Sunday, September 5, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Karfiguela, Burkina Faso
Chez nous

Our dearest friends and families,

Ma ni ce (mah nee chay), merci, thank you for your patience as we grow accustomed to our new schedules and life here in Burkina. We are done with our two months of training and are now living at site! Our village is beautiful—it doesn’t even feel like we’re in the same country. It’s more green and lush than the northern part and the palm trees and small hills in the distance make us feel like we’re on a tropical island minus the ocean and beach. The name of our village is Karfiguela, population ~1000, and it’s near the Cascades (gorgeous waterfalls), the Domes (amazing rock formations), and Banfora (large town with a few restaurants, cold drinks, a good sized marche to buy produce and other goods, and real cheese, which is a rarity outside of Ouaga). Our village does not have electricity (the stars at night are absolutely amazing) and all water comes from the village pumps. The nearest internet cafe is in Banfora, and as with most internet in Burkina, the connection speed and the computers are similar to what was in the U.S. in the early 90s. Be patient with our posting :).

Our house is charming. It was built in the 1970s by either the Chinese or Taiwanese (no one remembers exactly which country they were from and most Burkinabe think anyone who looks like they’re from SE Asia is Chinese – they’re amazed by the diversity of Americans and find it hard to believe that there are Asian Americans, African Americans, etc., but this is a topic for a future post). The roof is metal as are almost all volunteers’ roofs and the floor is cement. The house has a main room for sitting and cooking, a bedroom, an indoor room to bathe in, and an extra room outside that we use as a garage to store our bikes, tools, and other random items. The house was originally built with indoor plumbing and a generator for electricity, so there are little reminders of modern comforts like the non-functioning sink in the indoor bathroom. Our latrine is right next to the house, which is very convenient, and there is a huge mango tree in the front yard that is so very lovely to sit under in the afternoon. April is the start of mango season, so send any recipes our way. We found one recipe for mango wine in the cookbook put together by other volunteers, so we'll let you know how that goes this spring. The house also comes with a group of adorable children who live in the same courtyard. They come over to check on us at least once a day and hang out for a little while on our cement terrace or under the mango tree. We’re going to get some chalk so they can color on the cement and have a place to play.

Living in Africa is a challenge and we are often reminded of American life in the 1800s (Little House on the Prairie, anyone?). Everything takes more time – washing dishes and clothes involves bringing water on our bikes from the nearby pump then scrubbing by hand. We fill a 200L garbage can-sized container in our garage with water and we go through it quickly when it’s a wash day. Preparing meals takes pre-planning as most of our shopping is done in Banfora, which is 8k away or 30 minutes by bike. There is a small boutique in the village that sells some small essentials like tomato paste, drinks ranging from Coke (warm because there’s no electricity for refrigeration) to boxed wine (Karfiguela is mostly Muslim but very “gauche” aka left), bread, small packets of powdered milk, Omo (powdered soap that’s best for clothes but can be used to clean anything), candles, rice, etc. We’re going to attempt to make friends with gardeners in our community and buy as much of our produce in village as we can, but that can prove challenging due to availability and village politics (more later). Needless to say, our appreciation for supermarkets, packaged food, and machines that wash clothes automatically has grown significantly.

We arrived in village this past Thursday after spending a few days in Banfora shopping for whatever items we needed. The quintessential bright white Land Cruiser that all NGOs seem to have, ours with the Peace Corps symbol on the side doors, dropped us off around 8:30 in the morning and our neighbors helped us unload. We didn’t experience what some volunteers do – mild panic when the Peace Corps car pulls away. For one, James and I are together, and two, we’re fortunate enough to have a rare overlap with Kat, the volunteer who we’re replacing. The knowledge transfer from her and other nearby PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) has been amazing, and we’re getting up to speed faster than we imagined. We’re getting to know the community, its needs and wants, the language (the little bit of Karaboro we learned during training is a different dialect than Karfiguela’s Karaboro. Again, more on the language later), and learning all the little things like where a good tailor is (almost all clothes are custom made; you pick out the pagne aka fabric and take it to a tailor and a few days later you have a new outfit), the route to nearby villages (street signs are nonexistent in Burkina except for the occasional few in large cities), where to find the best peanut butter, how to cook well with the available ingredients (we had fried eggplant sandwiches with tomato sauce last night – yum!), etc.

We make small goals each day as we settle into our house and meet community members. It’s rainy season, and everyone cultivates their fields during the day, so most of our interactions and work will be at night when people are around. Our first night in village, Siaka (James's counterpart in village who he'll work with on various projects over the next couple of years; my counterpart is in Bobo right now due to a death in the family, so I haven't met her yet) took us to meet the chief, who curiously was wearing a boubou (long shirt and pant outfit) without the pants. He welcomed and thanked us for coming to Karfiguela and gave us a benediction for the success of our work. Friday we biked to a nearby village to visit another volunteer and go to the awesome marche there to get some fruits and veggies. It poured rain so the ride home was like a refreshing shower. Yesterday we did some laundry and dishes, got water, painted our new table that we’ll use to prepare food on and store dishes (gas burners on the top with shelves underneath), and in the evening we met the President of the Parents’ Association for the primary school and the President of one of the women’s associations.

We have more control over our schedule now, and we promise to write more frequently. We started a list of potential future topics:

Village politics
Serving as a couple and the opportunities for expanding minds
Culture exchange
Karaboro, our new language
The Burkinabe (stereotypes, labeling people, etc.)
Burkinabe children
Medical training, issues, etc.
Burkina fashion
Peace Corps (goals, development philosophy, etc.)
Burkina Faso, the country

Email or post if there’s anything you want to know more about, otherwise we’ll continue to ramble on various items of our choosing.

O ma ple guri (o mah plee gurr-ee),

Julie et James