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!