A child’s laughter

Hey everyone,

Today’s entry results from another Put-me-to-work-for-a-day challenge. One of Mark Abbott’s four challenges was to make a child laugh. Though I tend to make children laugh just by being (apparently) odd, I thought I’d take the chance offered by this challenge to go a little deeper and introduce you to Rahim.

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Five-year old Rahim lives with his grandparents in Bobo-Dioulasso, which is my base city between the agricultural college and the university. When I first met him, Rahim was very shy with me. For the two days I was there with my coach Val (who gets along very well with him), I didn’t really talk with Rahim at all.

Making children laugh is kind of an easy job. Just being white is often funny enough for most. Walking down the street, even in a big city like Bobo, small kids will yell out Toubabou! (white person in Dioulla) with big smiles and often laughs. Rahim seemed really intimidated though.

One day, Rahim was playing with Val’s laptop adapter. He was saying “Look how hot it is, feel it!”. In a move that I was sure would amuse only myself (typical unusual, generally-considered-odd referential humour that I am in some places famous for), I said “Let me see that,” and when I grabbed it reacted as if I had just taken a burning coal, clutching it in my fist, shaking my whole body and letting out a sort of long wavering cry (for dinosaur fans, think Professor Grant in Jurassic Park 1 when he grabs the electric fence and pretends to get shocked). I thought I’d be greeted with blank stares but instead Rahim got a real kick out of it, laughing full-heartedly. I turned to Val and said “Oh! I guess I just accomplished my challenge.”

After Val left and I stayed for another night, I figured Rahim would still be just as timid. It’s funny. He did, actually, stay shy (at least a first), but when he got home from school that day, he came straight to my room, put his school bag on my bed and sat down with me. He didn’t say anything except a barely audible hello when I said hi, but he stayed there. I didn’t really know what to do or say, but I gave it a shot and figured I’d follow Val’s example by doing his homework with him. I eventually figured out that he was much more interested in tinkering with my laptop (I don’t really know what’s normal for 5-year olds and computers anymore, but he seems like a technological genius as far as I can tell) and looking at movies than doing homework (I unfortunately don’t have anything really appropriate for him, so this has been a small lesson in parenting for me: he keeps trying to watch Dexter – that would be lovable serial-killer Dexter –  and telling him it’s inappropriate has clearly not been a very successful prevention strategy).

The next few days that I went back there, this became the pattern. Whenever he could, Rahim would come looking for me – usually for play, but we did a fair amount of subtraction and division as well.,  Lately, Rahim’s family has become my host family when I am in Bobo and we’ve done a lot more work with reading, which he has a fair amount more trouble with. I’ve gone back to some basics with him and taken out the EWB secret weapon, markers and flipcharts. These days, I spend most of my family time with Rahim, sometimes doing his homework, other times explaining to him how to play Megaman X (to Watson: at least someone thinks I’m good at it) and often just doing my own work with him next to me. It’s been a really cool part of integration that I didn’t expect, and an opportunity for personal development that I suspect has nothing to do with Burkina, but more to do with teaching or even parenting in general, anywhere in the world.

Rahim on a my (then) new bike!

Rahim on a my (then) new bike!

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Thanks for your challenge and continuing support, Mark.

Take care everyone!

Dana

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La vie en famille

Hey everyone,

Here are the results of a challenge (Put-me-to-work-for-a-day-in-Burkina) from Isabelle, who asked me to describe to her what it was like to live a day in the life of a Burkinabe family. Here are two:

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Les premiers mouvements humains du village de Kayero commencent un peu avant 5:00 du matin. Nous sommes le 5 septembre 2010 et c’est la période du Ramadan. Les hommes de la famille, Mahdi Tagnan et son fils aîné, Issakou, doivent donc manger avant que le soleil ne se lève, sans quoi ils devront attendre jusqu’à son couché, près de 19:00. Toutefois, ils devront prendre ce petit déjeuner seulement après s’être doucher à l’aide d’un gros sceau d’eau (et d’une petite coupe qui l’accompagne) – autrement, ils n’auront pas le droit de se faire adresser la parole. Le petit déjeuner consiste de maïs transformé en bouillie par la mère d’Issakou, garni de quelques carrés de sucre. Pas très nourrissant – pourtant, cette journée ne sera pas facile.

La douche

La douche

Si ce n’était pas des vacances scolaires, Issakou, âgé de 19 ans, serait présentement logé à une quinzaine de kilomètres de Kayero, dans la petite ville de Léo, en train de poursuivre sa 4e (secondaire 3). Par contre, durant cette période de la saison pluvieuse où toutes les mains disponibles doivent contribuer au bien-être de la famille, il travaille au champs depuis au moins 8:00 comme son père. Aujourd’hui, à quelque kilomètres de sa maison, c’est le sarclage du mil et du maïs avec les bœufs qui l’attend, en plus d’une petite visite guidée qu’il accorde à un jeune blanc venu en apprendre un peu plus sur l’agriculture. Il en profite pour montrer au visiteur son petit champs personnel: un demi-hectare de patates. Un peu plus loin, l’oncle d’Issakou, Seydou Tagnan, enlève les mauvaises herbes dans un champs de coton, un travail pénible et laborieux, pendant que sa famille cultive les arachides.

Issakou au champs

Issakou au champs

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Vers les 6:15 d’un matin en février, la famille Konaté se prépare pour l’école dans la ville de Bobo-Dioulasso. Vivent dans une même cours Monsieur Konaté, sa femme, son 3eenfant Yaya, son petit-fils Rahim, une nièce et un enfant de leur village d’origine “Koula” au Mali. Ces derniers enfants sont ici car c’est probablement leur unique opportunité d’avoir une éducation de base adéquate. Rahim, le plus jeune, ainsi que les autres enfants, sont élèves dans une école primaire près de la maison, Yaya étudie à l’Institut supérieur d’informatique et de gestion, alors que Monsieur Konaté enseigne l’allemand dans plusieurs lycées. Avec les cours qui commencent à 7:30, une bouillie de petit mil est rapidement engouffrée et c’est un départ immédiat, soit à pied, soit en moto.

La bouillie
La bouillie

À 12:30, Monsieur Konaté et les enfants reviennent à la maison pour le repas du midi. Aidée de Abi, la sœur aînée de Yaya qui est de passage à Bobo, Madame Konaté aura utilisé une bonne partie de sa matinée pour leur préparer du riz sauce. Le reste du temps, elle gère un petit commerce familial d’eau, de jus de bissap et de gingembre en sachet, de draps, de pagnes et de bazins, tous vendus à la porte de la maison. La pause du midi durera jusqu’à 15h et inclura probablement une sieste pour les adultes. De son côté, Yaya ne suit aucun horaire fixe, mais divise généralement son temps entre l’université et son travail d’informaticien. Aujourd’hui, comme son cours a été annulé pour la deuxième fois cette semaine, il reste à la maison et s’occupe sur ces machines.

Les enfants de la famille Konaté rentrent de leurs cours à 17:30. Les plus jeunes regardent la télévision ou font leurs travaux, alors que certaines des filles aident à préparer le souper. Rahim, qui a 5 ans, fait ses devoirs de calcul (dans lesquels il est plutôt bon) et ceux de lecture (avec lesquels il a un peu plus de misère). Aujourd’hui, il est aidé par tonton Dana, un visiteur canadien qui passe quelques jours par semaine ici. Entre temps, Monsieur Konaté corrige les travaux de ses élèves, prépare leur prochain examen ou se repose tout simplement, assis dans sa chaise dans la cours. Yaya, lui, travaille sur l’ordinateur d’un client. Le souper est servi vers 18:00 ; ce soir c’est une salade et le même riz sauce qu’à midi.

Konate, sa femme et Rahim
Konate, sa femme et Rahim

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À Kayero, Safinatou, la 2e femme de Seydou, est allée au champs avec ses enfants pour cultiver des arachides durant la matinée. Par contre, quand elle revient à la maison à 14:00, sa journée de travail est loin d’être terminée, contrairement à Seydou. En effet, six heures de travail intense dans le champs de coton on mérité à ce dernier un après-midi de tranquillité, causant en dessous du manguier avec ses frères, ses amis et – une particularité de cette semaine – un blanc venu de Ouagadougou qui cherche à comprendre leur vie. Quant à elle, Safinatou doit maintenant, avec Zenabou, la 1ère femme de Seydou, préparer le souper à partir de ses éléments bruts – le maïs, les arachides et les haricots – gérer les enfants, pomper l’eau, trouver du bois pour le four, … ses tâches la garderont occupée jusqu’à la nuit.

Préparation de la farine de maïs

Zenabou prépare la farine de maïs

À 20 :00 la nuit est déjà bien tombée sur Kayero. Sans électricité dans le village, ce sont seulement quelques torches achetées en ville qui brillent pour indiquer que les activités continuent. Dans la cours de Seydou, c’est ce dernier qui est d’abord servi un gros bol de riz avec haricots (benga) pour le partager avec l’étranger. En temps normal le Tô (sorte de pâte de maïs) serait au menu, mais la présence du visiteur requiert des mesures spéciales. Les femmes et les enfants de Seydou attendront donc pour se partager ce qu’il restera.

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À Kayero comme à Bobo, la soirée se termine en causerie autour du thé. Au Burkina Faso, il est presque impensable de passer une soirée seul, sans recevoir des voisins ou des amis ou sinon de sortir, de rester sans causer, à regarder la télévision ou à travailler. Comme pour tout, entre le Canada et le Burkina, ainsi qu’entre la ville et le village, les choses sont à la fois très semblables et très différentes.

Merci du défi Isa !

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Redeparture

The captain slowly taxies our plane around the runway to the designated location; we’ve been going around for a little while now. It’s a good time to reflect but I’d rather let my mind go numb just now – my heart’s not into thinking at the moment.

In, The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley is making a compelling case for trade and specialization being the fundamental contributor to the evolution of prosperity. He is convincing – he has been arguing it one-sidedly for the last 163 pages after all, it better be convincing by now – but it makes me wonder how much of it is already in Adam Smith’s original proposal…

The plane stops and the Captain’s voice rings out on the intercom ‘Flight attendants prepare for takeoff.’ Outside my window, a turbofan starts rotating, air is drawn into a compressor, pressure is increased tenfold, gas is infused, a mixture is ignited, temperatures neighbouring 1000 °C are reached, a turbine starts turning, and a giant technological marvel, built directly by the combined knowledge of hundreds, indirectly by that of millions of people, lurches forward into the night. Within seconds, we are off the ground. Good bye again Montreal.

Departure was hard this time – harder than last time. That time, Catherine was in France when I took off and had been for over six months already. That made it easier. It was also in increments: first to Toronto for a week, slowly getting into the African and EWB mindset during pre-departure training with an amazing group of volunteers, then to Ghana with most of the same group, and eventually arriving in Burkina Faso on my own to meet up with my eventual coach, Val. I expected only the unexpected and to learn a lot.

Nearly 24 hours later, a second plane that departed from Paris lands in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. It is 60 degrees hotter here than it was where I started from but I am surprisingly comfortable. I even manage to keep my sweater on, which bodes well for dealing with the consistently 40-45 + weather that awaits me in April. We are ushered from the plane, to a small overcrowded shuttle, to a small backdoor with a sign saying ‘Personnel only’, into a dim building – noticeably smaller than Montreal’s central bus station – that constitutes Burkina’s only international airport, beneath a fan that risks at any moment to fall on my head, on through to security officers who assuredly do not understand the English that the Chinese visitors ahead of me are trying to communicate, and to the wooden planks that constitute baggage claim. Hello Burkina Faso.

I felt strongly about my and EWB’s mission in Burkina, but I didn’t really know what it meant in practice. I had no idea what Burkina Faso was like, or how were its people, what my work would be like and if I’d be able to do it, whether I would have impact, whether it would be positive. I came in the hopes of creating change, but especially to learn about it – and myself – to understand development and where I fit within it.

Crate after crate is emptied of its contents, which are then put on to the planks. The room slowly empties as Burkina Faso’s latest arrivals reclaim their belongings one by one. I wait calmly and tiredly, confident that, despite containing some urgently needed Indian food wrapped in socks for Val, my baggage can’t possibly have gone M.I.A two flights in a row (our baggage arrived two days late in Toronto in December when coming back from Ghana). I am eventually obliged to admit that that confidence is unwarranted and must make a claim at the only office I can see.

I’m certainly not done learning, but that’s not why I’ve come back. I’ve witnessed development through many different Burkinabé eyes that used to be completely foreign to me: government agents’, university directors’, teachers’, students’, NGOs’, volunteers’ and Dorothy’s, and now I look to deepen my understanding rather than take it in another direction completely. I also found out that I’m not that crazy about Burkinabé food and that I’ll take snow over dust any day. I certainly like the people, but after a little while I really miss my friends, my family and my love; the five weeks I spent reconnecting with them around Christmas were amazing and I was sad to see that time end so quickly. I’m even really excited about creating change in Montreal and being a part of a global engineering movement – the time spent with my chapter got me incredibly psyched about what we could accomplish at home. So, why am I back in Africa at all?

I step out of the airport, minus my backpack, to the last person left still standing. Nasser, EWB’s first Burkinabé volunteer, has been waiting to pick me up for well over an hour, but you would never have known it. Indeed, motorcycle helmets not far behind, he welcomes me like a brother. Nasser has been part of the EWB team in Burkina for just over a year now and his success inspired us to hire two additional Burkinabés, Idrissa and Hermann, already several months in. When I think of Nasser and those like him, why I’m back here becomes inescapably obvious.

Because Burkina Faso has immense potential. Burkinabés have immense potential. There are those, like Georges Ouédraogo, the Director General of the agricultural college, that strive relentlessly to make something truly grand out of a dull status quo. There are those, like Tasré Bouda, my old counterpart at the ministry of agriculture, who give the best of themselves at their job in the hopes that it will change their country. Finally, there are those, like Nasser, who have been given a small opportunity to begin achieving that potential and are surpassing all expectations both by their personal accomplishments and their ambitions.

But many Burkinabés don’t buy this. If they do, then they are too often soon defeated. They are constrained by systems that are as indifferent to innovation as they are to complacency and that often even reward nepotism if not outright corruption. They have been taught – if not at school, then in life – to do and repeat what they are told, perhaps no less but certainly no more. They have also been led to believe – sometimes intentionally and sometimes with the best of intentions – that they cannot do anything without an outside source (government, NGOs, the West, me, … take your pick) first giving them everything they need. As they say, “C’est pas facile.”

There needs to be a push in the opposite direction. Systems that reward innovation, that encourage bottom-up feedback, that ensure top-down accountability. Higher education that pushes students to develop their own potential. A movement of people armed not with the belief but the certainty that they can have real impact and bring positive change to their country.

I’m not going to do all of that. Not even close. But I’m going to do everything I can.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Posted in EWB & Development, Life, stories and comparisons, Personal beliefs | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

-30 in Burkina

Could it really be that cold in Burkina Faso? I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

 

- 30 on a moto

People really do fit three on a moto like this (more like a bicycle with a motor attached) but I haven't managed that successfully. We're actually about to fall in this picture.

Cold, cold, cold, ...

Okay, so maybe I look a bit more insane than I do cold here.

Not so cold or after all

I guess with the others not wearing any warm clothing, the jig is up...

Today was the first day that I was put to work! Ali’s challenge was for me to pretend — before I get too homesick — that it was – 30 C in Burkina Faso and share the fun with you guys.

Most Burkinabés are completely amazed to find out that people can live at anything below 0 degrees, let alone – 30. When they say the French (whom they generally think of when they think of the West) are tough, I tell them they have no clue. However, the fact that I found that big coat goes to show that they do indeed get cold: when things go below (+) 20, big coats come out. I’ve been told that the coldest recorded temperature was 12 C, and that when that happens, people can die from the cold.

Today was actually a bit cooler here, it’s gone down from the 40 C it was when I got here. Still, I definitely didn’t need that coat! By April, things are supposed to hover around 40-45 on average – wish me luck!

In the meantime, there are still plenty of days left. If you want to put me to work, check out the schedule for which dates are free, look at the instructions here, and choose a date(s) to hear about and give me a challenge! It can be anything from funny (like this one), to informative, to tough – I’ll give it a shot as long as it doesn’t hinder my work and isn’t dangerous.

Thanks and I hope to hear from you soon!

Dana

 

 

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Video – Intro to my placement

Hello! This is my first attempt at a video post so hopefully I’ve done everything right.

The video is a short bilingual introduction to my 6-month placement with Engineers Without Borders Canada in Burkina Faso, which will focus on developing Burkinabe student leadership and entrepreneurship. By working with university administrators, teachers and students, I hope to help those students realize and develop their potential to bring lasting positive change to Burkina Faso. (Check out a few more details about my placement and EWB’s work in Burkina here!)

Our first Burkinabé volunteer and a major source of inspiration for our team in general and for this initiative in particular, Nasser, shares a tiny bit of his own story.

Hopefully, a better internet connection will let me put more videos like this in the future. Let me know what you think!

Dana

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Put me to work for a day in Burkina

Dear friends, family, colleagues and supporters,

Thank you all for your tremendous support during the first four months of my placement in Burkina Faso. The time I spent there has convinced me of both the potential of its people and the importance of helping them realize it.  That is why I’m going back (my mother is thrilled :p). Over the next six months, I will work with the Centre Agricole Polyvalent de Matourkou (an agricultural college) and l’Institut du Développement Rural (a rural development engineering school) on developing students’ entrepreneurial and management capabilities both for themselves and for the benefit of the farmers they help – a small piece of realizing that potential. It’s a piece I believe in immensely, and I hope you will support me. Your donations will first go towards my own placement, and then towards that of the next EWB volunteer from the Montreal Professional Chapter.

This time, however, it will be a little different: following in the footsteps of my friend and constant source of inspiration Mark Abbott, your donation allows you to put me to work for a day in Burkina! Days are available at either 25$ or 50$, depending on just how much work you want to put me to (the donation can be done entirely online – the link is on the right):

What does 25$ get you?

1. This day is your day. Throughout the day I’ll be gratefully thinking of you and the fact that your donation is what is allowing me to create change in Burkina Faso, so someone in Africa will be thinking about you on your day (brag about it to your friends!)

2. A personal email recounting what happened on your day. (Sometimes I don’t have internet, so this might not be on the day itself, but I promise to try my best to do it as soon as possible.)

3. Sharing in the credit of anything special that happens on your day. This can be as small as someone in Burkina asking me how I am able to be with them (thanks to you!), but who knows, maybe I’ll finally come up with that world-changing book idea?

What about 50$? On top of the first three, a ‘big’ day also entitles you to…

4. The opportunity to ask me a question or give me a personal challenge that I will try to work into your day, as long as it isn’t dangerous (for me or for others) or doesn’t adversely affects my work. (If ever I don’t manage to do it on the day itself, I’ll still make sure to keep trying and do it when I can! If it turns out to be impossible, I’ll make sure to let you know all about my attempts.)

5. A special and personal thank you from someone I work with.

… and if you guys go over 50$, you can either take more than one day, or we can get creative!

I leave Montreal on January 31st and return on July 16th. Allowing February 1st – 5th as settling back into Burkina time, that gives me 160 days available, starting on Feb. 6th.  So, if you’d like to put me to work for a day(s) in Burkina, make a donation through this website and send me an email at danagiacobbi@ewb.ca to let me know what day(s) you would like. Don’t forget to choose a date(s)! Your name will be added to the schedule and I will send you a confirmation email.   If you have one, don’t forget to include your question or challenge!

Thanks so much for your support!

Dana

p.s. Check out the schedule here.

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Welcome home!

Hey everyone,

I’m back home and re-adapting to the sight of snow, the feel of sub-zero temperatures, eating cheese, taking hot showers and most of all, reconnecting with my friends and family. I miss both the work I was doing and the friendships I made in Burkina Faso, but it is good to be back. For those of you I haven’t seen or spoken to yet, I’m looking forward to having a phone call, grabbing a beer or giving you a hug in the next month. I will be keeping the blog going for at least a little while, since there are still many things from overseas I didn’t yet have time to share (I will also soon have some news of relevance to this blog.)

In the meantime, I thought I’d just let you know that I was lucky enough to go by and see Ms Paquette’s students and finally meet all of the kids who asked me such great questions – Vanessa, Shawn, Aidan, Rakesh, Nyden, Sasha, Jacob, Jeremy, Casey, Lea, Juliana, Damian, Alex, Brendan, Akshay, Annabelle and Maude – as well as those who didn’t have a chance directly through the blog. They greeted me with a great big Né y yibeoogo (Good morning in Moore) which made me feel right back in Burkina!

Showing a slideshow of some pictures from Burkina Faso after they had greeted me

Showing a slideshow of some pictures from Burkina Faso after they had greeted me

The kids had tons of questions and it was quite a challenge to answer all of them. It was amazing and inspiring to see how interested and energetic they were, no small thanks to the great job that Ms Paquette did connecting them to Africa in general and Burkina Faso in particular. (They could all locate Burkina Faso on a map of the world right away! — How many adults do you think can do that?)

After answering questions and going through the pictures, I shared a few objects I had brought back with me with the kids. I don’t actually know as much as I would like about the cultural significance of everything I had but that didn’t stop the kids from having fun with the masks and wanting to find out more.

I didn't live in huts like those pictured there, but I saw quite a few from the road.

I didn't live in huts like those pictured there, but I saw quite a few from the road.

Is it Alex or is it a mask?

Is it Alex or is it a mask?

Before I left, the students gave me my first Christmas present: a project that put together all of my exchanges with them in a nice report. It was really a great welcome back, and I hope I have the opportunity to be a part of that kind of connection again soon. Any ideas?

Take care and Happy Holidays!

Dana

Posted in Connecting kids, Life, stories and comparisons | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Politique

« Blaise Compaoré, c’est la promesse d’un Burkina Faso émergent. »

(Slogan de campagne présidentielle de Blaise Compaoré, répété partout et par tous dans les journaux et à la télévision.)

« Est-ce que les gens savent même ce que signifie émergent ? S’ils le savaient, ils ne diraient pas que le Burkina est un pays émergent. À chaque année, on se retrouve au plus bas niveau de tous les indicateurs de développement qui existent. »

(Perspective d’un agent du Ministère de l’Agriculture, de l’Hydraulique et des Ressources Halieutiques)

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« Blaise Compaoré, pour une paix sociale durable. »

(Slogan de campagne présidentielle de Blaise Compaoré et répété surtout en liaison avec le cinquantenaire)

«C’est que nous, les Burkinabés, nous n’aimons pas la guerre. Ce n’est pas comme la Côte d’Ivoire. On ne veut pas se chicaner. »

(Perspective d’un ami Burkinabé, agent au ministère de la fonction publique.)

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« Blaise Compaoré – La vision, l’audace. »

(Slogan sous une photo, probablement truquée, du président faisant du parachutisme. La photo était dans la chambre de mon ami Issakou à Kayero.)

-Les gens votent pour le CPP (parti de Compaoré) parce qu’il leur apporte des cadeaux, des T-shirts, des affiches, des pacotis, … Tout le village vote pour Blaise Compaoré.

– Même si tu sais ça, d’après ta chambre, Blaise Compaoré c’est ton Président aussi, non ?

– Oui, c’est mon Président !

– Pourquoi ?

– Parce que Blaise Compaoré c’est la paix au Burkina.

(Échange entre moi-même et Issakou)

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« 50 ans de souveraineté. 50 ans de progrès, 50 ans de construction. »

(Slogan du cinquantenaire de l’indépendance du Burkina.)

«Quel progrès ? Quelle construction ? »

(Perspective d’un Burkinabé de Ouagadougou)

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11 décembre 2010. Un grand défilé passe dans les rues de Bobo-Dioulasso, 2e ville du pays. Depuis environ un mois, je vois plusieurs élèves du Centre Agricole Polyvalent de Matourkou (CAP/M), unique institution de formation professionnelle agricole du Ministère de l’Agriculture, manquer à deux journées complètes de cours par semaine, pour participer à des pratiques pour ce défilé. Aujourd’hui, à la télévision, je les regarde passer parmi les 7000 civils et militaires représentant la fierté du Burkina Faso. Le budget pour ce défilé dépasse par plusieurs ordres de grandeur la somme totale qu’aura reçu le CAP/M depuis sa création il y a plus de 40 ans. Pourtant, plus de 80% de la population du Burkina Faso travaille dans l’agriculture.

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10 décembre 2010. Le Burkina Faso fêtera demain 50 ans d’indépendance. Blaise Compaoré, Président du Faso depuis maintenant 23 ans, fait passer un message de fierté et d’espérance. En 50 ans, le Burkina Faso se serait construit. Il aurait surmonté les difficultés auxquelles il faisait face. Il serait aujourd’hui un Burkina émergent.

Quelques jours plus tôt, Blaise Compaoré avait été réélu pour un nouveau mandat de 5 ans ; cela en fera donc 28. Dans les rues de Ouaga, on dit que quand ce mandat sera terminé, ils changeront les lois pour lui en permettre un autre.

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4 décembre 2010. Nous terminons la période d’élection au Burkina, Blaise vient tout juste d’être réélu.  De mon bureau à l’université, j’entends une discussion s’enflammer à l’extérieur. Les étudiants, en pause, crient, ils se coupent, ils s’engueulent. Ils parlent de politique. J’écoute. Je n’entends pas le nom de Blaise Compaoré. Plutôt, ce sont ceux de Laurent Gbagbo et Alassan Ouattara, les candidats à la présidentielle en Côte d’Ivoire.

Le soir, dans l’autobus des enseignants, c’est pareil. Les gens sont passionnés, ils discutent intensément – les débats politiques dominent toute conversation. Mais on ne parle pas du Burkina.

Plus tard, je demande à un ami : et puis le Burkina Faso, votre propre pays ?

« On Burkina, on sait déjà ce qui va arriver. Rien ne va changer. »

« Mais nous avons la paix. »

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p.s. Je suis de retour au Canada!

Posted in EWB & Development, Personal beliefs | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Final questions from Ms Paquette’s 1st-Graders – Everything!

Hi everyone! This week is the last installment of my exchanges with Ms Paquette’s 1st-Graders (I am coming home next week, after all.) This week, the students asked about anything they wanted to. They really went all over the map, and so I hope I’ve answered questions you all may have had yourself. Here are the questions:

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Do kids have toys in Africa? – Vanessa

Hi Vanessa! Great question. In Burkina Faso, most kids here have a bit of a different life than the one you’re probably used to. Especially in the villages, going to elementary school is not something every kid can do. Their parents might not be able to afford it, or there might not be a school near their home that they can get to. From the age of 5 or so, most kids, even those who go to school, start to help out their family on the farm and with food preparation.

My village host Seydou's youngest son, collecting peanuts on the field.

My village host Seydou's youngest son, collecting peanuts on the field.

Seydou's wife and three of his children preparing karité nuts.

Seydou's wife and three of his children preparing karité nuts.

By maybe 10 or so, the girls will be helping their mom take care of the youngest siblings, by bathing them, carrying them and feeding them. All this doesn’t leave too much time for toys, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any – you just might not recognize them as toys right away!

Burkina's most popular toy

The most popular toy in Burkina

From what I’ve seen, this tireless bicycle wheel is probably the single most popular toy in Burkina. Basically, you can do anything with it. Most often, you see kids running after the wheel with some sort of stick, trying to make it keep turning as long as possible to get as far as they can. In the picture, one kid had buried it a little bit, and was trying to crawl through it as fast as possible. I think he also tried to jump over it, but that didn’t go so well! I’ve also seen some girls using it as hoola-hoop, so the possibilities are endless. In the city, things can be a bit different – I’ve even seen a video game! – but I think it’s safe to say that the bicycle wheel is by far the most popular toy, wherever you go. I’ll have to find out if it’s the same in other African countries from my friends in Ghana and Malawi!

Shawn’s question: Are there police in Africa?

Hi Shawn, thanks for your question! In Burkina Faso, there are three general types of enforcement: police (it has a different name, but is essentially the same thing), military and ‘gendarmes’ – so it’s not that different from in Canada. I don’t know all the details, but the municipal police take care of local problems, the military deal with questions of national security, and basically the gendarmes just do everything, from enforcement to investigation, a bit like the RCMP.

I’ve seen very few policemen since I’ve been here, in fact I’m not sure I’ve seen any. Still, I’m told they exist. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of the military, a lot more than I would normally see in Canada.  I unfortunately don’t have any pictures (not sure they would like that) but I can tell you it’s pretty intimidating sometimes. Aside from seeing them decked out in their green military uniform just outside the base in Bobo, where I walk by every now and again, I’ve also seen – fairly often – some drive by on military vehicles, one that was carrying no less than a rocket launcher!

As for the gendarmes, they dress in blue and are somewhat everywhere, though doing what exactly I do not know. My friend and colleague Bouda has an uncle (an uncle who is younger than him, but that’s another story) who is a gendarme and who I was lucky enough to meet. He’s the one who taught me about the different roles of police, military and gendarmes, and I went to a gendarmes office with him. There was one guy there who was about three times my width, I certainly didn’t want to get on his bad side!

Aidan’s question: Do you play sports in Africa?

Hi Aidan, thanks for asking! In Burkina, and probably the rest of Africa, you don’t really play ‘sports’ you mostly play ‘sport’, and that sport is soccer (or as it is called here and the rest of the world except North America, football). The most popular player is Samuel Eto, a Cameroonian player who is one of Africa’s rising stars.

The bedroom wall of my friend Issakou

The bedroom wall of my friend Issakou

People also play basket-ball a little bit, but if I end up being the best basket-ball player on the court, it can only be because the others don’t play very much. Soccer is definitely the one sport everyone plays, and everyone I’ve played with is a lot better at it than I am. I can blame the heat and the dust and the dehydration and the fact that it was 7:00 am, but most Burkinabés play circles around me. They’re also a lot less demanding of their field conditions: no grass needed.

The soccer field at the college where I was working

The soccer field at the college where I was working

Swimming also seems to be getting more popular. I haven’t witnessed this in person, but they seem to be making a big deal about it on television, where there have been several news episodes dedicated to the emergence of swimming as an athletic discipline here. It’s not accessible to most people though: going to the pool is usually really expensive (2$ +), so most people can’t afford to go swimming regularly just for fun.

Lastly, EWB volunteers have, for a few years now, been introducing ultimate Frisbee to the country, but so far it hasn’t taken off!

Rakesh’s question: My dad is an engineer, is your Dad an engineer?

Hi Rakesh – interesting question ! My Dad is not an engineer. He’s retired now, but before that he was a lot of things: a business consultant, a senior manager in information technology at a steel company, …

I am an engineer though! Just before coming here, I finished my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering at McGill University. My master’s thesis was on the dynamics of pipes conveying fluid. So, what is that? Well, think of a hose with water coming out of it at its free end ; if you put the water too high, it starts to swish back and forth uncontrollably. Now imagine that that hose is a pipe in a nuclear reactor; if it starts to swish, you have a serious problem! My thesis has to do with figuring out when, how and why the hose swishes, usually to avoid it happening.

The famous garden hose!

The famous garden hose!

What does that have to do with international development and my work in Africa? Well, very little. The idea though, is to bring the engineer’s problem-solving approach, his way of thinking and way of acting, to solve problems of development. Ironically, over the last couple of months, my Dad’s business advice has been some of the best, so I guess we came full-circle!

Nyden’s question: What do you do at your job?

Hello Nyden! That really is the million-dollar question. Concretely, I do a lot of different things. Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time doing one-on-one interviews with professors, giving presentations and having group discussions with university students, creating, collecting and registering surveys, and lastly writing up my final report, which I’m taking a break from right now to write to you.

But what does all of this go towards? Well, from a really global perspective, it’s helping improve people’s lives, helping Burkina Faso develop, and helping to create a world of opportunity for all Burkinabés. A bit more specifically (but still really broadly), Engineers Without Borders is trying to develop Burkinabés’ entrepreneurial spirit: moving from waiting – waiting to be told what to do, waiting to be given what to learn, waiting for development to happen – towards driving their own decisions , driving their education and driving their development. Specifically, I’ve been working with an agricultural college and a rural development engineering school, to see how they can help develop that drive within their students, and how those students can also bring that drive to the farmers they will work with.

Parting words:

Hopefully that answers all of your questions, at least for now!

I’ve really loved taking with all of you over the last month. You’ve asked great questions and given me a chance to think over a few things myself. Through it all I hope you see that Burkina Faso is in some ways really different from Canada, but in many ways very similar. There are villages and cities, schools and jobs, work and fun, things that need developing and things that are absolutely wonderful! Just as Burkina Faso can learn a lot from Canada, Canada can learn a lot from it, so I hope you’ll keep finding out more about it, because we just scratched the surface.

… and get more questions ready, because I hope we’ll be seeing each other in January!

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For everyone else…

With only one week left in Burkina Faso and still a lot to do, there are still so many things I’d like to discuss. I can’t possibly tackle everything I’d like to, but hopefully I’ll have something up before the end of the week. At least, for now, you’ve gotten an abbreviated version of what I’m actually doing here. So, as always, if there’s any particular subject people are interested in, let me know – this may be the last!

Thanks for reading,

Dana

Posted in Connecting kids, Life, stories and comparisons | Tagged | 2 Comments

Answering Ms Paquette’s 1st-Graders: Clothes in Africa

Hi everyone, sorry I didn’t post a blog entry during the week like I said I would try to do. With only two weeks left, there is a lot to do, and I’m behind on a lot of my things. So, this post follows on the last two, answering Ms Paquette’s 1st-graders. This time, they discussed clothes and came up with a bonus question! With some major things to finish up this evening, I don’t have as many pictures as usual, but I’ll give it a stab.

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Do people wear sandals in Africa? – Sasha

Hi Sasha! Thanks for your question. Not only do people wear sandals, but they are the norm! In Canada, you won’t always get away with wearing sandals in class, nor can you show up to most workplaces with sandals. In Burkina though, most people are wearing sandals all the time! When in a classier setting, you certainly shouldn’t wear flip flops, but a nice sandal is not a problem at all. There are some exceptions though.

At the university where I’m working right now, students are almost always wearing sandals. However, a lot of those working (directors, teachers, and me) usually wear closed, formal dress shoes, as you would in an office in Canada. I probably could go with sandals myself, but I’m not personally a huge fan of them anyway, though that makes me a minority among people who work with Engineers Without Borders (EWB). One problem with shoes here, though, is that it is so dusty that they get really really dirty really really fast! There’s a lot of kids who make some money by shining shoes, but if you’re outside, it will only last you about 30 minutes.

I could have cleaned this 20 minutes ago and you couldn't tell the difference.

I could have cleaned this 20 minutes ago and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

How do people sew in Africa? – Jacob and Vanessa

Hi Jacob and Vanessa, that’s a really good question! I don’t think I can give you the whole answer but I’ll tell you what I know.

For one thing, there are less clothes here that are made ready-to-wear. They definitely exist, but if you want something a bit more special, then you need to get it made, and people probably get almost half of their clothes made here. First, you buy a ‘pagne’, which is a bit like a multi-purpose sheet, but is most often made into clothes. Then you take it to the tailor and tell her what you want: a shirt, pants, a dress, etc. So far, I’ve had two shirts made, and have a few ‘pagnes’ still waiting to be transformed in my room, so I only personally know one tailor. She had a sowing machine and I’m guessing most people who sew for a living also have a machine.

In the villages, I’m not sure exactly what is done, but they certainly do not have any sowing machines. There’s definitely some sowing that is done by hand, but I’ll have to investigate a bit more. I can tell you one thing: my friend Matthieu Bister, another EWB volunteer, has some stories about people not letting him do his own (by-hand) sowing in his village. In his case, it was repairing his clothing which was an issue, not brand new clothes, but I’m guessing we can extrapolate.

In any case, if I can come by to see you in January, I’ll bring you some of the clothes I had made!

Do people wear hats like we do in Africa? – Jeremy

Hi Jeremy! I wish I had some pictures of hats with me right now to show you. Some hats are the same, but a lot are different than what is typically worn in Canada. On the other hand, people really kind of wear all sorts of different hats even in Canada, so there’s a chance you’ve seen some that would be very similar.

As a general rule, hats here are not worn for fashion, but for their original purpose: protecting your head and face from the sun. That means you can find a lot of straw hats (probably what you might picture as the typical farmer hat), but lots of others too. Some would be considered pretty odd in Canada; the one I’m thinking of right now is conical, fairly high and has lots of designs on it. The main thing though, is that it protects from the sun. I’ll see if I can find a picture soon!

What do people wear every day? – Casey

Hello Casey, thanks for your question! The clothes people wear here aren’t that different than those we have in Canada for the most part, but you’ll still regularly see things that would be really weird if someone wore it to school or to work at home!

My friend, Tasré Bouda, with his wife and her friend, on a Friday.

My friend and co-worker, Tasré Bouda, with his wife and her friend, on a Friday.

One difference is color and designs. Clothes tend to have a lot more of them here! Whenever you look around a group of people, many of them will be wearing shirts or dresses that mix a lot of different lively colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, … instead of just having one like is often the case in Canada. They’ll also have all sort of different motifs: flowers, animals – I almost bought a brown ‘pagne’ with belts on it, and an orange one with porcupines!

Another thing you’ll notice is that, on Fridays, Muslims dress up for prayer at the Mosque. ‘Dressing up’ usually means wearing a long, shapeless, one-piece that goes over your head. If you saw people dressed with that on the street in Montreal it might be a bit strange, but here it just means it’s Friday!

Bonus question: What languages do they speak in Burkina Faso? – Lea and Juliana

Hi Lea and Juliana, thanks for your bonus question! The short answer is: lots!! Every different ethnicity has their own cultural language and there are a lot of ethnicities. However, the main language, in principle, is French. That’s because, in the cities and in the workplace, the language that everyone can understand is French.

However, most of the population here (80%) is rural. Once you get into the villages, you might find that the amount of French spoken drops drastically. Instead, people speak only their cultural language. Among these, the most spoken are Moore, Dioulla, Bobo, Fulani, Nuni, and lots more.

In Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso and where I spent most of the first half of my placement, Moore dominates, and I picked up a few words (my spelling is way off, but this is more or less what they sound like phonetically):

Ne ibeogo – Good morning

Ka nana yé – It’s not easy (C’est pas facile)

Ya soma – It’s good!

and a bunch more, but not that much (it’s really difficult! – at least for me)

Where I am now, Bobo-Dioulasso, the 2nd biggest city in the country, the most popular language is Dioulla, but I, unfortunately, haven’t done a very good job of learning any of it.

There is a debate as to whether Dioulla or Moore is the most spoken language after French in the country, but officially it’s Moore that is the 2nd language of the country. The debate rages on!

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That’s all for this week! I’d say I’ll post again during the week, but I don’t think I’ll be able to fulfill that commitment, even though there are quite a few things I’d like to talk about. Is there anything in particular people would really like to hear about?

Thanks for reading and talk to you soon!

Dana

p.s. Following last week’s new tradition:

Happy Birthday Jeff!

Bonne fête Ed!

 

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