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12/1/03

Happy End of Ramadan, Thanksgiving, and World AIDs Day, Everyone!

It has been a terribly long time since I updated you.  I donīt have any good excuses, so you will have to forgive me.  In atonement for my laziness, I promise you a superlong (thatīs super AND long!) update now.  Put on your seatbelt...

In early October, Becky ditched me once again to go on vacation.  This time she went to the States to glimpse her lovely new nephew, to attend two weddings, and to get a brief reintroduction to New England weather.  I was intent on staying out of trouble for the whole week, so I planned some activities for myself.

Bafilo-Bassar Bike Trip

First, Greer and I biked with Mary and Melissa to their villages near Bassar.  We all left from Bafilo (we kind of forgot to tell Becky that we were crashing her pad) on the back road to Bassar.  Once again, we learned not to listen to the villagers in matters of distance: people told us it was anywhere from 75 to 120 kilometers away.  We think that it was about 60 kilometers.  We also wonīt listen to them in matters of road conditions.  Sure, it was a dirt road, but it was awesome: not only was it well-kept and three cars wide, there was practically no one else on the road.

It was another 25km to Maryīs and then 10 more to Melissaīs, and the whole experience gave me a new appreciation for my village.  First, there are phones in my village.  Second, there is transport in and out of my village every single day.  Should Mary and Melissa want to leave village by any means other than bike, they have to wait for the one market truck that passes by on Tuesdays.  Third, I have a boutique in my village with everything a gal could need (including toilet paper, but excluding eggs, peanut butter, and flour).  So does Mary, but Melissa can only buy ONE good (sugar) SOMETIMES in her village.  After seeing for my very own eyes Melissaīs mud hut, only large enough for a double bed if she were to take EVERY other item out of her hut, I have bestowed on her the Hardest of Core Award.

Tomato Canning

Back in village, I woke one Thursday with the idea to run a workshop on canning tomatoes in the market.  It actually went really well, considering I put the whole thing together in about 2 hours.  I just made four jars of tomatoes, explained it all in French, and then let Mounira (one of my two wonder-girls) take over.  She explained it all in Kotokoli, and then even did a bit of translating into Pular for the Fulani women standing there.  Then it was she who suggested we walk around with the jars and tell the vendors who couldnīt leave their kiosks how to can tomatoes.  I thought that was brilliant, plus a lot of fun for me because I just got to play with babies while she did all the explaining.

Besides all the people who asked me to give them a jar, one man offered to buy one.  I was a bit confused when he pulled out 500 francs, started gesturing to the jar, and got rather upset when Mounira explained that it wasnīt for sale.  He thought it was medication, and he was willing to pay a dayīs wage for whatever the white lady had boiled and put into a jar!

Iīm not gullible enough to assume everybody there was interested in tomato canning.  I know they mostly wanted to look at my pretty stove and pretty saucepans and hoped that I would give away some goodies (maybe even money--letīs go watch!).  But I donīt care.  All I can do is put information out there, and if someday they decide they want tomatoes during the seaon of scarcity, maybe theyīll remember that crazy white lady with the gas stove.

Cotton Pickinī

There seem to be several cases of malaria in my village lately.  The scariest was my four-year-old neighbor Marthe.  Thanks to three or four IVs, a pint of blood, a lot of medicine, and some good luck, she is wonderfully healthy now.  A special thank you to Edith, who donated bottles and bottles of iron-fortified childrenīs vitamins last week:  I canīt wait to get them back to village tonight--the kids will love the "candy" even though theyīll never know how good it is for them!  I thank you on all our behalf.  Thanks also to my family and Greerīs family for iodine and transport.  You people are wonderful!

My Papa, Aliou, also got malaria.  It was a great opportunity to teach the family about oral rehydration salts (salt, sugar, and lemon juice in a lot of water), and also a great opportunity to help out the family in the field.  I took his place picking cotton one day, which was absolutely exhausting.  After spending hours stooped and plucking cotton balls out of their dried flower, I carried a 30-lb. bag of it back to the village--an hour and a half from the field.

I am really glad to know how difficult cotton harvesting is so I can be more sympathetic with villagers who are just unwilling (or way too tired) to build a compost pile or do all the other little tasks I am supposed to advocate.
 
Parasites

The cotton-picking exhausted me enough so that the amebas caught up with me again.  I stayed in bed for three days, dragging myself out only to eat or frequent the latrine, and then going right back to bed.  I finally decided to call the Med Unit, and after 2 hours of promising that I would go after "just another 15 minutes of rest," I made it to the phone booth, where I immediately had to take a nap on Warahamatouīs floor.  That made the villagers a little worried, but not so much as when I took another nap between my calling Peace Corps and their calling me back.  They had to call me a second time, and I took a nap before that, too.  The doctor thought I had amebas even though I had no fever, and I only believed him when I took Marthe back to Kara for her checkup and realized I had lost ten pounds again.  Sure enough, the lab confirmed that I had amebas in addition to the blastoshists (or something like that) that I got in September but decided not to treat until something more annoying needed to be treated too.

I just got off the ameba treatment, but I honestly donīt think we got them all.  The problem is that I am addicted to fufu (pounded yams, like mashed potatoes).  The Medical Unit is always worried because lots of volunteers develop signs of alcoholism here, and the ameba treatment is a good indicator, in that you have to spend 10 days without drinking.  Personally, I think the Med Unit should worry about fufu addictions.  I KNOW I take a risk of getting parasites from it, but it is just SO GOOD, I canīt help myself, even during the 10 days I am getting treated.  Iīm hoping to start a support group and a 12-step program for us volunteers who have been infected 3 or more times.

Cooter/Cooper/Scooter

My dog, whose name I still havenīt officially changed, is doing really well.  One day we walked the 8 miles to Bafilo.  I was impressed with her stamina.  I was even more impressed with her stamina the day she RAN to Bafilo next to my bike.  I kept thinking that she would turn back, but she kept up and even whimpered at me when I was biking too slowly.  I had to lock her in Beckyīs compound to keep her from following me the rest of the way to Kara.  I love that dog!

I am running out of time, but in a week or so, I hope to fill you in on Ramadan, Thanksgiving, World AIDS Day, and my thoughts on being totally abandoned by Becky.  Until then, I leave you with the following chicken-raiserīs tip: after putting chicken manure into a bucket and before placing said bucket on your head, check that there is not chicken manure on the bottom.

Take care,
Phynessa