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

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Chance Meeting

Now that the school year is over and the girls' camp is on it's way to being funded, I'm starting new projects. I set out this morning hoping to meet about the first new project idea (which has to do with malaria prevention). The meeting went well and the contact at the health center seems really interested in the project but, not surprisingly, everything's a little slow coming together. As I was walking to the post office to mail some letters a random car pulled up next to me. There was an older Senegalese guy sitting in the passenger seat who then showed me his UN ID card. I explained that I was the PCV in Bambey and he invited me to his meeting. He's based in Diourbel (my regional capital) and is working with mobilizing local volunteers (not like me but actual community members) to work towards the millennium development goals. I ended up meeting 3 people from Bambey who have organizations I hope to work with in the future. The UN guy is coming back in a few weeks to check on the progress of the Senegalese volunteers and he seems excited to involve me in whatever projects come from this. It was absolutely random that I ran into this guy and that he stopped to invite me to this meeting. I'm really hoping that good things can come from it.

In other Bambey news, the magazines my parents and friends have sent are pretty much falling apart because my host sisters look through them every day and have started inviting friends over to look through them. Youssou only looks through them to point out ads for food and ask me if I could make it for him (most of the stuff I can't like today is was Jello's new chocolate mousse thing). Also, my host sister Awa just found out today that she passed her baccalaureate exam and is officially a high school grad! Just to give you an idea about how big of a thing it is, there was a news story about how one school had "outstandingly high passage rates" this year... 48% of the students passed... meaning more than half the students have to repeat their senior year of high school.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

4th of July

At 5:30am on July 2nd Jackie and I were standing outside of a gas station in Bambey, with our bikes, bags, and wearing birthday hats. Around 6am a sept-place pulled up from Thies with Alyssa and the birthday girl (Tamar). We were off to our way to Kedougou for the annual 4th of July party!

After around 11 hours in the car we finally made it to Kedougou and practically collapsed in the hotel. We managed to get out in time to eat some warthog sandwiches (the first of many during the trip) and met other volunteers at a bar to watch the Ghana v. Uruguay game.

The morning of the 3rd we explored Kedougou a little: it's the capital of the most Southeastern region (it borders Guinea and Mali) and is mostly Pulaar (compared to the mostly Wolof rest of the country). No offense to Kedougou but it is the most underdeveloped region of the country (but the people are way nicer than in Wolof country). The rest of the 3rd was spent watching soccer and hanging out in the pool with other volunteers (not to mention 3 Senegalese prostitutes who were hanging out at the pool while their French guys were working... one of them was wearing shorts that said "I do you you do me").

On the 4th we went to the regional house where everyone was in red, white, and blue; we sang the Star Spangled Banner; and we ate potato salad with 2 roasted pigs. We all joke that we've never loved America more than we do now but the Kedougou volunteers did an AMAZING job of throwing together a great party to celebrate.

We got up early on the 5th of bike to the waterfalls 40km away. After about 4 hours of mountain biking we got to the waterfalls and went for a swim. (In case you were wondering, we were closer to Guinea than we were to Kedougou.) We decided to take a car back but that ended up kind of backfiring. The car got a flat on the way to get us which took a few hours to fix. Finally, we ended up getting in the car around 8 to set off through the rocky, muddy water filled road... and got a flat tire in the middle of a puddle in an area without cell reception. We drove on the rim and almost got stuck in a ditch but ended up making it to the road where the driver's friend met us with a tire. Eventually, 3 and a half hours later we made it back to the hotel. The next morning we were up at 5am and back in the car to get back to site.

Today I just hung out and recovered for a little bought of dehydration. I also read a Time magazine while my host sisters read a J-14 Rachel P. had sent me. At one point Ndiaye pointed to a picture and asked if it was a movie ad. I said, "no he's a singer," and her response was, "I know who Justin Beiber is, I just didn't know if he was in a movie too."