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1You've got a friend in Burkina Faso

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  • pgosselin8
    Sep 13, 2004
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      Hey folks!
      Welcome to my inaugural Real World Ouagadougou email! I had wanted
      to get this up and running sooner, but since they don't see the value
      of "free time" in Peace corps training, I haven't been able to. I'm
      already halfway through my 12 weeks of training, and I've just come
      back from a weeklong visit to my future site, a village about 140 km
      east of ouaga with around 2500 people... and not much else. I'm sure
      I'll have plenty to say about that in a later email. For now I'll
      try to cover the major aspects of where I'm livin. Like:

      WHERE THE HELL IS BURKINA FASO?
      Good question! It's landlocked, situated between Ghana, Cote
      d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Benin and Togo. Don't know where any of those
      are either? Then I cant really help you. Burkina is about the size
      of Colorado, and has a population around 13 million. Ouagadougou is
      the capital, and the other major city is Bobo-Dioulasso, in the
      south. Interesting tidbit: The UN publishes an annual ranking of
      countries called the Human Development Index, based on their wealth,
      development, health care, quality of life, etc etc. This year Canada
      topped the list, followed by Sweden and Norway, and the US at 4th or
      so. Out of 177 countries, Burkina came in at 175. That means this
      place is POOR. (The two countries in last place were Niger and good
      ol Sierra Leone)

      THE WEATHER
      It's hot, man. There's no AC. Today it was hovering around 100.
      It's not pleasant to go to bed and wake up sweating. We're in the
      rainy season, which cools things down a bit, so we're generally
      grateful when it rains (as are the 90% of the population who survive
      on subsistence farming; if it doesn't rain now, they don't eat
      later). Just as we're starting to feel refreshed, and the
      temperature drops below 80, the Burkinabe (Ber-KEE-na-bay) locals
      start to shiver and break out their winter jackets. Talk about thin
      blood! There's also a hot season... That'll arrive in April. Wish
      me luck.

      THE FOOD
      Carbs and oil. Lots and lots of carbs and oil. No atkins here. We
      get a lot of rice, sometimes spaghetti or couscous, all doused in
      oil. But the national dish in Burkina is called To. Let me tell you
      a little bit about To. To might best be described as a cross between
      Cream of Wheat and Tofu. You scoop it up out of a communal pot, roll
      it up into a ball, and dip it into a slimy green "snot sauce" made of
      okra, baobob leaves and MSG. My host family prepares To for me every
      night for dinner. MMMmmm. To is made from millet, the national
      crop, better known back home as birdseed. The millet grain is
      pounded for hours, stripped of its nutrients, and then boiled until
      it's transformed into the succulent gelatinous dish, that tastes
      rather like nothing. Would it not be easier for them to cook Indian
      food? This I wonder.

      THE LANGUAGE
      With my amazing french, I must be getting along just fine, hmm? Not
      so fast. French here is only spoken by the people who've been
      through at least elementary school... so guess what. Outside of the
      cities, not many people speak it, least of all women, and especially
      not in a village of 2500. During my site visit, I nodded a lot and
      came up with a number of variations on mmm hmm. I had a deaf and mute
      guy come by my hut (nicer than you imagine) to greet me. For half an
      hour. He made a lot of broad gestures, which didn't make any sense
      to me, and I wondered what I was supposed to do with him. But later
      I realized, my conversation with him was about as good as any of my
      attempts at communication with others! At least he couldn't hear me
      slaughtering his language.
      There are a good 50 or so native regional languages here.
      I'm learning the main one, Mooré. Some facts about Mooré:
      It's the
      only language (in my knowledge) in which you can say that the sky is
      green and the trees are blue without raising an eyebrow. There's a
      serious lack of words to describe colors, and mass confusion as to
      which is which. A guy walked by in a purple shirt, and we asked 2
      local guys what color it was in Mooré. One said it was red, the
      other guy said green. Maybe they're all just colorblind. There are,
      however, 3 verbs for "to chew" (depending on what exactly it is
      you're masticating) and 3 or so each for aunt and uncle (depending on
      whose side of the family and whether it's your parent's older or
      younger sibling--but if it's your dad's older brother, you just call
      him dad, cause that's how the familial chain of command works).
      People here also have an annoying habit of stating the
      obvious. They'll tell you something, and you'll look around for
      someone who speaks french to translate, and it'll be something
      like: "you came to the market!" or "you drank water!" Yes, yes I did.

      MY CELEBRITY
      I'm white. People like to point this out all the time. One of the
      first words we learned in Mooré was Nasara, which means Whitey.
      As I
      bike around my village, I hear lots of "Whitey! what's up?" "How's
      it goin whitey?" Or just a mob of children darting in front of my
      bike screaming "NAAASAAARAAAAAAAA!" and trying to shake my hand.
      Many a time I'll hear the familiar shout, and glance around to see
      where it's coming from, and it'll be a little kid waving to me from a
      couple hundred yards away. It's slightly disconcerting the first
      time a little girls face lights up when you ride by, and smiling
      shouts "Nasara, bonjour!" while squatting over a puddle of urine on
      the side of the cowpath.
      Now, it's flattering to get all this attention and get little
      kids lining up the shake my hand everywhere I go. I'll try not to
      let it go to my head. But it's not easy being a rockstar (shed a
      tear of pity for me). I'm luckier than the 4 gals in my training
      village who live in polygamous family units with 20 or so kids
      hanging around. They get audiences crowding around as they write in
      diaries or take a trip to the latrine ("you went to the bathroom!")

      DEEP THOUGHT OF THE MONTH
      There sure are a lot of black people in Africa!

      WHAT THEY DON'T TELL YOU IN THE BROCHURE
      Peace Corps Burkina Faso is #1! in africa for cases of diarrhea
      amongst volunteers. My training group of 28 experienced this first
      hand on our 3rd night in country, when just about everyone was
      getting in line for the communal bathrooms, puking out of both ends,
      after contracting food poisioning... and the runs have just continued
      since then! At the very least it's been a bonding experience, to the
      point which we feel quite comfortable talking candidly about our
      poop. Out of our entire training group, I think I'm the only one
      who'se yet to come down with some horrible invasive intestinal
      parasite (knock on wood!) Not bad for 6 weeks in Africa. I just
      keep wondering when my stomach will give out.

      WHICH BRINGS ME TO MY LAST POINT
      Living here for 6 weeks has certainly given me a new perspective on
      what's truly important in life: Toilets. The food I can handle, the
      heat I can cope with, but damn. I miss the toilets. None of this
      aiming for a hole in the ground crap for me. I miss all of you, of
      course. but I really miss the toilets. Luxury is a raised flushing
      toilet (with a seat) and a copy of Entertainment Weekly.

      So by this point I'm sure you're all wondering, when can I come
      visit?? I can't get guests until after at least 3 months in my
      village. That means, plan your trips starting in February!

      I've got lots more to talk about... So you'll just have to wait to
      hear about Sex and the Village and Burkinabe Watch. And maybe
      something about just what I'm supposed to be doing here! I'm always
      happy to hear from you. Seriously. (And I heard a rumor going
      around that I can't receive care packages, but that's simply not
      true.) Let me know what's goin on at home, cuz I'm a little out of
      the loop.
      Take care!
      --Philippe