Monday, December 20, 2010

Left Handed Shake

Never ever, ever use your left hand to greet someone, hand someone something, or eat with. The left hand is dirty as it's used as a toilet instrument and is associated with bad spirits and bad karma. That is, never use your left hand unless you're going on a trip. Today was the day I picked to say all of my goodbyes. All of my close friends and work partners know that I'm going home for the holidays. I was a little unsure of telling people about my trip to the infamous and often dreamed about America, but am so happy that I did tell people. Instead of requesting extravagant gifts and talking about how much better life is in the US or how much better life is here in Senegal, all of my friends and my Senegalese family seems genuinely happy and excited for me... and that's already making it easier to think about coming back. Everyone is counting the minutes with me and is excited for me to see my family, friends, and boyfriend. It's making me even more excited (if that's physically possible and if I could use the word excited more times).

First Stop: Post Office
I love getting packages, but half the fun of getting the package is my friends at the post office. They are very interesting people and bored at their jobs so incredibly patient with me and we have really good discussions about culture and Senegalese society that I would be nervous to breach with other people. Last week I had told them that I would swing by Monday morning to say goodbye. When I walked in they had a furno (very hard to explain, but a metal, Y-shaped, three-dimensional structure that holds a fire), putting aside the fact that they had a lit fire inside a government building, they were roasting peanuts so I could take them to my family in America. Add a pound of peanuts to the luggage total... we're going to keep adding.

Second Stop: Madame Ly
I had only seen Madame Ly once and rather briefly since the Expo so I knew that I was in for a long visit. She launched right in on stroking my ego about how great the Expo was. She's already been back to Dakar to buy more beads and string for her jewelry because she almost sold out. I can't tell you how ridiculous that statement is, ask Katherine. Madame Ly's inventory is insane and she brings it everywhere with her. In Dakar she bought really nice beads and has already started some new designs, which to my eye, look much, much better and higher quality. Woops... add another five necklaces to my baggage. Then add another one that's a gift for my mom. Speaking of gifts for my mom I have a TON of those because everyone is telling me I get my kindness from my mom so they want to give her gifts. They tell me I get my intelligence from my dad, but they don't want to give my dad any gifts! Don't feel too badly dad, no one wanted to give me gifts either... only mom.

Once Samba, Mme Ly's husband/ Dioss' dad, hears my voice aka broken Wolof he emerges from the house and has to tell me how amazing the Expo is and what a cash influx means to his family. It was really humbling. Then he went on a tangent about how we should think about building a Senegalese cultural center for artists. He also wanted to give my mom a present so I have a fairly large canvas that I need to roll up and put in my suitcase. Add that on.

Then Madame Ly gave me another reason to be happy about coming back to Senegal. She said that the leather worker from Mboro called her earlier in the day to have her thank me for the Expo. She said that he couldn't believe how much he sold, the people he met, contacts made, and ideas he got from the Expo. He's angry at himself that he didn't listen to his PCV and bring more things... even though he sold 1,000 USD in goods. He also extended any and all help to Mme. Ly in regards to her role as president of the artisan association. Madame Ly said he refused to call her anything other than Madame President! It's really exciting (there's that word again) that the artisans are interested in the association and showing so much initiative on their own!

Finally, after several attempts to leave Madame Ly's house I convinced them that I absolutely had to go because I still needed to visit Dioss. At this point they told me that they wanted to perform a gri-gri for me. Usually a gri-gri is a prayer, written in Arabic, sewn in a leather pouch, and worn as a piece of jewelry to protect against evil spirits and to help travelers. Apparently, a gri-gri can also be a simple prayer accompanied with writing on the ground. After shaking Samba's and Madame Ly's left hands, you shake with your left hand because it's an improper farewell which means that you must return to do the whole thing over again properly, I stepped with my right foot over this prayer and out the door. Now I'm blessed and will have safe travels. Here's to hoping!

Third Stop: Dioss and the Boy Posse
Dioss is also thrilled about the Expo. I hung out with him all morning at the mayor's office because a French NGO who sent some students here (for only twenty days) were showing a video of what they did and Dioss was a star interviewee. While the ceremony was unbelievably boring apart from the video, I did get to talk to Dioss a lot about the Expo and how we're going to really step everything up to the next level once I get back. While I thought that the mayor's office was going to be our goodbye, but he asked if I would come by his house this afternoon to pick up some presents.

OMG more presents, save me! When I arrive Dioss is having a member of the boy posse clean his tennis shoes while he's wearing them. Patron. He also has already made me up a nice little packet of what I think are cards, but I'm unsure, and they are a thank you to my Aunt's class for all of the art supplies. So nice. And without telling me, which is very unlike Dioss, he has already set up more ateliers in January with the art supplies. He wants to do classes for the local neighborhood kids at his house! I think it's going to be pretty cool! I thought the package was it and thought it was a very, very nice gesture, but there was more to come.

Gifts are a very big deal in Senegal and not accepting a gift or even demurring a little bit, which would be acceptable and almost required in the US, is rude here. Dioss told me to chose two, read it TWO, glass paintings for my mom. What!?!?!? Not only is this a huge gift, but he wants me to lug a glass painting across the Atlantic. Fortunately, I convinced him that my bags weigh more than I do, which is undoubtedly true, and he relented and allowed me to pick one painting... still on glass. It's incredibly humbling and meaningful to have all of my friends give me gifts for my family. They obviously like me and want to greet my family for them. It's a good feeling. That being said... I now have a glass painting, a 5 lbs pack of what I think are cards, a handful of necklaces, a rolled up canvas painting, and a pound of peanuts. I'm so screwed.

Now that I'm feeling great about myself, I have to do the hardest goodbye which will be my family. Ahmed really truly believes that he's going to America and he really wants to use his snow boots aka his Teva sandals. I'll just bring him a really good present back from the States!!!

Ps. If you're asking yourself: "But, Alyssa why do you have to bring everything home right now?" there's a two part answer:

1. my mom created a very detailed and involved gift list for me
and more importantly,
2. everyone who just gave me a gift has requested a picture of their gift with my family. How can I refuse?

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Endlessly going over all of the gifts that I'm bringing home for the holidays has been a major time waster as I count down the days to America. The Artisan Expo was a huge gift purchasing event, I did some shopping yesterday in Thies, I plan to do a little bit more in Dakar next week, and today Katherine and I went to Diourbel (a large city, although smaller than Thies) 70ish kilometers due west of Thies. The goal was to pick up traditional Senegalese wooden chairs that Katherine, Tamar (who lets all remember is currently basking in the glories of the US of A), and I had special ordered. We wanted "Corps de la Paix 2009 - 2011" carved on the bottoms of the chairs.

The orders went in before the Artisan Expo, but obviously weren't completed in time so I left Thies this morning and Katherine left Bambey and we met in Thies. Two fabulous things happened on my way to Diourbel. 1) the woman sitting next to me in the sept-place popped open a lap-top and watched episodes of "24" for the entire ride and 2) when I arrived in Diourbel I saw a fleet of old buses. These buses were tour buses for the Loire Valley in France. After now having been to both the Loire Valley and Diourbel I can safely say that one is more beautiful than the other. I met Katherine at the bank and then we headed to a restaurant which served us cold sandwiches even though we saw them preparing the food. Mysteries of Senegal. After we finished lunch we called Mamadou, the wood carver, and asked if we could come over. Katherine has been harassing him all week asking about the chairs' statuses and he told her yesterday that they were done. So, when we called him and he told us to come over we did.

What we found at the Mamadou's shop was not completed chairs, but Senegalese man-boys of various ages furiously sanding (with sandpaper in their hands, not electric sanders) all sic of the chairs we had ordered. There was no carving on the chairs either. Mamadou looks horrified that we arrived although we arrived at the time he told us to get there and we had called him to give him that much more warning. We settled into a nice little wait in a quasi-garbage dump that absolutely reeked of urine/ we saw a lot of men peeing. Just the kind of way I like to spend my Saturday afternoons!

After several hours of furiously sanding, carving, and staining and we were ready to go. That is after we bought more things and a gaggle of boys helped us carrying everything out to get a taxi. Katherine had to take her two bags back to Bambey, but I had to take my chairs and Tamar's chairs back to Thies. To say that me attempting to carry four chairs in a rice sack that are both half my height and half my weight was an understatement and a lot of people at the Diourbel garage told me just how ridiculous I looked. Katherine and I also remembered at the very last second that we wont see each other until January so we had a quick goodbye before we both put our "garage game faces" on to haggle about baggage prices; I was especially proud of how little I paid. The ride back was pretty easy as well and I made it back to my house completely exhausted.

Back at my house is where I realized that I'm completely screwed. The measurements that Mamadou gave us were not what the chairs actually ended up being so they don't fit in my suitcase and I'll have to wrap them in a rice sack and check them as a second piece of luggage. This is fortunate because my bag is already really full of gifts here in Thies and I have a lot more stowed away in Dakar at the regional house. I don't know how I'm going to carry everything. This is my plea: If you see a twenty-something, very attractive girl walking around Dulles airport loaded down with stuff and wearing highly inappropriate clothes for the weather - it's me! Help me carry all of my stuff!

There's some pictures in the "Softball Season" album if you'd like to check out today's shananigans.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I'm Scary

Tomkarit, the Muslim new year, was two days ago and yesterday was New Years day. This means that no one has been going to work and everyone has been eating couscous and chicken. I can't complain. While the incessant drumming did become a little annoying, I have enjoyed the new level of terror that I provoke in small children. On Tomkarit, as I described, kids dress up in drag and wear white face. Bad spirits and all those sorts of things are white. I am white. Hilarity ensues. Even kids on my block who know me, greet me incessantly, and always want to shake my hand are currently hiding behind older siblings and bursting into tears when I round a corner. It does mean that I'm shaking less snotty hands as I'm counting the milliseconds down to America, but it's also extremely confusing to Ahmed now that his friends refuse to play with his super cool toubab friend aka me.

This morning I took a run, terrified a handful of small children with my pasty legs in running shorts, and swung by the center to say goodbye to Tamar who is going to America before me. No, I'm not bitter or jealous. I then took a walking tour of Thies. The weather has been unbelievable here. It's been cool and overcast, which is great. I was on the hunt for some holiday presents to take back home and to pay my internet bill. It felt good to have some easy accomplishments to check off the list.

This afternoon I went to see Madame Ly and Dioss. Madame Ly was just leaving her house when I got there, even though I called to tell her I was coming, so I gave her a bunch of cash which was late payment from the Expo and then headed off to Dioss'. While I usually expect to walk into a boys club whenever I'm going to Dioss', I don't usually think about an Asian boys club. Today Dioss was hosting three Korean study abroad students and their Senegalese French tutor who used to work for Peace Corps. The three Korean boys were hilarious and spoke absolutely terrible French. At one point I had to step in and help the situation after one of them said that he likes to kiss his sister who is almost as beautiful as me. A look of terror ran across Dioss' and the Senegalese tutor's faces and I quickly laughed and told everyone that he meant girlfriend, or at least I hope he did!

Back on the home front nothing too interesting is happening. Mami is sick and has what I think is a very nasty staph infection on her face. She went to the hospital today and had whatever it was lanced off so hopefully that gets better quickly. All the girls hate their lives because Deenba has the entire month of and is in her village. Ahmed is driving me insane because he didn't have school this week. And my family, for some reason, bought more chickens even though there's no room in the coop and they crow right into my room.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Still exhausted from Artisan Expo and knowing that striking teachers and a holiday tonight meant lots of kids would be on the street, I stayed home this morning and cleaned my room. My room was filthy and utterly disgusting. I had to take care of what I will call a cockroach nest that had set up house in a box. How do you take care of a cockroach nest? Take everything out of the box that you want and then throw it over the wall of the bungalow's porch to awaiting chickens who quickly eat all the cockroaches. The things I'm learning. Extreme disinterest in cleaning paired with nothing to do meant that it took me four hours to clean my room while attempting to convince Ahmed that my room isn't filled with presents for him (even though it is), giving Jeenaba my phone so that she could call her baby daddy because Abdou's really sick, and reading Harper's Bazaar.

This afternoon I was forced to leave the house because I needed to buy candy for this evening's holiday. I also went to the post office where I got another package from Kristen! Thanks Kristen! Today is the Muslim new year, which is called Tomkarit in Senegal. Here are the important facts about Tomkarit:

1. It's the Muslim new year
2. It's Senegal's version of Halloween and all the kids dress up in drag. Boys dress as girls and girls as boys and go door to door asking for candy, money, and yes, bags of sugar.
3. Small children are given drums.
4. Drums are beaten all day... and probably all night.
5. People scream and beat drums.
7. People where white face which is really funny.
8. Everyone eats millet couscous and chicken for dinner (delicious)
9. Children demand I give them money and candy (wait, that's every day). Ahmed steals all of my candy before I can give it to other children.
10. Small children are given drums and then no further supervision. Drums.

Per usual, my family told me that we were going somewhere and that they wanted me to go with them. I was immediately suspect because Ahmed wanted nothing to do with girl's clothes and/ or white face and none of the adults were showering/ getting ready. I sat around for a while and handed out some candy and then deemed my duties and obligations over. I handed the bag with the remaining candy in it to Ahmed and called it a night.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Final Countdown

Leaving Dakar this morning was bittersweet. Bitter because I had to get out of a real bed that was located in a house with a generator, hot (sometimes) water, a real kitchen, and a refrigerator that isn't filled with month old sheep meat from Tabaski. Sweet because it's the next step in the long list of baby steps I've created for myself until I board a plane to the United States of America. I will concede that the trip back to Thies was quite pleasant because I was in a Peace Corps car that not only offers air conditioning, but also a suspension system.

In order to stay in Dakar last night I had to call and rearrange a Junior Achievement I had for this morning, pushing it back an hour later because I was afraid that I would be late. Obviously I arrived with plenty of time to spare because of my swank Peace Corps ride so I sat at the Lycee Technique for an hour waiting for my meeting to start and chatting with some of the teachers. I learned that over half of the teachers at the Lycee Technique have yet to be paid so they were striking, which meant over half of the student population was milling about because they didn't have class. I was surprised that my meeting was still on because it's been cancelled at least twice due to strikes.

The meeting was shockingly painless and relatively quick. The infamous Talla Diop, my SED Peace Corps trainer, was at the Lycee a few weeks ago laying out an agreement between the school and Peace Corps. He also informed them that a Peace Corps Response Volunteer (a PCV who has served before and then is sent someplace to work a specific project matched with their skills) will be coming to Thies in January to help me write a JA curriculum for Peace Corps and teach the classes/ train other teachers. Honestly, he will probably be doing most of the teaching since he's an actual teacher. I am currently doing the leg work, getting the numbers, and meeting with the Lycee Technique staff to see what they're looking for. They want us to focus on business plans since so many students want to become entrepreneurs and since so many of them get turned down for financing because they have no plan. Can do. While we still have to work with the teacher who was absolutely no help to me last year, another teacher has jumped on who is trained in a Senegalese/ French Junior Achievement-esque program and who speaks good English. Major bonus points. Although I was dreading the meeting, it felt good to have that checked off my list and things, seemingly, moving along.

After the meeting I went to Bon Marche to get bread and cheese for lunch for Katherine and I, and then headed back to the center. In-Service Training for the new stage is still going on and we presented about our girls' camp this afternoon. I think it was fairly well received and I brought a bunch of cookies which definitely helped the situation.

Back at home I walked in as my family was sitting down to lunch. It was 4:30pm and they were eating a dish that contained month old sheep meat from Tabaski. Needless to say I went to my room and unpacked my bags before I greeted everyone so I wouldn't be force fed another and far less appetizing lunch. The rest of the afternoon I spent playing with Ahmed because he wouldn't leave me alone and being spat up on by Abdou because Jeenaba was the only girl in the house all afternoon and was obviously exhausted. Now I'm waiting for dinner and thinking about going to bed because it brings me one step closer to sleeping in America!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Artisan Expo Success

Since Thursday, I've been in Dakar prepping for the Artisan Expo, running the Artisan Expo, and today wrapping things up and recovering from the Expo. While I'm completely exhausted, the Artisan Expo was an amazing success. It was pretty awesome.

Saturday morning Tamar, Katherine and I arrived at the American Club at 9am to start setting up. We were not the first people there. No matter what I tell artisans, that no one is coming until 10am, that the tables wont be out, and that there will be no further instructions until 9am, they still arrive ridiculously early at around 7am. Madame Ly had been at the club since before 7 and had already set up most of her stuff before we arrived. There is a fear among the artisans that if they aren't there ridiculously early they'll miss customers. This is only interesting since time usually doesn't matter here.

All of the artisans arrived except for one (that one artisan actually only came to the Expo on Sunday) and all of the PCVs running the Expo immediately started purchasing holiday gifts. We wanted to make sure that we got all of the best stuff so I went around introducing myself and buying a ton of presents to take home. Eleven new artisans attended this year and brought some really cool and different products. Basari artists came all the way from Kedougou which is the southeastern corner of the country. Basari people are a traditional, tribal, ethnic group who make pretty great jewelry. As you'll see from the pictures everything looks surprisingly Native American with intricate bead work and patterns. I also stopped by the wood carver booths to look for bowls and wood jewelry, a boutique owner who made special Christmas ornaments, the basket weavers, leather maker, cloth dyers, and a couple other artists. Hey, I haven't been shopping in months and months. It was pretty exciting.

All day Saturday went pretty smoothly. The main complaint from the artisans was that Katherine and I picked a bad weekend for the Expo because it was overcast. This was obviously my fault. It was also weird since it's probably the only weekend of my entire service, excluding the rainy season, when the weather has been overcast. I was freezing cold. Yes, I know that it's actually freezing cold in the homeland and that it's quite humorous that I was shivering at 75 degrees. I was worried that the Expo wouldn't draw as many customers because it was overcast and people weren't coming to use the pool, but we had a steady stream of customers all day. The most exciting aspect of all those customers was how they found out about the Expo. The day before Thanksgiving and then the day before the Expo Katherine and I pounded the pavement in downtown Dakar flyering for the Expo. This hard work definitely paid off. I wrote a customer survey in order to obtain some market research of who's coming to the Expo and a lot of people responded that this was the first time at the Expo and that they had seen our flyers in Dakar! Success! By the end of the day Saturday, I had a giant pile of artisanal goods stashed under Madame Ly's table and we had a pretty good idea that the Expo was going well. We were on track to beat last year's total.

Sunday morning dawned and the artisans beat us back to the Atlantic Club. Even Madame Ly beat us who hates staying in Dakar so much that she went back to Thies to sleep in her own bed and then woke up extra early to beat it back to Dakar. Insanity. I spent Saturday night after the Expo making a Hanukkah dinner for 9 of my friends. That means I found brisket in Africa and grated 5 kilos of potatoes. There is photo evidence. After the artisans set up all of their goods Sunday morning, Talla, the Peace Corps trainer, led a training. The Expo has been going on for several years and is currently organized, funded, and led by volunteers. In the hopes of slowly delegating responsibility to the artisans themselves, we want the artisans to join together and make an artists' association. I didn't have high hopes for this training because I didn't think that the artisans would be receptive to the idea, but I was wrong. They loved the idea of forming an association, taking a greater role at the Expo, and working together.

At the end of the training Talla skipped out of the room and the artisans took over and elected two co-presidents, one of them being Madame Ly!, to organize the association and disseminate information. This was a great first step so I hope they continue. Throughout the day they collected each other's contact information and talked about collaborating with each other. They even made their first deal. The leather worker from Mboro is going to make leather handles for the tailor in Bambay to attach to his cloth bags. Several artisans also commented to their volunteers that it was great to have competition and see what they're competitors are doing. Some artisans realized that they really need to step up their game while others got new ideas for marketing and product development. One of the artisans is actually a boutique owner in Kaolack and she bought products from several of the artisans further strengthening the association. There were also several boutique owners in Dakar who saw our flyers and came to the event to purchase goods. It was great. The boutique owners took the artisans' information and they will hopefully continue to work together.

All of this collaboration, new customers attending the Expo, and a million PCVs milling around buying presents pointed to big sales. I was pretty sure that we were going to beat last year's total, but I had absolutely no idea that we were going to absolutely destroy it. The Expo was Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm. In fourteen hours the artisans sold three million two hundred three thousand two hundred CFA!!! That's 3,203,200 CFA!!! Last year total sales were around 1.5 million CFA. If you add in all of the pre-sales that PCVs order and the sales that transpired at the All Volunteer Conference last week the total increases to 3,837,700!!! That's almost eight thousand U.S. dollars. Madame Ly and Dioss made a combined 1,243,000 which is over two thousand U.S. dollars. Needless to say everyone was very happy with the sales and it was extremely humbling and gratifying when all of the artisans came to thank me and sing the praises of this year's Expo. It was great.

After all of the headaches I've had putting the Artisan Expo together it was great to have positive feedback, huge sales numbers, and very happy artisans and volunteers. Check out all of the pictures from the Expo in the "Softball Season" album.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Usually "Staying Sassy in Senegal" is all about yours truly because let's face it, my life is infinitely more ridiculous and sometimes even more entertaining than what's going on in the old US of A. Today was a very different story. My friends here in Senegal are very intimately acquainted with "the rocket that is never going to launch." Well, today the rocket actually did launch! To make sure that I could witness history in the making I installed myself at Massa Massa for the afternoon. I couldn't think of a better way to 1. actually make sure that I could connect to the internet (Massa Massa has a generator and therefore power all the time), 2. wait out what I thought would be an eternity of waiting for liftoff and 3. satisfy my desire not to eat ceebu jenn than spending a blissful afternoon Massa Massa.

After the first delay I was nervous the launch wasn't going to happen, so I ate a salad. When the spacecraft successfully lifted off and entered in orbit I celebrated with a delicious apple crisp-esque dessert. It was absolutely amazing to watch liftoff even if my video was more stop and go than streaming. I can't even imagine the feeling of watching it in mission control. After several calls from my mom who wanted second by second updates which I did not have I ran a couple of errands and returned home to call my mom back. I couldn't find a live feed for the capsule splashdown so my mom turned the volume on our TV as high as it would go and then held the phone up to the TV so I could listen to CNN over Skype!

The United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, the EU and now SpaceX that's pretty freaking badass if I do say so myself. Congratulations to Matt and everyone at SpaceX. I have just a faint idea of how much work, heart and soul you've put into this launch.

If you're interested in reading more here are some articles and SpaceX's website. I'm sure there will be a lot more great press in the coming hours.,0,2381140.story


Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The last couple of days have been all about Artisan Expo. Yesterday I did go to see Dioss to give him the money for a giant order of cards a PCV requested and attempted to go meet with my women's group but none of them answered my calls. Katherine and I are trying to get everything together for the Expo and make sure that all of our promotional material and awesome biography sheets we're making for each artisan look professional. A lot of boring computer work.

The other news about town is that there's never any power or water. On a positive note I did get THREE packages today! Shout outs!!!

Thank You Kristen! The Asian noodle soup packages almost made me shed tears of joy in the post office. I'm most definitely having one for dinner. I can't wait to see you soon!

Thank You to the McKeowns for enough (hopefully) reading material to get me through my last couple of weeks in Senegal, a bag of pistachios which might last me half that long, a ton of dried fruit (sorely needed), and, everyone bow your head in respect, the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog! Thank you!

And finally thank you to my parents for a fifth of Bombay Sapphire gin (hey, it's blue for Hanukkah) among other treats!

Thank you all! You really made my day!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

All Volunteer Conference

Thies hosted the All-Volunteer Conference Friday and Saturday at the training center. Not only did the almost two hundred PCVs from Senegal attend, but volunteers from Togo, Niger, The Gambia, Mali, and Burkina Faso came as well. It was really fun to see all of my friends and meet the volunteers from other countries. While it was a weekend full of social events, the main purpose of the conference is to share project ideas and best practices. I presented a "Working With Artisans Best Practices" presentations along with Christine, the girl who works on the basket project. The most interesting presentations were those by PCVs from other countries. There was a girl from Mali who started a cervical cancer screening project since Mali has the world's highest cervical cancer death rate. Did you know that during a pelvic exam you can use vinegar or iodine to check the cervix for pre-canerous cells? Well, you can. It was a fascinating presentation. Other good presentations were on helping promote behavior change in your community, grant writing, and working with men (since so many volunteers work with women's groups).

Since so many volunteers converged in Thies, Katherine and I thought it would be a good idea to hold a mini Artisan Expo so PCVs who might not make it to Dakar next weekend for the real thing could still make some purchases. Mme Ly brought all of her jewelry and then a couple of other volunteers brought a sampling of their artisans' goods. It turned out to be a very good idea because Mme Ly made bank and Katherine sold of of her tailor's bags and hoodies. I hope that in the future the mini Expo will turn into an awesome Expo. Randomly the PCV from Togo brought AMAZING bags that have dyed Obama faces and Peace Corps logos on them. So cool. She also had dyed Peace Corps logos on aprons. I obviously had to make some purchases and there are some new pictures up in the "Softball Season" album to prove it.

The weekend was very fun and definitely buoyed my spirits and helped past some time, which took the pressure off my minute to minute American countdown. I also got to eat good food since we went out to lunch and dinner a lot. Ceebu jenn is not my friend right now although Massa Massa definitely is! We also went to bumper cars. Yes, there are bumper cars in Thies and it's one more thing I've been able to check off my Peace Corps Senegal bucket list. Also, by the picture preceding this post you can see that a very good person brought a menorah out to the Catholic bar so we could celebrate Hannukah! My mom will be so proud. Now that All-Vol is over I leave for Dakar on Thursday for Artisan Expo and the real countdown to the motherland starts after that! I can't wait!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pilgrimage Party

For the past two days I've had meetings "scheduled" with Dioss. Monday he got tied up at the mayor's office (aka talking to his friend who works there), yesterday he went to Dakar in the morning and then taught at the French, private school all afternoon (he called me at 9pm to see if I wanted to meet), and today he was off again. Another PCV put in a large order for cards and Thies is hosting the All-Volunteer conference starting tomorrow so I really needed the cards. Dioss said that I could go to his house and pick them up from someone in his boy posse. I told him I would leave immediately and then got distracted by having power for the first time in 14 hours and running to the robinet to see if the power had brought water. 45 minutes later Dioss calls me back to check if I've been to his house. Dioss and time are not friends so I was a little annoyed he was calling me out on not getting to his house yet especially when I was imagining the boy posse lounging around doing push-ups, smoking, and reading. It turns out he wanted to see if I'd been to his house because he finally redid it! And I'm really impressed. They completely re-cemented and evened the floor, painted all of the walls, re-hung the all of the paintings, and even got a new work table. I definitely wasn't expecting that so I called Dioss back right away to tell him how great it looked. I was also happy to find that he has several hundred cards made so he's all set for the Artisan Expo.

After praising the boy posse on a job well done, I headed off to Mme. Ly's to talk Artisan Expo. She's an old pro and totally ready, but I wanted to check in and see if she had made the accounting adjustments we talked about. Unfortunately he daughter Khady was in Dakar with the ledger and she's the one who does most of the accounting anyway. It did happen to be a fortuitous trip though because during the hour I spent with Mme. Ly three different PCVs called me for final Expo questions and directions to the location. It's much more efficient to have Mme. Ly talk to their Senegalese artisans than me trying to explain it in Wolof over the phone. It was a fairly successful morning.

I had grand plans of printing Deenba pictures that I took in her village and hanging out with my friends at the post office, but my mom asked me to go with her, Ahmed, and Khady to Jeenaba's baby's daddy's mom's house and I've been terribly anti-social lately so I complied. Although, I wasn't too happy about it because I had to wear my fancy Senegalese clothes which act as a sweat box. At this point I also had no idea why I had to dress up. Obviously no one tells me anything. This outing was also an instance of "Alyssa doesn't understand what's going on until months later." A while back Deenba told me that Jeenba and her boyfriends weren't going to get married until he returned from the hajj, this trip to Mecca. I found this a little strange because it's really expensive, he's young, and he just had a baby, but I have no idea what's going on so I took Deenba at her word. I definitely misunderstood because it turned out to be his mom that went to Mecca and today was her welcome home party.

Welcome home parties for trips to Mecca are HUGE here. Going to Mecca fulfills one of the five pillars of Islam and is a big bragging right. Lots of men even change their name after returning to signify that they have made the pilgrimage. When we arrived at Abdou's grandparents' house it was packed, there were huge tents, singers, and drummers. We went inside to greet the family, pray with the woman who had just returned from Mecca (this is a huge honor), and drink holy water. Khady and my mom obviously wanted to leave at this point so I thought it was a quick trip, but four hours later I learned this was not the case. My family sat in a place of honor right next to the woman who had made the pilgrimage so that the crowd of several hundred people could stare at the strange toubab girl. The drumming and singing was actually pretty cool and after about hour 2 sent me into a trance which was only broken when Ahmed spilled pop on me.

The party was fairly fascinating. At one point the woman being honored so overcome with emotion that she stood up, started crying and moving erratically it took several people to guide her back to her chair and calm her. There was also a lot of money exchanged, but I didn't really understand any of that. Dancing around and praying with the honoree also ensued. Most of the time I was staring at all of the women's jewelry/ finery and holding Abdou because people kept giving him to me. I hadn't been to a welcome home pilgrimage party before so I'm glad that I went even though it turned out to be a really long and kind of boring event. I also think I earned brownie points for going so that's always a plus.

Happy Hannukah to everyone at home. I'll be dreaming on latkes and brisket tonight!