Friday, September 7, 2012

Blog Post #2
Hello everyone!
Sorry for the delayed posting – internet is a bit dodgy here but I’ll try to maintain routine blogging!
We’ve only been here since mid-August but our group is already settling into our routine. After attending the Omak Stampede, Fr. Jake, the pastor at St. Joseph’s Parish here in Omak, took our group to see petroglyphs. These pre-historic paintings (pre-historic in the sense that no-one alive knows their origin) are located on the side of a rocky cliff. After walking down a wide dirt road, Jake suddenly turned off into a grassy field, leading us through overgrown sage brush, up rocky terrain, through fields of decomposing logs, and past prickly cacti. After traveling off the beaten path (literally) for about 30 minutes, we looked up to the steep cliff and suddenly saw four or five of these paintings – a stylized man holding a stick, an animal, and a few other symbols. These brownish figures were fading away and Jake noted that even during his time in Omak the figures have slowly changed from inclement weather. As we made our way back down the hilly terrain and brush I kept expecting to see a snake. Rattle snakes, I’ve been told, are a common sight in this part of the state. And even though the Western variety is apparently quite skittish and afraid of humans, I spent half of the hike terrified that we would come across one hiding under a log or curled up in the brush. Thankfully we did not encounter one on that hike, and I have still yet to come across one. 

After the hike, as we made our way down the dirt trail back to our car, we stopped by an old abandoned apricot orchard, which was brimming with bright, ripe, golden orange apricots. One of the things that I love about Omak and being in this part of the state is the abundance of fruit and other fresh produce. We’ve picked apricots and bing cherries for free, received bags of freshly-picked peaches, and have been given tomatoes, cucumbers, and giant zucchini from neighbors’ gardens. Our group has barely been able to finish all of this free and fresh produce. We’ve made jam, dried cherries, assembled an apricot and cherry crisp, and frozen peaches. We have plans to bake up a storm of zucchini bread this weekend. We’ve also been told that apple season will soon be upon us and I can hardly wait to try all of local varieties!

As I mentioned before, Fr. Jake (who prefers us to call him Jake) is the pastor at the local Catholic parish. After missing the student masses at the Santa Clara Mission, I am happy to report that Omak’s St. Joe’s is probably the friendliest Catholic parish I have ever attended. I feel lucky to have found this parish and to once again feel a sense of fulfillment in going to mass. All of the parishioners have been so welcoming to all of us and there is a distinct sense of community at this parish. It is interesting to see how native spirituality has been incorporated into this church. The first mass we attended was held at the powwow grounds. During the blessing of the Eucharist, a smudge, which is a traditional Indian blessing with smoke, was used to bless the bread and wine and everyone present, which was very moving. At the beginning of each mass, all of the parishioners greet one another and move about the church to say hi. Fr. Jake always introduced newcomers or visitors at the beginning and it is evident how the parishioners make an effort to make everyone feel welcome. During mass this past Sunday, when it came time to do the prayers of the faithful, Fr. Jake suddenly looked at me and motioned me to come forward. I suppose the person who was assigned the prayers of the faithful that week didn’t show up and so, in the middle of mass, Fr. Jake motioned for me to come forward, showed me what to read, and had me go for it. What I really appreciate is how casual it all was. While there is still a sense of reverence, this parish doesn’t take itself too seriously. Everyone participates in the mass and everyone is treated equally. For a Catholic parish, there is not too much pomp and circumstance around the rituals.

I’ve been working for about three weeks now at Okanogan Behavioral HealthCare. While initially this large facility was more than a little overwhelming, I feel like I’m finally settling in and learning the ropes. I’ve gone from not even being able to find my way around the building to calling clients, making notes in charts, and being able to greet everyone by name. This facility is pretty impressive – it’s very organized and very streamlined. The staff is great and everyone has continually offered me support. I know I’m going to learn so much during my year there!

Love from Omak!

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Hello everyone!
I've decided to use my old study-abroad blog to keep everyone updated on my year as a jesuit volunteer!  For the year, I'll be working at the Okanogan Behavioral Healthcare center and living in community with six other jvs.  While I'll be working in the town of Omak, our triple-wide trailer is located on the Colville Indian Reservation.  Much like my time abroad, my cell reception and internet access is limited, so I figured I'd start this thing back up in order to keep in touch with everyone. 

While Omak is only a relatively short four-hour drive from Seattle, everything on this side of the Cascades feels new and different - in no way could I possibly consider myself a local!  After a 10 hour travel day on the Greyhound bus, which transported our group from Portland to Wenatchee via Seattle, we finally arrived at our home for the year last Saturday night.  The next day was the last day of the Omak Stampede, the biggest event of the year.  Our group trouped into town for the festivities, including traditional american indian dancing at the pow wow and the "World Famous Suicide Race."  This event has rodeo competitors race their horses down a very steep hill (which could basically be describes as a cliff), into the river below, and down the current to the other side of the water and up a ramp into the Stampede Arena.  Standing on the other side of the water from the dirt track, our group watched in awe as we heard a gun shot, faint stomping, and then about a dozen horses and their riders crest the hilltop before sliding and galloping down the hill, churning the dirt below their hoofs into a waterfall of sorts.  Within seconds the riders made it to the bottom of the hill, hitting the river with a resounding belly-flop sound before swimming (did you know horses could swim?) down to the arena. 
Well...I have to go now - more updates to come!

Monday, February 14, 2011


Village kids of Dohoun in front of water pump

A primary classroom in Dohoun

Awanko and Awanki, my guide and cook

The neighborhood mosque in Ouaga

The Sudanese style mosque in Bobo's old quarter

Alidou, the village librarian of Dohoun

Sitting on a crocodile at the Sacred Crocodile Lakes of Bazule

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

91 days down, 9 to go

Hi all!
We're headed back to the villages tomorrow for a couple of days and then when we get back we have our finals and then we leave!  So this is most likely the last blog post from Burkina Faso! 

Ghana was a lot of fun, and it was interesting to see the differences between two west african countries.  Especially at the border the economic differences between these two countries could be easily told.  On the Ghana side, they had a building with glass doors and windows and a couple of computers and passport scanners for the officials.  On the Burkina Faso side, there was one man in a small building with a ledger, writing down the names and passport numbers of everyone who entered the country (this was on the way back from Ghana).  At one point while driving to Mole National Park we drove through an urban area and our driver pulled a u-turn, which is apparently illegal.  All of a sudden a police officer waved us down and was jumping in front of our car.  He basically told us that either we had to give him 300 CDs (about 70 cents to the dollar) or that he was going to take us down to his office and we would have to go to court for the traffic violation.  As we were leaving that day and had to get back to Burkina Faso, of course there was no way that we could make the court apearance.  After talking to him a fair amount, our program coordinator payed him 10 CDs and we drove off. 

In Ghana, we went to Mole National Park and saw a fair amount of animals, but unfortunately no elephants.  We went on little safari nature walks in the morning and driving safaris in the afternoon.  We saw a lot of antelope, warthogs, baboons, and monkeys, but nooo elephants.  The safari guides kept telling us that the end of december is the best time to come and see elephants - so close, and yet so far!  The reason that all the elephants were staying deep in the forest is because there are still many water sources left from the rainy season and the elephants do not have to go to the bigger bodies of water (which are in more open areas).  It was still a lot of fun as we were able to relax, go swimming, and eat somewhat American food (chicken and french fries for Thanksgiving dinner).  As a funny side note, Ghanaians, of course, speak english but there were many times where I, and many others in my group, started to say something in French to either our safari guide, a waiter, or a woman seling bread (bread from Ghana isn't lile the French baguettes in BF - it's a normal loaf and is much sweeter.  Also, the tea in Ghana was much better than in BF, must be the english influence!)  Of course they do not speak french but sometimes it would take me a moment to realize why they couldn't understand me to then realize that, oh yes, I can speak in my native tongue to locals!

I can't believe that my time here is wrapping up so quickly!  It really does not seem that long ago that I stepped on the plane to come here, and now I only have a week left!  I hope to post one more blog when I get home to summarise and reflect and add any last details. 

Thanks all for reading! And happy belated Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

80 days down, 20 to go

Hey everyone!
We’ve been back from the villages for a couple of days now.  I can’t believe how close I’m getting to the end of my stay here.  We’re off to Ghana for Thanksgiving and when we get back to Ouaga all of our essays and projects are due not to mention we take our finals before we return to the village one last time before we leave.  It’s a whirlwind of schoolwork right now to say the least and everyone is feeling the pressure!
The village stay was an experience of a life time, but there were many moments where everything seemed perfectly normal.  It’s surprising what one can get used to!  I lived with one other girl in a small, two room brick house in a village called Dohoun.  All of the student villages were located along one long road in the Tuy region.  Cotton is a major crop in this area and provides a fair amount of money to the village (compared to more impoverished villages in the north).  The house I lived in is owned by a wealthier farmer in the village.  He had his own compound with a nicer house with a covered terrace area and a solar panel provided electricity for the indoor and outdoor light.  Our small house, as well as a mud-brick house where a school director lives, was also in his compound.  I was gone for so long and a fair amount happened but I’ll give you all some highlights –
Perhaps my favorite part of the day was sitting outside at night.  The days were still pretty hot, which sometimes made it nearly impossible to do anything besides lay around between the hours of one to three.  At night, however, it would cool off considerably.  Sitting in these African style, lean back chairs, I would sit outside in my pajamas to cool off before heading back inside the hot house to sleep.  Sitting in these chairs, I would just look at the sky.  There were a few night when it was clear and the moon was new, and the stars were incredible.  Even back at home, outside the city, there are always large evergreens blocking the view of the night sky (not to mention light pollution).  But here, I had a clear view of the entire night sky, which seemed to continue endlessly.  And I’ve never seen more shooting stars in my life.  There were some nights when I would comment on the beauty of the night sky to a villager, and every time they would always sigh and say, “ah, c’est la richesse d’Afrique” and would continue to explain that while my country has money, Africa’s wealth is the beauty of nature.
For the Catholics in the village, all saints day is a legitimate holiday.  No one works or goes to school and after a special mass there was a big afternoon dance party next to the church.  Luckily I brought my camera, got some awesome pictures, and have ended up doing one of my photography books on the celebration.  Part of the reason for our village stay was to produce children’s books that are pertinent to their lives.  A lot of the books in the library are French, and feature people, lifestyles, and situations that are totally outside these kids’ experiences.  Anyway, at the all saints day celebration, I was followed by a swarm of children, all begging to have their photo taken one more time, tapping me on the knees and pulling on my skirt.  I was also asked by couples and families to take group pictures, a bunch of which I’ll be sending back when I get them developed!  For the celebration, there were men playing the balafons and the tam-tams (xylophone and drums) as many others danced in a circle.  Others sat on benches under a big tree.  Women with their small children talked together as older men and women sat and drank dolo (traditional alcoholic drink made from sorghum).  Even towards the end I joined in the dancing as one woman attempted to teach me the few dance steps.  Compared to every other African I have absolutely no rhythm – these children grow up in a community that seems to be constantly playing music and dancing and from a young age these children are dancing with the adults.  Needless to say, even the village children are more coordinated than I am.  It’s so cool though that they grow up in this environment where dance is emphasized and where everyone dances to celebrate.  
Awanki and Awanko are twins from the village that help us with meals, tours of the village, talking with villagers, etc.  Awanki is our cook and she boils water in the morning for tea and Nescafe and brings us bread and then will make us lunch and dinner over this small gas cooker, usually rice with red vegetable sauce or peanut sauce.  Awanko is our guide and shows us around town and helps us communicate with the villagers as not everyone speaks French.  In fact, many people in this village speak Bwamu, the language of the Bwaba people.  It’s a lot of words without vowel sounds and I only know the most basic greeting.  The twins are very nice to us and help us out with everything, but they are also very quiet and timid, not just with us but with all the other villagers as well.  This makes it a little difficult because, as our guide, Awanko is supposed to show us around and tell us all about her village but she barely speaks and we usually have to ask to go see something. 
Villagers here, for some strange reason, absolutely love really bad, really corny, Chinese kung-fu movies.  Three nights a week there is a movie showing.  It’s byoc – bring your own chair – and the cost is about 10 cents a movie. 
Sundays here are the big party day.  Because it’s harvesting season, Monday through Saturday the village is much more empty.  Sunday, however, everyone stays in town and doesn’t go out to the fields.  There is a small market all day Sunday where one can buy pagnes (cloth), shoes, mats, cheap jewelry, soap and brooms, and some vegetables.  There are also ladies that sell beignets d’haricot that are small little fried things made from beans that taste exactly like French fries!  In the afternoon, all the adults sit around and drink dolo and a lot of people usually get pretty drunk.  The twins are Catholic and on two Sunday mornings I went to mass with them.  The village doesn’t have a priest so there was no Eucharist, but it was cool how I was able to keep track of what was happening in the mass, even though it was all in bwamu – readings, homily, kiss of peace, etc.  Instead of saying “peace be with you” with the response “and also with you”, as we do at home, they use their local greeting. 
During our village stay, we visited the other major city in Burkina Faso.  Bobo has an old quarter that has a really cool Sudanese style mosque.  We also walked around some of the oldest houses in the city.  In the city there is a river that has sacred catfish in it.  No one can kill the catfish and when they die (naturally) they bury them in a special fish cemetery.  We also visited the grand marche in Bobo where we got followed by a bunch of men who try to be your instant friend and then try to sell you stuff in the end.  So annoying.  Bobo is such a nice city though.  The streets are all lined with trees and it’s slightly cooler in the city because of its higher elevation.  The downtown is pretty small and nice to walk around and our hotel was walking distance from the city center. 
We’re off to Ghana on Monday morning to go see elephants!  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, October 18, 2010

47 days down, 53 to go

Hi everybody!
We’re leaving for the villages on Tuesday and we’ll be out of internet access until November 16th.  I’m going to be living in a village with one other girl from the group.  The two of us are going to be volunteering in the library, working with the kids in the village, and making photo books for the village libraries.  Almost all of the books in the libraries are from France and aren’t very relatable to the kids in the village.  And, for the most part, there aren’t many West African children’s books anyway.  So while we’re there, we’re making books that have to do with village life and West African culture – books that are much closer to the lives of kids in the village. 
On Saturday our group helped out at a free medical clinic about an hour outside of Ouaga.  Our primary care doctor here in the city is a Belgian man who works with the richer class and then uses money he gets from them to hold these free medical clinics around and outside of the Ouagadougou area.  From about 8am to about 4pm we processed around 300 children.  Each child had a urine test, an eye exam, and was measured and weighed before they saw a doctor, got medications, etc.  Our group manned the urine test station and accompanied each child around, giving them the eye test (which was a little hard to explain in French and especially hard to explain when they only spoke Morre), having them pee in a cup, and measuring their height and weight.  A lot of the kids also had plugged ears full of ear wax mixed with dirt, small bugs, etc.  Some volunteers who had some training used a syringe filled with water to remove the crap from the kids’ ears.   I helped out by holding the bowl for the water that came out of the kids’ ears – brown water filled with chunks of who-knows-what.
Our French literature class is still as hard as ever!  We had a midterm exam earlier last week, which in theory wasn’t that hard but our professor graded it extremely harshly – not giving any points for a question if a verb was off and other nit-picky things like that.  When I got my exam back I realized that he had taken an additional 20 points off my final score, and it took a great amount of convincing by our TA Louise to get him to admit his math mistake and change my score!  The class has gotten a little bit better though than it was at the beginning.  We discussed the Mossi fables (the Mossi are the dominant ethnic group in Burkina Faso) in the beginning and have moved on to reading excerpts from famous French African post-colonial works. 
We’re all busy today buying last minute things and packing all our stuff up for the village.  I’m getting really excited but a little nervous for our village stay – no indoor plumbing or electricity for over three weeks!
Talk to you all in about a month!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

39 days down, 61 to go

Hi all!
So we’ve been back in the city for about two weeks now and in only one more week we’re heading back to the villages for our long stay!  Life here has started to seem normal, which in itself is kind of weird.  One day last week a friend and I were walking in our neighborhood.  Usually on walks around the neighborhood it is normal to be stared at and to have the little kids yell “nassara!” – which means foreigner – and run up to shake your hand.  On this walk, however, my friend and I were walking down the side of the road when a tour bus drove by filled with white people, which is an extremely weird sight here.  All of a sudden, we were the ones doing the staring, instead of observing like tourists!  In that moment I felt a little bit like an insider and a part of the neighborhood (an extremely rare occasion, seeing as I stick out like a sore thumb as a white American).  Other random things, such as having soda can labels written in Arabic or having an armed guard outside an ATM, now seem normal.  Also, everyone in our group has started to get the hang of taking taxis here, which I wrote about a little bit before.  Taxi drivers aren’t with companies and while our group sometimes catches taxis on the large goudron (paved road) by our house, it is sometimes simpler and safer to call a taxi driver directly.  Lucien, who is the taxi driver that found my cell phone and accidentally talked to my parents, is now a friend of everyone in the group.  He knows all of our names and is very kind and protective of us.  One night this week we all went bowling – which was an experience in itself.  It seemed as if a miniature sized bowling alley had been shipped straight from the US, new bowling shoes, funky bowling paintings on the walls, automated pins, electronic scoring, etc!  Anyway, after Lucien dropped us off none of us were quite sure where the bowling alley was and we started walking down the wrong street.  He started calling after us telling us not to walk down that street.  Even after we insisted that the bowling place was really close he insisted that he follow us in his taxi until we got to the place.  Of course we headed in the wrong direction, walking for about two blocks down a not so nice street when we finally realized it must be the other way.  Lucien stuck with us, and because our group of 9 couldn’t all fit in the car, he turned it off and we all pushed it down the street, I’m sure we were all quite the sight!  In the end we found the bowling alley and Lucien saved the day!

After visiting the village of Bereba, Ouagadougou makes much more sense and I can now appreciate it for what it is – a much bigger, more urbanized village.  There are a number of large paved roads in the city, especially in the down-town area, but the neighborhoods have dirt roads.  Sometimes people in the neighborhood try to keep the dust down and even out the road by dumping rocks and broken tiles onto the dirt, paving the roads with what they have.  Animals wander around the streets and green areas in the neighborhood and garbage here is collected by a donkey pulled cart (when it’s not burned in the middle of the street, which is one of the most disgusting smells ever).  While there are some more developed parts of the city, many people who live in Ouagadougou live in very simple and small houses similar to those found in the village.

Our neighborhood is one of the nicer neighborhoods in the city but you still see a bunch of kids running around with distended bellies and dirty, falling apart clothes.  Our next door neighbor is a very nice woman named Germaine.  Her husband is French and stays with their two kids in France as they go to school.  We also live really close to a small neighborhood mosque.  We can hear the call to prayer from our house and our classroom (in a four story! technical college two blocks away from our house) as it marks the beginnings of our meals and our classes.  All of our classes are two hours long and we can have anywhere from one to four classes in a day.  Usually, class begins at 8 am.  We always get a break at 10 am where, back at our house, Absetta, Bibatta, and Sallimata set out fruit, tea, and Nescafe (which is NOT coffee).  We usually have bananas (which are smaller and sweeter here), papaya, pineapple, and apples.  I tried guava for the first time a couple of days ago! During the mid-afternoon everyone pretty much takes it easy if we’re not in class.  The few times I ventured out to walk in the heat I came back with my face literally tomato red, not from sunburn but from the heat.  The dry season has technically started here even though it rained last night.  Many people are saying this is the longest rainy season they have ever seen!  It does, however, supposedly cool off later in October – here’s hoping!

(two days later)
Our group visited the sacred crocodile lakes yesterday in a village not far outside of Ouagadougou.  Our two guides carried thin sticks for protection and three small chickens we bought to have fed to the crocodiles.  (The guides use the squawks of the terrified chickens to attract the crocodiles.)  Stopping on the side of the road by a small pond it didn’t seem like there were any crocodiles around at first, until our guide shook the chickens a little bit (they hold them  by their feet) and all of a sudden a massive crocodile came out of the water.   Almost everyone in the group, including myself, each had a turn to sit on the back of the crocodile!  Walking further along, we reached the edge of a bigger lake.  One of the guides attached our last chicken to the end of his stick and started to swing the poor chicken out above the water.  All of a sudden you could see a crocodile start to swim towards the edge of the water.  The thing came out onto the shore.  Our guide tempted the crocodile with the chicken, placing it above its nose and moving it away every time the crocodile attempted the eat it, eventually getting the croc to stand on its hind legs as it jumped for the chicken!

As for one more story – When out in the neighborhood taking pictures for our photography class, our group ran into a group of women studying Arabic and the Koran.  They had a chalkboard, chairs, and benches set up outside.  There were older women and younger women, and some even had their young daughters with them too.  It was really cool to see and I got some good pictures too!

Talk to you all later!