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.