Thursday, April 21, 2011

I suppose it's been a while, hasn't it? My Dad pointed out a couple of days ago that the link in my most recent post no longer works, so I suppose it's time for an update. The link is no longer active because we have finally raised enough money for the Béléhédé library, which is, of course, wonderful news to pass along. Through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, GlobalGiving, individual donations, and a generous grant from Friends of Burkina Faso, we have secured enough funding to go ahead with the grand opening next month and ensure that the library has enough money in reserve to function for at least a couple of years while FAVL continues working to transfer financial responsibilities for its libraries to the local government. I couldn't be more thrilled that this project has finally come together and the final steps, including buying books for the library, should be a lot more fun than hitting people up for money, however necessary that has been to ensure the project's success. So, thank you to everyone who has donated, and rest assured that, for the foreseeable future, I won't be harassing you with any more fundraising requests.

Now for another important update. As many of you may be aware, there has been significant unrest in Burkina Faso over the past couple of months, which came to a head last weekend when various contingents of the presidential guard, army, and police, as well as students and merchants, mutinied and protested over certain grievances, which resulted in the dissolution of the government. Burkina has a parliamentary system, so dismissing his cabinet is a perfectly legitimate step for President Blaise Compaoré to take. He has named a new prime minister along with a couple of other cabinet positions over the course of the week and we are expecting the rest of his new appointments to be announced soon. As volunteers working here by invitation of the Burkinabè government, on behalf of the U.S. government, we are not supposed to air our personal views about a host country's politics, so I won't do that here. I just wanted to reassure any of you who may have been worried over the past week that I am fine and feel completely safe at the moment. Peace Corps has handled the situation remarkably well and, other than a few tense moments last weekend, I haven't been terribly worried about my personal safety. As I write this, both Ouagadougou and the rest of the country seem calm and I am hopeful that they will remain so.

I don't anticipate having to leave the country before my planned Close of Service date in late July, for which I am thankful. While I know I've groaned at times about not having enough work to do, these last three months promise to keep me very busy, what with the opening of the library and a vacation to Senegal next month, which I've been looking forward to for months. So... fingers crossed, the current political situation will be resolved and I can continue on as normal for my last three months of service. While I haven't been great about updating my personal blog over the past few months, I more frequently update the FAVL blog, so if you're interested in reading more about what I'm up to, check out FAVL's website: .

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Béléhédé Community Library Update

The Community Library project in Béléhédé is well under way. Alou has been overseeing renovations of the building, which are just about finished, and I'll be sending up money for paint, furniture, and the finishing touches next week. One of the FAVL activity and project coordinators will be training him at the end of the month to handle all of the duties of a librarian and we hope to be open within the next few months. While we have enough money to buy the first batch of books, I'm still hoping to raise another $2,000-$4,000 so the library can be as well-stocked as possible before I head back to the States this summer. To that end, I've put the project up on the Peace Corps website - if you'd like to donate, please visit the link below!

Béléhédé Community Library

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hey 2011!

I woke up grinning on January 1st at the thought that I'm going home this year. While I've wondered many times over the past year and a half whether time could possibly move any more sluggishly, I'm pretty content with its current pace. The holiday season was well-spent with friends here in Ouaga, down in Bobo-Dioulasso (Christmas), and up in Yako (New Year's Eve). I couldn't decide until the morning of the 24th whether I was going to spend Christmas here in Ouaga by myself or head down to Bobo to meet up with friends. Because Emilie's and my house here in the capital has really come to feel like home, I was tempted to open the last window of my advent calendar in bed Christmas Eve and read myself to sleep by candlelight. In the end, however, I decided that even if I couldn't spend the day with family I should probably spend it with friends and not alone. So, I managed to get one of the last bus tickets available and headed South that afternoon to meet up with a group of about 10 other volunteers in Burkina's second-largest city. I knew it was the right decision as soon as I showed up at the apartment the other PCV's had rented for the occasion, as I arrived just in time for stocking-hanging, Christmas carols by candlelight, and stories of favorite Christmas memories.

For the first time in memory, I was the last to wake up Christmas morning and coffee, cinnamon buns, and scrambled eggs were already being served. We opened presents secret Santa style and watched Love Actually. The rest of the day was spent talking to family on the phone, preparing a Christmas feast and just hanging out in good company. We capped the night by wandering over to Bobo's attempt at a public Christmas tree lighting, which was more of a giant, bizarre abstract light sculpture which attracted a strange crowd of characters (not including us).

I stayed in Bobo for a couple of extra days after Christmas in order to attend the wedding of another volunteer's friend, whom I'd met on another visit down South. Weddings here generally last for several days, so we chose an evening to join in the celebrations and showed up not quite knowing what to expect. What we walked into was a crowd of 200-300 women, all circled around Meduse, the bride. They were taking turns entering the circle and dancing up to Meduse to present a gift, one by one. Rachel and I hoped we would be exempt from the dancing since we were Nasara (and I was the only man), but no luck - we were called upon and awkwardly took our turn center stage, dancing to the deafening howl of hundreds of highly amused Burkinabè women. Special times....

After a few days back in Ouaga, I headed up to celebrate New Year's Eve with another group of friends in a town about an hour and a half north of the capital. Not a terribly eventful celebration, but fun nonetheless. There wasn't much to do in town, so we hung out at the Red Cross drinking Brakina, one of the local beers. Apparently the only service the Red Cross there offered was from the bar. We went out to a nice dinner at a restaurant with tables strewn among a garden, hedges and gazebos. The highlight of the night by far was dancing with a few children in the gardens. My partner, a toddler of about 3, fell asleep in my arms as we glided around a gazebo. She tired me out sufficiently that I fell asleep at my friend's house well before the proverbial ball dropped.

I'm back in Ouaga now, settling back into something of a routine. We have a guest from the States in town, a professor from the University of San Francisco who will hopefully be working with Reading West Africa and FAVL this Fall. Emilie and I have been showing her around Ouaga for the past couple of days and tomorrow morning we'll be leaving bright and early for a tour of FAVL's libraries down South. We'll be gone for about a week, touring the villages, talking with the librarians and implementing a monitoring and evaluation system for the libraries.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It was a weekend of holiday festivities here in Ouagadougou. Saturday night Emilie, Elisee, and I went to the home of our friends Yann and Carolaine for a pool-side Christmas barbecue. We were gorged on merguez sausage, carrot soup and grilled duck. Since it's getting a bit chilly here once the sun goes down (chilly meaning... mid-80's?), we opted to dance instead of swim the night away.

The following morning after too much fun and too little sleep, we rolled out of bed to host a holiday brunch at home. Emilie deserves most/all of the credit as she did all of the set-up and cooking, with me pretending like I knew what I was doing as her sous-chef. The sister of a fellow volunteer had just arrived from the States and held the title Guest of Honor, which meant that she got to bring bagels, cream cheese and lox from the States. We also whipped up scrambled eggs and hash browns and put out the remains of our most recent care packages from home. I was thrilled that I could play Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas in the background knowing that, if anyone were to complain, it was at my discretion to dispose of them. Only a few snarky comments were made, however, so no one got the boot.

No more festivities until next weekend, so it is time to hit the gym to recover and prepare for the final onslaught of cookies, candy and holiday cheer.

On an unrelated note, I just want to thank everyone who has made a donation to Friends of African Libraries in the past couple of weeks. Thanks to your generosity, we are well on our way towards reaching our fundraising goal for the month! We still have a ways to go, but are confident that we will get there by the end of the Open Challenge on December 22nd. Check us out on GlobalGiving:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Decorating

Emilie: Did you see that stand selling tacky Christmas decorations by the side of the road?
Charley: YES! Can we stop and buy some on the way back from the gym?
Emilie: YES! And since they were also selling statues of the Virgin Mary, maybe they won't try to rip us off like everyone else does.
Charley: Doubtful.

We may have been scammed a bit, but can you really put a price on fake miniature Christmas trees when there isn't a real Fraser Fir or Scotch Pine available on the entire continent? Our house is now colorful and tacky as can be for the holiday season. All that's left to do is teach Sadie how to pull a sleigh.

Monday, December 6, 2010


I haven't had a great internet connection for a few days, so this isn't my promised update about my parents' visit to Burkina or our trip to Paris, but I will do my best to get to it this week!

This is a quick request that you check out Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL)'s project page on GlobalGiving. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm now working with a small NGO here in Burkina that helps manage small village libraries. Every summer they run reading camps for elementary school students in several villages in Burkina and Ghana. To raise funds for next summer's camps, we are taking part in GlobalGiving's December Open Challenge, which is an opportunity for us to earn a spot on GlobalGiving's site, giving us access to huge donors and bonuses for our projects if we reach certain fundraising goals. Even if you aren't able to donate, just taking a minute to check out our page and sharing it with friends on facebook will help us reach our goal! Fundraising is not my favorite part of the job, but I'm realizing how vital it is to keep small NGO's like FAVL up and running.

If you have a couple of spare procrastination moments, please check out our project page:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Has it Really Been 5 Months?

Well, I suppose it has. The Sandman's predictions have indeed come true and I'm now settled in a new home South of Peace Corps Burkina Faso's no-travel zone. Getting used to living in a city has had its ups and downs, but overall things have mostly been looking up since the big change. While I'm incredibly grateful for my experience living in a small village, I think I've realized I'm a city boy at heart. I loved being able to read for hours a day without distraction and I don't know that I'll ever read that many books in a year again, but the pace of life (and work) was too slow for my tastes.

My new house:

Now that I'm working with an NGO in a city, I always have things to do, even if I'm still not on a 40-hour week. A quick rundown of things I've done since starting work with Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL) in September - helped lead a weeklong reading camp for 25 elementary school students in southern Burkina, helped organize and lead the first northern Burkina FAVL librarian meeting, did literacy research in Ghana for a week, helped organize a fundraiser here in Ouaga for FAVL, continued preparations for the new library in Belehede, and co-wrote a grant proposal to introduce LED technology to several villages here in Burkina.

Mask Making at FAVL Reading Camp:

I've also been able to stay in touch with friends and counterparts from Belehede, even though I haven't been able to return except for a rushed trip to collect my belongings and puppies (escorted by Peace Corps for security). I attended a week-and-a-half long training here in Ouaga with two counterparts to learn how to run Coaching 4 Hope camps. Coaching 4 Hope is an organization that teaches kids about HIV/AIDS through soccer games and drills. I haven't played soccer since I was about 10, but I don't think I embarrassed myself too much, and my counterparts had a great time.

The following month (September), I was able to co-lead the Model Girls Camp that I was supposed to run in my village before evacuation scrambled all of my plans. Our Country Director was incredibly supportive and managed to secure funding for me to transport 40 girls and 4 adults from my village out of the no travel zone to Ouahigouya (where I trained for the Peace Corps oh-so-long-ago-now) for a week of camp. We used some of the drills we learned at Coaching 4 Hope to teach the girls about HIV/AIDS in the mornings and we spent the rest of the days talking about family planning, planning for the future, what it means to be a role model, health and nutrition, and playing games and doing arts and crafts activities. It was a full week and I was incredibly thankful to the Peace Corps for helping me to move the camp to a new site so I wouldn't have to disappoint my community.

Learning about Gender Roles and Coaching 4 Hope at Model Girls Camp:

The only sad news of the past few months is that Kit, one of my dogs, died last month. I'm not sure what happened, but my neighbors found her body in their courtyard behind their house last month, after she had disappeared for a couple of days. We'd been told during training that it's highly inappropriate to cry in public here in Burkina Faso, which at the time I didn't foresee ever being a problem, but that was a challenge.... It took Sadie a while to get over it, but she seems to be doing pretty well as of late. According to my roommate, "Sadie's actually acting like a normal dog these days!"

Since this is getting long, I'll break off with one last photo and continue later with an update about my parents' visit and my trip to Paris - it's nice having internet on a daily basis again after having to bike 40km to use a computer.

Sadie, having enjoyed Thanksgiving too much, recovers: