Friday, February 25, 2011

Moringa Trees

Weather, again
The weather has been staying pleasantly cool here, low 70s in the mornings and most days no more than 90-95 degrees in the afternoon, although it did reach 100 one day. As long as it cools off at night I will have no complaints. I just remember that my original assignment was supposed to be Mongolia and think about how much I hate to be cold. There it might be -40 degrees right now, so I am happy to be here. Some days there have been real clouds, not just dust in the air, which helps keep it cooler. We actually had about 15 seconds of a shower the other day, a very rare event this time of year. At first I did not believe I was really hearing rain on the roof, but I got outside before it stopped and it was real.

With the hot dry season approaching the trees are blooming and making seeds to put down before they go dormant in the heat. The sweet smell in the air makes me think of spring back home. Leaves are beginning to fall from most of the trees. I understand the Mangos keep their leaves, but most of the other trees drop them in preparation for this time of stress, just like our trees drop them in the fall to get set for winter.

Moringa trees
Speaking of trees, have I told you about moringa trees? These are the miracle trees the Peace Corps is encouraging volunteers to promote with the Burkinabè. They are drought resistant, fast growing trees that have other great virtues. The biggest one is that the leaves contain lots of good things. Here are the statistics:
If you compare100 grams of moringa to 100 grams of these other things you can see how good moringa is
7 times the vitamin C of oranges
4 times the calcium of milk
4 times the vitamin A of carrots
3 times the potassium of bananas

25 grams of leaves a day will give a child the following % of recommended daily allowances: protein 42%
Calcium, 125%
Magnesium 61%
Potassium 41%
Iron 71%
Vitamin A 272%
Vitamin C 22%

The trick is to get the Burkinabè women not to cook them so long that they cook out all of the good stuff. The usual cooking method involves hours of cooking things over a fire to make sauce for the to. You have to get people to add the morenga at the last minute so that people get the nutritional value.

Apparently you water the morenga trees a bit if you want them to keep their leaves all year, but if you want them to go to seed, you have to stop watering them. I have a stash of seeds and I would like to pant them in my courtyard, but I have to do that good old soil preparation and dig big holes first. Me dig the holes? No way in this dirt, but I have a friend who has dug a few for me. Now he is looking for well rotted manure so that there is fertilizer for the seeds. I may get trees planted by the rainy season.

I have talked before about the malnutrition here and my visit to the center for malnourished babies that is sponsored by the Catholic Church in town. It is actually supported by donations from European countries, mostly from Italy I think, which is the home of the order that founded the church here. When people take babies there for help with nutrition they learn how to make a kind of baby cereal from local ingredients, and one of the recipes uses morenga leaves. Again the secret is not to boil it to death, as the Burkinabè tend to do. With malnourished babies you usually have malnourished mothers as well, so you need to convince the mothers that they need to eat well to provide good breast milk. Another thing I have learned is that mothers often give their very young babies water in addition to breast feeding them. This is a dangerous practice because of the contamination of the water sources here, and also because it fills the baby‘s stomach. Then the baby does not drink as much breast milk, and the mother produces less.

Non Peace Corps Volunteers
I recently encountered a couple of other nasaras (white people, foreigners) riding bicycles down the dirt road that passes my house. I stopped to greet them and find out who they were and what they were up to. She is a French pediatrician, newly retired, who is volunteering at the center for malnourished babies. Her husband is an agriculturist who has been doing some training about farming and also helping with the garden at the medical center.. They have been here for almost two months and this was the first time I had encountered them. They had been riding up and down the highway and finally discovered this safer dirt track. I invited them to my house for lunch Sunday and I was pretty proud of my menu. It was all local food except for the seasonings which Janet had sent me. I get a piece of goat meat, cut out the good bits and fried them up with onions. Then I added water and rice, along with a mixture of herbs of Provence, and it made a yummy casserole type dish. Add to that cooked carrots, local bread, and a lettuce and tomato salad, and it was not a bad lunch if I do say so myself. It was a very pleasant afternoon, but, unfortunately it was their last week here so we will not be getting together again. Too bad. It was good practice for my ear listening to good French, and they were interesting folks.

The pediatrician was talking about some of the things I mentioned above about malnutrition and giving babies water. She also told about the family’s lack of a sense of urgency if a child is sick. One child was brought to the center, so ill it finally died. When she asked how long the child had been sick, the mother said about 7 months. Can you imagine watching a child get sicker and sicker and doing nothing? Maybe they had tried other things, like traditional medicine and had only come to the western medical place as a last resort. Maybe they kept thinking if they gave it enough time the baby would improve. Maybe it was a matter of not having the small amount of money it takes to get medical help. I have no information, but you have to wonder what they were thinking.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Time in Burkina Faso
I am sure you have all heard that the American view of time is different from the view of time in developing countries. I have just had a couple of examples that I will tell you about.

I had an appointment for 9:00 with the director (principal) of an elementary school. I went there on the appointed day at 9:00 and was told by one of the teachers that he had left, and maybe he was over at the health center. I went over there to see if I could find him. They were doing annual physical checkups, with people lined up at various stations, like the eye chart with the Es that face different directions. I didn’t see him in the crowd, but I was explaining to someone who I was looking for and he said, “Oh there he is, just arriving at the school.” I went back over there and the director told me he had received a notice from the Inspector (superintendent of schools) that there would be a meeting that day at 9:00 so we could not meet after all. Come back at 16:00 (4:00 pm). I am sure the teacher who told me he was not there called his cell phone about it and he left his meeting with the Inspector to come tell me we could not meet, or was also late to that meeting.

I arrived at the school at 3:50 and waited around until 4:30. Then I sent him a text saying that I was there and that if this is not a good time, tell me when I could see him. Within 5 minutes he appeared on his moto, shopping bags in hand. He said the meeting at lasted until 1:30. I guess that means he needed to take his 3 hour lunch break late. (Yes there is a 3 hour break in the middle of the school day here, to let the children and teachers go home for lunch and a rest in the heat of the day.)

The second example is even worse. Someone asked me to be somewhere at 8:00 am for a meeting on a particular day and, when she did not show up after 2 hours, I called her. She told me the meeting had been changed to the following day. I had some things I wanted to discuss with her rather than in the meeting with others so she said to be there at 7:20 and we could talk before the meeting. I was there at 7:15 and she arrived at 8:00 so we did not get a chance to talk until afterwards. Another day she and I had a meeting scheduled with a group of girls at the private college (junior high school). She was supposed to stop at my house at 7:00 so we could discuss the plan for the meeting that was to be at 8:00. When she had not arrived by 7:30 I called her and told her I would ride my bike to the school and meet her there. No, no, no, she said, I am on my way. Wait for me. So I waited at my house and she finally arrived at 9:30. We got to the school at 10:00, after I convinced her it would be a good idea to go straight there rather than stopping off to see some folks along the way. We arrived at 10:00 for this 8:00 meeting. I had expected all the girls to have given up and gone home, but there were actually 50 girls sitting around waiting for us. Amazing.

On the other hand, I have had a couple of meetings with a man who spent quite a few years in the US and he has been early for the three meetings we have had. As he says, in the US people say “Time is money.” Think about the value of people’s time in the US considering the salary of each person waiting at a meeting place for someone who is late. It is certainly true that, if you consider the value of their work they could have done in the time they are waiting for late comers, money is being wasted.

I was warned to expect people to be late here and for meetings to be very late in starting, an hour or more not being unusual. What I was not prepared for was people who know they will not be there for a meeting with you who do not bother to let you know about that. It is one window into the cultural differences. This being late for meetings is chronic. I have heard people say they should tell people to get to a meeting an hour before they really want to start. To my way of thinking, that just rewards late comers and makes the problem worse, but it is such an ingrained part of the culture I doubt if I can fight it. I was able to convince my language tutor that if we agreed to meet at 3:00 I expected him to appear at 3:00, not 3:30 or 4. Maybe it is knowing that the job might disappear if he did not conform to that American standard, or maybe he is more westernized, but he is always on time now. It is possible for Burkinabé to arrive when expected, just not the usual custom.

I think I have already mentioned that the same thing happens in church. I arrive at 7:30 and usually the pastor and one or two other people arrive about then. They begin the service and after a half hour or so there are 30 people in the room and the choir has started to trickle in. By 9:00, when the service is almost over, there are probably 60 there. Some of those late comers may actually be arriving early for the next service that is in Moore, but I don’t think so.

One of the reasons things tend to be late here is that people stop along the way to chat with all the people they know. When they arrive, there is the ritual of greeting everybody in the room with good morning, how are you, how is the family, did you sleep well, etc. These ritual greetings are a deeply ingrained part of the culture and people tell me the relationships take precedence over any idea of time. Good thing or bad thing? I am not sure I will adapt to it here. I am sure when I get home I will still be that compulsively prompt person you all know who has been indoctrinated with idea that if you are not early, you are late, because only one person can walk through the door exactly on time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

More Changes in the weather and IST

More Changes in the weather
As I have mentioned, in December the weather got cooler, rather suddenly. Some days you can barely see the sun because of what appears to be low hanging clouds, but is actually dust in the air. The feeling is of an over cast sky in the states, but it is kind of like there is smoke or fog in the air. I guess it is the African version of smog. It is not from emissions from gas burning vehicles, but the dirt that is blowing in the wind because of the loss of ground cover and trees.

I keep thinking of that old song “Dust, dust , dust in the skies, dust in the heavens, dust in my eyes. oh dust, dust can this be, can this be eternity? Oh Lord, have mercy on poor me” Most of you are too young to have heard it. I think it was popular for a while in the late 40s or early fifties.

The dust is hard on the eyes, hard on the lungs, and gets on everything. When you ride a bike or moto on the dirt roads, they kick up quite a cloud of dust. Motos going fast are particularly bad. People wear a face mask/dust filter over their mouths and noses to keep from breathing in the dust. Sometimes they have the kind you buy at a hardware store to use when you are working in your shop, but mostly they use the blue sleeping masks you get on overseas flights. I guess someone at the airport collects them from the trash and sells them to folks. I am sure that most people have no idea of their original use because I have discussed it with a few and they were very surprised, and perhaps a bit puzzled. Why would you want to sleep when there is light?

WE have more dust and wind in the future, I understand. In the hot season (March, April and May) the wind slows from the north, across the Sahara desert, picking up lots of sand and dust as it comes this way. I understand it can be like a whiteout snowstorm, only red. Something to look forward to in a house that does not have glass windows but just metal shutters

For a while the days were on the cool side, only getting up to 80 or so. From here on out it will begin to get hotter and hotter. I am sure you will hear more about the heat in these blogs as the days and nights get to be really hot. For now the weather is quite comfortable for me most of the time. It was actually 68 degreesw Sunday morning when I headed out to church. (Thanks for the thermometer, Garret-Larsens). The Burkinabè find it quite cold and wear their warmest clothes. For some, mostly the men, that means knitted stocking caps and heavy winter jackets. Women tend to layer their pagnas and to use them as shawls, so a woman might have two or three pagna “skirts” and a couple wrapped around her shoulders. I sometimes wrap one around me, over my slacks, in the morning if I am feeling cold. It is surprising how warm multiple layers of cotton cloth can be.

It is really strange to get up in the morning and not to give much thought to what the weather except to wonder how hot it will get. At home, when I first got up, I always put on the TV news in the morning to hear what the weather would be like before I decided what to wear. Here, for the next three or four months, there will only be a question of how hot it is going to be.

In Service Training (IST)
It has been several weeks since my last post. That is because, after four months at our sites, the Peace Corps brought our various program groups together for two more weeks of training. The first week for Girls Education and Empowerment was held at the conference center I described in the last blog. We learned about the reporting expectations, which look like they will be a bit of a pain, but this is a government agency, after all. In order for the Peace Corps to get funded they have to document for congress what the volunteers are doing and how many people they have worked with, etc. It starts with each volunteer filling out a report his or her activities for a four month period. Of course there is a form to fill out. I feel sorry for folks who did not bring a computer or who do not have internet access because you have to go through a sequence of forms, selecting from drop-down menus or filling in blanks. Among other things you have to indicate the number of people who participated in each activity. I am really glad I followed the Burkinabè custom of having people sign an attendance sheet at meetings so I know how many people were there.

We also had presentations from second year volunteers about activities they had done. There was a Burkinabè English teacher who described the kinds of activities he has done with his English clubs and a third year volunteer (yes, a lot of people here sign on for an additional year) who is working with an organization called Friends of African Village Libraries. There are not many libraries anywhere in Burkina Faso, and reading is not a major activity, even for the well educated. Very few smaller towns or villages have libraries, but I sure wish there were one in my village! The ones that do exist have children’s books in local language as well as French, and it would be a great way to practice Moore. It turns out that such books are very expensive because there is a very small market for them, so they are not produced in large numbers.

We had a session on gardening, hoping volunteer would start a garden to show people how to use compost and how to do drip irrigation. I don’t think I will be doing that, but you never know. The most fun was the session on soap making. It is one of the most popular income generating activities. You can seel the product for twice what the ingredients cost, so it is a pretty good deal. The liquid soap is easy to make and the ingredients are even safe for children to handle. I would not want to fool around with the hard soap which requires rubber gloves and a good deal of care, although the soap you get in the end is pretty nice.

I am going to stop my discussion of IST here and continue in the next blog. Hope you all are enjoying all that cold, snowy weather. Just imaging a place where you have to put on a einter coat when it is 70…… I’m there!