Friday, August 28, 2009
Everything is OK here in Senegal. I’m going to class everyday and trying to improve my Wolof and hanging out with my family and reading a lot. I finished my first book The Starter Wife which is appropriately trashy to keep me going.
I did want to pause to comment on a Senegalese fashion trend I definitely zant to bring back to the US and that is fanny pack necklaces. Yes my friends people wear mini fanny packs here around their necks to carry their money around. I’m talking black leather fanny packs with gold zippers. I cant help but smile every time I see them. I thought this fashion phenomenon was women only but I saw a man spôrting the look today and just about died.
I’m starting to get into a routine here which is good but which is also rather dull. My family isnt as social as other peoples so we dont have as many visitors. I am starting to fit in better though as my language improves and I become more comfortable with mu surroundings which unfortunately includes being rained on last night as my ceiling dripped because of the storm. I woke up put a cup on my bed with a towel around and slept at the foot of the bed spooning the cup and towel so I wouldnt get wet. Oh Senegal!
I really apprecite everyones emails and keep sending questions so I have something to talk about.
Have a great weekend. We have a half day of class Sunday so check back then. No pictures until I get back to the training center. Sorry!
And Happy Birthday again to everyone!
Leigh, I’m slightly worried about you getting older since I had to re,ind you in the Nordstrom Rack that you zere turning 23 and not 22! I zish ze could hit up that zeird pub in East to celebrate! Happy Birthday!
Another day in the village. Nothing too exciting happened today except that I young boy came up to me and I was already steeling myself not to get angry when he called me a toubab and asked me for money, but instead he came up and told me in French that I was the most beautiful toubab he’d ever seen. While this was incredibly nice, it was also impossible since I’m pretty sure it was the hottest day today since I’ve been in Senegal and sitting under a tree, not moving, and fanning myself produced a constant stream of sweat. Yeah, it’s disgusting. I can’t wait to take my night time shower.
I think my Wolof is progressing pretty well except that there is one boy in the class holding everyone else up which is pretty frustrating. I really like my teacher though. She’s hilarious and tries to make class interesting. We are also finding out a lot more about her. She lives in Thies and seems fairly well off. I’ve only seen the outside of her house, which looks run down like everyone else’s but she has a refrigerator and eats beef and chicken and vegetables. I wish my home stay was with her! Both she and her husband work for Peace Corps. It is not too uncommon for women to work outside the home if they are well educated although most women are too busy having/ taking care of babies to work. Birth control is not a common practice in Senegal. Usey also speaks some English, but we conduct our class in French.
Since I don’t have too much to report, I’ll get back to the questions.
Mom Question #2: What is it like in Senegal during Ramadan.
Over 90% of the people in Senegal are Muslim so Ramadan drastically changes the pace of life for the month. The home stay village is also very religious so my insight might be a little skewed. During Ramadan Muslims fast from sun up to sun down or, more specifically, they have breakfast after the first prayer which is around 5am and then fast all day until after the 4th prayer which is around 8pm. Muslims pray five times a day although it is not necessary to go to the mosque five times a day people usually just go on Friday afternoons. My dad has been going to the mosque every morning, but doing the rest of his prayers at home. Ramadan actually makes the work a little easier for my sister since she doesn’t have to make a big lunch, only food for me. But, she does make a small break the fast snack at about 7:30 before we have a big dinner around 10pm. In general people move even slower during Ramadan because they are irritable and hungry. You can’t really blame them. It doesn’t really impact my daily life since stores are still open and my schedule continues at its normal pace. My teacher, Usey, isn’t fasting because she’s breastfeeding so there’s no difference there either.
Matt Question #2: What does the sky look like in Senegal
The night sky in Senegal is one of my favorite things about being here. It’s breathtaking since there are no lights obstructing the view. There are millions of stars and they’re really bright. Since we sit outside all the time it’s really cool to eat under the beautiful stars and the moon. I explained to my family that there are too many lights to really appreciate the night sky in the US. They didn’t really get it and kept telling me that the sky was the same no matter where you were. I think they might have got it by the end. There are also HUGE bats here, which fly around at night and are terrifying. I just have to keep telling myself they’re eating all the bugs.
Matt Question #3: What are the hairstyles in Senegal?
Hair, at least for women, is art here. A lot of women have very elaborate braids that go into pony tails and wrap around and are really intricate, others wear it up in a tight bun all the time, and some women do attempt to straighten their hair and have more American-ish styles. Many older women wear a traditional head wrap so their hair is totally hidden. Men usually have really short buzz cuts. The men don’t really differ too much.
Well, sorry for the fairly uninteresting post. Nothing much happens in the village.
First Happy 23rd Birthday Lindsay. I zish I zas there to celebrate with you even though last year you tried to take advantage of me. I bet you are happy I’m not there to buy you a delicious Camo Ice. Have a gret one.
The Peace Corps finally gave us our phones. Yay! I really shouldn’t be too upset about just getting a phone because they Peace Corps bought it and got us a sweet deal that we can call all other PC numbers for free, but it was still miserable being in the village the first time without a phone and it’s amazing, coming from the States, how naked you feel without a phone. Anyway, everyone should call me now for a little chat. It’s not that expensive to call me on Skype and all of my incoming calls are free! 221-77-330-48-40. Hit me up.
Today, I feel like I might have made a mental breakthrough with being in Senegal, but who knows. Nothing really happened to create that shift, except getting the phones, so it could just be a phone high, but the past couple of days we have been seeing presentations from PC volunteers about their projects and some are pretty cool. Here are some examples of projects that I could be doing in the future:
1. EcoTourism: A guy is putting together a huge tourism brochure on his region. It’s awesome, full of pictures, hotel descriptions, things to do, places to eat etc. He got the project funded by an NGO and he even has French travel firms involved to show the brochure to potential European tourists.
2. IT Development/ Computer Training: One very lucky volunteer worked with the One Laptop Per Child campaign and got computers for an entire elementary school where he has wired internet and is teaching children and teachers to use computers. He also partnered with an American company to create a program so the teachers can control all the computers and the kids wont be able to surf the internet/ have to pay attention to the lessons. He also helped a man start a computer repair business.
3. Artisan Exports: Many volunteers work with Senegalese artisans to either export beautiful baskets, clothing, and wood work to Europe, the US, or other parts of Senegal. The volunteers help the artisans with basic accounting, long term planning, smoothing demand, and have even created a bi-annual artisan market in Dakar which generates huge profits for these entrepreneurs.
There are many other projects going on. These are just a few. I also got some questions sent in (by my mom and Matt, so everyone else better step it up) that I will start answering tonight since I don’t have anything really interesting to report. Wait, except that my legs are completely covered in bug bites and it’s disgusting. Until you come to Africa you haven’t seen bugs. They are huge, incredibly resilient, and give huge bites. My smallest ones are about the size of quarters and they burn and itch. Awesome. Anyway, back to the questions.
Mom Question #1: What are the gender roles in your family?
Short Answer: Girls do everything
Answer: My sisters clean the house, do the laundry, cook all the meals, do all the shopping, and are constantly moving all day. My dad is 71 years old and is a retired police man so I think he has a pension that my family lives off of because he does not work and lays on a mat most of the day fanning himself listening to French radio, which is interesting since my mom really doesn’t understand French (I’m pretty sure she’s the only illiterate person in the family) and fans herself all day. While my dad may be bringing home the bacon, my mom keeps all the money and constantly counts it. At least 4-5 times a day and she gives my sisters just enough to buy the one item they are going to the market for. They don’t go to the market and buy the rice, bread, fish, and onions we need all at once. They will make many trips throughout the day and buy one item. I wonder if it’s to combat their boredom? My brothers spend their days watching television and walking around town talking to their friends. Currently school is out so they have a lot of time, but boys don’t help out more around the house during school. They pretty much get a free pass while the girls work their asses off. I really admire my sisters. They work hard and are still really friendly and have dreams.
Matt Question #1: What are the cars like in Senegal?
Well Matt, there are Audis here! Yay! Most cars are what many Americans would call luxury cars except that they are totally decrepit and barely functioning. The brand with the greatest market share is definitely Mercedes. Most taxis, a lot of cars, and Alhamdallilahs (which in Arabic means “praised be to god”) are all Mercedes. Alhamdallilahs are huge Mercedes raper vans that are filled with people and then their luggage is precariously stacked on top. PCs say they are appropriately named since if you use one, actually get to your destination, and are alive you should praise god. There are also a lot of VWs, Audis and Peugeots, but they are all super old, really banged up, and barely functioning. I had my first taxi ride a few days ago and it was terrifying both because I thought the car was going to fall apart and Senegalese drivers are insane. Especially since they are sharing the road with horse drawn carriages called charretts, kids, animals, and mountains of trash.
I hope those were good answers to your questions and I will continue tomorrow. Send more questions in so I have something to write about!
And I just realized something horrible. It’s Ramadan so my family is having some special foods like bissap juice which is delicious but expensive. I just told my sister I loved it and asked if she made it, which she did. DEATH!!!!!!!!!!!! AHHH!!!!!!!!!! Yeah, that means she made juice from water out of the tap. Water, which if I want to drink it I need to purify and then bleach. So, I could be screwed aka up all night voming into a shit hole in the ground. Literally. I’m very, very afraid right now. If I am alive tomorrow and have not puked up all of my bodily organs I will write again. Wish me luck!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Now, back to reality (my reality) of Senegal…
Today was a good day. Although I woke up completely freaking out and questioning everything I had worked through last night, I calmed back down throughout the day and I’m feeling pretty good about life right now. The major anxiety issue, currently, is going back to my home stay tomorrow evening. I will be returning to the same village and the same family I was with last week. I will be staying with them most of the time until I swear in as a volunteer in October. I will be commuting back and forth between my home stay and the training center. Tomorrow we are going to the village for 14 days, which is our longest stretch and which is really scary since we will be eating the same thing every day, conducting our lives in the French/ Wolof mixture du jour, and probably getting really sick since I have not experienced that thus far. Staying with the family isn’t easy. It’s not like being an exchange student in France. The family is not a Western family with Western values and a Western education level.
I do not think that I have adequately described and painted a true picture of Africa. I don’t know what I was thinking when I set off on this ridiculous adventure, but I was shocked when I got here and I’m shocked/ horrified on a pretty daily basis. I think I thought Africa was going to be a poorer, crappier version of Eastern Europe, but that’s just not the case. Africa is a whole different planet. The level of poverty and just dirt cannot be seen through pictures or even described in my posts. The resiliency and happiness of the Senegalese is therefore wonderfully surprising. The live in a place infested with flies (I can not get used to the flies, they kill me), mosquitoes, rolling blackouts, squat toilets and trash heaps along the street, but they are content with their lives. Yeah, everyone wants to travel to the US to New York or Los Angeles, but very few people understand the United States. It’s incomprehensible that there’s running water in every room in my house, that I have an incredibly attractive Volvo parked in my driveway, that I can put my laundry into a machine and walk away and it will get done, and that I can pretty much have whatever I want whenever I want it.
The changes in material possessions is not the hard part in moving to Africa. I don’t really miss anything that I’ve left behind at home (except the wonderful people who read and comment on my blog), it’s the transition to the slower pace of life. I’m already getting used to the heat, looking disgusting constantly, being continuously bitten by bugs/ being itchy, but I can’t get over sitting under a tree all day fanning myself. I don’t understand how my African mom can sit under a tree all day, not talking to anyone fanning herself. Talking with the other volunteers, this seems to be the hardest cultural aspect to adapt to. A leisurely paced life is never anything that I have aspired to. I ate dinner with a couple volunteers who have been in country for a long time and they made me feel better saying that you can stay as busy as you want to. One girl has only been here a year and has read 103 books. Damn. I am definitely planning on reading and studying a lot more at the home stay this time. I hope adding more activities to sitting under a tree with satisfy both my family’s need for fanning and sitting and my need for some cerebral stimulation.
I will be in the village for the next two weeks. I’m sure it’s going to be a huge challenge and that I’m probably going to hate a lot of it. I just hope that I can start to see the good and the rewarding aspects of service before I really freak out. I did find an internet café or two in my town so I will be updating my blog though less frequently than here. Please send me any questions you have because it will give me something to talk about other than language class, sitting under a tree, and a PC fav… GI issues.
Wish me luck while in the village and please write me emails and check my blog. You have no idea how wonderful it is to get news from home. I promise to respond as soon as I can. You get extra points and a blog shout of for letters. I will also keep track of who sends me the most and that person will get a special prize! So start writing now!
Monday, August 24, 2009
I just hope this throw back to the US of A/ little band-aid for my homesickness doesn't make me physically sick. Everything here is a potential GI disaster, which we learned about in full detail this afternoon at our health training. I learned the PC definition of diarrhea, which is definitely different than our definition at home.
Diarrhea: 4 liquid (not loose) stools in 24 hours. Yeah, liquid. Gross. The other things they talked about were equally, actually, much more disturbing. A lot of skin infections and now I'm paranoid that what I'm praying is razor burn is not some weird skin thin. Ah! This is why girls don't shave their legs! Another note about health... you know you're a PC volunteer when you go into the health office and get a shot and leave without knowing what it was for. No idea. I just know it was shot #4 and that I have a couple more tomorrow.
As for additional work information, I feel better about the discussions I was able to have today with some of the PC staff, but my fears are not totally gone and I'm still really worried about being bored and completely unfulfilled. I'm going to take it a day at a time and I'm going to try and start studying for the LSAT. I forgot the charger for my kindle the last time I was at the village so I wanted to die without reading material, but hopefully studying will help with the boredom. I just need to figure out if the little successes when I'm at my post are going to be enough not only to sustain me, but also enough to leave behind my life in the US for the next two years.
I'm making great friends here, which is making it harder to keep my dreams, work expectations, and general life, in perspective as I try to figure everything out. But, it's also great because it is impossible to do this alone.
Shout out to Lindsay and her first day of Law School. Pretty cool. I'm sure she kicked ass. I hope everyone else is living it up in the USA.
Jeenaba (yeah, that's my sweet African name)
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I made it. 6 days in the village without internet, without a phone, and without a lot of toilet paper and I am alive. While I thought the conditions were going to be the thing that killed me, and the heat nearly has, it's actually the Africa time and the boredom that's getting to me. I'm slowly coming accustomed to waking up drenched in sweat and chocking down the rice and fish that I eat every day. What I'm dealing with is desire, passion, and goals.
The agriculture people get to see immediate results with their gardens, but the SED people may not ever see two companies merge or a grant come through and I don't know if talking to villagers and being a good example of an American are fulfilling enough for me. Even during the home stays right now the Ag people can work and tend to their gardens. I'm really bored and don't really have anything to do. I want to make sure the work is challenging and interesting. I want to make an impact and use the skills I died for at Ross.
The other challenging part of the home stay was what I thought I was getting into and what actually happened. I don't know what I thought Africa was going to be, but the poverty, ignorance of the outside world, and just general malaise is unnerving and takes a lot to get used to. I know that I can become used to the conditions, but do I want to? Do I want to give up everything I had in the states and live in a village, especially if I don't love my work?
I'm happy to be back in Thies. I'm happy to have the internet and be in communication with everyone. I need to find out if Peace Corps can make me happy. I hope it does. Hopefully, I will find out tomorrow.
Sorry for the lame post. More tomorrow.
It is impossible to wear clothes more than once here/ attempt to get through a whole day in one outfit because you sweat so much and smell so incredibly bad. And, you know for me not to want to be around myself is a big deal. It was laundry day chez ma famille so I took part. All the women in the family have to wash all day to get it done. When I did my laundry at the training center, it was a sad, sad excuse, but all I really wanted was for my clothes to smell like soap and not sweat. Here each woman has three buckets because it’s necessary to wash the clothes twice in soapy water and then one to rinse. The women here are amazing at it. I was doing it wrong for an hour with people laughing at me before my mom helped. My knuckles are raw because of it. It’s very important to use the knuckles of your right hand to scrub the clothes on the palm of your left hand. Who knew? I thought you just pressed start on the machine.
I took the laundry opportunity to discuss gender roles with my family since that’s one of PC’s goals. It didn’t go over well. I told the men in my family that men in the US did their own laundry to which my dad responded that they are not real men. He also went on to say that I was terrible at doing laundry and that he couldn’t believe I had a boyfriend since I would make a terrible wife. It seems my fast wit, US citizenship, and ability to look ravishing while squatting over a bucket sweating my ass off aren’t enough to compensate for my poor laundry skills.
Today was also the start of Ramadan, which really has no implications on me except that Muslims can’t sing, dance, play music, or… beat drums. Thank god, I will get some sleep and maybe even without earplugs. While everyone in my family is fasting, my sister did make me lunch which she forced me to eat all of so when in the evening I had to eat both a break fast meal as well as dinner I wasn’t hungry. This only exacerbated the “you don’t eat problem.” I’m excited to go back to Thies tomorrow just to go out to a restaurant. While I’m not craving anything specific, I am craving something that is not rice and fish. You can only eat rice and fish so many days in a row.
I’m definitely still struggling with my service. Is it going to be fulfilling. Volunteers always say you need to be satisfied with letting the Senegalese know American’s are not evil. While it’s incredibly difficult to remain positive when walking down the street with people screaming derogatory slurs at you and then asking for money it’s also really fun when my brother asks me why everyone in the US robs banks. I had to explain that it’s just in the movies. It’s impossible to explain the riches of the US to people here. All my brother wants to do is be a pilot, but he can’t get into college because my family doesn’t have enough money to pay off the corrupt officials who control the entrance exam. He can’t fathom that Matt works for an aerospace company. My sister who wants to be a fashion designer is obsessed with my GAP skirt and no one can comprehend the ease with which Americans glide through everyday life. It’s a struggle every day here and a lot of the time I wish I could jump in my Volvo and go to an air conditioned Trader Joes for some vegetables.
Today, was just another day at the home stay. Nothing too exciting happened other than I walked into my room and there was a bird. I hate birds. My little brother came in, caught it by the leg, and let it go outside. He had obviously done it before. In other animal related news, I have a huge, what I assume to be a spider, bite on my ass. It sucks. It itches. And it looks like an animal’s paw. Sorry if this was TMI.
Class is class. It goes pretty slowly, but so does the time when I’m not in class. I would love to know what people think about all day as they lounge on their mats. I know I think about the heat, air conditioning, salad, and when I get a change of scenery and get to go back to the training center. Without cell phones and without knowing our way around town it’s hard to meet the other trainees that are here. Today at least we sat together after class for a little bit, but being at home gets pretty boring. I can only practice Wolof for so long. Both my patience and the patience of my family wears thin.
I really don’t have too much to report so I’ll leave it at that.
First, I would like to wish Matt a very special birthday. I wish I could be there to celebrate, drink some booze, and lounge in some LA air conditioning. I love you. Happy birthday.
Now on to news from Senegal. This afternoon was possibly the hottest I have ever been in my life. It was difficult to walk the half mile from where my class is held back home. I had to take a bucket shower afterward just to cool down. Because of the heat, my class ended 30 minutes early and we reconvened an hour later than usual. The weather rules life here. It’s also the reason why people pass their days fanning themselves under trees. While I admit it is very difficult to get up and be productive in such oppressive heat, I am missing a defined schedule and things to do. I get out of class at around 6 and then there really isn’t too much to do other than practice Wolof for the next 5-6 hours before I try to go to bed. My family is a bunch of night owls and they don’t go to bed until at least 1. Most nights I don’t fall asleep until then because of the heat, noise, and general craziness around me.
Today was kind of a nothing day for me. Africa time and the slow pace here is really starting to get to me. I’m definitely used to a fast paced lifestyle and getting things done quickly. It’s just impossible here. I’m struggling with whether I’ll be able to cope with the Peace Corps definition of success, which is introducing Senegalese to Americans, showing them we are not bad people, and potentially helping their business practices. I wish that the emphasis was more on the business… hard to believe I know, but I’m craving some concrete numbers.
I really don’t have too much to report since class is pretty similar every day. I’m getting really close to the other PC girl here. She’s great and by far the best French speaker of the bunch. The boys are ok too.
I can’t believe I’ve only been in Senegal a week. I’m already craving the wifi we left behind at the training center and some vegetables. I’ve been eating fish and rice at every meal.
Time for bed. God love earplugs.
My second full day at my home stay has been just as challenging as the first. While my family continues to help me with my Wolof/ laugh uproariously when I make stupid mistakes, they don’t think I’m eating enough. It is true that I’ve had very little appetite here. It could have something to do with the fact that it’s a million degrees outside, we eat the same food all the time, and in Senegal it is not good manners to drink water with your meal only after. I keep trying to tell them I don’t eat a lot in the US, but they don’t believe me so I just keep saying that my stomach is upset from the water. Oh well. I’m definitely eating enough and most of the food is actually pretty good except that everything is drenched in oil. Tonight we had eggs, onions, and fried potatoes. I think my dad would have been in heaven.
Class was fine today. It’s a lot different from what I’m used to. My first semester of Arabic was a whirlwind and the Fawz was not a nice or welcoming woman she would pace the rows, usually pick me to scream at, and she had a sixth sense about who to call on… she knew that person wouldn’t know the answer. Learning Wolof is the opposite extreme. We move very slowly and repeat everything a million times. It’s slow for me. I wish we learned more in class and were expected to practice more at home, but one boy in particular is struggling a little bit and supposedly PC knows best so I guess I’ll endure and see what happens.
The three big accomplishments of the afternoon:
1. A family friend came over and I help his baby. The baby didn’t cry at the scary toubab until all the adults tried to tell him I was scary. He was adorable, but I immediately got up to Purell my hands because all the volunteers say there is nothing worse than touching children since they are always sick themselves.
2. I went to the market with Tamar and her Senegalese sisters. We bought upukai which is a traditional Senegalese hand fan. It is absolutely impossible to live here without upukai because you can fan yourself and swat the bajillions of flies at the same time. Plus, they’re pretty and cost 45 cents max.
3. I showed my family the photo album I brought from the states. They LOVED it. All the kids are obsessed with US culture and were very interested about boy/ girl relationships, clothing, and going out. A special shout out goes to Katherine, Kristen, Jackie, and Deegs guess why? Yup, they’re all blond. You girls are the most beautiful of my friends just fyi and my Senegalese brother is looking for a green card. He likes all of you. Matt is the loser of the photo album popularity contest. They said he was ugly, which is a common non-insult/joke in Senegal. My family thinks I should find a nice Senegalese man. They asked me what Matt does and I said he works on airplanes, rockets are obviously too difficult to explain, and they didn’t believe me. They said planes come from China. Oh well.
To prove to my family that I will eat I sat with my sister as she made dinner. It was great because I got all the family gossip. The oldest sister is engaged and her fiancé was over last night. I saw him, but my mom didn’t introduce me, which I thought was weird since greetings and introductions are super important in Senegal, but Binta told me it was because her mom hates the fiancé. Binta also has a boyfriend who lives in Dakar where he attends university and plays soccer. They hope to get married and both parents like her boyfriend. Also, this is my dad’s second family. He had a wife and has three grown daughters. One of whom has a husband in the states. As in, she married this guy who lives in Atlanta with another family while she lives in Senegal. Interesting. Anyway, my Senegalese parents think Sharyl and Claude are pretty hot. Mom, my dad guessed you were 40. Good day. He’s 71, which is amazing. I wouldn’t have guessed that, but I don’t know how old my mom is. I also learned that my dad used to be a police officer, but is now retired, which makes sense since he’s way older than I thought he was and lays on the a mat outside fanning himself all day.
The more I get to know my family the more I like them. They are really nice and helpful even if they do try and force feed me. And from what I see around our house is pretty nice and extremely clean. I’m so happy they use soap.
As for the PC experience, I’m still struggling with whether I’m a good fit. Africa time is really hard for me. I just can’t understand how people don’t really do anything all day. I know I get really bored at night even after I’ve done homework, written in my journal, and watched some amazing Spanish soap operas dubbed in French. I hope when I get back to Thies and can talk to some current SED volunteers they can waylay my fears about doing nothing most of the time even though others told me to prepare for boredom.
Well, some amazing/ nonsensical American rap is absolutely blasting from the compound next to me and my family is screaming to each other in the yard and I’m sweating in my room… and that means it’s time to go to bed!
Yesterday we left the training center for our home stays and I was far too overwhelmed, emotional, and crazed to write a post. Africa breakdown #1 was in full swing as soon as we started to load the cars in Thies. First, most things here are so disorganized that they start up setting me right away. Second, I was going to meet a family, who I know nothing about, who’s language I do not speak, and who’s house could look like a scene out of National Geographic. Luckily, my village is only about 10 miles outside of Thies otherwise I would have vomited due to self-induced hysteria and car sickness. In my group of five, I was the third to be dropped off and from the looks of the two other houses I felt pretty good about my house especially the lack of four legged animals scurrying around the compound. It was all I could to do force myself to walk into the compound. I wanted to get back in the PC car and go to Dakar and get on the next plane back to the States. Terror does not adequately describe my state and cannot convey the very intense urge I had to leave and go home. Although I’m still unsure that I can really pull the PC off and survive two years of communal eating, squat peeing, and HEAT, for now, I’m glad that I’m at least attempting the home stay.
My family is incredibly nice and it is just one nuclear family living in my compound, which is a little unusual. I have a mom, a dad, a 22 year-old sister (embarrassingly I don’t know her name yet! Oops!), a 21 year old sister Binta, 18 year old brother Ammelou, 15 year old brother Ali , and a 12 year old sister Kytie. I spend the most time with the 21 year old sisted Binta who does all of the cooking and laundry, she’s my personal hero, and the 15 year old boy who has endless patience with me while I attempt to learn Wolof. I’m still learning a lot about my family and am still unclear about what my father does although I am very happy to report that my fam is health conscious for a Senegalese family because they use soap when they wash their hands before meals. This is exceedingly important since we eat out of one bowl with our hands and the mom is responsible for throwing pieces of meat and vegetables from different regions of the bowl into my area. I know it sounds incredibly gross, but you get used to it and eating together all the time is nice. It is of the utmost importance to attempt to leave the table well before you are actually full because they will make you take several more bites before you can run away!
The house is one story and concrete. There are three bedrooms, a tv room, and a small foyer/ sometimes mini kitchen. There is a kitchen room in a corner of the compound and in the opposite corner is my lovely squat toilet and concrete room where I take my bucket bath. Yes, I stand in a bucket and use a cup to splash water over myself. Does this get me clean? Sure, cleaner than I was and it gives me approximately 2 minutes of feeling cool after I get out. Heaven. On a cleanliness note. I thought it was physically impossible to smell as bad as I do after just one day. When I take my night shower I want to die being in an enclosed space with myself. It’s ridiculous. I put on deodorant whenever I can, but it doesn’t help. You literally never stop sweating here. It’s constant. I woke up this morning and could have wrung out my sheets in the bucket. It’s a great way to start your day!
Wolof classes are progressing nicely. I like that I speak Frolof, a mixture of French and Wolod, and that neither are very good. I am picking up the Wolof pretty quickly though and my family, especially Ali, is really helping. The fam and my teacher have incredible patience for poor pronunciation and sheer stupidity.
Now for the two highlights of my so far almost 36 hour home stay.
1. The town I’m currently staying in is only 10 miles from the Thies training center, which is the third largest city in Senegal. And while Thies is teaming with white, American PC trainees and volunteers, Caucasians are rare in my home stay village. A neighbor came over to use the faucet in our yard, yeah we’re pretty sweet to have running water, and she had a baby who was about nine months old. I said hello to the baby who clutched it’s mother in terror at the sight of a toubab. Toubab means foreigner or stranger, but is most commonly used as a derogatory name for white people. The baby started to scream and cry in fear to the utter amusement to all the adults present especially the mother who put the baby right next to me in order to put into further hysterics. All PC volunteers are expected to make small babies cry otherwise you really aren’t that cool. And, I am pretty intimidating.
If you have a squeamish stomach/ do not want to hear about my GI functions please skip #2
2. As I’ve mentioned before I have a squat toilet. Yesterday I forgot the lovely TP that the Peace Corps gave us to ease us Toubabs into pooping in a whole. Well today nature came calling and I realized I had left my paper gold in the PC car. Damn. I decided that it really couldn’t be that hard and that I could do it so throwing caution to the wind and, against my better judgment, not taking a piece of paper I proceeded to the concrete whole of doom. I did my business and was using the tea pot to clean up when I realized that cleaning your bum is way harder than you thought it would be and I poured water down the back of my pants so it looked like I pissed myself backwards. I attempted to hide my wet backside from my family to no avail. They were horrified and thought I was really sick. Once I convinced them I just had no idea what I was doing and that in the US we all have flushing toilets with a seemingly limitless supply of TP my sister demonstrated the proper angle. I thought that was the position I had taken, but obviously not. Regardless another trainee is bringing me an extra roll of gold. Thank god.
Those are the highlights of my first few hours. Hopefully, my Wolof will improve along with my outlook on PC Senegal. I can’t express how hard this is for me. The loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, and the overwhelming heat can really bring you down. I love when everyone comments on my blog so keep the comments coming. Post questions too and I will try and get to them.
Enjoy some porcelain goddesses at home for me!
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Washed my clothes in a bucket while Sengealese women laughed at me. That's right, this morning after breakfast and before classes began I got some soap, filled one bucket with soapy water and another bucket with clean water and I washed my clothes. I did it with a couple of my roommates and when we asked the Senegalese help the tricks to washing clothes they looked at us if we were crazy since we've never washed our clothes. They then told us to scrub hard and retired to chairs nearby to watch us and laugh and we tried to wring out our "clean" clothes before dropping them on the dirty ground as we tried to hang them on the line. Yes, I did drop multiple pairs of underwear that were "clean" because they were wrapped up with other things in my bucket. It was pretty humorous. But, I do have clothes that at least smell like soap instead of sweat although clean and dirty they were pretty stiff. It was definitely a sense of accomplishment and I'm wearing clean PJs right now, which is pretty sweet.
Another never have I ever: I have never learned a language in a second foreign language. That's right, I fortunately (unfortunately?) passed my French exam and I started learning Wolof today... in French. My class is conducted totally in French and we're learning Wolof. I'm sure it's going to be pretty intense. Wolof is also super hard to pronounce because it has created letter combinations like nd and nj and mp. Also, there are three different "n"s. Yes, there are three "n"s. Yes, they are all shaped a little different. Additionally, there are no letters g, h, q, or z. In case you were wondering how to say the traditional Wolof greeting it's: nanga def? reply: mannji firek! Cool!
Now, a little more about the class dynamics which I'm sure is what you all really want to hear about. Since we are all business volunteers in my language group you can imagine it's already heating up. Now for a RSB comparison for my Michigan readers.
Me - the fabulous Alyssa
Tamar - my roommate and good friend here who is awesome and amazing at French, she is represented at UM by a 711 girl
Boy 1 - his UM counterpart is Franklin. I'm not kidding they are twins.
Boy 2- James Birney
Boy 3 - David Rice
Need I say more? It's definitely going to get interesting. This group of five is not only my language group and fellow SED volunteers, but also the people I will be living near during my mind numbing, absolutely terrifying home stay which starts tomorrow. I'm really nervous about the home stay because I have only seen the Senegalese utopia of the training compound and the destitute city center. I have no idea what a middle class Senegalese home looks like. It's really nerve racking. I'm going to be dropped off tomorrow night at this family's compound and then I wont see anyone until I see my professor and the other four members of my group the next day for our 8-5 language session. It's going to be a restless night tonight and tomorrow for sure. I just hope the family is nice, the room is clean, and that I don't fall into the squat toilet the first time I try it out. Not to mention that here at the training center they make sure they feed us food and water that wont make us sick. That's all gone tomorrow and I know I will be sick by the time I come back to the training center on Sunday.
These feelings were all compounded by my business training today, which was annoying because a couple people dominate with ridiculous questions to hear themselves talk and a little weird since the PC creates all of their own frameworks instead of using things like Maslow's hierarchy. I just think when there are commonly excepted definitions we should use them instead of making new ones.
Anyway, sorry for the rant. It's been a long, hot, sweaty day in Senegal and I'm nervous about tomorrow. Everything is still good. The people are great for the most part and I'm really starting to make friends. My roommates are especially cool. I also got to go into town again and it was less overwhelming although I lost a fight with the fabric man about price so I didn't get any fabric for my pagne skirt yet. Let me tell you, the prints are amazing ranging from dolphin and chicken print to intricate geometric designs, which I love.
Well, this will be my last post until Sunday since I probably wont have internet in the village where I'm going. I hope everything is great in the old USA. Send me some updates on your lives while I'm out of commission. Here's to hoping for a great and exciting week and to still be in control of my bodily functions on Sunday... here's to hoping. I'll let you know! In the meantime enjoy the pictures of me washing my clothes in a bucket!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Before I start out on recapping today I have to go back to last night, which was great.
First... a confession. I had dinner with the boy from Ohio State who has a degree in accounting and who I totally judged on those two facts and facebook stalking before coming to Senegal. He's actually really nice and not dumb. I truly thought OSU students don't study and just drink wine coolers with Jim Tressel all day. He's nice and he's in SED so I'm sure we'll be pretty good friends.
Since we've been cooped up in this compound for several days now, we decided to have an impromptu talent show last night which, interestingly enough, was spurred on by boredom and not booze. I guess you have to get creative in Africa. Regardless, some people are really talented and we were entertained by two tap dancers, a guitar player, a violinist, games created from water bottles and frisbees, along with some excellent stories from currently serving volunteers about almost getting arrested by Senegalese police. Very amusing.
Now for today, which is a great day because we got to go into town, but not before we had a lot of training. In the morning the SED trainees had our first technical workshop of small business development in Senegal. What I found interesting was the already evident power plays going on among the trainees. As an alumn (finally) of RSB I find group work to be much more interesting in it's social implications than the work itself. People obviously wanted to take leadership roles and participate ad nauseum in order to become kings and queens of the island as I would like to call it. Regardless, hearing the long term goals of regional partnerships and increased funding for local projects was interesting. I'm excited to really see what people's strengths are and how competitive everything gets. For now, I'm willing to sit back, relax, and remember that I am no longer in business school and that everything will be all right.
We also learned a lot more about our home stays and we'll be leaving on Monday to live with a family for a week. It's definitely going to be intimidating and very difficult, but it will be nice to get out of the Peace Corps center and meet more people. Friday is also the start of Ramadan, which will add another layer of complexity to the home stay process, but our family's will still feed us three meals a day. We have been told not to try and fast our first Ramadan as we will have language training 8 hours a day and be in a very stressful environment. Plus, children, pregnant women, the sick, and women with their periods are forbidden to fast so we will probably have some eating partners.
This afternoon we finally had our safety training so we were finally allowed to leave the compound and go into Thies, which is pronounced Chess, and is the third largest city in Senegal. I don't know what I thought a large African city would like like, but I was completely blindsided by what I found. The streets were largely unpaved and since it rained this afternoon were pretty much just mud holes and the buildings were also surprisingly dilapidated. I was expecting there to be a real city center kind of like a European town square, but there really wasn't that type of centralization in Thies. There were several main roads that either had restaurants, the super-markets, or the out door markets. In Thies you can get pretty much whatever you want. The large grocery store had petit ecolier cookies, Nivea and Gillette products, and laughing cow cheese. The outdoor market had a wide variety of stalls. There were stalls with refrigerators and televisions, various electronics (the vendors even had iPhones!), beautiful fabrics (that I'm buying tomorrow to make into clothes), and almost anything else you could image like the latest Nike sneekers. Further down the market were the perishable goods. This section of the market was also the most shocking since most of the vendors sold out of little wooden shanties covered in tin.
While some of the conditions are a little shocking, the Senegalese people are amazing. The women are beautiful and have attitude. They strut down the streets in beautiful African prints. It's amazing. They exude confidence while carrying babies on their backs and I hope I can walk their walk and display the same love for life they do. I also want one of their awesome African print outfits. That's definitely happening in the near future.
I think that's it for now. I'm sorry my pictures aren't working. The internet here has been a little touch and go today so I will work on that when I get the chance. For now, I will post some in this post.
And just in case you were wondering, even though it rained today and is much cooler, I'm still hot and sweaty.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Food and Juice
In the food and juice segment of today's tutorial we learned about food and juice. We had white and red bissap juice, tamarind juice, ginger juice, cassava (which has a different name here which I can remember) juice, along with a few others. They were all tasty although the ginger was a bit intense. It tasted like you just drank all the ginger available at a sushi bar. I liked it, but it had a kick. We also learned how you can take the leaves from all of the local plants to make sauces and were introduced to some local vegetables like sweet potatoes which look nothing like sweet potatoes at home.
Dining and Tea
Proper meal time etiquette is very important here. Meals are served on the floor on top of a mat. Before sitting down to eat you must wash your hands (one of our jobs as volunteers is to get our families to use soap when they wash their hands because people rarely do) and take off your shoes. Then everyone sits on the floor together and as a women I will need to wrap a pagne (a two yard piece of fabric with strings)around my lower body so only my ankles show. People here either eat with their right hand (you can't eat with your left because it's unclean in Islam) or with a spoon. No one uses forks and knives. If you use your hand you are supposed ball up the rice in your hand before eating it. I will try and post a picture of the big bowls we eat out of so you get a better idea. But, there is rice all around a big bowl and then the meat, vegetables, and miscellaneous other things are in the middle. You are only supposed to take a bite sized portion of the middle items at a time and when you're done just get up and walk away from the table.
Tea is another important Senegalese pastime and can last for hours. There are three different teas that range from very sweet to incredibly sweet. The first tea is for visitors, the second for friends, and the third for family although the Senegalese will attempt to make you stay for all three courses. The tea is incredibly hot and drunk from communal cups so you have to drink it quick so other people can have their cup of tea.
Obviously everything must cover your knees and at training they don't want us to wear tank tops although all of the volunteers do at their post. During this segment we learned traditional Senegalese dress, how to wear the outfits, and the different types of beautiful fabrics that clothes can be made from. When we swear in as official volunteers in October we will wear traditional dress, but I'm definitely planning on picking up some pagne skirts once we are actually allowed outside the compound.
Water and Toilets
We received a lovely tutorial on squat toilets. Excellent. I believe that I slightly misinterpreted what "running water" means because I think it means a sink with a squat toilet, but we'll see. Now, I really understand why you can't do anything with your left hand here. There is no toilet paper so you wipe with a bucket of water and your left hand. I can't wait to start trying it out on Monday when we start our home stays. The girls also learned how to get water out of a well and carry it on our heads. Since I'm SED I will have running water so I wont have to carry it, which is good. We also had lessons on Religion and sticks as toothbrushes, which weren't as interesting.
In other news, I received shots #2 and #3 today, Typhoid and Hep A. I would like to give myself a pat on the back for not even thinking about crying although I don't feel very well from all of the drugs coursing through my veins right now. Malaria pills are not fun and I haven't even had any psychedelic dreams. Damn. I'm hoping that I will sleep better tonight as well. Last night it was hot as hell and people were having a dance party until 12:30am. Seriously, people in Senegal have spontaneous dance parties all the time. Supposedly you get used to the drums and they don't wake you up. I'm hoping for rain tonight so some of the humidity breaks. The currently serving volunteers who are here helping us with training are telling me it's not bad right now, but I'm still dieing.
Nothing too interesting to report today. We still haven't had our security lesson so we can't leave the compound and I wont be finding out which language I'll be learning until Sunday probably.
I hope everything is good at home! Enjoy your AC and lack of sticky sweat.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I'm in Africa and it's pretty surreal. We landed in Dakar at 6am after a lovely flight on South African airlines. The flight attendants actually like their jobs and they give out free booze. Awesome. I also got a little bit of sleep and woke up in time to fly over some islands off the coast of Senegal and then see all the lights of Dakar. Going through the airport was easy and then we had a two hour bus ride to the training center.
I hadn't really thought about what Senegal would look like before I got here, but I wasn't surprised at what it looked like. Pretty much everything is beige and sandy and HOT. Most of the buildings on our way to the training were only a couple of stories tall and made of cinder block. There were also a lot of abandoned buildings, although there are a ton of shanties along the road selling various items. People would also come up to the bus and try to sell us things. I also saw some US chains along the way like Western Union and some more that I'm blanking on right now. The training center looks much more lush than the area surrounding Dakar. We haven't been allowed into the town yet, but the compound has a lot of trees and plants. People are also planting gardens and it's kind of like a little oasis. I don't know if the town is as green as the PC compound, but I will probably find out tomorrow.
We arrived at training center and had a quick breakfast of French-ish bread, a imitation Neutela called chocopain, and some coffee/ tea. We were then allowed to rest and I took a quick nap and a much, much needed shower. It's a very cool day today aka 85F, but it's humid and when there's no AC relief you get really sweaty and disgusting. My face is shiny and gross and my hair is big. Boo. The showers are pretty much just a spigot upside-down. It's pretty cold, but it feels good.
In the afternoon we had lunch with was served in big bowls and we were all given spoons. It was brown rice with some vegetables, an onion paste thing which was good, and some goat. It was actually really flavorful and good. I can definitely eat it. After lunch we started all of our interviews of the day. My first interview was a language test, which went well. I'm actually a little worried I'm not going to get any French training and will be placed in the local dialect Wolof right away. I will know tomorrow. Then my health interview, which was pretty much getting malaria meds and being told to take them. Maybe I will have some crazy dreams. Finally, I had a Small Enterprise Development (SED) interview about my work placement. We talked about my skills and I was pretty blunt about my need for internet and desire for a big city. There are actually people fighting over the more rural locations. Thank god I will not get those. Ugh.
Now we are all waiting for dinner in the disco hut, which is just a round open air hut. It's still really hot and I'm still really sweaty. I will definitely be taking another shower before bed tonight.
That's pretty much what's happening in Senegal today. All the volunteers are still getting to know each other and everyone is pretty exhausted. I'm excited to snuggle up under my mosquito net and have some cracked out dreams because of my malaria meds.
I love everyone's comments so keep them coming! If you click on the picture on the right hand side you should be able to see more pics with comments. Happy reading.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Speaking of looking nice, the catastrophe I was at the airport was epic even for me. While Grand Rapids was a disaster of the emotional variety, the Detroit airport was hilarious in my inability to correctly stereotype my fellow volunteers. I'm sitting at the gate in Detroit and spot a girl wearing jeans, a recycling t-shirt, Tevas, and a traveling backpack. I approach her and introduce myself and find she's going to Seattle to go hiking and is only sitting at my gate to watch CNN on the big screen. Next, I spot a women with unshaven legs, Chacos, and a backpack, but again she was not a kindred spirit.
Stereotypes actually didn't hold up in DC when I got to meet everyone. Everyone seems nice, excited, and very interesting. I didn't really get in-depth with anyone tonight, but an 8 hour plane ride tomorrow should help that progress.
I've now been up for 18+ hours, which is exhausting when saying goodbye/ having complete emotional breakdowns including sob fests. I'm in my hotel room now preparing for my vaccines and departure tomorrow. It would be a lie to say I was not completely terrified and that there wasn't some part of me that would love to get on a plane back to Michigan, but I'm going to Africa tomorrow and that's pretty cool.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I'm going to post my packing list below so all future Peace Corps Volunteers struggling with the ridiculously outdated provided packing list can see what I think was important to bring and so all of my friends and family can laugh at how neurotic it is that I itemized each bag individually.
The next stop is Washington DC where I'll get some preliminary safety info and an armful of vaccines. I'll also get to meet my fellow volunteers, which is exciting since I've been making snap judgments of them based on their Facebook profiles until now.
Hopefully I'll have some great new people and vaccine stories tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Big Agnes Bag
· Ziplock Bags
· 1 Jeans
· Longchamp Bag
· Northface Raincoat
· 4 T-Shirts
· 2 Workout Wiking Ts
· 1 Shorts
· 1 One Piece Bathing Suit
· 1 Short Pajama
· 1 Running Pant
· 1 Khahki Skirt
· 1 Brown Dress
· 1 Black Mini Skirt for Nice Occasions
· 1 Black Skirt
· 1 Black Long Dress
· 8 Tank Tops
· 4 T-Shirt
· 1 Pink Polo
· 2 Blouses (One Flowered, One White)
· 1 Gatorade
· Peanut Butter
· Duct Tape
· 1 Sheet
· Leatherman Knife
· Solar Lantern
· 1 Converter
· 10 Underwear
· 3 Socks
· 4 Bras
· 1 Floor Length Pink Skirt
· 1 Short Sleeve Voice
· 1 Blanket
· 1 Chaco Flipflop
· 1 Maxi Dress
· 1 Pair Tennis Shoes
· 1 Ibuprofen 1000
· Soap/ Dish
· 1 Travel Sleeping Bag
· 1 Bikini
· 2 Towels
· Photo Album
· Chaco Sandals
· 1 Tylenol PM
· 11 T-Shirts
· 1 Polo
· 5 Tanks
· 1 Brown Pant
· 1 Long Pajama/ Top
· 1 Blouse
· 1 Towel
· 1 Dress
· 6 Underwear
· 4 Bras
· 2 Socks
· 1 Flat Water Bottle