Monday, May 16, 2016

Gis gna mercure bi?

              On Friday, it was finally time to travel to the mines.  We’d spent all day on Thursday meeting with officials in Kedougou city (Direction of the Environment, Direction of Mines, Water and Forestry Division, Police, Governor in a town 7 km away) to inform them of our activities; they were all glad to be informed and repeated that it’s important that we came to them.  This all relates to the Senegalese system of everyone wanting to be a part of a project by being informed, even if they will play no part in it.
              Friday morning, we set off with our overnight bags and cooler of empty sample bottles and bags.  After a breakfast of a bean sandwich, we went to the garage to find a car going to Saraya, where we’d be based for the next few days as we visited the large mining town of Kharakhenna.  Fortunately, the van filled quickly, and we were all set to go.  But, the car had to stop first at a few houses to retrieve some baggage.  There were some complaints from passengers (particularly from one well-dressed man who insisted he was in a rush to make a meeting in Saraya), but the driver declared he had only one stop left.  He then proceeded to enter a tire mechanic shop to fill the rear tire with air.  However, after several minutes of failed attempts to fill the tire, it turned out that the tire wasn’t just lacking air – it also had a hole.  All 14 of us passengers filed out of the car to wait as the tire was removed, patched, and placed back on the van.  During the wait, over the sparks of a nearby metal working and the pounding of three carpenters building a bed, I was able to sit and examine the other passengers.  I was particularly struck by one woman (not much older than a teenager) and her 3-year old child.  I had noticed them in the car as she stroked his head, an affection not often shown here.  I had also noticed large bumps across his scalp earlier, but now I noticed that he was unable to hold his head up, and it kept flopping to the side while the woman tried to help him sit up in her lap.  When she went for a walk and swung him onto her back, she had to place his arms around her neck and legs around her waist, while leaning over so that he would not slide off, as he was incapable of these maneuvers himself.  She then had to hold his body while his head flopped at a dangerous angle.  When she turned toward me, I saw his eyes rolling into his sockets, teeth black and wasting, mouth turned in pain, and legs and arms too skinny for a child.  He was starving, sick, and likely didn’t have many days left.  It was an incredibly sad sight.
              Eventually, the tire was rolled back into place on the car, and we set off.  The road to Sarya was recently paved and beautiful as a result of the gold mining industry – though there are some potholes, these don’t take up the entire width of the road, and driving is easy.  The 60 km trip only took an hour, and I was eager to continue to the gold mines in Kharakhenna after dropping off our bags, but that is not the Senegalese protocol.  First we had to stop by the governor and police stations to alert them of our presence and our activities.  Then we had to walk around Sarya to greet Falaye’s friends and acquaintances.  By that time, it was rude to leave without waiting for lunch (around 2:00 in Senegal) and then too hot to travel until 4:00.  (Nothing happens in Senegal between 1:00 and 4:00.)  But eventually we did find a car, waited for it to fill, and traveled an additional 30 km on the beautifully paved road to Kharakhenna, where I was completely unprepared for what I saw.
              I had been told that mining villages are transient communities whose populations have swelled with the gold rush.  People from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Ghana, and Nigeria flock to the mines for a chance at striking rich.  And not just miners come, but also people selling wares and prostitutes.  Kharakhenna was once a small village, but it’s population now likely exceeds 15,000.  As the population boomed, people didn’t have time or space to build compounds (a series of huts surrounding an open area where a family lives together), but instead constructed just a single room.  In fact, the rooms weren’t even constructed of mud as in villages or cement as in cities; instead, they were created by weaving dried weeds together and then using plastic sheets to cover any holes.  These rooms extended for several kilometers in every direction.  On the road, lines of people sold every possible item from food to containers to gasoline, similar to what you’d see in a city but all based out of weed huts.  Interestingly, there were a lot of people selling solar panels (the first time I’ve seen this in Senegal), and many were placed on top of the weed roofs to provide power for the rooms.  There were also a few places selling new motorcycles, a big attraction for people who strike it rich in the mines.
              We were met by one of Falaye’s friends who acted as our guide in the village.  I was introduced to many people, the first of which was wearing a Syracuse t-shirt.  There is truly a sense of community in the village, despite its strange construction, and people were welcoming and kind.  As it was a Friday, no one was working in the mines.  This originates from the Western African belief in genies, who they say are active on Fridays and Mondays.  As a result, if people try to work in the mines on these days, they are likely to be injured, and it is best to either process mined dirt or to relax for the day.  We walked up to the mines, where it is ok to look at them, as long as we don’t try to dig.  Thousands of holes dotted the hillslope; each hole was tens of meters deep and then continued horizontally.  Men descend via rope tied to a wooden pole over the hole, and a fan keeps the air circulating.  Sometimes they descend for multiple days at a time, bringing food and tea into the hole with them.  Dirt is lifted back up from the team at the top of the hole.  The process is extremely dangerous, and many holes collapse due to lack of structure; theoretically, every 10 meters is supported by wooden poles (leading to deforestation as people chop down trees for these support systems), but in reality, people often don’t reinforce the walls as often as they should.  There is also the danger of reaching the water table, whereby water begins to fill the hole and needs to be pumped out before the digging can continue.
              Once the dirt is removed from the hole, it is brought into the village, where it is ground into a sand, mixed with water, sieved on an angled wooden plank covered by a mat.  The dirt on the mat is then dunked in water, and the water is checked for flakes of gold (which it usually contains).  At this point, mercury is added to the solution since it selectively binds to mercury, which one man demonstrated to me in his hand, while asking, “Gis nga mercure bi?” (Do you see the mercury?).  The mixture is then taken to huts and burned by the women, releasing large amounts of mercury into the atmosphere and leaving the gold behind.  Additionally, some of the tailings are then bought by men from Burkina Faso, who move it to the bush and add cyanide to remove even more of the gold.  They know that cyanide is prohibited by the government, and this process thus occurs very secretively.  In fact, people are generally loathe to mention that they use either mercury or cyanide, for fear of repercussions by the police or Senegalese government.
              Traditionally, Senegalese people had mined for gold using just water, and no chemicals.  However, as more people from Mali and Burkina Faso learned of the Senegalese gold deposit in the 1990s, they immigrated to Senegal bringing not just themselves, but also the technique of using mercury to extract more gold.  And thus, the black market trade of mercury (originating from mercury mines in Ghana) began.
              When people are not working in the mines or processing the dirt, they behave like other Senegalese (or West Africans) – they sit, talk, drink tea, and smoke cigarettes (another sign of their wealth – nearly everyone I saw smoked a pack a day, at a cost of $4).  They also played checkers and engaged in promiscuous activity.  Fortunately, I was unaware of most of the prostitution occurring in the village, though the unnaturally light-colored skin (caused by chemical skin lightening creams) and heavy amounts of make-up on many of the women alerted me of their presence.  And, since men far outnumber the women, the men even engaged in tasks outside their gender norm; I noticed men cooking, washing clothes, and cleaning.  I was also interested to note that French was fairly common among many of the people; with such a high amount of foreigners, local languages were not shared by all present, and French was often the first language utilized among strangers and even amongst friends from different localities.

              Aided by Falaye and his friend, I was able to collect my first few water and soil samples.  I collected soil samples along a transect from a hut where mercury is burned toward the river.  We were also aided by a man from Burkina Faso, who took soil samples for us from the bush where cyanide is used after the mercury processing.  My project is officially on its way!

(I apologize for the lack of pictures.  My connection is too slow now, but hopefully I'll be able to post some when I head back to Dakar.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Huh, Toubab degge na Wolof?

              Every region of Senegal is drastically different from the rest – in terms of geography, culture, agriculture, etc.  Dakar, on the coast (and containing the most westerly point on the African continent) has the highest density of people, a variety of Senegalese ethnic groups as well as non-Senegalese immigrants, and also a mild climate.  When I was there earlier this week, I even wore a sweater at night, though that was partially to acclimate myself for the hotter temperatures I knew I would soon endure.  Kaolack, where I lived in the Peace Corps, is located toward the center of the country and on the border with the Gambia.  It is dominated by the Wolof culture, with some Sereer and Mandinka peppered in the mix.  Kaolack is hot, known to have a lot of flies, has a fairly barren landscape, but is still capable of hosting fruit trees (mostly mango and cashew-which produces a fruit before the nut ripens).  The eastern part of the Kaolack region (Fatick) is also home to enormous biodiversity in the mangrove swamps, which supports a fishing industry.  Further east is Tambacounda, where I have spent the past 2 days with Falaye, who will be working with me to collect samples.  Tambacounda is more barren than Kaolack, home to a variety of cultures (Wolof, Mandinka, Bambara, Pulaar), contains the largest banana farms in Senegal, and also boasts the country’s national park (where one of my friends once spotted a lion from the national highway that runs through it).  Kedougou, where I’ll be headed for my research, is in the far southeast of the country (about a 13 hour car-ride from Dakar, if the car doesn’t malfunction on the way).  Kedougou is one of the most culturally diverse regions of Senegal, with Pulaar, Mandinka, Bambara, Jaxanke, Jalinke, Malinke, and Bassari cultures; the latter is an animist society that has maintained much of its culture, compared to the others that have adopted Islam to replace many aspects of their traditional religion (though some animist traditions do still persist in all of the Senegalese cultures).  Kedougou is the “mountainous” region, home to primates (and the Jane Goodale Institute that studies them), boasts large amounts of heavily forested land, waterfalls, supports avocados in addition to other fruit trees (mango, cashew, soursop, sweetsop), and of course contains a large deposit of gold ore – the purpose of my trip to Senegal.  Moving back toward the coast of Senegal from Kedougou (along the southern strip below the Gambia) is Kolda and Ziguinchor, both of which are forested, contain may fruit trees (and pineapple), support large amounts of tourism, and are home to Pulaar, Sereer, Mankine, Bambara, and Djola cultures.  In the very north of the country is St. Louis and Matam; these regions are in the Sahel (the strip of land directly below the Sahara) and are known for their extremely hot temperatures, conservative culture (people are generally more religious in this region – in terms of respecting all 5 Muslim prayer times, skirts reaching to the ankles, and women more likely to wear hijabs, etc.), dominant Pulaar culture, and predominance of cow herding over agricultural farming.
              Though I lived in Senegal for 2 years and traveled to 10 of the 14 regions, the majority of my knowledge of culture is derived from the village I lived in.  There, Wolof are boisterous, loud, sassy, and continuously joking with each other.  There is rarely a silent moment in a compound: animals (goats, sheep, chickens, cows, horses, ducks, dogs, and cats) wander across the shared open space or through huts, babies cry, children scream and play, adults yell at each other or their children.  Their yelling is just part of who they are; nothing is done quietly, and harsh-sounding tones of voice often contain completely docile messages.  People are constantly visiting each other’s compounds to greet them, stop and talk, help with any chores currently being conducted, share local gossip, and ask favors of each other.  If I entered someone’s compound to visit, I would be constantly entertained by all the goings-on.  Interestingly, I am learning that not all Wolof are the same.  I’ve been staying with Falaye’s family in Tambacounda for the past 2 days and have visited with many of his friends.  They are a mix of several cultures, though of course I can only communicate with those that speak Wolof.  I have found that Tambacounda Wolof are much milder than those in the Kaolack region.  Conversations contain lowered voices, children quietly entertain themselves without much screaming or squealing, and jokes are less physical.  To make a comparison, in my village, often people would visit a compound, pick up the bucket into which a girl was cracking open peanuts, and pretend to run away the bucket, while simultaneously pushing away anyone who tried to stop them and insulting the girl’s cooking or the family’s peanut harvest.  This was all done in jest, with no ill-intentions and lots of laughing and joking from both parties.  But here, jokes are merely spoken, such as comments about last names, carry on for less than a minute, and then the conversation continues.  But, what prevails here and in all regions where I’ve spent time, is the look of surprise followed by the comment “Huh, Toubab degge na Wolof?” (Huh, the foreigner understands Wolof) whenever I open my mouth to speak.

              Next stop, tomorrow, is Kedougou.  I’ll be in the city for 2 days meeting with government officials there to explain my research (any potentially related governmental branch needs to be aware of my work to ensure that no one feels slighted) and receive any formal authorization papers that are deemed “necessary.”  Then, I’ll finally be ready to travel to mining villages to begin collecting samples.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Maay ma xaalis bi

              Dakar is a typical African city, blending modernization and traditionalism.  A view from above shows a dense population; in fact, 2.5 million people (20% of the population) live in this metropolitan area.  In the downtown and surrounding area, the streets are well-paved, new buildings are constantly springing up, and restaurants abound.  People stroll the streets with iphones and androids in their hands, wearing jeans and other westernized clothes.  The two “peaks” in the city (called by the French name of “les mamelles”) each contain a large structure: one an enormous controversial statue of a couple holding a child and the other a light house.  From a quick, narrow glance, you can almost forget that you are in west Africa.
But a broader picture shows smaller roads paved with sand, many partially completed structures (as people begin the process of building new homes when they have money and slowly finish over time, afraid to wait until they can fully finance their homes less they spend the money or lend it to a friend or family member), and cows crossing in the middle of the street.  Sitting on a street bench, men and women approach you to sell clothes, mangos, sunglasses, live birds to release while making a wish, etc., or to offer to cut your toe nails or clean your shoes.  There are hundreds of street stalls selling bread with beans, spaghetti, and onions for breakfast; rice with fish and vegetables (coeb u jen), peanut butter sauce (maffe), and onions (yassa) for lunch; and couscous with bean sauce (cere ak bassine) for dinner.  You can identify these stalls by a wooden table, surrounded by wooden plank benches, and covered by colorful streets draped over wooden poles.  And people are constantly interacting with each other; it is rude to walk past anyone without a greeting, and conversations among strangers often result in a common acquaintance or jokes about last names (for example, Thiam is known for enjoying food, Diop for eating lots of beans which results in excess gas).  People are also always ready to help each other and to share.  My taxi driver this morning didn’t want the rest of his coffee.  He pulled over to the nearest person, rolled down the window, handed over the cup, and drove off.
And, a picture of Dakar (or any large town or city in Senegal) would not be complete without the image of the talibe.  These children are sent by their parents to study Koran under the tutelage of a master.  In theory, they are provided with food and shelter, learn the Koran, and learn humility by spending a few hours asking for money on the streets.  In reality, these children spend most of their time begging on the streets for food and money as they repeat “Maay ma xaalis bi” (offer me money), are not treated well by their masters, and learn very little.  They are mistreated by many of their Senegalese peers, learn no technical skills during their childhood, cannot remember the location of their home villages, and are unable to provide for themselves when they reach adulthood.  It is a system unsustainable outside of a small village and a well-intentioned master.

Like all cities, Dakar has its pros and its cons.  You can find anything you need in Dakar, if you ask the right people.  Every village child dreams of living in this city, and all the opportunities it affords.  There is a mix of old and new, affluent and poor, modern and traditional.  But, despite all of these contrasts, it remains a Senegalese city, rich with the vivacity of the culture and the openness of the people.

              Talibe in Dakar

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Am na sama benn xarit ki

              I didn’t expect to be back in Senegal so soon after leaving, and it’s surreal to be back here.  My “welcome” back to Senegalese culture began in the Casablanca airport.  As I wandered to find my gate, I immediately identified the location by Wolof being spoken all around me.  I took a seat, and the man beside me greeted me.  As the waiting area began to fill, people didn’t look for isolated seats to sit mindlessly on their computers or ipods; instead, they intentionally selected seats next to strangers and immediately initiated a conversation.  They were all Senegalese, and culture is the common grounds.  I listened to conversations about how Senegal will never progress, how hot Senegal is at this time, and how to cook the best maffe.  And, despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t stop listening and smiling.

              Nothing much has changed here, besides a few new buildings, street sculptures, and (of course) my perspective.  Today, as I traveled from government office to government office in the capital of Dakar in search of a permit to carry and collect soils, I was reminded of 2 important Senegalese lessons.  First, relax and take time as it comes; don’t rush.  Second, the country runs on relationships.  Fortunately, I was accompanied by a Senegalese friend who knows the system and knows the right people; as he continually repeated, “Am na sama benn xarit ki…” (I have a friend who…).  He had spent last night calling a long list of friends and acquaintances in variance positions to initiate meetings today either with them or with their friends and acquaintances.  We began this morning by meeting his friend at the Ministry of the Environment.  After sitting and catching up with her, she introduced us to a man, who then introduced us to another man, who suggested we speak to another man, who made a phone call to an official in the Kedougou office (where I will be collecting my samples) and determined that I wouldn’t need a permit.  Similar situations occurred at the other ministries I visited.  And so, through a list of contacts and meetings (all of which began with long conversations completely unrelated to my research), I eventually gained all the information I needed.  Had I proceeded to enter the various ministries myself, I would’ve been entangled in complexly structured office buildings, running from person to person without gaining much information.  But with patience, schmoozing, a push to remember all the Wolof I’ve forgotten, and a friend with contacts, I was able to accomplish everything (just in time for a delicious street lunch of coeb u jen – rice with fish and vegetables).

View from my hotel window


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mangiy niibii

After 2 years in Senegal, mangiy niibii.  (I am going home.)  Well, going home via Kenya, so I'll be back in the states in May.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Am nanu bibliotheque bi!

The library project has been a complete success.  The school followed through with its agreement to build the library building, complete with a room for the librarian looking out onto the library room.  Once this was completed, we commissioned bookshelves and tables to be built by a local woodworker.  Meanwhile, during 7 long days (accomplished in 2 trips to Dakar), I worked with one of my Senegalese friends to purchase the books.  This was no simple process.  Each day, we’d leave his house around 10 am to walk to the market.  This particular market was known as a blackmarket with lots of “bandits,” but books could be bought cheaply and in good condition.  If fact, some books were still in their original packaging, but could be purchased at nearly half the price of a new book.  I don’t know where these books originated from (people stealing them, overstock in a factory/book store, the fact that the stallowners didn’t have to pay for the nice environment and employees at a bookstore), but it allowed me to buy many more books with the amount of money I had.

When bargaining for anything in Senegal, it’s important not to be in a rush.  We’d arrive, greet the stall owners, joke around, and then get down to business.  We’d state a few of the books we were looking for that day, and Mor (the main man we were working with) would go locate these books.  Essentially, he’d walk around the market and find other stall owners who had the books that we wanted, buy them at a very cheap price (since they help each other out and sell at-price or with a very small margin of profit), return with the requested number of a particular book, and then sell them to us a higher price.  In the meantime, we’d go to other stall owners near by, check out their stock, and request other books on our list.  It was all a competition between stall owners to have us buy from them.  They would make deals with us or promise us better prices than their neighbors.  And they were all very sneaky; sometimes, one stall owner would stand nearby as we were trying to work out a deal with a different stall owner, so that he’d know how much we were paying.

We’d organize a stack of books that we wanted, and then my friend would begin the bargaining process.  Though I’ve gotten fairly good at bargaining and often do it for my group of friends, I can’t compare to a native Senegalese.  I just sat quietly while he began to speak about the price.  First, he’d claim that it was too high, to which the stall owner would ask what he was willing to pay.  My friend would quote an exorbitantly low price, and the stall owner would reply that that wasn’t possible, but he wants to continue doing business with us so he’d lower it.  This would go back and forth for awhile, often with long breaks to joke about each other’s last time or to comment on something that was going on.  Finally, we’d arrive at an affordable price, and we’d agree to buy the books.  In general, pleasure books cost the equivalent of $1, literature for French class were $2, dictionaries were $4, textbooks were $3-8, and non-fiction books were $2-5.  At first, we paid slightly more than these prices, but we quickly learned how low we could get the stall owner to go (and each time we got one man to go lower, we told the next man, and he’d go even lower).  By the end, we had an effective system.

We would then ask for a box, and they’d fill an old carton with the books.  We would then either continue with the same stall owner or move to another one.  As my friend enjoyed saying, he wanted to give everyone a taste of our money.  And, with about $6,000 to spend in the market, we were bringing in a fortune, and everyone wanted us to check out their stock.  My favorite was when we were purchasing pleasure books.  Then I could peruse the choices on the shelves and find books that I wanted the library to contain.  My friend and the stall owners all laughed at me; they don’t really understand the concept of pleasure reading, but I enjoyed finding gems among their collections.  I’d look for classics that I loved growing up.  We also bought lots of African literature.  And, I’d get excited whenever I’d find a fun non-fiction book that I thought the students would like.  We got a nice chronology of events that occurred by year; though he only had 13 of the years between 1863 and today, it was still a great find.

Shopping in the market was really a matter of luck; we never knew what we’d actually find, and every day there were new items.  We’d arrive, and stall owners would approach us with books to check out.  Often, they were on obscure subjects or for very small children; many of the stall owners don’t understand what they’re selling and often can’t read French (in the market, Arabic seems to be more common to read).  We thus had to continuously repeat what we were interested in, but also to appear pleased so that they would continue to look for books for us and to sell them at a good price.  It was all a game.  I was thankful to have been accompanied because I certainly wouldn’t have played it right by myself.

In total, I purchased or had organizations donate over 3,000 books (pleasure books and textbooks).  After my first return from Dakar, I was worried about the number of books; the bookshelves looked fairly empty.  But when I returned the second time and we placed the books on the shelves, I was ecstatic to see that the shelves were almost completely full (and there are still a few book donations on their way)!  As the secretary put it, Am nanu bibliotheque bi!  (We have a library!)  As we unpacked all the books from the boxes, organized them, glued due date forms to the back of the books, stamped the books with the school name, and organized them alphabetically, the school director, secretary, and a few teachers came out to help.  Numerous teachers and students couldn’t help stopping by as well to see what books there were and to inquire when they could start taking them out.  They were all eager to begin reading.

On the first day of the library opening, before students could even take out books, 10 library cards had been bought.  As of last week, over 160 students and all the teachers had purchased library cards to use the resources; every day, more are purchasing them.  A card costs the equivalent of $0.40 for students and $2 for teachers, and allows yearlong access to take out books and sit in the library to use the books.  Whenever I enter the library, it is packed with students studying at the tables during their 2-hour breaks between classes while a line forms out the door with students checking out or returning books.  The secretary is so happy; he says this is much better than students going home to fool around or do chores at home during the break.  He claims they have no excuse now not to succeed.

And certainly this is the case.  Before the library, students only had access to 2 of the books they must read for French class during all of high school.  The rest they learned by the teacher explaining the characters and plots, which they’d record in their notebooks and then be tested on.  Now they have access to actually read the books.  The same applies for textbooks.  A few copies of textbooks were available, but not for every student and not for every subject.  Now, any student can borrow a textbook for 5 days to read more about the subject or complete extra exercise.  And, students are also reading for fun.  I was so happy when I walked in one day and saw a few students sitting with smiles on their faces as they read.  When time arrived for their class, they silently stood up, returned the book to the shelf, collected their bag from the librarian’s office, and continued on their way.

The library also is great.  He is so devoted to his job.  In a country where people arrive late, leave early, take long breaks, and don’t work much, he is the complete opposite.  I have worked with him from 8-2:30 straight, then returned at 4 to find him already at work, and then left at 7 with him still working.  (The school day is 8-1, 3-7; he had worked 8-2:30, 3-8.)  When he puts the books away, he takes extra care to ensure they’re all standing up straight and that the layout of the books on the shelves looks pretty.  He carefully records the books borrowed and returned, explains the library policy to students purchasing library cards, and chides students who return the book with bent pages.  He quickly caught on to the idea of alphabetization, and he’s eager to attend a library training soon in the regional capital.  I know that the library will thrive under his supervision.

So, after being open for about a month, the library is already providing valuable services to the students and teachers.  They are all so happy to have these books, and I can’t stop smiling whenever I walk into the room.  Books have formed such an important part of my life, and I’m so happy to be able to share it with them.  This is by far my most successful project.

On March 22, the school will host the official inauguration of the library.  School inspectors from the district and regional capitals will be present as well as local government officials.  I can’t wait for the library to get even more publicity within the community and hopefully 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nu dem jang leggi?

I want to start off by apologizing for the lack of blog posts recently; I’ve been very busy in village with work projects and trying to spend as much time with my host family and friends there since I only have two months left.

My village is very small and most children are not in the French school (a lot of children go to the Koranic school in my village instead or spend all day working or playing).  Thus, there are only two teachers; one teachers the youngest two grades (kindergarten and 1st grades), and one teaches the oldest two grades (3rd and 5th grades); there are about 50 kids in total, the majority being in the youngest classes with only 9 students in 5th grade.  I spend an hour in each room and have taught lessons on nutrition, dental health, hygiene, malaria, basic illnesses, and much more.  There’s something really wonderful about teaching to a group of students who all know and love you, and who you know everyone in their family.

The last lesson I taught the younger classes was about nutrition.  I used the go, grow, glow model, which is a simplified way of explaining a healthy diet.  There are foods to go (sugars/oils), grow (protein-rich foods), glow (fruits/vegetables), and then the staple foods (rice/bread/couscous).  I drew this model as a 3-legged chair; go, grow, and glow are the three legs to hold the healthy baby on the seat containing the staple food.  To get the students to understand what foods fall into each category, I drew pictures of the food item and called students up.  Based upon which category it fell into, they had to perform an action.  For staple items, they blew out their cheeks and put out their arms to look fat; for go, they ran in place; for grow, they showed their biceps; and for glow, they had to slap their legs and fake laugh.  It was hilarious to watch.  I even drew in some teenagers who were passing outside; they heard the noise, looked in the room, and took a seat to learn the information.  These younger kids also remember the song I taught them last year about malaria, a ditty I had made up on the spot about the symptoms of malaria.  Sometimes, when I walk in to teach them, they stand up and start singing it to me.

I teach the older classes in the afternoon, when they are not scheduled to be in school.  I arranged with the teacher so that a student has access to the key to open the classroom door, and I start class at 4.  As soon as the children finish eating lunch, around 2:30 or 3, they come to my door to see if I am ready to go to school.  Nu demjangleggi?  (We go to learn now?)  These kids all love to learn.  They then sit and play in my compound until the designated time, when they escort me and carry my baggage to the school.  They are so eager to be taught by me.  Though they can get a bit rowdy, they are all ready to listen when I slap an eraser against a desk (much more effective than a ruler, which I’ve broken twice now).  Most recently, I taught them about the importance of hand washing and sanitation.  Most of them seemed to understand the information, though there were several concepts that the students just couldn’t get.  I explained germs, how they spread, and how they’re invisible to the eye.  All the students then agreed that the floor was dirty.  But to see if I’d proven my point, I dropped a peanut on the ground, picked it up, and asked if I should eat it.  Immediately, all hands shot up, but not to answer the question; they all wanted me to offer the peanut to them to eat.  That lesson was clearly not effective.  But I have gotten through to them on other areas.  Last year, I had taught a lesson about the importance of washing cuts and wounds.  Sometimes, the kids literally drag a friend to my room to have me wash it with soap and water.  And they enjoy tattling on each other for having wounds.  While they may not necessarily be practicing these measures all the time, it shows me that they understand what should be done and hopefully will pass these best practices on to their friends and families.

Also, amazingly, when my hour is done with them (and this is an additional hour to their scheduled school times), they don’t want to leave the room.  They all sit there and beg me to teach them more, write math problems on the board, or write a text for them to read out loud.  These children love to learn, but unfortunately, most read very slowly (without any comprehension of the words they’re reading in French) and cannot solve even simple math.  It’s not them, it’s the system they’re stuck in.