Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And now for something completely different...

Here is a politically neutral poem about Hummus:

Chick peas, tahini
A pestle and a bowl
A little olive oil
And your're ready to roll!

Garlic, lemon
Red Pepper if your brave
Heres an Arab classic
The world has learned to crave!

Pita chips, or veggies
On sandwich or brochette
Its the most delicious food
I believe I've ever met!

You can eat it by yourself
But it's better with a friend
If you've got some Hummus
The fun just never ends!

(367 stanzas removed by author)

Hummus on the bus
Hummus on the train
When I'm out a walkin'
I've got Hummus on the brain!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 in retrospect, and updates

While I never considered myself the type to blog, I'm going to commit myself to putting out more entries. Why? you ask? Why would I sit in front of a computer when I could be exploring a new culture, trying new foods, and horribly botching local language? The answer: I do it for you.

HERE IS WHAT I ACCOMPLISHED IN 2010 (feel free to laud my accomplishments and acknowledge my prowess):

1.Became conversational in French (enough to confuse party-goers in Juan le Pins with my West African Accent)
2.Was displaced from my original Peace Corps site
3.Biked from Yako to Bobo Dioulassou 300K+ in 5 days
4.Started a soap making group with a local women's group
5.Started a girls computer club
6.Convinced children outside of my site mate's house that yelling "Bonjour!" is more likely to get them candy than "Nassara bon bon!"
7. Saw my family for a wonderful 2 weeks in Southern France. (not really an accomplishment, but worth noting)
8. Stayed relatively disease free.


1. Become a language powerhouse capable of writing scholarly articles in French and Mooré
2. Continue working and integrating in Yako
3. Bike to Ouahigouya, and then to Ouaga
4. Continue and expand my current activities to more schools
5. Convince children that "Bonjour, Monsieur Johnson" is the preferred way to greet me.
6. Meet a beautiful, multi-lingual, Italian doctor who is thoroughly impressed with my rugged African lifestyle.
7. See my family again
8. Stay relatively disease free.

I'd give you more of an update on my activities but I'm running out of minutes at the cyber-cafe. Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas from Burkina Faso!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Get Busy

Mosque in Yako:

So how are things going? I haven't written much on my new site, as I haven't had much time. I'll start by saying that I absolutely adore my new site, and I believe that there was in fact a silver lining to this whole evacuation business. For starters, my new house is spectacular. Here's a short video tour of the place:


We celebrated Thanksgiving here last month. About 12 of us got together for the holiday. Using a large metal pot, some bricks, and charcoal, I managed to fashion an oven. We used this to bake a 14lb turkey, and 2 apple pies. We of course had all the other accoutrements that the availability of ingredients would allow: Mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, and cranberry sauce from the can. I tried out a new recipe from Saveur Magazine as well, curried creamed onions. They were a hit and were very easy to make. We all ate far too much, drank a bit too much wine, and fell asleep on my porch. It was a nearly perfect Thanksgiving, except for the stark absence of football.

I have a site mate in Yako as well. This worked out rather well as we are good friends. He is a volunteer at the high school, and has been a lot of help getting my computer lab set up at my primary school.

Oh yea, I should mention. I have a computer lab at one of my primary schools. It's the first time I've seen computers at a primary school, and will be a great opportunity for a girls club. As a matter of fact, our first meeting is in 2 days. I spoke with the director of my school and had her select 10 of her most successful CM2 (6th grade) girls. We've got 5 computers and that is all that I think I can handle at the moment. This club will promote the girls' interest in science, math, and technology, as well as give them an early introduction to computers.

Aside from this I've been working with the mother's association at another school. We have been throwing ideas back and forth as to how to earn some money for the school. The school lacks a nice latrine, and a water pump. They currently have a well. They also lost several hundred kilos of beans to infestation. Kids who are fed have more incentive to come to school, and are able to pay better attention. We decided that we would start by making and selling liquid soap. Our first batch was 14L and sold within a day. This next round we'll be making around 70L. Word has spread quickly that our group makes good quality soap.

So things are rather busy at the moment, and hopefully will become more so as I continue my service. I'd like to host a full out girls camp or conference with exceptional girls from throughout the region.

I'll probably stay put for Christmas, and throw a party for volunteers on New Year's eve. Thanks for reading, hope you are enjoying the snow.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Revelations After 15 Months

It just so happens that the 2pm bus from Bobo to Ouaga is full up. This means I'll be taking the first bus tommorow morning. The Bobo office has cleared out. I was left with a package of real coffee, and a French press. Needless to say I'm in the mood to write.

Let us talk for a moment about Islam. Or rather, let me write, and you can read. I don't consider myself an expert on this topic. However, I do believe that my experiences overseas are of value to those who would otherwise remain in the dark regarding one of the most hotly debated topics of our generation. I would like to start by saying: Dear Americans, if you are not Muslim, or have studied the Muslim faith, then you know very little about the topic and should not speak your mind regarding it. Before you even open your mouth, do some research, and listen to those who are more informed than you. But wait, thats not good enough either. Listen to many, many people and sources who know more than you, and then ask questions. Be scholarly. This way you can avoid people who would provide you with divisive misinformation, and come to your own conclusions. There is positively nothing wrong with admitting you are clueless on a topic, and opening your mind.

For those who feel they learned everything they need to know about Islam on 9/11, I beg of you. Please. Go and do some reading. Check out a local Muslim cultural center. Speak with American Muslims in your area, they are your neighbors. You are bad for all of us until you are more informed.

Now I'm not saying that every Muslim should automatically be considered a great person. There are shitheads of every race and denomination. I've certainly met liars and theives in Burkina Faso. Some are Muslim. Others identify themselves as Christian, and/or Animist. All of these people are a minority, and usually not well respected among their neighbors. However, I am constantly moved by the hospitality of the people in this country. I lived in a town that is about 80% Muslim. I was consistently welcomed in to people's homes, and offered a great amount, despite what little they had. People are curious about Americans. When we are able to exchange our cultures, we realize that our values are more similar than different. It hurts me greatly when I hear ignorant, outspoken bigots pass judgement on a group based on the actions of very, very few. It upsets me even more when this is done in the name of patriotism. Unfortunately, our media tends to encourage this type of behavior.

The two articles below are covering the same address from one man. This man is an American, and a Muslim. While the CNN article illustrates the Imam's call for a stronger voice for moderate Muslims, the Fox News article perpetuates a divisive argument with a loaded headline. The fact is, the cultural center, part of which is a mosque, is NOT on hallowed ground. It is however, very near the site of an American tragedy. The Fox News article twists the man's words to make him sound as if he doesn't believe that the former site of the WTC is in some way sacred. This is an obvious attempt by the Muslim-fearing (read, bigoted) right-wing media to smear a man who just wants to see a little more solidarity among his fellow Americans. The real point here is that our media is way off target when it comes to covering what matters, and doing so in a responsible manner.

Well, this particular missive sort of came out of the blue, and I'm sure that some people will disagree with what I've said. Thanks for reading anyhow, and please comment!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yako to Bobo

Greetings and salutations faithful readers,
I've been out of touch for the past week or so as I've been participating in a bike tour of Burkina Faso. I met up with the core group of bikers in Yako, my new site. We awoke at 4:30AM, and loaded up our support car, and hit the road at first light. The first leg of the trip was to the village of Toma, the site of PCV Bovard Tiberi. The trip was along dirt roads, which wound through millet fields. It is currently the rainy season so everything is verdant and beautiful. At around 15k we met up with new PCV Nick McGregor, a fellow Spartan, at his site of La-todin (there are about 5 different spellings of this, and the villagers themselves don't seem to have reached a consensus). We continued on, completing the 70k trip mid-afternoon following a lunch stop. Bovard has a rather unique set up. He lives in a private school compound in teacher's housing. The compound is located on top of a hill, which made for a climb to finish out the ride, but provided us with a great view of his village and the countryside. After an ample dinner of chicken and pasta, and a few Brakinas, I set up my bug hut outside under the stars. Ahhhh.

I awoke to the crack of thunder and scrambled to disassemble the tent in a delerium, switching between the task at hand, and looking wildly out at the approaching lightning storm. I managed to make it inside just as the rain started to fall. I slept on the floor and proceded to be devoured by mosquitos. So much for a peaceful night under the stars. When I woke up the next morning, the rain was still falling. Because we were sleeping under a tin roof, it sounded as if God and the devil were engaged in some sort of round-robin tapdance competition with Fred Astaire. Though when I walked outside I realized that it was only lightly raining. We postponed riding and debated our plan of action. Eventually we had a car go and scope out the road. They returned with the good news that everything was passable, and that we would be able to ride on to Dedougou. The rain broke shortly after. We had cloud cover most of the day as we biked one of the more scenic legs of the tour. The road was difficult, but manageable. After about 35K we stopped at a small village to warm up with some hot tea, and learned that the supposed 70k ride was actually closer to 90k. Oops. With 55k of craggy dirt road winding out ahead of us, we pressed on.

Dedougou is a large town, and home to two volunteers. We stopped, caked in mud, chafed, and walking like old-timey cowpokes, at the first bar in town and did some much needed rehydrating. I stayed at PCV Ryan Barthels house, and managed to get a solid night of sleep on a real mattress. Phew. This was easily the most difficult day of the trip.

From Dedougou, we continued south, on the road to Bobo Dioulassou, which is the second largest city in Burkina Faso. From here on out, we would be riding on paved road. The trade off, however, is that we were entering hill country. We did the trip in three legs. We first stopped in the village of Bandukuy. The village is rather small, but has grown in past years with the paved road. We were greeted by the Mayor, an extremely hospitable and welcoming man who made us feel at home in his town. He helped us pump water (read; not normal for a mayor), and bought us lunch. Two other volunteers and I went for a walk around town to stretch our legs and ended up having a beer with the Mayor. He was a very interesting man, who informed us that he had only gone to school through what we would probably consider the 3rd grade. His education has come from cultivating, and living in the village his whole life. When he was in his teens, he told his father that he wished to join the military. His father, a veteran of 20 years, forbade this, for which he is very grateful (it's good to be mayor). After some discussion, we took a small tour of the village in the Mayoral Mercedes, and visited a youth center constructed by a volunteer about 15 years ago. He seemed very interested in getting another volunteer in his town and we were happy to supply him with the necessary contacts. We slept at a primary school, and hit the road early the next day.

Our destination was Satiri, a village located 42k North of Bobo, and home to volunteer Isy Tavarez. Isy was a voluneer in Guinea before coming to Burkina, and has really made a home for herself here. We were greeted by village officials at the road, and shown to her house where several girls prepared spaghetti for us. At night, we had the pleasure of seeing a local drum group perform. As soon as the drums started, all of Satiri showed up in Isy's courtyard. You know that it's a party in West Africa when the naked toddler shows up. Some women cooked up a serious batch of riz-sauce arachide, et poisson(rice with peanut sauce, and fish). I spent the night outside under the stars, knowing that I only had to bike a short 42k in to Bobo the next day. We decided that we would sleep in until 6AM so that we could arrive with our wits about us. Several people on the tour were slated to give speeches to the Governer of the region that afternoon.

Fellow volunteer Josh Gwinn and I decided that we were going to make it in to town in under 2 hours. We really gave it our all and took turns drafting every 3k. The road was very hilly and offered some incredible views. With about 15k left, we reached the top of the hill and could see Bobo sprawling out in front of us. Once we spotted the city we rode like the one eyed jack of diamonds with the devil close behind (to quote The Highwaymen). We managed to draft a camion (large truck for shipping goods) for the last 5k, and made it to Bobo in 1 hour 43 minutes. Woosh.

Later that afternoon, we had a ceremony (in the pouring rain) to commemorate volunteerism in Burkina, as well as pay homage to Peace Corp's 50th year here. The ceremony went very well, and the volunteer speeches were great. Since then I've been relaxing here in Bobo with some friends I haven't seen in a while. This is really a beautiful city, and the polar opposite of Dori. The streets are lined with trees, and the humidity can be crippling at times. Oh, and its buggy. Very buggy. Aside from this, I've been enjoying myself immensely seeing another side of The Faso.

Well thats about it for the bike tour. It was a great experience, and I hope to continue biking at my new site; Yako. Yako is located 110k north-west of Ouagadougou, and is a town of around 15 thousand. I saw my new house last week and it is palatial. I have tiled floors, electricity, and running water. The highlight however, is the flush toilet and shower, which are located questionably close to each other. Oh well, that could end up being a real time-saver in the future. I'll be moving in to my new digs in a week or so, and will update you on the particulars of Yako. Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Swear-in tonight!

Congratulations to all the new volunteers who will be swearing in tonight. I had the pleasure of working training for 2 weeks in Koudougou. Training is always a difficult time in the life of a volunteer, but the pay-off is more than worth it. I'll be at the embassy tonight in my freshly pressed suit and new shoes brushing shoulders with Burkinabe and American officials, go me.

In reality I'll be standing in the sun saying "Bonjour" and "Bienvenue" for a couple of hours.

I had the pleasure of meeting with a Burkinabe doctor last week. It was a remarkable experience. Simeon became friends with Mike Lavoie (a fellow Michigander) while Mike was a volunteer in the 70s here in The Faso. They have remained friends ever since, and have collaborated on many projects. Mike even brought Simeon to the US for a month a few years back.

My parents and Mike recently attended a concert at the DIA (Detroit Institute of the Arts, for all you philistines). The band they saw was called Burkina Electric. It is a French/Burkinabe collaboration. Mike spoke Moore with the band the band, and took many photos with my parents. He purchased a T-shirt, and asked that my parents bring it, and the photos, along with them to France. I had the great pleasure of presenting Simeon with the shirt, as well as photos of his old friend along side my parents. This is what it's all about man. Simeon even offered to give me and some health volunteers a tour of the Hopital Yalgado here in Ouagadougou. It is the largest hospital in Burkina Faso, so it will be a great opportunity to learn more about the health care system here in BF. We as volunteers typically see the village side of health care. Those of us who are (un)lucky enough to see the inside of a private clinic for medical reasons aren't really getting a realistic picture of what city folks do about health care here. I think that this will be a great experience.

I was in Yako, which is 100K NW of Ouaga this week. I was working on developing my future site. Everyone seems very excited to have me around, although housing is still an issue. Because I work in girls education, everyone assumed that I would be female (surprise!). The city was under the impression that I would be living with the president of the AME (mother's association). I was completely fine living in a family courtyard, until I found out that she and her 3 daughters are currently living there alone, while the husband is on Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). My moving in wouldn't be appropriate in any culture.

So the hunt continues...

Thats all for now folks. I have to go pick up my suit, which I just had pressed!