Monday, October 22, 2012

Privy Party!

Back in August my amazing grandmother (with lots of support from my equally amazing mother and family) decided to celebrate her birthday by hosting a lovely tea party to benefit the latrine-building project I’d proposed. She called it a Privy Party and it was a resounding success. She raised so much money that I was able to expand the project, increasing the number of latrines that we’ll be able to build.
I can only hope that the latrines
will turn out as well as the tea party did ~ 

My community here is very excited about this project, and I’m eager to start building, but there are still a few weeks left until the rainy season is definitively over and building can begin. I’ll be doing my best to make the most of this time to increase awareness of the importance of latrines and of how to go about getting involved with the project - each participating family will provide a contribution, learn about disease prevention and latrine use and maintenance, and assist with the construction of their latrine. It’s not a hard sell; people around here are generally really enthusiastic about latrine use. Some compounds already have latrines, but they’re often used by a large number of people, leading to the latrine prematurely filling up and breaking down.  Many other houses have no latrine at all, and so people resort to practicing outdoor defecation (a fancy way to say pooping off in the bushes or out in the fields) or settle for using a neighbor’s latrine when they can, which is fine but tends to exacerbate the overuse problem.

I really can’t do enough to thank all the people who contributed to this project – especially my family – but I will do my best to post updates as the project progresses and to (eventually!) send out thank-you cards. It’s been really moving to see how engaged and motivated people are to help other people improve their communities.

Americans in Saraya

It's been a busy month over here in Senegal. PCVs Marielle, Annē and I spent the last few weeks prepping for and then facilitating a visit from a team of Americans from the NGO peacecare. (Honestly, Marielle did the lion’s share of the leg- and paperwork, but we all pitched in to run preparatory trainings and take care of loose ends.) The team came to work on an ongoing cervical cancer screening and treatment project, and having them here was a great experience, we had a good time and I learned quite a bit. I would write more about peacecare and the work we’ve been doing with them, but I’ve already done so, here and here and here.

Cervical cancer screening and prevention is an interesting and worthy project, one that’s very valuable both for the local Senegalese communities and for the visiting American medical students and residents who are able to spend a little time working with Senegalese health professionals and seeing how the provision of health care is carried out in another part of the world. It was really nice to see Andrew again, and great to meet Gabi, Katie, Angel and Charles. Another peacecare team is scheduled to come to Kédougou in February of 2013, to lead cryotherapy (freezing of pre-cancerous lesions) treatment trainings for local health professionals, and we’re already looking forward it. 

And now, in somewhat scrambled order (it's hard to drag lots of photos around in Blogger sometimes), are photos of some of the highlights of the October 2012 peacecare trip.

Marielle and I walking; kids playing with red rubber balls during a screening day in a gold mining village; Charles (one of the visiting residents taking an out-the-window snapshot of the Kédougou mosque.

The whole team posing after a meeting with the top Kédougou Medical Officials; someone giving me Skittles; Patrick Linn greeting the Saraya village chief as he gave out Senegalese names to the newcomers.

Me translating for Charles while Madame Diop looked on; Mariama (who's favorite joke is that she's Canadian)and I talking shop; Marielle leading a stroll out to the fields around Saraya.

Annē and Patrick's host siblings; their brother making tea on their host family's compound; the kids leading us out to visit the peanut fields.

Crossing a stream on our way to the fields; Angel (one of the visiting residents) came thisclose to sticking the landing. 

Walking among the peanuts; loading into one of the hospital trucks to go out for a screening day.

Sitting through a meeting; eating ceeb u jen (fish and rice) and maafe tiga (peanut sauce) for lunch; some boutiques in the Kédougou market.

A "Tata" car in Kédougou; Fatou and I having similar thoughts during a meeting.

The Americans giving us wonderful, thoughtful, delicious treats; Andrew reliving the delight of being given fancy American snacks in Africa.

Fatou (the main screening trainer) and I jumping rope. It was a short little kids rope. She was better.

Charles and his fan club; the most amazing little kid just chowing down on some rice.

Rocks waiting to be crushed into dust (and boiled with mercury to separate out the gold); fancy fancy ceeb u yap (rice with meat).

On the path from the peanut fields; Sajou, in her fields with the Saraya Health PCVs.

Annē and the speculums on a screening day; Charles smashing an unripe baobab pod to see what was inside. (It was unripe baobab stuff.)

Annē/Sajou, LaRocha/Adama, Charles/Ibrahima, and Angel/Mariama - screening team extraordinaire! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Milk Tasting 101

Despite being fairly lactose-intolerant, I happen have opinions about the different kinds of powdered milks that are available, both here and in America. As a camper and then counselor at Camp Unalayee, a fantastic backpacking summer camp in Northern California, I developed an appreciation for Milkman low-fat powdered milk, with its bright orange box, hermetically sealed pouches, and "a kiss of cream!" Compared with the generic non-fat sacks of milk powder, which had a dull flavor, looked grayish, and always left behind gummy little clumps of residue, Milkman was a delicious, smooth, slightly rich-tasting treat. I experimented with powdered soymilk, which was fine but somewhat unimpressive, and eventually went back to Milkman and started carrying little packets of LactAid tablets around with me to mitigate the rather unbecoming symptoms of my digestive tract's inability to process lactose.

When I first arrived in Senegal I avoided milk products altogether, figuring that my poor stomach had enough to contend with already. Eventually, though, I started mixing a little bit of powdered milk into my morning oatmeal and making NesCafé-au-lait-en-poudre. When I started buying more milk Wouri, one of the local boutique owners, gave me a crash course in the merits and characteristics of different brands of milk powder. According to him, Halib, which is made in Senegal, is the best because it's pure whole milk, just dried and powdered. The other brands, VitaLait and Bonilait, are actually made by taking powdered non-fat milk and adding in vegetable fats to "refatten" it, giving it the richness and texture that people here prefer. Pretty much all the people I talked to in my village preferred Halib, but also liked VitaLait quite a bit. 

There are a few other brands but Halib and VitaLait are by far the most widely available and most popular. I wondered if other PCVs had a similar interest in powdered milks. They didn't, but they agreed to participate in a blind taste test of three kinds of powdered milk anyway, and the results were somewhat surprising. 

Of all the milks, VitaLait (Jar B) was the clear loser. It was described as "watery", "bland rice water", and "sour." It didn't mix in as smoothly as the other brands and left little globs of milk powder on the sides of the jar. Personally, I don't mind VitaLait, but I think it tastes a little plastic-y, and has a slight chemical aftertaste, but that could be partly because I don't like the idea of it being stripped of its milk fat and then artificially" re-fatted." It reminds me of how nice chocolate is made with whole cacao nuts, with the cocoa butter left in, and cheap, waxy chocolate is made by extracting the rich  cocoa butter for use in other products and then adding in cheaper, worse-tasting oils and waxes as fat-based fillers. 
Halib (Jar A), the brand that left in the milk fat instead of replacing it with vegetable fat, had mixed reviews. Some tasters really didn't like it, describing it as "dry", "enh", "fruity rotten" and "slightly fecal-tasting." However, it turned out that some of these people didn't drink cow milk in America, which might have created a bias. We realized that people who did drink cow milk back in America seemed to tend to prefer Halib, saying that it tasted "more milky", "grassy in a nice way", and "no poop taste." I think Halib is good, and agree that it has a grassy, bovine taste and I'd prefer Trader Joe's Unsweetened Organic Soy Milk, but it's not bad for the time being. 
Finally, to me Bonilait tasted exactly like non-dairy creamer. It was the whitest, finest, most opaque of all the milk powders, and it didn't taste bad. It just tasted like plain Coffeemate. The people who didn't drink cow milk before Peace Corps really preferred it, saying it tasted "good", "like Momma's teat", and "good." The people who didn't like it described it as "malt-starch-sugar", "meh", and "no."

Everyone agreed that powdered milk was not their preferred dairy or dairy-ish drink, and also that room temperature milk, powdered or otherwise, isn't very appealing. Also, all of the powders tasted pretty good if you mix them with instant coffee and sugar and leave them in the freezer for awhile.

(Many thanks to Chrissie, New Frank, Janet, Flatrick Bair, and Katie O. for making this post possible.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cervical Cancer Awareness Training

Along with a few other Volunteers, I've been helping out with an ongoing collaboration between Peace Corps Volunteers and an NGO called PeaceCare that is aimed at improving cervical cancer prevention and treatment in Senegal.  

We've been coordinating trainings for local health workers intended to raise awareness and improve understanding of what cervical cancer is and what resources are available to prevent ant treat it if it develops. The training that happened in my village was lead by a trainer from the District Hospital and the local midwives. They gave a presentation and then lead discussions with Community Health Workers and Community Liaisons, or "Neighborhood Aunts" as they call them here. They talked about on anatomy, the basics of cancer and cervical cancer, testing, treatment and barriers to care, and then discussed ways to broach the topic with people in their neighborhoods. My role was to arrange all the things that make a meeting happen: announcements, renting a room and chairs, borrowing a projector, hiring someone to cook lunch, and handle things like reimbursement for transport. 

Despite the language barriers - the District trainer spoke only Wolof and French; most of the local women only spoke Pulaar - the women had really valuable, engaged conversations. The midwives and the head of the women's groups did a lot of translating, I drew some basic reproductive anatomy illustrations, and everyone was impressively attentive. Many of the local women aren't literate, but I noticed that several of them had carefully copied the anatomy drawing into the notebooks that had been handed out, which really made my day. I didn't talk much at all, but I learned some interesting vocabulary ("cervical cancer" was translated as "the sickness of the stomach of the mother of the baby") and as women got more comfortable they started telling stories and jokes, some of which I even understood. It was really heartening to see how many people showed up - traveling even short distances can be such a pain in rainy season - and very encouraging to see how interested and responsive people were to the issues being discussed.

And then, just after the training was all over and I was just beginning to get a little self-congratulatory about how well it had gone, several things happened in rapid succession. First, I realized that there was a hole in my pocket and the key to the rented room had fallen out at some point during the day and after quite a bit of hurried searching I had to accept that it was lost. Since there's no back-up key I promised to pay to have the locks changed and then set about cleaning up and returning the rented chairs to the other side of village, but because the car had already gone over to the market and we couldn't call it back because the cell phone network suddenly went out a helpful neighbor kid and I had to carry the chairs, stacked on our heads, up and down the ravine that now runs through the center of our village. On the last trip I slipped and scraped up my shin, ripping my pants and making my eyes tear up a little bit.

I still had to run around to collect all the receipts, grab my backpack from my hut, and say good-bye to my host family before heading off for several weeks (for project work and summit) and my ride back to Kédougou was getting impatient. Once they saw I was bleeding and upset, though, everyone was really, really nice about having to wait a few extra minutes.

So, now I'm in Kédougou working with a couple other PCVs to finish up prep work for the PeaceCare team's upcoming visit and things are going pretty well - lots of unexpected schedule changes, but that's par for the course here. As you can see from the photos, even after just a few days, my scrape is healing up quite nicely. I'm very pleased with my immune system. 

My Garden Grows

Over the summer I finally put up some crintin woven fencing and turned the little space between my hut and my host mom Mariama's cooking hut into a little garden. My host family helped me get the crintin and I cleared out the trash and bricks, dug out some plots, and picked out some seeds to plant. 

With the help of Mankaba (above) and his older brother Mamadou (below with the moringa) I planted moringa, squash, cherry tomatoes, wax beans, radishes, okra and cucumbers. I tried to plant hot peppers and bitter eggplant but they didn't sprout. Luckily, Mariama, Mamadou and Mankaba's mother, has a nice garden of her own and transplanted a few seedlings over. My little garden's right next to her sleeping hut and her cooking hut it makes for a convenient kitchen garden - if all goes well the tomatoes will go in maafe tiga (the peanut sauce we eat with rice for lunch), the spinach-ish moringa leaves will go in maafe hakko (the leaf sauce we have with corn couscous for dinner) and the other things will be mixed into cucumber salads, added to sauces, or eaten afternoon snacks.

When I cleared out the garden space I realized that the moringa that Lindsay, the PCV I replaced, had planted a couple years ago had survived the long dry seasons and months and months of neglect. In Senegal people call moringa nebba die, from the English "never die" because it's such a tenacious plant. It was nice, feeling like there was some continuity between my little garden and the one she and Mamadou had planted during her service.

My first harvest of radishes and wax beans was somewhat accidental. I'd gone in only planning to thin  the radishes, which were growing in dense and tightly spaced, but most of them were already big enough to call it 'picking' rather than 'thinning.' I also snapped off a handful of beautiful purple beans (which turned green when steamed) and had a delicious mid-morning snack. Like many other Volunteers who haven't gardened in ages and who are lucky enough to live in southern Senegal (where the dirt seems to be made of Miracle-Grow) watching plants spring up in garden beds and produce recognizable, edible things seems slightly magical.

One day Mamadou planted a little banana tree. It's great, but I'm a little worried about its long-term survival outlook, since rainy season is drawing to a close and bananas need a lot of water. For the time being, though, it's a fun addition. Mariama's bitter eggplant and not peppers are coming along well, and the tomatoes are growing like they're trying to take over the world. I keep having to prop them up and trim them back so they don't cover the plants nearest them.

The squash has started fruit and also to climb up my hut; the tomatoes and okra are sprouting little tomatoes and okras, and the cucumber is blossoming nicely. I'm about to be out of village for almost a month because of work - project-related meetings and trainings followed by a Health summit in Thiès -  and I'm a little sad that I won't be able to keep an eye on my garden. While I'm away I'll check in with Mamadou and Mariama, though, and hopefully they'll be able to start harvesting some useful fruits and veggies pretty soon.