Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bean sandwiches and mosquito nets.

This is going to be a picture post, so I may as well start out with a photo of the best breakfast there is in all of Senegal. Ladies and gentlemen, the bean sandwich!

Seriously the best thing ever. SERIOUSLY.

For you folks at home who want to make your own, make sure you spice the beans heavily and slather the whole business with mayo. More adventurous eaters will want to follow my lead and add spicy pasta, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and onion sauce to their sandwich as well. Oh, and it's not a proper bean sandwich if it's not wrapped in discarded newspaper or something, so save your trash!


Several weeks ago, I posted something extremely brief about how excited I was for the upcoming month and promised a full report on it when I came back from the travel. That post was never written, and probably never will be. At least not in the way I had intended to write it. I'm afraid to say too much about it, because that month produced the type of happiness you suspect could be easily crushed by too many words and too much reflection. Good thing I took some pictures to share.

It ended up being an intense month. I started out in Thies, where Peace Corps/Senegal has our training center, for the Stomping Out Malaria Initiative's second boot camp. Staff members and volunteers from across Africa came together to learn more about what we can all be doing to eliminate malaria in our communities. Putting together this training was a little exhausting, but it was worth it to meet the incredible people who attended. I feel privileged to be working side by side with men and women from so many countries, who all believe so firmly in our goal.

I had to leave boot camp a few days early, though, to help supervise a big mosquito net distribution in the southeast corner of Senegal. Peace Corps volunteers and some of our national and international partners were headed to the community of Saraya, outside of Kedougou, bringing a few thousand nets with us.

These distributions are insanely complicated. They begin with a community census, when trained community health workers go from house to house, hut to hut, and count the number of beds and other sleeping spaces (mats rolled out on the floor, stuff like that) that don't have nets.

Health workers enter every hut to get an accurate count of the number of sleeping spaces.

After all this data is validated by a committee of village dignitaries and health workers, the nets are all counted out and divided up. Each one is opened and the name of the new owner and the date and location of the distribution are written on them. When the big day dawns, people are already lined up at their distribution points to collect their nets.

Community health workers in Saraya getting the nets ready for distribution day.

Waiting for new mosquito nets in Saraya.

Every distribution is accompanied by a talk about how to properly use and maintain these mosquito nets. The community health workers will follow up in the weeks ahead by going from compound to compound again, making sure that people have hung their nets correctly and teaching them about the symptoms of malaria. Finally, after some internal evaluation, the distribution effort is done. Using this method, Senegal will have covered 10 of its 14 regions by the end of this year. And that, my friends, is what universal coverage of mosquito nets and malaria education looks like.

A family sitting beneath their new mosquito net.

If nets are being widely used in a village, it benefits every individual within the community: mosquitos have less of a chance to pick up the parasite that causes malaria and pass it to another human host. So if you have about 80% of a community sleeping under their mosquito nets, you'll cut the incidence of malaria roughly in half, and mortality will is reduced by about 17%. Not a bad deal, since a distribution costs about $.50 per net after the cost of the nets themselves. Yep. Fifty cents. And those nets aren't exactly costly either.

It wouldn't be business as usual in Senegal if the car bringing us in to Kedougou hadn't broken down one late afternoon, after the whole distribution was finished and I was getting ready to come back to Dakar.

The guy in the hat and sunglasses said I wasn't allowed to help push-start the car, so I stayed inside and took pictures.

In my current job, I help other people makes things happen. Distributions, trainings, other malaria projects. I don't get out much these days, and I don't get to use my own hands for much beyond typing and drinking too much coffee. In fact, although I had been arranging the budget and putting mosquito nets in cars down to Saraya for weeks in advance of this distribution, I hadn't been sure I'd get to travel to be a part of it.

But I'm glad I ended up in Saraya for this distribution. The volunteers and the Senegalese health workers who were involved astonished me on a daily basis with their eagerness, compassion and energy. Besides, check out this river!


I think a lot these days about how a few small things in my life could have been just different enough to have kept me from ever joining the Peace Corps. It would have been so easy to stay, to take a teaching job, to keep going in that old direction. There wasn't anything in my life to make me particularly unhappy. Nothing was missing. Things were good. Joining the Peace Corps and coming to Senegal was maybe kind of an act of madness.

But now I have this whole other element in my life, like a color I had never been able to see before I came to Senegal, or like an entirely new way of putting the same old words and thoughts together, an entirely new way of living. This color, this feeling is with me all day, as I do my office work, as I shop for vegetables in the market, as I live this life. And it's with me every night, loud and clear as the call to prayer.

The work in Saraya was some of the finest work we can do, and it brought me some of my happiest days and nights in country. The best days are the days that are full. The best nights are the nights when I go to bed sunburned and sore, with a light heart, a full stomach, and the knowledge that I have done a good thing well. This is all I want. Let me not live a day past my ability to feel this way. Not an hour.

Love and guts,


  1. you've got the fire within.

  2. Hi Jessie,

    I just received my invitation to serve in Senegal yesterday! I'd love to talk to you via email:



  3. Great post which I will share on my blog and Facebook but you didn't answer the most important questions:
    What kind of bread?
    What kind of beans?
    Are the beans baked or refried?
    Perhaps you could publish a more detailed recipe so my children could make me a bean sandwich.

    btw Did you get any postcards in Dakar Yoff?

  4. Hi Jessie, I recently came across your blog and it is great! I spent an all to brief time in Dakar with Habitat for Humanity in 2006 and really enjoyed it. This is kind of random but I had a quick question about mosquito nets, specifically their need and distribution in Senegal, and since you seem to be so experienced was wondering if I could ask you. My email is If you have a minute and don't mind messaging me I would greatly appreciate your help! Thanks so much and all the best to you!

    Best Regards,


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