Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Congratulations, you are official Peace Corps volunteers!"

Who would’ve thought this day would finally come?! And so soon! We arrived in Ouaga this past Sunday and are now staying in a hotel with air conditioning, a toilet and a shower! Ah yes, the simple luxuries of life. Our last few days of training consisted of evaluations, final medical and technical training sessions, and taking our final Language Proficiency Interview/Exam (PS: I moved up a level to Advanced Low in French! Granted, it’s all relative but hey, it’s [at the very least] an ego-booster!).

In the days leading up to Ouaga, I had 3 things I had to do: get Chinese food (wonton soup, especially), shop at Marina Market, and go out for drinks (hard liquor, folks – none of this beer stuff, haha!). Almost immediately after arriving, half of our training group went out for Chinese food. Devin, Colette and I tried the other Chinese restaurant the last time we were in Ouaga but heard the one in centre-ville (downtown) was better. All told, I had wonton soup and lemon chicken…and I was pretty much on Cloud Nine until we all decided to get ice-cream at this really nice restaurant. At this same restaurant for the next couple of days, I got a legit cheeseburger with fries, a chocolate banana split and a shrimp scampi-like pizza (CPK, anyone?). Holy crap – amazing!!

Now the second thing on my mental checklist was going to Marina Market. These are only found in Ouaga and Bobo (the 2 biggest cities in BF) and it’s literally like a slice of America. They’re like your typical grocery stores back in the US but in a country like BF, they seem completely out of place. I literally stocked up on everything I could find once we received our Settling-In Allowance – toilet paper, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables, corned beef, spices, canned tuna, etc. etc. They even had Vietnamese pho soup mixes! Basically anything I can’t get at site, I got it at Marina Market. Of course, the price of everything there was ridiculously overpriced (probably tantamount to US prices) so while I went ‘crazy,’ I still had to budget a little. I bet everyone thought us Americans were insane for buying everything in excess.

The day of Swear-In Ceremony, all of us trainees were scheduled to have a tour of the US Embassy in Ouaga. It reminded me a lot of the US Embassy in the Philippines when we were stuck in the Philippines and had to get David’s passport renewed. My absolute favorite part was when we met the Chargé d’Affaires (2nd in charge after the Ambassador) and he started talking to us about a career with the Department of State/the Foreign Service – the ultra-competitive Foreign Service Exam, changing posts/countries every few years, 5 career tracks to choose from (political, consular, economic, etc.), meet and work with many different people, represent the US in diplomacy. Basically, a really lucrative career that I thought about following a long time ago and now am really considering it, especially after the Peace Corps and grad school! So send me those Foreign Service Exam prep books and copies of ‘The Economist’ – I got to get studying these next 2 years, haha! He also talked a lot about International Development and USAID, and that got me thinking more about careers in the international/global realm. And with the UN too! Endless, I tell you…

…but back to the situation at-hand, Swear-In Ceremony was later that evening at the US Ambassador’s Residence. Such a beautiful event – all of us were dressed so nice, most of us wearing traditional African/Burkinabè attire that we had custom-made at the tailor. Burkinabè government officials/ministers, US Embassy dignitaries, Peace Corps staff, current volunteers, and the media were all there. Some of us gave thank you speeches in local languages and in French, and we were made to do an official oath as representatives of the US – and to make us official Peace Corps volunteers! And we are the 2nd consecutive group of BF trainees to enter as 32 and swear-in as 32 official PC volunteers! There was wine, plates of hors d’oeuvres, cake, beer on tap and lots of photos taken!

What I call the 'Original Three.' Story goes like this: When I got my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps/Burkina Faso in January 2009, I posted it on my blog. found my blog and added it to their database. A few days after that, I received 2 Facebook friend requests: from Molly and Chris. From that point on until Staging in June, we chatted with each other on FB, etc. Great way to prep for leaving!

Emily and I. Bringing the traditional Mikey peace sign to Burkina Faso/Africa!

Steph and I in our traditional Burkinabe complets/outfits. This is the only one I could find where it shows my whole outfit...if you look at the bottom of the picture, I'm wearing these black, fake-leather sandals I found at the market. My actual outfit is called a 'boubou' which is traditional Burkinabe wear for men. It's usually much longer and looser but I asked that it be a little slimmer and shorter since I'm so thin!

Ahh yes...Colette, Devin and I with Zach, a PCVF (PCV that helps with training). I love us! (What's new, right?)

After the ceremony, a lot of us chilled at the hotel pool, and then headed to get some food in downtown Ouaga. I kid you not, there were at least 50-80 PC volunteers there – the longest table imaginable. And a few of us even went dancing!

I’ll probably say this time and again, but it’s completely true when they say the days seem like forever but the weeks and months fly by. It’s amazing to think we started as 32 people from all over the US, extremely different in personality and schooling/careers and now we’re at this point. Who would’ve thought some of us would get so close as friends; I can only imagine how these next 2 years (and beyond) will play out…

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