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.


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.


Sunday, June 19, 2011


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.


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!


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!