one foot in front of the other

me rambling about as much as I can

Leaping Toads February 13, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — mlemagie @ 8:32 pm

Having looked ahead in the curriculum when I’d sat down to plan out my year I knew that I had a unit on introduction to graphing coming up. I’d spent much time trying to think of things that I could do that we could graph, and would be interesting for the students. I’d considered trying to grow several plants in the window of the school and measuring the growth over time. I was far enough out that I could do it, but it wasn’t the growing season, and if anything happened to the plants I’d still be struggling. 

Roumsii, my dog would go to class with me every day, and I had used her as an example in many stories. If I had known we could have charted her growth progress, right up until she became pregnant at six months old and stopped growing, but that is another story. I had this particular math class for two – two hour blocks and a one hour block each week (my work schedule was full days on Mondays and Tuesdays, a half day on Wednesdays, and then grading and planning the rest of the week). 

Finally, about a week before it was time to give the lesson I came upon an idea. Rou had been chasing toads around our courtyard at night. There were thousands of toads, they got into everything and covered the ground like a carpet. The wells were all dry this time of year, and when my weekly water barrel would be delivered the first thing that I would have to do was take a cloth and filter out the toads so that none ended up in my barrel.

Watching Rou chase them, trying to catch them, but mostly mimicking their jumping action, I decided how I would introduce graphing. I told my students to bring in as many toads as they could to the next class. I would bring in a bucket and as many as I could as well.

Growing up we used to go to kla-ha-ya-days, a farm-style festival out near where my grandpa lived. There they would have frog jumping contests. You got to pick a frog and had to try to see how far you could get it to jump given three jumps. I remember the frogs – they were often erratic and unpredictable.

What I chose to do produced results that were much more entertaining than a single toad jumping. As the students walked into class we collected the toads in the bucket and then turned the bucket upside down. One student had a watch with a second hand. And I drew a chart up on the board. I found one student to be the recorder, and about ten to be the counters. 

In the first row of the chart I wrote 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80. We counted the number of toads, around 50, and flipped it back over. The kids were excited and involved, those in the front were having a difficult time staying seated so that those in the back could watch. We pushed their tables back and I drew out a circle around the overturned bucket, trying to keep it away from the wall as much as possible.

I had the recorder write the number of frogs currently under the bucket in the zero column and had the student with the watch count out ten second intervals. I told the counters to shot out the number of frogs remaining in the circle every time the student with the watch told us that ten seconds had passed and the student doing the recording to write that number down in the next column. We lifted the bucket off and all wildness broke loose.

We had toads leaping all over the classroom all at once. But the student with the watch, and the students doing the counting remained diligent to the task. Every ten seconds they had a new number that was dutifully written down on the board. We ended up waiting a minute and a half for the last toad to escape from our circle. I asked the students if they thought we should try it again.

Of course they said yes!

We switched up the roles and then rounded up the toads and ended up repeating this experiment another four times (this was a two-hour class), each time with a couple fewer toads than the time before. 

After this we threw the toads out of the classroom, put the desks back in order and I started the lesson. I read the definition of the dependent variable and the students all quickly agreed that this should be the number of seconds that had passed. We drew up the graph with the data from our first experiment together, and then for an exercise they were to graph the remaining trials.

After about forty minutes of them eagerly working on their graphs I stopped them for a review of the graphing terminology. And with a few minutes left in class I asked them to guess how many frogs would be left in the circle after forty seconds if we had started with a similar amount of frogs and ran the experiment one more time. They all quickly came up with a range. 

I asked them how confident they felt about this range. They were confident. They were also giggling. In one day I had taught my students about graphing in a way that they enjoyed, exposed them to exponential decay, and made them comfortable with the basics of probability. 


Emily’s visit January 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — mlemagie @ 5:55 am

I had an amazing experience visiting Mara in Burkina Faso.  We spent 10 days in Bilonga with her family and the villagers.  I figured out the Gimalchime greetings the day before we left, learned how to say thank you and friend, small and where is it.  I also learned from Mara the most fabulous way to communicate with people: without words.  Without any words in common, I colored and played rock school with Zidane and Natalie, sat out and made s’mores with the family, learned from Sibri and the old lady how to make pentard soup, and learned from the tailor’s wife how to eat peanuts :).  I almost had a harder time communicating with Narsissi who speaks french.

Getting to Bilonga was an adventure, too.  We were so excited to get to the taxi stop as the bush taxi was filling up and leaving soon so we wouldn’t have a two hour wait.  We grabbed seats in the third row and got ready for the messy dusty journey.  Once they loaded us, they decided to change the flat tired they’d been sitting on all morning.  45 minutes later, all 29 of us were piled in the small VW bus-sized taxi and we had a good group of people to give us a push to get started so we were on our way ready for the next three hours.  After bumping along for about 100 meters, we had top stop, unload the roof and the front two rows and the driver’s row and fix the engine.  This was really just a quick fix using some tools from under the driver’s seat and sending a small kid under the car.  Then, those of us that had gotten out gave us a push and the car was off…with 15 people running beside loading one by one into their original seats paying no head to their order.  Lots of people had to climb over the guy that got in first and sat right next to the door.  And of course, then they couldn’t get the door to shut while the car was moving.  No problem.  One kid ran around the moving car to the driver’s side and took the wheel while the driver ran around the car, shut the door and went and traded back…On the road again.  An hour later we got to a village where someone was getting off.  The first two rows got out to stretch their legs and take a breather while the 13 of us in the back waited crammed in the car.  Then when we were finally ready to go, everyone stood around discussing this door situation and apparently decided to shut the door before pushing the car, and all of them would jump back in through the window of the moving car.  This remained the procedure when we had to unload again to get across a bridge and after spending another half hour fixing the engine in the middle of nowhere.  Needless to say, we made it safe and sound, but the first thing Sibri told me after we greeted and met the family was to go drink water and clean off.  Most of the transportation anywhere is about like that.  Even in Ouaga when our cab stopped to drop us off we had to give it a push to get on its way again.


I survived teaching an english class in french for Mara while she was biking 42k to Piela in the middle of the day and spent 3 days grading only 2 classes of tests.  Mara works a lot and I could barely keep up with her and slept through her three morning classes the last two days of the week we were there.  She trained her 130 english students before I came to tell me “welcome to bilonga” when they saw me, so wandering around the marche I was greeted in english by at least 90 kids.  Her tailor, who speaks french, took us to see the gardens by the barage and the irrigation system they have and took us canoing on the smaller barage.  He’s taught Mara the guitar – my jaw dropped 5 inches when I heard her play more than just a few little notes.  She actually knows most of the african song he’s teaching her.

Kirsi, Mara’s first village, was good to see, too.  It is in the east rather than the north and it looked very different.  I had to learn a whole new language and name and never figured out to say hi to people.  Everyone was extatic to see Mara, who never had the opportunity to say goodbye when she left and hadn’t seen them for 6 months.  In honor of our visit, the school paid for a chicken dinner for us and her colleagues, with the requirement for funding that Mara knew how happy they were that she came back.  Also, the girls who Mara had set up a women’s day soccer match for last march, had scheduled a soccer match.  The team Mara started now practices 3 days a week and has 40 girls.  Mara and I each played on one team with them.  It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed.  The entire village (it seemed) was lining to field to watch and cheered and the girls were amazing and had so much fun.  I think it was good for Mara to do, but I bet it’s a difficult comparison.  There are huge differences between the two villages that were even obvious to me and in Kirsi Mara speaks the language and can talk to everyone, and almost everyone knows her, and there were few enough students that she had it easier to be an effective teacher.  Our first night, a new kid saw us and commented to his friend that some nassara(white people) had come to visit, and he was quickly reprimanded that we weren’t nassara, but that Mara belonged to Kirsi.  In Bilonga, we still got shouted at as obonpieno(white thing) and could mostly only communicate with the few french speakers (except for Mara’s need-to-know survival Gimalchime that got us home when we got lost after dark “I want my house” got us an escort to the courtyard entrance).


We had a brilliant vacation day the day before I left and travelled to the south to Boromo and stayed at a hotel by a river where we watched the elephants wander in and out and bathe and eat throughout the day.

Here are a few pictures also

Me playing with Zidane and Natalie on Mara’s porch

Mara and Rou(trying to steal her lunch – Mara’s an AMAZING cook, by the way)

Our family in Bilonga who live in Mara’s courtyard

Aisha, who took care of us in Kirsi, making sampsa, Mara’s favorite african food


The most amazing thing I discovered in Africa was how well my sister has dealt with everything that’s been thrown at her.  She moved villages 6 months ago, which is very uncommon for peace corps volunteers, and very difficult to adapt to.  It is especially rare and difficult to be torn from a place you would call home and that would call you family so abruptly.  Even after being in Burkina so long, Bilonga, which is such a different culture and community and where they speak an entirely different language, seems like a foreign place.  I fell in love with Mara’s family in Bilonga – Sibri, who respects Mara’s work and their cultural differences and is capable of almost completely breeching the languagee barrier and Narsissi and Bebe who speak french and are extremely helpful whenever Mara needs anything, and the kids who are always very entertaining and sweet.  However, even during my visit when we mostly spent time with each other, I saw relationships with other villagers to be strained.  Her work is hard and very wearing, and it is hard to find privacy or independence even when we tried to hide out in her house.  I was blown away by the effort I saw her make and by how much of herself she has given to this village and the people even though she is still rundown and upset by the move.  She knows that I am 100% supportive in everything she’s doing, but also that I personally would vote, if I got to, for her to come home early rather than waiting in these circumstances the few extra weeks for the peace corps COS title.  This is a very difficult decision for her and she is pretty torn up about making it.  She’s nervous about coming home, whenever she does, about readapting and rebuilding relationships with all of us who cannot relate to what she’s been doing and accomplished.  It would mean a lot to me if each of you would *send her an e-mail or a text message* to phone number 01122676579566(It should only cost a couple extra cents and she’ll get it immediately) or call to tell her that you’re proud of what she’s accomplished with the peace corps.  She’s had very little contact with people from the states other than e-mail, so while she’s preparing to come home I think it will help her adapt and feel better about coming back if we make a big effort from this end to reestablish contact now and *let her know* that we are very excited to get to see her and talk to her and give her hugs(the only thing she gets to hug there is Rou, who’s not very cuddly unless you try to spread out into her 3/4 of the cot…).

I also have plenty more pictures from my trip if anyone is interested in looking at them, hopefully I’ll get them on-line here shortly.




drink tickets

Filed under: Uncategorized — mlemagie @ 5:45 am

So I made it into Ouaga today, after laying over in Fada last night

with some of my closest friends here in Peace Corps. We had a great

time hanging out but at the end of the night were more than reminded

we still live in Burkina. After drinking and eating and enjoying each

other’s prescence we got up to leave the restaurant we were at. Here

in Burkina they have a way of bringing the bills with each round of

drinks that gets brought out. And it depends on which person brings

the drinks as to who you have to pay. Apparently we had paid for

multiple rounds on one ticket and the lady who took our money went

home. When the second lady came out we were short on her tickets and

so she started yelling at us that we still owed money. After a lot of

Burkinabes shouting at us, they finally figured out that our story was

consistent, that we had paid and that whiteys are generally prone to

making this mistake. So eventually they sent someone to the first

women’s house to confirm how much we had actually paid. We were

looking very frustrated at this point and because one of the guys knew

our friend in Fada that we had been with he told us to just go home.

(I think he realized that at this point they were the ones looking

dumb for not keeping their money and tickets straight). It all added

up and no one had to come find us the next day.


I’ve been going to church fairly regularly. Usually the people in my

courtyard go to the Gumalchamae part of the service and this I find to

be enjoyable enough so I generally tag along with them. The pastors

however would prefer that I came to the french speaking part because

they know I’m not getting anything religious out of the Gumalchamae

part – I just enjoy the singing, and occasionally I understand when

we’re supposed to be praying (this is what I call the part where they

all put their heads down and start mumbling, occasionally saying

thanks, my one word of gumalchamae). I find this to be spiritual

enough, being in a small room with a bunch of my friends from the

village listening to them singing and all of the women with the babies

on their backs will occasionally get up and do a little swaying and

dancing. One day during all of this I noticed that my foot was wet, we

had been doing what I call group prayer where people from around the

room give thanks, or at least that’s what I interpret it as. But

anyways, heads are bowed for this, so I had to look up to see what had

caused my foot to become wet. Yup, you guessed it, the baby strapped

to it’s mom’s back just in front of me had peed on me. I got peed on

in church. It was actually the first of two times that week and it’s

now happened about 5 times in this country. Getting peed on is not

usually a notable event these days.


One sunday I did decide to go to the french part of the service. I got

up early enough, got dressed and all ready for church and gave my

family a little heads up as to what I was doing. “I’m going to church,

to the french part so the old lady who normally comes by to take me to

the gumalchamae part won’t be accompaning me”. I went back inside to

finish getting ready and when I came out they had dressed up Zidane in

this way too big collared shirt. And declared that he would be taking

me to church. Zidane looked so proud, he even had on a matching cap.

The shirt would maybe fit my dad, and on 6 year old zidane it just

looked adorable. He doesn’t speak a word of french so we wandered over

to the church in silence except for his shivering (it’s been really

cold here) and he sat through the whole service occasionally looking

up at me to try and discern if I was understanding any of what was

going on.


I have to be careful wandering around my marche, if I run into my old

lady she grabs me by the arm and we do a tour of all the millet beer

drinking holes. Stumbeling home a little tipsy on millet beer when all

I’d set out to do was buy rice isn’t always my favorite thing. The

other big obstacle is Sibiri, the mom of my courtyard (the daughter in

law of my old lady- that’s what everyone calls the elderly here, well

literally it’s just the old, la vielle) I normally seek out Sibiri

when she’s making sampsa, these bean cakes, so I can eat them for

dinner, but if I’m not careful she’ll send me home with the dogs and

kids, which would be fine, except Gille will scream in my ear the

whole way, and I’m always afraid he’s going to pee on me, and the dogs

(rou and the two boys from the courtyard – they get along incredibly

well) will cause a rucus chasing after everything, and Natalie and

Zidane walk super slow.


I hate my job here. Last year in Kirsi the students were much better

disciplined and I didn’t have any of the problems that I am now

facing. I caught a kid with a crib sheet during the test last

saturday, and I would’ve just gone home and cried right then and there

except I felt like for the first time I’d gotten through to the

students. They realized that my accusations of them cheating were well

grounded and justified and they made an overwhelming effort to not

chatter during the test (to date my largest victory in bilanga). But

the kids mostly drive me crazy. They are not there to learn, and

Bilanga being the worst department in the country means that none of

these kids will ever end up going anywhere. My homologue tried to

justify their cheating with that – that these were the worst students

in the country so you had to let them cheat a little to help them out.

I just don’t get their logic sometimes and it really makes me want to



I have about 17 weeks left, I’m not counting or anything, but I’m

looking forward to seeing everyone. Take care, and thanks for the

letters! One of my packages is here but the key to the room it is in

is lost so I won’t be able to get it until my next trip into Ouaga,

you see how things work here? Sending my love,


its like pulling teeth

Filed under: Uncategorized — mlemagie @ 5:42 am

Zidane was over in my courtyard the other day. Often when I have a few

minutes I sit in my doorway and we color with the chalk on my patio.

This particular day I’d decided to work on addition with him. That

wasn’t getting anywhere because my gumalchamae skills are still

non-existent. So after much confusion on his part he decided to change

the subject and point out to me that he now has his first loose tooth

ever. I of course got super excited and ran inside to get floss. I

came back out and tied the tooth up. Before I yanked it, I decided

that I should probably wait and get a french speaker to translate to

him what I was about to do because my gestures were not registering

with him. So Zidane sat there quietly for several minutes with this

floss hanging out of his mouth despite his friends calling him,

whatever I was about to do was obviously going to be cooler than

playing with his friends, and cooler than the time I tried showing

them the yo-yo (anyone have any yo-yo tips, that one did not go over

too well). Eventually someone showed up and I had them translate what

I was doing. It was at this moment that I realized they never pull out

teeth, because none of their food is necessarily in the solid state,

and so chewing is not uncomfortable with a loose tooth.


When the poor kid figured out what I was up to he got a little more

worried. I looked in his mouth again and told him we’d try pulling it

again tomorrow as it wasn’t loose enough yet. The next day when I

found Zidane in the evening I asked first thing about his tooth. Still

wiggly, and so I go and try with the floss. There are other things

going on so I don’t get to it right away, and when I do get around to

it again, Zidane has amassed 30 of his little friends to come and

watch. This is definitely the coolest trick I have pulled thus far.

They’ve never seen a tooth pulled and think my story about some fairy

is bizar. I don’t end up pulling the tooth, still not loose enough.

And the following day I came here to Ouaga, so I’ll see tomorrow when

I get back if it’s still in. If it is, that sucker is definitely

coming out, I think at this point this would be more of a memorable

story of when the whitey lived with us, than painful.


Also on my list of recent accomplishments (terrorizing the kids in my

courtyard with dental floss counts, right?) was the construction of my

neighboring volunteer’s latrine wall. Yes, that’s right, yours truly

slapped together a mud and mud brick wall that to her current

knowledge has yet to succumb to the forces of gravity. It took us two

rounds of a couple of hours each, but with the help of some of her

kids who made the mud for us, we got that thing rolling. It was a very

messy experience, but all in all, I now feel like an accomplished



I also had a fun conversation with some Fulane women in my village.

They spoke to me in Fulfulde, I replied in Gumalchamae or moore, and

then with some english and french thrown in. Krista was with me and by

the end of it she was rolling. Despite the multiple languages used the

entirely of our actual communication was done non verbally. We were

discussing Shae butter (which is cheap, abundant, and easy to find

here) and so a lot of rubbing motions were made.


I’m in Ouaga now, it’s strawberry and broccoli season so I just had

the most amazing dinner I’ve had in a long time. Steamed broccoli. I

made it almost two years without broccoli, admittedly that’s weird

that I’m saying this, but having no vegetables five months out of the

year makes me appreciate them all that much more. (yes, I have had

dreams of produce sections).


The weather is agreeable here, but with the wind and the dust it’s

hard to get out and enjoy it. Teaching is miserable, but I’m getting

through it, and my students are making just enough progress to not

completely turn me off. I’m looking forward to Emily coming and

visiting for a while. I just got it cleared today to travel with her

when she comes. We’ll get to go down to this resort like place on a

river where herds of elephants pass through. People have reported days

where you have to stay inside because they get up into the hundreds of

elephants just roaming around. And then we also go to Kirsi to visit

my friends there, which will be my first time back since I left

abruptly. When the peace corps told me today that they would have no

problems letting me do that I nearly cried. I’m looking forward to

seeing everyone there.


So that’s Burkina, same old, same old. I can now count the number of

months until my return on one hand. And I feel like when it’s time for

me to go at the end here, I’m going to be ready. I’ve found a good

rhythm here, but when I found a can of ravioli today and the women in

the store next to me started laughing hysterically at my reaction to

it, I realized that I have been here for quite a length of time.


I wish the best for everyone! Keep me posted on your wanderings. Lots of love,


ho ho ho

Filed under: Uncategorized — mlemagie @ 5:38 am

So pictures are all in Bilanga, mostly of my family, house, courtyard.

The little boy looking at the camera is zidane, one of my favorites,

him and his sister Natalie, and the little baby on Sibiri’s back. In a

lot of ways Sibiri, the mom in my courtyard is like Aissa in my new

village, not the loud, take care of everything type, which after more

than a year here I don’t need, but the same sort of comfort.


Burkina continues to treat me well. I’ve setteled into a rythym in my

new village. Wake up, shower, drink hot chocolate (thanks grandpa) go

laugh with the family (in gumalchamae, the language they speak). Go to

the boutique, say hi to the neighbors on the way (in fulfulde the

language that a large percentage of my village also speaks) and then

talk to the boutique guy in moore, followed by class where I’m

teaching English in French. Ok, not so amazing as my dorm during

college as far as languages that are being spoken, but this is a

small, isolated, african village. I didn’t realize how isolated until

someone pointed that out at thanksgiving, that Krista, Brooks and I

are 76k from Fada, our nearest major city, and although there is

another volunteer 24k away it’s difficult to get over to visit her.


My largest frustration with the new village is my new work situation.

My students cheat and then don’t think that they deserve a zero. I

give multiple versions of the tests and then when they have the

correct answers for another version, so they are wrong on their test,

they get upset when I fail them. And then my colleagues are not

supportive of this. When I give the students zero for cheating, every

single time this has happened the students have gone and complained

and my colleagues have come and questioned me on this. They, for

whatever reasons, don’t understand that I’m a hundred percent certain

that the kids cheated and have no guilt giving them a zero.


The new physics teacher has only his high school diploma and doesn’t

believe that we’ve actually been to the moon. He also doesn’t believe

that there is a gravity that exists between all objects, small though

it may be. Fine, I can accept that most people don’t get this –but he

teaches physics! I just left even though technically we weren’t done.

My colleagues are very unproffesional and their familiarity with the

students makes my job very difficult and I’m not exactly teaching

anything interesting.


If you look in the new Bradt travel guide for Burkina Faso (you may

even be able to find a copy at Barnes and Nobel) Bilanga is mentioned

for having the worst educational department in the country. Great.


I saw Soro and Arouna today, colleagues from Kirsi and it was better

than Christmas. It was so good to see them and to hang out with them.

I told them about all of these problems, and they were beyond

understanding, they were incredibly wonderful.


But outside of work things are going well. I’m really enjoying the

family that I live with. They make dolo, which is a millet beer, and I

will often sit around and drink with them. There isn’t a very high

alcohol content so it’s a fun social activity. My little brothers and

sisters are super cute, and hang out with me every evening and usually

we’ll take left over bits of chalk and draw all over my patio. They

work on the alphabet and numbers. Natalie, my littlest sister is

usually really quiet and just watches as her older brother Zidane

rattles things off. But the other day I had another volunteer from

Djibo visiting and we were doing the alphabet. Their highest

accomplishment to date has been to recognize the letters for the first

letters of people’s names (how we’ve been doing it to avoid the

multiple language problem) but Natalie all of a sudden starts reciting

the alphabet and gets all the way up to H before she gets so

embarresed that she stops.


I had a mouse problem the other day, which was caused by the metal

grating falling off the opening for my shower water. So a momma mouse

had gotten in and had babies in one of my clothes baskets. Upon

discovering this I let out a loud scream and my courtyard populated by

dolo drinkers perked up. Immediatly one brother, Jaques, was

dispatched to the market to buy rat poison, Sibiri, my mom, hauls the

offending basket out and throws all of the babies against the ground,

the momma mouse having hopped out and still being in my house. Jean

goes around to the back of my house to replace the grating, and

Narcisses, yet another brother, cemets it back on. Jaques returns and

they put the poison in a calabash with some to and make a little

barracade for it in my bedroom so that Rou won’t accidentally eat it.

And then Sibiri gives me the closest thing I’ve gotten to a hug from a

Burkinabe to let me know that everything is ok. I love my family.

Krista has a mouse problem and her village could care less. Brooks

spent three weeks trying to find the poison for the two of them to

use. He has a bat infestation. I had one dead mouse removed from my

house the following day. problem is solved.


I’m also learning the guitar from my tailor. He taught anil, the

volunteer before me in Bilanga, and has now decided that I should

learn as well. He is looking for money for amplifiers etc. to get a

band going, so I had a business volunteer visit and we sat down for a

while and worked out a plan. I should clarify – – I’m learning African

style guitar, no idea about this whole chord business, but it’s got

rhythym. I showed off my mad guitar skills at the hostel the other

day, and after the other volunteers stopped laughing, well, they did

stop laughing. I have no rhythym so this may be a failed effort.


The gumalchamae are very different from the Mossi, my friend that just

visited decided that Bilanga was just there. Very much out in the

middle of no-where. I think the same could’ve been said for Kirsi,

just your average African village. Except that Bilanga has two

barrages going for it, so there’s water and carved out wooden canoes

floating around in the evenings if I wish to stand just outside my

courtyard and watch.


I’ve opened up my house at set hours in the evenings for the girls to

come and study. They used to come 50 at a time, but as there was no

room they’ve tapered off to about 20-30. We’ll see how many come back

the next trimester. I’m a little weary of having students come to my

house and if they come outside of programmed hours I’ll let them know

that that is not acceptable. Otherwise I can see a rash of students

coming to my house and whining.


You may have heard about Burkina on the BBC the other day – I now know

that none of you listen to, or follow that, or you might’ve sent a

concerned email asking about our little dispute between the police and

the military that left 6 dead. Yes, yes, a little bit more color to my

stay here in Africa, all is well now and peace has been restored to

the country.


I hope everyone has agreeable holiday plans. I’m heading up to Mali

shortly after Christmas and in Ouaga for Christmas. Hoping to come

back to Ouaga for new years (had wanted to continue on to timbuktu,

but they’re having some real security issues over there). And also

hoping that Tabaski will not mess up travel plans as everyone’s

holidays are falling around the same time this year. I went to church

a couple of weeks ago with one of my brothers. Amazing to sit in a

small room and listen to the singing. Difficult in that it was in

Gumalchamae and I understood very little of it. Will maybe go to the

moore speaking church soon and try and pick pieces of that out.


I have a mental countdown going of the months left – it’s almost over,

Mali, new years, a month in village, em comes to visit, another month

in village, my Close of Service conference and Spring break, another

month of teaching and then I’ll likely travel around for a couple of

weeks to a month before heading back in time for the fourth of July.


I’m getting so excited! I miss you all and I hope this holiday season

is treating you all well.


Best holiday wishes,


gobble gobble

Filed under: Uncategorized — mlemagie @ 5:33 am

So my thanksgiving was memorable and I feel obliged to tell you all

about it, Woke up, held a large gobbeling turkey, and then watched it

get gorged. It was crazy that none of us recognized it as the food

that we ate every year growing up until it was plucked, cleaned and

the head and feet were missing. It was a great experience to see

really where this food that we eat comes from and what it all means. I

made the stuffing for our party that was attended by 30 or so

volunteers, and put in spinach and apples, and chives, all found fresh

from the marche down the street. It was nice being in a large city

where these items were available and to eat a meal that I could

appreciate for being thanksgiving. But even better it was great to get

out of my village and just see other americans. I felt bad not

teaching, as I missed over 12 hours of class. But it was a much needed



Things are going well. The kids in my courtyard are keeping me

entertained and more and more I just hang out with them. They bring me

peanuts in the evening and we sit down and just hang out. They like to

color with chalk all over my patio and I’m working on teaching them

how to count and we sing songs. I started a girl’s study group and the

first night I had over 50 girls show up, completly flooding my

courtyard. And I thought annoying my family, but my mom brought over

benches, I made popcorn and provided lights and the girls come over

now three nights a week to work on exercises, hang out, ask me

questions, it’s entertaining at the very least.


I have lots of pictures that I keep meaning to attach, but that’s

going to have to wait until my next trip into Ouaga. In Fada the

computers here are a little more slow and I have lots of work that I

need to do.


There was a rather unsettling incident that happened out here near me

with the bandits that hold up cars. I don’t think it’s something that

I should actually go into over email, but it’s an interesting story

and will hold it’s value upon my return- so remind me to tell you all

about it when I get back.


Rou is doing well, she’s gotten used to Bilanga and loves hanging out

and going to school with me still, I had a rabbit for a little while,

but it disappeared one night. Not sure what happened. The east is

gorgeous, I live right next to a large lake and I can sit in my

courtyard and watch people canoe across it in these hollowed out

wooden canoes. It looked like fall for a while, the lake was covered

with lily pads, the corn was turning yellow and coming in and I felt

for the first time ever that I was falling into the correct season.


I’ll leave it at that, of course I’m still up to my crazy antics, but

slowly adjusting to things in this new village. Sending my love to




Filed under: Uncategorized — mlemagie @ 5:31 am

I’m in Fada, my regional

capital right now to get drugs for my dog. My friend (a close by

volunteer) and I biked over 50 miles yesterday through rain and mud

because the medications for my dog are not available in my village.

School just started last week, I work at the junior high, but there is

another volunteer 5k away who works with the primary school. Her story

of the first day blew even me away. In our region of the country the

language varies a lot. Even between my village and a village 12k away

the difference in pronunciation is widely varying. The teacher in

charge of things at her primary school is from Fada, so his

Gumalchamae (the name of the language) was barely comprehensible to

the students. On top of that there is a large Poule population in our

area and these kids only speak Fulfulde. So on the first day of class

the situation was that half the kids could sort of understand what the

teachers were saying, and they weren’t even trying to speak French,

the language they will eventually be learning in. On top of that most

kids are given nicknames and did not recognize their own names as

their parents had registered them. They were doing this all outside

under straw mats because there aren’t enough classrooms at her school.

At this point I was entirely impressed with the students I get 6-7

years later that speak french, can add, multiply, divide and function

reasonably in my classes.


I’m teaching the two younger grades at my school; in both english and

math; so that gives my 20 hours of teaching a week and 123 students in

one class and 96 in the other. There aren’t enough desks for everyone

so in my larger class the students are four to a four foot wide desk,

in a couple of cases 5; and at the front of the room I have a couple

of kids on chairs and one kid has a drawer. But they are awesome,

incredible students; and I’m nothing if not impressed by them and

their desire to be in school. We learned the parts of the body in

English last week and played a rowdy game of simon says, the girl who

remembered what sit down meant won.


the visit to the vet’s was amazing this morning, the guy came in on a

saturday to write out a prescription for me. He listened carefully as

I described what was wrong with Rou and then wrote out a prescription

for some prenatal vitamins (we think she might be pregnant again) and

some anti-worm medication. He told me I could pick it up at the people

pharmacy. So I went there to get the drugs. This pharmacy in Fada is

amazing, with computers and good shampoo (and I even found deoderant;

the spray kind, not great but I’ve been looking all over for

anything). So anyways the lady gets the drugs to me and as she hands

me the meds she tells me “get well”, wait a minute it’s not ME who has

worms and is pregnant. Oh well, can’t win them all.


My courtyard is stoked with the cutest kids in the country and I wish

I had crayons so I could sit them down and have them color; there is

this one little boy and girl, Innocent and Zidane; who are the most

precious things ever. When they see me, they get these large smiles on

their faces and they wave. Sometimes they’ll even do a little dance;

but they won’t just stand around and stare at me. My mom is equally

awesome, she brings me dinner everynight; and when it’s my

sub-family’s turn to make dolo (african moonshine) she’ll wake me up

in the morning to share it with me. Ah nothing like dolo to get me

moving in the morning.


My colleagues at school are awesome; my counterpart is crazy and a lot

of fun; and there are two others doing their first year of teaching

and are my age; so lots of cool and fun people to hang out with.


Still miss Kirsi, it’s a difficult transistion; everyone is on my case

to learn Gumalchama, which I’ve picked up some of; but the grammar is

so different; and even saying hello is much more complicated. It’s one

thing to move, it’s another thing to leave a village with no heads up,

I still haven’t gotten to say goodbye to most of my friends there; and

move somewhere where even the customs and greetings are different. But

as they say all the time over here: little by little.  Work is keeping

me busy so these last few months are just going to fly by.


I hope all is going well for you everyone, take care;