I’ve been in Abidjan for a little while now, but I finally got a good internet connection at my brother-in-law’s office in Treichville. His name is Séké and he is the director of Royal Inspection International Africa, serving in Abidjan but also Takoradi and Tema, Ghana; Douala, Cameroon and Owendo, Gabon! He’s a busy guy who travels a lot, so we are really grateful that he has agreed to help SUAT complete our mission here in Côte D’Ivoire: to learn more about the realities of trafficking in this nation and develop tangible solutions based on the input of students and youth from the community.
Abidjan is a bustling city, full of life at all hours–and I do mean all hours. Due to the Ramadan season, and also the fact that we live near several mosques, my sleep has been pierced into promptly at 4 am, 5:30 am, and 7:00am due to calls to eat before sunrise and subsequent prayer times. After the imam finished, the rest of my attempts at sleeping were effectively neutralized by roosters and chickens who were determined to wake the city up. They also walk around the streets sometimes, but mostly in the slums across the bridge from downtown.
We live on the 4th floor of a neat little two bedroom apartment, and we take the stairs each time. The most interesting thing about Abidjan is the driving situation… There are actually ramps to help cars cross the sidewalk and get on the opposite street. Yes, cars drive on the sidewalk here sometimes, motorcycles are especially shameless for this. But don’t think the pedestrians are upset about their limited walking space, they have no problem walking through the main roads, especially when there’s lots of traffic. The president of France, François Hollande is visiting here soon, he’s picture side by side with the Ivorian president Allasane Ouattara on ads all across the city. People are also erecting the two flags side by side on the bridge leasing from the airport to downtown. It’s an interesting display of affection for a formerly colonizer nation, but hopefully all in good spirit. Today for lunch we had “foufou et sauce d’arachide” which is mashed plantain puffs and peanut sauce, very delicious!
I will add more photos later!! ❤ Sesa
I have had the privilege of interning as a teacher on behalf of African Soul International for Pennacle Foundation Inc. In South Central Los Angeles! I began this internship with a goal in mind: spreading awareness about human trafficking and increasing knowledge about self empowerment and entrepreneurship for the youth in the program.
Pennacle is a provider for the LA County Summer Youth Employment Program, so my job included recruiting youth who needed jobs in the area, training them for 20 hrs, and helping them to find work in the surrounding area that could be sustainable! My first week, after training, I was helping a girl, I’ll call her K for privacy, create a new resume. As she was telling me about her struggle to find long term employment and sharing her frustrations of being a teenage parent who was raised by her grandparents after her mother was incarcerated for several years. She and I both shared a few years, but also a lot of hope and happiness. Another girl whose resume I worked on disclosed that she and her sister have both been living in a group home ever since her sister and parents got into a fight and child services came. It was rough because she didn’t know what address to put on her resume.
A few days later, as some of the newly employed youth were helping Pennacle set up for their free community food program, some of them shared with me the dangerous realities of living in the area. One youth, whom I will call Von, told me that after going home following training one day she was chased by a girl who got out of her car with a knife in hand. Apparently she didn’t look like she belonged there, so her life was threatened. Another group of young men told me how just looking as if you “don’t belong” in an area can get you killed, claiming that gangs in the area no longer care about colors but rather stereotype based on race and other physical traits. One guy, J, showed me two keloided scars just below his collar bone where a bullet had entered his skin and (fortunately) exited again. This occurred, unfortunately when he was only 16 and all because he was misidentified as someone else.
This has been an amazing journey so far, I can’t wait to see what comes next!
Yesterday I attempted to get roti and Burmese tea from a place called Lucky Tea Shop in Mae Sot. I missed my mark by a few minutes as they stop serving roti at 10am, but I had some delicious Burmese sweet breads which also had the perfect touch of salt and were very soft. I also had tea that was super sweet thanks to the line of condensed milk at the bottom.
The warmth faded away the last of my fears from the night before. I decided to stay at Love & Care school just in case Monday repeated itself. And boy was that a serious decision. I slept on a wooden mat on the floor, and thank god for the mosquito net that nearly covered the entire room or I’d have been eaten by all the bugs inhabiting the room. I woke up groggy and tired and joined my fellow teachers in time for breakfast. Then came the real challenge: bathing.
In Burma people don’t bathe nude. Rather they bathe wearing large wrap skirts called “longyi” that are sewn from end to end making them like a giant circle of fabric. They are they wrapped and folded like a towel across the chest and worn while bathing. They bathe using buckets of water and a bar of soap and clean the body clothed! With a small audience of my students who thought my helplessness at bathing was funny–I managed to bathe and brush my teeth without embarrassing myself! Classes went well today also and I will be giving three exams before I leave next Wednesday. I get more connected and attached to my students every day.. Leaving is so difficult!
Last night I spoke with a teacher named Steve about his experiences growing up in Burma. He said that school fees are very high and even after completing school the job market is low so most families actually discourage their children from going to school. He said as the years went by, less and less information was available for students to learn. Where there was once some information about general Aung San and other Shan, Hmong, and Karen, etc leaders there is now nothing. Most of history focuses on British colonization and war with Japan. For which, it seems Japan is often villainized but the Burmese government never talks about any of their own flaws or pitfalls. He says he comes from a family of rice farmers, as are many Burmese people, but the government controls prices of rice even when the weather yields bad crops and they often lower the price making it very difficult to survive off this business. Another interesting thing is Burma’s relationship with china. Apparently they hate the Chinese government, and people I assume. Nonetheless Chinese are rumored to own nearly 40% of the businesses in Burma. And there’s a lot of controversy over the quality of goods as well. According to Thant Zin, some foods such as chili sauce are made with red dye meant for dyeing clothes. After eating with the sauce, the hands are stained red. Also the cooking oil from china is not considered trustworthy but there’s no real food and drug regulation in Burma. Or at least not at the same caliber as most other countries. Considering how bad a state the country is in, it makes sense why no one wants to live there. Even Myawaddy, a border city just across the river on the Burma side is flooded still though its counter city Mae Sot is cleared of water. Part of this is due to the difference in sea level but also part due to the lack of infrastructure to deal with natural disasters. The situation in Myawaddy is quite bad honestly, some people are on top of their houses to escape the water!
In other news my american friend just found out she has dengué fever! Fortunately she went to the doctor and they diagnosed her early enough, I hope she feels better soon! So much going on, I’m just holding on for the ride.
9 day countdown…
I have been fortunate enough to teach reproductive health and sex education class at Love & Care school the past few weeks. I teach two grades: 12 and 11 (relatively comparable in age with American high school but much further behind in education level). Information about the body is always empowering but this has been particularly rewarding considering what my research has opened my eyes to regarding women’s issues in Burma. Especially those who have moved to refugee camps. There are many issues regarding unwanted children and highly unsafe abortions done by “traditional medicine practitioners”. Of course, knowledge about contraceptives completely eliminates this problem. My grade 12 class is higher in their English level so we got through the material in only two weeks. The exam results weren’t what I wanted, however, with many mistakes on simple questions such as “why does the birth control pill not protect you from STDs” and so forth. Because of this I’ve been trying to really go slowly and impress strongly these ideas in grade 11. Today it felt like we had a mini breakthrough. When we discussed the seriousness of issues relating to STD/STIs they really were moved by the information. It truly can mean the difference between life and death and we had a few graphic pictures of stage 3 syphilis and chlamydia to prove it.
At my high school our motto was “Non Scholae Sed Vitae Discimus” or “We learn not for school but for life”. Protection against disease is a huge issue for the impoverished all across the world– and incredibly empowering to have an education about. Teaching Burmese students has been an awesome and rejuvenating experience. It’s really nice to teach in a place where teachers are so highly regarded and respected.
Of course, like any place, there are drawbacks. In Thailand there’s one huge drawback: the critters. It all started last night when I had American night with my friend India 🙂 we cooked French fries and shared about our experiences so far in Thailand. She is a post graduate working at a French NGO here in Mae Sot. After dinner my peaceful walk back to my room was interrupted by an unlikely source. A frog.
Let me make one thing clear: I’ve never seen or dealt with a frog much less a tropical one and I don’t know which are poisonous or aren’t. As I’m also not trying to find out. This little guy caught me between the small enclosement where shoes go and the door. So of course… I had to run for my life. Clearly he got the same memo because he too was trying to get as far from me as possible. But he couldn’t jump high enough to get out of the small area. So we ran in circles a few times until I managed to get the door open. He just stood very very still… as if to make himself invisible.
Which of course makes me feel extremely guilty.
But I can’t help my phobia of these critters. To make matters worse I woke up to an unidentifiable (and already dead–how?) beetle/roach like creature on my floor. No wonder I can’t sleep, at night all the little critters wake up.
Anyways, I just finished my last class of the day: west African dance. I showed my class my dance company’s performance of Lamban for inspiration and they really enjoyed it! They will be performing the Tuesday after next at my going-away event! I can’t wait to get pictures and footage of their performance but I’m very sad to be leaving soon. I am staying for dinner with the Love & Care family tonight 🙂 nothing like a home cooked meal from right off the fire! Here they get the wood from the forest, cut it down, and cook with it! That’s about as “from scratch” as it gets and so far my experiences with Burmese food have been awesome!
In other news: back home my partner has been getting everything set up for us to move into our first apartment! 🙂 so I have a lot to look forward to–but saying goodbye is never easy..,
Speaking of which…