January 28, 2012 – Day Two Orientation
This entry was written by Amish Desai, 4th year Medical Student, University of Illinois – Chicago
Today was a day of immense growth and learning. It was a day of orientation.
To orient ourselves to the language:
French, Malinke, Pulaar.
Knowing a few essential greetings that would take us far.
Je Mapelle Amish, E vu?
And sayings in local Pulaar – Jaam tu!
(Jaam tu = Peace only)
To orient ourselves to the local food:
A collective sense of eating,
One big bowl, many right hands – a communal feeling.
To orient to the local Senegalese culture:
A collective, non-individualistic place
The notion of an extended family is the case
The importance of a fatalistic view – God’s will
Rather than the American sense of agency – free will
The importance of Islam,
Salaam Malaikum, Malaikum Salaam
Customs that reminded me much of India –
-Being looked at differently, calling out “toubab” – look at those foreigners
-Long, awkward, but fond moments of holding hands as if we are brothers
-A very unique sense of time…
…an hour or two or three or more behind
-Concrete gender roles in which inequality brews
-Lack of access to education and health, is how we all lose
To orient ourselves to the healthcare system of Senegal:
A system from the village health hut to regional health post
to a doctor in a health center to a regional hospital with the most
The public health system appears organized but in ways sparse and fragmented,
That can leave many out based on location and resources that are delayed.
But meeting with outstanding local and regional government leadership,
Who appear dedicated to work in collaboration to overcome the hardship.
Tomorrow will be another day of immense growth and learning.
However, the major challenge for us as a group will continue to not only orient, but to look at the Senegalese people beyond the framework of the Orient. To not categorize or box their culture into African stereotypes, but to understand and welcome in the same way they have welcomed us and many of the Peace Corps volunteers as their own, because our liberation is bound with theirs. I know this will not be fully possible as we come from a different place and different identity as well as the fact that the true voice of Senegal lives within the people of Senegal. But, if we try with the right framework in mind, the trip will continue to amaze us as learners in a world of Global health innovation.
My expectations from this trip will be a continual process of immersion that I am looking forward to soaking in. To better understand healthcare delivery in the context of Senegalese healthcare system and what collaboration and partnership looks like in the setting of cervical cancer. I thank the rest of the team, the Peace Corps volunteers, Andrew, and of course the people of Senegal for the opportunities to learn, contribute, and grow.