Friday, January 25, 2008

Traditional Medicine

Written Tuesday, 24 January 2008



Lately I've had a not very serious, but never-ending, cold.  I used up all the throat lozenges that Peace Corps gave me.  Stuck in my village with a scratchy throat and no throat lozenges = not fun.  So my counterpart offered to make me some traditional medicine – a particular kind of leaf, boiled in water, and then sugar added. 


I decided to try it.  It was a thick, syrupy drink the color of pond scum.  And tasted about like pond scum too.  And it did indeed make my scratchy throat feel better.  I still prefer throat lozenges, though.

Love potion!

Written Thursday, 24 January 2008



Recently one of my host sisters has stopped eating with my host family.  At every meal I would ask where she was – shouldn't we call her to come eat? – and someone would tell me she was full.  Very fishy, I thought.  She wasn't sick, so I started to think that maybe there had been a fight in the family and she was avoiding hanging out with them.


Finally one day I saw her eating breakfast at my counterpart's compound, so I decided to ask him why she is not eating with us anymore.  The answer was about the last thing I would ever have guessed: love potion!


A man in my village has asked her to marry him, and she has refused, saying she doesn't love him.  So this man went to a marabout (religious leader) and got him to make a gris-gris (magical/religious object) – essentially a love potion – to put in her food, so that she will fall in love with him and agree to marry him. 


My other host sisters, who do the cooking for the family, of course found out about the plot, and they warned her.  So now she is not eating with our family so that no one can slip her some love potion.  And soon she and her mother are even going to leave the village in order to escape from the threat.


Now I am worried – what if someone tries to slip me some love potion?  My host mom would probably let them do it if they gave her enough money.  Let's hope love potion doesn't work on toubabs.


Written Thursday, 24 January 2008



A few days ago I was biking back into my village from a neighboring volunteer's village, and I came upon a pack of at least thirty baboons crossing the road.  There were moms with little baby baboons on their back, and a giant dad baboon that must have weighed more than me.  They all moved away quickly when they heard me coming, so I didn't have to worry about them attacking me and I didn't have time to get a picture. 


This wasn't the first time I've seen the baboons, but it was just one of those moments where I realize how amazing it is that I'm living in an African village.



Clothes in trees, Part 2

Written Thursday, 24 January 2008



I wrote on this blog several months ago about how people hang discarded clothes in trees.  I asked around about why, and all I could get as an answer was that it is related to a taboo.  Well, I finally got a little more information.  The discarded clothes are hung in trees because if they are just thrown on the ground or burned, the former owner of the clothes, particularly if it is a child, will get sick.  Putting them in trees is supposed to protect them from getting burned accidentally, and thus protect the clothes owner from getting sick.


What happens if there is a wildfire and the clothes get burned while they're in the tree?  No clear answer.

Muslim New Year

Written Thursday, 24 January 2008



The Muslim New Year was last Friday.  At least here, it is not a big holiday like Korite or Tabaski, but it meant we got to eat meat with our lunch.  And in the afternoon, the women make dego, the Senegalese no-oven-required version of cookies, which is just corn, rice, or millet flour, or even a sort of paste made out of beans, mixed with water and sugar.  Then the village children run in packs from house to house demanding their share of dego.  It felt kind of like trick-or-treating on halloween.  And the adults go around asking their neighbors to forgive them for any wrongs they have committed against them.

Puppet show

Written Thursday, 24 January 2008



This past week a couple of other volunteers and I performed a puppet show on dental hygiene in our villages.  It was a lot of fun; I don't know if my villagers had ever seen puppets before.


It's funny how the things that sounded pointless or cheesy or lame to me before coming to Peace Corps, like teaching English or doing theater to teach health messages, turn out to be my favorite activities here. 

Stop touching my boobs!

Written Thursday, 24 January 2008



I had a classic Peace Corps freak-out moment recently.


I knew before coming here that Africans' sense of personal space is different from Americans', and I was prepared to try to adjust.  So when I got to my village and discovered that it is no big deal for people to touch women's breasts, it wasn't a surprise.  So I've gotten used to village women grabbing my breasts to compare my size with theirs, or to pretend that they're going to have me breastfeed a baby.  I even once had a woman at the market greet me by grabbing my breast and shaking it as if she were shaking my hand.  All of which I have endured and sometimes even been able to laugh at, although it always still feels weird to be touched like that.


But one day about a week ago one of my younger host sisters, who likes to push boundaries with me and see what she can get away with, decided to test how far I would let her get into my personal space by grabbing my breast and massaging it.  For whatever reason, instead of being able to ignore it or laugh it off, this time I just lost it.  I screamed at her and would even have hit her (not at all in character for me) if I had not had my hands full with holding a small child upside down by its feet at that moment (the kid was enjoying it, I wasn't torturing her or anything).


Everyone in Peace Corps has their story of losing control and acting out of character, no longer able to keep pretending to be the perfect, tolerant volunteer.  So this was mine.  My villagers seemed surprised to see me so angry, but they seemed to understand why – I was told later that at some point in the past (when the last volunteer was here? Before the first volunteer came?) they had a meeting to sensitize the whole village about Westerners' ideas of personal space.


Now everything is back to normal in my village, no weirdness with my villagers over the incident.  But no one has gotten in my personal space since then either, and I hope it stays that way.



Polygamy is depressing me

Written Thursday, 24 January 2008



Lately, all the men in my village seem to want to talk to me about is polygamy.  They want to explain to me all the reasons why polygamy is a good and necessary thing – like that the second (or third or fourth) wife can help the first wife with all the chores, and can do the cooking for the family if the first wife is sick.  And they tell me that having multiple wives can make a man's home life easier – if a man has only one wife, she might talk back to him or refuse to do chores or something, but if there are multiple wives, the wives will always be competing to be the husband's favorite and so they will be nicer to him.  And of course there is always the argument that men have wandering eyes, and it is better for them to marry multiple wives than to have affairs.


On top of these theoretical discussions, a couple of my host brothers (whose wives are some of my best friends in the village) have told me they are looking for second wives.  Nowhere in any of this talk is there any thought to how the wife feels.  If I try to bring it up, I am just told that polygamy is allowed by Islam and by the culture, and that the women are used to it, or accept it, or whatever.


It is really starting to depress me that no one cares about how the women feel about it.