Friday, June 26, 2009

"L'aide n'a jamais aidé personne"

The first workshop of the retreat was a session on the mentality of JFs at different stages of their placement. It described the emotions that most JFs go through and we talked about how to deal with them in order to stay as positive as possible. It was a bit intimidating to hear that in month 2 we will hit our emotional crash point, and we will start to realize that we haven’t put enough effort into our work, but I guess this is a good warning to ensure that we are as prepared for this crash as possible, or that we find ways to prevent it. The JFs mostly all agreed on the mentality of month 1 and it was reassuring to know we’re all pretty much in the same boat mentality-wise with emotions including: overwhelmed-ness, excitement, motivation and frustration.

Next workshop brought us back to Canada and talked about EWB’s endeavor to rearticulate its direction and vision to make sure we’re on the right track. You may not know, but EWB recently burned their mission statement and so we are trying to find a better one to take its place, and stimulate in-depth discussion on where we are headed as an organization. Some people had started to feel a bit disconnected from EWB because of lack of opportunity for communication so this was a good workshop to bring them back into the loop.

Dori hillside

Next session we each presented our placements to the group including our work, lives in our host communities and our communication with Canada. It was really neat to hear what everyone else has been up to and connect back with the team!! Most people are very settled into their host families and host communities, but are still struggling to find their place at work, and develop their impact plan for the summer.

After this we split up into sector groups and prepared our presentations for the long term overseas volunteers for Saturday. WATSAN (water and sanitation), my group, discussed organizational challenges that we have noticed in our partner organizations, the results of these challenges, and what would have to be changed to improve the institutional capacity of our NGOs. Putting these down in writing was very useful as it enabled us to see where we could have impact in supporting our organizations. The different organizational challenges that I see in PACEA-Est are milling around in my head but I want to talk to Christian to find out his opinion before I splash them all over the internet. The details of my improvements for Helvetas follow below and these I’ve already discussed with Christian.

STMB Bus ride back to Ouaga

We headed back to Ouaga on Friday and I was pumped about all of the workshops to come and being able to use my learning once I got back to work in Fada. Saturday was our sector day, and we were thus with the long term overseas volunteers and each presented our placements. The long terms presented their placements as well and it was great to get to hear what they are up to as well. We also presented what we had prepared in terms of organizational challenges and improvements that we could bring to our organizations.

The three main improvements that I saw for Helvetas were

1. Hiring a 2nd coordinator for the PACEA-Est program. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that Christian is the ONLY staff for PACEA-Est and is thus responsible for 3 communes… soon to be 5. What with the program expanding, and the different communes being far apart it will soon be virtually impossible for Christian to run the program alone. I suggested sending a long term overseas volunteer to work with Christian because not only would this provide him with the support needed to run the program, but it would be a great opportunity for the volunteer. They would not simply be an intern in an office, lost in what their role is, but they would be in charge of specific communes and would act as an equal, a collaborator for Christian. They wouldn’t be doing gap filling, but they would rather be taking charge of Water and Sanitation projects in specified communes. This would be a great learning experience for the volunteer, and would also help EWB further explore the idea of working with communes in Burkina Faso, much like the Good Governance sector does in Ghana.

2. Recruiting a Burkinabè volunteer to work in one of the communes. Exploring this idea is part of my placement this summer, and I’m starting to be convinced that this will greatly help Christian, the communes, and the mayoral office. The volunteer would be placed in one of the communes, probably Bogandé because we are most advanced in our work there, and would work both in the mayoral office, and with the Women’s Association and Technical Committee. Because Christian is so busy it is hard for him to visit the communes often, and one of the roles this volunteer would play would be to connect Christian to the field realities in Bogandé. This volunteer would be the inside view of the commune and would have a much better idea of what the commune needed in terms of water and sanitation projects. This volunteer would also work to evaluate the capacity of the communes and would find ways to support and reinforce the capacity of the mayoral office. This would be a continuation of my role, and would thus enable a good exit strategy for me. I am currently working on a proposal for this volunteer and will be talking with the Mayor of Bogandé to find out his views on this.

3. Written reports from the mayor, women’s association and technical committee. Although there are plenty of reports written by Christian, and the consultants who performed the various studies in the PACEA-Est’s partner communes, I have yet to see a report written by the mayor’s office, women’s association or technical committee. In a question session with Christian I asked him what kind of feedback and reporting comes from the mayor, women’s association and technical committee (the committee who overseas water and sanitation projects in the community) and he said that all feedback was oral. “If the women’s association has a problem they tell me and we fix it” – Christian. Maybe it is because of the society I grew up in, but for me this doesn’t quite cut it. I am sure there are many problems or observations that don’t get back to Christian, and this makes it hard for him to run the best program that he can. It is hard for him to see the progress of the project when the only feedback he is getting is from the mayor saying “Yup, things are going pretty well” and the women saying “We have seen a decrease in the amount of garbage in the commune”. I would like to see some written reports from the 3 organizational bodies in Bogandé (and in the other communes) so that Christian can better evaluate the progress of the projects, can better support the women’s association and technical committee, and can get a better idea of the field realities in the communes.
I have taken it upon me to try and work on all 3 of these improvements and see where I can have an impact. I think that improvements in any of these 3 areas will make the program much more efficient, more connected to the on the ground work, and enable the program to expand to help more communes.

The next day started off with me, Nushka and Boris going for an intense jog and then me teaching them some good ab exercises. I hadn’t felt so energized since I arrived at the retreat; it was a great way to start the day.

We then had a workshop which taught us how to understand our influencing styles, and how to work with different influencing styles. The workshop talked about how our behavioral style indicates our preferred method of communication. Every person has their own preference, which means we need to be flexible in the way we try to communicate (and work) with others. To influence others it is important to understand how others prefer to communicate. We also looked into our own behavioral styles. It was a great workshop, but I wasn’t so sure that I fit into the restrictive box of “expresser” that I was categorized into. Next we partook in a workshop that is going on across Canada and in all overseas programs to try and redefine EWBs vision and values. Having some time for individual reflection was very welcome, and also reconnecting with EWB felt great. We then created a video of what EWB means to us!!

quite the nice place to have an afternoon debate

The last workshop of the retreat was 2 separate simultaneous debates. I partook in the debate entitled “L’aide n’a jamais aidé personne”. This debate was exciting and inspired a lot of reflection and really helped me put my work here in to perspective. The one side was very adamant that aid breaks the natural cycle of development of a country, and that we are taking away a country’s autonomy by coming in to “help” them. We touched on the experience of one of the JFs who said that in her community that she’s working in, when a pump breaks the community waits around for another NGO to come and repair it since they are so used to having NGOs come through their village. If there had never been an NGO in this village would the village have repaired the pump themselves? That was the debate. We also touched on the inferiority complex that many Africans have towards westerners (in our experiences). They have this idea that “White people always have the solution” and so again they wait around for ‘our’ help. This is definitely not the result we want our aid to have. We discussed the fact that aid should be a slow and unforced process. Instead of pushing too much as we often do in development, we have to let Africa develop at its own pace. Development doesn’t happen overnight, it takes generations, and westerners with their go getter attitudes don’t always seem to understand this. We then broke up aid into 2 different types: budgetary aid/ implementation, and coaching/ evolution. We all agreed that the latter was the better option, which made it hard for us to see why we had been pushing for 0.7% with EWB over the past couple of years. What we really need to be advocating for is BETTER aid, not MORE aid. Finally we talked about people’s and government’s ownership of their development as being a priority for us. We want them to putting their all into their country’s development, and if we can find a way that we can help without getting in their way than that is awesome. It was hard after this intense debate to then think about going back to our placements when we were unsure if what we were doing was right, but that’s what we are here to discover.

Now I’m back at work and unfortunately colleague-less. Christian is on a business trip to Switzerland and so I have been working on planning my longer stay in Bogandé, detailing my proposal for a Burkinabè volunteer, practicing Gulmanché, and holding down the fort at PACEA-Est... no big deal, being in charge of a whole NGO or anything :)

I would love some feedback on the aid debate, or any of the other workshops!!!
Have a great week all!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What do a camel ride, a professional soccer game and a bachelorette party have in common?

Well… these all happen to be activities that we partook in during the EWB Junior Fellow (JF) retreat. The retreat took place in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina, and Dori, a small town up north known for its ridiculously hot temperatures. It was great to be reunited with all of the other JF’s, and the motivation and knowledge that I gained by participating in this retreat was phenomenal. I am now back in Fada and inspired to push myself harder in my work, gulmanché proficiency, and discussions and interactions with other fadalese. I have split my post about the retreat in 2 and will go into detail about the workshops and discussions of the retreat in the other post, but first to the fun stuff…

The retreat started last Wednesday with an unintended adventure around Ouaga in a taxi with 7 people + driver trying to find the right bus station to get to Dori. We had started off with just 4 of us in the taxi but ran into more JFs on our way so we piled them (and their bags) into the taxi with us. After visiting several bus stations we finally found the right one. 4.5 hour bus ride and lots of stories later we arrived in the desert town of Dori.

women selling goodies to the bus passengers

We all stayed in a hotel together, and it was weird to not be the only nasara (well toubaboo in Dori’s language, Peulh) around. The next 2 days were absolutely packed with activities, workshops and snacks!! One of the things we were required to bring to the retreat was a popular snack from our area. There was mango jam, sweet cakes, a million different types of peanuts, sesame snacks, shea nuts, etc etc. I brought gourma honey, and peanut butter that I had made with the family which teamed up nicely with Alanna’s chocolate spread and Luigi’s fancy loaves of bread. We were spoiled, and some of the JFs paid the price of trying too many new foods too quickly…

Our first activity came on Day 2 which was entitled fun day. We got up at 4:45… sounds fun already doesn’t it? Then took an hour long donkey cart ride to get to our desert destination. It was hilarious to have 10 white people on a donkey cart going through the town. For the first time since we’ve been here people were taking pictures of US!!

Here we are on the donkey cart practically on display in a museum.

Once we got to our destination we were greeted by tons of little kids who were continually asking us to take pictures of them and 11 camels waiting eagerly to tour us around the desert. It’s a weird experience getting up on a camel.

Here are our beautiful camels

They have all these weird bends in their legs and almost throw you off while they are getting up.

Here's a video of me on my camel

After an hour I’d just about had it. I had had to get off my camel because it was whining and needed its supports adjusted and as a result my camel had to practically run to catch up to the rest of the group. Being thrown back and forth between 2 pieces of wood supports at 3 meters height in the middle of the desert in 45 degree weather is not really my cup of tea. Soon enough I pulled out my scarf to cover my head, but that wasn’t enough to keep me going. Dehydration and heat in my case led to dismounting my camel in the middle of the desert and throwing up my breakfast.

The group continued on without me, and the guide split off with me and brought me back to the road where I caught a donkey cart ride full of hay back to the hotel. Slept at the hotel for an hour and was woken up just in time to catch a 4.5 hour bumpy bus ride back to Ouaga. Fun day for me was thus not so fun.

The next fun activity came on sector presentation day. We were rushed all throughout the day because we had a deadline to meet… The Burkina Faso Étalons were playing the Côte d’Ivoire Elephants at 18h and WE HAD TICKETS (soccer teams for those of you who don’t know)!!! At 16h we left all valuables behind… including camera :( and headed to the stadium. Once we got there all of the doors were shut and people were angrily banging on them. There were also men peeing everywhere and so we were constantly treading through urine. As Luigi said “WATSAN, what are you guys doing? You’ve got your work cut out for you.” We’ve got a long way to go in terms of sanitation behavior changes that’s for sure. We ran from gate to gate trying to get in and finally got a text that gate 7 was open. We sprinted and slipped (through urine again) to get to the gate and once there pushed violently through. The guards at the gate seeing white people they quickly pulled us through. This is one time where we weren’t going to refuse the white privilege. Funny enough once we got inside we realized we were in the Côte d’Ivoire section. Turns out that they are way more enthusiastic anyways so it was lots of fun. All dressed in orange and dancing and making music with various instruments, you wondered sometimes whether they were even really watching the game. Unfortunately the game ended in a 3-2 win for Côte d’Ivoire but I was grinning from ear to ear none the less. Alanna said that it was probably better this way because otherwise the whole city would be in chaotic celebration.

And now for the last and most unique part of the retreat… a bachelorette party!!! My EWB coach Élizabeth is getting married in July and so the team split off and had a bachelor and bachelorette party. Never would I have expected that my first bachelorette party would be in Burkina Faso... and in the rain!!

Here we are heading off in the rain on our adventure.

We hadn’t planned much because it’s hard to plan something in a city you don’t know, so we kind of just went with the flow. We walked down the main street and every activity or challenge we saw we jumped at it… this included a bakery where Éli had to kiss the waiter on the cheek before eating her cake, nail salon where we chose hideous colors for her nails, a challenge to ask 10 Burkinabè men what they look for in a wife (answers included being a good host, dressing well, not taking decisions without asking their husband, and making good food), then she had to ask 5 Burkinabè women what they thought a man liked in a wife (this was harder because only educated women speak french, but we finally found a group of social women in a salon and got some funny answers), last challenge was to get a taxi for the 7 of us and with her ride being free. We then met up with the boys who had played pool and we had a BBQ at one of the long term volunteer’s houses. It was a great night and included hilarious wigs and lots of fun.

Monday, June 15, 2009

May I take your order? We have carbs with sauce, carbs with sauce or… carbs with sauce!!

As I mentioned before, my host family owns one of the popular local restaurants on the main street of Fada N’gourma. Them owning this restaurant opens up a multitude of opportunities for me. Not only is it my favourite lunch stop, I have recently been serving at the restaurant, and also helping prepare some of the food. I have met so many amazing people because of it, and feel much more integrated into the culture. None of the family members actually work in the restaurant because they all have full time jobs, but any free moment they have they are back and forth from the house to the restaurant to help with serving, bringing the fried fish from home for the fish soup, bringing the tô that we make every night for the restaurant or motoring off to the market to pick up missing supplies.

Here's a picture of the kitchen at the restaurant where the magic happens

The restaurant was originally by a Catholic women’s group that mma Eveline is the president of but has been in the family since 2005 when Eveline took over running it. It is a very popular restaurant in town and is at the corner of one of the main intersections in Fada. One of the only stop lights, so it’s not hard to find.

As the title suggests, the menu is pretty much solely carbs and sauce :) There’s riz sauce tomate (rice with tomato sauce, riz gras (rice with lard sauce)

riz sauce and riz gras

riz sauce arachide (rice with peanut sauce made from the peanut butter we make at home)

couscous with tomato sauce, haricots (beans), spaghetti with tomato sauce, macaroni with tomato sauce, tô with a different sauce every night, and to be different from the carbs and sauce… fish soup. My personal favourite is couscous because we have so much rice and tô at home that it’s nice to have a change. I ventured out and tried spaghetti last week, but since the tomato sauce is the same as for the rice and the couscous, the spaghetti doesn’t really absorb the sauce well and the noodles kind of swim in a tomatoey soup.

The specialty of the night is always tô. We make the tô at home and put it in small plastic containers and then someone drives it to the restaurant on the back of their motorcycle. It is fun to know that the food that I help prepare in the comforts of my African home is being enjoyed by someone in a restaurant down the street.

Serving is really different than in Canada. The servers here are very shy and quiet when they serve a table, and kind of just walk up to the table and stand there and wait for the customer to order. They are very different when you get to know them, and I have become great friends with all of them. So how the serving goes is… first, a customer comes in, then you go and wipe off or clear their table and take their order, then you go into the kitchen, dish up the carb of choice

This is where we dish up the food

then either pour the sauce on top, or put it in a small silver dish depending on the meal,

This is where the sauces are made and dished up... kept warm by the burning coals

then bring it out on a big silver platter, and then bring the customer some water. Pretty immediately you go and write out the bill and bring it to them whether they ask for it or not. Adjaratou is the one in charge of the money box. She is the only one with the key, so when it’s really busy, we’re all chasing after her trying to get change!! She lives at the house with us, but isn’t a member of the family. She is a dedicated worker and works 7 days a week from 7am to 11pm. I am in constant admiration of her. The other servers aren’t as tied down to the restaurant, and are allowed breaks to go to church or run errands for the restaurant at the market. I still get weird looks when I serve, but the regulars are getting used to it, and it doesn’t bother me too much.

Here's a pic of me serving

There’s also a resident kitty that comes to hang out at the restaurant. I’m always shy of taking pictures without asking so I asked if I could take a picture of the kitty and they looked at me as if I was crazy. I guess I didn’t realize it was a stray and that it was a bit of a weird question to ask.

It’s fun to be at the restaurant at night because it gets really busy and then all of a sudden dies down and we all just sit around a table and hang out.

This is a picture of Mohammed, one of the servers in the restaurant, and Pierre in the back, another server

There’s a TV on all the time, and there are certain people that come just to watch certain shows and either don’t eat or grab a pop or a beer. All throughout the day there are various soap operas on that the women, and even the men, crowd around the TV to watch. It’s quite the sight. I’ve started to get to know all of the commercials that play, and am amused when the ad for the S club 7 TV show comes on and advertises this “NEW and EXCITING series”. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I thought that S club 7 was new in about 1999. Haha. There is also a funny commercial for a motorcycle (one of many), and this one talks about how amazing life is when you have this motorcycle, and ironically enough has an Evanescence song playing in the background called “I’m going under” and is a rather depressing song.

All in all, the family owning this restaurant really enriches my stay here, and makes me feel integrated, and like I am able to give back to the family by helping in the restaurant. Who would have thought I would be serving in a local restaurant in Fada N'gourma and that my skills developed at Hell's Kitchen and Sage Bistro would come in handy here?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Officially an African Woman!

As promised… another update about my host family in Fada N’gourma.

During the week I unfortunately don’t get to spend too much time with the family because I am at work from 7:30am-6:30pm and when I get home I’m usually pretty tired. The weekends on the other hand are great because I get completely immersed in the culture and am able to live the “real African experience”. The “real African experience” for me has included: helping prepare traditional meals, working at the family’s restaurant, doing my laundry by hand, going to church, learning the local language, wearing my traditional African clothing, and biking around in 40 degree weather.

Last weekend was packed with traditional experiences, and my “mma” Eveline says that I am now officially an African woman. I made my first trek to the small woman’s market with my big sister Estelle and we bought the necessary veggies and spices for the day’s food.

This is a picture of the beautiful Estelle

It was a short walk but Estelle kept asking me if I was okay because of the heat and the exercise :) I am finally quite nicely adapted to the temperature so the walk was definitely manageable. When we got back I prepared the zucchini and the onions for the sauce while Estelle prepared the tomatoes and the meat. We cut the vegetables with what looked like machetes to me, and I grated the zucchini for the sauce. Luckily it was a plastic grater so I didn’t lose any fingers on the countless occasions that my fingers slipped out of exhaustion and distraction. African style cooking is definitely very impressive, and Estelle is a master chef. After we prepared the sauce Estelle taught me how to do my laundry. After much laughing and demonstrations from Estelle, I finally started to get the hang of it. Sore knuckles and an hour later I proudly hung up my laundry in the courtyard of the house.

Here is my pride and joy... my clean laundry!!

Later that day my arms were again put to the test when I made tô, the national staple dish. It is made from millet flour or maize four. I mixed up the flour and boiling water into a paste, added more flour, and then put my arms to work. Then I dished up the tô into the small dishes that we bring to the restaurant.

Here I am stirring the tô

Every night Estelle makes the tô for the whole restaurant and all the 15 or so people that eat at our house. Although my clothes smelt terribly of smoke afterwards and I was thoroughly exhausted, it was well worth it!! Another success for the “nasara”!!

“Nasara” means white person and is probably the most commonly used word in my presence. I have a cute little neighbor Medina who is about 4 years old and runs after me every time I come home yelling “nasara, nasara!!!”. She even followed me into the courtyard, into the house, and into my room last week. She is very brave, and loves to shake my hand!! That is a common trend with kids around here. Oumou’s sister arrived from Piela yesterday to stay at the house, and all that her 3 year old daughter Océan does is stare at me and giggle. It’s usually quite funny for me to experience, but there are times when I wish I could stand out less and integrate more.

There are other ways that I am integrating though. I have been having Saturday morning language lessons with the family to try and improve my Mooré and my Gourmantché. Mooré is the national language, and the language that the family usually speaks when not speaking French, and Gourmantché also known as Gulimancéma or Gourmanchéma is the language of the region of Gourma which I live in here in Fada N’Gourma. It is a bit challenging to be trying to learn both languages, but any effort I put in, the locals are very appreciative.

I have also been attending church on a regular basis. The family is very divided in their religion. About half go to a Protestant Church, while the other half go to a Catholic one but they are definitely unified in their dedication to religion. They dedicatedly attend church every weekend, read the bible on Sunday nights, and listen to the religious radio. The funniest part about the religious radio is that in between songs there is a short break in which someone explains the meaning of the song… and the transition in to this explanation from the song is always the opening few bars of soulja boy!! Haha No words or anything, but it is distinctly the same beat. It cracks me up every time.

Anyways, back to church… not only is the family divided in which religion they practice, but also in which church they go to. The Protestant half of the family splits up and goes to 3 different churches because all the different churches services are in different languages (Moore, French and Gourmantché). The first time that I went to church was with my coworker Christian and we went to the main Catholic church of the city. The 2nd weekend I decided to visit both churches since I wanted to explore them both, and wanted to please both sides of the family. That weekend I was in church for a total of 5 hours and wasn’t sure I could handle any more preaching.

I have nothing against religion at all, but sitting in a church for 3 and a half hours hearing someone yell into the microphone about how Jesus wants us to go “en mission” made me desperate to find my own niche in religion and I was pretty sure it wasn’t there. I didn’t feel like I belonged to either religion and felt like inventing my own in which EWB’s vision was preached, and we sang Coldplay songs instead of one’s about Jesus. Last weekend I went to the Catholic Church again because they were having a special service organized by the children of Fada because here in Burkina it was mother’s day. The service was held in the outdoor church and was absolutely beautiful.

Here is a picture that I snuck before the church was too packed

The singing was great, the kids read poems and stories, and we were out under these massive trees in the cool breeze of the morning. I felt much more relaxed and comfortable with the message this time because the whole sermon was focused on family, and appreciating mothers… and even fathers around the world. I thought of you lots mom, dad and Marika :) I will keep you posted on which church I decide to go to next weekend and how religion plays into my stay here in Fada.

I am off to my first real soccer game now which is quite exciting!!! I am being officially registered with the team today and will thus be able to play in the championship games coming up!!! I have lots to tell about the team but will save that for next time

À bientôt mes amis!!!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The view through the glass windshield

So, from feedback on my blog, and also just from my own personal observation, I have realized that I am not really conveying how my experiences are making me feel, but rather solely what I am experiencing. One of the reasons for this is because I am trying to find the fine line between expressing how I am feeling about certain cultural practices/ people that I am meeting, and offending anyone.

Here a post that I have had spinning through my head since my arrival in Fada, but haven’t put in writing because I wasn’t sure it was appropriate for my blog. It is a long one, but a worthwhile read, so get settled :)

This post is dedicated with respect and admiration to my coach and coworker Christian.

The view from behind the glass windshield of a Toyota 4x4 is a much different one than I thought I would be experiencing in the 2nd poorest country this world knows. Since my arrival here in Fada N’gourma, I have experienced a standard of life much higher than the one I had hoped to be exposed to. My coworker and mentor at Helvetas, Christian, is a rather well-off Congolese who takes pleasure in luxuries in life. I respect his desire to enjoy the pleasures that money can bring to life, but the problem is that I came to Burkina to experience poverty. I came to integrate myself into the culture, and feel a strange barrier when I am constantly driven around in Helvetas’ Toyota 4x4 by our chauffeur, and was living in my office with air conditioning, flush toilets, 3 security guards and a maid. At first I
couldn’t understand Christian’s wealthy behavior. I was offended when he made our chauffeur sit at a different table when we ate, that he ordered his security guards around without a please or thank you in his vocabulary, and that he constantly spoke of his desire to own a hummer.

This is our infamous Toyota 4x4

I talked to my EWB coach and she said that she had experienced similar behavior with other NGOs here in Burkina. She said that development work in Burkina is different than in Canada, and that development workers here do not always share the dedicated passion that I feel EWB possesses. She said that a lot of development workers here are very well off and are often involved in development work in order to gain status in society.

Christian’s behavior really pushed me to my limit when we went to pick up a bike that he had bought at the market. It started pouring down rain about 5 minutes before we got to the market. Since rainstorms here don’t usually last too long, I thought we might wait it out, or come back another time. Christian on the other hand, decided to drive into the walking-only market in his truck and get the bike kiosk owner to put the bike in the back of the truck so he wouldn’t have to get out. I was appalled at this and was embarrassed to be sitting in the truck witnessing this. I felt like his lifestyle and behavior would keep me from integrating into the culture and felt like I needed to break free of this restraint and metaphorically break through the glass windshield.

At this point I was so heated that I decided to start expressing my feelings to Christian about his behavior. I was worried about offending him, but knowing that he is a very open man I thought I should give it a shot. The first thing I brought up was the hummer and the truck. I expressed my dislike for hummers because of their “get out the way I’m driving here” look that could only host a driver wanting to be recognized and wanting power on the road. To my surprise, he immediately agreed. He said that he had been joking before about the hummer and was testing me out to see my reaction to certain comments of his. I also told him that I would like to walk and bike more frequently so that I could get to know the community better, and not feel like I was separated from the locals because of the luxury of the truck. Again to my surprise, he completely understood, and said that he would much rather bike or walk himself.

This is my bike... my new mode of transportation :)

Christian had initially been shocked that I wanted to move out of the comforts of my office, as like I said, he enjoys a well kept and clean lifestyle. I moved out of the office last Thursday into a family and I think this was the best solution to break the barrier that I felt had built up between me and my cultural immersion in Fada. I move around either on my bike or on the back of Oumou’s motorcycle which gives me more freedom, and makes me not feel like I am rich and superior in the truck. I am also learning much more about the language and the culture because of living with such a big family.

I was glad to get this first cultural barrier out of the way, but was still battling with his cultural practices of treating his “inferiors” with little to no respect. An example of what I perceived to be his “need for superiority” became apparent when I invited the security guards of our office to come watch the Champions League final with us at the TV5 restaurant. I had asked Christian if one of them could come and hesitantly he agreed. I invited the other security guard who wouldn’t be working, and come game day, they both presented themselves at the office. Come time to leave Christian told me that we could not take them in the truck with us, and that they would have to walk the 15 minutes to get to the restaurant by themselves. I felt terrible because I felt like I was having to retract my invitation to the guards who I was simply trying to befriend. I expressed this to Christian, and again, reluctantly he agreed to drive them there. I later apologized for having invited them and he said it wasn’t a problem this one time. He just wanted to make sure that the guards respected the hierarchy so that they would still listen to his orders and obey him without them depreciating his seniority. He felt they would stop listening to him if he put them at the same level as him.

I kept noticing similar occurrences like this where he would order a server or a maid around with no please or thank you, and again, treat them like an inferior. After keeping this inside of me for a couple of weeks, I finally decided to express this today. When we stopped by my house to pick up some hibiscus juice that I had made for him only the caretaker of the house was at home. When we were leaving, he called out to her and said “You have to come shut the gate immediately!!”.

As we were driving away, Christian could tell that something was bothering me. After 2 weeks of being together at almost every moment of the day, he had gotten to know me very well, and knew that I couldn’t hide my emotions or displeasure. He asked me what was wrong and I said, that I had noticed that there was a cultural difference between Burkinabés and Canadians in terms of politeness towards people in the service industry. It wasn’t just him that did it. Most Burkinabé’s, including my host mom say “you have to do this” instead of “please do this for me” and it really bothered me. At first he was very defensive and said that he usually said please and thank you but had forgotten this one time. Seeing as we have developed a very open relationship of feedback though, I replied that from my experience, he rarely used the words please and thank you when interacting with people that he felt were of less value than he. All of a sudden he thanked me. He recognized this behavior in himself. He explained that in the Congo where he is from, everyone is very polite and respectful, but that since he had moved to Burkina, he had lost these qualities that he so admired. I spoke of a friend of his, Yahovi who is very polite and treats everyone in the same equal manner. Christian said that he needed to be more like Yahovi, and that he really appreciated my feedback. He said that in development work he is dealing with a lot of people that are worse off than he is, but that is no reason to treat them like inferiors. He said “that is why you are here… to help me be a better person, and do my work better, and I am very grateful”.

So I went from being frustrated with Christian’s behavior on a daily basis, and often feeling embarrassed or offended by his actions, to developing a very strong friendship with him based on both of our openness and respect for feedback. He said “I am a man who can easily accept criticism, and that is why we work so well together.”

From this experience I have learned many things. I have learned to express my feelings because otherwise, trapped inside of me they will drive me mad. I have learned to express these feelings in an appropriate manner so as not to offend anyone. I have learned to find unique solutions to my problems such as buying a bike to decrease my feeling of wealth. I have learned to not judge people solely on their behavior, because like Christian says, he is not one who tries to put himself up on a pedestal, but I may have perceived this at the beginning because of some of his actions. I have also learned to not make assumptions about people. I partially assumed that Christian had it relatively easy in life and came from a rich family who was able to send him to university here in Burkina. It turns out that he built himself up entirely by himself after losing both his parents at the age of 4. He has had an extremely challenging life and has made countless sacrifices along the way. This makes his indulgences in life much more justifiable and I have gained an enormous amount of respect from him.

Hope you guys enjoyed this special update and I would love to hear some feedback on the way that I dealt with the situation. There is lots of learning to be had here, and I am just scratching at the surface.

The follow up to my update on my family will be coming soon, and more pictures :)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chicken liver, fried fish egg sack, pancakebatter-like drink and hibiscus juice

New food, new religion, new living conditions, new EVERYTHING!! I moved in with my host family last Thursday night and since then it's been nothing but new experiences.

My last night before moving out of the office Christian and I and 2 of our security guards went to watch the big game: Barca vs la Mancha, La couple des grandes oreilles (the cup with big ears) as the Burkinabès like to call it. We went to an outdoor restaurant and joined 100+ men in watching the game on a TV that was barely much bigger than our TV at UBC, and for those who know our TV... it's pretty modest :) (picture below) It was very exciting though because everyone was so enthusiastic and danced and yelled every time Barca scored. The excitement was also increased by the fact that there was a CRAZY storm brewing above us. There was thunder and lightning the entire game, but luckily the rain held out till about the 78th minute when we rushed to the office to watch it. I am starting to get used to the fact that I am one of the only women in Fada that is interested in football, but I don't think Fada is quite used to it yet :) They better get ready though because I found a soccer team!! It's a women's team and they practice every day at 17h and I have been invited to join!!! I've been lacking a bit in energy the last couple of days, but I will be going tomorrow for sure.

The first couple of days with my family have been great. Like I mentioned before, it is Oumou's family that I am staying with (picture of Oumou below), and I am finally starting to figure out who all is part of the family. The first night there was about 15 people coming in and out of the courtyard to eat, chat, or help with food preparation. I have narrowed it down to 8 of us that actually sleep in the house on a daily basis, but there are usually at least 5 or 6 extra that come for dinner and there is a constant buzz in the house. It is a really nice feeling which I hope I won't tire of easily. I will introduce you to the various family members over the next couple of posts. The family is super welcoming and also very eager to please. The first night my host "baba"(dad), Abdula insisted that we put on CNN on the TV so that I would feel at home. I made sure to tell him that I would prefer to watch what they usually watch since I dislike CNN anyways because of the poor representation it gives of Africa and other developing countries. My host "mma" (mom) agreed and said that "westerners don't realize that Africans are poor, but we are happy in our poverty". I told her that one of the reasons I am here in Burkina is to disband the myth that there is nothing more to Africa than hunger and war. She was very appreciative of this comment, and said that I should bring all of my friends here as well so they too can learn this :) Any takers?

I have had my experiences with hunger, seeing hungry begging children in the streets, but as a whole, I think the community of Fada is doing rather well in terms of food quantity. In the family there is always lots of food to go around and the women all encourage me to eat more and more so that I will gain weight and become a real African woman :) Ever since I have moved in I have been exposed to a wide variety of new foods. Fried chicken liver and giblets, fried fish egg sack, a pancake batter-like drink, and the national specialty tô are just a few of the new foods that I have been eating. I have yet to determine which will upset my stomach or not so I'll keep you posted. haha. I have been helping prepare some of the amazing sauces for the meals by removing flowers from certain leaves, stems from others, and shelling endless amounts of peanuts. One of my "yawa" (little sisters), Marceline (picture below) roasted some peanuts for me in the hot coals of the fire... impressive and delicious. I have also eagerly been watching Estelle, Oumou's younger aunt, make the "sagbo" (tô) every night. I can't wait to get the chance to make it myself. There is a lot of pressure riding on the tô though because Estelle prepares all of the tô for the restaurant as well. The family also prepares all of the fried fish for the fish soup for the restaurant. I got to experience that on Saturday when they spent the entire day washing, gutting, drying, and frying 100s of fish. There is really a culture of food making in the family, and everyone seems to be a great chef. My "keyéma" (big sister) Oumou taught me how to make hibiscus juice and I have fallen in love with it. I have definitely experienced a great joy and comfort in being with this family and am so pleased with my decision to stay with them.

The cleanliness of the house is something I have to put more of an effort into feeling comfortable with. My first shower I was met with 1 cockroach, a couple daddy long legs, and countless flies and ants. I also woke up the first morning with 3 grasshoppers in my bed. We usually sit out in the yard for meals and socializing which is very pleasant, but like I said, the hygiene inside is less desirable. If I'm going to learn to experience poverty this is what it takes though and therefore I have learned to accept the bugs and tuck in my mosquito net properly :)

In an effort to keep my posts shorter as per feedback from people in my EWB chapter I have decided to split this post in 2 sections. The 2nd will include: serving at the restaurant, my numerous church experiences, my language lessons, more introductions to the family, and pictures of the family and my house. I will also be posting on what it feels like to be an outsider, and how work is going in the commune of Bogandé. so.... stay tuned!!!