I’m still a Peace Corps volunteer! Feels nice to write that after the uncertainty that came with the recent (OK, ongoing) political unrest here in the Faso. If you’ve been paying attention to world news, you’ve probably seen the headlines: “Landlocked West Africa in Political Distress”, “Burkina Faso Peace Corps Orders a Standfast: All Volunteers To Remain in Site Until Further Notice”, “Founzan Volunteer Struggles to Make Sandwiches As Laughing Cow Cheese Supplies Slowly Deplete”. If these few headlines (some of which I actually just made up) are news to you, let me summarize the events of this past week with, as always, 100% accuracy and 0% bias.

The Burkinabe population has long expected and feared that Monsieur Son Excellence le President du Burkina of 27 years would refuse to step down next year during the presidential elections. I suppose after 27 years of not stepping down, a pattern was emerging. So when the ruling party announced a National Assembly vote on extending term limits in 2015, the population reacted accordingly by closing schools and boutiques around the country, pulling down Blaise statues, and setting fire to various buildings. When the National Assembly went to vote on removing presidential term limits, protesters in Ouaga chose first to set fire to the parliament building in which the vote was to take place, which affected the voting atmosphere rather negatively and prompted Blaise to go into hiding. Around noon that day, the military took up role as interim president and Blaise was thought to have fled to some desolate, God-forsaken place that would forget his sins, such as Cote d’Ivoire or Ohio. The next day however, Blaise showed back up and declared himself “totally still the Prez”, to which the population responded with a resounding “no ya ain’t”. “Right, sorry”, said Blaise, who then actually did retreat to Cote d’Ivoire in a Jaguar (the car) with sun glasses on, flipping the bird the whole way down. I should clarify which parts of this story really happened and which parts are my own embellishments. I’ll admit to a near 50/50 split, just choose your favorite parts to be real and forget the rest.

So Blaise is in Cote d’Ivoire and the military have taken up the president’s role. The last I heard is that elections will happen in 90 days and that the military has two weeks to give up the power to a civilian, but it all keeps changing. From here though, things look good: the Burkinabe are a very peaceful group of men and women who all have similar goals of democracy, unity, progress, and well brewed tea. I continue to feel very safe and welcome in my community and none of this conflict has anything to do with Peace Corps or the United States. If that’s not enough to keep you from worrying, here’s a short list of the real local issues I’m dealing with.

1.  Derek sleeping like this

he can sit and attract flies from a 3km radius but all I really want him to do is sleep with decency

he can sit and he can stay, but all I really want him to do is sleep with decency

 

2.  Fatao

ya can't choose your neighbors

ya can’t choose your neighbors

 

3.  Vein-y squiggle in right foot turns out to be worm

Wow this is so gross why am I sharing it on the internet

ok wait this is so gross why am I sharing it on the internet

Ok I managed to obtain three photos from the Men As Partners Conference held in Dano at the end of September.  Each one features volunteer Judi Novak’s counterpart, Arjouma, wearing the same shirt.

Bougman and Ardjouma present their group's bystander intervention strategies.

Participants Bougman and Arjouma present their group’s bystander intervention strategies.

Conference facilitators with participant Arjouma during closing ceremony.

Conference facilitators with Arjouma during closing ceremony.

Men As Partners Conference 2014

Men As Partners Conference 2014 (Arjouma three from the left in the middle row)

As far my lycée life goes, this year I’m teaching two 5e classes (7th grade)–one is just my 6e class from last year so they know me (read:  aren’t afraid of me), and the other class is quiet, respectful, and wide-eyed which I’m trying to savor.  Happy birthday this October 18th to my 23-year-old twin little brothers, Nate and Andy.  And congrats on your successes:  Nate as a car owning, rent paying, girlfriend managing middle school teacher in North Carolina, and Andy as the newest member of the homeless community in San Francisco.  I’m very proud of you both.

Founzan Disc Golf Course

Hole 4
76m, straight and open

Besides a clustering of bushes halfway down the fairway on the left, hole 4 is an open straight shot to the basket–an homage to Circleville Park, if you will.  After the first three mild-to-tightly wooded holes of the course, hole 4′s relative distance and lack of threatening obstacles allows the player to really let go of their disc off the teepad.  It’s a lot of fun to backhand a putter up the right side of the fairway and watch it slowly glide to the green.  Yesterday I parked my drive then missed a 4 meter putt, so hole 4 remains un-birdied.

hole 4 fairway from the pad

looking down the fairway from the teepad

approaching hole 4

approaching the green with some of my best disc golf buddies

open fairway and green forces longer putts

Pierre watches an off balance 5m putt fall short and to the left

Hole 5
67m, open dogleg right

The woods we emerged from after hole 3 come back into play 25 meters off the teepad of hole 5, forcing the thrower to either forehand something stable or backhand an anhyzer. Like hole 4, this one is pretty fun to lean into off the teepad, and if you manage the angle of the disc well on the first throw you shouldn’t expect worse than par.  Botch your drive though and you’re either far off in high grass to the left or back into the bush on the right with a difficult par save ahead of you.

hole 5 from teepad

basket visible just to the left of bushes

hole 5 putting

Lamoussa putts bravely past hole 5′s Derek hazard

putting green

hole 5 green

Hole 6
55m, straight on ace race

This installment’s final addition to the FDGC was a last minute realization that I want to get a hole in one with a bunch of African kids as witnesses.  Hole 6′s fairway shoots back out into the field on the left of hole 5 for a short and seemingly easy head-on shot.  It’s not a gimme though; a tree 10 meters in front of the basket with a low hanging branch creates a window that forces low throws, while two trees just meters from the teepad stop any ambitiously wide (to the left or right) drives in their tracks.  For hole 6, the difference between a birdie and a bogey is all in the drive.

teepad

fairway from the teepad

window

window to basket formed by tree branch

My favorite part of installing the middle three holes of the course was getting to play with a guy afterwards who yelled « A ti do! » (Djoula for « It’s not going in ») every time someone lined up a putt.  The first poor sport Djoulaphone disc golfer is born.
Thanks for reading,
Clay

 

 

Hey did you guys know I do more than make middle school aged African kids circumscribe triangles here in Burkina Faso?  I also do gender development work with my Peace Corps friends.  In fact, I haven’t made anyone circumscribe anything in months, I’ve been too busy as Monsieur Le Logisticien of the Men As Partners Conference, held for the first time ever in Dano, Burkina Faso, West Africa, Africa.  My friend Rebecca is on the Gender and Development Committee and said she’d take on the role of Madame La Directrice of the conference if I could choose a centralized city near my village as the location and be in charge of logistics, so I said « Dano if I can handle that », then we laughed because puns are hilarious, and then we put on a conference in Dano.

So last week volunteers from around Burkina Faso showed up at the Musee de la Femme in Dano with their fifteen respective Burkinabe counterparts to attend sessions on topics like men’s health, division of labor in the household, family planning, effective communication, and violence, to name a few.  This group of Burkinabe men was handpicked by volunteers as progressively-thinking community leaders, but even then I have to say I was impressed with their participation and growth over the three and a half day conference.  The men were playing soccer together and drinking tea, becoming friends and, according to an inside source, discussing the session topics after work hours over beers (an uncontrollable goal that facilitators had set beforehand).  The peak of the conference seemed to come Thursday evening during discussions on the different types of violence and harassment that, because of Burkinabe interest and participation, ended up going 40 minutes over the scheduled time, much to the dismay of some antsy volunteers.  Or maybe the peak was the next day during the closing ceremony when participants got up one by one and shared what new knowledge they were excited about bringing back to their communities, their wives, and their children.  How one man planned on not telling his wife what he learned, but showing her through his actions, or how another man admitted that he was once a violent person and had decided that that wasn’t going to be a part of his life anymore.  There’s only so much credit a conference planner like myself can take for moments like these–I realized early on that none of it would have happened if it weren’t for the integrity and passion of the Burkinabe men who took time from their families and jobs to attend the conference with such open minds.  It was pretty remarkable.

And logistically speaking, Whoa! What a conference.  Mosquito nets and mattresses for everyone.  I’m a little worried the participants have already forgotten what they learned about bystander intervention because of how well the mosquito nets were hung around those mattresses.  I was going down to Dano at least once a week for the past month or so getting things like the conference room, volunteer and counterpart lodging, and community contributions ready.  I was at the hospital asking for condoms and the mayor’s office asking for notebooks and free printing while constantly responding to volunteer texts asking questions that were all answered in an email that no one read.  It was super stressful, like hosting a four day long party with no beer or loud music to keep people from complaining about the things the host was doing wrong.  And there did end up being a few things that went wrong.  For example, the volunteer lodging was way too small so the nights that it rained turned into a big, semi-consensual snuggle fest.  Then the guy we agreed to let handle our food was a complete criminal and stole from us, serving us spaghetti with no sauce then rice with onion sauce (that’s not a sauce) and pocketing the extra money.  Dude’s probably halfway to Accra right now with all that CFA.  If you ever plan a conference in Dano don’t do business with a man in a rasta hat named Malick.

Unfortunately, I was so busy tucking mosquito nets into mattresses and getting angry about bad rice sauces that I didn’t take any pictures during the week, but a dude with a camera was present so pictures are on their way (stay tuned).  Tomorrow is the first day of school which, thanks to last year’s « first day of school » experience, I’m not stressing over at all.  I’m not stressing over anything actually, it’s so nice to have such a huge highlight of my service like the MAP Conference on my list of accomplishments as I ease into my second year as a teacher in the Faso.

Thanks for reading, hope everyone is well, send me granola,
Clay

 

 

 

I’ve been super busy with cool, Peace Corps-y, non-ebola related activities this summer in West Africa and I haven’t shared any of it with the internet!  Really didn’t expect my summer here to be so action packed.  Since my last post, I was in Ouaga for my training group’s mid-service conference (huge excuse to get all second year volunteers to poop in cups for medical clearances, disguised as three days of sessions at the PC bureau), went to Ouahigouya with a friend for vacation (home to the fastest internet cafe in country and a pretty sweet pool), then spent a week in Tougan with a few other volunteers studying Dioula and learning to cook.  I celebrated Ramadan at site then went to my COSing friend David’s village, Yaho, for a dolo-filled going away party then stopped in Bobo for a night with friends before heading back to Founzan.  Baskets 4, 5 and 6 of the Founzan Disc Golf Course (FDGC) are nearly finished and will be open/lightly wooded shots through a field behind basket 3, and my first bissap (sweet drink brewed from hibiscus leaves) wine batches are continuing to ferment in my kitchen.

neighborhood kids in their best Ramadan outfits

neighborhood kids in their best Ramadan outfits

loaned my car battery and camera to my neighbors Ramadan night and this is what I got back

loaned car battery and camera to neighbors the night of Ramadan and got this picture back the next day (Ramadan’d too hard)

first 1.5 liters of bissap wine explodes in the night

first 1.5 liters of bissap wine explodes in the night

I’m coming off a busy week after a successful first annual Girls’ Soccer Camp in Bobo, put on by a handful of volunteers with 54 girls ages 8 to 19 from around the Hauts-Bassins region.  The administration at my school in village all left town for the summer so finding the six girls I chose to bring with me to camp was interesting.  I got out my grade sheet from last year and picked the top girls from my classes, only knew where one of them lived, then spent a week biking around to small satellite villages with that one girl I did know looking for the others.  It was fun, it felt like one of those montage scenes in a movie where the protagonist assembles a rag-tag team of delinquents for the upcoming roller coaster of a plot line.  Each house visit went about the same:  the student looked terrified to see her Math teacher during summer months, then beamed in front of her parents when she found out I was there to invite her to Bobo because of her high scores in class.  They had a great time at camp.  We stayed at a three story private school (on the first day all my girls wanted to do was hang out on the top story), and had sessions on things like puberty, family planning, girls’ empowerment, and first aid, along with many soccer drills and games.  Go team purple crocodiles.

Founzan girlz

Founzan girlz in the big city (left to right:  Fatimata, Balkissa, Zenabo)

mia hamm

mia hamm moves

condom water balloon toss

condom water balloon toss

My other big project recently is helping the Gender and Development committee plan the Men As Partners Conference down 42km south of me in a place called Dano.  I’m the closest volunteer to the city so over the past few months I’ve been booking conference rooms, looking for housing, informing local authorities, exploring restaurants, planning sessions, etc in hopes of a smooth running conference.  The MAP Conference is set for September 23rd to 28th and will deal with topics like good communication, healthy/unhealthy relationships, gender v. sex, fatherhood, and sexual violence among other things.  Twelve to fifteen volunteers will come from around the country with their community counterparts to participate.  Very Peace Corps-y.
So the grant for this has been written and accepted and now the GAD committee is all out of money which brings me to this week:  Bike Tour Burkina Faso!  Starting today, a small group of volunteers and I will be biking from Orodara to Bobo-Dioulasso, stopping at certain sites giving presentations on how to make tofu, not get malaria, etc to raise money for the GAD committee so that things like the MAP Conference and Women’s Health Conference (held last April) can continue to happen.  When I say I’m raising money though, I mean that I’m biking (a thing I do all the time anyway) while asking people to donate to the Peace Corps Burkina Faso GAD Committee here.  So please, donate money to the Gender and Development committee to fight inequality in the third world while I bike around southwest Burkina Faso.  Put « GAD Bike Tour » in the comments section to make sure the money goes to the right place.   Thanks everyone, here’s a picture of my friend Jean Paul with a cool bird he caught.

Jean Paul's latest sling shot spoils

Jean Paul’s latest sling shot spoils

 

Les Bwaba Boivent (Lay Bwa-bah Bwahv)

Let’s break down this common French(ish) phrase real quick:  the Bwaba are the predominant ethnic group from right around my site up to the Malian border, and “boivent” is the plural conjugation of the French verb “boire”, to drink. So, the Bwaba drink. They drink dolo to be more specific; and, not to make broad generalizations regarding one of Burkina’s finest ethnic groups, but that’s often all they do. Dolo is a fermented millet beverage freshly brewed and sold every day in Founzan at your (my) nearest dolo-selling cabaret or dolo-ry. It’s an acquired taste, which is a fancy way of saying it tastes kinda bad, but I’m never afraid to have a few calabashes in order to prove my integration and worth among Bwaba friends. Dolo ferments as the day goes on, so in my review of it I decided to have a calabash or two during the morning, the middle of the day, and the evening in what turned out to be a very tiring and slightly hazy day. Here goes.

 Sogoma (Soh-goh-mah)
Dolo is best in the morning before the sun rises. It’s served warm and tastes a bit like an apple cider except more tart–like an apple cider brewed with apple flavored Jolly Ranchers instead of real apples. Sogoma dolo is sweet and sour and leaves an uncomfortable feeling in the back of your mouth. There’s no fruit involved in the brewing process, but this impressive pallet sensed a hint of the tropics, pineapple or mango perhaps.
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Tilefe (Tee-lay-fay)
A little after noon, dolo’s sourness becomes sharper and converges aggressively to the top of the throat where it lingers. The fruity tropical nuances I pretended to taste this Sogoma are replaced with a faint smokey wood-like sensation that can be smelled as well as tasted. Tilefe dolo is no longer purposefully served warm out of the cauldron but is still quite warm thanks to the giant burning ball of fire looming ominously overhead.  I’d also like to thank said giant ball of fire for the fact that recently when strangers greet me it’s no longer « bonjour le blanc », but « bonjour le rouge ».  Time to up the SPF, I suppose.
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Wulafe (Woo-lah-fay)
By 5:30 that evening all the dolo at my main cabaret had been consumed, but luckily I managed to find wulafe dolo at a small dolo-ry by my house to finish off this nauseatingly pretentious review post.  I don’t want to exaggerate or sound like I’m complaining but this stuff seriously hurts to ingest.  The acidic day-long fermentation takes precedence over any other discernible taste and seems to assault the mouth and throat in its descent.  I struggle to keep a straight face in front of my neighbors as I drink.  Suddenly my consiousness dwindles.  My vision goes blurry and when I try to get up I realize I’ve lost all feeling in the left side of my body.  I wake up hours later, cold under the moonlight with a film of dust-coated saliva on the side of my face that hit the gr–Eh fine it’s not that bad.  Here’s a picture of the next day’s dolo brewing.
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