Friday, August 26, 2011

When the word ends in 2012...

i do not want to be in a predominantly muslim country. i know what the apocalypse will sound like here and really, ive never wanted to stab babies or drown puppies as much before, but this was bad...

There are so many good things about Senegal. I can make lists about the vibrant culture, the people, the country, but that would be digressing. There are, however, not so great things about Senegal. One, being a predominantly muslim country. i have nothing against islam. as i said in my last blog, islam is an extremely impressive religion, and people's devotions are awe-inspiring. but yesterday, i wanted to slit my wrists.

the background (us):
i live in a village with no internet. so when i want internet, i have to come into a road town called linguere, where our 'regional office' (though not officially) is located. linguere is about 50 miles away and takes 4 hours to travel by public transportation. i usually come into linguere to check my email, write a blog post, work on anything peace corps related, peruse facebook, the usual stuff. nothing fancy because the internet is so slow. i came down yesterday to update myself on my medical school application process and to finalize this peace corps grant that ive been working on. i came down to buy gifts to bring back for the holiday at the end of the month of fasting called korite. but more so, i came down because my friend is sick and i had to help bring her down and bring her into linguere to rest because her host family was smothering her. they dont know how to take care of their sick. they believe sick people must be kept in stuffy rooms and must be fed the greasiest foods to get better. being sick in this country also sucks because having a high fever when the temperature outside is also over 100 degrees makes you want to die. but anyway, we brought her down to rest and recuperate. we also had a graduate student visiting as a guest, finishing up her research on moringa and nutrition.

the background (muslim culture here):
across the street from our regional office lives this one family who occasionally, like two or three times every month, blasts religious yelling for a couple of hours. they're not a mosque and i dont know if theyre affiliated with any religious leaders but they blast this noise a lot. my mosque sings at 5am every morning but that's tolerable because it's singing, not screaming. this, however, is screaming - screaming bloody mary, just loud noises. it sucks, and im sure ive complained to some of you back home, but we deal with it. it's part of the culture, this happens in village too, and elsewhere, so that is how things are. it's usually for only for a couple of hours only so we can handle it. put in headphones, watch a movie or two and you're good. and especially since this is the month of ramadan, it's extra understandable. go be religious, go fast, yay.

the timeline (you will need sound to view the videos for their full effect):
10am - arrive in linguere, get sick friend settled, start some work
11am - the wailing begins
12pm - we are miserable. put in a movie and headphones

2pm - barricade office with foam mattresses and closing all windows and shutters. it created a hot, stuffy office but it dampened the noise only just a little

6pm - our visiting graduate student used to be a peace corps volunteer in mauritania. mauritania!! a deeply muslim country. and she said it was never like this. she has never experienced anything quite like it. mauritania!!
7pm - we go over there and ask nicely for them to turn it down. not off, down. we explain as sympathetically as possible how there are people sick, there are people working, there really is no reason for it to be this loud and if they could just turn it down a little, it would do wonders. they laugh in our faces and say no. actually, they said if allah wills it, they will turn it even louder. we asked them when it would end and they said tomorrow morning around 6am. he smirks.

9pm - we head over to our local police station. the station is on the other side of town maybe half a kilometer away, and you can still hear the yelling, screaming, wailing. we explain to them our conundrum. by them, we were starting to go a little crazy. it's been 10 hours already, my nerves are a little shaky. i feel on the verge of breaking down in tears, pulling out my hair, strangling a living creature. the police folks are sympathetic. they dont really enjoy the screaming either. they notice our distress, our stress, our frantic plea. they make a few phone calls and head over there. he explains that if this religious 'learning session' is not authorized by the city's mayor, he can shut it down. we told him that we dont want him to shut it down. just tell them to lower the volume. he talks to the men folk for a long time. if an authorization actually existed, it would take 2 seconds. here's my authorization, now fuck off and leave us alone. but they talk for a good 5 minutes. he comes back and says they are authorized, says they will turn it down a little, and then leaves. we really believe he was paid off, but what can we even do... it's a lose-lose situation. they never turned it down at all. as i trudged back home, people came up to me and asked if the policeman told them to turn it down. i said no and he looked sad and went back to his inaudible tv set. people all had the same sentiments. a few hours and it's ok. but almost 12 hours now and even more to come? that's unacceptable. people need to rest. people need to sleep. it's the month of fasting. everyone's tired, mentally, emotionally, physically. but no one can do anything about it. because it's their religion. they would be infidels...
10pm - our prayers are answered!

11pm - they bought a generator!! those $#%#$^$@#$@$
12am-5am - my body was tired. my brain was tired. as much as my headphones can cancel noise, i try to pass out. the town of linguere is completely blacked out and noiseless... except for the inconsiderate folks across the street. the electricity comes back on at some point. the loud noises never stop until about 5 in the morning. groggy sleep. turning sleep. bad sleep.

8am (now) - tired. exhausted. hating life.

but that's life here. instead of spending money on building classrooms or health centers or even installing a water pump to make women's lives easier, they build grand mosques. instead of spending money to buy a fridge to keep foods fresh, or shoes for the children, they buy a generator and loudspeakers and bull horns to blast religious 'music'. priorities? i never want to hear people complain how they are poor. they just cant allocate money correctly.

i also miss america for it's noise ordinances.

literally. the. worst.

Friday, August 19, 2011

the sword in the stone

during the lovely month of fasting, we decided to make better use of time devoted to general inactivity by traveling to all of our villages and giving a talk about malaria. there are 13 volunteers in the region. so we visited 13 villages in 4 days. the villagers spanned a total distance 140 kilometers or almost 90 miles.

each talk included skits and performances debunking the myths of malaria contraction. people believe you can contract malaria by eating unripe mangoes, or walking in the sun, or drinking too much milk/yogurt, or dancing excessively, or even that spirits give you malaria. we explained in numerous ways the only way you can contract malaria (mosquitoes), via skits, puppets, songs, and slogans. we talked about the symptoms of malaria and how there are free malaria rapid tests and free drugs for malaria at every health post. but most importantly, we talked about prevention.

(my village turnout was, eh ok. they just love to be fashionably late. seriously, it's a terrible habit of theirs. but that's yang yang for ya...)

we talked about proper use and care of mosquito nets. we talked about mosquito population control via destruction of their breeding grounds and habitats. we also introduced how to make inexpensive insect repellent - neem lotion - using local ingredients. purchased ingredients cost no more than 60 cents for a batch of insect repellent that can last for a month. pretty good indeed.

for the 4 days, we had a total turn out of around 1400 people. not bad. now hopefully, people will actually make the insect repellent themselves. combined with mosquito nets that they already own, it's really possible to eradicate malaria from the area. once mosquitoes with the parasite are completely prevented from biting people, they will eventually die off and leave a remainder of mosquitoes that are malaria free. it's doable. but it'll be tough.

just some pictures to sum up our work days...

interesting discovery: if you wrap yourself up in a mosquito net, people think you're a mosquito. intriguing...

in the end though, we really have to thank peace corps for their local support. our 4 day event could not have been done successfully without a car for transportation and a local counterpart to reiterate and enhance our talks. no matter how great our language is, it still sucks. our sentence structures are choppy, we dont use idioms or metaphors correctly. basically, we're speaking as if we were 4 years old. so having a local peace corps worker with us really made our points clear and further drilled in the facts. it was also helpful that he was multi-lingual. our villages are largely comprised of two different ethnic groups so his ability to speak both wolof and pulaar was a great asset. no one was left out of our talks and everyone understood everything in the end. hurray!

but peace corps aside, this ramadan has been less active than the last. last year, i at least could have gone to work in the fields but this year, the rains have been late. nothings growing, everythings dying. it's been bad... but not for long! the rains have finally come. theyre about a month or two late but it's here at last!

storm clouds are really pretty... never noticed them in america.
details details details.
i think if nothing else, peace corps has taught me to observe the now, observe the details. in america, we're constantly thinking about the future, about 5, 10, 15 years from now. when am i getting married? how many kids will i have? where will i be, professionally in a few years? will i own a house? what colleges should my kids go to? we're looking at life as a big picture. but now im learning to slow down and look at the details. back then, a mound of sand was always just a mound of sand. there can be patterns and footprints in them but it didnt mean much to me. but now as i watch mothers track where their children have gone by simply looking at their footprints, distinguishing a particular track out of the many overlapping layers, it's extremely impressive.
life, in many ways, is more beautiful now. (sorry, that sounds super sappy. blahh)

with rain comes water activities. such as a makeshift slip and slide. dangerous, actually. but lots of fun.

rain is great. it turns things green. the weather is cooler. but there are also many downsides. there is a massive proliferation of mosquitoes and flies and bugs in general. not fun. and with this proliferation in bugs, there is a proliferation of toads - noisy and destructive. they burrow right in your garden, the holes destroying roots and killing my vegetables. death... the humidity that follows is also not that pleasant. living on a farm surrounded by the animal droppings of cattle, horse, donkeys, sheep, goats, and chicken, the humidity brings out this... earthly fresh stench. it's very... organic but not a smell i appreciate. the droppings also become softer, aka messier to deal with.
other not so great rain issues:
because it's raining, the well pump people have decided to turn off the well pump most days, which means it's a race to see who has the largest water storage system in their family compound. once water is depleted, people have to travel around 3 miles for another water source. but with the rains, we've been just using rain water. which has it's negatives. the rain collects on the tin roofs. the water tastes kinda... rusty, metallic. i always wonder if this is bad for your health... we also store the water in plastic containers that, thanks to the sun, have made the insides coated with algae. the water that i shower with has algae particles in it and is generally green in color. does that make showering purposeful? i guess im still removing dirt... eh
but more of a conundrum is my room. it leaks... everywhere. i am constantly reminded of that cartoon the sword in the stone, when arthur, merlin, and archimedes are in the tower and there's a huge rain storm and everything is leaking and getting soaked and they use tea kettles and umbrellas and buckets to catch the water. i've been finding random containers to catch the water in too. otherwise, things will get moldy again like last year. dont want that...

islam is an impressive religion. it's all about submission and obedience. people pray 5 times a day, as early as 530am in the morning. you're not allowed to drink booze or eat pork. there are rules upon rules. the really religious dont even listen to music. and people are convinced to fast for a full month. if you can convince a group of people not to eat, drink, smoke, engage in sexual activities, or have any fun within daylight hours for a full month, that's intense.
but the fasting does make you appreciate every drop of water, every grain of rice. the hunger sucks but is manageable. the thirst is really what gets you.

anyway, just hanging out in village with kids and attending baptisms and stuff. still waiting for peace corps to approve of my garden project. cant wait for the trip to dakar right after this month of fasting. gonna eat til i burst!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

maybe just a tad bit jaded...

swamped! well not really. applying to medical school from africa is quite stressful at times. the internet is too slow and then things dont load properly. or the electricity goes out and you lose all your information. or the electricity goes out and you can't submit something. cant call the admissions office to ask questions because international calls are just too expensive. so many more factors that you have to worry about on top of making medical schools love you and not forget about you in their applicant pools. but it's almost over... (still waiting from uc san francisco, crosses fingers...)

a thought that ran through my head the other night:
i am spoiled. i am spoiled because i sleep under the stars every night. there are no cities nearby and my village (unbelievably, astonishingly, speechlessly) has 4 street lamps only so it's dark. very dark when it's a new moon. the night sky is crystal clear. i get to breathe (relatively) fresh desert air. yup, i dont know how i will ever return to sleeping in a room, with a solid roof over my head.

a thought that ran through my head as i hung out with the village kids:
up until africa, i hated sand. especially wet sand when it's not directly touching ocean water. i liked beaches but i really didnt like the sand. i hate bathrooms near the beach because theres always that gross, wet sand trail on the floor everywhere. it's disgusting. and then i moved to senegal. if i gain nothing else from my two years, i have learned to live with sand. i can roll around in it and it doesnt bother me anymore.

another thought as i watched the news about the drought in east africa:
the rains are either extremely late this year or they're extremely scarce. i can't say we have a drought because it rained (or rather drizzled) a couple of times already. but it's not enough for the farmers to seed their crops. i dont know if theyre nervous or not but im nervous for them. i wonder if i can learn a rain dance off of youtube...

ok, so i've been a bit jaded lately. i think it's just a short depression spell in village so in the end, things will be ok. the last two weeks have been tough. instead of the usual talks with women groups that ive been holding, i've been informally talking to individuals as the occasions arise. behavior change is so... frustrating. let me give a couple of examples:
1. 6-month old baby is malnourished - distended belly, really thin arms and legs. mother is not giving breast milk, only powdered milk. i sit her down and explain to her how powdered milk, although it says it has vitamins and calcium on the packet, actually has no nutritional value compared to breast milk. if she was using those milk formulas that we have in america, that's a different story. but no, this is ordinary milk in a powder form. i tell her that her baby needs breast milk and if she cant provide that, at least go to the health center because they have plumpy'nut there and that could suffice. i could teach her a nutritious porridge too since her baby is of weaning age. she agrees with everything i say but continues to give it regular powdered milk. even when the doctor gives her plumpy'nut, she does not give it to her baby. why? no explanation.
2. mother brings teenage boy in to health center. teenage boy is constantly tired, never has any energy. the doctor presses down on the nails and lets go. they stay white instead of returning immediately to pink. doctor says they're anemic. need more iron in their blood. oh! that's easy! i tell the mother that she could give her son meat and beans and veggies and then he wont be sick anymore. she laughs in front of my face and says "what meat?" i give her this dumbfounded expression and i told her to look outside. outside, there are herds and herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. each family has hundreds and hundreds of livestock and these animals breed like crazy. all im saying is if the family could kill one animal maybe once a month, the meat would help with the anemia. she laughs and says "that meat is not for eating. it is for selling only." you're joking right? your son is sick and i just told you how to make him not sick. and once you sell your livestock, what do you do with the money? you buy food do you not? she says "no it is different. give him the iron injections." then eat nuts and beans and vegetables. stop eating plain rice. they cant. it's their diet. she stops responding.
3. old man comes in very weak. the doctor pulls on his skin and instead of immediately snapping back like normal, hydrated skin would, it sticks pulled out. dehydrated! drink water. but no, he says, he cannot drink water because he doesnt like the taste of it. "how about tea?" he asks. absolutely not! for one, their tea is not water, it's mostly sugar. no no no! he asks "cant the doctor just give him an iv?" i walk away.
4. a woman is fasting for ramadan. she has a 3-month of baby so she's breastfeeding. i tell her "you know, if youre breastfeeding, you actually dont need to fast. it's in the qur'an. and plus you really shouldnt. your baby needs you to be healthy and well nourished so it can be healthy and well nourished." she obviously doesnt listen and goes on fasting. she gets sick, a headache, starts vomiting. i tell her to drink water and eat something and she pushes everything away. she's too proud. i call it idiocy.

my friend annmarie told me an idiom: you can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink.

what can i even do?!!
no one listens. i feel unaccomplished.

sometimes i do feel bad for the kids here. my heart hurts a little everything my brother dumps out his toy chest onto the sand. there are planks of wood, and old torn headphone wires, a dust pan with no handle, pieces of paper and cardboard, a handle for a pot, empty used containers, a teethless comb. these are toys. they have nothing. and i want to give them everything. i want to shower them with toy race cars and GI joe figures and barbie dolls and playsets. i want to give them board games and all those cool toys we played with when we were young. but i cant...

because they're so destructive. their toys end up looking the way they do because they have made it so. they dont know how to take care of things. and explaining and showing them slowly, repeatedly has changed nothing. this adidas soccer ball that i brought back from america has a label that says the shell and stitching are guaranteed to last for at least 2 years. in less than 6 months, this is what the ball looks like. (how did you even manage to do that?! they love soccer here!)

ah, the Balla Gaye Versus Tyson wrestling match. senegalese television and radio and pretty much everything have been building this up for half a year. people talk and speculate about it constantly, to the point of boring. then on the day of, the pre-show is 5 and a half hours. that's 5 and a half hours of agonizing waiting as they build up the anticipation just to watch these 2 men wrestle. and then the match. it lasts 36 seconds.
36. seconds.
not even a full minute.
waste. of. life.
i cant even begin to describe the utter chaos, the pandemonium that ensues. the supporters of the loser cry (cry is an understatement. they scream bloody murder). they thrash around, throwing themselves onto the floor, banging their heads on things, rolling around in the fetal position. generally acting possessed. think of those revival church spirits lord has gotten into you type things. that's them. completely overdramatic. it's painful to watch.

this is my pulaar neighbor. isnt he adorable?

but he's a terribly messy eater...

so it's that time of year again. ramadan - or ramadeath / ramadumb as some people have coined it. ramadan, the religiously sanctioned month of decreased activity, stunted productive, and glorified putzing around. i admire their devotion and their religious faith, but i question the stupidity of not drinking water in a hot desert. my case and point? go to the health centers. daily cases of dehydration. daily need for ivs. it's a month of boosted income for the doctors because people think fasting and not drinking water in 130 degree weather is smart.
i have no idea how i did it for 15 days last year. unfathomable. ive only done one day so far this year and already im over it. the not eating is whatevers. it's not really not eating. you're still eating, perhaps even more than usual. it's the timing that's different. breakfast is at 5am. breaking of fast is at 7:30pm. lunch is at 10pm. second lunch is at 11pm. if anything, i eat more and better during ramadan than usual. but the timing screws up my body. my metabolism is all out of wack. the decreased water intake has also made me quite constipated. i am all around just one big mess. i think the worst part is the thirst. you can't even binge drink during breakfast because you just urinate it all out.

so what do people do all day during ramadan? they play board games, or should i say sand games? this one is kinda like checkers, but not really.

but mostly, people dont do anything. they just lie around all day because they're too tired, thirsty, hungry, exhausted, cranky (from the caffeine and sugar withdrawal). fun, eh? for me, ramadan = book reading club!

i have this weird skin rash on my hand. i dont know where it came from. nothing bit me i dont think. it's blistery and pus-y and painful. hmm...

OHHH!!! SHOUTOUT TO DR. TIFFANY SOU!! she sent me a package with lots of goodies!!! love you! come doctor in senegal. they could surely use it.

i have really damaged hair. the tips are all white. my hair is soo not black anymore. it's mostly dark brown. kinda lighter brown toward the tips. and almost white at the tips. im more brunette than black.

and it is too long... see my point?

so my friend annmarie cut it.

and now i feel a lot better!

because my head feels lighter!

The End.

Anyway, so back to ramadan i guess. hungry thirsty tired. i cant wait to go to dakar and eat my heart out when this month is all over. in the mean time, doing a regional project with all the other volunteers here. we're gonna be going around talking about malaria and how to make neem lotion (insect repellent). yayy!!