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:
Corps de la Paix
Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
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.