Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sowed those oats...

To all the followers of my blog and supporters of my endeavors, sadly, this particular adventure has come to end. On March 1st, 2009, I landed in the continental US to repatriate our great, economically struggling country and I couldn't be happier.

After a missed connection and substantial delay I arrived at the airport greeted by mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, brother and sister in law and a myriad of hugs, kisses, balloons, flowers, and tears. My parents were also sweet enough to bring me my winter jacket, shoes, and socks in order to protect my flip flop clad tootsies from the blistery cold.

Since being home I've dove head first into all the delicacies of American life such as eating (things like CHEESE AND MEAT), drinking (things like COLD sodas and BLUE MOON) driving (like BY MYSELF with SEAT BELTS), playing video games, watching TV ( like Gossip Girl--pretty white people with problems), and speaking ENGLISH. Aside from the little annoying daily tasks expected of you here like showering regularly and wearing socks, life has been pretty fantastic. Its so wonderful to be around my family again and hang out with my long lost friends. I'm having a great time and I can only hope that the party will last but there are little things about coming back to a country that you haven't lived in for two years that can be stressful. Money is an issue and makes buying things like a car, cell phone, etc. stressful. Luckily I have an obscene amount of generous family members and friends who let me mooch rides and food from the fridge. ;) (oh yeah, and thanks mom and dad for letting me stay in the guest room formerly known as my bedroom. ;))

My two years in Senegal has and will continue to impact my life, I'm sure, and I couldn't be more grateful to have an opportunity to do something so extraordinary. I have learned so much about the world and more importantly, about myself and the person I want to be. With the excitement of coming home, its hard to think about how much I will miss Senegal, but I know I will. I'm sure I will greatly miss all the wonderful people I've met and the amazing friends that I've made. I will miss the African night skies, animal noises, and the beautiful solitude of the Sahel. I will miss the handshakes and interactions in everyday life. I will miss the children, the babies, and the smiles.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people that supported me through this journey; those of you that sent emails, letters, packages, or just read my musings. I'd like to thank the other UNBELIEVABLY wonderful volunteers who I had the pleasure of serving with. I know living with me was no easy task. :) (And to those of you who have another year to go-- I wish you the best of luck. Hang in there!)

Lastly and most importantly I'd like to thank my family. All my words will fall short, I know, and even as I write this my eyes well up. You will never, ever have any idea how much your support meant to me during those two years. Grandma and Grandpa, thank you so much for all the letters and packages!! It was so important to be remembered. Mom and Dad, you are my pillars of strength. Through the heat, the frustration, the hunger and the happiness, you were there with words of comfort and love. I can never thank you enough for your understanding, accessibility, pride, and good humor. (Not to mention you roughed it like champs when you came to visit me.) I love you, and I'm so happy to be home!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The End is Near

After nearly two years of living in Senegal, my stagaires and I are preparing our trip back to civilization. After WAIST we all attended our three day Close of Service conference where we talk about the logistics of reentering American life such as job-hunting, grad school applications, health insurance, and mental readjustment. We were bombarded with numerous forms and reports that we are responsible for finishing before we are allowed to leave, as well as many medical examinations and tests (including urine, blood, TB, and the three compulsory stool samples.) Its really not as fun as it sounds.

While everyone is talking about where to go to school and where to live and what to do, I'm secretly worried about the many behaviors that we as volunteers have picked up in Senegal that may not be...well...considered acceptable to most mentally equipped Americans. As the time draws closer I've begun making a checklist of things to keep in mind as I prepare for my triumphant return.

Once in a America DO NOT:

Pick your nose in public.
Threaten to steal children.
Talk about people (their appearance, behavior, odor, etc.) right in front of them. (They probably speak English too...)
Climb to the roof to go to bed at night.
Comment on the state of every bathroom you see.
Hiss, click, or snap at people to get their attention.
Treat children like personal servants. ("Hey, you, go buy me a soda.")
Walk into a grocery store and ask them to lower the price on tomatoes.
Ask a clerk how their family is before conducting business.
Completely ignore the male population.
Blow snot rockets.
Sleep under a mosquito net. (I'm pretty sure you can't get Malaria in the US...)
Slip a police officer $2 dollars when pulled over for speeding.
Show up 2 and half hours late for meetings.
Get into a car that's lacking all windows, upholstery, has wires holding the doors shut and goats tied to the roof.
Marry a man that already has a wife.
Hitchhike.
Deny fault for everything and blame the desires of Allah.
Eat off of someone else's plate.
Tell parents that their child is ugly.


REMEMBER:

America has an intricate set of traffic laws that are enforced.
Toilet paper is plentiful and its use is expected.
Bathing requires nothing more than turning a knob, not filling up cups of water and pouring them on yourself.
Utensils are usually used at meal times.
Its customary to smile in pictures.
If you chase disrespectful children around threatening to beat them with a stick, their parents might be a little upset.

Friday, February 20, 2009

WAIST 2009

3 DAYS
4 GAMES
31 TEAMS
PC VOLUNTEERS FROM 4 COUNTRIES
BEER
HOT DOGS
SOFTBALL
DEBAUCHERY!!

This year's WAIST in no way failed to meet my expectations of a fun and fabulous time. Our softball team was made up of around 30 volunteers working in the northern (FuutaWalo) region of Senegal and what we may have lacked in athletic ability we made up for in style! Our team's theme this year was the rockin' 80's. We donned knee socks, short shorts, sweat bands and danced the pony continuously to Cindi Lauper and Michael Jackson as we proceeded to lose every single game...horribly. (The mercy rule had to be invoked twice--this is where the game is called if one team has scored 15 runs to none.) To keep the teams spirits up (and to intimidate the other teams...grrr) we performed the dance to "Thriller" between innings.

Off the field another competition was taking place: who could eat the most hotdogs in one afternoon? Bernard or yours truly? The hot dog sellers knew us by name and started serving up the mystery meat before we even got to the table. At 3:28pm we were tied at 8 hot dogs each. Sunburned, bloated, and both visibly uncomfortable we shook hands and called a draw, wanting to go our seperate ways and nurse our abused bodies.

Throughout the weekend lots of parties took place and lots of alchohol was consumed but I remain happy, healthy, and uninjured. I'd like to thank the academy, my awesome teammates, and all the hot dog vendors that made this weekend possible!




Monday, February 2, 2009

Theres just no place like home...

As Fouta natives struggle to breathe in the last cool winds of the "cold season" my village dwelling days grow numbered. The Humanitarian Assistance Program (a branch of the military run through the U.S. Embassy) recently visited my village, at my request, and has donated about the equivalent of 1,000 dollars to perform structural repairs on the village health hut. (If you take a look at my picasa web site you can see pictures of the dilapidating building, most noticibly the ceiling falling down in one spot.) The villagers are extremely grateful and have already begun work. Things in this country always seem to take forever so imagine my surprise when I show up to the health hut just two days after receiving the money and find all the materials bought and men hard at work. The building now has running water and usable toilets, which is very exciting and quite necessary for any health structure, I would think.














Lately I've been spending the remainder of my days fielding village inquiries as to what stuff of mine they can have when I leave (I feel so loved) and hanging out with my friend Bilo while she works at the boutique and snags me free peanuts and kool-aid. Sometimes I think I'm really going to miss the simplicity and tranquility of this place -- the sounds of children playing and cows fighting, but then I go on a bike ride and while passing a donkey cart filled with children and fire wood, I get pegged in the back the head by a stick and turn around only to see the little shitheads smiling and waving. In those instances I think "Nah...I can get along just fine without this."

It is also pertinent to mention that February is here and that means only ONE thing to Peace Corps volunteers... WAIST! Yes boys and girls, its time once again for the West African Intramural Softball Tournament! So put your mitts on one hand, a hot dog in the other, wedge a beer under each arm and lets PLAY BALL! (Ahh WAIST, the one chance for us to feel truly American as we drink during the day guilt-free under the guise of a sporting event!) Mom and Dad, I promise to try and make good decisions (unlike that "free ride" I took last week) and try very hard NOT to break anything this year, be it body parts and/or my dignity.

Monday, January 5, 2009

“Do they know it’s Christmas time?” Not so much.

For the holidays the fairer-skinned crew and I headed to St. Louis (a run-down, New Orleans-esque beach town -- formerly the capital of Senegal). On Christmas Eve we had a fancy dinner at a nice restaurant and attended midnight mass at the oldest catholic church in Senegal (out of what, like three?). The service was in French and even though I had never been to a catholic mass, the motions appeared to be the same -- lots of sitting down, standing up, kneeling, crossing yourself and so forth. The choir was amazing and well-known throughout Senegal. That was mostly the reason for my going, the devout catholic that I am... They sang both traditional Latin hymns and more African-influenced music with drums and clapping. Their strong African voices carried up through the ceiling and filled the church with a really full sound. It was really lovely but I couldn’t help miss my chilly Christmas Eves at home, walking to church with my grandparents, lighting candles and singing carols (in English).

My heart hurt a little as Angela and I celebrated the first minutes of Christmas with ice cream bars bought around the corner at a little boutique, eating solemnly as we walked home.

While in St. Louis we stayed at a volunteer’s apartment who happened to be on vacation in the states (and good thing, too, because I don’t think he would have appreciated 15 noisy house guests in one small apartment...) Because he was gone the electricity was shut off which meant no lights or hot water. We cooked and ate our homemade Christmas dinner by candlelight and on whatever kitchen-like utensils we could find. (Our salad was served in a clothes-washing bucket and we ate off of lids and other various items.)

We spent the subsequent few days hanging around on the island, going to the beach, and eating lots of ice cream. One of those days Ang and I got the hair-brained idea to buy a crapload of shrimp and cook a huge dinner for everyone. I don't think we realized at the time what kind of work fresh shrimp entailed, what with all the de-heading and de-veining. We were elbows deep in fish guts for the better part of two hours. Alas, my shrimp linguini was a success. (I don't like to toot my own horn but it was mentioned by some as being the best meal they had ever eaten in the country....*rubbing fishy knuckles on chest*.)

New Years Eve was spent much the same way; laying on the beach, hanging out with volunteers playing cards. Later that night certain events were rumored to have taken place (events that I cannot attest to because certain members of this blog’s author’s family often read SAID blog...) but I MAY or may not have won a beer chugging contest and MAY or may not have gotten caught trying to steal a bar menu with a giant portrait of Che Guevara gracing the cover....
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

Now that the holidays are over, it’s back to the realities of village life which include: faulty, unreliable transportation, arguing with sleezy post office workers, rice and fish, avoiding the male population, horse carts, flat bike tires, unwanted attention, bugs and BABIES BABIES BABIES!

My New Year’s resolution? To be more patient. HAHAHA!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Smiling with Operation Smile

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to go to Thies and help translate for an international project called Operation Smile. (www.OperationSmile.org) Operation Smile is an organization comprised of doctors, nurses, and volunteers from all over the world who travel to underdeveloped countries and perform reconstructive surgeries on individuals with cleft lips, cleft palates, and other facial and dental deformities. When in countries where the Peace Corps is present, PCV's are often used as a resource in translating. Because many of the doctors did not speak French, and many of the patients did not speak French (nor English obviously) but only local languages communication was a tad bit tricky. Luckily us volunteers came to the rescue, single handedly lifting the entire project out of its lingual CRISIS!

I had such an amazing time being able to hang out with all these wonderful people. Everybody was amazingly friendly and appreciative. I got to wear scrubs and watch surgeries. I got to follow the nurses around and ask all kinds of annoying questions. (If the nurses were annoyed by my constant inquisitiveness they didn't show it, bless their hearts). I met some really extraordinary Senegalese families who were extremely grateful for all these people did. Most of these people were really not used to being treated well at all by people in the medical profession. The Senegalese medical system is coarse, and often absent and uncaring. It is really sad. Families and patients are not provided for at all. Family members who accompany the patients are responsible for buying all the medicine themselves (including IVs--the nurses will put them in but the patient or family member has to go buy it). The family is responsible for feeding the patient (even water). All over the hospital you see families laying on mats with little gas stoves and all their belongings like clothes and blankets. Doctors and nurses don't talk to the patients unless they're commanding them to do something like "open your mouth." Bedside manner is completely non-existent. Patients are often yelled at, like it's their own fault for being sick or hurt.

While I was working in recovery this lady just came in after her facial surgery. She was still pretty out of it and not really conscious but the doctor wanted the Senegalese nurse present to make sure to tell her not to touch her face. So I told the nurse to tell her and he reached down and SMACKED her twice in the face and said "HEY, DON'T TOUCH YOUR FACE!" I couldn't believe it. I grabbed his hand and told him to go away. All the OpSmile nurses were really upset. I mean, she JUST had surgery ON HER FACE and this nurse is SLAPPING her!

Being translators and their only source of communication we got really close to the patients and families. It was really nice to see them all the way from screening to surgery and through final exams when they're all fixed and relatively out of pain. But it was difficult being the bearers of bad news as well. There were several children who couldn't go through with the operation because they were anemic or malnourished. One little boy had a tumor in his throat. Some kids had eye infections that had to be treated before surgery. Its really hard telling a parent who traveled hours to get there that their daughter couldn't have the surgery because she didn't qualify or wasn't healthy enough, and because we were the translators they had to hear it from us.

In spite of the rough times I loved every minute of my Operation Smile week. I cannot wait to go to nursing school so that I can participate in Operation Smile as well (I am in the process of applying to schools right now). The impact these doctors and nurses have on these people is immeasurable and I am so glad to be able to be a part of it.

www.operationsmile.org

picasaweb.google.com/goodson.ashley/OperationSmile#

Friday, November 28, 2008

BIRTHGIVING!!!

Holidays are always a little different when you happen to be spending some time in Africa but always eventfull! Volunteers gathered for a slightly improvised Thanksgiving meal with turkeys and chickens that we killed and plucked ourSELVES. It was a foodfilled day spent at our regional house with around 40 Peace Corps volunteers and a very nice British couple. For my birthday I was given lots of love and a cheesecake that I spoon-fed to everyone present.

It was a glorious day.