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Shaffer White in Burkina Faso, West Africa
Shaffer White in Burkina Faso, West Africa
IÔm in Banfora and have found a little down time so I thought IÕd take a moment (and my region mateÔs computer) to drop you a note on how things are going in the old Faso Ñ hectic, crazy, busy, chaotic, and so on. Things have reached quite a tempo lately with the old leaving and the new coming in. ItÕs been a while since IÔve sat down to write a long e-mail, so IÕm not even sure where I last left off.
The worm week I organized went off pretty well. I had really only one major bump, and that was right before the week started. The district I was organizing was Batie, which is south of Gaoua, next to Ghana and the Ivory Coast. ItÔs pretty small in terms of district capitals. No electricity, even. The one truck that they had for district projects had suffered an accident and was unavailable for the worm week. I planned for this and requested two trucks from Global 2000. Global 2000 is the arm of the NGO started by President Carter. Its focus is Guinea Worm eradication. So, no problem, right? Well, in order to travel across Burkina Faso, you need permission from one of the government higher-ups. This particular higher-up was on vacation in Bobo. Requests for permission are supposed to be submitted at least three days in advance. Our request was submitted nearly two weeks in advance. Unfortunately, due to said vacation, things were passed over, and I only had one of the two trucks needed. I found this out the day before we were set to leave. This caused a few headaches, as it meant multiple trips with the one car and using public transport where available. Luckily, the one driver we had was pretty great and didnÕt mind the extra work. I had also planned it so that each day we had to move to a different place, the whole day was dedicated to the task. That proved necessary, since it did in fact take the whole day with the two trips. The rest of the week went off without too much difficulty.
Of course, everything took nearly twice as long as it should have. The first full day we were at the first site, we were to have a video projection of a Guinea worm film. Batie had a small TV for the purpose, but some of the Health workers who were working with us volunteered their video projector for the week. We just had to swing by Gaoua and pick it up. So yeah, why not? It would take two hours max for the round trip. They started out at 6 PM; theyÔd be back in plenty of time. Amy (one of the PCVs who came down to work the week) wanted to take a trip, so she went along with them. Eight PM rolled around, and at 9 PM villagers from all over the area were assembling at the site where the video was supposed to be shown. They were patient. This is Africa, and patience is something you learn at a very early age. With no film to watch, half of them found us volunteers fascinating to watch. Others sang and danced, they made the best of the get together. Eventually, around 10:30 or so, and still no film to watch, people left. We volunteers climbed into bed. I woke up around midnight with the lights of the car coming back. Poor Amy was exhausted, but still in good spirits. Things just take a long time here, no explanations available.
Among other things, we lucked out on the weather. It was extremely windy at the first site, Konkatama. That was the first time IÕve had to use the stakes for my tent. WeÔd wake up to an inch of dirt covering us, blown in from the night. It was exciting. We were lucky that there was no rain. There wasnÕt any place to run for cover, except maybe some of the villagersÔ houses off in the distance. We did get rain during the week, about fifteen minutes after we had settled into our second site, Tamipar, but there was an unused clinic there, so we were well covered. It dumped that day.
What else: A lot of the frustration I had over the week was how long everything took when there was no real reason for it to be that way. Waiting for people to come, someone was always late. We had T-shirts and hats to give out for participation, and everybody wanted one Ñ it seemed more important than the reason we were there, to fight the worm.
Good things: The four volunteers that came down to help out for the week were great. Amy and Kate are teachers, which meant a lot, as they had to reschedule classes in order to come. Spencer and Mat are both good buds and it was great having them along. We all got along famously, having a blast during the evenings.
Other good things: The first full day we were there the chief of a nearby village came to our site. I guess the village (or chief) had a falling out with the last health worker and, well, they hadnÕt had any worm activities there for a couple of years. He asked if we could come and do a ÒsensibilizationÓ there. We didnÔt have the time to do the regular door-to-door that we were doing for the other villages, so on the day we changed to Tamipar, I sent Mat on with half our gear, then Kate and I biked over with a couple of community volunteers and a COGES member to perform the mass training. It went well, though it was probably not as effective as the door-to doors. There were just too many people Ñ well over a hundred. Still, it felt great to be able to do that extra little bit, especially in a place that hadnÕt had help for a couple of years. So by the end of the week, instead of the five villages (already more than any other week in earlier years), we actually did six. Right on, nÔest pas?
The great thing is that these worm weeks are working. As of March, there have been 12 cases of Guinea worm (two imported from Ghana). ThatÕs down from 63 cases last year. Hopefully with the work this year, it will be even lower next year.
After my worm week, I headed back to Ouaga to get a few things done. Then it was time for a couple of much needed weeks in village. ItÔs strange. The more I get used to my village, the harder and more tiring trips outside of village become. The stretches in Ouaga or wherever tend to be a little more fun and exciting, but IÕm usually exhausted afterwards. ThereÔs no sleep like village sleep.
During my time in village, Josh came down with Vincent and picked me up. I had been pressing Doctor Claude to put a new volunteer in the Banfora region. I donÕt want to be the only one here when my current region mates leave. She looked into it and found a possible village 10 km south of Banfora. So I went along with Josh to see if the village might be interested in having a PCV. The first visit went well. The health workers there seemed nice and excited to work with PC. The village was a bit on the large side, but had a good feel to it. We conducted an interview of sorts, and then we asked them to find a possible house for the volunteer (the one thing the village needs to provide). I set a date to come back in a week or so to check out the house and see what improvements need to be made. All of this has been a bit of a stressor as there are a lot of things that could go wrong here. The biggest problem is time. Since the village would be a late addition, we have a much shorter timetable to get ready. Everything needs to be done by May 31. If it takes longer, well, maybe next year Ñ not much help to a lonesome Banfora PCV (me) who would be leaving in a year.
I went to check on the house. It was a pretty good pick. A good size Ñ not too big nor too small. Well built, with a window in each room. Only a couple of things had to be done, like adding screens to the windows and building a courtyard for the PCV. There was already a latrine and shower. They were shared with 5 other people, but that can be acceptable, depending on what the PC bureau says. So I told the villagers to get the screens up and the wall built for the courtyard. I hoped that would be all, as the latrine and shower seemed good enough already. Then I was off to Ouaga to talk with my boss, Dr. Claude, about the site. I gave her all the good news. The village was great. They canÕt wait to have a volunteer. The house should work really well; barely any improvements were needed. ThereÔs already a latrine and shower, too, even though they were shared with 5 other people, those other people were Òfunctionaries.Ó Well, since there were barely any other improvements needed, and 5 people would make things a bit crowded, she said to go ahead and have them build a latrine and shower too. PC pays for all this, so itÕs not a problem for the village, right? Unfortunately, we are only two weeks away from the May 31 deadline. I went there today and the screens were in. The courtyard had yet to be built, but itÕs coming. I told them about the shower and latrine. One problem, besides time, is that the rains have started to come a little earlier this year, and with a little more frequency. That helps to abate the heat, but itÔs not very helpful for making bricks. So now thereÕs the question of whether they can find all the bricks needed to make the new improvements. Of course they say, Òno problem, Ca Va AllerÓ, but you have to understand that they say that about everything, even when it is quite obvious that thereÕs a very good chance itÕs not going to happen. So IÕm a little worried. IÕll head back there in ten days, and hopefully everything will be done, or at least very close to finished.
In Ouaga, it was mostly a trip to hang out with the Ò2nd-years.Ó It was their COS (close of service) conference. Basically, they put up the people completing their 2nd year in a nice hotel. During the days they have information sessions on stuff like getting a job and all the details about leaving Peace Corps. The nights tend to be filled with parties and celebrations for a job well done. I got in there a day early since Dee, the RPCV who worked our training all those months ago, was coming in a few weeks early. Josh and I wanted to be there to pick her up from the airport.
We went out to the airport the day she was due to arrive. Now, the Ouaga airport is sort of a strange place. There really arenÕt all that many flights coming in and going out of there each day. Across the street from the airport is a bar. So what you do is sit down and have a few beers while you wait for the sound of an airplane. Since there is only one plane coming in every couple of hours, itÕs easy to know when your friend has landed. A great system. As we waited, we sat down with two young Burkinabˇs who were also waiting for the plane. They offered us some of their food Ñ various grilled organs. We passed, as we had brochettes on the way. Eventually we saw the plane land. We waited a couple of minutes to allow the passengers to get through all the different stages of the airport. As we waited outside, we peered in through the long windows, trying to catch a glimpse of Dee, without her seeing us. She came out, not all that surprised to see us, I think, and we climbed into the Peace Corps car that was sent for her. We made our way to the hotel where all the 2nd-years were staying, hung out, and went swimming.
The rest of the week was packed. One thing that I had signed on to do was help organize the next bike-a-thon. Somehow, I have become a bit of a bike nut. Never would have expected it, but I love biking. So it was natural for me to want to help plan the next bike-a-thon, even though this is probably the biggest project one can do here and it takes you out of village a lot. I guess the four PCVs who planned it last year spent nearly a whole month before the event in Ouaga trying to get everything done. There are six of us this year, and I hope by being much more organized, it wonÔt take us as long to get things done. All the same, we got started this week, planning a couple of meetings to get the ball rolling. WeÕre going to do things differently this year. Last year there were three routes, all of which started at the same time and ended in Ouaga for a big celebration. This year weÔre going to have a sort of a Òpass the torchÓ three-week event. The routes will link to one-another. The first leg will start in Fada and end in Kaya. Then, a new group will take over, going from Kaya to Touagan, and a third group will carry the torch from Touagan to Bobo. Ras and I are planning the Bobo leg. We both love to bike, though I think we both have reservations about this three week massive plan. It seems like the only real advantage to it is that it would be Òcool and new.Ó There are a few disadvantages. We voiced these concerns, but everybody thought we should see what the bosses thought. I was fine with that, but I figured that Dr. Claude and our Country Director Julie would want a little more reason than ÒitÕd be coolÓ for such a drastic change in the format of the event. To my surprise, they both thought the idea was great. So it looks like itÔs a go. IÕm a little conflicted, as I think a three week bike trip will be a blast (the coordinators will go the entire distance) but I think that a one week, three route approach offers many advantages. It will be easier to keep up morale, and we all finish at the same time to celebrate, instead of some of us dropping out each week along the way. WeÔll see.
Also that week, we 1st-years threw the 2nd-years a party at their hotel. It was something we had known we were going to do for a while, but there were some last minute things to settle right before the actual party. The 2nd-years loved the stuff we planned, and we all had a great time. A few days later, Raymond, the head of Global 2000, volunteered his huge house for pool party. The week was full of fun. Then there were a few last minute items for the bike-a-thon, including the need for me and Courtney to pound out a rough budget to submit to Dr. Claude and Julie.
Something I had wanted to do for a long time was to visit my friend Mat up in the far north, way up by the Sahara desert. Each time we made plans, something came up, mostly worm week stuff, but after the COS conference, I was finally able to head up north with him. We lucked out since he had to do some site development work so Peace Corps gave him a car to take him (and thus me too) up north. The trip was great. It was beautiful up there, quite different from the south. Everything was sand, every turn you take, you expect to see the ocean. Unfortunately my timing happened to coincide with probably the hottest day of the year, heading north of 120. This is the Sahel, after all. We spent a couple of nights in Gorum-Gorum with Jessie, another PCV. SheÕs extremely nice and sweet. Mat had a big latrine-building project in village and he had to arrange for the delivery of the materials. While he was doing that, Jessie took me around the famous Gorum-Gorum market. Lots of cool stuff to see, though it was a little bit of a let down since it was billed as a ÒdonÔt missÓ in the travel guide. I guess it became so popular that some big-wig in the Burkina government decided to pour some money into the market, building sterile looking stalls to update the facilities. The new market is not as cool and as exciting as the old one. But hey, I had a chance to buy and eat some camel jerky. You canÕt do that down south. We then biked to MatÔs village, which was a bit of a challenge. The distance wasnÕt anything grand, only 25 km, but the thing about being up north is that there are all these trees that produce long spikes in order to prevent grazing. The spikes find their way to the ground, then into your tire. Eventually I suffered a huge flat with four gapping holes, so we had to stop for me to fix it. Matt is used to it. One thing he brought up in the PC car was a bunch of tires, tubes, and patch kits. They go through them like water.
Speaking of water, thatÔs all you think about up north Ð drink, drink, and drink water. ItÕs weird, since itÔs so hot that you donÕt even notice youÔre sweating. The sweat usually evaporates immediately, so you actually have to cool down to sweat. One day we went into his house, which was cooler than outside, to crash for a couple of hours during midday. I woke up in a puddle of my sweat. No mater how much you drank, you were still dehydrated. The couple of days we were there, we spent time wandering around trying to get his latrine project up and running. We hung out with some of his village friends Ñ nice guys. We ate a bunch of goat brochettes. Tin-a-gadel has easily the best goat brochettes in Faso. If youÕre ever there, I recommend them highly.
One day we biked over to the gold mine. A sprawling town has sprung up around this area where gold is found. Some people sift the dirt for small grains; others work in deep pits. We spent the nights sleeping outside under the stars. We listened to music and talked about all the usual stuff. The two nights we were there, we saw a giant shooting star. Great. Then we biked out Sunday afternoon, Bob MarleyÔs birthday. We got to Gorum-Gorum and went out for a night on the town with Jessie and Sarah (an NGO worker for Global 2000). Then Monday it was an 8-hour bus ride down south to Ouaga. A night there, then the next day on to Bobo. I spent a couple of days getting some stuff done in Bobo and hanging out with Josh and Dee. Caught two soccer games, then a bus down to Banfora. I had to bike out to Siniea, the village where we might be able to place a new volunteer. Unfortunately I came down with something and spent the day pretty much sleeping and hydrating. The next day, today, I felt better and biked out of there. And that pretty much brings us up to this point.
IÕm heading back to Labola tomorrow. IÔm looking forward to some rest and quiet time to get through the mountain of reading I have for bike-a-thon. IÕm also going to continue to work on my French. I feel like itÔs coming along, though I still have my bad days when I can barely understand a word. Since IÕm starting to feel a little more confident, IÔm going to start to work on Dioula, the language local to Labola. I figure switching between the two every other day should work. I also plan to spend time with my friends and family in village. These next couple of months are going to be crazy. I need to get as much village life in as I can, since soon IÕll be away for quite a while.
June is going to be the worst in terms of being gone. The first week is training and team building in Bobo for the Pre-Service Training (PST) Ñ a sort of set-up session for the new kids. Then I have a meeting with the Country Director on the 10th concerning the bike-a-thon. The new kids come in the 11th. Then we plan to have a Òguy get-awayÓ for a while. WeÔre going to Pama, BehzadÕs village, for a couple of days Ñ a sort of minority support group event, or thatÔs at least how weÕre labeling it. Then IÔm to work two weeks of PST. IÕm hoping that it will be the last two weeks of June, since Josh is leaving the 30th of June and it would be great to be in Bobo when he is so we can get some good hang time before he takes his COS trip. The drawback to all this activity is that it will consume, pretty much all of June. But I guess itÔs for the best, and IÕll be able to spend a good three weeks in village before leaving for my trip to the states. I plan on spending July 4th in Bobo. Last year we had a pool party. It was great, and I think weÔre planning on doing the same this year. In the middle of July, the new kids do their week long site visits; hopefully one will be coming to Banfora. On the 28th I fly out of Ouaga, homeward bound for a vacation. So the next couple of months are going to be filled. Sprinkle in some possible bike-a-thon stuff and you could call it packed.
So, thatÕs whatÔs happening on this side of the world. Sorry you asked, I tend to ramble on and on and on. I am bringing a bunch of film back with me, 13 rolls so far. So keep your eyes on the mom and pop web site mid August.
Overall, IÕm very happy, having a blast. ItÔs a strange time. IÕm excited to meet the new volunteers with whom IÔll be sharing the country for the next year, but also a little sad to see some of my good friends leave for other adventures. I canÕt believe that IÔve been here for almost a year. I feel like IÕve just stepped off the plane. Time sure is funny. Some days I actually save work, like a treasured dessert, so I have something to do later in the day. The time just creeps by and I think of all the things IÕd like to be doing if I werenÔt in village. Other times just fly by, with hardly a moment to stop and say, ÒHey, life is good.Ó And it is, very good. Even a year after coming here, I still find myself stopping and reminding myself that, yes, I am in Africa; I am in fact doing this. ItÕs special in so many ways.
When I was coming back from my second site visit of the new volunteer village, I was biking along with some villager that just happened to be heading to Banfora. All of a sudden this giant monkey bolted out from the brush. It must have stood five feet tall, with a long tail and brownish orange fur. It ran quickly across the street, about twenty feet in front of me. Simple Awe. Life is good.