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!!!