Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Fashion Show in Bukina?!

I was taught it's never good to start a thank-you with an apology, but oh well, here it goes...

I am so sorry that it has been so long since my last post... Things in country got away from me, and I am just now coming across the the time to sit down and SORT OF collect my thoughts...

I'll start with the most overdue information, and work backward from there... The fashion show is going GREAT! I wanted to do one of those Mastercard things where I total everything up like total meters of fabric used for clothes, total of tires used for shoes, total amount of money in CFA and USD, etcetera, but I simply don't have the time to do all that right now... I'll knock it out for the brag sheet at another time.

We have about 28 looks in the show— I say about because three looks are still in the works. Once I have made a decision on if those looks are going to stay or go, I will have the final counts down. The outfits, for the most part, are being made from the fabric woven by the association Kailey works with. To the left, you see one of the looks that will be modeled by Austin--a fellow PCV. (Althea and Naeta have been a God-send with their kick ass drawing abilities. They seriously knocked out all the sketches on pretty much a moments notice to have sent out to tailors, and models. Without their aid and talent, things definitely would not be where they are now.)

When I say “for the most part” I mean that probably 75% of the material for the show came from her association. It's SO cool. I've actually passed more time at her site than my site over the last six weeks. Her women are AWESOME, and I intend on blogging about them at another time. They have really helped us out by giving us a discount, and a payment plan to purchase everything in time for the show. Their fabric is beautiful, and will not only be showcased as clothing, but also in accessory forms, such as scarves, head wraps, and bags.  (Click here to see more of their products and pictures from Kailey's  site.)

 All the shoes for the show are also being made here in Burkina. James works with a guy (Moussa) who makes sandals, flip-flops, and accessories from used tires. It's actually pretty sick— I'm getting my laptop bag at the end of the month. What I really like about James and Moussa's project is that when people order shoes from Moussa's website, he donates a pair of tire shoes to a deserving student in the community. 

My tailors are going to have a few of their bags and accessories in the show, but I have also collaborated with two other associations/ sewing schools to ensure we have enough bags for the show, as well as to sell afterwards. "

I must say, this project is FAR more ambitious than I realized when I started it, but I am rather pleased with how things are progressing. I have also found PCV's who enjoy cinematography, and photography to shoot the show so that we can create a look book, and video once all is said and done. This will be an amazing marketing tool for all the associations we have worked with to help sell them selves to investors and what not.

The countdown has truly started... the show will be at 17h the 23rd of September...


Friday, June 3, 2011

Burkina Faso, je t'aime... mais pour quoi?!

(DISCLAIMER!!!!!.. I kept this post 100, so if you are reading these to a group of kids, you may want to read through it first, and make key word changes as to not piss off their rents. Also, I apologize for the cursing... I completely understand that an intelligent individual should be able to express their thoughts and opinions in a manor appropriate for any audience, but as I was writing this, I chose to truly let you all in, and not hold back...As always, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone, and are in no way, shape, or form reflections of Peace Corps Washington and or Peace Corps Burkina Faso. Disclaimer now finished, the time has come to sit back with your favorite snack and beverage, and enjoy!)

For reasons unknown to me, I have chosen to watch films that dealt with world travel the last two nights. The first, “Eat, Pray, Love”; the second “Paris Je Taime”  (the film from which I got this blog  entry title from).

I thoroughly enjoyed both movies, and spent most of my viewing time envying the characters because of their awesome experiences. Oddly enough though, as the characters were having their epiphanies, I was having an epiphany my own... My life is truly awesome!

My service in Burkina has been an emotional roller coaster to say the least... The first “wtf am I doing?” moment (that I remember) came around Christmas time. I was feeling extremely homesick, and cut off from everyone, so during my Christmas phone call with the family, I ranted about how “I suck at being poor”, and how “poverty just isn't my thing”and culminated with asking for my parents to send my BlackBerry to me.

My second “wtf am I doing?”  moment came in January when my laptop broke. I'm pretty sure I called, emailed, texted, and AIMed Momma Bell till she responded and basically asked for a new laptop to be sent to me. (I actually forgot an earlier WTF moment when my laptop broke for the first time, and Momma Bell ordered me a sick laptop for Christmas. Then right before Christmas, I changed my mind and decided to “rough it” and asked for money to start the Bag Project... which is probably why the Christmas call was such a mess, and why the second time my laptop broke was even more tragic.)

The third moment(s) all deal with money—or the lack, there of.  As a result of the protest, I have not been able to access my living allowance when I needed to the last three or four times I have needed it the most. Last month,  I ended up contacting Momma and Daddy Bell to have money deposited into my American account so I could have money. This month—today actually—I tried to get money so I could travel to Ouaga for work, and the people at the post refused, citing the connection in Ouaga being down as their reason for not being able to help me. Needless to say, I was furious, and called anyone who would listen, to rant about how “these fools at the post refuse to do their job!”

The fourth major moment just recently passed. To say I have a love-hate relationship with my site is the understatement of the century. Don't get it twisted, I LOVE my work, and all my projects, but there comes a time every stay at site, that everyone at site  becomes “these fools” or “these effers” or something of that nature in venting sessions with other volunteers. That said, I can't help but love everyone at site... even those effers who insist on talking to me only in local language, even though they are fluent in French.(Side note- I am rather impressed at how well the village has learned to read me... they know days when I can take more of their shit, and days that I really am not down for it...Kudos to Pama for that!)

The list can go on and on, and in fact, some volunteers have list of reasons why NOT to do a third year. All my grievances aside, I find that for reasons unbeknownst to me, I effin love this country...even when I hate it. In a twisted, twisted way, the Burkinabe are seriously the best clutch players you'd ever want on your team. They ALWAYS come through... even when they don't. There are seriously no words to describe this phenomenon, you'll just have to take my jumbled words for it.

Take my housing situation for instance... I HATE it. I've dealt with it for almost ten months now, and it's doing nothing but driving me nuts. After an hour and a half heart to heart with the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) steps were taken to better the situation. I also did my part, and worked to establish more boundaries. Unfortunately, I feel things are just mad awkward, and I'm pretty sure my homologue has noticed. I don't really say anything, because in this culture, one doesn't express themselves the way one would in America, and everything is “third-partied” to resolve issues. That may work here, but I'm an American (really, a Bell) first, and that's just not how I was brought up. I was brought up to “speak my mind—within reason” and that “one has not, because they asked not”. Pulling from the latter life lesson, I went about doing my own version of “House Hunters” and found an AMAZING house next to one of the schools I work with. After a little chatting, I was able to secure that house as my house for next year. Needless to say, I am STOKED!My homologue is seriously THE S!, and sensed I was unhappy, and is totally helping make my move happen. She's so sweet, her main concern about the new house is that there is no electricity... Keep in mind, she doesn't have electricity herself. That is just one example I can think of that shows how amazing the Burkinabe are.

Another success story is Aisa. She's one of my favorite tailors to work with. She makes the most amazing bags—without my direction—and is already plotting ways to increase production, and variety. She grossed 62000cfa (about $120.00) last run, and is planning on investing 10000cfa into her next batch of bags. The estimated gross from this next is 75000cfa (about $150.00). The net is something ridiculous... I need to sit down and get it all in one place, but I know it's HUGE. She is the only tailor that understands that one must spend money to make money. I am SO proud of her.

My computer students are also inspiring...when they aren't “those little effers” that is. I am teaching a group of 9 kiddos computers. These kids found me in March while the strikes were going on, and asked me to work with them on English. Because their English was already pretty solid—and because I get tired of helping people with English—I thought it would be cool to do some stuff with the computers. We have class three nights a week, and open hours whenever they call me and I am free. They seriously come rain or shine, whether I am there or not. Some of them can actually already type properly better than I can type properly. (When I say properly, I mean with home keys, and proper finger placement.)

I'm also in the mist of starting this rad project with the schools in my community. My counterpart at the hospital is going to teach “life skills” and “gender empowerment and equality” lessons to the middle school and high school students once a week. The middle school and high school students will then go out into the community, and teach the same lesson they learned to the 5th graders in each primary school—with the help of the 5th grade teachers of course. I love this project because I don't even have to touch it after September; it'll all be taken care of by community members.

Next year, I plan on working more closely with the Parent/Teacher Associations in the community. I believe education is at the base of the development pyramid, and I don't see the parents doing enough to help their kiddos. Unfortunately, it's not exactly their fault, they honestly don't know any better. Rather than continue ranting about how “these fools don't give a whoop about their kids education and future”, I'm going to actually do something about it, and educate the parents on the importance of their kids' education. I have three school gardens planned to helped with nutrition at the school canteen, as well, as chicken coop to help fund school improvements at one of the schools.

A group of volunteers and I are also in the beginning stages of planning a fashion show that will make “Take Me There” look like armature work. I'll blog about this new show later this week...we are going to need your help financing certain logistical aspects...

 honestly do not know why I love it here so much. Everyone I have spoken with since being in country has commented – in some way, shape, or form—about how healthy and happy I sound. Yes, even when I am ranting about something. I feel like that says something, you know? Burkina Faso and I should not work, but we do, and for that, I am eternally grateful. It is my opinion that too many volunteers romanticize life in the States. They seem to forget that we have good days, and bad days alike back at home. We have the same “fools” and “effers” there that we have here. It's just easier to handle all that stuff because America is our home. We grew up learning the customs and they are so en grained in us, that we don't even think twice about them. When I take time to cool down from whatever erked me, I realize that whatever erked me here, isn't any worse than anything that would have erked me at home, it just happens to piss me off more because I'm thinking of things in the American context.

I don't mean to come off as one of those “bien integre fools”/BIFs or anything (see, even Americans get the “fool” derivative) because I'm not—to  all my BIFs, I have nothing but love for you, so please don't take offense to the term. Here are a few of the many reasons why I am not a BIB: I hate courtyard living, I'm not to keen on sharing EVERYTHING, I stopped working on my national language in December after a week of intensive study, I don't respect cultural norms when it comes to pomp and circumstance, I keep to myself at  night instead of going out to just chat, and I probably spend more time on the phone than half the volunteers in Burkina Faso put together. All that said, I do feel I am extremely well-integrated in my village. Part of the whole Peace Corps thing is the exchanging of cultures. I may not be the model American, but most days at site, I am out in the community literally working my butt off for them from dawn til dusk. As I alluded to earlier, when I first got to site, I made the mistake of compromising who and how I am, hoping to be a BIF. It's kinda funny, because I feel that being fake here is the same as being fake in the States. I'm pretty sure they saw right through it, and treated me accordingly. Once I started behaving how I would in the states, I feel that all my relationships got better, and we truly started to understand one-another.

Poverty may not be my best look, but somehow I have managed to make it work—minus a few trips to the ATM here and there. There is a saying in the Peace Corps circles that “Peace Corps is the hardest job you will ever love”. I seriously believe we need to change that saying because it doesn't even begin to paint the picture of what service in the Peace Corps really is. Everyday, I experience either a new emotion, or an emotion so extreme I match it to it's name, but even the most intense roller coaster known(or unknown) to man, I can honestly say, that I have NEVER been so happy in my life! And with that sentence, I believe I have found the answer to the question that inspired this blog post.

Well, it's 23hr15 here, and I need to wake up at 4hr to clean,pack and prepare for my trip to Ouaga tomorrow morning at 9hr. I also have two 7hr meetings with tailors, so I'm kinda already screwed. It's all good though...things always have a way of working out here...even when they don't.

Be on the look out for a new blog post soon!


Monday, April 25, 2011

What is this bag project Ebben keeps talking about?

Ok, so after months and months of promising you all, I have finally sat down and put together a post about the bag project I am working on.

I am working with tailors in village to create bags and accessories from their left-over material. You see, here in West Africa, appearance is extremely important, so people spend a sizable chunk of money on clothing. (Some volunteers have found that families will spend upwards of 25% of their total income on clothing and accessories--needless to say, we need to design and execute a proper experiment, but I am pretty sure we'll confirm this estimate.) For the most part, these clothes are actually tailored, which is where my project comes in.

You see, the tailors tend to just throw their scraps out with the trash. Throwing stuff out is rather common actually, so I guess that's why the tailors thought I was crazy when I told them they are throwing money away. After spending a few months getting to know them and their businesses, I decided it would be  fun experiment to start mixing some of their scraps to make a patch-work item. I then had that patchwork made into a bag.

Big Bag...

After the tailors saw that you could make patchworks from their scraps, we started to run with it. I decided to ask Daddy Bell for a sewing machine and a little bit of cash for start up for Christmas so I could really dig in and learn the trade with the tailors. Turns out I may have been a little premature in that request. I didn't end up buying a sewing machine, but I did buy a great deal of pagne (colorful printed cloth used to make clothing) and made some kick ass contacts in the pagne world of my region. With that pagne, I then went to the tailors to start working on simple bags. We made at least 20 simple drawstring bags for a store in Ouagadougou--the capital city of Burkina Faso-- and ended up selling all bags in less than two weeks. With the money from that order, we were able to turn around, and do another order of about 15 items for another customer.Unfortunately, my camera was broken for those orders, so I don't have the pictures to show you the first simple bag.(The tailors know nothing about the start-up money, but it should be noted that all start-up money has been made back, and now we are dealing with shear profits for the most part.) Eventually, we will start buying pagnes to create coordinated patchworks.


The good news is, with those two large orders, the tailors started coming around. Here, seeing is without a doubt believing. With the third round of bags, we switched from the simple two-sided/two-pagne bag to a rice-lined patchwork bag. We also added a smaller, more city-friendly bag for women, along with accessories such as cell-phone covers, iPod covers, and mens wallets. Due to circumstances out of my control, I was not able to get that order to its intended buyers. That said, the bags are still selling! More than half the the order has moved, AND the store owner in Ouaga (short for Ouagadougou) has placed another order for the beginning of May.

City-friendly bag

Needless to say, I am SO proud of my tailors! Oh, I completely forgot! THE TAILORS!

SO, I am working with three men and two women"en ville". In addition to these motivated individuals, I am working with the Maison des les Femmes' sewing room which is home to 16 girls and one extremely talented and motivated instructor. The plan is to use the proceeds from the bags to help buy sewing machines for the Maison des les Femmes. We are also going to be buying blackboards, as well as repairing whatever needs to be repaired. We are then going to have people come from the local micro-financing institution to teach the girls basic business skills! I think this is what I am most stoked about! Not only are these girls learning the art of sewing--literally couture in French--they will also be learning how to be good business women! How empowering is that? Over all, it is my hope that all who participate in the project will then turn around, and help lead the charge for the development of the community of Pama.

Draw-string bag

I am sure I have left a million holes in this post, but feel free to hit me up if you have any questions. I am working on actually typing everything up nicely in a report form. Once I have more data and what not, I'll post it as a pdf or something for you all to read.

Well, it's late here. I just wanted to get this post up before I go back to Pama.

I really am interested in your feedback so PLEASE comment, and send this link off to any and everyone you know! We have some sick models and what not coming out in the next month or so, and I am working on figuring out how to get stuff to the states.

Till the next post,


What have I been up to since last post?

Hey guys,

Sorry it's been so long. I decided in January that I would update you all more often by typing up blog post while at site, and then posting them when I had the opportunity. Well, that totally ended up failing when my computer went on the fritz in mid January. In addition to my computer crapping out on, my camera also broke, so I really had no motivation to post anything. WELL, Momma and Daddy Bell totally went above and beyond the call of amazing parenting and hooked me up with a new camera, computer, and my BlackBerry! Needless to say, life in Burkina just got a whole lot better for me!

That's not to say life in country was miserable or anything--sorry if any of my letters or correspondence made it sound that way--it's just so easy to get frustrated here. My projects are all over the place for the most part at the moment because of student striking, and government worker striking and other random stuff that we--as volunteers-- have no control over. It's all good though, because things are back to life as usual, and work is starting to pick up again.

My main project is to work in the community to help lower the number of unwanted pregnancies. I plan on taking a multifaceted approach to helping achieve the community-identified need of lower the number of unwanted pregnancies. We will be establishing a school supply bank, as well as coming up with extra-curricular activities for the students to participate in. Hopefully, we will also be able to plan a summer camp for the kiddos. Summer here is something completely different than what we think of, so all I can do is hope that it works.

I will also be working with parent/teacher organizations to help improve the actual school grounds. We will be working on school gardens, school chicken coops, and things of that nature. I also have other kick ass projects going on, but I'll devote a whole post to that.

All in all, I must say, I have been very happy here in Burkina Faso. Yes, there are a great number of things that I miss from home, but those things a side, life isn't bad here. We are gearing up for another stage(training group) this June, so that is exciting, especially because I have been selected to work it! I really don't know what to write... I guess I now see my life as boring, because I have been here for so long.I'm going to go a head, and close this post, but if you have any questions what so ever, feel free to comment, and I will make sure to answer your question in another post.

Till next post,


Oh yeah, totally forgot... I created a Facebook album for all the random photos I take with the BlackBerry. I suck at loading pics and what not, but at least this way, you can see them as I take them.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What is Bitchassness?


I'm not sure I know how to describe the word bitchassness, but I can tell you all with out a doubt that my 2011 will be bitchassness-free!

You know, I'd like to think I was able to navigate the social waters of high school pretty well. Seeing as college ended up being nothing but high school on a larger scale, I'd like to think I was able to fair the same, if not better in college. When I applied to Peace Corps, I guess I expected something to be different, you know, I guess I expected people to be more mature, and for the days of high school to finally be over. Guess what? That expectation was too great.

One of my good friends in country and I are starting to realize that it's a tall order for people to change. People seem to spend WAY too much time comparing their situations to that of others, and not enough time just dealing with it. I mean, don't get me wrong, I do the same thing in regards to things such as my housing situation, and the number of Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) neighbors in my region of the country, but you know what, I'm done with that. My complaining, does nothing but work me up, and put me in a funk for a day or two. From now on, I'm just going to suck it up, and do me.

I have some kick-ass projects going on, and despite whatever problem I have at any given time related to Americans, I realize that I truly do love Burkina Faso. When I just think to myself, “Ebben, NOBITCHASSNESS”, everything becomes that much better. When I really do examine MY SITUATION, and I'm not comparing myself to others, I realize that I have a pretty sweet thing going for me here in Burkina Faso. I am actually already considering doing a third year, and I've only been here six months! Yeah, there is a whole lot of bitchassness in country on all sides, but hey, show me a country that doesn't have some bitchassness.

Bitchassness takes what form in your life? Do you have a crazy-ass boss who you can't stand? Is there someone at your place of work that does jack shit, but just got that promotion you were up for cause they are in with the crazy-ass boss? Does your name keep coming out of other people's mouths for reasons unbeknown to you? Dude, that's all bitchassness, and you know what you can do to fix that? Next to NOTHING. The ONLY thing you can do is not give into the situation by wasting time stressing about it. When you find yourself experiencing what I like to call “the bitchassness”, just laugh at it, and remember the phrase P.Diddy made so famous years ago on “Making the Band”, “NO BITCHASSNESS!”