Monday, March 28, 2011

why hello there, blow dryer in my face

some randoms:
1. the blow dryer heat has returned but this time i am ready for it. 120 aint got nothing on me.
2. shout out to Costa in the new stage!
3. shout out to funktion and encore! awesome job at dance mix!! (for videos, type into youtube funktion encore dance mix michigan 2011)
4. for the past couple of months, there have been riots and protests throughout senegal for all the power outages that occur almost every day. but in the last couple of days, there have been virtually no power cuts. at first, we thought it was because there was an official protest on march 19th and the government, trying to avert the uprisings that have been so common in other islamic countries throughout northern africa and the middle east , has upped the electricity output. later, after talking to some other folks who have access to news, it appears that america has gifted senegal with electricity and more is on the way. so, thank you america and american tax payers for the electricity!
5. i read this quote in a book and i thought it summarized where i live pretty perfectly:
"donkeys stand motionless in the middle of the road, as though stunned into imbecility by the heat and sheer unfairness of being expected to graze off an expanse of rubble"
6. we think the senegalese are weird. but americans are just as weird. i have a hard time explaining how milk is not just milk in america. there's whole milk, 2% reduced fat milk, 1% low fat milk, skim milk, soy milk, lactose-free milk, amongst others. we have organizations that adamantly protect the rights of animals (PETA) when animals are abused all the time here by evil children. there are shows like the bachelorette where 1 woman gets to frolic and choose amongst dozens of men to be her mate (absolutely impossible in this country because woman have no rights here). there are conventions for star wars fanatics. oh and jersey shore. you get the point.

the other day, i posted pictures that i submitted for a photo contest and many people were appalled by the ugly baby category. the ugly baby phenomenon is actually quite interesting - half the time, i dont know whether im insulting the parents or actually complimenting them. so embedded in senegalese culture are certain well-defined answers to typical questions. for example: "how are you?" the response is "i am fine" even if you're not fine. it just has to be that way. the same applies to babies. when asked the question "is my baby pretty?" the response is "no it is ugly". it's actually an inverse. the uglier you say the baby is, the cuter it is in reality. so when you see a really cute baby, you have to tell it's mother that it is so ugly it makes your eyes hurt. interesting huh?

some realizations never should be made. like the sump epiphany i had the other day. (if poop grosses you out, i suggest skipping this paragraph). so there's a particular "fruit" that grows on the spiny/thorny trees so prevalent in this region and people collect these sump fruits to make oil out of them and cook with the oil. every morning, my mother and some of my younger siblings are squatting in the goat/sheep pen picking out the sump. there's no sump tree overhead but i never really gave it another thought about where they were coming from. they just magically appeared. ... and then it occurred to me. the sheep and goats are finding the sump in the desert when they go out grazing and then they come home every night to shit them out!! im eating something that's been cooked in a substance that was made from something that's been shitted out by another animal!! i guess when looking at my life as a whole, it shouldnt make a difference. i play with cow and goat shit when i make tree pepinieres and my village is windy so it flies into my eyes and mouth all the time. ehh, tis life right?

one of our side projects as american peace corps volunteers is gender and development work - basically promoting gender equality. and it's really not something that's visible like building a school wall or planting trees. it's behavior change and it's slow and hard and you encounter a lot of resistance. changing behavior is essentially changing a part of their culture, their tradition. it aint easy but when something positive comes out of it, it makes you smile. like my brother washing his own clothes. boys dont really do chores around the house. if a family has a son and a daughter, most likely the daughter will be cooking and cleaning and washing at home, while the son in the meantime is out playing soccer or whatnot. completely unfair. ive always washed my own clothes and my sisters try to hide me in the back of the house so that neighbors dont see because maybe they'll think that my family is mistreating their guest but slowly over time, after repeatedly telling them about equality and what life is like in the states, my brothers have started doing their own laundry and my sisters can sit back and relax. success! next up, 1 man 1 wife and not 1 man 4 wives... haha

phase 2 of my causerie project has started and ive gotten mixed results. cant expect perfection right? but anyway, the first one was in a small pulaar village of roughly 90 people. the villagers speak pulaar, wolof as a secondary language, aka not really at all. i largely relied on my counterpart even though his pulaar wasnt so great except mine is practically nonexistent so what else can i do? i just hope his explanations of maternal health were clear in a language he doesnt use at all.

men came to the causerie and this was actually an unexpected good result because they said that the men want to feel included and they expressed that they actually are concerned with the health of their wives. whether this is true or not is to be determined... but at least they can verbalize this thought?

my next causerie was in a wolof village of about 360 and i thought it went superbly. poster child causerie? my counterparts talked about spacing out birth and using contraceptives and family planning. women even asked personal questions and my doctor even gave his medical opinions that contradicted islamic law. if only the village wasnt so far away and so inaccessible by bike. i would love to go to that village every day.

the poster child photo for my causerie project. a pregnant woman and a mother with a young child listening intently. win!

i really like this village. everyone's so motivated! sigh...

then there was the causerie in my village. the turnout was great (i mean, it had to be, or else i wouldve killed my village - though no one in my family showed up, which was super depressing) but they were just too roudy and i feel like we didnt get to cover much. so goes the home village...

my last causerie (to date) was in another wolof village of about 500. the turnout was only decent but it was because i had to switch the time - my counterpart was too lazy and i had to figure out other travel accommodations last minute and had to push up the causerie. it was good though. the village health workers did most of the talking and they even brought up the dangers of cutting the umbilical cord yourselves and danger signs like swollen hands and feet. i guess my project is doing some good...

after that, i had to take a little break from the busy and stressful 2 weeks ive had in village. i dont do much but planning these talks and scheduling them and making sure things happen on time takes a lot of effort - more stress than i would like during the hot season. but anyway, we went to dakar for April's bday as well as a little rest. Dakar is such a bizarre place the longer we stay in the rural countryside of this country. it's like visiting a whole new world, a world where teenagers go to the mall and spend pocket money on random snacks and things at supermarkets. a world where kids can dress up in nice clothes and hipster shoes, go skateboarding, visit the ice cream parlor. villages kids seriously have nothing. these kids live in paradise.

look at that house on the cliff overlooking the ocean. i wish that were my house... the beaches are beautiful. the ocean is beautiful. the sunset is breathtaking.

the city folk know who the country folk are. they dress less nice. like us peace corps volunteers for example. we wear shirts with holes and stains, shirts that have been over worn. we seriously look like hobos lol. but then it's even more interesting watching the country folk in super nice places, like the mall. theyre terrified of escalators and it's just so curious and shocking. to have never seen or been on an escalator... what kind of world do we live in that has so many different facades?

for April's bday, we had a picnic in a park. it was magical with wine and real cheeses and french gourmet breads and meats and veggies and fruits.

ice cream is so good. us americans are spoiled... i miss ben and jerrys. coldstone. haagen daz (sp?)

the lady that takes care of us and our region. shes awesome. she wins!

and coming up:
got a couple more causeries to do in some pulaar villages.
also starting the michelle sylvester scholarship for junior high school female students - a scholarship designed for girls doing well in school but the family might not have enough money to keep the girls in school
my mother cracked my mud stove so i built another one (that is wayyyy better). we'll see how it is in about 2 weeks...
the new kids of this region are also coming to visit in about 2 weeks so that will be super exciting.
and my dad is coming!! during the hot season.... death!
st louis international jazz festival?!

friends back home, i miss you all dearly. 13 more months... right?

Friday, March 11, 2011

it's been a year already? another one to go...

so senegal has a bunch of random animals and none of those that one would immediately think of when one thinks of africa (ie lions, giraffes, rhinoceros, etc). like the hedge hog for example. what an extremely cute animal.

when it feels threatened, it curls itself into a ball so that it's completely thorns out. ingenious!

we totally want to keep one as a pet but our dogs will probably harass it all day every day.

anyway, on to more important things... like work! my causerie series project has to do with maternal health so i thought, hmm maybe i should buy that book what to expect when you're expecting. turned out to be a not so helpful book. it talked about blood tests and ultrasounds - none of which you can get done here - and tons of lifestyle advice that is completely irrelevant to my village. sometimes, the book is so ridiculous, or rather the questions that other people ask are so absurd. there was one where the woman says, "i dont like it when my co-workers keep touching my swollen belly. what do i do?" TELL THEM TO STOP. duh. idiots.

the other day, the gendarms (local police) pulled over our bush car for being "too full". i couldnt stop laughing. when has any vehicle in this country been deemed too full?! ive ridden cars where multiple cows are tucked underneath my feet. a "too full" car just cannot be. a bench can usually sit 4-5 people. being senegal, a lot of the times, it becomes 6. we were at 7... 8 if you count the child sitting on a woman's lap. i had half a butt cheek on the seat, and was just clinging on for dear life at the end of the bench. there were people standing where feet dangling space shouldve been. babies were arbitrarily crammed into any available crevice. the back of the car couldnt have been more hilarious. things were literally 2 inches off the ground. everytime we hit a hole, things scraped the ground. yeah, i guess the gendarms were right. the car really was too full...

fresh vegetables is when your sister walks into your garden at 11am, picks a couple of tomatoes, and you eat it for lunch around 1:30pm. that's called fresh. they were delicious. satisfaction of having eaten something grown by my own two hands - achieved.

random thought: why wont USAID come work in my village? they have so much money! but i guess my village is not ready. the health post is dysfunctional. and im starting to think a large part has to do with the doctor. the other day, he prescribed someone both ibuprofen and paracetamol, which are essentially the same drug- fever reducers and pain relievers. when i asked him why he did that, he mumbled something, said i was wrong, and walked away. pressing the matter is useless. we've had this kind of interaction many times and he just avoids confrontation... how senegalese. but maybe it's not entirely his fault. i also blame the system. the doctor's salary is covered by the government but the salaries of all the other health workers are not. the matrone (midwife), the health agent, the drug dispenser, etc etc etc. - all their salaries come from the money the health post makes, some from consultations but mostly from the amount of drugs sold. and since there arent many patients to begin with, there's a lot of pressure to prescribe as many drugs as possible.

sometimes, it makes sense though. when a patient comes in complaining of diarrhea, the doctor has no way of knowing what has caused this diarrhea since he cant submit stool samples and get lab results. it could be a bacteria, a virus, amoebas, giardia, worms, or something else. so he just treats for all because hey, one of the drugs is bound to work right? the patient will get ibuprofen for pain, cipro for possibly bacteria, metronidazole/mebendazole for giardia or amoebas or worms, and maybe another dewormer. i guess it's also a way for the health post to make money from a simple case like this. this system is terrible.

happy note: my family finally tried using the mud stove i built and they like it! granted, they jam the opening with a million sticks so it's not really saving any wood like it's supposed to but hey, baby steps. in the beginning, there was a huge conundrum with the one wood policy. i couldnt get the wood to stay lit and i felt like a terrible eagle scout. but the lone piece of wood had no companion! it was just burning by itself. i just couldnt get it to stay lit long enough to boil water. my sister somehow was able to make things work better - granted she used smaller sticks and many of them.

it's really cool watching the fire get sucked up because of the air current and physics and all those other factors that go into why this mud stove is better than an open flame.

i do have a small problem with it cracking in varies places but ive decided that i will build another one because the first one was just a practice run. i didnt pay too much attention in breaking down the clay or picking out the pieces of random wood from the millet chauf, or letting the stove dry fully. this time, i will pay much more attention. it will be a beautiful stove that will not crack.

causerie #1 (out of 6 or 7) has finally come and gone. my main project for my village has begun and boy is it stressful. you would think getting 18 people from the surrounding villages to come to my village would not be so hard, especially with some money as incentive! but no. nothing is ever easy. if something were actually easy and worked out smoothly, id get nervous and feel weird about it. there was also (or i had) a lot of hatred for the government pre-causerie because the couple of days before my scheduled event, the power decides to just not come on all day. and when there's no power, there's no cell phone reception. and that is especially true out in the pulaar villages in the middle of nowhere. i couldnt make phone calls or remind people when to come. luckily i had a decent showing. 7 of the 9 villages were present, which is... quite good.

phase 2 of the project will be harder. my counterpart and myself will now be visiting each village in the coming 5 weeks to make sure that the health workers are talking with their villages and relaying the message/causerie. this first one was on the importance of prenatal and postnatal consultations and why women should deliver in a health structure and not their own huts.

i wonder what it's going to be like when we get to STDs, and HIV/AIDS and family planning, ie. condoms and other contraceptives. these are such sensitive subjects... it will be exciting!

now in town for some internet usage even though the electricity is out all day and im forced to be nocturnal and work during the night when the electricity comes back on. we made ourselves chicken salad and garlic fries with local ingredients. it was actually really delicious. but hot season is slowly upon us and that means less and less availability of vegetables and choices in the market. this will not be good. bye bye tomatoes. bye bye cucumbers. bye bye lettuce. sigh...

oh, and i have now been in africa for a year (just about). march 2010 doesnt seem that long ago but so much of my life has changed. what an unreal year it has been, stuck in this twilight zone across the atlantic. but this also means the new kids are here! they have just arrived and are now in thies learning about the culture and beginning to study languages. how surreal...