October 18, 2005: Headlines: COS - Burkina Faso: Service: South Bend Tribune: Burkina Faso RPCV Dave Thomas helps Amadou Kalle acquire a one-year visa to study in the United States

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Burkina Faso: Peace Corps Burkina Faso : The Peace Corps in Burkina Faso: October 18, 2005: Headlines: COS - Burkina Faso: Service: South Bend Tribune: Burkina Faso RPCV Dave Thomas helps Amadou Kalle acquire a one-year visa to study in the United States

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Burkina Faso RPCV Dave Thomas helps Amadou Kalle acquire a one-year visa to study in the United States

Burkina Faso RPCV Dave Thomas helps Amadou Kalle acquire a one-year visa to study in the United States

Dave taught math and science in French for two years over there after graduating from Purdue in 1999. Amadou was his most-talented student.

Burkina Faso RPCV Dave Thomas helps Amadou Kalle acquire a one-year visa to study in the United States

Student from Africa eating up paradise


Caption: Mishawaka native Dave Thomas, third from left, gets reacquainted with some old friends in the west African country of Burkina Faso in June after earlier serving there with the Peace Corps. Amadou Kalle, one of Dave's former students and current roommate, is on the far right.

Two bites into his first pizza, Amadou Kalle turned up his nose and said he couldn't eat any more.

"I was a little surprised he didn't like it," Dave Thomas says.

How could anybody not like pizza?

Dave loves it. He always has. He carbo-loaded on it when he was the Penn High School soccer goalie in the mid-1990s and then ate it like it was going out of style when he was a student at Purdue.

When he was serving in the Peace Corps in the western African country of Burkina Faso, he even dreamed about it.

Dave taught math and science in French for two years over there after graduating from Purdue in 1999. Amadou was his most-talented student.

And now they are living together in Chicago after Dave helped Amadou acquire a one-year visa to study in the United States.

Just as Dave did in Burkina Faso, Amadou is adjusting well to his new way of life.

But the pizza problem?

"Well, he's starting to come around on that," Dave says. "He's eating more of it now."

In fact, Amadou is eating a lot of everything.

"He says one of his goals is to get fat," Dave says with a laugh. "In his country, it's a compliment when you tell somebody they are looking heavier. To say they are skinny would be taken as an insult."

Two different cultures. But one strong friendship.

Dave is a software engineer for Mineral Technologies and a month away from earning a master's degree in computer science at DePaul. He is helping with much of Amadou's finances while Amadou attends the University of Illinois-Chicago for his English.

"He is one of 18 siblings and the first one to go beyond elementary school," Dave says. "He comes from a poor village and family."

Yet Amadou seems to be faring well in the Windy City and beefing up so that wind doesn't blow him away.

"Amadou has been doing some of the cooking recently," Dave says, "and so I am eating some of the same things that I ate when I was in the Peace Corps in his country."

That was mainly millet.

In June, Dave had returned to the village of Kantchari, where he had taught Amadou and others. It was then that plans of Amadou's stay in Chicago were finalized.

But when Amadou was able to travel to the United States in late July, Dave was on a business trip in Pittsburgh. Amadou ended up spending a week with Dave's folks -- Gregg and Sharon Thomas -- in Mishawaka.

"Even now, Amadou says he likes Mishawaka better than Chicago," Dave says. "A little more open, a little greener."

Dave's condo is in the guts of Chicago, just three blocks from Wrigley Field.

"Yeah, I took Amadou to a Cubs game," he says. "I think he enjoyed the atmosphere, but try explaining baseball to someone who has never seen it."

There have been other eye openers.

Dave, 30, and Amadou, 23, were walking by a farmers' market on the way to the Chicago Air Show, and Amadou broke out laughing.

"He saw that the people who were selling fruits and vegetables actually had cars," Dave says. "In his country, those kinds of vendors would be lucky to have a bicycle."

Amadou has called this country "paradise."

And, of course, he calls Dave the best friend he could have, and still his teacher, too.

Since Dave left Africa in 2001, the two of them have stayed in contact while Dave worked out the details for Amadou's visa.

"Being in the Peace Corps was one of those life-changing experiences for me," Dave says. "I like to think that I am still learning from it."

He continues to help one of his former students, every day.

"We are getting along really well," Dave says.

Not even yet fighting over the last piece of pizza.

Bill Moor's column appears on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at bmoor@sbtinfo.com, or write him at the South Bend Tribune, 225 W. Colfax Ave., South Bend, IN 46626; (574) 235-6072.

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Story Source: South Bend Tribune

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