Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Two-week recap

Written Saturday, 3 May 2008

About two weeks ago I was in my village, having a great time hanging out with my villagers.  But then I got in a fight with one of my sisters about her not respecting my personal space (grabbing my breasts again, but a different sister this time).  I was so mad I wanted to just take off to Tamba to get away for a while to cool off, even though I'd planned to stay in the village another week before going to Tamba.

But it also happened to be the same day I was finally getting a new thatch roof put on my hut, so all my stuff was sitting out in the yard while my hut was a foot deep in old thatch, dirt, and termites.  So I had to wait around til the roof was finished and I could put my stuff back in my hut.

Finally in the afternoon it was done, and just as I was about to bike out of the village, one of my host brothers called me over and told me that he and the other men in my host family were upset that I hadn't asked them to help out with thatching my hut (my counterpart and some of his friends did it).  Maybe he had a point, but it frustrated me that they hadn't said anything in the three months since I bought the thatch, during which time it's been leaning against my back fence, making it obvious to anyone who happens by that I was planning to re-do my roof.

Anyway, it was all just too much stress for one day.  I finally made it out of the village and up to Tamba, where I almost immediately started feeling better.  But I decided to stay for the whole week to get our (filthy, disgusting! frat-) house cleaned up before the new group of volunteers arrives in mid-May.

Then last weekend all of us Tamba volunteers spent two days cleaning up a park which we have decided to adopt in our neighborhood.  A bunch of kids came out to help us, and we had a lot of fun.  Hopefully the community will start using the park again now.

This week I am back in my village, hanging out and getting ready for the next baby weighing.  Then next week I am going on vacation to Kedougou and Guinea.

Just really integrated, or am I losing my mind?

Written Thursday, 17 April 2008

Yesterday, after a long day of biking in the hot sun, interviewing candidates for the SeneGAD scholarship, and greeting every single person I passed in Dialacoto, I was finally biking back to my village (at 3:30 pm – the hottest part of the day – not smart!) I passed a cow on my path, and I was on the verge of asking it "Do you have peace?" when my brain caught up to me and I remembered that while greetings are very important here, that doesn't include livestock.

I think I am losing my mind, at least temporarily because of the heat.  Or maybe I am just so integrated here that I am better at following the country's customs than even the locals are.  After all, who's more polite – someone who greets a cow, or someone who ignores it?

Scholarships for girls

Written Thursday, 17 April 2008

Peace Corps Senegal's "SeneGAD" program, which focuses on gender issues in development, offers scholarships for girls in middle school to help them stay in school and encourage girls to continue their education.  This past week my volunteer neighbor Fonsa and I have been carrying out our part of the program, having the girls with the best grades at the middle school in Dialacoto (the only middle school in the region until Missira, 40 km away) write essays about their plans for the future and then interviewing the girls individually.  The essays and interview information we'll send to Dakar, where a committee of Peace Corps volunteers will choose the scholarship winners.  (The number of winners varies depending on how much money SeneGAD has been able to fundraise, but should be at least one girl from each participating school).

This is a simple process for Americans, but for girls here, especially those from small and isolated villages, I think it is strange and intimidating.  Many of the girls have probably never been asked before "What do you want to do when you grow up?"  It is just a given – they will farm, get married, and have babies.  The girls who have made it as far as middle school – which is above the average education level in Senegal, although I think that is changing slowly – have probably been more exposed than the average girl to the idea of having a job when they grow up, but I think our questions were still hard for them.  They also seemed pretty intimidated by me and Fonsa, toubab authority figures  (which I find really funny – I have no authority at all here, where I am treated like a child most of the time because of my inability to speak the language properly and incompetence at cooking and other women's work).  So it was hard to get the girls to talk much at all, although two of the girls – one my host sister, and the other the host sister of a former volunteer – did much better.

Here are some of the girls' answers: they all said (except for one girl, who said she might be a doctor) that they want to be teachers when they finish school.  I am not sure if this is because of their lack of exposure to other sorts of jobs, or if their teachers coached them on questions we might ask and how to answer them, or if there is some other reason.  We also asked the girls if they could travel and go anywhere in the world they wanted, where would they go?  Most of the girls gave predictable answers of America or European countries, where they would find work, but one girl broke my heart, saying she just wants to visit Kedougou and Tamba because she has never even been that far away from home – and Tamba is only a 2 hour, $2 car ride away.  (Fonsa and I are now cooking up a plan to take her to Tamba this summer for a girls' leadership camp that another volunteer is organizing).  American parents will be jealous to know that most of the girls said one of their parents was their role model, but I was excited when one girl said her role model is a woman who used to be Minister for Families, because she fights for women's rights.

Overall, they were a great bunch of girls, and I wish we could do more to help them stay in school and not be forced into early marriages.

Baby weighing, Part 2

Written Thursday, 17 April 2008

Last week I did a second baby weighing, a month after the first one.  It went pretty well – we were able to get it all done in one day, instead of the two it took before, although this time fewer women brought their babies to be weighed.  The results were pretty good overall as well – most of the kids had gained ½ to 1 kilo from the month before, although there were a few who stayed the same or even lost weight, mainly because they'd been sick.  (Mangoes are in season now, abundant and free in the village – just pick one off a tree! – so it's easy for people to supplement their diets with them and get more vitamins than usual, but the kids will sometimes eat unripe ones, and then they get diarrhea).

My challenge now is to get more of the women to understand that it's the information they get from the baby weighing that is beneficial, rather than the act of weighing the babies itself – too many women seem to think that sticking the baby on the scale provides some benefit, like getting a vaccination, and they will leave before I can tell them how much the baby weights or where it lands on the growth charts.