Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sleepy Sunday

Sleeping in this morning felt incredible. Now that the Ag PCVs are gone and it's just SED the center is really quite and today was the first day in a long time when I had nothing to do and could sleep as long as I wanted. It was great. I'm also feeling a little better too so that's nice. Although I'm in Thies and could've easily gone home to recuperate, it's actually much easier at the center because my family isn't constantly checking up on me and it's perfectly appropriate to lay on my bed and listen to my iPod. Pure bliss.

The majority of my morning was consumed with going to the market with my friends. Thanks to my mom we had some gnocci and really nice pasta sauce from the States so we went in search of vegetables. The results were pretty delicious if I may say so myself even though I still don't really have an appetite and can't eat that much.

Just as I was laying down to take a post lunch nap, in order to avoid working on a group project, my phone rang. The American importer who imports the infamous baskets was here and wanted to see the artisanal village in Thies. Two other volunteers and I went to the artisanal village with her and had a meeting with the president of the association. Leslie, the American importer, will be back later this week and if she likes the samples of the leather bags and baskets the association produces she might place an order. It would definitely be interesting to see how the import/ export process works.

Tonight a boy in my stage is going to make stir-fry for everyone and we are going to try and stream the US v. Canada gold medal hockey game! Should be fun. Tomorrow it's back to anther day of training.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

In Training...

Since the inception of the television show "The Amazing Race," I have been obsessed with getting on the show because I believe that I can dominate the competition. The past 24 hours have been a crash training course in the pitfalls of racing around the world... or at least racing between the two biggest cities in Senegal.

I must preface this story by stating that yesterday was the Gamou, the big holiday I wrote about a few days back, and that travel is difficult during holidays.

For this leg of the race, my partner in crime Katherine, our goal was to purchase tickets so we can fly to Ghana and take the LSAT in June. Although we are flying a subsidiary of a large American airline, it is not possible to purchase a ticket online nor is it possible to use a credit card at all. This means that we had to go to Dakar and purchase the ticket in cash.

Yesterday, two third year volunteers were also going back to Dakar so the four of us decided to take a taxi which is more expensive, but which we thought we get us to Dakar faster and would drop us off at our restaurant of choice. We got a taxi after only a few minutes and made it to Dakar pretty easily. All the traffic was going to Thies to get to the holiday in Tivuauone so it was smooth sailing all the way to the delicious Korean BBQ restaurant. The Korean BBQ was delicious and the company was really fun so it was a great evening all around and my craving for Asian food was satisfied.

We spent the night at the regional house reveling in how amazing and successful this trip to Dakar was going to be and watching multiple episodes of The Jersey Shore. It is the Dakar region's guilty pleasure. Please don't judge us. We need stupid, simple pleasures every once and a while.

Katherine and I were all over this trip to Dakar/ plane ticket acquisition mission or so we thought. We had spoked with the travel agent earlier this week and specifically asked what their hours are on Saturdays and if they were open THIS Saturday. The answer was yes, from 9-12. Unfortunately, we were thinking like Americans and assumed we were getting full information and that further discussion was unnecessary. FALSE. We woke up this morning and called the travel agency to get an exact address since that obviously wasn't pertinent information to put on the website. No answer. Katherine calls 98475874 times. No answer. I suggest we watch another episode of the Jersey Shore and call at 10 because maybe they're opening later. We call again. No Answer.

Unwilling to admit defeat even though another PCV at the regional house tells us that today is a national holiday and that there's no possible way that we are procuring our tickets today, we soldier on and go downtown to the office. After several different people give us completely different directs we see a woman opening another travel office and accost her to ask about the one specific office we're looking for. She tells us it's definitely not open, but does give us the correct directions. They were closed. So we took a fairly expensive trip to Dakar to stand outside the office and mope about how stupid we are that we didn't think about the fact that today is the day after a holiday and that there was no possibility that the office would be open. Bust.

By the time we got back in a sept-place and were on our way back to Thies I was feeling miserable and feeling sick. I spent the rest of the afternoon wallowing in self pity that I couldn't eat Moroccan couscous and chicken AND didn't have a ticket and at some point have to go back to Dakar.

I'm feeling better and the recent events of the past 24 hours have prepared me for my future domination of The Amazing Race.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Training was fairly entertaining. We worked on a strategy framework called SWOT to gauge a business' viability and potential strengths, weaknesses, and threats. We also had a presentation on artisan best practices which revolved mainly around the basket exportation project. Katherine and I have some grand ideas about a artisan network in Senegal so we'll see if that ever takes flight or if there's any interest among volunteers other than the two of us. The best part of training today wasn't actually training. A SED PCV in my stage volunteered to create a slideshow of all of our sites if we gave him pictures. We watched it at the end of the day today and it was really cool to see pictures of other people's Senegalese families and their sites. Some of the other PCVs' sites who are Eco-Tourism volunteers have breathtaking locations. It's not really the trash laden streets of Thies.

After training I went to the local speakeasy to enjoy a beverage and some peanuts with a bunch of people which was nice. This weekend we are staying at the center again so I'm planning a trip to chicken dibi along with planning a presentation about creating a business plan all in French that I have to present with two other people next week.

At home, Ahmed discovered the colored pencils that Shirley sent and I couldn't divert his attention from the rainbow of fun in the box so we colored for a while on my porch. Since he's obsessed with letters right now we drew letters in all different colors and then I suggested that we draw a tree and our courtyard. This pretty much blew his mind. He didn't know how to start so I drew a tree, but he was too afraid to copy it. He was worried he would mess it up. I'm really trying to teach him some creativity and expression. All the adults really liked the colored pencils too, but no one just wanted to draw on the paper I was using they all wanted the coloring book. Coloring within the lines is as far as we're getting right now.

The big news of the day is that Mami is back! Yay! She's been gone for about a month traveling Senegal with her basketball team. From what I can ascertain her team is pretty good and it's like a minor league team so she travels a lot. She looks amazing and appears happy to be back. She came into my room right away to talk and we sat outside together for a while. Mami really interests me because she's obviously postponing marriage and living her life for a while which I really admire. It has to be hard for her because the social pressure to get married is huge here even for me!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Training is starting to wear on everyone and I was supposed to present my infamous PowerPoint and video on my tournee today so I took my box of delectable Teddy Grahams, thank you Kristen, and set off for the center early this morning. After listening to another volunteer, who I had visited on my tournee, give a very interesting session on costing (Dioss and I have SO much work to do!) I got pulled out of the session to go to the opening of the American Corner at the Cultural Center. Instead of having me present, Nicole wanted me to go to the opening of the American Corner and meet everyone. The American Corner, for those of you who don't remember, is a room in the cultural center full of English books, information on the US, computers with internet access, and the reason why I might actually use the room even though it's completely out of the way... AIR CONDITIONING!

I have actually been the American Corner before when I went to the visa meeting with Dioss last month so I had seen the facilities, but it was cool to watch the opening ceremony and meet some more people from the embassy. One interesting cultural fact that I observed while I was there was gift giving. I wouldn't have understood this if I hadn't given my sisters a little present a few weeks ago. I thought when I gave my sisters a gift they would open it and it would be awesome and like Christmas. Well, Senegalese people like to open presents in privates unlike Americans so they can inspect their present and enjoy it before someone else asks to take it. Makes sense. Plus, who enjoys fake liking a present? Anyway, the Senegalese director of the American Corner gave a person from the embassy a present and the American immediately went to open the gift until a Senegalese person took it back from him and put it in a bag. I explained the situation to the other American and felt pretty badass about my cultural knowledge and integration (granted I made the same mistake mere weeks ago).

I'm glad I went because I want to present at big events in Thies and I did make a couple of good contacts... I met the curator of the art museum (yeah, I'm marketing Dioss hard core)... but I didn't get to give my presentation. Nicole said she'll fit me in some other time. I actually do hope that I get to give it because I worked hard on the presentation and it's really pretty!

After training I went out to dinner with my friends and saw the chaos that is Thies right not. Friday is the Gamou. Gamou is a huge holiday here for the birth of the prophet Muhammad and takes place in Tivuauone, my home stay town. Since Thies is in such close proximity to Tivuauone, Thies is also chaos. By chaos I mean two way streets are now one, some streets are completely closed down, there are buses everywhere, people all over, music blasting, weaves flying, and a 5 minute cab ride from the center of town took me over 20 to get home tonight. It's intense. What's also intense are Jeenaba's and Awa's hair weaves. They wouldn't let me take a picture tonight because the weaves still aren't done, we're on day three - weaves are evidently a work in progress, but they are huge. The Gamou is a bigger holiday than Korite or Tabaski which I've written about before. Thies will probably be a disaster zone until next week and my mom's side of the family will all leave tomorrow for the festival. Tivuauone which is a city of 50k people will grow to over 2 million for the event.

The other big news story here in Senegal is the fact that it's really freaking hot. There pretty much was no "cold season" this year and today was hot. As in, I'm sweating and sitting down hot. I forgot how much I truly hate the heat. The next 9 months sure are going to be fun. I'm currently having an internal struggle about whether or not to turn on my fan. Is it better to turn on the fan so I can sleep comfortably tonight or should I try and condition myself so I could potentially not think it's so hot later on? A difficult decision. I think I'm going to turn on my ceiling fan, but leave my floor fan off. Yes, I am a princess and yes I know that some volunteers have no electricity and therefore no fan, but I already caught Khady topless in front of a fan and she's Senegalese so I don't feel too badly!

To end this disjointed post I would like to continue my shout outs from yesterday because I totally forgot to mention that the Barber family sent me a fabulous new t-shirt and my bible aka People magazine's 2009 Yearbook. Awesome.

Additional shout out to Shirley! I got another letter today that you sent on the 19th! That means the letter got here in 5 days! New record. The other amazing part about this letter. The post office guys gave it to the PC secretary who brought it to the center for me so I didn't have to go to the post office. Sweet.

I'm updating this post three minutes after I posted, but my dad just got home, it's currently 10:30pm, because traffic is so bad because of this holiday! He's a champion... and potentially slightly crazy for doing his commute!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thank you SHOUT OUTS

Today was the first mind numbingly boring day at training thanks to a not so informative presentation that I can't even tell you what it's about since I couldn't pay attention.

Fortunately we had chicken for lunch and the second afternoon session was optional so I got to go to the POST OFFICE! I got there approximately one minute before it closed and had to beg my friends to let me pick up my packages. Luckily they are nice guys and let me into their deliciously air conditioned office and gave me my packages.

SHOUT OUTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Your package was amazing! I don't even know where to begin. Actually I do since immediately after I opened the package I started boiling some water so I could heat up some of the Indian food you sent me. It was delicious! Really, really, really, really good. I had the Korma today and I'm excited to keep trying all the different varieties of yumminess that you sent! I'm also super excited to try out the new recipes you sent me. It will definitely be my project the next time I go to Dakar. Garlic sauce and chwarma sounds awesome right now! All the great kitchen supplies you sent will also help in making great meals since kitchen utensils are seriously lacking here in Senegal. I haven't learned how to cut onions in my bare hands yet like my sisters. Moving on from all the great food you sent, which is difficult since most of what PCVs do is dream of food (oh! I almost forgot all the spices!), the little lantern is great. My headlamp recently went "missing" after a family member used it so I have been light-less for our most recent power outages and the lantern you sent gets really bright which is great! Thank you, thank you, thank you the package was well worth the wait. It was great. I also got a really nice letter from you today too! A great day.

Kristen, I was so excited to get a surprise package from you today. It was hilarious just like you. I especially loved the awkward post card book you sent me. Definitely expect a few headed back your way, but I may take your advice and start handing them out when men ask me to marry them out on the street! The drink packets (it's starting to get hot again! save me!), nuts, and dried fruit are always appreciated. Snacking is a great pastime here. I also liked that you included an entire ziplock bag especially for Ahmed when you've been proclaiming for years you hate kids. He is going to LOVE the markers. I may be a little scared of giving them to him, but they're going to be a big hit. I did open up the marshmallows. He loved them, but the rest of my family thought they were disgusting. Jeenaba actually spits hers out! I like when they hate things because then I get to explain for the millionth time that food in the US and Senegal is different and we all have our preferences! I also really enjoyed your letter! It was great. I almost forgot the Teddy Grahams! SO GOOD!

First off, Ana, I laughed out loud when I saw that you sent a Busta Rhymes and Marky Mark tapes for Dioss. Ridiculous and I absolutely cannot wait to give them to him because I know he's going to love them! The rest of the package was equally as great if not as hilarious. Drink mixes, peanut butter (yes, I eat it out of the jar all the time... at least I use a spoon), tuna, and gum were all great. Ahmed is going to love the colored pencils. As for the 100 Calorie Packs, which I love, it appears as those customs had some questions about them and wanted a taste. Luckily, only one was opened, but it was strewn throughout the box like confetti! Thanks again for a great belated birthday package. I really appreciate it.

Thank you so so so much everyone!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ants in His Pants

Training is still going well. I’m enjoying learning about food security, and exporting, and Senegalese laws and everything, but it’s exhausting going to class every day and I still haven’t recovered from WAIST. All I want to do is sleep. I feel like I need a whole weekend alone in my room to recover. I do have a very special vacation coming up so I’m just looking forward to that.

Today we had presentations about food exportation. It would be near impossible for a single volunteer to make a Senegalese business ready to export to the US. Several generations of volunteers would probably be necessary. I am really interested in all of the regulations and hoops a business must jump through to get certification though so the presentations were interesting, but I’m feeling like food security is not what I really want my service to be about.

What I definitely am interested in is artisans and Dioss called me today all excited. Apparently he has opened a second bank account so he can keep his business and personal finances separate, painted several new canvasses that he assured me I will love, and claims that his accounting ledger I made him “is a work of art.” I’m going to try and get over there later this week to see what’s up at the gallery.

Things that made my day:

I took a cab home from the center today because I was lazy and tired and had a nice conversation with the cab driver. It blew his mind that cabs are yellow in the US just like they are in Senegal.

Deenba and I had a great conversation about how the soap opera Vaidehi is far superior to Marina. It was great.

While our power was out tonight Ahmed and I were coloring on the floor of the kitchen. He was just wearing boxers and all of a sudden he started screaming and dancing around. He quite literally had ants in his pants. He stripped down and I stopped/ killed all the three ants that were in his pants much to the delight and laughter of the rest of my family. Everyone was mocking Ahmed because he was scared of the ants so to prove his manliness and strength he continuously leapt over the dead ants with a stick in hand. Needless to say, it was amusing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Keur Moussa

Keur Moussa is a small town east of Thies that's near Jackie's site where there is a really cool, old monastery. I've been wanting to go to the monastery for a while not because it's full of history, or because it has a beautiful fruit tree orchard, but because they make their own GOAT CHEESE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, goat cheese is a personal weakness of mine. I've been known to walk to Zingermann's in a blizzard to acquire goat cheese or Brie and a lovely loaf of Italian rustic bread. Anyway, the goat cheese was excellent especially when I slathered it on my bread with some mango jam. Delicious.

In order to obtain my goat cheese, mango jam sandwich I did have to sit through a two hour Catholic mass. It was actually quite interesting. The music was fantastic. The monks played calabash guitars and sang and the artwork in the monetary was also beautiful. Unfortunately, I was lazy and didn't take my camera so you'll have to stalk my friends' blogs if you want pictures.

Yesterday was another good day at training. We had a Senegalese speaker who presented about food security and the regulations involved with selling food here in Senegal. It was interesting to me since I want to work with the organic market in Thies.

Tomorrow starts another full week of training. This weekend was fairly low key since we were allowed to stay at the center, but I still haven't recovered after WAIST!

Friday, February 19, 2010


I have already admitted and will always be the first to admit that Pre-Service Training (PST) this summer was grueling and the most terrible and difficult thing I've ever done. I really didn't think that I could do it and I did not hold high hopes for our In-Service Training (IST) which started this week. Now that I've officially been in country for six months I should know that I should never expect anything because whatever I expect probably wont happen and IST has been a great surprise. Today we really had four great sessions.

The morning kicked off with a cross-cultural question and answer session regarding our first four months at site (I can't believe I've been at site four months today!). The questions really ran the spectrum from serious to ridiculous to why is my host mom still "breast-feeding" her 4 year old grandson. No one has been able to answer my questions about Ahmed and his relationships with Khady (his mom) and my host mom/ his grandma. When I brought up the fact that he calls his grandma mom and his mom by her first name, several other volunteers said they have similar situations with their families where everyone calls the family matriarch mom. The Senegalese instructor acting as moderator assured me that Ahmed knows his mom is Khady, although I'm still not sure, but everyone agreed that it is fairly unusual that Ahmed's grandma is still using her breasts as a pacifier four years in. Every family has it's quirks and this definitely does not phase me anymore!

Going back into the air conditioned heaven that is the SED training room we had an incredibly interesting lecture from a Senegalese man who was the economist for USAID for twenty years. He gave us a run down of Senegal's economic history and the country's economic prognosis. Neither are very optimistic. Regardless, everyone is telling us that this is a great time of change to be a SED volunteer as Senegal is receiving a ton of AID money. It was shocking to hear about how many people live in poverty and don't consume enough daily calories even though I live here see people begging in the streets. I'm a little removed from some of the hardship living in Thies and with a fairly wealthy family.

During lunch Katherine, Jackie and I had a grand plan to go to the garage and get delicious chicken sandwiches and then go pay our internet bills. Obviously the plan was partially foiled because Orange, the internet provider, decided to close a half hour early for no reason, but we did get amazing chicken sandwiches and since the Orange office was closed I got to swing by the post office and I got a letter from Shirley! Yay! Still no package, but I will keep checking... I can't wait to get it!

The afternoon held more interesting sessions. Representatives from The World Wildlife Fund and 10,000 Girls came in to talk to us about working with NGOs in Senegal and how Peace Corps and work with NGOs. It was really inspiring and it sounded like opportunities abound. I hope so. 10,000 girls was especially interesting to me since its goal is to keep girls in school or if they've failed out to help them continue their education. I really want to see if I can somehow create a partnership between 10,000 Girls and Keur Yaay. I think it would be awesome.

We even ended session early and a bunch of the SED kids got a beer at the Speakeasy. A great end to the day.

I think that's pretty much today's wrap up. I should mention that the weather has been spectacular and that I've been wearing a sweatshirt. I wont tell you how warm it actually is here since all of my friends and family in the Mid-West are still digging out of the snow!

White Crayon

February 18, 2010

Day 2 of training was actually pretty interesting. We had several presentations by volunteers, which are definitely the most interesting sessions. The first presentation was on a summer camp some volunteers in Kadegou ran. It was really impressive. The camp focuses on team building and they do a lot of games familiar to Americans who have attended summer camps as well as focusing on creating peppeniers, making neem lotion (organic lotion which combats mosquitoes), and then marketing that lotion at the local market. The pictures and videos from the week long, over-night camp looked really fun. The second presentation was about micro-finance and setting up a village bank. It was really interesting as well, but there are a million micro-finance institutions in Thies and getting the money isn’t usually the problem here. It’s usually organization.

For lunch we had chicken!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

During our afternoon session we heard more about the various micro-financing options available for projects and the head of the Agriculture program gave a presentation on food security and the business volunteers’ role in the PC food security initiatives. I’m not going to start growing a garden anytime soon since I have absolutely no skills in that area, unless they teach me how to grow herbs and tomatoes in hanging rice sacks at my house, but Emily and I did discover the organic market here in Thies. We just need to figure out how to make it work. Their previous attempts at marketing have failed and currently the market is pretty pathetic. Hopefully during training I’ll be able to brainstorm some ways to help them out.

After training I came home to hang out with the fam, but no one was around so I had some alone time until Ahmed barged into my room in long pants and a winter coat. It’s at cool 79 degrees right now. I needed to get some reading done since I have homework during training so we sat at the kitchen table together and I helped him color. I recently received some Crayons in a package and they’ve been a huge hit… with my entire family! Even the adults love coloring. I can tell since the Thomas the Tank Engine coloring book has some perfectly colored in pages. Ahmed pulled out a silver crayon which he called white and became irate when it “didn’t work.” He kept trying to draw on the paper but the crayon was practically the same color as the paper so it didn’t show up. I got a piece of colored paper to show him it did work, but not on white paper this really only infuriated him more because he couldn’t understand why it worked on some paper but not another. How did I resolve this discrepancy? I stole the silver crayon and put it in my room. It was the best I could do while coloring by candle light since the big city never seems to have power at night.

I’m hoping to get into bed early tonight because the last couple of nights have been rough. Two nights ago the mosque decided to go head to head with my family’s suicidal sheep about who could be louder (the sheep likes to bang it’s head into the metal door of the pen) and last night I firmly believe someone was torturing about twenty cats right outside my door. I don’t know why, but Senegal has been especially loud the last few weeks and even an iPod or ear plugs can’t combat the night’s constant assault on my ears.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Today was our first full day of SED training at the center here in Thies. We spent the morning having each person speak a little bit about their sites, which was fairly interesting, but since no one has really started any big projects and many of the sites are fairly similar in size and demographics it did get a bit tedious.

In the afternoon we had some guest speakers talk about teaching to the Senegalese. Our teachers were Senegalese English teachers who have experience supervising other teachers. The majority of their presentation was about creating an agenda and very simple planning that I didn't really find interesting, but once the presentation was over and question and answer started some volunteers asked very interesting questions.

A very different aspect of Senegalese culture and one that I have particular trouble with is saving face. There is nothing more important to a Senegalese person than their pride and their authority over a certain situation. Therefore, most of the questions from volunteers stemmed from the need to correct errors or to point out mistakes. I took particular interest in this since I have issues with the English teacher at Keur Yaay. Apparently it is completely culturally inappropriate to correct a teacher or really even offer a different suggestion to a teach in front of the class. Oops. Bringing an error to light here completely undermines the teacher's authority and is completely unacceptable. The teacher should be taken aside after class and informed of his/ her mistake. It is then the teacher's prerogative to correct the mistake during the next class.

This concept of "saving face" is almost impossible for me to wrap my head around. Most Americans are fairly direct, especially compared to Senegalese, and I've been known to be exceedingly blunt in most situations. It's really hard for me to understand how it's better to let students go home, study incorrect material, and then maybe have it corrected at the next class just so the teacher isn't embarrassed. I guess teachers are also different in the US as are teaching methods and this is just another example of a cultural difference I will probably never fully understand or really appreciate but have to accept. To my mind, everything is so much easier if you just state the facts and move on. The next time I go to Keur Yaay I'm going to attempt to mend the bridge between myself and the English teacher and then attempt to keep my mouth shut until after class. It will be a challenge.

I can tell the differences between Senegalese and American teaching techniques, learning styles, and meetings are all going to be challenges. Patience is not a strong suit of mine and all of these tasks take a very long time here. My American boss Nicole actually explained the differences between meetings very well and it actually made sense to me. In the US majority rules. We take a vote during the meeting and the issue is resolved. The Senegalese have a consensus based culture and that's why everyone has to speak at the meeting even if they are saying the exact same thing as the person who spoke before them. The difference is hard to get used to especially coming from a background where I've been taught just to get things done.

Back at home...
We are having salad for dinner! And Ahmed had his haircut and has a ridiculous fade on the side of his head. It's hilarious.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The West African Invitational Softball Tournament is really something that must be experienced first hand, but I will valiantly attempt to recreate the events of the past couple of days.

The first day of WAIST Tamar, Jackie, Katherine and I dressed in full WAIST wrestling attire for the first time. It was awesome. I hope that the photo shoot of Jackie and I in our full get-up helps to convey the spirit and ridiculousness of WAIST. I also have to give a special shout out to Jackie because she undoubtably had the best costume. Her wrestling shorts are sheer genius. The Dakar region boys also looked fantastic in their full body spandex ensembles. While I am biased to my own region's costumes the other theme's included Kolda in their Country Club finery, Kaolack as lumberjacks with suspenders, the North as mimes, and a Tamba/ Kadagou combo in pre-historic animal print outfits. It should also be mentioned that while Peace Corps teams dress up in outlandish costumes there are American Ex-pat/ Embassy teams as well as Senegalese national teams who dress normally and are not intoxicated for five days straight.

Game 1
The Dakar region game opener was against Kolda. They aren't good and weren't pretending that they were good so it was a fun game. Dakar region PCV team 1-0.

Game 2
Our second game of the day was against the A team from Mali. Let's just say they took the game slightly more seriously than we were and the heckling got a little out of control especially when we went down big, but we pulled off a stunning comeback to tie the game. Unfortunately, WAIST games are played for time so the tie stood and we ended the day 1-0-1.

Downtime at WAIST isn't really downtown. Between games one takes part in a number of activities which include, but are not limited to eating vast quantities of imported American junk food, drinking, gorging on salads and chicken, drinking, laying in the sun and getting sunburned, drinking, playing volleyball, drinking, swimming, drinking, heckling/ cheering for other teams, and drinking. Luckily there are two brackets of teams, social and competitive, so depending on what one chooses to do in one's downtown there are different leagues.

To add an additional level of difficulty to softball playing every night after being in the sun all day, there is a massive party that all the volunteers from around Senegal and West Africa attend to mingle, blow off some steam, and have fun. I wont go into details about my nighttime wanderings...

Game 1
A re-match with Kolda. By this time in the tournament it's become apparent that the Dakar region team is the only PC Senegal team that could potentially make it to the final day of play and into a potential championship game. Therefore, Kolda was generous enough to forfeit to us, which gave our team 15 runs. This obviously happened after we played around on the field for our allotted hour by attempted to play softball with a football and acting ridiculous.

Game 2
Dakar region's second game of the day was against a Senegalese national team which is coached by a not very nice French man. Animosity was incredibly high as the two teams battled it out to go to the finals. I will admit that I made a sweet double play playing second base. Unfortunately, my amazing softball skills weren't enough to save our team from the unsportsmanlike conduct of our competitors. Several of our pitchers were having problems throwing into the strike zone (I have no idea why) so the other team walked in 10 runs because they refused to swing at anything. The tournament is supposed to be fun and a source of comraderie between the ex-pats and host country nationals, but this team did not have a fun spirit. Boo. We lost and were therefore out of the tournament.

Day 3 started with the social bracket championship. Peace Corps Gambia made us all proud by beating an ex-pat team and a ridiculously good Senegalese team won the competitive championship.

To signify the end of the WAIST and the start of the period of detox for most PCVs, most people attend a banquet after the finals. Indian food was being catered in addition to good wine so we obviously went.

A good time was definitely had by all.

I'm back in Thies now for about three more weeks of training with the rest of my stage.

Totally unrelated shout outs!!!!!
Before I left for Dakar I ran into the post office and had a lot of mail, but I haven't had time to do shout outs until now.

Shout out to Aunt Diane and Family! I loved my belated birthday package. The iTunes gift card has already been used extensively to make WAIST dance party mixes and I can't wait to go see Dioss and play the awesome tapes you sent me. Too funny. A true blast from the past!

Shout out to Ma! Grandma, thank you so much for the Valentines day package. It had a bunch of my favorite things and Ahmed LOVED the cookie and the M&Ms. In case you were wondering, the little tin that the cookie came it can be used both as a frisbee and a crayon container. Very useful. Thanks!

Shout out to Lynn. Thanks for the letter and good luck at your boating classes.

Shout out to Shirley for another great letter!

A Very Special SHOUT OUT to Rachel for sending me a post card in October! For some reason it went to the training center and I just got it! My friends and I got a great laugh out of the pictures of the markets in Hungary... just a little different from those in Senegal!

The new pictures are up. They are in a new album called "WAIST and On" enjoy!

Friday, February 12, 2010

All Volunteer Conference

The past two days I have been in Dakar attending that All Volunteer Conference. The All-Vol Conference is for all the volunteers in Senegal and some volunteers from other West African countries to get together and share experiences and best practices. It also means that there are a couple of hundred people running through the office, waiting for long periods of time in order for sessions to actually start, and staying in Dakar with ex-pats and taking hot showers.

The Highlights

1. The other two volunteers who are staying at our house made delicious fajitas for us the first night in Dakar!

2. Last night there was an Open Mic Night for all the volunteers to showcase their talents. It was fairly entertaining to watch and I especially loved a female volunteer who wrote an entire song about cheese. Me and my home stay friends have bought and consumed a lot of cheese since arriving in Dakar.

3. I potentially learned how to create an air conditioner out of buckets, coal, random pipe like things, and other materials. This will most definitely be a hilarious video of me attempting to make myself an AC unit.

4. Hours into being in Dakar Jackie and Tamar realize they have forgotten swimsuits and my ancien (the boy who lived in Thies before me and extended in Dakar) took us on a three hour shopping trip to find bikinis. He actually picked the winning bathing suits and provided me with endless entertaining and he had a running commentary on our shopping expedition.

5. General Shananigans. WAIST starts tomorrow.

Stayed tuned.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dirt and Glitter

February 10, 2009

I slept at my house last night instead of at the center and had to bring a huge bag from my house to the center for another volunteer who will remain nameless (Kaththerine). I thought I had plenty of time in the morning, but apparently when one attempts to get a cab early in the morning in Thies it’s impossible. I finally secured a cab after 20 minutes and arrived at the center just as the last car was being packed with people for our field trip. I threw said volunteer’s bag at the guards and told them to watch it and then threw myself into the car. Obviously, the rapidity with which I accomplished these tasks was irrelevant since I sat in the car another 20 minutes before we actually left.

Our field trip was to the Ag teacher’s farm so we could all practice creating permagardens. Permagardens involve digging a bunch of trenches to collect water and then double digging aka digging deep into the earth to get to actual soil instead of sand and then putting tons of ash, charcoal, and manure into the trench and mixing it around so everything is fertile. We also had to take a lot of leaves, pluck them off their branches and throw them into the trenches with the rest of the “ingredients” to fertile soil. I will admit that I was on leaf duty for most of the day because as many of you can imagine people starting laughing at me when I attempted to use a pick although I was pretty awesome with the hand ho.

I found the morning session interesting and playing in the dirt for a short period of time made me feel very Peace Corps and like I was doing something, but lugging water around, getting dirty, and touching manure soon grew to be fairly tedious for me and the afternoon wasn’t nearly as invigorating even though we planted some papaya trees, tomatoes, corn, chives, and other things that I’m forgetting. Our garden did look fairly impressive by the time we were done and I think we are even going back to work on it a little more tomorrow. After today’s experiences it is obvious that I am not an agriculture volunteer nor was I ever meant to be one, but I really appreciate how they work their asses off and get dirty… even though walking the streets of Thies does leave me ridiculously sandy and filthy by the end of the day.

The other highly important and constructive project I worked on today was my sweet costume for WAIST (West African Intramural Softball Tournament). The Dakar region’s theme is wrestlers and me and my friends took the theme one step further and are being American Gladiator wrestlers. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we are going to have the best costumes around. Pictures will obviously go up later and I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but glitter, puff paints, ribbon, and sweat bands are all involved. I will also divulge my wrestling name because it will only be funny to PCVs in Senegal and I want to make sure I immortalize it for all of eternity. My wrestling name is “The Rains” because people hear use “the rains” as a common phrase for both the actual event of raining as well as the season in which it sometimes rains. Trust me, this is a hilarious name.

I’m back at the bungalow now, but ate an amazing chicken dinner at the center, getting ready to head back to Dakar tomorrow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

And So It Begins

It's been a whirlwind couple of days. Late last week I had to go into Dakar for work. I'm giving a presentation during my training session this month about what I learned on the tournee I went on after Thanksgiving. I've already created a presentation about what I learned on the tournee. How best to teach to Senegalese people, how best to engage a Senegalese audience, and general best practices. I went into the Dakar office because I had to edit the video I took on tournee and make a little video. I don't think I'll be winning an Oscar anytime in the near future, but it will hopefully be entertaining for training.

I stayed in Dakar through the weekend because the Country Director held a party for all of the volunteers in my stage who stayed at site between install and Thanksgiving. He had a bunch of American food set out for us and we got to watch the game on Army television, which was great except for the fact that we didn't get to see any of the commercials, just Armed Forces informational commercials. Luckily, there were plenty of mattresses and since I was too tired to make it to the end of the game, hey it ended at 4am here, I curled up on a mattress and went to sleep. It was nice to see a bunch of people from my stage for the first time since install. I thought people would have changed more, but everyone looked good and pretty much the same. I'm definitely excited to hear how everyone's first few months were and to see what kind of projects they're working on.

We woke up this morning and a Peace Corps bus picked us up for the ride back to Thies for the start of our in-service training. It was funny driving from Dakar to Thies with tons of baggage and other volunteers in a PC car. It was just like getting off the plane almost six months ago. Now like then most people including myself passed out for the ride due to exhaustion, but there was no apprehension about what was awaiting us in Thies and I think most people were looking forward to seeing the center again.

We are only in Thies for a few days before heading back to Dakar for the All Volunteer Conference and the WAIST softball tournament so the training is focused on food security and planting gardens. The information about gardening and sustainability is definitely interesting, I just don't think I can learn how to actually cultivate food in less than 3 days. Oh well, that's why I have an agriculture site mate I guess.

It's sure to be a wild month with everything going on so I'm happy that I get to sleep in my own bed tonight and get to do the vast majority of my training while staying with family in Thies. It will definitely be a lot easier than PST!