Monday, August 22, 2011

Adventures in Ouagadougou

Back in February, I was in Ouagadougou when it happened to be the time of the Africa film festival, called FESPACO, that is held in Ouaga every other year.  Quite a few of the volunteers came to town that week to see the movies, and a couple of committees conveniently scheduled meetings that weekend.  I was there for a meeting of volunteers who were going to be bringing students to a youth leadership conference the following month.  We each had to select a piece of the program to do and make plans about how to do it.  In any case, the Transit House, where I was staying, was full of volunteers. I had not planned to go to the film festival, but a meeting with my counterpart that I had scheduled for that evening fell through because she was not feeling well, and I tagged along with the crowd.  It was a movie called “When China Met Africa” and we had expected it to be mostly in English because it was done by BBC.  It was a documentary set in an English speaking African country, but much of the dialogue was in Chinese and the local African language.  The English was also a bit hard to understand because of the accent. There were subtitles, but they were in French and I found I could only read about 2/3 of each one as it flashed by. I did get the general drift and it was a bit discouraging. The Chinese were planning to do several projects there that are now on hold because of the world economic crisis. One Chinese farmer immigrated to the country and bought three farms, thinking there would be one for each of his children, but the children are not interested in farming in Africa. A road project and manufacturing project seeing to be going well, however. It was the only show I saw, and I am sure it was not one of the prize winners.

Living in style (for one night)

Kriss Barker, who is a vice president of Population Media Center and who is co-author of the training manual about how write and produce soap operas to change behavior, was in town to make final arrangements with group that will fund the project for a Burkinabè soap opera.  Actually, the project is mostly funded, for writing TWO soap operas, one in Moore, and the other in Jula. These are the two local languages most commonly spoken here.

I had talked to her by phone and Skype several times, as well as having a number of e-mail exchanges with her, so when she was in the country we wanted to meet each other face to face.  At first she thought she might be able to come out to my village, but that was not going to work out. I had offered to go into Ouaga if that would be better for her, and she asked if I would do so.  I decided that, after five weeks in the group living at the transit house, I was entitled to one night at a real hotel, so I asked her to get a reservation for me at the hotel where she was staying.  For that one night I paid the equivalent of about half of what I get to live on for a month as a volunteer. That makes me glad that the transit house is a place I can stay for a reasonable price. However I did enjoy my day of luxury. I would have thought I was back in the USA for 24 hours:  good European style food, hot water and a bath tub, and real high speed internet. 

It was great to meet Kriss, who is quite dynamic and exudes enthusiasm for the project.  We had dinner with the man who owns 11 radio stations and a TV station, who had worked with the Peace Corps group when we started trying to find financial support for such a project.  He is very enthusiastic about this project, too, but I think the funder Kriss has found wants to use the official national radio for the broadcasts.   Maybe they will decide to allow it to be broadcast on community and other commercial stations as well.  I think the people in the target audience, folks in poor rural areas, are more likely to listen to local stations than to the official government station, but I don’t know that for a fact.  That is one of the things the first phase of the project, which is research about local conditions, will show.

Profiling, Burkina Style

When I came into the hotel in my traveling cloths, with just a back pack, I think they wondered about me.  They told me I would have to wait a while for a room to be ready, so I sat down in the lobby and started my knitting.  Almost immediately they had a room for me.  Maybe it was chance, but I bet they thought I did not fit in with the clientele very well.

When I was leaving to catch the bus back home, I asked the door man if I could get a cab from there to the bus station.  No problem, except that the taxi driver wanted three times as much for the cab ride as the standard door-to-door rate for volunteers.  I ended up calling one of the approved Peace Corps taxi drivers, who not only took me to the bus station, but also went in with me to be sure I would be able to get on a bus before dark.  He would have taken me to another station, at no additional charge, if there had not been a seat available. So here I am, back in my village, with the contrast of rich and poor, European and African, spinning through my head.


In Ouaga the main streets are paved, but there are many side streets, and whole neighborhoods, that have only dirt roads, like we have in my village.  It is not surprising to see something like you see in the picture below, a donkey cart driving down one of these paved roads, with cars, motos, and trucks sharing the road with this very traditional means of transporting goods.

 You may also see motos load with goods to sell.  I actually took this picture just outside of town. This guy is transporting some kind of produce to sell in the capital.

As in the villages, most houses are surrounded by walls, but in the city they tend to be higher, so you can’t see much of what is inside, unless the house has more than one floor.  In the more upscale neighborhoods, two or three story houses are not uncommon.  Any fancy house has a guardian at the gate.  There are a number of companies that supply guardians, each group having a different kind of uniform.  Houses gowned by the American government are guarded by people in blue uniforms with a US flag patch.  If you are a Peace Corps volunteer living in Ouaga, you are required to live in a place with a guardian.  Mixed in among these rather fancy houses you may find people living much as you might in a village, cooking on a wood fire and sleeping on the ground, with animal in the courtyard.  It is a land of contrasts.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wetlands in Burkina Faso (lots of Pictures!)

When we were planning the English Camp activities, the men planning the week related to water said something about protecting the wetlands in Burkina Faso.  I, clever woman that I am, said “were are there any wet lands here? Everything dries up in the hot season.”  Boy was I wrong! 

I had dinner with the Permanent Secretary for Climate Change and Sustainable Development and his wife, whom I know through my son in law, and I asked him about it.  He said, "Of course there are wetlands here, and Burkina Faso is a signatory to a UN convention on preserving the wetlands."  He said, however, he would defer to his wife, who knows more about the topic.  She works for an NGO call International Union for Nature Conservation.  I think of a wetland as a swampy area, but according the definition as she explained it to me, it is any land that is covered with water for part of the year.  A river qualifies, as does an area that traps and holds water during the rainy season, even though they are dry for much of the year.  She and her husband offered to take me on a tour of a wet land area.

We went to a place where a dam has created a big lake that serves as a backup reservoir for Ouagadougou.  It is not actually used as a source of water for the city water system, but could supply water to the capital in an emergency.  It is what is called a multi-use location. First, so you can get an idea of the size of the place, here is a picture of the over-flow area, the place where the water leaves the lake when the reservoir is full.

 Here is a shot across the lake created by the dam, although I can’t show the size of the lake in one picture.

Here is one of the ways this water is used.  These guys are filling the big cubes on the back of the truck with water, to take it to Ouaga to use for building. 

Another use of the water is growing food.  Here is a canal that has been cut from the lake to a place were food is grown.  This plant is called oseille. The people use the leaves to make a sauce for tō.  It is quite acidic so you add potassium, which is a base, to it to make it taste better.

People also raise other things like tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and squash as you see here at this roadside stand.

This man was raising okra, called gumbo here.

Where there is water, there are fish (sometimes).  This guy got one, but I don’t think it is a keeper.

 I am sure they actually do get good sized fish, sometimes, because we found BIG scales on the beach.  Yes, that is a single fish scale around my thumb!

Here is a fish net that was drying near the lake. Maybe that is how they get the big ones.

The dam itself is mostly made of dirt. The side toward the water is protected in some places with rocks set in concrete, like this:

We walked along the top of the dam, and my friends informed me that the folks will be removing and burning the grass growing on the dam.  If you let it grow, the roots soften the soil so it washes away.  They try to keep it packed down solidly.  I always thought the roots would help hold the soil, but that is not the way things are done here.

This is a levy, quite distance from where the water is now, that protects an experimental agricultural station. There different varieties of corn were being tried out in neat little plots, much as they do experimental plantings in the US. 

This is, in fact, a permanent wet land.  It does not have as much water in it now as it should have by this time of the year because the rains have been late and scarce this year.  Crops are way behind where they should be by this time in the growing season and it may be a bad year for farmers here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Teaching English in Ouaga

During the month of July I was in Ouagadougou, AKA “Ouaga,” learning something about teaching English by working at a summer school for students who want to improve their English.  The classes were held at The American Language Center which is somehow related to the American Embassy, although I am not quite clear about how closely they are connected. I spent three days in June at a workshop to get basic instruction in techniques of teaching English as a foreign language.  As some of you may remember, I had to take courses in teaching English as a Foreign Language when I thought my Peace Corps assignment was going to be teaching English in Mongolia.  The classes here covered some of the same topics, but I really enjoyed seeing video tapes they showed us here of teachers applying some of the methods that we learned about in my classes at Cleveland State.

The English classes for the students ran for four weeks.  Each day began with two hours of formal instruction in English, using books written to teach English, but with an emphasis on American English and American culture.  Most of the Burkinabè learned British English, and there are some interesting small details that make this clear.  For example, is the color gray or grey?  Color or coulor? In the USA it is the first spelling but in England, the second.

Most days I was able to sit in on classes at various levels of proficiency to get an idea about how you could teach English at different skill levels. There were 7 classes, with 6 skill levels.  The students were between 11 and 19 and were placed based on their proficiency, not their age. The formal teaching was from 8:00 to 10:00.  From10:00 to 10:30 was a half hour break, during which the students bought pop, water, and sandwiches from a woman who showed up in the courtyard at that time.
From 10:30 to 12:30 the volunteers lead camp type activities, although the teachers were present to help out as needed.  We spent a week before the classes started planning what we would do during the camp time.  We decided on the theme of Captain Planet, whom some of you may remember from a kids’ cartoon series in the 1990:  “Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero…” He had five helpers, “Planeteers,” with the powers of Earth, wind, fire, water, and heart and the tag line of the theme song is, “The power is yours!” We made the over-all theme of the camp saving the environment, trying to emphasize that everyone can do something about these problems.  By combining wind and fire we had the themes of the four weeks.  The first week, Earth, we discussed basics of threats to the environment and endangered species, of which 4 of the top 10 live in Burkina Faso. The second week, with wind and fire, we had as a guest speaker the man who represents Burkina Faso at climate change negotiations.   The third week, water, focused on the problems of safe drinking water and water for growing food here.  The last week, heart, was about volunteerism and what the students could do.

Most of the students there come from fairly well to do families and many know next to nothing about the places where we volunteers live. They could not imagine not having glass in the windows and air conditioning, let alone not having electricity and having to go to the well to draw water. Some students were delivered to the door by drivers but many of them arrived riding Motos. Here is a picture of the student motos lined up in front of the center.

This is me in one of the classes, just to give you an idea that this is a bit mor like an American school than the typical Burkinabè school.  The kids mostly go to private schools, so this may be normal for them.

During the first week we had a contest among the students to make a design for the camp t-shirts.  On the front we put the slogan for the camp: THE POWER IS YOURS.

The winning design was quite clever, the globe (with Africa at the center, of course) with a very sad face, and smoke stack showing the source of much of the pollution.  The artists had added the slogan: THE WORLD IS SUFFERING. STOP THE POLUTION.

One of the activities students enjoyed was making posters, which we did several times. Here are a couple of posters about my favorite complaint, those black plastic bags.

We also had field days a couple of times.  Here are some of the students doing a water balloon toss.  It was nice to be the looser and get splattered with water when it was so hot out.

Another activity was picking up trash. We gave the kids rubber gloves to protect them from the nasty stuff that is likely to be in ditches here. They loved it!

After five weeks away fromj my site, I was glad to get home again. I will say more about life in Ouaga in a future blog.  It is quite different than life in the village, but not like the good old USA!