Family. In high school at Saint Mary’s (SMCHS), I think I used the word “community” a lot but when I went to LMU, it transformed into “family.” It defined not only my blood relatives (the de Leons and the Berinos who I love to death!) but also the people I met in life that I consider my close friends or people I just felt connected to on multiple levels. Another sense of family. At LMU, I had my IB (Isang Bansa Filipino-American student organization) family; my Magis Service Organization family; my Doheny (freshman year dorm) family; my McCarthy Hall RA (Resident Advisor) family…the list is truly endless, but it was a word that was so deeply rooted in my daily vocabulary that I would use it so often and didn’t even think about it.
Coming to Burkina Faso and doing the Peace Corps, I think I’ve gained another family with my fellow volunteers. They really are your support base when things get rough, when things are going well, or when things get so boring that you want to text someone!
Not so surprisingly, that same sense of family is something I’m slowly finding here at my site. Because of the Ouattara family, I’m starting to feel genuinely comfortable and at home at site. For example, the other day, I whipped out my old Dioula/Jula notes from training and the girls (Aïcha and Farida – they kind of remind me of my two younger cousins back home, Ianne and Isa) helped me with some pronunciation so I could at least greet many of the women that pass by my house to get to the pump or the women that work at the market. Or maybe it’s when I came back home one day and wasn’t feeling so well and Madame Ouattara told me, like a good aunt, that I shouldn’t joke around with the sudden change in weather even if I am used to it being cold in the U.S. She pointed to the fact that I was wearing a tank top and it was “cold” (mind you, it was probably 80 ºF which isn’t quite cold to me…but still). Or when Clémence and I joke around and laugh whenever we see each other, simply because we both love laughing! Or maybe that one time when Ali and Rachid asked me to help them carry something that was ridiculously heavy and jokingly said that if I was truly a part of the family, I’d do it without hesitation (which, for the record, I did, haha). Or because on Thursdays, the Ouattara family does their laundry and subconsciously, I’ve been doing my laundry the same time, too – and how Madame Ouattara said that since I pretty much follow their schedule, I’m a part of their family and should now be called “Michael Ouattara.”
I’m beyond glad that this idea of family transcends all cultural barriers. A universal concept, really. Particularly here in Burkina Faso, the idea of everyone being a part of your extended family is so essential to the Burkinabè’s daily way of living.
Lately I’ve been missing my family and friends more than usual. I’ll have dreams of family and friends, have random memories come to mind throughout the day, or think a little more pensively when songs that remind me of certain people come up on my iPod. Perhaps it’s the holiday season coming up? I don’t know. Really though, it’s this sense of family that I’ve found here in Africa that resonates so deeply with me and in a way, keeps me sane and strong when things get a little tough at site.
Like this past Thursday was Thanksgiving. I told the Ouattaras about this a month ago and said that we’d celebrate it together = eating lots of good food at lunch. I cooked a simple pasta dish with chicken and tomato sauce, plus had salad (yes, I discovered a little garden that sells lettuce! I love it!!).
Farida with the food I cooked for our Thanksgiving lunch feast. Opened up the can of chicken breast that I got from Dad. Mmmmmm!
Cleaning and washing the lettuce the night before.
Ali really showing me how it's done!
The next day was a Muslim holiday called Tabaski or the “Fête des Moutons” (Feast/Celebration of the Sheep). Here in Burkina Faso, they celebrate everything – government holidays, Muslim holidays, Christian holidays, etc. I’m sure as hell not complaining! And for Tabaski, regardless of whether you’re Muslim or not, you’re celebrating with lots of food and causeries with your neighbors, family and friends! So I was invited to Bakari’s house (chef du village) since he’s Muslim and there was lots of food, including meat! Having meat at a Burkinabè celebration is a big deal because it’s relatively expensive here and is bought during special occasions only – also since the average Burkinabè eats a carb-filled diet on a regular basis without meat and many times, without vegetables, having meat is quite the luxury. I came back home and Madame Ouattara said they were looking for me during lunch to fête (celebrate) with them and invited me over for dinner – and I had such a good time chatting it up with the family! My first time celebrating Tabaski!
On a completely different but equally important note: the weather! Holy moly, the change in temperature and atmosphere has been dramatic for the past 2 weeks and counting already. It’s dustier outside and I’m starting to get a little sick with a sore throat and coughing. And my nostrils are always so damn dry that I have to apply Vaseline a couple of times each day. It gets noticeably cooler once the sun starts to go down and I actually have to heat up my water before taking my bucket bath in the late afternoon/early evening! It’s kind of a funny site to see everyone bundled up in parka gear as if they’re heading to the snow. In the morning when I wake up, I check my thermostat and it says 65ºF which is freaking cold over here! I hear in December and January, it can get as cold as 55ºF which I don’t even know what to think. Haha!