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No Sleep ’til Kumasi

It’s time for vacation.  I’ve been living here in Burkina for almost ten months, the hot season is upon us, and so it’s time for a little relaxation.  My counterpart also pointed out to me that I should absolutely take two weeks now and go because when I get back, we’ll start planting in our tree nursery.  We’ll start digging our well and preparing our field for the moringa orchard.  Once the rainy season has started in earnest, it will be time to fish and work in the fields again.  Then come September, there will be the harvest.  Point being:  get out now and take some time because we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Where am I going?  Well after careful consideration (well to be truthful, there was only one destination in our minds) four of us decided on a beach vacation in Ghana.  What does Ghana have that it’s neighbor, Burkina Faso doesn’t have?  Below is a list:

Beaches, good beers, English, “rainforest”, seafood, wildlife, trees with leaves, resorts, real safaris, tropical food traditions, kente cloth, trade routes, ecotourism, more access to air conditioning and internet, a lack of dust, lions, oh and an Apple store in Accra (not that I have any money to spend there but still).  There’s a reason why we call PC Ghana the “Posh Corps”…

That’s just an incomplete list but some things I’m looking forward to upon arriving.  However, with Ghana being a much more developed country comes increased tourism.  And with increased tourism there is more petty crime, more scam artists, and more unwanted attention.  However, it is all to be taken with a grain of salt.

The beginning of the trip starts with a roughly twenty-hour bus ride from Ouaga to Kumasi in central Ghana.  That might sound miserable however this bus is air-conditioned, not falling apart, and I will get my own seat and (hopefully) not have to share it with a vomiting baby—all improvements on my current mode of transportation!  We’ll spend some time in Kumasi checking out the sites, including one of the largest markets in all of West Africa, then it’s on to Kakum National Park.  After that, we will spend a few days in Cape Coast getting our fill of history—and if you’re me, trying to go fishing.  Then we will plant ourselves at a beach resort in Akwidaa Beach for about five days.  After that, we will go to Accra to spend a couple days with Sam’s Ghanaian friend (and so that Brook can take the GRE).  Then, hopefully much rejuvenated, we will take the 24-hour bus back to Ouaga.

So that’s that.  A week or so ago I was feeling a little bit of vacation regret.  I didn’t think I was ready to leave site like that for two weeks and especially did not feel ready to handle a much more developed country and return mentally unscathed.  However, as the date of departure crept closer, I began to feel more prepared.  The “tubabu” chants from little kids up in Gouran and in Tougan were starting to grate more and more and it was then that I realized that perhaps it was time for a little break.

I hope all is well back home and I’m thinking of you all!

J

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Juma leaves the world.

It is my sad duty to inform you that my beloved five-month-old puppy, Juma, has passed away.  He died on the evening of March 14th after just a two-day battle with an unknown illness.  I suspect that he ate something toxic (since he basically ate everything he found) but I suppose we will never know for sure.  What we do know is that he was a fantastic companion and confidant for the five months we spent together and that I will miss him greatly.  What follows is a eulogy that “Jumes” most certainly deserves:

He was the nicest dog around:  Juma was friendlier than any other dog I have seen here.  Whenever a dog would walk or run by (even off in the distance) he would lose his mind, run up to it, and try to befriend it.  This usually ended in him being snarled at or at times bitten.  It was how he learned but he was never the dog to initiate any form of aggression.  In addition, he loved people, particularly other volunteers because they knew how to play with him.

He was a born destroyer:  In his short five months, he put rips in every pair of my pants, broke the gate to my courtyard, ate twelve jalapeño plants, ate my six-foot-tall moringa tree down to nothing, broke my screen door, chewed holes in my only pair of jeans, chewed the bindings off of one of my chairs, and put holes in my mosquito net.  There’s probably a lot more but those are what come to mind at this point in time.

He was smart:  By the time of his death, he knew his name along with “sit,” “shake,” “lie down,” “settle,” and we were working on “roll over.”  Not bad at all.

He loved tô more than anything:  I have no idea why.  He tolerated his dog food that I would lovingly bring back from Ouaga (an incredible pain in the ass, I might add) but for some reason, he would go crazy for tô and could eat maybe three times more than me in one sitting.  And I can eat a lot of tô.

He made me glad I had cement floors:  He was impossible to housebreak!  Well not really, I almost had it at the end.  However, before you go and say that it was probably because he was a quasi-wild African dog, Brook (the volunteer in Yo) was able to housebreak her dog in one week.  This could also mean I’m bad at housebreaking dogs…

He turned my house into a bone yard:  No dog loved bones more than Juma.  And no dog loved sharing those bones with me more than Juma.  One night he brought in a horse tail.  How did he get that?  We will never know.

He lived fast and hard:  Juma played hard and many dogs didn’t like that, but he was always crouched down with his but in the air and tail wagging.  He would run and jump and play with anything he could get his paws on.  Often when the sun was going down he would hit what I called his “second wind.”  This is when he would be so uncontrollably full of energy that he would run in circles in full sprint, slamming into walls and anything else.  It was truly a sight to behold.

When living in a village in Burkina Faso, it’s important to be able to carve off a special section of your brain for any animals that you care about.  It’s important to love them but to be able to let them go about their lives and to keep a small emotional distance between them and you.  Although Juma would follow me whenever I left the house and spent every night of his life sleeping inside (oftentimes next to my cot), he was free to run and play and dig and chew outside all day.  I realized early on that to deny him these basics of dog life in order to fit him into an Americanized mould was to strip from him what he was born to do.  When I first brought him home, I had quiet intentions to bring him back to the States with me at the end of my service.  I thought:  “What a better life he will have.”  I then began to think about what this meant.  In the US, he would need a leash; he would need to have his life structured around my schedule of work or school; he would be cooped up in an apartment; he would not be able to dig at will; he would not be able to go to the bathroom where and when he wanted. The list went on and I quickly realized that his life in village was leaps and bounds more fulfilling than his life would have been in the US.  And when one has a dog in this environment, he or she must be aware of the reality that although animals have great freedom, their situation is never stable.  Things happen and unfortunately a dog dying like this is not uncommon.  In taking on an animal as a companion here, I had to mentally prepare myself for an event like this and although it was still difficult, I’m glad that I did.  To borrow a very popular expression used here:  c’est comme-ça ici.

So with that, little Jumes, you were a great friend and you will be sorely missed up here in the Sourou Valley.

I hope all is well back home.  I am currently in Ouaga prepared to leave for a beach vacation in Ghana on Monday the 26th!  I will try to put up a less depressing post before heading out.  Take care for now!

J

Deep Dark Well

The village of Boule sits on the dusty road from Tougan to Ouahigouya here in Burkina.  I’ve never actually been there yet the bus I take that eventually deposits me in Ouaga goes by this place.  At first glance it looks like a typical Sahelian village:  mud houses, awnings with millet stalks, fences of wood, and a deep, penetrating dryness.  Yet one doesn’t have to look too closely to see what looks like an oasis.  Yes, it’s a community garden.  And in this dry expanse of landscape in which there is not a single color other than “earth tone” there is an entire hectare of verdant, well cultivated gardens.  How do they do this?  They have a couple wells.  Seeing this is a startling reminder of the power of water and how so many goals can be accomplished by its introduction into the system.

I reference Bouse because it illustrates a successful utilization of resources in order to reach a common goal.  It is what I strive to achieve here in Koumbara with our moringa orchard.  In order to harvest the leaves year-round, we will need a well in our orchard to water the trees during the dry season.  That is simply a necessity.  Thus, we are in the process of finding those that are willing to dig such a well (the water is about 30 meters down through lateritic rock) and then we need to go about cementing it so that it will be functional for longer than just a few years.  In addition to watering to keep the leaves, having our own well will help in diverting our needs away from that of the current needs of the village.  Koumbara’s water resources are already stressed.  There are 2238 people in this village and just two pumps.  There are a multitude of wells but during the dry season a good portion of them do dry up.  If we are to water this orchard during the dry season, we cannot in good conscience stress the system in such a way.  I am working on getting a broken pump fixed here but this work takes time…

My group and I have just completed our tree nursery which will serve to protect our trees at their youngest stage.  It’s a great step for us as this is the first physical manifestation of our determination and motivation.  I have uploaded pictures to an album of simply that so you can see the construction from start to finish.

Lastly, I had the absolute pleasure of going to Festima 2012:  the Dedougou mask festival.  Words cannot describe how interesting the costumes and masks were.  They came from all over Burkina along with Mali and I believe some from Togo, etc.  I have uploaded an album of that as well.  Check it out!

I would also like to take this time to thank everyone who has sent me packages/letters so far.  I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to receive your gifts and they most certainly are appreciated.  So thank you Mom, Dad, and Nick, Aunt Jane and Cus, Sherry, Mia, Tyler (by proxy), and Aunt Tasia, Uncle Antonis, and my whole family in Greece.  Thanks so much!

I know this post might be a little short but it’s hot and I’m tired.  I hope all is well!  More to come soon.

J

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Jason Tsichlis

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