Sunday, July 17, 2011

The End

Today is my last day in Senegal and the last day of my Peace Corps service. Tomorrow I will not only be in the United States of America, but I will also be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). Who would have thought? I'm in shock and disbelief that it's the end. I can't believe that I made it, that I enjoyed it, and what a wonderful experience Peace Corps has been.

When I was first thinking about Peace Corps and casually telling people my plans during my senior year of college people were incredulous. Close friends knew that Peace Corps was a dream and maybe that I'm not quite the princess everyone seems to think I am. I remember one conversation in particular with a similarly minded friend who thought Peace Corps was a cool idea. I vividly remember standing in my kitchen on Oakland and we both had red solo cups in our hands. The friend asked me if I thought I could do it and I replied "yes, I think I can." Peace Corps is completely mind over matter, or at least it was for me. PST was absolute hell, but as I built a community of Peace Corps friends, work partners, and my Senegalese family everything else became bearable.

Now, two years have passed. There is no conflict of feelings. I want to come home, back to the United States, more than anything. Senegal was great, but this experience is over. At the same time it's unbelievably sad to say goodbye. It's difficult to move on from a life that I built completely by myself and one where I may never see the people who have meant so much to me ever again.

If you're thinking about doing Peace Corps, DO IT! It's amazing and you'll never regret it although, you will hate yourself at times for making such a ridiculous decision.

Thank you again to everyone who has read my blog and sent me letters. Thank you to my family and friends for being an amazing support network. Thank you to all of my Peace Corps friends; you guys are amazing and I can't even imagine what it's going to be like to say goodbye to you tonight.

That's it from Senegal. Katherine and I will be boarding a plane back to the motherland tonight! Ready or not here we come!

Until next time, Senegal.

Babenen yoon, Senegal.

Farewell Family

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Saying goodbye to my family was excruciating. After the past couple of days of emotional hell coupled with my family talking about my departure, but not really seeming to care, I thought that I was going to be OK about saying goodbye. I should really know myself better than that. I was a wreck, but not as bad as I thought I would be. I wanted to sleep in to prepare for all of the goodbyes and my trip to Dakar, but I still woke up early and laid in bed staring at my empty room which looked really, really sad without all of my decorations up. Eventually my family started to get up for the day and I walked around greeting everyone and then sat in the courtyard taking everything in until my mom and Ahmed came downstairs and we watched TV together.

Katherine, Jackie, and I planned to leave site in style and together by renting a sept-place in Bambey which would pick up Katherine, then me, and finally Jackie in Pout. Katherine kept sending me text messages as she passed landmarks between her site and my house. Every time my phone would beep with a text message my entire family would look up and ask where she was. It was like the grim reaper slowly making his way to his victim. I took one last swing around the courtyard, took a quiet moment to myself in my room, and then Katherine appeared at our front door.

I had bags and bags of luggage both to take all the way back to American and to ditch in Dakar for other PCVs so as Katherine and the driver started to load the car I started my goodbyes. All of the men were easy. We shook hands and told each other that we would miss the other person. Ziabata thanked me for the baby clothes and toys that I gave baby Khady and promised he would come visit in the States. It was all very stoic. The women were a whole different story.

I said goodbye to Mami first. Since Mami spends most of her time in Dakar we aren't that close and I don't really like the mood in house when she's home so that wasn't too hard of a goodbye except that she was holding Abdou. I went to pick up Abdou and give him a kiss and he smiled at me and reached his little arms out to me like normal, which made me immediately burst out in tears since this wasn't normal. It was goodbye. I've known Abdou his entire life. Granted that's only 10 months, but he's such a cute and happy little baby and he also put a smile on my face when I was having a bad day. Next, I said goodbye to Awa. She was a little teary, but we had a quick goodbye.

Next I said goodbye to Ahmed who was freaked out that I was crying uncontrollably. Ahmed helped me so much at the beginning of my service. I always had a friend and he always filled me in on the things I couldn't quite get or the names I forgot. Ahmed is so cute and so bright. I hope that my family continues to put him in the best schools and push him to succeed or at least do his homework. Working with him on his letters, numbers, and English has been really rewarding since he's so proud of himself. Without Ahmed I would have been really lonely at the beginning of my service before I had the chance to bond with the women. When Ahmed and I walk around the neighborhood he always corrects people who call me toubab and tell them I'm an American; I hope he maintains this attitude and isn't afraid of other white people and knows the toubabs can be nice too. In parting I told him that he's really smart, that he's my best friend, and that I love him. I gave him a hug and walked away; he continued watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Jeenaba was no where to be found and that's because she was hiding in her room crying. I had to go find her. Saying goodbye to Jeenaba was heartbreaking. I probably spend more time with Jeenaba than anyone else in my family. I sit with her as she makes meals, I'll sit and hold Abdou for her while she's sweeping outside, and we can sit together in a very comfortable silence. I also help her out a lot financially whether or not I should. Even though baby daddy is a good dad, he doesn't help out monetarily and Jeenaba is constantly in debt to my mom and Khady. Yesterday I gave her some money and told her to hide it from my mom and use it for Abdou. I hope she does. I also gave her my email address with instructions that if she or Abdou really needs anything to get in touch with me. I don't know if she can do that on her own, but hopefully she can find someone to help her. It was so, so, so sad saying goodbye to Jeenaba. She's been so kind to me when people aren't all that nice to her and we really bonded. I hope that everything turns out OK for her and that's she's able to leave the family house and make it on her own with her husband and Abdou. Jeenaba couldn't pull herself together to walk me out to the car so she stood on the second floor balcony and waved.

Khady and my mom walked me to our front gate and out to the car. Khady was quietly wiping away her tears, but my mom was sobbing. My mom's reaction really surprised me since we've had the recent rent problems which really upset me. I understand and respect that my mom runs a huge and complicated household and she makes sure that everyone has what they need and that takes money. It's a difficult dynamic because everyone claims I'm family, but in the end it all comes down to money. Seeing my mom react to my departure so strongly was really nice and reaffirmed what I already knew; that my family really does love me and that we've grown really close over the past two years. I gave Khady and my mom huge hugs, thanked them from the bottom of my heart and got into the car. My mom stood at the gate crying and waving until we turned a corner.

What I've just described cannot do justice to what actually happened. Moving to a foreign country and really adapting yourself to it's culture, it's rules, and living a host country national family is indescribable. You really become family with these people even if "family" may have a slightly different definition than what I thought or be more complicated that I thought. The Gaye family welcomed me into their home and into their lives. We had our problems, but I love them dearly and can't thank them enough for everything. When I said goodbye to my real family two years ago it was really sad, but that sadness was mixed with terror for what was to come. My goodbyes today were just sad. Pure emotion, sad. Two years ago I knew that I would come home and my family would be waiting for me. I don't know if I will ever see my Senegalese family again and I know that it will never be the same since I will lose my Wolof language skills to disuse and become Americanized once again. This was truly an amazing experience.

Back in the car, I had a good cry and pulled myself together so that Katherine could throw three giant bags of trash along the side of the road on our way to pick up Jackie. With Jackie in the car and all of the Senegalese goodbyes behind us we plugged my iPod into some speakers to listen to the Star Spangle Banner as I popped a bottle of champagne out the window as we drove out of Pout. Our last trip into Dakar was filled with two bottles of champagne and half a bottle of Warang to dull the pain. We reminisced about the good times and stared at each other in disbelief that we did it. I can't believe we did it.

Once in Dakar it was off to the races once again. We grabbed some lunch and then Katherine and I repacked our bags before we all showered and headed out to another PCVs apartment. A boy in our stage, Jack, who's extending for a third year just moved into an apartment in Dakar and invited us over for cocktails. We supplied fantastic appetizers and he supplied the cocktails. It was exactly the type of evening I wanted. After being really emotional for three days, it was nice to sit and sip a delicious beverage with a close group of friends and just talk. There were no distractions, no one bothering us, we just enjoyed each other's company and talked about the past two years. We ended the night back at the regional house because Ben had a flight out tonight. It is so weird saying goodbye.

Last Day in Thies

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Today was like any other day except that it was my last day in Thiès.

I got up early as usual and was able to move a lot of things out of my room and take a TON of stuff over to the center before my family even woke up. Many PCVs hand things down to their replacements and I wanted to do that for Nancy so I packed up my trunk with all of my dishes, silverware, phone, internet modem, voltage regulator and some other goodies. I had a giant bag and a box full of food that I wasn’t able to get through and a ton of toiletries that I gave Clare.

My trip to the center was multi-purpose. I needed to give Nancy the trunk and Clare he ridiculously large “care package,” but I also wanted to say goodbye to the trainees, Talla, and all of the staff at the center. The center really became a refuge during my second year where I could go and have some quite alone time. I also started helping out with trainings a lot more and really got to know some of the language instructors, the guards, and the rest of the staff.

Saying goodbye to the trainees was really weird. I welcomed them at the airport a little over a month ago when I felt that I still had a long time in Senegal. Passing the torch seems surreal. Apart from the trainees, I thanked Talla for all of his help, Amadou, the Peace Corps secretary, for helping me plan various events and rent various types of vehicles among all the other things he does. Awa, the cultural coordinator, for being amazing and helping me with my recent rent problems. I also had to say goodbye to Mike who entered Peace Corps Senegal with my stage after the program in Mauritania closed down. He now works on contract with Peace Corps at the training center so I see him a lot; that one was hard. I’m completely emotionally exhausted so the goodbyes are getting a little easier.

From the center I went into town for the last time. I wanted to print some recent snapshots for Jeenaba. She used to think that un-posed pictures were weird, but now she’s really happy that she has a bunch of pictures of Abdou. She’s such a good mom. I also ran to Les Delices to get a cake for tonight to thank my family which gave me an opportunity to say goodbye to the waitresses. Then, I took my last cab ride in Thiès and came home.

I wanted to spend the rest of the day being “present,” just taking in life and appreciating my family. Taking it slow reminded me why I force myself to get out of the house every morning and every afternoon even if it is just to walk around. Being around all day is oppressively boring and I see a lot more of the arguing and hardships that Jeenaba faces. I did really enjoying spending the day with Ahmed and Abdou. Ahmed knows that I’m leaving and told me he’s sad even though I gave him a huge box of papers, pens and pencils, and presents last night. While cleaning my room today, a feeding frenzy broke out over the rest of my toiletries even though I was trying to finish everything up before having my things attacked. It was a weird feeling to have my things picked over while I was still around.

Many PCVs give their families some extra money so everyone can enjoy a nice feast their last night. I didn’t do that because I was interested to see what happened. I didn’t expect my family to do anything different and they didn’t and for some reason I’m still sad about it. I bought a cake and ice cream which we enjoyed after a very underwhelming dinner. I’m not sure what I expected my last night to be, but I don’t think it was this. Everyone is talking about my imminent departure and that it will be sad, but I don’t necessarily believe it. Jeenaba and I had a moment today when I was really able to thank her for everything and try to explain how much her friendship means to me. We both teared up a little bit and I gave her my contact information in case she ever really needs anything and some money for Abdou. I hope things go well for her and Abdou.

It’s now the end of the night and I’m ready to go to bed for the very last time in the bungalow. I can’t believe my service is over. I’m still in shock that I made it and that I’m going home. Tomorrow morning I have to say goodbye to my family, which I’m sure will be extremely hard even though today wasn’t the best day. Then it’s off to Dakar with Katherine and Jackie where the festivities will really start.

Friday, July 15, 2011

And They Continue, The Goodbyes

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The goal was to get everything done this morning and hang out all afternoon. I was far too ambitious. After talking to Matt, I left the house and went to Orange to close my internet account since I don’t know when Stacy is going to move in and she’s not here to switch the bill into her name. Shockingly, working with Orange was an incredibly frustrating experience where I had to write a handwritten request to the President of Orange requesting that he be so nice as to let me close my account. I threw a semi-controlled fit about there being no customer service and that I’ve been paying for the internet for the last month, but I’m only allowed to use Gmail. Orange was not impressed, but I left with a closed account and some satisfaction that I wrote a very mean note to the President, which I’m sure he’ll never read. Then I was off to Les Delices so I could use all of the internet before heading over to Kerry’s house to say goodbye and to pick up some pictures he took of me while we taught Junior Achievement.

I planned to say two goodbyes this morning; the guys at the post office and Dioss, but Dioss was busy so I headed to the post office. For the past couple of months I’ve been really annoyed with the post office guys and I didn’t really want to do goodbyes even though I knew I should. The reasons why I don’t enjoy sitting there like I did became instantly apparent. The first thing they tell me is that I’m cheating them out of money because another PCV is going to use my box. And we’re off to a good start! We had an infuriatingly circular conversation about post office box etiquette with them telling me that they would give me the slip for the other PCV’s package, but they wouldn’t be so nice the second time. At this point I wanted to scream and run away, but it got better.

Ever since it became painfully evident that Pathe, one of the guys actually wants me to be his wife and is apparently head over heels in love with me , things have been awkward. Everyone else eggs him on and it makes things uncomfortable. On top of this we had to get into a discussion about how I should stay longer because who really would want to ever leave Senegal. This was accompanied with one of the men telling me that he doesn’t even want to visit the United States and would never want to live there and doesn’t understand why anyone else would ever want to live there. I know that this shouldn’t get under my skin, but I spend so much time being culturally sensitive and singing Senegal’s praises that it’s really annoying. Especially when everyone knows I’m going home and I’m excited about it. The guys claim we’re friends and that’s not how they would treat one of their Senegalese friends.

Going to say a final goodbye at the post office was not satisfying. I wish it had been because for the first year of my service we really did have good conversations and I really enjoyed going there. The whole interaction left a bad taste in my mouth. As I was leaving they told me about another PCV, Rebecca, who they claimed was a friend to them just like me. Apparently, she never called them when she got back Stateside. Everyone made it abundantly clear that they wouldn’t call me or email me, but I’m a bad person if I don’t contact them. A lot of interactions in Senegal are obvious white lies. You say you’ll do something that you obviously won’t do and no one expects you to do it. You say anything to save face and not embarrass the second party. I’m sad that those relationships ended as they did because now I have no interest in making any effort to contact the guys at the post office.

This afternoon I went to see Dioss. Fortunately the episode at the post office had hardened me a little bit after the emotional chaos that was saying goodbye to Mme. Ly. Dioss and his business partner Issa as well as several members of the boy posse were at the atelier. We spent a lovely afternoon talking while Dioss made tea. It was far less emotional than yesterday. Dioss wanted to talk about the immediate future while Mme. Ly dwelled on super emotional topics like our past work together, how she thinks of me as a daughter and the distant future when I’ll bring my husband and children (obviously the girl is named after her) back to Senegal for a visit. Mme. Ly indulged my nostalgia and my sadness, Dioss did not.

Dioss is still obsessed with his catalog and is very excited about some of the ideas Nancy had when I took her to meet him. I hope that Nancy can lay down the law with Dioss and he can make real progress with his business. When it came to say goodbye Dioss kept it short and sweet. I was sad and had to fight back tears, but I held it in and when he said that he’d email me I actually believed him. I was able to choke out a few sentences thanking him for working with me, being my friend, and letting me hang out with the incredible people he’s friends with (Dioss, the Ly family, and Dioss’ friends are the only people in Senegal I’ve ever seen read a book that is not a textbook)I really hope we can keep up a correspondence; I’m interested to see what he does.

We shook with our left hands, hugged, and I walked away.

The other goodbye today was to my home for the past two years. I start disassembling my room today. Damn, it’s really freaking dirty. Moving furniture here creates a repulsive dust storm. My goal today was to get everything packed up, which I pretty much did, and tomorrow I’ll do the heavy duty cleaning. I was surprised how unemotional packing up is. None of my clothes are coming home with me. I have a bunch of souvenirs, my electronics, and all of the letters that everyone has written me over the past two years. Taking down all of the pictures I’ve hung up, the Michigan flag and the banner reminding me “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions,” brought a huge sense of accomplishment. I’m moving on up in the world. My first solo, big girl “apartment” is soon to be a thing of the past and I’m looking forward to a big upgrade.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Before coming to Senegal I scoured the internet for blogs written by people in relationships. I wasn’t all that successful and what I did find was not encouraging. Even before joining, if you’re honest, Peace Corps asks you to fill out a fairly detailed questionnaire concerning the romantic relationship and how it will or will not affect your service. I also spoke with one of my sorority sisters who started serving in Tanzania a year before I started my service. She relayed the grave news that only one relationship in her stage survived the first year of service. Having a significant other Stateside is fairly taboo within Peace Corps.

In my stage of 56 people there were 15 people in a relationship when we started. 5 couples have made it the two years. I should qualify this by saying that 5 couples have remained at that same level of commitment without any hiccups, or at least none that I know of. My stage quickly acquired a not so nice nickname because so many of us started out in relationships. For some reason there is a stigma against having someone back home. It supposedly lessens your experience. Keeping one foot in America makes you a lesser volunteer. I definitely garnered a reputation during PST as the crazy girl who got up to Skype at 6am. Ah, the glories of the west coast. But, at this point, I think I can say that I’m not defined by my relationship within the Peace Corps community. It’s taken as a fact along with my Thiesty region-ness and people know I’m not a wet blanket, which I think is the concern.

In my opinion, my relationship didn’t hinder my Peace Corps service; it enhanced it. Being able to share what you really think with someone you care about and who won’t judge youis nice. It also gives you perspective and an outlet from the groupthink that Peace Corps can sometimes be. What I do know about the other relationships that made it is that we all talk every day. Skype will be your best friend and a third party in the relationship. There were differences among the relationships. Some had significant others in school which made visits easier and longer. Others had significant others who are working. A demanding job Stateside can definitely act as a distraction, but I think it’s easier for the person who is a PCV. We’re always having new experiences and have ridiculous things happen to us. Definitely expect to carry conversation. It’s also important to have the same expectations of what the relationship is and where it’s at. Many relationships met their demise because people weren't communicating when they were talking. Visiting is a must, the ability to countdown a necessity. I would also recommend that your significant other visit you as late as makes sense into your service when your language skills and cultural understanding are at their best. Sorry if this sounds preachy.

Today is my anniversary with Matt. He has been unbelievable. He didn’t cave when I asked him to tell me to come home during PST and he was the voice of reason when my mom and I had whipped me into a frenzy. We had several fabulous vacations not least of which was his trip to Senegal where he was a champ. He deserves a ton of credit for putting up with all of my shenanigans and coming along for the ride. Matt, I cannot thank you enough for everything.

Not only have I seen and experienced change in my relationship with Matt, but with all of my relationships. I have been overwhelmed with the amount of support I’ve received. There were the usual suspects who have always been and continue to be awesome and there were the friends from high school who came out of the woodwork to donate to our girls’ camp. I’ve been able to reconnect with some friends over email, gchat, and Skype who I had lost touch with or didn’t feel as close to anymore, but there have also been the friends who have become more distant. My family has also been fantastic. I’ve always had a close family, but their letters, packages, and fun when I went home at Christmas was above and beyond. I’ve also enjoyed connecting with my aunt through her class and experiencing Senegal with her through her students. I’m excited to see how all of these relationships progress once I’m back in the States and back in action.

The most surprising and rewarding relationships over the past two years have been with my Peace Corps friends. I would not be writing this post if not for Tamar. There’s absolutely no way I would have made it through PST without her. My girls know every single mundane and fantastical detail of my life since August 13th 2009 and I wouldn't have it any other way. My friends have gotten me through the dark times and really made Peace Corps a fantastic experience. There are people like Katherine who I would have been friends with anywhere at any point in my life and there are also the people who I would have never been friends with if not for Peace Corps. Peace Corps has definitely taught me not to read a book by it's cover and that you might as well jump on and enjoy the ride.

Huge shout out to Jackie, Katherine, and Tamar for everything they've done and for all of the good times ahead.

And So They Begin, The Goodbyes

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Katherine, Mme. Ly, and me at our last time at Mme. Ly's stand in Thies.
Photo Credit: Jackie

Leaving Senegal correctly has been something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I want to say goodbye properly and thank everyone who needs thanking. A couple of days ago an idea popped into my head and then seeing Christine yesterday finalized it. I had to go to Tivaouane to see my PST host family. When I told my friends yesterday they thought I was crazy and even this morning I was on the fence, but the seed was planted and I knew that I would feel like a terrible person if I didn’t go, so I went. It absolutely poured this morning so I let myself sleep in a little bit and left for the garage as soon as the deluge ended. I used my sweet Obama golf sized umbrella to shield me from the rain.

At the garage I started kicking myself for letting the thought of going to Tivaouane get into my head. Tamar’s text messages let me know that she thought I had lost my mind. I ate breakfast waiting for the car to fill up with passengers and then bought a ton of cookies and other fun things out of the car window as gifts for my family. The monsoon like rain we got this morning made the scene exactly that of PST. It was hot as hell, muggy, unbearable. And I was headed to Tivaouane, very fitting.
Tivaouane greeted me as if nothing had changed. The streets were mud with a faint scent of urine, people instantaneously started to harass me, and I felt the feeling of dread I felt every time going back to site during PST. Christine deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for finishing up her two years in Tivaouane. There’s absolutely no way I could have done it. It’s a long walk from the garage to my family’s house in the center of town so I had a lot of time to reminisce while I side stepped mud, motos, and mean children.

My family was definitely surprised to see me. Only the girls were home. My mom was overjoyed. She was so happy. Binta and Kyte seemed pleased especially when I produced all of the cookies, but they did not look good. The house looked even more decrepit than when I lived there and the girls seemed to know that they are never going to leave Tivaouane. They seemed sad and didn’t look physically healthy. Binta took me to see my brother Aly, the youngest child and the host sibling I was closest to. He now works at a small boutique that sells mixed tapes. He was definitely excited to see me and we caught up for a few minutes before exchanging contact information so we can friend each other on Facebook. Aly has had to drop out of school to help support the family because my host father’s pension isn’t enough.

Talking to my mom was sad. The girls couldn’t believe that two years had passed. They couldn’t believe it in a sad way. Their lives really hadn’t changed at all and I had already finished my service. When we started to say goodbye my mom started crying so I obviously started crying. It’s sad to say goodbye and not be able to help these people who helped me so much. Who took me into their home and tried to help me learn a language and about a culture so different from mine while being infinitely patient with all of my mistakes and faux pas. On my ride back to Thiès I thought a lot about why my mom cried. She was definitely genuinely happy to see me, but she also recognizes that I’m going home and back to a place of opportunity. She’s devastated that Aly couldn’t finish school and knows that I want to return to university. Even though she doesn’t speak French and has never really left Tivaouane she knows that better things are out there wherever there is and I think she was sad for her family.
Even though what I just wrote is really depressing, I’m very happy that I went to Tivaouane. It provided the full circle/ closure that I’ve been trying to achieve. I also think that my family really appreciated it. My coming showed that I hadn’t forgotten their kindness and generosity. I left with a skirt, a dried gourd, and two little bracelets. The family Ba in Tivaouane are really, really, really nice people.

Back in Thiès I hung out with the family while waiting for lunch. This mainly involved playing with Abdou and two spoons. He is such a happy baby and some fun and unconditional love is exactly what I needed. Ahmed and I also continued to take pictures.

This afternoon I went to see Mme. Ly and Khady. I hadn’t planned on saying goodbye to them until at least tomorrow, but because of the rain they didn’t go to their outdoor booth and where therefore at home – the perfect opportunity to say goodbye. It was terrible.

Khady and Mme. Ly were sitting under a shade structure watching TV on a mat and I joined them. Mme. Ly immediately pulled me to her and put my head on her lap like a little girl. She stroked my head for two hours as the three of us talked. They had a lot more questions about the United States. More than they’d ever asked me. They wanted to know if I could go to the market and buy fruit and vegetables, in what kind of house my family lived, and most poignantly how far away my Peace Corps friends live from me. Mme. Ly had a lovely image of the Peace Corps family continuing once we got home. That everyone lived close enough that we could see each other all the time and talk about our friends in Senegal and our experiences over the past two years. She was absolutely appalled that Katherine and I will be separated by a country that is many times the width of Senegal.

Once the other family members who I don’t know as well started to come home, I started making signs of leaving. Mme. Ly wanted some last pictures which I was more than happy to take. Major shout out to Matt again because I’ve been taking the Polaroid with me everywhere I go so that the person/ people I’m saying goodbye to can have a picture of us – instantly. The entire Ly family was pretty pumped about the instant camera and we got some really nice shots for them as well as some on my camera.

Cuddling and having my head rubbed for such a long time had lulled me into a calm state, but as soon as the time came to say goodbye I started to lose it. I couldn’t help it. Mme. Ly and Khady have made my service. They were so open to working with me, being my friends, and they opened their home to me. They’ve come so far and I know that they want to go so much further. Mme. Ly and Khady would be amazing people in any culture, in any country. Their drive, determination, and willingness to put themselves out there is almost non-existent in Senegal. They are really special people.

By the time we had given each other left handed handshakes (this signifies an improper goodbye and that the traveler must return again) everyone was in tears. Khady had to turn around and run into the house. I had to put sunglasses on, but children still ran by myself side asking why the toubab was crying. I hope that I was able to express how much Khady and Mme. Ly mean to me and how much they’ve helped me and how much they mean to me. They made my service a success and I will remember them and their kindness forever.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dakar Region Pride

Before the Thiest girls took the Dakar region by storm, it was a sad, sad region. Most other PCVs mock us because we have amenities and the region has never been very close because the Dakar regional house is used by all of the volunteers in country. Well, that has all changed now and it's honestly one of the things I'm most proud about in regards to my Peace Corps service. I love that we all get together in Thies for lunch, we have beach weekends together, work on joint projects, and all really get along and genuinely like each other. In hopes of continuing the tradition and the WAIST domination of the Dakar region, Katherine and I with help from a first year PCV named Sarah have been working on a Dakar region getaway day for the newbies for the past couple of weeks.

The events started this morning when everyone leaving from Thies was supposed to meet at the garage at 9:30am. Katherine, Stanzi (KO's replacement) and April arrived super early and everyone else arrived at very degrees of lateness. This was an omen of what was to come with transportation. While we were waiting for everyone to arrive and while eating an egg sandwich I bargained to rent out two sept-places for our trip to Mbour. Everything was all set. Well, we ended up waiting over an hour for the last person to arrive and once she did my deal was apparently not good anymore. Working with my new friend at the garage I switched my focus and bargained for a bus, which we all climbed into, waited for, and then were forced to climb out of because of politics in the garage. Over an hour after we were supposed to leave we finally, actually left and began an insanely slow trip to Mbour where everyone from the Petit Cote was already waiting for us at Warang.

I've written about Warang before and it never disappoints. Since all of their liquors are seasonal there's always new flavors which adds to the experience. The owners are super nice and put extra bottles in the freezer just like I'd asked! Needless to say we converted another generation of PCVs into Warang lovers. This was everyone's first chance to mingle and talk. The trainees were excited to tell each other about their demyst experiences, my stage was happy for another wonderful afternoon together, and everyone had the opportunity to meet the Ag and Health/EE PCVs that they might not have met before. It was a very inter stage and sector event, which made it even more fun. From Warang we all hitch hiked back into town to go to Kassoumaye, the amazing pizza restaurant that I went to with Matt.

Kassoumaye, undoubtedly, has the best pizza in the country and I've been talking it up for months. Unfortunately, I found out a while ago that their pizza oven is broken. I'm not sure how a brick pizza oven can be broken, but, alas, it is. The owners were incredibly gracious in working with us and had an amazing menu planned. Everyone had a salad, pasta, fruit salad for dessert and glass of wine. I thought that there were going to be plates of carbonara and plates of bolognaise and that, since we're Peace Corps Volunteers, everyone would eat off each other's plates and get a taste of each. The people at Kassoumaye are geniuses and put pasta in the middle of the plate with a scoop of each sauce on either side. Perfection. At lunch everyone had the opportunity to mingle some more and everyone stood up to introduce themselves and give their favorite fact about Senegal.

I think everyone had an amazing day. I know I did. Getting everyone together for a day is a lot of work and I spent a lot of time yelling at men working in garages, but it was totally worth it and a ton of fun. Today really offered me the retrospective/ full circle feeling that I've been missing out on. Seeing all of the trainees enthusiasm, reliving the excitement and newness of it all through them was great. I can't believe it's been two years and how far I've come. I can't wait to stalk the blogs of all the new PCVs to see what they do.

We're back in Thies now after another terribly long travel experience. I have to say goodbye to April before I leave the center for the night which is going to be terrible. It's my first real goodbye. Tomorrow starts my Thies goodbyes. I''m kind of numb to the fact that I'm leaving and in total disbelief that I'm going to be home in less than a week. For good. Now, I have to make sure that I not only leave, but that I leave properly and I'm really dreading saying goodbye.

There are a bunch of new pictures up in the "It's the End of the World As We Know It" album.

Baby Khady

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Awa’s baby had her baby naming ceremony this morning. Obviously no one told me that the naming was happening this morning, but I guessed when I saw a bunch of old men walking into our house. I sat with most of the women in my family in the entryway to the house watching the ceremony unfold in the living room. Khady is the baby’s godmother and namesake and held the baby sitting in the middle of a circle formed by all of the men. The men took turns whispering prayers and the baby’s name, Khady, into her ear before blessing her and finishing the ceremony. It was pretty cool to watch especially since the actual baptism will take place on Saturday after I leave Thiès. After the ceremony I held Awa for the first time. She’s not a very cute baby which is unfortunate and seems to be in a really bad mood the vast majority of the time. Definitely a departure from the happy-go-lucky Abdou.

From my house I went to the center to pick up Nancy for the day and to talk to Awa about my rent situation. I’m finally at peace with the situation and really do believe it was a misunderstanding, or at least a situation where it is highly plausible that there was a misunderstanding. Awa obviously had an Ah-ha moment when I gave her the past two years of rent receipts that I have. Apparently, most people in Senegal pay their rent on the first of the month for the previous month. Therefore, when I paid July’s rent, which was half the normal amount since I’m leaving, she thought that I had only paid half for June and was going to run out on July. While this is still fairly annoying because it’s still all coming down to money in my last week of service when I’m supposed to be reveling in my accomplishment and spending time with the people who made it so memorable, it does make sense in a nonsensical Senegalese way. The person who installed me two years ago was supposed to explain this procedure and didn’t, but I know that most of my friends pay their rent American style on the first of the month for that month. I understand that my host mom is fairly money grubbing and a penny pincher. I see this behavior inside my household and with her own children so I’m attempting to remain more calm than I was. I’m satisfied that the situation has been resolved, my mom’s actual intentions and whether or not she’s happy are no longer my concerns, and that it looks like a first year PCV is going to move into my house.

Nancy and I were supposed to go see Dioss in the morning, but when I called to confirm our little date he was obviously somewhere else so Nancy and I chatted at the center until meeting up with Kerry for lunch. After lunch Dioss was back at home so we went to visit. It’s going to be really hard to say goodbye to Dioss and I started choking up almost immediately before I forbid him from talking about anything to do with our projects together or me leaving.

I think he and Nancy could have a great partnership. The large shipment of his association’s catalogues are supposed to arrive in early fall and he wants Nancy to help him set up a little party and publicity event. He also showed us the documentary that Pauline and friends, the French students who were here last year, created. It’s actually pretty good and I found it wildly entertaining since I know almost everyone in it. Nancy was already several steps ahead of Dioss and suggesting editing the video down further so that it’s facebook and youtube accessible as well as putting the full length video on his website. Dioss is so close to getting everything right he just needs someone to connect the dots and I think Nancy will really be able to help him do that. Nancy not only has her amazing experience in Kenya as a PCV, where she also worked with artisans, to draw on but she’s worked for giant retail corporations in the States like Nike, Reebok, and Ralph Lauren. I’m really excited that someone as experienced and full of ideas as Nancy is will be taking over my projects. All of my friends are demisting PCVs who are in our age range and who are outwardly excited, enthusiastic, and wide-eyed at the accomplishments of their anciens, PCVs before them. I’m not really getting that experience since Nancy already understands Peace Corps and the lay of the land, but I hope that means she’ll be able to jump into her projects right away. Madame Ly and Dioss and the artisan reseau at large are poised to make real progress in the next two years and I’m excited because I think Nancy will really be able to help them with that.

Nancy and I spent a couple of hours with Dioss. I’m always so relaxed after leaving Dioss’ atelier. It really is a nice place and has been an oasis throughout my service. Looking through his art, new and old, is always fun and I picked out a few more things to take home and give as gifts. If you want anything you have until Thursday morning to email me! That’s when I have to say goodbye to Dioss. Ugh.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with my family. They were in fine form as usual. I owe a very delayed shout out to Matt for sending me one last package full of Polaroid film. My entire family, but especially Ahmed are OBSESSED with the Polaroid camera. Everyone clamors to have their picture taken when it comes out. There was general outrage when Ahmed took a picture of our sleeping dog, Mischa, and when he accidentally took a picture of the floor. But, in all honesty, the rest of my family isn’t too much better at taking pictures and Ahmed loves it so much. I gave him a Thomas the Tank Engine Pez dispenser at the same time (cleaning out my room) so he was pretty much in heaven. I have a couple of really cute pictures which I will post as soon as I can.

The topic of my impending departure is pervasive at home and it’s really sad. Ahmed isn’t talking about it, but he definitely knows if he doesn’t quite understand. It’s going to be really, really, really sad and I wish I could provide some lasting help to Jeenaba and Abdou, but that’s very difficult to do. In the meantime, I’m trying to snap as many pictures as possible, watch as many terrible soap operas as the power outages permit, and soak it all in.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Going With The Flow

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Yesterday I came back to my house after a night out at chicken dibi and Pamanda’s with my friends and it was like nothing ever happened. I used all of my knowledge of Senegalese culture I've accumulated after two years to show absolutely no emotion and to pretend that nothing had happened. If there's one thing I absolutely cannot deal with, it's passive aggressive behavior so this was a huge test of willpower and patience. Everyone in my family also pretended that nothing had happened and welcomed me home after a long day with open arms. My mom acted normal, Khady wanted to know where I got my necklace (a Mme. Ly creation bien sur), and Jeenaba handed me a tired and grouchy Abdou. They asked about my day and had already been told that my replacement, because she is slightly older, didn't want to share a bed with me and would be staying at the center during de-myst (and until we figure everything out).

What's more miraculous than the relative calm I returned to (which actually wasn't that surprising since being direct isn't a part of Senegalese culture), is that we had a new addition to the family and utilities! Awa had a little baby girl earlier this week while I was in Dakar. The big news with the family was that Ziabata and his immediate family (Ziabata is actually a cousin) paid for Awa to stay in the hospital for two days after the birth. This was big, BIG news and Jeenaba was clearly jealous. They've been telling everyone about the hospital stay it seems to be more exciting news than the reason why Awa is in the hospital... the child. Anyway, the baby is a girl and wont have a name until it is baptized next week. She isn't nearly as cute and chubby as Abdou was, but I also haven't spent a lot of time with her.

The other big news is that the water is back! After three months the spigot in our compound is finally full of water. It's amazing. Everyone is super excited about it and we've been filling everything in sight for fear that the water will turn off as suddenly as it appeared, but so far so good. We actually have RUNNING water. The water doesn't come on just in the middle of the night for 30 minutes; it's on all the time. Or at least it's been on for the last 36 hours, which makes it the longest stretch of my service. Obviously this is happening after I have a fight with my family about how much I pay/ if I actually paid and after I told Peace Corps that I never have electricity of water. Fingers crossed I will live in the lap of luxury for the next 5 1/2 days.

This morning I met up with Nancy, my replacement, to start her tour of Thies and my work partners. We went to the post office to meet everyone there, put her name on the box, and I gave her my key. From there we went on a little tour of all the boring administrative places in Thies. Where to get your residency card renewed, they mayor's office, and all of the banks. From there we went to see Mme. Ly.

Madame Ly immediately set us to work putting out of all the bracelets on the table. It was past 11am and she was just getting started, go figure. It was a good first taste of Mme. Ly's style for Nancy and she did get to look at everything up close. Nancy worked with artisans on product development and marketing while she was a PCV in Kenya so she has a great background, a lot of experience, and some great ideas to not only help Mme. Ly, but also the artisan association at large. I'm really excited to see what happens! In the meantime the association is still going strong. Madame Ly is going to make the second connection between artisans and buy a bunch of leather bracelets from Aly's leather worker, Demba, in Mboror.

After spending some time with Mme. Ly, we had a nice lunch and then hung out and escaped the afternoon heat in the relative cool of the center. I spent the night at home with my family just hanging out.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This morning I was frantically trying to clean my room, shower, and get to the center in time for a session Katherine and I were doing on the Best Game when my mom pulled me aside. I was literally telling Jeenaba that I wouldn’t be home for lunch or dinner when my mom told me that I needed to tell Awa, the head of Peace Corps home stays, that she wanted to talk to her. I thought this was an odd request since I’ve been able to handle everything else on my own for the past two years so I asked her about it. My mom said it had something to do with money. I assumed the issue stemmed from me only paying her half of the usual amount for July. I paid full rent and then halved the food, water, and electricity amounts since I’m actually only at site for 8 days in July. We’ve been through this several times and she’s not happy about it, but I don’t feel the need to give more than I already give. I pay an absolutely ridiculous amount of money (practically the entire bill) for water and electricity – utilities we never have.

As I pressed for further information on what my mom was unhappy about the problem became even murkier. I really have no idea what she wanted other than more money from me. At first I thought the problem was the prorated July rent, then it seemed like she was accusing me of not paying anything for June when I have a receipt with her signature on it in my room for the month of June, and finally she just insulted me by saying that I didn’t understand the problem and needed someone to explain it to me in English. I understand that this is a very Senegalese way of dealing with a problem – avoidance – but it has been an absolutely heartbreaking day.

Completely unsure of what happened at home, what the problem was, and feeling terrible about the entire situation I collapsed in Awa’s office at the center and told my story. It’s heartbreaking because I’m being reminded just 8 days before I leave for good that I really am a tenant, a paycheck. All of the nice things I’ve done with my family, all of the time we’ve spent together, and all of the money I have already given them isn’t enough. They want more. At the very least this is how my host mom feels or how she chooses to express it. I hope that Jeenaba, Khady, Ahmed, and baby Abdou feel differently. I hope that I have made a positive impact on their lives that isn’t purely financial. I always knew that money wasn’t far from the surface and was the most important part of our relationship, but I wish that I hadn’t been reminded of that fact at the very end – it just leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. It’s sad.

What makes all of this that much harder is the effect it will have on my family who I have lived with and loved for two years. While I will be replaced by a volunteer in Thiès who will continue working with my work partners such as Mme. Ly and Dioss, the volunteer will not live with my family. The money situation has become too much and the utilities too poor to put anyone there.

Today was supposed to be an incredibly exciting day. Today was site reveal. When all of the trainees finally find out where they’ll be living for the next two years of their lives. I was excited to welcome all of the new Thiès region trainees into the family and ready to tell Nancy, my replacement, about her wonderful host family. I have truly loved living with the Gaye family. They have, for the most part, been absolutely wonderful. I’ve definitely had my frustrations and even money issues before, but this blatant extortion plan is just too much. Awa was kind enough to go to my house and try to solve the problem. Apparently, my mom doesn’t think I paid her for July even though I have a receipt. Supposedly it was all a big misunderstanding and that’s what I’m going to attempt to pretend actually happened so I can enjoy my last week at site. Everything should be smoothed over when I bring all of the receipts to Peace Corps on Monday.

This episode is in stark contrast to another interaction I had today. Jackie, Katherine, and I went out for lunch today and swung by Mme. Ly’s stand because Jackie had part of an order she still needed to pick up. It was the last time that Jackie and especially Katherine since she worked with all of the artisans was going to see Mme. Ly. I seriously love this woman. Madame Ly is a saint and such a good friend. She was distraught that Katherine is leaving and I think we all teared up. Mme. Ly wished us all loving husbands, a bunch of kids, and full lives while smothering us with kisses and forcing us to pick presents of her jewelry. I’ve given Mme. Ly nothing except for my time and friendship (alright, alright I’ve also bought a boat load of jewelry!) and she is much more effusive than my family. In my already heightened emotional state it’s too much to have my family saying how much they’ll miss me and how we’re all going to cry next week and then demand more money or insinuate that I haven’t paid them enough.

Today should still be an exciting day though! Nancy is going to be my replacement in Thiès. She is an older PCV who already completed a service in Kenya in the early 2000s. She has an amazing retail background and worked with artisans in Kenya. Nancy is going to be able to do amazing things for Mme. Ly, Dioss, and the artisan network at large! I can’t wait to introduce her to everyone. My night should improve since I organized a huge chicken dibi outing! Most of the trainees and most of the PCVs from my stage are in town and we’re going to celebrate a little and get to know our replacements!

COS Complete

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

The COS process is over! It’s official! On July 18th I will become a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and board a plane to come home to the United States of America. Katherine and I have been busy the past few days wrapping things up in the office and doing all of our last minute shopping in Dakar.

The Close of Service process was relatively painless. Past PCVs have really complained about how hard the process is, but it didn’t seem too bad to me. Katherine and I had both written our COS reports in advance which definitely made things less stressful and we were the only two people COSing this week. Checking off each box on the massive COS checklist was at the same time exciting, gratifying and numbing. It’s so strange that I’m the person COSing and a PCV who I’ve looked up to for the past couple of years. I’m so excited to come home, but I’m dreading saying goodbye and I’m still in shock that the time has actually come.

In-between medical appointments, exit interviews, and waiting for signatures, Katherine and I did find the time to get some additional shopping in. The two of us were in charge of getting the Dakar region’s COS bracelets. Silver ID bracelets are very popular in Senegal and it’s a Dakar region tradition that all of the COS-ers get a bracelet with their Senegalese name. It took several trips to the market and we had very little hope that all of the names would come out correctly and written on the correct bracelet, but Senegal offered us up a little miracle and the bracelets all look fantastic!

We also went to Marche Kermel which is a pretty touristy antiques market to get some last minute souvenirs for Katherine. At Christmastime I had picked up some excellent gifts for some of my male friends: pornographic bottle openers. They are amazing. The bottle openers are supposedly bronze, very sturdy, and are fairly graphic. They’re great. Anyway, Katherine and I are walking through the market trying to find and bargain for these items when one of the all time great Alyssa-isms pops out of my mouth. While waving a large, bronze penis bottle opener in my hand I proceed to tell the vendor who is quoting us a ridiculous price that “If you want to sell this bottle opener then 3000CFA is a good price. If you don’t want to sell this bottle opener then 11000CFA is a good price.” Needless to say Katherine got her souvenir.
Note for all future PCVs: If you ever find yourself in a market in a heated bargaining argument over a bronze penis you know it’s time to go home!
With souvenirs, bracelets, and a completed checklist Katherine and I said goodbye to everyone at the Peace Corps office and headed back to Thiès for the last time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Word To My Sponors

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Before time really starts to slip away I want to thank everyone who has helped me, encouraged me, and kept up with my story for the past two years. Here is a non-exhaustive list in no particular order...

The United States of America
Thank you for the chance to serve in the Peace Corps. I hope I did you proud.

The United States Postal Service
Thank you for creating flat rate boxes. Without flat rate boxes my mother may or may not have gone insane and me and my friends would have had to suffer through holidays that did not feature boxed wine, sausage, nacho cheese and the myriad of other delicacies that have been shipped across the Atlantic.

Thank you Skype for allowing me to have panic attacks and fits of joy communicating with my loved ones at home while not paying exorbitant fees. Your amazing unlimited call plan is just fantastic. I will miss the sound of the program starting up at 5:55 in the morning.

Thank you Gmail for offering HTML for slow connections as well as google chat without you Google, I would not have been able to communicate with my friends and family nearly as much!

McKeown Family New Yorker Subscription
Thank you for the years of New Yorker magazines accompanied with bags of pistachios! Without the McKeown family subscription I would have been much more bored at meetings and PCVs throughout the country wouldn't have had nearly as many magazines nor nearly as an enjoyable of a time traveling through the country. I am sure that years down the road PCVs will be reading your New Yorkers and be very happy that they traveled all the way to Africa for their reading pleasure.

Thank you Shirley for all of the cards. I need to count just how many cards there are because it's a truly impressive number. Your cards always put a smile on my face. Thank you so much.

Thank you CJ for coming all the way to Senegal and having enough sibling love not to pretend that Senegal isn't exactly the nicest place in the world. Your disbelief more at me for staying here than in my living conditions was very refreshing! I will always have great memories of our trip to the waterfall in Kedougou even if you were a little bitch pretending you were sick while we were in Thies.

The Pirate Bay
Thank you The Pirate Bay for providing me with limitless torrents to make time move just a little bit faster. My completely worthless and trivial knowledge of Top Chef, Grey's Anatomy, 16 & Pregnant, The Amazing Race, and other terrible shows would not be the same without you. Hopefully I will be less socially awkward and be less unaware of American pop culture when I return to the motherland because of you.

Thank you for listening to my insanity at all hours of the day, coming to visit, and showing your infinite patience and levelheadedness. Ready or not here I come!

Peace Corps Senegal
Thank you Peace Corps Senegal for allowing me to serve even though it was hard for myriad reasons at different times. Thank you most of all for the free calling plan among PCVs. Without free calling I would have had to spend even more money on credit and much less time scheming with Katherine, talking about food with Tamar, and gossiping with Jackie.

Clif Family Products
Thank you Clif Bars for creating the life sustaining product that is Crunchy Peanut Butter. I seriously think Clif should have some sort of partnership with Peace Corps because we love your products.

My Family
Thank you to my entire family for all of your support, emails, Skype calls, and packages. Can't wait to see everyone when I get home!

Thank you SpaceX for allowing me to send my online shopping purchases to you. Very discrete.

My Friends
Thank you to all of my wonderful friends who sent me email updates, spent countless hours on gchat with me, sent me letters and packages, and made the time to hang out while I was at home over Christmas. You are the best and I can't wait to see all you!

Thank you JCrew for allowing me unlimited window browsing and many, many pairs of sale cargo pants.

Mom and Dad
Thank you for everything.

Pamanda's Hummus Plate
Thank you Pamanda's hummus plate for being you.

Thank you for hosting me.

My Peace Corps Friends
Thank you to all of the PCVs who served with me in Senegal. You are all amazing. Without you I would have ET'ed without a doubt. I'm sure we'll be lifelong friends and will annoy our significant others and friends for years to come as we wax nostalgic about Peace Corps. See you all at unofficial WAIST!

Blog Readers
Thank you to all of my blog readers. I stalked you through Google Analytics and I appreciate your time and all of your comments. Thank you for all of your support. The support has been overwhelming.

This list of thank yous is by no means exhaustive and is only supposed to thank all of you for everything you've done for me. Every email, post on my blog, letter, package, phone call and text were incredibly special to me. You've kept me going and knowing that people at home are thinking about me and interested in my life here in Senegal makes a world of difference.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Poked and Prodded

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Let the COSing begin! My COS and DOS reports (the main pieces of paperwork I owe Peace Corps in order to leave the country) have been done for a couple of weeks now, but that is truly only the beginning. Leaving Peace Corps is almost as tedious and requires almost as much paperwork as the application process. Katherine and I must complete all of our COS (close of service) work this week so we can de-myst our replacements and then spend our final days with our Senegalese family and friends before party plane-ing it back to the motherland.

During our COS conference a few weeks ago we were given a giant packet of papers as well as a several page long checklist to help us keep track of and complete everything we have to do. The race started this morning. Immediately upon arriving at the office we check in with the medical office who tell us we have a few hours to wait so I run to turn in all of my bike equipement and have that signed off on. Instead of reveling in the air conditioning and wifi space that is the PCV lounge I ran off to the bank (twice since I had to come back because I forgot my passport!) and Katherine waited for Med.

Oh, the Senegalese banking system. Jackie was already waiting impatiently at the bank when I arrived. She had made the ridiculous mistake of pulling a number and waiting to be called when all she had to do was talk to someone at a desk who had to send an email to someone else in order to close our accounts. Obviously. Luckily for me, Jackie had the not waiting part all figured out and we had the man behind the desk email the accountant to finalize everything in our accounts so we could close them. Do not ask me why they man behind the desk, who had full access to all of our account information, was powerless to do anything except wait for this other person to email him. Two hours of waiting, people watching, exasperated eye rolls, and several bouts of annoyed questioning later the mystery man emailed the guy at the desk back and we started the process of closing our accounts.

Banks in the US like when people open savings accounts, not so in Senegal! It’s no wonder that people don’t have bank accounts. I know all about the frustrations of opening an account from when I helped Dioss open one so we could work on the exporting his cards to America. I had no idea that closing an account could be even more frustrating, confusing, and counterintuitive. By the time all of this was over I owed the bank almost 60USD. That’s because they did me the great honor of giving me the exact amount of money left in my account, fees for having kept a bank account open for two years, and having the temerity to actually close it which cost a whopping 40USD. Very, very, very annoying.

The poking and prodding had just begun because it was time for my medical appointment. The Med office is currently overrun with people who are sick and might be medically separated from the Peace Corps which is really unfortunate, but I appear to be healthy and my appointment didn’t take too long. An eye exam, physical, blood drawn… and other things you don’t want to hear about…

From Med it was more running around, more signatures, searching for Peace Corps staff members and trying to make the rest of the week as easy as possible for myself. That was until Katherine and I headed downtown to for lunch before going to see the dentist. As you can see from this post, trying to leave Senegal involves a lot of running around. I’m very happy to be doing all of this before the very end so my last few days of full of family and friends instead of Peace Corps bureaucracy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Birthday America

Before joining Peace Corps, I loved America. American history, politics, and the US itself fascinated me. Now, after living abroad for two years, my patriotism has reached new and fanatical levels. The United States of America is the best country on Earth.

We woke up this morning in Toubab Diallaw in order to celebrate another great birthday. Tamar turned 26 two days ago and American turned 235 today. What a week. Unfortunately, Senegal wasn’t about to give us a free pass to Dakar in order to let us start the celebration early. Even with stomachs full of delicious crepes we still arrived in Dakar famished and ready for more American style food since the 35 kilometer drive from Toubab Diallaw to Dakar took us almost three hours.

After quick showers and shoving as many clothes as we possibly could into the washing machine at the regional house, we packed into two cabs and headed off to the American Club. Most of the PCVs in country are down in Kedougou celebrating the 4th like we did last year, but in order to COS, de-myst my replacement, and be ready to leave when I wanted to it was impossible to travel all the way down to Kedougou so I’m in Dakar. The American Club was up to its patriotic best with a spread including hamburgers, fries, salad, grilled chicken, and fruit salad. I went for the hamburger which was made decidedly less American when the waitress slapped a fried egg on top of it before I could protest, but delicious nonetheless.

The American Club also provided entertainment. Very strange entertainment to say the least. There were Senegalese clowns for the children to play with and Jackie and Tamar were on this side of absolutely terrified. The clowns did acrobatic tricks, had marionettes, and did little skits for the kids. We were also all entertained especially when the clowns pulled April into the circle and forced her to perform tricks with them (see pictures). Regardless of creepy clowns, the American Club was a great stop. It provided exactly what we wanted: grilled hamburgers, gaudy 4th of July decorations, beer, and the national anthem played over terrible speakers. But, we didn’t let the fun end there…

Off to downtown Dakar we went to participate in another one of mine and America’s favorite pastimes: shopping. I cannot wait to go shopping. The thought of a trashy American mall (or a super nice one for that matter) makes my heart skip a beat. Sandaga, the main Dakar market, wasn’t exactly the fix I was craving but it had to do. The main purpose was to secure COS bracelets for the PCVs in my stage in the Dakar region. That was a fail, but Katherine, April, and I did find an amazing necklace/ bead store. The three of us fed off of each other’s almost manic shopping frenzy energy and had an amazing time working with the flamboyantly gay salesman. The store was a great find and Katherine and I continue to corrupt April (a first year PCV in our region) on artisanal products. We may or may not have made several additional stops as we wound our way out of the market. Shopping expedition success.

Still on our shopping high we rushed to NiceCream, which is the best ice cream place in Dakar. The mission: Obama Cookie. Obviously there is a flavor of ice cream named after Obama and obviously it is delicious and the perfect treat on the 4th of July. Obama Cookie ice cream is chocolate ice cream (duh) with cookies that I describe as Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies without the mint. It’s really good. Our 4th of July food triumphs do not end here! Another cab ride returned us to the regional house where we proceeded to whip up some Velveeta Mac & Cheese courtesy of Jo Ellen.

What is the most perfect way in the world to end such a representative of America 4th of July? It would be watching The American President on someone’s laptop surrounded by your friends who have been working on giving each other 235 high fives throughout the day to celebrate America!

God Bless America.

Toubab Diallaw

Sunday, July 3, 2011

There is Peace Corps lore, propagated by Thomas Wheat, about Toubab Diallaw – a beach town just south of Dakar. The main attractions of Toubab Diallaw are not the picturesque beaches, the quaint village, or the lovely water, but rather the crepe restaurant and the pizza restaurant. Seriously. We ate a lot of crepes.

Friday morning after frantically packing, by shoving as much food and boxed wine into my bag as possible, I met Katherine, April, and Jackie at a small garage in Thiès to rent a car. Bethany, a response PCV living in Thiès, and three of her friends met us and the eight of us piled into a 6 person van that absolutely reeked of urine and off we went! A super short trip later we arrived in Toubab Diallaw.

Toubab Diallow is a real Senegalese village and it’s also a beachy resort destination. Both Dakaroise (wealthy Senegalese from the big city) and foreign tourists voyage to Dakar which makes for some weird bedfellows. Our hotel was really nice. It’s dormitory style, but we had our own room and our own beds. The bathrooms were communal. While I loved the hotel and thought it was great, especially for the price, it was a strange, strange place. The hotel looked like a medieval castle that Senegal threw up on. It was made of a million different materials, featured drum circles, dance circles, and lots and lots of study abroad American kids who were loving the “cultural integration.” It was a great place…and it was only a few steps away from the crepe restaurant.

The big crew from Thiès arrived before the birthday girl, Tamar, and Brian met us in Toubab Diallaw. Once we were all reunited the only thing we could talk about was crepes. Chez Baby is located right on the beach and is run by Sierra Leoneans who speak English and who make crepes. Unfortunately, it took two hours to finally get our crepe lunch order, but it was totally worth it. The crepes were big, thick, and filled with delicious treats. I had a chicken, potato, and onion crepe. It was awesome. Next up was lounging on the beach and swimming in the ocean before we had to take showers and start thinking about our next meal. The pizza was delicious and very romantic since we had to eat by candle light as it rained.

Sunday morning we were back, bright and early, at the crepe restaurant for round two. Round three happened Sunday morning when we went back for breakfast again! Our Toubab Diallaw weekend was supposed to be a fantastic 26th birthday celebration for Tamar as well as our last little getaway before we all return back to the United States of America. The weekend, shockingly, revolved around food and lounging. The beach was really beautiful and the water was warm and we had fun playing in the waves. It was also nice to lay in lounge chairs and read a book in peace.

Sunday night’s dinner was AMAZING. Having already eaten crepes several times and not being completely enthused with the pizza, we decided to go to the restaurant right next to the crepe place. The woman running the restaurant immediately noticed the necklaces Jackie was wearing – a Madame Ly creation – and asked her where she got it. It turns out that this woman knows Mme. Ly and she was super excited for us to eat at her restaurant. Because we know Mme. Ly, the woman gave us the option to order the “special” plate that she makes for all of her friends. A “special” plate is usually a tossup. We thought there was a 50-50 chance that it would be good so we went for it. We were all so happy that we did because it turned out to be a giant platter of perfectly cooked fish, grilled chicken, salad, coleslaw, and fries. It was heaven especially when paired with a cheap bottle of wine on the beach at sunset.

A great time was had by all. I definitely needed to get out of Thiès so the trip was a welcome relief and it was really fun to spend a lazy beach weekend with my friends. It’s amazing how little time we have left so I’m happy we have a few more pictures and a few more good laughs!