It’s International Youth Day today – a day to celebrate the potential of youth and discuss with critical minds the contemporary issues that relate to them. Today’s story attempts to do both – shed light on some issues facing youth in Twapia, while celebrating the imagination, ambition, and hope that are so embodied by youth world over. Whether it is building a movement for road safety in Mexico City, creating programs for youth leadership in Calgary, or aspiring to tackle endemic challenges in Twapia, Zambia, there are many exciting youth world over that have the potential to make really interesting changes happen today and tomorrow.

——————————————

Children seemingly overwhelm the adults in Twapia; at most times of the day they can be found on the main paths and side streets of Twapia. For every adult I would see in Twapia, I would see several more children – playing soccer, walking to schools, or playing with the amazing toys they built on their own…

Like this one:

This car had a working steering system and was 100% home made. Zambian youth ingenuity.

No matter what day of the week it was, crowds of youth (from toddlers to young adults) were the most present piece of the Twapia community fabric.
To me this is a real life picture of a situation predicted by national statistics. According to some figures, almost 45% of the nearly 12 million people in Zambia are under the age of 15.   If we raise the the cut off to 25 years of age, well over half of the population of Zambia is represented. The median age in Zambia is just over 17 years – another reminder of how young the country truly is.  On charts and figures this shows a country very different than Canada where the median age is almost 40 years. Every day in Twapia the tangible reality of this statistic unfolded in the laughter of children that far outnumbered the ‘old folks’.

In the words of one teacher I met, ‘A healthy present and future is highly contingent on the development of Zambian youth’; in the words of this teacher, Zambia will never be able to move forward if the majority of its youth enter adulthood without proper education. ‘If we don’t develop them in the present, then how can they build Zambia in the future?”. Even so, many children in Twapia do not have the opportunity to attend school. I wanted more information on the situation with education in Twapia; however, – as volunteers who actually work on education will tell you – it’s an incredibly complex problem involving civil society organizations, governments at all levels, teachers, households, and countless other stakeholders.  The best I could do while compiling these stories was to speak with teachers, parents of students, and parents whose children couldn’t attend school.

In these conversations a variety of problems were expressed – some challenges were  institutional (the government no longer ensuring universal education after year 7),  others were bureaucratic/corruption (some schools charging money when they shouldn’t), while others relayed a lack of quality teachers, and depressed household economics as central issues limiting the education of youth. As I said earlier, I’m no expert in this field. My only goal with this post is to convey the story as it was told to me.

A commonly cited challenge in Twapia is that household finances are unable to pay the primary school fees. In other situations children are needed to take care of house hold duties and school may be out of grasp for them. Aside from the steep fees for actually attending the school there are also material and school uniform costs. As teachers and parents alike relayed these stories to me the weight of the challenge became very real – everything had a price! But what happens to the youth in Twapia who make it through basic schooling?

A teacher shared that of the children who are able to finish basic school and secondary school it can be very difficult to continue their education at a college or university – few scholarships exist and those that do are highly competitive. For youth in the lower income townships education throughout life is daunting.  But even against such precipitous odds many children still dream of brighter futures – for themselves and for their communities.

One of the youth, Steven,  I met in Twapia carried lofty dreams and goals for both himself and for Twapia – and he is by no way an exception. All the youth I had the pleasure to meet in Zambia kept a few grand dreams in their back pocket and they were always more than happy to share them. Like Rachel from my last story, Steven saw education as a tool he could use to improve his community and the lives of those who live there. Steven, who is a neighbour of my host family, was one of the first people I met in Twapia. Aside from sharing great directions to find my way around town, Steven showed himself to be a  bright youth with a polite demeanour and a dedicated work ethic.

During my time in Zambia I was lucky to get to know Steven and his family – I learned them about the community and its challenges and opportunities – and on that note I am excited to introduce you all to Steven!

Steven Kondonwe Mavuto

February 19 1992

Bio:

 Steven was born in Twapia in 1992 and has lived there his entire life. His family is made up of four children – he has two sisters and a brother. Of the children in his family only he is able to attend school. His brother is able to have individual lessons occasionally (a type of one off tutoring); however, full time school is not an option. Steven attended Twapia basic school until grade 8 and now attends Kansenshi Highschool in Ndola. In 2009 he expressed a desire to graduate from high school in 2010 and move onto university or higher learning.

 

What is life like in Twapia?: “Life here is okay. They say ‘My family is poor’ so  I say ‘ I need to educate myself’. They saw ‘We are poor in Twapia’, but still I say ‘I want to work hard’, I want to become someone in the future, someone who can make Life in Twapia better!”

 

What is your dream?:  “I want to change my life. I want to be a doctor… A doctor to help other people. To help the sick, to help Twapia. I know many who have suffered because they had no doctor. I want to change this”

 

What is your thirst?: “To make change for my sisters – to change the way they learn and live. They didn’t go to school like I did. I want  to change their learning… I want them to be learning in a school from a teacher, not just from me.”

 

What is poverty?: “Poverty is when I don’t have the authority to do something in my own life.  I can’t do the things I think about when I am living in poverty. I don’t have control over my life.”

What is Opportunity?: “When I am able to get what I need to take care of my family it is opportunity that gets me there. Opportunity lets me change things”

————————————————————————

Steven showed a tenacity for change that I feel speaks towards why investing in youth and into their dreams and ambitions is so important.  His story is an essential piece of the puzzle when talking about life in Twapia – for it is youth who will continue to build the community and create the future. Statistics tell of a country dominated by youth; Steven tells of the youth who dominate the country – untapped potential with a desire to change Twapia and Zambia in their own way. For me, that is a story of leadership but also a story that reminds us of the importance of investing in youth.

Education and potential come to mind when I think about Steven and many of the youth in Zambia. From the teacher’s perspective, education is the key method that will remove barriers and allow students like Steven to reach their dreams while building a new Zambia. Steven too shared this belief  – he saw education as a powerful tool to improve his life, the life of his sisters, and the state of being of Twapia.

When I reflect on some of the words Steven shared with me I feel a resonance with today, International Youth Day. Steven once spoke of Twapia as something he wanted to change –

Life here is okay. They say ‘My family is poor’ so  I say ‘ I need to educate myself”. They saw ‘We are poor in Twapia’, but still I say ‘I want to work hard’, I want to become someone in the future, someone who can make Life in Twapia better!

Embodying the tenacity and ambition of youth, Steven shared that he didn’t intend to be a passive actor in the future of Twapia. Rather than dwell in circumstances and challenges of his own community he worked hard in his studies, contributed to the learning of others, and set big dreams.

Today on International Youth Day I’d like to celebrate youth all over the world who are taking today’s challenges as starting points to build their stronger tomorrow – I’d like to celebrate those like Steven who have a dream for change and are going out there to do it!

 

Note: 

It’s been a long time since either Annelies or I have posted anything on this site. When we started this blog we didn’t intend to make it like a typical blog with constant updates. We each had a finite amount of stories from friends overseas and we aspired to share them as best as we can. We each have a few stories left and will continue to post them up until we run out. 


Where’s your smile?

I was standing on the side of the road with my Zambian friend Peter who was very patiently trying to give me an iciBemba (the language spoken in Twapia) lesson. Just down the road from us were three Zambian women who were laughing away the afternoon while  working on household chores under a bright blue sky.  Every time I tried and failed to pronounce an “nde sambileela iciBemba” or some other phrase a new round of laughter would erupt from our audience of three. The oldest of the three was braiding the second eldest’s hair – the youngest, named Rachel, was hard at work scrubbing clothes clean in a metal wash bucket. As soapy water and her knuckles removed red dirt and grime from her clothes she asked me a simple question: “where is your smile?” While living in Twapia I had a serious case of wanderlust, and day by day I’d try to satiate my appetite by meeting interesting people and wandering down off beaten trails and into little nooks and crannies of the township. Sometimes I’d explore with a good friend like Peter, or other days I’d set off on my own. Regardless of if I was with a friend or by my self, these explorations would always be full of great conversations.

An informal bartering system would come into play in every conversation. On one hand you’d have a Zambian from Twapia, who was very curious to hear about a Canadian world so far away from Copperbelt Zambia, and on the opposite you’d have me – the musungu anxious to learn about Twapia and connect to everyone who lived there. Stories were the currency of these situations and I was excited to hear about the lives and stories of all the new faces I met.  I was more than happy to hear these stories for the mere price of sharing one of my own from back home.

When I encountered young adults like Rachel I was very curious to learn more about what people my age in Twapia do. What do these young adults in Twapia do for fun? What are their dreams and aspirations? What direction are they headed? How were they educated? What sort of opportunities do they have? What kind of music do they like?

There’s no set of one answer to these questions – only fragmented memories of red dirt roads and afternoons sipping apple-max with new friends. Afternoons full of sharing stories and hearing and learning about life in Twapia. If we were to ask these questions about our own communities could we come up with a clear answer?

Living and connecting to people made these questions seem so arbitrary, answers and thoughts about them would come out in connections and conversation without a single question ever being asked. So what does life look like for a young adult in Twapia?

Day to day living in a functional sense within Twapia isn’t too different from life in Canada – people still go about the same day to day activities Canadians may, only in a different manner. Cooking, for example, may be done atop a charcoal brazier instead of an electric or gas powered stove. Aluminum pots filled with boiling water and/or “salads” (cooking oil) are the primary method of cooking the staple food, Nshima, and different relishes. Other household tasks, such as washing dishes or cleaning clothes, are typically done in a metal or plastic basin filled with soapy water. Similar activities, but different prioritization and amounts of time spent on each.

While walking through Twapia one might encounter many people washing their clothes or dishes in front of their home – these activities that are as simple as pressing a few buttons for us are a bit more time consuming in Twapia. How much time would westerners spend in front of the TV or on facebook without microwave ovens and washing machines? Some adults might work on these day to day tasks, while others who have full time jobs will spend their day at work. Others might run a small business or spend the day looking for piece work. Aside from some of the differences in day to day living, One aspect of these story sharing conversations which remain to me, clear as day, is a twisted guilty feeling that used to coil its way up through my stomach and choke my heart. Stories about failed ambitions due to a lack of funds for school or an illness in the family would leave me with a mind full of thoughts and a disturbed heart. I’d listen to stories about Twapia and feel a profound frustration when it was my turn to share stories of back home – where as in Canada I was given an infinite deck of get out of jail free cards, it would seem my new friends in Twapia were hindered by their circumstances.

Why did I have such opportunities? I’d scream this question in the crannies of my mind and crevices of my heart, no answers could be found. Rachel is one of the young people I met in Twapia whose  story really embodied this idea of what it means to not have opportunity.  I met Rachel, who was giggling and washing clothes  along with her friends and family, on a Saturday afternoon walk through Twapia. This story begins with Rachel saying a few simple words : “where’s your smile?” Rachel Kangwa January 3rd 1990

Bio: Rachel was born in Ndola Central Hospital and has lived in Twapia her whole life. By 1997 she had enrolled in grade one at Mabango Basic School and after a brief stint at Kansenshi Highschool in 2004 has since graduated from Chifubo High School. She has three brothers, all of whom are in school. While in high school her hobbies were swimming and dancing. Presently she is trying to gather resources to go to College.

Tell us about life in Twapia: “Ummm. Life in Twapia is fine, but a bit boring. Township life isn’t like city life; there are not many activities for young people

What is your Dream?: “Nursing. I dream to be a nurse, I want to help souls that suffer from different sicknesses”

What is your Thirst?: “I want to go to college. I worked hard to graduate high school, but now I am stuck!”

What is poverty Poverty?: “Lacking of things… I am not in poverty like some. There are others in Twapia who must be in poverty!”

What is Opportunity?: “To have a chance to do something, to make something of yourself”

Rachel’s story really resonated with me – often people from Zambia or other African countries are portrayed as very different from Canadians. Different values, different dreams, different needs, different everything! How often do western groups portray other cultures as poor and in need of charity or without their own unique aspirations?

When I met Rachel my thoughts were whisked away from Canada – and I was reminded that even though there are differences due to culture, history, or living conditions, there are also countless similarities. World over people are people. They dream, they laugh, they cry, they smile.

As I learned more about Rachel I was reminded of my younger sister Joanna back In Canada. Both love to dance and had dreams coming out of high school to do amazing things with their lives. Whereas my sister was able to pursue a University education in a field she chose, Rachel is here in Twapia washing clothes – in-between working for a chance to study nursing and make the changes she wants to see in her community come true.

When I spoke with her about “poverty” she told me clearly “no, I am not in poverty”. Through these conversations she shared a nuanced perspective of poverty that I believe has to be shared with everyone in Canada. She shared how the word poverty is often linked to an icibemba word “insala” (hunger), or often defined by her peers, teachers, and elders as a lack of “things”, so that was the definition she used. She didn’t believe she was in need of “things”, she didn’t believe “things” would make the differences in her life that she wanted to see. I feel in her youthful wisdom she shared something important, perhaps purposefully, perhaps not. Maybe we’ve been thinking too much about a concept as bizarre as “poverty” and not enough about enabling “opportunity”?

Maybe that is the problem with us westerners, we’re still using words like “poverty” that have lost meaning in this complex tangles twisted world. Is this the situation for many youth in Twapia? While speaking to a leader in another community he shared with me that there are too few scholarships for bright people to develop the knowledge and skills they need to build a stronger and more prosperous Zambia.Another aspect of her character that defied her definition of poverty was shared to me when she said she was proud that she was working towards having resources for college. She was proud to work with her family to attain better education.

Rachel makes me wonder if poverty is often a state of mind – we believe people need things, money, food, clothes…, shoes – when really perhaps these people don’t want our charity or need it. Maybe what they need is a system that works. Joanna and Rachel are both young girls who love to dance. They both worked hard in high school to get the grades they needed to go to school. But merit alone isn’t enough to secure education – and that is a lack of opportunity that is stopping one amazing young woman in Twapia from “moving forward”. The system Joanna lived in encouraged and supported her move to University, whereas the one Rachel lives under did not. But Rachel didn’t dwell on these things – she is a perpetual optimist.

“Where is your smile?” These words challenged a reply from me – where is my smile? For any number of reasons I had forgotten to wear one – a death in the family? Recovering from Malaria? Work not going well? I stubbed my toe and it REALLY HURT? I couldn’t come up with any rationale to say why I didn’t have one, such a simple question had no simple answer.

Looking around Twapia smiles were never in short supply. The passion for life was tangible in Twapia, you could hear it with your ears in laughter and bright conversation and you could almost taste it with every breath of air. Of course, you could also see it in a smile.  When I told Rachel “I guess I forgot to have one today” she laughed and said “you must always try to find a smile!”.

In my day to day life in Canada I am always challenged by Rachel’s question – where is my smile? Amidst all the opportunities afforded to me to pursue my dreams how is it that I could forget such a thing? Rachel issues a challenge to us to always look for the smile in the simple act of being alive. I haven’t talked to Rachel since I left Zambia – I don’t know if she ever made it to school or not, although it’s my sincerest wish that her hard work is paying off and she’s following her dreams to study nursing. I will always remember her story – the story of someone who refused to be resigned to poverty and stand still in the hustle and bustle of life. The story of someone who always had a smile and challenged the world to do always  find a smile…, and it’d be impossible to forget the many faces of Twapia and the stories they carry – for in Twapia finding a smile isn’t hard at all.

Mini buses are a quick way to get from point A to point B – and sometimes they’ll take you to points C,D, and E along the way! While I was in Zambia if I needed to travel far or travel fast I’d hop on the mini bus. One of these rides was to take the mini bus from Twapia to Ndola where I would catch a motor coach to Lusaka for a giant agriculture show. The Monday following this weekend happened to be Farmer’s Day – a national holiday that falls on the first Monday of August.

The only spot left in the mini bus was next to a man clutching some flyers printed on yellow paper. His name was Felix, and like me, he was headed to Ndola. Over the course of the bus ride we carried a conversation that eventually drifted to holidays. I was curious about Zambian culture and customs – what days do they celebrate and why?  He explained to me the various Zambian Holidays – there seemed to be very many of them.  He asked me about Canadian holidays and I described to him, amongst others, Thanksgiving – his response:

“Sometimes we have little relish for our shima, but we are always thankful. Why in Canada do you have but one day to give thanks?”

I told him I’d share his words with friends back in Canada. It  turns out Felix was an out of work electrician and his flyers were for a household repair business.

(Nshima is the staple food in Zambia and is made with ground maize. Relishes are what goes with the nshima! Beans and cabbage are just two of the many types of relish)

While walking down one of the windswept pathways in Twapia the ripping zig zagging sounds of wood being cut  may be heard drifting on the breeze.  Following those sounds will lead you to a peculiar sight – various furniture projects lined up, side by side, between a red mud home and the path – a small wooden stool, a large chair, a half finished sofa, and a new table are among the items sitting in the sun.These pieces of furniture are creations of a family of carpenters and this house is their home and office. The Mulenga family are local experts in Twapia when it comes to furniture fabrication – sawing timber, assembling frames, and aligning cushions are all tasks you might catch anyone of the family members doing on any given day.

An army of young men commanded by the father of the household work tirelessly to create furniture, some sold locally, other pieces sold on the road side of Kitwe road. Sawing, hammering, and the laughter of the younger Mulenga children are all heard upon approaching the household. It was one of those slow Sunday mornings that brought me to the porch of the Mulenga family. Daybreak was well underway and the roads and wind swept pathways of Twapia were  slowly coming to life. Vegetable stalls and street vendors were setting up their businesses with dedication, although fatigue was also written on their every movement. I remember thinking back to Calgary that day – what would my family do on a Sunday morning? What would other families do? What would I be doing?

Sundays seemed to be a bit slower than other days of the week in Twapia, but only by a little – or perhaps it was just this Sunday. Amongst the quiet of the early morning I heard something loud and clear that may have been lost during the hustle and bustle of the mid day –  I heard the serrated teeth of a saw shredding a piece of a 2×4 in the same way a shark might mall its prey. Listening closer I heard the rhythm of nails joining wood. These sounds were what lead me to meet the Mulenga family – these are also the sounds of men at work on an early Sunday morning. These are the sounds that can be heard, if you listen carefully, on sunny Saturday afternoons, and early weekday evenings. These are just some of the sounds of hard work that never go away in Twapia, for to stop working, to stop trying, can lead to disaster.

My first meeting with the Mulenga family was marked by three things – sneezing, smiles, and sawing. As I began to introduce myself some sawdust must have found its way up my nose and I began sneezing uncontrollably. The younger children started laughing and saying “AHCHOOOO AH CHOOO!!!!”. The carpenter matriarch, Josephine, kept a subtle smile as I struggled to introduce myself. As I began to ask more questions about who the family and their business the sneezing continued and eventually Josephine couldn’t hold it back any more, the smile turned from a subtle one to full on laughter. We were standing outside of the home/house/business and Josephine switched hats from that of the carpenter matriarch to that of the mother as she sat down to tell her story on a Mulenga brand chair, surrounded by her younger children.

Josephine Mulenga

361 Old Twapia

Date of Birth: October 1959

Biography:

Jospehine was born in Kasama, Northern Province in 1959. She spent the first seventeen years of her life there before moving to Twapia. While in Kasama she attended school till grade 3 – due to the long walk to school, the requirement to carry heavy bags of mealie meal to school, as well as financial restrictions she was unable to continue her schooling past this point. Upon moving to Twapia in 1976, her family only spent a short period of time there before moving back to Kasama. Life in Kasama soon became very difficult and the family returned to Twapia, where she has lived ever since. Now married with ten children she runs a small business buying vegetables and household commodities and reselling them at a profit while the rest of her family runs a furniture business.

Life in Twapia: “Twapia is a struggle. Many of us only eat one meal per day. We only eat one meal per day. We buy maize and take it to the hammer mill. It is cheaper that way, but are still hungry. Here food is very expensive, even our house we rent is very expensive. Even school uniforms are expensive. Life is not that good. It is expensive.”

Dream: “I dream of having a nice house and good living.  In my dream we eat good food and children go to school.”

Thirst:”I thirst for having my own house. We could save money, my children would live freely”

Poverty: “Poverty to me is not having food, not owning your house, and not having clothes.”

Opportunity: “Having opportunity is when I find my needs are met, then I can stop worrying and look at new things”

Every time I’d walk down that path in Twapia, where the zig zagging sounds of saws could be heard, I’d see the Mulenga family hard at work on their furniture projects. Over my time in Twapia I saw projects come and go – chairs would be finished, sit in the sun for some time, and disappear – perhaps there was a patron in Twapia who purchased it, or maybe the sold the chair in town.  From time to time I’d stop and chat with the family, I was  always hesitant to bother them when they were hard at work, but I was always invited to stop for a while and share stories with them. My hesitancy surrendered to their hospitality.  Through these conversations I learned bits and pieces about carpentry, the family’s hopes and dreams, and small businesses. Most of these lessons were relayed to me by Josephine.

Aside from being the proud mother of 10 children, Josephine Mulenga is a dedicated businesswoman. On top of the family carpentry business, she has started her own small business buying vegetables and household commodities cheap and reselling them at a profit. Thinking back to one conversation we had about opportunity- “Having opportunity is when I find my needs are met, then I can stop worrying and look at new things, these businesses help me have opportunity”.  Balancing being a caregiver for a family of 10 children while ensuring the success of two businesses is all part of a day’s work for Josephine, mother and entrepreneur.


A solid rock in my Burkinabè life, as well as in the lives of most citizens in Fada N’gourma, mama Evelyne has and always will be an inspiration to me.

Imagine walking up to a stranger’s home. This home hosts family friends of your co-worker who was also a stranger to you just the week before.  You walk up to this home nervously to ask the mother and father if they would take you under their wing for the next 4 months.  In early May of last year, this is exactly what I did.  It was a beautifully clear and starry night when Christian Mouloki (my co-worker) and I went to visit Oumou (a friend of his from Fada) to ask Oumou’s parents, Evelyne and Abdoulayé if they had room for me to stay in their home for my summer placement.  Arriving there to the whole family out in the back courtyard eating together by twilight, and sharing stories about their activities of the day, I immediately felt right at home.  Mama Evelyne was sitting in her chair eating tô and quietly recovering from a long hard day of work, but her warmth and caring smile eased by heart and made me feel right at home.

Mama Evelyne was always looking out for me.  If she heard of a neat event in town, or knew of someone she thought I would enjoy meeting, she would always share this with me and open the path up to me for new and adventurous opportunities.  She would care for me when I was ill, and she would send text messages to me when I was out of town to make sure that I was doing alright.  She would make my favourite meals, and was always eager to help me learn the ways of a Burkinabè woman.

When I had first moved in Christian and I had expressed to the Diaouaris that I would find some way to contribute to the household financially to compensate them for taking me under their wings.  After a month of living with les Diaouaris, I decided it was time to breach the conversation again with mama Evelyne since I felt it was important to clear this up and get finances off of mind.  When I asked mama Evelyne how I could pay for staying in her house she promptly replied that “You are my daughter and I would not make my daughter pay to live in her own home”.  Touched and amazed by her generosity I couldn’t quite get my head around the idea that she didn’t even want anything in return for having me stay in her house for four months.  I didn’t give up there and probed further into what I could pay or offer as compensation for the food I was eating, and the care that they were providing for me.  She again refused money saying that I barely ate anything anyways (my white woman appetite didn’t really measure up to a Burkinabè’s) and offering me only the prospect of buying some gifts for the family once I was done my work in Burkina.  I spent months looking for perfect gifts and some way to contribute to the family, but nothing could offer enough gratitude to them for the amazing care and love that they provided me with.

There was never a time when Mama Evelyne wasn’t thinking of someone else, or contributing to the wellbeing and happiness of others.  A nurse part-time in a clinic that specializes in the treatment and prevention of malnourishment among young children, and the support for and treatment of young and malnourished mothers, mama Evelyne worked most days with babies and mothers from across the region providing them with undying love and support.  She would great anyone that entered with a smile from ear to ear, and had a way with children that put every mother that walked in to ease instantaneously.

Another contribution that she made to society was in the form of volunteering with her church community.  Mama Evelyne worked tirelessly with her Catholic church to plan special events and organize and sing in the choir.  Some Sunday mornings I would go to church with Mama Evelyne if I hadn’t made it to Saturday night mass with my big sisters Natou and Estelle.  Mama Evelyne seemed to know everyone in the church, and everyone respected her and her contribution to the community immensely.  She warm-heartedly introduced me to everyone that we walked by and made me feel at home even in a place where I was sometimes unsure if I was supposed to be.  Her beautiful booming voice would calm everyone’s souls, and her warm smile was contagious.

When mama Evelyne wasn’t busy volunteering with the church, or working at the health clinic she was most often found at the family’s restaurant in the center of Fada.  She had taken over the restaurant from her church community when they couldn’t afford it anymore and ran the business with the help of a few family friends that she hired to serve and to cook.  She ordered the food for the restaurant and went to the market almost daily to pick up the necessary ingredients for the day’s food.  She took care of the finances of the restaurant, and had a level of organization and intelligence far superior to some restaurant managers that I know from Canada.  The food at the restaurant was delicious, and was certainly a hot spot in Fada to eat tô or riz sauce.  On Saturdays mama Evelyne would take most of the morning to wash, prepare and fry the fish that was to be used in the restaurant for the next few days. It was a lengthy process that started early Saturday morning and involved many steps along the way including laying all of the fish out to dry in our courtyard which was always quite a sight.  Those that mama Evelyne had hired on to help at the restaurant were previously unemployed and she was very supportive of their development as young adults up and coming in the world.  One of the servers, Adjaratou stayed in our home in Fada because she had no family in the surrounding area.  Another of the staff who was having a baby was taken good care of by Evelyne who was always supporting anyone she possibly could.

Most indicative of Evelyne’s passion for helping others is her plan post-retirement from the health clinic.  Evelyne has no intention of decreasing her contribution to society when she retires and is putting together a plan to build and develop a center for the prevention of malnourishment among children.   She values strongly the work that is done in the malnourishment treatment clinic that she has worked in for years, but thinks that the problem lies deeper than in treatment and that in order to tackle the problem at its root cause she wants to work on preventing malnourishment from occurring in the first place.  She hopes that this center will educate mothers on the importance of proper nourishment of their children, and dispel some of the traditional beliefs that she feels are contributing to malnourishment.  Mama Evelyne says that women are not properly educated about how to feed their babies, and tackling this root problem by education programs across the region to both urban and rural families would be an amazing first step to reducing the level of malnourishment in the region of Gourma.  She is the sole driver of this project, and is putting together a proposal with the help of her husband papa Abdoulayé to present to the Mayor of Fada N’gourma.  She hopes to recruit some of the other recently retired women from the health clinic to act as the field workers who will deliver presentations and information to rural and urban communities in the eastern region about how to properly nourish new born children.

We often hear about African women being the solid rock of families and communities, and mama Evelyne was a prime example of this.  She holds a warm place in my heart and I can only hope that her dreams and hard work to create a better world will be shared by many more in the community in Fada N’gourma.

Here a few words from Mama Evelyne to share with all of you:

“What developed countries think about Africa is not true.  We as Africans are rich and happy with what we have and what we are.  Africa isn’t just a continent of illnesses, famine, and wars, we would even say that wars are organized and directed by developed countries.  As for famine, yes we have been defavorised by nature, which explains some of our poverty, but let me tell you we are proud.  Yes there are some who don’t eat their fill, but this is not everyone like the false images of TV would have you believe.  These images have nothing to do with our real lives.”

~ Mme Diaouari Lallogo Evelyne

Red brick houses, some coated in plaster others not, trees dressed in green leafs and household mercantile stands line the long, uneven, and pothole ridden paths through Old Twapia. The household stands or businesses come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are small table top shops selling cabbage, Chinese cabbage, and tomatoes while other stalls are wooden stands, complete with roofs, carrying a variety of products ranging from boom laundry paste to sweets. These businesses are started as a means to make money – money to eat, send children to school and pay the rent. While walking down such a path one may pass by the Kasonde family hardware business. A cloth sheet lies just off the path beside the household they currently rent. Axe and hammer heads, wire, locks, and other pieces of hardware are displayed on the tarp. Bertha sits on a tarp under the shade of her family’s rented home’s roof. She is cutting rape (a vegetable common in Zambian dishes) with a rusty knife into a basin for washing and cooking. John is dealing with a customer who is looking for a new axe head and other varied pieces of hardware.

John and Bertha’s business is similar to many found in Twapia – down the streets of Twapia are many house front businesses carrying a variety of goods, which are procured from a variety of places, that a variety of Zambians purchase when needed. I never had need to buy any hardware – however, their house and shop was only a little ways down the trail from where I lived in Twapia so I frequently passed by and exchanged countless awkward greetings with the family as I tried to learn the local language, iciBemba. Overtime I got to know the family a little bit better – our conversations moved from “Mwashibukani?!” “Eeee Mukwai” (A simple morning greeting exchange) to more in depth conversations about their family and their business. It was through these conversations with the Kasonde family about their business and their life stories that I learned of a brand of “hesitant entrepreneurship”.

The family hardware business wasn’t a venture similar to how Canadians might view entrepreneurship. Starting a business wasn’t an innovative idea, a dream, or a means to reach a dream transformed into action. The stories the family would share with me spoke of how they would much rather have a formal employment type of job and the security that came with it. To the Kasonde family entrepreneurship meant responding to difficult circumstances- there were no other choices for them; it was either start a new business and try to scrape some Kwacha together or starve. The business is an attempt to tide things over until the family is able to find more stable forms of income – it’s improvisation and handwork embodied in rusted axe heads and hammer, but this is not their first choice.

Entrepreneurship is often associated with many positive traits – innovation, hard work, dedication, passion, and opportunity. However, how often do we think of entrepreneurship as a response to desperation? A market based survival instinct? The conversations I had with the Kasonde family painted a different picture of entrepreneurship. Were they proud of their business? Of course they were. Was it an honourable action to allow the family to move forward? Yes! But if they had a choice they would much rather opt into the security of a job, not the uncertainty of the hardware entrepreneur.

Bertha shared with me many messages for Canada and many aspects of her life story – I have included them here. Everyone… meet Bertha Kasonde!

Bertha Kasonde

1532 Old Twapia

Date of Birth: 1964

Bio:

Bertha was born north of Ndola in the town of Luanshya in the Copperbelt Province. She attended school for a few years in Luanshya before moving to Ndola region. In 1985, shortly after moving, she married John in Twapia. With John she has eight children, all of whom they tried to send to school; however, despite their efforts one child is not in school. Due to rent prices her family has moved around Twapia several times since 1985 – her family has stayed in their present home for just over a year now.

Life in Twapia:

”We have stayed in Twapia for so many years but it is too hard to have good life. But we are managing. Life in Twapia is very difficult – husband doesn’t work, he just sells hardwares right here. Life is difficult. Mealie Meal costs 65 pin, charcoal 20 pin, salad 30k…, we cannot manage to buy even soap for washing.”

Dream:  “I dream of children never being hungry”

Thirst: “I need a permanent plot to look after children.  When I have a place for them my children will be okay. Right now it is always moving, so much goes to paying rent. “

Poverty: “When we suffer. When there is no jobs, when there is no work there is little food. Little school”

Opportunity: “When there are jobs these is opportunity. Jobs open doors. We move forward”

Bertha’s words to Canada represent a desire for security. To her, home businesses are full of risk and uncertainty – one day a person may come by and purchase an axe head and some other tools and that purchase may be the only transaction the Kasonde family makes that week. Even though her family started the only hardware shop in their section of Twapia their sales are still inconsistent -yet everyday I’d see Bertha and John manning the tarp waiting for customers.  Sometimes it seemed like they were waiting for rain in the dry season.

The Kasonde family work hard. Recently some robins have nested near my bedroom window in Canada; the mother robin never seems to leave the nest unless it’s time to get food. This diligence reminds me of the Kasonde family -John and Bertha work tirelessly at their shop, trying to sell what others need, unless it becomes imperative they get money, for rent or food, in which case John would seek out day-to-day labour or piece work and Bertha would remain behind at the shop. With no jobs available and no employment, this family has worked to create opportunities and progress in their lives in the form of a home business.  After all what other choice did they have? This business is buoyed by determination, hard work, entrepreneurship, and diligence – but it is also fuelled by a very real need for food, rent, and school fees as it fills a void left by no secure jobs. Every time the family is forced to relocate due to rent, every time sales are slow, every time school fees are late the family still bounces back. They find a new home to rent, they find new customers, and strive to find a way to put their children in school. Out of hope they move beyond adversity and desperation.

My first meeting with Mr. Ali was on the main street in the center of Bogandé.  Called the main street because it is central to the city, and leads to the market, but in no way a main street like one would expect in Canada.  The street was bustling, but rather than being packed with cars and honking horns it was bustling with people walking to and from the market, and socializing in the street.  It is an unpaved road lined with shops where merchants are selling things ranging from baobab flower candies to motorcycle tires.  The most important sale that was being made on that street in Mr. Ali’s opinion was the beautifully painted green waste bins locally designed, built and painted for the Woman’s Association of the Commune of Bogandé’s Waste Disposal Project.

Mr. Ali is the President of the Technical Committee for the Bogandé Waste Disposal Project.  This committee was established once Helvetas, a Swiss NGO came in to support the project both financially, and organizationally. As the head of the Technical Committee, Mr. Ali was in charge of providing technical advice to, and finding builders for, the construction of all technical aspects to the Waste Disposal Project.  This included the small green waste bins sold to households, restaurants and merchants; the large green waste bins that were built in the market while I was in Bogandé; and the city waste bins that were used for communal waste disposal.  He also contracted out and supervised the construction of the transfer site where sorting and composting of the waste was to happen, the donkey carts used for transportation of the waste, and the final depot 3km from the community where the waste finally came to rest.

Mr. Ali had an eye for detail.  Educated as a Rural Engineer (the most common form of engineering studied in Burkina), Mr. Ali had a great amount of experience in his field, and was determined to create and design the best projects for his community.  I went with Mr. Ali on a number of visits to the various depots and technology development sites.  A project was never perfect for Ali, and he always had recommendations to offer in order to bring things closer to his level of perfection.

Mr. Ali also worked at the Mayor’s Office and was thus able to communicate with the Mayor and the Secretary General in order to further the support for the Women’s Association.  Although I give most of the credit to the Women’s Association for their drive and determination in the Waste Disposal Project, the Technical Committee, led my Mr. Yarga Ali, is definitely a key factor in the success of the project.  Mr. Ali was able to act as a liaison between the Women’s Association and the Mayor’s Office.

Ali helped the women report on their activities in order to monitor and evaluate the project, and see areas of improvement that they could act upon.  He also supported them in financial training, since the women were not used to dealing with a budget the size that they received from Helvetas and the Mayor’s Office support.  Mr. Ali was extraordinarily supportive of the women, and was always looking for ways to push the project forward.  He traveled to another community named Tenkoudougou with my co-worker from Helvetas in order to learn about how the women of Tenkoudougou had started a composting program as well as a plastic recycling program.  He stayed with the women for 10 days in order to learn from them, support them, and bring as much knowledge back to the community of Bogandé as possible.

I’m proud to report that the Women’s Association of Bogandé is now going through a training program in order to learn about the benefits of composting, the mechanisms for composting, and the strategies for composting.  They will launch the composting project once this training program is complete, and the women hope to produce enough compost in order to sell it to local farmers for a small profit.  They plan to put this money back into the Waste Disposal Program in order to create a more health conscious and more organizationally stable association.

Mr. Ali as I said is a major player in the success of the Waste Disposal Project and was also a major inspiration to me as an appropriate technology engineer in Burkina.  All of the technology for the project was made with local materials, and with local handiwork, and much of it was an art to see.  Mr. Ali was always willing to share his expertise, along with his passion for Africa and for Bogandé.  Here a few of his words of passion that he wanted to share with all of you:

Africans aren’t poor like occidental people think.  In Africa there isn’t just famine and war.  There is also peace, and solidarity.  In African families there is solidarity and a great sense of hospitality.   We are culturally rich and we have rich basements.  It’s just the management of our wealth that poses problems.  Take the example of Bogandé; there isn’t a single family that doesn’t raise livestock, which constitutes one of the sources of revenue in the community.  So it is not as if we are extraordinarily poor like some people think.  In Bogandé we don’t wait for aid, we don’t depend on others.  As the saying goes “if you sleep under the mat of someone else, you are still sleeping on the ground.”

If a person were to set out wandering through Twapia it’s very likely that they would end up passing through the central market. The major road into Twapia, the only paved road in the township, meets its abrupt end at the entrance to the marketplace. Old Twapia market is a gathering place for many people from all walks of life. Children pass through on their way to the football field nearby while women drift in between stalls and shops looking for odds and ends for their households. The outer frame of the market is made up of permanent brick buildings, but the real market exists behind these buildings; stalls of various shapes and sizes rest behind the brick buildings and play host to a world of activity.

Most stalls are made of a wooden frame with some sort of tarp or sheet metal providing covering. Peeking into one stall might reveal a mountain of colourful “tropicals” – the Zambian slang for sandals. Other stalls have chitenge – sheets of patterned cloth – hanging from the rafters, draped over the walls, and folded neatly on tables waiting to be sold. Congolese material, which is generally acknowledged to be the fabric of choice, is hung on the wall.   Smaller stalls selling a variety of products – phone chargers, razors, cooking oil, odds and ends, and coca cola are also present. Veggie stalls selling rapini, cabbage, yams, and other produce are located in the middle row of all the stalls.

Amidst the permanent buildings are a few bars and taverns. These taverns and bars are never completely vacant; men and women congregate within, drinking at all hours of the day, while Zambian tunes blast through the loud speakers. Outside of one bar is a pool table – pool is a favourite past time for quite a few Zambians in Twapia.

Old Twapia market is also the gathering place for mini buses – buses come and go just outside of a row of grocers and bars.  Mini buses line up at all hours of the days – waiting for the bus to fill before departing to Ndola town which lies off in the distance down the Kitwe road tarmac. I made many early morning trips, usually around six o’clock to six thirty in the morning, to the mini bus station on the outskirts of the market.

One day while looking for a store to buy some “Boom” (a detergent paste used to clean clothes in a bucket. Think blue tooth paste that has the soapy chemical smell of tide.),  I stopped in the first brick building off of the road. Upon walking into this shop the sounds of a chicken struggling could be heard behind the counter and a man dressed in black walked right past me. I take a seat against the wall on the left waiting for the shop owner to emerge from behind the counter to speak for his interview. While I wait women dressed in chitenge come and go after buying various items and paying the shop keeper – still shrouded by the wire mesh in front of the counter. As I wait, the man dressed in black walks in carrying a knife and hands it to the shopkeeper. Suddenly the chicken’s pleas for life are cut silent with one last shriek. The man in black runs off to do whatever his next errand is and  a man wielding a crimson painted knife and bloody hands emerges from behind the counter: “How are you today?”

This man is Musa Piri, proprietor – shop owner, butcher, grocer, manager and customer service specialist!

Musa Piri

Bio:

In 1974 Musa was born in Ndola to a family of grocers – small shop owners who sell a variety of products ranging from soda pop to razor blades. His family was staying in Lubuto where he attended school till grade nine. However, his family was unable to fund his schooling past this point as his father was desperate for cash. In 1990 he moved to Chingola to work as a farmer. From 1990 till 1995 he worked growing cabbage and maize. As the farm became more successful it grew until Musa no longer desired to farm and he returned to Twapia to start a business with his farming profit. In September 2003 he opened his shop in the Old Twapia market – a general grocery with everything from talk time to soy pieces. Musa currently is married with four children.

Life in Twapia: “It’s hard to stay in Twapia. In Twapia it is hard to live. What happens is no assistance. Even if you want to make a business go forward you can’t if you live in Twapia.”

Dream: “In my mind what I can say is to push my business forward. I will try using all my means. I apply for a loan but they say I need to use a title deed as collateral. But I just rent my shop.”

Thirst: “I need capital to push me forward, right now I am renting this building. With capital I could set out on my own”

Poverty: “Poverty comes when you are sitting and you don’t get something else. You are stuck in the same place. In poverty you may lack things you need to move but you still must try”

Opportunity: “Being able to move forward. Me I am a grocer just like my father. Did I move forward?”

I visited Musa a few times during my stay in Twapia. Although his prices were a bit higher than the other stalls around town I always appreciated the conversations I could have with him. His life stories of changes and trials shared with me a sense of tenacity mixed with remorse over unfinished schooling and a desire to walk a different road than his father – and a hope that his children would never have to make the choice to walk his road.  Small business owners in Zambia, entrepreneurs, face a variety of challenges – some similar to those of their Canadian counterparts, others situational and unique to their communities. Musa would remark how fluctuations in the community’s livelihood would directly impact his ability to run a successful business – since his store offered an all in one stop for various needs in Twapia it was unique – many of his products could be purchased separately at market stalls but he offered a one stop shop for household needs. However, in his business, despite being a one man show, there is high overhead and many risks. Stocking his shop in a unpredictable and ambiguous environment proved difficult. “I’ve had these bottles of water for months” he said, grinning and pointing at a bottle of water, one of many leaning on the wall. “But I hope it might sell soon”.There is no support from governments or banks for his business – every risk, success, and failure rests only on Musa’s shoulders. In a community where high unemployment is the norm and many may give up on the notion of a successful business, but Musa does not.

Musa’s determinism to ride through ambiguous, and often choppy waters, as a businessman stands out to me. His ability to constantly try to learn and improve his business, in an environment where no customers are guaranteed, while managing risks and trying to provide for his family demonstrates this determinism in full colour.

The sun was high and the world was silent – aside from the wind’s gentle rustling of the grass or the mechanical sounds of passerby minibuses on the asphalt tarmac of Kitwe road . But it might as well have been silent all the time – my mind didn’t wander to these sounds, I was captivated and my eyes were focused on the scene evolving only a meter in front of me.

Twapia and the surrounding area is a world of activity. Every time I stepped out of the house and my feet hit the red dirt paths I could tread forward with confidence knowing that there were countless unique experiences waiting for me.  One Saturday, a windy and cold day, I was wondering around the roadside markets of Twapia Junction. Most of the market stalls carried beaded necklaces, masks, drums, carved animals, and other wooden carvings. However as I walked further past the junction and down Kitwe road I found that the roadside art market had much more to offer. Further down the road a wall of colour comes into site.

Oil paint, canvas, wooden frames. An array of brightly coloured paintings depicting village life is accompanied by a corrosive scent, reminiscent of rubbing alcohol, carried on the breeze along with specks of red dust. It’s late June and the wind howls –  sending chills up my spine and tossing dust into my mouth. I’m for the first time standing in front of  a group of men with brushes in their hands and empty containers of paraffin paint thinner at their feet.  Brushes swirl, dancing over canvas, calling a world stitched together with  the artist’s memories, experience, imagination, and oil paints to life. The canvases are made from scrap wood and a chitenge (patterned cloth sold in 2m or 4m lengths) painted white.

The ever resourceful painters of the road side combine self taught technique with business sensibility to create oil based representations of life that are one part nostalgic and one part romanticized – portraying a simpler way of life from their childhood or the stories they might have been told. Paintings that show groups of people dancing by a fire, fishing from the stream, fording a vast forest, or simply preparing dinner are proudly displayed on the roadside – weathered by the day to day thrashing they receive. The wind is as sand paper scraping along side the paintings with the red dust it tosses through the air and it has left a thick red coating on top of the paint.

“we paint the old life” one painter remarks -” that is what people want to see.”  “I paint what I want. I want to eat, I want my children in school, so I paint what sells. You see, what sells is what I want to paint.” A painter in a black hat remarked to me. This painter’s name is Webster.

Everyone, meet Webster!

Webster Kapumpa

Bio:

Webster was born in Kasama in Zambia’s Northern Province in 1962.  The family he was welcomed into was a large Bemba family. His childhood was spent in Kasama where he was in and out of school for many years due to financial hardship. By 1983 he stopped school completely; he never completed grade seven. In 1986 at the age of twenty six he moved to Twapia to start a new life on his own and has remained there since. During his time in Twapia he has worked a variety of jobs before eventually settling on painting; an art he learned from his family, but perfected through years of practice. In 1993 he married his wife and is now the father of seven children, five of whom are in school – the remaining two cannot go to school due to finances. When not painting on the sides of Kitwe Road Webster can be found with his family or looking for piece work.

Life in Twapia: “Life in Twapia…, It’s okay but money is scarce. Jobs are scarce. The things we need are scarce. But it’s where we live, it’s all we have.”

Dream: “Capital to have a farm to stay would be just okay. Right now all I can do is paint a bit, or maybe do some piece meal. If I had a farm my work would at least feed the children.”

Thirst: “a permanent place to stay. Rent is not okay; it costs too much and many things start to cost too much. If I didn’t have to pay rent, much more of my earnings would go to food or school. Maybe medicine too.”

Poverty: “Not having what you want to have, what you need to have, It’s poor money. Poor staying. Poor food. It’s not living. We’re in poverty. We don’t even own our home. We sometimes have no food. ”

Opportunity: “When I have a farm I can change what I do. Opportunity is being able to change what you can do, what your children can do. ”

When I first met Webster he was hard at work painting his latest work. Although it looked effortless for him to transform a blank canvas into a still story. Webster would nonchalantly continue to weave his painting’s story while sharing with me stories from his life. But his concentration was always primarily placed on the canvas. I stood there in awe, asking a few clumsy questions here and there as he created another painting. The roadside was both his office and his studio, yet I never felt like an interloper and he always was willing to share a story or his work with me. I visited Webster once a week, or so, on my walks through the township – over time I developed an urge to try painting. Webster was supportive of the idea and he set up a palette – an old piece of plastic – along with some paints. The paints came in old plastic containers reminiscent of yogurt containers we have in Canada.  He sat there with a grin as I struggled to capture the roadside landscape on canvas. “I have a lot to learn, Webster” I said – he laughed and told me to be patient, after many years I’d be a pro like him.

Patience comes to mind when I think of the artistic Webster working by the road side. He pours dedication, passion, and patience into each and every painting he works on. Whenever I watched him work on his paintings I would stand there in awe as his commitment to painting, not only as a means of art, but as a means of living, was visible. Webster told me once that his business doesn’t lead to quick change, but he is using what he knows to improve his family’s life – he is using his painting talent. Many Zambians, like Webster, are not passive in their work – just as Webster uses his talents and skills to improve his own lot so do countless other Zambians. Webster combines art with pragmatism to move forward.

Rainatou Diaouari’s smile could warm up any room, and her hugs and support will always warm my heart.   A mother, a teacher, a leader… but most important to me, she is one of my sisters.  I have many sisters in Burkina that treated me more and more like family as we got better acquainted, but Natou was a special one, who treated me like her sister from the very start and was always there as a support for me.

I lived with a host family, les Diaouaris, in the town of Fada N’gourma in eastern Burkina Faso.  Mama Eveline, and Papa Abdoulayé are at the head of this family, and have eight incredible children living all over Burkina.  The youngest, 18, is Esaie who lives in Ouagadougou and is studying to become a Civil Engineer, and the eldest is Marguerite who is 36, and lives with her husband and 2 children in Ouaga.  I was able to meet all but 1 of the Diaouari children, but was closest to Natou, and Oumou who were at the Diaouari house in Fada most of the time.

(From left to right: Aziz, Oumou and Natou)

I met Natou a couple of weeks into my placement when she came to visit from Piela, a 1.5hour drive away from Fada.  She lives in Piela with her husband and her beautiful 3 year old daughter Océanne and teaches in the local elementary school.  I only got to meet her husband a couple of times, but was lucky enough to live with Natou and Océanne at the Diaouari household in Fada once Natou finished teaching in June.  When I first met Natou she took me straight to the market since she’d heard that I was a big fan of Burkinabè cloth (called pagnes).  She was a skilled shopper, and helped me pick out the most beautiful pagnes, and purchase them at the most reasonable prices.  We bonded that day over our love for the market, but this was just the start of a long and beautiful friendship.

Natou was particularly helpful at supporting my efforts towards becoming a true Burkinabè woman.  Although she may have giggled at me a lot in the beginning, she helped me perfect the art of doing my laundry by hand, bartering in the market, and making riz gras (which is a main dish that they have at lunch in Burkina, of rice, oil, cabbage, and wild eggplant).  Her and I went to church on Saturday nights, and we rode there on the motorcycle with Océanne in between us.  She was also very supportive of my soccer playing and helped me pick out a soccer outfit at the market, and came to support a few of my games.

(Natou shows me how to clean a fish)

I also developed a very close friendship with Natou’s daughter, Océanne.  When they first came to visit Océanne was a bit shy around me.  Imagine if, as a 3 year old, you went to your grandma and grandpa’s house one day, only to find a green person sitting on their porch.  Océanne must have felt like I was an alien in her papi and mami’s place, and she was definitely apprehensive about me at first.  But it wasn’t all apprehension; there was definitely also a very curious side to her.  She would follow me around the house and would giggle when I caught her in hot pursuit.

A few days after I had met Natou and Océanne I bought some Sangria for the family to celebrate all of us being together.  Sangria is the Diaouari’s favourite drink, but above all sangria-lovers, I think we could place Océanne at the top.  I have never seen a 3 year old girl so obsessed with fruity wine.  This always provided for a hilarious sight to see a tipsy 3 year old giggling around the porch.  On this particular night she was starting to warm up to me and become extremely cuddly… which is when I made my big mistake.  I was tickling Océanne and we were having a great time, when she walked away to get some more “juice”.  I decided to grab her as she was walking away and pick her up to tickle her.  BIG MISTAKE.  This set off a long session of screaming and crying, and put me right back at step one, or maybe even further back than step one, at becoming friends with Océanne.

(Océanne and I sharing a dish of riz sauce)

Luckily after a day or 2 had gone by, Océanne had forgotten this adventure and started to become friendly with me again.  She started to come sit on my lap while we were having dinner on the porch, and she would always come hold my hand.  We became the best of friends.  We would eat our food off the same plate (though I had to battle her on how much salt we put on the plate…another obsession that she had), come cuddle up with me at night, and constantly ask for me to fly her like an airplane around the yard.  My heart was warmed when I came back from a work trip one day to hear that Océanne had called while they were back in Piela for a week.  Océanne on the phone had kept saying “Est-ce que Annelies est là, je veux parler à tantie Annelies”.  Clearly a friendship that I will never forget, and one that I hope to keep developing through phone calls and post cards.

(Océ proudly wearing the outfit I bought her at the market, and her uncles big shoes)

On my last night in Fada N’gourma we held a party at the Diaouari household.  Papa Abdoulayé and I headed out in the morning to buy chickens from the market, while Natou and Delphine (Natou’s cousin) went to the “women’s market” to buy spices for the dinner.  Papa Abdoulayé and I didn’t have to go far on papa’s motorcycle until we saw a man bicycling along with 3 live chickens hanging off each handle bar.  I bought 3 and we were saved the ride all the way to the market.  Esaie and Aziz (2 of my older brothers) killed and prepared the chicken, and from then on, Natou, Oumou, and Delphine took over the cooking and would not let anyone else help out.  Wow did they ever put together a beautiful feast, and what an amazing send off party it was.  We ate chicken in an amazing sauce that we soaked up on baguettes, and then had attiéké which was my favourite dish in Burkina (made from cassava, onions and tomato).  After the feast was over, we moved on to the dancing, and to the sound of Esaie’s favourite Burkinabè tunes, we danced around on the back porch and celebrated the amazing 4 months we had spent together.  What a warming feeling to have so much family around me in a place so far from my Canadian home.

I was told before I went to Burkina that Burkinabès don’t hug, and that they feel uncomfortable when you show strong emotions around them.  This is just yet another stereotype that was broken for me during my life in Burkina Faso.  When it was about a week before the end of my placement I was overcome with emotions of sadness about leaving Burkina, and about leaving les Diaouaris.  Although I tried to hide my tears, Natou picked up on my sadness, and embraced me and comforted me.  She put me at ease in her arms, and said that we should not be sad to part because she knew that we would be reunited in some way.  For her, and for many others, I would jump back on a plane to Burkina at the drop of a hat.

Here a few words Natou wanted to share with all of you:

Hi mi name is Rainatou Diaouari.

I am a teacher and I love sharing my knowledge with my students who are proud and happy to learn and be taught. Here in Burkina there is a joy for life because everyone loves one another and has friendly relationships.  We also have amazing tourist attractions that form the beauty of Burkina Faso.  I invite you to Burkina to discover our dear country that we love so.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 11 other followers

Categories