Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Question of Unity

I wrote this post while in Burkina, I just never felt ready to share it. Today I decided it was time to open up the discussion:

If we stop to think for a second, I mean really stop to reflect, do you think we could answer the question: what's wrong with mankind? Do you think if we give thought to our actions, our choices, our principles, we can find the truth about why we have suffering in this world? Why we have inequality? Why humanity is so divided?

Do you think that there is good within each of us, or does that skip a generation from time to time? Do you believe every child comes into this world with innocence in their hearts? Or, do some have a mission, given by fate, for evil?

Do we always try, at least try, to be good people? To see the good in others? Is it easier to commit immoral acts? Or, does good trump evil in the battle for our amusement?

Irrespective of religion or credo; what unites us? What divides us? Inclusive of religion or credo; what unites us? What divides us?

Who initially decided to divide and conquer the world? Who initially decided to mend it?

Do you believe in equality? Between men and women? Between different races? If we truly believe everyone should have equal opportunity, why don't we? Does our ego get in the way of unity?

I don't know the answers to most of these questions. I wish I did.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

So this is reverse culture shock...

56 days have passed since I touched back down in Canada. Seems almost like I never left. Seems as though I didn't experience what I experienced. I didn't see what I saw. I didn't live that life halfway across the globe.

Reverse culture shock, for me, was (is) a bizarre thing. I didn't have nightmares or flashbacks of my time in Burkina. I didn't accidentally start bartering with vendors in Canada, as is accustom to do in Burkina markets. I fell right back into routine, right back into Canadian culture. What got me was the reference library that now sits in my brain and that constantly floods my thoughts. Often when a conversation topic comes up - complaining about wait times in hospitals, for example - I can't help but think of my experience. I want to mention that Yako had (has) one doctor. That there are 6 doctors for every 100,000 people in the country - imagine the wait time to see a doctor there. When people talk about kids, it almost always triggers an image of a little girl selling me peanuts  on a tray atop her head in the marketplace. Or I think of the kids in our courtyard playing in the dust until their feet are stained with a reddish hue - where will these kids be in 10 years?

I'm caught in between two ways of living - and I can't surrender to either side. I can't give up my Burkinabè experience, nor will I ever be able to forget my 'maternal culture'. I am also cautious of how I use my reference library. Often when discussions come up, I want to add my point of view, but my perspective is so limited. I have experienced but two cultures - that doesn't really qualify me to understand much.

I have been questioned countless times of how my trip was. I have a standard answer now: it was a good experience. I really don't know how my trip was, I don't think I have fully grasped its importance on my life - but my standard answer satisfies the curiosity of most. I appreciate when people want to know more, but few have sat in the corridors of my library and studied my newly published perspectives. Perhaps they are scared of what they will find - perhaps I have not completely opened it to my friends and family.

What is clear is that Burkina Faso changed me. From the outside perhaps I have hidden its affect, but internally I still search for clarity. Why tell you this? Life is full of experiences. I've lived my fair share, but nothing has been as impacting as Burkina. I have had my first hit of the drug that is life with all its new cultures, new shocks, new perspectives, new sadnesses, new joys, new hopes, new cynicisms. Being trapped in the bubble of routine shields us from life's abundant diversity. Being afraid of life's painful realities scares us into the corner where we do anything to escape this truth. This experience was a reminder that it is best to step out from our corner of fear and feel something different. Feel something that may hurt, or that may do just the opposite. Life is best lived with passion, and this passion is fueled by the experiences that life presents.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Une Journée Quotidienne

I lent my camera to Adama one morning and he came back with the pictures you see below. Well actually, he came back with 99 pictures, but due to internet constraints I had to cut the number I posted down to nine. I have no context to give in respect to these pictures, this is simply one portrayal of life in Yako, Burkina Faso from the perspective of a fourteen year old kid with a camera.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Le Paludisme

It hit me like a sack of potatoes. Today was, by far, the most uncomfortable day in my memory. Waves of body aches rushed over me as my core temperature climbed to what I’m sure was a new personal record. Every action, every movement, made me feel weak. Nausea made sure that any consumption of food was unpleasant. The lower back pain made almost every position uncomfortable, thus making it impossible to nap despite my exhaustion. The local hospital is open for consultations every morning at 7am. You best believe I will be there tomorrow. 
To my pleasant surprise, I got some sleep last night. I woke up multiple times within my 5 hours of rest, but nonetheless I found pockets of tranquility as I cruised off to dream land. When I rolled over to see the clock at 5am, I doubted for a second that I was alive. Seems silly (or irrational perhaps), but when you go from what I was feeling yesterday, to only minor discomfort (the fever had passed), it makes you stop and think. Since the nausea was gone, I didn’t care what time it was, I jumped on the occasion to eat. Although it was still a struggle because my appetite was no where to be found, I was able to eat a loaf of local bread with some coke. I went back to bed to rest for another hour before I went to the hospital.

Ousmane, the gentleman that lives in our courtyard, has a motorbike and took me this morning. The wait wasn’t too long and the process was easy enough: Step 1: register; Step 2: give your blood sample; Step 3: pay; and, Step 4: get the results four hours later. 

At 11:50am this morning, test results came back positive for malaria. 
This is not an experience I wish upon anyone, but unfortunately I don’t have much power over that. While lying in bed yesterday, in the midst of my fever, I couldn’t help but think of those suffering along side me. Those experiencing the same overpowering discomfort. Those who perhaps can’t afford the medication to get better, like I can.

I payed 500 CFA ($1.02 CAD) for the malaria test, then 3900 CFA ($7.94 CAD) for the medication. Doesn’t seem like a whole lot in order to kill this malicious parasite, but some people still can’t afford it.

I must admit, before I got it, I had not thought a lot about malaria. I take the anti-malarial medication every morning and I sleep under a mosquito net every night, but even these things have become nothing more than habit. I forgot about the real risk it poses.

I have not had a fever since last night, so I am feeling much better today. The medication takes three days to kill the parasite. I will be fine. I pray those other folks suffering, will be fine as well.

It seems so useless that something like malaria kills. Obviously it is a complex parasite, and various strands brings about various levels of severity, but for the strands that can be treated, the medication should be available to everyone. That fever was horrible, but it would have been worse knowing I didn’t have the means to take care of the illness. I am not really sure what International Development entails completely, but it seems obvious that making sure people don’t die of things like malaria should be a part of it. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Through The Eyes Of Someone Else

Clarisse with her children
Everyone has a story. Where they came from, where they are, where they wish to go. Life is an endless library of experience that we, the authors, the readers, the critics, and the protagonists continually fill. 

To be frank, it’s not realistic to recount an entire story in one short blog post, but what follows will be my attempt. I will give you a glimpse into the life of SALOU Kientega Kiswendsida Clarisse; one of the women that lives in our courtyard. Sunday night, sitting at the foot of a dusty gazebo and surrounded by children curious about my computer, I asked Clarisse some questions about her life.

Four dates will help organize this story, the first of which being August 10th, 1982. Born in Yako, the story began as Clarisse became part of a family where she would eventually have fifteen brothers and sisters, two mothers, and a father who would pass away when she was six years old. She tells me she never knew her father because she spent her early childhood living with her Uncle and his family.
SALOU Nomwendé Ingred Djamiilatou Rosen
(Photo taken by Marie Warkentin)
She did return to live with her mother in Yako, and at that time began schooling. She continued her studies until just before completing the BAC (an exam that takes place at the end of high school). She was forced to put schooling on hold when she became pregnant in 2006. She met her husband, SALOU Adama, in 2005 and became his second wife. She brought her first child into this world, a daughter, on January 22nd, 2007 at 1:45pm: SALOU Nomwendé Ingred Djamiilatou Rosen (She tells me she can remember the delivery like it was yesterday. Trying to be witty, I tell her I am lucky to be a man. Her contagious laugh fills the air. She agrees and assures me that giving birth is not an easy thing).

In 2008, Clarisse was still living with her mother. Because of this, she was able to go to night school while leaving Rosen at home. Regrettably though, on November 22nd, 2009, her mother passed away and she was again unable to finish the BAC. Given her situation, she moved in with her husband and his first wife in the courtyard where she currently resides with us. The most recent turing point came on August 13th, 2010 at 5:44am when she gave birth to her son, SALOU Abdala.

SALOU Abdala
(Photo taken by Marie Warkentin)
I ask her about her husband. She tells me that she worries about him. He used to sell shoes, but the market was not good, so he decided to go work in the mines - mining for gold. She speaks softly when she says there are many deaths at the mines from either collapses or the oxygen tanks running out with the workers inside. She says that if her husband was able to find a better job, he would be able to help her more. Presently, he is only able to come home 4 or 5 times a month.

I ask: What do you want from this life? She responds gracefully: Everyday, I pray to God that I will get a job. I pray that I can take care of my children. I pray also that one day, when I grow old, my children will be able to take care of me. Right now though, I hope for a job.

She has been searching for work for the last seven years. She tells me of a situation last year where she was almost hired as a primary school teacher. She had passed the oral and written exams, but when it came to the sports section, she had a cramp during the test and failed. With a hint of despair in her voice, she tells me: I feel like it was my last chance in this life to find a job.

She has also applied at other organizations. They have come back and told her that she needs computer literacy. With this knowledge, she can be hired. She has not yet been able to find a computer training opportunity.

I ask her what she thinks the problem is; why has finding a job been so hard? Time, she responds. She works all day in the courtyard either preparing meals, doing laundry, taking care of kids or any other task that consumes her day. When she is finally free in the late evening, she is too tired. 

When the informal interview ends, the group of women and children that have gathered to watch the excitement start chatting in Mooré. Before I head back inside, I ask what they were talking about. Adama, the oldest boy in the courtyard, laughs and says that they were saying how white people always take pictures and show them to people back home. 

I don’t know why I did this interview. I thought it would be enlightening for folks elsewhere to read the story of a local Burkinabé woman. But when they said this, it made me question my motives. There is a fine line between inquisitiveness and exploitation I suppose. I just hope I’m not offside. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Taking A Step Back

The word of the week unfortunately. Frustration that I still don't have any work to do (we are waiting on money from the donor organization before we can launch the program). Frustration that I haven't really done anything to benefit the community, nor do I really know what I can do. Frustration that there is in fact too much to do, but no marked starting point. As my understanding of the situation here grows, the opposite effect is applied to my confidence in what to do.

Visiting a local school. Seen here with Mustafa and the
Director of the school. Picture taken by Sarah.
For me, development is suppose to be about providing opportunities; it's suppose to be about empowerment. But does that really matter when you can't put food in your child's swollen belly, or can't pay for their malaria medication when they get sick. In Burkina I feel like it needs to start with the basics - health care, education, nutrition. When I grew up, these things were provided to me by the government (nutrition was perhaps provided by my parents, but we lived in a country abundant with nutritious food). This begs the question: what happens when the government is unable to provide these things?

Enter the idea of charity. Obviously these issues come down to a lack of resources (well money, basically) and the resources, when not provided by the government, come from charities (or NGOs - Non-Governmental Organizations). In Canada though, and I'm sure across the globe, I see people suffering from donor fatigue (a lessening of public willingness to respond generously to charitable appeals, resulting from the frequency of such appeals). We have been howled for years to give. Shown fly-ridden images of starving children, and from the pit of our stomachs we felt empathy and gave. But for how long can we look at these images and feel guilt?

Les enfants d'aujourd'hui seront les adultes de demain.
If we look deeper at the core issue though, we will uncover a truth that has been buried beneath layers of doubt and denial. We are facing a problem of unity. When we view the world through the lens of 'us' and 'them', we miss our commonality. When we forget that we are created equal, that leaves only room for intolerance and animosity. The way I see it, for as long as we don't look at our world as a shared space between us all, there will be no real progress. I see no other solution.

"The feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something." The dictionary is rather successful at putting my feelings into words this week. But like always, resting in frustration or pity or guilt does nothing. One must channel these feelings into something that will make this world a better place. A place that weeds out injustice, inequality and inferiority. A place that flourishes on kindness, selflessness and oneness. Optimism is seen as futile to some (certainly to me from time to time), but in this moment, the way I see it: the future needs hopeful seeds to be planted today in order for us to thrive tomorrow.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Photo credit goes to Marie for the pictures this week.
I have never noticed race as much as I have here. Perhaps a better way of putting it: I have never felt so white. And along with my whitewashed complexion comes a type of celebrity status here. In Yako, if you are white it's a dead give-a-way that you don't originate from here, thus people notice you, talk to you, children want to grab a second of your attention; all because of the pigmentation.
Some benefits of the celebrity status:

I get lots of greetings everyday. While biking or walking the streets, if I make eye contact with anyone, they are likely looking right back at me, so I will say: "Bonjour" or "Bonsoir" and reciprocally I will receive the same. I am working on my salutations in the local language. I know what they are, but I always get a laugh when I try and pronounce them.

The children in Yako are always very excited to see a nasarra (which means 'white' in the local language of Mooré; or sometimes I am called le blanc in french). Some kids will only ask for candy, but others will give me a beaming smile, say "hi" and be content with a shake of my hand. The kids in the courtyard are also very amazed by the feel of my hair since it's much different then theirs.

Some downfalls to being the white man:
The sun is out to get me. Thank-you SPF 50 for saving me thus far.  

I lost my birth name (sorry mom and dad). I liked Kevin, it was a solid name, but in the streets: Je m'appelle Nasarra.

Going to the market is not always the most fun experience. Because I am white, the vendors will sometimes yell out "Nasarra!" to grab my attention. Not necessarily a bad thing, it's just that I'm not a fan of 'pressure-shopping'.

White - Nasarra - Le Blanc. They are just words. I know that here I am easily noticed, but once people get to know me and what I am doing, I reclaim my birth name and become just another person in their life. The racial difference dissipates quickly. This isn't meant to be a profound reflection on racial difference, it's just hard to deny the fact that I am one of only a handful of white people in Yako, and that makes life a little different for me.