Tuesday, August 01, 2006

a last blog (or perhaps not)

I'm really having trouble adjusting to American life, as is Geoff, so I decided to copy in some of my journal from today. Perhaps reading it will give you some idea of where we are in the process of readjusting. Here it is:
The devotional reading for today focuses on the word "recollection"--the actual re-collecting of the pieces, the fragments of our lives--Michel Quoist says "pieces clinging to the fringes of your desires." Oh, my desires, they can be so selfish, so self-serving, so unnecessary. Right now, I could use a time of reflection and recollection as I had in Africa. We've been back 1 1/2 months and things aren't all tht great: my animals didn't know me at first, all of my visits (while wonderful!) seemed rushed and perfunctory, for a while Jim and I couldn't find any alone time, I felt I was repeating myself everytime someone asked me a question. I came back to a full house and felt the need to pick up as many of the chores as possible because Jodi had been doing everything for me. I suddenly became aware of all the financial responsibilities I have here (it was easier just to pay electiric, water, food, and car gas money there) . We here in America just live more complex, complicated lifestyles that are much more stressful than those of my African friends. And yet they have more to be stressed about: little to no money, shortage of food and water, lack of any kind of job or money-making activity(except those that are self created), illness and short life expectancies--all these things which are much more important than whether we keep our air conditioning set on 74 or 78 (at least we have it!) or pay $2.90 or $3.20 for gas (at least we have cars, usually with air conditioning to drive!) or decide to buy a brand name or generic brand of some snack food item or some item of clothing (at least we can buy these unnecessary items!). So I have to ask myself why I just can't be grateful--and I am--for all that we have here. But I'm also much more aware now of the rat race we have created for ourselves in this wonderful country of plentiful resources and astute ingenuity. There's a part of me that just wants to sneak back to Africa to a life that would be diminished in so many ways, yet the very diminishing would be richer and fuller because of its centeredness--none of this "pieces clinging to the fringes of [my] desires." Yet just as I had to adjust to being in Africa (and everyone knows what a long, hard adjustment that was), so I now find myself having to adjust to being in America--I think it will take time. Who knows? Maybe it will take six months! But I know that I need to find ways to re-collect the peices here and to find my center once again. It will seem new and different because I have had new different experiences which now shape my thoughts and my emothions. And I hope and pray that those thoughts and emotions will be "better" than my old ones: more Christ-like, more compassionate, more other-centered, more self-less.
If you read this, please respond, so I'll know some of you are still visiting the old address.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

We're home!

Still jet-lagged--can't sleep right, but eating is great! We'll post again later (that ultimate reflection, perhaps) but I wanted everyone to know that we have crossed continents and oceans to get back to all of you, family and friends.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

more party pics/geoffs thoughts

1.Lynn Ouedraogo, Dir. of American language center
2.Cynthia, Asst. to ambassador
3. francoise, Dir of american library.
4. Dianda , works in office by moms office
5. Paulina, embassy nurse

Geoff says: Its now thursday night and we have just left moms final farewell party which was hosted by her english department at the university. They had a little buffet and a few people spoke and presented mom with a few gifts from the department. We also got to say goodbye to our friends who took care of us our first month at the maison des hotes. Earlier today we made our last trip out to tampouy (the village where our guardians family moved and where the nazarene churches are. We took out the last of things out to tao and mariam and the kids and to say our farewells. Mom and mariam were both crying a little and it was an emotional goodbye. After all the long days here of being bored out of my mind and missing certain things about home, i've learned to appreciate this experience more now that it is coming to an end. It will be very nice to finally come back home, but i think will also be an adjustment for both of us coming back to a more fast paced and impersonal way of life, in some aspects. The adjustment here has been long and difficult but all in all it will be sad to leave burkina behind after all of the complaining we did about it. I think me and mom have both decided if we had to do it again we would defintely get the french down better. Looking forward to coming home and getting all the settling back in to life over, and seeing everyone. See you soon.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

a penultimate reflection (maybe) by Becky

Warning to you who know how disturbingly honest I can be: This was my journal reflection Sunday, so it's one of those meditative, reflective things. Here it is:
Last Sunday in Africa--What a difference from that first Sunday. Geoff and I walked out to the road and waited for Jeff to pick us up. I don't remember which church we went to. Really, they are all quite similar except some have more people than others; some have dirt floors; some have noisy musical instruments. Oh, how I hated everything here at the beginning. How I yearned to go home. I creid so often that Geoffrey, I think, was embarrassed. (Of course he and I both knew it was the mefloquine making me so moody, but still it was a little ridiculous.) I just cried over all the losses--the cat, the dog, the house, as well as the more important things--people--Jim, the kids--family, friends. And loss of familiarity. I wanted church to be reverent and worshipful as it is at home. I wanted English to be everywhere. I wanted more independence to do something, anything. We were stuck at maison des'hotes with no means of transportation but our feet or taxis (that we had to negotiate in French) and no food but what the cafe people prepared (unless we used those feet or taxis to get out where we would have to order in French unless we were at the rec center) and no entertainment but the tv that played Tom and Jerry cartoons twice a day. We were really left to our own devices and didn't seem to have too many of those. The lack of French definitely was a hindrance to our settling in and it is till this day somewhat of a hindrance. Also, a hindrance was the fact that Diallo, my department chair, could tell me nothing about school--no dates, no schedule, no course names, no students.
And now, the last Sunday: how do I feel? Well, I'm not going to some church that really hasn't done much for my spiritual life. The language barrier means that I don't get much from the music or preaching (which isn't even in French; it's in Moore--which is beyond me!). And what I have heard in translation hasn't been too helpful either. The pastors' sermons are almost always from the Old Testament. I don't see much in the way of having Jesus enter into the religious equation--and this in a protestant evangelical church. They do a lot of singing (all loud and joyful--at least 95% of it. One church did have a quiet meditation song before prayer) and a lot of praying (again, loud, boisterous, repetitive, and almost always directed by the pastor). So these Sundays when I've stayed home to rest, to meditate, to sing a hymn to myself have been a little oasis in this desert.
About the life generally: I've ended up loving the students, having a love/hate relationship with university administrators, depending on office and situation, feeling a deep respect for my colleagues, most of whom received degrees in States and have come back home to work hard for little pay, and having immense gratitiude for all the Americans, all of whom put aside their personal preferences to be kind to each other in the little community where you can always speak English and be understood.
Of course, because I'm me, I have some regrets: perhaps I haven't accomplished enough. I think I've done pretty well with students, but perhaps I should have done more with initiatives for the university or my department. I wish I had gotten involved somehow with the US Challenge grant for girls in primary schools here (I at least did promote the idea of young girls' education whenever I could). I wish I had shown movies to my students. I wish I had gone out of my way to socialize more with Americans and colleagues. Why didn't I? My old reticence, fear of being rejected, worries about money, etc.
Successes? I think Geoffrey and I have lived closely with those people who shared our living space. We've tolerated differences, negotiated compromises, understood beyond language, made speaking acquaintance with neighbors, tailors, shop owners. We've filled our minds with stuff about Burkina, about the peoples' ethnic groups, about Ghana, about South Africa, about those rather silly-looking wrapped-up vendors from Niger, about the vast space which is the Sahara.
We've breathed dust, drunk bad water and boiled water, bargained for and bought vegetables, bought innumerable souvenirs, sometimes just to give someone like Mustapha some business, read lots of books, watched lots of videos, drunk lots of cokes and Fanta cocktails, fed more animals than we can count, packaged and given scores of bags of crackers to young boys and old women begging on the streets, avoided most, but driven through some, potholes, ruts, ripples, and mud-packed speed bumps, dodged mopeds, donkey carts, man carts, bicycles, taxis, and cars doing bizarre things, taken literally a thousand or so pictures.
If we had to do it over again, would we do it differently or would we do it at all? I would definitely do it and I would hope that I would do some things differently. I've really bombed on the French and that saddens me, makes me feel defeated. But do I want to stay here longer? No, I've accomplished what I set out to do with my students, and that was my main job. I've done other things as well to acquit my position as a Fulbrighter--I've even been on T.V.! I've continued my close association with my church, even though I really don't appreciate the style of worship. But I'm ready to go back to my other life with its challenges, its fast pace, its complications. I'll lose some of the contemplativeness I've had here, but I think it will be replaced by deeper, more complex relationships with people (because I will be able to talk more abstractly to native English speakers). I'm anxious, a little, about negotiating the web of interactions, picking up, not where I left off, but where friends and family are after this 10-month stretch of not seeing each other. But,as in any other situation, I know that the grace of the Lord will be with me and Geoff and all those we leave here and all those we will see soon in the US.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Finally, a new posting

Four of the five of these pictures were taken at Todd and Jennifer's farewell party--they leave for South Africa July 1 for their new posts in the embassy there. Todd is the Public Affairs Officer who has been my chief supporter during this whole year of Fulbright. He's answered questions, bought texts for students, spoken to classes, made a phone available to me, etc, etc. I could go on for a long time about how much help he's been. Jennifer, his wife, is chief financial officer. She and Todd both gave me good advice via email before I arrived here. So with that background, here are the identifications of the pics: 1) Aurore Barry, Todd's secretary--great personality and a good tease! 2) Todd and Jennifer, ready to make their farewells to the assembled group of embassy people, missionaries, NGOs, university folk, and others with whom they done business during their three years here, 3)The one picture not taken at the party is this picture, taken, instead, at the ambassador's residence on the occasion of a dinner for Fulbrighters (there are four of us with various kinds of grants. From left to right are Susan Gagliardi, Fulbright researcher working on PhD in Art History, specializing in African masks, Jeanine Jackson, the ambassador, Mark, the ambassador's husband 4) Susan Strand, a Fulbright English Teaching Fellow, with whom Geoff and I are staying for the last two weeks here, and Nancy (oops--don't remember her last name) who is at the embassy also. She is leaving in a few weeks for a new post in Haiti. 5) Yolande Kabore, the embassy liaison for the Fulbright people. She is absolutely wonderful--keeps all of us happy and knows everything there is to know about all the Fulbright programs.
I'm beginning to be a happy camper--I finished grading papers and gave them to students Thursday morning. I gave a speech of thanks to them; they reciprocated with kind words, a gift of an ebony woman statue for which they had one student give an oral interpretation, and a whole bunch of snapshots. It was quite a reward in itself, made even more special when both the student photographer and the department chair said, in effect, that they had never seen students love a teacher before--it's like a mutual admiration society! I still have lots of lecture notes that I need to enter on the computer (or I will have to dump them--they weight too much, and I have to work with fourth year students on memoirs (I finished marking a 66-page draft for one girl this morning--oh, my goodness, there's lots of red ink). We've paid our last utility bills, bought our last round of groceries, visited the national museum to take more pictures of traditional tribal compounds, and bought a few more souvenirs (don't groan--you all will get some of them). Now we have to find a way to pack without being overweight. That won't be fun. We're down to a week to go, and that fact feels good.
Since I co-opted the site for my pics, Geoff says "hi."
Later, B

Saturday, June 03, 2006

last weeks

1.Desks in Tampuey that moms sunday school class raised money for to be built.
2. Friday we saw our first big sand storm that lasted for about 30 mins., other than small ones and dust tornadoes which we have seen several.
3. Empty house on moving day
4. Our guardian Tao and his cousin Idrissa mixing mud and building their new house which they had to move out to earlier than expected. Basically the goverment will eventually come through Tampuey and zone everything and install electricity and running water. When that happens which could be a long time they will have to move to a different area with a bigger plot to build on. But now they have to wait and live with no electricity or running water. They have a gas lantern for light which isnt very bright a little portable gas stove/hot plate, and the little amount of things they have collected and bought. No furniture besides some lawn chairs and table a couple of mattresses, and some small stools.
5.Moms room with Ramona's pictures and leaves, sammy's pictures, and card and flowers i made her for mothers day.
This is the second time we are posting b/c the cyber cafe here is crap and the wire never works and we lose everything we have done. So we are staying with an american friend that is teaching english over here. She lives in a very nicely built,furnished, air conditioned house, also has a long haired cat named max. So moms finishing grades, bills ,crap,etc., and we are looking forward to being home soon. later

Last weeks

1. School in tampuey, moms sunday school class paid for those desks to be built for the children.
2. This past friday we saw our first real sand storm that lasted 30 mins. or so. We have seen small ones before and many dust tornadoes but this one was amazing.
3. Empty kitchen and hallway on moving day
4. Our guardian Tao and his cousin Idrissa mixing mud to build there new house in Tampuey, where they will wait for electricity and running water when the government zones the area. They also will more than likely be moved to a different area when the goverment will give everyone a bigger plot of land. So basically it could be awhile before that happens, so they will have to survive fetching water everyday and use a gas lantern for light.
5. Moms room where she posted all of ramonas pictures and leaves and sammys pics and the card and flowers i gave here for mothers day. Right now we are staying with an american friend in a very nicely built, furnished, air conditioned house. We will try to post some pictures of it later. Mom is trying to finish her grades, and get all the other crap like bills blah blah etc. settled. Looking forward to being back in the motherland. later

Friday, June 02, 2006

moving out

May 31: Moving Day? It was supposed to be. Much of the furniture actually left Monday when people who had purchased tables, chairs, sofas, end tables, etc. came to collect them. But we still had all the kitchen items that we had been using. Most were to be packed for Gina, the new Fulbright scholar who purchased lots of kitchen stuff, a desk, some study lamps, sheets, towels, and a mattress set. Packing those at the last minute took more time than I thought. Also, I had to repack some of the boxes of texts that I have been using with students, and, because the last day of class was yesterday, I am still collecting and checking those texts to make sure which ones are still out or missing. Then all of the boxes needed to be taped securely.

In addition to moving today, Pastor Germain, the district superintendent, and I were trying to get the title of my car transferred to the church: I decided that could be a good share of my tithe money for the year (I couldn’t tithe the regular amount to one of the churches here—the amount would have seemed grossly overdone to any one church). I have now been to the round of ministry offices four different times and have to return tomorrow for one more stamp (a way to pay for services rendered) and one more official signature.

In between trips to the various ministries, Geoffrey and I were moving all of our personal belongings and Rachel’s packed bags (she leaves for the States tomorrow evening) to Susan Strand’s house, where we will be staying till we leave. We’ve made two round trips and will probably have to make two more. Since I haven’t yet sold my split air conditioner, it has to go with us, as does the TV/VCR so that we can have something to watch (Susan doesn’t have one).

The big problem with moving is that you have to depend on movers. Yolande, the liaison at the embassy had arranged for the embassy truck to come get the boxes and furniture for Gina and for the university truck to come get the stove, refrigerator, and the three beds that belong to the university. It is not almost 8 p.m. and I think that we can officially say that neither truck is going to make it to the house today. Meanwhile, Geoffrey, Pastor Germain, Tao, and Jean have loaded a refrigerator into the old church van (which has no current insurance!) and carried it to Germain’s house, where it will remain. Germain’s and Jean’s wives are chatting with Rachel in the living room, sitting on the university’s couch and chair. I am very hopeful that we will be able to leave for the evening within an hour and perhaps even find some food to eat somewhere. Moving day would be so much easier with fast food available.

Moving is always a pain, and it is no different here—tiring, hot, dirty work. The only good thing about it is that we have a few days to recover from the tiredness before we leave. On the other hand, the bad thing is that we have a few days before we leave! Of course, I have 55 4-6 page essays to read and 55 grades to average and 4 or 5 students’ thesis papers to continue reading, so I couldn’t possibly leave now.

Sorry about the boring commentary—I have nothing else to do here, since I’ve carted everything over to Susan’s, so I’m trying to pass some time.