Saturday, October 23, 2010

Autumn in Senegal

Well hello again! It’s been a long long time…I’ve been being a slacker. At keeping up with my blog that is, not at work- I actually have projects going now!! I keep meaning to write a blog where I list all the bizarre things about my life currently, but I forgot the list I made back in my hut. I was sitting in my room one day, and it occurred to me how strange it was that I now sleep on a thin piece of foam with a balled up sheet as my pillow, and I find it the most comfortable surface and my favorite spot in my whole village. Then I got to thinking, and all kinds of things came to mind that to anyone but myself who has become accustom to them would find a little crazy—like how normal and basic a bucket bath is now, or peeing into a hole in the ground with no toilet paper, or how I fall asleep to the ridiculous noise of donkeys or goats or cows all around me (when I first got here I had no idea what it was when I first heard a donkey cry…how ordinary it is now!). I will get around to posting the whole list, it still even impresses myself a little to look at it and realize that all these things are nothing to me now, to see how adapted I am to the basic things I thought would be so difficult to get used to. What I didn’t expect was how challenging it would be work with the people…
I have been trying to plan a village meeting with everyone for a few weeks now, with no avail. For the past 5 months I have been observing and collecting information about the village, trying to identify what their needs and problems were. Well, now that I think I know, I wanted to discuss them with the village, make sure we were all in agreement, prioritize my projects, and address any new ideas anyone has. But people just cannot seem to get themselves to come together in the same spot at the same time to talk about my willingness to help! I know they are capable of holding meetings, I’ve been to them before. I’m hoping and thinking that it is just an inconvenient time of year to get everyone together, since everyone is harvesting their fields of millet, beans, melons, and peanuts right now. I was at least able to talk briefly with all the old men one day after their 5 o’clock prayers at the mosque—if I hang out creepily enough outside at about 4:45pm, I can catch them all at once when they come out after praying. Although it’s a good measure to take as to not step on any toes (old men are very important in the village!), the meeting wasn’t very useful, as they basically told me about all the projects I already know about and plan to do. It’s good to know I have their blessing though, and what they think I should start with. I hope to catch the next pre-planned village meeting on the 10th of November…as long as nobody ups and decides they have a wedding to attend or some other more important business.

It feels good to have things to keep me busy, although I still somehow end up with too much down time on my hands. I’m feeling so much more comfortable and adjusted in the last few months, and I feel much less guilty for leaving village often (it’s usually work related anyways, so I shouldn’t feel guilty for doing my work!). I’m trying to find a balance between satisfying my requirements for being in village and “integrating,” with my desire to be constantly moving and still getting work accomplished.
Right now I’m beginning the long process of writing a grant to build my Health Post a new maternity room and latrine, so that they will have proper facilities for childbirth and recovery, since what they have right now is one room for everything, including childbirth, general consultations, any kinds of illness, etc. My health post serves several thousand people, and not everyone comes there to deliver their babies, which is a big health risk to both mothers and children considering the conditions they may be giving birth at home in. My other projects will include building another latrine at the primary school so that the children stop peeing behind the classrooms…and also helping start a women’s community garden to promote better nutrition, healthy eating, and to teach gardening techniques.
I’ve already started working on smaller projects, like causeries at the Health Hut or with women’s groups. Causeries are like educational demonstrations for small groups of people- so far I’ve done 2 on making “Neem Lotion,” a natural mosquito repellent made from a certain type of leaves, and I did a small one for my ICP on how to make nutritional porridge for malnourished children (which is delicious, I might add). I’ve also started back up the radio show that my ancienne had in Pete, my road town, with a few of my friends. We have done 3 shows already, each are about 30 minutes of us doing silly little skits in Pulaar about health and environmental issues, and playing American music in between. It’s a really fun and great project to do, since we can reach a huge audience, and people love to listen to us “toubabs” speaking Pulaar, which means we get our message out to a lot of people! My family loves to repeat back to me everything I said in the skits after we’ve listened to the show air on the tiny radio at our house…at least I know they’re paying attention!

What else. A goat jumped off the 2nd story roof of our house the other night…onto the cement patio thing below. And it was absolutely fine. I about keeled over laughing—it almost landed on my sisters head. Suicidal goats? Who knew. He didn’t even get what he wanted…but maybe one day he will, when we decide to eat him for LUNCH! Ha. I’m beginning to think Senegal is having a strange effect on my sense of humor…that was probably the funniest thing to happen in village since I arrived.

So today I ate 3 bags of frozen yogurt and half a loaf of banana bread for dinner. It was freaking AMAZING. Not sure I’ve had that much nutrition in the whole of last week. When I returned from my time in Dakar a few weeks ago, I returned to an entirely empty gas tank, all of which had leaked out of the bad top piece while I was away. I was strangely calm about the whole thing too, I guess I just had to accept it as it was, no use in getting too upset over it…but it does really suck since I don’t have the money to replace it right away. Which means I’ve started to crave 2nd breakfast (or first, if you don’t really count a bite of bread and some “coffee” at 7am as “breakfast”)—Karaw— or millet porridge, that my sister makes every day. I usually cook my own breakfast of oatmeal and tea or coffee, and then snack throughout the day whenever I get hungry or feel like cooking. But now, c’est pas possible. When I first arrived in Senegal I thought Karaw was revolting, it’s like mushy balls of millet flour inside a gooey sweet porridge that you slurp out of a cup or gigantic ladle spoon…and now it’s my favorite part about every morning! We’ve even been eating it quite often for dinner lately too, which is slightly disappointing, since I’m always craving something more, but I’ll eat what I can get. Tonight I indulged in homemade banana bread, delicious frozen yogurt, and later, perhaps some Ramen noodles.

It’s about 9pm right now, and back in the village I’d be going to sleep. But having electricity somehow enables me to stay up way past my normal village bed time. I do enjoy laying out under the stars and my mosquito net in the village though, listening to my ipod and thoroughly enjoying the cool night breeze…it is so beautiful now at night! Maybe in the low 80’s, high 70’s…I wake up with a sheet covering me, and can last almost the whole morning without breaking a sweat.

But instead of brilliant oranges and red leaves changing color as in the beautiful fall of northern Michigan, all I get is the grass turning brown, and the thorny trees looking a little more thorny and menacing. Back to the desert ways of the North…the beautiful color of green was only a trick of the rains that lasted not long enough. I’m sad I wasn’t able to get pictures since my camera broke, but I suppose there’s always next season.

Stay tuned for more when I get the chance. Next week is our Moringa tournee, followed in a few short weeks by Thanksgiving and then our All-Volunteer Conference in Thies. Let the time fly!!!

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