Saturday, July 24, 2010
One of the surprising things on the schedule we received when we first arrived was something called “Demystification.” We have been learning in classes about the things we may be doing at our sites and hearing a bit about what it is like to live in a village, but demystification is the time when we go to visit a current volunteer at his or her site. That ends the mystery of what it might be like to be a volunteer here. Each group has gone out on a different schedule in groups of three or four trainees with one of the Language and Culture teachers who have been working with us during our training.
For my visit to a place that shall remain nameless, we started out with a bus ride of about three hours. We were to catch a “bush taxi” to go the rest of the way. A bush taxi in Burkina Fasso is a 21 passenger van/bus. There are bench seats that a supposed to seat three and a fold down seat in the “aisle” to get to the back seats, so you sit four across. The interiors are worn down to the bear metal on the sides and floor and the upholstery is worn and ripped. While we were waiting for the bush taxi it began to rain. We dashed to an outdoor restaurant where there were tables and chairs under a thatched roof. There was an elevated concrete floor, so we kept our feet dry, although we had to move the tables and our baggage to the other side of the platform when the wind began to blow the rain in. We ate and waited for about four hours for the bush taxi to appear. The road to the village was about two hours down a dirt road, full of potholes, which the driver attempted to dodge. It was a bumpy, exciting ride, if you like that sort of thing.
The Volunteer’s house was a bit away from the market which was the last stop on the route. We had lots of help from the village kids getting out things to her house. Her town does not have electricity and they get their water from the community pump. Cooking by the light of candles and head lamps was an adventure. Her house has three rooms and an indoor bathing place, for taking a bucket bath (more on that another time). The best thing was that she had a “hangar,” that is, an outdoor area under a straw roof. While the others slept in the stuffy, hot house, I put up my Tropic Screen tent and slept outside all three nights we were there. It was relatively cool and the fresh air was great for sleeping.
In the village we did the important things like greeting the people, including important people like the village chief, the equivalent of a superintendent of a large school district, and the police, as well as “just folks. Greeting people is very important here, and you talk to each person for a minute or two in a rather meaningless way, so it takes a lot of time. We saw the village school. In a room that had no light except what comes through the openings high up on the wall, and desks for maybe 40 students, they teach 120 first graders. Yes, one teacher, 120 students! It is amazing to me that any learning goes on at all.
On the way back to home base we took the same bush taxi, which they had to push and roll down hill to get started. We ended up with 24 passengers for part of the trip, so there were five across the area meant for four in three of the rows. The exciting thing was the guy taking chickens to market. He had the driver string a rope from the front to the back of the roof rack, and across the back of the bus. He had tied the chickens’ feet together in pairs, (four chicken feet in one bunch) and draped them over the chord so there was a chicken hanging down on each side. He must have had about 50 chickens. As far as I could tell, even though they were hanging upside down going down the road at 60 miles an hour for 4 or 5 hours, they all got to market alive. Hard to believe. Why do it that way, you ask? Remember, there is no refrigeration, so the only way for the meat to be fresh is to have the chicken arrive in town alive.
It was an adventure, and I can see the advantages of such a placement, but I am hoping for an assignment it a place that is not quite so isolated. We will not learn about our sites for a couple more weeks, so I will let you know what they decide is the right place for me.