I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts during my time here.  There are some really good ones out these days, and on top of that it’s very comforting to hear someone speaking to me in English after a long day of French, Dioula, Moore, and sign language.  Even if that voice is Dan Savage’s screaming about sex and politics in America, or one of those really nasally contributors to This American Life, laying in my hammock and podcasting is often a highlight of my days.

What I’m doing now, on the other hand, would make a really really bad podcast.  I decided this April I wanted to take one short recording (15 to 20 seconds) a day and share them on here to give people a little window into what it’s like to be in Burkina–short, audio snapshots of a West African Volunteers’ life.  So plug in some headphones, sit back, and enjoy the soothing sounds of the developing world in the first half of this sound project, loosely inspired by the podcast boom of the 2010s.

Wednesday, April 1st

There’s a 5e (7th grade) kid named Pierre who comes to my house nearly every day.  I like him a lot and often give him my mp3 player and speakers to listen to while I’m eating or knitting or whatever.  He loves Beyonce but I can never get him to sing along.

Thursday, April 2nd

Derek panting in the mid-day heat of hot season.  If you listen closely at the end, you can hear my tin roof cracking and popping in the sun like an old oven warming up.

Friday, April 3rd

What a 5eA class sounds like as I’m getting ready to start my lesson.

Saturday, April 4th

A couple Volunteer neighbors and I visited my artist friend Sam Dol in Dano at his display house in the Musee de la Femme.  We jammed on drums and wooden Burkinabe xylophones called balaphones.

Saturday, April 4th (bonus!)

Ok I couldn’t help it and did some multiple recordings.  This is on my porch late one evening with Pierre, Jean Paul, a Ouaga U English student named Armel, and my neighbor Abdoulaye playing Jenga.  It’s Armel’s turn and Abdoulaye is the one saying « tombe! tombe! » (« fall! fall! ») as Armel tries to slide a block out and put it back on top.  Jean Paul is offering words of encouragement and Pierre takes Abdoulaye’s side, saying the tower is definitely about to fall.

Sunday, April 5th

Abdoulaye borrowed my battery and solar panel to listen to music while building another house in his courtyard with family and friends.  I went over to buy peanuts from his mom or something and all the neighborhood kids were dancing on the porch to this as Abdoulaye & co. laid bricks.

Monday, April th

What my cat sounds like as it eats my leftover rice.  Actually this is gross.  Skip this one.

Tuesday, April 7th

I went to the video club where movies, soccer games, and wwe matches are shown to watch some American Western b-movies.  This is during an especially dramatic scene, and my friend Zacki walks in and says hi in Moore (he called me « Ahmed », if you can hear it).

Wednesday, April 8th

Turn up the volume on this one, it’s pretty hard to hear.

Wednesday, April 8th (bonus!)

Ok sorry about that last one, here’s a better clip.  It’s of Derek barking at a camel as I talk to the owner, a Touareg man (Saharan nomad) passing through town.

Wednesday, April 8th (double bonus!)

Wednesday, April 8th was just so good.  Packed full of short audio clip opportunities.  This one is me at my friend’s shop with some kids.  They asked me to buy them candy and I responded by saying « N bina bogo », or « I’m going to hit » in Dioula and then LIGHTLY tapped them on the heads.

Thursday, April 9th

Hmm I don’t really remember where this is.  Sounds like it could be the marche, I can hear a « ka nene » in there from me which means « to taste » in Dioula, so I was probably at a dolo cabaret in the marche.

Friday, April 10th

This one definitely is at a dolo cabaret.  It features my deaf Bwaba friend singing as we take dolo together.  The guy can’t hear a thing but loves to sing and dance, he’s often seen in the marche with a tin guitar he made, playing music for other drunk Bwaba people and getting 100CFA tips.  Fun guy.

Saturday, April 11th

On this day, m friend Frankie and I went to a huge Catholic celebration down in Diebougou.  It was on a hill outside of the city and was great big Christian music festival with mangoes and tofu brochettes (if you can possibly imagine that).  Here’s the priest pumping the crowd up with some jamz.

Sunday, April 12th

My bike chain needs greasing.

Monday, April 13th

Jean Paul comes six days a week to cook and clean.  This is a recording of his arrival.

Tuesday, Avril 14th

Laying down to sleep after a long day of work.

Wednesday, April 15th

This is what neighbor kids asking for bonbons sounds like.  I hear this noise dozens of times as day.

Thanks for listening!
Ahmed

Spring Break here was spent in AC’d, day-long meetings in Koudougou, Burkina’s third largest city, at the G28 COS Conference. “G28” stands for “Group 28”, the group of Volunteers that I belong to here in the Peace Corps Burkina Faso Universe, and “COS” stands for “Close of Service” (or, “Continuation of Service”, my boss informs us, beaming at the brilliance of an acronym with more than one meaning). It’s the last official conference for Volunteers before they become RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) back in the USA (United States of America). I’m noticing now that I forgot to mention what AC stands for. I hope I didn’t lose too many readers there.

The conference leaders treated us Volunteers as if we were actually already back in the US, congratulating us on jobs well done, giving tips on ways to reintegrate ourselves back into American culture, and helping us come up with coping mechanisms for the months of unemployment to come. At one point, our Medical Officer got up and talked to us for an hour about the RPCV health care plan, which is a very impressive amount of time to talk about something that barely exists. Then one full day was dedicated to resume building, interview strategies, and networking skills. I squirmed in my chair and counted down the minutes until the stale croissant breaks. On the last day of the conference we had a party with a slide show of pictures and superlatives, in which I was crowned the most likely to become a leg model. From what I gather, leg models don’t spend too much time on interviews or resume building, so my superlative was a relief to me.

After the COS Conference, some friends and I went down to Gaoua, a city about two hours south of Founzan in the hills. It was interesting to be there as I’ve heard a lot about it from friends in site and had this idea of it in my head but had never visited during my 22 months (!) in country. What I learned is that it’s a pretty big attraction for foreigners—the gold mines in the mountains reel in a lot of weird Australian and Canadian gold companies, and its ancient city ruins and rich cultural history bring in the digital camera carrying, map unfolding tourist type. I didn’t know this, and unfortunately whatever it is about me that seems to always make me stand out as a non-native here in West Africa permitted the people of Gaoua to classify me as either a gold mine exploitation specialist or a dad on vacation.  It was frustrating to not be welcomed and accepted as a foreigner in the same way that I am in other parts of the country, and I was grateful to not have been placed closer to Gaoua than I already was.

I will admit to one incriminating tourist-y outing in Gaoua though, and that is our visit to the Poni Museum. Poni is the province containing Gaoua, and home to the Lobi people, an ethnic group from Northern Ghana somewhat infamously known by other ethnic groups here as being bloodthirsty warriors in the hills with poison arrows and porcupine quill helmets. And I have to say, the Lobi ancestors earned their legend-like status. The warriors in the tribe would chip away at their teeth until they were sharp and pointed to scare off their enemies in battle; then they’d wear nothing but a cord around their upper waste holding up their Lobi parts, perhaps to instill similar feelings of confusion and discomfort in the hearts of enemies. There was one large, blunt object with a handle that was on display, labeled in French simply as a “Break-Head”. The Lobi women had piercings in their upper and lower lips that they’d put a rod through when they were upset with their husbands, “going on strike” against him, our guide explained. The women wouldn’t eat, drink, or talk until their husbands shaped up. Pretty brutal.

Things in the Hauts-Bassins are moving along. A couple days ago I had the honor of being beaten by three strokes on the disc golf course I built and designed myself, which proved to be a humbling moment. I left a handful of discs with my friends Armel and Tiken and told them to practice while I was away from site. When I realized how much they’d improved I considered taking the discs back. The third and final trimester of school is just over a month long, and while the COS Conference left me with very mixed feelings about my last months at site, I feel comforted at the thought of me sweatily trying to explain math concepts in French coming swiftly to an end. I’ve had a good run as a teacher, now someone please hire me to be a beer taster or disc golf course designer. Otherwise I’ll have to go polish my resume and work on my elevator pitch.  Please help.

Gaoua at dusk

Gaoua at dusk

The first ever International Woman’s Day Girls’ Disc Golf Tournament held at the first ever disc golf course in Burkina Faso began at 10 AM on the morning of Monday, March 9th. When my site neighbor Amber (her village is ~77 km from Founzan) and I biked out to the course at 9 AM to set up for the day, there were already two girls waiting, ready to play. If you know anything about West African punctuality, you know that two teenage girls being an hour early for an event is something unprecedented and special. They each picked out a disc and warmed up as Amber and I drew out the scorecards and the other eighteen girls slowly showed up.

When everyone had arrived and we were ready to start, I held a small opening meeting at the first tee-pad. The girls patiently listened to a short impromptu “when I was your age” speech, in which I told them that this was a sport I played with my friends since I was in middle school, and so I built the course here in Founzan to share that with the youth here. I was tired of only seeing little boys coming out to play, I explained, so this was an opportunity for them to learn a new sport that they could come and play again whenever they wanted. Most girls had come to training days I held in previous weeks so they already knew how to play and throw with confidence, and when Amber read off each group’s starting tees, they were eager to get the tournament under way.

sign in 9:30 to 10

sign in and disc selection 9:30 to 10

group #1 teeing off hole 1

group #1 teeing off hole 1

bad etiquette, Awa walks right in front of a throw

putting hole 7

putting hole 7 past the scraggly tree hazard

The rounds went by fast. I spent them speed walking from hole to hole taking pictures and telling the girls to slow down and to not throw when their group mates were standing immediately in front of them (difficult rule for beginners).  When you play at tournaments in the US with the caricatures who take this sport super seriously (yes there are real tournaments, yes it’s a sport), people pick out specific discs and line up their shots and think about their whole lives from infancy up until that exact point in time until their eyes finally narrow and they make the throw. That is to say, tournaments in America that I’ve been to take all day long. This tournament was different in that the girls would walk up to their disc, look to the hole, and chuck the plastic at the metal in complete West African pragmatism, so I was constantly busy trying to keep groups from catching up to the groups in front of them and telling girls to take their time and focus.

After the first nine, there was a pause with bissap and cold water sachets which were gone in minutes. It was hot out, and my biggest mistake was somehow forgetting that we were in landlocked sub-saharia during the main hot season of the year and that 20 girls walking through woods and fields throwing discs at metal baskets require water. I was running around and stressing about it and trying to find ways to get more water fast but I think I was the only one really freaking out about it.  A little after 11 AM once everyone was watered, the girls got back into their groups and out onto the course for round two.  I continued to run around, sweatily taking pictures and encouraging girls after missed 5 foot putts (though there weren’t many of them!).

Soma Soho of 5eA flicking hole 8

Soma Soho of 5eA flicking down hole 8’s gut

hole 4 to tee 5

hole 4 to tee 5 with spectators

teeing hole 7

teeing hole 7, the FDGC open bomb hole

For lunch I asked Jean Paul to cook up some of his special rice with peanut sauce, funded with a donation given to me almost eight months ago from a family friend.  As the girls ate rice with their hands in the shade, I counted up the scores and prepared the prizes.  First place was a girl from my 5eC class named Ouedraogo Christine, a favored older girl who is pretty athletic and amazing at rolling her eyes in class.  She was actually in my 5eB class last year but didn’t pass on to 4e, so it felt good to shake her hand and congratulate her on two rounds well-played.  She shot a 28 and a 26, putting her total strokes on 18 holes at 54, par for the course.  The next three closest girls were all tied at 60 strokes, so we held a tie-breaker for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place.  Sawadogo Awa took second place with a par on hole one while the other girls tied with 4 strokes and continued to tie through sudden death up until hole 5 when Baye Bielweli went one stroke up on Baye Madeline to take 3rd.

3rd, 2nd, and 1st place

trophies and shiny new pink z buzzz for first place

I wanted to know 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place because I had trophies sent from home for the finalists, which was exciting for everyone and fun to give, but they didn’t compare to the hand crafted blessing bands from Mindfully Made Studios sent from Amy Frank in central PA.  The bands each feature a word of encouragement in french on the outside and the common blessings said here in both main local languages written on the inside.  Also, I know it’s not the point of International Women’s Day, but the boys who came to spectate were so totally jealous.  Check it out.

in your face boys

in your face boys

asked Ouaro Mama (center, looking at camera) to show her bracelet and only everyone else did

I asked Ouaro Mama (center, looking at camera) to show her bracelet and only everyone else did

cm2 student (~5th grade)

this girl came just as I was handing out the bracelets and food, so she’s probably pretty smart

empowerment bracelettttsss

empowerment bracelettttsss (look at the camera girls!  dammit!)

So special thanks to Amy Frank of Mindfully Made Studios for the blessing bands donation and to Judy Heald for the delicious rice with peanut sauce.  The tournament was a success, and in June when I meet the volunteer who will replace me I’m probably just going to be hinting to him or her the whole time about how they have no choice but to do a second annual women’s day girls’ disc golf tournament.  They better like disc golf.

There are lots more pictures let’s just do this:

"if you angle the disc up, it's going to go up" demonstration

« if you angle the disc up, it’s going to go up »
demonstration

keeping score at hole 2

keeping score at hole 2 and doing the classic « show the disc » pose

blessing bands

blessing bands: gratitude, compassion, hope, and joy

forehand putt on hole 8

forehand putt on hole 8, toddler-view

catherine marie is a 5th grader who didn't get to play and would have totally taken first place

catherine marie, a badass 5th grader who didn’t get to play because of class and would have totally taken first place

third place at closing ceremony

awarding third place at closing ceremony

rice with peanut sauce (I told them to bring utensils!)

rice with peanut sauce

sudden death play-off for 3rd place

sudden death play-off for 3rd place: Baye Madeline v. Baye Bielweli

art shot

arty shot, will take professional photography positions starting september 2015

closing ceremony/lunch

closing ceremony/lunch in the shade

happy international women's day!

happy international women’s day!

Thanks for reading/just scrolling through and skimming the pictures!

Clay

A couple nights ago I got into an argument with Jean Paul and my 19 year old neighbor Abdoulaye about polygamy. Their view on the topic is that a man with multiple wives is more powerful and wealthy (more wives equals more money), and that he is doing a service to the world and his family in adding to the population by impregnating more women. My view is that having two or more wives would be about as fun as having two or more full time jobs that are constantly frustrated and disappointed with you, but I have to admit that I have zero marriages under my belt. I’d also argue that the number of wives you acquire and the amount of money in your bank account likely works on an inverse relationship, but again, I’m unmarried.

They pressed on about how I should have two wives because like all foreign people, I am wealthy, to which I finally explained that, even if I wanted it, I’d have a pretty hard time finding two women who would be into marrying the same guy. Jean Paul then dropped a piece of Burkinabe logic that has made me cringe since I first heard it over a year ago: « Since there are more women than men in the world, » he said, « marrying multiple women is our responsibility as men. » Y’know, since in places where polygamy isn’t practiced there are thousands of single ladies wishing that the married men would do them a favor and take second, third, and fourth wives. Jean Paul never made it through elementary school, so I laughed and looked to Abdoulaye who is currently in the equivalent of 9th grade. « It’s true, » Abdoulaye said, « in geography class we learned that women are 51% of the population while men are 49%, so yeah, men should have more than one wife. » Suddenly, this was no longer a debate on the morality of polygamy but an easily provable question of mathematics and logic, and it dawned on me that I have a degree in mathematics and philosophy from a prestigious east coast state school, so I ran inside to get some crayons (the golden tool of all math/phil majors), thinking I’d settle this once and for all.

IMG_20150304_201216

I started by saying that, with the definition of a percentage, Abdoulaye’s fact about the population of the world (which I’m not even sure is true but am willing to accept) means that in a group of 100 people, we can assume 49 are men and 51 are women. I drew out 49 blue dots and 51 red dots. I asked Jean Paul how many women each men in this group should marry, and he said four. I drew four lines from each blue dot branching out to marry each red dot beneath it, and as the first five or six men took nearly half of the available women, Jean Paul interrupted me.  « Wait, from now on each guy can only have two wives, » he said. Alright, now the remaining women are taken by the next dozen or so guys and we’ve got about 30 dudes here to the right who haven’t even gone on a date. I was pretty sure I’d proven my point, but just as I was about to call all my engineering friends and tell them that my math degree really was applicable to the real world, Jean Paul noticed something. « By this point though, » he started slowly, « these first guys with four wives will have had daughters of their own.  The single guys off to the right can take their daughters as wives. » Abdoulaye agreed, my red chalk blue chalk model didn’t account for the ages of the men, so some could be in their late 50s with perfectly weddible* daughters that the left over single men would no doubt marry.  Ugh.

IMG_20150304_202317

I took a more basic approach, imagining now that that same group of 100 people are all in their twenties. Again we have 51 women, but now the 49 men are going to come along and each take one and how many are left? We all agreed that 51 minus 49 equaled 2, but I had already missed my chance to convince them:  they were too focused on the fact that the first four red wives would probably have given birth to a half dozen girls between them by now so there would be women everywhere! What do we do with all of them!

It occurred to me that I wasn’t having a conversation with people who really cared to know the truth of things. The fact that there are more women than men in the world is a comfort to Jean Paul and Abdoulaye, and they weren’t going to see the other (only) side of that fact no matter how many different colored crayons I had. Realizing my math teaching skills weren’t enough to prove that if every man in the world aimed for polygamy we’d have huge global unrest was a blow, but I was outnumbered on my porch and let it go.

This un-winnable argument reminded me of another I’d heard a few times against homosexuality. The argument is simple:  if your father was gay then you’d have never existed, therefore homosexuality is wrong.  I have to say, of all the pathetic arguments against homosexuality, I kind of like this one.  It’s valid and hilarious.  I try to explain though that, while it’s true that if I went back in time and managed to convince my father to switch teams, I’d fade into the abyss à la Marty McFly.  But, my dad’s not gay and I exist:  the argument is based on a false premise (told ya I have a degree in philosophy).  This is the same argument I heard when I was doing my sex ed lessons in the marche, that if your parents had used contraceptives you’d have never existed so like stop handing out those condoms and start thinking about all the babies that don’t exist yet.  It’s pretty frustrating once you realize people are serious, and really frustrating when you see that, like Jean Paul and Abdoulaye, they aren’t interested in changing their minds.

Happy International Women’s Day!  I’ve got my new Journée Internationale de la Femme 2015 pagne print pants on and I’m headed back to site soon to prep for tomorrow’s first annual 08 mars girls’ disc golf tournament.  Women’s Day here is celebrated with a new fabric that everyone wears, women’s soccer games, dancing, partying, and dinners cooked by husbands.  So cook a meal for your wife, mother, or lady today!  Why not!  And later this week when it’s not International Women’s Day maybe continue doing that because designating one day out of 365 to do the right thing is kind of silly.

Clayton

 

 

*definitely not a word

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