“Cold Season” News

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Africa » Burkina Faso » Hauts-Bassins
February 14th 2008
Published: February 14th 2008
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The weather in January was downright bearable. The dry winds from the north brought lots of dust and a strange coolness. The days were in the high 80’s/low 90’s but the sun was less intense and the nights were cool: below 70 even!

This was freezing for the villagers. They were bundled up in your old winter coats and huddled around fires at night, all complaining about the cold. School started thirty minutes late each morning because it was considered unjust to expect the students to arrive in the bitter early morning cold.

As for me, I’m enjoying each day that it’s cool enough to sleep in my bed on a mattress and not on a cot outside. But it won’t last long now. “The Cold” has already left us and we’re headed quickly toward the hot season.


The paved road has reached Satiri! Trucks have begun going around the village and not through it, giving us a break from the dust.

Yet no sooner did they lay the asphalt than we had our first major accident. The new highway cuts across a smaller road, creating an intersection. A motorcycle on the small road, lacking an understanding of the right of way, cut off a dumptruck carrying a few dozen highway workers. The truck swerved, rolled over, and fell about 2 m into a ditch. The many injured were taken to the hospital in Bobo. As a result of the accident, Satiri got its first stop sign.


A soccer tournament has been organized for all of the departments around Bobo. So far, Satiri has eliminated Karankasso-vigué with a 2-0 victory last Saturday. My neighbor, Tidjane, has been playing for the Bobo travel team this year, but he came home for the tournament.

The men on the team practice just about every day, all year, for most of their adult lives. They share a ragged soccer ball and play in ripped clothes with no shin guards. Few team members have actual shoes; most play in molded plastic sandals. Yet they are amazing athletes.

The game in Satiri was a huge event that drew a crowd from all the nearby villages. The soccer field’s crooked wooden goal posts were fitted with nets for the first time and its boundaries were marked with paint. A shade tent was set up to house important spectators - the Prefet, the Mayor, the fonctionnaires, the village elders. Everyone else crowded the sidelines in the sun, kids climbed trees for a better view. All were unrestrained in shouting their support, their advice, or their frustrations at their team members in four or five different languages.

When the game ended, the crowd rushed the field, shouting, dancing, twirling, doing flips. The rest of the evening drums echoed across the village in celebration and a group of young men walked the streets singing mocking songs about the defeated opponent. Next week we play Padema. Tidjane is confident we’ll advance to the semifinals in Bobo.


A few weeks ago I traveled to Banzon, 60 km northwest of Bobo, to help PCV Stephanie with a World Map project. Her village’s schools had no map with which to teach geography, so she got together some plywood and paints to create a 1m x 2m map. We used a grid system from a PC manual that made the project easy enough to do with students. They worked in pairs, penciling in and painting different sections of the map. The drawing went well; it only required a few corrections. The painting, however, required a lot of surveillance. These kids didn’t grow up with Crayola and art class and were way overexcited to be doing such a project. Consequently, the kids painting Brazil dribbled a new chain of orange islands across the southern Atlantic, the kids painting Australia did so while leaning in a still-wet Micronesia. A couple of boys (who weren’t supposed to be there because they didn’t do the practice exercise) took a section away from the girls and immediately began painting the Burkinabé flag the wrong colors. Steph was left with a lot of touch-up work and a profound thankfulness that she is a business volunteer and not a teacher.


The last few weeks the 10th grade biology curriculum brought us to the chapters on human reproduction: a rather-detailed study of very taboo topics. My class of 60 students, almost all boys ages 17 - 20, had never been so attentive.

I knew these subjects were taboo but figured adolescents talked about them anyway. Turns out that’s true, but boys only talk to boys, girls only talk to girls, and no one is really informed. The boys in my class have likely been having sex for some time, several have probably fathered children. Yet many had no idea that women had periods. And most of them are repeating the year. Last year’s professor was a man who apparently skipped over that.

So I left lots of time for questions and promised to respond to just about anything. And just about every topic came up, speckled with malapropisms (“There are homogenous people, too, right?” You mean homosexuals?). They were disappointed to learn that they couldn’t guarantee their first born would be a son. I was glad that excision came up (aka female circumcision or genital mutilation), which, though illegal, is still practiced almost universally among local Muslims. I got a rare opportunity to point out some of the dangers of the practice.

The curriculum also includes a section on contraception. In casual discussions with village women I had seen that most women were pretty uninformed on the topic. They were shocked when I told them about the pill (“They make a medicine for that?!?”). When I explained that it was sold at the health center for 100 francs/month ($0.20, affordable even for villagers) and that their husbands didn’t have to know, at least one woman marched straight to the health center to get some.

I’d like to think the literate girls at school would be more informed, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The 7th grade is about half girls, but the fraction diminishes in the higher grades - less than 20% in 10th grade. Many drop out in 8th or 9th grade because they are pregnant, married off, or both. For example, two girls who were absolutely outstanding students in 9th grade last year did not return this year for 10th grade. I recently learned that one of them left because she had a baby and had been married off to a 65-year old man in Bobo. The old man also wanted to marry the girl’s younger sister (also an excellent student), but the police intervened and after a whole scandal they managed to keep the girl in school.

So to reinforce the lesson on contraception and family planning, I arranged for the village health center to send a guest speaker. Since the boys had already their endless questions answered in class, I made it a girls-only discussion for 9th and 10th grade. The boys, dying to know what was being discussed without them, had to be threatened with zeroes and driven away from the classroom windows by the surveillant.

The village midwife is a young, intelligent, articulate woman who’s been through numerous training programs to do her job. She was also well-trained in giving these sensibilisations, and she did an excellent job. The girls were thankful to have their questions answered without the judging ears of teenage boys, and they left well-informed.


My PCV neighbor from Balla, who left in June to have shoulder surgery, is back now as a health volunteer! Welcome back, Jonathon!

That’s all that’s new for now! Later everyone.


26th February 2008

Rosie: When do you actually come home? Please let me know. Thanks. miss you, Cuz, Love, Jaim

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