17 November – Romongo, 9:03pm
Today we started our day with a fairly substantial bike ride out to the sector 5 CSPS, to do a health sensibilization of some girls going to a trade school nearby. While I'm still a little frustrated that no one has actually explained how one goes about sensibilizing, I think it went pretty well and I guess learning by being tossed into the deep end of the pool is one way to go about it and seems to be working.
We enter a small stand-alone classroom building, a narrow rectangle half filled with metal benches facing a decently sized chalkboard that's on a stand at the other end of the room, near the door. The left-hand benches are occupied by about 14 girls, who look to be around 16-18 or so. We sit on the right-hand benches, then get up and mix in with the students since we're all here to learn. Each of the 5 PCT groups gives their presentation and/or activity, and candy is handed out liberally in response to questions. I'm amused to see distinct personalities emerging from the students – there's the know-it-all who always has her hand up and answers at length, sometimes on the topic you've asked for, sometimes not; there's the shy but knowledgeable who is reluctant to raise her hand but knows some of the harder answers; there's a number who work up the courage to answer and smile brilliantly when we tell them they're right. In general it's not as hard to get answers out of this group as it was at the elementary school, and a lot more calm!
We put them through a gauntlet of hand-washing (pimant exercise), HIV/AIDS prevention (condoms over cups), reproduction and STIs (drawings and demonstration), nutrition and breastfeeding (house and food types), and things available at the CSPS (interactive listing). Somehow they seem to hang in there and actually know a fair bit in preventing HIV, and the girl next to me asks if we can leave the nutrition poster so she can copy it down later. I guess we take for granted knowledge of some odd things. And in explanation of the parentheticals above: Pimant exercise – you get a few volunteers to come up and dip their hands in pimant, a powdered hot pepper, then ask them to touch their eyes with dirty hands, with hands dipped in a bucket of water, with hands rinsed under running water, and with hands washed with soap. All but the last will refuse because they know that touching your eyes with pimant residue stings like crazy, opening the door to a metaphor of other bad things that you can't see on your hands but can still harm you unless you wash your hands with soap before you eat.
The condom over cups demo was a great idea by that team, who made us split into two lines and pass a plastic cup of water down the line without using our hands (passing between elbows). The cups cracked, the water splashed – it was hard. But cover each with a condom and suddenly the water doesn't spill, the cups don't break, and it's much easier. Follow through with a discussion on how the condoms protected you from the water/HIV as it was passed from person to person. This led into reproduction and STIs, where they had the girls come up and label parts of the reproductive system and genitals of a woman (ran out of time for the man). They wanted to do a condom demonstration, but all the condoms had been used for the previous group! Lessons for next time. Oddly, even being located next to a CSPS we were unable to procure a condom for some reason.
My group did nutrition. The way nutrition is talked about here is as three groups – Constructor foods, Energetic foods, and Protective foods. On Demyst our PCV had talked about using a house as a metaphor, so we did asked the girls to help us list what you needed to build a house. The foundation and walls were “Constructors”, the proteins needed for a solid, strong body. The fire that cooked food and kept the house warm was “Energetic foods”, carbohydrates and fats that power the body throughout the day. And the roof, which keeps the family sheltered from the rain were “Protectors”, vitamins and minerals to keep the body strong to fight against diseases. We had drawn up examples of each, and also threw in that breastmilk is all that an infant needs to eat for the first 6 months of life because it contains all the elements of the house in the right amounts for a little “infant house”.
And finally we talked about services available at a CSPS. They had a pretty good idea of most services, but we were able to add a few to their list. Overall it was nice to see that we could be successful with a variety of different teaching methods, although I did feel bad that they had to sit through the whole thing!
We biked back to Abbe-Pierre just in time for our Food Security lecture. Dan was awesome and actually delved deeper into ideas than just the surface. He was critical. He was funny. He went off on tangents. It was awesome, and I know why SED loves him so much. I wished we had more time to explore better what specifically a volunteer can do for Food Security besides the tangential teaching about nutrition and income generating activities to improve access to larger quantities of higher quality food. But then again, I guess pretty much anything we're learning kind of comes back to things like that – a lot of health issues can be traced back to chronic malnutrition and/or hunger so intervening there is a pretty big priority.
It's our last session of the day and I'm feeling kind of nervous about our first Moore lesson with our new LCF, Miriam. I already miss Pierre and Amadee. Plus, to make things worse, Alicia isn't feeling well and is napping in the infirmary, so it's just Emily and me. We sit down with Miriam. I'm nervous. Then she announces that we're going to start making a verb chart and figure out all the rules of turning a conjugated verb into all of the useful tenses. Brilliant! Thank you, this is exactly what I need – rules! Thankfully, apart from all the words being new and unrelated to anything we've encountered before, Moore is actually a fairly simple language. All verbs are conjugated the same in the present for each person – I eat, he eat, we eat, etc. and for the regular verbs (most of them) once you know which of the three endings the verb will take in the present form, you can transform it into the past tense, and then add various modifiers in front of one of the two forms to make it future, imperfect, conditional, past conditional, etc. Each verb in the present and past has 3 forms – long, middle and short, depending on if it has an object following it or if it is in a negative sentence. Ex: N ri – to eat. Present: ritame, rita + obj, ri if negative. Past: riime, rit + obj, ri if negative. Add combinations of “da/ra” and “na n” in front of it to form all the other tenses.
Simple, right? Ok, not totally, since every word is from scratch, but this was literally the first language lesson I've been happy in – even Emily pointed it out. I was so relieved to have rules, something I could follow in order to form a sentence. I even think it might be easier to learn Moore than it would be to go back and correctly learn tenses in French (which I still have a very hard time with). I know all my sessions won't be like this, and we'll soon go back to trying to shove 100 words into my head a day, or actually implement these rules, but having them so simply written down fills me with hope that I might be able to do this, that I might actually be able to more accurately explain myself in Moore than in French. The time passes quickly and we're all surprised that 5:15pm has snuck up on us so suddenly.
Romongo says goodbye to everyone and hops in our ambulance van. We have our usual gab session on the way back to the village, discussing classes, Shake Weights, music, and 100 other random things that have us laughing and smiling. I return home and sadly find that the gumbo has been cooking on the gas stove next to my door, so the area outside my room smells quite strongly of my least-favorite sauce. I make sure to re-close the solid door that I usually leave open to air my room, then go to the courtyard to give bon-bons. I don't hit everyone since most people are at the market, and after I shower and eat (watermelon for dessert!) I go sit with my little family in our yard. I'd forgotten how much more peaceful it is – less interesting, perhaps, but much calmer. I haven't given candy to many of the people – guess that'll be tomorrow?