Friday, February 24, 2012

Six Weeks Home

I've been back in the US for 6 weeks now. It seems absolutely crazy how fast time is passing and how quickly I'm re-adjusting to life here, what is becoming my new "normal." Re-adjustment has had its ups and downs but I have to say its been much easier now than it would have been a year earlier. With all of my frustrations in Belize, it definitely helped me prepare for life in the States. I had modern conveniences like running water & electricity, spoke English every day, and had a more American routine than I ever had in Burkina. I was used to watching American news and television and getting on the internet regularly. I'm not trying to say it was like the US because there were huge differences but overall I experienced less culture shock coming back from Belize than I did last year when I returned from Burkina. Some things in the U.S. still shock me like everyone being in a hurry, the huge selection at the grocery store, and the cold! Overall I'm loving being back though and am just trying to ignore the parts of our culture that I'm not such a fan of.

Tomorrow I'm moving to D.C. and am hoping to settle into my new life soon. Still no job or apartment but I know they will come soon enough. I'm attending a career conference put on by Peace Corps next week so hope to learn lots and make some good contacts. Also I have a couple information interviews and a job interview lined up.

I want to share this post written by a fellow PCV about what PC service is really like. I don't know him but the blog link has been floating around among RPCVs and I think its a well-written article. He serves in Ethiopia, on the other side of the continent from Burkina Faso and even farther from Belize, but his experiences are my experiences. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Few Figures from my Peace Corps Service

While going through my list of changes over the last 3+ years, I realized there were a few other figures I wanted to share.

Languages learned at least partially:
Burkina: French, Bissa, and a little Moore
Belize: a little Kriol

Countries Visited:
While in Burkina: 8 (Burkina Faso, Algeria (airport layover), Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Togo, Mali, Niger)
While in Belize: 2 (Belize, Mexico)

Visitors from the U.S.
Burkina: 2 (Anna, Mom)
Belize: 8 (Mom, Dad, Karla, Allison, Maren, Mike, Dylan, Anna)

Books Read:
Burkina: 133
Belize: 49

Pictures Taken:
Burkina: 4,690
Belize: 1,439

Electronics that didn't make it out of Peace Corps:
1 cell phone, 1 ipod, & 1 camera fell in a puddle in Burkina on a very sad day
1 camera was stolen & returned several months later but was broken
3 headlamps and at least that many flashlights died
1 cell phone stopped working
1 laptop (my 2003 computer from when I graduated HS) couldn't handle the heat
1 laptop (grad school laptop) still working but barely

Electronics just can't seem to handle the harsh conditions volunteers are living in. I actually lost a lot less than many of my PC friends. My external harddrive made it though so I have all of my pictures and thats what is most important to me!

Cross-stitch Completed: 1
It was goal to complete a cross-stitch kit while in Peace Corps and it took all 3 years to do. I started it in Jan 2009 and finished it my last weekend in Dangriga in Jan 2012. Its a little dirty from working outside in the dirt when I didn't have electricity but a lot of love was put in it so its going on the wall at some point!

Socks Knitted: 1 pair
I also had decided to learn to knit socks. Well, they were harder than I expected and I wasn't so excited about making wool socks when it was 90 degrees out. I did make several baby hats though too for kids in my Burkina family.

Journals Kept: 3
I filled three journals over the last three years with my joys and frustrations of living as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a foreign country.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Changes in the Peace Corps

Before leaving for Burkina Faso in Oct 2008 I put together a list of things I thought might change while I was gone. I updated it a year ago before I left for Belize. Here is the same list with final updates so you can see how things have changed. 2010 data at end in parentheses. 2012 data underlined.

Age: 23

Gallon of Gas: $3.19 gallon (but it was $1 more two weeks ago)

Population of Washington Couny, WI: 129,778 (in July 2007, the most recent I could find) (This area has been growing so quickly since I was in high school and I expect it to keep growing as people move north out of Milwaukee)
(130,681 as of 2009, I couldn't find a more recent figure)
131,887 (as of 2010)

Cost of Undergrad Tuition at UW-Madison: $7,570 (It was $5,138 a year when I started in 2003)

Family Pets: 13 year old Snowball, 4 month old Maggie, & 12ish goldfish in backyard pond (Snowball died in Dec 2009 and I think the fish didn't make it through the winter a few years ago but Maggie is still as wild as when I left)
Maggie is running around & I hear there are some fish under the ice in the pond. I get occasional updates on Puppy, my Burkina dog, and he is doing great!

Current Weight: 119 lbs on my parents scale (I gained weight studying abroad in Kenya and have been told in Peace Corps, men usually lose weight but women gain)
(123 lbs - gained about 10 lb my first year but lost weight the second year)
119 lbs - back to my pre-PC weight but several inches lost and muscle gained

Relationship Status: single & loving it
(attached & loving it except for doing the long distance thing now)
Dylan and I have been together since March 2010 and after 2 years of dating, we'll finally live in the same town for the first time since we met.

Parents' religion: Methodist (They were Catholic when I left for Kenya and Methodist when I returned 6 months later)
(still Methodist)

President: Bush
Obama but elections are on again. I left during the last presidential election and am returning during another election. It doesn't seem possible that it could be that time again already!

I am sure that I will miss out on some important events but I would really just like all my friends to wait for the big things until 2011. I don't want to miss any engagements or weddings (Tricia?), babies (Maren?), or any other significant changes while I'm gone! Is that too much to ask?
(Maren had a baby in May 2010 and Tricia got engaged Oct 2009 with a wedding planned for this June).
Maren has another baby on the way and Tricia was married in June 2011. There have been many other changes among my friends (marriages, babies, moves, jobs, etc). I know that I too have changed quite a bit in the past 3+ years. I'm looking forward to many changes in my post-PC life as well as I settle into the United States again.

39 Months Later

I have just signed my final paperwork ending my Peace Corps service. Its hard to believe I have COSed (Close of Service) as we say here. Peace Corps has been my life for so long - first as I was thinking and dreaming about becoming a PCV followed by a very long application process and then waiting to depart. Now after three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I'm excited and proud to say I am officially an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). Its been quite the ride and I have learned and grown so much during this time. I promise to post more about the end of my service and to recap what this experience has meant to me. I need to find some inspiration to write though!

For now, I just want to say that it has been amazing but I am excited for the next adventure in my life. I feel ready to return to the United States, find a job, maybe "settle down" a bit. A year ago, the idea of moving back to the US and starting a "real" job really scared me. I didn't feel ready to be done with Peace Corps and definitely wasn't ready for a "normal" life. Things have changed a lot though in the past year and I am thrilled for my future that awaits.

I will be back in Wisconsin tomorrow and spend a few weeks with my parents. Dylan is coming this weekend for his first trip to Wisconsin where he will meet a lot of my family and see where I'm from. I then will be travelling to DC for a short trip at the end of January before moving there permanently (or at least for the next year or so) by the end of February. I am still searching for a job and hope to find something in the public health field.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Open House

I only have a few more days as a Peace Corps Volunteer and will be back in Wisconsin next week. My parents are having their sometimes annual holiday party/open house and I would love to catch up with as many people as possible. E-mail me for directions or questions.

January 15, 2012
1-4 pm

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Fair Trade" Cotton in Burkina Faso

Three years ago, soon after my arrival in Burkina Faso, I learned about a deal that the US Embassy had helped broker between Victoria's Secret and local cotton growers to sell organic cotton for their line of fair trade undies. It was a big opportunity for farmers and the ambassador was excited to share what looked like a successful opportunity for many poor farmers.

I hadn't heard anything more about organic cotton in Burkina until recently. In the last few weeks there have been numerous stories picked up about child abuse among cotton growers in Burkina Faso that provide supposedly fair trade cotton to Victoria's Secret. Here's one article in the Seattle Times.

Its sad to see these reports but honestly its not surprising. Child labor is a common and accepted part of the society though usually not to this extreme. In my family, I saw the kids helping their parents in the field from a very young age. They took frequent breaks to play though and often their responsibility was to watch the babies and young kids while their moms worked. They would help plant and harvest for a bit but then would run around and play for a while. Working in the fields was a family activity and so everyone helped out. I know this isn't always the case and more serious issues arise when children are forced to work away from home or their parents sell them almost into slavery as is the case in this story. I didn't see open examples of this but know it happens.

At the same time, I am encouraged that their are any export opportunities in Burkina Faso since most agriculture is for personal use. Most families only produce enough food to eat over the next year and if its a good harvest, may have small amounts left to sell. My family grew a small patch of cotton that they sold but this only provided a small amount of income to cover a few expenses. More companies need to be willing to export products from Burkina in order for this nation to develop. Victoria's Secret is one of the few that currently is and they were at least trying to help the people of this country by buying a fair trade product. It seems that these certification processes are difficult to verify and there is always room for error. I'm not surprised by this story but am not giving up hope that more opportunities will arise for the farmers of Burkina Faso to sell their products and earn a fair income to support their families.

UPDATE: There have been several new articles contradicting these allegations and it looks like there were serious issues with the way the first story was investigated and reported.

Here is the response from Victoria's Secret.

And a resonse from the organization that certifies the cotton as fair trade.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I was invited to attend the Christmas show at a primary school I've been teaching at. I'm so glad I went because the kids were adorable and seemed very excited that I came. The schools has preschool through eighth grade and each class did a dance, a song, or a short skit. Near the end, four boys danced the Jankannu, a traditional Garifuna dance performed at Christmas. They wear masks and are suppose to represent the crazy white men. The tallest dancer isn't a student at the school but the others all are.