Just another week

Trip Start Dec 01, 2007
Trip End Mar 27, 2010

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sitting in the hut can be fun. Take now for example. Sarah and I are lounging around listening to Alanis Morisette. My new mattress is on the floor (the village carpenter hurt his hand so all work on my bed has ceased) and Sarah, sitting on it, keeps talking and distracting me, not that I mind in the least. English is much appreciated. She got here yesterday in the afternoon right when I started to think the rain would keep her away.  Before she got here I had a fairly productive week. On Tuesday we had "monitorage" at the Health Center.  Every six months the Prefectoral (like a county) Health Department sends a delegation to evaluate the Health Center's performance. It's a big deal.  We got up early to cook breakfast, plantain and fish balls with chicken, which sounds really gross but was actually delicious. We made riz gras for lunch and the women let me help. First I was asked to ground these little black balls into powder but I didn't use enough force so that was taken away. Then they said I could stir the rice. But nope, 10 second later my stirring spoon was removed from my hand. So was given the task of peeling the potatoes which thank goodness I can do! It ended up being the best riz gras I've ever had, mostly because I peeled those potatoes so well.  The evaluation was excellent. We are now ranked the best Health Center in all of Kissidougou Prefecture. Then they recognized the people that helped make it happen and I was recognized as making a big sacrifice.  It was really encouraging.  I need my village to tell me they appreciate me every so often as opposed to demanding why I've been there so long and still don't speak Malinke or Kissi.
Then yesterday I had a meeting with the village women.  I really like the Peace Corps' approach to development. We're not like other large NGO's which go into an area and tell the population what they need, how they're going to do it and it inevitably fails. It's not a sustainable method.  Peace Corps sends us into a village with little to no money for projects and our challenge is to mobilize the community to use their own resources to change or improve on the things they care about. So in this meeting I asked the 70+ women who showed up to think about their and their children's health problems and then brainstorm solutions. The overwhelming answer that I received was they want a new Health Center. The current one is not adequate. I completely agree with them.  The equipment is old, the ceiling is rotten, the walls are coated with a layer of grim that no amount of scrubbing will remove and the straw is popping out of the mattresses for the sick and recovering new mothers. Not a very welcoming atmosphere. There isn't enough space. Women who just gave birth may stay for two hours to recover and then they get the boot.
They also said they need some sort of ambulance system to get women in labor with serious complications to the hospital in Kissidougou.  This is why African women have a 1:16 chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth and women in the west have a 1:4000 chance. 
Today I had the same meeting with the men. Twenty-seven showed up.  We sat in a circle and it was a lot calmer than 70 women plus their screaming children.  The men pleasantly surprised me. They were very engaged and candid. They requested almost the exact same things as the women. And then to my utter delight they said they were ready and willing to work.  They said they knew I couldn't do this alone and that I shouldn't hesitate to begin right away.  Which I have every intention of doing. I am so excited about this.  I have the opportunity to actually make a difference for my entire community. This might become a large part of my service but hopefully not at the expense of my other projects that are dear to my heart. I'm sure you've all noticed the rise in food and gas in America.  Well it's worse here. When I asked the men during the meeting whether they considered nutrition when they ate they laughed. They said they were happy when they could eat at all, nutritious or not. Things are tough.  So along with my new motivated counterpart, the 6th grade teacher at the elementary school, we've devised a plan for a school garden where each child would have their own bed to cultivate. They would grow vegetables to eat with their rice that the World Food Program (and your tax dollars) provide.  But in addition to lunch they could bring their produce home to their families.  This will hopefully add a little food security to Gbangbadou and its most vulnerable citizens as food prices continue to rise.
And in case you're wondering I'm feeling much better and I've had no more accidents.  I think my parasites are hibernating so look for Act II in September.
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