Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Today is Christmas Eve and since I've been in a funk recently I thought that the holiday would only put me in a funkier funk. I'm doing a fantastic job at completely denying the holidays are happening. Being a Michigander, the 85 degree weather today didn't feel like Christmas, I'm not being bombarded with Christmas advertising, songs, and delicious food, and I'm not at my grandparents' house, which is the only place Christmas exists for me. Therefore, it is not Christmas. Logical. I was also feeling this way about Thanksgiving until the day of when reality set it so we'll see how I fare tomorrow.

Everyone was really chill in my family today and we had a great day. While Tabaski was fascinating from a cultural standpoint, it was a ton of work for everyone (killing a goat and cooking a feast is not easy) and I didn't feel like people really enjoyed the day. Today, no one went to work or school and we got to hang out and without distractions because we didn't have power for most of the day. Instead of a sheep feast Mamy made an amazing chicken dinner. We killed two chickens for the family (we usually kill one) and we (and by we I mean me because I'm the only who eats salad) had had salad with TOMATOES! It was awesome. And Mamy makes the best chicken. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the relaxed day.

I should backtrack and explain that most people in Senegal, although they are Muslim, also celebrate Christmas and Easter. My family told me it's to show solidarity with the Catholics in Senegal. Personally, I think all Senegalese people like a little excuse to party and who can blame them?

When our power finally did come on I got to skype with my family and Leigh and Jay! Yay! Thank you grandma for the wonderful presents. I gave Ahmed the Christmas M&M candy which he loved! I also really enjoyed the pictures of Christmas past. My family really likes seeing pictures from the US and even my family here immediately knew who I was in the pictures and said I still look exactly the same, which I do. It was great to talk to everyone.

Have a very Merry Christmas back in the States. I'm off to Dakar for a few days to see my friends, take a little break (to break out of my funk), and eat some delicious food.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Strike It Out

At home around the holidays everything goes into hyper mode. There's a flurry of activity: shopping, cooking, coming home from school, seeing friends, seeing family... shopping. Here, everything just stops. It is relaxing, but it's also a little boring. What is not boring are Senegalese high schoolers. In the US teachers may strike because the union hasn't reached a contract agreement or they aren't getting paid enough. Valid. Here, students strike because they want vacation to start earlier and last longer.

This is not a joke. Last week the students from multiple high schools decided they wanted winter vacation to start a week early so they all stopped going to school and walked down the main street of Thies. I have to admit that although ridiculous it's also pretty bad ass. In high school I know that my fellow classmates and I endured endless days where the entire state of Michigan had a snow day, but we didn't and we never came up with the idea to just not come to school. I have to admit that no matter how awesome striking for vacation may seem I probably could have never done it. I have a problem with going against authority and I always hated missing school.

Not only are students not going to school, but no one is really going to work either so I don't have much to do. Today I turned in the report that Diof forced me to write him. Although I had to wait for him to show up at the office he did force me out after ten minutes because he had another meeting. It was therefore a perfect interaction with him... very minimal.

I spent most of the day reading, lounging, and playing with Ahmed. Playing with Ahmed and reading took up most of the day since we didn't have power most of the afternoon. I have convinced him that when I'm "writing," anything that involves a book, he also needs to write so I gave him some highlighters and he entertained himself drawing for about 45 minutes. We also went through the rest of the bubbles, played with his white board and magnetic letters, and I had him fill my bucket for my bath. Yeah, pretty exciting day.

That's it from Senegal. When you're worrying about putting on the holiday weight at home just pack in a couple more brownies, handfuls of chex mix (I'm missing my aunt's card core right now), spoonfuls of macaroni and cheese, and swigs of good booze in my honor.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Taf Taf

Taf Taf is like Pow Pow in English aka the sound a gun makes. If I have learned one skill here in Senegal it is how to make an excellent Lego gun (and car and giraffe). I don’t mean to brag, but Ahmed asks me to make a Lego gun all the time, which means they have to be pretty cool. Legos was a big theme of my day today as was writing. The power goes out more frequently and for longer periods of time now so I’ve taken to writing epically long journal entry by candle light because there’s nothing else to do and my family gives me a hard time if I try to read by candlelight. Why by candlelight you ask? Because as soon as the power goes off my sisters demand my headlamp so they can cook. I can’t say I blame them.

So now that Ahmed and I are BFF he wants me to help him with everything, look at what he’s done at school that day, and just generally entertain him constantly, most of the time I’m happy to do this for short periods. Today he wanted to show me that he could write, which he can’t, but I let him scribble on an extra sheet of paper. I kept telling him good job and encouraging him to practice and copy what I did. At the same time everyone else in my family was telling him he couldn’t write and was doing a bad job. I’ve mentioned this before: that Senegalese encouragement is negative. By that I mean that Senegalese people will tell you that you can’t or that you are bad at something to encourage you to try harder. This is often infuriating for an American, but in my attempt to integrate into and appreciate Senegalese culture I was thinking about this tonight. I don’t think I can tell Ahmed he’s doing a bad job or that he can’t do something. He’s so happy when I tell him he made a sweet Lego giraffe even though I can’t tell the difference between his Lego giraffe and his Lego car.

Intellectually I understand that American and Senegalese encouragement are different and that they might both work, but at the same time I’m struggling with what to do about Ahmed. I don’t want to confuse him by telling him he’s doing a good job when his family is telling him the opposite, but at the same time I feel cruel telling a three year old that he can’t write. That just seems mean. Anyway, this is something to ponder. I don’t think that I will ever get used to the fact that people are encouraging me to practice Wolof when they tell me I don’t speak the language. I actually just want to slap those people and demand they speak fluent English four months after they arrive in the US.

A totally unrelated Ahmed story:
He brought pictures home from school today and I had to cover my mouth with my hand to stifle my laughter about one picture. They are learning all about Christmas and Santa Claus visited his school. A Senegalese man was dressed as Santa. This on its own isn’t funny, but the fact that the Senegalese man was wearing a Caucasian Santa mask and a white beard while he was holding Ahmed’s hand with his black hand. I don’t know how well this story translates in words, but imagine the picture. It’s priceless and I’m going to attempt to take a picture of it so I can post it in all of its hilarity.

Speaking of Christmas, my typing class was cancelled today because the little kids were having their Christmas party and the teachers invited me. The party was supposed to start at 3 so I showed up at 3:45. Luckily I brought a book because it actually started at 4:45. I must say it was adorable to watch these little kids sing French Christmas carols in front of a table covered in wrapped presents. My favorite part was definitely everyone’s outfits. All the kids and their presents were dressed to impress and little three year old girls with hair weaves as big as they are will never cease to amuse me. Also, most of the little girls were wearing more bling than I have in my entire jewelry box they were rocking it. After making three babies that parents had brought along to the party cry in fear of the scary toubab I left, but it was fun.

Ps. My sudden affection and patience for small children is scaring me. Please help.

Monday, December 21, 2009

In Need of Sass

I have to admit that I've been lazy, unmotivated (are they one in the same?), and sass-less lately. This is definitely do to a myriad of outside annoyance some within and some outside my control.

My day started out on a high note since I knew I had a package. Guess who it was from. The Post Office is a disaster when I get there my two post friends are attempting to wrap a package for a woman who is beside herself because the two men are doing a terrible job and they wont let her do it herself. It took these two grown men 20 minutes to wrap a box in brown paper... poorly. I can't say that my dad back at home has every wrapped anything either so I'll let this one slide. While the box wrapping was slightly entertaining, the mean customs official was not. My usual guy who is my friend and doesn't charge me wasn't there and his counterpart who is older, creepier, and charges me (aka actually does his job) was in a foul mood. He literally opened the package and started throwing its contents all over the post office floor. I asked him to please be careful and he started interrogating me about the contents of the box. One especially confounding item happened to be a little jar of pesto pasta sauce. He asked me what it was and I told him it was pasta sauce and he looked at me like I was lying and asked me again what it was. I said pasta sauce. He said it's green. I told him he was correct, but that it was still pasta sauce to which he responded that green sauce is disgusting. My family is really repulsed by pesto as well... that's why I like it so much, no one asks me to try it! I escaped from the post office package in hand and happy although my sassiness was diminished by mean customs man. Boo.

On to Dioss' gallery. We were supposed to start accounting. Peace Corps gave us some books in French that explain basic finances so I brought two of them alone to help in the process. Let me just say that Dioss knows how to sweet talk me. I walked in and he was already working on a painting so I had to sit and watch him for a little bit while he played smooth jazz on his tape player (not a joke). Then Dioss starts this discussion about how the US and Senegal have different financial ideologies which I completely agree with. This conversation started a downward spiral of tangents about banks, personal versus business finances in Senegal, and family members always asking for money here. While extremely interesting and perhaps even a little enlightening since I now know Dioss has a bank account, it had nothing to do with listing costs and profits onto a sheet of paper.

Dioss looked through the books and told me they were interesting and that he would like to read them before we started. And I actually gave in. I agreed to it. This might be a good thing in the long run because I do think he will read the books, but I was reading to go in there guns a blazing and write some numbers on a piece of paper. Oh well, I had a very Senegalese meeting with him where we talked about semi-related material and then resolved to start next time. Nothing is going to get done between now and the new year anyway so I guess it's ok. What is not ok is my "this is ok" attitude. Leaving Dioss' gallery I resolved to get myself out of this funk.

Back at home Deenba was cleaning out some fish so I sat with her and talked and watched. She's going to make me clean fish on Wednesday. We'll see how that goes. Unfortunately, those fish were for dinner and not for lunch because lunch may have reached an all time low. It smelled good in the pot and it looked like we were having brown rice, which completely blew my mind, but I was wrong on both counts. The brown rice was actually just burnt white rice boiled in oil with some meat particles randomly floating about. When I sat down at the bowl there weren't just pools of oil on the rice but there was a film of oil and by film I mean lake over the entire bowl. My stomach turned just looking at it and it was all I could do to force myself to take three bites, claim I was full, and run away.

The rest of my afternoon was spent lounging around watching CSI: Las Vegas (obviously the best CSI) with my family, building block cars with Ahmed, and attempting to read as Ahmed burst into my room every 5 seconds since he has also realized that we are best friends. Funny Ahmed story to end my sass-less post. My mom sent me some delicious oatmeal cookies and I told Ahmed that if he left me alone for one hour I would give him a cookie. I love bribery. He did so and then threw a fit when I didn't give him a cookie. I did give him a cookie. It was an oatmeal cookie. He didn't believe me that it was a cookie. Anyway, this devolved into a tantrum with my mom also trying the cookie and remarking that it didn't taste like a cookie and Ahmed and I walking to the boutique so he could get some really cookies, Biskrem, which he then refused to share with me.

Yes, I realize I need a jolt of excitement and reclaim my being a total badass. Hopefully, that will happen tomorrow, but probably not because I'm going to a party at a pre-school!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Recluse in My Bungalow

Today I allowed myself a day of reading, watching tv on my computer, and indulging myself in my negative feelings. I've been in a funk recently and I decided to let myself have a day of solitude. My family takes it really easy on Sundays as well and most people spend the majority of the day in bed so I didn't feel too guilty being a hermit in my bungalow. It was pretty great and hopefully I will wake up on the right side of bed tomorrow and start the week off on a good note. When I wasn't hiding in my room my day was completely taken over by Ahmed.

I gave myself a pat on the back today for figuring out the inner workings of a three year olds brain. Ahmed comes to me first when he's bored and wants to play. If I turn him away then he goes and asks everyone else in the family to play and once they deny him he comes back to me and annoys me until I give in. I had three rounds of Ahmed playtime today.

Round 1: Prokadima
Most of you know prokadima as a game you play on the beach where you hit balls through the air to another person with a wooden paddle. Considering that Ahmed can only hit the ball a maximum of two times he ingeniously discovered that he can hit the ball to me on the ground. Therefore, we pushed the ball back and forth to each other with the paddles. We did this for the better part of an hour.

The most intriguing part of my friendship and patience with Ahmed is that I really don't like kids. I enjoy holding a baby and talking about how cute it is and then when I get bored in ten minutes handing it back to it's mom. I never liked babysitting and actually avoided it even though I liked earning money and playing pretend just makes me mad since I could be doing something real. I just really don't have patience to play around when I could be reading a book or doing something productive. Yes, I know I have no heart, but it appears Senegal is breaking me of what used to be boring and annoying and now there is no limit to what I will do to entertain myself. Moving on...

Round 2: Blocks
Some incredibly effeminately colored blocks appeared a few days ago and Ahmed is obsessed. He's also obsessed with giving me orders on what to make with the blocks as he sits there and stares at me. I made a car, a truck, and a giraffe out of what I like to call ghetto Legos in a pastel color palette. We then played giraffe v. car for almost an hour. He loved it. I endured. The blocks did come with two little conductor type people that click on to the blocks. The conductors have little hats and I have a Michigan baseball cap hanging up in my room so Ahmed asked to wear it while we played with the blocks. Hence, the adorable pictures. Playing with blocks pretty much ended when Ahmed starting kicking the giraffes apart and blocks flew all over the compound.

Round 3: Shadow Puppets
I'm pretty sure I'm going to hate myself for introducing shadow puppets into the mix starting approximately tomorrow. We now lose power on a bi-daily basis once during the day and then at night for several hours. After sitting in the dark for several minutes in boredom, I turned my cell phone flashlight on and made a shadow bunny rabbit that Ahmed then tried to kill with a stick he'd been carrying around. After 2 minutes I was extremely bored of this game, but we continued to play for a half hour, which is when I pretended my cell phone ran out of batteries.

All in all a fine day. I had eggs and fries for dinner so I can't complain although I'm sure my arteries will later in life.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It Exists!

Emily is amazing and actually found the ephemeral organic food market in Thies last weekend and we visited together for the first time. When I say organic food market I mean 5 stands with women selling organic produce. Emily had introduced herself last week and we went around to all the vendors talking to them about their product, the prices, the visibility of the market within the community, and if they were interested in our help. The vendors sell mostly vegetables, but there was also some jams (which they need to put in smaller jars), honey, and some fish as well. The office is only open on Mondays and Fridays so we are planning to drop in next week. I already have a lot of ideas of how we could potentially help the market. It would be really cool if we could create a partnership with them. Even if we can't work with the market it was still a coup just to find it. It only took two months of asking around to track it down.

I did buy some lettuce, which I devoured when I got home, and some mysterious fruit. We have no idea what it is. We didn't know the word in Wolof and the word they told me in French did not sound French and I'm convinced the woman made it up, but the fruit was really good. It looks like little, green, apricots, but they are smaller and harder kind of like an apple, but not really. Regardless, the fresh produce tasted amazing especially since when I got home I was met with one of my least favorite lunches: fish balls and white rice. Ugh.

The fish balls put me in a worse mood than usual because I took a very long route home so that I could swing by the post office. I had a package. The little pink slips make me happy every time I see them! What does not make me happy is that the Post Office employees leave work 1.5 hours early because they feel like so I can't get my package. Now I have to wait until Monday. At least it gives me something to look forward to.

This afternoon was pretty uneventful except for our now daily power outages. After watching several hours of a French American Idol for children, I locked myself in my room to attempt to salvage some of my sanity. Last night we lost power for at least 4 hours, I went to bed so I don't know when it came back on, but this afternoon we lost it for around 2 hours. I was able to hide out for about an hour and a half before Ahmed burst into my room in a flurry of energy. We looked at Neiman Marcus' Christmas catalog together for about 45 minutes and had an intense discussion about high heels versus boots and we also named all the animals that appeared in the the pictures. It was pretty awesome.

While my day kind of had its ups and downs it definitely ended on a high note. We had an awesome dinner. Meat without fat. I know this may not seem like a big deal, but I chewing fat and then spitting it out on the floor isn't one of my favorite dinner time activities although it is fairly common. The meat was good, we had lots of fries and onions, and... we had more salad! Yeah! When I say salad I mean that I got about 3 leaves of lettuce, but it was still a good meal. Lettuce twice in one day is amazing. I'm currently on my last task of the day - Skyping into my family Channukah party! Presents!

Bothers and Birthdays

December 18, 2009

I fought a foul mood the entire day. After forcing myself out of bed and sprinting to Keur Yaay because I was late, I arrived to discover that no one was there. Keur Yaay is awesome, I love the girls, and the mission, but I hate that they never tell when things are cancelled! Then, I had a decision to make: A) go to Peace Corps and read and study in quite, blissful solitude or B) go see Diof and check in since I’ve neglected to do so because I don’t like being with him. I made the wrong decision and went to see Diof. Diof is a great counterpart because he knows practically everyone in Thies and in my first few weeks he did an amazing job introducing me to everyone and helping me make a lot of contacts. I also had Chris we with those first weeks, which really helped and shielded me from Diof’s condescending and misogynistic attitude.

Needless, to say Diof was at his best (or worst) today. After giving me a talking to for not coming to see him in the last couple of weeks (which I probably deserved) he launches into the fact that I haven’t written him a report like other volunteers did in the past. There are several reasons I have yet to write this report: 1) I have not had my second training component where I actually learn what to write in these reports 2) PC policy has changed and now volunteers only write reports bi-annually. Obviously, PC did not tell Diof about these changes nor did he care when I told him and he made it fairly clear to me that I need to write a report by next Wednesday and then he expects a report every month. This is really just because he needs a boost for his ever enlarging ego and he wants someone to report to him and make him feel special. I guess I can acquiesce if my only interaction with him is handing over the report in order to maintain good relations.

In need of a pick-me-up I went to the Post Office. Even if I don’t have a letter or a package the Post Office guys are always excited to see me and it’s fun to talk to them even though they ask me to be their second wives. It has become a joke and o ne that I’m comfortable with. And I did have a letter from Shirley! Thank you! Since I escaped Diof’s as quickly as possible and had to meet my Ladies Who Lunch in town I was too lazy to go to PC since that’s in the opposite direction, but as soon as I was done reading Shirley’s letter Jackie called to announce her arrival and Katherine meet up with us soon after.

I must say that Ladies Who Lunch round two was a rousing success. We met in honor of Erin’s birthday (I gave her a bunch of New Yorker magazines wrapped up in a Channukah bow my mom sent me!), but it is always great to get together and bitch. We are all going through the same thing and we just understand. Plus, we got to talk about the upcoming holidays, general PC gossip, and the fact that we think another person from our stage has terminated their service (yeah, we’re not sure it’s kind of weird). I really needed my Ladies this week. I’ve been letting things get to me. I’ve been wearing headphones a lot lately just because I can’t deal with it anymore. I can’t deal with people hurling racial slurs at me, with adults asking me for money, and being hissed and whistled at in order to get my attention. I’m not at my wits end and I’m not particularly homesick or anything like that I’m just generally annoyed and pissed off. It didn’t help that as I was walking home after my delicious lunch, beer, and beignets that some teenage boys called me the bad word for white people.

I was in my neighborhood, it was broad daylight and I was feeling bold so I turned around and screamed at them in Wolof. I told them they were being rude, I understood what they were saying, and that they should stop because I lived here just like them. Well, being teenage boys, they just mocked my Wolof accent as I stormed away. I know that teenage boys are the scourge of the Earth in every country, but I just wanted to scream. To make matter worse everyone at my house was in a terrible mood when I got home and my mom was walking around screaming at everyone. When this happens I hide in my room.

I hid in my room until the power went out. Usually the power goes out for about an hour and a half. I’m currently typing this post in the darkness of my room 3.5 hours after the power first went out. The only good thing about the power being out tonight was that everyone sat around talking. The evenings are usually reserved for Brazilian soap operas dubbed in French with my family blanking staring at the television, but tonight everyone sat around my headlamp and talked. It was great. I was glad that I tore myself away from sulking in my room and watching Mad Men on my computer to talk with everyone. I’m really starting to understand most of conversations and my siblings get a huge kick out of it when I laugh at appropriate times in understanding. At least the day ended on a positive note even if it is ending in the dark…

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Life is Great... When You're 3

Dioss is in a period of artistic exploration. His words not mine. Although when I went to his gallery today he did have some new abstract pieces that were pretty amazing. He's experimenting with making the paint watery and then picking up the paper and moving it around. The paintings are cool and very surreal looking. There are some others that are Jackson Pollack-esque. While Dioss is pumped about his new art, he is not quite as enthusiastic about accounting. Can you blame him? I pretty much had to resort to threatening and told him I would help him make a website until we get his finances in order. He literally writes nothing down. I told him we have a lot of work to do to which he replied that he thought we could fix all the prices on Monday when we meet again. Please help me! I see disaster ahead. I know Dioss is smart and able and he is a great artist, but I do not have a good feeling about our foray into finance. I wish he had a good business partner that I could work with because Dioss is not interested in the money side of things... this should be interesting.

After going to the post office where I got a letter (thanks Leigh! More on this later), I headed over to my typing class. My girls were just sitting down, the computers were just booting up, and then we lost power. Luckily, I always have at least one magazine in my bag at all times so I pulled that out as we waited for the power to come back on. Senegalese people have amazing patience and none of the women were at all upset and surprisingly neither was I. We all had something to read and we chatted and some little kids came in and out, but the power didn't come back on. When an hour had passed we called it a day. No class. This wasn't so much frustrating as disappointing. These women are motivated and want to learn and actually showed up and then a force completely out of their control makes it impossible. There are just so many obstacles to getting anything done here. The lack of infrastructure makes everything so difficult. Senegal is only the size of South Dakota and it takes 14+ hours to get from Thies to the southeastern region of Kadagou and Thies is centrally located. When I got back home the power was on, but we lost it for another 2.5 hours as my sisters were trying to cook dinner. Needless to say they are obsessed with my headlamp for power-less cooking.

Back to Leigh's letter... other than being amazing and a great pick-me-up, it contained a personalized paper menorah and some pictures. And these just weren't normal pictures, they were pictures of snow! Little Ahmed and I are quickly becoming BFF. He has infinite patience for me and I'm the only person that will play with him. My best friend in Senegal is 3. I just wanted to put that out there and now moving on. I showed him the pictures and asked him what the white stuff was. He knew that it was snow, but when I asked him what he would wear if he came to my house in the snow he said shorts... but, with a long sleeve shirt. I really filled my day today by playing with Ahmed and playing with children isn't my strong suit.

Khady came back from Dakar yesterday and I think she brought some toys because yesterday we played with the white board and letters and today we had a cooking set. I asked Ahmed to make me some eggs and then I pretended to eat them, which he thought was crazy and he asked me why I was pretending to eat food that wasn't there. OK, I guess we don't play pretend with food here in Africa... I felt a little stupid. He quickly left the majority of the kitchen set for the two knives which we pretended to kill each other with. I guess death games unlike food games are universal. After knife fights we moved onto prokadima. I've had the game for a month and we play all the time and his all time high consecutive hits is 2. I guess this is the downside of your BFF being 3.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


When I came back from tournee Jumba (my tutor) was giving me a hard time about not brining him a gift as is customary here. I decided that I would bring him and his family some Tootsie Roll Pops because my family LOVES them. They are always surprised when there's chocolate inside. Jumba's kids are exstatic when I whip the suckers out and tell them they can pick their favorite color, his wife thinks they are just delectable, and another female friend sings Tootsie Roll Pops praises. I definitely enjoyed one while sitting down for our lesson and was surprised that Jumba didn't unwrap one right away too. I found out why last night...

Kether (USAID intern) told me that he was really embarrassed that I brought suckers since they are so un-masculine and that he really wanted some candy, but refused to eat it in public and saved it until he could eat it at night, by himself, in his room. Hilarious. Jumba and I have a really good joking relationship so I absolutely had to call him out on it today when we met again. He laughed since he had been caught and conceded that the suckers were delicious, but they are thoroughly unmanly... especially for a big, strong, security guard. Jumba is maybe 5'8" and 150 pounds. Intimidating.

We had a good tutoring session and I brought Emily along this time because she doesn't like her tutor. Jumba could really use the money so hopefully Emily thought it was good too and she will start lessons with him. This lesson didn't revolve around the usual two subjects, but did involve Emily and I being completely clueless about Thies and the more than 40 quartiers the city encompasses. It seems like Emily has been telling people the wrong quartier for her house for the past 2.5 months. Oh well.

I was supposed to go to the typing class I don't really like this afternoon, but they cancelled on me so I had an afternoon of hanging out with my family, which turned into me reading in the common space of the house because everyone else disappeared. Typical. I finished My Life in France and I'm pretty sure I've been unusually hungry since I started it. I picked up "Dark Star Safari" again after putting it down for a week and started to get really into it. That is my problem with reading. I pick up a book and the world slips away and I have to finish it before I can do anything else!

Today's Amazing Moment:

Little Ahmed opens my door without asking to come in, hands me a box, takes his pants off and sits down on my floor. The box contains a white board with some magnetic plastic letters. I spend the next hour going over letters with a three year old as he is more interested with attempting to throw the letters at the board and hoping they stick.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's Raining Men

There's nothing like ending your day with a few drinks and chicken dibi. Ah chicken dibi. I really believe that it would be great in the US and is definitely the best meal I've had in Senegal. Before Chris coerced me into going to chicken dibi we were at the Catholic bar across from the cathedral. God love the Catholics. I arrived late (aka after I actually completed my work for the day) so I missed Oliver who was passing through, but I got to meet up with Chris, Emily, and Kether.

The Catholic bar is a lot of fun, but also means that there are a lot of drunk and annoying Senegalese men. I only midway through my first Flag (a half step above the infamous Gazelle) when I man yells at us from across the courtyard asking Chris if he will give up one of his women since Chris has three and this man and his group of friends are all men. Unfortunately, everyone except me thinks that we should talk to these drunk men about proper etiquette/ how to actually talk to an American woman.

Dealing with rude, drunk people is one aspect of my life here that is really different than in the States. Back at home I was definitely the person who would get angry, tell the drunk idiot how it is, and not let the situation go un-addressed. Here, I just want to ignore the drunk fool and enjoy my Flag. I don't want to say that it's resignation to the fact that because I'm a woman I will get constantly harassed for the next two years, but that's probably it. I have absolutely zero patience for dealing with men who want me to their second wife, who think that I'm practically a prostitute for being here single, who think that I'm stupid because I'm a woman so they can talk down to me, and who think that I should be just so incredibly happy that they are willing to talk to me that I should fall all over myself in an attempt to please them. I just dread dealing with men.

Going out for the afternoon was a really fun time and chicken dibi is always the best way to end a night. I love talking with other PCVs because there is such an intimate understanding. They know exactly what I'm going through and have the same amazing and miserable experiences. The funny part about my relationships with other volunteers is that they are all about Senegal. I know my friends circa August 13th 2009, the day we landed in this country. I know very little about their lives in the States unless they have a significant other and that really doesn't detract from our relationships.

Apart from the man hating, beer drinking, chicken eating part of my day, I went to Keur Yaay and taught the English class since the real teacher didn't show up and in the afternoon went back to my typing ladies. Mme Cissa was very pleased that I found another typing game completely in French and it was obvious she had been practicing since I last saw here which was great.

Now I need to get dressed for bed. And I mean I need to get dressed for bed. It now gets down into the low 70s/ high 60s at night, which means I freeze to death and need to wear the one pair of long running pants I brought and a cardigan. Yes, I'm an idiot and thought that since I'm from Michigan it would be impossible for me to get cold in Senegal. This is false since now 70 is cold. The past couple of nights I've been in sweatpants, a cardigan and under the very light blanket I brought shivering away. I can never move home to Michigan... or at least not without Arctic Parka 9 months out of the year!

Monday, December 14, 2009


I walked into my tutor's compound today and he was sitting with a group of his friends. I actually attempted to sneak away before he saw me because I didn't want to disturb him and I knew that he would stop talking to them to sit with me, but he caught me and I was right that he left his friends. I said that I would come back tomorrow, but he assured me he wanted to have our lesson, which is really just a discussion where he explains new words to me in French. Regardless, sometimes we have fascinating conversations and today was one of those days.

After apologizing profusely for taking him away from his friends, he assured me that it was OK because his discussions with his friends were monotonous. It was really refreshing hearing a Senegalese person say he gets bored of all the greetings, discussions about the weather, and ceebu jenn. I didn't know that Senegalese people could be bored. Interesting. He said he would much rather talk to me since I asked him questions and could talk about the States. Still, our conversations usually revolve around two topics: food and marriage. Today, we talked about marriage because I haven't been riding my bike lately and he was asking me why since I usually get harassed less on my bike since I can speedily ride away.

Jumba is in his early thirties and has been married for almost ten years and has three kids, which is a little unusual for a man his age. Most of his friends his age are still unmarried. So I asked him how long he dated his wife before getting married, two years, and why he got married so young. That's when the conversation devolved into a discussion about why people should get married young so they don't have a lot of promiscuous sex and get STDs. Yeah, at first I did feel a little uncomfortable with the topic, but he was really matter of fact about everything so it was actually fascinating hearing him talk about the subject. STDs are another reason why he doesn't want another wife.

He explained that he believes men with multiple wives just pick someone quickly to fill the role of wife and don't know enough about the person... aka sexual history. Jumba went on to say that he would never cheat because he wouldn't want to endanger his health or his wife's. It was fascinating just because he had the completely opposite opinion of multiple wives as the men in the Post Office who claimed that having multiple wives allow all women to get married, which cuts down on prostitution, which decreases STDs. Maybe this is TMI, but I found it interesting because it was a conversation about marriage that didn't involve me being a tramp because I'm unmarried in a foreign country/ no one asked me to marry them. Success.

The rest of my day was mundane. I slept in and cleaned my room in the morning, ate two bad meals (followed by lots of snaking from my stash), and lost power three times.

Awesome Moment of the Day:

I walk back into the house after tutoring and Mamy is giving Khady the most amazing 80s inspired cropped and crimped weave while they are watching a Christian cartoon television program about Jesus. I don't know if you are able to imagine how incredibly hilarious this was, but I stood in the doorway for several minutes just soaking in the spectacle. Hopefully I will be able to snap a picture of Khady's new do. It's definitely the best weave yet!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Artisan Expo

This weekend was yet another whirlwind filled with trips to Dakar, yummy food (thanks family back home!), and art. Friday afternoon, after spending my morning running failed errands, I set out for Dakar. Luckily I had a quick ride because I was sitting next to man who incessantly hit on me the entire way even though I put in my iPod and completely ignored him.

The regional house in Dakar has been a zoo since Thanksgiving because all of the volunteers who are a year or more in are going home for the holidays. Those bastards. While I may be infinitely jealous of their impending voyages to the promised land, it's not as hard as I thought it would be to talk about home and it's amusing talking about habits we've picked up here in Senegal that are completely inappropriate in the States. These habits include, but are not limited to, picking one's nose, hissing to get someone's attention, and obviously... eating with your hands followed by licking your hands clean. Luckily the US also has things like Kleenex and forks to help with this process... that is, if people remember how to use them.

Since I'm completely exhausted from all the back and forth I've been doing since Thanksgiving and I'm trying to save money since Christmas, New Years, and WAIST (the infamous West African Softball tournament) are all on this pay period, I brought some of my new goodies sent from home for Katherine and I to make at the regional house. Friday night we had gnocci and tomato sauce (thanks mom!) and last night we had pizza! I have to give a shout out to my cousins Adam, Ben, and Sarah for this one because Katherine and I were fending off other vultures (volunteers) from out amazing pizza crusts, pepperoni, pizza sauce, and portabella mushrooms. We added some good cheese and onions and I must say we create a masterpiece. It was amazing. In other food related news, I will admit that I splurged on some fried chicken today and while I feel like a fatty I am completely unapologetic because it was crispy deliciousness.

After going out Friday night and sleeping outside because there weren't any beds open at the regional house, we got up early on Saturday for the Artisan Expo - the reason I was in Dakar. I met Dioss' mom and sister at the event. As I've mentioned Dioss' whole family is very artistic... and prolific. When I got to the American Club (place where PCVs hang out and location for the expo) Madam Ly (Dioss' Mom) and Khady (sister) had already set up... or so I thought. They were only halfway unpacked and I scurried around the American Club stealing more tables and chairs because they brought an absolutely absurd amount of merchandise. There were literally thousands of pieces of jewelry and a lot of art that Dioss and his dad created. It was insane and our booth spilled out in the general square. Oh well... we're bad ass.

It was also really cool to see the artisans that other volunteers are working with. Katherine is working an awesome tailor who makes very cool hoodies and bags that look like Longchamp bags. The girl who works with the juice makers that I met on tournee was there as well as some other jewelry vendors, a wood carver, another bag stall, and a few miscellaneous other booths. Dioss' art was definitely the most unique product at the expo and we were the big money makers for the weekend.

While I was very happy with the results of the expo, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Dioss and his family keep no form of ledger nor do they keep track of costs or inventory. There were other artisans at the expo who are much more advanced in that regard. The family is very smart and very motivated, but we will have to start at the beginning with lessons about separating personal and business expenses, direct and indirect costs, and just the discipline it takes to write everything down. After the expo, I'm really excited to get to work because I know that I can help them, and especially Dioss, take their business to the next level. Another aspect of taking the business to the next level is addressing the quality of some of the jewelry. I actually bought a necklace from the other jewelry vendor because Madam Ly's goods all are very generic, very Pier 1. They also brought a lot of cheap, plastic, Made in China bracelets, which they definitely should discontinue purchasing if they are mainly targeting Westerners. We have a lot of work to do.

Yesterday was the big day at the expo and this morning Talla did a formation on costing and traffic was slow. I spent the day being incredibly antsy all I wanted was to get back to Thies and have my own space and just stop moving around. I also feel badly that I've missed sessions with my typing ladies and my girls at Keur Yaay. So, as soon as the expo ended I jumped in a cab and went to the garage where I was very nervous because the garage was dead. Usually when I'm on the Dakar/ Thies route I have to fight for a position in a car because there are so many people. Today I was the first person in the sept-place and had to wait over half an hour until it filled up and we were ready to go. I am spoiled because I live on the main national high-way so this wasn't really a long wait... but I wanted to get home, which I did in record time. Once we got on the road it only took a little over an hour.

Now I'm in my room making some Chinese food Shirley sent me because we had the traditional Sunday meal of millet + milk + sugar combo, which my mom made... When my mom makes things I know that I need to be scared because it contains 5x the amount of sugar than when anyone else makes it... hence the Chinese. I could barely stomach it.

Check out my new pictures and Happy Hanukkah (night 3)!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thank God for Mamy

This morning I went to my tutor and actually had a really good time. I took his little kids some tootsie roll pops, which they loved and I had a really good conversation about Jumba. His wife also sat down to talk and I love her. The best part was that their youngest son who is about 3 was wearing a U of M sweat suit! I'm not kidding. It was amazing and I'm kicking myself for not having my camera with me!

I've also started walking again instead of riding my bike, which was a bad idea today because I was literally walking from end to end of Thies while getting harassed. Awesome. Luckily I had my iPod and I put my best game face on to trudge across the sandy, beige-ness of Thies to get to Dioss' mom's house. I have to say I was very proud of myself that I found it since I've only been there once. Slowly I'm starting to be able to distinguish boutiques, houses, and "streets" from one another. Dioss' family is amazing so I received a wonderfully warm welcome when I arrived along with some tea and some beautiful art.

I went to discuss prices and accounting for the artisan expo this kind of sort of happened. From what I can discern artists in Senegal really only sell to foreigners and when they see one they are so excited that they can't help but push merchandise on customers. So, although Dioss had explained to his mom why I was coming, the family has a long relationship with Peace Corps, and I explained myself when I arrived whenever I asked a price they would tell me what they would sell it to ME for and then a ridiculously large price range that they would sell the piece to other people at. This expo might be a disaster. They are intuitively good business people from what I can tell so I hope that they have some idea of their costs and aren't selling at a loss. I definitely want to work with Dioss' whole family because everyone's really nice, really talented, and really motivated. I think we could do some really cool things together.

This afternoon is when my day started to go south. I left my house after lunch suspecting, for some reason, that my typing class wasn't going to go well. I was walking along the road when a man probably around 60 came up to me and asked me for money. He wasn't a beggar and was well dressed and I politely told him I didn't have any money. As I walked away I shook my head a little bit in exasperation and heard the man laughing at me so I turned around to see him laughing and pointing at me. I've gotten a lot better at letting interactions like this roll off my back, but I really let this one get to me for some reason. Probably because it's just so opposite to our culture back at home. I can't imagine having a well dressed adult ask me for money... and then laugh at me when I said no.

At this point I'm seriously annoyed and listening to angry women's rock on my iPod. When I get to my computer class the school is completely locked up. No one is there and I can't get in. Great. I now have over an hour to kill until I can meet up with Dioss for my next meeting. I attempt to sit on a bench on the side of the road, but a plethora of men approach to annoy me so I'm forced to move and I just walked Thies until I met Dioss. Dioss seems to be my saving grace since he always keeps his appointments and seems to be very motivated.

Today he invited me to his artist group meeting. He is the president and he and the rest of the group are really interested in establishing a website and thinking up other marketing opportunities. The meeting went well.

At home we lost power for two hours. Thank god for headlamps.

Today's savior was Mamy. Mamy is a riot and she's quickly becoming my favorite family member... it doesn't hurt that she's the best cook. I should say the best or the worst cook. I'm always anxious when Mamy cooks because it's either one of my least favorite meals such as fish balls in fish gravy with gross white rice or it's the best ceebu jenn in Senegal. Today was a good day for Mamy. Her lunch of ceebu jenn was delicious (for ceebu jenn). It wasn't oily or gloopy and there was a lot of the burnt rice from the bottom of the pan which is my favorite. For dinner she made chicken! Yay! Chicken is always amazing, but Mamy made special chicken today which almost had a type of breading on it and was Cajun flavored. It was awesome and I made sure to tell Mamy several times how good it was and how I wanted to learn how to make it. Hopefully, I will get it again.

I'm now going to bed to prepare for my weekend in Dakar and to get rid of my bad mood. At least I have delicious chicken in my tummy...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Sheer willpower was what got me out of bed this morning. I could have easily laid in bed all day feeling awash in the unknown of what I'm doing here. Luckily, I did get up and I had a pretty good day.

My first order of business was to go see Dioss and talk about the artisan expo this weekend in Dakar. I always love going to the gallery and I decided to walk instead of ride my bike to give myself a little extra time to wake up and mentally prepare for my day. Dioss was waiting in the gallery staring at some new paintings which were spectacular, abstract scenes of Senegalese women. He used a ton of point and heavy strokes and the effect was awesome. I will hopefully be able to put pictures up soon.

Since I find Dioss so interesting, smart, and generally with it, I vastly over estimated his accounting skills. I had brought several direct/ indirect costs worksheets to go over before the expo. I was expecting him to immediately get everything and show me how it was done. Unfortunately, we have a lot of work to do. I think the prices he has fixed for the expo are fine and that he isn't selling at a loss, but he's not making much from the very rudimentary calculations I could do with his lack of information. Dioss' family has a long relationship with Peace Corps and he's really motivated to take his business to the next level so he really listens to what I have to say which is so nice and refreshing. After the expo, we are going to start working on a formal ledger and hopefully set new prices for his artwork. Dioss isn't actually going to the expo, his mom and younger sister are, who weren't available to talk today since they were at a different expo, but I'm hoping to track them down first thing in the morning to make sure there are actual fixed prices like Dioss promised me there were...

After Dioss' I somehow found the willpower to force myself to go see my tutor. I took a new route from Dioss' because I thought it would be shorter. Was it shorter? Questionable. Did I get lost? No. Victory. My tutor was happy to see me and I told him all about my recent travels and we talked about food. For some reason out conversations always circle back to food... or marriage. Hey, this is Senegal. And I asked him where I can find village bread in Thies. It's called tappalapa and supposedly can be readily bought here. Jumba, my tutor, explained a ridiculous set of directions to me so I could find a random boutique that has tappalapa. After 15 minutes of aimless wandering during the hottest part of the day I threw in the towel and came home.

This afternoon I went to a school Dioss wants me to work at for a computer class. It was my first experience working with Senegalese men apart from Diof and Dioss. We started out with a mousing game because two of my four students had never touched a computer. There is one woman in the class who instantly excelled. Probably because she actually listened to what I had to say. One man was just absolutely terrible at computers. Epically bad. I thought teaching my mom and grandma was agonizing. This was worse. While everyone else had already completed the mousing game he was still on the first level. I just kind of let him be in his corner desperately trying to kill aliens while I attended to the others.

A second man was nice and fine. He picked up mousing quickly and moved onto the sweet typing game I found. The third man was insufferable. He demanded that I set his typing exercise up first although I was already working with the woman who had completed the mousing game first. He then couldn't achieve the 90% accuracy needed to move onto the next level of the typing game (the woman had already completed three levels) so he told me the game was stupid and stormed out of the room. Next week I'm bringing the USAID intern with me so I'm hoping to relinquish my duties at this school since she really needs computer hours to fulfill her job requirements!

Back at home:
1. I played prokadima with Ahmed for 1.5 hours. His highest score of bouncing the ball on the paddle was 2. I'm impressed with my own patience.
2. I gave Ahmed a piece of chocolate. He put the entire thing in his mouth, realized he couldn't close his mouth/ chew, spit it out into his had, then put it on the ground, broke it apart, and put it back in his mouth.
3. We had salad at dinner (read: lettuce)! OMG! I have prided myself on my eating strategies here in Senegal. That is eating quickly or slowly depending on the situation and eating the sought after tidbits first. Tonight was a failure. Due to my utter shock at seeing something green and leafy in a side bowl, I dove in and ate the delectable lettuce slyly thinking I was taking the best part of the meal. Joke was on me. By the time I had finished eating lettuce, which no one else even pretended to be interested in, all the meat and potatoes were long gone and I have since been hiding my room trying to fill my mostly empty stomach. Oh well I still got lettuce!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Off Balance

Being away from Thies so long and being so tired made me completely off balanced today. I woke up and could barely drag myself out of bed, but I forced myself since I wanted to see all the girls at Keur Yaay. I'm on my bike almost to Keur Yaay when I hear people screaming my name. It's all the girls from Keur Yaay at a neighboring community center for a technical formation, which means English class was cancelled for the morning. Although I was annoyed that the class was cancelled I really can't be upset since I missed last week and since I got to see Fatou's new weave, which is spectacular. I barely recognized her because she usually sports a helmet style Bob, but her current weave is really long and it totally changed how she looked.

I took a few minutes to catch up with the girls and since no one was at Keur Yaay I forced myself to check in with my tutor. He also wasn't there and he's ALWAYS there! Ah! Taking this as a sign to indulge myself in my exhaustion I headed for home to lay in bed until lunch.

Lunch. Deenba told me we were having Daxin, which was one of my favorites in my home stay town. It's pretty much rice mixed with peanut butter accompanied with pieces of mystery meat. I thought Daxin could do no wrong. Obviously, I was wrong. Oil is a big status symbol here, which means my current family uses a lot more than my home stay family. My Daxin literally had a pool of oil on top, which made it highly unappetizing this was only exacerbated by the fact that when I put the mystery meat in my mouth it tasted liked mutton... aka we killed a sheep 10 days ago for Tabaski and these pieces of mystery meat were the remnants. My stomach turned. It didn't taste too bad, but I could barely force it down so I played with my food and prayed for someone to finish quickly so I could get up from the bowl as well.

I walk back into my room and have a text saying that no one can attend my computer class today. I was happy since I'm still tired, but I also felt a little off since my first day back was so rocky. I decided to go for a walk to buy some tomatoes instead. I have to walk back to the main road through Thies which is about 10-15 minutes one way to get to a veggie stand. And I was harassed the entire way. On my way back, a woman approached me did all the usual greetings and then asked me for money (she's my mom's age). When I politely told her I didn't have any money so asked for my tomatoes. When I declined giving her my precious veggies and started to walk away I heard her call to her children and tell them to run after me and ask for money. It was just one of those events that gets under my skin. I'm definitely getting used to being asked for something all the time, but today it just really rubbed me the wrong way.

Back at home I started reading "My Life in France" by Julia Child because my mom sent it to me and raves about it and said it was a fun light read, just what I needed. Are my mom and I both crazy? I'm in Africa reading a book about Julia Child and French cooking. I immediately became ridiculously hungry and nothing in my treasure trove of goodies could satisfy the urge for deliciousness. Regardless, one of the first passages is about an amazingly perfect roasted chicken, which I must say is one of my personal favorites. The setting where I'm reading this is actually perfect because as I look up from my bench Deenba has a machete poised over a chicken's neck. My mom then boils and plucks all the feathers off and butchers it.

As I sit there watching, my mom asks if I have every de-feathered and butchered a chicken. I replied that I hadn't. I love cooking roasted chicken, but I usually try and force Matt to take the liver and gross stuff out. Well when you buy a chicken in the States it's super clean and you don't have to deal with a stomach full of half digested food. I did not like seeing my left over lunch come out of a dead chicken. Oh well. This also lead me to believe we were having chicken for dinner: incorrect. We had fried fish, fries, and onion sauce. A good dinner. Where did the chickens go?

It was just a weird day. My whole family was in a bad mood. They fought about money all day long. I attempted to hide in my room for the majority of the day because of this and because I was so tired.

It's still nice being home so everything's not so bad. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I never thought that I would crave coming back to site, but I did. The past week of tournee was amazing especially capped off with seeing a bunch of my friends in Dakar, but I really missed my personal space and the routine I've formed here in Thies. Luckily, we made the trip back to Thies in record time and I greeted my family who was genuinely excited to see me.

All the women were sitting around the kitchen getting the ceebu jenn ready for lunch. I will admit I also missed my sisters' cooking. They are really good. I told them all about my trip and showed them the pictures, which brought an onslaught of hilarious comments. My mom was appalled at some of the places I'd been. Most of the stops she considered very country bumpkin and not suitable for me. She was also very concerned that I had eaten bad food, which didn't meet her standards. My mom is absolutely hilarious. I love her (most of the time) and she is an elitist. I say this with all love and respect, but it is just too funny when we talk about any small town or village because she's generally horrified about life outside "the big city."

After meeting and greeting my family, it was time for my BIG task of the day and I do mean big. My mom had warmed me for this event and today it took place: my dad's side of the family bombarded me with wonderful packages. Luckily, I was warned and took my giant suitcase because when I arrived at the post office they immediately started laughing at me... I had six packages!

Shout Out Roll Call:

Aunt Diane, Uncle Wayne, Jenn, and Rachel (in spirit): I opened the first box and a Mexican fiesta hit me in the face! It was amazing as I uncovered nacho cheese covering more nacho cheese, salsa, taco shells, seasonings, and some pre-made meals I thought about gorging myself and dieing happily right in my room surrounded by the contents of my packages. Mexican is one of the things I miss the most and I can't wait to turn the Mexican fiesta box into a real Mexican feast over Christmas in Dakar. It's going to be amazing. You guys actually need to be thanked for two amazing packages. The second one had a ton of 100 Calorie packs and peanut butter crackers. Delicious. I ran through my supply on tournee so they are greatly appreciated as are the toys. I can't wait to break them out! I actually already used one of the Thanksgiving chocolates to bribe my little brother to go to the boutique and buy me a water bottle (making small children do things for you is one of the real perks of living in Senegal).

Aunt Cindy, Uncle Rich, Adam, Ben, and Sarah: Thank you for continent skipping and indulging me with some Italian delicacies. The gnocci was a huge hit last time and I can't wait to have it again... maybe with a side of pizza! I'm also really excited about the pesto sauce not only because I love pesto, but also because the color horrifies my family so when they see it they don't ask to try whatever I'm making! The pancake mix and Rose's caramel corn were also amazing. I've already stashed the presents under my bed and I'm hoping we can set up a Skype date with the family party so we can all open presents together!

Shirley and Sarah: The Chinese food looks amazing and has been one of my biggest cravings here. I can get Chinese in Dakar, but it's expensive so this will be a great treat! I'm also very excited to open both of your presents! Especially Sarah's! Shirley I also got a card from you today! You are the letter queen! And it only took 6 days! You sent it on December 1st. This should be a lesson to everyone that you should write letters... cheap and quick. Awesome.

Grandma: Thank you! Your box was a who's who of Alyssa's favorite Peace Corps treats! The Cliff bars are one of my new favorites, which I would have never requested if they hadn't been in the infamous Colorado goodies box and the dried veggie chips are usually the first thing I rip open and inhale when I get a package. The most unbelievable thing to emerge from my box was the balsamic vinegar. Unfortunately, I can't buy tomatoes around my house in the afternoon and was too lazy to walk to the market, but tomorrow I'm going to get some and have an amazing salad! I'm really excited.

Also, a shout out to Lynn. You sent me a letter on August 28th and I just got it today. It's quite a well traveled letter since it's been to South Africa and Spain!

The last package was obviously from my parents. Thank you and I'm glad everything got here safe!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all. I have to admit that I was quite overwhelmed opening all of the packages, not only because I couldn't walk through my room until I did a couple of hours of organizing, but also because of all the thought, effort, and long letters I received. It was great. Thank you.

The perfect way to end an exhausting week and a great day? You guessed it. Chicken.

I'm about to pass out and dream of all the good food and I'm going (hopefully slowly and with some semblance of pace) devour.

Tournee Day 5: Kolda and The Gambia

Homeward bound was supposed to be the theme of the day, but before we got started we payed a breakfast visit to two girls in my stage to see how they were doing and meet their counterparts. These two girls are just like me and Emily, SED and urban agriculture, site mates so it was interesting to see how they were working together or at least how they were hanging out together. We met at a pre-school where we saw the kids, looked at an early garden attempt, and had some delicious village bread with honey and butter. Delicious.

Then we were off the northbound road to The Gambia. While the scenery was beautiful and we passed many idyllic villages, one of which we stopped at because Talla had some friends there, I have to admit that I napped most of the way and really only regained consciousness once we started to slow down for all the boarder checks.

I was excited to cross into The Gambia so I can claim another African country! Hey, I ate and peed in the country... so I'm counting it! For my faithful U of M readers I would like you to image the wave field on North Campus. Take away the grass, so it's just massive dirt bumps and then you are close to accurately imagining the roads in The Gambia. It was a rough ride even in the nice Peace Corps car.

The highlight of the trip was while we were waiting for the ferry. I had heard rumors that The Gambia has the most delicious chicken sandwiches. This is true. The ferry port is literally a group of shacks next to the river selling various things. If I can invoke everyone's imaginations once more... Please imagine the African heat and glass cases, much like aquariums. Roasted chickens, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and condiments are in these cases. When you order a sandwich a women slices open some bread, tears of a chicken breast, thigh, and leg and proceeds to squish the meet off the bones and into your sandwich. She then takes a handful of lettuce and tomatoes, a handful of lettuce which she slaps in the bread, then she dips her hand into a dish of mustard which she slathers on your sandwich. Finally she wraps it in a dirty newspaper and hands it to you. Absolutely delicious lunch and until I started writing this post it really didn't occur to me that that wasn't what I would usually call a normal sandwich preparation method.

The ferry arrived shortly after we all devoured our sandwiches and Talla and I walked on board while Adama drove the car aboard. The ferry was pretty cool. The river and the surrounding foliage was very beautiful and it was relaxing and nice to get out of the car. That is until we disembarked from the boat and I was reminded I was in a boarder town by vendors trying to sell me fabric and cigarettes.

The rest of the day passed in the car. We talked, passed through Koalack again, and finally made it into Dakar and the end of the tournee. I feel really lucky that I got to follow Talla around, observe the formations, and see such a large part of the country. It was really cool.

Pictures from the trip are now posted. Enjoy.

Tournee Day 4: Velingara and Kounkane

December 3, 2009

Today was the day of the tournee that I was really looking forward to. Everyone has told me that Kolda is beautiful and the scenery is very different from the rest of the country. I had to wait the entire day to make it into the city of Kolda itself and it was twilight, but I would agree that it’s very beautiful.

The morning started out with bean sandwiches, an excellent way to start a day, and we went to Velingara to do a school project management formation. The formation was supposed to be about use of a future school computer lab. The room currently doesn’t have any electricity, the computers have not been purchased, and none of the teachers know how to use them. Interesting. Planning the install and potential pricing for adults and students outside of this school district was the purpose of the formation, but it quickly devolved into a shouting match among the various participants in the formation about who the computers were MORE for. The principal of the school seemed to want to charge outsiders a fee to use the lab while school was out or even after hours to create another revenue stream for the school. This idea sent other people off the deep end who thought that the computers should just be for the children of this particular school. Every single one of the approximately 20 people in the room had to say their piece in a very long winded manner. I was really bored and I felt badly for the volunteer since the meeting didn’t achieve its purpose.

The trip was salvage when we got to visit the preschoolers at the school. They were adorable.

This afternoon we made our way to Kounkane to do a leadership formation for a women’s group who dyes fabric and makes completes (traditional Senegalese top/ skirt outfits) to sell at the market. Just like the juice formation before it, this formation was interesting because it was a single groupment and all the women had the same goals. It was also interesting to watch Talla explain the responsibilities of the president, treasurer, and secretary and see the face of the president fall as she realized that she has actual responsibilities instead of just having a cool title. I think she got the point by the end that she needs to step it up.

The drive from Kounkane to Kolda was very different. The trees became much denser and there were a lot more palm trees. We also saw monkeys, which got me really excited! The goats and sheep of Thies are just common roadblocks these days, but monkeys in the middle of the road is a new experience all together. It was pretty cool.

Adama and Talla dropped me off at the Kolda regional house which is very nice and I collapsed on the couch. There were a couple of girls in the house and we hung out a little bit, but they were busy so I read and made dinner... When I say I made dinner, I mean I boiled water and put it into a bag. In the States I'm completely against meals in bags, or boxes, or anything that doesn't involve something fresh and me taking the time to cook it, but this is Peace Corps Africa. When my grandma and dad were in Denver visiting my brother they picked up some freeze dried camping food, which I have to admit I have been dreading eating. I brought out the bag of freeze dried beef teriyaki, and made an excuse about how I got it in a package, but don't usually like things like this, but thought I would try it. It was obvious that the other girls had had these meals and liked them.

I boiled some water and 9 minutes later presto! I had beef teriyaki. It pains me to say this, but my meal in a bag tasted like a little bit of heaven, which I shared with the other girls and then went to bed.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tournee Day 3: Tamba

December 2, 2009

We spent the day in Tamba today which was nice because I got to sleep in and we didn’t have any driving to do. In the morning Talla did an accounting formation, which was interesting. I thought that he made a huge mistake in the total costs column, but about 2/3 of the way through the formation I realized that he had actually started a new example which I hadn’t realized since the formation was in Wolof. I’m glad I didn’t bring that fact to his attention since I would have felt really stupid.

Talla has some family in Tamba so we went to their house after the formation for lunch. I am always skeptical of other family’s ceebu jeen since my family is patron and eats really well, but this was good. Or, it was really good up until the point when they asked me if I liked “geej.” I had no idea what it was and said I would try it much to their delight. I really need to learn to ask before putting things in mouth because it was rotten fish and my gag reflex kicked in and I was almost in real trouble. Luckily I was able to swallow a huge mouth of food without chewing and kept the rotten fish down. At least in the future I will know not to partake in that Senegalese delicacy. The hour proceeding lunch was really boring and I watched CSI Miami dubbed in French as Talla talked with his family.

After lunch I ventured out into the courtyard where I was mauled by adorable children. There was a little boy about 18 months old with no pants on that kept walking up to me, looked at me with his eyes almost popping out of his head, and then would start to cry uncontrollably. He did this at least three times. It was ridiculous. I also had my two favorite conversations.

#1 – Marriage – the marriage discussion is always the first topic. This discussion actually wasn’t annoying because I was with women, not men. They couldn’t believe I’m unmarried and in a foreign country by myself and advised me to lock down my man while I’m still young and beautiful and while my breasts are still perky… I didn’t have the heart to tell them that bras work miracles…

#2 – 52 States – there is a misprint in a widely distributed Senegalese text book so everyone thinks that the US has 52 states. The best part is that people are adamant about this fact and won’t believe me. I promised the women that there are only 50 states. They told me that since I was a guest that they would defer to my opinion, but they obviously didn’t believe me.

The piece de resistance for the afternoon was one of the young boys t-shirt’s. Second hand clothing is huge here and people will wear graphic t’s with slogans and phrases they don’t understand. For example we once saw a man in Dakar wearing a t-shirt that read “Gay? Fine by Me.” He obviously had no idea what that meant because it wouldn’t have been fine by him. This little boy was wearing a Jewish day school pre-school shirt. I was beside myself. It has the generic little kid picture of Noah’s Arc complete with Hebrew writing. It was priceless and pictures will be up shortly.

For the afternoon’s activities we went to an artisan village which sells pretty much the same, generic, merchandise that you can find in the Thies artisan village. Nothing too interesting. I spent the night back at the Tamba house hanging out with people and watching Knocked-Up. Good day.

Tournee Day 2: Kaffrine and Kounghel

December 1, 2009

While my initial description of Kaolack may not have been the nicest picture, this morning was great because I potentially had the best bean sandwich I’ve had in country and that’s saying a lot. The sandwich was on village bread, which sent it over the top. Village bread is really dense delicious bread that only villagers eat because it’s so filling. Townies eat processed French baguettes that are full of air and really, really flaky. Village bread is amazing and I only had it on Korite, supposedly it exists in Thies and I am now determined to find it and eat it in all of its delicious glory.

Our first stop was Kaffrine, which is pretty much just a stop along the national highway to Tambacounda. The formation was definitely the best one we’ve had so far. The volunteer in Kaffrine works with a women’s group who makes juices and jams and sells them at the market. They even had carts with logos and special plastic saks that the juice is put in. The reason why I liked this formation was because we worked on the same problem. The previous formations had women that sold a myriad of different items. Some women sold peanuts, some sold fabric, some sold vegetables and the list goes on. Working with one group with one goal really allowed us to focus attention, make concrete recommendations, and potentially achieve progress/ some form of consensus.

We worked with this group on some pricing and financial planning, but what the group really wants to do is print their business specific logo on the plastic bags to increase their visibility in the market. This request brought up the 4 Ps of marketing, which was the first business framework that Talla used during the formations. Since it was only this one group we were really able to discuss the 4 Ps and the portions of the framework that the groupment was missing. It was really interesting to see Talla teach the framework and I think the women of the group got it and saw that there were some gaps in their business that are potentially more important to fix than the logo on the bags idea. While in the long run imprinting logos on the juice bags could be a good idea, it’s also very expensive and not everyone in the group is currently putting in the same amount of time and effort so there are some salary disputes. We were able to work with them on creating a more concrete production schedule. People used to come in at drastically different times so we made a daily schedule and had everyone sign a big piece of paper, which was kind of cool. Even their volunteer signed it which was cute.

After Kaffrine, we made our way to Kounghel to see a volunteer from my stage. We actually did home stays together during PST together so I was interested to see him. Kounghel is pretty much a truck stop and is currently completely under construction. They are digging a huge trench for some water drainage infrastructure for the rainy season. It was cool to see another person’s site from my stage and the longer I’m on tournee the happier I am and the more grateful I am for Thies.

Next stop: Tamba for the night. The Tamba house had a couple of girls in it and a boy from my stage who lives in town stopped by and we watched a movie and cooked some food. Unfortunately, the Tamba house also has a lot of mice, which I didn’t like, but all in all a good day.