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!
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