Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Your Chance to Change a Life

Since getting back from my Peace Corps service in Burkina Faso, many people have asked me how they can offer some contribution the the people of Burkina, knowing it will have a direct, personal, and meaningful effect. This is your opportunity:

As many of you may know, I have had the incredible privilege of knowing Abibata Sanogo, from the village of Tin. From the beginning of our friendship, she stood out to me as exceptional. She has been met at every stage of her life by roadblocks that would defeat the average person- constant bouts of malaria, pressure to marry since age 15, and extremely limited financial resources. Despite all this, she has always seen the value of education and persevered in a way that very few young women from rural Burkina do. She passed the exam that thousands of students take per year, gaining a coveted spot at the national university in Ouagadougou.

Her parents couldn't afford to pay her tuition, and frankly saw little point in educating a woman to that level. I was so grateful to be able to give a relatively small amount of money to fund her entire first year at University. Despite the challenges of adjusting to life in the "big city" on her own, and the serious academic demands of University, Abi passed her first year with impressive marks. She is spending her summer taking a basic computer course, and working to save money for this coming year. I can't express how proud I am of her or how much admiration I have for what she has accomplished.

Unfortunately, as a new grad student, I have very little of my own to pay for Abi's expenses in the coming year. To cover her tuition, books, room, and board for an entire year costs around $500. About 1% of the cost of a year at Dartmouth, to put that in perspective. I've been saving to send her what I can, but if any of you are willing to send even just $10, it will go a long way in helping this exceptional young woman. Burkina is one of the poorest countries in the world, and Abi is one of those young people that will undoubtably play a role in bettering her nation and people. But only if she is given a chance.

If anyone is willing to help, please send a check to me at the address below. I apologize that I don't have an easier way to donate, but please rest assured that every cent will go towards Abi's education, and I'll keep everyone updated on her progress who is interested. Thank you all so much for reading this far and ANYTHING you can give is hugely appreciated. Let me know if you have any questions.

Morgan Cole

7 East 27th St

Baltimore, MD 21218

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Top Ten Lists

Things I Will Miss About Burkina:
1- My host family and friends in Tin- There is no way I can really describe what a difference it made in my two years here to have my host family and the friends I've made in Tin. They look out for me, answer my silly questions, bravely try American meals I cook, share what little they have with me, and have made my time here so much more than just a job.

2- My fellow volunteers- Whether it's getting together in Ouaga or Bobo, traveling to new places, celebrating a birthday, or venting about some recent frustration, having the friendship and support of other volunteers, a few in particular, has been invaluable to me here. I know we'll keep in touch after we all go our separate ways in America, but being here together for two years has been an incomparable experience.

3- Everyday Friendliness- You pass someone on the street here, you say hello. You walk into a store, you ask how the person behind the counter is doing. You meet someone new, you inquire if there family is well. In America, you awkwardly avoid eye contact, or often get right to the point without pleasantries if some sort of interaction is necessary. I'll miss the Burkina version.

4- Slower pace of life- I've had way more opportunities to relax, reflect, read for pleasure, and just think, than I've ever had in my life. I rarely find myself in a hurry, which seems to be nearly constantly the case in the states.

5- Bathing outside- I never I thought I'd say this, but I'll miss taking bucket baths in my little shower structure, looking up at the stars or a beautiful sunrise

6- Respect for Age- Something I think we're missing in American culture, having respect for one's elders is of utmost importance, and by not showing this respect, I think we miss out on a chance to learn from those more experienced then us. Frankly, anyone who has had 10 kids and worked incredibly hard everyday of their adult life deserves to be shown some respect by someone like me

7- Learning/Experiencing something new everyday- Granted, this is possible in the States too, but it's nearly unavoidable here in Burkina, where I'm constantly hearing a new local legend, spotting an animal I've never seen before, or exploring some aspect of the culture I was previously unaware of.

8- Appreciation of small luxuries- A scoop of ice cream, a functioning fan, or a good book. Any of those things is seriously just about all it takes make my day a good one. I know that the novelty of such things and my appreciation of them will probably wear off once I've been back in America a while, but I'm going to make an effort not to take things for granted quite as much.

9- Safety- Yes, there is crime in Burkina, but particularly while in village, concerns about any sort of violent crime are almost non-existant. refreshing. At any time, I know that my host family and friends are looking out for me, and even strangers will step in and help if it's needed.

10- Not having to dress up, put on make-up, or spend any money on my appearance- Ok, so this is a dangerous one, as I'm afraid I may continue the habit of questionable hygiene, non-existent hair and skin care, and balking at paying more than 4$ for an article of clothing when I leave Burkina. However, it's been a wonderful break from superficiality and worry about one's appearance. In my world, upgrading from flip-flops to chacos qualifies as "getting pretty."

Things I Will Not Miss about Burkina:

1- Transport: Very few things in Burkina ever run smoothly, transportation perhaps most of all. Roads are terrible, vehicles break down constantly, and nearly every time, there are mosre tickets sold than seats available, resulting in scenes like this one, with people basically stampeding to get on the bus, and going so far as to climb in the windows to get a spot. There's also a high likelihood that you will end up with a peeing baby on your lap, or a squawking chicken under your seat. Overall, I will be happy to get back to the land of personal cars and relatively comfortable public transportation.

2- All eyes on me
: I've spent the past two years of my life constantly being stared at, analyzed, questioned and just overall being the center of attention, which is not something that I enjoy most of the time. It will be a massive relief to be able to walk down the street without having a dozen people try to get my attention, sell me something, or just generally not have people watching my every move. See #3 on the next list.

3- Sexism/Patriarchy: I am SO sick of hearing men talk about their multiple extra-marital affairs as if it's completely acceptable
, having men constantly question my intelligence or ability solely because of my gender, and seeing women in marriages that are anything but a partnership. I know that sexism exists in America as well, but until coming to Burkina, it has never affected my life on a daily basis nearly so much.

4- Corruption
5- My Latrine: this structure has been through a lot in two years...falling over, getting rebuilt, repaired, and falling down again. This photo is the pile of rubble that was my latrine for a few days before it was rebuilt the second time around.

6- Lines, or lack thereof: Orderly and efficient lines are not something that exist in Burkina. In order to get a spot on the bus, service at a store, or the attention of a cashier, you have to stick out those elbows and be prepared to not only protect your spot in the non-existant line, but to shove your way to the front before the people behind you do.

7- 110 degree days, with humidity

8- h
aving pimples, weight gain, and general tired appearance constantly and matter-of-factly pointed out to me

9- Lack of directness
: Coming from an American perspective, where people are usually very straight forward and to the point, it gets tiring when here in Burkina, any request or conversation requires a 15 minute introduction to the subject before the person finally gets to the point. Or doesn't, in some cases.... I'll sometimes get to the end of a conversation with someone, than realize I still have no clue what their point was, or what they were asking for. Frustrating.

10- Malaria and Typhoid
- A couple months back I got a wee bit sick, and then a lot sick. It turned out to be both malaria and typhoid fever. After two nights in the hospital and a week in the Peace Corps infirmary, multiple IV bags, and many worried calls from Mom, I was feeling better and back on my feet. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in areas in which malaria is endemic do not have anywhere close to the same medical and preventative resources I did, and in Burkina alone, nearly 12,000 people die each year from the disease.

Things I'm Excited For In the United States:

1- Ease of Communication- The idea of being able to just pick up a phone or sit down at my computer to be in touch with my family and friends is infinitely appealing. For the past two years, I've had to trek over to my special "reception spot" next to my neighbors hut and hold up my phone for a few minutes, until I heard that wonderful little ring signaling that a text has come through. My other option for keeping in touch is to hop on my bike and bike uphill for about an hour to the nearest town, where the internet connection at the cyber cafe may or may not be working, supposedly depending on the weather that day. Constant cell phone reception and easy internet access will be a welcome change.

2- Toilets/Showers/Baths
: this one should be pretty obvious...

3- Anonymity
: It will be refreshing to once again be just another person in a crowd when I want to be, and not always the center or attention or a target for marriage proposals, scams, or tourist "guides"

4- Privacy
: Living in a small village where everyone knows you and your business is both a blessing and a curse. The sense of community and safety is wonderful, but it's also a culture where people think it's incredibly weird if I want to spend an afternoon by myself, reading quietly alone in my house. If I make the mistake of trying to do that, I'll most likely be interrupted every 15 minutes or so by an inquisitive neighbor knocking at my door, or small children peering in my window.

: Again, this one should be pretty obvious. Even with the people with whom I've kept in pretty constant touch, it's been difficult being so far away for so long. At times it was hard to even comprehend that everyone's life is still going on back in the States during my time here, because I feel so removed from it. But new babies have been born, jobs changed, and houses built among my family and friends since my departure, and I'm excited to catch up with everyone again and be present in their lives.

6- Cheese/food in general
: Ah, cheddar, how I've missed you!

7- AC/Indoor Heating
: Having an option other than removing clothing or fanning one's self with a book to combat the temperature will be wonderful. My parents may chastise me for cranking up the thermostat every 5 minutes when I get home, but I'm just excited to even have that choice!

8- Customer Service
: waiters that actually refill your water glass and ask how the meal is? products that are returnable if they break immediately after you buy them? Service workers of any kind who are actually interested in helping you?? I've missed all these things for two years and will be happy to get back to them.

9- Modern Conveniences (phones, electricity, plumbing, refrigeration)

10- Efficiency!
: One thing that the American people and institutions are good at is setting a goal, laying out a plan, and accomplishing it within a reasonable amount of time. Yes, there's unnecessary bureauocracy and delays sometimes, but nothing compared to in Burkina.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

FYI: Packages...

It is with both joy and sadness that I request that no more packages be sent to me here in Burkina... there's a good chance they wouldn't arrive before my departure, and I've stockpiled some treats to ration myself for these last few months!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Highs and Lows in Tin

I'm writing this while sitting at my little table in my house in Tin. I'm wearing earplugs to lessen the headache-inducing pounding of the rain of my tin roof, which at the moment feels a little like living inside a large drum while thousands of hands bang on it with all their might with no purpose other than to drive me insane. Having just finished my 13th game of solitaire by lantern-light, I've decided that a better use of my time would be to write up a blog entry to be typed up next time I'm in Bobo with computer access. Rainy evenings like this in village can be a bit slow, as the rain is loud enough to prevent conversation and everyone is holed up in their houses waiting it out. One can only play so many games of solitaire...
Luckily, the rains are coming less frequently now and will stop altogether around the end of the month. This is both good news and bad for me. Good because I'm sick of being a hermit in my house, biking through inches of mud, and planning meetings, only to have no one show up because "it really like like it might rain." Bad news because sometimes rain is a great excuse to curl up in bed with a book and not be judged by everyone in the village (wanting some alone time is a foreign concept here), and because the end of rainy season signals the return of 100+ degree weather.
Though most volunteers would say that the entirety of their service is an emotional roller-coaster with constant high and low periods, the past few months have been especially so for me. May and June were both fairly busy work-wise, and the resulting feeling of productivity was rewarding in itself. Between overseeing our clinic repairs, planning and executing our girl's camp, and making great progress with my theater troupe, I was feeling like a "good volunteer," and pretty content at site in general. I was doing the sort of work that I came here to do, enjoying my friends and host family in village, and making a hopefully making a small positive difference in the community.
July, however, was difficult for several reasons. My neighbor had been suffering from AIDS since about a year ago, and though he had made some progress at first, getting his medications under control and putting on some weight, things took a downhill turn around April. He grew frustrated with everything: his medical regime, the stigma he faced, and his ongoing daily struggles physically. His wife is not in the picture and lives in another country, so his two children (Sali and Seydou, age 4 and 6) spend a lot of time in my courtyard, playing with my host siblings and raiding my toy stash, so I'd become particularly invested in the situation. With his mounting frustrations, his health began to deteriorate rapidly. After one particularly pain-filled day, he said "I'm just so tired, I'm ready to go." That night, woke several times in the night to the sound of his moans and cries of pain in the house next door, and at around 7 in the morning, he passed away. The funeral was heartbreaking, especially watching his older brothers who had outlived him carry his body through the courtyard on the way to burial. All us women stood up in respect as they passed, as women are traditionally not permitted at the actual burial. Then one by one, the women started wailing, and his two kids stood alone and ragged for a moment, sobbing inconsolably now that they finally realized that their father was really gone.
I've seen a lot more death since coming to Burkina than I was ever exposed to in the States, which has in some ways made it less shocking to me, but seeing those kids lose their father to such a senseless and preventable disease was particularly hard. Needless to say, that was a difficult time, for myself and more so for my host family and friends here in Tin.
July was also the final stage of a 4-month national polio vaccination campaign, and by month 4 of walking door to door throughout the village and vaccinating any kid we could get our hands on, I was pretty sick of it. Even romantically reminding yourself that you're helping eradicate an awful disease, saving babies, and all that noble altruistic stuff doesn't make the 110 degree sun any less hot or your headache from screaming children go away.
August was a high point, as my frend Tovah came to visit, bearing gifts of American food and news from home. She was a great guest, up for the challenge of traveling in Burkina and armed with a spiffy new camera and an bottomless bag of precautionary medical supplies. Luckily, she made good use of the camera but was able to go without most of the medical supplies, leaving them behind for my clinic staff to use. Unfortunately, Burkina caught up with her the last day with some sort of stomach bug, but other than that, the visit was wonderful.
So now it's september, and our Close-of-Service conference is in just a few days, after which I'll return to Tin for a couple more months to wrap up my work here. After that, it's home to the USA! All plans after my arrival in America are a little hazy until next fall, when I will hopefully be starting grad school. If anyone has any suggestions/job offers for that interim period, feel free to let me know!

And signing off, a picture of chubby baby Bintou!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reflections in Ouaga

As I write this entry, I'm curled up in a huge leather chair, in the marble-tiled, gold-gilted, generally extravagant lobby of a hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina. This morning's breakfast was a buffet of made-to-order omelettes, fresh fruit, unlimited kinds of breads, rolls and pastries, and even american cereal in fancy serving platters. I honestly had no idea that such an oasis of luxury existed in this country, especially since frankly all it takes to impress me these days is air conditioning and a semi-comfortable mattress. But thanks to the incredible generosity of my friend Lori and her Mom (who's here from America visiting Lori) I'm learning that even in Burkina, one can find a 5-star hotel.
The timing of our stay here is especially ironic though; the city of Ouaga experienced more rain in 10 hours yesterday than in the months of June and August combined, a record not seen since 1919. The result has been major flooding, and Lori, her Mom, and I were actually barely able to make it into the city before Peace Corps declared a state of emergency and forbid volunteers from traveling to Ouaga at all. Now that we're here, we're mostly confined to the hotel for our safety, so I've got plenty of time to write about it. The extreme irony is the juxtaposition of our current lodgings and the extreme poverty just around the corner, which even during the best of times is dire, and with the devastation of the flooding, is an even more extreme contrast. Several people died in the flooding yesterday, and thousands are left homeless as their mud walls and houses were washed away, and here I am contemplating whether my next move should be to the pool or restaurant.

It's hard sometimes to find the right limit, or draw a line of how much to give, or what privileges to deny myself in order to help the people around me and do what I can to help give them a small fraction of opportunities that I've been blessed enough to have in my own life. When I take a weekend away from my village now and then to meet up with other volunteers, use the internet, call home, etc, I often find myself feeling guilty. I'll sometimes treat myself to a nice dinner, which will cost $8 or so, money that could feed my entire host family for a week. Is that wrong? Should I feel guilty about it? I really don't have an answer, but it's a question that comes up frequently for me.
I'm no more hardworking, intelligent or inherently good than many of the people here, yet by chance of birth I have privileges and resources that 99.9% of them will never experience. The opportunity for a good education, health care, international travel, and material possessions are all mine for no reason other than the fact that I was born in the United States to parents who could afford to provide me with those things.
I guess the lesson somewhere in here for me has been that I have to strike a balance that I'm comfortable with and go with that. I'm not going to give away all my money and material goods to those less fortunate than myself and live at poverty level in order to do so, but it also doesn't feel right to not spread around the benefits of my own privilege a bit to those who are clearly deserving but haven't had the same opportunities. So, I'll help my friend in Tin pay for her University tuition and be proud of her for being the first person in her family to ever go past high school, and then go treat myself to ice cream next time I'm in the city. I'll spend a month in village living in my little house and working in the community, then not beat myself up about springing for a decent hotel when I leave for a weekend. I think the most important thing is for to be grateful for the opportunities that I've had in my life, and to not take it for granted or tell myself that I'm somehow entitled to it any more than those living in Tin, Burkina Faso are. It's easy to see how blessed I've been in my life when surrounded by such poverty here every single day, it'll be important for me to remain aware of it once I'm back in America.
This entire internal debate probably is somewhat naive, as poverty is everywhere in the world and everything is relative, but it's something that has been much more apparent to me in the past two years due to my lifestyle here, and I thought I'd share my thoughts with everyone, since it's been so long since my last entry. On that note, I hope you're all doing well and enjoying the summer, and I'll have news soon on my return date to the United States!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Orodara Girl's Camp

The rainy season here in Burkina lasts from around June to August, and is often slow for health volunteers, due to the difficulty in mobilizing villagers for activities. Most people in rural villages are obligated to spend the majority of their time working in the fields once the rains start, either planting, tending, or harvesting the crops which are their main source of sustenance and income. This leads to volunteers with a lot of time on their hands and few community members with the time or energy to help plan or implement projects. One solution that many volunteers choose is to run a summer camp, often for girls, as somewhat time-consuming, but ultimately rewarding project during the summer months. This year, My two volunteer friends in nearby villages, Lindsey and Lori, decided to take 5 girls from each of our sites and plan a joint camp in our district capital, Orodara.

Burkina's education system is clearly challenged, with a shortage of qualified teachers and schools, and an overall literacy rate in the country of just 13%. In addition to this, many girls grow up without any encouragement or support towards further educational goals or fulfilling roles other than the traditional ones of mother and wife. While these roles are clearly important, and there is much for young women to continue to learn from their elders in a non-academic setting, it is an unfortunate reality that 80% of Burkinabe girls do not even finish primary school, are usually extremely hesitant to step into leadership roles or speak freely in classroom settings, and often succumb to sexual pressure from men and end up pregnant or in an early marriage in their mid teens, thus dropping out of school and halting their education for good.

Girl's camps are meant to make a small step in empowering young Burkinabe girls and women to see their own self-worth and their potential, both academically, professionally, and as contributing members of their community. Our daily activities included discussions of goal-setting and action plans, female role models, and good communication skills. Some of these may seem like fairly basic concepts, but turned out to be challenging to discuss at times. It was amazing to see the girls' progress over the two weeks, girls that started out literally unable to stand up and answer a simple question in front of the group without verging on tears became much more comfortable and confident as the time went on, unafraid to speak up when they didn't understand something, or to voice their opinions on a topic.
We were lucky to have several great visitors who helped us with the camp, including those from a local women's association in which the members work together for a variety of income-generating activities, as well as the midwives from each of our three communities, a former Peace Corps language tutor who actually comes from Orodara, and the head of the local radio station, who helped the girls to record a broadcast on their experiences during the camp. The midwives helped with a women's health day, when we discussed the topics of puberty, family planning, IST's, and HIV/AIDS with the girls.

Of course, there were many challenges during the process of planning and running the camp, from bickering between the girls and to the challenge of doing a condom demonstration without the entire room dissolving into giggles, and the many many cultual differences between our style of teaching and group interaction and that of the Burkinabe's. But overall it was a great project and I think all three of us volunteers were proud of ourselves and our girls that participated. The girls themselves danced up a storm and stuffed themselves with rice during our final day's ceremony, and sang a song they composed for the parents and visitors who came to celebrate with us. Enjoy the pics below, and I hope everyone at home is enjoying the summer!
On a somewhat related topic, the most recent good news from my village over here is that my friend Abibata just passed the test that allows her to go to University in the fall, a huge feat for a young woman (or man, very few people pass this), and will be starting in the fall at the university in Ouagadougou!

Walking back to the Diongolo high school, where we held the camp

All the girls with their certificates on the last day

Sali recording her portion of the radio show

Lori leading the girls in a game

Learning how to make liquid soap as an income-generating activity

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