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

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Post For The Visually-Inclined

Abbas, pouting after his haircut

Lori, Lindsey and I after a guest appearance with an English club at the high school in Orodara

It is most definitely mango season! These are all waiting to be loaded into a huge truck which will come and pay kids to load it up using baskets, and then the mangos are shipped off to various destinations. I'm trying to eat as many as possible now, knowing that I wont be seeing many in Vermont after my service here.

Bakary (the son of my neighbor friend Sinaly) and his lovely new wife at their wedding. It happened to be on my birthday, which made for a fun party.

Fishermans' boats and netting at Cape Coast in Ghana

Matt, Lindsey, and I in Ghana attempting to get some last minute studying done before going into the testing center for the GRE. Apparently I was worried, Lindsey was concerned, and Matt blissfully confident.
Me, Katherine, Matt, Stephanie, and Linda, who all shared a host village during training and have all made it this far!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Visitors and Voyages

I realize I've been neglectful in my blogging/emailing duties lately, so I thought I should just let everyone know I'm still alive and well, albeit tired and sweaty most of the time. Nothing much new going on here, I'm trying to get in as much studying as possible since I'll be taking the GREs in just a few weeks, but studying in village is a little tricky. Distractions include sweat dripping onto my book, children climbing over my lap, and goats storming my courtyard. But other than that, life is continuing as usual, making very slow progress on our CREN garden and now in the planning stages of CSPS (health clinic) repairs, which are much needed. My daily work at the CSPS continues as usual, and we recently got two new staff members there, including a young midwife and assistant nurse. Both have just finished their training and this is their first job. It's nice to have more company and a lighter workload for both myself and my head nurse at the clinic. Before their arrival, there was a period when it was just the two of us, and several women ended up being forced to deliver their babies alone and unassisted at the clinic since both my head nurse and I were away at trainings.
I've been traveling outside of my site quite a bit lately between Mom and Ben visiting, the FESPACO film festival in Ouaga, and then a recent party to send off the volunteers who are finishing up their service soon. The traveling back and forth between Tin and Ouaga is tiring and expensive, but it's always nice to see other volunteers from outside of the Bobo region. Despite that, I'll be glad when I can settle back into my regular routine in Tin and spend a solid amount of time "sans voyager."
Mom and Ben's trip was wonderful, though logistically tricky with the typical Burkina issues of transportation, language barriers, and questionable schedules. But they got a chance to see Ouaga, Bobo, and Tin, as well as spending a night in the town of Boromo, where we tracked down some elephants with the help of a guide. Once Mom figures out how to work her new camera I hope to get some of her pictures uploaded.
After 10 days here in Burkina, they whisked me away to Morocco for a week, and as Ben said "It's a good thing we did Burkina first and Morocco second and not the other way around." Though Burkina is always an interesting adventure, the transition to the comparatively luxurious and rich Morocco was startling. There is certainly poverty there, and it's far from the USA in terms of development, Burkina and Morocco seems worlds apart. We spent three days at a lovely guesthouse in Marrakech, navigating the labyrinth of streets and colorful local markets, and eating lots of delicious food. Highlights included a great cooking lesson and subsequent meal, and getting a well-guided tour of the markets and shops.
Spices for sale in the Marrakech souks (marketplaces)
Ben preparing to eat his self-cooked Moroccan meal
Mom perusing the Berber carpet options

After Marrakech, we ventured to the High Atlas Mountain region, where we stayed in a traditional Berber guesthouse high in the mountains at the base of Toukbal, the second-highest peak in Africa. Mom took advantage of the fresh air and trekking paths and did an admirable amount of hiking, while Ben and I relaxed at the house a read books by the fire. Going from hot dusty Burkina to hail in the Moroccan mountains was a bit of a shock for my body, but the beautiful location and heavy wool sweaters eased the transition.

The view from my window in the Atlas Mountains

Making our way down the mountain with the assistance of a sturdy mule

I've been back in Burkina for a while now, and am spending most of my time outside of work getting ready for the GREs, though as I mentioned before, I'm afraid I'm not studying very effectively. I guess we'll find out come April 8th, when I'll be taking the test in Ghana. Several other volunteers and myself are going together, and afterwards we'll spend a few days relaxing in Accra before heading back to Burkina, just in time for rainy season to get started and take the edge off this heat (hopefully).
As always, my love to everyone at home, I appreciate the continuing letters and packages and hope everyone is doing well!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Holidays, Burkina Edition

My past few months here have been fairly busy, between various holidays, my trip home to the States, the arrival of the new volunteers, and hitting the one-year mark of my service. So as not to get ahead of myself, I’ll try to recap the major things in order. Look for a more work-related update to come in the next month or so. I do more than just celebrate holidays here, I swear.


In October I had the pleasure of coming home to America for 3 weeks, a wonderful break from Burkina and a chance to see family and friends. I got a lot of questions from everyone, the most common of which was undoubtedly “How’s Africa?” which I got so sick of hearing the instead of replying what I was thinking (“I have no idea how the continent is doing, though I’ve been doing well in Burkina Faso”) I eventually started replying simply “It’s hot.” Generally if people had asked the question to begin with they were satisfied with that response.
A lot of people also inquired if it was “weird to be back,” which was a much more complicated issue. On one hand, as soon as I stepped off the plane I felt a sense of relief and homecoming, and at times I could almost feel as if I had never left. In fact, it was almost odd to see that many things were exactly as they were a year ago before leaving; it was as if I had expected the world to change, since my experience of the past 12 months has been so different. However, there was certainly a level of culture shock, mostly being a little overwhelmed by the constant rush and impersonality of things. In my village here you’re considered incredibly rude if you don’t greet people that you pass on the road, while in NYC they’d just think you’re incredibly weird and avoid eye contact.
I also found myself feeling impatient, perhaps unfairly, with people’s complaints and concerns. Here it’s never sure that you’ll have enough money to pay for your child’s elementary school education, or their visit to the doctor if they get malaria, or even basic necessities like food. There is a 42 year old woman in Tin who recently came into the clinic pregnant with her 12th child, only 5 of which are still living, and no knowledge of birth control and limited choice in the matter once we explained it to her, since it is the husband who decides those matters. Knowing that its only the simple chance of birth that my life is not like that makes it difficult for me to empathize with a lot of people’s concerns over money, jobs, relationships, etc. back home. I know that’s somewhat unfair and cliché, along the lines of “don’t complain, there’s children starving in Africa” but it’s difficult to feel as sympathetic towards relatively privileged people after some of the hardships that we see daily here. Not to say that I myself don’t and never will complain about petty things, but I guess it’s just easier to step back now and try to put things into the larger perspective when I’m stressed out about anything.
Overall, my trip home was wonderful. It was a great chance to visit friends in NYC, at Dartmouth Homecoming, in VT, and Boston. I was lucky to be able to see so many friends and family, eat lots of delicious food, and enjoy cool temperatures and comfortable beds. A big thank-you to everyone for making it such a good visit, especially my family and lovely hosts in NYC and Boston!

Ramadan is one of the largest Muslim holidays, and the end of a month of fasting is marked by a day of celebration and feasting. It’s an opportunity for everyone in village to get dressed up in their nicest clothes, visit their family and friends, and eat something other than To. I took some pictures this year, since everyone looked so nice and the kids are relatively clean for once. This is my host mother and my two little brothers, all decked out in their new clothes.

Election Day
I’m not sure if this qualifies as an official holiday, but we certainly celebrated it here. I arrived back in Burkina from my trip to the States on the 4th, and promptly made my way to the U.S. embassy rec center with a group of volunteers to watch the election results come in. At 5:30am, Obama was declared the winner, and we all made our sleepy way home in the dawn of Ouagadougou, exhausted but thrilled. The next day was incredible, any time a Burkinabe would discover I was American they’d nearly shriek with excitement and want to shake my hand over and over, and even more so when I expressed my support for his presidency. It was such a wonderful feeling to see the excitement and hope all around the country, among Americans and Burkinabe alike.

For this classic American holiday, I was helping train the new group of volunteers who arrived in Burkina in October. I would say the highlight was the goat that they bought and fattened up for a couple weeks, before naming it “Turkery” and slaughtering it on the big day. Yummy!

Christmas in Burkina is a little bizarre, and it can be a little difficult to get into the proper spirit. However, with the help of lots of Christmas music, copious amounts of food, and homemade stockings, we were able to have a pretty good time. A big group of volunteers got together in Bobo and went all out with decorations and delicacies (thank you Betty Crocker) from America. All in all, a good celebration. Here’s the group of girls from my training group and I, after doing a little present exchange.

New Year’s
Last year, Lori and Lindsey and I decided to spend our New Year’s in Bobo with our head nurses from the clinic and their respective wives. After an evening at a rather expensive and snooty club (who knew such things existed in Burkina Faso), we pled exhaustion and found a cab to take us home. We then made a spur of the moment decision and asked our taxi driver to bring us to a fun spot to continue celebrating the new year. He proceeded to drive us to Ocean Atlantic, a local spot that was packed with normal people and good music. It turns out our taximan is a riot, and hung out with us for the rest of the evening, then driving us home at the end of the evening free of charge. Due to an unfortunate twist of fate, we then lost the phone number that he had given us in case we wanted his services again.
364 days later, Lindsey and Lori and I, along our friend Linda, found ourselves once again arriving in Bobo to celebrate the New Year. As we unloaded our bags and bikes from the bus, we heard a shout of recognition behind us, and turned to see our long-last taxi man, whose path we had not crossed in the past year. He gave us a free ride to the Peace Corps house with all our stuff, and arranged to come back the next evening to act as our New Year’s Eve host/guide/driver once again.
So, on New Year’s eve we once again found ourselves ushered around downtown Bobo by Lassina the Taximan, who brought us a gift of orange soda, danced up a storm with us at Ocean Atlantic, helped fend off over-excited male party-goers, and introduced us to his girlfriend whom he affectionately described as “the fat one” and declared his devotion to her. All in all, an excellent way to bring in the New Year. The picture is myself in my incredibly tacky shirt from the marche and Lassina, our ridiculous taxi man.

Happy holidays to everyone in America!!

p.s. for those of you who sent me packages, a big thank-you, and don't worry that they haven't arrived yet, the postal system apparently takes a lot longer this time of year...
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