Ok, so let’s play catch up. I am not sure if everyone is on the same page with my life here in Burkina so I will begin with the background information so that you can understand where and how I am living!
I am currently a resident of Burkina Faso, West Africa. Many of you probably had never heard this name before I left a year ago, and many may still not know anything about the country. So, let me enlighten you. Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in Francophone, sub-Saharan, West Africa. To give you a better idea without a map, Burkina is north of Ghana, Togo, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire, southeast of Mali and southwest of Niger. It is a relatively unknown country because it is peaceful, impoverished and has virtually nothing that the outside world would want (diamonds, gold, oil, etc.). Unfortunately in the US people tend to only know those African countries who make the news – those in conflict, those with natural resources and those with wealth (also unfortunately, in Africa those seem to go hand in hand). However what Burkina lacks in resources it makes up for in other ways. It is one of the most stable countries on the continent (exception, last spring) and it has one of the most accepting populations of different religions and ethnicities. Burkina has natural resources, including mangoes and cotton (Burkina is actually the largest cotton producer in West Africa), however they have not quite figured out how to make these exports profitable for the country. So in the mean time the democratically elected government is still reliant on foreign aid from Europe and the US.
Most of the country is arid with the exception of the southwest, which is more tropical like its neighboring coastal countries. Burkina can be very hot and dry, but the northern Sahel region is the most affected where water can be scarce and temperatures during our hot season can go well over 120°F. Burkina is known for its road system, made possible by our centrally located capital. Unlike coastal countries whose major cities/capital is often on the water, Ouagadougou (Burkina’s Capital city) is located in the center of the county. Meaning – all roads lead to Ouaga. This principle has created a fairly extensive road network across the entire country, linking almost all inhabited regions with our major city. Thus Burkina’s location and widespread road system makes it a highly trafficked country for goods and people going from the coast inland and vice versa.
Burkina is dominated mainly by the Mossi ethnicity(60% of the population), however there are several other ethnicities regionally spaced throughout the country.
Now back to me. I live in the Bissa region and with people of the Bissa ethnicity (and guess what, they speak Bissa!). I cannot put the exact name of my village here for security reasons, but I am 45km west of Tenkodogo, the capitol of the Centre-East region. This puts my village 160km southeast of Ouaga. It is a large village, with a central population of 6,000 and an overall population of 12,000. My village is the seat of the commune, meaning that we have all of the administrative offices including the mayor that service the surrounding villages within our village center. My village has been afforded several luxuries that are uncommon in village life because of powerful former residents. For example, electricity has been strung to my village even though we are 5k inland from the national road and there are many villages with better access to the power lines that have none. We have a large market every three days which is attended by practically everyone in the commune. For my work I am partnered with the village health clinic (or CSPS). My CSPS is fairly nice, set back on a walled in property across from the market. The CSPS grounds house the clinic, the maternity, the pharmacy, and houses for the staff. We currently have three nurses at the clinic, including the Major (or head nurse), and a nurse-midwife and village midwife at the maternity. Although my CSPS is fairly well staffed (as far as village clinics go), 4 registered nurses for 12,000 people is not a lot – leaving the staff overworked and tired. I help out in any way I can, often filling out paperwork and keeping records as well as helping with daily maternity services such as baby weighing and community vaccination campaigns. With the start of the New Year I will hopefully have a few projects of my own off the ground, which I will update you on later.
Unlike the other CSPS staff, I do not live on the CSPS grounds. Instead, I live with a family in a neighborhood about 1km from the center of the village and the CSPS. Families here live in compounds, with immediate family houses clustered around a central communal courtyard. I live at the edge of a family compound containing about 30 people. My house is exactly the same as the others in the compound, a two room cement block house with a tin roof, except that my house is for only me, whereas all the other houses are for families. Sometime one two room house will be for a single family but with multiple wives, making it even tighter than usual! The good thing is that most of life here is spent outside (too hot in what becomes a cement oven!), so overcrowding indoors is really only an issues during the rainy season. My two room house is very comfortable – one room is my bedroom and the other is a kitchen/living room. I have a small private courtyard with a door that locks, which makes doing chores like my laundry much more bearable as I can toil in peace. I just got electricity in my house, although I lived without it for my first year in country (the story of my electricity saga to come). When my house is finally clean I will post pictures (for now there are old ones posted on my Facebook). Although you may not think it is much to look at, I spruced it up as best as I could and it has now become home.
I think that is it on the details front. Let me know if you have any questions and hopefully things will continue to get pieced together as my posts continue. Until then, welcome to my life in Burkina Faso!