Friday, June 27, 2008

Civil Unrest, Movie Night and Speed Scrabble

My last week at work was crazy and riotous. Literally. Monday I would have loved to sleep in. Not a chance. I had an 8:00am meeting with Professor Maiga. I worked in the morning on a short summary of the ceramic filter initiative at 2iE. It actually went quite well. I worked until like 1:30pm and had almost finished the summary before going to the gym to work out. I had to wait to use the treadmill, but that was okay. It was worth the wait. My workout was great. Three and a half miles of running and afterwards I was able to arrange to have a tennis lesson on Tuesday at 2:00pm. I needed to go to Marina to pick up some ground beef for Tuesday so I decided to just go after my workout since I was already halfway there. I felt pretty dehydrated and by the time I got home I was regretting not stopping and buying water while I was out. I got home, ate lunch, showered and went back to work. I was able to go with Susan to arrange to hold an information session for how to Jstor. Just because we had access doesn’t mean it will be utilized. People have to know it is there and how to use it! We planned for Thursday from 3:30-4:30pm. I was very excited about this chance to leave something useful at 2iE. I also made up a schedule of things I needed to show Martha, the new girl from Ghana. I had a whole plan for when and how we could fit everything in and trust me there was a lot to fit in so I had to be creative. We would start on Tuesday morning.

I talked to Ryan online for a few minutes that afternoon before I left work and then met a very nice woman named Jocelyn in evening. She works for Catholic Relief Services on their global water initiative and was interested in point of use treatments and partnering with 2iE. It was great to talk to her. It seems like I am leaving just as things are getting interesting. Or maybe they are getting interesting precisely because I am leaving…? That night I cooked up the meat I bought at Marina. P.S. remember the guys from Marina market at the airport in Accra. I saw one of them at the store. He totally recognized me, but I was not up for an awkward encounter so I quickly left the store after buying my groceries. Monday I also wrote up some on my Ghana posts. I have fallen way behind with my blog and it is killing me. I have done so well so far! This is the home stretch I can’t lose it now… So I stayed up and gutted it out. I also went through some of my photos and picked which were ones that made the cut go online. I was feeling pretty odd in general that night. I had a low grade headache and a nausea feeling that came and went. Well, as soon as I finished working and was headed to bed, I started feeling really badly. I had a terrible time going to sleep. That was the first time since I have been here that I have not felt well to the point where I was having trouble falling asleep. As I laid in bed I just kept thinking, come on… I am almost there! I am almost going home… don’t fail me now body.

Tuesday morning I woke up and felt better but not 100%. I started working with Martha which has turned out quite well. She is a very smart and able. She also speaks English since she is from Ghana. In fact, she speaks little to no French so by default I have become a great resource for her in getting her settled at 2iE. We started with a non-saturated flow rate test and prepared the gel medium for our microbiology tests.

Before I left for Ghana I submitted a request to be reimbursed for my French lessons. Since I hadn’t heard anything about it I went to check in on it. It was a good thing I did because it still sitting in the same place. I was able to take it the right people and got things moving again. Geez-a-lou. I don’t think I will ever know how this place functions. In the morning, Nicolas was able to arrange an appointment for me to go to Poceram to take pictures on Wednesday morning, but I had to get there. I emailed a couple of people and finally Professor Maiga’s assistant Madame Dayamba, very intimidating but genuinely nice lady, helped me arrange a car from 2iE to take me. Phew. I did not want to have to pay for a taxi.

Anyway, in the midst of dealing with these little things I realize there is a bit more of a ruckus on the University campus than usual. I thought maybe school was out for summer and they were celebrating. Oh, na├»ve Sara! They were rioting. Legitimately rioting. You know how I found out? As I was walking from office to office, through open air passageways my throat and nose started burning and it was hard to breath… TEAR GAS! The gendarme (military) had intercepted the mob of students and was using tear gas on them! It was so heavy in the air it wafted to 2iE. It was serious business. I never felt unsafe and generally tried to keep doing what I needed to do with work stuff. I figured it would be over by lunchtime. I had my tennis lesson and a meeting with Nicolas scheduled for the afternoon and was not looking forward to canceling them. Well, about noon, from my window I see a bunch of people congregating by the entrance road. They are looking at something, but I can’t see the gate. Then the start running and I’m like “Oh man, what’s going on!”… Well, I stayed safe up in my office, but later I learned that several students had fled onto 2iE’s campus before our guards could stop them. The gendarme decided to pursue them and rammed their army truck into our gate. I am not kidding.

When things calmed down I left my office to go home for lunch. I found Susan by the entrance road and went to talk to her for a few minutes. It was about 1:20pm. While the roads were barricaded by the students with piles of rocks, there wasn’t much action going on. I was still debating on whether to go to my tennis lesson or not. Susan figured I could get out okay, but it was questionable as to whether the roads would be blocked to get back in. Again, I’m thinking to myself, come on I have 8 days left in Africa, did they really have to riot today! I was resentful of this useless violence and didn’t want to have to change my schedule because of it. However, I’m not stupid. I don’t like civil unrest in general and tear gas, let me tell you, is not pleasant to experience. So, I decided to play it safe and cancel my lesson. I took it as a sign from God I needed to take the afternoon to rest which I did. Before I took a nap, I went to make lunch. No big deal except as I am working in my kitchen I look out the window and see two students hiding out behind where my laundry dries. That took me for a bit of a scare. I decided not to mess with the situation. My doors were all locked, they were literally taking a nap themselves so I just finished making my lunch and went to my room hoping they would be gone when I woke up from my nap. At first it was hard to fall asleep because I kept hearing tear gas shots and there was a constant riot background noise that would crescendo and subside again. Nancy Burg called to check in on me which was really nice of her. I love their family. I hope to get to see Lindsey in August during the down time she will have between when her Dad leaves and when she starts college. She will be in Minnesota, which isn’t like next door to Chicago, but it’s not an unreasonable distance to traverse.

When I woke up from my nap it was calm again. It was about 4:00pm and although by now it would have probably been fine to go, I still cancelled my meeting with Nicolas. Instead, I talked to Ryan online until my French teacher came for my lesson. I was happy he was able to come. As I said, the hullabaloo had calmed down. Susan and I had planned a dinner and movie night for that night. This would be the last of several such nights we hosted for our English speaking toastmaster and 2iE friends. About midday we considered canceling it, but by 5:00 since things calmed down we decided to go through with it. We served chili with cornbread. The chili was only so-so. We didn’t have any tomato sauce only some tomatoes. So it was really just chili flavored ground beef, but it was still good. I’m not complaining. The movie for the night was The Pursuit of Happiness. It is an excellent movie, but it is seriously hard to watch. I feel like the entire time I am holding my breath, even though I know what is going to happen. You just wish the guy could get a break. One thing I do love about the movie is the Rubik’s cube references. My Dad used to love those things, and even I used to be able to do them. Seeing them in the movie just brings back nice memories.

There were 7 of us at the movie night. It was very nice. All my favorite Burkinabe ladies were there; Mintou, Salimata, Lydie, and Sandrine. Also, we invited Martha to join us since she lives with me and all… I would like to interject here and note for the record, that not having Leanna in Ouagadougou feels really weird. Like I am so used to being able to text her or stop on by her house and now I can’t do that. No tears, just somber realizations and appreciation of what a good friend means in your life.

Wednesday morning I got up and got ready to head off to Poceram. The 2iE car was ready to take us at 9:10 :) Martha came with me. Since she will be working on the filters, I wanted to make sure she is involved with what I am doing to wrap things up. When I asked Konate about her coming with me, he was like “Okay… but her first priority for work is with me.” Fine, whatever, but clearly I’m leaving and if, as you say she will continue my experiments, I have to show her what to do before I leave! AND you sure as heck are not taking the time to show her anything (sound familiar?). Gosh. Last week. Be patient Sara. Anyway, we went to the ceramic workshop and the visit went very well. My French was on the ball that day. I was able to show the owner the video footage of the filter factory I had visited in Ghana, and I took pictures of their workshop to send to Ron Rivera. I was very pleased. When we were done, the 2iE car came back to get us. I felt like finally after 9 months here I can successfully go somewhere on my own for work and make it work for me! Success!

After we got back from the workshop Martha and I started the saturated flow rate tests. We had set the filters to soak after the last measurement the day before. I also went to the informatics service and got Martha a power strip and Ethernet cable so she could get on her computer. Again, not my job (ah-hem), but otherwise she would sit there with nothing to do until Konate got back from Mali. So remembering how I felt, I helped her out. When I left the office for my lunch break, I didn’t eat right away. I rode my bike over the rec center and set up a lesson for Thursday at 8:00am. It was only time that would work for me! I had 5 lessons that I already paid for and needed to use. Thanks to the riots I may not got to use them all… In any case, I went home, made lunch, and took a short cat nap.

Back at work in the afternoon, Martha and I finished the flow rate tests, washed and prepared the bottled to be sterilized, scrubbed the filters and brought them over the STEP area and loaded them with raw water. Things were moving right along according to my schedule. Even though Martha’s computer was now hooked up, it still wouldn’t connect to the internet. How do I know this? She and I share my office now. It is bit inconvenient to be almost finished and then have to change things up accommodate another person for the last week you are there. And we have one key for the office between the two of us. Normally, this would have posed a huge problem because I am in and out, in and out all the time. But we worked it out. There is a hook in the entryway of our house and the first person to leave in the morning takes the key with them. Midday the last person to leave locks the door and puts the key back on the hook. The first person headed back to the office after the break grabs the key, and like before the last person to leave locks up and hangs the key in the entryway ready for the next day. It has worked great so far. Martha is very easy to get along with :) Anyway, I contacted the information services people again and hoped they would come.

At 5:00pm I went to Professor Maiga’s office to have a conference call with Professor Soboyejo. He wasn’t there the first time we called, so we waited 15 minutes and called back. This time we got through to him. It was an important call because it essentially was the last meeting between myself and my two bosses. Professor Maiga leaves on the 21st so anything I needed him for I had to figure out before then. Regardless, the call went longer than I expected and I know Professor Maiga was late for his next meeting. I was given the task to write up a call summary. I didn’t mind though. It was nice to feel like I had something to do.

Wednesday night I finally had a free night. It was glorious. I worked very hard on writing more of my blog posts, the call summary, and drafted some other documents I have to leave for 2iE. The tailor came by that evening. Of course he comes when Susan is gone. Anyway, he had the first version of my dress to show me. I was having him copy the cute blue dress I have with some fabric I got in Ghana. It looked okay, but not great. He has to fix the sleeves. I also gave him the green fabric I bought with Mary Ellen. I had meaning to sit down and design something with that stuff, but never had time and I knew if I didn’t give him the fabric now to make something with, it would never happen. So I quickly decided on a long dress with strappy straps and fairly simple lines. I am very skeptical of how it will turn out. However, as I said, I knew if I left Africa without having something made with it, it would sit indefinitely. So we’ll see!

My tennis lesson on Thursday was tough. I was still a kind of asleep and rusty from not playing for a while. By the end things were better, but I was just not on my game. I got home, showered, popped into the office and then went with Martha to start the flow rate tests. We had plans to meet Nicolas at 11:00am, but he called to cancel. At first I was ticked, but it turns out I really needed that time to get ready for the Jstor information session I was going to facilitate. Susan helped me send out an email invitation, and I hung up 10 posters. However, I was still worried no one would come… Martha and I were going to do our lab tests in the afternoon before the workshop, but my preparations took longer than I had planned and I was starving. I reassessed my situation and decided we would move the sampling to after the session was over. I was going to take the 45 minutes of down time I had to run to the Shopette to get the mango pieces and other food items I needed. However, after lunch I took a nap and the Shopette plan went to “File 13” (a euphemism my 2nd grade teacher Miss Flessner used to use to refer to the trash).

I got up and went to work. Seriously the segmented workdays make you feel like each day is really two days. I am happy to be almost done with that work schedule. Anyway, I printed out the handouts I made for the session and went to get set-up. Six people came to the session and I think that was more because Susan went around drumming up business. Regardless, once they were there and saw what the website had to offer them they were really excited. I had debated about making a PowerPoint presentation versus using an online connection. I am glad I used screenshots because the internet was really slow and not working great at the beginning. I was very pleased with how the workshop turned out. It was exactly what I hoped it would be. What really needs to happen is to have workshops like that for every unit at 2iE. I also plan to go and work with the librarian personally before I leave… Oh, I should also mention the Peace Corps wanted Bianca’s signature before they approved the trip. This was a bit of an issue considering she lives about 5 hours by bus from Ouagadougou! So instead of coming Friday morning, she decided she would come in on the evening bus on that day. She is such a trooper. More on that later…

So after the session Martha and I went to work taking water samples and running physical parameter and microbiology tests. It was really fun to show her how to so this stuff. I like teaching and not to brag, I think I am not all that bad at it. Instead of the hodge-podge instructions I got, I worked with her to actually DO the experiments. I would do the first run and let her do all the others. I would take the first sample and then let her take over. It is one thing to watch someone do something and something totally different to do it yourself! We finished with everything at about 6:00pm. It was perfect timing. Oh and update, the information service people came and Martha’s computer is set up now. Score one for Sara. I was able to connect with Adam online for a bit, which was nice. I also talked to Leanna on Skype and set up for her to come visit in July (maybe). She can extend her layover in Chicago from Seattle for like $90, which is way cheaper than any other flight and probably even driving…

Thursday night was great. I just chilled out at home for a while, did some dishes, had dinner, ect. Oh, for dinner I made potato pancakes. They were amazing! Only problem was my stove ran out of gas while I was cooking. Lucky for me the communal kitchen for the apartments is next door and so I just popped over there to finish cooking them. Ben and Reid came over about 8:30pm to watch a movie. We watched a movie called Disturbia. I was not all about the movie because it sounded like a scary movie and I don’t like scary movies. Anyway, Ben said it was more suspense and I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Reid is really funny, and when he and Ben are together it is ridiculous. Reid says whatever he is thinking which is refreshing and often leads to side splitting hilarity. We were about 15 minutes into the movie when Bianca arrived. I was so happy she made it. We filled her in on what had happened and continued with the movie. It was good times. While the guys left by about midnight, I stayed up until 3:00am working on stuff. Time was running out and fast.

Friday morning Bianca and I got up early and went to buy our bus tickets. We were going to Togo! I got back and Martha and I headed over to Helvetas for a 9:30 meeting with Nicolas (third reschedule). He wasn’t at the office when we got there which wasn’t cool. I had my day planned out pretty tight. I didn’t have 20 minutes to wait for him. But we did and I was able to go over some things with him, and he was able to meet Martha which was also important. I had hoped to leave Helvetas at 10:00 to walk back to 2iE stopping at Shopette, the bank, and the market to get some things I needed and to show Martha around a little and be back in time to make it to my 11:00am tennis lesson. We left Helvetas at 10:20… grrr. I again did a quick assessment of my options and chose to walk back but only stop at the Shopette and simply point out the market. I was able to get everything I needed at the Shopette which was great. I got about 2 pounds of dried mangos, peanuts, yogurt, jam, and bread. Very successful stop. We got back to 2iE at 11:00am. Great. I change quickly and go to get on my bike. My tires had been really low, but I was doing a really good job at putting off stopping to get more air. Not a good plan. They were finally so low I couldn’t reasonably make it to the rec center so I had to stop and get my tires pumped. Not that it takes a long time, but I was late!

When I got the rec center Emile my teacher was just finishing up a game with someone. It was no problem I was late. I actually knew it would likely be just fine, but I hate being late. And I hate that my being late was because someone else was late and messed up my plans. Being late is not respecting that person’s time. This second lesson went better. It started out rough warming up with another tennis player, not Emile. It was weird to get used to. And, and my mind was in about a million and one places, but not the tennis court. I just found out that morning that I don’t normally get paid until the 26th, 27th of each month. I never really gave much attention to the actual date because it was electronic and I never had a problem with not enough money. Anyway, if I didn’t figure out how to get paid early I would have a big problem on my hands! I was already stressed trying to figure out how to change my money and bring it back with me, or wire it, ect. Add this to it and you have reached code red on the Sara alert scale. I did my best to focus and things improved. I will likely only have one more tennis lesson before I leave which makes me sad. I hope I make it a point to keep up with it. I have really enjoyed learning to play.

After tennis I went to the bank to get some money for Togo. Thankfully they use the same currency there so there is no hassle with changing money! I stopped for some veggies for dinner on the way home. I was planning on making salmon cakes with rice and green beans. After my successful errands, I went home, showered, and ran over to the office to send some emails. Bianca had gone with Ben in the morning to the Peace Corps office to sign her form, and then over to Air Maroc to check on Ben’s ticket which he thought he might have a problem with since he lost it. Turns out it was an E-ticket so he is good to go. I finished up at my office and went back home to make some hummus for lunch :)

Bianca and I had a nice lunch and then got on our bikes to go with Susan over to a new and different artisan place. Susan picked up two shish-ka-bob sets like the ones I got for the price I paid for one set. I think I still got a reasonable deal. Her deal was just astounding. After going to the fancy and low key artisan workshop we ventured into the not so peaceful booths across the street. I was still looking for four baby bronze giraffes for my Mom. I knew how much I should pay for them, but no one was giving me the price. Anyway, this seller was very pushy and very rude. He finally came down to my price, but I left without buying them because it had been such a terrible experience. That made him mad. Bianca, Susan, and I were headed back and then out of nowhere the guy comes up next to us on this moto, giraffes in hand still wanting me to buy them from him. At this point Bianca starts yelling at him in French to leave us alone. They finally turned around, but my goodness. Talk about ridiculous. Idealistically, I hope that teaches him not to pull that crap with other people, but I know he won’t do anything different. After that mess, I just wanted to go home, but I still needed my giraffes and so we stopped by the artisans near the Hotel de Independence. The vendors there remembered me from last time. I finally got the giraffes for a price close to what I wanted to pay, as it was clear there were no other options.

After the shopping trip, I left Bianca at the house and went back into work. I was able to talk to someone about my pay check, phew. AND I got paid in cash the reimbursement amount from my French lessons I was totally surprised! I met with Konate for a few minutes to work out what would happen to finalize my time at 2iE. All I can say is he is a little late! I have only been saying June 25th is my last day for 2 months now. If there were things YOU were supposed to arrange in regards to my leaving, wrap up meetings ect. because you were quote unquote responsible for me you should have done that before now. That is your job. I am not familiar with 2iE ending formalities! Sara, be patient… I don’t where that came from. I have to remember all the things I have been helped with while I was here. Even though the help was sometimes infuriating and frustrating, they had the best of intentions. At first he was saying something about meeting with a bunch of people and doing this and that on Monday, and I’m like, um… I won’t be here on Monday. I’m going to Togo… We settled on Tuesday afternoon for more of a social goodbye among the GVEA faculty. I don’t have to give a formal presentation or anything, which is good considering I already presented at the Scientific Forum. Glad that was all straightened out.

Martha and I went to go read the tests we had completed the day before and I was shocked to find no result what so ever. Turns out we had prepared the extreme sensitivity variation of Chromocult instead of the regular medium. So it didn’t register anything. I didn’t know there was more than one type of Chromocult! It wasn’t a huge deal that the tests couldn’t be read, because my main concern was that she knew the procedures. She can ask for help reading the tests the next time she does them. It was frustrating though… 2iE wins one again. Anyway, after that I worked on some finishing touches on the documents I needed to leave for 2iE. I was heavy into fixing up one of my excel sheets when I realized 1. It was past 6pm and 2. It looked crazy outside, really windy and dark skies. I did not want to get stuck in my office if it started to rain! I packed everything up and booked it home.

So I was planning on a chill evening, but Ben and Reid texted and said they wanted to hang out. Not chill evening; Ben and Reid equal a high energy evening of food, fun and games. I wanted to chill, but you only live once so we told them to bring dessert and we would do dinner. I had planned two meals for two nights of salmon cakes and spaghetti with spinach sauce each would feed 2-3 people. So what did we do, we made it all! When I got home everybody was there. We borrowed the gas tank from the communal kitchen and hooked up my range to that so we didn’t have to move everything over there which would have been crazy. We had all four burners going cooking rice, beans, pasta, spinach, salmon cakes. It felt like a restaurant in my kitchen. It was so fun! And that night, as we started cooking, it started to rain… Since the kitchen was so hot we opened the back door in the kitchen and had excellent rain storm sound effects and refreshing smell of African rains wafting through the kitchen. That dinner was a great way to use up some of the food I had left.

We sat down to eat and it was great! Again, the conversations among the four of us were amazingly entertaining. We lingered for a long time at the table and only cleared the dishes so things would be ready for dessert after we played a few round of speed scrabble. It was great fun. We must have played 25 games of speed scrabble. No one kept score and we even tried to come up with some variations meshing speed scrabble with spoons or rotating spots, ect. It was wicked. We paused only for a little while when we decided it was time for dessert. The guys were put in charge of dessert and they pulled through in a big way. They brought ice cream and cookies. Talk about amazing. We ate 2 liters between the 4 of us. Yeah that’s right a ½ liter each. Boo-yah. The speed scrabble recommenced after dessert. I was so tired though. When we finally stopped and they guys left, Bianca and I finished up the dishes, I packed my stuff for Togo and we turned in for the night. I think I was asleep close to 1am. We were up at 5:45 to get to the bus station.

The adventures that ensued in Togo and my final days in Ouaga will follow in the next post!