Wednesday, February 27, 2008


written Sunday, 3 February 2008
The heat has come back - almost 100 degrees today.  Ick.  At least it's still cool at night, so far.

A surreal morning

written Friday, 1 February 2008
This morning as we were finishing up breakfast my host sisters chirpily asked me, "Do you want to go visit Mariama with us?  Her husband's brother beat her yesterday, so we're going to see how she's doing."
Um, okay.  So we trooped down to Mariama's and found her lying in bed in her hut.  Chirpy voices again: "Mariama, get up!  We brought you some porridge!"  But she just lay there and ignored us, so the women fed her baby, and then we sat around for a few minutes and chatted (with each other, not Mariama - she didn't talk the whole time) like it was a normal social visit.  And then it was time to go.  So we said good-bye and headed back home, greeting everyone along the way.
Sometimes here I feel like I'm losing my grip on what's normal...


 Written Monday, 7 January 2008


Wildfires are a problem here after the rainy season ends, when all the grasses that grew with the rains become dry.  Today a wildfire came very close to the village, which is not uncommon, so the village chief rang the bell that is used to summon villagers for meetings and communal work, and everyone went out to fight the fire, the men with branches to beat it back and the women with buckets of water.
The men told me not to go, because toubabs are too delicate for hard work and all the smoke.  But I didn't want to miss out on the excitement, so I went along to take pictures.  The women gave me a hard time about not having brought a bucket of water, though.
The fire seems under control now, but there is a lot of wind today, so we'll see what happens.


 Written Monday, 7 January 2008


I have started to teach one of my sisters, who never had a chance to go to school, how to write.  She is a really curious person and seems to really regret not having an education.  She is always asking me to teach her English words, but it is hard for her to remember them.  I've been wanting to teach her to read for a while, but wasn't really sure how to go about it since there aren't really any reading materials available in Jaxanke.  But finally it occurred to me that I should start by teaching her to write, and that will probably help her to remember letters better than just looking at them.


So I bought her a notebook and two pencils as a present, thinking that might be exciting for her – she's probably never owned school supplies before.  She seemed really pleased when I gave them to her and wanted to start the first lesson right away.  So I taught her A, B, and D (there's no confusing C in Jaxanke – just K or S to make those sounds), and we talked about words that have those sounds in them.  She was really quick to figure out about breaking up words into syllables to sound them out.


So I think the first lesson went really well, and she seemed happy.  I just hope she finds the time and the motivation to stick with it.


written Monday, 7 January 2008
While I was in Missira I also stopped by the Rural Community (basically the county government) office, and they explained to me how taxes work here, which I had been wondering about for a long time.
In the rural villages, it is very simple.  Taxes are collected (by government officials with the help of the village chief, simply by going door to door) once a year.  Each family is supposed to pay 1000 CFA (about $2) for every person between the ages of 14 and 65 (or maybe it was 75 - I can't remember now).
There is no penalty for those who can't pay.  After all, what could the government do - foreclose on their hut?  So the government tries to motivate people to pay their taxes by awareness raising - teaching people that the taxes go to projects that benefit the community, like new wells, schools, and roads.
The rural community tax money is supplemented by money from the central government in Dakar (but where does that money come from?  Taxes on the richer Dakarois? foreign aid?  I'm not sure).  Most projects are funded through a sort of match grant system, where Dakar will pay, say, 90% of the costs and the rural community has to come up with 10%.  If the rural community can't pay their share, then the project doesn't happen.
So how effective is this essentially voluntary tax system?  It varies from year to year.  The official I was talking to said that in 2005 and 2006 about 95% of people paid their tax, but for 2007 hardly anyone paid.  Was that due to a bad harvest?  Were people just poorer?  No, he said, the harvest was fine.  It was due to a "variety of factors".  And that was all he would say about it.
Which made me think that maybe people had decided the rural community officials were corrupt and were "eating the money" (i.e. embezzling it), which is a common complaint among villagers, but I have no idea how widespread a problem it actually is.
There is another tax for people who live in "batiments" - concrete houses instead of huts - and I'm sure for people in towns the tax structure is different and probably less voluntary.  But that was all of my lesson for the day.


written Monday, 7 January 2008

A really good day

written Saturday, 5 January 2008
Yesterday I biked from Tamba to Missira, about 35 km, with another volunteer.  It was so nice to be outside and getting exercise again after sitting around in Tamba for so long, and also to have company for the bike ride.  Along the way I noticed a tree with beautiful orange flowers on it, and I stopped to take a picture.  My friend found one of the flowers on the road, and we took it with us to give to the woman he buys sandwiches from, just as a small gesture of friendship.
So when we got to Missira we bought our bean sandwiches, and my friend gave the sandwich lady the flower.  He explained that in America men give women flowers as presents when they like them.  (She is older and married with kids, so she didn't take this the wrong way).  My friend wasn't expecting anything more than a thank you from her, but instead the present caused a big commotion.  The sandwich lady started calling everyone in the vicinity over to show them the flower and tell them that the toubab gave it to her.  Then there were lots of discussions about what tree it came from and what the point was of giving a present that couldn't be consumed and that would just go bad quickly.  It was a lot of fun to see how excited everyone got.
Soon after that I ran into the woman I always buy vegetables from at my weekly market.  She lives in Missira, but I've only seen her there before when I was on my way to Tamba.  When she realized I wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere for a while she grabbed me and took me to her house to be her special guest.  She introduced me to all her family and neighbors, and then stuffed me full of really good food, which I wasn't really hungry for, but I appreciated the thought.  She wanted me to stay and spend the night, but I told her I had to get home to my village.  I did promise to spend the night some other time, though.
Finally in the evening I made it home to my village, where I was so happy to see my friends and my own little hut again.
So, a perfect day: good weather, exercise, flowers, happy friendly people, good food, and my own bed to sleep in at the end of the day.

Stuck in Tamba

written Saturday, 5 January 2008
I went up to Tamba on Christmas Eve, planning to spend just two or three days in town for the Christmas holidays, since there wouldn't be any celebration happening in my village.  (Not that there was anything happening in Tamba either, since most volunteers were elsewhere, but at least I could have internet and good phone reception).  I really didn't want to be out of my village long, since I feel like I haven't spent enough time in my village lately and that is what I came to Africa to do.  But while I was in Tamba I was hoping to meet with the woman at the health department in charge of training midwives, in order to talk to her about training a girl from my village to be a midwife. 
I was hoping that since Christmas isn't a big holiday here that she would be able to meet with me right after, on the 26th, and then I could go home to my village.  But when I called the health department they told me she was out of town til the 31st, so I should wait until then.  So I waited in Tamba.
On the 31st I called again to set up an appointment, which I was finally able to get, but not until January 3rd.  So I waited some more.
Finally on the 3rd I went to my appointment, only to meet there the girl from my village who we were trying to get the midwife training for.  She'd already gotten permission and started the training a month ago, and just never bothered to tell me or anyone else from my village.  (She'd been visiting her parents, who live in Tamba, for a while, so that was how we didn't know).
So I felt a little ridiculous and superfluous, having wasted so much time in Tamba for nothing.  But I am trying to tell myself to be happy that this girl was motivated enough to take care of things herself, and also that we are about a month ahead of where I thought things stood.
In any case, I was finally able to come back to my village yesterday, and it is good to be back.

I'm back!

It seems like I've been away from my blog for a long time, although maybe it hasn't actually been longer than usual.  Anyway, I'm back, after a wonderful, much-needed vacation.
And now, for a few old entries that I forgot to post last time.