Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Travialle, c'est vrai?

On the work front (the actual reason I'm here), things have been a little rocky. My counterpart has lent me a scale in order to do weekly baby weighings but no one seems quite motivated to help me clean up the health hut in order to have a place to do them. Everyone I talk to tells me to talk to someone else and I was then told recently that I'm going to have to wait until people are done working in the fields, which I'm told could be as late as January. The health hut has been neglected for about 5 years so getting it functioning is more than I person job. I could try holding the weighings somewhere else but the only place with a sufficient flat surface is the table in the health hut, (tables are not in abundance in villages). I just hope I get to do this project before my rocky relationship with my counterpart dwindles and he demands his scale back

Earlier this week I attempted a mosquito net nipping that sort of failed miserably. I had problems finding a place to do it, first off. The chief refused to let me use his... sand because he was afraid the chemicals were bad for the cows. One of my relais, people from the village that I work with, offered to let me use her yard. I met with a few people about when and where to do it and what I should charge. I decided to charge 100 cfa per net, which is about 20 cents. The bottle itself cost almost ten bucks and I know I wasn't going to get all that back so I didn't think it was a bad price, nor did the women I asked. So the day before I planned to dip the nets I walked around and told everyone and when the day came only a couple people brought nets. I was told to come the next day because hopefully more would come.....they didn't. I dipped about 12 nets in a village of more than a thousand people. Needless to say I'm disappointed. I later heard some women saying that it was too expensive and that I should have done it for free, which I thought about, but concluded that in order to get these people to take control of their own health, they should not just be handed things. That and I do not wish to perpetuate the idea that I am only in the village to GIVE them things. I am putting much effort into dispelling that myth.

I met with the principal of the school a couple days ago and he seems really eager for me to start some work in the schools which I'm really looking forward to. The volunteers here have griages, stencils, for painting maps on the school walls and I'm planning on starting a big painting project of the world map this Saturday. Bernard, a fellow environmental education volunteer is coming to help. Paint party!

A Tale of Two Flip Flops

In Senegal most people wear a single type of flip flop (probably imported from China or Japan) that for the most part come in two colors; white with green straps or brown with brown straps. People don't tend to stray too far from this norm. Because everyone wears the exact same type of flip flops, you can imagine that this sometimes becomes problematic.

When entering a room or stepping onto a mat (where most Senegalese life takes place), it is customary to take off ones shoes. Since this occurs many times throughout the day, I am constantly taking my shoes on and off. It has been experience that after entering a room or stepping off a mat that I can never figure out what brown, dollar flip flops are mine. I often try on many pairs before guessing which ones are the right ones and I'm sure that many variations of others' shoes have passed through my possession.

A couple nights ago, I stepped out of my flip flops to step onto a mat. While waiting for dinner at night I fell asleep briefly (per usual because dinner is not served until after 10 at night) only to wake up to find that my flip flops were gone (quite a frequent occurrence). When I groggily announced that my flip flops were gone (honestly it was more of look of sleepy bewilderment more than words) I was brought 7 shoes resembling my own, three pairs of varying sizes and a random left foot. After sticking my foot in each and trying to recognize my own from sensory memory, I was able to retrieve my "borrowed" scandals.

Because everyone is constantly taking on and off their shoes its common for one to simply take the closest pair of whosever are around. I always chuckle when men take my flip flops for a moment to attend to some brief task, their toes sticking far outside the perimeter of the front and their heels hanging off the backs. My counterpart (an older man who works at the health post) "borrowed" my flip flops the other day for almost an hour while he went to the mosque to pray, first asking of course if I was going anywhere that might require shoes. I didn't really get a chance to answer before he was already out into the village.

Something horribly unrelated: moments of conversations lost in translation.

I was discussing work with my counterpart and was trying to discuss the matter of breastfeeding. I was trying to say that proper breastfeeding and infant nutrition was a problem Ive been trying to work on in my village and he seemed really confused. It was finally realized that the word I was using actually means "to pound food"--muynude vs. muyninde. He then told me that in order to eliminate such problems with vocabulary in the future, I should grab my nipples when referring to breastfeeding to get my point across. I'm going to have to work on that one....

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sad news...

I am in Ourosogui originally with the intention of meeting the new Peace Corps Senegal Country Director for lunch but unfortunately that could not happen today because the CD had to abruptly cancel his plans and head back to Dakar. Last night we (Caitlin was in my village visiting) recieved a call from another volunteer informing us that our security officer, Lamine, had been killed in a car accident while going around visiting all the volunteers' sites. The driver was apparently uninjured but we have no other information or specifics as to what happened. We all knew Lamine pretty well of course and he was a wonderful security officer, he sincerely cared immensely for the health and safety of every volunteer and was also an all around great guy. As you can imagine, this comes as a shock to all of the 142ish volunteers currently serving in Senegal.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Henna; friend or foe?

If you look to the upper left hand corner you will see the outcome of a pretty in-depth process in the Senegalese art of henna. In ten days Ramadan comes to a close and is followed by a three day party in which everyone cooks and eats lots of meat and "sauce" and everyone buys new clothes, gets their hair rebraided and of course gets "fudaaded" or hennaed. I was hanging out, not doing much of anything in my village and after about the 500th suggestion of getting hennaed, I figured, what else have I got to do? So I was instructed to buy this greenish powder and white, first-aid like tape and come back the next morning to get this done (this is my friend Rougii's house who sold me the powder). So I come back the next morning with my powder, my tape, and the socks I was instructed to bring. Rougii sits down with me and begins the process that wouldnt end until nearly 11 hours later, much to my relief.

First she tapes the peices of tape to a plastic bag and then cuts the tape into long thin strips with a razor, (the razor is an important item in henna and is used throughout). After this is done she starts designing patterns on my foot in various designs with checkers, boxes, stars, and other shapes. While she does this, she uses the razor to cut off the peices as she tapes them and wasnt very cautious about not cutting me, I have many tiny cuts; this is not a painfree process. Each foot took at least an hour and after, an extra set of hands was brought in to help mix the henna and apply it to my feet and hand (yep, just one, cant do both or else Id have problems doing life's little necessities if you know what I mean). After caking on this mud-like substance to my feet, they double wrap them in plastic bags, put socks on, and tell me I cant take them off until after Takusan (the evening prayer). Im like, "ok great. This isnt so bad," and I hang out for a while laying on mat (listening to how Americans have a lot of money and how I can't speak Pulaar) when it gets to be pretty hot and I am dying for some water (that I cant drink in public) so I get up to hop back to my hut for a sec, much to the chugrin of my fellow hennists.
"NO, you have to stay here all day! You're going to mess up your henna!"
Theres no way that was going to happen so I tell them I must and that Ill be back and promise not to touch it before I come back. However, I didnt plan for how hard it was going to be to walk with henna mud, two plastic bags, socks, and flip flops. Its horrendously hot and my feet are sweaty and sliding all over the bags and henna and I can't keep my flip flops on so Im basically kicking them in front of me and shuffling as if I have a debilitating disease, (and a very forlorn expression I'm sure). Adding to my misfortune, there had been a death in the village earliear that day in a compound I have to walk by in order to get to mine, so not only do I look like a doofus, I look like a doofus walking by a throng of mourners I have to politely greet, giving them my bagged hand in salutation. I suck.

Later, after trudging back, I cannot wait to get this stuff off me and let my appendages breath. Rougii takes the bags off and scrapes the mud off but leaves the tape on, and then.... no... she can't be.....mixing something else and slabbing that on my feet as well! NO! Dont put the bags back on my feet! CURSES! Apparently they put this other stuff on in order to turn the henna black. You only leave it on for an hour or so and the glop gets really hot on your skin. Finally after thinking I was never going to escape the bagged limb torture, I am brought a bucket of water and told to wash. PRAISE ALLAH!

Alas, the henna is quite neat and everyone I come across tells me how pretty it is and how I am now Senegalese. There has to be an easier way to gain respect.