Monthly Archives: March 2010

PINK goes to Zagnanado for breast cancer screening

PINK BENIN is a big fan of International Women’s Day. Breast cancer is a marginalized illness in Benin, like many places in the world, because it’s something that primarily affects women. So it’s nice to do work on a day where we don’t have to defend ourselves for primarily working with women (What? We don’t treat prostate cancer? Isn’t that sexist? NO IT IS NOT).

Check out that gorgeous banner

Check out that gorgeous banner (ok, also the gorgeous dancer ...but really, the banner!)

This year, Ivy, a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaganado, invited us to participate in activities she and other volunteers had planned for March 8. We had already been planning on doing screenings and trainings, and so jumped at the chance to blah blah blah win-win partnerships, synergy, etc (aka letting someone else deal with the logistics instead of having to do everything ourselves). Awesome.

Ivy did a fantastic job! The day started out with speeches (oh so many speeches), and then two short awareness raising sessions, one on breast cancer (given by PINK), and another on women’s rights under the “new” Beninese Family Code.

Prisca COFFI, sage-femme, talking about breast cancer

Prisca COFFI, sage-femme, talking about breast cancer

After lunch, Prisca, our sage-femme, set up shop in our makeshift screening room, and she began screening women over 35, while everyone else participated in Moringa and micro-enterprise trainings.

Overall, the day was a success, although we weren’t able to screen nearly as many women as we’d hoped for. We’ll be following up with those cases that need it within the next few weeks.

Things that could have gone better

I should have arranged for two sage-femmes. We could have screened more women AND/OR split the screening and showing how to self-examen.

Having a camera crew along to show that yes, we did actually do stuff on March 8 was cool, but now that we’ve done it once, it will be largely unnecessary in the future. However, being on TV is awesome.

Things that went really well (just about everything, really)

We specifically requested that the doctors we work with send us a woman who speaks Fon (the predominant language in Zagnanado). Prisca was one of the only speakers to speak exclusively in local language, as opposed to giving her speech in French, then doing a quick translation into Fon. The women loved it, and we didn’t have to deal with translations and misunderstandings due to language.

Rapt audience members in Zagnanado

Rapt audience members in Zagnanado

Ivy did a great job with the logistics. It was really an interesting change to be part of a larger event celebrating women, rather than focusing solely on breast cancer. I think PINK should do more of this kind of thing. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive, and we can touch a lot of women we don’t normally interact with.

PCV Ivy in front of the screening station

PCV Ivy in front of the screening station

Zagnanado’s Int’l Women’s Day celebration was a much needed reminder that small projects can be just as effective as big ones, and that you don’t have to change the world to make a difference.

Browser statistics and Commentary for Benin (or, IE6 isn’t going anywhere fast, so we might as well stop complaining and get back to work)

People Online still guarantees IE6 compatibility for almost 100% of the sites we develop. We don’t even charge extra for it! And this is why:

We’ve spent an awful lot of time in cybercafés in West Africa, and an awful lot of these cybercafés are still running Windows XP (or Windows 2000! Or Windows 98!) and IE6. Anecdotal evidence aside, the default install for Windows XP is IE6, and most offices here never upgrade (why should they?).

It’s all good and well to say that only stuffy corporate offices in the States are using IE6, but my experience has shown otherwise. I analyzed a sample of People Online’s 10 most trafficked websites, all aimed at both local and international audiences This criteria actually didn’t exclude anything, as none of the sites aimed exclusively internationally or locally made the top 10.

Browser share number crunching for Benin

19% of our traffic is local. Not bad, but not great. We should probably work more with clients to publicize the sites in country and optimize for Yahoo!, which gives us far more local referrals than Google (note to self: possible later blog post).

18.8% of our traffic uses IE6. This number by itself is relatively large, but still small enough that we could start quietly dropping support, warning our clients not to expect pixel-perfect results. Except that …

35.5% of our Beninese traffic is IE6. That is, over 1/3 of a major target audience is still using IE6. Oops. That’s far to large to drop support, especially considering that many sites have much higher percentages (up to 49.6%). In this sample, opposition newspapers tended to have the lowest IE6 usage rates, while pro-administration newspapers had the highest. That too probably merits its own blog post.

27.9% of Beninese users are using Firefox, and 16.6% are using IE7. Only are 15.4% using IE8. That might sound like good news for open source, but what it really means is that we’ve got a pretty even distribution of browsers, dominated by IE6. I imagine that Firefox will overtake IE6 by the end of 2010, but as long as IE6 is still overing around a third, we don’t have have a choice but to support it.

I think it’s marvelous that there are markets in Sub-Saharan Africa where IE6 holds a small enough share that developers can drop support. That’s wonderful! IE6 is a buggy disaster and it makes for both CSS and JavaScript nightmares; however, our market does not allow us to do the same. It doesn’t even allow us optional support.

Most of our local users connect from cybercafés and government offices. They don’t download the latest and greatest versions because it’s not their job to do so. If you’re in a developing market and you’re considering dropping IE6 support, take the time to study your analytics (you’re doing that anyway, right?). Africa’s Internet market is not monolithic.

I’m in love with the idea that the second coming could be a 17-year-old African woman

Six months ago, rumors began circulating about an orphan who could heal, raise the dead, and perform exorcisms. And what better place for a second coming than a region plagued by sorcery, witches, and the devil himself? Thousands of pilgrims came to weekly masses in a tiny village with no water and no electricity, in the heart of the land where Voodoo was born.

The young woman spoke of terrible things, accusing the clergy of hypocrisy, Benin’s leaders of thievery, and claiming that national heroes were burning in hell for witchcraft and the murders they committed during their lives. Despite her fanatic following, she was soon chased out of the village, not by the inhabitants, but by the Catholic Church. Heresy is not looked kindly upon by the Vatican.

Today, she resides in another small village, still in the heart of Voodoo. The Catholic priests that raised her and guard her have built a makeshift church… nothing more than a tin roof large enough to cover two thousand kneeling souls. It’s not large enough, of course, and there only enough pews (desks borrowed from a nearby school) for a few hundred.

The first thing that struck me about the church and its surroundings was the cool breeze, as if we were under the constant threat of rain. During the hot season, where breathing is almost too much effort, the refreshing wind was surprising in and of itself, more so that it lasted our entire visit.

The second thing is the multitudes of pilgrims, both healthy and not, sprawled out on mats under the tin roof of the church. Every few hours, a priest would stand at the alter, with a choir to his right, and exhort the praying to get on their feet and praise the Lord through song and dance. They did, enthusiastically.

Despite the hundreds of people praying, dancing, milling, eating, and living on the small church grounds, a spirit of tranquility prevailed, rather than the cheerful noise that usually pervades Beninese gatherings.

We were lucky to be accompanied by a friend of a friend, who was an intimate acolyte of the Holy Spirit. Our friend had met the young woman while she wasn’t possessed by the Holy Spirit. Surprised by her loneliness, she comforted the girl. I too would be lonely if I were visited by thousands of supplicants a day, who could only be satisfied with a painful manifestation of another spirit.

Would we be able to speak with the Spirit Himself? Apparently, He gave personal audiences. He turned us the way the first day, because we took too long to arrive. The second day, we arrived at the priest’s home, where the young woman also lives. We waited outdoors in our SUVs until the young woman arrived. Our friend informed us that she was currently possessed by the Holy Spirit, and we would be able to see Him.

“Do not tell Him why you’re here!” she admonished us. “Just ask for a blessing!” God, after all, already knew what we wanted. We entered the sparsely furnished house to find the Holy Spirit seated on a couch, giving orders on a cell phone. He calmly hung up, and stood to greet us. We took our seats. Our friend then instructed us to kneel to receive a blessing. The Holy Spirit placed his hands on our heads, one by one, whispering words only He could hear.

Later that night, we gathered in the church, curling up on mats to wait for that night’s Delivery Mass. The sick would be healed. Demons would be exorcised. Sorcerers would be cast out. And so on and so forth. Singing and dancing began at 10 o’clock, The mass started at midnight and continued until six in the morning. There were over five thousand people in attendance for the mass. I was the only foreigner, but there were many many SUVs that arrived between 8 and 10 in the evening.

There’s a large part of me that wants to retreat into the cynical irreligiousness that I’m comfortable with. God doesn’t manifest Himself (Itself!) through miracles. That men and women who claim to see Him, to experience Him are charlatans. That Christians, Muslims, and anyone who believes that they will be Saved is delusional, using the comfort of religion to escape their own responsibility to make the best of the life they have.

There’s another part of me that recognizes that I witnessed something special, if not something that I can easily distill into a thousand word blog post. Do I believe I encountered the Holy Spirit? The second coming? Those I went with are absolutely certain that we were blessed by the hands of the Lord. That the Grace we received will allow us to do any and all things that are God’s will. I am less certain, although I am convinced that the young woman who claims to be inhabited by the Holy Spirit is special. Whether it’s sheer force of personality, or wisdom, or the Holy Spirit Himself is beyond me. In any case, to judge is for God and God alone.

Her priests toe the Catholic line theology wise, although their sermons focus on two things: the importance of faith and how the rich should not be surprised when the poor rise up against them. Inciting revolution? I don’t know. I do know that she incites love and not hate. She accepts no differences between classes, race, and rank. “We are all children of God,” our friend says. “God doesn’t recognize the titles men give themselves.” Rich or poor, everyone prays together and everyone waits in line together.

Whether or not the woman is whom she claims to be, she is giving hope to many who live every day of their lives without it.