Archive for June 2016

ouaga

This is bliss.

We’re four to room. Keriah, Katie, Helen, and I. I’m in a bed, all hard foam and springs under my spine, shrouded in a gentle cloud of mosquito netting.

And the rain, the pouring, torrential rain outside that started so suddenly. Cool air circling through our room, lifting up our pagne curtains.

We all ran outside when it started and stuck our arms out past the porch to catch the cold rain on our arms, welcoming the cool respite after warm day. Feet slipping on the wet concrete and slick silt between my toes. Throwing our heads back, laughing in pure joy as rainwater soaked into our skin. I’ve been told it’s good luck when it rains on your arrival.

I’m very happy to be here right now. That’s all I can ask for.

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When we exited the airport in Ouaga, a wave of heat enveloped me like an old friend. Not the oppressive wet heat of Taipei, but something gentler, more welcoming.

There are mango trees everywhere on our compound, heavy branches laden with fragrant yellow, orange, green jewels. Lizards that are shades of orange and sand and steel skitter around everywhere. There have been plastic bags with water, mosquito bites swelling up to big pale pink welts on my arms, a ladder of scars framing Laurentine’s face, curls of silver piling up beneath the sound of hair scissors.

And then there are the rains. It always starts with deep rumbling warnings in the distance and the skies darkening. Then, whipping dust-filled winds that make the trees sing, right before thick cords of rain fall from the bruise colored skies and the air cools. The world illuminated for milliseconds at a time with blinding bluewhite light.

I’m finally returning to French after five weeks away. I’ve missed this side of me so much. The French speakers have lessons in Mooré, a local language. I love feeling my lips curl uncomfortably around this new language that sounds nothing like any that I’ve studied before.

The other trainees are revealing themselves as the days unfold, unexpected blossoms gently unfurling forth from our chests. Two years in China, a three week walking trip through Iceland, a former career as an opera singer, a radio enthusiast, ten years in Italy and Greece, currently still in classes in Germany, a videographer, a childhood spent on a chicken farmette. Endless stories that are starting to slowly emerge.

What we do all share is that everyone is just as lost, if not more, than I am and I feel so much like how the NSLI-Y group was in Tajikistan. There are so many aspects of this experience that are identical.

Rachel and Danielle were talking about how they felt uneasy. Just the language and new culture rendering them foreigners. Perhaps it’s my constant displacement, but I feel so unbelievably comfortable in being uncomfortable, in this constant state of lostness.

We’re moving onto Léo in the next few days and meeting our host families. That’s where Pre-Service Training (PST) will really start and we truly dive into Burkinabé culture. But until then, another day in Ouaga, hidden away in this compound. Another cold shower, another night spent with my beloved roommates, another summer storm.






philadelphia : staging



So it begins.

I'm in Philadelphia right now. Seems much too fitting that the city of brotherly love is where my 27 month Peace Corps journey will begin. Like someone way up at headquarters with a penchant for dad jokes just heard Philadelphia's nickname, and was like "GUYS. I have the best idea." Anyway.

Packing before leaving home went pretty typically. In that I started packing around midnight and continued floating around the house like a ghost looking for things to throw into my suitcases until almost five in the morning. The sky was just starting to turn a dusky pink when I finally drifted off a dreamless sleep in my childhood bedroom.

The next day, my parents drove me to Philadelphia where staging would take place, a city that I don't think I've ever been to. It's drenched in history, but in a sterile way. Not like cities like Rome or Paris where the history is so imminently present and tangible, but in a way where it feels more built over, more behind glass. Then again, perhaps not. We haven't seen too much of it. We're only here for two days; most of it is spent inside big meeting room in a hotel near Chinatown.

Standard Peace Corps staging is usually no more than a day, a rapid-fire runthrough of Peace Corps basics and expectations, along with some basic safety and security guidelines, but Burkina Faso is a part of the Let Girls Learn initiative, so our staging lasts an extra day. Let Girls Learn was founded by the Obamas and it focuses on helping young girls have access to education and strengthening communities through this female education. Our extra day includes diversity and gender trainings that are not included in the standard staging. And a free t-shirt. That's important.

The other 63 volunteers that are starting with me are wild mix. The youngest is 19, the oldest is a much older woman that has quickly become one of my top five favorites. There are people that have lived in Togo, Spain, Thailand, Ghana, Senegal, Australia, everywhere. I'm already learning so much from the others and their incredible experiences that we're only starting to scratch the surface of. We're split between three sectors: Community Economic Development (CED), Health, and Education, where I'm working. All three will be implementing and interacting with Let Girls Learn programs.

I'm here with Helen. Beautiful, intelligent Helen that I met five months ago in a Paris hospital by chance. Improbable circumstances. It feels right to be reunited with her after everything. Two tall Parisian women, one with hair the color of night and one with hair the color of the summer sky.

I clutch onto her like a life raft at times. Everyone was very surface level the first day, but that's expected. We all know that in the next two years, everyone here is going to become our adopted family, our best friends, our lovers, our enemies. It's strange going into a first conversation knowing that. We all desperately want to meet everyone and make those meaningful connections, but no one really knows how to jump right in. It'll come with time, I know.

But I'm glad to have had Helen here for this reason, if only to have someone to be truly honest with, and not have to explain last year to. To be able to talk about Quentin and Clement and Paris and leaving and have someone get it, no questions asked. She reminds me of what it felt like to be in French, something I dearly miss. I'll develop other relationships like this--many of them--in the next year, I know, but for the time being, Helen is a relief to have at my side. She's been a relief in my life since day one.

We're leaving tomorrow morning. A morning bus to JFK, a transatlantic flight to Brussels, a layover, then the final flight from Brussels to Ouagadougou, where we'll be for the next week, before starting the three month long Pre-Service Training (PST) in another town. This flight has been anticipated since October and it still doesn't quite feel like it's happening when I'm sitting in an air conditioned hotel room with crisp white sheets in Philadelphia. Still feeling numb to the reality of everything.

Time for one last American meal and one last night out in Philadelphia before officially putting on hold life as I knew it. See you on the other side.

resurrection

Home, August 2015, 35mm film
It's been a while, hasn't it? What? Almost three years?

I created this as a record of my life and I've let this little blog fall to wayside. Let's catch up a little. Stay tuned. I'll be posting things from the archives: old photos, new scans, excerpts from iPhone notes, love letters, postcards, emails, and diaries.