May God grant you safe travels, and may God bring you home safely*

In 12 hours I am officially a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). In 14 hours I’ll be leaving Burkina Faso.

I closed out my last month as a volunteer I helped organize and facilitate a camp for 50 students from 6 different villages. We worked together to learn about healthy relationships, gender based violence, the importance of education, and physical and sexual health. The last day was spent visiting the local natural attractions the Peaks of Sindou and the Cascades.

Slow packing and time with friends consumed my last few weeks in village. I took my time enjoying the harmonious rapid chatter of teenage boys, and the mesmerizing view of traditional tea being sloshed back and forth between cups to mix in the sugar.

In my last 3 days I was visited by my replacement. He will be taking over my teaching position and all my little projects. We met everyone who’s anyone, including my best friends.

The final morning my favorite student, and a village friend, helped us take all my things to the bush taxi. I had my final loaf of village bread, I took my last picture with my best friend Carass, clambered onto the bush taxi, and left village for good.

My Close of Service (COS) week has flown by. My paper work is done, my flight is booked, and I am officially done with my service. I’ll be spending a week in Morocco with a couple volunteers who are also COSing before meeting up with my dad in Egypt. Then I’m U.S. bound.

Thank you Burkina Faso, thank you to all my Burkinabe friends, thank you to all my students, thank you members of G32, and thank you to my ever supportive friends and family.

*Allah ka le mahn do, ni Allah ka le mahn sigi,

Ericka

Page 2 of 2: The End of My Second Year of Teaching

The end of May meant the end of my second and final year of teaching. It has been such an incredible experience being a full time teacher for the past two years. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a job as simultaneously rewarding and demanding as teaching here.

Though in this academic year I have truly felt like I improved on my ability to support my students it didn’t stop teaching 162 students any easier than last year. Each group of students has their own group dynamic, and every student their own needs. I certainly commend anyone who has dedicated their entire lives to educating children.

I’m going to miss hearing the chorus of “Goodmorning Mrs” multiple mornings a week, joking around with my students, and coming up with interesting lessons. I’m going to miss my kids. 

Simply put, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know, and work with, a lot of kids in the past two years and I wish all of them the best.

The Fall of Let Girls Learn

In an unsurprising move from the Trump administration it has recently been reported that the Let Girls Learn (LGL) program, an initiative started by Michelle Obama to promote the education of girls in developing countries, will be discontinued. Though there is talk about some aspects of the program continuing it appears that the stand alone program will cease to exist.

This announcement has, for obvious reasons, caused some discontent among PC Burkina Faso Volunteers as the initiative provided training and grant funds specifically for girls- some of the most vulnerable people in developing communities.

Personally, my greatest accomplishment as a Peace Corps Volunteer came on the heels of a LGL training. The LGL training provided enough information and support to spark my fellow teacher (Lea) into starting up our Sexual Education Club, something I have frequently referenced here.

Most recently my partner Lea and I had a session with a group of girls about the menstrual cycle, and a follow up session where we made reusable pads out of scarp fabric.

In Burkina Faso sexual education in schools doesn’t start nearly as soon as it does in the United States and students have usually already started engaging in sexual activity, or started their cycles, before they are given any sort of formal education on the subject. In light of that, sometimes Peace Corps Volunteers are asked to fill that educational gap with the help of host country nationals. In the case of the menstrual cycle sessions I conducted with Lea, the girls we worked with were between the ages of 16 and 21. Plenty old enough to have started their cycles but not yet in the correct grade to have a sexual education class.

In this instance Lea, who was motivated to start this club with me after attending a LGL training, were able to help fill an immediate need for these girls. With any hope the girls will show others how to create the reusable pads and the start of their cycles wont spell the need to pay for expensive disposable menstrual products or the fear of bleeding through their school uniforms – these issues can often lead girls to abstain from coming to class or participating to the fullest.

These are the types of activities that Volunteers are able to run if they have access to training and funding through LGL, projects that can help girls in the daily lives.

Though I truly believe that Volunteers will continue to do this type of work even if there is no official LGL program I also hope that aspects of LGL will continue to live on, because if anyone needs and deserves a program that exists solely for them it’s these girls.

Animism and Benedictions

I think it’s safe to say that a highlight of any volunteers service, outside of the work we do, is getting to participate in cultural events. Volunteers flock to these type of events, if it’s culturally appropriate, and we spend as much time as possible feasting our eyes on the traditions; our minds teaming with questions such as: “Why did that person just do that?” or  “Where should I stand/ what should I do to be the most respectful in this situation?” and most importantly, “How inappropriate would it be if I pulled out my camera phone right now?”

Personally when I’m in these sort of situations I wish I could turn a sideways grace at another volunteer and see if they can shed some light on the situation, or at a minimum see if they are just as lost as I am. However, we often end up navigating these cultural faux pas riddled situations alone, but when we do have another volunteer it can make the event all the more interesting.

Several months ago I had an amazing opportunity while visiting another volunteer’s site. In her village, located in the South West region of Burkina, Animism is the predominant religion. As she has done such a thorough job of integrating into her community we were invited to participate in a traditional ceremony during my visit.

an·i·mism /ˈanəˌmizəm/

noun

1.the attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena.

2.the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.

-Google

While sharing drinks and tales with Alanna’s close friends we started to hear a rhythmic drumming no too far off from the bar we were occupying. Curious as always, the drums peaked our interest- anyone who’s spent any time in Burkina knows that the sound of drums means some type of ceremony is going on and it could be quite interesting . (I, for one, have personally never been steered wrong by following the sounds of random drum beats to different corners of my village.)

Her friends told us that that particular day happened to be a big day for sacrificing in the village because the sacrifices were not for bringing blessings onto individuals or individual house holds but on the entire village. Since Alanna is seen as part of the fabric of the community she was encouraged to buy a sacrificial chicken; the chicken cost 2,000 CFA or about $3 USD.

After the purchase we were brought to a well shaded mango grove where the sacrificing and cooking was taking place. There we met the Chef du Village (The Village Chief) and lots of other men who were drinking dolo (a locally made alcoholic beverage), and snacking on cooked chicken.

We cut through the cooking area and were led to a courtyard behind someone house, which we discovered was the source of the drumming.

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Alanna gives the village a benediction
There we were asked to remove our shoes while we waited for Alanna’s turn. A younger boy tapped out a slow beat on his drum while the man before us crouched and spoke over the chicken being held in another mans hand (the Sacrificer), giving the village his blessing. The Sacrificer then took his knife and slit the throat of the squawking chicken and allowed the blood to drain into a bowl sized dug out in the earth; which was already so saturated with blood that the additional offering pooled thickly at his feet. Next, he wiped the blade on the chickens feathers and released it. Upon release, the injured animal flopped off into the nearby corn field where it slowly died.

Alanna was permitted to step up next. Her friend, Felix, told her she was to give a benediction to the village to help the village prosper. Alanna asked, “Can I give it in English?” Felix responded, “Sure, that works. Whatever language.”

Alanna then proceeded to crouch next to the Sacrificer, while the drummer tapped out his steady beat, and gave a hushed benediction. Again, the Sacrificer slit the bird’s throat, and wiped the blade on it’s feathers while its life spilled into the earthen bowl. The bird was then released, like the last, to die in the lush corn field.

After the sacrifice I asked Alanna what she wished for the village and she said she wished that, “Everyone would win the lottery,” and giggled, “I didn’t know what else to say!”

We were then taken over by the big cook fire to help defeather the chickens. Which we quickly discovered we were not very good at. By the time I managed to finish a single chicken, the men next to use were moving on to their seconds on thirds. Meanwhile, Alanna was still struggling with her first and eventually had it confiscated by her friend Augustan who quickly dispatched the bird. The oddest thing about defeathering birds by hand is feeling how warm they still are, and honestly I’d rather be buying my chickens already processed.

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The cook fire
After our failed attempt at defeathering, we were told our chicken would be cooked up on the roaring flames and delivered to Felix’s bar where we would be able to enjoy it with everyone, and in less than 30 minutes we were enjoying hot sacrificial chicken and another round of cold beers.

Note 1: Lots of chickens were harmed during the making of this post.
Note 2: We were given permission to take pictures of the event.

Closing Time: COS Conference

So this is it, now that Close of Service (COS) conference has happened it has started to really feel like we are approaching the end of service.

The prospect of leaving aside, COS conference was a major reunion for my service group (G32). Since G32 is strewn all over the country it’s been more than 6 months since I have seen certain members of this lovely little group.

So despite the fact that COS conference is really all about talking about your accomplishments during you service, how to say goodbye to all your village friends, and preparing you for the future; the volunteers are way more interested in catching up with each other and stuffing ourselves with as much good food as possible (only out of PC sessions of course).

Now even though the end is nigh I still have a couple months left in village before I take that final trip back to the States. In these next few months I will be: closing out the last trimester of teaching, fitting in another session or two with my sexual education club, trying to squeeze in a summer camp, and playing host to my dad who wants to get in a last minute visit. I’m also beginning to put a lot of thought into what I’m going to do with all the stuff I’ve managed to accumulate over the past 22 months, what I plan to do with myself after I leave Burkina, and how I’m going to say good bye to all my favorite students and friends! Considering that I’m trying to get approved for a July departure date, there really isn’t much time left at all.

So the next few months are going to be dedicated to keeping myself organized, and trying to make some crucial decisions- like who’s going to be my cats new parent.

Though this all sounds pretty hectic I think I’m already doing a decent job. I’ve planned out my lessons and tests for my students, I’ve been preparing Graduate school applications for months, I’m dropping hints to everyone in village that it’s almost time for me to leave, and I’m making tentative lists on how I plan to give my things to. Having a Type A personality can come in handy in times likes these. Nevertheless, wish my luck in my last 3ish months!

Taking in the Sites

 

I recently biked 34 kilometers round trip with two other volunteers to visit two of Burkina Faso’s natural attractions, the Domes Fabadougou and the Cascades.

I’m personally not a huge fan of biking and mostly trailed behind on the way out and back but it made a good opportunity for me to snap some action shots.

At the Domes of Fabadougou we had some good views of the surrounding area after taking a short climb. Though the Domes were nice, I’m still more partial to the peaks, with its sharper inclines and slightly more dangerous climbs, the domes still made for a good time.

A few kilometers later we took a dip in the Cascades. Down an entire mountain side the water tumbles and pools at irregular intervals. Some spots are deep enough to swim in, and plenty of tourist and Burkinabe alike take part.

Though the biking down and back was quite tiring the round drip was well worth it to see these natural attractions.

 

The Sex Ed Club does 8 Mars right

International Women’s Day is: A global  holiday to recognize women’s achievements and to encourage gender parity.

International Women’s Day, or 8 Mars, is considered such a big deal in Burkina that everyone has the day off, thus making it a perfect day to round up the students and talk about gender equality, women’s empowerment, and in my case, how safe sex relates to it all.

Léa addresses the students like a boss
 


So a few weeks ago Léa and I decided that we were going to organize 4 teams of girls, between the public and private school, so they could play soccer (which is usually a male dominate sport in Burkina) and learn about family planning. 



Léa and I frequently preach the importance of using condoms to guard against unwanted pregnancy and sexual infection transmission, we even managed to talk about it during our menstrual health session, but today we mixed it up by tying in other contraceptive methods, and getting the students more involved in presentations. 

Two students show how to properly put on and take off a condom

Before and after a few rousing games of soccer students presented on all the methods of contraception, and talked about the benefits of family planning, and how safe sex and family planning can empower women.

Student presenter shows off an example of birth control pills

Ode to the Bush Taxi*

Oh bush taxi

With doors that don’t fully close, Windows that rattle, and seats that move like 4D rides at Disney


Oh bush taxi

Some bright, some white, and everywhere in sight

I love and hate your convenience

Your fine prices that attract the masses

And cram your isles so no one new passes

Oh bush taxi

Some so clean, others not so pristine

Fancy paint job

Not all the drivers mean.

Oh bush taxi

Roof stacked so high with things it’s defying gravity

So much so that foreigners think it a form of depravity

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How many men does it take to fix a bush taxi? All of them. 

Oh bush taxi

You’re filled with dust, people and animals alike.

That’s right

Don’t step on your neighbors chicken or you’ll get a kicken

Man leaning over my back row seat while his rear hangs out the back door

Oh bush taxi

You ferry me too and fro

How could I possibly be your foe

You bump, you bound, you’re everywhere to be found

Some painted, some white, some oh so bright

Oh bush taxi

Is that driver drinking beer?

Are those people hanging onto your rear? Without fear?

A double: back door open and a man hanging on the back

Oh bush taxi

When you break down you make me frown

But I’ll wait

I mean, since I paid for this date.

*Written for a bush taxi, on a bush taxi

The Future is now: Update 

Since getting computers in November the students at my school have been taking the fullest advantage of them possible. Though we still don’t have electricity, students can do research, and get a block of instruction on information technology from the Headmaster on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s; while the computers run on a generator.

The Headmaster giving some instruction on how to save a document in Word.
Under class-men checking out the setup
Upper class-men working on a research paper
Upper class-man doing some research on development in Burkina Faso

My Biggest Fans aka The Small Council

I call this lovely group of girls my “Small Council,” or my “Biggest fans,” as a joke to my friends and family back home.

This group of 15-20 little ladies (depending on the day) love to come over to my house to paint their finger nails, color, and have photo shoots.

They all have a fondness for layering as many different colors of polish as possible on their nails- I’m often judged harshly for only using one or two colors- and like to help me do my dishes- which I apparently don’t do correctly according to them.

Time with them is always an overwhelming joy.