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 Burkinab√® 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 Burkinab√® 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!

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