Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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showing a readiness to give more of something than is necessary or expected

It was never an original idea, my theory. There are probably lots of quotes, maybe even a Bible verse, which say the same thing. But I realized this theory for myself and decided a couple years ago to really live it out. It started out slowly, but I’ve gotten much better. I finally think I’m good at it, that it’s a habit, although there will always be room for betterment. Here it is:

If you are generous you will never run out.

Be generous, with everything: your time, your food, your clothes, your products, your things. All your things. Senegal has allowed me to see what happens when the majority of the population lives like this. (It’s beautiful). It has also has given me lots of instances to practice.

Sometimes the Americans here with me need or want something that isn’t easy to find in Senegal. Like tampons. On vacation with a limited supply, I generously gave my tampons. Then my period came late – the day I returned home. I shared precious American hair products and then was randomly gifted some later. Sometimes I have something from the U.S. that people here enjoy but never use, like Band-Aids and medicine. I’ve shared all my things like this from the U.S., very generously without worrying. Somehow I haven’t needed anything I’m out of. Sometimes someone makes a joke about me buying them something, but then plot twist: I do it. You know, a ten cent coffee or something. It’s small but it’s big too. Sometimes I am generous with my time, but then that person actually ends up saving me time, either then or another day. Generous is not something I’ve always been and I’m really loving being it now.

(And don’t think that I find it all some interesting unexplainable mystery. I find it all God.)

Learning Wolof: Bay maa, Leave me alone. (Sadly a very necessary phrase.)

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Pressing rewind

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In picture: The house we vacationed in this weekend. Stunning.

Bringing you an update in backwards order.

Z. Currently sitting in Yama’s bed on my laptop. He is next to me on his. He is writing an essay about himself in English for his English class which started last week. I am starting a 20 page essay in French about my internship which is due in two weeks. We occasionally ask each other for advice, and every thirty minutes or so we proof-read each other’s work. It’s a good system. And cute.

Y. I ate dinner (lentils, my favorite meal) and spent time with my family, “family” being an elastic word that includes my neighbor Laye (who has truly became a father to me here), and the close friends of my siblings.

X. I returned home from my internship. I had a long discussion with one of my coworkers. We talked about a lot of things, I don’t really remember exactly what, but one thing was that Senegalese people always love U.S. presidents, obsess over them even. Especially Obama because he’s black, but even Clinton. Every single one, except G.W. Bush, he said.

W. I had lunch with my boss’s family as usual. My boss had a young male guest over today. It was fun for me, not being the guest. I usually get royal treatment, but today I was just a family member and the royal service was given to the guy. I laughed internally at the whole thing, watching someone have to deal with walking the fine line called “polite”, balancing both denying things (like a nice chair when he really prefers sitting on the floor with everyone else) and being thankful and accepting things graciously.

V. Before that, at my internship, I spent most of the morning translating a document from French to English. It’s my major ongoing project there. The document is dense and wordy. But it’s good practice.

U. I woke up and walked to the bus stop. As I was walking past the women grain vendors across the street, I hear the familiar cry of a little baby. Saliou. One of the hardest things I’ll have to leave behind in a few weeks. He always cries when I leave. I rush over to him and pick him up, which instantly stops his crying, and take him down the road with me where I always buy café au lait. I return him to his grandmother after.

T. I woke up. I slept well. I heard and searched around for Alice, my pet mouse who lives in my closet. Didn’t find her.

S. I visited with my friends who I hadn’t seen in a few days – Jibi, Mouhammed, Sadikh. Sadikh and I talked on my porch for a half hour or so which was nice. I updated them on my vacation I had taken.

R. I ate dinner and spent time with the family, who all asked me how my vacation to Toubab Dialaw was. I was hoping they wouldn’t ask who I went with. They never did. I think they’re smart enough not to; they have so much sutura. I went with a boy, which is very taboo in this culture, (and agrees with Christian values). I have no idea what I would have said if they asked. I can’t imagine lying, but I can’t imagine telling them the truth, and I don’t know which I would feel worse about later. Theoretically if it was possible for them to choose, I know for a fact they would prefer to hear a lie – that’s a cultural thing too.

Q. Yama and I took a private taxi to Mermoz.

P. Yama and I took a shared taxi to Dakar.

O. Yama and I took a Dakar Dem Dikk (public bus) from Yene Guedje to bigger village close by.

N. Yama and I spent our last day on vacation, which included mainly breakfast, napping, lunch, and packing.

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M. Saturday – Our only full day of vacation in Yene Guedje. It was really good. Yama cooked dinner (and cleaned up) with little help from me. So delicious. We spent awhile on the beach, walking and having miniature adventures as they came up.

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L. Yama and I spent a lot of time walking and collecting seashells and sea glass and pretty rocks. This is one of my favorite activities and I’ve never been with a boy so into it too! I sacrificed my makeup bag (which now smells) so he could bring them home safely. (Yama has the best and biggest shell on display on top of his TV now. He just told me that he told his six year old niece that the snail is still alive, but just sleeping. Lalla is terrified and definitely won’t be touching (breaking) it.)

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K. Yama played a few rounds of beach soccer.

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J. A little girl brought me a puffer fish! It was so interesting. I had never seen one like it – it was like a huge white goose-bumped balloon full of water.

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I. Yama helped pull in a huge fishing net.

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H. I built a sandcastle with some girls and decorated it with shells.

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G. All the children on the beach came up to me to talk, testing my Wolof, and mostly just look at me. I didn’t mind but sometimes I feel a little bashful or something. When we were walking it the village it was even more crazy, every child announcing there was a Toubab, and often rushing over to me, “Bonjour Toubab!” I don’t mind it. And it kind of broke the ice making it easier to take a picture of me and this boy dressed up as a lion.

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F. Yama had peanut butter and jelly for the first time in his life. Of all the American foods I’ve introduced him to, this is the one he actually wants to eat again.

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E. Yama and I left for our vacation to Toubab Dialaw, but it actually ended up being in Yene Guedje. We rented a part of a gorgeous house on the ocean. I will never be able to explain how perfect the whole thing was. My favorite feature of the house was the mermaid [of no return] next to our door.

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D. I left my internship to go meet up with Yama for our vacation. I waited outside his English class and we left from there.

C. Friday – last work day of a long work week. I had my backpack packed full for vacation, including a bunch of food I had bought at the American Food Store near the U.S. Embassy.

B. The least best week of my stay in Senegal so far, but still not terrible. Certainly there were high points.

A. Had that amazing experience at church.
What’s facing me now? About three weeks left here. A twenty page paper and another smaller essay in French. My research project, which was finally just approved and I can now start interviews, (will post a blog update about that.) Buying gifts for people at home. Figuring out what I’m doing for the people who have done so much for me here. You know, things like that.

Learning Wolof: Lo ragala niak, boulko téyé. Don’t have what you are afraid to lose. (Yama taught me several days ago and I can’t stop thinking about it.)


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Sunday Morning Peace

Again I am blown away by my experience at church this morning. I visited an Evangelist church in Dakar, about a four minute drive from my house. I went alone today, although in retrospect I should have invited someone to come. Anyway, it was good time spent free of distractions.

The title of the sermon today was “A la recherche du bonheur”, The Search for Happiness. The preacher started off with a little story.

There was a man who lost his wallet after drinking a little too much. The next day he was searching along the road for it.

Another guy approached him and said, “What are you looking for?”

The man replied, “My wallet.” The two men searched and searched but did not find it.

“Are you sure you lost it here?” the second man asked.

“No, I lost it on the other side of the road”, the first man replied.

“Then why are you looking here?” the second man asked, confused.

“Because this side of the road is illuminated.”

After the church laughed at the story, the preacher went into his sermon. He asked what happiness is, and gave it the general definition of “internal satisfaction”. He suggesting some things that the world might offer as evidence of happiness: doing well at work, having a good husband or pretty wife, a nice car, a big TV…. a cellphone with a “petite pomme”, little apple, on the back. Then he asked what the Bible says about happiness. We read Psalms 1:1-6.

He had several good points during his sermon, but one main point was that you can’t search for happiness in a bad place. Another was that happiness that the world offers is futile.

The man looked for his wallet on one side of the road because it was easy to look there – there were street lights. But of course he won’t find what he’s looking for there. For me there are many places and things which are easy to pursue, easy to go and to try and find happiness there. But I know that what I’m looking for is on the other side of the street.

The preacher’s final conclusion was this: La recherche du bonheur est la recherche du Dieu. The search for happiness is the search for God.

The whole service was great. Again, the music was beautiful and inspiring. Together, both the passage we read and the act of taking communion made me think of this:

It’s one thing to drink water every day and stay hydrated. That’s excellent. But I haven’t been. I’ve been dying of thirst, so thirsty that I’ve started to forget that I am and it’s just become a part of my day. But now that I’ve finally taken a drink, I’ve taken a gulp. More than a gulp: today I drank and drank and drank. I was parched. But now I’m hydrated again. I should be better at keeping a water bottle by my side.

This is how I felt at church today, about my daily relationship with God. It’s hard to keep close with him every day, but now that I visited a wellspring today, I drank beaucoup.

The sermon was in French and there is a man who translates it into Wolof. Interestingly, whenever I was paying attention, my comprehension of the sermon was nearly 100%. That’s crazy, because in reality I am nowhere near fluency. I think it’s a combination of several things: The man spoke clearly and slowly and was animated. Furthermore, after each phrase, the Wolof translator spoke. This gave me the chance to a) reflect and make sure I understood the French phrase, and b) use my little understanding of Wolof to re-affirm what I thought I just heard in French. But the main reason I think I understood the entire sermon almost flawlessly was because God wanted me to.

When my mind would wander and I would stop listening to the preacher for a minute, my thoughts always took me to this: Oh I wish ‘so and so’ were here. Even in the U.S. I have this “problem”. When I’m sitting in a good sermon, I spend more time thinking about all the specific people I wish were hearing it instead of focusing on listening it to myself and taking it to heart. I used to get down on myself for this, thinking that I was overly concerned with other people hearing the truth and forgetting that I need to hear these words just as much as anyone. But today I had a different thought. Today I felt that it was God constantly sending me that message, “I want ‘so and so’ to be here.” Today I felt that it was Him laying that on me. I don’t do everything I could do to get those certain people to church! During the sermon today, I made a vow and small plan to start using this phrase that taunts me so much for good and invite people to church with me.

At the end of the service there is a time when anyone in the congregation can speak. If you have something to say you can stand up, and eventually a microphone will be passed to you. People had all sorts of different things to say. Someone announced a birthday. Some people thanked the congregation for continued prayer because they had received an answer. Many people mentioned that it was their first time at this church and they explained how it was that they found themselves there: on vacation, from another country there for an internship, etc. One man said that all week he prayed that God would reveal himself, and then late last night his dad called him and invited him to church. It was a miracle he said. I really liked this part of the service and I think that my church in the U.S. would really benefit from this. Perhaps there could be a set time limit so it wasn’t too disruptive to people’s schedules, (because you know Americans and their schedules). But I just feel like it’s possible that God lays on people all sorts of things that they should say. This gives everyone an outlet for expressing what God has laid on their heart.

I was in the church for two and a half hours. A combination of many things makes for a long service: communion today, lots of announcements, the dual-language sermon, the people at the end with things to say. But it didn’t feel that it lasted anywhere near that long. I was totally captivated. When I left, I was in such an elevated mood and I think it’ll linger for at least the rest of today. I tipped my taxi driver well even though tipping taxi drivers isn’t a thing here. I walked in the house smiling, not dreading greeting everyone I’d find there. Now I’ve hidden myself in my room to reflect on the sermon and wait for lunch. Sunday lunches are always good.

Learning French: Celui qui n’aime pas n’a pas connu Dieu, car Dieu est amour. 1 Jean 4:8, Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8


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TGIF because this week man…

I got my wallet stolen today on the bus. It was bound to happen sometime because I wear my backpack on my back and the bus is so cramped and crowded. People tug and pull and hit me all the time, so it was nothing out of the ordinary when it happen this morning. However, today I felt a different kind of tug and I did look behind me. There was a guy who appeared to be picking something up from the floor.

Really, now, I think he wasn’t picking something up from the floor. He was probably the one who took my wallet. I definitely had had it with me because I paid the money collector with it. When a seat opened up on the bus and I sat down, I saw that the small pocket on the front of my backpack was wide open. The man who had been standing behind me had already left the bus.

It’s not a big deal. I leave my ID and my debit card at home unless I’m going to the ATM, and then it’s a specific there-and-back trip. Usually my keys are attached to my wallet, but for some reason today my keys weren’t. Also, in the same pocket with my wallet, if he would have reached a little deeper, is my iPhone. Because I’ve had the same phone for 4 years, it contains so many things that I couldn’t bear losing/someone else having. Lastly, my wallet only had about 1000 francs in it, which is about $2. I almost never have that little of money on me, but luckily today it was such.

The situation is minor, and there are some good parts. It reminded me to not get too comfortable here, even though I’m starting to feel safe, at home, and like I know what I’m doing. I will put my iPhone and money in the large part of my backpack from now on to make it hard to get. I’m sure some people would advise that I wear my backpack on my front, but honestly I don’t want to be that paranoid. Plus, sometimes I feel like that makes me look like I’m carrying truly valuable things. Those who follow my blog closely already know that I met an aggressor face to face, during the day, who would have demanded my backpack if it wasn’t for some guards scaring him away. I think that it may have been the case that the person who stole my wallet really needed that money more than me. I hope so. I also hope I see my sparkly black wallet for sale along the road someday so I can buy it back. Lastly, my co-worker gave me money to borrow for the day. Have no fear: I still bought cafe au lait for breakfast and have money to take the bus back home.

In every society there is a targeted group, a group more prone to become victims of something. Here, that’s me. I am new here, I’m not familiar with most things, I don’t speak the language. And the worst part is that all of these things are so obvious if only you just look at me. There have been a few bad things that have happened to me here and when I talk about them, the people here who love me sometimes justify or stand up for Senegal, telling me that that’s not really how Senegal is. What I want them to know is that Senegal is standing up for herself. I love this country and its people. A few bad apples, even several, won’t ruin it for me.

Learning Wolof: Ci kanaam, See you later. (pronounced: chee KAH-numm. Literally translates as “at before”. I feel like I’ve heard this phrase before Senegal. It sounds Japanese or something.)


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The malaria pill countdown: 46

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In picture: My first ever wedding crashing experience. The reception was beautiful.

1. For Easter weekend, the Catholics in Senegal bring ngalakh to every Muslim household. Ngalakh is a sweet porridge, millet based and then flavored with peanuts and the fruit of baobab trees. They don’t just bring a bowl of it – but a whole pail or two. I ate some at Yama’s house. At my house, however, my mother said that it wasn’t good for Toubabs, that it would make me sick. Maybe she just didn’t want me to fall in love and eat it all, because I might have. Anyway, it’s a nice picture of Christian love being spread to their Muslim neighbors.

2. The first day of my internship my boss told me I was to eat lunch every day with his family. I still can’t get over how wonderful it is going to his house every day, but then I think, well of course, this is Senegal. My boss’s wife is one of my favorite people I’ve met – so easy to talk too, but also lets me fully be me. That means if I’m not in the mood to talk we can just sit quietly and it’s not awkward. Silence is golden would be my first tattoo. My boss’s parents and grand-mother live there too. Four generations living under one roof, and that’s normal here. My boss also has three daughters, aged roughly two, seven, and twelve. The youngest, Khady, is just now starting to warm up to me. Last week Khady was playing outside and fell, cutting her lip and/or gums. At first when she started crying, Mom didn’t even glance away from her cooking. Then Khady screamed, the blood-curdling kind so of course Mom tended to her. But her “tending” was notable for me, including only: 1) a quick hug, where Khady’s mouth blood got all over Mom’s yellow skirt, 2) “Maasa, maasa”, Wolof for “sorry” when someone is feeling pain, while splashing cold water on Khady’s teary face 3) a 100 (18 cents) franc piece. And that was it. Khady’s sister took her by the hand to go spend her 100 francs. On the way out of the house Khady stopped crying, and came back with a bag of Senegalese style Cheetos, and 50 francs in change. She played with her swollen lip all day but made no mention of it. What a tough girl! That’s how they make them here. (Or maybe I’m just a baby, or maybe when I have kids I’ll realize that this is the way most moms respond in this situation.)

3. On Friday night, out of the blue, Yama asked me if I wanted to accompany him to a wedding reception. Um, yes! I went home to get ready, as best I could, although I realize now I should have done better to bring nice outfits (shoes) to wear. It turns out that the woman getting married was Yama’s ex girl-friend which amused me greatly, not sure why. In many ways the reception was similar to an American one. There was dancing, and cake, and lots of pictures, and mostly people just sat around. The guests were dressed to the nines (is that the expression?), and I really didn’t fit in – not that I ever fully could being a Toubab. The bride was stunning and the little girls and boys running around in formal wear killed me, of course. We took home party favors, takeout boxes with all sorts of interesting little foods in them I had never tried. And juice, juice of course.

4. As discussed previously on my blog, the organization I intern with, among other things, coordinates a child sponsorship program. A sponsor from the U.S., France, China, etc. will be partnered with a child to make sure he can get an education. I love being on this side of the situation, interacting with the kids and seeing what they have to go through in order to receive the money. Last week there was a five or so minute episode I will never forget. A boy, probably around the age of eleven or twelve, came in because he had received a sponsor. My co-worker handed him a 2 by 3 inch slip of paper with a name on it: Robert Martin. He asked my co-worker if it was a male or female, and my co-worker turned to me for an answer. “Man”, I said. The student smiled, staring at the name. He started repeating it to himself, with poor pronunciation, quietly, over and over. Eventually when the name had become familiar in his mouth, he started tracing with his finger the careful cursive letters of the name. Again, and again, slowly. I could sense the sheer joy he had inside him. Then he started his first letter. Cher Robert Martin

5. If you have a two lane road, you can comfortably drive three cars wide. But if you add just one more lane to make it three, you can drive five cars wide. Dakar taught me.

6. I’ve started taking my malaria pill every day at dinner because it’s the only meal I eat at home now, usually. Every time I open my pill container I am, for a second, relieved at how many little maroon pills are still in there. I still have that many days, I remind myself. That’s a lot. But then I remember that there’s enough in there to take them every day for a week after I return home. And then I remember that the doctor also sold me five extra. And then I remember that I originally started with two containers. And then I cry.

Learning French: formation, training course (All week co-workers were talking about the upcoming “formation” and I didn’t realize what it was until today when I participated.)