Over from different universities around the country and

              Over the summer, I had
the privilege to travel to the West African nation of Burkina Faso as part of
Army ROTC’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) program. I
traveled to Fort Knox, KY on 6 June 2017, and there I would meet some of the
best friends I have made in my short Army career. There were 21 cadets on my
trip, from different universities around the country and many different walks
of life. This dynamic would make for a very interesting trip, because we were
supposed to share American culture with the Africans, but our cultures were so
vastly different to begin with.

We left for Burkina Faso on 10 June, 22 hours and 3
flights later we landed at the Ouagadougou (Wa-Gah-Doo-Goo) International
Airport. When we stepped off the plane, we were hit immediately with the
climate. It was about 90° F, and it was past 9:00pm local time (UTC+0). During the
daytime it would get to 100° F and 100% humidity. We got to the
hotel a few hectic hours later, and this hotel was nothing like the rest of the
county. Everything was made of marble, beech wood, and glass. The staff all
spoke perfect English, and there were two security checkpoints before one could
even enter the lobby. The security situation in Burkina Faso is relatively
stable right now, however, there are most definitely Al-Qaeda and ISIS
operatives in country (we had a three hour anti-terrorism brief at Fort Knox).
The next day, we had the opportunity to visit the United States Embassy in
Ouagadougou. We heard from the US Army Foreign Area Officer, Regional Security
Officer, Security Cooperation Officer, US Agency for International Development
Director, Marine Corps Detachment Commander, Deputy Chief of Mission, and the
US Ambassador to Burkina Faso himself. We got a tour of the embassy, and got to
hear everything we needed to know about Burkina Faso. The embassy staff were
very excited about our visit, and they told us anything we wanted to know about
the embassy and the country.

A day later, we loaded up on a bus and headed 90 miles
south to the town of Pô. The Académie militaire Georges Namoano (Burkina
Faso Military Academy) is located in Pô, and here is where we would be staying
for two and a half weeks. We had lunch with our new African cadets, and got to
know them. The Academy has agreements with many other Francophone African
nations, and many cadets from all over Africa study and train there alongside
the Burkinabé. We
met cadets from Togo, Gabon, Djbouti, Mali, Niger, and the Ivory Coast. Some
spoke English very well, and some not at all. However, our relationships went
way beyond any language. One of the American Cadets brought a game of Uno, and
we played that incessantly with our African counterparts. They loved it, and we
would often see a crowd gather if there was a competitive game going on, and
roars would erupt when a “draw four” card was played.    

In the mornings, we would PT hard with the cadets. We
would run, do pushups, pullups, dips, complete obstacle courses and climb rope
in their outdoor gym. It was hard, especially in the hot, humid climate. After
PT we would shower (if there was running water) and eat breakfast (a piece of
bread and a cup of tea). The food in Burkina Faso was, in a word, underwhelming.
I got sick halfway through the trip and had to be taken to the local doctor.

We got back to the United States on 4 July, and that was
quite an amazing feeling. In Burkina Faso, I got to meet people from a place
that is vastly different from anything I’ve ever known. Their culture cannot be
summed up concisely, but it truly was amazing to experience. I also had a
newfound appreciation for the little things that I often take for granted
living in the US. Running water, toilet paper, and food with protein are just a
few things that make life easy in the US, and having those taken away truly
opens up your eyes as to how a lot of the world lives. I highly recommend the
CULP program to anyone I encounter, because with regards to understanding
culture, there is no substitute to getting on a plane and seeing it for
yourself.

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