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!