Saturday, May 26, 2012

Men as Partners

I spent four days last week at a conference called "Men as Partners." I will begin with a bit of sad news—my camera was stolen just before I left for the conference.  The good news is that my friend Daniel took lots of pictures and let me copy them onto my computer, so I will be able to show you a bit about what it was like. Here is a picture of me with Daniel. He was born in Haiti so he grew up speaking French and Creole.  He moved to the USA when he was 30 and is now an American citizen, as you have to be to be a Peace Corps volunteer. He has a real advantage here because he is working in his native language when he speaks French.
This conference was attended by Peace Corps volunteers and one or two men from each of their villages.  The men had to be people the volunteers thought were motivated to work for gender equality.  It was really a training of trainers, because the attendees are expect to go back to their homes and use the techniques and information they learned here to work for gender equality.

Even though women have equal rights according to the Burkina Faso constitution, at the village level the life of a woman is not easy.  It is traditionally the responsibility of the women and girls of the family to get water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing clothes, to keep the house and courtyard clean, to cut or find the wood for cooking, to cook the meals, to wash the clothes, and so on.  Wives do the shopping for food with whatever allowance their husbands give them. When it comes time to eat, men are served first.  After the men have had their fill, the older boys eat, and after that the women and children eat what is left. Men do whatever work they do outside the home, but at home they expect to relax and be waited on.  When guests arrive, the women get chairs for them and bring them a cup of water while the man of the house chats with the guests.  Women are always the first up in the morning and the last to go to bed at night.

This conference was rather typical of training sessions in Peace Corps.  There is a plan for each day, with two 2-hour blocks in the morning, separated by a 30 minute coffee break, lunch, and two afternoon sessions of an hour and a half, with a 15 minute coffee break. The first day was devoted to the topic of gender, the second to violence, the third to health, specifically HIV/AIDS and family planning, and the fourth to engagement. The first day was devoted to separating sex, as a biological fact, from gender roles, which are assigned by society. People thought about what they liked about being a man or a woman and how things would be different if they were of the opposite sex. Different forms of violence were discussed, including physical, psychological and sexual violence.  The attendees were well informed about family planning and sexually transmitted diseases. On the final day, for engagement, groups went to 10 different locations in the city and talked to 10 different groups of people about one of the topics we had covered. This gave each man a chance to practice leading or helping to lead a training session on a topic he had just worked on at the conference. Later each community filled out a action plan, explaining one activity they would do when they returned to their homes.

Here is a picture of the room in which the conference was held.  You can pick me out by my white hair.
The training was intended to show many different ways to convey information, other than the lecture method that is so common here. They usually have some kind of audience participation.  Sometimes they ask questions to draw the ideas they want to discuss from the audience. Another frequent tactic is to divide the attendees into small groups with each group discussing a question and writing ideas on "flip chart" paper.  Here are some folks engaged in discussion and recording ideas on a flip.
This is what the room looks like after a number of groups have presented the flips they wrote out during their discussions.
Another activity is called "vote with your feet." One area is designated TRUE and another area is designated FALSE. The group leader reads a statement and you walk to the area that represents your opinion. Here are the people who thought a statement was false.
 And here are the folks who thought it was true, with one of the folks explaining why. Because most of the folks who came to the conference were already pretty well educated about the issues most of the differences came over interpreting exactly what was meant by a statement.
To show what can happen to a girl who tells a teacher about being raped, we all stood in a big circle, with the "victim" in the center and a number of people holding signs indicating their role or relationship with the girl.  She was handed the end of a string that was then passed around to each of the people she was taken to see.  Each time she saw a new person who asked her to explain what happened, she was given a sheet with "tell your story" written on it. By the end of the story there was quite a tangle of string, the girl had eight papers saying "tell your story" and she had not yet been taken to anyone who could give her emotional support or counseling. It really made the point that the victim continues to be traumatized by such treatment and we discussed alternative ways to help in such a situation.
Another activity that Burkinabè really enjoy is improvisational theater.  Groups are given the outline of a skit.  People select parts, plan generally how the skit will go, and have a lot of fun. Here is one skit involving a pregnant girl, who is being played by the man in the yellow shirt.  People often take parts of the opposite sex, which is another way to make people think about gender roles.
All of us like to eat, and here is lunch.  I am sitting with my homologue for the conference, the man who is the program director for the radio station in my town.
At the end of any Burkinabè conference there are speeches and certificates.  Here is one being presented.  Notice all the people taking pictures! A certificate is a big deal, especially since each one was signed and stamped by the directrice of the Peace Corps Burkina.
And the obligatory group photo, referred to by some as the family picture.  After four days people do begin to feel a bit like a family.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pump Reapir Project

One of my projects here was with a women's gardening group. They had a very nice garden that must have been built with the help of some grant years ago.  It was surrounded by a very good fence, and there were little cement cannels to carry the water to all the plots, but the pump had not worked for several years.  This picture shows the arrangement and maybe you can see the fence in the background.  The fence is very important.  If you don't have one, animals roaming free will eat your plants as soon as they sprout.

USAID has funds to be used to help communities with water and sanitation projects.  These funds are only available to communities through a Peace Corps volunteer. Peace Corps puts the money in the volunteer's account and the volunteer is responsible for seeing that the funds are used for the project and not "boofed," that is, used for other things. There are several requirements for this kind of project.  One thing is that the community must make contributions of cash and/or labor and materials that have a value of at least 25% of the total cost of the project. The reason for this is that, if there is not community investment, people tend to see the project as the responsibility of the group giving the money and tend not to accept responsibility for upkeep and repair. A second requirement is that there must be some training involved, so that people learn something.  The third thing is that there must be a plan in place to sustain the project after the repair is done. I helped the group write a grant request which was approved. It did take a while to collect the community's share of cash to pay for the pump parts.  Finally the pump repairman was able to do the work, with a bit of help from the children of the community. This chain is the thing the pump handle pulls up and down.  It attached to the mechanism that lifts the water.

Here it is, after being installed in the pump.
Finally, the women were able to pump clean water for drinking and gardening.
After there was water, the women started to grow things in the garden
Here is an example of one of the plots in which a woman is raising beans. It is a little easier to see the fence here.
There are the leaves of the bean plant that people use for sauces..

One of the men from the community, actually the village chief you saw in the pictures of Women's Day, volunteered his services to do training as a part of the community contribution.  After some scheduling problems, we finally had a training session for the women of the gardening group. To give you an idea about the cultural difference that I have trouble dealing with, I will tell you a bit about scheduling this meeting and how it finally went.

First of all, the man who was to do the training does not speak French very well, and had trouble understanding my French.  I asked my friend, Nadine, who is an English teacher at the Lycée and who also speaks Moore, to act as an interpreter for me when dealing with him. Every time she talked to him he said he would call her back with a date, but, over a period of two months, that did not happen.  Many times he did not answer his cell phone, or his wife answered and said he was not at home. We have a time limit in which to file a report about our projects and mine was fast approaching.  The directorice of Peace Corps visited my site a couple of weeks before Easter.  One of the people I introduced her to was this gentleman.  She helped me by saying again how important it was to get this training finished before May 1 and he promised to do it after Easter, at least by the 15th of April. Unfortunately, the Chief of the whole region died just after Easter and there were obligations for the sub-chiefs, like this man, related to this death. I was beginning to think I would have to find a substitute for him. I asked Nadine to see if the women would suggest a couple of days when we could arrange this. The last Tuesday in April Nadine told me that the woman in charge of the gardening group said they thought there might be a meeting on Thursday, but not to tell me because it might not happen.  Thank goodness she gave me that warning!

I heard nothing until Thursday morning at 7:00 when she called to tell me they had just informed her that the meeting would be that day at 9:00. They also suggested that I come at 9:30 because that was the "African" meeting time, that is to say, it would not really start until somewhat later than announced. I hoped to talk with her a bit before the meeting so I arrived at 9:00, and, of course, no one was at the meeting site.  I went to her home and chatted with her husband while she took a bucket bath and got dressed. Finally, about 9:40 we left her house and started to collect the women from the dolo (homemade African beer) stands. Some of us went to the garden and sat near the "office" building of the group that is in the fenced in area of the garden. 
There was some discussion of the fact that the shade in this place was not very good, but women continued to collect here, some carrying benches for the folks to sit on. At 10:00 the woman in charge asked me if it was time to start.  I told her I was not the one doing the training and we needed the man who would explain about care of the pump, who was not there yet. She said she did not have his phone number, so she used my phone to call him and let him know we were waiting for him.  About 10:15 he rolled in on his moto.  After one look at where the women were gathered, he said we needed to move to better shade, so the women picked up the benches and carried them down to the other end of the garden.
Finally we were all seated and the meeting began.  This picture shows only some of the women, and the man who did the training.
The plan in the grant application said that the community would open an account at the local savings association and to put into it money from the gardening project and from people getting water from the pump.  That way, they will have money to repair the pump the next time it needs attention. Pumps are mechanical things and are sure to break down at some point. Sustainability is what we try to promote in our work. If they follow through on this plan, this project will be sustainable with these community contributions. As part of this meeting the group selected, by acclimation, four of the younger women to be a management committee They will be responsible for seeing that the pump is used as they had been trained to do in this session, and to collect money from those who use the pump to have a fund to make repairs in the future. Here is one concrete thing I was able to help people do during my time here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Culture and Sports for School Children

Last week was the culminating activity for the school year for the children in the primary schools here in my town.  The soccer teams of the various primary schools had been playing against each other in a tournament for several months and on Saturday the finalist played for the championship.  On the Thursday before that, however, there were competitions among the schools who wanted to participate in a celebration of Burkinabè culture.  There were five categories, "playback" (AKA Karaoke), theater, storytelling, traditional dance and modern dance.  Not all schools in the area chose to compete and some competed in only one or two events.  Never the less, there were 24 presentations.   
The event was scheduled to start at 2:00 in the afternoon.  I should have known better than to show up at the scheduled time, but I can't get over my American need to be on time.  I arrived to find a lot of children standing in the shade outside the courtyard of the Mayor's office, where the event was to take place, but there were only three adults in the courtyard.  They knew who I was and laughed, saying that the program would start on African time, that is, later. About 2:30 the kids were admitted to the courtyard, where they tried to find shade to wait in.  A water barrel was brought in and a couple of kids were assigned to spread water on the concrete performance area.  I am still not sure whether the idea was to clean it off or to cool it off.  It must have been really hot from the sun beating down on it.  Here is one of the kids spreading water. 
As an invited guest, I had the privilege of sitting in a chair in the shade of the only tree in the courtyard.  I felt sorry for all those kids standing in the sun for hours. The teachers running the show were clearly ready to start by 3:00, but still we waited. It was not until 4:00, two hours after the announced time for the presentations, that the "important" people showed up and things could get underway. This is the same thing that happened at the Women's Day celebration I wrote about before. I really have trouble getting used to it, and I don't know how these folks decide how late to be.  They know they are not expected to be on time, but there must be some rule of thumb telling them when they really should arrive.
The program began with the "Playback" category. One of the playback/karaoke signers did a song by the Burkinabè artist, Floby, who sang at the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary celebration.  The young man is one of the polio victims in town. He is unable to walk, so he did his impression of Floby sitting on his feet and received an enthusiastic round of applause.
The stories the kids told the the story competition were generally ones well know to the crowd, sometimes taken from the readers they all used in their classes. The theater presentations were all original, written and planned by the teachers and/or the students themselves.  I was a bit surprised by a couple of the themes.  In one of them, one of the characters was giving bad information about how you get HIV and the other characters corrected him. In the second one, a father refused to send his daughters to school.  One of them went off to Ouaga and later in the play she came home pregnant (with much laughter as the girl came on stage, with a pagne stuffed up under her dress), and finally the man relented, much to the joy of the younger daughter.  Here are the mother and father, with the younger daughter in the background.
Unfortunately, by the time the traditional dance section came on, it was getting dark and the pictures are not very good.  In this group, you can see they were wearing imitation grass skirts over traditional woven pagnes.  There is a lot of hip shaking in traditional and modern dancing here in Burkina.  It has always made me think of Hawaiian hula dancing, and with the grass skirts the similarity was even clearer.

Here are the drummers who accompanied one of the dance groups. The young man with the orange shirt is another of the polio victims who gets to school in one of those three wheeled, hand peddled tricycles I have mentioned. His class-mates helped him get on stage and astride the drum, which he played well, and with enthusiasm.
I have a bit of video, showing a more authentic version of the "bump" dance I was trying to do in the video clip in my blog about music. The head bumping between the boy and girl is how people here greet good friends they have not seen for a while.

I have tried to upload the video unsuccessfully and will try again when I have a better internet connection. Sorry. Here is a photo of one of the bumps that will be on the video when I get it to load.

Hand Ball

In Burkina Faso the boys play soccer and the girls play a game they call hand ball.  It is kind of like ultimate Frisbee in that you try to move the ball down the field but can't move your feet when you are holding the ball. The idea is to throw the ball into the goal, like soccer. The goal is about half the size of a soccer goal, and the field is just the width of a soccer field. Players are not allowed to kick the ball, but the goalie can use both her hands and feet to keep the ball out of the goal. 

In this championship handball game, played in the morning. One of the teams was from a regular primary school, and the second was from "the school of the second chance" called Zod-Neere. It offers another chance to students who did not succeed in the regular school program.  This is how they have decorated the entrance to their school.
Because it is the school of the second chance,, most of the girls were older, and therefore the members of the Zod-Neere team were bigger and much better coordinated than the girls from the other school. The biggest difference, however, was that the Zod-Neere girls worked together, passing the ball between two or three girls who moved down the field together.  The girls from the other school seemed never to know where the other members of their team were and often tossed the ball wildly, hoping one of their teammates would catch it. Not surprisingly, Zod-Neere won by a big margin, 9-3. Here is the goalie for the other team stopping the ball.  Notice that all the girls play barefooted. Also notice that the playing field is dirt and gravel.  Not too comfortable in bare feet.


The final game for boys' soccer was in the afternoon. This was the featured event of the day, and there were many chairs set up for important people. This man brought the sound system and played music to entertain the crowd while they were waiting. Actually he was at the cultural performances on Thursday and at the handball tournament in the morning as well. He has a CD player, but most of the music is on his laptop.
In the afternoon we really appreciated him because, like every event important people were supposed to attend, they were very late.  This time they were so late that the coordinators of the program actually did not wait for them!  I was surprised, because I assumed you always waited.  In this case, if they had not started the program, it would have been dark by the time things finished, so they went ahead.
The members of the two teams had been warming up.  They were called to come stand in front of the audience and they had to stand there for about a half an hour while several people made speeches. Not a very good way to be ready to play, in my opinion. Here they are, listening to the speech of the inspector of the school district, who is my official supervisor here. Notice the two girls accompanying him, like to women at the women's day celebration.
This picture shows what the field is like and how they make the sidelines and mid field line, by digging a small trench and putting a different colored dirt in it.  The result is that the field is even less smooth, but that's the way they do it here.
 Here is one shot of the boys playing.  As you can see, they also play bare foot (OUCH!!!)
Neither of the boys' teams appeared to have had coaching like the teams my grandsons play on in America.  The players here seemed to have no plays worked out and did not seem to have any idea about where their other team members were.  When they had a chance, they tried to kick the ball as high and as far as possible. Because the ball sailed down the field wildly, the people waiting there generally tried to bring it back to earth with a header. This technique did not give them much control over where the ball went and the ball was up in the air a lot more than I have seen it in American games.  In other words, the game was pretty much a free for all.  The Zod Neere boys won, but the score was only 1-0 due to good work by the goalie of the losing team.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Making clothes in Burkina

What do people wear?
You have seen some of the kinds of clothing Burkinabè wear in some of my pictures. Very few of the things people wear are ready made clothes.  T-shirts and women's tight fitting shirts are probably the most common ready-made item, although you can find all sorts of things in the marchés here.  Some are new things, but others are used clothing, what my daughter once referred to as Salvation Army rejects.  Most of these women, like the one nearest the camera in a tank top, wear a pagne as a skirt.

 This brand, Obama Girl, is particularly popular here:


My Friend, the Couturier

In the big cities you can find boutiques that sell ready to wear clothes, but in the village most things are made to order.  Most of the people who sew clothing are men, but my friend, Martine, has just opened her own shop and I will use her shop as an example of how the system works. Her shop is one of two rooms in this building someone rents out to her and to a guy who sells gas in whisky bottles. The building is essentially a billboard for one of the cell phone companies, Airtel.
 Most things are made on sewing machines that have been converted to work with a foot treadle. They still have their electric motors, but because there is no electricity in many of the tailor shops, human power has to take over. Here is a fancy zig-zag sewing machine, converted to run by foot power.
 If you want to have something made, first you have to figure out what kind of material you want to use.  You visit the marché and look over the wide variety of options.
 As you can see, most of the fabric is brightly colored with large, elaborate designs. While some patterns are for special occasions, like Women’s Day and Christmas, most have no special connection to any event. As I showed you in an earlier blog, people sometimes select a special pagne pattern for their group to wear to a wedding or a funeral, so other people can see that they are all part of the same group. Everybody uses the same material, but the dresses or shirts or pant suits that are made from it may be quite different.
Once you select your material, you go to a tailor.  Most of them are located in small shops near the marché. Here is a picture of Martine's shop open for business, the door and window on the right of this building.  It is not near the marché, but it is near her home.  That makes it handy for her, and she seems to get enough business to keep her busy even though she is not in the town.
You explain to the tailor what kind of outfit you want, either by pointing to one of the pictures hanging on the wall or by presenting a drawing of what you hope it will look like.  After this has been discussed thoroughly and the tailor has made some notes and sketches, he or she takes some basic measurements like arm length, chest, neck and waist with a tape measure, and you leave.  Then the amazing thing happens.  Without any pattern, the tailor cuts the cloth to make the item you had in mind. He or she may modify or embellish the design, but it usually is similar to what you wanted.  There are big differences among tailors in their ability to create your idea. Those in the big city and the better ones in small villages tend to pay more attention to lining up the pattern and planning so that the important part of the pattern, like the logo for Women’s day, is easy to see when you wear the garment, as you see on the sleeve of my Woman’s Day outfit..

Those of you who sew will know how important it is to iron your work as you go along.  So, what do you do if you do not have electricity in your shop?  You use an old fashioned flat iron, like this, in which you make a small charcoal fire.
Many people have fancy designs embroidered on their clothes.  They have things embroidered on material that has a complicated pattern, although I prefer to see it on a plain fabric.  Here is Martine wearing an outfit she designed herself. She did the basic sewing and then sent the outfit to a person who has a special machine that does the embroidery.
 Here are Dawn and Annie in dresses Martine made for them while they were here.

Here is a dress Martine made for a little girl who was baptized as a part of her parent's formalization of their marriage. 

That is to say, the parents had been together for quite a few years and had three little girls.  Now they have accumulated enough money to have a formal wedding in the church.  Here you can see the three little girls. The one on the left was baptized after the wedding vows were exchanged, which is what you see happening in the background.  There were a couple of people taking pictures as the parents made their vows, so it is a bit hard to see what is going

Last, but not least, here are the bride and groom at the reception ot the home of his family.  Notice they have changed from the European style suit and white gown they wore at the church ceremony to more typical African attire.  If you look closely, you can see that both the bride and groom have heavy embroidery on the clothes they are wearing.