Saturday, November 30, 2013

it's so hard to say goodbye

Sooooooo guess what!?


My 2+ years in the Peace Corps have finally come to a close. I am happy to say that I completed my service and am now a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. As I reflect back on my service I remember all the good as well as the bad times. I am very happy that I got to experience so many things and help out Burkina Faso (however small my contribution may have been). I want to continue to broaden my horizons through travel, school, meeting new people, and staying open to new experiences. Next on this list vagabond's list is medical school (even though I do plan on moving to Berlin for a few months beforehand).

I want to thank my friends and family here and in Burkina for sticking by me and helping me complete this monster of a job.

Thanks for reading about my PC experience. Below are some photos of my goodbye festivities. Stay tuned for the next adventure =]

some of my gifts!

Health agents saying goodbye

Neuf (9) my dog giving me the sexy eye
the head nurse presenting me with a gift

my life for the past 2 years

the road home

bring me your first born son

My best friend in Burkina, Roukie invited me to her home in the capital to celebrate Tabaski with her family. Tabaski is the second biggest Muslim holiday where they sacrifice a lamb. They are celebrating  the selfless act of Abraham and his son. In short, God asked Abe to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. Abe said ok and when he informed his son of his duty, Ishmael nobly accepted. In order to reward their willingness to serve and obey, the Lord switched Ishmael out for a lamb. Yay, now they don't have to eat their first born on Tabaski, a lamb will suffice!

Here are some pictures from the party. PS they eat and or use every last but of the lamb. NO WASTE UP IN HERE!

Be warned some are graphic.

The lamb in question
skinning it
the innards

making the dressing for the salad

washing the meat

trained butcher
Nudia, Roukies daughter

Roukie, her husband, and I

it's all just fun and games

Since I love weighing babies/ making sure that they are well nourished, I'm in the maternity everyday. This means that I find myself in the back birthing room quite often. I must admit that I enjoy watching child birth- not in a sick twisted way that usually accompanies a statement like that. It's kind of like watching a game (basketball, football, etc.) You're rooting for the object- in this case a baby not a ball- to go through the designated area. Not too different from a hoop or a goal post. The midwives look at me a bit sideways when I actually start chanting go, go, go, GO in escalation! Or when I cry wooohooo! when the babe makes it safley in the catcher's mitt. I like to think that I'm only encouraging the mom to be aggressive...b-e a-g-g-r-e-s-s-i-v-e. At least it will be a good story for her to tell the kids. I was in labor with you for 5 whole days, in the blazing heat, while a crazed American screamed nonsense at my vagina for you to come out...

 Like I was saying I find myself in the room of life yet again. This story begins with the mother at the crowning stage- but ladies and gents this is no Game of Thrones. This first time mommy at the ripe ol' age of 17 is pushing as hard as she can, but the hole in not stretching to accommodate the head. The midwives begin to voice their frustrations. "This is an example of a 3rd degree excision. How are women expected to successfully go through labor when they are mutilated like this, c'est pas possible! blah blah blah" For those who don't know a 3rd degree excision is the second most invasive type of female genital mutilation. They completely scoop out the clitoris and either sew together or remove the labia majora. The women end up looking like a scarred barbie doll. The Burkina government is getting involved in prevention and education on excision but it is still a huge reality for a lot of girls and young women.

 Since the babies head will not exit, Madame Zongo grabs a pair of scissors and begins to cut the outside rim of the woman's anesthesia. I'll write that again NO ANESTHESIA!! To make matters worse the scissors are dull. Madame Zongo is just snipping away but it's not cutting through. At this point the woman is screaming bloody murder, and what does Fati do? She slaps her in the face of course. I hand Zongo a pair of slightly less dull scissors and after a few snips she successfully tears through. They end up having to make another incision on the other side to further enlarge the opening, and the baby finally makes it through. SCORE! Although we're not in the safe zone yet. We still have to sew the mom back up (no anesthesia). I guarantee that most of these women have issues with their sex for the rest of their lives. I mean they are expected to keep popping out babies like bunnies while continuing to satisfy their husband's carnal desires. No wonder women here view sex as a chore.

 Let's review the score board kids: No clitoris, excision scars, childbirth scars, the pressure to have sex before healing completely, the knowledge that more sex will lead to another painful childbirth, AND constantly having your genitals mutilated whether by excision or childbirth. Talk about reopening healed wounds. Looks like no one wins here...well at least not the women.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ca c'est la violence!

Violence truly scares me. In my adult life I’ve never felt the need to hurt someone physically because they pissed me off or wronged me. That isn’t to say that I’ve never intentionally tried to annoy or hurt someone emotionally. When I get to that intense point of anger I always think to myself how can I be the bigger person, how can I make the other feel really low? Physical contact never crosses my mind.  (I'm not talking self defense here, I'm all for that) Maybe because I’m bigger and stronger than the average woman, it just never seems like it would be a fair fight. After you put your hands on someone you automatically lose in my book. So when this situation of violence occurred at my site, with my friends I was completely taken aback.
I was hanging out at my village pharmacy one evening while the Cecile (the pharmacist) and Fati is getting ready to go home. After Cecile locks the door she hands Fati a bag of ochre. The guard of my health clinic come running out of the bust chasing 2 goats. He is in a full sprint and at this point I chuckle a little. Seeing a grown man chasing goats is a pretty funny site. Let me give you some background.

It is currently rainy season in Burkina meaning people are cultivating crops for the following year. This is the season that determines how well you’re going to be eating/living for the next year. More importantly it is the season when people must tie up their animals. Cows, pigs, sheep, and goats…not chickens though. They can do whatever they want. Since people have open fields it is very easy for an animal of the non-chicken persuasion to wander in and eat everything.
Ok back to the story. Moussa the guard chases these goats into Fati’s yard while Fati walks back to her house. Moussa yells ‘FATI!’ and he proceeds to scream at her in local language. She responds to him with what seems like ‘look man there’s nothing that I can do, stop yelling at me.’ At this point I think that its all fun and games. Burkinabe usually play fight with each other. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been ready to pull my earrings off and daub on some vasaline to find out that they were just joking. I’ve been here for nearly 2 years and I feel pretty knowledgeable about the culture. I think that he is going to end the next holler with a smile and then we’ll all go home and enjoy some fresh ochre. WRONG!!

Moussa grabs Fati’s arm. I look into his eyes and he looks completely crazed/ She says one more thing then he draws back his fist and punched her dead in the jaw. He draws back again and lands another blow on her forehead. Fati stumbles back spilling ochre all over the damp ground. Cecile comes running from the pharmacy with me. We both are screaming for him to stop. Cec pushes Moussa away. Fato walks over to her house. I think that she is running away. WRONG AGAIN! She reaches into a corner of yard and pulls out a full machete. I wait for Moussa to run away but he bands down to grab a giant rock and tries to come at her with it. Cecile is successfully backing Moussa up as Fati trie to chop him with her weapon of choice. They stumble just missing each other with deadly blows. Cec wrestles the rock from Moussa. He walks into the storage closet at the health clinic and comes back out with a big blunt piece of wood. It was like one of those cave man head bashing sticks. Why was that in the storage room? As he starts to run at Fati with the stick Cecile begins to scream and tap her mouth. More neighbors rush out and the situation ends.

Now you’re probably wondering where I was when all of this weapon introduction was occurring. Well, at first I was watching in horror. And no, I’m not about to jump into a machete giant blunt stick fight in a foreign country. This fight was not about who was strongest. Since a lot people were malnourished at some point in their lives I’m bigger that most women and men. Despite the fact that most people have about 2% body fat and the rest lean muscle, I still think that I could hold my own. The only problem is that it’s not really about strength. As you can see our buddy Moussa switched weapons twice. It’s about who can find the biggest stick/rock the quickest and bash it against their opponents head. I was never trained in any serious combat, including street fighting. Call me a coward but I wasn’t eager to jump into this one. As all of this was happening I grabbed Fati’s 2.5-year-old daughter (who was watching the whole altercation) and took her to my other neighbors house.
After the fight Fati was furious. She began throwing insults at Moussa and telling him that she is going to wok him. Wok is similar to voodoo. Well voodoo probably came from wok. It’s basically when you use black magic to gain money, kill someone, make someone fall in love with you, etc. I speak to Fati afterwards and she shows me her wounds. I also find out that the fight started because Moussa asked her to tie up one of her kid goats because it was eating him bean crop. She told him that she couldn’t because the kid was still breast-feeding. Usually they only tie up the parent goats. The kids won’t wander too far from the mom. If she tied up the kid it would have not been able to effectively breast-feed.

Moussa received no formal reprimands for him outrageous behavior. My Major of course slapped him on the wrists and the guy still guards the clinic. Where is his guard post you ask? Why it’s outside of my very own bedroom window. This is where he sleeps almost every night. We’re practically roommates. I do not trust this man. Clearly he has some anger and mental issues. I often have daydreams of him getting into a fight with me. Sometimes when I see him I hope that he tries to start something with me so that I can whoop his behind, too bad I don’t own any goats. 

Tales from the Bush

This is a short list of some of the crazy things I’ve seen in my village. 

Disclaimer: I take none of these situations lightly. Not for the faint of heart.

  • I’ve witnessed many deaths, infants to adults. Seeing the actual moment when the person loses consciousness and the body becomes a machine slowly shutting down is an experience hard to explain.  If spirits exist I believe that I’ve seen the when a spirit leaves the body. The point when the pain seems to be irrelevant, breathing becomes mechanical- almost pump like, and they stop responding to external stimuli. After this point the family usually realizes that their loved one is gone. I’ve seen a mom strap her unconscious twitching toddler to her back and take him home. The child was beyond treatment. The nurses seem so numbed by death. They face almost every situation with such a frank cavalierness, it’s almost frightening. I wonder if this is an inevitable state that everyone dealing with death on a regular basis enters. If so, does anyone try and fight it? Is it worth fighting? Is this numb outlook the only way to stay sane in these kinds of professions?

  • I walk into the birthing room one morning to greet my midwives and see that they are with a patient. They cheerily welcome me in and I go through the list of salutations while trying not to be distracted by the massive amounts of blood and fluids all over the floor. I’ve seen countless child births and its no dry day in the sun, but this amount of fluid is not normal. One of the nurses says, ‘twins!’ I get excited and start looking around. Where are these bouncing balls of brown joy? I want to see some twinnies! I ask her where the little rugrats are and she reaches under the table and pulls out a bedpan containing even more fluid and to my dismay, premature (maybe 6 months) fetal twin boys. I look on in shock and awe. I search the moms face for pain and sadness but she seems confused and tired from the birth. Apparently the mom suffered polyhydramnios, which is a condition where the mom has too much amniotic fluid. Usually this condition does not result in any complications. In advanced cases like hers it can lead to still birth, a necessary cesarean, placenta abruption, rupture of the membranes, and in her case premature labor. They call in the grandmother to dispose of the bodies. Usually the grandmother and friends of the mom (FOM) clean the birthing room and bury the placenta in the woods. In some villages they bury it under their doorstep of their home to protect the child. The grandmother comes in and puts the twins in a bag and goes outside to dispose of them. She didn’t seem bothered at all. Just a little disappointed that they would have been twin boys. Gauging emotions in this culture is extremely difficult as an outsider. I feel that Americans wear emotions like a new pair of galoshes on a rainy day. I don’t know how I would have reacted if it was me.
  • A few days after the machete situation (see following post) I’m in my house listening to This American Life on my headphones. I happen to look up and see a woman wandering around in my courtyard. I assume that she is a patient looking for the health clinic. When I open the screen door to greet her, she starts mumbling with a vacant look in her eyes. She is what the Burkinabe call a fou/foule (a crazy person). She begins to show me her trash and then she tries to bust into my house. I don’t know where she found the strength but she nearly knocks me over in her efforts. Once I regain my footing I calmly yet sternly ask her to leave. She looks at me sadly and wanders out of my yard babbling like a mad woman. About 30 minutes later I hear a commotion next door. The woman broke into my neighbor’s house and stole some of their clothes.

  • In addition to all of this madness a drunken man keeps coming to my house in the middle of the night. He always asks me the same slurred question: Est-ce que je connais chez vous? That can be translated to: do I know your house/you? I think he is trying to get to know chez moi, if you know what I mean. It’s scary because he’s drunk and its nighttime when he comes around. After all of the excitement this past week I’m actually a little scared to be at my house alone. This is the first time I’ve felt this way in that last two years of my service. It’s frightening how quickly things can turn ugly. I’m lucky that I’ve been safe this far in my service. Even though Burkina is relatively a pretty safe country.

what's professional in the bush?

As I sit at my health clinic weighing babies, I hear a commotion coming from the birthing rooms.  As the two midwives walk out casually laughing I hear a man violently yelling. Because of the cultural differences (or and unknown inability on my part to read obvious social cues) I have no idea whether this situation is serious or not. I ask the mid ladies what's the dealio and they tell me to go in and see for myself. Had I known that this story ends with me storming out of the clinic wiping away a cocktail of angry-helpless- furious tears I would have…nope, never mind. Sometimes my curiosity leads me to fault. Ok back to the desperate screams from the back room. In the dingy birthing room, I see a young frantic looking woman clothed in nothing but a t-shirt laying on the rusted operating table. I’m sure that she would have gotten up and walked out of the room had a woman- I’m assuming her mother- not have been holding her down. An old man who is either her husband or father (can’t be too sure in this country) is also holding her down also and yelling at her in local language.  Apparently the young lady had given birth two hours before and was torn vaginally (a somewhat normal occurrence during child birth). The tear looked exceptionally grave- I’m guessing- because she was excised (female circumcision) as a young girl. You could still see the scars from her excision. They were holding her down so the two nursed could sew her back up; she was losing a considerable amount of blood. The head nurse (major) attempted multiple times to inject her in the nethers with local anesthesia but she wriggled and squirmed away. He then yells at her saying that he’ll just sew her up without anesthesia. He attempts to sew her but once again she struggles away from him. Mind you, they are being very rough with her. Yelling, cursing, pushing, slamming, and prodding. I’m sure that the young woman is scared out of her mind and extremely vulnerable. They do the “here’s some anesthesia jk I’ll sew you up without it” dance for another ten minutes. Not only is the woman even more terrified and split open, she now has fresh needle/syringe cuts all over her thighs.

At this point everybody is exasperated. The woman pushes away for the hundredth time and the major decides to slop her in the face. The dad/husband feeds off of this and proceeds to slap and shake his daughter/wife. Shocked and disgusted I walk to the table yelling “whoa, hey, don’t hit her!” The major looks at me annoyed and he tells me that he doesn’t have time for this and she has been refusing treatment for hours now. I try to say that hitting her is not going to make her any less scared but I am kindly ignored.

They decide to tranquilize her with two hits of valium. They wait for her to fall asleep, but because she is in fight or flight mode she just lies there whimpering for 15 minutes. I will have you know that one shot of valium knocked me out instantly after my allergic reaction. One of the midwives comes back into the room with a get ‘er done air about her. She walks directly to the woman and with the help of the nurses she pulls her legs into a full split! The woman is screaming and fighting hard at this point. The mom taps out and is replaced by a younger woman. They hold her down and the unnecessary physical abuse continues. The dad, friend, mom, and major have all slapped her at this point. It reminds me of that scene from the film Airplane!, when everybody lines up and slaps the hysterical passenger to try and calm her down. Only this situation is not humorous, it’s real and sad. I chose this time to excuse myself from the room.

I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. Here a woman is being damn near tortured and I couldn't do anything to help her. 1: She needed the procedure. In my small village we don’t have the luxury of foolproof drugs to guarantee the patient feels zero to no pain.  2: Who the heck am I? How am I so bold as to walk into this random country, invited into their hospitals to witness very personal experiences and then tell them how to do their jobs? 3: I didn’t have any constructive input other than violence is bad. Golly Jalysa, what a great contribution, you’ll be a doctor in no time! After I told my mother this story she suggested that I could have asked to speak to the girl alone to calm her down. Not a bad idea but would they have allotted me the time to do so, and would she have understood me? Things that make sense to the average American does not always translate in this culture and vice versa. What would you have done?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Better late than never

Okay, I have to admit that I haven’t been updating because when I got back from the States I was in a bit of denial about being back in Burkina. (I had an amazing time in the States by the way thanks rents) As of now I have 7 more months in country. I’m looking forward to leaving Burkina to start my next adventure. I am pleased to see the progress I’ve made while being here. I spent the last 5 weeks at site without leaving once! Personal record. Below are a couple of entries that I wrote while during that time.

Hot season is practically here. Ahhhh You know it’s approaching when the heat wakes you up around 5am. This morning I woke up to heat miser singeing. I grumbled around my house cursing the heat while I got ready start my day. Sweat trickled down my chest from the slightest exertion. I started to make the usual porridge that I have every morning but the thought of turning on my stove literally made me want to kick a baby. I settled for granola and an orange. After devouring the cereal I go outside to peel my orange. Standing there as I gaze around my neighborhood, I become filled with youthful joy. As I take in the sounds of my buzzing village, a cool breeze whispers on my skin. I am instantly reminded of my childhood. The weather reminded me of the start of spring after a long winter in south NJ. Young me waking up before 6am to get ready for school, watching the sun rise to the soundtrack of birds chirping as I feed the dogs. In my childhood home we didn’t have air conditioning so you could really feel the difference when the seasons began to change. It’s the same in Burkina Faso except the seasons are dusty and hot, rainy and hot, or hot. It wasn’t all bad though. I looked forward to this change. No more winter coats and heavy stifling clothing and more animals about soaking in the warm air. This change in weather also was the sign of school’s end! To any child the beginning of summer vacation is pure happiness. As I stand here peeling my orange in Burkina Faso West Africa I am reminded of that true adolescent bliss. I’m a child again. I finally drift out of this pleasant reverie and look down at my hands to find my orange perfectly peeled. I split open mother nature’s citrus candy and it’s browned at the core with a maggot squirming in the mush. That’s Burkina for you.

OMG I’m currently having a manic episode of happiness. Today I woke up feeling slightly ill. Despite this I ate breakfast as usual and went to the pump to do my laundry. After that I set up my desert fridge. I put my water bottle in it. After this I swept my house and courtyard, took a shower, and then left for the market to pick up groceries. The only good thing about hot season is that it’s the season for mangos. I bought 4 fat mangos back to my house. I cut one open and shoved it down my gullet. WOAH talk about food sex, it was orgasmic. After this passionate food session I open up my desert fridge and find that my water is cold! The desert fridge works! This day started out rough but it ended on a great note. Focus on the little things: delicious mangos, cold water, completed chores. Gahd I appreciate the simple life.