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: