Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bon Voyage, Sira

After being away from Nafadji for over a month, I was nervous to go back.  As the Niokolo got closer and closer to my village, I got that feeling of coming home.  The kids from my compound greeted me as I got out of the Niokolo, and as I walked towards the compound, Sira came running at me and leaped into my arms yelling “Aitata, aitata!!!”  It felt so good to see all of them again, and all the kids came into my hut to help me sweep away the dust.  After being gone for so long, my hut was frightening!  The following day, Saibo helped me do a deep cleaning of my hut, and now it looks back to normal.

My first night back, I woke up at 1am and knew I was going to be sick.  I ran into my yard just in time to throw up.  After another day in village, my stomach calmed down and adjusted to the food again.  It’s back to rice and peanuts.  Along with physical adjustments, I got back into daily life in a village: bucket baths, pit latrines, pulling water, etc.  After a couple days, I felt comfortable again, and I was enjoying spending time with my friends and family in the village. 

I absolutely love the kids on my compound, and spending time with them always brightens my day.  We’ve been coloring in the afternoons, and they always have some imaginative way to pass the time during the day.  When I come back from running, there’s a new ritual of all the kids following me into the shade, and they form a line and copy all the stretches I do.  We look like a sports team stretching in unison.  It’s hard not to laugh!

Saibo, my 12-year old nephew, deserves some sort of medal.  He is such a wonderful helper to me and to the entire family.  Mbamoussa has her hands full with her 9 children, including the new baby twins, and yesterday evening I saw him carrying one on his back and one on his front.  Sadly, the one on his back pooped on him!  He never complains and has such a good heart.  It’s unique to see how much he supports his mom, since it’s usually the girls who end up doing all the household chores.

My first Care Group meeting was yesterday afternoon, and it went really well!  Ten women showed up along with Kaba, Mahan, and Sarr.  With the idea that the women would want to take notes, I went out and bought notebooks and pens for each woman.  At the meeting, I found out that none of the women can read or write, so notetaking is out of the question.  I’m still figuring out how these women will retain the information they learn each meeting without being able to write it down, and I guess we’re all just going to learn through trial and error.

We met in a classroom at the elementary school, and the goal of the first meeting was to introduce the group and set goals for the coming year.  Our group will meet every 2 weeks, and each meeting the women will learn something new to pass on to other women in the village.  After explaining that each woman will be expected to teach seven other women what they learn each class, I facilitated a discussion about the health problems they saw in the village.  Some women were vocal and some didn’t say a word.  Through a mixture of French and Malinke, we created a list on the chalkboard of various topics that we will cover in our group.  Kaba and Mahan were wonderful resources for translating from French to Malinke and vice versa, and Sarr’s knowledge of the health problems he sees everyday in the village kept the discussion going.  At the end of the meeting, everyone seemed excited about the group, and each woman has agreed to create a group of seven other women that she will teach after each of our meetings.  I tried to make the meeting as fun as possible and provided Fanta and Coke, which were a huge hit!  After the meeting, I had villagers coming up to me telling me that they had heard I had “boissons” at the meeting.  Good to know what makes a meeting popular!

The best part for me happened after the meeting was over.  Mbamoussa is part of the group, and when I got home, I overheard her gushing to her mom about the group.  She seemed so proud to be a member and to be a health leader in the community.  Going to class every 2 weeks was exciting to her, and she took a notebook and pen and said that Saibo would help her write things down when she needed to.  I was so happy to hear that this group was important to her, because along with spreading health information and skills to the village, another goal of the group is to empower women in the community.  In 2 weeks, we’ll have our next meeting, and I’ll be teaching them how to prepare oral rehydration solution for when people have diarrhea.  After the meeting, I went on a long run and felt such an amazing high after a productive day!

With those wonderful highs come the lows as well.  This morning, I went to a meeting at the college to discuss the coming semester, and Sounkharou called me during the meeting to tell me she was going to Kedougou.  I thought it was odd that she called me just to tell me she was leaving for a few days, but I figured maybe she was just excited to use her new phone.  When I came back to the compound for lunch, Mbamoussa broke the news to me that Sounkharou had left to move to Spain to live with her husband.  I started tearing up and asked if Sira was gone as well.  Mbamoussa knows how much I love Sira and quietly said that she had left as well.  How could Sounkharou leave without saying goodbye?  I kept asking if she would come back, and they said they didn’t know.  As soon as I was alone in my hut, I couldn’t stop myself from crying.  The thought of never seeing Sira again made my heart hurt.  Out of all the kids on the compound, I am closest with her, and I look forward to playing with her every day.  Whenever I’m sitting out on the compound, she jumps into my lap and I tickle her and spin her around.  If I’m having a bad day, all I have to do is give her a big bear hug and see her infectious smile to feel better.  I can’t imagine not seeing her every day.

I was surprised at how emotional I got over a little 3-year old girl moving away.  She’s a special kid, and I know how much I’ll miss her.  It was such a sudden departure.  Souhkharou never told me she was leaving.  She had mentioned last fall that at some point she hoped to move to Spain, but I never figured she’d move so soon.  When I get past feeling sad about not seeing Sira, I know deep down that this is a really positive thing for her.  She will have so many more opportunities in Spain than she could ever have here.  I’m happy that Sounkharou will get to live with her husband and that Sira will get to be with her dad. 

Since I didn’t get to say goodbye, I’m planning to bike the 90k to Kedougou tomorrow morning to catch them before they leave for Dakar.  With the transportation strike, no cars are leaving from Saraya, so biking is the only option.  I want to take some last photos and give Sira a big hug.  Maybe someday I’ll visit them in Spain.  It’s hard to not be able to see her grow up, and I want to hear about all the amazing things she’s going to do.

Sira leaving reminds me that things are constantly changing.  Soon Leah will be leaving to go back to the US, and I’m going to miss her a lot.  Change is never easy, but we eventually adjust.  Before I know it, I’ll be going back to the US as well, so I want to get as much done while I’m here as I can.  I’m very excited about the Care Group and can’t wait to see how influential the women will be in the community!

                                    Hanging out with Sira one last time in Kedougou


  1. How do you manage to cover so much emotional landscape in a short blog. I felt happy, proud, and sad in the course of just a few paragraphs. I was so pleased to hear you are going out to see Sira before she goes. I know she is always the first one at the Niokolo waiting for you to arrive back in the village and it will mean a lot to her when you give her a hug and wish her the best.

  2. Goodbyes are so painful and your heart must feel so very heavy today. Your post got me teary eyed because I know how much you loved little Sira. I hope that she and her parents will be happy in Spain. You are going to take away so many wonderful memories from your time in Nafadji and I know Sira will always be one of the brightest spots among them. I was also incredibly moved by Mbamoussa’s excitement and pride about being part of the women’s health group. Empowering her and the other women to go out and train others in health education is so inspirational. Thanks for sharing such a moving post.

  3. This is a moving post. I am thrilled to hear about Mbamoussa's excitement about being part of the health group and saddened to hear that Sira has moved. Thank you for sharing so much of your time and heart in Senegal.

  4. I was so moved by your blog. I miss you! much love, Nana Gigi