Seventh Report


November 20, 1999

Shannon called from the Regional Center in Podor having just arrived from the 7 1/2 hour mini-bus ride.  She was "really psyched" about being there and being greeted so enthusiastically.   Spirits were high all around.  There was good music; cold water to drink; a real shower;  two HUGE libraries of 500 books each, one with technical books, the other with recreational books; and lots of people were in the kitchen cooking.  It's warm there (warm meaning still uncomfortable in a T-shirt), but not hot -- nothing like it was when she arrived in Senegal in September.  Then it was hot. 

On the min-bus ride from Theis she saw lots of sand, lots and lots of sand.   It's not a very pretty land.  There were grass huts and some camels ...and sand. 

The Regional Center is still a several hour ride from Seno Palel, the village in the district of Matam where she will be staying for two nights in her future home.  A big thing had just happened in her village: the Village Chief, her host father, had died four days ago.  He had been chief for many decades, and the entire village has been mourning for three days with wailing and screaming, but it will be over when she gets there. 

Once again Shannon was bragging about her level of French.  She is so good that she is done with French instruction and has begun on Pular.  However, the first Pular class made her cry.  The sounds were all so different from anything she has ever heard before, and they just weren't sticking in her mind.  When she said that she was discouraged that she was not as far along as some of the others, Fatimata, the instructor, screamed at her (in French, of course) that "this isn't a race" and sent her out of the room to quit crying and get herself together, because if she didn't then she (Fatimata) would start to cry and there would be a river.  While Shannon was outside the classroom she spoke to another student who had experienced the same thing the day before and commented,  "She's getting a lot of criers lately."

November 26 - The Day After Thanksgiving

When we talked to Shannon back at the Regional Center she was playing Star Wars Monopoly.  It was the first time that we had called her rather than her calling us, and it was good to learn that the phone number we had actually worked.   

"So, Shannon, how are things?"     "Very Good."
"How was Seno Palel?"     "Great.  I have a very cool family."

In Senegal the children of your sister are your children too, and Shannon has 4 Senegalese children, ages 2, 7, 11, and 20, from her 5 sisters.  Her sister Hawa's children are the 7 and 11 year old; Hawa is 24.  Shannon's Pular name is also Hawa, which sounds a little confusing, but she will probably be "Toubab (white person) Hawa" and her sister will be "Black Hawa" when there is need to differentiate. 

Shannon really hit it off with her pregnant sister-in-law, her brother's wife, probably because she spoke a little French.  In Senegal a pregnancy is routinely denied because of the high infant mortality.  The PCTs are instructed not to get too attached to a young child or anticipate a birth too much to protect themselves from heartbreak, but it doesn't always work.  Cira's sister just had a baby that lived only one day, and Cira did grieve mightily. 
     Women don't pray publicly when they have their periods, so when it is observed that they have been praying consistently for three months without a break, and a pregnancy is suspected, a woman will deny it.  If someone comments on a swollen belly the woman will reply that she has just eaten too much rice and fish. 
     A child is not considered to be in the clear until it is 8.  When the Senegalese speak of the children they say "if they live."  This we learned the day after our thanks-giving holiday.  

Malaria is one of the main killers.  When a person age 20-60 gets malaria they will probably recover because they have built up a tolerance for it, but those older or younger are likely to die.  If Shannon gets malaria it will be like an infant getting it because it will be her first time.  Very serious.  She takes the strongest malaria drug available, one that has significant side effects for some.   The only side effect Shannon has gotten is insomnia, but Cira became violent, and one of the other PCTs got weird psychotic nightmares.  Shannon is lucky that she can tolerate the strong medicine because not only does she have to take it just 1x/week rather than daily, it is also more effective. 
     One of Shannon's duties as a health worker will be to teach people to differentiate between malaria and the flu.  The symptoms are similar, fever and a headache, but the malaria must be treated aggressively. 

Shannon and Cira had a tour of the Health Post where she will be working.  It was gross.  The wound cleaning room was dirty, the wastebasket was overflowing, used needles were on the floor, and the instruments in the birthing room still had dried blood on them.  Cira commented that Shannon has a great opportunity to use their training in "health post management." 

If Shannon becomes sick herself she will not be treated in this place.  When one of the PCVs was in a serious car accident an air-conditioned PC vehicle came and whisked her off to the hospital in Dakar.  The woman felt very bad knowing that the Senegalese who were hurt much worse than she was were not getting the same quality of treatment.  But I'm sure her parents were happy to hear about that.  Shannon's parents were. 

In Seno Palel Shannon got to experience fetching water from the well for the first time, carrying it back on her head like a good Senegal woman.  Or girl.   Girls as young as 8 carry water on their heads.  Never men, however.   Mostly the men sit under a Neem tree talking, or sometimes they make tea.  The women do all the work in Senegal, by Shannon's observation.  John thinks Senegal must be a very fine place.

Eighth Report