Friday, August 26, 2011

The Day I Almost Lost My Mind

As I have mentioned on here before, sometimes Senegal brings out an angry side of me that turns me into a screaming, stressed out, crazy person. And, luckily, it does this to most other volunteers too, so at least I'm not alone in my craziness. Well, let me tell you about my day yesterday- a day which will live in infamy forever.

We've been biking around to each others' villages the past few days working on projects together. Yesterday morning we were in village. We woke up bright and early with the intention of biking from my village to our regional house in Linguere, roughly 45k on bush paths. Three of us biked and two took a bush taxi because one of my friends is really sick and needed to get out of the village.

So, my morning began with a long bike ride. I had never biked from my village to Linguere before because the sand is too hard to bike in during the hot, dry season. With the small amount of rain that we've had, we thought that it would packed down enough to bike on now. And we made it... but it was a rough ride. So my morning started out with a looong, rough ride to the regional house.

We pulled up to the house, tired from our ride and anxious to see how our sick friend was doing... only to find that one of the compounds across from our house was BLASTING screaming, wailing music/chanting/yells at an insanely high volume. This is not uncommon here. People really get a kick out of blasting music and prayers, and we're all very used to the mosques going off five times a day for prayer times. But this wasn't the usual music.

We got into the house around noon and heard that the music had already been blasting continuously for over an hour. No big deal, we figured it would end eventually. Oh how wrong we were.

*Side note: My friend Justin has a much better, more detailed account of all of this on his blog, so if you feel so inclined, the link to his blog is on the right side of this page under "Justin," it's very entertaining. And I also semi-copied his blog entry. Thanks, Justin!

So here's the timeline...

12pm: Pulled up exhausted from our ride. Music/screaming blasting.

1pm: Our first video recording of the noise. Enjoy:

2pm: Attempt to sound-proof the house with foam mats and blankets. Somewhere around this time we moved our sick friend out of here to our friends' house. They're American missionaries and unbelievably generous and kind to us. So at least our sicky was able to escape the noise for a little.

5pm: Starting to lose it. Going insane. Here's my friend Ann Marie trying to explain what's going on. Notice you can't hear anything she says.

6pm: Somewhere around this time I call my mom to let her hear this insanity. She says it sounds like I'm at a concert. It's really that loud.

7pm: Enough is enough. We go over to the people blasting the music and politely ask them if it's possible to turn it down a little. Not turn it off, just turn it down. Request denied. We ask when they're going to turn down the music. Answer: 6am is Allah wills it. OH MY GOD!

8pm: Another video documenting our plight. We are actually losing our minds.

9pm: At this point I'm no longer leaving the house because I'm afraid my anger will get the better of me. Some of the more cool-minded volunteers head over to the local police station to try to get real help. The police go ask them to turn their music down. They don't. We think they might have paid the police off. Who knows. Basically nothing we can do at this point.

10pm: HALLELUJAH! THE POWER GOES OFF! Let the celebration begin! One of the perks of being in a country where power outages happen on a regular basis.

*Educational moment: "Koran" is the Wolof word for electricity.

11pm- Guess who has a generator? The people across the street. The music begins again at full force.

Around 5am- the music stops. Really? Really? 5am?

Yeah so that's my life right now. The one place I can go to get some work done- the place that has internet, a printer, actual resources... and I have to listen to this all day. Sorry for the complaining... but venting on here is a great release. It prevents Angry Fae from emerging and freaking out at the general Senegalese public. So thanks for listening, blog readers.

The silver lining to this situation was that I was able to stop by the post office in Linguere and pick up some AMAZING packages! A huuuuuge thank you to my wonderful, wonderful, wonderful family and friends (my fabulous Aunt Anne Marie, the great Edwards Family, my dear neighbors the Affertons, and my beloved AU partner in crime Jessica!) who sent me some love. At least during this crazy noise I was able to munch on delicious American goodies, and I got some great maps that I can use to make murals in my village. Again- a huge thank you, everyone! I know it's not easy sending stuff here, and I really appreciate it!!

So now I'm trying to get work done here while it's "quiet," but all I want to do is pass out. I promise that I'll do a post on Ramadan next time. Good luck with Irene, everyone! I can't believe all of that going on in America right now. I'm thinking good thoughts for all of you and hope it's not going to be too bad!

Love you all. Stay safe. And be courteous to your neighbors and don't blast music for an entire day.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Team Djolof combats malaria

I can safely say that these past few days have been my most exhausting, busy and productive days in-country thus far. The 13 members of Team Djolof (aka the 13 volunteers in the Linguere region) decided it was time to kick malaria's butt and go on a 4-day educational tourney to 11 different villages. We came together and used our money (which is quite limited), artistic abilities (also quite limited), language skills, theatre experience (ha), and patience to create a fabulous presentation which we presented in Wolof in 8 villages, Pulaar (a different language) in 2 villages, and both Wolof and Pulaar in one village.

We were helped out by a fabulous PC staff member, Tidiane Diaw, who herded us and our supplies around to the various villages and gave a lovely speech at the end of every presentation in the local languages, ensuring that the villagers understood our attempts at Wolof and Pulaar. Couldn't have done it without you, Tidiane!

Setting up in Mbeuleukhe

Anyway, we ventured around the region for 4 days and my village, Mbeuleukhe, was the second one we visited. Below are some photos from Mbeuleukhe's tourney. We had quite the turn out. Pretty much every village had huge numbers because any time a truck pulls up with 13 toubabs, the villagers are sure to come out to see what's up.

The crowds of Mbeuleukhe

I was really nervous for the presentation in my village! My Wolof is getting better gradually, but it's nowhere near as good as the volunteers who have been here for over a year. And Senegalese people LOVE making comparisons (ex- "She's prettier than you," "You don't understand anything but that guy speaks Wolof really well," "You know your friend, the one that's fattest?" etc.) so I was really nervous to roll up to village with a bunch of PCVs that have been a year up on me.

But, luckily, I think it went really well! After we came in and introduced ourselves, whoever's village it was would give a brief description of why it's important to learn about malaria, what it is, etc. Then it was theatre time! This was without a doubt the best part, both for us and for the villagers. Our first theatre was all about debunking myths. Skit 1 involved debunking the myth that unripe mangoes give you malaria. Skit 2 (in which I starred) was about walking in the hot sun. Skit 3 was about spirits, 4 was about milk, and 5 was about too much dancing. Yes, these seem very silly. And, yes, we all know that drinking milk and dancing too much cannot give you malaria. But almost every single time we would ask at the end of the skits, "So, do unripe mangoes give you malaria?" people would shout "YES!!" The two most popular choices were unripe mangoes and evil spirits.

Chanting, chanting and more chanting

So, obviously, the next part of our presentation involved a lot of discussion about mosquitoes, the real cause of malaria. We also made neem lotion, a lotion made from neem leaves which repel mosquitoes and it REALLLLY easy and cheap to make. And oh did we chant. We chanted about mosquitoes, we chanted about mosquito nets, we chanted about everything. I will never ever for the rest of my life forget the phrases MAT MAT YOO INDIE NA SIBURU or NATANDE BOO DI ADDI JONTINOJI ("mosquito bites bring malaria" in Wolof and Pulaar).

I'm pretty confident that the knowledge sank in because everywhere we go now people scream the chant at us and talk about neem lotion, mosquito nets, etc. And it didn't occur to me beforehand how crazy it is for villagers to see 13 white people together performing skits and yelling into a bullhorn. I think everyone in the region definitely wants to do more group projects because it's a chance for all of us to work and hang out together, and the villages really benefit.

Team Djolof with Tidiane and our props

Highlights of the tour included playing the "find the house baby" contest (in which we each sought out the cutest village baby that we could steal and keep in our volunteer house), all the dance parties which spontaneously began in nearly every village, and dressing our PCV guys up in fabulous Senegalese dresses and head wraps for the skits. It was also fun whenever you were in a village that didn't speak your respective language (in my case, Pulaar) because you had to memorize lines in a different language and the entire presentation you just nodded your head as people were speaking a languages that sounded like "biddi boodi boddi bendi bloopi bondi biddi bippi"

The good people of Mbeuleukhe

And, finally, the truck rides. Oh the truck rides. There were 13 of us plus our PCV staff member, Tidiane. So 14 total in a truck.  A regular, normal-sized truck. We usually did 6 people inside, 8 people outside plus all of the supplies outside. Senegalese roads are bumpy. All of us have left this experience with incredibly bruised butts and lots of cramps going on. But the view was usually really pretty.

Zooming around Africa

So that's all I have about malaria for now. Team Djolof also currently has some basketball court projects and a Girl's Camp project going on. Here's the link for the b-ball court, and the girl's camp stuff will be up soon.

So I'll be updating again hopefully soon about the wonders of Ramadan. Remember... mosquitoes, not mangoes, bring malaria!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Exciting Times at IST and the Dermatologist

My past three weeks have been so unbelievably crazy I don't even know where to begin! First I travelled to Thies with my fellow Linguere-ians for our IST (In-Service Training). All of us were so excited to get to the big city and eat pizza, drink beer and speak English for a little while, AND meet up with all of our friends.

The actual training part of IST was usually pretty interesting. We had two weeks of all-day sessions. Training consisted of a lot of "how to" projects... how to make nutritional porridge for malnourished babies (which by the way is DELICIOUS and all of us kept eating it), how to make mud stoves, how to write grants, etc. So that aspect of training was good. Other sessions (maternal health in Senegal, the Senegalese school structure, etc.) were more repetitive and boring. But, all in all, the actual training part of IST wasn't bad.

Side note: Team Linguere decided to rep the wild, wild west of Senegal and all wore our Team Djolof shirts the first day of IST (history factoid- our region is referred to as "The Djolof" because it's used to be the Djolof Kingdom back in the day). And, yes, the back of the shirts say "where things go to die," because we're badass and live in the desert. Represent.

So that's what was good about IST, what was bad was that my toe is mean and never wants to heal. One of the first days of IST, our Peace Corps doctor stopped by the Training Center for a med session. I asked if she would take a look at my toe because it still looked pretty gross, and once she saw it she sent me promptly to Dakar for some real medical attention. So I went to a dermatologist who proceeded to cut out half of my toenail and a lot of the infection on the toe. This was fine because I preferred having stitches on my toe for a few weeks as opposed to having my toe eventually fall off. What was funny was that the doctor and I didn't share any common languages except for my very limited French, so he was making a lot of big hand gestures to demonstrate things like "now I'm going to numb your toe," and "don't touch this for three days!" So that was a fun experience.

Then it was back to IST, where we continued learning, and being social with other Americans. Our social activities included many movie screenings including HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART II!! All of my friends at home will appreciate the importance of this for me. The highlight of the film viewing was that all text was written in Russian. Yay for bootleg movies in Africa!

After IST was over, a lot of us hung around the Training Center to attend a meeting for SeneGAD (Senegal's Gender and Development initiative). SeneGAD has a lot of on-going projects that I'm interested in working on and some that I've already been able to help out with, like a scholarship to help village girls continue and fund their education. I decided to run for one of the board positions that was opening up and I lucked out and won! So now I'm SeneGAD's new Training Coordinator, which means that I'll be travelling to Thies to help train the new trainees/volunteers about SeneGAD projects, gender issues in Senegal, plan events with our PC staff, etc. I'm excited to get to meet all of the new trainees when they arrive in-country, and help them learn the ropes.

In fact, I get to go back to Thies really soon- August 17th- to do some sessions with the group that arrived here in June. We also get a new group of Agriculture trainees at the end of August and I'll be able to be with them right off the bat. Selfishly I'm really excited about this because my region will be getting 4 new volunteers from that August Ag Stage, so I'll be able to scope everyone out. We currently have 13 people in the Linguere region (one of which will be leaving very shortly), so 4 new people is going to be really exciting! The people in your region become your closest friends/confidants/support system. It's like the friends you meet at college or camp or your job in America, except that you're the only people around who share a common language and culture and ethnicity.
So, anyway, then I headed back to Dakar to get my stitches out. The stitches came out fine, but my doctor isn't too happy with how my toe's healing. I'm ready for it to get cut off at this point. So that stunk, but luckily this time in Dakar I was able to spend a few days and eat at real restaurants, go to a happy hour, and wear a skirt above my knee. So scandalous! Dakar was fabulous but definitely not within the price range of a PCV. I'm going to have to save up for my next trip.

Now I'm back in Linguere at the regional house preparing for a malaria tourney throughout the region that we're going to do in a few days. We're going to go to each of our villages and perform skits about what does and does not cause malaria (mosquitoes do, green mangoes and evil spirits do not), teach people how to make a lotion that repels mosquitoes, promote the importance of sleeping with mosquito nets, etc. Also, Jenn and I are planning on recording two radio shows which will air in September. We're planning on doing one called "Tea Time with Jenn & Fae" in which we discuss how people make tea in different countries, how too much sugar is bad for you, the truth about caffeine, etc. And we'd like to do our second one on family planning and reproductive health. And we'll obviously be interspersing the educational segments with Glee songs, maybe some new Britney Spears, and Senegal's national pride and joy, Akon.

So that's what I'm currently up to in my life, planning skits about how spirits can't cause malaria and making radio shows about reproduction. I hear that exciting things are happening in America... like shark week, the new season of the Jersey Shore and my bff Kyle getting an awesome new job! Keep me posted on all of the exciting events, everyone. Also, a HUGE shout-out to my parents, my Aunt Anne Marie, and the fabulous Park family for the fantastic packages that were waiting for me upon my arrival back in Linguere. Especially exciting was Kyle's article from Philly Beer Scene magazine about his "Saison de Senegal" beer that he brewed for my departure, photos of family from home, and toys for my little siblings in-village.

I'll be back in Dakar on the 16th to have a follow-up at the dermatologist, and then heading to Thies for my SeneGAD trainings with the new kiddos. I'll be sure to do an update then. And I'm sorry that I somehow disabled my comment feature on here.. I can't figure out how to enable it but I'll get to it eventually. I'll check back in a few weeks with pictures of the malaria tourney. We're making mosquito costumes and have a bullhorn, so get excited!