Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's all over

“We’re leaving together, but still its farewell and maybe we’ll come back to earth, who can tell. I guess there is no one to blame, we’re leaving the ground. Will things ever be the same again? It’s the final countdown”
The Final Countdown- Europe

With 4 days to go before we leave Burkina Faso there was no other song more appropriate than Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’. I and a number of the other volunteers have found ourselves humming it subconsciously round the kitchen table for the past week; it’s such a catchy tune.
            Week 11 passed in a haze, we were simply fulfilling our final coaching commitments and making our way through a mound of paperwork. During our last visit to ARCHE, the residents and staff threw a party for us in thanks for our work and it was lovely. There was a great display of music and dancing and we even managed to see our Programme Manager Ross bust some moves. As for what is in store this week; we have a Cultural Day tomorrow (Tuesday 10th) where each group of volunteers will take to the floor and deliver a presentation about our projects and then the afternoon will be spent having another party which is designed to be a cultural exchange. The national volunteers will present a display of Burkinabé material, food and music and the British volunteers repay the favour with typically British music, games and food. We are all looking forward to tomorrow, it’s just any excuse for a party really. Wednesday brings another national holiday, although despite the fact that I have asked a number of national volunteers, no one can tell me what we are marking. Regardless, it is another day off and then on Thursday we will be packing and enjoying the last few hours of the Burkina sunshine before leaving for the airport later that evening and we will arrive at Gatwick the following day at 2:30pm.
            As this is my last blog entry I thought it would be apt to share a few reflections with you about my time in Burkina Faso. Before I departed England I was very conscience that I should not arrive in Burkina with a baggage load of expectations and pre-conceptions, so I simply tried not to expect anything at all. Expectation leads to disillusionment and disappointment so I determined to guard myself from that, you cannot however escape an image formed in your mind’s eye. In the Western world I realise now how we are bombarded with a particular perception of “Africa”, as if Africa were one country rather than one continent made up of many individual countries, each with their own culture, heritage and traditions. I do not know “Africa”, I know Burkina Faso and even that knowledge has been gained through subjective rather than objective experience.
Yes, I have lived and worked in this incredible country for 3 months but I have always known that there was an expiry date for my trip. I have not lived here as a local nor have I simply been a tourist, I have been in the in-between. Furthermore and this is important, there is no getting away from the fact that I have lived this experience as a white person, with more comparative wealth than many of the locals. Coming here has confirmed something to me that I suspected but feared to be true; any visitor can never really know another country. You can visit, you can get to know local people, you can emulate social customs, you may even decide to take root and stay, but if it is not your mother country you cannot truly know what it is to be from that country.
Your previous life experience colours everything that you see and do, you experience the world through your own filter and you cannot escape from that, even if you wanted to. The ICS scheme has given each of us the opportunity to encounter things we might never have had the chance to do before, but whilst you are here, you can live alongside the nationals but you can never truly be a part of the bigger picture. I can observe, I can admire but I cannot understand their lives completely because I have not lived it with them. My presence has been transient; I knew before I came and I appreciate now more than ever, that I have gained so much more from this experience than the locals will ever have gained from interacting with me. It has been a absolute privilege to be here and to meet them and I have been made the richer for it, but it is a debt that I cannot ever hope to repay and one that leaves me with a weight that cannot be lifted.    
I have had an incredible 3 months, it has been difficult and challenging at times but it has also brought so much laughter. To any volunteers coming after me, take my advice, live every minute because it is over too soon.

 Rebecca Taylor

Just a final word from the whole team to our readers,

“we’ve had a ball and thank you Burkina Faso.”
ISE Team

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