Only two things worth mentioning happened before I left my home stay village: 1. My devoutly Muslim cousin from Dakar who is still staying with us was wearing a HUGE belt buckle with a hologram of Jesus on it. 2. We were actually picked up ON TIME to go back to Thies. Yay!
Once we got back to Thies I had about 30 minutes to look for my swimsuit, check my email, and update my blog. It was surprising how efficient leaving for the beach was... the even was planned by two trainees though. We rented two Alhams (buses that have bench seating without seat belts and which can barely make it up hills) to take us directly to the beach.
We made an epic booze and food run before making it to the beach, but when we finally got there I almost forgot I was still in Africa. It was absolutely beautiful (pictures are up as proof). The beach house we rented was amazing and had western toilets and a full kitchen and a huge porch and the beach was beautiful and pristine.
After eating spaghetti Senegalese style from huge platters, we all jumped in the ocean and it was spectacular. It was literally the first time in several days that I have not been sweating. The last couple of nights I have had to wrap myself in a wet towel and fan myself to sleep. The heat has been really horrible so the ocean felt awesome even though it was luke warm. The sand on the beach is like powder and there are barely any shells and the bottom of the ocean is perfectly sandy as well so we pretty much stayed out in the ocean all night. I got out of the water around 2am and some people were even later than that.
Being in the ocean, under the stars, with my new friends, having fun was one of the moments when I could step back and look around and be happy that I am in Africa. It was amazing to be in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Africa. Who gets to do that? The African night sky is awe inspiring. I have spent many hours of my home stay staring up at the infinite sky here and it was even more spectacular as I was hanging out in the ocean. While I can see how some PCs are able to just take off and enjoy being in Africa and go with the flow, I'm still concerned about getting serious work done... although I will definitely be visiting Tamar and the other eco-tourism SED volunteers at their beautiful sites!
I had hoped that being near the ocean would mean a great night's sleep with a lovely breeze blowing over me, but that was naive. This is Africa. And it's always hot in Africa. I also had to sleep on a 2 inch phone mat with my friend Katherine. While that was slightly uncomfortable, it was worse not sleeping with a mosquito net because my lower legs are a complete disaster. Oh well. Being in the water made it totally worth it.
We woke up in the morning and made pancakes and played some more in the water and walked around on the beach. It was really relaxing being away from the home stay villages and Thies. Just getting out and seeing another part of Senegal and not having any PC staff around was great. I also reveled in the fact that I just really didn't care what happened. Other people stepped up to play mom for the sick people, clean up the house, and take care of the minutia that I would usually take care of at home. Instead, I took an extended lunch in town and had an amazing omelet with fries. Sweet.
I'm happy that I had a relaxing 24 hours because the rest of the week is going to be hell. This is week is the counterpart workshop where our work partners from all over the country will be staying at the center so we can do team building things together (my favorite activities) and this means that there isn't enough room to house all of us trainees at the center. The super far away home stay people get to stay at the center. I'm 45 minutes away and we were the next people that were going to get to stay at the center, but, obviously for me, I have to make the commute every day and eat dinner with my family. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm so angry. It's so unfair and the last thing that I wanted. I plan on complaining bitterly about it to make myself feel better. I just have to push through these last 2.5 weeks and then I'll be done with the home stay village and this training hell and I can move on and make some decisions about my life here in Senegal for myself.
We only had class in the morning today which left me with plenty of time to sit under a tree with my mom this afternoon. Since I now can hold a somewhat comprehensible conversation in Wolof, my mom is a lot nicer to me and potentially even wants to talk to me sometimes. Today she was telling me about the educational system here in Senegal. From what I understood public schools, the one’s the government pays for, is only offered for seven years and the kids only go to class in the morning. These are the schools my siblings go to. My mom told me herself that they are terrible schools, but that the family doesn’t have enough money to pay for the better private schools. It was actually really, really sad because she effectively told me that it will be impossible for my brothers to ever find meaningful or well paid work. She told me all of this very matter of factly.
While I wish that my siblings could go to the best schools Senegal had to offer, I also take offense that my family thinks American’s are spoon fed and have infinite amounts of cash. I’m not going to pretend that I can comprehend what growing up here, pretty much destitute, would be like, but it does amaze me that people don’t think American’s work. Here, people are resigned to never making any money or improving their station in life. They think The American Dream, that you can be successful, is just the reality and that hard work and perseverance isn’t involved. I have definitely grown up in a privileged house hold, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t work my ass off to get into a good school and that the rest of my life will be an easy path filled with money, candy, and rainbows.
A couple nights ago when I was sitting with my youngest brother and his friends, I tried to impress upon them the fact that yes, Americans do have to work very hard to get what we want and that everyone isn’t born rich and is best friends with Rihanna. I know it’s extremely difficult for them to look at me and not think the US if a magical playground of fun, but it’s also very frustrating. It’s frustrating that they get angry when I don’t understand Wolof. Sorry, I’ve been here for 6 weeks and you don’t speak any English.
It’s also amazing to me that I walk the same route everyday and still scare and amaze small children, adolescents, and adults alike. The same people scream Toubab, toubab, TOUBAB, Toubab, toubab, TOUBAB at me every single day. Yes, I am a toubab. Yes, I say hi to you everyday. Why do you still find it amazing that I’m a toubab? It barely registers in my mind when I see a person of another race in the US so it’s really interesting to me that after 6 weeks people aren’t used to my presence.
I wish that I could convey to my family that I’m living my American Dream. That you have to get out there and make things happen for yourself. I understand that most kids here can’t even image the world beyond their village and that they don’t get the same encouragement from their parents that many kids in the US have and that they don’t have the history of the US to look at… that people have brought themselves up from nothing. To people here, everyone in the US drinks a special KoolAid and then everything’s great.
I hope when I get to my post I can find people who are motivated and have faith that hard work will accomplish something. Unfortunately, too many people here are disillusioned… Sorry for the blah post. Pictures are also updated and they are awesome!
Today we had our second language test and I think mine went fine. I can tell that my Wolof is progressing and we have another 3 weeks to improve before we swear in. To celebrate the end of the test/ to not eat ceebu jenn for lunch the five us went on a hunt for some delicious Senegalese street food. The choices in my home stay town are dibiteries, which are places that grill random meat, or restaurants which are all inevitably called Fast Food. Unfortunately our first Fast Food choice was closed and we went to our second. Again, we were disappointed because the chawarma wasn’t ready and wouldn’t be ready for another couple of hours. Typical Senegalese time delay. Nevertheless we continued ordering. I didn’t want a hamburger so I went for the sandwich as did Tamar.
Conversation: Me: What type of meat is in the sandwich? Waiter: It’s meat. Tamar: Yes, we understand it’s meat, but what type of meat? Waiter: Do you not know what meat is? Me: Yes we know what meat is. Is it goat, sheep, or cow? Waiter: It’s meat.
Tamar and I both order the sandwich which is meat (of the mystery variety…aka the best kind), onions, and French fries. It was delicious. The only problem with our little adventure was that the restaurant was so incredibly hot that sweat literally rolled off me the entire time we were there. Photographic proof of our adventure will be up shortly.
In an attempt to spend an afternoon without ceebu jenn or our families, we soldiered on in the extreme heat to the internet café. Unfortunately the awesome new internet café was closed for lunch (hours are never posted here) and we had to go to the crappy one, but my USB drive worked as did the internet browser so I can’t complain too much.
Tamar and I refused to go home so while the boys went home to nap we went to sit under our favorite baobob tree that is until some creepy old guy attempted to take Tamar into the tree for some unknown activity and we fled to our class for safety and cookies from the attached boutique.
The children that live near our classroom are the nice, not extremely rude and annoying variety that usually harass me as I walk around town so it’s fun to speak with them in Wolof since we can sound like idiots and they still have infinite patience for us. One thing that is really annoying is that everyone expects you to remember their name after one meeting. There are 50k people in my home stay town and 5 toubabs. That’s just not fair. So people we getting angry at me and Tamar for not knowing their names. And names are hard here. Most people’s name’s contain letter combinations that don’t exist in English and are incredibly hard to remember. To show the kids how hard it was for us we decided to give all the kids American names since we have Africa names. They love action movies here so we gave all the boys ridiculous names like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean Claude Van Damm and the girls names such as Tiffany, Britney, and Jessica. It was hilarious. They couldn’t say their names let alone remember them. One little boy who we randomly named Bradley was incredibly confused and whenever we said a name he didn’t understand (aka an American name) he would run over thinking that we were calling him. Adorbable. Now, I actually know all these kids by name… or at least the random American name I gave them…oh well.
Back at the house I actually engaged in some conversation with my mom as I did my homework. I may be making progress on that front, but I don’t want to get too excited.
It’s raining now, which is amazing. It was shockingly hot today. Maybe I will get some good sleep tonight!
Question of the Day Senegalese kid: Do you have clouds in the US? Me: Yes.
Today was a fairly uneventful day. In class we did a lot of boring revision because we have our second language test to mark our progress tomorrow. I know that fluidity of speech is a large component of our assessment so I decided that I was going to force interaction with my family today.
My oldest sister was my first target since she pretty much stays stationary all night cooking dinner. By the way today was actually a good food day. Although we had ceebu jenn for lunch it was good and dinner was fries and chicken smothered in the greasy onion sauce du jour. Anyway, I asked her about her boyfriend and if she was excited to go back to school next month. I’m obviously making a big effort her with my terrible Wolof, but I really own earn one word answers. I did discover that she graduated from high school in May and once my younger brothers and sisters go back to school in the fall she is going to look for a job in an atelier. She did show me some of the fabric’s she designed and dyed which were cool, but it seems like she was already resigned to not really finding a job and waiting for her boyfriend to finish school in Dakar so they can get married. Still that was major progress.
The next victim was my oldest brother who really wants to study international business in the US even though he has no desire to study here in Senegal in order to pass the BAC. Yes, there is a strange dichotomy in Senegal of wanting higher education but not wanting to work for it. People are very wary of the corruption of the system here. There is very little incentive to work hard since unemployment is so high and even educated people have trouble finding jobs. Also, the expense to go to Canada or the States to study is immense. I don’t think my family could ever afford it. Everyone talks about going to the States or western Europe to get an education and earn money. It’s everyone’s dream, but few actually attain it.
In an act of bravery by myself, I also approached my mother because I wanted to talk to her about women’s groups. I got two sentences out of her which I thought was pretty good. She isn’t part of a women’s group, but she thinks they are important. She didn’t know if a woman’s group would be interesting in having me work with them since my Wolof is bad. She’s really the nurturing and encouraging type…
I’ve really started to wonder what my mom’s life is like. She raised 5 children, is illiterate, can’t speak French, and does nothing all day. What does she think about? What does she think about me that I sit around reading and studying all the time? When you have no education and seemingly no interests why do you get up in the morning? I really can’t wrap my head around this. I wish that I could ask her what she thinks about and how her life has been, but she’s already beaten the shit out of all my siblings and I don’t want to be next!
It is part of Senegalese culture to get yourself out there and meet people. In the US when we move to a new house or new job we expect people to come greet us and make themselves available to us. It’s the exact opposite in Senegal. I am going to try to make a bigger effort to talk to my family even if it’s a one sided conversation while I talk aloud about myself and everyone ignores me. I know that PST is terrible and it sucks and it’s going to last three more weeks so I’m just trying to stay calm and roll with the punches. This strategy has lasted about the last 36 hours which has to be a record for me under any circumstances so I’m going to keep going.
The best part of my night last night was sitting with my younger brother Ali and some of his friends. It was hilarious. They were roasting peanuts and making tea and Ali said he would quiz me on some of the questions that I might get on my test tomorrow. His friends were all very excited to help the toubab American. One of the boys could not take his eyes off me. He couldn’t believe that I was from the US and here to learn Wolof. He also couldn’t believe that people in the US don’t speak French and that to live in the US it’s absolutely necessary to speak English. That blew his mind. He wanted to know all about me and was telling me how beautiful I am while the other boys competed for my attention by telling me that he was crazy and that I shouldn’t talk to him because he goes to cyber cafes to watch PORN! I’m just happy to know that boys are boys anywhere. Getting marriage proposals from people in my appropriate age range can be humorous if they are willing to banter, but being asked by 15 year olds is just too much.
Little known facts about the US: 1. There are 52 states (everyone in Senegal thinks there’s 52 states, I don’t know why) 2. French is the official language 3. Everyone is Muslim because Obama is 4. Every American personally knows Obama because he’s a great guy 5. American women are all very rich and support their husbands so they don’t have to work 6. All American girls want to get it on all the time 7. We eat ceebu jenn at every meal (they think everyone eats fish and rice for every meal all over the world) 8. American’s don’t study many subjects at school like the Senegalese…only English 9. I have been to LA therefore I know Akon, Rihanna, and Britney Spears personally 10. Jack Bauer from 24 is a real person and is friends with President Obama
At least those are facts according to 15 year old Senegalese boys…
September 24, 2009 I woke up exhausted and fairly defeated from yesterday. These feelings were only exacerbated by my mom giving me breakfast at 9am when my class starts at 9am. I’m pretty sure it was late on purpose. While a lot of my troubles here have stemmed from my family. We do have good times. I do laugh with them and talk and try to understand their lives. We just have miscommunications sometimes and my family doesn’t react with laughter or interest in my culture like the families of the other trainees do. I think that’s where a lot of my frustration lies that the other trainees aren’t having nearly the family troubles I am. My dad showed up at class today to speak with my teacher in an attempt to smooth things over so I hope things will get better since I still have 2+ weeks left in the village. I am making a concerted effort to fit in and get along. I’m very happy that my family in Thies, my permanent site, seems much more sophisticated and knowledgeable about American culture. It’s frustrating that I feel like there’s no exchange of values or knowledge at my home stay. My mom has pretty much said it’s a one way street… I need to adapt to them and she really isn’t interested in my culture.
Class is class and WWIII hasn’t broken out at my casa so I will explain a few things that people are wondering about…
My newfound marital and religious status: 1. I think I’ve explained the married thing pretty well. It’s just a lot easier to say I’m married. Sometimes men will give up at that point (they never do when it’s just a boyfriend) or at least demand my hand in marriage less times. Being married gives you some thin veil of protection even if the hubby is in the US. 2. Senegal is over 90% Muslim and many people really don’t know that much about the world outside of Senegal. There is no reason to explain that I am Jewish. First, it’s a Muslim country and I would just rather not go there. Secondly, many people do not understand that Christianity is fundamentally different from Islam so explaining Judaism would be a nightmare. During Ramadan a generic greeting is “How’s your fast?” I would always respond I’m not fasting, which would immediately spur the question “why not?” To this I would respond Christian and then about 50% of the time have to explain that Christians don’t fast during Ramadan because it’s not a Christian holiday. The Senegalese pride themselves on being very accepting. The different ethnic groups live in relative peace and Muslims, Catholics (this was a French colony after all) and anamists can live in harmony, but I don’t want to through Jew into the mix. I’m already a toubab so that’s enough weirdness for one person to handle. If you guys have any more questions please let me know.
Everyone is starting to crack a little bit under the pressure. The five of us are at our wits end. We’ve been snapping at each other and hitting a wall in our ability to retain Wolof. We need a break. Unfortunately we probably wont be getting one because the next time we go back to the center all of our Senegalese counterparts, the people we will be working with at our posts, are coming to Thies for a conference. Since my home stay village is relatively close that means we will probably be schlepping back in forth in the morning and at night. Obviously, I’m not happy, but I’m more unhappy that I don’t know for sure what’s going on. Peace Corps is absolutely terrible at logistics and it’s impossible for a Senegalese person to give us a straight answer so we’re waiting to baited breath to see what’s going on. I do know that we’ll be going back to Thies on Monday and then turning back around and going to the beach! Yay! I haven’t seen the water yet so I’m excited. I’m also excited to drink, eat, and relax. I’m not excited for the personal maintenance that’s required to go to the beach. Actually, I’m dreading it. We’ll see what happens. Sorry that was graphic…
Anyway, this post is all over the place. I’ll leave you on a preachy note since that’s the kind of mood I’m in:
Be so happy that you are American. There is no greater country in the world and if you think American bureaucracy is bad you have no idea what life is like here in Africa. Be thankful you can get things done if you want to and that your electricity works all the time and that you don’t shit in a hole. The US is a great place.
That said… see how the other half lives and come visit me in Senegal!
So, I wrote the above post at lunch thinking that I was going to go the cyber this afternoon, but that didn’t happen so here’s a rundown of my afternoon/ evening:
1. This afternoon we had our class at Byron’s house so we could have tea with his sisters and speak in Wolof. It was so fun! He sisters are vivacious and fun and interesting and the whole family welcomed us so warmly and was so excited. It was a huge contrast from my family who when I returned home barely acknowledged me. Byron’s sisters taught us how to dance Senegalese style and I have some amazing pictures of us toubabs looking like idiots to put up when I get back to the center. I had a really good time and I wish that my family was as warm and excited as Byron’s it would really make all the difference. 2. As Tamar and I were walking home from class a grown woman stopped us on the street, told me I had a beautiful dress, and proceeded to grab my crotch. Hard. I was totally taken aback and she just laughed and walked away. Tamar and I were stunned. It was not culturally appropriate nor do we understand why she did it. 3. Our family from Dakar left this evening. The little 4 year old girl I’ve been hanging out with wanted a picture of me so I let her pick one out of the photo album I brought from home. When I’ve shown Senegalese people my pictures from home they instantly fall in love with the blonds so I was surprised when she picked a picture of me and Diana. Diana, she said you were my most beautiful friend. Go you! 4. Before my family left we had a snack of those weird shrimp chips and onion sauce. Or, at least I thought it was a snack… it turns out that was dinner because I found myself sitting alone outside on a mat while the rest of my family was inside sleeping. Everyone neglected to tell me that we were going to bed early tonight. Still a win for me. 5. The heat is insane right now. Tamar has a thermometer and it was 87 degrees last night when she went to bed. Tonight seems way worse to me. I’m sitting in my room in the dark typing this and sweat is dripping down my body. I love waking up in a pool of my own sweat.
I think that’s the update. Amazing pictures will make this post way better. For now I’m going to bed when I usually eat dinner so I’m excited for an amazing night’s sleep.
Today was one of those days when you fall and then people repeatedly come by to kick you when you’re down. We still have family visiting us from Dakar until tomorrow, which is nice because it gives me someone to talk to but bad because the house is chaos. I’m immediately irritated by the fact that my breakfast, which I’m not allowed to procure for myself, is late getting ready and my mom absolutely refuses to let me walk and eat bread at the same time. I also requested my bike be brought out of the locked shed multiple times last night, but alas, my dad had left early this morning for the mosque so the bike remained locked and my best laid plans to run to the cyber during lunch dashed.
Luckily, at lunch I did stop into a boutique to buy ingredients for no bake cookies. My family thinks I’m absolutely helpless and finds it hilarious when I do housework and especially when I stir pots for dinner or the like. Unfortunately, oatmeal is not oatmeal here. It’s pretty much millet repackaged in a bag that says oatmeal.
When I get home from lunch I notice no one is cooking. Bad sign. It takes forever to make anything here and they know that I have class at 3pm every day. I remind them I have class as usual and am brushed aside… they know. At 3:20 I say that I have to leave for class. We’ve had the conversation countless times that while Senegalese people are always late and it’s not rude, it is extremely rude and disrespectful to be late in American culture. This goes in one ear and out the other and I think my mom is about to have a heart attack that I’m not going to eat lunch. So, I sit down and literally shovel the same ceebu jenn I eat every day into my mouth for a couple of minutes before I say I’m full and get up to leave. Rage ensues as everyone tells me I haven’t eaten enough, I again explain I have to go to class and get up as my phone rings. I’m trying to talk on the phone, navigate around my screaming family and make my escape only to have my bike appear and my family demand that I take it. Damn.
Bikes = trouble here. Now, I’m trying to walk with my bike and my bag as I try to talk on the phone. It’s really hard to ride bikes here since the roads are several inches deep with sand and I pass by an area with notoriously terrible little boys. They start grabbing the bike and grabbing me and trying to take the bike. I scream at them in Wolof that I’m going to get their mothers as one of their fathers sits on the sidelines in silence and watches. Then I switch to French and the I turn scary toubab and scream in English. Obviously, my phone conversation is done now and I try to bike away. I get to the mosque where the old men know me and the kids stop, but it’s just a slap in the face. People are supposedly so friendly and polite here with all their greetings and pleasantries… I just wish that I was on the receiving end of that every once and a while.
In class I completely break down again and my teacher pulls me aside. She had already planned on visiting our families this afternoon while we did a small interview in town and she promised she would help me with the timing of meals so I wouldn’t be so late to class. My family also eats dinner extremely late, so late than usually one other trainee is asleep before I eat dinner. Ah! I thought that this would be done in a culturally appropriate/ round-about way so that my family’s feelings wouldn’t be hurt, but when I returned to the compound that obviously wasn’t the case and my mom was irate and giving me the cold shoulder. I decided to press on with my no bake cookies to try and alleviate the tension. It definitely worked. Although, the cookies were a disaster. Oatmeal in the states is delicious and has big flakes. The “oatmeal” I got here was literally tiny bits of millet so the cookies didn’t really get big like they do in the states and it turned out more like a brittle. But, if you give a Senegalese person something that tastes like a ton of sugar and chocolate they are happy and the kids liked the bowl. I literally had about 20 people watching me stir this pot. Oh, another thing… I cooked it over a FIRE. Yes, we ran out of propane so I attempted to make cookies over the fire. It was hilarious and a disaster. I also did very little of the actual stirring or fire stoking since all the women in my family were appalled at my technique and just had to step in. I hope it showed my family that everything is not bad and that I am trying to integrate. Maybe I can try something else another time.
The one bright spot to my day was finding the other internet café, which is faster, cleaner, has a fan, and where all the men don’t hit on me! What a find! So I will definitely be hitting that place up a lot. Sorry if I’ve been slow responding to emails, I’m trying m best. I can’t wait until I have internet installed at my post!
Here’s to putting one foot in front of the other and a prayer for a little rain to beat the heat…
I’ve really been trying to be upbeat, positive, and social the past couple of days and for the most part it’s worked. I’ve been happier, but the knowledge that I’m going to be in Senegal for the next 2 YEARS still creeps into my head on a daily basis. Today we planned on going to the internet café after class as a reward of being with our family’s for three days straight. I wanted to post my blog and check my email and revel in a few precious minutes of JCrew, is that too much to ask? Apparently it is. I switched computers three different times at the cyber trying to get an internet window to load to no avail. I was practically in tears when I just got up and left leaving the extra time on the computer and not even demanding my money back. It was just another instance of things not working here. I had really looked forward to the simple joy of internet for 35minutes after class and I walked away disappointed.
It may seem like a really small bump along the unpaved roads of Africa, but it’s those little moments of going back to my old life that are really getting me through right now. Plus, JCrew is having a sale on cardigans and I just wanted to see what was available. I was an integral part of the cardigan crew after all.
Before my extreme disappointment at the internet café, I had an uneventful couple of hours of class. Unsurprisingly my teacher was late getting back to the home stay village from Thies and then we just talked about the last couple of days instead of learning anything new. I think my new sense of calm is partially a certain resignation to the fact that pre-service training (PST) is the worst thing in the entire world. I would rather repeat business school than repeat PST. And that’s saying something. At this point I’m putting one foot in front of the other. The best thing that happened today was that I thought it was Monday when it was actually Tuesday! Score!
Today was really uneventful. I didn’t make small children cry or vomit so I think that’s a plus…
I think I’m going to attempt to make no bake cookies for my family tomorrow. Since we have guests/ it was Korite my family busted out a secret refrigerator so I will be able to cool the cookies. I think everyone would like them since they are pretty much balls of sugar and the Senegalese LOVE sugar. I think it’s going to be a challenge finding oatmeal, but I have nothing better to do than roam the market asking stupid questions tomorrow… other than riding my bike to the further/ supposedly better internet café!
Ok, this is a lame post so I’m going to end it. I hope everyone is well back at home and that everyone is writing me some sweet letters. I realized that I only know Matt’s and my parent’s addresses since I lived in those places so if you email your address I will write you a letter. I have infinite time on my hands people and I’ve found some pretty ridiculous post cards!
Here’s to another night of sweating under my mosquito net…
I was able to sleep in a little bit, until the heat became insufferable, today and I’m feeling a lot better. Especially since two nights ago I went to bed at 2:30am. Even though I slept in I was awake before the rest of the house and was able to take a bucket bath and lounge in my room before my four year old little cousin who’s visiting for Korite busted into my room. While I finally felt rested, I couldn’t stop the crushing force of homesickness from bearing down upon me. I’ve definitely been homesick before, but this is suffocating. I feel it coming on, but I can’t do anything to stop the onset. Since I arrived in Senegal, once I’ve felt the wave of homesickness approaching I hunckered down for an absolutely miserable day. Today, for some reason, I was able to overcome my sadness and have a pretty good day.
In no small way was I able to stop the homesickness because I actually had things to do. The extended family who is visiting right now are much more social than my family. They currently live in Dakar, but the husband grew up here so his friends are always coming over to visit. Today, there were probably 15 men in the 20-30 something age range at my house for lunch. This was infinitely entertaining. All the women were preparing my favorite lunch… prison gruel…but the guys requested I stay and sit with them under the tree and receive marriage proposals. Since I was in front of my family who know I’m not married I couldn’t play the nice marriage card and had to circumnavigate marriage proposals Senegalese style.
After formal greetings Man: You are very beautiful Me: Thank you Man: Are you American? Me: Yes Man: You are a very nice girl. Are you married? Me: No, I’m not married, but I have a boyfriend/ Man: Is your boyfriend in Senegal? Me: No. He’s in the US working. Man: You need a Senegalese husband. Me: I don’t want or need a husband Man: (laughter) You would want a husband if you got to know me Me: I’m in Senegal to work Man: You are very beautiful. Will you marry me? Me: No you are too ugly (this is a socially acceptable way to decline a marriage proposal) Man: (laughter) Why wont you marry me. Me: You are too poor and stupid (also socially acceptable) Man: How can I get you to marry me? Me: You must do my laundry and cook for me (these are women’s chores in Senegal. My family/ men I meet think that my dad, CJ, and Matt are the most emasculated men in the US because I’m always trying to prove US gender equality by saying they cook, clean, and help out around the house. Senegalese men find this ridiculous and generally ask me why I’m dating a pansy. I try to explain that this is normal and expected in the US. They don’t believe me.) General laughter
This conversation in slightly different forms was repeated with multiple men in front of the rest of the group for several hours. While at first amusing I soon got bored and went to peel garlic for dinner with the women. They find it hilariously funny whenever I do house work. My mom particularly enjoys watching me sweep with the squat broom since supposedly I do it incorrectly. How many ways are there to sweet using a bundle of sticks?
Other amusing tid bits from today: 1. I made a small child puke today. A woman brought her approximately 18 month old son into our compound. He saw me and was scared and hid behind his mom. He peaked out, saw me again, and started to cry uncontrollably. He cried until he was so upset that he vomited in the middle of my family’s compound. Have you ever made some one throw up? Yeah, that’s what I though. 2. We had a snack tonight that was shrimp chips. Yes, weird. I went to see what was going on in the kitchen and my sister told me the pastel colored, quarter sized things she was throwing into oil to make tortilla chip sized were shrimp chips. Obviously, I was incredulous and asked many questions. She got annoyed and showed me the box, which did indeed have a picture of shrimp on it. I ate them. They were ok, but did taste slightly of crustaceans. Photos will be uploaded later. 3. I started reading a book that will help me study for the LSAT. It gave test taking techniques such as a. Take control of the situation b. Set realistic goals c. Focus on your strengths d. Imagine success e. Eat right Yeah, words of wisdom from all over.
The REI salesman in Denver sized me up as the Jewish American Princess that I am pretty quickly and told me that I probably wouldn’t ever use my Leatherman knife.
1. bad salesman because he was telling me not to buy something 2. FALSE
I just used my Leatherman to dice up about 25 pounds of onions. Probably not what a Leatherman is usually used for, but that’s besides the point. Yeah, we eat A LOT of onions here, but this was still a ridiculous quantity. At least we had a really good meal of chicken, pasta, and the mountain of onions I cut up. Hilarious side note about pasta: The first time we had pasta I used the French word pate and they told me it was macaron, like macaroni, so the next time we had pasta I called it macaroni, but it was spaghetti so they laughed that I didn’t know what spaghetti was. Yesterday I called it spaghetti, but it was actually vermicelli. They use the actual word for the pasta here. So, my family thinks I’m an idiot for not knowing specific kinds of pasta and they now ask me if I like each specific kind… since all pasta doesn’t taste the same when boiled so long it effectively turns into mush…
Chopping onions was pretty much the most exciting part of my day. I tried to take a nap in the afternoon since I was up watching a hair weave/ goat being slaughtered until 2:30am last night, but it’s super hot again and hasn’t rained since I got back to the home stay so there’s been no relief. I went to Tamar’s house to bitch for a bit and then Byron came over to my house which was both nice and slightly annoying since he refused to speak to me in anything except Wolof.
As for my family, their actions today made no sense to me as usual. Last night my siblings put on semi-nice clothes to sit around with their friends, but tonight they put on their best outfits to sit around and watch TV at home. My sisters literally put make up on for hours as we watched TV and didn’t do anything. Everyone was dressed up for each other I guess. I wanted to go to bed early since I was exhausted so I started to get ready at about midnight until my mom freaked out because we hadn’t had dinner yet. I thought we were just having the one huge meal we ate in the afternoon, but oh no I had to eat the leftovers at 12am. My family just cannot understand that the only thing I want to eat that late is a slice of cheesy bread from Mike at In&Out in Ann Arbor. I don’t want some greasy, cold onion pasta combo. I hate eating as late as we do here and I like eating late! Ah!
Now, for an observation I’ve been thinking about a lot. The past few days my family has dressed up for the end of Ramadan… I forgot/ didn’t even think to pack my nice sandals and make-up that are currently hiding out in the center in Thies. Random people all over will tell me I’m beautiful to illicit money or an impromptu marriage proposal/ offer of a green card from me. My appearance has never been so conspicuous, yet, it’s never mattered less. It’s weird. I look like crap every day. Sweating profusely, no make-up, wet hair in a pony tail, and my clothes are already getting stretched out from hand washing, plus being white here is kind of a big deal. People are always looking at me, studying me, and screaming toubab at me, and I never think about what I look like. Not even at the center, when surrounded by Americans, do I really think about what I look like. Although I definitely think a lot more about how I smell at the center! I don’t really find this new found lack of beauty regimen liberating nor do I think I spent too much time or put too much emphasis on appearance in the States (if I could lay in my closet and just soak in the beauty of my clothes right now I would) it’s just another thing about Africa that’s different.
Well, I hope everyone’s looking sexy back at home. I’m going to sweat it out for the night under my mosquito net.
I potentially hit my lowest point this morning after completely breaking down in my language class and starting to cry because I really didn’t want to return to my home stay village. My teacher was fairly shocked since it’s never appropriate to cry in Senegal. I really couldn’t control myself so I ended up skipping a culture class on Islam (I thought the Arabic degree covered me in the that regard) in order to lay in my bed and cry and talk on Skype. Whoever invented Skype is my favorite person in the world. Going back to the home stay village means going back to a town I don’t like, kids on my way to school who harass me, a family who rarely interacts with me, and just more uncomfortable situations. The thought of 20 more nights in this hell was just too much, too overwhelming. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Luckily, PC gave us the afternoon off and then didn’t have enough cars to take us all at once and my group had to wait for a car to return. We were supposed to leave at 5:30 obviously we left at 6:45, which was excellent by me since we got to stay on the internet while no one was around and have a good connection. I was even able to stream a little bit of the Michigan game. Go Blue! It also gave me time to collect myself, my emotions, and mentally prepare a little bit for the 10 day battle that awaited me. Eventually we heard that the car that was supposedly returning to get us broke down so we had to call someone else who finally came and then we found the broken down car along the road and had to stop and help them for a minute so there was a little chaos, but nothing you wouldn’t expect living in Africa.
The suspense of coming back to my family built as we drove along the road and climaxed as I dropped all my classmates off. I got home last. The bus driver honked so that someone would come help me with all of my stuff. No one came. So, I saddled up all my stuff and walked into the compound. No one greeted me. I tried to briefly greet people (we have extended family staying with us for Korite apparently) and then went to my room to put everything down and have a small, private pity party for myself while hyperventilating for a few minutes in solitude. With sugary dates in hand as a present I went outside to face my fate. The family was, no surprise here, playing “I want to get drunk right now, now, now” on their cells phones and I could dream how much better a Rick’s fishbowl induced liquor stupor would make my live so much easier right about now. My mom was pleased with the dates and even gave me some right away. Then I painstakingly greeted everyone I didn’t know trying to remember their names. No one seemed impressed or interested with me.
After an amazing dinner of chicken! Yay Korite! And being ignored for 2 hours my older siblings decided to go out so I invited myself along, refusing to be ignored any longer. I was exhausted so I asked how long they would be out and they responded they were just going to walk around to say hi to friends for a little bit. LIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We left at 10pm and got back at 2am. I was not pleased. We did walk around saying hi to people for a little while as I attracted young boys and insults. Then we went to a friends house and sat down and I was forced to drink bissap, tea, and orange juice although I tried to decline any drinks because my stomach is still in knots and I already had bissap and tea at home and no one ever goes to the bathroom here/ it’s weird to go at other people’s houses. My attempt at the non no Senegalese style failed royally and they pretty much pumped fluids into me as I watched someone get a hair weave and was asked about why I don’t fast for Ramadan and why I don’t want a Senegalese husband. Obviously. Once this lovely hair weave was done I thought that I would get to go home especially since I had been saying how tired I was and how happy I was to have my bed at the house back. Yeah, the Senegalese love to be subtle about saying no, but you pretty much have to beat them over the head with a stick to get what you want in a short amount of time.
So we go to the next compound where I scare a small boy into running into a door because he was watching that the toubab didn’t chase him as he cried and searched for his mom. Pretty normal. Then my sister decides to get a hair weave and I announce that I’m going to leave. I know that they wont let me walk home alone so this was a ploy to get at least one person to leave with me. FAIL. They attempt to force me to sleep on a mat next to a woman ironing clothes with an iron full of coals while the men in the compound butcher a goat right before my eyes. Yeah. I’m sitting there dying of sleep deprivation and I see a young boy starting to harass a goat. Animal cruelty is no big thang here so I just kind of ignore it until I see a boy about my age sharpening a machete. Uh oh. I ask the girls if they are going to kill the goat and they just laugh at me as the men slit the goats throat and blood literally shoots all over the compound. I thought I was going to die.
As the men continue to break the goat’s legs and hack it to bits in front of me my sister is getting her hair weave and a man walks in and calls me the equivalent of the N word. Awesome. The word translates to “red ears” and is extremely derogatory, which I tell him in my limited Wolof as everyone laughs. I was really disappointed my sisters didn’t stand up for me. Toubab is one thing and it’s not a bad word when used most of the time, but this word is always offensively and belittling. I attempted to explain that I’m living like a Senegalese person for two years and learning their language. He just gave me a look and then asked if I had a husband. Fuck you. At this point I deemed the situation fairly hostile and asked to leave again. It was obvious we weren’t leaving until this stupid hair weave was done.
With the smell of goat blood wafting through the air and really ugly fake hair being sewn onto my sister’s head, I questioned what the hell am I am doing in Senegal. It was like the twilight zone. Luckily an old man came to talk to me and was very patient with my Wolof and I suffered on until 2am when the damn hair weave was finally done and we could go home. It was a ridiculous night. While it was extremely uncomfortable most of the time, it was cool that I could understand a lot of the conversations even if I couldn’t really add anything.
I thought to myself: This is the next two years. Can I do it? Sure. Is it going to be ridiculous? Without a doubt. Will I be sane at the end? Probably not. Oh well. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and pray that I can make it through the next 10 days let alone 2 years.
A welcome respite to the fairly insufferable business training that I’m forced to attend at least once a day while at the center, arrived today in the form of gardening. Yes, the words “I want to asphalt my yard” have definitely come out of my mouth more than once, but it was amazing to do even a little physical activity and learn something that could actually be relevant in Senegal. Pepenier is the French word for tree nursery and the PC Senegal country director wants all volunteers no matter what their sector to help plant trees.
So today all the SEDers were out in the garden (in the rain I might add) sifting a 2:1 mixture of sand and manure in order to fill small tree bags. It was pretty fun and cool and ridiculous based on the tools that the volunteers use here. Sifters aren’t always accessible so old grain sacks are commonly used. We learned how to fill the bags of dirt correctly, dig the plots, and how to place the seeds. I think I definitely want to start a pepenier when I get to site. It will be something tangible to do and hopefully I can find a school or woman's group to do it with.
We also learned a little bit about what plants are easily grown in urban gardens here. Basil supposedly grows like a weed so I will definitely be planting some of that. Did you know that you are supposed to pick the basil leaves off the top of the plant so it grows outward and sprouts more branches and therefore more leaves? True story. I'm going to be quite the little green thumb before I'm done here.
Tonight was also the trainee talent show. Some people were pretty impressive. The talents ranged from stuffing bananas into one's mouth to a girl with an amazing voice to some awesome guitar and some tap dancing. The piece to resistance in my opinion was my friend's Katherine rap about her village to the tune of "Baby Got Back" I'm hoping that I will be able to put up the lyrics tomorrow. It was absolutely hilarious and it's one of my favorite songs so it was pretty funny. Then we went to the bar. Great. Gazelles are a necessity here.
Tomorrow is a day I'm dreading. I have to go back to the home stay village. It's literally killing me. That is the part of PST that's really getting to me. My family isn't the greatest. They aren't really interested in me and they give me one word answers. It's really hard. I can't believe that I have another 19 nights of hell in the village. This stretch is 10 nights and I'm just mentally preparing for everything to suck. The home stay is hard. I know that I have to push through this period and at least attempt to stay as positive as I can. There are things to look forward to... like more mail when I get back to Thies (hopefully!), booze, and some relative freedom.
Well, I wanted this post to be a little better, but I got back from the bar later than excepted. Oops. Wish we luck in my village visit. Send me emails, I will be checking more often this time since it improves my sanity and I will try to respond to everyone as soon as possible.
Technical training makes me want to dies 99% of the time/ whenever a volunteer isn't presenting, but today although less boring than usual made me want to beat my head against a wall. All of my RSB compatriots (who didn't skip this day of class) will appreciate that I was forced to play a version of the OMS house building game. Yes, in Senegal. For those of you who are not privy to the ideas of the house building game, it's pretty much about building houses in time to satisfy demand while smoothing supply. In Senegal, we are supposed to use it to show that people should put their money in the bank. We played the game in class today in order to learn how to play so we can teach it to people in our villages, fascinating. I did enjoy one part of the game, which our instructor made up, and that's when we randomly get to decide that a robber has stolen all the players money they haven't put in the bank. It's to teach people that the bank is safer than your mattress. And this is one of the reasons why I'm struggling in Senegal...
A 10 year old American child is qualified to be a SED volunteer. No fancy business degree earned through countless tears, Sunday nights "comparing" OMS answers, and endless cold calls need apply. Everyone's best qualification is that they are American. That we were taught from a young age that it's better to save your money, invest, and plan for the future. In Wolof, there is no word for goals and that's one of the problems here. Many volunteers go into schools and ask kids to draw what they want to be when they grow up, but kids don't draw anything because they've never thought about it before, no one has every asked them that question. Therefore, the business techniques that we are teaching are incredibly simplistic. I'm struggling with not using my hard earned knowledge even though I didn't enjoy getting those skills. I want to find meaningful work and I'm not sure that it's possible here. I came here to do work.
That's also what I'm currently spewing all of my emotions on to... worries about work. I also think I'm experiencing a new form of homesickness. I've always struggled with homesickness, but this is extreme. Last night I completely freaked out and almost came home and was blaming everything on not thinking that the work was good enough for me, but now I'm not sure that it's not just the most extreme and convoluted case of homesickness known to man. I really had no idea what the Peace Corps was, how incredibly difficult it would be, or how foreign Africa is.
While I continue to adjust to the heat, the bugs, the food, my continuing GI issues, and a myriad of other things, I'm constantly learning and it's exhausting. I'm definitely dreading going back to my home stay village on Saturday, but I'm promising myself an amazing bracelet as a reward if I make it to swearing in... October 16. Everyone says pre service training is hell and to just keep pushing through. I'm going to go back to the vil and then re-evaluate.
On the flip side aka the happy and amazing side we went out to dinner and it was to die for. All the current volunteers rave about a little dibitterie (chicken shack) along the main restaurant route in Thies. We were warned that seeing it would make us want to cry and run away, but the reward for staying was amazing chicken... a thought that is constant in every volunteer's mind here in Senegal.
So, we get to the restaurant and push aside the already sketchy looking curtain to get inside and I wanted to laugh in amazement that I was definitely going to eat at this place/ absolute horror. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera (I will next time) because it's hard to describe. The tables are just plastic tables with plastic table clothes and chairs and the walls are filthy and covered in grease. The men inside barely speak French and Tamar and I struggle along with some Wolof. As we're sitting a very long time to get our meal we are all comforted by the fact that we had to get a tetnus shot to join PC and that this is a true African restaurant no toubab food for us!
Soon we start to smell the deliciousness wafting from the courtyard in the back. We couldn't see the cooking area and I'm thankful for it because I'm sure it's absolutely revolting and I wouldn't have been able to eat my amazing chicken. Out comes our chicken and by chicken I mean all of us got a roasted half chicken, a huge pile of fries, and a cucumber salad with onions covered in a tahini like sauce. At that point we all threw caution to the wind and inhaled everything. I even at the lettuce and cucumbers, which I'm about 99.9% sure will come back to haunt me. We saw them lightly dunking the veggies in what I'm sure was gross water to begin with and we're supposed to bleach water all of our greens so... yeah, I'll let you deduce what might happen.
The meal, as I've stated, was amazing. I think it would've even been great in the US although my perception of good and bad has already drastically changed. Stuffed to the brim and so happy we didn't eat meat aka fat and peas at the center we attempted to pay. Paying in Wolof is ridiculous and stupid because they changed all of the numbers around when the CFA was devalued blah, blah, blah, I still don't understand and they didn't speak French so one of them asked if we spoke Arabic which caused uproarious laughter among the workers because toubabs don't speak Arabic, they can't even speak Wolof.
They were pretty shocked when I busted out the Arabic and schooled them. Yeah, go me. Obviously the requisite questions followed:
Q: Are you married? A: Yes. (It makes everything easier/ they only pursue you at 100% instead of 1000%)
Q: You are white? How can you be Muslim? A: I'm not Muslim. I'm Christian. I learned Arabic at University.
Q: When are you going to become Muslim? A: Islam is a beautiful religion, but I am happy being Christian. Response: You should become Muslims. God is Muslim. Me: Smile
Anyway, I had a sweet conversation with this guy in Arabic and he was impressed to say the least. He was also very confused that I introduced myself as Jeenaba and was not Muslim. That brought up the whole African name shanaigans and got very confusing.
Moral of the story: These guys make awesome chicken and speak Arabic and are in Thies. I want to practice Arabic with them/ potentially make them give me free chicken. Sounds awesome. I'm actually finding a surprising amount of people who speak Arabic, especially in the smaller villages. We do have some dialect problems and I'm a little rusty, but it's still really cool and gives the toubab girl some street cred. I'm hoping to practice a lot.
Well, this was a long post. I hope you found it interesting and less depressing than the last couple of posts. Sorry I was so blah. And even though no one asked I will tell you that my address for packages and letters will be the same even after I leave the center since I will be staying in Thies. Therefore, please keep the stream of well wishes coming.
I'm so happy with my chicken tonight that you can all eat some fish in my honor since that's what I have to eat every single night!
And happy belated birthday to Jeff. I know it was a couple of days ago and Matt reminded me so I'm sorry for sucking... you're old.
Today was very boring for me. I walked around the village and then waited for the PC bus, but when I got back I not only got to use the internet uninterrupted because we were the first people back, but I also got to hear everyone else's horror stories.
The Kadagou people, the people in the southeastern corner, had a 14 hour trip back.
One car on their way to the site got stuck in the mud for 10 hours. Legitimately, they tried to push their car out of the mud all night. They slept in the car and it was ridiculous. They had to walk to neighboring towns for water and shovels to dig the car out. They are champions.
And I really have nothing to report. Very boring life for me. Unfortunately, it gives me a lot of time to contemplate my life here and what I want. Is PC what I want? Am I compatible with the goals? Or even do I want to be here? I have no idea what the answers are to any of these questions, but I do apologize for the miserable posts and promise to step up my game. I will now have my computer so they should be better.
I'm going to curl up in my bed with a magazine and love being at the center.
I'm typing this on Daniel's computer not eating dinner because everything I'm eating is just going right through me. Therefore, I have discontinued eating for the present time. I'm sure you're all thankful for that visual.
On the plus side, Thies was pretty awesome today. My post for the next two years is the nicest house I've seen so far in Senegal. It is two stories and has a driveway! I have never seen a driveway here before. We also have satellite tv with CNN. The main house is all tiled and the kitchen has an oven and a refrigerator. The courtyard has several trees and the entire thing is tiled instead of the sand I'm used to. The bathroom is a squat toilet and bucket bath, but they are really clean, tiled, and ceramic. They actually smell a million times better than Daniel's western style bathroom here so I'm not upset. My room is a little bungalow off the main house. It has a ceiling fan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! God's gift to man. Its definitely enough room for everything I need. I would say its about 2/3 the size of my room at home. I also have a little porch. The porch is tiled, but the room itself is just cement, but it doesn't have any cracks so it's good. The house makes me feel a lot better. It's by far the nicest I've seen and my family seemed super nice. My mom is really friendly and there were girls my age as well as pretty young children around. I didn't get to meet my dad since he works in Dakar.
I also got to meet some potential work partners like a local painter family who do really cool Africa scenes of women working. Their atelier is awesome and I can see myself just hanging out there. We also went to the artisan village and I am going to try and hook some of them up with the women who imports Daniel's baskets to the US.
I've been thinking a lot about what will be fulfilling for me and something I thought I could start soon after I install is a bitch group. Literally, getting the oldest girls from the family together (the girls who do all the work) and bitch and do some little projects and read magazines. They can be my friends and I can teach them things about US gender roles, fashion, and they can help me in turn. Plus I love to gossip and bitch. Win win.
I'm still struggling with the work though. If it's going to be fulfilling or if I can even create anything that will be fulfilling for me. It's both helpful and disheartening to talk to volunteers. It's helpful to hear that they're happy, but hard to hear that they don't seem to do a lot of work. It's weird and definitely doesn't help me figure things out. boo.
Well, that's pretty much it from Africa. I'm back to the center tomorrow in time for dinner, but I have no idea when I'm leaving the village. Hopefully my stomach will be feeling better. It kind of sucks, but at least it's semi-controlable. lol. enough of that sorry.
I'm down today. And I'm tired. And I'm sick. And this sucks.
I'll leave it at lower GI issues. I didn't feel well all day and I had to walk around in the extreme heat and humidity of the day. I got pretty dehydrated and therefore pretty depressed even though we were doing cool things like checking out the basket market and visiting some really cool leather workers.
It's really hard not to fall into a pit of despair when you don't feel well. It just compounds all the other terrible feelings I've been having.
The markets were very cool. Check out the pictures.
I don't have my computer at the village visit so I've been writing this all out and today it was beyond me. Sorry. Look at the pictures.
Today, I got to see a day in the life of a volunteer. I can't say that it was all to exciting. The villages that weave all the baskets Daniel exports back to the US are a few kilometers down the road and we rented a car to get there, which is the expensive/ easy/ fastest way to get there.
The village where Daniel's Senegalese work partner/ where some of the baskets are made is a few kilometers off the national highway and it's a true African village. I would have freaked out if I had been dropped off there, as many of my fellow volunteers were, for our village home stays. The village is just a few compounds with concrete huts - some even with thatched roofs. When I first got to my home stay town of 50k I thought it was destitute and terrible and terrifying... I had no idea of what a real village was like. Truthfully, I'm happy that I will never really have to experience it since I'll be living in Thies. It would be too much for me to handle. I like living in my bigger cities with modern amenities, thank you very much.
We spend most of the morning talking with Daniel's work partner Sow, Jackie (another trainee), and her volunteer who met us in the village. It was interesting to hear about the logistics of working with the American importer, the plastic strip suppliers (to make the baskets colorful) in Dakar, and the village politics which constantly threaten to derail the whole operation. Today was a Sunday during Ramadan so nothing much was going on unfortunately, but we did get to visit one family who was weaving baskets and talk to them. I understood bits and pieces because it was in Wolof, but I couldn't stop staring at the little kids just covered in flies. It was disgusting and sad. The women basket weavers make a little profit on these baskets, but immediately use the funds. They don't have bank accounts, there's no future planning, and the kids are in the care of older siblings who have other things to do around the house. The flies are one of the things that bothers me the most about Senegal.
Coming home was quit an adventure. We tried waiting for a bus which never came, flagging down taxis, and hitchhiking (totally acceptable in Senegal) to no avail. After many obligatory toubab acknowledgment honks, a passing Mercedes stopped to get us - it was the PC head of the agriculture program so we got a door to door ride which was awesome.
Back at Daniel's house the three of us had a really good discussion about goals and concrete achievements in PC. We boiled it down to:
1. You need to be ok with learning... about anything to keep yourself occupied 2. Being satisfied with learning a language 3. Improving your personal adaptability
Is that enough for me? I came for the work. The concrete results that all the volunteers say you can't sustain yourself on. Can I change my American mentality... do I want to you?
Ahh. Why is this so hard? I want to go back to Thies and clean sheets.
The village visit is every trainees' chance to see what their world for the next two years will be like. Mine was anticlimactic because I went back to my home stay village. Wah-wah.
It is kind of interesting seeing the vil in a different light... but not really. Daniel, Christine, and I walked around town and said hi to my family since I was afraid they would hear that I was back since the moment I stepped off the bus 25 people started screaming "Jeeneba, Jeeneba... you're back" (yes, I am a village rockstar). My family was very excited to see my toubab companions and then proceeded to tell Daniel (in Wolof) that at the beginning of the home stay all I did was cry and tell them how much I hated rice... not true! The Senegalese LOVE to exagerate. I also turned to my family to remind them that I'm learning Wolof and understood a lot of what they said. They laughed at how ridiculous that idea was. Grrr. Home stay family.
Back at Daniel's house I had a ridiculous conversation with Daniel and his brother about lawyers, judges, and philosophy in French, which was interesting, but I'm supposed to be practicing Wolof.
The rest of the night consisted of streaming parts of the Wisconsin/ Fresno St. game and the UM/ ND game on Daniel's computer. GO BLUE! Amazing win! We also watched his little brothers put plastic bags over their heads and then spin around and run into walls. Obviously, there's very little adult supervision. Ceebu jenn and Wolof TV were also included in the night. Kill me now.
Tomorrow we're going to the basket village so hopefully it will be a better/ more interesting day.
Today was a terrible day until it turned into the best and most invigorating day I've had in Senegal.
As I mentioned briefly yesterday, I am not staying in Thies for my village visit this would make too much sense and since this is PC it can't be done. To my absolute horror I discovered that I have to go back to my home stay village. Luckily, I get to live with the volunteer who I will be shadowing and not my family because I need a break from them right now. It was really hard to stomach though, going back to my home stay village, because everyone else is really excited about exploring a new city in Senegal and I'm going back to the one city I know only too well. And I really needed the pick me up and the excitement of a new adventure. Since it's basically impossible for me to control my emotions here I allowed myself to sink into a mini depression until I saw the one thing that will make every volunteer clap their hands in glee... a little pink slip in the mailbox! That's right! I got packages! Two of them... I was so excited.
At this point, I don't know who they are from but I do know I have a problem. The pink slip is from the post office and I have to give the slip with 1000 CFA ($2 USD) to get the package out of customs. The PC guy who gets the mail only goes once a day and I'm leaving tomorrow to go to my village visit. I immediately round up other people to go ask Amadou, the mail guy, if he will go back to the post office for us since we are leaving. I give him my best pouty face and ask really sweetly if he will go get them. He wont. DAMN!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was about to break down into tears. He told me I only had to wait another four days until I came back from the village visit to get them... unacceptable.
The session for this afternoon was just prep for our visits so I was assuming it would get over early. Obviously the meeting started over 1.5 hours late and then the head of the center only read off a piece of paper information that had already given to us before. I was irate, but I had time!
I go back to Amadou and ask him for my slip back... I'm going to the damn post office. He tells me to just wait, the post office closes in 45 min (I'll never make it), I don't know where it is, and they will charge me more to get it out of customs because I'm a toubab. I didn't care. I snatched the paper out of his hand and took off.
While it's been cool the last couple of days, today was not one of those days and the sun was out and it's hot. I'm walking down the road and I know that it's near the Place de France. I vaguely know where that is. I get to the Place de France and no post office. I ask some people and they point me in a direction. I ask another group of people and they tell me I'm right and that the post office is just across the street. Victory! I see two men in uniform and I think I've found the holy grail of mail only to talk to them and discover I'm at a bank. NO! It's now 4:20 and the bank closes at 4:30. I ask them where the bank is after greeting them (as is required) for what seems like 3948587 hours and then they tell me it's further down the road next to a gas station. They then ask me if I know what time it is since the post office is closing soon. Yeah, thanks.
I'm jogging down this street and people are looking at the beat red, sweaty toubab, but I keep going. I cannot find this gas station so I stop to ask a group of guys where it is. They look at me like I'm even dumber than people usually look at me and they tell me that I'm at the gas station. Interesting... there are no gas pumps or a sign, just some holes in the group. Obviously, this is a gas station. Anyways, the post office is right next door and it's OPEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I enter the post office and ask two men about my packages. They lure me into a small room where I was sure I would meet certain death only to tell me that they don't handle the packages, it's down the hall. Great. I walk down the hall and the package window is still open... and will be for another half hour. The post office is open until 5, go figure. I give them my slip, my Peace Corps ID, and speak to them completely in Wolof, which they understand and they tell me I'm awesome and that I have a Puular name, which is weird since I'm learning Wolof. Whatever. They don't over charge me and I leave with TWO PACKAGES!!!!!!!!!!! VICTORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It was an amazing feeling taking my life into my own hands and getting what I wanted. I was not leaving those packages in Thies. I needed them. Go me!
The packages were from my mom who sent me an amazing amount of food (I'm currently inhaling the dried apples, they are divine) and my Kogelschatz cousins! Yay! I was so happy to get the candy, the magazines, and the glorious US quality toilet paper. That will definitely be put to good use! The letters inside were also amazing. Letters are like gold here and I have a little folder I carry them in all the time so when I break down 5 times a day I can take them out and read them. I'm so happy that I got your packages and that you took the time to pick out all the stuff. I love jelly beans and sweedish fish! Good choices!
Now that I have my packages I feel like I can go back to my home stay village even though I'm not happy about it. I will be staying with the volunteer which is good and he does really interesting work exporting baskets to the US. It will be really cool to see a volunteer in action and hopefully give me a sense of purpose since I've just been sitting in class the past month. OMG I've been in Africa a month. Ridiculous.
Well, this is a super long post and I need to go eat dinner and then go partake in some alcoholic beverages. To answer Lindsay's question: No, unfortunately, I have yet to find a sharkbowl in Africa although to Kaitlyn's delight one of my roommates has already had the hangover of her life off some cheap African whiskey. I'm keeping to the pints of Gazelle beer myself.
I'm off to the village for a few days so look back on Wednesday for new posts!
Have fun until then.
Ps. Thanks again Kogelshcatz's for the package. It was amazing!
Demystification was this afternoon. There is a giant map of Senegal on the basket ball court at the training center and we were all blindfolded, the led by a current volunteer or staff member around, until we were disoriented, and then placed on the map where our post is. Still blindfolded, I heard one of my roommates, Jackie, standing right next to me and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Knowing she was in my region made everything a little easier. Once everyone was placed the staff called out 1,2,3, and we all whipped off our blindfolds and looked down. I was in Thies. Yes, Thies aka the location of the Peace Corps training center is my post for the next two years. I’m not going to lie… it was a little anti-climatic, but I’m happy. None of us really know Thies yet and since it’s the third largest city in Senegal I can really do anything that I want.
I am going to replace a volunteer and live in his room. I’m living with one of the wealthiest families in Thies. The father operates the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, which I’m told is like PC Japan, and I guess they have some pretty nice digs. I will have my own bungalow (my mother chose this word). In reality it’s going to be a cement hut in the family compound. I’m definitely looking forward to having a little separation from the family and a little more privacy. The family also has satellite television and a REFRIGERATOR. I cannot tell you how amazing cold water is going to taste. The piece de resistance of being in Thies is that I can have internet wired into my room. Thank god. That was my number one priority. No matter how lame that sounds or how un-PC that was one of my major requirements and it makes me feel a lot better about everything. Plus, I will be able to post more which should make you all happy too.
I really don’t have too many details. I will be going to the house on Saturday and spending 4 days there so I will have pictures and know a lot more soon. As for work, the boy I’m replacing didn’t have a major project he worked on and I will not be picking up any of his work directly. My goal is Thies according to PC is to work with women’s groups and microfinance which is exactly what I wanted. Thies also has a famous artisan village that I can work with, which I think will be really cool. So the Peace Corps really came through for me. The only thing I asked for that I didn’t get was a project that was in-progress that I could continue working on. I wanted to pick something up because then I would have something to work on right away. I will just have to really force myself to get out there and make business connections. It sounds like my family is well connected so that will help.
Thies is centrally located, which is another bonus. While Tamar got her dream site, an ecotourism site on an island that is supposed to be beautiful, she is pretty far away from me. She’s south of Dakar, which means a several hour commute and a boat ride on a good day. Luckily, one of my roommates Jackie and another girl I really like Katherine are both in the greater Thies area. I’m really happy that they are close so when I have one of my inevitable emotional breakdowns they are close by to hold my hand, go to the toubab store to get food, and some booze. Another nice thing about Thies is that our regional house, the lovely PC owned places with real kitchens, bathrooms, beds, and internet that we can go to for free to decompress, is Dakar. Yay! Supposedly Dakar is real civilization so that will definitely be nice.
Although I don’t really know too much about my site or my future life here in Senegal, it’s an amazing weight off my shoulders to know where I’ll be living, that the Peace Corps listened to my requests, and that if there was a site that I could do Peace Corps my way and actually live through this experience it would be Thies. The transitions of this past month have been ridiculous, a deluge of information, cultural changes, and terror. I’m happy that when I install at site at least some things will be familiar. I definitely don’t know Thies right now, but I do know there’s a toubab store and booze and that’s comforting. I also know that Thies is a transportation hub so when I need to get out I can get out quickly and go anywhere in the country.
Everyone says that the pre-service training portion of PC is the worst part. Your life is not your own and you’re living out of a suitcase and it just sucks. I hope that there really is no place to go but up.
My friends and I were going to go out to dinner and the bar to celebrate knowing at least a little part of the puzzle of our future lives, but it’s pouring rain and when it rains in Africa you just have to go inside and wait it out. It’s amazing how weather affects daily life here. Everything really grinds to a halt. Another fun fact: West Africa has been getting a ridiculous amount of rain, even for the rainy season, many countries are flooding and it’s becoming a little bit of a problem. One of those problems reminds me of The Oregon Trail… yes, a cholera outbreak is a real possibility. That just blows my mind. Cholera? It’s 2009.
Anyway, I digress. No restaurant tonight, but we heard a wild rumor that the training center is serving chicken so it would have been a travesty to miss that anyway. Hopefully, we can make it to the bar after the rain stops, but if not I’m going to lay in bed and stare at the beauty of J.Crew.com. Glory.
I’m at the center until Saturday morning and then will be back the middle of next week until Saturday the 19th when I go back to the home stay village so keep the emails coming. I’m trying to respond to people as quickly as I can.
Ok, I just ate dinner. It was fried chicken, potatoes, and salad. I inhaled it and am worried I my gastro track will pay for it later. Oh well. The rain continues so we’re all cuddling up inside to go online.
And enjoy some pictures of my stylin’ Africa dress.
Goodnight from Senegal.
Update: 1. I peer pressured Tamar to walk to the bar in pouring rain. The gazelle's tasted delicious. 2. I discovered that even though my site it Thies I don't get to stay here and am slated to go back to my home stay village for my village visit. This means full on attack in the morning. No way that's happening. I already talked to the 3rd year in charge of SED so I've made progress, but tomorrow I'm talking to the big guns. Wish me luck. 3. Pictures of the sweet Africa dress/ the fabric print are now up on my blog. Sorry I couldn't load them on the page so they're in the slideshow section.
And we’re back at the center. While I’ve been feeling particularly low and hating my life for the past few days, getting in a car (after waiting for 1.5 hours) and driving back to Thies immediately put me in a good mood. Riding down the a Senegalese national highway (aka a two lane road)and seeing the beautiful African countryside (at least for now during the rainy season when things are green/ not desert)is an amazing experience. I felt invigorated and like I wanted to really explore the rest of Africa. I had to take myself back a step and remind myself that only the countryside is really beautiful and that the cities and villages are terrifyingly impoverished and that I've wish I could leave almost every day I've been here. But, there are those moments when I think to myself "Wow, I'm in Africa. This is amazing" and I have to learn that those are the moments to remember and to get me through until the next time I can step back and appreciate.
Most of the time, like today, when I'm doing something terrible like wading through water a foot deep that's sure to be filled with animal feces, human child feces, and other miscellaneous nasties, while carrying my backpack, medical kit, and pillow it's hard to appreciate the PC experience. I guess that is the PC experience. Obviously after that harrowing journey I had to wait over an hour for the PC car to pick us up, but that's besides the point.
Back in Thies I got to see other toubab friends and feel the comfort of the training center envelop me in a wash of flushing toilets, English, food where I can identify all of the main components, and a nearby bar. It's an amazing feeling being back. Knowing that I made it through two more hellish weeks in my town and I'm now rewarded with internet is great. Just earlier today I couldn't fathom continuing in the PC process, I just want to curl up and die. Now that I've had a wonderful beer (I've never been so tippsy off of a pint of 4.5% alcohalic beer) and talked with the people I haven't seen in two weeks and they have ridiculous stories to match mine... it actually makes it worth it. Or, at least I think it makes it worth it.
The problem with PC, or at least the problem with me and PC, is that I haven't really been able to find that equilibrium point yet. I can't stop myself from feeling good about everything and then falling into a pit of despair when I just want to shut myself up in my room, gorge on some peanut butter (I also do this when I'm not upset), and call my country director to come get me and put me on the first plane back to the States.
Tomorrow all will be relieved and I will know where I will be for the next two years. I hope it's wonderful and I feel great and I can go back to the bar and celebrate, but I'm worried I'll just jump right back on the roller coaster of what if and I could leave or this is going to be the most amazing experience of my life. It's impossible to know and that's what so hard about it.
Right now I'm just happy to be back and to find that the cleaning ladies put new sheets on my bed. Major victory. I am a little disappointed that I didn't get any letters. Tamar got five. I know I have some packages in the mail so I hope they get here soon, but I need all the rah rah cheers I can get. I love hearing about the trials and tribulations at home. No gossip is too small for me not to love it in Senegal.
Check my pictures, reading list, and wish list! They are updated. I can't wait to share with you all tomorrow my site and my state of mind. Hopefully both will be positive.
I had salad tonight! Yay! So have some wine and buttery popcorn for me!
Today was an ugly day. Ugly because my legs are disgustingly hairy and covered in bug bites, ugly because I’m breaking out because I sweat all the time and am dirty, ugly because I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, ugly because I got screwed on my test, and ugly because some stupid kids pegged me in the back with a freaking soccer ball.
The first ugly, my nasty, nasty legs can be remedied tomorrow when I get back to Thies and have some semblance of a clean shower. Hey, at least it has a real shower head (although no temperature control – it’s always cold) and someone throws some bleach in it once a day. My legs are currently, I can’t even come up with an appropriate word. They look like some pubescent boy who can’t grow a full beard, but there are splotchy patches of long hair and he looks dirty all the time. That’s me except that I am dirty all the time and there are a million bites all over me as well. AH! Hopefully I’ll also be able to get my face under control. It’s zitty and not pretty. Although I rarely look in a mirror here, it stills sucks to know I look like shit all the time.
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning for no apparent reason. I did have trouble going to sleep, but at least it was fairly cool and I had Gossip Girl for company. I cannot tell you how integral The Office and Gossip Girl on my iPod have been to my mental “stability”. If you have TV dvds burn them and send them to me (if that’s too expensive burn them and give them to my mom to send to me lol)!
My first language test did not go well today. The beginning was fine. I knew all the greetings and was able to hold a semi-intelligent although 3 year old level conversation, but when it came time for the role play I got screwed. While the others’ was about your family or in the town market, mine was about calling and reserving a hotel room. Tamar and I have been suspecting that our class is moving more slowly than the others because not everyone in our group catches on as quickly, but now it’s quite obvious since I should have been able to handle this scenario and I couldn’t. I just didn’t have the vocab and my class had never practiced anything like that. While the test is just a progress marker and has no bearing on my placement or real meaning, it still really sucks to do badly especially when I feel that it was unfair. It was not what I needed. I need rainbows and unicorns right now, not feelings of failure and dread.
After the test I came home and cried in my bed, watched some Gossip Girl which made me feel better until day 5 of my prison diet was presented to me. For the past five days I have had millet balls with milk and sugar. It makes me what to kill myself just when I see my sister bring a cup over to me for lunch. A lukewarm, dairy, sugary concoction is not what I want to be eating when it’s a million degrees in Africa. It sucks and it sent me over the edge to the cyber café where I had to email Leigh for some BFF advice. Luckily, Leigh is a saint and loves email/ computer as much as I do and responded before I got back home from class tonight and quit on a whim.
Although I felt relief from emailing Leigh/ surfing Jcrew’s latest before class, I was met with some nasty little kids on my way to class. A group of boys who were mostly tweens were playing soccer and we talked for a few minutes before some of them demanded money and asked while I wasn’t fasting. I explained that I didn’t have any money because I am a PCV and that I don’t fast because I’m not Muslim, but those were not good answers for at least one of the boys and as I walked away pegged me in the back of the head with a soccer ball. I knew I had to keep it together as the tears welled up in my eyes, not from pain but from “what the fuck am I doing here,” and I told them in French that it wasn’t nice to throw a ball at me and then with a smile plastered on my face I cussed them out from fricking Senegal all the way to LA. I do take solace in the fact that I can smile at people and swear at them all day and they have no idea what I’m saying. It’s wonderful stress release.
Now, back at home after class and after talking my usual walk with Tamar I feel better. I know that I get to go back to Thies tomorrow and that demystification is imminent, but what does that mean for me? Does that mean I’m going to fall in love with my site and with PC? I hope so but I doubt it. What to do?
I guess the answer is to watch some Gossip Girl, get some sleep, and keep on keeping on… at least for now.
Today we had class again, which was a relief since I knew I had at least 6 hours blocked off of my day with something to do, but class is class and it’s getting a little redundant. Tomorrow we have a language test to mark our progress and Wednesday afternoon we’re going back to Thies and I’m definitely ready for the change of scenery/ ready to see everyone else back at the center.
Nothing really interesting happened today. The village is pretty much the same. We are starting to make friends with all the people who live near our class and it’s fun to see all the kids in the morning. They run to us/ mob us as we near their house. They are adorable and love to talk to us and hold our hands. I can’t wait to put up the pictures. Once the pictures are up, you will not only see how cute they are, but also why I need to Purell my entire body after a small child encounter. 99% of them have snot running out of their noses or some other infection type thing someplace on their bodies.
Since I really have nothing too interesting to talk about I will answer some questions my Grandma Titche sent me.
Are there many fat people in Senegal? I have not seen any fat people/ any fat people at all. Most people don’t have enough to eat so obesity isn’t really a problem here although Diabetes is. The Senegalese LOVE sugar and hate vegetables. They put a ridiculous amount of sugar in everything so while they aren’t fat they don’t have the greatest health.
Is there poetry? Do they write and tell stories? I have not read any Senegalese poetry yet or read any stories. Senegal has a long oral history as many people are illiterate (including my mother). Although it’s terrible that people are illiterate it does mean that people have amazing memories. They will remember anything you tell them and expect you to do the same, which is really annoying when an entire village of 50k expects you to remember their names. Being a toubab makes you a local celebrity. Anyone in my home stay village can guess Jeenaba (which is my name) or Aysata (Tamar) and have a 50/50 chance of getting the toubab girl’s name right. It’s kind of an unfair advantage.
Is there a library system? Yes, there is a library in my town. It’s one room and has a couple of hundred books. They are mostly in French and I’ve never seen anyone go into the building.
What is the art like? Senegal is known for it’s furniture, which is elaborately carved huge beds and dressers mainly. I want to buy a really cool little chair that people have which is just two planks in an erganomic design. It’s awesome. I can’t wait to get one. Jewelry is also huge here. Both sexes wear twisted metal bracelets and rings. I’m also going to indulge and get myself some bling ASAP. Pictures to come.
Is there any wealth? Interesting question. Not really in my village. We went to the village chief’s house on our first day and he had tile floors and a big screen tv, but the outside of his house is still as crappy looking as everyone else’s. Tamar also has a family member with a comparable house, but most people are fairly hand to mouth. My family doesn’t have a savings account and buys groceries for the day based on how much money they have on hand. As a SED volunteer one of my jobs is to talk about how useful/ important a savings account can be. Poverty is everywhere. My family always has enough money for food, but people are constantly begging and there’s no spare money. Wherever you go in Senegal you will find unfinished houses because people start houses when they have money and finish them little by little. This happens for two reasons: 1. People rarely have large sums of money because they don’t save and 2. Senegal is an extremely communal society and family members will ask each other for money and you have to give them some… unless you don’t have any because you’re randomly building a house. Genius.
I think that covers a majority of your questions grandma. I’ll try to get to the rest later.
As for my mental state… I’m hanging in there. Sometimes it’s just still shocking that I’m in Africa. What the hell am I doing here? Yeah, that runs through my head several times a day. PC is a rollercoaster ride. It’s not just ups and downs day by day but second by second here. It’s trippy. I can’t wait to get back to Thies/ internet and find out my site. I hope it will make everything clear even though I’m sure it wont.
First of all please go back and read August 29th its pretty classic. Secondly excuse my typing since Im back at the internet cafe.
Today is our first day off since we got here more than three weeks ago and I know why they wiated so long to give us some free time since I almost had an emotional breakdown this morning. I had no idea how dependent I was on seeing the other trainees every morning. Its definitely going to be tough when we move to our posts and are truly alone in Africa for the first time.
I filled my morning by finish the book Enough: Why the Worlds Poor Suffer in an Age of plenty...uplifting. Anyway its great and about Africa so everyone should read it. Then I did laundry which takes hours especially when all the neighbors stop by to watch the toubab work! Then I started another book - I will put up a book list soon - and read until Tamar rescued me from myself. She also brought me my dress which is awesome! Im so excited to wear it! Its beautiful and super cool. I will put pictures up on Wednesday when Im back at the center.
Ive literally done nothing today except read and study Wolof a little bit which is exactly what I will be returning to once Tamar and I are done walking around the market. I have a lot to think about with demystification coming up so Im trying to create some measurable standards and being very b schooly about the decision making process.
Sorry for the lame post. Today is pretty boring and I hate this keyboard.
Hail to the Victors! Finally we win our first game!
Check back on Wednesday for amazing pictures and posts galore.
The first Michigan game doesn’t kick off for another hour, but I’ve been wearing my maize and blue all day… Africa style. I look pretty good right?
After the flurry of activity that was yesterday, today was much quieter. We only had class in the morning because all the language instructors returned to Thies this afternoon and will stay there tomorrow as well as we trainees remain in the village to fend for ourselves and to try and fill our time with meaningful activities. My first activity after class was a lunch of mohampsa, which is a delicacy/ hated lunch of many of my classmates (especially Tamar) that I had never had the pleasure of eating until today. It’s pretty much sour milk with millet balls. Delicious. Is the milk pasteurized? No. Does it contain half a kilo of sugar? Of course, this is Senegal. Needless to say, it was neither filling nor my favorite lunch. It was a change up from my usual lunch though, which is a fried fish with fries. I know that Alena was terrified of a full fish that she received as a dinner on her lovely European vacation this summer. Jackie had to decapitate it for her. Alena, I want you to come to Africa so please discontinue reading… I eat a whole fried fish with my fingers. I have to debone it/ spit the bones out. It’s fried almost beyond recognition and salted to the umpteenth degree and I get some fried potatoes with it. Don’t worry, I’m taking vitamins.
Without the prospect of filling my afternoon hours with class, I went to the market with two of the boys in my class. Walking through the market means being constantly bombarded with smells (bad ones), people (screaming toubab), and side stepping horses, their shit, and miscellaneous pools of murky liquid. It’s a site to be sure. Also, it’s impossible for three toubabs to walk into a stall and not have a 15 minute conversation. Question of the moment: Are you fasting for Ramadan? To which we answer no and everyone freaks out and cannot understand why we aren’t fasting. Sometimes people will understand after we explain that we are Americans and Christians, but often times they just tell you to fast tomorrow and it will be ok. The boys did some shopping and I just talked to people, practicing my burgeoning Wolof skills. It’s actually pretty amazing the level of conversation I can carry on and as I practice the fluidity of my speech is getting a lot better. I was going to hang out at Byron’s/ Franklin’s (I used Franklin once and now my mom can’t remember his real name) house and watch the other boy, Brian, attempt to make fudge on a propane tank, but it looked like it was going to rain and weather dictates life here so I decided to go home. Obviously it didn’t rain.
At home faced with impending boredom and hours before I could claim I was tired and retreat to my room, I decided to help my mom pick rocks out of our rice. Interestingly enough Senegal is a big rice produced, but the Senegalese don’t eat their own rice they export all of it and import in everything they eat. It is possible to buy nice rice that doesn’t have stones, but it’s more expensive and my family is poor so we have to sift through our rice for stones. Luckily, this tedious task allowed me to ask my mom and prices of various foodstuffs in the market. I’ve been wondering since when I get to site I want to cook dinner for myself so I don’t have to eat ceebu jenn (incredibly over cooked fish and rice with, if I’m lucky, some sort of vegetable) every night. We were going through prices and I took it as an opportunity to talk about how Americans’ diets differ from the Senegales’. She found it absurd that potatoes are affordable/ cheaper than rice and the same goes for meat and sea food. I explained that Michigan is far from the ocean, but we get lots of rain so we have lots of fields which grow fruits and vegetables (including potatoes) and also allow cows to graze. This pretty much blew her mind. Then she wanted to know how much a kilo of rice or meat would cost in the US. I had a difficult time explaining the cost differences. How could she understand that I wouldn’t think twice about spending more than what they would in a month on drinks for my friends at Rick’s? Sometimes it just hits you that I’m in Africa. It’s impossible to explain how different the US is to my family here and it’s impossible to describe for you at home what Africa is like. Please come so I can show you.
So, the last time I was at the Cyber (what internet cafes are called here) I got some more questions to answer, which I will now since I have time/ I know my computer battery will make it back to Thies!
My Aunt Diane wanted to know about the Senegalese education system. This will have to be a many part answer since I’m still trying to figure it all out. Children are mandated to go to public school. How many years one is supposed to go to school ranges from 5-7, but some people don’t go at all. Boys can also go to religious Koranic schools, which seems to be a waste of time because then they never learn to read the non-Arabic alphabet/ learn no skills except praying. All the children in my family attend school. While in the US your age pretty much corresponds to a grade level that’s not so here and I have a brother and sister in the same year of high school. The system is also incredibly corrupt. It’s very difficult for a middle-class not to mention a poor child to pass the BAC (the French/ Senegalese SAT) which one has to pass to attend college. It’s not about the score like in the US. It’s pretty much pass/ fail. Also, you cannot attend university if you don’t pass the BAC before you turn 23. After 23 you’re screwed. No one in my family has attended college. My dad only went through middle school and I’m pretty sure my mom is illiterate and she does not speak French. More to come on education as I learn more about the system…
Ana wanted to know about the rampant goat population. And yes, they are rampant. Goats let out of their family’s compounds in the morning to ravage whatever grass exists in the area. They aren’t marked in any way and just go home at night to their sheds. They are literally everywhere as is their piss and poop. Lovely. The agriculture sector of the Peace Corps does not deal with animals. There are three types of volunteers training for agriculture with me. Urban volunteers who work with city dwellers to create small family gardens. They have an uphill battle since Senegalese people hate vegetables. They will eat a kilo of sugar per day, but ask they to eat a leaf of lettuce and you’re screwed. Then there are sustainable agriculture volunteers… and they sustain things? Yeah sorry, don’t really understand what they do. Check the PC website. And then agroforestry volunteers who plant trees. We are actually all supposed to learn to plant trees. Me planting trees? I can try. Will they live? Probably not. I want to asphalt my yard when I have a house. Too much maintenance.
I hope that was a valid attempt at starting to answer your questions. I still have a lot of questions about what goes on here as well. OMG it’s only 7pm. I’m probably going to die of boredom. Maybe I’ll go sort out some more rocks from rice in my Michigan outfit that no one here appreciates!
Tip back a nice couple of COLD ones for me and GO BLUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
PCV Alyssa Titche Corps de la Paix B.P. 957 Thiès, Senegal West Africa
* Make sure it's "Par Avion" by Air and that there's a sticker * Please put insurance on packages and even letters because customs officers will rip open both looking for goods and cash * If you are amazing and sending me a package write "Religious Materials" or "Personal Products" on the outside to further deter customs officials, also it is best to buy a flat rate box to reduce the custom fees I have to pay on my end! * Number your letters so I know if I'm missing one as mail will probably take 2-3 weeks to get from you to me
I also have Skype so make me one of your contacts. My Skype name is: alyssatitche
Cell Phone! Call me on Skype! 221-77-330-48-40
Wish List: Goodies, Treats... and Necessities
100 Calorie Packs
Jiff Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter
Mixed CDs (Leigh and Alex sent one and it was AMAZING)