Thursday, June 07, 2007
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.)