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!!!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Food Babies, Floods, and Festivities

IST done: check. 10 extra pounds: check. more delicious food than I could possibly eat: check. Yesterday a group of us made our way to Dakar from Thies after IST was over, and spent the day planning the week of English camp (while we enjoyed a delicious catered lunch, no less) with the teachers of the English Access Camp run by the US Embassy. It's going to be a great week, basically playing games all morning with the kids and enjoying Dakar every afternoon.

For our last night in Thies, we trudged through the pouring rain and flooding waters to Big Fam, our favorite restaurant in Thies, where my friend Sarah and I shared a Croche Madame, Big Burger, 2 beers, and a large creme filled beignet (basically a huge donut). Following that, we jumped in the pool while it was pouring rain (so fun).
Our trip back to the center was even more ridiculous... as we waded through knee high flooded streets trying to get to the tailor to pick up another volunteers clothes, our friend stepped right into an open sewer hole and fell waist deep into the muddy, sewer infested water (my biggest fear as we walked through the darkness not knowing where we were stepping...!) All was ok though, since this was not her first time this has happened to her (what a trooper).

Last night we enjoyed delicious Thai food, which I've been dreaming about since the last time I went there when we were in was just as amazing as I remembered it to be. We went to enjoy Nice Cream following dinner to get ice cream, and I had the worst experience ever...and now I hate Nice Cream. Somehow I was the last to order of our group, and had to wait like 40 minutes while person after person got helped before me (welcome to Senegalese customer service). By the time I got my ice cream I didn't even want it any more and everyone else was done eating. Then we went out to get a taxi and I was harassed by Talibe for 10 minutes while we tried to flag a cab...I almost cracked. And, unfortunately for Nice Cream, all my anger and frustration of that night is now channeled into hating them and never wanting to go there again (unless we order ahead/get it delivered/take out etc...which they do. amazingly).

I've decided that being a PCV in a small village breeds borderline eating disorders... all we can do when we are in Thies or Dakar is eat obscene amounts of food that we are usually deprived of. I also feel like all I've talked about in the last week has been food, but I swear, I do not have an eating disorder...I'm just a PC Volunteer! Food becomes so much more important when you don't have enough or are nutritionally deprived, so really I'm just stocking up for when I return to village and Ramadan starts. Don't get the wrong idea though, I am never truly hungry- there's always enough food- just not enough quality. But hey, I'm faithful in taking my pre-natal vitamins every day (given to us ALL by Med to keep us healthy and strong!!).

Well now that I've written an entire blog almost completely about food, I will wait till something more interesting happens before I post again. I'm sure some interesting scenarios will result from a week spent with a group of 85 fourteen year olds :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

livin the tough life

my life today: slept in (8am); watched a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother; went to brunch and had a cappuccino, chocolate croissant, and egg/cheese/ham/mushroom crepe; walked into the depths of the Thies market and bought a new skirt, some laundry soap, and a cold beverage; did my laundry then took a long running water shower; spent a few more hours watching more episodes of How I Met Your Mother; and currently, drinking a glass (I mean plastic cup) of red wine while browsing the internet/updating my blog.

Now, let's picture a normal day in village: wake up at 5:45am to the first call to prayer then try to go back to sleep for a while; actually wake up, bucket bath, eat, get my water for the day; either go water my garden at the school or visit the dispener; sit; read/socialize/walk around the village/sit in my hut and listen to music; eat lunch; take a 4 hour nap or sit; by around 6pm, go back to school, dispenser, or someone else's house (and sit); sit; come home and shower again; sit; read or hang with family; dinner; sleep.

Disclaimer: I am not lazy, I swear, and after returning to site, my "normal day in the village" will hopefully be a great deal more productive in terms of work and self productivity. Also, today is our one day off during IST, and I have fully taken advantage of it to the best of my ability.
We have one more week of IST, and then I'm off to Dakar for a week to help with an English Camp for kids in the city. Training has been in some ways very beneficial and motivational (I'm even more ready to get back to the village and start projects) and in others slightly mind numbing and drawn out. It's great to be around so many native English speakers and friends that I don't often get to see...but it will also be very difficult to leave this all behind again and return to the seclusion of my village/life in the village. The excitement of starting work on so many great projects is really what makes me ready to get back to my family and village.

Ramadan starts on August 13th, and lasts for about a month. For those of you that aren't aware, Senegal is, in fact, a Muslim country, and the majority of people will fast from sunrise to sunset for a month (and such is Ramadan). I'm looking forward to this opportunity to cook lunch for myself and have more control over my diet for a short amount of time, but on the other hand, nothing will be accomplished. It's actually pretty horrible timing in terms of work for us since we will be returning to our sites after IST all pumped and ready to get work started, and then Ramadan will begin and all work will cease. People will be tired and cranky, and expecting me not to work as well. This will hopefully be a good opportunity for me to do my own type of work (like grant research, getting paperwork for grants organized, researching project related anything, etc) and when it is over, we will all celebrate and kick it back into gear.
Initially I was not the slightest bit interested in fasting myself...I mean, who in their right mind would not eat or drink WATER in the scorching hot desert of Western Africa if they are not devout Muslims (or even if they water??!! really??)? Well, to my surprise, many volunteers do choose to fast along with their families as a way to bring solidarity or relate or whatever...and many families really do respect volunteers for trying. But, to me, not drinking water or eating for that long in a climate and environment that is already so incredibly harsh on my body, is not a smart idea at all. Even when I do drink 5 liters of water a day or more and eat as much as I possibly can, my level of energy is about equal to that of one of my laziest days in America...I'm constantly dragging my feet around and trying to stay up beat. So, I then considered maybe just trying to fast with them but still drink water, and just be super lazy for a month with everyone else. But, then I decided that I would rather take advantage of the time that I do have and do my own work, with energy, and stay happier (most likely) and healthier by eating my own cooked food.
With this decision made, I will now be spending a large remainder of my mandat (pay) on a visit to the "Casino" supermarche in Dakar to stock up on rations for the next month. This store, my friends, is like heaven in Senegal. It is within a MALL (yes, a legit, tile floored, florescent lighting, high class mall), and is the most beautiful and overwhelming picture of perfectness...everything you could ever want is available here. I literally didnt know what to buy when I visited for the first is definitely a place where you need to have a list already created before you enter (so that you don't splurge and buy a $14 dollar pint of Ben and Jerries Phish Food every time...not that I did that or anything...well maybe just once...). To say the least, I am very, very excited to go back to this wonderful magical land. There, and also the American Club deserves another visit while I'm in such close proximity.

And so that is my plan for the next few weeks. IST, Dakar, back to the village for Ramadan, and then really getting to work! I am satisfied. Content to be where I am and happy with the way things look in the future. Hope everyone and anyone reading this finds themselves enjoying life in the same way :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Well, I nearly just threw my computer across the cement floor accidentally as I jumped off the couch away from a disgusting looking bug. Thank god for quick reflexes, I can’t imagine life without my little netbook…I could cry if I broke it because of a bug. It has been a very long time since I’ve had a chance or the desire to write an update, and for that I apologize! This last weekend I was sick (for the 2nd time) with some stomach thing, and spent a few days at my regional house to recover. Being sick in the village really sucks…no ice for cold beverages or electricity to watch movies (when you’re laying in bed all day bored to death). Not to mention, puking into a smelly latrine hole isn’t quite as nice as the clean tile floor and porcelain toilet I’m used to back home (or that we have at the regional house…just a little less clean). So I decided to come spend a night at the house and relax/recover, but getting out of the village is a whole nother story now that the rains got here.

Since the rainy season river arrived, you have to go around to the next village to get to the main road, which means less people in general go anywhere, and therefore it’s harder to get a cheret. And since the one and only bush taxi has been out of service (aka needs a new engine), I could end up waiting almost an hour before a cheret happens to go by that is going into Pete. Well this Saturday, as my counterpart is helping me look for a cheret, I soon realize that everyone is going to the fields to farm, and nobody is going to Pete. After trekking all around the village feeling like I’m going to pass out, I start to panic as I realize I might not get to leave… and then with a stroke of luck we see another bush taxi about to leave for Pete. Now this isn’t the same as the other bush taxi, which has bench seats below the covered truck bed. This is a more burly truck with big roll bars on the back with big wooden boards strapped across them…which is where you sit. It’s hard to describe, but when you crawl up onto the boards, your ass is level with the top of the cab roof, and your feet dangle into the space above the bed of the truck. You better hold on for dear life that you don’t fall the 7 feet to the ground as you fly down the bumpy dirt road and dodge the thorny tree branches that reach out over the road. Unless you are sitting in the first row, all you have to hold onto is the board you are sitting on, but this time I was in front so I had the front roll bar to hang on to. It was the most exciting and thrilling bush taxi ride EVER! Despite being sick, for that short 20 minutes to Pete I held on for dear life and felt the exhilaration of the whipping wind on my face and was amazingly happy—it was too exciting to think about being sick! My excitement ended when I got off and realized that a goat had peed on my backpack that was in the bed of the truck along with several tied up sheep and goats. Welcome to the life of a PCV…at least I didn’t have goat pee drip all over me from goats tied to the top of a mini bus (true story).

So one adventure of many accounted for….others include a few more sand storms (see pics on facebook!), a huge thunderstorm followed by a half a day of constant rain, the 4th of July in Kedegou, and much much more. The 4th was a great trip, got to see monkeys, lots of friends, eat pig, swim in a pool, and use internet in my air conditioned hotel room for 2 whole days. The rain and sand storms that we had after I got back weren’t quite so nice. Unfortunately, after the 15 straight hours of rain, and the day before I left to come here (before In Service Training- IST), I realized my doors had expanded with all the water and no longer shut or lock. Awesome. Great timing. Fortunately, I trust my family enough to do what they say and call a guy to come fix them soon, and to protect my keys while I’m gone for the next 2 ½ weeks! (I didn’t leave anything valuable anyways, but still, it would be nice to not have to think about it). My family is so great, and my neene (mom) is finally back in the village (she was sick for the first month I was there and I didn’t see her until I came back from a language training seminar in Podor), which has been great—she is the nicest woman ever and always makes me feel appreciated (she says thank you to everything I say to her…it’s cute). I’m slowly getting more comfortable in my house, but still definitely have a long ways to go…I feel guilty about doing anything that isn’t “work” or socializing with either them or other families in the village (aka, doing anything for myself)…so I’ve got that to work on. But people in the village are really great, so nice, and they all want me to come to their houses.

It is a little overwhelming at times dealing with the constant “toubob” calls and people assuming I have money because I’m white and asking me to give them things on a daily basis, but I’m working on new come-backs every day. My go-to’s for the toubob remarks are either “my name isn’t toubob, it’s fati,” or I call them “black” (it sounds a little racist when I write it like that, but the word for black is less prejudice than “toubob”….that’s not even the proper word for “white”—it’s a slang term that I find slightly derogatory…) and point out the obvious just as they are (why yes, you’re so smart! I am white!!)…so depending on the context, I either say those things or just ignore them (which isn’t a very good tactic since they just try harder to get your attention if you pretend not to hear). As for the people asking for money, if they are clearly old enough to know better, I tell them to go work and make their own if they want money, or if they’re young I say go ask your mom or dad, or I just flat out say no. Some days are better than others, but getting used to the constant attention and harassment has been a decent challenge…sometimes the attention is nice and getting special treatment can work out in your favor (like getting great food or help getting around to different places).

So. Now I am here again, back at my regional house for another day before we head to Dakar for a party at the Country Directors house (a reward for staying every night at site for the first 5 weeks), followed by IST in Thies for 2 weeks! I’m super excited to have a longer break and to have training…I’m hoping to learn some very valuable things to get some projects started in the village! The main projects I already know I’ll be working on are: building a maternity room for the Dispenser, building another latrine at the school, taking over a radio show left to me by the previous volunteer, making a community women’s garden, and continuing the garden at the school along with my other work there (doing some murals, environmental lessons, etc). I’m sure other things will come up and plans will change, but right now those are the ones I’m expecting to start on when I get back to the village in August.
So that is all I have for now, I will have more access to internet over the next few weeks and will try to update again at some point. Check out the new photos here if you are interested:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

first month at site!

Well it’s been about 3 weeks since my last access to internet, and it feels like a lifetime ago but at the same time, the weeks have flown by. Since we swore in as volunteers in Dakar, all of us living in the North headed to our regional house for a few days before we were installed into our villages. My install day was amazing—we arrived in the afternoon at the school, and were welcomed by all of the elementary school children holding hand drawn welcome signs and singing in unison a song welcoming me (“Fati Awe”—my Senegalese name). It was the coolest moment ever—to have all these kids so excited for my arrival and for everyone to be so welcoming. Following that was a meeting with important community members and then an amazing lunch at my house.

Week one at site was…hot. And by the end of my second day, I had already gotten some stomach bug and felt like death for the next 4 days. It was also the hottest week we’ve had since I got here, so being sick on top of that was miserable. Once I started feeling better though I was able to start getting out of my house more and meeting people and getting to know my family better. They took great care of me while I was sick, got me ice every day (which has to be brought in from Pete, which is 7 kilometers away), and didn’t hassle me too much about not eating anything for 3 days. I’m feeling much better now.

I can’t really think of what else I did for the first two weeks at site... probably because I really didn’t do much of anything! I’m definitely getting the hang of sitting. Lots and lots of sitting happens. I also did a lot of reading, listening to music, napping, some studying, and trying (sort of) to improve my Pulaar. I usually go to the school or the dispenser (health post) every evening to visit with either the teachers or my counterparts. I really enjoy hanging out at the school at night because two of the teachers speak English really well (but they don’t speak Pulaar) and always provide really interesting conversation. There is also one teacher that speaks Pulaar very well so between all of them, I can usually get whatever I want to know translated. So far the teachers at the school are my best friends (probably because I can actually communicate with them!) and have been very helpful with anything I want to do.

This past week has been very productive, I started my pepenier at the school with a group of students to help. We made 400 sacs so far (you have to mix the soil and manure together, and then fill the bags…not easy in the heat!) and I have to do another 100 before IST in July. I also had a meeting with the college age students (like high school or a little younger) to form a club to do radio skits since I’m inheriting a radio show from the volunteer before me. This way I can have the students learning about health and environmental issues, teaching the public on the radio, and I get to avoid having to speak horrible Pulaar on the air :). A few days ago I also was able to teach my ICP (like a nurse sort of, at the health post) and her nanny how to make nutritional porridge for babies 6 months to 5 years old and about the different food groups and nutritional value of foods important for growing children. Now that they know how to make it and know about the food groups, they can help me do a “causerie” with the women in the village where we teach them how to make the porridge and about nutrition (but this way I don’t have to speak a whole lot either and the ICP will do most of the talking/explaining/answering questions).

I stayed in my village for about two weeks before I went to visit my closest neighbors in Medina and Aram. It was fun to get out figure out the transportation to see friends, but I definitely know now that it’s not just a day trip. I went for the day and forgot my phone in my friends room, so I went back the next day and spent the night. The cheret (horse pulling a wood platform with two weels…) out of my village takes 45 minutes, then I have to get a car or alhum or bus to the cross road that leads to Medina, and then take another cheret from there (30 min or so) to Medina. If I want to go even further and visit my other friend in Aram, I have to take ANOTHER cheret that takes about 45 minutes to get to her village. It’s not simple…and you have to take into account the hot times of the day, lunch times, etc. when it might be more difficult or impossible to get a car or cheret. Visiting my friend in Aram was really nice though, she has the river about 300 yards from her house. We had about 30 kids follow us down to the river and watch us swim for a half hour…we swam to the other side for some peace (it’s a decent size river, it was a good swim). Makes me wish I had the river in my village!

So. Anyways, I came yesterday to the regional house in Ndioum to do some research, check email, buy some gardening supplies, and watch movies. It’s been very hard to focus on what I came here to do and actually do anything other than lay around and watch movies/mess around on the internet... :) But it is a much needed break that will keep me from going insane from just sitting. All. Day. Long. A little bit of the familiar comforts like running water, ice, cooking my own food, and having a connection to the rest of the world (internet) has been so nice!

I love my village and am definitely getting more comfortable being there and meeting the people. I have a lot of work to do before we go back to Thies for In Service Training (IST) in July, but plenty of time to get it all done. I plan to make a map of my village, get my actual garden going (not just the pepenier), do at least one radio skit with the student club, and do the baseline survey that we are required to do in order to asses our village. Next week we have a 3 day language seminar in Podor that our language teacher is coming up North for…I’m excited to get to travel again and also to see some friends that I haven’t seen in a while. A little bit after that is the 4th of July when everyone goes down south for the yearly 4th of July party! And another short time after that we head back to Thies for IST. It’s nice to have the time broken up so nicely in and out of the village, I love always being on the go!

Well that’s all for now, I’ll try to update again next week when I’m back for lang class if I have the time. Next time I’ll try to write more about my observations and not just what I’ve been doing…there’s so much to write about it’s hard to remember all the “blog worthy moments” but I’ll take some time to write them down for next time!

PS. if you want to see pictures, i've posted three albums on facebook so check them out at the following links: (you don't have to have facebook to see just the pictures!)

Saturday, May 15, 2010


I'm officially a peace corps volunteer! Swear in yesterday in Dakar was great, had a relatively quick ceremony followed by some delicious food, and then relaxing at the American Club for the afternoon. Spent the night in Dakar with some other PCV's and enjoyed the city before leaving this morning to come back and pack....tomorrow we are leaving for our sites! I will be installed by Mr. Chris Hederick himself, Director of Peace Corps Senegal, this Wednesday. It's late, and we've had an exhausting last few days, so I will leave it at that, but I hope I'll have the chance to update in the next few months. May or may not have internet access for quite a while, but feel free to send me mail!! My new address is:
PCV Sarah Keyes
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 2
Pete, Senegal
West Africa

...I will love you forever if you send me a package :)
Peace and Love

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

End of PST

April 30th, 2010:
By the time I post this, there will be less than a week left until we swear in as volunteers! As I type this I am at my home-stay for our last few days of language training. It’s sad to think that Saturday is our last day with our families here in Nguekokh, but I am so ready to move up north and install into my village. It’s a little scary too that we only have a few more days to study Pulaar and somehow become “intermediate-mid” for the last test next week. If for some reason that level isn’t reached, I’d have to stay back a week to study more before installing, which would not be fun whatsoever, which means I really need to get better at Pulaar ASAP. All I can say is wish me luck, and enshallah (god willing) I will pass. (Why does Pulaar have to be the hardest language?!!)
Last week:
Day one of counterpart workshop: Wake up, 6am. Drop my phone into the douche, have to stick my hand in after it…well, now I can say I’ve had that experience. CHECK. It was all fine after a bottle of hand sanitizer was smothered all over everything. The drive back to Thies in the early morning was amazing- baobabs, small villages, and a beautiful dusty sunrise turned my day right around to a great start.
The rest of day one was interesting, full of awkward interactions with my counterparts from Boke Salsalbe, the school director and a health relay, two people that I will be working closely with and who will help me integrate/get work done/etc in my site. One claims to speak Pulaar but really only speaks French, Wolof, and a little English. The other only speaks Pulaar and French, but no English. Somehow I managed to make it through the day and get to know them a little bit through a ridiculous combination of bad French, Pulaar, and my diminishing English skills (as my Pulaar gets better my English gets worse).
Each of us in the Pulaar language group had the awkward experience of standing up and reading in front of everyone, in Pulaar, one of the objectives of PROSPERE, the PC Health and Environment Program in Senegal. The majority of the day was spent trying to understand what was going on, since the whole workshop was conducted in Pulaar and French (it’s focused on the counterparts, not PC trainees—it’s to train them on what PC is, what training we go through, how to help us at site, what everyone’s expectations are etc).
After a long day of CPW, we had to commute back to Nguekho to sleep for the night. I decided it was the right time to try and teach the kids how to play UNO since all three adults of the house were nowhere to be seen and it was just me and the girls for the evening (unsupervised children is not uncommon here). It was fun that they eventually caught on to the rules, but then I re realized that UNO is a painfully never ending game, and I don’t actually like playing it that much. They continue to ask for it every night now which is fine except that I always really need to study so I let them play amongst themselves…at least I feel a little more loved by the kids now as opposed to the past few weeks when they have hardly spoken to me out of fear that their grandma or brother would beat them if they disturb me (or at least I think that’s why they never hassle me anymore…).
CPW Day 2: Again, we woke up early to commute back to the training center. We had various sessions on cross-cultural understanding, security, and our 2 month action plan. I talked with my counterparts about exactly what I can do for the first 8 weeks at site after installation. I’ll be installing on May 19th, just in time for the hot season! Rainy season will start around late July/early August, and school ends in the village for the summer in June (I think). So, Day 1: unpack, try not to hide in my hut, and hang out with my family. Day 2: go around and greet people in the village—visit school, health post, people’s houses to drink tea. Over the next 8 weeks I’ll hopefully make a map of Boke Salsalbe, complete my baseline survey, make a seasonal calendar, get to know people, meet the women’s group, organize a group of students to help with the garden at the school, plant the garden at the school, start working at the radio station a little in Pete, research causeries/maybe do one if I feel ambitious, and try not to run off to the regional house an unreasonable amount of times. I hope to stay at site at least 10 days before going to the regional house…that’s the goal at this point. I also plan on doing a lot of reading and studying during the first 8 weeks. In mid-July we have IST (in-service-training) for a few weeks in Thies where we have more tech training.

This past weekend all of our stage went to a small beach town and rented a house for the night and had some quality relaxation time on one of the most beautiful beaches ever. We arrived Saturday morning to a shockingly amazing house right on the ocean and I went promptly to lay on the beach and take a nap. The rest of what was to follow basically involved a lot of nothing…eating, drinking cold beverages on the beach, walking up and down the coast, swimming in the freezing ocean, relaxing and enjoying the entertainment of my stage’s company. It was absolutely a perfect weekend, which made it hard to go back to Thies Sunday afternoon. But this week is already flying by and before I know it we will be back in Thies again and PST will be ending.
I don’t know what else to report on except that my head hurts from all the Pulaar that is spilling out of it. Even as I type this, my every thought is echoed by a random Pulaar phrase (either a translation of what I just wrote or thought, or my commentary on it in Pulaar).

May 12th:
Lang exam results in a few hours, hope I passed!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


So once again I've gotten behind on writing, so quick recap. Volunteer visit was a week or so ago, and I spent 5 days up north in my actual site visiting my ancienne (the volunteer I'm replacing) and meeting everyone in the village. I love my family and all the people I met at the school and health post were very nice and welcoming. I can't wait to install (move in) in May and actually start working/practicing Pulaar.
After VV we spent a day in Dakar doing admin stuff and touring the city a was way too quick of a visit, but I love Dakar. It's like a mini-european bubble where you can do/get anything you could possibly want. Next weekend we have a few days off, and I'm thinking about going back to Dakar to check it out some more. (Probably won't be going back much during the next two's like 10 hours from my village).

This past week we were back in our training homestays for more language class and our second language exam. Only 3 more weeks to be "intermediate-mid" before swear in...wish me luck!

Well we're back in Thies for more tech training for this week and at the end of the week we have a counter-part workshop where two of our counterparts from each of our villages comes to Thies for training with us. They get an overview of what training is like for us as volunteers, and then we get to teach them some random language like Chinese to help them understand how difficult it is to learn another language. My counterparts are the headmaster and a woman at the health post, but she is sending a health relay because she can't take the time off to come to the workshop. It should be an interesting few days, since we are traveling back and forth to Thies for three days from Nguekho, which is about 45 min each way (because there is not enough accommodations at the training center for all 80 counterparts and 40 volunteers).

Ok well I have no energy to write more so I will post more later when I have more interesting things to report!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

march 26th blog...

here's something i wrote like a week ago one night at homestay...enjoy.

Today I was almost attacked by a gecko when I opened the door to the latrine. It almost scared the pee out of me. Those little things look cute but they’re sneaky little buggers. Since I’m beginning with animals, I might as well add that donkey’s are the most ridiculous animals ever. The freakish noise that comes out of that being is absurd! They do go off like clockwork though- every hour without fail, our little friend over at Zeina’s (my language teacher) home stay reminds us that he’s there!
I have yet to see any really scary spiders, but I am completely used to having ants crawling over me all day. I’ve almost been pooped on a few times by the pretty metallic-blue birds that sit in the mango tree above us during class in the morning. Baby goats are the absolute cutest things ever, but goats in general are such trouble makers, so I’m glad we don’t have any at our house. The cats in my house are adorable but I’m afraid to touch them cus they probably have fleas or other nasty diseases. Maybe I’ll take one of the kittens from the training center with me to site when the time comes.

So, I’m super proud of our garden at the school here that is actually beginning to look like a real/totally amazing garden and pepenier! We put up a great fence around it yesterday and today we planted most of what we had, which is: moringa trees, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, some kind of peas, and some other great stuff! It’s exciting to see the barren field of trash that it was actually becoming land that can grow something (well it is still full of trash, but it’s hard to keep it out when the trash burning pile is right outside our fence…can anyone say waste management issues are a huge problem in Senegal/Africa?!!) Anyway, can’t wait to see something besides weeds grow in our plots, although even seeing weeds grow was exciting because at least we can get what looked like sand to actually grow something with just a little love, manure, and water!

Being back at my home stay has been nice, the atmosphere at the training center is exciting but also a little overwhelming in its own way- too much to do, too many people to see, and too little time. I’m glad to be back in my own room and have the flexibility to shape my own free time a little more. I still have a lot of guilt though whenever I do anything besides sit out with my family and try to learn new words or study…but I honestly cannot handle spending all my free time focused on language acquisition or I’ll go crazy! My room is becoming a little more conducive to studying/hanging out in now that I have a floor mat that I love to sit on or take naps on.

I bought a djembe at the artisan market next to the training center in Thies for about 6 bucks. It’s small, but I love it and I’m trying to learn how to play. I think it took about 2 minutes for the entire neighborhood of kids to arrive in our yard when I first played it here…my neene was definitely giving my drum the death stare (I continually get the impression she doesn’t like my tam tam…I can’t imagine why). The kids love it and always ask for it. I love adding to the noise of daily life with my drum, I fit right in with all the blaring radios, TV’s, kids screaming, prayers, donkey’s wailing, and other commotion.

Each day I just think that once I get through PST (pre-service training) it will be perfect. Everything seems to fit just right these days. At least at this point, I feel like I couldn’t be doing anything better with my life, and I love it! Just keep pushing through the frustration of learning a new language at warp speed, and soon I will be able to communicate what I actually want to say, and hopefully give people a better idea of who I am/what I’m doing here.
After this session of training at the center I am so excited for the crazy amount of great projects that I could potentially work on! There’s just so much out there that it’s hard to even imagine what I will finally end up doing, but they all sound so great….gardening, composting, mud stoves/improved stoves, murals, building stuff, encouraging sustainable change etc…SO EXCITED!


As of yesterday, I now know where I will be spending the next two years (see below), and which friends I will get to see regularly. Heading back to my homestay village soon for the weekend before we visit our actual sites next week...excited for that! Hope to have time at some point to post some pictures...I know I'm getting really behind, and I apologize. I'll try to get to it soon!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

site announcements!

Just found out where I will be spending the next 2 years of my life in Senegal...Boke Salsalbe is my village in the northern region of St. Louis!! (north/eastern-ish of Senegal, right on the border of Mauritania) Just got finished being blindfolded, and then placed on a big floor map of Senegal on our sites. I'm SO excited about everyone that will be in the region, and the village I am going to!! It's great to finally know what to expect after PST and who I will be able to visit (in our stage at least plus the current PCVs). Will write more later if I have time! :)

Check it's near this town on Google maps (I can't find Boke Salsalbe exactly, but I know it's relatively close to Pete).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

my life as of late

Ok folks, a quick recap here to catch up to where I am now – Week 1 was a crazy whirlwind of meeting everyone, settling in, learning all about what was going to happen before it happened, and realizing that we’re actually in Africa, training to be PCV’s.

Now, at the end of week 2, I’ve survived 6 nights at my new homestay, gotten a start on learning Pulaar, and discovered the relative pattern for what the next 8 weeks will be like. It feels good to have a better grasp of what the next few months will be all about!

Training so far has been crazy—constant overload of information, but with the knowledge that after this is over, the real thing will start and it will be such a relief! I’ve begun to realize that life as a PCT and as a PCV are very different things.

My homestay family is great, my neene’s (mom) name is Fatimata, and I have an older sister named Awa-ja (she’s much older than me) and an older brother named Muntaga-ja (he’s 28). There is another sister in that generation that I’ve never met, but her two younger girls live with us- Fama-lam and Asu-tu (10 and 8…don’t remember which is which). Then Awa-ja, my older sister has two girls, Fama-lam (16) and Kudo (8). All the younger girls seem like younger sisters to me, but since they consider me to be on the same level as Muntaga-ja and Awa-ja, they are technically my nieces (and my neene is their grandmother). I’m not sure where any of the husbands are, the only man of the house is my brother, so really the head of the house is Fatimata since she’s the grandma!
It took me about all week to get all of this information straight, as we were thrown in basically only knowing how to say “hello, how are you” in Pulaar…now I can describe my entire family here and back home, how old they are, where they work, and where they live in perfect Pulaar (as well as a lot of other things too!)

It is a relatively small family, and I like it that way! We have a lot of neighbor children hanging out during the day in our compound but it never gets too overwhelming and I hardly ever have to ward off much unwanted attention when I’m at home. My brother and oldest niece are both great at helping me when I’m studying, and even though I don’t directly study with my neene, she’s always listening. All the girls go to school (although I’ve never actually seen them go…?!), and my brother studies the Koran as well as teaches the Koran in the afternoons.

In my village, there are two Pulaar du Nord language groups (mine and one other) with a total of 8 PCT’s. Fortunately I live about a block from Maddy and Paul, the married couple, and only another few blocks from our LCF’s (Learning & Cultural Facilitator…teacher) compound. The other group is on the other side of the village so we hardly see them.

Each morning I get up around 7:30am, take a bucket bath (which isn’t actually so bad…just more time consuming for me), have breakfast which is always just bread (stale baguette) and coffee (with about 6 sugar cubes in it…they love their sugar here), and then sit awkwardly for about 30 minutes not knowing what to do before class. Then I walk over and meet Maddy (Koumba-ba) and we walk over to Zeina’s for class at 9am. We have about 4 straight hours of intense language study (with some short breaks…when the goats in the yard cause trouble or the donkey makes the most obnoxious noise I’ve ever heard in my life…), and we all go home for the afternoons for lunch/nap/whatever. Lunch is always the best meal of the day- we always have ceebugen (“che-bu-gen”) which is rice, veggies and fish, with a spicy-ish sauce. It’s DELICIOUS! I just never want to see where the fish comes from otherwise I probably could never eat it (we walk through a fish market in Thies to get to the market in town and it’s the most foul thing I’ve ever smelled…ever).

After lunch I either sit under the tree in the yard with my brother and drink Atai (tea) while I study or go into my room for a while. The afternoons are usually the most awkward time at home for me because there’s no real pattern I’ve figured out as to what people are doing each day…some days I would come home and I would sit with my brother and study, but other days I’d walk in and there would be nobody around so I’d just go into my room and feel awkward. The day before yesterday I excused myself from lunch and went to sit under the tree in the yard, and proceeded to fall off the chair that was precariously perched on the cement step next to the house and fall completely over backwards! It was probably, in any other circumstance, one of the most humiliating things ever, but in this context the most hilarious experience at my homestay so far…I laughed pretty hard but my family was just concerned if I was hurt or not (I was fine).

In the afternoons, we (my language class—Maddy, Kim and Evan) go over to the school where we are planting our garden and our Pepenier (tree garden) to work on it. It took us 3 full days to finish preparing the plots while it took the other group one afternoon. But they had their manure collected for them by the school children…while we had to make 2 separate trips to the poo field where we walked around in the hot sun collecting cow pies amongst other trash and animal parts. The second day we made it into a race to see which team of 2 could collect the most poo in 10 minutes so that it wasn’t so…grueling. My team lost. Sorry Evan! But it was much more enjoyable as a race! We then carried the three full rice sacks of manure (on our heads, no less) over to the school and had the children stomp on it to break it into usable fertilizer to be mixed with the rock solid dust of the soil that will be our garden. There were probably over a hundred kids watching us the second day/wanting to help, and it was ridiculously overwhelming. We got some help but mostly they just got in the way while we were trying to dig and mix manure etc in the heat of the day. All of us were a little cranky by the end of that day—exhausted (physically and mentally), dehydrated, and covered in manure and sweat. It shouldn’t be so difficult at our actual sites, as we will have more organized groups of kids (hopefully) to help, and wont’ be doing it during the hottest part of the day.

One of the last afternoons there we got together with the other group to just catch up, drink cold pops, talk in English…it was much needed de-stress time. After a week of intense language immersion and classes, and hearing at least a dozen children yell “Toubab” (white person!) each time we leave our compounds, we were all ready for a release. But before long we were surrounded by about 30 curious children asking us for things, talking to us etc, beginning to be a little distracting to our get together. So on the count of three, all 8 of us jumped up from our seats and ran after the kids shouting and waving our arms…they scattered faster than a flock of seagulls on the beach, even dropping their belongings and bolting. It was one of those great ‘laugh till you keel over crying’ moments…it was hilarious!! Granted, we did all feel a little bit bad afterwards because we made some of the younger kids cry (they were really startled!), but most of them laughed at it and all the parents/people watching laughed at us too, so it was ok. Who knows what the entire town now things of the crazy Toubab’s that scare little children…!! Haha.

Coming back to the center was thrilling- the level of energy was intense from the moment we stepped onto the bus with the other language groups! It was noisier than Senegalese life in that van the entire ride back to Thies…everyone talking about their families and experiences from the past week. Once we got back I spent the evening catching up with everyone I hadn’t talked to all week and then took a nice long shower and put on clean clothes….oh the simple pleasures I already love!!

Today was a long day of tech training and tomorrow we have our first “test”…we just have to know the goals and objectives of the PROSPERE project (the Preventative Health and Environmental Ed program for PC Senegal) and the basics of PACA (Participatory Analysis of Community Activity). Went with a few friends to the market this evening and bought my first dress here—it’s like a huge long bag with neck and arm holds…I love it. Super airy and light…and it’s tie-dye, so it’s awesome. We also went into what is referred to as the Toubab market, because it’s like a US grocery store almost…they have everything we could ever want! But it’s pretty expensive, so only used when necessary. I bought a few snacks to bring back to my homestay for the evenings of hunger! (For dinner we usually only have either milk and millet porridge or some other small dish like beans).

Tomorrow we have more tech sessions, and we get to learn how to build mud stoves! I’m psyched for that. It’s so nice to have even a few days of tech sessions and a break from language craziness. At least I now know how to better prepare for returning to my homestay, what to bring…what to say…etc. It will be a few more weeks before we come back to the center though so I will likely not have internet until we return for more training here. It can only get better from here…every day at homestay I get more comfortable being here and knowing that one day I will be fluent in Pulaar and joke/laugh about the awkward beginning stages of PST/CBT (community based training).

More when I get the chance.

Mbaalen e jam (spend the night in peace!) and Haa booya (see you soon)

Monday, March 22, 2010


Only have a few minutes to write, just letting everyone know that I'm still alive and I survived the first week at my homestay! I know a pretty decent amount of Pulaar already and I'm glad to be back at the center for a few days of tech training so my brain can have a break from constant confusion...
I can hardly think of what to write as a brief description of the last week except that I'll write more awkward moment so far: falling off my chair in front of my homestay family and being the only one to laugh at myself :) making a fool of yourself is embraced readily by any PCT...i'm already used to it.
missing being in contact with everyone but once things begin to settle into a routine i'll have more time to write/respond to all!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm. in. Africa....!!!!

1. I am in Thies (pronounced "CHESS"), (It's only just beginning to sink in).
2. I was going to prewrite, but I don't have time, so enjoy what you get :)
3. I think I'll write this whole blog as a list, because it's easier and keep me from rambling too much.
4. Ok, so we're 4 days in (fittingly mentioned under #4 here), and it feels like it's been a month...but at the same time we have only really left the training compound once (last night), so it's like we're in a little bubble.
5. Last night we had drinks on the rooftop of the "bar", and were fittingly nicknamed "super stage" by the current PCV'S (Peace Corps Volunteers) because our training group is actually one of the coolest in a long time. It's true- we have the greatest training group ever...super enthusiastic, exciting, creative (there's never a dull moment....ever), and we ALL get along great.
6. I can now say (and answer) in Wolof: Are you in peace? How are you? How is your family? What's your name? Where are you from? Where do you live now? What are you doing in Senegal? ....and more :) Tomorrow we find out if we will continue to learn Wolof or begin learning one of the other local languages, and also our training cite locations.
7. It's really hot here. But actually bearable...only for a few hours in the afternoon does it get super hot and sweaty (embrace the leg sweat...mmm). The morning's and evenings are SO NICE. Love it at this point...ask me again in a few months.
8. The food is so far amazing (besides breakfast really, it's just bread...not very nutritious). Rice, veggies and some kind of meat with sauce for lunch, and then some sort of relatively "American" type of food for dinner (we had spaghetti one night?!). I think they're weaning us off our usual taste... I know there is much more out there to discover at this point.
9. There are about a dozen small hilarious things that have happened so far that made me think "I should write that in my blog" and have now forgotten or moved on to the next thing...but I do have to say that I love sleeping under a mosquito net (it hasn't become a pain yet), it adds to the surreal feeling of being here! (It still sorta feels like we're all at summer camp...)
10. I feel incredibly lucky to be in Senegal as an Environmental Ed volunteer, and am completely loving tech training of learning how to set up a seedbed/start a garden and all the awesome things that come along with it.

Last but not least...tomorrow we find out which language we will learn and where our CBT (community based training) site will be!! I'm very excited to find out who I will be training with for the next 9 weeks, and what language I can start practicing (besides french).
Alrighty, that's all. I'm hot and it's time to shower (still enjoying running water at the center...won't have it starting Monday when we go to CBT sites). We are a smelly group of trainees that know practically nothing after being here for 4 days even though it feels like we are MILES ahead of where we were just a few days ago....can't wait for homestay to start! (slightly terrified at the same time...good terrified though :)

peace and love!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

T-minus 3 days

Well, this is it! One more weekend and I'm off to training. I found out today that another PCV currently in Senegal was in my piano studio at Interlochen Arts Academy in 2003...what a small world! He'll even be at my training at some point, so we'll get to reconnect (7 years later, 1/2 way around the world!)
Today was also a good day because 1. I finished my taxes, 2. I went snowshoeing with friends behind building 50 at the old state hospital, and 3. I got my Solio solar charger in the mail and was able to play with it a little (luckily it was a sunny day here). It works! Solar power is awesome.
Tonights goal is to finish fitting everything into my luggage so that the rest of the weekend can be spend with my mom, who is getting here tomorrow from Phoenix to enjoy the last few days with me and see me off bright and early Monday morning.
Also had a short chat with my Country Director this morning about arrival and any last minute questions before staging/training. I'm almost ready!

Friday, February 26, 2010

the countdown begins

10 days and counting till staging! It still doesn't fully feel like reality yet, but I'm sure once I step onto the plane to DC it will hit me. March 8th, 6am, Traverse City-Chicago-Washington DC. Then...March 9th- fly to Dakar for training with my future group of Peace Corps friends!

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of adventure, fun, and enjoying every last royalty that I will miss in Senegal (that includes taking 20 minute hot showers each and every day, drinking way too much alcohol with friends, and eating excessive amounts of my favorite foods...and snowboarding as much as possible!).

My first stop after Phoenix was Pittsburgh for my birthday weekend, which turned into my birthday week as a result of the insane snowstorms that hit the east coast (I swear I bring insane weather with me wherever I go...historically huge waves in Hawaii, a years worth of rainfall in 2 days in Phoenix, record blizzards in Pittsburgh....what's next?!). It turned out to be one of my best birthdays ever, with a weekend full of drinking, dancing, playing in the snow, and eating great food all over the South Side of the burgh with some of my favorite people (thanks for the awesome party Anthony, Kim and Katie!). The 5 extra days were a bonus, as the entire city practically shut down and I was able to spend some quality relaxing time with some awesome people...I didn't exactly mind being forced to spend a few extra days with one of my best friends :)

Once Amtrak was finally up and running, I had to say a sad goodbye and continue on my pre-departure rounds of family and friends. Leaving Pittsburgh was probably the hardest part so first really tough goodbye. Leaving the drama of the week behind was easy, but leaving Anthony and the friends I've made there behind was the saddest part of my journey.

The week that followed was a blur, seeing friends in Toledo, my brother in Canton, more friends in Jackson, a stop in Albion to visit old college friends (and meet up with Brett/discuss the awesomeness of Peace Corps....we're all crossing our fingers for his invite to come soon!), and finally the drive home to Traverse City, the last stop. I've been in Traverse for about a week now, and it's been nice to be back in a familiar place where I can relax and breathe for a few days before starting up the next adventure!

It always takes a few days to settle into a new place and get to the point where I can finally relax and stop going-going-going...I've managed to pretty much get everything I need in terms of packing, but I still have lots of other logistical things to take care of. Finishing up my taxes, going over student loan deferment info, making sure I have all the right paper work to bring to staging- it all adds up!

I'm getting anxious excited too, ready to meet my training group and start my first "real" job! More recently I've started to think of it more like a job than just volunteering, because it really is- my first "professional" job position. I'm a little nervous that others will be way more experienced or knowledgeable than me, but I'm positive that I will learn quickly what I need to know in training and be prepared to use whatever skills I do have to my full advantage.

I've been warned against exceedingly high expectations, like being overly optimistic about all the amazing things I'll be doing or the huge difference I am going to make while I actually feel well prepared to handle whatever happens or whatever I end up doing. I don't really even know what to expect, so I'm just flexible (haha, TSS flashback here) and open to the possibility of anything! I feel like I should possibly have more defined expectations or goals for what I hope to accomplish during service, but at this point I'm just excited and ready to learn a new language, meet some great people, and really get involved in some sort of positive development projects regardless of the visible or tangible results.

So the plan for the rest of the week seems to be just finishing up packing (ahh scary) and spending as much time enjoying the company of family/friends and the comfort of home (meaning the USA...I'm technically homeless in the sense of having a house to call home, but Traverse will always be home as will anywhere in the US where I have people I love). I feel prepared with all my gadgets- my netbook, ipod, solar charger, familiar clothes, daily necessities etc, but I'm constantly trying to grasp the reality of when I get to Senegal and when these things will be relatively obsolete. From previous travel experience I know the feeling of getting to a place and realizing that I don't need half of what I brought with me, but trying to know that beforehand is the challenge. I feel like I'm doing a decent job with scaling down and bringing only what I really think I'll need, but it's not an easy task at all. So wish me luck!

If anyone feels the urge to write me letters, please do! (I LOVE MAIL...I absolutely love hand written letters at any time, even if I'm not in Africa). It does take several weeks/perhaps months for things to travel by snail mail though, so start writing NOW and I might get it during training :) I also have Skype and have heard rumors that I will have decent internet access during training at least, so lets chat!

That's all for now,

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Application Timeline

I thought a timeline of my application process would give you an idea of how long it's taken to get to this point:

Mid-Fall Semester 08- Sent in PC Application & Recommendations

January 2009- 2 hour Phone interview with Chicago's PC Regional Office

February 3rd, 2009- Nominated for Community Development in Africa

March 09- Recieved Medical Packet, started scheduling required doctors appointments

May 09 (or later?)- Sent in all required Medical Documents (after numerous doctor and dentist appointments)

Mid-Summer 09- Sent in immunization records (including Polio) requested by the Medical Office

Late Summer/Early Fall 09 (6 or more weeks after sending in Polio Documentation)- recieved another request for polio immunization documentation-- only after calling the MO did they clarify that it has to be since you turned 18....!!!!!

November 09- Got Polio immunization booster shot, sent the MO documentation

Early December 09- Got Medical Clearance-- FINALLY!

December 16th, 2009- Call from Placement Office to ask some follow up questions, found out I might not be the best applicant for my original nomination, started thinking I might be going to Eastern Europe for Youth Development....ahhhh.

December 30th, 2009- got THE call-- invited to serve as a Preventative Health and Environmental Education Volunteer in "Africa" (he couldn't tell me the country over the phone)

January 4th, 2010- (after an agonizing long holiday weekend of waiting)- recieved my Invitation Kit in the mail. Job Title: Environmental Education Extension Agent, Staging: March 10, 2010, Training: March 12, 2010- Thiels, Senegal!

January 7th, 2010- called the Senegal Desk to accept my invitation to serve! & mailed my no-fee passport application and Visa application to SATO travel.

January 12th, 2010- emailed my updated Resume and Aspiration Statement (my first impression to the in-country staff!!)

January 14th, 2010- wrote this blog, avoided cleaning my room & packing :)

the beginning

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air... Ralph Waldo Emerson.

So here it is. I'm currently preparing to become a Peace Corps Trainee in the Preventative Health and Environmental Education program in Senegal, West Africa. This blog will hopefully allow all my friends, family, and all other interested people to read about my adventures, see a few of the thousands of pictures I take, and generally keep updated with my ventures.

As a general introduction of myself, I just graduated from Albion College in Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, minors in English and Psychology. I spent the first 7 months after graduation working my butt off to save money to fund my ongoing desire for random adventures. After a long 7 months on a tiny, secluded, rich east coast island (Nantucket), I flew to Phoenix, AZ for Thanksgiving, followed by 5 glorious weeks on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, where I became an extremely lazy beach bum while I waited for my PC invitation. I'm now back in Phoenix for a few weeks to visit my mom while I plan out the next two months before PC Training starts. Hopefully these next few weeks will be filled with some great final adventures with my friends throughout the mid-west (Pittsburgh, Ann Arbor, Albion, and Traverse City).

At this point, I am working on the seemingly impossible task of gathering and packing all the things I will need for the next two years, and fitting it all into two bags, 80 lbs max (total). Let me tell you, it's already been great fun. Deciding whether or not to take valuable yet critical pieces of my daily life (computer, ipod, etc) has been somewhat agonizing and challenging. I most likely won't have electricity (or running water) wherever I end up living in Senegal, so perhaps a solar charger will come in handy? The decision making process of downsizing all my material posessions has been frustrating and overwhelming at times...

Other than getting all my packing done and planning my travels back east, I've spent an inordinant amount of time sitting on the couch, using my (adorable) new Netbook to research Africa, Senegal, Peace Corps, Environmental Ed, flights back east, flights home from Senegal (perhaps if/when my oldest brother gets married?!), living conditions in Senegal, reading PC books, (starting a blog), and getting in order all my financial and legal "responsibilities" that will remain here while I'm away. Oh and in the process of all this, carving a nice sized chunk out of my summer savings now that I'm unemployed and have no income while also enjoying the end of my student loans grace periods. Lets get the ball rolling here, I'm overly ready to start training and turn my brain back on to learning new things and having daily challenges!!

Thanks for readin my ramblins,

Aloha- PEACE- (and Love)