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!


  1. What a welcome relief the rain must be after all that stifling heat! The Bassari trip sounds like it was a lot of fun and good to hear the Jeune Relais program is such a success so far. The idea of having students teaching other students seems to be working out well!

  2. I don't know how you manage the heat! It stops raining here for 3 days and we're ready for it to start again. So glad you got a break. Sounds like you have been enjoying spending time with other volunteers and are enjoying the newbies. How wonderful the Jeune Relais students have been invited to give presentations in the middle school - they must be excited.