Hmm this grant isn’t really done still.  I’ve got most of the information typed up but now the big problem is finding fast enough internet to load and navigate the Microsoft Grants Manager Peace Corps Grants Portal. This is a dumb part of my job. A really cool part of my job is that I get to plan events like the Founzan Girls’ Disc Golf Tournament this year for International Women’s Day.

The FGDGT started as just a way to get girls to play on the disc golf course I recently finished building near my house in village. Whenever I go out there with Derek and my discs I seem to only attract boys, and not the sensitive ones either. Once I had to take a disc from a boy because he told some girls walking by that they couldn’t play (girls who didn’t even look like they wanted to play). Then, at each tee-pad I’d ask the boy again if (just in general) girls were allowed to play and he’d say no, and I’d say ok you can’t have your disc back for this hole either. I don’t think he got it.  The problem though, I think, is that since I’m so used to females not approaching me on disc golf courses in America, I didn’t really notice at first what was going on here in Founzan.  Now I see it though, and the FGDGT will be an opportunity for the girls in both of my 5e classes to learn and play a new sport, with food and drinks and prizes.  I’m getting a lot of help from home on this one, in the form of donations and real disc golf trophies and some beautifully hand-made bracelets with words of empowerment on them for each participant.  So I’m very excited and grateful this Girls’ Disc Golf Tournament is coming together the way it is.

Switching gears, turns out my neighbor Fatao has a younger, more annoying brother named Saiouba. Saiouba can’t be older than two years, so his brain is in a developmental stage where it’s full of rocks and thinks it can get whatever it wants. He and Fatao are a force together: Fatao unlocks my courtyard door with a stick and Saiouba comes in through the tear in my screen door that Derek made and fills his shirt with whatever is in my house that he wants, saying in local language, “I want [whatever is in my house he wants]”. This all transpires in front of me, so it’s not really stealing, and Saiouba can’t walk very fast with a shirt full of sweet potatoes, for example. So I’ll catch up to him and pick him up and shake him and he’ll cry and scream and thrash as I collect my eight or so sweet potatoes from the ground in front of all my laughing neighbors who are saying things like “Ha ha, Saiouba wants sweet potatoes”. He’s also been climbing onto the back of my bike lately, which means he’s been coming with me to play disc golf or drink dolo in the marche. Or, if I have to go to work or have a meeting with somebody, I have to bike over to his house and get his mother to peel him off the back of my bike while he cries and screams and thrashes.  Lots of crying, screaming, and thrashing with that kid, if I’m honest.  When I’m not home and he wants to hang out, he’ll just wait for me in the sand outside of my courtyard door, often falling asleep from a long day’s work of being a ridiculous and unreasonable two year old.

Saiouba outside my courtyard door

Saiouba outside my courtyard door

Teaching is hard. This part of the year is kind of the Wednesday of the education school year. We’re halfway done and everyone is getting ansty/can’t believe there’s still four months to go. Because of this, I’ve had some pretty rough classes lately.  My 5eC class really knows how to get under my skin.  I’ll turn from the board after writing a bunch in order to explain some mathematical idea (from my heart!) and notice that I’ve got a dozen students quietly chatting with their neighbor, a dozen students mindlessly copying what I’ve written on the board, maybe another dozen with their heads down, sleeping.  It can get frustrating quickly when you know that your passing rate is just over 50%.  You guys could totally solve for « x » and add fractions if you’d just open up your notebooks, shut your mouths, and lift your heads off the tables!  Come on!  What’s really hard is that I don’t think other teachers at the school deal with the same problems.  If a kid is chatting they get thrown outside or if a kid has their head down the teacher marks two points off the next test.  I’m too much of a softy, though, and my kids know it.  I need to get mean, but how do you be mean to a bunch of cute African pre-teens who can’t understand how to solve for « x » or add fractions??  I’m definitely not a teacher.

Clayton Blunk

For a long time, whenever Derek has been sick, my butler Jean Paul (q.v. March 2014 post dedicated to him) offers to heal him by “cutting his ears”. I never really understood what he meant by that, but I realized it was some canine equivalent to the Dagara (JP’s ethnic group) traditional healing method. For this, I always told Jean Paul that, no, I’ll call the vet and solve this like the civilized, 21st century, first world medicine proponent I am.

Last week Derek was pretty sick, he was refusing to eat and was laying around more often than usual. I gave him medicine from the vet but the next morning he seemed even worse. Jean Paul was over and offered to cut his ears, but I kind of laughed it off and said I’d talk to the vet. To clarify, I never actually flat out told Jean Paul that his Dagara traditional healing wouldn’t work on my American dog, partly because I don’t want to offend him or be culturally insensitive, but mainly because I know he won’t believe me. He has two dogs at his house and whenever they get sick he “cuts their ears” and they feel better within a couple of days. So I said we’d keep and eye on Derek and went inside to eat. Jean Paul left for a bit then came back in and told me he’d done it.

Now, when most people who have dogs imagine someone else slicing the tips of their dog’s ears with a razor, they probably imagine the anger they would feel and express towards that person. But I’ll tell you now that in the moment when you open your courtyard door and your dog looks back at you, blood dripping and sinking into the sand to both sides of his face from the tips of his traditionally healed ears, there’s nothing you can do but sit at his side and tell him it’s going to be OK. That you’re sorry you weren’t more straightforward with the person who did this to him.

I felt guilty about this for a while:  was it my fault for « laughing off » Jean Paul’s ear cutting methods and not looking right at him to say, “No, we will not cut Derek”? And afterward, why didn’t I flip out at him? I should have told him that his actions only put Derek in more pain and that I was really upset with him. But I know he wouldn’t have understood. He was trying to help my dog and his only way to do so was to go ahead with his healing technique even after I asked him not to. No amount of yelling or arm flailing will grow back the tips of Derek’s ears, and I think in that moment, it meant more to my dog to be by his side than it would have meant to Jean Paul to be in his face with anger.

The more pain Derek goes through (be it castrations or Dagara scarifications or 3rd-world country animal abuse), the more connected I feel to him and the more I realize that I might owe him a ticket to the USA when all this is over. Besides, I need someone to hike the Appalachian trail with me. After all he’s been through, I think that’s what he deserves.

So, props to all my friends, family, and acquaintances who didn’t say things like « How much time do you have to go?? » or, « Wow, only eight months left! » during my holiday visit to the US. And to those of you who did say that or something like it to me: Eh, I forgive you. I realize that from afar, this Peace Corps thing can look like a 27 month long, dirty, dusty camping trip that I’m waiting out in order to get back to my real life in America, so I understand questions like those. I’ll admit it was amazing to be home for three weeks–to see family and friends and play disc golf at Circleville with a Troegs in my left hand–but this (Africa) is where I live now. My work is here, and all the new friends I’ve made in the past year and a half live here, and my house is here with my dog and cats and chicken. Leaving temporarily is a difficult reminder that in eight months (less than, now) I’ll have to say goodbye to everyone and everything I’ve come to love in Burkina Faso. I don’t know how I’ll do it.

The past week has been very exciting. I got into Ouagadougou last Tuesday at 23:55 and slept all day Wednesday and most of the day Thursday before catching a bus that afternoon back home to Founzan. I was surprised with the questions I asked myself during those first few days. For example, when did that mysterious, never-ending smell of burning trash in Ouaga ever make me feel so at home? And I remember there being dust, but was there really always this much dust on my kitchen utensils, pets, and in between my teeth? How did I ever manage to sleep even a minute on this medieval torture device of a cot? My neighbor Fatao has figured out a way to unlock my courtyard door in seconds with a stick through a crack in the door frame, which is perfect for when he wants a piece of candy or a soccer ball at 6:30 in the morning… How did I ever put up with that before?

Well, I’m readjusting: I’ve embraced the smell of burning trash as a comfort trigger, I’ve pet Derek enough that most of the dust is back in the air I breath where it belongs, and I put a padlock on the inside of my courtyard door so Fatao can buzz right off. After a week of being back it’s like nothing has changed. It feels so good to get on my bike and ride to the disc golf course (all 9 holes still standing!) with Derek trailing me, or to go up to the dam with students to fish and look at the horses that graze on the grass that grows on the banks. A couple days ago, from lunchtime to sundown, I knit a phone case at my friend’s boutique while tea was brewed and people came and went.  Again, my time home in America was great, but something tells me I wouldn’t have been able to find time to knit and drink tea for an entire afternoon in Pennsylvania.  People sometimes ask superlatives like « What’s the best thing about Africa? » or « What do you miss most about Burkina? », and I have to say, the West African people’s complete disregard for the passing of time is nice.

Disregard it as I may, these eight months will be over before I know it (and I totally know it), so I’m focusing on some projects in the coming months so that my community will remember me for something more than my broken Dioula and sweat output levels, impressive as they are. The Founzan « A » elementary school renovation, the International Women’s Day Girls’ Disc Golf Tournament, and the Founzan Girls Soccer League (Federation de Football pour les Filles de Founzan en francais, or le FFFF) are my three main goals. The renovations are something the head director of the elementary school by my house came to me for funding.  I informed him that Peace Corps is more about the volunteer’s presence and expertise and less about just handing out money, to which he responded that, yeah he knows, but he’s already worked with Peace Corps in the past and there’s grant money available.  I asked the woman in charge of grant money at the main office in Ouaga and he’s right.  Let the grant writing begin!  Later though, ’cause the Women’s Day Disc Golf Tourney and le FFFF are so way cooler than asking Peace Corps HQ in Washington for some extra cash to buy desks and cabinets.

Congrats to my brother Andy Blunk for not forgetting or losing his passport in DC this past week as he and the rest of Peace Corps Ethiopia’s newest group of volunteers arrived in Addis Ababa for training.  And then a special thanks, of course, to my other brother Nate Blunk for not totally copying me.

Mom can you write this grant for me?

CPB

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