Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Being Busy

I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it feels to be busy again.

For the first time since IST (because of Ramadan) I am satisfied with my schedule and I actually feel useful and needed and well, like my old self. Everyday when I wake up I actually have tasks to accomplish, meetings to attend, greetings to do and events to plan. It’s a relief to wake up and not think “gee, would it really matter if I spent the whole day reading?” I mean, I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cutoff, like I was through all four years of college, but for Peace Corps standards, and given the speed of development, I’d say I’m one of the busier PCVs. Granted a lot of that has to do with the size of Kanel, but I’m learning how to pace myself and not get caught up with attending every single little thing. I remind myself that living in another language, and the heat, and just daily chores do take a lot out of you and it’s okay not to go greet a family if I’m feeling tired. At the same time, it’s a lot easier to be motivated to get things done because I have deadlines and health talks to prepare for. The key word I believe I’m searching for is BALANCE. For the time being I have achieved equilibrium.

The teachers are finally back from holiday and school starts this week. That means that my two teacher friends are back and that there are many more to meet and talk with. It will take some time for me to start teaching health classes though because the teachers need to settle into their new positions and get to know their classes and routines. I’m hoping that there won’t be as many strikes as there were last year. I want to impress them with my first few lessons so that the word will get out and lots of them will invite me to come teach. Luckily the way the children here learn is essentially through repetition and copying, so anything I do that gets them actively participating, moving around, performing, and brainstorming will be an instant hit

I’ve also noticed how much more I can tolerate than I could even a few months ago. I guess because our first three months are supposed to be spent adjusting, that after those were over I figured I would have adjusted as much as I ever could. But that is certainly not the case. It almost doesn’t phase me anymore when my family asks to borrow things. Now I’m much more willing to let them borrow things and I also have NO problem saying no when it’s an inappropriate request (my bike, or phone credit for instance).

I’m also letting myself laugh a lot more. At Baby Diana’s baptism, I was overwhelmed and sick of people asking me for money so I retreated out back and sat with a handful of young men who were making the 3 rounds of tea for the masses of guests. Obviously all eyes were on me, but I was surprised at how comfortable I was with them. We spoke a lot about health and my work and America and I even talked to them a bit about nutrition and which vegetables would help with eyesight! (This is the definition of a PC Health volunteer. The majority of my work takes place in informal settings for maybe15 minutes at a time totally out of the blue). Inevitably the conversation turned to why I didn’t want a Senegalese husband and why I didn’t want one man in particular. So I just scrunched up my face in disgust and told him, “I can’t marry you…you’re too ugly.” Some of them laughed so hard that they actually fell out of their seats. And don’t worry, he laughed too. It’s a completely acceptable excuse in this culture to call a man ugly as a way of avoiding his advances. I am spending a lot more time with men because I feel like my vocabulary and comfort with the culture is at the point where I can defend myself and make light of almost any uncomfortable situation. Also I feel like while I might never be able to formally organize a men’s health group, at least showing interest in them and laughing with them instead of running away from them and hating them for being inappropriate, will allow me to informally transfer some kind of health knowledge gradually. Or at least breakdown some gender stereotypes. Inchallah!

Part of my comfort is due to my Pulaar. It really has improved immensely. In fact, I’ve gotten compliments on it when I’ve visited other volunteers’ villages. I don’t know that that’s necessarily because my grammar or fluidity is that good yet, but I’m confident with my level of comprehension and pronunciation. And I’ve learned how to focus in on people’s conversations. It’s easy when you’re sitting around and ripping stems off of hundreds of bean leaves, to just zone out and forget to listen to the conversation around you. Now I can actively engage and am not shy to ask questions about what’s going on or for people to explain or repeat. I can actually understand and follow along full stories when told to me. Today in fact, I sat with my Yaaye, and two of my sisters and I followed along for a good 20 minutes while they told me about a visitor that came to Kanel with the previous volunteer. Everyday I am SO thankful that I began learning languages early on in life. Even if I don’t know a word, I can still understand the story because of the syntax.

(Consequently, (as some of you may have noticed) living in two different languages that aren’t my native tongue have caused my English to become well, slightly less eloquent than it used to be. At least my writing anyway.)

I have so much more to say, but for the moment I am satisfied with you all knowing that I am incredibly happy, and in an upswing. I know that the next few months are going to fly by. And soon the weather will get out of the triple digits (105 right now p.s.).

My favorite new sister from Dakar who has been here since IST is going home tomorrow with her baby, my favorite fat-cheeked 3 month old nephew and I want to maximize my “baby-worship” time.

Until next time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


It occurred to me recently that being in the PC is a lot like what I imagine it’s feels like to be pregnant. Clearly the reasons why we feel these things differ, but the outcome is the same.

Why the PC is like pregnancy:

1.You have constant cravings. Especially for strange foods that you never even liked or missed when you lived in the states. And especially for things that you can’t have/access easily (booze, sushi, fatty cheeses, cigarettes etc.)
2. Hot flashes and night sweats.
3. Swollen feet.
4. Nothing tastes right.
5. Back pain. (From sleeping on cement, stick beds, and flimsy foam pads).
6. Vomiting and nausea.
7. Weight gain (for women).
8. Mood swings. (You cry or experience rage at the drop of a hat.)
9. You turn into a man-hater (when you’re pregnant I understand that it’s often normal to feel some resentment towards your mate for “doing this to you.”)
10. You find yourself spending a lot of time “nesting” (sweeping your room, doing laundry, organizing your papers, folding clothes, basically cleaning house.)
11. Constant exhaustion.
12. Insomnia.
13. You track your life in segments (like trimesters.) For example, 1 month until Ramadan is over, 2 weeks until my next visitor comes, 2 months until I can take a vacation, 5 months until the new group of trainees arrives, 10 months until I go home etc.
14. You have to pee constantly.
15. You can’t wait for, but at the same time fear the end (culture shock of returning home and saying goodbye to people you might never see again).
16. It seems like it will never end.

7 month index

Just over 7 months and counting.
That means that depending on when I COS (April or May of 2009) I have roughly 18 months left.
Because I got such a positive response from it, I thought that it would be fun to make another list, like the one I wrote after month 3.

# of times I’ve found teeth in my dinner: 1

# of scorpions I have killed in my room: 10
largest # of toads and frogs I’ve had living in my douche at any one time: 7

# of times per week I wake up to various bugs, beetles, worms, crickets, or toads in my bed : about 3 (yes, I do sleep with a mosquito net and am a compulsive “tucker.” Somehow they manage to get in anyway).

# of degrees at which I feel cold enough to need a sheet at night: 84 F

To date, the lowest temperature I’ve seen on my thermometer: 76.5 F

# of times I’ve eaten goat head: 1

# of times I’ve had to watch an animal be slaughtered: 5

liters of water I drink in a day: 5 (it used to be about 10)

# of packages I’ve received in country: 15 (hooray!)

largest number of mosquito/bug bites I’ve endured at any one time: 130+

# of people in my compound it takes for me to think there are a lot of people around: 30

# of people it takes for me to think that my compound is empty: 8

# of times per week I wash my hair: 2

# of times I’ve seriously considered leaving Senegal: 3

# of text messages I’ve sent since purchasing my cell phone: 1226

#of text messages I’ve received since purchasing my cell phone: 803

# of times I’ve had to have my cell phone fixed: 1

# of times I’ve been sick with stomach yuckiness: 2

# of times per day I wash my hands: about 10

# of times I wake up in the middle of the night: 2-7 (still no progress in that department unfortunately. Gotta love the side effects of Mefaquin. Beats the alternative though).

# of times per week I talk to my parents: 1-2

# of times per month I used to talk to them in college: 1-2

# of degrees in my room right now: 101.5 F (p.s. I’m not even sweating. It’s amazing what your body adapts to)

# of marriage proposals I receive per day now that I’ve henna’d my feet and hands: ~5

# of times per day I fantasize about how much better the cool season is going to be: ~7

# of times I’ve been told by people that I’m a lot prettier in the states than I am here (they’ve seen pictures) : 4

# of times I’ve ridden my PC issued bike: 0

# of PCVs in our stage that have ET’d: 6

# of PCVs left in our stage: 37

# of PCVs in my stage that have become smokers since arriving in country: 6

# of words in the Pulaar language for “thorn”: 7

# of times per day I smell something that makes me gag: at least 1

# of other volunteers sites I’ve visited up North: 4

# of times I’ve been able to sleep inside because it was cool enough: 6

# of times per day I’m peed on by a child: usually about 2 (babies don’t really wear diapers)

# of times per week I go to the market: 2

# of times I check my mailbox at the post office: 2

# of Ipods that have died on me in country: 1

# of times my computer has died and been revived: 1

# of times per car ride when I think the bus or minicar or station wagon is going to topple over:
at least 1

# of times per day I fantasize about fresh produce, whole grains, and ice cream: 3 (aka. every meal)

maximum # of hours I’ve spent at the internet in one sitting: 7

# of bottles of vitamins I’ve gone through: 3

# of hours I spend per day holding and playing with babies and toddlers: 3-4

# of times per day when I laugh heartily: at least 3

# of times during the last week when I’ve felt totally content and at peace with my work, my
placement, my life, my family, my role in this town and culture: 6 (p.s. that’s a big deal! There really is life after Ramadan!)

Hope you got a good chuckle out of these. I had fun compiling them for you.

Next time you bite into a delicious salad, or freak out because you see a spider, or complain about the temperature, think of me…and smile.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Photos and Baby Diana

Just a little FYI to all of you fabulous blog followers. My new niece is in fact not being named after me, but after my mom in America, Diane. So in French it turns into Diana. So she is now Diana Ba. With about 4 zillion other names thrown in there. Apparently the tradition is that mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa all give a different name. So the two that I know are Diana and Isatou. Everyone thinks its beautiful. We had a fabulously huge Baptism for her. I have a brand new album called Korite (the end of Ramadan) and Baptism that have many pictures of these two big fetes that have been happening during the past week.

Also, some people have told me that they have had trouble accessing all of my albums. You have to sign into that first album (the link on the bottom right hand side of this webpage) and then towards the top of the page on the left click on "Cait's Public Gallery" to get into the page with all 10 albums I have up.

Hope that clears things up.
Enjoy the pictures of my family decked out to the nines and of my henna'd hands and feet.
Work is starting up again and I've been pretty busy lately. It feels great.
I promise a better more detailed blog post soon.

Keep the comments and questions coming!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


It is with a heavy heart that I report the death of PC Senegal's beloved security officer, Lamine N'Dongo. He was killed this weekend in a car accident while on tournee visiting volunteers. Lamine was perhaps the greatest administrative advocate for PCVs here in Senegal. He will be greatly missed.

I have attached a letter regarding donations for his family for all those interested in helping. A lot of people have asked me how to contribute to my experience, and here is one small way.

Dear Friends,

It is with regret that I inform you of the loss of a dear friend to Senegal PCVs and RPCVs from the last 4 years. Lamine N'Dongo, Safety and Security Officer, died in a car accident on Sunday, driving the PC car near Bakel. The driver was on the passenger side and is currently in the hospital, injured but stable.

Lamine was a friend to those who knew him. He took care of each of us like we were family. He knew everyone in the police force throughout the country and God forbid anyone messed with us, he would take care of it tactfully and quickly. He believed in Peace Corps and was proud to be part of its mission.

He leaves behind a wife and four children, all girls. We would like to make a collection for his family on behalf of the Friends of Senegal and The Gambia and the RPCV community at large. FOSG will match any funds collected. Some RPCVs already started collecting funds and I've invited them to join our collection so we could match the total amount. Any small contribution would be of great help to them.

Please send a check or money order to Dan Theisen to:

Pay to the order of Friends of Senegal and The GambiaMemo:
Lamine N'Dongo's Family Fund
Daniel Theisen
428 Bowleys Quaters Road
Baltimore, Md 21220

We will wait at least 2 weeks to give people time to send their checks to Baltimore for Dan to process them. If you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact me through the FOSG list or directly to marielsie.avila@gmail.com.

My heart and thoughts go out to Lamine's family and friends. He is greatly missed by the entire PC family.

Lamine died, as he lived, on the road making it safe for PCV's to serve in Senegal.

It's A Girl!!

I am thrilled to announce the birth of my niece and namesake, Binta Sira Ba.

She is a healthy, good–sized, baby girl with all of her fingers and toes, beautiful big dark eyes, and a huge head of dark black hair.

This morning at 7am my sister woke me up by pounding on my door and announcing that my counterpart, Nene, had given birth just minutes before at the health post.

Those of you that have been following along know that I was planning on attending her birth. Unfortunately, I’m pretty disappointed because last night when she went into labor she decided not to call me because I was getting my feet henna’d and she didn’t want me to have to walk and mess up the design. It’s a bummer and I’m still pretty disappointed, especially because I had wanted to see the ins and outs of the maternity ward and see how the midwives coach women through birth, but all that really matters is that she and Nene are healthy and happy.

I have posted some pictures online under the album “Kanel.” They are at the end of all the pictures. She is so beautiful and I am so happy that I will be able to be here for the next year and a half to watch her grow up to toddlerhood.



You may have already seen the pictures of our nutrition project at the health post last week, but I thought I should write up a summary of my first real collaborative project with other PCVs.

Last Thursday at the weekly vaccination day at the health post, two other PCVs, Ashley and Christine, came into my town for a nutrition/education causerie (health talk). It was a great first attempt at a big group causerie. There were probably about 20 women present with babies aged 0-1. We measured about 14 children’s arms to see which weight zone they were in. We only had two or three in the red zone, several in the yellow, and the others in the green.

When we arrived one of the midwives started yelling at us that what we were doing wasn’t the “right” way to go about teaching women how to cook etc. She was mostly just blowing smoke and trying to assert her authority. But it made for nervous beginning and put me on edge.

Eventually she left and went back to work and left us to our own devices. One of the other women who works at the “desk” absolutely saved the day though. She spent the whole morning with us, helping to translate and re-explain what we were saying to the women and made sure that they understood the recipe of the baby food we were cooking.

We talked to the mothers about weaning foods, and the importance of breast feeding ONLY until 6 months and the importance of feeding their babies food from all the food groups and why. We measured the arms and explained to the moms whose children were malnourished that they needed to be supplementing their diets with more than just rice.

The porridge we cooked was a big hit and it was rewarding to see the babies eating it up. And refreshing to see them eating something nutritious—not just oily rice and white bread.

Who knows if they will actually go back and make the food for their children. There is really no way to know. But at least the knowledge is there and hopefully the message got across.

Since then I have had several people ask me to hold another talk in our neighborhood so that the women from the compounds around me can come and learn how to make the porridge. I am feeling very positive about the response and looking forward to having another one in a space where I am more comfortable and don’t have other people breathing down my neck and criticizing my every move.

The whole thing felt so good. Granted it’s never as organized or well-attended as you imagine it could be, but I felt so at home talking individually to these women about their babies and their enthusiasm was real and encouraging. Also, it was the first time that I realized that my Pulaar is in fact good enough to start seriously working in.

Ramadan is over this weekend. I have bright orange feet and hands from my henna’ing for the huge end of Ramadan celebration. My work is starting to pick up. School opens next week and I have a meeting with one of the headmasters about teaching health classes. The weather is cooling off slightly. I have a new niece, great projects coming up, and the outlook is good.

I am incredibly proud of myself for making it through probably the toughest part of my service without any major breakdowns. And I am SO ready to start my work!

Visit to the Sticks

Taking advatage of the forced downtime of Ramadan, I decided to make the trek out to a fellow PCV’s site in the boonies. Out of all of the volunteers up north she is definitely the farthest out. She is 8K from the road. She has a more typical PC placement--no electricity, a working faucet in the early mornings only, and limited cell phone reception (when she stands at a certain angle on the roof at night). Friday, after a few days at my site for our nutrition project at the health post, we went into town (Ourossogui—where I do all my internet related tasks and banking) and left in the afternoon for her village. We arrived at the garage around 3:30pm, got a car at 4pm and drove for an hour to her nearest road town in the crowded and deteriorating buses we call public transport. There we were lucky enough to get a charet right away. But unlucky enough to land with probably the worst charet driver known to man. He could not get the horse to do anything and just kept beating it and beating it. It was awful, and enough to make you sick to your stomach. We must have stopped upwards of 10 times on the 8k ride. The dirt path is full of divets, ravines, muddy puddles, twists, turns, thorn bushes, livestock roadblocks, you name it. The whole way we were holding on for dear life. (Ashley has been thrown off of one of these things…not fun). I grabbed at anything I could get my hands on that was actually attached to the “wagon.” We settled for mostly just holding on to eachother. By the time we arrived at her village, filthy, tired, and dehydrated, it was 7pm.

I stayed there until Monday morning. To get out of her village, we woke up at 5:30am, ate breakfast, packed up, and took off at first light. We knew that if we could not find a charet along the way (as is often the case because they are usually already full) then we would have to walk the 8K. So we made sure to start as early as possible to beat the heat. We did catch a charet, but not until we had already walked 6K.

Besides getting in and out of her village, and the shoddy cell phone reception, I left her site with serious site envy. Her life is so much less hectic and busy than mine. I felt so at ease in her village. During the entire 3 days not one person called me toubak, or asked me for money. It was such a relief. When she walks around the village everyone knows her and greets her by name. And there isn’t that same pressure to constantly be attending events in the name of “working” that amount to nothing except a migraine.

I guess I am just jealous of the romantic, idyllic village experience that she is having, that I expected to have in the Peace Corps: mud huts, no conveniences, just the bare bones and the intimacy of getting to know the culture of and to work with a small village of people. Weaving through the mud huts and stick fences along the mud paths of her village, I realized for the first time that I really would have been fine in a more rural, “hardcore” site.

Up until now I thought that I had lucked out by having such a “luxurious” site compared to most of the other volunteers. I mean, I have electricity (most of the time) and a faucet in my compound (which usually works all day), and I’m on the road, and have full cell phone reception, and lots of resources to work with. I kept thinking that it was a good thing that I was placed where I was because I didn’t think I could have hacked it at a site like hers. Granted, when I first arrived at her site and saw how far out she was I was completely overwhelmed and told her so. I even admitted to her that I didn’t think I could have made it that for out. But I should have realized that like with everything else, we are incredibly adaptable.

Clearly her site has its disadvantages too. If she were ever to get really sick for example, it would take a lot longer to get to medical care and the process would be much more uncomfortable than it would be for me. And getting in and out of her site is truly exhausting, especially on foot. And I’m sure that there are times when she wonders what she is doing there because it is so small and there are almost no set venues to start off her development work.

But I absolutely loved sitting around with different families in her village and piling on the mats with the kids, and looking up at the stars, in complete darkness with no outside noises except for the crickets, and the occasional goat. There was no television blaring horrible Latin American soap operas, or Desperate Housewives dubbed in French. I was jealous of the familiarity and safety of knowing her way around (I definitely get lost in my town all the time). Excuse the cliché but there is something to be said for going where “everybody knows your name.” I guess I feel like in a way, it’s so much easier to really integrate in a small village and abandon the comforts of being an American. I think that sometimes I’m still too dependent on the conveniences of my site because I have no reason not to be.

The immensity and pressure that come with working in a 10,000 person town can make it easy to be reclusive and stick with the safety of the few families nearby that I know well. But I also constantly feel guilty about not running around at every possible moment and trying to raly all the heads of organizations, and health trainers, and bureaucratic officials to band together for the sake of their community’s health. In my head I know that 99% of those efforts would be fruitless and frustrate me further, but it’s tough to shake the guilt.

I’ve always known that I was bad at being bored, but for the first time in my life I think I’m done feeling like I have to load up the activities just to keep from having a moment of idle time. Because in my 7 months I have finally learned that in fact sometimes you learn the most, and the most effective moments for change arise when you are just sitting around with people and chatting, and playing with eachother’s hair and complaining about the heat. Certainly my Pulaar has gotten worlds better this month because there isn’t much to do besides sit around and talk.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my site. Most of the time I feel incredibly lucky and think that I have the best site ever. I believe that I have the right background and qualifications for Kanel. And I love my host family and counterpart and friends here so dearly that I could not imagine my PC experience without them. Of course I would never trade it for anything. But it’s always a little sad when I’m out with other PCVs and we’re talking to new people about our sites and I mention my town and its amenities and they mutter things like, “oh well, you’ve got it easy.”
What they don’t know is that in some ways my site can be much more difficult to work and live in. Even Ashley told me as much. I’m certain that I will always be a little bit disappointed that I won’t have the bragging rights, or the intimate romantic experience of living in a proper Pulaar village.

So kudos to those volunteers who are living in the sticks, and have no amenities. I’m sure there are days that they would kill for a site with running water, a TV, electricity, an electric fan, on the road, with many avenues for work. I’ll never get to know for sure if I could have done it without these things.

Visiting Ashley’s village made me realize how wonderful it can be to live simply.
And I think I’ll always be a little jealous.

Friday, October 5, 2007


The title of this entry is:

Why Ramadan Is The Worst Month EVER
If I see one more creepy crawly…
Sophomore Slump
All of the above = a perfect combination for early termination of service (ETing).

Title #1

All of the other volunteers have been preparing us for how frustrating Ramadan is, but I am finally really experiencing it for myself. It really is just horrible.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. It’s still ridiculously hot. In fact, this morning at 8:30 am it was already 90 degrees in my room. I guess October/Ramadan is some kind of horrible anomaly. The rains have stopped so there are no more cool and breezy, wet days. But it also hasn’t started cooling off yet, and won’t until mid-November or so.

2. School is still out and all of the teachers and headmasters that I need to meet with are on vacation so I have been at site since mid-May and STILL can’t start my main project (which is to be teaching health classes at the schools) until it really gets going in November.

3. Everyone and their mother give me crap for not fasting and praying. And boy am I tired of it. It doesn’t matter that I attempted (or told my family I did) for one day in “solidarity.” Or that um, the most obvious one… “I’M NOT MUSLIM!” And if you’re fasting you’re supposed to be praying and obviously I’m not praying so where is the sense in fasting? For some people that’s an acceptable answer. At least for those people who have had a little more exposure to other cultures/more education. But for everyone else, I’ve gotten awful, disapproving looks, head shakes, and comments as lovely as “you’re a bad person” or “tssk, then your name isn’t Binta Lam” or “well you live here now so you should be praying and fasting and then just stop when you go home” or even from my own family “the previous volunteer fasted and prayed…why aren’t you?”
When I’ve tried telling them that they should respect my choice not to be a Muslim they just push harder and tell them that I should convert. I’m getting to my breaking point with this conversation. Every time it comes up I’m ready to scream. If anyone has any advice other than lying to them and sneaking food and water for the remaining 2 weeks, I enthusiastically welcome all suggestions.
(Oh, and actually fasting is not an option. And not just on principal. One girl in my stage put herself in the Dakar hospital because she was so dehydrated. Another girl one year gave herself a kidney infection.)
I think next time it comes up I’m just going to say, “I respect your choice to be a Muslim. Why can’t you respect my decision NOT to be one? If you came to America I wouldn’t try to make you change your belief system and pray to a different god, or tell you that you’re wrong and bad, and don’t deserve your American name.” Problem is that that is a logical argument and as I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, the strategy of using logic to prove my points has thus far not served me well.

4. Everyone is too tired to do anything. I have tried YET again to organize a girls group meeting (I still can’t seem to get them to come together for a meeting) and none of them showed up. Classic.

5. The health post is crowded with people spending the little money they have on medicine. Why? About 90% of them all have the same complaint, and I bet you all can guess what it is: Headaches, body aches and colds. I just want to take them all aside individually and say,
“Well let’s see, it’s 4pm, it’s 104 degrees outside, you haven’t had any food or water since 5am, and when you DO break fast finally at 7pm the first thing you put into your starved, overworked, dehydrated body is Nescafe, and sugary soda. And you’ve been repeating this same thing for almost 3 weeks now! So yeah, I can prescribe something to make you feel better…DRINK WATER!! STOP FASTING!!”
I think my favorite moments are when people tell me that fasting is good for them.

Right. Especially for my 9 month pregnant counterpart (yep, she’s even fasting).

6.Children suffer because the adults are fasting. What I mean is that no one cooks meals during the day, not even for the children, because they are all so tired, so the already malnourished children subsist mostly on white bread, sugary drinks, and a hot milk and rice drink called goossi.

7. It’s impossible to sleep for two reasons:
The mosques have been going at all hours. Now instead of the usual call to prayer 5x a day, the mosques go off at all hours for unspecified lengths of time. Last night for example, a recently arrived marabou decided to sing over the neighborhood loudspeaker for two hours 12-2am. Koranic study sessions are also blasted over a speaker every single day from 11am-2pm, just a couple houses over.
Middle of the night acid reflux. Because my family cooks the main meals at night and is so hungry, that the meals are heavier, more oily, meatier, and being served later. And they get really upset when I try to bail early and tell them I’m not hungry.

8. I get harassed more than normal to give out money because it’s supposed to make for me not fasting.

9. Everyone is short-tempered, cranky, bored, and exhausted. I’ve already seen more arguments and fights breakout in the past few weeks then I have my entire time in country.

Title #2

For some reason I have had a lot of really disgusting “creepy crawly” moments lately. Everyday I seem to be battling some new bug.

*The mosquitoes are still out in full force and despite my protective night gear (long sleeves, pants, and socks despite the 90 degree weather), they still manage to make my life miserable and bite me through my clothes. I am amazed I don’t have malaria.

*Every night spiders build huge webs in my douche that I literally have to walk through in the middle of the night when I have to use my latrine.

*Today, I noticed that there were some big red ants crawling on my wall in my room. I moved my bike and sleeping pad out of the way to discover 2 FIST SIZE PILES OF MAGGOT EGGS WITH HUGE RED ANTS SWARMING ALL OVER THEM (see picture under Kanel album). After I dry heaved, I got myself together, took a picture (for proof) and then went a little bit crazy with my DDT, a broom, and a dustpan. Disgusting. I hope that none of you ever have to experience that. Worst part is I have no idea how they got there. There was no rotted food, or garbage, or piles of water, or animal feces anywhere in sight. It had only been 2 weeks since I had moved everything away from that wall and swept my whole room. As if I wasn’t compulsive enough already checking for scorpions all the time, now I have maggot nests to worry about.

*Crickets have infested my room and they make a ton of noise all night long.

*I now have 3 toads and 4 or 5 mini-frogs living in my douche that like to hop all over my feet and legs when I bathe.

*The flies. Oh the flies. The fly phenomenon is one that until you have lived in Africa during the “fly season” you cannot understand how close the constant swarms bring you to the brink of insanity. And they are not like flies at home. These guys are fearless. They fly right in your face, up your nose, in your eyes, and are not easily flicked away with a jolt of the hand. Nope, they’ll come right back. Even in the middle of my bucket baths.

*Lizards. A lizard the size of my forearm fell from the rafters in my room and could not climb back up and was trapped in my room for two days and I could not get him out.

*Beetles. I have a lot of big black, kind of dopey looking beetles that I periodically accidentally crush in my door, or step on. They never really bothered me until I recently discovered that they fly, right into my face. Wonderful.

Title #3

Maybe there is a sophomore slump that happens in the Peace Corps that is just exacerbated by Ramadan. The next new group of PC trainees arrived a few weeks ago so we are no longer the newbies, but the official “sophomores” of the groups in country. It’s a tough place to be. No real work has started yet (for the reasons I listed above), despite coming back from IST with lots of momentum to affect change (inshallah!). The next 18-20 months are still looming ahead, filling me with uncertainty and shaking my confidence that this is the right place for me. The PCVs a year ahead of us in our same programs have the end in sight and are constantly talking about COS and homecoming plans. It has helped to talk to my closest neighbor (also from Davis, CA) who confessed to me that this time last year was the worst point in her service, and if I can just hold on and make it through Ramadan in one piece then it will all get better.

I mean I’m not actually really thinking of leaving. If I really do feel on the verge of a mental breakdown and need a break I can always retreat to the regional house for some R&R. But when I’m sweating in the heat, with bugs crawling all over me, people yelling at me for not being a Muslim, and wondering when I’m ever going to be able to start working, America and all the luxuries that come with it start to sound pretty darn wonderful.

If nothing else, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?…Right?