I really am sorry I haven’t been able to keep this blog updated but it’s hard for me to find the time to sit and write down all that I have been up to. Most of my nights are spent socializing with the Burkinabe or spending quality me time doing nothing! Okay well here it is, a quick recap of what I’ve been up to the past 3 months…
The way Peace Corps works is that for around the first 3 months we have pre-service training (PST) where they have Burkinabe and current in-country volunteers teach us what we need to know to survive here in Burkina and do our job correctly.
We have classes every morning from 8am till about 5:30pm. Our classes cover all different topics to prepare us for our service as a volunteer. As a stage (the group of around 80 that I came with who will swear in at the same time) we have 4 different sectors, Health, Secondary Education, Small Enterprise Development, and my sector Girls Education and Empowerment. Each sector is trained on their specific job in tech sessions and then we also have sessions on Medical, Security, Cross-Culture, and of course most of the day is spent in language classes (for me French, and Moore, the local lang. that I’ll be speaking).
During PST we are assigned a host family to live with to help us with the language and really integrate into the community. For me this was the most interesting and my favorite part of PST. The Burkinabe are incredible nice and welcoming and go above and beyond to make you feel at home. Of course each one of us in our stage will have a completely different experience so I can only speak for myself and not everyone.
Our stage has had quite a different experience than the past stages because originally we were to be living in northern Burkina, we had spent about 3 nights with our host family when the US Embassy put out a Warden message saying there were some security threats in that area so all current volunteers and trainees were taken out of that area and moved to the capital until the Peace Corps could figure out what to do with about 100 Americans! This threat really threw a wrench in all of the Peace Corps plans because finding a host family for each one of us new trainees is not an easy process the family’s that were chosen went through months of training to prepare for us, their homes had to meet certain requirements for our safety and they were trained on how to prepare our food and water so we would stay healthy (such as filtering water and bleaching veggies to kill bacteria) plus this is where training had been for a while so this family’s had most likely hosted before so they knew what it was like to live with American. Anyways after a couple weeks back in the capital living at a hotel with running water and AC they found us a new city to move are training to and new host families to live with but instead this time we would be living in pairs based somewhat on our language levels.
Both of my host families were great my first family I was only able to spend 3 nights with but I loved them. It was just a small family, mom, dad, and my brother. Small families are VERY uncommon here, most families are pretty large, around 5 kids and then their kids and grandparents all living in one house or family courtyard. My family wasn’t like that. It was just the 4 of us along with some girls who worked at the house doing chores like fetching water from the pump, doing laundry and preparing dinner. We lived close to the training center so I didn’t have to bike far like some who lived out in village (17k). My family also had a TV and electricity for a light outside so at night during dinner my brother and I would watch the World Cup and practice my French. We didn’t have a bathroom in the house similar to most families so instead we had a latrine outside and an area next to that to take a bucket bath. I was so sad when we were pulled out of the north because I knew I would have really loved living with them and my language skills would have improved so quickly. A few weeks later Jen and I moved into our new host family in the new training center city. These families were only trained for about 2 weeks and most of them didn’t even know why we were here but they still opened their homes to us. My host family was larger than the first one. My host mom had 7 kids but they were all grown and didn’t live with the family, actually one of her sons is playing basketball at Manhattan University in New York and an other of her kids lives in Europe. Her children didn’t live at home with her but that doesn’t mean there weren’t tons of people around all the time. Her nephew lived with her and helped around the house and she had quite of few younger kids that worked around the house as well. In the back of the house she owned a dolo bar or what I called a dolo factory. Dolo is a local alcohol that I can only compare to a mixture of cider and wine. Its bitter and looooooved by the older ladies who would hang out and dance in our backyard. This host family had more amenities than my previous host family, we had electricity, a TV, and Jen and I had our own room with a bathroom including a flushing toilet and a shower, along with a ceiling fan and a full size mirror! We were incredibly spoiled.
Its hard to explain but so many things are different here, you have to realize that Burkina is one of the poorest countries in the world so if you had a host family with electricity or running water your living the high life. Cultural differences are pretty intense. Here the girls are responsible for almost all the work around the house and taking care of the kids and things that are incredibly easy back in the states are much more difficult here. It’s a reality check on how lucky we have it in the states.
We have finally finished stage and are now actual volunteers!! Our swearing in ceremony was in the Capital at the US Embassy it was a HUGE party with all of us new volunteers, current volunteers, Peace Corps staff and trainers, our Country Director and important members of the Burkina Government including Burkina’s First Lady. We took the oath and continued to celebrate together for the rest of the night because in 2 days we would all be off to our villages to start our work as volunteers.
LIFE AT SITE
Sunday August 29th all new volunteers left Ouaga to head off to our own separate sites. All I really knew was the name of my village and where it was located on a map. I had the opportunity to meet a couple of the people I would be working with in the community at a counterpart workshop a few weeks earlier. They told me a few of the problems that their community faced and what they would like me to help with, including low attendance at school for girls and boys but more commonly girls, and forced marriage.
As new volunteers we are to use our first 3 months at site to observe and integrate. PC wants us to become a member of the community and find the problems the village is facing from the inside, not as an American outsider who has no real perspective of the actually daily challenges. At the end of our first 3 months at site we are to work with the community to come up with an action plan on how to help solve some of the problems we have come across. Then each sector will meet up in Ouaga and go through another couple weeks of training on how to implement some of the programs we would like to put in place (ex. girls clubs or girls camps). So as of now I’m just meeting people in the community, trying to improve my language skills, and spending A LOT of time observing.
As for my living situation my house is in a family compound with 4 other houses. The other families only speak Moore so it makes things a little hard to understand at times but my Moore is coming around. I have 2 rooms in my house, a larger kitchen living room area and then a bedroom. I also have my own latrine and area for a bucket bath just outside the compound. As of now I don’t have a whole lot in my house just a cot for a bed, 2 chairs, a gas stove and that’s pretty much it.
PC volunteers typically stay for 3 generations for each site for a total of 6 years, 2 years for each volunteer. I’m the first person at this site so I’m the one who needs to buy everything for the house and establish most of the relationships in the community. Some volunteers are coming in as the 2nd or 3rd generation so they most likely have a furnished house and somewhat of a PC role already established in the community. In this case the new volunteer can decide to continue with what the past volunteer was doing or start new projects, its up to them and the community. Most will start their own projects and make their service their own.
My village is only about a half an hour from Ouaga and 6k from a medium sized city so again I lucked out and will be able to easily access a lot of western things that others will have a harder time finding. When I say this I mean a lot of time smaller villages have very limited food choices and may not even have cold drinks readily available. Which may not seem like that big of a deal but it’s the little things that matter here. I also lucked out because I have an incredibly motivated community who is really exited to have a PC volunteer to work with them. I have only been in my site for a week and I’ve already had the opportunity to attend a 4-day conference dealing with girl’s education and empowerment with all of the heads of the school systems. I can’t explain what a great opportunity that was for me, it really established PC in the community and allowed them to put a face to my name. I really hope that I will be able to work with most of these people in the future.
As PC volunteers we are set up with a community homologue, or a person in our village who is there to help us integrate into the community, A professional homologue, the person in the village who works in the school system, and lastly a Supervisor or someone a bit higher in the system who can help me on a larger level. My supervisor is the Inspector (comparable to a superintendent) of the larger local city, he is incredibly motivated and has lucky included me in everything, and was the one who invited me to the conference. My village is made up of 4 cartiers with a separate chief for each. The second day that I was in village my community homologue took me around to meet each chief. Hierarchy is extremely important here in Burkina and the chiefs are highly respected they are considered God-like and are consulted before anything in the community is implemented. The day after meeting the chiefs I went into the city with my Inspector and community homologue to meet other important figures related to the school system and girls education. The school system here is pretty different than the States but is really similar to that of France, it would take me forever to explain so for times sake I’m not going to.
I’m really enjoying life at my site, everyone I have met so far has been welcoming and willing to help me with everything, including fetching water from the well, doing laundry and even feeding me. It has been a huge change being around about 80 other Americans ALLLL the time to being by yourself at site. Currant volunteers say that this is the hardest time for new volunteers and really tests your strength. You need to learn to survive on your own in a place where you are being watched 24/7 and most likely the only white person for miles and they don’t let you forget it. So far each night I’ve had about 20 kids in front of my house just sitting watching me along with my community homologue who comes and visits me everyday. If my first week is anything like how the rest of my service will be I know I’m going to have an amazing 2 years and form some incredible bonds!
- I’m sorry if this is very poorly written and scattered im trying to write about 3 months all at once and there is soooo much that im leaving out. If anything is unclear or you want to ask me anything please please email me (email@example.com) that way I can be more specific and more blunt. I also have more specific paperwork on Peace Corps Burkina that I can e-mail you!
- Also like I said I don’t have electricity at my house so im not able to use my computer let alone internet so please be patient with me.
- I do though have a cell that you can call me on anytime, it’s the best way to keep in contact with me, and it is VERY much appreciated! If you want to call me I suggest downloading Skype and calling me from that. If I don’t answer right away PLEASE try again I don’t always have my phone right next to me and when you call from Skype it says “Unknown Caller” so I have no idea who called me and there is no way for me to call you back if I don’t know who called. I also can call the states from my cell it’s a bit expensive but it is possible! ☺ My cell number is +226 74 29 03 51
- Another thing that is HIGHLY APPRECIATED and welcomed is letters and care packages!!! ☺ haha Those who have sent me something thank you so so much I cant tell you how nice it is to get things in the mail.
If you do want to mail me anything my address is:
s/c Corps de la Paix
01 B.P. 6031
Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso
Good things to send would be…
Any type of food that keeps for a while such as:
Mac and cheese powder
Dried fruit (ex. cranberries, blueberries, strawberries) and nuts (not peanuts)
Things that can be cooked on the stove being that is my only way to prepare food
*pasta, rice, peanut butter, garlic, peanuts, canned veggies, popcorn, dried banana and mango are all AVAILABLE here
If you cant tell I’ve spent a lot of time craving food and thinking about what I would want haha
Things to decorate my house: oh you know anything cubs related, steelers related or blackhawks related (haha), or incense, candles, picture frames, calendar, etc.
Books and magazines
Toiletries: body wash, shampoo, etc.
Really anything is appreciated, its nice to have things to remind me of home and keep me connected to all of you!!
***I think this may be helpful, it’s the country overview the Peace Corps gave us in our welcome book!***
Most of the area known today as Burkina Faso was once dominated by the Mossi people, who established their empire around 1500. In 1897, France imposed its rule over the people of Burkina Faso, but it was not until 1947 that the French colony of Haute Volta (Upper Volta) was created. Full independence from the French came on August 5, 1960, with Maurice Yaméogo as the nation’s first president. Four of the six presidents after Yaméogo came into power through military coups. Thomas Sankara, who, after a coup, led the country from August 1983 until his death on October 15, 1987, was arguably the most influential of Burkina Faso’s presidents. Sankara’s charismatic leadership style, which emphasized self-sufficiency and a lean and efficient government that transferred wealth from urban centers to rural areas, was popular with citizens and created a sense of hope in the country. In 1984, the country’s name was changed from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso: “Country of the Upright/ Honorable People.” The current president, Blaise Compaore, has been in power since Sankara’s death. Compaore was the only candidate in an election held after four years of military rule, and he was sworn-in as president of the fourth republic on December 24, 1991. Compaore has won the last two presidential elections, held in 1998 and 2005, by wide margins.
Burkina Faso has few natural resources, and 90 percent of its population engages mainly in subsistence agriculture (producing peanuts, sesame, cotton, sorghum, millet, corn, rice, and livestock). Agricultural production is limited and risky because of poor soils and cyclical droughts. A significant portion of the labor force migrates annually to neighboring coastal countries, in search of unskilled employment. Due to an ongoing conflict and unrest in Côte d’Ivoire during the last eight years, however, that number has diminished. Burkina Faso is landlocked, which drives up the price of imports and is a significant obstacle to maintaining the competitiveness of exports. The primary exports — cotton and livestock — are subject to major price and yield fluctuations as a result of agricultural production conditions, in the case of cotton and livestock, and global market prices, in the case of gold. These factors, combined with a relatively undeveloped infrastructure, have contributed to Burkina Faso’s classification as one of the poorest countries in the world (with a per capita gross domestic product of $1,213). The country ranked 176 out of 177 in the 2007/2008 United Nations Human Development Index.
People and Culture
The population of Burkina Faso is approximately 13.7 million, with an annual growth rate of about 2.8 percent. Sharing borders with six countries, Burkina Faso is composed of a rich mix of people representing over 60 language or ethnic groups. The major groups include the Mossi (48 percent), Fulani (10 percent), Mande (7 percent), Lobi-Dagari (7 percent), Bobo (7 percent), and Senufo (6 percent). Islam is practiced by about 50 percent of the population; Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) by about 20 percent; and indigenous beliefs, which continue to play a major role in the lives of many Burkinabé regardless of their religious orientation, by approximately 30 percent. The Burkinabé are known for their tolerance and acceptance of ethnic and religious diversity. While Islam is practiced by a significant portion of the population, religious fundamentalism is rare. In addition, it is very common to find Christians, Muslims, and animists in the same family participating in one another’s religious celebrations, and marriage across ethnic lines is widely accepted. The people of Burkina Faso are the country’s greatest resource. Despite their poverty, they remain dignified, extremely hardworking, and very welcoming to foreigners. Peace Corps Volunteers could not find a more hospitable group of people to work with than the Burkinabé.
Burkina Faso, a landlocked country that sits on the edge of the Sahel, is mostly flat with undulating plains. It has an area of 105,869 square miles, slightly larger than Colorado. It is bordered on the north by the Sahelian countries of Mali and Niger and on the south by Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. While the north is mainly desert, the southern and central regions are forested. There are two distinct seasons in Burkina Faso: the rainy season from June to October and the dry season from November to May. The climate is warm and dry from November to March, hot and dry from March to May, and warm and wet during the rainy season. Temperatures range from a cool and dry 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10ºC) in November to a humid 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40ºC) before the rains begin in June. Average rainfall ranges from approximately 40 inches in the south to less than 10 inches in the north.
Food and Diet
Drinking water is likely to be of poor quality and thus will require boiling and filtering. The variety of fruits and vegetables is somewhat limited, with only one fruit or vegetable often available during any given season. Burkina Faso produces some of the best mangoes and papayas in the world, but they are seasonal. Garlic, onions, tomatoes, and a local variety of eggplant are available year-round in many locations. Other fruits and vegetables grown in the country, depending on the season and location, include oranges, grapefruits, bananas, carrots, cabbages, potatoes, beets, lettuce, and cucumbers. Burkinabé meals are simple. A typical dish consists of a staple food like rice, millet, yams, sorghum, or maize served with a sauce made from okra, various greens (e.g., spinach), tomatoes, or peanuts. Sauces may contain fish or meat. French bread is available in larger towns and villages.
(Because I am close to a large city and Ouaga I have a wide selection of veggies and can pretty much get all of this items as long as they are in season.)
Paved roads connect the largest towns and cities in Burkina Faso, and fairly well maintained buses service these routes on a regular schedule. Smaller towns and villages are served by “bush taxis” — typically overcrowded and poorly maintained minibuses that do not run on a fixed schedule. Most Volunteers do not live near paved roads, preventing daily access to motorized transportation out of their villages.
(Im located right off a main road and 6k from a large Gare so if I want I can take a bush taxi to my village or I can just go to my main city and bike to my village.)