Senegal 2017 - Thille Boubacar
Welcome, welcome, welcome to the famous (in some circles) ARTS Blog! We're back at our favorite spot in Ndioum, where there is a POOL being built, and the incredible Team Senegal 2017 is ready for action! On this trip we have a fantastic mix of rookies and veterans, so let's have a quick overview of this cast of characters before I tell you all about Day 1.
Dr. Gunther Heyder - the one, the only! Our fearless leader traveled here from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, bringing with him that lovely southern accent and a TON of gear, which combined will make it possible for him to charm more patients this year than ever before.
Dr. Yetunde Patrick - this dental dynamo came with us to Senegal last year and apparently decided we aren't crazy, so she's back for round 2! Her can-do attitude, sense of humor, and Zumba teaching certifications make her a true asset to the ARTS team
Dr. Gary Seiden - he may be new to our team, but this rockstar dentist has traveled the world both volunteering and exploring. We all have a lot to learn from his knowledge of dentistry and pop culture tv, not to mention his overall generosity! Best of all, he's sure to keep us smiling and laughing through our long clinic days.
Steph Fiocchi - our other new addition is a hygienist from Chicago! Most of you know how excited we are to add cleanings to our list of services, and this sweet midwestern gal is ready to take on the challenge. This is her first trip to Africa, though you'd never guess from how confident and easygoing she is coming into this new adventure!
Matt Hladiuk - after two trips off, Mateo the Marvelous is back in action! We love having this guy around because the laughter won't stop and neither will the education! Matt is an excellent teacher, and his connections with the children here are sure to last. Hopefully they don't just remember him, but also remember to keep brushing their teeth!!!!
Roman Mogilevsky - this guy is the craziest of them all. His first trip with us was to Uganda this past December, immediately after his dental school finals ended. That wasn't stressful enough, so this time he's coming with us to Senegal the week BEFORE his finals begin!!! That means our clinic days will be super efficient as he rules the line with an iron fist while getting quizzed by our three dentists on everything he needs to know!
Mariel Butan - thaaaaats me! Your friendly neighborhood blog moderator, I'm on my fifth ARTS trip (of 5!) and am so excited to be back in this beautiful country, where the people are as warm as the weather and the need is as great as their smiles. And as Passover is almost upon us, I can't promise next year in Jerusalem, but it does seem that next year in Ndioum we'll have a POOL!
So what else can I tell you about our first day in Africa? We saw the sun rise and set, and there were many sights to behold in between (when we were awake in the van).
After a disappointing lack of breakfast on the airplane, we were thrilled to see Abdoulai, our driver, had returned to us for the third year in a row. He knows all the secrets of the highway, so we stopped at a great spot for breakfast and snacks before hitting the road in earnest. Early on, we saw that the stadium is finished and there's a strange new group of high tech looking buildings, but the familiar sight of trash dotted plots of deserty fields was here to greet us as well. Charets and cows plod by, and women sell fruit from makeshift stands by the road. It's Senegal! Once we were closer to Ndioum, we saw a field of solar panels that stretched out quite some length, but the surrounding area didn't give any clues as to what that power might be supporting. Half-built cement houses and corrals made of sticks make up most of the local villages. We stopped for lunch at what has become our usual spot, which never disappoints with its freshly baked bread and surprise preparations of meat and chicken.
Eight and a half hours after leaving the parking lot in Dakar, we pulled up to our hotel. It's as beautiful an oasis as ever with its Bougainville coming over coral stucco and blue tile walls, and did I mention they're building a pool?! After a short rest, the group braved the dirt, trash, and thorns to walk down to the river. Baby goats bleated at us and showed off their head-butting skills as we enjoyed the breeze coming off the water. After a short walk back through the town, with fewer children yelling "toubab" at us than usual, we were overjoyed to find that our chicken lady is back! We arranged for dinner and went across the street to grab a few beers to drink on the patio while we waited. As the sun set on our first day, we toasted to a great trip. Soon we were enjoying the most delicious chicken and onion sauce Africa has to offer, accompanied by sweet and flavorful Bissap (hibiscus) juice. After dinner we came back to the hotel, counted and packed our supplies for the first day, and were asleep before our heads hit the pillows. Tomorrow is going to be a big day!!!
Day one of actual patient care and education started out in our hotel, which is kind of an oasis in this country of beautiful landscape. Being one of the two newbies in the group, I didn't know what to expect. We started with what I've been told is the daily meal of bread, a slice of so-called salami, which was a shade of red that I've never quite seen before, accompanied with cheese, a hard boiled egg, and a little butter and jelly. I actually thought it was pretty good, but don't know how I'll feel after a week of it.
We got started a little late, Roman and Matt slept through their alarm, not surprisingly, because nobody, except for me, got much sleep the night before on the flight over.
So I guess I should now introduce myself. I'm Gary, a dentist from DC, now known as BC, or Business Class. On the flight over from Dulles, I was in the front of the plane. While everyone else was struggling to get a minute or two of sleep in the crowded uncomfortable seats in the back of the plane, I was stretched out sleeping comfortably in business class. So the first night of sleeping in the oasis of our so-called air conditioned hotel, wasn't quite the treat for me that it was for the rest of the group.
The hour drive to our first day of clinic was a blast. Along with seeing the sights of daily Senegalese life, the beauty of the African landscape was terrific. Everyone was joking, but the best part was Roman quizzing us with questions from his many upcoming finals when he returns to dental school at NOVA. The amazing part was that our least dentally knowledgeable subjects, Matt the teacher and Mariel, our organizer and Jackie of all trades, seemed to get all of the answers correct.
Welcome to the clinic. After being greeted by a bunch of Peace Corps volunteers, Gregg, Elizabeth, Sylvia, Meghan and Sydney, to name a few, we went to the back of the building to set up and get started. This is when the well oiled machine got started. Before you knew it, our large containers and bags of dental instruments and supplies were unpacked, organized and we were ready to go.
We rocked!!! Steph, the other newbie of the group, who has been working for less than a year, and our only dental hygienist, was cleaning teeth like there was no tomorrow. Gunther, Yetunde and I were pulling teeth, that if any oral surgeon were watching, would have been shocked at our proficiency. Then of course there was Matt the teacher and Roman the dental student, who were given a few cracks at it, as well. They did a pretty good job at it. All the while we were listening to the best, mostly hip hop and rap music, supplied by Gunther and Roman, to keep the mood right. Throughout the day, Mariel, who was running the show in the front of the clinic, would come back for a little boogying down. She and Yetunde tore it up, it was like Zumba class, in the middle of Africa. The rest of us danced and tried to keep up.
At about 2, we all sat down on the floor of this shaded open aired building and shared these huge delicious huge bowls of fish, rice and assorted vegetables, made by the local women of the community.
Returning to the clinic, we managed to see every patient that had waited to see us. After finishing and packing up, we left at 7. Long day, but incredibly fulfilling. After our hour long ride back to the hotel and quick stop back to unload the van, whose back decided to open when we neared the hotel, we unloaded the van. The boys had a few quick shots of Jameson, supplied by our trusty leader Gunther, we headed back, a second evening to our trusted favorite restaurant, where chicken and spaghetti was waiting for us.
Something in the culture in Senegal, that I really love is after you finish your meal, there seems to be a group of boys waiting to take your leftovers and eat them. They are not aggressive or obnoxious about it, but scoop it up really quickly and are very grateful for whatever they receive.
On our walk back to the hotel, I left the group for a shower and much needed R & R. Everyone else went to a party hosted by the Peace Corps volunteers. I guess I'll hear what happened there tomorrow, but as the saying goes "what happens in Senegal, stays in Senegal!"
I really can't wait to see what tomorrow brings...
Last Tuesday, our team headed out to peace corps volunteers' homestays to "culture up!" To bring you a bit of everyone's experience, a few of us have put together some thoughts for you to see the real Senegal.
As this is the last blog post I'll be sending out for Team Senegal 2017, I just wanted to briefly thank the team for sharing their thoughts along the way. Not only did their hard work have a direct impact on hundreds of people, but their words also painted an inspiring picture for those back home. It means a lot to me, Gunther, and everyone back home that you put so much heart into your reflections and were willing to share them with us all. THANK YOU TEAM for helping us show the beautiful and painful realities of Senegal!
After we broke off from the team, Gunther and I went with peace corps volunteer Megan. Her village is surrounded by rice beds and farms, all filled with busy workers. When we got to Megan's house, we said our hellos to her immediate family, and then we were paraded around to greet as many people as we could so that we didn't offend anyone. Gunther and I each received Senegalese names. I had the honor of being named by a little boy (about 3 yrs old) and he named me fish. I quickly became the village idiot and Gunther was loving it. After everyone was greeted, we sat outside and relaxed with friends. We sat and ate and sat some more and ate some more. Their culture is centered around family and friends who become family, and it is beautiful. To the end the night, we all watched National Geographic outside. No one had any idea what was going on, but everyone intensely watched. We all slept outside on mats under mosquitoes nets. It was extremely hot, but I am beyond glad we 'cultured up.' This is definitely an experience I will never forget.
I left Ndioum's cultural day with a new admiration for the Senegalese people. They are full of love, peace, and respect for one another. I had an opportunity to sit with different Senegalese families. Each one welcomed me with own arms. I was showered with wonderful food, drinks, and most importantly conversations that showed two cultures can come together in harmony.
Our culture day was fierce. While waiting for Mariel to get her SIM card, I got the opportunity to watch the kids walking home from school. Although they don't come from families with money, it was like watching a fashion show with beautiful boys and girls. There's a sense of pride and style that is really admirable. We then walked through the local market to the river that separates Senegal to Mauritania. It was so hot I wanted to jump in, but was discouraged after learning all of the wonderful diseases I would probably contract. We proceeded to hang out in a French owned hotel, to have some beers and relax. It was definitely the first time that I was anywhere on this trip even slightly resembling western standards. Of course we lost all track of time, so after our unsuccessful quest in finding someplace to grab lunch, we picked up a few snacks at the gas station. Definitely not a Royal Farms or a Wawa.
Mariel and I went with our wonderful Peace Corps volunteer, Sydney, to her family home. Everyone in the village lives in conditions beyond your imagination and are as happy as can be. We were walked around the village and introduced to everyone like celebrities. I received my Senegalese name, Amadou. By the end of our walk, we were surrounded by 50 or so children, chanting my name. I wish I could get that much attention at home.
Sydney's mom cooked a delicious bowl of rice, chicken and assorted vegetables, special for her guests. She placed a large mat out, and circled it to chow down, Mariel and I being the only ones using spoons, everyone else eating with their right hands. Abdulai needed to stop at one point, to pray for one of his 5 times/day. Time for bed: consisted of setting up our thin mattresses, covered with our mosquito nets, to spend the hottest evening I can remember. We were then awakened, of course, at 3 AM, by the 2 roosters sharing the roof with us.
I really gained a lot of respect for the Peace Corps volunteers that have this experience for 27 months of their lives, minus the beers, of course.
In the morning, five of our team of seven drove to Podor to see the market and river. On the way, we stopped at the Orange cell phone store so that I could finally get my Senegalese SIM card (which acts as a hot spot modem for the team) to work. Sitting inside in the crisp air conditioning, talking to employees dressed nicely with guaranteed regular work, I realized this had to be the best job in the region, for the people who receive the most education. It's always fascinating to see what is considered desirable in different cultures, such as how someone we would consider to have a "warm" and giving heart is said to have a cold heart here! In Podor we enjoyed a peaceful afternoon before Gary and I headed to Guia with Sydney. We sat in a special welcoming room for guests, enjoyed some mafé (a delicious meat and peanut sauce on rice), and walked around the implausible farming town in the middle of the desert.
They're famous for potatoes, and the incongruous green fields along the tributary to the river spanned as far as the eye could see. On the way back, we saw two young men bathing their horses by just walking them straight into the river and scrubbing them with their hands. It was the nicest I've seen animals treated in all the time I've been here. After being escorted home by a horde of laughing and chanting children, we had a wonderful dinner with our host family. Sydney lives with her host dad, his two wives, and his two children with his second wife - an extremely small family here. We set up our mattresses and mosquito nets on the roof and settled in for an evening under the stars. The living is hard here, but going through even one day makes you appreciate the littlest comforts, like a cool drink of clean water, so much more.
After a long clinic day, I'm thrilled to send you the blog for ARTS day 5. Don't worry; we didn't skip day 4 - we have lots of notes from our cultural day coming your way soon! For now, here are some inspiring words from Matt, who has earned the nickname Heaven for being such a fantastic assistant/teacher/overall person.
This morning was an abnormal morning for the ARTS Team! Not only was the sunrise obscured from a lot of sand in the air from yesterday's sandstorms, but the team had to be reunited from the cultural day/night. After being reunited, the team quickly changed to head right back in the van for breakfast bean sandwiches. Though tired, the team was ready and excited to head to Mboumba for another day of clinic.
We were greeted at the clinic with 100s of the village people dressed in their colorful complet, dresses, as if they were ready for a wedding, not seeing the dentist. The team seemed very proficient at setting up for clinic and quickly assembled their "stations." As procedure room got set, Mariel was busy setting up blood pressure and peace corps members for checking in patients. By far the most important job of ARTS!
During the morning, I had an opportunity to work with Dr Gary. Dr Gary is a phenomenal doctor who is determined to help as many patients as possible. At one point, his relentless work was unwavering. He worked and worked on a patient for 45 minutes to get two roots. His commitment to helping people is evident and admirable.
The morning went extremely fast. At one point I looked at my watch and it was 230. I swear it was 915 the last time I looked at my watch.
While working with Dr Gary, I took a moment and looked around at the team.
I looked behind me and yetunde was coaching a peace corps member into an assistant, grabbing instruments and dancing to her favorite music; Gunther's music! I looked in front of me Stephanie was doing hygiene. She killed it with ten hygiene checks. I was amazed by her patience and endurance to clean every single tooth she saw. In front of Stephanie, Roman was working with Gunther. As an aspiring dentist, I was proud of Roman willing to try any procedure Gunther had for him. Eager to learn, Roman stepped up perfecting his dental craft all the while cracking a joke that even made his patients laugh. Meanwhile, Gunther patiently explained the procedures while dancing to his music while making sure yentude was still enjoying his music! I always told Gunther that when he is done doing dentistry he needs to be a dental teacher! He has the knowledge, patience and passion for what he loves! In the end we all worked together to see close to 90 patients. Not the 130 I was striving for, but I'll be sure to keep pushing the doctors as much as possible to make it happen.
For me personally, this was my third ARTS trip and second time in Senegal. Even though this is my third trip, I have learned so much and cannot get enough of these trips. During one of my education trips a student asked me why I come to Senegal. Before I could even answer, I began to tear up. My response was simple. I do it because I feel that education is the most important thing. Whether it be math or dental education. Every person deserves the right to be educated. I told the class that they are going to be the new leaders of their village. It is going to be their responsibility to make sure that there is a change for the better. I trust and hope with these visits we can make a change where the people of these villages can be proud and show off their smiles!
To the ARTS 2017 Team, it has been an experience thus far. From eating at the fanciest chicken lady in town with endless laughs to the long tiring van rides. I have learned a lot from you. Thanks for helping makes this trip enjoyable. You are all super stars in my eyes. To our fearless leader Gunther, your drive and passion to help people and make people better are phenomenal gifts you possess. It has been an honor being a part of this organization and watching it grow.
To everyone reading this, I strongly recommend you come join us on a trip. I promise you will have A Reason To Smile!
Today, we managed to be only 45 minutes late.... GO TEAM! We enjoyed our daily breakfast of carbs and coffee, and one by one the team trickled in. Roman strolled in wearing his parka, while poor BC was still sweating from another night without AC.
On the way to Gollere we picked up two peace corps volunteers. One of the volunteers was saying goodbye to his Senegalese family. His family was holding back tears as they hugged him and shook his hand for the last time. I do not think any one was prepared to witness his last goodbye, but I am touched that we did.
After a bumpy ride, we made it to site with a small crowd (and a small amount of ice) waiting for us. We set up in record time, and began the fourth day of clinic.
The bromance that is Dr. Gunther and Matt started the day out as a team. Dr. Gunther was not only accommodating to his patients, but also to the tiny ant colony he shared his pringles with. Dr. Gary had two assistants today: Roman and a tiny lizard! It's still debatable who was the better assistant. Dr. Yetunde really did it all today: dentist, DJ, Polaroid photographer, educator, the list goes on. Mariel did her thing and helped anyone and everyone, while having some dance breaks in between! It truly amazes me how well the team works together.
We had a delicious lunch of rice, chicken, AND olives! Any variety at this point is a true blessing. We were lucky to have the head of the village health organization join our lunch to thank us for our services. His appreciation gave Team ARTS the motivation we needed to kick ass in the afternoon. There was a total of 100 patients seen with two education sessions completed at the school.
For me personally, today was a devastatingly eye opening day. My patients were mostly children ages 9-13, with the worst oral health I have seen. Each patient's mouth was worse than the previous. I thought back to the first day of clinic when Dr. Gunther (in classic Gunther fashion) casually dropped a philosophical statement. He was watching me clean my very first patient when he said, "we are all the same" and followed it up with a very long pause.... He said that genetically we are almost identical, but we are all so different. Today, as I cleaned all of the kids' teeth, it truly hit me how different our situations are. I even began to cry as I cleaned a little girl's teeth. I was exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. I could not have finished the day without the pep talks from Uncle Gary and support of the ARTS team.
On the ride home, we pulled over to capture some pictures with the setting sun. We may bring the brains and beauty, but we definitely lack coordination (you can confirm this when the jumping pictures are posted). Let's just say the team survived the pictures partially unharmed.
We made it to the famous Chicken Lady only a couple hours past our reservation. Luckily, she held our table for us. Team ARTS shared dinner with seven peace corps volunteers. I took a moment to sit back and reflect on the situation. A group of people who were once strangers were all brought together by ARTS and the peace corps. For one reason or another we all felt compelled to travel to Senegal, and I am beyond happy that we all did.
It's day 7 of this awesome ARTS trip to Senegal and the blog baton has been finally passed down. This is my second ARTS trip to Senegal, and I am still learning so much about the culture, the language and even from my colleague dentists.
It has been awesome returning back with Gunther and Mariel and meeting Roman, Matt (AKA Heaven), Gary (BC) and Steph (Angel).
The night before Gunther emphasized that everyone must be up and ready to go to by 6am. I knew this would be a hard sell, but I am happy to say that I was not the last person to load the bus this morning. We set off for two hours east of Ndium to the town of Pete.
Pete is one of the few towns that has its own dental office. The operatories are new with state of the art equipment. Unfortunately most of the patients cannot afford to see the dentist, as an extraction costs about twenty US dollars.
Many of the patients that we saw were people that were unable to be seen from Gollere the day before.
My favorite part of the trip was meeting the grandmother of one of my patients from the day before. Her grandson needed two teeth extracted and I took a Polaroid picture to help distract him. She was ecstatic to tell me about how the Polaroid would be sent to the mom in the Congo, who had not seen her son in two years.
Each town that we visit always has a distinctive group of people. The women in Pete were the most beautiful that I have seen in the northern region. They wore colorful wax prints and all had Pular tribal marks close to their eyes.
The women were also the most difficult to work with in comparison to other towns.
This experience reminded me of how much trust and faith the patients placed in our hands. They don't know anything about us, but they allow us to complete treatment.
It is always cool to see how dentists can use completely different tools to extract the same tooth. BC is known to use as few instruments as possible. He keeps it simple with just a small and large elevator; how the tooth gets extracted, I'm still wondering. Gunther's go to instrument is the cow horn. Next year he may need to up his order on this forcep. And me, I like to think that it's not the instrument but the provider. Perhaps this is why Gary nicknamed me Magic?
Tensions ran high throughout this last clinic day and Roman still had not figured out the instruments each dentist used, but in the end everyone came together to finish strong. Our greatest team strength is our flexibility and ability to leave everything as we exit out of the clinic.
We headed back to Ndioum to collect our baggage and start on our long journey back to Dakar.
"En en dendii" - We are all in this together.
We kind of had to be because Saturday morning we were still up at 3am seeing sights of Saint Louis and dancing like rockstars.
However after 3 hours of sleep, we were itching for more tourist attractions. We set sail in our semi comfortable van with A/C to Dakar, a 5 hour trip which felt like it would never end. After hitting the large Dakar market and attempting to get onto the ferry to the slave island of Goree (a valiant effort but failed), a scenic drive along the Atlantic coast took us to a little taste of much needed RnR. Uncle Gary aka BC treated the crew to a nice hotel on the beach so we could be better prepared for the 2am flight. It was awesome! After 8 days in the 100+ degree Sahal desert, jumping into the pool was washing away a lot of dust, grime, and blood. Finishing the afternoon by watching the waves crash at a very nice restaurant overlooking the Atlantic Ocean was exactly what the team needed to reset and prepare for normalcy back in the States.
As always, each trip is different in many ways. This trip, having Dr. Gary and Dr. Yetunde as well as myself meant more patients, more sweat, and more possible confusion. These two worked extremely hard, knowing that the harder they worked, the more people they can help alleviate the chronic pain which plagues the mouths of so many people in this area. They worked tirelessly to be compassioate and lent a hand to hold during treatment which most of this population has never experienced.
Throw in the 1/2 Dr. Roman, AKA Gauze, and Matt, AKA Heaven, allowed for the three docs to see well over 400 patients and take out close to 1,000 teeth over our one-week stint. Heaven and Gauze were firecrackers in their own way. Always giving some comic relief and keeping the machine working, we could not have done this trip without you two. Hygiene with Stephanie, aka "Angel " was new to the program of Senegal. Getting a cleaning is foreign to them. But Stephanie, you are a champion. You were given tough working conditions, back-breaking chairs, but you still had time to help the team out in every which way possible. Thank you for trusting A Reason to Smile to get you to Africa and volunteer for your first time and hopefully not your last!
As for Mariel, thank you for the work you continuously do on a volunteer basis. The work that you did to get everyone prepared for this trip as well as keep the well-oiled machine moving throughout the days of our clinic it's something to behold. Can't thank you enough for all the hard work that you and the rest of the ARTS board has been doing to prepare ourselves for the trip we just concluded.
It was a pleasure to be the leader of this trip and witness the excitement and the emotional aspect of providing dental care and education to the people of the Fouta region. The teeth seemed a little more difficult this time, and the heat was more than we've ever had to factor in. The long bus rides in the morning and evening and the lack of sleep all are blurred when you get a hug or the handshake as a sign of gratitude after helping a complete stranger that you've never met before or will meet in the future. However on this trip we did have a few return patients that the translators indicated to us of their improvement after they came to our clinics the past 2 years.
This program is at its beginning, and we are already seeing a change happening in the region we work at in the northern part of Senegal. This is a start, allowing these people to live longer, healthier, happier lives because of the direct attempt ARTS is trying to accomplish.
I thank each and everyone of you for taking the time out of your lives to come and try to better the lives of others as well as yourself. Team ARTS, life is what you make of it. And I think we're doing a damn good job of living it well. 10 days ago, we didn't know much about each other, but as we leave the airport we leave as very close friends if not family.
Take all what you have learned about sand, clouds, and BC and spread the word that we, humans, are all in this together. Continue spreading joy and laughter and making even the smallest attempts to help humanity love one another.
As the ARTS team starts to work again for the next trip, know that we had a heck of a trip together and come Monday morning, when Roman is taking a test on Oral Surgery and we are all back to our normal jobs, and Gary is asking his assistants for gauze, this trip will just be a memory. And as I always say, I beg that each of you never loses sight of the fact that we have been monumentally blessed in where we come from. I truly hope that each one of you will be back on a dental volunteer trip, either with A Reason To Smile or another organization, bringing awareness and care and leaving with a deep satisfaction that we did a hell of a job giving the Senegalese a reason to smile.