Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Send me your recipies for my cookbook!

August 9th

I now understand why people used to live at home until they got married young and had a big wedding with a gift registry – because buying all the things you need to set up a first home is expensive! I'm going through piles of papers and magazines in my house and have started compiling a number of recipes for dishes and desserts that I'd like to try when I get home. All of these of course call for basic kitchen implements that I realize I'm going to have to collect from scratch. While I can certainly feed myself adequately with a pot, a frying pan, a spatula, a serrated knife, a cutting board, measuring cup and spoons, and dishes, many of these dishes call for things that are slightly more complex and I really would like to be able to make something fancier than my all-in-one-pot meals that tend to revolve around beans and rice and some type of sauce or mix of spices. It's getting dull. I think longingly of my parent's kitchen, with at least 2 of every specialized gadget you could possibly want – baking pans in every size and shape, waffle and panini presses, stirring spoons in various sizes/materials/slots, a nice heavy duty cuisinart mixer with attachments, pots with steamers and lids and different depths. Even making a list of what I would consider to be the very basics looking at the recipes I want to make just seems to be getting longer and longer. Time to hit creigslist and the estate sales Mom keeps talking about!

In work news, I'm pretty much done with my stack of papers, having separated out things I'll be using in the next 3 months, set aside personal things I want to take back to the US, and organized and labeled the papers that I'm leaving for the next PCV. I still need to print and add my Etude, both my and Lauren's DOS, a list of projects we both did, the PCPP for the library, and a general description of Kossouka, what to expect, what is and isn't available, transport options, etc.

I went to the CSPS this afternoon but ended up just keeping Djeneba company and counting out sachets of PlumpyNut for the MAS kids. We had one who came back from the CREN (a rehabilitation center for severely malnourished children with complications that can't be treated at the CSPS level) that we were supposed to enroll in the program but he was clearly very healthy, wasn't even close to being at all malnourished, let alone severely – he had fat rolls on his neck for goodness sake! But we had the referral sheet, Major wasn't around to override it, so we put him in against our better judgment. The upside is that we're at least doing our best to make sure he never gets put back in the program – after another 8 weeks in the severe program eating an extra 1500 calories a day of PlumpyNut and then 3 months in the moderate program receiving enriched porridge mix he should be very well protected against temporary food shortages.

Child labor...I mean, help

August 5th

Well, it's been a lovely weekend indeed. Both mornings it threatened rain and kept me from starting my laundry only to clear up later – typical! So I split it half an half, yesterday I did things that dried quickly and today obliged me by being warmer to help dry my heavier items. This morning I headed to the marche earlier than usual, around 9am because I was hungry but didn't want to have to go out more than once. I decided on a whim to buy my sugar from my usual guys instead of at the boutique like I'd planned, and as I was passing the veggie stands I noticed a beautiful, unusual sight – there was color! More than onions! In fact, I was able to buy some decent looking baby eggplants and some of those weird skinny lime-colored green peppers. I bought my spaghetti and tomato paste, got gallettes from Alimata and bread from Boukare, and headed home for a delightful relaxing day of laundry and house cleaning.

I received a weird text from someone I didn't know this morning, saying that they were in Kossouka. I was worried that this meant I was going to have some random person I didn't want to see knocking on my door. When someone did knock on my door around noon I was a bit reluctant to go open the door. But it was Juliette! She said hi, it was a bit awkward when we had nothing to talk about after the usual greetings, and then she started examining my garden. I pointed out the basil and lettuce and moringa, and then made some remark about all the weeds, that I keep pulling them up and they keep coming back so now I only pull up the ones in the garden. As I said it, I grabbed a few poking up near the basil, and she responded by starting to pull up great handfuls of the big weeds by my wall. Grateful for the help and motivation I started to do the same, expecting us to just do a bit before stopping. Well she was on a roll, despite my insistence that it was fine and she could stop. So we kept going until my yard was, while not weed free, certainly a lot shorter and less green than previously.

I sadly had nothing to offer in the way of a thank-you, my candy stash being all tapped out until I get the rest of it from my locker in Ouaga, but I did offer water to drink and wash her hands. She accepted the drinking water, but then headed out of my gate, saying she was going to get a daba to clean the rather impressive lawn of wild grass growing in front of my gate. I called her back and we managed to extract mine from under the wreckage of my hangar, and she went to town. Every time she cleared a rectangular-looking chunk I told her that was good, but she insisted on keeping it up. I was gathering up and disposing of the grass into my neighbor's trash pile, but then 3 other girls came up and they all started taking turns. Feeling very bien integre on the one hand, having petites doing work for me without being asked (!) and horribly exploitative, having small children feeling obligated to do manual labor for me on a warm sunny day when they, for whatever reason, weren't in their own fields. When they started making moves to dismantle the mess of my hangar (they're just young girls – that wood is heavy even for me!) I finally convinced them to stop by insisting they wash their hands and take 200cfa to go buy some cookies as a thank-you. I'll never know if they actually went, but I did say they could come back next week if they really wanted to help clean more. Maybe by some miracle my hangar will be back up (yeah right) and they can help me weed under it, they're much more motivated than I am, I usually get bored and stop after a couple square feet.

Neem cream success!

August 2nd

I believe I will remember today as one of the best, happiest days in my service. It was that good.

I've been trying to plan a demonstration of how to make neem cream for the past 2 years. (The leaves of the neem tree are a natural mosquito repellent, and you can make a repellent cream with them using soap and shea butter) Last year no one really showed much interest – I'd tell people about it and get a polite but obvious brush off. This year people seemed more interested, but there's such a big gap between “that sounds interesting”, “yes, let's do it”, and the logistics involved in setting a concrete date and time and getting people to show up with the materials necessary. While Aicha's visit has yet to produce any action on the library (somehow the mayor is always coming back to town “tomorrow”), it did push Francois to help me set up a day to make neem cream with a group of women (it only took 3 date changes, not bad considering).

The group of women we selected were representatives from all of the surrounding villages, who had come to a formation on making improved stoves that hold in heat and thus burn less wood. They were coming back to Kossouka to get their certificates, so Francois invited Kerry and me to talk to them about making neem cream. I mostly spoke through a translator, but they seemed unusually engaged and enthusiastic about the idea, and I figured I might get a handful to actually show up for the date we'd chosen, the next marche day. I told them they could come just to observe, but if they brought soap and shea butter we could make it together and they could take it home.

I got a call this morning from Francois, saying that he was on his way to OHG to see the dentist but that he asked Harouna to come help me (I'm not sure of Harouna's official position but I see him around the mayor's office fairly frequently). When I arrived at the Mairie at 9am (the time we told the women to arrive, assuming they'd actually arrive at 10) there was already a big crowd waiting! I greeted everyone and sat down to wait a little to see if more would show up and to wait for Harouna to come and help me translate. The two women in the group who spoke good French had to leave so I was really hoping he'd show up. But it being the market day I didn't want to keep people for too long, so as it got near 10am I decided to try and start and hope someone came along soon. Through a wonderful mixture of terrible, simple Moore and some pantomiming and a lot of laughing we got a few women to start grating their soap with my cheese grater, figured out who had brought supplies, explained why oil wouldn't work in the place of shea butter, and sent someone to get water. I asked the Prefet next door for some wood and matches (I figure I should make him some neem cream to thank him once I get my hands on some shea), and then decided that we might as well keep going since things seemed to be going ok.

I was surprised at how many women had brought soap and shea (and even leaves from their own neem trees!) and it was immediately evident that my little tin pot (the biggest one I own besides my dutch oven) was woefully inadequate, we could only make about 2 L at a time. So we stuffed that 2L of water with as many neem leaves as we could, then sat to wait for it to boil, fiddling with the clay enclosure a bit until we had it positioned so the wind could blow into it properly and keep the fire going. We used a big slotted spoon to remove all the leaves, then added the shredded soap. When Kerry and I were experimenting we used the local village hard soap, which grated into a rough yellow powder. But the packaged soap some women had brought grated into beautiful fluffy curls that looked exactly like white cheddar cheese – it was positively cruel! We mixed it in, turning the green leaf-water into a rather unappealing brown color, until it was all melted and mixed. Then it was time for the shea butter. I never knew shea could come in so many colors and consistencies! For some women it was entirely liquid, others a creamy or gritty-looking solid, others half and half, ranging from white to yellow to brown or grey.

I had gathered everyone around to look at the color of the water when we took out the leaves (that's how you know they've been in there long enough, when the water turns green and smells spicy), and they all came to watch as we stirred in the shea. When I declared it done, ready to come off the fire and settle and solidify until tomorrow night, something really unexpected happened. We were all so happy and proud of ourselves, smiling and laughing, but then one woman who had been helping me explain as we went along (I spoke bad Moore and mimed with my hands, she turned it into understandable Moore) started clapping and singing! The other women clapped in rhythm while she sang a thank you song to me, for coming there today to be their teacher and help their families be healthy. (at least I'm pretty sure that's what she was saying) I stood there, probably blushing, definitely cheek-hurting smiling, and tried to accept their thank you's while also thanking them for being there. I didn't have any way to tell them how grateful I was to them all, for coming all the way from villages up to 15km away, for listening to me, for understanding my bad Moore, for being willing to put their own money into trying something that they didn't even know would work, for celebrating working and learning together, for joking with me and teaching me new words and being patient. It was the most amazing feeling in the world, so happy and grateful and humbled and touched. Women here have the most amazing spirit. A good deal of the time they're quiet and shy and deferential to pretty much everyone. On occasion they're fierce and loud and almost cruel-humored. But today they were among women, brash and generous and funny and compassionate and understanding. Amazing.

There was a scramble to split 3L of neem cream 40 ways so everyone could take some home to try, resulting in several people (including the women whose soap and shea we'd used) not getting any. So we decided to go ahead and make more! A woman took a bucket to get more water, the cheese grater got passed around, and off we went. A good deal of the women left after the first batch (and after I made them repeat the formula several times – 1L water, 1 ball of soap, 8 small balls of shea, many many leaves) but the 15 or so that stayed ended up making 4 more batches. We got to see the effect of different soaps - village soap makes the mixture much thicker – and everyone ended up taking home as much as she could carry, even my second pot (the one we'd been grating soap into) was loaned to Mariam the 2nd deputy mayor so we could split up the product of our work. We stayed until about 1pm, then washed up and everyone started going their separate ways. I was tired and dehydrated, but so filled with a sense of pride and joy. Not only did the whole thing go really well, but I did it myself! I got to interact with the women without a translator, and even joked and laughed with them. They probably would have gotten more information if I'd had someone there to help (I did call Sali to ask if someone could come over after work but they must have finished late because no one came), but they all seemed to understand at least the basics I could explain, and were really enthusiastic about it, some even started making plans to get together and sell it! Ah, it's like a Peace Corps dream day, the kind that makes it into pamphlets but only happens rarely in your service.

Sunyata was sad that I didn't take any photos. I thought about it while I was there, and I'm sad I didn't, but I honestly don't think I'll forget it and I didn't want to risk changing the dynamic if I pulled my camera out. The 4 women sitting in a semi-circle, taking turns grating soap onto a rice sack. The piles of different colored soaps, all being tossed into the pot together. A women scooping shea out of her little plastic pail and forming it into sticky balls on the lid. The growing pile of limp, boiled leaves. The big soapy bubbles that formed behind the spoon as we stirred the pot. The tight circle around me, clapping and grinning. The women walking away towards the marche, pots of various sizes balanced carefully on their heads. Using dirt and leaves and dried neem cream to wash my pot out. The old woman examining my hands and tsk-ing at my crazy suggestion that I could come help her weed her fields (I told her I have my own daba, but the truth is that it's trapped under my collapsed hangar). Them telling me alternately that I did or didn't speak Moore, and that I need to teach my husband in nasara-tenga to speak it so he can come live here too. One woman asking me as we were leaving if I would be her friend.

And then I biked home and proceeded to drink about 6 L of water and tea in the past 7 hours. Much better! Right now it's Ramadan, where most of my village goes all day without eating and drinking for 30 days (while working in their fields all day). The no-eating I could do, it would make me grumpy but it seems feasible besides the fact that I don't want to get up to eat at 4am before the sun rises. But not drinking for just a few hours gives me such a massive headache, going all day would truly be a challenge.

Grad school research

July 30th

Today I worked at the CSPS for the first time in a while. Major had told me that Sali was at a formation and Belem was all alone, so I decided to do the nice thing (since I really truly had nothing else to do besides read) and went to help her. It went pretty well, actually, we worked out a good system and got through all 27 women plus a few random extras by noon. I ended up not going back out in the afternoon, but I did do some GRE practice and weeded my garden.

In awesome news, I've been doing some more research on my school choices. I had printed out the sample curriculum lists from UCSF, BC, and MGH, but didn't really see much of a difference between them until I wrote them out side by side and tried to find equivalencies. Suddenly I could see huge differences! BC, which up until now looked pretty promising, is probably out of the race at this point. The program is only 19 classes (although it does require more pre-req classes) and jumps right into clinical, but overall seems very thin, more of an overview or a certificate that I would want to get if I was already a nurse rather than a program to train a bachelor’s-holding student into an advanced practice nurse. The big plus of BC the fact that it's only 2 years instead of 3, the tuition is about the same as other places but I'd only be paying rent and such for a shorter time.

UCSF was far and away the most extensive program, with 42 classes plus clinical rotations every quarter for the last 2 years. It breaks down a lot of the material into separate classes, in theory allowing us to go into more detail. The focus is heavy on ante-, intra-, and postpartum rather than general adult and women's health, but I think it would allow me to get a feel for both and would certainly open up the door to both roads if I should decide that I truly am in love with a job as a midwife. I feel like this program would satisfy my curiosity and desire to learn in a way that no other program would, it includes rotations through most of the major specialties, so I'd get a taste of surgery, pediatrics, ICU, geriatrics, etc. UCSF also runs several clinics and outreach programs around the Bay area that just look fantastic. There are a handful of unique classes, like one focusing on rural health care. Plus I would get to be in San Francisco! The downside is the lack of any overt alternative/complimentary medical component (besides the midwifery commitment to seeing birth as an innately healthy and natural process to be supported instead of a problem to be managed medically), but I'm sure I could dig something up in the area. Interestingly there isn't an ethics class listed as a requirement, but the syllabus on the website could be old, like their course pricing. Even with my estimates of the raised pricing the program is still the same cost as the others, making this one hands down the best value for the money, if at the same time the busiest, most time consuming program.

MGH was right in the middle. It's a decent sized program – 29 courses with clinical rotations, 3 years long but only Fall/Spring instead of UCSF's all year long. It has many of the same courses as UCSF but skips the pregnancy and birthing ones that make up so much of the curriculum, instead focusing on Adult and Women's health courses, with several classes on ethics and issues in nursing. While it would pigeon-hole me into only having the option of being a WHNP, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing to directly pursue what I currently think is what I want. MGH is the only program that confers both a BSN and MSN, plus it has a Mind/Body/Spirit certificate that I could add on to the end, Boston is apparently known for their acceptance of complimentary medicine. It remains to be seen if I could tack it on to the end of a degree at UCSF. The downside is that it's in Boston, which most everyone I've talked to seems to think is a terrible place to live. I'm sure I'd be just fine for 3 years, but I do really love the idea of living in San Fran. And while the program seems newer and more flexible to student demands and interests, it doesn't have the reputation, recognition, or alum connections that UCSF does, I believe the institution is only 30 years old compared to well over 100. While name certainly isn't everything, there are, unfortunately, plenty of situations where coming from the 'right' school can help a lot.

Since I feel silly applying to just 2 schools, I pulled out my old list and started going back through it to identify a few more contenders. Salem State and Columbia University seem to be at least mildly promising, and I tossed in Ohio State College since I could remember why I'd eliminated it so early on, and it might be nice to not have to not have to move as far. Several schools got the definitive ax, whether it was due to location, program length (anything under 2 years or over 3.5), or weird pre-reqs (come on, I'm not going to take 9 classes before I apply, you should teach me pharmacology and abnormal psychology).

Overall I'm super excited about the future. It's a shame that the applications are so far apart, I'll have to reply to UCSF before I hear from MGH, but I think I'd be ok with that. Visiting might change my mind (I should have asked if there was some kind of tour at UCSF) but for now I think going for the bigger program seems like the best bet. It might over qualify me for some jobs, but I tend to think that it's better to be overqualified than having to go back to school again at a later date.

So many weeds!

July 23rd

Ah, it is so nice to be home again! My garden and yard are full of weeds. The only things that have survived are my basil (doing very well indeed), the lettuce (I'm thinking Kerry and I will have salad and I'll plant new ones), and the moringa. The spinach has been swallowed up by the weeds, the swiss chard is looking pretty sad indeed. The moringa is taller than I am! In just a week it grew about 8 inches! Other changes include new additions to the power lines, extra bells and whistles on the pole nearest to my house for who knows what purpose.


July 17th

Finally found a free minute! Why did no one tell me how busy camp is? I caught the new transport (a modified minivan in surprisingly good condition) from my village at 6am to OHG, and we even picked up Alicia in Nongfaire! Sadly she got stuffed in the back while I was trapped in the front, so we had to exclaim over seeing a cow transported in a taxi moto once we got out. (Imagine a motorcycle with a small pickup truck flatbed welded to the back with two tires for stability, like a tricycle motorcycle. Now put a full grown cow in it) Yesterday I spent the morning helping Chris set things up, and then last night and all morning we've been corralling kids in and out of sessions. It's tiring, but it's going! Pretty well, all things considered – they seem to be having fun, we haven't lost anyone...seems like a good start to me!

Rude awakening

July 14th

*bam!bam!bam* “Jess-si-ka! Jess-si-ka!” *bam!bam!bam!* I had no idea what time it was but it was clearly very early, the sky was light but the sun hadn't come up yet, and someone was pounding on my gate and yelling my name very insistently. My mind jumped immediately to the worst – is someone dead? A house on fire? Civil unrest so bad we needed to leave immediately? The people threatening my pharmacist have come to make some kind of example of the rest of us? I ungracefully fumbled my way out of my bughut, grabbing a pagne to wrap around myself as I headed for my door, yelling “J'arrive!” to the person who was continuing to yell and bang. I opened the gate to find Belem's son. I don't actually remember the exact words that were said, I was very hyped on a surge of adrenaline. I remember him telling me that he was Belem's son and thinking I know that, I see you every day! He said he was there to ask for moringa seeds. It took my mind a moment to get a grip on that. Not an emergency. No one died. He wants seeds. At a time of day when any sane American who went to bed past midnight should clearly still be asleep. I do remember my reaction, not quite yelling but very loudly asking “Now? What time of morning is it?” and him replying that Belem wanted them, she was going on a trip. I couldn't come up with a good reply to that in French, I just wanted to go back to sleep, so I stumbled into my house, threw a handful of seeds and a booklet in French into a black sachet lying on my counter, and handed it to him with a “Bon voyage” before getting back in my bed and calming my heart rate enough to go to sleep. I think I sent an irate text to Sunyata, as no one else in my phone would be awake at what I later discovered was 5:30am.

Honestly, 5:30 isn't an entirely unreasonable time to expect someone to be awake, but I'm pretty sure it's not very nice to be disturbing people that early regardless of if they're awake or not. I feel bad for being harsh with him, I've thought of several better ways of dealing with the situation, but I maintain that she still should have sent him over last night instead of scaring the bejezus out of me this morning. I'll go apologize when I get water tomorrow.


July 13th

As I was walking home from the tap I was struck by the ugliness of the new power lines. My view of the sunset used to include my hangar, the roof of my neighbor's house, and a tree with a full, bushy top. Now it includes 4 lines running west through the destroyed top of the tree and one line running north that mysteriously stops between my hangar and the neighbor's house, and frankly it's just ugly. I know this is “progress”. I know it's good in many ways for my village. I know that I see power lines all the time in the US, that they get in the way of my sunset photos so frequently I try and make the horizontal stripes into a pleasing part of the composition. I know the next PCV won't know what she's missing, and won't care if she has a fan and a light. But I care.

Pharmacy part 2

July 12th

I talked to Boureima tonight, asking about this pharmacy-threatening issue. First he said that the issue was that there's some kind of issue between people from Napalgue and people from Kossouka (we're so close together that Napalgue is now considered a neighborhood of Kossouka), and the pharmacist is from Napalgue so people from Kossouka are threatening him. But then he was talking with Rosalie and Binta (they were speaking in Moore but Boureima kept replying in French so I could follow the conversation) and said that people were accusing the pharmacist of stealing (drugs or money I didn't catch). The three of them clearly thought the idea was preposterous, and Boureima, the CoGes treasurer in charge of the profit from the drugs sold, pointed out that if stealing was going on there was no way the treasury would be as rich as it is now, apparently we've got something around 7 million cfa in the bank (where is all this money when I need projects done? What else are they saving it for?!). And if drugs were being taken it would be obvious when they do inventory audits.

The three of them are members of the CoGes, the group of elected villagers in charge of the functioning of the CSPS. They said they catch flack from villagers for their work, since people see them work with functionaires but don't see any extra money flowing back to the community, which they expect to happen if they know someone who works with someone perceived to have money. I still don't get what changed, why the pharmacist is now being threatened for work he's been doing for 11 years. I suspect there might be something to the stealing charge, no reason this many people would get upset if it were truly nothing, but Boureima was explaining how Salim's been making a profit on the side raising and selling animals, the proceeds from which people might assume came from the CSPS and are jealous that they're not getting a cut. It was discussed having 2 pharmacists, which would be nice, given that the pharmacist needs to be on duty nearly 24/7/365. We'll see how things work out. Oh, and since I've been having so much trouble getting a hold of Francois, I told Boureima about neem cream and he was super excited. I said I'll call when I get back from OHG and we'll do it immediately, several times if we can arrange it. Awesome!

No pharmacist?

July 11th

There seems to be a new situation in my village, which might make the last few months of my service a little tricky, and could make it very difficult indeed for the next PCV. Salim, the pharmacist at the CSPS for the past 11 years, is apparently experiencing harassment and threats because of his job. I couldn't quite get anyone to explain the nature of the threats or exactly why anyone feels the need to threaten him, but they apparently started about a week ago and have been sufficient to get him to stop coming to work and ask to be released from the position. Many people have tried to convince him to stay, including the MCD, chief, and CSPS staff, but it seems to be a no-go. To get a new pharmacist would require putting out a notice in the village, creating a committee to chose an applicant, and then sending that person to be trained – a process that would take about 6 months. In the meantime we would have to send people to the market pharmacy or to Seguenega to get any drugs or materials required, including things we normally give out for free or don't charge for, such as folic acid for pregnant women and gloves for exams. The state normally underwrites a large part of the cost of giving birth in the CSPS, bringing the price from 3,000 ($6) to 900 ($1.80), and that 900 is currently covered by an NGO in our district. But now that we aren't using state supplies, women will have to pay for everything at the pharmacy or will have to go to another CSPS.

Kerry's village also doesn't have a functioning pharmacy and the attendance dropped dramatically, hardly anyone goes there if they can help it. I'm afraid the same thing will happen here, which I suspect will lead to staff apathy, boredom, and a decline in standards of care and work ethic. It also means that I'll have less of a reason to go there. The staff was preparing themselves for some kind of anger or retaliation from patients and upset relatives who will arrive during an emergency only to be told that no drugs, bandages, or supplies are available immediately. It seems a bit unlikely and I don't think I'll get caught up in it personally, but I'm still concerned for my friends.

In random other news, it rained again this afternoon. My bike tipped over into the mud but I'm trapped by the lake standing between me and my hangar, so it's just going to have to stay tipped over.

Bus confusion

July 8th

Back in village, finally! Camp planning went well. I felt a little less than useful, having come in a bit late, so I ended up sitting around while other people worked on lesson plans or handouts, but I did feel like I contributed some good ideas, helped as a sounding board, and even provided some handouts of my own (the ones recently taken from Halley to use for the September science camp). It's fun getting to know a new group of volunteers, and I'm looking forward to working with them, as well as hanging out with old friends.

I got home tonight after a bit of bus confusion. Major never called back to tell me if WPK was running but it worked out for the best, I caught the STAF at 1:20 as it was pulling out of the station (40 minutes early, I might add) and made it home just before it started to rain, which it has continued to do for the past 5 hours. My moringa, that pathetic looking stick a few weeks ago, has now impressively turned into a tree again! I might just pull up my newly sprouted one and put it elsewhere. The lettuce and basil is looking good, the swiss chard is sort of ok and the spinach is looking pretty small still, not sure why. No carrots, onions, tomatoes, or lavender, but I'm hoping the rain tonight does them all some good and encourages them to sprout. It's good to be home, I'm actually really sad that I'll be leaving again in just 8 days.


July 1st

My parents are going home on Tuesday from their very long stay in Scotland, and I'm going to Ouaga! And, after threatening for days, it's finally raining, a nice solid hard rain that will make everyone very happy after 3 days without any. Plus the ground will be soft and I can try to re-start my carrots, onions, cilantro, lavender, and tomatoes :)

Mystery bug?

June 29th

Why do I feel so reluctant to write recently? During the day I have thoughts I want to record, but at night when I put down my book to pick up my computer I can only think of how today was just another day, why bother? But I tell myself it's like yoga – once you start you're glad you did.

I got to the maternity around 9, and to my dismay the annoying Seguenega supervisor was there, as he always is on polio days. At least there was no marriage proposal this time. We worked until pretty late, nearly 1pm or so, because we just had an overabundance of women for some reason including 13 for their first CPN, normally it's less than 5 any given day, and new women take so long with all the questions we have to ask them and the longer physical exam. Mariam came to help me write and brought us each a bite of peanut butter sandwich, which allowed Sali to take over questioning the new women, which sped up the process quite a bit.

I headed home to read and eat lunch, then got water for laundry tomorrow. I was getting ready to walk back to my house when I had a sudden prickling sensation on the back of one thigh, almost like a thorn had gotten stuck in my pants even though I hadn't brushed against anything or sat down. I tried to find it, but it seemed to keep moving across my leg in a way that didn't seem to change no matter what I did to my pant leg. I went home and took them off, expecting to see a thorn or even a bug, but nothing. Washing the area didn't stop it, almost made it burn worse, and it looked like I was breaking out in hives. I tried anti-itch cream but it just kept burning and stinging no matter what I did. Satisfied that it didn't seem to be spreading, and convinced that my pants were probably safe, I put them back on and got my last bidon of water. It's been a few hours and the hives have gone away, and it only prickles a little. I wonder what it was?

Visit From Aicha

June 28th

Dear Journal (and friends reading this once I put it on my blog) – you better be feeling quite appreciative, because I am only writing this out of a deep sense of obligation to record what was actually a surprisingly productive day. I would much rather be finishing my book or watching Glee, just so you know.

*deep breath*

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night because the howling wind was threatening to tear my roof off. I closed the windows and the door, and somehow, even with a piece of corrugated tin roof slapping against the side of the coffee shack next to my house, fell back asleep. Deep asleep enough that I didn't hear the rain when it started, but saw the evidence when I woke up and my yard was so flooded that I couldn't even get to my latrine without wading through several inches of water and mud.

I prodded myself into doing yoga in my living room, and I'm really glad I did! It felt good, an encouraging start to the day. My moringa sprouted! And the old one that I took for dead is even trying to make a comeback, I'm crossing my fingers. Insects or animals ate it while I was gone, it was just a 3 foot tall stick, but now a little branch is sprouting off one side.

At 9, as agreed, I biked over to the Mairie to see Francois and find any paperwork we needed to show Aicha, coming from Ouaga to visit and help with the library situation. He wasn't there. After waiting a bit I called and he said he was at a funeral, he'd call when he was on his way. So I went home. 30 minutes later, near 10am, he called and said he was on his way. I waited 5 minutes and biked over. Still no Francois. So I sat and read until he showed up just before 11am, right on village time. We walked over to the library and started talking about what the payment system for the library was (finally!), what we could offer to pay a new librarian, and when we can have a meeting to discuss finding one. Man, I should have just lied months ago and said someone from the Bureau was coming! Although when Aicha showed up we did have a more in depth discussion, just the fact of her arrival started conversations that I've been trying to have for ages.

The way she went about it was very different from an American, and I'm curious to see what happens. I would have barged in, asked to see the financial reports, demanded action immediately, and probably made them feel guilty for not taking good care of the library or the librarian. Aicha listened, asked a few questions, and started praising all the things they were doing right, all the plans they had made to work on the problems they'd identified. I was sitting there thinking that everything Francois was saying was probably made up on the spot to appease her, but she took it at face value and appreciated the steps they had taken rather than berating them for the ones they hadn't yet done. I'm not sure if it will help, if her praise and trust will be more encouraging of tangible action than my berating and disappointment would have been, but we shall see. There were a lot of specifics I had been hoping to hammer out, like a drawn up contract detailing where the money goes, who gets it, and how much gets set aside for new books and such, but maybe later. I've realized that I need to take a much more active role in this, which is frustrating but at least gives me something to do.

Aicha also had tons of good suggestions for new projects, like sensibilizations to teach students how to take care of library books since they get handled a lot and start falling apart if people aren't careful. I mentioned talking to the secretary at the Mayor's office about making neem cream and Francois was all over that, telling me that we'll pick a day when I get back from Ouaga and he'll have 3-5 women from each village waiting for me to teach, that he'll tell them what to bring and how much, and maybe the Mairie can chip in a little from it's budget for some of the supplies. Um...sweet!! How did I never realize that this is how to get this kind of thing done? Here I've been trying to do it through the CSPS when really I should have done it this way. I should probably talk to the Chief as well, he'll be angry if I don't, and of course I'll tell and involve my CSPS staff, maybe we should aim for a Saturday so it's nobody's day of prayer and functionaires have the day off. We talked about making liquid soap and handwashing stations at the Maison des Jeunes as well. Overall, very productive indeed! I'm happy but not overly optimistic, everything seems to always fall apart at the last minute, but at least I've got something to aim for.

We ran into Major and the people from TDH (a child malnutrition NGO), but couldn't go greet the CSPS staff since Aicha had to get back to the bureau by 18h and it was already nearly 15h. I went home and called Al back, then headed to the CSPS to charge my phone and help with the polio campaign paperwork. I requested to not be part of a team, so from 2-8pm I drew maps, made charts and grids, re-copied paperwork, and fended off the flying termites that flocked to the lamp over my head. It was tedious but I do feel a little less guilty about not getting up early to help tomorrow morning, having stayed so late tonight.