Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

I hate Halloween. Even people in Africa are calling me a party pooper, but I've never liked it. I don't like dressing up, which is more likely caused by my lack of creativity and inability to come up with what I deem a good costume than anything else. Therefore, I was happy I was in Africa today and dressing like/ being a toubab is a good enough costume/ horror to small children.

Although I don't like Halloween I did attend a Halloween party hosted by a local high school's English club. The English club meets twice a week for three hours which I thought was pretty impressive and once a month they try and celebrate one American holiday as part of their studies. This month was obviously Halloween. Chris invited me to come and I in turn invited the Ladies Who Lunch (more on this later) and we had a whole gaggle of toubabs for the festivities. We sat on a panel to explain Halloween, recount our favorite tricks from Halloweens past, and talk about our costumes. The students in the club then had to write a few sentences about Halloween. Most of them greatly exaggerated the importance of Halloween to American culture, but their English was pretty good. A little better than my Wolof.

The real fun was playing games with them. I had come up with bobbing for apples and Chris did a mummy wrap. I though bobbing for apples might be lame, but it turned into a ridiculously competitive boys versus girls bobbing for apples throw down. We had to ask people to calm down because water was going everywhere. It was a huge success and the kids were really happy that they got to eat the apples. The mummy wrap was also hilarious because no one understood it. All the toubabs there were also very upset about the amount of waisted toilet paper that the activity consumed. There are some really funny pictures of the event so check them out.

After the class was over, the head teacher asked us to come into the lounge. It was getting dark and I really just wanted to get home, but of course we went to what I thought was going to be a meeting. He passed out some drinks and snacks and then just sat there waiting for this meeting to start for about 30 minutes. There was no meeting. We just sat around. For some reason this really aggravated me and kind of put a damper on my day for no reason because I had a great day. It was a miscommunication, but it is important to Senegalese people to just sit around... something that is obviously difficult for me to get used to hence my magazines, books, and LSAT books always in hand.

Before the Halloween festivities, the first Ladies Who Lunch date took place. There are six other volunteers within about 50k of Thies and everyone is a girl so I wanted to make sure we all had an excuse to see each other and created this lunch group. Our first meeting was great because everyone came and I think everyone was really excited to see each other after two weeks at site. It's very comforting to know that it still pisses everyone else off when adults ask us for money, people hiss at us to get our attention, constantly demand our bikes, and the other daily harassments each one of us faces when we walk out the door each morning. It's actually kind of amazing that all of us continue to get up in the morning.

It was fun and relaxing to throw back a beer and eat something that wasn't ceebu jenn for lunch while gossiping and being social. I know that I get to see Chris and Emily a lot since we're all in Thies and that I have pretty much everything I could want here, but it was nice to feel a sense of camaraderie none the less. Catching up with Katherine and Jackie was awesome. We discovered that we all lamely read each other's blogs and take solace in each others problems. Unfortunately, my leading lady Tamar, is too far away to be one of the ladies, but she is undoubtedly our patron saint and we will all reunite for Thanksgiving.

That pretty much sums up my day. I'm ready to take it easy tomorrow and potentially attempt to fix my bike which I broke my second day here!

Be thankful you all have American television. Things I have "watched" with my family in order of terribleness:

1. Pokemon dubbed in French (no joke! I saw my 26 year old sister watch an entire episode)
2. Indian Horror Films (please imagine Bollywood attempting to be scary and then breaking into song)
3. Spanish/ Brazilian soap operas that LOVE to zoom up close and personal on faces for dramatic effect.
4. Will Smith dubbed in French (Bad Boyz II should be outlawed worldwide)
5. African soccer games that appear to be recorded on cellphones the quality is so terrible.

I'm curling up with old episodes of The Office on my iPod tonight!

Friday, October 30, 2009

My Problem No More

Laundry is officially no longer my problem! Yes! I told everyone I was going to do laundry today and everyone immediately started telling me how terrible I am at it, to which I responded: Yes, I am terrible at laundry. I never learned how to hand wash things because my family has a washing machine. Regardless, I go buy soap, get my buckets ready, put my iPod in, and prepare myself for several hours of hell. My brother Petit comes over to tell me that none of my clothes are clean and that I can do laundry. He then asks me why I don't let one of the other Jeenaba's do it as she did the laundry of the volunteer who lived here before me. This is my window of opportunity. It boiled down to me giving Jeenaba my dirty clothes every day, which she will wash, and then me giving her the equivalent of 10 USD at the end of the month. Hallelujah. I had a big pile today and my sheets, which she did and now not only smell like soap, but are also clean. Bliss.

Unfortunately, I had to suffer for this amazing result. I resolved to sit with her while she did my laundry and attempt to speak in Wolof. While I really like Jeenaba (let's call her Jeenaba 1 since there are many Jeenabas), she isn't very patient with my Wolof and immediately wants to switch to Wolof although she is really good and deciphering my terrible accent and pronunciation. A random guy walked into our compound and sat down. He was incredibly annoying. He persistently asked my for money even though he was at least as old as my parents and kept making cracked out jokes that no one except him understood while making faces and pointing at me. My mom, Jeenaba1, and Petit were all sitting outside and no one found this man amusing. It amazes me what Senegalese people will put up with. I eventually got up and went into my room. I cannot understand how older people aren't embarrassed when they ask someone who could be their child for money. It is just so different in our culture.

I did turn the money tables on my sisters tonight. They are always complaining about not having any money and constantly ask me how much everything I have on me costs whether or not I recently bought it in Senegal or if it's from the States. As mentioned in earlier posts, hair weaves are HUGE here. Almost all women from their teens into their 30-40s wear hair weaves. I was curious how much this fake hair costs since they change their hairstyles about every two weeks! Each pack of fake hair (it takes several to cover ones head) costs 7000 CFA! OMG! My family had an absolute panic attack when I spent 500CFA so I could have some fresh tomatoes. Obviously, money isn't used in the wisest possible ways here.

Dinner was also interesting. My prowess at eating my fried fish with my fingers last night either went unnoticed or no one cared because I was supplied with a knife and fork tonight. I am struggling with dinner and not because it's not good because it usually is. My dad, youngest brother, Ahmed (who's in high school), and I eat together about an hour earlier than everyone else. We get disproportionally more food and better cuts of meet. Granted, I am a paying tenet and I give them a lot of money for food, but I also have started to supplement my diet a lot so I feel badly. The inequality that happens within a family is surprising to me.

The third thing I've been thinking about today since I didn't do a whole lot today is the loneliness that will surely, at some point, wrap itself around me. I was recently emailing back and forth with a friend at home about having to make a new community after college. A new friend set in your new city. It's weird because I kind of did go back to school. I put myself in a very intense, new situation, in a strange place and formed fairly instant bonds with the people who were in the same boat. The major difference is that Kaitlyn isn't down the hall and Alena and Jackie aren't a walk across campus (although it is intimidating in a Michigan winter... oh, to be cold) my friends are spread across a country where public transportation and infrastructure are shoddy and unreliable at best. It's comforting to know that my friends back home are experiencing some similar feelings although we're a world apart. Thank god for email and Skype and texting here in Senegal.

Well, this post wasn't really uplifting or amusing. I apologize.

Tomorrow's Preview: the first of hopefully many Ladies Who Lunch meetings and a Halloween party hosted by a Senegalese English club. Get ready for some hilarious pictures!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Holding On For Dear Life

Waking up early is never fun, but when it's then paired with waiting at the office for over 2 hours before doing anything it's just incredibly frustrating. Thankfully I had a Newsweek and a New Yorker to keep me company.

The crux of the problem this morning seemed to be a power struggle between Diof and someone he calls "big boss," but I have no idea what this persons actual title or job is. Getting down to the nitty gritty, Diof went to the Prefect (city official) to straighten things out and I read my Newsweek about Ted Kennedy, while Chris did Sodoku, and we listened to the women in the office argue over scheduling. So much fun. Especially when I know I have to endure an entire day of accounting lessons in Wolof.

Getting to Tasset was an adventure in itself. We had to take a taxi to the garage (place where you can get cars going to different cities), to take a sept-place (station wagon that seven people are crammed into) to our final destination. Unfortunately, both legs of our journey turned into 9 places, which sucked. I had the privilege of sitting next to the door on our way there which meant I got to sit sideways on my hip holding onto the ceiling of the car for dear life because the door of the car kept flying open every time we hit a bump. The driver kept yelling at me not to touch the door because I was forcing it open. This is more easily said than done since there were four people in the middle sit and I was by far and away the smallest occupant. I made it to Tasset in one piece though although one of my legs had fallen asleep and my arms hurt from holding on. Oh well. Adventures in Africa.

I hope I never get used to the complete lack of planning that I'm faced with every day here. We arrive in Tasset and the women are waiting for us and we walk to see where the millet machine will be held and then they lead us the classroom for the formation. They had all of this planned and knew we were going to teach a class, but we had to wait for almost 45 minutes while someone went to get chairs and a blackboard. It's mind boggling and just adds so much time to the day of useless waiting. By this time I was onto the New Yorker about fashion week in case you were wondering...

The lesson went really well. Diof presented and then I was really impressed when one of the women got up and redid the whole lesson. It was clear she had a good grasp on the information and we even demonstrated a much more complicated ledger than we had in the previous village. It is interesting to see how Diof leads the women to find the right answers themselves or throws out incorrect answers for them to correct. It's definitely a very different method of teaching than we use in the States. I'm trying to keep my mind open to different learning and teaching philosophies, but it just seems incredibly convoluted, time consuming, and inefficient. But, that's the name of the game here. Promise me that when I come home you will all remind me I like to walk fast, have a purpose, and be efficient. It's difficult to strike a balance between adapting to what works here in Senegal and not losing myself. I'm supposed to be here to help businesses and efficiency will definitely do that. I'm really proud of myself and very surprised that this inefficiency and untimeliness hasn't completely sent me over the edge as it would at home. Fortunately, I have realized nothing is in my control here and I've been attempting to go with the flow as much as I possible can. Another achievement for myself, the control freak.

The worst part of the day was that we weren't fed. During break time Chris and I attempted to buy sandwiches, but Diof requested we didn't since he assumed the women would make us lunch and then be offended if we didn't eat a lot. They didn't feed us. It made it almost impossible to listen to Wolof and I snuck my New Yorker under the table to read. Don't tell. When I finally got home I ran to my now fully stocked cabinet and gorged myself. I even remembered to bring snacks today, but it just wasn't enough. That's the problem with going out to these villages. I miss a good lunch with my family and we never know if we're going to get fed. Good thing I made more delicious oatmeal today since I didn't get home until 5.

For dinner we had fried fish with fried onions and bread. In the vil this would be an amazing meal, but now that I'm the princess of Thies I have to say I was a little disappointed. I did refrain from using the utensils provided for me since my dad wasn't using them tonight and I think I gained some bonus points for my picking fried fish off the bones skills. A skill I honed during Ramadan when I ate it every day for lunch. After dinner my mom forced me to eat a bowl of fataya, which is pulverized fish fried in a dough ball. Good, but useless nutritionally. I also had one with a massive fish bone in it, which got lodged in between two of my teeth and I just spent the last 10 minutes extricating with floss. This is my life. And I just got attacked by a giant grasshopper...

In other news, I put up a couple of pictures from the village I went to today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mail Time

Sleeping in this morning turned me into a new person. It felt amazing and I have to thank Matt for waking up early this morning to talk to me instead of vice versa. After relishing laying in my bed and not having to go to work, I got up and took a run. I motivated myself by running back to the PC center to see if I had any mail. Nope. I knew that I had packages on the way so I resolved to make a trip to the Post Office to see if I could sweet talk my way into looking at their ledger, nothing is computerized here.

After my run and before my epic trip to the post office, I made my first breakfast. Oatmeal and raisins, delicious. It was a joint effort between my mom (oatmeal) and the McKeowns (raisins) and then I added too much water to the oatmeal and kind of ruined it, but I ate it anyway and it tasted delicious.

Next up a trip to the Post Office. I was imagining pleading with men behind the counter to look in the PC box for me and potentially paying a bride. Much to my surprise they simply opened the huge book and scanned for my name. I HAD FOUR PACKAGES! What a glorious day. Mad props go out to my mom (who may have a package addiction as I hear she sends cereal to my brother... who lives in Colorado...), Matt, and a joint venture from Leigh and Alex. My cabinet is now chock full of tasty delights, which I immediately began stuffing my face with since this morning I found a scale and discovered I weigh what I weighed in middle school. Realistically speaking it's not that much of a weight loss there is a boy who is down 40 pounds! Anyway, I have tons of dried fruit, magazines, and awesome letters! THANK YOU! Matt also sent some Mexican spice packets, which I had to refrain from tearing open and pouring into my mouth. For some reason every craves/ constantly talks about Mexican food here. We also had a really bad lunch here, my first not good meal with my new family, so I ate a can of corn which I put salt on while I talked to Matt on Skype. I'm pretty sure it grossed him out, but it was divine.

I can't thank everyone enough for the letters, the packages, the emails, and the comments on my blog. It really keeps me going to know that my loved ones back home are still there and haven't forgotten their crazy friend who moved to Africa!

After an amazing few hours looking at the various contents of my packages I had to go to work. Work was a joke. Chris and I show up and Diof isn't there, then when he comes back he has to pray, and asks the two of us to make a million copies. All Senegalese people think Americans are tech geniuses so when Chris and I couldn't even turn on this obsolete copier Diof about had a heart attack. Much time wasting later (aka 2 hours) Chris peaces out to meet up with a friend and leaves me to accompying Diof and Diof's boss to some AIDS groups meetings.

We arrive at the first house after 30 minutes of being lost, even Senegalese people can't find their way around, to find the house deserted and no one there. We wait for 30 minutes before deserting it as well. After driving to the next house I settle in to watch a meeting I can't really understand, which is always fun. It was interesting to watch Diof and some female colleagues look around for the required 25 people to sign the forms so the groups could continue to get funding. I can't tell how much impact these meetings actually have and if women actually learn anything about sexual health. It isn't really anything I have interest in doing since I don't know anything about health and I'm much more equipped to look at accounting ledgers, unfortunately.

Chris left to meet his friend to go to Mecca aka Chicken Dibi. Yup, I'm still talking about it. It's just that amazing. And it's impossible for me to turn down an invitation so as soon as I could extricate myself from the meeting, hey it was already 7pm, I called Emily and we met the boys for dinner. As usual it was delicious. I love chicken dibi. Enough said.

After that we went to bar near Emily's house where we sat outside an had a beer. It was really nice to sit around and talk and hear Chris and his friend tell PC stories, but at the same time I felt guilty for leaving my family and for being out. I know I live in a big city so this is a privilege and a distraction that I will have to deal with. It's weird having the option to have whatever I want, but I can't say that I don't like it. Chris and his friend both lived near The Gambia in mud huts and killed rats with sticks and by stepping on them. I don't think I could do that, but then again I didn't think I could do a lot of the things I do now. Regardless, I like the little oasis I've found myself in.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Herbert Hoover #1

I got up early and all I wanted was a delicious bean sandwich, which seems impossible to find around my house and I had to settle for beignes (fried dough balls made from millet). I was not happy.

I met Chris at our usual roundpoint, but earlier than usual and we headed off to the office. We were supposed to leave at 9:30 in order to get to Notto the village where we were conducting the accounting session by 10. Good thing Chris told me to bring a book and my iPod. Although Diof, my work partner, is surprisingly punctual and understands American efficiency he was not at his best this morning. Apparently several emergencies arose and we didn't end up leaving until 11. Go figure. At least I had my book.

We also had a government driver to get us to Notto, which was hilarious because it was me and two women in the back and when I say two women I mean two HUGE women. I had to sit sideways to accommodate them and yes, they did sweat all over me. At least I was amused by what was in front of me: Diof and Chris sharing the front passenger seat. Priceless. Although it was a fairly uncomfortable ride, aka usual for Senegalese transport, I still love driving here. And this is not because I feel safe because I do feel like I'm going to potentially die every time I get into a vehicle, but because the countryside is so spectacular. Everything is still green and the baobab trees all over is just awesome.

We stopped in Notto to meet some officials and stand around for a while, I have no idea why, before journeying onward to a little village outside of Notto for the formation. We were greeted with fifty kids running after our car. I always say it's not a good day in Africa unless you make a little kid cry and seeing Chris and I sent more than one little kid into hysterics. The women's group who was to receive, at some distant point in the future, the millet machine promised by the government were waiting for us, but we had to greet the village elders first.

Unfortunately, I've just been exhausted lately so it was difficult for me to really concentrate on what was going on especially since everything was in French not in Wolof. What did strike me was that these women seemed really motivated and even though 3/4 of them were breastfeeding during the meeting they payed close attention and asked questions. The first couple of hours of this meeting was spent electing a President, VP, Treasurer, and Secretary for the millet machine maintenance team. It took forever because as usual everyone needed to have their say. After the elections we moved into a compound to discuss basic accounting procedures for the machine.

I thought that Diof was going to do the formation, but it ended up being one of the women, Mme Fall, and I was actually really impressed with her. From what I could make out she really knew her stuff and she was really enthusiastic. When we walked into the compound I was really nervous about the session because there was no blackboard or paper so I didn't know how we were going to illustrate an accounting ledger, but Mme Fall was way ahead of me... all she needed was the sand. She drew an accounting ledger in the sand and explained it. I was impressed.

We also ate lunch at the village and I realized I'm becoming spoiled. My family in Thies eats so incredibly well! I hate eating lunch out with people at little ceeb shacks or other houses because it doesn't hold a candle to what I get at home!

Back at home I made complete amends with my brothers after this weekend. Ziabata told me that now that it's my second week we are going to only Wolof, which I probably should've been doing this whole time, and Petit and I sat and talked for over an hour in English and Wolof about the US. As I mentioned before he's a US Culture major at the University in Dakar so he's an excellent resource for me. He's a really good teacher and he has a lot of patience because he wants me to explain English to him as well. Our conversation was really interesting until it devolved into a disagreement about the order of American Presidents. First of all, his favorite President is Herbert Hoover. Yes, strange, I know. I asked him why and he just said that Hoover is one of our best presidents. Ok, I don't think many people would agree with the 1929 stock crash and Hoovervilles, but whatever. He then tried to convince me that after Hoover came Eisenhower, JFK, Bush, Bush, Obama. I couldn't convince him that he had forgotten a few until we turned on my computer and looked at a list. I told him he didn't want to go toe to toe with me over presidents or American history! Anyway, it was a really cool conversation and I feel good about our relationships now.

Dinner is still a mystery to me. My dad didn't come back from Dakar tonight so I ate at the big bowl with everyone. I wonder if my time of forks and knives has come to end or it's just my dad being super classy and I'll eat with utensils when I ate with him. Regardless, we had one of my least favorite meals here. Fried fish with spaghetti and onion sauce. The strategy is to eat fast early to try and get the fish while it's crispy and while the pasta isn't soaked in oil and then slow down and eat the onions with the bread so I don't get yelled at for not eating. I know, intense.

Well, that's it for me. I'm exhausted and I need sleep which is not interrupted by a massive dog fight complete with incessant howling like last night!

Ps. Happy Birthday Katherine!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lost and Found

Work today was much less overwhelming than it usually is and that's probably because I only went for the morning. Half the morning was spent talking to Diof about our accounting sessions which start tomorrow. He was really impressed with the lesson plan I wrote up for him, which is good and I'm excited to see him teach tomorrow although I'm sure it will be infinitely boring as we wait for the meeting to actually start. Regardless, I'm really happy that I'm keeping busy and it will be cool to see other villages during our trainings.

The other half of the morning I spent talking to a school about starting computer classes for the teachers. I established that I would come once a week to begin with and I didn't want a class of more than 5 teachers. I asked the school's director what the computer literacy level and she said it was all over the map so this should be interesting. I'm going to create a lesson plan that's just turning the computer in and talking about the different parts of a computer. Hopefully I can handle that. Luckily Chris gave me a PC developed computer terms in French guide which will surely be invaluable. I obviously will not be doing this in Wolof. Wolof doesn't even have the words to explain computers. I also learned at this meeting that I need to be firm when it comes to extending my help to people. The director asked me outright what other services I could provide. I had to explain that I'm still in training and my language isn't that great so for the time being I just want to come once a week and do computers. She really pressed me though and I needed to be firm about everything. It was a good lesson and I'm glad Chris was there to back me up.

On my way back home I took the new path that I found a few days ago... or at least I thought I did. Yeah, I got a little lost again. The hilarious thing was I came out on the main road in a familiar place. Hearken back to last week when I journeyed through the Thies desert with my broken bike in the desperate search for my house. This time I was able to look at a sign and see the general direction of the roundabout that eventually led me home the last time and I started walking. In about 5 minutes I was at my house!!! OMG! That means I walked around in a huge circle for 1.5 hours last week when I was quite literally only a few blocks away. I couldn't believe it. The poor Senegalese man who tried to help me! We were so close and I led him so far astray. At least I now know the way that particular curvy non-road works now. I felt very stupid yet victorious at the same time. Odd.

Back at home pretty much everyone was taking a nap in their rooms except the two maids so I sat around helping them with lunch. My main job was to sit there and sort through rice. Yup, Senegal grows high quality up north, but they export it and then import broken rice full of rocks from Asia. No joke. Every day my sisters sit with a big bowl of rice sorting through to find all the rocks. This is important since my friend Katherine has already chipped a tooth because of rocks in rice. It's obviously an incredibly tedious task and exceedingly boring, but it's one that takes no skill so I'm pretty good at it and my sisters obviously appreciated that they didn't have to do it. I also did a bunch of dishes of my own initiative which completely blew their minds. Hey, I have nothing else to do and it feels good to actually help out and lighten the load.

My afternoon was really pretty boring. I've been exhausted so I just kind of hung out in my room and tried to nap, but I couldn't because the humidity is out of control right now. I read a little bit, looked at my accounting books (can you believe I have to/ actually am looking at accounting books again?, and talked to Leigh on Skype! Yay! And Kristen on gchat! Yay! Everyone should get Skype; it's awesome.

My one thought provoking observation for the day:
I was subjected to Senegalese music videos today. I can't really describe how incredibly terrible they are. I don't watch music videos in the States, so I definitely don't want to watch Senegalese rap videos here. The one thing that I did notice was that the videos here are very realistic. Someone is carrying a gas tank on their head (totally normal), a woman is walking with a baby on her back in a village of thatch huts (got it), and a group of boys are making tea (currently happening at my house). In the US music videos and rap videos in particular are usually over the top aspirational. Big cars, audacious jewelry, and luxury yatchs are the norm. It was really interesting to watch video after video that was so ordinary.

And more pictures are up! My new bungalow is now on display for all of you. I made a new album called "Swear-In to IST," and the old pictures are still up too. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Last night's post was a little fire and brimstone and I think my mom fielded a few worried calls. Fear not, everything is OK and although there was some awkwardness this morning when other family members asked about the disco I told them I had messed up and we had a miscommunication language issue. Everyone seemed to understand and I think it's fine now. Being here is exhausting, constantly having to strain to understand conversation and pushing myself to be social is very difficult and last night trying to go out after I would usually be in bed definitely tried my patience. And for those of you who know me well I'm not the most patient person.

I know that Senegalese encouragement is disguised as sharped edged critiques and as an American it's very different from the constant praise and "you can do it!" attitude we get at home. While I know that most of the time last night people were just playing with me and not trying to be mean, it's hard for me at least to understand the game intellectually and not be annoyed or hurt by it emotionally. I'm constantly trying to understand the cultural mores and language here and I wish that people displayed a little more intellectual curiosity about the US or about my culture and my family. As I will no doubt continue to be in groups with my siblings' friend, I'm going to try and have a thicker skin (more sleep would definitely help) and try to come up with a few canned responses about the things I like about Senegal in order to answer the what's better the US or Senegal question.

Speaking of sleep, most volunteers say they've never slept so much in their lives as they did during PC and it seems like most of my friends are currently bored and watching TV on their computers, but I am BUSY! My counterpart, as you've all read, has been dragging me back and forth across Thies all week and I was really active this weekend too. Plus, my family loves to subject me to late night movies such as Bad Boys II dubbed in French. If you're looking to go crazy just watch Will Smith dubbed over in French, it's torture. That said, I'm happy I'm busy and keeping occupied. We'll see if my brain allows me to keep up the pace.

AS for today, I laid in bed as long as I could and then got up to help my sister make lunch. My family has been talking about me making lunch all week and today was the day to make ceebu nebbe or rice and beans a variation of the infamous ceebu jenn. To make a long and boring story short we started at 11am and ate lunch at 3pm. The ensuing four hours involved me cutting miscellaneous food items, putting them into a bowl, and then my sister telling me to put them in a pot. She did seem to enjoy my help or at least my company and she remarked that I was very good at washing dishes, which surprised her since I'm pretty bad at everything else. I told her washing dishes is pretty much the same anywhere you go.

After lunch I got a text from a PCV from my stage who was in Thies and about to spend a lonely night at the center, so I saved him from his misery and journeyed across Thies to the center to pick him up. Earlier in the day I had taken my adventures in Senegalese cooking as an opportunity to let my family know I want to cook for myself sometimes. And because they were appalled at my kitchen skills they were worried that even though I was going to cook American food it was going to be bad. Regardless, I soldiered on and Josh and I went to the market to get a pot and some veggies for dinner. I made pasta with pesto sauce my mom sent me and some onions and tomatoes.

My mom and sisters and Josh all watched as I cooked over my little gas tank in our courtyard. My family was beside themselves with my cooking abilities and just couldn't keep quiet. They were worried I was using enough oil aka I wasn't deep frying anything and that I didn't let the pasta boil until it was mush. The pesto also really weirded them out since green things are way too healthy and nutritious and not full of sugar for people to eat here. I gave my family a small bowl of my pasta and each of them took approximately one piece of macaroni and put it in their mouthes and threw gritted teeth declared the meal good. The bowl was still full of pasta when they were done. They obviously hated it, but Josh and I destroyed a huge bowl of the delicious pesto pasta. We both thought it tasted like home.

That my friends was pretty much my day in a nutshell. I'm exhausted and need to be prepared for another long day tomorrow. Off to take a bucket bath...

All About the Benjamins

I'm writing a second post for the day because I'm back from the bar early, actually I didn't go to the bar at all. The night started out harmlessly enough. My sister came into my room and found me wearing a really cute Ella Moss maxi dress and promptly told me I needed to change because it wasn't sexy enough (I wasn't going for sexy. I'm trying to blend in as best I can here). She then presumptuously told me that I wouldn't wear that dress out in the US. As a card carrying member of the Cardigan Crew, I beg to differ. If I can wear sweaters to Rick's week in and week out I can wear a slinky maxi dress in Africa. Regardless, I changed into jeans and a tank top, which was pronounced sexy and appropriate.

My brothers and I had been talking about going out all day. The pertinent pieces of information I received were as follows:

1. It was ladies night at the bar so I wouldn't have to pay cover.
2. We were not going to drink alcohol, only pop.
3. We were going to walk to the bar and say hi to friends on the way.

This led me to not bring a lot of money. Well, this information and the fact that my family always tells me not to walk around with a lot of money!

So, we sit down at a friend's house outside. The friend introduces me to 10 people in his family and then promptly quizzes me on the all of their names. It's dark I can see faces and names are really hard. I'm then berated for not knowing everyone's names and everyone lectures me on properly greeting people. OK, I get it and I did great everyone when I came in. As the only white person in the room it's pretty easy to remember my name especially since it's an AFRICAN NAME! No one here can say Alyssa and then tell me that having an African name is better anyway. Thanks a lot.

This group continues to make fun of me as I attempt to follow along with the conversation and participate. Everyone keeps saying Wolof is so easy. Awesome. I get it. Puular is harder, but guess what I've been here for two months.

The other annoying question: What is better the US or Senegal? Apart from the obvious differences in standard of living doesn't everyone have an allegiance to their native country? For some reason this question really gets me going because it's just so annoying. I'm living here for two years people. I obviously have some attachment for cause to be here. And while people revere the US, they also want to make sure that I think Senegal is better. I should only like Senegalese food now, only marry a Senegalese man, and stay here the rest of my life. This last fact makes no sense since everyone always complains they don't have enough money or jobs.

Finally, we leave the house of horrors and start walking toward the bar. My brother puts his arm around me and asks if I'm going to pay for him and his friends at the bar. I laugh it off. He wasn't kidding. We get to the main road where he wants to take a taxi and tells me to hail one and pay for it. I ask how much this is all going to cost. 2000CFA a person at least for the whole night. We are with 5 people. That's a significant amount of money especially since he told me that I wouldn't have to pay cover and we weren't going to drink. Facts he was now disputing. They are shocked I only brought 1500CFA with me. I tell them that the bar near the center has cheap beer and no cover. They get angry that I didn't ask them how much money I should bring even though we were talking about money all day.

Once it's determined we aka I don't have enough money to continue into town, my brother and his friends start asking me how much everything I'm wearing costs. This is not unusual in Senegal, but it so against our American culture I just can't get over it and it really bothers me. I would never ask how much someone I barely knew paid for something especially as a way to guilt that person. Everything is all about money here. And because I'm the only white girl in the room I have all the money. It's really hard for me to balance what I left behind with being here and being considered a piggy bank. How much is this, how much is that, you're so rich, American's have so much money. Get up, get an education, stop complaining, and start working.

My brother's friend Malik is super nice and tried to tell me it was OK, but my brother Petit, the one I really like, was obviously annoyed I had ruined his night. He brought me home, he said I was too tired to continue, and then went back out himself. I don't know how I'm supposed to relate to people if I'm on the this weird pedestal. I'm a foreigner so I'm supremely ignorant of all things Senegalese and I'm not very intelligent, but at the same time I'm rolling in money. Back home I think I'm a pretty generous person and I definitely don't mind paying for a few rounds for the Cardigan Crew, but I'm not going to get taken advantage of.

For now, I'm going to get into bed and watch Gossip Girl on my iPod. Watch some people who are richer than me flaunt their wealth. Tomorrow I'll see if there's any fall out from tonight and try and remedy the situation, but I'm not going to go out for a while. Not until I have a bunch better handle on the language and what's going on.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Run Obama Run

Today was my first day off since being installed and it was a lot less boring than I thought it would be. I got up and lounged in my bed and read a little bit and then decided to take a run. I really want to get into good shape/ exercising is a good goal unrelated to PC (aka something I have complete control over), but I've been nervous to get out there because riding my bike brought so much unwanted attention. Surprisingly, running was a lot less awkward although people obviously still thought I was insane. I ran from my house to a track/ soccer stadium near the PC Center. It's interesting going into the quartier where the PC Center is because then people will guess I'm American instead of French. Therefore I got things shouted at me such as "Run, Obama, Run." I kid you not. A group of boys approximately my age shouted this at me.

Successfully and sweatily back at my house I did laundry. I hate doing laundry. It is miserable. I was hoping that my sisters would see how terrible I am at it and then help me do it, but they just laughed and told me how terrible I was at it. They were really excited that I was even trying to do it myself. Boo. I want to pay someone to do it! One of my sisters' male friends was also over and proceeded to tell me how poor my laundry skills were and to berate me that I can't cook ceebu jeen. Interactions like these take all of my mental strength because all I want to do it jump up and punch the guy. He can't go laundry or cook and it's not because he's a foreigner like me, but because he's a lazy boy. He also went on to tell me that I need to learn how to cook ceebu jeen so I can take it back to the US. I told him that we have our own special foods in the US, but he didn't buy that any of them are as good as ceebu jeen. What I've been noticing is a weird duality of opinion about the US. Everyone wants to go to the States and know everything about it and speak English and they always say it's better than Senegal, but at the same time people don't understand why I would ever want to cook for myself when I could have ceebu jeen. It's very aggravating. To make matters worse as I was doing my laundry I saw one of my sisters cutting up A TON of okra and knew that my fate for an absolutely disgusting lunch was sealed.

Soupukanya is absolutely revolting and the only thing here that I have difficult putting in my mouth. Soupukanya is mashed up okra until it has the consistency of snot. Yes, mucus. It's then stewed into an even snottier consistency and mixed with palm oil. Palm oil is my arch nemesis here. I hate it. Therefore, my lunch was white rice covered in gelatinous okra with palm oil on top. Most PCVs also vehemently dislike this dish and I had no qualms telling my family it's bad. I tried to explain that in the US we have more than just 10 meals that we rotate through and that when they make soupukanya I would just rather make something for myself. I feel ill after I eat it and each spoonful coming towards my mouth makes me cringe. Ahhh. I'm getting nauseated just thinking about it.

After lunch I sat making tea with a couple of my brothers and their friends, which was fun, but this friend wasn't really interested in me or speaking slowly enough for me to understand so it wasn't as fun as it usually is and after my second cup of tea I retreated to my room to do some reading and have an epically long Skype call with my mom and Ma. I'm so happy that I have internet in my room. I keep saying that, but it makes me feel a lot better that I can stay connected with my loved ones in the states and just makes me a lot less lonely. Whenever people are out and about in my house I definitely sit with everyone, but this afternoon everyone was in their rooms with their doors closed so it was nice to see some familiar faces on Skype.

I just had a conversation with my brother Petit, who is my favorite because he really wants to help me learn Wolof and wants me to teach him English so he's really patient and helpful. Anyway, it sounds like we're going to hit up one of Thies' discotheques. Ah! I'm a little nervous because I've never gone out with a group of Senegalese people, but my brothers assured me we could come home whenever I wanted (please remember horrible hair weave/ goat killing night)and Petit doesn't drink so that's a plus. Let me digress about drinking for a minute. My brother Muhammad definitely drinks, and my brother Ziabata smokes, both of which are outlawed in Islam, but it appears that Petit and the girls don't do either. Further reconnaissance is obviously needed. Regardless, I'm happy first time out will be sober.

We are having chicken again for dinner so I better go eat before going out!

Friday, October 23, 2009


Work this morning showed me just a few of the frustrations that I will undoubtedly encounter many more times during my stay in Senegal. At the office Diof (my work partner) and I finalized a calendar for some trainings that he's going to do and that I'm going to observe and potentially participate in. He wanted to dictate people's names and the names of towns to me. This was a ridiculous endeavor, which I attempted to explain to him since letter combinations in Wolof completely perplex me and without at least seeing a word once I have no idea how to spell it. Once we completed this tedious and stupid task, he could've done it a million times faster himself, Diof announces we're going to the market to type the calendar up on a computer. He's sitting in front of a computer. I point out the obvious and he says it has a virus and he can't type on it. The computer doesn't have an internet connection. How does it have a virus? I don't know, but I'm getting to the bottom of it... eventually.

On our way to the market we stop every 10 feet to talk to one of Diof's friends. It's awesome that he is so well connected so he can really help me meet people, but at the same time it takes us forever and a half to get anywhere/ get anything done. When we finally reach this infamous computer place there's one computer and Diof proceeds to dictate the entire document to another woman who types it up. I literally wanted to beat my head against a wall at this point. Especially when he kept asking me people's names and then berating me for spelling and saying them wrong. To make matters worse, I had to get home for lunch (and more importantly talk to someone on the phone about my internet connection), but Diof had different ideas and called a friend who was supposed to show me a map of Thies on Google Earth since I had told Diof that I keep getting lost.

This was a very nice sentiment, but involved going to ANOTHER internet cafe and then neither Diof nor his friend knowing how to operate Google Earth. All the cyber's here have a program which prevents downloading so we couldn't even get Google Earth. Diof then told me that as an American I should know all about computers. Oh My God. I was about to jump out the cyber window. He also wanted me to help him with his phone which mysteriously has two lines, but only one had credit. I have no idea. I have no adequately explained how frustrating the morning was. It was an incredible display of inefficiency. I know that I've already really started to adapt and I lose my temper much less quickly and am much more laid back, but this tested the new me. I refuse to not care about time or efficiency or common sense.

Lunch Time = MY INTERNET IS WORKING. I also refuse to not be happy that I have internet in my room now. I never pretended that I wanted to do hard core PC in the middle of nowhere. I got exactly what I wanted. While other people are lamenting their placements in cities, I'm happy for the relative luxury I'm living in. You can put Alyssa in Africa, but you can't take away my love of the finer things in life. I did secure my internet connection only after my brother helped me out and spoke to the Orange woman on the phone. My French over the phone is apparently incomprehensible so big shout out to Ziabata.

I then had a very interesting conversation with another brother, Muhammad, 26, about getting married. He saw my photo album and proceeded to ask which one of my girl friends were married/ had boyfriends. He also told me he was really excited that I was a girl (the last volunteer here was a boy), but that he was disappointed I am a brunette. To make a long story short, he wants to marry a blond, American woman and then asked me if he could use my computer to talk to Jackie on Skype because she's a beautiful, American, blond. Hey Jackie, he says he only wants one wife so that's a plus. I could totally set you up!

My afternoon back at work was full of meeting more people and not understanding conversations Diof had with people about how I would do all their work for them. Great. We did visit a beauty school/ sowing school for girls that I'm interested in working with so that's cool.

I'm now completely exhausted. My brain feels like it's going to explode as I try to digest my first work week. Conducting my life in Frolof is exhausting plus I've been walking to the ends of the Earth and back everyday, my office is pretty far from my house/ I'm sure I take the long way since I usually have no idea where I'm going. I fell asleep on the couch for two hours before dinner.

Ok, well that's it for now. If you've written me an email in the past few days I will get back to you this week. I've also posted my new mailing address. If you have sent me something in the mail I can still pick it up from the center, getting my own address is just going to be a lot easier. Check back tomorrow for pictures of my bungalow!

We Found A Path!

October 22, 2009

Today was pretty chill. Chris discovered a new path from my house to our office which we took without getting lost (I didn’t get lost at all today!) and our morning meeting with our counterpart was fine. I successfully defended myself from being strong-armed into giving accounting lessons next week, but I am helping my boss create a lesson plan and I will be joining him in fifteen different villages to watch how he does workshops and participate when I feel comfortable. I’m sure at least parts of it will be interesting, although Senegalese meetings are a little bit like having your teeth pulled while the dentist tells you how pain free the procedure is. It will definitely give me something to do and I think staying relatively busy is going to be the key to my success these three months before IST (in-service training).

After a morning in the office, we met a couple other volunteers at Big Faim, a PCV favorite restaurant. I felt a little guilty about going to a restaurant so soon, but at the same time I’m going to be living here for 2 years and at this early stage I’m going to see as many people as I can and remain as up-beat as possible. We went with the hope of swimming in the restaurant’s new pool. The server told us we were welcome to partake since we were eating, but when one of the boys cannon balled into the pool out pops this mystery pool watcher man who demands 2000CFA for pool privileges. We were obviously all angry, but there was nothing he could do but pay. The other PCVs want me to work with the restaurant as a SED project to teach them that our food should be payment enough.

Everyone went their separate ways, but Emily and I decided to walk through the market and pick up a few things. We both picked up some string and clothes pins so we can hang up pictures in our rooms (pictures will be up ASAP) and I got a few other miscellaneous things. A lot of volunteers do very little to their rooms, but again, I’m living here for 2 years so I might as well make it nice. I was then exceedingly proud of myself because I took a different route home from the market and made it without getting lost. Granted, I know the market area pretty well from being at the center and I pretty much only used the main roads, but still I’m counting this as an accomplishment and as such I treated myself to my new favorite treat: Yogo Glace. I really can’t say enough good things about Yogo Glace.

Back at the casa everyone seemed to be in a bad mood so I steered clear and actually read the accounting manual the Peace Corps gave me. Even I can handle the type of accounting that I’ll be teaching here. It’s basic things American’s don’t even think about and the legers are really simple.

Dinner was AMAZING!!!!!! Roasted chicken, fries, and onions. My family eats really well, which I’m exceedingly happy about. I’m still planning on cooking a few meals a week for myself though. And I’m going to pick the nights when we aren’t eating chicken. Here in Senegal, vegetables signal wealth in the village, but nice meat signals wealth in Thies so while I have a obligatory carrot and cabbage in my ceebu jenn for lunch, I don’t get anything not drenched in oil for dinner. I can’t wait to make myself a salad, but only after washing my lettuce in filtered bleach water of course!

Sorry for the pretty boring post. I didn’t make a fool of myself or get lost today.

I think tomorrow is going to be a great day (aka I think the internet will be up and running)!

And I will walk 500 miles…

October 21, 2009

Yes, I got lost again. I woke up early this morning to go to the Orange store to pay for my internet connection. I thought this was going to be an easy trip so I jumped on my bike and headed off. Immediately I could tell that my bike’s back tire was pretty flat, but I continued on thinking the Orange office wasn’t too far and I could ride on a paved road the whole way. I made it almost half the way there without any problems other than people laughing and pointing at me. Is there anything more ridiculous than a toubab wearing a helmet while riding a bike? I think not. Anyway, I’m halfway to the store and my chain falls off. I get off to inspect the damage. First of all, I don’t like bikes. Second of all, I have a brother studying engineering and a boyfriend who’s an engineer for a reason. I don’t do things like fix bikes. I attempt to put the chain back on and am surprising successful. I peddle another ten feet and my bike stops again. Now this weird rubbery band has broken and is twisted around the chain. Some Senegalese kids come to “help” me aka look at my bike, touch it, and then ask for money. I sense that attempting to fix the damn bike on the side of the road is an exercise in futility so I decide to walk my bike the rest of the way to the store.

I’m at the Orange store for two hours attempting to sort everything out. There was an added degree of difficulty involved because I was paying for one of my friends who doesn’t have an Orange store in her town. Regardless, flush wish success and an internet modem I left the store with 30 minutes to get back home, grab my stuff, and meet Chris at the roundabout before heading off to the office. I know 30 minutes isn’t enough time so I text Chris 45. HAhahahaha. Joke. Flash-forward an hour and a half later, after I have pushed my bike through the roads (read sand dunes) of Thies looking for my house. Going to the Orange store I used the main, paved roads because I was riding my bike. I rode ¾ of a square because the ¼ of the square that almost directly connects my house and the main road is sand and twists through the neighborhood. Against my better judgment I decided to attempt to navigate within the neighborhood since it should’ve been faster than walking my bike back the ridiculously long way. This was an epic failure and resulted in a very nice Senegalese boy about my age coming up to me and telling me that I was lost. I thought about bluffing my way through the situation, but it was too true and he knew it. I told him where I lived and he proceeded to laugh at me because I had walked all the way through my quartier and into the next one completely bypassing my house. I then proceeded to give him terrible directions and we overshot my house by most of the quartier. It only took this very nice man and Chris to get me back home… pushing my bike all the way.

Now, it’s 10am. OMG. And I need to take nap, but Chris and I set out for our counterparts office where I have to apologize for being late and explain that I had taken an epic journey already this morning. The three of us then visited 5 potential work partners. I cannot explain how exhausting this was. They were all women’s groups doing various things, but everyone spoke in extremely rapid French or even worse, Wolof and I was completely overwhelmed. My counterpart pretty much told everyone I was free labor so everyone wanted my number and wanted to know when I’m coming back to help. I’m glad there’s a lot of work, but my brain was about to explode. It’s so tiring trying to listen, digest the information, speak, and try to make some preliminary decisions. I’m really happy that my counterpart is introducing me to so many people, but it is overwhelming. Once he’s done taking me around it’s really up to me to narrow down the projects I want to work on. I’m going to start attending some of the organizations’ meetings and on Monday I’m going to attempt to teach some teachers at a preschool how to use computers. By computer class, I mean teaching these women how to press the start button and click on the mouse. It should be interesting. I need to read/ learn French computer terms this weekend.

There was no rest for the weary as my counterpart dragged us through the Senegalese desert introducing us. We even had lunch together at a little ceeb shack. We had ceebu jenn and it wasn’t nearly as good as the food that I have at my house so I was a little disappointed. I thought I would be released from the purgatory that was walking around during the middle of the day, but my work partner forced us back to the office… where we took a nap. Yes, we went back to the office and my boss pulls out mats for us and we were supposed to rest for a while at the office. Totally normal. And weird. After our nap we went to the mayor’s office which was pretty cool and then I was allowed to go home.

In my haze of dehydration and complete exhaustion I decided to go to the post office and get my own post office box to make things easy for me. The new address is up, but don’t worry if you have something in the mail I can still go to the center and get other mail it just might take a little longer since the secretary doesn’t check as regularly when we aren’t at the center. I then spotted the second toubab grocery store across the street and decided I needed a treat.

I found something that rivals Biskrem. I didn’t think it was possible, but my new obsession is frozen vanilla yogurt in a bag. It’s magnificent and called Yogo Glace and it’s only 100CFA and Biskrem is 250CFA. Score. I slurped it into my mouth in all its frozen glory. It was delicious and I only had 4 children ask me to give it to them while I was eating. Not bad. In case you didn’t know everything comes in a bag here. If it’s a semi-solid or liquid you can get small quantities in bags.

The rest of my day was pretty anticlimactic. I took a little me time to read in my room and spent some time watching terrible tv with my family. I still ate at the table with my dad while using a knife and fork, which is weird, but it’s fine.

Tomorrow is another day. I need rest. I also hope I don’t get lost… again.


October 20, 2009

I woke up this morning in a great mood because my fan was still whirling and blaring away and I could lay in bed for a while because, the encien volunteer who lives in Thies wasn’t coming to get me until 11. I literally just stared up at my ceiling fan, which I imagine will be a fairly regular activity for the next three months as I adjust, learn, and adapt to life “on my own” here in Senegal.

The morning was an adventure since the encien didn’t really know the way from my house to our office so we took an extremely long route in the heat that lead us pretty much back to where we started before we got our bearings and found the right path. At our work partners’ office my supervisor wanted me to dive right in next week and start some accounting workshops in nearby villages. I was game to start right away since I’m worried that all this free time that I’m supposed to be spending integrated into my family, Thies, and Senegal at large will actually make me exceedingly depressed and homesick. Although I was intimidated by the proposal, I said that I would look at the books I have an attempt to prepare something. This afternoon I went to the center and saw my APCD Nicole, who correctly told me this was a bad idea. Not only is it not too smart to test myself right now, but my work partner really wants me to teach the sessions because he can’t distribute some millet grinding machines without some elementary business training. When I go see him tomorrow, I’m going to try and create a compromise where Bamba, our business teacher, will come and teach the representatives from all 15 villages an accounting class. That way I can have a part in the training, while still observing and not having the major role. Nonetheless, this kind of just brought home and I’m going to be doing a lot of nothing these next few months. I’m definitely going to try and do several feasibility studies for future projects and hopefully start getting to know teachers at some local high schools that may need some help.

As we were leaving our work partners’ office, they offered me a ride back to my house. The encien volunteer had other errands and was going to walk, which I wanted to do because I do not know my way around yet, but I was pressured into taking the ride. The dropped me off on the side of the main road with some vague directions about how to get back to my house. This was a catastrophe. I accidentally got turned around by 90 degrees at a round a about and spent the next 45 minutes wandering around my quartier, trying to look like I was walking with purpose, as I put my sunglasses on to hide my sheer terror and desperation. By sheer luck I figured out my way and found the way back to my house. Thies is a big city without any street signs and my house is away from the center of town so there are very few landmarks. It’s really easy to get turned around as well since everything is dilapidated and beige. Instead of going all the way home, I called Tamar to see if she wanted to come see my place. In an effort not to get lost again I hailed a cab and went to pick Tamar up at the center.

This plan seemed to be genius since I could see the fastest route to the center, but as most adventures here things went downhill after we picked Tamar up and the cab got a flat tire. Unlike in the States, cabs don’t have meters here and you have to negotiate a fare before you get in the cab. Therefore, I had already told the cabbie what I would pay him for a roundtrip from my house to the center and back. Because we had nothing better to do and because I was already out money, Tamar and I decided to sit back and relax in the taxi while the driver fixed the tire. We were laughing that it was going to take an eternity, but miraculously it took less than 10 minutes and we were back at my house in no time!
We walked in just in time for some ceebu jenn and then spent the next couple of hours getting a Wolof lesion while we sat with my brothers drinking tea. It was really fun and felt good and fairly natural even though I knew that I had to take Tamar back to the center and say goodbye. Tamar has been akin to my right arm for the past 2 months. There is no way I could have made it through the home stays without her. Our daily questioning of our motives and ourselves on our walks to and from class were necessary and priceless. I definitely would have gone insane without her and now she’s going far away to live on an island! It sucks. We are already planning a Biskrem filled Thanksgiving, but I’m sure like the next 5 weeks are going to feel like an eternity since I have to spend every night at my site. It’s definitely going to be hard.

I’m finally on my own. A Peace Corps driver helped me buy and transport a mattress after I left the center and when he left my house, I definitely felt a slight sense of abandonment. No one is here to hold my hand anymore and that’s really scary. My current situation isn’t as overwhelming as the home stay, but it’s for 2 years. Wow. And I have to navigate for myself the next three months with no real direction. It will definitely be interesting… or maybe not interesting at all and just boring. I don’t know.

For the record: I still haven’t seen this baby. I think it was a lost in translation moment. I still at with the men and a knife and fork tonight and tomorrow I’m going to start it all over again.

I’m currently craving chicken tacos from a greasy fast food place in LA so everyone should go get some Mexican for me!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

And So It Begins…

October 19, 2009

My two year service as a Peace Corps volunteer. Last night, I did not sleep. It was probably the first time I haven’t slept due to anxiety in Senegal instead of heat, I’m usually so exhausted I just collapse at the end of the day. Leaving the center aka cocoon of safety, my friends, and especially Tamar seemed like a completely daunting task that was due many tears. One of my goals during PC is to not cry as much as I usually do in the States, so far it’s been a total fail, but today I really impressed myself and held it together.

This morning, Emily and I, my urban agriculture counterpart packed all of our stuff up into a PC LandRover and met all the important political people we needed to introduce ourselves to and then we dropped Emily off, and finally it was my turn. Leaving Emily was hard because she was obviously a little frazzled and I was really nervous for myself. When we arrived at my house we discovered that my room wasn’t ready (my older sister was still living in it) and that my mom was gone because she was at a baptism for her baby. Wtf? Yes, that’s right her baby. I’m still very confused on this more later…

So my first few hours were spent helping my sisters clean and trying to remember the names of the constant flow of people moving through the house. I finally forced my brother to sit down with me and create a family tree. While this was helpful, it really didn’t explain everything because according to him everyone is family aka brothers and sisters in Senegal and he wasn’t making distinction between blood relatives like we would in the states. Here’s the run down:

Ousmane (Dad): I was forwarned by the volunteer before me that he’s a man of few words and a little intimidating so I was nervous to meet him when he got home from work. He works in Dakar and commutes there every day in his truck. Therefore, I’m hoping to never take public transportation to Dakar and hitch a ride with dear old dad, but I digress. When he came home from work he barely acknowledged me and went to take a shower. I had dinner with him and the eldest son and he did try and converse with me which was nice. He was pleased I speak French and potentially even slightly impressed with my terrible Wolof. I’m not planning on much interaction with him, but I think our relationship will be fine.

Astou (Mother): So apparently she just had a baby seven days ago because it’s baptism was today. When I met her briefly several weeks ago I couldn’t tell she was pregnant, but pregnancy is very taboo here in Senegal and women are extremely adept at hiding their baby bumps. Pregnancy is never directly discussed and people may talk around pregnancy by telling a woman she’s eating too much and getting fat. If someone told that to an American pregnant woman they would get a beating. Anyway, she’s definitely lactating because I saw her breastfeeding her three year old grandson although I haven’t seen or heard this mysterious baby yet. I’m very confused. But, my mom is AWESOME. She’s super nice and really talkative and is very encouraging, which isn’t very Senegalese. I gave her some cookies my mom sent me from the States and she was so happy and I just really like her.

Cheikh (Brother): He’s the oldest and lives in Spain. I don’t know anything about him.

Zaibata (Brother): He’s an electrician and also owns a cyber café. He’s really nice and nailed my mosquito net up for me. I like him a lot, but he seems to be the quietest sibling so I haven’t spoken with him too much.

Mamy (Sister): This is the girl I kicked out of her room, but she’s really nice and doesn’t seem upset. She plays basketball at an academy here in Thies and her biceps are as big as my thighs. She’s an Amazon. She also likes to hold my hand as she leads me around and told me I spoke good French so she’s awesome in my book. I think they boys are going back to University in Dakar soon, but Mamy will be staying at the house.

Bocar aka Petit (Brother): This is the brother I’ve spoken with the most. He had a friend from University over this afternoon who is an English major and speaks great English. Petit also speaks good English which is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because he can explain things to me and since he’s getting a degree in American history and culture he’s interested in me and wants my help and it’s a curse because I have to be careful what I say on the phone and I don’t want to fall back on English; I want to fall back on French. It’s also a curse because I was trying to take a nap this afternoon and he woke up to ask me to translate words from French to English for his friend’s English test. He’s cool though and he wants to go clubbing. I can only imagine what that would be like.

Ahmed (Brother): Kind of confused about who this is.

Ahmed (Grandson): He’s three and I think he’s Cheikh’s son. I believe his mom is Khady who also lives in the house. He’s really cute and he’s teaching me French songs he’s learning at school.

Jeenaba and Jeenaba: Yes, and my name is Jeenaba so there are three of us in the house. The other Jeenabas are like maids in the house, but according to Petit who was the one helping me with the family tree they are family. Petit says everyone in the house is family, but not everyone is related and the two Jeenabas have to do all the house work and the cooking. They are clearly not equals, but they are both really fun and nice and want to teach me how to cook Senegalese food which will be fun.

That’s a rundown of the family for now. I’m sure half of this is wrong and I will learn a lot more in the coming days. I want to go back to the differences between my home stay and this house. List form may be easiest.

1. EVERYTHING IS TILED!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The main house has ceramic tiles and they are all level and none of them are broken. It’s pretty amazing. Our entire courtyard and my bungalow are also completely tiled in mosaics. It’s really nice and much cleaner and I’m hoping it will be cooler too. I’m sure I’m be spending some nights on the cool floor during the hot summer months.
2. We have furniture. In the vil we either sat on woven plastic mats outside or foam mats inside. We had one chair and the only other furniture were some beds and a couple of dressers. My house here has chairs, couches, and tables! Tonight at dinner I sat in a chair at a table and used a fork and a knife! I didn’t even though people did that here. My family in the vil didn’t have forks.
3. DINNER = AMAZING. Tonight I had lamb, potatoes, and onions and it was delicious. The lamb was actually meat not just fat that made me want to gag. I didn’t know food like this existed. It’s better than the food at the center. For lunch we had egg sandwiches. To put this in perspective, at the market one egg is 100CFA and a loaf of bread is 150CFA. In the vil when we had eggs my sister would make 4-5 eggs for 7 people. Today for lunch, me and four other women probably ate 12-15 eggs. This was earth shattering for me. I can’t even begin to describe how good it tasted especially since Jeenaba used salt and pepper!
4. Eggs. This gets me to something I do not like. We have animals and I hate animals. Gross. We have chickens which means we have eggs all the time which is amazing. We also have sheep which means I have a headache and I want to kill all the sheep and I’ve been here for 12 hours. Boo. I guess I’ll get used to it and fresh meat and eggs are probably worth it. We also have pigeons, which I don’t understand. I hate birds. They’re dirty
5. I still have bucket bath and a squat toilet, but they are tiled, clean, and really nice.
6. I have a double bed.
7. I have a dresser. Putting my clothes in a dresser today was a kin to a religious experience. I thought I was going to cry from joy. It was great.
8. We have satellite TV although we’ve only watched local channels.

I think those are the most important highlights. It was a good day and the current PCVs were right; today was much easier than my first day in the vil. Obviously, this house is much nicer, but my language skills and cultural understanding are also much greater. I know that this isn’t going to be easy, but right now this is an ideal situation and one I can definitely live with for two years. This is also a ridiculously long blog post so I will put you all out of your misery and call it a night.

Wish me luck falling asleep. I have the damn sheep 10 feet away from me!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Last Night

Today wasn't all that interesting of a day. I woke up and had to say goodbye to almost everyone, which sucked. All the people leaving for Kaolack and Kadagou left this morning so there were only about 15 people left at the center today. Luckily, I only had to say goodbye to couple close friends this morning since Tamar, Jackie, and Katherine are all in my region and still here.

We spent the early afternoon at the market doing some shopping. Finding trunks where we can lock valuables was the major goal of the shopping expedition and we had absolutely no idea where to find them. Luckily, I made a Senegalese friend while we were walking through the market. Babacar is about 10 years old and was pumped to meet some American Peace Corps volunteers, was excited we could speak Wolof, and all about helping us try and find some trunks. After reverting to French to explain what a trunk is Bobacar led us through the maze that is the market looking for our holy grail. Like most Senegalese people, who never say no outright, Bobacar totally lied and told us he knew where to buy trunks. It was immediately apparent he had no idea where to find a trunk since he kept stopping to ask everyone he knew where the group of toubabs could find a trunk. We walked back and forth along one street several times before turning around and finding the saddest excuse for trunks I've ever seen. They were pretty much cardboard with the thinnest sheets of aluminum ever. They were crap. I could have broken into one with my hands. Plus the guy wanted to charge us an absolutely ridiculous price even though I was speaking in Wolof and I'm pretty awesome at haggling in the market. I have this whole routine of being really excited, using Wolof numbers which really impresses people, and walking away; I almost always win, but no deal this time. We ended up just buying a bunch of buckets and some silver wear, which is what I wanted anyway.

Since that was a fairly boring story, I will now regale you three wonderful stories about food. Food: the favorite topic of every PCV.

1. Yesterday, I was trying to condense and reorganize some of the packages I've gotten to make the move to my new site easier. I stumbled upon an individual pack of salsa and some chips my mom sent me. I immediately grabbed this delicacy, ripped open the salsa, and started shoving the delicious combo into my mouth. This was while crouching on my bed, in my room, alone. A few chips in I realized how very sad this was and decided to go give some Tamar and Jackie who were literally sitting right outside of our room. They were equally enamored with this glorious goody from the US and we finished the chips and salsa together. I licked the plastic container before I threw it away FYI. It is also common and completely acceptable to lick candy wrappers.

2. Biskrem. Biskrem are God's gift to Senegal by way of Algeria and are the most delicious cookies in the entire world. Biskrem single handedly kept me from losing more than the 10 pounds I've already lost while at the home stay. They come in a pack of 11 (yes, it's a weird number and Tamar only made the startling discovery of the odd number a few days ago) and are like Nilla Wafers with a chocolate center. In the village the chocolate is hard and the cookie a little soft aka stale, but still amazingly delicious. Tamar, Brian, and I would split at least one pack a day and it was probably more like 3 if I'm being honest. Regardless, we bought some at the toubab store in Thies and just experienced fresh Biskrem for the first time today and it was earth shattering. The cookie is supposed to be crunchy and the chocolate center creamy! This was an amazing discovery and the cookies tasted just that much better. For lunch Tamar, Jackie and I ate Biskrem coated in my Extra Crunchy Jiff peanut butter with a side of apples. I can not describe to you how delicious this was. You send me a package, I will send you Biskrem and you will understand what I mean when I say they are the best cookies in the world.

3. CHICKEN DIBI! Oh yes, I hit it up twice in one week and it was even better round 2. I love chicken dibi. It's great. The electricity worked the whole time tonight and we even got to wash our hands in the sink. You know that's a good night. And in case you're wondering I will be talking about chicken dibi every single time I go for the next two years because it's amazing.

I think that's a pretty good rundown of the day. Tonight is my last night at the center before I'm literally pushed out of the nest and out on my own. Am I ready? According to the Peace Corps yes; I passed all of my tests. According to me? I have no idea. I'm sure ridiculousness will ensue when I'm lost in translation and don't have my teacher to ask about culturally insensitive topics, but there's really nothing I can do about that. Plus, I'm a toubab. I can't really get all the much more ridiculous than I already am.

I will probably be internetless for the next couple of days until I go to an internet cafe/ get internet in my room, but send me loving emails in the meantime and wish me luck as I venture out into the the real world for the very first time...

Saturday, October 17, 2009


My first full day as a volunteer was exhausting. The main reason why I was exhausted is because we were all up until 4am last night. The first group left this morning at 7 and tomorrow most of the group will be leaving for Kadagou and Kaolack and then there will only be a handful of us left at the center.

It's starting to get really emotional. While I'm craving personal space and some freedom there is safety in numbers and not having my friends around to back me up when I'm getting harassed in the market, when I want to go home, or when I'm really bored and want to talk about home will be really hard. I just lived through my freshman year of college all over again except on a ridiculously condensed scale. Everyone has gotten really close. I know everything about my roommates right down to bodily functions. Hey, we get bored and need things to talk about and we are experiencing such drastic changes that they really do need to be discussed!

I’m scared to be out on my own. I’m going to have to negotiate my rent, utilities, buy my own food, and live my daily life. I’m an adult now. But, I’m an adult in African not the US. Interesting. The vast majority of people here are a few years out of school and have lived on their own. I’m a little intimidated about really being self-reliant for the first time… in Africa. Dad, don’t worry I still plan on not making any money for the next 5 years. I don’t want to be THAT independent.

Now for a rundown of today: Although I stayed up really late I was awake my 9am staring down the heinous challenge that is laundry. My fingers are now raw from scrubbing my clothes for 2 hours. I will commend myself on the best laundry job I’ve done so far in Senegal. I think things are almost clean, which is a vast improvement over dumping clothing into soapy water swooshing them around and calling it a day. Unfortunately, this evening I checked my clothes and they were mostly dry, but not dry enough. I don’t want Mango Flies burrowing into my body. I decided to leave them out and then it started to rain! And the rainy season is over. Everyone in my room immediately jumped up and ran outside to save our hard work. I was mostly successful, but now I have to hang everything back out in the morning. I can’t wait to get a laundry lady at site. Not only will it help me, but I’ll be putting money directly into the hands of a deserving woman (this is me rationalizing).

After laundry we headed into town to make appointments to get the internet installed (hey, I’m doing PC my way), which was a failure because the store was closed, then to lunch, and then to the market to do some shopping. We had grand plans to buy a lot of the things we will need at our site and it was a pretty big failure. PC doesn’t give us any type of pricing guide so I had no idea to what extent I was getting ripped off. While it’s not a big deal if I don’t get things before I move in since I live here, my friends did want to buy some basics since everything will be cheaper in Thies. I haggled a lot since I’m getting pretty good at numbers in Wolof, plus I enjoy the hustle and bustle of the market and I’m not afraid to get up and walk away for a good price. I’m starting to get more and more comfortable in the markets and once I figure out prices I think it will be fun, at least for a while, to get out there.

I’m not sure about the furniture situation in my house yet, so I don’t know if I will have to go out and buy everything which would be a huge pain in the ass. I hope that there will be furniture there that I can purchase. I just want things to be easy and to move in and get settled as soon as possible. Having a home is going to be amazing.

My night was pretty chill. We made dinner at the center since now that we’re PCVs we are pretty much on our own and it was delicious. It was just pasta with pesto sauce and some tomatoes, but when you’re used to pasta that is boiled for an hour in a half water half oil mixture until it has the consistency of a paste once you get it in your mouth, some al dente pasta is like heaven on earth.

Tomorrow will be my last day at the center and my last day surrounded by the familiar. Just keep on keeping on…

Ps. I am actually going to change my address. Everything on route is fine and I will definitely get it, but I’m going to get my own box to make it easier for me and I will put up that address later this week! Thanks!

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's Official

I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer, not just a trainee anymore. I would consider it a pretty big accomplishment and we had a lovely ceremony in Dakar at the American Ambassador's house to swear in.

The end of PST marks a huge milestone of my service; mainly that I'm on my own now. I recently got an email from a friend about how she's moving out of her parents' house and really being her on her own. First of all: go you. Second of all I'm actually, finally getting out on my own too. It's kind of weird. A lot of my friends have their own appartments, pay their own bills, and live on their own. For the last 2 months I've been in pre-school. Literally. I learned how to bathe myself, feed myself (ok, not really my mom still threw my way at the thank you party yesterday, speak Wolof at the level of a three year old child, and conduct myself in a new society. I'm definitely not fully functioning, but I'm sure the epic failures that are sure to come will be highly entertaining and I'm excited to have some freedom and be out on my own.

The Swearing-In ceremony was a little anti-climactic, but nice all the same. We got up super early to get to Dakar on time and then waited for the ceremony to start for 1.5 hours. Usual. Everyone's remarks were really nice and I was impressed with all of my fellow PCVs who gave speaches in Senegalese local languages. The overall mood was definitely festive, but I could tell that at least my friends were a little apprehensive about what's to come. Not only that, we were also the center of attention because we were some of the only girls completely decked out in traditional Senegalese formal wear plus headwraps. The icing on the cake? We were all wearing jewel tones. I swear we didn't plan it.

After the ceremony we had a reception in the backyard of the Ambassador's house. It was obvious we new volunteers have not yet completely adapted to the Senegalese style of acquiring sustainance. It was a buffet/ snack style set up with food out on tables. While Americans form lines and respective individual space and the right of everyone to enjoy food, the Senegalese descend upon food like a swarm of bees and feast until there is nothing left. It's literally every man for himself and you better be ready to throw some elbows if you want a delicious slider or some guacamole. Lesson learned. Lesson learned.

At the PC office we signed some more forms and then were whisked away for a few hours of sun, fun, and ice cream at the American Club. Pretty much a delipatated country club in Dakar that rich people go to and that we can get into for free as PC volunteers. It was pretty nice and I thoroughly enjoyed my ice cream.

Back in Thies, after it took us 3 hours to travel the 65k from Dakar to Thies, don't worry I had my iPod and completely passed out on the bus, we discovered that the kitchen staff was no where to be found and therefore we had to find dinner in town. In a race to beat the coming dusk we sprinted into town only to have teenage girls through rocks at us. Welcome to Senegal new Peace Corps Volunteers. Great. It was suprising that even in Thies toubabs got that reaction, but hopefully I wont encounter such hostility during my service.

Now, I'm back from the speak easy around the corner. Yes, it's a covert Catholic family selling us warm Gazelle (Senegalese beer)and they close the doors behind us! Dancing on a rooftop, under the stars, to an iPod connected to some pretty terrible speakers is the only way I would have wanted to spend tonight; my first night as a full fledged volunteer. I already feel like I've been in Senegal for forever, but at the same time not long at all. It's strange. To many more nights under the African sky...

And Picassa has finally agreed to load all of my pictures and video. They are awesome so make sure to look at them. One video is 4.5 minutes long, but is totally worth that wasted time at work so watch it!

Also, before I forget... I would like to thank everyone who made this day possible:

1. My parents for sending me lovely carepackages and not hanging up when I call at 5am having a break down
2. My lovely boyfriend for never losing his patience as I continually lost my mind during the last 2 months
3. Everyone who sent me letters and packages
4. And last but not least everyone who reads my blog. I hope it's at least a little entertaining and maybe even informative. You guys rock.


Ps. I love ceiling fans.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


After everyone woke up early this morning only to wait for 2 hours for a meeting to occur that never happened, the day actually turned out fantastic.

Our homestay families came in around 1 to spend the day with us. My mom brought me my dress, which from the pictures you will see if bright green with rainbow trim detail, and it was so sweet. Although the dress may not be my favorite color and the rouging around the chest makes me look pregnant and/or breastfeeding the gesture was amazing. I didn't realize it right away, but my friends pointed out they tried to copy my yellow Chloe dress that I love so much and wear all the time. They are kind of similar and now the bright green makes more sense since that dress is bright yellow. My mom wanted me to put it on right away, which I did and we took a lot of pictures. Everyone kept complimenting me on the dress and it made my mom really happy. I gave her some more pictures that I had taken (the ones I put up of the family yesterday) and some of the magazines that you guys sent me and which I already read. My siblings absolutely love the magazines I've given them. They keep them in a special place in the house and bring them out every day to pour over the ads. They are completely in awe of perfume ads that have a scent.

Anyway, everyone ate lunch at the center and it was AMAZING!!!!!!! Chicken Yasa, which is a roasted chicken with white rice, some miscellaneous and tiny vegetables, and then an onion sauce. We have never had anything so delicious here. It was awesome. I had made the suggestion that we feed our Senegalese families some American food since we are subjected to interesting Senegalese dishes all the time. I thought it would be hilarious to serve something like Macaroni & Cheese, but that was vetoed and the Chicken Yasa was pretty delicious.

The afternoon was full of tea making (see video) and some incredible Senegalese entertainment. There were musicians, dancers, and toubabs dancing galor. The performances were really fantastic and amazing (see videos. It's really indiscribable so please look at the videos. It was a really fun experience and party to share with the rest of the people in my stage, my mom, and the rest of the family members from my home stay group. It was a little sad saying goodbye at the end. My mom might have actually been a little chocked up and I know that she had a really good time and was super excited about the pictures that I gave her.

It's starting to sink in that PST is really over and on Monday I'm going to be on my own. PC is going to drop me off and drive away. And that's terrifying. While PST was miserable and extremely difficult, it's also completely necessary and while I don't feel completely prepared to go to site at least I know I can communicate and at least get by. Tomorrow is our swearing in ceremony, which is really exciting. We get some great food in Dakar and I guess it's a good time. Followed by our last night together in Thies. So far we've been a group and there's safety in the group. I'm definitely intimdated to strike out on my own, but I'm also ready for some freedom and to cook some great food with all the goodies you guys have been sending me!

Please check out all the pictures and videos I posted. They are really cool and will paint a much better picture of my day than I ever could.

Other Random Ridiculous Things I've Forgotten to Mention:
1. Tamar and I wore the same outfit yesterday. Black top, Khaki pants. We didn't change. Everyone noticed and we didn't change. We will also be sporting matching complets tomorrow since we went to the same tailor.
2. My roommates and I ripped open my packages and promptly stood around a jar of peanut butter eating it with a spoon.
3. I will be wearing a headwrap tomorrow.

The pictures are uploading super slowly so check back this weekend for all things Senegal and to see my videos if I can't get them up tonight. Next week I will have my very own internet connection. Joy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chicken Dibi 2x

Today was our last day of class and I'm really happy it was our last day of class because I really can't take it anymore. I think everyone is starting to get a little stir crazy and although moving out on my own is really intimidating, I can't wait to get some freedom and independence back. Maybe my new mom will even think that it is within my abilities to pick food out of the bowl for myself instead of having her throw food in my general direction. That would be a HUGE step forward!

My day was really uneventful. We were briefed on moving into our new places. Luckily for me it's really easy since I'm staying in the same city and will have a Peace Corps car. Most people have to take sept-places to their regional capitals and then from there PC will take them to their sites. This would be nearly impossible for me since I now I have so many packages! Yay! I thought I would be able to consolidate everything, but everyone did such a great job stuffing those flat rate boxes I'm going to have to take the boxes with me. Tonight, a special shout out goes to Ma for her excellent Halloween package - Cotton Candy Jelly Beans are my favorite! And it even came early. And Mr. And Mrs. McKeown who sent an amazing package with tons of reading material (Elle and and a very special American Demographics magazine featuring the whole family on the cover circa 1993. All I can say is that the magazine will forever grace my African nightstand. Thank you.

Undoubtably the highlight of my day was dinner because we went back to Chicken Dibi! I know that I wrote about Chicken Dibi before, but I think I'm going to have to mention it everytime because it's just that amazing. Plus tonight the power went out so we had a romantic dinner with candle light. Not seeing what your putting in your mouth when using your hands makes food extra delicious! Everyone that comes to visit is eating at Chicken Dibi! It's amazing and pictures of it are posted. I warned you in the previous post that it wasn't the cleanest establishment...

Other events of note:
1. I passed my language test! Oh yeah, so I will be swearing in on Friday.
2. Tamar and I did get our outfits for swearing in before we got back to Thies. They don't have huge rhinestones... I know you're all disappointed.
3. Tomorrow is the Thank You Party for our hosts families. Every should be excited that my mom is bringing my dress they had made for me. Did I tell you that the fabric is neon, flourescent, green?
4. It's also finally cooling down here. Yay! It's 86F at 9pm. I'm never going to be able to move back home after this heat.

I'm going to go read my American Demographic with some Jelly Beans...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Done and Done

I took my final language test today, packed my bags, waited for an additional hour and a half for my ride to come and now I'm done with the homestay! Yay!

I feel really good eventhough I don't know how well I did on the test... Regardless, I'm back at the training center and ready to celebrate and that I did when I got to open the 4 packages that were here waiting for me! Thank you so much mom, Ma, and Aunt Diane! I got a letter from Shirley too! And I have two more slips for packages that I'll be able to get tomorrow. Gorging myself on peanut butter is making my celebration that much better!

Before I left the homestay village I did have one last lunch of ceebu jenn with my family and a hilarious photo shoot. Everyone had to take a shower before I was allowed to take pictures and it took my sisters and mom forever to get ready. Please notice the difference between their appearance and mine in all the pictures. Yes, a lot of new pictures are up and even some hilarious videos so be sure to check those out. Please pay special attention to the picture of my mom when she's posing by holding onto a leaf and a chair. It's classic.

Last night, I was verging on sentimental and a little sad about leaving the vil. Today, I'm really happy and proud and ready for some fun and relaxation.

Nothing too exciting or completely ridiculous happened today so enjoy the pictures and the new posts while I enjoy a night out!

Last Night in the Vil!

October 12, 2009

I did it and it feels amazing. There were multiple points in time when I was ready to jump on a plane and come back to the US, but I’m happy and proud that I stuck it out. PST is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and it feels great knowing that I get to go back to Thies tomorrow and swear in as an official volunteer later this week (barring catastrophe and that I passed by business and language tests!).

Looking back on the last two months I would characterize them as hell, ridiculously difficult, and tremendously important. I was completely unprepared to start my Peace Corps experience. I had no idea what Africa was like and was shocked when it wasn’t a slightly less developed Eastern Europe. I can now place my difficulties into three main problems.

1. My family is Puular and I’m learning Wolof. I know the Peace Corps tries really hard to match us with great families during PST and that it’s a difficult and complicated task, but getting the language group right is incredibly important. During my first few weeks while I was dealing with homesickness, the extreme heat, dietary Armageddon, and the question “what the hell am I doing here?” I couldn’t understand my family. Yes, I could communicate with them in French, but that wasn’t my goal. I needed/ wanted to learn Wolof. Until I got a grasp on Wolof I had no idea whether my family was speaking Puular or Wolof and it was not only extremely frustrating, but isolating as well. This led me to speak mainly in French, which hindered my progression in Wolof and made my mom resent me since she’s the only family member who doesn’t speak French.

2. The majority of my stage’s PST was during Ramadan. From a cultural perspective being here during Ramadan was fascinating, from a daily living standard perspective it was terrible. Everyone is grouchy and irritable during Ramadan and for good reason: it’s approximately a million degrees outside and no one can eat or drink, but my sister still has to make me lunch. My family really didn't want to/ have the energy to interact with me or help me during Ramadan. Plus, the daily schedule is all messed up. While I had to get up early and wanted to go to bed early, my family wanted to get up and go to bed late so they were awake for a shorter time when they couldn’t eat. I don’t think new stages should come during Ramadan. It’s too hard.

3. My biggest obstacle during PST was definitely me. I was unprepared for Peace Corps and I was unprepared for Africa. I had no idea and I think it’s impossible to imagine life here unless you see it first hand. It’s just so different. Initially when I couldn’t communicate with my mom and I felt my family didn’t like me and didn’t want to try and communicate with me, I withdrew inside myself and stopped trying. I was hot, homesick, and hostile myself. In Senegalese culture when you move into a new house you are expected to go out and meet your neighbors. Stateside, we expect the opposite. We think our neighbors should come to us and bring cookies. Our cultural trainers had told us this, but I hadn’t taken it to heart. Once I started to really press my family they started to open up. My mom became an invaluable resource and since she doesn’t do anything all day she had infinite time and patience to work on my Wolof with me. When I move in with my family next week I will try and be more extroverted and integrate more quickly with my new family. At the beginning, I had sensory, emotional, and physical overload and I couldn’t break out of myself. I was numb and I needed to push myself harder.

Now, my life with the family is pretty good. I’ve had interesting conversations with my siblings and although my mom is definitely still a hard ass who occasionally beats up on her kids (which I totally don’t agree with and it upsets me every time) I see that she’s an intelligent woman who’s had a really hard life, but who does care. Tonight she and my oldest sister surprised me and took me to the tailor to have me measured for a dress. They want me to have a souvenir from them. They bought the fabric and are paying for the tailoring, which is an incredible expense for them and extremely generous (I printed out a bunch of pictures for them, which they loved). The dress is neon, fluorescent, lime green so we’ll see how it turns out!

Even though I am grateful for everything my family has done for me and the new dress, I’m excited to move on. I haven’t been feeling well today and my mom keeps telling me it’s because I ate at a restaurant in Thies and restaurants are dirty, terrible places. Many Senegalese people don’t eat out because 1. It’s expensive and 2. Outsiders could think that the family can’t cook well, which would be embarrassing. Regardless, my mom keeps telling me that I got sick from the restaurant. This very well could be; pretty much anything could make me sick here, but the last few days we’ve eaten exceedingly oily meals (pools of oil at the bottom of the bowl) and today we had unpasteurized milk with sugar and millet balls. Really, I think it’s anyone’s guess why I’m not feeling great.

I can’t wait to have my freedom back. I can cook for myself, UNPACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, and create my own daily routine. I feel exhilarated just thinking about it, but I know it’s going to be hard too. I wont have my friends’, and especially Tamar’s daily companionship, I have to create my own work projects, integrate with a new family, and live in Senegal for the next two years. It’s daunting. Regardless, I’m done with the home stay portion of my journey and I’m ecstatic.

Back to Thies for some fun, some rest, some internet, some delicious food from chicken dibi, and a real shower. What more could a girl ask for?