Monday, June 16, 2008

The Flood

The Flood
Why I now know for a fact that scorpions really can climb walls
How I almost got electrocuted

I am sitting in my hut. It’s 11:38 am and I am cold because it is only a fabulous 82 degrees. How is that possible you might ask? After all, it is June 16th and I live in the Sahel desert. Well, rainy season has officially begun and last night we had a downpour to be remembered. Around 3:30 am I woke up with a start as I usually do when the wind picks up. I sat up wondering, “okay, is this a sand storm? Wind only? Sand and rain? Or just rain?” Since I never really know, I have fashioned my bed so that I can literally take down my net, fold up my foam pad and haul inside in 10 seconds or less. You have to. Because at night, when you can’t see the ominous black cloud of a sand storm, or the rolling gray clouds of a rainstorm you have to be ready for anything.

Despite the almost full moon, the sky was pitch black, and I couldn’t see a single star. I could tell the clouds were rolling in fast though. Then the lightning started. There was so much lightening at times it looked like daytime. So I got inside just in time for the golf ball sized raindrops to start thundering down on my tin roof (in case you’re wondering, yes, it’s very noisy). I set up my bed inside on the floor and fashioned my net back up in some awkward but functional manner. We don’t really have many mosquitoes yet because there have only been a few sparse rains, and there are screens on my hut doors, but I use the net mostly for protection from other bugs. I delude myself into thinking that it will also keep me from spooning with scorpions.

I put cups around my room to catch the biggest leaks and nodded off to sleep reveling in the glorious cold wind that was blowing in my open back door. I have learned to fall asleep through almost anything so the ridiculously loud storm was actually kind of soothing.

Around 5:30am I woke up annoyed because I was being splashed. I thought maybe the leak had moved and was hitting me directly in the face.


It took me a few seconds to realize that my entire foam mattress was soaked through and I was literally laying in about an inch of water! The water splashing on me was splashing up from the lake that was now my floor. And there I was, sleeping right in the middle of it.

Since the power was out (Alhamdoulilah…more on that in a second) I flipped on my headlamp and went out to my douche to investigate how so much water could have possibly flooded my room so quickly. It was pouring in from outside, high enough so that the small cement lip from my douche to my room was like a breached levee. The water in my douche was ankle deep. I waded around in it, tried bailing some of it out down into my pit latrine. Then I realized that wading around in dark water with my history of scorpion visitors and toads, during a lightning storm was probably not the wisest of ideas.

I went back inside and used my two foam pad mattresses as sand bags because luckily the water had not yet reached anything valuable: my clothes, or computer, or flute or papers etc. All of which I keep in metal trunks and elevated so there really was no worry there.

Water was coming in from everywhere though. It was literally leaking through my walls and down from the side of my roof, from the douche and from the leaks. But here is the scary part (Mom—skip to the next paragraph). Often it’s really hot in my room during rainstorms so I like to turn on my standing fan. Since the power usually goes out during storms I’m in the habit of plugging it in and leaving the button pushed in so that as soon as the electricity kicks back on I have a nice breeze to sleep to. Well, when I woke up, the cord to my fan was submerged in about an inch of water. And since I was also laying in the same water….well, you can figure out what would have happened if the power had come back on….
Just gives me the chills thinkin’ about it.

Not really knowing what to do, I waded my way through the mud to my family’s house and knocked on the door. My mom and niece Faama came to investigate. They made some disapproving noises, agreed that all my valuables were safe and told me we’d just deal with it in the morning. I spent the next 2 hours trying to sleep with my family in the big room of their house while my little brother snored, my niece kicked, and my dad prayed.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.

At first light I ventured into my room to assess the damage. The wall to the outside, facing the wind and storm was soaked through. My mattresses were sopping wet and heavy, but luckily there was no damage to my stuff at least. My douche still had a good two inches of water. I started the mind-numbing task of sweeping the water out of my room, with a straw hand broom, setting my mats out to dry, and draining my douche. Luckily my little nieces and nephews woke up early and came to my rescue. Kids here are so awesome like that. They are so eager to be a part of anything that I literally didn’t have to do any of the work. They swept out all the water, helped me hang stuff out to dry, and drained my douche, all the while telling me “hey Binta, stop it, get out of the way, don’t do that, let me.” So awesome. My contribution was to make jokes about swimming in our new lake while making fake swimming motions, and perhaps going for a boat ride around our now totally flooded neighborhood.

So remember how I had been wading around in the water that night cracking jokes to myself about floating scorpions? Well, guess what? Yep. Found one. And it was very much alive, yellow, the size of my hand, with a black tail, and inches from my face! I didn’t even notice the d*** thing! I was so focused on sweeping the water out of my douche through this dumb little hole that it wasn’t until my niece screamed SCORPION! And pulled me back that I looked up and there it was, on the wall hovering just above the very hole I was sweeping water out of. Perfectly placed to strike me on my face or hand. Nice.
That’s 2x lucky in one day.

Now, to be fair, we did get a TON of water last night. 115 milimeters! Which is crazy talk for the desert. But the reason why my room flooded was because my family is building a new room onto their house and there is a HUGE pile of sand pushed flush up against my douche. So the hole in the wall that usually allows the rainwater drain to the outside was totally blocked up. No water could get through so it accumulated until it was higher than the lip of my room and then flowed in freely. That along with the leaking tin roof and the sopping wet walls meant a flooded hut.

I was mildly annoyed with my flooding until I took a look around our neighborhood and assessed the real damage. People’s homes actually collapsed, boutiques were flooded and all of their goods ruined, another boutique collapsed and all of the dirt paths are now rivers of filthy stinky water. The huge lake that has accumulated in the trash field next to my house is threatening to engulf the entirety of the 3 squatter houses in the field next door.
(See pictures from my newest album “Rain!”)

As a health volunteer I am absolutely dreading the consequences of this monsoon. That field, is full of trash, animal and human feces, animal corpses, bugs, filth, toads, schistosomiasis, and who knows what else. And what was the first thing I saw? Can you guess? Children swimming in it. Luckily my family and most people know that this is just horrible so Binta’s husband (who has now moved back from Dakar) screamed at them to get out. If I see them in it again I am going to go talk to their mother and explain to her why it is absolutely one hundred percent unacceptable to let her children near that water. But it’s going to be difficult considering it’s literally at their front door. And well, it’s the closest thing they have to a pool. But I know they will be washing their clothes in it, and probably using it to wash their dishes too.

What I’m waiting for is a cholera epidemic, and if not that dramatic than at least an incredibly high incidence of malaria in our neighborhood. Uhg. People better start using their mosquito nets again immediately. They tend to stop sleeping under them during the hot season claiming that “there aren’t any mosquitoes” or “The nets are too hot.” Which are both ridiculous excuses, but so prevalent from about April through June. Of course last year my 7 year old nephew did get malaria during said hot season, but you know, whatever, God brought that right? It had nothing to do with the fact that there’s MALARIA and he wasn’t sleeping under a net? Nope. Of course not. That’s crazy talk.

It’s not that I get angry, I just care so much about everyone in my town. It literally is like having 10,000 children. Or at least several hundred, because I have the know-how, the motivation, and it’s my job to educate people about how they can stay healthy. So when big obstacles like this stand in my way, my anxiety level skyrockets (which makes my ears ring uncontrollably I’ve discovered ever since the ear infection) and I fret constantly.

The day is heating up fast though, so maybe most of the shallow puddles will have dried up by the end of the day and the rain will stay away for a little while. In the time it took me to write this entry, it’s already shot up 5 degrees.

Stuff I have learned because of this flood:
Don’t leave electrical appliances plugged in and on in hopes of a cooler night’s sleep.
Keep all baggage elevated and in impenetrable containers
Children make great house keepers
Flooding your room is a great way to evacuate all bugs, lizards, and scorpions from the premises.
Not only can scorpions climb walls, they can apparently float.
I am lucky that nothing was damaged, and there is always someone worse off.
Now I know exactly how cholera and malaria epidemics begin.
The hundreds of toads now accumulated around our lake of trash are the loudest SOBs I’ve ever heard.

Here’s hoping when I’m home for vacation that the monsoon of the century doesn’t occur. I don’t think my little hut could take any more.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008



Finally, after over 4 weeks in Dakar and 5 weeks away from site, my ears are pretty much completely healed. The ringing has stopped almost entirely, (at least enough so that I don’t notice it most of the time), and the pain is gone. I can still tune into the ringing at night, and if it’s really quiet I can tune in during the day. The official term is Tinnitus. I’ve done some research and it can be caused by inner ear infections. So this whole thing wasn’t totally uncommon or out of the ordinary. It happens to people all the time. I just hope that eventually my ears heal enough that it stops entirely. Fingers crossed.

Loud noises still bother me a lot more than normal, and so do some vibrations, like when trucks pass by. I had a CT scan and everything is totally normal, and the ENT did a hearing test and I am happy to report that I still have perfect hearing so no permanent damage Alhamdoulilah! His theory about why my ears aren’t back to normal? Stress. For which he prescribed me vitamins to help me sleep. Hmm. I disagree. I think it has much more to do with the fact that my immune system was shot after I had amoebas and other GI illnesses, and constant congestion/allergies from the desert that it literally took an entire month of intense rest to recover from what normally would have taken about a week. Though there may be some truth to his theory because the ringing is noticeably louder when I am over tired, or anxious.

I got off medical hold this week, but then stayed around in Dakar for a conference and am currently helping to translate a documentary that our Peace Corps GAD committee is producing (more on that later). Then it’s up north for a regional retreat for the new volunteers who have installed in our region and THEN it’s back to site. I have been away for SO long, I can’t wait to get back. I really miss my family, my work, and my routine. I have missed the entire month of May. Granted it is the hottest month of the year so it’s not the worst thing ever to have missed out on the desert heat for a bit. I have kept myself occupied by translating our radio show skits from Pulaar into English and soon to be into French, so that we can begin a huge health volunteer resource library. And now I am working on this documentary about women’s empowerment.

What baffled me about this whole process though is just how incredibly long it took me to recover. I’m hoping that it will just take a little longer and soon my ears will be as they were before. So for those of you who have been fretting about my health and well-being, Thanks. I’m really okay and doing everything I can to heal myself entirely.

P.S. A cockroach just ran over my computer screen as I’m uploading this at the internet cafĂ©. I’m pretty sure it actually came out of my bag. Yum.