Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chalk It Up

The wall of the Kedougou Regional House's kitchen hut features a large calendar, painted with blackboard paint and outlined in white house paint. Every month someone wipes it down and chalks in all the important upcoming events - birthdays, trainings, vacation dates, and holidays real and imagined. 

The House Calendar for April 2013
I like to do the calendar, and this is my last one, so I tried to make it count.

A few notes: COS = Close of Service, when people leave; VV = Volunteer Visit, when the new arrivals come to check out their sites; UAG = Urban Agriculture; AgFo = Agroforestry; True American Rainbow Party = We've been watching too many New Girl episodes lately.

Cups and Kettles

Diabou is now the second-youngest kid on my compound. She’s taciturn, obstinate, and small for her age. She doesn't like new people and refused to acknowledged my existence for my first three months at site. She has a big head and little arms and thick, slightly bowed legs, like a tyrannosaurus. She understands things just fine, but frequently pretends to have not heard when people tell her what to do, and she doesn't speak very often. When she does talk, it’s in this raspy, high-pitched little mouse voice, like a gravel-filled squeaky toy come to life.

Obviously, she is my favorite.

After the initial cold shoulder she warmed to me, and now we're friends. She sits on my feet when I'm trying to read, delivers little piles of mango leaves to my doorstep, brings me her peanuts to shell because she knows I don't like raw peanuts and will not keep a portion for myself.

She calls me “Ada” and she's taken to padding into my hut in the early mornings to perch silently on the corner of my bed and watch me boil water, attempt to sent texts, organize the junk on my table, whatever I happen to be doing. Sometimes after lunch I'll let her come in and play around, like this:

She spent about thirty minutes pouring water back and forth, seeing how high she could lift the pouring cup and swishing things around. She spilled a lot, but nothing disappears faster than water off a cement floor in hot season, so I didn't mind. Also, it was kind of mesmerizing, like a Rube Goldberg contraption.


No matter where they come from, pretty much all kids like to draw and color, and while coloring they like to say “Look! Hey! Hey, look! Hey, look, look here! Look! Hey! Look!” until you look over and say “Oh, that’s great! Good job! You’re so good at coloring!” Also, there always seems to be a kid who gets all bent out of shape if another kid loses a marker cap or puts the crayons back differently, and there’s always a littler one who sneaks in to gnaw on the crayons and chew off the marker tips.

I really like that coloring has become part of my routine at site. Kids, mostly host siblings and neighbors, show up in groups of three to six and ask for the mat and books and crayons and markers, and then they're usually pretty content to just sit there and color for an hour or so. Then, someone's mom will call them home, or it'll be time to fetch water or help with dinner prep or play soccer, and they roll up the mat and return all the supplies.

All this coloring has largely been made possible by Troll, my friend and fellow Camp Unalayee alum, has been sending wonderful packages filled with band-aids, ointment, embroidery thread, paper, and markers. My friends and American family have sent paper and markers and all sorts of fun stuff, too, and I've given some of the art supplies to my host siblings and their friends, kept some in my hut for the little kids to use a few times a week, and stashed some in my trunk so I’ll be able to give them as a going-away present next month. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

End of an Era

With PCVs from my training group already heading back to America, the good-bye phase of my service in Senegal has started. I feel like it began in earnest in Dakar, the day I went to a fish-and-rice place known as the USAID Ceeb Shack (ceeb, pronouced “cheb,” means “rice” in Wolof) with PCVs Nic, Ivy, Marielle, Kayla and Annē. The USAID Ceeb Shack, located right by the Ngor beach and the USAID Dakar office, is renowned for friendly service and really good food, and only charges 800-900 fCFA (about $1.50) a plate. On any given day they’ll offer several choices, such as fish and red rice, fish and yellow rice, steamed rice with peanut sauce, onion sauce, okra-and-palm-oil sauce, tangy orange domeda sauce, or my personal favorite, chicken and wheat cous cous. I meant to take pictures of everyone’s plates when they arrived, but in our hunger and haste I forgot until everyone had eaten pretty much everything.

Though Nic and Ivy weren't actually flying out for several more weeks, Marielle and I were about to head back down to Kédougou and we knew it was the last day that we’d see Nic and Ivy in Senegal. There are more and more of those oh-this-is-the-last-time-I’ll-see-you moments, but adding the caveat “in Senegal” does take the edge off. It’s great to feel like we've all made it through our service, like we've all accomplished something together, and even though everyone’s going their separate ways it’s good to see people headed off to do interesting things. 

Fatoumata Bineta Souare

While I was away in Thiès and Saraya last month, my youngest host mom, Kade, had her third baby. I knew she was pregnant but hadn't realized that she was that far along, and was disappointed that I missed the baptism. Of course, I still brought some baby gifts over to her hut - a soft blanket, some fancy soap, a pretty new shirt, and a baby outfit in a little purple bag – and she told me that she’d wanted to name the baby after my mother in America, but when she was visiting everyone just called her “Neene Adama,” literally “Adama’s mom,” and so no one was completely sure how to pronounce or write her actual name, so they named the baby Fatoumata Bineta instead. Maybe next time, though, if she has another daughter.

(Father Sadat and big sister Diabou; new baby girl Fatoumata Bineta; mother Kade)

First Mango of the Season

The mangoes in Salémata aren’t quite ripe yet, but last week Katie O. and I walked over to the Bassari village of Ethiolo, where the mangoes have been ripe for a few weeks now. We went to greet our friend Tatiana’s old host family and to buy some souvenirs – the Bassari craftsmen make fantastic masks and figurines. Over the years the Bassari have been mostly converted to Catholicism, but they’ve retained a lot of their traditional animist culture and hold initiation ceremonies every spring.

On the way back Katie’s shoe broke, and she did what any Senegalese kid would do in that situation: root around for a bit of plastic bag, MacGyver it back together, and keep on walking.

Latrines: A Very Good Thing

During my baseline survey, many of the 62 family compounds I interviewed talked about wanting a latrine. There were some pre-existing latrines in the area, but many of them weren't very sturdy and were susceptible to collapse, particularly during the rainy season.
A partially collapsed latrine
Two years ago the Catholic Mission of Salémata held a training for a group of village masons that covered ideal pit dimensions, durable latrine designs, how to mold a concrete latrine cap, and installing ventilation pipes. So, there was obviously a high level of community interest and available skilled masons, but the high cost and inconvenience of obtaining building materials meant that very few families had actually installed a latrine, and of course, without latrines people are forced to practice outdoor defecation, which contributes to the spread of dysentery and other diarrheal diseases.

All of this led me to write a Peace Corps Partnership Project grant proposal, and with an incredible amount of support from my friends and family in America it was quickly funded. Once I had the means, it was time to go back to the hardware stores in Kédougou where I’d gotten quotes, order the materials and arrange to have them transported the 80k (50 Miles) on a rough, unpaved road out to Salémata. Ordering the supplies was painless, but withdrawing the money from my account turned out to take almost five hours of waiting at the bank. With help from my host family and neighbors we spread the word about the project requirements and held meetings to make a list of participants and a plan for how people would pay their contributions, compensate the masons, and verify that the work had been done. Once all the supplies actually arrived (there were some truck problems and some inadequate stock problems, so it took a couple tries to get everything delivered and ready to go) participants paid their contribution and got checked off on the Chief’s list, and then came in pairs to collect their cement and materials.

Once the latrine building got underway I walked around with the head of the village Sanitation Committee to check in and see how things were going. We chatted with people about the project, talked about different ways to make covers for the hole, and made sure to work the many benefits of hand-washing with soap into the conversation. People were really positive and it was a huge relief to see that the whole thing had worked – latrines were built, awareness was raised, progress was made.
Some of the latrines are totally done and in use, but there are a few people who still need to put up the crintin privacy fencing. Now that hot season is upon us the Bassari craftsmen are starting to show up to the weekly lumo market with sheets of crintin, stools, beds, tables and chairs made from something that everyone calls bamboo, so hopefully the rest of the latrines will be screen in and operational in the next few weeks.

Working on this project has been a fantastic experience. As one of my neighbors said, “Adama, this is a very good thing for Salémata. Your work is good and now we have a latrine in our household. It will be a good thing and the people will see the latrines and remember you. Whenever I look at our latrine I will think of you.” As flattering as that is, this project wouldn't have happened (or would have been much, much more difficult) if people hadn't already been interested in latrines, if there hadn't been trained masons on hand, if my family and friends in America hadn't put on such a successful fundraiser, or if the chief and Sanitation Committee hadn't be willing to do the lion’s share of the accounting and explaining and distribution of supplies, and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed time, energy, and support to the project.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Cryo Comes to Kedougou

I've posted about cervical cancer and Peace Corps' partnership with PeaceCare, a Chicago-based non-governmental organization, several times over the last couple years. It's been a productive and really interesting collaboration, and if you like you're welcome to read (or maybe re-read) about it here and and here and and here, too.

Over the last few visits Peace Corps Volunteers (currently myself, Marielle, Annē and Chip) worked with the PeaceCare team to increase awareness and understanding of cervical cancer, identify and collaborate with Senegalese cervical cancer specialists, and train local midwives and doctors to perform Visual Inspection with Acetic acid (VIA) to identify pre-cancerous lesions on the cervix. Acetic acid is just vinegar, and pre-cancerous cells are acidophilic, so they soak up acidic things and change color, making them easy to identify visually.

Chip with pause cafe snacks
Marielle with the cryo tank and gun

Once a pre-cancerous lesion has been diagnosed it can be treated with cryotherapy (using special equipment to freeze the lesion) to prevent it from becoming cancerous. This time around the team's goal was to get cryotherapy equipment up and running and to train several local health workers how and when to use it to treat patients. The trainees (one doctor and two midwives) did really well with the theory and practice on models, and were able to observe and practice a couple actual cryotherapy treatments.
Cryo tank and gun

Tracy, the PeaceCare team's fantastic
OB-Gyn, leading a training session
Unfortunately, there weren't enough women who came in with pre-cancerous lesions to allow the trainees to practice using the equipment an adequate number of times be certified as qualified cryotherapy treatment providers during the team's visit. Fortunately, a gynecologist who does cryotherapy in Tamba agreed to host at least one of the trainees and supervise the cryotherapy sessions until they have had enough practice to be officially certified, which is fantastic.  The treatment basically involves putting a special tip on the cryo gun and applying the tip to the cervix for a three-minute freezing cycle, removing it for a five-minute thaw cycle, and then repeating the process once. It's neither painful nor technically difficult, doesn't require electricity or a sterile operating room, and it's quite effective at destroying abnormal cells.

As great as cryotherapy is, the trip, as PCV Patrick Hair would say, "wasn't all Skittles." There were delays and stomach rumblings and scheduling debacles, but the team persevered and made a lot of progress. For me, the most significant moment came at the end of the last day of the cryotherapy training, when a woman who had been diagnosed with a pre-cancerous lesion during a screening in December 2012 came in and asked to be seen.

The trainee team (midwives Oulli and Diouma, and Dr Kabou) counselled her, explaining that they would re-check the VIA results and went over the benefits and risks of cryotherapy, and she consented enthusiastically. (I was in the room to translate for Tracy, who was guiding and supervising the midwives.) They told the patient that it might be a little uncomfortable and she replied the she didn't care if it hurt a lot if it got rid of the illness. Everything went smoothly, and during the treatment procedure the patient said it felt cold and slightly uncomfortable but not painful.

Immediately after the procedure after she was up and about and really, really, really pleased. In rapid  Pulaar (I was totally proud of myself for keeping up) she thanked the team profusely and explained that when she got diagnosed with an illness she had been very worried. She said that hospital stays are expensive, the nearest gynecologist is far away in Tamba, and if you don't have your health you don't have anything. She had completed secondary school and she understood the importance of health, that it's everything and you must care for it. She said it is so terrible to be told that you have an illness in your body, but that she was so happy that the team came to Kedougou and she was able to get treated. She thanked the trainees, Tracy, and myself, again and again, and then left, waving and smiling to the rest of the team on her way out of the hospital.

Her happiness and gratitude was both irrepressible and contagious, and everyone - the trainees, the PeaceCare team, the PCVs - ended the day and the Kedougou training on a wonderfully high note. 

W.A.I.S.T. 2013: Get off of our lawn!

The January 2013 West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament in Dakar was a great success for the Kédougou team. Not so much for winning games, but we lead the league for style and team spirit. 

Each year each region comes with a theme (Superheros, South of the Border, Beach Core, etc) and the costumes are generally intended to be flattering, not unlike Halloween on any given college campus. With that in mind, this year Kédougou's theme was Geriatrics. We pulled our pants up as high as they would go, baby-powdered our hair, filled our pockets with hard candy, and went searching for sweater vests. 

 We didn't have very many throwing or catching skills, and we weren't super clear on all the rules and positions, but had a lot of good cheers and we did our best. Jubal played Outfield Guitar, Katie O. and I covered Third Base from time to time, and Kyle pitched, with some help from Karen. We made the most of the element of surprise when Country Director Chris Hedrick got a solid hit and we all ran to first base, and we got a semi-standing ovation (and Captain America came over from the sidelines) for our mid-game rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

We ate hot dogs, drank cold Cokes, watched the other games, just generally had a good time, and all too soon the tournament was over. 
Most of the Geriatric 'Gou Crew