Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

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


Saturday, December 19, 2009


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

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

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

Ba suba,

Friday, December 18, 2009

Getting from one place to another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ba Suba,

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Daily Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ba suba,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And in the blink of an eye....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ba suba,

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Post Office and Pancakes

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

Ba Suba,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Artisan Expo

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


Monday, December 7, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ba Suba,