I was pumped to go to Senegal because it meant one thing—I would get to see the Big Dipper. See it I did, and it was amazing. And in all other regards it was a fantastic trip and conference.
This was the third ever Malaria Boot Camp run by Peace Corps as part of this new initiative: “Stomping Out Malaria in Africa.” Stay tuned for links to our Africa-wide websites, as well as the Mozambique pages I will be maintaining this year! This boot camp was definitely the best training I have attended in the Peace Corps. All of my other trainings have been the break-into-small-groups-to-have-a-discussion-and-write-your-thoughts-on-big-paper-and-then-get-back-together-with-the-large-group-and-present-your-ideas-format. And this is really helpful for some situations and topics, or for some kinds of learners. But I much prefer to be told the information I need to know and be expected to learn it, which is exactly what we did for ten days at boot camp. We covered every aspect anyone working in the malaria field would ever want to know about: the science of malaria, behavior change communication, home-based care, prophylaxis and treatment, bed net distributions, health facilities, indoor residual spraying, training other people in malaria prevention, prominent partners in malaria prevention, advocacy, logistics of malaria control programming, marketing prevention programs, programs being instituted currently Africa-wide, monitoring and evaluation, working with local radio stations, supply chain management, care groups, training of trainers, vaccines, and grant writing. Not everything we covered was directly applicable to everyone, but even when I knew I would never use a certain element of malaria prevention in my position, it was fascinating to learn what was being done elsewhere. Most days we had Skype lectures from the experts in that particular field, calling in from American universities or various headquarters in Washington DC. It was incredible to be taught this information not just by someone who has learned it, but by someone who has dedicated their life to working on it. And it allowed us to ask questions that a layperson would not have been able to answer sufficiently.
There were Peace Corps Volunteers and staff from eleven countries: Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Uganda, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, The Gambia, and Senegal. A really great group of people, I was fortunate to get to meet all of them. And meeting everyone there has never made the world feel smaller. There was one guy who had traveled Mozambique last year with a friend of mine from college, one guy had been living in DC with a Moz 13er (the group one year ahead of mine) who he found through an RPCV network, one guy had served in Botswana with a woman who is now serving here, one guy had served in Niger with my friend from high school before the country was shut down, one girl had gotten her MPH with a girl from Moz 13, and one guy knew a Moz 13 girl from home. It was quite bizarre really, to travel halfway around the world, back a quarter of the way, and then meet so many people you were connected to. There was also an in-service-training for PC Senegal agriculture volunteers going on simultaneously at the training center, so I got to meet a bunch of them too.
The most common response I got when I told PCVs at boot camp that I served in Mozambique was somewhere along the lines of “oh, screw you.” Senegal was pretty, but in a very arid, barren sort of way. One PCV excitedly asked “are there lots of trees there?!” She serves in Mali. The rolling hills, the lush coconut, mango, tangerine and avocado trees, and the pristine sandy beaches I lived in the last two years are quite different from the landscapes of West Africa and cause for a fair amount of envy. The air there was DRY. Apparently during this time of the year a wind blows down from the Sahara, making everything extremely dry and dusty. Everything: tree leaves, tables, our clothes, were covered in a thin film of dust and on some days the air was so hazy you could look directly at the sun!
One girl told me she had gone to Maputo once with her friend. I asked her what she thought of it and her only response was “there are guns everywhere there!” Which is true. Every untrained, drunk, half-asleep security guard of every bank or government building, from the capital to tiny towns of Mozambique, has a shotgun, rifle, or AK-47.
On Sunday we had the day off and all went to a town on the beach. (Pictures coming.) We did a hike up a ridge along the ocean and saw remains of World War II embankments and a derelict church where the Black Madonna had appeared a few hundred years ago. Then we came down from the ridge and walked back along the beach. It was gorgeous and looked so different from the beaches here—huge rocks (boulders even), tall grasses, and dry spiny trees. The staff member from Ethiopia had never seen the ocean before, so it was fun watching him see the ocean and then going down and putting his feet in it for the first time. I giggled to myself at all the PCVs from land-locked countries (or actually, any country that isn’t a tropical paradise like Mozambique is) who happily swam in the freezing cold water, just because they knew they wouldn’t be able to do it again for a year.
Something I found fascinating was how it seemed that all of the PCVs in West Africa (Senegal, Mali, The Gambia, Benin, Togo, Cameroon) had similar experiences, from the languages they spoke (a lot of them spoke languages so similar they could understand each other) to the way they eat (and they even all use the same currency!). Our first lunch they put out mats and large bowls and about four people sat around each bowl and ate communally. I made a comment on how cool it was and how I had never done it before, they thought I was pretty weird. We ate with spoons at the training center, but they said that in village everyone ate with their hands. That was another thing—not that there is anything wrong with it, but a Moz PCV would probably get punched if they ever referred to their life or work “in village.” The PCVs from various countries said that the food we were being served at the training center was very similar to what they might expect at post, while I have never seen couscous or some of the other things we ate in Mozambique. It surprised me that such a geographically large area (from Senegal to Cameroon) could be so similar when I am struck by the differences when I cross the border into Swaziland. Perhaps one reason is Mozambique is an island of a former Portuguese colony in the midst of former British colonies. However, one cool similarity we southern African countries (Namibia, Uganda, Mozambique) had was our Bantu languages. Occasionally words or phrases would be similar or exactly the same.