Thursday, February 9, 2012


Poop: An enclosed superstructure at the stern of a ship... Oh how I wish I was serving in a country where that definition was the focus of this post, but that is neither here nor there.  No let's look at google's number two definition (oddly appropriate): Excrement.  Hehe :-).   Yes since the time of the dinosaurs poop has been funny.  George Carlin has a wonderful rant about it, and Peace Corps volunteers will often bring it up as part of dinner conversation or quite literally show you a sample that they're about to send to the Med Office.  We lead strange lives here.  Yes we can all agree that poop is very very funny. 

Unfortunately the poop in this post is no laughing matter.  I'm talking about poop out in the fields, poop outside your front door, poop on the bottom of shoes, on ropes, on animals and eventually in the human digestive system where it causes all sorts of problems most of which lead to more poop!  This is what happens when you live in a village where only 30% of the population uses latrines.  Where do they poop you may ask?  Refer to sentence number 2 of this paragraph.  In case you didn't get that, they poop everywhere, and animals end up dragging themselves and ropes through it... they aren't pooping on animals directly... although you probably got that already.  They don't mean to eat it either it just kinda gets on hands and.. ok right you get it, moving on. (I've been watching too much West Wing lately so I'm emulating Aaron Sorkin's comedic timing... or at least attempting to.  What's next?)

I just so happen to live in said village and it's about time I did something about it.  Now lest you think I'm trying to be the big bad westerner changing native culture when its not really necessary let me explain my motives.  I'm not doing this because I want to.  I don't want to in fact, its a heck of a lot of work and I really have other things I'd much rather be working on... hmmm that makes me sound heartless.  I just mean that while I love dealing with other people's sh... stuff, I have quite enough of my own right now.  The fact of the matter is, my village has been asking for this project and trying to get it done for 6 years.  They're the driving force behind it, I'm just the facilitator.

So what is the project you may ask?  Well I considered lessening the food intake of the village by burning down the gardens and thus reducing defecation, but something said that conflicted with my Ag sector work so let's move on to solution #2.  We want to build 62 latrines in my and a neighboring village to get universal coverage for the entire population.  Is that really so much to ask?  They just want a place to poop.  No gold toilets, no toilets at all for that matter, just a functioning brick lined latrine with a hole in the cover and a PVC pipe for insulation.  Most people in America wouldn't even consider that a latrine, but stick up a few meters of millet stalk fencing around it for privacy and it gets the job done.  And that job is important.  This is about more than dignity, this is about health and wellness.  With a place to poop, and almost more importantly a kettle and bar of soap for afterward, comes a general lessening of poopy bacteria spread out across the village.  That means fewer instances of diarrhel diseases, especially among children who can die from them, and a much lower chance of outbreaks of the really bad diseases like cholera.  Poop's funny, cholera isn't. 

Is a brick lined latrine really better?  Yes.  The bacteria is contained out of the general food chain and all the poop eventually breaks down.  They are slightly elevated to avoid flooding and have mosquito netting over the vent and a removable plug for the hole to prevent flies and mosquito from going in and out and spreading disease as they do.   It ain't glamorous by any means but its better than open defecation. 

Now that you're thoroughly disgusted and eager to help let my tell you how you can!  I have written a Peace Corps partnership grant which is essentially a grant that Peace Corps administers but that folks back home have to fund.  The total is a little over $7,000, which is actually pretty reasonable for 62 latrines, and I need all the help I can get.  I can be flippant and crack jokes on here but I really do appreciate everyone who reads and I feel a tremendous guilt for asking you all so many times for money.  There are a multitude of worthy charities in the world today and everyone is going through hard times, but if there's anything you can spare these folks really need it.  It doesn't have to be a lot.  If 1,400 give five bucks we're there.  If a few people give a little more we're there faster.  I'm young and a lot of you reading this are my friends just out of college.  Don't give more than you can, but if you can go without the Starbucks for a few days I'd really appreciate it.  I mean come on I'm going without Starbucks for two years!  That's a lie I have a pile of Starbucks Via packets in my hut courtesy of all your lovely care packages.  By the way as much as I love you all giving the USPS 50 bucks a pop for care packages I will be just fine without them.  Next time you feel the urge to give me something delicious, donate that money to the project.  Believe me you're still helping to make my food in village a little less shitty ;-).  Thank you all so much.  Here's the link if you're interested, and please pass it on if you can:

Friday, February 3, 2012

Plastic Plastic Everywhere and not a...

Hi Folks.  Your friendly neighborhood Peace Corps volunteer here with a little itty bitty tiny question about just a wee little problem with some plastic...

This is a dump.  In and of itself not so bad, there are lots of dumps in the world.  You see the problem lies in the dump's location... right next to the delta... on a slope... that drains into the mangroves in the rainy season.  In the dry season it does this:

The Sahel gets kind of... windy... and the trash blows oh so beautifully all over fields and then out into the delta.  This is when it isn't just burned that is.  The entire pile is periodically burned and then restarted.  There are small piles of burned plastic all over the area along with aluminum cans, broken glass, and plenty of rotting organic matter as well.  Sigh...

I wish I could say that this is unique, but this is a fairly small site.  The larger cities do the same thing, only they are more efficient at burning it in massive piles that create terrible toxins.  So plastic is kind of a problem here.

This situation is particularly unconscionable here though because the source of all this trash comes from the hotels in Toubacouta.  One hotel is willing to work with us on the problem, the other threw a group of 20 some odd PCV's out on New Years Eve because we weren't the "right" kind of people and didn't speak French.  Don't worry lonely planet has been contacted.  

You're probably thinking that my question is what should I do about this problem.  Sadly no.  There are so many cooks in that kitchen already.  No my question is what do you do when none of the ideal solutions are possible and leaving the problem alone is abhorrent (abhorrent, unconscionable my vocab is on fire today).  At this point in my service I just don't have time to start a massive behavior change program to reduce plastic consumption and the hotels and the population aren't enthusiastic anyways.  The previous volunteer in my site tried a waste management project and the village just stole her materials and used them for other things and then continued littering everywhere and burning everything.  The non ideal solution is plastic incinerators which I've recently been told by several people are in fact much worse then just leaving the plastic where it is.  I've been told the opposite as well.  Everyone has their point of view and their personal priorities and agendas, not least of which the Senegalese people who quite frankly don't give a damn when they aren't food secure or would rather be making tea.  I don't even know if it should be one of my priorities when I could be working on any number of things from pumps, to improved gardening, to health, to Female Genital Cutting, all of which are problems in my village.  I just don't know (someone should go back and count how many times I've said that in blog posts throughout my service).  

Then again if we could start a program that used a somewhat cleaner incinerator (cleaner than burning on the ground) and combined it with composting the organic material and then selling it, we could at least start the process of people putting waste into a system instead of throwing it on the ground and forgetting about it.  That's the first step.  That would be at least something, and something that didn't have plastic flowing into the ocean.  Sure it's a higher impact being put on the world at large to protect this one area, but maybe the delta is worth it.  Of course there are a million problems associated with it and its very possible that I'm just being lazy and I'm too scared to try to do the right thing becuase its hard and I've lost my idealism.  Who knows.  I feel like a trauma surgeon with my patient bleeding out and only a butter knife and a dirty oil rag to fix it.

Plastic plastic everywhere and not a thing to do about it...