A brief description of what to expect your first few days in country.
Tons has been going on the past few days!
To start I have been through my staging in Philly. 23 other volunteers (including myself) all congregated to do a crash course in our training before being sent off. It was two days of ice breakers, some language training, a bit of safety and security, and cultural training.
I found it all slightly overwhelming because of all of the activities we had to do and all the information we were getting in such a short period of time but I feel like that was a common feeling. Everyone was anticipating getting to Burkina and getting on with our pre-service training (PST).
Travel (June 8th)
At 9am all the trainees were loaded onto a charter bus and carted off to New York since we were flying out of JFK. Most of the time waiting to check in was spent talking about how heavy our bags were and if we were going to have to pay overweight fees.
(For anyone who has been following my packing dilemma. I managed to only have to pay for 1 overweight bag. Lucky me!)
We flew from NY to Brussels then to Ouagadougou. Besides the hour and a half delay for the Brussels take off the flights themselves were uneventful. I spent most of the time reading (I finally finished “Love in the Time of Cholera.”), chatting, watching movies, and attempting to sleep.
Once we arrived in Ouaga we were met by not only sweltering heat but Peace Corps staff, to include our Country Director and our Director of Programming. We unloaded from the plane directly on to the tarmac, took a shuttle to the airport building, turned in a health form that and had to clean our hands, and then crossed through the easiest customs I have ever experienced.
All of our bags made it to Ouaga and apparently it is pretty rare that someone’s stuff doesn’t get lost.
After all our bags were loaded onto their trucks, and we were loaded into a van, we were driven to the training compound (which happens to be a convent). It was interesting to get driven through the city. In many ways Ouaga reminds me of being in India. There are few stoplights, tons of motor bikes and bicycles, dirt roads, trash in the streets, and tons of people. Kids waved at us as we drove by.
By the time we got to the compound it was nearly dusk. As we were stewarded into a classroom, local staff greeted us in French. Our country director told us, “This is your first lesson in Burkinabe culture. Greeting people is very important.”
In the classroom we were given our initial introductions and divided up into small grounds that are led by a Language and Cultural Facilitator (LCF). All the LCF’s are Burkinabe and only speak French with us, unless we are learning a local language like Moore.
At the compound up to 6 people of the same sex share a dorm room and up to 12 people share a bathroom with 4 showers and 2 toilets. Here we have electricity, wifi, and running water.
There are staff that come in and out of the compound but it is very secure.
Day 1 (June 9th) in Country
Our entire 3 months of training is very thoroughly planned and controlled. On the first day we got up bright and early for breakfast (6:30-7:25) before having a formal welcome and interviews with different PC staff to include the Country Director, the Assistant Country Director, the Medial Staff, and the Language Trainers/Directors.
Essentially these meetings were just for them to get to know each of us, go over any health concerns, and examine our current French abilities. Oh, those questionnaires I complained about before? We went over them again…but orally. “Why did you join the PC? How does it fit into your future? What are our skills?” Hopefully that is the last time I will have to answer those questions for PC staff. Really I think they are just making sure we are in the right head space, and that the places that they have chosen as our sites match up with our needs and personalities.
I was (of course) terrified of the French interview. It was about 20 minutes long and it was recorded. I was asked to talk about myself, my family, what I like to do, where I’m from, and then asked to read a situation card and as questions that pertain to it.
Most of the time I felt like a bumbling fool. I kept forgetting words, and having to restart sentences and rephrase them because I forgot words. It was hard and frustrating to say the least. But the purpose of the exam is just to see at what level my French classes should start and where I need improvement.
Medical was a breeze. Oh, and we started taking malaria pills the first day here.
Between meetings we started really learning Moore but the thing is, I was learning Moore…in French. I never thought I would get to a point in my life where I was learning a foreign language in a foreign language. Taking notes in French, Moore, and English can make for a messy/ confusing notebook.
On top of all that, we did a lot of administrative stuff. Getting reimbursed for bike helmets, getting our “walking around money,” getting cell phones, and opening local bank accounts.
Overall, a super busy day.