July 24, 2012

Mom's Blog- Traveling with my parents... part two

Guest Blogger- Mom- Trip with Jessi (JK) PART 2

What a wonderful opportunity we had to see Jessi at her best. She has not only survived here in Burkina, but also thrived. Dan and I both know after being here, there is no way either one of us could live here. We are so proud of all she has accomplished and all she has become.

As we were leaving Ghana, we stopped at a very curious place near the border and sat on a live crocodile. Yes, we really did!  Then the crocodile chomped a live chicken to bits and slid back in the pond. 
The (live!) crocodile and us

At the border we gave all our paper work, walked dragging our luggage about 4 blocks length to the other side, and we were in Burkina Faso. While waiting in the shade of a tree (where the Burkina officials were) for our ride to the capital city, we realized what a different place we now found ourselves in, and how reliant we were on our “business manager” and translator, Jessi. We went from a country where the language spoken was English to a country whose language is French and several other tribal languages. Jessi warmed up by hotly arguing about the price with the owner of the taxi in French. “Wow, look at her! “ Did we think we knew what hot was in Africa? We had NO idea!

            We drove first to the capital city Ouagadougou, or Ouaga (wa-ga) as the locals call it.  They have whole separate lanes in this city for all the moto bikes. They are everywhere. The Peace Corps office and the Transit House are located here. We got to see both and meet several of Jessi’s Peace Corps friends (or JK as they know her).  No more fried rice here in Burkina. Jessi knows all the restaurants that have great food. The place by the embassy had “out of this world” mango shakes. We stayed in the orange room at nearby Chez Joanna’s (no hot water and a toilet raised about six inches off the floor, but otherwise cute) and visited a really cool store to buy souvenirs and then off to make sure we had a plane ticket to fly home from Ouaga to Accra, to make our connecting flight in Ghana the next week.

After going to the airport, we found out there were no flights on the day we wanted to leave. So, then we went to the airline office at another location and after “much ado about nothing”, finally left with tickets to fly back to Accra on the 9th. (Or, so we thought.) Later, in the village, we got a call that the flight was cancelled.  A closer examination of the tickets showed that our fight was actually on the 8th. “Oh, that flight is cancelled too.” Welcome to Africa! (Days later we actually got on a the flight for the 8th, but that put us in Accra, two days ahead of schedule and our flight back home. Well, I guess that is better than missing our flight home, but it’s two days we would have rather spent with Jessi.)

Thank goodness, we then headed to Jess’s village. She had decided it wouldn’t be wise for her parents to stay overnight at her “house”, so she had arranged for us to stay in a “motel” in a nearby town about a 20 to 30 minute bus ride away.

Let me describe for you what going to Jessi’s village is like. Think of the hottest place you have ever been and then increase it. Sure glad we weren’t there in hot season. Ha! My “best friends” while there were a woven fan that was constantly in movement in my hand and the shade. It is about what you think of when you think of an African village only larger, but not in a jungle, but on an almost desert plain, with a few trees thrown in. It is sprawled out in the orange- colored dust on a two lane paved road, the main “highway”, two hours north of the capital. Her nearest English-speaking neighbor is another Peace Corps volunteer, (a retired woman); she came at the same time, and lives about 20- 30 minutes away.
Jessi translating and chatting
The people here are sustenance farmers. This is the rainy season and they plant every square inch they can, by hand and some with donkeys, the old fashioned way. This was cultivating season, and when it wasn’t market day, the village looked like a ghost town, because EVERYONE was out in the fields basically planting and weeding. Babies were on mama’s backs, all the kids, moms and dads, even the older folks, out in the fields, with handmade hoes, planting and weeding. It looks like one of those pictures, only not nearly so green.
Jessi and Dan planting a mango tree in her yard

On market days (every third day), the village transforms. It seems everyone is selling something. Their wares spread out on the ground, women with children on their backs and bowls on their heads working their way through the maze. There are some limited fruits and vegetables, in season only; household goods, millet and foodstuffs divided up in small individual bags, and a separate live animal market too. We were there five days in all and two of those were market days. We met so many people. They were WONDERFUL! You can tell how genuinely fond of Jessi, (“Talato”), they are. Over and over again, they told us how she was one of them, how she spoke Moore like they did, she dressed like they did and she was like their daughter. Over and over again, they welcomed us. They couldn’t believe we were really her parents and we had come all of that way. They were so honored. Almost all spoke only Moore, and a few people in village spoke French and Moore, Jessi was busy translating non-stop. They were thrilled when Jessi taught us a few words in greeting. In some ways, it was like small town America, from years ago. You walk everywhere in village, you greet everyone and ask about their family, they greet you. You talk to all of your neighbors; you stop and visit, or play with the children. You sit and have a drink together, and chat, if you are a visitor or a man. You spend all day if you are a woman, either making the meal, cleaning up after the meal, fetching water from the well, making a fire, etc, etc, etc. Perhaps your husband has more than one wife to help with the workload, and there are children everywhere. It’s a hard life, but they know no other.
Jessi and her village "Dad"

Jessi carrying water back

Jess has found her place here. She looks so at home. The language and pace of life fit her and she is strong. I don’t know how she’s done it. She has friends and she has learned to fend for herself. “It’s good to be home”, she says. She shows us the medical facility and the beautiful murals she painted. She carries water on her head from the well, she cooks for us, and we wash the clothes and hang them on the line. She takes us to visit the school with classes of around 90 students in each room, we walk to the edge of the village to visit a large Baobab tree, we watch the blacksmith in a makeshift tent at work behind her house. Her dad helps her with some “landscaping” in her courtyard. We visit with her good friend, Alima, “the rice lady”, who she visits with in the evenings. On the last day, we buy a goat for the family who has been so good to her. They insist on giving back. The goat is our dinner, with many important guests of the village invited. That goat went a really long way, to feed a lot of people. We ate it as night fell, and it was unbelievably delicious! I think it was the best thing I ate in our whole time in Africa. Jessi’s friend, “the rice lady”, cooked for us too, three different times. We felt so bad taking their food, they have so little. We tried to explain. “ No, she explained, we cook when our family comes to visit.” We were like her family she said.
Jessi with her "nieces" and "nephews"

David and Jessi

            I understand why Jessi loves her village. At night it felt like you could almost touch the stars. The mornings were beautiful. The people are beautiful too, loving and giving and real.

            When our five days were up, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Ouaga where Jessi’s Peace Corps boss took us out to dinner and then we were flying back to Accra, and 3 days later home. I’m so glad we got to see Jessi there in her element, and I will never forget the people.
At the airport

Thanks Jessi for giving us a small window into your life.

P.S. There was a rumor going around and several people came to her courtyard to see Dan for themselves. I guess they thought he looked too young to be her father, even with his gray beard. Go figure.

July 09, 2012

Traveling with my parents... part one

So I got to Accra a day early. I flew in, which reduces the trip from 27 hours on a bus to 2 on a plane. It was lovely, and only occasionally did I think guiltily of all those "other people" only at their first rest stop. 
The first day by myself consisted of me walking around looking at things, getting stuffed at KFC, watching a movie in my bed at the hostel while eating cheese and crackers, and generally enjoying being not in village. The second day consisted of me waiting for my parents to get there. My parents didn't get in until what seemed to me like entirely too late, and I was really glad when they arrived and I knew that their plane trip had gone OK. 
The next day we toured Accra some, went shopping, got a different hotel, and went to eat at some really great places near it. I got (good) pizza and one the best cheeseburgers in my life in the same day. It was amazing.
The next day we were ready to get out of the city and spent the morning trying to get to a resort near the beach. We ended up renting a car and driver even though it wasn't cheap because we had 8 bags (my parents are cool and brought me suitcases full of stuff from the US).
The beach. was. AWESOME. Even in "rainy" season. Even when I had to wear a sweatshirt sometimes. (My parents said the weather was great, but it was at least 20 degrees cooler than here!) Few people, beautiful views, cheaper rooms. I was very happy.
We went to go see an old Portuguese slave castle and watched men make fishing boats the next day. We also took long walks on the beach, slept on the beach and near the beach, ate near the beach, went boogie boarding and swimming. (I liked the beach, can you tell?). 
Next we went to Kakum which is a small part of a rain forest you can walk over. It was beautiful, but a little short for my taste. We had to pay not to go with the millions of school kids there to see it. But that part was worth it.
Then we went about as close as one can get to Cote d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) to see a little village built on stilts. My mom loved it. I liked the jungle-y looking row boat ride to and from it. My dad liked the dug-out canoes.
Then we tried to get to a monkey park in the middle of the country. Getting to and from kind of sucked. The lodging was basic, but we stayed right next to the researchers working there and we got to see a ton of monkeys (Colobus and Mono) up close and personal. I smiled a lot because, hey, monkeys are cool!
At some point in here we took some tro tros, all of which went pretty well.
We ended up in Tamale where we rented a driver to take us to Mole (moh-lay) national wildlife park. He turned out to be an jerk, but the only other option was a city bus on an unpaved road full of potholes that looked like a river at one point (I am not exaggerating. My mom took pictures). The lodging at Mole was simple and the staff not really that helpful, but the park animals were super cool. 
It was raining the evening we got there, so we played a card game that I am trying, for the sake of family harmony, to get good enough to be competitive at. We saw some brown smudges in the distance explained to be bush buck (think african deer) and had a surprise visit from a warthog family. The next morning we went on a two hour hike that, frankly, disappointed me. We a saw a fair few animals, but many of those were around the workmen's houses and we didn't stray too far from the place we were staying. No elephants either. 
That afternoon though, we took a drive with a great guide... and saw more than four enormous elephants ,in the wild, from up close. It was enough to make everyone's heart stop. Elephants are SO much bigger than they look in the zoo! If you've never seen an elephant up close and you have a chance... do it. Even my dad, who's seen a lot of things and been a lot of places, thought it was cool. The following is the bast picture I got, but, man!, you can't even tell!

After the elephants we made our way back to Tamale and then a few taxis later, to Po and decided to head right on up to Ouaga. Somewhere in there I am leaving out the tro-tro ride from hell (it took 5 hours to even LEAVE) and what my parents considered to be a lot of fried rice... but this is my story and so this is what I remember without trying to get it all figured out. 
From Ouaga we went to village.... but that's another story...

Peace, JK