Sunday, January 31, 2010

Golden Paths

I can't really believe how long I've been here (8 months in Burkina and 5 months in my own village) and how little I've gotten to talk to my loved ones who are stateside. I'm at this point where I know that I'm in a very different world but I've been in it so long that it all seems so predictably normal now. So, I'm not sure how good I'll be at describing my life. Or maybe it will just make me more succinct (score!).

I've now had a solid month of starting up lots of projects that I planned and mulled over for many months in an attempt to only start activities that people really wanted to participate in and collaborate with me on. And of course, those months were also spent making friends with these people I want to work with and also other people who are just generally really cool and nice (there is luckily an abundance of this type of person here). These people I'm speaking of are, just to be clear, exclusively Burkinabe who, at first, weren't always the easiest for me to make friends with. Between constant assumptions about what my white skin says about me, a multitude of requests for help getting to the US, and persistent and blunt marriage proposals (exponentially more annoying than flattering - and often the offer was to be the second wife), a lot of interactions were patience-trying rather than relationship-building.

I just recently started reading the Lord of the Rings series and there's a quote in it that really resonated with this recent transition from difficult times to more of "what it's really all about". It's the beginning of Aragorn's personal slogan (yes, I'm a dork):

"All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost."

There were a lot of processes I had to go through which seemed to be harder than was worth it and possibly purposeless; but, now, after having come out of the other end of the tunnel (at least for now!) I can see how important and rich a lot of those processes were and how much I really was on the right track - often without knowing it at all.

So! Where has all this planning and invisible-path-wandering taken me? I'll do a quick synopsis of the projects I've started and the few others I hope to fit in in the future.

At "Ecole B," the main primary school I work with, I'm running a peer-tutoring club with some assistance from a teacher. It looks promising thus far. I'm also helping the Director of the school set up a Big Sister - Little Brother (and vice versa) type of program and a student government. With this school and 2 other schools in Sapouy, I'm hoping to start holding meetings with teachers on classroom discipline methods that will help the teachers brainstorm/learn about/practice discipline methods that don't center around hitting (or, um, whipping) the kids. I'm also hoping to start working out some mini-presentations to put on for the parents of these schools that highlight the importance of not only sending both their sons and daughters to school, but also supporting their boys' and girls' studies at home by alloting "homework time" and making sure they have a lamp and petrol to put in it and such (girls, in particular, tend to get stuck with an endless list of chores around the house that leave no time for studying and translate into terrible grades and eventual flunking-out).

As for the secondary school level, I've currently got a really successful girl's soccer club [pause for astonishment from those who are aware of my athletic ability]. I do "lifeskills" lessons (self-esteem, goal-setting, decision-making, etc.) with them for 30 minutes before the PE teacher takes over and teaches us all soccer skills and lets us play. It's been really great to see his surprise at the girls' quick uptake and his joy at seeing their antics on the field. I've also helped start up a mixed-demographic group (men, women, boys, and girls) who want to arrange for some sex-ed seminars for the girls at the secondary school. They also want to bring in a speaker to talk to the girls about the importance of staying in school all the way till the end of high school (many, many girls nonchalantly get pregnant and drop out). Then, at the high school, I have a club purely to discuss and practice lifeskills as well as an English club - each of which has pretty small numbers but a lot of members with spirit and the brains.

Phew. I think that about does it. I've tried to help start up a bunch of varied projects in the hopes that a good number will go on to be successful. Only time will tell (or some other similar cliche).

For all the "official-sounding" language describing this stuff (mostly for Dad and Momma to peek at, but thought I'd make it available to all), here are links to my Action Plan:

In English and En Francais

So, things are now running along and I'm finally getting to do some fun projects! Most importantly for my mental sanity, I'm nice and busy. Hooray!

After I've gotten all these projects up, I now have 3 different meetings to go to in Ouagadougou, each of which will take 3-5 day chunks out of my time in village. I'm happy to say that I'm a little crushed to have to leave village so much in the near future. I think this is a good sign.

Moral of the story: next time someone says to you, "How is that crazy girl who's living in Africa doing, anyways?" you can confidently say, "She's doing well."