Thursday, August 23, 2007

Almost there...

The end of staging is here, just about. Tomorrow we will swear in around 11am (you can never be too certain with african time, which is good for me since I'm usually not the most punctual), and by 2 in the afternoon I'll be on a bus headed for Ouaga, where I'll look for cheeseburgers, milkshakes, gardening supplies, and a typewriter. Then, on Sunday, Beth and I will head for the Southwest and spend the night in Gaoua. The next morning a van will meet us somewhere in town and drive us to our individual houses, and I will be all alone for the first time since having an efficiency in West Campus 4 years ago. Staging has been the longest time of my life, I'm certain of it. Those first few days before having a phone and internet access each seemed like a month. Two weeks after being here, I felt like two years had passed and I was ready to go home. That first time I tried to use the internet, it was slower than anything I remember after 1998 in the United States, the keyboard was french-oriented, and after writing an email to Mom I realized the page hadn't fully loaded and it wouldn't send! I used my last 600 francs and made a two minute phone call to her cellphone, which thankfully she answered. That got me through those first couple of weeks. After that, it was up and down. I've been lucky in that I haven't been sick (although I've lost about 25 pounds), but the loneliness was really something. I would stay awake nights and just be lonely, with no one to talk to or visit. It wasn't like I was the most social person back home, either. For the most part, I would go upstairs and watch TV and leave my family downstairs to watch Everybody Loves Raymond. But it's one thing to be in a comfortable house on the second floor with your family all downstairs safe and sound, and another thing to be on a bed with one sheet and zero pillows, hearing languages you can't understand through the windows, and knowing even if you got up from where you were right then and started walking, you wouldn't be home soon enough. So after a month and a half of that I thought I had scratched even: it wasn't worth it to keep going, but it wasn't worth it not to. I figured with that mindset, I could just wait it out and see what came. Then something happened, I thought that, yeah, if I wanted to go home I could do it. I could call the Peace Corps and be home in a couple days; that part didn't scare me anymore. What did scare me was that I wouldn't be able to come back. So that's where I am right now, waiting patiently to be able to see family and friends again, but loving every minute of this. Yeah it's hard - the food, the work, the languages, all of it. But I'm also so lucky to have the chance to do this. How many generations of people have had this opportunity, to go somewhere completely foreign and do some cool stuff, and then come back and get on with life? Not many.
I guess that's all for today. I'm going to be taking a lot of pictures down in Kampti. I've been hesitant taking them around here, since I've lived with a host family and haven't been able to pull the camera out without dozens of kids appearing from every direction all at once. But that'll change in the next few days when I have my own house and can go exploring on my own. Also, there is a UNESCO world heritage site about 30 kilometers from my house with the most well preserved ruins in West Africa, so I'll be there soon to take some pictures.
Oh and one more thing: they started harvesting a lot of the corn and mill yesterday, which, combined with the wind that has been sweeping through town, has awoken the beast which is my allergies. Does anyone know any good non-medicinal treatments? I heard that eating local honey is good, so I'll buy some tomorrow, but if you have any ideas, please pass them on.
Okay, hopefully I'll be able to write on Sunday or Monday. Thanks again for all your thoughts and support (and letters and packages and emails). Clay

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Nothing much to say other than...

This is from the group birthday party a couple weeks ago. The wreath is something Heather made for all of us birthday kids. Marty took the picture and photoshopped it while I was in village. Okay, gotta go buy going away presents at the market. See ya soon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday afternoon

Hey there, like I said before, I really love the peace corps' approach to language class, so I'm going to include a little summary of it, and how I'm applying it to Italian. It's not official by any means, just a general idea. So far is what I've learned about languages, starting with the most important.

Hi is the only word that really matters, the rest is just specification. With that in mind, always start with the different ways to say hello, good morning, goodnight, goodbye, etc. A salutation is the start of a conversation, a way to greet people on their birthdays or when they're sick, even a way to evaporate tension built up from seeing darkened figures walking toward you on a dark street when you're alone. Basically they're great. After that, I think it's good to know a few verbs, and most languages have an action verb (to do, to make), a going verb (I'm going to the HEB), a have verb (I have a cat named Ronald Weasley) and a being verb (I am happy). After knowing how to go somewhere, you will probably be curious and want to know some places to which you can go. That brings us to questions. Who, why, what, where, etc - just a few words and you're set. Then, once you've gotten somewhere, you're probably going to want to do something (eat, for instance?), hence some new verbs. Just a couple will do to get you started. Then, directions are important; we're all tourists. And what if you give directions to someone (being the nice person that you are), but they're still a bit confused? Adjectives. Big, small, etc. Nothing too fancy, unless you're a poet that takes himself too seriously, in which case you wouldn't read a language book but would instead have already scraped together enough change to buy a plane ticket and would be sitting semi-comfortably a few ten thousand feet above the Atlantic right now, looking at the Sky shopping magazine with a mixture of amusement and disgust. Thankfully, not many of us are like that. After adjectives, I'd add a few more verbs, and then the past tense. For French and Italian, the past tense uses the being and have verbs, so it's not at all hard. After that, review and you're all set. I'm about halfway through my Italian lessons, and this structure is helping a lot. Don't get too caught up with specifics, just try a few things out, and think how much easier your trip will be if you spend fifteen minutes a day in traffic doing something other than searching for a good song out of the millions of stations all playing truck commercials. Above is the schedule I made for Italian, if you're curious.

I'm going to go eat some lunch. I found this bean place that gives you a bowl of beans, rice, peppers, onion, cucumber, and green toms for only 100 francs. And best of all it's behind a billboard at an intersection, you have to duck under a bank advertisement to get to it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Deep in the foothills of the Sahel, a proverb is well known

It reads - As one loves his beard, one should also love his mother. Admittedly it's not an old proverb (I just wrote it), but it serves its purpose. On a completely related note, during class this morning Delphine stopped my french monologue, reached her hand to my face, and pulled a spider out of my beard. It had crawled down from the rafters and found a new home in the follicle radiations spiraling out of my right cheek. Thus, I will be relatively clean-shaven for swear in.
About swear in, it gets closer every day! By next Friday I will be an official volunteer, and on Monday I will be in my house drawing up plans for my garden. That makes me think of cedar chips, which I heard practically spontaneously combusted the other day somewhere in Texas. Is this true?
As far as things I'm reading go, Jitterbug Perfume is a great book by Tom Robbins, and All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren is wonderful. The language is smooth and not too heavy.
Language classes are still going well. I'm getting pretty along in Lobiri, and I'm really enjoying Italian. It's a nice hobby and for the most part completely unrelated to West Africa, which makes for a good break from everything. The other night I was studying alone in my room before bed, and somebody startled me with their yawning. The Idiots Guide to Learning Italian is so involving that it took me a few seconds to realize it was me.
The Peace Corps has a good structure to their language teaching, and I think I might summarize it in a blog soon. It cuts out a lot of structure at the beginning in favor of "survival" language, which is really easy. After only a few hours you can ask directions, order food, and tell somebody your name. You won't be fluent by any means, but it's a start. I don't know if that would be helpful for any of you, but I think it's helpful enough to pass on.
This week has been really interesting, but I'm going to have to use some of my free time tomorrow morning to tell you about it, the computer is telling me I only have three minutes remaining.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


And I already forgot something...I wanted to mention the different kinds of drinks here in Burkina but it slipped my mind. The first difference you'll notice is that most drinks are in bags, not bottles. Milk, citron, bissap, baobab, water, they all come in these little heat-sealed bags that you bite a corner off of, tip up, and drink. Yogurt is like it too. Go-gurt, in Africa. They also have bags of cold water that aren't heat-sealed but tied, but I'm thinking those aren't filtered and I avoid them at all costs.
Okay, milk is milk. Citron is just like lemonade. Bissap is this super sweet, almost cranberry juice that I drink when it's free. Baobab juice is like the ginger juice I used to find at school and is good for a cold (or at least I think it is). Water is water. Yogurt is goooood, and different from the kind back home. It is really sweet and fresh, plus I get the idea that it is healthy for me.
Oh, and the water here tastes surprisingly delicious. I get it out of a well when I'm in village and then filter it. We're supposed to you use two drops of bleach for every liter, but I average about a half drop to the liter. A) I don't understand science and don't see the difference between what two drops will do versus half a drop. Isn't there some law in science that says the lesser substance will mix with the larger substance until there is an even consistency? So if I put half a drop in there, then shake it up, the bleach will just get to everything anyway, or not. B) I don't really care because drinking bleach water tastes disgusting and is just a slow death anyways. Without lots of bleach the filtered water is great and doesn't taste like the limestone in Pflugerville water.

Bottled drinks are mostly coke, sprite, fanta, fanta fiesta (strawberry fanta), and beer. The soft drinks are made with sugar instead of corn syrup, and I can easily drink a coke a day. And the beer is pretty bad. At best it tastes like Coors Light, and at worst...I can't even say. Although this makes me think of something else: Benin and Togo.
One of those countries, I forget exactly, was partly colonized by the Germans. As such, the beer is supposedly awesome. I talked to this one guy that was hiking over there and came upon this German chateau tucked away in the mountains. That would be a wild vacation. And speaking of crazy cross-culture mix-ups...
Last night I got to watch the only tv in my village. We watched this Latin American sitcom called something like Maria de los Barrios. All the people in my village love it and this morning were talking about last night's cliffhanger. Apparently Maria just discovered that her husband, with his slicked-back hair, is having an affair with the hopelessly flighty and chatty Brazilian maid. Needless to say it's a good show.
Alright that's all I have for today. Bleach water, german castles, strawberry fanta, and a very sad Maria from the barrio. See ya later.

p.s. Is anyone learning Italian? I just got an Italian book from mom for my birthday and I want to practice. We can go to dinner once a week, or email back and forth. Whatever's easier for you.

p.p.s. Thanks for the Italian book Mom.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Burkina Faso

Hey, no new pictures to put up, but I thought I'd tell you a bit about Burkina Faso. Here we go.

Size & Geography: It's about the size of Colorado and, although landlocked, has a pretty interesting range of geographical features. The extreme north of the country is the Sahel. There it is mostly sand speckled with fake lakes called barrages (sp?), where people garden and grow maize and millet. The people up there are generally known as cattle herders and some families have thousands of cows. Where I am right now for training is Ouahigouya. It is a little south of the Sahel, and here you can find a good amount of small hills, red dirt, sand, and low shrubs and trees. It is actually a lot like some of Texas or New Mexico. And there is a huge difference between the dry and rainy seasons here. When I got here I couldn't find the trail home because of all the sand, and now it's all I can do to see over the corn. In the center of the country, near Ouagadougou, it's a little greener than here but mostly the same. Further south, in Bobo Dioullaso and Gaoua, it is a lot greener. There are large rolling hills, tall forests, and waterfalls. Bobo is the tourist capital of the country, and it is supposed to be gorgeous (I haven't seen it yet). Kampti, my town, is pretty much the same. It receives more rainfall than any other place, and it is cooler but humid.

Animals: So far I haven't seen anything really "African". There are gorgeous birds though that I've never seen before. They are long and slender and have bright orange and yellow and blue feathers. Also, there are lots of lizards and frogs. At night after a rain the frogs get pretty loud in the village. Around Kampti there is an elephant sanctuary and a couple national parks that have monkeys, rhinos, hippos, and lots of other stuff, so hopefully I'll be able to see some of those soon (How cool would that be?!). Also there are lots of butterflies.

Seasons: There are four seasons here. I learned about them all but I've actually forgotten, sorry. It also depends a lot on the region you're in. For example, there is something called the Harmattan (sp?) that amounts to a long season of sandstorms. I won't see any of that in Kampti, but I'll see a few more months of rain. I saw a few sandstorms here in Ouahigouya before the rainy season started, and man are they crazy. It is like a wave coming right at you. One time, I was eating chicken at this place about a mile away from where we were staying, and I saw the sand coming in. I jumped on my bike, but the sand caught up with me; I could hardly see. I pedaled faster though and actually made my way out of it and to the hotel. There, I waited for a minute or so and the sand caught up to me again and just swept over everything. It is pretty powerful.

Languages: Burkina Faso is a pretty interesting place. Imagine Colorado, but with over 60 languages spoken. I am learning Lobiri (or Lobi), and when I get stuff right in class my teacher says "ahhh Lobikuhn," which translates to "Lobi Man." Haha. I don't often get things right though. Lobi is really interesting though, especially because it is spoken in Burkina, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana. Because of the English influence in Ghana, you can find lots of words in Lobiri that are English. If I want to buy a bucket, for example, all I have to do is ask for a bucketi. Pretty funny.I was also learning Mooré, which is the national language. Everyone is kind of unified I guess by the French language, but it is hard to know who speaks French and how much they speak. And then there is my French level. I can get by, but it all depends on the context. Today I tried to do a short seminar on AIDS, and I got up there and realized I know nothing. I've never used those verbs or nouns before. I guess it's just what you're comfortable with. Every day I get better and better, but it's a process that comes with a lot of mistakes.

Roads: It's pretty different than the United States. I'm very lucky in that Kampti is one of the few villages in the country to be located right on a paved road. Most of the roads are dirt roads, and an SUV is a must. They are supposedly building a lot of paved roads, but I haven't been here long enough to see. For instance, if I want to go to Ghana, sometimes (depending on the rain) it's better for me to go all the way back to Ouaga, and then go straight down into Ghana on a paved road, rather than risk the 40 miles or so on a dirt road.

Location in West Africa: Burkina Faso is centrally located, which is great for travel. I can go to the beaches and jungles of Ghana, Benin, and Togo. I can also go to the Dogon country in Mali, which has these unbelievable cave dwellings. I think they might be pretty famous. I also want to check out Gabon while I'm in Africa. I've heard they have the best animal parks in the world there, and it is practically untouched. Also, because of Burkina's central location, the annual film festival is held every February in Ouaga. And in the mountains of Benin and Togo, apparently there are these areas where huge numbers of butterflies live and migrate (do they even migrate?). I think that would be cool to check out.

Food: Honestly I don't know a lot. I can tell you what I eat though. Today I found this bakery that sells good bread with chocolate, and right down the street is a place that sells fresh milk. They pasteurize it every day. And I like the one place in town that sells cheeseburgers, although they are too expensive to eat more than once a week. I also like chicken and onions, very good stuff. But for the most part I'm in village and it is just rice or noodles with some type of sauce made out of oil and a peanut sauce.

Communication: Most people in the cities have cell phones, and reception is pretty good. In my village right now reception is spotty, but in Kampti it's pretty clear. It reminds me of early car trips in Colorado, when you wouldn't have reception while at the bottom of the mountain, but once you cleared it you'd have it again. Calling is really expensive though. It's about 300 francs to call someone here in Burkina for less than 5 minutes. And to call the United States for a couple minutes would be around 2000. A text to the US, however, is only 70 francs, and to someone here only 30. I send a lot of texts. To put it in perspective though, I think it's about 465 francs to 1 dollar, so it's not all that much.

What I've been doing: Training is winding down and most of our stuff is finishing up. Today we did a radio program and I asked my "Dad" here, who is the village delegate for Bogoya, some questions about building a school in town. It went pretty well. And every week we have soccer games and meetings with the girls in the village. We'll also have a theater performance early next week, and I've done a couple of practice teaching sessions to summer school students to practice French and group work. It is hard, teachers should have all the respect in the world. Oh, and I'll officially swear in on August 24th, and it will actually be nationally televised throughout Burkina! They asked me to give a speech in Lobiri for a few minutes, so I'll try to find a way to tape it so that I can send it back home or put it on the internet for yall.

I think that's about it for right now, but if anyone has any specific questions please just ask, I'd love to share. Okay, I hope you're doing well and enjoying the end of summer. Love you and see you soon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

It happened. A Dr. Pepper has been consumed in Burkina Faso. Traveling from the Davis residence in Austin, TX, it must have been scared from time to time tucked away in a taped off flat-rate ups box beneath snickers bars and comic books. No one will ever know for sure what really happened, but I imagine the propel fitness water packets (talkative as they are) in the far corner talked to the 5 Dr. Peppers, hopefully ameliorating the collective chariness inherent to any cross-Atlantic journey: the slips of the jetstream, endless visa checkpoints, language barriers, not to mention the jetlag in Casablanca where not even the Spiderman comic book caught a second of sleep...phew...Right when the box pulled up in the car I used the freezer at the training center and cooled one down until it was ice cold. Delicious - just like it used to taste all the way back in May of 2007. The rest of my birthday was great as well. Adlai came in at about 6:45 and said, "Hey man, happy birthday. Here's a snickers, pack your bag cause we're spending the night in Ouahigouya, and one more thing, I need your cinnamon. Don't worry though, it's for a good cause." You know when your day starts out like that, it can't be bad. By 7pm we were making mexican food (see below) and french toast (cinnamon).

After that it was nighttime, and the right time to put on sunglasses and dance (I haven't turned hip-hop mogul, my sunglasses are prescription). Oh and that haircut I got? It was just a trim. I think I'll cut it before I move to site, but for now what respectable liberal peace corps worker wouldn't grow out his hair for at least a few weeks. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young did say something about a freak flag, if I remember correctly. Plus I'm an employee of the federal government, I'm as straight-edge as they come.

Sorry mom, and yes I will be a clean-cut looking kid when we go to Italy in March. All in all my birthday was great. I'm nursing a bit of a summer cold here this week, but even that is preferable to seasonal allergies in Austin. See you guys soon.
p.s. For those that read this for actual news about Africa: It's hot, people eat a lot of rice, and I speak a lot of French.