Sunday, July 31, 2011

Time for the Reconnect

Sitting in the Dubai airport, I couldn't help but to think to myself of how far I'd come to be in that moment. For the first time in two years I walked into a Burker King to order a burger. And then it hit me. This food is nasty, horrible for your health, and could not compare to the freshness of market-that-day tomatoes and peppers that saturate Africa on a daily basis. 'We actually eat this crap?' was the first thought across my mind. Oh yes we do, and it costs a lovely 11 bucks with a large coke a the airport. That equivalent of money would have easily allowed me to eat for a week in Burkina Faso, and eat healthy and well.

Since that experience at the Dubai Airport I have spent much of my day reflecting on what had happened to me in my last two years. It's hard to believe sometimes that all of that has passed, waking up to donkeys and chickens is just an afterthought. Now it's back to the world of self-indulgence; everyone so obsessed with their Facebook status updates and inability to use a map because GPS on our iPhones has replaced our ability to think and deduce. What we don't understand, is that more than 4 billion people live without these needs and what we think as normal is completely abnormal in the larger scheme of things.

My journey since COSing has taken me on a Kenyan safari with my dad, a four day bleary eyed race to see my friends in DC, and the most lovely vacation to Belize to spend time with my girlfriend reconnecting with her in a way I only had dreamed of but didn't think possible. But the hardest part is yet to come, reconnecting with climate controlled houses, grocery stores, and popular culture.

The way I view the world now is so different than before. Other volunteers always say that the largest impact you will make is upon yourself. Did I save the world in Burkina? Absolutely not. The largest victory I can claim is reaching the lives of a few kids who maybe one day will pass onto thier children the knowledge of self-worth and hard-work that I tried to pass down to them. But what my community did for me- transformed me, changed me -is the true victory.

The next few weeks present a new set of challenges-challenges that I feel equipped and ready to face. Life is an adventure, and I want to enjoy every minute of it.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Adventure Comes to an End

I realize that in the development of this blog I have left the general "what am I doing" posts to more specific anecdotes detailing stories that have happened to me since I joined Peace Corps, but I must once again return to the less interesting "what am I doing" considering that at this moment what I am doing is rather important.

I am in the middle of COSing, which in non Peace Corps speak means the administrative process taken before officially being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). After tomorrow, July 1st 2011, I will no longer be a Volunteer but an alumni, a RPCV of Burkina Faso. It's a proud title that approximately 200,000 other Americans have acheived. With it (I hope) comes the newfound knowledge that I have gained after living in West Africa for two short years.

I have said my goodbyes to Tenkodogo, and am now in the process of doing the same with Peace Corps and other volunteers. It has been a wonderful service, a bittersweet moment, but alas more adventures await in the near and far future that I cannot wait to tackle. Where one door closes, others open.

I will write a far longer reflection blog when I return to the United States, but I just wanted to write a little to let everyone know that it's been fun writing for you and I hope you have enjoyed what you have read. Thanks to everyone who has supported me in the last two years; together it has been a wild ride.

This next week I will be flying to Kenya to see my father for what we hope to be an amazing safari experience. I will then fly home to see my mother and sister where I will most certainly beat my mother in a game of tennis before flying off to Belize to see my girlfriend for two weeks. I will more formally be home in the month of August with some family gatherings covering the month. Then comes September, where I will have to figure out my next steps.

But for now, I am in a good place in my life. I am proud of what I have accomplished, I have no regrets, and I am ready for the future!

Thank you everyone,

Monday, June 20, 2011

Week Two: The Finals

You're a good soldier
Choosing your battles
Pick yourself up

And dust yourself off

And back in the saddle

You're on the frontline

Everyone's watching

You know it's serious

We're getting closer

This isnt over

Futsal in foreground, basketball in back.

The pressure is on

You feel it

But you've got it all

Believe it

When you fall get up
Oh oh...
And if you fall get up
Oh oh...
Tsamina mina
Cuz this is Africa

-Waka Waka
by Shakira

Winning boys team holding up the cup.

Week two of kids camp offered a new set of obstacles and activities, most notably the cup finals: futsal for the boys and basketball for the girls.

PCVs Luis Chidas and Joey Grassi performing a skit on hand washing and using latrines.

But before I discuss the finals, I would like to highlight a bit of activity that passed in the second week. Kids learned about the importance of role models, environment, deforestation, the importance of latrines, nutrition and sanitation, and my personal favorite activity of the week: the library.

Playing the game Hangman with l'environnement

Every participant was asked to meet at the local library on Tuesday morning at 9AM. I asked the librarians the week prior to discuss the selection of the library and the different activities offered by the facility. A modest dwelling sitting off the main road behind a failed construction site, the small library does contain a large variety of books including children’s books and comics, novels (Mostly French and African literature), magazines including National Geographics, and most importantly encyclopedias. Teachers often ask students to do small research projects here and students are often left at a loss with how to go about finding the necessary information. My hope is that with the new knowledge passed to the students about the library my hope is that kids will continue using it throughout their studies; it only costs 200 CFA per year, or 40 cents! Several students have gone and paid for a membership and I expect more to follow, they all seemed to enjoy themselves.

At the library.

That puts us at Friday, the day of the Cup. Four other volunteers came to town to watch the cup and the director of Peace Corps Burkina after that. Cleats were given to the winners of the futsal tournament and jerseys (DC Stoddert Soccer!) to the basketball winners. After the tournaments, the girls and boys both put on theatrical presentations about malaria and HIV/AIDS respectively. The girls, impressively, wrote their own play and I was especially proud of their efforts. After the plays I awarded the winning teams with their prizes and then gave all the participants, including star performers in the class room, prizes. In the end I feel that the camp was a great success and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Giving prizes to two standout boys, Roland and Kadé.

In the following days after the cup, several students have returned to thank me and show off their new jerseys and shoes. I don’t like to boast about my service, but I really feel that a lot of the kids really listened to the lessons I gave them and my hope is that these 24 kids will become leaders in their own right in the years to come. My friend has offered to coach the girls after I leave, which is a tremendous relief knowing that they will have the chance to continue playing basketball after I leave.

The girls with Country Director Shannon Meehan, Rodrique Laconté, and me.

One thing in particular that I found very interesting was the different people that the students chose to be their role models. Most girls chose their mothers as well as some of the volunteers who helped during the camp-no surprise there. What was a big shocker was how many boys chose their mothers as their role models. Only one boy chose his father, almost half chose their mother. One boy chose me as his role model, an honor but I think he was just searching for brownie points; a shame for him since school is already over.

In short it was a wonderful way to finish up service. Go out on top with your head held high, it’s the way to do it. I have one more week in Tenkodogo and then it’s off to Ouagadougou to finish up properly before going to Kenya, Belize, and beyond!