Sunday, October 31, 2010

It seems that October has come and gone, along with the cooling rains. The dry sahellian wind has returned to my village, but with a slightly colder edge. The nights cool off, and the days are hot, but not blistering or humid. My throat and lungs are having a hard time getting used to the sudden dryness. The days too, are shorter, the sun rises about an hour later and sets about an hour earlier….much like Fall in the States. 
The millet harvest has finished up, and so have the last of the peanuts. Everyone is preparing to sell and hoping for higher market prices than last year. Since Senegal exports most of it’s agricultural products, the small farmers make hardly enough to live off of, and large co-ops and unions have not formed to fight for better price security while foreign imports of rice and wheat flood the domestic market. This is the plight of the third-world farmer all-over the world, and even the small farmers in America face a similar fate.

I spent the first 18 days of this month traveling to and from meetings, appointments, and fun days with my stage-mates.  We now have the tradition of renting our trusty beach house before any large event, and as such did so the first weekend of October. It was calm, and not too hot. We went for our night swim around midnight and were blown away by the bioluminescence. We had seen it before, but it was especially bright and dense this time. Some of us stayed out there for 3 hours, just floating in the tepid water surrounded by  pearls of light.  The next day we headed up the coast to Joal for our meeting.

Example of Luminescence 
Wikepedia article about it:

All of the health and environmental education volunteers in the country had a ‘summit’….basically it was a 2 day open forum for sharing ideas, problems, stories, and ideas about how to improve and modify the current programs and projects.  It was the first time the first and second year vols had been together in a place to exchange information. I felt relieved that like my fellow volunteers, I was facing adversity and malaise when trying to start projects, and comforted by the second years who said, in most cases, all comes with time. 

I am finally at peace with the pace of my work, partly because of the reassurance from my family that the village only expects that I set up projects for the next volunteer, and that I can get people thinking about ‘health’ as more than just illness and medecine. I still occasionally get ‘where is your money for us’ or ‘why don’t you farm or plant trees’, but those comments are slowing as the idea that I will be here for the next 1.5 years and working with the health hut sinks in.

After the summit, I went to Dakar,  always a nice getaway…I forgot how exhausting the stimulation of the city is. There were nights when all I wanted to do was hear crickets and see starts, but in Dakar, those things barely exist. One night a group of us went to down to the beach where some very smart Senegalese men have set up a maekshift tikki bar with a generator. We paid in advance and they had a donkey cart bring the beer to the top of cliff, and it was carried down to the tikki hut. We swam, had a beer, and chatted until it was way past dark, then headed of to a BBQ at one of the third year volunteer apartments. At times like those, it is hard to believe that I am living in western Africa, and can go from barely having electricity to a life that is the picture of a 20-something in America.

On the work front:
I am constantly in the process of procuring supplies for our health hut, as it is severly lacking. A few NGO’s furnish health facilities for free, so I am trying to get one of them to come out and do an evaluation. In the mean time, I have basically been begging anyone I have contact with for things: a scale, medicine, patient logs, pharmacy requests, etc. I also am trying to rally my health committee to start meeting once a month. I want them to try and find someone in the community who can be trained as a health educator, and can volunteer their time at the health hut when the guy who runs it is out (which is often).

I participated in a vegetable pepinere training in the next large village over, and started intensive moringa beds in the health hut. I eventually want to train the midwife to take care of the moringa, turn it into powder, and then sell it for profit so the health hut has extra cash to either pay a full-time employee or subsideze the volunteers.
I came to the realization however, before any of these things happen, I have to get the health hut functional and organized. I gave a calender to my counterpart, so he can mark important events, as well as anything that is regularly occurring (such as vaccination days). He also is learning, however slowly, to keep track of  who comes in, for what, where they are from, age, etc. I made a makeshift log book until I can get an official one for him. I try not to get frustrated by the fact that this is all so basic, and is part of the training they receive when they agree to work at clinic…but often it just becomes a medicine dispenseray and nothing more. 

The amount of guess work they do here freaks me out; how does everyone survive without knowing what is what and when things are supposed to occur?? Not only that, but most fot he people   (men specially) who I have met who work in the health system are not just jerks, but also completely incomepentant and okay with doing the bare minimum. The lack of accountability to human life blows my mind. But, overworked and underpaid will do that to you…right??

Food of the Month: Bush Meat
While I ate like a queen in Dakar (Korean, French, American style Sandwiches, Ice Cream!!!!!), this is not so in the village. We have unfortunately fallen on lean times, waiting for the harvest to sell, and the last of the seasons veggie crops winding down. What do lean times mean in a country where most people subsit off of only rice and millet? It means BUSH MEAT. In an effort to make the bowl hardier than the few beans and plain oiled rice, often bush meat is added (or old salted and dried fish). What exactly is bush meat you ask? Well that’s the beauty of it, you don’t really want to know!!
Lizard is a popular secret ingrediant where I live, since they are enormous and bountiful…no matter the poison. it’s like eating bony girstle. I have seen other types of meat like things in the bowl, and when I ask if it is lizard, the response is ‘no’…and no further explanation. So I don’t really want to know what critters are being consumed on a bi-weekly basis, but if I had to guess I would say rat, dog, and field rabbits are likely contenders.

"Bushmeat initially referred to the hunting of wild animals in West andCentral Africa and is a calque from the French viande de brousse. Nowadays the term is commonly used for meat of terrestrial wild animals, killed for subsistence or commercial purposes throughout the humid tropics of the AmericasAsia, and Africa......"


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