Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Sunday morning rain is falling..."

“Good ol’ K------- (my village). You never let me down!” That’s what my journal entry started with and boy, how true is that. It was technically my first full day in village and I wanted to make the most of it. After breakfast, I went with my host brother, Abdulaziz, to the pump to get some water. Holy crap, that was so far! After, Abdulaziz and my host cousin helped me with laundry for the first time…and it was actually a lot of fun!

Doing laundry!

My host brother, Abdulaziz, helping me out. Out of everyone in my family, he’s the only one that can speak French fluently.

It was such a relief to see all the dirt and sweat wash away but also kinda gross…we left them to dry around my courtyard straw gate and hut and I ended up whipping the camera to take pictures of my hut and my compound (check another blog entry for these pics!).

I decided it would also be an amazing day to clean the inside of my hut and my courtyard since I can never find the time to do it. I did lots of sweeping and rearranging until Marita and her host sister, Miriam, came over. Marita helped me re-use the blue tape my friends back home used to make sure nothing leaked in my bags. We binged on wafer cookies, Cheez-Its and Kool Aid…it’s the simple things in life, I tell you! We also talked about getting a class for French instead of Moore (one of the local languages) to improve my conversational skills…so I’m going to talk to a PC staff member when we get back to Ouahigouya…good times!

My host mom brought Marita and I some rice for lunch but she eventually had to head back home. Abdulaziz came to my courtyard to practice some English. He also told me about his family…how his mom passed away last year from sickness and how his little sister passed away the day before his mom passed away. I didn’t know what to say. We also talked about past volunteers that have stayed with them during training and he mentioned I was the first male volunteer they’ve housed! Because it was getting so hot, I needed to take a nap. So I whipped out my self-inflate mat, put on some Kanye, and headed to a sweet somber for 2.5 hours. A-mazing!

Waking up from that nap, I was dripping in sweat because it was in the middle of the day. But I ended up chilling outside with my host dad and watched him etch Koran verses from memory onto wooden tablets (think 10 Commandments except it’s the Koran). He’s a Koran teacher but it’s still impressive to me that he knows the Koran by memory.

I ended up playing Frisbee with Marita and about 20 other kids at the school’s field. It’s a good thing Marita knew some games to play…it was encouraging because boys were playing with girls but we eventually had to leave because the sun was setting. In the end, we did a cheer which almost resulted in all of them breaking my one and only Frisbee! Whew!! Seeing boys interspersed with girls brought me new hope for our club we need to start in our village for the female students!

I headed back to my compound and took a much-needed bucket bath…pretty much what I look forward to at the end of the day! While I was bathing, I could hear Marita telling me to come out to the small boutique (read: insanely small store with a gated window in the front) where they show a movie in the courtyard behind it…

I asked Abdulaziz to come with me and of course, the movie starts on WAIT (West African International Time), very similar to Filipino time. We paid 50 CFA to watch the movie which consisted of an enclosed courtyard with benches, mat in the front, and a regular-sized TV being powered by a car battery. Nothing too fancy here! After 3 Indian films that didn’t work, they put on a ‘Chinois’ film which actually turned out to be Thai. It was about this villager who avenges a sacred village object by going into Bangkok. Essentially, it was your stereotypical Asian film filed with Muy Thai and amazing tricks. I could feel the eyes stare at me since I look very much similar to the people on the screen...but I was getting a kick at how excited the villagers were whenever the main character did some crazy move. Even my other little host brother, Hassan, looked back at me from time to time in amazement. I’m all about dispelling stereotypes but this movie made me want to learn Muy Thai and show off (hahaha).

Overall, a very simple but extraordinary day in village!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Where I live

YES! Finally I have a picture of what I call home (for the next 3 months, at least). Enjoy! Wend na ko-d nindaare! ('Goodbye and see you next time' in Mooré)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

So I live in a village...

It's so surreal to finally say that I live in a village in Africa! Say whaaaat?!

Several days ago we each moved in with our host families...the Secoondary Education trainees all had places to stay in the city (Ouahigouya) while the Girls' Education and Empowerment (GEE) (me!!) volunteers were sent off to three separate villages (ranging from 4-10 people in each). The people that tested highest in French language proficiency were sent off to the farthest village and since I had some French background, off I was with 3 others to the farthest village (maybe about 10-12 km) from Ouahigouya.

The adoption ceremony was funny, inspiring but also extremely awkward. The PC truck dropped 4 of us off at our village (due to PC security reasons, I can't give out my village name so I'll be referring to it as 'K' from now on) and we had this welcome ceremony with the village chief in front, along with the male village elders, followed by the women and hundreds of children!). After, our host families grabbed all of our belongings and we made our own individual treks to our family compounds within the village...

In true organized Mikey fashion, I've broken up different categories (it helps me remember most of what I want to say and I figure it helps you all pick and choose what you want to read, haha):

  • Food/Drink: You better believe I've being fed well! Food here consists of a lot of carbs...pasta noodles, rice with sauce, potatoes and yams, etc. They also have brochettes (meat on a stick) and other meat varieties. Not many vegetables except for onions, tomatoes and a few others. They have your normal fruits like bananas and apples but also have mangoes since they're in season!!!!! They're not as sweet as Philippines mangoes but they're still just as good on a hot day. As for drinks, PC provided us with water filters but we still have to put bleach in it to kill all bacteria. It pretty much tastes like warm swimming pool water but I need to stay hydrated so it'll do:. Because I'm sweating so much, I drink at least 3-5 liters a day (no joke). It's insane! They also sell bissap juice, ginger juice, and various otherjuice drinks in plastic sachets that you can drink out of. The best part: they're COLD and beat our lukewarm, bleach drinking water ANY day!

  • Health: I've been doing well for the most part...I think my stomach is still getting acclimated to the food but for the most part, I'm okay. Let's hope it stays that way! Again, the PC provided us with a very thorough Medical Kit so it's all good over here.

  • Transportation: I BIKE EVERYWHERE. No joke; I've never biked so much in my life. Or sweat so much either! The mountain bikes the PC provides us are being used to the max. Biking in the heat from Ouahigouya to 'K' (my village) was so exhausting! 10-12 km one way is no joke either but I need to get used to it. Fortunately, we try to bike in the morning when the sun is still rising or in the afternoon before it gets dark, so the weather is a little cooler. We bike together but I think I'm gathering my bearings so will soon be able to bike on my own soon. My worst fear is getting a flat tire but they've given us the tools to fix that. Also, I have a greater appreciation for paved roads and detest (but am gradually getting used to) the gravel/unpaved roads...especially the ones leading to 'K'...those are killer! The plus side is that I'll be getting toned legs/calves LOL.

  • Language: Those years of French sure have come in handy! I just need to expand my French vocab and speak more with the instructor...since I was fortunate enough to place higher on the language proficiency test, I'm starting to learn one of the local languages (Mooré) which will be especially useful in village. It's so tonal and relatively hard to grasp...but lots of fun to practice with the locals! They get a kick out of it. And since greetings are SO important here in BF, it helps.

  • Weather: HOT. Even if it is the rainy season. It rained yesterday so it was a lot cooler but it's back to that heat again! Sitting in the shade is glorious. That is all.

  • Where I live (my hut & compound): Cozy and amazing! When I get to taking pictures, I'll start posting. My family's compound is located on a little hill, composed of about 7-8 other huts for my host parents, host brothers, host grandfather, etc. etc. They also have a prayer area (they're Muslim), a place to store their millet, and other things. I have my own mud/clay hut with a straw roof...it retains a lot of heat so I try to be outside as much as possible. Inside, I have my bed with a mosquito net, a clothesline, 2 windows with screens, and all my clothes. Can't wait to decorate and put up the map and pictures on the walls! They also built me a covered courtyard with a big-strawed gate around it so I can keep my bike inside! I chill here most of the time to write in my journal, eat, talk with my family, etc. I LOVE IT. We also have a lot of goats, sheep, roosters, etc. which serve as my very own alarm clock. I'm not gonna lie though..it smells a little like an animal farm, but I'm already used to it. My toilet (hole in the ground) and bucket bath area are side-by-side. Bucket baths are a God-send when I get back home and you only really need one bucket of water to bathe! I've been able to bathe with a view of the African sunset or the night sky and loved it...

  • My host family: Let's just say they barely speak any French and only speak Fulfulde and Mooré (two of the bigger local languages). So you better believe there is a lot of awkward laughing, charade-like actions, and what I call 'French vomit' (where I say as many things I can in French and they pick up the few French words they understand). My host dad, Mahmoudou, is the guy who interacts with me the most and he is so COOL! There are a lot of men in my family and sadly, only 2 or 3 little kids. As relegated by society, the women do most of the domestic tasks but the men in my family help out too. Since so many people come and say hi to me, I don't really know if they're part of the family or not so it gets kinda confusing from time to time. They call me Michael in Mooré (don't know how to spell it) and my last name is Diallo (my host family's last name). I don't know what else to say but will say more later when I think of it.

  • Training itself: SO mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. The days and training sessions are long (especially in the heat) but I'm learning so much. Two days ago, we talked about the education system in Burkina Faso and it was so interesting! Training is extremely structured and getting through training itself is an obstacle to overcome (and for good reason), but so far, I like it.

  • The people (the Burkinabè): Strong (both mentally and physically) and extremely friendly. As I've mentioned before, greeting EVERYONE is absolutely essential in BF...even if you don't know them, it's customary to greet with the usual "Good morning, how are you, how's the family/work/etc.?". So a 10-minute walk can easily turn into a 30-minute walk (kind of like LMU lol)!
  • Fellow PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees): Like I've said before, we all come from different places, have different personalities and so forth but our common thread is to do the Peace Corps and affectuate change through education. I'm getting to know everyone slowly and am finding my niche (as is everyone) so it feels kind of like college all over again.

  • Being viewed as an 'American': One of my worst fears was not being viewed as an American because I didn't fit the standard perception. When I first got to my village, my host dad asked if I was American and I explained that while I was born in California, my parents were born in the Philippines. He seemed very receptive, smiled, and from that point on, that very fear was dispelled right away! After 20 seconds of slight awkwardness, he mentioned Barack Obama's name and we all laughed in joy! Hopefully the same will happen at my site placement.

  • Reminders of home: Two things: 1) Yesterday, we had a walking tour of my village where we met the chief again and saw where we each lived. When my fellow PCTs came to my village, I showed them the photo album Camille gave me for graduation a year ago. I added more of my own pictures too and I felt so good sharing this with others. 2) Burkina Faso reminds me a lot of the Philippines, especially the province where my dad is from. That's probably why I feel so at home in many places!

I haven't taken many pictures yet (especially at my village) because I don't want to immediately be labeled as the weatlhy American...but in due time, I'll be sure to take more and post them.

Again, keep those comments coming and follow my blog. They're exciting for me to read. =)

Monday, June 15, 2009

First impressions

I want to first apologize because they use a French keyboard here and it's hard for me to type on this...

Anyway, a few days ago we arrived in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso and stayed at a center that hosts travelers from everywhere. We were treated to a nice dinner at our Country Director's house and eventually headed to our training site in Ouahigouya (about 100 kilometers north of the capital). Speaking of first impressions, I made my first 'great' one the first day when I arrived super late to training...because I overslept in my room that happened to be air-conditioned (in the capital...don't get it twisted, I won't have air-conditioning from that point on). Old habits never die, I tell you!

Currently, we've finished our 2nd day of training in Ouahigouya and it's been crazy busy doing everything (ignore the time on the bottom; I don't think it's accurate). From cross cultural training to language classes to group work to how to use & fix our mountain bikes, etc. it's been a straight trip! Food has been delicious and you best BELIEVE we've been fed (contrary to popular belief). There are lots of carbs and my body is still acclimating to the temperature...apparently it's rainy season so the weather has been a little cooler. Little side note: it rained when we arrived in Ouahigouya for training so apparently that's a good sign for us and the surrounding village since it means we are good luck...niiiiiice. It was kinda like the heat wave in the Bay but with a breeze. So back to the food, there is always plenty of food for us but I think it's starting to take a toll on my stomach. Last night (Sunday), I had a little bit of stomach/excrement problems (get used to it...I'll be talking a lot about poo since all PC trainees/volunteers are guaranteed to get sick. Regardless, the PC Medical Center takes care of us and we even had a session where we received a huge medical kit, a guide to caring for ourselves and when to call the doctor, etc.). Fortunately, with a little medication and rest, I feel 10x better today! Something that's great though is how I can finally use my French and I've realized how much I need to work on conversational...but it's all coming together.

Just to give you the breakdown of our group: there's 32 of us working in either Secondary Education or Girls' Education and Empowerment (my sector). We've got people from all over the U.S., 2 married couples, and are all around our early 20's to early 30's. I'm one of 3 people of color (expected! haha) and reppin' California hard with another guy...haaaay!).

So tomorrow, I'm super excited because it's our host family adoption ceremony tomorrow (Tuesday) where we find out who we'll be staying with for the next 3 months of training. And we'll be out in the village so Internet access will be even less frequent...

I'd say more but the keyboard sucks, Internet is slow, and we have to leave soon because we need to grab dinner. This might be the last time in a while that I use the Internet because we're heading to village soon. Whenever I come into the City I'll try using it again. Also I might be getting a cell phone soon so I shall let you know when that happens...of course, that will be limited with texting and if/when I have reception.

I love and miss you all! Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The adventures continues...

You all might be wondering why I'm able to update my blog so often (as of now). Well, let's just say I'm in a hotel when I'm supposed to be in Ouagadougou (capital of Burkina Faso)...let me explain:

Wednesday early evening, our flight, although a little late, departed from Philly for Paris. When we arrived, we ended up waiting an addiitional hour or so before heading to Burkina Faso. On the way to Burkina Faso, we needed to stop at Niger (country to the east of BF) for fuel, then heading to Ouagadougou (pronounced wah-gah-doo-go).

It turns out we waited for almost 2-3 hours at Niger, eventually telling us that we would need to wait for the next plane the following day due to motor problems with our current plane. Fortunately on our flight was a current Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, Joanna, and she pretty much called everyone we needed to to let them know that we are safe and would be staying at a hotel overnight, provided by Air France. Getting out of the airport reminded me a lot of the smaller airports in the provinces in the Philippines...and made me miss the Philippines for a second! Except it wasn't humid here in Niger.

So as of now, I'm sitting in the hotel lobby, using up the free WiFi for as long as I can. This has to be one of the nicest hotels (if not the nicest in Niger) and the Peace Corps Country Director for Mali even came by to visit and check that we're okay.

What strikes me as most amazing is the amount of French you need to communicate...of course in Paris but more especially in West Africa. I wish my conversational skills were a little more up to par, but I know that they'll improve once I immerse myself in Burkinabé life. This is my first time going to a francophone country/area (I know, it's been a long time, right?) so my French NEEDS to clean up if I want to communicate more effectively with everyone.

So once tomorrow hits, we're finally heading to Burkina Faso and going to begin our Pre-Service Training! It's about damn time...I'm so excited to get this started. Let's DO it!

Staging in Philadelphia

For all you non-Peace Corps people out there, staging is pretty much like orientation. Think of it as freshman orientation before college -- the awkwardness (and fun) of meeting new people, getting an intro to everything Peace Corps-related, etc.

Staging was the chance to get to know everyone I'd be going to Burkina Faso with for the next two years, three months, PLUS a way to get some good insight into what we'd be doing there...funny to finally meet some of the people I met online at PeaceCorpsConnect.org.

I arrived late Monday night and was talking with my roommate Coleman about everything. Finally, someone that could relate to many of the same issues I'd been dealing with for the past year! We had staging the following day and ended up doing dinner/a couple of drinks with a few fellow PC trainees.

The following day (Wednesday) we had to get our yellow fever vaccinations and had a couple of hours to kill until our flights departed later that afternoon. Kristi, one of my good friends from LMU, took a bus all the way from NYC to see me off one last time...and in the span of an hour, we ate at a Japanese restaurant and took pictures by the famous "LOVE" sign! A must-do in Philly!

Truly, Kristi is an amazing friend...taking a bus all the way from NYC to see me off one last time. She even brought me Junior's Cheesecake! Whaaaat!

Eventually, we had to part ways. Anywho, I'll leave you with this photo of me and all my excess baggage! It's so heavy. lol

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Communicating with me in Burkina Faso

Sadly, I have to make this entry short because there are people waiting for the computers...I'm still at Philly and will be leaving in a matter of hours for Burkina Faso! Staging at Philly was good because I got to meet everyone and am getting a good vibe about this group. We come from all over the U.S. (me and another guy are representing California! Haaaay!) so it's all goooood.

I want to write another entry on the most amazing, drunken, cry-fest, laugh-fest farewell weekend but alas, I must save it for another day (hopefully with pictures)!

Anyway, communicating with me in Burkina Faso:

  • Blog: http://mikeyberino.blogspot.com
    Check this often! This will be my main way of communicating with you.
    And please comment too!
  • Mailing Address (during training): Michael Berino, PCT
    S/c Corps de la Paix
    01 B.P. 6031
    Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso
  • When sending letters:
  • Always write “Par Avion/Air Mail”
  • Send letters often and please number them so I know if I’m missing something (same goes with packages)!
  • Use red ink when addressing my name (apparently, they’re superstitious in West Africa)
  • Never mail postcards – put them in envelopes or I will not get them
  • When sending packages:
  • Do not be truthful on customs forms! Put “educational materials” or “hygiene products”
  • Use padded envelopes as much as possible to cut the cost of fees on both ends
  • If using a box, use the USPS flat rate boxes
  • E-mail: ---------------
    I’ll try to respond to e-mails. All of this depends on when I have Internet access (once a week, two weeks, month…who knows?). So your best bet to communicate with me is via blog comments and letters!
  • Skype: ----------
  • Cell Phone: Will let you know when I get one in country (check the blog!); I’ll probably only be able to communicate via texting and if I have reception where I am.
Please remember that training (3 months) will be hectic and busy so if you don't hear from me in a while, please know that I'm okay. Someone said it best when they said in the Peace Corps, "no news (from headquarters) is good news!" So I'll be fine. =)
Again, thanks for all the love and support. Special thanks goes out to all of my loved ones (friends [especially all you cuties that came from LA] and family) that made it out to any of my farewell weekend activities. Truly, I am blessed and only wish the same for everyone else in the world. =)
Lastly, Mom and Dad...this one's for you!