Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Onward We STOMP

Hello from Senegal!

It's been a little while since my last update, but I can assure you that things have been exciting and busy post-camp. In addition to wrapping up the camp activities, I was back in village to implement some project follow-up before leaving country for a couple weeks.

Starting today, I will be participating in a malaria intensive two-week program called STOMP Out Malaria in Thies, Senegal. Volunteers from various Peace Corps posts across Africa are invited to this training to foster collaboration, learn about best practices and really dive deep into the problems of malaria endemic countries. I have the privilege of attending with two other Benin PCVs, Karsten and Nicole, both of whom serve on the Benin Against Malaria (BAM) Committee with me.

We left Benin yesterday morning and, like most travel in Benin, it was not smooth sailing. After grumbling about our airport drop-off time, we arrived at the airport at 7 am for a 10:30 am flight. We were dumbfounded when guards told us that the plane was already boarded and they wouldn't let us in. August 1st is Benin's Independance Day and the security was adamant that the airport was closing at 8 am. We talked our way into the airport, were rushed through baggage check and then waited patiently in the passport control line for about a half hour. When we approached the booth, we were yelled out for not completing the proper forms (what forms?!?) and then shuttled through security and into a mini van that sped us across the tarmac. We walked onto the plane only to find it full of people, none of whom seemed phased by the 3 hour change in departure time. Only in Benin would a flight leave hours early.

Once the plane took off, we were notified that there would be a brief stopover in Accra, Ghana en route to our layover destination in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The plane ride was uneventful, but freezing cold, something I haven't experienced in months. We arrived in Abidjan for our layover and enjoyed a quick snack before boarding for Dakar. The second flight was equally uneventful, and slightly warmer. We touched down in Dakar about 10 hours after leaving Benin and were greeted by Peace Corps staff who escorted us out and drove us the the Peace Corps office in Dakar. Having arrived with the cohorts from Madagascar and Ethiopia, the nine of us set off to explore a little of Dakar. After scouting out the surrounding area, we headed back to catch a ride to the Peace Corps training site in Thies, where we will be based for the remainder of the training.

While West Africa has a similar beat, Senegal has some striking differences to Benin. First, the infrastructure is far more developed: roads are paved, lined with street lights and the major highway had electronic toll booths every couple miles. While we are so used to riding zems (motorcycles) as a means of transport, Senegal has no shortage of yellow taxis. Instead of negotiating with a zemijohn for a ride, taxis run on the meter (or atleast they are supposed to.) We arrived at the training site, which resembles our own in Lokossa. There are bunk houses, outdoor gazeboes, but everything exists on a much greater scale. In comparison to the program in Benin, Senegal hosts about 250 PCVs to our 75. So, in general, everything here just feels bigger.

After a night of restless sleep (think heat, humidity and mosquitoes), we got up for our only training-free morning this week. Nicole, Karsten and I decided to check out the city and wandered down towards the bustling market which was filled with horse carts, vegetable vendors, fabric shops and more flies than I could count. We found a shop with some different Senegalese prints and negotiated based on our knowledge of Beninese prices. Trying to beat the heat, we headed back to the training site, making a quick stop in an artists compound to scope out the local artisanal wares.

Training starts this afternoon and will continue until the 13th. We will be discussing our own programs in Benin, learning about malaria transmission, prevention and implementing behavior change initiatives based on various different models. It's going to be a grueling two weeks, but I'm excited to meet other PCVs, learn more about posts across Africa and share our experiences.

Sending love from the other side of West Africa!


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