Friday, June 24, 2011

No Longer a Toubab

Last week, 8 French engineering students from Nantes arrived in Nafadji for a 3 week vacation.  Random?  Yes.  Apparently their University program has been organizing for a small group of students to come to Nafadji every year for the past 10 years.  I’m not sure how it started, but some people in my village have children who have moved to Europe, so maybe there’s a connection there?  The French students brought along donated items and are getting to experience village life for a few weeks.  They’re all very nice, and it’s been great to be able to speak French and hang out with some other non-Senegalese people.

Now that the new “toubabs” have arrived, my village no longer considers me one!  The French students are living at the health post, and the village assembled a group of women to cook their meals for them.  My sister Fily is on the cooking team, and she approached me the evening they arrived and asked if I wanted to help “cook for the toubabs”.  I felt so integrated!  All of a sudden, the villagers were complimenting my Malinke since the newbies didn’t speak a word of it. One villager told me I was 80% African already.  Who would have guessed that this random event could change my entire status in the village!

Being part of the cooking team has been an amazing way for me to get nutrients.  This time of year is referred to as “the starving season” by many, since the rains are just starting and crops aren’t producing yet.  I’ve been very frustrated with the meals my host family has been preparing.  I sat down to a communal bowl of plain white rice every night last week, and this diet is especially terrible for the 3 pregnant women in my compound.  Sarr has generously offered to let me eat dinner with him since he usually has better food.  While on the cooking team, I’ve been getting 3 dinners a night!  I eat early with my host family, then head over to the health post to eat with Sarr, and then get to eat the leftover food prepared for the French students with the cooking team.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of the women in my village better by cooking with them.  I feel much less like an outsider now.

Sarr and I went to 3 different villages to do vaccinations, weigh babies and distribute vitamin A and deworming medicine.  Sarr did the vaccinations and let me do everything else!  The vitamin A is in little plastic capsules, and I would cut the top off of them and squeeze the liquid into each child’s mouth.  Every child between the ages of 1 and 5 received a deworming tablet that each had to chew and take with water.  Weighing the babies was entertaining since we hung our weighing harness and scale from a tree.  I had to place screaming babies into the harness as they were swinging around under a tree, while also trying to get an accurate weight.  I charted each age and weight and noted the babies who fell into the red zone.  One of the villages Sarr and I visited was so far into the bush that the children had never seen a white person before.  Each kid would come up to the table I was sitting at and start shrieking out of fear.  I imagine I probably look like a terrifying white alien to them.  The screaming actually worked in my favor since they already had their mouths open for me to squirt vitamin A into!  While sitting at a table under a tree, surrounded by children waiting for their vitamins and medicine, I felt extremely happy to be right where I was. 

The Peace Corps National Director sets out a “5 week challenge” for each new group of volunteers, and the challenge is to not spend the night at the regional house for the first 5 weeks at site.  Those that complete the challenge get invited to an American dinner at the Director’s house in Dakar.  I succeeded in completing the challenge!  I finally was able to go back to the city of Kedougou this week to spend a few days at the regional house.  It was such a nice break to see the other volunteers in my region and be able to cook my own meals in a kitchen.  I was also finally able to pick up packages at the post office, and I had some nice surprises!

On the creepy crawler front, I’ve found a great spray for annihilating large brown ants, and killing and sweeping up the casualties has become a part of my nightly ritual.  The lizards don’t bother me, but their poop does!  They tend to hang out in the straw in my ceiling, and their poop drops all over the floor of my hut.  Last week, one of them pooped in my hair, and the next day I accidently sat in some.  It doesn’t smell good.  I also have already seen 2 scorpions, so when I walk through the village at night, I’m always on edge as I scan the road in front of me with a flashlight.  Although, I heard that the majority of scorpions here are not deadly which was mildly comforting.

This afternoon I will be going hunting in the bush with the male French students and some men in my village.  I hope we bring back some meat so I can have some protein in my bowl tonight!


  1. I love it Marielle--you gone back in time to become a huntress-gatheress! These are great stories and adventures. Stay safe and keep it up. xox/Kevin

  2. All these wonderful slices of life are turning into a very tasty sandwich!