12 August 2012

Goodbyes: Part 2 -or- Hellos*

The gris-gris was the last thing that I truly felt I needed before leaving Senegal. So after my final days exploring Dakar I made sure to give myself plenty of time to get to the airport so I wouldn't miss my flight. I didn't! But... I arrived in New York and found myself herded into a line with people from my flight and a bunch of people getting back from the Olympics in London. After spending a few hours in that line, and borrowing a very confused woman's phone (Who the heck doesn't have a cell phone these days? ...this guy.), I learned that a "storm" was preventing my flight from taking off, the next possible flight would be a full day after my original flight was supposed to depart. I wasn't getting a room because the flight cancellation was weather related. So began my quest of first getting a hold of my parents who were supposed to be picking me up. This meant trying to get some American money, which I failed miserably at and was forced to call my parents collect from a pay phone. Thank goodness they aren't all gone yet. After I got all the new flight information to them I set out on my quest for a way to spend my evening. I was fully prepared to spend a night in the airport terminal, but decided to try getting a hold of another RPCV in New York.

My computer battery had died to the point where I had to plug it in to use it and the plug that works in America was in my checked luggage, which was still checked. A kind Italian woman noticed I was frustrated with my situation and offered that I use her adaptor. I was somewhat embarrassed that an Italian woman was helping an American get the right power adaptor while in America, but I thanked her profusely and began the search. Facebook messages were the first things sent out, then I pulled out my sheet of notebook paper with a bunch of phone numbers I had copied from my phone before leaving Senegal and booted up Skype. After a couple tries I managed to get the phone number of an RPCV who was more than willing to put me up for the night. He told me what to tell the Taxi driver and I was off... hoping they would accept my credit card. It wasn't a far drive at all, and I recognized the neighborhood according to the phone description, I figured I was close enough and was panicking about the ever-increasing price of my cab drive and what would happen if my card were declined, so I stopped the car and got out. My card was accepted, and I was lucky enough to be less than a one-minute walk away from his house. Once there I had my first shower in America and he decided to take me out for a night on the town. So many lights, we wound up in Times Square somehow, I ate some food, there were so many lights, we went into a couple bars, loud music and so many lights. I'm pretty sure he was purposely trying to overwhelm me... I just kind of turned off I think. The next morning was much calmer, we had brunch and then it was time to take me back to the airport.

I made it to my gate with plenty of time, especially since my flight took off a little late. That meant my flight landed quite a bit later. By the time I got off the plane in Atlanta my flight to Chicago had already left. I went to the gate it was supposed to be at anyway, knowing it was gone, and talked to the guy there. He was very nice and said, "Ah, I see you've changed your flight to Milwaukee at a later time."

"I have? Okay."

Milwaukee is a lot closer to home than Chicago anyway, much more convenient. He gave me everything I needed, and I asked if he knew of any phones around that I could use to call the people picking me up. I was planning my next collect call to home when he pulled out his cell phone and let me use it, such a nice guy. I got a hold of my mom, "Oh yeah, that was me," she says. She saw my flight out of New York was going to be late, called up the airline, give them the sob story, and had it all arranged while I was still in the air. It was like magic. When I landed in Milwaukee I didn't even bother looking for my checked luggage, I just went to the customer service counter and told them that it was probably in Chicago. As I was getting that worked out behind me I heard, "do you see him anywhere?" I turned and saw my parents looking at the crowd around the luggage claim right behind me.

I simply said, "I'm over here," and I was back home.

Goodbyes: Part 1*

I gave myself plenty of time to say my goodbyes; some prefer the "quick like a band-aid" approach, I decided to spread them out over several weeks for my own mental wellbeing. First up were Saraya and the Peace Corps radio show on Giggi Sembe radio - 96.6 FM for anyone passing through the area. Saraya is also currently home to a few PCVs and one of my favorite host families. After meeting up with a couple of other volunteers we made our way to Cissokho Kunda for a delicious Maffé (peanut sauce) lunch. We then had a casual afternoon, stopped by the Health Center, and prepared for the radio show.

We had a few announcements about upcoming PCV projects in the area and a general heath theme for the night and tried to pick out a good mix of music for the show. Sometimes we have themes for the music too- I did a Beatles show one night, which got a lot of comments about how "strong" the music is. At the end of the show we always have a portion where the hosts greet anyone they want. Some volunteers would list a bunch of people - I always kept it simple and greeted my family, my village, and all my friends there. This night was trickier; I decided to say a big goodbye to anyone listening. I thanked everyone for their amazing hospitality over the past 2 years, no matter what village I found myself in there was always someone around to lend a helping hand or even just to chat with. Honestly, it felt a little like I was on auto-pilot while I was saying all of this. I found myself assuring them that I would never forget my time here and that I would miss it a lot. I ended with some blurb about I would not forget the language, maybe a little, but not all of it then just started saying Thank You in as many ways as I could think of until I ran out of breath. Then I got to end the show the way I always did, with my favorite way of saying good night, "Allah mu killing killing kuning," which translates to, "May God wake us one-by-one." There is kind of a double meaning to it - the obvious is that hopefully we all wake up, less obvious is that if we all wake up at the same time that probably means there is some kind of emergency that we don't want to be woken up by.

This was probably the first that my limited time left in Khossanto became real, and it wasn't a great feeling. I stayed in a daze the rest of the night; I think a couple of the newer volunteers weren't quite sure what to do with me. They assured me that I had said a good farewell, and I hardly remembered what I said in that moment so I took their word for it.

The next day before getting on my bike and heading back to Khossanto I made sure to stop by Cissokho Kounda one more time and thank them for the shelter and all the meals over the past two years. As I walked in the compound the mother and father of the household were there shelling peanuts together, the very two people I wanted to see. I had timed it out perfect. I said good morning, squatted down, and told them I was going back to America as I shelled a few peanuts. They asked when I would be back and I had to explain that my "contract" was over. They have been host parents for several volunteers - they are used to the system. It was a strange feeling, I never spent all that much time with them, but in that moment I could see in their faces that they truly missed every volunteer they had met. There was definitely a pride in them for all of it, and a tiredness as well. We just sat with each other for a bit, not saying much at all. There was another volunteer with me who had only been in country for a few months, afterwards he commented on that feeling as well. It was subtle but very much there. I said my final goodbyes, received some final words of wisdom, and headed back to Khossanto.

Shortly after that came my last bike ride from Khossanto to Kédougou. I made sure to bring along my camera so I could snap a few pictures of my key landmarks along the way. The Biskrem stop in Bembou, the big tree on top of the hill by the "halfway" road marker, the BIG hill by Diakhaling and the rest tree at the top. I even managed to set-up a few self-timer shots along the way. My mom warned me on my first trip abroad that she didn't want to just see random pictures, she wanted see me in these places; I've tried to get good at taking pictures of myself and make that happen. My most important stop on this bike though, was Pondala. It was another volunteer's site who had gotten there six months ahead of me and I spent a few days here earlier in my service to help her with a world map mural. Her host father was the village chief, and a very nice man so I would make a point of stopping there on most of my bikes through to say hi. They were always good for a refill on my water bottle, and if my energy was particularly low I would take them up on the offer of staying for lunch. The longer I stayed though the harder it was to leave, especially in hot season. I just had a normal visit once I got there, played with the children for a while, said hi/bye to Puppies (the name of their dog, the volunteer who was told them a baby dog is a puppy in English, and the name stuck), then as I was getting myself loaded back onto my bike I mentioned that it was going to be my last time passing through Pondala. We all got sad for a bit, then excited about the future. It was an easy goodbye. This family had hosted three volunteers themselves so they were used to the process, they were just surprised that I was leaving so soon... never mind the fact that I stayed a few months over my two-year contract. It was a bittersweet, job well done - another chapter wrapped up.

Next was the big one, the one that I was looking forward to the least - Khossanto, my home for over the past two years. I was pleasantly surprised that after my deadline for setting up metal detectors nobody else asked me to do it. Makes me feel some respect, which feels nice. In the days leading up to my departure I was basically making my rounds through the village. Sometimes I would bring my camera to capture some moments; other times I would purposely leave it behind to just be in the experiences. I made sure to visit as many people as possible and just have conversations. They weren't all goodbyes; I wouldn't even always mention that I was leaving. For the most part I tried to keep things relatively normal. I spent a lot of time at the Health Post, especially after dinner - we always managed to have great conversations, and sometimes I would even get practice some English.

My days were spent trying to plant a bunch of things at the Middle School to make some kind of outline of a garden. I was leaving at the start of rainy season and was hoping that I could get things started there so they would get nice and big over rainy season and get too big for any animals that broke in to eat up all my hard work. Frankly it was kind of a last ditch effort, so I may simply have planted some tasty treats for the cows, donkeys, and goats.

One of my more significant goodbyes was with a man named Backary, the blacksmith. He was friends with the first volunteer in Khossanto and was one of the first people who had the patience to work with me when my language skills were lacking. I had him make me a series of knives during my time in Khossanto as souvenirs. He was so generous and happy to oblige that he never asked for payment. I had to try hard to give him some money for the work he did for me, and even then he would never let me pay him as much as I thought he deserved. Whenever I was angry, stressed out, or simply overwhelmed I would head to Backary's workshop and I could just watch him work. We would always say hello, but if I wasn't very talkative he would not press it and just let me watch him work the metal. When I wanted to talk he was always happy to have a conversation as well. Without being able to spend time with him I'm not sure how I would have gotten through the more stressful times in village.

For my last full day in Khossanto I made sure to stop by the big Cissokhso Kunda. This particular compound was the home to three brothers, all their wives, and children. It was a huge space with new buildings that they had moved into close to a year ago. I guess it used to be their family's farm field, but as Khossanto grew they decided to start a new, larger one farther outside the village. Then as the family grew they decided to move their homes to that spot. I always liked spending time out there because there were a lot of children in my favorite age group there who were very fun to play with. After spending a good amount of the afternoon with them I decided to do a lap of Khossanto one last time before dinner. I started along the outskirts of the village in an area where people always told be Bassari lived (The Bassari are another ethnic group who were converted to Christianity as opposed to Islam, they still maintain a good amount of animist traditions and have no issues drinking alcohol). I had never noticed anything obvious to indicate they were there before, but this particular day I found myself walking into one of their parties. It was a small party, but everyone had clearly been drinking palm wine, so I'm pretty sure I found where the Bassari live. One of these men came up to me as I was walking past and started up a conversation. He had heard my goodbye on the radio earlier and just had to let me know how great he thought what I was doing was. I was kind of taken aback because I liked to assume nobody listed to the radio show, when the reality is that almost everyone is always listening to the radio. Once that sunk in I just got really happy that this man was repeating a lot of the things I said, which means most of those people listening could probably understand me too. That interaction gave me a real warm fuzzy feeling for the rest of my lap of Khossanto, plus it was a beautiful evening. I finished up my walk at the Health Post because I wanted to be sure to make sure to say something to them sine I wouldn't be coming over after dinner like usual because my host family wanted to have a "party." For their goodbye at the Health Post we all said that we would see each other before I actually left so we wouldn't have to say a real farewell. I think we were all tricking ourselves with that.

After dinner the party started. I think certain members of my family wanted to have a huge party with tons of people and music that went to all hours of the night. What happened was a lot more casual, which I personally liked. A lot of people stopped by and said their goodbyes; my host dad had his radio going since he couldn't get a big one. I pulled out my camera and everyone had a great time. I dressed up in the boubou that I wore when I installed, bringing everything full circle. It was a fun night that did wind up going much later than anyone usually stayed awake.

The next morning I was up bright and early to make sure I didn't miss transport with my luggage. I got the last of my things out of my hut and wanted to do one last sweep of it all when my host father came in. I was a little angry about it because I just wanted to have that moment to myself and not have to deal with anyone. Once he made it into my room he just stood in the middle and clearly didn't know what to say. I showed him all the stuff I was leaving for the family, a lot of clothes and a few other odds and ends, and he was just blown away with how much I was leaving. I told him to make sure that he split everything between everyone in the compound and he assured me he would. Now, the two of us didn't always get along for various reasons so when he said, "You have to forgive me for everything I've done," I was blown away. That is a fairly common thing to say with a big goodbye like this, but the way he said it... I felt like he meant it. I was blown away; all I could say was the equivalent of "okay." After that we left the hut, which was no longer mine, and it was time to say goodbye to my host mothers. This is when emotions started getting tough to control - nobody wanted to be the first to cry. I asked them to pass my goodbyes along to the children, who were still sleeping, and I left the compound. My host father insisted on walking me to the garage, where all the public transportation stops. At first I was thankful for this... then he started announcing to anyone in earshot that this was me leaving Khossanto, I wouldn't me coming back, it was a little too much for me with my emotions already way out of whack. A couple friends showed up as I was getting onto the transport for one last goodbye and we were off. Fittingly, as we left Khossanto a light rain started to fall, I probably should have cared more about my luggage on the roof.

Fo siloo dool - until another road.

I planned on taking my time once I got to Kedougou to wrap up a few last minute things I wanted to do, and that is just what I did. My first day there I just kept myself as preoccupied with other things as best I could. After the first day I started going through my things, some which had come from Khossanto, and the rest that I had been keeping in Kedougou. I needed to decide what I was keeping as souvenirs, what I was leaving behind, and what I needed for my travels. I like to give myself some distractions though, so while packing I also worked on finishing up a video for the 2011 Summer Camp.

When the video was finished I burned it to a DVD and made my way to Baba's house. Baba is the former camp participant turned volunteer that helped me a TON preparing for the camp. He did a lot of footwork for me. I used that opportunity to say my goodbyes to him and his family as well. While I was living in Kedougou for the weeks leading up to the camp his family helped me out a bit, and gave me something to do during Tabaski, the holiday that happened to be in the middle of that time. I thanked him for all of his help and we agreed that I would try to call him from time to time so I could have someone to practice my Malinké with. I also make sure to get some goodbyes in with Ibou, the man I worked most closely with organizing the camp. We played phone tag for a while, but eventually managed to meet up quickly at his office. We had a very nice talk and I told him about the DVD I gave Baba. We chatted about changes to the camp and plans for the future; and changes there were since it was decided that the PCVs were going to do a camp separate from his group. Happily there were no hard feelings about any of that. The future looks bright for everyone.

Of the goodbyes in Kedougou there was one standout, the housekeeper for the Peace Corps house. When I first got there we couldn't really talk at all, but by the time I left my improvements in French made it so we could chat. The day I was leaving town she made a point to say goodbye as I was finishing my packing. I think she even left and came back after remembering that I was leaving soon. Each of us thanked the other for many, many things and she told me to make sure to greet a few returned volunteers I was close with once I got back to America. As the final goodbye we did a left-handed handshake. Even in America we generally shake with our right hands, but in Senegal (and many other places) the left hand is considered exceptionally dirty. The point of shaking with the left hand is that at some point we need to meet up again in order to fix that mistake, unfinished business. She is one of those people I wish I could have spent more time with which probably made it all the more meaningful. I'll never forget her face as we said our goodbyes, and the feeling I had when it was all over. It was a mixture of pride, sadness, and excitement. A few hours later I was on the bus for my last ride from Kedougou all the way to Dakar.

By the time I got to Dakar I had only left myself a few days to get through the COS process... about half the recommended timeframe. I'll keep the story short, because it really isn't exciting, but I pulled some kind of miracle and made it happen. During this time I was in Dakar COSing the Summer Olympics in London were starting and a group of us went out to a bar to watch the Opening Ceremonies. That was a fun night, interesting to see which countries the Senegalese cheered for during the Parade of Nations. The Olympics also made for something to do in the evenings, looking for somewhere to go that would be showing the games. I've always been a fan of The Olympics anyway; let alone watching them in another country.

I had planed some time after COSing and before my plane to America to do a little traveling. I was hoping to take a ferry to Ziguinchor, which I was picturing as a mystical land full of Mandinkas and I could speak my local language to everyone. Well, by the time I got to the ferry all the tickets were sold out, and my window of opportunity had passed. Clearly two years in Senegal made me better at planning things than ever. I could have bought a ticket, but the return trip would have made me miss my flight; the option of public transport was there, but I really did not want to deal with that. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy my time there. So instead of Zig I decided to explore Dakar and wandered around some new areas that I had been hearing about. I got to see a whole lot of Dakar, and gained a new appreciation for the city. On one of those trips, while on a bus, I got a call from the Kédougou Peace Corps House - the housekeeper. She had noticed my sheets in the laundry and wanted to know if she could keep one of them for her son, "as a souvenir." Of course she could, I had no problem with this since I brought my cowboy sheets to Senegal it only made sense to let her 3 year old get some use out of them.

I also made sure to get my gris-gris made during these wanders. A gris-gris is a kind of charm, prayers wrapped in leather made in to something you wear. There are a variety of styles, most commonly they are on babies to protect them as little leather squares or triangles encasing a prayer written on a piece of paper. There are also thicker tubes that get worn like a belt that doesn't keep anything up. I always think of this style as being on the Senegalese wrestlers. I had been bugging a friend in Khossanto to help me make one for many months. Finally about a week before I left village for the last time he gave me an envelope with a piece of red string in it. This length of string has a series on knots in it for the different prayers meant to help me. I can't share the specifics of what they are for or it won't work. In Dakar I had noticed a market filled with gris-gris so I made my way there with my piece of red string, a bit of the armbands we made in honor of the Kédougou house pet dog when he died, and a cowrie shell I bought in Kedougou that I had carried around for a while and made my own little prayer on. About half an hour and one conversation of the past two years of my life later I had my very own gris-gris. It fits a little loose on my arm right now, but I'm planning on building up some muscle upon my return to proper nutrition on a daily basis. The man who made it for me teased me a bunch because it would never have fit on his arm. It's amazing what a little protein on a regular basis can do.

18 July 2012

Régléing Machines*

While hiding from the sun in my hut after lunch the other day I was interrupted from my nap by a neighbor, Saibo, tapping at my door. I took my time getting out there to see what he had for me, but when I did I couldn't help but to laugh out loud... to the point where I made Saibo laugh, although I think he was nervous laughing. What he had waiting for me I had not yet seen in Senegal, a metal detector - now, I normally think of old men on the beach with metal detectors but I immediately knew this thirty-something man was going to take this machine (his word choice) to the jurra to find gold. The problem with his plan for this new toy was that the instructions only came in English (well done whoever managed to market that in Senegal).

That's where I came in. I warned him that I didn't know much about these machines, but that I'd do what I can. I had to ask for more information though; where did he get it (Kédougou), how much did it cost (a lot of money, especially in Senegal), and a few other things while I familiarized myself with the metal detector. Well I paged through the book, pushed a bunch of buttons, made it beep, my personal favorite was this calibration thing where I had to move it up and down over the same spot for a while. When I felt confident that it was set up I tossed my keys and class ring on the ground, and Saibo pulled out the gold he had collected processed the day before. When it was behaving somewhat predictably I passed it over and told him to keep playing with it and made no promises that I had actually made it work right. I consider him a friend, so I trusted that he wouldn't blame me if it didn't work right and we moved on with our days.

I didn't think too much of it, but then the next day another two machines showed up on my doorstep to be set-up along with the news that Saibo apparently had a big find the night before. The rumor was that it was plenty more than the metal detector cost him. With that the flood gates opened, I'm pretty sure the last few days I worked with most of the metal detectors in and around Khossanto. People were stopping in from neighboring villages to see me. It got to the point that earlier today I had to start telling people that I wasn't going to réglé (French, to set. Very common word here) any more machines after today. I was in someone's compound with 5 men and their various metal detectors, half of which didn't even have directions in any language. One of which had a huge battery pack and just a bunch of dials and a headset, no readout screen anywhere. I honestly wouldn't have had any clue what to do with it if I hadn't dealt with the other machines over the past couple days.
Something pretty I found along road

By the time I got through all the machines the head of the household we were in was acting as my translator - most of the men there were Bambara, from Mali. The language is closely related, but my limited vocabulary (and I assume accent) made it somewhat difficult for all of us to fully understand each other. I did my best to let him know that I don't want to be dealing with a bunch of people asking me about metal detectors during my last couple days in village. It sounded like he explained it very well; we'll see just have to wait and see how well that works... I also need to make sure to warn my new PCV neighbor about this situation. Once you say yes it's hard to say no... I may have started something here.

12 July 2012


As I was leaving America after my trip home for Christmas and New Years I told everyone they would see me again by June. I had 2 options: finish my service as usual sometime in May or I extend for a year to do some Environmental Education work in the National Park, in which case I would take my month of home leave in June and probably try to be home for the 4th of July... Well, because I'm me, I managed to figure out another option.

I was planning to finish off the school year in village, which is usually sometime in June around me (the academic year technically goes into July a little bit, but once the rains start all most of the teachers head back to the villages to farm). However, this year with all the strikes througout the country (and here) for various reasons a decision was made to push the school year back (built in strike-days instead of snow-days?); option B was an Année Blanche where the entire academic year doesn't count. Nobody wants an Année Blanche if they can help it.

Choices are hard
Around the time the news of the extended school year broke another volunteer in my region, CJ, found out about a Permaculture Design Certification Course (PDC) being held in Tanzania in June. It sounded pretty interesting, something I've wanted to know more about, and so I told him to keep me in the loop if he decided to do it. It quickly became obvious that both of us wanted to do the course, so I sent an email to my supervisor in Dakar asking if I could do the training, them come back for another month or so, then COS (Close of Service). In return I would help to create training materials for Peace Corps Senegal. A couple weeks later I got the okay and at the end of May we flew - on my brother's birthday in fact.

The trip started off... well... it seems CJ and I forgot how planes and security work. Turns out knives aren't allowed. Luckily this occurred to us just before we went through security so CJ called another volunteer and paid for him to pick up our contraband items (one of CJ's knives had nostalgic value). That whole issue was made up for when CJ found cans of Budweiser in the Duty Free shop - it's no Royal Dutch, but it made waiting for our delayed flight go faster.

Fun Fact: It wound up being cheaper for us to fly into Nairobi, Kenya then travel overland to Arusha than it was for us to fly into Tanzania. That in mind we decided to spend a couple days in Nairobi before heading down to the PDC in Arusha. Now, if you ever find yourself with a short time in Nairobi I have 2 places you want to go. First we hit up the Giraffe Center, almost right off the plane. We managed to get a free ride from where we were staying because of a small world incident where CJ happened to have gone to school with a girl who was doing some development work there with a group of very nice people who happened to have a car. The Giraffe Center is where you want to go if you want to get up close and personal with giraffes, they have a sweet little set up and their educational component was light-years ahead of anything I've seen in Senegal. As we were dropped off at the center CJ promised our friendly drivers that we would hug some giraffes, we all laughed and they drove away... then we hugged some giraffes.

Must see number two is The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. We went there on our second day because we missed our window of opportunity on day one. They are only open to the public a couple hours in the morning because they are doing other things with the elephants. They seem to have a pretty well designed system to return their orphaned elephants to the wild. They also happen to have a blind Black Rhino who can't be released to the wild. This is your chance to get up close and personal with all these guys. The rhino is obviously in a cage, but the elephants only have a small rope to separate them from you - the bottom line is you can touch any of them, so I did. The big thing I learned here is that baby elephants are very gassy and that farts are still funny across cultures and across species.

Another note if you're spending time in Nairobi is that it has earned the nickname Nai-robbery and heard stories confirming that. With that in mind we were fairly cautious and never went out alone and acted like reverse vampires and as we saw the sun was getting a little too low we fled the city and stuck to our hostel. Outside of all that I really enjoyed the city. Public transport was easy enough to figure out, the streets were very clean, and we met a lot of very nice people and only a couple who were a little sketchy. We happened to be there around an Independence Day so there was a little fair going on in a park - the highlight there for me was the man-powered Ferris Wheel. There were 2 men standing at the bottom turning it by hand; they had a pretty good rhythm and had it going pretty fast.

Tippy Tap + Pepinere!
From Nairobi we took a bus to Arusha, Tanzania for the PDC. CJ and I were definitely outsiders having come all the way from West Africa, but those coming from East Africa were spread out enough that our inputs were still very much appreciated. Most of the participants were born and raised in various East African countries, but there were a handful of us from America, Great Britain, and Australia. The course itself was hosted by the Australian non-profit foodwatershelter, and taught by a permaculturalist from New Hampshire; an international endeavor to say the least.

Before I comment on the course I should probably provide my quick explanation of what permaculture is. Permaculture is a design ethic for farms/gardens/homes that takes into account the needs of people and the environment into account to create a sustainable system. Think maximum production with minimum long-term inputs. It's something that is scalable to any size, be it your flower box or your commercial farm. Okay, enough of the sales pitch, on to my comments on the course. I was hoping for more on the technical end of things (e.g. what plants work well together), but realistically the international nature of this PDC made that difficult. What we did get in the course though were the tools to figure this out on our own and an amazing group of contacts in the other participants to bounce ideas off of. Also the design portion of the course was pretty new to me. How to build maps and layer them with the information you need and want to make an informed design.

After the course CJ and I said goodbye to our new friends and ran off to Moshi for a couple days. Moshi is the launching spot for most people headed to Mount Kilimanjaro, and if you've come this far it seems to make sense that you want to at least see that one. Well I wanted to touch it too, so we made our way to the gates of the park knowing we would never actually cross that line... it gets really expensive really fast, and as Peace Corps Volunteers we can't really afford that. We did take our pictures at the park gate though and had a beautiful hike back down to the cars back to our hostel.

From there we headed back to Arusha and met up with one of our new friends from the course, Lucie, an herbalist researching traditional Massai medicinal plant knowledge. The Massai are a very popular people group in East Africa, mostly because they are still very nomadic in their ways. She brought us out to her village for a few days and we got to see part of a Circumcision Ceremony before heading on to our next stop. This time Lucie followed us around as we headed to an area called Endasaki where we met up with another Peace Corps Volunteer. She happens to be partnered up with a volunteer from our neck of the woods in Senegal. He gave us some things for her, and she gave us a few things to bring back for him.

With that our Tanzanian adventure came to a close. We headed back to Arusha and took a bus back to Nairobi where we spent the night at the airport and made our way safely back to Senegal to start trying to apply some of what we learned to our world.

02 May 2012

Full Circle*

A few days ago I hopped on my bike to go on a bush path I'd never been on before to go to a village I'd never actually been to before. I have meet several pretty awesome people from there, but I'd never actually gone. There were a few reasons I did this - there was the phone call I got that brought (what I will diplomatically call) a series of miscommunications to a head, my having repeatedly said the phrase "I need an adventure" on a fairly regular basis lately didn't hurt either. With that I'm going to take a tip from The Song of Ice and Fire and lead off with a map (really any fantasy novel, but this series is tied to Senegal for me. Also, if anyone messes up the fifth book for me...). Yes the map should be before this even, but I'm calling Artistic License and putting the crude and potentially very inaccurate thing here.
Once upon a time I went to meet my neighbor in his millet field he'd brought me to the week before on the road to Bambaraya... I wound up at a dead end in some random guy's cornfield just as a storm rolled in. Ever since I realized where I went wrong I've kept my eye on that road just waiting to show it who's boss. With that in mind I was on point with my morning routine in preparation for a biking day and made it on the road shortly after breakfast. Wait too long this time of year and you might kill yourself in the noontime sun.

This bush path (basically some single track for those who have that lingo down) very quickly reminded me of just how big a fan I am of Beladougou - Beladougou is the name of the old-timey Malinke "Kingdom" that Khossanto is a part of. Political boundaries sometimes roughly follow these lines but usually combine things as well. Everyone knows where they stand as far as the kingdoms go... I know that I'm in Beladougou and that all the other volunteers (up to very soon) that speak Malinke are in Dantila. This really has no bearing on anything; there are more Danfakhas (family name) in Dantila and more Cissokhos in Beladougou. The language is also a tinsy bit different, we use the x (kh sound) a little more in Beladougou I'm told; I've never had trouble understanding anyone, it's every once in a blue moon I'll actually hear a difference in a word. When I try to translate Beladougou I'm stuck mixing in French-ish and making it "Beautiful Land," I've never asked but my guesses to the actual meaning are "Everyone's Land" or "The Land That Is (There)."

Anyway, this particular path (and really everyone that isn't the main road through) highlighted the things that make me feel like Beladougou is a unique place in Senegal. We may not have the waterfalls that are in the South of the Region, but it does have terrain and there's also the Gold. That last one brings in a lot of interesting people. I like to pretend I live in the Old West, which makes my cowboy bed sheets that much more appropriate. The views can be great in some places making it look like the hills go on forever, and some valleys seen downright magical... unfortunately the distance views weren't all that great this time around thanks to the winds "from Mauritania," as one man put it, that bring dust from the desert. It's like a really foggy day, except that it's hot-dry season.

First I found myself in a small village called Bambaryanding (that was a joke because the -ding makes it mean Little Bambaraya). This would have been a great place for me to go when I was feeling bad about my language abilities. All I did was ask for directions and those women doing their laundry were blown away. "Turn Right?" was the question that brought the house down.

That right turn brought me to Bambaraya, where I stopped in at the school to get the scoop on the village from the teachers. From there I made my way to the Village Chief, who was unfortunately out of town so I talked to the guy that's in charge when he's gone and left him a Volunteer Request form. Those awesome people I mentioned at the start of this post are from Bambaraya and had been asking for the form for a while now but I haven't had any to give until now.

Find the baboons.
After taking care of things in Bambaraya I headed to the Arrondissement of Sabodala (roughly Beladougou). From there I went straight to the health post to see a familiar face in the nurse that was in Khossanto for most of my service (not the infamous one from that last post, still not sure what the plan is there by the way). He helped me plan out my next few stops, fed me, and offered a place for me to spend the night. He also shed some light on those miscommunications that helped instigate the trip.

Sabodala is a little more used to seeing toubabs. This is where the actual mining companies are, so they see a lot of Australians and Canadians. They don't speak the local language though, so when I walked into the health post, on what happened to me a big baby vaccination day, and got the all-important "Khossanto ngolu be dii?" greeting right... well I got a reaction. Once you get that greeting right "you're done" learning Malinke, and they didn't even expect me to speak it at all. The women loved it, and some of the kids did too. There was a group of babies though who say my white skin and long blond-ish hair and it was like the boogey man had come for them. I'm pretty sure I made a couple pee on their mothers.

It was great to see the nurse there again; he was very helpful at the start of my service. I think he's the first person my host father introduced me to on my first day actually. It was also amazing talking to him and seeing just how much both my Malinke and French have improved since I saw him last. It's nice to have a conversation and not come across a word that you need to have explained to you.

After lunch there he suggested that I go to this small village right next door, Madina Sabodala. There I found the first female head community health worker I've met in country. She was really helpful and called over the village chief and we had a really good chat. It was a very interesting little village surrounded by a lot of big things with the mining companies around. If I had to come up with a word to summarize that chat though it would be "Trees," they want tress, all kinds of trees.

After that I went back to the Sabodala health post and spent the night there. The next morning at the warning of the nurse I went to meet with the Imam (village religious leader) instead of the chief. Apparently recently the village had a little march in opposition of the chief... so talking with the Imam was the less controversial route to take. After a bit of a search I more or less just happened upon him where someone was starting to build a new hut. We had a quick talk since he seemed busy, but he did provide a bit of a tour of the village for me while he was walking around trying to find water. My summary of Sabodala is that it's a strangely large village that doesn't quite know what to do with itself. Hopefully it doesn't go boom then bust like the old west.

With that I took my leave of Sabodala and headed to Branson. There's a pair of villages tiny that are at the halfway point where I stopped to get a drink from my water bottle... which I did NOT find strapped to the back of my bike where I put it. This isn't just any water bottle here mind you; it's a metal one from America that I had wrapped in fabric to make what my village likes to call an "African Fridge." I've been excited about having that back in America, and the fabric on it was a gift from volunteer who left a while ago. All that plus the fact that I would get severely dehydrated if I biked all the way with no water (and I wasn't sure about the ability to buy a bottle of water in Bransan) made me decide to head back toward Sabodala to pick it up off the road. After suspiciously eyeing everyone I passed on the road I found myself back in Sabodala where no one had seen my water bottle. Dejected, I headed to a boutique and bought a bottle of water. While leaving town a man that knows me from Khossanto was very confused when he saw me leaving for the second time, so I explained the situation to him. He reassured me that I could buy a new bottle when I get to America, to which I tried to explain the nostalgia in that bottle. Then I provided my theory that the bottle had dropped at the edge of town where some bratty kids asked me for a gift instead of greeting me and they took it. I told him that if he sees my water bottle he should take it and bring it to me. I really don't think that's going to happen, but how awesome would that be?!

Back at that halfway point I was greeted by a rather large herd of children who had just gotten out of class as I refilled my water. I decided to ask what they were learning, to which I was told what class each and every one of them was in. Once that was all straightened out I was allowed to leave as a dozen or so of the kids ran with my bike to the edge of the village. Those children were so excited just to talk to me, and not a single one of them asked for a gift... I was laughing as I left. That made up for the frustrating morning.

A few hills later and I a massive view, well I think it was at least thanks to those desert winds, I arrived in Bransan. There I found a charred health hut... one person described the mystery fire as the bamboo fence and shade structure having caught on fire, another said that the fire started because the solar was set up wrong and something happened with the fridge. Either way the building was unusable. I was then directed to the community health worker's brother's shop where he put in a call and called him in from a village nearby and about a half hour later I was talking to him. He, by the way, is the one who provided the poor wiring theory so I tend to believe that theory more.

I stayed with him through the heat of the day getting a feeling for the place. I found this to be a really interesting village, there was a pretty substantial Pulaar population but pretty much everyone could still speak Malinke so I had no troubles getting around. It peaks my interest especially because I've wanted to get a little handle on Pulaar basics for a while now, all kinds of excuses have made that impossible.

Speaking of random pockets of Pulaar, my next stop was Dialokhotoba where everyone's default language was Pulaar. Most could still speak Malinke, and many were ethnically, but the Pulaar had won out as the dominant language. It's also worth mentioning, the -ba of Dialokhotoba makes it mean Big Dialokhoto... which kind of feels like an inside joke because the only other Dialokhoto I know is along the National Route and significantly bigger. That aside, this village has a lot going for it. The community health worker came highly recommended, but unfortunately wasn't there. The reason he was gone was to get medical supplies from Kedougou (a good sign). What I was pulled in by was the primary school, not only did they have their own garden that the teachers started and worked in with the students but they also used it in their lesson plans (math for example was quoted by a teacher) AND put the produce into school lunches.

The one teacher who gave me the tour mentioned that this was the first year they used the produce in lunches and he also noticed that there were fewer students missing class because they were ill. He admitted this could be nothing but a coincidence, but it's still a good thing. I'm trying to figure out the best way to take a field trip there with a few teachers from my village to see what they are doing, unfortunately water's run out and the garden is not green at all right now. On top of that the women’s' group saw the garden and said, "Hey, we want to do that to!" So they did, with the help of the teachers.

I took the teachers up on the offer of a place to stay, and they took me to all the notable people of the village the next morning. It was very helpful since a couple of them only spoke Pulaar. I actually had to cut that short since there are a lot of notable people there so that I could leave and not be on the road come midday. On the way out of village I stopped to chat with the first guy I had talked to when I came into the village and asked him the best way to get to Diakhaling. I was right in my guess that there would be a bush path somewhere nearby. He gave very good directions and the bush path was pretty straightforward. Another really fun chunk of single track that will be crossing a few rivers once rainy season comes. It did go through a section that was more or less a bamboo forest. I love Beladougou.

I came into Diakhaling through the jurra, or artisanal mining site, giving that Wild West feel to the whole thing. I surprised myself by maneuvering through town and getting myself to the correct road and just having to confirm that it was the right way, not straight up ask for directions.

This last stretch of biking had me organizing all my thoughts and impressions of the last few days... and boy, was that a jumbled mess to deal with! Part of the reason I did this trip was in preparation for the new volunteers coming out here. I wanted to provide them with a little more insight into the area they are coming into. This got me thinking about how I felt when I was in their position - justifiably terrified. Now look at me, making maps, going to villages I've never been to before, introducing myself to the notables, all in the hopes of helping alleviate some of that anxiety for the two new volunteers that I was feeling two short years ago. So many languages! I did most of the trip in Malinke, but French came out a lot when talking to the health workers - and I did improve my Pulaar a little bit (I figured out how to say "this road?").

As much as I had thought to myself "I wish I'd done this sooner," I can't actually say I have any regrets. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I had my reasons not to do something like this until now and they were fully justified. With that, around 100km later, I was back in Khossanto having gotten a view of the beautiful land of Beladougou with just enough time to pull water and shower before lunch.

Full Circle.

20 March 2012

Quick Pic Post 7

Let's look at where you all poop! Now let's follow it to the river...

Bonus Picture: Can you tell what's going on here?

18 March 2012

Life as a TV Show*

Khossanto's Health Post on a slow day
Ever since IST (In Service Training) when Spence asked, "Do you ever feel like Peace Corps is just playing with you?" He asked this both in general and to me specifically. It seemed like up to that point in my service I was always either the most isolated volunteer - Announcement of everyone's IST home stays: "... and David, you're off somewhere by yourself..." Hannah's response: "story of his life." - or somehow overlooked - the language seminar when I was in the hospital. - I've toyed with the idea of my life as a TV show ever since.

Lately I've taken a liking to thinking of the different Health Centers, Posts, Huts, and hospitals throughout the Region of Kedougou as different medical TV shows. Originally I liked my village, Khossanto as Scrubs - a bunch of young new doctors just getting started, fun times ensue. Saraya I thought would be Grey's Anatomy - more of a hospital with those complications, and according to Leah, "some drama and pretty people." Kedougou was E.R. just because it's the big regional hospital and I don't know much about it. I thought Ninifescha could be House... it's a bizarrely placed awesome new hospital that smells like an America hospital and probably gets some weird things even though no one really uses that facility. So there's Fongolimbi and Salemata left and I don't know much about either; and the only TV show I can think of now is MASH and nowhere is a combat zone.

Anyway, Saraya and Khossanto switched roles the past couple weeks. In Scrubs form the Saraya Health Center had yet to hire a new cook for their health workers so they all took turns cooking. Obviously Leah volunteered for her own day. Lunch was Peanut Sauce (Maffé) and for dinner an Alfredo Pasta. Apparently she wont be having any troubles finding a husband now. I told her to set up a bracket... I don't think she's going to.

Not to be left without a show; the youthful, pretty health workers of Khossanto ramped up the drama yesterday to bring it into Grey's territory. As an additional disclaimer here I'm just telling what I know to point out some complications in the system not to call anyone out. My opinion is everyone made some mistakes, and it's tricky because I consider myself friends with everyone involved and hope to not be caught in the middle - bottom line, no judgments.

A villager's child is sick, so he brings the infant to the health post on a Saturday. The doctor (not actually a doctor, but that's how the village refers to him. I think he's maybe somewhere around the level of nurse?), who lives at the Health Post, says, "It's the weekend, I'm tired, come back on Monday." The villager is of the opinion that the infant is urgently sick and insists with no results, so he goes to the PCR (local government guy) for some help. He apparently manages to get the okay to be seen by the doctor.

Now the doctors are busy... constantly... these guys are working at least 12 hour days most of the time and even on weekends they have to take all injuries, and there are a lot with all the artisanal mining around, and try to turn away sicknesses unless they are urgent. The logic is that if the person is sick on the weekend to the point that they think they need to come in that they were probably sick enough that they should have came in sooner. Basically these guys are on-call literally all the time. Overworked is an understatement in my opinion; treating things as black and white, like the injury vs. sickness rule, can lead to issues no matter who you are.

The villager apparently never bought his ticket to be seen (it's unclear if there was anyone there selling tickets) so the infant was never seen. After "a few hours" of waiting he went to the doctor to see what was up. Things are blurry here, I think it's because everyone realizes they made mistakes so details aren't shared. The rumor is that at some point things escalated to something physical. Someone described the villager as having the doctor in something like a headlock... I'm guessing it was something more along the lines of an angry hand on the shoulder. This particular villager is a massive man and that would be TERRIFYING with emotions running high. A few children also suggested that rock throwing happened, but that's kind of an angry child's go-to when they are angry so they could just be filling in gaps with what they would do.

At this point the doctor goes and reports this to the Gendarme (think police) in a nearby village to file a report. The villager may or may not have had to go there to resolve that, either way things calmed down... except that it's all that anyone can talk about. Nobody loves hopping on a soapbox more than my host father... shouting... outside my door while I'm trying to nap through the part of the day that is over 105º. I'm kind of sick of hearing about it frankly, I'm not hearing anyone learn any lessons. The teachers are trying to get people to understand that the villager assaulted a government worker; villagers insist that the doctors are there for the entire village's health needs... all day any day.

Anyway, this morning the doctor was instructed to head to Saraya (the Health Center) to deal with whatever reporting needed to happen there. Meanwhile the remaining doctor (still not actually a doctor), who is actually paid by one of the commercial mines to do things in villages they affect, has to deal with all the injuries that come in (and soapbox standing villagers) on his own. Frankly, after the whole assault thing the doctors aren't really sympathetic to the situation anymore and the infant's need to see a doctor was kind of forgotten... that is until sometime this afternoon when the infant succumb to whatever illness it had.

That evening the second doctor was asked to go to Saraya. I think this was both to answer more questions for the Health Center and for his own safety... but now we have no one at the Health Post in Khossanto. I'm hoping this will get the village to see that you can only push so hard until you break something, what I think they are mostly seeing is that when things get complicated the doctors will just "run away." Unfortunately for the first doctor, if this isn't handled well he's not going to be able to work in Khossanto again, or anywhere in the region really the way news like this can travel. I don't know what's going to happen, and that's kind of scary. Like I said before, I consider everyone involved a friend - hopefully I'll seem them all again.