11 June 2009

Happy 1-Year Anniversary!

Yep, it's officially been a year as of today. One year ago a group of 30 of us flew into Ouagadougou with precious little idea of what to expect, and even less of an idea of how we would adapt.

And now here we are.

Today is also the day that the NEW stagiares arrive. Although I am in Ouaga, I will not meet them while they're here - the Training Manager keeps very strict rules concerning access to the new folks, and I'm not working with them until Week 2 of their stage. If any of their parents happen to be reading this, a) don't worry, the people who will be meeting them are capable volunteers and extremely good choices for helping them through their first couple of nights, and b) don't be surprised if you don't hear from them right away. They probably won't have a chance to hit a telecentre to call until they get up to the city they'll be training in.

Now then, this post won't be as comprehensive as the last one, because this time I neglected to keep notes on what I wanted to write about for the most part. I'm working from memory. And shoddy tools give a shoddy result...

Professeur Principal
This is the name of the professor in charge of a class, and in most situations Peace Corps volunteers don't do it. But when you're in a school with four teachers for five classes, there just aren't that many options. It generated a small amount of extra work for me at the end of each trimester, but I had no idea just how much work it required for the end of the year. My last week in school was by far the busiest I've ever been in this country, and that's counting a week when aside from preparing and teaching classes I had to grade 400 of my own tests PLUS 70 practice nationally-required exams for a class I've never taught. I've kind of been winding down ever since.

A decent translation of that would be workshops, I guess. At the same time I was doing all that PP stuff, my homologue and I gave a VIH/SIDA (that's the French way of saying HIV/AIDS) sensibilisation (you can get the flavor of that word without translation) to about 150 students aged 12-24 at our school. It went well, thanks in large part to some presentation materials that one of our volunteer committees managed to get for all volunteers. I still owe them a report on that, actually. I also gave the agricultural workshop I mentioned in my last post, and that went really well I feel. Though I haven't checked back in with my farmers to see if they're using the techniques we talked about. I still owe a report on that one, too...

Secret Meetings
Once my school obligations were finally finished, I went to hang out with a nearby volunteer friend. Turns out some of the fonctionnaires in his village (that's the catch-all term for government workers, everything from the military to teachers to doctors. Pretty much any job that is not farming or selling things is some sort of fonctionnaire position.) have a secret club - and he'd only recently started being invited. He got me an invitation as well. Now, I say club, but I don't mean they have a secret handshake or plot world domination...it's just an excuse for some guys (it's all men) to hang out, eat some chicken, and drink some sodas, without having to invite everyone and their brother. It was a good time.

Not so Hardcore
I haven't made my 140km bike ride yet, but I have reached a new high mark - 125km. Unfortunately, the trip did not go smoothly. I was two hours late getting out, and because I was late I hit a headwind that started up right as I was leaving; between those two problems, instead of arriving at my destination at 9am as planned, I got there at 1pm. Which means I was biking through the hottest part of the day. The upshot is that a ride that should have taken 6 hours took 9, and one that should have ended when the temp was about 90 degrees in fact continued for a significant time in 115 degrees. I ended up having massive heartburn and couldn't participate in the party that was my reason for making the trip. All in all though, I got off light for being so hard-headed - at any point in that ride I could have pulled over and waited for a bus or taxi brousse to pass, there were many.

Once There...and Well Again
While I didn't get to party (and it was a cool party, local music and dancing, and great food), I did get to explore my friend's village the next day. It's always interesting to see how others live here. Her village is much larger than mine, but still small in the grand scheme of things. The people were very friendly, and many stopped by the day after the party to make sure I was feeling better. For the first time ever, I played Bocce Ball. Kind of a strange place to do it.

On to Ouaga
After that, I came to the capital to hang out with some friends who were in town for a meeting of the Peer-Support and Diversity Network (PSDN). This has caused many volunteers to ask if I'm on that committee, which continues to shock me - don't you people KNOW me? I am many things, but a supportive peer is not one of them. Ok, that's not actually the case, I can be supportive when I want to be, but I'm not a good choice to encourage people I don't know well through their difficulties - my sarcastic wit tends to make me seem insensitive to those who don't know me. I'm not warm and fuzzy, is what I'm saying. However, for whatever reason, two of my favorite people in the country ARE on the committee, and I enjoyed getting to hang out with them.

And then to Fada
And one of those favorite people asked me if I would like to accompany her to Fada. She's leaving soon, and wanted to visit parts of Burkina we hadn't seen yet. Naturally I said yes - in fact, I've traveled with her before, this is Y from the New Year's trip I took. We acted like tourists, visiting the sacred hill (great view of the city) and a baobab with horseshoe-shaped marks in its trunk, traditionally explained as having been made by an ancient chief who actually rode his horse up the tree to hide from an invading tribe. And then we got our sand read.
Most cultures have some sort of tradition of divination, I think. Tarot, numerology, tea-leaves, that sort of thing. The Gourmantche in eastern BF read sand. Y and I found a guy who both does this and speaks French (a rare combination), and he took us out into the bush, took off his pants (to reveal that he had another pair on underneath, but we certainly had a moment of shock before that became obvious), sat us down, and told us to ask him questions and the sand would answer them. Y's reading was more interesting than mine, but of course it's not my place to share hers. Mine included some interesting tidbits, namely that both my brother AND my sister would come visit me - surprising enough - and then the doozie - I'm going to marry an African. Actually, after he said that, he backpedalled and said that the sand didn't actually say where she was from, but that she has dark skin. Y asked probing questions (she's arguably more concerned about my romantic well-being than I am...and having written that I feel that I've made an implication that is not true - she likes to see her friends in relationships, that's all) and we found that my future bride could be indian or hispanic; not necessarily VERY dark-skinned, just not white. Hm. Oh, but we'll date for 6 years first, because while in my heart I want a relationship, in my head I don't, I really just want a friend. That part rang true, at least. Y's remark was "Wow, she must be very patient."

Training of Trainers
After that, up to a city I know well, though I haven't been there in nearly a year. Stage this year is being held in the same place as ours was, and so was our ToT, the event where those of us who will be PCVFs (the PCVs who work at stage) receive training. I got to visit my host family and hang out with some volunteers I don't get to see much of otherwise. I also got very sick, fortunately only for a day. Something about that place.

Another city I had not yet visited - it's where they held the aforementioned "hardcore party" that I missed in April - and a town near another of my very favorite people in the country (my other volunteer traveling-companion from New Year's, C). I got to see several volunteers who live in that region, and had a blast with them. I also discovered and bought my new favorite shirt - a bright blue-and-red-striped soccer jersey with a giant picture of Obama. When I wear it, people don't yell "Nasara," they yell "Barack Obama!". It's pretty great.

And Ouaga Again
And now I'm working with a few other math teachers developing critical-thinking exercises to compile into a book to give to all PCBF math education volunteers. That work is going pretty well, but it's not terribly exciting stuff. Saturday I return to my village, but only for a week - come June 21, I'll be working at stage! So I'll get to meet all the new hip, cool, with-it young beautiful people who have come to show us old farts how it's done. Perhaps most exciting about the timing is that I have a rock-solid excuse to be in Ouaga on the 20th, so I'll get to see our football (that's soccer, remember) match against Cote d'Ivoire! That's gonna be intense. If we beat them, we have a real shot at getting into the 2010 World Cup games.

Shout Out
Hi, folks at St. Columb's! My mom has informed me that probably several more of you will be reading my blog. Hope you enjoy it!