Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And then overnight...

... it became the rainy season. Around 10pm, the power cut and wind started whipping across the desert and then the rains came. I was able to close my windows in time to avoid a lot of water and dirt in my room. Sometime after about 2am the rain stopped and the power (and water) came back on today around 1pm. When I left my room this morning (to get a bucket of water because the running water was out with the electricity) it had become the rainy season. On my way to my morning meeting there were kids standing on the edge of every pool of water throwing rocks at it. The market was a muddy mess and everyone seemed a little jittery with the change in weather. Sure, it's still hot and now it's also humid - but the rainy season looks like it's here!

Work wise, things are going well. I've been organizing "career meetings" with some of my scholarship girls. Together we meet with someone that has a career they're interested in and the person talks, then they ask questions. There aren't any "take your daughter to work days" or career panels or anything. I'm using this as a chance to educate the girls a little more and get them excited about their future.

We're off to Kedougou soon for the big 4th of July party!

KO

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Girls Camp!

I've mentioned a girls' camp a few times over the past couple of months but here's a full explanation of the project:

A group of 10 volunteers, myself included, decided to create a week long summer camp for a handful of high-achieving middle school girls. Aside from the one camp set up by volunteers in another region, summer camps don't exist in Senegal... so we started pretty much from scratch. First, we decided on the campers: a total of 40 girls aging from 12-15 from Bambey, Pout, Mboro, and a small village outside of Thies. We chose the girls because they had the highest grade averages among their female peers. Most of the girls face financial constraints when going to school and they all struggle with the social pressures of women's roles in life. For example, several of my girls live with a distant family member during the school year because their parents live in a village without a middle school. In addition to doing their school work (the school days last from 8am-7pm), they're often in charge of all of the household chores in exchange for their school year board. I've had interviews with all of the girls and they're extremely bright and very motivated to finish school. Once we found our cause, we had to get a community partner (we wanted to have the full support of the community).

While looking for possible sites and partners, I met the Secretary General of the University of Bambey who immediately loved the idea and pledged his full support. We then hit a rough patch trying to negotiate everything with the university, but recently the agreement was made official. They're providing us with free lodging for the entire week, about 10 students who will act as camp counselors, and are hoping to eventually take on the project on their own.

Now that we have the location and the girls, we're working on the final schedule. The entire camp has been themed "our world" to try to encourage the girls to take ownership of every aspect of their communities including: the environment, their health, money matters, and planning for the future. The camp will run from September 26 - October 1, and we've already planned follow-ups with the girls. In addition to the campers and university students, we're bringing a female teacher from each of their schools. We hope this project not only affects the 40 girls, but that they have a ripple effect on their peers and siblings.

Because the housing has been provided, we need to buy food, supplies, and transportation for the girls. The total amount needed is $2491.13 and you can donate (or just read more about the project) here! If that doesn't work, you can go to www.peacecorps.gov and search for the project using "Senegal" or "regional girls camp" as your keywords. All donations are tax deductible.

I understand that not everyone can donate, if that's the case, please just send us your positive thoughts. If you have any questions or would like to get involved in another way, please contact me. Hopefully I'll have some pictures to post of some of my future campers tomorrow.

Thanks for all of your support (and I hope everyone's enjoying the World Cup)!

KO

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Little Bribery Never Hurt

My parents sent me some Jiffy Pop that I used to bribe my host family to support the US in today's World Cup Match. The bribery probably wasn't necessary but it made the game a little more special (at least compared to all of the other games).

In other news, all of the budget issues with the camp project were finalized and we're almost ready to move onto the last stage of planning (grant submission).

I posted photos from the Ghana trip so check those out!

KO

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Personal Odyssey

Tuesday afternoon Alyssa and I had our last meal in Accra (Chinese food) and set off for the airport. I had confirmed over the phone that our flight was leaving at 8:35pm (contrary to the official flight time of 10:25pm) and that check-in would open at 5:30 or 6 (depending on who you asked). We got to the airport around 4pm and went to the ticket office to triple check the flight was leaving. "The Dakar flight? It's cancelled," explained the ticket guy but before I flew into a storm of rage he added, "just joking!" Yeah. Really funny. We then waited for an hour and a half for the check-in counter to open. Before checking-in we had to have our bags "checked" by customs... the customs woman asked me what I had in my bag (she didn't open it) and she asked Alyssa if she was traveling with me and then let us move on to check-in. We were waiting in line to check-in and twice the agent called me forward to the counter and then reprimanded me for not letting her finish with the people in front of me. Finally it actually was my turn and we checked in and moved on to the second customs area.

Just a fun fact, the entire Accra airport is filled with posters about drug trafficking, for example: parents, watch your children's bags and toys - traffickers will stuff drugs in them; are you trafficking drugs? You WILL be caught and sentenced to 10 years hard labor.

After customs we picked up some chocolate for our host families and waited to go through security (which we couldn't do until our flight was called). Finally a woman walked by and mumbled something about the Virgin Nigeria flight and we ran after her and got through security. While waiting to have our tickets and passports checked for the 4th time we heard an announcement for the Virgin Nigeria flight to Banjul (capital of The Gambia) and Dakar... when asked what city would be first - because this was the first time we'd heard ANYTHING about The Gambia - we were assured Dakar was the first stop. Once the Brazil v. North Korea World Cup match was over we boarded the flight.

Not too surprisingly there was someone in my seat and when I tried to explain I was told that as a "new comer" (the flight left from Nigeria) I had to go find another seat regardless of whether it was my assigned seat or not. We ended up sitting one row behind our original row. I had my seatbelt on and made the mistake of thinking that there could be no more surprises... SURPRISE! THE GAMBIA WAS THE FIRST STOP! Alyssa and I were apparently the only people who didn't know we were taking a detour to a 3rd country (our tickets said nothing about Banjul, our flight was never on the departures board, and when we asked we were told Dakar was the first stop).
5 hours and 1 country later, we finally landed in Dakar. I never thought I would be that happy to be back in Senegal but I was ecstatic. I loved when we got in an argument over cab price, when everyone was yelling at me - it was amazing. Around 2am we made it to the regional house which was pretty empty and passed out.

The next morning I was in a car to Bambey by 10am. After being stuck in traffic for an hour we got a flat tire and had to wait for it to be changed. Normally that would have driven me crazy but I was just so happy to be back I was fine. When I got out of the car in Bambey someone who knew me (I didn't know them) helped me get a good price for a donkey cart to take me to my house ("she's not a foreigner! she's Senegalese!), and the post office was still open 30 minutes after they normally close. I had 6 packages (from my parents and Sarah Lowry THANK YOU!!) and rolled into my house like Santa on Christmas. I kid you not neighborhood kids appeared and helped carry everything up to my room. As I got in lunch was being set down. It's as if Senegal wanted to prove that it wasn't so bad after all and, even if things never work in Ghana, they sometimes work here.

I have a fair amount of work to catch up on now and I'm trying to keep busy. Things with the camp should become definite over the next two days. I hope everyone watches the US game tomorrow!

KO

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stuck.

Yesterday Alyssa and I went to the airport in early enough to check-in for an international flight in the US. Normally check-in counters don’t open more than 2 hours in advance of a flight so we thought we had plenty of time. The departure area was a mess and as we looked for the Virgin Nigeria counter Alyssa saw that was flight was boarding. I started pushing through people (not very nice, I realize) and ran to the ticket counter.
“Your flight is closed.”
After trying to clarify that we were on the Dakar flight, the one leaving at 10:25pm, we learned that our flight had already left… hours before it was supposed to. The next flight to Dakar? Tuesday. As we rebooked our tickets we learned that the flight almost ALWAYS switches times to leave a few hours early… didn’t we know that? Well, no worries, people usually miss the flight. They were able to tell us that the check-in for our second flight, the one leaving at “10:25pm” will be closed by 7:30pm. Our only option for leaving last night was to fly to South Africa and then be on stand-by… we obviously didn’t take that flight. Air Ivoirian had a flight at 9am that went to Dakar but it stopped in the Ivory Coast and you need a visa even if you just have a layover. To avoid being thrown in Ivoirian jail we decided to wait until Tuesday.
When we got back to the hotel, there was a Nigerian guy leaving who profusely apologized on behalf of his country and then told us that it’s happened to him a million times – flights leave early and they don’t tell anyone. Our hotel only had a room for last night, however, so we checked out this morning and into another hotel.
Today was Ghana’s first game of the world cup and it was fun to watch that here. During the first half the entire bar cheered every time Ghana had possession of the ball. People quieted down a little during the second half but the bar erupted in cheers and horns when Ghana scored. As an added bonus to the win, before the game the bar owner had the crowd pick 2 Ghanaian players and, if they scored, everyone in the bar would get a vodka and Coke. Luckily for us all, the player that scored the penalty was one of the free drink players. Vodka and coke must be a British drink (the owner of the bar is British) because neither of us had heard of making that combination. It was really interesting to see everyone SO excited behind one team. I hope World Cup Fever is strong in the US and I’m interested to see how it is in Senegal (whose team didn’t qualify).
So for another two days I am unwillingly on vacation. I’m thankful we were able to get a room, the flight isn’t too many days away, and everything’s going fairly smoothly… but I still can’t wait to get back to Bambey. I’m done being on African vacation and I want to be back in my own little corner of Africa. Hopefully we’ll only be stuck in Ghana for another two-ish days. Off to watch the Australia v. Germany game!
KO

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Last day in Ghana

Alyssa and I leave Ghana later tonight, and I think we're both ready to get back. The vacation has been fun and Accra has so much to offer, and as much as I don't want to go back to fish and rice, it'll be nice to get back to my room. I called my host family last night to tell them I would hopefully be back to Bambey by lunch on Sunday - Youssou said hi in the background. Our flight leaves tonight at 11pm, so we're about the check out of the hotel and pick up some last minute souvenirs for people in Senegal. Sorry if the descriptions of Ghana have been lacking - maybe I'll make up for that when I'm back in Senegal.

I hope everyone enjoys the US v. England game today!

KO

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

LSAT and Shopping

Yesterday morning we took the LSAT at the US Embassy. There were another 2 peace corps volunteers and about 6 Africans. There really isn't much to blog about the test, but it went well and I'm glad it's over. After the test we went to Champ's... yes... the American franchise sports bar Champs... and had buffalo wings, nachos with guacamole, and celebratory beer. We continued the celebration by hitting the street and trying everything that looked good along the way. Everyone says Ghana has amazing street food so we had some grilled corn and some grilled bananas. We saw amazing looking grilled meat but were full from Champs. (A side note, I realize it sounds stupid to be eating street food in Africa but chances are it's prepared no differently than the food I eat daily.)We walked around and saw downtown Accra and then came back to the hotel. We ended up hanging out with a returned peace corps volunteer who now works for a micro-finance institution and his co-workers who are all at our hotel. In case you're visiting Ghana, while their beer "Star" is good, I would highly recommend the cider, "Savannah."
We slept in this morning and then hit the markets. Rumor is Ghana has excellent shopping and I have not been disappointed. We wandered through their main market and saw all of the crabs, fresh vegetables (including avocado which we can't get in Senegal), and pigs feet. Ghanaians are definitely different than Senegalese. Aside from the fact it's odd to hear people speaking English, they are calmer and way less aggressive. I didn't feel like anything was a fight like everything is in Senegal. Then we went to the market when Alyssa remembered the top souvenir on our list: Obama fabric. Within 10 minutes we had each bought 6 yards of fabric with Obama's face. It's amazing and I'll get pictures up after the trip. After the big market we headed towards the artisan/touristy market. We wandered up and down the different stalls and finally found a good jewelery stall. A lot of the jewelery is similar across West Africa and we were looking for Ghanaian pieces. We both bought a fair amount of glass necklaces and some metal pieces before heading to the fabric stalls. While looking around we passed a woman who said, "hey sister, come by wooden spoons for you mother." I actually almost bought spoons from her because I thought the marketing pitch was great but, sorry mom, I was on a mission for fabric,not spoons.
Ghana is known for kente cloth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kente_cloth) which is fairly expensive but we each found colors and designs we really liked. Sure I have no use for a heavy scarf now but once I'm out of Africa I will! Armed with successful purchases we headed back to the hotel, first grabbing lunch at a seafood restaurant near the hotel.
After a few hours of hanging out we tried to venture into the rain to see Iron Man 2. We jumped in the first cab we saw who then told us he had no interest in taking us to the movie theater because there would be traffic and made us get out. We were both soaking wet from the heavy rain and returned to the hotel within 5 minutes of leaving.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ghana Day 2

Our plan to play into the lack of sleep to get on an "LSAT Schedule" worked and Alyssa and I got up around 7am without an alarm. We then went to breakfast and spent most of the morning studying. After working for a few hours we ventured outside of the hotel. I'd read online that Accra has a Chinese Restaurant that serves a dim sum menu on Sundays so we decided to check it out. Dakar has a delicious Chinese restaurant that's really low key, no decorations, simple tables - that kind of thing. Apparently always aiming to out-do Dakar, Dynasty Chinese restaurant in Accra is FANCY. The food was really good and the service was good which is a huge change from Senegal where good service means getting your food within 45 minutes of ordering and maybe having your order taken without having to find someone to take it. We walked around the Osu area after lunch and down a side street. I'm sure the rest of Ghana is nothing like this street was but the Ghanaian houses looked a little like Senegalese houses except they were all completely built and they were painted bright colors.

This afternoon was more studying and dinner was take out from lunch. We have one more day until the test and are just trying to lay low and stay in test mode. After the test we're going to try to go to the markets and take a day trip out of Accra to see just a hint more of Ghana. I have more to write about Accra compared to Dakar but that'll have to wait for another day.

KO

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Western World?

I left Bambey around 9am Friday morning and met up with several people for lunch in Thies. Afterwards 6 of us piled into a sept place and made our way to Dakar. We spent the rest of the day killing the 12 hours we had before leaving for Ghana. Finally around midnight we went to the airport and checked into the flight. We hung around the airport until 3:00am when we boarded. We were on the plane by 3:30 (after taking a bus to the plane) and took off around 4am. After taking off they dimmed the cabin lights. Then they turned them back on to serve us dinner (chicken and rice or fish and potatoes) at 5am. The lights were turned off around 6am and we landed at 7am. Fast forward to noon (after a shower and a nap): we went to the mall. Yes. The mall. It's like a normal indoor mall with a food court, nike store, puma store, apple store, a few other stores, and.... A MOVIE THEATER!
Because Ghana is an English speaking country they were playing a few recent American movies. After walking around we bought our tickets and went to see Sex and the City 2! I wish I could convey how excited we were when we found out it was playing, but I just don't think I can do it justice. Sure the movie was pretty horrible but we ate popcorn, sat in a movie theater, and watched a recent movie - it felt like I was back in the suburbs.
We're back at the hotel now and I am about to pass out working on about 3 hours of sleep over 36 hours. Tomorrow we are going to study and hang around. The test is on Tuesday - wish us luck, I'm sure I'll be posting more!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Certificates

Today I handed out certificates for the class and we took a class picture:


I also had a meeting with my scholarship girls and tried to arrange things for the summer. I asked a few of them what types of programing or things they would like me to try and organize over the summer. They all agreed on basketball and when I asked if they had anymore suggestions one said, "you mean we can do more than one thing?!" Things like that make my job easier. Two of the girls stayed after the meeting to help me grid the mural and one of them (the rest have class) is coming tomorrow morning to help me paint.

Other than things at the middle school today was more getting ready for leaving, some cleaning, laundry, and studying. Oh! The sheep now only bleat when someone walks by their area. If they start bleating when Youssou walks by he bleats back at them. These evening after the sheep and Youssou exchanged several rounds of bleating he yelled, "hahaha your mom is dinner somewhere!"

KO

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Noppi Noppi! (Be quiet!)

For the last 20 or so hours our sheep have been bleating. When they first started I thought it was their normal calls for Youssou to feed them... when it carried on all night and continued this morning I realized something was up. Today during lunch they actually broke out of their pen and so I finally asked about all the noise. Miriam told me the mother had been taken to Dakar... so long mom sheep!

I started on the mural (finally) today. I've painted the background and so now I just have... pretty much the entire mural to do. 2.5 days until I go to Dakar (and then on to Ghana)! Time to study!

KO