Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso

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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 MoorĂ©: “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.