Sunday, July 17, 2011

So Long Senegal!

I had always thought about joining the Peace Corps but, it took until the summer before my senior year of college to realize that a corporate job was not what I wanted for post-graduation: I wanted a little adventure and I wanted to push myself.

I ended up submitting my application in September 2008 and, over the course of almost a year, worked towards THE PEACE CORPS. I have to believe several people, myself included, weren't sure if I was actually going to end up spending two years in a developing country, but I went through the application process. There was no way I could have understood what Peace Corps would actually be then but here I am, an RPCV (returned peace corps volunteer) with a complete service behind me. There really is no experience like Peace Corps - I've hit some of the lowest lows but I can't tell you how great the highs are. Work projects have failed, I've been harassed, and several days have passed when I just wanted to give up. I've also done more than I thought I could, have made some amazing friends, and have really experience part of the world in a way just visiting wouldn't do.

There's nothing like being a Peace Corps volunteer. If you're thinking about joining, I would recommend it. As much as I hate to admit it but all of the cheesy promotional sayings about Peace Corps are true - it's going to be possibly one of the most difficult times in my life, but I've loved it.

703 days after I left Chicago I'll be returning. Thank you everyone for reading my blog and following this adventure. Thanks Peace Corps and Senegal for giving me two truly unforgettable years.

So long!

Goodbye Bambey

Because it was my last morning in Bambey, I got up before sunrise yesterday to give myself some time and to enjoy the last few hours of this part of my life. I finished cleaning my room, swept one last time, packed all of my electronics away, and showered - by the time everything was ready the car that I had rented was there to pick me up. He driver was only a few minutes early but I couldn't help feeling like it was too soon. Before I go on, let me say that, regardless of the emotions I had while leaving - I am still extremely excited and ready to go home.

Back to Bambey: the driver and Miss helped me take my bags (2 suitcases, 3 rice sacks full of trash) out to the car. It was still fairly early so only the women and my host dad were awake. First I said goodbye to Aisha, Khady's mom. We were both pretty teary-eyed but we managed to keep it together for our left handshake (which, in Wolof, is symbolic that the handshake isn't "completed" or "right" so you have to go back and finish it, in other words, it's a "this isn't goodbye" sort of goodbye). Next to Aisha was my host mom and the second we made eye contact we both started crying. It might seem ridiculous but I really do feel like we're family so saying goodbye to her and not knowing if I will see her again was hard. The rest of the goodbyes with my host family were all a teary blur; my host dad offered a prayer for my safe return back and the driver set off. I feel like emotions are normally fairly mixed: you're sad yet anxious, you're angry and frustrated, etc. but yesterday morning was just sad. It was just raw, pure sad. Yes, like I said, I'm very excited to come home but I wasn't thinking about that while I was saying goodbye to what has been my home for two years.

It took about 45 minutes to get from Bambey to Alyssa's house in Thies. We loaded her bags in the car when the driver told me that we had too much baggage for what he and I had negotiated - we needed to pay him more. I LOST it and just snapped at him, "we're leaving our Senegalese families today, the people we've lived with for two years, and we don't know when we'll ever see them again and YOU'RE ASKING ME FOR MORE MONEY?!" I think my outburst scared him enough and he didn't mention it further. While Alyssa said goodbye to her host family I hid in the car - I couldn't deal with another crying Senegalese mom. After leaving Alyssa's, before leaving Thies, the driver stopped to pick something up. I got out and started taking my trash bags out of the car. The drive came and was EXTREMELY confused but we explained it to him and he decided we should wait until we were out of town to dump my trash. A few kilos out of Thies we stopped so I could get rid of the bags:



Sure I might have set some Peace Corps Volunteer's project back several years by dumping trash on the road but at least my replacement won't have to get rid of it and my host family won't go through it. After the trash dump we continued to Pout to get Jackie. This pick-up aws exactly like Alyssa's - we loaded her bags then hid from the crying families.

Once we started on the road out of Pout our normal rented sept-place became the PARTY PLACE! Alyssa popped open one of our bottles of champagne (that had been hanging out in Jackie's fridge) out the car window while Jackie pulled out special bucket/cups, decorated with American stickers, and I got an American playlist playing. We toasted to our two years and to the ridiculousness of it all. The trip into Dakar didn't take too long - just a few hours and we only got lost once.
In Dakar we grabbed burgers from the place next to the regional house and tackled the repacking of our suitcases. Alyssa and I had things to redistribute and we all had lots of things in our lockers at the regional house. Because there are several people leaving this week the house is just an explosion of bags. There's almost no room for walking because everyone has so much stuff. Add to that one of the hottest days we've had in a while and you get a slow afternoon.

Once the bags had been repacked we all just hung out in the backyard of the house where it's always the coolest. Eventually we cleaned up and went to a friend's apartment for some cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Even though the day was very emotionally overwhelming it was nice to just sit with friends and talk.

Today we're hanging out at the Peace Corps office so we have internet and because there isn't much to do in Dakar when it's raining like it is today. Later tonight we'll have some sort of celebratory dinner and then, around 2am, Alyssa, Matt, and I head to the airport for the PARTY PLANE back home.

I'm hoping to get one final blog posted tonight so keep a look out.

KO

Friday, July 15, 2011

Goodbyes

Today was my last day in Bambey. Tomorrow a car picks me up drive on to get Alyssa, then Jackie, then we're off to Dakar. I can't believe it's the end. Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited to get home but I just can't believe that it's been two years and that my Peace Corps Service - a block of time I've been talking about and thinking about for almost three years now... is done. This part of my life has two days left on it then it's on to the next thing, whatever that ends up being.

Yesterday I went around town saying my final goodbyes to some of my work partners. I also had a little last minute business to wrap up, securing my replacement a counterpart, and then I needed to pack. I was taught to pack in piles, which, in Onyshko speak, usually means a pile to pack and a pile to throw out.... in my current life it means a pile pack for home, a pile to pack then unpack and give to specific volunteers, a pile to pack then unpack for the general free-for-all volunteer closet, a pile for my host family, a pile of things to leave for my replacement, and a pile of trash. Add Khady coming to my room and constantly moving things and you get quite a hectic time, but it's almost done. All I have left to do tomorrow morning is pack my electronics, sweep, and lock the trunk for my replacement.

Today I said goodbye to Matar and gave him the Peace Corps shirt my training group made. It's dorky and probably too small for him but he has my ancienne's so I thought it would be nice if he had mine too. That was a hard goodbye but I know that nothing will be as hard as saying goodbye to my family.

Tonight they made me beans for dinner because they're my favorite. One of the kids saw it and said, "beans? ugh? really? we're eating beans? whhhyyyy?" and the three women responded "because Fatou loves them and it's her last night!" It was so nice that they did that for me. My host mom also made me a care package of my favorite Senegalese things to take back home. Adji (the 12 year old) will be in summer school tomorrow when I leave so I had to say goodbye to her today... we were both crying by the end of it so I know that tomorrow I'm going to be a mess. Normally my philosophy on goodbyes is that you're either good enough friends you'll see them again or you're not really friends so you shouldn't cry. My host family really is the exception to that rule. They've become a second family to me and I want to see them again but I don't know when it will be, who will be around, all of that. It's just going to be sad but to come home I have to say goodbye.

So! Tomorrow I leave Bambey. I'm going to try and blog at least once more from Dakar, hopefully in that sitting I'll have two blogs to post. Happy Friday everyone.

KO

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Passing the Torch

Yesterday was the last day of de-myst/volunteer visit and the Thies Region decided to celebrate 4 generations of volunteers in style. The Thies region didn't really exist, or at least not in its current strong form, until my group came along. We started organizing lunches in Thies and followed our social gathering with work projects: collaborations and the girls' camp. Top this off with shirts and an appreciation for the finer things in Senegal and you get the current Thies region.

So! To introduce our replacements into this high class living style as well as to their new besties (or at least their newest neighbors), we organized a little get-together. Everyone from the region met at Warang, a liquor distillery, for a tasting of liquors made with local flavors (bissap, ginger, cashew apple, etc.) followed by lunch at a beach front restaurant. The lunch place is FAMOUS for their pizzas, apparently some of the best in Senegal, but somehow their wood burning pizza oven was broken and irreparable (even by a specialist brought in from France), so we had pasta instead. Originally we were supposed to get rice, chicken, and onion sauce but, given that Alyssa and I have PROUDLY gone 2 years without paying for Senegalese food outside of our houses, we weren't going to let that slide. I called to organize alternative options. We settled on two pasta options; I asked for 11 of one and 11 of the other... instead we each got a plate with, from left to right, sauce 1 (carbonara), pasta, sauce 2 (bolognaise)... it was a little odd but kind of brilliant at the same time. After lunch I took my last public transport ride back to site and here I am. I need to spend my final two days packing and saying goodbye to people but I can't help but stall. It's bizarre for the end to actually be almost here. I really can't believe that what has seemed so mundane for two years is the end - I'm trying to remember everything. I need to get a little more packing done tonight but I'll leave you with a picture of the Thies/Dakar region, past, present, and future.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Beginning and The End

I got up bright and early this morning to leave the training center for the last time. I wasn't traveling alone on this trip, I was accompanying my replacement, Stanzi, to see her new home. She and I will be in Bambey until Tuesday touring around a really just enjoying all that there is to offer. It is exciting and encourages a lot of retrospection on my part. I remember seeing Bambey for the first time and, simultaneously, the city looked unique and indistinguishable from what I'd already seen of Senegal. I remember all of the questions I had so I'm trying to preempt them or at least answer them as well as I can. I honestly seems like just yesterday when I walked from my new house, down the main street, met Matar for the first time, and continued into town. I can't believe that my two years are up and that this is now Stanzi's new house, my old house; her first time meeting Matar, one of my last times with him.

Today we did a basic walking tour just so she could start orienting herself. We walked through the market to visit my vegetable lady while causing quite a scene the entire time (two Americans! Ridiculous!). At one point several women gathered round to exclaim how amazing it was that I was Kira (my ancienne volunteer)'s replacement and I was standing next to my replacement! Shocking! Amazing! SO MANY GENERATIONS OF VOLUNTEERS! Every vendor we've seen has also made sure that I told Stanzi she should shop with them.

We also visited Matar and I showed her all of the different designs. It seems like she has a ton of great ideas already - I'm so excited to see how the artisan network and Matar's product line grows!

Most importantly of the day was her introduction and interactions with the family. We walked in and there was a huge to-do because she was here, I'd come back from a long trip, and Awa (my host sister who was studying in Algeria) came back and I saw her for the first time today. She needed a Senegalese name so I told my host family and my host mom and dad thought about it. They finally suggested Khady because they know how close I am to the little Khady already in my house. After deciding that it wouldn't be too confusing to have two "Khady Falls" in the house, Stanzi got her new name! At the time, little Khady wasn't home but I was anxious to see how she would react to the new toubab that I had promised her. She was definitely shocked that the new toubab was here and was actually a real person. I think it took her even more by surprise when she learned that they shared the exact same name. Throughout the course of the day, however, little Khady went from being abnormally shy to her normal, sassy, bossy self. By this evening she was taking turns climbing all over Stanzi and I. I'm really happy that my host family seems to excited and welcoming of Stanzi. I had a feeling they would be but it's great to see that my replacement will be well taken care of for her two years.

One last thing, I had my last girls' group meeting today with the core group of girls and boy was that sad. It was really exciting to introduce them to Stanzi and to listen to them talk about what they want to do with her next year. Salamata (my favorite) even came early and gave me a pair of shoes which is so unbelievable nice, especially considering how poor her family is. She and I didn't have a ton of time to talk but she told me that her sister asked her dad if Salamata could live with and work for her sister for the summer. I'm a little worried that she won't be able to come back to school but she seems to think she will - I hope she's right. Saying goodbye to my little group of girl scouts was sad. They haven't been my largest project but they've become like members of my Senegalese family. I was getting a little choked up when thanking them for helping me and being so kind and welcoming to me.

But! Enough about today from my perspective... you should all go to Stanzi's blog (www.scatteringthemorningdew.tumblr.com) and read about her first Bambey day.

KO

Friday, July 8, 2011

Relationships

Over the past two years I've seen a lot of growth in a lot of my relationships. I've been so impressed with everyone.

I came to Peace Corps with several really amazing friends from college and from high school. Though I was a little worried about how they would fare, two years is a long time, but I have been so impressed and thankful for how these relationships have changed over the past two years. I've had friends that I already loved dearly show me so much support through packages, letters, emails, phone calls, and even visits. There have been friends that I feel like I have actually grown closer to during these two years. I think I said this a while ago but I am constantly impressed with how much effort my friends, including women from my sorority, have put into staying in touch. I really cannot thank all of you enough for everything you've done during the past two years. On my worst days you listened to be complain about things that were a world away and not related to you, you've let me escape from Senegal with news from home, and you've really shown that the line between friends and family often blurs in a beautiful way.

Not only have I really been impressed by my friends from home, but I seriously never expected to make the strong friendships that I've found in Peace Corps. All of the volunteers are so helpful and accepting but I have found such a good, close group of friends I am sure we will stay in contact. They've also helped me through some of the lowest points in my service and they've been there to celebrate the high points. We've had a really reciprocal relationship so I'm pretty sure they know how integral they have been to my service - thanks toubabs!

I wish I had more to write about how supportive Alan has been during my service but I really am speechless. I know anything I say won't appropriately explain how amazing he has been with letters, packages, coming to visit, and spending a ton of money to call me almost every night on Skype or Google Voice. I really feel like our relationship has grown in depth exponentially.

This brings me to my family. Oh man, what do I say. My parents have sent me a small grocery store of packages that has really pulled me through my service. They've come to visit and put up with the tortures of Senegal that I put them through. They've always been so supportive and encouraging - it sounds so simple but it really has made my service easier. Beyond just the support of my parents, my extended family has really shown how strong a family can be - even a family that's spread around the country. Every email, call, or conversation we've had has really made me feel the great Onyshko/Pulley network.

Everyone who has read my blog and been part of these two years have put so much work into my service that I really cannot thank you enough. It might seem very simple, but even just being an audience to my stories has made a positive impact on my service. Thank you all so much for the support and the love you've given over the past two years. It really has meant a lot and it's made my Peace Corps service easier.


KO

PS: Tomorrow I'll write more about my replacement as she visits Bambey for the first time - I'm excited to see Bambey again for the first time through her eyes!

Changes

Two years is a fair amount of time - so here's a list of some of the things that have changed:

-I can wear black and brown at the same time. I would NEVER wear any black at all with any brown at all... until I came to Peace Corps when clothing became more about "keeping me cool" then "looking cool."

-I now eat onions and mustard. Didn't before, do now.

-I enjoy working with youth.

-I have an awesome gag reflex. Sure when I came here I had pretty good control of my gag reflex (I think that comes from growing up with bad dogs who poop in the house) but now, many, most nasty smells and disgusting things only trigger a grimace.
-My confidence with French has really improved.

-I think I'm impervious to awkward. Seriously, just about every second of my day is awkward so I'm kind of just over it now. (No, this is not a challenge)
-I am a lot more patient.
-My "camp fire cooking" ability has really expanded. I have several recipes to pull from that are all one pot, one knife, and cooked over a fire/gas.

-Speaking of fire... I've cooked over fire, charcoal, and gas.

-I can light a gas stove, though I'm still afraid of it.
-I'm outstanding at killing bugs, especially mosquitoes.
In just a few hours my replacement will know they're going to Bambey and I'm sure I'll have a lot to write about her three day visit to Bambey over this weekend. I keep saying this, but keep watching for more blogs posted - maybe even a second today.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

American Holidays Celebrated Internationally

I hope everyone had an amazing holiday this past weekend! The Fourth of July has always been a fun holiday but I’ve really come to appreciate it even more living here (yes, I realize that sounds a little ironic).

Saturday morning April (the volunteer that lives 25km east of me) rented me a place in a sept-place to pick me up on the way to Thies. She planned on leaving around 8am but called me around 7:20am to tell me she was leaving the garage… I quickly threw a ton of stuff in my bag and jumped in the shower. In 20 minutes I was locking my door and on the way out. It usually takes me about 5 minutes to walk to the road - where April was meeting me – but I was about 3 minutes late. April, and her car of Senegalese people were waiting for me so I took off running. Sure I’ve picked up running since being here but I’ve never taken an early morning jog in normal clothes, sandals, with a full hiking backpack and carrying a purse with my computer. According to April, I came running up to the car, opened the back door, and immediately offered a winded “Saalamaalikum” greeting. April and I were the first people in Thies and got out of the car just as the dashboard started smoking. Eventually we met the other 6 people in our party and left for the beach!

For this holiday weekend (America and Tamar’s birthdays) we decided to try a new beach. We rented rooms at a hotel that we thought had been recommended by volunteers but no one could remember the name so we just went based on the prices of the rooms. It turns out we had made an excellent decision and we ended up in a hobbit like/medieval castle/stone fortress/monastery hotel on the beach. We spent most of the weekend eating crepes and lounging at the beach and in the water. We all got a little burned but it was helpful in evening out all of our tan lines that are quite stark from two years of walking around under the African sun with our knees covered.

Yesterday morning we left to go to Dakar to celebrate the Fourth. I decided that, in honor of the birthday for the greatest country ever, I would get a high-five for all 235 years of America. That started early in the morning and has continued all day. It’s included many high-fives over the phone, including 11 from Alan and his friends celebrating in New York. The traffic on the way into Dakar was HORRIBLE but eventually we made it to the regional house. We quickly threw in a load of laundry and washed the soot and exhaust from the ride before heading to the American club. There was a big barbeque so we all got to eat burgers for the Fourth. Because all of the US Embassy workers have a more formal event in the evening, the day barbeque was aimed at kids… which explains the CREEPY Senegalese clowns. Seriously. I thought normal clowns were unsettling but Senegalese clowns are really creepy. One point of their act included balancing kids high in the air above concrete – horrifying.

After burgers, we the 8 volunteers went downtown to run a few errands and eat ice cream. Alyssa, April, and I hit a GOLDMINE at a bead store. We found two amazing Senegalese guys who sell big strings of beads. Usually, artists like Alyssa’s jewelry maker, buy a strand of beads and make several necklaces using a few of these beads as focal point beads. As people who cannot pass up interesting jewelry, the three of us spent a while in the store creating different combinations and eventually purchasing a ton. Here’s what volunteers having too much fun with beads looks like:

With new necklaces in hand, we went to N’Ice Cream – the ice cream store – to continue our celebration of America through food: Obama Cookie Ice Cream. YUM!

After ice cream we met back the rest of our crew at the regional house to begin making dinner. Let me add a quick disclaimer that, though it sounds like all we do is eat, and though we do eat a lot of food, it takes a lot of time to travel so between ice cream and starting to cook it was maybe an hour or so. We made a delicious, America dinner with many thanks to my mom for sending us the key ingredient: Velveeta. If you combine Velveeta with bacon and macaroni you get an addicting, amazing, dinner. For a third time today – amazing. Dinner was followed by a viewing of The American President.

For the next few days I’ll be in Dakar doing close of service things. The plan is to be totally done before I head to Thies on Thursday. Here’s hoping it all works and everything gets done!

I promised more retrospective blogs and I’ll try and get those going!

KO

Saturday, July 2, 2011

And when I come back...

Most of the volunteers are down in Kedougou celebrating America but, because I have to be in the office on Tuesday, I'm sticking around the Dakar area. We're trying out a new beach town slightly north of the place we usually go. For the 4th I'll, hopefully, be at the bbq in Dakar. If that doesn't happen, however, several volunteers have the back up plan of a "donut party" because what's more American than fried food.

I'll spend about a week out of site and when I come back next week it will be with my replacement! The end is really approaching quickly. I have 16 days left in country, and only 6 of them are left in Bambey. I really need to up the retrospective blogging so I will try and post Tuesday.

Have an amazing 4th! Eat a burger or some very American chips and dip for all the Peace Corps volunteers trying to celebrate it internationally!

KO

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Senegalese Women

I cannot tell you enough how amazing Senegalese women are. Seriously. They are so impressive.

All of the women in my host family, I feel, really represent a different aspect of the badassness of Senegalese women. My host mom runs the entire house - which is currently 3 families in 1 house. She coordinates all of our meals, the cleaning schedule, she buys all of the food, she makes presents for her kids living outside of Bambey, she handles most of the household's bills, and she somehow seems to know everyone and everything that's going on in the neighborhood. Oh, also, she never seems to be in a bad mood - ever. She's always jolly and happy even though she gets up at 5am, doesn't go to sleep until 11pm, and is doing manual work 80% of her day. She's awesome.

Aisha is a single mom raising her two kids in her husband's parents house. She helps with the house work while managing Khady and helping Adji with her schoolwork - even though she doesn't speak much French. She was the first person to really joke with me but not in the normal mean way, just joke about the way I say things (which isn't as mean as it sounds).

Miss is a whole different kind of impressive that I have come to appreciate more the more time I spend with her. Sure she lives in my house and no one is ever not nice to her, but her husband (who's actually related to my host family) lives in Dakar and she only gets to see him about 7 days a month. They've been trying to have kids for a few years now and she is really trying to remain positive through all of those challenges. Her family lives in Bambey but she rarely sees them because she spends so much time doing housework here. Recently, she and I have started joking and she always has been really nice to me in the kitchen... the normal Senegalese reaction is to make fun of my inability to do something (cook ceeb u jen, clean a fish, etc.) but she has always tried to teach me and give me simple tasks that I can do so I can help.

Mairame and Ndeye Diop spend most of their days in school and when they get home they help cook and clean, then do all of their homework. Now that Mairame is studying for the BAC (end of high school exam) she studies almost the entire day and into the night, sometimes morning (the national passage rate is about 10% and you can't finish high school until you pass it). They are really an example of a generation struggling the divide between modern and traditional women's roles.

Adji and Khady are still young but they often, Adji especially, help with housework and run errands for different family members. Adji does the same school work that the male students do but spends more time doing chores around the house - all while staying ahead of most of her class.

I always have an underlying appreciation for the women in my host family. But occasionally they do something particularly impressive just to remind me how cool they are. A few days ago I heard pounding outside my window and went to check it out.


They were making a peanut butter/sugar/chocolate snack that requires pounding all of the ingrediants with this HUGE mortar and pestle. In the picture Adji is doing it but Miss did most of the work. Take my word for it, the pestle is heavy - it's solid wood and several feet tall. I could do it for a few minutes but Miss was doing her thing for about 20 or 30 minutes. In some houses women do this every day to prepare millet for dinner.

Anyway you see it - Senegalese women are impressive.

KO

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Protests in Dakar

I don't know how much of a splash this made in American news but there have been large, violent riots in most of the regional capitals in Senegal. I'm alright - I didn't see anything in Bambey today - and as far as I can tell, my friends are also all safe. The protests were over a change to the constitution that the President ended up withdrawing because of the reaction.

I don't really want to comment on my blog other than to say we're fine and I think Peace Corps has handled this situation really well. I know Peace Corps internationally has been hit hard for their safety practices so I think this is a good time to say that all I know if Peace Corps Senegal and, from what I've seen and how they responded today, I feel safe.


KO

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Khady

Almost every afternoon Khady comes up to my room to play with paperdolls that my friend Katie brought when she visited. Once Khady got bored of the paperdolls' clothing (they're Disney Princess dolls, by the way) I started tracing the dresses on white paper and letting her color her own designs.
She usually gets through about 3 dresses before she gets bored and starts wandering around my room. Now it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's seen any room I've lived in but there's quite a lot of crap here. Add into that the fact it took me a year to figure out how to get rid of trash and you have a treasure trove for a 5 year old. After she colors, she usually finds something interesting and plays with that:
Yesterday she and her sister (the 12 year old) were up here coloring when Khady found a drink packet on my desk. I have a million Crystal Lite like packets and she found a bright pink raspberry lemonade packet. I told her it was to put in your water and she started ripping it open... she then ate the sugary drink mix like a pixie stick. I was disgusted and I let her keep the rest of the packet.

Later that night she was running around like a crazy person... crawling, yelling, wrestling, climbing, shrieking.... I wondering why.... oops.

KO

Thursday, June 16, 2011

COS Conference Day 3, New Volunteers!

The last day of my COS conference started at 4:45am when I left the hotel, along with our Country Director who's also the acting APCD and 5 other volunteers to meet the new trainees at the airport! We waited around for about an hour until they got through customs and found us in the lobby. We escorted them to the bus and chased off people asking for money.

We went back to the hotel just in time for a quick shower, breakfast, and the morning session. During the morning we learned what we need to do medically to get out of Senegal and then in the afternoon just wrapped up with a really good ending game/discussion. Tara, the conference leader (who was a PCV in Cameroon), wrote a question for each of us and we took turns answering. The questions were all about our service like: Who was the first PCV you met? What was the first thing you bought with CFA? What's the worst thing you've eaten? If you were going to open a Senegalese restaurant what would you call it? Just things to get us reflecting light-heartedly.

Chris invited us all over to his house for a little reception and celebration of our service. A few volunteers had written short bios of us all at the very beginning of our service so we re-read those and then watched a slideshow of pictures from the past two years.

After the reception we hung out as a stage a little more before going to bed. Everyone was pretty tired (especially those who got up at 4:45am) so the last night wasn't too crazy.

This morning I left with 4 other volunteers to do a round of presentation at the training center. We presented on some of the major project areas SED volunteers are working in (Alyssa and I talked about artisan work, other topics were: junior achievement classes, trash projects, cross-sector/agricultural econ, and eco-tourism). There was, magically, a Peace Corps car going from the training center to Bambey (to pick up seeds at the agricultural research facility outside of Bambey) so Alyssa and I presented first which let me leave immediately after the presentation.

I would have really loved to hang out with the new volunteers but I'm in my last stretch at site and this is just where I would rather be. During the entire COS conference I didn't feel like the end was really near - it was only today, standing in front of the new volunteers and talking about the possibilities for their work when it felt like the end. I still remember some of the presentations I saw at my PST almost two years ago and it's a little absurd to think that I am now one of those volunteers.

Though I am a little sad to be leaving, more than anything I am so excited for the new volunteers. When I was in training I was scared more than anything - I don't actually know a time in my service that "excited" was my dominant emotion except for now. I wish I could give them all of my knowledge, and I'll do my best to impart it in my COS report, but I can see their potential. I know they're going to be huge successes because I feel like my group really built some solid foundation and these volunteers will be able to really hit the ground running. Overall, they speak better French than my group so they'll learn Wolof sooner. They have more collective experience pre-Peace Corps than us as well. I am just so excited for the amazing possibilities they have in front of them. Looking back on my service, these really were two outstanding years that brought all types of new experiences I would not have had any other way. I think I've learned more and had more personal growth than I originally expected. And, not to sound selfish, but I really believe that I could take on almost anything after doing this for two years.

It's all of these prospects - the successful projects and the development that comes with failed projects and challenges - that make me excited and enthusiastic about the two year adventure they're all starting on.

I have a month left in Senegal which will be spent on and off at site, in Dakar closing out my service, and at training. My major projects are finished, I just have some camp preparations to make before I leave.

To part, here's a picture of almost everyone in my stage... at least it's everyone that was at COS conference. We started with 56, 6 people ET'ed, 2 people had "interrupted service," 4 people were "refugees" from Mauritania that already COS'ed, and 1 person couldn't be at the COS conference because his sister was getting married. So! The first picture is of all of the business volunteers (with Chris who's our acting program director) and the second is everyone that made it to COS conference... Congrats Fall '09!



Monday, June 13, 2011

Jazz Fest, COS Conference Day 1 and 2

I'm currently at my COS ("Close of Service") conference and was at Jazz Fest before that. This blog will be a little long because I think I have a lot to sum up so I'll break it into two sections:

Jazz Fest
Last Wednesday I met Alyssa in Thies so we could head up to Jazz Fest. It's an annual festival of music in St. Louis - now in its 19th year. While most volunteers went to Jazz Fest to have fun, we were going to work. The artisan network had decided to buy two booths at the artisan festival part of Jazz Fest. Alyssa, Mary (the 1st year volunteer working with the network), and I fronted the money for the booths (a total of $280) and then were paid back by artisans at the last artisan meeting. Alyssa and I went up early so we could be ready to coordinate both parts of the expo (the two booths as well as the gallery that some artisans were also showing at) the day it started! Wednesday night all we had to do was make Rice Krispie Treats (thanks for sending the ingredients Mom!) and plan a presentation for the new SED volunteers. Unfortunately the gas stove was out of gas so we had to... cook over fire! We found sticks around the side of the highway and got to making fire! Shockingly, for two business volunteers, we were able to make OUTSTANDING Rice Krispie Treats over our little fire!

The next day we got to the gallery which was an EXPLOSION of products so we knew there wouldn't be any work to do there Thursday. We met up with the artisans and, even though we told them the booths would be VERY small, the amount of baggage they brought kept growing. At one point they were all paralyzed by the amount of baggage and couldn't set anything up. Alyssa, Alys, and I FINALLY managed to rearrange the entire two booths and left them for the night (after putting in a 9 hour work day).

Overall the artisan fest was not the best experience. We thought it was going to be like any craft/artisan fair but it was mostly people selling second hand clothes and crappy plastic things. We had one of the only handmade booths and I don't think the artisans all broke even. I've heard from some of them and they say they aren't mad at us - they're just glad they had the change to see it so they know not to go again.

The rest of Jazz Fest was REALLY fun. Richard - the volunteer from my stage in St. Louis - threw a big party and we danced all night! The morning after the big party we all dragged ourselves out of bed and into a car to get to Dakar for COS Conference.

COS Conference Day 1 and 2
The Close Of Service Conference for my training group (or "stage") started yesterday! Of the 56 of us that were here there are 45 currently present (a few people didn't ET aka quit early, they just couldn't be here/were refugees from PC Mauritania so they finished their service already). The past two days have had sessions about how we actually get out of Senegal - all of the paperwork and approval we need; what we would change about Peace Corps/improvements; and life after Peace Corps. The big push now is that we are actually just "continuing our service" in a different way. Some of us are staying in Senegal (about 10 people) and the rest of us are about to embark on a new adventure. Two people are going to teach English in Asia, some people going back to school, and the rest of us are moving all over the States.

We've heard from other returned volunteers and our suspicions have been confirmed - there is life after Peace Corps. Sure we might think we're way more badass than we actually are and our friends and families will find our stories a little old after a while, but we will always be volunteers and we'll always have the adventure of the last two years.

Personally I can't actually believe the end is so close. I feel like I've spent the last two years thinking about the end and.. here it is?It just doesn't seem like it's possible that I've actually made it two years! Tomorrow morning the new SED volunteers (my replacement among them) land in Senegal and start the craziest two years of their lives! I'll be meeting them at the airport at 5am to welcome them to Senegal and make sure they get on the Peace Corps bus with all of their bags.

I'll update you more tomorrow or the next day!

KO

Saturday, June 4, 2011

To the Ladj and Back

Thursday Jackie, Alyssa, and I left the desert-y Thies region to visit Tamar on her island in the Sine-Saloum Delta. I took a bus to meet the other two in Thies then we got into a 7-place to Joal. In Joal we ate a delicious lunch while watching a fish farm pond. After lunch we arranged our transport to Tamar's mainland town. It was going to be $2 a person in a 14 seat mini-bus... we were seats 2,3, and 4 - the bus wouldn't leave until all 14 people were there. We asked, just to know, how much renting a car would be... total it was going to be $10... so we took that option. The driver cut across salt flats and drove, occasionally, at what seemed like a 45 degree angle. We got to the dock and found the boat to Tamar's island - Mar Ladj - which we shorten to "the Ladj" (pronounced like "lodge").

We spent two days in the Ladj cooking delicious food and enjoying the island life. Tamar's island in the river which is a tidal river and VERY salty (even though I'm 30km from the river my water is salty because of the river). We swam, hung out around a beach, and enjoyed our mini-vacation.

This morning Alyssa, Jackie, and I started the trek back to site. We ran for the boat and caught it in time. After about 30 minutes we got to the mainland and piled into a bus. We were then moved to another bus. That bus left and about two and a half hours later we were piling into a 7-place. The three of us were the last three in the car so we paid, then got into a fight about the money/change, then left the garage. Once we got to Thies we met up with Kerry to talk about some of the training for the new volunteers.

After lunch I got in another 7-place to finally get back to site. I was the second to last person in the car so I was in the last row. The last guy loaded a rice sack and got into the middle seat in the last row, next to me. I turned around the glance at my backpack and a bird head popped out of the rice sack! It turns out he was traveling with 4 pigeons in a rice sack that had some air holes. Throughout the ride one pigeon kept really working on sticking his entire body out of a hole. I honestly was sure it was going to escape and fly around the car. Luckily it did not and I got back to Bambey without a pigeon attack.

Tomorrow I have some more scholarship meetings and then I need to really start tackling my to-do list for my last few weeks!

KO

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lesson 4 With The Fifth Graders

I've spent the majority of my time focusing on development projects at the middle school and a little with the high school so working with 5th grades has been a challenge. Today we had our 4th lesson which was about decision making. I started by asking students what we had previously discussed and they actually remembered a lot of things.

Next we pretended that there was an open lot for us to put a business! We talked about how you have to weight the positives and the negatives and the lesson liked this to a decision tree (no, I wasn't teaching them game theory it was literally a drawing of a tree). The lesson plan suggested the three choices be: a clothing store, a club, and a bakery. I talked with Jackie who's taught this class a few times and she suggested getting rid of the club and using a boutique. Great! Then I also have the chance to teach them that, if there is something on every corner, you probably don't need a new one. I decided to make the lesson even a little more personal - instead of bakery and clothing store I used my two favorite businesses from my middle and high schoolers: pool and dairy store/factory.

The kids broke into groups and were each assigned to come up with positives and negatives for a specific of the three choices. After about 5 minutes each group had one pro and one con so they sent a representative to the front of the room to present: 2 groups had "pool," 2 had "dairy," and 1 had boutique. A pool kid volunteered to start, "A negative of having a pool is that then boys and girls would go there and there would be a big problem with pregnancy."


Yeeaaaahhhhhh. I'm honestly not sure if the students were laughing at what he said or at the "can I be fired from a volunteer job?" face I made. My mind was working a million miles an hour trying to find a solution. These kids are 10 years old - I can't be discussing all of this without their parents! What could I say to make it better? Should I tell them to forget they heard it? Would that make it worse? Then I remembered what my host sister (one in high school, not the one in this class) told me yesterday: a middle school student is being accused of sexually harassing another middle school student. It is a tragedy that happened and my heart sincerely goes out to the victim. Knowing the culture, I know it took that person a lot to speak out about what happened and I hope they are receiving endless love and support from their friends and family.

These 5th graders will be in middle school next year and, I wish it was different, but this is part of their lives. It isn't my job to encourage this discussion in a school but I wasn't the one who brought it up - it occurred to this group of students on their own. So I moved the lesson forward with no real comment acknowledging or denying it. Maybe I made the wrong call but I just didn't feel comfortable getting involved in even a harmless seeming discussion.

The class got back on track and we discussed voting, who gets to vote, and how you win an election in a democracy. The students then voted for the option they wanted and they picked pool. I told them that it would be a safe pool and that we would have police so everyone would be fine.

After the class I ran some errands and eventually went to a scholarship girl's house. It's always great to visit the students and learn about their lives which are all difficult and impressive in their own ways. While at this girl's house I had a great conversation with her about how it's a lot harder for Senegalese girls in school because they have more housework than boys which makes it even more impressive that most of the top students are girls.

Tomorrow's scholarship home visits are FAR from my house (we're talking 2km out) so I'll probably be too tired to blog.

KO

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thrown A Bone

Senegal has thrown a lot of bad days at me. Sometimes it's because of work (or lack their off), weather, bad moods, rudeness, or even just too much heat and rice. Every now and again, however, I get thrown a bone and today was one of those days. My morning started slowly, sure the virtual Sunday paper might not beat a real paper and a bagel but it's become a nice ritual. Around 11am I headed towards the middle school I've recently been working in to meet one of my scholarship winners. After she came we quickly did the interview and then she told me she needed to run to the market before we went to her house. Though it turns out by "run to the market" she meant buy everything for her family's lunch - I actually didn't mind today. While we were in the market I ran into about 10 people I knew and, not going to lie, it made me feel kind of famous. Sure not in an "Angelina Jolie" way but in a "after two years, someone's come to realize I'm just a random, lost American" way. Yes, one of these 10 people was my host sister who was picking up things for our lunch - but it was still pretty awesome.

After signing autographs and kissing babies (obviously joking) in the market, we went to this girl's house. This girl's dad is actually one of the point-people at the University. Last week her dad told me that she was going to try and hide that fact from me because if she was worried that I wouldn't let her go to the camp because her dad has a good job. I explained to him that she had ALREADY won the invitation to the camp based only on her intelligence and hard work at school. I visited with her family for a bit and then she took me to another scholarship winner's house. This second girl sat while I talked to her parents and we did the interview. Sure, chatting with people's parents sounds like nothing but I love being able to praise these girls in front of their parents. Affirmation doesn't exist in Senegalese culture - my host sisters always say if you get a 19/20 you'll be made fun of for the point you missed - so it's nice to come in and provide a little bit of positivity. The two families I visited today seem to support their daughters' educations more than other families. Keep in mind that by "supporting" their daughter's education I mean, their daughters still do insane amounts of chores, care the younger children, all while studying on their own without help - it just means that their parents care that they're studying and know that they have good grades.

Around 1pm I knew I had to make my exit. Though it was almost the hottest part of the day and I was sure to get sunburned from walking home (which I did burned a little) if I stayed I would miss lunch at my house and have to eat with this girl. Sure it would have been a really nice thing for me to have stayed but my family is used to the little amount of rice I eat - this family would have been offended. The two girls that I had visited walked me home - which was pretty far. About halfway through the walk they asked if, at this year's camp, we would be doing skits and dances like they had heard about from last year's camp. Sure the image of middle school girls doing a HORRIBLY raunchy dance last year flashed through my mind but it was quickly replaced by joy that the camp was being talked about! These girls had heard about the camp and were so excited they got to go! They were so excited they were already talking about what skit themes or dances they could do! I was ecstatic that, a camp that didn't exist this time last year, is being talked about! I honestly think that, if there was the space, I could fill all 30 camper spots with outstanding girls from Bambey. I'm sure the camp will continue to expand and give more girls this great opportunity over the next few years.

Youssou's older sisters were randomly visiting (unfortunately he didn't come but they brought word that he is in peace aka the Senegalese way of saying "nothing's up") so we had chicken instead of fish today! Yes it was still accompanied with rice and, yes, because it was a "special occasion" the rice had so much oil you could see it pooling under the rice... but it was still chicken!

This afternoon I tried to have a girls' group meeting with last year's campers but only two showed up. One of them was, not surprisingly, the rockstar herself Salamata. I explained how the camp was going to work this year and told them about the meeting on the 19th. I also asked that, on the 19th, they explain the camp a little more to the new girls. My language skills are better than they were last year but I know that it will be more clear if the girls explain it themselves.

Today was one of those good days in Senegal which is like a roller coaster. When I have good days - they're outstanding and the bad days, when they hit, are wretched. Luckily today was one of the good ones which I'm hoping for come frequently during the last two months that I'm here.

KO

Saturday, May 28, 2011

To Thies and Back

This morning I went into Thies to run a few errands and meet up with the girl posse. Alyssa and I did some banking and then bought fabric for Matar to turn into chic dresses (I’ll update you on how it turns out). We bought a TON of cheese, bread, and apples then met Jackie, Tamar, and her friend from home at the training center. After a lovely picnic I grabbed my COS packet and headed back to Bambey.

If I haven’t defined it before “COS” means close of service or continuation of service… depending on who you are and how you look at things. Some say that because I will always have fond memories of Peace Corps and I hope to continue spreading my stories of this adventure it’s a “continuation of service” just no in Senegal. In my mind one chapter is ending and another is starting so it’s a “close of service” which, besides, sounds way more exciting and way more like I’m done in 2 months! So today I got my COS packet, it contains all sorts of information about COS: paperwork to do, checklists to fill out, advice from former volunteers, and much, much more! The checklist is definitely my favorite part of the entire packet it makes it look like the 30 or so tasks I have to do before July will be a breeze. The next step is to attend my COS conference which will be in Dakar early next month. It’s three days with my entire stage (or the 40 some of us that are left) where we’ll learn all of the final details about how to get out of Senegal and end these two years.

After reading my entire COS packet on the ride back to Bambey, I dropped it off in my room then went to a meeting at the middle school. Today my scholarship girls met me at the school to write their essays for the application. The questions were simple: what do you want to be when you grow up? and what’s the largest issue facing girls in education in your town? One girl also did her interview and the rest of them picked times for me to visit their house and do the interview. After I’ve done that, I will recommend 6 of the 9 girls. A final committee of volunteers from other sites will pick the 3 girls that win $30 each to buy school supplies. My replacement will take those 3 girls shopping (which, if it’s like last year, will be amazing) and then pay $10 of all 9 of the girls’ enrollment fees for the school (the girls will be left with about $2 to pay themselves).

It’s up to me to figure out who gets to come to the camp from Bambey so I’ve decided that the 9 scholarship girls from this year as well as the 5 girls that went to the camp last year and have been actively participating in the girls’ group are guaranteed spots. For the rest of the spots, I’m inviting everyone that participated last year (but wasn’t part of the girls’ group on their own choosing), the top students from the other two middle schools, and I told this year’s scholarship girls they could each invite a friend, to my house on the 19th. I’m going to have Salamata and Soukey (another OUTSTANDING camper from last year) present on what the camp was like so the girls get a better idea. Then I’m going to give them each a form to fill out and tell them to return the forms to me by a certain date. The forms won’t be that involved – it’s more of making sure they’re dedicated enough to actually fill out a form and return it. Last year I had to invite random girls at the last minute (which worked out but was unnecessary) because girls weren’t dedicated or excited for the camp. I think giving the girls a little bit of responsibility (writing their information, getting their parents approval or inviting me to talk to their parents, and maybe writing a reason why they want to go to the camp) will give them some responsibility and ownership of the camp. The camp will be the last week of September – so about a month after my replacement gets to Bambey. I’m so excited that my replacement will get to participate in all of these incredible activities at the beginning of their service – I hope it sets the tone for the rest of their two years.

One other awesome thing happened today, I was walking back from the essay writing and had this conversation with a random 8 year old girl:

Girl: How are you?
Me: I’m fine, how are you?
Girl: I’m fine. What’s your name?
Me: Fatou, what’s your name?
Girl: Ndeye. Will you give me 25cfa?
Me: Will you give me 25cfa?
Girl: But you should give me money because you’re so pretty.
Me: You’re also pretty.
Girl: Will you give me your hair?
Me: I can’t do that.
Girl: Look – I live over there. Bye!

The last thing today is just well wishes for my cousin and his fiancĂ©e who are getting tomorrow – I hope everyone has a great time at the wedding and I wish I could be there to see it!

KO

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Work Updates

I have two main types of projects, Junior Achievement (aka business classes at the high school, middle school, and elementary school) and then the Artisan Network. So here are some work updates:

I taught my third class at the elementary school. We talked about government services and how it pays for those services (taxes). When I asked the students if government employees had to pay taxes too they all said no - that was clearly corrected quickly. That group has two classes left (the next two Tuesdays) then I'm totally done.

Today I was supposed to hand out certificates to the high schoolers who had finished the program. Last year I printed the certificates but I decided to class it up a little this time around. There are pre-made Junior Achievement certificates that look a little more official so about two weeks ago I requested those certificates. I kept double checking that I would be getting them yesterday when I was in Thies for another meeting. I was assured that OF COURSE I would have the certificates - so I didn't prepare any of my own. Yesterday came and - no certificates... the woman in Dakar hadn't signed them. Which meant that I had to go today and tell the kids to come back another week when I may or may not have the certificates. Though it seems like something small it is truly infuriating that something so simple couldn't be accomplished. Had I known that these certificates weren't going to be there - I would have printed my own yesterday when I had access to a color printer. It drives me nuts that this type of disappointment happens so often that the kids have come to expect it from their teachers and other adults. I was really hoping to show them throughout the class that you could defy the norms and succeed - that a creative business could do well - that when I set a meeting it would happen... and it didn't happen. On my way to the class I bought two liters of soda as an apology. While I was walking under the burning sun and being have racial slurs thrown at me by kids - I just kept getting more frustrated. These students have finals coming up, they live really far, and as if their lives aren't hard enough just being in Senegal, two of them have physical handicaps. It was eating me up that I couldn't follow through on such a simple thing. Everyone was really appreciative of the soda and the students that won were excited and proud of themselves. I told them I would give the certificates to the principal and they could just stop by and pick them up when they were around the school. Tomorrow I have to go through the same thing with my middle schoolers. Here is a picture of the high schoolers and me.
In artisan news we had our second official Artisan Network meeting yesterday. I think there were about nine artists there (that includes the two that showed up after the two hour meeting ended). We talked about preparations for Jazz Fest and Network membership regulations. Because Alyssa and I don't want to force any of our ideas on the group everything has to be done leadingly as in, "If I was someone who wanted to join, what should I have to pay?" "Really, so I would have to pay the inscription fee AND dues for when I wasn't a member... oohhhh ok so just the inscription fee then dues moving forward... great." After two hours of that (including an artist mocking the way I said, "ok, are we good, can we move on?" I was exhausted. Sure, running a two hour meeting isn't actually THAT mentally draining but add on the complicated layers of language and it's a lot. Amongst the volunteers we all speak English - and that's including during the artisan meeting... if we had a point to clarify or double check, it's just easier for us to speak to each other in English. And we speak to the artists in French, Wolof, or Frolof (the combination of the two) and they respond in Wolof which was then translated to us in French for total comprehension. It was draining.

The new business volunteers (aka my replacement and their new best friends) have 20 days left in the US! If any of you are out there reading - enjoy a burger or, even better, a salad with good dressing, for me! I'll be posting more summation type things soon, but I'll leave you all with this impressive tibit: I was bored today (shocking) and calculated that, during the past almost two years I have eaten approximately more than my own weight in rice - about 125% my weight in rice. Yum.

KO

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cookin'

When I came downstairs for my evening "sitting with the host family" time Miss was making dinner so I walked towards the kitchen. As I got near she said, "if you come in here I'm going to put you to work!" and I gladly accepted her offer. I grew up cooking and food always strong social glue so I am always happy to help cook here.

Miss was making salad and sauce for dinner so, while she was preparing the sauce I cleaned the lettuce. Preparing lettuce Senegalese style involves removing the leafy part from the more stem part of a piece of lettuce (for some reason they don't like the good crunchy part), soaking the leafy part in bleach and water, then drying it off. After finishing with the lettuce I "marinated" the tomatoes and cucumbers aka covered them in vinaigrette. Miss had boiled potatoes (to be part of the sauce) and took those off to cool. She put the sauce in the pot (Senegalese people refer to all sauce as "sauce" no matter what's in it... usually, like tonight, it's beef bullion/MSG cube, salt, oil, onions, garlic) to cook while I cut the boiled potatoes into bite sized cubes. The potatoes were added to the sauce and that was left to sit.

We eat dinner at 8:30pm pretty much on the dot and, because the meal was ready before, we sat around waiting. The kids did their homework and the rest of us sat around listening to Khady jabber. Close to 8:30pm Miss plated (tossed the lettuce in the vinaigrette, placed it around the edge of the plate, put cucumber and tomatoes on top of it, then placed the sauce in the middle of the plate). At 8:30pm we all sat down on the mat, got our pieces of bread, and dug in.

From now on just know that I'm going to use Miss' rule when it comes to cooking: if you come in this kitchen - you're going to help!


Cheers,
KO

Friday, May 20, 2011

And the winner is...

This week I finished teaching the business classes at the middle school and high school! Each group sold their business idea to me as if I was an investor and then answered some questions about the general topics they've learned. Some groups gave mediocre presentations but there were a few groups who really seemed to have learned a lot. In the high school I was particularly impressed by the group who's business idea was to open a pool. I told them to dream big and, without a model business to go on, they came up with a pretty good plan for their pool. They had the most unique idea overall and they seemed to really understand the material from the class.

In the middle school there weren't any ideas that were just leaps and bounds above everyone else but my favorites were: a library, a dairy products factory, a clothing line. Sure not the MOST original ideas in the world but those groups worked really hard and understood the lessons well.

This week I also started teaching at the elementary school my 12 year-old host sister attends. I'm working with 30 students in her grade (including her) on a 5 week program that introduces really basic business and community structure ideas. Last week we did the first two lessons (what are communities/jobs within a community and unit/assembly line production) and I'll be teaching every Tuesday for the next 3 weeks.

The girls' camp is moving along but I'm just the liaison between the University and volunteers running it so I don't know much of their plans. I know it's in the works and I'm sure it's going to be great.

Work with Matar is also coming along - there's a meeting for all of the artists in the Artist Network Tuesday in Thies. The Network also paid for two booths at the big Jazz Fest in St. Louis at the beginning of June.

Oh! How could I forget! I had my first meeting with my scholarship girls yesterday! I'm doing it at a different school from last year (I wanted to spread a wealth a little). One of the girls was in my business class and overall they all seem very pleasant. We're meeting next week so they can write their essays (what do you want to be when you grow up? and what's the largest problem facing girls in education?) then they'll each have a really basic interview with me and I'll visit their houses. They all already won $10 towards their school enrollment fees and 3 of them will win $30 to buy all of their school supplies for next year. I'll be doing all of the paperwork and submitting the applications to the volunteer committee but it'll be my replacements job to go school supply shopping with them and actually distribute the money/certificates. I had such an amazing time last year shopping for school supplies with the winners so I don't think my replacement will mind that I've lined up some work for them already. I'll keep you posted on this new batch of impressive young women!

That's all that's been going on here work-wise. The power outages have been very frequent and long (I think, recently, the longest one was 18 hours). Sure not having power is annoying but not having water (the water cuts about 45 minutes after the power) is HORRIBLE. I have 6 gallons of water stored in my room and my host family has another 20 in huge plastic drums downstairs. We have power this morning, though, so I'm taking full advantage of it.

One final note - congratulations to everyone who just graduated! I have many wonderful friends who finished undergrad or completed classes for their masters - hats off to them! Good luck conquering the world!

Cheers,
KO


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tips for Falling Asleep with Loud Music

There have been many nights during the past almost two years that have been disrupted by loud music. Sometimes it's because I'm at a party with volunteers and I want to call it quits before the dance party stops, mostly it's because someone in town is having a party with drums and/or singing and/or speakers and/or mosque singing. So today I propose a few tips to help you fall asleep in case you ever encounter loud music:

1. If it's possible (so in my situation there's electricity) make your room a comfortable temperature. This way instead of thinking, "how will I ever fall asleep with this music," you're thinking, "it's amazing that my room is below 90 degrees! How comfortable and conducive for sleeping!"

2. Earplugs. I have battled with the earplugs v. ipod struggle but I've found that earplugs are almost always a better option (the only exception if the noise is actually in your room). I usually cannot turn my ipod up loud enough to drown out the sounds but have it still be quiet enough to sleep.

3. Don't be afraid to adjust your earplugs. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries, but no worries, it will always make the noise a little quieter.

4. Don't hesitate to make a pillow sandwich - sure you'll feel like a cartoon character with a pillow on your head trying to stop some noise but sometimes it works.

5. DON'T get angry about the music. This seems counter-intuitive but whenever I get angry or start to question the sanity of the jerks making noise I start to fixate on it and then it's all downhill.

6. Also, DON'T pick apart the music. If it's a song you know, pretend it isn't! Once you start acknowledging the lyrics you can't stop and then you've given a name to your foe.

7. Don't think about how early you have to get up - this is a continuation on tip #5... just don't get angry.

8. Think about how comfortable you are. Keep your thoughts positive.

9. As easy as it is to let your thoughts slip to yanking the cords out of the speaker and puncturing the drum tops - don't. That fantasy can keep you up for a long time and won't make the music stop.

10. And the next morning, feel free to complain to your host family because if you couldn't sleep you know that they couldn't sleep. They are almost always more annoyed than you are.

Hopefully you're never in a situation where you have to call on these tips - but just in case you are good luck!

KO

PS I'll have a real work update soon. Sorry I've been a bad blogger.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Salemata

I haven't been blogging recently because I haven't had much to blog about but I got great news a few days ago:

Last year I did a scholarship for the top female students at one of the middle schools. These girls were invited to the camp. Before the camp one of them, Salemata (who had the 3rd highest grades for the girls), called to ask me to talk to her older brother: her dad didn't want to let her go to the camp but if I could convince her older brother maybe he could convince her dad. A few days after I talked to her older brother she called to tell me she could go to the camp! At the camp participated a lot and was really outgoing during the camp. About halfway through the camp she found me one day and asked to use my phone. She took off running towards the dorms and started crying. I followed her and she explained that another girl had taken her phone and her shoes and hid them. Needless to say I was horribly upset at the bullies and I felt so bad for this amazing girl. We resolved the issue and Salemata's classmates really rallied around her which was great to see.

After the camp Salemata has been the most responsible and participatory girls in the girls' group. She always comes to meetings and she'll call if she can't come. For Tabaski (the big sheep killing holiday) she invited me to visit her house. This sounds pretty mundane but visiting people on holidays is a really huge part of Senegalese culture but I hadn't really felt like there was anyone that I was close enough to not feel like I was being a burden on their holiday celebration. I decided to follow up on Salemata's invitation and I went over to her house to hang out with her family for about half an hour. We just sat and talked, nothing big, but I was really honored that she felt comfortable enough with me to invite me over.

I really don't feel like I'm explaining her well but take my word - she's amazing. She's the girl that I think about when I need motivation to go to a meeting I think might be cancelled or when I had to go back to the University a million times last year while I was organizing the girls' camp.

So for the great news part: I got a call from her a few days ago and we chatted like normal then she told me that she had just received her grades for first semester and she has the highest grades in the class. She doesn't have the highest grades of the girls but of everyone which is huge! I am so unbelievably proud of her and I wish that there was more I could do to continue to encourage her but she seems to really be rocking the world on her own.

That's my good news! In other events I'm finishing my middle school business classes tomorrow and I'm starting classes at the elementary school (including with my 12 year old host sister) Tuesday!

There are also only 66 days left of this adventure!

KO

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Magical Cleaning Fairy

All of my life I've wished there was a magical cleaning fairy. When I was very young I once convinced my grandmother to take up this role for a limited time. Again in college another cleaning fairy entered my life in form of my best friend Amy who, when stressed out, liked cleaning (and when really stressed out would run out of things to clean in her side of the room and would move to mine). Since I've moved to Senegal I've just had to accept the existence of a magic cleaning fairy that, while remaining invisible, cleans things. Here are some examples of her work (which might also demonstrate how desperately I need to pretend this is true):

1. During training (yes almost two years ago), one of my host sisters who never wore shoes went into the kitchen to get a knife. When she returned, she used the knife to cut her toenails. Ten minutes later (and after the work of the magic fairy) my host mom was using the knife to cut our vegetables.

2. This afternoon my host mom, who always eats with her right hand (no spoon), was doling out fish like usual. She uses her hand to rip the fish off the bone and put it in my section of the bowl - like she does every day. Five minutes go I heard a commotion outside, I looked and Khady was walking to the trash holding a dirty diaper in her hand. She was followed by my host mom with her right hand covering the baby's bum.

These are just two of the examples showing the necessity that I believe that magically between baby's bum and my lunch tomorrow my host mom's hands will be disinfected.


Sorry you didn't get a blog about the cultural differences between Senegal and The Gambia like I promised a few days ago - I thought this was more important.

Ciao,
KO

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vacation to The Gambia


I’m back from a short vacation in The Gambia (the country inside of Senegal)! It was only 4 days and full of plenty of adventure and transportation… Here’s a rundown of the trip, it’s a little long so you might want to get a snack before reading it:


Day 0: The Royal Wedding
Friday I headed to Thies to catch the Royal Wedding… not surprisingly the bus took FOREVER so I missed the ceremony but I got there in time to see all of the clothes and the kiss at Buckingham Palace. I loved her dress – I loved Pippa’s (seriously who didn’t?)! Cheers! After the wedding Alyssa and I hung out with her artist (who makes fabulous jewelry) and eventually the entire girl posse was in Thies and we prepared bought some things for dinner. Dinner was our standard – beans with Mexican seasoning then chopped vegetables, salsa, and lettuce (oh not to forget the cream fraiche which is a good substitute for sour cream). We watched part of a movie but decided to call it a night.

Day 1: From One Country To Another?
To make sure we got all the way to Georgetown (our first stop) we all got to the garage around 6:30am. Once at the garage the 4 of us tried to get a car to Kaolack and immediately found 3 Pulaar men which made a full car and we were off! We flew from Thies to Kaolack and were in Kaolack by 10am. We switched garages (obviously it would have been too easy for all of the cars to leave from the same place) and the second garage was literally just a whole bunch of cars parked – usually there the cars are marked with their destination. We walked around yelling the name of the border city where we were going and were the first 4 people in the car! Within an hour the rest of the car was full and we were moving forward for the second leg of the journey! Then we stopped about five minutes out… then we started! Then we stopped… Then we started again! After lots of driving we hit the border around 12pm. We stopped at the Senegal side of the border and they wished us a good trip. We walked across the border and passed over this sign and all of the sudden!!!! It was no different (as you would expect). The Gambian customs agents stopped us and we had to buy a visa – that took an hour and we were off again on foot. This time we were walking to the actual town near the border to get another car – we realized it was way hotter than we thought and caught a cab to the town and an ATM to get money.

The town (Farfenni) has 3 banks – the first one had a broken ATM and the second and third had ATMs but they were locked (even though they had a 24hours sign). Alyssa and I bought SIM cards for our phones and we all got chicken sandwiches (which EVERYONE talks about) then found our next car. Once again this was a sept-place (the same kind of brokenish station wagon with an extra row that we take in Senegal) and we were lucky enough to be the last 4 people in the car. Our 3rd sept-place of the day started and it took about two hours but along the way we found one of the differences between Senegal and The Gambia… no it wasn’t the scenery that was the same. The Gambia actually has occasional police checks where the car is stopped (which happens in Senegal) but different to Senegal the police actually checked our passports and looked for our visas – they also checked everyone else’s identity cards. Around 4pm we got to the north bank of Georgetown. We knew there were several hotels on the island (where most of the town is located) so we found a boat and went across. Off of the boat we picked a hotel, ordered dinner (they had to go to the market and get what we needed) then showered from a LONG day of travel. That night we all just hung out, ate chicken and fries, and we to bed fairly early.

Day Two: How Many Types of Public Transport Can You Take?
On our way to Georgetown on the first day we negotiated a price for the boat to take us up the river a little bit where sometimes you can see hippos and monkeys. The driver told us we would see hippos jumping on a sandbar so we were positive we weren’t going to see anything. On day two we got up before 7am and were ready to leave the hotel by 7:30. Tamar pointed out that our boat had a little bit of an “Apocalypse Now” vibe to it but we were dedicated to seeing animals so we trekked forward. During the first 30 minutes we didn’t really see anything but then we saw a huge family of Baboons on the south shore. Clearly we didn’t get out of the boat but we could still see them pretty well. After an hour of traveling (we were told the whole trip was going to be two hours) there were no hippos in site… THEN ALL OF THE SUDDEN 5 hippos were spotted in the water. We watched them for a few minutes while the submerged and came back up. While we were watching a large hippo took a giant leap – kind of like a whale! None of us could believe that the guide had been right that we would see hippos actually jumping but we were happily proven wrong. After the hippos we turned back to Georgetown. Once we got off the boat we found another sept place and were the first 4 in the car. The boat guides had helped us find that car but then decided it might be better if we crossed the river to the island then again to the other side to get a car on the south side of the river. We debated this option pretty seriously because: 1. The river runs all the way through the Gambia and there are only a few large ferry crossing spots – I don’t think there’s a bridge that spans the whole thing. 2. We needed to end on the south side. 3. It was a national holiday. We eventually stuck with our original plan. Another guy came in the car but we had been waiting more than an hour so we bought the last two seats and left. That day we were going more than 300km with unknown transportation so we were worried about getting to Banjul (the capital) before dark.
This trip again went fairly well – it was the reverse of the last car ride we took the day before and the road was in excellent condition (aka paved). When we got back to Farfenni we found a conversion van stuffed full of about 20 people that was going to the ferry dock. I ended up sitting kind of on Alyssa’s lap kind of on a seat while we bounced down a dirt road for 30 minutes. We got our ferry tickets and picked up lunch (chicken sandwiches again) before getting on the boat. Once on the boat we realized that there were vans loading people to go to Soma the site of our next transportation/direction change so we jumped in a car. I ended up in the back of the van on a bench that could have comfortably fit two so we obviously uncomfortably fit three with each of us holding a child. The kid I was holding was probably around 8 years old and only spoke Mandinka which is a local language that I don’t speak. She looked a little scared but her mom was sitting across from us (holding another child). After another 15 minutes of bumpy dirt roads (with the back door next to Jackie flying open) we got to Soma!
Everything we had read described Soma as a big junction town – a town where you can go north or south or east or west – we needed to go to the capital which was west. We were a little surprised when we didn’t find any sept-places. Instead of a station wagon we bought seats in another conversion van – this time the four of us sat on the two back benches (we bought the 5th and 6th seats because the trip was 200km. The day before the customs agents told us that the south road was very bad and it turns out they weren’t lying! The south road was about two hours of just a very bumpy very dusty road. We took turns sleeping and watching out the back of the bus to make sure luggage didn’t come flying off (early in the ride we had to stop the bus because Tamar’s bag wasn’t tied down and flew off the top of the bus). It only took about thirty minutes to realize that dirt was just streaming in the windows. Every time I moved or sweat or touched more dirt would become noticeable. During the last hour of the trip we got on a paved road and made it into Banjul. We got a cab, went to the bank, then went to the PCGambia regional house. Now, I’ve been dirty in Peace Corps and I’ve taken day long bike rides and been dirty before but honestly never have I been as dirty as I was after that trip. I looked extremely tan and all of my clothes were just coated in a thick layer of dust and dirt. At the regional house (which is WAY nicer than our regional house in Senegal – probably because the volunteers aren’t supposed to have parties there) I took a shower and the dirt just streamed off of me. I honestly don’t think I got all of the dirt off after my first shower but I tried my hardest. Even though we were trying to clean up everyone was also really hungry so we were in a hurry. That night for dinner we had Chinese food – which means I’ve eaten Chinese food in 3 African countries (Senegal, The Gambia, and Ghana)! It was better than you would expect! After dinner we went back to the regional house and crashed after what was over 13 hours of travel in several modes of transportation.

Day Three: Visiting Banjul on a Monday That’s Also a National Holiday
This was the only morning of the trip we didn’t need to set an alarm so we all slept in aka got up at 8am instead of 6:15am. Even though I didn’t have my computer I was current on the big international news thanks to Alan. He and I share an affinity for news/politics/current affairs and he knew I didn’t have internet access (I didn’t bring my computer) so he texted me with a few updates – thanks!
After getting ready and talking to The Gambian volunteers we decided to go into Banjul – the regional house is actually outside of the main capital. The Gambia has around 4 million people and Banjul is about double the size of Bambey – only 50,000 people. We took a cab into the city, saw their independence arch, walked around a market, and walked along the beach. Around noon we went back to the regional house (which is in a more touristy area). We found a pizza place and had really good pizza (unlike in Senegal, Gambians actually cook the pizza until the crust is crispy). After pizza we returned to the regional house and chatted with some volunteers. We had been invited to go to a hotel that overlooks the fish market for a few pre-dinner drinks. We arrived at the hotel just in time for sunset and all of the boats coming in so I was able to take some good pictures. After drinks we split from The Gambian volunteers and went to El Sol. Our friend (PCV in Senegal) had visited there last year and told us we had to go for the closest thing to Mexican we would find in Senegal/Gambia. Though it was a little pricey I wasn’t disappointed in the food or in the margarita. After sitting for half an hour to digest we decided to move to a bar nearby. The regional house is next to a really touristy strip of bars and restaurants so we found an “Irish bar” and drank some Gambian beer. It was around 10pm and we were all struggling. We were so full and had already decided to get up at 5:45 the next morning to catch the first ferry out. Eventually we decided to walk over to the club we had heard was the best to make a decision about if we would end our night or stay out and dance. When we got to the club we realized that it was almost entirely empty because it was Monday and a National Holiday (labor day) and they were playing really good music… WIN!
The four of us were the only people on the dance floor until we got some women…possibly/most likely prostitutes up dancing too. The DJ played every single one of our requests and the bar was also playing CNN on the tvs. It was like we were at our own private dance party – now I know how VIPs feel. Around 1am we decided that we would leave during the next bad song. “Bad Romance” came on which was a huge favorite by Thomas a volunteer who left last year so we stayed to dance for that then a crappy sang came on and we left. We all went pretty much immediately to bed after that.

Day Four: More Transportation
My alarm went off at 5:45am and we were up! We had been told that sometimes there were 3 ferries running and sometimes there was 1. Also sometimes the ferry took 30 minutes and sometimes it took 3 hours. Not willing to chance the trip we wanted to catch the first one (which left between 6:30 and 7, so we were told). We got a cab to the ferry and got on the boat about 20 minutes later. While we were waiting for the ferry to cross the river we noticed that, like two days before, they were filling up cars going to the border town we needed to go to! We grabbed practically the last four seats on a bus that was jam packed. Then we waited. And rocked back and forth. And waited. And rocked. And waited. About 30 minutes into sitting in a van on a rocking ferry I was starting to feel a little queasy. The few glimpses I got of land made it seem like we weren’t moving forward at all just side of side. At one point Alyssa turned around and stated that we must be in the 7th circle of Dante’s Inferno. Finally we heard some banging metal (not always a good sign when you’re on a boat but in this case it marked that we were running into the dock in a good way). All of the people not in a bus got off of the boat then the other cars started to get off. Our bus was packed with people... and not starting. Six guys managed to give it enough momentum to start and we were off! Until we got on land and a guy had to go to the bathroom so we had to stop. Everyone else in the bus was as angry as we were but finally we were moving towards Senegal.
The trip took about 30 minutes then we were at the border. We got our passports stamped in The Gambia, spent the last of our Dalasi (Gambian currency) and walked across the border. The Senegalese side stamped our passports and we got a horse cart to the garage (a type of transit we hadn’t taken yet on the trip). After 15 minutes of riding on the horse cart we got to the garage. From here the posse split – Jackie and Alyssa went to Thies and Tamar and I went back to Kaolack. In Kaolack we went to a bank and switched garages. As we got to the garage Tamar was still trying to decide if she could make it all the way back to site tonight. I was the last seat in the car going through my town so I jumped in and we said a quick goodbye. I was the middle seat of the back row and only the windows in the front row opened so it was a hot ride… a little like a sauna. About 45km outside of Bambey the car stopped and we all stood in the middle of a field while the driver fixed a flat tire. Finally around 3pm I got out of the car in Bambey! Overall I had a great time in The Gambia even though a lot of it was spent inside cars. It was the perfect length trip and now I have only 75 days (as of tomorrow) left as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Cheers – KO


Monday, April 25, 2011

Pictures


I know that I need to start taking more pictures so today I started! I brought my camera downstairs during lunch and told my host family that I would be taking a lot of pictures now and July.... Miss said I was only allowed to take pictures of her when she had her hair done and was wearing make up... Khady, on the other hand, didn't have a problem.




Lunch: Rice, Fried Fish, Onion Sauce with Tomato Paste
Our Courtyard