Tuesday, November 30, 2010


It's been a while since I had a run-in with my contention with curtsying but yesterday brought another battle.

I was at the department of education (where I've gone almost every week for the past few months) to organize some Junior Achievement classes. There's usually a group of men (teachers or administrators) sitting under a tree past the door so, like usual, I greeted them as I was walking into the building. They asked me to come back to them and this was the conversation we had:
"In our culture when a woman like you sees a group of men like us, you walk over and greet us personally and curtsy."
"I'll greet you all personally (then I did) and I'll ask you about your day (and I did) but I won't curtsy."
"You have to curtsy."
"I'll curtsy when you curtsy for me."
(some of the men laughed)
"Men are always the chief. They are always in of a family so that is why you must curtsy to me."
"This isn't a family, this is a place of business - a government organization."
"It doesn't matter. Men are always superior to women."
(At this point I was using all of my self-control) "Well, those may be your beliefs but I think they're wrong."
"No, men are always superior. And you're not being culturally respectful."
"I've lived here a year, I've made an effort to learn Wolof, I wear respectful clothing, and I participate in your culture but I won't curtsy unless you show me the same respect."
From there the conversation became about Senegalese food and whether or not I could cook any until I got away to go to my meeting.

I completely understand, and try very hard, to be culturally respectful - to a point. I will not start a meeting 2 hours late because that's a cultural norm. I will not pay people to attend a training I'm giving because they expect it. I won't curtsy to anyone because it is meant to put women in their "inferior" place.

In other news, I'm off for the All Volunteer Conference! Have a good (early) weekend!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving: Part 2

Happy belated Thanksgiving and happy start of the Christmas season! My Thanksgiving holiday kicked off with marketing for the Artisan Expo. Alyssa and I walked around downtown handing out flyers to restaurants, hotels, and businesses downstairs. The big coup of the day was when we walked into the European Union building and, using Alyssa's Wolof, convinced the guards to let us leave a flyer and a pamphlet. During the next week our awesome publicity materials should be posted on www.pcsenegal.org so check it out this week to see if it gets posted.

The night before Thanksgiving the 2nd year volunteers made chili and cornbread (which Alyssa and I made from scratch without a recipe and it was AWESOME) for the new volunteers. We all ate chili and had an awesome welcome party for the new Dakar region volunteers (they arrived in August so our party was a little late). We also voted on our WAIST costume theme... but I'm going to keep that a secret until WAIST in February!

On Thanksgiving morning Alyssa, Erin, Jackie, Brian, Tamar, and I went to Nicole's house to use her oven (there were a lot of people needing to use the oven at the regional house). We made an amazing breakfast with eggs, toast, bacon, and cooked vegetables. The rest of the day was spent hanging out and cooking, it was really great to have a real kitchen to use and be able to spend a relaxing time with friends. Brian made brownies and brownies with peanuts while the rest of us made a huge dish of squash casserole and another of homemade stuffing. After cleaning ourselves up a little (which I have to say we do well) we went to the Ambassador's and joined 40 other volunteers for an AMAZING Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone had brought a ton of sides, mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, green beans, cranberry sauce, pasta salad, homemade bread, and a ton of other stuff along with 3 turkeys and desserts galore. It was so great to have a normal dinner and get a 2 hour break from our normal lives - it was a really holiday. After dinner some of us took a walk over to the Meridian hotel and got a nice drink before heading back to the regional house.

The next morning I was up and back to site! Yesterday I caught up with Matar about artisan expo things and took stock of the work he has left to do before the expo (Dec 11-12). The volunteer from Diourbel was in town with her counterpart so I visited with her for a few hours - they're doing interesting work with solar ovens and were giving a training in my town to try and sell them.

Today I had a girls' group meeting that, unfortunately, only 3 girls showed up for but we made friendship bracelets and I asked them some questions about the girls' camp to help with our planning of future camps.

Happy Holiday Season Everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving: Part 1

Today was Thanksgiving in Bambey! My parents had sent me two cans of cranberry sauce which paired nicely with the mashed potatoes I made. I would have made more if it was possible but there isn't much in the market these days (also it all had to be cooked over a burner).

Before dinner (because I couldn't think of a better time), I peeled potatoes and then cooked them in my room (so I didn't use up my host family's gas burner). I took the potatoes downstairs when they were done cooking and I mashed them (and added salt, butter, and powdered milk) while they prayed. After prayer time I opened the cranberry sauce (that had been chilling in the fridge) and Youssou came in to check on what I was doing. He sampled the potatoes then carried out spoons for everyone else. I cut the cranberry sauce, along the lines of the can obviously, and followed with the food. Everyone really liked what I made, I think they ate most, if not all, of it. My host mom asked if I used a machine to get the potatoes like that and when I responded, "No, I used this fork," they were impressed (I overcooked the potatoes so they were really easy to mash).

I tried to explain that we eat a turkey with a whole bunch of side dishes but I think it translated into we eat turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and lots of vegetables... which is sort of right. Everyone ate the cranberry sauce into the mashed potatoes so, unintentionally, they got the awesomeness of when things mix together on your plate.

Tomorrow I go to Dakar for some work, a welcome party for the new (arrived in August - we're a little late) volunteers, and real Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


What do you do when faced with a few pieces of ram stomach, some bites of boiled potato, an oily broth, and a piece of bread? I opted to eat the stomach with the potato then conquered the broth with the bread. It's Tabaski leftover time!

The stomach soup was, not surprisingly, not the highlight of my day though. This morning I was sitting downstairs reading when the neighborhood kids realized they could see me through the open door and talk to me without coming into the house. They started chanting my name, asking me to come outside because they had something to show me, and then telling me they loved me. I normally would be nicer to neighborhood kids except everyone is running wild after a week without school. Every time I leave my house I get harassed with demands for money, a soccer ball, called names - everything. Also I've realized that I only enable kids when I give them attention for things like this... if you give a mouse a cookie. Eventually, Miss became annoyed with them chanting my name so she went out to tell them to leave. This caused them to momentarily scatter... but they returned. Adji (the 12 year old) went out to tell them to leave but they ignored her so she, all on her own, got a pitcher of water to throw at them. After enjoying the hilarity of the situation (my 12 year old host sister was sticking up for me against a whole bunch of 8 year old boys) I went out. "What do you want to show me?" they responded with giggles and silence. "Okay, if you don't have anything to show me or anything to ask me, you need to leave." Khady (the 3 year old) emphasized with a "go! get out!" It didn't really stop the kids.

I decided, regardless of the success of the mission, I would reward Khady and Adji for helping me out. My parents sent me bubbles a while ago and I'd been looking for a not-awkward time to bring them down. After realizing what they were Adji quickly hid hers in her room (that she shares with her mom and sister) while Khady was AMAZED. After having me blow bubbles for her, she tried to do it on her own. Unable to master the skill she had everyone else blow bubbles for her while she cheered and pointed out the bubbles. Eventually she spilled most of it but had enough left that, when she filled the bottle with water, it still worked.

This evening she brought her bottle out again and sat on Miss' lap trying to blow bubbles. Every time she would get one she would chant, "I can do it! I can do it!" or "look! I did it!" She also took turns having us blow bubbles for her. Mom and Dad, thanks for the bubbles - they were a huge hit.

If anyone wants the recipe for stomach soup I'm sure Miss will share!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tabaski: Year 2

Happy Tabaski Everyone! I'm going to try and explain the day as well as I can, I'll warn you it might be a little gruesome and the pictures that I'll post tomorrow are a little gory.

The day started around 8am when the mosque started calling. Eventually at 9am men from allover town had gathered in the open space at the end of my block. I later found out that on Tabaski, the religious leaders pick a few large open spaces instead of having everyone to crowded mosques. The men prayed and, as uncomfortable as I felt for watching them (which I barely did anyway), it was amazing to see all of the men and boys in their brightly colored boubous. While the men were praying the women were at home waiting. Around 9:30 Miss brought out a giant bucket filled with onions and another bucket to put the chopped onions in. Everyone started cutting. Senegalese women cut onions in their hands but, as an American who was raised with a healthy concern of knives, I requested a plate to act as a cutting board. Everyone said what I was going made sense and we all chuckled remember last year when I cut myself trying it their way. By the time the onions were done the men were back and it was sheep killin' time. We had 3 sheep (one for Mor, his older brother, and his younger brother - Miss' husband). Youssou led the sheep into the street and around the corner from the house while the women waited inside. After killing the sheep and letting them bleed out, they were returned into the "drive-way" area under my window and set on pieces of scrap metal. About this time Mor's brothers showed up and brought a ton of soda, bissap juice, bread, tomatoes, and peppers.

After sheep killin' time, it's sheep butcherin' time. We actually hired a butcher to come and help with all of that. Taco (Miss' husband) cut a slit in the leg of the sheep and then used a piece of tubing to inflate the sheep separating the skin from the organs. Then the sheep were skinned one at a time. After a sheep was skinned it was hung on the garage door and the butcher basically played pinata with a machete. He was hacking away parts and throwing them into buckets while Khady (the three year old) stared at the gruesome scene and squealed in delight.

While the sheep were being butchered the women (myself included) skinned potatoes and prepped the rest of the vegetables.

As soon as the animals were butchered the cooking began! First comes the liver (which sounds a lot better when you call it fois). Liver is grilled then eaten with onions and mustard. While Miriam grilled the liver and then the ribs, my host mom was working on the onion sauce for later in the day, Miss was cleaning EVERYTHING, I was peeling potatoes then helping Miriam cut meat, Aisha was cutting the larger pieces of meat into cookable pieces, Youssou was cleaning up the blood, and the men sat outside playing scrabble drinking sprite. At one point in this cooking madness everyone heard what sounded like my host dad calling my host mom from outside the house all of the women looked at her and she said, "I didn't hear anything... did you?" and everyone obviously agreed with her.

After the liver comes ribs and kababs (which Miriam and I put together). Once the first batch of kababs was finished the women and Youssou sat down/crouched around a platter to eat. Overcooked mutton isn't the best but mixed with grilled onions and mustard it isn't bad. I finished eating first and they let me take over for cooking the kababs - which isn't that impressive because they overcook everything so I just sat and watched them cook to far overdone.

Khady had been watching me all day and finally decided that if the women let me cook, or at least help, I must not be all that bad so she took to hanging on me when everyone else was annoying her/actually cooking. She led me around the house and then she pretended to hit me, eventually she was sent to do something else and I went upstairs to digest.

At some point after 4pm the main meal was ready (meat, onion sauce, fries, and bread) but luckily I wasn't called to eat... I don't think I could have at that point. Eventually it became time to put on my nice new dress. I had gone to the market and in a moment of confusion bought a polka dotted fabric. ugh. Then I asked Matar to turn it into a dress that looked like it had no shape... basically a recipe for attractiveness BUT WAS I EVER WRONG! The "shapeless" dress was TIGHT like Senegalese women like their clothes - I was worried it was going to burst every time I sat down or moved too quickly. A girls' camp/group girl had called me yesterday and asked if I could visit her so I was prepping to visit her. While I was putting in my contacts (hey it's the biggest day of the year!) the power cut. I had a Laura Ingles Wilde moment while putting on make-up (even though I don't think she wore eyeliner) and made my way downstairs. My host mom was really concerned with me going in the dark to visit someone so she sent Youssou along. He scared away some kids that were making fun of me...and then realized I was lost. We called the girl and she talked to Youssou and found us (I wasn't that lost - just one block past her house). By this time the power had come back on.

Youssou, who's normally the bottom of the ladder, was my guest/a guest of the house and it was nice to see him get a chair and be offered water (usually he's the one getting things for other people). I got to talk to the girl's older brother (who had convinced her parents that they should let her come to the camp). I'm glad I got to talk to him while his sister was around because he was thanking me for the work I did and I was able to say (loudly so she heard me) that I wasn't doing anything and that it was all his intelligent, hard working sister. It was even better to hear him acknowledge all of that (usually people just ignore when I compliment their kids/siblings). After a while there, Youssou and I returned to our house talking about the rebels in the southern part of the country (fyi - I'm sneaking him a pudding cup for coming along).

Because my household is mostly women who spent the entire day working everyone was tired and there wasn't much going on. After chatting with my host family for a little bit I came upstairs and here we are!

Everything smells like meat and we'll be eating these 3 sheep for the next 3 months BUT I had a really good holiday. Happy Tabaski everyone!


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Preparations: Beauty

Today Tabaski preparations were all about beauty! Over the past few days everyone has gotten rid of their weaves and let their braids go...all to get ready for NEW WEAVES! The fun actually started a few days ago: Miss and Aisha (Khady's mom) got their hair done a few days ago; yesterday my host mom had her braids taken out. Today's day of beauty started with Adji (the 12 year old) getting her new braids trimmed (the loose hairs had to be cut off). Then it was Khady's turn...her braids had been taken out yesterday so she had an adorable little fro. Miriam is the expert braider in our household so she sat in a plastic chair with Khady on a stool. The second a comb touched Khady's hair she started SCREAMING. She was writhing and Miriam had to hold her in place with her legs but it all finally stopped when Miriam gave up. During lunch everyone told Khady that she should get her hair braided and that she would be really pretty. Eventually Miriam was able to braid Khady's hair this afternoon. This evening Miriam and Ndeye went to get their hair relaxed before getting their weaves tomorrow or the next day.

More Tabaski preparations tomorrow I'm sure!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Are you preparing for the holiday?

I've been asked a LOT recently if I'm preparing for the holiday so eventually I asked what that entailed and no one could give me a direct answer. I've noticed, though, that there is a real festive mood that I didn't notice last year (possibly because last year, Tabaski was the day after Thanksgiving so I was a little distracted). Mor hasn't bought our Tabaski ram yet - I thought he had but it was just another sheep not the special one. He did explain the important things to consider when buying a Tabaski ram. According to him:
-God didn't set a price range, just that you spend what you can
-The sheep must be a male and must be at least 1 year old (so it's not a lamb)
-1 and 2 year old sheep are preferred because their meat is more tender
-A ram loses 2 teeth a year so you check how many teeth a ram has before buying it to make sure you're paying for the right aged ram
-Color and horns don't really matter - size is a way to show off your wealth

So there's a short guide for buying a Tabaski ram for those of you who still need to! The holiday this year will be Wednesday and school is out for the break. The students get a full week of classes off and only went on strike for one extra day off. I'm impressed they only demanded one extra day - usually they take another week or so off on strike.

More about holiday preparations tomorrow!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Tabaski!

Tabaski and the meat overload it brings is around the corner! Our Tabaski sheep have arrived and are happily living in the pen behind out our house. Tonight we had a huge sack of onions delivered to make enough onion sauce to feed the entire town. The holiday is the 17th and everyone is getting ready!

In other news, I received approval from the Department of Education to start teaching business classes again - this time at all 3 middle schools. Though I'd like the classes to start ASAP, which in Senegalese terms means January after the holidays.

And a little story for you:
Today we were eating lunch (ceeb u jen like normal) and I was sitting next to the three year old. While everyone either eats with their hand or a spoon (and doesn't change between their preferred method), Khady switches on a daily basis. Sometimes she eats with her hand and sometimes she eats with a baby spoon. Regardless of how she's eating she normally only eats hoyn which is the crunch rice scrapped off of the bottom of the pot. Like normal, my host mom was dividing up everyone fish and vegetables (she rips off pieces for us while we eat the rice). About halfway through my meal of fish, rice, and some carrot, Khady reached into my section and grabbed a piece of carrot. Everyone was silent waiting to see how I would react. Khady immediately realized that she had committed a HUGE faux pas and put the carrot back in my section. I thought it was pretty funny so I started chuckling and everyone else relaxed and saw the humor. I gave Khady the carrot back but she was still too afraid to eat it. Everyone around the bowl told her she could eat it and that I, as her friend, had given it to her. After finishing what I wanted to eat, I left the bowl. When I looked back the first thing Khady did was eat the carrot.