Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Year Two Reflections, More Visitors, and Curing AIDS

They always say that the second year is when Peace Corps gets good – That the more frustrating and awkward your challenges are your first year of service, the more intense and joyful your experiences will be your second year.

Weellll . . . That sounds about right.

I’m not yet done with my second year, but I can say this: I shed a lot of tears my first several months in country. There were lots of good moments, but what was more pronounced, especially at the time, was the sense of constant highs and lows, with a lot of the lows being very low. (Again, I was happy a lot, and I’m not licking some wound here. I know that life was not that rough at all, but I’ll admit that all the standard aggravations and disappointments broke me down sometimes. Too many times.) Following the one-year mark, however, things started to feel less weighty, and I started to appreciate the small victories, the standard happenings, the nuanced beauty of just being here. Now, I kinda feel like I’m in a love affair with my village. I’m not saying I’ve started moving mountains or that I’ve turned lives around. I’ve just turned my own corner of sorts. For all those tears I shed, I’m being rewarded with real, robust laughter and a strange fullness in my chest as I enjoy the company of my people as much as I can. Ups and downs, what-have-yous, those are still there. But the lows aren’t so low and the highs are really high and the sun rises and sets and the moon moves tides and nothing is that important, so let’s all just laugh at ourselves and appreciate where we are.

I think that’s enough of a spiel, seeing as it was quickly spiraling down a rogue and non-sensical path.

In November, I was graced once again by a brave visitor from America. Kayla was here for over two weeks, and we had such a good time. We started out in Dakar, spent a night on Ngor Island off the coast of Dakar, and then enjoyed two gorgeous, carefree days at Lampoule Village, a little place in the desert dunes modeled after Mauritanian tent camps. We had Thanksgiving in Linguere with the (incredible and ever-generous) missionary family and about ten other Linguere PCVs.

Kayla then came home with me to Ngaraff and we spent about five truly magical days there. Kayla’s ability to integrate and build bonds with people totally blew me away – it was as if no language or culture barrier existed. Having acquired a Senegalese moniker - Binta Sarr - from some friends we made on Ngor Island, she was ready to go! She taught the kids songs and they adored her. “Benin woy! Benin woy!”- “Another song! Another song!” - they screamed as they clamored to get close to her on the outside bed. (They still come up to me and belt their severely distorted versions of “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and “Squirrelly, Squirrelly, Squirrelly.”) She got dance lessons from some of my rambunctious young female friends (and her natural rhythm means she’s a natural, and already a way better dancer than I am!). She wowed them with her Wolof from Day 1, and my counterpart said to me, all giddy, “She’s got a good brain, like you – you can tell because you both learned Wolof so fast!” She rocked Senegalese clothing at two special occasions, and looked beautiful. Binta Sarr was a hit, and I wish she was my village sidekick impermanently!

Kayla, enjoying the dunes at sunset

Camel rides at Lampoule

Market shopping for Thanksgiving.  This is my favorite
market lady ever - I call her my mama and she calls me
her child.  I love how small I look next to her in this picture.

With my counterpart Marieme and her granddaughter Kinay

Dressed up for the women's group meeting.

Outplanting trees at the school.

Kayla gets a dance lesson - she's got it!

Dressed up again, and so are the babies!

Kayla snapped this shot of the some of the
crazy little boys at the entrace to my village.  Classic!
After Ngaraff, we headed to the coast.  We stayed at this magical little hobbit village, Toubab Dialaw, a beach community about 50 kilometers south of Dakar.  (hmmm, have I really said “magical" twice in describing this trip? I’m not taking it back, it's all true.) We did all sorts of fun things there – lazed in hammocks, petted the cats, drank coffee, created papaya/banana/lime salads, splashed around, bantered with questionable Rasta-men, ate chocolate crepes, and immensely enjoyed each other’s company and conversation.  When I put Kayla on a plane at the end of her trip, I felt blissful for the time I’d spent with a truly good friend, impressed and humbled by the goodness, honesty, and wisdom she, as always, had exhibited, and remiss at having to say goodbye.  In an uncertain world, I feel truly lucky to have a friend like Kayla.  

View from our favorite terasse,
where we drank coffee in the morning and beer in the afternoon.

Lounging with our kitties.

Dancing with our new favorite dancing mama.

The magical hobbit land.

Dancing with the kids on the Toubab Dialaw beach.

Playing on the beautiful sandstone with our new friend, Cheekay,
who's traveling through West Africa for 6 months with his girlfriend.

After Kayla left, I had to rush back to Linguere to dive into work (yes, we do work here, sometimes.) The region-wide HIV/AIDS education project that Kim, Ann Marie, and I have been working got its official kick off with a four-day training of the educators that had been chosen, two from each of the 12 participating villages. Putting the training together was a huge amount of work and stress, but it went well! The villages vary greatly from each other, in size and other indicators, and the 24 educators represented very disparate levels of knowledge about HIV/AIDS and a broad spectrum of experience in teaching and speaking in front of people. Several of them were quite shy and inexperienced, so much of the training was devoted to teaching how to teach and to loosening up the educators by forcing them to practice leading discussions and presenting on the topic of HIV/AIDS.

It was actually a lot of fun, and at the end of the fourth day, I felt a real current of motivation amongst these people.  They seemed pumped up to go into their communities and share what they had learned. The project is now in that phase – the educators have started holding the discussions in their villages. It’s rolling along (with the usual hiccups) and is scheduled to finish up around the middle of March.

Condom demonstrations

Making people come out of their shells.

Condom practice.

Of course, a dance off with one my the trainees. 

Trainees from my zone.
All that aside, tomorrow will bring the real piece de résistance of my entire Peace Corps Service: the Naftalin-Levitt clan will invade Senegal.  The only thing more remarkable than the thought that I will be able to hug my mother, father, stepmom, and big brother tomorrow is the fact that I haven’t been able to do so for over 21 months.  Bring it on!  Ten days in paradise with my people.  (unfortunately, that probably means I’m speaking to an empty room, here, since the people visiting me in Senegal represent my best blog readers J )
P.S. Is there a disease for someone who can't stop taking of pictures of babies?  I think I have it, because, seriously, it's uncontrollable.  And I love it!!
A random smathering of photos -- mostly of babies, duh:

My counterparts gorgeous grandkids
(whom I might have to bring home to the U.S. with me...
we'll see how mom and dad feel about that...)

Ibra Sisee has a good protective grip on his little brother, also named Ibra.

Kinay and Fatou.

Kinay! I love this kid! Seriously, can I keep her?

Team Linguere storms the PC Halloween gathering as N'Ice Cream Girls!!

Getting my hair braided for Tabaski.

Typical lunch: Red Chebujenn (rice + fish) with veggie.

Gather 'round, let's eat!

These sheep gave their lives on Tabaski...

Little sisters in their Tabski outfits.

I'm so in! I got invited to wear the Tabaski hostess outfit with
my dad's four wives and two sisters.  Can you even
find me in this picture??  I know, I blend in, don't I?

Awa Thiam and the twins on Tabaski.

The whole Lingeure crew, recently updated.  There are 14 of us now!!

While taking care of my baby sister Ndeye Fatou,
I plopped her on my bed for a bit, and this is what she did!
I'm so proud.

In a world of ugly, broken down, decrepit public
transportation, this car that Abby and I rode in
on the way back from Dakar takes the cake. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done

I have to admit: I was starting to feel sheepish about having divulged my med school ambitions to too many people; I started wanting to back out as I came to terms with the mountain of prerequisites that I would have to face after leaving Peace Corps this spring.  Then… something happened –  I got a call asking me to translate for American doctors coming to Senegal to repair cleft lips and pallets.  I was feeling pushed and pulled in all different directions, wanting to be in my village for a stretch, knowing my friend Kayla would soon be coming to visit from America… but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  And for Pete’s sake,  I can’t believe I almost said no.  It was entirely life-changing.  

We’ve all see those commercials about the “Smile Trains” – the Western doctors that come into developing countries to operate on hair-lipped kids.  Being a part of it, however, really drove home the importance and wonder of what occurs.  

From start to finish, I was blown away by what was transpiring before my eyes and by what I got to be a part of.  The team from the Global Smile Foundation worked with a group of local doctors at a hospital in Thies, operating on 30 people from the ages of 5 months to 25 years, all with unilateral or bilateral cleft lips or pallets.  The job of the PCVs in attendance – myself and four others—was to do English/Wolof/French translation and whatever other odd jobs the American doctors were in need of. Right after I arrived the first morning, my first task was to help one of the head surgeons talk to a seven-year-old patient, Awa, and her TWIN SISTER, Ada.  Dr. Farid said, “Tell her that after the operation, she’s going to look just like her sister.” What a beautiful , thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience that was, to be able to tell a little girl that these doctors would change her and make her look like her twin.  They both smiled, shyly.  

Things only got more incredible from there.  They let me into the Operating Room almost immediately.  The American doctors were all really good people, each one kinder, more patient, and more eager to teach than last.  The first operation I watched was on that 7-year-old girl with a complete cleft lip.  Once the anesthesiologists had put her under, Dr. Kyle and Dr. Ousama made markings on the girl’s upper lip and discussed where to cut before they injected anesthetic “pain blocks” into her face, which caused her lip to swell dramatically. (Babies and children were all put to sleep, but anyone 12-years-old and up was counted as an “adult” and therefore put under local instead of general anesthesia.)  

Fifteen minutes later, once the pain block injections had fully kicked in, they went to work.  Incisions were made, skin was snipped, and they moved along deftly and expertly.  And then, not too long after that, the first stitch was made, pulling the two parts of the upper lip together.  All of a sudden, this startling, miraculous thing occurred: the girl’s face was whole, and it was changed.  The doctors were done before I knew it, and that was that: one hour had passed since they had injected her anesthesia, and now she was waking up,  looking around the room, sitting up on the OR table, and getting ready to move to the recovery room.  And, essentially, she had a new face.  I was speechless.  Literally! I NEVER hurt for words.  But I was bereft of words that could come close to articulating the awe that was swirling through my mind.

The work that occurred in those 60 minutes, throughout the day, and for the duration of the four days of the surgical mission continued to blow the mind.  I got to talk to adult patients, comfort them during surgery, hold babies, assuage the fears of parents, hear stories about why they thought their children had been born with this deformity, clean surgical implements, assist surgeons in all sorts of ways, and generally observe and participate in some seriously fascinating and touching operations. The lives of some of these people, who had come from village and towns all around Senegal to have the operation, composed sad vignettes, and talking to them was eye-opening.  There was one young women who said that she had had to pay someone to marry her; another girl simply said that she would never have been able to get married if the was not to have the surgery.  I got to spend a lot of time with a little 10-year-old boy named Abdou, whose entire persona screamed of his intelligence, kindness, pure integrity, and fervor for life.  Unfortunately, he also had a severe cleft lip, and while he had tried to go to school twice when he was younger, he was kicked out by his teacher both times because he was not able to speak clearly. (Cleft lip surgery addresses issues that are far beyond aesthetic – most kids that don’t have the issue fixed as an infant develop major speech defects.Over and over again, myself and the other volunteers found ourselves incredulous at both the stories that these peole were telling us and the candor with which they told them.

If I was looking for affirmation for my post-Peace Corps goals, I certainly found it, in spades.  

Dr. Sarah Jane doing last minute checks on a patient.

Little baby on the OR table!

Bringing in the next patient.

Justin and I in the OR.

A Haitian patient pre-surgery.

Abby with a patient and her family - mother, big sister, baby sister, and grandma - after surgery.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reasons why I love America

Reason #1: Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers & Sisters Program, Audobon Society... what do all these things have in common?

I feel like in the states we are instilled with a drive for volunteerism, a compulsion to contribute to our communities, or, if nothing else, a latent guilt that fabricates these emotions in us. Here in Senegal, that all seems to be essentially absent. As Kim, Ann Marie and I have been getting our region-wide HIV/AIDS Awareness project off the ground, I've learned a ton about how to work with Senegalese people. On one of the first days of outreach we had planned to visit four of our focus villages and explain our project to them, with the help of a member of our project "team" (Which consists of a Linguere hospital administrator, a worker for the Senegal-based American NGO EmbraceAIDS, and various other experts) and a rented vehicle to take us in the bush.

From start to finish, it was a struggle. Our Senegalese work partner, Jerry, gave me the cold shoulder when I asked him to motorcycle himself to Linguere to meet the others and showed coy stubbornness in actually carrying out the discourses we had planned for him. All this was because, as we found out later, he felt offended that we hadn't advanced him a per diem and transportation reimbursement. Our chauffeur stonewalled us on the price of the car rental for the day and made a pretty penny off our desperation for a car to get us into the bush. In neither case - and this turns out to be the rule, not the exception - did these men feel swayed by a desire to contribute to our noble project and cut us a break. The frustrating thing is that the project is meant only to benefit their community, of course.  Ann Marie and Kim and I talk about how we'll be out of here within the next several months . . . so why are we the ones pouring ourselves into this education, stressing about details, begging people to contribute their time, and donating our money from our own meager stipends, while they turn up their noses until they're paid, and paid well?

I mean, the answer to this is a "duh" -- we've signed on as Peace Corps VOLUNTEERS for the very reason that we get a kick out of pouring ourselves gallantly into communal ventures. Still, it's frustrating to face the reality that, across our undertakings, we can't necessarily count on our Senegalese brethren to join us in our altruistic frame of mind and give their time to our projects without expecting very specific forms of compensation. So be it.

I should also probably qualify my initial statement about people being unwilling to contribute to their communities, because, at the village level, it's a different story. While you can't get masonry, woodwork, etc. carried out for free, the people of the village can come together at the drop of a hat to put together a party, cook a meal for hundreds of people, plant a garden, etc. Further, the whole "it takes a village..." concept is definitely apt, for every child in the village (and me, as well :-) is the responsibility of any and every older individual. You can eat a meal anywhere you find yourself, at any moment. People care about each other and take care of each other, and it's beautiful.

Reason #2: No Fly Zone

Am I wrong, or have flies basically been eradicated from America? I remember having to hide from them on certain Boundary Waters canoe trips, but I feel like aside from a few wilderness areas, flies aren't a huge issue in the states. Nor are mosquitoes, save a few bad minutes right at dusk in the midwest.

Not so here in Senegal. The flies are bad. Wanna take a nap in the middle of the day without feeling the perpetual tickle of itsy-bbitsy legs landing on you?  Good luck. I dream of the day I can take a daytime nap again.

How did we do that? How did we get rid of the bugs? Is it just that we don't have trash and manure and dead animals and gross standing water near residential areas? Whatever it is, cheers America! I appreciate you.

Reason #3: Salad Bars

So, I just celebrated my second Tabaski here. It's a fun holiday, but it celebrates Ibrahim's (Abraham's) sacrifice of a sheep, so people here slaughter numerous sheep in observance. I was prepared this time around for the onslaught of meat; My gastrointestinal health has been shaky of late in general, so I didn't want to overdo it. I took it slowly and was even pleasantly surprised by how relatively delicious it tasted throughout the festivities.

The other shoe dropped two days after Tabaski. My dad's first wife, Penda, gave me breakfast -- I don't usually get breakfast from my family, even though they normally eat benign things like bread or couscous. They must have thought this particular offering was a really super special treat, because Penda tried not once but twice to force it on me. I took it the second time despite the putrid catfood-like smell coming from the bowl. As I carried it into my room, I looked down and was dismayed by the sight before me: an assortment of questionable hunks of meat and a couple potatoes floating in some manner of oil gravy substance.

I tried to capture the creation, but the pictures just don't really do it justice.  Anyway,  can't include a picture here because my computer's broken and I have no way of loading the photo onto this one, so you’ll just have to take my word for all this and depend on my description.

So.  My mother may disown me and I may turn off all males from the possibility of any future romantic contact with me, but I have to confess: I ate some of it. I ate the two potatoes and tried to find some viable morsels of meat. And in case you're wondering, no. It did not sit well with the GI tract.

So there ya go. On top of that, as the meat assault continued throughout the week, I found myself eating all sorts of weird animal parts.  As I dug meat out of the eye socket of the sheep skull plopped in the middle of the rice bowl, I once again thought longingly about my days of vegetarianism. Upon my return to the states, I plan to patronize salad bars, not sheep skulls. Until then... when in Rome...

Reason #4: Your pizza in 30 minutes, or it's freeeeee!

So remember that old Pizza Hut (Domino’s?) decree, “Your pizza in half an hour, or it’s free?” It’s something us time-crunched, hot-pizza lovin’ Americans have come to take for granted.

Think again!

In Senegal, people are generally a bit less pressed for time. I’ve pretty much accepted and adopted that rhythm, as well, but . . . when it comes to pizza . . . it’s harder to be at peace with that lackadaisical, “god-willing” business.

My buddies and I recently returned from a vacation down to the South of the country. On the trip back up to Dakar, we piled into a car at 5 A.M. and did the trip straight, landing us in the urban jungle around 3 pm. And what was the very first thing on our collective minds?

We're hungry and it's Tuesday in Dakar, which means only one thing: Pizza Inn Two-for-Tuesdays! Obviously.

We made legs straight for Pizza Inn; tragedy struck. The power was out! Apparently you can't bake pizza with no electricity. Fine, we thought. We’ll wait. We sat right in front the registers, determined to be the first in line for copious amounts of delicious buy one, get one free pizzas. And we sat. And sat. We were four gung-ho, determined Americans increasingly becoming the butt of entertainment for the Senegalese crowd populating the pizza parlor/gas station/snack shop.

Finally, around 6 pm, we let go of our dreams of the twofer pizza deal, picked up our bags (still our big vacation sacks, having come directly from the taxi station), and limped out of Pizza Inn toward the Peace Corps building.

Two hours later, we were still hungry and still meal-less. We mourned the loss of the pizza dream. Alas, we decided to revive it!

We called Pizza Inn with two questions:

1. Had electricity returned ? (Peace Corps has a generator, so we were living in a power outage-free universe)

2. Could they deliver to the PC building in NGor?

On both accounts, Fatou, the sweet young woman on the other end of line, gave me a resounding “Oui!”

Our numbers, by then, had increased, so for the nine PC Vols, we ordered eight large pizzas, duh! For the price of four! Then I did my best do give Fatou good directions to our place and got off the phone. We were back in the game, baby!

And we waited, patiently. Like I said, we were familiar with Senegal’s lack of urgency, poor customer service, and general dyscfunctionality, so we didn’t worry as an hour ticked by, and then another. (As I waited, I took advantage of the PC office phone to call home to America; my mother, when I told her the circumstances, was far more concerned that any of us were.) 

Around the 2.5 hour mark, hungry and tired, we started to feel some unease. I called Fatou back and made sure the directions were clear. She assured us our pizzas were on the way, via delivery man and his scooter.

Next time we called, however, we were appraised of the fact that a SNAFU had taken hold. Delivery man’s scooter had broken down and he was awaiting back-ups, i.e. a second delivery man with HIS scooter. We agreed to keep waiting, but I did make a brief fuss about the possibility of cold pizzas before hanging up the phone.

In the next half-hour, myself and various other Wolof-speaking PCVs were on and off the phone with Fatou and each of her delivery mignons, trying to explain and re-explain directions to the PC house under increasingly disgruntled attitudes from all parties. Finally, the doorbell rang and Justin and I went outside; we were super hungry, at this point, and not optimistic about the state the we would find our pizzas to be in.

Sure enough, as back-up delivery boy tried to hand us the boxes, we felt the heart-breaking sensation of luke-warm / room temperature cardboard. Fail.

So we did what any ravenous, self-respecting, Wolof-speaking PCV would do: we refused to pay and tried to make off with the sub-satisfactory pizzas. That’s when it hit the fan, so to speak. Delivery boy was angry. He growled. Justin and I growled back. The guard in front of the PC building got involved. Justin rushed inside for reinforcements among our starving peers, shouting over his shoulder that “the guard would protect me” – we were both afraid of the pizza battle coming to blows.

Justin & Co. returned, and we stood our ground; we wouldn’t pay full price for cold pizza that had arrived 3+ hours late. But like I said, this wasn’t America. Eventually, Delivery Boy zipped all eight pizzas back into the case on the back of his scooter and made off. But not before I – yes, I, Emily, the peace-loving, use-your-words girl of yore – had a chance to give him a light slug on his shoulder. I couldn’t help it! It wasn’t even the pizza that got to me in the end. It was his surly hostility, his snarky smugness.

We went back inside, pizza-less and jejected. The vols who had missed the confrontation stared at us in shock – “You sent our pizza back?” “On principle!” roared Ann Marie. But in the end, we caved. We were hungry, and we'd had our minds set on pizza for awhile – for some of us, we’d first had the mouth-watering hankering over eight hours ago.

So I called Fatou back. I said, “Send him back. We’ll pay the money." Delivery boy returned, still snarky, still surly. We paid. He handed us our pizzas, now colder than ever, snatched is 17,000 CFA from my hand, and zoomed away. We ate the pizza. It was delicious.

. . . . . .

Ohhhh-Kay. Enough bad energy. To be honest, I love Senegal. It’s started to occur to me that I’m actually leaving this place at some point, and that that point isn’t too far in the future! Mostly, I kid about the aforementioned downsides of this country, especially in comparing it to my motherland. OF COURSE America has better food, cleaner streets, air-conditioning, more attention to customer service, a higher tendency toward community service. There are cultural differences, wealth discrepancies, varying standards, etc. etc. etc. But that’s not why we go places or why we do things. No one joins that Peace Corps to live like they did in America. The hilarious, idiosyncratic things that happen to me on a daily basis – the cows I accidentally heard on my morning run, the toddler that tumbles face first into the sand as she’s making a frantic attempt to escape my white face, and on and on – are worth their weight in gold. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: I just must remember to laugh . . . I must ALWAYS remember to LAUGH!!

Furthermore, the foundation of one’s quality of life rises from the goodness of the people in our most immediate surroundings. I truly love the people of my village, as well as many of my fellow volunteers. The harassment that springs at me on the streets of most big cities, as well as the laziness and the lack of volunteer mentality (See above) that seems to emanate from much of the Senegalese population . . . all that nearly entirely dissipates within the confines of my lovely, perfect little village. In truth, my primary problem is only: How will I ever say goodbye?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

An Update, long overdue!

I have no good excuse for my long blog-a-battical.  I feel like I’ve been running around for months now and never have enough time in internet-able locales to justify prioritizing a blog post over emails and grant proposals.  Why do I feel so busy?  I pose that question only semi-rhetorically  Am I really busy, or do I just make myself feel that way because I’m an American raised with the American values  of go-go-go(!) and pushing yourself into time crunches whenever possible? Hmmmm.

Either way, I’m here and everything is fine. Life in West Africa continues to chugitty-chug along.  Rainy season came dangerously late and has been fairly disappointing in its sparseness and sporadicness.  I’m disappointed less for my sake than for that of the farmers in my community.  The first big and consistent rains came a full two months later than they did last year, and as we waited and waited for them to come so we could start planting in the fields, I really started to get a sense of that pressure and fear that comes with truly relying on seasons and Mother Nature for one’s livelihood. 

July, after the bike trip and Kedougou extravaganza, was the time for buttoning up the school year.  I had one last delightful girls group meeting, and then attended the end-of-the-year fete on a sweltering hot day.  It was a fun event nonetheless, complete with dance routines and “theatre” skits by the teenagers and, of course, the awarding of prizes to the top of the class students.

Last girls group gathering -- we did gender roles skits and talked about premature marriage.
(Even though the oldest of them are only 14, a few of them might be facing
marriage proposals during the next school year.  No joke.)

Rapping dancers at the school's Fete Finale

My little bro Omar Jeng, age 8, receives his honors prize.

All dressed up and serious for the school party.

Another gender development activity -- here the teenage girls
are crowded around my tiny computer screen to watch
HIV/AIDS-related short programs in Wolof.  

My newest little sister: Dad's first wife gave birth to
 Nday Fatou in June.  She's a cryer but pretty darn cute,
and it's so fun to have a baby in the household!

August?  Ramadan.  Thirst proved to be just as debilitating as it was last year, but this time around I went a little easier on myself.  I still fasted – no food, no drink – while in village, but I took a few breaks.  I took a St. Louis vacay, spending some good time with a friend (another PCV who is lucky enough to call that posh city his site!) and enjoying the cooler coastal temps, good food (during daylight hours, at that!), and even a dip in a hotel pool.  Deeelux!

Because everyone is so lethargic during the month of Ramadan, it's a good time for me to work on things that don't force me to rely on other people.  I did a lot of tree planting -- at the women's garden, the school, and the Health Hut!  I'm really working on making and keeping the Health Clinic beautiful, because I think that's a critical step in getting people to use it.  Many of my trees have succumbed to the desert heat and/or hungry goats, but lots of them have survived and are growing up!  Perhaps it's a big egocentric... but I still love the thought of I tree I planted providing shade for women waiting their turn at the Health Hut a decade from now.

Also during this time, the Linguere region vols banged out a helluva malaria-awareness project.  We spent a week going around to each of our 13 villages, doing theatrical presentations and programs in which we explained all thing malaria-related – mostly how it’s transmitted and how it’s NOT transmitted, i.e. myth-busting notions such as this: malaria is NOT caused by under-ripe mangos, mystical spirits, or exposure to the sun.  It was a ton of fun to have the whole gang of us storm into villages, round up our people , and educate/perform in a way that made both volunteers and villagers smile.  

Day 1 of our Malaria Tour.  One of my jobs was to dance in one of the skits.
Noooo problemo. :-)

The PC/Linguere gang teaches how to make natural (and effective!) mosquito
repellent from local ingredients.

Fabulous Team Linguere.

The first big rains of the season!  In Linguere, we knew the only way to celebrate
was with a slip 'n' slide contest. (which I dominated, of course.)

The other big news?  I had another visitor, another real live American who braved the wilds of Senegal.  Ben Lee made it to this side of the planet for a 12-day-long whirlwind tour.  He’s a warrior, as they love to say here in Senegal, and after a brief couple of days in Dakar, he spent a full FIVE DAYS in my village.  At the end of it, he could do nothing but express how he could have spent longer there.  Despite his total lack of Wolof, the people of Ngaraff really loved him, especially the adolescent and teenage boys like my host brothers.  It made me realize how much more naturally they relate to people of their own sex, despite national, cultural, or linguistic affiliations.  Now they can’t stop telling me how much they hope that the next Ngaraff volunteer is a man!  

Ben and I also traveled to The Gambia, my first time in that mystical country.  I say mystical because it seemed to be such a strange place, so akin to Senegal but simultaneously so different!  Nicer roads, less impoverished people, but still seemingly less developed.  And I had never realized before this experience how many French words have been incorporated into the Wolof language.  In The Gambia, Wolof is the primary native language as it is here, but as a former British colony, it’s population speaks far more English than French, so I had to learn to toss English into the Wolof where I would normally toss in French.

Giant caged-in trampolines in Dakar!

Ben's shot of some kids in a nearby town.
Lunch for two in my room.
Ben happened to be in town for a baptism party and got to witness the
huge-scale cooking that the women are able to undertake at a moment's notice.

Ben was also in town for soccer season!  Here I am at a match with
my very favorite baby. Kinay.  She's too wonderful!

Spirited Ngaraff fans at a soccer match.
At the peanut fields with my brothers.

Ben ran an impromptu bike clinic when we got flats in FOUR OUT OF FOUR of our tires.

Ben's parting gift for my family: a sizable chicken.

Slaughterhouse Three.

Okay.  Get this: Ben brought real, true IPA beer all the way
from America. I cried tears of happiness and then
we drank them on the roof of the Linguere regional house.

Boat trip on the Gambia River.

The Gambia River. All those little dangling things are small spherical birds nests!
In addition to all the birds, we had some baboon sitings and ran into a couple of hippos.

After sending Ben off at the end of September, it was back to work, pronto! I headed directly from the airport to the bus stop, where I caught a hot and sticky sept-place car back to the Djolof.  I had to get back for a two-day Girls' Camp that the Linguere-region volunteers had put together for the participants of a scholarship program for middle school girls.  It was loads and loads of fun!  We played games, talked about HIV/AIDS, and engaged in real and open discussions about the obstacles faced by young women in this country.  We were able to score one of the most magnificent Peace Corps workers for the project -- Awa Traore is a strong and confident woman with an uncanny ability not only to address any type of difficult/touchy subjects with any body of people, but to do so in a captivating and convincing manner.  After the camp, she agreed to make her way around the region and visit our sites.  She did an absolutely studendous discussion in my village – we gathered both adult women and many of their husbands, and we had a candid and trenchant discussion about wives as equal partners, relative influences in household finances, supporting children in their education, family planning, and a host of other subjects that are generally considered hush-hush with the people of my village and that I generally have a very difficult time discussing effectively and meaningfully. 

The girls are ready to be heard!

Awa's getting the discussion going...

At Awa's seminar in my village, the attendance of the men
made all the difference fore the effectiveness of the discussion.

Goodbye to one more Linguere vol!
Two years well-spent, Mary Allin (she's in the

And as we say goodbye to Mary... we welcome
 the newest member of our Linguere family!
Teeeeeeny and unnamed. Any suggestions?
(also check out my sweet pants in this photo :-)

Life continues to be busy.  There are a few projects I'm in the middle of that I'm really excited.  The Linguere Youth Basketball Initiative (see below ) is one of them.  I'm also working with a couple other PCVs here, Kim and Ann Marie, on a massive AIDS-awareness tour that will 12 of the most affected villages in the region.  I'll keep ya posted! --Em

more photos on the right-hand side. . .