Thursday, August 26, 2010

Another Day during Ramadan

The trainees are in the village and I had nothing else even remotely planned so I deep cleaned my room today. It took much longer than expected because I kept being interrupted by rain showers so I was continuously moving all of the things I put outside so I could clean inside so they wouldn't get wet. It didn't help that Ahmed took a rain shower and then ran through my room after I had just mopped it.

This afternoon I met up with Jackie and Emily at Les Delices to get some work done. It's currently impossible for me to do anything in my room other than get upset about the fact that I have nothing to do/ nothing is going on or watch movies on my computer. Jackie and I had our bi-annual reports due for Peace Corps so we worked on those and I sent emails regarding future projects. As soon as Ramadan is over I have a lot of projects that I'm looking forward to. Now is just a dead time. The girls' camp, the start of school and Junior Achievement, and the holiday artisan expo will all be time consuming endeavor, which will be nice. Unfortunately, I've done pretty much all I can do in advance all ready so now I'm just waiting.

Shout out to Lindsay whose birthday is today and to Leigh whose birthday is tomorrow! I wish I was there to celebrate with you!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I've Got a Crush On You

Last night I confirmed that I have a not so secret admirer. It's Ahmed. My 4 1/2 year old host brother. While our power was out last night as I was waiting for dinner to be served I was sitting outside with my sisters when Jeenaba looked at me with a very serious face and told me that there was something I should know. She then screamed for Ahmed to come outside and all of my sisters prompted him to tell me a secret. He told me that we were special friends and that he wanted me to be his girlfriend. It was possibly the cutest thing that has ever happened in the history of the world. My sisters were beside themselves. Deenba actually had to move from her seat on a stool to the floor because she was shaking with laughter. I was trying to be very serious because this was obviously a serious situation for Ahmed and I don't want to hurt his feelings, especially since he's pretty much my best friend in Senegal.

I had suspected that he's had a crush on me for a while. Lately he wants to hold my hand all the time and he's been sneaking up on me and smacking his face into my face. It took me a good week to understand that he was trying to kiss me on the cheek, not just hit my head with his head! The most adorable part of this whole ordeal was last night at dinner. Per usual myself, Big Ahmed, and my dad were sitting at the table. Ahmed sat on my dad's lap and instructed Big Ahmed to cut him pieces of meat. This isn't out of the ordinary so I didn't think anything of it until Ahmed starting to take the cut up pieces of meat from his part of the bowl and put them in mine. He was putting food in my side of the bowl aka providing for me. Big Ahmed and my dad could not contain themselves when they realized what was happening and burst out laughing, but I tried to be very thankful and appreciative as a four year old who can barely feed himself, fed me.

This afternoon my sisters pressed Ahmed even more by reminding him that I have a boyfriend stateside. They wanted Ahmed to lay down the law and be the only "man" in my life, which was fairly confusing to him. I told Ahmed that he could be my Senegalese boyfriend, which he thought was a fabulous compromise. He's probably the only Senegalese boy in the country who fell for this trick, but he is 4. It's now the family joke. Everyone is fairly obsessed with Ahmed's obsession with me and, unfortunately, uses it to manipulate him. They will invoke my name all the time in order to get him to do things or not do things. Regardless, it's really cute and we now walk to the boutique next door several times a day holding hands while Ahmed screams at people who call me a toubab. He likes to correct them and insist that I'm an American!

Speaking of romantic relationships, I caught Deenba red handed! Or should I say lip smacking!? Because I have nothing better to do with my evenings than try to catch Deenba and her boyfriend kissing, it's rather amazing that it's taken me ten months to see/ hear evidence of making out. Tonight I got my wish. Jackie convinced me to go out to dinner with her tonight because I've been in a terrible rut and a bad mood with nothing to do and I surprised Deenba and her boyfriend upon my return. They like to sit on the porch of my bungalow on little benches because a half wall offers them a little privacy and they know I could care less what they do. They must not have heard me greet the rest of my family when I got home because when I walked up to my bungalow I heard the smack of a kiss and saw them pull away from each other! Victory for me! Hey, any information discovery for me is a big win!

This brings to a head a dilemma that I've been struggling with since Jeenaba got pregnant. First, I would like to take a minute to congratulate anyone in my house who's getting any. It's truly impressive that they were able to find a private place to hook up since there are at least two people in every room. More than anything I would like a detailed description of how people are able to sneak around and find a place to have sex. It's amazing. The moral of this whole tangent is that I really want to take Deenba aside and ask her about birth control. I know it's probably not appropriate, but it's killing me that Jeenaba is un-wed and pregnant, but it will kill me if the same happened to Deenba. I want to tell her that I will get her birth control if she needs it although I'm fairly certain it's within her means. Pretty much I just can't have any more babies popping up. I can't have any more boyfriends!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Jeenaba and I have started to get a lot closer during Ramadan because Deenba, my usual partner in crime, is resting a lot and trying to lay low - I don't blame her. Jeenaba isn't fasting because she's pregnant and is in charge of wrangling Ahmed and the random little girl staying at our house. We sit around together a lot doing nothing or talking a little bit. Jeenaba seems more removed from the family now that she's pregnant. She tends to sit outside by herself a lot at night which I never noticed before so I'm trying to keep her company. Her pregnancy is now no longer under cover. She's gotten huge in the past couple of days. We were talking about Ahmed and the little girl so I used that as a segue for children in general and slipped in a question about how far along she is. In usual Senegalese fashion she gave me a very vague answer. The baby is coming "soon." Soon is an incredibly relative term here. The boutique next to our house told me that more eggs would be coming "soon" that was four days ago. Therefore, I have no idea when Jeenaba is actually due it could be four days or four weeks or four months from now. I have no idea. We will see.

While I did sit around for hours upon hours today, I also managed to get a little work done. Dioss and I forgot to include a receipt for the cards being exported so I went over to his house this morning to pick one up. That was the easy part. After procuring the receipt I needed to find a place to scan it so I could send the electronic copy to the states for customs. It was actually easier than I expected to find a scanner, but it still took a lot of walking around in the hot African sun. I rewarded myself from this effort with a trip to the post office where I had a package from my parents! Thank you! And I sat with my friends in their air conditioned office for a good hour and a half chatting about nothing. They are an entertaining group though and they have lots of good information. They also never mind answering all of my stupid and potentially culturally inappropriate questions.

This afternoon I took a huge stack of magazines to the center for other people to enjoy and took a group of new trainees to the market to buy fabric for their Korite outfits. We were definitely a spectacle at the fabric store, but all went well and I'm sure they will all be looking their toubab best!

Monday, August 23, 2010

I'm A Big Girl Now

Today I did a lot of leg work in the hopes that in the future I will have satisfyingly productive days. In an effort to stave off the boredom and to get out of my house I walked to the Lycee Technique, the site of my Junior Achievement classes. I'm guessing that it's close to four miles from how long it took me and how dehydrated I was once I arrived. I had to go back to the school because I was a few certificates short on diploma day and embarrassingly enough it's taken me several months to get the last certificates from Dakar. Taking the certificates to the Lycee and calling those students felt like a big accomplishment, or at least something concrete to check off my list. I then wound my way back toward home through town looking for supplies for the girls camp. There are a couple of items we're looking to buy in bulk and I need to find where I can purchase 250 bags of cookies and the like. I may have had success on a few items, but there were many hopefullys and maybes thrown around so I really have no idea. Most of the supplies I'm in charge of buying are easy to find so I'm not worried about getting the shopping done. Plus, it's shopping... always an enjoyable pursuit.

The major achievement of today was me taking charge of my diet. Food is such a huge part of culture here and it's so important to eat and be grateful for what you're eating. Today, since I have a lot of time on my hands, I made extremely elaborate and delicious meals for breakfast and lunch and then my family had a larger than usual break fast so I really wasn't hungry when I saw Jeenaba preparing dinner. I walked right up to her, told her that I wasn't hungry, and that I wouldn't be eating dinner this evening. She gave me a weird look and shrugged. I then ran to take a shower/ hide from my mom and now I'm cowering in my room in the hopes that my mom wont come looking for me with a huge bowl of rice. So far the plan seems to be working and I feel ridiculously empowered by this small act of rebellion.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Reveal

When I have a million things to do I am super efficient and love checking things off my list and getting my tasks completed quickly. This is the person I know. Recently, I've been introduced to my alter ego who procrastinates the one thing I have to do and then never actually do it. Not cool. Today I was a waste of life. I attempted to clean my room, but it now looks like tornado hit it because I decided to deep clean and organize which meant taking everything out of my dresser and off the shelves. Everything came out and off, but nothing went back in or on. I listlessly shuffled the three steps that I can take in my room in between reading and watching Project Runway on my computer. Productive.

After a morning and afternoon spent unbelievably unproductive I went over to the center to hang out with Jackie and see how the new trainees are holding up after their first week in the village. Before venturing out to speak with other people Jackie and I watched another episode of Project Runway. Ramadan needs to end and I need to do some work! Anyway, the trainees look amazingly good and at least on the surface it seems like most of them really like their villages and language groups and that they are all adjusting fairly well to life in Senegal.

Jackie and I lead a big group of them to the infamous Catholic bar for a well deserved beer and to hear about their week. Some of them had some pretty hilarious stories and there were lots of questions to be answered. It is amazing how much you can learn in a year and how incredibly jaded you can become in a year. Stories of "really nice boys" our age instantly had me suspicious and stories of little kids wiping their left hand all over the food bowl didn't phase me. Many people claimed they were sad to return to the center, this is a completely incomprehensible idea to me, and the Tivuouane people said that my goody bags were lifesavers which made me feel good. I've also become the resident expert of long distance relationships as well as the guru for people who really don't like PST. Hopefully I give good advice and provide the kind of straightforward information that I desperately sought during my training.

Back at home the big news was that my outfit for Korite came back from the tailor's. Picture this: a 1980's prom dress had drunken sex with the worst bridesmaid dress of all time. This image needs to be reconciled with how it makes my body look. The top is so tight that it looks like I've had a massive breast reduction and the skirt is so tight my ass could be mistake for J.Lo's. Obviously my family thinks it's perfect. I showed it to Khady and Mami and told them that I thought it should be let out a little bit, so I can breathe, and they vehemently disagreed with me stating that the fit was perfection. They are also absolutely positive I will be able to attract a first rate Senegalese husband, something they talk about a lot and are very concerned with. The outfit is hilarious. The top, apart from being practically a corset, has three-dimensional flowers made of ribbon on it. Sparkley ribbon. I actually really like it because it is so Senegalese and my family loves it. The only bad thing to come of my outfit's arrival is that it started the discussion about braids. I do not want to get braids. It is a goal of mine to avoid braids for my entire service because I don't want to lose even more hair than I've already lost and I don't want to look even more ridiculous than I'm going to look. We'll see who wins this war. I would usually give the advantage to my sisters, but this is something I feel fairly strongly about.

I don't want to ruin the surprise of what my outfit looks like in all it's glory until you can see the full effect with makeup and head wrap so you'll just have to wait until Korite like everyone else.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


August 21st, 2010

Best. Day. Ever.

Yesterday I was sitting in Big Faim, a restaurant in Thies, trying to escape my family and relieve some of my general malaise about life with some other volunteers when someone suggested a day trip to Mbour. At first I wasn't so into the idea. There was no reason for me to go, but there was REALLY no reason for me to stay in Thies and do nothing for another day while getting more annoyed by my family. I've actually been at site for quite a long time, since Kedougou at this point, and although I know I have all of my modern conveniences and can go into town to forget about things for a while, my family is really starting to drive me insane and Ramadan is really boring. I'm so glad I went on the daycation. It was epic.

The plan was to get up pretty early and head to Mbour so we could spend the morning at the beach so I got up and ran early and then met the rest of the crew at the garage. A quick sept-place ride later we were in Mbour at the wonderful toubab grocery store purchasing a wide variety of beverages to start out the day. From there we headed to the beach and set up camp at a campement that the Eco-T volunteer in Mbour works with. While some people went swimming, Jackie and I lounged and read. The water in Mbour while cooling and nice to dip my feet in to combat the heat is also filled with trash and crawling with Senegalese children and vendors, not a good combination.

Two bottles of wine and a beautiful view later we moved on to lunch. I was really excited to have some fresh seafood and it was delicious. Jackie and I split a seafood gratin and some shrimp which hit the spot. From lunch we moved on to the main event of the day and it did not disappoint. One of the volunteers I was with had heard about a liqueur distillery outside of Mbour where you can sample liqueurs much like wine. I was highly skeptical, but the afternoon turned out to be amazing. The distillery was beautiful, the host wasn't too bad to look at, and then liqueurs themselves, which are made from locally grown fruits, were absolutely delicious. It was so much fun. Most of us bought a few bottles and our lovely host threw in a free bottle which we drank on the spot.

After attempting to go to what is supposedly the best pizza place in all of Senegal for dinner, it was closed for Ramadan, we grabbed some delicious pasta for dinner and jumped in a sept-place back to Thies. I'm so happy that I got out of Thies and had a great day.

Pictures are up so check them out.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Last night when Khady said that we were going to the tailor tomorrow she actually meant that we were going at 9pm yesterday. Khady, Mami, Awa, Big Ahmed, Ahmed, little girl randomly staying at our house, and myself all went to the tailor together under the direct rule of Khady. First stop was a men's only tailor. This was not a good first stop. Big Ahmed described what he wanted and then Khady and Mami told him what he wanted, and then Big Ahmed and baby Ahmed were measured. This took close to 45 minutes as the tailor kept going outside to talk to other people while we were confined to an itty bitty room which only got smaller once Ahmed started crying from exhaustion; I was right there with him. Finally the tailor came back, finished the measurements and talked price with Khady. Needless to say she wasn't happy. My favorite moment during the haggle showdown was when she asked, "Do you know who my father is?" Classic. The "conversation" (read: Khady berates tailor) ended with Khady grabbing the fabric out of the tailor's hand and leaving. On to tailor number 2.

Tailor number 2 is Khady's friend and personal tailor. She assures me he's the very best in Thies. On the walk through the courtyard I made three small children cry. At this tailor's we had to wait until he finished constructing an absolutely awful hat that looked as though it was made from various sifters... it was also neon green. After that we were all measured and discussed what looks we wanted, I didn't even put up a fight and asked Khady to create the look for me, we trudged home at eat dinner. Eating greasy rice at 11pm when I'm so tired that all I want to do is collapse makes me very unhappy and after getting yelled at for not eating enough I fell into bed.

Taking advice from Khady and Mami on Senegalese fashion I consider a lesson in how to be a badass and potentially slightly slutty Senegalese woman. I don't appreciate it when Khady tells me that I look like crap most of the time and that my clothes aren't nice, which happened this morning. I fully admit that I don't look nice 99.9% of the time. It's hot and I'm sweating, all of my clothes are stretched out, and I probably haven't owned as much khaki throughout my entire life than what I currently have in my dresser, but most of these things are inevitable. This morning Khady was looking through my New York Times Magazine fashion issue and asking me why I don't wear Herve Leger bandage dresses and high heels. Other than the fact that I can't afford this particular piece of clothing the impracticality of it was apparently not an issue.

I know that I'm being overly sensitive on this topic, but it is something I think about a lot because I don't enjoy looking like crap. They are always asking me why I don't wear makeup. Probably because it would instantly run off my face in a river of beige. Or high heels? The streets in Thies are more akin to sandboxes than roads. Sexy clothes? Please, like I need to draw anymore attention to myself. I think that is the root of the problem. Khady believes that I have nicer clothes which is true what she doesn't understand is that a lot of my nicer clothes are made for Michigan winters, are completely inappropriate for Senegal, and that I don't want to draw anymore attention to myself. One thing that my family really doesn't understand is that when I'm not walking with them through my neighborhood I draw an unbelievable amount of attention and harassment to myself.

I'm going to continue to feel sorry for myself on another topic...

As I've mentioned it is currently the month of Ramadan and the vast majority of people in Senegal are currently fasting. Greetings also take on more phrases during this time as people ask each other how the fast is going. I totally understand this and participate. When people ask me if I'm fasting I say no and explain that I'm not Muslim. I spent several hours today aimlessly walking the market and buying things for lunch. I have a number of vegetable vendors that I go to on a regular basis so I was having this conversation with them over and over again. In the vast majority of circumstances after I explain that I'm not Muslim and therefore not fasting they tell me that I should fast in solidarity.

I was turning this notion of solidarity over in my head as I was walking around in the blazing sun, which probably had something to do with my mounting anger on the issue. People are asking me to fast with them in solidarity while it is impossible for me to walk out of my door without people telling me how different I am. I can't count how many people called me toubab today while I was walking around. On my way home I passed three siblings. A little boy who was a toddler, a girl who was 4-5, and older boy who was 7-8. The toddler and little girl were so excited and screaming toubab (this is totally OK because it's obviously not malicious) and came to shake my hand. I spoke to them in Wolof and told them my name and asked them their's. As I walked away the older boy called me the derogatory name for toubab. Where's the solidarity in that? Especially after I was just really nice!

I think I'm just having one of those weeks where everything is a little off and I'm easily frustrated with everything. That all being said, I am very excited to see my Korite outfit because Khady was very specific and I get to go back for fittings so it's perfect. I was expecting for everything to really settle down over Ramadan and that's not really happening in my family which is disappointing because everyone's around only crankier. This will all pass and until it does I'm going to stay in my room and be anti-social so I'm not mean to anyone.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Poor Taste

The past couple of days have been highly uneventful. With the new trainees in the village for the week I don't really have much work to do. Yesterday I went over to Dioss' to pick up two cards that were missing from the order. Hopefully I'll be able to deposit the cards in the proper hands by the end of the week. It will be very exciting to see Dioss' work online once the cards are received by the retailer in the US. Dioss' house was pretty quiet all of the boys were laying around reading, which offers a distinct contrast to the constant, television comatose state that most of my family members have been in since Ramadan started. I can't blame them for laying around because it's hot, humid, and they can't eat or drink, but it is interesting how people spend their time. Regardless, Dioss and his band of boys were in no mood to talk business or accounting surprisingly so it was only a short trip.

Yesterday and today we had big storms which are really nice. I enjoy having an excuse to curl up with a book while my family is sleeping or unwilling to get wet and therefore wont venture across the courtyard to my bungalow. Unfortunately I've been reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I read 600 pages of it yesterday which brought me to the most gruesome part of the book right before bedtime and I had terrible nightmares. No one warned me how disturbing it was! I finished it this morning and started something else to get it out of my head.

The big news of today was shopping, shopping, shopping. My mom and dad got a new bedroom furniture set and gave their old one to Ziabata and Awa. The new set is beyond ostentatious, but I enjoyed the chaos that taking it upstairs involved. We all then stood around my mom's room oohing and ahhing at the new furniture. The other big shopping event was Khady bringing home all of the fabric she bought the family for Korite, the holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan. A few days ago she asked me what color fabric I wanted. I asked her if I could come along since I have absolutely nothing to do and she said no. So I told her a few colors, which she rejected and then told me that I was getting pink fabric. Fine by me.

I've always thought that I have pretty good taste and dress fairly well. No one can say that I don't like shopping, but my Senegalese family thinks I have really bad taste. Granted I currently wear a rotation of various khaki colored capris,faded t-shirts, and some skirts and dresses, but I have limited resources. Khady returned with exactly the color of fabric that we had agreed upon, but then launched into a soliloquy of how she had used her judgement in color and therefore prevented me from looking like a fool on a very important holiday. Everyone was so thankful to Khady and the situation was fairly hilarious, but the obvious question is: Is it possible for a toubab to wear full Senegalese garb and stand with a Senegalese family and not look completely ridiculous? Absolutely not.

I think I was the only person happy with the fabric Khady picked out for me. Jeenaba was beside herself and when I said I would trade fabric with her (a switch from pink to purple) all hell broke loose and this was deemed an unacceptable situation. Big Ahmed and Awa also didn't like their fabric, but Khady pretty much told them to suck it and deal with it in typical Khady fashion. I would like to point out that Khady was wearing a royal blue full length skirt and three quarter length sleeved outfit - made from VELVET. We live in Senegal. It is August. Anyway, the fabric situation took hours to sort out because everything had to examined, discussed, and reviewed so my planned excursion to the post office didn't take place, which is probably a good thing since Thies is currently a trash swamp because of all the rain. Tomorrow I believe we are going to the tailor as a family. I can only imagine the scene this is going to create!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rainy Season

Today was the first day of this year's rainy season that I remembered how truly terrible last rainy season was. Yesterday it rained off and on which created a miserable sauna/ steam bath kind of effect, but today's weather was torrential downpour. I remembered thinking rainy season was terrible last year during PST and now I know that I was correct in that belief. After going to the center to take a shower (my neighborhood still has regained running water) and to give my goody bags to the trainees heading to Tivuouane for the week, Jackie, Katherine, and I headed out for lunch.

Ramadan is giving me the ceeb (rice) break that I so desperately needed. What I didn't need was to get rained on while trying to get a cab. A cab ride from the center to the Les Delices is only a few minutes long, but in those couple of minutes Thies experienced a flash flood as the rain came in torrents. All of the streets were flooded and I had very little faith that our cab was going to make it, but we did and once we forded the street to get into the restaurant we all took turns washing our muddy/ nasty-Thies-road-water feet off in the bathroom sink. Classy.

Thinking the rain would subside we had a leisurely lunch. No such luck and a couple hours later it was still pouring. Stupidly, we all decided to leave. After Jackie got a cab back to the center Katherine and I were lured into the rain by a cab, the driver of which then pulled off to the side of the road and told us he wasn't going anywhere. Several minutes of standing in the rain later we got another cab which took us to the bank where Katherine and I parted ways. She had told our original cab to wait for her, but I was left in the rain, huddling under a tree trying to get some for of transportation for another 20 minutes.

The rain did mean that when I finally arrived back at my house soaking wet my family was sleeping so I could also take a nap undisturbed by Ahmed. The rain also means that my family collected a bunch of water and we can actually clean things which is nice.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Walk Around

The new trainees were finally allowed outside of the utopia of the training center today and a bunch of PCVs led them around Thies for the first time. I played tour guide for the Health/EE PCTs when they arrived in March, but it's a lot more fun doing it with the SED/ Ag stage since I can answer a lot more of their questions and feel a greater connection with them. I've spent a lot of time at the center this week and answered a lot of questions. I'm trying to be brutally honest because that's what I was looking for while I was in PST, but at the same time to not sound as jaded as I actually am. It's a fine balance of explaining my personal experiences and making general, sweeping statements about Senegal and life in the Peace Corps. I think I sufficiently terrified/ empowered them this afternoon.

They are going to the village for the first time tomorrow which is exciting. I remember how petrified I was and how I didn't think I could ever survive. Tonight I put together some goody bags for the volunteers who are going to Tivuouane, my old training site. Just some necessities like Cliff bars and New Yorker magazines to get them through their first 5 days.

After the walk around, which included alcohol, ice cream, and me angrily screaming in Wolof (hey, I take my job seriously), Jackie, Katherine, and I escaped the questions and went on a romantic date to Massa Massa together. Salad, lasagna, and a couple bottles of wine later I'm back at home. I had hoped that I'd come home late enough to miss dinner, but this was not the case. Awa immediately accosted me and told me that they were waiting on dinner because Ziabata hadn't come home yet.

One of my family's new favorite games is to ask me to call someone and then tell me exactly what to say to the other person. What makes this game hilarious is the fact that I don't know what I'm saying. Today, Awa had me tell Ziabata that if he didn't come home right now to eat that I was going to sleep with his wife. Awa is Ziabata's wife. Khady almost fell out of her chair when she heard me say the phrase and my mom was literally crying with laughter since I had just told her that I was at the center all day teaching the new kids about Senegalese culture. When Ziabata came home he pretended to try and kill me with a spoon. Oh family love.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Baby On Board

Jeenaba is pregnant. Or at the very least I'm 99.9999% sure she's pregnant. I've been noticing a little pooch on her for a while, but she's so thin I kept trying to tell myself that she was just gaining a little weight and that that was a good thing. No longer does it look like a little extra baggage... it looks like a baby's about to pop out. In the past week she's really popped out. This morning I was sitting with Jeenaba as she was making a ton of beignes for both the break fast and my family's early morning meal. She kept trying to get me to eat some and I kept refusing because I didn't want to eat in front of people who were fasting and then she popped on in her mouth and said she wasn't fasting this year.

Women in Senegal don't talk about their pregnancies like American women do; they believe it's bad luck and it's taboo to ask about it, but you can joke about it. Peace Corps taught us to discuss pregnancy in a round about way like by saying that some ate all of the rice at lunch or swallowed a soccer ball. I attempted to make theses jokes when Khady broke into the conversation and called me a hick for using those jokes, but she didn't say that Jeenaba wasn't pregnant. This only piqued my interest because I've been suspecting Jeenaba's been with child for a while. She's been wearing wrap skirts as tube dresses recently so I haven't been able to get a good look at her tummy.

This afternoon as I was creepily watching Jeenaba sweep the courtyard from my room she re-wrapped her dress and I saw her stomach. She's definitely preggers, which makes me really sad since she's not married to her boyfriend and I haven't heard anything about wedding plans - although we all know how in the loop my family keeps me! Now I'm interested to know how far along she is. Her belly is big and she's a tiny, tiny girl. I probably have a good 20-30 pounds on her. I'm sad for Jeenaba because I have no idea what will happen to her. She's not Khady in the respect that her parents have money and standing and I don't know if the family will accept her "bastard" child like Ahmed has been accepted or what will happen. I also have no idea how long she'll continue living with and working for us. I'm also a little sad for me because I don't want to hear a wailing baby all the time. Ahmed is enough.

Other than staring at Jeenaba's mid-section for most of the day I also counted and did quality control for all of Dioss' cards. It looks we are good to go. My family also is out of water again. We haven't had water in 5 days and Deenba was hauling water today as she fasted. She never ceases to impress me. I also noticed that big Ahmed appears to be growing a soul patch: it's not becoming...

Friday, August 13, 2010


It’s our one year Africanniversary today. Katherine brought me a gin shot in a bag to mark the occasion. I can’t believe that I have lived in Senegal for the past year. The past nine months have flown by. After PST ended in October, Peace Corps has actually become a mainly enjoyable experience. The miracle of my first year in Senegal and with Peace Corps is probably that I'm still here. Not even I thought I was going to make it through PST and talking with the new trainees who just arrived is reminder of how far I've come. I'm so happy that I stuck it out and am still here. Now that I'm more comfortable at site, have a better grasp on the language, and my body isn't in shock I'm very excited for the next year.

Being a part of PST has been really fun and it's amazing that I'm now somewhat of an expert on Senegalese culture or at least what to expect from Peace Corps and training. While I've come a long way there are also things I will never understand....

Mysteries of Senegal:
1. How Senegalese people are able to eat crusty French bread without making a mess while I make a bigger mess than Ahmed.
2. How cars are fixed when small pieces of metal and jammed under the hood. I've actually seen this multiple times and it astounds me every time.
3. How Senegalese people are so intimately in tune with the weather. I swear my mom during PST was like the character in Mean Girls who uses her breasts to predict the weather.
4. That incredibly small amount of water that Senegalese people drink in order to survive.
5. The optimism and understanding that pervades Senegalese culture
that vast majority of the time.

The past year has been amazing. I'm fairly certain I've learned more than I learned in four years of college. I've made life long friends, explored most of the country, traveled to Ghana, biked to a waterfall, been embarrassed and wrong more times that I can possibly count, grown to love another family, and have become extremely self-sufficient. I also know that I'm probably the most stubborn person in the world and can force myself to do anything. It has definitely been the adventure that I wanted.

Not to be super sappy, but thanks to everyone who's posted on my blog, sent me letters and packages, and tried to keep in touch! Another year to go and then I'll be back in the US eating and drinking to my heart's content!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New SEDers!

The new SED/ Ag stage arrived early this morning and I was at the center to greet them. I was expecting an absolutely surreal experience and to be somewhat overwhelmed myself at the thought of having been here a year, but there was no such emotional reaction and Jackie and I read off the new stagaire's names and room assignments. Understandably all of the new PCTs were exhausted and probably overwhelmed so the day passed without anything really interesting happening. Everyone, although quiet, seemed to be in pretty good spirits. I know that I was having the panic attack of a lifetime when I arrived, but apparently was able to hide that fact from most of my stage, at least for a while, so I'm expecting them to open up and have a lot more questions as the week progresses.

What is remarkable about this group is that there's 64 of them! Jackie and I spent most of the morning working on getting their Peace Corps folders in order, getting all of the materials sorted for the language instructors, and collecting all of the paperwork they brought with them from the homeland. We also answered preliminary questions about the center and SED work, but nothing too interesting! It was actually a little disappointing, but I'm definitely excited to get to know everyone and hear about the new sites that are opening up.

I spent most of the day at the center, but I did talk to Dioss who bought all the materials he needed to finish the cards and they are all done! I'm so excited. I'm going to go pick them up tomorrow, count them, and make sure that all of the cards are signed! Dioss will then have completed his first export deal. Nice. And just in time for Ramadan.

Speaking of Ramadan it is supposedly starting tomorrow in Senegal. Ramadan starts here when one of the religious leaders sees the moon. Some people are also saying it's going to start Friday. I'm about to head into the main house to have another showdown with my mom over who is cooking my lunch. I really need a break from Senegalese food and Ramadan is providing the perfect opportunity! I'm not going to let it slip through my fingers!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Exciting Things Are About to Happen

Yesterday I fell for one of Senegal's tricks... believing that since things had been going well that that would continue to happen. We had been experiencing over 36 hours of consecutive power and we even had water for about one hour during the afternoon! Amazing! I was therefore saving writing a blog post until I went into my room for the time at which time the power cut until approximately 4am when I woke up freezing because my fan had turned on and was causing all of the sweat on my bed and body to evaporate. Nice. I was going to post, but nothing too much has been going on so it wouldn't have been too interesting anyway.

Today I was bound and determined to make something at least quasi interesting and or time consuming happen. My first call was Dioss even though he called me yesterday to tell me that he finished all of the cards! While I was ecstatic with his progress this ticked off the biggest work related activity on my list this week; I had been planning on going to his house every day to check up on his progress. The only thing left to do is buy the envelopes and plastic bags the cards now come in. He's waiting for the wire transfer for the exporter to come in because he doesn't have enough cash to cover the costs, but I thought we could meet and make some type of timeline and maybe go over the accounting. He's in Dakar seeing Pauline off back to France. They still don't have the funding so the catalog so he wasn't in the best of moods.

Next on the list was Diof. Ever since Christine, the volunteer who Diof is now terrorizing, told me of our supervisor switch I haven't been able to get in touch with Diof. I called his cell phone and he didn't pick up so with nothing better to do I went over to the office which is still locked. I called him again from the office and again no answer. This is an ironic roll reversal since it's usually me avoiding his calls, but now I would actually like to get to the bottom of this mystery and/ or meet my new supervisor who is supposedly nice and a woman!

After awkwardly standing outside my office I headed to the post office and had packages from my grandma and my parents! Thank you! I also had to wait for the customs officer so I got to hang out in the air conditioning. I also became facebook friends with all of the guys at the post office.

Shout Outs!
Shirley - Thank you so much for another letter!

Mom and Dad - Thanks for all the treats and reading material. Amazing as always.

Ma - Your package was awesome! The only negative was that Ahmed saw me bringing them into the house and he truly believes that nothing comes from American for me, only for him and immediately demanded candy, dried fruit, and other presents. He loved the Koosh ball that you sent and my family likes that they can hurl it at other people and it doesn't hurt! It provided several hours of entertainment this afternoon.

Since nothing is going on I hung out with my family this afternoon. Ahmed is also bored out of his mind, which causing his obsession with me to grow to new heights. He had several little friends over today, but all he wanted was to play with me. I'm starting to go a little insane. He's driving me up the wall. Just when I thought my patience with small children was reaching the point of a normal human being I found myself having to lock my bedroom door from the inside because he's now strong enough to open the door. I then laid down on a mat on the floor and read so he couldn't see me. Yeah, I know, real mature.

My other family showdown came this evening during the lovely power outage when I was talking with my mom. Ramadan is starting in the next couple of days and I'm really looking forward to it because I really want to make my own lunch. I can't eat rice anymore. I need a break. I breached the subject by telling her that new volunteers are coming tomorrow and that I'll be spending a lot of time at Peace Corps and eating lunch there a lot, but when I'm home, out of respect for my fasting sisters, I will make my own lunch. They don't need to worry about me. Since I am completely incompetent in the eyes of my family, this was obviously unacceptable. I kept giving what I believed to be valid reasons to make my own lunch, but my mom definitely won the battle when got up, told me that Deenba and Jeenaba are here to make me lunch, and then left the room. That was a knockout punch. I may have lost this battle, but I refuse to lose the war.

I did just mention that new volunteers are coming tomorrow and I'm SO excited. It's the SED/ Ag stage aka my stage but a year later. I cannot believe that Friday is my year anniversary in Senegal. I can't wait to see how much dirtier, less afraid, and "wiser" I am than the PCVs arriving tomorrow. That sounds terrible, but it's true. I remember looking up to people a year into their service and thinking that I would never get there. I thought they were amazing. It's absolutely ridiculous to think that I am now that person. Year ago today I left Grand Rapids for Washington DC. My last night in the US I spent crying on the phone sitting on the floor of an open store room I found in the hotel. Tonight, I'm eagerly anticipating meeting new PCVs, avoiding Ahmed, and probably going to re-watch the newest episode of Mad Men that I just downloaded.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Through being lazy, not having anything exciting to write about, not having power, and the union strike which shut down phone and internet service I have been woefully neglectful of my blog. Here's the update.

Dioss Update:
One day last week after the camp I tracked Dioss down because I had to give him a form to fill out about his bank account for the woman who is importing his cards. I say track Dioss down because he wasn't at home, but at what is a sketchy bar at night listening to some type of training given by a Spanish NGO. When I arrived I thought he was hanging out with friends because he knows a couple of musicians who frequently play at the bar. I didn't want to pull him out of the training, but when Dioss has something in his head he wants to do it right then. He really has two thought processes: procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate, or now, now, now. My plan was to drop the paper off with Dioss and then he would go to the bank and get all of the information I needed. Well, Dioss hates banks and distrusts people who work at banks and really wanted me to go with him. The banking system here is extremely complicated so I can understand his hesitation about going alone.

Amazingly, we got all of the numbers we needed and were out the door in a relatively short amount of time. This means Dioss is now all set up to receive money transfers from abroad, not to mention that he now has a real savings account that, I think, he knows how to use. Pretty exciting. This coming week I'm planning on visiting him every day to make sure the shipment will be done well ahead of time. Plus, I want to see him when he receives all of the money into his account. I hope he's as excited as I am!

Camps Updates:
The English camp is over and went really well. It was a lot of work and we could've made it a lot better if we had known that there was no structure and we were completely in charge, but I think the kids had a really good time. The final day with the talent show and the dance party were hilarious and pictures of the week are now up!

On Saturday most of the PCVs in the Thies region met up for our girls' camp meeting. The camp was fully funded as of a couple of weeks ago. Thank you so much to everyone who donated. The schedule of events for the camp is really coming together and I think it's going to be really, really, really fun and special for the girls. I'm currently terrified because I'm running the training for our Senegalese counterparts and I'm worried about my language skills!

Senegalese Counterpart Update:
Another PCV who lives near me called me a couple of days ago distraught because she had just met Diof who was obviously mean to her. She called to tell me that her supervisor had switched locations with Diof and we would therefore be switching supervisors! This explains while Diof hasn't been answering my calls and the office has been locked for the past three weeks. I'm thrilled that I get a new supervisor who is female and supposedly really nice! It sucks for the other volunteer and I definitely feel badly for her.

Family Update:
I didn't spend that much time with my family last week because of the English camp and all of my friends were in town so today we hung out all day. They are just as hilarious as usual. Ahmed is thrilled I'm back and completely obsessed with me right now. As we walked he wanted to hold my hand and I'm pretty sure strutted his stuff as all of the little kids in the street looked at him in wonder as he held the hand of a toubab!

After Khady and Ahmed ate their delicious fried bean curd sandwiches for breakfast, I had to abstain because I'm trying to cut down on all things fried, I decided that I wanted breakfast and went to the boutique next to our house. It is selling tapalapa, or village bread, now! I couldn't be happier. Village bread is a million times better than the crappy, machine processed, baguettes that my family eats and really hard to find in Thies. I was snacking on it while walking back into my house when Khady caught me.

Khady: What are you doing?
Me: Eating tapalapa.
Khady: I can see that. Why?
Me: Because it's delicious and better than baguettes.
Khady: You're a cowcow.(cowcow in Wolof means white trash)

Only poor people eat tapalapa so I'm pretty sure that Khady thinks I'm hurting her high class reputation by purchasing and eating the bread in public.

The other big news at my house is that we finally got some water last night. The spigot turned on long enough to fill most of our containers. This is after day 14 without water. My family is still worried, and legitimately so, that the water will cut again for a significant period of time so we are still all buying bottled water to drink. I took Ahmed to the boutique with me this afternoon to buy water. He inhaled three quarters of a piece of cake on our way there and stuffed the rest in his pocket. Once at the boutique he spotted suckers and begged me to get him one. I told him he just ate a piece of cake and didn't need a sucker, but when he explained to me that he was going to combine the two I broke down and bought him a sucker. I can't resist him.

After a full day of family I'm currently hiding in my room eating some Indian food from a pouch because I don't want to eat millet and milk for dinner tonight! All of the camp pictures are now up; check them out!

Friday, August 6, 2010


Linkon was one of the names of the students in my group this week at English camp. We let all of the students pick their own American name and then gave them fancy name tags with which to identify themselves. There were the names that I guessed would be popular before camp even started such as Beyonce, Rihanna, and Akon. These names were contrasted against classics such as Bob, Susan, and Jessica. There were also the utterly ridiculous rapper names such as Weezy, but my favorite was Linkon. Linkon is a combination of Abraham Lincoln and Akon. This is not a joke and therefore all the more hilarious. Linkon also had no idea what was going on the vast majority of the week which made him an even more entertaining character.

All humorous names aside, the kids were great all week. Though it felt like I was often pulling teeth my group because they were shy and we didn’t really have a ring leader, I was definitely impressed with their level of English, their endurance throughout the week, and the defining Senegalese trait of being able to put up with anything. Overall I think the camp was a great success. The students, hopefully, learned some new English grammar and vocabulary, they definitely got to practice their English and they learned a lot of new games and had the opportunity to meet students from other middle schools throughout Thies. The organization of the camp was appalling even though I had set incredibly low standards. When I initially signed up for the camp it sounded like the PCVs were going to have supporting roles and that we would show up to a schedule and participate along with the campers. I should have known that this was a gross overestimate of what was actually going to happen because we were totally in charge and received no support from our Senegalese counterparts. They balked when we asked them to unlock doors. All in all though the camp was a great success.

I only really realized this today, the last day of camp. We had a talent show early in the morning, group sang along to Akon’s “Oh Africa” and did a little dance, and then the rest of the day was free time while we waited hours to receive the celebratory lunch of chicken and fries, which was a huge treat for the campers. While I group may have been hesitant to participate all week and I wasn’t really sure if they were having a good time, my fears were all resolved today when I saw them in action with their friends. They had absorbed all of the games we taught them and actually seemed to enjoy them as they ran around the school yard playing them with their friends. If there’s anyone who can understand speaking a foreign language to native speakers and feeling self-conscious about it it’s PCVs, so I can see how the students would be intimidated or embarrassed to go for broke in front of us since in Wolof culture especially one is ridiculed for mistakes. I was really happy to see that they had learned something and seemed to enjoy themselves. At the very least the girls got out of morning chores and cooking lunch for a week during their vacation which had to be a treat.

The camp was exhausting, but I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with PCVs all week and taking showers at the center since my family is approaching two weeks without water. I was falling into a little rut and this definitely gave me something to do and a sense of accomplishment. The camp also brought me to today, which happens to be my 51st week in country. A week from today is my one year anniversary in Senegal. I can’t believe it’s been a year!

The other thing that has been happening is radio silence. I haven’t been updating my blog or responding to emails because the phone/ internet company in Senegal has been on strike so there hasn’t been any service.

Check back tomorrow for camp pictures!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

English Camp

This week offers a small respite to my summer boredom in the form of being an English camp counselor. Yes, I'm obviously desperate if I'm willing to spend half the day with middle schoolers. The camp is part of the ACCESS program which is a US Embassy initiative. There are 13 other PCVs in Thies right now and we are putting on a daily English camp from 9-1. I do have infinite respect for camp counselors now because it's really hard work and I find it incredibly difficult to stay upbeat, excited, and engaged when I'm bored, hot, and not all too interested in what's going. We have been playing lots of name games, question and answer games, and pretty much anything we can turn into a game that involves the students using English.

The most exciting aspect of this week has been the food. We've been eating at Les Delices and cooking a lot which is nice because I'm having a serious problem with the monotony of Senegalese food right now. Last night we made delicious pasta and red sauce and tonight some yummy Asian stir-fry. Chicken sandwiches and ice cream are other important parts to the English camp diet.

In other news, the rainy season is most definitely upon us. I did laundry on Sunday and it's still not dry. It's also insanely humid so I smell terrible all of the time like I did during PST. Speaking of which the new trainees are coming next week. I can't believe I've been here almost a year! Looking back at this time last year I was in a complete daze and dissolved into tears multiple times a day. It's amazing how time flies.


Thank you to Matt and Shirley for two amazing letters.

Shout out to my mom and dad for another fantastic package. Everyone is enjoying the library of People magazines that were included!

Shout out to Aunt Diane, Uncle Wayne, Rachel, and Jenn for a Mexican fiesta in a box! The package came at the perfect time since all of my friends are here and we can make a big dinner together. We've already had extensive discussions related to making the perfect tacos and how much we are going to enjoy the nacho cheese! Thank you!