The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely mine and not connected in anyway to the United States Peace Corps.


my first month of training!

So through training I’ll have internet once a month, these entries are going to be super long, but I promised my parents I’d keep them up to date and I know while I was going through the application process I was constantly trolling blogs to figure out what life in PC was like.  Take the entries one day at a time—then it’ll be like I’m updating you each day for a week! Plus it’s waaaay too much to read in one sitting and I’d hate for you to think I’m long winded and boring :-P  I can’t get on FB—the bandwidth is too big for the internet speed I get here so contact me by email or snail mail!

June 17, 2011
Not gonna lie, as our bus drove past the huts that make up the village we’re stationed at for training I got this nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach and very nearly teared-up.  I guess it just hit me as I was looking at all these “houses” what kind of conditions I’m actually going to be living in. And here I am, sitting on my bed at my host family’s house after a lovely welcome celebration of traditional Burkinabe dancing/music, an adoption ceremony where we were formally matched up with our host families and very filling dinner of riz gras (their version of fried rice).  The adoption ceremony was at the training center at the middle of the village were I’ll be having classes every day and it’s about a 30 min bike ride from my host family’s house—I think I’ll be biking a grand total of 4 miles every day—whoo-hoo! 
After my host brother Romield put my 50lb suitcase on top of his head to carry it to his moto and my host sister Laurence (yes, pronounced the same as Lawrence, KS so I get to think of you guys every day when I talk to my host sister!) did the same with my 30lb suitcase, I convinced them to let me keep my backpack (because there really was no more room on the back of that moto) and I biked the 2 miles here.  My host mom is really kind and always smiling but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t speak French…or perhaps I really know absolutely no French because I have no clue what she’s saying to me.  And oh man, I understood maybe 1 word out of each sentence that my host siblings said to me.  I’m so glad I picked up a little French phrasebook from the travel store in KC or else dinner tonight would have been ridiculously confusing—and it was confusing enough as it was!  We were told during one of our cross-cultural sessions that women would eat together and men would eat together and the children would probably eat after the adults were done—but I guess since I’m a guest my gender isn’t as important because I was served dinner first … and ate alone.  Which was just as awkward as it sounds like it would be—mostly because my host family was surrounding me and watching me eat; maybe to see if I liked the meal?  Anyway, after eating a plate (they gave me a spoon, but I wanted to really experience how they eat, so I used my hands like they told us to at training) I said I was tired and came in here. I kinda feel like I’m being anti-social, but I just couldn’t handle the communication barrier anymore.  It’ll get better though, I mean, it can only get better than it is now, right?

June 21, 2011
Oh man, I absolutely love my host family.  We mostly communicate using hand gestures and laughing a lot—but they go way out of their way to make sure that I’m comfortable. (btw, I was right, my host mom doesn’t speak French, only the local lang, Moore). My host brother Anatole is really patient and sits with me after training slowly speaking French with me and watching/helping me with my French homework. They also won’t let me help with anything!  Every time I go over to Laurence and ask if I can help she says something to my younger sister (Tuscien) and I’m ushered into the only real chair in the courtyard which has become my chair—they bring it out for me to eat breakfast and dinner in and afterwards it goes back into the covered kitchen hut.  I haven’t brought out my camera around my host family yet, but I’ll probably bring my camera out around the last mouth of training so come September I’ll be able to show you my family! I’ve snuck some pictures of my bit of the house so you can have an idea how I’m living right now and I’ll try to explain the rest of the house.  The “house” is like a compound of different huts.  The living room/dining room/hang out area is an open air courtyard in the center of all the huts.  Most of the huts are people’s bedrooms, and one is a kitchen area that’s only used when it rains. I feel like my hut is pretty big—I have a table and a bed, room for all my luggage AND space to walk around!  I also have my own shower and latrine area (both are open air—which the exhibitionist in me is seriously enjoying) but don’t worry mom, the walls are high enough that if people tried to peek over, I’d see them!  My family really doesn’t have much in the way of furniture or dinnerware—there are 3 plates, 2 knives and 3 spoons, 3 pots to cook in and 2 covered and 2 non covered bowls. They have a tiny table (that only I use), a couple little stools, a long bench, a chair my host brother sits in and my chair. Fancy, huh?  Also, I feel like there must be some symbolism inherent in the fact that the cup I use to take bucket baths with is the same cup I drink tea out of every morning…I’ll let you know if I figure that one out.

June 25, 2011
Yesterday I had my first Burkina public transportation experience—6 hours in an unairconditioned bus on dirt roads—WOAH. I was basically covered in dust when I got out.  And for the last 2 hours of the ride, this lady with a live chicken in her lap sat next to me… oh Africa. Anyway, we are on Demyst, which basically means that I’m with my language group (2 other trainees and my language instructor) and we’re staying with a current PCV in our sector (education) to see what their life at site is like (ie: demystification about what we’ll be doing if we make it through training).  The PCVs we’re staying with are this adorable couple, Tyler is formal education (teaching math to high schoolers) and Jessie is non-formal education (girls education and empowerment so she does girls clubs, sex-ed, and self-esteem building type activities for the community) which is great because 2 of us in my lang group are formal ed and the other girl is non-formal!  This trip is kinda perfect timing too because I’ve been feeling a bit down at training, my host family is wonderful but since I don’t know enough French yet we can’t communicate beyond really simple statements and it gets frustrating not being able to delve into deeper subjects beyond, “thanks, I enjoyed the meal” or “yes, I did have a good day/sleep/whatever.” It’s really weird and kinda hard to admit to myself but I guess the best way to explain it is that for the first time in my life I feel like a foreigner, and since I like to think of myself as someone who integrates easily and travels well (and I have 10+ weeks of experience backpacking in countries where I didn’t speak the language) realizing just how much of a foreigner I can be is a little heart-breaking.  BUT seeing how integrated Tyler and Jessie are with their community is—as cheesy as it may sound—inspiring and Jessie came to Burkina with my level of French!  Now they’re friends with the Functionaires (government workers, ie: Burkinabe with money) and have really made an impact in their community.  Hearing the difficulties they had through training/when they first got to site and how they overcame them is exactly what I needed.  I’m so excited to get to site now!  I just have to get through the next 2½ months of training :-P

 June 28, 2011
Well, it’s happened.  I’ve gotten sick beyond the “normal” sickness that one would expect coming to Africa (ie: Diarrhea).  Somehow, I’ve managed to contract bronchitis.  Don’t worry though; the PCMO (Peace Corps Med Officer) prescribed me some antibiotics.  During one of our med sessions our PCMO told us there would be a day when we’d call him up and say, “Jon-Luke, I’m dying!” and he was right—I did feel like I was dying when I was coughing up a lung and unable to breathe and just utterly exhausted. AND THEN I had to bike 2 miles home!  But, I’m only telling you about this because I feel better now (so you can stop worrying mom) and I survived my first serious illness in Africa!  Score 1 for me.  I think it was the 12 hours worth of dust I inhaled during the ride to/from demyst and the PCMO said next time I ride public transport I have to wear a mask.  I’ll be like a tourist during the bird flu scare!  It’s worth not contracting bronchitis again though, so I don’t mind looking a little silly.  In Burkinabe culture when someone is sick the thing to do is visit them which may seem like a nice idea in theory, but sitting in the courtyard having strangers from the village come up to me and try to talk to me while I was at the height of feeling ill—NOT COOL.  I went along with it for an hour and then finally said I was tired and slept for 18 hours, which is what I needed.  My poor host family though, they were so worried about me! It made me glad that I’m staying with a family though, rather than by myself—it’s nice to have someone care that you’ve fallen ill—I’ll have to make friends fast once I get to site because I’ll be living on my own there!

July 1, 2011
How do you convince someone that continuing their education in the hope of going to university someday waaaay down the line is more important than getting food on the table for that day?  For most of these farming families that is the choice it comes down to—either have the children help out by selling fruit/products made at home in the local market to get money for the day while the parents plant/harvest/work in the field or let the child go to school and not get that little extra income they desperately need.  It’s hard to think long term when you’ve got children to feed NOW.  My two oldest host brothers (aged 26 and 21) own a little kiosk in the local market where they sell shoes, and some other random commodities—but I’m not sure that actually generates them much income and if it did, I’m not sure they’d be able to handle the money well because the farthest either of them have gone in education is primary school (and it’s not like there are mutual funds or stock options they can invest their money in if they were able to save any of it).  The government requires that kids stay in school until they’re 16 and since I’m in a bigger village that usually is the case.  But a 16 year old kid in Burkina Faso might still be in primary school, or maybe, if they’re really smart they might be in middle school.  My 21 year old host sister is still in school (yay!) and she’s in 3e which is equivalent to our sophomore year –there’s 3 more years of schooling left before university but before she can move up a grade she has to pass the BEPC exam which is really hard.  The BEPC even has an English oral/written section, along with math, French, science and history sections. Of course, since it’s the girls’ job to take care of household activities I have yet to see her study—she just doesn’t have the time—but I hope she does well. I can’t wait till I’m good enough at French to be able to talk about things like the importance of staying in school and the long term effects of an education with my host family, especially my 2 younger siblings who are 17 and 12.

July 5, 2011
We celebrated America’s birthday here in Burkina Faso!  We all splurged a bit and had some pizzas sent in from Ouga (about an hours drive away) and some trainees got together and made salsa and guacamole AND homemade tortilla chips.  That’s right, we celebrated America with Italian and Mexican food—fitting choice for the melting pot of the world I thought. There was singing of the national anthem as well as blasting American rap music really loud. Dance party!! We also only had a half day of training which was a nice break.  It’s weird to think that next week I’ll have been here for a month.  In one way, it has gone by quite fast and in another way it’s as though I’ve been here for a year already—I’ve adapted to using a latrine and showering outside and sleeping under a mosquito next and always being hot; it’s absolutely incredible what we can handle (which might be a weird thing to say since this is actually the way some people have lived their entire lives!).  But coming from the USA and all the conveniences that come along with that life, adapting to this life in Burkina was an easier transition than I thought it would be. There are definitely some things I miss though, conveniences as well as people. Oh, and food.  There’s definitely American food I already miss.
I’ll update again in a month!  My friends, I miss you dearly and think of you often, <3.


let's get it started in here.

I don't get internet often--so my posts are going to be a compilation of days, here goes:

June 12, 2011
Well, here I am in Africa!  I said my goodbyes to America and headed off to Burkina Faso with 50 other PCT (Peace Corps Trainees).  Africa is … hot.  That’s probably expected though.  It’s also beautiful and friendly and very very exciting. Of course, I might be a bit biased :-P 
It’s kinda weird because the weeks leading up to Africa I went through a ton of different emotions: nervousness at moving to a country I’ve never been to before, sadness at leaving my wonderful friends, anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to hack the whole Peace Corps experience…I’m sure there were some good emotions in there too :-P.  But now that I’m here, all the bad emotions are gone and I’m only excited and surprisingly content—even with the constant sweating and layers of deet I keep having to slather on myself.  I guess that means I’m in the right place!
So far we really haven’t started training, I guess Sunday is a day of rest even here in Burkina so we had lunch at the country director’s house, got to hear traditional Burkina music and eat traditional food (all thoroughly cooked and ‘safe’, no worries Mom), and just chill and get to know each other.  Some people brought guitars and ukuleles so we’ve had some music circles of our own—no kubaya yet, but sitting in a group in the African dirt humming along to the acoustic music screams Peace Corps in my mind; I absolutely love it.

June 16 2011
Tomorrow I move away from the capital (and internet and electricity...) and into my host family's home!  I'm really excited, and more than a bit nervous about it mostly because they won't be able to speak english--hopefully that means I'll be learning French really fast!  In order to pass training and swear into the Peace Corps (that's right, I'm not actually a volunteer yet, I'm just a trainee) one of the requirements is testing orally at an intermediate-high French level.  Right now I'm at novice-medium so I've got some improvement to make!  The immersion setting is only a good thing though and during my 7 hour training days we'll have language classes in there (as well as cultural training, classroom training, etc) plus PC pays for a tutor if we need it (in French or a local dialect) c'est bon!
We got a 3 hour crash course on the necessities we would need to know about moving into our host family's home, for example: when approaching the latrine (hole in the ground covered by a corner wall so people can't see you going to the bathroom) you're supposed to clap and say "coo-koo" as a form of knocking to see if anyone is there.  Also, as a girl I can't wear tank tops, even if i'm in the courtyard of the family BUT I can wear a ponya (not sure how to spell that) which is basically a specific length of cloth with crazy prints on it that hits me below mid-calf with crazy prints on it.  I can just wrap it around my body (so I'd be covered but my arms and shoulder's would be bare) and that's perfectly acceptable.  In fact, ponya's are used not only as a wrap/towel to and from the shower (bucket bath) area but the more expensive ones are made into awesome dresses and pant suits.  I can't wait to get clothes made--the tailors here are amazing and if you show them a picture of what you want they will make it for you, even if they've never see anything like it before!
One of the biggest cultural differences is how you buy something--and I'm not talking about bargaining the price down.  When you go to the market or to a restaurant you don't just immediately ask how much something is or say that you want a coke, first you have to greet the person and if you're in the market you have to ask how they are doing, how their work is doing, how their family is doing--even if you've never seen them before in your life!  and they ask you the same things in return.  It's like a ritual to go through before you get down to business.  I made the mistake tonight of going up to a vendor and saying, "je voudrais un coka s'il vous plait" i was just asking for a coke and was very excited/nervous about ordering in French but the lady ignored me!  a current volunteer that was there explained my mistake to me after which i apologized to the lady and eventually did get my coke (which was very yummy!). I guess beyond being a ritual it's also a sign of respect and around here showing respect is the only way to get respect--which is really important, especially if you want people to look out for you.  Why should they care if you get robbed in front of them if they have no connection to you?  But if you've shown them respect, if you do get robbed in their restaurant they will be more willing to help you.  It'd more nuanced than that I think, but at midnight after an exhausting day that's the best explaination i can come up with.

I'm not sure when I'll have internet next, but I'll be sure to keep recording my adventures and observations and since I'm moving in with my host family and beginning training I should have lots of stories for you next time I update!!!  


the invite.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment I received that email.

Good Morning, M,
I am writing to introduce myself as your Placement and Assessment Officer here at Peace Corps Headquarters. Now that you are medically cleared I completed my final assessment of your application today. It is clear that you demonstrate many of the characteristics Peace Corps seeks in successful Volunteers, such as adaptability, flexibility, realistic expectations and a strong motivation to serve abroad for 27 months.
Based on my assessment I have granted you placement clearance, essentially the last clearance needed to receive an official invitation. Congratulations!
I will issue your invitation packet to you tomorrow so you can expect to receive it within the next 3-5 business days. The packet will include information pertaining to your assignment, country and specific dates of service. Please be sure to read through the required readings before contacting our office to officially accept your invitation. As you know, the invitation is for a Science Education program scheduled to depart to the Africa region in June.
Based on your well-rounded experience, as well as your language background, I think you will be a strong asset to this program, M. Please keep in mind that though you have experience in Latin, it is strongly encouraged all people invited to this program begin studying French independently in anticipation of their departure. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the invitation soon.
Congratulations, and welcome to Peace Corps!

When I got my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps I was on cloud nine, happier than I’ve been in years, crying tears of joy in the middle of the library and grinning like a fool.  That lasted the entire day.  And then the nerves set in.  The nerves that everyone else seemed to think of when I told them about the 27month commitment but that had never fazed me before…that is, until it was real. And like most times when I start to feel stressed about something I decided to just ignore it until I couldn’t anymore.  Well, first I cross-referenced PC Wiki Timeline to try and figure out where I’d been invited to serve… and then I proceeded to ignore my nerves.  But really, even in the moments when I was mentally imagining the day I’d be leaving this town-- this town that has quickly become my home and all the amazing people I’ve recently met that I’m just not ready to say good-bye to yet--I knew I was going to accept the invitation. I’d just regret it too much if I didn’t. And so, after thinking it through for a couple of days, and receiving my invitation packet to serve in Burkina Faso leaving for staging June 6th--I wrote my acceptance letter and officially became a member of the United States Peace Corps. It took 361 days from turning in my application to getting my invitation, but now my next big adventure begins in 37 days! It really is a good life :-)


the cycle.

"But... I love him."

her voice was filled with a wide range of emotions: longing, embarrassment, regret--and i knew the moment she said those words that she had already decided to go back.

I left my job at the women's shelter over 3 months ago but the job never quite left me.  I still get the occasional call or email from women who I became close to and worked with. Sometimes they tell me good news, sometimes they call because they're at their wits end and just need someone to talk to, usually they ask for my advice. And they all, at one point or another, say they still love him. Him being their significant other, the father of their children, the man who beats them up in ways that no one else can see. He makes them feel like they deserve the treatment, the abuse, he degrades their sense of self and self-worth. He hurts them physically and emotionally.  And still they LOVE him?

I wonder sometimes if our society has a messed up view of love, that we allow someone to treat us badly because we 'love' them, like that love WE have for THEM gives them the right to abuse us. It seems to me that love should only make you and your parter better people, not bring you both down.
Perhaps the real problem is that we're all just too prone to falling in love with the idea of somebody, regardless of who that person really is.

It makes me sad. It makes me realize I made the right choice in not taking the position as a full time case worker for the shelter.  Most of all, it makes me want to tell these women that they can do better, that they deserve better.

But sometimes, (and this is one of the hardest parts for me), what these women need is support.  Because at the end of the day it's their decision what they do with their lives. And all I can do when their mind is made up is smile and say that I'll be here for them if they ever need to talk. We say our "good-byes" and "take cares" and I hang up the phone, a slight sinking feeling in my stomach from knowing that she's going back to him.

And the cycle begins again.


the search.

Job search that is.

It's everything everyone told me it would be, but 10x more frustrating.  I guess I've been lucky up till now--the jobs I've had in the past kinda just came to me. Being a private music instructor for kids in my neighborhood, research grants for science-y stuff dealing with my major in ugrad and an internship that kinda just fell into my lap.  This whole going out to a ton of different places, putting in applications, calling back the next week to be sure they know you're interested, going in for interviews and trying to convince them that even though you have no experience in the job opening they have (cashier, hostess, etc) you'd be great at it...

well, it's exhausting.

I'm past the whole "I'm way too overqualified for this job" stage that I was in when I first started job searching because when you're looking at part-time jobs (I do still have classes to attend) the fact that you have a degree really doesn't matter because people with degrees look for full-time jobs, "grown-up" jobs... careers.  I'm not quite grown-up enough for that yet.

So here I am. Desperately waiting to hear back from somebody, anybody saying that they're willing to give my lack of experience but highly enthusiastic self a chance.

I mean, I'd give me a chance if I were them.  I might be biased though.


PC update.

Well, I've finally heard back from my medical clearance screening lady and the verdict is:

I have to wait until March to be cleared.

BUT as long as there aren't any complications it looks like I will be cleared!

So, bad news and good news.  And more waiting, wonderful.  I knew what I was getting into when I got this eye procedure done, and I don't regret it because it's been a really good thing--but man oh man, am I tired of being in Peace Corps limbo.

In other PC news (since I try not to blog about it too much even though I'm thinking about it every day--if you're in the waiting process you totally know what I'm talking about) I went with one of my roommates to the recruiting event my university hosted the other day.  And it was interesting for me to go with someone who really can't imagine doing the PC, because I can't imagine anyone not wanting to.  Of course, I have this problem where I normalize all of my opinions and desires onto everyone else... i think it's pretty standard behavior (obviously)  :-P  But going to that event made me sure that even though I hate this endless waiting, it's worth it-because the Peace Corps is definitely something I want to be a part of in my lifetime.  Yay for reminders of why I'm doing this in the first place!


2010. review.

new york! stolen kisses. warm coats. wandering streets. stairwells. back to class. zeta zeta zeta. last pref. sadness. laughter. research research research. coffee. beer. valentines cake. late nights. wine. papasan chair. redo synthesis. late mornings. music. golden gate bridge! cold cold ocean. sunrise inspiration. memories. exploration. swanky. red bull. pub night. sprint tri. emergency room. falafel. new friends. chapter room. presentation. laughter. exams. EXAMS. red bull red bull.  bagpipes. medals. graduation. separation. bahamas! beach beach beach. tan. chicago. suit coat. interview. nigeria ambassador. couchsurf. colorado. wedding. see you laters. memories. rocks. home. lucy. fireworks. friends. nomination! paperwork. appointments. bordertown. tequila. church. commissioner. women women women. abused. paperwork. The System. resources. teenagers. corruption. frustration. BABY. overwhelmed. court court court. helplessness. community. hope. new friends. wedding. speech. quarters. mexico. grandma tour guide. cheek kisses. smiles. chorizo. good byes. jazz. old friends. new beginnings.