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!


  1. Ugh! I am so angry at crazy pants food dude! Not that this makes the tortuous morning you had any better, but it was really funny to read about it. Especially food secrets. Ah, food secrets...crossing international borders since July 2010.

    Sorry that I couldn't be there to help out. You likely would have had to refrain me from punching and/or screaming.

    Good work:)

  2. This guy is looking for a cut of the food budget...slime ball. Good thing you and Katherine are on to this guy! Glad you enjoyed the ravioli but sorry Jackie didn't get her share.

  3. Alyssa,

    Keep up the good work. It is nice to see that some ordinary citizens sort of came to your side on the bus trip. Very cool.

  4. "A sandwich is not a sandwich unless it includes fries." In pittsburgh this is called a Primanti Bros sandwich. It also includes cole slaw, between two slabs of fresh Mancini's italian bread.