Monday, April 23, 2012


So I am completely done with my service and am officially a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer!!!  

Our Group of Health and Environmental Volunteers 

And to top it all off I am back in AMERICA!  I had to say goodbye to my village, which was the hardest thing I have ever had to do...  And then I headed to Dakar, the capital city, where I had a physical and some blood work done before I could be cleared to leave.  My friend Steve and I just flew to Dubai and eventually will made it THE U.S.  We are spending four days in New York to adjust back to life in the States and hopefully start acting like normal people before any of you all have to see me again.  Wish me luck.  I’m going to need it.
My Baby Oumar (already missing this one too much)
My Sister (Aissata) and Little Bro (Oumar)
While preparing to leave, I had to wrap up my work here and getting everything ready for my replacement volunteer.  I could bore you with the details, but I am a nice person.  Well, maybe just one…

The AIDS/HIV project I have been working on wrapped up the other day with a post-project evaluation and final training day.  The project as a whole worked out really well, considering that we are in Africa and things don’t always end up going exactly the way you plan.  All-in-all, 1,328 individuals were educated on transmission, prevention, and living with AIDS/HIV by twenty-four of our trainers.  In culmination of the project, we hosted AIDS testing days in three centrally-located villages, one of which was my village – Diagaly.  The night before my village’s testing day we had a movie night – thanks to a generator rented from a nearby village -- and played a bunch of short films about AIDS/HIV in general and the importance of getting tested. 
HIV/AIDS Film Night

The next day the doctors from our nearest hospital came out to test individuals in my village and the surrounding communities.  To encourage this voluntary testing, we had some music, dancing, and a group of students even put on a little play about the importance of knowing your HIV-status.  We had such a great turn out, and 60 people ended up getting tested.  Unfortunately, seven of the community members tested positive, but it is important for them to know of their status.   All of them were given information on the next steps to take in order to get further testing and support.  I was a little surprised with the high AIDS-prevalence rate after the testing day, which ended up being around 12%.  Hopefully, this is only the beginning of AIDS work in the area and my replacement volunteer can take these results to heart and continue the project in the future.   Blah…blah..serious…blah   
AIDS Testing Day 

Tattooing Ceremony
Even though I have been here for over two years and am pretty much on my way out, I am still constantly learning new things about the culture and the people here.  The other day I saw my first tattoo ceremony and actually had batteries to take some pictures.  As you might have noticed in some my previous pics, most of the women have black on their bottom lip, on their chin, and on their gums.    Apparently, they have a ceremony once a year where all the young girls about to hit puberty get tattoos on their face and gums.  One of the young girls and the ‘tattooist’ are placed in the center of a large circle of women and children.  The girl is lying prostrate on her back with a sheet covering her body and fabric over her eyes.  I couldn’t help but think that it looked strangely like the girl had passed away, but maybe that‘s supposed to be a part of the ceremony.  Anyway, so the women in the circle are playing drums and singing and dancing all the while the tattooist is repeatedly piercing the girl’s lips with a needle until blood is flowing down her chin.  I don’t mean to be so graphic, but it really is a painful process according to everyone else in the circle and is especially jarring considering the party-like atmosphere that is going on around them.   
Even though it is a rite of passage for these young girls, they do get to decide if and when they want to take part.  But if they decide to, they are told that they can’t show if they are scared and especially cannot cry.  If they cry, it is said that the family will disown them and they can no longer live in the village.  Understandably, I didn’t see any one of them shed a single tear.  Of course, no one is forced into it, and girls who are still in school usually refuse to have it done. 

Kumba Dia - My Cousin
Actually, there is kind of opposition to the whole tradition of face tattoos in my village.  The younger generation feels like it is an old-fashioned tradition that can be extremely dangerous.  They are, of course, right on the dangerous aspects.  Watching the whole thing, I couldn’t help but think about the AIDS prevalence rate in Diagaly, praying that none of these girls were infected.  There are no precautions taken against spreading of blood-borne diseases.  They use the same materials for all the girls, including needles, and nothing is washed between girls.  Pushing these thoughts out of my mind, the tradition on the whole was extremely interesting for an outsider, although as much as the women tried to convince me, I definitely could not hadle having it done on me.

Oh and that reminds me of another new thing I’ve witnessed lately.  The lady who did the tattooing gave birth last week and I was there to watch.  Ahhhh!  The whole giving birth thing is very different here than in America.  First of all, most women have their babies in the home.   This one was actually in the health post, but only because she had apparently been having contractions for an entire day before she decided it was time to come in.  Also, when the women actually give birth, they are relatively quiet.  There is no dramatic screaming out, no cries for help, nothing like I had seen in my experience watching numerous episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.  The mom-to-be, Mettu Sow, simply just looked a little uncomfortable and then sighed, relieved. 

Binta Sow -- My New Namesake
I, on the other hand, thought I was going to either pass out or die and had to stop myself from screaming out in sympathy pains.  They also don’t coddle the mother or baby like we Westerners do.  I wanted to bear hug the new mom and the baby until we exploded in a smiles and kittens love embrace, but they, on the other hand, grabbed the baby in one arm and stuck her on the scale and proceeded to leave her there crying for a few  excruciating minutes.  The mother just sat there kind of shocked.  No one shouted out in joy, “It’s a GIRL!”.  We just cleaned up the area and took care of business.   Of course, everyone was fine and the coddling is not a necessary part of the birthing process, but it was just so different than what I imagine an American birth to be.   BUT a few days later the mother told me that she is naming the baby Binta – after my village name.  I was pretty stoked to have a namesake!

I really can't believe that I am done with this experience and am already back in America.  The whole thing feels ubber bittersweet.  I was ready to go, but not quite ready to leave.  It’s been so difficult saying goodbyes to my village, Peace Corps friends, and to Senegal.  I was basically a hot mess for like a solid week and am just starting to feel a little better about things.  But my village was so sweet to me and sent me off in style.  We had a big goodbye party and so many people gave me going-away presents.  It was emotionally overwhelming, but I now have little pieces of my village to back home. 
Going Away Gifts
All in all, I just wanted to thank you guys so much for your support over these past two years.  I really appreciate everything you all have done for me throughout my entire service.  I am so lucky to have all of you in my life.  AND I can’t wait until I can actually see yall face to face! 

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The Donkey Who Brings Me My Water



Saturday, November 26, 2011

Donate to the Headless Turkey Foundation

Hello there again!  Happy Belated Thanksgiving!  I spent the day eating a delicious turkey dinner at the missionary family’s house in Linguere, our department capital.  It almost felt like a real-live American Thanksgiving as long as we completely ignore the prep –work the day before… where we purchased a turkey from our neighbors and awkwardly attempted to slaughter, defeather, and clean the enormous bird.  The height of the fiasco occurred when one of the girls chopped off the turkey’s head and then proceeded to  have a full-blown panic attack while sprinting away with a bloody knife in her hand.  The rest of kids holding down the bird freaked out and ran off too, leaving the headless turkey running directly towards me before collapsing in a heap of Thanksgiving tragedy right at my feet.  Pretty solid Thanksgiving! 
Korite Celebrations WITH PINK EYE!

Alright so lots have been going on here.  As far as non-work stuff goes, I am currently applying to grad schools and all that fun stuff.   I just took my GRE in Dakar, the capital city.  I was not as terrible as I thought it would be, and it’s good for me to get back in study mode, especially since English is currently my second language and I have forgotten almost everything that I’ve ever learned in school…  

Pencils, Pens, Markers, Notebooks, Calculators, AND MORE
And now work, first of all, I want to say thanks again to everyone involved in the school supplies project at Helmwood Heights and E-town High!  I really don’t think I can explain how much these supplies meant to the teachers and the children.  The day the supplies came, we spent a morning going through all the boxes, sorting and counting everything, which they insisted upon.  I am not joking, they counted every single pen, pencil, marker... ha! 

Organization of School Supplies!

We  are still working getting this AIDS project off the ground.  We have a four-day training scheduled for the second week of December.  We will be training two community members in twelve villages with high AIDS prevalence rates.  Those two facilitators will then return to their villages and lead a series of AIDS talks, culminating in a AIDS testing day.  Hopefully, it will all go as planned.

I also just wrapped up a hand-washing project.  Because of our lack of running water, the bathrooms at the school are filthy, and the kids and teachers have pretty much abandoned them.  I just built a make-shift hand-washing/water supply station to set up at the school.  It will store enough water so that the children can fill up their buckets to take into the bathroom and wash their hands with afterwards. 

We just finished up a garden training for the teachers in charge of the school garden and a group of women who are working on the nearby community garden we are setting up for cold season.   

AND I believe I have previously mentioned Mbowen, a small community offset from my village by a kilometer or so.  Earlier this year, we formed a women’s group within the community, and our first project together was to establish a community garden that would be managed by the women’s group.  Thanks to funding from all of you guys, a beautiful, fruitful garden is currently thriving in Mbowen.  However, we have come across a few issues since the creation of the garden --- all dealing with lack of WATER!  Water shortage is a big problem in the area.  As the community is a kilometer from my village, Diagaly, it  is equally as far from the only deep-bore well and sole source of water in the area.  Thus, the women of Mbowen, as they are responsible for providing water for their families, are forced to take multiple trips, carrying buckets full of gallons of water on their heads from the well to their houses, a kilometer away. 

Since the establishment of the garden, the villagers of Mbowen have constantly expressed concern with the current water situation.  The increased need for water in the garden has required the women to take even more trips to fill up their buckets, resulting in the majority of these women’s days spent just collecting water.  After multiple community meetings and discussions with the women’s group, we found that the best solution to this problem is to built a water pipeline from the deep-bore well to the Mbowen community center, where they women could come to fill up their buckets.  This pipeline would save time, effort, and ultimately would improve the living situation of the entire community.

Women's Meeting
Sorry if that was a long explanation, but I wanted to give you guys a little background information before I shamelessly asked for your help.  I am raising funds to pay for 75% of the total project.  The remaining 25% will be provided by the community.  We are currently collecting money from each household.  I know money is tight for everyone right now, and this is a terrible time to ask for something like this, but I really feel that this project is something that can make a big difference without a lot of money. 
As an added bonus, all donations are tax-deductable.  AND you are donating through a secured government website.  AND every single dollar donated goes directly to this project.
Total Cost: $2112.76
Community Contribution: $724.97
Amount Still Needed: $522.76

So if you might be able to give, even the smallest amount will go a long way…

Alright, more soon!  Thank you guys for all your support!

Mudstove Attempt #2

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ma Vie

My Village at Dusk!  (credit to photographer Sister Kate)

Alright.  I won't even apologize for being so late.  I am completely aware that I am worst person ever.  I'm not even going to try to make excuses, BUT I really don't have a computer right now.  Yes, I came to Peace Corps with my old college computer.  Yes, it broke within my first month here.  Yes, Mother Bell sent me a new baby one.  Yes, it also broke a few months ago.  I know...I've done the math.   Two broken computers in less than two years.  My One And Only Excuse: SAND!

Sunset and Goats

But my lack of technology is actually why I've decided to start this blog.  Hopefully, it will encourage me to write a little here and there, but much more frequently.  I am really wanting to put in more effort to updatyall on my life, to make a post, put up pictures, and just do better.  Yes, this means I will have to borrow computers, but I WILL do it.  Every month?  At least????  AHHHHHHH!

Okay.  So it's been way too long to try and tell you everything that has been going on here, so instead I'll try to give you a small random sampling.

My Hut (the one on the left)

My Mom, Mariata, and Her Kiddos
First and foremost, I am doing really well.  For one, I have not been sick in a really long time, maybe almost a year.  I did just get electrocuted, but that is a very different story and makes me look like an idiot... so I will keep that one to myself.  But seriously, everything is going amazingly.  Language --- , which in the beginning was one of the biggest barriers, has become not quite second-nature, but maybe somewhere between third and fourth.  I finally feel like I can have a conversation without really thinking too much or translating everything word for word in my head!  Success!  I am sure I still sound like a caveman (or woman), but I'll take what I can get.  Everything else is pretty good too.  It just keeps getting easier and easier.  I'm not saying it's all roses and kittens, but undoubtedly it's an improvement.  I still miss 'Merica and think about all of you guys every day.  (I'm not exaggerating.  It really is to the point of being creepy...)  But I am getting closer and closer to the finish line. SIX MONTHS!  But who's counting...

Kumba Diallo - My Grandma!
(Her American name, Memaw, of course)

Okay, so I don't really know how to explain my work over the past months.  It's been crazy and all over the place, so instead I'll try to explain what I am up to right now.  
Here goes...

Women's Garden in Diagaly
Mbowen Women's Garden
First off, I am still keeping busy with all things gardening.  However, my role has changed quite a bit from last year.  I would equate it to going from being a waitress in a restaurant to becoming manager, minus the pay raise.  I spend a lot of time in the garden still, but mainly just to talk to everyone and make sure everything is going well.  I don't have my own garden plot right now, except for a tree nursery or two.  Kinda sad, especially since that means no vegetables for lunch, but I am just in and out of my village too much right now to keep up with the watering.  I am starting to take on more projects, which requires me to travel other villages and to our regional house in Linguere more often.  BUT I still love just being in the garden.

Drinking Water in Diagaly.  Mmmmm
Right now, I have the women's garden in Diagaly (my village), but am also helping to get a garden up and running in an area offset from my village called Mbowen.  So far, this garden is going great, especially considering that they just survived hot season here with greenery intact.  The women are soooo  incredibly motivated.  To give you an idea of what I mean, the water situation is super rough here, i.e. water comes once a week and is stored in a big (DIRTY!  <--) container in the middle of the village center.  BUT even so, the women carry their water all the way from this storage unit to their garden -- 1/2 mile away --- in these huge buckets (around 5 gallons) that they carry on their heads!  They have to do this trip twice a day to make sure their gardens stay green.  That is what I call dedication.  In the U.S., I could easily kill a potted plant sitting right next to the sink, but that's neither here nor there.

I am also working on getting the school garden together.  Right now, we have built a really beautiful fence and water storage basin and have purchased a bunch of tools to actually start the garden.  School just started last week, so when I get back to village, we are going to get the student's garden group up and running and finally begin planting!

The Women Showing Off their Tomatoes

And more on the gardening front, a town like 3.5 miles away from me called Loumbelana was also really interested in starting a women's garden.  Sooo right now, we are stuck in the beginning stages of this process because the space that they picked to build their fence is completely flooded (rainy season!).  We have all the supplies though, and as soon as the area is dry-ish, a couple of the women in Loumbel will come to Linguere (bigger town) for a garden training.  After that, we will hopefully get down to business...

Aissata - My Sister and Potential Adopted Daughter
Hmmm... What else has been going on?  Okay ---Basketball!  So a couple Peace Corps girls in my area and I have been working on a project to build basketball courts in our villages.  Soccer is the big sport here, but girls are pretty much discouraged from playing, which does not sit very well with me.  Sooo building on past Peace Corps projects that created courts in the region, we decided to take basketball to the bush.  My community is super excited about it and is paying 25% of court costs, while we are working to bring in the the other 75%.  Luckily, we met a couple guys who work for the NBA here in Senegal, and they have agreed to pay for half the costs, so hopefully we will get that in soon!  I am really just stoked for the completion of this project, mainly because as most of yall know, I am one of the worst basketball players to ever to come out of the state of Kentucky.  But NOW, compared to people here, who have never even touched a basketball, I may end up being able to compete with the 5th graders... at least for the first few weeks.

And unfortunately, on a more serious note, I have become increasing aware of the current AIDS epidemic in my area.  In Senegal, the HIV-prevalence rate is relatively low overall, especially compared to other African countries.  However, the people in the Linguere area are known for being extremely transient, i.e. they travel to various weekly markets in the region and a high percentage of the Pulaar population are herders and 

My Newest Little Bro, Omar, with His Daddy
are constantly on the move.  All-in-all, this constant traveling is causing HIV to spread like wildfire.  I am slowly realizing how many people in my village actually have it.  I just went to the hospital last week  to visit a young girl who I suspected might be infected.  Sadly, she ended up having an extremely advanced case and looked really bad when I saw her.  Her husband had refused to take her to the hospital, so she ended up having to run away to her parent's house where they finally took her to the hospital in Linguere.  I just found out that she passed away a few days ago.  And this is just one story.  It's just happening way too frequently.  In November, some other volunteers who are seeing similar patterns in their villages and I are starting up a training program for twelve villages in the area to teach people about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.  Our plan is pretty confusing, and I won't bore you with the details here, but at the end of the series of educational talks in each village, we are going to set up AIDS-awareness days throughout the region where people can come and get tested to see if they are infected.  We all realize we are not going to stop the spread of AIDS here, but it's a start and you have to start somewhere right?

Our Malaria Tour
(We were explaining how to make a mosquito repellent out of niim leaves)

BLAHHHHH Sorry, I realize I am being super long-winded.  I'll speed this up a little bit with BULLETS!

Malaria Tour 2K11

  • Malaria Theater tour during Rainy Season
  • MY SCHOOL FINALLY HAS SUPPLIES (thanks to the good people at Helmwood Heights, E-town High, and of course Memmie and Poppie)
  • Hand-washing stations at schools without running water
  • Girl's Leadership Camp
  • English Class... (why they want to speak English, I'll never know)
  • My Girl's Art Club
  • Lots of TREES!

Well, that's enough for now!  More later!!!  I promise!


My Mid-Service Vacay to Morocco and Europe