Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso! and Biosand stuff...

Oh-kay, so. This is it. The money round. The real deal. What am I talking about? Good question. I don’t think I even know… All I know is that I have officially been in Africa for 4 months! It seems impossible, but alas it is true. The next full month mark means I am over halfway through with my stay here. (I also determined that my birthday, February 17, I almost exactly halfway. Crazy.) Anyway, this is a rather sobering thought. I want to make sure I make the most out of time here, but part of that is just enjoying each day and not counting down… you know!? Fine, enough of that; now it’s on to hopefully most interesting inner dialogue.

Sunday night was really fun. The whole tennis thing was a bit of a wash since my teacher wasn’t there. Africa. But I did get to play with some other ladies which was fun. I had Leanna, Tyler, Will and Ben over for dinner. We tried to do frozen pizzas, but forgot to grease the pans, which weren’t really pizza pans to begin with, and things got a bit crispy and out of control. Have you heard of puzzle cake, well this was puzzle pizza to be sure! After we had popcorn and played UNO. It was a riot. Way more fun than a movie or something like that. We played the “speed” UNO version which really brought the heat up a notch. I really like my friends here :)

Monday was pretty hectic. I was trying to make sure everything was ready for my trip on Tuesday. I rearranged by tennis lesson and French lesson for 12:00 and 5:00 respectively. I figured since I would be gone I needed to get that weeks stuff in on Monday before I left. Bad idea. I was crazy busy on Monday. Getting final permission to go, doing one last flow rate measure before going. I also woke up late which was the kicker! Then I am getting ready to go to tennis and trying to make a sandwich and the housemates are in the kitchen and have moved my stuff and just grrrr…. So I get to tennis and as I am riding past the gate the front tire on my bike turns funny and I brush the wall with my arm. Unfortunately, it was not a smooth wall, but very jagged and I scrapped up my arm but good . So here I am frustrated, distracted and trying to play tennis. FYI this is not a good combination. I finally explained to my teacher I was not having a good day and so he changed the type of drill we were doing to something that was way more suited to my mood. It was a quick reflex drill where I stood at the net and pelted the tennis balls at the ground. Excellent! This is why I enjoy my tennis teacher so much! Despite my housemates slowing down my progress I did make myself a lunch and ate it by the pool after my lesson. I then went to Les Petites Delices where I posted the last blog entry I am sure you read ;)

After showering I did not want to go back to my office so I stayed in my room and worked there instead. I was much more productive that way. I also hand washed the clothes I wanted to bring with me. You know how I said I would never do that again. It was a lie. Its not so bad to hand wash my clothes as long as I don’t try and do them ALL at once, that is just overwhelming. The afternoon went really fast and before I knew it my French teacher was there. The lesson was okay, but again I was out of it a bit. (Note to self, don’t try to squeeze everything you do in a week into 1 day. It doesn’t work.) The best part of Monday was talking to my Mom. I don’t even remember all we talked about, but I really just needed to talk even though we had chatted on Saturday as well. I miss not being able to call home in my free time. It stinks having to make appointments to talk to my family. I liked it better at Princeton where I could just dial home as I walked between classes to find out how life is back in Crete. Oh, and not having to worry about a 6 hour time difference, that was nice too!

I slept well on Monday night and was able to get up on Tuesday with surprising ease. It must have been that I was looking forward to leaving for Bobo-Dioulasso. I went into the office for just an hour or so to finish the last minute stuff I didn’t get done on Monday. I came back and exercised, showered, packed and was ready to go at 10:00. Tim Albright came to pick me up at about 10:20 and we then went to the pick up Bev, the women who would be running the Biosand training session. She was having some visa problems with the Ghanaian Embassy so we sorted all that out and then hit the road. The trip there took about 5 hours. But it was really quite pleasant. The Albrights have a literally brand new 4x4 and all the roads are paved. Yeah. We all talked about different subjects, about our selves, ect. The time passed very fast. I read a little and slept some too, which was nice.

When we got to Bobo we headed over to ACCEDES, an acronym for some long sentence describing a CMA health and social wellness center. This was where the workshop would be taking place the next morning so we set everything up, made sure the room was as it was supposed to be and that they had all the necessary tools. So I thought going into this thing that it was a conference on Biosand Filtration. I was wrong. It was a workshop on how to build a Biosand filter. Even better if you ask me. Bev, the women running the workshop, works with Samaritans Purse as the water and sanitation programs coordinator in Liberia. It was great to get to know her. We got along great and had some awesome conversations about development, NGOs, faith, ect. We all stayed at the CMA guesthouse in Bobo which had very nice accommodations. Each night Tim, Bev and I went out to eat. The first night we went to a place called L’escala. I made a bad choice in ordering and got a very bad cut of meat, most of which was fat that did not taste at all like how it was described on the menu. However, Tim and Bev both ordered pizza and had some left over so I had some of their meals. The worst part was I was SO hungry going into dinner. We had eaten lunch at 12:00 and I had had no snacks all afternoon and we didn’t leave to go eat until 7:00. At about 5:00 I started to feel kind of sick, I think I was hungry… luckily I got over it and made it until dinner, but talk about a disappointment! Oh another thing I should mention is that I was having a terrible time getting a hold of Maggie. Since I was out of town I was hoping she could do bible study with the girls. Actually, I was pretty much counting on it, but it turns out she got sick last weekend and wasn’t up to the task. So bottom line was I had to cancel the study. It was only the second time we were to meet and I had to cancel it. I felt so bad about this. And, I didn’t have internet to email the girls so I had to text Leanna and ask her to send out the email for me! Oye! Life can be complicated.

Wednesday was the first day of the training. Bev did a great job and after lunch the workshop consisted of actually getting the mold ready and pouring the concrete. We wanted to do this part the first day so the second day we could take the mold off and the third day install the filter. It was hard work, but not an unreasonable amount of effort given the end purpose was producing a filter to provide safe drinking water. Tuesday night we went to a restaurant called “L’eau Vive” or living water if you will… It is run by Spanish nuns (random fact). Anyway, my food choice was better with some Capitaine (Niger river fish), but even better than that was the fresh squeezed mango juice. I think that having that mango juice may have validated my spending 9 months in Africa it was that good!

Wednesday night I finally brought myself to write up the Market Study Proposal and Promotional ideas I had promised to send to Nicolas. I do good work when I can get myself to work, but sometimes it is hard when all of the effort has to be self-motivated. If I can learn how to do that I know I can be successful. But unless you have been in a situation where you could go days without doing anything and no one noticing or seeming to care for that matter, and still get paid… Only then do you really understand the challenge and extreme importance of self-motivation!

Thursday’s workshop program was the same and Wednesday’s as far as session lengths and break times. The two days really run together in my mind… Anyway, there was a small problem with demolding the filter. Some of the concrete was quite set yet, or a little dry, and part of the faucet nose-looking piece broke off. Luckily, the filter was still usable and it was actually a really good lesson in trouble shooting and getting the kinks out of using a new filter mold. For more info on the filters check out, Basically, they are a 4 ft tall column, 1.5ft by 1.5 square cross sectional that holds three layers of sand that the water flows through. They are called Biosand filters because it is actually the biological layer (of scum really) that forms on the surface of the sand that removes the pathogens from the water.

Anyway, that afternoon we learned how to prepared the sand, i.e. sieve to separate grain sizes and wash to remove silt. That was as much of the training as I stayed for. The only part that I missed was the actual installation. I wish I could have stayed because afterwards I would have been “certified” to build these filters, but I really needed to get back to Ouaga by Friday midday. Thursday night we ate at a place called Le Canne d’Or (The Gold Cane). The pepper steak I got there was the best of the meals over the time we were there. I didn’t really like having to eat out all of the time. It is so time consuming and the tabs begin to add up even though I wasn’t paying… The best part of the meal the last night and the other time I spent in the evenings with Bev was the great conversation. She is in the same field as I am and it was great to hear her thoughts and opinions on development work, large agencies, and smaller NGOs. Working in third world countries is like opening Pandora’s Box. Once you do, there is no going back. It’s like falling through the rabbit hole and realizing it is much much deeper than you could have ever predicted from the outside. I felt comfortable enough to ask some really tough questions. It has really got my brain going!

Unfortunately, Thursday night the power was out for half of Bobo and so there was no hot shower. Before we went out to eat we had some time to kill back at the guesthouse. I read for a while, but couldn’t keep reading. I had finished my book, “Things Fall Apart” on Tuesday and was moving ahead in the ongoing attempt to read the Federalist Papers. But there is only so much of that stuff you can take. I think that is why they appeared as a series of newspaper articles over many months! Anyway, I was going to take a nap but instead decided to work out. I couldn’t run outside so just did the strength section of one my workout videos I know by heart. Problem was I didn’t stretch before or after and now, two days later I am still sore!

Friday I got on a TCV bus at 7:30 headed for Ouaga. It was a very easy, but squished trip. TCV is, however, a very reliable company (one of the few…) so I didn’t mind. They do have a VIP class bus which is really roomy inside, but it left at 9:00 instead of 7:30 and I needed to be back for a 3:30 meeting with Nicolas. So I suffered the cramped leg room and smelly people. Besides being long the trip was fine, no problems or delays. I got back to Ouaga and just paid a taxi to get to 2iE. Being able to get from Bobo to my house all together was something I was rather proud of. In addition to the meeting with Nicolas I also had a French lesson at 5:00 and then was having Lydie, Nathalie (two girls from work who both speak English), and Susan over for dinner. BUT there was some miscommunication and people got days mixed up. I expended a great deal of energy making sure plans were in place and the two ladies knew where and when to come. Thankfully, it all worked out :) The meeting with Nicolas went well. With a bit of luck and hard work, more hard work I’m guessing… we will have the market study commissioned by the end of the week. I am also working on putting together a pitch to my boss about Point of Use (POUs) water filtration systems. 2iE needs to be more of a leader in this sector. Instead of waiting for piped water systems to come, the international community has recognized that individual household scale filters and safe storage is a viable means of improving access to safe drinking water. There are many ways for 2iE to take the lead here and I don’t think they even know some of these technologies exist! My French lesson was, whatever… I have been struggling these last few days. I need to sit down and review and rebuild a bit of confidence.

Dinner was awesome on Friday. Susan made sloppy joe meat and a nice salad and I bought buns and made corn bread. The corn bread BTW was outstanding and so so easy to make. Another kitchen victory for chef Sara ;) Minus the sugar that went into it there was only yogurt and so I felt good about the health factor too, although Susan kind of burst my bubble and told me a quarter cup of sugar was enough to make something sweet like it was… Anyway, the sloppy joes were a hit and it was so fun explaining to a French woman and a Burkinabe woman how you make and eat a sloppy joe. They were good sports though and I think they really did enjoy the dinner. Afterwards, we headed over to Susan’s to watch Miss Congeniality 2. Sandra Bullock is Lydie’s favorite actress and she hadn’t seen this film yet. Lydie is really a great lady, and it was so neat to do something nice like that for her. While a bit over the top and silly, it was still a good movie and we all laughed out loud many times! Susan made more of her awesome brownies for dessert. It was quite the evening. I especially like that it was a chance for Lydie and Nathalie to have an American meal (very American if you ask me) and see a film in English. Yeah!

Even though the movie ended at 10:30, I didn’t get to bed until 1:00am. I played my guitar a bit and then went through the pictures to give to Bev. I had taken my camera and snapped a bunch of photos during the workshop. The thing about being more serious about my photography is that I want a chance to look through them and choose the best ones. I don’t want to give people 150 photos because 1. they won’t do anything with them because the shear number is overwhelming and 2. half of those aren’t very good and I only want to circulate good pictures I have taken. Oh I should mention also that I haven’t seen my two housemates since I got back on Friday. Weird, but you don’t see me complaining! AND, I got the skirt back that I commissioned the tailor to make for me. It is okay. I didn’t like it at first, but now that I figured out where the zipper goes and tried it on with my different tops I like it. The skirt construction is just so so, but the fabric is really a great pattern. I had a scarf made of the same material as well and I am sure I will wear it a lot!

Saturday morning I unfortunately couldn’t sleep in because I was headed to the Baobob Toastmasters Club meeting. This is the French speaking Toastmasters Club in Ouagadougou. One of the 2iE members was giving her 10th speech there and so Susan, myself and 4 other 2iE members came to support her. This club is run the same way as ours, but they have it at a very nice hotel and have a nice breakfast and stuff. The club dues are way higher and the people in the club are of a different social class, if you will, than most of our members, but other than that aspect and the language difference I think our club is very similar. Our level of seriousness and sincerity in what we do is very similar; we just don’t have as much money. Our club can aspire to be like the other one, but we just can’t afford it and it shouldn’t be about having it in a fancy hotel its about learning to be a good speaker. You can do that anywhere! Anyway, after the meeting they had a huge luncheon at Club Belko, all paid for by the club, and of course we were invited. The food was great and it was fun to see people stand up and give toasts, indeed living up to the toastmaster name! Tonight I am headed to Mary Ellen’s house for dinner with Susan. I originally had a tennis lesson scheduled, but since I still can’t even walk very easily courtesy of my in room, no stretching, bad workout choice on Thursday, I decided to postpone the lesson to a day when I would actually get something out of it! Bianca is coming to Ouaga today and I am missing an Edge service which I am kind of sad about, but I forgot about it when I made plans with Mary Ellen… The super bowl on Sunday should be fun. It will be a late night for me, the game will start about 11pm our time, so you do the math of when it will be over. BUT I think I can suffer through work the next day okay… and come on it’s the super bowl.