Eleventh Report


January 20, 2000

Shannon finally called when she had some time to talk. That’s the good news. The less good news is that she was calling from the Health Hut in Dakar where she was taken for the third time with a recurring high fever. She’s been cultured for malaria numerous times and doesn’t have that, and it's assumed that she has a mosquito-borne virus. [That turned out NOT to be the case.]

Many if not most volunteers suffer maladies such as this one during their first weeks or months of service, but it seems to me (perhaps it’s just my perspective) that Shannon is faring worse than most. Neither Shannon nor the doctors there seemed to find it particularly worrisome, however, because they see it all the time and assume it will pass.

When she was back in the village her family was very kind and tremendously concerned about her illness. They even tried to heal her with their religious rituals, but nothing worked, and she ended up back in Dakar where she will remain until the fever stays down for a few days.

She has no other particular symptoms other than the usual ones that accompany a fever, such as a very bad headache, chills, low energy, and an achy body, but she has lost over 30 pounds.

She still likes her village family very much. Fati Mata, the sister-in-law who named her new baby Hawa (Shannon’s Pulaar name), is still one of her favorite people. They see each other and talk many times a day, and Shannon likes her more each time. While Shannon’s health problems are very troubling, hearing that her emotional side is being nurtured is very comforting.

Back in November Shannon was told that she would be staying in the compound of the village chief, a common arrangement for Peace Corps Volunteers, and he would be her father. But he died suddenly before she moved to the village and his son has become the chief, so now she is the sister rather than the daughter of the chief. Another important village figure that lives in her compound is a very highly respected woman. No significant decisions are made without this woman’s input, and she has even more power than the chief in many respects. Living with those two figures puts her in a very honored position in the village.

The village of Seno Palel just got electricity, though not in Shannon’s hut, of course. The only way it is used so far is for lights, but if anyone ever does get a TV there is satisfactory reception there. There was no discussion of telephone service, so it seems that the telecenters in Sinthiou-Bamambe will continue to be the place we hear from Shannon when she goes there to get her mail and check in at the Health Post.

Remembering that the Senegalese concept of privacy is different than the American, I asked how that was going. Shannon reported that in general it is going better, and the Senegalese are starting to understand that she wants to be alone some of the time. However, when she was sick she kept her hut door unlocked so that she wouldn’t have to get up to open it when someone was at the door, and once again there was a cultural difference in how the Senegalese strive to meet the needs of sick people. Because their custom is to show their concern by coming to greet a sick person, people were in her hut constantly. Shannon didn’t want to offend them by telling them to leave, so she waited until Cira came and used her more proficient Pulaar to explain that in America sick people want to be left alone so that they can sleep. That helped a lot.

The last phone call when we had anytime to talk at all Shannon had said that her hut was falling apart. When her dad asked how that was going she said that it’s not a big deal now. The frogs are gone, but there are 6-8" lizards now that crawl around in the roof and knock down the straw into the hut. When she returned from one of the trips to Dakar there had been a sandstorm and there were sand drifts inside her hut. This was all told as just an interesting matter of fact, and it did indeed sound like no big deal to her.
     She sleeps on a 4" foam cushion on the floor, and she now has an armoire to put her things in, so her things don’t have to be piled in a heap in the corner. When we asked what we might send her to make her life better she said non-perishable food of any kind, and a fly-swatter.

Trying to visualize Shannon with 30 fewer pounds on her frame I asked what she looked like. She still has long hair that she wears in a ponytail, and the village children have finally gotten used to it and don’t want to touch it constantly any longer. She isn’t tanning because the malaria medicine prevents it. This season it isn’t too hot except for a couple of hours mid-afternoon, so she usually wears a t-shirt rather than a tank top or boubou. I wanted to think of her wearing the local clothing, but even though she has a boubou she doesn’t wear it because it has huge armholes that catch on everything and rip. Shorts aren’t acceptable, so she wears a skirt or pants, and the village is all loose sand, even the paths, so she usually wears flip-flops on her feet, though sometimes leather sandals.

John told Shannon that one of the local dentists wants to know if he can send a large number of toothbrushes for the Senegalese people. Shannon said that she definitely didn’t want to be the one to distribute any supplies like that because when the PCVs take on a Santa Claus role it impacts the expectations of all PCVs and makes life difficult for all of them. It has happened in the past. She will talk to the APCD (Area Peace Corps Director) to see if he will distribute them, and although her response made perfect sense, it was surprising to have such a seemingly generous offer put on hold.

It was a long, leisurely phone call, and we covered many more topics than these. At the beginning of the call she sounded sick and weak, but by the end she sounded much, much better.

A conversation with the parents of another PCV that just returned from Senegal and had seen Shannon also helped to put our mind at ease.  They assured us that she really did look good when they saw her.

February 24, 2000

Shannon called to tell us she was still in Dakar, but her fever is gone and all that remains of her illness is fatigue.  She hopes to be returning to the village on Saturday (in two days) to be out of Dakar for the presidential election on Monday, a very big event that happens only every 7 years.  The current president is a member of the political party that has been in control since the beginning of independence from France in the late 1960s, and he is running for re-election.  If one candidate doesn't get over 50% of the vote there will be a runoff vote of the top two.

We asked how all her clothes are fitting with all that weight gone, and she said that everything she wears has an elastic waist, so it hasn't been a problem.

In the course of conversation she interrupted herself to ask, "Is that an English word?"  The word was "obligatory."  With the recent intense study of French and Pulaar on top of Spanish and German not too long ago, it's no wonder she has forgotten which words go with which language -- even her first language of English.

February 25, 2000

We missed Shannon's call, but she left a very excited voice mail announcing that they have a definite diagnosis of her illness -- she has an amoeba!  She was very happy to have an accurate diagnosis of a disease that could be treated successfully.

February 27, 2000

Shannon was still at the Peace Corps Health Hut in Dakar, receiving medicine for the amoeba.  The reason that it took so long to diagnose her malady was that she never had any diarrhea, the main symptom for an amoeba.  She had begun the ten day regimen of pills for the amoeba which caused more discomfort than the illness.  She was still lethargic but feeling good overall, and her appetite was back. 

We talked about life back in the village, and I asked Shannon if she has seen any Senegalese dancing or done any dancing herself.  She said that the Senegalese dance all the time.  In the clubs in the Dakar the movement is lots of shaking knees, and in the village the movements are bigger with stomping to tom toms.  Does she do it?   Well, yes, and they congratulate her and tell her how well she does, but she strongly suspects that they just like watching a white person dance. 

Remembering how sick she was back in the village and how kind they all were to her, she described the ritual done to cure her.  Fati Mata (the favorite sister-in-law) explained to her that her brother who is a healer had diagnosed that the cause of the sickness in her eyes (her severe headache) was too many people looking at Shannon all the time.  So he called to God and copied words from the Koran (the Muslim holy book) for a long while.  Then the paper with the writing was put in water, and Shannon was washed with the water with God's words in it.
     Did it work?  The pain didn't leave her body completely, but it definitely moved.  It went from the location behind her eyes to the side of her head, closer to the temples and ears. 

March 4, 2000

Shannon called almost a week after the last phone call, and she was feeling fine, eating normally, but BORED.  Bored and lonely.  She was still in Dakar, and in one three day period she read three books including a John Grisham.  She had been spending some of her time at Liberty VI, the Peace Corps Hostel where PCVs stay when they are in Dakar. 

The previous week many PCVs were there for a huge softball tournament (WAST - West Africa Softball Tournament), but when we spoke they had all returned to their villages.   Still, the Hostel had the VCR and the movies.

The weather in Dakar is gorgeous, probably in the 70s.  When she returns to the village the weather will be very hot and windy, and she will be needing a kerchief to protect her face from the blowing sand. 

Shannon had checked her www.hotmail.com e-mail account and learned that it had expired from disuse, so she opened another one.   The new one might expire again before she can check it in June when she will be in Theis for more training, but if you would like to give it a try, the new address is shannonbishop1976@hotmail.com.

Shannon was talking about returning to the village and not really looking forward to the physical challenges.  There in Dakar there are real showers, toilets that flush and that you actually sit on (not squat over). 
     When she is back in the village she is going to cook for herself to prevent a recurrence of the amoeba.  She doesn't want to insult her family, but Peace Corps teaches that health and safety come ahead of cultural sensitivity.   She'll go to the small market in Sinthiou-Bamambe when she gets her mail, and once a week or so she will shop at the larger market in Ouro Sogui. She already has a gas can in her hut to heat water for tea and baths, so now it will also be for her own meals.  
     She'll also carry her own water bottle around with her all the time so that she can tactfully refuse offers of water.  She requested that we send the brand she had learned was the best:  Nalgene.

Shannon obviously hadn't gotten out of Dakar before the election, and it turned out that none of the 47 candidates got a majority of the vote so there would have to be a runoff in a couple of weeks.  The current president will be running against the other top candidate.  

March 14, 2000

Still in Dakar, still bored.  She realized that she had definitely been there too long when she received some mail addressed to "Shannon Bishop, Peace Corps Office."

She will be leaving Monday for SURE, after the second presidential election on Sunday when travel is forbidden to prohibit duplicate voting.

One day Shannon found herself travelling around Dakar serving as translator for a PCV from Gambia, an English-speaking country, who didn't speak French.  She found that terribly ironic. 

March 19, 2000

During our last call from Shannon in Dakar the family passed a cell phone around a restaurant where we had had the call forwarded in anticipation of her call.  It was rather surreal.

We shared with her the news of one Annandale friend's engagement and another's new baby. 
She shared that she is not looking forward to her return to Seno Palel, both the actual trip of 10-16 hours on public transportation and the physical and psychological hardships that await her.

This has been a strange period for Shannon in Senegal.  Her first 6 months in the village were supposed to be the time of adjustments with ups and downs that peak in a major discouragement point in about 6 months.  But this crucial period has been interrupted by her illness and nearly 5 weeks in Dakar speaking English rather than Pulaar, cooking with a microwave rather than a gas burner, watching American videos rather than Senegalese village life.  It is a setback.  The difficult adjustment period has been interrupted and undoubtedly prolonged, and her enthusiasm is at a low ebb.   It will return, no doubt, but an even tougher period lies ahead. 

Twelfth Report  


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