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 adventure...it 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!!