Friday, June 27, 2008

Salt and Light, Galloping Horses, and a Significant Departure

When I got back from Ghana I felt like I didn’t have a chance to take a breath before I dove right back into the swing of things. After Susan left on Tuesday night I went to my office to let my family know I made it back safe to Ouagadougou. Ryan was the only one around so I regaled him with a few of the crazy transport stories. He got a kick out those… I went home and should have gone to bed. But instead, I showered, unpacked my bags and went through some desk stuff. I didn’t go to bed until like 2am. Oh and I noticed when I first got home that the door to the bedroom area of the house was closed, which was unusual. I didn’t think anyone had come because I didn’t see any tell-tale signs of another person being there. Also, when Susan came over I wasn’t exactly quite when retelling my adventure tales. But, when I came back from my office and opened the door to the bedroom area… dun, dun, dun there were strangers shoes in the hallway. Indeed there was another person staying at the house. The shoes looked like the kind my old Asian doctor used to wear, so naturally I assumed there was a small Asian man staying in my house. Boy was I wrong!

Wednesday I slept in until about 9:00am and then went into work. I worked a continuous day so I could go to the bible study party and do some errands afterwards. In the morning I worked on going through my emails and figuring how to finish up all I had left to do in the very limited amount of time I had before I was to leave. Anyway, while I am at work I met a new girl who will be working with Konate for the next 10 months (Heaven help her…). She is from Ghana and, surprise, was the person staying at my house. She had actually just arrived at 2iE when I returned from Ghana myself. She is very nice and is going to be helping to continue my experiments when I leave. I was really excited to hear that, but it also meant training her to do all the experiments in t-minus 5 days. But have no fear… I’ll figure it out somehow.

Wednesday June 11th was the last Ouagadougou girls bible study so we planned to have a nice little party. In order to celebrate in true fashion I made up some quick brownies and bought some sugar peanuts on the way over. I also made up some sesame bars, but they weren’t ready when I had to leave so I left them home planning to have them as a treat for myself ;) The final bible study was lovely. I hadn’t had much time to prepare, but we did go over some of things they most remembered, and then I had them write a letter to themselves to open a year later. It was an exercise I think they all liked. I also gave the girls the bookmarks I had made. I hope they use them ;) Anna’s family (one of the other leaders) was in visiting from England, so they sat in for the final bible study. It was overall really fun, and Anna’s family loved the brownies I had made. I thought they were okay, almost too sweet, but they LOVED them and kept saying they were the best they had ever had. Beats me! After the party was over I sat around chatting with Anna’s family for a while, but then I had to head home so I could scan my Ghana receipts to get reimbursed for my expenses before I had to meet Ben to finalize plans for the WIRED retreat which was FRIDAY! Holy COW! We hashed out details, but just in general we were both pretty worn out and you could tell. After Ben left, I took the evening to write up a short summary of my Ghana trip to send to Professor Soboyejo.

Thursday morning instead of going into the office, I wrote like 15 emails I had needed to get to but had been putting off… writing emails takes a surprisingly long amount of time. At about 1:15pm I left my house and I stopped by SIM to pick up my ring and brownie pan I left there yesterday. Then I went to ISO to see Leanna for a few minutes. She had lunch plans so and I went back to her house to chill out for a while and send my emails. It was a great plan and then Ben showed up which was great to have company, but I really needed to get my emails sent and did not want distractions. Ben is like a walking distraction. It wasn’t bad though, and I was saved from total loss of productivity because Leanna’s DVD player wasn’t working so Ben couldn’t put on a movie… I did thankfully get all my work done. After Leann’s lunch she picked me from her house and we went to the SIAO (Artisinal Village). I was originally planning to send the emails from my office and then got ISO, but as I walked outside it looked like it was about to down pour rain and I didn’t want to be stuck at 2iE… hence the down time at Leanna’s house. Anyway.

The SIAO was great. I made a list in Ghana of what I needed to buy and how much I wanted to spend and so it wasn’t stressful and I only bought what I knew I wanted. The only thing I could find was actually some soap and papers for Cassy. Leanna found some cool stuff for her to bring back with her too, and we ordered a custom batik which the guy assured us would be ready by Sunday (it was Thursday…). A batik is a type of Africa art that uses fabric, wax, and dyes to depict pictures. She was having one made as a thank you for her home church that raised a lot of money for the food distribution. After getting back to Leanna’s house, I peaced out so I could be back in time for my French lesson. It went pretty well. I will miss my French lessons when I leave Burkina Faso! When the lesson was over, I was spent. I had been going non-stop since Ghana, since before Ghana and I couldn’t do anything more… So, I put on Miss Potter, curled up on my couch, forgot about all the things I had to do and called it a night! After the movie, I did try and write my toastmaster’s speech for Saturday, but it just wasn’t working. I really wanted it to be written so all I had to do was practice it on Friday, but no.

Friday I got up feeling much better after having given my brain a rest. BTW I love Miss Potter. I could watch it a million times and still love it. This woman’s life was unreal! I went to work in the morning and had a wonderful surprise… I was about to email the woman from Jstor to find out why I hadn’t heard anything from them lately, but I first decided to check out the website and see if by magic we were connected. Getting to the website searching for a keyword and having the page load and say I was connected though 2iE was one of those moments when the heaven’s parted and angels started singing. It was glorious. After 3 months of work, finally, finally we were connected and now the 2iE community had access to 1.8 million articles from over a 1000s free! I spent the morning going around to other offices showing my co-workers this great new resource… I also took a few minutes to write up an announcement to post on the 2iE website regarding the new Jstor access. It was a great morning!

I left work at 10:30. I had to go to the bank to get some cash and then do some last minute shopping for the retreat. I had to get marbles, crackers, apples, cards, and other random items for the relay races Ben and I dreamed up. There were a few things I couldn’t find such as baby bottles so we had to change a few of the tasks. Since I was already downtown, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and went souvenir shopping. It was about half as pleasant as the first time I went before I came back the US in April. I felt like the prices were all higher and my French was a weak that day. It didn’t leave me feeling very good about these vendors. I got home from my errands in enough time to get back to the office and go stand in the lab to greet some visitors who had come to tour 2iE. After they went through I raced home, threw my things into a bag, and grabbed some lunch before Leanna came over to pick me up to go to the retreat.

The retreat was hands-down amazing. As a youth group kid you don’t appreciate all the hard work that goes into planning those things… so let me tell you, it is a lot of work. Leanna is the youth leader, but since Ben and I had planned this she was counting on us to kind of run things. It was an awesome responsibility, but I have to say I was dead tired. Ben had also had a monster of a day so it felt like things got off to a shaky start. I was also stressed out having to give a speech the next morning and not yet knowing what I was doing for it! After convening everybody at the Harrison’s house, our caravan of 7 vehicles carrying 40 happy retreaters headed out for Nong Taaba. When we got there we couldn’t give the kids their room assignments because Ben had them and he was late, so instead we had the guys put their stuff in one room and the girls put their stuff another. We had originally planned to have an opening ceremony right away, but instead decided to put that off until right before dinner and let the kids have free time all afternoon. While it was “free time”, it was also the time when the kids could play paintball if they wanted. The only problem with that whole plan was that we hadn’t confirmed our tentative reservation and so they were scrambling to accommodate everybody. Since there were 26 kids who wanted to play, we had to have the kids play in two different games. Once things got settled on the administration end, life was smooth sailing as the paintball people took over. I was keen to take pictures and since the opportunities from the sidelines would be limited, the paintball people invited me to put on a suit and stand up in the tower with the game referee and take pictures! It was so cool!

The games lasted for two 15 minutes halves of capture the flag type play. I only stayed in for the first half of each game. In the mean time, I was trying to get Leanna, Ben, Bianca and I together to figure out what the heck was going on later that night! We had to push dinner back a bit, and I had no idea what we were doing for the opening ceremonies. Since I was still dealing with paintball, Ben and Leanna said they would take care of it. Yeah. They also took care of giving the kids their room assignments which was nice because then the kids could get all of their stuff out of the leaders’ rooms. When paintball was over we had the kids change and then meet in the tiki hut area for the… drumroollll please, opening ceremonies. Ben came up with a cool skit, which we used to debut the amazing retreat t-shirts they were going to get. The theme of the retreat was Salt and Light. Here are the t-shirt designs…

Do you get it? If not, read Matthew 5:13 :) We also told them a little bit about what to expect and went over ground rules which was actually pretty fun. We went out on a limb and had them suggest some rules to begin with. Of course we had a list of ones we wanted to have covered, but we thought it would be more effective if they voiced the rules they wanted to see followed to make the retreat the best it could be. After the opening bit it was dinner time. We prayed in the tiki hut and Ben and I were set to start a stampede to dinner, but as we were about to let them loose, Leanna says, “Oh and please try to be civilized as you walk to dinner…” Doah! Our plan for mayhem was foiled. Next time we have to let her in on our plans ;)

Dinner was great and even better because all we had to do was sit down to it. After dinner Joel Gray, one of the missionaries in Ouaga, gave the key talk for the retreat. He did a great job. We broke with tradition of having worship multiple times during a retreat and decided to save the music for the morning. After the talk, they were given several options for activities; card games, a judged synchronized swimming competition (which was not a well received idea, even though I would have totally gone for it), and capture the flag. Most of the kids wanted to play capture the flag. FYI that game is like a youth sponsor’s worse nightmare. A bunch of kids running around in the dark = recipe for injury. Anyway, we got permission to play in the paintball arena which eliminated the issue of designating boundaries. We had the kids pick teams and let them go get ready. They convened at the referee tower in the paintball arena and we went over the rules. Capture the flag with this group of kids was crazy. It took a while for the game to get flowing, but once it did, it went on for a while… This group has a history of arguing over who tagged who and if they were in no-man’s land or not, so I patrolled no-man’s land which virtually eliminated any problems.

I was dead tired by the time the game was over. Leanna and I went and set out the snacks and I put my feet in the pool for a few minutes which was really nice. I made Abby and James pick out the music for the morning so I could at least look at it once before I played solo leading worship for 40 people after having been gone and not playing for like two weeks. Am I getting any sympathy from you yet? No. Alright, try this one on. After I went back to my room, tuned my guitar and played through the songs once each I had to restart my brain cells to write a freaking speech for the morning! AHhhhhh… I planned to talk about the perils and pleasures of friendship, but decided I didn’t really like the idea. My speech topic was actually inspired by the t-shirts we made for the retreat which were green. I titled my speech, “Green with Envy” and talked about the dangers of being envious of others. The goal of the speech was to use body language and I was able to work in three stories that illustrated my key points but also allowed me to really use my body in delivering the speech. That night I only outlined the speech. I knew the keys points I wanted to make and the examples I wanted to use… I was praying I would be able to pull it off.

Saturday morning came way too fast. I rushed through breakfast to get ready for worship. I had Bianca practice with me, she sang while I played guitar. While it would be rough, I knew it would be okay. Before starting life that morning, I had laid in bed and prayed that God would work in the worship, that he would be with me in giving my speech and just be Lord of my life that day. You think I would learn to do that everyday! The results of my day were phenomenal and unbelievable in many ways. After Worship Bianca shared her testimony and spoke to the youth group about her experiences as a missionary kid growing up in the Philippines. She did a wonderful job and you could tell the kids were listening to every word. I had the great pleasure of introducing Bianca before she spoke. I was confident in giving her introduction because I remembered some of the things I had learned in Toastmasters :)

Speaking of toastmasters, as soon as Bianca was done speaking, I left Nong Taaba hoping to get back to 2iE in time to give my speech. Nong Taaba is a bit of the way out of town and since there no taxis going by I started walking towards town. I was just about to reach the big gas station when I saw a green car approaching. I was saved! I paid the taxi 3500CFA and he got me to 2iE pretty fast arriving at the gate at 10:25am. I rushed home, showered, got dressed, grabbed the few props I needed to speech, mentally ran through the key points again, and headed to the meeting. I got there as the first girl was finishing up her speech. I was sitting down for about 4 minutes before it was my turn to get up and give my speech. I took a deep breath and decided to go for it, 100%. I had never actually practiced the speech and if I was going to sell it like I had prepared well, I knew I had to just jump in. It was awesome. I rocked my speech. That experience gave me such confidence and was probably the best thing that could have happened to finish off my Toastmaster’s time in Burkina. I needed to know I could give a presentation on a whim. That I didn’t have to write it out, but that if I had an outline, knew my points and illustrations, by not having it written out, I could be more genuine and adjust what I was saying to how the audience was reacting. As I said, it was just what I needed. The meeting ended with elections for the next year’s executive board. They were supposed to follow parliamentary procedure, but it was a challenge. There was only one person running for each position, so it wasn’t much of a contest. It was good that they went through the motions, but you tell they were a bit uncomfortable with nominating and voting (not surprising given the political history of their country). It was a little odd, but I am sure a very good exercise for them.

After the meeting the club went out for a celebration luncheon. We went to a restaurant called “Gracias” and it was great fun! I went home and chilled out a bit before riding my bike over to the Harrison’s to be there when the kids got back to say goodbye. While I left at about 9:50am, the retreat went until 4:00pm, so Leanna, Ben and Bianca ran the rest of the morning stuff. There were group discussions led by the llama leaders followed by games. The epic relay races Ben and I had planned went off really well. I heard a bunch of really funny stories relating to completing some of the tasks we came up with. Funny enough the race wasn’t even close. The tasks were so hard there were 7 minute gaps between team finish times. That, my friend, is a well planned out relay race. The rest of the time minus a short wrap up talk was free time :)

After saying goodbye to some kids I would likely never see again, I rode my bike over to Pete and Alice’s house to return some books I had borrowed. That in itself isn’t exciting, but let me tell you about their dog. It scared the living ga-gee-bers out of me! It was barking so loud and jumping around, and it is this big German Shepard. I start calling to Pete and he acts like it is no big deal and says that “Teddy” wouldn’t hurt anybody. That may be true, but how am I supposed to know that. Note to all dog owners. Unless you are certain your visitor is comfortable with your dogs, assume they are not. Anyway, after chatting with Pete and Alice for while I head over Leanna’s house so Bianca and I can plan our trip to Togo :) Yeah! We had originally planned to leave on Thursday, but I realized this wasn’t feasible with my work expectations and so we decided to shorten and shift the trip, leave Saturday morning come back Monday. I would have Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday until 5:00pm to pack and wrap up life in Burkina. While I knew it would be killer, I so wanted to go to Togo. The only problem was Bianca still had to get approval from the Peace Corps to leave the country. How different our experiences of Burkina Faso have been?! Outside of work I am free to do whatever I want. Whereas Peace Corps Volunteers have their lives pretty tightly regulated. Okay, really tightly regulated.

Anyway, I rode my bike home and worked out for 20 minutes doing some toning exercises. I showered, and got ready to go to Natalie’s house. FYI, I was still so tired, but I wanted to go… Natalie is a French girl from work who had been saying she wanted to have Susan and I over for dinner for a while. Side note, she is totally opposite of a type A person. I kind of admire that quality; I mean she is free spirited, dresses a bit bohemian, and lives in a dome shaped house with a hammock outside. But I could never live like that. I am too type A. I thought it was going to be a low key dinner with only a few people… not! There were over 20 people crammed into a small veranda. There was a long wait time before dinner was served, the silences of which were punctuated by bursts of awkward conversation. This is a pretty typical African evening… It was a nice group though. One of the redeeming qualities of the evening was being able to sit next to and talk to Susan. However, I could hardly stay awake for dessert, but there was not sign of us being able to leave. Since we had gotten a ride over, we were dependent on others for a ride home. Finally at 12:30am I told Susan we needed to go. We could find a taxi... I was, in all seriousness, having trouble responding to people in a coherent manner. Not long after making that declaration the party dispersed and we didn’t have to find a taxi because everybody was leaving and we just grabbed a ride with someone headed that way. I got home and fell fast asleep.

Sunday. Happy Father’s Day Dad! I set alarm for 8:40am because I had plans to leave to go horseback riding with Pam and Susan at 9:00am that morning. I knew I had time for one snooze. My phone went off and I tried to hit the snooze, but it wouldn’t turn off. Then I realized it wasn’t my alarm going off, but Susan was calling me! It was 9:05am and Pam was there already. I was still in bed! I jumped out of bed and was out the door in less than 5 minutes… It was nice drive to the stables which gave me some time to wake up. When we got there we told them we wanted to ride and we got right on some horses. It was fun and dandy, but, ah-hem, I hadn’t ridden a horse in at least 10 years. Even then, it was like walking in a circle at Mrs. Wychoki’s farm. But everybody was else experienced, so I just went along with things. Dude, we were going out on a trail ride. I was pumped. They gave me a calm horse and the guide helped me figure out the mechanics of riding. Once I remembered the commands it was super easy and really pretty amazing. I feel like I am a natural. In fact, I am seriously entertaining the idea of pursuing horseback riding at Stanford… it’s worth a try right? Anyway, our little ride was not a nice trail walk. Oh, no. We trotted, cantered, and yes my friend even galloped! It was one of those surreal moments of like, is this really happening? Never in the US would I have been able to just get on a horse and go galloping away, but I guess that is beauty of the lawlessness of Africa… The ride was about 1 hour long and only cost like $20 something dollars. Yes, Mom, I wore a riding helmet.

After riding, we went to lunch at Le Coq Bleu. That is supposedly one of the nicest restaurants in Ouagadougou and the prices are a little higher than other places, but I wasn’t too impressed with the feel of the place. I did get a great hot salad though. I know it sounds gross, but it wasn’t. I also figure I am almost done in Ouaga and can afford to eat out at some of these places. I got home, showered and took a nice little nap. Leanna came to get me about 3:30pm to run errands with her. I was able to bring my laundry with too and wash a couple of loads for the last time! FYI This was Leanna’s last night in Ouagadougou. She was headed back to the states at 3:00am on the Air Maroc flight so I was glad to spend some time with her! We ran a bunch of errands; SIAO to pick up the batik (Surprise, it was ready on time!), pharmacy, ceramics stop, sugared peanuts hunt, among others. We got back to Leanna’s house and just chilled out there until it was time to leave for dinner. I talked to my family online wished my daddy a Happy Father’s Day! We left for Pete and Alice’s house to drop off Leanna’s car for the last time. She is hoping to have Pete sell it while she is gone for the summer. Ben and Reid met us there and we all went out to dinner. We had wanted to go to the Bouganvillie, but wouldn’t you know it was not open on Sundays! Sad. Instead we to a place called La Vita. Leanna and I couldn’t decide what we wanted so we order a couple things and shared it. That is just how we roll. It was excellent.

After dinner, we went out to ice cream. I got this caramel monstrosity which I should have only eaten about half of, but I ate it all and was hurting afterwards. We sat in the ice cream place for a while and enjoyed some super funny conversations. We went back to Leanna’s house and shot the breeze until 11:30 rolled around we left Leanna so she could finish packing and be ready to go. It was weird saying good bye for the last time. It had not really sunk in yet. I don’t think it will be that bad though, because Leanna is someone I am sure I will stay in touch with :) Good Bye Leanna! Ben and Reid brought me home… I was out like a light as soon as my head it the pillow.