Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Adventures in Senegal

The Stomp Out Malaria Bootcamp was intensive, inspiring and by far one of the highlights of my Peace Corps service. Surrounded by 37 other PCVs from 14 different African countries, I learned about malaria best practices, current initiatives and got to speak with global leaders in the fight against this disease.

Peace Corps Benin meets Peace Corps Senegal, Thies, Senegal.
Over the course of two weeks, we explored different ways that PCVs can use their own resources and innovative technologies to combat malaria in their how countries and communities. We had the opportunity to meet a true hero in the fight, a local man who lost his daughter to malaria at age 12 and who, over the past 15 years has championed his community to become malaria free. In Senegal, where malaria is still one of the number one reasons for child mortality, this is a true miracle.



In addition to the hours of malaria work, we learned about conducting behavior change activities, piloting grassroots soccer and Moderating focus groups to determine doer vs non-doer behavior patterns. With the help of our amazing facilitator, we were critiqued on our presentation skills and given feedback on how to pursue careers in international development while marketing our peace corps skills in the modern age.

Piling into a sept-place, the easiest form of transport in Senegal.
Despite all the material that was covered, one of the most important parts of the experience was the networking. With people coming from as far as Madagascar and Zambia, I now have a better image of the scale of Peace Corps in Africa. And, I can't imagine serving anywhere but Benin. From late night trips to the local gelato spot and helping non French speakers navigate the fabric stalls of a west African market, I'm walking away with new connections, ideas and friends.

Before leaving Senegal, I got to explore a little bit more of this beautiful country. From Thies, a group of us hired a station wagon and headed for a night of desert camping in Lompoul. Located about 2 hours north of Thies, we were picked up by a open back tractor (imagine a hay ride), and driven out to Camp Desert. Upon our arrival, we were escorted to our site, where an inviting canvas tent awaited us.
Rains moving across the desert.
The desert was beautiful and immense, sand dunes stretching in all directions. Camels relaxed under the shade of a few trees and we enjoyed the solitude that only vast emptiness can bring. As we sat in silence, a rain storm began making its way across the sand, forcing us to take shelter in the communal eating tent. At night we gathered around a bonfire and danced to the beat of traditional drumming with the other visitors. It was an amazing experience.

Camp Desert, Lompoul, Senegal

From the desert, we headed north to the island of St. Louis, the former colonial capital of Senegal and Mauritania under French rule. The island, which is connected by a simple truss bridge to the mainland, is now a UNESCO world heritage site, and walking down the streets one can easily point out the colonial influence in the wooden shuttered architecture and beautiful rooftop gardens. We found a nice little B&B to spend the night and set off to explore the island.

Lompoul Desert, Senegal
Crossing another bridge, we came to the more populous part of town, away from the tourist hotels and home to hundreds of long horned sheep and colorful fishing boats. We roamed the streets, caught a glimpse of the ocean and then enjoyed a meal at the infamous Vietnamese restaurant, which didn't live up to its amazing reputation.

St. Louis, Senegal
At night we went to dance at the Iguana Bar, a Cuban club that only played top hits. The next morning, I enjoyed coffee from a garden patio and waited for the other girls to head to Dakar for our flights. We finally headed out, caught a taxi and left for the capital.

Fishing Boats, St. Louis, Senegal
With a couple hours to kills before my flight, I took the opportunity to wander to Pointe des Almadies, the most western point on continental Africa. Dakar itself is a bustling and developed city, well worth a trip back to explore Goree, the slave island, and the art scene.

Instead of heading straight back to Benin, I'm off to a couple weeks of much needed repose in America! Can't wait to see family, enjoy the cooler weather and eat more fresh blueberries than humanly possible.

In true fashion, Team Benin rocked meme tissu during the training!

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