Saturday, June 29, 2013

Invasion of the Grasshoppers

Work. There is a wide interpretation of what exactly the term means and how exactly it is supposed to fit into the activities that compromise the tasks of our daily schedule. Is pulling yourself out of bed to say hi to your counterparts family considered work? Is walking to the market just to make yourself seen for the day so that the masses don’t start to suspect that you skipped town considered work? Is meeting with the local womens group because they have a business idea that they
My nephew trying on my glasses
think is worth financing but you know otherwise considered work? Is blogging so that friends and family back home can have a small idea of what you are up to during this period of our lives considered work? Well if you ask about anyone here in Peace Corps we would say that yes all of the above are considered work, well there may be some debate on the last one, and even the smallest tasks like leaving your house take more effort than the 9-5 we once held.
At the moment I am finding myself doing anything but, including blogging, what I am supposed to be doing which is writing the lesson plans for the training sessions with my youth project. I thought it would be sort of an effortless task, not easy but surly not requiring this much concentration and premeditated thoughts. I actually Googled phrases such as “how to write a lesson plan” and “common lesson plan mistakes” before starting the process because I found myself stuck somewhere between naming the lesson and writing the objectives. I would like to use my phone-a-friend lifeline and call either Sarah Gunderson (previously Kvasnicka) or Erica Schumacher (previously Cain) (damn, all my friends are getting married and it is mildly depressing how life in America is moving along without me, I will have to touch on this in another post) who, I am pretty sure, could write a lesson plan in their sleep. I knew I should have paid attention while watching them write these things during our Bachelor/homework session nights in college. Anyway, I think they are coming along considerably more than when I first started. Who would have thought that when I applied to the Peace Corps I wanted to save babies and work with HIV/AIDS, got into Peace Corps thinking I was going to be working with economic development and arrived in Velingara, Senegal finding projects where I am acting as a teacher and translator.
I can officially, and finally, say that rainy season is officially here! With the rains come things such as mangoes, pleasant sleeping weather, flooded streets and grasshoppers (well they could be crickets, I honestly don’t know the difference). I have learned so many random facts while living here, the kind of facts that you blurt out at happy hour that strike a conversation ending with “how did we get on that topic?” and one of them was that grasshoppers are attracted to light. Well it was more of a life lesson. When trying to rid my room of the couple of grasshoppers before bed one night I noticed that my room quickly became infested with them hopping around. For every one that I got out of my room two more jumped in not having the common decency to at least not jump all over me. At one point I was literally laughing, sounding and looking like a crazy person I am sure, while they were seemingly attacking and throwing themselves at me as the kids in my family were just laughing from a distance because they were actually afraid of them. My brother rushed over, shut off my light, found a flashlight and started smashing them and throwing them out of my room. Who would have thought the only reason why they were in my room was because my door was open and a light was on, of course they felt welcomed. I have turned it into a game of sorts, catching them in my room and throwing them to the chickens that then chase them around like a chicken with their head cut off. Weird. I am hoping that in exchange for the free food that I am providing them they will stop pooping in front of my door because I really don’t appreciate it. Jordan, my sitemate, is convinced that they have no control over where they hop around considering they jump at our faces and into buckets of water and drown.
I received two more packages from my parents, and some lovely coconut peanut butter from Bird- thanks for that! I honestly don’t know what I would do without them, well I bet I would become one of those bitter volunteers that never receives packages or mail and thinks that their friends and family back home actually forgot that they up and left America to serve in a third world country. A few of the package contents included new toothbrushes (YAY!), candy (which I am bribing small children with and it is working), tuna packages (which I hated in America and now can’t seem to get enough of it- I put it on some bread, with some egg whites and mustard and it makes a great sandwich) clicky pens (no more loosing caps and the ink drying out, ever!), granola bars (always good for snacking or an easy breakfast and I don’t have to share because there is not nearly enough sugar in one for someone to actually want one) and underwear (a year in the heat and rain does some inconceivable damage on the delicates). Thanks again family, my first million will go to you!
It is about lunchtime so I am going to wrap up this chitchat session because the smell of fish balls (like meatballs but with fish) is wafting its way in my room and making me rather hungry. Stay classy America. xoxo

Monday, June 24, 2013

One Year Down, One Year To Go!

About a year ago I left the life that I had built for myself in Minneapolis and moved to Senegal to join the Peace Corps, before making a quick stop to my second home in Hawaii to visit friends and family. The anniversary of my presence here has made me reflect on how amazing my life was before I left it, how great my life is here now, even though I am living in less than dreamy conditions, and how after this experience the world is in my hands and I will have endless opportunities, whether they are career related or not is a whole different story.
Honesty is the best policy they always say, whomever “they” are, and if we are being honest I should probably start off with why I am in Senegal. I joined the Peace Corps, come to find out like many other people, as a result of running away from something. I am sure it is a combination of a few things like a shitty economy, taking a break from student loans, unhealthy relationships and America in general and if you have the passion to help people, like to live abroad and have the means to for a couple of years the Peace Corps is for you. I am not saying that it is easy; it definitely is anything but easy.
This past year I have cried to language tutors because the difficulties of learning a language that is so different from any other studied, been thrown into a family and culture that I knew almost nothing about, had countless conversations with people where I had no idea what they said or who they were. I have missed weddings, birthdays, funerals, births and who knows what else as a result of this passion, this piece of me that feels unsettled in a place if I get too settled. I delete the Career Builder emails showcasing the latest jobs that I am so called qualified for while missing, or putting off rather, the chance to get that next great promotion with the company that I started off as an intern. With all the bad comes the good and though Senegal makes it really hard to love sometimes, there have been good times; I have watched my host brother grow up from an infant to an actual little person with opinions, I have watched volunteers COS (close of service – after you finish your two years) and have shared what knowledge I do have with those who are just arriving, I have seen the look on peoples faces when I express my interest and support for their projects and felt their genuine appreciation, I have shared both the joys and miseries of public transportation with locals and volunteers all of whom agree that it is anything but relaxing, I have taught my little sister important English phrases such as “I like school” and “I eat rice” (well, it was the first thing I could think of), I have celebrated at weddings at baptisms as a member of the neighborhood, I have relaxed and drank wine on beaches with friends when I just had to get out of site and shared food with ten other people at one little bowl all the while never feeling more like a part of the family than that very moment.
My little host brother, Ablaye, trying to see what I was up to in my room.
Not only are we reflecting on our personal lives and experiences in the past year but we are also looking back and evaluating our level of productivity as a volunteer. One thing that is difficult for some people, and I can concede to this, is how to manage not being micro-managed and responsible for not only the success of your projects but creating them in the first place. Though I have not been as productive as I wanted to the first year, things are just naturally slower here and I need to recognize that, I have another year to make the difference that I came here intending to make.
While on the topic of work and being more productive I have an announcement my fellow readers – my World Connect grant got approved!!!! So exciting I know! Which one you may ask? It is the project where I will be working with youth groups in the Department of Velingara (almost like a county) to hold training sessions for representative of the youth groups who will then re-teach the information in the subjects of business, health, agriculture and waste management. I have a meeting this morning with my work partner in the project to start setting dates, training curriculum and desired professionals to help with the sessions. Work is on the up and up and this is just the beginning of a great second year. Watch out Senegal, big things are happening in Velingara!

Name that artist:

…we’d like to help you learn to help yourself
look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes
stroll around the grounds until you feel at home…

Good luck and talk to you next time. xoxo

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Career Advice Anyone?

What should I do with my life? This is always a question that seems to be in my head and it seems that no matter what stage I am in life I am always researching and weighing my options. I have not quite figured out if this a good thing or not but I am pretty sure my OCD is more helpful than hurtful. Right?
My year mark in country is fast approaching, less than two weeks, and I am left reflecting on what exactly I have accomplished this past year, granted two of the months I was in training and the three months after that I was not allowed to work, merely work on my language. There seems to be an abundance of projects, ethical hardworking counterparts seem to be scarce and available funds becomes a question of community dedication and contribution to a project. All of these factors need to come together seamlessly to have a successful project and it seems as though we are failing more than we are being successful. I am not saying that projects are outright failing, but they may not attract the correct people or the project may never be sustainable and will soon be forgotten after the volunteer returns home.
A little boy in the back seat of the car on the way to Tamba
was passed out sleeping pretty much on my shoulder.
Apparently his mother's lap did not provide ample space. Too cute.
There is a culture within Peace Corps that makes it ok, though there is always a few that think otherwise, if things don’t go as planned. You are not looked at differently if a project fails because of outside factors (no financial or demonstrative support from community as an example) or if you decide that Peace Corps is not for you or not what you want at this point in your life. Working in development is not as quick or easy as anyone who has never worked in development may think. I am not making excuses for projects taking months to accomplish while if located in the states could get worked out in a month or two but things take time here and between the corruption and getting things passed through all the chains in command it is inevitable.
As an excellent example, I am still waiting on funds from the city to support our waste management project from going bankrupt. There is a portion of the city budget for “waste removal” so it would only make sense that since we are one of two waste removal operations we would receive some of the funds; since the mayor really likes money, a nice new office building and house we are not seeing any money. My boss with the Peace Corps actually came to my site this past weekend to have an impromptu meeting with the mayor (so he could not skip out of town, seriously) to ask him about funding and of course it is blamed on the city not having a lot of money and people not paying taxes. We were promised to have the money in the next couple of months so I am literally playing a waiting game. There is not much I can do but ensure that trash is collected each day and that nothing serious happens to my little donkey or cart because we have no funds to replace or fix anything. Part of the problem is the fact that people are only paying 500CFA (equivalent to $1.00) for the service each month and a business can’t survive or become profitable with those numbers. Don’t worry I have changed the price to 1000CFA, or $2.00, for new customers and things are changing, and in time it will work out. It just takes time.
I started working on a new project with a fellow CEDer (volunteer who works in the same sector as me – Community Economic Development), Jennifer Connor, who lives about two hours north of me. She has a counterpart in her city of Tamba, Sidio Cisse, who raises chickens and travels all over the country to do training sessions on all sorts of topics related to chickens; raising chickens, chicken health, chicken food, you get the point. If we can achieve funding ($33,000 for the cheaper plan B version of the project) we are going to start producing chicken feed in Tamba so people don’t have to make the eight hour trip north to the capitol to buy feed or pay excessive amounts of money down south for a simple product just because the market is owned by one company. We will have a cheaper, local, better product available for sale to businesses and consumers. Never thought I would be this excited about a project dealing with chicken food but it is really interesting and Sidio is very passionate and one can’t help but get excited about something he is so excited about. Since I am a couple hours away, if transportation goes as planned though it did take me 6 hours to get home from there this last weekend, I will make the trip a couple of times a month to ensure things are on track and of course I will work with him on a more regular basis via phone and email. Updates to come.
I talked about a large garden project funded by USAID a while back and now that the rains are coming, FINALLY, I can see more activity and promise in the project in the near future. I am partnering with my two site mates, Jordan who is in agriculture and Rachel who is in health, to make the project beneficial in more than one area. We are going to hold trainings on how to prepare certain foods that are nutritious and such to ensure that the women are getting the most out of their produce and my job is going to involve setting up a stand in the market to sell the produce and market the products. The market is comprised of rows and rows of tables selling the exact same thing so with a little product differentiation, competitive product pricing and good marketing we should have no problem selling our produce and products transformed to goods while hopefully turning a profit.
If you were an animal this is how you would travel in country,
stuffed in a rice sack and tied on top of a car. They seem
used to it and don't mind.
I am still waiting on funding for my possible youth project, providing trainings and activities to youth during summer vacation. We submitted the grant the end of April and a decision was supposed to be made in May but a few of the projects that requested funding, mine included, were required to submit more information and a final decision would be made in mid June. Another waiting game though since this project has a time restraint it would be nice to have the trainings while the kids are still actually on summer break.
Meanwhile life is going pretty good, I can’t complain too much. I am mostly content and happy in my village and work is there, it is slow moving but present at least. I know I will always be tempted and excited to search for careers when I get internet but there is no harm in looking or being prepared. I am actually reading the biography of Steve Jobs at the moment and would do anything to work in the philanthropic arm of Apple, someday hopefully. So if anyone knows of great organizations hiring great people (that’s me) feel free to comment! Take care everyone, until next time.


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