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.

America!!

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
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.

Thanksgiving
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
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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