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.


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.


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!


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.


Saturday, May 21, 2011


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!


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!


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!


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

Friday, May 13, 2011


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!


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.


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