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!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The start of week two!

I'm a day into week two (I'm predicting it takes util about week 20 for me to stop counting) and everything's coming along. Yesterday was all about installing my modem so I could actually, finally, get the internet. I also went to the market and bought some margarine, two eggs, and something I think (and hope) is flour. I had the eggs for breakfast this morning and I'm still trying to clean the dirty pot - I think I'll be sticking to hard boiled for a while.

After the scrambled/burned eggs this morning (I'm still getting used to cooking on a gas flame... I make killer hot water though, you should try it if you're in the neighborhood), I sucked it up and did my laundry. Laundry is never a pleasant task if you don't have a washing machine (and sometimes even then it isn't fun), but here laundry is more of a spectacle... at least me doing laundry was a spectacle. When I told everyone last night that I was doing laundry today, they all got excited, I'm sure they said something like - oh this'll be good... she's going to make a fool of herself! Unfortunately, this was something like the tenth time I've done laundry in Senegal so it was quite a disappointment for my host family. Never fear, they still managed to critic it (your clothes aren't clean.) but as far as I'm concerned water and soap = clean.

I also found a boutique that sells Biskrem (see previous blog) in 10/11 packs. Briefly, Biskrem come in 2 sizes of packs: 4X4's (which only have 4 cookies and are actually called 2x2s but I called it the wrong name and have kept it) and 10/11 packs. My friends and I aren't exactly sure how many come in a 10/11 pack. I understand the solution seems simple, count the biskrems idiots, but each time I count, I forget. And I've stopped caring! All I know is that 4 Biskrems is never enough and 10/11 Biskrems is perfect! I had only seen 4x4s sold in Bambey but today I found a place to buy 10/11 packs! (Listen, yesterday I watched a goat jump on rocks for an hour, wandering around boutiques is quite an improvement.)

After doing laundry I went to find the woman I was suggested be my tutor. When I say find, I mean literally, walk down the street, stop, greet the first person, ask "where is Awa?" and continue from person to person getting a little closer each time until I'm at the right place. The tutor lives close so today it only took me 2 people! I'm going to start with 2 hours every Tuesday and see how it goes before increasing the hours of Wolof lessons. My Wolof is coming along, I still can't have a conversation with anyone and sometimes can't even respond to the standard questions. I'm getting good at recognizing words but sometimes it takes a little prompting before I remember what the word means and can form a response. Luckily for me the Senegalese are great at helping with gestures:
Senegalese woman: wolof wolof wolof wolof wolof doum?
KO: (thinking) crap... doum... I know that word... they're asking something about me.. but what is it.. jekker is husband... so that's not it...
Senegalese woman: (grabs her breast and shakes it at me) doum! am nga doum?
KO: Deedeet! amuma doum! (Thinking) that's right, doum, kids! of course!

Honestly that exact interaction has happened at least once the last 3 days... you would think I would remember the word but I have a lot of words to remember and "children" isn't on the top of my list.

Today, however, after much flipping through my vocab notebook, I was able to say to my host mom: Think you that if I go mayor office there, madame the mayor, be located she office there? Now?

Part of horrible state of those questions is because Wolof is structured, sometimes, to have the subject after the verb, but still, my Wolof is pretty much non-existent. Hopefully that changes soon!

As I would say in Wolof: I go sit my family now. After I dinner. After I regard tv. Tomorrow. God willing!
(I'm going to go sit with my family now then have dinner and watch tv, I'll blog again tomorrow, god willing).


Monday, October 26, 2009

Welcome to Bambey! Now you're on your own!

October 20, 2009
I’m here! I made it!!
The morning of the 19th I woke up really confused for some reason and convinced I was running late (I wasn’t). After a quick shower, I was reassured that the country director, who was installing me, hadn’t arrived yet, and I had time. I sent off a few emails and packed the last few things in my bags. When the CD arrived, we threw my stuff (not too much, I might add) into a PC 4x4 and headed off to Bambey! It’s not that far from Thies so the ride was pretty short. Just outside of Bambey, I called my counterpart to tell her we were almost there and she told me they were already at the prefect’s office to meet me (yay!). I was introduced to the prefect for the department (who said 2 PCVs have his mom’s name), the sous-prefect, and the gendarmie (aka police). After that I was taken to my house and everyone helped unload the car then… I was on my own! My new hfmom was there but no one else was so I told her I was going to go unpack and she left me on my own. After a little while I came downstairs for lunch and we had (really good) ceeb u jeen during which my new hfdad showed up. Both of my parents are pretty old (my hfmom told me so herself) their youngest daughter is in high school and they have “the national football team” of children (my hfmom’s response when I asked how many kids she has). After lunch I asked if there was a tailor I should use, my ancienne was really good friends with a tailor that I was planning on using and continuing to work with but I didn’t want to piss off my family this first time –turns out it’s the same person! I talked to Matar and he hung out with my hfdad and I for a while. Then my hfdad came with my to the Orange/Sonatel office to get internet installed which eventually unfolded into the most difficult thing I’ve done in Bambey so far (more on that later). After we got back, I unpacked a little more, and hung out with my family. For dinner we had beans and meat – I don’t know if they’re showing off, but the food has been pretty darn good so far. After dinner I said good night and went back up to my room for some more straightening (when you don’t have furniture you can straighten for hours) and to set up the bughut:
Because my ancienne had found me a(n amazing) new place, there’s only a (comfortable) mattress… which leads putting up a mosquito net difficult until the furniture comes. She also left me a bughut which is basically a pop-up tent of mosquito net. For someone who’s not really (and by that I mean never) a camper, the two bundles of spring loaded poles and large sack looking thing confused the hell out of me. I was debating just laying on the buy spray and sleeping with mosquito coils (they sell incense that supposedly works..?) but I wasn’t willing to risk it (even though I’m stellar with taking my malaria meds). I eventually beat the bughut and I’m currently typing from inside! It sounds silly but yesterday I had a lot going on and I just wanted to go to bed. Also, (you know you’re a posh PCV when you can make complaints like this) I can’t really feel my ceiling fan so it’s hot (sorry to all of those volunteers who don’t have electricity!). Supposedly I’ll have a bed by Thursday (probably not) so I’ll be sleeping under a breezy mosquito net in no time!
I was going to wake up early today to go for a bike ride but I wasn’t really able to sleep last night, so I stayed in bed until about 8:30 and did Pilates instead. I headed water on my gas and had oatmeal and coffee, showered, and headed off to start the day. I visited the post office to introduce myself, picked up a letter (thanks ML!!), and a package for my ancienne, then stopped by the Orange office.
So first, a disclaimer, I understand that most peace corps volunteers do not have the internet… there are a lot of volunteers in Senegal who don’t have the internet. I am in NO WAY complaining about that, I’m so happy, so so so happy, with my living situation. I love being a patron volunteer (patron = boss, wealthy families are described as ‘patron’). That being said, I’d done my research on the internet, I knew I needed to get a fixed line installed in my room then I would pay a flat rate each month for unlimited internet (which, theoretically if this is online, I’ve been successful). When I went to Orange yesterday they tried to sell me a phone line and a phone and told me I could buy credits for the internet. They said it was going to cost me the same for 100 hours as I knew other volunteers were paying for unlimited internet each month. When I asked if there was unlimited internet I was told that it wasn’t through Orange it was through another company and wasn’t available in Bambey. I quickly double checked with the closest volunteer and he told me I could get unlimited through Orange and that he would come tomorrow (today) to help me get it figured out.
This morning I got up to go to the post and wait for him in the Orange office (it’s next to the post), I was finally able to explain what I wanted (in the same words as the day before) but this time there was someone else around who knew what I wanted. They needed a passport so told them I was going to go home really quickly and be back. When I came back in 15 minutes (max) the boss told me he was too busy and I needed to come back tomorrow. I left, frustrated to say the least. I understand my Wolof SUCKS but my French isn’t bad, I can pretty much get anything across, there’s no reason to treat me like a 5 year old, especially not if I’m buying something from you and it’s a really formalized business. Part of my frustration is because I think he was treating me like this because I’m a woman. When I came back (against what he told me) with the other volunteer (a guy) he only spoke to the guy and directed all questions at him even though I was responding and I had explained what I wanted earlier. The other volunteer ended up helping me out and we got it worked out. Someone is supposed to come tomorrow to check what they’ll need to do to install the line and then I’ll go back and pay for it and eventually I’ll get the line and internet.
In addition, the other volunteer helped me get furniture (which I was being way overcharged for because the carpenter thought I wanted the highest quality of wood – hardly… give me something that’ll last for 2 years). I ended up getting the furniture I wanted at a really good price and the carpenter said it’ll be here Thursday… I’m thinking Monday, but I have my bughut in the meantime! I’m having a bed, table, and bookshelf (to hold clothes) made and painted black (patron volunteer… what did I tell you). I am SO thankful that he came today to help me out with everything and I promised I would do the same for his replacement next year.
Never fear! I will also be doing some work here! My counterpart (who’s kind of no-nonsense) gave me 2 days to move in and tomorrow we start meeting one person a day for the next month. I start with the Mayor at 3pm… we’ll see if she’s there, that’s usually lunch time, but who knows… I’m pretty pumped… a female mayor! I’m off to bed now, I’m going to try to get up early (again) for a bike ride – maybe this time I’ll be successful!

October 21, 2009
Day 3! I spent most of today with my family but still got some things done. It was a remembrance of 40 days since a family member had passed away so a lot of the extended family came over and we spent the day sitting. I tried to help cut onions for lunch but ended up just cutting myself (no worries, it’s a really small cut and I cleaned it thoroughly with filtered water and hibicleanse!). After lunch I was supposed to meet the mayor but she’s gone to Dakar so I went to Orange and paid for the line to be installed. Supposedly he’s coming tomorrow, or the next day, to install the line, then I’ll have internet (yay! After I pay for it). Tomorrow I’m supposed to meet the chief of the neighborhood and get my furniture, we’ll see what happens.
Today I was finally successful (depending on how you define it) at getting out for a bike ride. It took me a while to suit up and figure out how to attach my water (1 liter) to my bike) which doesn’t have a water bottle holder. Luckily my dad had the foresight to tell me to pack bungee cords (thanks Dad!) so I was eventually good to go! I left my house and headed as far from the market and center of town that I could. A toubab on a normal day is odd; a toubab on a bike wearing a helmet and bright red sunglasses (the only ones I have!) has got to be one of the weirdest things ever. I rode towards Diourbel but turned around after a few minute of riding because I didn’t have the patience to put up with the drivers (crazy) and dead animals on the side of the road. I kind of need to go to Diourbel soon so I’ll get out there and get over my dislike of the road soon enough. On my way back into town I decided to reward myself with a bottle of water (the tap water here is salty and you can’t cover that taste with anything, but citrus stuff works the best if you’re thinking about sending me drink mixes…). I sat and drank most of my large bottle while “talking” to the woman who sold it to me. Talking has really become “talking” in which I say the few phrases I know in Wolof and pretty much agree to everything unless it seems like someone is asking for someone in which case I just laugh. After a while I got up to head back, which should have been the easiest part of the ride – I was a 7 minute walk so on a bike, piece of cake… false. My bike emergency pack (which holds my stuff to fix my bike) slipped and caused my back tire to stop, so I got off to readjust it and was promptly SWARMED by boys asking me for water (I had water in both the purchased bottle and my nalgene). What I did next, I’m actually really proud of: I yelled at them for not greeting me. How dare they not greet me! It’s necessary to greet (this was in French) then I switched to Wolof, my name is Fatou, what’s yours? The boys were caught off guard and really embarrassed they had committed the biggest faux pas in Senegal, so they greeted me and introduced themselves… which only drew over MORE boys. The situation then crashed and burned and ended up with me practically being chased home by a pack of boys the whole time yelling in Wolof “I’m going home!” with them mimicking me. Don’t worry though, I was still able to shout greetings at all of the people I knew that I passed on the street (while being chased). I’m pretty sure someone eventually yelled at the kids because they didn’t make it all the way to my house. Needless to say, I found my reason to get up early in the morning and bike then, it comes in the form of 25 annoying, middle school aged boys.
Because I actually have a (really) good reason to get up early now, I’m off to bed early, hopefully I’ll fall asleep before the goats start bleating… not likely.

October 25, 2009
A few brief highlights – I haven’t been blogging much because the days have been a little frustrating, mostly because of the language barrier. In the past few days, however, I have officially moved into what I like to refer to as “Pottery Barn: Africa,” I’ve met the person in charge of my neighborhood, I’ve had some interesting interactions with my host family, and I’m HOPEFULLY getting internet tomorrow (I have the phone line, not the modem). So first off, my furniture is AWESOME. I have a table, nice 4-posted bed (for the mosquito net) and an armoire for clothes. For the icing on the cake, I had the carpenter (who made it all in 2 days – remarkable!) paint it black... yes, that’s right, I know live with snazzy furniture aka Pottery Barn: Africa. Also, the “chief” of my neighborhood (basically the person in charge of reporting to the mayor’s office) is a woman! I found out she’s one of the only women chiefs in the whole country! She seems really excited to work with me and today I was able to go to a meeting of all of the important people in my neighborhood which gave me a chance to introduce myself to a large group of people at once. I also had a really good conversation (in French) about possible GAD (gender and development) projects that I could start before tech training in January.
I rode my bike to Diourbel (the regional capital) on Friday and 25km each direction is REALLY far but I made it and back in a few hours! I’m pretty sure my host family is convinced I’m crazy because of that but whatever, I think almost everything I do makes them think I’m crazy… oh well… part of the Peace Corps is about teaching the Senegalese about American culture.
My Wolof is coming tutti ak tutti (little by little). I can typically tell people what I’m doing as long as I use the verbs: to go, to shower, to eat (there’s a different verb for each meal), to drink, to buy. I can also now kind of understand what people are telling, or at least get the gist of the conversation. Like yesterday I was able to figure out that as I left the lunch bowl my host mom said something along the lines of “eat! You’re not eating enough! If you don’t eat more you won’t get a nice big butt like mine! Eat!” To which I responded with a simple “oh I’m so full!!” you know, just the typical post-lunch/dinner interaction here!
God willing (another favored Senegalese phrase) I’ll have internet tomorrow morning.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Swearing In (part 2)

I was told last night, probably rightfully so, that my post on swearing in lacked any emotion so I'll fill that in right now. In my defense I wrote it while I was rushing off to the speakeasy.

First, I'll actually start with the speakeasy: As you may or may not know, Senegal is a very Muslim country and thus, most of the country, doesn't drink alcohol. Because of this most towns don't have bars (and if they did only creepy guys and prostitutes hang out there - that is actually true and I'm told is not an exaggeration). The really large cities, like Thies, have a few bars and even a disco (aka night club) but they're expensive on a PC salary and no one really wants to head into town when there's the speakeasy/beer garden practically around the corner. The place is a Catholic family's compound and they sell beers (Gazelle or Flag), red wine, vodka, gin, and soda. They keep their compound door locked and you have to knock to get in. Once you're in, it's the same guy sitting around the TV and one guy who gets up to sell the drinks. Other than that there are some plastic lawn chairs and a plastic table. You can also go onto the roof which is legitimately just the roof with a whole bunch of rebar wire sticking up from it. Last night, to make it a party, we bought a whole bunch of snacks and candles (to put around the wire so no one cute themselves), and we even got some balloons! We needed to submit a short description of each person in our stage to the PCSenegal newsletter so a few kids got together and wrote short, clever, kind of first impression-y kind of inside joke-y things about each person and we read those aloud last night. They were all clever and well put together (mine was short and sweet "KO- she is not Japanese," for those of you who don't know the story, in the states I was constantly asked if I was Japanese and it didn't help that my friends took to telling people I was. There are some Senegalese that also think I'm Japanese and my new host father didn't believe me when I told him I wasn't). After that we celebrated well into the morning with 600CFA beers, snacks, and an ipod with speakers.

Today I've already done laundry and I'm going to the Orange/Sonatel office in Thies to see if I can get an appointment to have my internet set up in Bambey early next week. There's a slight possibility they won't be willing to go out there and I'll have to go to Diourbel on Tuesday or that they won't do it because I don't know my address (which really shouldn't be too much of a problem, you think I'm kidding but the description of: you get off the road and you turn left off the main road, then right down the big dirt road then go straight then it's on the right, it's a two story house and there might be a black car out front, goes a long way here). The rest of my day will be packing slowly, maybe just organizing things to pack them tomorrow and hanging out with people before we all go our separate ways.

I keep joking with everyone here that I feel so different and already wise in the past few hours of being an actual volunteer and while that is far from actuality, there is a little truth in it. I still don't know anything about how to be successful with work projects here and I don't know much about the culture/language, but I'm feeling pretty happy about finishing the last 9 weeks. Everyone says PSTs the hardest part and there were times when it was really hard. Yesterday as we were riding in on the bus I had the feeling of "hey! I'm that white girl looking ridiculous in African clothes! I'm that Peace Corps Volunteer! this is awesome!" There also seems to be a sense of continuing tradition (we were told yesterday, a million times, how many volunteers Senegal has had and how we're carrying on their work, etc.

I'm really excited to get to Bambey and start working. The first 3 months are supposed to be focused on learning the local language and finding work partners. We haven't been given any technical training so there isn't much we can do in terms of starting our SED work. I might try to find some smaller projects to occupy my time but I'm supposed to hold off on the huge stuff until I understand more about the community. It seems daunting right now, to spend 3 months learning language and meeting people, but all of the volunteers who have already done it, told us it actually worked out fine. Mostly I want to get to Bambey and get my room set up and really move in. I think it's then I'll feel more like a volunteer.

I'm off to lunch and trying to get Internet now!


Friday, October 16, 2009

It's Official...

I'm a Peace Corps volunteer! Today was swearing in and thus, I am officially a volunteer!

The morning started bright an early at 7am as we loaded on to two buses to head to Dakar with our fancy police escort.... that consisted of a motorcycle but you know, it was fancy. We got to the ambassador's house and waiting for about an hour! During that time I had my head wrap tied (the pictures are up, please admire them). Eventually the ceremony started and, an hour and a half later, we were all peace corps volunteers (after taking an oath almost identical to the oath presidents take). Immediately after we went into the garden and enjoyed mini-hamburgers and other snack foods. Then we went to the office and filled out paperwork! Eventually we went to the American club which is basically a country club for ex-pats and hung out aroun d the pool before coming to Thies. We're off to the "speak easy" now (it's basically a Catholic family that sells liquor and lets us drink it on their roof) for a little party.

I'm really excited to be a volunteer and, even though not much changed today, I feel like it did! I'm ready to work and ready to get to Bambey... to the speakeasy first!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chicken Dinner!!!!

Tonight we had chicken dinner part two and it was AMAZING. The same 5 girls went to the chicken place (same from before), ordered our half chickens, and waited. About halfway through the meal a few other PCTs showed up - some guys that were doing the "Chicken Challenge" aka eating a whole chicken and fries and everything... intense. A few minutes after they got there, the power cut out, luckily, like any good Senegalese restaurant they were ready with candles and we finished our dinner by candlelight - romantic, no?

Today was full of LOOONNNGGG sessions but only one more day until swear in! Also, I had an issue with the pictures but they're actually up now!

Oh and thanks to everyone who's sending me mail!

More to come after swear in probably.


I posted more pictures from the Village, you'll find a lot of Thomas, some of my hfsisters, one of my hfmom, and some others (including one of the bathroom).


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Last time in village

October 6

Tonight is my last first night in village! Only 7 more nights for me in Village! Before I get to that, however, a note on our trip to Dakar. Yesterday we did a one day trip to Dakar to familiarize ourselves with the Peace Corps offices as well as to have a few meetings with people there. As we drove from Thies to Dakar, I saw everything I saw that very first day two months ago. It was a little different this time, though, because everything that shocked me the first time mostly seemed normal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m nowhere NEAR adjusted and I still feel like almost EVERYTHING is new, but it was a little comforting to not be anxious by the site of sprawling, dirty markets or the mass of people that is Dakar. I’m sure my first trip to Dakar alone will be HORRIFYING and exciting but this time it was a little comforting to not be completely intimidated by everything on the road like I was the first time I made that trip.

So here I am in village for the last time! It’s interesting because as everyone else in my training village is having increased problems with their host families (nothing too major, just little annoyances) I seem to be getting along better with mine. I won’t dare to theorize why because there are way too many variables, but things are going alright. In other news, I started Wolof today and I REALLY want to learn it. I think there will be plenty of work where Wolof is the easiest language to communicate in (working with women/girls who don’t have much schooling) so I want to make sure I’ll be able to do my best work. Also, let’s face it, it would be awesome if I could argue with vendors in Wolof, I’ll totally get more respect.

7 nights left!

A Prochain!

October 9

I haven’t been writing much because this village trip is kind of going the way as the rest, mostly uneventful. I’ve started learning Wolof which is both easy and hard, but it’s interesting and I’m starting to think that I really like languages… we’ll see how long that thought lasts. In other news, I’m picking up my swearing in outfit at the tailor tomorrow (we’ll see how it turns out). The tailor in village is a LOT cheaper than the tailors in towns and in Thies, but he also doesn’t seem to be that good… I’ll keep you posted and pictures will go up after swearing in. Also, I taught the girls in my house (7 and 6) how to play hopscotch. If anyone can think of good games for children that don’t require anything that wear them out PLEASE email me. Also, if they could be easy to explain that would be great considering I don’t speak any languages in common with these kids. I’m still holding myself back from posting about these kids, but let it be known that I’m trying. I’m trying to be friends with them but there’s only so much of kids staring at you, poking you, and saying your name while you’re clearly occupied doing something else that a person can take.

I’m thinking about making dinner for my family Monday (my last night in Village). I can’t really think of a good parting gift for them so I might just make dinner. It’ll be interesting if I do, imagine cooking dinner with practically no spices (except Maggi) and only non-perishable foods. If I cook it’ll be spaghetti with, hopefully, an “alfredo-esque” sauce (non-perishable cheese, margarine, powdered milk). I’ll keep you posted.

That’s really all that’s going on here, it’s HOT during the days, I can’t wait for the cold to come!

Ba suba (a demain/see you tomorrow),


October 12

I really haven’t blogged much this time in village because my days are highly repetitive: get up at 8, bucket bath, eat breakfast, go to class, take a break and eat a mayonnaise sandwich (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it), go back to class, sit at home, eat ceeb u jeen, go back to class, sit at home, bucket bath, watch tv, eat dinner, go to bed. Obviously there’s been a LOT of sweating involved – October is HOT.

Here are the few things that have happened:

My relationship with my hfmom has improved significantly because we can now communicate a little. I can tell her what I’m doing and I think she’s enjoying the new mutual language. Yeah, she knew what I was doing before when I came out with my bucket and gestured towards the bathroom. Now that I can tell her, though, she seems to like me more.

I’ve decided to make dinner tonight so we’ll see how that goes. I’m trying to make the alfredo-esque sauce so my ingredients are: spaghetti noodles, some non-perishable “cheese”, powdered milk, butter, flour, water, and garlic. We’ll see how it goes! More on that later.

Now, for the icing on the cake: The Village seems to be giving me the full goodbye! It started a few days ago with an increase in insects and other creepy crawlers but last night it (hopefully) culminated. My family turned off the TV relatively early so I was able to start drifting to sleep around 10:30 (usually it’s around midnight). Aside from the heat, I was having a relatively uninterrupted sleep until about 4am when I awoke to the sound of crinkling neck to my head. First groggy and half-asleep, I assumed it must be some sort of horrible insect digging through my clifbar wrapper (a girl’s gotta get her protein somewhere!)… oh what I mistaken… the good news is I scared my new friend the mouse as much as he scared me. We were in a standoff: the mouse trapped in my mosquito net unable to get out and me, now fully awake, standing outside of my mosquito net frantically looking for an answer. There I was, standing in disheveled pajamas (it gets really hot and everything is askew by 4am), wearing my head lamp, turned on, with the lights on, holding an empty liter and a half water bottle as protection. I decided to un-tuck my mosquito net from the furthest distance possible and, after I thought I heard my new friend get out of my bed, I poked at things with my weapon (aka the water bottle) just to double check. Luckily (I guess) the mouse ran by me, up the wall, across a ceiling beam, and out the slats between the room from where it came. I deposited my wrappers on the floor, turned the lights out, and got back into a (fixed and re-tucked) mosquito net. Trouble was, I couldn’t sleep…. So I did was seemed natural: texted AS and wrote in my journal. After a receiving a quick phone call (for which I am so grateful), I decided it was time to fall back asleep. Not willing to sleep unarmed, I also decided that sleeping wearing my headlamp (which was turned on) would be a good idea. I eventually got back to sleep (only to wake up to the slightest movement and turn my headlamp off) and was able to be, mostly, back to normal by class in the morning.

I’ve already packed most of my bags and condensed anything that might interest mice OUTSIDE of my mosquito net (actually far from my bed) so hopefully tonight brings peaceful sleep and no visitors. We’ll see! Off to make dinner (let’s hope it goes well).


PS the pasta turned out well, I’m back in Thies and CBT (community based training) is OVER!!!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pictures are up!

My pictures are finally up from the beach and some time at the homestay. Enjoy! I'm spending a quiet weekend in Thies and heading to Dakar bright and early tomorrow morning.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Counterpart Workshop, Day 2

So today was another day of the counterpart workshop and, even though it’s only halfway done, I feel like so much has happened. First off, I had yet another experience in Senegalese scheduling: we had to create a schedule for who I need to meet in Bambey after I get installed (I’ll officially be moving there the 19th Oct!) and the schedule consists of me meeting one person, each day, for a month… tres Senegalese (compared to American style of have as many meetings as possible and get them all done the first week). Second interesting Senegalese behavior, it’s killing me with how many languages they speak. Today a counterpart told us he spoke 4 languages: English, French, German, and Italian… no, he also speaks Serer, Wolof, Pular, and a little Mandinka…. Most Senegalese people don’t count their native language in the total of languages, compared to me who will probably always count Wolof as a language I know even if I forget it a month after getting home.

After speaking with my counterpart (who I have decided will be way more useful than my supervisor) I had that exciting first day of school feeling. Now, before you call me a nerd, let me explain: it’s that feeling of there being exciting things in the future, new things coming, but they’re not there yet, so the work level isn’t scary, annoying, or overwhelming. My counterpart really wants me to work with organizing the women’s groups and creating more concrete bylaws and rules so they function better. She also really wants me to create a girls group for girls that have dropped out of school. Hopefully I’ll be able to create a group like that as well as a group for girls in school. Mostly I’m really excited to get to work and get started! Back to the village tonight, but then I have a few days at the center with nothing going on. I’ve decided to take advantage of my off weekend by staying at the center, not going to Dakar. A break with worrying about nothing and lots of internet time will be amazing!

A Prochain!


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Homologues (Counterparts)

This is going to be a disjointed post, sorry about that, but that's kind of how my train of thought is right now.
Our counterparts are here and both my counterpart and supervisor seem to be nice people. They both seem really interested in working with womens groups and with girls groups which makes me very excited for the potential work opportunities. There is a hilarious possibility that I'll be helping write bylaws from some of the womens groups (I was bylaws chair for my sorority in college and I thought I had escaped it, oh how circular life can be). One of the curious things about Senegalese culture is, even though I've explained that I cannot speak Wolof yet, it doesn't seem to matter. Everyone speaks to me in Wolof, even after I say "Only French, not yet Wolof" or the million other ways to convey that message. The bizarre thing about language, however, is that some of the time, I can understand the general message of what they're trying to say with simple things.

Before the counterpart workshop, there was one Senegalese behavior that really bothered me: hissing. The Senegalese hiss when they want your attention. They hiss at each other, vendors hiss if they want you to buy something, children hiss before the say toubab or ask for money, you hiss if you want a taxi (somehow it works too). Today, I added another behavior to that list: snapping as you raise your hand to speak. During the counterpart workshop when the counterparts had something to say they would raise their hand, snap, and usually say "eh" or something. It's just bizarre.

Last night, I had my first bad run-in with Senegalese food. Looking back on the situation I should have known better: bread with tomato/onion/noodle sauce with flavorless fried dough balls was probably not a good choice. Oh well. It was a weird sandwich and, let's just say, we did not agree.

Oh well! Back to the counterpart workshop!