Saturday, April 28, 2012

New Roof!

My host family, the Souarés, are wonderful. At the beginning of each month I give my host father and mothers a modest cash contribution, to cover the cost of feeding me, sheltering me, just generally taking care of me. At the beginning it was awkwardly difficult to get him to take it, there was a lot of "No, you are part of the family now, we can't accept that!" but I would insist. By now we've fallen into a more comfortable oh-you-don't-have-to-but-thank-you-oh-no-thank-you sort of arrangement, and I've never had any problems with my contribution being squandered, (there are PCVs who have had problems) I'm confident that it goes toward food and basic supplies. 

When I gave my monthly contribution right before I left for vacation it got awkward again, with my host father insisting that I shouldn't be giving money for food that I wasn't going to be around to eat, but I said that it Peace Corps gave it to me to give to them (which is pretty much how it works) and so he considered that and then said "Ok, well, we'll repair your hut's roof while you're gone, so it will be very ready for rainy season." I said that sounded just fine, and when I got back to village I had this lovely, still-golden, water-tight, relatively spider-free thatch roof, and I was totally, totally happy about it. 
Fixed up for move-in day  - May 2011
Older, weathered thatch - Feb 2012


Mud Wasps

I don't know what these things are called, but I call them mud wasps for obvious reasons, event though I'm pretty sure they're not actually a kind of wasp. They don't bite or sting, but they are always building these many-chambered larvae-caddies on the whitewashed walls of my mud hut. I don't mind them, but this one decided to set up shop right at the head of my bed, and I didn't like the idea of all that buzzing (they're kind of loud) and egg-laying going on just inches from my face while I slept. So, I got out an old spoon and used the end to pry the little structure away from the wall, and to my surprise it popped right off, fully intact.

"Mud Wasp"

Neat. Kind of gross, but neat. 
I felt a little bad about ruining their little home, but they have plenty of other nests set up under my eaves, and I did sleep much better that night.

Highly Fashionable

I wear things here that I just wouldn't wear in America, (unless I was at summer camp, where I once wore a vividly teal full-body rain suit with yellow cuffs) especially when I'm in village. This is a country where an all-fuchsia outfit with sparkly gold trim is considered pretty but not at all out of the ordinary, and I've gotten used to it. A few months ago I was walking to the water pump with my purple bucket, and noticed that I was wearing pink flip-flops, bright red pants with yellow squiggles, a bright green t-shirt, purple glasses and a tan hat. At least my glasses matched my bucket, I guess. 

So when I came in to the Regional House, (where there are other Americans) looked down at myself, and all of a sudden realized I was pretty much dressed like a giant crayon, right down to the green flip-flops. I couldn't find my green hat, or I would have put that on, too. 

Crayola Green

Friday, April 27, 2012

World Malaria Day

So. Malaria. Basically, a person gets malaria from the bite of a mosquito infected with Plasmodium parasites. The parasites get into the bloodstream, mess up the red blood cells, and start making the person all feverish and then really, really sick. If another uninfected mosquito bites that sick person then that mosquito becomes infected and can pass on  Plasmodium parasites to the next person it bites. 
Image thanks to
Only female Anopheles mosquitoes can infect humans with the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria. (Italics because it's the Latin name,not because I'm trying to be extra emphatic.) There are different strains of Plasmodium parasites, some more dangerous than others, and here in Senegal we have mostly Plasmodium falciparum, which is pretty much the worst kind. You can avoid getting malaria by taking prophylactic medications like doxycycline, mephloquine (Lariam), or atovaquone (Malarone). If, for whatever reason, these medications aren't an option you can reduce your chances of getting malaria by using insect repellent, sleeping under a bed net, and getting rid of standing water and other mosquito breeding grounds. 

If you do get malaria there are effective, affordable treatments available, even in places with  chloroquine-resistant malaria, like Senegal. Our Health Center is usually well-stocked with government- and NGO-subsidized Malaria Rapid Tests and Coartem medication packs, especially during rainy season, when most malaria cases happen. Here are photos of the Coartem for adults that Peace Corps gave me (but which I will hopefully never need because I'm good about taking my prophylaxis) and also of a pack of Coartem for children that's available at the Health Center. 

This past Wednesday was World Malaria Day, and people all around the world did activities and held events to acknowledge the damage caused by malaria and to raise awareness of how to prevent malaria. In Salémata, my village, Wednesday was also when our Health Center has its monthly vaccination and growth monitoring activities. We didn't do anything huge because it was already a pretty busy day, but we did have an informal causerie discussion with the mothers who had brought their babies to be weighed and vaccinated and who were just hanging out, waiting for the nurse to call them up. Adama Dioulde Diallo, one of the women who does community outreach  Salémata, used  my little set of info cards to give little presentations on how to properly use and care for Long-Lasting Insecticide-Treated Nets (LLINs) and we talked about setting up a bednet care-and-repair activity sometime soon.  
Adama Dioulde Diallo

If you like maps and are interested in learning a little more about malaria, please check out the CDC's fantastic Interactive Malaria Map. It's neat. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bikram Lunch

So, a lot of people in America are into yoga these days, and Bikram Yoga, where people do all that stretching and posing and whatnot in a humid room heated to 105°F (≈ 41°C), has caught on in some places. From what I understand the idea is that doing this is cleansing, that it builds endurance, that it stimulates good stuff in your body, and that it warms up and loosens your muscles. I like yoga and I like steam rooms, and it seems like a fine idea to me.

However, I was thinking about this the other day, when the temperature was about 42°C (≈108°F), while I was perched on my little stool under the mango tree, quietly sweating, waiting for Gaulo and Bailo, my host sisters, to bring over our lunch bowl (steamed rice with peanut sauce, as usual). I was thinking about the heat, and hot yoga, and what we like to call "the face-sweats" (which is happens when you eat during hot season) and how people would react if, after they finished their hot yoga workout, they were presented with a steaming bowl of rich, salty rice and sauce and told to dig in. It's funny, but not the most appetizing thought.

Pre-Lunch Face-Sweat Levels
I've made plenty of hot-season jokes about how I should have called this blog "Bikram Life" but sitting there at the bowl, spoon in hand, perspiration trickling into my eyes and dripping down my calves, "Bikram Lunch" seemed to do a better job of summing it all up.

Adios Amigos

When it comes to living in Senegal there are hard parts (e.g. the heat, the awful transport cars, the skinny skinny babies, the pockets of abject poverty, the unwanted marriage propositions, the complete lack of dental care...), there are nice parts (e.g. the wonderful host families, the chubby babies who try to steal my glasses, the total strangers who take us in and feed us just because we're there, the tailor who refuses to accept payment for fixing the holes in my pants, the beautiful waterfalls, overwhelmingly delicious holiday dinners, everyone's Halloween costumes, N'ice Cream...). And then there are sad parts (e.g. the good-byes).

The new stage of Health PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) are almost done with PST (Pre-Service Training), which means that the last stage of Health Volunteers has gone up to Dakar and COS-ed (Close-of-Service) and we miss them already. Especially these ones:

Frosting with Meera
Meera taught me everything I know about tailors in Kedougou, making pancakes at the Regional House and dancing like an old Bedik lady. We are an amazing food-making team and breakfast will not be the same without her. I took most of the clothes she left behind and pretty much plan on dressing up like her for the rest of my service. I'm currently wearing her pants. 

Laterite Spray-Tanning with Leah
One time Leah let me come to her doctor's appointment to get an x-ray looked at, just because I had nothing better to do that day and afterwards the doctor bought us both ice cream, which was awesome. Another time I completely covered her kitchen basket with pictures of babies, because she totally has Baby Fever. One of the most unexpectedly best times I've had in Senegal was on a bike trip when Kate's tire sheared open and we all spent the afternoon slogging through ridiculous mud fields and pushing our bikes across rivers. It could have been completely miserable, but because Leah was there it was hilarious and fun.

Hamburgaling with Eric
Ohhhh Eric! Whether we were taking imaginary vacations, making Joseph into a real person, watching tonic magically freeze, or trying to discretely mix Fant-angria in the back seat of a sept-place, we always had the best times and the funniest nonsense jokes. When I got really sick and completely fainted while coming out of the latrine Eric went into EMT mode, put me in a recovery position, cleaned up my scrapes, set up a straw system so that I didn't have to sit up to drink ORS, and pointed out that at least I fainted coming out of the latrine or things could have been a lot worse dignity-wise.  Fun Fact: Eric coined the term "John Boehner Laterite Road Tan."

On a side note, I can't help noticing that the John Boehner Laterite Road Tan makes my teeth look so pearly white. And also that I maybe should wear a different tank top sometimes. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hut Sweet Hut

Buckets are such a big part of my life here. I've really come to appreciate a good, sturdy bucket, especially one with a nice lid. Here's my bath bucket (with fancy sieve/soap caddy), my food storage bucket, and my gaz tank. 

My nice burner broke the other day and this little one (the only kind available in village) that doesn't have the nice pot-guard that my other had. I use my gaz to heat up water for coffee and instant oatmeal most mornings, and during cold season I'll heat up a little pot of water to add to my bathing bucket to take the edge off the chill of cold water. Some volunteers just leave their bucket out in the sun all afternoon, but because of the shady mango tree (which is great and I love) next to my hut I've had very limited success with that during the cold season. Right now it's quite hot, and I'll just leave my water buckets (which are exactly the same as my food storage and dish storage buckets) in the coolest corner of my hut and hope they don't get too warm.

This is my wooden table. It pretty much looks like this on any given morning, with my silver water filter, various mugs and water bottles, sunblock and toothpaste, and random this and that. It's a really nice table, I like it a lot. The metal water filter is nice, too, it keeps water much cooler than the dark plastic filters that some of the volunteers have.

The table has handy shelf for stacking all sorts of things, and there's a bamboo (or whatever it is, everyone in village calls it bamboo) rod for hanging clothes to dry or keeping stuff away from the rats and bugs on the ground level.

I store clothes and things in my trunks, and then I store important things in my little suitcase because it zips up, which keeps dust and critters out. The oatmeal cans also help with the bug situation, it's easy to sweep under the trunks when they're propped up, and that keeps ants from building trails along the fine cracks in the cement, and keeps the spider population in check, too.


Typing "Celebration!" makes me think of that creepy town in Florida, but this post is all about birthdays and festivals that happened way back at the end of February. 

The first few photos are of the start of the Bassari people's Chameleon Festival, a week-long dance party that kicks of in the afternoon, goes late into the night. I hear it involves some pretty racy outfits toward the end of the festival, but I had to head out to Kedougou, so I didn't get to hang around and watch, even though my host father encouraged me to, saying "You're young, you can stay up late! I went to the Bassari parties when I was young, but now I'm older and have many responsibilities." 

Anyway, I gave my camera to my host brother Amadou, and he took a bunch of photos, including these:

Then we all got together at a local campement for Jackie's birthday. I made her a card, Jubal drew her a picture, and Tatiana got her some palm wine from the Bassaris. (I am not a huge fan of palm wine, it's sweet, slightly foamy, in a fermented-tasting yeasty way, and it doesn't help that it's usually room temperature. And room temperature can be pretty warm.)

A few days later (after a ridiculous, fly-ridden trip in to Kedougou) we came in to the regional house for meetings and then had a big Mexican-ish dinner to celebrate Jackie and C.J.'s birthdays. Meera and Meagan cooked up tortilla and beans, people lit candles (since we all conveniently came in right as a 3-day power outage struck), and Jess A., Jackie, and Meagan posed in front of the lovely table they'd laid out.

The food was delicious and, thanks to the blackout, the ambiance was all candle-lit and sophisticated. Or, as sophisticated as sweaty people in headlamps eating out of plastic bowls can possibly get.

After dinner it was time to decorate the amazing cake that Meera had baked. I made the frosting, but the actual icing of the cake was a team effort.

This has nothing to do with anything in Senegal, we just thought it was really funny.

In any case, the cake turned out to be really pretty (for rural sub-Saharan Africa during a blackout) and tasted fantastic (for anywhere) and a good time was had by all. 

Baby Fat Cheeks

Fatou, my host sister Mariama Kesso's baby, is adorable. People are always saying that she's "cheeks only" because her chubby little face is basically 80% cheeks. During the elections when things were really slow in village I spent a lot of time playing with Fatou while Kesso braided hair for women in the neighborhood. Last year Kesso went in to Kedougou for a week-long training on fancy braiding techniques and new styles and designs, so her hair-styling skills are very much in demand. 

Here's Fatou and I posing, Mariama Kesso, in a fancy, heavily embroidered pink outfit, trying to get Fatou to pose, me wearing the blue complet that Kesso gave me, Fatou smiling, and Fatou with her brother Mamadou, refusing to smile. 


So, after a lovely vacation, some time at the office in Dakar, and a visit to Thies to meet the new group of Health Volunteers (who seem really great) during their Pre-Service Training, I'm finally back in Kedougou. It's been a busy month so I have a bit of catch-up to do, and it seems like the best place to start is with the elections, which are totally over now.

There was some unrest in parts of the bigger cities during the first campaign period, so everyone was a little nervous about how things would play out, but much to our relief the first round of elections in February went very, very smoothly. The now-former president, Abdoulaye Wade, had rigged things so that he could run for a third six-year term (which is completely unconstitutional) and many people were understandably upset by this. The first round of elections narrowed the field down to two candidates, Wade and Macky Sall, for the second runoff election in March. The BBC covered the Senegal elections, the election run-off, and the April 2nd swearing-in of President Macky Sall. It's been an interesting time for Senegal, and I'm really glad that the elections went smoothly. Guinea's troubled transition to civilian rule in 2010 and last month's coup in Mali really make me appreciate how valuable - and difficult - it can be to hang on to stability and peaceful political transitions.

Supporters of President Macky Sall