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.
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