Friday, January 29, 2010

I Did It Again

This morning I went to Keur Yaay as usual. I really haven't been feeling well the past couple of days, but I needed to venture out on the town and Keur Yaay is always a nice place to go. It's an especially nice place to go when the English formation is cancelled and everyone is there sipping on beverages and chatting. While the chatting was lovely, one of the children that receives tutoring and art lessons at Keur Yaay came by and he played the drums and sang for us! It was amazing! I have video of it, but for some reason I'm currently unable to upload it. He was really talented. Papi has a great voice and played the tam-tams (drums) very well.

At home, it's Mami's birthday so everyone was busy making a nice meal. I made a cake AGAIN! Yes, it's true my previous method that I've described in detail seems fairly foolproof and Ahmed was foaming at the mouth for the two hours it took me to make two little cakes. Luckily, the cakes did come out OK and I received a package with chocolate frosting so everyone's very excited for the treat after dinner.

We also killed a chicken which involves my mom yelling at whoever is currently walking through the courtyard to grab a chicken and kill it by the sheep pen. The killing part is accomplished while a vat of hot water is boiled. The chicken is then put into a big, plastic, laundry bin, and drained of its blood. When the blood is all gone the boiling water is poured over the chicken. After the water/ chicken have cooled a little bit it is surprisingly easy to take all of the chicken's feathers off. They pretty much just pull off. The chicken then has to be gutted and butchered, but my mom is extremely adapt at all of this and it takes no time at all.

I'm looking forward to a great dinner. We haven't eaten yet, but I know that chicken, fries, bread, pasta, and salad are all involved. It's going to be great.

Ps. Shout out to Shirley for a great letter and Leigh for a beautiful postcard of Michigan's scenery... my family did really like all the pictures.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I'm walking to the Cultural Center this morning, which is way out of town practically in the middle of nowhere, when I see Emily crossing the street. She too is going to the cultural center and she's meeting Kether there. What a coincidence. I was freaking out because I had underestimated how much time it was going to take to walk there and was going to be a few minutes late, obviously this shouldn't have been a concern. At 10:05 when I got there, there were three other people waiting for the meeting.

The US Consul was actually there and after my momentary panic attack that the meeting was going to be conducted in English, Dioss doesn't speak English, I settled in for an interesting morning and gave myself a pat on the back for pulling myself together this morning and wearing a Polo shirt. Before the meeting started, the people from the Embassy never even planned on starting until 11, I walked through the cultural center and found a super nice library with books in French, English, and Arabic along with two computers with internet access and... air conditioning! It's a really nice space for people to go. Unfortunately, it's in the middle of nowhere.

A little luck came my way this morning as I was just about to call Mme. Cisse and tell her I couldn't do a typing class she called me and cancelled! I had already called the Keur Yaay crew to say I couldn't come, no one picked up, but then they all rolled into the same meeting. It created a kind of West Side Story showdown between the Keur Yaay women and Dioss for my love and affection, but I tried to split my time evenly.

The meeting was actually fairly interesting. The first part was about Visas and how incredibly difficult it is to get them and all the differences between. The second half was pretty much how to make your business look good to the US government for emigrating or for getting a visitor visa.

After a few morning of meetings, I met some friends for lunch and a quick drink. And then I went to the post office!

SHOUT OUT TO ALENA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Alena sent me an absolutely amazing package that had mini Milano packets! DELICIOUS. All the stuff you sent me was great. I really needed extra storage so the storage box is great, the magazine always a good read, and Ahmed LOVED the pipe cleaners. Also he thought that the Scrabble card game was toy for him to practice his letters aka he thinks everything that's mine is his.
THANKS AGAIN and thanks Matt for the letter too!

Also, and I can't believe I forgot this, VAIDEHI IS HERE!!!!!!! The actress from the soap opera that my family loves is now here in Senegal. My sisters watched her while she drove through a huge crowd in Dakar for over an hour. It was ridiculous.

Chicken for dinner. Great day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Debits and Credits

Dioss finally found some time to work me and my accounting lesson in. Last week he was working with one of the French private schools on a movie, which sounds really interesting. Today he was free from the project and no one was at the gallery so we were able to create our first ledger! It pains me to be excited about accounting, but I made the ledger so simple that even I understand it...

Currently, we only have six columns: Date, Description of Item, Number of Items, Debit, Credit, and Personal/ Business Use. Volunteers in the past have started with very simple systems and then work their way toward more complex systems, a strategy I'm also adopting. You may be interested in the Personal/ Business Use column. As I've mentioned before, there's little if any separation between personal and business funds. Senegalese families who own a boutique will simply walk in and take an item; it wont be subtracted from inventory and they wont pay for it. Most people also don't use bank accounts so it's very difficult to keep track of personal versus business finances. This is the case for Dioss. I explained personal v. business with his beloved cigarettes. Dioss is very bright and has big plans for himself and after 2+ hours of examples and creating ledgers I think he really had a good grasp of the material. I think this will really help him, but the big test will be whether or not he continues his ledger while I'm away at training all of February and wont be there to check in on him!

Dioss also invited me/ begged me to come to a meeting with him at the Cultural Center in Thies. It's with the American Consul, supposedly, and is about the US/Senegalese governments helping artists and getting visas. I'm interested to see if 1. the Cultural Center actually exists because I've never heard of it 2. if the meeting actually happens and 3. if useful information is actually disseminated. Regardless, Dioss thinks he has a huge advantage because he's bringing me, a native English speaker. He claims he's going to call me in the morning to make sure I'm up and can make it. The meeting is at 11am.

On the home front today was a weird day. No one was here during the afternoon. My mom is very sick and didn't leave her room today so it was just me, Mami, Ahmed, and my crazy aunt person at lunch (crazy aunt person - this woman who now lives with us, who I think is my mom's sister, acts oddly all the time and everyone laughs at her. I really don't understand why she's here or who she is). This means we had a great lunch if not an especially healthful one. We had omelettes, which in Senegal means a deep fried egg, fries, and bread. It was delicious.

Most of the afternoon I alternated playing with Ahmed and working on some NGO research in my room. Ahmed is now fairly obsessed with trying to write since he sees me writing and reading all the time. The only letter he can write right now is "H". You would really think that "O" is the easiest letter, but for some reason "O" baffles him and he loves "H," so I drew "H"s for a long time this afternoon. Since no one was home, I did get a lot of work done since I didn't feel guilty about staying in my room after playing with Ahmed. It was nice.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Character Study: Mami

Mami is a badass. She is turning twenty-six next week and plays basketball at an academy here in Thies. I'm a little unsure about what her basketball goal is at this stage in her life, but Senegal is a powerhouse in women's basketball. The Senegalese women's team just won the African Cup, which is like the championship for the NBA.

Some fun facts about Mami:
1. She LOVES make-up! LOVES it. She has more make-up than anybody else I've ever met in my life and she's pretty much the local beauty parlor. Today she had a friend over who was going to a wedding and we all watched Mami transform this woman into a different person. When Senegalese women wear make-up to go out, they go ALL OUT. They use foundation that I would use on myself aka a million shades to light for them and then usually pencil in their eyebrows in purple and match their eyeshadow to their outfit. Lip liner could be a completely separate post. Regardless, Mami loves doing make-up and everyone loves her for it. It also turns our house in to a girls club which is really fun.

2. Mami's laugh is a mixture between a hyena and three year old girl. Somehow it's both very little girly and cackling. I'm pretty sure it could also break glass, but you always know when Mami's having a good time and she usually is so it's funny.
3. Mami loves Western style clothes. Mami is the only woman in my family who wears primarily Western clothes. Everyone else usually wears traditional clothing. Therefore, Mami really stands out. Let's just say she likes color and skin tight material. My personal favorite outfit is what I call the Jolly Green Giant. Mami is not what I would call a delicate flower; she's a basketball player and has that body. The Jolly Green Giant outfit consists of lime green skinny jeans (and my skinny I mean ass tight, I'm not sure I could fit in them and I'm 1/3 Mami's size), green stilettos, a green bag, and a green and black striped halter top that reveals her belly button. When this outfit makes a debut I know Mami's going out on the town. She rocks it. The girl has amazing confidence and for some unknown reason she kinda pulls it off.

4. Unlike most Senegalese women who do laundry almost daily so it doesn't pile up, Mami likes to do it all at once. Today she spent a good eight hours doing laundry, she filled up all of our clothes lines three times. The best part of Mami doing her laundry all at once is hearing her complain about all the laundry and then how she doesn't have enough clothes. It's classic.

5. Ahmed and Mami have a love/ hate relationship. They obviously love each other, but they push each other's buttons. Ahmed particularly loves "accidently" spilling some of his lunch over Mami's newest outfit while Mami takes Ahmed's candy to make him cry. These are the entertaining events of my life now...
6. Mami is also the best cook in our family and makes amazing chicken. I think it might be good in the US too. It almost tastes cajun. She also makes great juice and ceebu jenn although she does make my least favorite lunch as well. I'll let it slide.
7. Mami loves to watch Pokemon on TV and the infamous Jesus cartoon.

8. Mami makes the best shocked sounds during Marina.

9. She's really considerate and invites me to sit around with her friends when she has people over and always makes me peel the potatoes when she's cooking.

10. Mami's just a badass. I don't really know how to put it better than that.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vaidehi is Coming!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday's are always an interesting day. There's no place I can really escape to unless I want to make up an excuse or tell the truth that I'm meeting a friend in town. Today was no exception. I have a ton of work to do before IST so I spent a lot of my day typing up my notes from all the various meetings this week. I know, I lead a very interesting life. This task took much longer than it should have since Ahmed kept bursting into my room demanding to color, to play, or just to annoy me. At one point I had to lock the door.

When I wasn't attempting to get work done, I was watching tv. Lots and lots and lots of television. My family busted out the DVD player and we watched another movie in Wolof! While the movie we watched a couple of weeks ago was just miserable and I could barely make out words, this one was slightly better. This movie had a much better production value and the theme was raunchy women, which my sisters found hilarious and this entertained me slightly. I really tried to appreciate this movie. I told myself that it's like Friends or Seinfeld for Americans. A show about nothing, just normal life, and how ridiculous it is. I couldn't appreciate this movie for it's "Friends-ness," but I could appreciate the family time I accrued by watching it even though I fell asleep for the majority of the movie...

Side note: This movie was over three hours long, in Wolof, and Ahmed was shaking a rattle in my face for half the time I was awake.

The second ridiculously long installment of television watching came in the form of Vaidehi! Vaidehi is coming! Vaidehi is coming! The main actress in the Indian soap opera Vaidehi is coming to Senegal on January 26th to meet her fans. This was breaking news. Literally. They broke into the news to announce that VAIDEHI IS COMING! I thought Mami was about to either have a heart attack, die from hyperventilation, or start sobbing. All the women in my house were running around screaming that Vaidehi is coming! Yay!

Let me give you the highlights of tonight's episode:
The evil father son combo are at it again. Spreading lies about Vaidehi and the other women. A sister even leaves the house, banishing herself from the family forever, because she can't stand the evilness anymore. Vaidehi feels ill after the showdown and it turns out that she's three months pregnant with her dead lover's baby. Little does she know that her dead lover is actually alive and being held hostage in the same hospital where she just found out she's pregnant! In case you were wondering, the evil brother supposedly killed the lover by stabbing him about a billion times and then throwing him off a yatch in the middle of the ocean, but really, who couldn't survive that? Anyway, the lover, Neil, is attempting to escape from the hospital and just barely missed Vaidehi who goes home and goes to bed. She awakes in the middle of the night to find Neil, her supposedly dead lover, holding a machete to her throat!

OMG what's happening?!?!?!? I can't wait until tomorrow's episode. That is the one good thing about Senegal. A soap runs for about a year and everyday there's a new episode. I'll keep you posted. It's no Marina, but Vaidehi knows how to rock some frosted pink lipstick.

Additional fun facts about Vaidehi:
1. There are never two people in a shot. It's always a tight shot of the face.
2. They cut insanely quickly among the characters faces and there are at least 4 back and forths
3. Vaidehi has three facial expressions: pissed-pretty, confused-pretty, and SHOCKED

All that great television watching was topped off with chicken and salad! And in case you're still interested in the dinner dance... Deenba gave me a bowl with salad in it! Yay! And since it was in a bowl it didn't get drenched in oil from the infamous platter! What a great end to my day. No joke.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dinner Dance

As I've mentioned previously, my dad, youngest brother Ahmed (not 4 year old Ahmed, but another Ahmed who is still finishing high school) eat dinner together at a table with knives and forks as the rest of my family sits on the floor eating with their hands or spoons. I'm still struggling with this seemingly class based system, but my dad and I are the only people bringing income into the family and Ahmed is still in school. Regardless, this a different topic of discussion and this post is about my nightly dinner dance.

The dance starts as soon as we sit down. One half of the platter the three of us share is unmistakably for my dad and for him only. If he finishes he will push the remnants over to us to signify that he is done eating and we can eat what he did not. This leaves the other half of the platter for Ahmed and I to "fight" over. Since we don't talk at dinner this "fighting" is done passive aggressively, or at least it is on my part. I could be totally making up the dinner dance and Ahmed doesn't notice a thing. I must also state that this is potentially the only thing that I have been passive aggressive about for a long period of time. I usually like to get in a big fight and clear the air.

Because Ahmed is a boy or a member of the family or both he outranks me so the most delicious part of the meal is in front of him, just as it is in front of my dad. Image an oval platter. In the center is some type of meat and onion concoction and on either end is a whole fried fish, tries, or SALAD. Now, Ahmed really likes fried fish and fries so if I want any I feel like I have to sneak my fork across the platter and quickly pull some of the yumminess into my "personal space area," so as to claim it as my own. Does this look incredibly childish and ridiculous and it plays out over a meal. It definitely does in my mind. I have no idea what my dad or Ahmed are thinking. My dad will usually push a few fries my way or a piece of fish so I think I'm reading the situation correctly, but I honestly have no idea.

The dance only gets more complex when we have salad. The salad is not put in front of me even though I'm the only person who eats it. Therefore, I have to spend the majority of the meal slowly picking at the greasy meat/onion mash before me while I wait for Ahmed to be done. Once Ahmed is done I pounce on his salad. Then I pretend that I'm really full and sit there slowly drinking out of my water bottle until my dad is done so I can eat his untouched lettuce before my sisters clear the plates away.

This is my nightly dinner activity. Hope you enjoyed the dance.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Meet The Muppets

Although I'm still riding the high of our incredible, edible, cake from yesterday, the adrenaline from my birthday and our success definitely beat my cold into submission for the festivities, but it was back in full force this morning. The absolute last thing I wanted to do was go to my typing class, but I did and was rewarded with a power outage about 25 minutes into our session. Mme. Cisse's complete inability to highlight text before attempting to change it had me on my last nerve so I was happy to escape quickly.

I ran a few errands to make my walk across town worth the treck and returned home to my mom and Khady hanging out in the courtyard feeding Ahmed ridiculous amounts of candy. We had two topics of discussion. The first was how much they liked the cake from yesterday. I knew they liked it last night because it was gone in two seconds, but since they brought it up again today I know it was a real winner. They wanted me to make another one tonight, but I explained I'll have to wait for more supplies. The second topic of discussion was the volunteer who lived here before me. He decided to extend his service and is currently living in Dakar and my family was complaining he never calls so they called him to harass him, which was fairly entertaining. He's a really nice guy so it was funny listening to him try and cover for himself, in Wolof, over the phone... not an easy task.

After lunch I was completely wiped out and decided to attempt to nap off my cold. Sorry my day wasn't as interesting as yesterday! I also sat in the courtyard and read a magazine. My siblings are really starting to love People magazine and there was a pull out for Disney World featuring the Muppets. Ahmed about died from joy at the pictures. He thought they were just the best and then forced me to tell him what each Muppet was. Well, some Muppets aren't actual animals or people or anything... they're Muppets. Ahmed obviously didn't understand this so I just stuck to Kermit and Miss Piggy since are discernible characters.

That's all from Senegal. Thanks again for all the birthday wishes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Twenty Three

First, I would just like to say that I was stunned and overjoyed with the incredible outpouring of birthday wishes and support I received today on my blog and on facebook and via email. I would love to give shout outs to everyone, but that would take up an entire blog post. There were many people who posted today that I didn't even know read my blog and it just feels amazing. I don't really know how to describe it. Thank you, thank you, thank you... and continue posting on my blog because I love reading all the comments!

Now, for the birthday rundown. As many of you mentioned in your posts, my birthday isn't usually known as one of the best birthdays around it's usually filled with some type of catastrophe. It's definitely no bar golf ala Kaitlyn. This birthday was one for the ages! It was amazing and I wish I could have shared it with everyone back at home.

I woke up and my internet didn't work so I was off to a bad start. Then I left my house to walk to one of my friend's houses and a group of school boys surrounded me and hurled racial slurs at me. Always fun. After these two little hiccups I had the absolute best day.

Emily and I met at our friend Kether's house (I usually call her the USAID intern) because she had an oven and my mom sent me a funfetti cake to make for my birthday. Unfortunately, Kether had never used the oven before and when we got there we realized that it didn't work. We didn't let this deter us and we let some good, old, genuine Peace Corps/ I have no resources ingenuity take over. We decided to create our own stove top oven. Now, people who know me well know that I don't really create things... I go shopping for them. And I must admit that I had little to no confidence in our combined skill, but Emily was undeterred and soldiered on... and it worked! How did we create a stove top oven you ask?

1. Take a gas tank. And by gas tank I mean gas tank that you put on a grill.
2. Attach a burner.
3. Take a huge pot and put water in it.
4. Take two disposable cake pans. Put batter in the bottom tin and use the top tin to create a seal/ box like effect.
5. Wrap towel around cake tins and place on top of big pot with water.
6. Take MASSIVE bowl and cover everything creating "oven"
7. Turn gas on as high as it will go.
8. Create cooking time out of thin air. We chose to double the cooking time.
9. Sit on kitchen floor eating rest of cake batter.
10. Laugh uproariously that this idea could possibly work.

An hour after we put our device into service we unraveled the package to find a perfect cake! This is not a joke. It was golden brown, moist, and delicious. Emily and I were literally screaming and dancing around the kitchen with our success. It was awesome.

Glowing with success and cake in tow we head off to the bar. Obviously. There we meet almost everyone in my region. All of my ladies who lunch girls and two of my good guy friends, Oliver and Thomas, from the stage ahead of us were all there... and were incredibly impressed with our cake. The Catholic bar as we call it, this is a very creative name since it's right next to a huge cathedral, was jumping with the lunch crowd and we had a great time. I hadn't seen anyone except Emily since New Years so it was really fun to catch up and see everyone. There may not have been any sharkbowls or getting denied from bars shenanigans, but a cold Gazelle always goes down smooth...

At three we made the big move from the bar... to CHICKEN DIBI!!!!!!!!!!!!! For the past week Emily and I have been going into Chicken Dibi everyday to remind them that they agreed to open 4 hours early for my birthday. We got a lot of "if God is willings," which didn't give us the greatest confidence, but Muhammad, my Chicken Dibi/ Arabic speaking friend, really pulled through. When we got there they were already cooking up delicious chicken, fries, and salad for us. We had the whole place to ourselves and put a bunch of tables together and talked until the room became deathly silent as we all attacked our plates of deliciousness. We also busted into the cake while we were there.

Thomas bought me magic sparkly candles at the market, these obviously didn't work (damn false advertising) and Katherine also got me candles so the cake was absolutely ablaze with 23 candles. Other gifts I received were equally amazing. I got a lovely toy squirt gun from Oliver, Ahmed obviously confiscated this from me as soon as I got home, a fantastic lolipop with a toy inside it from Christine, and Jackie who brought card making material all the way from the US of A made me a great birthday card. Fantastic gifts if I may say so myself.

Feeling almost sick from the ridiculous amount of food I had just consumed we all made the brilliant decision to go to another bar where I almost died from being too full as I attempted to drink another beer.

It was a truly awesome day. Everything worked out... I even got my internet back by the end of the day!

When I got home I made another cake for my Senegalese family. They laughed and laughed at me as I put together the make-shift oven, but were super impressed by the cake and really liked it. Although I doubt they could actually taste the cake under the vast amount of frosting they slathered on it!

I would just like to say THANK YOU one more time to everyone who contacted me in some way today - I was really blown away and to all of new PC friends here in Senegal who came to Thies to help me celebrate.

And please check out how we made my cake! New pictures are up.

Ps. A big shout out to my Aunt Diane's class for singing happy birthday to me on Skype.

Fact Finding Mission

January 19, 2010

Erratic internet service is preventing me from posting regularly...

I woke up still feeling sick and definitely crotchety and my walk to Keur Yaay did not help. I have a bad habit which is when a boy/ man comes up to me and the first thing that comes out of his mouth is that I’m beautiful I instantly shut down. I have no desire to hear what he has to say next because I don’t feel as though he’s treating me as an equal and I just want to get away. Well, this happened on the way to Keur Yaay this morning and it ended up we were walking the same direction and this man, approximately my age, attempted to draw me into conversation the entire way. I realize that this instant creation of a wall reaction is probably not culturally sensitive nor is it all that polite, but I can’t help it. I don’t want to be seen as a piece of white meat walking down the street and I have little confidence someone really wants to get to know me when the opening line is “you’re so beautiful.” I also got two “I have children give me money,” and one “please take my baby you have money,” so when I got to Keur Yaay I wasn’t in the best of moods.

Obviously, the English teacher was an hour late again and then tried to convince me that you spell Sunday with an O. I wont go into further details.

Next up, typing class. Mme. Cisse is the only student who still comes and since we finished the typing games, I’ve had to create a real lesson plan. Unfortunately, Mme. Cisse doesn’t want to take the time to actually learn how to use Microsoft Word. I think this situation is just a snapshot of a larger problem with development work in Africa. I showed Mme. Cisse how to highlight text, change the font color, change font type and size etc. She diligently practiced each thing once and then wanted to move on. She has little curiosity in learning she just wants to know and she thinks that I should be able to go through everything once and she’ll get it. She doesn’t want to practice or take a minute to soak in the information. She sees other people doing it so she should be able to instantly do it as well. She’s trying to force me to teach her all these things quickly, but she still can’t manipulate a mouse all that well. It’s just a constant request for X (for knowledge, resources etc) and then it’s dropped. It’s not sustainable and today I didn’t feel like our lesson was particularly sustainable. I need to figure out a way that will make her take her time and practice.

This afternoon I once again called someone in the mayor’s office and requested a meeting with someone who could help Emily and I with our PC questionnaires for the next part of our training. We walk into the Hotel de Ville and talk with the guards for a little bit and they have no idea who I’m referencing when I tell them the name of the man I’ve spoken with the past two days… interesting. They are super excited that we speak Wolof and we tell them our questions and they take us right down the hall for the person who is in charge of all the demographic information in Thies. Perfect. To make the situation even more amazing the man who we’re taken to see used to be a language instructor for the Peace Corps.

Mr. Fall was awesome. He answered all of our questions and explained even more to us. It was great and really helped me turn my day around! The other thing that really helped me elevate my mood was a package from Ma! Yay! Grandma, thank you so much for all the goodies and I’m keeping the wrapped presents until tomorrow so I have something to open on my birthday! I’ve of course already opened the Jelly Beans. Those are just too good to save!

Additionally, my dinner consisted of pasta, bread, and fries...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bust and Boom

Yesterday, I woke up with a terrible head cold. Every person has been sick at some point in the past week and since we all eat out of one bowl it was fairly inevitable that I too would fall prey to a cold in the desert. Sore throat, congested nose, and general grumpiness were all symptoms that led me to hide in my room all day and be anti-social in an attempt to make a 24 hour recovery. No suck luck, but I did trudge through an amazing amount of PC paper work I have to finish before IST so I still felt productive.

Unfortunately, today I woke up and still felt like crap, but I forced myself out of bed and walked all the way to Dioss' gallery to learn that he totally forgot about our already rescheduled start to accounting fun! Do you think he's avoiding accounting? I really can't blame him, but I was still annoyed because his gallery is all the way across town next to nothing. Keur Yaay, my typing ladies, my tutor, and Diof's office are all in two adjacent quartiers so when someone stands me up I can usually find something else productive to do, but no so for Dioss' atelier so I came back to my house and felt miserable until Ahmed forced me to draw with him for 2 hours until two of his little friends came over.

It is interesting to interact with other young children because they are terrified of me. Ahmed now takes the liberty to barge into my room, snatch a book out of my hand, and demand that I play with him. His friends look at with wide eyes like I'm some sort of alien. The three little boys came into my room, Ahmed in the lead with the other two trying to hide behind him, to ask to play with the prokadima set. Ahmed obviously thinks he's super cool since he besties with the toubab and it was a funny little episode.

The morning was not only a bust with Dioss, but I learned I couldn't meet with the Mayor either. Long story...

All I wanted to do during the afternoon was lay on the couch and watch Marina (Brazilian soap opera)with my mom and sister, but Emily said she would go to Jumba's, our tutor, with me if we met at the gate. We met at the gate, looked at each other, and quickly ran away before he could see us. Once there, neither of us could handle a Wolof session. Instead we went to her office, which was inexplicitly closed during office hours. In an attempt not to feel like dead beats we went over to the organic market's office.

Emily really wants to work with them on the gardening and I would love to work on the business side. I was shocked by the office and how together it was. I glanced over some financial statements on the desk and they looked great. They really have it together. The problem on the business side is obviously exposure and marketing. They've already tried a radio commercial and having music at the market to little success. I'm going to have to come up with something very effective yet cheap and easy if I want to make a difference over there.

At this point my throat is killing me so we went into town and I paid an exorbitant amount for a milk shake. It was amazing, worth every single penny, and it really soothed my throat. Plus Emily is absolutely hilarious and it's always fun to hang out with her. We may have also made AMAZING birthday plans, but you will have to wait for all the details!

And I just ate dinner while burnt weave smell hung in the air. Mami has apparently turned our house into a salon...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Twilight Zone

I spent most of the morning dreading the impending boredom of the formation with Diof. I knew that I had to go, but I also knew it wasn’t going to be fun. I did attempt to keep an open mind and tried to trick myself into believing Diof’s New Year’s Resolution was timeliness, but of course this was not the case. When I arrived on time at the office he wasn’t even there and then I had to watch him have lunch, talk on his phone, and finally wait for the other member of our group to arrive. An hour after we were supposed to leave, we finally jumped in the taxi and when we got out of the taxi… I entered the twilight zone.

Standing outside the house and staring up at the massive wall enclosing the compound I did think to myself that maybe just maybe this formation would be different. When we entered the compound, owned by a high ranking Thies government official, I was blown away by what I saw. It appeared as though I had flown across the world and landed in Florida… in 1982. The man of the house greeted us in linen pants and a Hawaiian shirt, the house was huge and two stories and actually had a fresh coat of paint, the interior obviously had overstuffed black leather couches (shout out to Matt), and there were potted flowers. I felt totally out of place and as though I was in an alternate universe.

The formation itself was also not as mind numbing as I was expecting. My Wolof has definitely improved since all of my trips to the villages with Diof when I first installed, but more importantly there is a huge difference between these women in Thies and the women in the villages. These women knew what was up. Diof could barely speak before one of them was snapping their fingers for his attention to clarify a point or ask a question or to provide an example. I was impressed with how attentive they were and how much they already knew about how to run a groupment and the executive board’s roles. My role at the formation was obviously token white chick, but it wasn’t so bad and I was fairly mesmerized by my surroundings so the time went slightly faster than a slow crawl.

I should mention one event of note from my morning. I was cleaning my room when Khady walks up with Ahmed. Khady tells me that Ahmed wants to play with me and that she’s going to visit a friend… wait a minute here did I move to Africa to become a glorified babysitter after I’ve avoided babysitting my entire life? Apparently that is part of my job description now. As I’m cleaning Ahmed is wandering around my room peering into corners looking for presents. He assumes everything in my room is a potential present for him shipped from the States. What he calls some pink and white packages catch his eye and he pleads with me to play with them. I say they aren’t toys and that they aren’t for him, they are just for me. He lets it go for a little while, but he just can’t get those little pink and white packages out of his head. He pleads and starts to cry. I immediately tell him crying doesn’t work on me and I’ll make him sit outside on my porch. Ahmed sucks it up and pines for his treasure from across the room. How do I explain to a 4 year old African child that the pink and white packages are tampons?

Oh a day in my life…

Friday, January 15, 2010


Thank you cannot be said "Fank You" that's just not an acceptable pronunciation. I had a show down with the English teacher at Keur Yaay today. I was so happy that the English formations were back on track after the holidays and that all the girls were there and then we had a very disappointing lesson. When I arrived at 10 am, the time at which the formation is supposed to start, all the girls were there and ready to so I jumped in to start. Unfortunately, I missed the Tuesday session but the girls showed me the conversation they had worked on and I re-wrote it on the board making three changes for grammar and wording. The teacher waltzes in over and hour late and starts reaming me out for changing his blatantly incorrect conversation. I attempt to explain that there were errors, but he tells me in broken English that the girls aren't smart enough to understand the conversation with correct grammar. This is obviously unacceptable and I tell him so. He asserts his "teacher" status over me and I sulk in the corner calling him dirty English words in my head.

Then we learn the phrase Thank You and I just can't contain myself any longer. He reverts back to his "I speak British (aka proper English) and you speak American (as Senegalese would say "language with dirt in it") English," so the pronunciations are different. For some reason everyone here thinks Americans and Brits can barely understand each other. He goes on to pronounce Thank you as "fank you," "tank you," and "sank you." No one is more sensitive to learning a new language than me. I labored through four years of sounding like an idiot in Arabic class when other students had native speakers as parents and I now conduct my daily life speaking two broken languages. I explain that I know that it is extremely difficult for Francophones to pronounce the English TH combination and that I have difficult creating the ND and NG combinations present in Wolof, but I feel that it's important that the girls know there's ONE way to say thank you. He keeps with British v. American English until the owner Boya, who freaking loves me, enters the room and convinces him that defaulting to the native English speaker on this one might be the better road to take. Fortunately, we were able to spend the rest of the class in relative civility, but I refuse to allow him to teach my friends incorrect grammar, spelling, and pronunciation. I would expect my friends to teach me correct Wolof and to correct me. Obviously this is a contentious subject with me right now.

Leaving one language session, I head to my own Wolof tutor. I enjoy going to see Jumba and he loves it when I show up, but he can get on my nerves and after I explained my harrowing morning he got on my case about not coming to see him enough. He's bored out of his mind guarding a building that no one ever comes to and he loves talking about all the ridiculous subjects that we cover during our sessions, but he does not understand that our time together is not the only time I practice Wolof - I'm constantly attempting to communicate everything about my daily life in a language I had never heard until 5 months ago. He was remarking that I "fatigue" easily when studying with him. Perhaps it's because I had just had a throw down with another teacher or because I'm always trying to understand what's going on and it's hard. Sorry for the mini pity party...

The day's not over! Before returning to the center in February for more training I have a lot of work to do and I just realized today that I need MAJOR help. I had no choice but to turn to Diof. While I still think he's a misogynist and I don't like him, he is invaluable and I can respect the way he magically makes things happen. After spending one hour with him I had a list of all the NGOs in Thies, the number of schools private and public, and a meeting with the mayor Monday afternoon. Not bad. And we had a cordial discussion. After my effusive praise of his memory, which is just amazing he knew every phone number for each NGO off the top of his head, and his help with my work he immediately told me how I could repay him. I have to go to a formation tomorrow! I'm already terrified of my impending boredom, but I would have been incredibly screwed without him so I guess it's worth it.

Luckily I met Emily and the USAID intern for a drink afterwards to decompress and plan much more fun activities. This was a good move since when I got back to my house I found Ahmed throwing a tantrum on the floor of the foyer while repeatedly throwing his new air plane into the wall while Jeenaba and Deenba fought over who messed up dinner and my mom stalked around screaming there wasn't enough sugar for her 928374th cup of tea of the day. Needless to say I hid in my room until dinner, which was really good millet couscous (no one messed it up in my opinion).

After a hectic day I'm going to bed with clean sheets... and there's nothing better than ending a day with clean sheets. Ok, maybe if my clean sheets came with a huge block of cheese...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Word in French

I was convinced that I was going to have at least one package from my incredible friends and family back home when I went to the Post Office this morning. No such luck. Disappointed and with time to spare because I didn't have to pick up said packages I went to visit my supervisor Diof. This takes all of my resolve because I really don't like him or going to see him, but since I have to fill out a bunch of forms before my next round of training in February it was a necessity.

Luckily, I had my typing class looming in the near future so I told him I only had twenty minutes. While I don't really like Diof on a personal level he does know everyone and everything in and about Thies. He set me up with a contact at the mayor's office and is looking for his NGO list for me... and I was out of there in twenty minutes flat - including 5 minutes of greetings. Excellent.

We hit a momentous and terrifying place in my typing class with Mme. Cissa & Co. They finished the typing game. Unfortunately, I didn't know that this would happen today and I didn't really plan ahead. On the fly I was able to come up with the activity of them typing a newspaper article into Word so we could practice all of Word's functions. This was a disaster. Their typing skills still aren't all that good and their mouse skills may be worse so Word was rather difficult. It actually became quite hilarious when Mme. Cissa started calling herself a villager because she was so bad at attempting to highlight text so she could make it bold. I think you have to live in Senegal and speak Wolof to understand how funny a villager comment is when living in the Big City (aka Thies), but we were all laughing. Word is going to take a while to master; especially since it is incredibly hard for me to explain in French. I'm really going to practice and learn all the relevant words this weekend because I felt really stupid today in class.

Fortunately, I couldn't dwell on my ineptitude for too long because I had to meet some other volunteers for lunch which was very fun and a good break from the bad string of lunches my family's been having. After lunch it was too soon for Emily and I to go back to our families (we didn't want to be forced to eat a second lunch) so I forced her to go to the bank with me and then she forced me to go to the Post Office with her. The second time is apparently my charm because I had packages! Yay! And much to Emily's unhappiness because she didn't. Needless to say she left me there and I don't blame her.

Shout Outs!
Thanks mom and dad for the early birthday package and another package just because. The men at the Post Office feel as though they know my mom intimately and now enjoy guessing what she sends in her packages since she's got it down to a science and sends only my favorite things!

And to Mr. and Mrs. McKeown! A plethora of new New Yorkers will replenish my stash (which was zero) and make volunteers throughout the Thies region very happy. The cookies are beyond delicious. I honestly don't know if there are better cookies in the world. They made it mostly in one piece and are amazing. I had to forcibly stop myself from eating the entire container in one sitting and I will be hoarding them all for myself. They are just too good to share.

Now for a story about my packages. I was able to sneak my mom's packages inside my room before anyone saw, but as I was doing that Ahmed had heard me return and rushed to my room in time to see the McKeown's package and ask if it contained a present for him. Ahmed now thinks that anytime I get something it's actually for him and he's entitled to pretty much anything that is mine anytime that he wants it. Yes, he is undoubtedly spoiled and yes, I participate in that process. I tell him that he has to wait outside while I look through the boxes because I don't know if there are presents for him. He waits for approximately two seconds after I close the door before barging into my room and demanding presents.

You may think I would find this incredibly annoying, but somehow it's rather endearing and I just can't get angry at the little kid. He also catches me with a yet to be assembled Balsa wood airplane in my hand. He quickly grabs it from me, runs outside, and triumphantly shows it to the rest of the family bragging that he just received a present from the US and they didn't. Then I am forced to assembly the plane. It only takes me two tries (I unsuccessfully assemble it upside the first time! oops!)! I then spend the rest of the afternoon standing on our second story balcony launching the plane to an impatiently waiting 4 year old below who then runs it up the stairs so we can do it all over again.

He absolutely loves the plane and I will love it even more when I show him that he too can throw it off the balcony and play with it himself! Thank you so much for the toys. Ahmed really does enjoy playing with them and I have to admit that I enjoy spoiling him just as much.

Exhausted from running up and down the stairs a million times with his toy airplane, Ahmed then throws a tantrum during dinner because he can't have chocolate for dinner and then passes out under my chair. How else could the night end?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Boring? Anything But

I thought I was going to have a boring day. I should really know better by this point...

All day yesterday I was really excited (I know complete 180) to start accounting with Dioss. Unfortunately, just as I was turning the corner by his gallery he called me (shout out to Dioss for using a phone to update me on a change of plans!) to say he had an emergency at one of the galleries where he sells his art and he had to cancel our meeting. I was really disappointed, but pleased he called, and since his gallery is a 30 minute walk from my house I decided to still go and see who else was there. At the gallery there is always a bevy of brothers, cousins, friends, and maids so I knew I could find someone to talk to.

One of Dioss' younger brother was working on some art and there were several other men around my age there that I knew so I sat down to talk for a while and luckily I brought a book! Dioss' crowd really impresses me. They are all whip smart and all of them have different interests. There are several artists in the bunch, but they mostly use different mediums, and they are still interested in knowledge outside of the art world. One of my favorite guys is Major who is studying Geography at the University of Dakar and wants to be a professor. When there were lulls in the conversation everyone pulled our a book or a magazine. Neither my family in my home stay village nor my family here or really any other people I've met are interested in reading, but Dioss' family is just voracious for knowledge and are really cool people. So, even though I didn't get to do any real work I did spend a couple of nice hours relaxing in the gallery and chatting.

My afternoon activity was talking to my Aunt Diane's class about Africa. It was actually really fun and I even brought Ahmed in to say hello. He loved it and has been talking about seeing all the kids in the US all night and the rest of my family is angry that I didn't bring them in to see. Next time. Although I think they forget that they can't communicate with the people I'm speaking with. Oh well. Most of the questions were pretty easy. Questions about weather, bathrooms, animals, and family dominated the scene, but I was intrigued by a girl who asked what Africa is like... and my response. I tried to frame Africa as a very different place, but what I kept coming back to was the fact that I'm the minority, not a member of the majority, and that I'm reminded of it every single time I walk out of my compound. I would say it is the hardest part of being away. There's no hiding. I just stick out. The conversation was very fun and I look forward to doing it again and fielding more questions.

What took up the rest of my day? Oh, just the general chaos that is living with my family. My mom was raging through the house claiming our maid stole the key to her room. I'm not sure if she was joking or not. Regardless, Deenba, the maid, is an absolute saint who is kind, funny, and has endless patience for me. I joined Deenba in the search as my mom yelled at us from the balcony. Eventually I proved the victor and found the key dangling to the edge of the drain in the shower. It would have been a disaster if it had fallen in and we couldn't find it. Crisis diverted.

I just ate chicken and salad. And I'm full. That means I had a great day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


My typing ladies turned out to be one lady today. Only Mme. Cissa showed up and it was obvious that our long break did not help her typing skills. She fell off the wagon for a little bit, but I think we’ll get right back on track.

The afternoon was much more eventful back at home. Lunch was actually on time today and I didn’t have any work in the afternoon so I sat around with all the women in my family and they were all riding the gossip train. My older brother Cheikh’s wedding was just last Saturday and Mami was just at another wedding today so everyone was talking about weddings and who's who. First the conversation to some women they know who have had multiple husbands. Taboo. Then we talked about people who are old and don't have husbands. Ugly. Then we talked about who's going to beat who to the alter. Not me (I think all of my sisters are talking solace in the fact that they don't have to worry about me getting hitched before they force their boyfriends or at least a stand-in for their boyfriends down the aisle). Then we talked about the really interesting part of weddings. Money.

My family along with most people here are fairly obsessed about money. I should probably restate that and say Senegalese people are much more about about financial issues than Americans in some ways. Everyone will talk about how much money they don't have or how much something costs or how much money someone makes, but they wont talk to someone in a bank or put their money in a bank. Conversations about money often make me uncomfortable since it's such a taboo subject back home, but this was fairly fascinating. In essence they were blacklisting people who didn't give enough money. As I mentioned in the wedding post, Khady and my mom went around collecting money from all the guests and writing the amounts down while shouting them to the rest of the crowd. This lead me to give Ahmed money and hide in my room while he gave it to my mom. I did not want my amount shouted out to be judged by the entire crowd. Was it a worthy amount from a toubab?

Well, today I learned that it was. After eviscerating several family friends for paltry contributions I was praised as a member of the family and a generous guest. One of my bad-ass aunts who happened to be over and was leading the mean brigade told me that she loved me like a daughter for acting like a real part of the family and that she's going to get me a beautiful outfit when I leave (and after I'm probably forced to contribute a lot more money to a lot more weddings. All of my siblings except one could get married while I'm here! Help!). Regardless, points for me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Senegal's Revenge?

The first day back making my rounds was pretty good... until it turned bad. First for the good. I went to see Dioss this morning and while we didn't actually start any accounting work he did prove to me that he read the booklets I gave him, which I was impressed with. He memorized an impressive amount of information and we are going to start Wednesday morning with a simple ledger and counting his inventory. I hate to say this, but I'm pretty excited about starting Dioss out with his finances I know it will really help his business and I think he genuinely agrees now that he's read the books. Awesome.

Everyone in my family is still recovering from the wedding so lunch was served incredibly late again and then I rushed off to see my tutor. Jumba pretended not to recognize me because he hasn't seen me in so long, but I was prepared with presents. Remember when I took him and his family lollipops and he thought they were completely emasculating? Well I pretended I brought him another one and he freaked out. You had to be there. But, I had another present stashed away and we got on with our lesson. He really enjoys it when I come. He's a very intelligent man who just hasn't had any opportunity and now he's probably going to be stuck guarding this building and living in a single room with his family for the rest of his life. His wife and kids are incredibly nice so I enjoy going to see them and I like knowing that my tutoring money and little presents are really helping someone. Plus, our conversations are interesting. Today he explained all of the pick up lines men shout at me as I walk around. It was pretty funny.

Since tutoring is right next to the Peace Corps center and I knew some other volunteers were in for language training I stopped by. They were all going out for a drink and I really wanted to go, but I had my bike and I don't like being out at night so I decided to ride my bike back to my house and then cab to the bar. This was a terrible decision. Taking a back road which somehow was covered in water (don't ask me where this water came from because I desperately don't want to know) when my bike chain completely fell of my bike and I crashed into a mucky puddle. Delightful.

I walked my bike the rest of the way (the majority of the way) home. Unfortunately, my entire family was sitting in the courtyard and laughed at the mucky bottom of my pants and my story. Ahmed had decided to draw all over himself with some of my highlighters so that distracted most of my family from dwelling on my appearance for too long, but which created a huge fight between Khady, my mom, and Ahmed about taking a bath. This obviously devolved into Ahmed throwing a fit and him receiving a pack of cookies just as I emerged from the shower. He gave me a cookie which was delicious until it hit my stomach and Senegal's Revenge struck again. Yeah, it wasn't pretty.

To make matters worse my sisters made the best dinner ever: Moroccan couscous and chicken! I was able to eat a little bit, but it's so good. I'm actually feeling better now that I have in a while so I'm hoping I've now expelled everything from my system.

Here's to hoping!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Today was a day from recuperation after the hectic work leading up to the wedding and the wedding day itself. This meant that everyone was in a bad mood, slept most of the day, and that we didn't have lunch until 5pm. I had to break into my secret stash several times in order to sustain myself until then. And even then lunch wasn't all that good and it was cold. Disappointment.

The activity of the day surrounded returning all of the chairs and bowls my family had rented for the event. Obviously, this created chaos. I helped stack all of the chairs and then was nominated to be the counter of the chairs because they assumed I was the best counter since I'm a toubab. Unfortunately, my number was three shy which almost gave my mom a heart attack. She started ranting and raving and every other adult in the family also had to count the chairs. We were short. The chairs have mysteriously disappeared along with four large platters. Yeah, it was a mess and everyone is in an absolutely terrible mood.

Other than counting chairs most of my day was spent napping or picking rocks out of rice. No one really seems to understand how incredibly tiring it is to speak in two foreign languages all the time and be tested on my Wolof and then ridiculed for bad it is. Yesterday was a long day for everyone, including me. So apart from resting, I picked the rocks out of our rice for lunch and dinner (we are having the traditional sweet rice Sunday dinner... not my favorite). My sisters hate this task because it's incredibly tedious, but I'm good at since it takes no skill other than being able to spot the black rocks in the white rice so I'm allowed to help with this cooking task. I actually like it because it gives me something to do while everyone is sitting around. I still feel like I'm doing something.

Tomorrow will be my first regular day since Christmas. I'm ready to get back into the swing of things. I was really excited for some family time after being away, but now I'm ready for some obligations to pull me away.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Wedding Day/ Sex Ed

Whenever I leave my room and am accosted by the smell of chemical hair straightener I know it's going to be a good day. Today, that smell was accompanied with every woman in my family screaming and laughing while they scrubbed the floor of our compound in preparation for today's nuptials. Let me just say that a topless Khady, hair white with product, moving along on a wet towel was a fabulous site first thing in the morning. I love that woman.

The pace of the day only picked up from there. Soon the compound was teaming with various Senegalese women who knew me... I obviously didn't know any of their names and therefore called them "aunt" and "mom" to their great delight. Cleaning, slicing the potatoes I peeled yesterday into fries, and of course the all important hair weaves consumed most of the morning and early afternoon. Then things really started to pick up. More and more people (mostly women) kept arriving and the cooking began in a GIANT cauldron.

I didn't know any of the women cooking, but they seemed like they were having a great time and they invited me to sit with them so I joined in on their hot, greasy, cooking fun. That wasn't all that was hot; they're topic of discussion was decidedly risqué. I now know three different words for vagina in Wolof. Oh yes. Theses women, probably in their mid-thirties, desperately wanted to teach me the ways of the world. At first I was able to play dumb because I didn't know any "sexy" words in Wolof, but once the women started using incredibly lewd hand gestures, pointing, and other various forms of body language I really couldn't play dumb anymore and just had to laugh and shake my head as they asked me personal questions and offered up some "helpful" advice. I can't really describe the level of uncomfortableness that I felt, but it was pretty funny and the women thought the entire encounter was absolutely hilarious.

Soon after breaking away from Sex Ed Class Deenba saved me from any more awkward conversations by taking me upstairs to the balcony with the rest of the girls our age. From this vantage point I was able to see the bride come in with her party. All of a sudden the music started to blare (we hired some drummers) and our front gates burst open to reveal a hundred women streaming in the bride and her bridesmaids in the middle dancing along with the music. It was a pretty cool site. Once they entered the compound and dropped off a ton of food everyone danced and some people spoke, but it was fairly mob like so I watched from the relative safety of my porch.

The bride and her entourage weren't here for long and once they left everyone remaining at my house ate the food they brought us, not the food we made. The rest of the afternoon was spent dancing or alternated between me watching the dancing, retreating into the big house in search of one of my sisters, or hiding to regain momentary sanity in my room. If you think the day is over you are so wrong...

Finally everyone sits down to the dinner my family has been slaving over for two days now. Huge bowls are passed around as I follow my sisters around like a puppy dog waiting for directions on where to sit. They are still only half dressed for the evening and rushing around and not giving me any instructions so I take matters into my own hands and return to my Sex Ed teachers/ cooks. They take pity on me and give me my own bowl! Victory! I devour the chicken, fries, and salad, and pretend to eat the exceedingly oily onion sauce.

Question: Have you ever had the urge to steal some food off a plate in a restaurant? Maybe just one fry?

Ok, well I have had the urge. I've never acted on it in the States. However as the bowls started to come back into the kitchen area full of salad I couldn't help myself. The cooks found this just too funny and finally let me eat out of the huge bowl that contained the leftover salad. Don't worry, they didn't want it, but they did finish off the onion sauce.

Then, more dancing. I was standing on my porch again, try to fit in when the lead drummer calls me out and embarrasses me. It is traditional to give money at a Senegalese wedding and my sister Khady was getting it from everyone and saying the amount aloud, which is normal. I feel uncomfortable with this so I was planning on just giving some money to her after everyone left. The drummer calls me out saying I'm a toubab and should give lots of money and everyone laughs. I'm not sure if my mom or Khady heard, but no one came to my aid and I was incredibly embarrassed and had to retreat to my room. I solved the situation my luring Ahmed into my room with chocolate and then making him give the money to Khady. Pride wounded, but crisis averted.

Even though there was the slight embarrassment in front of a compound full of people I soldiered on to the reception across town, which was epic. When I say reception I really mean receiving line. Music blared as an auditorium full of people watched the bride and her bridal party take the stage and dance a little bit. I should mention that the groom, my brother who lives in Spain, did not attend and the bride had one of her friends stand in. Therefore all of her wedding pictures will feature a man who's not her husband. I guess this is not too abnormal. Regardless, after we watched the bridal party dance for half an hour everyone formed a line to take pictures with the bride and give her gifts.

We were there for less than 1.5 hours and my sisters got ready for approximately the entire day. It was a long, long day. Definitely interesting in some aspects, but a lot of hurry up and wait. There are some new pictures up, but I wasn't really able to take a lot! Enjoy.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Ahmed

Just last night my mom and I were wondering when Ahmed's birthday was. Well, it's today. He's 4 and in charge. I found out that January is a huge birthday month for my family, with me, Mami, and Khady rounding out the month. I didn't think that birthdays were really celebrated here, but my mom told me that adults will have small family parties that usually include chicken and that children have lots and lots and lots of candy and that's exactly what Ahmed did all day. He also took off his pants and refused to put them back on and screamed that it was his birthday whenever someone asked him to put his pants back on. Classic. Ahmed was given even more candy than usual today and was bouncing off the walls while the rest of us were hard at work (more on this later). I refrained from delving into my candy stash to satisfy his ever growing sweet tooth and gave him a little toy car my aunt sent me, which he loved.

The day started off pretty easy with a Post Office run where I got some letters from Matt and my mom. Thanks! And when I got home I was already to clean my room when my mom asked me to go with her and Khady to the market. I thought this was a little bit of an odd request, but I had nothing better to do so I went. They wanted me to come so I could carry everything. Haha.

I should preface this by saying that tomorrow my family is hosting a wedding for my oldest brother who lives in Spain. He will not be attending his own wedding, it's not necessary. Regardless, today was all about shopping and getting ready for the ridiculous feast we are going to have tomorrow. At the market we bought 25k of potatoes, 25 kilos of onions, a TON of oil (10 gallons, hey we're making a lot of fries and greasy onion sauce), and three meters of lettuce. Yes, you read that correctly we walked into someones garden and I discovered my purpose on this market trip and that Senegalese people buy lettuce by the balk by meter. Anyway, it was my job to pick all of the lettuce out of the ground and hand it to Khady to attempted to talk on her cell phone and put the lettuce into the huge bucket and bag we had brought as containers. This was all happening as my mom was haggling with the garden owner. It was fairly comical. I really enjoyed picking all the lettuce although I got really dirty and my mom is incredibly entertaining because she's a huge hard ass. And I saw that with all the best intentions and love. That woman will haggle, and whine, and complain that price down until she's satisfied and I would be afraid of getting in her way!

After arriving safely back at our house with all our goodies (I'm so excited for salad tomorrow!) we discovered a proverbial bomb had exploded in our compound. Men were working on repairing (aka destroying and then putting back together) our driveway, two of my brothers were hacking away at a dead tree, Jeenaba and Deenba had taken every kitchen utensil out of the kitchen to clean, and there was a huge gaggle of women ready to start cutting up some onions. It was intense. I am not allowed to cut onions because I cut myself when using a dull knife to cut an onion towards my hand without a cutting board, but my family is impressed with my potato peeling skills since I brought a peeler from home. Several hours later I had peeled 25k of potatoes by myself while watching the other women cut onions and my brothers kill 15 chickens... all while Ahmed is making me play with him and his car... remember, he's also pants-less. This is my life.

The wedding tomorrow is sure to be a spectacle. I've only been to a wedding reception so far so I'm interested to see the ceremony which is supposedly at our house, but I'm not so excited about the reception since it's at the bride's house and I wont be able to escape when the intense boredom of being left alone and not understanding what people say sets in. I will just keep repeating in my head chicken and salad, chicken and salad, chicken and salad...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Am Kersa

I'm back from the village and it was amazing. Well, the language training that is. The language training was mind-blowing. I feel like I didn't speak Wolof at all before three days ago and that I have such a long way to go before I stop sounding like a complete idiot... if that every really happens. The language instructor we had was fantastic and we covered an amazing amount of material. It was like being in PST again so I can't say that I had the best time, but I will say that I listened to and attempted to absorb and incredibly amount of information. I have a lot of Wolof studying to do in the next few days in an attempt to really learn the material. The most amazing part of the training was that it wasn't scheduled and was a recent addition. I don't know if I could have ever really grasped the language without this intensive course and I'm hoping for another one!

Apart from the great language instruction (my brain is literally bursting right now) we also had some really interesting discussions about Senegalese culture; my favorite being about am kersa. Kersa is a word with many meanings, but we distilled it down to having good intentions and being an overall good person. Again, I have to stress how wonderful our instructor was because not only does she know her Wolof grammar, but she was brutally honest about her perceptions of Peace Corps and Senegal. As faithful readers know I have struggled with what I have perceived as a lack of motivation and general complacency here. Ouly, our instructor, helped me understand more of the underlying rational by explaining Kersa and how Senegalese should strive to be good people, work hard, and do good things.

I related this to The American Dream. From an early age Americans are taught we can do anything with hard work. Unfortunately, much of the world's population outside the US doesn't see this aspect of The American Dream, they see CSI Vegas with all the fancy gaggets and American movies full of expensive goods, Desperate Housewives with its immaculate neighborhoods. People don't believe me when I tell them there are people who can't find a job in the US, or people who have no money, or even homeless people who live on the street. Many people here think that the streets in the US are lined with gold and that Americans don't have to work for the luxuries we enjoy. And that's not true. (Sidenote: It's also not true that if I'm currently an unmarried old maid at the age of 22 and that if I don't get married by the end of my service that I will be too old and ugly to find a husband... but that's a complete other story/ rant.)Kersa is a sister to The American Dream. They are both about living a good life and looking to improve yourself.

This lead to the question: Do Peace Corps volunteers actually help? Ouly definitely thinks so. She discovered Peace Corps as a teenager and wanted to work with the organization since and has now been with PC almost 20 years. She's a wealth of information, but we've also taught her simple things like not to throw trash on the ground to more complex ideas like women can be entrepreneurs. During PST I really struggled with the idea that I would make a difference. I've been able to transform my ideas of success and I think I've already made a difference in Ahmed's life and I'm sure I can do good work in the future as well. That was sappy. Moving on.

Other than class the village was pretty uneventful. It's really small - only 7 family compounds so I just sat around with the family after class and talked about the volunteer they had before me. Their favorite subject about this volunteer was his girlfriend's ass. They wanted to know if I had seen it. Too funny. This was my first true village experience since I lived in a town during training so it was interesting, but I'm happy to my site is in a city and I was so glad to come home today and be with my family.

Speaking of my family... this is a reenactment of the converstation I had with my mom when I got home today.

Me: Mom! I missed you!
Mom: We missed you too! I'm so happy you aren't in the village anymore.
Me: Me too! They fed me bad ceebu jenn. (My mom LOVED this and went on and on about how there's sand in village ceebu jenn and how she's making me good ceeb tomorrow).
Mom: We are going to have a great dinner tonight.
Me: I need to take a shower and unpack my bags.
Mom: Yes. Please take two buckets into the shower with you. You came from the village and you're very dirty. Please shower before you unpack your bag.
Me: (Attempting to leave the room before I burst out laughing - my family is so city elitist. It's hilarious)

Ok, I don't know if that was as funny for you as it was for me, but here's another amazing quote.

I'm on Skype with my mom and Ahmed comes banging at my door while wearing a huge winter coat since it's a frigid 75 degrees here. I let him in and ask if he wants to see my mom in America. They say Bonjour to each other and then we leaves. I hear him go outside and see Deenba. He then says "I just saw Alyssa's Toubab mom." Priceless.

Moral of the story. I'm happy to be back from the vil, but very happy that I went to the training. Now, I'm ready to stay put for a while and enjoy life at site.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Of Mouse and Woman

Last night I’m trying to relax after puking my brains out the night before and I hear a rustling. I can tell this isn’t a giant cockroach or an endlessly annoying cricket or a frog or anything else… it’s a mouse. Already at this point I’m enraged. I move some things around my room looking for this unwelcomed visitor. I had just been bragging that I hadn’t had a mouse since PST, damn me. No luck. I can’t find the mouse. I’m talking to my grandma on Skype and all of a sudden the mouse runs under my door and out of my room. Success! I give myself a pat on the back for banishing the mouse although I didn’t do anything. A little while later I’m reading in bed and see a tail disappear on top of my dresser. Again, I look for the mouse and see him! I scan my room for a weapon… Aha! A half filled water bottle and I chase the mouse around my room attempting to beat it to death. No such luck. I’m completely exhausted, sick, and definitely more terrified of this teeny tiny mouse than it is of me. There’s nothing left to do except call my absolute saint of a boyfriend to cry and have a pity party for myself and my bad luck with this mouse.

Flash forward to this morning. I’m able to forget the mouse due to exhaustion and sleep through the night with the aid of earplugs. I start to tear apart my room looking for mouse poop and hoping to beat the hell out of the mouse. Yes, I know that my rage at this tiny animal does not seem in line with the crime, but I’m on a roll. Since I saw the mouse on top of my dresser (seriously, who knew mice could climb?) I take everything out of my dresser looking for a hole because if I discover that the mouse has eaten or pooped on my clothes I’m going to have an aneurism. Luckily, no poop or holes found and I resolve to start locking my dresser so no mouse can get in… hopefully. I take everything out of my room, sweep it, bleach it and look where I think is everything this evil aggressor could be hiding. No mouse. I leave my house in peace to go to the Post Office, more on this later.

Later in the day we don’t have any power and I’m reading in bed and I see that damn mouse on top of my dresser. I flew out of my bed in fear, anger, and disgust and started WWIII against this mouse. I took my headlamp and started searching for a hole which I found behind my dresser. I also found the mouse. Since my door was open my brother Ziabata walks into my room and sees me crouched next to my dresser, wearing my headlamp, water bottle held aloft in kill position. Needless to say he about died laughing and asked me what was wrong. I told him the story and he said that if I went to buy cement and I got him a Coke he would fix the hole for me.

I’m on cloud nine with some money in hand when Jeenaba sees me leaving and can’t believe that I’m about to shell out 25 cents for cement all because of a little mouse. Ziabata was also in disbelief when I actually came back with a Coke for him. He said it was a joke. In my head, I was willing to get him a Chicken Dibi dinner if he would take care of the mouse. Ziabata and I move the dresser out of the way and then he does an amazing job fixing the hole. He mixes the cement and even finds spare tiles that match the rest of my floor so everything is even. While he’s doing this my job is to sit on top of my dresser to avoid said mouse and hold my headlamp up so he can see what he’s doing. Ahmed also helps in this game by bringing in the new toy I gave him courtesy of Lynn. It’s one of those yo-yo type things but it’s not on a string, it’s on a metal track you turn upside down and the yo-yo changes colors. He obviously loves it and it created a lovely colored strobe light affect for Ziabata to work under. I was really impressed with Ziabata’s work and super happy that my hole is fixed and my mouse problem is hopefully coming to end. Just to make sure we made the mouse a lovely cocktail of poison and banana flavoring. Hey, I’m not taking any prisoners.
Now, since I alluded to the lovely Post Office….

Shout Out Roll Call!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lynn: Quite frankly, you rock. I may have received our birthday package a little early, but it was actually excellent timing. I’m about to go back to the village tomorrow and the Cliff bars were an absolute necessity that I didn’t have until today! My favorites! The granola Mrs. Mays packets are also delicious (yeah, I had to try one) and I almost fell out of my chair when I saw the Zingermann’s chocolate! The movies I will save until our birthday as another treat, but they all look great. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And I previously mentioned the toy you sent Ahmed. It has been a great hit with my entire family and I love it because it’s what I like to call a solo game aka I can give it to Ahmed and then he can play by himself and not annoying me for upwards of 20 minutes. Awesome.

Barber Family: You’re package may have been lost somewhere over the Atlantic for the past month, but it finally arrived and was amazing. Just yesterday I was talking to another volunteer about food cravings and I mentioned bagels and you sent me bagel chips! Yay! You also sent my absolute favorite vegetable chips which I’ve already dug into and a couple other of my personal PC favorites. A special shout out goes to Ana for her hilarious letter and great movie selections! Oh and I almost forgot the Pringles and the banana chips and the yogurt covered pretzels… delicious!

Shirley: The letter queen strikes again! Twice to be exact! Granted the letters were written two weeks apart and I received both of them today, but I love getting letters. Letters are definitely the best part of packages. One of the cards you sent had a drawing of a sheep on it. I was letting Ahmed open the letters and he was absolutely flabbergasted that there are sheep in the US so I got a big kick out of that. Thanks again!

I just saw the mouse again! AHHHH!!!!! And my room absolutely reeks of banana flavoring that I used in the poison so the next time I see this mouse it better be dead! I’m promise that I’m not usually this vengeful of a person! I just want to make it through the night without a mouse hopping into bed with me!

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I'm feeling better. Thank god. That doesn't mean that this morning wasn't rough. I didn't sleep most of last night and couldn't even sit up most of the morning, but by being a waste and laying in bed as I sipped oral rehydration salts I slowly regained some semblance of life. I've managed to eat five bites of plain pasta and a little fruit while avoiding my mom shoveling ceebu jenn down my throat at lunch. I think ceebu jenn is like Kryptonite to a recovering stomach. I think some more water, maybe a little bit more food, and a good nights rest will make me feel a lot better in the morning.

Since I was in a incapacitated state most of the day, my family was able to trick me into watching a Wolof movie. The movie was adapted from the infamous Wolof television show I couldn't stand during PST and was almost three hours long. Luckily I laid on the couch and dozed as my family laugh and laughed at this movie. It's too painful for me to recreate the movie here for your reading pleasure so just trust me.

Success of the Day:
I tricked Ahmed into believing that dried cherries were candy! Haha. He eats so much candy and his teeth are rotting out of his head so I thought the lie was acceptable. Maybe I'll eventually tell him it's fruit. Or maybe he'll eventually share his Biskrem with me... highly unlikely.

That's it from Africa. I've been hiding in my room attempting to feel better and beat the heat.

The Good and the Bad

January 2, 2010

Three main events occupied my time today. One being better than the others.

Since I've been gone for a while the Post Office was logically my first stop and I was so excited to see I had a letter from Matt and a slip for two packages! Yay! I get up to the window and slide my slip under the glass and my PO friend just starts laughing and says I will have to wait until Monday in order to get my packages because the customs guy didn't come into work today. Let's break this down. There are three men who work at the package center of the Post Office and if one is gone you're out of luck.

Guy #1 - Guy #1 takes my pink package slip, the 1000 CFA it costs to get a package, and checks my ID.

Guy #2 - Guy #2 takes the package slip from Guy #1 and crosses my package out in the ledger. He then gets my package from the back room and gives it to Guy #3.

Guy #3 - Guy #3 does customs (that is when he actually decides to come to work) and gives me a receipt.

None of these men feel the need to fill in for each other because it's not THEIR job. When I expressed my displeasure and annoyance that I can't receive my package because some just decides not to come to work the remaining men inform me that there was a holiday. I responded, yes, there was a holiday... yesterday. It boggles my mind that the other men weren't angry that their colleague didn't come to work. They wasted their time and couldn't do their job because only 2/3 of the necessary people were there. It's amazingly inefficient. I was less angry about not getting my package than just beffudled why people don't get angry here. No one seems to think that if society puts pressure on a situation that things will change. I realize that this is my American cultural perspective, but everyone complains about inefficiency here, but no one takes action. Get angry and get s**t done!

I'm angrily stalking back home, inwardly raging about the Post Office situation, when I see a little girl with ice cream. I instantly want some of the ice cream to help my mood and am very confused about where it came from. Suddenly I hear a random horn sound and from around a corner see a man pushing an ice cream cart. Literally a cart with a tub of ice cream in it. It was amazing. And this man, for one, takes him job incredibly seriously and sculpted me a little ice cream come that was delicious. Enjoy the pictures of me enjoying my ice cream.

The third event is why I didn't post my blog last night. I was incredibly sick for the first time since arriving in Africa. No one wants to hear the details, but they aren't pretty and last night was a long, rough night that I'm hoping I will never have to repeat again. It sucked. I'm currently feeling better although queezy, sore, and tired. Hopefully some rest and relaxation today will cure me of what appears to be the African 24 hour bug, which would kick the ass of it's American counterpart. I am currently alive, which I didn't think I would be at one point last night, so it's all good.

Wish me continued control over all of my bodily functions and a quick recovery! Sorry... TMI (too much information).

Friday, January 1, 2010

Holiday Roundup

Happy 2010!

Here, in no particular order, if a Top 10 list of my recent shananigans. I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I need updates on all of your activities as well so you better get on that!

1. Bonne Annee, Bonne Annee, Bonne Annee Africa
New Years Eve in St. Louis was fantastic. We had a great time. We started the night off with a huge BBQ at our campement. There were a bunch of people from our stage and the boys were awesome grill masters. Shrimp and beef kabobs, fish fillets, bread and cheese, and lots of peanuts were all on the menu and everything was fantastic. I didn't even bat an eye when there were no utensils and I reached into the bowl of fish and just broke off a big chunk for myself with thumb and forefinger. It was delicious.

Our first stop of the night was a local bar which was featuring some live music. Traditional Senegalese drumming created a very memorable New Year. We sang and danced with the crowd, but appeared to be the only people really into counting down the final seconds of 2009.

A dance club followed which was also really fun.

2. Lighthouse in Dakar
The lighthouse is Dakar is beautiful. We made a trip out to the lighthouse and walked up to the top, which was totally worth it. The views were amazing and the lighthouse has a very pretty garden. There was also a nice breeze which gave our lungs a good cleaning out since we had to walk several blocks next to burning trash.

3. A Real Jewish Christmas
Christmas night a big group of us went to the Chinese restaurant in Dakar. I've been there before and it was excellent then and it didn't disappoint this time either. Our delicious lo mein and garlicy green beans were complemented by a group of Chinese kids around my age drunkenly screaming to karaoke and lighting huge illegal fireworks in the parking lot. It was a very enjoyable evening and I'm also craving Asian here so having some Chinese was awesome!

4. Death in a Taxi
After our trip to Goree Island, the historic slave island off the coast of Dakar, we stopped by an incredibly seedy port bar for a drink, then moved to our favorite happy hour spot, and then to a little place called Caesars where you can get fried chicken! It was an epic night which ended with my life flashing before my eyes in the cab ride home. I was sitting in the front seat and we were all talking and laughing about our night when I realized that our cab was being flanked by two other cars... on a two lane road. I immediately let out a little scream, our cab driver was already white knuckle gripping the steering wheel, and the car became silent. Obviously we lived, but there were literally centimeters between the three cars. My biggest fear in this country is that I will die in an automobile accident. I have confidence in most of the drivers, they seem to know what's up, but there are an abnormal amount of crazy risk takers and people who want to drive three cars abreast on a two lane highway.

5. Decotech
Decotech is a huge fabric store in Dakar that we stopped by to see if they had American flag fabric that we want for a costume. While I was slight disappointed with the store, no Obama or American Flag fabric - I know they exist and I'm still on the hunt, it was really nice to go shopping in a store. It actually blew my mind a little bit that there were employees to help you instead of stall owners in a market trying to force you to buy something. There really isn't good shopping in Dakar, but throughout our trip I enjoyed popping into stores and just looking at merchandising. I'm trying to think up some unique business opportunities for Dioss and his artwork and I think I have a few good ideas!

6. Cooking at the Regional House
My friends and I cooked a lot in Dakar which was great. It is so nice to have a meal whose main ingredient is not oil. Katherine made some excellent de-constructed lasagna and then we also made Mexican fiesta thanks to Aunt Diane & Family and some pumpkin bread courtesy of my mom. I also brought a few extra surprises like jalapeño cheese, which I would never eat in the States, but which we all inhaled in about 2 minutes along with the rest of our Mexican fiesta. All the other people staying at the regional house were impressed and jealous with our cooking efforts and I satisfied some American food cravings which was great. And Yummy!

7. St. Louis
St. Louis is a French colonial beach town up north where we spent New Years. St. Louis itself is an island and we actually stayed on the mainland in a very nice campement. I was really surprised at how nice it was. We had a nice bed and a shower with hot water and a toilet with toilet paper. I don't have to tell you how awesome this was. I honestly thought there would be more to do in St. Louis than there was. If we had been up north longer it definitely would have been worth it to take a day trip to some of the nature preserves, but that's a little expensive and we didn't have time. It was fun to walk around St. Louis and look at the French architecture and it was nice to see buildings pained in colors other than beige. The beaches are beautiful as well and all of the pirogues, brightly colored fishing boats, are cool to look at... even if the fishing village doesn't smell so great. The best part of St. Louis was getting to see a lot of people from my stage I hadn't seen since PST ended and relaxing... well, going for New Years Eve wasn't too bad either.

8. Camels!
We saw a herd of camels running along the road on our way from Dakar to St. Louis. We were really excited with the animal siting. I actually woke Jackie up so she could see them! Sorry!

9. French Cultural Center
We went to the French Cultural Center in Dakar for lunch on Katherine's birthday. We had heard that they have the best burgers in the country and the place did not disappoint. The restaurant is outdoors and has what an American would think of a cool, breezy, and safari-esque African setting. Very, very classy to our standards. They have gourmet burgers and real salads and waiters who almost understand hospitality! It was a great lunch for Katherine's birthday and if you come visit me I will take you there and you can pick up the tab!

10. Surviving the Week
I have now weathered the first holiday season of my service and I'm feeling good. I'm definitely proud of myself for being upbeat throughout the whole trip and having a really good time. It was great to have fun with my friends and I did need a break from site, but I'm happy to be back at site with my family and with my own space.

Happy New Year! I can't believe it's 2010. On to the next set of challenges.

And new pictures are up so check those out too!