Early in 2012, Beth Underdahl-Peirce spent a month visiting her brother, Jon, who was living in Burkina Faso. This is her story…

On January 4, my parents and I flew to Burkina Faso, a country in western Africa, to visit my brother who was there with the Peace Corps. We had a 26-hour layover in Paris, so we explored the city on foot. We saw Notre Dame, the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower, and other hot spots in Paris. After exploring the city on very little sleep, with my dad getting blisters bigger than a quarter on the bottom of his feet, and doing our best to stay warm and dry in rainy weather, we headed back to the airport where we attempted to get some sleep.

We then flew to Burkina Faso. We spent the first few days in my brother’s village, where we slept in his hut, used his latrine (a hole outside with only stone walls surrounding it), and greeted many people. Greetings are a very important part of the local culture; they even have special greetings for different times of day. My brother, Jon, taught me a few greetings in the local language so I could participate.

We were able to see Jon helping give vaccines to local infants. The midwife weighed the babies before a nurse and my brother gave the vaccines. This happens frequently to help keep the babies as healthy as possible in a place where nutrition is very poor.

We lived in Jon’s village for a few days where we caught up on lost sleep (naps are very common due to the midday heat). We also met a lot of people in Jon’s village, ate local food, and were even given a live guinea fowl as a gift.

We then took a bush taxi back to the city. A bush taxi is a van that is piled high with luggage, animals, furniture, and whatever else the passengers need to bring with them. The taxi is also often filled to the brim with people sitting on top of each other. My family wanted the windows open for a breeze, but the locals preferred sitting in a stuffy van with the windows closed.

In the city we got a car and a driver who took us from Burkina Faso to Ghana. We then went on a long, bumpy safari trip where we were able to see elephants, wild boars, baboons, and monkeys. We ended up getting stuck in the sand on our way back from the safari and had to push our way out (much like getting stuck in snow).

After the safari experience, we continued heading south. We stopped in the jungle to go on a jungle walk, traveling high up in the tree canopy on rope bridges. In the jungle, we spent the night in a tree house and went on another jungle walk after dark.

We went to a monkey sanctuary, climbed a hollow tree, and saw crocodiles at a crocodile pond. We also saw two castles that were used for slaves, which were very moving. Seeing the small, windowless rooms where more than 500 people would be kept for long periods of time was heart wrenching.

Our last big adventure was to an ocean village, where fishing is a main source of food and income and naked children play soccer in the sand. We stayed at a resort on the beach for a few days, where we walked along the beach, ate good food, and relaxed before making the long journey back to Burkina Faso.

My parents left a week before I did. Jon and I visited his friend’s village where I met her neighbors and slept outside under the stars. On our way back to my brother’s village, where we were planning to spend the last few days of my trip, Jon got sick. Due to his fever, Jon and I spent the rest of the week watching movies in his hut. I was able to see what it was like being sick in a village in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer—and I didn’t have to be sick to experience it!

Africa was an amazing experience. It was my third time in a third world country—it becomes more and more of an eye-opening experience every time. I grew up traveling and I love learning about new cultures.

I would love to go back to Burkina Faso. It is more laid-back than our fast-paced culture. People are poor but their community holds them together during tough times. So many people here in the states lack this kind of special community.