Archive for the 'Volunteer Year One' Category


Read These – December Edition

Recommended reading:


Making Liquid Soap

I recently ran a liquid soap training as a promotion for a friend who recently opened up his own soap supply store (more on this later). After borrowing a few materials (three buckets and a spatula), all that was left was to buy a little salt, a chemical called Tansigex and add some water.

The process is dead simple: 7.5L of water in bucket 1, 7.5L of water plus with 1kg of dissolved salt in bucket 2, and 1kg of the mysterious Tansigex in bucket 3.  I’d love to tell you what Tansigex is exactly, but Google searches only brought up references to other Peace Corps Burkina Faso blogs (obviously we’re in a self-reference loop here). Then just whip the Tansigex and alternate adding a cup of salt and fresh water while continuing to stir. Let it sit overnight and the melange will result in ~13L  of soap. If you choose, add colorant (we chose green) and a cap or two of perfume to make it smell nice.

Total material costs, including bottles, was 2,650 CFA (~$5.90). Since this was a promotion, we gave the soap made during the training to the ladies for free. When they sell the soap, total revenues will be between 4,000-5,000 CFA (~$8.90-11.10) depending on the mix of large and small bottles (small 0.5L bottles sell for 200 CFA and large 1.5L bottles for 500 CFA (~$0.45-1.10). Not a bad margin, and a great way to help prevent disease. Wash those hands people!


Negotiating an Engagement

Last month, my buddy decided it was time to pop the question to his girlfriend. Little did I know that here in Burkina Faso it’s not as easy as just buying a ring, getting down on one knee and asking. Instead, a long series of events must take place, starting with some negotiations between the two families. Negotiations, that I was somewhat inexplicably asked to attend.

My friend’s family lives mostly in Niger, so he instead gathered up his cousin, two older gentlemen he called “uncles” and me (Burkinabé often call what we would call cousins “brother” and family friends “uncle”). We headed over not to the girl’s parent’s house, but instead to her grandparent’s house instead. Age carries a lot of weight here, and it is the family elders who decide such matters. In fact, at 28, I was at least ten years younger than anyone else at the meeting. Those who were only middle-aged mostly kept quiet, and I sat solemnly in place until told to take photos (maybe this is why I was asked to come?).

So what was being discussed? I’m not entirely sure actually since it was all done in local language, but thankfully they threw a few French words in here and there, and eventually numbers. Numbers, that I induced (and later confirmed) were in regards to the amount my friend should pay for a dowry. Unbeknownst to me until an hour into our discussion, at the other end of the family courtyard, a circle of women were having the same conversation. A male representative went over to solicit input at one point.

The conversation seemed serious, but was never contentious. I did my best to stifle a chuckle when one of the family members pulled out his cell phone to do some dowry-related calculations. It just so seemed out of place in what otherwise had a very old and traditional feel.

After another hour or so, an agreement was reached, and a huge bag of kola nuts and a few large denomination bills were slid over to the girl’s family. Success!


Friday Photo: Minister’s Visit

Each Friday I’ll serve up a photo and give you the story behind it. This week, a group shot from the minister’s visit to the east.

The Minister's (front row, second from left) visit.

A couple weeks back the Minister of Youth and Employment (which my micro-finance organization is a part of) came out to the East to announce some programmatic changes to how the ministry will be run in the future. The main theme was decentralization, which I understand to be a nationwide initiative to get more money and programs out into the regions rather than today’s disproportional share of resources staying in the capital.

I like this photo for a variety of reasons. Believe it or not, this was the best shot out of the four that were taken, and perfectly illustrates a number of cultural-isms relating to photos:

  1. It is almost impossible to get everyone looking in the same direction at the same time (and for the photographer to organize them).
  2. Pictures here are usually a serious affair so most everyone seems very solemn.
  3. A few of my colleagues on the left, however, were caught in their more natural state of laughing and joking. I wish this came through more often in photos as most here are incredibly outgoing and expressive.

Burkinabé Cuisine: Attcheke

Showcasing Burkinabé cuisine one meal at a time – today, attcheke.

Attcheke, a manioc cous cous-like dish served with a few onions and green peppers is another carb filled typical meal here in Burkina Faso. The meal is often garnished with a fish for 200 CFA more, and my favorite version is from a restaurant in Ouaga that mixes in a bit of mayo that makes a nice sauce. The example above is from a kiosk next to the town square in Fada, though I added some of my own tomatoes and onions to make it a little less carb-dominated.

Cost (including fish): 450 CFA ($1).


World AIDS Day Mural

World AIDS Day, held on December 1st each year, is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In sites all around Burkina, Peace Corps Volunteers along with community members painted murals to signify the event and to create an opportunity to educate on HIV/AIDS.

After attending the sessions, participants were able to put their hand-print on the mural as a sign of their pledge to educate and promote healthy lifestyles. We emphasized the theme “Campaign Zero” (zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths).

The wall at the youth center turned out looking great, and in our two sessions we had over 130 attendees. We received a lot of local help, and even met a Burkinabé volunteer who acted as a spokesperson and did an amazing job during both sessions. Check out the finished product and a lot more photos below.


Friday Photo: Commuting

Each Friday I’ll serve up a photo and give you the story behind it. This week, my bike commute setup.

Each morning I have a 2km (about 10 minute) commute into my office, which is located downtown near the central market. I strap on my messenger bag to my bike with an incredibly convenient rubber strap. In fact, I strap all sorts of things to the back of my bike with it – packages, my luggage when traveling, etc. I leave the strap permanently tied to my bike as I discovered the perfect tension level so that I don’t have to constantly tie and untie the strap. It’s the little things sometimes.


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The opinions on this blog are only those of the author, and and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.