Saturday, November 17, 2007

ECOWAS, Make your own tacos, and Grey's Grey's and more Grey's

I am determined it is best to stop apologizing for my only once a week a blog updates since that is what seems to be all I can manage these days. This past week has been, well, interesting. You know you are starting to feel settled somewhere when the days start flying by… I really can’t believe it has been over a week since I last wrote. The only not so great thing about this week is that the Skype and Google Talk connections have been very bad lately. Also, with daylight savings time the ideal time to talk to my family in the morning before they go to school now falls right during my lunch time which I actually really enjoy taking with the students. It is tough and I hope to be able to connect this weekend. Oh yes, and the other not so great thing is that my back has started hurting. Pretty bad actually. It is my upper back, right between my shoulder blades. It feels like someone is pinching me and there is one vertebra in particular which is sore to touch. I don’t really get it… It hurts to work at my desk and using my laptop. I have come up with a system of not using my desk and propping my feet up on a stool and putting my computer on my legs. This works pretty well for a while, but I constantly having to shift positions because of this pain in back. I have found that lying down is the best pain alleviation. Today I started taking Alieve and plan to take it consistently to help with what I am guessing is some sort of swelling causing the problem. If it doesn’t go away in a week or so I am going to try and locate a doctor who can help me. There is a Belgium missionary doctor here and I know the family quite well, but I am not sure how much he will be able to help with back pain. Anyway, I will let you know what happens…

If my memory serves me correctly, I let you waiting to know how my bank transaction turned out. Well, it went great! I deposited my first paycheck and made a withdrawl. The checks I needed to pick up where unfortunately located at the central branch of the bank so I had to wait on getting those. After the bank I headed back to 2iE and made it back in time for the Toastmaster’s Club meeting. I am going to join the club and brush up my public speaking skills. This club is in English and is intended to help the staff and students of 2iE and the surrounding community with there professional English speaking skills. They were very happy to have another native English speaker join them The meetings are every other Saturday which I think will work well. There is also a French Toastmaster’s group in Ouagadougou and I plan to go to some of their meetings eventually as well. Saturday afternoon I talked to my parents, worked out and did some other random tasks like cleaning my room. I had lunch with my friend Moulaye Gaouad from Mauritania which was nice because I see him around a lot but hadn’t had a chance to talk to him to find out how his courses are going. Saturday night was the Edge. Leanna picked me up as usual and then we got Tyler. The service was nice and Amy Neilsen shared her story from when they were in Cote I’voire during their civil war. The lesson was on forgiveness and she shared how one night her family was out at dinner and she was kidnapped. It was pretty intense and freaked me out sufficiently, but she was so good with how she told it and how she used it teach on the power and necessity of forgiveness. After the Edge, a whole big group, Leanna, Tyler, Tyler, Ben, Maggie, and myself all headed back to Leanna’s for some strawberry milkshakes. Leanna finally got the blender piece she had been missing! I was skeptical since no ice cream was involved, but the strawberries were frozen and like they were really good. I found out strawberry season is in Jan-Feb which rocks since that is when my birthday is and I LOVE STRAWBERRIES!
Okay, since I went to the Edge the night before I decided not to go to church again on Sunday. Instead, I had been feeling a bit under the weather so decided to sleep all day. Literally. I got up at 10:30, did my bible lesson grabbed some food and went back to sleep. Woke up about 1:00pm read a little, went back to sleep got up at 4:00 and then decided to watch some more Grey’s. Leanna came and got me at 5:45 for the football game. I decided to join the rec center for this month. If I am going to climb Kilimanjaro or run a marathon I need to be training. We’ll see how much I use my membership and I can decide each month to renew or not. The Browns were playing the Steelers and it was an awesome game. Leanna was sad the Browns lost, but I was relieved that the Steelers won. A loss to the Browns would have been pretty bad for them. I got bed early after watching more Grey’s. I also started reading a book because I couldn’t fall asleep. I started reading the Federalist Papers which seems lie it would be boring, which it kind of is, but it still very interesting. You see I want to know what America was founded on, what makes it so great beyond the obvious. I am worried about the future of my country and want to know more about its formation so I can help work towards its successful continuation.

Monday I had a terrible day. Not quite sure what was up, but was just feeling blah. My work was not going well and I was stressed out about my grad school apps. I am still a bit stressed out, but have resolved to have them all done by the end of the month. My French lesson went poorly. No details needed except that I was able to talk to my teacher about how I would like to do things differently next time. Everyday, I have such a problem waking up. I am getting 8 hours of sleep, but it just doesn’t seem like enough. I think it is the heat. Anyway, I left work early and worked out in my room. I then proceeded to make myself a pasta dinner and watched none less than 4 episodes of Grey’s. It has really become an addiction… but I love getting caught up on the earlier seasons. I was about to go to bed and had the incredible desire to draw something. As I mentioned I hadn’t been feeling like to doing much all day and then feeling guilty for doing nothing all, so I decided what the heck. I pulled out a mirror and did a self-portrait. I worked for an hour and a half and then result is not bad. It’s not great, but considerably better than the one I did in high school. I like this whole drawing from life. It is way cooler than copying other pictures.

Tuesday, I got to work early because I was supposed to be helping in the lab with the Bachelor-1 students. The lab was from 7-10am. Oye! That is early to be alert and listening to lab instructions. Anyway, it was not run so well which I guess not that much of a surprise. The instructor talked forever about directions, going really slowly. However, they told me the kids were supposed to get through 4 experiments. I’m in the corner going, now way that is going to happen. Well, they finally let the kids start and the problem is the lab books they are given have very vague directions. So they have to ask all the time if they are doing things correctly. And then there is a lot of waiting for the instructors to come around. One time Kokou came by and started asking why the group hadn’t started the next section. Well, buddy its because you never told them too. So they started and within 5 minutes the other teacher comes and asks why they started already! It was a bit confusing and in the end they barely got through one acid-base titration. I did that in high school, but this was the first time these students were learning this stuff. How easily we take things for granted! I worked through the rest time so I could go to bible study. The study was good and I planned to go to the bank and the market afterwards, but to my surprise the bank was closed! I need to figure out the hours. I did stop at the Shopette which is a small grocery store not far from me. I bought another package of my favorite biscuits, but again a different brand. And again it was disappointing. Nothing compares to the Bisca brand. I will have to go back to the central Marina Market sometime to restock with the good ones! Tuesday night Marcia and I decided to go for a swim a the rec center. We had both had long days and could use a little night swim. Great Idea! We rode our bikes over together and I did a short circuit in the weight room while Marcia swam and then hopped in the pool to swim a few laps. I ended up using a kickboard and going back and forth getting a great leg workout. After the pool, instead of eating the rec center food which is mediocre to the say the least we decided to try this place we passed on the way called Café Belko. It was SO good. I got the peppered steak and mashed potatoes, or puree de pomme de terre en francias. It was incredible food! Marcia and I had a fun time talking. I am going to participate in the conference she is coordinating. Officially, like I will have a name badge. Rock on! Of course I finished off my night with an episode of Grey’s.

Wednesday morning I chatted with Carolyn online which was quite the treat. I also talked to Shelly. Right on! We are still making plans for my visit to see her :) At 9:30 I left with Konate to go to the bank to get my checks. He said he had a meeting to go to afterwards and that I could just wait with him and go back when it was over. He said it would be short. Word of Advice: Never believe an African when they something will be quick. The meeting lasted 4 HOURS! I missed my French lesson which was not good form at all, but fortunately people are more forgiving of that sort of thing here. Anyway, Konate had been going to these meetings all week. It was an ECOWAS meeting to prepare an international framework agreement on Integrated Water Resource Management. ECOWAS is an economic community of West African states. Unbeknownst to me this was a pretty big deal. I would have dressed up more if I would have known. All the men were in suits and aside from one other lady who came and went randomly I was the only white person, only female, and only person under 40 in the room! It was pretty awesome. They had those sweet microphones and headsets at the tables and there was translator in a back cubby space. Anyway, as a result of this conference 2iE was recognized as a center of excellence which is great for the school. Since I missed my lesson anyway we stayed for lunch after the meeting concluded. You have to love the free meals. The meeting was cool to observe but frustrating at times. They were painstaking going over every paragraph of a summary of what the seminar had accomplished and then were going over the agreement documents page by page as well. Very time consuming, it seemed like they very nitpicking unimportant details. But then I realized that they weren’t unimportant. In an international agreement the wording has to be just right and everyone has to agree AND if it needs to be in two different languages both must express exactly the intended idea. This is surprisingly more difficult to achieve in practice than one would imagine. Anyway, I learned a ton and getting to listen to French debates is always entertaining. It is kind of cool going to these because I am a rarity there people like to come talk to me. I think Konate should bring me along just because it gets people attention, and is great publicity for the school when they me what I do, ect. Anyway. The last thing to note about the conference was that the delegate from Guinea was talking to me a bit about what I do with water resources research and wanted to talk with me some more. So I gave him my contact info giving it a 50-50 chance I would hear from him. You’ll see later what happens. It is pretty stinking cool. After the conference I went back and worked on my new experiment design for a bit. At 3:30 I decided to head to rec center to go running. I just needed a break or something! It was so nice. I went 5 miles which is admirable. On my way over I was feeling adventurous That night just as I sat down to start one of my essays Marcia texted me about going to the market to buy fabric. This was not an opportunity I wanted to pass up so I said the essay could wait. Susan joined us and it was good fun. We didn’t go until later and I was glad to be with other people. I bought some fabric to have a simple two piece dress made. It is red with squiggly lines and flowers. I have really wanted to have a dinner party, so Marcia and I made plans to have Susan and Maryellen over on Friday. Susan suggested we invite the tailor to come to take our measurements and get started on our orders. So that was the plan, then I just had to decide what we were going to have to eat. Then it came to me, probably because Leanna had mentioned it before, but I decided on make your own tacos. You’ll see how it all turns out on Friday. We got back from the market about 6:55 and I was planning on getting dinner at the café. BUT the students were currently boycotting the café because they thought the price was too high, and they closed early that night. So instead Marcia cooked up some pasta with veggies for dinner. I also finally brought myself to write my MIT essay which is definitely a start. After I wrote it, I rewarded myself with an episode of Grey’s. See, addiction.

Thursday was good. I was busy busy with Grad school apps. ALL DAY! I filled them all out and set the requests to my teachers to fill out the recommendations. This is always a huge thing for me. But I have to get over it. They don’t mind. I just don’t like asking people who I know are already incredibly busy to do something else. At lunch I saw Pascal which was nice because I hadn’t been at meals much to catch up with what was going on. I got to speak in French and another student joined us in our conversation which was nice to talk to another student in French as well. That afternoon I went back to the photographers to have my picture retaken. On Wednesday on my way to the rec center I was feeling more adventurous so I stopped at the corner of the road 2iE is on to have my photo taken. I needed a photo for my ID card at the rec center and here they don’t take your picture you have to supply your own. So I bought 4. Problem was when Marcia, Susan and I were leaving for the market the photo guy told me the camera had opened and I needed to retake my picture. I went back after lunch with Pascal which was helpful. I got picture taken and would pick them up on Friday. I also bought 2 bananas from this lady on the road. I have seen her many times before and she always talks to me but I can’t understand what says 90% of the time. This is a small problem. Whatever. Thursday afternoon was more of the same applications stuff. I am not sure who to have write my recommendation fro Stanford. I am debating between a professor in my department who knows me really well, or a professor in a different department who is really well known. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the program I thought the other guy would be better, but I only did so-so in his class and I’m had said he was willing to write a supportive letter, but I’m just not sure. I want to talk to my Mom before I decide. On Friday I emailed Stanford to clarify some instructions and also asked about submitting 4 instead of 3 recommendations. Their response was they prefer three , but would accept four. I just don’t want to seem like I am over compensating. My gut is to go with the first one who knows me better and let me essay speak for my interdisciplinary strengths. Wow, I think I just worked out my problem by writing this entry. Who’d a thought? So later on Thursday I get this call on my cell phone. It was from the guy from the conference wanting to know if I am free tomorrow to meet with him. Of course I was free, and since I was pretty keen on talking with the guy I agreed to meet him at the hotel where the conference was held at 11:00am on Friday. After I agreed and while I was on the phone with him I am trying to analyze the situation for anything fishy or dangerous. After running this through my mental filters and agreeing I mentioned to Konate my plan and he thought it would be fine. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to talk to me, but whatever. I also ran it by Marcia who agreed that at that time of the day I should have nothing to worry about and I was planning on only meeting with him in the lobby area so my plans were set for Friday. After work I raced home heated up some canned beans for dinner scarffed those down and Leanna picked me up so I could help at WIRED. It was a crazy youth group that night. There was CMA team in town who taught the lesson and 9 adults came to help out which was overkill and made it seem like there were a ton more people there, which there was… The good news is I got a jar of peanut butter, instant oatmeal and soup which were leftovers from things the team brought for the missionaries. After WIRED I watched my nightly Grey’s episode and ate peanut butter crackers… yum…

Friday again started out like someone hit me in the face with a 2x4. I also have a bad canker sore in the mouth which is not fun. In the morning I started putting together and official proposal for the experiment I want to do and really drawing out the designs so the shop can make the materials and outlining the goals, background information and supporting papers, ect. At 10:00 I went to pick up pictures which were ready and at 10:35 left on my bike to go to the hotel and meet this guy from Guinea. It didn’t take long to get there, but it was by far the farthest I have biked. It felt good and I was happy with myself for having the guts to go. At the hotel I met with who turned out to be the Director of Water Resources for the whole country. We talked about possibly doing some research into some of their management problems. They don’t have money to do the projects, but need to research options so that they can apply for aid funds. Anyway, he gave me a document outlining more about their water issues and I planned to meet again between 3:00 and 4:00 after I had a chance to read it over. p.s. it was in French, but I understood it all. Go me. On my way back I stopped at the rec center to drop off my picture, reserve the TV for Saturday night, and look for a towel I left there on Wednesday. It was still there! So, I take this paper with me have it photocopied and come up with a basic plan of how I would approach looking at Guinea’s water problems. Also, side note, I originally thought the guy was from Guinea-Bissau, but no Guinea. Opps. I went back at 3:30 after a much improved French lesson with Moumini who seemed okay with Wednesday’s mishap. So basically, this director wants me to work with him to conduct research on Guinea’s water resources. Like a consultant. I made it clear that I was under contract with 2iE and could not start until that was up. Unfortunately, I have an exclusivity of employment clause in my contract which means I can’t do anything like side consulting work. Bummer. But he was okay with staying in contact starting to think about possible projects, starting work in his office and then in June of 2008 possibly working up an agreement to have me come and visit to survey the issues and then work from grad school on the project. Cool right. Come on that is awesome. BUT even though I am excited about it I am still very hesitant and will be following the political situation closely and learning more about how researchers interact with government and how this whole thing works. Anyway, I think it is really cool that my skills are in demand and that I might actually be able to do something helpful like formulate an integrated water resources management plan for a developing country. Talk about being the right place at the right time and having the people skills to make the contacts you need. Finally, one last note is he mentioned that I wasn’t at the document signature ceremony thing on Thursday and wanted to know why not because he had been hoping to introduce me to their minister of the environment. Great. No one told me about this event! You see they do need to take me along because I am great PR for 2iE…

Phew that was long, but my Friday is far from over. After that meeting I rode my bike to the central Marina Market to pick up some stuff from the nights make your taco extravaganza. Turns out Maryellen couldn’t come so it was just Marcia, Susan and I. It was still an awesome evening. At the market it was getting chickpeas for protein instead of meat, olives, sugar for Susan, and tortilla chips and lettuce. This was first time doing this sort of thing alone in the center village. Very intimidating, but I managed okay. I am also very much out of cash and haven’t had a chance to get to the bank. grrr… When I got back to my office after the errands Konate mentioned Prof Maiga came looking for me today and that we he had sent me email about meeting him at 11:30 that day. Well, I hardly ever get emails at my 2iE address so I rarely check it, and felt terrible. But he would in his office Saturday morning so I planned to meet him then. The conference Marcia is planning starts on Monday so there was a flurry of activity going on trying to set up the room. I came in and helped them come up with a working configuration for the tables, and then realized it was getting close to the time when the tailor would be coming. So we quickly finished and went home. After breaking the corkscrew trying to open a her bottle of wine the night before Marcia enlisted my engineering ingenuity to open it. After quite a struggle, my Leatherman, two key rings I got it open and we had some red wine with dinner. Lovely. The tailor came and took our measurements. I drew him a picture of what I wanted. I wanted something simple. I am skeptical of how it will turn out, but he is only charging like 8 dollars to make this outfit for me, so whatever right? The fabric costs more than the actual tailoring. After the tailoring consult we started on dinner. I cut up the toppings, Marcia made some Spanish rice and Susan made tortilla’s. Made tortillas They were awesome. We also had some guacamole. It was so much fun. We ate our Mexican meal and chatted until 10:30. Of course, I couldn’t go to sleep without watching the next episode of Grey’s so I did that and then instead of going to sleep I felt inspired to start brainstorming for my Stanford essay which I want to finish by next Friday. I fell asleep at 1:15ish and got up at 8:30 to in and meet with Maiga.

The meeting this morning went well. The school is going to cover 75% of my French lesson costs which I think is reasonable, and the experiment I want to do seems like it will become a reality. Hopefully by mid December. After this I rode over to the Kids Club that Tyler and Kate run each Saturday for Fulani kids, who are basically beggars by trade. It was so cool to see. Most of the little ones speak only fufani a tribal language, but the older ones have picked up French after being Ouaga for so long. There were about 40 kids. They play sports at the beginning then review last weeks lesson, learn a new lesson via tape and pictures in the fufani language. Then they got necklaces of sorts and were feed a good meal of rice. Tyler asked me to come to see what it was like. They use water for the kids to wash and give them water to drink, but they aren’t treating it beforehand. They want to work with me to first see if the water needs filtering via some tests and then see about getting some of those ceramic water filters form Nicolas and testing out with this program. I will be working on making that happen this coming week. After riding my bike back in the heat heat of the day I made some lunch out of the leftovers from last night and watched, you guessed it. Grey’s. BUT it was the last one in the first season so now I have to move on to Season 2. Crazy! Leanna is coming to get me in 30 minutes so I am going to leave my room and head to my office to post this epic retelling of my week.

One parting thought. On Monday when I was feeling bad I decided I need to hang up th pictures of friends and family that I brought with me. Well with no frames and not wanting to have the edges curl I cam up with a picture quilt idea. I laid the pictures all out in a 4x4 array and put a piece of duct tape on the back at every place where four corners came together. I then put a piece and the seam along the edges. AND Voila! It was easy to hang and my picture aren’t bending. I do love to look at it and see all the people I care so much about.

Oh yes, and on Thursday Liesbeth one of the youth group girls asked if I would lead a girls bible study, which I am genuinely excited leading. Pray for me this endeavor.

Cheers to all from your 7 week veteran of Burkina Faso,
Sara A. Piaskowy