Within the Year

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that COVID 19 was a pandemic. A lot has happened in the year since then and like a lot of people, I’ve been reflecting on the COVID 19 anniversary and everything that’s happened to me in the past year. From going virtual to hunting for a job, I wanted to take the time to write down my COVID life.

March 11, 2020
When the pandemic was announced I was in my last semester of graduate school. It was spring break, and I was spending the week in Pittsburgh with good friends. I had a strong feeling that our spring break would be extended because of the virus as I’d heard that that was happening with other schools. I was right. While walking around the Mr. Rogers installation in the Heinz History Center I received an email from school saying that the break would be extended for 3 weeks. Despite the uptick in cases, I spent the rest of the week with my friends before traveling to my parent’s house for the rest of the break. Of course, I had no idea that that would be the last time I’d be able to spend any amount of time with friends for the next year plus and I’m glad I was able to capitalize on it.

By then, I was a month into applying for jobs (10 applications submitted).

March 18 – May 8
By the middle of the following week (March 18) my school’s remote learning plan was announced.  

I decided to head back to my off-campus apartment where I spent the remaining months of my semester struggling to pay attention in Zoom classes, scraping together final papers, going on walks to get out of my apartment, watching an astounding amount of Chopped on Food Network, and dreading going to pick over the grocery store’s bare shelves.

By April, I’d managed to get disposable masks from a friend who kept supplies of it he ordered from China. I hand-washed them and reused them while waiting for cloth masks to arrive in the mail. I washed my hands so obsessively that they started to get dry and peel. I wiped down groceries with disinfectant. Needless to say, it was rough.  

May 9
My virtual graduation was held on YouTube. I wore pajamas and Face Timed with my parents. It was anticlimactic and I felt a bit cheated. I’ve never been much for bars and clubs but knowing I didn’t even have the option to go sucked.

May 10 – July
I spent this part of the summer in probably about the same way everyone else did. I was hating life, watching way too much TV, taking walks and hikes in the hot summer sun, baking, overeating, and feeling kind of bad about myself for not starting a new hobby or teaching myself some amazing new skill like it seemed a lot of other people were doing.

By then, I was several months into applying for jobs (75 applications submitted by July). The news was acknowledging that the job market was drying up and unemployment was skyrocketing, but I was still optimistic.

July – December
With no job prospects in sight and my apartment lease expired, I moved back into my parent’s house (of course, not without raiding the small-town grocery stores for toilet paper to bring home). Summer and winter held a roller coaster of emotions. I was deep into applying for jobs and everyone I knew was struggling to find something. People were marching for racial justice from coast to coast across the world. We were in the throes of the presidential election. I fluctuated wildly between days of volunteering for racial justice organizations and applying to multiple jobs a day to stretches where I lay despondent in bed doing little decides eating and watching TV. Despite being a usually avid reader, I’d cracked only 10 books in a year (shout-out to the Libby app). Overall, I didn’t feel great about myself despite knowing a lot of people were struggling.

In November, I spent week in Cape Cod, MA to alleviate the stir crazy. I got tested before going and stayed in a room with a full kitchen so I could cook for myself and avoid people entirely. I spent the entire time taking scenic drives and walking freezing beaches.

By December 16th, I’d applied to 153 jobs all over the country and even a couple outside the country. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I’d completely stopped applying. I was flat out rejected from numerous organizations via email or found out I was snubbed after seeing that the job was no longer posted. Six organizations interviewed me but at various stages of the interview process decided I wasn’t a good match. I was feeling wrung out and planned to wait until the new year to start applying again. Mercifully, on December 17th I was given an offer by a well-known public health organization after three interviews in the previous weeks.

January – March 2021
On January 4th, I started working from home and will be for the foreseeable future.

What about the future?
So much has happened to all of us this year. Within the year I finished graduate school, moved back home, and applied to more jobs than I thought I would ever need to before finally receiving an offer. We watched protests, an election, a storming of the capital, and 500,000 COVID deaths.

Recently, my mom asked me what my “next adventure” was going to be, and I have to admit, I’m still not prepared to make plans beyond getting up and working every day. I haven’t seen or spent time with anyone besides my parents and one brother in months. No one really knows what the future holds for us, including me. As a healthy person in their late 20s I don’t expect to get the vaccine anytime soon and I’ve accepted that. Patience is key now. I’m just glad I have a roof over my head, my needs met, and a job. I’m trying to read more, spend more time outside when it isn’t too cold, and I’m still probably watching way too much TV, but I’m prepared to give myself some slack and save my adventure planning for another day. 

“You still have a blog, right?” Mom asked

Yes, I have a blog. A long-abandoned Peace Corps blog with 99 posts and 7
drafts of half-told stories dating back to 2015. So much has transpired, so
much has happened since I COSd and I haven’t written down a single thing.

Did I do that COS trip to Morocco and Egypt? Sure did. And after that? Well, I
came home, I went to grad school (switched grad schools), did some traveling
along the east coast, studied abroad in Senegal (got extremely sick in
Senegal), came home and finished grad school during the COVID 19 pandemic,
watched as my fellow citizens (kinda) woke up to the state of racial inequality
in this country, watched as we politically continued to fall apart while
looking for a job, and 10 months and 152 job applications later finally got a
job. That is, needless to say, quite a lot but also not when you see it takes
less than 100 words to summarize.

So, after so much time and so many events what am I doing here? Really, who
knows? I think I’ll be read and editing old posts. I’ll be updating the look of
the blog. I might post some of these old drafts, tell a couple of stories,
reflect, and/or none of those things.

So, let’s see how this goes.

10 Comments (and counting) Only Heard By African American Volunteers Serving in Africa

As an African American who grew up in majority white spaces, and had also never set foot on the African continent, I had no knowledge of how I would be received or perceived once I started my service in Burkina Faso. So I search volunteer blogs and I read returned volunteers books, desperately trying to find out what to expect as a Black American in Africa. My Black family told me, “We [Black folks] don’t do this type of thing, they’ll be few of you, if you’re not the only one.” And my whites friend “coyly” said things like, “I bet you’ll be able to connect with them well, you know…just because.” Neither of which did much to help calm my anxiety toward how this major aspect of my person-hood would affect my service, though I can tell you that my parents were right and my friends were wrong.

However, from start to finish there is no doubt in my mind that being an African American volunteer has afforded me a uniquely challenging and rewarding Peace Corps experience. Now that I’m less than 2 months from completing my service I’m ready to share some of those experiences by summing them up in the following florilegia.

1. “This is stupid but I feel like it’s good you’re going there because you belong there more than someone like me, so I haven’t applied.”

Clearly my Blackness has been playing a role since the beginning, and would always play a role. Even before I stepped foot in Burkina Faso I was dealing with people thinking that my “place” was on the African continent, and that I had more of a right to be here than any non-Black person. Clearly this comment stuck with me even though I heard it over 2 years ago, and it has often made me stop and reflect on how others perceive me and my service.

2. “I can’t wait to see what you’ll do, I just know they’ll listen to you more than us.” 

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Blending in with my host family and other local kids

White volunteers are in just as much danger of making racially fraught comments as white non-volunteers. It’s ridiculous to think that any Burkinabé would be more likely to listen to me just because of the color of my skin. At the end of the day my ideals, customs, and opinions are just as American/Western as any white volunteers. Meaning that the chances that someone is going to follow my lead, or that I am going to get better results, just because we are all Black is sooo far from guaranteed seeing as I don’t share any of their customs or culture.

3. “What is this white person saying?”

I may have taken a few French classes in college in preparation for my service but I would have hardly been considered as good a speaker as some of my fellow volunteers who had been studying French for years. However, seeing as I was frequently the only Black person in a field of white I was pegged as the group translator, and was often addressed first or referred to if a Burkinabé decided they didn’t understand what a white volunteer was saying.

4.  “Why don’t you speak (insert local language here).”

If I wasn’t being used as the French “group translator” I was frequently addressed in one of the many local languages spoken in Burkina Faso. No matter what the local language I was expected to speak it (if I was in Mooré country surely I spoke Mooré, if I was in San country surely I spoke San, if I was in Djan country….). This was, of course, because I blended in to all the ethnic groups well enough that I people always thought I was one of them. Sometimes I’ve had to deal with people thinking I’m “refusing” to speak a local language because I think I’m “too good” for it, and only want to speak French- this usually requires some work to smooth over. However, blending in can also have its benefits as I was often given the “vrai prix” for items I was trying to pay for, unlike white volunteers.

5. “Okay, then where are you from in Africa? Senegal? Kenya? Ghana?” etc.

One of the many things that tipped people off that I wasn’t Burkinabe was my French accent. If my lilt didn’t match, then neither did I. Which inevitably lead to people asking me which African country I was from. To this date I have been if I’m from 6 different African countries, or if I’m from France.

6. “You can’t be American, you’re Black.”

Comments like this came from so many people. Be it the boutique owner in town, a fellow teacher, or a random stranger on public transport. Despite the popularity of public figures like President Barack Obama and 50 Cent, and despite the fact that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is covered in history classes, people don’t seem to put it together that it’s possible to be both Black and American at the same time. I have found myself in may discussions (and sometimes arguments) during my service where I’ve had to repeat numerous times that, “Yes, really, I’m an American,” and “No, seriously I’m not from Africa.” It can be frustrating to try to explain your nationality to everyone you meet, and occasionally having people say things like, “You may act like an American, but your skin says otherwise.”

7. “So are you mixed?”

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My older and younger brothers

Once I finally managed to maybe get across that I am indeed an American, people would automatically think that one of my parents had to be white (because obviously you can’t have two Black parents and be American at the same time- duh). Thankfully, I always carried around wallet sized family pictures- handy for whipping out and showing off my lovely Black mother, father, and brothers.

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My 2nd great-grandmother Winnie Buchannon

8. “Why don’t you know your ancestry?”

Once again, despite the fact that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is taught in schools (see # 7) I often had to very thoroughly explain to people why I don’t know what country in Africa my ancestors came from, and how it’s very difficult to trace back through the

generations of my family when our names were forcibly changed, our culture and language were stripped from us, and we were violently separated from our ethic groups once brought into the slave trade.

9. “You’re a Black woman and you behave like this?” 

I was born with the big two. I’m Black and I’m a woman. More succinctly, I’m a Black woman, and this can cause some problems when there is a set cultural way that Black women are supposed to behave in Burkina Faso. While Peace Corps often talks about the “third gender” theory (the idea that white female volunteers are often treated as if they were Burkinabe men because they are white, despite being female in a strongly patriarchal society) this does not often apply to Black women who are serving. Unless you have already been identified as a foreigner you cannot expect to receive as much respect from men, or be greeted by men, or even acknowledged by men, and you certainly cannot behave like a typical “tubabu” (foreigner/ white person). Sometimes even if you have been identified as a foreigner you still won’t be respected by men, and are expected to behave appropriately, and treat men with the same amount of culturally appropriate reverence as Burkinabe women do.

10. “So is there still racism in America?”

My immediate response to this questions is simple, “Uh, yes.” However, I then have to take a couple minutes to explain systemic racism, recent incidents of violence, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Sometimes I get the occasional, “Oh yea, I saw in the news once that a police officer killed a Black man,” and all I can think is, “I wonder which person that was.”

11.  “I don’t know how you put up with all that stuff people say.”

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Selfie time with Rhania

If I’ve learned anything in my two years as a Black volunteer it’s that your race isn’t going to go unnoticed just because you’re going to blend into your community. Though Black volunteers don’t have to deal with the same racial issues as non-black volunteers (being harassed in the street, being stared at, having children burst into tears when they look at you, etc.) that doesn’t mean we don’t have a whole host of our own things to deal with. Sometimes we essentially have to be walking talking advertisements for diversity in America, or have to settle with the idea that some people will never be convinced of our simultaneous Blackness and American-ness. It can be tiring, and all around frustrating, but serving while Black can also be uniquely rewarding as it affords us an opportunity to talk and share about things that are uniquely American, uniquely African American, and also a little bit of both.

More comments may be added in the future

West (Afro)can Hair Care for Volunteers

If you are anything like me, aka a Black girl who loves her hair, you’re probably wondering what on earth you’re going to do to keep those luscious locks strong during your Peace Corps service.

Personally I searched the blog-o-sphere looking for post on Black hair care for quite some time, and was able to find a few good posts on the subject, and there are many Black female volunteers that are still adding to that wealth of knowledge. Though we all have our own routines and ideas about how to go about our hair care it can be a bit of a struggle to get your footing once you are settled in village. Taking care of your hair can be tough in the village environment but I think I’m safe to say that after more than year of service I have a routine that works well for me in my environment. Hopefully this routine will help you (Mr/Ms/Gender non-conforming Natural Volunteer) form your own routine.

The basics: I came into the Peace Corps with relaxed hair, and began transitioning without really planning to. I also came without any relaxer in my suitcases, so I guess the transition was inevitable. I live in the south west of Burkina Faso near the border of the Ivory Coast. The weather here swings from humid, to dry, to hot  over the course of year meaning I am in a constant battle to keep my hair hydrated. I do not have running water or easy access to hair care products that work for my transitioning, and now nearly 100% natural, hair.

Step 1: I typically wash my hair once every two weeks depending on the conditions, and what I’ve been up to that week. If it’s been a particularly windy and dusty week, or if I’ve done some traveling, I will wash my hair sooner rather than later. The night before a wash day I saturate my hair in coconut oil or argon oil before wrapping it in my trusty silk scarf.

Step 2: The next morning I take my ivation rechargeable portable, and my shampoo to my shower area outside along with a full bucket of water. I’m able to lather, rinse, and repeat 2-3 times with a single bucket of water. My preferred shampoo at the moment is Cantu cleansing cream shampoo with shea butter. After washing, I soak up some of the excess water with a pagne (soft cotton material that can be found all over Burkina and is great as a towel) and while my hair is still a bit damp I apply healthy amounts of Cantu leave-in conditioner to my hair in sections. This is also the time when I start the finger and wide-tooth comb detangling process, as the conditioner makes my hair more agreeable to letting the knots go.

Side note: I started using leave-in conditioner after about six months of using a conditioner that has to be washed out. Wash out conditioner  just required far too much water to get out thoroughly. This lack of deep conditioning means I have to pay extra attention to keeping my hair moisturized in other ways.

Step 3: While the conditioner dries I pass the time reading, washing clothes, catching up on things for school, or doing other random things around the house. It usually takes a couple of hours for my hair to be completely dry. After I’m all dry I grease my scalp with whatever I happen to have, right now that’s Palmer’s  hair food formula, and follow up by moisturize my hair with ORS moisturizing hair lotion.

Step 4: Before bed that day I seal my entire head with locally made shea butter I purchase at my village market- pretty sure its the best stuff on earth. I coat my hair in sections then twist each fat section into a twist before applying more shea butter to the ends. I then, once again, tie up my hair in my silk scarf. Due to the harshness of the sun, and my hair’s own (in)ability to retain moisture, I repeat this step 1-2 more times between washes to keep my hair from becoming dry and brittle.

Step 5: Once I’m all shea buttered up I once again wrap my hair in my silk scarf and turn in for the night. The following morning, I untwists the twists and style my hair using headbands, claw-clips, or by getting it braided in village.

Side notes: I have had all of the products I use sent to me from the United States. Despite this being a predominately Black country the conditions and acceptance of natural hair are the best. Shelves are typically stacked with shampoos and conditioners that contain drying parabens and straightening agents, along with the usual bottles of perm. In addition to keeping my hair well moisturized I take a daily vitamin, an iron supplement (provided by Peace Corps PCMOs), and a Vitamin E supplement. Last but not least, I drink the recommended three liters of water a day; which is necessary for the health of your skin, hair, and everything in between.

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The hair care section at the store
At the end of the (hot) day your hair health is on you. Though it can be an uphill battle through the heat, and the dust, and the dirt, it’s possible to find a routine that will keep your hair healthy in your new environment. 

 

It’s Laundry Day!

Laundry day is my least favorite day of the week, hands down.
Now I was never a huge fan even when I had access to a washer and dryer but now I have to do it all by hand and it’s quite tiresome.

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My professional set up: Including a wash cycle (with a wash board) and two rinse cycles

Though there are some volunteers who have women in village who wash their laundry for them I still do mine myself, not because I haven’t had any luck finding anyone to do it but I was having trouble finding someone who would let me pay them! Everyone I asked said they would do it for free because I was a volunteer, which is super nice of them really.

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My neighbors puppy being less than helpful

 

In hot season I have to get up early to get started washing my clothes to avoid doing so in the sweltering heat. By the time I’m finished it’s warm enough for everything to dry within an hour or two. However, in rainy season it can take days for clothes to dry properly.

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The dryer

It’s very easy for me to allow clothes to build up because I don’t want to wash them, but when I finally do listening to pod casts or calling other volunteers while I’m washing helps the time pass faster. However, I really look forward to being able to use a washer and dryer again.

Americanmuso: The (Politically Incorrect) Naming Culture of Burkina Faso

American’s are staunch supporters of political correctness. For example, it probably wouldn’t be acceptable for a stranger to make fun of a dark skinned person for not being able to show up in a picture taken in a dark space if the flash isn’t on-especially not in public. Chances are if this did happen, that stranger wouldn’t be able to get far before getting a piece of the victims mind.

Race jokes? Unacceptable.
Fat jokes? Nope.
Rape jokes? You better run for the hills.

po·lit·i·cal·ly cor·rect
pəˌlidək(ə)lē kəˈrekt/
adjective
adjective: politically correct; adjective: politically incorrect; adjective: incorrect
  1. exhibiting (or failing to exhibit) political correctness.
    “it is not politically correct to laugh at speech impediments”
    synonyms: unoffensive, nondiscriminatory, unbiased, neutral, appropriate, nonpartisan;

     
    “the true meaning may be clouded by his politically correct language”
    antonyms: offensive

    Defined by google search

That being said. There are plenty places in this world where that staunch political correctness (PC) has no home, and as an American that can often be…jarring.

Burkina Faso is a prime example of where you aren’t going to find people who are as PC as a people prefer in the United States, and instead you’ll find that people are prone to describing and naming others for exactly how they look or what they do.

People aren’t always “Awa,” and “Ahmed,” but”The old woman,” and ” The fat boy.”

Titles
There are entire swaths of people in my host community who’s names are completely unknown to me.  This is 100% due to the fact that no one has every called them by their proper name, so I don’t either. Instead I find myself calling one of my favorite older women in village, “my old woman,” like my neighbors do or calling the owner of the store down the road the, “little store owner.”

People of status are also typically called by their working title. For example, the headmaster of the school is called, “Mr. Headmaster,” and the chief of police being called, “Chief.”

This “name calling,” is also often turned on me. I have been called, “Americanmuso,” “American woman,” “Tubabumuso,” “Foreign woman,” and “Black American woman,” in lieu of my name.

And though this might seem a little odd to outsiders, it ends up being much easier to go with the naming system flow than asking the person for their given name, remembering it, calling them by it, and then having everyone have no idea who you’re talking about because they don’t know that person’s given name anyway.

Physical Descriptions
Not only can your position become your name here but your physical description can also become a topic of conversation. People are completely comfortable telling you exactly what they think of your physical form, whether you want to hear it or not.

As someone who has raised in a PC country, it has taken some effort to get used to being told I’m “getting fat,” and that I “need to lose weight because men don’t like it,” by casual friends, or being asked, why my “face has become covered in acne recently,” by my French teacher.

I’ve witnessed an young girl with albinism being told she should use a bleaching cream to even out her skin tone, and a boy being told he was too fat to be good at soccer, and everything in between.

However, though comments and names like these can be seen as harmful to those of us from other cultures, it’s important to realize that to the locals this is a completely normal, unoffensive, politically correct, and sometimes funny, occurrence.

To me, its just become a little quirk about Burkina to accept.

 

 

 

 

 

Ahhhhnnnhhhaaa: The Art of Communicating in a Language You Don’t Speak

Burkina has got to be one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world. Now of course I have no basis for this conjecture but considering that there are 69 languages spoken in a country about the size of Colorado it has to be up there on the list.

Though French is the official language spoken in Burkina, it is not unheard of to find a plethora of people in a village who barely know their Bonjours from their Bonsoires.

In an attempt to mitigate faux pas and mishaps the Peace Corps gives its volunteers a minimal amount of instruction in the first and second most spoken, non-french, languages in the country- Moore and Jula.

But those two, of course, only account for a small portion of the languages spoken in the country, so there is bound to be some situations where a volunteer finds themselves up a creek without the words to tell the person on the shore line that they don’t have a paddle.

Thus, after being armed with French and a smattering of the regions most spoken language a volunteer, like myself, can find themselves dropped off in village without the ability to say “hello” in the villages “super local language.” (Take note: this is a common happening in the South West and Come regions of Burkina Faso, where Jula is the most common local language but is not tied to a specific ethnic group).

What’s a volunteer to do? Easy, one simply must master the art of communication in the following ways:

Lesson 1. It’s imperative to learn the sounds/ words/ gesture for “yes” and “no.”
Sometimes a simple “ahhhnnhhhaaa” or “ahn-ahn” will do, like in the case of the languages spoken in villages some 2 hours south of Bobo.

Gestures can include, but are not limited to; head bobbing, head shaking, wave of a finger, or doing an arm movement similar to that of a chicken flapping its wings in order to say that, “all is well.”

This type of communication is a major part of any language, so it will be assumed that you’re a good communicator if you use them correctly.

Lesson 2. Learn to say hello.
Now in some languages this can get a bit complicated. Where as in English and French sometimes a simple “hello,” or “salute,” will suffice, there are some languages that require a specific greeting for the different times of day. Try learning the greetings from a local friend, tutor, or by just listening to the people around you. The latter can make it hard to grasp the correct pronunciation or exact meaning but I find just mumbling the general tone and inflection can help you muddle through the greeting without your incomprehension being discovered right away.

Lesson 3. Laugh when others laugh and mimic sounds of disbelief.
Let’s be real, there are gunna be times when you will have no clue hits happening/ being said around you or maybe you did for a bit but then the person talking switched languages mid-story, and now you’re lost when the speaker, and the people around you, suddenly laugh or make some sounds that clearly communicate a meaning that you aren’t quite aware of yet. (Note that these sounds can include gasping in disbelief, sharp exhales that create a high pitched “huh” or “ha” sound to express shock, or a sucking sound done with the tongue and lips to express disapproval.)

Copying a laugh or a sound that others are making around you are a sure fire way of tricking them into believing that you know exactly what’s being said at all times.

Lesson 4. Shrugging is universal.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to trick people into thinking you speak the language with a simple yes, no, and hello. But when you start to get in too deep into a conversation you don’t understand, a smile and a shrug is usually enough to let people know you have no idea what’s happening.

Chances are this type of situation will lead to the discovery of your ignorance and the locals will be honor bound to laugh at you, this of course means you’re going to have to….

Lesson 5. Learn to laugh at yourself and the absurdity of your situation.

There are few experiences more unique than being in the Peace Corps. We are able to experience a plethora of highs and lows, we find ourselves in the most impossible situations, and we are often required to navigate our environment with the dullest of tool, until we are able to sharpen them. Even then, there will always be something new thrown at us that will catch us off guard, and require us to adapt.

However, with our lessons in communication, and a good sense of humor, we can navigate our way through any communicative situation, and fake it till we make it.

Up a Creek, Lost my Paddle

On a sunny, and particular boring, summer morning in July I decided to take a scenic bike ride through the not so immediate but beautiful environment around my village. I left my house with nearly nothing. Just me, my bike, and my wallet.

It started with me turning off the main dirt road onto a dirt side road that lead off into the bush. The route was smooth and underpopulated. The trees arched up over my head creating a tunnel of green reminiscent of the tunnel leading to the large oak tree in My Neighbor Totoro, before it lost its grip, and I burst forth onto farm land being tended entirely by women, and grasses being grazed by cows herded entirely by men.

I keep to my straight narrow path, greeting passer-by, stopping for cows ambling into my path, and taking only lefts in the forks to keep myself from getting lost on the way back.

Courtyards circled by mud brick houses were few and far between. I felt truly out into the countryside of Burkina.

On a whim I took a right instead of a left, and crested a hill. I brought myself to a stop at the crest, and looked down into the sloping valley. Untended farm land, a dozen or so cows grazing the over growth, and four boys roughhousing together instead of moving the cows along fell prey to my eyes. I wished I’d had my phone so I could snap a picture, but I’d left it behind.

I watched it all for a time before taking the dirt path down at speed, hoping I’d find that the path cut through or went around the forest that rose out of the valley.
No luck. At the bottom of the hill the path ended.

I stopped, popped off my bike, waved to the children (who waved back stiltedly) and lowered myself onto outcropping that was unnaturally built up to divide up the plots. I sat for a while, watching the boys slowly decide to herd the cattle, before getting up again and making my own decision to walk just a short way into the forest behind me.

Go straight, and only take lefts. I didn’t go far but when I turned to go back from whence I came I made a wrong turn nonetheless. Wait, back track, it was this way. Wait, no this way.

Crap. I’m lost.

I decide to just get out of the forest first, then find my bike where I left it at the entrance to this little nature hike.

It’s taking a bit too long to find an exit, I admit I panicked and ran a bit till I stumbled from the tree line. Nope, this isn’t where I started but it seems silly to go back in to the house of mirrors. So I follow the tree line till I happen upon five girls pulling water from a well. I approach them, and greet them in a local language before hastily asking the tallest, and presumably the eldest, if she speaks French.

She laughs and I gather up two distinct words in her sentence that amount to, “No French. I don’t go to school.”

Damn.

“Ok uh, no bike. Is there a village?” Yup. That’s basically what my local language skills amounted to.

“Village? yes. Take the path. Go right, right, right.” That’s all I could understand from her string of words and her pointing off into the distance because she’s speaking more local language than French.

“Ok. Right, right. But, no bike. Bike finished.” I’m speaking more French than local language.

*Shrug* “Right, right.”

Crap.

“Ok, right right. Thank you.”

So, the plan? Walk all the way back to my village and then come all the way back the same way I came. That’ll take forever but that’s what I get.

Oh wait, this hill looks familiar and so do the kids! Oh goodness, I’m stupid lucky there’s my bike at the bottom of the hill.

So I retrieve my bike from the bottom of the hill, waving at the children as I go, until I get to a flat enough surface to pop on the bike and start peddling.

I keep straight on the path that I came in on, taking rights at forks in roads, greeting no passers-by, and not stopping for any cows in my path because there’s no one in the area.

Things are starting to look a little unfamiliar. I didn’t see that giant ant hill on the way down, nor was there such a steep and rocky drop on this road leading to a valley.

I’m lost again.

How did I manage to get lost while going straight? What am I even supposed to do if I can’t find my way back? I don’t have my phone on me, and clearly this whole asking people for directions isn’t really working out for me.

I resolve to keep going straight and go right when needed, like the girl at the well said.

Eventually I find myself rolling up onto the back of some houses. I’ve found civilization.

I pop off my bike again and decide that I should try my hand at asking for directions again. I roll my bike around for a bit trying to find some people when I find myself rolling my bike right up to a large dirt road. Is this the main road that I was on before I decided to go on this little adventure?

I find another group of women and ask for my village in a local language.

“Hello, how are you? The village, it’s where?”

She laughs a bit, turns to the girl next to here and says something I don’t understand before turning back to me,”It’s here.”

“Here, here?” I respond incredulously.

“Yes, here here.”

“Um, ok. Is there are police station?” The station is in the center of my village. If I can find that then I’m golden.

She points down the road I’m on and says something that I don’t catch.

“So, go straight?” I ask entirely in French.

“Yes, yes straight,” She insist, jabbing her finger in the same direction.

I thank her and get back on my bike, hoping I won’t wind up getting lost again.

Five minutes into the ride I feel like I’m starting to see some familiar territory, I’ve been down this road before on the way to give my respects to a family who’s son passed away- he was a student at my school.

Ten minutes into the ride I know I’m going the right away. How the heck did I did up all the way over this way? This road isn’t even parallel to where I was before…maybe…what do I know, I did get lost after all.

Fifteen minutes into the ride I’m pulling my bike up to my house, my neighbor’s kids are sitting around outside their house as a pull up. The three of them are scrambling around, sliding into fresh pressed clothes, “Ericka, we are going to an Uncle’s birthday party!”

No questions about where I’ve been and no worry over my disappearance. Kinda like it didn’t even happen.

“Get dressed, you’re coming too!” says the only girl.

I can’t help but oblige. So I go and slide into fresh clothes to, and check my phone that I left charging on my solar battery when I left.

I’d only been up a creek for two hours.

C’est comment on parle ici- Burkinabé Slang

Whether you come to Burkina fluent in French or knowing nothing at all it’s necessary to pick up some slang in order to understand Burkinabé in every day situations, unless you want to be completely perdu.

So for the French speakers, and curious alike, I’ve collected a little list of phrases I hear in Burkina all the time that are technically considered slang.

  • C’est gate- It’s broken. Only used for items, not for bones.
  • Ça fait deux jours- It’s been a long time since we have seen each other.
  • Ça chauffe- It’s hot as in temperature, or the location your at (like a club) is jumping.
  • Ça va aller- Literally, “it’s going to go,” meaning it’ll all work out.
  • Ça va un peu- A response to “ça va/ comment ça va?/ comment vous aller?” meaning things aren’t going well
  • Coin- A corner or place you hang out.
  • Faire gombo- To do work on the side for extra money.
  • Faux type- A bad person that is only trying to take advantage of you
  • Mon/Ma type- A nice person or close friend. Typically used before starting to explain something amazing/funny/unbelievable that happened to you.
  • Ganger petit- To have a baby
  • Je demande la route- A polite way to say you are going to head home.
  • Je suis en bouille- Literally, “I am boiling,” meaning I’m really angry.
  • La- Literaly meaning, “there,” but is used in place of “here” (ici) no matter what. (Ex. “Je suis la.”)
  • Laisser tomber- “To let fall,” meaning to break up with someone, or to let something go by the wayside/give something up.
  • On dit quoi?- Meaning “what’s up.”
  • Ou bien?- “Or what?” Used only as a tag question, and adds emphasis. (Ex. “C’est bon, ou bien?” Or “Tu va fait le traville, ou bien?”
  • Pas de quoi- “No problem,” or “Don’t mention it.”
  • Quoi- Another “or what?” tag question that adds emphasis. (Ex. “C’est bon quoi?”)
  • Sans soucis- Meaning, “no worries.”
  • Tantie – Meaning “auntie”, it’s said ass a sign of respect of someone you are both close and not that close to. (Also what female preschool teachers are called by students.)
  • Tonton- Meaning “uncle”, it’s also said as a sign of respect like tantie.(Also what male preschool teachers are called by students.)
  • Truc- Another word for “thing.”

À la prochaine!

Attack on Ouaga

Though I’m sure by now most people know this, there was a terrorist attack in Ouaga on January the 15th.

-Sadly, my smartphone decided it wanted to freeze up the day of the attack so I was unable to make any posts or let people know I was Ok until it decided to work again. Thus, I was unable to post anything in relation to the attack and how it is effecting life here.-

The attack took place in downtown Ouagadougou on a popular hotel, and restaurant.

The attack was later claimed by Al-Qaeda.

So what does that mean for volunteers in Burkina?

  1. We will not be evacuating from the country. Peace Corps has decided that though this event was devastating, we are not at any increased risk staying in Burkina.
  2. We have limited access to Ouaga, and this will likely continue throughout the rest of our service.

Though we do not know what the future holds for Burkina in terms of it’s safety, I know that there are still a dedicated group of volunteers that intend to stay in Burkina, and complete our service.

For more information, Burkina Faso: Ouaga terrorist attack death toll rises to 30