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Friday, January 27, 2017

Big Time Science

I think we all thought I was done with this blog, but here I am again. Happy new year, friends.

During my Peace Corps service, I was also enrolled as a masters student at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan. To earn my Peace Corps Masters International degree, I conducted a research project on drinking water treatment in my region (Kolda) during the last 6 months or so of my service.

In short:

It's estimated that about 5% of people throughout West Africa treat their water before they drink it.
Treating drinking water has been shown to lead to decreases in diarrheal disease.
Diarrheal disease is a leading cause of death of children under 5.
Peace Corps and other organizations would like to see an increase in people treating their water and a subsequent decrease in child deaths.
One method of water treatment (liquid bleach) is safe, affordable, readily available, and easy.
Many people throughout the Kolda region reported that they already knew how to treat drinking water using this method.
Some people do treat their water with bleach before drinking it.
Yet most people don't.
And does it really work?
And is it really safe?

My project involved a total of 96 surveys being given to caregivers throughout the region of Kolda, some of whom treat their water and some who don't. It was looking for motivations and barriers to water treatment.

To test the efficacy of water treatment "out in the wild," I also did field testing of drinking water for E. coli and coliforms using 3M Petrifilms.

Then, when I returned to Michigan, I did a literature review on similar work done on drinking water treatment in rural developing countries.

I found that bleach definitely kills bacteria (shocker!), but the survey results were a bit murkier.

If you'd like to read more, here's 60 pages of goodness. I included gratuitous baby photos, because why not.


Happy reading!


Barbara Michel, new Master of Science

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stage Goodbye

I and two much better writers than me (Eric D. and Melissa M.) were asked to write the stage goodbye article for the PC Senegal volunteer newsletter.  We struggled over what to say for a few days, then fate stepped in. Thankfully, Doctor Mbuus said it better than any of us could.

This is probably going to be my final blog.Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my time in Senegal over the last two years. It means a lot that my family and friends, and even strangers, have shown so much interest in this tiny West African wonderland. I'm humbled by every pageview and tremendously thankful for your support. Although I won't post anything else on the blog, please feel free to email me at any point in the future. I'll be around. Ajaraama. En burini han.

Stage Goodbye, by Eric, Barb, and Melissa.

On a dark and stormy night at the Diourbel regional house, the three of us were simultaneously awoken by pounding drums. Weird, we all thought. We had assumed we’d learned to sleep through even the loudest and most rambunctious sabaars during our two years in Senegal. As we listened closer, however, we realized these drums were different. They were much more…sinister. We arose from our beds and followed the strange noise to a room we had never seen before. With RADAR on max and mini med kits in hand, we entered the room and discovered the drumming was coming from a single dusty book on the ground, demanding to be discovered. In lieu of a normal stage goodbye article, we’d like to present what we found in that book.

Oh! The Places You’ll Go in PC Senegal! 
By Dr. Mbuus

You’ve made it to Senegal! What a great place to be!
Take a doxy from Ouissam and start PST.
You’ll feel super awkward in a dance circle session
But stay ‘cause you want to make a good first impression

Your stagemates are great, friends are easy to meet
These funny-ass people are all smart and upbeat
Patrick will have tight pants and a head full of curls
“There goes a dude who’ll get all the girls.”

Lunch bowls will be full of veggies and meat
“This is what everyone in Senegal eats!”
The first few days trapped in the center might hurt
But soon you’ll discover salvation at Church

And Maggie might sleepwalk right into your bed
And you’ll get a whole slew of vaccines from med
You’ll be in CD transition, but there is no peril
because soon you’ll meet the incoming Cheryl

You’ll sit through endless educational sessions
While you make bracelets, play snake, and kind of listen to questions
You’ll study Wolof and Pulaar and cultures unique
You’ll think you’ll know it all in only 9 weeks

Except that you won’t.
Nope, sorry bro, you won't.

I’m sorry to say so
But sadly it’s true
Because Ben’s Playground
might happen to you.

When training is done the fun really begins
Get a new complet made, it’s time for swear-in!
You’ll bang your dick on the table on the way to the fete
And then eat your weight in catered crevettes

Now off to your new site! You'll drive for a spell
And you'll greet your new family, work partners as well!

But you can’t really greet them, your language is awful
And village food sucks and you just want some waffles
And you can’t sleep all night because donkeys are braying
And you wake in the morning to marabouts praying

You’ll damage your liver at the regional house
And curse your hut’s dastardly clothes-chewing mouse
You’ll drop your Diva Cup right down your duus
And slowly get used to seeing family members’ boobs

But you’ll stay, and slowly things start to improve
You’ll get a routine down - you’ll hit your groove
You’ll go back to Thies for PST2
And learn all those technical skills through and through.

Oh, the places you’ll go! There is work to be done! 
You’ll do such great projects! You’ll help everyone!
You’ll have VRFs chock-full of indicators!
Your Mandinka’s so good you won’t need a translator!

Except that you won’t.
Nope, sorry bro, you won’t.

You’ll set up a meeting and no one will come
You’ll forget basic greetings and look really dumb
You’ll sit with work partners trying not to yawn
Then everything shuts down for Ramadan

But just when you think these are all futile actions
People start to believe and your projects get traction
You have enough Wolof to tell off a jerk
Your village will say that you’re finally doing work.

Insulting your neighbors will stop feeling mean;
Now you’ll laugh as you joke about Diops eating beans
Meanwhile PC friendships gain more and more power
Because in regional houses it’s always happy hour

You’ll endure two miserable sept-place rides
To go to Kedougou 4th of July
The mountains will be in rainy season bloom
And the party goes all night - BRING BACK THE VOLUME

You’ll play serious softball at WAIST in Dakar
Or maybe you’ll just noos it up at the bar
Then you’ll spend a late morning hungover on the beach
But at least second year you’ll stay off the corniche!

You’ll come to love it so much you might try to extend
And six girls in your stage will snag a local boyfriend
And as you’ll smugly remind all incoming trainees
Your stage has had only five people ET

Oh, the places you’ll go! Your projects are going great!
And you have such good friends and you love your sitemates.
You’ve come a long way and now you know so much more!
And you have so much time left to be in Peace Corps!

Except that you don’t.
Nope, sorry bro, you don’t.

Because months fly too quickly; permasummer’s deceiving
Suddenly it’s COS and you’re barely believing
The journey is over, it’s time to go move on
Where have the last 26 months gone?

And as you get ready to step on that jet
You’ll muse that you won’t miss perpetual sweat
Or the waiting for hours for cars to depart
Or the “are-they-or-aren’t-they” giardia farts

But you’ll miss Senegal! You’ve set roots in this dirt
And ripping them out now is sure going to hurt
And you know it sounds lame, but you always tear up
When you think of your family’s kids growing up.

But leave now you must, and the world will keep spinning
Because endings are just the new stories’ beginnings.
So go on! Close this book! It’s your COS day!
New adventures are waiting….
So get on your way!

By Dr. Mbuus

We hope we speak for everyone when we say to those of you lucky enough to have a spare couch or a functional kitchen in the next step of your journey, please keep a spot open for a wandering RPCV. And to those of you who might, at some point, need somewhere to sleep or a place to cook your mac and cheese, never be afraid to ask. The bonds we’ve formed won’t end when our service does.

Teranga, Jamm, and Love, HE/CED 2014-2016.

Peace Corps Senegal life hacks

This is another article I wrote for the SABAAR, the Peace Corps Senegal volunteer newsletter.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Packing for home

This post is a bit delayed; not only have I already packed for home, but I'm one flight into my COS trip already.

Clearly too tired to tend to my blog
The last few days in village flew by like I knew they would.  I did follow-up work for projects, then went around the village to say goodbye to everyone and invite them to my big goodbye party.  Then I had the big goodbye party.

I made five pinatas sized and shaped like baobab fruits, then tied them to the baobab tree near my hut.  Only one kid ended up crying from the resulting scuffle, so that's a success.

toothy smile in an unflattering Senegalese outfit

Then I had a week in Dakar full of medical appointments and heavy beach drinking to say goodbye to my wonderful Peace Corps friends. Now Laura and I are in Athens, on the first leg of our COS trip, and I have no obligations, and I just woke up from a 14-hour nap and am waiting for breakfast, so let's do this!

My most popular blog post, by far, is the one I wrote 6 months into service advising future volunteers on what to pack for their upcoming Peace Corps Senegal service.  Six-months-into-service Kadiatou is very different from two-years-in-and-ready-to-go-home Kadiatou, so I thought it might be fun to go over what I have decided to take back with me.

Various Peace Corps tshirts: I have tshirts from the Tamba marathon, Velingara youth camp 2015 and 2016, Kolda Kalabandits 2016 (that wasn't an event, just my region being exclusive), and 2015 Access English for Success Camp.  None of these shirts are particularly flattering or beautiful, but I brought them all back and will wear them prolifically in the hopes that anyone seeing them will strike up a conversation and allow me to talk about Peace Corps without being obnoxious.  For the same reason, I have a handcrafted metal bracelet that says "SABALY" as a memento of the last name I've held these last two years.

Hammock, Camelbak, and Umbrella: I haven't used any of these items much, but they were expensive and useful in America, so they're coming back with me. I didn't have anywhere in my backyard to set up the hammock, and I got too busy to spend leisurely mornings in the woods near the end of my service, so it hasn't been unfolded in months. The cambelbak was only useful for about two weeks out of the year, when it was deep into "cold" season. The rest of the time it was too hot and sweaty to have anything on my back while biking, so i just strapped a water bottle to my bike. The umbrella wasn't useful because when it's raining, everyone just stays inside.

Cashew apple, guava, papaya, and baobab flavored jellies: I've never tried these (jelly is not a Senegalese food) but the flavors are Senegalese, so I thought it'd be a good, accessible-yet-exotic treat for my American family.  I bought them from a Toubab grocery store in Dakar.

Ninety-five water treatment surveys: I was a PCMI (Peace Corps Masters International) student throughout my service. My thesis project was/will be a doer/non-doer study on water treatment practices. I spent a few hours at a regional house trying to tally up all the results, but then decided I had enough luggage space to just bring the whole kit-n-kaboodle to Amerik and deal with it there. It has the potential to be pretty interesting when it's done. Some people treat their water with bleach at the point-of-use level, and some people don't. The survey was an attempt to shed some light onto why this is.

Kenkiliba: Keniliba is my favorite breakfast drink. It's a tea that's sugared to oblivion and really good with powdered milk. Usually, kenkiliba is gathered from the woods, but I purchased a sealed labeled plastic bag of it in Dakar so my family wouldn't be freaked out by drinking a potion of my gathered wild woods leaves.  Even though it's the same thing.

Dog leash & collar: My village dog died almost a year ago (RIP) but he left behind a really nice leash and collar, and I'm hoping to get another dog in America, so...

Microfiber cleansing cloths: My little host sister Djari was chosen by WorldVision to have a "friend" in Canada who occasionally sends her twenty-gallon tupperwares full of presents. This canadian man (his name is Gilbert) clearly has no idea what her life is like, because the presents are always totally useless. The package I looked through contained a gallon of hand sanitizer, a teflon-coated frying pan, a spirograph, and the microfiber cleansing cloths, among other equally perplexing things. I gave my family 500 CFA (~$1) for the cloths and they were very happy with it. The cloths were brand-new from Bed Bath and Beyond and were labeled $18. 

Flip Flops: I love Senegalese flip flops and brought two pair home with me. They are plastic, but have stylish fake zippers and ties and say "fashion" or "original" in cursive across the front. Classy.

Plastic Gourd Spoons: Most people in my village eat with their hands, but some use spoons, and if the meal is particularly soupy, they use these things that are halfway between spoons and ladles (traditionally made from dried gourds, but now made from plastic instead). I really like them and I hadn't ever seen them before coming here, so I'm bringing back a bunch. I think they might be fun to eat cereal out of. Fewer trips from bowl to face:I'm all about practicality.

A disposable razor: This is left over from the four-pack I bought at Thies, during training. Kadiatou didn't shave her legs or armpits, but Barbara does, so I plan on busting that out soon. Yay reintegration!

That's it! Thanks for reading. I don't know if I'll post anything else on the blog - if not, so long, and thank you. If so...I'll say goodbye again next time.

Love, Barbara/Kadiatou

Twenty-three more Books of Senegal

    Now that Peace Corps c'est fini, it's time to wrap up my short reviews of the books I've read while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. The other 100 on the list can be found here.
    1. Bryson, Bill. In a Sunburned Country
  • Bill Bryson travels around Australia 
  • I loved it so much that I decided to also take a trip around Australia (particularly the Darwin area, in the north) upon my completion of Peace Corps. 
  • But then my friend Laura invited me on her COS trip instead, so here I am in Athens, which is also cool. 
  • Anyone want to go to Australia with me? 
  • Five stars. 

    2. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness
  • Very short and very good tale of a scary and suspenseful journey into the Congo 
  • Four stars 
  • Zero percent overlap with my African experience. 

  • 3. Donoghue, Emma. Room
  • A five-year old boy has spent his entire life in a garage-sized room - he and his mother are held captive there by a man who kidnapped the mother. 
  • Does a very good job of telling the story through the eyes of a five-year-old 
  • If you don't like five year olds, the narrator could be really annoying. 
  • I like five year olds. 
  • Five stars. 

  • 4. Dugard, Jaycee. A Stolen Life
  • Reads like it was written by someone with a 5th grade education 
  • Because it was. 
  • Heartbreaking. 

  • 5. Egan, Timothy. The Big Burn
  • About the history of the US forest service and the massive fire that caused colossal damage during its first years. 
  • Deepened my confusing long-standing crush on Theodore Roosevelt 

  • 6. Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink
  • About the decisions that people make without thinking about it 
  • It's fascinating that instant likeability is a skill that can be practiced and perfected 
  • Made me want to be a professional face-reading lie detector. That sounds so badass. 

  • 7. Heath, Chip and Dan. Made to Stick
  • About why some ideas thrive and others don't 
  • Interesting for anyone interested in behavior change or understanding their own behaviors 
  • Behavior change is hard. 

  • 8. Jiles, Paulette. Enemy Women
  • A southern woman flees with a horse after the civil war while battling "consumption" 
  • The woman who recommended I read this loves horses 
  • If you love horses, you'd probably love it too. 
  • Three stars, as I am indifferent to horses. 

  • 9. Johnson, Adam. The Orphan Master's Son
  • A North Korean plays the government to get ahead in life 
  • North Korea is scary 
  • I wish it had more history and facts, but since North Korea is so closed off facts are nearly impossible to come by, so I guess this is as good as it can get. 
  • Four stars. 

  • 10. Lamott, Anne. Traveling Mercies
  • A woman's journey toward discovering her faith 
  • It's OK. 

  • 11. Lappe, Frances Moore. Diet for a Small Planet
  • Vegetarianism is better than carnivory, ecologically speaking 
  • That idea is so elementary now that it's hard to remember it was ever groundbreaking 
  • Very interesting, but very dated 

  • 12. Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City
  • A serial killer does his thing at the World's Fair in Chicago 
  • The serial killer part was interesting, and the part about the men putting on the Worlds Fair was interesting, but it seemed like two short books randomly smashed into one. 
  • Still very good, just not the most cohesive. 

  • 13. Lawry, Lois. The Giver
  • I think I read this in middle school, but that was a long time ago. 
  • Good, but too short. 
  • The cover had a picture of Taylor Swift on it, so apparently they made a movie of it at some point. 

  • 14. Martel, Yann. Self
  • A man turns to a woman than back to a man 
  • Very strange. 
  • I guess I'd recommend it to a stranger but it's too weird to recommend to friends. 
  • If you're a stranger read it and let me know what you think. 

  • 15. Piercy, Marge. Woman on the Edge of Time
  • A woman in a mental health facility can communicate with the future 
  • The future's full of hippies. 
  • I would be happy living in this hippy future. 
  • Four stars 

  • 16. Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead
  • Almost the same book as Atlas Shrugged 
  • I liked Atlas Shrugged more 
  • But both are very good 
  • Dominique perplexed me. 
  • I can't unsee unnecessary columns in architecture now. 

  • 17. Roach, Mary. Bonk
    18. Roach, Mary. Spook
  • Bonk is about sex, Spook is about ghosts/the afterlife 
  • Both are very funny, very well researched, and highly recommended. 
  • Both are full of fun little tidbits you can bust out during lulls in conversation 
  • Professional pig inseminators are trained to stimulate the pigs during the process because if the pigs climax they have higher fertility 
  • I probably wouldn’t bust that one out in conversation unless my goal was to end it. 

  • 19. Robbins, Tom. Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates
  • A man named Switters goes on adventures 
  • I loved it. Tom Robbins is a very creative man and I'm gonna read many more of his books when I return to the land of libraries. 
  • Seriously, where does he get his ideas?! 

  • 20. Schlessinger, Laura. Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives
  • All of the ten stupid things have to do with mate choices 
  • "don't marry an elephant and expect it to curl up and purr in your lap" 
  • "don't jump in an empty swimming pool hoping that water will materialize before you hit bottom." 
  • Sound, logical advice. But she also encourages women to take time off work to full-time mother, which I don't agree with. 

  • 21. Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of Champions
  • Short and full of pictures. 
  • Good, but doesn't live up to the hype 
  • Three and a half stars 

  • 22. Zafon, Carlos. The Shadow of the Wind
  • A young man tries to protect his favorite book from a villain set on destroying it 
  • It sounds lame, but it’s actually a really good, suspenseful book. Four and a half stars. 
  • The young man thinks that every woman he comes in contact with is in love with him, which is annoying. 
  • If Mr. Zafron writes from experience, he must be either gorgeous or have a really overinflated ego. 
  • Google images tells me it's the latter. 

  • 23. Zelinski, Ernie. The Joy of Not Working
  • If you’re bored while not working, find hobbies you enjoy. 
  • Done. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

School murals

During training two years ago, retiring PCVs encouraged us new volunteers to do murals the first few months while we were learning the language.  Now it's almost two years later, and I know the language, but I still love murals.  My health hut mural project was one of my favorite things I've done with my service, and in recent weeks I've been doing educational murals at local elementary schools, as well.

Pretend not to notice that I mispelled "Humain"


close up

A billion people, a million languages, fifty four countries, one amazing continent.

I have been in 12 of the 14 regions.

Domestic Animals

My host sister Medo had the day off from school and helped me with the Kolda map


I have plans to do a human digestive system and life cycle of a frog before I COS.  Pictures of those will come up as soon as they're done.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

You're not a PC Senegal volunteer until..

I wrote this article for Peace Corps Senegal's volunteer-only newsletter.  Tally up your points and see how you're doing!  I got 141.


Ladies Only:

Gents Only:

Gotten braided
Grown the most magnificent beard of your life
Grown leg/underarm hair at least an inch long
Grown hair long enough for a man bun
Gotten hennaed
Worn jellies
Worn locally acquired makeup
Worn traditional headwear (scarf, old man hat, etc)
Gotten braided with fake hair
Shaved with a 25 CFA boutique razor



Picked your nose in public
Not showered for two or more days in a row
Gone a week or more without washing your hair
Had your hair cut by a volunteer
Brushed your teeth with a stick
Worn clothes that mice have chewed holes in
Picked a temporary outfit out of Senegad because your clothes were dirty and you were too lazy to do laundry, then put it back in the pile unwashed when you were done with it
Had a HCN tease you that your feet were too dirty
Gotten so sweaty there were white salt stains on your clothes
Worn underwear you found in a Fukijai
MacGyvered feminine hygiene products in a moment of desperation



Forgotten to take your malaria prophylaxis
Had diarrhea more than 10 times in one day
Taken Cipro
Gotten a “gold star”
Cut yourself while chopping onions with a knife so dull it could barely cut butter
Scratched a mosquito bite which then became infected
Gotten schisto
Done a MIF kit
Bought medication at a pharmacy without med knowing about it



Smallboyed a child to the boutique
Paid someone to do your laundry
Requested something unnecessary from med just to see if you could get it
Taken an extra piece of Thies Training Center fruit for after-bar
Gotten news via a breakfast sandwich wrapper (ie world event, celebrity gossip)
Eaten plain dry milk powder
Eaten a mayonnaise-only breakfast sandwich
Casually littered in an inappropriate location (for example, while on vacation in Spain)
Shared a crème glas with someone
Told someone it looks like they’ve gained weight and meant it as a genuine compliment
Chose to eat with your hand rather than with a spoon
Called someone a slave, then laughed about it together



Picked cotton
Set all the high scores on Snake to 3000+
Carried a bucket of water on your head
Can competently make attaya
Successfully knocked a baobab fruit off a tree with a thrown stick
Held a deep “latrine squat” for longer than 10 minutes
Carried firewood on your head
Killed a cockroach
Milked a cow
Danced in front of 100+ people
Gave an impromptu speech in front of 50+ people
Can sit comfortably on butt with both legs straight out in front of you, back straight, no arms out for support
Cooked a meal for your host family
Can catch a chicken
Without a trap (ie, with a shoe or stick) killed a mouse
Have slaughtered an animal
4 (men) 5 (women)
Learned how to program your voicemail



Ridden on a charrette
Asked a HCN to borrow their bike pump
Hitchhiked in a private car
Biked somewhere with your helmet dangling on your handlebars, just in case
Chewed out a garage employee in local language…
…then switched to enraged English because your local language wasn’t powerful enough to convey the strength of your wrath
…then switched to incoherent shouts and grunts because English wasn’t powerful enough, either
Hung off the back of a minicar
1 (men)  2 (women)
Sat on the top of a minicar
2 (men)  3 (women)
Tied something to the back of your bike large enough you needed two people to secure it
Been in a 10+ person 7place
Fallen asleep on a stranger
Had a stranger fall asleep on you
Taken a night bus
Spent a night in a garage
Taken over 12 hours to reach your destination
Biked 50K or more in one day
Got hit by a moto
Hitchhiked in a semi truck
Hitchhiked in an NGO car
Ferried over the River Gambie



The birth of a goat or sheep
The boobs of all the women in your compound
A baboon
A monitor lizard
A camel
A warthog
A hedgehog
The birth of a cow
Baby mice
A snake
A lion
The birth of a human



Held a baby less than a day old
Gone to a soiree
Been given food/drink as a gift
Eaten less than 10% of a food item that you’d bought not intending to share it
Spent over 3 hours waiting for a meeting
(bonus point in the meeting didn’t happen)
Threatened to hit a child
Actually hit a child
Carried a baby on your back
Finished a training, then had one of the participants demand that you do the same training for the same group again
Slept in an HCN’s bed with them
Fallen asleep on an acquaintance’s mat or seating structure
Crashed a wedding or naming ceremony
Been given clothing as a gift
Been greeted while using your latrine
Had a HCN see you naked
Been given an animal as a gift
Cried in front of a crowd of HCNs
Had ears cleaned by HCN
Had a baby named after you
Kissed an HCN



Been thrown up on by a baby
Seen a child openly defecate
Stepped in feces
Been peed on by an animal
Been peed on by a human
Been lactated on
Been thrown up on by an adult
Openly defecated



Been in an acquaintance’s wedding photos just because you’re a toubab
Brought out your computer for a village/family movie night
Read a 500+ page book
Bought a marketplace knockoff, like an Adlais jump suit or Boy Ban sunglasses
Bought dressy flip flops, with rhinestones or triangles of colorful plastic
Ran out of mandat by the end of the month
Spent 600 CFA or more at a village breakfast lady
Spent 8,000 CFA or more on a meal (food & drinks)
Traveled eight hours or more, just for a party



0-50: Do you even go here?
51-100: You've been around the block, once.
101-150: Well-seasoned volunteer
151-200: Mandatory COS!