Am I a Butterfly Dreaming I Am a Human

June 7, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

So one thing that is pretty tricky about being in Peace Corps: keeping up on life that happens outside of village. While the rumor mill grinds really big news to even the most distant of volunteers, and BBC does a terrific job with international news, there is a gap.

And that’s where Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me comes in.

Since the electricity arrived, I have been ble to charge my iPod when I want. And that’s a lot. Grading papers, cooking, cleaning; all of it is made more interesting by a little humorous background noise. I listen to podcasts about ten times more than music because I like the English.

Choices abound for podcasts. Why Wait Wait? Because it keeps me informed about the news that BBC and the rumor mill miss.

Like that guy jumped out of a plane when he quit? Thank you Wait Wait.

Crazy snow storms, sideways comments on Brett Favre, and weird Mo Rocca mumbling. Thank you Wait Wait.

And in regards to the 23 April episode, livestock on public transport is not that great, and chickens outside your door are really annoying when you try to nap.

If you don’t know, or haven’t listened I highly recommend it. But maybe not on public transport. People look at you weird when you are laughing to yourself. And when my neighbors see me with my headphones, they ask if I am listening to music. I have found it is easier to say yes than try to define or explain Wait Wait. If I use my mini-fm transmitter to my radio, my neighbors pick it up too and think it’s BBC. It’s so not.

So hear is my formal request.

Dear cast of Wait Wait,

I may not hear the show the week it airs, but I will be super excited to hear my name read out as the listener that the famous guest is playing for on Not My Job. It will be terrific to come home after service to a new voicemail recording. And know that somewhere in the recent future, you will make a volunteer really happy. Mam souri na yaa noog wusgo! My heart will be very happy!

Kathryn Siuniak


Savor the Flavor

May 27, 2011 at 3:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So I am a proud member of the food security here in Burkina Faso. I wrote an article on how to dry food. Drying food is a terrific way to save food without destroying all the good stuff. It is good here because, for example, right now we only have fresh mangoes. Everything is dried.

But drying food is for everybody! I encourage you to try preserving some food this year, whether from your own garden, a farmers’ market or grocer. Here is the article.

N.B. –
1) Tami is a sifter. Think sand sifter from you playground years for making that oh-so-valuable smooth sand. There are two types: ones with metal screenin like for a porch door and the other is fabric.

2) Where There is No Microwave is the Peace Corps cookbook compiled by volunteers.


Miss having an amazing selection at marché ? Think mangoes are terrific and want to savor the flavor a little bit longer? You can! Drying food is easy, fun, and rewarding! Drying food helps conserve food, improves variety in diets, and prevents spoilage of excess harvest.

I’m sure that most of you have seen the little black and white photo of the food dryer in the Where There is No Microwave book. If you are drying food on a small scale (for example yourself and maybe a neighbor or two) the hanging tamis work great! If you are drying high water content foods (think watermelon, tomatoes, and mangoes) use cloth tamis so you do not have rust on your food. If you are drying lower water food (like carrots, green peppers, or any leaf variety), the metal ones will work fine. So string them up, cover with a mosquito net, and voila!

Now that you have assembled your dryer, you can start drying foods! First, wash and sanitize the food (and your hands!) so left over bacteria does not start the rotting process while your foods dry. It’s a good idea to blanche the food (like tomatoes, carrots, not leaves) but not absolutely necessary. Blanche – it’s more than just a golden girl! Blanching stops the enzymatic process that breaks food down. To blanche, boil water and put the food in for a few minutes. It will be hot when you take it out. Attention! Immediately submerge in cold (or cool if you’re limited) water.

Now that your food is prepared, you need to cut it into thin strips. A sharp knife will make it much more likely that you will not hate drying foods by the end of this process. And keep in mind thin means the slices will be translucent for high water content foods, but for lower water content foods, that size is not necessary. Hint: run a test of a few different thicknesses if you are unsure before you do a whole batch and lose them all. A little scientific method, anyone?

When you have cut the strips, lie them flat, no stacking, with a bit of space between. If the air cannot move, neither can the water, and thus your foods will not dry. Once they are crispy and dry (usually a few hours, longer if it is cooler), remove them from the dryer with clean hands, and put them in storage. Keeping them in airtight containers and in small quantities is a good idea. If they do spoil, then you only lose part of your harvest. Remember to clean your tamis once you are done!

Write That in Your Marriage Notebook

May 25, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I have lost track of my village husbands. There is the old family chief that always has his wives bring me dolo. There is the guy that grills sheep internal organs on an old metal door. There is my tantie’s uncle. To all my husbands I have forgotten, my apologies.

The most elaborate of these is within the family to which I adopted myself. I guess I have never really explained my family so I’ll start there.

The chief of my family is a very old man who has been sick lately. He can’t walk and his voice is weak so he discipines kids by giving them the stink eye. He had three wives, the oldest of which has passed on and whose grown children have moved out of village with their own families. The second, Pognini, is fiesty and plays charades with me a lot. I think she has four children. The oldest girl married a man from a village 6 k away from here and bikes in evey weekend for church. The next two live in Ouaga. Her son is finishing secondary school in Koudougou. He third wife Nomam, has two sons who have moved away, a daughter ( it was her engagement ceremony I was at back in October), and two young sons in elementary school. Then there are the grandkids that float through for a week or two at a time, the orphan nephew, and three random kids that I have never really been explained who they are. Whew. Needless to say, it’s a busy place, their courtyard.

Pognini’s 19 year old son came to visit on break from school and jokingly his mother started saying we would get married. And another teacher says she is already his wife I will be the second.

But I can’t marry in without approval and I won’t get approval if I keep making my tô like I do. They (being everybody who is not me) think I need to learn and learn quickly. So I have been requested to keep a notebook on the things I have learned and those things that will come. So what is important??

Make tô
Pound dried gumbo
Lead the donkey as the husband guiedes the plow
Be a good host
Cook four kg of grain a day
Sweep anything that is flat
Carry 35 kg on their head
Put babies on their backs


Goodnight Moon….

May 25, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Goodnight moon (kiougou).

Goodnight tantie, goodnight Madame.

Goodnight guinea fowls, donkeys and chickens.

Goodnight cat.

Goodnight dust. Goodnight sand. Goodnight wind and clouds.

Goodnight sweat and damp pillow.

Goodnight squeaky door and sandy floor.

Good night cat. I said goodnight.

Goodnight tô spoon, calabash, and plastic kettle.

Goodnight plastic cot. Goodnight pagne sheets. Goodnight complets.

Goodnight lizard on the wall, ant on the floor, cricket in the door gap.

Goodnight book, iPod, flashlight and phone.

Goodnight canaries filled sand.

Goodnight animal noises and distant radio. Goodnight drums and ladies at church. Goodnight late night travelers returning home.

Goodnight marché ladies with empty basins.

Goodnight warm breeze, broom and bidons.

Goodnight stars, satellites, and comets.

Goodnight moon.


Je Voudrais Commander le Hummus…

May 25, 2011 at 1:59 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For those of you who have been following the Burkinabe news, there were a couple hiccups in the school year. Because of this, spring break sprung a little early and it was a scramble to get somewhere new in country.

A few of gathered in Banfora. It was perfect. Seeing everybody that was there was pretty super. And a brand new sparkly hotel and pool with wifi (!) and delicious hummus for only four dollars was calling our names pretty much everyday.

One day we went to marché because Sara and me love going to marché together. Another day we went to see the hippos at the lake. First of all there is a lake. There is no standing water left near my village because of the long dry season but the southwest is a very different place. The hippos were neat! Except they were really fast underwater. They would pop up fightig way to the right and in a few seconds they would pop up 100 meters away. It was a little unnerving that everybody kept going on how hippos kill more people a year than sharks. Plus our little wooden canoe had to be periodically bailed out because of a slow leak. So the combination of that made the hippo searching much more exciting.

Hummus, wifi and a futile search for a man that makes shoes from tires. Oh spring break in Africa.


I live in Village-Deux-Mille

May 25, 2011 at 1:48 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So the ritzy part of Ouaga is called Ouaga Deux Mille (2000). Here is my story how my quartier was transformed and earned the nickname village deux mille.

One very hot Thursday afternoon, I was in my French tutoring session with one of the ladies in my courtyard. She is the French teacher and very patient so that makes her a terrific tutor.

Anyway we going over adjective placement when my tantie (who is a nurse at the health clinic) came buzzing in on her moto. She mentioned that she had seen the electic company come through in the morning. Our village had been hooked up to the grid since mid February but not my house.

About fifteen minutes later we heard a car door slam. Which you would be surprised how much a car door sticks out in village. So we both dropped our pens, and stopped.

“Kathryn you think that is the electic guys?”
“I don’t know. Do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. You want to go check?”

So we go out onto the griddle of a porch and watch our courtyard door swing open. The words were clearly marked on the car. We would be getting electricity today inshallah!

The man installed our counters, and they asked for my initials. Tantie replied SC. So people say their last names first so the S was ok. But people cannot wrap their minds around the bizarre spelling. I just accept it. I am used to spelling snafus with my last name, but with my first name that is something new.

My landlord (the mayor’s quite identical brother) explained how we would pay our bills and the like. In mooré. So after the crew cleared out I got the playback and was itching to flip the switch.

They didn’t just talk about billing cycles. Turns out that the shed for the counters was not near the wires that lead to our house. So unless they could find some kids to rebury the line we would be tantalizingly close to electicity.

It was marché which only added to the party feel. I went to marché, visited my rem (dolo, chapalo, aka local beer) friends and did the rounds with my friend Simone. When we got back there was the reassuring shush-shush of dirt being dug!

Quite soon after that they hooked up my house to electricity. I immediately started charging my iPod.

I stayed up late listening to music and smiling at how bizarre my house felt being well lit at night.


CTI Conference on Food Transformation

May 2, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On International Women’s Day (March 8th, 2011), as a member of the Food Security Committee I went to the Farmer Training Center (FTC) for a conference by Compatible Technology International (CTI).  See the story at

And Then I Called the PCMO…

April 6, 2011 at 6:43 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So as a Peace Corps volunteer, I have two very terrific people on my side: the PCMOs, or Peace Corps Medical Officers. If you are even a little bit sick, they help you out, make sure you have access to medical care, and answer stupid questions while reassuring you that they are not stupid questions.

Now, after being in country for over 10 months, I have had my share of PCMO phone calls. But since swearing in as a volunteer, all of the calls have been the bizarre. And they’re great because they are ok with that.

October – “I think my mefloquine is stuck in my throat…”
And it was. Because malaria is pandemic here in Burkina Faso, I have to be on anti-malarials. Mine is mefloquine, a once a week pill. One time, I swallowed it and it just did not go down. So I had a slowly melting pill in my throat for a few days and ooo man did it burn.

December – “How can you tell if you broke your fingers?”
I was cleaning house, and I had to sweep under my trunk, which is supported on cinder blocks. After I was done sweeping, I went to move them back and PAM crushed my finger tips. I lost a fingernail, but no broken bones.

February – “What is rabies in French??”
I had a brand new kitty and he was too small to have his vaccination for rabies. And one day he ran up to me with a foamy mouth. So grabbed my phone and shut him in the house as I called the PCMO. And yes, Yuri is safe.

April – “I just hit myself in the eye with a shirt – what do I do now?”
So it was night and I was trying to pull a shirt – a specific shirt – out of my zippered rice bag to wear to bed. I do not have electricity so it was dark and as I was tugging on the shirt PAM. It snapped out and hit me in the eye. And because it was dark, I didn’t see it coming and it got the eyeball. I had blurry vision for a few mintues, but PCMO to the rescue. And now I can see again.

So yeah, things like these keep me down to earth. Here’s to another ten months with no severe, if only bizarre, PCMO calls.


15 Ways to Show Love in Burkina

March 6, 2011 at 10:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

1) Always sharing your food

2) Offering water when they arrive

3) Having clothes made out of matching pagne

4) Never letting a friend walk through marche sans dolo

5) Giving cadeau in marche

6) Never letting them sit on the ground / always giving the chair, mat, stool, rock….

7) Giving a morceau of meat at a meal

8) Keeping their cat alive

9) Discounts on manure

10) Lending a daba, and not being upset when it is returned broken

11)  Watering their garden when they are out of town

12) Carrying their bag to classes

13) Taking their cell phones to get charged in marche

14) Sending little brothers to do work around their house

15) Bringing over a hot dish to a friend

Burkinabe Birthday

March 6, 2011 at 8:29 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I spent my first birthday here in Burkina.  Thankfully, a little Betty Crocker cake mix goes a long way.  I made about 6 shallow cake pans (baked in my metal serving plates) in my dutch oven.  I opened my couple care package gifts (birds of Detroit book sweet!)  and frosted the cakes.  Usually, if I bake or cook something american the people in my village tend to not like it.  But thankfully, the cake was a hit.  Which is good because it would have been too precious to waste on not liking


I had my birthday on a Saturday this year.  Saturdays are one of my favorite days because people just hang out together.  It was pretty chill.  I saw my first white crested helmet shrike!  I have been looking for that for a while.  So that was neat.



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