Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Comments

Really quickly, I added this to the side, so it'll be there for a while, but if you're having trouble leaving comments and want you, you can also email them to koinsenegal@gmail.com.

Thanks! Off to village for a few days!
KO

Beach!

The beach was amazing. That's pretty much there is to it... but I'll give you a little more. We were given a weekend off... well and by weekend I mean Monday 5pm-Tuesday 5pm, but it's the first time we've had off since we got here August 12th. Before you think "but Katherine, you say you sit around your compound staring a dirt most of the day," remember that EVERYTHING is in French... and just generally work, even if it's not real work, it's hard. But back to the beach!
Along with another girl, I organized 50 trainees to take 2 Alham's (basically an emptied out large van that's been re-cramped with seats.. they each sit 30 and are no bigger than a mini-bus, if not smaller) and go to the beach for a day. We rented two houses and piled in for a relaxing 24 hours. Once we got to the beach town, we stopped at a boutique to fill up on drinks (let your imagination wander) as well as on things for dinner. Later that night along with a VERY HELPFUL group of other trainees, I made dinner (pasta and red sauce) for everyone.
The rest of the trip was full of swimming, walking, hanging out, and generally letting loose. There were times it was almost possible to forget I was in Africa and not on Spring Break... until I saw the bugs, swatted a mosquito, got hissed at, or had to use the bathroom.
I'll add more pictures soon (hopefully tomorrow afternoon) but I've linked to another friend's blog and she has some pictures.

Our counterparts start to arrive today which means I sleep in the village tonight, Thursday, and Friday, and driven to Thies each day for sessions with my counterpart and supervisor... I'm nervous to meet them because this could really determine a lot over the next two years (aka if I'm able to work with them or if they're just in the position for credit).

I'll try to blog at night and post them during the day if anything exciting is happening.

KO

Monday, September 28, 2009

Village, Part 3

Sept 20 2009

Last night there was a huge battle in the ongoing 2 year war: me v. the bugs of Senegal. I feel, for the most part, I have kept my blogging about bugs to a minimum. They really aren’t that integral to my life in Senegal. Yes, there are bugs, yes some of them are bigger than birds, yes ALL bugs here fly (even bugs that look like they don’t, but I’ve gotten used to them. I don’t freak out when there’s a bug on my, I smash bugs between my fingers all the time, bugs and I have practically called a ceasefire… until last night.

The story actually starts with my return to village: I opened the door to find about 150 earwigs had moved into my room. After calmly altering my hfmom (umm il y a beaucoup d’insects.. dans ma chambre), she got a broom and swept them all away! I thought that was the end of it, but boy was I wrong. Later than night bugs of all sorts and sizes (all with the ability to fly) started coming out and the battle really began. More than disgusting, it was frustrating to be CONSTANTLY swatting bugs of and hoping not to be bitten/stung. Eventually, I called it an early night (I couldn’t take them anymore) and retired to my room to discover more bugs! After killing a giant grasshopper, I tried to sneak under my mosquito netting which does a decent job to protecting from mosquitoes but, as I learned, doesn’t really protect against little green flying bugs. Finally around 1am I was able to fall asleep (I kept being almost asleep then waking up to the feeling of bugs on me) and woke up this morning to even more dead bugs on the top of my mosquito net. I was told last night than the bugs mean it’s almost the end of the rainy season which means the cold season (yay!!!!) is coming soon. I think the harvest is next week, but everything is already starting to come in (I spent about an hour helping shuck beans today). No school tomorrow because it’s Korite (aka Eid al fitra (sorry about the spelling) aka the end of Ramadan) but because we’re in a Catholic village we won’t get to celebrate… oh well! There’s always next year (as well as Tabaski (sp) which is the other big Senegalese Muslim holiday). Also, my hf in this village invited me to come here for Christmas which I have no real interest in doing but I might spend Easter here! I’ve heard from many volunteers it’s a really good idea to spend holidays that are important to you (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc) with other volunteers… especially if you think you’re going to be homesick. I’m not really one to be homesick but I can’t imagine not missing everyone terribly on Christmas and Thanksgiving. Looks like the lunch cheb is ready!

A prochain,

KO

September 22, 2009

Regarding Bucket Baths:

While it might seem a little ridiculous, there is a lot to say apropos bucket baths (a really quick, nerdy French note “apropos de” is how you say “about”). So, bucket baths! Briefly, for those of you not familiar with “bucket baths”, here in Senegal it basically involves a big-ish bucket (maybe a few gallons) and a smaller quart sized bucket for pouring. You pour water on yourself, add soup, and pour more water to rinse off. It’s not a difficult task to do but it’s difficult to do well (don’t believe me, try washing shampoo out of your hair this method).

I really see there being 2 purposes for a bucket bath: to clean you, to cool you off. Starting with the first, I find this type of bucket baths to be the less pleasant of the two. For me, I take this type of bucket bath around 7am when there isn’t much motivation to jump out of bed and dump cold water all over myself. These are the bucket baths that I hurry through and they’re the ones that I really notice the smell of the bathroom.

The second type of bucket bath… that’s a WHOLE different ball game. These usually come around 6pm, maybe a little later but right before the sun sets because then it’s starting to cool off and you know that if you take a shower you’ll stay relatively clean until bed. Unlike its morning friend, this bucket of icy cold water is welcomed and the smell of the bathroom seems to fade into the background. It’s a great feeling to leave the bathroom knowing you’re not immediately stepping into the hot sun and going to be sweaty in 5 minutes. I, clearly, prefer cooling-off bucket baths to cleaning up baths.

Enough on bucket baths! Overall village days are going fine (clearly nothing too exciting going on as I have enough time to really debate bucket baths) and they’re moving kind of quickly which is nice. Oh, and there are some chicks in my compound so I took the initiative to name them (I figure we’re not going to eat them while I’m here because there are much larger chickens if we were ever going to eat one… which I’m sure we’re not). There are 6 chickens, 3 yellow ones and 3 black ones. The yellow ones are: Boris (the largest, pushiest one of them all – even though the only Boris I know isn’t pushy), Chip (it has markings like a chipmunk) and Swarly (an inside joke). The black ones are Maddy (it has black and yellow fuzz and is quite a mess) and then there are two that look identical thus earning the names Orangejello and Lemonjello (another inside joke, this time aimed at my roommates from Soph. year).

I swear my days are filled with more than bucket baths and naming chickens, it just isn’t that exciting to write about sitting in French class or talking about the heat. I hope everyone’s having a great week!

A Prochain!
KO

September 23

Today I had a moment with my host mom, and I really don’t know any other way to describe it (though I wish I did). First, a little bit of needed background: my hfmom and I have never not gotten along, but we’ve never really gotten along either. I’m not sure if she speaks just a little French or just can’t understand me, but we don’t talk, ever (she also only speaks to the other people in the family in local languages). I also would totally understand if she doesn’t like me, she and my hfdad were married August 9th of this year… 2 weeks before I came. The best I can gather about Senegalese marriages is that there are 2 parts, the legitimate part and the party (which can happen YEARS… YEARS later). What, I think, happened, is that my hfparents were married (legit part) about 6 years ago but they just had the party with the church ceremony 1.5 months ago. Anyway, my interaction with my hfmom is limited to me thanking her for breakfast or other meals when she cooks. Other than that, we mind our own business.

So back to today! I didn’t tell my hfmom what time class was starting (kind of assuming she would know it started at 8am) but that’s not the Senegalese way. So when I woke up this morning no one was up. I proceeded with my bucket bath and, as I left for class, still, the compound was empty. I wasn’t too worried about the lack of breakfast because I’d skipped breakfast and my hfmom came and got me(the idea of interruptions doesn’t not exist). I went to class knowing that I would, eventually, be gotten for breakfast. I explained this to my teacher and my classmates and we started class. Sure enough, about 45 minutes later, my hfmom comes into the compound that we have class. We made eye contact and both just started laughing. I have no idea what was funny but there was some understanding between the two of us. So there I was, sitting under a mango tree, in Africa, laughing with a Senegalese woman because we both seemed to understand each other in that moment. I’m sorry I this didn’t really translate well being retold, but that was my morning!

Other than that, I learned how to make sugar peanuts, which are exactly what they seem to be: peanuts with sugar cooked on them. They’re sold in little packets for 25 cfa (about $0.07US). Only 4 more days until the beach!

A bientot!
KO

September 25, 2009

So it rained this morning, which really makes me change my thoughts on rain. Rain in the afternoon/evening is great because it gives me time alone, but rain in the morning is not my friend. Getting out bed knowing you have to walk through the rain to take a cold bucket bath isn’t really encouraging for the day. Aside from the far from excellent start to the day, it actually continued quite well. Class went by pretty quickly and we were off for the rest of the day. Today’s Cheb was really good (I honestly think I’ve become adjusted to the taste and my family has learned I just don’t eat fish). During the afternoon I visited Murial (the girl who makes sugared peanuts). There was a semi-final game for the summer soccer league so I walked with her the 1km to the soccer field then returned home. I’ve started taking a real pleasure in doing things that I know make the Senegalese shake their heads in confusion such as walking somewhere by yourself (even though it was 3pm, everyone walks with someone else) or even walking somewhere for fun not because I have to. After that I hung around the compound and got an early evening shower because it was Friday night and we were hitting the town! Of course by hitting the town I mean going to the boutique and drinking Fanta and eating a packet of 4 cookies but Fridays are always good days! After a few hours of good conversation with my fellow trainees I got home just in time for Marina, the Brazilian (I think) that’s on Senegalese TV every night. I’m not really sure of the plot, but it’s still fun to watch a soap opera. After that we had a fiesta for dinner! At least the closest thing to a fiesta that I’ll get in 2 years. I was rice with beans and fish (as usual I avoided the fish). When I put lime on the rice (my hffamily really likes lime on their rice) and closed my eyes it was almost as if I was eating at a really bad Mexican restaurant, and it was amazing. I ate a ton and one of my cousins even noticed that I was eating the beans and gave me more.

Unfortunately there are a lot of bugs tonight (due to the rain) but I’m hoping my mosquito net is tucked in well enough. Language exam tomorrow then a game for the “younger” team (the “cadets” are in middle school so 13-17ish and the “seniors” are in high school so 18-26ish). My hfcousin is playing in the game so hopefully I’ll be able to go.

A prochain,

KO

September 27, 2009

In my attempts to be a good peace corps volunteer appropriately integrating, or at least trying my hardest, into Senegalese culture, I went to the soccer game yesterday. Keep in mind, what seems like an easy task, going to a soccer game, is far from it. The field is 1km away and it was HOT yesterday. Of course the game started at 3:15, because when better to play soccer in an un-covered field than at the hottest part of the day? It is impossible to describe the heat but I’ll work on it and get back to you. I found out that my hfcousin is actually the captain of the team so that was cool. For the most part the game was 1-0 (my hfcousin’s team leading) until the other team scored with less than one minute left! The game went into penalty kicks but the goalie for my hfcousin’s team had been red carded in the last minute and my hfcousin had to step in to play goalie for the penalty kicks. My hfcousin finally blocked the 7th penalty kick and his team won. It was really exciting but I got out of there are soon as I could because there was a lot of running and screaming and I didn’t want to be caught up in the middle of it (I try to avoid large crowds as much as possible). I’m really glad I went and I was even invited to stand with the girls that were cheering the team on (yay for having kind of friends!).

A quick thing I’ve noticed about my life: I spend a lot of time talking to things/people that I know cannot respond to me. I spend probably a total of an hour or so a day talking to bugs and animals in English. Most of my one-sided conversations are along the lines of “no, that’s my room, you don’t live there” or “don’t think about getting in my mosquito net!” or the worst “how did you get in my mosquito net!” When not speaking to insects, I also spend a lot of time talking to the kids in English. I’m saving describing my interactions with the kids until I think I can do it without ranting angrily without a point. But I’ll leave it at usually when the kids are annoying to me I start speaking to them in English: “Yes, I am reading, no I don’t want to talk to you,” “yep… still ignoring you, maybe you should go away now,” “yeah, I still have no idea what you’re saying because I don’t speak that language and I never will.” You get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the kids don’t drive me crazy but these kids would drive anyone crazy (yes S.Low… even you).

I go back to Thies tomorrow to go to straight to the beach and I’m so excited! Hopefully I’ll get this posted before we go to the beach because our next few days after that are all over the place. Our counterparts are coming in so they’re staying in the center and we’re commuting in from our villages for a few days. I’ll for sure be back to the center Saturday.

Man, this is going to be a looooong blog post! Sorry, but 9 days in the village… and I had a lot to say about bucket baths.

A toute a l’heure (my most used departure phrase – “another time”),

KO

PS, congrats on making it through this 4.5 page blog… sorry… only one more giant blog from village time left then training is over and I’ll hopefully have internet in my room!

PPS- Here are some things I forgot to mention. My hfdad’s soccer team lost in the semi-final today. It also went into penalty kicks but the other team won (I have some pictures from the game just added). Also, I should have mentioned this in the food post but couscous here is not similar to the couscous most people in the US come across at home or in their travels. It is not what they call here “Moroccan CousCous” which is the kind that’s sort of like rice in little balls. It’s pounded millet that’s been sifted, dried in the sun, and then rehydrated just before eating. It honestly has the same physical characteristics of wet sand.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Talent Show and Trees

Today was a full day! The morning started out, as usual, with some language class then a cross culture/med session. After lunch we had a little bit about the counter-part workshop which is coming up. Basically we all have counterparts in our sites (a Senegalese person somewhat related to our projects) who's in charge of helping us whenever we need it. Next time we're at the Center, they'll be coming in for a few days so we can go over expectations and project plans with them (the entire thing will be conducted in French). After the counterpart rundown, we had a tree planting session! Yes, that's correct, all PCVs in Senegal as supposed to be planting trees (to combat rapid de-forestation). So today the business school kids played in the dirt... literally. We were mixing dirt with our hands, packing black sacks, and planting seeds to create a pepeniere aka tree nursary. It was a really amazing time and it made me really excited to try and grow things. While I do not have a green thumb at all, it was nice to get out of the classroom for once. Also, I hear Basil grows REALLY easily, so I'll be making a mean pesto sauce in no-time.

The day kept moving quickly with the PST-TS (pre service training talent show). The night was filled with amazing talent such as tap dancing, rapping, new ways to eat bananas, juggling, basketball skills, magic, and much much more. My language group re-wrote the words to "Baby Got Back" to make it "Baby Got CousCous." Not to be too annoying, but I think it was well received.

Finally, in other very important news, about 24 hours after the fact I am NOT sick from the chicken place and thus will be there the next time I'm in Thies (in 10 nights). I'll be back in Thies the 29th so expect another long collection of blogs around the 29th!

Oh also, thank you SO MUCH to everyone who's sending letters! I LOVE getting them and I've been saving them all for this next time in village. Thank you so much again! I've decided not to post my new address but if you want it drop me a comment or an email and I'll get it to you right away.

A Prochain!
KO

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PS

I forgot to say that I just posted 3 pictures of Bambey and 1 of my bathroom!

Food, glorious food!

I feel like this is a kind of long overdue post but I’m finally in the right place to write it. Food in Senegal… something I could talk about for days and days on end – I’ll try to keep it short for your sake. Let me start with why tonight’s an awesome night for writing this entry: dinner was epic. I’ve heard about this chicken place from a few volunteers and because dinner was supposed to be beef and peas, a few of us decided to skip out on Center dinner and try the chicken place. I wish I could give a better name but it really was just a chicken place. The room was dingy and dirty, as one of my friends described it “the type of place you think you’re going to get tetanus just from sitting there.” Nervous at first, we had been warned about the nature of the “restaurant” so we ordered (a half chicken and fries for each person) and waited. Food in Senegal, for some reason, takes SO LONG to cook (probably because they’re cooking over a fire, but it’s still hard to get used to) but about 45 minutes later we were presented with maybe the most glorious meal I’ve seen (at least that I’ve seen in a while). Just asking to be devoured was half a roasted chicken, a salad covered in tahini sauce, and a mound of French fries. The only thing untouched on my plate was the salad (I’m still very nervous about uncooked veggies) but I ate the sauce off of it so if the salad was going to make me sick, the sauce will probably take care of that. A short cab ride back to the Center and an apple left over from dinner, I’m here!

Now, on to the rest of Senegalese food (you’ll have to deal with some misspellings but I don’t really care about spelling dishes correctly). To start at the beginning, breakfast. If a Senegalese person eats breakfast, it is most likely a piece of French bread (very, very store made) and it possibly, but most likely not, has butter, chocolate, or processed cheese on it. If you were going to have an expensive breakfast (about 125 CFA so $0.30US) you can get beans (a kind of spicy, cooked beans) on your bread. If you’re REALLY going crazy and splurging they can add a sliced hardboiled egg for another 50-100CFA. For lunch you’re usually looking to get some cheb u jen or fish and rice in Wolof. It’s the national dish of Senegal and its cooked rice with fish in the center of the bowl. Aside from breakfast all meals are served in large communal bowls and, depending on the family, you eat with spoons or your right hand. With the fish in the center of the bowl is usually a carrot, cabbage, potato, manioc, and maybe some other vegetables that have been cooked down for HOURS. Cheb u jen can also be red (if it’s cooked with a tomato sauce). At the beginning of my time in Senegal I thought all cheb tasted like rotten fish, I’ve gotten used to it and only taste the fish if I’m eating it, not so much if I’m sticking to rice.

For dinner, usually, families can get more creative. I like to think of dinner as being broken down into 3 types: rice meals, couscous meals, and special meals. First, rice meals. In addition to cheb u jen there are a million other things you can do with rice to make a communal bowl. You can make a peanut sauce (maffe I think) or a vinegary onion sauce (yassa), you could cover it in okra and oil (something that starts with an S). As far as couscous goes, the most typical is with a sauce from the never-die tree. I used to HATE this meal because the couscous texture isn’t great and the sauce just tastes like salt… but I recently found out that this tree is AMAZINGLY FULL of vitamins and wonderful things (that my diet is otherwise lacking) so I’ve changed my perspective on it a little. You could also have couscous with bean sauce or tomato-y sauce (don’t think Italian food, think a can of condensed tomato sauce with a ton of water). Now for my favorite… special meals. These come, very, very, infrequently but they are amazing nights when they do happen. In the village it’s either a pasta night (we eat with forks not spoons) or peanut butter rice. The pasta is cooked with oil (not olive oil, think vegetable oil) and served possibly with onions. Peanut butter rice, however, is my favorite dish, and I’m still trying to figure out what it’s called and if ANYONE outside of my host family eats it. It’s basically rice mixed with Senegalese peanut butter (which isn’t as sweet as US peanut butter). It comes out looking like a risotto kind of and is AMAZING. Finally, in special meals, I’ll include whatever it is that PCVs make for themselves on their gas’ in their rooms. Scary, I know, but I’m sure I’ll have some good recipes by the end of two years.

In other, unrelated to food, news, I have only one more full day at the center then it’s back to the village for 10 days. I’m really not looking forward to this village time but will be happen when it’s over (because then I’ll have only 7 village days left ever). Other than that, tech sessions have been going well, we learned about feasibility studies today. I’m still not sure what I’m going to be doing in Bambey but the more I learn about composting the more it might be a possibility. My, brief, understanding of it now is that I wouldn’t be doing any composting, I would be working with the city to set up the business of composting in the town. Who knows… I have a while to figure it all out. Epic thanksgiving plans are already underway (I need a holiday to look forward to!) so I’m sure that will end well once I get to that point.

Expect one last blog tomorrow before I head to the village Saturday.

A prochain,
KO

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Volunteer Visit

I'm back in Thies (and about halfway through training)! The volunteer visit started out a little rough but ended really well.
I was picked up at the center Saturday morning by my ancienne (the girl I'm replacing) as well as by my new host dad (who has a car)! My host dad Mor is really nice and speaks French so that'll be nice. The room my ancienne found me is AMAZING and I love her so much for it! It's the only thing up a flight of stairs (I've already decided there's going to be a no-coming up the stairs rule). There's a bathroom in the room with a shower head (no more bucket baths) and a sink! I'll be living like a queen! The room doesn't have internet, but I can get it installed (and I will get it installed the first week there). After getting internet I'm going to get furniture (desk, dressor, table) and start living the life (of a PCV)... Oh I'm even thinking about painting the walls!
Anyway, enough about my room. After seeing the room my ancienne toured me around Bambey. It's a small town but I'm excited about the work possibilities. My ancienne did a really great job of setting up contacts and starting projects for me to work on. So after the town tour we found out that my counter-part (who's uncle of my host family) had heart failure and had passed away. The Peace Corps car that was driving to another site (the site I was actually originally going to spend Sunday-Wednesday at) was close enough to swing through and pick me up so I wasn't in my family's way for funeral plans. It was an unfortunate beginning of my volunteer visit but I was glad to see Bambey. The rest of my weekend was in another town kind of the size of Bambey. While there I made banana pancakes and garlic bread with the other PCT and the PCV hosting us. We also broke the fast a number of times (we weren't fasting for Ramadan but we still broke it with people).
I'm very glad to be back at the training center to get on the internet as well as to see my friends and hear about their sites. I'm already trying to plan an epic bike trip between other sites... stay tuned!

KO

Saturday, September 12, 2009

De-myst (aka Volunteer Visit)

Today I'm going to see my site! I can't wait to see the city I'll be working in, hopefully meet some counter-parts and (very much hopefully) see my actual room (or at least find out the internet situation). If everything goes perfectly, I'll also have a little more knowledge on the mailbox situation but that's really not a top priority right now (figuring out my life for the next 2 years is). I'm taking my camera and will hopefully have lots of pictures for you on Wednesday (when I get back).
In other PCT news, we all went out last night to the local "bar"... which is pretty much a guys house where he sells alcohol and lets us all sit around in lawn chairs. To drink you can either buy a beer (Gazelle or Flag about 2-3UDS) or buy a small bottle of hard liquor and a bottle of soda (totaling about 3USD). About halfway through the night, the power went out and the bar owner gave us candles to sit around and use. It's kind of odd to be sitting in plastic lawn chairs, drinking a beer, sitting around a candle, just talking to friends. I've found a lot of my experiences to be like that, however, something completely normal and something completely different. Oh well.

Off to Bambey!
KO

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Diourbel Region... here I come!

I found out my site today and I'm SO EXCITED. I'll be the second volunteer in this city and the current volunteer left me a ton of great work to continue as well as a whole bunch of opportunities for new projects. She was doing work with artisans and a tailor (I plan on having a TON of awesome clothes made as soon as I get there), both projects I plan on continuing. Also, because it's a large-ish city (25000) there will be schools for me to do some GAD (gender and development) work which is how I really want to focus my secondary projects. I'm very excited to see my site Saturday and I, now more than ever, can't wait to get started. Also, the girl there before me had a ton of people come visit (it's close to Thies and thus Dakar) so for those of you interested, start planning your trip! Be looking for pictures as soon as I get there. Now time for a girls night out in Thies (site celebration). Oh also, I have a few friends close to me and one of my friends is doing Eco-T on an island... so awesome!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Village, Part 2

So this is a LONG one because it's 14 days worth. I was updating periodically so enjoy! Oh! I find out my site tomorrow... I'm so excited!! August 26, 2009

Today was my first day back in village and it was about 10 million times better than last time. Seeing my hffamily wasn’t that awkward and they all were speaking French to me. Other than returning, the day wasn’t that exciting (except for receiving a SWEET cell phone that would retail for about 10$ in the US but I love it and I don’t care). I had to ask several times how to check the amount of credits I had on my phone (in Senegal you don’t buy a plan you buy credits and enter them, texting and calling costs different things at different times during the day). I also truly appreciated, for the first time, how amazing a buttered popcorn jelly bean really is. I used to think they were gross… but when you haven’t had butter for a while, they taste amazing.

Tonight, after dinner, some of the high schoolers started to show up and sit around the compound. After asking my hfcousins, I was informed that there was to be a party at my house before my hfcousin’s team had won a game (similar to a park district summer league). About thirty minutes later, there were about 50 high school guys and girls sitting around when.. all of the sudden… a huge speaker was brought out and the music, and the party, started. Senegalese music and dancing is so different than American music and dancing so it was really fun to watch… until about 12am when I tried to go to bed (I have school at 8am tomorrow) but my compound had been turned into Club Fandene. Now, I’m laying in bed trying to sleep to the pounding sounds of the base and of wolof. A Bientot!

August 27, 2009

I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a National Geographic video of a flash flood, but I just lived through one. With barely a cloud in the sky, I went to go watch the local soccer game and less than 20 minutes later the skies had happened up. Within minutes, a river had formed where the field once was, and we all stood, waiting, a little tin-roofed hut that serves as the market during the day. Finally, once it looked like it was letting up a little I ran for home. Although I’m soaking wet, I can say definitively: huge storms are my favorite type of weather here. There are several amazing reasons for loving storms, but the two main ones are what won me over: breaking the heat and time alone! Even though it’ll get humid in a few minutes, for now, it’s cool… not actually cold or anything anyone would need anything more than a tank top and skirt for, but it’s not stiflingly hot. The other reason (and the main reason) is because this is the first time since I got here, that I’ve been allowed to be by myself without anyone thinking it was odd or wondering what I was doing. Senegalese culture is VERY community based and if you’re not sitting out under the tree with everyone, something must be going on. Also, because of the community aspect, if you have something, it also belongs to the entire community. This lack of belief in “ownership” has prevented me from using pretty much everything. Don’t take this the wrong way, my hffamily is a group of wonderful people, but I don’t want to risk things being broken while I’m just starting my service. I’m sure eventually I’ll have to go sit under one of the covered areas… or if the storm is broken… back outside, but any time alone is amazing.

One more quick note, thank you so much to everyone who helped give me movies… I’m currently laying in bed watching Ever After (thank you so much!). Also, today was an important day… I performed my first non-doctor preset medical thing… to keep things simple and not too gross there are these things called “blister beetles”, you can kind of assume what they are. So when a blister appears on you (mysteriously) you have to pop it but be sure to drain it somehow so it won’t touch your skin (the poison from the beetle will cause another blister. I’m not sure exactly if that’s what I had so I’ll find out more tomorrow when I take off the bandaid but I was able to do everything by the rules!

August 28, 2009

While at NYU, I used to joke you could judge the validity of an NYU event or student by their Rent knowledge. Something about NYU, or maybe just the entire city, draws students towards the musical. No event kicks off without a Rent song… I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure they played a song at graduation. So, like any good NYU student, here I am, sitting in my bed, under my mosquito netting, watching Rent on my computer. It’s pretty much like being in a residence hall or something… you know… minus the sounds of horns outside replaced with my rooster and tonight’s storm.

I don’t want you to think, though, that I’m doing nothing but watching movies (2 days in a row!), so no worries, I also had 8 hours of class (even though everything’s class when you’re speaking French the whole time). I also went to the tailor with my hfaunt. I’m having my pants and my skirt made and I requested them all to be “tres Senegalais” so I’m excited to see how they turn out! Also, a quick update, I can’t wait for the free-texting/calling within PC to kick in… I really want to text my friends but just don’t feel like paying for it. I’m thinking Sept. 1st the miracle will happen. Oh well! Back to Rent for me now!
A Demain (see you tomorrow)!
KO

August 31, 2009

Holy Biskrem Batman! I found my favorite new snack! Yes, that’s right “Biskrem” it’s like a Nilla Wafer with Nutella in the middle and it sells for only 100cfa (about 25 cents) for a packet of 4. The only thing that’s currently giving Biskrem’s a run for their money is the AMAZING sandwich I eat each morning from the boutique. Before I explain the sandwich, however, let me explain a little more about village/boutique life:

Because we’re just a few KMs outside of Thies, this village doesn’t seem to have much going on in terms of commerce. It has 3 boutiques (within a 1 minute walk of each other) that all sell almost the same thing. Boutique #1, aka my boutique (because I’m working with them on a homework assignment) has the largest selection (and the smallest space) in town. They sell everything boutiques sell (snacks, soap, bleach, sugar, tea, etc) as well as additional things like flashlights, umbrellas, and lengths of cording. My purchases at this boutique are limited to a onetime sack of peanut butter (which I bought to supplement my protein intake… it tastes like unsweetened peanut butter), also daily I buy 2 bags of sugar coated roasted peanuts (total of 50 cfa). The second boutique in town, aka the onion boutique, is the smallest and gets its name from the pile of onions (and flies) on the floor. We used to go there a lot until we discovered… the third boutique! The third boutique is by far the cleanest, biggest, and newest. They sell the typical boutique goods as well as selling cold(ish) beer (350cfa for a small bottle of Flag) and they make breakfast! The breakfast they make is a bean dish that you make a sandwich out of but for about 250cfa they make me a fried egg that gets put between French bread that has some laughing cow cheese spread on it. Every day during our 15 minute break the 3 of us PCTs head over to the third boutique usually to buy 2 sandwiches and 1 soda (the 3rd PCT gets eggs at home so it isn’t such a big deal for him).

In other news, we’ve had heavy rain on a off for the past few days and right now (before I go to bed) my room is so amazingly cool. It’s probably 75 degrees, but I almost wish I had brought a top sheet. Today I definitely had one of those “wow” moments as I was sitting on the porch being taught (in French, of course) how to weave baskets out of palm fronds while torrential rains lashed against the tin roof and pretty much flooded the compound. WAS started work today and I think everyone back at school is getting ready for the year to start. It is impossible to not play the “what would I be doing if I wasn’t here” game but, no matter what it is that I decide I would be doing had I not joined the Peace Corps, I almost always end up thinking “but I’m in AFRICA! Wow.” It sounds so simple, but that’s really all I can do to sum up everything going on around me. Every time I see a Baobab tree (the kind Rafiki lived in in the movie The Lion King) or hear a rooster, I can’t believe that, here I am, sitting in a compound of total strangers, in a totally strange place, learning a mostly strange language. There are times I’d rather be other places, that’s for sure, but I’m still excited for what’s to come… I can’t wait to get to work!

September 6, 2009

Today will forever be known as the day I danced. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, some background. My village had a huge party today because one of the girls had become a nun. The two interesting cultural things about the party are that they celebrated it like a real marriage (for those non-Catholics out there sometime’s being a nun is referred to as being “married to Christ”) and everyone that was her age, “generation 1985”, celebrated with her. Everyone born in 1985 got the same cloth and all made their own outfits (take a look at my photos… it’s the people in orange) and they also all had their own party, separate from the bigger party.

The day kicked off, like all Sundays, with Mass and the announcement of this woman’s accomplishment. Then we went to her parents compound (sidenote: her dad is Muslim, her mom is Catholic) and listened to speeches (very similar to how weddings are done in Senegal). During the speeches we got our appetizers (a plate of fried sweet and spicy dough – amazing, as well as a little ante pasta toothpick – spam and cheese) as well as a swallow of wine to toast. After the speeches finished, we formed little circles and the women of the village dropped off bowls (in Senegalese culture they all eat out of the same large bowl). The bowls were rice and beef (I saw the slaughtered cow yesterday) as well as some onions for a sauce. After lunch, I went back to take a nap because the heat was getting to me. By the time I was hydrated and back in party mode, the real fĂȘtes had started. Everyone had split from the large party into smaller parties depending on families as well as the 1985 kids left to have their own. I ended up partying with them (one of my cousins was born that year) and that is where I danced. There is no way I could do justice to the hugeness of me actually dancing, but I’ll try my best. As my friends know, I’m not really the first on the dance floor… it’s actually rare that I’m on a dance floor at all… and that’s American dancing. Senegalese dancing is a lot of foot stomping, knee shaking, butt waging, and even some kicking… there’s no real way to explain it to paint the right picture but I’ll try to over the next 2 years. While the Senegalese LOVE recorded music, today’s dancing (and most fĂȘtes) have drums (tom-toms). So imagine a whole bunch of people dancing to the FAST beat of drums and the dance being mostly focused on feet/leg movement. I started this dancing session with my normal approach “oh no, I’m not going to dance right now, I’m just watching… I need to learn how to dance, I’m just watching,” but somehow the atmosphere was truly contagious and everyone dancing and having an amazing time made me want to join in. When I was asked to dance by my cousin’s friend (another girl) I decided there was no time like the present that try to dance Senegalese and I dove right in. I’m sure I made a fool of myself but the wonderful thing about Senegalese culture is that they laugh at EVERYTHING but it’s never mean. Yes they laughed while I danced but I was laughing too, also, if I didn’t want to dance, I could just laugh at the person dancing and it’s actually more culturally acceptable than saying “no.”

So today I had my first REAL Senegalese party and it was a blast, but also very tiring. Oh- I learned a new goodbye saying I like…

A Prochain (aka until next time),

KO