Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Camp: Environment Day

In the Thies region there are 8 SED (business) PCVs in my stage and only 2 Agriculture PCVs, today was their day to shine. Emily and Erin put on an amazing environment/ micro-gardening/ composting day today, completely in Wolof I might add. I found the day to be particularly fascinating, but it was evident that some of the girls are starting to get really tired and we had some problems with participation. Katherine and I are the only two volunteers not assigned to a team of girls because we are dong logistics type things so it has fallen upon me to be Bad Cop. I Bad Cop well if I do say so myself. The two problems we're having are:

1. Girls complaining that they have head and stomach aches. Cause: dehydration. Solution: Drinking water. Problem: Bombey happens to be in Senegal's salt basin which means that the water salty and has a slightly odd taste. The girls are claiming that it's making them sick. All of the PCVs are drinking and it's not making us sick so it's not making them sick. My favorite was one a girl who lives in Bombey told me that the water was making them sick. They had the choice to participate or sleep in their rooms by themselves.

2. Girls claiming that we are in the sun too much and they can't take it. Yes, it is hot. Yes, we are outside. But, we did the gardening sessions during the early morning and late afternoon so they can handle it. I did enjoy when, after a prompted her, a girl told me she never walks to the market, to school, or to see friends in the sun. Lies.

That being said, the girls are being great sports the vast majority of the time and a couple of them are absolute rock stars and really impress me with the level of intensity, curiosity, and just general energy they are able to keep up.

Emily and Erin, after we had planted trash around the campus, had girls pick up various containers to use in container gardening. They learned how to mix soil with manure, create a container garden, how to seed things, and how to make compost at home. I know it was interesting for me and that I learned things and there were at least a couple of girls who really, really, really enjoyed the day.

We did our usual games and arts and crafts and after dinner tonight we played a trivia game. It was a long day in the sun.

Camp: Future Day

September 28, 2010

Jackie planned today's day: Future Day and it was a big hit. We started off the morning with yoga as usual and headed straight into watching a movie called "Elle Travail, Elle Vit, " or in English, "She Works, She Lives." It was created by PCVs in Senegal and features local women who have professional careers. It's a really cute and interesting movie and if you're interested you can download it on We had a quick discussion about the movie and then it was time for a career panel.

The career panel consisted of a French professor at the University of Bombey, a woman who works at the local Poste de Sante (Med Center), a secretary at a local middle school, and Peace Corps very own Awa. Awa is the Peace Corps culture coordinator and she's amazing. Everyone loves her. She's the Senegalese Oprah. The career panel I think was a hit, but it was a little hard to tell because the woman who worked at the Poste de Sante took control and had the girls ask all of the questions before the women started to answer any of them. All of the Americans quickly lost interest with this format, but I think that the girls still enjoyed it and they asked a lot of questions which was good.

After lunch Awa took the stage and was incredible. It takes a very special individual to capture the attention of 33 early teenage Senegalese girls as well as 10 American Peace Corps volunteers. This sounds corny, but her stories of personal triumph and her amazing attitude and outlook had me all girl powered up. She talked to the girls about continuing their education, delaying marriage, family planning, and just being a good person. Here, as in all places, there are a lot of social pressures on girls and I think to see someone as inspirational and in-your-face as Awa was just awesome for the girls. The asked tons of questions and watching the girls was like watching a tennis match as they watched Awa move back and forth across the room. She was definitely the hit of the camp and I think her message really resonated with the girls. They really couldn't stop talking about Awa.

All of these warm fuzzy feelings happened after I had a huge showdown with the kitchen staff. On Monday they had made 15k of rice when I explicitly told them to make 8. They totally disregard almost everything I say so I was irate when we had half of the rice left that they cooked. The head kitchen guy then had the audacity to tell me that we were going to run out of food by the end of the week and that it was my fault. He wanted us to put in another huge sum of money to cover what he called "necessities." We created the food budget, menu, and my beautiful Excel spreadsheet for a reason - not to have any of these problems. Not surprisingly, he totally shuts me down when I point out that if we just bring down the numbers to the levels that I had on the sheet instead of the ridiculous numbers he claims to be necessary that we would still make it through the week with plenty of food. There is enough food for the girls and for us to feed the rest of the staff milling about the University, as we have been doing, so his "demands" are really attempts to try and see what he can get out of me, which is nothing. We argue back and forth and I tell him that my PC boss is coming and he can talk to her to make sure there really isn't any money. After taking a peek at Awa while she was presenting he decided that he didn't really need to talk to her after all and that he could make it work! Go Awa!

I actually left camp and the University with Awa to return to Thies to print pictures to give the girls when they leave on Friday so I missed the afternoon games, art project, and other sessions, but they are going to be really excited about the pictures. Unfortunately when I returned to Bombey the power still wasn't on, it had cut early in the morning, so we eat dinner by candle light, played a few games, and sent the girls to bed early which was good because the PCVs had quite an ordeal of our own.

Tamar and I hear Jackie and Katherine screaming as we brush our teeth. We think that they've seen one of the million of mice running around, but no, there's a bat in their room. They've both taken refuge under their mosquito nets and are screaming for help. Brian, one of the male PCVs, comes running to the rescue. He's shirtless, in boxers, and his weapon of choice is a towel. The situation quickly turns hilarious as Senegalese counterparts and maids chide us for being ridiculous and Brian knocks over and breaks a glass bowl as he throws his towel at the bat. Needless to say, in the PCV v. Bat score card it's PCV:0, Bat:1 because Jackie and Katherine eventually went to sleep with the bat still flying around the room!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Camp: Health Day

After starting off my day by making sure that breakfast would be ready and in ample supply and attempting to find someone who has keys who could open the doors to a classroom (I actually searched most of the morning with no success), the camp day officially started off with a yoga class. The girls LOVED it. At first I heard a few "this is hard," or "this hurts," or "I don't understands," but after a while they got really, really into it and everyone's breathing was in unison and girls were even copying the posters up so they could practice positions at home. Since today is health day we had an extended yoga lesson, but each day we start or day with a little yoga practice so it will be interesting to see if they still really enjoy some downward facing dog in a sweaty room while it's really hot!

When yoga finished we did another art activity: name signs for everyone's room. Each girl got a piece of paper to create a design with their name to put on their dorm room door. They absolutely love coloring. Some of the markers are already running dry because pressing really hard and achieving color saturation are very important points of everyone's art project. Fortunately, I have couple hundred crayons too so when the markers are done the art can continue. I think that if we created a camp devoted solely to yoga and art we would have hit a homerun!

During the late morning and early afternoon we held a couple of sessions of personal health and the health of one's surrounding area. These didn't quite go over as well as arts and crafts and yoga. The active, hands on activities are the crowd pleasers. After a couple hours of stalling with art, play doh, and writing in journals because it was too hot to go outside, we finally started the afternoon's main event: Olympics.

Needless to say, the girls absolutely loved the Olympics. We had a long jump, water balloons, don't drop the balloon with regular balloons, a relay game with mangoes on a spoon, limbo, and tug of war. A good time was had by all. The girls were really in to the games and really competitive which made it really fun. Little do they know that when we have the awards ceremony tomorrow night they get prizes and fireworks! And for those of you interested I'm still afraid of balloons and really hate it when they pop!

Tonight we were supposed to watch one of the movies I spent half a day trying to find. Interesting story... the "Finding Nemo" I found ended up being "Shark Tales," and "Little Mermaid," ended up being "Little Mermaid II." No big deal right? Wrong. They were also all in English. Luckily I had stolen a Tom and Jerry DVD from Ahmed, but it wasn't actually Tom and Jerry it was a weird Peter Pan cartoon. Fail. Anyway Tamar wants me to return to the DVD guy in Thies and demand my money back. When that doesn't happen I have been advised to break the DVDs and throw them at him. I probably wont take it to this extreme, but I am very angry that I didn't get to watch Finding Nemo in French.

Camp: The Girls Arrive!

September 26, 2010

We woke up this morning to do final preparations before the girls arrived. There was a lot of discussion about sessions, prepping on flip chart paper, and trying to figure out how to organize the girls into rooms and groups so they wouldn't be with their friends or someone else from their town. I led my abbreviated version of a counterpart workshop because we ended up only have 3 Senegalese counterparts, 2 of whom are male. The two male counterparts arrived early in the morning while we were still prepping so we couldn't entertain them and they were left to their own devices. Poor idea. Soon I overhear them talking about creating a camp personnel diagram so it's obvious to everyone who's in charge.

The counterparts are absolutely vital, integral to the camp's success, don't get me wrong, but they didn't come up with any of the sessions, know what was going on at this point, or do any of the organization so it was a little presumptuous of them to put themselves at the top. Katherine and I quickly explained to them that we already had a working organizational structure in place, but that we would love their help explaining activities, translating, and participating in other ways. Once the female counterpart arrived we went over what a camp actually is, our goals for the week, what we expect of the counterparts, what the counterparts expect of us, and the rules for the girls. I think it went over pretty well and we haven't had too much trouble with the male counterparts although they can be a little condescending.

The girls are from three different towns and one village in Thies, Pout, Mboro, Bombey, and Keur Demba Kebe respectively. So, after prep time was over Jackie, Erin, Alys, and Katherine jumped in a bus and went to pick up the girls. They were in the bus for almost 6 hours picking everyone up, they are champions. The rest of us were reading and waiting to welcome the girls when they arrived, assign their rooms, give them water bottles, and try to gage how excited they were. It's very difficult for me to read Senegalese peoples' emotions so I wasn't sure it everyone was just really nervous or if they found everything to be anti-climactic.

By the time all of the girls arrived it was early evening so we only did a few activities and ate dinner last night. We split the girls up into teams for the week and had them make a team flag. Arts and crafts are obviously going to be a huge hit this week since I was literally wrenching markers out of the girls' hands. They really, really, really enjoyed coloring and being creative. The flags look amazing (pictures will follow at the end of the week).

There was only one small hiccup with the food. Although I gave the kitchen staff an excel printout detailing what food to make for each meal and how many people were going to be at each meal, the first night was still a challenge. The PCVs were the only people eating this morning and then dinner switched to everyone so there was a big shift in numbers. I had spoken to the head of the kitchen staff after breakfast to remind him that it would no longer be 10 if would be 50. He told me he knew. Then as we are doing introductions with the girls he pulls me aside and tells me I've mislead him and that he's surprised to see so many people for dinner. He shows me his piece of paper which he claims says there's only 10 people eating. It shows 10 people eating breakfast, but 50 people eating dinner. After arguing about it for a few minutes, I ask how we're going to solve the problem since there's a room full of hungry girls. Miraculously he has enough couscous and meat to feed everyone. I was relieved, but at the same time annoyed that he obviously hadn't bought what we explicitly agreed on and what was listed on the printout.

Other than that everything went pretty well. Everyone is already exhausted but ready for our first full day.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

We're Almost There

While we have been led astray several times about various things having to do with the camp, the availability of wifi was not one of them. If I am not too terribly exhausted I will try and keep you updated on the goings-on of the camp.

After a night of shivering in my bed with Tamar because one person thought the other was still hot and didn't turn off the fan, we got up and met Jackie at the garage where we had delicious village bread and hardboiled egg sandwiches. An hour later we were in Bombey and boarding charettes, aka horse carts, on our way to Katherine's house to pick up all of the supplies we've been storing there. Katherine and I were on the charette from hell. I think the driver was approximately 6 years old and his cohort in crime was probably around 4 and they really, really, really liked to whip their horse so he would gallop down the pot hole laden road. I begged them to reduce the speed because I was scared. They replied that they weren't scared so everything was OK. The best part of the ride was after I'd been pleading with the boys in Wolof to slow down for several minutes. We were forced to slow down because another charette cut us off and a little boy on the side of the road called Katherine and I toubabs. The youngest of our two charette boys turns to me and explains in French that another small child just called me a white person.

We loaded all of supplies onto the charrettes, well mainly the charette that the little boys were driving, and we all got on the other charette and held on for dear life the 2k or so from Katherine's house to the University of Bombey. The other 6 PCVs met us at the University an hour or so later to start the prep work. We had a group meeting, some people went to town to buy last minute supplies and I spent a couple of hours writing rules, schedules, and various other pieces of information on flip chart paper.

The women "cleaned" the rooms for us, but clean is obviously a subjective word since there are a ton of bugs, spiders, and cockroaches all of the rooms and bathrooms. The dorms themselves are actually really nice with desks and beds; they just aren't as clean as I would like them to be, or as they should be. It's a little bit disgusting so hopefully we can remedy that tomorrow. Unfortunately, we also discovered a mouse in our room, which we have yet to kill. Two Senegalese female maids mocked us for being afraid and then Brian waged a valiant war against it, but we ultimately failed. Hopefully it wont creep under my mosquito net tonight!

The girls arrive tomorrow so the fun will really begin then!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Family Rivalry

The craziness continued today. Last night I experienced one of the most intense and violent storms I've ever seen. It rained for 10 straight hours in Thies and I was woken up multiple times from the vibrations of the thunder. The thunder was so incredibly loud it was amazing. The rain continued into the morning so when I poked my head outside to see if I could take a run I was met by a surging river of trash outside of my compound. Needless to say, I didn't take a run this morning. Instead I turned my attention to cleaning my room in preparation of Tamar's arrival. The rainy season has made absolutely everything damp, covered in mold, and horribly smelling. It sucks. I waged a valiantly war against the mold in my room which I'm sure will return over the week that I'm at the camp. Tamar was nice enough to tell me that my room didn't smell like mold - I'm pretty sure she was lying to me!

When I finally finished cleaning my room I ran over to Dioss' parents' house. They are probably the nicest people I have ever met. They are incredibly welcoming, always want to share their stories, tell me how much I help them, want to know about other PCVs... the list goes on and on. Today Samba, Dioss' dad, wanted to tell me all about all of the expositions he's showcased his work at and how A is better than B, but not C and how Canada has the best expositions. While all of this information is fascinating, I knew that Tamar was going to arrive at my house any second and I needed to cut to the chase, which was giving Madame Ly, Dioss' mom, a notebook so she can start accounting.

For the week that I'll be in Bombey for the camp I've asked Mme Ly to write down everything she buys and everything she sells. I told her the format isn't important and that whatever makes sense to her will work. It's all about helping her. I then told her that Dioss is absolutely miserable at accounting and that I'm sure she and her daughter Khady, aka Dioss sister, will do a much better job. They thought this was just about the funniest thing ever and agreed with me. Mme Ly and Khady are now all about doing better accounting than Dioss. It shouldn't be too difficult. I'm now going to call Dioss and tell him that his mom and sister are way more badass than he is. Hopefully a little family rivalry will help kick start Dioss' accounting.

This afternoon Tamar and I ran some errands and then met up with the rest of the PCVs, minus Katherine and Jackie, who are participating in the camp. They are all staying at the center tonight since we'll be leaving in the morning. I'm sure that the camp will be a success just because we are taking the girls out of their villages, expanding their horizons, meeting new people, getting to eat great food, and hopefully learning a little something. On a personal level I'm excited to see a major, long term project finally happen and I'm really excited to spend a week with nine other PCVs from my Stage. It should be a great time.

The camp runs until next Friday so I'll probably be incommunicado until then, but be prepared for a barrage of pictures, videos, and hilarious anecdotes. And again, thank you in advance for everyone who donated and supported us in this process. I'm sure it's going to be an amazing experience for the girls and for us! Thanks!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Today I went to the same store three separate times and I'm fairly sure they think I'm either certifiably insane or not all mentally there. Perhaps both. The best part that I had already made 4 previous stops at this store in the past few weeks to do shopping for the camp.

Stop 1: I'm on the hunt for glue sticks or bottles of glue so that we can do an arts and crafts project with magazine cut outs. Once I step into the store and greet everyone I realize that I have no idea how to say glue in French. I scan all of the shelves for an identifiable glue bottle to no avail. I can't point at it, damn. I then valiantly attempt to explain glue in Frolof. The saleswoman comes back with tacks, no. A stapler and staples, nope. Tape, good try. And finally paper clips, sorry no luck. She's obviously exasperated so I call Tamar, my mobile French dictionary. She doesn't pick up so I apologize and slink out of the store. I then spend almost an hour looking for movies (an entirely different story) and going into various paper supply stores and boutiques scanning the shelves for glue. The cosmos hates me so I find no visible glue.

Stop 2: I must return because we need glue. I call Jackie who I'm praying is near her computer so she can look up the word for glue on her computer. She is! And for those of you who are wondering "colle" is the French word for glue. I walk up to the counter feeling confident with my new vocabulary and they just look at me like I'm the dumbest person on Earth. Oh well, we now have glue.

Stop 3: My first two trips to the store were in the morning. This afternoon I went back because Jackie had finished the amazing certificate of accomplishment template and I needed to print them out. I honestly think I saw terror in the poor employees' eyes when they saw me again. And one actually asked me why I had to come back so many times. The certificates look great though so it was worth it.

During and after my epic glue search I was looking for appropriates movies for a movie night. Easier said than done. I had dreams of Lion King and was on the hunt for a Disney DVD. Children's videos are not prominent here. What is available? Any movie from the Rambo series, every Jackie Chan movie known to man, and a plethora of soft-core porn flicks. One vendor, after I told him I was looking for children's movies, actually attempted to sell me a porno entitled "Voulez-vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir." Nope, I don't. Finally I stumbled upon a really nice man who made it his mission to help me. I was grateful for his help, but I did have to listen to his wax on about how his visa to the US was denied because he has a beard so the immigration official thought he was a terrorist. I attempted to dissuade him of this idea, but was unsuccessful. He did help me find Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid though!

I also forced myself to go see Dioss today so I could check in one more time before leaving for the camp for a week. Things seem to be really moving with the bookmark idea. He has leather workers on the case and may even have samples ready for Leslie by the time she leaves at the end of next week. I'm fairly positive he's forgotten about the pricing/ costing aspect of this project, but I'm going to let him have one week of creativity before I bring him back to reality after the camp.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bombey and Back...Again

This was my last trip to Bombey before I go on Saturday and stay for the week of the camp. The camp officially starts on Sunday when all of the girls arrive. Jackie and I made the trip to Bombey today so we could go to the University with Katherine to iron out final details and to drop off a bunch of stuff we had bought. Jackie arrived early in Thies to pick up the t-shirts we're giving the girls at the center and I met her at the garage with my backpack full of mosquito spray, notebooks, and soccer balls and my satchel bag full of magazines for art projects! The people at the garage thought we were crazy and charged us a ridiculous fee for baggage, but a couple of hours later we arrived in Bombey to the lovely vision of Katherine on the side of the road sitting on a charette aka a horse cart.

Katherine had secured us a charette with an only slightly emaciated horse for our journey because we had a lot of baggage and needed to stop and buy 54 1.5 liter water bottles to give the girls. I have little faith in charettes and have a very rational fear of being maimed while riding on one so I was really happy when I finally stopped ignoring a Senegalese man screaming my name because it was Katherine's host dad who has a car! Yay! We took our stuff off the charette and then loaded all of the water into his car. We were back at Katherine's house in a matter of minutes and I wasn't scared for my life. Good day.

After quickly reviewing the food budget again we set off for the University (again with Katherine's dad in his car! He's awesome!). The woman in charge of the dorms was nice and seemed to have everything under control. We set up cleaning ladies and there will supposedly be sheets on all of the beds. Fingers crossed. Then we went to see my nemesis the food guy. He wasn't all too pleased with the changes I had made in the budget and was trying to pressure of into buying a ridiculous quantity of rice when I had had enough and had to put my foot down. Katherine, Jackie, and I were conducting the meeting in French and attempting to be patient and explain in detail the changes we made to the food stuffs list. When he started going on and on about the rice I lost it and launched into a Wolof tirade. It's funny how Wolof is now my go to language to express anger. I channeled my mom and Khady as I shook my finger and pulled a Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard neck move. I was over this guy and the rice and he needed to understand that we had the money and this is how much rice we were going to buy. He got the message and I felt good about taking a stand... and in Wolof no less.

That finished our business at the University and after walking around to inspect the classrooms we headed back to Katherine's house to discuss final plans and logistics and to watch Bristol Palin on Dancing With the Stars... the really important things in life. No sooner had we watched Bristol rip of her sparkly suit to reveal a slutty red dress and Jackie and I were back on a bus headed for home.

I jumped off the bus in Thies and headed straight to Massa Massa to meet Leslie, the woman importing Dioss' cards, for dinner. Christine, a PCV from my stage, who works with the baskets was also there. We had a really nice time together and I got to tell Leslie that Dioss is already making contact with some leather workers! Hopefully everything will work out!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Running Around

This morning I actually got all of the errands that I procrastinated about yesterday done. I paid my internet bill, went to the bank (actually two banks because the closest ATM was broken), picked up the professional cleaning I had dropped off because of the disgusting mold (don't worry they only lost one sheet which I'm hopefully getting back Thursday. I'm not really sure how if they couldn't find it after an hour of searching today their going to find it on Thursday, but we'll see!), and then I went to a government office to renew my residency papers.

I had previously renewed my papers at the office in Thies in March so I knew the drill, but the inefficiencies of governments never cease to amaze me. While I'm sitting behind a giant computer screen, I can't even see the man I'm talking to, trying to explain that I already have all the signatures and just need a stamp he refuses to believe me and launches on a long tirade about how I don't know how things work here. He's correct; I'll never understand how things work here. Anyway, instead of booting up his computer to see if I'm registered in Thies he takes out a giant notebook and starts looking through it at page one. I suggested that he start by looking at the date last printed on my residency papers to no avail. Thirty minutes later he found my name in the registry, he stamped my papers, and I left.

This afternoon I started talking to my Aunt's new class! They are very cute and it's fun to share with them about my life in Senegal. They even got to experience a power cut when the power went out during our conversation!

With no power and having already spent the vast majority of the day with my very cranky and sick Senegalese family, I decided to pay Dioss a visit to see what he thought of Leslie and her product development ideas. I didn't give him any advance warning so I could just pop in and pop right out again. Yesterday I really wasn't sure if he was into the bookmark idea or if he thought it was stupid or if he just didn't want to put the work into developing a new product. I definitely didn't think that he would make any moves without talking to me since he enjoys over analyzing. So, I was shocked when he told me he already called some of the leather workers at the artisanal village to talk about using their scraps. He also told me about some vague meeting he set up at some point in the future. We'll see what happens, but it appears as though he's definitely interested. He definitely understands that doing business with Leslie is good money. If Dioss is interested in something he's usually really quick with his decision making and gets things done, so I'm interested to see how this progresses. He's with out a doubt more interested in bookmarks than accounting so good things might happen!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Product Development

Today was a very special day because Leslie, the American importer who bought some of Dioss' cards, came to visit Dioss and Thies. She purchases leather goods from the artisanal village in Thies so we were her second stop of the day. I got to Dioss' early since I didn't know at exactly what time Leslie would be done with her first appointment so I got to talk to Dioss and the rest of his man posse for a while before Leslie and Abdou, her employee in Senegal and translator, arrived.

Unfortunately, the ship carrying Dioss' cards only just departed Senegal so Leslie hasn't seen what we sent her, but she really, really liked the samples that Dioss still had at his house. Hopefully she will be even more pleased when she receives the shipment. One of the really cool things about Leslie is she enjoys building relationships with her artisans, she works with over 50 individuals and groups throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, and helps them with product development. While she really likes a lot of what Dioss does art is a difficult sell and glass is extremely difficult to ship so she came with some ideas about how we could expand our partnership.

Her big idea for Dioss was bookmarks. Leather bookmarks. I wont even pretend to understand the market for African goods in the US since almost everything here looks exactly the same to me. But, leather bookmarks with traditional painting are huge sellers on Leslie's site and all of the current products come from East Africa so Dioss' spin could be unique. She had an East African example to look at, but I'm very unsure about how Dioss feels about the project. Him being Senegalese he was of course polite and receptive, but I don't know how he feels about taking direction from Leslie yet. He was open to creating the market scenes on the cards for her, but that was more of an extension of what he already does. It was obvious that he was concerned about getting the primary material, the leather, for the project. Leslie and Abdou put him in contact with some of the people they know at the artisanal village in the hopes that he could use some of their scraps and there are two PCVs in the Thies region who work with leather workers so it is probably possible to get the leather.

It will definitely be interesting to see where this goes. Dioss told Leslie at the end of the meeting that he would try and see if he could get her some samples by the time she leaves, October 1. I'm going to try and go see him tomorrow because we both had to go after the meeting today and I couldn't get a read on him. Although Leslie has a translator and I was there to help, Dioss was still out of the loop at the meeting since Leslie was doing most of the talking and Abdou and I were the two who understood all three languages being used. If I was Dioss it would be disconcerting to see in a meeting about myself, but not understand everything that was going on. A strange experience to be sure.

The meeting was oddly exhausting and I've been ridiculously tired for apparently no reason lately so while I had a bunch of errands on my To Do list for this afternoon I ended up taking a long nap. I suck. In my defense it did rain for a while which makes it difficult to do anything and I was sucked into my family's general bad mood. No one was happy today. My mom and Khady are both sick and Big Ahmed had another diabetes episode this morning which put everyone on edge. Tomorrow rain or shine I must run my errands.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Non-Baptism

Today little baby boy turned 8 days old which means that my family was supposed to through him a little baptism party. I had been asking all week to make sure that the baptism was today so that I could mentally prepare myself for a Senegalese party and would have a gift ready and waiting. Deenba assured me that it was today as did my mom, Khady, and Jeenaba herself. I thought I had this whole baptism thing under control. I should really know better than that by now.

The early morning signs were good. Extended family members arrived at our house in formal attire and there was a lot of yelling, but everyone in my family was still wearing every day clothes and going about their normal routines. Lunch, per usual, was ridiculously late and not lunch at all since it occurred at 4pm, but it was delicious and included chicken. I was still confused at this point because no major cooking was going on. Usually I'm asked to peel potatoes when we have a big fete because they hate using my peeler, but, grudgingly, do admit that I can peel potatoes faster than anyone else. The confusion mounts as everyone goes to sleep during a power outage.

Except for the complete lack of food things start to look up again when the baby's great-grandma appears and shaves it's head and gives it a bath. That, apparently, was all the baptism that baby was going to get. I walked into the kitchen to find Deenba making the usual millet based Sunday meal and cornered her to ask her about this baptism. She looks at me and calmly explains that we had a small baptism with just the family today because Jeenaba is going to wait until after Tabaski (which will take place a week before Thanksgiving) and have a joint baptism/ wedding. Well, thanks for all of that info while I asked questions all week! It is good news that Jeenaba is marrying baby daddy who's actually a really nice guy. I just wonder where they are going to live because my house is definitely at capacity! It will sad to see Jeenaba go and Deenba is going to have a huge amount of work - if that's what's going to happen. Obviously, I have no idea what's actually going to happen.

The best part about today? I totally forgot to ask what the baby's name is so I'm still calling it "baby."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Shop 'Til You Drop

Shopping for hours upon hours would usually be my preferred way to spend a Saturday. But, when I indulge myself in this fantasy it's at an air-conditioned mall with a smoothie in my hand, a credit card, and beautiful, sparkly things to buy. Today I went shopping in the main market in Thies. It doesn't exactly fit into that fantasy. As the camp approaches so does the last minute shopping frenzy. I had a long list of things to buy today and found most of them.

After walking from my house across town to the market, my first stop was another visit to the paper supplies store where I bought name 60 tags, envelopes, and 50 notebooks. With my bag bursting at the seems I went deeper into the market to look for the babies stores I was promised that I would be able to find. Now that I was actually looking for them I realized that there are a million baby stores. At store 6 I finally found a baby mosquito net. It pops up just like a tent and is blue with white lace for a trim aka it's hideous, but when I brought it home Jeenaba was over joyed and there was a big to do as she showed everyone the new mosquito net for the baby. While everyone was sitting outside during the blackout this evening, she brought out the net so the baby could sleep under it. I'm hoping this is a sign that she's actually going to use the net and that it wasn't just a show for me since it was the new toy for the day. We'll see. I'm definitely going to keep reminding her to use it since there are a million mosquitoes right now.

At this point, I'm walking through the market with a bag full of paper supplies with what looks like a lacy blue umbrella also sticking out of bag. I wasn't drawing any attention to myself... Then I bought two soccer balls. When Katherine and I visited the University of Bambey last week we learned that they were not going to be providing us with bed nets even though they had previously promised us nets. The vast majority of Senegalese people I know don't sleep with nets because they don't like to, but we are trying to promote health and wellness at the camp so we wanted nets. In lieu of nets and because the University grounds consist of a mosquito infested swamp we need a ton of mosquito coils and spray. I thought this was going to be the easiest purchase on the list and was planning on buying out one of the big boutiques in the market, but I couldn't find any anti-bug products. Every single boutique seemed to be sold out so I ended up going to one of the super markets and buying out their supplies. 150 coils, 5 huge spray cans, and a ton of matches later I stumbled out of the store and into a cab.

In the cab I was praying that I could walk into the compound unnoticed, but, of course, Mami was sitting in the courtyard doing laundry and couldn't believe her eyes when I walked in loaded down with mosquito products and a million other bags. She thinks I'm really weird. I still have some more stuff to pick up, but I will be doing that next week and then I have to figure out how to get everything to the garage and into a sept-place to Bombey!

The rest of the day was very calm. We didn't have power for most of the day so everyone slept. The baptism for the baby is tomorrow and I was told to charge my camera because everyone wants their picture taken. It will definitely be interesting.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Center Miracle

The goal for today was buying the new baby a mosquito net. The goal was not accomplished. Erin called me this morning to tell me that she was called to the center to do a session and since I had some things to give her I walked over there in the hopes of also discovering where you can buy a baby mosquito net. Then a miracle occurred and when I walked into the center all of the people that I had been meaning to call and email about projects were all there. I even got to talk to Nicole, my boss, for a long time about the Artisan Expo. Jackie was there so we discussed the camp in person and some other PCVs who I needed to call were also randomly at the center. What luck. So, a quick trip to the center turned into half a day at the center. By the time I left and made myself a delicious lunch it had started raining and rained sporadically for the rest of the day which meant I couldn't go on my bed net adventure. Tomorrow for sure.

With the intermittent rain came a non-intermittent power outage. We didn't have power all day which infuriated my family since we have been having pretty good power. While Ahmed tried to distract me and everyone else complained about the power/ slept, I finished another book and wrote in my journal to pass the time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Today was a pretty low key day because I woke up feeling exhausted so I gifted myself "Baby Watch Day." I'm obsessed with the new baby boy in my house (he wont have a name until his baptism on Sunday). I'm learning so much about babies and the women who have them and I'm fascinated and terrified at the same time. Who knew that some people put sugar on their nipples in an attempt to get the baby to latch on? I didn't. It's so interesting to watch how my mom and Khady have really taken charge to help Jeenaba and how everyone else kind of leaves them alone. The baby hasn't been out much, but he did make an appearance during the afternoon showing of Marina, the Mexican soap opera we watch, since Jeenaba didn't want to miss an episode. He was fussing because he was hungry and then he wouldn't eat and then he would fall asleep only to wake up hungrier. I've only heard him cry once. He's also really cute and has a full head of hair.

This evening during our nightly blackout I was sitting with Jeenaba in Awa and Ziabata's room as she was swatting mosquitoes away from the baby. I learned that the baby doesn't have a net. No one in my family sleeps with nets and I admonish them every single time I go into their rooms to no avail. I told Jeenaba that the baby should really have a net especially right now since it's rainy season and there are a billion mosquitoes everywhere. She responded that yes, he should have a net. I'm taking matters into my own hands tomorrow and buying a net because he needs a net. The only problem with this plan is that I have no idea where to purchase a net. I've never seen one in the market or in any of the boutiques so I'm going to try pharmacies and health posts and if that doesn't work I'll start calling NGOs. It may seem like I'm turning all maternal, but witnessing Jeenaba in the aftermath of the birth and the past couple of days has made me even more resolute in the belief that I should probably wait another 20 years to have spawn of my own. Abstinence programs should put young girls with new mothers because it will scare the crap out of them.

Other than watching the baby and my family's actions concerning the baby I didn't do all that much since Dioss is in Dakar and school still hasn't started. I did go to the post office this morning where I got two letters from Shirley! Thank you! And a package from my Aunt Diane! I promptly ate some delicious pad thai that was in the package, it was delicious. The package also included Play Doh for Ahmed. I can't say that I'm not terrified at the prospect of giving him Play Doh because I definitely am, but I know he's going to love it. I'm saving in for this weekend. I know we will both be bored during the new baby's baptism and will need a new toy to play with! Thanks for the package!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


The girls' camp is only 10 days away and things are starting to get crazy. Yesterday after lunch with Thies with the new trainees assigned to the region, Katherine and I loaded up all of the shopping I had done along with a huge box of art supplies and jumped a sept-place back to Bombey. Lets just say that when Thomas met us on the side of the road with a giant truck the rest of the passengers in our car weren't too happy! A charette, horse cart, ride later we arrived at Katherine's place which is awesome! She's on the second floor all my herself and has a bathroom with a SHOWER. I can't say I'm not jealous. The squat toilet doesn't bother me at all, but I would love a shower. We spent last night schmoozing with her family, making delicious squash ravioli (thanks mom!), and watching the season premier of Gossip Girl. All, incredibly important activities. The real work began today.

After realizing we were wearing almost identical outfits consisting of our standby khaki capris and white shirts we set out for the University of Bombey, the site of the girls' camp. It's quite a far walk from Katherine's house and it was ridiculously hot today not to mention that we were walking along the national highway breathing in all of the delicious fumes of passing cars and trucks. Katherine had been promised that all of the people we needed to talk to would be at the University today so we could finalize everything. This obviously didn't happen.

We walked onto the University grounds, greeted the guards, and Katherine took out her cell phone to start calling people. The person we were supposed to pay is still on his way to work so we walk over to the administration building. The person in charge of the buildings, aka the person who was supposed to let us inspect the rooms, is in Diourbel, a neighboring city. The Secretary General is in Dakar. Everyone else who could possibly have a key to anything we want to look at are unavailable. Therefore, we stand in the parking lot being attacked by mosquitoes while we wait for the food guy to come. He arrives and everything starts to slide downhill.

Although he was able to get us into two buildings and we broke into a room so we could see it, we were eaten alive by mosquitoes and then it became all too evident that our most carefully drawn up menu was about to collapse into a heap of rotten ceebu jenn. We started to look over the food budget in one of the classrooms until I demanded that we move to an office space because neither Katherine or I could pay attention since we were constantly slapping ourselves and each other as the mosquitoes descended. We also had to add an industrial tub of mosquito repellent and all types of spray to the budget.

Within minutes of sitting down in the office it became apparent that we needed to start from scratch. Although Katherine had sat down with this same man months ago and written down all the amounts of each item we needed and the prices, the guy pretty much pretended that that meeting never happened and that Katherine made up all the data. Keeping the menu as it was put us several hundred thousand CFA over our budget, which is obviously not possible. So, we scrapped the menu and started completely from scratch. It took Katherine and I almost three hours of revisions, calculating on our cell phone calculators, and heated showdowns with this guy over what is and what is not necessary for a meal before we came up with a budget that put us only 50,000CFA over budget. Most of this was due to the fact that the price of the kitchen staff magically doubled.

In honor of my brother and my friends in our room on the Kedougou trip... Senegalese FOOD SECRETS I learned today:

1. If you have 20 people eating a meal you must have 20 bricks of MSG flavoring. If you have 60 people eating a meal you must have 20 bricks of MSG flavoring. 20 is apparently a magic number. Katherine and I can't get over this.
2. If one serves fries with dinner it is obligatory to also serve bread. You never can have enough empty starches!
3. A sandwich is not a sandwich unless it includes fries.

Once we had a new menu and a quasi budget Katherine and I made our escape and walked back home to her house to play with the numbers. On our walk back I was doing some rice calculations in my head, yes it's sad I know this much about rice now, dividing how much my family usually makes into per person portions since this is how this guy was doing it. My Senegalese family eats well. I am one of, if not the most well fed volunteer in the country. No one in my family goes hungry and we usually have left overs so I thought we were a good marker. This man wanted us to get twice the amount of rice that my family gives each person per day. RIDICULOUS!!! When we got back to Katherine's house I asked her mom what she thought and she literally started laughing out loud. The amount of rice was preposterous. (This may only be funny to be people who live here because rice is a REALLY big topic of conversation.) We discovered that some of the other dry goods were also excessive so with a little tweaking we created a budget that works. Next week I'll go give the final food budget and money to the guy at the University.

From Bombey I flagged down a bus on the side of the road and started my journey back to Thies. Obviously the guy tried to rip me off, but I stood my ground and over the course of the two hours it took to get back to Thies half of the bus started to get really into my argument with the bus "ticket" man and stood behind me. Everyone knew that I knew the right price and that the guy was trying to rip me off. Every time someone got on or off the bus the guy would try and get me to give him more money, but I held firm and people were really into it! Sometimes it's the small victories that count. As I jumped off the bus in Thies one of my supporters yelled "good job" after me and it totally made my day!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Day 1 for Baby

Day 1 of baby boy's life seems to be going OK. Jeenaba is already up and around doing her laundry and helping with a little bit of cooking. This was during the morning and she rested most of the afternoon. I'm fascinated by the new mommy and baby in the house. I haven't been around a pregnant woman and a newborn in my adult life so it's very interesting to watch everything that's going on. I've learned things that I never knew about and never wanted to know. The baby seems to be pretty good although I've only seen him a couple of times. He is just left in one of the bedrooms if Jeenaba is out in the courtyard and it seems like my mom and Khady are the only people, besides Jeenaba, who are really interacting with him, which I guess makes sense. Jeenaba's boyfriend, aka baby daddy, and his mom and sister were at our house last night as well. I obviously positioned myself in the hallway with a book so I could see all of the comings and goings! I haven't heard anything about the baby's baptism yet, but since my family usually informs me about events 5 seconds before it happens I'm planning on it being a week from today since that's the traditional 8 days. I'm sure it will be ridiculous.

Unfortunately, I couldn't be on baby watch all day today because I actually had things to do! This morning I walked all the way across town, after dropping off some revolting moldy clothing and a sheet that I found in my room after my trip to Dakar at a professional cleaners I found, to do a bunch of shopping for the girls' camp which is in two weeks! It is also approximately two-ish weeks until school starts here. School is supposed to start the first Monday in October, but the students usually strike for a while to get a longer vacation so who knows when school will start. What I didn't realize was that the first Monday after Ramadan apparently ushers in the back to school shopping frenzy so I was three people back from the counter at the office supply store and had to fight tooth and nail to get my paper and pens!

This afternoon I continued my collection for all this camp, by going to Dioss' to pick up a bunch of the art supplies that he's still storing at his house until school starts and we can finish the ateliers. Every once in a while I catch Dioss when he's in a very intellectual frame of mind and he really wants to talk. Today he was going on about how he would love to go to the States or France to paint for a while which segued into a discussion about the differences between the US and Senegal, the problems with development, and the problems with Africa. Dioss and his crew are the only Senegalese people that I'm intimate with who I see reading as much as I read. They are all constantly reading myriad books, magazines, and newspapers and are therefore really interesting to talk to. We talked about the crazy Koran burning guy, why I couldn't live the rest of my life in Senegal, and how Dioss is now approaching an NGO to help him publish the catalog he worked on with Pauline. It was a fairly fascinating two plus hours. Unfortunately the only thing he doesn't want to talk to me about is accounting. Go figure. I've started my threats again now that Ramadan is over, but I think he's decided they are mostly empty so I now need to think of incentives. I think I'm going to have his mom call to yell at him!

Tomorrow is another big day as a bunch of volunteers will be in Thies for lunch to welcome the new trainees who have been assigned to the Thies region and I'm going to Bombey to check out the University of Bombey for the camp!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's A Boy!

I know where babies come from. I really do. Ever since my mom sat me down for "the talk," in conjunction with the Monica Lewinsky scandal I've known where babies come from and I probably knew before that. I am also 23 years old so one would hope that I would have figured out the birds and the bees by this point. Although, I do admit that I was probably 7 months late on picking up on the fact that Jeenaba was pregnant at all! My Senegalese family, obviously, doesn't have this kind of faith in my common sense abilities so when Ziabata ever so nonchalantly told me that Jeenaba had gone into labor he told me that she went to the hospital to pick up her baby. I used the verb to have a baby to no avail.

Ziabata telling me that Jeenaba had gone into labor was fairly shocking to me since didn't think she was this close to her due date and that I had sat with my mom and Khady approximately 2 minutes before they left the house and they neglected to tell me that Jeenaba was in labor. Go figure. This made for a very interesting morning none the less. Apparently the mystery of life is kept a mystery to all women who haven't had a baby. Therefore, only my mom and Khady went to the hospital with Jeenaba. Let me tell you, this did not go over well with Awa and Mami.

They both dealt this disappointment in their own ways. Mami went upstairs after complaining for a few minutes and shut her door; effectively refusing to do anything for the rest of the day, typical Mami. Awa worked her ass off as the only adult woman left at the house, Deenba is in her village celebrating the end of Ramadan, but still managed to make her annoyance known. I don't know whether my family doesn't think I can understand as much as I do or if they just don't care what they say in front of me because they've learned that I don't tell anyone else. Regardless, as I was sitting in the courtyard Awa went on a rant to Ziabata, her husband, about how angry she is that she didn't get to go to the hospital. She is a married woman after all! It was very interesting to see this new hierarchy appear. I'm interested to see if Jeenaba's status is elevated now that she has a baby.

I spent the day thoroughly cleaning my room and doing laundry. This morning I discovered that I had no clean underwear so I ended up doing 29 pairs of underwear. I don't think I've ever owned this much underwear in my life! I also watched a movie featuring Jerry Springer, which was dubbed in French, while Mami applied fake toenails to her feet. My real job for the day was keeping the little kids busy so they didn't bother Awa while she did all the house chores. I thought it was going to be a really quiet day, but then my mom, Khady, AND Jeenaba/ Baby came back. Jeenaba went to the hospital at 9am and was back at 4pm. Damn.

The baby is absolutely adorable. I haven't been around a newborn in forever. My youngest cousin was born over 13 years ago so it's exciting to a have a little one around, especially since I don't think I'll be able to hear it crying in my bungalow from the big house! It appears as though Jeenaba and the baby are going to stay here, but I have no idea. The dynamic in the house is already different. When I went to congratulate Jeenaba and see the baby my mom took Ahmed's hand and told him he's no longer the baby. This did not go over well. He's obviously jealous and very concerned about the fact that other babies could be imminent. He's been pulling up all of the girls' shirts all day and poking our bellies to see if a baby will pop out!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Age Old Question

Today started out so great. I woke up to a huge rainstorm which meant that I got to lay in bed and read until noon. No one from my family ventured out of the main house to start collecting water until 10am so I really didn't feel guilty. Plus it was so cool and dreary that when I went inside the house at 12 everyone was half asleep in front of the TV. This general malaise meant we ate lunch at 4pm. I even attempted the latest puzzle that my mo sent over to Senegal.

My entire Senegalese family loves puzzles and Ahmed is really into the Disney movies right now so my mom sent him a holographic Finding Nemo puzzle. This would be a completely age appropriate gift for a 4 year old if she had read the box correctly, which stated there are 500, not 50 pieces in the puzzle. Oh well. Ahmed spotted it in my room and has been obsessed with it ever since. I thought there was no greater opportunity than a gloomy day to work on a giant puzzle, this was only after putting myself in a salty snack coma (another plus of my mom's latest shipment) which reduced any pain I could feel from working on a giant puzzle with small Senegalese children. Kotou and Khady, the little girls currently living with us, joined in as well. I had them sort out all of the outside frame pieces and then had them sort the remaining million and a half pieces by color. This took them over an hour since I refused to help due to the fact I can put down "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest." Fortunately, after the sorting was mostly done they lost all interest when my host dad walked in with Biskrem.

At this point in the day everything looks great. The weather is putting everyone in a very lazy mood, I've escaped back to my room after telling Jeenaba I'm not hungry (aka I made my own delicious dinner, it didn't include salty snacks), and I was even getting a little work done. All I want to do is fill my water filter, take a bucket bath, and get into bed with one of the three books I'm currently reading. Senegal had a different plan. Clad in my towel and carrying a bucket full of water I open the door to the shower and come face (my face) to ass (the ass of velociraptor) with my age old nemesis. This begs the question how does one get a rooster out of a concrete shower stall? After almost peeing myself in fright and dropping my towel, I attempt to take control of the situation. I stomp around outside trying to scare velociraptor. This obviously doesn't work. Then I throw my face wash bottle into the shower this only pisses him off. Next, I try slamming the door. Now velociraptor is going crazy and clucking and cockadoodledoo-ing at me. All I want is a shower. I take a tentative step into the shower area and he lurches at me as I let out a quiet although audible squeal. Finally, six minutes later, as I'm hiding behind the shower door, out of velociraptor's view, he leaves the shower and heads next door to the bathroom.

Now, I'm just praying I don't have to pee tonight!

Friday, September 10, 2010


Wednesday was Rosh Hashanah so I met Tamar in Dakar and we had a lovely evening at the Israeli ambassador's house with the handful of other Jews who currently live in Senegal. Since Rosh Hashanah not only ushers in a new year, but a new month, it roughly corresponded with the end of Ramadan, which has a much greater influence on my daily life here. Most Senegalese Muslims celebrate Ramadan after 30 days have elapsed, but they also must see the moon. This causes scheduling problems as one never knows which day the end of Ramadan celebration will actually be. I had my fingers crossed that it would be tomorrow so I wouldn't have to beat it back from Dakar this morning, no such luck.

I had no idea what to expect this morning in terms of transportation and knew that my family would be really upset if I couldn't make it back. When I arrived at the garage in Dakar I barely recognized it. Usually I have to elbow my way through the crowd and jostle for a spot in the car. Today it was a ghost town. I jumped out of my cab and at first didn't see a car to Thies. Even on other holidays getting to Thies isn't too big of a deal since it's close to Dakar and the second biggest city in Senegal, but today there were no options. So when I realized that I was the seventh person in a seven passenger car and that it was the last car leaving Dakar destined for Thies I was pretty happy. Since most people traveled yesterday I made it to Thies in record time, which was actually a little scary because we passed a terrible accident right outside of Thies and I think I saw a dead body on the side of the road. Creepy.

My family was very happy to see that I made it back in time to celebrate Korite, the holiday at the end of Ramadan with them. All I missed was the sheep slaughter, which Ahmed told me was fantastic, but which I have already had the luxury of photo-documenting. All of the women were sitting in the courtyard working on their individual jobs. Awa was butchering the chickens, Khady was refining the boys' buterching of the sheep, Jeenaba was cutting onions, and the two little girls, Khady and Kotou, were working on the potatoes. I wowed them with how fast I can peel potatoes with a peeler and I was even allowed to cut some potatoes into fries. A huge step up in my family's confidence of my cooking skills. Unfortunately, I couldn't devote my entire afternoon to peeling and slicing potatoes because the rainy season plus a closed room spells mold and I had to do a lot of cleaning. Including taking down my mosquito net to wash and bleach it since it had some mold on it. Since I hadn't cleaned it during the year that I've been in Senegal it was probably a good idea anyway.

A huge "lunch" at 5pm was followed by a lull until later this evening when we all got dressed. I caused a big stir in my ridiculous outfit and everyone told me how great I looked even though I could only sit in one position because the outfit is so tight. I was expecting Korite to be like Tabaski last year when getting dressed and doing make-up was a big deal, but everyone kind of did their own thing. I walked around with the little kids, who as for money on this holiday (kind of like Halloween in the States), and then sat around my house. I posted a bunch of pictures most of which were taking by the little kids in my house so they aren't completely in focus. I enjoyed my family's lack of enthusiasm for the holiday because it meant I could do my own thing and participate in a way I felt comfortable instead of being dragged around from house to house. I took out a big bag of candy earlier in the night to share as a treat and when my 31 year old host brother had a showdown with the 6 year old Kotou over candy and was serious, I took that as my cue to leave and hide out in my room!