Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Schools in Burkina

Going to School in Burkina Faso,

I have told you that schools here are very different from those in the USA. The first thing to understand is that most of the people here do not speak French at home, but a local language, based on their ethnic group.  Where I live most of the people are Mossi, the largest ethic group in the country, with about 40% of the population in this group. They speak Mooré at home so many of the children start in the first year of school knowing no French at all. In other words, in first grade, you not only have to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic, you have to learn these things in a new language.

The primary school consists of the first six grades, followed by a nationwide test that you must pass (the CEP) in order to go on to the next level, called collège here. If you do well and get to go to the collège, you are there for is the next four years.  This is called the first cycle, and they name these grades in the French style, sixième, cinquième, quatrième and troisième, (that is, 6th, 5th, 4th, and 3rd). After troisième there is another big test, the BPC.  If you pass that, you can go on to the Lycée for the second cycle, where the grades are called second, premier and terminal (2nd, 1st, and final). Actually there are many places where the Collège and Lycée are on the same campus and people refer to them together as the Lycée. At the end of this you again have to pass a national test called the BAC. In other words, there are 13 years of school, so it is not surprising that study at the university is only three, rather than four, years for a bachelor’s degree.

Only the first six years of school are a free,public education.  Even though they are nominally free, there are school fees you have to pay, as well as school supplies to buy.  For this reason families must sometimes chose which children to send to school.  If there is a choice between a boy and a girl, traditionally the boy is chosen.  The reason for this is that the boys will stay with the parents when they finish school, build a house nearby, and be there to help support them in their old age.  When girls get married, they join their husband’s family, so educating them does not seem like a good investment for the parents. In fact, I have been told that when a baby is born, traditionally you ask, not is it a boy or a girl, but is it a member of the family (boy) or a stranger (girl, who will end up in another family). The federal government here has passed a law that all children between 6 and 16 must attend school, and the number of children going to school has increased.  In the early grades there are about the same number of girls as boys. Failing a grade, or “redoubling,” used to be quite common. That often lead to students as old a 16 being in the primary school and people decided that was not such a good idea.  Now students seldom repeat a grade more than once or twice in elementary school.  The result is that many do not pass the CEP test to get their certificate saying they have a basic education so they cannot go on to collège.

There are government supported and private collèges and Lycée. Here in my village there is the Lycée for the department, kind of like a school district, and two private collèges.  The reason for the private collèges is that there are a limited number of place in the public school, so not all who have passed the ECP can attend.  The lycée takes those with the best scores on the test, and the parents have to pay a fee for the students to attend. Students with lower scores can go to the collèges if they can afford the fee, which is higher than the government support schools, but even there seats are limited and the best students are chosen. If you can’t get into the collège or if you are forced to drop out for some reason, there is the possibility of going to night school. Again there is a cost associated with attending classes.

The classes here are not at all like American schools.  I want to show you some pictures of the schools so you can see for yourself what they are like. This is a typical classroom at the Lycée. 

Empty Classroom
Typically there are three students at each desk. Here is one full of students:

Students in Class
Students in this school are in the same seat in the same room all day, every day.  The teachers move from room to room. Class sizes are huge by American standards.  At the Lycée here, collège classes have between 75 and 85 students in each class. In the upper levels classes are a bit smaller because fewer students qualify, but there are still 40 to 50 students in each classroom.

Blackboards are pieces of wood painted with a special kind of paint.  There are no blackboard erasers.  Chalk is removed by washing the board with water and a sponge, and the teacher may write on the board when it is still wet, making it kind of hard to read. 

Painted Wood Blackboard
For the Lycée, school starts at 7:00 in the morning and goes until noon.  There is a three hour lunch break when students and teachers can go home for lunch and a rest during this hottest part of the day.  There are classes again from 3:00 to 5:00 three days a week.  Tuesday and Thursday afternoons are reserved for sports and physical education. At this school there are no Saturday classes, but the schedules may be different in other towns.

The schedule for primary schools is different.  Classes officially start at 8:00, but students typically arrive about 7:30 and clean the classrooms and blackboards before the teachers arrive. Classes are from 8 to 12 with a half hour break at 10:00.  There are also classes in the afternoon, from 3 to 5.  There are no classes on Thursday, but there are classes from 8 to 12 on Saturday.

Because the weather here is never cold (never below 65 degrees) and there is only rain between June and October, school rooms open directly onto a courtyard.  Windows do not have glass in them, but are closed with the metal shutters you see in the pictures. In some schools these shutters can not only be opened to let in light, but the whole window can be swung out, to let in as much air as possible.  The walls are built of cement blocks or mud bricks.  The roof is corrugated sheet metal. 

In this picture of the Lycée campus, if you look carefully, you will see some sheep wandering through the school yard.  The trees are a typical part of every school yard.  They provide shade, which you appreciate year round.  They are also a part of the effort toward reforestation, which I will probably tell you about in a future blog.
School Campus, with Sheep
 In the next picture you can see the usual mode of transportation for students here, old fashioned one speed bicycles.  In the big cites, for students from families who have more money, students may ride motorcycles.
Here is a picture of the outside of the school library.   

 Here is a picture of the inside of the school library.
Library Interior
Yes, those are the ONLY books in the library. Students can come in to look up information, but you cannot check out books, and there is no town library either.

All quite different from the USA!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More about Animals and Moringa

Sheep versus Goats

In response to my last blog, my friends who raise sheep commented that the sheep I showed looked more like American goats than sheep, although the tails were certainly sheep like. I thought you might like to see the differences between sheep and goats here, so I took some pictures and asked Prosper about the important characteristics.   

As my friends said, the dead give-away is the tail of the animal.  The goats have tails that stick up, and sheep have tails that are longer and hang down.  Here are a couple of examples.
Baby Goat

Baby Sheep
The second difference is the ears.  Here sheep have ears that hang down, like their tails, and the goats have ears that stick out to the sides, like these:

Goat Ears Stick Out
 The other big difference is that all the goats have horns, but only the male sheep have horns. Here are a female (no horns) and a male (with horns) sheep, and a female goat with horns.

Female and Male Sheep

Female Goat
 As you can see above, the goats have thin, slick coats, and most of the sheep short coats, too.This should be no surprise, given the temperature here. Sheep's coats tend to be a little thicker than the goats but not by much. Prosper has this one sheep with longer hair, but this is about as much wool as you are going to see on a sheep here.
Long Haired Sheep

Wild Animals?

Another question was about wild animals attacking livestock that are allowed to roam free.  In spite of what you see in movies and on television, in West Africa most of the dangerous carnivores have been hunted to extinction, except for a few you might find in the game preserves.  I have not heard of any livestock being attacked by wild animals, except for snakes.  Prosper did lose a sheep recently to a snake bite.

Because my village is on a major highway, that is to say a two lane paved road, traffic is the greatest danger to roaming animals.  Trucks carrying goods between the capital and other cities race by, blasting their horns, day and night.  There are also lots of buses, 4X4s, and vans carrying passengers rushing past.  If there is a choice between hitting an animal, driving off the road into a ditch or crashing into an oncoming bus or truck, you can bet the animal will lose.

The other major hazard for a farmer trying to raise animals is thieves. Prosper lost a donkey several weeks ago, and we can only assume that it was stolen.  On the day Prosper took me to see his plot of land here he hopes to eventually keep his animals, we encountered a man on the road carrying on to a group of people including the boy who lives with Prosper and Martine and helps with the animals. This guy was telling them about a boy who had tried to steal a sheep, which was, in fact, one of Prosper’s. The man was able to stop the boy and he was saying he was going to tell the kid’s parents, because he knew who he was. I could not understand all he was saying, but I am rather sure it was something like, “What is this world coming to, when you can’t trust your neighbors not to steal your animals!”

Trying to grow moringa
I have written before about the value of the moringa trees.  While I was in Ouaga this summer, Martine and the children started four trees for me.  We (I should really say they) transplanted them into my courtyard, but we knew it was about time to let the animals roam free, so we took some of the mud bricks from my fallen wall and built protection for them.  Here you can see the leafy tops poking up through their cages.

 Unfortunately, that was not enough! The goats and donkeys love moringa, and, with the other three sides of the wall around by courtyard missing, the goats climbed the bricks and ate the tops off the trees.  Here was the first attempt to protect them, with branches with long spines, intended to discourage the animals.

That helped, and they started to sprout new leaves.  Unfortunately, the donkeys were not deterred, pushing the spiny branches out of the way to get at the leaves. This weekend Prosper and some of the boys replaced the secco (woven grass mats) that formed the roof of my porch, and put the old secco up on posts to act as kind of fence.  I am expecting the animals to eat their way through to get at the trees, but they assure me the animals do not like that kind of grass.  We shall see....

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Farming in Burkina Faso

Raising Animals
In America, if you are raising livestock, you put a fence around your pasture and turn your sheep or cattle out to graze. Here, in the time between harvesting and planting, you just turn them out in the morning and hope they find their way home at night. I think the way you make coming home more likely is that you give them some grain or other food each evening and they know there will be a treat when they arrive a night. When people start planting, you are supposed to tether your animals in some way when you put them out to graze, and to do it in such a way that they do not eat other people’s crops. If you look closely, you may be able to see the rope holding these sheep to the bush.

There is a person who is responsible for deciding when it is time to tether the animals. This is announced to the villagers by a griot or singer who acts something like a town crier from the old days in Europe. On the day you are supposed to start tying up your animals, he goes around the marché delivering the message. Even then, some people do not respect the message and some people assign one of their children to guard the field from the animals. In the fall, after the harvest, the griot sings out the news again, saying it is now fine to let your animals roam free. If you are late getting in your harvest, too bad for you!

The cycle of planting and harvesting

I now have pictures of the whole cycle of raising grain. First, here are some folks preparing the soil the old way, with dabas, small hand-held hoes.

If you had a good harvest last year, maybe you could buy a mule and a plow to make things easier this year.

As the millet grows, at first it looks a lot like corn, with the tassel. The tassle is actually the part that turns into grain.

When it is ripe, it is so heavy it makes the stalks bend over.

People cut off the part with the grain, by hand, and then cut down the stalks. When that are finished, you can actually see your neighbors' buildings, that have been hidden behind the grain for several months.

People take the stalks they have cut down to their homes and store them to feed to the animals during the dry season.

Because this looks like it will be an especially bad year, with the lack of rain and poor harvest, people are stocking up as much fodder as they can. They store it on top of structures like you see below. It not only stores the fodder, but provides shade for the animals.

It starts out looking like this:

Than you add as much as you can. Not quite like a barn hay loft, but the same idea

This picture is quite hazy because the farmer was burnign the stubble that was left after the stalks were harvested.


After the chief of the land gives the word, by way of the griot singing in the market, people can let their animals range free. People with cattle usually have people (African cow boys) walking along with the cows to keep them together and to make sure they do not wander off. I suppose the cattle contribute fertilized in return for what they eat in the fields.

Smaller animals, like sheep, goats, and pigs, are just allowed to roam free. They generally come home at night, but sometimes people have to go out looking for them when it is getting dark. Unfortunately, as I have said before, there are bad people everywhere, and sometimes people will grab a goat or sheep that does not belong to them and take it to market to sell. Chickens and guinea hens wander around freely all year. They are also vulnerable to thieves grabbing them and selling them. Just one more photo. This is another crop a lot of people raise, peanuts. They are eaten raw, boiled, or roasted. I prefer the roasted by far, although I guess they are more work to prepare.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Arrivals and PC Medical Checkup

New Arrivals


Some of the young folks whose parents follow my blog like pictures of animals.  Here are a couple of pictures of baby lambs that have been born to the sheep owned by my friend Prosper.  Sheep seem to have lambs any time of year rather than there being a time of year that is lambing season, like spring time in the US. The one with the black face was born back in April and the all white one that prosper is holding was just born in October.
New Baby

These same friends and neighbors, Prosper and Martine, also have a new member of the family.  I happened to be working at the Maternity center helping with weighing babies the day he was born so I got this picture of him when he was about three hours old. All of the babies are born missing a lot of their color. Their skin darkens after a week or so.  A good thing, too, with the sun they have to live under all their lives!


Here he is again, at two months old, big, and healthy!


Medical checkup
Peace Corps always says the health and safety of the volunteers is their first priority.  In keeping with this, all volunteers get a full medical checkup after a year of service, to make sure everything is OK.  At the end of August I had my medical exams and all is well.  I had my mammogram plus sonogram and, at least from the reading of the Burkinabè Doctor, there is no problem there, thank goodness. I understand they will be sent to the US for a second opinion, however. My TB test was negative, although I was a bit worried they would not be able to read it because the nurse nicked a blood vessel and the area was bruised. All she had to do was run her finger over the place and see that there was no bump to know that there was no reaction. I have gained weight and the doctor is happy, because I lost a lot when I good food poisoning last year. I want to quit gaining, however, so I guess there will be fewer pancakes for breakfast and other goodies for a while.

Dental Checkup

Another standard part of the medical checkup is a dental exam and cleaning.  They have a different way to take dental X-rays than my dentist in Cleveland uses. There is a small, flat square thing that is connected to a computer that they put in your mouth. As they zap it with X-rays the information goes to the computer where the dentist can check it out.  Another volunteer told me her dentist uses it in the states, but another said her dentist thought the resolution was not a good as with the old bite-wing X-rays. The tooth cleaning session with the dentist was also a bit different.  They clean with an electrically driven instrument and water under pressure.  I am not sure if it vibrates or rotates, but it was not too bad. Over all I found it a little less painful than the metal pick they use at home, but there were a couple of “shocks” that felt like I must have an exposed nerve at the gum line. The continuous spray of water in the mouth made me gag a few times, too. They did not find any cavities, however.

New Glasses

I did have to get new glasses because the gold plating (or paint?) on the ones I brought from America had worn off and I am allergic to the nickel, like you find in cheap earrings.  I think it may have been the sunscreen and bug repellant I always put on every day that removed whatever was covering the underlying metal. In any case I started to get red sore spots on my nose where the frames sometimes touch my face, just like the reaction I get in my ears to cheap ear rings.  The visit to the eye Doctor was quite similar to what you might experience in the US, and I did get a new prescription. When I told the optician I wanted trifocals, he said it is not possible.  They only make progressive lenses here.  Ugh! They give such a limited field of view that I find them really annoying.  I learned that there are different qualities of glass that can be used and, if you pay a premium price, you can get a larger field of view.  Thank goodness Peace Corps willing to pay for the better ones.  With these glasses here is distortion in about half of the lense. If you look through the wrong part of the lenses the world is not just out of focus, but moving as you turn your head.  After a few days your brain gets trained not to look there, but I also find it annoying to have to turn my head to keep the print in focus when I am reading. I am looking forward to being able to get trifocals when I get home.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Questions and comments

Several people have responded to things in my blogs with interesting information that I would like to share with you. I will also answer a couple of questions people have posed.

Nancy Drew in French

Several people did internet searches and found information about the French translations of the Nancy Drew series. They confirmed my guess that the reason for changing the name is the difficulty in pronouncing Drew, just like the difficulty in pronouncing Larsen. R in the middle of the word here tends to come out as a W.

Apparently this was a very popular series over the years and there is a lot of information about the various translations at if you are interested.

Bird on the road

Here is the picture of that bird again.  My sister in law identified it and sent me the following information about it:

It is a Red-billed Hornbill. It lives in quite a few places in Africa. They feed by hopping on the ground, searching the surface and probing holes for insects. They follow the paths of game animals in order to hunt for dung beetles. As with most hornbills, the nest is in a hole in a tree. The female inside the nest, helped by the male outside, plasters the entrance with mud and droppings, leaving only a narrow slit. The male brings food which is passed through the slit, and droppings are squirted out. The female leaves when the young are half-grown, when they know to come to the slit for food. The parents reseal the nest until the young are ready to leave.

Quote on the carving in the forest

One friend suggested it was similar to an American Indian proverb:
We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

My daughter who speaks French better than I do, having lived in Paris for 4 years, said:

I would have read it more in the sense of something that is not our birthright, something that belongs to us and is ours to squander as we will (as an inheritance might be considered to be), but an obligation, something we have to protect for the future generations. I think that contrast between squandering and preserving, rather than the idea that the forbearers didn't think of it, is probably what the saying is about.

Answers to a few questions:


A friend reported that Cleveland has been having record rain fall this year, with 55 inches so far, compared to an average of 36 inches and asked how much rain falls in Burkina.  There is some variation, but the web indicates that the range is 23 to 36 inches.  The big difference between here and Cleveland is that here it all falls in the four months of the rainy season, June-September, and there is virtually no rain the rest of the year. I am in an area that is closer to the 23 inches.


Another question was why the schools are the way they are. I certainly do not know the whole story, but I am sure much of it is because of the poverty of the country. They try to get everybody to send their kids to school, but, in reality, there is not enough room in the existing schools. Why not build more schools? Buildings cost money, even if a community gets together and builds classrooms out of mud bricks. There is still the cost of doors, windows, and roofs.

Another problem is that teachers are paid by the Burkina Faso government, and not the local government, so money to hire more teachers competes with funding roads, water, electricity, and so on.  You have to get governments permission to build a new classroom because that will mean a new teacher will be needed.

Because teachers are government employees, the central government decides where they will be assigned, rather than local school districts hiring. That may be why it takes untile the second week of school to get teachers assigned to classrooms.

The Provisor, or principal of the local Lycée or High School was just moved to another town and the new man arrived Monday.  I asked him if this was a promotion and he told me that this was about the same size school as where he was Provisor for the past five years, but the government has a policy stating provisors should not stay in one school for more than 5 years. The idea is that if you stay in one place too long you lose your edge for innovation and fall into doing things the way they always have been done.  When people move around they bring new ideas with them.  There may be something to that, but it must be hard to know you are not going to staying in a place and it might discourage people from taking on long term projects.

Teachers move around, too, but mostly at their request.  When you start out you may be placed in a less desirable location.  After you have been there for five years, you can request a transfer to a location you prefer.  You may or may not get the place you want, but your new place may be closer to where you would like to be.

Village Chief

I was asked about the role of the village chief and his relationship to other government officials there are in small town like the one I live in.  Please realize this is just the way I understand the system from talking with folks here and there could be some misconceptions.

The position of village chief is more or less hereditary, although I understand that the oldest son may not want to take on the responsibility or may be living in a big city.  In that case the community (somehow) selects the new chief who may be related to the old chief, another son, a brother or nephew, for example. It may be that the village can chose a man from a different family, but I am not sure about that. There is a sub-chief for each small community (or neighborhood), but there is an overall chief for the town, to whom the sub chiefs give homage.  There are responsibilities of these chiefs that I probably don’t know about. Someone told me that it can be a problem if the son who would inherit the responsibility has moved to the city.  He may not want to return to his village to take on the role, and he may not have been trained in in how to make the appropriate sacrifices and how to conduct the traditional ceremonies..  These folks have no official authority from the government, as I understand it, but they are still held in great respect. For example, the chiefs of the various sectors of Ouagadougou and the head chief were invited, along with government officials, to the swearing in ceremony for Peace Corps. The head chief of Ouaga has the right to say who can use the field where we played games with the students in the English camp last summer. They probably have other responsibilities I know nothing about.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

More Differences

Being homeless in a village

If you are poor in Burkina Faso and live in a village, you can build a house out of the dirt from the ground and make a roof out of the tall grass that grows wild here. Your village chief can designate a plot of land where you can build a house and where you can farm the land. Here is a small house my friend Prosper built on this new farm plot. It will be a house for a caretaker when he gets the place fenced in for his sheep and goats.

If you are just living on a piece of ground the village chief assigned to you, you can plant millet or corn, and, at the end of the growing season, you may have food for the year. If you want a window or door for your house, that would require money. You would need to get someone to loan you seeds to plant, but it is not like being homeless in Cleveland, Ohio. Here you do not need to worry about freezing to death in the winter, and the possibility of growing enough food for a year is there. Of course farming is an iffy business and if there is a bad year for crops, things may not be so great. Most of us would not like to live that way, but at least nobody freezes to death under a bridge here!

Property rights (or lack there of)

Property ownership is just being westernized. If you were that poor person who asked the village chief for land to cultivate and to build on, it would be yours to use only as long as the chief lets you live there. If he decided to grant it to someone else, you would have to move. Now days it is possible for you to get a paper showing you have the right to that land, a title of sorts, but that costs money and requires a degree of sophistication that most village folks do not have. Prosper is a school teacher so he is what we call a functionair here, that is, a civil service employee. He has both the knowledge and resources to get a deed to this little plot of land.

Unfortunately, the traditionally way of dealing with land use is changing. I have heard of a village in Mali where the government decided to give a long term lease on parcel of land to a Chinese group and the people who had been living there for generations had to move out. Their village was destroyed with no compensation for those displaced. There have been articles about this in the New York Times, explaining that this seems to be happening all over Africa. It seems that richer countries that are running out of land see a lot of apparently vacant land in Africa and want to get the use of it to feed their own people. That really leaves the Africans in a bad way. The government gets the money and the people who lived there really become the homeless poor. They have to find a new place to live and the crops that are raised where they used to farm now leave the continent.


One similarity to Cleveland is that ants like to invade the house, especially if you fail to wipe up sugar spilled on the counter. These ants do not look like the American red ants I see each spring and fall. They are bigger and almost transparent. They also move really fast if you try to squash them. Another type of pest that has an American relative is termites. They are a constant problem in the villages. You may be fine for weeks at a time and then, suddenly, there is termite trail climbing your wall. Here is a picture of one, before I knocked it down.

When you go into any house in the village you are sure to see the signs that people have had visits from these critters. People say, “just spread some Rambo insecticide and they will be finished,” but really it only lasts a few weeks, and they are back again. I had a termite attack on the branches that support my hangar. My friend Prosper was visiting and saw the signs of the termites. He jumped up and started knocking their coating of mud off my support and later on sent his nephew over with a can of used motor oil to coat the base of the posts (see below). That seemed to keep them at bay for a while, but it also lost effectiveness and had to be re-done.

Early in my stay the termites attacked some of my books that were sitting on a little wooden table next to the wall. I am sorry I did not think to take a picture of the attack until I had destroyed it, but it looked like some mud had fallen out of the attic onto the top of several of my books. When I pried it off, the little critters scampered down the tunnels, back out into the yard. Here is a picture of the edge of one of the books they chewed. Fortunately they mostly ate the margin, and not the text, so I can still use it.


You have already heard about my bat problem, but I wanted to show you a picture of my new bat house. The last time they exterminated the bats, I decided to try giving them an alternative place to live. I had the carpenter construct this bat house but I am not sure if they have decided they like it better than my attic.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


There are hundreds of differences between how things are done here and in America. Here are just a few of them:

The Beginning of School

Schools here are supposed to open on October 1, which was a Saturday this year. The primary schools have Thursdays and Sundays off and just a half a day on Saturday, so you might expect teachers to be in the classrooms on October first to welcome the students and get things started.  However; on October first many teachers did not even know where they would be teaching or what grade level they would teach.  When I was teaching at the university, I knew the courses I would teach and the days and times they would meet almost a year in advance; so this system of assigning people to classes seems very odd to me. 

Last year; my neighbor was the director (head teacher) of a small school quite far away from where he lives:  He asked to be assigned to a school closer to his home. He found out he would be given a new assignment; but not where or what grade. In fact; he did not even find out the school where would be teaching until a week after classes were supposed to begin!  He will be teaching the first level of primary school at a school that is, indeed, a bit closer to home. He has 80 children in his class and, at the moment, no desks or books for the children. The children now sit on the floor, but he assures me that the desks will be coming. 

School readiness

Most of the children in my neighbor’s class arrive at school speaking only the local language spoken by their family at home. The only French they are likely to know is “Nassara, pas de cadeau?” (foreigner, no present?). The first term is obviously spent teaching beginning French and many teachers have no choice but to use “the direct method,” that is, speaking only French and teaching the meaning through gestures, acting things out, and so on. Teachers are not assigned to regions based on their maternal language; but by some other criteria, seniority I suspect. My neighbor speaks three of the local languages, so he can use the language the children know in most cases, but the educational philosophy for most schools does not allow bilingualism. There are a few experimental schools in the country that start by using the local language 90% of the time and gradually increasing the amount of French until by the 6th year the local language is used only 10% of the time.  Even though, from what I have been told, these schools seem to produce better results, many parents want the traditional French only method: I find this interesting, given that most of the parents cannot speak French and are illiterate.  This means that they are unable to prepare their children for school. It is only a handful of children who arrive at school speaking any French or having seen books around the house. Even among the better educated locals, the idea of reading for pleasure is not a concept.

Beautiful Homes

I just got word that my house in University Heights received a “House Beautiful” award this year. This is because University Heights bills itself the City of Beautiful Homes, and because the folks who are taking care of my house for me while I am here have been doing a great job.

This would not be a concept here.  If you have a big fancy house in the city, you hind it behind a big wall, with a guard to be sure no one comes in who is not invited.  I have; in fact, seen some beautiful homes here, with lush landscaping. But you would never know if from looking at the wall. Here are a couple of examples.  You have to use your imagination about what is behind them.  I don’t know!
Time and Planning

I know I have talked about the Burkina idea of time before, but it is interesting how this affects planning.  Being “on time” in the American way does not happen in the villages.  People may not have watches, although have cell phones that show the time.  This is not a big help, however, because you have to get your phone battery recharged every few days, and, without electricity in your home, that means you take your phone to a boutique to get it re-charged.  Often this involves removing the battery, so you have to re-set the time when you put it back in.  Unlike American cell phones, there is not magic signal from the cell phone company that resets your phone to the correct time.  You have to rely on others to get the best guess of the actual time.

If you decide you want to have a meeting at 8:00, you tell people to come at 7:00.  Of course everybody knows you are going to do this, so they do not bother to come until 8:00 or 8:30.  It is a viscous circle, as you can imagine. I am planning my sex education meetings at the primary schools.  Last year I was there at 2:45 to get ready for a meeting at 3:00.  At 3:15 the director of the school finally came to open up the classroom and get some kids to sweep the floor.  We actually started at 3:30 but people kept coming for the next half hour.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Peace Corps at 50

 Peace Corps is 50 Years Old

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps. As many of you know, it has placed volunteers in 139 countries around the world.  For those who are not already familiar with the goals of the Peace Corps I will quote them here:

Peace Corps Goals

1.  To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women

2.  To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served and

3.  To help promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.

The celebration in Burkina Faso

To celebrate this anniversary there were special events throughout 2011, with a big celebration on September 24, around the world.  Here in Burkina Faso we had a three day “Peace Corps Fair” in an effort to inform people in Burkina about the work volunteers are doing here.  On the first day of the fair there were two special events scheduled, the swearing in of a new group of volunteers and the arrival of a group of people who rode on a bike tour of Burkina Faso to raise money to help volunteers fund small projects at their sites.

We arrived bright and early 6:30 AM or so to set up our displays.  It was cloudy and we all hoped it would not rain, but it did.  As is often the case here, the rain was preceded by a strong wind, full of dust. The wind continued as the rain fell, and the result was that the tents and tables that had been so carefully set up were just about destroyed.  Maybe you can get an idea of the damage in the picture below.

As we ran for the building, many of the carefully prepared poster displays got quite wet, and some escaped from people and blew away in the wind.  We waited out the rain and tried to dry off things as best we could.  Eventually we all went to the auditorium for the swearing-in ceremony. 

There are a few traditional things that happen at these events.  One thing they always sdo is to have representatives of the new volunteers, who have been studying local languages for several weeks, say a few (or a lot of) words of greeting in several of the local languages. This volunteer was one of those giving greetings.  He is dressed in a traditional chief’s costume because his stage mates had voted him chief of their stage.

Another traditional aspect of the event is cultural entertainment.  This time there was a dance troupe and musicians who played the balophone and drums.  I am told this particular group dances in the style of a city called Bobo-Dilasi. If you watch the video on, you get a much better idea of what the dancing was like. (By the way, I am not in the vidio)

Also there are speeches by important people, in this case, the Directorice of the Burkina Faso Peace Corps, the American Ambassador to Burkina, and the Prime Minister of Burkina.  The prime minister presented this gift to the Peace Corps to honor this 50th anniversary.

Peace corps presented baskets to the Prime Minister that contained tree seeds, representing the commitment of the Peace Corps to plant 50 trees in each of the 50 towns and villages where volunteers serve, and a million trees over the next 5 years.  Trees are an important element in the fight against the desertification of the country.

After a reception honoring the new volunteers and the people who rode through that rain storm to get here by the end of the ceremony, we set up for the fair.  Here is what things looked life when the blown over tents were re-erected or replaced with new ones.

The group I work with here, Pengdwendé had a table highlighting some of the projects of the association that I am not involved with, making shea butter, growing onions, and recycling the small plastic bags in which people buy water.  Because safe drinking water is not always easy to find, water is packaged in these little plastic bags and sold on the street.  When you buy one, you bite off a corner, suck out the water and throw the bag away.  You see these bags all over the ground, along with the black plastic bags I wrote about before.  These water bags are made from a thicker kind of plastic and they happen to be recyclable.  The only problem is collecting them and getting them to a recycling center. Here is a picture of out informational display about the organization surrounded by the folks who worked at the tables.

I was at a table telling about the soap opera project.  Pengdwendé has a community radio station in my town and cooperates with five other community radio stations in producing informative radio broadcasts.  These six stations agreed to broadcast the soap opera Cesiri Tono, a soap opera aimed at informing people about children’s rights and the tragedy of child trafficking. In the soap opera one of the characters is a boy who is given to child traffickers by his parents because the tell the parents they will give him a good education and they tell the boy he will get a bicycle.  He ends up working long hours under very harsh conditions on a cocoa plantation, but is finally saved from this terrible life by one of the other characters. Because it is a melodrama, there are lots of other problems in the story line, including forced (arranged) marriages, violence against women and children, prostitution, and alcohol abuse. As I have mentioned before, this program is in Djula, the trading language of much of West Africa, and was written and produced in Mali, the country where my daughter, Janet, served as a volunteer 1983-1985.

As I may have mentioned before, the exciting news is that Population Media Center, the group that helps countries conduct the research needed, to write, produce and broadcast the program, and do a follow-up evaluation, has received funding to do not just one, but TWO soap operas here. The reason for doing two is that the target audience here are the people of the small villages who probably do not speak or understand much French. Among those people there are a total 14 different languages spoken, which is the reason French is used as the official language and is the language used in schools. There are, whoever, two languages that are spoken more than most of the others, Djula and Moore. Those are the two languages that will be used in these new soap operas.

I guess that is enough about the fair except to say that, in spite of what looked like a total disaster on the morning of the first day, it was a great success, with lots of fun and information for those who visited. It was organized and run by the volunteers, with the support of the professional staff, and it was, in my opinion, an outstanding event.