Thursday, August 30, 2012


I spent Korité, the feast day celebrating the end of Ramadan, in Salémata with my host family. I woke up, puttered around, got my complet outfit out, and waited for my host brothers to pound the big drum, signaling tat it's time for everyone who's going to the mosque to get a move on.

The drum, warming in the sun
 After mosque I walked around the compound, greeting people, being greeted, and taking photos of everyone's new clothes. My host cousin, Bineta wanted photos of both her new outfits, and we all took turns posing with my host sister's baby, little Fatou.

 Fatou's mother, Mariama Kesso, was busy all morning with food prep and cooking. We had steamed fonio (grown, processed and sold by host moms' women's group), meat, and an amazing vegetable-heavy onion sauce made with the onions, cabbage, carrots, and bitter eggplant that I brought in from town as my contribution to the family celebration.

Dinner prep under the mango tree

 After lunch, dinner prep started and the greeting continued. My host mothers Saliou Njan and Mariama wanted photos of their new outfits, and my neighbors Tatiana and Jess came by to visit and greet everyone, hold the babies and admire all the new outfits.

Adama and Fatou
 I also took a few pictures with Diabou, the stubborn, clever girl who was extremely slow to warm to me after I moved in, but who is now a great little friend. She refuses to accept having her hair braided (I can't blame her, it looks like it hurts, especially at first) so they're still shaving her head.

 After all that it was time to go greet people all around the village. I went greeting in a little group with Mariama Kesso, Fatou, and Diouma, the little girl in the blue and gold. Since the bridge to the far side of town was thoroughly washed out we picked out way along the creek bed, looking for a suitably shallow and solid place to cross.

Crossing the gulan (taro root?) field
 After a wonderful dinner of warm bread, spicy beans, flavorful yellow potatoes, and onion-y meat sauce I went to turn in at a reasonable hour and greatly relieved that the Ramadan schedule of dinner at 10:30 or 11 o'clock at night. Before I got to sleep, though, my host sister Kindi and her friend popped in to pose (sprawled out on my bed) for one last round of photos.

All in all it was a lovely holiday and it left me looking forward to the Tabaski celebration we'll have in October. 

The Joys of Transport: Rainy Season

As I may have mentioned before, traveling is by far my least favorite part of living in Senegal. Most of the time Peace Corps Volunteers (like most other people here) get around on what the French would call transport public, which here means transportation that is open to the public (as opposed to private cars and buses) and not "public transport" in the usual sense. The vehicles tend to be dirty, slow, unreliable and rickety, and (with a few exceptional stretches) the roads are often crater-filled, crumbling, or very washboard-esque.

Last month, on our way from my village to Kédougou, the car that my Peace Corps neighbors and I were riding in broke down. It wasn't a total surprise when the clutch fell out of the car floor (the engine sounded like a dying foghorn filled with wrenches) but, as we were nowhere near anywhere, it was pretty inconvenient. Luckily, a guy we know from my village drive by in his truck and wound up taking us (and, somewhat grudgingly, the rest of the passengers) the rest of the way in to town.

Salémata to Kédougou, July 2012 
Several days later, on the way back, we jinxed ourselves by marveling aloud at the lovely weather, the total absence of flooding, the cleanliness of the vehicle, and the competence of the driver. We were thinking that we would get back earlier than expected, have the afternoon to hang out, pull water, sweep out our huts. And then we came upon a big truck, hopelessly mired in a deep and slippery mud puddle, completely blocking the road. Some people opted to wait in the car, some tried to help push and dig and pile rocks under the truck's wheels, and my two PCV neighbors and I decided to walk. We didn't have much baggage and we didn't think that we were too far from Diara Pont, one of their villages. It turned out to be farther than we thought, but again, thanks to a kind man in a sturdy truck, we got a ride in most of the way.
 Kédougou to Salémata,
 July 2012 

And then there's the turnoff in Salémata to continue to the village out toward Oubadji and Kékéressi. There's a small cement bridge there where the road crosses a seasonal stream, or there was until last month. To be fair, the cement part is still there, it's just the road part that's gone missing. 

Kékéressi turnoff on the Salémata Road, July 2012

July 2012 
August 2012
Bigger trucks and less-rugged cars won't be able to go out past Salémata until it's repaired. In the meantime, the mayor and some of the men from around the village stacked rocks and sacks of clay dirt over a shallow area just upstream, so motorbikes and 4-by-4s the ambulance and people on foot can cross without too much difficulty. It's not ideal, but it will have to do for now. 

Of course, despite the terrible roads, the erratic departure times, and the falling-apart cars, I do travel. I go because it's necessary for work, because it's fun and interesting to see new places, and because it's wonderful to visit friends in other cities and villages. I make the most of obligatory trips; while in Dakar, taking care of office-type things, I stayed with my friends Rachel & Emily and their adorable baby boy, and now that I'm in Tamba for a USAID meeting I get to catch up with Emma and Marie, a couple of my favorite PCVs from my training group. After the meeting's over I'll continue to make my way south, on down to Kédougou, eyes on the road and fingers crossed, hoping for the best.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Office Moat

This past week I spent a few days at the Thiès Training Center, helping with a few sessions during the latest training groups' In-Service Training (IST).
From there I headed over to Dakar, where I'm getting a few things done at the office (meetings, printing, reimbursements for rash-cream, etc) while I'm up here. While it's been lovely to have electricity pretty much all the time, warm showers at the transit house, and plentiful fruit vendors (Plums! Pears! Tangerines! Amazing!) I've also been reminded of why I'd much rather sit out rainy season in a little village than spend it Senegal's capital. 

The Moat: receding, but still very much present.
Dakar doesn't exactly have well-functioning sewers or an effective urban drainage system, so when there are heavy rains gutters overflow, raw sewage burbles up through access holes, and many streets are thoroughly awash with filthy, murky runoff water. Yesterday, after a heavy morning downpour, the water was so deep in parts of the Almadies neighborhood that taxis and other normal-type cars couldn't make it through the reach the main office and the main street by the transit house, where I was, briefly became a frothy river with a surprisingly swift current. Today the water has drained off, for the most part, leaving only the muddled pond that fills the road in front of the office for most of every rainy season here. We were able to get from place to place pretty well, carefully making our way around and over the filthy runoff puddles and streams in an impromptu little game of high-stakes hopscotch. 

Name That Rash!!

As many people know, Peace Corps Volunteers love to describe in unsolicited detail all the positively revolting things that have gone into (and come out of) their stomachs, burrowed into their feet, or raised nasty welts across their torsos. I, alas, am no exception. 

So, a couple months ago I started getting this rash on my right knee. It wasn't particularly terrible-looking, but it was unbearably itchy, oddly hard, and started to flare up angrily in bright red swaths around both knees and across my lower back. I talked to Med, sent in some photos, applied hydrocortizone cream, and things improved. This was right when the nail of my big toe was threatening to become painfully ingrown, but after a few weeks of no closed-toed shoes (which I only wear for jogging) and soaking my foot every day my toe was fine and I went back to my normal routine, toes intact and rash-free. For a few days, anyway. 

To: Med Re: Recurrent Mild Knee-Rash
And then the rash came back with an irritating vengeance. I happened to be on my way up to the Thiès Training Center where two Peace Corps Medical Officers were kind enough to spend twenty minutes looking at my knees, running their fingers over the rashy parts, and deducing the cause of my discomfort. They immediately decided it was contact allergy, and guessed that it was caused by some sort of fabric that, combined with rainy season, my skin finds intolerable. We talked about my clothes, they asked about this and that and if I have any knee-length synthetic pants, maybe ones with seams around my knee and across my back. 

And then I realized - my running pants. My stretchy, frayed-at-the-synthetic-seams, capri-style running pants. The rash went away when I stopped jogging because of my toe. I am allergic to my pants. Problem solved. They gave me some strong anti-itch cream and, only a few days later, the rash has almost entirely disappeared. 

On a related note, while looking through my photos to find this picture I realized that I have an entire album's-worth of photos of rashes, stings, blisters, infections, and swollen lumps, taken by myself and  my fellow Kédougou PCVs and e-mailed to Med in the hopes that they can diagnose us from afar and spare us the long slog up to the Med Office in Dakar. Of course, I thought "Wouldn't it be funny if we all sent these photos in to the PC/Senegal Volunteer Newsletter? They could have a little matching-game-thing in the next issue, where people guess who was afflicted by what. Name That Rash!! Hilarious!" 

My suggestion went over pretty well with the Newsletter editorial staff; it might actually happen. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Diarrhea is no fun. Many things can contribute to high levels of diarrheal diseases, including improper hand-washing (i.e., without soap) and a lack of access to latrines. Along with malaria and respiratory infections, diarrhea is one of the most common reasons that people living my community have to seek treatment at the Health Center; during my baseline survey people frequently talked about how not having a latrine on the compound was a problem for their family. Many people in my village understand the connection between good sanitation and illness prevention, but almost half of the people living around me don't have access to a toilet or a latrine. (This really makes the personal pit-latrine that I have all to myself, right behind my hut, seem positively luxurious.) People usually don't have latrines because of the cost of the cement and rebar needed for the latrine cap, because the only place to buy cement and rebar is nearly 85 kilometers (about 50 miles) away on a fairly terrible dirt road, or because they don't know how to go about installing one. 

Not having enough latrines contributes to open-air defecation, or, less delicately, pooping behind a bush. This means that it's really easy for fecal matter to spread around under the trees where kids play and into the fields where their parents farm, bringing with it any amobeas and dysentery (which will forever remind me of Oregon Trail) and giardia germs that might have been lurking about.

My little host sisters and cousin, playing under a tree. 
In order to address this problem I started planning a latrine project at the end of last year but after my first funding source fell through things were delayed, and by the time I decided to apply for Peace Corps Partnership Project (PCPP)  funds the rainy season was fast approaching. I'm hoping to get the PCPP fully funded by the time the rains stop so that we can start building in November, when the weather is dry and the corn harvest has been brought in.
Image courtesy of

This little illustration basically shows what we'll be building if all goes as planned. After I arrange for the purchase and transport of the materials out to our village, each family, with the help of local masons, will reinforce the pit and lay in a cement cap, creating a sturdy, long-lasting latrine for the whole compound to use. 

The village chief, local health workers, and the heads of local women's groups will hold community meetings before and during the implementation phase to explain the cash and in-kind contributions that will be required for participation the project. We'll also have educational sessions about proper latrine usage, latrine maintenance, using oral rehydration solution to treat diarrhea, and the importance of hand-washing with soap.

This PCPP is intended to facilitate the construction of 30 latrines, and if they're all installed successfully then pretty much every compound in my area will have a proper, functional latrine and know how and why to use it,  which will be absolutely fantastic.  If it goes well this project will serve as a model for future latrine projects in neighboring communities, which would also be fantastic.    

If you would like to read the project profile (or if you're interested in donating to this project) please take a look at the PCPP profile page.  

Map of Senegal

After our World Map Mural went so well the director of the Primary School asked me to do another mural, an outdoor one, to beautify the school. Actually, he didn't really ask so much as declared, in a loud, jovial way, that I must come back and do another mural, as soon as possible. I agreed, got my paints together, gridded a little map of Senegal I had lying around, and got to work. 

I got this far in one afternoon, but the holes in the wall were a stumbling block. Fortunately, there were some Bassari guys doing a construction project at the school, putting a cement floor in a new classroom, and it was pretty easy to convince them to come put some extra cement in the wall. 

After the cement dried I used bits of leftover paint to smooth things over (and because it's fun to smush colors around) and then came back the next day to paint a background for the school title. I also touched up the places where some little kids had scribbled with charcoal and left dusty little hand-prints in the still-tacky paint. Ugh. Kids.

Most of the kids were pretty cute and extremely respectful, actually. They'd sit near me, asking questions, bickering with each other, or reading the names of each department aloud. There was one kid who greeted me and then sat in the shade, making little things out bits of trash and singing made-up songs using the text from the wrappers and tins he was playing with. (He was my favorite.) The morning after that I came back again to add text, a fancy ribbon, and general finishing touches. 

The director requested that I write "Discipline - Work - Success" across the bottom, and I obliged, even though it isn't the slogan I would have chosen for an elementary school. I might have gone with something like "Friendship! Learning! Dreams and Rainbows!" or something similarly American, but he's the director and he seems to care about improving the school. I also misspelled "Discipline" but realized it only a couple hours after I'd finished up, while jogging by to admire my own handiwork, so I'm pretty sure corrected it before anyone noticed. Success!


Sunday, August 5, 2012


Ever since I moved to Salémata I've been talking about how I should  plant a little garden or my own, but something always seemed to come up. Leaving village for training, being busy with other project ideas, the onset of hot season...

After my mom sent me some seeds from America I started thinking seriously about gardening again, and then Jubal brought some seeds in and we had a little seed exchange in my hut, with our neighbors Jackie and Jess.

Last month I finally got my act together and with the help of my host mom Mariama and my host brother Mamdou I put up some crintin woven bamboo fencing and got started. I cleared out the area between my hut and Mariama's cooking hut where my ancienne (the PCV I replaced) had planted moringa and dug out some simple garden beds. True to it's Pulaar name ("nebbadai" from the English "never die") the moringa she'd put it had survived just fine, despite many months of total neglect. One I cleared out the weeds around them they took off - the photo below left is the day I dug out the beds and below right is less than a week later. Moringa leaves are very nutritious and my family likes to use them to make leaf sauce; cooked moringa is a lot like spinach, which I enjoy.

In the other beds I planted beans, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, radishes, hot peppers, and jaxatu, or bitter eggplant, which looks like a big pale-green heirloom tomato and tastes exactly like bitter eggplant. It's not my favorite, but it's really popular around here.

My host brother Mankaba (Mamadou's youngest brother) helped out by following me around, chattering away, literally describing everything I was doing out loud as I did it, (which is a great way to learn new words) and occasionally chasing off a marauding chicken. He is adorable. 

We'll see how it goes, things are already starting to sprout so I'm pretty hopeful that I'll have a few vegetables to show for it by the time rainy season ends. 

Mankaba, Personal Narrator 
New garden fence, on the right of my hut