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.

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.

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.

Last month, my family (my real live family from the United States of America) got to come and see exactly how sweaty and dirty I’ve managed to get after a year in Africa. We had a great time touring the capital city of Ouagadougou, the smaller training city of Leo, my site Founzan, and the tourist city of Banfora in their three week visit. I’m proud of them for coming and staying in the country so long; most families and friends only visit for a week or so before continuing on to vacations in Ghana, Togo, Senegal, Morocco, Paris, Turkey, etc. Anywhere but Burkina, really.  I couldn’t believe they took the time and money to come see me, and now that they’re gone it’s hard to believe it ever happened. It was amazing to be eating my host family’s rice with peanut sauce in Leo and look up to see my parents across the table also having a bowl, or to bike out for a beer at the maquis in Founzan knowing my brothers were right behind me.  Thanks for coming guys.

mom with host sister's son

mom with host sister’s son

When we first arrived in Founzan, just by chance, some of my least favorite elementary aged neighbors came over in curiosity. They happened to be on their best behavior though, so introducing them was frustrating: “Ok see that kid sitting and smiling politely next to you? That’s the guy who stole my laughing cow cheese and squeezed it when I tried to get it ba–NO DON’T SMILE BACK WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” Maybe I should give those kids another chance. That night we ate lentils inside as a huge dust storm tested the structural integrity of my house. Looking back, I’m able to classify each day by one seemingly small task that ended up taking just about all of our time and energy. One day was the marche day, another was spent trying (unsuccessfully) to meet the mayor, on Friday we traveled south to Dano, my regional capital, to use the internet and treat ourselves to some slightly better food. Our first full day was spent simply walking down the dirt road near my house introducing family members to the people of Founzan I see on a day to day basis. We met the women who sell beesap, the bread ladies, Yacouba at his bike shop, the girls I buy fanta and pelforth from, and small boutiques owners. The woman who sells attieke at the end of this road didn’t initially understand that it was my family, but held out her arms in front of her stomach and gestured from me to my mom, asking something in Djoula. I don’t know what exactly she said but I guessed it had something to do with me and my mother’s uterus 24 years ago, so I nodded and her expression changed to surprise then excitement, enthusiastically greeting my parents with “momma” and “poppa” as she realized they were my real family from the states. On Thursday we spent the day at the dam fishing in canoes, trying to keep Derek from capsizing the boat and wondering just how serious schistosomiasis really is. "N ma foiy solo barragi ra bi" is Djoula for "I didn’t catch anything at the barrage today", a phrase I’m getting pretty good at saying lately. At the end of each day’s adventure we were exhausted, but that’s kind of how things go here: you set one goal for the day, attempt it, then sit back in a wooden chair all evening thanking the African gods for things like breezes and cold water sachets.

what not catching fish looks like

what not catching fish looks like

repose after a long day of walking up that one dirt road

some repose after a long day of walking up that one dirt road

free dolo in the marche

dolo in the marche

I had to remind myself multiple times a day to stop stressing and relax. To settle down and enjoying being with my mom when we’re in the marche scrambling to find onions, cucumbers, peppers, and garlic for dinner as a storm approaches and the marche is closing early but mom is “just sure we can find fresh parsley if we keep trying”.* Or one evening when more and more people were coming over to the house for tea and dad looks like he’s about to cry over the recently gifted and slaughtered chicken and I’m the only medium of communication between family, friends, and students and Jean Paul keeps telling me we need to kill the beautiful red gecko in the corner of the courtyard because, if it throws its tail at you, your arms and legs will fall off. Other volunteers whose families and friends had visited warned me about how stressful it is to suddenly bring your past American life into your new Burkinabe one. They were right, but it wasn’t any one person or group’s fault—it was more that, to use the words of George Costanza, “worlds were colliding”, and I put it all on myself to see that the worlds didn’t collide too harshly. Later when I apologized to my family for how flustered I’d been they told me they hadn’t noticed, so maybe I hid it well.

you can't see my face here but there's a flustered expression on it

you can’t see my face here but there’s a flustered expression on it trust me

After a week in site, we said goodbye to Andy in Ouagadougou then traveled down to Burkina’s old, creepy, French guy capitol, Banfora. Banfora is a medium sized city located in the cascade region of Burkina, famous for its rock formations, tropical waterfalls, and hippo lake. We, however, were impressed enough with the small kidney shaped pool at our hotel and the nutella crepes across the street that most of our time in Banfora was spent swimming in, hanging out by, and jumping into said pool, taking breaks once or twice a day for nutella crepes. After the unnecessary amount of stress I put into hosting everyone at site, Banfora was a great vacation, and we did end up doing some of the touristy stuff that that town actually is (locally) famous for. Here are some pics.

cascades near banfora

cascades near banfora

peaks of sindou

peaks of sindou

according to the guy paddling our canoe through hippo infested waters, hippos yawn when they're hungry

hungry yawn

Again, it was a great trip, and I’m really proud to say that my whole family came and spent so much time in country.  It was a rich time of my service, and I wish I could share all of what happened during those 18 days in Ouaga, Leo, Founzan, Dano, and Banfora.  I can’t, but here’s a few other fun things that ended up happening.

Notable Moments

  • Beat Andy and Nate in a disc golf putting game where the loser had to agree with everything dad said for the day. They spent the afternoon helping him set up tents in the yard, agreeing with his tent set-up techniques, and complimenting his tent placement ideas.
  • Mom keeps asking what’s wrong with the donkey when it makes its normal donkey noise.
  • First full day in Ouaga I was by far the sweatiest.

    clearly the sweatiest

    what kind of sweat pattern is that even

  • At a hotel in Leo the woman at the desk wanted to charge Andy and Nate an extra $20 to share a room because they weren’t a married couple and I had my best haggling line to date: “they’re twins, they were inside my mom at the same time and now they can’t be inside one of your rooms at the same time.” She dropped the extra charge.
  • Planted a baobab tree in courtyard on our last full day in Founzan to remember time together or something.

    and it's grown 0.045 mm already!

    and it’s grown 0.045 mm already!

  • Cats begin suckling at Derek for milk in what I hope will remain the most uncomfortable thing my pets ever do when I’m around


    more disturbing than the fact that I’ve referenced my mother’s womb twice in this blog


So who’s visiting next?


*I actually did, to my astonishment, find fresh parsley in the marche last week. I’d only ever seen it in Ouaga and Bobo before, so my mom received an apology text for how crazy I thought she was that day.


Founzan Disc Golf Course

Hole 1
65m, straight shot, mildly wooded

Hole one’s basket is visible from the teepad, but scattered trees throughout the entire fairway make birdies only possible to those with the straightest/luckiest of throws off the pad.  Most of  the kids I’ve played with have learned the hard way that if you aren’t careful with your first shot you’ll easily take a couple strokes bouncing off trees before you’re in putting range.  Players with strong arms need to look out for the bull pen hazard (full of bulls, their excrement, or both depending on the time of day you’re playing) just past the basket to the right.

Sawadogo Gilles lining up drive for hole one

Sawadogo Gilles lining up a drive for hole one

bull pen hazard visible in background, hole one fairway approach shots

bull pen hazard visible in background, hole one fairway approach shots

Hole 2
62m, tunnel shot to dogleg right

If you can get out of the low ceiling, 5m wide tunnel that makes up the first half of this hole, you can expect a par; if you want a birdie though, a well placed, low, right curving (backhand anhyzer or forehand) shot is all that will work.  Any misfire through the tunnel will slap your disc right out of the air, or throw it back into that bull pen on the right depending on your luck that day.  Basket is protected by trees around the back and left sides so an overthrown approach shot isn’t going to make much of a difference.  Great flick shot for learners.

a rastaman's heart sinks as his disc is swatted to the ground by hole two's low tunnel ceiling

a rastaman’s heart sinks as his disc is swatted to the ground by hole two’s low tunnel ceiling

hole two putting

hole two putting

Hole 3
66m, dogleg left

The base of hole 3 is visible straight ahead through the trees and bushes, but the best route to the basket is around the right of a large tree in the center of the fairway.  Nate Blunk somehow rolled it under/through the brush to the left of said tree on his first play through for a birdie, prompting me to angrily move the teepad to the right after the round to avoid future bushwacking of this nature.  This is the hardest birdie of the course in my opinion, because of the big curve you need in order to hit the dogleg left without throwing too high and getting caught in tree limbs.  Does any of this make sense to my non-disc golf readers?

a student takes an unorthodox anhyzer route through hole three's dogleg

a student takes an unorthodox anhyzer route through hole three’s dogleg

round one's winner and course record holder:  Nate Blunk (2 under par).  still not over this

round one’s winner and course record holder: Nate Blunk (2 under par)

As you can probably tell from these pictures, I recently had some visitors.  On May 29th at 2:00 in the morning, a plane carrying four of my favorite people landed in the airport in Ouagadougou.  The Blunk family’s second ever West African adventure was extremely well spent and a huge highlight of my service so far.  The disc golf course is what I was doing with my time before their arrival though, so I decided to share it now.

Thanks for reading.  More holes and posts to come soon.

We’re at the end of the almost 3 weeks in Burkina with the ImissDennys guy and the experience has been a mountain top one from beginning when we first laid eyes on a tall, dark, lean (as in I’m glad I lost a few pounds before coming to Burkina or I’d of weighed more) Clay in the Ouagadougou airport at 1:50 AM on a May Thursday morning to this very moment hanging out in Hotel Joanne’s with AC and a fan the night before our return flight home beginning at 6:20 AM on a Jun Monday morning.

We’ve met his closest Peace Corps volunteer friends – all amazing human beings from the many corners of US diversity and interests and his good Burkinabe friends/family (pronounced Burkina-bay to most people – and Berk-IN-ah-bee to his Spanish speaking mother… OK, I don’t speak Spanish or French or Djoula – and quite frankly, I’m finding that I may not have that great a command of English either).  Visiting Clay’s host family – the Nagalos was a knot in my throat kind of experience.  And when Boukary Nagalo, the tall, regal father proclaimed at the end of our visit that it is God who brought our families together – whether we were Muslim, Christian, and/or Undeclared – there was no question in any of our hearts the truth he spoke.

For days, we’d end the day asking one another and ourselves, what most impressed us from the day – and inevitably, it’d turn into a Clay-love fest affirming how intrigued/amazed/impressed we all were with his ability to so fluidly, with humor, grace and good will communicate – first in French – then increasingly we realized – it was Djoula.  Or Moore.  Or a fourth language that somehow he could smile and say something – just enough for the person he was interacting with to know that he recognized the language but wasn’t yet able to speak it.  then as the days wore on – we were reminded that we were parents of not just one great guy – but three…. and that Andy and Nate too were understanding all French and increasingly interacting – as their parents would hold up two fingers and say trois or three fingers and say quatre.  We knew we were close.

I’m happy to report that disc golf is taking off in Founzan.  The children poured out to the course that Clay’s built each time we went there… to play, to watch, to enjoy the outing.  Laughing – and actually putting with precision that surpassed our expectations given that it was a relatively new sport for them.  But it wasn’t the disc golf that people wanted to tell us about.  It was their sheer enjoyment of Clay working and living among them – and Clay’s sheer joy in being with them was equally evident to us.  The young woman who sold us the heavenly beesap – the most refreshing drink made of hyacinth flower nectar – boiled with sugar and water….a baby sleeping swaddled in the Burkina International Women’s Day 2014 fabric laid out on the cool concrete foundation of her stand – her refrigerated unit providing her with a commodity that refreshed and restored hot travelers and townspeople alike.

This evening’s dinner in Ouaga – and Clay’s PCV colleagues joining us – inquired what meant the most to us in our travel and visit to Burkina.  There was no single answer.   In each moment laid something extraordinary..  The djoula.  The dola.  The beesap.  The extraordinary lives that the PCVs had committed two years – perhaps more – of their lives to.  The Burkinabe and the utter kindness and hospitality they exuded in their every interaction with our son – and with our son’s family. The white rooster that Jean Paul who works with Clay by providing him outstanding food and care – gave as a meal while we visited.  The Guinea hen that school partner brought us for another meal and sauce.  The To that Clay’s neighbor brought by for another meal.  The peanuts that were ground and roasted outside of Clay’s home by the djoula speaking women who laugh and laugh as they work each day – and who delight in Clay’s conversation with them as they teach him their language and rejoice in his progress.  Somogodo.  How is your family.  The response – my family is well.  Somogodo – and your family?

Je suis content.  Tres content.

love Imissdenny’s mom.

In Peace Corps, a secondary project is a self-run and -planned community project that stresses and somehow guilts you for only having agreed to over two years away from family and friends and Sheetz MTO sandwiches to teach huge unventilated classrooms of teenagers.  The secondary project I chose back in January with my homologue was a marche presentation on HIV/AIDS that, in the four months I took to plan it, slowly also expanded into STI prevention, family planning, and general sex ed.  Fun stuff, but my vast lack of knowledge on the subject left me feeling highly unqualified and under prepared–turns out if I can’t explain something in English I can’t explain it even more in French.  Those feelings stayed with me through the months of preparation until last Friday morning, when I threw my kitchen table and sex supplies on the back of my bike and headed out to the marche for the day.

I guess after I had all my supplies together and my ten minute presentation on the subject ready, my biggest fear was not being able to pull a crowd–that the big white guy sitting at a table with wooden sex organs and a bowl of condoms wouldn’t attract my fellow Founzanites, but repel them.  This fear of mine was abandoned when the bike mechanics from the booth next to me curiously approached as I was setting up my table.  They were my first audience and, although I knew them and that they hardly spoke French, I went through my lesson:  HIV/AIDS affects the whole world, here’s how it is transmitted, here’s how it can be prevented.  They did a pretty good job keeping straight faces through the anatomy and sexual transmission parts, but they kind of lost it when I broke out the giant wooden penis and demonstrated how to use a condom.  I couldn’t get them to take any of the freebies I was handing out either, but an older man (probably in his sixties) came over and gladly accepted three, and the secondary project was underway.

Here’s my set-up in the marche.  The kid sleeping in my chair arrived just after the first group and stayed with me for most of the morning, interrupting from time to time when one of his friends was in the audience and sending children to go on cigarette runs for him.  Next time I’ll just bring one chair for me.  Early on, Tanti Buvette (who I wrote about in a previous blog) stopped by on her moto and asked what I was doing.  I began to explain that it was a small presentation on HIV/AIDS prevention but before I could finish she started up and sped off on her moto into the marche.  Later on, I called a young woman over who, upon seeing what was on the table, also chose to flee as fast as possible, running in the opposite direction she was originally walking.  I asked a guy if he wanted to listen to my presentation and he said he would if he could have a cookie after, pointing to the bowl of condoms on the table.  I let him have some.

My students got a kick out of seeing me teach some new non-math material, and weren’t shy at all to demonstrate proper condom usage or pose with certain wooden replicas.  On the far left is a 5eB student named Gilles showcasing a well wrapped package (sorry).  The kid writing on the table in the middle photo is my neighbor Abdoulaye, who comes over every night for tea, whether I invite him or not.  He’s adding a question to the anonymous question jar I had out for kids too nervous to ask their questions aloud.  The best (worst) question I received in that jar was from a kid in my 5e class whose handwriting I recognized:  "Women are the fields of God, and you tell them to take contraceptive pills.  Is that good?"  This is a serious question and I intend to answer it seriously, but the reason it made me laugh is that I was expecting questions more for the sake of the questioner.  This kid’s question was a question just for me to ask myself, for me to reflect on what I was teaching and maybe change my viewpoint on it.  I won’t put his name here, but the guy who I’m 100% sure asked this is on the right of the third photo sitting on his bike.  He also comes over for tea from time to time and hung out by my hangar for most of the morning that day.  The smaller kid looking at the camera in that last photo is Adama, a top-of-the-class-in-math 6eA student who likes hanging out with me a lot but was really uncomfortable with everything going on around him that day.  It was fun to imagine his internal conflict as he had to choose between spending the morning with me versus getting as far away as he could from the wooden vagina resting on my table.

In the afternoon a doctor from the local hospital came to help and translate in Djoula.  Her presence brought more women into the crowds and I was really happy for her support.  The next time I do this I’ll make sure to have a woman (either a volunteer or Burkinabe) with me for the entire day because of this.  By these final hours I was getting really tired of explaining the same things over and over again and was slowly losing my sense of humor about it.  I knew every point of the presentation that would make people laugh–I now paused after taking out the female condom, like a comedian who knew which jokes were going to go over best.  The same student who coined the phrase "the fields of God" wanted to know if you could drink water from the female condom, I guess because he thought it was shaped like the water sachets everyone drinks here.  If you fill it with water yes, I replied.  He is pictured above in the green looking right into the camera.  The guy demonstrating above is my friend Zuma, who studies German at Koudougou University and was as excited as my students to see how I was spending my afternoon.  By the end of the day I was exhausted; I had been in the marche for a total of five and a half hours and had given out 115 condoms to the men and women of Founzan.

The most exciting part about this for me is that all the preparation work is done:  I have the marche spot, all the materials together, and can comfortably pronounce clitoris with a french accent, so I can go out and do this again any marche day I want.  The hope is to keep it going, maybe do it once a month, answering the anonymous questions and allowing the lesson to change and grow to suit the needs of the different demographics.  I’m looking forward to doing it again, which I would never have guessed I’d say last Friday morning.

Thanks for reading, everyone.