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.