Monday, September 5, 2011


Ramadan is over!  No more fasting!  Korite, the celebration at the end of Ramadan, took place on the last day in August.  It was an all-day celebration, and everyone was dressed to impress.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, hair tressing is a common past time here in Nafadji.  Women are constantly tressing their hair in different hairdos, and Fily always seems to be booked to do someone’s hair.  Instead of braiding in the usual style, women had long black extensions added to their hair for Korite.  This process is long and usually takes multiple days.  The week leading up to Ramadan, I could walk onto any compound and see women doing each other’s hair.  Every woman had a friend or family member lined up to style her new do.  All of the little girls on my compound, including 2-year-old Sira, had extensions added to their hair by Fily.  They all look so different with long hair!   I took lots of pictures that I will post once I have a fast enough internet connection!

Leah came to visit Nafadji for Korite, and as soon as she arrived, Fily and Diabou told us when they were tressing our hair.  We were up until midnight getting our hair done and then watching Diabou do Fily’s hair.  Fily was hesitant to ask me to do my hair since I refused when she wanted to do it a few weeks ago.  Recently I’ve been losing a lot of hair here.  In the US, my hair is thick and curly, and here, I feel like I’ve lost about half my hair.  I started getting really concerned, but after doing some research, I think it is just a result of living in a hot climate.  Similar to the way animals shed their fur in hotter climates, humans shed hair.  After realizing that my hair will get thick again when I go back to a colder climate, I agreed to let Fily tress my hair. 

The morning of Korite, Leah and I awoke with our new tresses and walked around the village with Bamoussa to greet people.  Korite is a very social holiday and involves going around and sitting with people on different compounds.  The men all went to the mosque in the morning in their boubous, but the women waited until after lunch to change into their complets. 

After a huge, oily lunch of macaroni noodles, meat, and rice, all the women changed into their new outfits.  Leah and I went with Fily to another woman’s hut, where a group of women were helping each other put on complets and makeup.  It felt like we were all getting ready for the prom.  After everyone was looking sharp, we walked over to the party on another person’s compound.  There was music blaring from huge speakers, and we sat around, drank tea and Fanta, and played cards.  After a while, Leah and I decided to check out another party, so we moved over to a huge dance circle of women who had gathered near my compound.  As we approached the circle, we saw a very masculine looking woman leading the dances in the center.  Both of us looked at each other and were thinking the same thing “is that a man?!?”  In Senegal, where the culture is very closed about sexuality, it seemed odd to see a cross dressing man at a religious celebration.  But sure enough, it was a man dressed as a woman.  He came from Mali, and it is apparently a normal form of entertainment for a celebration like Korite.  After living in Thailand, I was used to seeing “lady boys” all the time, but I never expected to see anyone like that in a conservative country like Senegal, where gender roles are very inflexible.  It was refreshing.

After another large meal for dinner, Leah and I headed over to yet another dance party at the elementary school.  This dance party was for the kids, and after about 20 minutes of dancing with elementary school children, we called it a night.  All in all, Korite was a fun celebration and a great chance to get out in the village and be social.

Recently I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable showing up on random compounds to talk to villagers.  Initially I was relying on a village counterpart to go with me while I went from compound to compound asking questions for my baseline survey.  I thought I needed someone there to help translate if I ran into a confusing question or response.  I found that relying on someone else to be able to go around the village every night was not very time efficient since the man I was going with was rarely available.  After getting frustrated one day, I decided to just go by myself and see what happened.  I was pleasantly surprised and had a better experience going alone than I did going with a counterpart.  Villagers were extremely welcoming and one lady even offered me grilled corn as we did the interview.  Since then, I’ve been going around every evening to interview a person on every compound.  I think it’s been better for my language progress to be forced to use Malinke and work through confusing conversations.  So far, I have gone to 43 compounds and probably have about 27 left to do.  I’ve been typing up my results on an Excel spreadsheet and am learning a lot about my village.  The survey is taking a long time, but it will be worth it to be able to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of my village.

On the malaria front, people in my village are all continuing to get malaria throughout the rainy season.  Baby Sira got it, but her mother took her to the health post to get medicine, and now she’s fine.  Saibo, my favorite nephew, got malaria and refused to go to the health post.  Each day I kept telling him he needed to go, and the family was very concerned and frustrated with him.  He was getting worse and was lying around on a mat all day, and I told him that he was going to continue to get worse unless he went with me to the health post.  He finally agreed to go, took medicine, and now he’s fine.  I still don’t understand why he didn’t want to go to the health post.  He said he didn’t want to take medicine, which seemed very irrational to me, especially since he’s such an intelligent boy.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to get into the mindset of people here, because if I’m sick, of course I’m going to seek out medicine to make me better.  To them, that is not the obvious solution.  A lot of people in my village have told me that they try to use traditional medicine, which is usually leaves, to cure malaria first before going to the health post. 

Rainy season is still going on, and the roads are wet and filled with deep puddles.  We now have a seasonal river running outside Nafadji and have been able to get some fish! 

In a couple days I’ll be heading to Dindefello to help out with a leadership camp for middle school students that the Kedougou volunteers are putting on.  I’ll be helping to lead some health lessons.  After a few days at camp, I’m going to Saraya for a week to help with a mosquito net distribution.  With lots of activities coming up, this month is going to fly by!

Me and Fily on Korite


  1. Great post. It sounds like you are becoming an integral part of your new community and building the kind of trust that you probably need to start working on solutions after you finish your survey. Great job. They are lucky to have you helping them, but we miss you a lot at home. Can't wait to see you this winter. Perhaps I can have a furry knit hat for you at the airport. It will likely be colder than 80 :)

  2. Hi Marielle---There is a woman named Jade, from the U.S., who is the new COO for Foundation For Women in Liberia. About your age. She was joking that she was the only woman in Liberia with just her own hair. I found it astounding that with so much poverty the great majority of women (and girls) have enough money to afford extensions, multiple wigs, etc. Crazy! Take care. XOX from us both/Kevin and Anja