Back in town for Mid Service Conference (MSC) and Thanksgiving! I hope all of you celebrated yesterday with lots of good food like we did. I think the only things we were missing were cranberries and candied sweet potatoes - we had turkey (3 Butterballs from America-land!), ham, green bean casserole, empanadas (delicious!), mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, 3 kinds of stuffing (I helped make one with green olives, artichoke hearts, chestnuts, and mushrooms), 3 green salads, 2 fruit salads, chopped veggies with hummus dip, a corn casserole, and a couple other things that arrived after I was too full to go back through the line. For dessert we made cinnamon sugar cookies, Dutch apple pies, apple crumble, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, and a rich chocolate mousse, along with mulled wine, bissap, and sodas to drink. As you can see, it was quite the feast! And the Transit House is bursting with leftovers today, some of which are going to be coming home with me in the form of a turkey and stuffing sandwich for the bus ride (yum!).
MSC was our chance to talk about our first year at site, celebrate our successes, brainstorm about our challenges, and make plans for the upcoming year, as well as get a general medical screening and dental cleaning. The dental experience was surprisingly different than US dentists in some ways (mint-salt foam blasted at your gumline that have made my teeth look slightly larger) and similar in others (those metal tooth scraping picks must be universal). We had two days of medical/dental (along with time to hang out, shop for the holidays, and catch up with each other) and one day of the actual Conference. We're all pretty used to the village work schedule by now - arrive late, 3 hour break for lunch, end early - so we were all dragging by the time we finished near 6pm (after starting at 7:45) with the more American one hour for lunch (plus the Burkinabe coffee break at 10am). This does not bode well for all of our discussions of plans for jobs/grad school! But we'll get there.
The information we got was useful and hearing other volunteers talk about things they do gave me a ton of ideas for simple things I can try in my village as well! One volunteer does daily teachings on warning signs in pregnancy and what to bring to the maternity for the birth before they start pre-natal consultations. One has taught the kids who come to her courtyard the importance of washing their hands to the point that they now ask for soap and water when they arrive and she offers them food. One has a counterpart who makes and sells baby weighing harnesses so that women can have their own, arrive with the baby already in it (saving time) and it's so much more hygienic (kids here don't wear diapers under their clothing. Thankfully, it's good luck if a baby pees on you, but I'm not too convinced about the luck if he or she pees in your baby weighing harness). We learned how to make water filters out of stacked canneries (round ceramic pots) filled with layers of sand, charcoal, and pebbles. We got a lot of helpful and motivating information on the new PC initiative to "Stomp Out Malaria" and heard of a village in Senegal that has lowered their cases almost to zero through massive pressure by village leaders to improve village hygiene, water storage, and early treatment of any fever.
I'll be back in a week to teach first-aid to the new stage and for a VAC meeting, so I'll try and have more by then. In the meantime I highly recommend reading Chad and Tana's blog - I was reading it while uploading pictures to Facebook (a very time consuming process, 5 photos at a time) and they are so funny! While some of their experiences are a little different down in south-west Jula-speaking land, most things are universal and will give you a different perspective on life here. Find them at http://mccoull.blogspot.com/
And on a final note, we've all been passing around this article by an RPCV (returned peace corps volunteer) published in the Huffington Post that has started a lot of interesting discussions on why we're here, what we can and cannot do, and what lessons we take away from our time here and how that impacts the kind of people we are when we return to the US. If you're interested, it's at: