Friday, March 30, 2007

My last trimester!!!

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted, but with school and an END OF SERVICE conference (!!!!!), I haven’t been on the internet very much. In case you didn’t notice, that bolded part in my first sentence means that I am just about finished with my PC service!!!!! Less than three months to go..... it’s unbelievable! I’ve officially been in this country for over two full years, as we arrived in Ouaga on March 16, 2005. That just blows my mind, and it’s hard to wrap my head around how fast the time has gone.

Now I will excuse myself ahead of time for the mathematical psychosis in this blog, but as I was sitting on my most recent 5-hour bus ride, I started thinking about how I have passed these two years, and, well… being a math teacher and all, my head starting thinking about a statistical breakdown of time spent in Burkina Faso. The PC is very big on putting things in chart or graph format, and I guess that I have been slightly brainwashed to start thinking in similar terms. So here is the percentage breakdown of how I figure I have spent two years of my life as a PC Volunteer thus far:

Out of the 16,968 hours in two full years (excluding my 3 wks vacation in the wonderful United States of America) this is how I figure I have spent my time…..

Teaching (in class and lesson planning)...2250 hrs ~ 13.2%
Training (Pre-Service and In-Service) ....540 hrs ~ 3.1%
Sleeping .................................5968 hrs ~ 35.1%
Traveling on transport ...................350 hrs ~ 2.1%
Vacations (in BF, Ghana and Mali) ........758 hrs ~ 4.5%
Free Time ................................7102 hrs ~ 42.0%

So here’s the thing... From the very first day of training, it’s ingrained in our heads that we, as volunteers, have three objectives… These are:
1. Primary Service to Country (for me that is teaching)
2. Cultural Exchange - meaning talking with Burkinabe about what American people and culture are all about and learning what Burkinabe people and culture are all about.
3. To bring home to the states the knowledge about the Burkinabe people and share it with our fellow Americans.

Now, Objective #3 is something I have to do when I am finished with my service and back in America, so my time in BF should be split between Objectives 1 and 2 (normally a 50/50 split, right?). HOWEVER, due to the educational schedule and my low number of scheduled teaching hours, only 13.2% of my time has been spent on Objective #1. Taking out sleeping, traveling, training, and African vacations, that left a whopping 42% of my time that is free, in which I was expected to be culturally exchanging. Since that is quite a tiring amount of cultural exchanging, it really boils down to about 2/3 of that 42% spent on staring at walls, reading, or swatting flies into my screen door with my fly swatter (best purchase ever). Therefore, if 1/3 of that 42% (or 14%) of my time was actually spent on Objective #3, that would mean that I spent 2375.5 hours (about 99 days) exchanging with the Burkinabe.

The moral of this mathematical lesson is that if I have actually spent 99 days working on Objective #3, I think that my mission is accomplished and I can now spend the remainder of the free time I have left until June going back to staring at walls, reading, and swatting flies into my screen door with my fly swatter. Well, maybe to have a round number, as it seems I've developped some form of OCD, I’ll get to 100 days, but that’s it!

This brings me to my next mental flow-chart..... Again, this goes back to something that we saw numerous times in training. During practically every medical training session I have ever sat through, there is reference to a graph that is supposed to represent the emotional roller coaster that is our Peace Corps service. Basically it tells us that ups and down are normal and it gives it to us as a function of time in 3 month increments. It says that we should expect to go through a variety of emotions based on cultural shock, homesickness, physical illness, loneliness, effectiveness in work, cultural barriers, and lots of other things that make us ride that roller coaster. Reflecting on my ups and downs, I think that chart has been pretty accurate, but I’d like to propose another chart from the volunteer perspective… that is a chart of MOTIVATION as a function of time. It’s actually very simple to visualize. It starts out at a plateau, where I’d categorize motivation as “very high” or “eager”... Then somewhere around the 12 month mark (coinciding with emotional lows, per the PC emotional roller coaster chart), motivation takes a sharp nose dive and lingers somewhere around “ambivalence” ... Getting further into the second year of service, I’d say there’s a slight rise around the 15th month to “renewed motivation but with lack of energy”... and then from months 18-24 there is a steady decline in motivation until you finally reach the final low point of “lack of interest in anything but staring at walls, reading, and swatting flies into my screen door with my fly swatter.”

To summarize these statistical reviews of my time and emotions, I’d say that I’m just about ready to come home. And that I am pleased, but slightly terrified, that I can still pass five hours on a bus with the thoughts in my head, such as the analysis of my life by percentages and flow charts.

Speaking of passing the time, since I haven’t blogged in a while, the only things I’ve done over the past couple of months have been teaching the second trimester of school, my end of service conference, and a small side trip to a city in the south of BF called Gaoua. The second trimester of school was fine… same old stuff…. And the conference was really great because not only did I get to spend a week with my awesome training group (we’re down to 9 people by the way) in an A/C hotel, with a pool and amazing food, but we also discussed a lot about life after Peace Corps and getting back to our American lives. Actually, talking about getting back to our American lives made us all a bit anxious about the idea of job searching and reverse culture shock and all that, but I think mostly we’ve all reached the point where we’re ready to move on, so it was really great to discuss. Also, the other volunteers who are NOT at the end of their service (ha – suckers!) were kind enough to throw our group a big goodbye bash. This is sort of a tradition amongst volunteers so that everyone can be together with the outgoing group one last time. So we had a really fun day-long party with a kickball tournament, pool, food, dancing, and two awesome little surprises. The first was a funny skit people played to represent all of us. It was basically a skit of everyone’s character flaws, but of course, that’s why it was so funny. And the second was a hand-drawn picture of all 9 of us in my group, which was amazing!

My trip to Gaoua was OK, too. I went to visit a museum they have there to teach about the culture of an ethnic group called the Lobi, who live around the Gaoua region. It’s pretty incredible how they lived and how recently they lived like that, because some of the info and pictures are from the 1930’s. The Lobi were probably the most warrior-like group of people you will find in this country, and there were pics of warriors with poison darts that they made using snake venom and decomposed corpses. They really did wear loincloths made from animal skins or shells because even in the 1930’s they did not have fabrics to make clothes. Female excision was an absolute must if any girl was to be considered for marriage. And women pierced their two lips with pieces of bone that held in place pieces of gourd shells between their lips and teeth. So it looks as though their mouths are protruding, but this was done to make the women more attractive to men. Once married, the women would sometimes bind the pieces of gourd to each with another piece of bone whenever they had a problem with their husband that they wanted to discuss. Therefore, they’d walk around all day with their lips literally sewed together until the problem was resolved. I don’t think that would fly so well with us American women, but I guess it’s also a good passive aggressive, patient way to communicate with your husband.

As we are getting deeper into HOT season again, I am remembering what it feels like to be aware of every pore in your body. It’s hard to imagine that a person can sweat as much as he/she does, but it’s literally like when you go into a sauna and your body naturally starts dripping just sitting there. Well it’s pretty much like that from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. nowadays. On that five hour bus ride I spoke of earlier, in order to escape the suffocating felling I had being trapped on a non-A/C bus in midday with many neighbors and screaming babies, and aside from the mathematical psychosis I was suffering from, I was trying to take notice of all the little things that are part of everyday travel and life so that I don’t forget it when I go home…. Like the rooster that was strutting around in the overhead compartment that is supposed to be for luggage. Needless to say, I did not sit on that side of the bus or put my stuff up on that side, in case he needs to relieve himself during the voyage. Or the women who sprint up to the windows of a stopped bus selling food from plates on their heads. They sell anything from eggs to carrots to little fried dough balls to water in a bag (for drinking). And it’s funny how you get used to these things and sometimes look forward to those ladies so you can stick your head out of the window of the bus, drop money on her plate, and eat the carrots that have been sitting out in the sun and dust all day long and think that it’s such a treat that the carrot lady was there today. My neighbor opted for hard boiled eggs, so when he came back from the window he had four eggs cradled in his hands. He stuffed two in his pockets and cracked open the other two for his little treat en route.

The last interesting thing I have to share with you all ... (This is a long blog, huh?) that a reporter from PBS came all the way to my village last October to do a report on cotton production and how the US subsidies affect international cotton farmers. The people in the footage from BF are from my village and the main Burkinabe man in the show is actually the parent of one of my students I know very well.
The program aired in February, so if anyone is interested in reading it, here’s the link:

And finally, if anyone was thinking of sending any more packages, I’m leaving in less than three months, so don’t bother sending more stuff!! Unless you’d like me to share it with those less fortunate volunteers who are not yet through with their services. Or, if you’d like to still send something, I’d welcome any school supplies to give out to the kids at the end of the year… like pencils, pens, erasers, rulers, compasses, protractors, pencil bags, etc… otherwise, I’m coming home, so no more packages needed!! And a big THANK YOU to all of you who have sent me stuff since I’ve been here!! They made HUGE differences in my everyday life and saved me from starvation when I could no longer bear the lack of variety of food available in village.

I don’t know when I’ll blog again, but surely before I am finished with service.
Happy Passover and Easter to all!


At April 02, 2007 10:13 PM, Anonymous Tiia said...

Hey Steph...

I can't wait for you to come home! It seems like so long since I've seen you, and there is so much to talk about. Also... you could think of all of your free time "staring at walls" as meditation, and then it seems a lot cooler. And since the heat is like a sauna, and you've been doing so much "meditating", really it sounds like you've spent all this time at a hip spa. :)



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