Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Running into Africa

I was cleaning my room yesterday after deciding that I should no longer be intimidated by the huge unpacking job before me. On my computer, Youssou N'dour and other mbalax Senegalese music was blasting. While going through papers in my desk, I came across a National Geographic magazine from 2005 with Special Issue Africa in huge letters on the front. In the subtitle the reader is warned: "whatever you thought, think again"! The optimistic person that I am, I immediately started thinking that this issue of National Geographic would be different; that it would no longer portray Africans as tribal, backwards, naked remnants of our distant past. And then I flipped through the magazine to find the first article:
Ask someone to tell you quickly what they associate with Africa, and the answers you'll get will probably range from "cradle of humankind"and "big animals"to "poverty" and "tribalism". How did one continent come to embody such extremes? Geography and history go a long way toward providing the explanations...
No mention of how wrong these mental pictures actually are?! More page turning and elephants, zebras, and faces of starving children confronted me, not only in the articles, but also in the advertisements. I was looking for any mention of Senegal. You know: the first country in Africa to have a peaceful, democratic change of parties, the home of well known African cinematographist Ousmane Sembène, and the grounds where world renowned singer Youssou N'dour has decided to reinvest his fortune in the development of his own country. But in Senegal there are no giraffes, no rain forests, no tribal or even religious violence outbreaks, nor lots of other things people associate with Africa. So National Geographic didn't mention Senegal once.

And you wonder why Americans are so confused when it comes to talking about Africa.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Things that never happened in Senegal

While the last four months of this blog have informed you of all that I have done in Senegal, explaining my experience to you would not be complete if I didn't include a list of things that never happened. Since my time in Dakar has officially ended, this list will never change, unless of course, I return to Senegal one day, inch'allah [God willing].
  1. I never saw precipitation falling from the sky. Not once did it rain, hail, snow, spit... When they say the rainy season is from June to October, they mean it. It doesn't rain one single bit outside of those months!
  2. I never took a bus. I took plenty of Car Rapides, Ndiank Ndiayes, taxis, sept places, and tour buses, but I never took the public transport bus called Dakar Dem Dekk. Instead I walked to school and back, an hour and a half total, every day (well almost).
  3. I never wore shorts outside of going to the beach and playing soccer. I've gotten really used to wearing skirts and linen pants.
  4. I never took a hot shower (ok I took one hot shower) and I never got completely clean.
  5. I never refused to eat what was served for lunch or dinner with my host family.
  6. I never accepted to buy something for the first price, I always waaxale [bargained].
  7. I never stopped at a traffic light because none of them work.
  8. I never killed a cockroach, despite their tempting me daily.
  9. I never learned how to cook ceeb u jën
  10. I never got a sunburn, despite the fact that the sun never stopped shining.
I never had a boring day!

I landed in Colorado this morning after a 9 hour flight from Dakar to D.C. and a 3 hour flight from D.C. to Denver. While my time in Senegal may be over, I still have a lot of processing to do. Therefore, this is not the end of my blog. I'm still on malaria medications for another month and I'm sure I will be dealing with reverse culture shock for longer than that. So now that I'm back in Colorado and my summer has begun (even though it doesn't feel like summer because I am freezing my butt off here), I will be updating from time to time about my re-entry reflections and cultural clashes.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Internship in Physical Therapy

Me and Mbay, the physical therapist extraordinaire, at Centre Talibou Dabo

Today was the last day at my physical therapy internship. Two months ago, I arrived at my internship at the Centre Talibou Dabo and was promptly given an ailing infant and told to teach him how to hold his head up on his own. It was a startling welcome into the world of physical therapy in Sénégal because without any real training as a physical therapist, I was expected to work my magic. Serving as an intern at a rehabilitation center in Sénégal has been a dream come true in many respects. It opened my eyes to the unknown world of therapy outside the West and began to answer a lot of the questions I have surrounding the intersection between rehabilitation, culture, and faith.

During my first week, my conversations with the therapists went something like this:
Therapist: You like to work with kids?
Me: Yes
Therapist: Ok. [Then goes to get a child who cannot stand up on her own due to scoliosis or polio or something else] Here is a kid for you.
Child: Screaming
Me: Oh. Um, I haven't actually started my studies to become a therapist. I'm just studying neuroscience right now. I don't know what to do.
Therapist: Oh ok. [Promptly tells mother of child to go sit back down with the crowd of people who arrived at 6 this morning in order to be treated]

Along with a few children, I also spent 30 minutes talking with a man whose hand had been paralyzed for 30 years. I was supposed to be conducting a pre-therapy assessment, in French, with a guy who spoke Wolof, but I didn't know what kind of things to assess. His hand looked pretty paralyzed, that's about as much as I could gather.

Once all of the therapists realized that I wasn't actually a practicing therapist, things got more manageable. I got to shadow two therapists, ask questions, learn vital Wolof words like siggil [sit up] and dafa metti [it hurts], and see for myself the state of therapy in Sénégal. Here is what I have surmised:
  • About 10 years ago the only physical therapist in Sénégal was the national soccer team's sports medicine dude. Now, the only physical therapy school in the country graduates about 10 students a year, most of whom are not actually Sénégalese.
  • The lack of physical therapists means that those who are qualified are always running around. The therapists I shadowed were always working on three to four patients at one time.
  • Unlike in the United States, therapy sessions are paid for entirely by the family of the patient. This means that, of the small percentage of people in Sénégal who have actually heard of physical therapy and accept it as an opportunity for their loved one with a disability to improve their condition, an even smaller percentage can actually afford paying for sessions, transportation, and materials. (I think each session costs around 20 American dollars)
  • Therapy is seen as one of the last options on a hierarchy of solutions to one's medical ailment. For many Sénégalese, you first go to a marabout or healer, then a doctor, and finally, after many years of living with the condition you might seek out a therapist.
  • Many of the patients I met over the course of my internship had hemipeligia (one side of the body paralyzed), diabeties and had to get a leg amputated, or other other conditions that developed over the course of their life. Not many patients had congenital disabilities and none of them had autism or other behavior disorders. It seems to me like only certain conditions are considered worthy of therapy in Sénégal.
  • Materials are limited and often half broken, which calls for creativity and ingenuity. Many of the patients often mentioned how they looked up therapy options in Europe and found apparatuses and therapy regimens that never would be possible for them to find here.
Despite its recent beginnings, rehabilitation in Sénégal is heading places. It was fun to be a part of the action and to talk to patients and therapists about their lives, thoughts, and conditions.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Another face to face encounter

Yesterday I innocently walked into the kitchen to fill my Colgate Nalgene with filtered water from the sink. My host mom was preparing lunch with the maid just like any other Sunday afternoon. But as I turned the faucet handle, I couldn't help but wonder what the unidentified substances were soaking in bowls of murky water. I've tried to take an "ask no questions" approach to the things that I eat because I find it easier to digest if I don't actually know where the brown sauce covered something-or-other came from. Unfortunately, this time the fact that my host mom was banging the poor creature with a wooden pestle, caused me to raise my voice above the clamour and pose the question. "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" [what is it?]

Oh, nothing but the skull of the sheep we consumed about a month ago for Easter dinner. Apparently the head has been hanging out in our freezer, waiting for the day my host mother decided to knock it's teeth out before cooking it in a peanut and palm oil sauce.

This is my second encounter with what I have endearingly coined "facemeat" in my four months here. And this time I got to see the specimen before it was cooked and became the centerpiece on our platter of millet and corn meal.

My science background confirms that there are in fact muscles on your face. I just never thought about eating them. Fortunately, this sheep hadn't been working on it's Colgate smile when it was alive, meaning that the face muscles it had developed were only sufficient to feed my host mom - Alhamdoulilahi [praise be to God]!