November 30, 2001 - South Bend Tribune: The food wasn't so hot, but the people were warm

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2001: 11 November 2001 Peace Corps Headlines: November 30, 2001 - South Bend Tribune: The food wasn't so hot, but the people were warm
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The food wasn't so hot, but the people were warm

Read this story of a RPCV who served in Burkina Faso at:

The food wasn't so hot, but the people were warm*

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The food wasn't so hot, but the people were warm

Nov 30, 2001 - South Bend Tribune Author(s): Bill Moor

Pizzas from his back-home Barnaby's would roll through Dave Thomas' dreams as he slept on his mat far, far away.

"Sometimes, I would dream of different kinds of fast food, too."

And not just Wendy's fast food. He's not that Dave Thomas.

Our Dave Thomas is 26 years old and a Penn High School and Purdue University graduate. Earlier this fall, he returned to his Mishawaka home after serving for more than two years with the Peace Corps in the western African country of Burkina Faso.

"A great experience," he says. "And wonderful people."

The food?

"When I would wake up after one of those dreams about a Barnaby's pizza or some other food I was missing, I would want to go back to sleep and try to get back to that same dream," he admits.

In other words ...

"Well, we mostly ate a grain dish made out of millet, which looked a lot like mashed potatoes but didn't taste nearly as good," Dave says. "Sometimes, we had rice and I usually drank water."

He has gained 10 pounds in the two months he has been home.

He also gained tons of appreciation for people of another culture ... another continent ... another way of life.

When Dave graduated from Purdue in 1999, he felt he needed to do something else before he put his computer engineering degree to use. "I decided I wanted to give back, to do some good, to have an adventure and to see part of the world without having to be a tourist."

So he ended up in Burkina Faso. Doesn't ring a bell? How about Upper Volta, which Burkina Faso was called until 1984? Still not familiar? You better consult a map.

Dave did.

"Burkina Faso is on the tip of the Sahara Desert and mainly grassy plains," Dave says. "It has three main seasons: rainy, warm -- which is hot as far as I'm concerned -- and hot."

Dave was in the village of Kantchari, where he taught math and science to junior high-aged kids -- in French.

"The problem is that I only had two years of French in high school," admits the son of Gregg and Sharon Thomas.

Much of his three months of in-country schooling was working on his French before he split with other Peace Corps volunteers and went to Kantchari, a town of about 5,000 people.

Dave admits that we would have never guessed it but "after the first year or so, I was even thinking and dreaming in French."

That didn't always help him around his village. Nobody spoke English and not that many of the adults knew French. "They spoke the language of that region, which is Gourmantchema."

He picked up a little of that, too -- enough anyway to order a beer at one of the watering holes in his community.

"That's where a lot of the people congregated and that's where I would socialize and really meet the people," he says. "They were very accepting of me, even while I was still learning the language and doing a lot of nodding.

"Especially at first, I'm sure I stuck out like a sore thumb."

But then he already knew how it felt for everybody to be looking at him. He was the starting soccer goalie for Penn his junior and senior years and that takes quite a bit of nerve, too.

Dave worked hard at his teaching and also educated the region about AIDS.

"A friend from my town and I would go to some of the tiny villages around us and do an AIDS presentation," he adds. "We rented a television, VCR and generator, and it was the first time many of the villagers had seen any of that stuff."

Most of the people of Burkina Faso are farmers in a country overwhelmed with poverty. In his two-room house, Dave had no electricity, no running water and a latrine out back that

usually was crawling with scorpions.

"I got pretty good at killing them," he says. "But just before I came home, I was up in the middle of the night and tried to squash one with my shower shoes. He somehow got out from under my foot and stung me. I was really sick for about 16 hours."

He was occasionally homesick, too. But he eventually hooked up his portable computer to a rented solar panel and a car generator so he could have access to the Internet and e-mail. Hey, he didn't major in computer engineering for nothing.

Dave says you better be able to laugh at yourself if you want to join the Peace Corps.

"It wouldn't be for everybody," he says. "But when I reached the point of really feeling comfortable in my village, it was such a great feeling. I am missing so many of the people over there."

He is currently looking for a job while back home in Mishawaka and enjoying Mom's home cooking.

And has he had any Barnaby's pizzas?

"Lots," Dave Thomas says with a smile.

Bill Moor's column appears on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at, at the South Bend Tribune, 225 W. Colfax Ave., South Bend, IN 46626, or at

(219) 235-6555.

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