Saturday, May 31, 2014

One week in!

Hello all.
So, I've now been in Ouaga for one full week, though Monday was a US holiday and Thursday was a Burkinabe holiday so... haven't actually worked a full week. Some things I've appreciated so far.

First) People here are so incredibly kind and welcoming. This seems to clearly be a culture where not saying hello, how's your family, how's the health is super impolite and just about anyone is willing/interested in chatting with you. I have found particularly friendly and helpful all the guards in my neighborhood. I'm staying in a ritzy part of town which means that every house has a guard so every street has a little paillote or hut or shaded area where the guards from around there hang out and chat. The collection of a dozen or so guards on my street are my Moore teachers, taking time to help me learn a new word/phrase each day. A great example was last night. I came back quite late and a few guards down the road-whom I didn't know-said "bonsoir" and I responded with my 5 words of wolof and then I began chatting with them. ONe of them then insisted on giving me his chair but instead I sat on the ground, so he did too and the four of us chatted for more than an hour in the middle of the night. One of them had worked in Liberia for an NGO during the war and been shot twice and actually ended up crawling away through the bush so we talked a bit about conflict and war, which got us into talking about religion. Two of them were Muslim, the other Catholic and they talked to me about the protestant movements here, which preachers are really crazy, how Wahhabi Islam is really making inroads here by offering financial resources to people who adopt their ways. They talked a lot about how so many in religious faiths have personal interests/material desires and how that can't be real religion because one must love God to choose that religion. One of the guards, Moussa (I think) said something quite great; he said, how can I force someone to adopt my religion by pushing them or giving them money etc.? Someone should want to know my God and religion because they see something in how I live that makes them interested. What a GREAT way of phrasing it! Anyway, that was supposed to be a quick example but, in short people are really nice. I had a young man come find me because on Tuesday I had asked him where people play football and he saw me walking one day and told me to come join on Saturday at 4 pm so I'm going to try. I also had another man invite me to come play petanque (bacci) with them on the big road. They play each evening, so I think I'll try that Sunday evening.

Second) Work so far has been really interesting. WOrk days start at 7:15/7:30 and so far it seems that my supervisors leave by about 6 pm except on Friday when one can leave anytime after 12:30 and my supervisor left round 2/2:30 so that gives you a ballpark of my hours. Pretty fair, and it's nice that Friday we can leave early-prayer day for Muslims which is why offices all close at lunch. I am definitely going to get to do some serious work. My first day at work, I was able to accompany senior leadership to high level governmental meetings. I got to be the guy who held important people's bags/notebooks while the press flashed photos but... still very cool to get to be there for them. By the end of my first day, I had been assigned my first project and by Friday afternoon, three hours after most people had left (cause I'm slow at everything right now...), I sent out my first cable and now have a nice stack of eight or so projects that are on-going that I need to work on. Ouagadougou is a small embassy, and people have been really great about entrusting me with some interesting tasks as well as giving me good advice and rides when I needed them! As is commonplace in this job, almost a 1/3 of people are transitioning out of Ouaga this summer so there will be lots of new faces. My direct supervisor in political left today so I get to inherit his projects and a good number of his responsibilities-though the Econ officer is now my host officer and is super helpful and will step in when it's above my head. I am so incredibly grateful to be in a place where I"m being trusted with real responsibilities and interesting tasks.

Third) Social life: Well, I live in a super nice area but it is very far from downtown so I can't just cruise by a popular bar to get a drink BUT, I have done okay so far. Last weekend, the econ officer and his wife took me and the guy with whom I'm staying out to watch some live music downtown-and dinner-which was a blast. We went to a place called Le petit bazar which was really good-high recommendation. Thursday night, a bunch of military guys and some officers went and ate at a sushi place. I went purely for the social part; cause of course, I don't often eat seafood. It was fun for that reason but, everything was so expensive that it really blew my budget for my first week so I can't do that again for a while! hah. and I'm actually okay with that, I think next time folks are going out to a nice place like that, I just have to remember to eat before I go and that way I can just have a drink and hang out. I really did appreciate the opportunity to go and meet people though. I've also been told that Saturday evenings at the International School here that people play soccer so one of these Saturdays I will try to go. Tonight I can't because I have to go to a conference at one of the town halls in Ouaga for the embassy-Jeunes contre les drogues (youth against drugs). Other days I've been free, I've tried to go walk around the area near where I live-but not too close to my house cause it's a quiet neighborhood-and I've just stopped at little kiosques to have a coke and read and watch the world go by. I have really, really appreciated the much slower pace my life goes (when I'm not at work). I can't work from home, other than read/watch media so it means that when I get home, I am mostly relaxed. Last night was so far the most fun/most social I've had. I managed to venture downtown to the French Cultural center where i heard a band play at 7 pm, met a random Chinese/French girl who is working with an ecotourism group here (just arrived on Sunday), I met a brit gov't consultant, a British diplomat, various Burkinabe who do everything from play music (and I'd guess smoke a lot of pot from his demeanor/smell....) to do tourism etc. Then, at the end of the evening, I walked up to a table of 6 NGO looking French speakers and just invited myself to begin chatting with them. It ends up they are all university/post-university people from Switzerland and France doing their internships here in Ouaga and so after the French cultural center, we went to two other bars; one of which had a rooftop bar and music stage (Bar K) and the other was a Burkinabe bar (aka plastic table outside with plastic chairs). It was a blast and we hung out till about 11:30 and I think I'll plan to hang out with some of them other days too, though 2 are leaving next week. All seemed interested people and, I have very few friends right now so... can't be too picky! haha. All in all, it was a great time, getting some new phone numbers, drinking big ol' African beer (only 4% so... don't freak out....) and enjoying the night time, which is truly the most pleasant time of day here.

Okay, this is longer than I was planning it to be but...c'est la view. Going to eat some lunch and then do a bit of research for Fletcher world-very hard to think about academics right now....
Hair salon near my house

it's a busy road, lots of all types of people

The Martyr's monument near my house

Burkina seems to truly look like this... a lot!
Baraka (thank you) for following along and hope to hear from you at some point. :-)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Departure to Burkina Faso

So.... I decided to restart my blog for the summer of 2014. That's right, get excited!
So, this time I'm going to be writing from Burkina Faso-and I'll only be there 11 weeks. Let's be honest, compared to the initial installment of this blog where it focused on my experiences in Andorra, Burkina has got to be at the complete opposite spectrum. For yours(and my) benefit, I put a map on the bottom too... To begin with, a few very basic facts that I know:

1. Burkina Faso is loosely translated/understood in English as "The Land of Upright People". I think that is a fantastic name and I look forward to meeting the 'upright people', learning from them and getting to know a new country and culture.
2. Burkina Faso is wedged into West Africa in a lovely neighborhood with its neighbors being, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Benin, Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin. It is one of the few countries to be totally and completely land-locked.
3. It is an incredibly agriculturally focused country with almost a third of GDP coming from cotton-most well know is cotton.
4. The capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou.
5. It is a true fact that Mark Titus Hoover learned about this country in the 3rd grade with his friend Ben and will admit to having memorized it for the map quiz by remembering the close-sounding word for beach apparel for women.
6. Burkina Faso has a rich diversity of different religious groups with a majority belonging to Sufi Islam, a minority being Sunni and a minority Christian population. Animism remains active throughout Burkina Faso and the country has enjoyed a long tradition of interfaith work.
7. Burkina Faso has one of the largest Diasporas in West Africa, with millions in neighboring Ivory Coast, Mali and Ghana.

I will be here for 11 weeks, interning with the US Embassy and look forward to the opportunities and challenges that come with living in Burkina Faso. I can't promise this blog to be exciting, to have lots of photos of cool things but... if you want to keep up with me, feel free to do so through this blog.

I thought I'd wait to re-start this thing until I arrived in Burkina Faso. I just arrived in Ouagadougou at midnight Burkinabe time on Friday night. Crashed pretty soon at the place I'm staying. It's a nice house with my host Matt, who is similar aged to me and here with DoD. Thus far, my first impressions are, yes, it is definitely warm, it's 11:50 am and it's 100 degrees. Last night it was 34 (~90) at midnight...haha. But,I'm sure I'll adjust; a little sweat never hurt and in housing I have AC so I can easily escape. Also, people have been incredibly friendly so far. Walked around my neighborhood and sat down with some guards and gardeners and all were very friendly. Need to get local CFA money, a phone and a few other things but, going to wait for a bit as I believe someone from the Embassy is planning to come by in a bit. I have attached a photos that demonstrates a) the extremely limited amount of things I have seen thus far and b) that I am lucky enough to have some super nice digs.

Peace and Love from Ouagadougou!