Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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Updates a pigg laa ta

A DOZEN & ONE UPDATES

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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.)

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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