No. More. Peace. Corps

I’m sure you all have been waiting for this last and final post for some months now. And, I apologize for taking so long to deliver. I can’t even say that I’ve been too busy or anything like that. In fact, I haven’t been that busy just really lazy and not motivated. That is the honest truth. I can’t count the number of days since being back that I’ve spent the day laying on the couch reading a book, watching tv, eating and listening to music for the entire day just because I can (all of this in air conditioning mind you). So I will catch everyone up on everything so far.

 

If you didn’t know, I finished my two years of service on June 22nd. Wait, let me back up a bit. I left my village for the last time on June 1st. I honestly found it to be very anti climatic. I gave away every single thing in my house and still wound up leaving with three bags full of clothing, books and gifts. Before leaving, I had to deal with people trying to befriend me at the last minute so they could get whatever they think they saw in my house. Which, side note, is why over the last two years I never really let anyone in my house because I peeped game from the start. So people didn’t really know what to ask for unless it was something I may have mentioned I had in previous conversation…scheming. On the other hand, I did get a lot of really nice gifts from all of my close friends. None of which were for me though. I kept getting gifts for “mon veux” (my old man) and “ma vieille” (old woman)….didn’t really understand why they were getting all of the gifts when I was the one struggling and sweating with them in that village for two years but ok…whatever. My last day in village wasn’t as sad as I thought it would be. I was really just ready to peace out. And so I did. I chunked up the deuces at Wangala and took my last bush taxi ride on that terrible road in that death trap on wheels. I was very happy to be calling it my last everything there. Now, let me explain. I know you may be reading this like, “Gosh, she really sounds like she hated it!” And you would be reading this correctly. In that moment I really did hate it. It was terribly hot and I was constantly annoyed. Being annoyed came from my last project in village—the latrines we built. But that story would take up a whole nother post.

 

Once I left village, I did my own little tour of Burkina for about two weeks. I went to four different regions of the country that I had yet to visit. While it was all the same, it was also very different. The four different regions meant four very different and distinct ethnic groups and terrains. I don’t really want to get into the names of the regions or what volunteers were there; and I’m sure you don’t want me to. But those two weeks consisted of fun, food and friends. It was one of the best ways to end my two years in Burkina. My last week was nothing but administrative stuff. I pretty much had to do a glorified scavenger hunt around our main office and the capital in order to leave the country. Those of you who know me, know I didn’t like any part of that….no bueno. Yet and still, I did it and got my freedom papers on the 22nd. I flew out the next day right after a terrible thunderstorm so I was pretty much gone on valium (that was the only way I could get on the plane). When I woke up, we were in Casablanca. I did NOT like the Moroccans working at the airport. They were so rude. And since I believe in telling the truth, I know it’s because they thought I was African. I can’t begin to explain the way people were talking not only to me but to some of the other people there. It was so shocking I couldn’t even retaliate because I couldn’t understand whether it was just the way they spoke, abrupt and abrasive, or if that was just their natural reaction to higher concentrations of melanin. But the food was great!!! My time in Morocco didn’t last for more than 8hrs. I touched down at JFK later that day.

 

I’ve been back for a little over a month now and the readjustment has been nothing short of tumultuous. Having only a little more than a month to relax, move and then start graduate school, I was forced to cram a lot of things into a short period of time. Now I know we can all scroll back to the top of this post and read where I said I have been nothing more than a couch bum for the past five weeks, but that’s not completely true. I had to start everything from scratch—a new phone, new car, insurance, license in a new state, and all that jazz. I spent the whole month of July traveling from NJ, to VA to OH and back. It hasn’t been easy on the mind or the body. Not to mention just getting use to everything again while people expect you to just slip back into normalcy like you haven’t been living overseas for two years. I had no idea what instagram was, the wobble, any of the Kevin Hart jokes, Lamborghini mercy or any of the things related to these things were. But I was expected to. Or I’ll get questions like, “Where you here when Obama got elected?” Like…uh yeah, I was. I haven’t been gone that long.

 

While I miss Burkina, I don’t miss Burkina. I haven’t stopped appreciating the ac, unlimited good food or cellphone service without interruption. It was a very invaluable experience and if I could do it all again knowing how difficult it would be, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. Thanks so much to those of you that have followed my adventure and supported me throughout the past two years. I promise to channel everything I’ve learned into making this world just a little bit better.

 

Peace and Blessings

Song: Whatever song you like

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Checked Out

I have to be honest and say, that I’ve been avoiding updating my blog. Not because I don’t love you all anymore or anything like that. Simply because I have been so busy and stressed these past few months at site—waiting for grad. school decisions, starting and finishing final projects in village and preparing for our Close of Service conference.

 

Well now that some things have become more concrete and stress levels have reduced dramatically, I’m ready to post again!

 

With only about two months left at site and a latrine building project that has just gotten underway, I am trying not to go crazy. I wrote for, and received a grant to build two latrines in my village. Maybe I should explain why this is such a big thing before going on. In my village you can only find latrines at the village clinic and the schools. You can only find people using them, sometimes, at the village clinic. Even the courtyards and houses in my village aren’t usually built with latrines. So what does that mean? People urinate and defecate in fields or just wherever they feel like squatting. I’m sure I don’t have to go into the repercussions this kind of activity can have on the overall health of the community right? The lack of latrines is also accompanied by a lack of hand washing as well. Imagine, if you’re ok with moving your bowels out in a field where there isn’t a water source for at least another 200 meters, how motivated would you be to go find that water source just to wash your hands….especially when even in the U.S. people use the bathroom and there’s a water source right in their face and they don’t even use it? But I digress….or do I? And thus, I am also doing hand washing stations next to each latrine to encourage proper hygiene after using the latrine.

 

So I decided to build two latrines: one at the Protestant church and the other at the Mosque. Now I chose these to locations because of my relationship with the two communities and their key locations. But then I find out a few weeks ago that I now have to do a third latrine because I participated in a latrine building formation and they want to give us money to build a third……I don’t want to. Being absolutely honest, handling grant money is extremely stressful. I have to have receipts for EVERYTHING and they all have to match the original grant application in the end. Which means, no unexpected expenses can occur because it would throw off the receipts and when I do my project completion report I will have to attach a ridiculous amount of memos and yadayadaya……..Long story short, I’m already starting to mentally check out but I can’t fully check out like I want to because I have real work to do right before I leave. I have to be at every step to make sure that the work gets done before the end of the month so that I can turn in my completion report. If I remove myself during any part of this process, nothing will get done. Can you imagine that kind of pressure? So now we are doing the third latrine at the Catholic church. So now all holy grounds are covered.

 

Nevertheless, I am so happy, and ready to come home, get back into school and see what lies ahead. I have to run. For those of you who have remained in touch throughout this entire process, sent packages, letters, and support I am forever thankful and grateful for it all. And I promise to keep you in mind when I go gift shopping next month :)

 

Peace and Blessings

 

Song: John Coltrane- Cousin Mary

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One man’s bucket is another man’s shower

I guess its about time for another post. While I have a million and one things flying around in my head and going on in village, I try to continue to find time to update my blog. But, I don’t want to just post anything to say that I’ve been keeping up the blog. I actually try to organize the crazy randomness that I deal with everyday into an organized post (which is a lot harder than it sounds). And so, this is what I came up with….

The other day I was conversing with the school director and two other teacher, when we got on the topic of my life here versus in the U.S. I explained how I never really appreciated all of the things that deal with water in the states until I came here–washing machines, showers, baths, toilets and sinks. I HATE washing my own clothes here! They laughed as I explained this and how I will give my clothes to the first man, woman or child who offers to wash them; and I will pay them handsomely. They of course agreed that washing clothes by hand is difficult but they don’t have any other option. True. But I do. And so I don’t wash my own clothes. Then, I told them how I never imagined that I would be taking baths with a bucket for two years, and how ridiculous it was at first. To this they replied, “ No, we don’t like using real showers because the water falls too quickly and makes us feel like we’re drowning.” Err?! I laughed so hard. One of the teachers retorted that its way too much water at one time and he has to duck his head from under the shower head to avoid having a panic attack. It gets better. The director then added that he hates toilets. He doesn’t understand how people prefer toilets to latrines, to which the other teacher responded, “Yeah, how am I suppose to take care of business if I’m sitting down like I’m talking to someone? That’s not normal, at least if you’re squatting in a latrine, you know what you’re in there to do.” I was not cool with any of these deviations from what I consider normal. I sat there arguing, by myself, why showers are so much better than bucket baths (an argument I never thought I would have to make) and how I feel the exact opposite about latrines and toilets. Squatting over a dark hole filled with flies, roaches, bats and other people’s excrements is better than sitting on a porcelain toilet with nothing in it but water??? Why is this part of the discussion even necessary? Nevertheless, neither one of us would stray from our perspectives; but I did concede that the bucket bath and latrine do conserve water…..still, I’m ready to waste all of the water in the world for a shower and a toilet.

Eventually, I was told how during colonialism, the Burkinabe would laugh at the Europeans who exclaimed that they were much cleaner than the Africans because they used handkerchiefs to blow their noses, but the Burkinabe considered the Europeans dirty because after they blew their noses, they would place the same handkerchief back into their pocket AND because they built their bathrooms in the same house where they ate and slept. I had to agree with the handkerchief part, but I still couldn’t get down with the outhouse idea. Apparently, there are still a lot of older Burkinabe who refuse to use indoor bathrooms, as its a concept that they just can’t get down with. Moral of the story? We are often times so involved in our own ideas of cleanliness and normalcy that we don’t realize how relative it all is. Things that make perfect sense to us (preferring a shower to a bucket) may be completely ridiculous to someone else. And what can we say to that? Nothing. All we can really do is respect and appreciate the diversity. I know that statement sounds really Peace Corps and we are the world, but its true. As soon as we figure this out, the world will be that much better.

So that’s all I got this month. Although I would love to get my Carrie Bradshaw on and write out my strings of thoughts and questions everyday on my laptop, I can’t. Its way too hot out here for that. In fact, I have to end this now because my laptop is starting to actually burn my lap. To my family and friends I love and miss you all! Four or Five more post left!!!

Peace and Blessings

No Church in the Wild- Kanye West and Jay Z

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Back from Ghana….the first post of 2012

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! I can honestly say that this year started a hell of a lot better than the last one. I brought in 2012 on the beaches of Ghana….a far better option than spending it in village.

The itinerary went as follows: three days in Accra (the capital), four days in Takoradi at the Green Turtle lodge, and the final three days in Cape Coast.   Instead of giving a full run down of the trip, I’ll give the highlights and moments that I think may amuse you.

ACCRA

The bus ride from Ouaga to Accra took about 20 hours. This includes the multiple border stops for immigration. As the only Americans on the bus, we tended to take most time getting through immigration because all West Africans are free to move about this part of the continent without visas. And then I of course kept getting the skeptical-american-look from the immigration officers until they heard me speaking English. The worst part of the trip down to Accra had to be when I thought the bus was leaving without me. Around 5a.m. the bus makes a stop at some rest station somewhere in Ghana. Sleeping, I wake up with a terrible pain in my stomach indicating that I had been suppressing the need to urinate for a few hours. I wake up the person next to me to let them know that I’m going to the bathroom and to let the driver know if they try to take off. As I get off of the bus, I’m a little nervous because I don’t know how long we’ve been sitting there or when the bus may pull off; nor do I know where the bathroom is. Some random man points me in the direction of the bathrooms which happen to be pretty far from the bus. So I walk rather briskly to the indicated location, take care of business and start walking back to the bus. I see other people from the bus walking back and I start to ask if they were getting back on the bus or if this was their stop. But I decided against it because I didn’t want to waste anytime. As I approach the bus, it starts to pull off. I should take a moment to explain that this is one of my biggest fears–being stuck somewhere with no money, or phone in a foreign country. And so I began to run after the bus. Now, remember I had just waken up after sitting for about 8 hours and I’m beyond out of shape…regardless of what you see in the pictures. So I’m running after this bus pissed off and sleepy. Every time I think I’m close enough to hit the side of the bus so they know to stop, no bueno. At one point the bus turns and I know for a fact that the driver saw me, at this point slightly jogging, after the bus. When they finally stop I get on the bus PISSED OFF. I start going off on the bus driver and his companion for pulling off without me. Before I could go off on the people I traveled with they were all like, “We told him to stop and that you were coming and he wouldn’t listen.” I actually have to stop the story here because if I disclose what happened next, it would be evidence for charges that could later be brought against me.

30 mins. later we’re off the bus and in Accra! Accra is a very interesting city. I only wish I had more time to really explore. While there, we visited W.E.B. Dubois’ house, which they turned into a cultural center. It was beyond humbling to be in the same house that Dubois, Malcom X, Amy Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Maya Angelou and so many other prominent Black figures have visited.  After Dubois’ house, we went to the Accra Mall which looks just like the mall in anytown U.S.A. And so what did we do at the Accra mall? We went to the food court and then to the movies! Sadly, the movie was horrible and a bit expensive but I guess it was still worth it. The second best part of the entire trip to Accra was definitely the sushi. We found an amazing sushi restaurant and splurged on two large platters of sushi and alcohol. It was honestly better a lot of sushi I’ve had in the states. And that’s not just because its been a while since I’ve had sushi either. The other girls were really excited about the KFC we found. I thought the chicken being sold on the side of the street was way better than the KFC garbage. On to Takoradi.

On the 31st we took another bus from Accra to Takoradi, another coastal city. That ride took about 5 hours and I spent the entire ride feeding and taking care of some woman’s kid. About an hour off the beaten path and through the mountains AFTER getting to Takoradi, was the Green Turtle Lodge. GTL is an eco-friendly, expat-type lodge on a deserted part of the beach. We were seriously stuck at this lodge because everything else was about an hour away on a terrible unpaved road back down the mountain. Nevertheless, the place was beautiful. We took a canoe ride down a river to look for monkeys and saw none. The rest of the time was spent drinking, eating, listening to music, and playing monopoly deal and banana grams. In other words a lot of nothing….which was perfect. While at the lodge, we stumbled across another American man who was in the process of buying land to build a yoga lodge a few meters away down the coastline. This man was nothing short of a nut job. He told us how he jumped into a dumpster full of burning trash for no sane reason at all. And then how when his friends came to pull him out he received third degree burns that he treated himself because he doesn’t trust hospitals….which made me think he must have experienced HU’s hospital as some point. Anyway, set the stage….the man’s elevator obviously did not go all the way to the penthouse. While in Accra, we brought firecrackers  for our NYE celebration. The man was so fascinated by them that he tried lighting one with the kerosene lamp at our table full of people. And so we confiscated the fireworks from him; until….We were lighting them on the beach and some of them wouldn’t light. So the man comes up and holds the end of the firecracker between his teeth and lights it! Yes! He lit the firecracker while holding it between his teeth. The messed up part is that the sparks started shooting directly into his face for like 30 seconds and then explodes into the air. The rest of us are standing there horrified.   Not believing what we just witnessed, everyone is looking at this idiot. He’s holding his face and we’re just staring and cursing soundlessly. When he finally shows us his face, he has a barely visible scar but complains that the worst part is his mouth tasting like sulfur.  I obviously have no words for the man, realizing what I just saw. But I was, at that point, highly amused. This was probably the most eventful night at GTL.

CAPE COAST

The main reason I wanted to go to Ghana was to visit the slave fortresses and see the Door of No Return. As an African American I consider it one of those things you just have to do in your lifetime. Almost like white people who have to go back to Europe. I couldn’t live knowing that I was this close and never got the chance to see such a pivotal part of my history.  And so I did. I went to the slave castle that was visited by Michelle and Barack Obama. The whole experience was beyond moving and definitely brought me to tears. I definitely recommend visiting the Cape Coast Castle to everyone, regardless of race. It put into perspective how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go.

The day after visiting the slave castle, we visited Kakum National park and paid about 35 dollars to walk the first canopy walk on the African continent……yea, we got..got. The canopy walk is a really rickety bridge that dangles about 40 meters above the jungle floor. We went really high up on this bridge that sways back and forth as you look out over the tops of trees. Yet and still, it was fun/scary/ not scary. Not to mention, we did see monkeys! They were cleaning each other in the trees. It was actually really nice to see.

The trip ended with a hellish ride back to Ouaga from Kumasi–the home of the famous Ashanti Kingdom–and then an even more hellish  ride back to village. And so here I sit, typing this post ready to back on vacation. I’m sure some of you are now wondering, “well where are the pictures?” On facebook. I will try to upload some of them on here sometime this week but we all know how slow internet is in village right? But the new profile pic is actually me on the canopy walk. So you can enjoy that for the moment :)

Of course to my family and friends (especially those that have remained in close touch) I miss you and love you all terribly. I can’t wait to see you all this summer!!

Peace and Blessing

Feist- A Limit to Your Love

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Travel in Burkina

I recently realized that every time I post or update my status explaining that I’m in the capital, I never explain what I have to go through to get back and forth from village to the capital. Maybe you all think its like taking the greyhound or the city bus even. But I think I should put you all in my shoes and explain a typical trip back to village from the capital.

On your way back to site, you show up at the “bus station” which isn’t really a bus station. Its a filthy lot filled with people walking around selling random items from water to clothes pins. You show up around noon because any earlier than that you’ll be waiting for hours…..waiting for the car to fill up with passengers before leaving. You see a car with motorcycles, bikes, sacks and bags on top. This means this particular car should be leaving soon. As you walk over, dodging the people trying to sell those random items and taxis going in and out of the lot. The same two men who are always there to take your money greet you before climbing into the car—the one man that looks like Red Fox and the other that looks like Morgan Freeman(I swear they do.) You get in the broken down car and decide to sit near the window because you know you will soon be five to a row that comfortably holds three. From past experiences you know that the only place worse than hell is being stuck between either two large people or someone that smells like trash for this four hour ride. At least if you’re by the window you can keep your head out and stay cooler than if you had sat in the back. You look around and see maybe three or four other people waiting in the car. And you realize that you’ve been tricked. The stuff on top of the car is just being transported, it doesn’t represent the number of people who’ve already bought tickets. Of course you start cursing and looking out the window to see who looks like they might be Bissa and going to your part of the country. As you wait, the heat starts to mount and your patience starts to drop. People keep coming up to the open window trying to sell you men’s underwear, Obama cologne and loaves of bread. But you’re not interested so you look straight ahead like you don’t see them right next to you putting this stuff in your face. The car starts to rock and you look out the window to see why, at the same time a dirty brown rope smacks you in the face. Now you really keep looking straight because you know everyone saw the rope from the top of the car swing down and smack you. The rest of the wait consists of listening to your ipod and not making eye contact with anyone.

After sitting in this hot car with flies playing tag with your face for an hour, the car finally fills up. You are now smashed up against the window by a man that smells like he was wrestling with the rear end of a donkey and lost. And what can you do? Nothing for this four hour ride back to village during the hottest part of the day. The car gets on the road and you turn your I pod all the way up. Within the first ten minutes of being on the road the car make the first of many stops. All of a sudden people come running from the side of the road with bags of onions, water, bread and homemade cakes, shoving them through the window while yelling prices. The four arms stretched through the small opening in the window do nothing short of annoy you because you wonder who the hell is thinking about buying onions off the side of the road. And then someone taps you on the shoulder with money in hand because they of course want a large bag of onions and you are now the designated exchange person because you’re by the window. You roll your eyes and make the exchange. The car starts to pull off but the vendor hasn’t given the person’s change yet. The vendor is now running along side the car trying to get the change out of a small bag. After sprinting beside the window the vendor throws the money in the car and the driver takes off. You simply close the window a little bit and rest your head against the glass as the people next to you search for the change that landed in between them.

As the car picks up speed you decide to go to sleep as the wind blows all of the hot, stale air out of the car. But every time the car stops for one reason or another, you wake up. Not because you notice the vehicle’s lack of motion, but because the smell of the man sitting next to you combined with the unexplainable heat makes you want to scream and vomit at the same time. So you decide to stay awake and keep focusing on the music on your I pod and the beautiful scenery. Eventually you reach the part of the trip where the road is no longer paved. This means red dust, profound potholes and whiplash. You close the window a little because if you don’t your whole face will be blasted with red dirt to the point where you can’t even lick your lips without tasting a thick coat of earth. The car starts to jump and jerk as you fly over potholes in this death-trap-on-wheels. You try to be cool and roll with the bumps and jerks and then it happens. The car jerks one good time and bam! Your head cracks against the window.

Now, not only is your head pounding but you know people are looking at you so you can add embarrassed to the list. The only justifiable response is to turn the music all the way up and act like it never happened. After a few minutes you fall back to sleep with a heated breeze blowing against your face. You suddenly wake up to something heavy and wet slammed against your shoulder. The man beside you allowed his huge sweaty head to fall on your shoulder while he sleeps. Sending a sharp shoulder to the side of his head, you bring him out of his lofty slumber. Without looking at him you rub your shoulder against his shirt to get his running sweat off of your skin. He says nothing and you continue to act as if it never happened.

Finally you arrive at your stop. Climbing over the other 4 people and their bags and animals, you fall out of the vehicle. Sweaty, dirty and exhausted, you’re finally home. The men on top of the car hand you your bags, which are now destroyed because of the motorcycles and sacks they placed over your things. But it doesn’t matter, because the sight of village and the villagers welcoming you back makes the whole trip worth it.

All of these things and more have happened to me multiple times on transport. And so I just wanted to share a little bit of what its like going back and forth between the capital and village. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed. To my family and friends, I love and miss you all. The count down has begun :)

Peace and Blessings

Song: Georgia Anne Muldrow – Sunset

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Wow…has it already been a year in village?

Well it’s been a while but I’m still here. Over a year in and with less than nine months to go. I keep looking for pregnant women in my village so that my time will correspond with their pregnancy. Is that wrong? I find that how I feel about my village now, versus how I felt about it over a year ago has changed. This is neither good nor bad. I came to village optimistic, ready to integrate and change everyone’s life. A year later I believe that I have changed more than anything or anyone in my village and my optimism has mutated to realism. My philosophies on development have greatly been altered a year after arriving in Wangala (my village).

I find that my village is somewhat resistant to working. This does nothing short of make my job as a volunteer more than difficult. Those villagers who are ready to work and understand why I am here live in the smaller villages that require me to bike pretty far out. So I gave up on the idea that you can make people want to change. I also realized that I do not agree with the development philosophy that we learned during training. In a sense, it groups all developing communities into one category and does not account for villages such as mine. I also realized that we are inculcated with the idea that we are here to develop people—a phenomenon that I do not believe exists. A year later I realized that it is highly unlikely that anyone in my village will come to me with some grand idea for a community project. And I am ok with that. I now understand that they will always view me as a “white” woman who has come into their lives for a short time and will soon leave them as they were. And even this, I am ok with. Despite the numerous upcoming projects and the amount of haranguing I was forced to do to get the projects started, I know that this is not community development and I am not sure that such a thing can exists if it does not come from those who control the resources. But all of this is neither here nor there. I am sure you would all like to hear about something more concrete?

I recently started teaching English at the village middle school. The school was short staffed with only one English professor….who doesn’t really speak English….and so I volunteered my services. I wanted to teach last year but it didn’t turn out that way because I was trying to hard to work closely with the village clinic. I ultimately spent last year giving health lessons at the primary and middle school. But now, not only do I have a constant malleable audience, I can do more profound work with the students. I have begun teaching English in a way that will help my students read and understand English literature. Around February, I plan to begin teaching using different literature from across the African Diaspora. Of course some of it will have to be diluted because of complexity; yet I am sure they will take something away from the readings. The point is to introduce them to the fact that there are people of African descent who live and have been living outside of Africa for centuries; and their contributions to society are tantamount to the accomplishments of the Europeans that they learn about every year. Does this seem to ambitious? Even if it does, nothing beats a failure but a try. Moreover, I have always believed that pedagogy is the best form of development and so what better way to “aid” in the “development” of my village? For those of you who know me, I am sure you are aware of the impact I aim to have on my students. So far my classes have been going well. The hardest part of it all is getting them arrive at the correct pronunciation. There is nothing more frustrating than repeating a hundred times that the word is “day” and not “dye”. Nevertheless, I am beyond optimistic about this teaching experience…even though I have over 100 students in one class….because I have already noticed some of my students really understand and enjoy the material. And so such is my life at the moment.

I have been eating and cooking a lot lately. And I don’t mean like just eating and cooking a lot of village foods either. For instance, tonight I made chicken fried rice. I swear it was better than what I use to order in America. Every morning I make either banana and peanut butter wheat pancakes or I am french toast with french bread and I eat them both with honey. I recently made curried chicken and rice with plantains that had my counterpart begging me to make more. Sometimes I make donuts or funnel cake with cinnamon and honey. I know this may not sound like much to those of you who have 24 hour access to any and everything you want to eat. But when you live in a village where you can’t find any dish outside of rice and to, the ability to eat anything resembling American food is more than a big deal. Food has become a major part of my day. I spend a large part of my day thinking about what I’m going to eat….kind of like when I was in college. I think the only time I’m not thinking about food is when I’m teaching. And as soon as that’s finished I ask myself, self…what do you want snack on while you make lunch.

Other than all of the above, life in village has continued pretty much uninterrupted. There were a few major events over the summer but nothing worth sharing with the rest of the world. I look forward to these last eight months and hope to get the most out of them. They have also just built a cell phone tower in my village, but of course they haven’t turned it on yet. Once it is turned on I think I’m going to buy an internet key so that I can have internet access while in village. But god knows when they will completely finish with the tower and turn it on. I end up buying the key as I’m getting ready to peace out this country. And that is all I have for you after such a long hiatus. To my family and friends, I love and miss you and thank you for all of the love and support. Until next time. Oh and Happy Belated Birthday Brandon :)

Peace and Blessings

Passion Pit- The Reeling

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One year down….365 days to go

I have to break this post up into three parts because so much has happened since the last time I posted. Also, the human brain is better able to understand if information is partitioned into sections; and I don’t want anyone to miss out on any important details because the post looks too intimidating and long to fully read and not skim.  So we will go about this with three partitioned sections—Vacation, Life in Village and The Hard Part.

VACATION

After the last couple of posts, I’m sure it was clear how badly I needed a vacation. And it was right as I was reaching my breaking point that my trip toBamako,MaliandDakar,Senegalhad finally arrived. I had been planning a five day trip inBamako, five days inDakarand then a weekend Jazz Festival on theislandofSt. Louis….a small island off the coast ofSenegal. This was one of the best vacations I have had sincePuerto Rico. The only bad thing was all of the traveling and carrying my own heavy bag. We had a comfortable 12 hour bus ride all the way intoBamako. The first like 4 hours at the border were full of getting on and off of the bus to have our passports checked  and then to buy our Malian Visas. As we are buying our visas, the men take our passports and stamp them and then hand us a small piece of paper that they say is our receipt…ok..sounds normal. Anyway, we continue toMaliand have an amazing time. Some of the highlights:Bamakois beautiful more developed then Ouaga. So we went a little crazy being in a more developed place then the one we had been stuck in for about a year….foreshadow forDakar. I took a day to myself and wound up at the Cultural Palace of Bamako.  The cultural palace was this beautiful outdoor cultural center, with festivals, live music and art. There, I met a group of Malian police officers who invited me to drink tea with them and eat. We sat and chatted for hours eating authentic Malian food and drinking tea. After leaving them I met some struggling artists that worked on the art exhibit there. Again, we drank tea and they let me paint a Batik that one of the artists had in his sketch book.  It was definitely one of the best days I have ever had. I know that this may seem a little shocking, and I hope my grandmother never reads this, because you can’t do things like this inAmerica. You can’t expect strangers to randomly offer you food and free art and tea without thinking that they are trying to poison or kidnap you…especially if you are a woman and alone. ButBamakois notAmericaand I had the best time with all of those strangers.  On toDakar…or wait…not just yet. We were to fly roundtrip fromBamakotoDakarand so we went to the airport. As they are checking our passports and visas, they tell me that I don’t have a visa. I’m like what the hell are you talking about, yes I do, I bought it at the border. You just saw the stamp in my passport. The man is like, “No its the slip of paper that they gave you..that is the visa.” Do you know where that little scrap of paper was? Right, neither did I. Needless to say I started cursing everyone out because they knew that I had to have bought the visas if they “stamped my passport with the receipt”…what kind of sense does that make? I still had to go and buy another visa which pissed me off.  NowDakar. Off the bat, the weather was amazing.  I was greeted at the airport buy one of my friends from Howard, who had been working inDakar. It was such a nice feeling to see someone from home. That same night she took us to a party with a collective mix of Black people from around the world. It reminded me of a Howard house party…oh the memories :) All in all,Dakarwas beautiful and way more developed thanBamako. What I loved about it was how developed it was but not in a globalized way. We didn’t pass any McDonalds or Starbucks but they had fast food chains. We even went into a real grocery store that was connected to a mall. I had a serious culture shock. I forgot that so many foods existed and could be bought in one place! Anyway, I lovedDakar, but we had to go and see whatSt. Louisand the Jazz festival were about.  We wound up doing only one night of the Jazz Festival because we found out that we could go to the local night clubs and hear those same bands play live and all we had to do was buy drinks…so of course that’s what we did. Now, I can tell you a good story aboutSt. Louis, or a very disturbing one….I will tell them both but with brevity. Our last night inSt. Louiswe crashed a huge boat party. It was the best. There was an amazing live jazz band fromMaliplaying all night, dancing, free food and drinks on a huge ship. That was the best night of the whole trip. And now the disturbing story. We were looking for a good beach to go to on this small island and could not find a single one. Do you know why? Because all of the beaches were lined with not only trash and dead animals (I saw a dead shark, pelican, and sea turtle among the many dead fish) but with kids defecating in the water! We walked, and walked for miles alongside kids playing and defecating in the Ocean. Horrible, I know. But I will say that the Beaches in Dakar were amazing. There were so many beautiful islands with clean and beautiful beaches, but thank god the St. Louis beach-thing was at the end of the trip because I can’t go back into beach water.

All in all, it was an amazing vacation and I didn’t think I would want to go back to village afterwards. But I actually had feelings of the exact opposite sentiments. I was even more motivated to get back and start projects.

LIFE IN VILLAGE

Before I list the projects I have been working on, I will tell a quick awkward story that happened to me in village. A Muslim friend of mine was getting married…and I knew this…she told me the day before just to make sure I didn’t forget. So I woke up the morning of the wedding, got dressed and went to her house for the party.  Normal so far right? As I’m walking to the house I see all of the men outside in their traditional garbs and women bringing gifts for the bride. I, on the other hand, was walking in plain view towards all of these people with skinny jeans on and a vest with a tank top underneath and worst of all, empty handed….completely inappropriate.  I should note that women in my village DO NOT wear pants and men DO NOT respect women who wear clothes traditionally made for men….a whole other issue that I don’t have time to address. However, I can wear pants on an everyday basis because they don’t look at me as an African woman. But not at a wedding; and everyone had already seen me. So I acted like I stopped by just to make sure that the wedding was that day and I planned on going home again to change and bring the “already-purchased” gift.  No one said anything about what I was wearing, nor did I get any sideways glances (or none that I noticed or understood). Nevertheless, I was walking back to my house like “What is wrong with you?” So inappropriate on so many levels.  Ok, now projects. I have been spending a lot of time giving health lessons at the local primary school and doing one on one nutrition consultations with women who want to improve their child’s nutrition and health.  I’m am currently working on putting together a girls camp over the summer for about ten to fifteen girls ranging from ages  thirteen to sixteen. The camp will be three days a week  for a month following three themes: English, Art and Health.  They take English in school and most of the students struggle with it because they have horrible professors who can’t even speak English with me. So I hope to teach them English using black politics and literature.  I’m really excited about that part. Then, there is no real expression through art here. If its not singing at church, kids don’t play instruments or even color.  As a big fan of the arts, I find it fitting that we have art lessons where the girls can express themselves in various artistic ways. SO…..If you all would like to send art supplies like color pencils and sketch pads or water color paints and you think it you could send it before the end of July, it would be greatly appreciated. Otherwise, we will be using natural paints and sketch pads lol. I also have a summer project working in my district capital at our CREN. A CREN is where the village clinics send extremely malnourished children for rehabilitation. The only problem is our CREN does not know how to rehabilitate these children, nor do they have sufficient resources. My nearest PCV neighbor and I are going to do a training with the staff for about ten days and help to restructure our district’s CREN. I know it sounds like a lot and like my days are packed full of activities but that is so not the case.

THE HARD PART

Being in village is usually boring as hell. Especially compared to my hectic life in the U.S. I know you are probably thinking, “But you have free time to read and play guitar and write poetry and do yoga, how could it be boring?” Yes, I do have the time to do all of those things but when its 110 degrees outside…who is doing any of that? I explained to someone recently who said they envied me for being able to read so many books that, its not the same as when you are in the U.S. reading a book on a couch with AC, and snack foods at your disposal. No, I’m reading these books under extreme conditions: sitting outside, (because its ten degrees hotter inside) swatting the millions of flies that keep touching me and sweating like a fugitive. So I’m sure you can imagine what its like if we are talking about playing my guitar or doing yoga. Not even possible. The moral of the story is that village is very boring when its hot. On rainy days, I actually do all of the above mentioned activities in one day! But when it doesn’t rain, which is usually the case, I spend a lot of time finding people to talk to but trying not to have to move too much because its too hot.  Most of the people in my village don’t speak French and my Bissa is not proficient enough to just hold full conversations with people, which means, I spend a lot of time thinking about everything. Especially since I read so much, I am in a perpetual state of critical thinking or just reminiscing or thinking about the future.  I even started raising chickens to keep myself somewhat busy…..we actually just ate one of them tonight at my neighbor’s house. Oh and STOP TELLING ME HOW LONG A YEAR IS BEFORE I COME HOME!  Every time I speak to someone in the U.S. they ask me when I’m coming home and I tell them I have about a year left, I have to hear…“Damm! That’s a long time.” Or “You can’t even come and visit?” Yes, I know that a year is a long time but it doesn’t help if everyone keeps telling me that; and No, I can’t come home and visit because the plane ticket is like two thousand dollars roundtrip. Although I would love to see everyone, that ticket price is just a little bit out of my league. All of my vacations will be on this continent. I know it sounds tough but I have come to the conclusion that I am a mental masochist. I love putting myself in mentally stressful conditions just to see how I can overcome and reach the next level of enlightenment. SO STOP ASKING ME IF I’M COMING HOME SOON, OR WHEN I’M COMING HOME. Here is your eternal answer…. Unless there is some secret santa somewhere willing to front that plane ticket, you will not see me until August 2012.

Well that about sums it up then. To my family and friends, you have no idea how much you are missed and occupy my thoughts. Thanks so much for all of the packages and letters, they really do mean the world to me. Also, thanks to those of you who take the time to send me lengthy emails in response to any update I send you (I hate sending someone a long personal email and they reply with one line). Again, to my friends and family, its painful how much I miss you all. I’m sure I will be hearing from you all soon!

Peace and Blessings

Song: Gnarls Barkley- St. Elsewhere

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