Thursday, October 3, 2013

It's Like Herding Cats

Hello there digital world. I must say it has been a little while since I had written last and, depending on why you read this blog, I am both sorry and you are welcome for the lack of entries. After returning from Thailand I had about two weeks to prepare for mom’s visit to Senegal. It is amazing how, when you actually have work, quickly time passes here which turns out to be more of a good thing than bad; nine months and counting but that sure does sound like a long time writing it out.
Before mom’s arrival I was excited though I was trying to compose myself because I knew that the sooner she arrived the sooner she would have to head back the land of wonderful things. And while I don’t want to do a day-by-day account of her trip I can tell you that she saw more of the country than a lot of volunteers that live here
have. We were up north in St. Louis along the coast to enjoy a more European way of life, we rode camels in Lompoul, visited my family and home in Velingara, back up north along the coast to do a liquor tasting in Warang made from local fruits, had a few days by the pool and beach in Saly and back to Dakar to truly rest and enjoy time together which usually always included wine and cheese. YUM.  Along with way she got to meet some of my closest friends in country, got to know the ins and outs of a truly local way of transportation (sorry mom but you were a trooper!), taste a few local dishes and even learned a few words of the local language Pulaar which by the end of our stay in Velingara she had the greetings down. All in all it was great having some mom time, I am so lucky that she was able to come and not only see a little bit of my life here but to explore a true passion of mine, the international community.
On one of the last nights of mom’s stay, while in Saly with Alexx, I had a little too much wine and liquor from Warang and I agreed to help out with an English camp that was in Dakar to be held the day after mom’s flight. They were short a volunteer and since I was already in Dakar it seemed like the perfect fit; I really wanted to get back to site and return to “normal” life since I had been traveling so much lately between Thailand and mom’s visit but honestly it was nice getting to hang out with people I rarely see in Dakar for a week. The camp was a part of the Access English program put on by the US Embassy promoting and educating people in the English language. I was a teacher in the camp in the Parcells neighborhood in Dakar, only about a 15-minute cab ride from the regional house, with students ranging from ages 15-18. Some students had attended the camp before, or were in higher-level English classes in school, making them stronger English speakers while others seemed to struggle during the camp. While the camp was fun, it was exhausting. And I think exhausting is an understatement. You could tell some students were there because they either had to be or they had nothing better to do. In sync with the Senegalese schooling system people often wanted breaks of a half an hour and more which was exactly opposite of what us volunteers are used to which caused tension and conflict at times. Also, it was like pulling teeth to get people to answer questions and I don’t know if it was because of their age, their inability to speak the language or their general lack of confidence. There is also just a general lack of respect that I thinks also comes with their age. At one point I asked a group of girls probably five times to join the rest of the group in the courtyard and they all just looked at me with a look on their face questioning why I was even talking to them. After a few seconds of that lovely face I literally started herding the girls to the courtyard. I really did feel like I was herding cats, which if you could imagine would be difficult. In summary I am glad it is over and am also glad that I will not be here for the next camp. I heard nothing but good things from others at other camps so it also could have been the group of students but I commend those teachers all over the world who work with difficult students day in and day out, stick with it, and are actually capable of making a difference without walking out and not looking back!
Back at site now that I am done dealing with children I get to work with adults who merely act like children. Not only did I not sign up for this I don’t have the patience to deal with it alone so thank Allah I have capable counterparts. Just today, one of a million examples, I met three of my counterparts with the waste management project at the Mayor’s office to try and get him to use the money in the budget for waste removal on actual waste removal. Now this is not the first time that we have met there to have these impromptu meetings but the last one I attended was in June resulting in the Mayor promising money by the end of July. It is October now. Continuing on, he was not at his office and his assistant informed us that he was at his house. We walked to his house, to so surprise of our own, he was not there. We walk back to his office thinking we may have just missed him and he was not there either. It is 11am on Wednesday I don’t think it is unreasonable for him to be at his office, easily accessible to the public, since he does not take appointments. My counterpart, the wonderful Amadou, took my phone to call the Mayor to ask him where he in fact was while requesting a meeting and he told us that he was in Gambia and he could see us later in the afternoon. This is interesting since that is not at all what we had heard from anyone along the way. Once hanging up the phone Amadou punches a code on my phone to determine the amount of phone credit he had used up calling the Mayor who apparently was in Gambia, which should have resulted in international rates. 59cfa. Interesting. It should have cost at least 500cfa. He is in fact in Senegal and not only is lying to us but we found his car at the local hotel where he was probably just escaping his daily fight to do actual Mayor-like tasks. This is where my internal struggle comes in. Why am I busting my butt everyday to try and help Velingara when the own Mayor is smuggling money and wants nothing to do with the development of his community. If he does not want to help his own community, where he has lived his whole life and will probably reside the rest of his life, what is my incentive? I thought Amadou was acting mildly radically when he used to tell me that he was going to expose the Mayor on the radio about how he is doing nothing for our project, and those like ours, but now I am quickly becoming on the same page. Lets exercise our right to strike I tell him. He laughs and though I think he is seeing the downside of a strike financially, I can’t help but think what will happen if we don’t collect trash for a few weeks or a month; the people will start talking and becoming infuriated with the lack of support and corruption from the Mayor’s office. I have an appointment tomorrow to speak with Mr. Mballo at the radio station who is an educated well-respected man in the community in which I will hopefully get some advice from on the entire situation. Stay tuned.
It is a similar situation with my youth project. Though the project is getting executed it is no longer because of any help from my counterpart with that project. Not only has left to go north to Thies (I have actually not heard from him in at least three weeks) but I am pretty sure he is pocketing leftover money from the project. Yay. I need to come up with the energy to confront him about this and I can’t wait to hear what excuse he is going to come up with. I am counting down the days until the project is done and I don’t have to communicate with him any longer.
On much more exciting and productive news, my grant for the chicken feed project in Tambacounda is all turned into my APCD (boss) Mr. Sall and I am waiting on his confirmation or request of changes to turn it into the grants person with the Peace Corps. Hopefully he reads it sooner than later and I can get it turned in. After I submitted the grant my counterpart, Mr. Cissé, wanted to have a copy for his own records and when I emailed a copy to him, including translations into French, he called me soon after telling me that he read it three times and it is ingenious! It is nice to get some positive feedback for once. I really like working with him on this project because not only do I get to get out of Velingara for a little bit but I get to work with someone who has a business mindset and understands profits, loss, bookkeeping and all those other important things that make a successful business. Finally! I love Amadou and he is a great counterpart but he has never ran a business before so it makes things complicated at times, but that is why I am here, and teach I must.
Well America, and the rest of the world, that is all I have for now. I would love to hear some comments from you about my entries thus far. Is there something you would like to know more about or do you have a solution for any of the above problem areas? Also, I am unofficially looking for high school age students who want to pen pal with students here in Velingara. I think a few of my contacts might fall through and I would really love to set up a connection with a school locally with one abroad before I leave. It can be from any school in the world as long as the class can write in English. Let me know! Thanks again, take care!




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