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.



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