So, I figured that I should recap the last year + of my life here in Burkina so that there is a frame of reference for my current stories. I'll do a little month by month rundown of the events of last year - sorry its brief, but it'll take too long to write a bunch of individual entries at this point. So here we go...
- Staging in Philadelphia
· Left Chicago for my 24 hours of processing before boarding the plane at JFK for Burkina.
- Arrived in Burkina Faso on October 14th.
· Began my two month training in Koudougou, a regional capitol about 2 hours outside of Ouaga. My training consisted of everything from health and language courses for my work, to sessions on how to ensure my health and safety and how to integrate and adapt to the Burkinabe culture. During my two months of training I lived with 5 other volunteers in the village of Ramongo, which is about 25K outside of Koudougou. We were driven in and out every day from the village to the training center.
· I was sworn in as an official Peace Corps volunteer on Dec 16th. Fun fact – we take the same oath of office as the president of the United States.
· I was affectated (relocated) to my village, which is 45K west of Tenkodogo, on December 17th. I was surprised at how well I took being dropped off at site…at least I didn’t chase the Peace Corps car!!
- Christmas & New Years
· I spent my first Christmas away from home with my closest neighbor, Marina, who is 25K away from me. We made Mexican food, mac and cheese and watched a movie. For village it was a pretty eventful holiday! Two days after returning to site after Christmas I got super sick. After calling our PC doctors they decided that I should come into Ouaga to be treated. So, I spent the week between Christmas and New Years in our Med Unit in Ouaga being treated for a sinus infection. It was pretty lame because I had to spend New Years alone, but at least I got good food, indoor plumbing, electricity and internet!
- Unrest Begins
· In mid-February civil unrest broke out in Burkina. It started with student riots after a university student was killed in police custody and escalated over time as more groups publicly aired their grievances.
· At the end of February, a friend from my stage and I attended the International Film Festival in Ouaga, FESPACO. It is considered the Sundance of West Africa.
- Lang IST
· All volunteers are required to do two sessions of additional training (IST) after their first three months at site. The first training was a week of additional language courses, in both French and local dialects held in late March. My Lang IST was in Koupela, and even though I was with other volunteers I was the only person learning my local language, Bissa.
- COS Party
· I attended my first COS party at the end of March, which celebrates whenever a stage prepares for their close of service.
· In Peace Corps safety and security protocol there are three stages – standfast, consolidation and evacuation. Between the end of February and mid April, all of Peace Corps Burkina was on and off of standfast more times that I can count, until we eventually moved to consolidation in April. Standfast just means that you are not allowed to move from your current location (ideally your site) but it restricts your movement within the country, which gets frustrating. Consolidation is when all the volunteers get moved into their regional capitols (or another city) so that they are easier to manage in the event of evacuation. Being consolidated does not mean you will be evacuated, but it does make it easier to keep tabs on 160 people. I was consolidated in Manga, a city in my region, as we were unable to be consolidated in Tenkodogo due to its part in the civil unrest. I was in Manga for a week until we were told by Peace Corps that we could go back to our sites. However, I had to go straight to Ouaga to the Medical Unit to receive treatment for 4+ bacterial intestinal infections. Myself and the 12 other volunteers consolidated in Manga went a little crazy during this week of waiting, but we somehow kept each other sane with lots of movies, chicken and beer. There is no way Easter this year can be quite as eventful!
- Tech IST in Bobo
· The second half of my IST (the additional training after three months at site) was moved from April to May because of consolidation. We initially were supposed to be in the same training site as our stage, but we moved to Bobo (the second largest city on Burkina) due to the continuing unrest in other parts of Burkina. We spent just under two weeks in Bobo learning more technical health information and better strategies on how to plan and complete projects in our villages.
· In mid-May (directly after my IST in Bobo) I met my family in Ireland; it was my first vacation since arriving in Burkina. After 7 months in Africa it was amazing to see my family and enjoy some amenities!!
- Summer Camp in Tenkodogo
· When I got back to Burkina after my vacation I helped my neighbor, Dylan, conduct a two week boys & girls summer camp in Tenkodogo. Dylan had organized the camp with students at his school, with the girls’ sessions taking place every morning and the boys every afternoon. I came to help out with the girls and to co-teach the health sessions.
- 4th of July in Kalsaka
· I got to celebrate the 4th with a group of my stage mates at a friend’s site North of Ouaga. Lots of cooking!
- Lindsey visited
· My friend from high school, Lindsey, visited me in Burkina!! She is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. So much fun and what a mind trip to be reunited in Africa!!
- Bike Tour
· For the last two years volunteers have done a “Tour de Burkina” on our lovely PC issued bikes (similar to the Tour de France, but not a race). For about two weeks volunteers biked from site-to-site, visiting other volunteers, promoting Peace Corps to the locals, explaining our mission and just bonding with each other. It is extremely trying and exhausting but worth the effort. This year the permanent rides biked over 1800km. I only took part in two days of the ride, completing slightly over 100km, or 60 miles between Fada and Tenkodogo. Not bad for a first timer!!
- PC 50th Anniversary Fair
· 2011 marked the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps – the first volunteers departed in 1961 for their posts – and we celebrated in Burkina with a huge “Country Fair” type event in Ouaga. I was a part of the planning committee and we worked for over three months to put together a huge three day Peace Corps extravaganza that included an appearance from the Prime Minister and the First Lady of Burkina Faso. The purpose of the Fair was to celebrate Peace Corps and to showcase the great work that volunteers and their counterparts have done all over Burkina in several arenas. The weekend was exhausting but ultimately successful, as it was the largest celebration done by any Peace Corps country worldwide! We even got a personalized song out of it, written and performed by the premiere pop artist in Burkina, FLOBY!
· It was almost a year long process, but in October the electricity finally got installed in my house. It made a dramatic difference in my little cement hut – finally being able to see at night, charge my computer/phone and sleep with a fan was the best change that could have happened!
- Year mark in country
· October marked my first full year in Burkina! Only 14 more months to go!!
· I threw a little Halloween party in village in an attempt to share a bit of American culture with my Burkinabe family. I couldn’t adequately explain costumes and there was no way we could make any in village, so we did face painting instead. I painted probably about 30 or 40 faces that afternoon before cooking chili and cornbread for the whole family. In the evening all of the children came by my courtyard to “Trick-or-Treat” for candy. They were required to say “Trick-or-Treat” to receive candy and it was so funny to hear them try and pronounce it. All in all it was super cute and a great way to celebrate the holiday.
· Tabaski is a Muslim holiday that celebrates Abraham sacrificing his son for God. Each family kills a sheep for their friends and family to represent the sacrifice. This year, I celebrated my second Tabaski in Burkina with my family in village. It was not quite as traumatic as my first in country, but seeing a sheep slaughtered is never pleasant! Only one more to go before I leave!
- Mid-Service Conference
· At the half way point of our service all volunteers are required to come into Ouaga for medical checkups and Peace Corps updates. I guess three days of poking and prodding is worth it for air conditioning and internet.
· I got to celebrate Thanksgiving in Ouaga with the Peace Corps staff and the rest of my stage, as it was just after our Mid-Service Conference. We got real Butterball turkey and all of the other standard trappings of a Thanksgiving meal. It was just like a real American Thanksgiving, plus it was wonderful to celebrate with friends!
- Family in Burkina
· My family came to visit Burkina for two weeks between Christmas and New Years. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to show them my life and work here. It was quite an adventure, as only a Callaghan vacation can be!
- World AIDS Day
· I decided to celebrate World AIDS Day during my family’s visit to my village. We did an educational talk with a group of women during baby weighing at my clinic and then completed a mural on the wall of our pharmacy. It was a great chance for my family to see an example of one of my projects at site.
- Family left Burkina
· My family left Burkina to go back to Chicago in early January. It was hard to see them go, but I was so glad that they came!
- FARN in Zigla
· I went to my neighbor Marina’s village to help her with a 12 day nutritional rehabilitation project. I was there for two days and was able to help educate the women on health topics and teach them different recipes for enriched porridge, which will help their babies gain weight. It was very interesting to observe and learn how to run a nutritional rehabilitation project for when I try one later in my village.
- Softball in Ouaga
· While I was in Ouaga for a committee meeting I went to an ex-pat softball tournament at the International School of Ouagadougou. It was so nice to go to a sporting event and spend the afternoon around other Americans. I even got a bratwurst for lunch!! So much American-ness, it was almost hard to handle. Peace Corps had a team of volunteers in the tournament, but we lost miserably to the Embassy teams from our neighboring countries.
· Every two years there is a West African mask festival in Dedougou, a regional capitol in the north west of Burkina. I was able to attend this year and see several different cultural dance groups and masks from countries all over West Africa, including Burkina.
- International Women’s Day
· The 8th of March is International Women’s Day and I celebrated it this year in my village as I did last year. The Women’s Club planned all of the events, so for the most part I was just along for the ride. The day started with a presentation from the head nurse at my clinic on the advancement of women in Burkina. Afterwards I conducted a gender-reversal relay with the kids before I played in the womens’ soccer game. All of this takes place in front of the whole village, making it a fairly embarrassing day!!
· Coaching-4-Hope is a training program provided by a British NGO that instructs on how to use soccer as a tool to teach health lessons. Peace Corps asked that they train volunteers and their village counterparts on how to use these teaching techniques at their sites. I spent 8 days in Bobo with the president of my village women’s club and a community health agent learning soccer drills and how to apply them in village to teach about topics like HIV/AIDS, malaria and family planning. My soccer was pretty abysmal - I obviously didn't inherit those skills like Natalie did!!
- COS Party
· I attended my second COS party, celebrating the close of service of many of my friends and fellow volunteers. Once they leave my stage will be next!! Crazy, only 9 months left!!
- Malaria Training of Trainers
· I went to a training with two women from my village on how to better educate my community on Malaria and HIV/AIDS. It was three days in Ouahigouya discussing topics from bed net usage, the rapid diagnostic tests and the best communication methods for passing health information. It was a wonderful opportunity for my counterparts (one community health educator and one village midwife) to get better trained on pertinent health topics and how to distribute the information in our village.
OK, can't wait to update on the next year!