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Friday, May 29, 2015

Village Food


I've been maintaining this blog for over a year, but I haven't posted much about Senegalese food yet, and that is probably the most frequent question I get.  So, hopefully this will rectify the situation.


I always buy my own breakfast from a vendor on the main road in my town.  This 1) gives me a chance to pump some money into the local economy and 2) lets me set my own schedule for the day - I can eat at 7 if I'm feeling ambitious and want to crank out some projects before the sun gets too hot, or I can eat at 10 if I'm feeling lazier.  I usually buy breakfast from my aunt, also named Kadiatou Sabaly.  She has bean sandwiches and caf√© touba, which is like nescafe with cloves and other spices added.
Kadiatou with her bag of bread and bowl of beans.  I offered to retake it since her eyes were closed, but she insisted it was a good picture and she looked great.

A neighbor kid, Moussa, eating his breakfast sandwich.
If I don't feel like beans, I get mooni, which is little balls of millet in a thin sauce.  It's really good if you add sugar and milk to it.

Asi selling mooni, with her happy customers.

My mooni bowl, with sugar and kosam (fermented milk)

I almost always eat lunch with my host family.  I share a bowl with my brother, Tidiane, and his son Mawdo.  Lunch is always corn, rice, or millet, with different sauces.  It's repetitive, but there's enough variety that I don't get too sick of anything.

Ceeb (fried rice) with bitter tomato and cabbage.

Rice with maafe domida (a tomato-based sauce).

Kodde (coarsely pounded steamed corn) with maafe girte (peanut sauce) and untu (fish balls - fish balls are also called "bara bara," which is endlessly amusing to my family since it means my English name, Barbara, is "fish ball.")

Sometimes you get lucky and get a fish head instead of a fish ball.

Rice and follere (a sauce made from hibiscus leaves)

Futi (coarsely pounded corn, steamed with okra and palm oil)
√Ďankatan, the dish I named my dog after.  It's coarsely pounded peanuts mixed in with rice and onions, with some spice called oji added.  I have no idea what oji is but it's pretty good.  The vegetable is a bitter tomato.  They're not good but they're high in iron so I try to convince my family to buy/eat them.

Kodde follere
Rice and a palm-oil based sauce
Rice, some kind of meat, follere, and a piece of carrot

Dinner has less variety than lunch - it's always either lecciri or gosse, both of which are shown below.  I loved lecciri at first, then grew sick of it, then loved it again.  Currently I love it.  Every day around 4pm I get happy because I remember I get to eat lecciri in just a few hours.
Lecciri (finely pounded steamed corn or millet) with a watery sauce, called jammbo.  Usually the sauce has finely pounded peanuts in it to thicken it up and sometimes there are beans or leaves in it too.  The sauce is poured over the lecciri, which sucks it up like a sponge.  It's really good.
Gosse (rice cooked in too much water for too long, so it's like a thin porridge.  Salt or sugar is added to taste.  I sometimes add cinnamon, too, but my family thinks that does not taste good.
A handful of times, my brother Oussamon has come back from the woods with a bucket full of honeycomb.  It's wonderful.

Before the mangoes were ripe, people would make this concoction - pounded mangoes, salt, hot peppers, and MSG seasoning powder.  It sounds weird, but it was really good.  It reminded me of gardettoes.

I'm still averaging three mangoes a day.  They won't run out for about a month yet.

That's it!  Any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Love, Kadiatou.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hercules, in Baby Pulaar

I’m back safe in stifling sweaty Senegal.  It was great to return “home” after my long American vacation.  I came back to a barrage of handclapping, dancing, and children and adults all running to me screaming “Kadiatou’s back!  Kadiatou’s back!” America was really hard to leave, as I expected…but after a village homecoming like that, I was happy to be back here.  Plus, the mangoes are ripe.

After I came back, one of the first things I did with my family was watch Hercules (the 90s animated film, not the Kevin Sorbo masterpiece, regrettably.  If anyone could send me files of Kevin Sorbo or Lucy Lawless, I’m down.)  I was able to explain most of the film using my baby Pulaar…sort of.

I’m far more comfortable speaking than I used to be, but my language is still laughably bad.  It’s like every day I’m working on a 1000-piece puzzle, but I only have 200 pieces.  I’m able to put together pieces that my village can recognize as coherent thought, but sometimes my paltry vocabulary and terrible grammar just doesn’t cut it.  However, even though there are many, many things I don’t know how to say, I’m getting much better at stringing together words I do know to explain myself, so if I have a sympathetic listener, one who is patient enough to work through the puzzle with me, I can get a lot across.

As you read through this, imagine that everything Kadiatou (me, the foreigner) says is in a very strong accent that makes her nearly impossible to understand, and that every 4th word or so has some grammar mistakes.


Kadiatou, The Foreigner, Yours Truly.
Alpha: My 12-year old brother with a heart of gold.
Psydu: A teenaged neighbor boy who didn’t make much of an impression on me at first, but now that I can understand him, he’s hilarious.
Fatou: 14ish sister who is sassy but sweet.

*Credits Roll and Opening Song Plays*

Alpha:  “Kadiatou – is this film scary?”
Kadiatou: “No.  It is a film for children.”
Alpha: “Are there dinosaurs?”
Kadiatou: “No dinosaurs.”
Alpha: “I still see dinosaurs when I try to sleep at night.  The dinosaur film was too scary.”
*general exclamations of agreement, discussion of Jurassic Park*

Fatou: “Kadiatou, who is that?”
Kadiatou: “That young man?  He is called Hercules.  His father is Allah.  But there are many Allahs.  Those animals stole him.  Hercules drank the ‘magic’ drink.”(I stumbled on the word “magic.”  When I don’t know how to say something in Pulaar, I usually just say it in English with a French accent.  More often than not, this actually works.)
Fatou: “Le boisson magic?”  (Yesssss, worked again!)
Kadiatou: “Voila, le boisson magic.  But he did not drink it all.  Now, he is between man and Allah.  His mind is man but his body is Allah.”
*Hercules goes to Zeus's temple*

Kadiatou: “This is the mosque.  That is Hercules’s father, Allah.  He said that Hercules must get the personality and body of Allah.  Then he can come home.”

*Pegasus enters the screen*

Alpha: “Kadiatou, what’s that?”
Kadiatou: “Umm…puccusonndu.” (“horsebird,” literally).

Alpha (confused): “Puccusonndu?”

*rumbled sounds of disagreement and confusion.*

Fatou: “Oh!  I see!  Puccusonndu!”

*general happy grunts of agreement*

Alpha: “Kadiatou, what is that?”
Kadiatou: (hesitates for a minute...how do you say "satyr" in Pulaar?  Decides to let them answer this one on their own.) "You see.”
Fatou: “Mbeewagorko.” (“goatman,” literally.)
Alpha: “Kadiatou, is that an mbeewagorko?”
Kadiatou: “Yes.  His head is man.  His body is goat.  He is a teacher of fighting.  Now Hercules will learn fighting.  Now he has the body of Allah, but he cannot go home yet, because he does not have the personality of Allah.”

*first scene with Megara*

Psydu: “Who is that little girl?”
Kadiatou: “She is a woman.  Is she pretty?”
Psydu: “She has no body.  She needs to eat more mangoes.”

*Megara goes to Hades*

Kadiatou: “Now the woman is going to her boss.  You see, her boss is not good.  Now the woman loves Hercules.  And Hercules loves her.  Hercules gives his power.  Now Hercules does not have power."
Psydu (quietly, as if to himself): “When she goes to the doctor, he tells her to go weigh herself at the boutique instead.  She is less than 5 kilos!”

*The titans start attacking*

Alpha: “Kadiatou, turn the film off, it’s too scary.”

Kadiatou: “Just wait.  It is a film for children.  Everything is at peace.”
Alpha: “But Hercules does not have power. He will die.”
Kadiatou: “Just wait.”

*Pillar falls on Megara and she dies*

Kadiatou: “Now the woman died.”
Everyone: “She DIED?!”
Kadiatou: “Now Hercules has his power.”
Psydu: “Oh!  Because the girl was a witch!”
Kadiatou: “She was not a witch.”
Psydu: “Yes, she died, and now he has his power.  She was a witch.”
*Everyone agrees with Psydu, so I shrug and drop it.*

*Hercules dives in the pool of souls in Hell and rescues Megara’s soul and returns it to her body, which apparently was easy for everyone to understand because everyone happily narrated it to each other as it was happening.*

Kadiatou: “Hercules wanted to help his friend.  He did not think of only himself.  Now he has the personality of Allah.  Now Hercules can go home.  But the woman is only a person.  She cannot go to Allah’s house.”
Psydu: “She can’t go in because she is a witch.”
Kadiatou: “She is not a witch.  But now.  You see?  Hercules loves her so he wants to live with her on Earth.”

Psydu: “Until the wind comes.  Then she will blow away.”

I checked my cell phone clock incredulously as the credits rolled. 
12:06 AM. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Stomping out Malaria!

In 2011, Peace Corps Senegal joined with other Peace Corps countries in Africa to form the initiative “Stomp Out Malaria in Africa.”  This program means that the ~3,000 volunteers across the continent (including the 250 or so in Senegal) are working together with NGOs and local governments to bring malaria deaths down to zero by 2020.  Here in Senegal, volunteers have been hard at work painting murals, doing radio shows, leading bed-net repair and care sessions, and talking to school groups about malaria prevention and treatment.  In my region of Kolda, volunteers planned a community block party to help spread the word about malaria prevention (I did not attend because I was at a different block party, in Minnesota, celebrating the joining of houses Brock and Michel). 

Why is all this malaria prevention work a big deal?  Well, malaria is the leading cause of death in Senegal.  Due to mosquito biology, it is more prevalent in the rainier south (where my site is) than it is in the drier north.  According to the World Health Organization, 345,889 people in Senegal got clinically treated for malaria last year, but there were almost certainly many more people infected than that.  I don’t have local statistics, but I can tell you that last rainy season, three people in my village of 1,000 died of malaria…at least, three people that I know of.  It could have been more. 

Trying to wrap my head around these deaths has been one of the hardest parts of my service.  A cure for malaria has existed for hundreds of years, everyone in my village was given a free bed net two years ago, and the Senegalese government subsidizes all malaria testing supplies and medication, so they’re free for everyone.  Why do people continue to die? A much better writer than me attempts to answer that question here.

It’s worth your time to read the above article, because it’s great, but if you didn’t, this paragraph sums up the problem nicely:

Part of the issue is cultural – in many parts of the world, malaria is considered akin to the flu, and even in the US the flu vaccine is woefully underutilized. Part of it is distrust in the system – despite truly heroic efforts on the part of many Ministries of Health, supply chain management remains a stubborn, persistent problem, and in many places stock-outs are still common.

As an additional barrier, although the treatments for malaria are free, transportation is not.  If families have the choice of paying to go to the hospital to get medicine to feel better, or just waiting until they feel better on their own, they sometimes make the choice not to go in.  Every CFA counts.

To hopefully solve the care-seeking gap problem, a new malaria treatment model is starting up in my region this rainy season.  Under the new model (called ProAct in the above article, but more frequently called PECADOM+ here) instead of waiting at a health structure for sick people to come to them, now health workers, armed with backpacks full of testing supplies and treatment medication, are actively going out into villages to hunt down the malaria where it lives, giving sick people treatment, free of cost, right at their homes.  The program was successful last year in the region of Kedougou, and I’m excited to be involved in it this year in my region of Kolda.

I don’t yet know what my involvement will look like – whether I will actually be accompanying the volunteer health workers into the villages and distributing medication, or whether I’m be involved more in the data analysis, or whether I’ll just continue to coach people in my village on good malaria prevention practices, but regardless of what I do, I'm looking forward to making a difference.