Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jesus Drives a Black Mercedes, One Paper, Two Posters and the Toastmaster's Gala

So the good news is that Thursday I threw off the shackles that had been holding me back and began to enjoy life again :)

In the morning, I slept in and didn’t go into work until the afternoon. I had a ton of errands to run and couldn’t really focus with all this stuff hanging around in my mind. So I struck off intending to apply for my Ghana visa and buy my plane ticket. Those were the two big ones. However, my knee was still an issue. I wasn’t up to biking quite yet, so I was planning to walk and get a taxi. Everything was gravy except for the fact I forgot my passport and had to walk back for it before getting my taxi. The upside was the backtracking allowed me to pick up some bandages for my knee.

I was able to get a taxi and find the Ghanaian Embassy without a problem. It took me all of 15 minutes to apply for a visa. Probably the fastest documentation process I have experienced in Africa! Funny enough, as I was leaving the gate worker gave me his contact information on a torn and scribbled piece of paper (In fact this is a very common thing here… but my question is do they actually think I am going to call?!)

From the Ghana Embassy I went to the SatGuru travel agency. They had been so good planning my trip back to the US in April I wanted to go back. I was well rewarded. It was so easy. I didn’t know how to book tickets and pay for AirBurkina or domestic Ghana flights and they were able to do it all, all at once… and I was able to pay with a check. In general I was pretty psyched.

I left the agency planning to go home. However, the taxi situation was bleak. There were not many taxis going past on this particular road. So I decided to walk towards the market looking for one as I went. Well, I made it all the way there and decided instead of going straight home to go get some groceries. I bought a bunch of fruit and vegetables. This little market trip was just what I needed. After my knee injury and having to stay in all the time, I forget how amazing the Burkinabe people are. I am always so much happier after I interact with the locals. They just make me see life in such a relaxed carefree sort of way. The women are also extremely friendly; case in point, one lady I bought lettuce from felt the need to introduce me to her husband! Before I left the market I bought two croissants with the plan of making chicken salad sandwich croissants for lunch. Chicken salad is good on french bread, but it is even better on a croissant ;)

From there I was close to the US Embassy, about a 20 minute walk from home. I kept walking waiting for a taxi to pass and one never did! I made it all the way to Charles de Gaulle, the big main street. I waited at a corner for 10 minutes and not a single taxi passed. At this point it is well past noon. I have been walking around in the sun for an hour. I was sweaty and tired from carrying all my groceries. Things starting seemingly really grim, I thought I was going to be walking the rest of the way back which was rather inconvenient at this point. So I said a prayer for some sort of help to come and just as I was headed toward a tree for some shade, a car drives past and the driver yells something to me and pulls over. I was stunned. It was almost instantaneous after my prayer for help.

I walked over and talked to the guy in the black Mercedes Benz that had just pulled over for me. I told him where I needed to go, it wasn’t right on his way but he said it would be no problem. I did a mental evaluation of my situation and the potential dangers, and then got in the car. Before you say you would have never done that please see that my options were pretty limited, AND this guy was driving a very nice black Mercedes, not that dangerous people don’t drive nice cars… but it was a bit reassuring. I also figured I could do the tuck and roll maneuver if necessary. Turns out the guy worked for Onatel, the phone company, and had been to the US several times so we switched between French and English. He could have owned the company for all I know! He also told me used to play football for the Burkina national football league. So anyway, totally bizarre, but really cool ;) He drove me back and I had him drop at the entrance to the university and to walk the rest of the way… see I am cautious!

The most amazing thing is that as I was getting out of the car I was so thankful for the ride I said something along the lines of “Thank you again, so much… You really saved me!” To which he replied, “God is good.” I am not kidding you. I leave you to assess the situation for yourself, but I am convinced that Jesus drives a black Mercedes Benz. Seconds after I prayed for help in my moment of need this car comes and gives me a ride. God is good.

When I got home I was still a bit in shock from my heaven orchestrated rescue, but I went over and invited Susan for lunch. We made chicken salad on croissants, just as I had planned…yum! In the afternoon, I went to work. I am not sure what I did exactly… I did leave early though. I had a tennis lesson at 4:00pm and it was first one since my fall. I couldn’t wait any longer. I rode my bike there without a problem. That I figured was the first test ;) I told my tennis teacher my situation and we decided if it was a problem we would stop. Thankfully it was fine and I had a great time letting some of my pent up aggression loose on the tennis ball. I was glad to be back in the game

Although I rode my bike to tennis I asked Ben for a ride to WIRED since I didn’t want to push it, and I like to ride back fast at night and wouldn’t be able to do that in this case. It was no problem and Leanna was able to drive me home. One of the senior guys from the youth group gave the talk. He did a really nice job preaching the gospel. Literally, the gospel of salvation, back to the basics of a story we will never fully understand. After the talk, which went a little overtime, we had ice cream and cake in celebration of the Food Distribution achievements. After Youth group I worked earnestly on writing my speech for Toastmasters. The title of the speech was “The Impossible Task” and was about how to describe Burkina Faso to someone who has never been there before. Since I knew I would be face with such a task in the near future I figured coming up with some organized thoughts might be a good idea. I am posting the speech script to give you a preview… If you ask nicely, maybe I will perform it for you live when I return. I also probably watched some Hannah Montana, but I can’t be sure. Sorry! In any case, I went to sleep in a much better state of mind on Thursday than on Wednesday.

Friday I went into the office at the normal time and got right to work! After running my errands on Thursday my brain was free to focus on the tasks at hand. I wrote a ton of emails and just generally got things back in order. I worked all morning and through the break until 1:30. At 1:30 I hightailed it out of my office to get back to the Ghanaian Embassy to pick up my passport. I didn’t have time for lunch so I cross my fingers Leanna would offer me some since I was headed over there afterwards.

Wouldn’t you know, between 12-3 it is really hard to find a taxi… I had almost walked up to the traffic light before one passed me. I flagged him down and he was able to give me ride even though it wasn’t right on the way to his other destinations. Thankfully my passport was ready, and 15,000CFA later I was set to go to Ghana. From the Ghanaian Embassy I took another taxi to Leanna’s house. Surprise, though, she wasn’t there! She got there 20 minutes later, but it wasn’t a problem because I had my book with me and was able to read a little bit which kept mind off of the heat. Ben arrived as well because we were supposed to figure out the awards to give out at the end of year WIRED Banquet scheduled for the next Friday. We came up with some pretty good and goofy awards. For example, “International Woman of Mystery Award, Renaissance Woman Award, Most Likely to the Next Disney Heart Throb, The Person People Most Want to Impress, The Person Least Likely to Own a Donkey Cart…” The list goes on, but you get the gist.

Once we hashed out those details we trekked over to the leather shop and put in an order for some end of the year gifts of the WIRED Llama leaders, bracelets for the Famine 2008, and I ordered custom bookmarks to give to my bible study girls ;) The stuff was pricier than I thought it would be, but I think it was still worth it. Leanna drove me back quickly to get to my French lesson in time. But it turns out my teacher wasn’t able to make it. Oh well, it was still good to be back. Susan and I went to Pam’s house for dinner. It was a fun evening. We had been planning it forever, so it was nice when it actually happened! It was Mexican style food with pina coladas which were not quite right on… there was something wrong with the proportions, but it was still good. After dinner we settled in and watched 4 Weddings and Funeral. I know this is a really popular older movie, but I really didn’t like it. I thought it was rather tasteless and a bit pathetic and not realistic at all. Pam gave us a ride home and I worked on polishing and cutting my speech down to fit in the time allotment.

Saturday I got up and went to Toastmasters. My speech went off great. I think the Burkinabe liked hearing impressions of their country from a foreigner. The meeting was pretty standard, nothing out of the ordinary… After the meeting I made a quick lunch before Leanna came by to get me. Leanna, Ben and I headed out to Nongtaba Village the place we wanted to have the WIRED end of year retreat. It was great. I never knew such a cool place existed in Ouaga before! It is like a sweet summer camp. A huge pool, cabanas, air conditioned rooms, a play ground and dig this… a mini zoo with monkeys! The monkeys are tied to the trees with rope which can’t be very humane, but it is cool to see a monkey up close like that ;) We were able to negotiate a nice price and I think we are going to do it! The nice thing is everything is catered in and all we do is show up and run our program… P.S. the owner was definitely European and drove a Porsche in Burkina Faso. Those two things just don’t go together. I was also the translator for our group which was pretty cool. In the afternoon I decided to bake something. However, having very few ingredients I chose to make the “Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake”… without any of those ingredients you have to wonder what exactly IS in it; well, there were raisins, flour, sugar and spices. It was very much a spice cake. I didn’t have high expectations for it, but it was surprisingly good and ended up lasting me all week.

That night Ben, Leanna and Reid came over for a movie. FYI Reid is new to Ouagadougou and is Ben’s new housemate since Will moved out. Which by the way, Will is engaged! His girlfriend said yes, and so I guess he is now his fiancĂ©. He proposed at the Eiffel Tower while they were in Paris. Nice. Anyway, Saturday night we just watched a movie. The movie of the evening was supplied by Benjamin and it was called “Run, Fat Boy, Run!” It was really quite excellent. British and Funny. If you like that sort of humor. I think it has a nice overall feel to it.

Sunday I slept in. No church this week. That’s not true I listened to a sermon. I also worked out and felt really good actually. The big surprise was that Sunday morning it was raining lions and elephants! I had never seem such a down pour before. Part of the reason I got up when I did was to see the rain and because it was so loud on my roof there was not use in trying to sleep. Now I understand why there are floods in Africa. It all kind of makes sense now. There is no flood infrastructure because for 8 months you don’t see a drop of rain and then, deluge! So what are you to do? You have to prepare, obviously… but to what degree is necessary. The rain was intense.

I was supposed to go to lunch with Susan and a friend of hers out at a restaurant by the Lombila Dam. I was pretty excited to finally the dam where all my water had been coming from. However, with the rains the road there were washed out and the place it outdoors so we had to change plans. Instead we went to an Indian restaurant. It was really pretty good. The only thing about Indian food is that it comes in rather small portions which is good for your waist and bad for your wallet. The two best parts of the outing were meeting the friend’s daughter who was in 3rd grade and just charming and the fact that their 4x4 got stuck in the mud in front of Susan’s house. We tried using bricks and cardboard under the tires to get better traction, but in the end the guy had to rock the car forward and backwards until it made huge ruts and was finally able to grab the more solid ground.

In the afternoon, since things were still a bit drizzly I figured I wouldn’t have tennis lessons. However, I decided to go anyway just to work out. Even though I had to use the elliptical, it was a good choice to go. I left refreshed and rescheduled a tennis lesson for Monday. I went home and showered. I didn’t really want to go out again, but Leanna was having dinner at her house. I debated and debated. I got home and showered and then convinced myself that if I went I would leave early and get to pick up the four things on my store list I needed to buy. A run to the store was something I had been meaning to do, I figured I could rationalize going to Leanna’s by also going to store.

Leanna made great baked potato soup. It was so creamy and bad for you, but oh so yummy! I stayed through dinner but peaced out when they were going to start watching LOST. I was afraid the places I needed to go would be closed, but no… all the little boutiques and kiosks were open. I really had to get some toilet paper. I was literally out out and had gone through all my stashed tissue and paper napkins, so this was kind of an imperative item to procure. When I got home, I went into the office and talked to my family online. It was a great conversation, but again a late night.

Monday morning, I went into work again dreading having to write my paper. So I was not super motivated. I did some work, but mid-morning Konate came by and talked about making up a poster for the upcoming Journee des Entreprise, or “Business Days” which is kind of like a job fair without such an emphasis on hiring, but more just getting exposure for the businesses and letting the students know what is out there. Anyway, our group (GVEA) was having a booth and so I needed to make a poster. I spent most of my day working on that. It went quite well. Monday night I worked really hard to finish reading “White Man’s Burden”… a task I was successful in completing. That book took me quite a long time to get through, but it was truly amazing. I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about international development. At 11:00pm I was back in my office. Why so late? Well, the IWA sustainability toolbox effort I helping coordinate was having an online chat that night among the available members. We had just finished a big push to assign people to smaller teams with specific tasks and we wanted to keep things moving forward. It was an interesting group chat. I had to facilitate it and figure out how to get everything to work with Skype. I was a bit nervous it wouldn’t work, but it did! The online chat is less efficient than a conference call, but an okay alternative when not everyone has those capabilities.

Tuesday morning I started off with a make up tennis lesson. That was fun, but in the morning I was not quite as ready to go as when I play in the afternoon. Regardless, it made me alert and productive on Tuesday. I finished up my poster and planned for a meeting with Nicolas. We needed to follow up on the visit to the ceramics workshop. I made an outline of topics to cover so the meeting wouldn’t go too long. FYI by this time my knee is back in business. I am still cautious because I don’t want to accidentally rip off the scab, but it looks good and I can do everything I used to do! The meeting with Nicolas went well and afterwards I raced back to school for my French lesson. I was on fire with my French that day. I don’t get it, some days I am really rocking it and others not so much. Anyway, Tuesday night I stayed in the office pretty late working on emails to follow up to the meeting with Nicolas. I also created the design we are using for the T-shirts we are going to give out at the end of the year retreat. The theme of the retreat is salt and light. Leanna and I came up with an awesome graphic on Saturday. I simply digitalized them in photoshop. What I did at home that night has been lost to the black hole of my memory. It must not have been that important! I am, however, fairly certain that I spent some time planning for bible study.

Wednesday I worked a “continuous day” as they call it. I started early in the morning and worked through the break. That way I didn’t have to come back after bible study. In the morning I worked with Konate to have my poster printed. It was super easy, and I am really impressed they have a legitimate plotter at 2iE. I also worked on writing the first parts of my paper. I was able to hammer out the introduction and part of the methods section.

I was thankfully prepared for bible study this week, the lesson always goes better when I prepare ahead of time... We talked about Oracle Psalms. I think it went quite well. Rosie’s family from England was there visiting and so they sat in and participated in the study which was a nice change of pace. For snack I busted out the box of cookies I brought back from Paris with me along with some dried mango pieces. The cookies were a HUGE hit. They were the very skinny butter cookies dipped in chocolate…mmmm good. With the weekend approaching I realized I would have to kick my paper writing into high gear. The pressure was finally on. I ended up staying up super late working on this thing. I had written up my Introduction and Methods, but couldn’t do my results yet because I hadn’t really sat down and sifted through everything. So I finally took the time and endured the brain strain of analysis. This in and of itself was a huge task. I gave myself a reward break after a couple of hours and watched Grey’s Anatomy. It was a two hour special and man was it good! I finished with that show and was so happy :) I got to a place I could stop at like 4:00am, late I know... I did sleep until 8:00am, so that was still four hours of sleep. Not ideal, but not horrible.

The reason I had to get up that early was that I had to help out that the GVEA stand at the Business Fair. They had been setting up for this fair ALL WEEK! They were not just little tables. Oh no, they were whole rooms! Each exhibitor had an individual room with electricity to it and a roof over it. I was blown away. Some businesses brought in whole furniture sets and really set up there display very nicely. Anyway, I got to explain my project to a couple of people. Not too many, but it was good I was there. Mariam, a PhD student at 2iE who has helped me a ton, was also there so it was nice to have a chance to talk to her. After working at the table in the morning I now understand why the booths have roofs. It was SO hot! Oh, yes at 9:00am I had a French lesson. I knew I would be busy on Friday and so I arranged for him to come Thursday morning. It worked out quite well. I was able to take a short nap in the break time, but it was cut short by my tennis lesson at 4:00pm. Much better than last time. I tell you, those morning slots are just not good for me! I went home and feverishly worked on my paper for thirty minutes until I had to leave for the ISO Celebration of the Arts. I was still working on the results section… The Celebration of the Arts took the place of youth group and while I had this paper pressing down on me I knew I needed to go to the show. More importantly I wanted to go to the show to support the kids I knew. When I got home I finished up my results section. Then I got right to work on the Discussion portion of my paper at about 1am. I was working well, but I was pretty tired. I finished the discussion, or so I thought…

I went to bed at 5:00am and the sight of the sun coming up as I was going to bed was not comforting at all. I wanted to finish up my paper by Friday to email to the MIT professor and Professor Soboyejo. It was a self-imposed deadline, but I still wanted to keep it. I wanted to be done with things before I went to the conference.

Friday I had no qualms about sleeping until 10am. There were terrible rains in the morning which wiped out the Business Days. I got up and worked at home for the morning. I went into the office in the afternoon and realized that I should have made changes to my poster and had a copy printed to bring to the conference with me in case I could exhibit it. So I gave myself until 5:30 to get it done, thinking I would still have time to print it. Well, thanks to the Business Days, nothing was working as usual. I tried to get Konate to help me, but things just got more complicated and he ended printing another copy of the original which didn’t help me. So Africa wins again. I was still holding out hope of printing it on Saturday, but I couldn’t stick around any longer because I had the youth group banquet to get ready for. I got back to my house at 6:20 and was dressed, ready to go at 6:30. I was even able to track Susan down and borrow her tank top since my white one was still damp from when I hand washed it. Line drying clothes is fine except when it is humid outside and the rain in the morning was not helping my cause.

The banquet was amazing. Leanna did such a nice job presenting the awards and making people feel special. The banquet was held at the Palmier Hotel. It was a great venue. Clean, chic, and good food is a winning combination by my standards. They served spaghetti carbonara which is quickly becoming one of my favorite dishes. Ben and I had to rearrange the tables a bit, but we were successful in setting up the room very nicely. All the kids dressed up and it was so cute to see them in their pretty dresses and dress shirts.

After the banquet, Leanna drove me home and I got back to work on the paper which had become a thorn in my side. I was inspired to write the conclusion and the abstract. I was able to do it in pretty good timing as well. I was about to call it a night when I decided to tackle the last thing on my list and that was to check over the microbiology specifics in my paper. I have never been trained in microbiology and was thrust into this work with little preparation or assistance. I read a great MIT thesis that spelled everything out for me. The problem was, however, I realized I had made a huge error. My results were all based on Total Coliform (TC) levels since there was no E.Coli (EC) in the raw water. Well, this means that yes I can talk about the efficiency of the filters in terms of TC removal, but can not extend my results to proposed health impacts because EC is the required parameter. So once I discovered this, it literally felt like the roof had collapsed on my head. However, after a nice mango, strawberry, and pineapple smoothie I was able to regroup my thoughts and make the needed changes. They weren’t as dramatic as I had first imagined and I now feel much more confident in what I can say about my experiment. I finished up with a draft that was just about ready to go. I also readjusted my poster accordingly, so I guess it was a good thing it wasn’t printed. This took me again until 4am to complete. Do you see a pattern here?

I got up at 8:40am to go to my 9:00am tennis lesson. I got to the rec center, having sacrificed my sleep, only to find my tennis teacher couldn’t play because he had received a vaccine shot in his leg and couldn’t move easily since his leg was sore. So instead he got this punk guy to play with me. I don’t like this guy very much, period, and the way he was putting forth little to no effort in playing with me was really frustrating. Luckily we ended early and I just left. I didn’t have him sign off my card because that did not constitute a lesson in my book. Oh, I should note, on my way to the rec center I passed Konate who stopped and told me to come and print my poster right then. I kindly told him I was busy and would be back in an hour… He is so exasperating! Given that encounter, I did go straight back to my office after the non-lesson. Turns out, the printer guy was not coming in on Saturday, and I was out of luck with my poster. But you know what? I was okay with that because at least I now have a poster that is ready to go for then next conference that comes up. Instead of going home I stayed in my office and went through my paper one last time. I made some changes and then sent out the copies to Professor Soboyejo and the MIT professor. I also was able to write some other important emails and in general wrap up everything that I had been struggling to do this week.

I left my office and went home feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders! I cleaned up the mess of dishes and other junk that had been collecting on my table since Wednesday. I put on some music and danced around. I also started to pick out the clothes I would need to wash for Ghana. I had made plans to go to lunch with Susan and Mary Ellen, but Mary Ellen had tennis at 12:30pm so I figured the earliest I would hear from them was about 2pm. Well, I realized my phone was on silent from the night before and I had missed all sorts of calls and texts from them. They were meeting at 1:00 at Paradisio’s for lunch. Well, it was 1:30 when I got this information. So I grabbed all my clothes shoved them in my backpack. I was planning to stop by Leanna’s, put my clothes in the wash, then head over to at least say hi. Mary Ellen would be leaving while I was in Ghana so this was my last chance to say good bye, good luck and just socialize one last time. I got on my bike and realized immediately something wasn’t right. My back tire was flat. Oye! Not what I needed. I felt like my life was beginning to resemble a sitcom script. I thought maybe I can just have the bike guys pump it up and I can have it fixed later since I was in a hurry. However, as I pulled up to the bike place, I got off my bike, looked behind me and I saw a thumbtack stuck in my tire. My aspirations for the afternoon deflated about as quickly as my flat tire.

The tire patching took a record 10 minutes. That was fast indeed. I was able to rearrange my plans and went straight to restaurant and sat and chatted for about an hour. We had great conversations, reflections, and the insights were wonderful! After lunch, I went to Leanna’s. She didn’t care I was much later than my earlier text had indicated… that was before I found my flat tire. I must admit it makes for a great story. Anyway, I had no problem doing my laundry. I wasn’t going to dry my things there, but realized I couldn’t take them home soaked and so I did hang them up for a bit and just bummed around Leanna’s house for a while. She had two students over because she was helping them on a math project. They had to design a shopping mall and these girls were having some trouble with figuring out how to get all the areas to fit together. It was so nice of Leanna to have them come to her house to work on it. I did finally go home and hung up my laundry outside to finish drying. As I was rehanging the clothes I figured out I put too much detergent in the washer because the clothes were a little sticky… Just so you know, if you don’t already, it is a bad idea to add more detergent because you think your clothes are dirtier and you have more of them.

After making sure my laundry was on its way to being ready to pack that night I got ready for the Toastmasters Gala! I wore my class day outfit from last year in honor of the Princeton Reunions I was missing. That was about killing me… But, oh the Gala was wonderful :) I couldn’t believe it. It was a huge gathering. Several hundred people and everyone was dressed up. Even the employees of the Sofitel had matching gowns and blended in with the crowd. The food was good and the place was decorated with balloons and just all around it was a high class affair like I had never seen in Ouaga before. But it figures… I paid about $35 US for the ticket to go; however, it was well worth it my mind. It was not just any Gala though. Since it was a Toastmaster’s Gala they worked in all the elements of a real meeting. Susan lead the Table Topics improvisational activity. Her theme was the 2008 Olympics and she did it mostly in French asking only 2 questions in English. She did a great job. She had asked me before if she could call on me for one of the English questions and I enthusiastically agreed. She didn’t tell me the question beforehand because it is supposed to be improve. Anyway, I was to imagine I was on the women’s US volleyball team won gold at the last Olympics and explain how winning a gold medal changed my life. It was a prefect question for me and I really enjoyed answering it. I also have to admit I derived a good deal of confidence from the fact that very few of the people <15% would know what I was saying.

It was really cool because they love the way English sounds and for me to get up and speak English was like “Woah!” to them, so I felt good. I took some nice pictures of the evening. I was also very happy because a very nice girl from our club named Mintu sat next to me. It was nice to get to talk to her outside of the regular Toastmaster meetings. We are just getting to be friends, and I will miss her. I wish it hadn’t taken so long! The reality of my leaving is setting in and I don’t like it.

We got home from the Gala at about 1am. I wished I could have crashed into my bed and fallen sound asleep for the next 24 hours, but I couldn’t. I had to pack to go to Ghana! It went very smoothly and I was asleep by 2:30am which was good because I had to get back up 6:50am to go to office for some last minute online tasks I had to complete in case I was without internet in Ghana. Morning came way, way too quickly but I was headed to Ghana so somehow found the energy to get up even after only getting 4 hours of sleep for the past four nights. My horrible sleep patterns were not a good thing and I could tell they were taking a toll on my body and mind. I just kept on imagining finally getting to the guesthouse in Accra and sleeping, sleeping, sleeping.

I will end this post here. Thanks for being patient with me. Stay tuned for my Ghana adventures!