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!