Monday, April 26, 2010

Just part of the job

After about 8 months "on the job" I have a believe there is no succinct job description for being a PCV. The newest addition is apprentice tailor. Matar is an outstanding tailor and his work is always really well done. I often joke with him (but it's true) that every time I leave Bambey I return with fabric from another volunteer for him to make something. When I saw him this morning and told him that my 6 hour trip to Thies produced more projects for him (from another volunteer), he told me flat out that I just needed to buy a tape measure. "Actually," he corrected himself, "I'll just buy you a tape measure... here pay attention.." and then he taught me what measurements he needs from men and women. He wasn't kidding at all and, frankly, it's a great idea.

In other news, the camp is moving along slowly. I'm really inspired by this group of middle school girls I'm working with. I'm hoping to put together several summer activities for kids because (as my brother pointed the study out to me) kids that do learning things over the summer improve drastically over kids who don't. I'm also hoping to organize a career day because everyone here wants to be a doctor because that's all they know. On a slightly related but unrelated note, if you ever want to hear of an education system that just, truly, doesn't make sense, ask me about the Senegalese one... everyday I learn more and more and become more and more confused.

Well, that's all for me tonight - more meetings and hopefully a career day to start organizing tomorrow!


Friday, April 23, 2010

French Things

Unlike the American revolution, when Senegal kicked out its colonizers it kept the bureaucratic system in place. I can understand their logic, it's 1960 and you just became a country, why start from scratch? But now that I've lived in this system for about 8 months WHY KEEP EVERYTHING IN PLACE?! Let's just say the French system of things needing to be official mixed with the Senegalese need to take their time has driven me crazy all week. I've been trying to find out how much it will cost per meal per person for this girls camp. If this was America I would probably call the campus food provider (probably Aramark) and get an answer within, I have to believe, 30 minutes. Or at least be able to schedule a meeting with someone; bring in a list of questions and leave with a list of answers. But no. Three days ago I visited the guy in charge of food etc. he said he couldn't help me without a formal request to use the campus. When I explained to him that the request was written, submitted, AND approved by the head of the University - he shut down and shut me out. I called the head of the campus (secretary general) the next day and explained to him, to which he responded, "well, you probably should write a letter of request then." Giving in to the inefficient system I wrote my letter requesting the prices of things (because, at this point, I've already been approved to use rooms, I just needed prices to write the grant)... but the guy was busy and didn't have time for a meeting with me yesterday. Today I went to the cyber cafe to print off the letter (I don't have a printer, obviously) and the power was out. I came back when the power came back on and the printer was broken. So, on my bike ride to the University I figured out how to say "I was trying to save paper, yesterday was Earth Day you know, here I have it on this USB Key" in French.

After a slight detour (some kids called me "red ears" and I swerved off the road and screamed at them in English, French, and Wolof WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME? DID YOU JUST CALL ME RED EARS?) I arrived at 3:30. Of course even though he told me he would be there until 4pm he had already left. When I tried to explain to his secretary what I wanted "can you email a document on this key to him" she said no, but if I wanted I could email it to her and she could email it to him....

Maybe I should entirely blame the "French system," there is a lot of Senegaleseness about this whole situation as well. Honestly, I think I'm getting tired of always sticking out and my frustrations are being aimed at the ridiculously inefficient way of doing (or not doing) things.

Tomorrow there's a "party" at the middle school to "open the new foyer." I have no idea what I'm getting myself into but we'll see!

Ba suba,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Today, Youssou and I watched Meerkat Manor before lunch and cheered as the meerkats fought off the snake and were sad when the pack leader dies.

Obviously today was a lot better than yesterday, but nothing too exciting otherwise to report. I had a really good meeting with some of the girls' group girls and I think I earned some street cred with them when I told off a group of middle school boys. Work's coming along pretty quickly and I'm actually cutting this blog short to finish putting together my part of a grant proposal.

Ba suba,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Where are you going with that?

I started off today like I start every morning: news, coffee, oatmeal, shower, and greeting my hfmom. When she saw me this morning the first thing she said to me was, “where are you going with that helmet?” See, yesterday I had tried to go for a bike ride against her warning of, “it’s too hot” and ended up back home in 20 minutes saying myself, “it’s too hot!” (this whole ‘mother’s are always right’ thing seems to transcend cultures). I quickly explained that I was not trying to beat the heat again but rather riding to a meeting at the University and was off!
The rest of the day pretty much went downhill so I’m going to skip over all of that. It’s not like one major thing went wrong, it was just one of those days where a series of things goes wrong and it feels like karma’s coming to kick your ass.
I ended my day the same as I end every day: sitting on the mat with my host family watching Marina (my favorite soap opera). Then right before a huge climatic scene (“when are they coming back with Patty’s body?” ask the characters who don’t know Patty’s alive and probably about to walk through the door!!!) the power cut…. So the host family started chatting. Eventually they asked me to join in (I usually love conversation but when it’s in Wolof I usually can’t even figure out what they’re talking about) so I thought I would pose a question of my own. “Why does everyone think that because I’m white I want to marry them?” Everyone laughed and explained to me that it was just a joke and when some stranger yells at me that they love me I should just respond that I’m married and I don’t love them. That, of course, made way for a discussion about how my husband should really marry one of my hfsisters and when I explained they were far too young and that’s illegal in the US… “he could move to Senegal.” Eventually my hfmom proclaimed it was my husband and me rekk (only). (For those that need to be caught up, I told everyone I was married.)
The “unwanted attention,” whether it is the marriage requests or just being yelled at about whatever, is one of the hardest things to deal with. I understand that I stick about but every single day since I’ve been in country I’ve had at least one frustrating experience with someone singling me out (usually it’s a guy following me for about half a block asking me how I am in Wolof, French, and English as I ignore him but it ranges based on the day). It’s nice that I can joke with my host family about it but I don’t think they understand that it doesn’t feel like a joke.
Sorry for two frustrated posts in a row but that’s how Africa is some days. I refuse to let Africa win tomorrow!


Monday, April 19, 2010

The Rains...?

I usually wake up every morning around 5:30am for morning prayer call and then promptly back to sleep. This morning, however, I woke up a second time before my alarm to a sound that I just did not comprehend....rain hitting the awning outside of my window. Real, actual, rain. Honestly I thought I was going crazy or just hearing things but I got a text message from Alyssa with news of rain in Thies and saw the two volunteers on either side of my site had posted on facebook about rain. Overreacting much? Have too much time on our hands? Yeah... possibly... but the first rain last year was some time during June. Senegalese responses seem to be between, "CATASTROPHE!" and, "a freak rain. the heat will still come."

The rain seemed to give everyone energy which might sound like a good thing until you're the only white person in the room and, on top of that, a girl. I went to Thies and back but life here isn't that easy (and apparently it's harder after a 15 minute sprinkle). Let's just say every person that saw me today thought it was appropriate to try to talk to me, ask me how I was, ask me to marry them, ask me to buy bananas, or just generally ask for money.

So, what I learned today was that, though the rain brings cooler weather it apparently makes everyone feisty in a kind of annoying way and less enjoyable way. Oh well, I shouldn't be complaining much work is starting to come along. Let's hope the rains hold off for a few more months though - I'll take the heat to not screw up the growing season.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Babies and Commonalties

To be honest, I'm not a kid person. This really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows me. Sure, I find babies adorable, and sometimes I do want to hold them or make funny faces and make them laugh but I'm not a kid person. I have a friend from college who is a kid person and it's amazing how interesting and adorable she finds all children. Frankly, I only like the cute ones and I like them when they're quiet, but she has patience unending for all kids. Until very recently I thought she was an exception to the general rule (who likes crying kids?) and then I've started to watch my hfmom more closely. It turns out, she's just like Sarah - she's a kid person too! Crying, cute, ugly, sick, happy, giggling, you name it, she'll hold your baby. Maybe, in her case, it's something that comes from having 11-ish (it's bad luck to count your children here so I have no idea exactly how many kids she has but it's between 10 and 11) kids but she, somehow, still has patience that I don't. There's the very real possibility that this is just something every parent has and, due to my age and lack of younger siblings, I haven't come to appreciate children yet. But I'd rather attribute it to universal commonalties.

Even though somethings seem so foreign to me still (cut me some slack I do live in Africa), almost everyday I come across these little things that are the same in any culture. And really this probably isn't an enlightening observation. Maybe it's just that mom's are the same all around the world but sometimes Africa doesn't feel quite as foreign.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Only on days when I have work...

It seems like it is only on days when I actually have official work today that I get called "red ears." I was on my way to a meeting at the University of Bambey and some kids called me "red ears" really loudly. I realize that racial slur sounds ridiculous and it probably shouldn't anger me as much as it does but it's the rudeness that gets to me. For some reason today it really got to me and I almost turned around to scream obscenities at them when I realized I was surrounded by other people and kept them to myself. I was able to get myself back into a "professional" mindset before my meeting and the meeting was amazing. I met with the Secretary General who was a Fulbright professor at Fordham so we had a really interesting conversation about his time in New York as well as the role of Islam in America (he studied Theology and Philosophy). He also approved the project I had presented (the real reason for the meeting)! The big project is moving forward but it still has another big hurdle to get over so more to come I'm sure.


Sunday, April 11, 2010


I'm sorry this is delayed! Everything's been crazy and I've been in Dakar for Jackie's birthday but! Here's the wedding post with pictures to follow:

The wedding actually started the night of the 2nd after some family members had arrived. The women all sat on a mat in the courtyard and prepared green beans for the next day (and there weren't really any men around). We also had a whole bunch of local women cooking dinner (cous cous and meat). After the bin-bin exchange went down, I just hung out with everything until dinner was over and I could retreat to my room. Before turning in for the night, however, I received instructions on dressing for the next day from the bride: wear your normal (green) complet until the afternoon then change into your new clothes....

...Luckily for me I've been here long enough to know that I wasn't supposed to come downstairs in my nice clothes (the green complet I wore for swearing in) because in Senegal women ALWAYS have work to do in the morning and everyone would be in casual clothes. I hung out while my hfmom got her hair done and then went upstairs to change. From about 10am until lunch the women sat in plastic chairs under a tent in our courtyard and the men sat on couches under a fan in our salon (typical of Senegal). Right after lunch after I had changed into my new clothes, the bride appeared briefly in a fabulous blue outfit, and I also got to meet Youssou's mom (he's technically my "cousin" that lives with us). Around 3pm, with the men still sitting in the salon, the women started to bring out the gifts for the bride (who was nowhere to be found... I'm pretty sure she was getting her hair done). A traditional singer came and sang praises of my hfamily, especially my parents and Ndaiye Fatou. Then everyone gave their gifts while the singer announced how much/what each person gave. My parents had sent me some fabric so I gave that to my hfmom for Ndiaye Fatou.

Around 5pm the men emerged from underneath the ceiling fan and went to the mosque while everyone else contined to hang around... I think, if the power hadn't cut, there would have been dancing (luckily the power cut).

Afterward the men got back, some prayers were held outside of my house (the only space big enough for everyone to fit). Then I was told to go to the Mayor's office/reception hall for the reception.

The reception, it turns out, is only for young people - mostly her friends. After we were all seated (in plastic chairs of course) and given our plate of fried food and small bottle of Africa Fun! soda, the wedding party entered. First came each of my hostsisters dressed in bright pink gowns escorted by guys (who I've never seen before) in white dress shirts and slacks. Then, finally, Ndiaye Fatou (the bride) came in escorted by her uncle.... yeah.. the groom has NOTHING to do with the wedding on the brides side. She was dressed head to toe in gold with gold things in her hair and glitter on her dress. After the entire party walked around the center table, the party walked around Ndiaye Fatou and her uncle (aka the groom stand in) while raising and lowering their hands. Then we were all invited up to give her a gift (this time I gave money) and take a picture with her. We had about 15 minutes of dancing and then were ushered back to the house. When I say ushered, I really mean it. See, Alan had sent a Yankees hat for Youssou and now Youssou loves me (and wore the hat the whole time). He spent the entire reception making sure I had my food and soda; at the end he personally cleared the way for me to exit and return home. Once at the house, the older family members, who hadn't come to the reception, were still talking and giving gifts. Finally, my hffather gave a serious speech in Wolof... which he then translated to me: "we have to get going, it's late and they're waiting in his village for us to show up." I was then told that the plan for the rest of the night was to drive through the middle of the desert (in the pitch black). At the outside of the groom's village they would be met by the women of the village who would then mock the bride (yep. mock. I had to ask for a clarification) and her inability to find a husband/her attempts to steal a man from their village. They would then party for the next two days at the groom's house. I politely declined going: my host family has been so hospitable to me, I wanted to give them time as an actual family to celebrate.

Overall the wedding was amazing and exhausting. I think I have some pretty good pictures that I'm uploading!

Other than the wedding it's been pretty low key. Like I said I was in Dakar for Jackie's birthday (quarter of a century!) and now I'm really trying to get things moving with the girls' camp... hopefully good news will come this way around Wednesday (keep your fingers crossed). I hear it's been great weather in Chicago and New York, I hope everyone's enjoying spring! We've had a break from the heat so I'm getting some spring here too!


Friday, April 2, 2010

The Night Before The Wedding

The big day is tomorrow and you can tell! My house has been taken over with family friends, mostly women. In addition to the 15 or so here for the wedding, there are about 10 women from Bambey that are cooking all of the food. Today we had couscous and meat and tomorrow's looking like something delicious but who knows what. I've finally been told the schedule of events: hanging out in nice but not super nice clothes all morning, eating lunch, then getting ready and going to the mayor's office (which functions as a reception hall) for the actually party. That'll go until about 11pm and then my hostsister is off to her husband's village (he isn't present for any of tomorrow's activities).

But! To the best part of the day. I had bought bin-bins (aka a kind of bead necklace women wear around their waist "at night, in the bedroom") for my hostsister. I presented them to her wrapped in a little fabric and tried to explain a bachelorette party (I think I said, "before a wedding your friends give you nice bras and things like this"). When she opened them she was AMAZED for several reasons. I think the shock of the gift, the fact that I knew what they were, and general appreciation for the cultural exchange/gesture caused her shock. After she finished laughing, she asked me how I knew what they were and I explained Peace Corps showed us them as part of a cross cultural awareness day (keep your minds out of the gutter, we learned about Senegalese clothes and food mostly). Then she thanked me a million times and told me it was really nice of me. I explained that she was my sister and she was getting married so I wanted to share this little American tradition. Within 15 minutes she had shown all of the women of the house who thought it was the most amazing, hysterical thing ever to hit Bambey.

The wedding is tomorrow so I'll have lots of photos and hopefully more stories.