Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Close of Service (COS)

Unfortunately, I have been seriously slackly lately on writing anything at all on my blog.  So here is a very brief overview of what’s been going on in the last two months.

  1. G2LOW 2012 finished very successfully- we had a total of 233 female and 221 male students, coming from 58 different villages,  participate between the four camps.  61 PCVs and 52 Burkinabès worked as organizers and facilitators during the camps.  For every one of our indicators, we had a significant increase in attitudes and behaviors.  Go Camp G2LOW!
  2. My best friend from high school, Stephanie, came to visit during her 5-month around the world trip (cool, yes?).  We had a great time and it was wonderful to see her after so long.
  3. PC allowed myself and several other third-year PCVs participate again in a Close of Service (COS) conference.  We already attended this conference back in March 2011, but this time our heads were actually in it.
  4. Security incident at my site so I got moved out of Kaya four weeks early (PC takes security very seriously). I moved in with a friend, Lorena, so that I could stay busy and finish out the remainder of my service.
  5. 25th birthday! – My 4th birthday in Burkina Faso!
  6. Krystle’s wedding.  She is another third-year PCV who married a Burkinabè, Nanema, September 8th.  I was her witness.  Best wishes to them both!
  7. COS process.  I am now in Ouaga finishing all of the paperwork and medical appointments to finish my service tomorrow and fly home tomorrow night!!!
This is a bittersweet time for me, letting go of what I know and starting a new life back in America. Due to the past few months being difficult (Richard being deployed, security situation, etc.), I am definitely ready to go home and restart life, which is a good place to be when you’re leaving here.  However, I am going to miss the generosity of the Burkinabè people and my good friends here.  But I do know that I will be back, I just don’t know when.
  1. Your bowel movements are not an appropriate topic of conversation, especially while eating.
  2. Utensils are universally accepted and provided should you choose to dine in public. However, eating fries with your hands is okay. No one knows why.
  3.  Picking your nose in public is offensive and disgusting to anyone over the age of six.
  4. Littering is often illegal and unnecessary due to common use of trashcans.
  5. A lot of pop culture has happened without us. Expect to know nothing. You won’t get any jokes; you won’t know any songs, YouTube fads, or celebrities. Don’t try to catch up- it’s not worth it.
  6. Technology has advanced without us. You can touch screens and there’s a lady named Siri who lives in your iPhone. Try to remain calm when you don’t recognize any devices your friends are using and when they laugh during your struggle to Google the sushi place you’re going to later. Don’t sweat it; you’re about to eat sushi.
  7. You have not driven a car in three years: BE CAREFUL.
  8. Wearing dirty, torn, or ill-fitting clothing, or clothing you find in a basket or in piles on the side of the street, may cause others to perceive you as homeless.
  9. You cannot wear flipflops everywhere, especially not to work.
  10. Wearing clothes that stop above the knee is considered normal. Short shorts ≠ prostitute. African outfits and heads scarves however, may garner curious looks.
  11. Beers are small, typically 12 ounces. Also, we use the imperial (as opposed to metric) system of measurement. Those of you near Canada can get away with describing things in kilometers (be careful to pronounce that correctly in English, not in French; it’s harder than it seems). The rest of you can’t.
  12. Meetings start on time. You’re actually supposed to get there early. Including, but not limited to: interviews, classes and support groups.
  13. A three-hour nap or break in the middle of the day is generally frowned upon. 
  14. We don’t use military time.  Saying 16 o’clock sounds ridiculous.  Just say 4 pm.
  15. Everything is super EXPENSIVE!  You need a job.  No one will give you good, alcohol, healthcare, transport, or lodging.
  16. All food will be DELICIOUS. Careful of over-indulgence. Especially with dairy.
  17.  All those cute noises you make these days are unknown to Americans, and if you’ll recall from when you first arrived, the people making them seem crazy. Try to refrain from the “un HUHs”, clicks, and “psss”. Caution: You can’t hiss at waiters. It’s just not accepted.
  18. Gossiping about people sitting around you, or bad-mouthing restaurant staff within earshot, is dangerous. English will no longer be your secret language.
  19. Tipping servers and other service people is an unspoken rule. I mean, they refilled your drink! Twice! Without you having to ask!
  20. You MUST refrain from touching/grabbing/petting/pinching the cheek of babies whom you do not know! This could result in an arrest. So will threatening to hit children. Turns out that’s not okay.
  21. If someone tells you the cost of something, they MEAN it. Even if you think it’s too much. Don’t bargain- they might throw you out.
  22. People DO NOT greet strangers in America. You will come off as a lunatic.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this whole process and I cannot wait to see you and catch up back in America!

Here are a few funny tidbits of things written by a fellow PCV that I will have to be thinking about upon reentering the developed world (I apologize if I don’t get all of these down right away, please be patient…):

And a few pictures!

Stephanie and I at the domes in the south of Burkina

Lorena and I in our fancy outfits for the mosque part of Krystle's wedding

Carolyn, the bride, and I

Friday, July 13, 2012


Hello everyone. I know it has been a long time since I last updated. That was due to several reasons: 1) I was feeling lots of anger (more on that later), 2) I was busy at work, 3) It was hot.

Ok, those might not seem like the best reasons to not update my blog, but I really did not think you all wanted to hear all the reasons I was angry or hear me complaining (yet again) how hot it is.

Now why was Emma angry, you might wonder. Well, a lot of my angry/general unhappiness there for a awhile was coming from Richard being gone. For those of you who do not know, Richard, my boyfriend, was deployed to Guinea-Bissau two months ago as part of a West African peacekeeping force after the coup at the end of April. Although we had a few weeks preparation, consisting of ups and downs, wondering if he was going or not, eventually he was deployed and it was much harder to deal with than I thought. I was used to him not being in Kaya, but it was quite difficult to get used to not talking to him every day and even going a week (or more) without hearing from him. Losing my biggest support network while in this country was not easy. However, it has gotten easier and we are figuring out this long distance relationship thing. We both knew that we would be doing long distance at some point, it just came way earlier than we both expected. We are just trying to make the most of it. J

Work is still going well. I am still working at two health clinics in Kaya as a child nutrition specialist with Save the Children. I am enjoying my work, but definitely getting ready to move onto the next thing (and find some co-workers not only motivated by money).

Camp G2LOW 2012 is just around the corner (two weeks) so the last minute preparations are taking up a lot of my free time. Thank you again to everyone who supported us through this process. Please join our Facebook page (Camp G2LOW Burkina Faso: http://www.facebook.com/groups/camp.g2low.burkina/) to see pictures and get updates from this year’s camps. 

Other than that, I cannot think of many updates in my life.  I currently have less than 3 months left in country. My mom is looking at tickets, but it looks like I will be landing in America September 27.  Annnddd coming home party is October 6th at my parents’ house in Huntsville, AL- mark your calendars!

Diana and I at her Close-of-Ceremony party

Richard and I, before he left

Myself and fellow third years

Lorena and I

Trent and I during our "Exploration of Kaya."  You can barely see Kaya off in the distance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Burkina Fatso

I've been recently struggling (or maybe not recently) with my weight here in Africa.  It seems to balloon up, then drop, then go up again.  It's a rollercoaster.  I read this article recently, written by a fellow PCV here in Burkina, James McGivern.  He does a great job of summing up my sentiments exactly. So enjoy!

Forget South Beach. Forget Atkins. Between the sweltering heat, boring food, and near constant gastro-intestinal issues, Africa should be the best weight-loss plan on Earth. So before departing, I went on a whirlwind tour of farewell dinners and eating binges. A third helping? Yes, please. Two desserts? Why not!? A 10,000 calorie burger? I am moving to Africa, after all.

Once I arrived, I became even more convinced of the magic African diet. Every male between the ages of 18 and 45 resembles Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Gorgeous, lean muscles. six pack abs. 2% body fat. It's amazing how endless hours in the field can transform a body. I thought it must be only a matter of time before I too look like them.

I could not have been more wrong. After ten months in Africa my body more closely resembled the rotund Jason Alexander. What little muscle I had quickly disappeared without a high-protein diet coupled with a weightlifting regimen. My chest and arms withered away and my body‟s jiggle coefficient has steadily increased as my mid-section has become ever doughier. Poke me and I‟ll giggle like Poppin‟ Fresh...
After some thought, I‟ve come to a few conclusions (read, excuses) regarding the dreadful state of my body.

The food options in West Africa are a carb-lover‟s dream. Take tô: it‟s incredibly cheap, popular, and lacks any nutritional value. Rice and pasta are the next most popular meal options and Burkinabé will even add spaghetti as a topping to rice. Carb on carb delight.

Quality protein is extremely hard to find. Goat, sheep, cows, and chickens roam everywhere, but they aren‟t the wonderful Tyson hormone-injected variety that Americans enjoy. African animals forage all day for food and (at least in our neighborhood) must dodge mangos (thrown by me from the porch). Different cuts of meat are a completely foreign idea to Burkina‟s “butchers.” Most meat is simply hacked apart by a dull machete. Imagine trying to eat your rice with peanut sauce dish and getting bits of intestines, bones and other mystery chunks.

If you‟re lucky enough to find a meat vendor, so many questions come to mind it‟s an immediate turn-off. How long has this meat been sitting outside in 100 degree heat? Why are there so many flies on it? Is this goat meat? Or sheep? Beef? Could be dog. You just can never be sure.

For generations, this scene has transpired at the dinner table: An American youth didn‟t finish his/her dinner and is getting up from the table. Well-intentioned parents then yell, “Finish your dinner! There are starving children in Africa.” Thanks, mom. Because of your conditioning, I eat everything in sight and the starving African children you referenced are literally right outside my door.

If you can accurately determine exactly how much food will satisfy your hunger, there‟s no problem. But what if there are leftovers? There is no electricity in village and therefore no refrigerator. The extreme temperatures ensure that any remaining food will be covered in mold by morning. We can and do give leftovers to our neighbors. However, they don‟t always like the foreign dishes we make. And if they can recognize the ingredients, it may blow our cover as the poor volunteers living and working amongst them. Pasta is a rare luxury and canned vegetables or tuna are completely unaffordable for our neighbors. With those things in mind, I end up eating that second serving; it‟s a shame to let it go to waste.

came to Burkina with the mindset that I must eat everything in sight just to keep weight on. That idea was then reinforced by the Peace Corps medical staff‟s motto “eat when you can eat.” As I reflect on their advice, I‟m not sure it holds true for volunteers who live 10 kilometers from real cheese, butter, and cold drinks. Whenever I leave village, it‟s a free-for-all. Doctor‟s orders, after all.

Exercising in Africa is difficult. Although I‟ll occasionally work in the fields, I don‟t do it nearly enough. I‟ll harvest rice with the men, but after ten minutes of what might be considered hard work, the same phrases are inevitably uttered (although not in English):

“You must be tired. go sit down.”
“The sun is hot and you‟ll burn. Get in the shade.”
“Get the white dude some water!”

American-style twentieth century exercise, like running for example, is rarely observed in Burkina. It‟s an unfortunate reality, but who has the calories to spare? Occasionally the military, a soccer team, or firemen run down city streets to stay in shape. The rare sight of even these runners elicits stares from passers-by. I‟m harassed and gawked at just walking down the street or shopping. Imagine the kind of taunting and ridicule a pasty-white guy in short-shorts running down the street will receive. And in village!? I tried running and I may as well have landed my spaceship in Times Square.

No surprise, but it is hot and we're almost always sweating. The only time it is cool enough to exercise is early in the morning, which also happens to be the only chance to be indoors and not be dripping with sweat. It‟s difficult to knowingly commit myself to constant sweating.

Julie, my wonderful and supportive wife, seems to take great joy in reminding me of my advanced age and expanding waistline. 30 years old! Practically middle-aged with the bear claws to prove it. And let's not get started on the receding hairline... I may as well just throw in the towel now and get buried in a piano case.
I recently came to the difficult conclusion that I may have women‟s genes. I‟m not talking about the skinny jeans those young hipsters are wearing. My body seemingly responds to carbohydrates like a woman‟s body. In a carb-heavy diet, most men lose considerable amounts of weight and become very thin. Women‟s bodies store those carbs away to nourish babies or something. Unfortunately, I have the muffin-top to prove that I've got the genes of a woman without the ability to breastfeed.
My last fault? I've spent much too long sitting on my large behind thinking of excuses and writing this entry rather than exercising.

A Resolution
In spite of all of these evil forces working against me, I‟ve recently turned over a new leaf. It‟s my new year‟s resolution. And this is the kind of resolution that doesn‟t require standing in line for the cardio machine at the gym… because there aren‟t any. I‟ve finally started running, and the villagers are getting used to the daily sight of my ghost-white thighs. They cheer for me as I “do the sport” and I even have a growing rotation of running partners. If I can keep it up, maybe I‟ll be ready for the next trip to the beach. This close to the equator, bikini season is a year-round concern.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday

April 25 is World Malaria Day.  Did you know that malaria is one of the top reasons children do not reach their 5th birthday?

Malaria is a disease that kills thousands in Burkina Faso every year even though it is completely curable and preventative methods are available. Malaria disproportionately affects pregnant women and children under the age of 5 in the developing world.

In order to celebrate World Malaria day and promote the prevention of malarial death in my community I have been handing out mosquito nets at every prenatal consultation I’ve helped with. 

I am part of Stomping Out Malaria in Africa, a continent‐wide campaign to increase malaria prevention across Peace Corps countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  Peace Corps Burkina is stomping out malaria with 3000 other volunteer in 17 countries, and partners such as USAID and Malaria No More.  Together we can make a difference in our communities.

Go to the Tumblr page to see highlights of Peace Corps projects across Africa: http://stompoutmalaria.tumblr.com/

How will you stomp out malaria in 2012?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Two weeks left to donate

Two weeks left to donate.  We would appreciate any amount you would be able to give!

Thank you!


Friday, March 16, 2012

Update about the goings-on in Burkina and West Africa

Here are a few interesting articles about what is currently going on in Burkina Faso and West Africa:

It's been a year since the uprisings last spring: http://allafrica.com/stories/201203121315.html

Last summer's very poor rainy season = bad drought this spring: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17308913

The most current information about the Mali situation:

Scarier than I thought...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mask Festival- FESTIMA 2012

Two weekends ago I went to the Mask Festival, or FESTIMA (Festival International des Masques et des Arts de Dédougou).  FESTIMA is held every two years in Dèdougou and is probably the biggest of its kind.  It is unique in that there are many different types of masks who come from all over to participate.  The masks at FESTIMA were mostly from Burkina, but some came from Benin, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mali.  Most of the spectators were local Burkinabè (which was GREAT to see), but there were some international tourists (mostly French), and of course us, the PCVs. 

I travelled to and from Dédougou (240 km roundtrip) in a rented car with Kait, an RPCV back for work and vacation, and Emily, a third year, like me.  I do have to say that traveling by rented car is the way to go in Burkina.  We did not have to deal with local transport at all and got there in record time- 4 hours versus the 6+ on local transport.  However, it was expensive and I have to say a big thank you to Kait for covering a lot of the costs (she has an American job that makes real money).  Otherwise, I would not have been able to go.

We were only at FESTIMA for two days, but it was worth it!  We spent the two days watching different mask groups perform.  Each mask group, each from a different village, consisted of griots (musicians who played a flute-like instrument and/or drums) and several masks.  Most of the masks represented animals or spirits.  Several mask groups told stories: the hunter and the prey, the magic haystack, etc.  It is believed that once a performer (always a man, never a woman) puts on his mask, he becomes the mask and is not responsible for his actions.  The masks at FESTIMA were incredible and I would recommend the experience to anyone who has the desire to come to Burkina. 

Emily, myself, and Kait at the festival.

Please go to http://sworthy10.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/mask-festival-festima-2012/ , the blog of a friend for some amazing pictures.  Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me at the festival, but Scott's pictures more than make up!