29 October 2010

In memoriam

Early this week, my APCD from Peace Corps, Sebraogo Kiendrebeogo, passed away after fighting cancer for several months. He was 40 years old. He leaves behind his wife and two young children.

I don't think I ever really talked about Seb here. I mostly talked about my fieldwork. Oh heck, let's be honest: I mostly talked about myself. But let me tell you about my boss, Seb, who was one of the greatest bosses I've ever had - and I've been fortunate enough in my career to work for some pretty amazing people.

Seb had been a teacher here in Burkina himself before working with the Peace Corps. He then worked with the Peace Corps for several years, first as a technical coordinator for stagiares for both Secondary Education and Girls' Education and Empowerment, and finally as the APCD for Secondary Education. But that's just his resumé. It tells you that he had the knowledge, but it doesn't begin to convey how he used it, how devoted he was to his colleagues, how ardent he was about helping people.

I chose that last adjective with care; I'd originally written "...how serious he was about helping people." Not that he didn't take his work seriously, but it's hard to use the word "serious" to describe someone whose smile and whose laugh were so infectious. And who did both so very, very often. You couldn't stay in a bad mood when Seb was in the room.

Peace Corps is a tough job, and how much a Volunteer enjoys it, and how successful she or he is, depends in no small part on the support he or she receives from the main office. The Peace Corps Burkina office is an incredibly supportive group of people. Everyone there goes out of his or her way to help the Volunteers, often working long hours and well outside of their written job descriptions to do whatever it takes. And even among such a group of supportive, wonderful people, Seb stood out.

Goodbye, Seb. The world's a better place for your having been in it.

18 October 2010

Voulez-vous que je fasse une entrée en français?


Ce weekend passé, moi et ma co-locataire, K, nous sommes allés à Kaya pour rendre visite des amis. Plus précisement, des anciens voisins. Il y a je ne sais quoi de ce province-là qui m'inspire à trop boire...

Quand même, le voyage s'est passé très bien. Nous avions programmé d'aller à la piscine, mais malheureusement ceci était trop sale puisque l'appareil de filtrer était tombé en panne. Et alors, contre le chaleur il n'y restait qu'une seule option : la bière. Dont nous buvions beaucoup. Et puis du vin. Et vu que nous ayons apporté notre narguilé, il nous semblait très ridicule de le laisser inutilisé!

Au travail, ça va. Comme on dit en Mooré, bilf-bilfu, qui veut dire petit à petit. Il y a toujours des petits problèmes informatiques, et on pourrait bien dire qu'il y a toujours des crises de toutes sortes, mais rien d'impossible à maîtriser. Au moins, ce n'est jamais ennuyeux...

Et en parlant du travail, il faut que j'y aille. À tout à l'heure, chers amis.

08 October 2010

On living overseas

I'm posting this from my computer. The work computer that I couldn't get to work on Blogger before. The problem, it turns out, is IE's unreasonable assumption that if it can't load a page in 30 seconds, it can't be loaded. Not that it's entirely appropriate to use my work computer to blog in any case, but hey, I'm on my lunch break. And since no one in this country has administrative privileges to this computer anyway, were I to log off no one else would be able to log on.

I won't be paid for September until mid-October. This would be much less frustrating (which is not to say it would be ENTIRELY without frustration) if I'd had some advanced warning. It has to do with the end of the fiscal year, and the way my contract works...and the fact that I live 4 timezones away from my employer's headquarters. Which is, incidentally, another reason why no one else could use this computer if I weren't - the embassy closes at 1230, so my MCC (remember, that's the American side of the organization) coworkers have left. But MCA (the Burkina side) doesn't shut down, and there's a weekly phone call with the Washington folks at noon their time. 1600 our time...but then, I should save my complaining until early November, when you clever folks in the US (most of you, anyway) go on Daylight Savings and I don't. By the way, did you know, dear reader, that while both the US and most European countries use Daylight Savings, we don't switch on the same day? There will be a couple weeks in late October when I'm only an hour off from Paris time (instead of the two I have been), but am still at the same time difference with respect to home. Sheesh.

The inspiration of the title of this post is the phone call I just had with the lending institution to which I owe rather more money than is prudent thanks to a desire whilst in grad school to be able to pay for things like gas and groceries. Ah yes, our higher education and student loan system is a clever one. Anyway, they called me (actually, my parents) a couple weeks after I closed my Peace Corps service to let me know that my loans would go back into repayment. By the way, kudos to you Citibank for giving me a grace month. It's not enough for many freshly returning PCVs, but it's frankly one month more than I expected. Since, upon answering, my parents very modestly admitted to not being me, the loan officer gave them a rather cryptic message for me (have him call this number, then use this code. Very cloak and dagger sounding, no?). I called the number and gave them the code (which was just a string of letters and numbers; I don't see any fundamental reason why it couldn't be something like, "The raven calls at midnight when the full moon is in view," but then I guess romantics make lousy loan officers. At least from the point of view of the bank), and during the conversation mentioned to them that to avoid such back-and-forth in the future, they should just call my phone here (I might have also made this suggestion because since I'm already paying them so much, I feel no need to pay fifty cents a minute to call them when they have a message for me). They agreed. Hooray, problem solved, pack it in, let's go home.
Or not.
I've been trying for two days to log onto their site and pay. The above-mentioned internet problem reared its head - their site is clearly not optimized for speed - so today I brought my personal computer to work. Because, you know, it's nice having a computer that I can adjust basic things on, like how long my browser will try to load a site before timing out. Or adding printers. (**Side rant. Look, USG, I appreciate good security. I'd even go so far as to say I'm more aware of it than many of your employees. Make me change my password because you know I won't otherwise, that's fine. Restrict my access, that's fine I guess, as long as we're both on the same page that it's a little bit insulting to my intelligence, because if you honestly believe I have evil intent then you know that physical access is everything and after spending 20 minutes of googling I could own this machine even though I know nothing about hacking currently, so you have to either be worried that I'm susceptible to social engineering hacks, or worse, you simply think I'm too dumb to be allowed full access because I'd break something. Whoops, that was a side rant to the side rant. Backing up, what I'm getting at is that it's just silly to run an overseas post where EXACTLY ZERO PEOPLE have administrative access to my computer. I'm not irritated [much] that I can't add the office printer to my laptop myself. I'm THOROUGHLY frustrated that NO ONE here can do it and I have to call someone in Washington so they can remotely access my machine to do something so trivial.**) So I finally manage to load up the page...and I can't see my account info because, it says, I need to update my phone number. Whisky Tango et cetera. I call (more money being spent just so I can be allowed to pay them), and find out - after many, many minutes on hold (yet more money I'm spending just to convince Citibank to let me pay them...hm, do they own stock in my cell phone provider?) - that the problem is my new phone number. It's not in the US. Their system can't handle that.
So, long story short, sorry Mom and Dad, you're going to continue to get phone calls about my loans, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to pay them. Which would leave me getting the phone calls, not you, but they'd be much less pleasant ones.