Senegalese Sweat & STOMP Bootcamp

Part I – Senegal

Imagine you’ve just woken up, after uncomfortably shifting around your bed for a good thirty minutes. You slowly peel your body from the sheet and sit up, covered in your own sweat. You reach behind you and feel the bed sheet – yep! – it’s soaked through. No more than five minutes later, around 5:30AM, you’re reveling in the stream of an ice cold shower, washing the previous night’s sweat off (after all, you showered just before getting into bed last night). After, you towel off, get dressed in layers that stick to your damp body, and walk from the shower stall to the sink. As you brush your teeth, you start to feel the inevitable beads of sweat form on your forehead…dripping down your temples as you spit toothpaste and rinse your mouth. You look in the mirror, flushed and sweaty again…ready for Stomping Out Malaria in Africa’s 14th Boothcamp!

IMG_9697

Dakar, Senegal

That’s right, y’all! I spent two weeks in hot and humid Senegal, learning everything there is to know about malaria. Despite my incessant complaints about the climate, I had a blast! Vanessa (fellow PCV) and I were lucky enough to spend our time in Thies, Senegal with Volunteers and host country staff from sixteen different countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We talked about how malaria is transmitted, discussed thoroughly the life cycle and stages of malaria within a mosquito and human conduit. Of course we studied prevention methods in depth and weighed the pros and cons of using IRS (Indoor Residual Spraying) and “free” mosquito nets in our developing host countries. One of my favorite parts of the Bootcamp was the nightly Case Studies. After dinner each night, we all got together (in the single air-conditioned room, thankfully) and spent an hour going over a previously assigned journal paper or study. The amount of knowledge and ingenuity at that Bootcamp was incredible! Staff and Volunteers alike astounded me and reinvigorated me to fight the spread of malaria. On day one Matt Mclaughlin, STOMP’s creator, told us that we’re in a “bubble of opportunity” and have, within each of us, the ability to eradicate malaria. How could we not be pumped?!

IMG_9812

Mosquito larvae…we got to watch them grow into mosquitoes over the course of three days. I discovered that those little “worm things” floating around in my compound’s rain-water catchment tank…are, in fact, mosquito larvae! (It was much more a disgusting find and not so much an exciting one.)

We spent our first week at Bootcamp learning about the basics of malaria, since some Volunteers arrived after having been in their host countries only a few months and some of us arrived with a year-and-a-half of malaria knowledge. (Eek!) We learned about our organizational and institutional partners in the fight against malaria and discussed the current state of malaria around the world (including recent antimalarial resistances). The most captivating presentations given the first week were those by our own peers (and staff). We each came prepared with a “Best Practice” PowerPoint (of course, it’s still Peace Corps after all!). I truly enjoyed getting to see what other countries were up to and ways they were fighting the disease in their own host countries. Here are some of my favorites that I hope to bring to Peace Corps Rwanda:

  • Senegal’s weekly radio “talk show” with Volunteers and counterparts talking about issues surrounding malaria
  • Ghana’s pre-done malaria murals that Volunteers can easily take to their sites and tag buildings with (after getting approval from the local gov’t, of course)
  • Madagascar’s professionally printed children’s book that tells the tale of a little girl’s fight against mosquitos
  • Burkina Faso’s “music keys” project, which allows Volunteers to create playlists for long bus rides that include brief malaria PSAs (Thanks to our previous Bootcamp attendees, our STOMP is already hard at work on these!)

And those are just some of the stellar projects underway in Peace Corps Africa!

11145020_10156083297135093_6763872185162918923_nThe first week was pretty much 7:00AM (breakfast) to 8:30PM (Case Studies). It was exhausting, but totally worth it. Then, come Sunday, we were set freeeeee! Not really, but close enough; we got to go to the beach! Let me just say that the Atlantic Ocean is much saltier than the Pacific. After having been in land-locked Rwanda for fifteen months…getting to swim in the ocean current felt tremendous.

11947501_10156083296545093_1596064310349251992_nAfter we got back from the beach we all showered (showering three to four times was pretty much the norm) and got ready for our cultural gift exchange. Each country was responsible for bringing with them a gift from home. I brought Rwandan coffee, which I really didn’t expect to be popular. Turns out, most PCVs (aside from those in Rwanda and Ethiopia) do not have immediate access to coffee! In return, I was gifted the most fabulous igitenge (local fabric) apron and some jewelry.

During the second week, we delved a whole lot deeper into development and issues plaguing the eradication of malaria. We had the wonderful opportunity to visit a local Malaria Superstar, Ejladhi Piop. Ejladhi once held a lucrative position with UNICEF, which he promptly quit after the tragic death of his 12-year-old daughter. Within just 48 hours of developing a fever, his daughter had passed away from malaria-related complications. After his daughter’s death, Ejladhi moved back to his hometown and has since dedicated his life to reducing malaria rates in his community. And, boy, has he been successful! Since starting his work, rates of malaria in Ejladhi’s community have gone from 37% to just 0.3%! Seriously, how incredible is that?!

IMG_9870

Ejladhi, holding a photo of one of his sons and daughter. Behind him is a photo story of all of the work he’s done in his catchment. Before him sits his newest creation…a wheelbarrow outfitted with an airhorn to blast malaria PSAs throughout the market and community.

Also in the second week, we learned about an app called CommCare which, without going into much detail, is an app that functions as a shell with which to create other apps. I’ve already begun creating a very simple app for Volunteers and Community Health Workers (CHWs) to use as they go house-to-house collecting baseline data pertaining to malaria. Of course, I will run into technology restrictions as I move forward, but I’m lucky to live in a semi-rural area where many of my co-workers have smart phones. (When you’re not obsessed with getting the newest and shiniest iPhone or whathaveyou, smart phones can actually be pretty affordable…even in Rwanda.)

Of course, it wasn’t all work…Peace Corps Volunteers are all about their play time. We had a lot of clothes made at this fabulous local tailor, spent nights out at “Church”, and played a lot of new ice-breaker type games (watch out, Peace Corps Rwanda, I’m comin’ for you!). I’m not sure if every Bootcamp feels this way after, but I certainly feel great amounts of gratitude for having been given the opportunity to meet all of the Bootcamp XIV weirdos. The amount of dedication, creativity, and beauty in the room those two weeks…it was invigorating!

Weirdos on a field trip to a Health Hut

After the Bootcamp had finished, a few of us extended our stay in Senegal. Unfortunately, Vanessa got really ill during our second week and had been whisked away to a medical center in Dakar. We had to cancel our AirBnB, but everything worked out! Teneasha, the wonderful third-year PCV working with STOMP, offered up her house as lodging for me during our extra three days. In that time, I got to meet other Senegal Volunteers and hang out with the Bootcampers from Ghana (Olesya and Angie) and Malawi (Megan).

IMG_9981

The African Renaissance Monument in Dakar, Senegal. Built by North Koreans, this monument has a sordid past. Though sanctioned by the president, the statue wasn’t well received as it cost nearly US $27 million. (Remember this is in a developing country, no less.) Add to that that the statue’s man and woman are partially nude and do not resemble Senegalese, it is widely assumed to be less a Senegalese landmark and more a North Korean power play.

Thankfully, Vanessa felt well enough by our vacation days that we all went on a day trip to Goree Island. During the 19th century, Goree was a main slave-trading center on the African coast and the history runs deep on the island. Within every building you can feel the tragic past, but nowhere is it more present than in the “house of slaves”, as the locals have deemed it. Visiting the house was a somber affair, but certainly a necessary one in remembering the lives of the millions of enslaved Africans that were lost. It was a reminder to remain vigilant in our quest for equality and development.

Despite its tragic past, the beaches of Goree are now filled with laughing children (there are about 1,100 islanders currently living on Goree) and the snaps of tourist cameras.

11214081_10156106926380093_274037011512373402_n

Our ferry, aptly named “Beer”, in the distance

IMG_0188

The beaches of Goree Island

IMG_0071

The art of sand manipulation…too broke to buy, but absolutely stunning! This gentleman has been at it for fifteen years.

IMG_0186

Angie (Ghana), me, Olesya (Ghana), Vanessa, and Megan (Malawi)

IMG_0075

Goree Island, Senegal

By the time we boarded our flight home, I’d say that Vanessa and I were very excited to get back to our own homes and our own beds. It was certainly the most informative part of my service thus far…and will remain one of the most memorable.

STOMP Bootcamp XIV

Sleep is for the Weak

The past fourteen, or so, days are all swimming together in my head; it’d take hours to write it all down. Instead, I’ll pull the highlights out and get ’em down.

On Saturday, November 1st, some of my host family came to visit me in Kibilizi! I didn’t realize how big of a deal that was until another volunteer explained that, in his two years in Rwanda, he didn’t know of anyone else who had a visit from their family. I feel truly grateful for these people. They get on my nerves sometimes (overbearing) and I’m sure I get on their nerves (lack of communication), but that’s how any family goes, right? After their visit, I made the hasty decision to travel back to the city with them. I packed quickly (for my two week “vacation”) and we hopped on motos to get to the bus station in Rango. I slept on mama’s shoulder for the three-hour bus ride and we said our goodbyes at the Kigali bus station. (They were headed back to Rwamagana and I was staying in Kigali for my week-long training.) Mama took my jeans back to Rwamagana to have a hole sewed up…we’ll see how that goes!

On Saturday and Sunday, I stayed at the Case (the Peace Corps Rwanda transit house, in Kigali). A few other people were in town and we went out to dinner at, what is now, my favorite eatery in Kigali, The Accord Hotel! One of the best parts of Peace Corps is the feeling of extended family. It doesn’t matter your closeness, if you’re in town…you go out together. I had a pesto alfredo pasta, with actual garlic bread. Finding a cheese/cheese sauce, other than the basic formage, is harder than finding Waldo in these parts. It was perfect.

On Monday I checked into the hotel where we all stayed for In-Service Training (IST). The pros included: hot shower, free stay, excellent food. The cons included: located on the very outskirts of the city, bed as hard as concrete. The free stay and food won out; we all had a great time. And, it was nice being together again for the first time in a few months. I really can’t get over how much we feel like a family when we’re all together. We fit into our dysfunctional little roles and it’s wonderful!

Making soy milk!

Making soy milk!

The training itself was really rewarding. I enjoyed each of the presentations, but I most enjoyed seeing all the work my cohort put into their CNA (Community Needs Assessment) reports. It was pretty amazing getting to see how each of us plans to put our little spin on development. Each of our personalities was present in our ideas. One of my fellow H6ers plans to make health-related videos to put on display at her Health Center (on a small television on the waiting-area). Two other H6ers are hoping to build some houses for refugees returning from the Congo. These people push me to strive harder and harder every day. I’ve never been surrounded by such creative, intelligent, and unique individuals. I think we all came away from the training feeling rejuvenated and ready to start writing grants and project proposals. I’ve already gotten started on writing a group grant for WASH (hygiene and sanitation) lessons. One of my most rural villages needs a new well, badly, and I’d love to help build that for them!

It wasn’t all work! Because we’re all over-achieving little weirdos, we had nightly activities planned, including bowling, trivia, expos, casino-night, and clubbing. I skipped out on casino night because I don’t fancy losing what little money I accrue here! But bowling, trivia, and clubbing were all fantastic! (The club we went to is a genuine dance club…much fun was had!) I also skipped out on the Middle East Expo because I attended the COS (Close of Service) dinner for the Education 4 group. Their time in Rwanda is up! It was an emotional affair, to say the least. I’m friends with just a few of them, but it got me thinking about the COS dinner that my group will have in just two years. (Yeah!) JUST two years…I’ve already been here six months…time is absolutely flying by! You bet your tissues that I’ll be crying like a small child come August 2016.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

Bowling night!

IMG_5142

More bowling with Aaroni!

Zach and David (a picture too cute not to post!).

Finally saw some monkeys!

On Saturday, after saying goodbye to some Ed 4 people (that I’m already missing!), I got on a bus to Muhanga where BE Camp (Boys Excelling) was being held.

Camp was crazy.

I poured all the energy I had left (which wasn’t much after IST) into teaching the fifty-something boys about health. It was intensely rewarding! I taught the lessons on Servant Leadership, Healthy Relationships, and How HIV Works. My favorite had to the Healthy Relationships session because I got to spend a good fifteen minutes discussing the differences between American and Rwandan dating culture (to a bunch of teenage boys, no less). My favorite conversation went as follows:

Student: “Teacher, do you have boyfriend in Rwanda?”
Me: “I do not.”
Student: “How old are you?”
Me: “Twenty-three.”
Student: “Do you have teenage sister?”

HA! Of course, the boys were much shyer at the beginning of the week. It was fun getting to see each of them open up, learn about health, and develop their own personalities. All the volunteers who came before told us, “It’ll be the best time of your service.” They were right. Being a Health Volunteer can be difficult because you don’t see direct change in the patients you see daily. Getting to teach this group of teenagers was incredibly rewarding! (Not to mention, my family group won nearly every event…yay for their competitive spirit!)

Explaining Capture the Flag is harder than you’d think.

I especially enjoyed getting to meet a couple of boys who are interested in coding and web design. I gave them my E-mail and I plan to work pretty closely with them to help them develop their talents further. (Some even offered to help with resume/web design classes at my Cafe/Resource Center.)

The low point of the week came when we had two campers get malaria. Malaria takes about ten days to incubate, so the boys actually got malaria while still at home. The problem is…the school we held camp at doesn’t have nets. It’s quite possible that, before we caught the fever and took the boys to the Health Center, they unknowingly infected others. About eight days from now, it’s likely that one or two of the other boys will develop malaria back in their home villages. It just goes to show how important malaria prevention is. Nets are vital.

I came back to Kibilizi on Saturday. It was such a relief getting to sleep in my own bed, in my own home. The best part was going back to work today. It was tough rolling out of bed (especially since I have the flu again), but seeing my co-workers made it all worth it! I received/gave a ton of hugs and heard, “We missed you,” more times than I can count. I missed them too! This is what integration feels like, man. I’m home.

IMG_5316

Our perfect Junior Facilitators

The boy with too much swag.

Favorite camper, Jean de Dieu!

IMG_5329

My family group, The United Winners!

Zach smells.

IMG_5322

Opportunities Knocking (In My Ceiling?)

Let me preface this post with a little soundtrack music. alt-J recently released their newest album, This is All Yours, and I am in looove.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.14.13 AMAnd, just in case you’re in need of some more music, here’s a list of what I’ve been listening to lately:

  • Latch – Disclosure feat. Sam Smith
  • You & Me (Flume Remix) – Disclosure
  • i – Kendrick Lamar
  • The Morning – The Weeknd
  • Echosmith’s album, Talking Dreams
  • Sam Hunt’s EP, X2C

Back to point of this…how’s my fifth week at site going? Most excellent! I’m a sucker for routines and I’ve finally got one down pat…working on letting a little spontaneity into my life (but that kind of defeats the purpose of spontaneity, yeah?) Bi baho.

I’ve spent the last week trying to be more social; integration, ya’ll. I won’t pretend that these integration efforts don’t serve a more selfish purpose: I’m trying to network as much as possible. I’ve got 23 months left, if I don’t extend, and while that seems like a world away right now…it’ll get here quicker than I realize. I’ve tried to spend at least an hour a day on my porch…just reading or doing laundry or cooking, what have you. Even that little change in my to-do has opened me up to all new people and opportunities. (When I head back to the States, I should work on being less of a hermit.) This week, I did laundry with my neighbor (who didn’t try to teach me the “right” way to wash my jeans…win!). While doing laundry, we had a discussion about what it means to be a neighbor in Rwanda. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Neighbors should always tell one another when they’re sick, so that someone can cook for you. (Score!)
  2. Neighbors should feel comfortable knocking on your door any time/any day and you should feel comfortable talking to them.
  3. Neighbors should spend at least a few minutes every evening with you, catching up on village gossip.

Now…this is very, very unlike my neighbor experiences in America. While in college, I lived in Concord House for two years and spoke to my neighbors once. ONCE. It’s going to take some getting used to…but everyone is so damn nice here that I truly enjoy the conversations. Let’s hope, in two years, I can bring a bit of this neighborhood love back home with me. I also met this gentleman who works for a malaria initiative here in Rwanda. I can’t remember his name (traditional Rwandan names can be difficult!), but he was very nice and we spoke for an hour about how we can potentially work together on some malaria projects in Kibilizi.

On that same note, I just finished compiling some data for my counterpart and I learned a whole lot about childhood illness in my surrounding villages. For the most part, the Community Health Workers see one or two children, each month, with dysentery or pneumonia. And, though I know malaria is a big problem in my Sector, I hadn’t expected that high of numbers. In one of the villages, the CHWs see between 30 and 50 children with malaria, each month. And that’s just children under the age of five. I compared these numbers with the number of deaths, resulting from malaria, and found a huge discrepancy. The numbers are low. The only thing I can come up with is…people around here are very aware that the staff is quick and efficient when it comes to treating malaria and so they don’t view malaria as a huge threat. I mean…it’s great and all that they trust the Health Center, but malaria is no joke. These kids shouldn’t be subjected to such a harsh illness just because their guardians aren’t taking the proper precautions.

So. That’s where I’m at right now. Trying to figure out the best way to tackle a project that gets parents involved, in a way that doesn’t necessarily put the blame on/alienate them…but gets them interested in taking preventative action. In the meantime, I want to do a small project to get kids involved with preventing malaria. Trying to work on building that autonomy! Thus, I’ve come up with a coloring book! (Honestly, this might just be me projecting my wants onto the kids…but who doesn’t love coloring?!) Over the next month or two, I hope to work with my fellow South Volunteers to come up with a cohesive story-line that involves malaria prevention (and will actually interest kids). Ideally, we’ll be responsible for drawing the actual images. I have a book template, so we’ll be able to easily print the coloring books out. The major hurdle here is the crayons…they’re not the easiest (or cheapest) to find here. I’m thinking through all the funding options and hoping to get in talks with a Crayola representative. But keep an eye out because I might be accosting you all with a Go Fund Me campaign! 😀

I’ve also made a connection with someone at the Eastern Congo Initiative, which is an advocacy-focused group, founded by none other than Ben Affleck. (You nevvver know!) And, though I can’t travel to the Congo whilst in the Peace Corps, it’s on the top of my to-travel list after service. I’m hoping to go there right after COS. I’m really just interested in opening up all opportunities possible while I’m here. After Service, I’m hoping to have a large number of different avenues I can choose from.

On the more personal side of things…last week I went without water and electricity for 72+ hours. What a joy, let me tell you. The electricity wasn’t too big a deal…I was able to charge my phone at the Health Center. But, it certainly makes you appreciate a non-stop current. I just kept reminding myself that I’m extremely lucky to be serving in a country that offers electricity to Volunteers (at most sites). And, on top of that, I finished off the three development books I’ve been neglecting, since they’re the only hard-copy books I have. The water, thoughhhh. I got too used to having 24/7 water access. Didn’t even have a back-up jerry can filled (bad, Melissa). So. I went 72 hours with just washing the necessary parts of my body, hoping people didn’t notice how dirty my jeans were, and cooking things that involved very little water. It was an unfortunate few days, to say the very least. But…as with all things…the status quo returned and I’ve had water and electricity (give or take a few outages) for the past week. (And a back-up jerry can of water, just in case.)

Don’t get me wrong…I love my living situation. In fact, I’ve been playing at battling something in my ceiling since I moved into this place. I’m 90% sure it’s a rat…but the damn thing plays catch with itself. I’ll just be laying in bed, trying to sleep (at like 8:30PM, of course) and this thing will throw something across my ceiling…and then scurry over, pick the thing up, throw it again…and repeat the process. It’s the weirdest thing. So, when the kind gentlemen came to fix my electricity, they went into the ceiling and killed the something. (Even bagged it up and removed it for me.) I thought I was finally rid of my midnight predator. Instead, a couple nights ago I was reading Tana French’s Broken Harbour, minding my own business, and I hear this huge crash just above my head. The thing’s friends had come for vengeance. I just about jumped out of my skin. The book I was reading is about a family who is murdered in their home. The best part? It involves an animal that the husband tries to trap in their ceiling…the whole thing was just eerily similar to my midnight predator situation. So, there I am, no electricity…pitch black…reading about murder…and this thing starts banging against my ceiling. Let’s just say my heart was doing somersaults. I then finally understood why there had been a big wooden rod leaning against the bedroom wall when I moved in. I picked it up and started tapping my ceiling, trying to get this thing to shut up. Needless to say, I felt like a damn crazy person. It was all a great adventure. (In case you’re curious…it didn’t work. I still have a midnight predator chillin’ in my ceiling, every night.)

In terms of other goings on…it’s been a rough month for our little Health 6 group. We’ve had a few people pack up and head back to the States, for various reasons (health, site-related, family emergency, etc.) Every time someone leaves…it tugs at the heart strings; after all, we’re such a close group. I understand that everyone has to do what’s right for them and that, even after such a lengthy application process, Peace Corps isn’t always what we expected (or what we wanted). I hate losing members of our group, but I certainly get it. I know that, if I hadn’t requested a site change, I probably would have been considering heading home, as well. Sometimes things just don’t feel right and there’s not much a person can do to change that. (Sometimes it isn’t entirely about integration.) But. It still hurts to have to say goodbye.

Even despite that, I’m having a truly tremendous time here. I wake up wanting to go to work (most days, anyhow) and looking forward to talking with my co-workers. I’m even picking up a little French on top of the Kinyarwanda. Everything just feels right, here in the Land of a Thousand Hills.

Here’s some pictures from the last couple of weeks:

IMG_4740

Home sweet home…my little apartment is on the right.

IMG_4686

Instagram picture of my regional market (rather, a quarter of it…it’s huge).

Mamas and babies for vaccinations. (Vaccination day is my favorite!)

IMG_4713

My “main street”. This is about as busy as it ever gets.