I should take this opportunity to state here publicly (particularly in case future employers stumble upon this journal,) that the dissatisfaction with my service, at this point, is purely professional.|
It is relating largely with the quality of support the Peace Corps Bureau in this country provides, and their receptiveness to the idea that individual volunteer realities are different.
I would like everyone's support who is reading this, but I do not want pity.
I want to make clear, it is not that I cant hack living without electricity or running water, that I cant hack the biking or the lack of privacy, cultural isolation and integration and potential miss-understandings that arise. Being comfortable is somewhat low on my priority list. I can hack my living situation. I have for over a year and a half. It is not that I was secretly hoping for an easier last six months of service when I approached the bureau with my suggestions and concerns. (Which were then deemed invalid.)
No, I was hoping for a meaningful last six months of service. My work has lacked meaning since this past November. I used to think it was because I was tired. Only I dont believe Im tired anymore, not in a general way. It is specifically the professional situation itself in my village which makes me tired.
I owed it to myself to try and fix my service, at the moment it appears as though I cant fix it. Actually, the realization that I cant fix it has been far more liberating than binding and I wish people could see this and appreciate it. That I really do have so much inexplicable hope in my heart about my direction in life. Only not about the next six months. The next six months is a black hole surrounded by daisies.
I am too immersed in the issues of my village and can no longer approach the same problems I have been working on from new angles. Having an action plan seems beside the point. I have addressed everything I can address, in the best way I could address it. I have worked with what I have. But this path has become like resuscitating a dead horse, more and more. It did not happen overnight.
Someone else has to approach the situation with a fresh perspective and vision now. I have given what I can give. And when I reflect on that, I feel at peace with what I have done here.
It is only when I think about the immediate future, that I am not at peace.
Today my supervisor came to my site. |
She seems to expect me to solve the biggest problem of my village (not having a coordinated plan or organized calendar) with a person with whom I just had the most major conflict of my service (and with whom she had just stepped in to mediate) tomorrow. Literally.
Today is the first day Ive ever regretted joining the Peace Corps. I never thought it would come to that.
Mar. 11th, 2007 @ 01:07 pm
This is an email I wrote to my old French teachers class back home about agriculture and how it relates to deforestation and the environment:|
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And so I have a meeting with my supervisor on Monday. It’s going to be a plea to find me a new project. If the bureau cannot help me, there is a good chance I will go home... |
Before in my service, there was always something new to be learned, when things were bad, I always saw a window I could try climbing through. Before the problems here were interesting to me. Before there were things I wanted to prove to myself and other people. Now I have nothing left to prove to myself and couldn’t possibly explain what Vie been through to people at home much less prove it, so I stop trying. It isn’t a thing of importance anymore.
My life is, in some twisted way, set up in Burkina-- my house, my cat, my neighbors, my community. My villagers love me, and that was hard won. My village did not welcome me at all when I first came. Looking back, it was kind of brutal. Now, they treat me like Imp one of them, and Vie slowly learned to balance my growing multicultural identity. Jean shorts for Ouaga, panyas for village. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, and it happened far more gradually and by surprise than I ever would have thought before I came here.
Really, it’s been trench warfare. Everyday. I tell people now, if they welcome you, that is everything. So many Peace Corps volunteers take their welcome(ness) for granted, or naively think they earned it. I try not to resent that they have not suffered this test.
No, my integration is not the problem. The problem is that there is no discernable work to be done in my village anymore. Yeah, I could plow through it and tell them what they need like any other NGO. I have my opinions. And they would sit there and swallow it, like nice passive Africans are supposed to swallow the messages and ideas of the west (to the bank.) No one refuses my work. No one is invested either. In its intensity, it is very much so a problem particular to my village.
This lack of human investment, this human passivity over time, combined with hyper disorganization and miscommunication (which in its severity is not necessarily characteristic of villages in Burkina,) has run my motivation and energy into the ground. Somehow, miraculously, I am out of ideas.
I do really enjoy the people in my village in their own right. But I don’t think its enough to keep me here. Vie been tutoring music with a girl in the next village over, but that’s not enough either. (Any rate, there is no piano or other instrument candidate to teach her with and this greatly limits the whole process, though she brought me a mango the other day. I was very heartened by this.)
Really, I wouldn’t trade the past of this experience in, I know that. Peace Corps was astoundingly the right decision to have made for myself at the time that I entered into it. Burkina is what it is, and I have made peace with that. My village and my villagers are who they are. I have, mostly, made peace with that also. Slowly, I am making peace with the whole of my experience here, and that is where I am right now. I guess that’s why I haven’t left yet.
These past weeks in particular I have taken the slow rolling demise of my service very very hard, and it has hit my pride like sledgehammer. Though now I think maybe it’s not demise, rather a progression toward a goal I really don’t see yet. A conclusion perhaps different from the other volunteers in this country at this moment. This is me saying all of the questions I’ve had here were answered.
Sometimes, you keep hitting a wall; you have to turn a corner. This is my corner. Now I only hope I have the courage to turn.
Feb. 26th, 2007 @ 12:38 pm
Ive been Thoreau these past days. Odd how much complacency under my skin right now. The future really feels uncertain.|
|» (No Subject)|
Ebou, there are two Ebous. The one I dont get along with in my courtyard had a baby a few weeks ago. The baby only weighed one kilo when it was born, it looked so terribly tiny wrapped in the panyas. The mother was still having pains and the baby was premature, so they went to the hospital in Koudougou. The baby died.|
Mostly what I felt when I heard this was relief. It would have been worse for the mother to have died and left 3 kids, one still nursing. Ive become far more accepting of death in this country, or hardened, I cant figure out which.
I went on a theater caravan with my neighbor Kellys group. We sat and drank tea together while the Burkinabes talked about family planning to the teenagers in this neighboring village.
It was amazing to watch really, like being at the center of something big happening, like communion. My village is not at that point at all. My talent and skill is wasted on them. My energy and resources are wasted on them. There is so much I could do but will not; I have to be content that somewhere some Burkinabe is talking about Family Planning.
I am not ready to leave the relationships I have made, but I am ready to leave the work. I think I could do something similar and would like it if only I wasnt forced to reinvent the wheel in a vacuum. My village offers me so little to build on. Before, I had this terrible can do attitude, and I am beginning to see that that motivation would return given the right climate. But not here. I do what I feel like and I stay occupied. Id rather no one talk to me about having done my best though, that makes it all feel like failure. Id rather appear like superwoman, but I see now the people who accomplish that have a great many people underneath them or behind them running around. No one is superwoman in a vacuum.
It has been bitter sweet, my experiences in Burkina. Slowly the end of this experience is descending on me and it has become necessary to make some sense of it...
All wisdom comes at a price, and I have definitely paid for the things that I now know. I am beginning to realize that most people reach a point in their lives where they are unable or unwilling to pay the price of knowledge, and that is the meaning of standing still.
That said, it has been worth it.
|» Long December|
My village is a world so removed from this computer screen. I think about it every time I sit down to type. About how my words are going to be weighed by the people who have never seen it. |
It hasnt been too much of a secret from my recent posts that I was suffering from some major disillusions these past few months, and most particularly, this past month.
Part of it was the sheer fact of the harvest. The cutting, the processing the storing. Then there was the string of old men deaths. The old man that ran one of the little bars died. I always left my bike there when I went to the market. Then Pima's uncle died, and at the wake I found myself sitting beside a man who'd asked me to marry him when Id only been in village a month, in that same room, last year at his sisters wedding. Life goes in so many twisted circles.
And then the other day there was a death across the way from my house. You could hear everyone sobbing at the top of their lungs. No one in my family knew who had died.
Whenever there's a death of an old person, the whole village shuts down. People pretend not to notice when the kids die, but they make up for it with the old people.
These two factors meant I got precious little done in December. I was pretty hard on myself, because I project my concept of self worth in my work. There was a two and a half week period where I set up a meeting nearly every day, and every meeting and activity fell through.
I did spring cleaning on my projects. I did spring cleaning on my relationships here. And for once, I just tried to be a citizen of this village rather than the great big haloed savior I thought they expected. The humanity helped. I am beginning to realize, though I dont think Im going to adequately articulate it here, that each issue in my village is attached to a string of mentalities which only come to light for someone from the outside over a long period of time of just talking and asking questions of different people who have lived in that environment. It takes a very long time, not only to figure out what the issue is, but also to really listen to and grasp their mentalities on the issue so that you can make a convincing argument to them otherwise. And not only that, but as you are making this argument, to realize that they are people too with their own inter-workings of desires and human traits that make some behaviors too much to ask.
I feel a little embarrassed by this, but I only learned a few weeks ago that the people in my village normally only eat one meal a day, which is after sundown. They drink coffee or tea intermittently through the day, relying on the caffeine that they believe to have nutritious vitamins to continue doing the hard manual labor of their lives. Then they come home, eat one meal of usually only straight starch, and go to bed.
Then they dont understand why they are too weak to work, or lacking in energy. They are told they need to "eat well". If they eat well they will have strength. So they fill their bellies with millet, and go to the store to buy vitamin supplements, and think this makes for a balanced diet.
My neighbors and I, we came in thinking nutrition was a problem because we could see the bloated bellies and thinning arms of the kids. We could see them making to (boiled millet) at night and adding nothing else to it. We said, eat the Moringa tree. We said the Moringa cures everything. Maybe it does. But telling them to eat the Moringa without explaining what it means to eat well, is like trying to teach someone multiplication when they havent learned how to read numbers. The logic was so faulty, and I am embarrassed by this.
If I could do it over, Id listen more to how they view their problems. Trouble is, we've only recently reached a point where they talk about them in terms that make sense to me, to a point where they even feel comfortable discussing what they think they know at all.
In general, Im at a point in my service where Im realizing a lot of the mistakes that I made. A lot of it I attribute to the process of them learning how to interact with me. I think its only recently dawned on even some of my villagers that the things that I do which seem weird to them, are not weird at all somewhere else in the world, that difference exists in a far greater spectrum than what they may ever be privy to. These last couple months are the first months at my site where I feel as though they have begun to see me as an individual and not just the stock white person stereotype they attach so neatly to every foreign face. I feel as though Ive finally dug below the surface of what is going on in this country. I have sat and watched life go by. Ive felt very guilty over it, because I had thought I was here to do work in the most western sense of the word. But really, I came here to watch, and not do.
Cultural exchange is exhausting. Anyone who thinks it is fun has never really experienced it. It is in essence an experience of psychological struggle to the point where your views about the world become annihilated. Of not just wanting to have someone understand your perspective, but needing it very dearly as a necessity of life, of fighting with yourself about whether you are going to engage that difference one more time, cross that line one more time, have that same discussion one more time, and be misunderstood one more time.
But eventually you break through to something and you begin to see crocuses. And that is the real point of the whole mess of it I think.
Everything I have in this country I have earned, and that is not the case for a great many other volunteers here. Sometimes I look back at my time here and wonder if it could have been some other way, if I could have been delivered to this state more gently, (which Im not even sure I have a footing on yet.) But I think the answer is no. Either way, I am going to have to be ok with that.
|» Dictionaries and an email excerpt|
Its been hard for me lately to articulate insight into the Burkinabe culture in writing. I still have these bursting moments when things become clear to me, but the words are never clear in front of the computer and so I do not write them. |
For the whole of my service, Ive been in contact with an old French teacher of mine who consequently raised 170 dollars for my village. I ended up buying 31 French only dictionaries, and two French-English dictionaries. Twenty of these, I gave to the primary school in my village, amid much trepidation that such a valued items would be clandestinely sold off or otherwise disappear to Burkinabe valuables heaven. Thus, I marked them really well, even put a note inside the dictionaries to guilt trip would-be thieves. Lack of books is such a huge issue in Burkina. So few entities in this country are producing books, which means that they must import information, just like any other product.
Anyway, long story short. It was a hugely good investment. The best possible way I could have spend 170 dollars. People in village now appear to be talking about the virtues of learning a language with the help of a dictionary. Ive put out notice with the students that if their parents pay me up front Ill look for personal dictionaries. Im trying not to be too optimistic about people taking me up on this offer. However. Sandrine, who is in my courtyard, did say that her teacher has split her class up into teams and anytime they dont know a word now on the board or otherwise, they are supposed to look it up in the dictionaries, six of which they keep on hand for her class specifically. This is a great step forward, well, I think so.
Anyway, off the subject. I had wanted to post the last email I wrote my French teacher, as it attempted something that Im not going to devote more energy to explaining at this moment, but its something I wanted to share. Just to qualify it a bit, my old teacher asked me to try and picture being a 14 year old again, so it is geared toward that.
It is about the lack of access they have to the outside world, information, and technology, and what that means for the upcoming generation of a developing country like Burkina.
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|» The girl that would be Hope|
Probably over a month ago now, Maimouna, Joseph's other wife, had a baby. Of course they ask the nassara for the name. However, I have learned now, the name has to be a French name that they have already heard of. I had wanted to name the baby Hope.|
No. Too strange. They wanted a French name.
I named the baby Zoe.
No. They've never heard of the name Zoe.
I think Im going to give up, and I think they are just going to call the baby by its Gourounsi name, which is Elibou.
But this is the problem here in Micro. They want to stay with the tried and true, even with something so absurd as baby names. And even more absurd, they want a French baby name, an imported name, a colonizer name. A French imported colonizer baby name that they have heard of before. That is the problem with this country.
I gave 20 dictionaries to the primary school the other day, that Id bought with money one of my old French teachers had raised. I should have felt like Santa Clause I guess. I more just felt used. This feeling I cant shake lately. That I am letting them use me somehow. That it is all a big joke on me. I feel it, it lingers. Then Im hanging out in the Marche with my counterpart giving vaccinations and one of the cute old chefs comes by and asked me to go talk to people about clean water in his quartier. And then Im energized again and like Im doing something. My cat helps my mental health too I think. Im not sure what Im going to do with him when I leave, Im a bit torn.
This morning I went to Koudougou with 3 representatives from the village. This was a big step forward for me, trying to implicate them in my programs more. This would not have happened a year ago. We went and spoke with an NGO who could help us plug up the damn in the village which has been leaking out all the water the villagers use to cultivate crops. Then we went to another NGO which gives money to a certain type of committee for developing the village in general. Then we went to the place they test people for AIDS.
Ive been trying to get a theater troupe together recently, which, has been slow going as people are not showing up to the meetings and I get frustrated because Im giving up my time. When I give up my time and then my time is used extremely ineffectively it really urks me, but anyway. I was hoping to get them to do a play about AIDS for World AIDS day and then bring in the AIDS exam people to test people in village. I think its not going to work out though, as they want 60 bucks for gas and who knows what else. That was pretty disheartening.
Well anyway, happy thanksgiving.
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oh my goodness, it exists.|
This is what I want to do. Help build media infrastructure in the developing world. Now Im sure getting a job doing it would be like grooming myself to run for president. But at least its out there.