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.

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