felt sort of like I was physically back in Michigan, but not necessarily emotionally. I still thought thoughts in French. For the first week, when I woke up in the mornings in my bed at home, I had to re-realize that I wasn’t in Senegal anymore. It was always the saddest part of my day. Often I would come close to crying. Once I did.

I realized today in the shower, (where all my best thoughts come), that my four months in Senegal and my next four months over this summer spent in Ann Arbor, are perfect opposites when it comes to many things relating to independence. That’s a confusing sentence I know. What I mean is that, for example, in Senegal I had no control over what I ate, for the first time since I was young. Now, in Ann Arbor, for the first time in my life, I have 100% control over what I eat; I buy groceries and cook all my own meals. In Senegal, for the first time in a long time, I had to be home by a certain time. I kind of had to announce when I was coming and going. I had to be respectful of the family. But now in Ann Arbor, for the first time, I have literally no rules and no one watching over me, (except my dearest roommates like Megan and Kelly of course). Even last year in the sorority house I had a house mom, and there were certain rules (ie: no boys over past midnight, etc.) It’s a weird transition is all I’m saying. The reverse culture shock is real.

Although I feel comfortably adjusted back to life in Michigan now finally, I also realized that some of me will never go back to normal. Waly had told me upon leaving Senegal that this would be a good thing. Senegal did change me, and it would be sad and stupid to think it didn’t. Some changes include:

  • I am more hospitable;
  • I am more willing to share – everything! Food and forks and literally just about anything
  • I am all around more at peace, relaxed
  • I am not as worried about being late, especially to things unimportant, although I still do love punctuality
  • I am more willing to do things I want to/are best for me without worrying about what others think
  • I have embraced life as a privileged American, more on this right here:

I have always known that I am privileged to be an American. I have somewhat understood this privilege too. I’ve known for a long time that people all over the world dream of coming to America, the land of milk and honey. The dreamland. I used to feel sentiments like this: Oh, if only they knew the problems we have here! It’s true, of course we have problems in the U.S. (One journal entry I wrote in Senegal included a list proving a new theory I have about all countries having an exact equal amount of “bullshit”, just manifested in unique ways.) But after my experience in Senegal, I realize that America really is quite a dreamland. Of course it’s easy for me to say that, being an educated, upper-middle class, white woman. However, in general, with enough effort (more is required for some populations perhaps) you really can be successful. Or maybe it’s safer just to talk about myself: I have realized that for me, American privilege means that if I want something enough I can have it.

This realization has amped up my work ethic. After meeting a hundred brilliant people in Senegal who want a job and can’t get one, I realized that I need to take advantage of the privilege and fact that there are so many jobs out there and I need to go get one! I actually recently got two. The first one I will talk about later in this post. The second one is at Tim Hortons, less than a three minute walk from my house; my first day is tomorrow.

Beyond new realizations, Senegal also has left me with a lot of questions. It’s good – there are many things I will continue to think about and educate myself on. The hardest transition of all upon coming home was with Yama. In Senegal, Yama and I were best friends with a side of romance. It’s been hard dealing with the “side of romance” now that I am here. We aren’t dating. And I think we are the kind of people who really can just be great friends for the rest of our lives and nothing else. But he means so much to me, it’s crazy really, and the side of romance has been really hard not to bring in my carryout box back to the U.S. I trust that God will handle the situation and show me what, ahem who, he wants for me. Senegal has made me very patient.

This post is very jumbled I know. There are a few more things I want to mention.

My main job I have, and the reason I am in Ann Arbor, is a research job. I meet with my boss and co-investigator in Ann Arbor, but the research is done in Detroit. The project is really huge, and I would love to tell you more about it if you ask. Basically I will be interviewing immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who live in Detroit. We want to learn all about their experiences, but specifically will approach those who have started their own business or have influenced specific social circles. As an example, my main task is to interview African immigrants who have started hair braiding salons. (From preliminary research today I found that these women are largely Senegalese! Which is beyond exciting. I will certainly floor them with my Wolof.) My co-investigator is starting by interviewing taxi drivers. We will create a public website with the results.

It seems so far that this job is a perfect transition from my life in Senegal to my life here. I am interacting with Senegal as intimately as possible without actually being there. This intimate interaction with Senegal also comes through my daily conversations with Yama and Sadikh, and also my Wolof lessons from Yama.

We had our first very official Wolof lesson today. Guys, it was by far the best post-Senegal moment of my life. Yama’s patience is unmatched, and we can communicate and fully understand each other all the time, against all odds. We use a free international application called Viber, but we use the voice message feature. Honestly it’s perfect for language lessons! I hear his voice speak the phrases, and he hears mine and makes sure I say it well… but it’s better than a phone call because I can replay the message over and over again. Tomorrow I will go back and review the stuff I learned from him today. I help him with English too, like yesterday when I corrected an essay he wrote about his academic life. We have a perfect system and beautiful friendship.

Beyond Wolof, I also work on my French every day with Rosetta Stone now. I want to get fluent in French of course, but what really motivated me to start was the fact that by the end of Senegal I had gotten really comfortable speaking French and I didn’t want to lose that. Rosetta Stone is obviously amazing. My parents bought it for me in 2011 (but I really haven’t used it), and Senegal taught not to take things like that for granted because not everyone can learn a language if only they want to hard enough.

I read again for fun, currently Divergent. I drink smoothies for breakfast. I scribble out plans in my agenda because it’s therapeutic, even though before I would never do that because it’s not “neat”. I let people come in my room even if it’s messy. Any of ya’ll can wear my clothes. Eat my food and drink my drinks. I give stuff away even if “but maybe I would use it some day”. I cuddle with my globe pillow and let other people too, even though before it was my prized possession only for the shelf. I notice little changes in myself now. They’re good.

Learning Wolof: Maangi sama negg di naan tey. I’m sitting in my room drinking tea. (My favorite phrase from my lesson with Yama today.)