This is weird.  I’m having a hard time coming up with a more articulate word, so I’ll settle for « weird ».  I left Ouagadougou in the middle of the night Saturday and made it to JFK by 5:30 pm, in time to stay the night with some of my more financially successful friends who live in the city.  My friend Mike’s apartment a few blocks from the Empire State Building was amazing:  he has hardwood floors, a view over the East River, running water, a flushing toilet, and electricity.  When we all went out for Indian food, I accidentally said « oui » or « merci » to the waiter a couple times (luckily only under my breath), and I couldn’t believe how many times they refilled my glass of water and asked if the food was OK.  And then literally every thing we ordered from the menu was actually available, when I ordered something, the waiter said things like « sure », or « no problem » and then he went and got those same things.  Talk about culture shock.

The next day my mom and I drove out of the city back towards the promise land a.k.a. central Pennsylvania.  We stopped at a Panera bread and I couldn’t understand why there were pictures of the sandwiches all over the restaurant.  I’m already here buying a sandwich, Panera bread, settle down.  Their color coordinated paint job and matching chairs blew my mind as I struggled to finish the giant tomato and mozzarella panini I’d ordered.  So far the biggest change my mother has noticed in her son was halfway through his meal at Panera bread when he went to the counter to ask for butter and jam to eat with his side bread.  She looked at me in awe and said I would have never asked for butter and jam a year and a half ago.  I suppose if that’s my most noticeable character change since living in West Africa I should go back now and try again.

Some volunteers who have returned to visit their family and friends in the states have warned that it’s easy to get caught back up in your life here and forget that Burkina Faso is even a real place.  The truth of that is probably the scariest thing I’ve encountered in the past 48 hours:  if I let myself sit back and relax in my mom’s new Prius through Eastern PA, the mountains and snow and two-story houses that fly by as we coast smoothly on a mostly pothole-less two lane highway seem so normal, and I forget about my dog and my papaya tree and the hundreds of potholes through the tiny paved road that passes through Founzan.  That will be my goal during my time home, then:  to not forget the potholes.  A mantra, of sorts.

My parents’ cat is enormous.  It climbed onto my chest yesterday and I couldn’t breath.  It jumped from my desk to the floor this morning and my whole room shook.  My parents should tie a pig nose to its fat face and take it to the state fair.

Well, it’s great to be back.  Thanks to Grandpa Alligator and Grandma Cuckoo Clock for financing the trip–I look forward to seeing you both along with the dozens of other grandparents and aunts and uncles coming to visit in about a week.  Anyone else who is in State College, Pennsylvania who wants to come drink craft beer and play Super Monkey Balls 2 (sponsored by Dole bananas) for Gamecube in my parents’ basement is totally invited too.

Clayton

Earlier this week I typed up a couple paragraphs complaining about Peace Corps Burkina’s security stance over the past month, laughed at how pathetic I sounded, then clicked the Save Draft button and X-ed out of the window, allowing it to be a therapeutic release of sorts.  Yesterday my mom called to say Happy Thanksgiving and to make fun of me for what a baby I was in my last blog post–apparently the Save Draft button was looking a whole lot like the Publish button and I accidentally posted a two paragraph blog about what a bummer the past month has been because of the security threat.  I thought of deleting it and re-releasing it as bonus material in the « IMissDennys: The Movie » Special Edition DVD Release, but then that seemed like a lot of work (deleting it, not the movie idea).

Founzan Disc Golf Course

Hole 7
80m, straight and open

Hole 7 is a straight and long shot, almost all of it in an open field and then the last 15 meters cut back into the woods.  Something about the contours of the fairway gives the basket the illusion of being closer than it is, so I normally keep that in mind and totally whiff the drive far right with an over-powered shot.  The last 25 meters or so go right past hole 5’s basket which I somehow didn’t think of until after the basket was cemented into place.  Makes for a pretty exciting black ace opportunity.

teeing off at hole 7

teeing off at hole 7

basket tucked into woods

basket tucked into woods

Hole 8
60m, wooded dogleg left

This is another through-the-woods dogleg shot, like holes 2 and 3.  Unlike holes 2 and 3 though, there isn’t much room for a roller or an overhand shot, and if you can’t get past the first few trees from the pad off your drive you’ll be struggling for a par.  Hole 8 demands a straight, slowly fading backhand, and is pretty unforgiving towards the teen-aged African bushwhackers I play with.  Look out for the serious termite hill hazard to the right of the basket while putting.

fairway from teepad

fairway from teepad, hole hidden to left of the light at the end of the tunnel

Ishmael putts by termite hazard

Ishmael putts by termite hazard

another angle of the basket coming out of the woods

another angle of the basket coming out of the woods

Hole 9
58m, open to wooded straight shot

What!  Is this hole really only 58 meters long?  Hole 9’s fairway is almost exactly 29 meters in the open to 29 meters wooded, making for a very tough precision shot to end the course.  Basically, if you don’t hit the opening in the bushes and trees at the midpoint of the fairway you’ll have a nearly impossible time preserving your score before the round is over–it’s actually almost smarter just to toss a disc up to the opening of the woods, then toss it in through the window for an easy par.  If you’re a wimp, I mean.

teeing from the field into the woods

teeing from the field into the woods

hole 9's basket (hole 1's teepad to right of my bike in background)

hole 9’s basket (hole 1’s teepad to right of my bike in background)

Wow.  I can’t believe I made a disc golf course in West Africa out of old bike parts and bush taxi tires.  I mean, I said I’d do it a year ago when I made the first basket in my courtyard for kids to play on, but did anyone actually believe me?  Probably not.  Next step is designing discs out of plastic and metal plates and giving them out to all the kids in town so everyone will stop coming to my house asking to play.

I’ve had a lot of fun fishing and canoeing with some students and fisherman at the barrage recently.  I’ll share a couple pics but I want everyone to keep in mind that I have really big hands and Kouanda Souleymane from my 5eA class is super tiny, so everything is relative

some kind of pretty tilapia

some kind of pretty tilapia I caught

Souleymane's catfish

Souleymane’s catfish

boat construction from last spring

boat construction from last spring

paddling down a dirty gross dam

paddling down a dirty gross dam

My Thanksgiving was pretty low-key this year, I spent it at a friend’s site making dinner for Burkinabe neighbors and friends.  We had chickpea chili, potato salad, mac and cheese, and rice with yassa sauce.  In other words, we couldn’t figure out how to make stuffing or pumpkin pie with available ingredients.  The Burkinabe loved the eating American food and listening to American music parts of Thanksgiving, but didn’t completely understand the « Everyone Go Around And Say One Thing They’re Thankful For » Game.  That kind of turned into everyone saying how happy they were to have a volunteer in their village and that they hoped for a long, successful life in America, for themselves and their children.

well happy thanksgiving!

well, happy thanksgiving!

Speaking of America, I will be in it in just over two weeks.  Let’s hang out.

Claire Blanc

 

 

All I really want to do is complain about the low-level security stance in Peace Corps known as Stand Fast that was appropriately implemented in late October during the Coup d’Etat in Ouaga, then dragged ridiculously and shamelessly on until this morning at 6 AM by an overly cautious Country Director who completely ignored volunteer morale and refused to acknowledge Burkina’s history-making, unprecedentedly peaceful Coup d’Etat. But I imagine if I started complaining it’d come across as petty, whiny run-on sentences, so I’ll stop myself there.

The hardest part of the Stand Fast was not being able to spend nights out of site. I love Founzan but being stuck there is not a great feeling; I leave site at least twice a month to visit friends and look at funny pictures of cats on the internet. So the helplessness of Stand Fast often dictated my mood of the day, and the Bureau’s inability to encourage or even communicate with the volunteer community on the matter led to one too many hammock days (days in which 4 hours or more are spent hiding from kids in the hammock behind my house). Sounds fun but gets old fast. Wait! Am I complaining again??

There were also many days in which I spent healthy amounts of time in a hammock. I’ve been going up to the dam 5km from town, fishing with kids and paddling around in the canoe I had made last Spring but never ever talk about because of how embarrassed I was of spending half a paycheck on a canoe I rarely used. But I use it now!f

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