Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gettin Settled

I have now been living at site for close to 2 months, and it's fantastic! My house is very nice, and I have electricity but no running water. Now that I am living in the western part of the country where Jula, not Moore, is the dominant language, you will all be happy to know that I am no longer called nasara on a daily basis because the Jula equivalent is "tubabu", which to me sounds much friendlier.
Home sweet home as seen from the gate.

Until the end of March I am in my "etude de milieu" period. For the first 3 months we are living in our new communities, we are not really doing "work" per say, but just trying to integrate into our new communities. I have 2 counterparts in the association who are kind of like aunts "tanti"  who are showing me the ropes. So far I have had meetings of introduction with the mayor, secretary general, president of the action the social action, the the national police chief, the commandant of the gendarmes, the priests, grand imam, and of course, the chief of the village. So far my most nerve racking but productive meeting has been with the chief of the village. I was nervous about making some giant mistake in front of him and creating a cultural discord my very first week, but it went very well and since then I have visited a couple of times and he has been explaining to me that he is the member of a group of chiefs country-wide who work together on various health initiatives like HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.  He is very well educated, and even has a laptop, on which we watched some videos from the mask festival that happens every 2 years. Overall I am feeling better integrated in my community every day.

Once my etude period is complete, I will be working full time with an association of 30 women. Their association requested a volunteer to work with them on 2 separate projects. My groupment has a large field about 12 kilometers from my city. They cultivate and sell various crops throughout the course of the year. Currently, we are transplanting our pepinieres of onions into the larger plots of land. I rode my bike out with a few women from the association last week and helped them plant the onions. It have had some practice, but its still hard work for me, but with women who do the same work as me with a child attached to their back, it puts me in my place pretty quickly. Their fields are right next to the river and from what I can gather so far, they received grant money from an NGO to build a solar irrigation system. Through my basic understanding of solar technology, I the panels create the energy they need to operate a pump, which provides water to the fields. Its pretty amazing to see it at work, and although its exhausting work to bike 24k a day and spend a full day in the sun planting, I am really excited to spend time outside and work with them to improve their agriculture techniques and marketing so they can have be more productive.

When I finish the etude, I will be splitting my time between heading to the fields  to work with some members in my association and working in the office they have in town. The office specializes in health related outreach and sensibilizations (seminars on educating people about these issues). At this time my association is working hard on projects related to HIV/AIDS, family planning, and malaria prevention. One project that they have expressed interested in working on is a combination of their two separate sectors targeting the malnutrition. In the fields in our neighboring village, my association has started growing moringa trees. The leaves have tons of vitamins and minerals and have been used for centuries worldwide for treatment of various ailments and diseases. Once the baby moringa trees are a little bigger and produce more leaves, we can begin harvesting and using them to create powder or sell the leaves themselves so they can be added to sauces and foods to increase the nutritional value of meals here. Since fruits and many vegetables are seasonal and the prices fluctuate based on the seasons it is difficult to introduce balanced diets. Hopefully, this will help.  I have taken the time to list some of the benefits of morgina below for your own benefit, because it is delicious and its very, very good for you too.

Gram for gram, Moringa leaves contain:
  • 7 times the vitamin C in oranges
  • 4 times the calcium in milk
  • 4 times the vitamin A in carrots
  • 2 times the protein in milk
  • 3 times the potassium in bananas
So you can see why this is such an important project, and why I am so excited to get started. I have already started planting moringa trees in my garden, and have included a picture below. 
    My baby moringa tree

    my kid neighbors helping me do my laundry

    my new puppy

    jump rope club

    neighbors who come by to jump rope daily

    my family gave me this dress as a gift before i moved out, this is my and my little brother marguid

    planting onions in tenado
    me and my friend kailey with the ambassador

    the ambassador addresses us at our swearing in ceremony

     Things are going extremely well at my site. As you can see from the pictures, I have a group of neighboring kids who are frequently at my house to play, or watch me do my dishes, or help with laundry, or just sit and watch me sit in a chair. My neighbors have been very welcoming as well, and I have even been invited to have dinner with a few families. I went to visit my neighbor Madame Kindo two weeks ago, and even though I had already eaten, she insisted that I try her soup. I was hesitant because when it was placed in front of me, I thought it was chicken soup, which had given me food poisoning during stage. But as with many places, it is highly impolite to refuse food, so I had to give it a try, and when I took a bite, it was very tasty. I then complimented Mme Kindo by saying "this chicken soup is delicious!" She answered back the the wonerful soup that I was eating was not chicken but rather, made from an animal from the brush. My heart stopped for a second before she finally confirmed my suspicions. I was, in fact eating a hearty bowl of rat soup. Those of you that know me, will know that my facial expressions are very telling and she started laughing at me immediately. But to be honest, I did keep eating it, because it was very good, but stopped in my tracks immediately when I saw the tail, which when I told her I was full, she happily slurped up. On a related note, I have also tried antelope, which was 10x better than any of the other meats I have had in this country.

    Christmas here was quite a production. I went to Christmas eve mass at the cathedral with my counterparts son, and his wife and baby daughter. The mass was 4 hours, (we left early) but very interesting and entertaining. There is so much singing, clapping and drumming that at times, the mass seems more like a party than a service. The people here really wear their faith "on their sleeve". This actually happens to be true since many of the fabrics sold here which people buy have the baby jesus, virgin mary or religious messages on them. Ill try and get some picture examples for you. On Christmas day I went and had breakfast with my sitemate Daniel who lives less than a kilometer from me. We made eggs, and since he had a coffee pot, we had REAL coffee, which to me was the best Christmas present I could have recieved.

    That evening I went with my other counterpart to dinner with her pastor at his home. On large holidays, it is customary for you to go and saluer/greet your neighbors who are celebrating that particular holiday. So, my counterpart and I went around to the various Catholic/Protestant neighbors and wished them a happy Christmas, staying anywhere from 10mins to and hour with each family, and of course, eating along the way. It was a great first Christmas season in Burkina, and I can't wait for more holidays coming up!

    Saturday, December 18, 2010

    I am an official volunteer!

    Special Announcement: I am officially a volunteer! (but ill explain the week first)
    Sorry its been so long, things have been very busy, so ill try and catch you all up quickly.
    On Monday we had our thank you ceremony for our host families and spent our final night at our homes. It all went very smoothly. When I got home from the ceremony I finished packing all my stuff, and when my mom got home she had with her a dress and shirt that she had made for me as a parting cadeau (gift). The dress fit pretty well and was very nice. It is a pagne with the American and Burkinabe flag on it, its all the rage right now especially among my fellow volunteers because Burkina just had their independence celebration last weekend. The shirt however, was a different story. I remembered having seen the particular pattern my first night staying with my family. The last volunteer they hosted was wearing the same shirt, and my mom was wearing a matching outfit of the same material. Unfortunately, she had gotten the same size shirt made for me that she had made for the previous volunteer who was a boy who is not my size, so I looked pretty ridiculous, but lets be honest, it’s the thought that counts and now Trent (previous volunteer) and I have matching clothes! The rest of the evening was spent laughing, doing a photo shoot and helping me pack.
    I woke up Tuesday and spent a little time with my family before riding off to the center for the rest of the day for exit interviews and last minute administrative things to do. I spent the day with friends, we had a leisurely lunch and then I ran back and forth to see the tailor to make sure my dress was almost finished for the swearing in ceremony Thursday. That evening we had a talent show and it was fantastic! Virtually everyone in our stage had something to contribute and it was pretty hilarious.
    We left very early on Wednesday for Ouaga. We had an administrative session and received our checkbooks and then hit the town to buy lunch, get money from the poste and shop for our soon to be homes. Since I will be living in a big city, I didn’t do much shopping and just spent time with my friends and helped them shop for their new homes. We went out to dinner, took it easy and just enjoyed having internet in our hotel room on Wed night.
    Thursday was the main event. We woke up early, did some shopping, and then came back to the hotel to get ready for the ceremony. Our entire stage of 30 people all bought matching pagne (fabric) and had outfits made for it, so we were a little overwhelming. (Incidentally, later that night a few friends and I were mistaken for stewardesses because of our matching attire.) The ceremony took place at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Ouaga and it was a BIG DEAL. Dignitaries from the government, NGOs and associations were there and it was taped for national tv. The country director, the ambassador and a top ranking minister gave speeches in French and it was very well done. 7 of my stage-mates were chosen to give speeches in each of the local languages that our stage has been learning. They were all truly amazing even though I could only really understand the speech in French and a little of the Moore and Jula speeches. Then we were officially sworn in as volunteers by the ambassador. It’s the same speech that they use for the President, so I am sure you all know it, and it was really cool. Interesting and exciting as it was for all of us to FINALLY be volunteers, the real excitement came in the fact that there was cold draft beer and cake to eat after the ceremony. It was heavenly, the cake tasted like cake and the little quiches had actual cheese which was really a treat for us. It was kind of embarrassing for 30 well dressed and official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) to be stalking the cater waiters to see if they were serving more finger foods, but you get over that kind of thing quickly here. After the ceremony I went out for dinner with friends from stage, and then we met up with more people and went dancing. It was a great way to end our training. I slept for 2 hours before waking up at 6 to get ready to leave for the bus station (gare). For me, it was a tearful goodbye with my friends the next day. As excited as I am to get to site and start my new life, I can’t help but be sad about leaving the people I have come to know so well over the past two months. It doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, since I have only known these people 2 months, but its difficult to say 2 sets of such important goodbyes: to family and friends at home & to my new host family here, and to my friends. But as is generally the case, goodbyes, though sad, lead to new hellos somewhere else and today I begin the journey to my new home.
    It is 7 am here in Bobo, and I am leaving in a little less than an hour to go to my new home. Most of my friends have already been at their new sites for 2 days, and I will be the last volunteer who left Ouaga Friday to arrive at my new home. I am very excited, a little nervous and ready to start my new life here. I had the opportunity to meet my counterpart (ill explain in a different posting) 2 weeks ago. Her name is Odette and she is the secretary of the women’s association that I will be partnered with for the next two years. This organization’s priorities will be my top priorities over the next two years and I will work closely with them to improve/expand their agro-business. I am hoping that Odette will meet me at my house and show me around the city a little bit. I have NOTHING in my new house, since it has just recently been built, so I will have to buy everything I need from a chair to sit on, to spoons to eat with over the next few weeks. I am waiting to buy supplies until I get to site so that I can get to know people in the marche, vendors, work on my language skills, and get to know my way around, and start to integrate into my community all at once. (hopefully this strategy will prove effective) In any event, check out my photos on my facebook page and wish me luck on my big move! As always, thanks for reading! Miss you all!

    Thursday, December 2, 2010


    We have classes from 8am-5pm everyday at our training center and then various activities afterwards, like tutoring and technical skills. We started a garden in our schoolyard and its going very well. We are growing okra, salad, tomatoes, haricots, moringa trees, onion, corn, cabbage, and wild eggplants. It’s pretty exciting to finally be doing something productive and working with my hands again. The classes vary, but we usually have language for at least 5 hours/day. The rest of the day consists of safety and security briefings, cultural sensitivity training, technical training for our projects (marketing, accounting/bookkeeping, gardening) and medical training. Soon we will be learning how to make mud stoves, desert fridges and how to compost properly. I am very excited to learn how to make the last two things, I think it will aid me greatly when I finally get to site.
    Over the Halloween weekend we went on Demystification (Demyst). We were all split into groups with our LCFs (Language Cultural Facilitators) and were sent to various parts of the country to spend the weekend with a currently serving volunteer. I was sent to the south, to the FARTHEST site they sent trainees for Demyst. On Thursday morning we took the bus from our training site in Koudougou to Ouaga, and spent the day touring the Peace Corps central office, and getting prepared for our journey the following day and visiting the transit house. The transit house is lodging for currently serving PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) to stay in when they come to Ouaga. You have to pay each night you stay, but it’s pretty great. They have nice beds, a full kitchen with a stove and oven and fridge, tons of books and movies, and a screened in porch and great room. The transit house looks like a tropical style Real World House circa 1990, but it already feels like another home away from home and I can’t wait to organize people from my stage to meet there for a weekend when we finish our first 3 months at site. I got pretty spoiled on this day/night in Ouaga  because the hotel we stayed in had air conditioning, and I got 2 letters from Matt and Amy (thanks by the way!) That evening, the SED trainees (Small Enterprise Development) were invited to my boss’s house for dinner. After eating rice with sauce, spaghetti and to with our families for virtually all of our meals for the last 3 weeks, when Dan’s wife brought out chips, salsa and burritos we were drooling all over his beautiful home.
    The next morning we woke up at 5am and took an 8 hour transport to our Demyst destination. The bus was pretty comfortable and I spent a great deal of the journey watching highly amusing Burkinabe music videos which were played on a tv that was literally bungee corded to the ceiling. (The tv would literally bounce to the beat of the music video at some points). In any event, in between these videos, it was amazing to look out the window and watch the terrain change from dusty and flat to verdant, hilly, and beautiful in the south. When we got off the bus, our host PCV greeted us. His name is Keith and he is the spitting image of a modern day Bobby Kennedy and I got really lucky being matched with him for Demyst. He was a welcome and friendly face after our first major traveling adventure in country. We arrived in the middle of the day just in time to see the bustling city of Bobo come to almost a full stop for afternoon prayer. As we walked aounr and entered the grande marche I looked down one of the streets, and instead of the usual activity of bikes and motos sprinting from one end to the other, it was eerily quiet with row after row of men who lined the width and length of the street on their prayer mats waiting for the call to prayer from the mosque. At the gas station, instead of cars and motos parked next to the pumps, there were also men readying themselves for the prayer, if a moto needed gas, they would simply have to wait until after the prayer was over, because there was simply no room for them to move around and all the pumps were blocked. In that moment I couldn’t help but think about this situation being translated back into the States.
    We took a bush taxi to Keith’s site another 2 hours away. Our taxi was a glorified truck with hot black leather seats and men, women, babies and animals were cramped into every square inch of the back cab. There was no glass or screens in the windows so we got a very hot, dusty, but welcome breeze all the way there. We made a ton of stops on the way to our destination and the taxi staff who rode on the top of the vehicle with all the luggage, bikes and animals who would not fit inside, would jump down and climb back up when we would stop to load/unload people’s belongings. I was abruptly awakened from a restless sleep a few times to find a staffers boot coming through my window/armrest to use as a foothold as he scrambled back up on top of the taxi.
    Our weekend on Demyst was amazing. We were able to see a different part of the country, see an actual volunteer site and home, and get a real sense of what exactly we will be experiencing a little less than a month from now. We met the association members who Keith will work with for his project, and they were very friendly and helpful in explaining the purpose of their organization and how much they enjoyed working with PCVs. Keith is the “3rd Generation” which means that there have been 2 other volunteers at his site before him. The way the site selection process works is: a village/organization/association has to request a volunteer. In order to get a volunteer there is a very stringent selection process, complete with tons of paperwork, site visits from Peace Corps staff, meetings with Associations/members and housing selection. A village can have a volunteer in cycles of 6 years, so after Keith leaves his site 2 years from now, there will not be another volunteer replacing him. I believe that in a few years, the village can request another volunteer, but there is another waiting period, which I believe is a few years, before they can get another one.
    Keith was very welcoming and his home was very nice, but he was also fantastic cook also so we got really really spoiled that weekend. It was comforting to see that there is a whole realm of food possibilities that exists outside of our life here in Koudougou where our families make most of our meals. Don’t get me wrong, my family is GREAT and they are excellent cooks, but no matter how much I like eating the to, spaghetti, goat and fish each night it will be nice to be able to have some control over what I am eating and vary my diet a little more. Our first night Keith made us rice with a spicy coconut curry sauce (SO GOOD) once I get the recipe, I will be asking you all to send me some ingredients. On our second day there two large chickens were delivered and later Keith’s brother and sister made us fried chicken which was nothing like the Colonel’s but delicious nonetheless. Saturday was Halloween and we spent the day touring the marche, talking with people in his village, having language class, and finally getting a chance to observe the repo (siesta period) in the middle of the day. I finished a fantastic book that Jack gave me before I left and was able to write in my journal a little bit. We had a few language classes and bought a large watermelon in lieu of a pumpkin which we later carved into a jack-o-lantern and named Fahto, which in Jula means “crazy”. As you can imagine, my first American holiday in country was celebrated with much success! Demyst was a great experience and it was sad to leave Keith because we had so much fun, but it really did finally help focus my view of the kind of life a PCV leads and it has only made me that much more excited for December when I will get to swear in. 
     (Sorry these posts are so behind!) Ill catch up soon I promise.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010


    My house in Koudougou
    My Burkinabe Momma & Omeima
    My Burkinabe Family! Rassida-tou is holding Omeima, Maguid, Rashida-tou & Alima!     

    The Airport

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    Cell Phone!


    if you are so inclined, you can purchase international calling cards, or skype minutes, or gmail phone time and call me. i have great service and i will definitely pick up (if i am not in class) please call me! Its VERY expensive for me to call you guys, its way cheaper for you to get skype mins, so if you want to talk to me (which i hope you do...) you are going to have to do some leg work.

    International Code: 226
    Kates Cell: 74 51 03 51

    I can't wait to hear from you!

    My Daily, but anything but routine, Routine

    In the morning when I wake up, Rassi-Ratou gets me a large bucket of water and places it in my “shower. This process was surprisingly not difficult to get used to and is really refreshing everyday. Sitting in class in the sweltering heat, I am already looking forward to my nightly bucket bath. In any event, the bucket is a large plastic one that we in the states use for mopping floors. Rassi-Ratou fills it with water from the well ( I am not allowed to get the water for myself…yet because it takes some finesse and strength that I don’t possess, not to mention I could fall in) There is a cinderblock in the shower that I can sit on and then I take cup-fulls of water and dump it over myself. After I get all soapy, then I dunk my head into the bucket to wet my hair, then wash my hair and finally dump the remaining bucket contents over myself to rinse off. Between squatting when I bathe, use the latrine and riding my bike all over creation, I am certain that my legs are getting stronger quickly.
    By the time I wake up at 6:15 everyday, my family has already been up for 2-3 hours. My family is Muslim, and there is a call to prayer each morning at 4:15 am so for the first few days I would wake up then for a few mins and then go back to sleep, but last night I didn’t hear it at all. After I am all clean from my very cold but refreshing bucket bath, I sit down and eat breakfast by myself. Since I got here my breakfast has consisted of 1 baguette with butter and jam, a cup of tea or instant coffee, and an anti-malarial pill.
    On Wed morning last week, my first morning eating breakfast at my new home, I made the mistake of taking my anti-malarial pill before I ate. Even though I was able to eat the rather odd dinner of spaghetti with fish/goat and some to (essentially cream of wheat) with a sauce made of vegetables and peanuts without incident, when I sat down the next morning to eat my very plain breakfast I took like 3 bites and had to run to the latrine and throw up, then back again a few minutes later. Because it was my first day there, and my language skills are not quite there yet, it was quite difficult to explain to my sister-in-law that it wasn’t the very delicious breakfast that she had made me that made me sick, but rather the medicine. Even though that was quite embarrassing, I think we have finally moved beyond it.
    After breakfast, I get on my bike and ride to school. The trip takes about 10-15 minutes,  it’s not very far at all. It would be like riding from my house in GP to Grosse Pointe South. Here in Burkina, there are a quite a number of spoken languages. My family speaks French, Djula, Moore and some Arabic (for religious reasons) my sister Rassi-Ratou, Rashida-tou and Maumauni also speak some English. In Koudougou where I live now, Moore is the dominant language other than French. Whenever any of us leave our homes or training center, we are greeted by the people on the streets yelling “nasara nasara!!” or “le blanc le blanc!” Nasara is the Moore word for foreigner and le blanc is French for white. Even in casual conversation at home, my family refers to me as nasara.
    The other night at dinner (when I finally got them to eat with me, not by myself) I used all the French I could muster to tell them as directly as possible that my name is NOT "nasara" and that they can call me Kate or Kaytah (my new Moore name) only. Since we had this discussion and after they all spent a good amount of time laughing at me, (which is a favorite pastime at my home) they no longer refer to me as nasara in my presence. I have taken this as a sign that my language skills are improving. 
    Right around the same time as Thanksgiving, (which we are planning as a stage group) is the Muslim holiday of Tabaski. I am really excited because the staff will give us the afternoon off the celebrate with our families and I could not be more excited to finally spend some time with my family and learn about their religion and cultural traditions.  Ill keep you posted on how that goes.

    Adoption Ceremony 10-19-10

    I moved in with my host family last week on Tuesday. We had a session devoted entirely to home stays where we learned the cultural practices and norms for living with a Burkinabe family. This session was probably the most useful one that we have had thus far.  We learned about the family structures here and the best ways to interpret behaviors. My family is atypical because there is no patriarch. My Mama is the head of the household because her husband died awhile back. I would guess that she is in her 40s or 50s, but it is difficult to tell because its extremely difficult to tell people’s ages here. Mama has 2 daughters Rashida-tou, who is 18, and Alima who is 11. She has one son, Maumauni and I don’t know how old he is, but he is probably in his 20s or so and works at the marche (market) selling pagne (fabric). Maumauni is married to Rassi-Ratou and they have 2 children who also live with us. Maguid is a 3 year old boy and Omeima (baby girl) who is 4 months old.  The children are super cute, although they were a little leery of me when I first arrived.
    On Tuesday after the home stay session, we packed up all our stuff and went into a large hall where all the family heads or representatives were seated and there was a brief ceremony. The families were called up to the front of the room and then they called us up to meet our families. Mama, Maguid, and Rassi-Ratou and Omeima were there to greet me. The PCVFs (Peace Corps Volunteer Facilitators) made fun of me later on because I had such a large entourage to take me to my new home. After the ceremony, I followed them on my bike while they rode their motos. There are no “baby bjorns” here (which incidentally were invented by a Peace Corps Volunteer) so babies are literally tossed on the backs of their mothers and tied in with a large piece of fabric. When my sister-in-law Rassi-Ratou faces me with the baby on her back, there are two tiny feet that stick out from her hips which make her look like she has two extra arms which move independently of her. I find this pretty hilarious, but because we have such strict laws in the U.S. with car seats and seatbelts, I am extremely nervous when I see women traveling on motos with their children strapped in with little more than a bed sheet, but c’est la vie.
    My home is very nice by Burkinabe standards. There are two residences in our compound, one for Mama, Rashida-tou, Alima and me and one for Rassi-Ratou, Maumauni, Maguid and Omeima. In my house, There are two bedrooms, one for Mama and one for me, a main room which hase some couches and a tv, and a small closet with a tile floor and drain where I take my bucket baths twice a day. We spend most of our time in the courtyard because it is significantly cooler out there. I keep wanting to sleep outside in my bughut because my room is so hot, but I have not ventured out there yet.
    Some of the volunteers were nervous about living with their host families, and it would be a lie if I said that I didn’t have concerns, but it has really been a smooth transition. My family is extremely welcoming and patient with me and we have a lot of fun together. I am their 3rd Peace Corps Trainee to stay with them so the first night I spent time looking at 5 pictures of the family with the former volunteer who stayed with them. I think they liked him a lot because in one of the pictures, they are all wearing matching outfits, I can only hope that will be me in time. I have some pictures of my family below.

    Arrival in Burkina!

    Hello Everyone! Sorry I haven't written in awhile, I have had no internet access for the last few weeks, but one of my fellow stagieres lives with a family that owns a cyber cafe, so get ready for more regular postings. I wrote the following few entries on my arrival so I know they are a little dated, but I thought you might like to get my first impressions anyway.
    Burkina Faso is an amazing place. Simply arriving at the airport was an adventure in and of itself. When we were flying in, all we could see out of the giant plane coming from Brussels was red; red ground, red roads, red homes, red everything. In fact, in flying I got an opportunity to see how into color coordination the good Lord really is. Ocean,:blue Europe: green, Sahara: yellow/orange, Burkina: RED. This is quite the change coming from the mid-west where everything is green or changing colors, as Im sure it is now as Halloweeen approaches.
    In any event, the airport is a few strips of pavement with a small lookout tower where you would have traditionally seen very technologically advanced looking air traffic control command center. Although I laughed to myself as the stair-car approached the plane exit because I love the tv show “Arrested Development,” when we finally exited the plane, the steamy air hit me so hard that I was sure I wouldn’t make it to the bottom of those hilarious stair-car stairs. We took a bus approximately 20 yards to the “terminal” which is a cinder block building with cement/dirt floors and plywood all around. There is no fancy customs check-in or metal detectors, no surly and miserable looking TSA agents, just a few policemen behind a desk and a bunch of people who sat staring at the gaggle of mostly white foreigners who just landed looking deliriously excited. “Baggage claim” is some large 12x12  blocks that the air staff sets your bag on. The staff literally tows the luggage into the terminal on large drays, the likes of which I haven’t seen since my time on Mackinac Island, and even then the horses towed the weight. Here, everything is different. 
    When we got through customs, the Peace Corps staff was waiting for us, holding signs with the Peace Corps symbol on it beckoning us into our new home country. After getting our 80lbs of essentials, we walked out into the street to find our vehicles. Waiting for us at the bus were more Peace Corps staff with GIGANTIC water bottles, they were the most welcome sight I have ever seen and I have never drank 2 litres of water so quickly in my life. After packing 31 anxious volunteers onto a bus, we started the drive from the airport to our hotel.
    I had oh, so many misconceptions about Ouaga. First, when I used to think of a big city, a capital, I would think of it having a few large buildings, paved roads, street lights. This is absolutely not the case in Ouaga (pronounced Waa-gaa). Virtually the entire city is the same height level, with probably 2 stories -3 stories max but the vast majority are 1 story. As if I wasn’t excited enough, the drive from the airport to the hotel was probably only like 20 mins, but there was just SO much to see! Everyone wears such colorful clothes, its so beautiful to look out into the streets and see the red roads contrasted with a medley of colored cloth and goods. My senses were overwhelmed with the sights of the city. I only considered for a second that I might be doing something rude sitting with my faced pressed against the window gaping at the people and sights of the streets of Ouaga, but as you can imagine I got over that pretty quickly.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Destination Day

    Hello Everyone!

        I am at JFK Airport enjoying a delicious chicken quesadilla and a glass of scotch in a super trendy bar with great music called "drinks". The past two days have been the most deliriously exciting days of my life. I already feel that I have grown up so much just having taken such giant steps to get to this little airport bar. I slept for an hour on Monday night before departing for Philly on Tuesday at 7am. I spent the night packing the goods you saw below, and spending time with my amazing family (minus Laura who was back at school but there in spirit). Chris, Mom and Dad took me to the airport, and after a very very tearful set of goodbyes I boarded the plane before it took off, and didn't wake up until after we had landed in Philly. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn't help humming "flip flip flip-adelphia" to myself after we landed. To you, this may not be funny, but I am a big fan of the FX tv show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. If you haven't seen it, give it a shot. Who knows you might like it.

         I love Philidelphia! Its so beautiful and you can FEEL the history seeping out of all the sights and directly into your memories of middle school social studies texts and the tv cartoon that I loved: Liberty's Kids. The things I saw look strangely familiar. From the plane, I got on a shuttle to the Holiday Inn in the historic district. Its a really nice hotel and right in the CENTER of everything. I arrived early, and I was staving so I took a walk around the hotel. I ordered a cheese steak (what else would you order here?) and walked around. As soon as I turned the corner, I saw a group tour of full grown men in matching blue oxfords being led by a woman dressed in revolutionary war period clothes. They were too far, so I couldn't hear what she was saying, but literally seconds after i got my order, a horse and carriage tour passed by me. I grabbed my sandwich and walked at such a pace so that I could casually keep up with the horse and hear what the woman was saying about the area. I followed this tour for about  a block then turned the corner. I ended up at the Philly visitors center where I sat on a nice park bench and ate the rest of my sandwich . Our hotel is in a great area, blocks from the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin's grave, and a bunch of other great places, including a coffee shop called Cafe Ole. mmm coffee.

        We started training at 12:30, and as is fitting with the Peace Corps, we did MORE paperwork. There are 31 volunteers in my mission class. We will all be going to Burkina. The oldest is 64, and the youngest is 21. Everyone is very very nice and cool. We spent the rest of the day talking about the mission statement of the Peace Corps, the goals of our projects, policies and procedures, and agendas for the next few days. We also did some icebreakers, (ew) and some skits and activities which were fun. My table was cool. At the end of the day we got broken into teams and had to elect team leaders, no one else seemed eager to do it, so I volunteered. After we finished with training for the day (around 6:30) Mark Myavec picked me up and took me to dinner at a place called Monks. It was SOOOO GOOD! I would highly recommend it if you are ever in Philly. I had Thai  Curry mussels and a nice Belgian beer called Duvel Green. After a few errands we parted ways, but I had an amazing time, and it was so great to see his friendly face before I left.

       So, I am team leader of group 1 and I am also the Document Group Leader. I have been charged with making sure everyone gets their passports and documentation, gets through security, and gets there safely. I think I have done a great job so far. People are responding well to my methods of leadership, which can be tricky when you are leading a group of leaders.

       I was so excited to get my own passport! I have never had one before so I was a little to eager to show it to the TSA agent when we got to security. I was just a shade under the weight requirements. My first bag was like 38lbs and the second was 46. Good work Chris, Mo, Mom and Amy!
      When we got up today, we went and got our yellow fever shots and then loaded our gear, and ourselves on the bus. After the first 10 mins of our drive, EVERYONE was passed out. We were all so tired from the lack of sleep and high levels of excitement and anxiety. The drive to NYC was uneventful but we had some nice views of the city on the way in, very picturesque. And here I sit, anxious, excited and exhausted. We will leave this airport around 6:30, land in Brussels around 8am, leave Brussles at 11am and arrive in Ouagadougou around 3:30pm. LONG fly time. People in my class are amazed that I have never traveled internationally. They were all shocked to see how excited I was to get my passport and fly over the Atlantic. I told them when I arrive in Brussels that will be the farthest I have ever been from home. This seems to be old hat to many of these volunteers, especially the returning ones. None have served in Burkina but a few have served in Africa and they said its truly amazing. I am so excited, but I am also so very tired. I am going to try and get some napping in before the flight so I can work on my French when we board the plane. I love and miss you all already and I hope you are working on writing and sending me some letters! Thanks for reading! More to come soon!

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    My Packing Piles.

    Misc. Packing Pile: Mini Frisbee, Bungee Cords, Tide to Go,  Bike Helmet, Duct Tape, Crossword Puzzles, Battery Chargers, Journals, Flashlights, Ribbons that my Mom made me bring (already being put to good use)

    Spices, Crystal Light Packets, Tuperware

    Toiletries: Soap, Chapstick, Pepto Bismol, Lotion, Kleenex, Bug Spray, Body Baths, Various other fun items.
    Camelbak, Sleeping Pad, Solar Roll, Northface Pack, Northface Diffel, Steripen, Nalgenes, Bug Hut, Caribiners, Sleeping Bag

    Thank you to everyone who gave me gifts. You made it possible for my to get the equipment I needed to prepare for this exciting new adventure.