House Tour


This week we went on a very unique house tour.  As many of you know last fall there was an uprising here in Burkina.  After 27 years in office the President Blaise Compaoré attempted to change the constitution so that he could stay in office for another term.  A fairly peaceful popular uprising ensued and Compaoré was ousted.   During the uprising the parliament building in the center of our city was burned and some of the houses of leaders connected to the president were ransacked.  One of the key figures in Compares regime was his younger brother François.  He has a reputation for cruelty, is rumored to have orchestrated killings of innocent civilians, and suspected by some to practice human sacrifices.  It was at François’s villa that soldiers first opened fire on demonstrators during the uprising.  In the end his house was ransacked. People who were there that day say evidence was found in the house linking him to the death of a journalist, human sacrifices, and extravagance at the expense of the Burkinabé people.

Some young people who feel compelled to make the house and its history accessible to the public have started giving guided tours of the house.  The house is interesting… the graffiti is fascinating and powerful.  This was the house tour.


The remains of the climate controlled dog house.
The remains of the climate controlled dog house.


The entryway. The face of Thomas Sankara, former president of Burkina who is hailed a hero.


the president of faso is elected for…

Master bathroom

Master bathroom

On the wall of the master bedroom.  It reads "money of the people"

On the wall of the master bedroom. It reads “money of the people”

A photo of demonstrators that has since been hung in the second floor bedroom that looks out over the city of Ouagadougou.

A photo of demonstrators that has since been hung in the second floor bedroom that looks out over the city of Ouagadougou.

make (food) not war
make (food) not war
justice where are you?
justice where are you?



If you are interested in more on this house and the story of our tour guide, Prosper Simporé,  check out this article: In Burkina Faso, a mansion offers a glimpse into the revolution


French Preschool



Here in Burkina Soren attends a local preschool that uses the French curriculum.  He just recently finished his first trimester.


Since it was his first time attending a preschool, and since it would be in a language he was only starting to get acquainted with, I was a bit nervous about how he would fair.  But he loves it!


I have read a bit about the differences between the French system and the American system.  Overall it seems that French preschools are a bit more structured, have more academic expectations early on, and slightly bigger teacher to student ratios.  The report card we got at the end of the trimester was about a page long and covered things like: independence, writing skills, attentiveness, world discovery, music, mathematics, motor skills, foreign language (English class) and artistic abilities.


The school has a big emphasis on art.  I am always interested to see what Soren will bring home. During the school break there was an option for students to participate in a 2 week art camp.  2 hours every morning just doing art.  Soren of course wanted to do it.  His only complaint was that he was not always allowed to use the colors he wanted to use (he loves to make things purple and blue).  I guess that is one difference in the French approach, there is a right way of doing things and kids are expected to follow the rule – an elephant is gray, the sky is blue, grass is green. Unlike American approaches which often celebrate any artistic deviations as creative thinking.


One thing I really appreciate about the preschool is their incorporation of world discovery into learning, preparing kids to be global citizens.  Kids are introduced to different languages and cultures through lessons, music, and art.  Last month Soren painted Japanese symbols, learned about the continents and had a Japanese music class.

At the end of the school year the preschool hosted a huge presentation and party.  The kids showed off some of the things they learned.  And an entertainment group performed some amazing stunts.  No parent volunteers were harmed in the stunts.






Traveling Abroad

the view from my hotel room when I spent an unexpected night in Abidjan due to canceled flights
view from my hotel room when I got stuck Abidjan due to canceled flights

I recently went on a work related trip by myself to a country I had never traveled to before.  In the past four years, since having children, travel has been mostly a family event.  So I was excited to have the opportunity for a little adventure alone.  An adventure that didn’t involve toddler tantrums, excessive kid accouterments, or having to be the in-transit entertainment.  It was fun.  I had a great time.


And as often happens when traveling I ran into a few unexpected bumps: lost luggage, canceled flights, missing bookings, being stranded in route, and illness.  So it turned out to be even more of an adventure than anticipated.  But I had fun and met some really amazing people along the way.  Encountering the bumps reminded of a few travel standbys:

  • Pack some necessities into your carry-on: This is the golden rule of travel…but easily neglected when carry-on allowances are shrinking and your carry-on is already full of electronics.  But trust me squeeze in a pair of underwear, a toothbrush and a comb.
  • Be prepared:  Have money in a few places, get a bit of money in the currency of the place you are traveling to ahead of time, have a contact for someone where you are going, etc.  Little preparations make a big difference when things go awry.
  • Let your inner confidence show—or fake it: Looking confident can dissuade unwanted attention.  Also, studies have shown that standing confidently, even if you don’t feel confident, will help you feel more confident be perceived by others as more confident.  Think posture and alertness. Click here for more on this topic.
  • Follow the crowd: Sometimes following the crowd is a good thing.  Not sure what’s going on or where to proceed to….follow the crowd.
  • Be friendly: Truly there are wonderful people everywhere, so don’t be afraid to be friendly and welcome someone’s help. Trust your instincts though if something doesn’t feel right; if you feel uncomfortable say so in firm clear language.  Be wary of situations not people.
  • Enjoy the ride: Adventures inevitably encountered along the way make for great memories and stories.


Water Sanitation and Hygiene

DSC_1070Imagine not having a toilet.  Not having running water at your home. Not having clean drinking water.  This is a reality for many people.  And the result of this reality is that many people suffer preventable diseases related to poor hygiene, sanitation, and lack of access to clean drinking water.  For children, who have developing immune systems, the health threat is even greater.  The World Health Organization states that:

“Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. [and]  A significant proportion of diarrhoeal disease can be prevented through safe drinking-water and adequate sanitation and hygiene.”[1]

One of our partners here in Burkina is working to address this issue.  The aim of their project is to educate communities on sanitation and hygiene as well as providing the means for people to practice good hygiene. Their model is based on the belief that Awareness + Access will equal people practicing good hygiene and sanitation and therefore reducing instances of preventable diseases within the community.

Here are some of the activities the project facilitates:

  • Training and awareness sessions that involve community members and leaders
  • Radio and TV campaigns
  • Student health clubs where students take responsibility for hygiene and sanitation at school
  • Educational talks with pregnant and lactating women
  • Hand washing stations (most schools in the villages this project works in have pit toilets and no facilities or running water for hand washing)
  • School sanitation kits and household hygiene kits

All the activities are aimed at raising awareness about sanitation and hygiene so that the community can take the lead in making changes. One of the theoretical models being used in the program is Community-Led Total Sanitation.  The approach was developed by a development consultant in India who “advocated change in institutional attitude and the need to draw on intense local mobilization …”[2] And that is exactly what this partner is doing…focusing on mobilizing communities.

As the school year came to end in Burkina, the student health clubs our partner facilitates hosted a multi-school art competition on hygiene and sanitation themes.  The competition provides a number of categories for schools to enter: drama, dance, drawing, and recitation.  The performances are juried by community leaders including representatives from the Provincial Ministry of National Education and Literacy, the Regional Ministry of Culture and the Health Department.  The brilliant thing about the competition is that so many community members come to watch and it is their own children raising awareness about hygiene and sanitation through the performances.

I was able to attend one of the preliminary competitions and then later the final award ceremony.  I was super impressed by the effort and abilities of the students who performed.  And most importantly I was excited to see that kids have engaged in thinking about how sanitation and hygiene practices directly impact their own health.  Here are some shots of the top performers.

A skit about a child who refused to wash his hands and became very ill as a result
a skit about a child who refused to wash his hands and became very ill as a result
performing a recitation
performing a recitation
group dance
1st place winner for drawing
interpretive dance
interpretive dance



opening ceremony…a traditional masked dance



Motorcycles…and the amazing things you can transport with them



Burkina has tons of motos.  It was one of the first things that struck me when we moved here.  Motos everywhere.  In fact the plethora of motos on the roads here combined with seemingly little road rules scared me away from attempting to drive at all during our first 3 weeks here. Eventually I attempted driving and it wasn’t so bad.   But then last Friday a young guy on a moto drove right into the side of my car!  Fortunately, he did not even fall off his moto and was not hurt.  So now I am back to being pretty scared of driving.

For many people a moto is their only form of transportation.  This results in some pretty incredible and inventive ways to transport things on motos.    Regretfully I was not able to capture photos of these but here are some of the best transportation feats I have seen on motos here in Burkina:

  • Two men carrying two giant coolers
  • A man carrying a copy machine with another one strapped to the seat behind him (and I mean the large late 1990’s type model)
  • Bunches of chickens hanging from the mirrors
  • A man carrying a goat across his lap
  • A woman with a basket that had a pig inside
  • Two men with a bunch of metal poles about 20 feet long
  • And my all-time favorite-a man driving a motorcycle one handed while balancing a LOVESEAT on his head.


The agricultural development organization Barry is working with has lent him a moto to get around on.  It is a little burnt orange Yamaha with some serious vintage appeal.  Soren and Anya were delighted that their papa now has a moto (like all the other cool dads).  While it is no feat according to Burkina standards of moto usage we have managed to get Barry, Soren, myself, and three backpacks transported via the moto.

And another topic…how many motos can be transported by mini van.


The road to Pô
The road to Pô

I am always inspired by people who are transformed through an experience of suffering. This week I journeyed a few hours out of the city we live in to visit an education project that we partner with.  The project was started by a couple named Bruno and Marie.  They had each been widowed in former marriages and experienced raising families as single parents.   Later in life Bruno and Marie found each other, got married, and together decided to take in an orphaned child. They understood deeply from personal experience the challenges of single parenting, parenting adopted children, and orphaned children in their community. In response to their own experiences of suffering, Bruno and Marie started a project in their home community of Pô.  The program reaches out to families caring for vulnerable children.  Marie passed away this past fall, but Bruno continues to courageously carry on with the project.

Bruno hard at work
Bruno hard at work

The project provides a mentor for each child in the program.  The mentors check in with the child’s school, they meet with the family the child lives with, and they provide support to the child. Each month there are group gatherings for the families that are organized around topics that the group has self-selected.  The program also pays school fees, purchases school uniforms and school supplies.

A high-school in Pô
A high-school in Pô

While I was visiting the project and some of the participants I also had the opportunity to speak with some school administrators.   During visits to two different schools in the area I learned about some of the challenges public schools in Pô are facing.  Here are the top things they shared:

  • A lack of teachers-the high school I visited had 1250 students and 32 teachers. In the primary school most of the classrooms had 50-80 students.
  • Limited supports for students-because class sizes are so big students cannot receive lots of individualized help at school. While some students can get the additional help they need to keep pace academically at home from family members…many others cannot.  Burkina has total adult literacy rate of 28%.  When parents are illiterate it can limit their capacity to support students learning at home.
  • Hunger-In Pô many families struggle with food security. When kids are unable to get adequate nutrition at home they have a hard time concentrating at school.
A high-school classroom
A high-school classroom

The teachers and administrators have many strengths and I applaud them for working diligently within a difficult system.  Bruno’s program works to wrap around what the school system does provide and support kid’s success.

In some cases a participant in the program may not have an adequate academic background to be successful in a public school even with the additional support of a mentor. In most cases this is the result of a child not attending school for many years due to a lack of ability to pay the school fees.  For these participants the program sets them up with an apprenticeship.  The apprenticeship is for 3 years and during that time the program pays for the child’s training.  At the end of the 3 years the participant is often either hired at the place they apprenticed or in some cases the participant may branch out and start something of their own.

Maquirou, apprenticing with a mechanic


I got to visit 4 of the apprenticeship sites.  2 tailors, a mechanic, and a welding business.  The first tailor I visited had just started at the beginning of the month with two female apprentices, Sophie and Katherine.  The girls will start with simple sewing tasks, like sewing a straight line, and then gradually will be given more complicated tasks.  The shop owner said if an apprentice is smart and works hard they will be able to sew a simple dress after one year.

Tailor/shop owner  Sophie and Katherine in their new work uniforms

Sophie and Katherine in their new work uniforms

The owner of the welding business, a young man named Justin Zibare, was formally a participant in Bruno’s program.  Justin successfully completed the program and now has a welding business.  This year Justin is hosting an apprentice from Bruno’s program at his welding shop.  What an awesome demonstration of the impact this program is making!

Justin outside his welding shop
Justin outside his welding shop

Transition…With Kids


Moving to a new country with kids is no joke.  Transition stress affects even the littlest human beings.  Barry and I are trying to be mindful that transition stress is here to stay for at least a little while.  Us two adults we have the advantage of being able to articulate when we need support and to some degree can identify for ourselves how we can get that support.  But our kids, like all toddlers, have not fully developed coping mechanisms for new situations…like moving to a new country.



We often reflect on how we can help our kids carry some of the big emotions they are experiencing.  Our parenting guideposts we always come back to are unconditional love, nurture, consistency, challenge, guidance, and relationship.  We (try to) embody these in our interactions with our kids.

These are a few of the other  things we are doing to help our kiddos cope with transition stress:

•Reflection  For a while we have done a nightly reflection time with Soren to provide a safe space for him share what he is experiencing.  It is a simple exercise: “What was your favorite part of the day? And what was something you did not enjoy today?”  Soren loves it and so do we.  I think we have heard way more about his thoughts and feelings than we ever did before we started this evening ritual.  Knowing what is on his mind helps us know how to better nurture him.  And the ritual itself helps him practice being able to identify his own feelings-a skill he will need throughout life.

• Acts of kindness  This week we added to the nightly ritual.  Each night we picked one person in our lives and came up with an idea of how we could do something kind for that person the next day.  The kind act has to be something the person would like.  It can be simple.  Like a compliment or helping them with something. This takes a little bit of insight and consideration-also good life skills.  But mostly this exercise  breaks the cycle of negativity and complaining by helping us think beyond our ourselves. .My favorite idea Soren came up was:  “Let’s pick Anya. I’m going to make her a cake.”  Yup, I think that was spot on-Anya loved the cake.

• Stories  I also believe in the power of narrative as a panacea.  Anyone who knows me knows I am a “friend” of the public library.  I visit the library at least once a week, I always have a giant bag full of books checked out, and I financially contribute via ongoing late fees.  Having limited access here, in Burkina, to children’s books I have resorted to “no book stories,” a tradition started by my dad.  A “no book story’ is exactly what it sounds like….telling a story without a book.  I can remember begging for “no book stories” as a child, we loved my dad’s super imaginative tales.  Soren and Anya love them to…but unfortunately for them my tales, while imaginative, also  lately have some lesson to help them with deal with transition.

For this special case of transition blues I went a little further than the “no book story” and wrote a short book, with illustrations, about moving to a new country.   Writing it was rather therapeutic for me.  And I think reading it many times over was helpful for Soren and Anya.  The gist of the book is: its ok to be sad about leaving your home, its ok to have many different feelings about all the changes you are experiencing, you may have to be brave, you may not like all the new things, but give yourself time and know that you are loved.


P.S. Below is the text of the book, minus the illustrations:

Moving to a new country.

You may have lots of feelings about moving to a new country.  You might be excited to see what the new place is like.  You might be worried about what your new house will be like or if you will make friends.  Moving to a new country is a big change. Often when things change kids and adults experience many feelings.  How do you feel about moving to a new country?

When you move to a new country you have to say goodbye to many things.  Saying goodbye can be hard.  You may miss some of the things you have to leave behind.  Like your grandparents, your cousins and your friends.  Or your house, your room, your toys and your books.  When you think about moving to a new country what things are you sad to leave behind?

While many things change when you move to a new country there are also many things that stay the same. The sun will come up each day. If you look up at the sky at night you will still see the stars. Your family will be the same even if some of them are far away. Wherever you are you will find kind people.  Can you think of some things that stay the same no matter where you are?

Learning to live in a new place takes time.  Many things are different.  You may like some of the different things you discover and others you may not like.  You may find where you are people speak a language you do not yet understand.  You may go to a new school and not know anyone.  The weather might be hot all the time.  You may have lizards living in your new house.  Give yourself some time to get used to all the new things.  Perhaps you will like having lizards in your house because they make great pets!

Dealing with change takes a lot of bravery. It can be hard and also fun. It means you may need to try new things.  Like tasting a mango that you think looks green and squishy and gross.  But maybe you will discover mangos are actually delicious. You might have to work hard to make new friends.   But perhaps you will love your new friends.  You might have to learn to say “le chocolate s’ il vous plaît” if you want a treat instead of “chocolate please!” But you might like speaking in a new language because it is fun.

Things will be different.  Changes will happen.  So when you are learning to live in a new country, with so many changes, always remember my love for you will forever stay the same. My arms are always open to hold you when you need a cuddle.  My ears are listening for when you want to tell me what you think and how you feel.  My eyes are watching you to see how I can help you.  I love you my sweet brave child.