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!!"


Jason said...

Hey Mike... just stopping by to say hello. I hope all is well in Burkina.


Jason Burns

Sable :) said...

MIKEY!!!! I sent you a package. Hopefully you will get it some time before the new year.

MISS YOU!!! Sable