10 December 2008


The stars have aligned, Lachesis has woven Clotho's brightly colored cords, the moon is in Aquarius, whatever, we finally have a long sought-for confluence of events: I am in a place with internet, and I have my camera! AND I'm reasonably sure that these computers aren't virus-laden...
So we start six months ago, in Charles de Gaulle, when I'm still looking at all of these people and thinking, "Well, these are my best friends for three months. Hope they don't suck." Turns out they don't.
Three of the guys, and one of the not-guys in the background. Ah the stories I could tell. Not really, we're a tame group.
But I'm not going to spend much time on these because it IS spending much time to upload. On y va, onto our arrival in Ouaga...

Tea and crumpets - well, glucose cookies - in the courtyard at SIL.

After a few days we moved to our slightly more permanent home of Ouahigouya. And we danced. Ugh.

If you hate dancing like I do, be the guy who takes pictures instead. It didn't work forever, though.

We met the chef of Ouahigouya, who was gracious enough to allow us to take pictures.

I don't remember his name, but like everywhere else in the world, always show respect to whomever is wearing the funniest hat.

What was living in Ouahigouya like? Step into my parlor.

Ah, water filter, you make my life less diarrhea-y. And mosquito net, you make my sleep less malaria-y.

But naturally the most interesting part of living with a host family is the family:

My host "aunt" Risnata, whom I called "Tantie Rit", a play on her name and the fact the she laughs a lot.

My kid brother, Faris. He's trouble. But lovable.

My host parents. These are good folks. I can't describe how lucky I was to get this family.

My host sister, Aida. She's smart as a whip; she won one of the prizes for highest marks in our model school, mentioned previously.

And now on to life AFTER training. Yes, current stagiares, it does exist. Your housemates change drastically, however...

It's already dead, I'm not that crazy. Though I left it overnight so I could get a picture of it during the day, and almost stepped on it as a result. So I'm not that sane, either.

Not pictured: my ex-roommate, Riley the cat. Sorry, Lisa, it just didn't work out. But she still hangs out on the porch a lot. Burkina cats are tough. Messed up in the head, maybe, but tough.

I tried to take some pics of the night sky, but they didn't come out. Since coming to site, I haven't used my camera much, for several reasons. And my pictures from Bani were taken on another camera; I don't have them with me. So we skip ahead to just last night, actually. My first taste of a mask festival! Ok, my second. My first was the night before, but it was dark, and it's hard to take pictures when you're constantly on the lookout for the masks to stop dancing and start hitting people. Fortunately, this second night they came out earlier AND we talked to the guy in charge of the masks, who told them not to hit us while we took pictures. I know this all seems bizarre, but that's the way it is with the masks. Once the person puts it on, he (or she? I don't know...) ceases to be that person. And the masks are feisty. How best to describe it? The people gather around closely to watch the masks, and they laugh when they run away when a mask tries to hit them, so they're not in fear for their lives or anything - but when they run, they run in earnest, so when the masks try to hit people, it's not JUST symbolic - they're looking to cause some bruises, at least. At least, that's my reading on it, and I'm not interested in taking a hit to find out whether I'm right.



Not hitting me!

And finally, at the request of my sister, a current picture of me. As of my last checkup, I weigh in at 72 kilos. I currently have hair, but look for that to change come the next hot season. I'll take it all off again. Well, the hair on top of my head I mean. The goatee stays. Not because I like goatees. I think they're silly-looking. But I'm hoping to pass the goatee stage and have myself a Fu Manchu by the close of my service. Even if that means I have to extend a year.

I don't like this picture, either. But be fair - I'm fresh off of a 40km bike ride. And I left my makeup at home.

That's it from me this time around. After posting this, I'll be visiting my post-office box. I'll have lots of letters, right? Right?!?

29 November 2008

Hooray for internet access!!

This time I have it because I'm visiting friends in Dori, even FARTHER north than my friend in Amsiya. Which means that mid-day here is still pretty darned hot, despite it being winter. In my site now the days are quite pleasant, and the nights are blanket-worthy.

Since my last post I've...hm, not done that much outside of teaching, honestly. It keeps me very busy. I'm afraid many of my students are frustrated with me right now, and the feeling is mutual. You see, by inclination and by training, my teaching style is oriented toward teaching students critical-thinking skills, not just rote memorization. And on paper that corresponds well with the Burkinabé approach. Unfortunately, in practice, the majority of education here is through memorization. Which has its place, I don't deny, but I try to do more than that. And the students aren't well-equipped to handle anything else. They just refuse to THINK about problems before responding! Right now I'm trying to teach them to start by making sure they're at least responding to the actual question being asked. Results are not encouraging...add to that the fact that I have 400 students (my earlier estimates of 300 were based on older roll sheets) and that French is not the first language for ANY of us, and the upshot is that the grades on my tests are not that great. Most recently I had trouble with my oldest class; some of the students told me basically that they didn't need the notes I was giving them. This despite having failed the last two tests. I walked out of class a half-hour early, fuming. But I now have a plan for Monday's class. I'm going to show up, take roll, and then not teach for the hour. I will give the students who DO feel they need my notes a real class that evening. That way we won't be bothered by the others. Can you tell I'm still mad?

On a much more positive note, I've had a couple of very good sessions with my 7th grade class. The Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) for Secondary Education in Burkina Faso - in other words, my boss - came for a site visit. And happily the timing corresponded with my lessons in such a way that I was able to hold a PACA session - that's a tool used by Peace Corps to help the community discuss what their needs are (I've forgotten what it actually stands for). My boss was very happy to see it, and I in my turn was very happy with the results. I had the boys and girls split up and build typical daily calendars. I then used them to discuss the comparison of fractions and the need to convert them to the same denominator, in the process proving that the girls work a hell of a lot more each day than the girls. The guys were all shocked, despite how clear it was from the calendars (a typical comparison: 12h30 Girls - get water from well, heat, prepare lunch. Boys - sleep.) See above comment on critical thinking.

Anyway, I'm now in Dori celebrating a slightly belated Thanksgiving. And am I ever thankful to be here! I didn't realize how stressed I was until I was able to unwind with friends. The trip has been productive in more ways than mental-health, too. I got a great deal on a solar panel, which means I will soon have enough electricity chez moi for REAL lighting - I may even be able to run a fan off of it! I had resigned myself to not having one because I felt the expense wasn't worth it, but fortunately one of my friends has one he doesn't use, so he sold it to me at a good price. I am VERY excited. I'll also be making divinity tonight, as we have access to eggs here. I hope it turns out ok...I don't even love the stuff myself (though I don't hate it), but in the spirit of cultural exchange I'm sharing this Southern ubiquity with friends from more northern latitudes. I also now have New Year's plans to visit a part of the country I haven't before with two extremely cool (and incidentally beautiful) volunteers. They're both GEEs, and I love talking with the people from other sectors because it's fascinating how different their experiences are. I also love visiting other volunteers and seeing first-hand some of the differences between our sites. Which brings me to Dori itself.

Dori is a small city, truly in the Sahel: off of the one paved road, everything is sand. Large enough to have amenities such as internet and refrigeration, it is still small enough not to be overwhelming in the way Ouagadougou or even much smaller Ouahigouya can be. So far, of all the places I've been here (which in all honesty is not yet that large a number), Dori most closely matches the hazy vision I had in my head of what life in West Africa would be like before I got here. The market, on Fridays, made me think of Raiders of the Lost Ark - some outdoors, some indoors in large stone structures built for the purpose (MUCH cooler than the cement brick and tin or wood and straw-thatch of the markets of larger or smaller places, respectively - and I meant the word "cooler" to refer to temperature, but it also works in the figurative usage). Fresh veggies and brilliantly-dyed cloths catch the eye, and the vendors are mostly friendly without being pushy (a rarity!). The stalls and aisles are PACKED with people. The people here are mostly Puehls (as in the village of Amsiya described in my last post), which means, as then, that when people aren't speaking French I have small chance of understanding. On the plus side, this means that when I do come across a Moabga (the singular of Mossi), my Mooré is even more appreciated.

Need to work on that Mooré! And my French, though my boss said he was very impressed with my improvement in that arena. Nice to hear, as it is naturally hard for me to judge my own progress day-to-day. But when? School is all-consuming. But the trimester is over soon, and with my travel plans for New Year's as they are, I will probably spend the first part of Christmas break doing those things I've been wanting to do since moving in - study language, get my compost really cooking, and plant a garden. Personal projects, rather than Peace Corps projects for this break. Because come summer I've got plenty of secondary projects in the wings ready to go. More on that when the time for them draws near.

Short version: School is hard, but I'm coping. Fellow volunteers are always fun to hang out with. I like visiting new places.

As I often do, I will close by exhorting you to call, text, email, or mail me. I have really nifty cards to send in response to letters! Sally and Carson have earned theirs (though I still lack your address, Sally). Who else? Supplies are limited! No they're not, I can get more. WRITE ME!

31 October 2008

Hopefully a long post - I certainly have a lot to say

But my connection is slow, as is my typing on an american (and very small) keyboard, so we'll see.

I went to the Catholic church because my best village friend is Catholic. He showed me in to a seat - then went back outside to chat with other people while I sat through an hour of service. In Moore, natch. At the end they announced something, and some people left while others stayed (my friend was still outside), and I wasn't sure what was going on. One of my students who was there saw my confusion and explained. The hour I'd just sat through was the PRE service...now we were waiting for expected visitors. A half hour later the service resumed, or rather, started. Three hours later it began winding down. Someone, possibly the priest, switched to French long enough to thank the nasara who visited and stayed through the long service that he clearly didn't understand.

Next time I'm trying the Protestant church.

I recently visited a friend in her shockingly small village of cattle-herding Peuhls (aka Fulani). My site is nearly in the Sahel. My friend's site is unquestionably in the Sahel. The view over her courtyard wall is an incredibly uninterrupted view to the horizon - no vegetation, no hills, just red dirt and rock baking in the sun. Beautiful. To the north distant hills are visible. Well, they seem distant in the dust haze.* In fact, they're not far. I know that because we biked from her site to nearby Bani, where the hills are. The point of interest? An imam in the 70s founded his very own sect of Islam. He had built a huge mud-brick mosque in the center of the town (it's just large enough to deserve that appelation, rather than village, I think). It has figures carved in of the traditional kneeling postures of Islamic prayer. It's awesome, and beautiful outside and in. We went in, shoeless by Islamic tradition and flocked by children by nasara tradition, and walked through the banded dark amongst large pillars. On arriving at the back, we climbed a shockingly steep, completely unlit, and partially crumbling stairway to the roof. The view of the city is really worth the climb, even the climb back down, which is even scarier. The roof is rock and sand, and very hot as you might imagine. I didn't walk around much (we were shoeless, remember?), but the kids did. My friend did too - she definitely earned hardcore points for that.

Afterwards, we climbed the surrounding hills, which very strongly reminded me of climbing out on the rocks in Monterey to get better pictures of the surf. The kids did this barefoot too. We weren't just climbing to climb - I haven't told you the most interesting part of this imam's wishes. Aside from the grand mosque, he had 7 other mosques built in the surrounding hills, and possibly uniquely in all the Islamic world, they do NOT face toward Mecca - instead, they face toward the central mosque. Also he apparently wasn't a big fan of upkeep - two have crumbled completely, and none are usable.

I forgot my camera on that trip, which I'm sure my friend got tired of hearing me bitch about. She did let me use her camera, AND I will be going back - there's talk of a camel ride fr0m Bani to a gold mine and maybe even sand dunes.

*You know those pictures in National Geographic of Africa where the sun is a beautiful orange ball low in the sky? Yeah, it's not clouds causing all that beautiful refraction. It's dust. Beautiful at a distance - the sunrises and sunsets here are pretty much ALWAYS spectacular. But the dust is playing merry hell with my sinuses, now that the rain is gone. Hello, 9 months of head cold. Actually, hello 9 months of Claritin and dust masks.

Cell phones
The BBC recently reported on how Japanese cell phone companies have a hard time selling to the world market because they add too many functions to their phones, and most people prefer to have phones just to make phone calls. They should consider the Burkinabe market. People here don't carry radios, they just play music on their cell phones. And I've seen a huge number of cell phones with LEDs flashing red, blue, and who knows what else. I bet they'd buy those Japanese phones. Although in all reality they wouldn't be able to afford it.

Daylight savings time my friends! You do it, we don't. So however far our time difference has been up to now, add an hour. One immediate result is that instead of staying up late to listen to election results, I'll get up early.

Went today. Thought to bring my camera to Ouaga - then didn't think to bring it to SIAO. But honestly, it wouldn't have done much for me. Some of the wares were interesting, but the format looked like that of a consignment shop or flea market. And a good number of the merchandise would believably exist in those places, as well, or the African store in the mall. I did make what I think were some good finds:

Dogon door - the dogons live in Mali, in an area so well-defined ethnically that it is called the Country Dogon. I *think* they have a mask tradition like so many ethnicities in this area, but they also have traditional doors, which I've not seen from any other ethnicities. The carvings on it represent the male and female ancestors, the male and female principle more generally, and their descendants. The doors are always kept closed - their purpose is to bar the entry of evil spirits. I bought a small one. Since I won't ship it due to both expense and worries of durability, I'll go ahead and say now that this one is for you, Mom and Dad. You'd better like it.

Tuareg lock - a small but expensive purchase, this one for me. I was suckered in because I love puzzles. It's not truly a puzzle, but it's not far from being one. There are three keys, the first opening a panel to allow access for the second, likewise the second for the third, and the third allows the lock to pull apart.

Mask bottle openers - I got three. These were small, and not inexpensive, but not on the same order as the other purchases. One for me, one for my brother, and one for Christoff, the shopkeeper/bartender who has really helped me settle in and begin integration.

Reading list
Yes, life is busy. But all the same, you need downtime, and I've always been a voracious reader. Here's a list of the books I've read since June, and note that only the first two were during training and ALL THE REST have been at site.
Don Quixote; the Kiterunner; Middlesex; the Dark Romance of Dian Fossey; Her Majesty's Wizard (my guilty pleasure, a not-so-well written fantasy novel that I love both for being the first fantasy novel I ever read AND for leading me to Spanish Trail Books for the first time, looking for a copy. I've read it three times since getting here); the Handmaid's Tale; Holder of the World; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; Obsessive Genius: the Inner World of Marie Curie; Alias Grace; the God Delusion; Wilderness 911; Card Games for One (I've played all of them for both one deck and two, some 150 games in all); the Art of Travel; Lucky.

Wish list addition
I didn't bring a CD player because of the dust. But it occurs to me that small capacity SD cards are dirt cheap these days. And I just happen to have an mp3 player that takes SD. So if you would like to send me music, just load some on that little $7 card and send it on over in a regular envelope.

04 October 2008

Village Recipe

Peel and cut five of the smallest onions you've ever seen - cripes lady, would it kill you to leave them in the ground a week longer before bringing them to marché? Peel and dice some garlic, because you don't want to have to clean out the garlic press later (note: not worth it. The press is a pain to clean, but it still beats dicing the garlic). Peel and dice a whole ginger root (even though you know it's too much, because how can you store the leftover?) that you bought purely because you knew how to ask for it in mooré (note: Dicing again, bah. garlic press + ginger? hmmm...) Sauté in oil a few minutes, then add brown sugar to candy because you saw someone else do it recently, and when you don't know what you're doing, copy others (according to a landlord I once had who had worked with Lise Meitner, that's what Einstein did). After candying, add leftover of a small tin of tomato paste, because if you don't use it today, you don't want to at all. In fact, it already smells a little weird...oh well, throw it in. Add water, and boil, because you definitely want to kill whatever that was you smelled. Taste. Way too sweet, though yummy. Add red wine vinegar. Taste. Still sweet, add regular vinegar because God only knows when you might be able to buy red wine vinegar again (red wine + regular vinegar? hmmm...) Taste. STILL sweet. Screw it, you tried not to use salt because you already eat so freakin' much, oh well, add salt. Ah ha! Yummy. Cook rice. Flail at flies who are currently in love with your lantern. Pick up crank handle that fell off due to flailing. Crank. Check rice. Taste sauce again. Add pepper. Add sauce to rice, and eat. And feel vindicated - you were right, it was too much ginger.

But it was yummy all the same.

Site is good. My teaching schedule was changed this week. We had so many students sign up that we split the sixième class (roughly sixth grade) into 2 sections, which means I have to teach 20 hours, not 15. If you think that sounds like a light schedule, please remember that my French is still only so-so. 15 is recommended for 1st year volunteers. Anyway, I won't be teaching Physics & Chemistry, just math. So, I have two classes of sixième (sixth-grade) math, one of cinquième (7th grade) math, and one of quatrième (8th grade) math. Class sizes are 102 and 100, 97, 63, respectively.

Before I left, I put out a general call for addresses for people who want to receive mail from me here. Well, bad news - I can't find my list! But that's ok, I have a solution. YOU mail ME first (and in case it's not clear, include your return address on the envelope!), and if you do I promise you at least one written response while I'm here*. You can find my address here. To give you an idea on the Boulsa address, today is 4 Oct and I had a letter from 22 Sept in the box. Not bad! Of course, it may have gotten here even sooner, you also have to take into account that I only come here about once a month.
*Hi Sally. Yes, you've already sent me something. But I cleverly threw away the envelope before writing down your address. If you email me your address then you'll get the response you're owed.

A big thank you to PLAN for sponsoring my internet time this week!

15 September 2008

Quick update

I'm in a hurry today, but just so everyone knows I was successfully installed in my site, and I've survived the first couple of weeks. Although really it was the first couple of days that were really hard, after that it's been easier. I've begun planting some moringa trees in my courtyard, and I know what classes I'll be teaching now (two maths and a physics/chemistry, all at the middle school level since that's all my site has), but I do not yet have a schedule.

I also already have a secondary project of organizing a room full of hundreds of books into a lending library. Step 1: Get bookshelves!

Hopefully next time I'll be able to post more!

14 August 2008

Winding down

Model school will be over soon. Next week is all review, tests, and reclamations, so I'm pretty much done teaching class until I go to site.

Not much to report otherwise. I'm on the hunt for good gifts to give my host family that reflect how truly awesome they've been. Oh, and speaking of that DOES remind me of something worth recounting...

A couple years ago, my host dad set up an organization that gives sensibilisations on things like HIV/AIDS, female circumcision, and autres choses comme çà (other things like that - this is one of the more common franglais-ed phrases among volunteers, so I thought I'd use it). So we set up a chance for stagiares to have a sensibilisation on excision (that's what female circumcision is called here). It went really well, we learned a lot, and the GEE stagiares in particular were happy about it, I think, because apparently they'd expected to have more on that topic in their training than they'd actually received. My host dad gave a really great talk, which included some rather disturbing models. I was very proud to be a part of their family that day.

A couple more additions to my wishlist - my safety razor (natch, that one is for mom and dad), and books on how to sail and how to maintain sailboats. While I can't practice sailing here, I can at least get the book-learning done: How to read charts, what to look for when buying a boat, etc. I don't need books in general, because there's a great reading library for volunteers. But for this specific topic, I could use your help.

07 August 2008

New shout out

So I don't have very much new to say, other than that teaching in French gets a little easier each day. Oh, here's a story from model school:

Preparing lessons in French takes FOREVER. There are constantly new words in the book I need to look up, plus I want to try to re-word everything, PLUS I need to try to be aware of any new words my students might throw at me. At least, that was my outlook the first few days of model school. But after spending 5 hours to prepare the first 2 hours worth of lessons (lessons that in English I could have taught if someone had handed me the book as I walked into the classroom), I kind of relaxed my standards for myself. Which leads us to what happened two days ago, when I was talking about evaporation and I wanted to say that over time water disappears. But I completely forgot the word. Now, every other day, I've kept my dictionary with me, though I've never used it - if you once let the students here realize you're fallible, discipline immediately becomes a problem. So that day, I let the PCVF who was observing my class use it. So naturally that was the day I needed it. So I had to go to the back of the class where she was sitting to look up "disappear" (it's "disparaître," by the way) as my students looked on. So I told them that I was sorry, I know the science, not the French, but if they'd like I could easily teach the lesson in English. That got a chuckle, so I was able to play it off, but it was pretty stressful all the same. Some of my students, by the way, said they WOULD like me to teach in English, but I don't know if that's a comment on the interest in English or their disinterest in Physics/Chemistry.

But that story is not why I'm posting today. I'm posting today to recognize my awesome friend Sally who sent me a package full of goodies! I got it Sally! On the downside, that means you don't get to lie about what was in it, but on the upside I can't imagine why you would - it's great! I am now officially a fan of Propel Fitness water.

It took a month, but it made my day!

30 July 2008

Je ne suis pas David. Je m'appelle Moumbarak.

My family finally gave me a Burkinabé name. It's actually Arabic in origin as opposed to Mossi, but that's small surprise given that my family is Muslim. Anyway, my name here is now Moumbarak. Our family name is Maïga. I actually use that at our model school - I have told the students that I am M. Duckworth, but if they find that too hard to pronounce, they can call me M. Maïga.

Finished reading the Kite Runner. It was a great read, though not something I'd label uplifting. Anyway, I still have Don Quixote to read (no, I don't know which translation offhand) and it won't be too long before I have another chance to go to the PC transit house in Ouaga and pick up a couple more books.

Model school is going ok. I'm currently teaching quatrième Physique/Chimie. In general my students behave for me though today they were a little chatty. The other quatrième PC teacher got farther than me today - we'd kept pace with each other the first two days. But I forgive her. I have a class at 8 tomorrow, but I don't teach on Friday, so I should have time to both begin lesson planning for next week and slip in an extra language session.

I keep randomly losing credits from my CelTel account. I'm irritated enough now that I will be buying a TelMob SIM card in the next couple days. There are two downsides. One is that I don't know the plans. The other is that I will no longer be able to send or receive texts from the U.S. Actually, I've heard mixed rumors about that, so it will probably still be worth trying, but expect to no longer be able to text me. Of course, that's directed at my brother since no one else has anyway, to my knowledge.

By the way, I updated my contact info again - I had the info for the other website this time.

27 July 2008

Visiting village

Sadly, we had another of our colleagues leave us this week. The good news is that when she can, she will return. In the meantime, we miss you Annette!

Yesterday I went to spend the night in Bogoya, one of the nearby villages where GEE (Girls' Empowerment and Education) trainees stay. We played soccer with some local kids, and this morning one of the trainees was grilling her host brother about his girlfriend, which was pretty funny to watch. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay and cultivate with my colleagues' host families because I'd forgotten to pack my malaria medicine and I had to get back to the city ASAP to take it. I think I've mentioned that unlike most of the stagiares, I'm on a daily med, so I don't have two or three days to take it if I'm late. I normally keep an emergency week's supply with me in my bag, but for this trip I switched to a larger bag and didn't move that medicine over. Lesson learned - I now keep that emergency supply in my mini med-kit, which I never forget. Because you never know when you're going to be in serious need of antibiotic ointment or pepto bismol.

My front tire has four more patches on it than it did yesterday morning. So that was fun. We had just gotten to the village when I heard something rattling in my spokes. I stopped, saw a branch stuck to my wheel, pulled it out - and could hear the hissing of my tire. I'd picked up two thorns large enough that when I removed them I could see the holes in the tire (not the innertube, the TIRE). So I patched those, we went on to my friends house - and my front was flat again. Didn't find what hit it that time, but I patched that, and we went to go play soccer. At the end of the game, I checked and my tire was flat AGAIN. I was sure that one would turn out to be because I messed up the third patch (here's some advice - after you've inflated the tube to find the flat, DEFLATE IT AGAIN before applying the patch, or you end up with one that bulges out funny). I was wrong - I actually had a fourth hole. Patched that and used a bucket of water to check, and so far the front hasn't giving me any more trouble, though the day is still young. I also had to pump up my rear tire on the way back, but that's a leak just slow enough that I'm too lazy to fix it and instead I just pump it back up every few days.

Today I must go to the pool. Usually on Sundays I do anyway, but today I must, to meet with the people planning the community meeting next week - because I'm one of them. It's not a job I'm terribly enthused about, but we all have to do it, so that's that.

I've added something to my wishlist: dark chocolate peanut M&Ms. We were talking about them the other day, and now I'm craving them something fierce. Also, keep an eye out for a change in the phone instructions...one of the PCVFs got us instructions for an even cheaper option, but I forgot to bring the sheet with me.

23 July 2008

My address and phone number

*This mailing info was updated in March 2011*

All mail should be sent to:
David T. Duckworth
06 BP 10539
Ouagadougou 06
Burkina Faso

Instructions from the first time I wrote about mail
You may use the U.S. postal service to send letters or small packages - preferably small enough to fit in a padded envelope rather than a box, to minimize taxes and customs fees on my end. Mark all packages with "Airmail / Par Avion". There is the possibility that things you send through the mail will be lost, so don't send anything too valuable. In particular, don't send me postcards without enclosing them in an envelope unless you'd really like your postcard to adorn some post office along the way that I'll never see.

Finally, my phone number. My number is with Airtel(was Zain, was CelTel): Sending texts to this number may or may not work. Remember, to dial out of country, in the states, you must either dial 011 or the "+" sign (on your cell phone, hit "*" twice...at least that works here. You can find it, I have faith), then the country code of the country you are calling. Burkina's code is 226. So, to break that down, you should dial either

01122675907183 or

if you are dialing direct. Which you shouldn't be doing. What you SHOULD be doing is either using a VOIP like Skype or an online calling card from a place like http://www.pingo.com/ (I really don't recommend using a store-bought calling card, they tack on a lot of fees). So when you use those, you'll need to follow whatever their directions are for calling another country. Again, I have faith in you. Also, you should notice in the comments below that Pingo kindly left you a coupon code to help you save a bit of money.

Another online site, http://www.speedypin.com/, is used by at least one volunteer's family. Instructions from that volunteer's dad:
Go to the site and enter your origination country and destination. The site will list your options. You should select Super Star. You may choose segments of $2, $5, $10, or $20. There is a service charge of $1 for purchases that total under $20 (so for example, you can buy 4 $5 segments to avoid the charge). $5 should get you about 35 minutes of talk time. The downside to using smaller segments is that if you want to talk longer, you must redial - there is no back-to-back use on a single call. There is a posted $0.79 semimonthly service charge, but it appears to be only within "opened" segments - the volunteer's family has never lost any value to time deterioration. Once you've ordered once, the site is easy to navigate for reorders of additional time: just select [Your Account], choose the time to purchase, acknowledge your personal info, re-enter your charge info and select "Yes".

If you are really uninterested in anything else, I still have an email address, too! This username at gmail dot com. Write, call, text, email, but do something! I miss you folks!

20 July 2008

My site kicks butt!

Ok, some more info about my site...

While it is small, it's still a departmental capital (departments are KIND of like counties). This means that it has a lot of stuff for being so small, including:

  • A marché (market) every three days big enough that I can meet all of my dietary needs easily.
  • A boutique big enough to have non-perishables like tomato paste and noodles. It also has sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk...but no powdered milk. And while I COULD live without powdered milk, it's much easier not to try, since it lasts so long. Anyway, the boutique basically has so much stuff that you can't even tell what it might have since stuff is piled two and three layers deep. To give you an example of its breadth, I got bike brake cables there, and I've had a hard time finding those here in the "big" city.
  • A barrage that I CAN FISH IN!!!
  • REAL COFFEE! From Cote d'Ivoire, I think.
  • Neem trees! Look it up.
Also, the house I'll be in is really freakin' sweet. No electricity or running water, of course. But it does have a huge hangar (a porch with a thatch roof) with a cement floor, and I've confirmed that my hammock fits comfortably there. It also has a latrine/shower area with a locking door! This is rare for volunteer sites and is really super great. I'm also inheriting a Lipico (a cot more or less) and a mosquito tent with broken poles. Now that you know these things, you'll understand my new wish list. Some of this stuff would be expensive to send, so I understand if you can't. Even if I do have a birthday coming up.

  • Two tent poles.
  • A percolator coffeepot. Walmart sells a great little Coleman that is made for use on a propane stove for cheap.
  • Fishing supplies!!!
Other things I'm inheriting include a cat named Riley with whom I actually got along, a nice propane stove, several tables, bookshelves (and even some books), and a host family whose name I've already forgotten.

Now the saga of GETTING to my site:
Plan A: Go most of the way Thursday night, stay with neighbor, bike Friday to site. Reverse for trip back to training site.
Problem: Transport leaves too early for that neighbor's site.
Plan B: Go the other way and stay with another neighbor and do more or less the same thing.
Problem: I am not allowed to stay with this neighbor.
Plan C: Oh wait, there's later transport to that first neighbor's house. But by the way, he can't be there so you'll have to bike to your site that night.
Problem: That transport was full before I got there.
Plan D: Well, there MIGHT be another bus this afternoon.
Problem: Screw that. I'm going with Plan E.
Plan E: Go to second neighbor's and bike from THERE to site.
Problem: It's going to rain. I am not biking 45 km in the rain, as night falls, to a place I've never been. You can't make me.
Plan F: Oh, you can stay with that neighbor after all.

SO, Thurs. night I stayed with that neighbor. Unfortunately, she's leaving so she won't actually be my neighbor, and she's pretty cool. But so is the other person in that city, so that's ok. Friday night I managed to take a pickup truck to my site. Stayed there that night, then Saturday we planned to take a camion (a really large truck) back up the same way, which would have taken several hours. As it happened, we managed to catch another pickup truck, which was much faster so I ended up getting to spend most of a day in Ouaga. Met some more of my colleagues at the PC transit house, which is as you might guess a house for PCV's to stay in while in Ouaga (though not for free unless they're there on business). And now I'm back in Ouahigouya.

My community is Mossi, so they do speak Mooré, and I will definitely need to learn since it's a small enough place that many people do not know French. Once I'm comfortable enough in that, though, there are indeed some Fulfuldé speakers there as well. The community seems pretty excited about trees - they're EVERYWHERE. Including the aforementioned neem, as well as mango and baobob. AND, the village gardener is very excited about moringa trees, so I will definitely be doing some moringa plantings there. And if you don't know what moringa are, look them up - they're even more exciting than the neem.

Last, but FAR from least: There is a video club. They watch kung-fu movies. The girl I'm replacing said "bad kung-fu movies", but I explained to her that there's no such thing. She said, "You'll fit right in."

Oops, that wasn't last. I'm also inheriting a PO box in my provincial capital. Here's what would work best for me. Packages, continue to send to the Ouaga address. I'll get them there when I pass through. Letters, after the middle of August, start sending to this address:

David T. Duckworth
BP 205
Burkina Faso

And in case you weren't paying attention, I just gave you a big piece of information regarding where my site is.

16 July 2008

Good news and...no, just good this time. Well, depending on your point of view.

Best news first - my language test went much better than I expected, and I received a score of Intermediate-High!! Personally I feel this is more of a reflection of my testing skills than my French skills, but whatever. That's enough to swear in (though I will have to test again at the end of stage) and definitely enough to study Mooré, so I'm very very happy about it.

Site visits are tomorrow, so while you probably could have assumed I'd be out of touch for the next four days anyway since I average longer than that between posts (I think?), you can take it as a certainty this time. My itinerary has changed a bit. I'm now hopefully making the entire trip on Thursday, and via a different route than originally planned. There's a possibility I will not have to bike, but if I do, by this route the biking leg of the trip is 42km!!! Aack! Wish me luck. And overcast skies. But not rain.

Oh yeah, other good news - I may be able to teach PC (that's physics/chemistry) after all! I may not know for sure until a week or so before classes start, though. We'll see.

I know for a fact now there's a place at my site to hang my hammock. I'll give you the rest of the details after I return.

12 July 2008

Bad news, good news

Ok, bad news (for me, at least) first:

My nearest stagiare neighbor decided to separate very soon after I posted that last entry. We are sorry to see you go, Liz! I don't think there's a security issue with mentioning her name at this point. So now my nearest stagiare neighbor is in the neighborhood of 80km away. I probably won't be biking that. But rumour has it I can bike about 30k of that and then pick up transport. Actually, rumor has it that I could theoretically take transport that first 30k as well, but I've received conflicting reports so I'm not holding my breath.

Good news:
The same day I found out that Liz had left (actually, as it happens, within minutes) I also found out that I have one of the smallest SE sites in the country! This is exactly what I requested. I mentioned in the last post that my site was not the one I was expecting. What I didn't mention is that I was bummed about that because I knew that one was very small. But it turns out this one is too! In fact, there's an ongoing debate about whether the site I expected, the site I GOT, or a third site is the smallest SE post in the country. Yea! So I am now crazy excited about the place - and nervous about how to get there! We're all going to our sites next week to visit. My schedule is to leave on Thursday, spend the night at a PCV's house in the nearest city (35km away), then Friday go to site - and I may be biking that 35 km. 'Cause I'm hardcore like that. Actually, I'm terrified at having to bike that distance, but I need to get used to it, because as I said, rumors of transport from my town are conflicting. Anyway, Sat. I'll return to my "neighbor"'s place, then Sunday bush taxi / bus back to Ouahigouya.

I've also warmed to the idea of teaching math. I was REALLY bummed about that at first, but frankly considering my limited language skill, it's the better choice. Some concepts in chemistry/physics are very difficult to explain in a second language. Not so much of a problem for teaching math, especially at the middle-school level.

UPDATE A FEW MINUTES LATER: We had language tests today. I'll know where I place on Monday. Smart money is on Intermediate-Low, I think. But there is an outside chance I did well enough for I-Mid, and that's enough to begin training in Mooré (though not enough to swear in, I need I-High by then). Speaking of Mooré, we had another class in that, also in French, since we're visiting our sites next week. But it was on mostly the same stuff, and I've been practicing the greetings with everyone in my host family and everyone at the training facility, so it wasn't as painful as the first time around.

09 July 2008

Site Assignments!!!

And I can't tell you! Sorry, but that's the rule. I have to be careful about what information I give. What I will tell you:

  • It's not where I thought it would be.
  • The people speak Mooré. I requested Fulfuldé. Oh well. There's a non-zero chance I'll be able to find some people there who speak it - Fulfuldé is spoken in small pockets throughout the country.
  • I'll be teaching MATH!!!
  • I will get a new cellphone number because I have to switch companies.

I'm definitely pumped about my neighbors. My nearest neighbor is one of the PCVFs, so I already know that person and get along with them. And while by now I know everyone in stage and there's no one that I would be unhappy about being near, one of my two nearest stage neighbors is someone I hit it off really well with. I don't know the other one as well, but that person is also super nice.

Naturally as time goes on I'm sure I will let slip little details, like the names - or at least the genders - of those nearby individuals, but there's no reason to put so much information in one place where it could be found by faux types. But check out my links! Some of the stagiares put together a newsletter and included blogs. Go them! I should now have everyone in our stage who has a blog. And if any of THEM happen to put up information about site assignments...well, all the better for you with none of the administrative hassle for me! I haven't checked yet, but I don' think any have.

05 July 2008

I am not a party guy

So last night we had a blowout for July 4th. My favorite part was actually the prep time. That's when I actually got to just sit and chat with a few people in a super relaxed atmosphere (while peeling sweet potatoes and dicing onions). The actual party was still really great; I don't want to detract from the work Brad and Bridget did - they put together a bonne fête indeed. And the sheep tasted great. If you're looking at other blogs, you may be inclined to argue that it was a goat, but I assure you it wasn't. Goats have tails that point up; sheep have tails that hang down. Our dinner definitely had a hangy tail.

Anyway, once again there was dancing. People who like to dance really can't wrap their heads around the idea that there are people who don't like to dance. In other words, eventually I danced. For as short a time as I could get away with. I think my strategy for future parties will be to dance as early as possible and get it over with. Or better yet, grab an instrument and start playing, that's where I'd rather be anyway.

To respond to whichever RPCV apparently has enough internet connection to give me a hard time, but not enough to research exchange rates (See the first comment on my previous post):

The CFA (Central African Franc) is a somewhat widespread unit of currency in francophone africa. According to Wikipedia, it's value was tied to the franc, and therefore now the euro. The rate is 100 CFA : ~0.15 €. According to Yahoo!, one dollar gets you 416 CFAs. According to my wallet, I got 385 on the dollar a couple weeks ago, but that certainly includes some tariff. I have already mentioned my salary as a trainee, it's about 11,000 CFA/wk (It will be around double that after swear-in). To answer your next question, I'd really need to know what you mean by aspirant - I assume we're not talking about the French military rank. Stagiare means trainee in French.

Lunch: 200 - 700 CFA (as long as you aren't craving a 2500 CFA hamburger)
Drinks: 350 CFA for a coke. 500 - 800 CFA for a beer. I generally stick to water, or a 100 CFA bag of bilsap (a chilled hibiscus drink).
Laundry Detergent: 200 CFA MIGHT be enough for one load of laundry, if your clothes aren't very dirty. Which I assure you is never the case.
Laundry Soap (when you don't have a machine, you really need both): 350 CFA, but it lasts a while
Phone time: 250 CFA/mn local or international. 30 CFA for a short text in-country; 90 for a short one to the states
Mail: Over 800 CFA to send regular mail to the states. A 1 kg package costs nearly 10,000 CFA.
Internet: 400 - 500 CFA/hr
Toilet paper: 1000 CFA / 4 pk
Swimming: 1000 CFA/day
One pagne (A length of material long enough to have pants made): 1250 CFA. Another 1000 or so to actually have the pants made.
I haven't bought any powdered milk, toothpaste, or bath soap.

I actually did save about 6000 CFA from our last pay period, so I'm planning on buying some material for pants this weekend.

Tomorrow I'm taking my host sister to the pool.

Had my first flat yesterday. Took me about two hours to take apart, patch, and put back together due to my lack of experience combined with my total incompetence with all things mechanical. My rear brake is now giving me trouble - actually it already was, but now it's giving me more. Anyway, I'm glad that stuff is happening now, while I have PCVFs around to advise me.

Have I published a key of "acronyms"? I put it in quotes because the PC calls them that, despite the fact that they don't pronounce a single one of them as a word. Anyway...

PCT = Peace Corps Trainee
PCV = Peace Corps Volunteer
PCVF = Peace Corps Volunteer Facilitator (A PCV who is helping out train the PCTs)
RPCV = Returned Peace Corps Volunteer
ET = Early Termination (when a PCT or PCV leaves before COS)
COS = Close of Service

Those are the ones I'll likely be using the most.

By the way, shout out to Carson for the letter! In answer to a comment you made, I generally do NOT check the news online because it takes me so long to type on a French keyboard! Please feel free to include news items you feel are important or interesting in your letters.

Now I'm going to go read other people's blogs because I'm tired of heard stories about other trainees from MY MOM. There's just something not right about that. Speaking of blogs, we should next week have a nearly definitive list of the blogs being maintained by our class. I will link them when I have it.

26 June 2008

A (Not As Brief As I Thought) Brief Update

I'm online early today because our language assignment was to come to the post, look up a news article in French, and write a summary (also in French, natch). And we had to find out how much it costs to send stuff to the States. Answer: a LOT. 800 CFA for a letter, nearly 10,000 for a package of 1 kg. So you have an idea of what that means, we stagiares (I spelled that wrong in my last post) make around 11,000 a week, which as I've mentioned is enough to buy us lunch each day and laundry detergent as needed. Our host families provide breakfast and dinner - otherwise it would be really difficult to live off this amount.

Food update: bouilli is good. If you look for that word online you find it refers to many different foods, and there may be a better spelling, but anyway, here it's a rice porridge with sugar and (powdered) milk. Another yummy snack: dégé, which is sweetened yogurt with millet in it. I'm certain that one is misspelled, by the way. There may be an "n" in it, for one thing - "n's" are really hard for me to hear in Mooré.

After lunch...more language. 3 of the 4 classes today. Fortunately, our teacher JZ (who is actually a French teacher by profession) recognizes how hard it is to study language that many hours in one day, so he's setting an easy pace today. Lesson of the morning: Scrabble in French is a humbling experience. Not that I needed any humbling where French is concerned.

Yesterday we had to give a 10 minute lesson in French. Monday, 15 minutes. And I'm changing topics because the one I picked first (phases of the moon and the seasons, CETL people will know why I chose those) isn't actually in the curriculum (it's in the book, though...I just didn't realise that there was anything in the book NOT in the curriculum). So lots of work to do between now and lundi.

23 June 2008

I'm weak

I broke down and went ahead and bought a cell phone. How else can we coordinate when we're going to the pool? It is free for me to receive calls or texts, so feel free - make that obligated - to do either as you can afford. It is expensive for me to dial or text out of country (it ain't cheap in-country, for that matter) so I won't be calling you. Plus I've lost my book of phone numbers. In short, if you want to receive a text from me, call me or text me!

Which brings us to how you do that. Short version: from your phone, dial 011 gets you out of the country, and Burkina's country code is 226. This is the most expensive option, unless you have some kickass international plan. Otherwise, I just heard at lunch from some of the other stagiéres (I think that accent is right) about a website that sells online calling cards that will get you Burkina Faso for about 20 cents a minute. It's http://www.pingo.com - I haven't tried it myself. Or you can just buy international calling cards at Wal-mart (watch the surcharges), or use the VOIP of your choice.

My host mom gave me a real-for-true Burkinabe outfit yesterday. It is AWESOME. The pants are calf-length, so they don't get filthy as I'm biking.

Friday we had a community mapping class, and I learned of an internet café near my house. I tried to use it all this weekend, but it's been shut. Happily, we got out of morning classes early today.

You now have FIVE WAYS to communicate with me: texting, calling, commenting here, emailing, and snail mail. Get on it, people!!

19 June 2008

Ouahigouya and living with a host family

Ok, I ponied up for an hour-long connection this time, so hopefully I'll have time to hit the main points, at least. For efficiency' sake, I've also already made a reminder list in my journal. And I ate lunch early, like 10 in the morning, just so I'd have this time online. What I'm getting at is that you'd better not complain about anything in this post :p And leave comments, you jerks! I want to hear from you!

After a couple days in Oauagadougou, we drove for 3 or 4 hours to Ouahigouya. I had the good luck to be the last one on the bus, which means I had an unparalleled view of the countryside we passed. Unfortunately, my camera was packed underneath the bus. Which reminds me, a note on pictures: some people here are extremely sensitive about having their picture taken (a couple of years ago, there was a riot in Bobo, and a Volunteer taking a picture was cited as one of the causal influences. No one was hurt, just so you know), so as a rule I won't be taking pictures out on the street unless I have the person's permission. In other words, there wont't be any candid shots. I do hope to take pictures of my host family later.

Anyway, the drive had scenery of breath-taking beauty and breath-taking poverty, often side by side. I attempted to converse with the driver and luggage handler a bit, but my French was (and still is) crap. I was able to ask a few questions that one of the other trainees had, and understand the answers...eventually, anyway (a bit of irony there - that trainee, Kate [see links on the right], has excellent French). I also got a cheer from everyone when I asked the driver to pull over for those who needed to use the bathroom (read: bushes).

Upon arrival in Ouahigouya, we danced to traditional local music. As a rule, I don't dance, but there wasn't really any other option, so it's entirely possible that by now there are pictures somewhere on the internet of me making a complete fool of myself - more of them, I mean. We spent the first two nights staying at the ECLA (where our training is based). The second night I tried out my hammock with built in mosquito net, and it was GREAT. Unfortunately, that's not an option at my host family's house.

Our pay here is pretty low during training. It's enough to get lunch every day and occasionally get online or call home, but not enough to buy clothes, which is what I'd really like to do. Speaking of calling home, my mom has the number of the telecenter right outside my host family's home, but I'd rather not give that out since any time I take a call there, that's time my host family isn't making money from someone else using the phone. Once I have a cell phone (probably in a couple months - some of the volunteers are getting them this weekend, but I'm waiting until I know if my site has coverage), I'll make that number available. Incoming calls are free here, so you'll be able to call that as much as you can afford. Just remember the time difference! During daylight savings, I'm 4 hours ahead of EDT.

The food is awesome! Riz gras (very similar to Jollof rice, Pat), pétits poids, tô...trés bon gôut! Lots of oil in the food. I'm lucky, I haven't been sick yet. That may be due to the particular malaria medication I'm on. It's also an antiobiotic against E. coli. Unfortunately, it also increases sensitivity to the sun, so I have to wear lots of sunscreen. At least it doesn't cause lucid and strange/bad dreams, like the medication most of the others are on.

My host family is really awesome. They're very progressive, so I don't really have to worry about offending them - that's not true for all the trainees. My host-dad gives talks on HIV/AIDS (here, VIH/SIDA), and my host-mom is a cashier. They have a 5yo son who I think only speaks a little French. He just stopped calling Me Nasara, Mooré for Foreigner, and started calling me Emily, the name of the trainee the family hosted last year. They also have a 14yo daughter who helps me study my French, then I help her study her English. They also occasionally try to teach me Mooré, but I really only know the ritual greetings. Which are kind of long, by the way. You NEVER just say "What's up?" It's "Good morning! How's your morning? How's the family? How's work? How's the neighborhood?" People here like it when I go through all that with them, although once we're past it all I can say is "Goodbye". By the way, our Mooré class was all in French. That was a special kind of hell.

My journal is doubling as an IOU book. Change is hard to come by here, so PCVs and PCTs are constantly paying for each other and owing people.

We're still waiting for the rainy season to truly start, so it' still wickedly hot here mostly. But on the evenings when storms come near, if not over, the wind picks up and it fells glorious. Wind, that's another reason my host family is awesome - I get a fan in my room at night. Oh, and they LOVE MTV.

Bucket baths are pretty straightforward, but I mostly take showers. Like I said, my family is pretty progressive.

Running out of time. Thankyou to those who sent emails! Please send more, and comment here!

Oh! And send pictures!!! By post I mean - you have the address. I want pictures and postcards to show people. And American stamps and powdered Gatorade would also be appreciated.

'Til later!

12 June 2008

I'm here!!

I only have a few minutes online. First observation: a French keyboard is just different enough to really throw you. Entering my password was paricularly confusing, since the special characters are in different places. As you might guess, this makes punctuation an adventure, too. This paragraph started out full of semicolons, colons, and commas where "m" is on our keyboards.

Ouaga is fascinating, though I haven't seen much yet. We're staying at a mission called SIL. I had a French interview today to determine what class I'll be in. I'll know the result Saturday.

The people here are so far very friendly, and other than the heat, which isn't actually so bad right now during rainy season, the experience has been wonderful and I'm really looking forward to my stay here.

Tomorrow we drive to Ouahigouya (Why-yee-goo-yah) where we'll be for three months.

Time to go - the weird keyboard makes me type super slow!

09 June 2008


The following entries are paraphrased from my new dead tree journal. That will pretty much be true for any entries from here on out, since my internet time will be limited. And otherwise I'll forget everything.


  • Leave Jackson way too early. Mom and Dad surprisingly chipper; I appreciate the effort, since I know they're sad to see me go. Patrick's enthusiasm not faked.
  • My investment in a $5 spring scale paid off - my bags don't weigh too much.
  • Delta waived the extra-bag fee since I was on a government ticket. I didn't think they would.
  • Carry-on bag check! My first. It took a long time, but the lady was nice. She mentioned that I should have had my liquids bag out separately (I've always before just avoided carrying any) and I asked her if that was why they called a bag check. She said "That's one reason" and then entirely failed to elaborate on what the others were.
  • Got coffee on the flight. This was not a brilliant idea since my stomach has already been in knots for days and I really could have used a nap.
  • Called mom and dad from the Atlanta airport. Surprise! This calling card charges THIRTY-FIVE MINUTES to call from a pay phone. Thanks, AT&T! From 63 minutes to 27, all for less than a minute of talk time.
  • Got a Diet Coke while waiting at ATL. Looked at the cap, and realized that for the first time in months there was no reason to save the MyCoke Rewards cap from my brother. An oddly poignant moment, which Coke will almost certainly never make a commercial out of.
  • Got into Philly at 12, and still didn't arrive at the hotel until after 2. Incredibly long wait at the baggage claim followed by a shuttle service that took so long to leave the airport that 4 people got out to take a cab - whereupon the rest of us had to wait even longer while the driver found a few more fares.
  • Thank you, TSA, for losing my TSA-friendly lock on my footlocker and inexplicably removing the address tag from my other carry-on. I promise, Ouagadougou is a real place (I'll find out later that I'm not the only person this happened to).
  • Staging itself was ok. And the kimchi I had for dinner was excellent.


  • Comfy beds and nice rooms here. I slept well...until I started waking up every 20 minutes CERTAIN that this time I overslept. I gave up and stayed awake at 6:30. Two hours until staging continues.
  • The hotel has good coffee. And expensive breakfast, but I can afford it, thanks to our daily allowance. And I won't be having lunch for reasons elaborated on below.
  • We were a half-hour late getting to lunch. Which meant I had only an hour to a)walk 21 blocks to where I was told Bank of America was, b) wander around looking, c)ask directions, d)walk 2 blocks back the way I came to where it REALLY is (there was a left turn in my route, so I wasn't on the same block as the building when I passed it), e)actually close my account, and f)walk 19 blocks back to the hotel. With all of 30 seconds to spare. Hence, no lunch.
  • Quizno's for dinner. It's probably a minor sin to be in Philadelphia and get a cheesesteak from a nationwide chain, but it was close and I was hungry.

And that was pretty much it for staging. Tomorrow we get Yellow Fever shots, then in the evening leave for Ouaga! I may or may not have time to update Thursday evening.

29 May 2008

Highlights of the trip

  1. My godparents are just as cool hanging out with at 29 as they were when I was 7. They're versatile like that.
  2. Cedar Point is great, but the lines are super long, so we only go to ride 5 coasters. The rundown:
    1. Top Thrill Dragster - Awesome, OF COURSE. When they're worried about rollbacks, they only partially load the cars. This makes it cooler than Kingda Ka, which stops running altogether. But of course, it's not quite as fast.
    2. Raptor - A solid entry in the steel coaster category. Shouldn't be your priority, but I'm not sorry we waited in line for it.
    3. Millenium Force - Great ride. One of those build 'em tall, build 'em fast steel coasters. This should be your first stop after the Top Thrill Dragster.
    4. Mantis - Unfortunately, Pat and I only thought to do mantis fists after we got off. The better* standing up coaster I've been on.
      *Yes, "better." I've only been on two. But it's MUCH better than the Georgia Scorcher at Six Flags Over Georgia.
    5. Blue Streak - A smaller wooden coaster that we mostly rode because there was a wait of exactly zero minutes. Good, old-fashioned fun.
  3. I stink at golf. So does my brother. But it's fun.
New Jersey:
  1. Hampton Inn is pretty nice. We almost didn't get a room.
  2. Bathrooms get nicer as you head east.
  3. Six Flags: Great Adventures was totally worth a second day:
    1. Kingda Ka - It's line runs really smoothly, but like I mentioned, they shut down at the first sign of rain or strong wind. Pat and I DID think to do tiger fists on this one the second time we rode.
    2. Batman: The Dark Knight - A ride new this season and TOTALLY NOT WORTH THE WAIT. DON'T GO. Not until everyone knows it's not what they think and the lines reflect that.
    3. Batman the Ride - Standard hanging coaster, virtually the same as its namesake in Six Flags Over Georgia. Which is my favorite ride at Six Flags Over Georgia.
    4. Nitro - Sorry, I know I'm comparing a lot of these rides to SFOG, but this IS a Six Flags, after all. Anyway, it's like the Goliath. Big. Not as fast as the Millenium Force, but still big and fun. Ride it.
    5. El Toro - Obviously, I was predisposed to like this one (have you noticed the URL you're at?) Best. Wooden Coaster. Ever. As it turns out, it's the second-tallest and second-fastest wooden coaster, and the first-steepest at 76 degrees, which is NUTS and such great fun. It bucks more than a wooden coaster has any right to, hence its name. I'd go so far as to say that if you only had time for one ride while you were at SF:GA, skip the Kingda Ka and hit this one. You'll thank me.
    6. Superman: Ultimate Flight - The gimmick is you're hanging, kind of in a Superman position. Kind of. Worth doing because of the gimmick, but it's still pretty tame. Just like the Superman at SFOG.
    7. Medusa - I love floorless coasters. If you're ever at SeaWorld in Orlando, they have one called the Kraken, which is freakin' great and there's no line (because who goes to SeaWorld for the roller coaster?) Well, the Medusa does have a line. And it's still even better.
    8. Great American Scream Machine - This one reminded me of SFOG in two separate ways. For one, there IS a Great American Scream Machine there, but it's wood (and decent). For another, it's virtually an exact replica (or is it the other way around?) of the Ninja at SFOG. Again, we rode because there was no line. It was fun. Ride if there's no line. Otherwise, skip it.
Washington, D. C. (a short list until I add photos) :
  1. Tons to see. TONS.
  2. Alexandria is cool. Skip the jazz festival.
  3. Arlington is incredible. Someone gave me an ornament for my service to the country as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
  4. My brother's friend has a sibling who works for a senator, so we got a guided tour of the Capitol Building. Given by a statuesque brunette intern by the appropriate name of Grace. Wow, she was gorgeous. And the capitol was nice, too. (Actually, the capitol was fascinating, and it was super-neat getting a tour with just the three of us.)
  5. The L'Enfant has a really posh lobby, and shopping underneath, but when it comes to amenities in the room, give me a Hampton Inn any day.
The trip home:
  1. The flight crew must have just started duty. They were hilarious. When discussing crash procedures and giving oxygen masks to children (or people acting like children), their advice, if you were traveling with two or more children, was to pick the one with the most potential.
  2. Ran into an old college friend - well, anyway, we had several mutual friends - who we called Filly. She's even prettier now than then (no small feat), and seems to be doing well.
  3. Pat got home and was immediately out the door to meet with friends. I remember having that kind of energy.
Ok, that's the best I can do for the trip until I add pictures. Pictures will include the safari we drove through at SF:GA, and most of our time in D.C.

More in-depth mailing directions

David T. Duckworth, PCT
S/c Corps de la Paix
O1 B.P. 6031
Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso

You may use the U.S. postal service to send letters or small packages - preferably small enough to fit in a padded envelope rather than a box, to minimize taxes and customs fees on my end. Mark all packages with "Airmail / Par Avion". There is the possibility that things you send through the mail will be lost, so don't send anything too valuable. In particular, don't send me postcards without enclosing them in an envelope unless you'd really like your postcard to adorn some post office along the way that I'll never see. If you have something that you feel it is very important that I receive, DHL ships to Burkina Faso. You can use the address above, and if they ask, the PC HQ phone number there is 226 50 36 92 00.

Mail can take 2 - 5 weeks one way, so don't be surprised if it takes me a while to respond. If you plan on sending several letters over the two years I am away, it would be a good idea to number them so I know if I've missed any.

22 May 2008

Riding the Tiger

New communiqué from HQ: I have to purchase my own bicycle helmet to bring with me. I'll be reimbursed, but that's that much less space in my footlocker for other stuff. Oh well.
Last Friday we flew to Ohio to visit my (and my brother's) godparents. They are great fun, and we ate good food, had good times, and learned that golf is not like riding a bicycle (the last time I was played, I was 12, and I was decent. This time, the best I can say is that I had a stretch of three holes that I didn't lose a ball.)
While in Ohio, we also visited the second-tallest and second-fastest roller coaster in the world, the Top Thrill Dragster. I'm told by my brother that the view of Lake Erie from the top is incredible; I wouldn't know. I was too busy looking down. I will admit, I spent most of my time in line considering backing out. I'm glad I didn't. Yesterday (Wednesday) we drove to New Jersey* to visit THE tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world, the Kingda Ka (also a name of one of the golden tabby tigers at the park, hence the name of this post). At this point, being a pro at stratacoasters, I was calm enough that I can say that the view from the top is nice enough. Also, the line moves much faster than any other ride at Six Flags: Great Adventures or at Cedar Point.
Plans - Tonight: Indian Jones!!! Tomorrow: More coasters!

UPDATE: Movie tickets are wicked expensive up here. We've decided to wait until we get back before seeing the movie. I are sad.
Check it out! On my profile on the right, there's an address! You should send me things!
*SCREW Pennsylvania's turnpike. I was irritated enough at the very idea that we should have to pay to use an interstate - there are toll roads in the south, but none that I've been on were interstates - but to pay $20 only to find most of the road down to one lane because of construction?! That was not a fun drive.

12 May 2008

The date approaches...

I received my staging information today. There's not much to fill out, happily. I also received a couple of emails from Peace Corps Headquarters (it was very tempting to word that as "I've received a communiqué from HQ.") with some more forms. I need to go get measured for a bicycle. I wonder if it's as personal a measurement as the inseam.

Speaking of inseams, I've been packing, and I'm not sure what to do about the pants situation. I need a couple pairs of breathable, durable slacks. The ideal solution, in my mind, is washable silk. I even found some washable silk slacks on sale at SteinMart. Just not in my size. I'm tempted to try some similar slacks that are labeled "Dry Clean," but lack that crucial "Only." More likely I'll just settle for cotton.  I need to get a good bit of packing done this week, since Friday my family and I are going to visit friends and other points of interest (namely, the two tallest and fastest roller coasters in the world) in faraway locales. Well, far enough that we convinced Dad it was worth flying instead of driving.

Other things I need to do - get my brother on my accounts and get his power of attorney paperwork notarized and filed. Scratch that - first I need to clear up a couple questions I have about that paperwork (some clauses seem mutually contradictory). Fortunately, while professionally my life has fallen short of spectacular, I've at least been clever enough to remain friends with some successful people. Including a couple of lawyers.

While a recent question to one of my favorite websites did not generate any practical answers, it did get me in touch with a couple other people who are going to Burkina Faso next month. That's kind of cool.

07 April 2008

And the winner is...

Burkina Faso! I go to my staging area (TBD) on June 8th, and then on June 11th I fly to Ouahigouya, one of the larger cities in northern Burkina Faso. On August 30th, I will begin my assignment, teaching science in a secondary school. In French.

For the 11 weeks of training in Ouahigouya, I will be living with a host family, and working hard to pass proficiency tests in both French and whatever language is most appropriate to the area of the country I will move to in August. Ouahigouya is large enough that I expect to have intermittent internet access while there. Once I move on to my post, I do not know.

While in Africa, I will probably NOT have time to respond to emails, though I will do what I can. If I have internet access at all, it will be via internet cafes in the nearest city. And since my pay will be quite small, my online time will be limited. My first priority will be to update my blog. Fair warning.

Finally, if you wish to correspond via snail-mail with me while I'm there, send an email to my gmail address (soloDELETETHESEFOURWORDStoro at gmail dot com). I don't know whether I will even know the address I'll be at before I leave, but worse case scenario I'll send you a note once I get there. Or have someone in my family do so, if postage turns out to be prohibitively expensive.

02 April 2008

Still no word

Apparently when the PC website says you've been sent an invitation packet, you still shouldn't hold your breath. Still haven't received anything; I'm hoping I'll get a call soon, though.

Anyway, nothing to report. I'm just posting to test out the RSS feed.

21 March 2008

Ok, I admit it

I posted that most recent update in the superstitious hope that right after talking about not receiving legal clearance, God would smile ironically and rectify the situation.

It worked.

Yesterday, I received a call from the Peace Corps Placement Office. She asked a few questions regarding the paperwork I'd submitted. I asked her about the legal hold, and she said it looked like everything in the packet was cleared, and something in the database just hadn't been saved to clear the hold. She said she would call the legal department, and that one of two things would happen. If they needed more paperwork, she'd get back in touch with me in a day or two to let me know what they needed. If they didn't, then she'd get back in touch with me in a week or two to talk about available programs.

Well, I just received an email saying my status had been updated. I went to check and my legal hold had been cleared (though my legal review is not yet marked as "Complete" either). According to the website, I was sent an invitation packet yesterday. So in a few days, I should know where I'm going.


19 March 2008

Medical and Legal Clearance

I did end up having to get my wisdom teeth extracted. I ended up getting through it with minimal discomfort - after the first day, I never even used the painkiller I was prescribed; Advil was good enough. Well, except for the night that I convinced my family I was well enough to play Cranium. We had a blast, but the next morning I could barely move my jaw because I'd been laughing so hard.
Anyway, I got the extractions, organized my paperwork, sent it in, and prepared for a long wait before receiving medical clearance. That long wait (average time: 6 weeks) ended up being four days. Apparently it really does pay to be organized - when I sent in the medical packet, I had all the related documents clipped together, and I included a cover letter that listed what was in each group, including Peace Corps Document numbers. I also included photocopies of things that other people had submitted on my behalf.
Unfortunately, my legal clearance hasn't been so straightforward. They haven't contacted me with any requests for extra documentation, which I suppose I should take as a good sign. But they've had all of my legal paperwork since I received my nomination - in other words, for a great deal longer than they've had my medical documentation. I have yet to hear anything on that front.

05 January 2008

Minor update

I've received the paperwork for my medical review. It's every bit as thorough as I thought it would be. Mostly, everything has gone well as far as getting appointments set up is going - I got some immunizations yesterday, I have a physical on Monday, and a dental exam on Thursday. The only snag is that I'm having trouble getting immunization records from Oxford Urgent Care, where I got the series of Hep-B shots in 2001 for my job at the drug testing lab. I was hoping to have those records by Monday so my doctor could initial off on them, but not having them is not as yet a setback - I will have to have a follow-up meeting with my doctor to get the lab results anyway, so as long as I have the records by then, my paperwork isn't being delayed.
The major snag I *foresee* is with the dental stuff. I've never had any trouble with my teeth...but I'm fairly sure at least one of my wisdom teeth is impacted. Which means I'll have to spend money - lots of money - to have them removed, and my paperwork can't be submitted until I've done so. Oh well, no sense borrowing trouble. I'll know Thursday.