Monday, August 29, 2011

There are Challenges and there is Hope!

It is rainy season here in Senegal.  The fields have transformed into a beautiful painted landscape of greens and yellows and the crops are finding height in their growth process. Everyone is busy working in the fields and tending to their gardens. I remain, as always, the outsider observing and trying to find my place.  Ramadan is almost over and once the holy day is celebrated, drinking and eating will find its way back into the normal daily routine.  I will not go into too much detail of my Ramadan experience because I blogged about it last year, but I will quickly say that this year was incredibly different. I think maybe the romantic idea of fasting and witnessing another religion has slowly worn off.  Instead I found myself in  multiple debates about what it means to truly fast and often times had to defend my beliefs and the choices I make. 

I have a hard time with those who fast and then complain constantly that they are tired, hungry or ill. It drives me crazy when they come to me  seeking medicine because they have a headache.(because they worked in the hot sun with no food or water)   It infuriates me when men tell their pregnant wives they must also fast and I feel the wrath of Jenae about to unfold when they fail to provide food for their children, who are too young to fast.  These things, in my opinion, go against what fasting is all about.

For Muslims the goal is to seek nearness to Allah by not eating or drinking during the day, abstaining from sex and smoking and making an effort to prevent thoughts of anger, evil or malice.   It is also the month when the first few verses of the Koran were revealed so it’s received in a very spiritual way.  It is also said that this time should be spent dividing what you have and sharing it with those less fortunate than you.  It would be unfair to say that everyone here fails to fast in this way. There are many people who celebrate the holy month and gain much from the experience. Unfortunately for me, this year was spent working in the health hut.  (My village finally got medicine) so my experience dealt mostly with the sick. 

Speaking of the health hut, it has been a wonderful experience to finally do my job. I have been waiting my entire service for things to finally get situated. Now I am able to witness the health issues on a more personal level and better understand how and why particular problems arise.  My health worker is a little difficult to work with and I am certain being a woman has much to do with it.  I am learning how and when to speak up and seeking more encouraging ways to offer my wisdom and insight. 

The biggest problem right now is Malaria. It unfortunately is most common in children. The first week we started working we had 9 cases in 2 days. Fortunately it is free for a rapid test and the treatment for simple cases so we have not seen any children die.  However in other villages this is not the case and despite the governments effort to eradicate this disease it is still a huge problem.  I have become quite aggressive when it comes to talking to parents about protecting their children.  I do not think any excuse is valid when it comes to justifying why their children are not sleeping under nets.  I have become the Malaria Prevention Nazi and though my words may seem harsh it does seem to have an affect.  

 For example my 2 year old host niece falls asleep before everyone else. Instead of taking her inside and putting her under a net, she sleeps outside exposed to the biting mosquito (worst insect ever).  I tried talking to them and encouraging them to put up a mosquito net, but it did not work.  Finally I started doing it myself. Every night for about a week I would take her and put her under the net. Then I left for a couple of days and when I returned, I was surprised to see that they were carrying on with the ritual.  I was so excited and it gave me hope to continue the fight.

 There are many challenges, but one of the most frustrating is the lack of desire to prevent diseases. I think it is the combination of ignorance and  accepting it is a part of life.  These two issues are extremely hard to face and we as volunteers spend enormous amounts of time talking about malaria prevention and other disease. 

The volunteers in my area recently took part in a 4-day Malaria tour née where we set up a fair style convention in collaboration with a local theater group. It was a great success and we had a lot of fun making Neem cream (natural anti mosquito cream), coloring mosquito nets, and talking to communities about the importance of prevention. The pictures below are from this event. 
  This last month in my village, I also had the same theater group come and perform on a weekly basis. They did different skits of different health issues and we then talked about ways to prevent illnesses such as diarrhea, infections, malaria, and AIDS. It was fantastic and we had a lot of fun.  So despite the frustrations and challenges, there are good things that are happening and I am content being in this place. Thank you for reading and stay tuned, the next few months will be full of fun events and I will soon have much more to share.

STOP MALARIA NOW!   pic by Cara Steger

Theater Group 

Dance party under the mosquito net after the sketch
Photo take by Cara Steger

Exile Malaria!!! Picture by Cara Steger
A women's blog in which I read regularly shared this quote 
"The roots of the tree of life are alive as ever even if the shoots appear tortured and burnt….” – Chief Clyde Bellecourt.

And her response was this...I thought it was beautiful and had to share: 
."much of our inner forest has been harvested, abused and cut down — all in the name of the fear of scarcity and profit. But, the roots are strong…the tree of life will not give up. Whether we want to sit under the shade of its loving canopy is our decision." 

If you are interested you should check out her Blog site. She is a former peace corps volunteer and her insight is invaluable.



  2. Hmmm,These ones quite interesting.
    Glad to be here.

    Best regards,
    Home Remedies..