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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So Faso Good

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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.)


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A little reflecting on little changes

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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.)