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.