Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bassari Initiations, Newbies, and RAIN

Growing up in Seattle, I never thought I’d get excited about rain, but after months of unbearable heat, I was ecstatic when the rains arrived recently!  For 3 nights in a row, lightening, thunder, and heavy rain hit Nafadji.  The storms brought a cool breeze into my hut.  For the first time in a long time, I woke up in the morning and wasn’t sweating!  The recent rains have made the days much more humid, but the cooler nights make it worth it.

Last weekend, 12 friends and I piled into a pickup truck to drive up to Ethiolo for the Bassari Initiation ceremony.  It was a tight squeeze in the back of the pickup, but we had a fun ride, singing along to the radio.  After a 3-hour ride in the sun, we were ready to get out of the truck in Ethiolo.  We were greeted by the Ethiolo volunteer and ate lunch and drank honey wine with her family.  After lunch, we hiked up the mountain to the Bassari party.  Men were marching around in circles, dressed in combat outfits, blowing whistles to the beat of a drum.  We walked around tasting different honey wines and millet beers.  That night, we camped out on the chief’s compound and awoke to the sun rising above the beautiful valley below us.

In Bassari culture, boys in their early teens go through Initiation to become men.  It’s a rite of passage, and part of the initiation involves the boys fighting a man in a mask.  Unfortunately, women are not allowed to watch the fights, so I didn’t get to see this part of the ceremony.  A few girlfriends and I climbed a tree at the top of the hill to try to spy on the fights!  We couldn’t see much though.  After the fights were over, the initiates and men climbed the hill and the party began.  They marched around the village to the beat of a drum as huge crowds admired their traditional fighting attire.  Everyone drank honey wine and millet beer and feasted with their families.  After lunch, my volunteer friends and I piled back into the truck and drove back down the mountain. 

When we arrived at the Regional House, 8 of the new Health volunteers had arrived to install in their villages.  The following day, we all went to the market to help the newbies buy everything they’ll need for village life.  It was a chaotic morning, but they all seemed to get what they needed.  Helping to install the new volunteers reminded me of when I went through this process last year.  It doesn’t seem that long ago, yet so much has happened in between then and now.  We got a great group of new volunteers, and they’ve brought some wonderful energy to the house.  I’m excited to start working with them!

When I got back to Nafadji, Ian and I had a meeting with our Jeune Relais to review what they had learned and check up on how their health talks have been going.  After the initial training, we told them that they needed to teach 5 friends the material they had learned.  Their health talks have been going well, and they have been invited to do a condom demonstration as well as a brief health talk in all of the middle school classes about family planning, HIV/AIDS, and STI’s.  We divided the 12 Jeune Relais into 2 groups to do the tour of the classrooms, and they did practice presentations during our recent meeting.  They sound great and have learned so much!  Their confidence is increasing with each health talk they give, and Ian and I want to train them to spread information about malaria next month.  Students teaching other students seems to be working so far, and hopefully this increased knowledge base will spark some behavior change.

Now that the rains are starting, Kedougou will soon become a green wonderland.  Last year, I remember the transformation the rain performed, and I’m excited to see it again!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hot Hot Hot!

The heat is killing me!  Nafadji has had nights where it’s so hot I wake up in a pool of sweat and afternoons where I can’t drink enough water to avoid getting the chills.  It’s miserable.  The heat sucks all the energy out of me.  Yesterday I was sitting in a chair in my hut and was so hot and so drained that I couldn’t even bring myself to move.  I felt like the laziest person in the world.

Being sick in village can be a very frustrating experience.  Earlier this week, my body stopped sweating, and I kept getting the chills.  I felt exhausted and tired, and all I wanted to do was sleep.  Unfortunately, villagers do not understand the desire for solitude when sick.  I slept in my hut for a lot of the day and people kept knocking on my door and yelling from outside “Aissata, why haven’t you left your hut?  What are you doing in there?  Come and drink tea with us!”  Another day, the middle school teachers had me go to an event where I got there in the morning and we didn’t eat lunch until after 3pm.  I had a horrible headache and they were blaring music from the classrooms for the event.  Dehydrated, hungry, and sick, I just wanted to leave, but every time I tried, they caught me and reeled me back in.  

On a more positive note, sleeping outside has been incredible.  I can look up at the stars before I go to sleep, and I’m slowly learning the different constellations.  Never in my life before Peace Corps was I so aware of the cycle of the moon.  When that’s your only light at night, you pay attention! 

April 25th was World Malaria Day, and during my Care Group meeting that day, we sewed and washed mosquito nets.  Many people say their nets are useless and they need new ones, but all they really need to do is wash the dust off and sew or tie up the holes.  The women learned how easy it is to fix a net, and they will be teaching their mini groups the same lesson.  Each woman was given a spool of thread and a needle.  Since Nafadji will not be getting any free nets this year or in the foreseeable future, it is important that the villagers take care of their nets and repair them when they get holes.  Another problem is that most of the village uses mosquito nets to protect their gardens from pests, but the nets end up getting destroyed in the process.  I understand from an agriculture perspective that mosquito nets do protect the vegetables, but from a health perspective, what’s going to protect the family members from getting malaria once the rainy season starts?  It’s hard to convince villagers to change this behavior, and I still think that most people in my village just assume they’ll get malaria every year, since that seems to be the trend.  It’s frustrating, but this year I want to try to get people who are sick to go straight to the health post to be tested.  If they start medication within the first 24 hours of being infected with malaria, they will not transmit it to others.  How to get people to go the health post is the next dilemma.

All of my Care Group ladies received t-shirts, which look great on them!  I wanted them to be able to distinguish themselves in the village as point people for health questions.  I’ll post a picture of the women in their shirts soon!  They love them, and I see them wearing them around the village all the time!

This weekend, I’m excited to head to Ethiolo for the Bassari Initiation Ceremony!  The Initiation is a rite of passage for the Bassari boys, and they fight wearing masks and traditional attire, and then there’s a celebration afterwards.  Some friends and I are camping out the night before and then will attend the ceremony in the morning.  I’ll pass through Kedougou on the way there and can’t wait to drink an ice cold water.  Drinking hot water when you’re hot is not very satisfying.  I can’t wait for the rains to come!

Nafadji Care Group: Top Row (right to left): Fatoumata Kanoute, Bantan Keita, Suaro Damba (holding Debby Diallo), Kaba Damba, Mbamoussa Damba (holding Liz Diallo), Numo Sedicora, Kanio Diakhaby, me. Bottom Row (right to left): Makhan Macalou, Aminata Keita, Bintou Damba, and Mbamoussa Dangokho's daughter (replacing her for the day). Missing: Mbamoussa Dangokho and Minte Fofana

Sewing up the holes in mosquito nets on World Malaria Day

Washing mosquito nets