Camille Hogan :: Burkina Faso
March 3rd, 2008
Those that have done the IDIP program in previous years have said that it takes about eight weeks to finally start to feel comfortable and well adjusted. After about seven and half weeks here, I completely agree. It is not that I felt miserable or out of place before; it is not that at all. But something has changed since the first weeks I have spent here. I have broken more cultural barriers and finally feel like I can say that I am taking part in something instead of a stranger looking in. I feel more comfortable at work and have been able to move past a lot of the formal polite conversations and on to a more personal “buddy-buddy” relationship with several colleagues. I have not only been invited to eat lunch with them but have also been invited to participate in a small Catholic prayer group for a few minutes each day at work. I not only feel that gracious welcome that I received when I first arrived, but I now feel accepted.
This has been my first introduction to Burkina Faso and to Africa. With only the ten week’s time that has been allotted for this program, I feared that it would all go by too quickly. I worried that I would maybe receive a glamorized and glorified view of Africa. I feared that I would be so captivated by it all in such a short time that I would never have time to process it all and learn the truth or see the reality. I also worried that maybe I would have the exact opposite experience and be so overwhelmed by everything that I would only focus on the devastation here and be left with a feeling of bitter despair. Though I do feel that my time here has passed by quickly, I also feel that I am not overtaken by the fascination of it all or left with a jaded and hopeless view towards Africa: but hopefully am left somewhere in the middle. I feel as though I have been exposed to the truth, which is exactly what I came here to experience. I wanted to see the ups, and the downs, and the all-around. It seems as though that wish has been granted. Not everyday that I have spent here has been an easy one, nor has everyday been a struggle, but each day has brought incredible challenges and rewards.
My project that I’m working on has involved interviewing the parents and teachers of the students that benefit from our School Garden and Field Pilot Project. These interviews exposed me to the reality of village life in Burkina Faso and to the Burkinabé cultural mentality. The interviews involved translating from the local language of Mooré to French, with occasional English translations. With the language factor and cultural differences mixed together, I came across many struggles. It has been difficult for me as a young American woman to understand where my place is in Burkinabé society. Sometimes it is difficult for them to decide my place as well. I do not always know when I can insert my opinions or how far I can go with my beliefs. I did not come here to simply impose my Western beliefs, but to assist the Burkinabé in finding their own techniques and strategies that best works for them. Finding the balance between my own beliefs and theirs has been the most challenging. The interviews have been incredible eye-opening encounters and have left me eager to experience more.
From the experiences I have gained in the villages, to the ones that I come across everyday at the CRS office and with the local family that I am staying with, I feel as though I am gaining a balanced perspective of what it truly means to live in Burkina Faso. Though I will always physically standout as a foreigner with my Caucasian, “Nasara,” status, my hope is that I will someday be able to fully understand and interact with the culture in a way that allows me to move past those exterior limitations. Over the past seven and half weeks, I have begun to bridge that cultural gap and am that much closer to obtaining my goal. This experience has so far left me feeling incredibly grateful for the gracious hospitality and welcome Burkina has presented me with, has shown me the raw, harsh reality of poverty here, and has left me wanting to pursue more of Burkina Faso, more of Africa and its different regions, and more of the work that the NGOs are doing here. I look forward to what the next two weeks will present to me here as I begin to conclude my first experience in Africa.