Tuesday, October 30, 2007

(30 Oct 2007) The Invasion Of Earwigs, Barbarita Gets A Boyfriend & The Radio Show

Happy Halloween! As always it is hard to believe I have been here as long as I have, but 7 months down and 19 more to go.  Things as usual are up and down but overall well.  I am glad to report that we have not had any more ETs (Early Termination) from our March 07 stage, so we just might break the trend of losing someone each month.
Climate-wise the rainy season is basically over.  The ‘cold season’ is supposed to follow the rains but when I put my thermometer out in the sun the other day it said 133 degrees F.  Granted it was in direct sunlight in the afternoon, but when my neighbor put her thermometer outside a little before 10am it said 120 degrees F.
While it is supposed to cool down soon, this interim hot period has brought along some things.  Recently my hut became infested with earwigs.  They must have been laying dormant in the wood supports for who knows how long, but the heat brought them out.  Though they have since tapered off dramatically I was squishing hundreds every night for a few weeks.  Logically, this means that their numbers were in the thousands to begin with.  Nowadays I find and squish around 50 or so each night before I go to bed.  They also developed a nasty habit of crawling into the top of my water filter and dying there (thankfully they didn’t make it into the bottom half where the water filters into), but I think they’ll stop hanging out there now that there aren’t as many of them.
Along with the earwigs another species has decided to make my hut home.  The frog community of Keur Ndongo love all the little nooks and crannies under my bed, behind my trunks, and by my tables.  I wouldn’t mind so much except that they pooh all over my floor & I’m sick of stepping on frog dumps every morning and having to sweep them up several times a day.  Just as my mom in the states said, they do eat the earwigs, but not fast enough or enough of them for me to welcome them in.  As it is I usually sweep them out a few times a week.  A few days ago I had to have swept out at least 30 frogs.  I thought that many of you might think this estimate an exaggeration so I took a few pictures.  I don’t know when they’ll make it online but I assure you that there exists proof of the plague of frogs in my room.
Snakes.  When I came to Senegal everyone said all the snakes were in Kedougou.  They were wrong.  Alhumdilili they have not gotten in my hut and there don’t seem to be very many, but I’ve now seen 2 live snakes in/near my village.  The first was in my backyard; I walked outside and saw it slithering out through my fence and into the fields.  The second was as I was riding back to my village from another nearby.  Both times the snake was moving away from me and the trail into the bush.  I didn’t get a good look at either but they were both a tan/brown, thin and no more than 2 or 3 feet long.  My uncle said he saw a snake in his compound a few weeks ago that was more than 2 meters long.  Hopefully neither Bowie nor I will meet that one.
On a happier animal note my all-black hen, Barbarita, now has a boyfriend.  After eating some of her delicious eggs my family convinced me to buy a rooster and wait for chicks.  So my brother found an all-white rooster and I named it Gringo.  Barbarita & Gringo seem very happy eating bits of corn and small bugs together. I’ll try to post some pics of them soon.
Since the Health Program of PC Senegal doesn’t really have any clearly defined objectives or methods to achieve its goal of helping the Senegalese improve their health, I’ve decided to let me family teach me how to cook.  My sister Pendal is always telling me to come into her kitchen hut and watch so I’ve started doing so and trying to pay attention in the process.  I’ve also started doing a little cooking myself.  There is a woman in my village who planted tomatoes (yes, she’s one of the ones who approached me wanting to start a garden) and she’s been selling them each week at the lumo in Koutia Ba.  I’ve started buying tomatoes from her here in the village (Alhumdilili for fresh vegetables!) and have been making a sauce out of them, onions, garlic, and some spices sent from home.  I’ve also been buying fresh baked bread for my family to dip in it (Alhumdilili for having a bread maker in the village).  It’s not much, but it’s the closest I can get to pizza in the village.  There’s no cheese out this way (and no way to make it keep), but the tomato sauce with bread is pretty good and my family really likes it.
Another thing that has caught on quickly is crocheting.  I’d been teaching some random people in my village (adults, kids, girls, boys) how to knit.  Another volunteer found out and gave me a box of yarn and some crochet hooks that had been sent to her.  Though I knit I don’t know how to crochet, so I thought I’d teach myself.  When I brought out some yarn, a hook and my how-to book my mom saw it and said she knew how to use it.  I swear within 30 minutes of just handing her the stuff she had sleeves and the top part of a shirt for a small child done.  I was so impressed I gave her more yarn and she has since made 3 cute kids tops.  Additionally, she has taught at least my 10 year old brother and 13 year old sister to crochet.  My brother has already made a beanie-type cap and my sister made a small change purse.  My mom said she learned from an older sister and is willing to teach other women in the village.  I want to have her teach the women’s group, but I want everyone to be able to start with a hook and some yarn (right now there are 5 or 6 hooks but 30 or so women in the group).  They have a cheap kind of yarn available here (a small ball is around 200 cfa) at the lumo, but I’m yet to see any crochet hooks or knitting needles around.  If anyone has any yarn, kitting needles or crochet hooks lying around feel free to send them my way…
I’m not sure what the knitting and crocheting will lead to here yet.  If it was really cold they could make themselves blankets, scarves and sweaters, but I’m not sure how practical that is in Sub-Saharan Africa.  They really like to wear beanies (I don’t understand why when it’s so hot, but all them men wear them) so they might be able to sell those locally.  Otherwise, I’m keeping my eyes open for any potential markets with tourists, volunteers or anyone else.  Regardless I think they enjoy learning and using a new skill.
In other village news, my uncle is starting a garden.  He’s paying my two older brothers to work on it and right now they’re building the fence.  I don’t know what all he’ll plant, but I’m hoping it will help inspire other people in the village to do their own.  My brother Viex says that once they’re done with the fence there he wants to build a fence around the watermelon we planted near our compound.  So far the tall fields of corn and millet surrounding it have acted as a natural barrier, but now that everything is being harvested they’ll need to put an actual fence up.  My brother is yet to talk to his dad about going to work at the garden in Kounghel.  When I asked him why he said he was afraid his dad will want him to stay and work in the village, but maybe if I talk up what a great opportunity it is to the chief Viex will have a better chance.
Koutia Ba (7km from me) is just opening a college (the equivalent of our junior high).  I met the assistant director on my way back from Koupentoum the other day.  He speaks pretty good English and seems like a good fellow to work with so we exchanged numbers.  I found out from one of the boys in my village who will attend the college (he’s 19 years old by the way) that they teach French, English, Spanish and Arabic.  It’s interesting that in the states we take French or Spanish while here in the middle of West Africa with no power and barely running water (Koutia Ba has a faucet) students are taught 4 languages beyond their native tongue.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with the college yet, but I imagine at the very least I can help with the English class.
Travel wise I just got back from another waterfall excursion in Kedougou.  Another PCV had their birthday so we biked out to see a couple falls.  We didn’t end up seeing anything the first day because we kept getting lost, but we did bike through a forest fire, cross a rickety stick bridge and my friend became severely dehydrated.  The next day we fared better and biked to the ‘trail head’.  After that we bushwhacked, hiked, climbed up/over/through rocks and waded our way to some beautiful falls in Guinea .  There wasn’t any official border crossing, but if you look on a map the falls we were at are located in Guinea .  The pics aren’t yet up on the Picasa site, but hopefully you can see the falls, the rocks, the stick bridge and a dead monkey from the trip soon.
Last but not least Erin, Sara and I did a radio show in Koupentoum the other night.  We were invited on by a local teacher to introduce ourselves, talk about our villages and Peace Corps.  The show was only a half hour long but we did the entire show in Wolof (Pulaar for Erin ) and did pretty darn well.  I’m going to try to attach the mp3 file to this email so hopefully you’ll be able to hear it.  The next day on our way to Tamba at least 3 people came up to us said they’d heard us on the radio and really liked the show.  Soon we hope to have a regular spot every couple of weeks and I’ll be sure to keep you posted. 
That’s all for now.  Don’t forget to update your records with the contact info in the email right before this one.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

(5 Sept 2007) September Already

It’s hard to believe it’s already September and ten days from now will mark six whole months in country for our group. We will also have lost six people from our group alone; hopefully we don’t continue the one-a-month average we seem to have going for ourselves.  People have left for a variety of reasons ranging from family issues at home to lack of direction with the PC Senegal program, but a new CD (Country Director) is on the way in and will hopefully make changes to help decrease the number of people frustrated with a variety of things in PC’s set-up and program.
A lot has happened in the last few months, but I’ll try to keep it concise. Before IST, my village managed to assemble for the first women’s group meeting.  Scheduled to start around 2pm , a group of ten men showed up at 3:30pm .  I expressed my sincerest appreciation for their interest, but informed them that a women’s group usually had women (not men) as members.  Erin appeared in my village on her bike around this time and within an hour a group of around thirty women had gathered at my granduncle’s house (the meeting location).  Though I imagine much of their attendance was due to Erin’s unexpected arrival, we were able to have a successful meeting and the women decided that now just isn’t the best time to start a big group garden.  Instead, they decided to continue to meet in my absence and start thinking of ideas.
When I returned back from IST last week I was elated to discover that not only had they been meeting every Saturday, but they had also begun to “cotiser” (French for “pooling money”) money at each meeting and were keeping a written record.  Additionally, they had elected a President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer.  Though the group is for women, my grand-uncle has been assisting by providing the best meeting space and helping to keep the record of money they are collecting.  His goal is to have all the women contribute 50cfa (20 US cents) for now, which most of the women have done.  At our meeting this past Saturday they expressed that they would like me to teach them to make “neem lotion” (homemade mosquito repellent made from oil, soap, water, and Neem tree leaves). The part that has me the most jazzed is their plan of using the money they’ve collected to purchase just enough supplies for me to show them first; then if they like it and think they will use it or can sell it they will use the collected money to buy supplies to make more.  I can’t express how proud I am that it was their idea for me to show them first, see how it goes, and then decide from there.  They’re also interested in learning other potential money-making projects, but there’s plenty of time for that. 
IST itself was exhausting, but enjoyable.  I scored high enough on the Wolof exam that I was able to take Pulaar du Nord for the language portion, although I found myself reverting to Wolof in class more than Pulaar (I think that’s a good sign for my Wolof at least).  Our tech sessions also ended up being more helpful than we were expecting, granted our expectations were pretty low. Guinea, which was evacuated in late February of this year and only just recently brought back a few volunteers, sent their Health APCD to assist with and basically run our entire tech training. Though we were nervous at first, the APCD did a phenomenal job and was flexible to our feedback/needs (something that did not happen at PST).  I was too busy/exhausted to spend much time with my Thies host family, but it was good to see them.  Overall it was really great to get to reunite with our stage and see how everyone has adjusted and grown.  The ice cream at Les Delice (a Thies restaurant we often frequented after class) wasn’t bad either.
Timing-wise, the week after IST ends the next stage on their way our has their COS (Close of Service) conference in Dakar, so by the end of IST a good portion of PCV’s in Senegal were in the Thies/Dakar region.  Also, it seems to be sort of a tradition for the stage a year ahead (who came in March 06) to throw the IST group a little party.  So after classes finished on Saturday a good number of us headed to Mbour (a beach town along the coast) for a Roaring 20’s-themed get together.  Hopefully the pictures are finished uploading by the time you get this.  The next afternoon a girl from Kedougou and I trekked our way back to the Tamba regional house (a hellish journey of 19 hours).  Normally it shouldn’t take that long to get back, but our itinerary wasn’t well thought out and we’ve learned a lesson for next time. 
Getting back to the village was surprisingly exciting.  Another big happy moment was me actually feeling excited to see my family when I ran into some of them on the side of the road at a stop before Koupentoum.  During IST I was a little nervous that I might not be that excited to get back to site, but it’s good to be back.  My new camera (which arrived in the mail while I was in Thies) somehow broke, so I don’t have any new pictures of the village, but it looks like a completely different place.  In fact I probably would have biked past it had I not seen a small child who called out to me.  I had to ask this poor kid if this was Keur Ndongo and to take me to my compound because the fields have grown so tall I couldn’t find my way.  As my village is set-up with compounds scattered around a bit the farmers use ALL of the space within and around the village to plant.  The result is rich green millet stalks that are taller than I am everywhere. The roads in and around the village are pretty awful and mushy (if not flooded), but thankfully the rain has cooled the temperatures a bit. 
In other news I think my sister Kodou (the one I’m named after) might be getting married.  Though before I left she expressed that she did not want to get married anytime soon and wanted to continue to go to school, now four weeks later she seems ecstatic at the idea of a husband.  I’m not exactly sure how the process of arranging a marriage here works, but there were men from a village between Koupentoum and Tamba coming by the compound every day after I got back to site.  I keep getting mixed answers about my sister’s age, but she’s somewhere between 12-15 years old, a normal age around here to get hitched.  I’ll try to keep you posted as things progress.
David Bowie is also alive and well.  I swear she doubled in size again by the time I got back from IST, but her fur has grown back and she looks like a happy healthy kitty.  She’s here with me now in Tamba to get vaccinated and spade, but it looks like the risk of infection is much higher with how humid it is now, so she won’t be spade until November or so.  And yes, I am using Bowie as an example for family planning.  I’m not advocating that people get sterilized, but that it’s important to think ahead before getting pregnant about what you can afford/handle and that there are a variety of options to plan out one’s family.  Also, talking about Bowie makes it a little easier to breach the subject of family planning.
Well, I think that’s about it for now.  Now that our secondary IST (for the health PCV’s organized by region) is over, I’m planning to head back to site tomorrow.  Sara’s birthday is on Sept 25 and we have a house meeting on Sept 23, so I’ll be back in town around then.  Fortunately (for my budget) or unfortunately (for my sanity) the cell phone reception in my area has basically disappeared.  The antennae by us broke down before we left (part of the reason Erin arrived unexpectedly during the women’s group meeting) and though it’s been fixed the reception is the worst it’s been since I’ve been at site. So, whether you’ve tried to reach me by phone or not, it looks like most of my future phone conversations will have to be in Koupentoum or Tamba.  I’ve also heard about some people who’ve bought calling cards but can’t get through on my cell phone; the Tamba house has a phone that we can receive phone calls on and the calling cards seem to work here.  So if you’ve bought one and would like to use it, e-mail me or my mom for the number and try me around Sept 20.
Exhausted, but enthused
PS- Yes Ramadan starts on Sept 13, but I have a decent stock of protein bars/jerky/instant meals in the village.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

(22 July 2007) Bowie Smells Beefy, PC Says Sharon Needs a Window & The Dude Who Showed Up In My Village

I know it's been a while since the last blog, but the adrenaline & excitement of being in the village wore off 3-4 weeks ago and I decided to wait for a more positive or at least amusing moment before I sent out a mass message. Hopefully, you've had a chance to check out the photos on my picassa page and are clamoring to come visit so that you too can shower at the top of a 100m waterfall. Recently, life in the village hasn't been bad; it just got more annoying.  But after 2 trips to Tamba & an awesome 4th of July party (no, the Senegalese don't celebrate it, but we PCVs do) I'm feeling re-energized.  Also the annoying teacher, who kept calling me his wife, has left for the summer break.

So to get to the title, until yesterday afteroon when I bathed her (yes, there are photos of this in the latest upload) Bowie smelled like beef flavored ramen. Why, you ask? I'll tell you why. In one of my mom's award-winning (this was agreed upon by most of the PCV's in Tamba & Kedogou) care packages she sent a package of beef flavored ramen.  As my mother hasn't bought ramen in years I can only assume this was left-over from the non-perishable food items that followed me home after I graduated from college (May 2004).  Nevertheless, I knew this would come in handy at some point when I was sick in the vilage & couldn't stomach village food.  Until recently the ramen was sitting in one of my trunks, waiting for a rainy day.

This past Wednesday our Safety & Security officer, Lamine, came to Sara (Koupentoum), My (Keur Ndongo/Lewe), & Erin (Saare Boyli)'s villages to assess our living quarters & make sure we are and feel safe & secure.  Lamine stopped in Koupentoum and picked up Sara on his way out to Erin & I.  Sara had been sick the night before, but the opportunity to hitch a ride with a PC car that flies at the speed of light doesn't present itself often so she came out our way despite her illness.  Lamine, Erin & Sara arrived in my village just after we had finished lunch and after an hour or so of talking with my host father & me and inspecting my hut, Lamine & Erin headed to Saare Boyli to check out her digs.

Though she made it out here, Sara was pretty exhausted and hadn't eaten much all day.  So, I opened up my trunk stocked with protein bars, dried fruit, vitamins, & a packet of ramen to find something that would sit well on her stomach.  We both agreed this was the perfect time to "jefandiko" (Wolof for "to use") the ramen.  As my family had used up all the fuel in my brand new lighter while I was gone for a week a month or so back, I only had a box of Senegalese matches to light my gas with. Before my s&s entourage arrived I used up half of the box trying to light my gas to make a cup of tea, leaving me with a half pack to use after Sara arrived.  Senegalese matches are awful and we used up the remaining halfpack trying to to get the darn thing to light.  So we got more matches from a neighbor and went through another 5-10 before one finally lit.  One of the great things about ramen is that it cooks fast, but you have to let it sit and cool down before you can eat it.  Just as it finished cooking and I moved the pot onto one of my new wood tables to cool, some guy came to the door and started going on about how my buckets aren't big enough and I need to carry a benwar (larger bucket) of water on my head so I'll have more water.  Somehow this turned into him teling me I came to Senegal to get strong muscles & become pysically fit.  As I was explaining to him that 1- I don't need bigger buckets/more water and 2- that I did not come here to improve my health, but rather to help the people here improve theirs and that being here is bad for my health, I heard a crash and Sara shout.  Bowie had jumped up on the table and completely knocked over the ramen onto herself and the floor.

Sara and I were too busy mourning the loss of the precious ramen and cleaning up beef broth & noodles to find Bowie right away, but she seemed more startled at the warm noodles & liquid she ended up covered in than hurt.  I finally bathed her yesterday, but she smelled pretty beefy until that.

I think I've mentioned in previous messages that my "cement" walls either weren't mixed or applied properly so they keep crumbling.  Also, my family never filled in the gap between the walls & thatch roof so bugs (giant milipedes, spiders, ants, etc...) and dust pass through all the time.  My grand-uncle/brother-in-law has had a mason working on his house recently so I got the mason to give me an estimate on how much to fix that stuff and install screendoors.  When Lamine inspected my hut he was glad to hear that I was already preparing to have the repairs done. Since all of these changes are to meet PC s&s standards PC will re-imburse me for any money I spend on them.  After getting the initial 35 mil (~$70) estimate approved I talked the mason into also painting the inside and outside of my hut.  I'd been thinking of getting a window, but didn't know that I could get re-imbursed for it as a s&s necessity until Lamine said that I needed one for better ventillation. So Sharon, or Kodou & whoever is placed here after me, gets: new walls, gaps sealed, screen doors, paint inside & out, and a screened window on the PC tab.  Granted, these repairs (except the painting) would need to be done anyways, but I'm excited to see my hut coming together.  Other things I'm considering for future projects include: a cement bed (more comfortable than it sounds and a lot less dusty), shade structure in my backyard, solar panels on the roof or shade structure sufficient to power a light bulb cell charger & maybe small speakers (thanks Kris for looking into this for me!).

Bit by bit things here are coming together. My Wolof is getting better, my hut is getting more liveable, and the weather is cooling off.  Yesterday Erin & I finally did the bike ride from my village to Koupentoum (27km).  It took us just under 2 hours, but I think I can make it in under one and a half with practice.  Also, Erin & I are talking about each getting a horse, which we could ride into Koupentoum and maybe even Tamba.  A decent horse here will run 150-200mil ($300-400). Inshallah, Erin, her horse Mildred, my house Alfred (yes, we already have names picked out), and I will ride into the Senegalese sunset to Koupentoum sometime soon.

I was hoping to end my blog here, but as I was writing it out some guy who I met in Koutia Ba earlier that day showed up in my village.  Thursday Erin, Sara, & I went to an Africare meeting at the health post and when we came out a twenty-something guy in a track suit came up to us and started trying to speak English.  With Erin & Sara both ill and myself tired, we only spoke with him for 5-10 min before we excused ourselves. Like most Senegalese people we meet, he said he was going to come to my village.  As women, men, & children all say this and never actually come to my village, I expected the same from him.  I was wrong. He showed up at my village Thursday night and even though I ignored him and his requests for me to teach him English and explained to him that I was very busy, he said he had walked from Koutia Ba (6-7km) and wanted to talk with me. I even went into my spcheel about how I don't want/need a husband/children multiple times when he started talking about marriage and the like (also multiple times).  A short while after dinner, which he stayed for, I excused myself and went to bed.

Friday morning I woke up, went out for breakfast and guess who was still there.  That's right, my creepy teacher/stalker guy.  Apparently he spent the night in someone's compound in my village and wasn't showing any signs of leaving. I thought that when school let out I would be free of the annoying teacher who kept calling me his wife. Well, the fates somewhere made an exchange and gave me another.  This guy is a teacher who's home in Koutia Ba for the planting season.  Throughout the day I went around to a few different compounds hoping to lose him, but the guy kept turning up wherever I went. Finally in the afternoon I gave in and hid out in my room.  Coming out around 6pm to get water from the well, he was still there, but he finally left around 7pm. Later on during dinner someone asked where the guy was. Someone else said he had gone home and when I followed that with a loud "Alhumdillay!" (Thanks be to God) my entire family started cracking up. It ended up leading into an interesting post-dinner conversation, that is until Bowie caught, brought into my room and ate a real live actual scorpion.  I nearly died.  Thankfully though, I'm currently in Tamba- away from creepy teachers, scorpions (at least ones that Bowie can bring to me) and close to cold water.  Alhumdillay!
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