This blog reflects my personal ideas and does not represent any position of the US government or the Peace Corps.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Katie, the Senegalese Kind

I have been back in village for the past three weeks now and am jumping into the swing of things. Of particular interest, this past week, I completed a malaria education program at my elementary school. (This past rainy season and even until recently, I was shocked by the amount of malaria present simply in my own family 12-year old sister contracted malaria twice during the rainy season and the small 6-month-old just recovered this past week). The program, known as "Nightwatch," is six days long and occurs after school. Each day the kids learn various things about malaria, including how it is transmitted, what are the symptoms, what to do when you contract it, how to prevent it etc. The program specifically focuses on mosquito nets and the vital role they play in preventing malaria throughout the entire year. The exciting part is that the program culminates in a short test followed by a fun activity on the last day. Each student was given a small flag (that I had made by a tailor in Kounghuel) and some fun markers. They were instructed to close their eyes and imagine what they wanted to be when they grew up....teachers, doctors, jounalists and even the president of Senegal showed up. Kids wrote their dreams on these flags and decorated them with great colors. All the flags were hung up in the classroom, though in about a weeks time each student will take home their flag. The hope is that they will hang the flags inside their mosquito net and each night be reminded that sleeping with their net will protect their dreams by keeping them healthy/malaria free.

I also have some other exciting news. In early January, I decided to attend a naming ceremony (occurs a week after the baby is born and announces his/her name) for a good friend who had her first girl on December 29th, 2012. I became close with this family during the past rainy season as they are of pulaar descent, care for multiple herds of cattle and have copious amounts of fresh milk during the farming season (delicious with millet couscous). I would often spend many a morning at their compound filling up on milk and millet and passing out for a cat nap on their floor. Their house is always bustling with tons of adults and children though most all speak solely Pulaar and therefore we find it very difficult to chat. Maam Diara (the new baby's mother) however, speaks fluent wolof, so I was always partial to passing out on her floor with a belly full of milk.

The morning of the naming ceremony, I arrived at the compound early to witness the naming of the baby (the head is shaved, a goat is slaughtered and the name is announced). I first greeted Maam Diara, who was done-up with braids and hair extensions, and then moved on to visit with her family that had traveled in for the occasion. They were quite rambunctious and enjoyed joking with the Toubab, saying I'd be the baby's namesake. Once Maam Diara and Mumadou (the baby's father) were dressed up, the baby was carried off with the women of the family, the mother and I. We all sat on beds in a small thatched roofed hut and watched as one of the baby's relatives shaved its head and placed the hair in a small bowl with water, cotton and some bark (I'm sure all symbolizing something). At one point a small wisp of hair was carried away with the wind and 3 elderly ladies chased after it ouside trying to distinguish it from goat and sheep hair (not sure what is done with the bowl of hair later but is was clear that every bit of hair needed to be included). Outside the men were busy praying and slaughtering the goat to be eaten for lunch. After the whole process, the name was announced by the father, and one woman of the family relayed the name into our room...she announced that they would be naming the baby after...Fatou stomach dropped , Fatou Sarr is my name... All the women looked up, fixed on me, smiling. One asked my American name as that should be the true name of the baby, Katie Richards. Maam Diara and her relatives were not joking, I am now the namesake of a beautiful baby girl in the village next door, Baby Katie (pronunciation still remains a bit difficult among the family), the Senegalese kind...

Both photos of Baby Katie and the malaria program should be added soon, so keep your eyes peeled. These next couple of weeks I look forward to touring Senegal with my parents and taking them all the way to my humble hut in the bush! They should be updating photos of their trip as well, and when I get a chance I'll let you know where to find them.


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