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. =)