Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Volta River Basin, Thanksgiving 2x, and Complete Frustration.

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with the stuff you have to do, want to do that you end up doing nothing at all. That is how I feel right now.

Ever felt like you are so busy all the time, but never have anything to show for it. That is how I have felt for two months now.

I think it is just something about hitting the two month mark. After two months, the newness starts to wear off and you start to realize how hard life is here. I’m not saying the sense of adventure is gone. Oh no, I all I need to do is walk down the street if I need a reminder I’m not in Kansas anymore. But you kinda of wish you had your own washer, that you had brought a few more outfits than you did, that you could print whatever you want whenever you want. It’s the little things like a stove that lights without a match or lighter, having bagels and cream cheese for breakfast and where is the Disney Channel when you need a good dose of pick me up?

Anyway, you are probably catching at not the best time for positive reflections, but I am leaving tomorrow to visit Bianca’s village for three days tomorrow, so if I don’t get caught up today, chances are I will never write and you will be left wondering how little Sara spent her Thanksgiving. Well, we can’t have that now can we. Oh, by the way Bianca is a Peace Corps Volunteer who I met via Leanna and Tyler. She is really fun and I am looking forward to the upcoming sleep over in her hut. We are planning on bringing a DVD to watch on her computer, gotta love technology :)

SO, I believe I left off last week with Leanna coming to get me for football on Saturday night, not Sunday night as is the usual. Ohio State was playing Michigan which I learned was a huge and bitter rivalry. There were a bunch of Peace Corps volunteers that showed up to watch the game. One girl made Buckeyes, the peanut butter and chocolate treats. This girl also had a buckeye necklace. Leanna is from Ohio and and huge Ohio State fan. I was so happy they won because I don’t think I would have up for consoling such a passionate football aficionado. Watching the game reminded me of my Aunt Lynn, Uncle Jerry, cousins Alex and Andrea, who are from Ohio. Andrea went to Law School at Ohio State so again I had reason to be happy when they won.

Since I hadn’t had a chance to workout yet that day I went to workout room during the 2nd quarter to put on a few miles on the treadmill. It was quite a nice stress release indeed. I wanted to run 5 miles, but the time limit is 30 minutes. So being the nice person I am I gave up my machine after 41 minutes (that was as far as I could stretch things) to some lady who proceeded to walk on the treadmill. I mean really. Come on.

So I had made plans to Skype with my Mom after the football game since we hadn’t been able to talk really all week because of the bad connections. However, since the game was over nine we agreed that the night was still young and we wanted to watch a movie. So we called up Tyler who has Transformers and we went to Leanna’s to watch it. Luckily for me I was able to use Leanna’s computer to talk to my Mom. Yeah! It was so nice to have a good connection and ample time to figure things out. I ended up missing the first half-plus of the movie, but I didn’t mind. I got back much later than I had anticipated and set my alarm for church in the morning.

Sunday: I had planned to go to Pascal’s church again, but he called and said he was sick and was not going, so instead I slept in. I had lunch at the cafeteria and went to play ultimate Frisbee at 3:30. Frisbee was pretty bad this week because it was a poor turnout and most of the kids were really little and couldn’t catch or throw which makes the games a bit more challenging. I decided not to go to football again that night and instead vowed to write my Stanford essay. I am not kidding when I say writing these essays takes some sort of divine inspiration. Well, I finally got it on Sunday and wrote an essay I am very proud of. I watched another episode of Grey’s as a reward and went to sleep.

Monday was day one of the 5 day conference that Marcia had been planning. It was very interesting and I was happy to have gotten a chance to sit in and learn so much. There were translators there which was cool because I could listen in French or English or both and I think it really helped me a lot. Marcia told me I would have a name tag because she had officially added me to the conference attendees list. However, when I got there to my surprise there was no name tag for me. Konate was in charge of them, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit slighted. He made some lame excuse and I jokingly exclaimed how I couldn’t believe he forgot me. I think he got the picture. The first three days in the morning there were three different presentations. These were for the most part good. The only problem was the topic wasn’t exactly in my field so it was a bit out of my interest realm, but I always enjoy learning new things. The topic was small reservoirs in the Volta River Basin. Apparently, the Volta River Basin is one of the latest ones to develop an international authority for management. So it has a ways to go to catch up. But the director of this Volta Basin Authority was present which I guess is a really big deal.

The nice thing about conference like these is that you get nice lunches. However, I was kind of sad about not eating with the students in the café, but I figured I got enough French practice at the meetings. The afternoons were largely discussion or workshop style groups. Part of the conference goals was to help applicants to the IFS grant program write a successful grant proposal. This activity was the focus for Thursday and Friday. Ceclia the women from the IFS and Marcia did the presenting in for this portion. It was really interesting finding out the detailed methodology for creating a research proposal. I kind of wish I had had the workshop before submitting my NSF application. I think the biggest thing is doing a literature review and what I learned at the conference is how difficult it is to access information. At Princeton we had subscriptions to basically everything you could think of. Here the opposite is true. There is a platform called PERI which supports access to resources for developing countries and I have decided to make it my mission to get 2iE connected to this platform and using it before I leave.

Monday evening I think Susan, Marica and I cooked dinner of pasta. I can’t really remember anything super significant happening, so we’ll just move on. Tuesday night was a dinner put on by the conference. It was held at the Palm Beach Hotel which is right in the center of Ouaga and is really pretty nice. The food was good and I got to sit by Lydie. Lydie is a PhD student at 2iE in my department. I hadn’t had much contact with her before so it was great to make that connection. Another person I met was Natalie who is a French girl working with the Volta-HYCOS project which is housed at 2iE. Again, a really nice girl who I am happy to have met. I plan to have an evening get together with Lydie, Natalie, and Susan at my house sometime soon. One of Lydie’s favorite actresses is Sandra Bullock and while she has seen Miss Congeniality she hasn’t seen Miss Congeniality 2. Well, I just happened to find it in Leanna’s DVD collection so I borrowed and plan to show that as the nights entertainment. Also, before heading to dinner the tailor came to have us try on our outfits. I really like mine except he needed to take it in a bit, which is what I told him. He will bring them back on Saturday.

Oh, yes and very significant news is that I was accepted to Oxford. YEAH! I was so excited when I got that email. Wow. It was one of my top choices too. Even though I am super excited about this I still have to finish my others applications. Blah.

So Wednesday morning I was very inspired and got up early and went to the gym before going to the conference. I planned my time just right. However, I hadn’t planned on leaving my cell phone in the cup holder of the treadmill. This would have been bad if I did at Dillon Gym, but it bordering nightmare in Ouaga. I thought for sure I had just lost my $200 phone. But, Susan helped me get Alfred’s number, the guy who runs the rec center and I called and asked him to please get and keep it for me until I came back. So later that day, when I convinced Konate to take me the bank to pick up my ATM card, on the way back we stopped at the rec center so I could get my phone. As a side to this, When I opened my account they said my card would be ready in 3 weeks. After fours weeks when we went back they said there was a problem with the company supplying the cards and they didn’t have it. That is Africa my friend. So I made a sizable withdrawl to hold me over for a long time. I should mention that for the last 5 days I had been essentially out of cash. Not a good boat to be in. Next time I am not waiting for the ATM card. Now that I have some experience with the bank I feel confident going whenever I need to.

Wednesday night I had dinner in the café and then talked briefly with my family. I polished my Stanford essay and started writing my essay for Duke. I got about three-fourths of the way done and decided that was all the writing I could handle for one night. So I watched Grey’s. The problem was I watched Grey’s a little long. Episode after episode, It was really addicting. And bottom line was I stayed up til 3:00 AM watching the shows. This was a bad choice. I recognize that. I even knew it as I continued to watch the shows. But I figured hey tomorrow is Thanksgiving, what the heck. This would have probably worked fine last year, but this year I paid dearly as I struggled to stay awake during the conference sessions. Never again will I do that! I would also like to point out I haven’t watched Grey’s since…

All day Thursday I was so excited it was Thanksgiving, but also super tired and pretty sick of hearing about the Volta River Basin. I cut out early from the last session, planning to get some work of my own done, but alas that didn’t happen. I decided things would be better if I took a nap, which I did. Lorinda picked me up for the CMA thanksgiving dinner at 6:00pm. What a blessing that evening was. Good food a crowd of 30 people happy to celebrating an American holiday. There wasn’t much more to ask for. Here are some pictures for you to enjoy. I’m only in one because I am taking the pictures! But at least you can see who I hang out with :)

Friday was definitely a TGIF day. But I was feeling major pressure because I said I would do the stuffing for the meal Leanna was putting together and I hadn’t gotten the ingredients yet. I also was supposed to give my first speech, the ice breaker at Toastmasters tomorrow morning, Saturday and I hadn’t even started! That night I made a tough, but very choice and refused an invitation to Leanna’s for dinner with Bianca and Tyler. Instead, I made some pasta for myself and wrote my speech. I also watched the new Pride and Prejudice which really just made my day and made me want to go to Oxford. The English countryside is really so very enchanting, the manor houses and the accents. What’s not to love? Oh, I should also like to mention that I got to talk to my Grandparents and Katha over GoogleTalk while they were in Chicago for Thanksgiving. It was such a treat to hear their voices. We will have to set up something for Christmas as well :) I only wish I had had more time to talk to them, but with the conference going on I had little control over my schedule.

My Saturday was scheduled very tightly. I would get up at 7:15 workout for 30 minutes. Hop my bike and ride to the market to get the ingredients for the stuffing. I had to be back at my house by 8:45 to get the bread from the baker. In 30 minutes I would have to cut the bread up and set it out to stale, shower and make sure my speech was ready. Oye. But it went like clockwork. My speech was great. I think toastmasters will be very helpful for me. I used to like speaking in public and then I went to school and somehow that confidence was slowly chipped away at. I think toastmasters is just what I need to rebuild my confidence and since most the people are native French speakers they are happy to have me there as a native English speaker. After the meeting I rapidly made the stuffing which turned out surprisingly well considering it was the first time I have ever made it, and I was making it in a 3rd world country where everything is more difficult than it should be. I was walking out to get a taxi to Leanna’s when I saw Susan who was going with Natalie to buy fabric. They gave me a ride which was really nice. At Leanna’s I helped cook and basically just had an altogether fun time with my friends. We cut out snowflakes and then I made a Chinese lantern. At which point Bianca thought it would be a splendid idea to make a mini one for each person as a name card and put them around the glasses. So that is exactly what we did. There were 10 people at this second Thanksgiving: Me, Leanna, Bianca, Tyler C, Tyler B, Ben, Will, Magdalena, Tobin, and Shelly. It was so much fun. And the food was incredible, even better than the meal on Thursday. Leanna made a pumpkin pie from scratch which was out of this world good. Which is hard to do without the pumpkin from a can!

After dinner we played Catch Phrase, guys versus girls and the guys surprisingly beat the girls… After 5 rounds of Catch Phrase we indulged in dessert followed by a viewing of the ever popular Christmas movie Elf. After the movie was over we spent another hour playing with the extra features of the DVD. You might not know it, but the Elf DVD has interactive games that when you win give you a number in a code to unlock an elevator which has 22 floors of surprises! It was pretty entertaining :) After Elf we had round two of dessert and played an ink blot game with the cutouts from the snowflake making extravaganza. The night was rounded out by an episode of Criminal Minds which I could have done without. Leanna drove Magdalena, Shelly and I home and I fell sound asleep until 11:30 Sunday Morning. I had planned to getup at 9:00 for church, but that didn’t happen. This is second week in a row I haven’t made it to church, I need to make sure this doesn’t become a habit. Oh before I fell sound asleep I tried on my dress from the tailor which is really cute. I think I may ask him to adjust the neckline a little bit, but I’m still debating.

When I got up on Sunday I was greeted by a note from Marcia saying she and Susan were having pancakes at Susan’s house. I put on some clothes and headed over. What fun! After the brunch of pancakes the three of us donned our bags and headed out for the village artisanal which is exactly what it sounds like. It is really a year around artisan fair. I bought a beautiful necklace an elephant key chain which I really need to use, and a batique which is a painted panel of fabric. It was great to go to the shops so early in my stay because now I can be thinking about what I want to bring back for people and what reasonable prices are for things, ect. Marcia bought a bunch of necklaces as presents for her friends in Sri Lanka.

When we got back, we all shared a snack of smoked salmon, cheese, walnuts, and bread. It was quite lovely, and afterwards I went to the office and submitted by Stanford Application. Phew. I am glad that is out of the way. I emailed a Professor in the department and it seems like my chances of getting into the IPER program I applied to are very slim due to the fact that I don’t have a Master’s Degree, but I also checked the box allowing my application to be considered for a Master’s Degree or different department if necessary. So I am not going to worry about it. I also just got into Oxford, so whatever.

Leanna picked me up for football and I brought my workout clothes again which is turning out be a nice compromise. I go with and watch some football and get to workout as well. After football I hit the hay, but had a tough time falling asleep and an even tougher time waking up. It must be the malaria medication I am taking. Yuck.

Monday started out as any other day. However, I requested to take Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as vacation days so I could go with Bianca. We were originally planning to go Thursday through Sunday, but she has to be back in Ouaga for meetings on Saturday so we had to adjust a bit. I considered bailing, but I am glad to go and didn’t want to put it off for fear it would never happen then. Konate and Maiga were a bit skeptical of my leaving, mentioning that other interns have come and spent too much traveling and didn’t anything accomplished. This kind of made me mad. I don’t feel like I have been very productive, but I fell like most of that has been out of my control. I think they should have been congratulating me on the chance to go see other parts of Burkina and get out of Ouaga because they certainly aren’t helping get out at all. During the day I made a list of things to do and went right on down. I finally got a sign printed for my office door and rearranged the furniture. I don’t think it is quite perfect yet but it is good. I also sent an email to Nicolas about the filters and sent an update to Professor Soboyejo. His response was prompt and very encouraging!

I am really looking forward to this little vacation because I need a break from my office and my piles of nothing to do yet feeling guilty. I got the chance to talk to my Mom for an hour and a half last night which was awesome. With Thanksgiving this week there wasn’t much time to talk. The conversation was really good and helped me fell better about life in general. This is always a good thing. Coming back I had to write my Columbia application essay which is due Saturday. BUT, if I am going to Bianca’s until Friday I didn’t want to risk not getting back in time to submit it.

So I went back to my house thinking I would cook a quick pasta dinner and get to work. Well Marcia and Susan were here and already into a nice bottle of wine. So I joined in their conversation of the day and the meal. It was really nice. We made tri-color pasta with a zucchini and tomato sauce. We also cut up the rest of the smoked salmon and put that on top. It was delicious. After dinner we got into a very long and interesting conversation about religion. It was awesome. I am normally kind of uncomfortable talking about religion, especially with people with differing beliefs, thinking there is some sort of animosity thing going on. But it was really interesting. It was great debating different topics and having to come up with answers to really tough questions, really getting down to knowing what you believe and why. And in the end it wasn’t like there was a winner and loser, and it wasn’t that we were trying to change each others beliefs. From the Christian perspective I see these conversations as a chance to share my faith, and from there God can work in lives as he sees fit. It is like planting the seed for faith that Jesus talks about. It might or might not grow, but it is our job to take the opportunities when presented to plant and water them. And it also made me think about some things that I really do have questions about. The key is to not let the questions fade away, but really search God’s word for answers. For me Christianity is not about knowing everything, but trusting that God does and that if we seek him out he will be found.

So after this long long dinner I got to work on my Columbia essay. I was up until 1:15am working on it, but I got it done. Today at work I polished it up and sent it to my Mom to check over. I need to get back to the office now, so I must go. You can expect another update on Sunday. I should again have many pictures to share and stories from the village with Bianca. Wish me luck and a safe 5 hour bus trip, each way Oye!