Senegal and One Year to Go!

Recently, I spent two weeks living a whirlwind life in Senegal. Basically all we thought about was malaria. And I really loved it.

Now, I’ve never been a person with a lot of interest in health. I turned down a health volunteer position with Peace Corps in Ghana, and stopped visiting my local hospital in Bante after I saw too many burned babies and compound fractures. My stomach is not strong.

There is a lot of malaria in Benin. Almost everyone I know in Benin has symptomatic malaria at least once a year, and probably has the parasite in their blood most of the time. I’ve seen the repercussions of malaria firsthand—from kids having convulsions in my concession (they have all recovered) to the people in my current office who come in lethargic and complaining of body aches. Malaria treatment and prevention (but mostly treatment) accounts for ¼ of most families’ annual income here. Imagine if you spent ¼ of your income on one illness.

Malaria, while terrible, is also terribly cool. The parasite is extremely well adapted to wreak havoc on the human population. The lifecycle is so complex that it is hard to stop. Malaria has been around for thousands of years but everyone agrees that it is on its way out! Hopefully in our lifetimes it will be pretty much eradicated. There is a lot of work to do, but leaders in the field think it is feasible, so I’ll go ahead and trust them on that.

At the conference I was introduced to an app building platform called CommCare and I’m really excited about it. I’ve never been one that is much for technology, but I do love tools that make things easier and more effective for people, and this technology gives you that capability. I’m in the process of getting certified to build the apps and then hopefully will build some for my organization as well as for other volunteers who can use them. The apps are interactive and can collect pretty much any data you might need. I’m going to make one for my organization to track our client demographics. In the future I might make one to track bed net distributions or farmers’ use of compost, for example. Wahoo!

This past week, we had a conference with all of the volunteers who came to Benin at the same time I did. We had some sessions about life after peace corps, grant writing, etc. We also lounged by the hotel pool a lot. It was refreshing to see everyone and also to realize we have one year left before we head back to the US! It is crazy to me that I’ve already been here 15 months. I have also just moved into my new house which I’ll do a post about soon. My life has become much less stressful with a space of my own.

I’ll leave you with this: Recently I was at a restaurant eating dinner. The TV was on, which I didn’t pay much attention to—there’s always a TV on. As my friends and I sat there, we found ourselves listening to disturbingly intimate noises emanating from the television. At first we thought we had stumbled upon a public screening of bad porn, but then it became clear that we were, in fact, watching 50 Shades of Grey. It is quite the experience to try to avert your eyes from a centrally-placed screen showing an “R” rated film involving a lot of bondage in a restaurant surrounded by men of another culture who are all staring at you like “PROBABLY THIS IS NORMAL FOR ALL AMERICANS.” I had to ask the waitress for the check four times before she could tear herself away from the action. Gotta love those moments of cultural exchange!

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