Last week I traveled to the Casamance region, which is theh southern most region below the Gambia. I took a 15 hour boat ride and when I arrived I had to meet my friend in the hospital because she had malaria! Besides the malaria, we both had an amazing week. It showed me what true generosity and openness looks like. The week before I had met a guy named Omar who was the manager of a bakery I really love. When I told him I was going to Casamance and asked for recommendations, he gave me his cousin Christian’s number. I called him and he offered to have us stay with his family in Zinguinchor (the capital or Casamance).
One of the boys in the family ended up giving us his room, they made a gluten free meal for my friend, and I spent the day talking to the mom of the household about public health in the region. She is a nurse at the local hospital so of course I started asking her questions about HIV/AIDS in the region. In Senegal the rate is very small so I was expecting her to say that the rate was low there as well. But she said that the first place she was posted was in a fishing village where there was tons of HIV. She made me realize that migrants, whether fisherman, military men, or immigrants from Guinnea or Gambia oftentimes bring HIV and spread it to youth sex workers trying to make money or with other women in the region. When I asked about men who have sex with men she said that its very taboo and is not allowed so even if they have HIV they hide.
The next day we went to the Christian’s village on an island 4 hours away by boat. Being there really showed me the true meaning of Senegalese teranga (hospitality). They welcomed two strangers into their home and made us food every meal expecting nothing in return! I couldn’t believe it. I spoke with the dad of the house before leaving to thank him. And he said “we accept strangers into our home, and expect the best of them unless they prove us otherwise”. It was in that moment that I realized how much distrust there is in this world. We expect the worst in people. I hope that I can continue my life trusting others and showing the same generosity and humbleness that this family showed us.
In terms of finishing the data analysis for the study on reproductive and sexual health, I am struggling with how to advance. I delegated different questionnaire sections to different members of the Health and Social Justice team. I have realized that things here at this organization, and maybe in Senegal in general things just move a lot more slowly. This study was done more than 8 months ago and there seems to be no rush in finishing. When there is a lack of motivation on the teams end, it makes it difficult for me to finish. I am going to try to talk to my data analysis partner today to see how we can move forward.