Is It Worth It?
I attended a wedding party for my host sister and her fiancé. My good friend Jen came all the way over here to share Thanksgiving dinner with me. I killed the turkey. (Note for next time: Use a sharper machete...) We took a canoe out on a lake and saw hippos. I almost got gored by a bull. (Seriously, it was close. An old man who heard the story said the only reason the bull turned at the last second was that I was “in direct communication with God.”) I was stranded for 12 hours on the side of the road in the African bush when the driver of my bus could not produce his “papers” at a military checkpoint. I, for the first time since I began teaching in Burkina Faso almost 2 years ago, had to leave class in the middle of a lesson to take care of some very pressing “business.” (“Uh, I’m sorry class, but I forgot something at the office, and I need to go get it right now!” I don’t think I fooled anybody.) I had a Big Mac in Paris. I met up with my buddy Rob in Luxembourg. I ate kangaroo, emu, and crocodile in Germany. (All three dishes- better than sheep brains...) I connected with my brother Jeremy in London and met his girlfriend for the first time. Jeremy, Rob, and I saw every single tourist site in the city of London in 2 hours and 13 minutes. (We were a bit pressed for time...) Rob and I ate Christmas dinner in Paris a block from the Cathedral of Notre Dame. On the menu? Reheated Chinese food. I surprised my friend Erica (on her way to visit me in Burkina) in the airport in Paris. We hiked up, down, and along the beautiful cliff running through Dogon Country in Mali. I danced (uh, tried to dance) a traditional little jig accompanied by a chorus of djembe drums. I got peed on by a goat stuffed under my seat on public transport. I rang in the New Year with Erica on the roof of the Peace Corps house in the capital. First noteworthy event of 2007? On our way to dinner New Year’s Day, our truck ran out of gas in the middle of a busy intersection- not the best start to a new year I’ve ever had. (Though, to be fair, no the worst either...) I learned that while I was in Europe, the Burkina military basically declared war on the Burkina police. I said goodbye to my neighbor Dieudonné, one of my best friends in village (and captain of our neighborhood’s soccer team which he named- what else? - The Red Sox), who left for the Ivory Coast hoping to earn enough money there to be able to return to Bomborokuy and start his own business. I celebrated the birthday of my colleague and mentor, Bazie. I got sick from the wild rabbit meat Bazie prepared for said celebration. I held the 3-day-old baby daughter of a friend of mine in Nouna. I attended a horse festival in a neighboring village where over 50 horses and their riders competed for prizes and prestige. Oh yeah, and from time to time I taught math to my 200+ students (one of whom, after I scolded him for cheating on a test, apologized and wished me a long life).
Gobble Gobble Gobbaahk!
Just like I remember it
Jeremy and me being funny
So there you have it. Maybe you thought that was my blog entry for this time around. Actually, that was just my list of excuses for why it’s been so long since I’ve written. Now, for my actual entry...
Today was an amazing day. When I woke up this morning and started writing this blog entry, I was planning to reflect on a question that was posed to me a number of times by a few different people while I was in Europe: Is Peace Corps worth it? Am I wasting my expensive college education here in the African bush? Am I leaving thousands of dollars on the table- money that could go to help people in Burkina Faso if I were so inclined- by opting for a two-year volunteer gig instead of entering the workforce? I’ve thought a lot about those questions. And I had a really good plan for how I was going to lay out my argument in this blog entry for why Peace Corps is in fact worth it. It had to do with the three goals of the organization and how I believe we are better at achieving the second two goals (that other peoples learn about Americans and that Americans learn about other peoples) than we are the first (meeting the country’s need for trained men and women) but that’s ok because the second two goals are really important especially considering our increasingly interconnected world and the not-so-flattering image many in that world have of us as Americans. My argument was going to be phrased much more eloquently than that, and I was planning on breaking up that run-on sentence into at least 2 or 3 separate sentences. But then I had an amazing day today, and it entirely changed the way I now think about the question, “Is Peace Corps worth it?”
Last week, the father from the host family I lived with during my first 3 months of training gave me a call. We’ve stayed close ever since I was shipped off to begin my service in Bomborokuy; I’ve been back a number of times to visit, my host brother came out to my village to see me, we talk on the phone every now and then. My host dad was the one who gave me the name Wend Panga. So he called last week. He told me that Mama was very sick and that he could not afford the medicine she needed. I told him that I could come into the capital that weekend if he could meet me there. We made a plan to meet up in Ouagadougou.
I met with him this afternoon. We went out to lunch and talked about our families. He asked if my parents back in the States liked the gifts he sent them. I asked how his two little ones were faring in grade school. He asked about my time with my brother in London. I asked how his oldest son was doing at his new job. It was nice. Afterwards, we went back to the Peace Corps hostel to talk about what it would take to get Mama the exams and medicine she needed.
Papa was very uncomfortable asking for my help. He is very proud, and he seemed frustrated at himself for having to seek out help to care for his family. He showed me all the receipts for the different exams and medications Mama would need. As is the case with so many important goods and services in this country, while the costs were prohibitively high for my Papa, they were low when considered with a Western frame of reference. I gave him the money without a second thought.
I am not going to do a very good job capturing what happened after that. Papa tried to thank me, got choked up, and started crying. He kept trying to talk but couldn’t through his tears. I hugged him and started to tear up as well. When he could finally speak he thanked me and prayed for God to protect me always. I explained to him how small my gift to him was compared to all that he and his family had done for me during these two years. We each expressed how blest we were that God saw fit to put the other in our life. It was the most powerful moment I have experienced since arriving in Burkina Faso. It is not an exaggeration to say that it was one of the most powerful moments I have experienced in my life.
Is Peace Corps worth it? That gift to my host father would be called what, for many development workers, is a dirty word: unsustainable. It is a one-off gift that will hopefully help one family avoid one possible crisis this one time. But that money wasn’t what made today amazing. Today was amazing because I shared a moment I will never forget with a frail 60-year-old Burkinabe man who calls me son and who I call father. It was amazing because I felt like I caught a quick glimpse of a small part of God’s plan, and it overwhelmed me. I knew that my 2 years in Africa would have an effect on me. I never would’ve guessed that a single moment would touch me in such a powerful way.
So, yeah, this experience is worth it.