Right now I am procrastinating. Instead of doing one of the many things on my to-do list prior to May 15! It has also been a while since a post for me, despite many promises otherwise. I don't have much to say about the current situation in Burkina Faso. There are many news articles out there. You can read them, but also do some research, too. The commentary around the actual fact is exactly that.
My romance with the simple life
So, people often make a big deal about how I lived without electricity and running water for over 3.5 years. I worried myself, considering I don't camp and do enjoy cushy modern conveniences. I even found an essay I wrote in middle school about how I wouldn't enjoy living without them at all. In reality, this much simpler lifestyle, while physically stressful, wasn't terrible at all. I enjoyed it, and still miss it (except maybe washing sheets and towels by hand). As I rediscover these modern conveniences slowly but surely, I realize more and more how much the dearth of said conveniences impedes the productivity of nations like Burkina Faso. At the same time, great strides have been made during my short time there.
Peace Corps, even in Burkina Faso, is not camping. I had walls and a roof over my head and owned furniture and multiple matresses. I had a deep pre-dug hole to use as a toilet. My camping gear: my giant backpack, a sleeping bag, and a screened tent (Bug Hut II). My giant backpack traveled all around Burkina with me. My sleeping bag kept me warm during the cold season (anything <80° requires long-sleeves and <70° a blanket or many layers of clothing). My screened tent protected me from mosquitos. If I had to recommend one thing, it would be a screened tent to keep the mosquitos out, but let air in.
Water and Fire
I lived a few courtyards (read: lots/parcels of land) away from one of several pumps in my village. I woke up early each morning to beat the rush, and was usually the first one there... I often had to wake up the guy with the key to unlock it several times. I would pump the 40L of water that I might use over the course of the day and bring it back home (on my bicycle, I'm not that hard core). (I often used only about 20L, unless there was laundry, many dirty dishes, or I took a couple extra bucket baths that day due to the hot season). Pumping water each morning as the sun rose, was one of many physical activities that kept me fit.
I used this water for everything. The Peace Corps provided a filter to prevent the many diseases communicable by water. I took at least one bucket bath a day, as many as five during the hot season. My first bucket bath in Burkina Faso was at Yaneth's house in Komsilga during our Stage. We had biked out about five miles, and I bathed under the stars for the first time in my life. It was at this moment that I knew village life would be good for me. I heated the water for my bath during the cold season by leaving one of my giant jugs of water in the sun. Nothing compares to the stars in a country with virtually no light pollution.
It might surprise people to find out that our filtration/purification process did not incorporate boiling the water. Yes, this is a great option, if you have a good hot stove readily available. In Burkina Faso, the cost of propane has increased dramatically. In 2007, there were exorbitant rate hikes in food staples (e.g. rice, bread), fuel (e.g. gasoline, propane, wood coals, wood, etc.) as well. The majority uses wood or wood coals to cook. More inefficient in time and energy.
Candles and kerosene lamps lit my home my first year, and my headlamp was my best friend for quick jaunts to the latrine. I paid twenty cents to have my phone charged at a little place down the way from me. It didn't matter much anyway. I had so little cell phone reception, that I had to hang my phone in a tree to send and receive text messages... most of which didn't go through. I kept it off mostly to conserve energy. At one point, my family called Peace Corps worried that they hadn't heard from me in several months. I guess my text messages had been lost, and back then it cost over two dollars per minute to call back home to America. Now, it's only thirty cents (half the cost of a domestic phone call in 2007)!
Afterwards, I bought a car battery to run a small flourescent light bulb (which they often called néons or reglettes). This increased my ability to work at night astronomically. As romantic as it is to read by candle/lamp light, the amount of light generated is actually very little compared to the amount of heat. My headlamp ran off of several AA/AAA batteries, which don't last long in heat. (This is due to science. I haven't charged my camera batteries since I left Burkina Faso, but they work without any problem. In Burkina, they would last a few weeks at best before draining.) My battery was not powerful enough to run a fan. Unfortunate, since the oppressive temperatures of the hot season leave you listless and on the verge of dehydration. The sweat dries so quickly that all that is found are traces of salt on your skin and clothes. At night the temperature drops siginificantly. While it is still hot (often >100°), the temperature is bearable and the power of light, increases productivity!
Charging my battery was an ordeal, and after two years, I succumbed and bought a solar panel. This actually allowed me to be much more productive my third year. I could even run a laptop off the battery if I wanted, and ended up charging many people's phones and batteries for free. Battery maintenance overall was necessary as well. The acid from the battery quickly evaporated. I had to regularly add filtered water into the system to maintain the acid levels, and on occasion, new battery acid. It's amazing how easy it is to buy a couple litres of H2SO4 in Burkina Faso.
These conveniences, nonetheless, should not be the only consideration when one looks at "modern" cushiness. Windows are amazing. Especially, soundproofed and tripleglazed! Why are windows amazing? They keep out dust. I'm sure you've seen the pictures of our homes and seen the shuttered windows of the majority of BFPCV homes. They are not really shuttered windows, they are shuttered holes in the walls. There is no glass on the other side. Granted, Peace Corps regulations required screens to be installed over the shutters to prevent death by mosquito. However, there are no requirements for actual glass windows because of a combination of cost and also, the fact that it sets you apart from the rest of the community. The screens and shutters don't do much to keep out the dust.
Why is this a big deal? To maintain a spic and span home, one must sweep morning, noon and night and also mop daily. Dishes must be washed not only after use, but immediately before use as well to remove layers of dust. Clothes draped casually over a chair become dirty within a day. Sheets and mosquito nets and other linens become horribly disgusting as well. A casual shake of the sheets reveals more dust than critters. If you had windows, then your home would naturally have fewer of these critters anyway. Dust storms would be something to scoff at, instead of one of two other options: cover your face (optional) and go about your business OR hide under a sheet and hope the thread-count is high enough to keep out the majority of the dust.
You can read the Wikipedia article on windows to discover more about this fantastic modern convenience that saves people from many additional human hours of cleaning each day!
I wouldn't mind living without electricity and running water again, but only if I were guaranteed some glass windows and solid doors that kept dust and critters out of my home. Kudos to the Romans and all of Europe for their development of this modern convenience. I'm pretty sure that it is with this development that they soared ahead in development in the latter half of the second milennium, leaving Asia (where paper windows were popular) and Africa, quite literally in the dust.
5 years ago