Reflection

I was sitting on our roof the other day, thinking about all that has become normal and home to me.  My daily soundtrack has become the sounds of chanting over the mosque speakers amid the incessant bleating of goats, bahing of sheep, crying of children, and scolding of mothers.  We sleep on our roof under a mosquite net, locking the kitchen door nightly to keep the cats from clambering in.  Every morning we eat with Salamata who makes  Paul an omelette sandwich and me a bean and mayonnaise sandwich.  I hold her chubby infant son Samba, Paul’s namesake, who is swaddled in so many layers that he can’t move; Paul makes fish faces at him as he giggles, his cheeks widening to reveal gums without teeth.  We eat lunch each day with Fati, a wonderful woman originally from the Casamance region of Senegal with a slight insomnia problem.  She learned Pulaar after moving here, now speaking somewhere near 4 languages: Diola, Wolof, French, and Pulaar.


Paul and baby Samba
       Salamata, our breakfast lady

I’m trying to think about how it will be to move back to the States.  Paul and I had our COS (close-of-service) conference in January where we said good-bye to many friends who live in southern Senegal.  Our COS date has been set for the 25th of March, a date that is not far away.  We’re trying to tie-up projects and learning to say good-bye to Senegal.  I’m not trying to romanticize this experience.  But I love that strangers let me pick up their babies, that I can catch a ride out of town anywhere along the road by hitch-hiking, that strangers invite me to share their lunch and tea, and that I can joke with anyone about eating beans and life.

I don’t want to romanticize this experience; there is little romantic about it.  I sometimes forget that the smell of burning trash lingers daily in the air; I walk through thorny sand littered with cow dung and the legs of goats hacked off, dragged from the butcher near my house.  The wife of the sandwich seller is in a small dark concrete room, pulling rags over her two children to protect them from the coldest months of Senegal.  Talibe, who are clearly malnourished, stand outside our breakfast stand, waiting for me to hand them the last third of my sandwich and hoping today will be a day when they bring back enough money to their marabout to escape a beating.  The children taunt us, throwing rocks at our front door when we refuse to answer.  I have been tested to the edge of what I know as patience, choosing which situations are worth fighting over and which ones aren’t.  I have learned more about my gender and racial identity in this country, where some people mimic karate and yell “ching-chong” at me or laugh when I ask if they think a woman could be president.

I am not romanticizing Senegal, but I do know that I will miss it.  I will miss the friendships I have formed, especially those with fellow PCVs.  I will miss the daily joking around with people, the sounds of Pulaar, the babies who smell so fresh with baby powder.  I will miss greeting my neighbors, repeatedly saying “peace only”, I will miss the woman who sits selling eggs at the croissement of the route nationale and giggles as she tells me that “a blanket is enough only to warm one ear, but a husband can warm both ears”.

This experience is one that I cannot put fully into words.  I’m trying to digest it and package it into a succinct slice for people at home.  All I know is that I do not want to forget what I have learned here about life, people, development, myself, my marriage, success and failure.  I hope that my life here translates into an understanding that I carry home with me.

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To family and all our dear friends:


Bakel Eye Clinic

Don examining a patient's eyes

For a week, Paul and I got the chance to help with a great project in Senegal.  The organization called Right to Sight and Health and two of its ophthalmologists Dr. Judith Simon and Dr. Donald MacDonald spent two weeks doing cataract surgeries in Bakel, a city located along the Senegal River on the far east edge of Senegal.  Paul and I helped with the second week, mainly serving as translators while also aiding the doctors with organization, consultations, operations, and other technical procedures.

Each day, patients waited for a ticket to see the doctor.  After buying  a ticket, patients were given a preliminary eye test by Evan.  Patients were asked to identify objects on an eye chart: moon, star, cow, flag, hand, or foot.  Patients that were blind in at least one eye were seen by the doctor.  From there, patients who were good candidates for cataract surgery were scheduled for an operation sometime later in the day or week.  In many cases, we had to tell patients that they would never see again in an eye due to severe glaucoma, botched surgeries, or other complications.  Near the end of the week, we had so many surgeries scheduled that we turned away all patients that had at least one good eye and concentrated on Priority One patients: patients who had two bad eyes.


Before surgery, my job was to do scans of the eye that determined the power of lens needed for the lens implant.  It required poking people in the eye repeatedly with a pen-like laser pointer after applying a numbing substance.  After measurements and a set of dilating drops, the patient went to Wilma and Nicki who dilated their eyes a few more times, took blood pressures, and aided the doctors in injecting anesthesia that blocked nerves from the eye to the brain.  When ready, the patients were taken in for surgery.  The surgery itself did not take long, and involved making a couple small incisions.  The cataract was removed and an implant lens was put in to replace the bad lens.  A day or two after surgery, the patients came back for a post-operation consultation to see if they were seeing any better.  It was amazing to see patients come in who had restored eye sight.  One little old man even raised Don’s hand in excitement proclaiming: “Vivre Amerique!”

The week was exhausting as we were sometimes working from 8 am until 8 pm with a small lunch break.  I was so impressed by the focus and stamina of the doctors.  People came from all over Senegal to get cataract surgery.  We had, of course, many insistent patients who secretly weaseled their way into the examination room even when they had no ticket yet to see the doctor.  And then there were the Coumbas.  We had three women (all named Coumba–Coumba Sow, Coumba Thiam, and Coumba Ba) who had their surgeries bumped from day to day to day because of over-booked surgeries (and also because all three had only one eye blind).  Coumba Sow was quite a character, talking about herself exclusively in the third person and constantly screaming her own name whenever any PCV was near her: “Coumba Moussa Sow is here! Did you hear?”  After her surgery, she ran outside dancing and screaming: “Coumba Sow hulaata.  Baaba maa, o hulat, kono Coumba Sow hulaata!” (Translates to “Coumba Sow is not scared, your dad he is scared, but Coumba Sow is not scared!”)  Thank goodness we got to all their surgeries the last day of the clinic, as turning them away after each day of waiting was dreadful.

Aside from work, we got to see the beautiful city of Bakel, a city that reminded me much of Podor with its French fort and river bank gardens. In Bakel a large percentage of people speak Soninke–a difficulty when translating during the eye clinic (I ended up learning some eye-specific vocab for the week).

The week was filled with both heartbreak and joy: Telling people they would never see again but also watching people, who could not get around without help prior to the surgery, walking themselves into the consultation room. This has easily been one of the highlights of my Peace Corps service.

Most of the Bakel Team

This is what happens when PCVs have access to dilating drops:

 

 

 


Sheep and Hungry kitten

Thierno has been gifted upon the Bassoum family. Paul and I will miss him (enormous belly and all).

Thierno and hungry kitten


Jonno

This post is dedicated to Jonno, one of our closest neighbors and friends here in Senegal. Paul and I have been fortunate to be closest to some of the best people in Peace Corps Senegal. Jonno is one of those people. I have compiled some of the photos that capture Jonno at his happiest: eating large quantities of delicious foods.


Northern Thanksgiving and Moving Forward

Happy Tamkarit (Islamic New Year’s)!  An update on our lives: We just finished up the TB project.  The training and forum book-ended the two weekends surrounding Thanksgiving.  The PCVs of every region of Senegal throw an annual party for the rest of PC Senegal.  Our region holds an annual Thanksgiving party.  Around 35 people attended!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

The menu included: 1 turkey, 6 chickens, 3 guinea fowl, fruit salad, mac-and-cheese, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, cranberry sauce, stuffing, squash rolls, biscuits, horchata, pumpkin doughnuts, apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, brownies, gazelle beer, and g-sap (gin and bissap).

 
The poultry took several days to find (turkey are more common than one would guess), one day to kill/pluck/clean/brine, and another day of deep-frying with our pulley-stove system set-up on the basketball court.

 
Friends came from all over, visiting the north of Senegal for the first time.  Even Sheep came to celebrate.  And after stuffing ourselves silly, some took a late-afternoon nap to sleep off the effects of tryptophan and others attempted to hit the turkey piñata.  All in all, I think we threw a pretty good party.

 

Since Thanksgiving, we have been thinking much about our future.  The people in my life are doing so well.  Paul has been admitted (and has accepted the admission) to the Bryn Mawr post-baccalaureate program, an intensive one-year program near Philadelphia where he will take all the prerequisites for medical school.  What is great is that this program offers linkages to medical schools, schools that will admit any Bryn Mawr student who does well during the program.  Also congratulations to Jess for passing her bar exam in California where the passing rate is just barely over 50%!  I’ve finally finished my grad school applications, at least for this round (made a turkey piñata out of my statement of purpose drafts…felt good to say the least).


THANK YOU!!

Health workers discussing TB

Thank you to those who donated to my TB project!  The training and forum were a great success.  Health workers throughout the Commune of Ndioum have learned important concepts about tuberculosis: knowledge that will motivate them to teach others within their communities and work together towards decreasing TB.  Please see the “Complete Projects tabs for some more info and pictures.