Tag Archives: West Africa

Happy 100th International Women’s Day

International Women's Day 2011Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize the contributions of women to societies around the world and the important work we have still to do to ensure equal access to health care, educational opportunities, and employment.

I first celebrated International Women’s Day as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I worked with women in my village to coordinate a soccer match between two teams of women and a soccer match between two teams of my female students. We held a ceremony with lots of fantastic speeches (my French still wasn’t so great so I can only imagine the full impact of the oratory), and finally a dance in the evening. It was one of the most successful events of which I’ve ever been a part.

Equal rightsAlthough there have been many improvements made in women’s lives since 1911, many of the same issues persist – in the United States and around the world. In most of the world, women are still likely to make less money than their male counterparts. Women continue to struggle for equal access to – and authority over – their health care. Education is still a major issue for women.

So while women have won many of the same rights as men, the struggle for equality continues.

women in Tahrir Square, Egypt

 

 

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Why Do We Bother? Here’s One Perspective

One of the things that I just take for granted is that people are interested in learning about other people; that there is something worthwhile in stepping outside of your own cultural identity to try and “walk a mile” in someone else’s shoes.

I don’t question why this is important but – thanks to increasingly embarrassing rhetoric from pundits too ignorant to comprehend – I guess not everyone in America feels this way.

Here’s the thing: there’s a long history in this world that does not include America in the way we know it today. And it’s worth having a little humility when it comes to other people and cultures because we just might not have all the facts.

I refuse to let other Americans’ ignorance embarrass me. Just as I refuse to let other Christians’ ignorance embarrass me. The fundamental rule still applies – from Casablanca to my casa: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I would no more permit someone to burn a Koran than I would permit them to burn a Bible or a Torah in my presence. Because – as Jesus taught – it’s just not cool to disrespect others.

Here’s an article about vegetarianism and living in West Africa that I think gets to the heart of that idea without talking about religion or the pundit class. It’s just a simple story about appreciation, acceptance, and understanding – both yourself and others – and I think it’s a great read.

And to paraphrase the immortal words of “Hill Street Blues,” let’s be kind out there.

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Burkina Feast: Salade Concombre

Eleven years ago, I finished my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso. There are a lot of things I miss about living there: the friends I made, the little red brick house in the middle of a cornfield that was my home for two years, the music, language, and culture. But one of the things I miss the most is the food.

The food in Burkina Faso is pretty similar to other countries throughout West Africa. Hot peppers (habaneros), rice, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, fish, beef, goat, chicken – these are just some of the ingredients they use to make some amazing dishes.

Since I miss those foods so much, I thought it would be fun to prepare and share some of the foods I miss so much. I thought I’d start with salade concombre – cucumber salad. My friend Salimata made this for me not long after I moved to Bagassi, our village in Burkina Faso. She was a super cook and she introduced me to many of the dishes I later came to love. Here’s my take on salade concombre.

Salade Concombre

1 medium-sized cucumber, thinly sliced

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 tomato, thinly sliced

1/4 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. white vinegar

1 Tbsp. canola/vegetable oil

Mix together in one bowl. Serve immediately.

Sali also liked to serve salade concombre in a baguette, or loaf of French bread. Slice the baguette in half longways and fill with salade concombre. It’s like eating a salad sandwich!

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Grow a Global Garden

Growing up in the Garden State, I was always around family gardens. My paternal grandparents usually had a large plot cultivated and I most distinctly remember the corn they would harvest.

My maternal grandmother gardened on a smaller scale and chose more delicate vegetables, such as asparagus.

My father has been an avid gardener for as long as I can remember and I am envious of his ability to grow green peppers, a skill I sorely lack.

My own garden – like my cooking – is a bit more eclectic. I’ll try to grow anything.

In previous years, I have grown eggplant, eager to replicate the clear Sauce Aubergine my friends prepared when I lived in Burkina Faso.

I also have tried to grow habanero peppers, or piment, a staple in our West African diet.

I looked eagerly at the peanut plants in the Burpee and other seed catalogs, hopeful that I could grow a crop of fresh peanuts and once again enjoy one of the staples of my diet in the Peace Corps: boiled peanuts, nice and salty.

I have even toyed with the prospect of growing the West African eggplant, a vegetable I really didn’t enjoy when I first moved to my village but grew to love.

But thanks to the climate, I had to abandon a few of my more ambitious ideas.

Instead, I’m focusing on herbs, such as lemongrass, which is found in a lot of Asian cuisine, and finding new ways to cook with familiar vegetables, like pumpkins.

Pumpkins are a common food in southern African foods. If you have read The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, you have no doubt come across a description of pumpkin stew that made your mouth water.

So far, pumpkin appears to be my most promising crop. Look at these gorgeous plants!

But as a Jersey gardener, I know better than to anticipate a glut of any other vegetable except zucchini. Even if you don’t plant zucchini, your neighbors will throw their unwanted extra crop over your garden fence (that you built to keep out zucchini, not rabbits or deer).

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Plant a Garden Wherever You Go

Twelve years ago, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bagassi, Burkina Faso and so homesick for my mother’s flower garden I spent a day breaking ground with a daba (a short-handled hoe), arranging rocks around the perimeter, and transplanting native plants into a garden of my own.

I couldn’t have been prouder than if my garden had been full of award-winning roses. My neighbor’s children were delighted. Their reaction made my hard work so worthwhile.

It was a little thing. It required no more than a day’s worth of work (which I could fortunately spare). But it made a big difference to me just as I was finishing my first year of service.

I like to think of the white and purple flowers returning year after year. I wonder if that little garden is still there.

But what would mean more to me is if those three little girls, now young women, remember me and all the strange, laughable things I did while trying to acclimate myself to their customs.

Who knows? Maybe they’ve even created little gardens of their own by now.

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Meet Mom, the Guest Speaker

I got a really great opportunity to talk about my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa today. My son’s first-grade teacher and I have been planning it for a while, but it turned out even better than expected. All four of the first-grade classes (and their teachers) joined me and the school librarian in the library for a 40-minute presentation on Africa.

I showed them photos of the house in which I lived, the teachers and administrators at the school where I worked, and even what our village market day looked like.

The kids’ questions were hilarious. Several tried to convince me they have a camel at their house or that they have owned a pet monkey!

This was my third time presenting in one of my son’s classes – I’ve been doing this since he was in pre-school – and this was definitely the best. Not only am I getting more comfortable about what information will most interest them, but I’m also better attuned to how certain answers to questions can be interpreted.

For instance, when I talk about the kinds of foods people eat in Burkina Faso, the gross-out factor for 6 year-olds raised on Kraft mac n cheese and pizza is high and that makes me feel like I’m disrespecting the Burkinabe people who were so kind and welcoming to me when I lived there. Now, I downplay those kinds of things.

The best question I got was from a little girl who asked me if everyone in my village was brown. It was a great opportunity for me to talk about how the children of the village reacted to me, a German/Irish-American with very light blue eyes and straight blonde hair.

To be frank, the little ones were TERRIFIED of me. I looked like no one they had ever seen – probably ghost-like – and they screamed if I got too close. Over time I wore them down with my charm, but in the beginning they wouldn’t even let me touch them for fear that my white skin would rub off on them!

It was a great teachable moment because, although my son’s school is very diverse, he has had run-ins with kids who “don’t like brown people.” As a Burkinabe-American, my son is dealing with things at 5 and 6 that I didn’t have to address until I was 22 years old. He is my little hero and I’m glad I got the chance to help open some eyes about the kindness, culture, and warmth of the Burkinabe people I knew.  And to reinforce the fact that our skin color is one of the least interesting things about us as people.

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Allez Cuisine!

KC and her son

KC and her son

I’m a mom, a writer, and a home cook who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa.  

Since coming back to the U.S. in 1999, I’ve gotten to speak to many schoolchildren and they ALWAYS ask, “What did you eat?”  

Now I’m trying to raise my own child with an appreciation for global culture – especially the food, always the food. 

In this blog I’m going to share ideas and information that parents can use to get their children excited about other countries.  

Feel free to post your ideas, recipes, and experiences living in another culture and how you’re sharing that with your children.

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