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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Settling In

 

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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…)