Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Every amazing adventure must come to an end. Or so they say...

The subject line says it all. While this probably won't be my last blog entry, this will definitely be my last blog entry as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso. Words can't even express what the experience has been or how this has affected me. Reading this blog is probably one of the best ways to capture how I've felt. I know that the effects the Peace Corps has had on my life will be evident in the months and years to come when I'm back home in the U.S. I'll be somewhere and something will instantly remind me of Burkina Faso. Or I'll strike up a conversation with a random stranger or friend, and conjure up images of life abroad.

Luba and I. Luba is in the newest group of Peace Corps trainees here in Burkina Faso and is my replacement! We were fortunate to meet up because we were in Ouaga at the same time (funny how things work out in life). She was there to meet her community counterpart (who is coincidentally my friend, Nazaire) and I was there to complete my service in Ouaga.

Some of the Peace Corps Burkina Faso staff during our COS (Close of Service) ceremony.

The five of us that were COSing: myself, Colette, Julie, Marita and Rachel.

Colette and I. In it together and finishing strong together!

With Mariam, one of my favorite people in the Peace Corps Burkina Faso office! She's so hilarious.

With Brenda, one of my Peace Corps faves (and fellow Californian)!

With Emily at the Transit House. Loves!!

With Armande, another favorite. Such a great resource at the office!

With Paré, one of the drivers.

And with Shannon, our Country Director. Such a dynamic and experienced woman! What an inspiration -- she's worked all over the world, doing humanitarian and development work. I hope to do some of the work that she's done.

Getting my Peace Corps ID Card's official! I'm a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV)!

With Diallo, perhaps the nicest, most genuine man in Burkina Faso! He trained as us Peace Corps trainees in 2009 and now works at the Peace Corps Burkina Faso office full-time.

The outside of the Peace Corps Burkina Faso office in Ouagadougou.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs)! Two years and three months, done.Au revoir, Burkina Faso! Bonjour, Paris!

I think the one thing that will always stay is the quote from LMU that I've made into my life's mantra of sorts (and coincidentally, the title of this blog): "Go forth and set the world on fire." It can be interpreted in many ways but I see it as this: use the skills that you've gained in all of your life's experiences (school and otherwise) to make the world a better place. Build relationships. Strengthen communities. Learn about new cultures. Share your insights with everyone. Because at the end of the day, that's what we're all here for as humans, right?

Thank you Peace Corps for providing me with the opportunity to serve. Thank you Burkina Faso for the hospitality you've given me these past years. And thank you God for leading me through this crazy, grand adventure called life.

So what's next?!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Leaving a lasting impression: a map of Burkina Faso!

Technically speaking, my last activity at site was my big Girls' Camp with all of the other Peace Corps Volunteers in my region helping out. But I've been wanting to do this one activity for quite some time. The Volunteer before me did a World Map, so I figured why not do a map of Burkina Faso to help people better understand the geography of their own country (many times, I feel like I know the geography of the world better than the geography of the U.S....true and sad story).

It really started in February 2011 when Ali and I started to trace out a huge square on the primary school wall to make a Burkina Faso map. Since everything was coming out of my pocket, I didn't have the money to pay someone to cement the wall and flatten it out. So Ali and I used a daba (farming tool used by hand to till the soil) to scrap the wall until it resembled something flat and easy to paint on...then days passed, followed by weeks, which turned into months. Everyday, I'd pass by and think to myself, "Man, I really need to get this started. Ehh, maybe tomorrow when it's not so hot (or some other excuse)."

Ali and Hercules chilling by the now-scraped wall at the side of the school.

June and July quickly approached and my neighbors would keep asking when I would finish it. I told them I would never, ever leave and not to finish it. A promise is a promise, right? But also, I knew that I needed to just do it and stop procrastinating. Also, I had such a limited time frame to paint it. I could only paint in the mornings until 12:00pm because the sun would hit the wall after that time, making it unbearable to paint with the African sun beating on you. Also, rainy season was approaching, making it virtually unpredictable to guess what the weather would be that day.

Needless to say, procrastination/time moving rapidly toward my departure got the best of me and within less than two weeks, I was able to complete this (of course, with the help of Ali and his friend Franck)!

Ali and I painting the surface white first.

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of creating a grid to properly draw the map -- partially because I'm a perfectionist and wanted all the lines to be as straight as possible. I already had a drawing on a piece of paper with the grid, so it was much easier to draw (and a lot of fun, actually)!

Franck, Ali's friend, has a knack for drawing, so I made him do the Peace Corps logo at the corner.

Then I outlined Burkina Faso itself in paint to ensure less mess when painting.

This picture is so indicative of how many people came to watch. At first, it was kind of annoying because I just wanted to work without a dozen people staring at my every move from behind. But in the end, I actually started to appreciate it. I could see students (and adults even) start to see the map start to take form and I could start to see little lightbulbs turning on. Amazing!

Because the map was so close to my house, Grace would walk over all the time, mumble something and tried to keep touching the map. Loves it!

He's so good at drawing!

Almost done! I'd just like to note how unstable that ladder was. While I wanted to get this map done, I also didn't want to break any bones before leaving.

Peace Corps! With the names of the people who created it below.

The finished product with my two helpers, Ali and Franck. Couldn't have done this without them!!

Pointing to where I live in Burkina Faso.

I hope this map stays for years to come. I figure teachers in the schools around Kampti can use it as a guide for their students when it comes to geography lessons. And it's pretty huge: 8' x 11'! It also initiated a lot of good dialogue between community members, students and myself. It was also a great way of saying farewell to Kampti and to the many people that have made my experience in Burkina Faso so pleasant. Until next time!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Last few moments at site!

These past couple of weeks have been...insane/sad/great/exhausting/all of the above. How do you properly leave all that was familiar to you for two years and readjust to what you've been living in for your life prior to Peace Corps?

Before I continue, many of you have probably been wondering why I never gave the name of my site. Well, the reason is that for security reasons, it's just not that best idea. Yeah, you walk into my town and I'm probably the only American you'll find but the Internet is a big place and with all of this terrorism 'stuff' going on these days, you never know!

Since I'm posting this now, I can say that the name of my site is Kampti-Bouti. It's a small town in southwestern Burkina Faso about 25 kilometers from the Burkina Faso-Cote d'Ivoire/Ivory Coast border, and the farthest south Peace Corps site in Burkina Faso. It's basically a cross between a midsized town in Burkina Faso and a village, as there are many different neighborhoods of sorts. However, there is no electricity (there are solar panels everywhere) or running water.

Probably the biggest thing I want to note from in this blog entry is the farewell party that my Burkinabè friends in Kampti put together for me. I really wasn't expecting all. I really thought I'd be the one to put together a little something for my farewell since things do get expensive, plus I didn't want to make a big deal out of me leaving.

Regardless, it was such a kind gesture and yet another reminder of how the Burkinabè are some of the most hospitable, if not the most hospitable, people in the world. Enjoy the pictures!

This picture is so inspiring to me. There will be moments where I'm biking back home in the afternoon, and the clouds and sun will form something truly amazing like this. Inspiring.

Kadidja and her little brother Husseini come by as I clean out my house. They saw the world map and it made the perfect picture. I was explaining to them how far California is from Burkina Faso.

I really wish Grace would smile more in pictures!

Nazaire making tea. I think I've mentioned this before, but making African tea is essentially an afternoon ritual. I've done it with these guys so many times. Three little shot glasses of tea, each glass getting progressively sweeter. I'm going to miss this!

The everyday afternoon tea spot. So simple. I could nap here!

I realized I never got a picture of how I wash dishes here in Burkina Faso. Two buckets: one with soapy water, the other with rinsing water with a little bit of bleach. Leave the dishes to dry in the sun, and voila, (seemingly) clean dishes!

Grace and Hercules. Awww!

After a crazy downpour. Rainy season begins!

With Mathieu who helped me making pagne apron gifts for my friends and family back home!

With Amadou, the craziest old man in Kampti. I don't know if he's drunk all the time or just downright crazy.

Getting water at the pump. Two huge plastic water jugs, my bike and lots of motivation.

My pump!

With some of the guys at my Inspection (head of the primary schools in Kampti).

At Mathieu's shop.

My friend Reine presenting me with a gift from them all: a traditional Lobi outfit worn by men!

Of course, I had to try it on in front of everyone. I literally felt like I was swimming in this outfit. You could've fit two people in there!


Jon and I. So happy he could make it!

Mathieu, one of my closest friends in Kampti, and I.

Reine and I before she had to leave.

Group photo! It's funny because most of the guys in the picture are at least 10 (if not more!) years older than Jon and I.

Ali in the bus. I decided to take him with me to Gaoua as a trip together. Fun times!

One of my good friends, Koro, and I. She was in Gaoua taking the BAC exam (equivalent to the high school diploma, except in Burkina Faso, it's viewed more as a college degree).

Shannon and I. Gonna miss you!

Before I headed back to Kampti, Jon and I took a little side trip to a village nearby where they make baskets.

Shannon and I outside the APFG (the women's association in Gaoua). They do so much good work here -- microfinancing, a dolo (local millet beer) bar, awareness sessions on HIV/AIDS/health/etc., a store that sells shea butter soap and other African goodies, and an Internet café. Classy!

Ali and I with the baskets.

How they make village good!

The mud stove where they make the bread. Genius!

These women are amazing at their craft. And they do it with such ease!


A view of Kampti and the main road.

My treat to some of my close friends here in Kampti.

Mmmmm...cold beer.

Because they drink their African tea at what seems like shot glasses, I gave them a shot glass with San Francisco on it so they would never forget me. Haha!

Mathieu, Nazaire and I. Two of my closest friends here in Kampti (next to my neighbors)!

With Valerie, my go-to lady at the marché (market). I buy all my cooking basics from her -- onions, tomatoes, garlic, spices.

View of the market in Kampti.

With Asetu, one of my other go-to ladies at the market.


With Alice. Whenever I'm feeling lazy and don't want to cook lunch, I get food from her in town. Mmmm... attieké!

The kids getting water for me. They're so balanced!

Hercules looking so sad as I leave Kampti...

The inside of the normal way of transportation in Burkina Faso: via bus. Although this is much cleaner than most buses...

Gifts for Kadidja to ensure that we still keep in contact...and that she continues going to school!