Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nancy Drew and Technonolgy

Technology in my town
The Burkinabè need to have copies of all sorts of papers, like identity cards, school completion certificates, and birth certificates, in order to apply for jobs or to be admitted to the next level of school. As a result, there is a market for a copy center, which I was surprised to find here. It is a little one room place with a copy machine, two computers and a printer. It is not an internet café because it does not have a connection to the internet, but you can see that it would like to be, because their sign has “Yahoo” on it. It is only open during the hours when there is electricity in town, 8AM to noon. It may be open in the evening when the power comes back on, but I don’t ride my bicycle in the dark so I have never been there at night.

While there is electricity a few hours a day in the center of town, out where I live there are no electric lines. People who live in this area and can afford them use big batteries, even bigger than car batteries, to run electrical things like CD players and TVs. My neighbor, Prosper, has a solar panel that is hooked up to his battery and whoever is home moves the solar panel around during the day to keep it facing the sun. Other people take their batteries into the part of town that has electricity to get them charged. As I mentioned before, Prosper connects my little battery into the circuit and charges it whenever I let him know I need to have it charged.

I have not yet been invited into a house that has electricity so I do not know whether people with power use other appliances, but I would bet they have fans and refrigerators. I am pretty sure that things like washing machines and dishwashers are unheard of in this town, but I could be wrong about that. Several of the larger boutiques and the small marques that sell drinks have refrigerators, and someone has a freezer because a lady was selling frozen beesap at the marché.

Beesap is a local drink that is made by boiling the leaves of some plant in water, with a lot of sugar and a touch of ginger. It is relatively safe for me to drink it because it is boiled in the process of making it. I just have to hope that they did not decide to dilute it with water from the well if they made it too strong. When I first tasted it, I did not like it all that much, but since then I have had some that was pretty good. Maybe it was just that it was a cold drink on a hot day that made it taste better, but I think there are different versions and that the first one I had was a little heavy on the ginger.

Because there is not electricity all day, the tailors I told about in the clothing blog use old fashioned treadle machines. Some look like they are really old machines like people used to use in the states, but some are more modern, with zig-zag and embroidery options. They appear to have been retro fitted for the foot treadles. A belt from the treadle goes around the motor shaft and runs the machine.

Nancy Drew in French?
I have been trying to study French by reading some young reader type books from our local “lending library” that consists of maybe 150 books in random piles on shelves at the place in town that has a copy machine and a couple of computers. I selected a book called “Alice and the Candlemaker” as my first one to try. It features a teenage girl, old enough to drive, named Alice Roy. Her father, James Roy, is a lawyer and she has two girlfriends who share her adventures, Bess and Marion, and a boyfriend called Ned Nickerson who makes an occasional appearance. My first thought as I began the book was that it seemed a lot like a Nancy Drew book. When I encountered Ned Nickerson, I decided it WAS a Nancy Drew book with a few changes. Then I thought to look at the author and that settled it, Caroline Quine.

Those of you who were Nancy Drew fans when you were younger, help me out here. I am curious about what has been changed and what is the same. In these books Alice lives in River City that is, I think, in some southern state because they drink ice tea with mint. They have a live-in house keeper (named Sarah), because Nancy’s mother is dead. Sound familiar? Let me know by replying to my message that I have posted, or send e-mail to Larsen@jcu.edu.

I am now on the third Alice Roy book, and the reading is getting easier. I try to “read through” words I don’t know and get the meaning from the context, but sometimes I have to do a translation word by word, using the dictionary, because I can’t understand the story if I don’t. I think if I keep on reading books at this level I will learn a few new words, and will get to be better at reading French. They are not as engaging as Harry Potter, but about the same reading level.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Weather and other surprises

I thought the hot, dry season would last through May, but I was wrong. We have had several showers and the other day there was a big storm, with lots of wind blowing the dust around before the rain. There were big storm clouds with lightning and thunder. It was very dramatic storm with a good downpour of rain. The path in front of my house turned into a little stream. Unfortunately, I have discovered drainage problems with my new wall around the courtyard. I had to wade through about 3 inches of water to get to my gate. My friend Prosper and his friend Basolé saw what had happened and made a drain hole at the base of the wall that pretty much solved the problem. They even found a rock about the right size to close off the hole to keep out snakes, which people worry about here. Since then we have had another big downpour and one night with a gentle rain that lasted for hours. There were only a few puddles n the courtyard. Prosper says he will find some dirt to fill them in because you do not want puddles during the rainy season as mosquito breeding grounds.

When it rains, things cool off temporarily, but it often returns to the 100 degree mark shortly after the rain stops. Other days there may be cloud cover and highs in the low 90s. I am not sure how long these rains will last. I think they will be pretty irregular for a while. People do not start working in the fields for a while yet, and I understand you have to time the planting of your crops so that there is rain consistently when you do plant your seeds. Since the rain has started the weeds growing, however, and there is a carpet of green in each low lying area. The sheep, goats and pigs are happy to have fresh shoots to munch on.

Trees in the dry season
In the fall some of the trees lost their leaves and I had expected most of them, except for the mango, to follow suit. Wrong again. Most of the trees not only kept their leaves, but grew lots of new shoots where folks had cut off branches for building and fire wood. The ones that did lose their leaves started to put out flowers and then seeds in the middle of the hot, dry season. Before the rain began most of the trees had put out leaves again. I don’t know how they can be growing with no rain. I had expected them to be dormant until the rain started. They must have tremendously deep roots to get the water they need to grow like this.

Other odds and ends

I live rather close to a major highway. It is a paved, two lane road between two big towns. The locals ride bicycles and motos on it, but I even get off my bicycle to cross it. Most of the traffic consists of busses going between the two towns, bush taxies, big trucks transporting gas, wood for cooking, or other products, and some private cars. You can often stand at the road, look both ways, and see nothing but bike and moto traffic, but when the trucks and busses come, they fly by. The drivers, especially of the busses, love to use their horns, which are loud and may play a tune instead of just beeping. All this is fine if they are letting bikes and motos know they are coming and another vehicle is coming toward them, so get off the road. Most beep at anybody they see on the road. This is not so bad during the day, but it goes on all night, too. I am a good sleeper, but sometimes it takes a while to go to sleep because of the sudden sharp sounds of the horns.

Most of the bicycles here are simple single speed bikes, although you occasionally see a three speed or a 10 speed. It is amazing what people carry on bicycles. You may see baskets of goats with their feet tied together on the way to market, or chickens hanging from the handle bars. More often than not the women have babies on their backs and something balanced on their heads. The men often have huge loads of boxes, bags, or lumber, tied on with stretchy black bands made from old inner tubes. I brought bungee cords with me, but these black bands work much better. You stretch them tight and easily adjust them to any size load. Some people have baskets on the front of their bikes, but I have not been able to get one because my mountain bike has a bigger frame than the local ones and I have not found anyone who knows how to put one on for me.

Bicycles are often used for fetching water in the plastic jerrycans I showed you in a previous blog. A couple of these make a pretty heavy load, and it is not surprising the bicycles break down pretty often. It is rare for me to ride into town without seeing someone replacing the chin that has slipped off their bike. Peddles tend to get broken and fall off, and tires go flat. Because bikes are the main means of transportation here, there are a lot of places to get help if you have a flat tire or just need some air. New peddles and new seats are on display at boutiques all along the road.

Cadeau? Cadeau?
When I am riding my bicycle kids tend to chase me and try to keep up for a while. Some are really good runners. The ones that bother me are the ones who catch hold of the luggage rack on the back of my bike, or my back pack that is strapped to it, and either pull or push. I don’t have great balance, so when they do this, I put on the brakes (which takes them by surprise) and chew them out. Most of the kids along my regular route have figured out that I don’t like it and leave it at yelling “nassara, pas de cadeau,” that is, “foreigner, no present?” I guess tourists sometimes respond to this phrase by giving small coins or candy, but I have a strict policy of “pas de cadeau” because if I start giving things to kids (or adults who often ask the same thing) it will never end. I am not here to give physical gifts, but, hopefully, the gift of knowledge. I also think that this may be the only French phrase kids know. They see a foreigner and figure they will not understand the local language, so yell the only French phrase they know. I am trying to teach them some other things to say, by following “pas de cadeau” with some other French greetings. We shall see if I have made any progress on that front after two years.

Monday, May 9, 2011

One of My Projects

Update on my work here

When I asked people why girls do not finish school here, one reason everybody gave was “undesired pregnancy.” I also found that, in the Burkinabè culture, people don’t talk about sex. Because of the cultural taboo, it is hard for parents to talk to their children about sexuality including, talking about avoiding unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Even with America’s openness about sex, I think it is hard for parents to start this kind of discussion.

In January we had two weeks of in-service training. For three days a counterpart of our choice joined us for the discussions. I invited the Inspector for the schools in my area to come and, together, we decided the problem of unwanted pregnancy would be a good problem to take on. He told me that the school curriculum did not address issues of sexuality until the equivalent of 10th grade, which is much too late for many girls. First of all, only the brightest and most motivated get that far in school. Second, many unwanted pregnancies are among girls in late primary school or early junior high. I thought a good place to begin would be meetings with girls in the last year of primary school and their mothers, giving some basics to get the conversation started. When I got back to my village I talked to the people at the maternity clinic (where I go twice a week to help weigh babies) and they told me that the sage-femme (the midwife), was the person to talk to about sex education and AIDS prevention. She was enthusiastic and happy to help.

I needed a local person for several reasons. First of all, my French is only so-so and all I can do in the local language is give greetings and make people laugh at my attempts. Many of the parents have not been to school and do not understand French, so someone to translate ideas into Moore was important. Also, a goal of all our projects is to make them self-sustaining. By having a Burkinabè counterpart work with me on this, my hope is that a sex education program for the schools may continue after I leave, with the schools and the maternity center working out the plan.

One of the things we got at the in-service training was a kit to help with AIDS prevention education, including a flip book of pictures, a supply of male condoms, and a wood model of the male sex organ for demonstrations (thanks to USAID). The pictures are quite graphic and the wood penis is a bit shocking for people who don’t even talk about sex.

I wanted to start with the primary school that is in the center of town. I talked to the Director (principal) of the school and he seemed a bit reluctant, but willing to think about the idea. We decided the thing to do was to have a meeting with the officers of the parents' associations and see what they thought. After introductions, we began the meeting with me giving the general idea in French. I asked my counterpart to translate that and she took off and did the whole presentation in Moore. I just made a few comments to show how graphic the materials are and to do the condom demonstration. I did not understand most of what she said, but I did get the discussion about the fact that Islam and the Catholic Church agree that people should be abstinent before marriage and oth bdisapprove of condoms. I was really glad that on my list of things we would talk about I had put abstinence as the first way to avoid unwanted pregnancy. We all agree that would be best, but the reality of teen pregnancy is pretty clear and if kids are going to break one tenant of your religion (no sex before marriage) isn’t it better for them to break the other (no condom use) and not only avoid unwanted pregnancy but also protect themselves from AIDS?

The bottom line was that the parents decided it would be OK to have this program for the girls, with me and my counterpart, but they thought a man should talk to the boys. We began with the girls and so far have had programs at two primary schools and one junior high school with a total of 145 girls and 24 mothers attending. I should explain that, while I am calling it junior high, it is really the 7th through 10th year of school. On the attendance list for the junior high I asked for ages and they ranged from 12 to 22, so it is not like a junior high in the US. The midwife and I have dates to talk at another primary school, the other junior high, and the Lycée, which combines junior high and high school on the same campus. Here are a couple of pictures, one of me talking to the students and one of me and the midwife. After the presentation we have a little question and answer session to test their comprehension and for a review of the ideas, in which we use the rough sketches you see behind us.

I asked the head of the health service here if he would find a man to work with me for a program for the boys and fathers, but when I first approached him he had just arrived in town and did not know his staff. A week or so ago I asked him again and he drafted one of the men who works for him who is the equivalent of a practical nurse. I thought he might just do the presentation without me, but he wanted me there, which was fine. We have done one program so far, at a primary school, and it did not seem to bother the boys that I was present. I hope we can get to the boys in all the schools before the summer vacation. In addition to the information on HIV/AIDS, we hope to give the boys the message that they are responsible for any children they father and they should avoid having that burden, but I am not sure they get it. Culturally, it is up to the girl to deal with it if she is having a baby. Maybe the HIV piece will encourage condom use and have some effect on the undesired pregnancy problem. I am sure a soap opera like I described before, including these themes, will be much more effective than my little presentation, but something is better than nothing.

People here actually have heard quite a bit about HIV/AIDS and the official figures show a less than 2% incidence. There are people here living with HIV, and even special programs about respecting the rights of people living with HIV. There are special scholarships for children affected by HIV/AIDS because of the loss of one or both parents, or loss of income for the family because of the illness. There have been major educational efforts on radio and TV, and in posters you may see from time to time, to educate people about using protection to stay healthy. There was a program for students in the fall at the Lycée and the junior high schools, allowing them to have a blood test and getting a report about their HIV status. So, they know about it. Will they protect themselves? I can only give them the information and hope it encourages behavior to protect themselves.