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: