Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I'm off until 2010, merry Christmas and happy new year everyone!


Saturday, December 19, 2009


I hope no one's stuck in the snowstorm on the East Coast. In Senegal news, it got hot again. It had been cooler in the mornings, so cool that I was only showering once a day but not today. It's back to what it was early November.

Maybe it's the earth punctuating the importance of action in response to climate change? All I know is it's hot here.

Not much else happened today, 1 day until classes start!

Ba suba,

Friday, December 18, 2009

Getting from one place to another

Traveling in Senegal something I have a feeling I will try many times during my time here to explain but never really succeed at doing it justice. To wax philosophic for a minute, traveling seems to represent so much of Senegal: sticking to traditions, using "Western methods" (with a Senegalese touch),being in no hurry at all, and a little bit of luck or "God wishing" things to happen.

To get to Thies today for Erin's birthday lunch I took an Alham from Bambey. The garage in Bambey is relatively quiet with Alhams mostly going to Dakar and very rarely heading to Diourbel in the other direction. When I got to the garage I walked through the crowds for men around my age asking me where I was going until I got to the back of the Mitsubishi bus everyone was loading into. Finally, when I was in line to get on the bus I told the group of men who looked like they worked there in some connection that I was going to Thies. For the first time I was quoted the right price (usually I pay 200CFA more) and the guy was very nice and quickly ushered me on the bus and directed me to a seat. The insides of Alhams are usually about 7-10 rows of 5 seats across (two benches that seat 2 people with a fold down seat in the middle). The back has seats going sideways that often fit 4 people on each seat but today I was lucky and the sideways seat (give to me) was just for 1 person. Whether there is room or not Senegalese women use their djufunday's (a marker of beauty in Senegal aka large rear-ends) to cram themselves into the seat. Though I have kind of a white-girl-djufunday, I usually end up like Senegalese men do - squashed against the side wall or between two women. Today, however, I had the whole seat to myself and there was even a window. The buses sometimes even decorated - today's had purple fabric hanging from the ceiling and speakers in the back blasting Senegalese music that, over the engine you could barely make out the drumming.

I was the last one on and we were off, about 35 of us crammed into a bus. On the back of the bus, through the door we all got in, there are a few appretices, or guys who ride on and who are responsible for the passengers. They usually hang off the back, occasionally coming inside if there are seats, but at the beginning of the ride one appretice steps in the car and begins saying "pass! pass!" and each person hands their money to him. If he doesn't know where you're going he asks and then gives you your change. I find this part to be another amazing part of travel: because the bus is so crowded and no aisle exists he just keeps going from person to person, everyone knows when he's getting to them, and everyone passes their money back - no one tries to cheat the system. Bills get handed back to him and change gets handed forward usually without people even turning around.

Another thing about travel that amazes me is how everyone looks. I usually travel looking crappy, cars are hot, you're sitting cramped, and you can only guess at how long it will take - for these reasons I almost always wear capris and a tank top or cotton t-shirt. Everyone else, however, is usually dressed up to the nines. All of the women are in full traditional Senegalese wear with headwraps and make-up. The men are always in full basin bou-bous with the younger men and women in nice Western clothes or Senegalese clothes. Even the kids are dressed up with their hair done and everyone sits patiently just waiting for their stop.

Sometimes an appretice will stick his head in the bus and yell what town we're approaching other times he'll just bang on the side of the car and the driver will pull over to the side of the road to let people off or on without asking. As people get off someone crawls to the top of the car and bags are handed down then handed back up as more people load on. Unlike in the US where people would (or so I believe) try to sit closer to doors as their stop gets closer, everyone stays seated until it's their stop then we all patiently wait while half the bus re-shifts position for one person to get out.

Usually by the time we're getting close to Thies an appretice sticks there head in and asks where I'm getting out (when there's only one white person in the car it's easy to remember where they're going, so I'm guessing). Eventually the car stops (if I'm sitting far in the crowd) or just slows down (like today) and I jump out the back and am on my way.

Traveling back to Bambey from Thies is always a little bit crazier, I like to think because people are tired and just want to get home. No matter, though, everyone (except me) still maintains their appearance and looks great. (Part of this must have to do with the fact it's the "cold" season now - though I don't feel it) The Thies garage is no where near as calm as the Bambey garage with people hassling the entire way to the Bambey section - each route has their own section so it's easy to ignore people until I'm in the right place. This evening when I got on the bus there were about 8 open seats which filled pretty quickly and we were off again. This time, however, I was crammed between two Senegalese women for most of the ride.

About halfway between Thies and Bambey the car stopped and almost everyone got off - those of us going to Bambey were told to stay. Then there was a change of plans and we were all told to get off and get on another bus (this happens regularly). Luckily the second bus was an actual bus (like the kind I take to Dakar) and I got 2 seats to myself. Coming with me to the new bus were a mother and her daughter, a guy in his 20s, and two kids that were going to Bambey for the first time and had no idea what was going on (it was amazing not to be the least-knowledgeable person in the room/bus). While we waited for the second bus to get moving (the appretices of the different buses had to work out who had come over and what they owed them) the mother and guy asked what I was doing and we had a nice conversation in Wolof. When they asked my name and I gave them, like normal, my Senegalese name, the mother even asked my real name (and they both knew Peace Corps so it was great). Finally we were off and I got back to Bambey and home just before dark.

I'm sure when I have to go longer distances it will be miserable and I won't see the beauty in travel that I see now. But, when it's just for small trips and I can amuse myself with the situation. The daydreamer in me even likes to imagine a movie zoom-out from the top of the bus - all of the women with headdresses and weaves and me, the one white person squashed between two djufundays*.

Ba Suba,

*Don't think I'm being rude about djufunday's, Senegalese women pride themselves on them. My hfmom often tells me that if I don't eat more I won't get a djufunday (because here, not having one, is a bad thing).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Daily Life

I don't think I've given an actual run down of my general days here in Bambey yet so, because nothing too exciting happened today, I'll go ahead with that.

Every morning I get up around 8 or 9am, depending on what noise (my hfdad starting his car, lots of people talking, mosque calls, drums, music, really anything) is going on outside. After getting out of bed I heat up water to make instant coffee and a bowl of oatmeal which I eat while I read the news online as well as check my email (this isn't the traditional Peace Corps). Finally I get my shower, which has taken a lot of will power recently because the mornings have been a little cold and my water is usually freezing. I pick my outfits based on what I'm doing that day: Senegalese clothes if I have an important meeting, a skirt and t-shirt if I'm spending a lot of time in town, and capris and a tank top if I'm mostly hanging around the compound or just going to friends' houses.

I try to have one thing to do each morning ranging from, going to the post office or another errand or trying to have a meeting with someone. Usually I walk down the main street (the one in front of my house) and stop along the way to greet people. Some of my greetings are really short but others, like with Matar and Awa the peanut women, I stay with a little longer. When it was hotter everything stopped working around 11am as people tried to get home before the heat was too much, but now that it's cooling off people try to get home just before lunch. At my house lunch is served as close to 1:30 as possible, usually Yousso my 12 year old hfcousin is late so we eat when he gets there (but if he's too late we save him a bowl and start without him).

Lunch is almost always ceeb u jeen, or rice and fish. My hfdad usually is out doing something so it's myself, myhf mom, 1 hfsister Awa (senior in high school), 2 girls who live with us to go to high school in Bambey (I think of them as cousins Ndaiye and Miriam, Yousso, and Miss (who's been gone for a while). A large metal bowl in placed in the middle of a mat and we all sit around. Awa, my hfmom, and I sit on the mat but the others use little stools. Everyone but my hfmom and Miss use spoons, Miss and my hfmom using their (right) hand. Ceeb u jeen is fried-ish rice with vegetables (usually carrot, okra, cabbage, manioc, and whatever else is in season) and fish in the center. The fish is always just scaled and de-headed so my hfmom usually rips meat off carefully to leave the bones and puts it in my section of the bowl. I'm still not very good (and I'm kind of lazy) at cutting vegetables with a spoon so, for the most part, Awa (who usually is sitting next to me) or my hfmom put pieces in my section. A few minutes after eating I put my spoon on the mat and we all go through the routine of "you can't be done you haven't eaten!" "no I'm done it was good!" and that's, now, where we leave it (when I first got here it would go on and on and on).

After lunch I go up to my room for a little bit (it's rude to stay at the bowl when you're done eating) and usually send some emails or figure out what I'm going to do for the afternoon. Three days a week I go to tutoring where I sit and talk with my tutor about whatever I'm thinking of, and the rest of the week I either hang around my house or go to another meeting. If I'm hanging around my house about an hour after lunch I go back downstairs and sit and read while someone makes tea. I usually only drink the first round (there are 3 and they get sweeter each time) because I don't really like tea but it would be a big problem if I turned it down.

Around the first evening prayer (5:30ish) I head back up to my room to get work done or study a little for the LSAT in quiet. Around 7pm I'm back downstairs to watch TV. For watching evening TV we all sit on a mat (during the hotter days it was in the courtyard, now it's in a little open hallway sort of thing) and watch usually Citizen Match at 7 on the government TV channel (it's the only one that comes in clear) and Marina (a Mexican soap opera) at 7:30. Usually during commercials Awa (who always has the remote) switches back and forth to another channel that ranges from being almost clear to non-existent that shows another South American (not sure which country) soap opera. My hfmom (and I) like Marina better but the other girls like the other show. Recently power's been cutting around 6pm and coming back on just in time for the news. When there isn't power we all sit there and chat about whatever comes to mind (today the girls explained the test they have to take to pass high school, the other week it was which Senegalese popstars are pretty).

At 8pm the news is on and it's about that time that dinner is brought over, which is served on a large plate not in a bowl. If dinner comes with bread pretty much no one uses utensils, I usually take on but eat with the bread primarily. If it's a rice based dish everyone but my hfmom takes a spoon and we all dig in. My hfdad, when he's not in Dakar, eats by himself - why, I have no idea, but it's one less person to hassle me when I'm done eating. If the meal is really good (beans, spaghetti, dahine) I stay at the plate a long time and no one is bothered when I leave. If it's a bad meal (like today: sauce, barely any rice, and intestines) I scarf down as much as I can, mostly pushing food around to clear a big spot and avoiding any meat or anything that looks solid before getting up to leave. After dinner I tell my hf "see you tomorrow, God willing" and go up to my room.

And that leaves us here - the point of my day where I kind of forget I'm in Africa (until I hear/smell sheep or the power cuts) and I catch up on anything I've missed and just enjoy the miracle of the internet. Around 11pm I brush my teeth (I was showering a 2nd time during the hot part of the day but it's too cold now!) and go to bed. I've gotten pretty good at falling asleep most nights even with whatever noise (drums, people talking, mosque loudspeakers) and don't wake up until the morning call to prayer at 5:30am!

I hope that wasn't too boring, I'm aiming to show a little bit more about my daily life.

Ba suba,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And in the blink of an eye....

This morning I set off to try and get some semblance of work done; my goal was to have one meeting. I didn't even expect to get anything accomplished, just remind the director of the women's training center or of the Credit Mutual that I was here and could work. Before all of that, however, I went through the semi-arduous task of filling out and printing my absentee request ballot (primaries in February)! In theory it shouldn't have been that hard, but I don't have a printer. So! I went to the cyber-cafe/guy with a printer. While he was figuring out my UBS key (he wasn't clicking the right things and it took all of my will not to take the mouse from him and do it myself) we got to talking. Yes I'm from America, yes I'm learning Wolof, yes I live in Bambey, I'm actually staying for 2 years. It's about this part in the conversation that most of my female friends get marriage proposals but there's apparently something different about me and I don't get asked to be a second wife, they cut to the chase, "take me with you to America when you go." There's no woo-ing, no offers of houses in Bambey, not even no-taxes on my packages like Alyssa gets. They can tell I'm no non-sense and they cut to the chase. Knowing I couldn't be outright rude to someone who I will probably see again (aka use his printer), I tried, at first, just to joke it off and laugh. That didn't work, so I got no non-sense with him, "I can't. Only I can go back, that's the way it works, I'm only allowed to go back, I can't bring anyone with me. It's that file there, yes one page please print it." While it got him to stop asking for a trip to the US, he totally overcharged me. Don't get me wrong, I understand I was arguing over about 15cents but it's the philosophy behind it that irks me. He told me it was 200CFA so I responded with, "a photocopy was only 50CFA (I had my passport copied there a few weeks ago)" "It's not the same thing," which REALLY bothered me, while I do not know the specific technicalities of printing, I know that printing and copying on a printer/copier are practically the same thing, and, if anything, copying's gotta be more work. I continued to say "it's the same thing, I know it is," but paid my 200CFA and left.

With that behind me, I decided to stop by the women's training center (I found out the official name it's the Center for the Technical Training of Women) to try to see the director. Luckily enough she was in her office and we sat down to chat. I suggested that I could, eventually, teach a Marketing course (like she had suggested to me last week) or maybe I could just start with a conversation group of women who wanted extra practice in their English classes. She got out her course book and marked me down for three classes in "business" and, like that, I got my first job. I sat there furiously scribbling down everything she was telling me, I would be teaching women who are on the "restauranteer" track, there would be 3 classes: Monday 12:30-3:30, Tuesday 8-10,Tuesday 12:30-3:30, and in between my Tuesday classes I would sit in with the women during their cooking class so I could learn to make Senegalese food (this stemmed because I joked that if they ever needed help tasting I could do that too). And, with that, we were done. See you Monday!

I left feeling on top of the world, just like that I had work! It was going to be awesome! We were going to start with finding a good business idea and then work our way, over several weeks, through creating and managing a fake business. They were going to love me, I was going to be such a cool teacher, I would be invited over for lunch.... then the next thought hit me "oh no! I'm supposed to be teaching during lunch (1:30) my hfmom's going to be PISSED... ewww she's going to save me food every day .. gross cold rice and sauce." After I realized that that was a problem easily solved the realization of what I was doing hit and the nerves set in. I just signed up to teach a business class, in French, to women who are probably older than me, and can speak in Wolof without me understanding. Where would I actually start? How would I remember their names? Would they respect me? What would I teach? What if I couldn't explain it well enough? And the questions kept coming. I realize that it might be a rookie-peace corps mistake to jump into something like this, but, with my technical training pushed back another month, I realized that it might be time for me to start making mistakes and learning from them - if I don't start now, when will I? I'm ready to start taking chances if it means getting to actually try and start work.

I'm a planner, however, and so I calmed myself with the thought that I could spend the next few days making highly detailed lesson plans that, while they would probably fall through and not happen as planned, would be a start. I also realized that any calmness of mind would help, so I stopped by the church to ask what time mass is on Sunday and on Christmas Eve. Yeah, I'm not really Catholic anymore but it'll be nice to be around the drums and singing, anyway, I'm curious if they'll sing Christmas carols I know.

After talking to the priest I went to the post office to mail my ballot request as well as a few other things. Even though there were still a handful of retirees waiting to pick up money, I was able to get into the office and go to the other window (not the Western Union window where everything was going on), buy my stamps and pick up my packages.

I walked home still with mixed feelings of excitement and nerves. When I got back I told my hfmom that I would be teaching a class and she didn't throw a fit about lunch like I thought but I'm guessing it'll have to be revisited Monday. I went upstairs to open my boxes to find food, reading material (NY Magazines and an NYU newspaper), as well as some fabulous early-birthday gifts and a "happy birthday" banner from Amy (thanks Amy and AS for the packages).

The rest of my day was mostly uneventful, I went for a bike ride and we had "my dish" (as my hf calls it now) aka beans for dinner! Yum! Nothing digging into a big plate of beans with bread and your (right) hand to end the day!

Ba suba,

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Post Office and Pancakes

Today was, for the most part, a normal day in Bambey. I got up in the morning and went off to try for some meetings but, as kind of expected, the people I needed to talk to weren't at work thus cutting short my morning. On my way home I stopped by the post office only to find about 25 old people sitting outside in plastic chairs and another 50 inside the courtyard under tents. Deciding anyway that I would check my mail and just not get a package if I had one (I do! I'm getting it tomorrow) I weaved my way through sitting ladies and got a couple letters from home and 2 other AST Alumnae (thanks Katie and emma)! After weaving my back out and asking for forgiveness the entire time I did it, I heard the guy inside the post office call someone's name and that person got up and walked inside. I found out later that it was the bi-monthly day when the "retired people" (was the phrase my hf used, no idea what they're retired from but I'm assuming government work) get their money.
During my morning errands I also bought everything needed to make pancakes and when I came home I told my hfmom I was going to make my own lunch but I'd bring some for a taste. Though I ended up eating easy mac, I think my hf liked the pancakes. The comments they received were "they're like crepes" and "you made these? and you eat these in America?" Whether they liked them or not, they were kind of impressed that I had actually made food.
I also had tutoring which is coming along slowly but nothing exciting to report from there.
Tomorrow I'm going to try the women's training center again as well as the Credit Mutual for maybe having "office hours" for giving advice for people looking for loans (another volunteer near me does this).

Ba Suba,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Artisan Expo

I am happily back from Dakar! This weekend was the artisan expo and a series of dentist appointments to deal with 2 chipped teeth (my training family was NOT good at getting rid of the rocks in their rice). I went to Dakar Thursday for my Friday morning appointment and found the house PACKED with people. There are a million people who have been here longer going home for Christmas as well as people going to a party up north. Because of that, there were no beds and I slept on a mattress outside (I had a mosquito net and when it was quiet it wasn't bad at all). Thursday night a 3rd year volunteer was having a party for someone who was COS (close of service)ing.
Friday morning I went to the dentist right on time to find out that the power was off and he didn't have a generator (which seems REALLY WEIRD AND SCARY) but would come back on at noon. I wandered around the big grocery store down there and bought shredded cheese (more on that later) and a sandwich. During my second trip to the dentist (after brushing my teeth from lunch) he told me I would have to come back at 4pm because he had questions for the PC med office. Back at 4, the appointment went fine but he needed to see me Monday again. I decided to take the bus back from downtown to the regional house and aside from the fact it took a while, it was relatively easy and I would absolutely do it again. Friday night Alyssa joined me in Dakar and we dug into the gnocci she had been sent.
Saturday was the Artisan Expo which was mostly sitting around with Matar and the other volunteers. By the end of the first day he had sold all of the hoodies (pictures on my blog) and a few bags. Saturday night was, however, the much awaited pizza dinner. Alyssa's mom (thank you!) had sent her pre-cooked pizza crusts, pizza sauce, canned mushrooms, and pepperoni so with the shredded cheese we made amazing pizzas and had a quiet night watching movies with a few other volunteers. Unfortunately no one else had a quiet night and sleeping outside was pretty difficult because people were all over the place and staying up really late.
Sunday morning started with training on costing for the artisans which I think they all really enjoyed. For lunch Oliver, Alyssa, and I went and got (much awaited) fried chicken and it was AMAZING! It was like real fried chicken. Alyssa left after the expo and I hung around the house with a few more people from my stage. Eventually everyone went to happy hour and then back to the house where I (finally) got a real bed and slept happily! This morning I had the dentist appointment, which went well, and was in the car back to Bambey by 1pm.
It was a tiring weekend and I'm really happy to be back in Bambey. This week I have some tutoring and I'm going to try to catch up with the women's training center as well as continue the search for a women's group to work with. It's slowly cooling off and my hfsisters usually bundle up at night when we sit and watch tv (I'm still in a tank top and capris). Hopefully I'll be able to stay in Bambey until Christmas (minus Thies for lunch this Friday - someone's birthday). Oh and I think I'm going to make pancakes for my hfamily maybe tomorrow. I'm choosing pancakes because they're pretty easy to make with ingredients here and I've heard other volunteers say their families have really liked them.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Dem naa.... (I went...)

It's been a while since I posted so I'm going to try to do my post-Tabaski time justice.

Coming from a family who takes Christmas decorations down the day after (day of cough cough), I wasn't expecting much fanfare after Tabaski and that's exactly what I got. When I went downstairs to ask what was going on the day after Tabaski my hfamily looked at me like I was crazy and said "It's Sunday." So we did what we always do on Sundays, a lot of nothing. There is, apparently, one post-Tabaski tradition that I verified with Jackie (in Pout), playing really loud drumming music through the mosque loud speaker until 3am Monday morning... that was fun.

Luckily my hfsister Fatou was staying for a few days. She's probably a little older than me, lives in Dakar, and goes to school there. Because I'm now around and we have the same name, we call her Nee Fatou (Nee meaning "born" in French).Nee Fatou is... a handful but really fun to have around. Her hobbies seem to involve asking me millions of questions and not letting me get away with incomplete answers. Everything answer creates millions more questions and they range from about my life in the States to what I know about the economic crisis (which is hard to prove I actually know a fair amount because I'm not exactly sure how to say some of the more technical words in French and they don't exist in Wolof). Probably the best Nee Fatou moment was when she and another hfsister Sally (more on her later, she's married and lives in Bambey) were looking at some pictures I had brought down to show them my family and my friends. First after examining a picture of my parents, Noah, Tara, and I after graduation they agreed with each other, "you look nothing like your mom you look like your dad." The best comment, however was after a picture of AS and I taken in Missouri right before I left, "why do you never look nice in Senegal like you do in this picture? Why don't you wear nice clothes like this here?" For the record, I was wearing shorts (NOT appropriate) and a tank top (kind of appropriate for hanging around but not for leaving the house). I stumbled around with an "umm it's impolite to wear... uhhhh that uhhhh in Senegal." I guess the plus side is my hf knows that I can look nice...?

On Tuesday of last week I got a call from PCV in Dakar and was told I had been invited (along with Jackie and a few other volunteers) to the All Volunteer Conference in Joal. Apparently it's "international volunteer week" and festivities were kicking off in Joal, a beach side town that was my boss' site where she and her husband created a very successful waste management program. In true PC style, not one to turn down a free weekend and a stay in a hotel, I agreed and got ready to leave Thursday.

The only other highlight of the week before the conference was when some girls were playing jump rope and called me over. Taking the opportunity to prove that I'm actually pretty cool, or at least that if they call me by my name I'll respond, I set down my bag and went over. Thank GOD it wasn't double dutch because that would have been the embarrassment of the century. I jumped rope with them for a few minutes and they all cheered me on (they especially liked it when I turned around - thank you jump roping unit in 8th grade gym class). After a few minutes of jumping I excused myself and got on with my work.

Thursday came around and I grabbed my bags and headed to meet Jackie. The plan was I would go to Thies, get 2 seats in a sept-place and we would pick her up (her site is about 5 miles outside of Thies on the road to Dakar). Unfortunately I was all the way in the back so when we pulled into the gas station I had to lay across 4 other people to try to wave her in the right car. She told me she only saw a few white fingers out of the car window but it was enough and we were on our way to Dakar!

Because transportation is how it is we ended up leaving Dakar with "the delegation" of other non-PC volunteers and event organizers around 5pm Friday. Sometime around 8pm we pulled into a hotel outside of Joal... problem was it was the hotel for "the delegation" not the PCV hotel. Luckily we located the APCD (assistant peace corps director) for Health/Environmental Education who was helped to organize some of it and he told us we had two options: we could go to the PC hotel where the water had been out for a few days and we could share 2 singles and 1 full with 2 other girls OR we could stay here because there was an extra room. 5 minutes later we were walking into our 2 level bungalow with 2 full beds, a balcony, and running water.

Saturday morning started with breakfast at the hotel and it was AMAZING. Jackie and I must have eaten at least 10 bowls of cereal between us (the Senegalese wanted the croissants not the cereal - win for both sides)! After breakfast we waited for the opening ceremony to start. We had been given t-shirts to wear but being the classy volunteers we are, we decided to wear nice Senegalese clothes and we looked SNAZZY! About 5 hours later the ceremony ended and we had lunch followed by a panel discussion on environmentally conscious development.

After that we hung around until dinner and went back to the hotel. We were leaving with the Health/EE APCD after breakfast in the morning (another amazing breakfast buffet!) so by 2pm Sunday we were back in Dakar.

Sunday night the older members of the Dakar region planned a welcome party for us and everyone seemed to have had a really good time. This morning Tamar was a champ and got up at the crack of dawn to get back to site. Jackie, Alyssa, and I, all with significantly easier traveling, were at the garage by 9am and I was back in Bambey by noon. Not only did I find my mailbox full of letters but I also got a few packages (thanks AGC, Grandma, Mr. and Mrs. Schlanker, AS, and my parents)!

The rest of this week is mostly preparing for my next trip to Dakar... next weekend... for the artisan expo. I'm really excited and I hope Matar sells a lot of things! I unfortunately left my camera in Bambey this weekend but once I've stolen Jackie's pictures, I'll put them on my blog.

Ba Suba,

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Today was the biggest holiday in Senegal, Tabaski in Wolof (Eid-al Adha in Arabic). Overall it was a good day and I feel like I'm going to burst from eating so much. It's a religious holiday that marks Abraham's offer to sacrifice his son when God said he could kill a sheep instead. Muslims honor the sacrifice in a semi-literal way and each husband has to kill a sheep for each wife as well as unmarried people over 30 with the ability to buy a ram to slaughter. There have been sheep ALL OVER THE PLACE for the past few weeks. Every open space in Dakar had been transformed into a makeshift sheep market and one of the cities on my way to Dakar had at least hundreds of sheep ready to be sold. Not only are people buying sheep, but they're also transporting them all over the country because everyone goes home for the holiday. On my way into Dakar there was a ram shoved into the underneath luggage compartment of the bus and we passed many vehicles with sheep tied on top (all live sheep, you can't kill it until Tabaski). I even saw someone put a sheep in a taxi trunk.
As for my household, we had 4 sheep (like I said, people come home). While they weren't some of the donkey-sized sheep I saw in Dakar, they were pretty big, especially for a family who had 4 total (check the photos).

Tabaski itself started, for me, around 8:45am when I went downstairs to help the women cut onions. All I really knew about the day was that 4 sheep were being killed then eaten and at some point I was supposed to put on new clothes (I cheated and wore my swearing in outfit) and ask for forgiveness from people... I was pretty much clueless as to the timeline of these events however. So the morning started with cutting onions for the sauce and boy did we cut onions (check the photos). I was even allowed to cut with them and I'm getting better! After the onions were finished I was told the slaughter would begin and promptly went upstairs (my host family knew that I didn't want to watch). Oddly enough my solution was to listen to Christmas music in headphones and surf the internet a little. I kept peaking down from my windows where I could see the stages progressing from killed, to skinned, to cut up which was when I finally went back downstairs. Overall the mess had been contained and the sheep were already split into buckets with the livers being grilled for appetizers.

Around 3pm we ate grilled ribs with mustard, tomatoes, pickled onions, olives, and pickles. When I got up to leave the bowl I was flat out told "no" and that I had to keep eating. Finally allowed to leave, I went upstairs to take a brief nap and try to digest. The sheep apparently took more out of me than I though because I was OUT for quite some time. Still full, I went downstairs around 5pm and found it was time to eat more. This was actually the full Tabaski meal of cooked meat with onion sauce, fried potatoes, and bread. I was still stuffed so I mostly ate bread and onion sauce along with some potatoes and a little meat, it was still a really good meal. Afterwards we sat around some more until I was told it was finally time to put on my nice clothes. I went upstairs and got ready.

Coming downstairs I was a little nervous: it was the first time my host family would see me in a full Senegalese outfit. It was received well and the asking for forgiveness part commenced. Given I don't have many friends outside my family, I decided to stop by Awa the peanut lady's house, Matar the tailor, and my tutor. Each family was really nice to me and I think they appreciated that I visited. Also the image of me dressed in formal Senegalese clothes is funny and each family found it amusing. I came home to find everyone else out and decided to call it a night. I'm still full and just turned down dinner for the second time. Today's food was amazing but I can't imagine eating anymore.

Since I started typing this the power cut (surprising because of the holiday) so hopefully it'll come back and I'll be able to post this before bed. I hope everyone had an excellent Tabaski whether you celebrated or not!


Friday, November 27, 2009


The past few days were the best Thanksgiving a PCV could ask for! It started, like most of my trips to Dakar will, at 5:45am when I got on the bus, now nicknamed "the magic school bus" and started my trip to Dakar. I got in without many issues and negotiated a cab to a bank (see one post earlier) and then to the PC office where I had some stuff to drop off. As a sort of holiday gift, I suppose, I got my mandatory flu shots (yeah, 2) and went to the regional house (aka 6, because that's the neighborhood it's in).

I have photos I'll be posting at some point in the next few days, but the regional house is basically a house PC owns that has 4 rooms of bunk beds (with mosquito nets), a kitchen, some bathrooms (with hot water!), and a living room. I was the first one too the house so I hung around and napped for a little bit while I waited from everyone else. Next Tamar came and I was able to hear about island life, followed shortly by Jackie and Alyssa with their epic ride to the regional house (I'm sure it'll be in one or both of their blogs). We hung out around the house for a bit then headed off to get Chinese food. The address of the restaurant was completely unhelpful so Jackie and Tamar took turns trying to get directions from the place itself before we finally gave up and gave the cell phone of the taximan (what they call cab drivers). He turned off the main road and down some back streets until we were in front of the restaurant, un-named "Chinese restaurant." We were, not surprisingly, the only people inside but we were given menus (in French and Chinese) and tried to order. After a few minutes of gestures and failed pantomiming (they didn't speak French, English, or Wolof) we ordered chow mein, szechuan tofu, rice, cumin calamari, and we learned they didn't have egg rolls (which is REALLY hard to pantomime). The food was AMAZING and I'm pretty sure it tasted like Chinese take out does in the US (I'm not sure if it was good because of what I've been eating, but I think it was good relative to all food).
After dinner we started the search for Yogoglace, a frozen yogurt-y thing that Alyssa gets in Thies and Tamar and I had never had. We tried the gas station (where Alyssa gets them) and left without Yogoglace but with 3 boxes of wine. We went back to the house and two other PCVs where there watching the Great Escape. Despite my nap from earlier in the day I was sleepy and content so I went to bed fairly early.

The next morning, Wednesday, everyone else had errands to do at the office so I went along for the ride. After some time at the office we walked to Casino the big, American-esque grocery store... boy it did not disappoint! It was amazing and just like a regular grocery store. I bought salt and vinegar Pringles to eat by the pool and we bought brie and bread to split. Next stop was a leisurely afternoon at the American Club where Emily, another girl from my stage, met us. After a few hours of lounging, we headed back to the house and found that more people had started to arrive. Around 7:30 we rushed out to try and make a happy hour special downtown (no worries, we made it in time) and met some other ex-pats that some of the year-in kids knew. Happy hour was followed with a BRILLIANT three way sandwich split between Tamar (Mergez), Alyssa (Chwaram), and me (Falafel) and then another bar where there was some live music. After enjoying the American tradition of going out the night before Thanksgiving, we headed back for a night's sleep in preparation for the big day.

Some of the guys left early to play football on Thanksgiving morning, but I hung around the house with the "potato crew" (basically the 4 other people I've mentioned by name) and enjoyed some delicious bean sandwiches and cold water (there's a fridge at 6). The plan for the day was to head over to our boss' house and make mashed potatoes and then leave for the Ambassador's from there. The Ambassador had invited PCVs to her house for Thanksgiving and we were asked to bring something. My friends and I quickly called dibbs on mashed potatoes but we had no idea the quantity (were we supplementing? bringing for all 40 people?). We ended up buying 6 kilos (slightly more than 13 pounds) of potatoes, some onions, garlic, butter, and (finally) found some Yogoglace (which was as amazing as promised). The afternoon was spent making what seemed like a million mashed potatoes and hanging out in our boss' kitchen. It was great to cook a little bit on Thanksgiving considering I grew up helping in the kitchen and last year I cooked one of the sorority's turkeys. Around 4pm we left for the Ambassador's armed with a GIANT pot of mashed potatoes (all mashed by hand).

Dinner at the Ambassador's was amazing and I am so thankful (not to be cheesy) that she invited us over. There were about 25 PCVs, a handful of Marines (each Embassy has Marines guarding it), a few other people. She had delicious, moist turkey, everyone's sides (including our potatoes) were outstanding, and it was great to spend Thanksgiving with a ton of people, especially the people who have sort of formed my make-shift family over the past few months. The Ambassador even had us go around the table and say what we were thankful for which was nice to hear (it ranged from "my family back home" to "that there's cranberry sauce here"... no the second one wasn't me but I seconded it). We all lingered after dinner not wanting to leave the holiday feeling, but eventually set out for the Marine house where we had been invited to watch the football games. The Marine house is nothing like 6: it's really clean, has lots of food, a big tv, books and movies about war and fighting, and generally a different feel. It was still nice to hang out and I enjoyed watching the football game even though it's not something I do in the States. Around the end of the 3rd quarter a cab of us headed back to 6 because we knew we had to get up EARLY this morning.

Tomorrow is one of the biggest holiday's in Senegal and everyone (mostly our Senegalese families) told us we were crazy for trying to travel on the day before Tabaski. No one, myself included, wanted to miss Thanksgiving or Tabaski, so we settled for getting up at 5:30am and trying to get the first cars out. The group going to Thies was very successful and I hear they made it back in about 3 hours (which is almost a normal trip time). I was heading past Thies with one other volunteer and we had some issues being WAY overcharged so we turned the first few cars down. About 3 cars in we settled on a higher but not ridiculous price and started our trip back to site. The garage in Dakar was CRAZY but there was kind of a holiday-ness to the atmosphere (maybe that's just because there were sheep EVERYWHERE... more on that tomorrow). I walked into my compound around 11am - so 5 hours total. It's a little long for Dakar-Bambey, but I made it back and that's all that matters.

Overall the trip was great. I obviously wish I could have spent the holiday with friends and family in the States, but because that wasn't a possibility, I'm glad I have great friends/make shift family and caring people like the Ambassador that I was able to spend it with. I'm exhausted from not getting much sleep but the holiday is just gearing up here... I'm sure I'll have PLENTY to write about tomorrow after celebrating my first Tabaski (which is also my first Muslim holiday because I was living with a Catholic family during Ramadan).

I hope everyone's having an excellent Black Friday and getting lots of great deals! I've already started listening to Christmas music!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve

I realize Thanksgiving is a few days off, but I'm headed to Dakar tomorrow to start the celebrations so it feels like Thanksgiving starts tomorrow (after the 3+ hour bus ride into Dakar and the errands I have to do). The trip will be filled with eating and good times with friends, it's the first time I've seen Tamar since she went island-princess (aka went to site, hers happens to be an island) and everyone else in the Dakar region is also always a party. I'm off on another earlllyyyyy bus tomorrow morning and I'll be back on in the first sept-place out of the garage on Friday because Tabaski (a huge holiday) is Saturday. I have to pack my backpack, which will be filled to the brim because I don't have the right clothes so my solution was to bring a lot of wrong clothes, do my dishes, double check my food buckets are SEALED TIGHT, and hit the road!

But, before I start donning the halls with turkeys cut from my handprint, let me give you a run down of today:
I started my day with an AMAZING bean sandwich... no worries, I have the recipe and will make them for anyone who wants one ... you know, in two years. After that I headed to the women's training technical center. For some reason I am incapable of remembering what order those four words go in so I usually just pick one each time I leave the house: "go I women center training technical" or "go I center women technical training" then, of course, I gesture widely in the direction of the center and leave. I think my hfamiy's either figured out what I'm talking about or they're cemented in their views of my craziness - either way, I was out the door! I finally met the director and she seemed really excited to work with me. I told her that I knew "business things" weren't exactly as interesting (I still haven't figured out the appropriate word for "exciting," which makes for occasional awkward conversation, not much of a change from my daily life now that I think about it) "hair styling" and "cloth making" but if I could teach 1 business hour in each session, maybe people would want to take my classes eventually. She then told me she already had a group that wanted to take a marketing class and if I would come back after Dec 3rd we could talk about starting it! I'm really excited to work with this center, there sounds to be a lot of potential and I feel like I could do a lot of good projects with them (as well as fine more good work parters).

After women training technical center I went to the store to buy a can of Fanta because I knew that my package wasn't going to be here and wanted to have a cheer-up. Boy was I wrong! I got to the post office and there, in my box, was a beautiful scrap of white paper that said "Katherine, PCV, 18000cfa." WAIT WHAT?! 18,000CFA?? That's gotta be wrong! I thought to myself. I know sometimes they try to overcharge you, but this guy's been good so far, everything's been 1,000cfa. (for some perspective 18,000 is about $40). I didn't have 18000 on me and I barely had 18000 left (it's the end of the month and there aren't atms at site). On the walk back to my house, with only slip in hand, I did the math: if I got the packages, I would have enough to go to Dakar and be fine (yeah, my parents are probably freaking out right now... in my defense, I hadn't planned to spend an excessive amount on packages). I got the money and started working up arguments for why it should be a lower fee on my way back to the post office. When I handed over the slip and he said "18000cfa" I responded with my first defense "18000, that's expensive!" He quickly shut me up with a "you have three." THREE!!! THREE!! Christmas came early in Bambey! About 45minutes later (post offices taking forever seems to be universal) I strode proudly out of the post office weighed down with packages. I hobbled across the street with a large envelope stuffed into my side bag, trying to carry the two boxes. Finally I decided to give in, "can you me put these my head?" I asked a stranger. An arm lift later and I was teetering down the street with boxes balanced (barely) on my head. I know why Senegalese women walk with their heads high! To carry something on your head, even with your arms steadying it, you have to keep you head high, you also have to watch out for low tree branches, but you live and learn! I even heard some punk kids say, in a non-sarcastic mean way, "look, she's Senegalese!"

By the time I made it to my room my neck felt like it was going to snap in half, but I had enough energy to open all of the boxes and sit on the floor surrounded by my loot. It was amazing (thank you so much parents and AS)! I opened some of the candy corn and took it downstairs to my host family. While candy corn probably wasn't the best "cultural exchange" the HF seemed to like it, or at least they lied about it well. I tried to explain to my hfmom that "it must resemble maize" (that one was in French too... can't win 'em all). The rest of the day has been filled with delicious American treats including easy mac and peanut butter (and of course more candy corn).

I also did some tutoring and where I tried to explain Thanksgiving and mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving was explained well, mashed potatoes weren't.

So I'm off to Dakar! Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Enjoy "say you thank you and pass time with your house. Eat, pass time with your house."

Happy Thanksgiving (and friendsgiving for those of you out there),

Thursday, November 19, 2009

and she's back!

I realize it hasn't been a huge absence but I've been sick the past few days so it feels a world different/better to be back to normal (no worries, the sickness wasn't serious). First, to catch up to speed: On Monday I went to Ndem and it was pretty much everything I was promised, it was really interesting and really weird. It's not Senegal - it can't be. The best way to describe it without dedicating a whole post to it (which I'm not feeling right now) is it's kind of an artist commune in Senegal. Yeah, the artists are all Senegalese but they're working on a purse deal with Banana Republic, everything's painted blue and white and, somehow, they don't drink salty water like I do. Anyway, in Ndem I met 5 French women, 2 a few years older than me who worked with NGOs and Ndem and the others were midwifes who occasionally took weeks in Ndem. I was planning to leave after the hot part of the day (so around 5pmish) but around 3pm I felt a fever coming along and decided it would be better to be sick in Bambey then Ndem even if it meant a bike ride back through the hottest part of the day. So off I went, and, honestly, it didn't seem much hotter than usual. I got home and showered as my fever really kicked in and, long story short, the last few days have been filled with drinking Oral Rehydration Salt mix and lots and lots of water. Don't worry, it wasn't anything serious and I woke up today ready to conquer the world again!

I set off around 9:30am this morning (much to the surprise of my host family who hadn't seen me in the past few days except when someone would come up and tell me it was a meal time only to be turned away by me mumbling "I don't eat" and pointing to my stomach) for the high school. I was meeting with a French teacher to correspond with my world wide schools class in California (hi class if you're reading this!!). After a pretty productive meeting I left still feeling on top of the world! I didn't have too much going on but it was going to be an awesome day if for no other reason than I was feeling great.

On my walk back from the high school (which is a hike) some horrible high school girl followed me yelling the Senegalese equivalent of the "n-word" for white people. At first I was taken back, then chose to process my emotions while I ignored her. She and her friends proceeded to continue yelling it then saying "maybe she didn't hear/understand (it's the same word in Wolof)" and then, the cherry on top, "hey red-ears (the translation) give us some money." I ended up doing nothing, something I both do and do not regret. I wanted to turn around and give them a verbal lashing in Wolof but my Wolof isn't anywhere good enough. I was debating just telling them, in English so it mostly would have been for my own good, "you're disgusting and offensive," but I realized that wouldn't have done me much good either. I briefly entertained picking up a rock and throwing it but obviously didn't. It didn't really anger me as much as just offended and saddened me. I can deal with people calling me Toubab, that's kind of a cultural thing and most people don't realize it could be offensive (this is a culture where there are stereotypes about the different ethnic groups and it's completely fine). Everyone knows this is an awful word to use and that it is disgusting and offensive and these girls were just doing it to be horrible people which is offensive and saddening in my mind.

Not willing to let it ruin my good mood and settled stomach I made my way to the post where I received a whole bunch of letters (thanks AGC, Grandma, and Schlankers) and onward home. I had tutoring today and while it wasn't a great lesson in terms of my Wolof progress I had fun with my tutor. I casually explained that I wanted to learn the words for bargaining because I know I'm being charged a high price which she found hysterical, but knew was true. Hopefully next time I'm overcharged in the market I'll be able to fight back with my new Wolof vocab (I'm probably going to think of myself as a superhero in that sense).

After tutoring just more hanging out with the HF and dinner. I've long had this theory and I hope sharing it doesn't jinx it: any dinner served with bread is going to be awesome. Examples: beans come with bread, spaghetti comes with bread (who knows), sometimes we just have meat with onions and bread, and, from tonight's dinner add to the list, chick peas, potatoes, and bread - it was amazing! Way to go Miss!

Tomorrow's not filled with any specific plans but I want to get some laundry done and go visit the women's training center again.

One week until Thanksgiving, I cannot wait!!!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

I went to America!

Today was my day trip to Dakar and it started at 5:30am. To be fair, I guess it started at 2:30am when I woke up to the sound of a wolf/coyote/hyena attack/dog fight (dog fight is the most likely but I had myself convinced it was something far more dangerous). The real trip started when I got up at 5:30, after a shower, oatmeal, coffee, and a quick call to AS, I was out the door to find "the bus." I'd been told that the best way to get to Dakar is by a bus that only stops before the garage opens and the garage opens around 7am. Luckily as I was nearing where the buses were (having arrived uneaten by wolves/coyotes/hyenas), someone took me to a bus and I got on. I was on my way! The bus ride was pretty pleasant, it's a large coach bus and people pretty much leave you alone - oh and they play really loud Arabic music the entire time, I assume it's kind of like elevator music but for buses. Three hours later I was in Dakar and totally lost. I got in a cab and was overcharged but had no idea the distance I was going so I just bit the bullet. Jackie and Alyssa were in the same sept-place (a station wagon) and Elizabeth was also in Dakar so we were all going to meet at the American Club (a place for expats to hang out that has a pool, tennis courts, a volleyball court, and food). I was the first one there but everyone else arrived quickly. We had time to kill before the softball game (the reason we all came to Dakar) so we ate blts, salads, and cheese fries (it was amazing).
Eventually we headed over to the game. The Dakar Region for the Peace Corps has a softball team that plays games every weekend so we were there to play/eat hotdogs. We all ended up playing a rotating 2nd base. I had a bad play and a good play but we won and it was a really fun time. After the game I went to the concession stand (it was just like a high school/little league game with concessions and everything) to get a hotdog. I started speaking French to the woman but some guy in US Embassy shirt told me that she spoke English. He then told me that the softball field was owned by the Embassy which my friends and I determined meant we were on American soil which is how I went to America today (if you know this to be false, don't ruin the fun)!
After the game we all went back to the American Club for some swimming, beach volleyball, and general lounging. The Dakar Region was having a meeting but Jackie, Alyssa, and I, determined to complete the challenge and stay every night in our own beds until Thanksgiving, left early.
The ride home was mostly uneventful. The garage should be scary but I don't actually think it is. Sure, there's a lot of commotion but people come up to you right away, ask you were you're going, and lead you to the right car. I've gotten pretty good at ignoring people so I followed a guy to the right car, double checked, and got in. I took a sept-place back and was back to Bambey in about 4 hours (just in time for spaghetti and chicken for dinner)!
I had a really great day in Dakar/America! I'm so happy I went but I'm not sad I didn't stay.
I don't have much planned for tomorrow, I'm going to try to focus on Wolof and then Ndem on Monday. Soon enough it's Thanksgiving!

Ba suba,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dawal Welo

Tutoring was the only thing I had today and it went well. Other than that I went for a bike ride (dawal welo in wolof) to Ndem* and back. The road to Ndem is a "red road" which means that it's compacted dirt/sand (that gives it a red color) and fairly easy to ride on. It's surrounded by fields of bissap (a plant you can make juice and sauce out of) as well as millet. There are a million Baobab trees (the tree Rafiki lived in in the Lion King) and a few very, very small villages. There are, like always, kids yelling at my but I turned my ipod up loud enough (not too loud for all of the parents reading my blog) so I couldn't make out what they were saying and I pretended they were cheering me on! Someone, who I think might have been named "Suzy" taught one village to say "bye-bye," so I did hear those kids yelling "bye-bye Suzy!" I also had some chickens cross the road in front of me, had to ride through some cows on their way home, and helped a shepard herd some stray sheep.

I don't have anything on schedule for tomorrow other than doing my laundry but I'm going to Dakar Saturday to play softball (no worries, I'm returning Saturday night - I'm determined to stay every night in Bambey until Thanksgiving like we were challenged to do)!
Ba Suba,

*If I haven't talked about Ndem before, it's a village 11km from Bambey. I'm supposed to be working with the artisans there. I'm actually going to the village Monday to introduce myself.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

High School!

Speaking English is WEIRD. Two days ago I got a call from someone who told me there was a meeting at the high school today at 9am, so I said I'd be there (it sounds worse than it is). When I showed up today I was immediately greeted, in English, and whisked off to a session about how to teach English, for English teachers. The session was taught by a really nice American fellow (as in she has a fellowship not as in fellow = guy) who's traveling the country teaching English teachers. It was interesting to listen the teachers talk about what "works" with their students and think to myself either "yeah that totally is working with my Wolof!" or "you might think that works, but I'm learning 2 languages and that does NOT work." The American woman was really nice and offered to let me stay at her apartment whenever I'm in Dakar. She was in the Peace Corps a while ago and her daughter just started training too, a Peace Corps family! I also learned that Senegalese school benches are horribly uncomfortable - they're not long enough to do anything but sit straight up, and that there are goats and at least 1 cow at the high school. I also had a conversation with some people in Wolof, it was a simple conversation, but it was AMAZING to not have to say "I don't understand,"!!!
Back to the purpose of this story though - speaking English is weird (unless I'm talking to other PCVs then it's normal)! I'm usually so taken back when people speak to me in English that it takes me a second to respond, I'm sure they doubt if I really am American. In most situations I'm a little offended when people try to speak to me in English (it's an overreaction, I'll admit it) but today it made sense. Once I got used to people speaking to me in English it was still weird. I've kind of created PCV Katherine who speaks French and Wolof and then regular Katherine and what I say in both roles is totally different. I guess the best comparison would be how someone acts at work and how someone acts hanging out with their friends. When I have to speak English it's a weird mixing of the two that normally ends in me speaking very stale English. Part of that is because I know how hard it is to understand when people speak quickly so I try to slow down and use phrases I would know in French. The other interesting thing is noticing the phrases that are taught and how they influence speech. For example, somewhere along the line these teachers were taught "um" and "like." Also the word "okay" is used a LOT and it's used in response to questions "how are you?", "I'm well, yourself?" (I say trying to speak proper English), "okay that is good." The other odd thing about speaking English is that it's hard to break out of when I get home. Overall it was a great morning with an interesting session and I had the chance to make some good contacts in Bambey and surrounding towns (as well as the American fellow, that time it meant fellow as in nice person).

This afternoon I went to the monthly meeting of the Presidents for the women's groups... when I was sorority president I tried to run an organized ship and today was the farthest from any meeting I ever ran. The meeting "started" at 5pm, people were still showing up at 6:30pm. They spent the entire meeting counting money (dues and money owed). It didn't bother me too much, though, because I was expecting something along these lines. Eventually I gave the little introduction I had prepared. I wanted to show these women that I was serious so I gave it in Wolof (after a disclaimer to be patient). It turned into a fun game where the women were guessing the Wolof words I was trying to say (I wasn't upset, my Wolof is bad and they were all really encouraging). After I struggled my way through it they applauded me! When one of them said something huffy about how I didn't have money a whole bunch of other women jumped on her and started talking about what I could do. I'm really hoping a lot of work projects come out of this - Bambey has 65 women's groups and I would love to work with as many as possible.

We had rice and beans for dinner, it was delicious as always.

Weather: Walking home from the women's group meeting as the sun was almost done setting it felt like it used to feel in the suburbs on a summer night when I would drive home with my windows down at 11pm aka still hot here.

Ba Suba,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

tutoring: try 2

Wolof tutoring success! I was worried about my Wolof coming along because my first tutoring session was less than helpful (I’m using that phrase literally, I felt like it discouraged me and taught me nothing) but today’s session was great! The first session I brought my Peace Corps Wolof textbook and my tutor pretty much just read it to me and didn’t translate anything. This time I came with questions and scenarios to learn vocab for and it worked really well. I guess tomorrow I’ll see if it really did work because I’ll be giving a self-introduction to the presidents of the women’s group that my tutor helped me write. I’m trying to lower my expectations for tomorrow because they’re really high, but I hope a lot of work partners come out of this meeting.

When I got home from tutoring, I got the typical response from one of my hfcousins, “where were you, it’s hot. Aren’t you hot?” To which I give my standard response, “it’s always hot, I’m always hot,” I mean it both as a joke and to make a point, just because it’s hot (which it is always hot) doesn’t mean you get out of doing work all the time (though I do appreciate the afternoon naps and tea drinking sessions). Usually that comment get shrugged off but today I got a response! “Yeah. That’s why Africans are black. You’re white because you never see the sun.” CLEARLY she was joking, and she was laughing as she said it. It was SO nice to have someone joke with me. I often find what I’m doing to be ridiculous and am the only person laughing (not too different from my life in the US come to think of it). Moral of the story, it was nice to joke around and not with the joke of “oh you can’t speak Wolof.”

Also this morning I tried to meet the Mayor and managed to meet the 1st deputy. I kind of dug myself into a hole when I brought up that I might try to re-start the compost project. Two background notes before I continue: 1. My introduction usually goes like this, “I’m here to work with small businesses, I know that my ancienne started a compost project that I might try to re-start. I also want to work with women’s groups and youth, but! My first three months are for learning Wolof. I have training in January and I’ll start working after that.” I feel like it gives me credibility and shows I have something to offer while, at the same time, insuring they aren’t expecting results tomorrow. 2. My ancienne worked pretty closely with the Mayor’s office on the compost project (they gave her city land to use). That being said when I brought it up the deputy mayor had NO CLUE what I was talking about. After trying to explain the project as well as I could, he made sure to tell me that the mayor’s office is VERY happy to work with me on EVERYTHING. So happy I should stop in every few days and keep them up to date on what I’m doing. I was already planning on keeping them in the loop as much as I can but I’m going to have to go out of my way to make sure I’m doing it a ton now.

Heat: 10 minute walk to Mayor’s office (I stopped to greet people) at 11am and my hair was totally dry. I’m told it’s going to get cold in December…

Monday, November 9, 2009


Today was hot. I don't know how hot and I really don't want to know but I walked from my house to my counterparts house (a 15 minute walk) at 10am (so not the hottest part of the day) and when I left my house my hair was dripping wet and was totally 100% dry 15 minutes later.

Other than trying to stay as cool as possible (which is impossible), I had a pretty good day. My counterpart too me to the center for technical training for women which was cool - it seems like a really good space for me to teach classes eventually. I then went to a middle school and the Catholic school. I talked with one of the priests too, he was drinking wine, it was 11am.

After my meetings I came back, showered, and cooked my own lunch. I'm going to try cooking my own lunch a few times a week. Originally I was going to try cooking my own dinner but Miss makes such good dinners and lunch is always Ceeb u Jen. I'm also never than hungry at lunch because of my morning oatmeal but my hfamily yells at me when I try to leave without eating a lot.

This afternoon I mostly hung out to avoid the heat and eventually sat with Awa and her family while they made donuts.

Today, was, all in all a good day because I made plans for a few more meetings this week and I saw some more potential projects. I'm just having to really reinforce that I need to be patient and make sure everything is worked out completely before I dive in.

Ba suba,

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Apparently I'm secretly a health volunteer...

... because I ended up, accidentally, at another AIDS meeting. I went to sit with Awa like I do everyday and today she wasn't roasting peanuts, she was hosting a meeting about AIDS. I stayed because I didn't have anything else to do and because every time I can hear people speaking Wolof without the stress of figuring out what they're saying and responding it helps.

Other than that my Sunday was pretty uneventful: I cleaned my room and semi-mopped the floor, then I read, then learned how to cook yassa (rice with a vinegar-y onion sauce), wrote some emails, read some more, worked on my Wolof, and went to the AIDS meetings. I like using my Sundays to relax. I realize that doesn't make my Sundays different from most days and that it isn't like I really have a choice - everything's closed Sunday's so, as of now, that means no meetings to go to. I like acting like it's a conscious choice though - Ah, nice work Katherine/Fatou#1, a relaxing Sunday! Way to clear the schedule!

Two quick things from the week that I've left out:
The other day I was leaving to go to a meeting and two 10-12 year old girls came up to me and greeted me, asked how I was, where I was going and that sort of thing. Aside from the fact that it drives me nuts when kids laugh when I speak Wolof to them (yeah, I get it, I have an accent, don't be jerks kids), the conversation was going pretty well. Then one of them said (in French), "hey! give me money! give me money!" and they followed me down the street saying that... ohh that drives me CRAZY so I turned really abruptly like I was going to chase them or grab them or something (I obviously was not going to, I wasn't that mad) and they ran away. It was awesome.

I'm looking for names for my new pet lizard. Better yet, I'm looking for ways to get rid of my new pet lizard. I really don't want to get a cat but today I saw a mouse downstairs. I keep all of my food and trash in buckets with lids (and my food is also in ziplock bags in those buckets) but if a mouse gets up here I'm getting a cat. I've only seen the lizard once (and it was not in my bed) but it's a good sized lizard.

That's all for now, here's hoping my meetings happen this week!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

luckily Miss can sense my future mood...

Miss is the woman who cooks every meal in our house and she seems to have the ability of knowing (even before I do) when I'm going to have a crappy day and cooking an amazing meal, but let's start at the beginning:

Before going to bed last night I checked with my hfdad that the mayor would be there tomorrow morning.. no she wouldn't be but her 2nd in command gets there at 10am! This morning I woke up, drank my coffee, ate my oatmeal, and read the news like normal. Around 10:30am I left to go to the mayor's office... to both my surprise and not, it was closed and the door was locked. When I got home and said to my hfmom (in Wolof) "I went but it was closed" she responded "well of course, the mayor's office isn't open on the weekend, try again Monday." For those of you familiar with the book Catch-22 there's a character, I forget the details, but he doesn't want to meet with anyone so he tells his secretary to tell people he's not there when he's there and to wait for him when he's not there so the people get frustrated and leave... I'm starting to feel like that about the Mayor but I will not be foiled... I am going to meet with her if it takes me 2 years (but only 2 years)!

I hung around the house for most of the afternoon, I looked at some artisan stuff, read a little, did some sudoku, practiced my Wolof, and I prepped for my second meeting of the afternoon. Convinced to not lose another meeting to Senegal I prepared extensively. I knew that for the most part what was on my agenda wouldn't happen but I wanted to be ready. Today's second meeting was with the theater guy, someone my hfdad put me in touch who wants to do community theater. He and I had a long conversation about how theater is important for the youth and for telling the history - I was really jazzed about this second meeting today. I'd consulted with a friend from NYU, I'd written and introduction in French, I'd translated 2 theater games in French... I was ready to go.

Around 4:45 I left for the meeting and I ran into the theater guy on the way. We got to the meeting and he said "oh, I told everyone to come at 5:30" (even though he and I had discussed the meeting starting at 5) not a problem, we're making lemonade! People start showing up and I'm noticing that everyone looks ... older... I'm not talking retirement home old, but let's say at least above 26... not what I would consider "youth". Then almost everyone disappears around 5:30... where have they gone? Why! To find speakers so we can dance. Okay, that's fine. At this point I've already gotten rid of the games off of my agenda so dancing is a good way to get everyone pumped up and excited. Eventually the search of speakers ends and the meeting starts without speakers. We talk about what I want to do and I continually insist that I'm just there to help them and it's their stories to tell. They decide to put on a cultural variety show with acting, dancing, singing, rap, drums, you name it, if it's Senegalese cultural performance - it's there! I'm getting back to being excited, yeah, this is what I'm talking about, get the youth excited in culture and theater! Get everyone proud!

Oh and it's going to cost 200,000 CFA (about $450)(100,000 of it was going to their group). Oh. Then it hit... ohhh.... so I asked "where are you going to get the money from? do you usually charge an entrance fee?" "no" "do you have that money?" and they said "no," and looked at me. "Well, I don't have the money." And boy did that sure shock them all! "What are you here for? What's your job?" asked someone, so I tried to explain but was too flustered to speak in French, I couldn't even form the words in English. "Speak English. I translate," said the (supposed) English teacher who'd been speaking to me in English all night and making HUGE grammar and vocab errors. Well, that was what broke the dam, shall we say, and the French came pouring out. I'm not exactly sure what I said but I'm pretty sure I said something like: I'm a volunteer, I'm not a bank. I'm here to help and to teach and to consult. I'm here to give advice, and to give classes, to help organize, I don't have money to give. The Peace Corps isn't a NGO, we're not World Vision of USAID, we don't give money, we teach and we help in other ways. I can work with you to get the money, I can help you with that but I'm not a bank."

The meeting was wrapped up pretty quickly and even though we decided to "work together to find the money" I have a feeling this project isn't getting very far off the ground which I'm fine with because it wasn't the type of theater I was looking to do.

I got home frustrated because, even though I know this is going to happen a lot, I never led them on at all that I had any money and I HATE being asked for money like that, it's not polite. Senegalese kids don't walk up to Senegalese people and ask them for money (I'm not talking about beggars, I'm talking about regular kids). Today was just a magnification of what's wrong with all of this. Anyway, I got home and just wanted to go to my room (my appetite was kind of ruined and I'm not that hungry ever anyway, it's too hot). Miss apparently knew I was going to be frustrated and down because we had Moroccan couscous with raisins, onion sauce, and a TON of chicken! It was awesome. Now I have a full (of delicious food) stomach and I'm in a much better mood.

I also made a new friend today. You can guess her name.

Ba suba,

Friday, November 6, 2009

two posts, one day? it was that kind of day.

The rest of my day wrapped up with me taking photos of Matar's bags for the artisan expo in December(check the album) and sitting with Awa. I haven't mentioned it yet but my Senegalese name (give to me by my counterpart) is Fatou - I don't love it, I don't hate it but it gets the job done a million times better than Katherine and most people don't realize I have another name. Anyway, back to today. While I was sitting with Awa (a woman who my ancienne was friend's with so I'm trying to sit with her or her family once a day) while she roasted peanuts I made some new friends! My first new friend is a student at the private high school, she thinks I'm pretty and she wants me to get a weave - her name is Fatou. My second new friend was buying peanuts from Awa - her name is Fatou. My third new friend was riding in a horse-pulled cart down the street - her name is Fatou. Once Fatou #2 (in this story I'm Fatou #1) realized we shared the same name, she started calling out to other Fatous for us all to be best friends. I, personally, think we should start a band.

Ba suba,

1 point Senegal

So three quick things:

1. I went to the Mayor's office last week to set up a meeting but was told she's only there on the weekends. I left my phone number (as I was told to do) and explained that I was going to Thies for the day that Saturday (Halloween) but would be back and would love to have a meeting the next weekend (tomorrow). Today I stopped by again, having not received a phone call and had this conversation:
KO- Hi, I wanted to see if I have a meeting with the Mayor.
Guy- Well, you were gone.
KO- Right, do I have one for this weekend? For tomorrow?
Guy- You were in Thies, you've come back? ....
Keep in mind I was standing in front of him...

2. I went searching for my counterpart two days ago from her house to the prefect's office who then told me she was at a meeting in the building next to the mosque... at first I was pretty annoyed because there are at least 5 mosques within 2 blocks of my house and probably 25 mosques, at least, in Bambey... she's next to the mosque - what kind of crazy directions are those? Then I realized I was actually totally aware of the building they were talking about... one point for Senegal on this one.

3. Today I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said (in English) "I (heart with a cancer ribbon) BOOBS" then the back said "CHECK THEM OR I'LL DO IT FOR YOU" and had some college's name on it.... I'm guessing he didn't know what the shirt said. Oh but as far as shirts in English go, I don't think anything will top the shirt I saw outside of Dakar (keep in mind it's a Muslim country) "Gay? Fine by me!" there's NO way that guy knew what that shirt said.

That's all for now!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bambey, every day

So the last few days have been productive but mostly uneventful. My counterpart has been taking me to meet people and everyone seems really excited to do work. I know that doesn't mean they're actually excited to do the work but it's nice to have a whole wide range of possibilities.

A few days ago my hfdad told me that his sister's husband had died and then didn't bring it up again so I let it slide to the back of my mind. Then last night I saw my hfsisters plucking chickens and I got really excited, chicken for dinner! Awesome! Then people started arriving at my house. By the time dinner (two chickens) was served there were 14 of us - not that I'm complaining most volunteers never get chicken. I was starting to realize it probably had something to do with the death so I made sure I got up early this morning, put on Senegalese clothes, and went downstairs. I found my hfmom and asked, quite bluntly and very un-Senegalese (but there are somethings you just can't beat around the bush) "what's going on? why is everyone here?" She explained how 3 days after a death everyone gets together to offer prayers but that wouldn't be happening at our house! They would be going to the sisters house! They would just be eating lunch here.

By the time I got my bean sandwich and came back everyone was up and starting to get moving for the day... then more people started showing up. I'm not really sure what was happening at our house and what was happening at the other house, but around lunch (we had chicken again) there were about 30-50 people here. But backing up a little...
I'm a big fan of helping in the kitchen, not only because I enjoy cooking and grew up helping in the kitchen, but I feel like it also earns me points with the women in the family as well as helps me with my Wolof a little. Almost every Senegalese dish involves onions which is a task that I had previously been forbidden from because (mom and all the mom's out there reading this blog don't freak out) the Senegalese way to cut an onion goes against everything I was ever taught about kitchen safety. You basically let the peeled onions sit in water when you're not dicing them (so they're slippery and wet when you pick them up) then you hold the onion in your left hand and, with a horribly dull, flimsy knife, you slice towards your other hand to make cuts across the onion, then you slice through the onion, again towards your hand. Obviously, the first time I tried I cut my finger and have since been forbidden from helping. I was given easier tasks like pounding spices until today when I was DETERMINED to actually help. I explained (mostly through gestures) that if I could use a flat surface, I could cut the onions and they let me! A small step for cooking but a large step for me gaining respect, or at least not seeming like a total idiot, with the women!

Other than that I've been a bad family member and I've been kind of hiding in my room for most of the day. My language skills still aren't good enough to even follow a conversation and there isn't really much to do. I've started studying for the LSAT, we'll see how that progresses. Oh, speaking of language skills, I was able to say "I'm tired so I'm going to go drink coffee" that was really awesome.

And in one last bit of news, I think I made my hfmom amazingly happy today because I was hungry. Yep. I didn't even do anything, just be hungry, but she was so happy she was telling everyone. I'm guessing it's because I rarely eat a ton ever and the fact that today, I was hungry, made her overjoyed. So excited she walked up next to me and said "she's hungry!" and patted my butt/side.

That's it for Bambey, tomorrow I'm supposed to see the schools. Oh, one more thing, I REALLY can't wait until I can speak Wolof because I think my hfmom's pissed she has to cook dinner for everyone, I think that's what she was muttering about to some of the other women, but I'm not sure and I wish I knew!


Monday, November 2, 2009


Today started out pretty uneventful, I had things I wanted to get done but nothing set. My hostdad, however, has decided it's time for me to start working (something I'm mostly fine with) and planned a busy morning. I had a really long, great conversation about the importance of theater and its role in Senegalese culture. The friend who we were talking to, an inspector at the school and someone who has his own theater troupe (we'll see as far as that goes this Saturday), explained because Senegalese history is an oral history, retelling history is really important to keep it alive. Even more so because when the French came they reorganized and rewrote (mostly just ignored) Senegalese history. There are still remnants in some pretty recent texts on African history, a discipline that is kind of being re-discovered because so much of it had been ignored before. All of this got me really excited to get something going, not that I wasn't before, but I had no idea what the potential benefit would be and now it's starting to form. I have a friend from freshman year who gave me some great advice on community theater, they have to put on a show about what they care about, which is kind of how I feel about all of my work - it could be the best project there is but I can't be the only one invested in it. The friend said he'd call the troupe together for a meeting this Saturday.... which is when I was brought back to reality:
Friend: What time Saturday works for you? 3pm?
KO: Um, whatever time works best for you... I'm always here.
Friend: So 3pm? 4pm?
KO: (thinking if we say 3 it won't start until 4) Yeah. 3pm.
Friend: oooohhhhhhh I don't think the Senegalese (he's Senegalese) will come, it's hot then.
KO: Ok.... 4pm?
Friend: It's still really hot. What about 5pm?
KO: yeah. that's works.

So that kicked off what today's theme seemed to be "timing."

Next my hostdad took me to the high school because I'm trying to set up correspondence with a sociology class at my old high school and a teacher I'm paired with through the Peace Corps World Wide Schools system (basically I was given a penpal class and they want to talk to Senegalese people too). So my hostdad and I walk into the principal's office (walking ahead of the huge line of students of course).
Secretary: He's really busy.
hfdad: hmmmmmmm....
Sct: Look at all the students.
hfdad: hmmmmmm
Sct: can you come back this afternoon?
hfdad: hmmmmmm we're here now.
Sct: ok after these two girls you can go in.

Obviously if it was just me I would have believed him when he said "come back this afternoon" (a habit I need to break) so thankfully my hfdad was there to get me in to see the Principal. A quick note on that, if my ancienne (the girl who was here before me) is reading, thank you SO SO SO SO MUCH. Not only do I have patron living conditions but Mor (my hfdad) is really invested in helping me and he's taken me around to meet people and summoned people to our house. You are amazing, you have an outstanding reputation here (which is why I don't mind when people call me by your name). Thank you.

The rest of my day followed pretty normally: lunch, some internet time, talked with Matar about what he's selling at the upcoming Artisan Expo, hung out with the family that runs the boutique that sells killer bean sandwiches (unfortunately I'm not a morning person and usually miss out), came home, sat with the family, watched some Mexican soap opera, ate dinner, and came to my room.

Overall, a good day in Bambey (that could be because I also ate some donuts aka fried millet balls but they're really good)! Tomorrow I start wolof tutoring we'll see how it goes!

Ba suba,

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The first step is admitting you have a problem...

So here I go: I have a cereal problem that I really have no interesting in stopping, in fact, I just want to keep feeding the problem (yeah, I had to make that joke). Seriously! Even though the cereal I have access to is nowhere close to a wondrous US cereal aisle, it's so amazing for every meal: breakfast - cereal, didn't feel like ceeb u jeen for lunch - cereal, had to take your malaria medicine and didn't want rice and beans for dinner - CEREAL! Unfortunately it's a habit that is currently unsustainable: I can't get cereal in Bambey (well I can but at this point I'm not willing to pay the RIDICULOUS PRICES), so I'm suck gorging myself on cereal every time I go to Thies and practically buy out the store (but I bet there's some solution that involves US cereal... maybe the mail..? kidding!).

Now that that's out of the way, on to my day:
I woke up kind of early (that's a lie around 7am) to catch some of the super late halloween people on their way back in and was able to exchange a few texts with some (who will remain nameless). I, obviously, went back to bed around 7:30 because I didn't really have a plan for the day and I see no fault in making up for the sleep I lost in college! Anyway, around 8:30 I finally got out of bed and weighted my breakfast options (go get a bean sandwich, eat oatmeal, eat cereal... guess what I choose). My hostmom is REALLY big on me sweeping my room on Sundays but, figuring I didn't have any meetings for the day, I thought I would go the extra mile so I actually cleaned and mopped my room. Don't be fooled, there aren't mops here, I filled a bucket with dish soap and water, got a rag, and got on my hands and knees and cleaned the floor. It didn't actually take that long (you can see from the photos I kind of only have two strips of floor, so I showered and gave all of my dishes an intense cleaning. I then looked up the word for "to clean" in Wolof (so I could explain to my host family why I came downstairs at 10:30am not earlier) and went to really start the day.

I have an hfsister who's visiting for a while and BOY is she chatty. She's really about me learning Wolof (like everyone in my hfamily) so she only speaks in Wolof and refuses to explain herself in a language I can understand. She then proceeded to try to pry out every detail about my life in the US which only creates for more awkward conversation given the topic and the language barrier. Afterwards the president of the youth sports and culture association showed up at my house (I guess my hfdad had seen him on the street and sent him to find me). I was able to talk to him about what projects I might be able to get involved in and what they're doing/what they want to do. It was a great conversation to be able to understand the organization a little better and to get to know their priorities (soccer) so I can figure out if/where my work could fit in.

Afterwards it was lunch (which I pushed rice around until I had the guts to say I was full and go upstairs and eat cereal). I wrote everything I had learned from the ASC (association of sports and culture) kid and went to take photos of my house. They're up, by the way, so do enjoy them! After uploading the photos I went to sit with my family. I'm not sure how many of you are aware of the TV series "Full House" (anyone my age better be), but the annoying next door neighbor/best friend of the oldest sister, DJ, is the neighbor "Kimmy" who everyone else finds to be annoying. I'm pretty sure I have a "Kimmy" in my life. There's this girl that is friends with my youngest hfsister and always seems to be around. The other day she followed me into the boutique and made fun of me while I tried to ask for salt (it's "sel" in French and I was saying "sol"). Then today she came over and, while I was sitting there, told the story to my hfamily. Obviously the story was in Wolof but I knew what she was talking about because she kept saying "she said sugar, she said sugar, but she wanted salt" over and over again. And then she detailed my other purchases... I'm not sure how many times she sees people go to boutiques and buy salt, an egg, and a pack of biskrem. What bothers me even more than her making fun of me while I was there, was that she didn't know I understood her and I couldn't think of a good enough response. I struggled for about 10 minutes trying to figure out how to say "I wasn't asking for sugar, I was asking for salt. I didn't say the word sugar" but then I let it go. I really can't wait for the day that I'm good enough for people to not talk about me while I'm sitting there (that alone is motivation enough to learn Wolof, if not for the work reasons).

The rest of the day continued without much excitement (my hfamily wasn't mad that I didn't eat dinner with them... I was saving room for cereal). After dinner, however, I had a really good conversation with my hfdad ranging from Wolof words, to health problems in Senegal, to problems to ASC has and what I can do to help. We discussed about how they're supposed to do cultural things and more sports than soccer but how they just play soccer. I told him I was maybe interested in doing some theater if there is interest (it's one of the thing they're supposed to do). He explained how a while back they used to play basketball, handball, and soccer as well as have theater competitions and cultural discussions. It's hard not to jump right in but I know it's important to wait and really assess the situation first. But I'm trying my hardest to be patient and observe!

The night's ending with cereal, some gatorade, and talking to family on the phone (which is always amazing)! Tomorrow I'm hopefully going to the high school to introduce myself as well as to meet the teacher who works with the American Club there. Supposedly one of my neighbors works for the schools (he's some sort of inspector/teacher watcher person?) and he's interested in getting a theater group together so I might get to meet him too. We'll see!

Happy November Everyone!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween (Senegal Style)!

Happy Halloween everyone! Never fear, the holiday is alive and well in Senegal (at least with the PCVs).
The seven volunteers from my stage who all live around Thies (I'm the furthest out) had created a lunch group before we all went to site. We plan on meeting for lunch at least every month and today was the first luncheon. We were going to meet in Thies at 1pm so I left my house at 10:15am. The night before I'd asked my host family for directions on getting to Thies, Kira had told me about how to get to Dakar (you get up before the garage opens and you hail a big bus going from Touba to Dakar, you a pay 1,000 CFA and a few hours later you're in Dakar!). She's also told me that these buses don't stop in town while the garage is open... briefly on garages before I continue. A "garage" is, in it's simplest form, a place where cars and mini-buses going to places wait for people. Garages come in different sizes depending on the city (Bambey's is kind of small, Thies' is HUGE, I hear Dakar's is a madhouse) but garages are generally loud places where people are shouting at you and trying to get you in their car. Back to the story... my host family had given me a range of answers from "get on the bus" to "get in a car" but overall it seemed like I was going to get in a moving vehicle and pay, at most, 1,000CFA.
When I showed up at the garage I immediately attracted attention (not surprising) and had a million people askign "fo dem?" (where are you going). The first mini-bus driver I talked to (for a description and pictures of mini-buses aka Alhams look at the beach entry) told me it would be 800 CFA and to get in his bus, which I saw was empty. The buses don't leave until they're full and you can fit over 30 people in those... I thought I would give him a chance and ask "when are you leave?" (in French) to which I got the response "Monday." and promptly walked away. A bean sandwich vendor must have noticed my despair because I was called over and asked where I was going (I usually don't respond when I get called by people but I'm glad I did this time). She then made her pre-teen son hail the bus for me. I tried to get on but the attendant people (basically guys who ride on the back of the bus, take the money, and tell the driver when to stop by hitting the sides and/or top) weren't giving me a straight answer about whether I could get on that bus or not and the bus drove away. Frustrated with those people I walked away to an Alham, was told it would be 1,000CFA (too expensive but I'm a Toubab and I pay for it literally), got on, and squeezed into a seat. Over the next two hours (to go 50km) we would drive for a little then the guys on the back would signal to stop and someone would either get out or get in and we would continue. About 15km from Thies we stopped, the guys announced something in Wolof to the bus and everyone stood up to leave. I sat there looking HORRIBLY confused until some woman (about my age) turned to me and said I should stay, the people going to Dakar are just getting on another Alham. Then people from the second Alham got on our car... apparently we had a friend Alham out there somewhere and we consolidated (amazing... seriously). I ended up making it to the Thies garage in time to catch a cab to the restaurant and sit down for lunch.

My lunch, in case anyone's wondering was a beer, a salad, a cheese pizza, and some Skittles that Jackie brought. I ate way too much and it was amazing (I didn't eat breakfast to make room!) After lunch I had to buy a voltage regulator (when power cuts it tends to spike a lot and that can fry your electronics - lots of PCVs have lost computers). I, again, paid the Toubab price but whatever, it's worth it if it saves my computer for 2 years.

Afterwards, Jackie, Alyssa, and I went to the bank and a grocery store where I stocked up on ridiculous things (insect repellent for the ants in my bathroom, soap, granola that's so cheap it can be eaten like cereal, popcorn kernels, and CocoPops - Egyptian cereal). I also bought yogurt (made from real milk) and a bottle of cold water. We then continued to the "halloween party" Alyssa had invited us too. All we knew was that there was a Halloween party at one of the high schools and the other PCV in Thies had invited us to. When we showed up he told us that the US Embassy sponsors "American Clubs" in high schools across Senegal (and presumably the world) where they meet after school, speak English, learn about America, and the stop students in the country get to go to the US for a summer. Within three minutes there were desks set up at the front of the room and we were a panel on Halloween. We were told to explain what Halloween experiences we've had and if we'd played any tricks on people who didn't give us treats (that aspect to Halloween was really focused on). After we all told stories about Halloween (mine where that it was often too cold to wear a costume "below zero degrees Celsius!" and that my parents used to buy my Halloween candy from me the day after "for less than 5CFA!" In retrospect they seem like bad stories but it's really hard to explain Halloween to people who have no idea what it is at all... it sounds like a WEIRD holiday.) Then the students were given 5 minutes to write a paragraph on what Halloween is and some of were read aloud. After that I had to head out (it was already 5 and I needed to get back to Bambey) so Jackie and I left for the garage.

I'd never been to the Thies garage before but Jackie explained it to my perfectly, you basically walk through saying (in Wolof) "don't touch me. I'm going to Bambey." Sure enough, I was directed onto an Alham (that was almost full and ready to leave). Still a little nervous (it's not liked anything's marked) I asked the guy next to me and I was told I was going to the right place. I was charged 700CFA (the real price!) and the mini bus with 35 people and 4 riding on the back took off!... then we were stopped by the police who do random road stops to check for ID from the drivers... then we were off!... until people needed to start getting off. About an hour of stopping and starting later we made it to Khumbolt (the mid-point between Thies and Bambey). I was staring out the window because there isn't much else to do when I noticed goats being loaded on top of the car. Yep. Live goats. Between 5-7 of them being passed from someone on the ground to someone on top of the car and (I guess) being strapped down because I only heard them walking when they first got passed up. Then the guy who bought the goats got on and we were off again! Then the guy next to me had to get off and they unloaded his motorbike (a small motorcycle) from the top of the Alham. Then we were off... until we stopped and everyone going to Bambey was told to get off and get on ANOTHER Alham (friend Alham!)and we were off... until we finally got to Bambey and I made it home pretty much just in time for a quick shower and dinner.

Here I am now, eating cereal and downloading the first episode of this season's Gossip Girl... true if I was in the US this would be an epic fail of a Halloween but here in Senegal, I feel like I've had a pretty successful holiday!

I'll be posting pictures of the class soon, and Alyssa took pictures so check her blog. And thanks to my mom for making me take pumpkin hats that I thought were useless but came in handy today.

Happy Halloween! Eat some candy corn for me!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On Age

Age is something I can see myself struggling with over the next two years because there are so many layers to it. Let me start with a brief apology, I'm not really organizing this entry, just writing my thoughts... sorry if it's a little all over the place.

I am, in American terms, a fairly young adult. Being in my early twenties I feel like I'm granted certain freedoms and am not expected to be totally mature. I'm at the age where it's fine to be unmarried, have no kids, not be totally sure what I want to do in life, and be doing something like the Peace Corps that gives me a ton of experience while not really adding anything into my IRA (if there was a way to detract from an account that doesn't exist, it would actually be doing that). Also, at my age (in American terms), it's become pretty normal for someone to have their college degree, be living on their own, be in charge of their own finances, those sorts of "independence factors."

If I was Senegalese, depending on where I lived and on my family wealth, I might be married and have kids. If not, I might be in high school, maybe (but probably not yet) university. I would spend most of the time not in school helping the other women in my family around the house, cooking meals, watching other kids, etc. Even if I was a guy, I would be in high school with maybe a year of two left to go.

The fact that I'm in Senegal, but a foreigner, puts me in some weird age twilight zone. Some older lady told me I needed to go to school but was totally satisfied when I told her I had finished university already. There are high school students older than me that treat me like I'm an elder.

Then there's the whole issue of curtsy/genuflecting. It's traditional in Senegalese culture for women to do a little bend of the knees when they shake the hand of someone older/more respected than they are. The first time this came up was during training in a culture session when I explained to my professor that I, frankly, didn't care I wasn't curtsying to anyone. My reasoning was simple: it's not part of my culture, I see it as demeaning (men don't bow, only women do), I think it could possibly slow my work down (I'll admit not doing it might also cause some problems), and if I were to meet Barack Obama (probably the person I respect most in the entire world) I wouldn't curtsy, so why would I curtsy for a village chief. So far, it hasn't gotten me into any trouble and I've been playing the "foreigner card" quite well. Today, however, I was at a crossroads. I went to meet the coach of the local soccer team to potentially set up work opportunities (I might be planning a tournament now... we'll see) and his mom shook my hand and told me to curtsy. It was in Wolof so I had no clue what she was saying and finally someone else in the room translated for me. I realized I could either just curtsy, not make it awkward, and move past it. Or I could stick to my guns and not do it. For those of you who know me you can guess what I did... for those of you who have your doubts, I simple laughed a little, smiled, and continued my conversation with the coach.

Who knows if I'll ever be able to figure this age thing out - probably not - but it's pretty reflective, I feel, of a lot of cultural things there. The question is basically, how should I be regarded culturally? What cultural standards am I supposed to follow?

Who knows... but I'm sure as hell not curtsying to anyone!