Of being poor and needing medical treatment

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29 September 2011

FN: 6

Of being poor and needing medical treatment

Those of you that know me know that I had a large brain tumor removed a couple of years ago (those of you who don’t can read about it here).  You also know that I rather unfortunately had neither the insurance nor the income to even begin to pay for my treatment. If it hadn’t been for a combination of NC non-garnishment laws and the superb social programs at UNC Hospital, it’s very likely that I either would have died for lack of treatment, been forced to declare bankruptcy, or been forced to pay on the bill every month for the rest of my life. It also would mean that I wouldn’t be able to afford the bi-annual follow-up MRIs that are required to make sure my tumor isn’t coming back.

It’s a good thing that UNC has such a program, because the Peace Corps required me to get 3 different MRIs before they would medically clear me; in fact, I had to have a final MRI today to cover the 2 years that I’ll be gone. Without those programs or health insurance, at $2500/MRI, that would be far more expense than I could ever reasonably manage just to enter an unpaid position. In a very real sense, UNC’s social program has allowed me to join the Peace Corps, which is ironic since the societal debt I feel that I owe for UNC’s social programs is a big part of the reason that I joined in the first place. Chicken and egg, I guess.

As I was waiting for the results of my MRI today (I’m clear! Huzzah!), I couldn’t help but wonder how different my situation would have been if I had been born in Burkina Faso. Would I have just had to suffer along until I died? Would I have been able to get any treatment at all? Would I have encountered the chilling possibility of being able to get it diagnosed, but not to be able to afford to travel to a developed nation for the treatment? My tumor wasn’t especially nasty as brain tumors go, but the surgery was tricky, and definitely beyond the capacity of any hospital or surgeon in West Africa. Hell, it was beyond the capacity of any surgeon or hospital in eastern NC – if I had gone to any hospital in the state save Wake, UNC, or Duke, they just would have shipped me to one of those anyway.

I don’t know anything about the medical system in Burkina Faso, and there’s not much data about it to be found online (at least not in English). Hopefully, I can find out more about this topic and provide an updated post at some time in the future. In the meantime, I’m just thankful that one of the perks of Peace Corps service is full inclusion in the federal health care plan. In fact, I don’t even think we pay into it – just like the military, if we get sick, we report in to the medical officer, and they take it from there. I devoutly hope and pray that I don’t get malaria, or banged up in some horrid bus wreck, or mangled by a hippo or what have you, but if the odds catch up with, at least I won’t die for lack of access to treatment. And that’s something.

Word of the Day:

Presqu’aussitôt (conj): This is a contraction/liaision of “presque” (almost, nearly) and “aussitôt” (at once, immediately). It means “almost at once”.

There’s nothing magical about today’s word. It’s just two put together. But it does highlight one of the minor annoyances of studying French: liaisons. In French, it’s just not done to have two vowels sounds following one another, so instead you kind of smush the words together to create a “better” sounding word:

Je lui ai fait goûter de la café (I gave him a taste of coffee) = Je lui ai fait goûter du café.

As you can see, it’s subtle, but important. Usually, the changes are minor, as in the example above, but sometimes, they can be a bit more impactful:

Pourquoi le officier a il fait construire une cage à le épicerie (Why did the officer construct a cage in the grocery store[1]) = Pourquoi l’officier a-t-il fait construire une cage à l’ épicerie ?

And sometimes, it can totally change the look, feel and pronunciation of a sentence:

Que est ce que ce est (What is it) = Qu’est-ce c’est .

And since the dictionary expects you to know what these liaisons are, you of course have to look up the stems instead of the full form.

Fun times.

Picture of the Day:


A board outside of an African clinic, listing services and prices. Some people would love to see something similar in the US. For the record, I am not one of those people.



[1] I swear I didn’t make these (insane) sentences up. I took them straight from my (insane) French textbook. We learned how to use certain past tenses with the sentence “she cut herself”. I guess it’s just an angsty book.


Things I’m curious about

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28 September 2011

FN: 6

Things I’m curious about

There are now eleven days left until I leave, and in between the nightmares, the packing, the panicking, the saying goodbye to friends, family, and coworkers, the gorging myself on whatever food happens to strike my fancy, the reveling in air conditioning, flush toilets, and hot showers, the endless internet use, and the frantic scramble to complete all of the various small tasks and paperwork as yet undone[1], I’m beginning to get intensely curious about what Burkina Faso will be like. I don’t mean the basics: I’ve read enough online to know it will be hot, dirty, sweaty, loud, and exotic. I mean the little stuff: what will it smell like, what will it feel like, what will the overall sense of it be?

I’ve been a lot of places in my life: 47 of the 48 contiguous states[2], 6 Canadian provinces, 2 Mexican states, 16 countries in Europe, and 2 in the Middle East. Each one was different, and each has impressed itself on my memory in its own unique way (if not always in the way that I would have expected). For example, my most visceral memory of Ireland is that the streams and lakes are clearer than anything I have ever seen in my life[3]. Likewise, the memory of Paris that lingers most is the smell of ozone in the Gare du Nord. San Francisco calls to mind a windswept beach, Texas has amazing rest stops, and Nebraska was disappointingly undular[4]. Cuidad Juarez smelled like an open sewer, and there was a tension in the air that was both remarkable and terrifying[5].

What impression will Burkina Faso leave on me? Will it be some music I am yet to hear? The sight of a thunderstorm rolling in to break the hot season? The smell of strange foods cooking in a communal pot? There’s absolutely no way for me to say. It literally could be anything, or it could be everything, or it could even be nothing – I’ve been through Mississippi at least ten times in my life, but I would be hard pressed to tell you anything at all about the place. It’s just a forgettable kind of state[6].

Obviously, I hope Burkina Faso leaves a more positive impression on me than land of endless sweaty malaria-ridden diarrhea, and I absolutely hope that it leaves more of an impression than ­not South Carolina, but you never can tell. That’s the one thing reading can’t do for you: it can’t give you that sense, that impression, that knowledge, that actually having been there and done that will give you.

So here’s looking forward to going there, and doing that.

Word of the Day:

Cliché (n): in moveable-type printing, a commonly-used phrase or expression that is cast as a single slug of metal. Also called a stéréotype.

In modern English, a cliché is an expression or phrase that has been overused to the point of losing its original effect. It also now has that meaning in French, but the original definition is sufficiently interesting that I thought it worth sharing. The more you know…

Picture of the Day:

What an actual cliché looked like.

[1] I still have to: find my car title, sign said title over to my sister, cancel my car insurance, cancel my cellphone bill, pay off a credit card, get an eye exam, get a final dental checkup, give my dad power of attorney, defer my student loan payments, move my stuff into storage, move 3 kayaks down to Wilmington, and…and…(I’m sure I will think of at least things I have to do about 2 weeks after I’m there…)

[2] Somehow, I have been everywhere but South Dakota. I have been to North Dakota – otherwise known as “the boring Dakota”, but not South Dakota. Go figure.

[3] Seriously, they make aquariums look dirty. I didn’t know natural water could get that clear. It was amazing.

[4] Everyone always talks about how flat it is. It’s not flat! Eastern Texas is flat. The Bonneville Salt Flats are flat. Hell, eastern NC is flatter than Nebraska. I was also disappointed by the smallness of the sky in Montana (since they brand themselves “Big Sky Country” and all); I guess plains just can’t compete with the ocean for endless skies.

[5] And this was before the current drug war really kicked in. I don’t even want to think about how it would be now.

[6] Sorry, Mississippi, but it’s true. But look at the bright side: at least you’re not South Carolina.

Baggage fee blues


27 September 2011

FN: 5

Baggage fee blues

With a mere 12 days left – really only 9, if you take away the 3 days I’ll be out of town visiting family – I’ve started finalizing my packing. As I stated in an earlier post, I had initially planned on only taking two bags, as I felt this would minimize the hassle of travelling in-country. However, upon further reflection, it would make a lot of sense to take 3 bags instead: one carryon containing my electronics and bike helmet, one full pack for my clothes and personal items, and one duffel bag for bulky things like my mosquito tent and camping mattress. This would be more annoying to travel with, but would also save my hiking pack from the wear and tear of being overfilled, and would keep any one bag from being insanely heavy.

That last point is actually the most important, now that I have my initial plane ticket. I’m flying from Raleigh to Philadephia via US Air, who charge baggage fees, so I have to take my cost per bag into account as well. This makes me sad. I hate luggage fees with a screaming passion, and whenever I travel by air I normally make do with one (small) carryon, just on principle. Obviously, that won’t be possible in this situation. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

So now I have to do some basic math. US Air charges $25 for the first checked bag, $35 for the second, $125 for the third, and $200 for each bag after that (not that I will be taking 7 bags or anything, but still). However, if any bag weighs more than 50lbs, it’s a $90 fee, and if any bag is oversize, it’s a $175 fee. I’m disinclined to pay upwards of $200 in luggage fees, and I strongly suspect the Peace Corps won’t reimburse oversize/overweight charges, so  I have to pay attention when I pack. I also find myself thinking long and hard about how to save space and weight.

One way is to use vacuum bags. I won’t be able to do this on my return trip, but on the way out I plan on vacuum-sealing my clothes and other compressibles in vacuum bags. They’re cheap, effective, make packing a breeze, and have the added benefit of protecting my clothes from mildew and bugs.

Another way is to just not take stuff to begin with. I’m going to try to take as few things as possible, save what absolutely cannot be obtained in country. However, I have to admit that this makes for an…odd…packing list. For example, I’ll be taking as many computing devices (3) as pairs of underwear (3), and I’ll be taking more board games[1] (2) than pairs of shorts (1).

However, the best way is to just use plain old common sense. If I don’t need it, I’m not going to take it, and if I want it but can’t point to an immediate use for it, home it stays.

Let’s just hope I don’t forget anything.

Word of the Day:

La quinzaine (n): a fortnight

Literally, this means “a fifteenth”, not “fourteen nights”. I can’t really read French well enough yet to dive into a true etymology of the word, but I suspect that this is at best a loose analogy. I do wonder why they use fifteen, which isn’t a division of week(s) or month(s), and not 14, which is identifiably 2 weeks…

Picture of the Day:

What a typical Peace Corps volunteer’s luggage might look like. I’m hoping to stay as light or lighter.

[1] Some volunteers in-country have asked one of our stage to bring a copy of Settlers of Catan. I happen to have unused versions of that and Carcasonne, so they will be going with me, then living in Burkina Faso.

French numbers are insane

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26 September 2011

FN: 8

French numbers are insane

If all goes as planned, come this time two weeks hence I will be solidly en route to a nation wherein French is the official language, English will be spoken by less than 1% of the population, and languages like Jula, Mooré, Bissa, and Fulfulde will be the norm. If I can’t learn to at least make myself understood in one of those languages, it’s unlikely that I’ll be understood at all. And since French is by far the most accessible and learnable of those languages, common sense dictates that I spend as much time as possible studying it prior to my departure.

Actually, I should be grateful that I even that have such crutch language to use. English shares a huge amount of grammar and vocabulary with French, so it is in fact one of the easier languages for English speakers to learn. Instead of whining, I should thank my lucky stars that the Burkinabé use French as their official language, and not, say, Gourmanchéma. They could, you know: French was the language of Burkina Faso’s colonial oppressors, and the newly-liberated Burkinabé might very well have refused it in favor of a tongue that didn’t have a history of harsh rule and imperialism behind it. Fortunately for me, Burkina Faso is home to no less than 68 languages from as many as 8 different language families, and they decided that using the old (entirely unrelated) colonial language puts all groups at an equal disadvantage. Otherwise, my language training would be much more difficult.

But it’s still no cakewalk. Take numbers for example. When you’re studying a language in college, unless you’re a language major you’re really kind of studying in abstract. Let’s be honest: you’re not trying to learn to speak the language like a native, you’re learning to speak it just enough to get the graduation credits that you need, and if you learn to read and maybe be a less clueless tourist in the process, hey – bonus! But neither you nor your school expect you to become anything approaching bilingual, and that’s tacitly acknowledged in the 202-level requirement needed for graduation from most colleges. I’m sorry, but there’s just no way in hell that you’re going to become bilingual in a mere 4 semesters. Even if you wanted to, you just wouldn’t be able to use the language enough on a daily basis to have a better grasp than even a dim 5 year old native speaker. It’s not a question of intellect; it’s a question of time, and practice.

Because of that, when most people study languages, they tend to gloss over things like dates, numbers, and weights and measures, because they don’t really matter. Not unimportant, mind you, just technical, difficult, and ultimately unnecessary. After all, if the notation is the same as English, and if you’re really only learning to read the language anyway, there’s no penalty for secretly reading the numbers in this sentence

La France couvre plus de 550.000 kilométres carrés, et elle a 62 millions d’habitants.


five hundred fifty thousand square kilometers and sixty-two million inhabitants

rather than

cinq cente cinquante mille square kilometers, and soixante-deux millon inhabitants.

It’s the natural thing to do, and everyone does it. And in general, we get away with it entirely. I know I did. I took two years of college French and I will freely admit that I never bothered to learn how to do more than count from 1 – 20. It just wasn’t necessary. Don’t believe me? Try saying this number in whatever language you’re “bilingual” in:


Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Anyhoo…that was then. This is now. Whether I paid attention 10 years ago or not, it’s now and indubitable truth that I’m no longer in college, and my study of French is in no way academic. I’m leaving in 13 days for a Francophone country with a cash economy, and numbers are a huge part of daily life. If I can’t express quantities and haggle prices, I’m going to get robbed blind in the market. If I can’t use basic math and express dates, I’m never going to be able to teach business skills. So whether I like it or not, I now have to be all about French numbers.

Unfortunately, those numbers are incredibly annoying.

It’s one of the universal virtues of math that, no matter what language you speak, there are really only two types of numbers: cardinal numbers, which refer to quantity (one, twenty-three, six thousand five, etc) and ordinal numbers, which refer to rank (first, fifteenth, eighteen million six hundred fifth). All languages need to account for these two numerical uses, but so far as I know no language uses more numerical forms.

You would think that this universal simplicity would reflect itself in language: you would learn individual words for 0 – 10, then new forms for each set of ten thereafter, thus reproducing the elegant simplicity found in the numbers themselves.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

In English, the cardinals are irregular through twelve, and after that their pattern is as regular as clockwork (with the small exception of a u in four, but no u in forty), while the ordinals are irregular for –first, -second, and –third, but after that, you just put –th on the end of the cardinal and you’re good to go:

(1)    One (1st)       (11) Eleven (11th)

(2)    Two (2nd)     (12) Twelve (12th)

(3)    Three (3rd)   (13) Thirteen(13th)           

(4)    Four (4th)     (14) Fourteen(14th)

(5)    Five (5th)       (21) Twenty-first (21st)

(6)    Six (6th)         (32) Thirty-second (32nd)              

(7)    Seven (7th)   (43) Forty-third(43rd)

(8)    Eight (8th)    (54) Fifty-fourth (54th)

(9)    Nine (9th)     (700) Seven hundredth (700th)

(10) Ten (10th)    (10054) Ten thousand fifty-fourth (10054th)

In French, however, the numbers are far more irregular. And maybe I’m biased, but most of them appear to have been chosen by blind, illiterate, uninformed cave-dwellers with a perverse sense of humor and a hatred for all counting[1]. Take the numbers 1 – 20, for example: instead of learning 10 words then a system to apply to each new multiple of ten (-teen, -ty, -th) you instead have to learn 20 words that only kinda/sorta fit to a system:

(1)    La premier(ère) (Ier) (11) onze

(2)    Deux                              (12) douze

(3)    Trios                              (13) trieze

(4)    Quatre                          (14) quatorze

(5)    Cinq                               (15) quinze

(6)    Six                                  (16) seize

(7)    Sept                               (17) dix-sept

(8)    Huit                                (18) dix-huit

(9)    Neuf                              (19) dix-neuf

(10) Dix                                 (20) vingt

(30) Trente                          (21) vingt et un

(40) Quarante                   (22) vingt-deux, etc – 30

If that were the only irregularity, it would be manageable. After all, that’s not that many new words.

But no.

Just in case you were starting to get the hang of counting in French, they then decide to go totally off the wall after 60. Instead of continuing to count by tens, they instead begin to count by 20. They also seem to think that the construction four twenties (quatre-vingts) makes more sense than an individual word for 80:

(60) soixante                      (70) soixante-dix

(61) soixante et un          (71) soixante-onze

(62) soixante deux, etc  (72) soixante-douze, etc

(80) quatre-vingts           (90) quatre-vingt-dix

(81) quatre-vingt-un      (91) quatre-vingt-onze, etc

(82) quatre-vingt-deux, etc.

 As you can see, it’s irregular as hell. Not only is the math annoyingly complex, but you have to remember when to add the s to vingts and when to drop it, when to hyphenate and not, and when to use et un and when to just use un.

Nor is this really necessary: the Belgians and Swiss, in a fit of absolute logic, prefer to use septante, octante/huitante, and nonante in order to maintain consistency. But not the French. Noooo…that would be too orderly of them. Ugh.

Even the higher numerals have a bit of irregularity to them. Cent is for hundred and mille is for thousand, but mille never takes an s, in order to avoid confusion with une mille (a mile…a unit of measure they don’t even use anymore!! Arggh!), and cent and mille are never hyphenated. The result of which is an alphabet soup of numbers and hyphenation when writing larger numbers:

(1995) one thousand, nine hundred, ninety-five/ dix-neuf cent quatre-vingt-quinze


Happily, after one thousand, standard international rules take precedence, and they use the same million/billion/trillion/quadrillion/etc structure that everyone else uses. Except that it would make too much sense to have those numbers mean the same amounts that we do, so they insist on perpetuating that whole “thousand million for billion and billion for trillion” insanity.

Of course they would.

Because French numbers are insane.


No word or picture of the day. This post was long enough, thank you very much.


[1] Actually, that’s not true: French ordinals are very regular – you just put –ième on the end of the cardinal, with the exception of numbers ending in 1, which have their own rule. It’s just the cardinals that are ridiculous.

Bound away

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25 September 2011

FN: 5

Bound away

My plane ticket to Philadelphia arrived via email this morning. Things suddenly feel very real. I know $177.70 isn’t a lot of money, but it has actually been spent. On me. To make the first leg of the voyage to Africa. This isn’t a game anymore, or a theoretical exercise in life goals: it’s a very real thing, and it’s coming inexorably closer. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it – somewhere between “hot damn, it’s about time, I can’t wait!” and “oh my GOD, I’m actually doing this…what in the HELL am I thinking??”

Actually, now that I come to it, my current feelings are remarkably close to what I felt just prior to leaving for college[1]. I’m a lot excited, a little afraid, and more reluctant than I would have thought I would be. I can honestly say that I’m very much looking forward to it, but I can also honestly say that it’s only just dawning on me how much more I will miss people than I thought I would. It’s simultaneously touching and depressing.

That being said, this experience is going to be very different from college for me, in that I can’t come home at all. Raleigh is only 2 hours from Wilmington, so I could come home whenever I felt like it. That was both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, it allowed me to deal with incipient homesickness by simply going home; on the other, it didn’t force me to learn to deal with my emotions and the situation quite as well as it would have if I had gone to college in, say, Oregon. I’m a lot older now and hopefully won’t have any undue problems coming to terms with the separation from friends and family, but it will be a new experience.

One curiosity in the whole experience: my ticket arrived as a .PDF via email, rather than as a physical piece of paper via USPS. Given the nature of airline travel today this is obviously the way to do it, but I can’t help but wonder how different this makes my beginning Peace Corps experience over that of a volunteer in, say, 1963. Compared to that volunteer, I’m better trained, better medicated, MUCH better connected to friends and family, and will be living in what would to them have been the lap of luxury. Is the excitement the same? Or is my Peace Corps experience so processed and streamlined that I won’t even know what it is I’m missing?

At any rate, this also means that I only have 14 days left to enjoy delicious, delicious American food, so I’m off to get brunch. More to come as I get it.

Word of the Day:

There are several commonly-used verbs in French that convey the sense of going out or leaving: partir, sortir, aller. Figuring out the subtle differences between the three has been one of the…joys…of my recent French studies:

Partir (v): to go, to go away

Il est parti. (He’s gone)

Sortir (v): to go out, to come out

Je sors acheter du pain. (I am going out to buy some bread)

Aller (v): to go

Où vas-tu? (where are you going?)

As far as I can tell, the problem isn’t so much in French as it is in English: we use the simple go to cover so many senses that it would be truly remarkable if another language had just one word that did the exact same thing. Aller seems to be in the sense of going, sortir seems to be in the sense of leaving the building, or going outside, and partir seems to be in the sense of leaving. But that’s not quite right, because some uses I’ve seen definitely blur those lines, and I’m not 100% sure what the final call is. It’s a learning process, to be sure.

Picture of the Day:

The invoice for my plane ticket! (Redacted for your viewing pleasure)

The soundtrack to my morning:
I have had this song stuck in my head ever since I opened my email this morning. Enjoy.

[1] I would say identical, except that I don’t have that almost unwholesome level of excitement that every (straight) college-bound male gets at the thought of all those single girls!! I’m going to Africa for many reasons, but the women are not one of them. It would seem we do grow up in some ways. Who knew?

So what does SED do, anyway?

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23 September 2011

FN: 9

So what does SED do, anyway??

As you know, my job assignment within the Peace Corps is: Small Enterprise Development (SED). Unfortunately, that’s a pretty bland name, and it doesn’t convey much in the way of an idea of what it is I will be doing. Nor has Peace Corps elucidated upon the subject to date; if I didn’t have internet access and a perverse love of doing research, I would still have more or less no idea of what I will be doing or what would be expected of me.

Nor is this a trivial concern. Try explaining to your parents that yes, you’re going to Africa for two years, and yes, the work you will be doing is highly important, but no, you have no idea what it is exactly that you’ll be doing.  Hey Mom: I don’t really know much about it other than it won’t be paid and it will be in one of the world’s poorest countries, but it will be important and there will be a lot of it, honest.

Suffice to say, the Peace Corps can be a tough sell to any friends or family members who lack an intrinsic altruistic streak.

Happily, however, I like doing research, so I do have at least some idea of what SED entails. Allow me to share what I’ve found with you[1].

The overall goals of the SED program in Burkina Faso are straightforward. According to the executive summary of the 2004 SED Burkina Faso Project Plan, the Peace Corps SED Project in Burkina Faso is currently responding to a strong need in the country for more skilled and informed entrepreneurs:

The lack of business training in basics such as accounting, marketing, feasibility studies, planning, etc. contributes to the high rate of business failures.  The Government considers it a priority to address the need for more organized business communities that have more management capacity.  The case is more justified because of a growing informal sector, where entrepreneurs are poorly trained and informed, have very limited access to credit and lack the basic skills needed to manage their businesses.

Peace Corps has worked in conjunction with the Ministry of Commerce’s, General Director of Artisans, the National Tourism Office (ONTB) and the National Union of Burkinabé Cotton Producers to identify and help develop viable Volunteer sites since 2003.

Volunteers work with community leaders, local community groups (men’s associations, women’s associations or mixed genders associations) and other counterparts and partners to initiate projects within the goals of the Burkina Faso SED Program.

The summary goes on emphasize the importance of skill development, as well as the need for business training. Among the skills that SED volunteers will help train host nationals on are feasibility studies, market research, and appropriate technology skill development (ie, learning to use certain computer programs, such as excel). SED volunteers also teach a number of business and money management techniques, including bookkeeping, savings and credit management, project design and management, marketing and awareness, internet and computer use, tourist site management, and tourist site preservation and awareness.

Which sounds all well and good, but what does it mean? What will the daily life of the SED volunteer entail? Will we be working 9-5 jobs? Will we be stranded in some godforsaken village and forgotten? Will we even be wanted?

The answer, it seems, is it depends.

During pre-service training (PST), SED volunteers will have the opportunity to state their posting preferences (rural, semi-rural, urban, etc.). These will be taken into account by Peace Corps staff when they are considering your final posting site, but they by no means guarantee that you will get what you asked for. But they do seem to play an enormous role in determining just what it is that the SED volunteer will do. Rural volunteers might be working on small projects like encouraging local women’s groups to produce and sell Neem cream to raise money and combat malaria, while urban volunteers might help to develop a smartphone app to assist with microloan repayments.  What you will do really depends on where you are and what the needs of the locals are. It’s just not possible to specifically describe what it is that you will be doing, because there’s no way to say until you’re there and you start doing it.

That being said, it is possible to get a general idea of what a reasonably motivated SED volunteer’s week might look like, based on Peace Corps’ expectations as stated during training. It’s also possible to supplement that generic week with plenty of real-time examples from actual volunteers’ weeks, as stated in their blogs. And from what I can tell, it’s about what you would expect: active volunteers do more than uninspired volunteers, rural volunteers work on smaller and more decentralized projects than do urban volunteers, and by and large everyone has a full week by Burkinabé standards.

Speaking from the perspective of someone currently sitting in a coffeeshop and posting via free wireless, I think I would prefer a more urban posting. It’s a more familiar environment, I’m more likely to be using my French on a regular basis, and in a city I’m more likely to be working on the “sexier” projects that appeal to me. Even more importantly, I would just as soon have more or less regular power and access to the internet and telephony in order to stay in contact with my increasingly frail mother. I know I won’t be talking to anyone on a daily basis, but if I could blog/email/Facebook 3 or 4 times a week and call once or twice a week, that would do a lot to relieve her anxieties. It also seems like it would be more fun.

However, if I have a rural or semi-rural posting, I’m quite sure I will still have the time of my life. As I said, that preference is written from the perspective of someone sitting in the lap of relative luxury (hey John G…when you read this, I had delicious, delicious Chipotlé for lunch…), so what the hell do I know?

At any rate, that’s what SED do. Whether they’re rural, semi-rural, or urban, they work as consultants and trainers to help host nationals develop projects that are sustainable, culturally appropriate, feasible, viable, and in accordance with PC and host country goals. Some of those projects will be inherited and on-going, and some they will start themselves. And they’re always expected to pitch in with other PC goals as well: AIDS education, combating malnutrition, etc.

I hope that helps you understand what it is that I’ll be doing. I’m sure I’ll post more on this once I’m in country.

Word of the Day:




tamponner (v): to mop up, plug; crash into; stamp

Il a tamponné le sang de ses plaies – He mopped up the blood from his cuts

Le train a failli tamponner notre voiture – The train nearly crashed into our car

Ce document n’est pas tamponné – This document is not stamped (~ notarized)

Related: un tampon – stopper, plug, stamp; le tamponnement – collision, crash

Obviously, the “plug” meaning is the source of the name of the similarly-named feminine product in English (and it can also have that meaning as a noun in French). I first encountered it in a sentence in which it was used in the context of a stamp, and I couldn’t figure out what the sentence meant by saying “this passport doesn’t have the proper tampon”. False cognate, indeed…


Picture of the Day:


What a search for “un tampon” produce on http://www.google.fr.


[1] Caveat: this is the product of internet research, and as such could be dated, incomplete, partially inaccurate, or flat-out wrong. Especially since this is primarily the result of reading a lot of blogs and outdated training manuals. People lie, people edit things to make themselves look better, and people just misremember things. So consider this a loose sketch of the job, rather than a snapshot.

The last day of summer

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22 September 2011

FN: 6

The last day of summer

Tomorrow is the vernal equinox, which means today is technically the last day of summer in the northern hemisphere. I say technically, because it’s never quite so neat as the calendar might have you believe: here in central NC, daytime temperatures will likely continue to reach the 70’s and 80’s right into early November, while in Barrow, Alaska, the brief autumn has probably already passed and the winter snows are starting. The year isn’t divided neatly into 4 even seasons, and the impact of today greatly matters on just where you live.

For example, I imagine that today has more or less zero importance in Burkina Faso. Their year there consists of 3 seasons: the harmattan, the monsoon, and the brief winter in between. Since autumn is a concept born of temperate climates wherein leaves change, final crops are harvested and stored, and winter is braced for, it doesn’t really have much meaning. Think about it: crops can be grown and harvested year-round in Burkina Faso (with irrigation; during the dry season there’s no water), and the leaves never fall, so what possible context do they have for an understanding of autumn that is in any way similar to ours?

That being said, the turning of the seasons here does have me think about the turning of the seasons there. When will they come? How will they manifest themselves? Will it be subtle? How damp will the monsoon be? I’ve heard horrible things about the hot season, but will it really be that bad? If I were going almost any place outside of the tropics, I would know more of less what to expect of the weather and the seasons, but in Burkina Faso it’s going to be an entirely new experience. I wonder if it will be difficult to adjust to, or if it will come easier than I expect.

I’m afraid it will be hard, but maybe I’ll get lucky and it will be easy.

Word of the Day:

malheureusement (adv):


There’s nothing special about this word; it just means ‘unfortunately’. But I like the way it rolls off the tongue. It’s much more fun to say than ‘unfortunately’.

Picture of the Day:

Why I won’t be kayaking in Africa. The rivers are full of both of these critters, and neither plays nicely.



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