Friday marked my training group’s one year anniversary for arriving in Burkina Faso, and as such calls for a bit of reflection.
Burkina Faso is unlike any other place I have been. Upon first arrival I was shocked or surprised by many things – abject poverty, heat, the multitude of unaccustomed sounds (lots of languages, motorbikes, and the muslim call to prayer, for example). One year later, these things have become a part of my daily life, and while I’m still discovering new things all the time, I’ve become familiar enough with the life and culture here that many previously shocking things have become to seem normal.
While I’m proud of some of the successes I have had, at the same time I feel like I’ve hardly accomplished anything thus far. The good news is that seems to be normal, as it is often said that most volunteers don’t really become particularly effective until year two of their service (I still have another two months before I’m on the downhill stretch). I also feel better when I start to look at it through the lens of how much time I’ve actually spent working. When one adds up the three months of Peace Corps trainings, more than one month of my association’s trainings/meetings, another month of evacuations related to earlier military actions and a month of vacation, it quickly becomes evident that I’ve spent about half of my service in Burkina Faso not directly working on projects.
Going forward, I’m currently on the verge of starting two big projects that will be taking the majority of the rest of my service, my database/GPS map implementation project I’ve written about before (here and here) looks to be going nationwide, as well as working to bring solar lights to Burkina Faso with Unite to Light. Both projects are in the advanced planning stages and I’m currently dealing with logistics of touring around the country as well as international shipping/customs issues. Hopefully I will be posting soon with all of the details.
In addition, ongoing individual consulting projects with borrowers, computer trainings, and appearances with a local English club will likely round out the rest of my free time. Though I’d like to revive interest in making/selling mango jam this coming spring as well as participating in next year’s version of the bike tour as well.
Life and Happiness
Overall, I’d say I’m generally happy, though my usual emotional stoicism is rocked a bit higher or lower than usual every now and then. When I’m busy and accomplishing things I feel amazing, but when I have down time I feel like I’m wasting time. And while downtime is nice sometimes, I on occasion feel like I’m shortchanging my experience here by reverting back to my old American self. I’m online more than I care to admit, and when socializing I’m often hanging out with other expats (Americans, Canadians, French, etc) rather than Burkinabé.
Thankfully, it looks like the majority of the rest of my service is already planned out and I will be incredibly busy for at least the next five months, so that should help me feel happier more often. I’ll have a set schedule and won’t be able to simply vanish inside my house for the evening.
I’m also doing a little planning for the future. My next vacation plans will be tagging along with my folks on a South Africa/Botswana/Namibia trip next summer and hopefully convincing them (or at least guilting them) into to coming to Burkina and perhaps a side trip to Mali.
I’m also thinking more and more about post Peace Corps opportunities. Travel will certainly be a large part of it, but then what? The development field has been interesting, though I’m not sure if I want to be in it for a career. I’m also thinking about grad school, scholarship opportunities, and language study.
In short, things are good. I’ve created a role here for myself, and I enjoy the work that I’m doing and generally the life that I’m leading. I want to change up a few things about my routine (exercise more, less computer time), but for the most part I’m happy with where I am and for where I am going – even if I don’t know exactly where that is sometimes.