Saturday, November 14, 2009

Causeries: the PCV's key to integration

Causerie: conversation; chatter.

Causer: to chat.

During PST (Pre-Service Training), the words/terms “bien integré (well integrated),” “community/village,” “learn the local language,” and many more were pounded into our heads as PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees). Okay, maybe not pounded into our heads…but they were repeated multiple times a day that it became a part of our daily vocabulary. But one word that really stood out was “causer” (to chat). PCVFs (Peace Corps Volunteer Facilitators), LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitators) and all PC staff used this term incessantly. Even here at site, I hear those words all the time. In all the years I’ve taken French (high school and college), I’ve never heard of this verb before. By no means am I saying I’m an expert in French, but it’s just bizarre to have this word used many times while here in French-speaking Burkina Faso but not once did I ever come across it when studying French…

Anyway, almost 3 months at site, I see why the Peace Corps drove this point home with us during training. Causer. Causeries. This really is the PCV’s key to integration. It can be in the form of saying a quick “Bonjour-how’s your day-how’s your family-did you sleep well” to your neighbors in the morning, or a five-hour (seriously, not kidding) conversation over three small cups of African-style tea and with gombo sauce (it’s a staple Burkinabè dish – like hardened, bland Cream of Wheat…the sauce really makes or breaks the dish) on a lazy, sunny afternoon.

These happen all the time, even during training. At first, they would just be awkward and sometimes even a little uncomfortable -- the language barriers, many moments of sitting in silence, etc. As Americans, we're used to quick conversations and debates, and rarely make the time for long conversations (unless, say, it's 2 in the morning at your college dorm [read: LMU] and you chat it up with your friends because you don't want to do anything else but be with your friends). But in a culture that values getting to know your neighbors/thinking of everyone as your extended family, causeries and food are at the heart of this. One time, I mentioned to Madame Ouattara that there are many parts of the US where people don't know there own neighbors, even after living there for years. It's true in a lot of the suburbs outside of big cities (I live in one, so I think I'd know). She was completely shocked by this but I explained it's a different kind of culture.

I think I really appreciated these causeries immediately after my birthday lunch when I invited the Ouattaras over to eat. From that point on, I really felt like I was a part of this community and this network of neighbors. These causeries didn't feel so awkward or forced anymore; like it's slowly becoming second-nature for me to leave the confines of my house every so often and sit under the shade of a huge tree and causer with my neighbors. We chat about the everything -- life in Burkina Faso and the US; about our days, families and work; my years at LMU; my background as a Filipino-American (honestly, being both Filipino and American have worked to my advantage because Burkina Faso and the Philippines share so many cultural values that I've been raised with -- more on this in another blog; hopefully); pop culture and music; food; really, just about everything!! Even if there's not much to say verbally, there's lots to be said about being present and surrounded by people, even if few words are spoken.

I'm still, and always will be, adjusting but I think that I really feel like I'm gradually becoming a member of this community. There are moments where I'll feel like a complete foreigner/alien, moments where I'll feel like an American missing home/family/friends and moments where I'm Burkinabè and feel integrated (granted, many moments like these are mixed in one day which can sometimes be an emotional/mind fuck [excuse the language])'s just finding the right balance that's important!

...and on a completely unrelated note, my mom told me that Manny Pacquiao (one of the best, if not the best boxers in the world who hails from the Philippines) is fighting Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas! How I wish I had HBO to watch it -- Pacquiao! You've got fans all over the world, even one here in the middle of West Africa! As the Burkinabè say: "Du courage!!"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Halloween and Birthday festivities continued...

So I'm back in Gaoua for the day with Jon...just to buy a couple of things and check the Poste (post office) for anything. Last weekend, several of us met up in Gaoua for Halloween/23rd Birthday festivities! Marita and Julie came first and we ate at one of our normal hang-outs...then Leslie came and it was really like a mini-reunion for all of us. Head to Kyle's and because he has electricity and his laptop, we watched movies like no other (plus it was starting to rain so it was perfect for being indoors)...movies like one of my all-time favorites: Mean Girls!! Headed back en ville (downtown/in the city centre) to grab some dinner and Emily eventually made it! It was my first time experiencing the nightlife in Gaoua and I have to was pretty good. Some cold beers + PC friends + music/dancing + really chilly night weather = a good time! Whenever we go out, there are always Burkinabè guys flirting/hitting on female volunteers so us male volunteers play the role of boyfriends/husbands...which is always lots of fun! Turns out those 4 years of acting/theatre really helped in high school. =)

The next day, all 6 of us took a bus to Jon's site because there was a huge fete (party). He lives in more of a village so it was a big deal. One of the highlights was archery which is big in Lobi culture. Toward the end of the day, we bike back to my site (about 17km south of Jon's) and I make village tacos & mixed veggies for dinner plus canned peaches & pears for dessert. Basically, I opened up a lot of my canned food but it was totally worth it!

Believe it or not, we somehow found a pumpkin leaving Jon's site, so when we got to my site, we did a little pumpkin carving to truly celebrate our Halloween celebration in BF. Ignore the Pert shampoo bottle...inside joke...

The following day, we bike the 19km to the Loropeni Ruins...since I'm too lazy to explain what it is, here's a brief explanation from Wikipedia:
  • Loropéni is a market town in southern Burkina Faso, lying west of Gaoua. Local features include pre-European stone ruins, about which little is known. One theory is that they formed the enclosure of the courtyard of a Kaan Iya (king or paramount ruler of the Kaan people) from antiquity. There is a similar, though much-degraded ruin around the current royal courtyard in Obiré. Another theory is that the ruins may have been a slave holding site for slave raids in the area.

  • The Loropéni ruins were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2009. The ruins are the country's first World Heritage inscription. Surrounded by mystery, the 11,130m2 property is made up of an array of stone walls. Loropéni is the best preserved example of a type of fortified settlement in a wide part of West Africa, linked to the tradition of gold mining, which seems to have persisted through at least seven centuries. Loropéni, given its size and scope reflects a type of structure quite different from the walled towns of what is now Nigeria, or the cities of the upper reaches of the river Niger which flourished as part of the Empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. It thus can be seen as an exceptional testimony to the settlement response generated by the gold trade.
It was quite a bike ride but I think it's amazing that I don't live that far away from a World Heritage site! I'll let the pictures and little captions tell of our adventure over there...other people took better pictures of our adventures this weekend but these are the ones I have on my camera:

Outside the Loropeni Ruins. The first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Burkina Faso (just got accepted to the list this year). AND I live only 19km away!

Yours truly outside the Loropeni Ruins. According to Leslie (she read this somewhere), these rocks were put together with honey and shea butter.

Marita and Julie inside the Ruins.

Emily and I looking off into the distance...wearing our Obama gear. Gotta represent Obama in Africa!

Biking back was harder than I thought but I was able to show everyone my site's centre-ville and for dinner, I made something that I've crafted as my specialty: Mikey's Minestrone Soup (noodles, tomatoes, onions, garlic, a little bit of powdered milk to thicken it, tomato paste, lots of spices/salt) and Grilled Vache Qui Rit Cheese Sandwiches...delicious!

Everyone left to head back to their sites on Tuesday and it meant back to work for me = continuing class observations at the Ecole Primaire. It's been no doubt an interesting experience and as I said in my last entry, I'm getting more and more ideas for projects. I realized that many students have trouble reading aloud and I think starting some type of Reading/Book Club would be a good idea. Observing classes really forces me to think of creative ways to make school more interesting for kids here so that they're more likely to continue their studies until high school and beyond. I'm observing classes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday all the way way up until December when I have VAC and I'm keeping myself busy.

Aaaaand I'm starting to really love my site. I think it really has to do with the fact that I chat it up a lot with my neighbors (Ali's family -- the Ouattara's) everyday and kind of see them as my own family here. I was reading on my porch one afternoon and it was getting really dark. Madame Ouattara (Ali's aunt) comes by and tells me not to read in the dark because I'll ruin my eyes...something my Mom would tell me back home, haha! They even make the most delicious peanut brittle and toffee hard candies I've ever had. Jon and I are addicted! I even invited the Ouattaras over at the end of the month to celebrate Thanksgiving with me so we're going to have American and Burkinabè dishes! Now if I can only think of a way to cook a Filipino dish, too...