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Burkina Fascinating

So it’s been over a month since we first landed in Ouaga and I’m finally able to get around to explaining a little bit about my life here.  I am living with a family in the village of Nakomgo, just about 40-50 km south of the great capital.  I live with a relatively normal family of mom, dad, and two sisters.  Other fellow PCT’s are inundated with children chanting their names over and over when they arrive home.  Thankfully I have none of that.  On the plus side, when they move to site, they will be fully prepared to deal with that nonsense and I will not.  My family here is also relatively relaxed which I love.  If I need to work late or want to meet up with other PCT’s they’re very open and give me great space and freedom yet are always there to talk to learn more about the Burkinabe lifestyle, practice my French which is really improving, or practice my Moore (not really making that sustained an effort there since I need to learn Dioula for my site anyway).
I train in two places in the area.  I live adjacent to Ipelce, a medium-sized village right on the main road to Ghana and there is a fantastic agricultural training school there.  Inside the walls of this school, the 12 DABA (Developing Agriculture and environmental Business Activities) trainees have a model field complete with our own pepinieres (tree nurseries).  My pepiniere consists of 92 Moringa, 46 Ziziphus, 26 Acacia Albida, 26 Lucaena, 23 Acacia Senegal, and 23 Baobab trees all started from seed.  I’m content so far as I’ve received a relatively high rate of germination for them all.  Furthermore, they’re all varieties I have selected that have nutritional or other important properties for cultivation in this area.  In the model field, my team of Michael, Sabastian, and myself have planted red sorghum, millet, black-eyed peas, yellow corn (although used for human consumption, it’s not sweet corn like we know it but the variety we use for cattle feed in the states), white sorghum, and millet.  We have done some intercropping with sorghum and black-eyed peas similar to the Native American “three sisters” method as they don’t compete height-wise and form a fantastic symbiotic relationship that serves to aid both plants in the long run.
What is life like?  It’s certainly interesting.  A question I have received a lot is about food.  To be frank, the food is not good by American standards.  There’s no diversity in flavor or texture and most things you eat in the marche can be scary–will I throw up in a couple hours?  That said, you do get used to it and start to like what you eat.  To is the staple food of Burkina.  It’s made of mashed corn or sorghum boiled somehow for a long time and again somehow formed into a paste that you pick up with your hands and dip into a slimey sauce of okra, tree leaves, soumbala (an interesting black ball that comes from trees…?), or peanut.  The same idea is applied to rice:  plain rice with sauce.  Meat is interesting.  If you get something with meat in it, you often don’t know what animal or, more imporantly, part of the animal you’re eating.  For example, I ate cow penis shish kabobs the other day–thought there were weird mushrooms mixed in with other chunks of meat.  They were not.  Lesson learned.  You can get salads and we all crave them however at this time there are really no cucumbers or tomatoes or really any vegetable other than eggplant and some okra in the marche as it’s the beginning of the rainy season.  This makes salads rather exotic and expensive and DANGEROUS because proper sanitation and cleaning of the produce is needed to not become violently ill.  If you get a salad, though, you have no idea how the veggies were cleaned if at all.  These are gambles but we take them (and some have lost pretty bad) but you can’t live on to alone!  Fortunately mangoes are still in season for a little while longer.  They brighten any day.  Overall, to sum up food, it can be a challege sometimes but when you get something good it makes your day.  In addition, although I openly discuss the food’s negatives, they are small by comparison to what the food means here.  It’s life and sustenance and we all treat it with respect whether it’s to sauce feuilles for the fifth night in a row or an awesome salad on a hot day.  What trumps anything, however, is the company with which you share your food.  Whether you’re eating with fellow PCT’s or Burkinabe family and friends, it’s really hard to complain.
As far as weird insects are concerned, yes they’re all around and a lot of us have been given termites to eat that fly around after the rains.  However, most don’t really do anything.  The scorpion carrier spiders are big (size of your hand), are everywhere at night, and are fast as lightning but if you put your lantern on the ground they’ll usually run toward it giving you a chance to kill them with your flip flop or whatever you have–if you’ve got the reflexes of course.  However, other than looking like they came from the bowels of hell, they don’t really do anything so it’s hard to be afraid of them now.  There are scorpions about, though, so it’s important to be on the lookout especially in the shower or latrine at night.  Cockroaches are also everywhere (especially in the latrines at night) but again they don’t do anything so no worries, just ignore them.  Your best friends are the salamanders and lizards who eat all the scary things.  I have one in my room hanging out while I type this.  I haven’t given him a name but am working on it.
There are fascinating aspects of this culture–from the way someone’s face lights up when you greet them on the road in their local language, to incredible the incredible hospitality at my family’s house, neighboors’ houses, and *cough* dolo bar…  You can also get children to do anything.  If you want a water or soda, just walk up to a child on the street, give him the money and tell him sternly to “go get me a 50 CFA sachet of water” and he will run off returning with your product not looking for any payment.  It’s truly amazing not because they do it but because they WANT to do it.  Not only is this practice absolutely commonplace in this culture but what makes it easier is that I am such a sideshow freak in the Ipelce market, the kids love to follow me around anyway.  I am exotic and fascinating with my white skin (although I have probably the best farmers’ tan of my life right now) and if I tell them to do something they will fight over who gets to do it for me.  Really, everyone wins.  In the States would you give money to some random kid on the street and tell him to get you something?  The answer to that rhetorical question is obviously no.
Lastly, the most important news, I found out today where I will be living for my two years of service!  I don’t know much but will be in the village of Koumbara in the Sourou valley.  I will be working with a local organization, Groupement Faso Djigui on live fencing, organic composting, tree planting, nutrition, improved agricultural techniques, and small business trainings.  I’m excited because the local CSPS (health center) works a great deal with Moringa trees!  I really wanted to work with this fantastic tree through a childhood nutrition lens so I’m really happy about this placement.  I’m also excited because I’m only about 40 km from the Mali border, making vacations in Dogon country super easy and apparently I’m living on my own in a big house with big windows (all relative of course, probably 2-3 rooms max) and my own couryard.  Awesome.
Well that’s all for this long-overdue post and this unusual internet access.  There’s so much more to write but there is to to eat at the moment.  I am fine and healthy (with a slight 4 day intestinal jubilee last week that Nick was fortunately on the phone for) and am thinking of everyone back home a lot as I trudge my way through PST.  I’m upbeat and optimistic though, and definitely excited to get to site in September and get to work.  I hope all is well back home and you know my email address so if you have questions or want to say hi, you can always write to me and I will get back to you as soon as I can!



2 thoughts on “Burkina Fascinating

  1. So Jason.,
    It’s hard to top your food experiences. I was served snails the other night, but at least I knew what they were. I don’t think I”ll ever eat a mushoom again without thinking of your shish kebob experience. I know this is all part of your training and integration into the culture, and I am proud of your adventureous nature. However, I always want you to be well. Call me with the big news. And just continue to call Nick when you are facing another intestinal jubilee. Love Mom

    Posted by seb | July 21, 2011, 11:18 AM
  2. I just googled scorpion carrier spiders…mistake. I MISS YOU!!!!

    Posted by Sara | July 23, 2011, 12:34 PM

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Jason Tsichlis

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July 2011
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