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. . .