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.