Wednesday, October 24, 2007

School Year #2

The big news right now is that this past week marked the beginning of my second school year. October 1st was the official first day of classes, although most schools here in Burkina usually start a week or two late. However, the director of my school pretty much starts on time and I was in the classroom teaching on the 3rd. It’s possible that this could change over the next couple of weeks, but right now it looks like I’m going to be teaching 6th and 8th grade math this year. (Last year I taught 7th and 8th grade math.) The situation in the 6th grade class right is a little crazy, there are 156 kids registered for the class and I actually counted 130 in the classroom which is about the same size as a classroom back home. The kids are sitting 4 to a desk which makes it pretty hard for them to write and there’s no room for the teacher to pass down the aisles so I think they’re going to have to split the class up or find some other solution. (Although I have no idea what that solution might be.) Also this year, I have the same director as the year before and the 3 other teachers who were with me last year all returned so it’s definitely nice to have that sense of continuity.

Since I last wrote (promising more frequent updates), the rainy season has pretty much come and gone. The last rain was about a week and a half or 2 weeks ago and it’s possible that we might get something small in the next week or so, but there’s a good chance that’s it for rain for the next 7 or 8 months. The rainy season was good in the sense that we did get lots of rain this year – actually I think it was too good in some parts of Burkina as there was some flooding in some places. All the rain did make it a little hard to get around for a couple of months. There were at least a couple of times I was stuck somewhere for a few days waiting for the water to go down a little so it could be passed and pretty every time I needed to go anywhere over a few miles, it was necessary to pass through water between my knees and my waist at some point (or multiple points). Anyhow, the benefits of the rain for the crops far outweighed the difficulties in getting around so it wasn’t something that could be complained about too much.

So as I pretty much just implied, the crops have been pretty good this year. Right now is a great time of year as far as food is concerned because the harvest is just beginning. That basically means that there’s a little more variety in the food than usual. Corn is usually only available for a few weeks during the year whish is just ending right now and there are a few other things that you’ll only get during the harvest time. (The corn isn’t exactly like the corn were used to back home – looks the same, but it’s much harder. They basically grill it over coals and eat it off the cob. You can boil it for hours and it won’t become soft like the corn back home - trust me, I’ve tried.) After the harvest, it goes back to being millet pretty much all of the time.

As far as what I’ve been up to the last few months with school out, there were a few different things that I had going. As I mentioned in my last post, we had a new group of Peace Corps trainees arrive in Burkina at the beginning of June the same as I came here in June the year before. They had 3 months of training which I worked for 3 weeks at the end of June and beginning of July. Working with the new trainees was definitely a reality check in realizing how far you’ve come over the past year. You don’t realize it on a day to day basis, but answering all of their questions and seeing them adjust to things that you’ve become accustomed to makes you realize just how much you’ve learned and adapted since you’ve been here. Anyhow, it was a good experience working with them and while I wouldn’t want to go through training again myself at this point – it was interesting to see it from the other side.

Right after I worked with the training group, I had a week consisting of my mid-service medical checkup which last 3 days and then 2 days of IST (In-Service Training). The medical checkup basically consisted of a TB test, medical appointment, dentist appointment, and giving 3 stool samples. The whole stool sample thing is a pretty common procedure for volunteers here when they get sick, but I had yet to have to give one since I rarely get sick over here. (is this more information than you wanted to know?) Anyhow, I was fairly positive that they were going to find something in the tests since I’ve been here for a year, haven’t been treated for anything yet, and I basically eat the same food as my family since I rarely prepare stuff for myself like alot of other volunteers. Well, everything came back fine so I don’t have any stories of some cool bacteria or parasite living inside of me – maybe next time. As far as the IST was concerned, you have 2 ‘in-service training’ conferences during your service of which this was my second and last. It lasted for 2 days and was mostly valuable just to get together with the other volunteers in my group and hear about their experiences and how they were doing. My next and last conference is called the COS (close of service) conference which takes place about 3 months before I’m supposed to head home.

Skipping ahead to the month of August, I helped out one of the other volunteers in my group (who coincidentally was also born in Lowell, MA) with an IT course he was running for the high school students in his city. His living situation is a ‘little’ different than mine in that he has 24-hour electricity, running water, shower, and a toilet. So it was almost like a mini-vacation for me getting to work that for a week while living at his place. Then in September I started working with another volunteer in her village which is pretty close to mine (a little over 20 miles away) on painting a map of the world on the side of her school. (I mentioned this briefly in my last post.) It’s about 12 feet wide and 6 feet high so it’s a pretty good size. We’ve been working on it for a little week and while we probably have about 4 or 5 days of work left, I’m surprised by how good it looks. I’ll be sure to get some pictures of it when we’re done. Once we’ve finished it in her village, we’re planning on doing the same thing up in my village (Baraboulé).

I think that pretty much catches you up on my comings and goings over the last few months. Next I want to mention what I consider to be the most important thing I’m working on besides teaching which is trying to get some help for my village with their water problem. In August, I did get to meet with the non-profit group that I mentioned in my last post that works here in Burkina on water related problems. While it was helpful in talking with them, unfortunately they’re not currently working in the region of Burkina that my village is in. This is a little ironic in the sense that the region I’m in probably has the biggest problem with water here than any of the other regions. From what they said, they’re just now looking into starting to work there, but probably won’t be doing much in that area in the very near future. So my plan now is to use a program through the Peace Corps called the Peace Corps Partnership Program to try and find funding for the villagers to build a small dam on their own. They already have a list of what they need to finish it (they’ve actually already been working on it for 4 years or so) so the idea now is to try and get some money for that (which isn’t that much) and see where it goes from there. I’ll keep you updated as I work through the process.

A couple of communication items to note. I’ve switched to a new cell phone carrier which seems to have slightly better reception near my village. I still can’t receive calls most of the time when I’m in Baraboulé, but it is slightly better. Unfortunately, with this new company I can no longer send and receive texts to the United States, but it’s possible that might change. For anyone interested in calling, the country code is obviously the same (226) and the new number is 70 39 58 24. Weekends are still probably the best time to try. In more cell phone news, a company just actually finished building a cell phone tower right in my village! I can actually see the tower from my courtyard. It’s not ‘on’ yet, but it’s possible that sometime in the next few months I’ll have crystal clear reception inside my house. We may not have electricity or water, but we’re going to have cell phone reception. The other communication item to note is that when I first moved here, I could sometimes get on the Internet in Djibo – the ‘city’ 18-miles from my village. Well, I’m not sure if the place is closed down, but it’s never open anymore so the only time I can get on the Internet is when I find myself in a big city which probably won’t be very often during the school year. (but please don’t let that discourage you from sending emails) :)

As far as what’s coming up next besides teaching of course. My Dad’s coming out to on the 12th and he’ll be here for 2 weeks. I think we’re going to spend about a week or so in my village, visit a couple of other villages near me where there are volunteers, see the family that I lived with during my 3-months of training, and then spend a couple of days in Ouaga (the capital). He’ll be the first person I’ve seen from back home since I came to Burkina last June. So if you see him before he comes out and you know any French (or Fulfuldé, Mooré, or Keromfé), please practice with him. Teaching phrases like ‘I don’t want the fish head’ or ‘Please get the snake out of the latrine for me’ would probably be appropriate. :) (I’ve actually only seen one snake since I’ve been here and it wasn’t in the latrine, although I have walked in and seen a scorpion in the latrine.)

It’s also started to pick at my mind a little bit that I need to start considering what my plans are for after the Peace Corps since I’m now down to less than a year left, but I’ll probably start worrying more about that once we get into 2008. For those keeping track at home, I think my official end of service date is August 24, 2008. Although from what I understand, that’s usually flexible by a month or so depending on what you’ve got going on.

Ok, that’s it for now – please send letters, emails, packages, or just come out here and visit yourself! Hope everyone’s doing good!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

One-Year Anniversary

It’s pretty hard for me to believe, but today marks the one-year anniversary of my plane touching down in Africa! I talk about it a lot with the other volunteers how it doesn’t feel like we’ve been here a full year, but the time really has flown by. Before coming here, I think I expected the opposite – that the days would pass slowly as I sat in village pondering the meaning of life, but it hasn’t been like that all.

So the biggest news recently is that I’m now officially finished with my first year of teaching. My last class was on the 18th of May and then the following week was spent doing administrative stuff – grading tests, calculating grades, filling out report cards. As you can imagine, where we don’t have computers it’s a very manual process where everything’s done by hand. In my 7th grade class where I’m the homeroom teacher, 35 of the 44 kids passed for the year which isn’t too bad of a number. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but repeating a grade is much more common in the school system here than in the United States. The next school year doesn’t start up until the beginning of October so I have the next 4 months to relax a little bit and work on some other projects. What else am I going to be working on? I’ll get to that in a minute…

Besides teaching the last few months, there are a couple of other non-related work things that I’ve been up to. I made it down to FESPACO in the capital in the beginning of March. I believe this is one of the largest, if not the largest, film festival in Africa. I was only able to spend a couple days at that because I had to get back for classes, but it was definitely worth it. I think I managed to catch 3 films: Heartlines (South African movie), Death of Two Sons, and The Last King of Scotland. And as I mentioned before, I made it down to Ghana for the break between the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. For that, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. (Ghana pictures)

One other thing that I was able to do with a lot of help from my parents and a few other people back home is install a battery, lights, and a solar panel at my school. This makes a huge difference for the kids to be able to study at night – especially the 9th grade students who have a test in the middle of June that determines whether or not they can continue in school. The evening is one of the only chances that the students get to study because they have to work (especially the girls) during the daytime when they’re not in classes. (getting water, preparing food, taking care of the animals…) So at night, if they could afford the kerosene they would study with a kerosene lamp. However, it can be pretty difficult to read with a kerosene lamp and quite a few students can’t even afford the kerosene so having the lights in the classrooms makes a huge difference.

As far as my plans for the near future, I have a few things in the works. The first is that there are new trainees/volunteers arriving here in Burkina this evening. They’ll be doing 3 months of training like I did last summer when I got here. Anyhow, the Peace Corps also has some volunteers help out with the training which is important in the sense that while the training staff is great, they are all Burkinabé so they can’t directly relate to what the trainees are going through as well as volunteers who have actually been through the whole experience themselves. I’ll be working with the training group from the 24th of June to the 14th of July. Last week, I was actually in a week of training myself in Ouaga (the capital) which was required for anyone who's going to be working with the new volunteers. Anyhow, I think it’ll be interesting to meet and talk with the new volunteers and to hear they’re reaction to everything. The whole experience of your first few weeks after arriving are pretty amazing/intense as almost every last detail of the life you’re used to is different in some form or another.

Besides working training, I’ve also been doing a little research on ways that the water situation in my village can be improved. The main thing I’m looking at right now, is trying to find a non-profit group who could possible assist in building a mini-dam (microbarrage) for the village that would hopefully retain some water during the dry season. I’ve found one non-profit organization based out of Great Britain called Water Aid that I’m hoping will be able to help in some form or another. Right now, I’m just in the process of contacting them so I’ll let you know how that works out. As I’ve mentioned before, this really is the biggest problem in my village and it affects pretty much all other aspects of daily life in Baraboulé (my village). While we’re talking about water, I should mention that on May 25th we got our first rain since about halfway through October! I think it’ll be a few weeks before the rainy season kicks in and we start getting rain on a regular basis (every 3 to 5 days), but it’s good to be finishing up the hot season (March through May) where the temperatures have been hovering around 110 degrees most days. (That’s under the shade of my hangar – I can only imagine how hot it’s been out in the sun.)

A couple of other things that I’m planning on working on over the summer are something called the World Wise Schools Map Project and also the ITC committee. The first is a project where you basically paint a giant map of the world. I’m hoping to do this somewhere in my village where lots of people can see it as while there are some people who have an understanding of geography, most of the villagers don’t really know where they are in the world in relation to other countries. (Of course, this could probably also be said of quite a few people back in the United States.) Myself and another volunteer are going to work together on doing this both in Baraboulé and also in her village. The ITC committee is a group that’s just starting up over the summer to work on various information technology projects here in Burkina. While I think my village is a few years away from having anything IT related (electricity being a needed commodity), there are many parts of Burkina where work could be done in this area.

So before I close, I do want to mention that postings should be slightly more frequent over the summer as I should have more regular access to the Internet. Also, that means that e-mails will hopefully also be responded to a little more quickly. One thing I want to mention too is that if you are interested in visiting or just interested in reading about Burkina in general, there’s a pretty good guide book out there on Burkina that was just published last year. As far as I know, it’s the only guide book solely on Burkina that’s been published in English. (Bradt’s Burkina Faso guide) Ok, I hope everyone’s doing good at home and I’ll try and post and get some more pictures up soon!

(The picture above was taken in my courtyard way back in last September by another volunteer. The cow is a Brazilian cow that’s owned by my family and the boy on back of the cow is one of the sons in my family. This was during a sandstorm just before the rains came.)

Friday, March 30, 2007

More pics...

Here are a few more pictures to look at: It's after midnight right now and I need to get up at 5am to catch a bus back up to Djibo and from there bike back to my village so I don't really have the time to write a long post. I'll hopefully be able to post something again soon as I hear that the Internet's working again in Djibo. I also have pictures to post from my vacation in Ghana, but that'll probably have to wait until the next time I make it down to the capital (Ouaga). Hope everyone's doing good back home, please write or send an email if you get a chance. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ghana bound!

I just finished up my second semester of teaching and now have a couple of weeks off before the the third and final semester of the school year. The hot season has just kicked into gear this past week so I'm taking advantage of the time off by heading down to Ghana and spending a few days on the beach. I'm hoping when I get back to put up a decent sized post describing the last couple of months and hopefully some more pictures. Until then, here's a link to a small sampling of pictures. ( The picture above is of myself and Ilyassa who's about 20 or so months old. He's the youngest in my courtyard and we tend to hang out a lot. This picture was taken in front of my house - that's the entrance to my house behind us.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

1 semester down

It’s Thursday morning right now (February 8) and I just finished teaching my class for the day. The main reason that I’m taking the time to type out a message right now is that I’m planning on heading to Ouahigouya this weekend which is the city where I spent my first 3 months here in Burkina. There, I should be able to get on the Internet and put up a new post. Unfortunately, the Internet rarely ever works at the city near my village so that’s my main excuse for why there hasn’t been a post in soooo long. As was the case with my last post, there’s a lot I want to write about so I’ll probably just keeping going until the battery dies on the laptop. The next paragraph is actually clipped from a post I wrote at the beginning of November. I never got a chance to post it, but I figured I’d at least include the part that I had written about Ramadan here.


Ok, the first thing I want to talk about is the end of Ramadan celebration in my village which was the 24th of October. People thought that it was going to be the 23rd, but here in village they really do go by the moon so on the night of the 22nd as the sun was setting I was standing in my courtyard with my 'family' searching for the moon in the sky and it was nowhere to be seen – another day of fasting. The next night however, the new moon was out so the end of Ramadan celebration would be the next day. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect of the next day, but it did end up bringing a few surprises. The next morning, Alou (the head of my courtyard) asked me if I wanted to go see the prayers. This seemed interesting so of course I said yes. We ended up walking about a kilometer outside of the village where everybody gathered in a large field. There were perhaps a few hundred men sitting on mats in rows and some women and children watching from the outside. Alou sat me down on a mat in the middle and then went somewhere else and found a place for himself. (I think he didn’t stay with me because he had people move so that I could squeeze in on a mat under the shade of a tree.) Anyhow, shortly after that the person next to me asks me if I know the prayer. I say no and don’t think much of it. A few minutes later is when I realize that I’m in the middle of everyone that’s praying and sure enough the prayers start and I’m doing my best to follow along. I can only imagine what it must have looked like with the one white, non-Muslim person right in the middle of everyone trying to follow along. This probably went on for 30 or so minutes and then finished up. I was a little relieved once it was finished and I caught up with Alou and we started walking back to the village. However, we weren’t done yet. Once we got to village, we went to one of the mosques and started praying all over again. Once that finished, my next ‘cultural experience’ occurred. Over here, it’s pretty customary for men to hold hands or have their arms around each other as they walk. (but of course homosexuality doesn’t exist, or at least you wouldn’t want to admit it if you were. Although that’s probably a topic for another time.) So the next thing I know, Alou grabs my hand as we’re walking. Granted, I knew that that would happen at some point when I was over here and I also know that it’s just what they do, but there’s still a little bit of a shock when another guy grabs your hand and you’re walking holding hands. So next we walked hand in hand to the chief’s house. In Baraboule, the chief is also the mayor which I don’t think is usual. The chief being the traditional leader and the mayor being an elected government official. At the chief’s house about 15 or 20 of us went inside while the rest of the people stayed outside. There were 4 seats – one for the chief and I was given one of the other 3. Here we did the prayers one more time. Someone would say the prayer inside the house and then someone in the doorway would repeat it to everyone outside. After this 3rd time of going through the prayers, we were done and headed home. Once home we had a big lunch for the holiday which consisted of rice (which is very rare) with a sauce made out of meat and vegetables. I actually got 3 pieces of meat – a piece of chicken, a piece of goat, and a round organ thing which I’m not sure what it was or which it was from. Ironically, that same night was also the first night where I went to a place in Baraboule which just opened recently where I can get cold drinks including beer. (The refrigerator runs on propane.) So the same day that I prayed with everyone for the end of Ramadan was also the first day that I had a beer in village.


Ok, so I’m back to typing in the present now. A couple of asides regarding that last paragraph. That beer I had is actually the only beer that I’ve had to drink here in my village. Any beer drinking that I’ve done has always taken place somewhere else. Also on the same note as the hand holding experience, but much more recent. The other week I was in Djibo (the city that is closest to my village – about 30k) and I went to a place that had dancing with a couple of other volunteers. So here, it seems more common for guys to dance with guys and girls to dance with girls. Anyhow, you can probably see where this is going. As I was sitting, chatting with the other volunteers – a guy came up to me, grabbed my hand, and lead me out to the dance floor. I’m pretty sure that was another first – being taken out to the dance floor by a guy. (Off the top of my head, I don’t even remember many times where a girl has dragged me out to the dance floor.) So I lasted out there for a song or two before I returned to the laughing of the other 2 volunteers at the table.

A little bit of what I’ve been up to since my last post. Right now, I’m in the middle of my second semester of teaching. There are 3 semesters per school year and this one goes until about the middle of March. It’s hard to believe that I’m in the middle of my second semester here and I’m only here to teach for 6 semesters in total over the 2 years. I think I expected time to pass slowly here before I came, but it’s been feeling very much the opposite. The first semester went by fairly smoothly – my main issue is the same as it’s been since I’ve arrived here – feeling comfortable enough with the languages so that I can interact and communicate with people at the level I want to. (I’ll probably write a little more about how things are going with the languages a little later in this post.) I had a good Thanksgiving which I spent in my village. I taught as usual in the morning and then a couple of the other volunteers who live nearby came to my site for a Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn’t exactly your traditional Thanksgiving dinner – we had 3 Indian dishes for entrees (Kadhi Pakora, Navratan Kuma, and Palak Paneer) as well as banana cream pudding and chocolate mousse for dessert. The Indian dishes were all prepackaged food sent from home that just needed to be dropped in boiling water and heated up. It was a good meal and a nice change from what I’m used to eating here. After the first semester ended (December 20th), I had about a 2 and a half week break till the next semester started (January 8th). During this time, I had my first IST (In-Service Training). During your time as a volunteer, there are 2 training sessions that take place during your service – the first after your first 3 or 4 months at site and the other after your first year. The Peace Corps put myself and the other 15 volunteers in my group up at a hotel in Ouaga (the capital). We spent 4 days there discussing our first few months at site and having various training sessions on teaching, medical, safety and security, and language (for those that wanted it). It was definitely good to get to see and catch up with everyone who I had spent my first 3 months in the country with. I hadn’t seen most of them since we swore in as volunteers in August and left for our sites. It was also good just to spend a few days at a nice hotel with a pool, electricity, shower, toilet, and really good food. Anyhow, the IST ended on a Friday and that next Monday I was back at my site in the classroom beginning the second semester. I think right now we’re in the fifth week of the second semester and everything’s been pretty good so far this semester. This past week has been a little busy as I gave the first tests for the semester in both of my classes. So a lot of my time this past week was spent correcting the tests as I wanted to get them finished and returned to the students before I head out this weekend.

A couple of things about the school that people have asked about. The students do all wear uniforms. It’s basically just a tan shirt with tan pants for the boys and tan skirts for the girls. I don’t know how strictly it’s enforced, but I think sometimes the surveillant (similar to a vice-principal) will send someone home if they’re not wearing the uniform. As you can probably imagine, some of the uniforms are a little beat up. I actually asked other volunteers who teach about the uniform thing and I guess in a lot of other villages it’s not enforced at all. I think it’s ironic that it’s enforced here since this is probably one of the smaller villages that has a CEG (junior high school). When I enter the classroom, all of the students stand until they’re told to sit. Also, if I see a student while I’m walking around the village – they’ll usually come up, fold their arms and do a little bow, and say either ‘Bonjour Monsieur’ or ‘Bonsoir Monsieur’. I think that covers the questions I’ve been asked about school, please let me know if there are others.

I know I mentioned in my last post that my village has water issues and it’s actually a little worse than I thought it was going to be. I thought that during the hot season, people would have to start to go to other villages to get water. As it turns out, people started going to other villages for water at the end of January and the hot season doesn’t start until March! There’s still water here, but it’s getting scarcer and scarcer so sometimes it’s easier for people to go elsewhere for water. The huge pond that was here when I first arrived in Baraboule is almost dried up and will probably disappear in the next week or so. I think it’s amazing that there’s a village of this size in a place that runs out of water every year. As I said in my last post, it’s not that they don’t have wells or pumps – they just all dry up. Anyhow, as I’ve mentioned before so that no one’s concerned – I always have plenty of water. I never even get it myself – people in my courtyard always bring it for me.

Talking about the water situation leads naturally into another topic – the weather. If you want to visit, but are concerned about the heat than December and January are definitely the months to come and visit. I think the part of the country that I’m living in gets the highest temperatures in the hot season and the coldest temperatures in the cold season. In the weeks before December, there was a mini-hot season with the temperatures getting up near 110 degrees most days. However, after that things cooled down dramatically. I think during the months of December and January it probably wouldn’t get much higher than 90 during the days and would probably drop down to the low 60s at night. I actually was be able to cover myself with a blanket at night for a few weeks and during my first class in the morning I would usually wear a sweatshirt until it warmed up a little bit. (Although it’s interesting how you adjust to the temperature. I’d normally keep my sweatshirt on until it was at least about 75 degrees.) The only problem during these months is that there’s a lot of wind so the air is extremely dusty to the point that it’s actually hazy when you look in the distance because of all the sand in the air. If I put a book down and picked it up later in the day, I’d actually have to blow a layer of dust off of it after only a few hours. Next up is the season that I’ve been dreading – the hot season when I believe the temperatures get up into the 120s. This lasts from March until the first rains which occur in June or possibly May at the absolute earliest. (The last time there’s been any precipitation here was I think sometime in October.) Anyhow, one of the things I’m hoping to do this weekend is buy something similar to a cot for sleeping outside since it’s pretty much impossible to sleep inside when it gets that hot out. I’ll definitely miss sleeping inside on my bed, covered by a blanket. Also, I purchased a thermometer last time I was in the capital so I should be able to give some Burkina weather reports in future posts.

Ok, just had a minor interruption to eat lunch. Today was one of my favorites – beans with rice – so it was a welcome interruption. As far as food is concerned, there has been one really good change for me that happened at the beginning of this semester. At the beginning of this semester, the kitchen at the school opened and began serving food for the students. (If a student wants, they can pay to have lunch made for them at school.) I’m not sure why it wasn’t open during the first semester. The selection pretty much rotates between beans, spaghetti, and rice – all of which are pretty much luxury items as far as village food is concerned. Well, it so happens that one of the two wives in my courtyard is the one who prepares the food everyday. So now I get to eat whatever the students have for lunch rather than ‘to’, which is what I usually eat at every lunch or dinner. Not that I don’t like ‘to’, but its nice to have something a little different rather than the same thing for every meal. It’s actually probably good that I didn’t have that variety at first because now I appreciate what I’m getting now so much more. Of course, if someone told me a few months ago I would be excited about having a rotation of beans, spaghetti, and rice for my meals – I probably would have laughed. Anyhow, as I think I mentioned in my last post – I’m just lucky in the sense that I have pretty much every meal provided to me. This definitely isn’t the case with all of the volunteers. (Of course, it could also be said that most other volunteers probably would rather prepare their own food.) One more thing since we’re on the topic of food. I do cook a little from time to time just to have something different and I actually even occasionally bake. This past week I made some pretty good banana oatmeal bread and before that I made apple cinnamon oatmeal bread. (The ‘oven’ I use to bake is basically just a pot with a cover that I put on top of my propane stove.) It’s amazing sometimes what I can make considering what I have to work with.

Before I forget, I did want to mention how things have been going with the languages. My French is still improving and I work on it most days that I’m in village. It’s definitely still not at a level where I can feel comfortable expressing myself even though I use it to teach pretty much everyday. Sometimes I feel that I’m not going to feel comfortable speaking the languages until my two years here is up. I also work a good amount on one of the local languages (Fulfulde). I’ve picked up a little bit which allows me to interact a lot more with the people in my courtyard and everyone in my village and the various other villages that I visit that don’t speak French. I can only say basic stuff like hello (it’s probably not right to call ‘hello’ here basic stuff since all of the greetings are typically much more extended than we’re used to back home), where I’m going, what I want – just enough to be able to communicate on a very basic level. As far as the other 2 languages are concerned (Moore and Keronfe), I’ve changed my attitude a little as far as they’re concerned. Before I was a little overwhelmed and figured I’d just focus on French and Fulfulde. Now I’m trying to pick up as much as I can of those 2 also since I figure that I’m going to pick some up no matter what just by hearing them all the time. That was something that I definitely didn’t expect before I got here. I expected there to be French and a local language spoken, but not 3 different local languages! One ironic twist with the local languages is that the word for ‘yes’ in one of the languages is the word for ‘no’ in the other. And yes, both of those languages are spoken in my courtyard – better make sure you know what language your talking…

One thing that I want to mention that I think is kinda funny are the names that I answer to. In no specific order, I’ll typically answer to Bryan, Ibrahim, Boureima, Boina, Tuubaaku, and Nasara. Bryan is probably what I’m called the least. Usually if I hear this it’s one of the other teachers at the school or one of the other volunteers. Ibrahim and Boureima are both takes off of my name that people usually call me in my village. In my village it’s usually Ibrahim and in other villages it’s usually Boureima. Boina is the family name of the family I live with so I hear that a lot too. Tuubaaku and Nasara are both words for ‘white person’ in a couple of the local languages. Both of those I’ll also usually respond to. What I normal won’t respond to is being called ‘le blanc’ which is obviously ‘the white’ in French. For some reason, I don’t mind being called ‘white person’ in the local languages, but in French it just sounds a little odd. Anyhow, I wanted to put that out there so that anyone who comes and visits won’t think that I’ve developed a severe multiple personality disorder.

I’m going to stop here for now as the battery is getting low and I need to start getting ready to go. I have a 30k bike ride tonight into Djibo and then tomorrow morning I’m going to try and catch a bus to Ouahigouya for the weekend. (If you’re reading this, then I most likely successfully made the trip out there. If you’re not reading this, then you should be concerned about my welfare.) As always, I hope everyone’s doing good back home and that everyone’s New Year is off to a good start! And I can’t say thanks enough if you’ve sent a letter, package, called, emailed, or texted me sometime in the last few months. It’s always good to be reminded that people are still thinking of you back home.

(The picture above is of the sun setting over a mosque in my village. I took it a few weeks ago as I was walking home from school. Also, I added a disclaimer to the bottom of the blog to make sure that everyone realizes that I'm not speaking for the Peace Corps or the US government since I'm pretty sure some of you were under that impression.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

I’m still alive

I know it’s been a little while since my last post, but access to the Internet at my site is pretty limited. There’s a lot of things that I want to touch on in this post so I apologize if it’s a little scattered or if I’m repeating some things from previous posts. Right now it’s Friday afternoon, October 13th. If everything works out as I hope it does (which it rarely does here), then I’ll be able to post this sometime on Sunday.
So the big news right now is that I’ve been at my site for a little over a month and I’ve actually started teaching. I arrived in Baraboule on the afternoon of September 6th. The whole experience was a little crazy. A Peace Corps vehicle picked myself and another volunteer up at the hostel in Ouaga that morning, we then dropped her off at her site, drove up to Djibo and stopped there for a few minutes where 3 volunteers who are a year into their service hopped in for the last 30k to Baraboule to check it out. When we got to Baraboule, the driver and the other 3 volunteers helped me unload my stuff and then took off after about 15 minutes or so. And then there I was, my first time ever in Baraboule – not knowing anyone or anything. (I had met one of my colleagues during training, but he didn’t show up in Baraboule until I had been there for about 3 weeks.) As you can imagine, the first few minutes, hours, days were pretty interesting as I started to meet people and tried to figure out where everything was. Of course, the fact that the majority of the people here in village don’t speak French makes it that much more challenging.
I think the first thing I’ll talk about is my living situation. I have a pretty nice house with 2 rooms. I think it’s a mud-brick house with a cement type covering over the mud bricks. The roof is made out of tin. (I’m sure you can imagine how loud it must be during the rain storms with the tin roof.) One of the rooms serves as my bedroom and the other serves mostly as my kitchen. I even have a nice hangar where I spend most of my time when I’m at home. The hangar has a cement floor and plenty of shade. Next to the house is my own personal latrine and shower area. The latrine is your basic whole in the ground with a piece of wood covering it and the shower area is right next door. There’s simply a small wall dividing the shower area from the latrine, the shower water actually drains into the latrine. I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘This would be a lot easier if I had pictures to look at.’ I assure you I have been taking pictures and that next time in Ouaga, I’ll be doing my best to post as many as I can. (The next time I’m in Ouaga will most likely be somewhere around December. This is when the first trimester ends at school and we probably have our first IST – In Service Training.)
I really lucked out in the sense that the volunteer who was in Baraboule before me left almost everything I need and it is all in really good condition. I have a double-sized bed with a real mattress (I think most volunteers have foam mattresses.), propane stove, plenty of pots and dishes, some nice chairs, etc. To make it even better, because the site was empty for over a year the Peace Corps gave me a settling-in allowance for a new site which is twice as much as they give for someone moving into an existing site. Usually you have to spend this money on everything I just listed, but because I already have all of that stuff from the previous volunteer I get to keep the money and spend it as I choose – not too bad.
Ok, more about my living situation. One thing that is different about my house from almost all of the other volunteers is that I don’t have my own courtyard. My house is in the courtyard of a family. (Some other volunteers are in the courtyards of a family, but usually they still have their own small, walled off courtyard within the larger family courtyard.) As you’ve probably read in a previous post, the head of the courtyard is the president of the APE (parent / teacher association) here in Baraboule. So what this means for me is that I’m pretty much a member of the family. They actually feed me both lunch and dinner pretty much every day. I’ll talk a little bit more about the food situation in a minute. So I’m also lucky in that the head of the courtyard (Alou) also speaks French so I have someone that I can talk with in the family. (I’ll also get more into the language situation in a minute too.) He has 2 wives and I think 8 children (some of who are in my classes at the school). So you would think that my privacy would be very limited since I don’t have my own courtyard. However, in a sense the family protects me and in general I think I actually have more privacy than some of the volunteers who I’ve visited that have their own courtyards. Although for the most part, being the only foreigner in the middle of an African village – you almost have to give up your sense of privacy.
My house actually does a great a job of retaining heat which I’m sure I’m going to appreciate during those 2 nights a year when the temperature drops into the 60s. Because of the heat, I often actually sleep outside in a tent under my hangar. At some point I’m going to buy a lipiko (similar to a cot) which I can keep outside for sleeping during the hot season. (I think that’s around the March, April, May timeframe.) I think you really don’t have a choice but to sleep outside during these months. I haven’t run into too many undesirable creatures in my house so far. There was one night that I had a couple of bats in here, but at least they were eating the bugs. I’ve also seen a couple of cockroaches, but for the most part I’ll only find one or two of them in the latrine at night and not in the house. Not too bad considering that I’ve seen a latrine here in Burkina where the wall was covered by so many cockroaches that you couldn’t even see the wall – just a wall of cockroaches. Spiders and I have pretty much worked out an agreement whereby as long as they keep killing insects, I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. There’s one volunteer nearby who’s found 5 scorpions in his place during the last month and another volunteer who’s found one in her house, but I’ve been lucky so far as far as those things are concerned. My worst infestation is that a few times I’ve found little frogs in the house. It’s a little odd waking up in the middle of the night to something moving, carefully getting up to see what it is, and discovering that it’s just a little frog. Anyhow, if I have a choice I’ll take the frogs over the scorpions anyday.
I’m pretty sure I’ve lost a little bit of weight since I’ve been here, but in general I think I actually eat more here as far as quantity of food is concerned than I did in the States. Again, my situation where I’m in a family courtyard makes my eating situation different from most volunteers too. I’ll usually make some oatmeal for breakfast (good to keep everything in the system moving since there’s very little fiber in the diet here) and then the family will almost always feed me both lunch and dinner. Of course, this means that I’m eating whatever they eat which 9 times out of 10 is to (pronounced ‘toe’). This is basically a dish made out of millet (it can be made out of corn or sorghum too). It’s served in a bowl and has the consistency of Play-Do. You basically scoop some out of the bowl with your hand and then dip it into the sauce in another bowl. The sauce is usually made out of okra or baobob leaves. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a piece of meat in the sauce. No, I usually don’t know what type of meat it is, but I’d probably guess goat or sheep most of the time. If it’s not ‘to’, then it’s either rice or beans – but both of those are very rare. I’m a pretty big fan of when they make the rice and beans mixed together.
At dinnertime, I’ll almost always eat with Alou. Because it’s Ramadan right now, we’ll often start drinking some porridge like thing called bouillie – this is also made mostly out of millet, but has milk and sugar added it to it so it’s not too bad. After that it’s the to and then sometimes grilled corn (since it’s harvest time for the corn) or some watermelon. Usually that’s followed by tea. The making and drinking of the tea here is a whole process in and of itself. It’s almost more of a social event than anything else. The tea is served in glasses similar to shot glasses and there’s almost always 3 rounds. The entire process can take up to an hour. One thing I get that is rare for volunteers in Burkina is fresh milk. Alou owns some cows so often they’ll give me a bowl of milk after dinner or during the day. I’ve literally seen the cows being milked that evening so it doesn’t get much more fresh than that. Before drinking it, I do pasteurize it which basically involves just bringing it close to a boil. So it may not be cold, but it is fresh milk. At lunch, I usually eat by myself since it’s Ramadan and Alou is fasting during the day. This is almost always just ‘to’ with one of the sauces I mentioned before. So as you can probably tell, I get plenty to eat. As a matter of fact, I always get fed first before anyone else so there’s never been a time where I haven’t had enough to eat.
My French is still improving as the days go by. I definitely still have a ways to go before I really feel comfortable conversing in French, but it’s getting there. As I mentioned earlier, most of the people in the village don’t speak French. However, I do get to speak French with the other teacher who is here and with Alou pretty much every night. The main language spoken in the village is called Fulfulde. Slowly, but surely I’m starting to pick some of it up. The Peace Corps offers 10,000 francs ($20) a month during your first year to hire a language tutor so I’ve ‘hired’ Alou to help me learn Fulfulde. I figure this will also by default help my French since he’s pretty much explaining everything to me in French. Unfortunately, Fulfulde is not the primary language spoken by my family to each other in the courtyard. They speak a language called Keronfe with each other. So if I learn Fulfulde - I’ll be able to communicate with pretty much everyone in the village, but I still won’t understand what my family is saying to each other in the courtyard. There’s also another language spoken in the village called Moore which is the language of the Mossi, the largest ethnic group in Burkina. This language is useful because of how many people speak it in Burkina, but it’s pretty much only spoken in Burkina. The cool thing about Fulfulde is that approximately 15 million people speak it throughout West Africa so in a sense, it’s more useful. Anyhow, I have my hands full right now just trying to improve my French and learn Fulfulde. If I pick up any of the other 2 that’s great, but I’ll be happy if I can just feel comfortable with my French and Fulfulde.
I should probably talk about the village itself – Baraboule. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m pretty far ‘out there’. The Peace Corps recently tested their Emergency Action Plan in Burkina and I think of the 90 or so volunteers in Burkina, I was the second to last one they were able to contact. I wouldn’t say that I’m in a small village because it has a lot of things that you’ll only find in bigger villages – an infirmary (like a walk-in clinic), police, and a CEG (equivalent of a junior high school, it’s where I teach). However, it doesn’t have a telecenter which most villages this size have and also I can’t get cell phone coverage most of the time. There is actually a small hill in the village that I can stand on where I can get reception and also if I put my cell phone on top of my hangar in the evenings, I can sometimes get reception to send and receive text messages. (I’m not sure exactly how I figured that out. Before I started teaching, I had a lot of time on my hands.) There are 3 small boutiques here where I can buy a good amount of stuff – rice, macaroni, tomato paste, sugar, coffee, and occasionally bread. Also, every 3 days there’s a very small market. Unfortunately, there’s not much here in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables. I think the best I’ve found in the market is a few onions. There’s also a good sized pond here that I’m told has crocodiles in it. The people actually aren’t afraid of the crocodiles as they bathe and wash their clothes in the water. I guess the crocodiles will sometimes eat a small goat or duck, but they pretty much leave the people alone. So I’ve also been told that this pond dries up during the rainy season which is crazy because it really is a good size. I’ve taken some pictures of it to compare it when it’s full of water to when it’s all dried up. That’s another important thing to mention about Baraboule. From what I understand, during the hot season it’s common that the village runs out of water. It’s not that they don’t have wells and pumps, it’s just that they all dry up. So I guess that people have to go to other villages a few kilometers away to get their water. I’m not worried about myself since I know that they’ll take care of me and make sure that I have enough water, but I’m obviously not looking forward to seeing others in the village having issues with water. (It’s ironic that the stranger is the one who gets taken care of first.)
As far as around Baraboule is concerned, I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m very close to the border of Mali (about 10 miles). I haven’t made the trek out that way yet, although I guess there isn’t much to see. I don’t even think there’s a border crossing so there probably isn’t even a way to know that you’re in Mali. Technically, I’m not allowed to leave the country without informing the Peace Corps so finding myself in Mali would be a bad thing. I have a good amount of volunteers who are pretty close to me – one who’s only 5k away which might as well be next door as far as the Peace Corps is concerned. Usually once a week or so (more often before school started), I’ll make the 18 mile trek into Djibo which is the nearest ‘city’. (calling it a city is a pretty big stretch) It’s not a bad bike ride. It’s a dirt road, but it’s in pretty good condition. (I think the nearest paved road is a little over 80 miles away.) It usually takes me between an hour and a half and 2 hours depending on the wind, how tired I am, and how many flat tires I get. (I’m averaging a little over one a week – there’s lots of thorns here that are almost impossible to avoid.) So Djibo is actually where I’m hoping to post this on Sunday. There’s one Internet café there that costs 1200 francs ($2.40) an hour - much more expensive than Ouaga (300 francs an hour or free at the Peace Corps bureau), but it’s the only choice. I’m told that it ranges from being totally unusable at worst to an extremely slow dial-up connection at best. Hopefully I’ll have good luck. So my gameplan is to bike into Djibo tomorrow, get a hotel room and stay there for the night, and then bike back on Sunday. The hotel in Djibo has running water, electricity, and a fan so it’s a nice change of pace from village life. (although the electricity in Djibo shuts off every night in the entire city from something like midnight – 7am or 2am – 7am) It usually costs about 1000 francs a night ($2) so it’s well worth it. (I think the actual rate is $4, but they give the Peace Corps a discount.) I actually brought a few DVDs with me to Africa so if I have my laptop with me, I can actually watch a movie while I’m staying the night there. Djibo is also where I can get fresh fruits and vegetables depending upon what’s in season. Finally, the last thing I’ll mention about Djibo is that it also has a couple of supermarches. This obviously directly translates as supermarkets, but the best comparison I can think of is to a corner store in the States where you have 2 or 3 aisles of goods. Here I can get canned meat (like tuna, corned beef, chicken – most of it is spam-like quality, but it’s protein), packets of mayonnaise, popcorn, toilet paper, cookies. I’ll often buy canned meat and eat it after eating the ‘to’ to get a little protein. The popcorn’s great too and really easy to make in village.
(Ok, so now it’s Friday, October 20th. As expected, I wasn’t able to post this last weekend. However, I did use the Internet in Djibo this past Wednesday for a few minutes and it really is a dial-up connection. Unfortunately, the computers there aren’t new enough to have USB ports so I can’t use my memory stick, but I do have a CD-R that still has some space on it so I’m going to try and burn this document to the CD-R and upload it that way. Ironically enough, if this laptop was old enough to have a floppy-drive I could have just used that. Anyhow, it’s a little after 7pm here and pitch black outside. The sun sets at about 6pm here and by 6:30pm there’s no light at all. I just made myself a cup of coffee and I’m going to try and stay up for a little bit and write a little more.)
So I suppose I should talk a little bit about why I’m here in the first place – to teach. I just finished up my 3rd week of teaching today. I have 2 math classes, one is the equivalent of 7th grade back in the States and the other is the equivalent of 8th grade. For the first 2 weeks of school I also had the equivalent of a 6th grade math class which had about 100 students in it, but the school got a couple of new teachers this past week so that class was given to one of the new teachers. Between the 2 classes, I teach for 10 hours a week. During your first year, the Peace Corps recommends that you teach no more than 15 hours a week so I have a very light schedule. It’s ironic that it worked out that way because for the first 2 weeks it was just myself, another teacher, and the director. Then this past week the school’s staff doubled in size when it got 3 more people – 2 more teachers and a surveillant (similar to a vice-principal).
Nothing too eventful has happened in my first 3 weeks of teaching. I did have one student throw up in class during my first couple of days. And during the second week, the other teacher told me that I had to speak with the 8th grade class because none of them showed up for one of his classes and I’m the ‘professeur principale’ for that class. (similar to a homeroom teacher) In the 7th grade class there are about 50 students and in the 8th grade there are about 33. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I start classes at 7am and on Monday and Friday I start at 9am. I don’t have any classes in the afternoon so most of my time in the afternoon is spent preparing for the next day and studying the languages.
One thing I find amazing is that the students are taught in French, but outside of school they almost never use French. With each other and with their families they’re almost always using one of the local languages. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be taught in a language that you hardly ever use.
I think that’s all I want to say about teaching right now. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to write on it as the school year progresses. I do want to talk a little bit more about the different seasons and the harvest. Right now, the rainy season just finished up about a couple of weeks ago and we’ve entered a mini hot season before the cool season starts. This means that it’s getting up to between about 105 and 110 most days right now. So the good news is that the harvest this year was good enough that they shouldn’t have a problem with food over the next year. Here in Baraboule, I guess the corn harvest wasn’t so good, but the millet harvest was good enough that it makes up for the lack of corn. So the way it works during the rainy season is that it rains every 3 or 4 days. Usually this is a pretty awesome spectacle as you’ll see a wall of brown coming at you in the distance which is the dust storm coming ahead of the rain. A few minutes later you’ll get hit by the wind and the dust, then after that it usually will rain for a little bit. Anyhow, if it goes for 5 or 6 days without raining the people start to get worried because the crops will die. The rain basically becomes the main topic of conversation. So it seems fairly obvious that every few years it’s going to happen that it’s going to go a few extra days without rain and that the crops are going to be bad that year. It’s kind of just a fact of life here. It’s just amazing to me how dependent they are on the rain coming every 3 or 4 days. I think 2004 was the last year they had problems with their food supply and they needed to have outside assistance. I guess one good thing is that this is a relatively peaceful country so it’s not hard for relief organizations to come in and do their work. The other thing that’s interesting about the rain is how localized the storms are. There’ll be rain in a village only 3 miles away, but here in Baraboule we’ll just got a dust storm or vice versa. So it’s possible for one village to be worried about rain while one just a few miles away is doing just fine.
This is something that I may have mentioned before, but I think is worth noting again. In general, it is amazing how nice the people here in Burkina are. Before I got here, I read in a few different places (guidebooks and such) that the main asset of Burkina is the people and their friendliness. I think part of me assumed when I read that was that they were saying that because Burkina doesn’t have much of anything else. However, from being here and from talking with people who’ve traveled around Africa, it really does seem to be true. If I go visit another volunteer, most of the time I’ll be leaving with some sort of gift whether it be corn or rice. This is coming from people who have practically nothing to give in the first place. I had someone visiting my site a couple weeks back and the head off my courtyard dropped off 10 eggs and a liver. Of course, while extremely generous – this presented the challenge of what to do with the liver. We ended up chopping it up and frying it in some oil with a lot of salt and pepper. While I’m not going to start buying animal livers, it was much better than I expected it to be.
Ok, I’m going to start wrapping up for now, but before I do I can do a quick question and answer period:
What’s up with the cell phone? I’m trying to call you, but I can never get through. What’s the best way to get in touch with you?
As I mentioned before, I almost never have cell phone reception in my village. The best chance of getting through is on the weekends when I’m often visiting Djibo. There’s probably about a 50/50 chance that I’ll in Djibo on any given weekend. As far as text messages are concerned – they do get through sometimes, but I wouldn’t consider them reliable. If you need the number again and don’t feel like searching through prior posts for it, it’s 011-226-76122793.
The best way to get in touch with me now is either through snail mail or email. They’re both probably about the same right now. Letters and packages take about 2 or 3 weeks to get here and I’ll probably be able to check email about that often. Snail mail is actually probably more of a sure thing. I do have a new address. The old one will still work, but it goes to the Peace Corps office in the capital so I’ll only get that mail when I visit the capital or someone brings it up to me. The new address is a post office box that I share with the volunteers in the Djibo area. Anyhow, the new address is:
Bryan Chambers, PCVBP 204DjiboBurkina Faso, West Africa
I want to visit. What do I need to do?
I would love to play host if anyone wants to come out and visit. My big school vacation periods are during the months of March and December and then for the majority of the summer (June, July, August, and September). I would recommend against March because of the hot season, but I think the rest of the months are very doable. As far as what to do, there would be a few options – seeing my village, going up to Dogon country in Mali, going to one of the wildlife reserves, heading down to one of the resorts along the ocean, or some combination of the above. (and probably more that I haven’t thought of) Since you wouldn’t be spending 2 years here, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t need the plethora of shots that I received. I think Yellow Fever immunization is required to enter most countries in West Africa and probably some malaria medication wouldn’t hurt either. (Although you might want to consider consulting the advice of an actual doctor. I only play one in village.) Anyhow, if you are interested in coming anytime soon please get in touch and we can start to plan things out. Of course, I’m probably here for another 23 months so you do have a couple of years to make it out this way.
I want to help. What can I do?
I know there are some people who would like to help in some way whether it be sending supplies or donating money. At this point in time however, I’m really still just getting to know the village here and what their real problems are. As the next few months go by, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of ways that people can lend a hand if they want to, but for now I think the best thing is for me to just spend some time here and learn more about the village and the lives of the people here. When I do have a way that people can help, I’ll be sure and post it on the blog.
Alright, that’s about it for now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post this during the upcoming weekend. Monday marks the end of Ramadan so I actually have a long weekend. I think next to Tabaski (another Muslim holiday) this is their biggest holiday of the year so there’ll be a lot of celebrating going on in village. Thanks again to everyone who’s sent a letter, care package, email, or posted on the blog – it’s always very much appreciated. Hope everyone’s doing good back home (the general North America area)!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Baraboule or bust

This is going to be a pretty short post because it's about 11pm here and I leave tomorrow morning at 7am to go to my village. Anyone who knows me can probably guess that I still need to pack up a lot of my stuff!

So I officially swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on August 25th. The ceremony was at the ambassador's residence where we had to take an oath where I think I said something about protecting the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic. Not sure I fully realized what I was signing up for when I joined the Peace Corps. The ceremony was good - a lot of the new volunteers dressed up in more traditional burkinabe clothes that they had made during training. There was some pictures taking of all of us as a group so hopefully I can get one up at some point.

Most of my time since the ceremony has been spent doing additional language training. Last Saturday I took the language test again and finally made it to the required level for teachers - intermediate high. So that brings us to tomorrow being the big day, heading up to my village where I'll be spending the next couple of years. I think I'll be spending the majority of the day travelling and hopefully will get to my village about 5pm or so if everything goes ok. From there, it'll be moving into my new house and trying to get everything setup. I spent a good portion of the day shopping and buying some groceries for my first few weeks there - the essentials like cookies, wine, and some mango tang. The whole living alone and cooking for myself should make for some interesting stories, although I won't be surprised if the villagers take pity on me and offer me some food. (who's helping who here?)

So wish me luck! The whole training experience was intense, but good for the most part. However, in some ways the biggest part of the experience starts tomorrow with getting up to my village and moving into my house. It's a little unbelievable to think that I'm going to have my own house in the middle of an African village. I don't really know when I'm going to be able to write again because I don't think I have very good internet access near by if any at all, but I'll find that out soon. Hope everyone is doing good at home! A la prochaine!