I’ve now moved out from my host family, but had a last minute photo shoot to ensure that my stay was memorialized. I’m really happy with how these turned out – check them out! More up on facebook.
Archive for the 'Training' Category
So what exactly am I doing here in Burkina? Good question – I finally can explain a lot more specifics about my work now that I’ve met my counterpart and have had a chance to speak with some other PCVs and my boss a little more. I’m essentially a management consultant for 25 borrowers in and around my city. Each borrower (called a promoter) has received a loan of up to 2,000 US dollars with a low interest rate of only 2-4 percent (2% for handicapped, 3.5% for women, and 4% for men). How did these promoters get in on these amazing low interest rates you ask?
The Burkinabe government created the FAIJ (Fonds d’Appui aux Initiatives des Jeunes) program to help Burkinabe youth (ages 20-35) start small businesses. Each year, FAIJ sets up a week-long training session in Ouaga where basic business skills are taught. Each prospective borrower has to poney up a few US dollars as an attendance fee, plus all of their expenses to get to and stay in Ouaga for the week. Those that complete the training then submit a business plan and request a specific dollar amount for a loan. FAIJ then evaluates each business plan and then decides whether to fund the businesses or not, and if so, at what funding level.
There is a FAIJ agent in each region (my counterpart is the FAIJ agent for the eastern region). His job is to make sure the promoters repay their loans. If there are repayment difficulties, he is there to help the individuals figure out how to make business improvements so that they can get back on track. However, each FAIJ agent has a big job – while there are 25 promoters in and around my city, there are 94 promoters in the entire region, and he is responsible for them all. Some are over 5 hours away by transport. Throw in the requirement that he is must meet each promoter at least once per month and you begin to quickly realize that there isn’t a lot of time available for each promoter.
I am going to just focus on the nearby promoters – which essentially means I can devote one day per month to each. Peace Corps and FAIJ are in the early stages of our partnership, which means that my exact role is for me to define. Perhaps I want to shoot to eventually take over full responsibility for the 25 promoters in my city? Or perhaps I want to maintain my independence from FAIJ and act strictly as a consultant? Or perhaps I’ll act as a business trainer and conduct business classes that local promoters can attend? As you can see, I have a lot of options.
But for these first few months my goal is to get to know FAIJ itself, the nearby promoters, and the local market for the goods/services my promoters work with, and of course my city (plus improve my French of course). There are four other PCVs working with FAIJ as well in other regions, so I imagine as time goes on we’ll establish some sort of best practices and perhaps some more structure.
Stage is just about to wrap up, and it feels a lot like college during finals week. We had to finish up all of the assignments we had been given, give two separate presentations in French, and are generally exhausted all the time. The good news is that just about everything is done and the only thing that remains are a few administrative sessions detailing our first three months at site and some of the more practical things such as how we get paid and some suggested places to go to purchase things for our future homes. Our official swear-in as volunteers is this upcoming Thursday the 16th at the US Ambassador’s house.
I realized I left the last Results of LPI 2 as a bit of a cliffhanger. Somehow I passed! I scored Inter-Mid, the minimum score needed to swear in as an official volunteer. Again I think I was the beneficiary of a sympathetic listener, but I’ll take what I can get. While I know I have a long way to go with my French I can usually express what I need to express to people to not die at least. In preparing to move out of my host family’s house I found my old flash cards from week 1 or 2 and can happily say that I easily knew all of them. Progress is fun, but slow. I took one last French exam, last week, and received the same score of Inter-Mid.
Though I’ll be operating in French for my upcoming work and interactions with many people, I’ll need to at least learn some of the local language of Gourmancema to fully integrate into my future community. We had three two-hour sessions to introduce ourselves to some of the basics, and let’s just say that there’s nothing quite like learning a totally new language (with totally new sounds) while being taught in another foreign language (French). Suffice to say, I can pretty much just say ‘good morning’ (nfandi) and ‘my name is Scott’ (n yii Scott). I think I’ll focus almost exclusively in French for the first few months at least, and we’ll see how that rolls going forward.
The big news of the last week is that we finally met our counterparts. Each volunteer is assigned an official counterpart who they will be working with at varying degrees at their future job. I’ll be working particularly closely with mine, so I’m happy to say that we get along very well. Plus I hit the jackpot as he speaks very good English! Obviously I need to work on my French, but I was worried that I may have been completely ineffectual for the first few months. He is one of the very few Burkinabe that I have met (besides PC staff) that speaks good English. To know that he can throw in a quick explanation of a conversation after the fact in English is fantastic for me. He’s single and 30 years old, so I assume we’ll probably spend a lot of time together outside of work as well.
Speaking of work, I was able to see exactly the kind of work that I will be able to do with FAIJ as I traveled to visit another volunteer, Daniel, for Tech Week. Daniel also works with the FAIJ program and I was able to ask both him and his counterpart a lot of questions about the program. We also visited two business owners who have received loans (called promoters) – one soap maker and one sign maker.
Oh, and I finally shaved off my beard – it was getting a little too mountain-man for me. I shaved it down to a mustache for a day, which made me look quite creepy, but was fun. There are some hilarious photos that I’ll try to put up.
And one more fellow stagaire blog to check out: Kate – http://www.kandrecovich.blogspot.com
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! We had quite a party here in Burkina. My training group broke into about 8 or 9 small groups and we ended up making a pretty killer potluck. The icing on the cake is that the PC provided us with two butterball turkeys. I ate a huge drumstick, and I think I consumed more meat in one night than I have since I arrived in country. I was on the drink committee and we made a pretty nice jungle juice out of the pretty terrible whisky, gin and “rhum”. Thankfully we have a lot of good juice and juice mix here, so that made up for it. I was amazed at what everyone was able to make with our limited selection and cooking resources, but it seriously felt like we had everything one would have at a Thanksgiving back in the states, except for the pumpkin pie that was sadly missing. My favorite side dish was probably the homemade tortilla chips with amazing salsa (using the local pimment spice) and guacamole.
As you can see from the above picture, I had a pretty amazing outfit made by my host aunt, who also happens to be a tailor. The way you buy a lot of your clothes here is that you first buy a pagna, which is a piece of fabric that is roughly a meter wide and a maybe three meters long. You then take your pagna to a tailor who uses that fabric to make whatever type of clothing you ask for. My outfit above is a pretty hilarious combination of three different pagnas. I think for someone of my height, two pagnas isn’t quite enough to make a shirt and pants. Many of the women in my stage have made some pretty incredible dresses and skirts already. Many of them remind me of a sort of old Cuba style – I’ll try to get some photos up.
We also did a number of hands on activities in training over the past 10 days. We made both hard and liquid soap, a mud stove, a nutritious baby food called “bouille”, and practiced cooking nutritious food for ourselves with the cooking equipment here. Making the mud stove was an incredibly dirty activity that had us elbow deep in manure and included us dancing on top of the straw/mud/manure mixture to mix it better. My French instructor is only 25 and uses the Backstreet Boys song “I want it that way” as his ring tone, so we made him play that as we danced in the manure pile. Quite hilarious.
I recently took my third French test. I’ll have one more test right at the end of training. I scored Inter/Low on the last exam, and I’ll just need to move up one level to Inter/Mid to fully qualify to be a volunteer. However, as I mentioned last time, I think my earlier score was a bit inflated, so the jury’s out on whether or not I’ll actually be ranked higher this time. Thankfully the questions this time around were easier and I even studied some of the vocab that I needed on accident! For example, I had just decided that I wanted to learn how to talk about my upcoming work, so I learned the verbs “to lend”, “to borrow”, “to repay”, “interest rate” etc. Thankfully a good one-third of the conversation centered around my future work! So while I think I tanked my grammar, the vocab may have saved me. We’ll see…
The extremely big news for this update is that I found out where I’ll be spending the next two years of my life! I’ll be moving to a big city in the eastern part of the country and working with a Burkinabe governmental program called FAIJ. FAIJ is a lending program designed to encourage Burkinabe youth to start businesses, and has only just recently begun to work with the Peace Corps. I don’t have many details yet, but I think there are currently one or two PCVs working with the program, in different parts of the country and three of us new folks who will be joining up. The idea is to provide general business consulting services to those who have already received loans. For example, I’ll try to help entrepreneurs with accounting, budgeting, and marketing. I’m excited for the opportunity to work with a variety of different types of businesses and to be innovative. However, since the program is so new it sounds like I may have to work hard to define my role within the organization. The three of us will do an additional week or two of training in Ouaga before heading off to our respective cities. So it looks like Christmas in the capital – sounds fun!
The 30 trainees went to 29 different cities – I’m the one who lucked out and have another great guy in my training class coming to the same city! We’ve become pretty good friends over the last month, so I’m excited to know I’ll have a built in friend in my new city. Also, there’s one other PCV already living in the same city, and I hear it’s quite the popular place for regional meetups, so it looks like I’ll have a great American support system built in. The day of site announcement was really fun, as the PC staff had a huge map on the wall and would read out the job/city description for each person before making us all guess who was heading there. We then stuck little pictures of ourselves up on the map. The only sad news is that a number of people who I’ve grown close with are going to cities that are fairly distant from mine. Sounds like road trips are already being planned though.
The day after learning our sites there was another big celebration, this time for the Muslim holiday of Tabaski, which is held to remember the narrowly avoided sacrifice of Abraham’s son. We cut our training short mid-morning to go to the houses of the Muslim host families. I did a sort of “Tabaski-crawl” if you will, as I managed to visit four separate households during the day. I feel as though I had a pretty authentic experience, as I saw the sacrifice of a goat, ate a lot of food (including the sought after liver), and wished many, many people a “bonne fette”! The day also served to expose me to the living conditions of my fellow trainees, and I proudly learned that I’m definitely roughing it more than most, if not all. One family I visited had a very American looking living room, complete with an lcd tv, 3.1 speakers system, a few nice couches, and even crown molding! In contrast, my family doesn’t really have any common space indoors (only each person’s bedroom), and we certainly don’t have couches or a tv. My initial reaction was jealousy, but now I’m more just proud of myself for adjusting to my rustic, but easy new lifestyle. And it sounds like I’ll more than make up for it with my living conditions over the next two years where I will likely have access to far more amenities than the average volunteer.
The other big news is that we had our second language proficiency exam since arriving in country. The first exam was help on our second day here in Burkina, and without any prior French training, it basically consisted of me giving a blank stare back to my examiner and saying a few colors that I knew. Comparatively, the second exam went much better. This time I understood all of the questions, and for the most part I was able to answer them, though in fairly broken French. And while my lack of French is mostly to blame, some questions would have been difficult to answer in English. For example, I was asked to explain my last job, a task that I often find difficult in English as it was so varied and nuanced. I was able to work in the phrase “accounting investigations” and “legal system”, so I think that’s all they probably wanted to hear anyway. I somehow scored at Intermediate/Low, higher than I even optimistically was hoping for! But I think I was the recipient of a sympathetic listener and a good attempt at boosting my moral. Either way, progress! Before coming to BF, I used to think that the Peace Corps had some magic language training technique that was far superior to the normal language classes I’ve experienced back in the States. I no longer think there is a magic language bullet – it’s just straight immersion and practice, practice, practice.
Also, last week I received an amazing care package from my folks that included jerky, propel drink mix, trail mix, some candy, and cliff bars. I’ve never been so grateful for a few American products, and I promptly gorged myself. Thanks Mom and Dad!
My big accomplishment that I meant to write about last week was the purchase of a BF national team soccer jersey. I bargained all on my own, ended up with a pretty amazing yellow jersey with red accents. I will post photos. Speaking of photos (and the lack of them on the blog so far), I have barely taken any photos over the last month. Those that know me are probably confused by this fact, as I’m usually quite the paparazzi. There are two main reasons for this; 1) most of my day is spent in training and trust me when I tell you there is nothing photo worthy of a classroom, and 2) I don’t feel particularly integrated in the community, and taking out my camera to take photos of people when I can’t communicate with them seems a little touristy. Anywho, I’ve included a couple in this post to tide you all over. I promise I’ll take/upload more.
First, a photo of my amazing soccer jersey:
Here’s a photo of my immediate host family:
As another volunteer put it when sitting down at a fairly western restaurant: “I guarantee that this menu is the greatest work of fiction in all of Burkina.” He was right. The menu was huge – five pages of items, including burgers and pizza! However, once we tried to order things we soon realized that they only really had about five items available.
So at a typical restaurant, what is available you ask? Here are the staples:
- White Rice and Sauce (peanut or tomato)
- Cous-Cous with Sauce (peanut or tomato)
- Flavored Rice (that has been boiled in a tomato sauce)
- Spaghetti with tomato sauce
- Benga (Basically rice and black beans)
- Brochettes (kebabs of beef/lamb and onions) with a spicy powder
Brochettes are my favorite by far, we’ve even found one guy who has a spicy mustard to go along with the normal spices. Usually the brochette guys don’t work at a restaurant, but just operate a grill next door to a restaurant and you order from him directly. Benga is my next favorite, and while a traditional dish, has been somewhat difficult for me to track down.
The price of a meal varies quite a bit, but to give you a sense, an expensive meal will be is anything over a dollar. Sometimes I am able to find big lunches of rice and sauce for the equivalent of about 30 cents.
One big cultural difference that really takes some getting used to is the process of calling for a waiter. Here in Burkina, one snaps and/or hisses in the direction of the waiter. I feel pretty rude while doing it, but when in Rome… I’ll definitely have to unlearn this before coming back home.
My nalgene is my constant companion, and is always filled with my double filtered water. Occasionally when I feel like spoiling myself I use one of my drink mix packets such as Gatorade or crystal lite. When I feel like something else, street vendors often sell “sachets”, since bottles are expensive in Burkina. Sachets are small bags filled with water or fruit juice. You then bite the corner of the bag and suck out the contents. My favorite juice so far is called Bissap, which is made from hibiscus. I’ve also had tamarind, orange, and some sort of ginger drink.
There are a surprisingly large number of beers available, and while none of them are particularly amazing, none are noticeably poor. My go-to is called “Brakina”, which is usually the cheapest of the decent stuff. The best part about the beers is that they are huge! A normal beer is 750ml and runs about $1.20.
And while the prices seem laughably low, my salary is equally laughable, so I can’t live the high life all of the time.
Internet has been difficult to come by lately, so apologies for the delay in posting updates.
The nine weeks of training that begins one’s Peace Corps experience creates a schedule that will likely be the complete opposite of my future schedule as a volunteer. The schedule is quite taxing, and it’s difficult to find a free moment. Between classes, extra tutoring, homework, and my attempts to communicate with my family (where a simple conversation takes 20 minutes), I hardly have any time to myself. And the time that I do have to myself I feel as if I should be studying French even more. Thankfully today is Sunday, my one day off each week.
I spent the morning hand washing my clothes, which were in desperate need of cleaning (I had gone two weeks). Thankfully my host mother helped me out a little bit, so it only took me an hour and a half or so. Everyone gets a big kick out of me feebly scrubbing my clothes. It’s not a normal activity for a man to do, and I don’t do it nearly as well as the women in my household. Washing clothes is a three bucket process. In the first you put the soap and really work out the serious dirt that gets into absolutely everything – you also use a large bar of soap. In the second bucket you do essentially the same task, just without the detergent. The third bucket is the rinse cycle. Today went pretty well except for the fact that I had an interesting skin reaction to the detergent. I busted out my cortisone cream for the first time.
One reason why I was so behind in my laundry is that last weekend my training class split up into small groups and went on “Demystification” where we were able to spend a long weekend with an actual PCV doing real PCV things. This is exciting for us trainees, as we’re a little trapped these first few months. It also served to introduce us to the use of local transport, including my first bush taxi ride. I’ll try to get some photos up soon, but for now, imagine me stuffed into a car that should only fit nine people, but has fifteen. The first two hours were manageable, but my legs were numb and I was doing everything I could to ignore the pain for the last hour. Thankfully, three hours is a short ride here (we only went 125km), some others visited folks who were seven or more hours from Ouagua.
The PCV I visited has only been at his site, a village of 6,000 people, for two months, and in Burkina for five months in total. I was happy to see that despite his initial lack of French, he is now speaking quite well. During the first few months at site, one is expected to meet as many people as possible to integrate into the community and to begin to develop future project ideas. It was great to see his routine, which included becoming a regular at one of two breakfast spots, working on a large community farm, and hanging out with as many people as he could.
I started to feel a little under the weather literally the moment I got off of the bus back from Demyst. I took my temperature the next morning, and sure enough, I had a fever. I ended up spending two days in bed, with a temperature as high as 103 and no appetite. But worse than the fever was the diarrhea. I’ll spare you from the gory details, but let’s just say Burkinabe diarrhea is a whole different thing than American diarrhea. The medical officer prescribed me some medicine and thankfully I’m all better now.
Before demystification we went into Ouagua on two separate occasions, once to visit the new US Embassy, and once to visit the Peace Corps office, transit house (where volunteers can stay while in Ouagua), and the American Cultural Center, a facility that diplomats and us PC folks can use (they have a pool!). At the embassy, the Ambassador spoke to us, and we were given a tour of the large facility.
My French hasn’t progressed much this week, mostly due to the fact that I spent 5 days at Demyst with other Americans speaking English, and 2 days in bed not really speaking at all. But I need to study up, because at the end of next week we have our first language exam. We are ranked Novice, Intermediate, or Advanced and within each category one can be high, intermediate, or low. Naturally I’m currently rated Novice/Low. The minimum bar is to be Intermediate/Mid by the end of training. Those who have already obtained that rating are then going to focus more on local languages.
A few family corrections – my host family actually has 35 people, and is headed by Mathias, the grandfather. My host father is his son, 28 year old Renee. My host mother and Renee’s wife Natalie, is 25 years old. I spend the vast majority of my time at home with Renee, Natalie, and 18 year old Richard who I described in my last post. I also went to Catholic mass last week, and while I could have done without the four hour service (half in French and half in Moore), it was quite a scene, and it was fun to see everyone dressed up. And the music was amazing! I think I might go to church more often just for the drumming.
The big news we’ve all been waiting for will be coming on the 15th is site announcement -where we find out where we find out where we’ll be going and what we’ll actually be doing here in Burkina these next couple of years. There are a few types of projects I’m interested in, so we’ll see if I get matched up with those. Exciting!
Keep sending your notes! Even though I can’t always respond, I love hearing from you all.
Life has changed quite a bit since my last post. I moved in with my host family on Tuesday night, and I’ve finally have had a chance to experience the reality of living outside of the PC training center. First thing first, not speaking French has been really tough on me. I’ve had a few days of French class, but I’m still not really able to communicate anything besides the most basic needs. It’s doubly tough, as I already feel like an infant in the Burkinabe society without the language barrier. Everything is new, and nothing can be taken for granted. Bathing, going to the bathroom, and doing my laundry have all required demonstrations.
The good news is, that despite communication barriers, I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to do good work here in Burkina. Our training sessions have proved very interesting (today we visited a farmer and learned about some of the properties of Marunga trees, the local onion market, and saw grains, such as millet and sorgrum).
Back to my living situation. I have been adopted into a large family of 31. Due to my lack of French most of the details I’m about to describe is from inferences. The family, like most Burkinabe, live in a family compound, where a number of structures surround a central courtyard. However, my family has two compounds. I seem to live in the auxiliary compound, with most of the action happening across the street. I’m in a decent sized room, its own structure which is made of concrete with a tin roof (approximately 12’ x 10’). There is a poster of the soccer player Sameul Etoo, so I know I’m in a good spot. I haven’t been able to figure out how everyone in the family is related, but my host mom and dad are pretty young and have two kids. The head of the family (who I guess to be the father of my host mother), seems to have three wives, though again, I’m not sure on this. There are 25 kids! The youngest is 8 months, and the oldest, Richard, is 18.
The family business seems to be in the shipping of livestock to Cote d’Ivoire. A large shipment of turkeys went out yesterday. However, there are plenty of other animals running around in the courtyard, including pigs, chickens, and a dog. There’s a rabbit cage as well. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, roosters crow all through the night, not just at dawn.
Since I can’t really communicate very well, my typical evening involves a lot of sign language and me saying “it’s good” (in French obviously) over and over. Thankfully my family has been incredibly patient with me, and are really making an effort to converse. Also, I’m thankfully quite entertaining to most of the kids without saying anything at all. They love to crowd around in my room and look at all of my things, and to take part in random dance parties (ah, the international language of music). And my family LOVED the Obama postcards I brought. People love Obama here – one of my fellow trainees found an Obama belt buckle, and I’ve heard there’s even an Obama cologne.
It’s past 9pm, so getting close to my bedtime as I wake up around 5am. Though the 4:15am call to prayer (which I swear is coming from directly next door) that continues for 15 minutes basically means that I’m already up. Then it’s a bucket bath, breakfast of a loaf of bread and hot chocolate, then a 15-20 minute bike ride to my 7am individual French tutoring, followed by a full day of regular training activities including more French, business and cultural issues. It’s pretty exhausting, but we finally get our first time off this weekend as we get a half day on Saturdays, and all Sundays off.