Thursday, May 19, 2011

the past few months

I’m gonna make this one simple.
April: Mid service medical check-up in Dakar, and a week of fun. Did a lot of eating (French Cultural Center cheeseburgers…La Piazza gourmet pizza…Nice Cream ice cream, etc), a little exploring, and a lot of relaxing. A great week, minus my friends phone getting stolen on a boat ride over to Ngor Island for a day trip (see pics on FB).
May: Trekked down to Kolda for the greatly anticipated Cinco de Drinko party with some buds (Heather and Camille). Enjoyed the abundance of mangos from the area (where mango season starts way earlier than the North), along with some roasted pig, guacamole, beans/rice, and home made tortillas. And let’s not forget fresh baked bagels in the morning. We spent the following days in a movie watching marathon on the living room floor, putting the projector to good use as a big screen. Some quality time was spent with friends we don’t often get to hang out with!
Our travel back to the North turned out to be quite a fiasco, as are most of my travel experiences here. The 2nd leg of the trip, day 2 from Tamba to Ourossougi, took us 28 hours instead of the usual 10. After switching cars for the 3rd time, our driver finally decided he’d gone far enough for the night and stopped about 50 kilometers from our destination to spend the night. We were about to sleep in the car when the aprenti (guy that collects money for tickets) invited us to sleep at his house along with the one other passenger that got stranded with us. The next morning we hopped onto our 4th car and finally made it back to the apartment in Ourossougi…where I passed out for several more hours under the fan. At least I’ve added one more crazy experience to my endless list of travel disasters (including but not limited to: being puked on, sat on, felt up, squished by sweaty armpits, smacked in the face by a giant pink elephant balloon, and asked to marry countless times).
This Week: Helped with installing the new kids to their villages with Tidiane, our regional coordinator. Installing involves visiting all the necessary government services to introduce the new volunteers, such as the police, education inspectors office, and local government facilities. Then we bring all of their belongings to their houses, where usually a large group (or the entire village) is waiting to welcome them to their new homes. The first install happened around lunch time, so we lingered to have lunch and relax some. Others were basically us unloading the volunteers’ belongings, greeting the family, and then driving away as the newbie watches the truck fade into the distance with wide nervous eyes. One site, a village that has never had a volunteer before, had what looked like the entire population inside her compound and spilling into the street just to welcome her and get a glimpse of the new Toubab (white person) that’s going to live there for the next two years. It was quite a grand arrival, with lots of dancing and shaking of sweaty hands. It was literally a mob of people and children that mostly pushed us around for a few minutes, until the volunteers belongings were unloaded and then Tidiane anthed I quickly drove away, leaving the poor girl in the middle of about 200 riled up villagers. She took it all in stride, and I was confident when we left she could handle the attention and everything on her own.

The whole 3 days made me think back on my install, exactly one year ago. Our Country Director Chris Hederick installed my region, along with another APCD and our PCVL (peace corps volunteer leader) Casey. This year, it was only Tidiane and me. My arrival was much anticipated, and the school director (my work counterpart) had all the children lined up in a welcome line and singing a song to welcome me to the village. We had a short meeting at the school with about 50 villagers where I was introduced, and we were served cold sodas (very fancy). The install crew stayed at my house for lunch and a rest, so I fortunately wasn’t just unloaded and left within 10 minutes. The whole day was overwhelming and exhausting, when everyone finally left all I wanted to do was sleep. The kids we just helped install in the past few days all seemed to take the transition in stride, and I’m sure will do great in their villages.

Other than Dakar, Kolda, and installs, I’ve been relatively productive and able to finish my maternity room grant, a girls leadership camp grant, a latrine grant, and almost finish the scholarship process at the middle school. I’ve hardly had time to hang out in the village and be excruciatingly bored, like I usually am.
My family continues to be pretty chill, although the verbal abuse the subject the children to on a daily basis is a little bit stressful (even though I know it’s not as harsh as I think it is based on the cultural context, it’s still not nice at all!). My host mother sometimes says to the kids (literally translated), “fuck you, shut up, you’re stupid,” among other things. The crazy part is she’s the nicest lady ever! People are just really mean to the kids, I mean…they’re just kids after all, right? They don’t need any respect...! Fortunately there is no severe beating that happens in my house, but sometimes they do get smacked around. Last week my precious baby Fati got slammed to the ground by a huge goat that decided she was just the right height to head butt. Now if she ever does something they don’t want her to, they say, watch out, the ram is going to come hit you again!! Look out! He’s coming! The threat is enough to keep her from doing whatever or going anywhere. The threat they use for the 3 year old is that my counterpart, the school director, will come over to our house if he’s bad and hit him. The worst thing about that threat, although never true, is that this teacher will be the child’s first teacher in school in a few years….and he will hit them in class if they act out. Oh how I’m sure he’s looking forward to going to school now!

So tomorrow back to a long stretch in village until the next big adventure—the Fourth of July. I tried to go today, but the ticket guy at the garage refused to sell me a ticket to the car that was leaving immediately, insisting I sit in the completely empty car and wait for it to fill up. The ready car wasn’t going all the way to my destination, but I could easily switch cars where they stopped and get to my town much faster than waiting for the other car to fill with passengers. I got so completely furious at them that I stormed out of the garage and walked all the way back to the house, fully committed to never ever go back to the garage here again (this is the last of a long string of similar incidents). They also prevent any drivers passing through to pick up people on the road, because then the garage would lose its profit (they charge more for tickets than if you just get in a car on the road). So that leaves me with one solution to getting back to village: have Tidiane drive me a little ways out of town and drop me on the road to wait for a car, where the garage guys can’t prevent me from catching a passing car or refuse to sell me a ticket. Is that not absolutely insane that I cannot buy a ticket to wherever I want or catch public transportation at my free will without submitting to money eating a-holes that legally have no power over my actions? What they do is blatantly wrong, and they know it, as do many other Senegalese, but nothing gets done about it. There are no police to keep them in check, so they get away with treating people like shit. (And don’t even get me started on how the force passengers to seriously uncomfortable spots, and sometimes even dangerous situations- too many people in a car, and too much baggage piled high on top, in cars 20+ years old, driving like maniacs towards their next penny).

Ok, rant over. I am praying that tomorrow I will have better luck on the edge of town, and will be able to get a car back to my road town! Back to my home sweet home to spend some quality time with my fam and relax for a few days. See new pics on facebook of all the stuff I just mentioned!

Monday, March 28, 2011

half way there

Two gross things have happened today. The first being Felix eating a cockroach this morning, which is disgusting enough by itself. Then on my bush taxi ride I was subjected to being smashed up against the metal bars while the woman next to me smothered me with her sweaty armpit. Gross. But a nice friend of mine did pay my pass, so I guess it balances out.

Along with the pungent smell of BO, we have recently begun to endure the start of HOT SEASON. I am grateful that it still drops below 100 during the nights and I wake up covered with my sheet, not a bucket of sweat. Only too soon will I have to start dumping buckets of water over me before I go to bed so I can actually fall asleep.

Since we’ve hit our year mark, it seems like the wheel of time has started to spin much faster. It now feels like there’s just not enough time to get everything done! We’ve been planning away for a weeklong girls camp that will be occurring in July in Ndioum, for which we will each bring 4 girls from our respective schools to participate. I have also decided recently to participate in the Michelle Sylvester scholarship program for middle school girls, which involves me selecting 9 finalists and then 3 winners to receive a sum of money towards their school fees and materials.

The past few weeks have busy- I helped my friend Hadiel in her village (about 35k from me) with a agriculture seminar she organized for farmers and people wanting to learn more about crop rotation, improved beds, better watering practices, outplanting, river side gardening etc. She had the ag. trainer from Peace Corps come give the lecture and do demonstrations. I just helped everything run smoothly and helped her not go too insane with it all. The following day Amber and I also helped her paint the 3 rooms of the Case de Sante (health hut) with her brother who is currently being trained to run it.

A few days after I returned to village I had a visitor from Dakar, an American student studying abroad for the semester. The program does site visits with PCVs around Senegal for the student to be able to see what small villages are like outside of Dakar. It was interesting to have an outsider come visit, it made me reminisce about how I initially felt in village and what I noticed in the beginning. It actually made me step back and be a lot nicer to people as well in daily encounters…I took the time to see it from a different perspective and realized I’m getting worn down and easily frustrated with certain things. A few of us have recently decided to try going for an entire week without yelling at anyone… which will be a challenge. Harassment and unwanted attention become very different after a year of endurance than they were in the beginning, when it was nice to be noticed and doted upon. Toubab gets old. Give me money gets old. Explaining your job gets old. Talking to everybody all the time gets old. And then you get bitter. And if you don’t watch it, you might just turn into a meany. Some days are better than others.. :)

Well today I might be subjected to getting my hair braided (…?) while I wait in my road town for a friend to show up. I’ll only post pictures if it’s not completely horrendous looking.

Check out the new pics on FB for your viewing pleasure (since I’m incapable of incorporating them into this blog):

Friday, January 28, 2011

New Year, New Adventures

I came to the realization yesterday that I am the only person in my work region that has yet to go to the Med Hut in Dakar for some sort of sickness. Not saying I haven’t been sick in the last year, but I’ve just never had to go to Med. My few cases of unpleasant stomach illnesses have generally gone away after a few days, with the exception of the first time I got sick at site and had fever hallucinations (back in May). And this time it probably will too, but the experience is still not pleasant. Without going into the gory details (since not all of ya’ll have the desensitized reaction to nasty details like PCVs do), I’ll say that I think I have amoebas, again. I’ve been nauseous, had crippling stomach cramps, and lost my appetite among other symptoms, and I think it might be time to call up Med. Same symptoms as I had around Thanksgiving, but I “got better” that time. Well, amoebas tend to go dormant at times, and then come back with a vengeance, so who knows, maybe I’ve had them this whole time. Stay posted.

Fortunately, for the month I spent back home in America I had no stomach issues at all. December was a great month. I arrived to the bitter cold of New York City and my mom waiting for me at the airport. We spent a whirlwind 5 days in the city, seeing multiple shows on Broadway (the best being Billy Elliot- most amazing show I’ve ever seen), eating great food, and exploring the city. Following that craziness, we road tripped to Michigan, spending a few days in Canton with my brother, and then the weekend up in Traverse City seeing everyone we knew in about 2 whole days. It was a great trip, although very exhausting and a lot to handle right upon arriving back to the states after so long. Unfortunately my mom’s cousin in MI passed away right before our return to MA, so we delayed our trip home for the memorial, but were still able to make it back to Nantucket late on Christmas eve. My two weeks at home were amazingly relaxing and wonderful. Christmas and New Years with my family was cheerful and warm, with lots of great home cooked food, crackling fires, and quality family time. All very much needed and appreciated (and often dreamed of now that I’m back here).

It was very difficult to leave the Island and make my way back towards NYC to fly back here, but the trip took some unexpected turns along the way, making it a great adventure! I spent one night with my adorable and great friend Autumn, in her cozy apartment in Mid-town, and the next day trekked out to Brooklyn to visit my long time friend Betsy and her mother (who was visiting from Australia!). While on my way to the airport from Brooklyn, I met a young guy on the subway who was also headed to the airport, so I asked where he was going. Mali. Say what?! I live in Senegal! (Look at a map, it’s close). Amazingly, he was traveling with some students to do some sort of research in Mali, and then going to travel through Senegal and visit a friend of theirs that’s a PCV in the North. It all quickly unraveled to reveal that one of the guys is good friends with my fellow PCV and neighbor, Vivienne, and was also a PCV in Morocco a few years ago. We all coincidentally were on the same flight to Casablanca, with an 18 hour layover during which Chris, the RPCV and Viv’s friend, included me in their group and played tour guide to us all throughout the city. His fluent Arabic and knowledge of the city/country was incredible, and so appreciated. We toured the beautiful and 3rd largest mosque in the world, ate authentic Moroccan food, and explored some awesome markets full of colorful rugs, spices, olives, artisan goods, etc. To top it off, I was informed by the group that Air Moroc provides a complimentary hotel and meal to travelers with long layovers, so we dropped our luggage there for the day while we explored. They flew out a few hours before me, so I took advantage of a free bed, shower, and meal after an exhausting 24 hours of travel, before I embarked on the remainder of my journey back to Dakar. They will be passing through our regional house in Ndioum next weekend, just in time to help celebrate my birthday! :)

My return to site went very well, my host family was very appreciative of all the America gifts and happy to have me back. The past few weeks have flown by, packed with lots of work and activities. We had the amazing Awa, a great woman that works for Peace Corps in Thies, come up North and make a tour of our schools to give talks to girls about early marriage, the importance of school, sexual harassment, and general girls empowerment. Her talk at my school went great, there were about 38 primary school girls (11-13 yrs old), all of whom were VERY excited to have Awa come talk to them. I’ll try to post videos of it on Facebook. These girls are a challenge for me to work with, but only because of their excess of energy, which is sometimes difficult to harness… they almost got out of hand, but Awa did a great job of handling it all by herself (my teachers were out of village). They even did a great spur of the moment theater skit about a girl endowed to get married but who speaks up to her father about wanting to stay in school. It was awesome.
The past week I spent in village was incredibly productive- the maternity room budget has finally been jumpstarted by a visit to the mason, I completed another mural at the Health Post, made some new friends, caught up with people I haven’t seen in forever, and started my Environmental Club back up at the school (officially called “Des Amis de la Nature” – Friends of Nature Club). I easily spent a week in village before bringing my teachers to Ndioum for the long anticipated CCBI training, which was this past Wednesday. It was a huge logistical challenge to bring together about 35 Senegalese teachers from 5 far apart villages, but thanks to Maddy and a group effort, it went well and my teachers at least seemed to appreciate it. The training was on how to integrate community issues into the classroom via Community Content Based Instruction. Us volunteers were trained on this during PST, so trying to listen to it again, in French (which most of us don’t speak), was challenging, but we were there to support our teachers.

So that’s the breakdown of my past few months, not a whole lot of commentary, but I hope it was interesting enough for those of you who actually keep up with this rambling blog of mine. It has turned out to be more of an online journal rather than the informational and analytical type of blog I was aiming for about my PC experience, but it’s what works for me.

Living here and speaking another language every day gives a strange angle to my days that challenges me regularly— we all have things that happen to us that normally we would casually mention to a friend or family member or a roommate, because we like sharing our experiences. Well here, those things happen all the time, but there’s nobody to tell. If I somehow do remember after the fact, as I’m talking to an America friend or someone back home, those things often seem too trivial or irrelevant to bring up again. The isolation can be crippling, and often puts a dent in my personality. I find myself speaking a lot less out loud, but the internal dialogue does continue…sometimes to the point of near insanity if I’ve been in village too long—that’s when you start making strange comments out loud (and sometimes in English) and actually giggling at things that nobody around you understands. That’s when you know you need to get out of village… It’s just a challenge that I’ve now pinpointed and appreciate as something that I’ve been able to deal with pretty well. I try very hard to translate my personality into Pulaar so Senegalese people can see some of it, but it often seems impossible and like they will never understand. But that’s ok, because I have my American friends to keep me sane, and to remind me who I really am and what I’m really doing here. At almost a year in, I’ve started to reflect more on the work I’m doing here and the process of development work in general. We’ve all learned staggering amounts about how it all works, some good, some bad, a lot frustrating, but also a good amount rewarding and perspective changing. Only time will tell how this entire experience will reflect on my overall existence, if it will grind me down to be cynical and eternally frustrated with development work and Senegalese people, or if I will rise up and make the best of it, somehow able to cling to the optimist we all are in the beginning, coming out a hugely changed person.

Ok well that was a bit intense, on a lighter note, only one week till my birthday, and less than 3 weeks till WAIST…the ultimate softball tournament of West Africa. Team North still needs a theme, so if there are any good suggestions out there, please let them be heard. I will attempt in the future to integrate pictures into this blog, but until then, refer to Facebook for your picture viewing pleasure. I did finally get a new camera. Hoorah!


Friday, November 26, 2010

Tis the Season

Happy Holidays! It is officially the holiday season and I am listening to Christmas music every day and have started drinking hot chocolate and dreaming of snow. As someone that grew up in Northern Michigan, I can never quite get myself into the same holiday spirits without cold weather and snow covered pine trees... 80 degree weather and sun every day just seems like vacation. Although I might not get to see very much snow in Nantucket, I will get to enjoy bundling up for cold weather and the cloudy gray days of winter in just 2 weeks! I am beyond excited that I get to spend the holidays at home with family and in my own world, enjoying everything that I love about Christmas time (snow, fires, lights, trees, christmas music, family, etc). I get to enjoy the amenities of America for 4 whole weeks before I come back to the desert. But until then, I am doing my best to be festive and remember that it is Christmas time!

Our Thanksgiving celebration was definitely one to remember- we killed 2 turkeys and 5 chickens, and had an awesome dinner put together by a great group effort. Green bean casserole, fruit salad, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and 7 pies (made by yours truly) for dessert. Talk about a food coma after all that!
Killing the chickens and turkeys was quite an was cool to see but at the same time really disgusting. The birds were just hangin out around the house for a few days before the 25th, so the morning of Thanksgiving we lit up the grill and did the deed. I had no part in the actual killing, but I took lots of pictures of the bloody mess. I actually only tried a bite of the meat but only because I was so full on other delicious things and didn't have any more room.
My region is officially in charge of Thanksgiving festivities so we invite all the other PC Volunteers in Senegal to come celebrate at our regional house. We had about 40 people total, 24 of us in the North and a bunch from other regions. It has been pretty chaotic the last week with so many people in and out of this house that is definitely not made for so many people! I'll be glad to come back next week when everybody is gone and it's back to it's peaceful and homey vibe.

Taking a few steps back to last week, we also celebrated the Muslim holiday of Tabaski on the 17th. This basically involved the mass killing of sheeps and goats all over Senegal, including 2 large sheep at my house. The actual day of Tabaski was spent cooking and dressing up in fancy new clothes and eating LOTS of meat. I don't even know how many times we ate in the 3 day long celebration...more than 3 times a day that's for sure. Nothing very exciting happened, although some family from out of town came to visit, which was nice. The older brother and his wife and children came from Mauritania, and another brother came from Saint-Louis to spend the holiday with their family. It was interesting to have new people to talk to, and was a nice change of pace from sitting around with just my family members. My brother Abu has also returned to village after being away in Dakar for the past 2 months (since Ramadan), at least we now have a male in the house.

Soon after celebrating Tabaski I started feeling sick, and it quickly turned into a vicious stomach sickness that left me immobile on my bed for an entire 24 hours in village. So I decided to come to Ndioum a few days early to recover before Thanksgiving, which is what I did. I most likely had amoebas (intestinal worms) but they cleared up after a round of anti-biotics. I did have several very unhappy days of feeling like crap though, but am doing much better now and was able to eat thanksgiving dinner (which is all that matters... :)

Earlier this week we also had a Regional Strategy Meeting for the North (Saint-Louis/Matam regions of senegal) volunteers, where we talked about projects and potential collaboration over the next 6 months. We came up with a list of goals for our work zone and a general plan for what we will be working together on (trainings, tournees, camps, etc). We also discussed the future of incoming volunteers and new site placement, and it looks like I will be getting a new neighbor in the March 2011 stage! The only difficulty with this news is that I was not aware before this week that they are still looking to set up a site for this volunteer, and I have done no research into where would be a good village for them in my area. Fortunately we have Tidian, our regional volunteer coordinator, who will be able to help set up the site, especially since I am leaving for America very soon and don't have time to go talk to communities about their need for a volunteer. I hope they are close to me- it'd be great to have a closer neighbor (my closest now is 30 k-- about 3 hours) and not be so isolated. I am currently the farthest volunteer in the Podor department, right on the edge of the Saint-Louis and Matam regions. PC is trying to start clustering volunteers together so that no one person is as isolated as I currently am, but that will take a few years because of the way stages come and go twice a year. Hopefully if I get a volunteer near me, I will also get a replacement when I leave so that this new person will not be left alone when I leave. It's a decently complicated process, site placement, and definitely takes years of planning and coordination with villages and PC administration.

Next week is the West Africa Peace Corps All-Volunteer conference in Thies. All volunteers in Senegal will be there, along with many from Mali, the Gambia, Guinea, etc. It is only 2 days, but will hopefully be informational and interesting to hear about other volunteers projects. Following this conference I will be in Dakar for a few days while I wait to fly out to NYC on the 10th!

It is incredible how fast time has flown in the last few months, and in some ways that is great but it's also slightly depressing to look back and ask myself...what have I actually done with all this time!?! I feel successful with small things like my 2 gardens, a mural and some causeries at the dispensaire, our functioning radio show, and having created a work plan for my service, but starting the big projects has been slow. I feel like the only volunteer that has not yet written a grant for a project, but I'm not, and that's also not the only measure of achievement. I have to remind myself sometimes that only in recent years have grants become available, and volunteers used to do projects with NO funding at all!! I cannot imagine how they did anything...!! But they did, just on a different scale. So I need to be patient, and I feel that the slow process in getting money is probably the best way to go about it, just to be careful with the way I project my position in the community in terms of providing money for things. When I return in the new year I hope to submit my first grant for the much needed Maternity Room, and once that is being fundraised for I will move on to new latrines for the elementary school.

So be prepared for my soon to be plea for money to fund these projects! Eventually you will be able to pledge money via the PC Senegal website, but not until the grant has been submitted and approved...just keep it in mind and I will make sure to remind you when the time comes :)

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving and is enjoying the wonderful season!! I will post new pictures soon of the past few days (I hijacked someones camera). Be seeing you soon America!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Autumn in Senegal

Well hello again! It’s been a long long time…I’ve been being a slacker. At keeping up with my blog that is, not at work- I actually have projects going now!! I keep meaning to write a blog where I list all the bizarre things about my life currently, but I forgot the list I made back in my hut. I was sitting in my room one day, and it occurred to me how strange it was that I now sleep on a thin piece of foam with a balled up sheet as my pillow, and I find it the most comfortable surface and my favorite spot in my whole village. Then I got to thinking, and all kinds of things came to mind that to anyone but myself who has become accustom to them would find a little crazy—like how normal and basic a bucket bath is now, or peeing into a hole in the ground with no toilet paper, or how I fall asleep to the ridiculous noise of donkeys or goats or cows all around me (when I first got here I had no idea what it was when I first heard a donkey cry…how ordinary it is now!). I will get around to posting the whole list, it still even impresses myself a little to look at it and realize that all these things are nothing to me now, to see how adapted I am to the basic things I thought would be so difficult to get used to. What I didn’t expect was how challenging it would be work with the people…
I have been trying to plan a village meeting with everyone for a few weeks now, with no avail. For the past 5 months I have been observing and collecting information about the village, trying to identify what their needs and problems were. Well, now that I think I know, I wanted to discuss them with the village, make sure we were all in agreement, prioritize my projects, and address any new ideas anyone has. But people just cannot seem to get themselves to come together in the same spot at the same time to talk about my willingness to help! I know they are capable of holding meetings, I’ve been to them before. I’m hoping and thinking that it is just an inconvenient time of year to get everyone together, since everyone is harvesting their fields of millet, beans, melons, and peanuts right now. I was at least able to talk briefly with all the old men one day after their 5 o’clock prayers at the mosque—if I hang out creepily enough outside at about 4:45pm, I can catch them all at once when they come out after praying. Although it’s a good measure to take as to not step on any toes (old men are very important in the village!), the meeting wasn’t very useful, as they basically told me about all the projects I already know about and plan to do. It’s good to know I have their blessing though, and what they think I should start with. I hope to catch the next pre-planned village meeting on the 10th of November…as long as nobody ups and decides they have a wedding to attend or some other more important business.

It feels good to have things to keep me busy, although I still somehow end up with too much down time on my hands. I’m feeling so much more comfortable and adjusted in the last few months, and I feel much less guilty for leaving village often (it’s usually work related anyways, so I shouldn’t feel guilty for doing my work!). I’m trying to find a balance between satisfying my requirements for being in village and “integrating,” with my desire to be constantly moving and still getting work accomplished.
Right now I’m beginning the long process of writing a grant to build my Health Post a new maternity room and latrine, so that they will have proper facilities for childbirth and recovery, since what they have right now is one room for everything, including childbirth, general consultations, any kinds of illness, etc. My health post serves several thousand people, and not everyone comes there to deliver their babies, which is a big health risk to both mothers and children considering the conditions they may be giving birth at home in. My other projects will include building another latrine at the primary school so that the children stop peeing behind the classrooms…and also helping start a women’s community garden to promote better nutrition, healthy eating, and to teach gardening techniques.
I’ve already started working on smaller projects, like causeries at the Health Hut or with women’s groups. Causeries are like educational demonstrations for small groups of people- so far I’ve done 2 on making “Neem Lotion,” a natural mosquito repellent made from a certain type of leaves, and I did a small one for my ICP on how to make nutritional porridge for malnourished children (which is delicious, I might add). I’ve also started back up the radio show that my ancienne had in Pete, my road town, with a few of my friends. We have done 3 shows already, each are about 30 minutes of us doing silly little skits in Pulaar about health and environmental issues, and playing American music in between. It’s a really fun and great project to do, since we can reach a huge audience, and people love to listen to us “toubabs” speaking Pulaar, which means we get our message out to a lot of people! My family loves to repeat back to me everything I said in the skits after we’ve listened to the show air on the tiny radio at our house…at least I know they’re paying attention!

What else. A goat jumped off the 2nd story roof of our house the other night…onto the cement patio thing below. And it was absolutely fine. I about keeled over laughing—it almost landed on my sisters head. Suicidal goats? Who knew. He didn’t even get what he wanted…but maybe one day he will, when we decide to eat him for LUNCH! Ha. I’m beginning to think Senegal is having a strange effect on my sense of humor…that was probably the funniest thing to happen in village since I arrived.

So today I ate 3 bags of frozen yogurt and half a loaf of banana bread for dinner. It was freaking AMAZING. Not sure I’ve had that much nutrition in the whole of last week. When I returned from my time in Dakar a few weeks ago, I returned to an entirely empty gas tank, all of which had leaked out of the bad top piece while I was away. I was strangely calm about the whole thing too, I guess I just had to accept it as it was, no use in getting too upset over it…but it does really suck since I don’t have the money to replace it right away. Which means I’ve started to crave 2nd breakfast (or first, if you don’t really count a bite of bread and some “coffee” at 7am as “breakfast”)—Karaw— or millet porridge, that my sister makes every day. I usually cook my own breakfast of oatmeal and tea or coffee, and then snack throughout the day whenever I get hungry or feel like cooking. But now, c’est pas possible. When I first arrived in Senegal I thought Karaw was revolting, it’s like mushy balls of millet flour inside a gooey sweet porridge that you slurp out of a cup or gigantic ladle spoon…and now it’s my favorite part about every morning! We’ve even been eating it quite often for dinner lately too, which is slightly disappointing, since I’m always craving something more, but I’ll eat what I can get. Tonight I indulged in homemade banana bread, delicious frozen yogurt, and later, perhaps some Ramen noodles.

It’s about 9pm right now, and back in the village I’d be going to sleep. But having electricity somehow enables me to stay up way past my normal village bed time. I do enjoy laying out under the stars and my mosquito net in the village though, listening to my ipod and thoroughly enjoying the cool night breeze…it is so beautiful now at night! Maybe in the low 80’s, high 70’s…I wake up with a sheet covering me, and can last almost the whole morning without breaking a sweat.

But instead of brilliant oranges and red leaves changing color as in the beautiful fall of northern Michigan, all I get is the grass turning brown, and the thorny trees looking a little more thorny and menacing. Back to the desert ways of the North…the beautiful color of green was only a trick of the rains that lasted not long enough. I’m sad I wasn’t able to get pictures since my camera broke, but I suppose there’s always next season.

Stay tuned for more when I get the chance. Next week is our Moringa tournee, followed in a few short weeks by Thanksgiving and then our All-Volunteer Conference in Thies. Let the time fly!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

six months in senegal

6 months, 5 days, to be precise. And we are no longer the newest volunteers in Senegal, the new stage arrived last month and is on Volunteer Visit this week. Which is partly why I am currently at my regional house, preparing festivities (partly for the newbies, mostly for ourselves..!). I just made two loaves of banana bread, Jonno has just made a load of no-bake cookies, and Paul is soon to make a batch of brownies...yum. I arrived a few days ago to work on a grant, write our required volunteer report form, and do finish some odds and ends.

It was definitely time for a break, Ramadan was a rough month (even without fasting!). The morning I decided to leave to come here, it was raining of course. So I sucked it up and decided to walk to Pete, because I was no willing to wait all morning for a possible cheret. I took my backpack, a purse full of books (to exchange at the library here at the house), and my small empty gas tank to get refilled. It was a perfect day to walk, cloudy and cool, but it was still a rough 5 mile trek with all my things. By the time I arrived to the main road, I was not in the mood for anyone to get in my face, let alone a swarm of Almudo (begging children)...I had to feign that I would hit them if they didn't leave me alone, which I would never actually do, but it at least got them to go away temporarily.

Side note, there was recently an article in the NY Times about Talibe children in Senegal, if you are interested: They not only exist in Dakar and bigger cities, but we have a large group of them in my own tiny village in the North and in almost every village around Senegal. I hate to admit that they've come to be kind of an annoyance to me because of their incessant begging and stares, but when I actually think of their situation I do feel very sorry for them. I refuse to give them money and support the system that keeps them on the streets, but I sometimes give them food to eat immediately if I can see they are hungry.

Anyways, the end of Ramadan could not have come soon enough, I was so thrilled to see the faint outline of the moon on Thursday evening-- they judge the end of Ramadan based on the new moon. I was the first to spot the tiny sliver of white in the sky of the setting sun, and my whole family seemed to be relieved as well at the site of it. Had it not been Thursday night it would have been Friday. So Korite, the end of Ramadan celebration, was a day of lots of meat. I helped my sisters cut potatoes and onions, and they cooked all morning...the main dish being goat, sheep, or cow meat. Each family prepares numerous bowls of food and then it's like a large community food swap- women bring bowls of food to various friends houses and we received several at my house as well. I ate two lunches at home and then went to fulfill an invitation to eat with my ICP at the Dispensaire, which I about a food coma after that! The strange part was that later in the evening, I was never called in for dinner, and I went to sleep having not eaten anything since lunch. It was ok because we'd eaten so much anyways, but it was the first time we did not eat dinner since I arrived at site 4 months idea why. I'm thankful that lunch has returned, and so has dinner-- we've eaten what we normally eat for lunch every night for dinner during Ramadan, which means no variation whatsoever (rice and fish). I'm excited for at least the possibility of variation during dinner! Maybe some leccari and kosam...yum! (My fav food-- rediculously simple, just millet and milk).

I'm headed back to the village in the morning with my ancienne, who is on his last trip back to the village to say goodbye to friends and the family. He heads back to America in just a little more than a week! The next few weeks for me will be very productive, inchallah (God willing), with painting murals, starting the radio show, planning the womens garden and maternity room, school starting back up, etc.

Last of all, since I never keep up as much as I would like to with my blog, check out some of my friends and fellow stagers blogs if you have time...they are much more entertaining to read than my own, written better, and the experiences are pretty similar.

And of course there are many more, but here are a good few to start with. Enjoy :)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Well, 10 days to go till Ramadan is finally over. All I can hope is that things pick up a little once everyone is back to their semi-active selves and ready to do some work! Returning to village after English camps and IST was fine, I did great for almost 2 weeks, which is right about when the serious boredom kicked in. So I went to my regional house to do some research on grants and radio shows, and to relax a bit. On my way I visited my neighbor Hadiel for the night and tried to help her paint her hut (a bit of a failure...we ended up painting her bathroom door a pukey green...mixing paint is harder than it seems!). Then back to the village for a few days, where once again, I got unbearably bored.
So this past weekend I decided to make a trip to Ourosougi and check out our new "office" apartment (like a small regional house), which has been great but turned into a much longer trip than intended. The apartment is great, except for not having water ALL WEEKEND. I feel pretty disgusting right now and just want to take a bucket bath in my own bathroom. I was ready to head out yesterday afternoon when I learned that if I stayed till today, I could get a free ride with Counterpart International, and organization that volunteers often collaborate with. And so I am sitting in their air conditioned office, using their wifi, while I wait for the car to leave. It's been a long weekend and I'm actually ready to get back to the village. Finally bought some paint to do murals with and will buy fencing this afternoon so I can start outplanting my pepenier at my house-- something to do!!
Well wish me luck with the rest of Ramadan, update again soon. Miss you America!!!