I will start this blog with the big news and then go back and fill in the details. The State Department got some credible intelligence (I have no idea how, or exactly what) that there was a terrorist threat in the city were we were for training so we have been evacuated back to the capital city (see below for details). I was totally impressed with the speed and efficiency of the decision making and the efficiency and speed of execution of the evacuation.
After our initial couple of days at the Dragon hotel, we moved to Ouahigouya. We spent several days at a hotel that was a couple of steps down from the Dragon, but my room still had air conditioning to go home to at night. We were given a per-diem in local currency and we were on our own to figure out what to eat. With so many of us, we split up into random groups, some of whom were more adventuresome than the others. I had scrambled egg (sometimes with a few variations) on a half a baguette for several meals and rice with peanut sauce a few times. Women often have little stands by the side of the road where they sell small bags of peanuts, in or out of the shell, and fruit, like mangoes and bananas. I understand we are at the end of the mango season, but these were quite sweet and good tasting. I guess I may soon have to wait until next year for more. As it used to be in the US, foods are in season and available only when they are ripe in the country.
We had (and will continue to have) sessions from 8-10, 10:30-12:30, 2-3:30 and 3:45-5:15 every week day, and just the morning schedule on Saturday. There have been a lot of sessions with all the people in all four of the groups who are here now, Secondary Education, Health Education, Small Business Enterprises, and, my program, Girl’s Education and Empowerment (GEE). These cover topics of general interest. We get lectures in somewhat smaller groups about health and safety as well as lectures from the medical officers about disease prevention and what to do when you are sick, which they assure us we will be. We also started rabies shots. Then we get sessions about our specific program, like the structure of the school system here, and Technical Language, that is, the terms used here for various administrative groups and classes, etc. Finally there have been language classes, particularly “survival Moore” (the local language) and a bit of French, but that starts in earnest next week.
The next exciting thing was that we all got bicycles and instructions in bicycle care, like how to fix a flat tire. Peace Corps has a policy that all volunteers must wear helmets, but none of the locals do, so that is almost a sure way to spot other volunteers.
Finally we were all adopted into local families. There was a big adoption ceremony at which we met our families for the first time and they guided us, on our bicycles, to our new homes. All our bags had already been delivered there, and the Peace Corps staff had worked the our host families to get mosquito nets set up over our beds and to see that all the rooms were appropriate for us. At the ceremony there were family scattered around in the chairs with random seat available for us when we arrived, and I happened to select a front row seat next to a very impressive, matronly woman. We exchange a few words before things go started and, low and behold, she became my host Mom. I wish I had taken a photo of her and her family before we were evacuated. I thought we had lots of time. Too bad.
Because I am no longer with them I will not go into detail about them here, except to say that they took very good care of me while I was with them. One of the young women in the family worked at a store where I got things for lunch one day and she had quite a laugh about the fact that I did not recognize her there. This should come as no surprise to those of you who know me well but, as always, it was embarrassing.
On Thursday we had a community meeting of all the trainees and the volunteers who were there` to discuss a Fourth of July party for Sunday. As we were making plans the County Director told us about a meeting she was called to at the American Embassy. It was to discuss a notice about what was referred to as “credible intelligence” that a terrorist group was planning to kidnap an American in Ouahigouya so she made the decision to evacuate all volunteers north of a line the State Department thought was the southern limit of the threat. That meant that we all walked as a group back to the hotel where we had spent the first night and they set up a couple of “dormitories” in rooms usually used for other things and the entrances to the hotel were guarded by soldiers (or maybe it was police, like our state patrol). We sat around for quite a while and finally were given a simple meal of spaghetti and sauce, which was better than nothing. The Peace Corps staff started notifying our host families and went to each of our new homes to collect our belongings. They also went to the sites of the volunteers who were north of that line and collected their belongings. They will not be going back to their sites and some of them were, understandably, upset that their projects had been disrupted this way.
On Friday morning we got up and sat around in the hotel, while small Peace Corps vans arrived with things retrieved from homes. Those of us who received things checked our bags and labeled then. It was amazing how well they and the families did at getting each person’s belongings together. By 1:30 we were headed back to Ouagadougou and arrived by 5. We had a meeting with Shannon who brought us up to date and most of us spent another night sleeping in the clothes we were wearing on Thursday. They did arrange for a VERY good dinner at the restaurant here and some of the volunteers went out a bought tooth brushes and tooth paste for us. This afternoon most of our luggage arrived. It was quite an amazingly well organized evacuation with very few hitches, if any. I need to put in a word of praise here for all the Peace Corps staff, both in the office and all the men and women driving the busses and trucks, some of whom worked on this evacuation for 24 hours straight. The volunteers who are working with us as trainers were also great at keeping things feeling normal and reassuring us about things as best they could. They have all been so patient with us and worked so hard to keep us safe.
The bottom line is, Peace Corps is looking after us, and taking good care of us. They even found a place for us to have our Fourth of July party tomorrow. Just amazing! We will continue with our training on Monday in a new location and Shannon assured us there were plenty of sites wanting volunteers in the south, so there will be places for everybody. For the next two weeks we are staying air conditioned comfort each evening, which may delay getting adapted to the heat, but which sure feels good.