I'm all packed and ready to go. I'm scheduled to arrive in the DC area tomorrow afternoon, and I should be in Ouagadougou on Wednesday.
It seems a little unreal, but tomorrow is the big day! Everything I think I'll need for over two years is packed away within the Peace Corps luggage allowance, which is two checked bags of up to 50 pounds each, a carry-on bag and a personal item. Tomorrow I'll check in at the Sheraton Tysons Hotel, about ten miles from Dulles airport, and meet the sixty or so other volunteers in training group G34. We'll have a day of training at the Sheraton. I'll also get my shiny new Peace Corps passport! Then, on Tuesday, we go to Dulles, fly to Brussels and then on to Ouagadougou, arriving at about 3 in the afternoon (GMT) in Ouagadougou.
We'll be in Ouagadougou for six days, in a dorm maintained by the Peace Corps. The training schedule has things like “Bike fitting” and “survival language” and – on the day of arrival – “malaria prophylaxis consultations.” We also get to visit the US embassy on Monday the 19th. On Tuesday the 20th, we're bussed 160 km south to Léo, a provincial capital.
We'll all be in the Léo area for about twelve weeks. That's where we learn our local language (which depends on the region), and where I'll get training on how to teach math. I'll be living with a host family for that twelve weeks. At the conclusion of training, on Friday, August 25 we have our swearing-in ceremony in Léo. That's when we graduate from Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) to Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).
After that, we're sent to our homes for the following two years, which are scattered all over Burkina Faso. Chances are, my nearest fellow volunteer will be an hour or two away from me by bicycle at that point, but there are various meetings and such throughout our service.
No Internet At First
We've been told not to expect to have internet access at first. It might be a week or two before I send out a blog post from Burkina.
The Last Few Months
In retrospect, I'm really glad I quit work a few months ago, and moved out of my place. In a sense, I haven't had a home of my own since then. Indeed, my five weeks in Stasbourg were long enough that I established routines there, such that it was starting to feel like home. Then I left, and came back here to L.A., where I've been staying with my sister, and basically tying up loose ends for the past three weeks. I also ate too much food, watched a lot of TV, and finished that book I didn't want to have to carry to Burkina. That, and I played one last game of ice hockey before leaving!
Anyway, one of the reasons why I'm glad I took this break between work and the Peace Corps is that I think it will reduce my expectations of being able to come back to the US and immediately fit back in. I've been through enough reverse culture shock to intellectually know that coming home can be surprising, but I think my mini-dose after living in Strasbourg for a time will help me understand at a subconscious level. L.A. (under the Trumpocalypse) didn't quite feel like “home” at first, because I had already moved out of the place I had lived for over four years, and because I was a little cut off from current events.
I also had a fantastic time in Europe! Indeed, I can well imagine living there after two or three (or more) years with the Peace Corps. Who knows? Maybe I'll find a development organization I can work with in France, after my Burkinabè experience…
I really don't know. I don't have too many firm expectations about what life in Burkina will be like, or what I'll do. I know I'm going into a highly structured training for the next three months or so; that kind of relieves me of the need to do too much planning. Also, my idea all along has been to just live there for half a year or more before I try to figure out any kind of longer-range life plan. Indeed, the Peace Corps recommends this: The first three months on site are largely for settling in, getting to know your neighbors, and getting more comfortable with the languages and the culture. I'm a little nervous, but I find I'm perfectly content to just go with the flow for now, and leave the planning for later.