Back in Ouagadougou to take the GRE and, sadly, to say goodbye to a friend who had to return to the States. While I'm not thrilled about either of these situations, at least I can get another update in!
To my great relief, things finally started to pick up a bit once I got back to site. I returned with a list of ideas and possible activities for the community, which received a mixed response. While nobody was opposed to any of the ideas, the indifference with which they were received by some was rather a letdown after the effort I put into the brainstorming. I still couldn't quite figure out what the community wants me there for if they don't want me to work with them. Unfortunately, I get the impression that many communities just want their very own American to show off and boast about, regardless of whether the American actually gets anything done.
Thankfully, the school director was one of the few who was very receptive to several of the ideas and he quickly helped me to get a reading club started with the CM1 class (roughly 4th grade). The CM1 teacher broke the students up into six groups and now every day a different group comes over to my courtyard for an hour and we go over their reading book together. Even though it's only six hours of work a week, it's a start and was much needed to make me feel like I have a reason for being there. Each group has about 10 students and I would estimate that about a quarter of the kids in each group can read. Most of them just look at the page and have no idea how to process the information they see there, unable to sound out even the most basic words in French, the language they've been taught in for the the past 4-5 years. Needless to say, it'll be slow going, but the wonderful thing is that they're motivated (even if only by the candy I give to students who volunteer to read), and even the worst readers will raise their hands and give it a shot. And even more encouraging, the few can read always step in to help those who are struggling, guiding their fingers to the right spot on the page and helping them sound out the words.
I also started a small income-generating activity with some of the women in my village. I brought back with me from Ouaga supplies to make liquid soap and had an impromptu training session with a group of 8-12 women in the marketplace. We made about 30 bottles of soap, 10 of which sold within the first 24 hours. Sales slowed after that, but Monday was our big, once-every-three-weeks market day, so I'm anxious to hear how business went. If it went well, we'll whip up another batch.
Other than those two activities, January's exciting developments were my acquisition of two puppies and new garden. I've been trying to get both a dog and a garden since I got to site, and both finally came together within days of me getting back to Béléhédé.
A group of kids showed up at my house one morning holding two puppies. I thought they were offering them both to me, but they told me I had my pick of the two and that the other was already promised to another neighbor. I didn't know how to choose, so I just pointed to the closer, bigger of the two. I dubbed him Zizou and spent the afternoon trying to get him not to be terrified of me, with little success, though by the end of the afternoon he finally seemed at least a bit comfortable with his new home.
Later that night, as I was getting ready for bed, I heard a knock on my courtyard door. The moon wasn't yet risen, so when I opened the door I could barely make out a person's silhouette, while off in the distance I could hear a moto engine idling and see its headlight amongst the trees. The silhouette thrust something forward and when I looked down, there was puppy number two. I was taken aback and tried to think of something to ask or say, but the person just handed the puppy off and retreated into the night.
Zizou and Ajax spent several days warming up to me and then they played a devil of a trick on me by turning out to be girls. After a couple of people verified this (the same people who verified that they were male when I first got them), Zizou and Ajax were scrapped and a couple of days later I settled on the names Sadie and Kit.
So, my abundant free time in January was directed towards playing with the puppies; planting corn, tomatoes, green beans, pees, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, basil, and peppers in my garden, which is really just a strip of my landlord's garden next to the dam, which he was nice enough to share with me; watching the Africa Cup of Nations matches on a generator-powered TV in village; reading and biking.
I'm in Ouaga until Monday morning, which means I'll have internet access for a few more days. After that, it's back to site until at least late March, so I'm not sure when the next update will be.