A Month at the Training
FROM NICOLE (Yacine N’diaye in Senegal)
Bumps, Bugs & Brooms: To Shave or Not
Every Tuesday, Olive our Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) comes to visit and impart unbelievably useful health information. Olive is from Dublin, Ireland, a fiery spirit coupled with her Irish brogue she commands our attention. We get to learn about all the terrible diseases and poisonous insect maladies that will befall us. Recently one of the volunteers obtained a small friend in her right foot. A worm a centimeter long has burrowed under her skin and slowly moves around. You can see it and the paths it creates as it crawls right underneath her skin. The Larva Migrans penetrates the skin upon contact yet since humans are not the host for these creatures it lives under the skin in total confusion. Unable to escape the LV stays in the skin unless treatment is applied (a special paste which takes about a week to kill the offender). Besides this skin rider that recently joined our PC group. We also recently learned about the LV’s cousin, the Tumba Fly, a large brownish yellow insect that lives in many areas of Senegal and lays eggs in wet clothing, etc. The eggs hatch producing larvae that upon contact with skin penetrate and mature just under the skin. The simple trick to rid your body of this thing is to cover the central opening with Vaseline and the creature will come out for air. You quickly grab the thing with a pair of tweezers and pull it out. I was fortunate enough to witness this phenomenon with a bunch of kids hovering around a howling scrawny dog as a young boy pulled out the grubby larvae from the its skin. Oh yah and there is the large black blister beetle that lives in millet and sorghum fields. This creature contains a burning agent called Cantharadin. When it stings you it releases this fluid onto your skin and large yellow blisters appear. If these blisters pop they cause even more blisters and the cycle begins. I could go on and on with the other creatures found in Senegal but due to time and space will spare you’all the details. If interested in a good read of insect horror I’d highly recommend the Peace Corps manual “Staying healthy in Senegal.”
On Tuesday when the medical staff arrives for their weekly visit we also are injected with more shots. Thus far the list includes immunizations for yellow fever, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus, rabies, meningitis, hepatitis A & B, typhoid and influenza vaccine. Oh least I forget we are soon to receive the avian bird flu shot. This deadly disease may mutate and therefore could spread easily from human to human. It now has arrived in Europe and soon these birds will migrate to Africa. The science community is quite concerned about the mutation of this virus and is predicating a health epidemic worse than the world has ever seen if this happens. Africa is the focal point now as the bird migration begins. Walking around as a human laboratory you begin to regard your body at a whole new level.
Olive reminds us weekly that we are living in an “incubator” and her suggestions include avoiding any and all cuts. A simple cut (even from paper or shaving) can easily turn into a raging infection. The issue of shaving has become a preoccupation of mine. To have hairy legs or not that is the question of the hour. I haven’t yet been able to give up my American ways.
I have modified Einstein’s theory of relativity. Thus far my entire Senegalese experience has been one of relativity. The first day we arrived at the Training Center in Thies I was rather alarmed at our living conditions at the Center. A small, albeit clean, room with two small beds and little furniture was provided and the bathroom was a series of squat toilets with shower stalls that make American dorm bathrooms appear luxurious. A wide, long (rather smelly) sink was shared by all. Needless to say, I was expecting somewhat more luxurious living conditions for a Peace Corps (PC) center. Now after living with our host family, the bathroom at the PC Center has become a 5 star resort experience. I now shower at the Center daily to avoid the bucket bath with the spiders and other unnamable creatures.
When we first arrived at the Center our lunch experience was rather uncomfortable for me. 5-6 of us sit around a large metal bowl usually filled with rice, fish, starch, nightshades & root vegetables and some hot peppers. (Note: the first day Curt bite into an entire hot pepper thinking it was a small tomato – he has since learned his lesson well) We are each given a spoon and I have learned how to carve out “my area” within the bowl and equally share the veggies and fish. At our host family the mother and sometimes the children prefer eating without the spoon. While that is fine with me, I do become concerned when the mother or oldest daughter picks the fish or eggplant apart with her hand to evenly disperse the food. I just haven’t seen a lot of hand washing going on before dinner. We do really like the Senegalese food, the peanut sauce and other (rather spicy) sauces they add are quite tasty. Losing weight in Senegal is not going well for me.
I now actually enjoy the intimate experience of sharing food seated cross legged around a bowl. Be forewarned when we return to the States we plan to serve our dinners in the same style to which we are becoming accustomed.
Back to the theory of relativity. The other day, I was at the “Super Marche” while not well stocked as compared to American standards the store does have scotch, dry & sweet vermouth and bitters. I am all set to go for hosting our first “manhattan” porch party! After perusing the liquor section I bought a regular American style broom for 1,774 CFA (aprox. $3.50). At our house the mother and girls use a stick like contraption to sweep: it’s made up of many two foot thin sticks wrapped together at the end with duct like tape. You have to bend down quite a bit while sweeping the floor. As sweeping our bedroom is my responsibility (Curt claims a bad back), I was getting tired of always bending down and quite honestly I wasn't to sweep up the dust very well. Alors, I bring home the broom and showed it to Aminta and the girls. Aminta was ecstatic and spent the next half-hour sweeping. She kept saying how this broom was so much better for her back. Based on what our host family has been spending money on we do believe that they could have afforded this broom. Curt kept asking me why she hadn’t bought one before. Interesting question – my theory stems from relativity. Having never grown up with an American style broom, and not likely to go to the “twobaub” (white man’s) store Aminta may have simply never experienced this type of broom. The Senegalese broom is only 80 cents cheaper and certainly doesn’t last as long. Who would have ever thought that our greatest gift thus far would be this broom.
FROM CURT (Amidou N’diaye in Senegal)
Well I think the bucket bathes are great! I have always liked them. I haven’t noticed any spiders in there. I wish I was as lucky as Nicole, she had a 9” lizard come in while she was bathing once.
What I don’t care for is the wake up call we get EVERY morning about an hour avant the dawn – Sing song prayers amplified for the purpose of waking the Muslims up so that they can eat before the sun rises. We are in the month long Ramadan holiday season when Muslims fast (including no water) from dawn until dusk every day for a lunar month. I remember thinking that it was neat when Blythe and I heard this for the first time in Morocco. Now, regarding the morning wake-up prayer call, that “wow, this place is really different from home” thrill has completely worn off.
We have been told where our site is. It’s the place we thought it would be - about 80 km. south of Dakar on the coast – Joal Fadiout - a fishing town of 32,000. We have been through it. We are hoping that there will be interest in our “First Town in Senegal with Solid Waste Management” campaign.
Here’s one for the aging curmudgeons in the (cyber) room (or maybe just brother Dick): Today, our security person, who had asked us all to draw a map to illustrate how to find our houses here in Theis, expressed his surprise that only one of the 39 of us had indicated any compass direction. He had trouble understanding this and drew a compass and asked if we all knew what it was and sort of sarcastically explained why it was important.
Otherwise, our fellow volunteers (most of whom are in their early twenties are actually quite impressive - the Senegalese we are in contact with as well). And they probably put compasses on their maps. It continues to amaze me when I meet so many intelligent, knowledgeable, talented, beautiful people living in conditions that are disturbing by Western standards. I think my mind associates living in squalor with poor education, poor speech, limited vocabulary and knowledge and maybe other detractions like drunkenness, idleness or laziness. We passed a family eating on the sidewalk (tables and chairs) in front of their very humble, dark abode. When we greeted them they were so happy when we recited the first couple of standard Arabic greetings that they pulled us into a short conversation. The (apparent) matriarch’s French was beautiful. Maybe it’s my prejudices that make these scenes surprising to me.