January 16, 2011
Blog entry written by Paulette Grey, Resident Physician, Family Medicine UIC
Night #3 in Senegal—and the first night in Kedougou—brought with it a mix of soft birdcalls, tree whisperings, and the random baying of goats nearby. With both my jacket and blanket donned, the night wind rendered a perfect cool breeze. I fell asleep wondering what tomorrow might bring. And as fast as ever, tomorrow is now today! The day began with a bucket bath and a Clean-and-Clear face wash. After a yogurt bar for breakfast, I ventured out with Melody on a bike ride through the town. Everything in my eye’s sight—from the yellows and purples and blues and greens of the women’s outfits to the roadside cattle to the Orange calling card signs—I took it all in.
Despite the ubiquity of the red-orange earth and the leanness of the people, Kedougou differs from Dakar in a number of readily visible ways. There’s the ease of the atmosphere, the lack of high-rise buildings, the slightly more hilly terrain, and the more readily friendly greetings of the people I encounter. From typical American standards, many people here have little, yet they seem so happy. I am reminded of the Easterlin paradox; I believe there is truth there. The girls walk with perfect posture and confident strides. The boys look strong and self-assured. Many of the villagers respond to our greetings of Ca va! as we pass. I want to whip out my camera and capture it all so that I can paint a picture for anyone who has never been here, so that I can give my little nieces a glimpse of Senegalese girls their age. I restrain myself for fear that I might become the irreverent tourist.
At the end of our bike ride, we stopped at a store for bottled water. I stammered out attempts to ask the shopkeeper where I can find good music. I couldn’t understand every word in his response, but I could tell that he was teasing me. He said something akin to: “How can you be in Senegal and not know French?” I teased him back with a mixture of English, broken French, and playful gestures. It feels good to laugh at myself, and to laugh with someone in another language—on an entirely different continent.
As the day progressed, we busied ourselves with a tuna-peas-carrots lunch and English-French translations of gynecologic words. We’re preparing for an academic and cultural exchange with health workers in Senegal. We have curricula in tow for cervical cancer screening, sexually transmitted infections, and diarrhea. I have a feeling that our curricula will greatly change once we start the actual work in Saraya.
Our trip to Saraya today consisted of a 45-minute ambulance ride with 11 persons in tow. No one was injured! It was just our most effective means for transporting such a large team. Our ride was rich with baobab trees, quaint hut-filled villages visible from the roadside, and two bamboos asserting their right of way for crossing the road. We arrived in Saraya to find two stone walled reed-roofed huts, a larger stone building, and small covered area outside with a picnic table. Each hut has its own room for squat latrine and bathing. We are sleeping 3 or 4 to a room. We have running water, intermittent Internet access, electricity from 5pm to 1am, and a small grocer less than 800 meters down the road. So far, I’ve glimpsed bottled water, cookies, sardines, tuna, and a freezer full of unknowns at the shop. The children seemed to be particularly hovering over the half ajar freezer, so I’m assuming some ice cream might be in there. Can’t wait to find the answer to that mystery!
As for our first dinner in Saraya, we had a huge tin pan of beef, peas, and potatoes—eaten in communal fashion and cooked by one person for the entire army of us and other residents of the area.
For an only-camped-once-in-my-life-strict-planner-daily-salad-eater-neat-freak, I think I am adjusting quite well to the amenities and the ebb and flow of things. Everyone else also seems to be handling our transitions with smoothness and cheery dispositions. I do miss my daily salads, but it’s only a minor deprivation considering the greatness of our task at hand.
I do feel that we have a formidable task. Most of all, the job I’ve assigned myself is to learn as much as I can, and to attempt to give an equal amount. There are several themes reverberating in my heart: patience, humility, thankfulness, joy. Despite what we do or fail to do here in Senegal, I feel assured that extra helpings of those virtues will return with me.