Welcome to the Southwest

Five years ago I wrote about site placements and the excitement of finding out where we’d all be living for the next two years. Now I’ve been at my site, Banflague, for a little over three weeks already. But a lot has happened during the time in between so I’ll rewind a little bit.

      A month ago I left Mouna and had to say good-bye to my host fam there for awhile. I was really sad to leave them, because I definitely had the best host family in all of Mouna. My host dad asked if Peace Corps could bring a really big van to move us so they could all come with me, and my little sister Talato caught my goat and brought it with to say goodbye with the rest of the fam. (I decided to leave the goat there for now…) My host mom/bestie Nabo and I talk on the phone a few times every week though, mixing various Moore, French, and English phrases into a little convo that ‘s usually the highlight of my day.

      Me and the rest of G29 spent a week in Ouaga, celebrating the end of training and eating good food and dreading our impending separation from each other. On the 17th we all put on our matching outfits and headed to the US Embassy where I gave a little speech in Jula and we all went from being PC Trainees to PC Volunteers. Then the next morning we were all shipped off to our villages.

      I arrived in Banflague midday and was greeted by a whole slew of important village people, like the chief and a griot and other things I’ve forgotten, as well as my surprise host family that I didn’t know I’d have.  I live in a little two room house on a family compound with my host dad, his four wives and twelve kids, his dad and two wives, and a couple of other family members. Our compound is connected to the chief’s compound, and his family is an extension of my new fam. My dad, a few brothers around my age, and some of the younger kids who are in school speak French, but for the most part everything happens in Jula. I’m still working on Jula, so I mostly communicate by using a few key phrases I know, enthusiastic thumbs ups and “Wow!”s, and when I’m at a loss for what to do I just start bopping around and singing the person’s name who I’m talking to and weirdly enough that works every time. My youngest host mom (she’s 24), Mariam, quickly adopted me and is my go-to gurl and my best biddie so far.

      The biggest surprise about my living situation is that at night my dad hauls out this old TV that charges via solar power during the day so at night we can watch the news, a soap opera called Sacrifice de Femme, and/or various Chuck Norris or karate movies. Every once in awhile the TV shows McDonalds commercials (there are no McDonalds in BF) which leads to great cross-cultural conversations about the amazing food we have in America. Not that eating tô (corn/millet gelatin patties) with green slimy fishy sauce and a side of bush rat for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and dessert is not delicious… Three nights ago I dreamt about going through the McDonalds drive-thru.

      I spent Christmas at my friend Julia’s village, 30ish km away from me. It was a really nice mix of hibernating in her house drinking hot chocolate and watching Elf and speaking English, and dancing to balophones and drums at the party in her village. New Years was spent in my village. After finishing pounding and sifting corn and getting water in the morning, all the women and girls spent the rest of the day braiding hair and getting all ready for the fete. I let some of the girls put make-up on me, which almost ended up in my eyebrows being shaved off and redrawn on, but luckily I realized how bad of an idea that was at the last minute. Throughout the day we ate many meals of rice and sauce and oily pasta, a nice celebratory change from the tô and tô soup that makes up every other meal. When the sun set we went out to the front of the courtyard, where there was a fire going and my dad had brought out a big stereo and battery-powered party lights. Everyone in my family, along with some friends who had come to join the party, couldn’t wait to dance and the night was so much fun. For four or five hours we danced in a circle, middle school dance style, with one or two people going in the middle of the circle for a little dance spotlight. With my eyebrows solidly intact, everyone in my village now knows me as the best dancer in the world, and I am frequently complimented on how well I can dance, even days after the party. Another great example of cultural differences. At midnight we celebrated by drinking warm Cokes, dancing to a special Bonne Annee song that kept skipping and restarting the CD, and eating rice and sauce and day old bread around the fire. I went to bed exhausted and very content with how the New Year had begun. The next day we got dressed up again, and then had a little New Years progressive, visiting many “nearby” (15-20 min walk through the brush between each stop) family courtyards to say hello, eat rice and sauce, and drink dolo (millet beer) out of calabashes.

      The first three months at site serves as my Etude de Millieu. I don’t actually start working on any projects yet – this time is meant to be devoted to integrating into the community – getting to know people, learning Jula, etc. This also means that day-to-day life is pretty slow. Most mornings I go to the CSPS (the small health center in village) to hang out with my counterpart, the major (main doctor), and sit in on consultations to meet people and get an idea of different health issues that are going on here. I also wander around and try to meet people and visit people I have met in their courtyards, drink tea at the one boutique I’ve found (that sells sugar, condensed milk, biscuits, and bottles of gin), and read a lot of books, before going home to hang out with my host family for the rest of the night.

      A lot of other things have happened, but I’ll end with this story. I have these little things that are essentially colorful plastic shower caps that are used to cover bowls of leftovers in lieu of saran wrap. I had used two bright yellow ones on watermelon, and when the watermelon was finished they were just sitting on my floor because I’m a slob. One of my host moms came in and saw them and asked what they were; I instinctively told her they were hats, and she asked if she could have one for her daughter Oumou, a short pudgy toddler with a raspy voice who kind of resembles a baby dinosaur. Of course I said yes, and since then almost every single day a different kid is walking around my courtyard wearing a bright yellow shower cap, proud of their cool new American hat. I pee my pants every time I see them.

      Thanks to everyone who has sent me letters or emails or packages – it makes my week to hear from you all and I wish it was easier for me to email and write you back! I just found the post office in Bobo this weekend, so I can finally send some letters I’ve written, and also I have a new address:

 Chantal Donahue

Corps de la Paix

BP 1065

Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

West Africa

      I can always receive mail at the first address I had, but this new one is much more easily accessible. Thinking of you all at home! LYLAS.


Me and my friend Julia “Thumb Head” after site announcements!


Assanata, Zanouba #2, Me, Zanouba #1, Assana

Assanata and Assana are twins, Zanouba #1 is one of my two host moms, and Zanouba #2 is my host bro’s wife. I’m just the white girl in the fam.

C’est Jolie!

The biggest update from the past few weeks is definitely site placements. A few weeks ago we had interviews to talk about what we wanted in our future sites. A lot of my friends talked about wanting electricity, or villages with big marches, or a site near a bigger city. I mostly talked about magic. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I talked about how I am really interested in traditional/magical beliefs, traditional healing, animism, sorcieres, etc, and that I’d be down to live in a village where I might be exposed to some crazy things. I’m pretty sure I was the only person with this specific request, so I was really excited to see how whoever places us in our sites would interpret a magic village. Last Wednesday we got our site announcements, and it was definitely the most looked-forward-to day we’ve had so far! I found out that I’ll be living in the southwest region of Burkina, in a village called Banflague. It’s a primarily Muslim and animist village of 2,000 people, in between Orodara and Bobo-dialasso. I’m told it’s really green and that there is a lot of fruit available in this region. Also I’ll be learning Dioula/Jula which is essentially the same as Bambara, so I’ll be able to I ni sogoma and Nsee! to my heart’s content over the next two years! The best news is that my fav biddie Julia was placed in a village pretty close to me, so we’ll be able to work together and hang out when we need a break from the Burkinabe lifestyle. We won’t move to our sites until mid-December, but it’s exciting to have a little bit of an idea of what’s coming!

Other than that, everything else is still pretty bomb. I’ve finally figured out who is who in my host family and they are all awesome. My second mom, Zanouba, is so cool – she is literally always smiling and laughing and so fun to have around. Zanouba #2, the wife of my older bro, is really sweet and thinks “C’est jolie!” (that’s pretty) means “C’est bon” (that’s good) so she is always calling things pretty out of context and it’s hilarious. An example: one day I made mashed potatoes for my fam for dinner, and afterwards she kept coming up to me and saying in French “Santelli!! Your potatoes!! C’est jolie!!!!!” They were delicious, but pretty is definitely not a word I would use to describe them. Also the kids are as cute as ever. Shy Guy the girl has warmed up to me and is extremely fascinated by (concerned about?) the mole on my arm. Every night when I go out into my courtyard the kids all set up their little sacks/pieces of cardboard/plastic bottles that they use as mats/seats in a semi-circle around me. Most nights one of the kids will catch my baby goat and bring it to me so I sit with my goat and my kids and make paper airplanes and tell them words in English as they all fight for my attention. Sometimes someone will put on music and all the kids will start dancing – they can already dance better than I ever could, except for Shy Guy who doesn’t know how to dance. The kids and the Zanoubas all love learning phrases in English and every night when I go to bed they say “See you in the morning!” and when I leave for training they say “See you tonight!” and it’s so cute.I was also given my Burkinabe name – Sawadogo (family/last name) Nomtondo, which means “tu nous plait beaucoup” or something along the lines of “you make us really happy” which was really nice. My mom #1 also told me (in Moore and translated to French by my dad) that when she first found out that a white person was coming to live with them she was really scared, but now she is really happy.

I’ll end this with some stories from my bucket bath that I think give a pretty good idea of what village life is like here. Normally I leave my house in the mornings at 7, but last Saturday I didn’t have to be in Leo until 10. So I slept in a little and was bucket bathing around 8 when all of a sudden I hear a lady yelling “Chantal!! Chantal!!” from the other side of the wall. I look over the edge of the wall to the street and a woman I didn’t recognized was yelling at me trying to figure out why I hadn’t left for Leo yet. So there I was standing in my bucket bath trying to explain to a stranger that my schedule was different today and that I would be leaving at 9. The next morning a current PC Volunteer who has been helping out during training was biking through my village and decided she should stop by and see if she could find one of us to visit. She pulled over to a boutique on the side of the road and asked where she could find a nassara (white person) and they said “One lives right there but she is in the middle of bathing right now.” (Don’t worry – they can only see my head!) I’ve also had to shoo goats and a donkey out of my shower area before, and there are two chickens that like to sit on a roof and watch me. Village life!

Mam Boobilah

I’ve been in Burkina for a little over 2 weeks now, but it feels like so much longer.

I live in a small village called Mouna outside of Leo, where our training is. I live in a one room hut on my host family’s compound. My family is huge – I think I’ve figured out who most of them are, but there are always mystery kids and visitors hanging around so it’s hard to say. My host dad has two wives (one who I thought was a host sister for awhile) and I have an older host bro and his wife and somewhere between 8 and 12 kids in total. My dad, brother, and 14 year old twin sisters speak french, but everyone else speaks Moore. There are also lots of donkeys, chickens, goats, and baby goats (!!!) roaming around the compound! My family found out how much I love the baby goats, so they gave me the smallest one and always catch it and bring it to me so I can play with it. It might have (definitely has) fleas, but so far, so good. They taught me how to say ‘mam boobilah,’ which means ‘my baby goat,’ and it’s probably my most used phrase every day. Second is ‘mam nonga benga’ or ‘I like beans.’

The kids call me Santelli and everyone laughs at everything I do. I spend most of my afternoons sitting in my courtyard with my fam playing with the kids and learning how to say different words in Moore, being laughed at, teaching my fam words in English, and laughing some more. My favorite part of the day is for sure my morning bucket baths when the sun is rising and pink and everything is dusty, and my evening bucket baths in the moonlight.

Every day I bike 6km down a dirt road into Leo for training. Training days are long – session after session on safety and security, malaria, diarrhea, culture, and French. Luckily, everyone in my stage (PC group) is great and I have a lot of new friends to make the long days more fun. My french teacher is a 26 year old lady from the capital and she’s really fun. I’ve taught her how to say “Sup biddie” and “Nailed it!” in English.

Other things – I usually wake up in the middle of the night to goats playing outside my room and making funny farting noises. I almost always in bed by 9pm. I eat a lot of bread, rice, pasta, and beans, and each meal is usually served with a bottle of oil and salt that my host mom makes me dump on top of my food. There is a magic tree in my village. The first thing I bought here was eye fabric!! And I recently found out that my favorite little shy guy host bro is a girl.

So overall, things are great! I don’t know how often I will actually update this, but I’ll try for now. Also, I don’t have a lot of internet here, and facebook doesn’t work very well, but I can get emails and reply to them pretty easily! My email is donahuechantal@gmail, and even if I already had your email you should send it to me bc they don’t pop up on the ipod I use to check email so I don’t have any. Send me life updates! LYLAS.