18 November 2012

Going Home

I am typing this from the comforts of home in upstate New York! And I'm no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer - I'm officially a Returned PCV. 

Last week, after completing a lot of paperwork, the 7 of us leaving on the 16th had our "pinning ceremony" with the Country Director and Peace Corps office staff. 

The group of PCVs COSing. 

Me with the Country Director, Jill.

That night, we flew out of Ouagadougou! There were 5 of us on the same flight. It was a long day travelling but I was glad I was with other PCVs and not by myself - I would have been so anxious alone. 

After arriving at JFK and getting our luggage, we went to meet our parents! Two PCVs (or I guess Returned PCVs now!) had their parents picking them up, and two others were continuing on to the Baltimore airport. 

 The 5 of us at JFK.

Mom and Dad surprised me with posters and balloons! And, there was a Panera salad waiting for me in the car. 

Look at the awesome poster!

After a long exhausting drive back home, I was able to collapse into MY OWN BED! It's nice to be home :-)

10 November 2012

Saying goodbye

Saying bye was a lot harder than I had thought. If you had told me two years ago that I would be this sad to leave village, I wouldn't have believed you. It's amazing to think of the progress I've made during my service here. 

I've tried to keep my posts here positive, but my parents can tell you that I was absolutely miserable here for the first few months. Yes, there were good moments, but overall it was really hard for me. Stage was just a giant mess of stress and uncomfortableness. And moving to a village where almost no one spoke French was hard. AND I lived by myself with no neighbors for the first year. I just was so lonely and isolated from everyone, it was so ... depressing. I feel so lucky that I came here speaking French, because to have to struggle with that on top of everything else would have been so hard.

I don't mean to be negative, but now that I'm done I can look back and realize just how difficult it was for me here because - I've actually adjusted! I speak Moore, I have friends in village, and I can honestly say that I was sad to leave. 

Saying goodbye to Madi and the nescafe ladies (his three wives) was probably the hardest. The day before I was leaving village I went to their house to say bye and started crying A LOT. I had to leave and come back later because I wasn't ready to say bye yet. They were just so nice to me during my first year when I was struggling so much, and I don't think they realize how much they mean to me. I was there every day, sometimes more than once a day, just hanging out with them. They have always been so nice and patient with my Moore, never making fun of me. Now that I speak Moore pretty well, we can joke around and I love it. I'm glad that they did see my cry because hopefully it made them realize how much they mean to me. 

Before getting on my bush taxi to leave village, I said goodbye to Zongo. We planned to meet up in Ouaga before I flew out, so it wasn't a definitive goodbye. But I still started crying hysterically and everyone on the bush taxi thought it was so funny and weird. By the time the bush taxi got going, I had calmed down. It still amazes me how emotional I got ... but I guess that's proof that I really integrated here!

09 November 2012

The worst going away party ever

Before leaving village, I decided to throw myself a going away party, which is a pretty common thing for both volunteers and fonctionnaires to do. I spent about $60 on rice (25 kilograms), chickens, and ingredients for zoom-koom. I've been to a few going away parties for other fonctionnairs leaving village and it's a pretty standard deal. All of the important villagers come and say bye. There are speeches, people eat, and usually the villagers have pooled money for a gift. 

Well, mine went a little differently. The normal people came, which was great, but I was also hoping some of my other friends from village would show up. They're women, though, so it's harder for them to leave the house. Zongo introduced me and talked a little about the work I was doing, and then asked me to say a few words. 

And then I started crying. SO EMBARRASSING! But I eventually got out some really emotional words. I think people were surprised but also (hopefully) moved. 

Then Zongo called on a representative from each group that was there to say something to me  (the leader of the old men, the leader of the old women, the youth representative, the Imam, etc). And this is how each conversation went (all in Moore, so I think they think I didn't understand, but I did):

Zongo: Ok, now you say something to Emily to wish her goodbye. 
Rep: I don't know what to say. 
Zongo: You should say that she's done a really good job here, and you wish her the best in the future. 
Rep: Emily - you've done a really good job here and we wish you the best in the future. 

EVERY SINGLE PERSON just repeated what Zongo told them to say. It was really disappointing, especially because I had showed emotion and it seemed like no one else cared. I was really hoping someone would at least say "I enjoyed working on this project with you" or "we had a great conversation concerning this" but no one said anything specially about me. 

To top it all off, the chief, with whom I live, didn't even talk about me. When Zongo called on him to talk, he just went on a rant about how he doesn't understand why my village is not getting another Peace Corps Volunteer. I just wanted to scream at him "THIS IS NOT THE PLACE FOR THIS!" So frustrating. 

Then we broke out the food and everyone gathered around bowls to eat. I was with Zongo and the teachers from the school. When we started eating, the chief pulled Zongo aside to talk about some issue with his house. And then the teachers immediately got up and said they were leaving. So I just sat there, by myself, and watched everyone eat the rice, drink the zoom-koom, get up, and leave. No one came and said ANYTHING to me. I know this is a cultural thing, they just don't say "thank you," but it was still annoying and frustrating. 

It wasn't until I got home that I realized no one pooled money for a gift. It's not that I necessarily want a gift from my village, but the gesture would have been nice. Especially since I've heard people talking (in Moore) about what to get me. It was disappointing since all the other fonctionnaires I've seen leave village have gotten some sort of gift (usually a pagne or something). 

I feel like the party was a little representative of my service here, in a very pessimistic way. I put a lot of time and effort into things, and then no one in village actually cares or wants to help. A very fitting way to leave. 

20 October 2012

The hardest part is leaving

So it's decided - I am leaving village on Nov. 5th and Burkina on Nov. 16th. I don't want to leave site so early but I want to follow the election in Ouaga (Nov. 6th for those of you under a rock) and since my bush taxi only comes 2 days a week there's no other easy day to leave.

I've been having a blast in village lately. Of course, the moment I start to love it here is the moment I have to tell everyone that I'm leaving soon. Every day the kids in my courtyard tell me not to leave.

I don't have many projects left so my days are pretty relaxed (not that I'm usually busy). But the pressure's off to do anything big.

I'm planning a big party to thank everyone in village for helping me over the past two years. It's not an uncommon thing for volunteers to do - I'm going to buy rice and chicken and zoom koom for everyone. Expensive, but they deserve it.

Every time I have an interaction with someone, in the back of my mind I'm thinking "I'm leaving soon and will probably never see you again." It's so hard, especially with the kids, whom I adore.

If you had told me during stage that I would be sad to leave here, I wouldn't have believed it. But, the old Peace Corps motto is true - "the hardest part is leaving."
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Airtel Burkina Faso.

04 October 2012

Tips for new volunteers

Here are some random suggestions for incoming volunteers. If you have any questions, let me know!


If you even remotely enjoy coffee, bring starbucks via instant coffee packs. A million times better than nescafe. If you drink coffee regularly, bring a french press. Definitely worth it.

If you like to cook or bake, bring measuring cups. They're tough to find here.

Bring at least one super sharp knife, or a moderately sharp knife with a sharpener. Knives here are super dull and cutting onions with them is hard. If you like cooking, bring two knives.

If you like to read, I highly recommend a kindle. For my first year here, I had to bike my books 20km to site. I go through a book about every 2-3 days so my kindle has been very useful! There's a file being passed around between volunteers with tons of free ebooks. Also, if you have a kindle, try and get a case that comes with a light. So useful.

Definitely get a headlamp. A usb or solar powered one is a million times more useful than a battery powered one.

A lot of the literature says not to bring shorts, but I have 3 pairs of running shorts here that I would die without. I wear them when I'm just hanging out in my courtyard or at the transit house. I live in a family courtyard and no one has said anything to me about them.

If you are a new junkie (like I am), bring a good shortwave radio. I listen to the bbc everyday.
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Airtel Burkina Faso.

02 October 2012

Bike tour update

Last month, I participated in the volunteer-organized "Tour du Faso." The goal of the tour is to raise money for gender and development projects in Burkina. The tour ended last week in the south west of the country. Below are some final statistics on the tour:

total km: 1525km
total # of Burkinabe village participants reached: 2,311
volunteer sites visited: 27
average km/hr: 16km/hr
Longest km in one day: 125km
Shortest km in one day: 20km
total # of riders: 29
average km: 64.5km
average time on bike: 3.9hrs  

Although the physical part of the bike tour is over, the grant is still open and accepting donations until October 25 2012. Thanks to everyone who has already donated! If you haven't yet, you can direct your 100% tax deductible donations to http://pcburkina.org/GAD/bike-tour. Please specify "GAD BIKE TOUR" in the message line.

Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Airtel Burkina Faso.

17 September 2012

Getting my sand read in Fada

One of the large attractions for PCVs in Fada (besides seeing our fellow PCV Luis), is sand-reading. There are lots of men there who can read your fortune in the sand. I've been wanting to do this since basically day one of Peace Corps, and thankfully I was able to last week.

We went to Luis' favorite sand-readers house (I guess if you live out there you can have a few choices). I was expecting this old decrepit man hunched over in a hut. But, he turned out to be a younger looking guy who was chain smoking and constantly answering cell phone calls. We went into his hut five at a time, sitting in a semi-circle around him. The floor was cement, and there was "magical" sand spread in front of the reader.

I went first - he drew a vertical line in the sand and told me to place my hand on the sand and ask a question with my heart. When I was done, he started drawing rows of squares and then tallying up number and drawing series of lines. There was definitely some math involved. He then asked me what my question was - I said I wanted to know about my love life. He looked confused, and then went back to drawing lines in the sand. After about a minute, he said the sand wasn't talking and I had to ask again. So we repeated the process. The second time around he gave me an answer.

He said I will find love, but it will be hard. This is why the sand wasn't talking the first time around, because my love life will be difficult. I will be with an older man and he will get angry a lot. And the big surprise - we will have one child first before marrying. He was very adament that my love life will be difficult but when I looked confused, he said "It's the sand talking, not me!"

I asked a second question about my work. This time, the sand figured it out right away. The reader said that when I go home I will open up a business - he gave the examples of a restaurant or night club. He said I will be in commerce but that I won't be the one selling things, I will be managing. It was really interesting to hear him talk about this because that is not at all what I want to go into!

The other volunteers also asked the reader questions, and it was interesting to hear their answers as well. Now I feel prepared for the tough love life ahead of me!