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,