Is That Fanmilk I Hear??

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

I got back into my village on January 2nd which was the second day of the traditional fête of my village. Many Mossi villages have this fête for the chief. People were coming from all over to say hi to him.

I was pretty tired from the voyage from Koudougou, but I hurried to
get back out to marché and see what ‘nabasga’ meant. I said hi to some
of my friends after being gone for a while ending at my friend’s drink
stand. We were just sitting there chatting when I heard the telltale
beep beep of the fanmilk man.

It was like I was five years old and heard a rustle in the chimney
Christmas eve night. Both Santa and the fanmilk man carry happiness
with them. Fanmilk is this delicious sweetened and vanilla flavored
milk that has been frozen. Fanchoco is also sold by this man but is
chocolate, obviously. It is the closest thing to icecream I found and
is much cheaper than the real stuff. But for nabasga, this magical
honking cart came to village.

Obviously it isn’t the focus of the fête but is pretty special because
usually it is only in the capital. Because I was travelling back from
Koudougou when the other fonctionairres (government workers like
nurses, teachers, and ag people) formally saluéed (Sal-u-ayed – like
greeted) I was not there. My counterpart brought me over later to pay
my wishes.

That is the first part of the fête. You say hi to the naba (chief).
The other part is the traditional celebration. Dancers in knotted blue
tops and hammered pieces of metal dangling from their belts jingle as
they dance the warba. A group of girls, a few of them my students, in
traditional wear with a choreographed dance and songs I couldn’t
understand in Mooré. Lots of women were selling little things on small
tables or cooking up samsa over a wood fire.

If I know anything, people know how to fete in my village. I went
around the next day with a couple of my friends. One of the lady’s
sons Thierry decided he was going to stop being scared of me and hold
my hand as we wove through the crowds. It was really fun to see the
traditional side of village. Good times.





“Tonight, I am not mom”

March 6, 2011 at 6:39 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For New years’s Sara and I went to visit our host family. At the end
of stage they promised they threw a mean party on the 31st. And after
living with them for a month, we believed them.

I arrived in town after a day of travelling. Bike, bush taxi and bus.
Never said it was easy. I walk into their house and our host mom is
wearing her dress she made with our family pagne. There was a big sign
that had Welcome home Katryn and Sara on brown butchers paper. Yea
that’s how a lot of people think my name is spelled.

I watched CNN. Monday night football NO and Atl I think it was. Having
somebody calling the game in french is almost as silly sounding as John Madden doing

The next day we were in our favorite marché city with our pagne man.
During stage he had my number and would call if he saw pagnes that fit
the specifications I gave him. We had a blast. Rumaging through a pile
of weird westarn scarves and squares of fabric, we discovered some
pretty neat fulards for ourselves and gifts. I found one with ducks. I
kept that one.

The next day was new years eve. In the morning all the girls in the
house were trying to get their hair done along with everybody else in
the city. So Sara and I were alone with our host brother Brice and a
West African travel book. Which you’d think would make this situation
great. Except some man showed up with 15 guinea fowl rigged onto his
moto. Have you ever seen 15 guinea fowl clucking on moto handlebars?
On top of that there was he matter of dealing with them. Host dad was
at work, ladies getting prettied up, all that was left was an 8 year
old boy and two whites. Which is exactly what guinea fowl man said
when he called our dad. There’s only an 8 year old boy and two whites.

Thankfully our host dad came home to pay the man. The guinea fowl
spent their last afternoon tied in groups of five under a shade tree.
As the shade moved, they scooched ensemble to stay away from the sun.
Call it a team building exercise. It was like the human knot. The
guinea fowl scooch. I doubt it will catch on.

We prepared food for lots of people, and ten o’clock rolled around and
the house was still prety empty. Our host dad had just arrived from
Ouagadougou. Our host mom had got home after probably a sum of fifteen
hours waiting to get her hair done but still wasn’t dressed. We were
confused. Shouldn’t people be getting ready to ring in the new year??

A bit before eleven, some of the extended family came over and mom
finally walked out, bottle of champagne in one hand and three fluted
glasses in the other. In tight red pants and a shiny red top. We had a
cheers, taught her how to open the bottle (Sara got some good distance
and got it way out of the courtyard) and after a glass she switched to
her favorite, her Johnny.

“Tonight, I am not mom.”

So the furniture was cleared out of the living room, the music on, and
the house filled up a bit after eleven. Some of the neighbors got a
little over the top with a whistle, but it was terrific. I learned the
warba (the Mossi dance), danced with a few of the little girls in our
courtyard, and as a whole had a terrific time.

Our host sister Melody was sneaking little sips of drinks throughout
the night, and she was exhausted by two. Being she sleeps in the lving
room and a neighbor was too busy yelling “jah is one” for her to
sleep. She passed out in Sara’s bed still in her party dress and her
fancy hair pinned and oiled. She is going to be just as sassy as her
tantie when she grows up.

New years day we slept into near ten. Lots of people came over to say
happy new year to the family. And all the time Melody was still
sleeping. The day was pretty relaxed like that and later that evening
the host family gave us paintings to thank us for our service and we
took some family photos.

It was a great new years. I feel like we really lucked out on host family.


Noël Noël!

March 6, 2011 at 6:22 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sorry these next couple of are delayed. Some technical difficulties.


Christmas has come and gone with it’s mass, pageant and celebrations. So what did I do, you ask. Good question. I shall tell you.

It started out on Christmas Eve. In the morning I hung out with a bunch of the women who were doing their hair and watching babies. I didn’t get my hair done, but I still helped. Cutting length of string to sew in their weave is as easy it looks. That afternoon I went to marché and helped a friend find some tres jolis tomatoes. There was food to be made!

Because Christmas Eve mass did not start until 9pm and I usualy go to bed before that, I had to nap in preparation. Yes, I meant 9pm. I started to leave my courtyard but the nurse there said hold on a second cupcake, it’s freezing tonight. I had to add a sweater and two shawls. People don’t seem to understand that cold is in my blood. Not this hot season that’s coming, though.

Church was packed. They put little scaled down hut with a manger scene infront. There were metallic streamers. Most of the service I did not understand but I did understand the play. For example when my brother ran around flapping his arms I understood it as the international symbol for angel. At the end, Mary crouched behind the altar (JR- my computer autocorrected my typo to agar haha ) and when she stood up she was holding baby Jesus.

I got home at amost exactly midnight. Just in time to sleep for a few hours before the 9am mass. I dressed in my Christmas pagne complet and found church nearly empty. I guess most people only go to the Christmas eve mass. The rest of the day was a flurry of plates of rice, calabashes of dolo the local beer, and a few gift exchanges. My aunt’s family sent candy canes and those little rubberband bracelets and those shred nicely with my friends’ children. This was my first Christmas I received onions as a gift. I didn’t miss home as much I thought I might. I was lucky enough to have my friends go out of their way to make sure it was terrific.


If You Learn to Put a Baby on Your Back, Also Learn to Take Her Off

December 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

At the end of October my friend in village, Lamoussa, got married. It was the traditional marriage, not a legal one, and thus typically called the engagement ceremony.

I had to give a math devoir early in the morning (7-8) and afterwards I went home to grab a change of clothes for the ceremony and head over to her family courtyard. She lives right next to the church which is close by.

During the morning I had a veritable right of passage. Usually people don’t let me do things because I am viewed as incapable because I have never done it before or I shouldn’t do it because I am a guest. Thus, I was pretty thrilled to be asked to help out. It would be a very standoffish two years if I was always seen as a guest or very depressing if they think Americans are incapable of peeling cucumbers. Thank you, Monday mornings in the dining hall working salads for three hours. I can even score cucumbers.

So I spent a while prepping vegatables for the crudités with some other women. Eventually that was finished and people moved on with cleaning which I will admit I don’t know I to do burkinabe style. They clean dirt. It looks better when they do it.

I am sitting there as ladies mill about and one of the older ones restarts a favorite amongst the women: hand Kathryn a baby. I never babysat or had young cousins or neighbors. I don’t really know what to do with them. So they hand me the baby, laugh, and then continue to do work while I supposedly learn. Well, this little bundle of joy wouldn’t stop crying and somebody said the only way to make her stop would be to put her on my back. Evidentally that is literally the sleeper hold. So, giggling, my friend had me lean forward and balance this infant on my back. After a bit of finagling,she was secured and quietly sleeping. Happy photo op, happy family and friends. The nasara has a baby on her back.

It really isn’t that interesting so the women quickly went back to sweeping, scrubbing, and making kilos of rice. After about five minutes, the baby woke and could sense the foreignness in my back and started getting fussy. But the women were all busy!!

Scared this diaperless baby was crying because it had to pee, or worse, I frantically sought help and tried to flag down a woman. Most of the french speaking women had gone to marche and the older women who spoke Moore, which I don’t, were left. Thankfully panic is universally translated and Lamoussa’s dad came over to help me get the baby off.

Moral: don’t learn how to do anything without learning how to undo it.


Suck on These Sugar Cubes If You Get Dizzy

December 12, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So this past week I was in Bobo-Dioulasso for the 50th anniversary of this fine country.

The actual date of independence is in August, but, hey that’s rainy season and people are busy. There is planting and cultivating and in general a lot of work to do. In practicality, the 11th of december is the declaration of the republic and is celebrated as the anniversary date with parades and the like. It’s ‘cold’ out now, especially during the morning.

So yesterday was that day. Fifty years of independence is a big deal and they have just had an election. The government invited us to march in the parade which was a really terrific honor. For the past week we have been practicing in this big parade.

How does one practice for a Burkinabe parade? Well, this Africa so it gets hot. Therefore to practice we stood on the pavement under a hot-bright sun. For four hours a day. Sunscreen isn’t enough, and thankfully I had brougt extra pagne to create my own shade. Very helpful. The guys marching with ECOWAS in front of us kept saying I looked like a good muslim girl. In reality, I was a few shades less red.

We would stand on the road, sneak off to the shade when the gendarmes got a little lax. We had he best gendarme, Jean-Luc. He was very patient with us. But anyway we would sit under the tree on rocks or the stray cinder block usually with the smell of rotting sweet watermelon rinds left in he gutter (watermelon season is here), the street vendors would walk by with bissap, gingembre, Ghanaian sweet rolls, bananas, gâteau, watermelon slices smiling on platters like the first glimpse of the chesire cat… That is one great thing about here. You have a hankering for something (that is available of course, this doesn’t work for Kraft Singles) and it will undoubtably walk by within fifteen mintues. And if it doesn’t, you can always give a bit of money to a petit to get it for you.

So it was hot, a lot of waiting, and intense marching. We had to walk in lines, swing our arms and march in step. 8 to 5’s these were not. It wasn’t the greatest part of my service, but it was an experience. I really give kudos to the Peace Corps staff for getting things organized in place of a few hiccups from the government. Like find 30 people housing in a few days time.

So after a week of marching in the mornings, napping and trying good food ( La Margarite had the best Lebanese) and going around the grand marche, we had Friday off as repos (rest). It was nice sleeping in until 630 and to spend the morning in the markets. The bureau and PC officials came in Friday and that night the country director set up a movie night for Charlie Brown Christmas, my favorite. The speech by Linus at the end is my favorite. It was a really chill day in preparation for the big march.

The morning of I woke up in the house for a quick night on a thermarest (there weren’t enough mattresses but it could be much worse), got dressed in the uniform (we had complet made with 50th anniversary pagne. The girls all got an extra pagne for a fular and I showed a few of the girls how to tie them like Mama Ouedraogo taught me during stage. I love fulars.

So here we are at 630 standing on a predawn African street, sleepy but well dressed. It was too early for the boutiques to be open for breakfast and to keep the parade organized, there weren’t many street vendors. What to do for breakfast??

Have no fear! The government provided us breakfast. We were given sachets of water (50cc in uv treated plastic baggies) and a box of cane sugar cubes. I can’t express what it was like being handed a box of blond sugar as the army guy said, in all seriousness, suck on a sugar cube if you start to feel dizzy. This will help you march well.

Luckily that was the low point. Around 930 the president drove by and a bunch of the top ranking generals. Pretty neat. After some more waiting and a few random dance parties with ECOWAS and the Lebanese Community who were just behind us, it was finally time to march. Il fallait arreter “The Electric Slide.”.

It was hard to hear the band so mostly we just walked in our rows. Being at he beginning of the parade we walked past some of the later legs, mostly military. Niger was represented. The Burkinabe women’s corps was there which was pretty neat to see. We walked past the crowds, the president as they said our name over the speaker system “Corps de la Paix Americain” and at least one chant of “O-Ba-Ma.”.

Finallement, we could go home and rest. It was a long day. A bunch of us went to Trois Karite for lunch, which is located next to our bureau. There were a lot of us there but at separate tables and the waiter the us a really hard time. I had banana foutou, which was surprisingly delicious. It was served with sauce but it was nice to have something with flavor as a base instead of the normal flour ‘to’ I eat in village.

So that was a quick run down of the events for the anniversary. I didn’t have a chance to see what thepresident said en tout, but I heard a clip in the background and ‘Corps de la Paix Americain’ caught my ear.

Heading for more training for a week and then I get to return to village.


I Don’t Write 2’s Like That

December 7, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The end of the trimester is upon us!! What does that mean??

For the school year, it is broken into three bits. The first bit was October until the end December. But because I have an event for the anniversary of Burkina Faso (50 years of independence) and a little mini training at the capital, I had to finish everything for the end of the trimester.

Besides just grading (by hand) and calculating grades (by hand), I had to read off the grades for every devoir, quiz, and the average for every student. I really perfected my numbers in French. The kids are sneaky though. I had a few kids that crossed out a number and said I changed their grade when I obviously didn’t but one girl went above and beyond that.

One girl was in my 4eme PC class. She came up with a test that was definitley not my handwriting. The inside page I had graded but the cover was totally different. Instead of just sitting back down, she started crying and pleading with me trying to convince me that I wrote it. Nope but if you keep making a big deal I will change your grade but it will be a zero. So when she burst out I hanged her grade. That sucked.

Now I am for anniversary celebrtion and have the opportunity to march in the parade. I will be uncharacteristically attached to the Internet during all of this.

In short life is great here and, yes, I actually do like it.

When Working Windows are the Only Thing Between You and Sheep Urine…

October 22, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

So I was headed to Ouaga today. I got up at 530, heated some water for my bucket bath as it was a bit chilly to be bathing out of doors, and went to school. While there, I went over the correct answers to the pop quiz I gave yesterday to my 6eme math kids about the order of operations. Then, I handed back my 5eme math tests, which was a feat because of the names. And then I taught the oldest kids, my 4eme PC (physics and chemistry) kids about volume.

I had to pick up my phone from the charging station in town. I dropped it off there with a kid before school, so I was really hoping he actually gave the station my phone. Luckily he did. On the way back home, my tire blew out, or something perhaps less dramatic than that, on a thorn. I pushed my bike back home in the hot African noon sun thinking well, at least the worst is probably over.

I quickly changed out of my teaching (re: nice) clothes into a tshirt and pagne (1.5 m of fabric tied around the waist like a skirt) for my travels to Ouaga. I walked to town and sat with a friend, shared a plate of rice, and then hustled over to the bush taxi when the horn started blowing. For about 5 dollars, I can make the 125 k trip from village to the capital.

Because the bush taxi was pretty empty, the normal extra stools were not shoved in the walkway between normal bench seats in the van and the wall. And, there was a comfortable 2 person to bench, for a record low of 10 people (there are a couple of workers on top of the bus also). Everybody had a window seat, and while I usually take middle seats, there was no middle option.

Eyes squinted to the wind from the windows, I watched the passing hills, trees, barrage, and more than occasional goat. Right when I was thinking what a pretty day, it started sprinkling. Not a cloud in the sky. Odd, I think, so I look at the other windows as a fine mist strikes my face, neck. Then I hear the bleat.

When we were getting ready to leave for Ouaga, I watched as they tied up a sheep and attached her to the roof of the bush taxi. Occasionally, I saw her feet peak over the edge of the roof into sight of the window. Between the seeing, then feeling, the hearing, there was one piece missing: the smelling.

Once I smelled it, I realized that was not peaceful afternoon raindrops. The sheep was peeing. And that pee was dribbling down the side of the van and whooshing into my face at about 50 km/hr. Quickly, I try to close the window, but windows never close fast enough when they need to.


A couple weeks ago on a Thursday, I heard drums late at night, like 1130 at night which is too late to be wandering around outside.

Cut to ten days later. Turns out the chief of my village, or naaba, was out in the bush for ten days. One Sunday he returned to a ceremony. Everybody raced ahead to greet him as they heard the horses coming into village. The entourage, including the naaba covered head to toe, came to his courtyard, did a few laps to town, and then the ceremony continued. He sat on a yellow mat and was offered a calabash (hollowed out gourd) filled with dolo (millet beer, for you, Rachel, got your letter!!). He spilled half of it on the ground, then drank some, passing it to others in the arrival party. It was really cool. Here are some photos.

This One is For Chelsea

October 22, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When speaking of popular music here in Burkina, you speak of FloBy (pronounced like the vacuum hair buzzers), Sean Paul, and invariably, Celine Dion.

Yes, her songs, both english and french, are popular here. While
computers and mp3 players a bit cher (expensive), phones with moderate mp3 capabilities are a little more in reach. Thus, I have listened to many Celine Dion songs through the low quality phone speakers while hair is tressed.

Things are pretty great here. My phone keeps me in contact with other volunteers and periodic texts back home. Mail comes in close by in Zorgho. The 25 k bike ride there and back takes up the whole day after I get my errands done, but it is nice to leave site periodically and stock up on things I can’t get in village. Like Nido. Powdered milk is ok, but safer than the Peuhl milk I get in marche.

Marche (market) is once every three days. Which is pretty good. It is either jsut after marche or just before, no long wait period inbetween. Plus, I constructed a desert fridge with large clay bowls arranged like russian nesting dolls. Yay chemical engineering!

School `started’ on friday. Because a lot of the students have to
come from far away villages and find places to live, a lot of them
were not ready for school to start. So I introduced myself to my
three classes (6eme math, 5eme math, and 4eme physics and chemistry) and headed back home.

Most of my days consist of lesson planning (french complicates
things), and generally hanging out and meeting people. Life is pretty lovely and I feel very lucky to be here.

Can’t get enough of the blog? Think life here sounds super cool?
Visit! I understand it’s a pretty big undertaking, but I have a
village that I’d love to show you.


Kathryn’s In Village

September 9, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’m now in village. So I have a new mailing address for letters. Please use this address for letters only. Help me break in my new address by sending me a letter!

Kathryn Siuniak
B.P. 27
Zorgho, Burkina Faso

Use this address for everthing else

Kathryn Siuniak, PCV
S/c Corps de la Paix
01 B.P. 6031
Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso

What is Kathryn Doing Next?

August 22, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What is Kathryn Doing Next?

So some of you may be wondering what exactly I have been up to and what is happening next.  I have been going around Burkina, staying with families, visiting my site, and going through a very extensive, exhausting training.  It really has been great meeting all of these new stagaiars (people in training to become volunteers, like I am now), but I am really looking forward to being a volunteer at my site. 

So how will it be different?  It will be very different.  Right now, I have over 80 other Americans around me all of the time.  I have class 6 days a week.  I am teaching model classes which are smaller than they will be in my village, and I switch classes often so it is hard to get used to a class. 

So what will be the same?  I will still be in Burkina.  I will still be a teacher.  And most importantly, I will still be learning.  Even though my time here in stage is almost up, my time learning is not.  I am going to be living in a totally new culture for two years.  And like between cities and towns in America, they all have their own character and practices.  So I will be making my first home in a valley in central Burkina.  My first job out of college will be teaching and learning. 

What do the next few weeks look like?  I am not really sure.  All I know for pretty sure is this next week.  I have the last few days of stage this upcoming week, and Thursday I head over to the capital.  Friday is my swearing in ceremony.  It is a really big deal and I have very excited to take the oath and become a United States of America Peace Corps volunteer.  It will be televised across Burkina. 

After that, I will shop on Saturday and gather all of the accoutrements for my new home, and Sunday is the big day.  I move from the capital and to my site.  Goodbye electricity.  Goodbye running water.  Goodbye internet.  So get those letters in the mail, folks.  I don’t have a poste in my site, but I have a plan to keep in touch with you fine friends in family through letters from the States.  Thanks to all who have written me.  It is really great to get a letter in the mail. 

On the exciting side, some of us have a fantasy football team!  Here are my players.  It is set up so I do not have to bench players or deal with it much during the season because that is hard without the internet and all. 

QB1 – Eli Manning

QB2 – Chad Henne

RB1 – Chris Johnson

RB2 – Matt Forte

WR1 – Chad Ochocinco

WR2 – Calvin Johnson

WR3 – Donald Driver

DST – Cowboys

Fingers Crossed!!


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