OK, i’ve been here long enough to start to feel settled and able to reflect meaningfully on my new life. I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain it succinctly or linearly, as there is so much swirling around in my head, but I’ll give it a try. I’ll also try to upload some photos, but bandwidth is pretty narrow here so we’ll see how it goes.
After arriving a few weeks back, I was instantly quite immersed in work so I really felt that my adjustment was divided between two parts of my life: work, and home. Maybe even three, if you consider the city itself as another adjustment. OK, three.
Work has been the easiest to adjust and grow into. My new role as Head of Ed Tech is just the right kind of challenge and feels like a perfect fit here. Because of thin bandwidth and issues with availability of hardware, the school is approaching integrated digital learning in a very cautious and thoughtful way. Instead of sudden, overwhelming immersion and availability (like in Asia) where suddenly the entire environment is swarmed with devices, bandwidth, expectations and an almost carnival atmosphere, integration here is slowly inching its way into the culture. That means, instead of a sudden feast of options and a race to see who does the most with what, we get to be quite mindful about what tools we want to offer, how to use them, how they will enrich student learning. We are a Computer Lab school, with a Mac and a PC lab, but unlike the stereotype that was the basis of the evolution into a 21st Century learning environment (no tech, then computer labs, then computer carts, then 1:1, then 1:n…you techies know what I’m taking about), we have the advantage of seeing what has happened already and we can use that experience to guide us.
So I work with two fantastic assistants….Brice and Didi. They are Burkinabe (pronounced “Burkina BAY”, not “Burkin-AH-bee”) who have been at the school for years. They know so much more about the network and devices and system than I do, and they have been great and so patient in showing me stuff. In the past 3 days of work. I have become proficient as a Google Apps Administrator, we have set up the school Gmail groups, rolled out and set up our new Student Information System (Keystone), set up and are rolling out Naviance, We’ve installed wireless service at residences, monitored network use, installed desktop images, wired Access Points, and a hundred other tasks. This upcoming week, we get proficient with Moodle admin, set up and distribute some laptops and Kindles, and get the library system (Destiny) up and running.
It’s not entirely one-sided, though. Of course, I bring a lot of experience from my time in HK, so I’ve shown them a lot of things. And most importantly, I’m very organized and able to foresee issues, so we have become a very tight team and got a lot done in a very short time. I heard from a lot of long-time teachers here that we have been more efficient and on the ball than they have ever seen…I’m taking the team out for dinner on Friday; they deserve it.
School itself is pretty cool….it’s a very cozy little campus, with a big, green soccer field and lots of buildings. The HS is all housed in one large two-story building, with an external stairway that leads to the second floor. The lower school is a series of smaller, warm little buidlings made of red cement that have a very ‘African’ feel. There are plants and greenery all around, and it’s easy to feel like the school is much bigger than it is. Teachers and parents pride themselves in being friendly and supportive and we all pretty much know each others name already. The most interesting thing is that our school mascot is the Turtle, and there are 6 or 7 huge turtles (tortoises, actually…see the comments) that wander around the campus. By ‘huge’, I mean maybe 150 pounds, and about a meter long. They are not lethargic or slow moving, either….you’ll see them grazing on some grass on the soccer field one minute, and then they’ll be over by the library warming in the sun the next. It’s so cool having these guys wandering around the campus!
Home is another story.
In my last post, I mentioned my disillusionment with my house. I’ll own up that a lot of that was having unreasonable expectations…housing here is generally quite run-down, and although there are many very fancy and quite modern flats and houses, the school just isn’t in a position to afford those. They build teacher housing on a compound a few blocks from me, but I get a separate house as an admin, and they had to scramble to find me a place over the summer….so I get the experience of being the first ISO admin to live in this house. So there are going to be a lot of little bugs to iron out…that’s just reality. Its not going to be a nice, cozy little bungalow with green grass, a swimming pool, great views, flowering plants and cozy little furniture. At least, not unless I put in the sweat equity to make it that way.
I spent the first week here, in honesty feeling quite depressed. The air conditioners were weird…if I ran more than one, it would blow a circuit breaker and plunge the house into darkness. If I ran just one, then turned on more than one light, the power drain would make the AC run on half power, and the light would flicker. So I ended up for two nights sitting under a single light that ran so weak that it was like a 30 watt bulb, with the AC so compromised that it only blew lukewarm air. It was pretty pathetic and I could not believe I was expected to live this way for two years, so I complained to my colleague, the School Head, who assured me that it should not be that way. So I went to stay with another colleague, the HS principal, Paul, while the GSO folks looked at my house. During the week, they completely rewired the circuit box, installed a generator that would kick in if the power went out in the neighborhood, put in a washing machine in back, and installed some towel racks and other fixtures. But the most important part was, while living with Paul (we had a GREAT week hanging out), I got to see that even the other houses aren’t really as polished and nice as they seem. Paul’s circuit breaker also kept popping for no reason, and when the power went out, his generator was defective so it would not kick on. And his house was also quite dark and a laid out a bit weird, so I didn’t feel so badly about my own any more. It was just a case of tuning my expectations.
So today, after a fun week with Paul, I came back home. At first, it felt like before….barren and depressing, but I did a big shop and got some household things…shower rod (curtain to follow), some kitchenware, toss rugs for a few places, a rack for shampoo, etc in the shower, etc. Just these little touches are showing me that it will be OK. I’m going to hire a housekeeper this week who can keep the floors clean, do my laundry (I still need to hang up some clothesline or get a drying rack), a gardener who will trim the plants in the yard that are starting to get shaggy and bring in some more leafy plants in big pots, and also someone who can build a framework and screen in my front deck so I have a nice outdoor place to sit in the evenings until it gets too hot. I suspect I’ll spend a few bucks fixing this place up, but it seems inevitable. And also wise…I want to be cozy in my house. And from what I hear, absolutely everybody who makes the effort to ‘nest’ here ends up loving it, as (I suspect) it puts them in a frame of mind where they are open to the other opportunities that Burkina Faso offers. Ive also found a FB group where all the local expats swap and sell furniture, ask for insights on things, etc. I’ve already seen some interesting furniture come up for sale, so in short time I’m sure I’ll find stuff that I want to buy.
Now, as to my adjustment to Burkina.
I always have to suspend my expectations when I move to a new country. I have some broad-based ideas, but when I arrive, I always find the details are so very different than I was expecting and it’s always a challenge to let go of my preconceptions. This can be good or bad, and in this case, I guess it was a little of each. In my last blog post, I compared Ouaga to Kinshasa…the similarities make comparisons pretty easy; both are deep Africa, both are Third World, both are in the heat belt, both are disorganized, have a lack of infrastructure, lots of dust, dirt and trash, etc. But really…the similarities end there. Kin was adventurous and interesting, but in all honesty it had a constant threat of the potential for real danger. There were armed militants all over town, the country was feeling neglected by the world community, and it had a very recent history of very ruthless violence against foreigners. But this is completely different…the Burkinabe are a peaceful people, they bear no grudges against expats or foreigners, while the country is poor, it is not broken or feeling like the world community is responsible to fix it, and there is a certain ease and pleasance to people. There are lots of cozy little restaurants serving very good food all over the place (this week, I’ve had pizza, Lebanese, Korean, Chinese, Burkinabe and Vegan food), there are comfortable little resorts outside of town, it’s safe to drive the roads into the countryside, and the expat community is young, fun and supportive.
There’s also some cool stuff to do. Last week, some of the new hires went out to a little resort about an hour out of town. The drive out was very interesting….open fields and green grasses and big trees scattered about (I was promised that in the dry season, it’s all dry, barren and brown brown brown). At the resort, there was a very nice swimming pool, nice food, great tables under umbrellas and a fantastic African savannah view.
I looked at a truck today that I decided to buy….a 2007 Nissan X-Trail. Its nothing pretentious…a solid 4×4 with a 2.2 Diesel engine and only about 95K km. It was brought into the country by the Danish embassy, then sold at 14K km to a missionary who used it to go into the bush. He parked it for the past year or so, and now he’s selling it as his mission has bought him a brand new Land Cruiser. It drives nice, has good clearance, solid transmission, and will get me into the countryside, down to Ghana, over to Bobo, and around Ouaga. And the price is right…about 40% of the price of the sleek cars that were brought by the school for us to look at. So this week, I’ll have mobility and I know that means the country will be even more accessible feel less remote.
So all in all…I’m adjusting. School is great and is my anchor. My house will soon feel more like a home, and I’m already starting to open up more to Burkina. There is, of course, still some more Culture Shock to overcome, and it’s been a LONG time since I’ve gone through it, but I’m weathering the journey fine.
So stay tuned….more stories to come. But I didn’t want to leave all my thousands of readers thinking I was where I was at the end of my last big post…lying in bed wondering what I had done. This is going to be OK. Just wait and see.