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!
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