Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'll be home for Christmas

Happy Holidays Everyone! This might be my only blog from the States but I thought my journey back was worth a post.
I planned on leaving Bambey by 8am Monday because I had things to do in the Peace Corps office in the afternoon. My host mom helped me look for a donkey cart to take my baggage to the road so I could flag down a bus but we couldn’t find one. Eventually I walked to the market and got the first cart I saw. At a pace slower than I walk we headed back to my house. When we got there my host dad was starting his car and said to me in English, “I’m going to Dakar too put your stuff in the car.” When I told my host mom what was going on she was PISSED - not at me but because my host dad had just gotten back from Dakar the day before and hadn’t told her he was going back. I felt bad kind of picking sides but how can you turn down a free ride that will take half the time as the bus? We had to take a detour out of Bambey because the teachers and students had barricaded the national highway because the teachers were owed 6 months of paychecks.
We made it to Dakar in only a few hours and I was at the office on time. After the office I went back to the regional house which is bursting at the seams of volunteers leaving and volunteers waiting to pick up friends or family. There was another volunteer on my flight so we got take out Chinese food and just hung around repacking our bags.
I like getting to the airport early (not a surprise if you know my parents) so I convinced the other volunteer to leave the regional house at 4am. We went to the airport with two other volunteers going to Tanzania and found a cab pretty quickly. When we made it to the highway the cab pulled over and said that we had to get out because his car was broken but he would find us another car. We switched cars and made our way to the airport. At the airport we had our bags weighted (mine were under which was a good surprise) and then completely searched through. After most of the things were taken out of my bag they had to be put back in – which took time considering the number of presents I’m bringing home!
After checking in the other volunteer and I went through customs and security. Then we bought a juice and went to the special Delta gate which had… ANOTHER SECURITY CHECK! At this point we’d been through several and it was just humorous. Our carry-ons were searched, we had to drink our juices, we were pat down, then we were sent to another waiting room. Around 6:50am we boarded our flight and that’s where I am now. There’s a second Senegal PCV on this flight and one from The Gambia too. I’m currently about 4 and a half hours from JFK. Hopefully I won’t have any more blog-worthy adventures and will make it safely and quickly to Chicago.
I’m back! This time I’m blogging from JFK while waiting for my flight to Chicago. The flight before mine was cancelled because of bad weather but hopefully mine will get out alright. So a few things worth noting:

1. To get between terminals at JFK you have to walk outside. SURPRISE! I’m in flipflops and a shirt… and still defrosting but it was refreshing!

2. I look crazy because I’m so smiley and I’m thanking everyone.

3. Turkey sandwiches are amazing

4. Blue Moon’s are also amazing

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Alyssa and Katherine go to Diourbel: Pictures

For all of the pictures go to Alyssa's blog: http://alyssainsenegal.blogspot.com/ or her Picasa album http://picasaweb.google.com/alyssatitche/SoftballSeason#

but here are two kids with axes:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Alyssa and Katherine go to Diourbel

During the Artisan Expo Alyssa, Tamar, and I put in orders for wooden, "traditional", Senegalese chairs. The artist works in Diourbel which is 25km east of me. We sat in the chairs and described the coloring we wanted and the complete lack of a design EXCEPT we wanted "Corps de la Paix 2009-2011" on the bottom of the chairs. We wrote it all out and had a long conversation about how we needed to get the chairs by the 18th. Everything was agreed upon, we shook hands, and paid the down payment (half).

Everyday last week I called the artist and he seemed to be making great progress. He was sure he would be able to get all 6 chairs done for us to take on the 18th. When I called Thursday he said they would be done after 5pm. When I called Friday they would be done before noon!

Today Alyssa and I (because Tamar has already returned to the glorious America) met in Diourbel. We called the artist and he said to stop by after lunch. We ate lunch at pretty much the only restaurant in Diourbel and had bad sandwiches. Afterwards we went to the "artist village" which is a bunch of half build buildings and is 95% jewelery makers. After rounding several corners and following the sound of axes we found the wood working section... and we found an entire wood posse making our chairs! There were other people making other chairs which, it appears, you do by hacking away with an ax at a piece of wood then sanding a ton. All 6 of our chairs were being sanded by Mamadou (the artist), his father, and his brothers who ranged from in their 20s to 6 years old. The 6 year old was sanding a chair piece that was actually bigger than him. Mamadou gave us two other chairs to sit in away from the action in what seemed to be the pee corner... like where you go if you need to pee... or at least that's what it smelled like. Eventually he brought over a bottle of Sprite with two glasses for us which was really nice of him, we each drank a glass not to be rude then spent about 30 minutes trying to call over the 6 year old. Eventually he took the Sprite and shared it with the entire posse.

Once the sanding was done Mamadou came over with the bottoms of the chair (where we wanted the carvings) and asked us to write what we wanted. After writing it on one he took a chisel and started hacking away. We then wrote it on all of the bottoms and he hacked away at all of them. While they were varnishing/tinting the chairs with shoe polish Alyssa and I took a stroll around the market to get empty rice sacks to put our chairs in. When we came back we were able to take in the full multi-generational scene that seems to be the Diourbel artist village. It seems like under 10 years old you're allowed to sand and carry things. Once you're over 10 you're allowed to swing an ax uncontrollably at a log. 10-15 it looks like you can hack away at the big pieces and older than 15 you're doing the more artistic hacking, the finishing touches if you will.

Once our chairs were finished we paid for the rest and were on our way! Mamadou put us in a cab to the garage where Alyssa and I parted ways (until post-America time!). I got into my "mini-bus" which is an old conversion van with WAY too many seats. We left Diourbel with 19 people in the car and my chair pieces (they break down into 2 pieces) in an open rice sack on the roof. I spent the first half of the ride watching for chair pieces to fly off the roof and impale donkeys on the side of the road. Once we hit the halfway point I got distracted - the door next to me flew open while we were driving but NO WORRIES! it was closed again. Then, 10km, from Bambey we loaded up with people... by my count we had 21 people in the car and 5 people hanging off the back.

I'm back safely (with all of the chair pieces) and the chairs fit into my suitcase! I have 1 last girls' group meeting tomorrow. Monday I'm off to Dakar and to America Tuesday - send positive thoughts about the weather to New York and Chicago!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy New Year's!

Tonight is New Year's for the Muslim calendar aka Tamkharit in Senegal! Unlike most holidays this one is pretty low-key... there was even school this morning! Forgetting it was Tamkharit I scheduled a meeting for this afternoon but I had 32 students show up which added another 3 Junior Achievement classes to my schedule starting in January - I'm now over 100 students (and that's only at two of the 4 schools).

But back to the holiday!

For dinner we ate Senegalese couscous, chicken, and tomato sauce. As we sat down to the bowl they asked if I wanted a spoon then explained that everyone usually eats with their hands on Tamkharit so I dived in! Eating couscous isn't all that hard - just a little messy. After dinner the kids put on a ton of random clothes - some cross dressing, some just in ridiculous outfits - and put on whiteface. Then they got drums they had made earlier in the week and are marching around house to house kind of trick-or-treating. I bought a bag of candy earlier today that my family is giving out along with some cookies they bought.

Happy Tamkharit Everyone!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Artisan Expo!

I've been in Dakar for the last few days to the Artisan Exposition. Every year artists, who work with PCVs, travel to Dakar and have a two-day exposition/market. This year Alyssa was the expo chief and I was her runner/helper. She did an AMAZING job putting the expo together. The artists were from all over the country and sold: wood sculptures, silver jewelery, beaded jewelery, cloth bags, clothing, art work, traditional crafts, and a variety of other things. The first day the artists sold from 10am-5pm.
The second day the expo started with a training for the artists while volunteers sold for the artists. During the expo the artists created a network and elected a board to run the network. Theoretically they will be able to start planning and eventually take over the planning for the expo. After the network was created there was an instant increase in comradery and togetherness with the artisans. They started buying things from each other and collaborating on projects. Matar, my tailor/artist, is working with a leather artist to leather handles on some bags.
Another huge success of the expo was in the marketing. Usually notices are sent out by people who work in the office but this year Alyssa and I decided amp it up a little. We put flyers all around downtown Dakar hoping that it would attract some new clients... and it totally did! We had some people fill out surveys and most of the clients said they heard about the expo from our flyers downtown. One woman owns a boutique, heard about the expo from the flyers, and ended up buying a ton of stuff to resell. At the end of the expo we totaled the amount sold and this year we had tripled last year's expo total! Overall it was a HUGE success!
In addition to a great expo, we spent the weekend making delicious meals! The first night we made amazing taco salad, that was followed with bacon mac and cheese (made from Velveeta my mom sent), then Tamar and Alyssa made brisket and latkes, and last night we had pasta with an arrabiata sauce.
I'm at the training center in Thies right now to give a presentation this afternoon and then back to site! After that it's only a few days until I'm off to the US! I'm trying to load up the next few days with things to be busy so they don't drag on. I'll post my pictures from the expo tonight or tomorrow when I'm back at site.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All Volunteer Conference

Last weekend was the annual All Volunteer Conference (or all vol for short) when Peace Corps Senegal (about 200 volunteers) descends upon one city (this time Thies) for a weekend of learning and sharing. The sessions were interesting but I think what happened outside of sessions makes for a more interesting blog!

The night before all vol I stayed at Jackie's in Pout and we had a nice Mexican fiesta (vegetarians taco salad) and enjoyed trashy tv. The next morning dinner became breakfast (fiesta omelet) and we were off to Thies!

For the first night of Hanukkah the Jewish volunteers lit a menorah while drinking in the Catholic compound next to the training center - how about that for sharing cultures! Another night we had a HUGE trivia game with most of the volunteers - my team was second by 1 point.

For the final night of all vol, my friends and I treated ourselves to a lovely Massa Massa dinner. After dinner we went to the bumper cars. Yes. Thies has bumper cars. It's run by a Lebanese guy and mostly filled with Lebanese teenage boys while Senegalese kids stand around the outside and watch. Most of the cars are broken and hard to drive - for example, I had a car that only went backwards - but it was a hilarious time.

I'm now back at site getting some work done before the Artisan Expo which is this weekend in Dakar. Alyssa, Tamar, and I have been working on creating an eating plan that includes: mexican, mac and cheese, Shabbat dinner, breakfast sandwiches, and a romantic sunset date with shellfish.

I hope everyone's enjoying the cold and listening to Christmas music!