Banzon: Fish, Bananas, Rice, and My New Home

“You are here to serve your country, the greatest country on earth. You are here to serve Burkina Faso, to leave your village better than you found it. You are hear to be the best person you can be and to define what exactly that means.” –Soviet Military Doctor turned Peace Corps Doctor.

I was told the above just two days before swearing in to become a Peace Corps volunteer. I wrote it down in my journal promptly afterwards and I now write it here. I regularly return to this quote when I begin get lost in thought, off track of my purpose. I am here to help Banzon, Burkina Faso.

Banzon is located in the southwest of Burkina Faso. A river that runs for the greater portion of the year bounds it on two sides. Because of the river and an aging lock and channel system, Banzon is able to produce rice and a lot of it. Originally thinking that I would be living in a dry dusty village, attempting to ameliorate a struggling agriculture system, ending up in Banzon was a welcome surprise. I will not, however, find myself with an easy task ahead of me.

I will be working primarily with the local woman’s association that processes rice to be sold on the consumer market. They are in dire need of help with management, finance, budgeting, marketing, and general leadership. In total, 450 women are within the association yet it is really held together by no more than five women and outside aid effort. I have a general idea of how to solve their problems in a western-context, but adapting my methods and approach to a Burkinabe model will take every bit of two years. I will also be working with the community at large on agricultural projects as well as aiding the local health clinic with mother-infant education and the middle school with an English club and potentially science education.

The population of Banzon hoovers around 14,000 people. As with the rest of the country, work is centered on agriculture. My village grows rice, corn, and millet for grain crops. During the primary gardening season (Nov-Feb), tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, eggplant, winter squash, hot peppers, okra, cucumbers, and salad greens are cultivated. For one project, I hope to expand off-season vegetable production in order to provide better nutrition year-round by increasing supply and lowering overall cost.  The fruits harvested in Banzon are bananas, mangoes, papaya, guava, and watermelon. During my first week in village I purchased five medium sized bananas for 50 CFA (10¢) only to later be told that they were expensive right now since it was the off-season. So are bananas simply free for the taking during the height of the season?

“Zim” means fish in Moore and was the first Moore word I learned, since it was in the sauce I was served my first night with my host family in Ipelcé. “Jigε,” as I now call them in my village, is Jula for fish. Fishing in Banzon is predominantly done by cast netting or with traps. Daily, I view children carrying simply made fishing rods but have yet to see them with a fish in hand. I have visited the river twice and a group of net makers several times. They have promised to teach me to catch fish with the nets. I will leave the majority of my fishing needs to them, but it would be an amazing memory to learn from them. Just need to avoid the hippos and crocodiles.

I am really pleased with my site. I think my house is great, by Burkina volunteer standards (I will post about it in full at a later date). My house is set apart from the main collection of houses in the village, surrounded by trees, and with great neighbors. I feel my site gives me just what I wanted and expected from my Peace Corps experience. Lizards darting across my courtyard, yellow weaver birds chattering away in the tree behind my house, and tree frogs that have a propensity of greeting me at my door in the evening.