Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Back in the Game

Dinner pretty much saved my day. It wasn't a bad day per se, but it wasn't the best. I think I'm suffering from vacation-itis and the transition back is a little tougher than I expected. It was just so nice to be anonymous for a while and not have people screaming toubab at me or have a gang of boys hurl racial slurs at me as I walk down the street and they repeatedly ask me for money. Today it was back to the real world, or at least my current world and as I said a bad day can always be salvaged by dinner. I had chicken, salad WITH TOMATOES (this is a really big deal), and fries. It was great and the salad was even placed on my side of the platter. After that meal, I really can't complain about anything.

I think one of the things that's hurting my transition back into my Senegalese life is the amazing sleep I got during vacation. Sleeping in a climate controlled room, on a real bed, after taking a hot shower was bliss that cannot be explained in words and now it's hot and I'm constantly gross and I've had trouble sleeping. Regardless, I woke up this morning ready to go see everyone and start working. My first stop was Dioss' mom's house who had called me and asked me to come over to help her read a bank statement (Dioss made her open a bank account after he became obsessed with his). She wasn't home when I went, but I'll drop in again some other time this week. I hope there aren't any problems because I want everyone to love their bank accounts!

My next stop was Dioss who was super excited to see me. He always has new art up and new ideas and is always enthusiastic so I enjoy going to see him and today was no exception. While I was gone he went to Richard Toll (a city up North) to do a week long art class at an elementary school. The teachers asked him to come and help the kids illustrate Le Petit Prince. It was awesome. The pictures are really cool and I could tell that Dioss had a great time. We also talked about accounting and are going to start Excel tomorrow, supposedly... unless he sweet talks me into postponing it again. The one thing that Dioss definitely will not postpone is starting the artist's association's website. The month of May is a big arts festival around the country and he is going to be holding a big exposition at his house and wants to attempt to have the website up and running to publicize his gallery and the other artists around Thies. Obviously, there's no way that the website is going to be ready in a month, but we are going to start taking pictures of the various artists and their work as well as start typing up a little personal information on each of them. I'm very interested to see how much work Dioss thinks he's going to put into the site and how much work he thinks I'm going to do. We'll see...

This afternoon I ran some errands including going to the post office. Shout out to Shirley for another great letter! Thank you so much; it really made my day. I also got a package slip, but I went to late to actually pick the package up so I'll get it tomorrow. There was also a bunch of mail that was not for me, but for people in the new stage. For all the loved ones at home of people in the new stage my BP 957 is not the PO BOX for Peace Corps and the new trainees that box is BP 299. Their mail will get to them faster if it is sent to BP 299, but I will take the mail to the center so they get it!

That's it for me tonight. It's cooled down so I'm going to try and get some good sleep!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Passover, Sheep, Taxis

Standing in the American style grocery store in Dakar Tamar broke the news that we would not be attending a Passover Seder due to a myriad of circumstances... this was before her mom, Anat who is currently visiting, busted out her native Hebrew skills and talked her way into the Seder. Needless to say I was very impressed and we had a lovely time.

The Seder was at the Israeli ambassador's house and there were approximately 70 other people there representing a plethora of different nationalities. While I did expect the American Jews, the French Jews, and obviously the Israelis, what I was not expecting was a sheep. Yes, a sheep. I've grown up going to Seders and I know the story of Passover, but I have to admit that the sheep utterly confounded me. It was tied to the Ambassador's pool gate. When I see sheep at my house, in the street, eating trash, next to a restaurant, dead, alive, skinned, dismembered or in any other way one can see a sheep I don't blink an eye, but at the Israeli Ambassador's house? After I pronounced my confusion multiple times Tamar turned to me and explained my stupidity and the Ambassador told us it was a gift (and that he had received several, but he would not be killing it and smearing it's blood on the door post).

During cocktail hour the Absolute Vodka and gin flowed and we talked with some other ex-pats until it was time to sit at a dinner table with a hilarious group of older French people. The Seder was conducted in French, English, and Hebrew so parts became boring and our entire table engaged in good conversation. The three French women at the table held my attention with their ensembles as they were dripping in jewels, which only a fabulous French woman could pull off. It was a good night and I'm really glad we went even though my Matzah ball soup is pretty much the best thing ever and there was no brisket.

This morning I left Dakar as soon as I got up and it really wasn't a minute too soon. For some reason Dakar has been getting under my skin. This rant is dedicated to Jackie, my most loyal reader...

Things I Expect Taxis To Do, But Know I Shouldn't Expect... And Then I Still Get Mad:
1. I expect a taxi driver to know the city in which he is driving. This doesn't seem like too much to ask, but most of the time it is. Twice during my trip to Dakar I had addressed and good directions to a specific location. The taxi driver didn't know the spot and grew irate at me as I could not tell him which way to go... even though I had given him directions and he told me he knew where it is.
2. Sometimes I just want to get in a cab and zone out and not to talk to the driver. This is especially the case after I've had a huge fight with the guy over the price and he's totally ripped me off. I don't want to pretend to have a friendly conversation after I'm forced into paying double because I'm a toubab although you claim you're giving me a good price.
3. Ultimate annoyance... lack of change. If you drive a taxi and expect to take people from X to Y please attempt to have change in your car. I'm not asking people to break a 10 mille note, maybe just have a few hundred CFA in the ashtray.
4. Taking me the long way home to prove to me that the ridiculously high fare was necessary. I can't even get into this one...
5. Disclaimer: Generally taxi drivers are extremely nice people trying to make a living. I just wish they would take a few suggestions although most of my frustrations stem from my own anal retentiveness and respect for knowledge and order.

Now, I'm back in Thies and my family is freaking out about my vacation, the pictures, and how much Ahmed has missed me. A HUGE shout out to Matt, who is a wonderful boyfriend, and you bought all of the products I requested he purchase on a very embarrassing list. Foremost among these items was make-up for all of my sisters. They absolutely love the compacts and I'm currently the house rock star! You are the best.

Ahmed is now attacking me because he wants to read my new Nylon magazine... yes, he loves magazines!

Sunday, March 28, 2010


When the doors of the plane were opened last night and I walked down the stairs leading away from the plane Dakar's hot, dusty, and dirty air slapped me right across the face. I had prepared myself for reverse culture shock. I thought it was going to be much harder to return to the Western world and see the excess in which we lead our daily lives, but let's just say I fell right back into the lap of luxury without any problems. It made sense that people should line up to wait through customs, that strange men in the airport wouldn't ask me to marry them, and that taxi drivers asked if I wanted a ride instead of hissing at me. The brisk spring air also felt amazing and clean, which was a surprise since I had been steeling myself to be freezing the entire trip. (I will admit to one I've lived in Africa for 7 months faux pas - I have so refused to thrown non-biodegradable trash on the ground here in Senegal, but orange peels or banana peels or the like can definitely go into a bush. Matt bought some roasted chestnuts on the streets which we ate as we walked. Suddenly Matt turns to me with a look of shock and horror on his face and demands to know what I'm doing. I had been shelling the nuts and throwing them on the ground. Oops!)

The shock of Dakar wasn't that it's dirty or hot or that people were already yelling and screaming and attempting to push their way to the front of the line, it was that I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that Rome and Dakar exist on the same planet. When I first arrived in Africa it was shocking to see the poverty and the pollution, but it has become the norm, the world I'm currently living in. Jumping on a plane and sitting through my own personal hell for a few hours, I hate flying, transported me to a completely different universe. It's amazing that two places coexist on the same planet and know almost completely nothing about each other.

That being said... the trip was amazing. I currently need to go on a massive diet, which Senegal will only be too happy to provide me with as the hot season is right around the corner, because of all the meat, cheese, pasta, and daily donuts I consumed. Not to mention all the wine. It was awesome. While we did plan the majority of our days around eating and what we were going to eat, Matt and I did manage to take in some of Rome's sites. Rome is not like Paris or London in the way that it has a great subway system, too many ancient ruins block the tunneling efforts, so we got lost all the time and had an epic journey on a bus that took us all around the city until we realized where we were trying to go was right next to where we were.

One epic expedition of Rome, on which we did not get lost, was when we took a really cool Segway tour through the city. For all the people who are reading this and took marketing at UM with me - Segways are awesome. After a brief training session, Matt, myself and a group of other people went on a guided tour of the city on Segways. It was really fun except for the fact that the Rome marathon happened to be the same day and completely shut down the city. At one point, we had no choice but to actually cross the marathon. I don't speak Italian, but I'm pretty sure we weren't called nice names. All the same it was a great way to see the city and it was really fun.

Other Trip Highlights:
1. Drinking tap water out of the hotel's bathroom sink
2. Daily hot showers with new towels
3. Not seeing the sun for the vast majority of 9 days/ not sweating
4. Inhaling every edible item in sight - I can't count the number of caprese salad's or meat and cheese platters we had
5. Blending in with the crowd
6. Not having to fight about getting change for a large bill (probably my biggest pet peeve about Senegal. there is no change in this country)
7. Shopping
8. Going wine tasting and then out to an amazing restaurant
9. Watching Matt carry two gigantic suitcases all the way up the Spanish Steps only to discover that there's an elevator
10. Remembering the world outside of Senegal and seeing Matt

The trip was great and now I'm back in Dakar for a few days before going home to Thies. I already have several voice mails from work partners so I'm excited to have things to get back to.

Finally, shout out to Sarah! Happy 13th birthday. I hope it's a great one!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The morning started out with frenzied packing, which I quickly left along with my catastrophe of a room when Jackie called me to say she had arrived early in Thies. I went to meet her at the Toubab store and we ran some errands. I had my usual fight over monetary change when we to pay our internet bills, but I kept it under control. The lack of change in this country is one of my biggest annoyances...

Almost all of the Thies girls came in today to discuss a girls summer camp that we're going to do, but before we could sit in a lovely air conditioned restaurant and eat good food we needed to renew our residency permits. I knew the general area of where this mysterious building was located so Jackie and I took off on the hunt. Initially we walked right past it and when I say initially I mean we walked right past it two minutes into looking for it and then it took us another 30 minutes to find it again...with the help of a very nice man from another government building. When we first saw the building we thought it was a house. Nope, it's where you get passports and residency permits.

There is already a big group of French people in front of us so we settle in and wait. Then Emily arrives, then Alys, and finally just as the guy is looking at our permits Katherine rolls up. He takes our permits into the back room for a while and then tells us we have to make copies of them since they are originally from Dakar. Obviously there's no copy machine at this office so we walk all the way across town and back. At this point I have little faith that I will end the day with a residency permit, but lo and behold two and half hours after Jackie and I first sat down we all had renewed residency permits. A Thies miracle.

The purpose of our rendez-vous was to discuss the girls summer camp that we want to hold before school starts up next fall. I was actually thoroughly impressed with the amount of planning that we got done today. The camp will be really cool if we can pull it off.

After the meeting I came back home to finish packing! I'm leaving tomorrow! This endeavor was made more difficult by a really annoying neighbor girl constantly trying to barge into my room. I preserved and will be ready to go in the morning!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Junior Achievement

After standing on the side of the road for 20 minutes waiting for Talla and a Peace Corps to pick me up while they waited 20 minutes next to the round-point (communication error), Talla and I made our way to the technical high school in Thies to discuss starting a Junior Achievement program. At our meeting, Talla did most of the talking describing the program and answering questions and I sat there as the token toubab adding a few comments here and there. It does seem that a couple of the teachers are interested in the program and told me they were willing to help me. They saw that their students learning some basic practices could really help them after graduation since so many people do try to open a business.

My one main concern is that this technical high school is advance. They have great Bosch machinery, air conditioning everywhere (!), and what seems like dedicated teachers so I'm worried they will be aiming too high. The goal of Junior Achievement is to teach through doing and I'm worried they're going to want to start a car mechanic shop, they actually have a great auto shop classroom, and that's a much bigger project. When Junior Achievement presented at IST the example they used was a group of students who sold sparkly bras they had bedazzled (I kid you not) so one teacher's idea of having a shop to repair refrigerators could be a little far fetch. I'm always one for a grand and outlandish idea, but I actually do want them to learn something so I might have to reign in expectations.

I will say that this was the most organized, well funded, and air conditioned (!) school I've been to in Senegal. The metal working shop was awesome and they had THREE count them 1,2,3 different models of trash cans! I wanted to put in a personal order for 1,000 cans and put them on every "street" corner in Thies. I know that one of the goals of the Mayor's office is putting more public trash cans out. Synergies?

The meeting was fairly exhausting. This is my first real venture outside my inner circle after IST and the language was rough. Meeting new people and getting used to their accents, especially in Wolof, is very difficult and I was really tired after we finally left. It did show me that I still need to keep pushing myself to get out there and talk to more people. My family and Dioss understand my terrible Wolof and I can easily understand their accents because I'm used to it. Standing in front of a class of teenagers/ people my own age and attempting to conduct a class in Frolof is incredibly intimidating at this point. I still need to get all the lesson plans and literature from Junior Achievement, but I'm going to take the plunge as soon as I get back from trip.

Since this morning was highly productive and yesterday afternoon was so incredibly aggravating, I let myself hang out with the fam for the afternoon. My family time included watching Deenba make tea while she questioned me about what's going to happen on my trip, watching Deenba do laundry while she questioned me about my trip, and talking about sweet it would be if balloons and guns were attached to airplanes with Ahmed and one of his friends. Ahmed and his main buddy, Ibrahima, have figured out that I'm pretty much the only person in the house with listen to them for hours as they chatter about attaching balloons and guns to planes. We also did some coloring, which is getting around the neighborhood. Now little kids want to come color. Maybe I should start a coloring afternoon once a week. Who am I kidding, I can barely stand two for 30 minutes there's no way I could do the neighborhood!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Excel Exists for a Reason

Today started a week full of meetings for me before I take off on my Roman Holiday. This morning I met with Emily and Kether to talk about starting a waste management project in Thies. We definitely weren't as productive as we could have been, but we did realize that we need a lot of help and need to set up some meetings with a couple of NGOs before we can really delve into the idea. I think a waste management project would be incredibly satisfying, not only because Thies is covered in trash and I have to walk through it every time I leave my compound, but also because we would be getting individual quartiers really excited about creating a better living environment for themselves and their families... perhaps it could even spawn some grassroots community activism. One can hope.

After our meeting I went to the post office and got a letter from Shirley! Thank you so much. It was a great letter! I need to step up my letter writing again. I've gotten lazy with IST and everything else that's been going on.

Emily, Kether, and I had a brunch meeting where I devoured an incredible omelet so I was a little disappointed when I came home and Deenba told me we were having omelet, but I will never complain about eggs. I sat with Deenba and Jeenaba in our sauna like kitchen as they created the most amazing lunch I've had in Senegal. Yes, it was better than the chicken amazingness that we had when Katherine was here. In the center of the bowl there was a meat/ onion sauce concoction that looked like it should've been for dinner, around that were the eggs, the outside ring was made up of LETTUCE, and the entire bowl was covered in fries. Sweet. The best part was that I correctly strategized my meal and ate extremely slowly so that everyone else would realize that they hate lettuce. Just as I expected the oil meat, onions, and eggs quickly disappeared and everyone started pushing their lettuce towards me, which I ate with pleasure.

This afternoon even though it was insanely hot I forced myself to leave and do my least favorite activity... go see Diof. Not fun. Ever. I got to the office and the entire crew is in sitting around one guy typing on a newly refurbished computer. I knew that I was in trouble the second I stepped in the door. Everyone was excited to see me so pleasantries were extended for about an hour and then I attempted to make my escape. Two women wanted to go home and pray before making dinner so I tried to go with them. Fail. Then I tried to flee with the English teacher from Keur Yaay. Doesn't it just make sense that he and Diof are friends? Double fail. Then when Diof and another guy said they were going to pray I actually got up to leave when Diof forced me to stay and work on what they had been doing all day. What is this you ask? Well, apparently for the entire day five people watched as one person typed in a Word document. The real kicker?

The best part of this whole situation is that they had copied and pasted an Excel file into Word, but there were some problems. The left most column in Excel which auto-generates a number for each row/ field would not copy into Word so they were hand typing 2500 fields into Word. I wanted to scream. And Diof wanted me to finish for him. I tried to explain that this was ridiculous and they should've kept it in Word to which he retorted he didn't know how to use Excel... they obviously couldn't use Word either. Anyway, they couldn't believe how fast I could type consecutive numbers into a field and tried to get me to stay and finish for them. Luckily, I got an "urgent" phone call and had to go.

This was just so typical. Diof wants me to do menial work for him because he refuses to learn anything. I just wish that Senegalese people believed that they could type just as fast as me or understand Word and Excel just as well as I can and that it's not some mysterious American born gift. It probably isn't as much this as a desire not to do work and to push it off on someone else. Needless to say I was fuming after this Diof encounter and needed to cool off and went to meet Emily at the bar.

The night ended well. I ended up falling asleep watching an animated cartoon about Africa, in French, with Ahmed in Khady's bed until dinner. My life is ridiculous.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Toddlers/ Toubab on Parade

Sundays are usually very chill days here at the Gaye house, but today we had a million visitors. Luckily I got a run in before people started coming over, but I didn't quite finish cleaning my room before the masses came over so everyone got a good laugh out of the toubab doing housework. Most of the time Jeenaba's, Deenba's, and Khady's friends are the people who come over, but today it seemed to be anyone in the neighborhood who has small children.

In the United States when a young child has chicken pox you take your kids over so they get chicken pox at the same time. Today, I felt like a virus. It really seemed like everyone was bringing their kids over to meet the neighborhood toubab. It was fairly hilarious. The stream of toddlers came and went as I was cleaning my room and was a sweaty mess so that probably didn't give them the best impression of toubabs and could be one of the reasons why so many of them cried. I accidentally caught one off guard as I came out of the bathroom and he literally sat in a glob of chicken poop and started sobbing uncontrollably. A set of twins also came over to see me and they kept wanting to shake my hand and just could not understand why the white of my skin wasn't coming off on their hands.

The best part about this parade of toddlers was Ahmed's and his friend's reactions. For the past couple of months, ever since Ahmed and I have become besties, Ahmed thinks he it awesome because he's friends with the toubab, the toubab gives him toys, and he's not afraid of the toubab. One of his little friends has recently come around because I got him his own notebook so he and Ahmed can color at the same time. Well, the two of them were trying to tell the little kids that I was nice and that they could play with me. The toddlers weren't buying it and most of them continued to scream at the sight of me and then gaze in wonder as I mopped my floor.

Cleaning my room was the only productive thing I did all day. Other than that I watched some terrible Wolof television, watched Mad Men on my computer, and talked with Deenba and her boyfriend who are obsessed with my upcoming trip and we cracking themselves up making lots of side comments and innuendo about my trip. They are really funny.

The night ended with a great family fight. Jeenaba and Deenba were giving my mom a hard time about being lazy. Most of the time I would agree, although she raised a house full of kids so she's earned it, but we haven't really had water for the past week and last night I woke up at 4am to the sound of water because my mom had stayed up until 4am waiting for the water to come on. She then stayed up until 5:30 trying to fill our containers as the water slowly dripped out of the spigot. My getting into the fight made everyone laugh and the fight devolved into chaos when my mom flicked a spoonful of millet and milk at Jeenaba. This was my cue to turn in for the night.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Art Overload

Today I helped two study abroad students connect with some Thies artisans so they can write their thesis on West African Art. I wont lie and say I was thrilled with the proposition especially after I received a text message announcing their departure from Dakar as an early morning wake up, but it ended up being a pretty interesting day although it's starting to get really hot.

Our first stop was the artisanal village, which I was not looking forward to because all of the artisans who work their just attack foreigners and try to force you to buy something. Nevertheless the study abroad girls, who happen to attend MSU and UM stateside - go figure, wanted to go to the artisanal village so I soldiered on. We ended up talking to one of the jewelers for a long time and he was incredibly nice and helpful. I learned a lot about Senegalese jewelry and which ethnic groups wear which type of jewelry which was very interesting. I also learned why my family doesn't like my silver locket or watch that I wear every day - Wolof people only like gold while most people from the north prefer silver. I also learned that the cool rings that a lot of people wear have special prayers inside. The jeweler also gave us a demonstration on how he melts the silver and then molds it into the ID type bracelets that a lot of people wear here. It was interesting and made the rest of the time that we discussed painted fabric somewhat less painful that it should've been.

We left the artisanal village for the tapestry museum which claims it's open on Saturday's. Nope. Closed. I have yet to see the tapestry museum actually open and therefore I haven't gone. The next time I have a guest in town I'm going to have Dioss call his friend who works there and make sure it's open because the museum is actually fairly famous and supposedly pretty cool so I really want to go. Instead of the museum we settled on lunch with some other PCVs from my stage who were in town to help with PST.

In the afternoon we went to Dioss' which I knew was going to be a hit. I just didn't know how big of a hit it was going to be. We were there for almost three hours and I was dying from the heat and exhaustion and listening to Dioss wax on and on about things I have heard about a million times. Although, it was interesting to hear him explain some of his techniques. On one type of painting he puts flour in the paint to give it added texture. I was also happy to bring Dioss some more business. Both girls bought a couple of cards and I have to say that business is booming at Dioss' gallery because of me.

For some insane reason I walked home from Dioss' after putting the girls in a taxi on their way to the garage and almost died from heat exhaustion. I walked into my house and laid on the tile floor in the family room much to the delight of all of the women in my house who were already laying their topless. Ahmed was "nice" enough to pour water all over me which instantaneously dried. Now, after a couple of hours of drawing with Ahmed and one his friends and timing them run back and forth across the compound I'm waiting for my chicken dinner with salad to be served.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Spread Your Wings

There comes a time when everyone just needs to spread their wings and fly. I experience two instances of this trans-formative time in one's life today. The first being when a Senegalese child finally realizes that they can't be little brats constantly. In Senegal, parents generally do not discipline their children until a certain age and especially little boys. I say a certain age because it seems to be different depending on the family. Well, Ahmed is experiencing this change first hand.

I honestly think my family starting monitoring/ caring about Ahmed's actions on Monday. Previously he was allowed to hit people, to cry, to eat out of his own little bowl at mealtimes, to pacify himself with my mom's/ his grandma's boobs, and generally be a little terror. I've never allowed him to get away with things with me. He knows that he can't touch things in my room without asking permission, that I will kick him out of my room if he just barges in, and that I know and care when he lies. It was a true revelation on Monday for him when he discovered that the rest of the family now cares as well. Last night, after I posted my blog and while we had no power, my mom and Khady finally put it together that Ahmed had lied to both of them about the other one giving him a bath. For some reason Ahmed hates bathes even though it's a bazillion degrees here and he's pretty much always dirty. They finally figured it out when the other Jeenaba told on him and my mom dragged Ahmed by one arm across the compound and into the shower where he proceeded to howl for the entire time that she attempted to bath him.

The real kicker with this whole situation is that my family has figured out that I have previously set limits for Ahmed/ created a set of consequences for him and now they use me as an example. They are always saying that I want him to do this or that or this is what Alyssa does, trying to goad him into behaving responsibly. We'll see how this process of disciplining after not for the first four years of his life works out. So far it's a catastrophe. The only part I'm enjoying is Ahmed attempting to eat from the communal bowl at lunch because he's even worse than me! I know I shouldn't gloat that I'm better at using a spoon that a four year old, but I have to take whatever small victories I can get over here in Africa!

The second instance of being pushed out of the nest was taking the new stagaires on their first walk around Thies. If I remember correctly I was completely terrified and horrified and near tears after my walk around experience, but all the people I was walking with wanted was a cold beer, which is also completely understandable. After getting to the center an hour later than what I was told and then taking an hour and a half nap on one of couches while I waited for the afternoon session to actually end, I took a handful of new volunteers on their first expedition into the Thies market. I will say that during the dry season (now) it's much less horrifying than when I was a stagaire (the rainy season) and that everyone took it really well. I walked them up the main market street and right to a local PCV bar/ hangout where we had a nice beverage before going back to the center for dinner.

After dinner we took everyone to the Catholic bar for the first time. This stage seems very fun and everyone was stunned by the beautiful night sky from our perch on the roof of the bar just like I was when I first got here. It was very fun hanging out with the new PCTs. There are actually quite a few people who went to UM or are from Michigan so it's fun to talk about home and how fabulous UM is! Go Blue!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The New Stage

The new Health/ Environmental Education volunteers arrived in Senegal yesterday and I went over to the center today to meet everyone and help teach a session on Islam. Everyone seems to be holding it together really well. I feel like I wore my utter terror and desire to go home on my incredibly sweaty face so everyone looked really good to me today. And everyone seems really cool which is great even though I'm sad that the Dakar region only gets two new volunteers and they'll be pretty far away from me. It was also really fun to see all the volunteers who came in to help with the sessions. We had fun matching people in this new stage to people from our stages.

Going to PST today was another great reminder of how far I've come. It is fairly amazing that I'm still here and even more incredible that I really like being here (most of the time). Tomorrow will be even better because we are taking the new stagaires on their first walk around Thies. I can still remember how terrifying it was the first time and then how many times I got lost in Thies during my first couple of weeks (and last Saturday). Now, I'm the one who pretty much knows their way around the city.

Interesting anecdote of the day:
Almost every time I leave my house, except when I'm going to Dioss' I pass by this really nice family's house. Most of the time the mom is sitting outside making fattaya, which are fried dumplings filled with fish, as a band of toddlers plays beside her. I always say hi to them and sometimes I get a little treat from the woman and it's been just recently that the kids have actually started to greet me. I mean, I am an incredibly scary toubab. Today they were over joyed to see me and were screaming toubab, TOUBAB, toubab at me, in a very cute way, and I screamed children, children, children back at them. Well, they had no idea how to react to this so they stared at me, looked at their mom, and then several of them burst into tears which made their mom burst into laughter. I haven't made a little kid cry in a long time and especially in Thies... so I must have been looking pretty fierce today!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Katherine's A Rockstar

Yesterday was a great day. After I got yelled at for not greeting the main office manager of the stadium I like to run in, he was sitting in an office that I didn't even know existed, and being asked to leave, I had a lot of fun. The rest of my morning was actually spent waiting for Katherine to arrive. The girl is crazy and decided to ride her bike the 50 kilometers of national highway between our two sites. She did it and I'm thoroughly impressed. I rewarded her with an amazing lunch and the newest episode of Gossip Girl that I just downloaded. Life is hard...

The amazing lunch was in honor of Khady's infamous husband who lives in Dakar. Two nights ago while our power was out all of my sisters had a huge fight about how everyone except themselves should start making lunch more. For me it was fairly entertaining watching them all point the finger at each other, hey, there was no power so I had nothing better to do... Regardless, the fight ended with Khady leaving in a huff and proclaiming that if she had to make lunch she was going to make chicken. I thought this was a joke, one that I fervently wished would come true, but a joke. Katherine is about the luckiest girl in this country because she came to my house on the most amazing day ever. Khady actually did make chicken for lunch, not because she was pissed off and being a princess like I thought, but because her husband was in town. We had chicken with rice, hardboiled eggs, onion, green peppers, carrots, and marguez sausages. I know this may sound kind of gross, but it was AMAZING!!! To show my appreciation I brought out the Twizzlers my cousins just sent me which were a great success. Katherine and I digested our amazing lunch by watching Gossip Girl. I really couldn't have planned a better day if I had tried.

Last night we met up with some people who were in town for drinks and then went out to chicken dibi. A perfect day. Katherine is a champion and after spooning with me all night on my foam mattress rode her bike back to her site while I took a really lame run and quick nap!

I did end up seeing Dioss today who wasn't feeling well so we didn't really do anything and then my afternoon meeting feel through because the person I was supposed to meet was stuck in traffic. I did get to Skype with my Aunt Diane's class which was really fun as usual. I really like talking to them because it helps me see how far I've come and how things that used to be shocking aren't anymore. It blows their minds that I don't have power and water all the time. It's so normal to me now. My mom actually had to pull an all nighter last night because when the water actually came on it was only a drip and it took her all night to fill our water bins. She's a champion.

Now I'm waiting for dinner and talking to my grandma and Rachel!

I would also like to add, speaking of power and water outages, that a certain city in California (I wont name the individual involved) lost power for twenty-four hours and then complained about it to me. It's all what you're used too!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Steel Trap

Dioss never ceases to impress me. I went over to his gallery this morning to discuss indirect costs and he was already all over it. Peace Corps gave us GERME books, which are business books in French specifically for West Africa, and I gave the two books about accounting and costing to Dioss so he could look them over, which he has obviously done multiple times or he has an amazing photographic memory. He honestly remembers everything I say. A lot of Senegalese people have unbelievable memories, I think I've mentioned that my counterpart Diof has half the population of Thies' cell phone number memorized. So, Dioss knew we were going to talk about indirect costs and he pretty much had everything already written down and ready to discuss.

Now that he's really interested in accounting and growing his business he wants everything to happen instantaneously. We have a pretty good grasp on his direct and indirect costs, but he didn't do that great of a job writing down each sale while I was in training so I really have no idea what his sales are and therefore can't effectively price his different cards, paintings on glass, canvasses, and the myriad of sizes of paintings on paper. I showed him how he needs to write down each card he sells each day not just the monetary total for the day and he promised me he would have a great log by next month so we can work on costing and pricing.

A very exciting thing that's happening at the gallery is a computer. Apparently Dioss had a huge sale from a foreigner a little while ago so that money combined with the money he's been able to save in his new bank account allowed him to purchase a computer. He's over the moon. His long term goal is to open up his gallery to young artists as a place where they can come and work and create a real artist community in Thies and he wants to have a little cafe or something as well. Short term, we will be learning Excel, in French (help me!), and he's trying to get internet installed so we will eventually working on a website as well. He's really got his act together so I'm excited to see where things go.

While my morning was super productive, my afternoon was a little more laid back. After watching an episode of Marina I've already seen three times so I can only imagine how many times my sisters have seen it, I headed out to the post office!

Shout Outs!

Mom & Dad
Thanks for the package! Fabulous as usual. Ahmed threw one of my t-shirts in the bucket of bleach water I was using to clean my floor last week so the new t-shirts are much appreciated as are all the delicious apple sauces and Indian food. I will say that this was the first package that I've received that was really messed with. From what I could tell, it appears as though customs opened a thing of applesauce, I could tell because it wasn't punctured but perfectly torn off, and then poured it all over the contents of the box. Luckily, some ziplock bags formed a barrier and nothing was ruined but I had to stuff the contents of the package in my bag because the box was foul and I had to leave it at the post office. As for the Etch-a-Sketch it is a huge hit. Ahmed really likes it, but Jeenaba LOVES it and got really angry when someone would try and take it from her. It blows their minds that it erases itself.

Thank you so much for the package. It is so much fun when I get a package I'm not expecting and this was a great package! I also gave my family some Cracker Jacks everyone really liked it except Ahmed who accused me of telling him I had candy and then not giving him any candy. I was forced to pull out the orange candies as well, but the Junior Mints are mine and will not be shared! The dried fruit is always welcome and the book you sent is one I read about in the New York Times book review. I can't wait to read it. I'm currently reading a really heavy book about early America so it will be a great change of pace and the guide book looks amazing too! Thank you so much!

I'm posting a little early tonight because we've started to lose power at different times and I haven't figured out the schedule yet! Wish me a good dinner and a short blackout!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oh Senegal

Things That Don't Happen in the US While One is Running:
1. Moments into your run you must slow to a walk because two horse drawn carriages are taking up the entire road and you can't get around
2. Small boys, talibe - boys who live in mosques and beg for food, following you screaming toubab while shaking plastic bowls filled with dry rice and sugar cubes
3. Adult men screaming at me to ask: Why are you running?

Unusual Lunch Conversations:
1. The price of a goat.
2. Why your goats are better than your neighbors goats.
3. The next time you get to kill a goat.
4. Mocking a grown man because he is not yet married and therefore will not buy a goat at the next big holiday.

This all happened today. Pretty ridiculous.

Sundays are a pretty relaxed day here in Senegal. My entire family rested in their rooms so I did so as well. I'm currently making myself some tasty thai food because we are having one of my least favorite boiled rice plus sugary yogurt concoctions for dinner.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Sleeping in this morning felt amazing especially after I slept through the entire night because there were no mosque parties or continuous rooster crowing. Amazing. As my after IST resolution was to start running again I laced up my shoes and headed for the Post Office where I got a letter from Shirley! Thank you! I decided to take the long way home and search for a vegetable stand closer to my house in the opposite direction that I usually walk. In order to buy vegetables I had to break a big bill so I went into the toubab grocery store across the street from the post office and made a fabulous discovery. Tortilla chips!!! I've been on the hunt for tortilla chips in country since I got here. They supposedly exist at the huge toubab store in Dakar, but they've been out every time I've gone so I was thrilled to get a delicious bag of chips in Thies. You may be asking, wont you look ridiculous running with a bag of chips? The answer is yes, but I already look so ridiculous running as a white woman that I could honestly care less.

My grand plan to have a nice run and find a vegetable stand was foiled by the sandy beigeness of Thies and I ended up getting really lost and having to ask someone where the big round point I live by was. Needless to say I didn't find a new vegetable stand so I had to go to the one I know, which I could have gone to in the first place. This and playing with toy guns with Ahmed and one of his friends took up the majority of my morning.

For lunch we had soupakanja aka kryptonite. It's the dish with okra the consistency of snot slathered in palm oil. This dish is so universally disliked that Peace Corps actually tells families not to make it and I've had several discussions with my family about how much I hate it and that if they are going to make it they can just tell me and I'll make my own lunch. I don't mind. The ridiculous part of today's lunch was that it was just me, my mom, Jeenaba, and big Ahmed who also hates soupakanja. As I sat down at the bowl and saw my nemesis face to face my mom told me I hated soupakanja and that I didn't have to eat it. Relief. I said that I would make my own lunch since I had done a little shopping this morning. Jeenaba and my mom had a good laugh over the fact that I wanted to eat a salad for lunch, salad is not an acceptable lunch here, and my mom made Jeenaba make Ahmed and I omelets. The omelets were delicious because they were fried in oil with onions, but not really as healthy as the salad I wanted. I also felt really badly that Jeenaba had to make me a second lunch that's definitely not what I wanted. She already works so hard.

The rest of the day I spent reading and hiding in my room in order to avoid my mom and Khady dragging me to a wedding. My night ended with a chicken dinner so I really can't complain...

Friday, March 5, 2010

I'm Impressed

I forced myself to leave my bungalow and go on a run. The thing that actually made me leave my bed was the fact I had to pick up a phone charger that was left at the center. On my way there I ran into a third year volunteer who lives in Thies and upon arrival I realized that some people including Tamar still had not left the center so I ended up taking a very long break in the middle of my run that I filled with lounging and eating an entire loaf of village bread, so much for the effort to exercise off some ceebu jenn. I also walked all the home since I had to buy a few other things in order to break a bill so I could buy some village bread. Oh well.

The afternoon was much more productive. I went to see Dioss and I have to say that I am very impressed. Setting aside the fact that our conversation at one point digressed into a Dioss soliloquy about he's aghast I don't have wedding bells constantly ringing in my head and that I'm enjoying being an independent lady (he's 15 years older than me and still unmarried), we had a really productive afternoon. Before my training for Peace Corps started, I gave Dioss some of the French business manuals so he could read about accounting and he really did his homework.

He does have some incentive. There is a possibility that he could export some of his cards to the US. I've told him that this is impossible unless he has solid books and we work on actually costing his cards and paintings. Currently he sets prices randomly although I do think he's making fairly good money. The accounting ledger I created for him before training was maintained to my surprise. He did a really good job with it. He's still having some problems with correct notation of goods. He will credit 50k worth of sales on a particular day, but I have no idea if that sale was all in cards or if he sold a bigger piece so we really need to work on inventory, but other than that he did a great job with the accounting aspect and I was really impressed.

A huge part of his success with the accounting is the fact that he opened a second bank account, which is probably my proudest accomplishment as a Peace Corps volunteer. He opened the second account so he could keep track of his business finances and keep personal money separate. Dioss was obviously proud of himself as he showed me his new bank card and described how when he needs more paint he goes to the bank and takes out just enough to buy the required paint. He has totally changed his behavior in regards to money and he's really excited about it. He was flabbergasted by the amount of money he saved last month since when family would come over and ask him for money he could honestly tell them that he didn't have any... because it was all at the bank. Dioss has realized that by saving his money and putting it in the bank he will be able to afford getting a new computer and internet put into his house and maybe even get a printer so he can print greetings in his cards.

I'm really, really impressed with how much he listened to me. Although I was really annoyed when he went off on his marriage tangent, he did reveal that he used to be really immature and that he never listened to advice that anyone gave him, but that he trusts me and can already see the positive affects of my advice. Don't worry, I wont let this get to my head. Senegal never fails to put me in my place on a daily basis.

One more awesome thing that Dioss has done is get plastic sleeves for all of his cards and some of his smaller paper paintings. I pointed out to him that when he stacks his paintings the paint sometimes rubs off on the back of the card or painting next to it and it looks a little unprofessional. Well, he now has plastic sleeves and everything looks awesome. I'm really excited about it. I'm also excited about all the business ventures he told me about today. He has cards and paintings at several boutique hotels in Mbour and oddly enough a car dealership in Dakar. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if all of these ideas pan out when we're finished with costing and have a better accounting system.

In completely unrelated news, it's 9:30pm and I have eaten dinner yet and I'm starving!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

End of an Era

When myself and the rest of my stage installed a little over four months ago fear was the overwhelming emotion. Today, as everyone left the center I was surprised by how sad it was. In all likelihood IST was the last time we will all be together and I probably wont see a lot of people until WAIST next year. It's a very weird and at the same time liberating feeling. Now that we're finally done with IST we are free to start project, expected to actually do work, and the

Peace Corps can be split up a lot like college. Four distinct segments. 9 days from now the new Health/ Environmental Education Volunteers will arrive at the Thies training center bewildered and incredulous at themselves for getting into this predicament. As the new fresh meat in Senegal, the Health/ EE PCVs will see my stage as more "seasoned" and by seasoned I just mean really dirty. I can remember looking at PCVs my first couple of days in country and thinking about how dirty they looked. Well, now I'm the dirty/ sweaty one. A very weird point will be in another six months when the volunteers for the new SED stage come because the PCVs I looked up to for counsel and advice will be gone and I will be in their place as someone who is supposed to understand what's happening.

Regardless, in celebration of our graduation from the freshman six months and our move into the sophomore second six, all the SEDers stayed at the center last night to make a celebratory dinner and pay one more visit to the lovely Catholic compound. It was really fun to hang out with just the SED people for the past couple of days, but I'm pretty sure everyone is a little sick of each other and although this morning was bittersweet I'm happy training is done. I feel like I need to sit in my room and actually sort out which projects I really want to do. I have so many ideas and I feel like there are so many possibilities. I just have to figure out which project to jump into.

I hung out at my house for the rest of the day. Attempting to nap as Ahmed knocked my door and called out my name because he wanted to play. I also spent a considerable amount of time trying to convince my sisters of Matt's existence. Now that they know about the trip it's all they can talk about and they seem to be quiet amused that Matt actually exists. They were incredulous that the person I'm meeting is the same person who I have pictures of and who I talk about. I don't really understand where they're coming from, but it's hilarious to them which makes it fairly entertaining to me.

With salad in my tummy I'm going to bed. I need to catch up on a month's worth of sleep!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dancing with Scissors, Running with Pencils

Training was fairly interesting again today. The woman who imports the baskets to the US presented most of the day on how to tell if a good is export quality and what it takes. I'm definitely interested in what it takes to be export quality and I think it's a really good opportunity for some products that can be massed produced quickly, but the more I learn about the process and all the restrictions the more I'm coming to realize that exportation really shouldn't be Dioss' goal. I think Dioss needs to hook up with the art museum in Thies and try to get some small paintings and his greeting cards in nice hotel gift shops in Dakar. I'm going to see him on Thursday as training ends tomorrow so we'll see where he's at and if he's come up with any brilliant new ideas since I last saw him a few weeks ago.

Everyone is trying to live it up in the metropolis that is Thies before going back to their sites so I went out for dinner again tonight. We went to Massa Massa, which is the nicest restaurant in Thies, and had a feast. Salad, lasgna, and ice cream for dessert. I need to start exercising again!

I came home and Ahmed was pretty excited. No one else really spends time with him and really plays with him. I also have all his crayons and colored pencils locked in my room which may have something to do with his desire to push into my room with me as I open the door. I had cute some paper into shapes for him to color and then went to the bathroom... big mistake. I came back and he was dancing around in my room with the scissors. Oops, I guess you really can't leave a four year old alone. The dancing actually didn't stop with the scissors even though I yelled at him and told him he could cut himself. He promptly grabbed a sharpened color pencil in each hand and ran out of my room. Hey, I tried.

Tomorrow is the last day of training. I'm really looking forward to having some freedom back again and to actually start working on projects, but it's probably the last time our stage and all the SED kids will be together. And on we go...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Feeling Good

Today I finally gave the presentation about my tournee. Nicole said I did a good job and no one fell asleep so I'm considering a success. It definitely wasn't the most boring part of the day so that's always a good thing.

The presentation we had today should have been really interesting and exciting. The people who run Junior Achievement in Senegal came to talk to us because there could be a lot of synergies between PC and Junior Achievement. I definitely want to start a program in Thies. I've been looking for a way to interact with students that just isn't a girls group that talks about gender issues, although I do find that interesting, I think I need a little more structure and a little more meat behind the project so Junior Achievement is something I'm interested in. One of the technical high schools in Thies is very interested in starting a program so hopefully I can meet with the school next week and we can start working on a curriculum together. The session was a little bit repetitive, long, and information we already knew so a trip to the Catholic compound was definitely needed.

The Catholic bar is a great place, we also call it the speakeasy because you have to knock and have them let you into the compound, and everyone wants one of my PC projects to be helping the Catholic bar install a kitchen so we can food when we frequent the establishment. Currently, without food, the Catholic compound is still a good place to blow off steam after sitting in the SED room all day being talked at and we had a really good mix of people today. It's actually really fun just having the SED volunteers left at the center. We've all been hanging out a lot and I've become a lot closer to people that I didn't really talk to during PST.

After the Catholic compound... How do you know you're completely cured from whatever gastrointestinal malady that ails you? Oh, you can polish off half a chicken at chicken dibi! Chicken dibi really never gets old. It's always delicious and there were even a few people in the group who had never been before so it's always fun taking new people there.

As I was getting out of the cab and coming into my house I ran into Deenba who immediately called out my name and gave me a huge hug. Deenba and I are actually becoming pretty close which is great. She loves to talk about her boyfriend and I love to listen and tonight I even told her about the trip I'm taking in a couple of weeks. She's just a really fun person and so kind and she works so hard. I'm really happy that she's starting to feel like a friend... now, if I can only convince her not to get married until after I leave in two years! The rest of my family was highly unimpressed with my return, which is also a good thing. I'm starting to feel more like a face in the crowd in my overly crowded house instead of just a white face which really sticks out and is incredibly odd. It's a good feeling.