Serving in the Land of Upright People

This will mark my first Peace Corps blog post, after being in country for more than four months. It is likely for the better because the first few months can be easily summed up in a few paragraphs. The Peace Corps training method gives you plenty of time to simply exist and come to terms with the reoccurring ‘oh crap I’m in Peace Corps, living in a developing country for the next two years’ moments. I have now come to terms with that fact and I am even excited to face the challenges ahead of me. I have a budding list of potential projects, adequate French competency, an ever-growing understanding of Jula*, and a group of locals that I can honestly consider to be my friends. I have already had a valuable lesson reaffirmed to me since arriving: life is what you make it, start happy to end happy.

When I arrived, Burkina Faso met me in a true mid-June fashion: dry and dusty. The rainy season had yet to fully begin in the more northern regions of Burkina. On my first full day I ventured into a nearby market with a handful of fellow trainees and a current volunteer, marking my first ‘oh crap’ moment. Burkina is poor. The poorest country currently served by Peace Corps volunteers**. I had been to markets in China and Taiwan, but they had not prepared me for this experience. A winding network of stalls, built of tree branches, rope, and black plastic. Women calling at us in a language that wasn’t French, in a language I later found out to be Moore. I was overwhelmed. Hands held out to me, searching for a gift. Was this to be my life for the next two years? Called and grabbed at, confused and at a loss of what to do?

No. It all turned out to be ok. The markets are different from what I had previously experienced, but I soon grew to love them. Market day in village is a party. The work pace slows down and everyone is able to enjoy simple pleasures not had on other days. The people’s reaction is very subdued in village as compared to the capital and after a few visits they are happy to see you each market day, especially once you have some working knowledge of a local language. The Burkinabé people are the countries greatest asset, full of life and energy. The vast majority really cares for you and looks out for you. Yes, some vendors may sell you things at a slightly higher price, but who really cares in the end.

For training, the DABA*** Peace Corps Trainees all lived in Ipelcé with host families. I absolutely loved my host family. It was a great introduction into the daily life of a Burkinabé. They taught me so much about their culture, standard family dynamic, and the local food. Few foods will likely make it into my repertoire back home, but they will not be forgotten. Especially to, pronounced ‘toe’, which is the staple of their diet and can easily be summed up as corn flour jello. It grows on you, given the right sauce and ample amounts of local spicy seasoning. It was a sad day when I had to leave my host family and volunteer friends, head to site, and start the process of grounding myself all over again.

Speaking of friends and family, I am very grateful to have such an amazing group of supportive people back in the United States (and a few elsewhere). I have talked to my parents way more consistently since arriving in Burkina. Angela and I have had a decline in our communication level, but that’s bound to happen given that we went from spending the vast majority of each day together to being separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Thanks to modern technology, however, we are able to communicate with one another throughout the day. Peace Corps is hard on relationships but I am confident that everything will turn out for the best and our future plans will come into fruition.

Time is flying by. It feels like I was hanging out on Indiana University’s campus just weeks ago. Four months have come and gone. I must constantly remind myself to live in the now. Planning and forethought will aid and facilitate my service to my new community. Thinking about all the great things I have waiting for me post-service helps me get through the hard times. I, however, need to not lose sight of the amazing opportunities I have waiting for me right outside my door, in Burkina Faso.

* The predominate local language in my village. Burkina has more than 60+ languages
** As listed on the UNDP Human Development Index
***Developing Agriculture and Business Activities