Friday, September 5, 2008

Point A to Point B

The Wonderful World of Transportation
People at home often ask me how I get from place to place, whether I've had a chance to travel around Burkina and other nearby countries, and how far I am from things like telephones and real toilets. Transportation is one of the more varied aspects of life here in Burkina Faso, one that I deal with frequently, so I thought I'd use a blog entry to give those of you at home a glimpse of how we get around here…First and foremost is the most obvious method: your own two feet. No one in villages owns a car, very few have motorcycles, and there is often only one bike per family. So, that means if Dad rode the bike to the fields for the day, and Mom has to get to the market 10 miles away to sell the veggies she grew, she’s going to be walking. And because most women have a small child almost all the time (family planning is a little slow in catching on), Mom will usually have a kid strapped to her back, with her load of stuff balanced on her head for the duration of the walk.

After walking, the most common way to get around is by bike, but don’t let this conjure up images of spandex shorts and Lance Armstrong. I’m lucky to have a decent American bike, but for the Burkinabe, there are no helmets, one gear only, and almost never any brakes. Bikes are repaired over and over again by village mechanics, and often look like they’re about to collapse underneath the rider. This isn’t helped by the condition of the roads, which are pretty horrendous, during the rainy season in particular. Pushing one’s bike through deep mud and water, then riding it over what feels like a cobblestone street in the aftermath of an earthquake doesn’t do much for bike upkeep. Below is a picture of me on the road to my village, notice the multiple vehicles stuck in about 2 feet of mud behind me. After that is the makeshift mechanic’s “shop,” where you can stop and (attempt to) get your bike fixed when necessary.

Donkey carts are also an option, and often used to carry loads too large for a bike. Way too large….poor donkeys

Some families have a moto, which is either a motorcycle, or more often, a moped kind of thing. In the cities, this is how a lot of people get around. Unfortunately, the combination of bad roads, no helmets, and bad drivers means that more people are killed in accidents each year than malaria and AIDS combined. Scary. But don’t fret, Mom, I ride motos infrequently, and always wearing a huge white helmet that makes me look like a stormtrooper.

For longer trips, People take buses, which range from nicer greyhound-type buses to tiny vans packed with 4 people to each 2-person seat, screaming babies, and sometimes various animals. Here’s the inside of the vehicle I sometimes take to get to my site.
If there isn’t an official bus or van route to get some place, the final option is to catch a ride on top of a camion. Easier said than done. Camions are huge cargo trucks that transport animals, produce, and various other things. After the truck has been fully loaded, people clamber up the sides and perch on the very top, clinging to the sides for balance, about 12 feet from the ground. I did this once, and was fairly convinced I was going to die throughout the ride, where each bump threatened to send me flying off of my perch and onto the ground below. To give you an idea of what a camion looks like, see the picture below and then imagine it fully loaded up to the top, with about 20 people sitting on top of all the cargo, and along the sides of the truck. Here, the cargo happens to be mangoes, which are being loaded up in my village.

I tend to rely mostly on my trusty bike to get around, and avoid crowded buses whenever possible. The concept of forming a line to board the bus doesn’t exist here, and it turns into an awful free-for-all, with people shoving and elbowing to get a spot. For all the above reasons, I’m thinking that getting on the plane for my trip home is going to feel like luxuy accommodations. Speaking of which, I will be in NYC October 14-16/17, and then Vermont until November 3rd. I’d love to see as many people as possible, so anyone should feel free to give me a call if you want to witness the non-pasty version of Moco in person.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Want To Help?

We, the Peace Corps volunteers in the Kenedougou region of Burkina Faso, need your help! We are working in affiliation with a local NGO called SOS Enfants to raise funds to distribute Mosquito Nets to orphans, vulnerable children, and pregnant women in our region. Not only are the mosquitoes here annoying, but their malaria affects at least one member of every household and kills hundreds of children per year. Please help us by donating: $5 per net, easy-to-do online steps, and tax deductable.

For more information, and to give, go to this link:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Feeding Babies

Tomorrow is the last day of the Hearth Model program I've been working on over the past weeks, so I thought I'd give everyone at home a quick look at what's going on with that. I've mentioned it before, but essentially I've been meeting each morning with a group of 12 mothers and their malnourished infants. We prepare an enriched porridge together, feed the kids, and then do some health education stuff. Topics have focused a lot on nutrition, and how to use cheap local ingredients to provide for their children. We also covered hygiene, childhood illnesses, family planning, and other applicable health issues, all of which are tied in together when it comes to malnutrition and general health. Particularly with food prices skyrocketing all over the world right now, it was answering a really large need in the community. Without further ado, pictures!

My ladies preparing the morning porridge. Seeing as it's mango season and a lot of the kids dont get nearly enough fruits and veggies, this porridge has fresh mangos, corn flour, and peanut powder. It was the babies' favorite and one mom even asked me if was ok for her to eat it too.

My neighbor Cory from a village nearby came and helped out for the day, resulting in lots of pictures of me looking a little peeved. And shiny, apparently (hey, its a long bike ride for me to get there).
Cute little Ibrahim. I've kind of forgotten what healthy fat babies look like, because so few here are well-nourished. Hopefully during my follow-up over the next couple months, I'll see kids like Ibrahim put on some weight and get some more energy. Tomorrow is the final weighing, so I'll be able to see how much progress was made during the past couple weeks. Several moms have already commented that their kids have bigger appetites now, more energy, and feel heavier when they lift them up, so that's encouraging.

Arrival back at home at the end of the morning. I took advantage of having Cory there to take a little family portrait, minus my host parents who were in the fields at the time. Baby Abbas (with weird makeup on that day), neighbor kid Brah who needs a new shirt, little bro Aziz and sister Safiatou. Big happy sweaty family.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Trip to Sindou

This will be a short update (better one to come soon, I promise!), but I just wanted to post some pictures from a trip a few weeks ago. A bunch of volunteers got together in the town of Sindou, most famous for it's lovely peaks. This time, however, the big attraction for us was a huge barrage (man-made lake) in a nearby village. We biked out there, getting lost a couple times and eventually made our way to what seemed like a beautiful green oasis in the middle of Burkina. Enjoy the pictures! Finally, happy fathers day to my own Dad, Kevin, Papa, and Grandpa Phil!
The barrage near Sindou, the closest thing to a beach that you can get here in Burkina.

Local fishermen out in wooden canoes to fish, and one was nice enough to take a few of us out for a mini-tour. He paddled while we bailed water...

The whole group


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Let The Games Begin!

And by "games" I mean hot season and work. Same thing, really. For a little glimpse into my life recently, lets take a look at a recent journal entry of mine, dated Monday, April 21st:
"I have heat rash. Everywhere. It's unpleasant."
Hot season has arrived, and though I know many of you back home in the comforts of A/C and spring breezes may be thinking, "Come on, Morgan, it's Africa, what did you expect?"I assure you I have good reason to whine just a little bit. For example, I found myself experiencing some stomach cramps the other day, most likely the result of the questionable-looking meat I had eaten earlier at a neighbor's house (I've stopped asking what animal it is after the time I found out I was eating Bush Rat). Longing for a comfortable spot to lay down, I ventured into my house, setting up my cot in the cooler of the two rooms. After about 15 minutes of sweaty repose, I thought I could feel the heat stroke gaining on me so I gave in and went to sit outside, where the breeze keeps things slightly cooler. On my way out, I peeked at the thermostat I so rashly bought last month: 112 degrees. At almost 6pm. Welcome to Burkina. I took the picture below of myself (lame, I know) to commemorate the absolute sweatiness of the moment.

Luckily, I have some great projects to distract me from the heat. As a community health volunteer, there's a lot of freedom to decide what type of issues to target, depending on our own interests and the needs of our village. As a result, my first two projects are both related to malnutrition, which is a particularly large problem in the small, more remote surrounding villages that my health clinic serves. This is particularly frustrating for me to see each month at baby weighings, since the region in which I live is much more fertile and has more resources than most areas in the country, so even the poorest families should be able to provide food for their children. The disconnect lies in the lack of education regarding proper nutrition, and as a result, a large number or children are severely malnourished. In some parts of the country, nearly a quarter of all children under 5 years old suffer from acute malnutrition, which is an extremely high percentage.
So, working with the sole female member of my health committee, we're about to begin the process of getting trained, and then implementing a rehabilitation and education program for severely malnourished children and their mothers. Its a program which has had some success in other parts of West Africa, utilizing inexpensive local foods and collaborating with "model mothers" in the community who have healthy kids and are well-respected. I'm hoping it works out without too many glitches.
Secondly, the two health volunteers close to my site (Lori and Lindsey) and I are getting started on the planning stages of building a garden at the district hospital's CREN (center for the rehabilitation of malnourished children). When an infant is found to be severely malnourished in any of the villages in the district, they can come to stay at the CREN with their mother, where they're fed high-calorie diets and the mothers are educated on their child's nutritional needs. Most CRENs have a garden to provide much-needed vitamins and nutrients at low cost, but our CREN in Orodara doesn't have enough funding so we're attempting to help them out with planning, funding, and implementation. This could end up being more of a long-term goal, but again, I'm eager to see how it progresses.
Here's a picture of my own "model mother" in village, who is absolutely wonderful. Here we were sitting in my courtyard and my little sister Safiatu is getting her hair done and "reading" a magazine I gave her.

The Mysterious Missionaries
In addition to each of the two projects, I put in my time at the CSPS (health clinic) each day, assisting with prenatal consultations, weighing babies, and helping with monthly vaccinations. The rest of the time in village, I can be found reading , playing with my posse of little kids, visiting with neighbors and attempting to learn Siamou, or riding my bike to various locations. Cory, the health voluntee in the village of Serekeni, is my closest neighbor, and we've recently been trying to meet the ever-elusive Canadian missionaries who live in my village. The first time we located their house and prowled around, they had yet to return from a year-long trip back to Canada, so we had to be satisfied with a view of the house and yard alone. However, we marveled at the giant screened-in porch which is twice as big as my entire house, the huge water tank providing running water, and the solar panels for electricity. Then we were guiltily interrupted by the guard and made our exit. The second visit, we apparently just missed them by a few hours, they had gone to Orodara for the day. But their presence was evident by the newly-swept courtyard, car tire tracks, and various signs of habitation. After admiring the bouquet of flowers in a glass vase, complete with linen table cloth on the porch, we told the guard we'd try again another time and scampered off, visions of running water and good food flashing through our minds.

Excuses, Thank Yous
Due to the fact that sending one letter to the US costs as much as 8 meals at the local restaurant in Orodara (800 CFA), I've been bad about responding to all the wonderful letters and packages that I've received from home. Despite that, I want everyone to know, as always, how much it means to me to get mail, and I appreciate it even if you dont hear back from me directly! I owe a big thank-you to all my parents, the Putnams, all the Lawrence ladies (and happy belated 80th to Papa!), Bonnie and John and Peggy Collier, Selenda, Auntie Beth, Jan Cole, and Lydia, Tovs, and Shala! I'm lucky to have so many friends and family that haven't forgotten sweaty little Morgan all the way over here in Burkina Faso! Also all the emails are wonderful too!

Finally, an early Happy Mother's Day to all the amazing Mothers in my life: Mom, Ellyn, Kunsi, Granny Beth, and Nana. I Love and miss you all!

And now I'll leave you all with a this picture of me playing mommy to my little brother Abbas, snotty nose and all. Corny as it may be, just being able to see him grow up a little each day makes even the hardest days here worth it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

To help you picture things

Two of my little neighbors going for a stroll.

A quick shot of the bus station in Bobo, its not exactly greyhound.

Another little neighbor on his way home after fetching water. The bike's too big for him and the water jug is too heavy to carry, but this method works pretty well

A couple of the kids who hang out in my courtyard a lot, my regular posse.

Sinata with her hair freshly done

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Riots and Menningitis

Those are the two things that have pretty much dominated the past few weeks for me, though luckily from afar. In mid February there were some demonstrations in Bobo (the city I come to for internet, etc) which were planned to protest the high cost of living which is very unrealistic for most Burkinabe to meet. Things escalated and rioting began in the areas surrounding downtown. Lots of breaking/burning things, with hundreds of arrests and 3 deaths, I believe. There was an attempt to break into the Peace Corps house where volunteers stay when we're in town, but there was only minimal damage done (broken windows and our guard got hit in the face with a thrown rock, he's fine now). Demonstrations continued in other cities and all volunteers had to stay at our sites in village until things calmed down. As a result, I got very creative with my dinners, as food options are quite limited in Tin.

At the same time, there has been a meningitis epidemic in the region of Orodara, where I live. About 250 deaths country-wide so far, so the ministry of health set up a huge vaccination campaign and I spent the past week assisting with vaccinations in Tin and the smaller villages nearby which our health clinic serves. After over 2000 vaccinations and almost that many screaming kids (they dont like shots), we're all done. Though it kept me really busy, it was nice to feel useful and hopefully there wont be many more meningitis cases in my area at least.
In other news, my initial 3 months at site are coming to an end and I'll be leaving this weekend to head to the capital city of Ouaga for 3 weeks of more training which is designed to better equip us to address the health problems specific to our individual villages. Following that, I'll return to site and start doing "real" work. I'm looking forward to seeing the other volunteers and being in a city for a few weeks. That also means more regular internet access so please feel free to email me with hello's, questions, or news from home!
And now, a few pictures....

Watching the evening sun through the trees in Tin

We made chocolate pudding at Lori's house in Badara. It was too hot to set and so drinking it was the only option. yummy....

Ok, I can't get this picture to upload correctly, so just turn your head or something to see it. It's the very pretty view from my house of my courtyard and the mountain of Tin.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

Because many of you back home are understandably curious about my experience here so far, I've taken the liberty of compiling a list of frequently asked questions (as well as a few that no one has asked but i felt like throwing in there) and their answers. Enjoy.

Q: Does Mayonnaise really have to be refrigerated? (clearly this question has been foremost in your mind)
A: No, this is a lie propogated by the refrigerator industry in the Western world. I keep mine on a bookshelf in my house after opening it, and despite the 90+ degrees temperatures, its good for weeks. This applies to pretty much all condiments. Dont be grossed out, its the truth....

Q: What does your work in Burkina Faso consist of?
A: I am currently in the midst of conducting a comprehensive Etude de Milieu in the village of Tin, primarily utilizing PACA tools and KAP studies.

Q: Uh...but what do you do??
A: I hang out at the CSPS (health clinic), go through old records, assist with vaccinations, and chat with patients that come in. And apparently, I faint at the sight of blood, when the mood strikes me. At the moment I'm focusing on getting to know the village and its health needs through both informal and formal methods so that following another training session next month, I'll be able to begin to actually do some "real work." A lot of this will be assistin at the CSPS, with vaccinations, and doing health education sessions on various topics throughout the community.

Q: What do you do to relax in village?
A: Well, my current tally of books read so far is 37, so I read a lot, anything ranging from trashy romance novels to Les Miserables to Keroac. Also, biking to the closest town to meet up with other volunteers and get a cold bisap (kind of like hibiscus juice) is always nice. We're entering the "marriage season" right now, so I danced up a storm at my first one the other night. They're huge village-wide celebrations with lots of dancing and music, so that fun too. And of course, I play with my posse of kids every day.

Q: You mention playing with kids a lot. Dont you have any adult friends in village?
A: Still working on that one. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that soon someone will walk into my courtyard and declare in perfect french "Je voudrais etre ton ami, tubabomuso!" (I would like to be your friend, white lady!). This has yet to occur, but I do spend time with neighbors and coworkers in addition to my little playmates under the age of 10.

Q: So you mention that you bike a lot. You must be very tan, fit, and thin these days!
A: This is a common misconception and a sore point for many volunteers here. Because there is no fresh fruits or veggies in village and the meat is a bit questionable, my diet is mainly carbs which doesn't do wonders for one's figure. The result is very strong legs from biking over the evil mountain all the time, but not much else, and a tan that only includes my arms and legs from the calf down, everything in between is still deathly pale, reminiscent of a Vermont winter.

Q: Did you get my letter/package/email?
A: maybe, but dont worry if I haven't yet, things can take a loooong time to arrive, but they almost always get here eventually. I apologize for not responding to most letters, but postage is really expensive for me. That doesn't mean I dont appreciate them though, I LOVE hearing from everyone at home, so keep them coming!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A few more thoughts

My mental state-
"Emotional roller-coaster" does not even begin to describe it... On a typical day I awake in a neutral state of mind to the sounds of roosters, small children screaming, and women pounding millet. I prepare my oatmeal and then take a trip to the latrine, at which point my day often sours. Either cockroaches climb out of it over my foot or I'm attacked by the ever-present G.I. issues in Burkina Faso, and neither of these do much to improve my mood. Following that, I make my way to the CSPS (village health clinic), passing neighbors on the way, all of whom are incredibly friendly and take a moment to chat with me. This improves my mood rapidly. Once at the CSPS I continue to feel happy and somewhat productive, and enjoy the company of my coworkers there. Unfortunately, there are times when my work is anything but uplifting, and the mood plummets yet again. After a few hours there, I return to my house and hibernate for a while, staring at the termites eating my furniture and missing the emotional comforts of America, family, and friends. I also read a lot, oftem bursting into tears at the corny parts in cheesy books. A pretty pathetic site. Then I'll motivate myself to venture outside, where the kids instantly cheer me up and I spend a good hour or two playing happily with them. Some days I get visitors, people in the community that I'll either be working with later or who are just friendly and like to stop by and chat for a while. My mood continues to rise from this, and I'm perfectly content and happy until something little happens like realizing I have no food for dinner or the cow in my yard wont stop bellowing for two seconds and allow me to get a second of peace. Then I wallow in misery some more and stare at my calendar listlessly, thinking I would cut off my little toe to have someone to talk to in English (seriously, i mean, little toes aren't that important after all).

My saving grace-
There are just enough moments each day, each week when I realize its worth it to be here. Sometimes its something upsetting, like weighing babies during village vaccinations and realizing at least 2/3 of them are malnourished. Depressing and daunting, but it gives me a concrete issue to focus on, and reaffirms that there is so much work here to be done, that I can hopefully contribute to in some way. Other times, these moments are incredibly enjoyable, like getting together with my theater troupe in village and just hanging out with a drum, dancing and singing until everyone shows up for rehearsal. Then there are many calm tranquil moments like riding my bike in the early morning (on the flat parts, i hate my life during the hills) and thinking that there is no place that would make me more content than right there on the road in Burkina. So, despite the ups and downs, I'm still here and excited for whatever comes next.

And the rabid feminist in me emerges-
I never really thought of myself as a feminist before coming here. If pressed to definitively say that I was or was not, I would have replied yes, but it wasn't a constant thought in my mind. Funny how things chance when you arrive in a country where women are incredibly marginalized. For example, a Burkinabe colleague will bring up the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, and baldly state "Clinton's woman cannot win because women cannot be president; they are not strong enough to lead men." Another day, with another man, the issue of excision (femal genital mutilation, look it up) arises, and it is explained to me that though it is illegal, without it, women will not be faithful and obedient to their husbands, so it continues. Needless to say, these conversations are a little hard for me to stomach, and its a thin line between expressing my opinions and offending those of another culture.

Thats all for now, thanks as always to all of you who have sent cards, letters, and packages! It's so nice to know people are thinking of me!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Please Send Tuna and Prozac

Sorry for the long delay in posting, life has been a little hectic with moving to my permanent site and getting settled in. But things are going well overall, and after a fresh coat of paint, some curtains and a bit of furniture, my little mud house is starting to feel like a home. Tin has about 3,000 people, and the CSPS (heath clinic) serves several other local villages as well. The main health problems are Malaria and malnutrition, though I'll also be dealing with HIV/AIDS education and other subjects. Most days I spend a couple hours at the CSPS observing consultations, assisting with vaccinations and baby weighings, and just generally getting a feel for it. After that, my time is divided between reading, playing with the kids that live near me (language barriers aren't much of a problem when it comes to 5 year olds), and attempting to speak French/Siamou/Jula, the three languages spoken in my village. Notice english is definitely not on the list....

People are very friendly and welcoming, but the entire experience is an emotional roller-coaster to a degree I never thought possible. Older volunteers warned us during training, but there was really no way to understand until actually getting to site and being faced with it. There are moments when I'm elated to be here, with such a strong sense of purpose and opportunity, and the next I'm tempted to hibernate in my house for a week or would kill for a good meal and some conversation in English. I'm about an hour's bike ride from the nearest town with food and shops, so I go there a couple times a week to go to the marche and meet up with the other volunteers in the region for a bit.
The most exciting/embarassing incident lately took place two weeks ago at the CSPS, where I was observing a young girl having a procedure done. She had no anesthesia, and had to be restrained while they cut open her highly infected hand, right to the bone. In between the screaming and medical talk, I realized I was going to pass out, and then promptly did so, falling off my stool and hitting the ground hard. Not exactly the impression I was tring to make, but I guess thats life....and the bruises from the fall have now disappeared, so life goes on. And I did provide some momentary entertainment and relief for the little girl, to look at the upside of things!

Here we have a picture of one of the two rooms of my house, with the cheerful new yellow paint and my new tables!
A veiw of my house from the outside.

I share my courtyard with these cows in their pen, chickens and goats which roam free, and 7 other people, so having company is not an issue! The big pile in the left corner is bisap, one of the main crops in village.

Lori, me, and Lindsay in Bobo on New Year's. They are the two other first year volunteers in my region so we spend a lot of time together and generally keep eachother sane.

Thank you so much to everyone who sent me holiday cards, letters, and packages, it made the holiday season wonderful to know that so many people are thinking of me. Final news is that I have yet another NEW ADDRESS! this is the last change, I promise!

Morgan Cole

BP 08

Orodara, Burkina Faso

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