Thanks for all your e-mails. In this blog I will try to answer some of the questions folks asked. First of all, I am doing fine here. During training we heard about the emotional roller coaster that volunteers experience. One day you are feeling great and on top of the world and another day you wonder why you ever left home. The only time I have had such a down time was during the second week of training. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t think! I talked to one of the Peace Corps doctors and told him that if this did not change I would have to go home. He said maybe it was the type of anti malaria medication they were having me take and changed me to another kind. Just knowing that it might be a drug reaction made me feel better about things. It was kind of like when I take Ibuprofen, but ten times as bad. It took several weeks to get mentally back to normal. I think I am functioning at about 95% now, although I still feel a little out of it from time to time. That could be the stress and strangeness, however, or maybe a side effect of the new drug, but I am much better. One thing I learned about myself during this time was that I feel best when I am mentally engaged. Just having a serious discussion with one of the training staff (in French) about cognitive psychology made me feel better. I have applied that lesson to how I try to spend my spare time here. When I have nothing else to do, which is several hours a day, I study French or Mooré, the local language in my village. I am not sure I am learning that much, but I am mentally healthy. I also spend time each day visiting with various people in the neighborhood trying to speak Mooré and French. (more about visiting in a future blog).
The fact that my older daughter and her family are coming to see me at Christmas time is also an emotional boost. I wouldn’t say I am home sick, but I do miss all of my friends from Mud in Yer Eye, the dance community, church, and JCU. I occasionally think about calling a contra dance or playing a tune on the dulcimer and wish I were in a place where I could do that. But mostly this is the adventure of a lifetime and I am glad to be here.
As I said above, when I was having that bad reaction to the anti-malaria drug I totally lost my appetite. I lost the weight I put on just before I left home and some I have been trying to lose for years. I am not sure it is all weight loss. Some may be changing fat into muscle. Because I have to ride my bike when I want to go anywhere except the immediate neighbors I am getting more exercise than I used to. I have to see if I can find a scale to check that out. My new medication must be taken at the same time each day, with food. I selected lunch time because that was the most predictable meal time during training. For breakfast I usually have the same size bowl of oat meal that I have eaten for breakfast for years and a cup of Nescafe, the only kind of coffee you can get here. Then I don’t eat anything until lunch, so I will really want to eat with it is time to take my pill. Thus, lunch is the biggest meal of the day, as a rule.
So, what do I eat? I stocked up on canned goods before I came to my site but I am trying to make meals out of what I can buy locally as much as I can. At the moment one of the things that is easy to find are eggs. They are from pintades (Guinea fowl), so they are half the size of a chicken egg. The yolks are big and almost orange, as you expect from free range birds. There are lots of onions, and a local egg plant that I have not tried to master. I understand they are quite bitter, although I see people eating them raw. One of the things the girls and ladies have on the trays they carry on top of their heads are something that looks like a sweet potato but is white on the inside and tastes almost like are regular potato. These ladies also sell what they call gateau (cake) that seems like cake that has been deep fat fried, fried dough that is really greasy but OK on the inside, little pie shaped things made from millet flour, and peanuts which can be raw, boiled or, if you are lucky, roasted. One of my favorite things at the moment is local bread. It looks a bit like a French baguette, but the taste and texture is more like sour dough bread. From time to time there are tomatoes, cucumbers, and cabbages. One can also visit a small (and I do mean small) shop in a shack called a boutique and get powdered milk, Nescafe, sugar, flour, salt, oil, mayo, margarine, canned tomatoes, tomato paste spaghetti, macaroni, rice and couscous. They also sell non edible things like matches, soap, bleach, and lots of hair products. With no refrigeration I have to eat what I cook or throw it away. Fortunately my community counterpart raises pigs, among other things, and I can take my scraps to her for her pigs.
There is no propane for sale in Burkina Faso at the moment, and it does not look like the situation will change soon. I am lucky to have a community homologue who loaned me her gas canister to use. Very generous of her. Now she does do her cooking with wood or charcoal.
I have made pancakes and French toast, but can’t do any baking. I have made macaroni and cheese with Laughing Cow Cheese, the only kind of cheese product that you can keep without refrigeration, available only in the big cities. One luxury item I got from town was a jar of raspberry jam. I have to see if I can find more next time I go. I have to go to a town from time to time because the Peace Corps deposits our living allowance in an account at the Post Office. There is no post office in my village so I have to go to a bigger town to get my monthly allowance and, while I am there, I can do some shopping at an alimentation, a bigger store (kind of like a very small 7/11) that you only find in larger towns and cities.
I don’t eat much meat, just because there is no way to buy it and keep it. There is a guy who cooks up a pig on market day and I have gone to his hangar a couple of times for a pork sandwich. There are guys grilling meat on the side of the road, but seeing flies all over the meat kind of turns me off. I will get my protein from eggs and eating rice and beans and so on. My latest food adventure is trying the baby breakfast food they sell at the center for malnourished babies, up the road about 15 minutes. They do really good work there and this breakfast food is supposed to have a good mixture of things that give you complete protein. Hopefully if it is good for the babies, it will be good for me. I will let you know if I like it.
Sorry, this got a bit long. I will address some more of your questions in future blogs.