Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Missirah Dantila Pizza Party

Volunteers are always complaining about the monotony of village food   It’s rice and peanuts, peanuts and rice.  So why not make pizza instead?

In many villages, there is a large wood fire bread oven where the bread maker makes the “tapalapa” bread for the village.  During my recent trip to Ian’s village, Missirah Dantila, with my new Saraya site mates (Pat and Annē), we decided to attempt to make pizza in the oven.  Prior to returning to his village, Ian bought tomato paste and cheese in Kedougou, and we bought flour, yeast, onions, and sugar in the village.  The local bread maker graciously let us use his oven for the evening in return for a taste of our dinner.  Ian’s counterpart, Cheikh, was very excited about the project and joined in to make the pizzas.

Pat, our resident bread expert, showed us how to make bread dough with flour, yeast, and water.  While the dough rose, we biked out to the river to watch the sunset.  When we returned, Annē and I chopped onions by candlelight with a Swiss Army knife and caramelized them in a metal bowl on Ian’s gas tank burner.  Next, we heated up the tomato paste with water and added in some sugar and salt to cut the bitter taste.  Ian found some basil growing near the health post, so we chopped it up and tossed it into the sauce as well.

Ian, Cheikh, and Pat
While Annē and I were preparing the sauce, Ian, Cheikh, and Pat lit a fire in the oven to heat up the coals.  They rolled out the dough into 4 pizzas and flung them into the oven with a long wooden paddle once the oven was hot enough.  Cheikh was a natural at getting the pizzas far into the oven with the paddle.  Once the dough was cooked enough, Annē and I added on our tomato sauce, caramelized onions, basil, and cheese slices before sticking them back in again.

Adding the toppings

The pizzas were beautiful!  As Pat mentioned while we were biting into them, we would pay top dollar for these “artisanal pizzas” in the US.  It’s amazing what you can make in a village with the right ingredients!  We ate some of the pizza and shared the rest with the villagers on Ian’s compound.  Their reaction was hilarious.

We were so excited to share a taste of America (or Italy) with the village, but most of them took one bite and didn’t like it!  Since they are used to only eating a few ingredients in their food, these flavors may have been too complex.  Another issue that arose was that most people in the village don’t have a full set of teeth, so biting into a crunchy crust proved difficult.  There were a few exceptions though.  Cheikh was a pizza fan and talked it up to his friends.

Volunteers often feel guilty about eating things like pizza at the regional house since our villagers don’t have that option, but the irony that we found was that villagers didn’t even like it!  Maybe pizza is an acquired taste.  Regardless, it was fun to share a taste of our culture and to eat pizza in the village.  Now, it’s back to rice and peanuts.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Girl Power

Girls make up a vulnerable population in Senegal.  They marry and get pregnant young, and household chores take up the majority of their days.  For a girl to make it out of a village to attend the high school in the district capital is close to impossible. Between 6th and 9th grades, 97% of Nafadji’s girls drop out, and this past year, 13% of the 7th grade girls dropped out due to pregnancy.  The last year of junior high (9th grade) had only 1 girl in the class, and she has decided not to continue on to high school.  Young girls face strong pressure to get married and start families.

To address these issues, Awa Traore, Peace Corps Senegal’s Cross-Cultural Coordinator did a tour of some of the schools in the Kedougou region to talk about the importance of girls’ education.  I arranged for her to speak in Nafadji and went back there with her a couple of weeks ago.  24 girls showed up for the presentation, including the 9 Michele Sylvester Scholarship candidates.  Awa engaged the girls and had each of them talk about their dreams and what steps they were going to take to reach them.  She talked about what it takes to be successful and stressed the importance of knowing what you want and not stopping until you have achieved it.  She inspired confidence in the girls and had a candid conversation with them about early marriage and pregnancy.  The girls were honest with her that some of them had gotten pregnant or married young, and it is a hard cycle to break.  My 15-year old host niece who just had a baby was in the audience and could really relate to the pressures that Awa talked about, such as boys pressuring girls to become sexually active at a young age without using protection.  The cycle of teenage pregnancy is a hard one to break.  In my host family, my 30-year old host sister got pregnant at 15, and her daughter followed in her footsteps and also got pregnant at 15.  The girls in the audience were enthusiastic about their futures, and I hope that some of them are able to break the cycle and make it out of the village.

After Awa’s presentation, we presented the 3 Michele Sylvester Scholarship winners with backpacks full of school supplies, and all 9 Michele Sylvester Scholarship candidates had their school registration fees paid for this year.  Thank you to everyone who donated towards the scholarships!  You helped to send 9 girls to school this year, and this is a step in the right direction to fight for girls’ education!

On my new compound in Saraya, my closest friend is my 12-year-old host sister, Maimouna.  She is a smart, curious, and determined young woman, and I can tell that she is going to be successful in whatever she chooses to do.  Every night, we sit outside in the compound, and she asks me question after question about the world.  Her thirst for knowledge is refreshing, and like me, she wants to help women in the future.  She has asked me what an OB/GYN does and is interested in women’s health issues.  When I talk with her, she absorbs every bit like a sponge and asks me questions that no one else here has ever asked me before.  I really enjoy spending time with her.  She’s also athletic and loves playing soccer with her female friends.  Of course, she rarely has time for soccer since she is cooking, cleaning, or washing clothes during most of her free time, but I would love to form a girls' soccer team with the pennies and soccer balls my dad sent me last year.

Recently my mom sent me Bend it Like Beckham, an inspirational movie for girls.  Since Maimouna is interested in soccer, we watched the movie together in French on my laptop a couple of nights ago, and she loved it!  She was engaged throughout the entire thing, and she can relate to the family pressures that the main character experienced.  Throughout the film, she kept asking if Jess was going to get to play soccer and was so happy at the end when Jess was able to follow her dream.  That night, Maimouna asked if we could work on her soccer skills the following evening so that she could be like Jess.

Meeting Maimouna gives me hope for the future of girls in this country.  Seeing her determination at such a young age is inspiring, and I hope she never loses that!