Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some things about what it's like here


The main means of transportation in Burkina Faso are two wheeled vehicles: small motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles. There are, of course, cars, taxies, bush taxies (mini-vans carrying way more people and things than they were built for), trucks and busses on the road as well. Drivers of four wheeled vehicles have to pass two wheeled vehicles traveling two or three abreast down the road in front of them. If a car or bus meets another car there is a lot of beeping of horns to warn the two wheeled traffic to get to the side of the road. It is amazing there are not more injuries on the road.

Other Volunteers

The people who are finally selected for Peace Corps service are an amazing group with incredible experience. I am the oldest in my group, but only by a couple of months. There are three women in the group who are retired from business positions or changing direction mid career. They are in the Small Enterprise Development section where their experience will be very valuable. In the Secondary Education there are people with experience teaching both in the US and in other countries. In the health sector there are people with a variety of levels of health expertise, including Masters’ degrees in public health. Many of the younger people have studied and worked abroad. Some have participated in various programs in third world countries. Volunteers’ language skills vary from those starting out with no knowledge of French to one who is a native French speaker. There are several who were French majors in college and studies in France. Those with a good command of French are now studying one of the local languages. I am still working to reach intermediate-mid level in French, which is the level we need to reach to be sworn in as volunteers.


We receive a living allowance with which we have to go out and find food to eat. There are a number of options. Along the side of the road are many small stands, built of random tree branches, rough planks, and woven straw mats. There may be peanuts, fruits, vegetables, or cooked food to be purchased. Some of the cooked items are rice and sauce or rice and beans that you can get in a plastic bag and eat however you can, or fried dough or fried plantains. There are also places that bill themselves as restaurants. These generally have tables and chairs to sit on, but these may be a mish-mash of different kinds with various degrees of stability. Some restaurants are better than others, of course, and those that look more western charge higher prices. In these places you can get things like sauce with meat or vegetables served on spaghetti, rice, or couscous.

Another staple is a meat sandwich, which is a baguette sliced lengthwise and spread with just enough ground meat, onion and oil to give the sandwich flavor. You can also get them with an omelet, that is, a scrambled egg with onion or perhaps cucumber in the bread. You never know what they are putting in them on a given day. Drinks can include Coke or Fanta, local beer, or water in bottles or in little plastic pouches referred to as sachets. There are commercially prepared sachets, clearly labeled in printing on the bag, that are safe to drink or those prepared by the vender, which I would not trust for drinking.

For a treat, there are sometimes guys pushing little white two wheeled carts selling frozen milk, the Burkina answer to the Good Humor Man. The frozen milk does cool you off on a hot day. It is flavored with chocolate or vanilla and tastes pretty good. There are booths that are slightly more permanent and can be locked up at night that may have canned goods and even more western “alimentations” that are kind of like a tiny 7/11. They sell snacks, cold drinks, soap, liquor, and so on.

A couple of people in our group like to shop and cook. They have gone to the marché and bought fruit and vegetables. They soak the vegetables in water treated with bleach for a hour or so to kill off any germs, parasites, and so on, when create a salad which they share with any hungry PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) who happens to pass by. In other words, there are plenty of food options and the Peace Corps living allowance is plenty to live on if you don’t go to a “fancy” restaurant every night.

Sorry I am not posting pictures of these interesting things, but the internet is so slow here I can’t get them to post.

1 comment:

  1. So good to hear from you!

    One of the things that has really struck me when I have acted as a 'mentor' to researchers from Africa (Kenya, Ghana) is the problem with internet access. Almost all their on-line work must be done in internet cafes - a tough place to upload or download anything!