They say Peace Corps is the Toughest Job you’ll ever love. And I completely agree. I truly enjoy my service, but sometimes it can be hard.
Yes, I unfortunately get this one a lot. However, in a West African Context, being fat is seen as a good thing. It means that you are healthy, and that you look good. In an American context it means that you are ugly, unhealthy, and bad. Our diet is mostly to blame. Most of it is because of our diet of carbohydrates, and finding protein and veggies in village can be difficult (for me it’s mostly local chicken spam and beans). As an American woman I do not enjoy being called fat and while I understand that in Burkina it is a compliment, it still hurts my feelings. Even after I told my villagers and functionnaires that I did not enjoy being called that and it is not a compliment in the American context, they still make comments about my weight
This goes along with you’re fat, but this one is a bit more annoying. The midwifes at the CSPS (clinic) asked me when I was going to have my pre-natal consultation. I explained to them that I was not pregnant, and that in PCBF, if you get pregnant, you either have to terminate your career with Peace Corps, or terminate the pregnancy. Again, I understand that being pregnant in this culture is seen as a positive thing, but when you know 100% that you are not pregnant, and people keep saying you are, all you can do is laugh it off.
Mam Nonga Fo, Mam Data Fo
In Moore that means I love you, and I want you. Even if you say you have four husbands, and that you don’t need another one, they still want to marry you because you are a foreigner. And you’re probably thinking, but Sara, aren’t you flattered that they asked you. Well, perhaps during the first couple of months, but once they start asking you for a Visa, it just gets really old, really fast. As much as I find it admirable that they want to come to America, I do not have the means to house them and teach them English.
Post office problems
So in order to pick up lovely, magical, wonderful care packages, I need to go to the post office. I have to pick them up in person, and no one else can get it for me. I have to sign a bunch of forms and then pay for each package. I don’t mind going to the post office, but it tends to take an hour, and it is super frustrating when you get a text from the post master saying that you have a package the day after you left your regional capital.
West African International Time (the WAIT)
L’heure Africaine, or WAIT is very common here. Meetings seldom start on time, and they tend to go for awhile. No one here wears watches, but many people have a clock on their cell phone. Also getting things done quickly can be difficult. In the month of January many of my projects kept getting pushed back due to village happenings, holidays, etc. That is fine, but when you are used to a “Time is Money” atmosphere it can be very frustrating.
One way to combat this is to just add 1 hour to the start time of any meeting and show up then.
C’est L’Afrique, C’est Comme Ça
Unfortunately this is a very common excuse about why things do not get done, why people don’t show up to meetings, why people don’t want to do things. Yes I understand fully that Africa is different than America, and I face many of the same challenges villagers do (no electricity, no running water, no internet) but things can change. I know that behavior change takes awhile, and it starts with a single step.
I was talking to the CM2 teacher during Tabaski and she was asking me if it hurts when women give birth in America. I said of course it does, and that many women take drugs or end up having C-sections. She then explained to me that she was excised as a young girl, and had a very difficult labor and delivery because of it. She told me she lost a lot of blood and that she tore. When I asked if she thought it happened in my village, she said that when the millet starts to grow, they escort the girls and perform the procedure. Excision is against the law in Burkina Faso but it is not widely enforced. In a realistic context: It happens, it’s not talked about, and it is not your job as a peace corps volunteer to eradicate the practice in the village. You can sensibilze (have awareness sessions) about it, and encourage the use of sterile instruments for the procedure, and educate the community about the consequences.
No, I’m sorry I can’t save the world
This has been one of the toughest challenges for me as a volunteer. In my region of BF, we were hit especially hard by this year’s drought. We will probably have some food security issues within the coming months. I am repeatedly asked for money and food. We were told by our Peer Support and Diversity Network and Food Security Task Force not to give money or food to people because that makes them dependent on you and just exacerbates the problem. Right now I want to do a school field during rainy season to help combat hunger at the beginning of the school year.
No one ever said development was easy. But I can say without a doubt that this has been the most difficult, most fulfilling, most rewarding job I have ever had.