Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'll be home for Christmas

Happy Holidays Everyone! This might be my only blog from the States but I thought my journey back was worth a post.
I planned on leaving Bambey by 8am Monday because I had things to do in the Peace Corps office in the afternoon. My host mom helped me look for a donkey cart to take my baggage to the road so I could flag down a bus but we couldn’t find one. Eventually I walked to the market and got the first cart I saw. At a pace slower than I walk we headed back to my house. When we got there my host dad was starting his car and said to me in English, “I’m going to Dakar too put your stuff in the car.” When I told my host mom what was going on she was PISSED - not at me but because my host dad had just gotten back from Dakar the day before and hadn’t told her he was going back. I felt bad kind of picking sides but how can you turn down a free ride that will take half the time as the bus? We had to take a detour out of Bambey because the teachers and students had barricaded the national highway because the teachers were owed 6 months of paychecks.
We made it to Dakar in only a few hours and I was at the office on time. After the office I went back to the regional house which is bursting at the seams of volunteers leaving and volunteers waiting to pick up friends or family. There was another volunteer on my flight so we got take out Chinese food and just hung around repacking our bags.
I like getting to the airport early (not a surprise if you know my parents) so I convinced the other volunteer to leave the regional house at 4am. We went to the airport with two other volunteers going to Tanzania and found a cab pretty quickly. When we made it to the highway the cab pulled over and said that we had to get out because his car was broken but he would find us another car. We switched cars and made our way to the airport. At the airport we had our bags weighted (mine were under which was a good surprise) and then completely searched through. After most of the things were taken out of my bag they had to be put back in – which took time considering the number of presents I’m bringing home!
After checking in the other volunteer and I went through customs and security. Then we bought a juice and went to the special Delta gate which had… ANOTHER SECURITY CHECK! At this point we’d been through several and it was just humorous. Our carry-ons were searched, we had to drink our juices, we were pat down, then we were sent to another waiting room. Around 6:50am we boarded our flight and that’s where I am now. There’s a second Senegal PCV on this flight and one from The Gambia too. I’m currently about 4 and a half hours from JFK. Hopefully I won’t have any more blog-worthy adventures and will make it safely and quickly to Chicago.
I’m back! This time I’m blogging from JFK while waiting for my flight to Chicago. The flight before mine was cancelled because of bad weather but hopefully mine will get out alright. So a few things worth noting:

1. To get between terminals at JFK you have to walk outside. SURPRISE! I’m in flipflops and a shirt… and still defrosting but it was refreshing!

2. I look crazy because I’m so smiley and I’m thanking everyone.

3. Turkey sandwiches are amazing

4. Blue Moon’s are also amazing

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Alyssa and Katherine go to Diourbel: Pictures

For all of the pictures go to Alyssa's blog: http://alyssainsenegal.blogspot.com/ or her Picasa album http://picasaweb.google.com/alyssatitche/SoftballSeason#

but here are two kids with axes:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Alyssa and Katherine go to Diourbel

During the Artisan Expo Alyssa, Tamar, and I put in orders for wooden, "traditional", Senegalese chairs. The artist works in Diourbel which is 25km east of me. We sat in the chairs and described the coloring we wanted and the complete lack of a design EXCEPT we wanted "Corps de la Paix 2009-2011" on the bottom of the chairs. We wrote it all out and had a long conversation about how we needed to get the chairs by the 18th. Everything was agreed upon, we shook hands, and paid the down payment (half).

Everyday last week I called the artist and he seemed to be making great progress. He was sure he would be able to get all 6 chairs done for us to take on the 18th. When I called Thursday he said they would be done after 5pm. When I called Friday they would be done before noon!

Today Alyssa and I (because Tamar has already returned to the glorious America) met in Diourbel. We called the artist and he said to stop by after lunch. We ate lunch at pretty much the only restaurant in Diourbel and had bad sandwiches. Afterwards we went to the "artist village" which is a bunch of half build buildings and is 95% jewelery makers. After rounding several corners and following the sound of axes we found the wood working section... and we found an entire wood posse making our chairs! There were other people making other chairs which, it appears, you do by hacking away with an ax at a piece of wood then sanding a ton. All 6 of our chairs were being sanded by Mamadou (the artist), his father, and his brothers who ranged from in their 20s to 6 years old. The 6 year old was sanding a chair piece that was actually bigger than him. Mamadou gave us two other chairs to sit in away from the action in what seemed to be the pee corner... like where you go if you need to pee... or at least that's what it smelled like. Eventually he brought over a bottle of Sprite with two glasses for us which was really nice of him, we each drank a glass not to be rude then spent about 30 minutes trying to call over the 6 year old. Eventually he took the Sprite and shared it with the entire posse.

Once the sanding was done Mamadou came over with the bottoms of the chair (where we wanted the carvings) and asked us to write what we wanted. After writing it on one he took a chisel and started hacking away. We then wrote it on all of the bottoms and he hacked away at all of them. While they were varnishing/tinting the chairs with shoe polish Alyssa and I took a stroll around the market to get empty rice sacks to put our chairs in. When we came back we were able to take in the full multi-generational scene that seems to be the Diourbel artist village. It seems like under 10 years old you're allowed to sand and carry things. Once you're over 10 you're allowed to swing an ax uncontrollably at a log. 10-15 it looks like you can hack away at the big pieces and older than 15 you're doing the more artistic hacking, the finishing touches if you will.

Once our chairs were finished we paid for the rest and were on our way! Mamadou put us in a cab to the garage where Alyssa and I parted ways (until post-America time!). I got into my "mini-bus" which is an old conversion van with WAY too many seats. We left Diourbel with 19 people in the car and my chair pieces (they break down into 2 pieces) in an open rice sack on the roof. I spent the first half of the ride watching for chair pieces to fly off the roof and impale donkeys on the side of the road. Once we hit the halfway point I got distracted - the door next to me flew open while we were driving but NO WORRIES! it was closed again. Then, 10km, from Bambey we loaded up with people... by my count we had 21 people in the car and 5 people hanging off the back.

I'm back safely (with all of the chair pieces) and the chairs fit into my suitcase! I have 1 last girls' group meeting tomorrow. Monday I'm off to Dakar and to America Tuesday - send positive thoughts about the weather to New York and Chicago!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy New Year's!

Tonight is New Year's for the Muslim calendar aka Tamkharit in Senegal! Unlike most holidays this one is pretty low-key... there was even school this morning! Forgetting it was Tamkharit I scheduled a meeting for this afternoon but I had 32 students show up which added another 3 Junior Achievement classes to my schedule starting in January - I'm now over 100 students (and that's only at two of the 4 schools).

But back to the holiday!

For dinner we ate Senegalese couscous, chicken, and tomato sauce. As we sat down to the bowl they asked if I wanted a spoon then explained that everyone usually eats with their hands on Tamkharit so I dived in! Eating couscous isn't all that hard - just a little messy. After dinner the kids put on a ton of random clothes - some cross dressing, some just in ridiculous outfits - and put on whiteface. Then they got drums they had made earlier in the week and are marching around house to house kind of trick-or-treating. I bought a bag of candy earlier today that my family is giving out along with some cookies they bought.

Happy Tamkharit Everyone!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Artisan Expo!

I've been in Dakar for the last few days to the Artisan Exposition. Every year artists, who work with PCVs, travel to Dakar and have a two-day exposition/market. This year Alyssa was the expo chief and I was her runner/helper. She did an AMAZING job putting the expo together. The artists were from all over the country and sold: wood sculptures, silver jewelery, beaded jewelery, cloth bags, clothing, art work, traditional crafts, and a variety of other things. The first day the artists sold from 10am-5pm.
The second day the expo started with a training for the artists while volunteers sold for the artists. During the expo the artists created a network and elected a board to run the network. Theoretically they will be able to start planning and eventually take over the planning for the expo. After the network was created there was an instant increase in comradery and togetherness with the artisans. They started buying things from each other and collaborating on projects. Matar, my tailor/artist, is working with a leather artist to leather handles on some bags.
Another huge success of the expo was in the marketing. Usually notices are sent out by people who work in the office but this year Alyssa and I decided amp it up a little. We put flyers all around downtown Dakar hoping that it would attract some new clients... and it totally did! We had some people fill out surveys and most of the clients said they heard about the expo from our flyers downtown. One woman owns a boutique, heard about the expo from the flyers, and ended up buying a ton of stuff to resell. At the end of the expo we totaled the amount sold and this year we had tripled last year's expo total! Overall it was a HUGE success!
In addition to a great expo, we spent the weekend making delicious meals! The first night we made amazing taco salad, that was followed with bacon mac and cheese (made from Velveeta my mom sent), then Tamar and Alyssa made brisket and latkes, and last night we had pasta with an arrabiata sauce.
I'm at the training center in Thies right now to give a presentation this afternoon and then back to site! After that it's only a few days until I'm off to the US! I'm trying to load up the next few days with things to be busy so they don't drag on. I'll post my pictures from the expo tonight or tomorrow when I'm back at site.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All Volunteer Conference

Last weekend was the annual All Volunteer Conference (or all vol for short) when Peace Corps Senegal (about 200 volunteers) descends upon one city (this time Thies) for a weekend of learning and sharing. The sessions were interesting but I think what happened outside of sessions makes for a more interesting blog!

The night before all vol I stayed at Jackie's in Pout and we had a nice Mexican fiesta (vegetarians taco salad) and enjoyed trashy tv. The next morning dinner became breakfast (fiesta omelet) and we were off to Thies!

For the first night of Hanukkah the Jewish volunteers lit a menorah while drinking in the Catholic compound next to the training center - how about that for sharing cultures! Another night we had a HUGE trivia game with most of the volunteers - my team was second by 1 point.

For the final night of all vol, my friends and I treated ourselves to a lovely Massa Massa dinner. After dinner we went to the bumper cars. Yes. Thies has bumper cars. It's run by a Lebanese guy and mostly filled with Lebanese teenage boys while Senegalese kids stand around the outside and watch. Most of the cars are broken and hard to drive - for example, I had a car that only went backwards - but it was a hilarious time.

I'm now back at site getting some work done before the Artisan Expo which is this weekend in Dakar. Alyssa, Tamar, and I have been working on creating an eating plan that includes: mexican, mac and cheese, Shabbat dinner, breakfast sandwiches, and a romantic sunset date with shellfish.

I hope everyone's enjoying the cold and listening to Christmas music!


Tuesday, November 30, 2010


It's been a while since I had a run-in with my contention with curtsying but yesterday brought another battle.

I was at the department of education (where I've gone almost every week for the past few months) to organize some Junior Achievement classes. There's usually a group of men (teachers or administrators) sitting under a tree past the door so, like usual, I greeted them as I was walking into the building. They asked me to come back to them and this was the conversation we had:
"In our culture when a woman like you sees a group of men like us, you walk over and greet us personally and curtsy."
"I'll greet you all personally (then I did) and I'll ask you about your day (and I did) but I won't curtsy."
"You have to curtsy."
"I'll curtsy when you curtsy for me."
(some of the men laughed)
"Men are always the chief. They are always in of a family so that is why you must curtsy to me."
"This isn't a family, this is a place of business - a government organization."
"It doesn't matter. Men are always superior to women."
(At this point I was using all of my self-control) "Well, those may be your beliefs but I think they're wrong."
"No, men are always superior. And you're not being culturally respectful."
"I've lived here a year, I've made an effort to learn Wolof, I wear respectful clothing, and I participate in your culture but I won't curtsy unless you show me the same respect."
From there the conversation became about Senegalese food and whether or not I could cook any until I got away to go to my meeting.

I completely understand, and try very hard, to be culturally respectful - to a point. I will not start a meeting 2 hours late because that's a cultural norm. I will not pay people to attend a training I'm giving because they expect it. I won't curtsy to anyone because it is meant to put women in their "inferior" place.

In other news, I'm off for the All Volunteer Conference! Have a good (early) weekend!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving: Part 2

Happy belated Thanksgiving and happy start of the Christmas season! My Thanksgiving holiday kicked off with marketing for the Artisan Expo. Alyssa and I walked around downtown handing out flyers to restaurants, hotels, and businesses downstairs. The big coup of the day was when we walked into the European Union building and, using Alyssa's Wolof, convinced the guards to let us leave a flyer and a pamphlet. During the next week our awesome publicity materials should be posted on www.pcsenegal.org so check it out this week to see if it gets posted.

The night before Thanksgiving the 2nd year volunteers made chili and cornbread (which Alyssa and I made from scratch without a recipe and it was AWESOME) for the new volunteers. We all ate chili and had an awesome welcome party for the new Dakar region volunteers (they arrived in August so our party was a little late). We also voted on our WAIST costume theme... but I'm going to keep that a secret until WAIST in February!

On Thanksgiving morning Alyssa, Erin, Jackie, Brian, Tamar, and I went to Nicole's house to use her oven (there were a lot of people needing to use the oven at the regional house). We made an amazing breakfast with eggs, toast, bacon, and cooked vegetables. The rest of the day was spent hanging out and cooking, it was really great to have a real kitchen to use and be able to spend a relaxing time with friends. Brian made brownies and brownies with peanuts while the rest of us made a huge dish of squash casserole and another of homemade stuffing. After cleaning ourselves up a little (which I have to say we do well) we went to the Ambassador's and joined 40 other volunteers for an AMAZING Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone had brought a ton of sides, mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, green beans, cranberry sauce, pasta salad, homemade bread, and a ton of other stuff along with 3 turkeys and desserts galore. It was so great to have a normal dinner and get a 2 hour break from our normal lives - it was a really holiday. After dinner some of us took a walk over to the Meridian hotel and got a nice drink before heading back to the regional house.

The next morning I was up and back to site! Yesterday I caught up with Matar about artisan expo things and took stock of the work he has left to do before the expo (Dec 11-12). The volunteer from Diourbel was in town with her counterpart so I visited with her for a few hours - they're doing interesting work with solar ovens and were giving a training in my town to try and sell them.

Today I had a girls' group meeting that, unfortunately, only 3 girls showed up for but we made friendship bracelets and I asked them some questions about the girls' camp to help with our planning of future camps.

Happy Holiday Season Everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving: Part 1

Today was Thanksgiving in Bambey! My parents had sent me two cans of cranberry sauce which paired nicely with the mashed potatoes I made. I would have made more if it was possible but there isn't much in the market these days (also it all had to be cooked over a burner).

Before dinner (because I couldn't think of a better time), I peeled potatoes and then cooked them in my room (so I didn't use up my host family's gas burner). I took the potatoes downstairs when they were done cooking and I mashed them (and added salt, butter, and powdered milk) while they prayed. After prayer time I opened the cranberry sauce (that had been chilling in the fridge) and Youssou came in to check on what I was doing. He sampled the potatoes then carried out spoons for everyone else. I cut the cranberry sauce, along the lines of the can obviously, and followed with the food. Everyone really liked what I made, I think they ate most, if not all, of it. My host mom asked if I used a machine to get the potatoes like that and when I responded, "No, I used this fork," they were impressed (I overcooked the potatoes so they were really easy to mash).

I tried to explain that we eat a turkey with a whole bunch of side dishes but I think it translated into we eat turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and lots of vegetables... which is sort of right. Everyone ate the cranberry sauce into the mashed potatoes so, unintentionally, they got the awesomeness of when things mix together on your plate.

Tomorrow I go to Dakar for some work, a welcome party for the new (arrived in August - we're a little late) volunteers, and real Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


What do you do when faced with a few pieces of ram stomach, some bites of boiled potato, an oily broth, and a piece of bread? I opted to eat the stomach with the potato then conquered the broth with the bread. It's Tabaski leftover time!

The stomach soup was, not surprisingly, not the highlight of my day though. This morning I was sitting downstairs reading when the neighborhood kids realized they could see me through the open door and talk to me without coming into the house. They started chanting my name, asking me to come outside because they had something to show me, and then telling me they loved me. I normally would be nicer to neighborhood kids except everyone is running wild after a week without school. Every time I leave my house I get harassed with demands for money, a soccer ball, called names - everything. Also I've realized that I only enable kids when I give them attention for things like this... if you give a mouse a cookie. Eventually, Miss became annoyed with them chanting my name so she went out to tell them to leave. This caused them to momentarily scatter... but they returned. Adji (the 12 year old) went out to tell them to leave but they ignored her so she, all on her own, got a pitcher of water to throw at them. After enjoying the hilarity of the situation (my 12 year old host sister was sticking up for me against a whole bunch of 8 year old boys) I went out. "What do you want to show me?" they responded with giggles and silence. "Okay, if you don't have anything to show me or anything to ask me, you need to leave." Khady (the 3 year old) emphasized with a "go! get out!" It didn't really stop the kids.

I decided, regardless of the success of the mission, I would reward Khady and Adji for helping me out. My parents sent me bubbles a while ago and I'd been looking for a not-awkward time to bring them down. After realizing what they were Adji quickly hid hers in her room (that she shares with her mom and sister) while Khady was AMAZED. After having me blow bubbles for her, she tried to do it on her own. Unable to master the skill she had everyone else blow bubbles for her while she cheered and pointed out the bubbles. Eventually she spilled most of it but had enough left that, when she filled the bottle with water, it still worked.

This evening she brought her bottle out again and sat on Miss' lap trying to blow bubbles. Every time she would get one she would chant, "I can do it! I can do it!" or "look! I did it!" She also took turns having us blow bubbles for her. Mom and Dad, thanks for the bubbles - they were a huge hit.

If anyone wants the recipe for stomach soup I'm sure Miss will share!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tabaski: Year 2

Happy Tabaski Everyone! I'm going to try and explain the day as well as I can, I'll warn you it might be a little gruesome and the pictures that I'll post tomorrow are a little gory.

The day started around 8am when the mosque started calling. Eventually at 9am men from allover town had gathered in the open space at the end of my block. I later found out that on Tabaski, the religious leaders pick a few large open spaces instead of having everyone to crowded mosques. The men prayed and, as uncomfortable as I felt for watching them (which I barely did anyway), it was amazing to see all of the men and boys in their brightly colored boubous. While the men were praying the women were at home waiting. Around 9:30 Miss brought out a giant bucket filled with onions and another bucket to put the chopped onions in. Everyone started cutting. Senegalese women cut onions in their hands but, as an American who was raised with a healthy concern of knives, I requested a plate to act as a cutting board. Everyone said what I was going made sense and we all chuckled remember last year when I cut myself trying it their way. By the time the onions were done the men were back and it was sheep killin' time. We had 3 sheep (one for Mor, his older brother, and his younger brother - Miss' husband). Youssou led the sheep into the street and around the corner from the house while the women waited inside. After killing the sheep and letting them bleed out, they were returned into the "drive-way" area under my window and set on pieces of scrap metal. About this time Mor's brothers showed up and brought a ton of soda, bissap juice, bread, tomatoes, and peppers.

After sheep killin' time, it's sheep butcherin' time. We actually hired a butcher to come and help with all of that. Taco (Miss' husband) cut a slit in the leg of the sheep and then used a piece of tubing to inflate the sheep separating the skin from the organs. Then the sheep were skinned one at a time. After a sheep was skinned it was hung on the garage door and the butcher basically played pinata with a machete. He was hacking away parts and throwing them into buckets while Khady (the three year old) stared at the gruesome scene and squealed in delight.

While the sheep were being butchered the women (myself included) skinned potatoes and prepped the rest of the vegetables.

As soon as the animals were butchered the cooking began! First comes the liver (which sounds a lot better when you call it fois). Liver is grilled then eaten with onions and mustard. While Miriam grilled the liver and then the ribs, my host mom was working on the onion sauce for later in the day, Miss was cleaning EVERYTHING, I was peeling potatoes then helping Miriam cut meat, Aisha was cutting the larger pieces of meat into cookable pieces, Youssou was cleaning up the blood, and the men sat outside playing scrabble drinking sprite. At one point in this cooking madness everyone heard what sounded like my host dad calling my host mom from outside the house all of the women looked at her and she said, "I didn't hear anything... did you?" and everyone obviously agreed with her.

After the liver comes ribs and kababs (which Miriam and I put together). Once the first batch of kababs was finished the women and Youssou sat down/crouched around a platter to eat. Overcooked mutton isn't the best but mixed with grilled onions and mustard it isn't bad. I finished eating first and they let me take over for cooking the kababs - which isn't that impressive because they overcook everything so I just sat and watched them cook to far overdone.

Khady had been watching me all day and finally decided that if the women let me cook, or at least help, I must not be all that bad so she took to hanging on me when everyone else was annoying her/actually cooking. She led me around the house and then she pretended to hit me, eventually she was sent to do something else and I went upstairs to digest.

At some point after 4pm the main meal was ready (meat, onion sauce, fries, and bread) but luckily I wasn't called to eat... I don't think I could have at that point. Eventually it became time to put on my nice new dress. I had gone to the market and in a moment of confusion bought a polka dotted fabric. ugh. Then I asked Matar to turn it into a dress that looked like it had no shape... basically a recipe for attractiveness BUT WAS I EVER WRONG! The "shapeless" dress was TIGHT like Senegalese women like their clothes - I was worried it was going to burst every time I sat down or moved too quickly. A girls' camp/group girl had called me yesterday and asked if I could visit her so I was prepping to visit her. While I was putting in my contacts (hey it's the biggest day of the year!) the power cut. I had a Laura Ingles Wilde moment while putting on make-up (even though I don't think she wore eyeliner) and made my way downstairs. My host mom was really concerned with me going in the dark to visit someone so she sent Youssou along. He scared away some kids that were making fun of me...and then realized I was lost. We called the girl and she talked to Youssou and found us (I wasn't that lost - just one block past her house). By this time the power had come back on.

Youssou, who's normally the bottom of the ladder, was my guest/a guest of the house and it was nice to see him get a chair and be offered water (usually he's the one getting things for other people). I got to talk to the girl's older brother (who had convinced her parents that they should let her come to the camp). I'm glad I got to talk to him while his sister was around because he was thanking me for the work I did and I was able to say (loudly so she heard me) that I wasn't doing anything and that it was all his intelligent, hard working sister. It was even better to hear him acknowledge all of that (usually people just ignore when I compliment their kids/siblings). After a while there, Youssou and I returned to our house talking about the rebels in the southern part of the country (fyi - I'm sneaking him a pudding cup for coming along).

Because my household is mostly women who spent the entire day working everyone was tired and there wasn't much going on. After chatting with my host family for a little bit I came upstairs and here we are!

Everything smells like meat and we'll be eating these 3 sheep for the next 3 months BUT I had a really good holiday. Happy Tabaski everyone!


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Preparations: Beauty

Today Tabaski preparations were all about beauty! Over the past few days everyone has gotten rid of their weaves and let their braids go...all to get ready for NEW WEAVES! The fun actually started a few days ago: Miss and Aisha (Khady's mom) got their hair done a few days ago; yesterday my host mom had her braids taken out. Today's day of beauty started with Adji (the 12 year old) getting her new braids trimmed (the loose hairs had to be cut off). Then it was Khady's turn...her braids had been taken out yesterday so she had an adorable little fro. Miriam is the expert braider in our household so she sat in a plastic chair with Khady on a stool. The second a comb touched Khady's hair she started SCREAMING. She was writhing and Miriam had to hold her in place with her legs but it all finally stopped when Miriam gave up. During lunch everyone told Khady that she should get her hair braided and that she would be really pretty. Eventually Miriam was able to braid Khady's hair this afternoon. This evening Miriam and Ndeye went to get their hair relaxed before getting their weaves tomorrow or the next day.

More Tabaski preparations tomorrow I'm sure!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Are you preparing for the holiday?

I've been asked a LOT recently if I'm preparing for the holiday so eventually I asked what that entailed and no one could give me a direct answer. I've noticed, though, that there is a real festive mood that I didn't notice last year (possibly because last year, Tabaski was the day after Thanksgiving so I was a little distracted). Mor hasn't bought our Tabaski ram yet - I thought he had but it was just another sheep not the special one. He did explain the important things to consider when buying a Tabaski ram. According to him:
-God didn't set a price range, just that you spend what you can
-The sheep must be a male and must be at least 1 year old (so it's not a lamb)
-1 and 2 year old sheep are preferred because their meat is more tender
-A ram loses 2 teeth a year so you check how many teeth a ram has before buying it to make sure you're paying for the right aged ram
-Color and horns don't really matter - size is a way to show off your wealth

So there's a short guide for buying a Tabaski ram for those of you who still need to! The holiday this year will be Wednesday and school is out for the break. The students get a full week of classes off and only went on strike for one extra day off. I'm impressed they only demanded one extra day - usually they take another week or so off on strike.

More about holiday preparations tomorrow!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Tabaski!

Tabaski and the meat overload it brings is around the corner! Our Tabaski sheep have arrived and are happily living in the pen behind out our house. Tonight we had a huge sack of onions delivered to make enough onion sauce to feed the entire town. The holiday is the 17th and everyone is getting ready!

In other news, I received approval from the Department of Education to start teaching business classes again - this time at all 3 middle schools. Though I'd like the classes to start ASAP, which in Senegalese terms means January after the holidays.

And a little story for you:
Today we were eating lunch (ceeb u jen like normal) and I was sitting next to the three year old. While everyone either eats with their hand or a spoon (and doesn't change between their preferred method), Khady switches on a daily basis. Sometimes she eats with her hand and sometimes she eats with a baby spoon. Regardless of how she's eating she normally only eats hoyn which is the crunch rice scrapped off of the bottom of the pot. Like normal, my host mom was dividing up everyone fish and vegetables (she rips off pieces for us while we eat the rice). About halfway through my meal of fish, rice, and some carrot, Khady reached into my section and grabbed a piece of carrot. Everyone was silent waiting to see how I would react. Khady immediately realized that she had committed a HUGE faux pas and put the carrot back in my section. I thought it was pretty funny so I started chuckling and everyone else relaxed and saw the humor. I gave Khady the carrot back but she was still too afraid to eat it. Everyone around the bowl told her she could eat it and that I, as her friend, had given it to her. After finishing what I wanted to eat, I left the bowl. When I looked back the first thing Khady did was eat the carrot.


Sunday, October 31, 2010


I didn't have a girls' group meeting today because I promised a really exciting meeting next week.... and that's where there's a problem. I'm not really a crafty person and was obviously not a good girl scout so I am LACKING for ideas. Sure, I have a ton of development/discussion topics but I don't have any fun activities. So! If you have any ideas for any kind of activity/art/craft/project ANYTHING, please leave them in comments or email me! Send it even if it requires a lot of craft-like things.. Bambey doesn't have a craft store but I might be able to find substitutes!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Senegalese Locksmith: Part 3

Today I had what I thought would be the third part of making things right after losing my keys - I had to get a new key to my post box. Now, usually the post office is minimally helpful. If I need something done, they'll do it but only to the least extent they have to (as an aside, this isn't different than most businesses in Senegal). I went in this morning and explained the situation... and was told to come back at 3pm then I could have a new key - easy enough!

At 3pm I showed up at the post office and the guy who I had talked to earlier went to get his boss/the head of the post office (who apparently doesn't work mornings). The guy started yelling at me in Wolof for losing my key. I made him switch to French. He yelled some more about making me lose my key. As the good fake-Wolof I am, I started yelling at him about how I needed him to give me a key. Then he yelled that he couldn't give me a key. So I started yelling, "so it's done? forever? that box is closed forever? it can never be opened again?!" and he didn't disagree. So I told him I wanted to buy a new box and that really set him off. He COULDN'T have me pay for a new box because I would ABSOLUTELY lose the key again then I would come back and get another box and lose the key and keep doing all of that until I had lost all of the keys for all of their boxes.

Refusing to acknowledge his offensive, patronizing manor for losing a stupid key (which, fyi, I think those might have been the first set of keys I've ever misplaced in my life) AND refusing to get into a discussion of his poor business skills - JUST SELL ME ANOTHER BOX. I yelled at him for being ridiculous. While we'd been yelling back and forth like good Wolof people, we'd created quite a scene and everyone in the post office (all 5 people) were paying attention and laughing along. I finally told him that if he wasn't going to give me a new key or box, I was going to make the people at the post office check my box for me whenever I wanted to know if there was something. I gave him the ultimatum of, "I can do the work or you can do the work," and that drove him into the back office...

...only to come back with a spare key for my box! He patronized me for losing the key a little more and I told him I was going to make 5 copies of the key and give them all back to him. I paid my 1000cfa ($2) and strutted out with my new key. Bambey does not have a place to copy keys so this weekend I'm going to make a ton of copies of the key and put them all in my mailbox for the people at the post office to see!


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Senegalese Locksmith: Part 2

I woke up bright and early Saturday morning because I had a list of things to accomplish! Alyssa and I had a meeting in Dakar and I needed to leave by 10am to make it on time. I went to the hardware store and bought the best lock I could find aka the only lock she had. Next, I visited my good friend Babacar and gave him the lock. He was eating his bean sandwich so I told him to finish his breakfast then come over and repair my door. Eventually he reinstalled the new lock which involved gluing the pieces of door that had been chipped off the night before back to the larger door frame. By 9:15am I had a new lock and 3 new keys! I immediately grabbed my bag for Dakar, locked my fancy new lock, gave a key to Awa to give to my host mom (who was at the market), and hit the road!

Alyssa and I had a good meeting and things with the Artisan Exposition are moving along. It's kind of odd that a year ago I had no idea what was going on and now I'm one of the people planning it. After the meeting, we played some softball on the Peace Corps team (there's a league that runs until WAIST the big, costumed, tournament in Feb.). We both played the entire game (her as 2nd base, me as catcher) and had a few good hits. After softball we had a wonderful dinner (thai salad and a vegetable stir fry), then met up with other volunteers at a bar. After the bar we all headed to 'da club' which ended up being OUR club... because we were the only people in it. Eventually 4 middle aged Indian businessmen showed up and hit the dance floor when the theme song from Slumdog Millionaire came on. After a night of dancing - which was really fun because it was like we had a private party - we went back to the regional house which was gloriously empty.

The next morning we had breakfast and headed home. I had a meeting with my girls' group and fell asleep pretty early - travel always makes me tired. The key saga will hopefully end tomorrow: in addition to my room key, I lost the key to my mailbox and tomorrow I try to get a new one!

Wish me luck!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Senegalese Locksmith or Why Miriam is my Favorite Host Sister

Today I went for a really good long run. I ran about six miles and came home EXHAUSTED. Then I realized that my key had fallen out of my pocket during my run. Somewhere. Miriam volunteered to walk the whole way back and look for my key which was helpful because I run without my glasses and couldn't really see anything. After re-walking the 6 miles we came home without a key. My host dad offered to let me sleep in the extra bedroom but I was disgustingly sweaty from running and really wanted to get into my room. Eventually the carpenter came and broke into my room! It mostly involved him chipping away at the lock with a chisel and hammer but I got in my room! Tomorrow I'm getting a new lock and giving a spare key to my host mom immediately!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Girls Scouts: Senegal Style

I was a girl scout (technically a brownie) when we lived in Texas. As you can see, I wasn't a very good Girl Scout (there's disagreement over whether I never earned a merit badge or if they just didn't make it onto my sash):

Regardless of my poor performance as a Girl Scout, I really do see the importance of women and girls in development. In the US women's groups when done correctly (girl scouts, sororities, book clubs - you name it) can have a million positive impacts on the lives of the members (I consider myself among the lucky with my amazing sorority). Internationally, these groups have a lot of potential, so I believe, at changing the members but also doing development work. The girls' camp was a great week but I'm not willing to let it end there so I invited all of the Bambey campers to my house for a meeting today. After chatting about the camp (they all emphatically claim they've done yoga since the camp), we got down to business. I asked if they would like to have a girls' group for the school year, we would be doing the same sort of things that the camp did just for a couple hours a month instead of compacted. Everyone wanted in! When I asked who they wanted it to be, just them or invite their friends, they all agreed that it should just be the girls who went to the camp. While I don't agree with their exclusivity, I told them it was their group and they could decide - and I'm going to suggest we open it up at the start of the year to new members. We then elected a board for the next 3 months (that's what we decided a term would be), and ended up with a tie for President. The two presidential candidates decided to split the term (they wouldn't agree on being co-presidents, "that just can't happen!").

Next we talked about my big, kind of a long shot, dream project: doing a 3-day day camp for younger girls and having these girls act as the counselors. They thought I was crazy but they loved the idea! When I told them that I would organize it all but would expect them to teach the classes they all started talking at once. I admit, the project has a huge chance to never get off the ground or, if it does start, blow up in my face. Having 10 middle school girls teach a camp to 9 year olds? Crazy! But if it worked, it would be amazing and, for that reason, I have to try.

While I do my behind-the-scenes organizing work for these day camp, the girls' group (what I'm calling my girl scouts) is moving forward! At the end of our first meeting, after agreeing the next would be next week, same time, same place, I tried to explain "kudos" to them. At the end of every meeting, my sorority would have time for "kudos," it was basically a time to go around and give people props for awesome or nice things they had done during the week. They always ranged from, "congrats so and so on getting your internship" to "I was having a crappy day on Monday and so and so cheered me up - thanks." It was a positive way to end a meeting. Well, the girls didn't pick up kudos today, but I wished them all good luck (the first actual day of school starts tomorrow!) and I'm going to try with the kudos again next week.

In other news, I totally won over the 2 or 3 year old that now lives in my house! I let her play with my hair, then she held my hand and not her sister's (who's maybe 10) when we went to get me light bulbs (I'm not exactly sure they the kids had to accompany me down the street but I appreciated it). Khady (the little one) then sat on my lap while I read. We're besties now.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Happy Anniversary Fall 09 Stage!

Today marks one year since I became an official Peace Corps Volunteer! Congrats to everyone who made it this far! I'm celebrating tonight with a can of chili and some wine (thanks parents)! In real news:

There was a Staples or Office Depot commercial a few years ago with a dad walking through the aisles of the store singing "it's the most wonderful time of the year" as he bought school supplies. That commercial typifies how I feel about the start of a school year. I LOVE school supplies, the start of a new school year, and everything involved. I had to take my scholarship girls shopping for school supplies and was a little worried that it wouldn't compare (there is almost no comparison between Target and the market in Bambey). It turned out to be amazing though! Before shopping, we made a list of everything they needed and then I gave them the 15000cfa they had each won (for having the best grades). I explained that, while the money needed to go towards school supplies, it was their money to spend - I was just going to collect receipts. As we walked through the market, the girls would pick stores, ask the price, and then either buy something or leave. At one point a girl needed to buy a backpack and she searched stall after stall for the right one. At one point the turned and apologized to me but I explained that I was more than happy to be there with her. Later in the day, when buying calculators, the girls told me the price and asked for my approval to buy them - when I told them that it was their money, not mine, their pride was visible. I kept remind them that they earned the money with their hard work and I think everyone had a great time.

I've also spent this week going around to the schools re-introducing myself and talking a little bit about projects I want to do. Everyone seems receptive but they're swamped with school opening and need me to come back. Last year I was timid in getting my projects started and it took a while. I'm learning from my mistakes and hoping to get working soon!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful fall!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Full House

Yesterday there were only 6 of us in the house. Today there are 11. School's starting back up so Miriam is back (and I think Ndeye should be back soon as well). A distant family member has decided to move in (lots of gossip behind that) and she brought 2 kids and another younger woman who might have also been a daughter. Lamine (my "new" host brother) is going back to Algeria tomorrow and Awa (who just got her high school diploma) is leaving to study there at the end of the month. Youssou had his first day of school so the summer vacation really is over!


Monday, October 11, 2010


First let me apologize for not blogging in forever. I was in Dakar for my mandatory mid-service medical appointments (all's well) and the power situation has been horrible. Senegal ran out of gas. I'm not joking, the country didn't have gas. Everyone was driving on what reserves where left and when people (who normally cook over gas tanks) ran out, they had to use firewood. Luckily the gas boat docked and the situation seems to be temporarily solved. Now on to today's actual blog:

I went to Thies this morning to get lunch with Jackie and Elizabeth for Elizabeth's birthday (happy birthday!). Like normal, after lunch I went to the garage and got a seat in a sept place to Diourbel (the large city after mine - I just get out in Bambey). If I haven't described a sept-place before picture a brand new station wagon. Now age it about 50 years in harsh conditions, add a third row in the back, remove the handles from all of the windows, and maybe exchange some parts with another equally run-down car. This glorious mode of public transport is called a "sept-place" because there are 7 seats (in order of preference): passanger seat, middle row left side, middle row right side, middle row middle, back row left side, back row right side, back row middle. This is an undisputed ranking of seats (you get in and out of the car always from the right side which is why left is better). Like usual, I was one of the last people getting into the car (somehow it always works like that). I was the 6th person so I took the back row right side seat. After paying my fair and buying a sack of water, the 7th person came - a woman with a baby. Feeling the need for some karma, I gave up my seat and scooted to the dreaded back middle seat. The woman took the baby off her back and handed him to me while she climbed in. I quickly realized that it wasn't a baby but a giant toddler and my arm strength could barely support the weight of the near-teenager.

With all 7 people in the car, we could start the drive. The women took her kid back to sit on her lap and I was wedged in the middle. Usually there is at least one "ceeb mama" (ceeb meaning rice, but generally a "ceeb mama" is a large woman) so I was content to be between two average people. I'm used to kids being afraid of me and I'm used to kids being amused by me, I was not prepared, though, for the giant toddler next to me to start touching my skin. Yep. He spent the first 45 minutes of the car ride touching my shoulder and my hair. Awkward situation - sure - but what are you supposed to do about it? My wolof isn't quite there to say "Hey lady, I realize I'm an oddity but can your kid stop touching my arm?" so I let it slide. Then, because it would not be a ride in a car in Senegal without it, the woman started breastfeeding. I stared straight ahead and just waited for my stop. Then I noticed that you could actually see the road through a hole in the bottom of the car. But, at the end of the day, I got home safe and that's what matters! Oh, also, in most West African countries the same car that is a "sept place" to me is a "neuf place" (for the non French speakers neuf means 9).

Cheer Senegal!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Girls' Camp Day 4 and 5

Wednesday was environment day and it was a huge hit! Erin and Emily (the ag volunteers in our area) are great in Wolof and the girls really enjoyed them. They started the day with a theoretical discussion about the environment then moved outside. They had hidden a bunch of trash around the yard and had the girls collect it. Afterwards they explained how some of the trash could be used in composting for even for small container gardening. They made a tree nursery and did some small containers of vegetables. Wednesday evening was a trivia night that was mostly questions the girls had written earlier in the week. One of the questions they had written was "name the 5 continents" which we changed to "name the 7 regions of the world" and we had an accompanying map. Sometimes Senegalese schools teach things that just seem wrong/are wrong (like that there are 52 states in the US) and we refused to give in to there being only 5 continents (in case you were wondering, North America and South America are combined and Antarctica doesn't exist).

Thursday was themed "business day" and Brian and Christine did an amazing job. They lead a great discussion about small businesses and then had some hands on projects of things the girls could sell at home. Everyone LOVED the activities and I think learned a lot. Thursday night we had a talent show! Each team was told to prepare a skit and then we had time for individual talents as well. The skits were all about things they had learned that week. After the skits, 2 girls read poems they had written which were AMAZING (they're both from Bambey and I couldn't be more proud)! Another girl sang Halo (the Beyonce song) and a group of girls did a kind of inappropriate dance to Rude Boy. The girl who sang Beyonce asked to sing another song and ended up singing the opening credit song to Marina - the telenovella that just ended. The avid Marina fans in the room (Alyssa, Tamar, and I) lost it - it was so amazing. To end the night the counselors did a silly dance to "forever young" (the remade version). Every day Christine and Alys had lead the girls in the yoga Sun Salute so we did that with the music and then Alex rapped the first verse. While he was rapping we danced in the back. At one point I broke out the really popular dance in Senegal right now and the girls enjoyed my feeble attempt. We then pulled them up and had a little dance party.

Before I continue you need a little back story: one volunteer had brought a counterpart who insisted we called him "red" because he's the head of the communist party in her town. He always had games to play to fill the empty times.

At the end of the talent show we had some crappy fireworks (yes, a bad idea) to signify an end to everything. Alex was lighting them very responsibly - one at a time, far from the girls, and carefully aimed. At some point Red decided he was going to take over the lighting... let's just say we all almost got kicked out of the Peace Corps. The night ended when a fire work went off barely over the girls' heads. I QUICKLY called a stop to it and he didn't seem to understand why.

On the way back to the dorms, I heard some of the girls saying "we aren't going home tomorrow! we don't want to go!"

This morning we ate breakfast, did evaluations, and handed out certificates. I took some more pictures and then the Bambey girls had to get on the bus to leave. Everyone was crying as they left. Eventually the Pout and Mboro girls left and the volunteers did a final wrap-up and cleaned.

I remember driving back from Illini Girls' State one year and having to stop every 20 minutes to buy something with caffeine... I think I might be more tired now. I ate spaghettios for dinner and I'm about to pass out. The picture of everyone is on Alyssa's camera (I'll get it next week) but here's a picture of my Bambey girls:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Girls' Camp Day 3: Our Future

Yesterday was the second full day of the camp, third day overall. The theme was "our future" and involved a career panel. The girls got to ask questions to professional Senegalese women. They rarely, if ever, get a chance to discuss careers so it was a great time to talk about education, professional training, work/life balance, and just see that it is possible to be a Senegalese woman and still have a career. They also had time for art projects and we did a few other games. The power cut around 4pm and didn't come back on until sometime in the middle of the night. We ate dinner by candle light (which is normal for these girls) and stayed up chatting for a while. The Mayor of Bambey even sent a few people to come welcome everyone and encourage them to continue studying and working hard.
Unfortunately teenage girls are teenage girls all over the world and we have had some bullying issues. Yesterday one of my Bambey girls told me she lost her phone (which is cultural for "it was was stolen") and then took off towards the dorms crying. We went upstairs and some girls were sitting in a room laughing at her because they had taken her phone and hidden her shoes. We eventually solved the problem and the girl who was being bullied was in a way better mood today. She was participating and had a lot of support from her group.
The last noteworthy camp thing is that last night Jackie and I had a bat in our room. I noticed it while she was getting ready for bed and I was in bed. The power was out so we only had cellphone light but it was circling the room. Brian came in to try and chase it out (by throwing a towel at it) and eventually all of the noise had attracted all of the other volunteers. Eventually we just went to bed and it was gone by the morning.
I'm off to dinner now! I'll blog again about today if there's power!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Girls' Camp Day 2 or how Alex gained a fan club

Today was the first full day of camp! The entire camp is themed "Our World" and so each day is "our world..." - today was "our world, our health." We discussed clean environments, did some yoga, and talked about general good health practices. In the afternoon Alex had organized "olympics" which were like a field day.

The olympics started out with tug of war which got everyone excited for the rest of the games. Next we limbo'ed and followed that with a long jump. The girl that won the limbo is the only girl from a really small village, so it was great to see her be the center of attention. For the 4th event we played what he called "THE MANGO! THE SPOON! THE RACE!" which was our attempt at a egg on a spoon race (eggs are expensive, mangoes are not). The next event involved the girls having to balance a balloon between 2 people and walk around a baseball diamond shape. The crowning glory of the day was a water balloon toss. By the end all of the girls loved Alex so they chased him around with the extra balloons. Dinner was beans (my favorite!) and now we're watching a French movie.

The girls seemed pretty unsure at the beginning of today but by lunch they were completely hanging out with their teams (and new friends) not staying close by the girls they came with. They had an AMAZING time doing art projects and getting to be creative. We overheard a girl say to her friend, "I didn't have to do laundry today! It was great!" and two counselors had to tell the girls they didn't have to clean the bathrooms. I think they're all having an amazing time - thank you so much to everyone who made this possible. It really is a once in a lifetime week for these girls!


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Girls' Camp Day 1

Today was the first actual day of the camp! The morning kicked off with a little more planning before the Senegalese counterparts arrived. We then discussed the week with the counterparts and sent Jackie, Alys, and Erin off to get their girls. Luckily it rained before the girls got here which cooled Bambey down a LOT. Once the car showed up with the first group of girls I took the bus into town and picked up the Bambey girls. Once everyone had arrived the final number was 33 girls ranging from 12-16 years old. We gave everyone their room assignments and told them to meet their new friends. We had worked hard to split everyone up from the girls they came with. The rest of the night was "team" activities like making a banner and explaining the rest of the week. The girls all seem pretty tired/overwhelmed so tonight was an early night.

I'm exhausted already so I'm keeping the blog short. I'll update as much as possible!


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Girls' Camp Prep Day!

Today was all about preparing for the camp to actually start. This morning Jackie, Alyssa, Tamar, and I brought everything to the University of Bambey. The other 6 volunteers arrived shortly after and we ate sandwiches. After lunch we went through each day and made a list of everything left to buy. Around 5pm some of us went into town and everyone else did prep work for the classes they are teaching. In town we went to the store where I've been buying everything. A few days ago the woman had asked why I kept buying lots of things and I explained the camp to her. She asked why her daughter wasn't invited and, because her daughter met the criteria I told her she could come. Today her daughter was actually the one running the store (and teaching her siblings French) so Tamar and I invited her.

We ate dinner and might watch a movie later to relax before everyone comes tomorrow!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Girls' Camp Countdown!

The 1st ever Regional Girls Leadership Camp starts in 2 days! The past week has been non-stop preparations and constant trips to the University. Every time I go to the University the guy organizing the food tries to find a new way to get more money from us. After explaining to him several times that we're working with a budget and can't just add things left and right I finally put my foot down today. Alyssa had created a BEAUTIFUL excel document with the ingredients per meal and total ingredients. For a week of meals we needed 244 pounds of onions. Senegalese people put onions in everything so it's not too surprising a number... except today the guy tried to change it to 266 pounds. He also claims we need 44 (not 33) pounds of fish for one meal. I obviously want to spend money on the camp but had to shut him down from making any other additions. At this point, he has us buying a TON of food, which I don't have a problem with, but I'm worried he might be paying himself a commission. We agreed to buy the original amounts of food and, if come Wednesday, are low on onions to buy more. Alyssa and I will be spending a lot of time in the kitchen next week but I'm sure things will end up working.

Jackie, Alyssa, and I, however, aren't the only people putting work into the camp. Yesterday one of my camper's father called me to ask about the camp. After explaining it to him, he said, "my daughter isn't smart enough to go to your camp." I told him that his daughter had been invited because she has the best grades in her class and he said, "well, I don't think she's smart enough but if you do I would love for her to go to the camp."

Even if they learn nothing from the classes we're teaching, I really believe the camp will give a little self-esteem boost to girls who, frankly, probably don't have any self-esteem.

More camp updates to come!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The end of an era

Every night at 7:30pm everyone, all around Senegal, gathered around their TVs for Marina, the Telemundo soap opera. On Monday there was a commercial for Le Roman de La Vie to start Wednesday at 7:30pm!

Yesterday I made Jiffypop and we all sat down to watch the last episode of Marina (of the series). Not surprisingly, it ended with everyone happy and everything right. There was a great montage of clips spanning in the future showing everyone's happy lives (including new babies and ability to walk restored).

Tonight our TV wasn't working so we couldn't start the new soap! Tragic! Instead my host mom and I just chatted. I very very rarely ever get time with just her. Unasked for (but completely welcomed) she gave me some awesome information about my host family. Who's related to who, who had a kid but isn't married, where the kid is now, etc. Yes it was gossipy but it made up for a good replacement of a soap.

In work news, Alyssa, Jackie, and I went to the University today for some last minute camp things. I'm going back tomorrow to deliver cleaning supplies so the rooms can get cleaned before we come Saturday. I have a few more things to buy and then everyone comes Saturday - the girls Sunday!

More updates to come!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Local Transportation

If I haven't said it before, I live about 10 blocks from the start of the market, which is also the "center of town." The post office is probably the same distance to my house as the start of the market, though down a few different streets. The garage is maybe twice as far as the market. Most of the streets in Bambey are sand/dirt but there are a few streets that once were paved and now are worse than even the worst Chicago potholes. Asphalt seems to be just a fading memory for some of these streets... like the one in front of my house.

I always walk to wherever I'm going because the walk is never unmanageable. Getting back is another story entirely. If I'm a lucky volunteer and I have packages at the post office or, like today, a lot of purchases in the market (I'm buying things for the camp), I need a little help getting back. The distance is never the problem, it's more an issue of weight or bulkiness. Though I'm mastering carrying things on my head, sometimes it's too much or too awkward. When walking isn't an option, I turn to a charette. A charette is a "horse cart"... or in reality, a piece of wood with two weeks, attached to a horse or donkey. They aren't the most secure things in the world but they make due.

Sometimes, when other people are on charettes, the horses are healthy and going at a nice pace. I am never on those charettes. The other day the donkey looked like it was actually going to die while pulling myself and my awesome packages home from the post office. A few weeks ago, I had a driver cross the train tracks, diagonally, at as much speed as he could get his emaciated horse to manage. When Alyssa came to visit we had an 8 year old for a charette driver... I'm generally not very lucky at getting charettes. Today was no different:

I had just bought a ton of things for the camp and needed to find a charette. It was raining so the roads were flooding and there was mud everywhere. Luckily my new friend (the shop keeper who I had probably just doubled her monthly income) stopped a cart and I negotiated the price, loaded on my belongings, and climbed on. Then the cart took off. Literally, took off as if we were racing someone. The driver was making the horse go at death defying speeds (probably slower than 10mph but through muddy roads on a barely balancing 2x4 was HORRIFYING). We turned out of the market and hit my street in all of its pothole-y glory.

"This is a bad road," the driver said to me as I clung to life... I pointed out the well worn in charette tracks in the dirt NEXT to the "bad road" and the switched. After a few near hit-and-runs with pedestrians, we arrived at my house. I jumped off, paid, and ran inside. I just know I will never complain again about an American cab driver's driving...

ba suba,

Saturday, September 18, 2010

To Turkey and Back

This post is long overdue... sorry about that:

About two weeks ago I packed my backpack and left to go on vacation. As I was leaving the kids across the street said, "is the Toubab going home?" and I responded, "no just on vacation." They all told me to have a good trip and I was off. Before the trip I had to do some office work in Dakar so that's how I spent the day before. My flight was at noon which is an odd time for flights out of Dakar (normally flights leave between 10pm-5am) so the airport was really empty. While waiting to board I met a nice Egyptian man who has a daughter my age. He's working in The Gambia and only gets to go home to Egypt once a year, he had to fly through Istanbul to get home but he was really excited. I also met a nice family from Burkina Faso who lives in Dakar and was going to turkey on vacation. The Dakar-Istanbul flight is the farthest East you can go directly from Dakar so there were a lot of people using it as the first leg of a trip into the Middle East.

When I landed in Turkey I met my parents and we traveled to Ephesus.The ruins at Ephesus are amazing but we were all exhausted from travel. The next day the three of us went to Cappadocia (where the original Star Wars was supposed to be filmed). It was beautiful and the landscape was bizarre and lovely. Made of volcanic rock formations, the entire area seems to be a combination of sandy colored rocks and bright blue sky. Turkish food is AMAZING and in both places we ate really well.

After 4 days of traveling with my parents we flew to Istanbul to meet Alan, Noah, and Tara. It was great to see everyone and so nice to live a somewhat normal life again. Istanbul was beautiful and interesting with the mixing of cultures, religions, and a continents. One evening Noah, Tara, Alan, our tour guide, and I went to the Asia side and just hung out in some local bars. In addition to eating amazingly fresh, well seasoned Turkish food, everyone humored me and we had McDonalds, Starbucks, Italian food, and Mexican food. Coming back to Senegal was really difficult but I forced myself to go straight from the airport to Bambey.

I made it back to Bambey in time for the Korite (or Eid al Fitr in the rest of the world) celebration. My family is tame so it involved eating meat and onion sauce for lunch/dinner then sitting in front of our house in the pitch black waiting for people to walk by. Usually you ask forgiveness from people you've wronged but I was tired and no one was stopping by our house so I went to bed pretty early.

The past week or so since the trip have been a whirlwind. The girls' camp starts 7 days from today and there's a lot of leg work to do. Alyssa came to see the University and the guy who had priced the food told us he had priced it wrong and we were VERY over budget. We were able to redo the entire menu and get back to being on budget but that took a lot of work. I have a meeting with my campers tomorrow to give them the permission slips and tell them final camp details. This next week I'll spend buying all of the supplies, visiting the University again, and preparing any other last minute needs.

As far as host family news goes: Youssou has asked me to teach him English... it all started when he asked me to take him back to the US with me when I leave. I explained that he wouldn't be able to talk to anyone because he doesn't speak English ... now we're doing short "classes." Mostly I just say a sentence in English and give him a written copy too (i.e. "how are you?"). We have a grand-child visiting for the holiday and she's about 3. She was afraid of me the first few days then started to warm up. I let her and another neighborhood girl color the other day and I overheard them talking about me. Last night she sat on my lap while we watched tv. I've recently gotten AMAZING packages from an old roommate, a girl in my sorority, and my parents! It's made days better (work is less difficult when you know there are amazing snacks to follow) and my host family is even enjoying the American treats. My parents sent me a package of oreos that I gave to my host mom who is the gift "banker." It's her job to hand out oreos to the kids and decide who gets how many. Thank you to everyone who's sent stuff! You have no idea how much it makes my day.

I didn't have internet when I got back from the trip but now that it's back I promise I'll be a better blogger!


Monday, August 23, 2010


Until a few nights ago the rainy season seemed to have skipped Bambey. Alysas would call with news of flash floods in Thies and there wouldn't be a cloud in the sky for me. One day my host dad and I were 7km away from Bambey and were told it had poured rain the night before - not a drop for us.

Two nights ago I went to bed with my windows and balcony door open like normal. Around midnight the power cut but my fan stopping barely woke me up. At 2am the wind jarred me awake (it sounds odd to be woken by the wind, I realize). I jumped out of bed to close my balcony door. The wind was so strong that I was struggling against it for about 10 minutes before finally jamming my door shut. Wind had already started blowing rain into my room and my sheets were wet. I quickly closed my windows and moved my computer to a safe spot. By the time I had finished closing everything, I noticed my floor was wet. I'd seen water drip in through my windows before so I wasn't surprised until I realized there was actual standing water. I quickly got a bucket and started mopping up the water with an old towel. It was fast to use my hands so I started trying to cup the water into the bucket (making cups with my hands and then emptying it into the bucket). I found the source (my balcony) and started working there. When the bucket was completely full I emptied it and kept going. An hour and a half later there wasn't much water on the floor and I had emptied two full buckets (for an idea, I use 1 bucket of water when I have to bucket bath). I had a dry sheet and found the corner of my mattress that was still dry and collapsed around 4am.

I think I've solved the problem of my balcony door and I moved everything that was on the floor into plastic buckets so if my room floods again I won't have to worry about things getting ruined.

The past two days have just been some more setting up for the camp, reminding people it's happening and things like that. Oh and avoiding the donkey gang.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Under the hot sun

This morning was my last English class and, though the girls acted like I was pulling their teeth, I have to believe they were a little sad it was over. Even though they never once showed it was anything more than a huge chore for them to come all 3 of my girls would be annoyed and kind of sad when I had to cancel classes. At the end of the class I told them I wanted to help them, if they wanted it, during the school year with their English homework because I'm like an English dictionary (at least compared to anyone else in this town) and made them translate one last sentence: when you're not fasting, I will give you candy for completing this class.

After the English class I went to meet the family of a camper (who was actually on vacation). I had called her dad the day before and he told me he lived in the high school which I thought was a misunderstanding because someone else had told me he was a high school teacher... nope. His house is in the high school and he's actually a middle school principal. The meeting went really well and he was all for the camp. Then he invited me to work at his middle school (which is about 10km away from Bambey) next school year. His son even asked me for help with English (when work rains it pours). As I was leaving the awesome meeting I decided to call Tamar.

The walk from the high school to my house is about 20 minutes and, at 12:30pm, the sun was beating down relentlessly. A few minutes into the walk I noticed a group of boys under some trees in front of me.
"There are 7 8-12 year old boys just waiting for me under some trees... two of them are on donkeys," I explained to Tamar. We both agreed I should just keep walking and ignore their "watsyourname?" and "iluuvyou"'s. When I passed the first kid on a donkey the second kid, whose donkey was facing away from me, started to turn his donkey around and as I walked past him he started chasing me.

An 8 year old on a donkey chased me. Lucky for me donkey's walk slower than I do in heat and sun so I didn't have to pick up my pace. So confused by what was going on Tamar and I brainstormed for solutions (while the donkey/kid continued to "chase" me). Finally I turned around and pretended like I was going to smack the donkey and the kid stopped. Then, like clockwork, the oldest kid called me a racial slur which normally would have pissed me off but I was still digesting the whole donkey-chasing.

I feel like once you've been chased by a donkey there really isn't much more you can do that day and I just hung around with my fasting host fam.

Ba suba,

Friday, August 20, 2010

From America:

Today I watched Jersey Shore while eating chex mix sent to me from New Jersey! Thank you to Amy, her mom, Alan, and my parents for the amazing packages full of awesome American things!

In other Senegal news, Ramadan's about halfway over and I'm starting to set up work for next school year. Tomorrow is my last English class for the summer. That's pretty much it! Happy weekend!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My new host brother

I might have mentioned it before but I have a new host brother! Imagine my shck when I came home after the English camp and found a 20something year old boy living in my house (and imagine his when I came home). He's been in Algeria at his first year of school (studying civil engineering) and is home only for vacation before starting his second year in October (I think).
Lamin (that's his name) is quickly becoming awesome in my mind. He's absolutely what I imagine Senegalese university students to be. During the day he always wears a Lakers jersey and Puma athletic shorts. At night he wears a button up shirt (which is usually only has 3 buttons buttoned - tonight he didn't even bother buttoning any) and either black jeans or stylishly ripped jeans - not to mention a silver chain. He has a really high tech phone (compared to my Nokia) and a laptop. I don't think he's a player though because he seems really quiet (apparently engineers world wide are almost always nerdy).
Today the mason came to fix my ant hole/wall and Lamin and Youssou played the role of protective brothers. Lamin actually direct the mason and made him fi parts he had done shoddily while Youssou pointed at things in my room and asked me about them.
I also found out, as we were breaking fast, that Lamin gave Youssou 100cfa with which he bought a mayonnaise sandwich. Not that I'm counting (my host mom is) but Youssou broke fast with: 6 inches of bread slathered in butter, 6 inches of bread slathered in mayonnaise, and a giant cup of coffee that had at least half a cup of sugar in it. He is obviously my favorite host brother but it's fun to have another too.

Happy Ramadan everyone!

Monday, August 16, 2010

New kids on the block... and ants

I spent the weekend at the training center helping with the PST for the newest group of trainees. It's bizarre to be the one with the answers to questions and to be the "expert" on things that were completely new to me just a year ago. I helped with a few sessions on Senegalese culture and then answered a million questions on everything else. I would spend all day if I could answering questions because I had a ton last year and I remember what it's like to be completely clueless. On Sunday we gave tours of Thies and showed the trainees where to buy fabric and presents for their homestay language families. Afterwards Jackie, Alyssa, and I went to a nice dinner to celebrate our one year in country. Today I answered any last minute questions and wished everyone luck as they left for the village the first time for a week of language training. I'm back at site now and enjoying a quiet evening (without all of the mosquitoes the training center has).

I got back to Bambey around 5pm and found my room in pretty normal shape - no flooding, not too many paint chips on the ground, that sort of thing. I had finished showering when I noticed there were about 5 large ants (about half an inch each) near one of my windows. I stepped on them and kept unpacking. Then I realized that there were a few more ants coming out of the 4 inch crack in my wall so I sprayed some bug spray on the wall and went back to straightening things. A minute or so later I noticed that the ants weren't really dying but stumbling around like they were drunk I decided to attack them with bug spray (which has GOT to be highly toxic and not ok for use in the US). I sprayed the wall a little then started spraying the 4 inch crack.... which opened the flood gates. Ants started POURING out of the crack and I sprayed for probably a minute straight. By the time the ants stopped coming I had killed at least a couple hundred. I swept them up and duct taped the hole but I'll be patching it with cement tomorrow (my walls are cement).

The fumes have aired out of my room and the duct tapes seems to be holding up for now so I feel comfortable going to bed and not waking up with giant ants all over.

Ba suba,

Friday, August 13, 2010

Happy One Year Africaversary!

A year ago today I landed in Senegal! It feels crazy to think that it's been a year - on one hand PST feels like it was 10 years ago but, on the other, I feel like I got to Bambey a month ago. I wish I had more to say about my first year but it seems to have gone by so fast. I can't believe that a year ago I was a complete stranger to everything Senegalese and today I actually helped lead a session on Senegalese culture to the new volunteers. I remember what it was like meeting new volunteers and asking them questions when I first got to country and it's odd to think that I'm now the one with the answers (or at least trying to come up with answers). Maybe at my one year at site (which will come in October) I'll have more thoughts on this first year.

In other news Ramadan started yesterday and the day before that we got 65 new SED and Ag volunteers! For those of you not familiar with Ramadan here's the basic run down (at least how we do it in the Fall household): everyone (but me because I'm not fasting) gets up at 5:45 for morning prayer and then eats a small meal (bread, butter, coffee, maybe water). From sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, no one eats, drinks anything, or smokes (in the Koran it's refereed to as "drinking smoke"). Everyone does the normal household chores in the morning which is the only time of the day anyone is willing to work or even discuss work with me. Around lunch, I sneak up to my room and make lunch for myself as well as chug water (during Ramadan it's REALLY rude to drink or eat in public so I confine my eating and drinking to my room). In the afternoon everyone just lays around and naps. Around 6pm Awa starts cooking dinner (because cooking takes a few hours here) and at 7pm my hostmom and Youssou put out our break fast table. Around 7:20pm Youssou takes off running to the mosque because they have, supposedly, good break fast food there. At 7:30pm everyone prays and we all break fast (eventually Youssou comes back in a breaks fast a second time - which everyone makes fun of him for). We each drink spiced coffee (Youssou and Awa drink mostly milk with a hint of coffee), eat bread with either tuna or butter, and some dates (the Koran says Muhammad ate them when he was fasting). After break fast I've been heading back upstairs and skipping dinner even though my host family can't believe I'm not hungry because I didn't fast. Because Miss is pregnant, thus not fasting, she's not living with us now (she's with her family who, I'm told, lives across town). Ramadan will continue for the next 27 or 28 days - until the new moon is seen. I'm sure I'll get annoyed withe everyone's crankiness and lack of wanting to work but for now it's nice to cook my own lunches and break fast/dinner is pretty delicious too.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Back in Bambey

When I've been gone from site for more than a few days it feels like years. Yesterday I came home to a mostly empty house - all of the girls are gone on vacation and Miss was sick. There was one new addition... a new host brother who just finished his first year of university in Algeria. He's home for the "summer" and we chatted briefly (I'm guessing it's weird for him that in the year he's been gone a toubab moved in).

I was supposed to teach an accounting class this morning at the Mayor's office but it was closed and the guard's phone was turned off so I had no room to teach in... no students showed up anyway so the class was cancelled. I decided to not let the whole day be a waste so I sat outside of my house to work on my personal statement a little. About 10 minutes into outlining a group of neighborhood boys saw me and started sprinting towards me. "Tata Fatou! Tata Fatou! Menanunu dessiner???" My coloring group hadn't seen me for a week and they were eager to color. I brought down my crayons and some paper and made them all say "please" before they got paper. I finished my work while approving of all of their drawings. Eventually Youssou came out and made them all go home so they wouldn't miss lunch.

This afternoon I organized things for the camp and read a little - not much to do during the hot part of the day. This evening Youssou and I watched lutte (Senegalese wrestling). He explained the two wrestlers, who was mean, who was smart, and who he supported. Just as the pre-match fanfare ended my host mom came out and we all cheered on the smart one (who ended up winning). Youssou and I also talked about how he might want to go into the army (which I encouraged because it's a stable, good income and the Senegalese army does mostly peace keeping missions in other countries) or go to Italy to work (which I discouraged).

The rest of this week I am doing more camp work - we're almost a month away! Also Ramadan starts Wednesday or Thursday (depending on when we see the moon).

Ba suba,

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The English camp was legendary and sweet. I made so many new bffls. Then I took a jankity car back.

I'm back in Bambey after an outstanding week at the ACCESS English camp (and the title of this blog contains all of the "slang" words we taught them). The camp is for high-achieving, low-income students and they were all so amazing. Some of my favorites were (by their English names):
LandonDonovan: who was quiet but very intelligent and an outstanding dancer;
Jym: pronounced like 'Jim,' also quiet but always said very complicated sentences;
Claire: super intense and always ready to participate;
Ana: short and halfway through the week got awesome braids - she also danced well;
Holly: wore a side ponytail, large shirt, and leggings all week - also won the olympics for our team.

This afternoon we had a really successful meeting for our own camp. We were able to take the things we learned from the ACCESS camp and apply it to our girls' camp. The curriculum looks great and I'm really excited.

Now that I'm back at site I'm starting an accounting class tomorrow (if anyone shows up) and I'm a week away from my one year in Africa.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

English Camp Day 2

The past few days it has stormed every evening for two or three hours. Usually it starts around 4pm and continues until right before dinner. Yesterday I was caught in the rain and had clothes drying on the line so I was unhappy with the storm. Today, it’s a completely different story. We made it back to the training center before the rain came and now, even though I’m trapped in my room, I don’t mind the storm. The training center is designed like most Senegalese compounds with unconnected buildings. My room, for example, is in a building with other bedrooms and 1 bathroom but all of the doors face outward and you walk between the rooms under a little awning. The rest of the buildings are separate with no awnings or coverings. Because the center floods with heavy rain, we’re trapped in our room which, frankly, I don’t mind that much.
After a morning of running around and leading camp games (flashback to my Girls’ State days) I don’t mind having a few hours to read and relax. After the camp we ate lunch (at a restaurant this time), and went to the market to buy food for dinner. From now until the rain lets up or we get hungry enough to brave it and run to the kitchen, I’m in forced, but enjoyed, isolation (with my 3 friends and a little bit of internet).
The English camp continues tomorrow with the main event: ask the Americans! In the meantime I’m going to continue reading and eventually eat dinner.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Access English Camp Day 1

Today was the first day of the US Embassy sponsored English camp. We left the center this morning not knowing what to really expect and were met at the high school by about 50 15-17 year olds and a few English teachers. We had of only the lesson plan a few volunteers had created which was, no fault on them, bare bones. The teachers hadn't bought any of the supplies we requested so we had nothing (no paper, pens, markers, etc.). We broke the kids into groups and started playing games.
My group has 17 Senegalese kids, Jackie, Zach (a volunteer from Kedougou), and me. We started off with name games ("my name is Katherine and I like ketchup) but had to explain several times that if your name was Anna you couldn't like "the beach" but something with an "a" (they all chose to pick American names for the week - we have a Landon Donovan). The rest of the day was full of other games and things you can do outside without any supplies. It was fun to speak in English the whole time and I think the kids really enjoyed themselves. At one point, the game involved asking each other questions and one girl asked another (who then said "yes"), "would you like to have an American husband?" Zach better watch out!

The camp was 4 hours and we were all pretty tired (with no lesson plan it had been 4 hours of making up games on the fly) and went to the garage to get chicken sandwiches. It sounds gross but I think I've explained it before: the garages (where you get cars to go to Dakar etc.) have food for people to buy and eat while they're traveling. A while ago Jackie, Alyssa, and I made friends with the best chicken sandwich lady (we'd tried a few and decided on the best one). Jackie and I were there earlier in the week and she remembered us and was annoyed that we didn't invite our 3rd friend (Alyssa) to eat lunch with us (we had invited her but she was eating with her host family). Today we came to our friend's stand with other volunteers and pretty much bought all of her chicken sandwiches. In case you were wondering, a chicken sandwich is: 6 inches of baguette, onion sauce, rotisserie type chicken, and fries... they have lettuce when lettuce is in season which is not now... all for 500cfa (about $1).

Post chicken sandwiches we ran some other errands and are now hanging out. The English camp is every morning this week so I'm sure I'll have more updates coming. I hope all's well in the US!


Access English Camp Day 1

Today was the first day of the US Embassy sponsored English camp. We left the center this morning not knowing what to really expect and were met at the high school by about 50 15-17 year olds and a few English teachers. We had of only the lesson plan a few volunteers had created which was, no fault on them, bare bones. The teachers hadn't bought any of the supplies we requested so we had nothing (no paper, pens, markers, etc.). We broke the kids into groups and started playing games.
My group has 17 Senegalese kids, Jackie, Zach (a volunteer from Kedougou), and me. We started off with name games ("my name is Katherine and I like ketchup) but had to explain several times that if your name was Anna you couldn't like "the beach" but something with an "a" (they all chose to pick American names for the week - we have a Landon Donovan). The rest of the day was full of other games and things you can do outside without any supplies. It was fun to speak in English the whole time and I think the kids really enjoyed themselves. At one point, the game involved asking each other questions and one girl asked another (who then said "yes"), "would you like to have an American husband?" Zach better watch out!

The camp was 4 hours and we were all pretty tired (with no lesson plan it had been 4 hours of making up games on the fly) and went to the garage to get chicken sandwiches. It sounds gross but I think I've explained it before: the garages (where you get cars to go to Dakar etc.) have food for people to buy and eat while they're traveling. A while ago Jackie, Alyssa, and I made friends with the best chicken sandwich lady (we'd tried a few and decided on the best one). Jackie and I were there earlier in the week and she remembered us and was annoyed that we didn't invite our 3rd friend (Alyssa) to eat lunch with us (we had invited her but she was eating with her host family). Today we came to our friend's stand with other volunteers and pretty much bought all of her chicken sandwiches. In case you were wondering, a chicken sandwich is: 6 inches of baguette, onion sauce, rotisserie type chicken, and fries... they have lettuce when lettuce is in season which is not now... all for 500cfa (about $1).

Post chicken sandwiches we ran some other errands and are now hanging out. The English camp is every morning this week so I'm sure I'll have more updates coming. I hope all's well in the US!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Rainy Season?

Since we had our first huge storm of the rainy season... it hasn't rained. Normally, I'm told, it rains every few days in July and then everyday in August... we'll see if that happens this year.

Things in Bambey have been moving along. The girls' camp is fully funded! thank you so much to everyone who donated! Things are moving along quickly with the camp. I"m also setting up an accounting class for August. In addition to Bambey work, I'm working with SeneGAD (gender and development). We have a quarterly meeting soon and I'm working to re-vamp the activities program (as per my job as 'activities director'). There's also an English camp sponsored by the US Embassy that several of us are helping out at soon.

Lurking on the horizon, however, is Ramadan. An entire month of fasting during the day and - apparently - doing nothing. People now are claiming that they don't want to schedule work because Ramadan's coming up (it starts mid-August).

Things are moving along quickly... I can't believe I've almost been in Senegal for a year!


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


As much of a jerk as my hostfather sometimes is (not to me but to other family members) he is a wealth of knowledge, specifically on Senegalese traditions and values. Senegalese values are so interesting and, often times, not cohesive with business work.

Mor and Awa (hostfather and sister who just finished high school) were in Dakar getting a scholarship for Awa to go to university in Algeria. They didn't get the scholarship but they got a "promise" and seemed hopeful. We were talking about going to university abroad (contrary to US "study abroad" she would actually be doing her entire studies in Algeria, not just a fun semester) and I asked if students often stayed abroad or returned to Senegal after school. It's a valid question because the main force of Senegal's economy comes from remittances from Spain, Algeria, Tunisia, and Italy (to name the main ones). Mor, however, was quick to explain that all Senegalese people want to do is to come back to Senegal which doesn't surprise me. Sure you probably can't get good ceeb u jen outside of Senegal, but the real reason is the "sacredness" placed on family and community. He continued to explain that in the village, an entire extended family lives within one compound and they all have their own houses. If you have a child who is successful enough and builds his own house, outside of your compound he is a traitor. Of course, he elaborated, this has been altered because it's impossible to live like this in cities - so now you have urban families where success is shown by children building their own houses and village families where the money is expected to be divided among the entire family regardless of who earned it. The Senegalese version of the American Dream, as it was explained to me, is to give more to your parents than they gave you.

Now, don't get me wrong (especially the parents reading this blog), I think, as kids of wonderful parents, we have a responsibility to them... but if you're always looking backwards it's hard to move forward.

It's always interesting talking to Mor because he is full of cultural lessons I'm missing by living in a city or just can't be picked up in everyday interaction.

In other news, the rainy season proved that it was here today. It stormed like crazy in the morning and rained on and off all day. I did manage to get to the post office and find a lovely surprise! Thanks to the Kerrs and Kadlecs for the packages! I am very much enjoying them!


Monday, July 19, 2010

Power Outages

Senegal's having huge power problems. The power outages were in a nice pattern of being on from about 9pm-7am then off all day but recently it changed to be completely sporadic. Sure not having power's a pain but the real problem is when the water cuts (because the pumping stations/water towers can't work) which we've somehow avoided mostly.
When we don't have power during the day my host family sits in front of the house chatting or playing scrabble. Youssou goes out during the day and comes back for lunch then leaves again (I have no idea what he does). When power's out at night we sit on the mat outside and very occasionally talk. Tonight Youssou, who has a cell phone but no credit (everything here is a pay as you go), spent the entire night recording himself singing then playing it back. First he was singing Koranic songs and would play them back and re-record. Then he started beat-boxing. It was so awesome.

In work news, today I finished my second training at the health center (like a mini-hospital). I've taught 40 health workers from the villages how to make a bug repellent using things that are easily found here (the actually repellent comes from the leaves of the neem tree which is ALL OVER).

Off to Thies tomorrow for some errands!



Sunday, July 18, 2010

Explaining Myself

Last Thursday I had a meeting in the morning and another in the afternoon with the families of 2 invited campers. The first was with one of my scholarship girls who I've spent a fair amount of time with and have been to her house several times. Her brother (the oldest person in her family and thus the head of the family) was never around so I met him for the first time Thursday. As I came into their house he was sitting on a carpet feeding his son and his sister (the camper) and I sat down. We began to talk about the camp - he was concerned about the subject matter. After I explained everything we were discussing he seemed alright. He then started talking, very broadly, about the "other experiences" (with a negative connotation) that were possible - I explained there would be no boys there (possible 1 or 2 male volunteers but no one else). Then he started in on how smart his sister is and how he wants to protect her future - to which I explain that was the entire reason behind the scholarship she had won AND the camp.
As the conversation progressed it became apparent he really didn't want to be convinced that the camp wasn't going to ruin this girls life but it became blatantly obvious when he started questioning my intentions. As a side note, explaining the peace corps is fairly difficult because volunteers and the US don't get any tangible benefits but usually people understand it's about experience and that it's similar to all NGOs/Development Organizations. So he started asking if I was a University student doing research because he saw some at a Koranic school (that takes in orphans/abandoned kids and often makes them beg on the street) that were trying to change the way this "traditional" school works. (is not exactly traditional but is on Amnesty International's human rights violation watch). I think Daara's aren't great but that has NOTHING to do with my work, so I explained that I was not a university student, I was not doing research, and I worked only with small businesses. Then some obscure mentions (from the brother) of George Bush and all of the US relations with Middle Eastern countries came up and he insinuated that my placement in Senegal was a direct extension of that in the role of propaganda/culture changing. I explained that the Peace Corps was established in 1960 and came to Senegal in 1963 thus could not POSSIBLY be part of anything he was getting at. Then it came to religion. It was obvious that he was conservative and I had tried to respect without giving in to any traditional cultural roles (read: just giving in to whatever he was saying because I'm a woman). He asked me my religion and I told him that I didn't discuss religion and that it didn't matter. He then accused me of trying to convert people away from Islam. After explaining that I always work around people's religious beliefs, regardless of what they are, I tried to explain that it really didn't matter to me because I am (as I had explained a million times to him) a SMALL BUSINESS VOLUNTEER.
Then he rehashed every element of his argument in a cumulative last hit against Peace Corps and me. I had been getting annoyed during the entire conversation but had kept my cool until this "closing statement" of sort. I still didn't yell at him and stayed fairly calm as I defended myself on last time. He could tell, however, that he had offended me and said he would love for his sister to go to the camp, but she can't sleep over - he'll take her to and from every day. At this point I realized there was absolutely nothing I could say to him because he had no interest in thinking of me as anything but an evil American so I said that I would think about it and we could discuss it another time.

Later the same day I met an invited camper from another middle school in Bambey. She hadn't come to the introduction meeting so I'd never met her. On our way to her house she told me she would come to the camp but, through further questioning, I learned she hadn't asked permission of anyone. When we got to her house I had a conversation with her cousin (the head of the household) who, upon learning the subject material and purpose of the camp, wholeheartedly agreed to let her be there. He and I then talked about the importance of girls' education and other things in general. She lives in her dad's village during the summer (and with her cousin to go to school) so I offered to give her a run down of the final meeting we'll be having Sept. 19 because she would be in the village. Her cousin told me it was not necessary because he would make sure she was at that meeting. When I left both she and her cousin agreed to come to my next English club/girls' group meeting.

I know that Peace Corps is hard to explain, and I understand some concern when a stranger shows up offering to take your daughter to a summer camp. But keep in mind, Senegalese culture is very different. And this stranger has been working with the principal and staff at your daughter's school. She lives in the community, has several reputable people who would vouch for her in a second, and stops by your house several times to continue building relationships. More frustrating than the brother's lack of confidence with the camp was his total lack of interest in believing that I was anything but a horrible person trying to brainwash the community. I'm going to have a Senegalese Peace Corps person call him and talk to him about it so we'll see how it goes.

Sorry this was a long blog - in social news: we had a regional meeting and a welcome party for the new Daka