Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Barbie Girl

The song "Barbie Girl" by Aqua is a song that I'm embarrassed to be familiar with, but that I haven't heard in a long time. It was a middle school anthem which, thankfully, had fallen out of rotation until today that is. Mami loves to listen to music on her cell phone and this practice only increases when we don't have power and lately we never have power. Today a group of us were laying on the living room floor staring at the ceiling and listening to music on Mami's cell phone while waiting for lunch. All the usual/ highly inappropriate songs ("Rude Boy" by Rihanna, "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry, other rap songs the lyrics of which no one understands, but are offensive) played and then came "Barbie Girl" by Aqua. I was silently laughing to myself until I started laughing out loud and crying because Ahmed knows every single word of "Barbie Girl." No joke. Or at least he knows the lyrics as well as a 5 year-old Senegalese child who doesn't speak English knows the lyrics to "Barbie Girl." It was epic and I'm hoping to capture it on video in the near future.

Since Dioss is always anywhere except his house and Mme. Ly was selling at the market today, I literally had nothing to do. Especially after I made several phone calls to the women's group and Lycee Technique and they had no interest in doing anything today. Therefore I stayed at home and read, stared at the ceiling, talked about how we have no power or water, and counted. Ahmed and his friends LOVE when I count to five and they race from the porch of the bungalow through the house and back again. My integral role is to count and then proclaim a winner when that winner is Ahmed of course. After what seemed like hours of counting to five I created a sweet obstacle course out of 10 liter water jugs and dirty dishes I found in the courtyard. I showed the boys how the obstacle course works and got really excited about it until I was told that it was a bad idea and that really my only role was to count to five. Fail. At least sometimes they let me count to six or ten.

This morning I did run to the post office where I had two letters from Shirley! Shout out to Shirley! Thank you! The best part about these letters? One was postmarked Nov. 22 (that happens to be 8 days ago) and one was postmarked Oct. 1. Nice, at least I got it!

Monday, November 29, 2010


Motivation is becoming a serious issue. As the countdown to AMERICA escalates down and anticipation rises, the patience with Senegal and wanting to do anything that doesn't involve Pizza Hut pizza (yuk, I know it's a really weird obsession) dwindles rapidly. Regardless, I had high hope for today! I got up early to take a run, but before I left I took a bucket of water out of the big cistern and locked in my room because Thies is again a magical place without water or electricity. Feeling good about myself I went to pay my internet bill. Complete. Moving on.

Outside of the internet office I whip out my phone and make all of my calls. Dioss is obviously in a meeting and can't meet today. That man has more meetings than anyone I know yet I don't know what they're about and he has no motivation to repaint his atelier so he can actually get to work. Then I called the women's group that Emily and I have been working worth. They didn't have a meeting today because Tabaski was 10 days ago. Duh. Then in one last ditch effort to actually do something I called Mme. Ly who not only answered her phone, but also wanted to meet.

Mme. Ly as usual is the nicest woman on the planet and had fresh millet beignets when I arrived. Delicious. She is really do a good job with her accounting. I'm impressed. Writes everything down and is great at totally the entire purchase, but she still doesn't itemize. We really worked on that today and I tried to explain why writing down each individual type of bracelet or necklace is important. I think she got everything and she's a very curious person so I think she's going to step up her accounting game. I also got to see how hard she and her daughter Khady have been working for the Expo. They have a TON of stuff, which is not surprising because they usually take over events due to sheer volume of stuff, but it was really cool to see that they stepped up the quality of their beads and incorporated some new designs. Everything looks much, much better to my eye. I'm really excited to see how everything sells at the Expo.

Nothing else much happened today. No one was home for lunch so I took a few bites of a pretty terrible meal and then fled to my room to read. What is so disappointing about this particular meal is that it was one of my favorites in the village. Unfortunately when "rich" families make it (my family) they put so much oil in it that it's impossible for me to eat it. I ate apples in my room while I hunted crickets. I hate crickets. I can deal with cockroaches and ants and anything else, but crickets in Africa are A) giant B) so incredibly loud that I would rather have a mosque relocated to my room and C) harder to kill than cockroaches. I went at one cricket with the September issue of Vogue, which is more akin to a textbook than a magazine, and the thing actually lived. I had to hit it three times! Hopefully my room is now cricket free and I'll be able to sleep tonight.

Also happy belated birthdays to my dad and Aunt Cindy!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Top Chef Senegal

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving everyone! Here's the Thanksgiving update from Senegal...

After finishing up my three day French lesson on Tuesday afternoon myself and one of the new volunteers headed to the garage to grab a car for Dakar. When we arrived at the garage it was empty, which was really weird so I started asking about cars to Dakar. People kept telling me that there weren't any and that there hadn't been any all day which I couldn't believe because the route between Thies to Dakar is always busy and you can usually get a car any time of the day. I was starting to get a little worried that we weren't going to make it to Dakar, which was NOT ok because I really needed some delicious food in my belly, when a taxi driver came up to me and said he was going to Dakar and would take us for practically the same price as a sept-place. I threw my bag into the bag, pushed the new volunteer into the car and we were off! Seven stalls/ breakdowns later and a nice little stop with the police because our driver had a suspended lisence we arrived at our beloved Ganale's for happy hour to get the night started. Bliss. Less than two hours later I had Thai Beef salad for dinner. Bliss times 2. That was Tuesday.

Wednesday morning after a delightful night actually spent in a bed, and not on the floor, at the regional house we all went to the Peace Corps office where I feverishly worked on editing the French copy of the Artisan Expo pamphlet and flyer. Katherine and I got the go ahead that everything was correct and after messing around with formatting because French countries don't use the same size paper as the US we printed everything and hit the road. Actually, we hit the road after having delicious sandwiches at one of our favorite places and doing a mass amount of grocery shopping for the regional party and for Thanksgiving. In case you aren't picking up on the theme of this post it's food not only because it's Thanksgiving, but with my America countdown progressing toward actually stepping on American soil I'm having serious issues with all food Senegalese. Especially rice which I now have to gag down. Moving on...

Tamar, Erin, and Jackie took all of the foodstuffs back to the regional house to start prepping the delicious chili and cornbread (which Katherine and I made from scratch) dinner we had planned for the regional meeting/ welcome party for the new volunteers while Katherine and I went downtown to flyer for the Artisan Expo. I'm hoping that flyering was a great success it definitely was a lo to fun. After successfully giving three businesses flyers we rewarded ourselves with ice cream, but after that it was non-spot. We went to about 20 hotels, restaurants, hair salons, and other hangouts that we knew of and one that we stumbled on by chance. Our greatest find was the European Union's offices which I spotted after walking out of a grocery store. We walked over and I sweet talked (in Wolof) our way into the building. We even got to wear sweet visitor's badges as we walked around. Hopefully the pamphlets and flyers we left there will read a lot of Westerns who might be interested in the Expo.

Once all of the flyers were gone we jumped back in a cab headed for the regional house where we helped finish the chili and made some fairly delicious cornbread. The Dakar region has really started to get into costume parties and Wednesday's night theme was the first Thanksgiving which turned into anything from early American that's hilarious. I was a pilgrim and there were several people with amazing costumes. One of the new volunteers wore all black and then had red stickers all over her body: she was small pox. Points for creativity. The party was a huge success and the giant vat of chili and all of the cornbread was polished off well before the night ended.

Thursday morning, although everyone was moving a little slowly, it was off to the races to start making food for Thanksgiving dinner at the ambassador's house. Since the kitchen at the regional house was jam packed my friends and I went to our boss's house to use her real kitchen that feature counters, knives that actually cut things, an oven that allows one to set temperatures, and air conditioning! Before tackling stuffing and squash casserole for Thanksgiving we made ourselves a lavish breakfast. We spent the next four hours sauteing, chopping, spicing, running to the boutiques and down the road in search of more ingredients, baking, gossiping, and talking about how freaking good our food was. I must say that every time volunteers cook I'm impressed with the product. With the amount of ingredient substitutes, terrible/ lack of cooking equipment, and intense desire to anything and everything that's in front of us it's amazing what delicious food made it to the Ambassador's table.

The Ambassador's house is fantastic/ another world. We tried to pretty ourselves up as best we could, but we still looked like Peace Corps volunteers. Meanwhile the house is decorated, the tables are covered with fine white linens, there's china and real silverware, and most importantly wine that's not produced in Senegal. It was a wonderful evening. An hour and a half of drinks outside was the perfect precursor to a giant meal of turkey, stuffing (ours was obviously the best), macaroni and cheese (which just made me crave my grandma's that much more), green beans, homemade bread, mashed potatoes, delicious salads, and everything else that makes Thanksgiving great. After filling ourselves to the near vomit point we weren't ready for the night to end so we walked across the street to one of Dakar's luxury hotels to sit by the pool, enjoy the night, and sip some post dinner cocktails. It was great and really felt like Thanksgiving even though we were so far from home and I was wearing a silk dress, without a jacket, outside in late November.

Today it was another delicious brunch and then a sept-place ride back to Thies and my reality for the next month. Fortunately I did have two packages from my mom and one from my grandma! Thank you so much. All of the magazines are suppressing my odd and intense desire for Pizza Hut pizza (weird I know) and Ahmed is quite occupied with his new coloring book! Thanks again!

And check out all of new Thanksgiving pictures I posted in the "Softball Season" album.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wolof v. French

Today I started a three day intensive French class at the Peace Corps center in Thies. Holy crap do I need it. My French is appalling, an insult to all native French speakers, and I'm absolutely shocked that people put up with my terrible grammar and still pretend to understand me. I haven't taken a French class since high school and it shows. While the vocab and comprehension (hey, I watch a ton of soap operas dubbed in French) is there, the grammar and fluidity in speaking is without a doubt not.

I initially wanted to take the class because when I did a three day Wolof intensive last January I felt awesome about myself afterwards; that is not going to be the case after this class. I rarely speak French at site because I'm super self-conscious about it. Walking around in Thies most people assume that I'm French, until I open my mouth, because I'm white so they expect me to actually speak French. Because I'm white I should speak perfect French, but Wolof is a whole other story. No one expects the white girl to speak Wolof so when I do I get major props and when I make mistakes no one cares because I'm trying and the white girl can string together a conversation in Wolof. Plus, Wolof is just not that difficult. The sentence structures are simple and circumlocution is recommended. French, on the other hand, is very difficult and has lots of rules. So, over the past 14ish months I've spoken Wolof because it helps with my relationships with Senegalese people and because I feel less self-conscious when I speak Wolof than when I speak French, which is weird. Regardless, the class is awesome. It's taught by my favorite/ the best Peace Corps language instructor and Jackie is in the class with me.

Other than that, I'm counting down the days until Thanksgiving, so I can count down the days until the All-Volunteer conference, so I can count down the days until Artisan Expo, so I can count down the days until AMERICA!!! I also got into a big fight with a gas station cashier when she refused to check us out because she was digesting her lunch. Jackie will confirm that I ranted in Wolof while eating a half eaten ice cream bar as Senegalese men backed me up and kept repeating that all they wanted to do was buy some diapers. I'd say that's par for the course.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Trying to Start Back Up

Things are slowly, slowly, slowly returning to normal after the Tabaski festivities. While government offices like the Post Office (shout out to Shirley for the letter) were open, a lot of family run businesses were still closed as were some schools as most people further recovered from their food coma. My host dad didn't have to work, baby Ahmed didn't have to go to school (although Big Ahmed did), and everyone else hung out around the house complaining that we didn't have power all day. I actually left the house, in an attempt to shake my sickness, and went to see Dioss.

He continues to infuriate me. We are now on week four of him talking about how he's going to redo the floors and paint the walls of his atelier before he starts working again. He has the money and he knows who's going to do it, he's just utterly lacking any type of motivation. He assures me that he will have enough cards for the artisan expo and to sell during the All Volunteer conference that's coming up in Thies even though I just told him about a big order that two PCVs called in to me a few days ago. He's now waxing poetic about how if I'm going to teach him accounting he's going to teach me how to paint. I'm going to paint him a very nice ledger and then threaten him with ideas of never being able to export again because he doesn't have good finances. I guess that's not a threat, it's the truth.

This afternoon I had grand plans to go pay my internet bill, but those were crushed when I realized it was Friday and the office is closed Friday afternoons. To salvage the trip into town I decided to treat myself with ice cream. "Sandra" the name of the cheapest ice cream available is the standby so I was very upset when it wasn't available. There was actually only one option so I grabbed it without even thinking about it. It was freaking delicious. Double Caramel Magnum, in case anyone is wondering is just divine. Two layers of chocolate surround caramel and then vanilla ice cream is inside. I was pretty please with myself. I also like how this paragraph is practically as long as the one I wrote about actually trying to do real work with Dioss.

I'm very happy I had the ice cream because it's actually serving as my dinner as well. We were supposed to have chicken tonight, but after my mom spent the entire afternoon raging around the compound that the chickens (at least 9 that I saw) which were brought to our house were too small we ended up with nothing. Literally nothing. It was fairly amusing especially after the power cut again and there was nothing to eat. Jeenaba came to ask me if I wanted her to make me some eggs (I hate this and never ever request Jeenaba or Deenba do extra work for me), but I told her I was fine, not hungry, and it appears as though everyone is on their own tonight. Very strange and most definitely because Deenba is in the vil until Monday.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tabaski, Sickness, Escape

Tabaski was yesterday, which means there was lots and lots and lots of meat all over and in all stages of butchered to cooked-ness. Preparations started early in the morning when the boys started sharpening their knives on the side of our concrete house and talking about killing the sheep. Shortly there after four grown men held the sheep down as my dad killed them. Last year Tamar and I watched (squeamishly) from the bungalow's porch. This year it was far less exciting and I peeled potatoes while listening to the sheep's death throes. Peeling potatoes is the one and only thing that my family gives me props for. I brought a peeler to country and they are mesmerized at how fast I can peel potatoes with it, but they say it's far too hard for them to use. Regardless, I peeled 5 kilos and potatoes and then sat around the rest of the morning watching the girls cook and the boys butcher up the sheep.

The liver is the first part of the sheep that my family eats. As soon as the sheep is broken down they take the liver and grill it and then everyone gets a piece. I don't think I'd ever had liver before coming to Senegal and I actually think it's quite good. What did disturb me was the fact that I was eating a giant piece of liver with my hands while sitting directly next to the sheep's decapitated head. The ickiness of this really didn't register with me until I got a completely unrelated text from Tamar that jolted me back to "reality." After cooking for hours and hours we all sat down to a meal of mutton, lettuce, onion sauce, and fries. Since we had a million people at our house there wasn't enough room for me to sit at the big bowl with everyone so I had to eat at the table with my dad, this was a very good thing because I haven't been feeling great and he doesn't care how much (or how little) I eat.

After lunch everyone breaks for the afternoon and sleeps off their food coma. Starting in the early evening everyone starts to shower and get dressed in our nice, new clothes to go out. Last year Petit took Tamar and I out with him to see his friends. Fortunately, my family now accepts that I don't really enjoy going out with the older children to see their friends so I went out with Khady, Ahmed, Jeenaba, and Abdou to our other family members' homes. This is much preferable because then I don't have to go through the toubab speaks Wolof conversation every single time we go to a new house. It's also much better because we go out a lot earlier with the little kids and Ahmed doesn't like going out so he wants to go home just as badly as I do.

By the time we greet all of our family members in another quartier and finally find a cab to take us home I think I'm about to die. I'm so nauseated that I can't sit or lay down and when my mom asks me if I want more meat for dinner I give her such a terrible look that she doesn't even try and push more food on me. I spend the rest of the night leaning on my desk trying not to die and to throw up at the same time. I'll save you all of the nasty details that I went into on the phone with Katherine and Jackie today because it wasn't pretty.

Today is also a holiday and since most people were out super late last night everyone slept in this morning which was a blessing because I'm still not feeling great, although I'm much better. The meat fest continued so I barricaded myself in my room and yelled through the window that I didn't need lunch and that I was making myself American sick food aka pasta and tomato sauce. My family found this totally unacceptable, but I gave them the chicken dance "I refuse" gesture through the window and told them to enjoy the meat.

One of the main reasons that I didn't want to eat more greasy mutton and upset my stomach even more was that a family outing was planned for this afternoon. Khady, Ahmed, Mami, Awa, Kotu, and I all went out to visit Deenba in her village. I was very, very excited and was therefore severely disappointed by our expedition. All of us rented a taxi late this afternoon and crammed ourselves in for a very bumpy ride out to Deenba's village. The village has probably close to 1000 people and running water, but no electricity.

Deenba was so excited to see us and I could tell it really meant a lot to her that we all came, so it was disappointing when things started to go downhill fast. I had brought 3 bottle of Sprite as a present for Deenba's family and as soon as everyone had had a drink the complaining began. Khady had wanted the taxi driver to wait for us, but he didn't want to and left which meant that Khady immediately sent Deenba out to look for someone to take us back to Thies... approximately 15 minutes after we got there. So, my family was left alone for the vast majority of the time that we were in Deenba's village. We just sat in her room. That's why there's so many pictures of my family. I was trying to keep Ahmed occupied.

The situation went from bad to worse as it started to get dark. Khady became more irritated that we wouldn't be able to get home, but at least she still interacted with people and was friendly. Mami was openly hostile and could not hide her discomfort and displeasure about being in a village. Ahmed also started to lose it a little bit because we couldn't buy any cookies. After using my phone to call half of Senegal Deenba says that a taxi is coming to get us. Two hours later this taxi arrives. We all jump in and then the sh*t really hits the fan. He and Khady get in a huge fight about trying to cram another three people in the car. The fight also had something to do with village v. Thies animosities, but I couldn't catch everything because they were screaming at each other. This results in him driving wildly around the village and then kicking us out of the car. Khady and Mami are fuming and all of the commotion has drawn all of the kids out into the center of the village where they in essence create a mini-mob and start trying to harass me. It was actually a little scary so I was happy when Mami went absolutely ballistic and started screaming at them.

Eventually a very, very nice man who I think had a car in Deenba's village took us home. This was only after we sat in another stranger's house for about an hour and everyone had at least one more meltdown. Even though the trip was the idyllic trip to the vil that I had fantasized about all day it was still nice to see Deenba's village. I hope she's still happy we came after everything that happened!

Some new pictures are up so check them out!

Since our cab had left us

Monday, November 15, 2010

Threat Level: High

One of my biggest goals for my Peace Corps service is not getting a weave. They hurt, look ridiculous on toubabs, and I've already lost enough hair do to the one-two punch of malaria drugs and poor nutrition. I've tried every possible excuse: I'm scared it will hurt too much, my scalp is so white that it will scare the children in the street if I get braids, and the plain old "hellz no." I'm more than willing to do everything else that my sisters want for holidays. I let them pick out the fabric for my outfits and dress me, make me up in ridiculous make-up, and even drag me around to visit their friends as they ignore me. What I am not willing to do is have my hair braided and/or get a weave. Most Senegalese women lament about their lack of hair and how their hair falls out: it's because they braid it so tight all the time. I refuse.

I refuse is an interesting concept here in Senegal. There's an actual physical/ visual signal for telling someone you refuse. In the United States we would call this movement the Chicken Dance. I'm not kidding. To signal that you refuse, you literally give one arm pump of the Chicken Dance. If you're Ahmed then you actually do several pumps and make a pouty face. I walked around the house today attempting to avoid all females who were all armed with weaves and needles and if I did run into them I quickly gave them the "I refuse signal," and high tailed it the opposite direction. I'm hoping that tomorrow (the day before Tabaski) will be so busy and full with preparations that my lack of braids/ weave will go unnoticed or at least no one will have enough energy to trap me and physically force me to undergo the procedure: this is a serious concern of mine right now.

Attempting to avoid all things related to hair today was difficult because there's absolutely nothing else to do. Some shops are already closed down for the holiday and when I call people to see if they want to do a little work I get laughed at so I'm resigned to being bored for the rest of the week and attempting to get everything for Artisan Expo done while I hide out in my room.

I was not peed on today or yesterday for that matter!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Good Luck My A@&

I've been peed on twice in the past 36 hours. No joke.

Somehow I forgot to mention that Abdou peed all over me yesterday. It was no big deal, but my family thought it was just about the best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world. Well, that is until I came home today.

This morning Jackie and I left bright and early for Dakar to play in a double header softball game. We received urgent phone calls yesterday telling us that not enough girls were going to show up which would force our team to forefit. Since we are magnanimous human beings and because we had nothing better to do we headed to Dakar. When Jackie and I go to Dakar together I always buy her a seat in the sept-place in Thies and then pick her up on the side of the road and every time it's the same story. Other passengers in the car are terrified of two things:

1. That I am somehow gaming the system and am only paying for one seat, but actually getting two. The color of my skin makes this not only absolutely absurd, but also impossible.
2. That Jackie is a terrible person and is not going to pay me the $2.50 fare back.

We arrive in Dakar no problem and hang out at the American Club eating delicious salads and sandwiches as other PCVs trickle in. Our double header today was against two good teams and we won both games! An amazing corollary between beers consumed and Peace Corps run scores was discovered (it was the exact opposite of what most people have deluded themselves into thinking). Jackie and I were all stars as usual. I made an out in quite the spectacular fashion. Let's just say that it's possible to catch the ball using one's left breast and gloveless right hand. It's far more efficient than the regular gloved version. I also got demolished by a Senegalese girl who slid into second base and took my feet out from under me.

The day is just getting started...

Jackie and I did not succumb to peer pressure and headed off to the garage once the games finished to head back to site. There we waited for what seemed like an eternity of switching cars, loading baggage into the back of the car, a sheep on top, and suffering through two of my absolute favorite questions:

1. How much money are you going to make when you go back to the States and teach Wolof?
2. Why don't you stay in Senegal the climate is so much more temperate here than in the United States?

Huh? On both counts.

We are finally on our way and the traffic isn't too bad and I'm totally lost in my thoughts when something splashes across the side of my face, and then the side of my neck, and then through my ponytail, and then on to my arm. Yeah, it was sheep pee. It took me a second to realize what was happening and then I jumped in Jackie's lap while I laughed/cried/hated myself. Jackie being the amazing friend that she is burst out laughing at me and couldn't stop. It was hilarious. I'm sitting in a car and sheep pee is streaming through the open car window onto me and a couple other passengers. My seat is soaked in sheep piss and it does not smell nice. The Senegalese passengers try and tell me that it's good luck while Jackie continues to laugh at me. Well, guess what Jackie... Karma's a bitch. After I was doused in sheep pee I sat half of the edge of my seat (because most of it was covered in pee) and partially on Jackie's lap so when the sheep peed for the second time it soaked my back and Jackie's entire right side. I was happy to have good company in my smelly, pee soaked, private hell.

Jackie jumped out of the car in Pout as I continued on to Thies where my sept-place rear ended another car and then just drove away. Par for the course. When I walked into my compound all of the women were sitting outside cooking. I told them what happened and my mom totally lost it. They immediately remembered that I had also been peed on yesterday and it was really too much for them. When I grabbed two ten litter drums of water for my shower this completely sent my mom over the edge and she had to sit down and catch her breath.

I'm all clean now and hoping that I can at least make it through the rest of the weekend without anything else peeing on me!

And Happy Birthday Shirley!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Victory and Gossip

There's this one block that I pass almost every time I leave my house where some incredibly rude and obnoxious little boys hang out. Today they went too far and now hopefully they know not to mess with me. I was prepared to put up with the usual name calling, asking for money, and then statements about how I'm a horrible person, but stone throwing was not on the list of things I was willing to let slide today. I thought that I had rounded the corner to safety/ out of ear shot of all the obnoxiousness and then a rock went whizzing over my head. It was not a little pebble it was a real rock and it just barely missed me. The boy who threw the rock was not a little boy he was probably 10 or 12 and therefore should know better. He was not getting away with this. I whipped around and started asking all of the boys where their mom's were. They all laughed thinking it was an empty threat. That was their second mistake: underestimating me.

I might be a toubab and not always know what's going on, but I'm not stupid and I pass this gang of boys all the time so when the culprit tried to lead me in the wrong direction I gave him a dirty look and walked right up to the house he's usually sitting outside. I walked right in, followed by a bunch of younger boys, and introduced myself. I explained that I walk this route all the time, am a Peace Corps volunteer, and live in Som with a Senegalese family. Then I told them one of the boys threw a rock at me. The women were furious and all of the little boys cracked and tattled on the older boy. A man about my age was the one who took action. I hate when people hit their kids. I cringe every time and have to look away, but I felt so vindicated when this man went after his little brat of a brother/ cousin. Hopefully I wont have any more problems.

We have been losing power in the middle of the day recently so when I arrived home in a blaze of glory, high off my tattling I sat with Deenba as she did laundry. I learned a ton about Deenba. Her village is called Keur Ibrahima Fall. It doesn't have electricity, but it does have running water. She's the oldest of 6. She has three sisters and two brothers. She's also going home for Tabaski. All of this was interesting information, but what it really did was provide a seamless transition to ask questions when Fatou walked in aka my host dad's potentially illegitimate child.

I saw Fatou walk in and asked Deenba who she was. I asked if it was my host dad's child. She looked at my like I was a crazy person because she didn't know Fatou either. Fortunately, she was just as interested as I was especially after I told her who I thought Fatou was. She went into the kitchen to ask Khady. The story isn't nearly as scandalous as I would have liked, but it makes way more sense since I imagine my host mom going ballistic on my dad having an affair/ child even though it's fairly common here. Fatou is the daughter of one of my dad's really good friends. And my host dad is her benefactor. He pays for her to go to school so now that she has a few of her grades in she comes over to our house to show my mom her progress. I think she also comes over now so I can help her with her English homework, which I did for most of the afternoon.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Garlic Bread and Vegetables

Last night Emily, Clare, and I went out to dinner with Kether to say goodbye because her time in Senegal is over and she's headed back to the States at the end of the week. Sad. When I came home the power was out and my mom, Jeenaba, and Awa were sitting outside with sleeping Abdou and Ahmed. I have a very difficult time spending time with my family when they're all sitting in silence watching terrible Wolof comedy shows, but I really enjoy sitting in the dark and gossiping. They were ready to dish last night. The topic of conversation was a very interesting one: past volunteers.

My family has been hosting PCVs for well over a decade and they remember every single one of them. I wonder how I will be remembered. Probably as the weird girl who read a lot and colored with Ahmed all the time. I also always have candy. Hopefully that's a good reputation to leave behind. They remembered Abdou (a past volunteer) as the best Wolof speaker (they assured me that I'm in second). Charles was a Vietnam vet who had recently lost his wife and enjoyed sitting on the porch of the bungalow drinking a nice (probably warm) beer. The volunteer right before me is remembered for making babagenoush, which my family universally hates, and going to Dakar all the time. One PCV liked to dress like people from Mauritania. My favorite was a PCV who also liked to cook for himself. He made garlic bread and pasta with just vegetables (I would cut off my right arm for either of these things right now). My mom was absolutely appalled both that this past volunteer made such disgusting meals, but also that I've made similar things. We're obviously both crazy. She went off on a long tangent enumerating the ways in which vegetables are good. Pounded to a paste, fried, and boiled in oil all past the test. Lettuce and tomatoes are apparently OK if drenched in mustard and vinegar. Good to know. Another interesting point was how much more they preferred the female PCVs and then didn't tell any stories about them. It really was fascinating listening to my family talk about all of their volunteers. At least I know that I will have made some impression by the time I leave.

This morning it was back to work. I called Dioss' mom, Madame Ly, who I've been meaning to call and just haven't gotten around to it because I wanted to breach a difficult subject. She sells all of her jewelry and trinkets outside a hotel across town so I trekked over there to meet her. I really wanted to talk about condensing the products she brings to the expo. Last year her "booth" extended into a common area and enveloped a couple of other artisans because she had so much stuff. While she makes all of her jewelry, she also sells some wood carvings and baskets which she purchases from other artisans. We are going to have wood carvers and basket weavers at the expo and it was goal to show her that it's better to just bring what she's really proud of (her jewelry) and leave the other things at home. She totally got it and it wasn't at all awkward which was great. This was a major topic to check off my list and I'm starting to get really excited for the expo. It's going to be awesome!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Khady and Mami Show

Deenba is a saint, a generally hilarious person, and a workhorse. Without here our house would be in complete and utter shambles like it was today. Per usual I was the first person up and out of the house this morning. I was also extremely happy because the water was back and I got to wash my face! Deenba is usually up and sweeping the compound by the time I get back from my run so it was a little unusual that she wasn't when I returned. Sometimes coming back from the village takes a while and I assumed that was the problem. I showered and got ready for my day and left the compound for the morning a little before 10am. I had not seen a single solitary person up and moving around and the doors to the big house were still locked.

Deenba works her ass off each and every day and while I've noticed in the past, it became glaringly obvious today. She drags herself out of bed early each day so she can get her chores done in peace to a certain extent and so she can be free at night to hang out with her boyfriend. She literally holds this house together and makes sure everything gets done. And she does a lot, especially now that Jeenaba has Abdou to worry about. When I returned home three hours later after going to my office, the post office, and meandering around town absolutely nothing was done. Khady and Mami were sitting in the living room watching TV, the courtyard was a mess and lunch wasn't even started. It was 1pm and it takes hours to make lunch. That's probably why we ate at 4pm today.

Khady and Mami trying to run the house is like asking my dad and brother to run the house. It just doesn't work. I should say Khady trying to run the house doesn't work because Mami wasn't even pretending to try and help she asked me for my nail polish so she could re-coat her nails. My mom was not happy. That also could have been because this teenage girl showed up who introduced herself as my dad's daughter. Apparently my host dad has another family? I have no idea because Deenba's not here so I have no one to ask. Deenba come back! I'm still very confused about this other child/ maybe complete other family so I'll have to work on that one...

After a highly unproductive morning at my office teaching my boss how to use Skype and sitting around to make people happy as they worked on a presentation about child abuse, I spent a highly unproductive afternoon talking about clothes for Tabaski, the upcoming holiday. The women's group that I've started to work with with Emily is not in a convenient location. It is really far away and by absolutely nothing. It's practically out of Thies on the road that leads to Katherine's site. I went out for our usual Monday meeting only to find myself locked out of the meeting area because I was the first person to arrive. 20 minutes later the first woman arrives who happens to be the kick ass Treasurer who I really like. It takes over an hour for half of the group to arrive. The president never shows up and all we do is talk about Tabaski outfits for two hours before the "meeting" ends and everyone leaves. At least it does seem as though the women are going to save some money to use for after Tabaski. Fingers crossed.

The only good thing about Khady and Mami running the show is that we've been eating really well. They would never debase themselves by not making the most delicious meals so we had a non-rice meal for lunch (heaven, I can't even look at rice right now) and chicken for dinner!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Weekend Boredom

The weekends are always pretty slow around my house and this weekend was no exception. I've been suffering from a serious case of boredom that no amount of reading, coloring with Ahmed, and hanging out with my family can cure. I need a dose of America. While sitting and staring have been my two main activities over the past two days (other than furiously writing a grant), a couple of hilarious things did happen.

1. I just busted out some new markers for Ahmed and I to color with. I usually stick with the colored pencils and crayons because he likes to draw on things other than paper, including himself. I guess that's what five year olds do. We had been coloring in my room so I could write the grant I'm working on while he was playing and I usually store the markers in my room so they don't magically disappear, but he begged and begged me to let him keep them. I relented to get him out of my room. Later last night I catch a glimpse of him as he's running down the hall and he has marker all over his back. As I was wondering how he did that to himself he runs past me again and I get a good look at the "tatoo." In giant letters across little Ahmed's back is the name KHADY. I burst out laughing. Khady wrote her own name in giant letters across her son's back. Classic.

2. The second humorous moment also includes Khady, obviously, and happened this morning. Deenba left yesterday for a baptism in her village so she wasn't around today which meant, heaven forbid, that Khady and Mami had to do things. The horror. Their general dislike of work and how much they bitch about it is a big part of my I love them so much and find them so hilarious. Anyway, we have had a Western style refrigerator in our kitchen collecting dust since I arrived over a year ago. Today it got fixed so that we can put a ton of goat meat in it after Tabaski. My mom asks Khady to clean out the disgusting refrigerator and Khady is not happy. Khady then says "Mom. I'm absolutely exhausted. I have to do all of the work when Deenba's not here." My mom gives Khady her dirtiest look and walks away to sit with Mami who is watching cartoons in the living room.

Although nothing is really going on around here, the big news is about utilities. The past three weeks have been with out a doubt the three best weeks for utilities since I've been in Senegal. We've barely had any power cuts and the water sometimes even works during the day. Luxury. I knew that it was too good to be true and it was because we ran completely out of water today and it sucks. The power is cutting out all afternoon now too, which is fine, but it's the water that makes things miserable. I hate the feeling of bathing in water that Deenba has had to carry from across the quartier. I'm obviously not allowed to carry water because I could/ would spill. Unfortunately this is probably true. Fingers crossed the water comes back tonight!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Little Help From My Friends

This has been a no good, very bad week. Almost everything has gone wrong that could go wrong and I haven't been in the most pleasant mood. Although I always put on a good face for my family and play with Ahmed and sit around, I've still lived with these people for 14 months and my host mom always knows what's up. I wouldn't be surprised at all if she can read minds. Yesterday and today we had lunches that didn't include rice. Hallelujah. The bad mood/ rice combination is never a good thing and I don't know if I would have been able to choke it down this week. Major points for mom. Plus, tonight we had chicken with Moroccan couscous and tomatoes, which is without a doubt the most expensive meals we ever eat and probably the tastiest as well. Dinner definitely helped my mental state after the day I had.

Dioss and I haven't been able to connect all week because he's been in Dakar or I've had to go into my office so I was happy when we has at home this morning. That is until I started walking to his house and had one of the most blood boiling non-interactions ever. It is culturally appropriate here in Senegal to hiss at people to get their attention. This is something that I will never get used to and absolutely refuse to abide by. I can handle a lot, but I cannot handle being hissed at. So when when a man hissed at me I ignored him. He hissed louder. I become more resolute in my attempt at a poker face and to ignore him. He calls me a terrible, terrible name for a white person (this is a fully grown man). I continue to ignore him because he's obviously not worth my time. At the opposite side of the spectrum are children who no matter how offensive they're being I try to stop and greet and tell them my name in an attempt to show them that all toubabs aren't so bad. The hissing continues and I keep on keeping on ignoring him. Then he calls me a racist for not talking to him. This is after he has already called me a racial slur. I was so proud of myself for not turning around and losing it. I just kept walking and repeating the number 47 in my head.

I always enjoy my time at Dioss' even when he gives me really lame excuses about why he hasn't written anything down in his accounting notebook or started creating an inventory for Artisan Expo like he did today. The boy/ man posse was all there so we all chatted and it does seem like they're going to start working soon. Next week they are planning on repainting the atelier and then Dioss will buy materials and get to work. One thing he's very excited about right now is the idea of making smaller canvasses because they will be easier to transport. It's not too bad of an idea. We also talked about getting the ateliers back up and going at the school we worked at last year. I hoping we can get in at least one atelier by Christmas. Another interesting Dioss fact is that he started some computer and marketing classes at the local college. He's paying for them with the money that he received when he exported the cards to the US. I felt like a proud mama looking over his HTML homework.

The rest of the day I spent sulking around the house, reading, and fake fighting with Ahmed. It's hot and nothing ever happens on Friday afternoons and I received a terrible call about a Junior Achievement debacle that will probably cost me the awesome, female English teacher I was hoping to work with. I will never ever understand Senegalese politics or the fact that when I state repeatedly that there's no money involved that people still think I have money hidden and taped all over my body.

My mood instantly changed when I got emails from home about New Years. My friends (who are freaking amazing) are starting to plan and I couldn't be more excited about seeing everyone. Just reading the emails and feeling somewhat in the loop totally changed my mood and made my day, probably my week. I hope the excitement and general feel-goodness last for a good long while.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Baby Poop

This entire week has been a struggle. If one more person asks me how much I like ceebu jenn, where my husband is (or any derivation of husband/ children/ I'm sure to be an old maid question), or why I have red spots on my skin, I might actually lose it. My family, as usual, provided comic relief.

After lunch, which was eggs (yay! I really don't think I could have swallowed ceebu jenn today), my family and I were hanging out in the living room watching re-runs of our favorite Brazilian and Indian soap operas. Jeenaba and her baby-daddy/ boyfriend inexplicably, because he's going to Mecca soon, don't have enough money for phone credit so Jeenaba was calling Thomsir on my phone. He then sent me every Peace Corps Volunteer's most dreaded text message. Here in Senegal if you don't have any credit on your phone you can send a free text that asks the receiver to give you a call on his/ her own dime. When I showed everyone this text they just burst out laughing at how ridiculous it was and my mom gave Thomsir a mock talking to for making me call him back.

Everyone calmed down and we were all in a heat/ bad soap opera induced coma when I received another text. The text made absolutely no sense. It was in French and included the word for fish, that's all I know. My mom demanded to see it as soon as I looked confused. She obviously couldn't read a text because the type is so small. Then Awa grabbed it as she claimed never of us knew what was going on. She then started laughing because the text legitimately no sense. Finally Jeenaba came in professing that she would decipher the text and that I didn't understand the French. Well, karma's a bitch. As she's saying this and looking at my phone a naked baby Abdou poops all over her! Too Funny.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Baby Abdou

Although Ziabata fixed my internet tonight, he was so so so nice to talk on the phone with customer service for over an hour, we didn't get to look at the Green Card Lottery site until today because we didn't have a picture of Ziabata. We took his picture this morning and for some reason my entire family went picture crazy. Ahmed grabbed it and started snapping away, mainly of his hand, but pictures no less. Jeenaba also approached me and asked me to take a picture of baby Abdou! I was really excited to take his picture because I didn't have any yet. I didn't want to invade Jeenaba's or Abdou's privacy so I hadn't asked. There are a couple more pictures in the "Softball Season" album if you want to look through.

Figuring out the Green Card form was fairly easy and I actually learned a lot about Ziabata and his wife Awa. Ziabata is 33, which is three years younger than what he told me and Awa is 30! I really thought that Awa was a lot younger. It definitely means that Jeenaba is lying about her age because they grew up together. Ziabata applied for the 2012 Green Card Lotto so he can't even begin to see if he won until next June. I'm sure it will be a huge topic of discussion.

After Green Card Lotto time, I went out to run a bunch of errands. I needed to go to the bank which took forever because everyone got paid yesterday so there were long, long lines at the ATM. I also went to a paper supply store to price out the promotional materials for the Artisan Expo and went to the toubab grocery store to get myself some cheese which I ate with Ritz Crackers and an apple for lunch. So much better than ceeb and I felt triumphant and proud of myself for standing up to my mom and telling her that I was not going to eat lunch today because I was full. She didn't need to know that I gorged myself on cheese in my room! I also made a very special trip to the photo shop for Jeenaba to print the new pictures of Abdou. She was SO excited when I brought them home and was obviously proud as she showed them to everyone.

Other than that I had a terribly embarrassing phone conversation, in Wolof, in front of my host mom. Mme Ly's daughter/ Dioss' sister called and was asking me about someone named Khady which was extremely confusing because her name is Khady. I was obviously confused and my mom kept demanding the phone and saying that she would translate for me. Translate into what language? Anyway, after wasting a ton of Mme. Ly's phone credit, which I felt badly about, I finally realized she wanted Kether's phone number. Kether's Senegalese name is Khady. Once I explained the misunderstanding to my mom and Jeenaba they advised me to write it down since I'm always writing everything down. Priceless.

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints Day

Play-Doh mania has swept the Gaye household here in Thies Senegal. I'm pretty sure I caught every member of my family playing with it today. It's really interesting to see what people make. All of the girls were making food items and Ahmed was making snakes. I showed off my awesome bowl making skills and impressed everyone. Since today is All Saints Day, we all had a lot of time for Play-Doh. I can also tell you all about All Saints Day in Wolof.

I didn't make it out of the house this morning because there was no point since nothing was open. My office, schools, the post office, and even my host dad had the day off. I tried to work on some stuff for artisan expo and hung out around the house. Ahmed quickly discovered that I wasn't out for the morning so my attempt at peace and quiet didn't go so well.

After lunch I headed out to see the women's group Emily and I are working with. Mondays are group meetings days where all the women meet to collect dues and talk about group business, which means it's Alyssa day since Emily is all about the gardening. I was really impressed to see the savings plan put into practice. The women talked and argued for a long time, but finally decided that my idea to save 20% of their current savings to use after the upcoming holiday was a good idea. This is a major accomplishment. Tabaski is a huge holiday and people really go all out with new clothes, good food, and general upgrades around the house so to hear that the women were all committed to save a little bit of money from what could be a holiday slush fund was great. I did have to hear about, in detail, ever woman's outfit before they came to the conclusion, but it was totally worth it.

The only problem with these meetings is my role. Today marked my third meeting with these women and I still don't really have any clue what it is they want to do with their money. Unfortunately, I think this is what they want me to figure out for them. The president always asks for my ideas to start the discussion while I want to listen first and then offer guidance. I don't know if the women really just want to use the group as a savings institution so they can save money and keep it out of their households or if they do want to start some income generating activity. It seems like they want to start a business, but they definitely don't know what that business is. I do enjoy meeting with them and listening to all the gossip so hopefully I can make some impact and we can continue to do good work. A couple of the women seem very motivated and the treasurer is incredibly smart and on top of things so they are off to a good start.

The crisis of the day involved the internet, which wasn't working. I know, I know I'm in Africa and a Peace Corps Volunteer so I'm lucky to have it at all, but once you do it's so hard to go without. Fortunately, Ziabata wanted to use my computer so I told him that if he fixed it he could use. Ziabata talking to customer service is far more successful that me talking to customer service on the phone. A mere hour and a half later the internet was back and I delivered on my promise to help him look at the US Green Card Lotto. I'm pretty sure that I got the better end of the deal since the Lotto has impossible odds and I'm currently using the internet.

This evening Khady, Ahmed, and I went to the tailor to get measured for our Tabaski outfits. Mine is a nice, dark purple color. According to Khady I only look nice in pink and purple so that's what she bought me. I'm getting a dress this time in the hopes that I will actually be able to sit down in the outfit. Although I wasn't allowed to have any say in the design or color of embroidery, Khady assures me it will be beautiful.