Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Permaculture Weekend (#4) at Camp Epworth

Once a month, for the past four months, I have made the gorgeous drive to High Falls, NY, to stay at Camp Epworth ( for the weekend and to learn a little more about Permaculture Design. Every weekend I come home totally jazzed.

This weekend, my classmates presented their research projects (I-thankfully-received an extension), which were all awesome, but I will share just a couple with you.

Below is Simon with his beautiful poster. I hope you can see it alright, but if you can't read it, it says, "How to eat shit & thrive" and it's about composting toilets.
And below is Yusuf explaining about aquaponics. He is building a great system in his community nearby, so he is filled with awesome first-hand knowledge.
We had a great weekend learning about all sorts of things; how diet effects children with behavioral issues, challenges involved with managing a refugee camp, the origin of apples, and how to build ponds/dams and swales, among other things.

Below, I've included a few pictures of our small-scale earthworks projects in the snow. Ethan (one of our teachers) took us out with spoons and using the humps made by the snow plow along the side of the road, showed us (using some good kinesthetic teaching) how to make a dam, using our knowledge of contour and slope.

WHY EARTH WORKS? Isn't it totally against all those tree-hugging, soil-munching ideals to use big machines (or not) to disrupt a lot of soil and change things around?

The idea here is that the energy input will not only be balanced by the amount of energy that is caught and stored by the changed system, it will be far surpassed. Find a leverage point and make the smallest change for the greatest result.

Swales and dams are great examples of this. Water is a form of energy and in our current global state, it is one of huge value and diminishing availability. Swales, or long ditches dug on contour (level), are used to catch and spread water out, allowing it to soak into the ground. It's an alternative to drainage ditches, which generally lie on a slope, directing flow down to a certain spot, bringing topsoil with it and continuing to leave the land above without water. Dams, which should never be used to block running water, can be built to create a basin in which it can be caught and stored.

Below: attaching a swale to a dam/pond, allows excess water to spill out, and spread out.
Below: The spoons represent trees. Planting into the mound on the downhill side of a swale helps with erosion and becomes a very fertile bed.
After we watched Ethan make some sweet swales and dams, we took our spoons out and did it ourselves...

I'll leave you with one of my favorite things I learned this weekend.

The Law of Two Feet: if you are engaged in an activity and are not learning or contributing anything, use your two feet to go somewhere else.

Friday, February 13, 2009


On Wednesday I had a very exciting last day in Ouagadougou riding around with Maria's driver Lassina, eating roasted plantains and walking around markets. We visited the artisan village designed expressly for tourists, where they sold expensive interesting things that did not really remind me of Burkina, after which Lassina observantly noted that perhaps it is not the things one brings back from a journey but the feelings.

I had a small entourage who accompanied me to the airport, including my friend Josione, who drove all the way from Sapone to wave goodbye. Yedi got a nose bleed right before we left, but insisted on coming anyway, getting to accompany me all the way through customs. We made quite a pair; him with blood all over his shirt and tissue in his nostril and me walking bent over at the middle because of some stomach nasties.

The flights home were long, and watching the African landscape slide away under the clouds was sad. It suddenly felt as though I really hadn't been there much time at all. Walking around the domed airport in Paris and then feeling the cool whipping wind of New York on my face brought me a feeling of whirling in which surreal state I've been floating for the past 24 hours. I plan on writing up a trip report and putting together a slide show in the coming week, and though I have a lot of digesting and readjusting to do, I would be happy to share both once I catch my breath.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

CSPS de Dassasgho, Section 28

I spent the better part of today at the maternity of CSPS de Dassasgho, a public hospital of Ouagadougou. It was a pretty calm day, which meant that everyone had all the time in the world to ask me questions about the States. There were a lot of great questions about things people learn via popular hip-hop music videos, such as, "aren't their mothers embarrassed that they wear earings just like a girl?!" Everyone was super nice and they tried to convince me to stay another month and do another internship with them. Below are two of the accoucheuses who were on duty this afternoon, both of whom were very enthusiastic about showing me around. This hospital, though wealthier than Saponé's, is still sparsly equipped. I was happy to note though, that there is soap at every sink and the floors are mopped at least twice a day. Below is a picture of one of the two recovery rooms. Women who did not have any complications during birth are required to stay 48hrs, and then come back in 6 days for a check-up. The recovery room seems large when it's empty like this, but when there are two women recovering, their whole family comes around, and the space is very quickly filled.
Though there were no births today, there were two women in labor, and several prenatals. Everyone was very excited to let me show off what I've learned, and got a kick out of my hesitant Morré. I also had the opportunity to give some injections for malaria during pregnancy, which is a some what complicated process because it is a coctail of three different medications.

Above is my buddy Ada, who hung out with me all day. She is the child of one of the women who cleans the maternity, and her job is mainly to go get things for the accoucheuses. I split my snack with her before I left and she gave me a thumbs up and ran away.

I leave tomorrow on an 11pm flight, so during the day I will be running around do all the last minute things I wanted to do, but haven't yet. I will be sure to write when I get home, perhaps after my permaculture workshop this weekend (and I'll tell you all about it!)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Meeting Lazy Lucy

Tragically, I wrote an awesome post and as I went to publish it, the internet cut out. Well, actually the power did. Anyway, I am sorry that this one is therefor done in haste and probably not nearly as good.

My last breakfast on Friday in Saponé (below) was the traditional milky something that I was often invited to share after doing the over-night shift. It was among many imprudent food choices that probably contributed to my currently rioting belly.

As I was dragging all of my things to the truck that was going to take me back to Ouagadougou, Clarisse and Zakaria showed up with a present for me from the Service (below). Clarisse is one of the accoucheuse at the clinic maternity, and Zakaria is the head boss of the clinic. They were both absolutely fabulous about teaching me and showing me strange things. Zakaria turned out to be my all-time best chaperone, speaking English with hilarious word arrangements and almost killing me on his motorcycle (as it began to shake and wobble, I decided it would be better to look stupid than die, and jumped off seconds before it went spinning into the bush-he and the bike were fine.)
I returned to Ouagadougou in time for an office party and began to feel a little out of sorts. However, I could not pass up the opportunity to do some tourism when Pascaline volunteered to take me the next day. Pascaline is the secretary at the FDC office in Ouaga and speaks English well when she wants to, and who happens to not like crocodiles very much.
When I agreed to be ready to go by 7:30am, I did not know where we were going or what I was going to see. I also should not have taken the time literally, as we did not leave until 9:30am, and made a whole bunch of detours on the way. By the time we were done saying "hi" to eveyone's aunties, buying snacks, and picking up and dropping off people, the sun was pretty high in the sky and it was hot. We took the road south out of Ouaga and headed for a place called Bazoulé.
Bazoulé, it turns out, is a crocodile park. We followed our guide (who held two flailing chickens and a large stick in his hands) around a large brown pond, and were soon accompanied by three rather sun burnt French men in excellent tourist attire. Arriving at a little peninsula with huge crocodiles scattered around, the guide announced it was time to touch the crocodiles and take pictures. The French men were not enthused. Though perhaps enthused is not the right word, I was not hard to convince...the animals were sleeping, weren't they? I straddled a dozing giant and touched the muddy scales with the tip of my fingers. I named her Lazy Lucy, and true to her name, she slowly blinked an eye at me and passed out again. The French men did not want to be shown up by a little American (why am I always little??), and soon were having a great time getting their white shoes muddy.
After all the pictures were taken, the guide invited us to help him feed those poor terrified chickens to the honkin beasts, and as the feathers flew, Pascaline and I decided to check out the nearby farming opperations (people take advantage of any water). Pascaline wanted to buy some tomatoes, so we got to wander around and pick them ourselves. It felt so good to walk the rows of a beautiful garden. I love how they plant their tomatoes with cucumbers to make them sweeter, and their peppers with parsley to make them stronger.

We returned to Ouaga for lunch, and after many more detours, headed north out of the city to a very rural area that just happens to have one of the larger museums in Burkina. It was a bumpy ride, and everything in the museum was super dusty, but it was great to check out all the crazy masks and costumes. Most things were sacred relics, so I wasn't allowed to take pictures, and the ones I did get aren't so great. The best part of the museum though was the party room. There was a whole section dedicated to traditional parties (birth, marraige) which was filled with instruments. As this is Burkina and not the States, we could bang on them all we wanted, and it turned out that our guide was a great drummer, so we had our own little party.
I'm running out of time, so I'll just wrap up by saying that for my last two days here, I am visiting a hospital maternity in the city. I spent this afternoon there, arriving in time to help with a birth! Though it is cleaner and there seems to be enough gloves, birth in this maternity is about the same as in Saponé. Tomorrow, I will be there all day, and look forward to prenatals visits that are primarily in French! (In Saponé, they were almost entirely in Morré.) Much love!

Last week in Saponé

As my trip is coming to an end, time has sped up considerably, and suddenly there have been very few opportunities to use a computer. As a result, this will be a summary of over a week's worth of adventures!

I spent my last week in Saponé feeling quite comfortable in the hospital, and enjoying the freedom that vocabulary can bring. I figured out how to buy my own fresh bread for breakfast and how to lower the seat on my bike. I caught two more babies, did a bunch of prenatals, learned about and did injectable contraceptive methods, and made friends with the crowd camping out behind the FDC guesthouse. I learned enough Morré to greet people easily and tell children that I did not have any more candies. I washed all my clothes by hand and hung them out to dry on hangers on a nearby mango tree, only to return to find them covered in red dust. Luckily, for the most part they all shook out relatively well. I was invited out for drinks and to dinner at people's houses, which proved to be both interesting and a real test of my commitment to politeness. I was served dog, lizzard, bat and donkey meat. I drank soups and Fanta with ice and ate salad. I got my hair braided (below) by the women at the maternity as a gift, and though I'm sure it was a good experience for me to have, I am adding it to the list of things I would not like to do again, along with eating all those meats.

I loved getting to know people in the town, and everyone of course knew me already, as I kind of stuck out on my blue bike with my white skin, as I joined the morning and evening traffic to and from the hospital. One of the really great things about making aquaintances was that I got to see how things work. For example, how do people keep their beer cold (everyone drinks beer all the time, and it has to be cold)? They haul in ice from Ouagadougou, packed in wood chips, and put it in giant styrofoam boxes inside non-functioning refridgerators (below).

As I got better at understanding Morré and asking questions in French, I learned the answers to some mysteries. Why are those women making little piles of dirt along the road side? They are actually hand-sorting gravel to be used in the brick mix that all the houses are built from. Why are there piles of hay in the trees (below)? That's how they store it to feed to the animals. Since it doesn't rain, all they need is an airy place to keep it until it is needed.

The week went fast, and I found myself suddenly at the end of my internship. The people at the FDC office of Saponé were kind enough to let me take some last minute photos (below) and I would like to extend my warmest thanks to them for their kind hospitality and great advice.

I did a double shift Thursday and Friday, in hopes of squeezing in the most experience that I could. Though I was very tired, I did get to assist at a birth an hour before leaving, which was the best and most beautiful I had yet been present for at the hospital. (Brand new baby and me below!)