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.



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