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!


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