Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New pictures!

I've uploaded new pictures to


Written Tuesday, 23 October 2007



While I was visiting the Pulaar village with my volunteer friend, we got to talking about cows and money.   My friend doesn't like all the cows around – he says they eat all the vegetation and ruin the land.  I am such a fan of nono, though, that I am not about to advocate people getting rid of their cows (it's hard enough for me to get my hands on nono as it is – I can't buy it in my village).   Anyway, I think the damage to the land is just bad herd management – if the herders would move the cows more often, before they've eaten absolutely all the vegetation in one area, the land would recover a lot faster.


The reason people here keep cows, besides herding being a traditional lifestyle for some ethnic groups, and besides for milk and the delicious nono, is that they function as a savings account.   People say that if they kept the money at home or even in a bank, they would "eat" the money – that is, they would constantly be dipping into it – twenty cents here for tea, three cents there for a cigarette – and it would quickly be gone.   But if they buy a cow with their money, then they can't dip into it.  They either keep the cow, or they sell it.   And selling a cow is a big deal, reserved for important occasions like paying for a doctor when you might die otherwise, or for a wedding.  So it makes sense to invest in cows, but only up to a point – after all, you have to spend time herding and taking care of a cow or else pay someone else to do it for you, and then there is a possibility that it could die, leaving you with nothing.


So my friend and I were discussing ways that people could save their money more efficiently and safely, and with less damage to the environment, than with cows.   I thought that if savings accounts are no good because it is too easy to dip into them, then maybe savings bonds or CDs, where you can't dip into them but have to cash it in all at once (like selling a cow) and maybe even have to pay a penalty if you cash it in too soon, would work better.   But then we came up with a simpler idea: piggybanks.  The old-fashioned ceramic kind where you put your money in a slot and then can't get it back out unless you smash it.   Maybe that could be a good way for people to save their money without being too tempted to dip into it, especially if the banks were pretty.  Of course, this being primarily a Muslim country, a pig shape is no good.  And since people are used to investing their money in cows, a cow shape makes sense.   So this is our idea: NaggeBanks (nagge is the Pulaar word for cow).  I don't know if the idea will ever go anywhere, but I'm going to keep thinking about it.

Visit to another village

Written Tuesday, 23 October 2007



The local health volunteers association (whose members are villagers, but I participate too) was supposed to have a "health day" on Sunday in a village about 45 km away.   For the health days, which is an activity they've just started recently, all the association members go to the chosen village and hold health education classes and demonstrations.   Since the village is far away, it was decided that the members would all meet on Saturday in Dialacoto, take a hired car to the village, and spend the night there.  There is a Peace Corps volunteer in a neighboring village, so instead of taking the car with everyone else, I decided to bike down and stay with my friend.


I arrived in the village about noon on Saturday.   The village is much farther off the road than mine is, and right on the edge of the Niokolo-Koba national park.  It felt very isolated and quiet and was very pretty.   I spent the day Saturday just talking with my friend and his villagers.  His village speaks Tandonke, which is a dialect or language related to Mandinka, and which I find easier to understand than Jaxanke.   So it was nice to feel as if my language skills had magically improved overnight.


On Sunday my volunteer friend, the health association member from his village, and I biked over to the neighboring village where the health day was supposed to happen.   Only to find out that the health day had been cancelled and none of the other association members were coming.  Such is life in the land of no cell phone reception.


The village was Pulaar, and keeping with their traditions, these Pulaars had a lot of cows.   So they gave us a bowl of "nono" ("keedam" in Pulaar, which I am trying to learn), which is curdled milk (basically yoghurt).  It was the best I've had, and I decided the whole trip was worth it just for that.   I wish I could get it in the US.  Right now I am fantasizing about getting them to teach me how to make it, and then buying a milk cow when I go back to the US.  (And where would I keep the cow?  On my apartment balcony?  That's why this is just a fantasy.)


After our nono snack, we went around the village to greet the chief and other villagers.   We couldn't talk to them much since we don't speak Pulaar, but everyone was really nice and friendly.  One nice old woman took a liking to me for some reason and asked my volunteer friend if the village could keep me.   I wanted to say sure, if they would teach me Pulaar and feed me nono every day, but my volunteer friend told her that my own villagers won't agree to give me up.   Poo.  The villagers did end up asking to make a formal request to get their own Peace Corps volunteer, though, so my friend is going to do the paperwork and see if they can get one.


They fed us lunch – rice with squash.   It was the first time I've had squash here – it was delicious.  And then when it got a little cooler we biked back to my friend's village, with a live chicken they gave us as a present hanging upside-down from the handlebars.


Yesterday (Monday) morning I biked back to my village, and along the way got to see a troop of monkeys crossing the road, and then just a little farther on a family of warthogs.   Unfortunately they all ran away too fast when they heard me coming for me to get a picture of them.


So it turned out to be a great trip, even though the health day, which was the reason I'd gone down there in the first place, didn't happen.


Written Friday, 19 October 2007

Today my family sacrificed a sheep, so that my brother will do well when he goes back to school next week (he is studying to be an electrician).

I don't really understand why it counts as a sacrifice when the family still gets to eat the animal – it isn't burned like sacrifices in the Bible, or given away to the poor, which would also make sense to me – but they still call it a sacrifice.

Now little kids are running around waving pieces of intestines like streamers, and they are roasting the sheep's head on the fire.


Written Monday, 15 October 2007
Yesterday was Korite, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. (I think it is also called Eid Al-Fitr, from Arabic. Korite I think is the French name.) It was originally supposed to be celebrated the day before, on the 13 th, but the night of the 12th was cloudy so the moon couldn't be seen, so everyone had to fast an extra day.
People in the village had been talking for weeks about Korite coming up – telling me that I should get a new outfit, and that we would eat so well, and that there would be dancing and so much fun. So I was really looking forward to it, thinking it would be quite the event. So maybe it was only inevitable that I was a little disappointed.
Korite preparations started about two days before, with the women all braiding each other's hair extra fancy for the occasion. Then yesterday morning Korite finally arrived. We had breakfast (just the usual porridge), and then about 9:30 all the men and boys and older women (pre-menopausal women aren't allowed, but I was specially invited) went to a field to do Korite prayers. It was really hot and there wasn't any shade, so I was glad it didn't take long.

Then after the prayers everyone just sat around (with the women still braiding each other's hair) until lunchtime. For lunch we went over to a neighboring compound and ate with them, so we could have a little of what they made and a little of what we made. They made couscous with a meat and potato sauce, and we brought yassa – rice with an onion and meat sauce. Both delicious, and we only get to eat them for holidays and special occasions. That was the best part of the day for me, except that my sisters said I wasn't eating fast enough, so they gave me a separate bowl to eat from. I know they were just trying to make sure I got enough to eat, but I couldn't help but feel a little excluded.

After lunch was more relaxing time (and more getting ready time for the women). I kept wondering when the big event was going to happen that the women were getting all fancy for. I had thought it was for the religious ceremony and the lunch, but the women didn't go to the prayers and they were just in their regular clothes for lunch. Finally I found out: about 4:00 was "greet the neighbors" time. The women, finally dressed and ready, walked around to everyone else's compounds to greet and show off their fancy new outfits. (I found out later that this was when everyone was supposed to be asking forgiveness from everyone else for anything bad they might have done over the last year, but I didn't notice my family doing anything besides the normal greetings).

After a couple of hours of greeting, it was time for dinner – just regular porridge, and then some pasta that was so oily I couldn't eat it. After dinner there was dancing at the other end of the village, but my sisters weren't going, so I didn't either.

So that was Korite, and the end of Ramadan, and now we are back to our regular schedule. I'm going to miss my 7 pm bowl of porridge before dinner.

Monday, October 08, 2007

We have lost a friend

Written Monday, 8 October 2007



Yesterday Lamine Ndongo, the safety and security officer for Peace Corps Senegal, was killed in a car accident.


I didn't know Lamine very well, but he was a wonderfully nice guy who cared about us volunteers and did his best to keep us safe and get us out of sticky situations when they happened.   He was a friend to all of us.  Peace Corps Senegal will not be the same without him.


Our hearts go out to his family.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A few things about being sick

Written Sunday, 7 October 2007



Last week I had a stomachache and my host mom made me a traditional medicine tea out of tree bark.   It tasted just like chicken broth – delicious.  My stomach was already feeling mostly better by then though, so I can't say whether it had much effect.


After recovering from my minor stomachache, a few days ago I woke up with a terrible headache and a fever.   After lying in my hut miserable for two days, and upon the advice of the Peace Corps nurse (who I called on my cell phone), I decided I needed to get up to Tamba, so it would be easier for me to get to a doctor if I needed to.   Plus my cell phone battery was almost dead, and I didn't want to be stuck in my village with no way to get in touch with Peace Corps in case I got even sicker.


So it was time to evacuate.  But there was a problem: I was definitely not feeling up to biking ten kilometers over the mountain to get to the main road, where I could get a car to Tamba.  I had been wondering about what would happen in this situation pretty much since I moved to the village – how was I going to get out if I couldn't bike or walk myself out?  


So I went and told my counterpart I needed to get to Tamba and that I didn't feel well enough to bike out of the village. So then he started running around for me trying to figure out my transport.   First option was to see if the Park Service guys could give me a ride out in their car, the one car in my village.  But no, their car was broken down.   So option two was to try to find someone with a motorcycle who could drive me out, with me riding on the back (this is against Peace Corps policy and grounds for being sent back to the US, but I was too sick to care at this point – I just wanted to get out).   But this time it was bad timing – it was Friday at 2:00, which meant everyone was at the mosque for the long Friday sermon and wouldn't be done for at least an hour, by which time I would have missed the last car going up to Tamba.   Riding out on a donkey cart was another theoretical option, except it would take at least two hours to go the ten kilometers, and by then again I would have missed the last car.  


Finally one of my friends offered to ride me out on the back of his bicycle.   So I sat on the luggage rack on the back of his bike, and he biked me over the mountain to the road. 


People ride people around on their luggage racks all the time here, so I guess it is not that big of a deal, but I still sort of feel like he saved my life (not that I was that sick, but I was pretty miserable).   And it is comforting to know that when it becomes really necessary my villagers will take care of me and get me out of the village and to a doctor.


Now I am feeling better and trying to think of a good thank-you present to take back to my friend.

Bowl manners

Written Tuesday, 2 October 2007



(I would have said table manners, but there are no tables here.   Meals mean just sitting around a big bowl on the ground).  These are the rules of good bowl manners in Senegal:


1. Always eat with your right hand; never touch communal food with your left.

2. Take as big a bite as possible.

3. Eat as quickly as possible.

4. When eating with your hands, stick out your tongue and lick your hand as if it were an ice cream cone.

5. When you are done eating, you must immediately get up and leave the bowl area to make room for other people.


I have pretty bad bowl manners here, just because I don't like to take big bites or eat quickly.   I am always being told that all the food will be gone before I am finished, but I always get enough.

Babies and fasting

Written Tuesday, 2 October 2007



Yesterday one of the village women came to my hut and asked me to buy milk for her baby; she said she didn't have enough breastmilk and the baby was hungry.   Her baby is one of the chubbiest in the village, and we had a conversation before about it and she said it's because she has tons of breastmilk.  So I was suspicious, and I asked her if she is fasting for Ramadan.  She said yes.


I am realizing that this is a big problem here – it seems that a lot of the nursing mothers are fasting, even though it means not having breastmilk for their babies, and even though Islam does not require pregnant or nursing women to fast (I think it may even be forbidden, but I'm not positive).   Anyway, I don't know why these women are fasting when it is putting their babies' health at risk, but it is making me really mad.


So I told the woman that I wasn't going to buy milk for her baby, that it is not as good as breastmilk and that she should stop fasting so her body can produce milk for the baby.   She went away mad, thinking I was just being stingy (or maybe that I shouldn't be telling her how to practice her religion and care for her family), and I am still mad about it too.   It's been a rough couple of days.

English class

Written Friday, 28 September 2007



I taught my first English class yesterday.   Like just about everything here, it didn't go quite as planned.  When I got back from Thies and decided I was ready to start the class, I talked to my counterpart and he picked the date and time for the first class – yesterday at 3 pm.  So after that I went around and told everyone who had told me they wanted to learn English that the first class would be on the 27th at 3 pm.


But yesterday morning my counterpart showed up and said 3 pm is no good, he'll be too tired from fasting all day and some of the men go out to work in the fields around then.   So we should do it at 10 am (it was 9:30 when we were having this conversation).  I was a little annoyed with him – after all, he had picked the original time and he had had two weeks to change his mind about it.   I suspect that he wanted to change the time so that the women wouldn't be able to come to the class – in the morning they are all busy doing chores.


But in the end I decided it wasn't worth arguing about, so I taught the class at 10:00, just to my counterpart and one other guy who lives in his compound, since it was too short notice to round everyone else up.  But I am still hoping to teach some of the women (in a separate class now), and hopefully more men will be able to come for the next men's class.


Written Wednesday, 26 September 2007



We did the malaria skit in my village yesterday.   It was a little bit crazy getting ready for it because I biked down from Tamba that same morning, so I was exhausted and only had about three hours to shower, eat lunch, tell my villagers we were doing the play, and get costumes and props ready.


But it turned out really well.   The villagers loved me buzzing around as the mosquito and saying "konkoo be nna" (I'm hungry), and all day today people have been greeting me by saying "Konkoo be nna!" in my mosquito voice.   But best of all, when the skit was over we asked my villagers some questions about malaria to make sure they had learned what they were supposed to from the skit, and they got all the answers right, and even had some more questions about malaria to ask us.   And then last night after dinner the women in my family were telling the kids, "Didn't you see the play? Go get under the mosquito nets before the mosquitoes bite you!"


So I am happy.  We can't do the skit in any more villages because one of the other volunteers/actors is going on vacation for a month, and by then the rainy/mosquito season will be over.   But we're going to try to write more skits on other topics to perform when she gets back, and we'll probably do this skit again for next year's rainy season.


Now we just need to figure out a fun name for our little acting troupe…