Saturday, July 25, 2009

Typical PST Day in Village

To give everyone an idea of how I’ve lived my life for the past month and a half, here’s a typical day in Pre-Service Training (PST). Of course, no day consists of the exact same schedule, but here’s a little glimpse…

It varies week to week, but normally goes from Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 17:30 (military time!) and Saturday from 8:00 to 12:00…and Sunday is rest day. PST is like a combination of every orientation I’ve been a part of (with all the same feelings and sentiments included) plus school…okay, that probably doesn’t best summarize PST but let’s just say it’s a challenge to get through and no day is really the same!
  • 6:00-7:00: Wake up to the rooster crowing and reminisce (briefly) about those damn baby goats and random donkey making noise throughout the night; Greet my host family in Moore with “Ne y yibeoogo / Yibeoog kibare? / Laafi. / Y gaase? / Laafi. / Y zak ramba? / Laafi. / Y tuuma kibare? / Laafi. / Wend na sos-d laafi! / Amina!”; Take bucket bath #1 of the day
  • 7:00-8:00: Eat breakfast in my courtyard: usually a baguette and/or fried dough with coffee, tea, or powdered milk; If I’m going into Ouahigouya or another village for training (location switches everyday), I bike several kilometers with the other trainees in my village
  • 8:00-10:00: Language class in either the local language or French
  • 10:00-10:30: Break…pretty much lay on the nice mats and take a little nap
  • 10:30-12:30: Usually a Medical or Safety and Security session
  • 12:30-14:00: LUNCH! By this time, I’m so damn hungry. Benga (beans and rice), rice with sauce, or a pasta dish if training is in village OR avocado sandwiches, etc. and cold bissap (traditional Burkinabe fruit drink) or weda (a type of fruit, tastes like a sour Starburst) juice in plastic sachets if training is in Ouahigouya.
  • 14:00-15:30: Another session on Technical training or a Cross-Cultural session
  • 15:30-15:45: Break!
  • 15:45-17:15: Language class if we’re in village or community meeting/other session if we’re in Ouahigouya.
  • 17:30-18:30: If we’re in another village or Ouahigouya, do any last-minute things (Internet café, buying snacks at the store, etc.) and bike back before it gets dark!
  • 18:30-19:30: Arrive home and repeat the customary greetings with everyone again; take obligatory bucket bath #2 with the African sunset in plain sight (what I look forward to at the end of the day)
  • 19:30-20:30: Have dinner in my courtyard/hangar in front of my hut.
  • 20:30-22:00: Write in my journal, read, sit outside and talk to my host family, practice the local language or French with my host brother, listen to the radio with my host dad, fight the insects that surround my kerosene lamp while hearing the goats pee…sad but true.
  • 22:00-23:00: Brush my teeth and stare at the beautiful night sky…then sleep!

MTV Cribs: Peace Corps Burkina Faso (trainee edition)

Okay, so I know the subject line is really cheesy but I've been waiting for FOREVER to post these pictures up! Since I'm at the Peace Corps Burkina Faso main office in Ouaga and able to use relatively fast computers, it's about time I posted these bad boys up.

So welcome to my crib a.k.a. host family compound a.k.a. what I've called home for the past (almost) 2 months and will continue to call home until training ends at the end of August!

As I mentioned before, I took these pictures a long time ago...about a month and some days ago when I did laundry for the first time in Burkina Faso. So take a good look and enjoy! And when I finally move to site, I'll be sure to post another entry on my actual house in the Southwest. =)

View of my host family's compound from a short distance. So pretty!

View of my host family's compound when you first walk in (notice some of my clothes hanging to dry). From left to right: where the animals sleep; my host dad's house, his meeting quarters, my host grandfather's hut, and the small place where they store the millet to make food.

A view of my latrine (left) and my bathing area (right).

In short, where I pee and poop.

A picture of two of the many, many goats that make noise all the damn time!

A side view of my hut and hangar/courtyard (again, note my boxer briefs hanging on the side, lol).

Entrance to my hut via my courtyard/hangar. It's so cute!

Inside my courtyard/hangar. It's a safe haven when it gets really hot outside. It's where I read books, write in my journal, take naps, and eat breakfast and dinner. And talk with people...a lot!

My main mode of transportation. My bike. Pretty much my savior (next to Jesus, haha). But in all seriousness, this gets me everywhere! Notice my rubber strap at the end of my bike that attaches/holds anything I need to carry around with me. The moto behind my bike is my host dad's.

My handy bucket bath essentials -- bucket, water cup, shampoo, wash cloth and my water thing to the left.

My bed and mosquito netting. It gets hot under there sometimes but you gotta do what you gotta do to get the bugs out!

Don't mind the walls...they came out weird in the pictures. Anyway, one part of my hut. You can see my huge world map, some books to bottom left, my water filter, my med kit, and the trunk where I store my clothes.

My self-inflate mat where I take naps outside and some bags.

My water filter. Okay, this is getting a little redundant now.

The door leading out of my hut. Notice the Burkina Faso soccer jersey hanging and my shoes down below. Yay!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Site announcement and trip to Ouagadougou!

On Thursday (July 9th), after waiting for almost a month now…the time finally arrived. Our site announcement a.k.a. where we’ll be living for the next two years after training!

Seriously, the days and hours leading up to it felt like getting ready to open up presents on Christmas. I couldn’t help but feel all these knots in my stomach but the wait was well worth it.

The PC staff created a huge map on the floor outside of our training center. Our LCF (language instructors) blindfolded us and guided us to our site location on the map. We took off our blindfolds and saw our site name below us but also saw who we’d be relatively close to (a.k.a. our lifelines when things get rough). We headed inside and were given little paper stick figures of ourselves to place on a map on the wall. We’re pretty much scattered all over the country!

For me, I’m the furthest trainee/stagiaire in our training group (also known as ‘stage’) south. I’m essentially in the Southwest, bordering Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana! I’m replacing a volunteer who is ending his service by the end of July. I’m actually really happy about my site because I’m not too far south of Gaoua (one of the regional capitals like Ouahigouya), will be living near a paved road, am not too far from fellow volunteers, and will have a market where I can have a relative variety of food (more fruits and vegetables!). Access to transport that heads to Ouaga and Bobo-Dioulasso (the two biggest cities in Burkina) isn’t bad at all (so I’ve heard). And since I’m in the South, the weather is a little cooler, there are hills and greenery, and there’s just a lot to see (heard there were cascades and some archeological ruins in the area too…probably far from me but not as far if I lived up in the North). French is widely spoken in my village but I’ll also be learning Dioula and possibly, Lobiri. Dioula is a local trade language that’s not only used in Burkina Faso but also in parts of Mali and Guinea too. Excited to learn another language. Niiiiice!

A lot of us went out for dinner later that night and coincidentally, the guy that I’ll be replacing was in town (at our same restaurant!) because he came up to Ouahigouya to visit his girlfriend (also a fellow PCV). He basically gave me the low-down on everything and said that the house I’ll be moving into (his house) is actually a fonctionnaire (civil servant) house with a living room and two bedrooms. There’s a latrine outside and also an outdoor kitchen area which makes where I live sound huge. He said that he planted some flowers and made a little garden to make it a little homey, and will be leaving a lot of his old furniture and stuff for me!

Overall, things are looking good but I want to read up more on the Southwest, particularly the region where I’ll be in. I think two of my biggest fears are having everyone compare me to the past volunteer and not being seen as ‘American’ (what’s new, haha)…but after talking with the current volunteer, it seems that won’t be as bad to adjust! We’ll see…ca va aller!


Fast forward to yesterday, we were in Ouagadougou (the capital city…called ‘Ouaga’ for short) on Friday and Saturday. We took the coach public transport buses for the first time (our main mode of traveling everywhere) and those were packed. And because I felt a fever coming, it was one interesting ride…we finally arrived at Ouagadougou after a couple of hours and headed straight to the Peace Corps Burkina Faso headquarters. Literally, everything was there…the director, other PC staff, our mail, the medical units, computers and a mini library for the volunteers, etc. etc. Fortunately, I got checked out by one of the medical officers and they gave me the right meds needed to get me back in check!

We headed to the Transit House in Ouaga. If I’m not mistaken, every country with Peace Corps volunteers has at least one Transit House which is solely for volunteers. Basically, it’s a house that volunteers can go to a few days a month if they want to get away from site for a little bit…filled with couches, a kitchen, bathrooms with toilets and showers, shelves of books, rooms, mattresses on screened porch area, etc.

Ouaga has SO many ethnic restaurants and Devin, Colette, Marita, and I were on a quest to get Chinese food for lunch. We finally found one called “L’Orient” and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be in a Chinese restaurant. Legitimate Chinese food…all I could think of was wonton soup and I ordered so much of it, I was beyond happy. The only thing is that food in Ouaga is expensive (compared to everywhere else in BF) so I’ll have to be sure to splurge whenever I’m in Ouaga. We had dinner at one of the Associate Peace Corps Directors’ house and we had Mexican food! So damn good, with guacamole and sour cream. I felt like I was in heaven…Chinese for lunch, Mexican for dinner.

The next day, we ate at this restaurant that had an endless supply of American food and I was beyond happy (again). Having this much variety in food was enough for my little heart to handle! While we left to take the bus back, it was the funniest ride ever sitting next to Colette and Devin. We had a random child under our seat who kept kicking us with her feet…the most random thing ever! That said, I can’t wait for more adventures in Ouaga. With a city that big in BF (and so central to all the volunteers), I’m sure we’ll all be meeting up as many times as possible during our 2 years of service. SO EXCITED!!

Friday, July 10, 2009


We’re in the Ouahigouya again and I figure I’d comment on some random things I’ve been wanting to blog about but haven’t been able to yet…

Ading (Felicia!), here are some quick answers to some questions you wrote a while back:
1) I live in a hut that’s part of my family’s compound. Depending on your family’s ethnic group, that usually determines what type of housing situation you’re in. For example, my host family is Peulh so their compounds are usually separate huts clustered into one compound.
2) I pee/poop and bathe in two separate areas (which are right next to each other). My latrine is essentially a huge hole in the ground and the place where I bathe is simply an enclosed area for me to bring in my bucket full of water.
3) HAHAHA! No, you don’t (and probably wouldn’t) want to send me bottled water. PC provides us with water purifiers and we can also purchase bottled water/water sachets around here. Thanks though!
4) Internet access is infrequent for me since I live in village. I only get to use it when I get to Ouahigouya (the city) and will become more infrequent as training progresses since we’re getting busier and busier. Hopefully at my site, I’ll have frequent (and fast!) Internet access!
5) Unlike most other trainees, I don’t have many kids in my family…in fact, I don’t have any at all (except for a couple). The other trainees in my village and I play soccer and Frisbee with some of the other kids every once in a while at the school after our training sessions.

About a week ago, all 32 of us were invited to a wedding between a current Peace Corps volunteer and a Burkinabe woman. It was so interesting to be a part of it and definitely a cross-cultural experience you can’t get elsewhere! I didn’t take many pictures except for a few with some fellow trainees.

Devin and I at the wedding reception. Love this girl! West and East Coast represent!

Marita and I at the wedding. Love this girl too! She's in my same host/training village.

I’ve been here for about a month, so naturally, I’m beginning to feel a pull toward certain people in our group. It’s the weird feeling you get when you know that you’re probably going to be visiting these friends more than others because you feel more of a connection with them. And taking trips with them to various place (like Ghana!!). All in all, however, I love our group dynamic and how we’re from everywhere in the US! We talk about food ALL the time during training – Chinese, Mexican, Thai, American, Italian, etc. etc. – you name it, we’ve probably already drooled over it. We’ve heard Ouaga has some ethnic restaurants so I’m dying to eat at some of them soon! Speaking of training, I’m super excited about many of the things we can implement in our communities – radio programs (since many people here get their info from the radio), French and English clubs, book clubs, HIV/AIDS sensibilizations…the list is pretty much endless!

As I’ve mentioned before, the weather here is straight up CRAZY because it’s rainy season. It’ll be ridiculously hot and somewhat humid for a few days and all of a sudden, you feel the winds picking up, the clouds are dark and ominous-looking, and then you hear the thunder. When you start to see everyone run back to their houses/huts, it’s a good sign that you do the same too.

Rachel, fellow trainee, and the impending rain storm

Being caught up in one of the wind storms is no joke and I remember it being full of dust and dirt everywhere…visibility is almost at zero and all of that dirt gets in your teeth. Yuck! Then the rain starts to pour and I mean POUR. There have been 2 instances where I’ve been outside in the pre-rain ‘fun’…fortunately, I was within my compound’s reach and was able to rush back home and head into my hut! The good thing is that after it rains and clouds have cleared, it feels so good and sweating every second doesn’t happen anymore! Another positive (not related to weather) is that I’m acclimating fairly well to biking. I know I first mentioned that I hated it but I’m really starting to enjoy it and am glad I’m getting the exercise I need…now to tone up those thighs and calves (and abs...okay, maybe I'm asking for too much...). And I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I'd prefer biking over walking.

Integration is generally going well. I only know the very basic greetings in the local language of my village (Moore) so it’s funny when I’m walking around village or around town and I greet people in Moore. They usually laugh and smile so hard…it’s really cool, actually! Coleman’s host dad is convinced that I’m Peulh/Fulani (one of the other ethnic groups here in Burkina Faso) which cracks me up! I’m thinking it’s because I’m getting increasingly dark but whatever…I’m taking it as another sign of integrating well with the community. Since we’re pretty much halfway done with training, it’s starting to feel a little surreal again!

While I am enjoying it here, making new friends, and definitely growing exponentially everyday, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss anyone at home! Some nights, I’ll be dreaming about home or being around friends or family, wake up with a smile, and realize I’m actually in my hut by myself. = That said, I think about you all often so you all must be biting your tongues all the time (got that one from Maria). Write me letters/send packages if you can (and often)! My address is:

Michael Berino, PCT
S/c Corps de la Paix
01 B.P. 6031
Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday America (all the way from Africa)!

To whoever thought a little July 4th fun couldn’t be brought to Burkina Faso was dead wrong!

Us GEE/village folk biked to Ouahigouya for the weekend to celebrate with the other SE people. We had two straight blocks of language class first…I think I mentioned this in my last blog entry, but I’ve switched to French temporarily with Marita (until we find out our site placement). In any case, I’m having so much fun in language because: 1) I’m really improving my conversational French, 2) Saliou (our Language and Culture Facilitator [LCF]) is so hilarious, and 3) Marita and I laugh about everything and you all know how much I love to laugh!

Anyway, later that night, we all celebrated July 4th at the training center. Lots of delicious American(-style) food and drink to go around – burgers (mini baguettes with beef, lettuce, ketchup), fries, brochettes, pasta salad, mango and banana salad, beer (Brakina!). Lots of music and then we got to the games. Apparently we have some really talented people in our training group, and one girl can draw like no other. So we did “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey” type games like “Pin the Peace Corps heart on Obama.”

Peace Corps Burkina Faso 2009 trainees showing some love to our President!

Word on the street is that Obama is coming to Ghana next week (just below Burkina Faso!) so if any of his staffers see this, tell Obama to swing on over to Ouahigouya and visit his Peace Corps trainees up here!!

We also had a lot of music playing and of course, we all ended up dancing! When Coleman put on The Roots and that one old song by Biz Markie…”Just A Friend”…Coleman, Devin, Marita, and I broke it down on the dance floor. So. Much. Fun. Despite the unusually humid night, it was such a blast and a definite break from training. Happy Birthday America…all the way from Africa!