Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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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.)


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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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First day of my internship – finally!

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In picture: Jibi, right before we both got drenched by a huge wave. We had gone to watch the sunset. It was my first Senegalese sunset. Thankfully Jibi is a gentleman so he let me wear his sweater while he froze in his tank.

C’est la vie, Yama often reminds me. That’s life. I’ve been remembering this as I face all sorts of interesting issues.

I finished with my first day on the job at my internship! It’s honestly such a long story, but I’m no longer working at the internship with the prisons that I had originally planned on and was accepted to. To put it simply, and really I don’t know all the information anyway, my boss is very busy and he decided that there isn’t that much I would be able to do besides a lot of reading. I’m thankful for him being honest about that up front so that my internship doesn’t consist of doing just the things I could do from an American library.

After I received the information that I wouldn’t be at that internship, Waly and I talked a lot and he found me another one. But, in my head and heart I had a small little struggle. You see, originally I was to move to a village for my internship. I would absolutely love to experience life in a Senegalese village and greatly improve my Wolof. I know I’m cut out to live that kind of life – I could handle it. However, when the prison internship was on the table I thought that it would be a really interesting experience for me, and perhaps relevant for my future. But that would require me to stay in Dakar. Anyway, I knew that it would be unlikely that I got the prison internship, so I decided that if God wanted me to stay in Dakar and do the prison internship, he would make it happen. If he wanted me to go live in the village and do something there, he could easily make it so that the prison internship wasn’t an option. I asked him to guide me.

But then the prison internship was made an option just long enough so that it was impossible to move to the village, but short enough that it wasn’t going to work out. Perhaps I’m not listening to God close enough and instead am choosing based on my own desires, and not his. Or, contrarily, maybe it was his idea that I don’t do the prison internship, but that I really should stay in Dakar.

Mostly I’m content with how things are now. I’ve always been the kind of person to build my network of relationships deep not wide, (if friends are coins, I prefer 4 quarters to 100 pennies). In that way, I’m excited to strengthen and deepen the relationships I already have in Dakar. So far my internship is great. My boss is phenomenal and the two co-workers I’ve gotten to know are also very patient and nice. Which everyone in Senegal is patient and nice, but they are beyond average. As far as improving my Wolof goes, I have decided that I will do some studying on my own. I love Wolof enough to actually do this, and my main motivation is so that at the dinner table I have new things to tell my mom. She gets a total kick out of any new Wolof phrase I can tell her.  And another thing I’ll miss out on by staying in Dakar, experiencing a new environment, is also tempered by the fact that I work in the part of Dakar called Yoff. Although Yoff is in no way comparable to village life, it is very different from the part of Dakar I live in – Mermoz. In that way, I am experiencing something very new while I pass each day there.

The organization I work with is the Association pour la Promotion Economique, Culturelle et Sociale de Yoff, or APECSY. It’s basically an NGO that strives to promote development while guarding the vibrant Senegalese culture. I’m excited to formulate a stronger opinion about how development and culture interact because it has been one of the most interesting things for me here. I’ve written about it in my journal countless times. For example, I often struggle with eliminating the idea that a lot of culture needs to be lost in order for “development” to arrive. Sometimes I notice things that are cultural and beautiful, but these things aren’t good for promoting development. A few weeks ago Waly told me something that I’ll always remember. Put simply, he said we westerners need to be careful to not “preserve culture for the outsider”. For example, I shouldn’t aim at preserving Senegalese culture because I think it’s a beautiful juxtaposition from American culture. Yes, I wish every westerner could come here and experience Senegal because in so many ways it contains exactly the good things American culture lacks. But it’s not fair for me to want to preserve a culture that isn’t benefitting the people who live in it. If they seek development, moving from a hut to a brick and metal house for example, who am I to say “no, but your hut is so pretty and interesting and I want to stay in it!”

The first day on the job was nice and totally relaxed, lacking the stress that the first day on the job might have for someone in the U.S. I had one task today, and I started and finished it. The NGO does a whole bunch of different things, and I already know that “a typical day at work” won’t exist (yay!). Today I organized a giant stack of papers. The stack contained forms and a photograph of hundreds of children who live in Yoff, between the ages of fresh and about 8 years old, but usually around 4 or 5. I was to create a file folder for each child. Basically this is the situation: each child has a sponsor in the U.S., Canada, France, or China. You’ve seen it – pay X amount of dollars daily or monthly to feed a child or send them to school. My family in the U.S. have done it, but now I’m on the other side. I am meeting those children! The NGO I work with facilitates the program. A few of the sponsored kids were in the office today doing what they need to in order to stay sponsored. They really earn the money that they receive. In their file they have a notebook. They are required to write letters to their sponsor on a regular basis, updating them on their life. If the sponsor writes letters too, that correspondence is kept in their file. Sadly, the Senegalese children would write several letters a year and usually there were no letters back, although notably Brian and Tim were good at writing back to their child. I also cleaned out file folders from kids who had become too old to receive money. One girl specifically had all the letters she had written from 2006 to 2012. She also had several pictures of herself in there, as to keep her sponsor updated on what she looked like. I’m really nervous that my boss is going to throw all those old stacks away. Honestly they aren’t something I should be allowed to browse through, but oh my goodness would it be so interesting.

Another thing in the file folder is a form with information about the children. It entertained me so much! The question that was in the specific position on the page that I could glance and read without appearing like I was reading the forms as I put them in their folders was a question about what they like to do during playtime. The child who was most enthused and adorable in his photo said that his favorite thing was to play with his mom. His family described him as curious. Another boy said that his favorite thing was to play with the sheep. Didn’t contain my grin when I read that one.

The best part of the day was lunch time! My boss told me that each day I am to walk to his house and eat with his family there. (Honestly, what? That is incredibly nice. I will be saving money, eating outstanding food, and have the company of wonderful older women and his three beautiful daughters.) We ate ceebujen, the national dish of Senegal and the most common lunch. It was hands down the best ceebujen I’ve ever eaten here, and I’ve eaten a lot of it. Yama asked me some questions and then explained that it’s because an older woman made it. At my house in Mermoz, our maid cooks it. She can’t be more than twenty or so years old so she hasn’t had years of practice like my boss’s wife. Before lunch, admittedly, I took a long nap on their couch. So did the youngest daughter who is about three. With a two hour lunch break what’s better than a nap and phenomenal ceebujen? I also loved talking to middle aged and older women. Usually it’s only men who want to talk to me.

After work I rode the TATA bus home. It was my first time ever riding one and I did it alone. It was so easy actually, but I had to keep my brain powered up for a while. Yoff is about a 45 minute bus ride from Mermoz. (One thing I still can’t fathom is the huge-ness of Dakar. Guys it’s seriously unbelievably expansive.) I am only familiar with perhaps 4% of Dakar, so traversing a large part of it and having to tell the bus driver when to stop was a little nerve racking. I didn’t know if it would be fifteen minutes or three hours, but I just waited until I saw something I recognized so I could walk the rest of the way home. Then, not progressively but randomly and suddenly, I saw something I recognized – Caesars, a restaurant about five minutes from my house. I stood up and made eye contact with the driver. He stopped and I walked just a couple minutes home where my neighbors and the men that often hang out at my house greeted me with smiles and handshakes. “Peace be you with”, I said, in Arabic, as is necessary. “And also with you.”

Anyway, all is well in my life. The past week I sat around doing a whole lot of nothing as classes were finished but there was trouble getting my internship on the ground running. I’m flexible and didn’t stress out about it. That’s the necessary attitude to have when you’re in “Africa”, but specifically here in Senegal. I think I’ve always harbored the qualities necessary to live a peaceful, stress-free life, but I’m really realizing and cultivating them now. Maybe all of the stressed Americans out there harbor the seeds necessary to live a life of “jamm rekk” but those qualities aren’t withdrawn in western culture. I’m excited to bring my new “do life slowly, be a peaceful presence for all” style back to the U.S. I think I can hold on to it for at least a little while.

Learning Wolof: Lekk naa ba fii, I ate until here. (You must also make a hand motion to show how far you ate until. I make it just under my chin. I’ve been saying this after dinner frequently for the past couple weeks and my mom laughs every time. Still she insists that I eat more but honestly mama I couldn’t if I tried.)