Thursday, February 14, 2008

(14 February 2008) Happy New Year From Senegal

Happy 2008 everyone! Time has been moving right along. In December, six other volunteers and I headed off to Vienna for an unbelievable Christmas and New Years.  A previous PCV here in Tamba invited all of us to celebrate the holidays with her family in Austria, where her father forks for the UN.  The only way I can think to describe it is AMAZING.  Her parents know the area well and showed us all around (including day trips to the Alps and Salzburg).  After New Years a friend and I went to Krakow and toured Auchwitz-Birkenau, a sobering experience.  Due to the availability of electricity and internet in Europe and here, most of the pictures are already on-line.

On our way back to site we stopped in Tamba to participate in a Tostan demonstration.  Tostan is an NGO, started by an rPCV, that teaches local language literacy classes for adults in Senegalese villages.   The group has also included a component about the harms of FGC (Female Genital Cutting) and most of the villages that go through the several year program have a ceremony at the end to renounce this practice.  I should say that I’ve heard mixed responses from villages as to how many of the villages actually discontinue this process, but regardless it is an amazing educational program.  On Sun Jan 13, over 900 villages from the Tamba region came to celebrate their completion of the program and announce their discontinuation of FGC.  Around 10 of us PCVs joined the parade to the stadium and then watched the ceremony.

Before leaving Tamba I made a stop at GADEC, an NGO that house CONGAD (the group that networks/organizes all the NGO’s in Senegal) in Tamba.  I’ve heard other volunteers have worked successfully with GADEC and my hope is for them to help my village get the grain-pounding machine, well pump and a fence for our future garden.  

After returning to the village I met with the women’s group and we wrote a demand for those things, which I have since delivered to GADEC.  Another one of the group’s objectives has been to get a health hut and train a midwife.  I spoke with my counterpart, the nurse at the dispensaire in Kouthia Ba, and reported my findings at the next women’s group meeting.  The women responded with MUCH emphasis that getting a pounding machine and well pump were the absolute first priorities.  I explained that the demand to GADEC was addressing these goals, but that didn’t prevent us from also talking to the Ministry of Health to work on the other identified needs.  Not only are the priorities NOT mutually exclusive, but it also makes the most sense to work on them concurrently because who knows how long it will be before any of the projects are completed.

This then led into a really great cross-cultural talking point about how we prioritize and pursue goals in the USA (at least how we ‘ideally’ pursue them) and thinking in terms of short and long term goals.  I ended up drawing a lot of lines in the sand, labeling them now, 1yr, 2yrs, 3yrs, and so on, and then jumping back and forth between them.  Using their ‘ultimate goal’ of selling vegetables at a variety of markets around Tamba, I tried to show that it takes time to get to that point.  That may be their 5yr goal, but in order to be able to reach that we hope in the next year or so to get a pump for the well.  I also tried to get them to think about what they want for the village when the young children are my age. This type of thinking doesn’t exist much in the village, so I’m not expecting any huge ideas just yet, but you gotta start somewhere. 

In other exciting news, my sister Penda had her baby. On Jan 24 she gave birth to her first child, a baby girl, in just under 4 hours. I have to say I’ve sort of been on cloud 9 ever since my uncle decided to name the baby Sharon after me. The only person who can pronounce it properly is my uncle; the ‘sh-‘sound doesn’t exist in rural Wolof.  The baptism was this the Friday after and I’ve taken a bunch of photos and a few short videos (if you know how to get these to upload, let me know), so check out the picasa site.

Despite the hubbub in the village, we found time to finally build my cement bed and path in my backyard.  It’s strange that a cement bed is luxurious here, but it really is. The path will come in handy when the rains start because part of my backyard floods.

Before I forget, Bowie had her kittens!  I came home to find 3 pudgy, fuzzy bundles around a week or 2 old (2 girls, 1 boy). I’ve given 1 away so far and think I have homes for the other 2.  The kittens are super cute, but 4 cats is a lot to take care of here.  In the meantime, the kittens continue to chase each other around my room.  My goal is to get Bowie fixed as soon as I get back from WAIST (West African International Softball Tournament), where I am now.

Wish Team Tamba luck!

Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps