Day to day, I was confronted with lives that starkly contrasted from my middle-class, American one. In my community, I watched as young girls, my neighbors, only twelve years old were given husbands 3-4 times their age and sent to accompany them to far away villages where they would cook, clean, wash clothes and get pregnant...even if their bodies were in no way ready to do so. I was introduced to a subsistence farming lifestyle, as mentioned in a previous post, where children (both boys and girls) as young as four years old were forced to spend days in the one hundred and ten degree sunshine just so the family could have enough labor to finish the field work. I struggled to help/keep up with the mothers in my family as they performed daily laborious chores while carrying babies on their backs or in their bellies (maternity leave from chores while pregnant=0 days, maternity leave after birth of child=2 weeks). I watched as my family and those surrounding me spent weeks or more with little access to fresh fruits or vegetables, particularly during the early rainy season as field crops take priority over garden crops during this time. And in light of the labor and hardship in this community, the villagers access to healthcare was minimal if not nonexistent. I have heard horror stories of emergency situations: one woman pregnant with twins in labor, riding on a horse drawn cart through sand roads in the middle of the night in a rain storm just to reach the hospital in Koungheul...only to have both children die shortly after birth. And regardless of all this, I lived with a community deeply dedicated to their religion, continually praying to God as they will always stay positive and believe improvement/development is possible.
This community was the one that welcomed me in as a naive, American child just two years ago. I was adopted into a host family with two wives and now, as of recently, eight children ranging from a few weeks to 12 years old. These people became my family and I cannot thank them enough. They took care of me, cooked for me, washed my clothes and helped me with just about everything else aside from physically dressing me. I relied on them, repeatedly questioned them, loved them.
And I can't help but always think, particularly after my service, that even though I was there to witness, experience, question and observe, I was only there for a definitive two years. Those two years ended and now I will moving on to new, different things. The lifestyle I became apart of for a short time will never represent my real life. I will always have some sense of guilt that I have the privilege to leave that community, those hardships, that environment, whereas those that I learned to love will remain there. Why have I had so much opportunity in my lifetime, especially as a woman? Why did I happen to be born in the family that I was?
As the next step, I have chosen to extend my Peace Corps service for another year here in Senegal. Just two weeks ago I moved out my village to take my village-quality belongings (ripped and dirty) into the suave capital city of Dakar. Since then I have been settling into a new apartment, new amenities and a new position. For the next year I will working as the Nutrition Capacity Building Coordinator for Peace Corps Senegal...which essentially means that I will be developing our nutrition programing for all volunteer sectors in Senegal, training Senegalese work partners to extend nutrition information to their communities as well as developing/organizing resources for volunteers. I started this position a little over a week ago and I am excited for future opportunities. For example, in the picture below, we recently participated in a health event in conjunction with Special Olympics to train handicap children and their families about the importance of proper hygiene and hand washing.
|Special Olympics event, extending proper hand washing|
to handicap children and their families. (Dakar)