Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Week and a Little Update

Good thing all of the thousands that read my blog don’t pay money for a subscription, otherwise you would be mighty upset with the time between this post and my last. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.
My last week was great! I had the chance to go to Dakar and stay in a fancy hotel for three nights with some of my best friends in my stage (training class). Our time was filled with air conditioning, amazing food (great sushi in Dakar, who knew?), laying by the pool, watching Christmas movies, exchanging Christmas gifts, and in my case sleeping three to a bed in search of a cheaper vacation. I am sure you have seen the pictures that I posted on Facebook so I am not going to go into too much detail but I received a hand woven little basket that now houses my jewelry along with a necklace and bracelet made of elephant tusks. Shout out to Marsha who was my secret Santa, great gift!! I was given the wonderful opportunity to get a secret Santa present for Trevon who just so happens to be the pickiest person I know, he might argue he just has great taste. You could just about imagine how much fun it was to shop for him and being my predictable self I waited until the day before I left site to try to find him something. He “non-chalently” told me on the phone one day that if I had him I could just get him a Pular hat. Acting about as sly as I could muster up I laughed it off and told him he wish I had him. So it was official, I now had to find a Pular hat for him. I know he wants one and I live in Pular country. What is a Pular hat you may ask? Well Pular is an ethnic group originating from Guinea but are all over Africa now. I am apart of this group as I learned Pula Futa during training, which is just one of the many dialects of the Pular group. The Pular people live in the south of Senegal, as do I, and are known to work in fields. They have this infamous almost Chinaman-like hat hand woven of wood used to keep the sun off them in the fields. You can find people wearing them everywhere down south and though they look a bit ridiculous the hats are great for protecting yourself from the sun. I ended up finding a man who makes them and he told me he could come up with something in the 24 hour deadline that I had before I left for Dakar. I was expecting something with brown or black leather but the artist was feeling fancy I guess because on the hat there was red, green, and yellow died leather. Oh well, it looked great and he loved it. Success.
Being away for Christmas is always hard but it makes me even more thankful for everyone that I left behind. I truly do have a great family, and I am not just talking about my immediate. I am fortunate to have people back home that care enough about me to Skype with me or send me care packages of all the things I am missing back home. Every day that I am here I am reminded, literally reminded by people telling me, that I am getting older, I need to get married and start a family. Though I do support people who make those decisions for their own lives it is not what I want, at least not right now, and I am thankful for a family who respects that. If I belonged to just one of hundreds of other cultures around the world I would not have the opportunity to further my education, travel, and have a career. Thank you family for being who you are, the loving, noisy yet ever so entertaining group that you are; this goes for both sides. It’s late but Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël (French), and Ala Okuma Ko Moyi (Pular).
I am planning on staying in Velingara and spending the New Year with my family. I have been traveling a lot lately with the holidays and mandatory trainings and am honestly a little interested to see just how the Senegalese welcome the New Year. Omar, a friend of my brothers, said they kill a chicken, make salad and the kids light off fireworks. Besides the chicken part it sounds like a great time to me! Updates to come.
And as a side note I feel like I need to mention the latest intruder that I have found in my room. A toad. Or maybe it was a frog. Not really sure he was too hoppy for me to take a good look at him but he was less of a hassle to chase out of my room than the usual suspects so I am thankful for that.
And finally, as sort of a time filler and to help out my fellow volunteers I have been writing articles for our CED Newsletter (Community Economic Development, the program that I am in if you have been following along in past posts). None of the pieces are works of art but they are informative. The newsletters come out quarterly so it’s not too much of a commitment, which I like. I will start to post either my more interesting articles or the whole newsletter in case any of you feel like you don’t read enough about life on the big continent. Take care my fellow readers, thanks for taking time to see life through my eyes and until next time.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Spiderman & Batman

This last weekend I was in Tambacounda, only about two hours north east of me, for the annual Marathon for Girls Education. This was the second time that the marathon was held and I would consider it to be a huge success. There is a small entry fee, 1000 CFA that is the equivalent to about $2, and money earned both in fundraising and donations is given towards girls’ education in Senegal (scholarships, girls camps, youth groups and other empowerment activities).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

This Awkward Chapter In A Story Called Life

There are things that everyone who lives abroad experiences; those awkward moments that occur because of a lack of complete comprehension of our cultural differences. The simplest form of this would be language. Sure you can study a language in school or visit somewhere and read Survival French on the plane but until you are truly fluent in a language awkward moments are a sure bet, and honestly even then can never really be totally dismissed.
Being a volunteer immersed in a culture where the interactions that I have with people are 80% of the time in a language different than either of our firsts there are bound to be moments that you walk away from saying, did I really just say that? A perfect example would be the other morning I was at the bank with Amadou, my wonderful work partner, and while leaving I said to the security guard “nous sommes fini,” which translates to "we are finished." I thought I was joking with him because we were at the bank all morning and I wanted to emphasize that me and my work partner were finally done with everything there so we were leaving. Though I said “we are finished” in the context it was interpreted as though "I am done being friends with you;" I should have said “nous avons fini.” On top of all of this he is related to my family in some long complicated way so adding to the awkwardness of telling the security guard at the bank that I see on a weekly basis that I no longer want to be friends with him, I get to see him when he visits my house. Don’t worry Amadou informed me of what I said after we left the bank and it was too late to correct my misspoken words and misinterpretation of the French language. Amadou just laughed but I continued on our walk home with a lack of excitement for the next time I see this security guard that is probably questioning what he did wrong.
Another perfect example; I was on my run the other morning and there was a donkey cart carrying fencing with a boy standing next to the donkey adjusting his harness. As I was approaching, I was preparing to pass the donkey cart on the right and thought nothing of it; cars pass these carts all the time. The cart started to move and, what looked like the boy getting ready to take off again, he started yelling something at me. With my headphones in I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying. Once the donkey started moving a bit quicker with the boy appearing to chase him and waving at me to go to the other side of the street I put two and two together; the donkey thought I was chasing it and with cart still connected started to run from what he thought was a threat. Just before passing the boy and cart I quick jumped to the other side of the road apologizing while continuing on my way. I let out a little laugh and shrugged my shoulders and the boy smiled. Who would have thought that’s its ok for cars that are ten times my size and weight to pass these animals without a problem should you come up to one on a run you should cross to the other side of the road out of respect.
My last example I wanted to share because it was an awkward moment that I actually benefited from. I went to the corner shop to buy laundry soap when I suddenly got a hankering for a bag of Crax Chips; comparable to Cheetos but not nearly as cheesy. Apparently Crax makes both a cheese and a sugary flavor of these puffs so I asked for the cheese kind. I shared a look of confusion with the boutique owner, who doesn’t speak much French, but didn’t think much of it. I paid him before I received my goods so when he turned around with my items I could no nothing other than accept the misunderstanding and continue on my way. What was this miscommunication you ask? I got my bag of puffs, which was the sweet kind that I hate, and a slice of Laughing Cow cheese that, unknown to man, never needs to be refrigerated. I secretly love Laughing Cow triangles but never buy them because I am not even sure that they made of. I gave the puffs to the kids and ate the cheese.
While in the moment it’s hard to think how these awkward situations are going to benefit me in the future but I know they will. Everything that I am doing in my life here is preparing me to live and appreciate life back home. I can’t imagine using these tricks very often but when the time comes to dismiss a relationship or dodge animals in the road I will be a pro. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Story About Dakar and Thanksgiving

I have been staying at the Dakar Regional House for the last week and it’s been both exciting and exhausting. Each region, the equivalent to states or counties I suppose, has a house or apartment that is served as a sanctuary for volunteers. These houses are managed and ran by volunteers. Since we are in a prominently Muslim country these houses act as sort of a refuge for allowing us to be American and not judged by the locals for our actions. With all of this being said though it leads to some memorable gatherings that, if you are not in the mood, can ruin a good nights sleep; it’s like freshman year in college all over again.
Our outfits from the closet!
All the volunteers that belong to the Dakar region decided to set a day to deep clean the house and vote on their WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament) costumes; a tournament put on by expats (expatriates- a population living abroad usually for work) each February as an excuse to drink alcohol and be American.  The house cleaning was very productive and the house looks more like a Goodwill store now than a dumpsite, which is good. There is always an allotted plot at each regional house where volunteers take and give their old clothing. Some things are so ridiculous and were hopefully only purchased to wear as a costume (tutu, glitter blazer with shoulder pads, track suit) but there are things that if you are willing to take the time to go through it makes a great addition to any wardrobe. At one point we had a party were everyone had to wear cloths from the closet and it was interesting to see the combinations; everything is more fun while wearing a ridiculous outfit. During the cleaning we found probably the equivalent to ten garbage bags of clothing in the closet. Nobody was willing to take the time to go through it to see if anything was salvageable so, for the sake of truly deep cleaning the house, everything had to go. We threw down some sheets in the front lawn dumped the clothes on in no particular order and got rid of everything; the locals were having a heyday. There were high school boys playing dress up in the girls’ cloths and little kids running and jumping in the piles, it was a lot of fun to watch.
Some volunteers at the Ambassadors house for Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving was hosted at the American Ambassador’s house, as he does every year. Last year the guest list was too large and some people came without bringing a side dish, the Ambassador provides the turkey, beer, and wine and the side dishes are up to the guests, so they ended up running out of food. With that being said this year the number of attendees was limited and I would guess that Peace Corps took up more than 80% of everyone. We were reminded, on several occasions, to act as though, well, we were not volunteers. We had to dress appropriately and not get too drunk. Drinking too much seemed damn near impossible considering the amount of food that we all ate; we have been on a rice and sauce diet for the last six months. Tables were set up in the back yard in the garden and poolside; at one point we were all freezing. Who would have ever thought that it would get cold enough to the point of goose bumps since we are sweating 90% of the day? If I had to guess it was about 75°F, so not cold but hey, temperature is relative.  After dinner we gathered around the piano and listened and sang to some classics like Elton John and a few newer hits like Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”. It was a memorable party and I was thankful to be able to spend it with everyone I care about here in country. Of course we all wish in a little way that we could be sitting at home on the couch, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and stealing bits of food as mom cooks but there will be time for that soon enough. I am glad to be here with my work and truly appreciative this adventure.
About a year ago I was hustling through a crowd at the Mall of America’s Best Buy trying to find an external hard drive at a mega discounted price and this year I will be sleeping in, eating a bean sandwich for breakfast and taking my $4 cab ride to the Artisanal Fair. This fair or expo, whatever you want to call it, is a chance for a group of artists that work with volunteers to showcase their products and sell them to the expat market. All the products are hand made in Senegal and offer a higher quality than the normal touristy products you find. Some of the artists that they work with ship their goods overseas and even a few are featured in stores like Pier One. Woven baskets, paintings, jewelry, wooden statues, and tapestries are a few of the things that you can expect to find. One little trick that the volunteers are teaching the artists is pricing, in a simpler form of course. They teach them that even though everyone sells a certain basket for a certain price does not mean your basket has to be the same price. Maybe you use better quality products to make your basket or it has features that you can’t find anywhere else? Your basket should cost more. It’s amazing how we take even the little things for granted such as knowledge. It takes some time to get used to not assuming that the things that I learned in high school are not common knowledge.
It is just about time to go back to site and I am both excited and dreading it. I love hanging out with volunteers, watching movies and making fancy dinners but I have to remember that that is not why I am here. At this point I am just waiting for mandat (our monthly living stipend that includes money for food, housing, transportation and walk-around) to get deposited into my account so that I can get back to site. We usually get “paid” around the 23rd of each month and it’s the 25th and I don’t have a penny to my name. So in summary I am stuck in Dakar until I get paid so that I have enough money to buy my bus/car ticket back to site. Boo.
Between IST and Thanksgiving I have spent the last three weeks with my fellow volunteers and it has been a great time. Dakar and Thies are so different than the Senegal that I know and live in it’s a good escape. They have malls here, fancy hotels, pet stores, grocery stores with actual carts and air conditioning. It’s like a different world, but the world that I am used to and love. Someday America we will be reunited but until then, peace.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Election and IST

Elections snuck up on me this year, per usual, but I did remember to send in my absentee ballot a few months ago. I was studying abroad just before the last election and was confronted with the same scenarios this time around in Senegal as I was in France.
People are more informed about American politics than I would have assumed but the information that they have is either reverberated back, not actually understood on a conceptual level, or only a part of the picture. A majority of the people that I spoke with about the elections, with the conversation always being brought up on their end, seem to favor Obama but there are the few, like my host brother, who were all about Romney. Either way my election night was spent at the Tambacounda Regional House since I had to be in Thies the following day for IST (In Service Training); I live a good ten hours away from Thies so I thought it would be wise to get a head start. The polls were still open in the west coast when I went to bed but I woke up with Obama being favored to be re-elected, yay! Now I have to insert a line or two as to why I voted for Obama to prove that I voted for him for other reasons than the color of his skin or good looks; 1) his position on gay marriage 2) his position on abortion 3) his support for a national healthcare system and 4) I think that four years is not long enough to be productive. That being said we will see what we can do in the next four years; I say we because he does not pass or reject laws, he works with a large number of politicians all starting at the local level.

Diane, Anthony, and I left for the garage at 6am to meet up with Jenn, the usual crew because we are all coming from about as far south as you can get and transportation is never fun, let alone by yourself. This trip was going to be a little bit different than the usual trip up north; we were also transporting a puppy! I thought this was a great thing while the other travelers were not so enthusiastic. We were not able to leave the garage right away upon our arrival because there was still 3 spaces left in the car in front of us that was Thies-bound and we needed three more people to fill our car. Instead of using common sense and combining the cars we were forced to wait until the first car filled up and then ours to leave. We were more than a little impatient after waiting for about three hours and not moving so we bought the three remaining seats with the hope to pick up people along the way. We were off. The car ride was pretty smooth since we were all able to stretch out a little bit since the car was only about half full. Puppy, still nameless, slept for the first hour of the 7 hour trip; its hard keeping a puppy confined to a small box while on a road trip, he was restless to say the least. Since nobody wanted to take responsibility for this dog, Jenn found it outside and another volunteer up north said she would take it; I took on the responsibility of ensuring that he was properly taken care of during our road trip. Senegalese almost never consider animals as pets, they see it as wasting valuable resources and time on something that could go towards a human life and with this being said our driver was very confused why I was treating this dog better than some people treat their kids. He would pee in his dirt lined box that was acting as more of a litter box than a bed, we would take him on small walks during our pit stops and when he was getting REALLY restless I would feed him more milk in hopes that he would go into a food coma. We were unable to find locals along the way so we picked up the three other volunteers that lived off the main road along our trip. Our trip started out with four Americans and a dog and ended with the car full of us Peace Corps volunteers, with our dog, our driver was having a great time I am sure. As much fun as I had with our new little friend 8 hours or so was plenty of time to spend with him on my lap in a box, I was excited to get back to the training center.
We are back at the training center for IST; I am beginning to feel like I never left. During this ten-day period we have sessions such as Grant Writing, Reporting Statistics to the Peace Corps, Focus Groups (in each of our areas such as Waste Management), and Monitoring and Evaluation. All of these sessions should help us once we get back to site be more effective with our projects. There are so many things that I am learning here and its making me excited and nervous about my project at the same time. There are things we are doing right (having a motivational team, proper bookkeeping attempts, connections with the right people in the community) and things that we could use some guidance on (we are charging half of what we should, we don’t have enough workers, we need a sorting site) with one thing getting in the way; funding. There are so many International NGO’s (non-government organizations) that come to underdeveloped countries and just dump money thinking they are helping solve a problem of lack of money when in reality one of the main problems besides money is a lack of knowledge and dumping money does not create sustainability for these countries to be able to survive once the rich people go back home. I am torn on all the small details right now that can either make or break our business and after consulting with some volunteers who are working with similar projects I think I have figured out that I need to not be afraid to fail and while using my learned skills and background experiences I should just go with what I think is right. We are only charging 550CFA a month for our services when other towns nearby are charging 1000CFA. Our customers buy our trashcans while other villages rent them out to have collateral in case households don’t pay. We have one small cart with walls while others have found success in stacking the waste in rice sacks on flatbed type carts. I have one full time employee now (the other quite to work in his field) while others find it easier to work with two part time employees in case time off is ever needed. These are just some of the things that are stumping me at the moment that I need some advice on if anyone wants to put in their two cents.
Thanksgiving is coming up and since I was already 9/10ths of the way to Dakar I am heading to the big city for the holiday. The Ambassador has a party for Americans in Senegal each year, which I hear is a smashing time. Everyone gets dressed up, drinks fancy American drinks that you could only dream of at site and eats little appetizers that I can’t even imagine what they would be right now because it seems like forever ago that I had real food! Usually only volunteers belonging to the Region of Dakar are invited to the party but since I am already pretty much in Dakar I requested to get on the list and we will cross our fingers that when I show up they let me in.
So in summary life right now is pretty good. Classes can get long and seemingly tedious sometimes but I am eating a lot better than at site, I get to play with a puppy all day and I am reunited with all my friends. It’s just like PST all over again; movie nights, happy hours at Church (the name for the bar and since Muslims don’t drink they name the bar after our place of worship) and long walks on the beach. Ok I made that last part up there is no beach.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Party and a Funeral

The most prevalent holiday of the year; sheep are sacrificed, the finest cloths are worn, and the day is passed by eating and lying around, the usual I suppose. When asked what this holiday represented, what exactly was being celebrated, I was faced with responses of “it’s the holiday of Tabaski”. I had figured out that much on my own but was left with googling the actual meaning of the holiday.
With a quick search on my favorite website, which just so happens to also be my future employer, a girl can dream can’t she, I found out that Tabaski is “the celebration of willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a sheep to sacrifice instead.”
The festivities began the night before the actual holiday when I went with Mari, her sister-in-law and a handful of kids to the market to buy some last minute items for the big party; shoes, vegetables, perfume and holiday attire to list a few. Upon arriving at the market I was thoroughly surprised just by how much the market quickly turned from women casually strolling to buy supplies to buy lunch to a every man for himself free for all, apparently all of Velingara. Roaming the dirt roads were the usual last minute shoppers, vendors with various marked up goods, women manning food tables to feed all the vultures, and kids looking to most likely start trouble. I kept a pretty low profile and shuffled from merchant to trader behind Mari and co. hoping to get as little toubob, loosely translated as westener or white person, remarks as possible. The highlight of my evening, besides the obvious of carrying children or shopping bags, was eating my bean and pea sandwich. They are amazing and after seeing it in writing and how unappealing it sounds you are just going to have to take my word for it.  They are bomb. We returned home just after ten just in time for my overdue bedtime.
Nene grilling the liver... yum
I awoke the next morning excited for the day. My first Tabiski, so many unknowns and firsts were going to happen today, this is what drives me. I just think about some of the not so glamorous jobs that I had in the states to get me to where I am today, living abroad, experiencing new cultures first hand and here it was. I quickly shuffled to the same park where the Korité service was held, my family apparently either forgot me or thought that I wasn’t coming. Being the only white person at the park, and showing up after service started, my family was easily able to spot me and grab me before I started wondering aimlessly for too long. I took a couple of pictures of friends and neighbors and realized just how comforting it was sitting next all these familiar faces; it felt like home almost. Amadou, the work partner, quickly sent over someone to steal my camera so that he could take pictures of all the action up front where women were not allowed to sit. Come to find out later the “action” was slitting the neck of a sheep; I could have probably done without documenting that. Service, I use this word loosely to describe prayer and preaching on behalf of a couple of the religious leaders in the community, was quick and painless and we were off before I knew it. Our walk back was rerouted to the long way home stopping at houses of family members and close friends to say hi, wish them a happy holiday, and about any other small talk that you could imagine.
After arriving home I went over to Amadou’s house to grab my camera and was just in time for him to slaughter two of his sheep (representing the sheep that God gave to Abraham in place of his son). I knew this was the holiday for sacrificing sheep, similar to Thanksgiving and turkeys, but come on. I miss the good old days in America where my mom would go to the grocery store, pick out a big frozen already dead turkey and bring it home to cook all while someone else did the dirty work of cleaning and preparing it for cooking. I quickly ran past him and the other “men” of the house to his wives so I didn’t have to watch the slaughter first hand. But don’t worry I did not have a chance to take my camera back form him yet so someone documented the whole thing. I sat a little with the ladies, asked them how their holiday was, told them that I was going to cook today which they found hysterical and made other small talk. I was going to return home shortly after retrieving my camera but of course they would not let me leave without eating something or looking at my outfit, which was the same one they gave me for Korité.
I returned home just in time to take off my smothering hot outfit and watch Nene, mom, grill the liver of our long lost pet. All of his other parts were sitting in a bucket waiting to be either grilled or thrown in a stew of sorts. I say “all” of his other parts literally because there were organs mixed with legs mixed with other mystery chunks. I gave the liver a try, in part to be nice and to say that I have tried sheep liver, and it was just as gross as I though it would be. Partially grainy in texture, kind of chewy, not really sure but I quickly passed up seconds once they were offered to me.
I spent the remainder of the late morning cutting onions. I signed up for this job for two reasons; it would give me something to do for a good hour or so since there were probably thirty or so and I finally have mastered cutting an onion in my hand without a cutting board and I wanted to show off my skills. Our holiday meal was good, served as a stew accompanied with bread. The whole time while eating it I stayed clear from the meat in part of because I still wasn’t sold on meat and also if I were going to eat meat I wanted to be sure of what I was eating and with this meal it would be an unknown.
The remainder of the day was devoted to digesting all of the food that was consumed, a requirement for any good holiday, and parading wives and children around town to visit family members and friends. I stayed home with Nene. This holiday also marked a very hard time for me, the day my grandfather passed. My dad’s dad had been battling cancer, and just about anything else one can get while sick it seemed, for a while now and he reached a point where he was either unable or unwilling to fight anymore. As hard as it is to admit I don’t blame him, towards the end he was not the grandpa that I remember and he was not living a life that he used to once enjoy. I miss him already and wish I was there with my family to rejoice the good life that he had, even though it was too short; there were still things that I wanted to do in this life and that I both wanted and needed him around for. I miss him and Janice coming to my parent’s house in Wisconsin for dinners and a round of either cards or dominos, which he always won somehow. I miss going to his house and listening to him talk about the birds, he knew everything about them and the wildlife around his house. I miss the passion that he had in his hobbies, be it his train set, gardening, wood work, quilting or any other random project that Janice had him working on that he pretended not to enjoy, meanwhile we all knew better. I miss his love for baking and how great his pies tasted. I miss how caring he was be it helping my dad build a mansion for all my pet mice in Hawaii or all the times on the phone he would tell me that he felt great even though I heard otherwise. I miss him. The day started out a holiday and ended as a day of remembrance. We lost a great man yesterday and I will forever miss him. Being away from family I am realizing just how lucky I am and how little time we have here. I am not sure where people go after they die but I am sure that we need to appreciate everyone in our lives.
I retired to my room early that night, not really feeling like celebrating at the hotel where a live band and unlimited sodas were awaiting me. I ended the night falling asleep under my mosquito to a few good episodes of Sex and the City, which reminded me just got great good girlfriends are, and Community, which provided a good laugh.
Alexx is coming to visit me tomorrow for a few days before we go to celebrate Halloween at a Peace Corps party in a neighboring town. Her arrival is coming just in time because I could really use a good friend around right now and she comes with promises of long cries and bottomless drinks, if I want. A stiff drink sounds good right about now. Cheers.

PS I promised my girls Erica Schumacher and Sarah Gunderson a shout out. Thanks for both reading my blogs and being there for me. Love you guys.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Arranged Marriage

I am not sure if this is weird but I sort of feel like I have entered into an arranged marriage. Now I have never been married so I am not going to claim to be an expert but I think that the relationship that I have naturally formed with someone would be what I would expect an arranged marriage to be like; my counterpart, Amadou. 
Amadou and I
Sure we are work partners, that’s obvious, but he is sort of my key to the city. He is like the cool kid at school and I am the new student who just wants to be liked and fit in. Now I guess I consider our relationship this way because as lazy as I want to be sometimes I feel almost forced to go to his house and sit in the awkward silence of no common first language in attempt to “integrate”. I know its important to be a part of the community that I want to someday help, and I get that, but I thought it would come with time. And Amadou, being truly Senegalese, questions if I am mad at him or miss my family back in America if a few days go by without contact on my part. And have you ever been forced to be friends with someone? It’s a lot of work. I have to admit though as time passes of me being in Vélingara it is becoming less and less of a chore to go over to his house, create small talk and show interest in his family. I kind of like the guy now. I would guess he is in his forty’s, two wives and I am not sure how many children but if I were to throw a number out there I would say five, all of whom look EXACTLY like him. While we are becoming more comfortable and familiar with each other I feel more like an old married couple than a young wife of an arranged marriage. I am beginning to have fun on our trips; when we go to the bank where I pull the “I’m a white volunteer here to save the city and I don’t want to wait in line to withdraw money” card. Just the other morning during my morning jaunt, I would call it a run but I would be a disgrace to those who actually call themselves runners, I found him walking down the road because his motorcycle broke down. I recognized his outfit from a mile away and when I was about to pass him I instead decided to start running circles around him as he continued to walk. He was mildly amused to say the least. I think he was more surprised in the fact that when I say I went running and return home all sweaty I actually did go running, and there I was caught in the act and he saw it with his own two eyes. To circle back to my original point though we started off almost being forced to have a relationship I thoroughly get a kick out of him now and am excited for the work we have ahead of us. He is a go-getter, which is a rarity in this country, and I couldn’t have gotten stuck with a better work partner.
While on the topic of men in this country I am learning to appreciate being born in the US. As a woman in the global community it has become more real just how unfair life is for many women. You see articles on the news or hear jokes about how men are more superior but being raised by a very strong woman I never really saw just how insignificant my gender gets treated. I was always taught that my twin brother (shout out Eddy Spaghetti) and I could be whatever we wanted to be when we grew up and it didn’t matter that I was a girl or he a boy. I grew up seeing one side of the story, the one where women and men are equal; mom and dad taking turns working, cooking meals, going to school/taking classes, showing up to sporting events. But now, after living in Senegal for a very short period of time, I am seeing the other side. The side that I hope won’t last forever and my children will never see. My host brother’s wife for example; born from a father working in politics on a national level and marrying a teacher but never had the chance to finish middle school. I hold out for hope for other women but if someone who was dealt those cards can’t get minimum education in this country, who can? Instead, after my brothers wife meet a potential husband, her teacher may I add, she was expected to drop out of school and start a family. Being a year older than she is right now I could not imagine my life raising three young children while doing all the housework. No way. Again how lucky I am to be born in a country with women’s rights and parents who expected more of me than to be a housewife.
To wrap up my random thoughts I can see why so many projects focus on working with women’s groups here in Senegal. They need all the encouragement and tools for success they can get. While my stint as a bank teller woo’ing, budget keeping wife will be short lived I will forever be grateful for just how important and appreciated women are back in the mother country. Girl power.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Projects and Podcasts

Random picture of my new roommate
So I know it has been a bit since I have posted last, and it’s due to a mélange of things. I have not had a lot of “what should I do now” time at site, I have been traveling around country for both work and pleasure. Also, I have not found anything that I felt that happened that sparked a “you should write about that” inside of me. Now as pathetic as this post is sounding up until now I urge you to keep reading because somewhere along the line something always happens and it ends up a tad bit more interesting than I initially imagined.
I was in Dakar a couple of weeks ago to both celebrate with my training class, or stage, the end of our first five weeks at site and meet with the International School of Dakar. Alexx, one of my closest friends in my stage, just so happens to be a Eco-Tourism volunteer resulting in her being forced to live on a beach and people wanting to visit her and her site for both educational and leisure activities. Rough life. The school’s ninth grade science class has spent a week in January at her site, Palmarin, the last two years as an educational get away from the city. Alexx is in charge with planning their trip, including but not limited to meals, lodging, activities and transportation. Trevon and I will be assisting with the project this year and since we live too far away to be a real part of the planning, and Alexx can handle it on her own, we will serve as chaperones for the field trip. We are pretty excited and lucky that one of our best friends lives in a beautiful touristy area. Great pictures to follow.
Work at site has been going really well lately that I almost have an urge to want to expand too fast too soon. I am glad I realize that now versus later after potentially ruining the project. In short, our donkey cart needed some welding done on it since it’s getting a lot of wear. Problem fixed but my counterpart Amadou, being the go- getter that he is, wants to start searching for something bigger and more durable; this actually comes at a great time since we just expanded into the next neighborhood and now have more houses than before. It would only make sense to have a larger more stable mode of transporting the waste. Since jumping from small donkey cart to dump truck is a little unrealistic we are settling for a large donkey cart and another donkey. Now the only trick is to going to be finding funding to buy this new and improved cart and extra donkey. This is where international NGO’s with local offices come in handy. Once I get back from IST (In Service Training) Amadou and I are going to search for an organization where we would qualify for funding and I will attempt to woo them with my grant writing skills. Who would have thought taking a class in college called Grant Writing would come in handy?
My new obsession: podcasts. What are these you may ask? They are usually FREE audio episodes on iTunes of your favorite shows, be it on tv or radio. Some of the ones that I can’t stop downloading are The Current (Minneapolis radio station) Song of the Day, which is great because you get a free song each day of an artist they are showcasing. Ian and Margery on myTalk 107.1 and Lori and Julia on myTalk 107.1 who are talk show hosts of the morning show and the afternoon show for all your celebrity and gossip news. TEDTalks, which is a nonprofit dedicated to sharing conferences and lectures with an educational theme. And probably my new favorite Stuff You Should Know, which has shows that describe just about anything from How the Electoral College Works to How Beer Works. Now right now my obsession is more on the side of downloading these podcasts more than listening to them, but I am working on that. I like to listen to them while in some sort of public transportation since I entirely way too ADD to sit in a chair and listen to audio without doing something. I will keep you posted once I have actually figured out the Electoral College but until then I will leave you on a note from a podcast that I have listened to recently; Pizza was actually invented in Naples, Italy, it was originally a street food bought only by peasants because it was cheap, and NY’s Thin Crust Pizza has won repeatedly in blind experiments competing with Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. Ciao.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Story About The 5-Week Challenge Party

The best part about being here to date is looking back at the days that I have and thinking that I live in some sort of a dream world. Sure I may seem scared at times (drug sniffing machete holding Koncurants walking around), lonely at times (seeing on facebook that my little world in Minneapolis did not stop when I left and people did actually still go on with their lives) and even a little darn right skeptical of the unknown referred to as my future (Am I actually making a difference? What the heck am I going to do when I am done? You mean people don’t get to just travel around for the rest of their lives all expenses paid?) but its all these moments put together that makes up the adventure.
My time here as already made me loose a little of the A-type personality that I used to carry around, though I must say it was something that I sort of prided myself on; with every minute of my day planned my life feels more organized and accomplished, I like being fully immersed in something, be it with work or school. Though I think that’s its good that I chilled a little bit I still hope that I will be able to spring right back to my normal American self once I am back in the states after service, that is IF I end up in the states after service. After thinking about it why should I ever get a “real” job with a “real” salary? Maybe I will do the Peace Corps again? Just kidding Dad, that one was for you.
Last week I came back from my trip to our regional Capital of Kolda for our 5-week challenge party that our region threw for us, celebrating being at site as volunteers for five weeks. I was planning on going for a couple days, to make the three hour car ride each way worth it, which I should add is entirely on a pothole mess of a road, but after much consideration one night was plenty away from site.
I got to the garage just after 10am Saturday morning to find that I was the fifth person of seven to fill the car, meaning I had some time to kill. I decided to quick run to the bank, which is conveniently located next to the bakery making the bank that much more fun, and the driver of the car took my number in case for the first time in Senegalese history something happened in a timely matter and they would be ready to leave before I got back. Needless to say I went to the bank, bought croissants, returned to the garage, drank a cup of coffee and still had time to spare before we were actually ready to leave. My bladder, for anyone that knows anything about me, is pretty much nonexistent so I was sure to go to the bathroom just like mom and dad taught me before getting in the car; it always makes for a more enjoyable road trip when you are not constantly thinking about how bad you have to pee. A majority of my time spent on the way to Kolda was dedicated to listening to MyTalk 107.1 podcasts of their morning show with Ian and Margery and the afternoon show with Lori and Julia. Easily my favorite radio station in Minneapolis and it just so happens it is talk radio, entertaining to say the least, and available for free in iTunes. I like to listen to my iPod for two reasons; one being that public transportation is seemingly more terrifying outside the US and its better just to not know what’s going on and two being that I feel like I sort of know what’s going on back home by listening to talk shows and other media outlets. While trying not to pay attention to how fast we were driving considering we were in a high pedestrian traffic area I could not help but notice the dog in the middle of the road and our driver forgetting how to brake. We hit it. Bad. At first I was hopeful, well naive I guess, that he just ducked under the car and was fine but after looking back the dog was clearly badly injured and I am not sure he even survived. It broke my heart. Animals in general are not treated as a member of society in most of the world, especially Africa, and considering that list scavenges dogs are ranked near the bottom. We did not even stop. Diane texted me shortly before I arrived, doubting that I was still coming considering it was already past 3pm, but I assured her that I was in fact almost there and that my now murderer of a car driver had no sense of getting the customer to their final destination in a timely fashion; its typical for the driver, and even passengers, to have the car stop along the way to do personal errands. Upon arriving in Kolda I grabbed a cab and headed to the Maison Blanc (white house) also known as Maison Corps de la Paix.
The theme for the 5-week challenge party was Kolda Olympics. I am not sure exactly what this was going to mean but it involved a series of games where everyone was split into two competing teams, and while we are being honest they are all drinking games. Whitney and another volunteer went to the bar for a drink as I was arriving before going to the “liquor store” to get beer for our festivities. To jump ahead to the end of the story for a minute, we didn’t end up seeing them until much later that night after everyone was too drunk to play any Olympic games, the bar got the best of them. While waiting for them to return the rest of us responsible volunteers decided to start a well deserved Power Hour, if you don’t know what that is I am not sure that I want to be the one to break the news on just how irresponsible my generation is. Ok well it’s when you take a shot of beer on the minute, each minute, for an hour straight – this is what they say anyway I wouldn’t know. Alex conveniently had an app on his phone that made his playlist change songs every hour with a little chime of “SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS” each minute to know when you have to drink. As great as the app seemed to be after a while we started to wonder how long we had left so we got up to check the time on his phone. Well since we are still in the honesty circle we got up because we drank all the beer and were curious to see how far into the hour we made it before we were all forced to quit, 77 minutes. For those of you who can’t count yes that is more than an hour and as cool as this app seemed it subconsciously encouraged us to drink for longer than the intended hour since there is no warning to end the hour. Needless to say we were all really impressed with our skills considering the hour is usually hard enough to accomplish.  The end of a power hour and no more beer led to some dancing and some partaking in conversations entirely too serious for our state of minds. Typical. Hours later Whitney shows up without beer. This was probably the best thing that could have happened since we didn’t need to be drinking anymore anyway. So this is why I am still a little unsure about what exactly Kolda Olympics intended to be.
As I was trying to go to bed mosquitoes were maliciously attacking me, which always puts a damper on your slumbers; second worst night of sleep to date in country, just behind the incident that I wrote about last week involving milk. The next morning Diane and I went to go get breakfast, the usual egg omelet baguette sandwich, and then wasted the rest of the afternoon on the internet doing who knows what. Diane was heading back to site after lunch and I thought that it would be wise considering the mess I was in the night before, and my lack of sleep, that I go back as well. Of course one car ride from Kolda to Velingara couldn’t be that difficult, right?
We got to the Kolda garage around 2:30pm, thinking that there would be no cars between 12:30pm and 2pm because of lunch. We are seat numbers two and three, that is both a good and a bad thing. Good because we don’t have to be squished in the back since these are seats belonging to the middle row but bad because we need to wait for the rest of the car to fill up and who knows how long we could sit there waiting for four more people to want to go to Velingara. Well about two hours is how long you wait for four people in a city of 80,000 to want to go to Velingara. Of course I get stuck in the middle seat which I am beginning to think Diane strategically places herself near the car where I have to get in first and somehow always end up squished between her and someone usually too big to fit in the spot next to me. Its ok I believe in karma and I will take my middle seat. Just before getting pushed off, apparently if a car doesn’t start the momentum of the car being pushed while turning the key is just what it takes to start, I notice that we are in the same car and have the same driver as my trip down to Kolda. As nice as it was seeing a familiar face I warned Diane and we started our trek home a little more hesitant than previously. Our seven seat car, not including the driver, was holding ten with kids being thrown on laps like used bags. One thing that I love about how friendly people are here with each other is demonstrated with how perfect strangers with offer to take kids off mothers laps who are either in a squished seat or are already hosting one kid on their lap.
Of course about an hour into the trip it started to rain, which means windows as much as you like them up when it rains go down a little bit in order to control the fog on the windshield. Yes there are defrost controls on all these cars but it is something that miraculously nobody knows about or uses; wiping the fog off with your hand/shirt is common practice while driving. The fog mixed with all of the cracks on the windshield made it about impossible to see. Our fearless driver carried on without caution and my iTunes got turned up a little louder. About the same spot at the dog incident, a clearly high traffic area that I thought we would learn a lesson from, we hit a goat. The goat was dragging a little kid and when the goat ran into the road the little kid let go of the rope and we collided with the goat, of course without breaking. I am not sure if our habit of not breaking is in fear of causing a larger accident or his reactions are not quick enough, I will bet the second. Killing a dog is one thing but I am guessing that the little boy wished that he got hit along with the goat right about now as his family is hearing from all over the village that their meal for the next holiday is now splattered across the road. Animals are expensive and if you do have them it is for one reason and one reason only, to feed someone. You will end up eating it yourself or you will sell it to someone else to eat but either way they are too expensive and valuable to be getting hit by cars. Diane thinks the driver is bad luck, I think its me considering this is the third animal that has lost a fight with a car that I have been in since I have been at site. We pulled over, the driver began venting to the man sitting next to me explaining how baffled he was that people and animals have no respect for cars or roads and think of themselves as invincible. I tend to agree with him just by noticing the amount of kids who play in the road and the amount of parents and onlookers who say nothing.
A little while later we drove through Kouncane where Diane got out to go home and we loaded up two more people to replace her little body; we are now at a grand total of 11 people in a car made for seven. Everyone expect for me and a man in the back seat has a kid sitting on their lap and since I am still stuck in the middle I have about two half children on my lap. As the rain continues my music plays in my ears and I try to get out of my mind the fact that I have been in a car that has killed more animals in the last 24 hours than I think I have in my whole life.
Three and a half hours later we finally reach Velingara. It is still raining out so I am forced to sit at the garage until the rain stops enough for me to run home. The streets are now rivers and what used to be dirt path sidewalks are now slippery banks. The door to my house was already securely shut with a rock, good ol’ African security, so I quickly moved it and slipped into my courtyard to my mom asking me what I was doing in the rain. Just the question I was asking myself. With a quick conversation with my broken Pulaar explaining all the massacres I witnessed during my trip I retreated to my room for an early night in to fall asleep to what made my trip home memorable, the rain.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Its The Simple Things: Waterfalls and Teddy Grahams

I just spent six nights in Kedagou, another region here in Southern Senegal, for a language seminar. About a month after install everyone meets up with a few people from their class, who also learned the same language during training, to answer any questions that may have come up regarding language during our first stint at site; many volunteers find it to be more of a review.
Since language seminar is more relaxed than actual PST we had plenty of free time. Something that volunteers tend to do a lot in their free time, especially while at regional houses where there is the luxury of a stove and oven, is cook. We made a good combo of foods from all around the world. One of the foods that I made, and was very proud of, was boiled peanuts. Considering my cooking abilities I was surprisingly shocked on how they turned out. Peanuts are in season here, and like all foods that are in season, you tend to feel like you are overdosing. Since I couldn’t think about eating any more roasted peanuts, looking for another texture, I remembered my mom boiling peanuts as sort of a treat. They tasted just as good as I remember.
To take up some time Diane, Anthony, Kyle and I decided to bike to a waterfall that is about 5km (about three miles) from Kyle’s village. Considering we were about 25km (about 15.5 miles) from Kyle’s village in the first place this was just the thing to take up a good part of the day. Our language teacher is not much of the outdoors type so she decided to catch a ride with one of the house’s security guards on his motorcycle. The bike ride took us about 2.5 hours to get there and it was quite the ride. 25 miles is a good distance on a bike in the states but considering we are in Africa it’s a hell of a hike. We are riding in the rainy season which means, even though it’s not raining, the roads consist of mud and potholes filled with water. Have you ever tried biking in wet mud/sand? It’s hard to say the least. We were all champs and I think I did pretty well keeping up with the pack considering I have never biked that far at once in my life. Once we got to the closest village to the waterfall we devoured an omelet baguette sandwich and then started our 45-minute hike into the forest. This is something that I was more used to; it reminded me of a lot of the hikes that I used to do in Hawaii.  After passing streams where women washed cloths, trees where orangutans howled, and paths where centipedes were making themselves known we reached the waterfall at last. It was a long day but well worth the trip. Kyle told us that apparently the waterfall we were at, Dindefello, is taller than Niagra Falls; not nearly the width which made it appear to be smaller but in fact it was taller. We swam in the cold water, not as cold as I remember Hawaii’s waterfall swimming holes to be, and lay out of the rocks. It was a nice break from the Senegal that we were more familiar with.
We were reassured that there would be a car waiting in the village; they leave regularly from this spot considering it is mildly touristy. I am not sure why I believed a small village 25k off a main road would have cars that leave regularly but needless to say, it didn’t. Diane and Anthony said they would bike back to Kedagou if it was the only option while I said that I would be willing to try ANY other option, ie sleeping at Kyle’s until the morning when there is a car. By a stroke of luck another local NGO, AfriCare, would be riding through Kyle’s village a couple hours later and going straight to Kedagou. We took the ride. Four grown adults in the back of a pickup; air conditioning blasting (almost too cold but I was not about to complain), smelling like we have been biking and hiking all day while our heads are filled with a hint of motion sickness from dodging potholes, but we made it just as it was beginning to get dark. Once we were home, showered, and fed, I can honestly look back on the day and say it was great.
I am not sure if I developed sensitivity to dairy or had a stint of bad luck but I believe the strawberry milk that I indulged in the following night was trying to end my life. I was tired from the day before, and looking forward to continue my book by Bill Clinton called Giving, so I went to bed early after drinking strawberry milk, made of whole milk, with dinner. Upon falling asleep I was awaken a couple of hours later with stomach pains worse than I have ever had in my life. The stomach pains were accompanied by bowel movements, no details needed, and this went on all night. There was no sleeping, just laying, staring at the ceiling trying to convince myself to fall asleep. I would get up to grab water, though I didn’t want to drink much because it would just make me have to go to the bathroom even more than I already had to. While getting water the smell of the kitchen would make me nauseous so I would lie down in the hammocks, then I would get cold and move inside, to then be interrupted into going to the bathroom again. This rotation happened about four times in the night resulting in about three hours of sleep. The five-hour car ride back home, not including waiting time for public transportation that ended up totaling eight hours, seemed longer than it already was. I am only sticking with fake dairy from now on, if any.
Diane and I caught a ride with a Peace Corps car to Tambacounda, which not only saved us about 3000CFA each but also eliminated having to squish in a septplace, listening to locals screaming in foreign languages, and the occasional smack on the head as a result of fans being waved. We were dropped off at the garage, what the public transportation depot is known as, and waited over two hours four our septplace to Velingara to sell all seven tickets. We passed the time with some quality people watching, drinking over sweetened juice slushy’s, eating omelet and baguette sandwiches and watching men sell car tickets as they make tea and clearly worry free that our car is going nowhere fast.
Finally reaching Velingara, after the longest 24 hours of my life, Diane told me it was not necessary to wait for her bus that takes her to her village; I was glad she told me to go home. I usually wait at the garage to make sure that 1-there is a bus for her 2-she gets on it and 3- it actually leaves town, since there is not much I can do once it leaves town, but today I could barley keep my eyes open after the night I had and the prolonged day of waiting for public transportation. I ran home, put on a smile for my family since I didn’t want to explain why I was so tired, took a bath and called it a night. Sure it was only 5pm but I blamed it on my long trip from Kedagou and I went straight to bed. I woke up for a couple hour rally at 1am to watch Its Complicated (good movie by the way), not feeling the best but better, and didn’t wake up again until 9:30am. The sleep and water was all I needed to feel back to normal. Alhamdillilah.
It had been a while since mom and dad said they sent their package so I decided once I woke up from my coma that I would rush to the Post Office. Sure enough there was a package for a Kelly Blodge, I just assumed that it was for me. I paid the 1000CFA to get it, a customs fee, and the postal worker smashed it into my bag as an attempt to help, and we will find out if anything valuable was in it I guess. Once I got home I went into my room, shut the curtain, and began to open the package from my parents in private, not wanting my family to see that I got something. There is no real reason not to show them other than the kids would want everything in it and my brother would be convinced that I am even more rich than he already thinks Americans are. Velveeta Cheese and Life Savers don’t make one rich but to an African it’s all the same, goods from America. I am not quite sure how my parents did it, not sure if I should credit mom or dad or both, but they sure did hit the nail on the head with this one; Teddy Grahams, Velveeta Cheese, Granola Bars, Furikaki Seasoning, Soy Sauce, Dried Mushrooms and Strawberries, Drink Mixes, Instant Potatoes, Trail Mix, Sprinkle Butter, Soup and Pesto Packets, Life Savers, Gum (naturally sweetened with 100% Xylitol for positive oral health benefits - thanks mom) and Werther's Candy. I did end up giving the box to Nene who was shocked that I was going to throw it in the trash for biodegradable items; I thought I was recycling but she took it a step further and made everyone in the family a fan. I have no idea how I am going to ration all of these items or what I am going to eat first, obviously Teddy Grahams were opened immediately, but what next? To make this day even better they also emailed me a code for an iTunes gift card, GREAT GIFT. I didn’t realize how much the gift card was for until I redeemed it and, again, I am not sure how I am going to ration my music purchases or what I am going to buy. Maybe a few workout tracks, some good ol’ classics, maybe something local? Time will tell.
Considering how, well negative, my last post was and to the couple of people who actually read it and expressed concern about how I was doing, I hope this post answers that. I had a great week, besides the milk situation, and now have plenty of things, between the music credit and package, to remind me of home for those hard times. A little shout out to mom and dad, you know who you are, you are the best. A strong support network back home is key to having a successful experience abroad and you guys score an A+. If your lucky when you come to visit I will cook you some noodles and Velveeta accompanied with kool-aid. Yum.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I’m Annoyed

I am writing this entry about a week before its posting date, since I just posted today I usually like to wait a week or so between posts. A topic came to mind today that I wanted to touch on. I’m annoyed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The story of the Kankurang and Donald Duck

It’s getting to the end of summer vacation here in Senegal; meaning back to both school and work, for those lucky enough to have summers off. With summer comes many things but it will be interesting to see the regular routine of a Senegalese family when there is something to be done in the morning.
The Kankurang is something that only exists in a couple of cultures here in Senegal, mine being one of them. I am not sure how to describe him other than as a man dressed up in a outfit resembling cloth covered in something that resembles dreadlocks while carrying a machete. Now this sounds dangerous and scary, and it is. Kids find it entertaining, a game of sorts, to test just how brave they are in seeing how close they will get to the Kankurang before running. He parades around with a band of, which I assume are his friends, who chant and play drums. The singing is exactly how you know that there is a Kankurang around and kids start to worry, while showing excitement simultaneously, similar to suspecting Freddy Krueger being near. I was warned of this creature before I actually laid eyes on him which is fortunate for me because without any previous knowledge of him I may have been tempted to go up to him to see why he was dressed all funny, which would have been a been faux-pas and I am sure quite entertaining for onlookers. While walking to the bar for a drink and some dinner last night with Wilma and Whitney we ran into a Kankurang, who must have been post work, walking down the street. I thought he would have been harmless at this point seeing he was without his gang but the girls, being the vet volunteers that they are, told me that they put tree bark in their masks that gives off fumes similar to those of a hallucinogenic. Combing drugs, machetes, and kids can be a dangerous combination so I was quickly warned to stay clear from their paths and sort of law low when they are around. Well noted. (More precise information on the history of the Kankurang can be found by clicking here.
The bar for dinner was another experience in and of itself. Before entering the bar we were greeted by our friend Ablai, or Lai he told me he goes by. He and his wife, who is from Spain so a fellow Toubob (usually westerner but also white person), own a restaurant and boutique in town that sells “American” goods (off brand cereals, cheese, milk). Lai said he would normally offer us to dinner at his restaurant but the head chef, his wife, is in her native land on vacation for a month so services are paused until she returns. This is mildly disappointing because, being the great European that his wife is and understanding nutrition, she serves each of her meals with a salad. Salad does not exist here, at all, and is a great change of pace from rice and sauce. Upon entering the bar and buying us ladies a round of Trent Trois beer he told me that he was leaving in the morning to go to Dakar for the remainder of the week to stock up on more Toubob type food for his boutique. After explaining to him the importance of getting what is known as Cheetos and Mountain Dew, a request of Wilma’s I cant stand the stuff, he said he would not let us down! He then began to explain to me that his shop is not for him, he grew up here his whole life and is used to the eating habits of Western Africans, but it is in fact for us; to make serving his country seem a little more closer to home. To ensure that we profited from his trip to Dakar we told him where all the great Toubob stores were that had tiki-tiki, real, American food. Throughout the remainder of the evening Lai bought us another round of beers and dinner consisting of mystery meat on baguette for Wilma and Whitney and spaghetti on baguette for me. I am already missing the salad at Lai’s restaurant, or anything not consisting of carbohydrates.
At some point between our first beer and dinner a strange, yet familiar, voice begins to walk into the bar. Who could it be? Donald Duck, or a older Senegalese man impersonating what he believes to be as the American character. I am immediately impressed and excited to have something “American” near by, but Whitney is immediately wierded out by this seemingly creepy old man who talks in a high pitched voice. Wilma and I just laugh. Whitney tried reasoning with me that this was no Donald Duck, but by the end second beer her and Donald Duck were best friends. A talented Donald Duck, one who is versed in many languages and whom doesn’t break character. Lai offered us a ride home in his car; we are all really impressed with his car that would me moderate by American standards, and more than happy to take him up on his offer. It was the end of a great night with the girls. Intentions on being just dinner and a beer ended up being free drinks, dinner, entertainment, and a ride home. I am beginning to love the spontaneous way of life here. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Day To Blog About

I woke up this morning with a sense of excitement for the day to come. I was to test out my new peanut butter that I found in the market and I was going to finally get a chance to speak to my parents on Skype (considering the last time was nearly two weeks ago with a rock concert playing in the background).
After buying peanut butter in the market yesterday, and speaking with Diane on how to make it like real American peanut butter, I was thrilled to test it out on toast this morning. Now when I say I bought peanut butter in the market I literally mean the butter from peanuts, nothing else added, organic one would say. I found a few ladies that sit with their bowls of the spread and plastic bags in the market selling this luxury item and I have to admit I am more than willing to be a regular customer. While adding equal amounts of sugar and salt to this organic butter, fine American peanut butter emerges; it goes great with toast, just as I remembered. At the corner boutique along with bread this morning I bought a small baggie of yogurt, also the homemade brand, to go in my Quaker Oats; a breakfast for kings.
After breakfast I strolled over to the Balde residence (my work partner) to say hi. It had been a number of days since I have talked with him even though I figured he would be out working in the fields; I remember him saying how much he appreciates me going to his house to get to know his family better. After greeting everyone I was invited to sit in Amadou’s sister’s room, trying my best to make small talk in a language I barely speak. She then excused herself to go shower and I lay idle, by myself, in her room watching the fan spin on the ceiling. Upon her return I decided to use having to go to the market to buy food to help make lunch as my way out. I will make a mental note to prepare topics of conversation for my next visit.
After feeling like I had a very accomplished morning I returned home to help my mother prepare lunch. Mari has been out of town for the last week or so at a wedding so her daily chores have been passed onto the only other capable female in the house, Nene. I try and help her cook but she insists that I sit and watch. Occasionally she gives me the task of pounding pepper and onions in a traditional wooden pistol and mortar; she at least thinks I am capable of this. We make small talk while she is cooking, consisting of me asking seemingly useless questions that I only pose to her because I am excited in being able to pull a sentence together in Pulaar. She just laughs. I am starting to think that she has lost confidence that I can speak any language at all considering all she ever hears me speak is intermediate French and Pula Futa of a two year old, someday I will prove to her that I am not a complete idiot.  Though Abidina is back now he had been gone for three days or so in the village visiting friends and family. It was actually nice having him gone because it forced me to speak in Pulaar, and to Nene specifically. Now that we can communicate with each other, though its still on a very basic level, I have found her to be very funny. With Mari gone she gets to make comments now such as “Nene defay buy.” Nene cooks a lot. “Nene wuppi.” Nene washed cloths. She appears to get a kick out of doing things that I am sure Mari would not hesitate to give up a little more often.
After lunch I waited around for the carpenter to come and put the finishing touches on my desk, until I remembered that I was in Senegal and I could be waiting for days. I decided to get a head start on going to the hotel so I could get some work done before my Skype date with the parentals. Upon arriving to the hotel I was pleasantly greeted with the, seemingly permanently aggravated, employee who informed me that she shut off the Wi-Fi until tomorrow. Now I was aware that, for some strange reason, my family shuts off their cell phones and disconnects TV’s and fans in a big thunderstorm but was completely unaware that, even though it had stopped raining, she would unplug the Wi-Fi. Are the Senegalese afraid of getting electrocuted if around a power source during a storm? Was there something that I was missing? The next time it doesn’t storm I will have to Google this. While biting my tongue in explaining that is was no longer raining and its ok to use electricity during a storm, for the fear that she knew something that I didn’t, I pleasantly said my goodbyes and said I would come back tomorrow. On my walk home I remembered my brother saying that whenever I wanted I could go to the school he worked at to use the computers in their computer lab. I rushed home in hopes that he would find this idea to be as exciting as I.  Upon arriving home the carpenter was there to finish my desk, I would propose the idea once he was finished. The desk turned out pretty good- back to business. After finding out that I was not able to speak to my parents Abidina was more that happy to show me to his school that had working computers and Internet.
Of course it was sprinkling our whole walk to the school. Having a “computer lab” at a school is ahead of the times here but I don’t know why I thought that I would be able to just plug a cord into my computer and it would work. It simply could not be that easy. Getting this cable/phone credit connection to work on the Mac would involve setting up the router and cable in the network settings on my computer, something that I was not emotionally and technically equipped to do. Abidina let me use the phone, at least it was good for something if not dialing onto the internet, to quick call home to tell mom that I would be on at a later time. The familiarity of her voice made me overjoyed. We will postpone our talk until tomorrow.
By this time it is almost seven and still sprinkling on our walk home. We decided to stop at the house of a fellow teacher that lives near the school on our way back, I soon learned that the stop was mostly at cause of him having unlimited internet and Abidina wanted to check his Facebook. While poking around pictures of an old Volunteer with the Peace Corps that he once worked with, with soccer playing on the TV in the background, we realized that is was now way past dark and we should get going, be it in the rain or not. I had packed my umbrella earlier in case of this weather and Abidina borrowed his friends and we started to make our walk back home.
It’s not a long walk, but it quickly turned longer than normal in the rain and black streets. Our journey was mixed with assisting each other in the seemingly easy task of walking and following closely behind on those thin slippery trails on the road. Cars and mopeds splash by us and I started to wonder why we even needed the umbrellas. “It was almost too perfect of a walk home to be real life, this is not how Americans live”, I remember thinking to myself. Even though Senegal proved to let me down again with inconsistent Internet our walk home was too memorable. Me teaching Abidina the song “Singing in the Rain”, him making up his own words in French to the same rhythm consisting of lyrics loosely translating to “we have to walk careful because African roads are no good when it rains.” Me laughing at his lyrics, him mocking my truly American, loud laugh; it was like watching a movie of someone’s dream adventure. I am in Senegal I thought. This is how one should enjoy the simplicities of life, the true beauties.
After finally arriving home Nene greeted us with dinner, rice porridge stuff; it’s sweet, I would think similar to rice pudding though I have never tried it. Abidina reminded me that it’s great for digestion and constipation. I am beginning to wonder why he thinks I have a constipation problem.  I just sit and nod and make a point to remember to someday inform him that my life in that department is normal and functioning.
I head to my room at a descent hour to make more toast with the peanut butter spread. I retire in my desk to watch The Little Mermaid, which seemed like a seemingly perfect end to my day, until I am reminded of the leak in my roof right onto my lap. I must remember to get that fixed. It’s off to watch the movie in bed without any protest. After the movie I drift off into sleep listening to the rain and on my tin roof. I sleep in hopes to speak to my parents tomorrow, catch up on some emails and upload some more photos. I will also make a mental note to call Grandpa and Janice, it has been entirely too long since I have heard their voices and I am beginning to wonder how I am going to go two years without seeing them. Lets hope it doesn’t rain.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The End of a Great Beginning

When I started writing this post it was a rainy Saturday late afternoon; I was pinned to my computer as it stormed outside. It is rainy season here and I have found the rain has engulfed me with a sense of security.

I sit in my foam mattress that rests on the floor listening to the rain hit my tin roof as if two small armies were having a civil war. In attempt to hear my iTunes I have it on full blast though it still sounds quiet.

Since arriving to Vélingara I have been meeting city officials, work partners, family members, friends of family members, neighbors, and about everyone in between who doesn’t somehow fit into an above category. I am trying to remember names but considering how horrible I am with remembering even American names to no surprise I am doing no better here in Senegal. There are, what seems to be, less than a dozen last names, which a majority of everyone falls under. Conveniently enough, you can refer to someone by their last name so I figure if anything I can just start throwing out names. It also helps that you can call people something simply by stating the obvious; any older woman you can refer to them as Nene (mom), older male Baba (dad) anyone above that generation who is female you can call mama (grandma) and so on.

Korité marks the end of the month of fasting, also known as Ramadan. Since I arrived only three days before the celebration I was unsure as to how the day was going to go, but it all ended well. After breakfast I went with Nene and my two nieces to the park in town where the “service” was held. I put service in quotes only because I am unsure of what to call it but I got a service-like vibe from everyone while there. There was prayer, preaching of some sort, and greetings to neighbors. The boys of the house were all front and center at the park while Nene and the girls were near the back. While attending a religious event at the Mosque, or at the park in this case, it is imperative that men are in the front while women are in the back. 

I am not sure as to why this is but I am guessing is has to do with some ancient “women are less equal” belief that has never changed. My work partner Amadou was nice enough to grab my camera for a bit to document what was going on up front. Since I was acting as a “tourist”, walking around taking photos and not praying, I am sure that it would have been fine if I had gone up front but it just seemed a little awkward. After service we went back to the house where Mari prepared a wonderful lunch! While dining an authentic Pulaar band came to our house to play music, while asking for donations in return. You can see the band from the videos that I posted; it was a lot of fun! The rest of the afternoon was spent with Amadou, my work partner. He wanted to walk with my around my quarter to meet some of the families that are using the trash service, as a way to meet our customers. This turned into us walking around for two hours talking with not only customers but I am pretty sure every member of his family. Though I don’t remember a single persons name it was nice seeing how excited Amadou was to introduce me to his family. Every house he told me “my family is now your family”, he is too nice. I finished off the night laying under the stars playing with the girls and talking to Abidina. What a great day.

I think it is safe to say that I attended my first Baptism ever.  Since I am no expert on Baptisms, or anything too religious for that matter, I will give my understanding of events here in Senegal and feel free to compare and contrast with American culture. A baptism in Senegal usually happens about a week after the birth and is not only a celebration but also acts as a naming ceremony. Now I am not sure if this is how it works in all of Africa but here in Senegal it is considered taboo to name a child in the first week or so after birth in fear of jinxing their health. At the ceremony the baby is sort of passed around, mostly amongst women while the new mom is dressed in her best- hair and makeup fully done. The other women of the family cook a huge meal for everyone, usually similar to normal daily meals but kicked up a notch, as Emerl would say, with some sort of meat like sheep, goat or cow. Before eating I spent time talking to my moms family and drinking real milk, straight from the tit! I hear this is a great way to get TB but I figure there are worse things that I can get while here and there is no sense in limiting myself and living in fear of things that may happen. After a few hours of people watching I started to get bored and started playing a game with Salimatou that quickly turned into what I believe was the largest tournament this village has ever seen. There were at least 20 kids gathered around as three raced to be the first to gets all of his/her rings over the poles in an imitation telephone. It was entertaining to say the least and I posted a video of it if you care to witness a true battle.

While there are small things that I will be doing to keep up with the waste management service the Peace Corps is adamant on Volunteers not working during their first three months of getting to site. This time is used to integrate and learn the language better. It makes sense if you think about it- I have all these ideas on how to grow our business and start to turn a profit but if I can’t verbally express myself I will 1) not be understood and 2) not taken seriously because my knowledge of how to speak the language is that of a child. For now I speak to Amadou in French about things that are crucial that I know now but he is slowly speaking to me more and more in Pulaar. I keep telling him I have only been here a week and that its ok to speak to me in French still but he insists on me learning Pulaar sooner than later. So besides not working these are a few of the things that fill up my day:
Going to the market with Mari to buy produce for lunch (always an adventure)
Eating A LOT
Watching my brother make tea (its truly a craft)
Practicing French by speaking to my brother and other community members
Post-lunch nap (mandatory)
Reading American books (my new favorite thing)
Convincing myself that I practice Pulaar enough (even though I know I should more)
Trying to figure out a workout routine (anything is better than nothing at this point)
Calling other volunteers whom I miss with our FREE VOLUNTEER TO VOLUNTEER CALLING 

So as you can see I have little time to do the things that I find entertaining or the least bit interesting (insert a tone of sarcasm here). Though with this being said I can’t wait until IST (In Service Training) in three months; that is the official marker for when us new Volunteers are welcomed into the working world. I believe it is a weeklong event at the Training Center in Thies. It is designed to help us further more with our projects; we will be able to ask specific questions concerning our particular projects. 

Well that is all for now folks. Stay tuned for more to come this week; I am sure I will have lots to report. Until then, if there is anything specific that you ever wonder about or think only in your head for fear that the question may be inappropriate, please do ask in the comments section. I will start to blog about things that interest my readers, not just me.

The Family Tree

I have spent the last 11 nights at my new residence and I am happy to report that I am happy to call the Barry house a home. My new family is truly amazing and I look forward to the next two years with them here in Vélingara.
I will try my best to explain the dynamics of the Barry/Jalo family but like most Senegalese families they are complex. Though you call someone your brother and he lives at your house he might be a boy from a neighboring village. You would never know this unless you dig a little and ask. (Description follows photo)

My grandmother, Mama or Fatoumata, is in her 90’s and as strong as an ox. She has more energy than me on most days and she is truly a joy to have around the house. I love watching her and she gets a kick out of talking to me in Pulaar, a fair exchange I would say. 

Safy (or Yayé meaning great aunt) is my late host father’s first wife and she also lives with us (my mom is his second wife). She is older, I would think mid to late seventies maybe, and has a hard time seeing. She has kids of her own that are grown and they have kids; they all come around the house often but that is a whole other family tree. She mostly keeps in her room and I try my best to speak with her when I see her and she just laughs. 

My mom Assiatou, also known as Nene which is mom in Pulaar, is a 54 year old woman who loves to dance, spend time with her family, and visit friends and family in and around town. I am named after this beautiful woman. She does not speak French and she uses that to her advantage to make me practice Pulaar.

My brother, Abidina, is a French teacher at a school here in town. Since my host father has passed away he is the man of the house.  He is 33 and has three children with his wife Mari. Its obvious that everything he works for is to better the lives of his children and family. 

Mari, Abidina’s wife and the foundation of the family. She is 24, its very common for the woman to be much younger than the man in Senegal. From what I can tell right now Mari stays at home with the kids but while they are in school she studies to finish what is the equivalent to our middle school. While at home she does literally all the chores; taking care of three kids, cooking, cleaning, and laundry (by hand of course). 

Ousmane, who is 11, is Abidina’s nephew. His mother died when he was really young and his dad lives in a nearby village so he lives with us, but he thinks that Nene is his mom. They said they will tell him when he is older that his mother passed and apparently its normal in Senegalese culture for him not to know about his birth mother until later. He helps out around the house a lot. He is at the right age right now he wants to help with more “grown up” things but is very sweet at heart. 

Adama, who is 7, is the cousin of Abidina.  He is also unaware that his birth mother died when he was young and also thinks that Nene is his mom; he will be told when he is older as well. He is a little bit more of a menace, though still very polite. He helps out around the house just as much as the other children but likes to play with kids around the neighborhood more.

This brings me to Salimatou, the oldest of Mari and Abidina. She is 7 years old. She is like any other child in the states and loves to play around the neighborhood, learn, and help her mom.

Diénabou is the middle child and is 4 years old. She is starting school this year for the first time and is very excited. She is a typical sweet young girl who loves to dance and wants to do everything her older sister does. 

Abdulaye, or Ablaye for short, is the youngest of Abidina and Mari’s children, he is about 15 months old. He is a riot! He walks around the house all day saying Nene (mom) and Baba (dad). You can tell he is just realizing the power he has with knowing how to use his voice, he talks all day. Also worth mentioning, he is always into something!


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