Monday, January 31, 2011


For some reason I cannot blog during the day and since we haven't had power at night, I haven't been blogging. Due to exhaustion and hunger I'm writing early today so I can get a post up!

The mini Artisan Expo is finally starting to come together. Last Friday when people came in for lunch I got a lot of products, some products have safely arrived in Dakar, and tomorrow I'm picking up some new stuff from Dioss including Valentine's Day cards. Today I went to Joal (a city along the coast, where two other PCVs live) and met Tamar so she could hand off the dyed fabric that her women's group makes. The adventure began bright and earlier this morning when I met Kerry at the garage. We were the fifth and sixth people in the sept-place so we were soon on our way to Joal. While I had spoken with Tamar extensively about the plan and had even invited the other PCVs to lunch, I had totally forgotten one important thing about Joal: I know nothing about Joal.

Once Kerry and I arrived at the garage in Joal I realized that I didn't know where we were going or what we should do until lunch. At this point it was just a little before 10am. I decided to wait for Tamar to arrive since she had been to Joal before, but when I got a hold of Brian he told me that Tamar and I would arrive at different garages so I decided to jump into a clando (shared taxi) and head to Fadiouth, which is the island connected to Joal via a giant pedestrian bridge. Kerry and I walked around the artisan stalls and little restaurants near the bridge until Tamar arrived and then we all walked across the bridge to Fadiouth.

Joal itself is a very long town. There's one main road that the runs the length of the town and everything is built around the road. It's actually pretty cute and much more quaint than I expected it to be. For some reason Fadiouth is super touristy. There were cars filled with tourists and guides getting out and walking across the bridge and then around the island. The three of us decided to go without a guide and just walked around. The view from the bridge is quite beautiful and the cemetery that's on an island adjacent to Fadiouth, which is connected by another bridge, was really cool. The giant baobab trees next to the white, white tombstones made for some pretty pictures.

On our way back Tamar and Kerry noticed a man weaving traditional Serere cloth. Serere people is another ethnic group in Senegal who are mainly concentrated in the delta region. Tamar's village is predominately Serere. Tamar sweet talked the man and his wife while holding their infant daughter and Tamar and Kerry bought some beautiful cloth while I took pictures and played with little kids, which was funny since they didn't speak Wolof and I don't speak Serere.

With purchases in hand we headed back across the bridge where we found Brian who took us to a restaurant for lunch where Steve joined us. We spent a very pleasant lunch time eating garlicy shrimp and grilled fish before heading our separate ways. Kerry and I returned to Thies where I had to run over to Madame Ly's stall to talk about the artisan expo and answer some of her questions.

I posted pictures of today's trip as well as pictures of my family that Ahmed took yesterday. If you are interested in learning more about Joal-Fadiouth here is the wikipedia link:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chicken, Fries, and Salad and Salad

This week has been a very exciting food week mostly because I've had plenty of reasons to be out and therefore not eating ceebu jenn every day. Today was no exception. Since the entire "Thies Region" aka all of the people who can easily day trip Thies (who are all girls except Brian and now Kerry!) hadn't gotten together since before we all left for America/ ever since the new stage installed, we decided to get together under the guise of having a camp meeting. We actually did discuss how my stage can help the stage a year behind us plan a camp for next year, some best practices, and maybe even moving the camp to Thies which would make logistics much, much easier.

I'm always a little worried when people ask me to organize a Chicken Dibi event. Not because it's a high class establishment or anything, but because I never know if I've actually organized anything. Usually Chicken Dibi doesn't open until 6:30 or 7, but they will open up for us when we call in advance since Peace Corps is such a good customer. Mohammad, the main guy at Chicken Dibi, and I bonded early in my service because he speaks Arabic and ever since I've been the de-facto Chicken Dibi coordinator - this also probably has something to do with the fact that I live in Thies. Anyway, I called Mohammad on Wednesday and told him and myself and a group of PCVs would love it if he would open early on Friday. I asked if he could open at 3. He was outraged at how early it was and said he couldn't possibly do that, but 3:30pm was OK. I told him how many people and that I would call him the next day. I called Mohammad back yesterday and he was completely bewildered at the fact that we were coming the next day even though we had spoken the previous day. Again I gave him all the details and we agreed that incha'allah me and my friends would be eating chicken today. We ate chicken today so all is well in the world. Kerry proclaimed that it lived up to my hype and everyone left feeling grossly full and totally content.

Katherine and I left Chicken Dibi for Dioss' to pick up some fabulous Valentine's day cards. Dioss wasn't there, but the boy posse made sure that I was well taken care of and Katherine thoroughly enjoyed the scene which was accompanied by loud rap music. Katherine jumped in a taxi headed for the garage and I got in a taxi for my house...with all the artisanal products other PCVs brought for the mini Expo next week. My family was thoroughly amused when I came in with giant bags of baskets and cloth goods. They think I'm crazy.

Even though my family didn't eat dinner until 9:30 I wasn't hungry because I had stuffed myself with dibi. Usually I would be really happy that I was too full for dinner, but tonight we had chicken which was kind of heartbreaking. I told my family I was full and they were horrified because it's my favorite meal and refused to take "I'm full" as an answer. I hid in my room and awaited the inevitable bowl of food that they would bring me because they knew I was hiding and trying to avoid dinner. After Chicken Dibi which consists of chicken, fries, and salad, I didn't really want the same dinner even though it's delicious. When Jeenaba came to my door with the dreaded bowl of food it was only salad! In Senegal one should always drink tea as it's a sign of friendship, I can't stand the sugar so in a highly culturally insensitive move I almost always politely refuse. Salad is a different story. There is no way I will allow my family to think that I wont eat vegetables and that I don't want more. So, I promptly walked back into the house and devoured the salad in front on my mom.

That's the news from Senegal. I'm now going to try and roll myself into bed because I'm so full.

Almost forgot... SHOUT OUTS!!!!

Shout out to Shirley! I got FOUR letters from you today. Ah Senegal and the way the postal system works! Thank you for the birthday wishes and all of the other cards!

Shout out to the Kogelschatz family!!! Thank you so much for the birthday card. I wish it came with some of the wine featured in the card!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ahmed the Rock Star

Kerry and I had our first meeting together for Junior Achievement at the Lycee Technique. I met Kerry at his house since he's still getting to know Thies and wanted to go to the Lycee together. His house is freaking awesome. It's so big and nice I barely knew what to do with myself. The only weird thing is the guest bathroom...yes, there's a guest bathroom. It has a Western, flushing toilet, but the toilet boil is set into the floor of the bathroom therefore, you have to squat to use the toilet and it's really awkward. Anyway, I digress. Kerry and I had a few minutes to strategize our meeting and outline the questions we wanted answers to. We didn't get very many of those questions answered.

I had very low expectations for this meeting so it went pretty much how I expected it to. After calling Mamour several times before he materialize and then waiting another 15 minutes for Mamour to find Badiane and another teacher, we all sat down to discuss Junior Achievement and our next steps. Unfortunately Badiane is the top man, I like Mamour much better and he speaks pretty good English. The main sticking point is that the Lycee Technique has started teaching another business class called CLE to the 2nd and 3rd year students and they don't want to confuse the students with two programs nor do they want to overlap material which is completely understandable. That leaves the first year students available or at least that's what I thought. I don't think that Badiane wants the first years to do JA; I think he only wants post-grads like who I worked with last year to be involved. Everything kept coming back to scheduling and how difficult it would be to work it into everyone's schedule. The idea to hold multiple classes and to hold it after school or as an elective weren't desirable to the teachers. With classes for the students we are pretty much at square one.

Before we even get to the students we have to deal with the rest of the teachers. The plan is to do some type of training for the teachers, but the teachers at our meeting wanted us to decide what we want to teach, but then they don't like that. Per usual it's a lot of back and forth and discussion that doesn't really go anywhere. The meeting finally concluded with the idea that the teachers would attempt to find a school year calendar for us and we would create a flyer explaining Junior Achievement. We'll see what happens at our meeting next week. Hopefully we will end that meeting at square two.

This afternoon I had the most fabulous Skype date with my Aunt Diane and her class of 3rd graders in Michigan. Her class really wanted to meet Ahmed and Ahmed was only too happy to oblige. Any excuse for him to come into my room so he can look around (and hopefully discover candy or toys) is more than enough. The kids in the US asked him questions and I translated and he just thought he was awesome. They all said "Bonjour Ahmed" and waved and he was just beside himself that they knew his name. Ahmed was so excited. He thought he was a superstar, which he kind of is! He loved, loved, loved looking at my Aunt's class and the kids on the computer until I pointed out that a little video showing me and him was in the corner. Once he saw himself on the computer he could not be stopped. Ahmed started making sexy faces at the camera and kind of dancing around in his chair. He then put my bike helmet on his head so they could see that I let him touch my bike helmet. All of a sudden he turned to me and announced that he would be right back, he had something very important things to do. Fast forward two minutes: snow boots. Oh yeah, he was wearing his snow boots. He was too embarrassed to show the American kids his snow boots, but he knew that he looked damn cool and that was apparently enough. The entire episode was absolutely adorable. I didn't get to talk to my Aunt's class too much with Ahmed hysteria going on, which was only made worse by a momentary power cut and Mami and Khady showing up, but it was still really fun.

Tonight we had salad as part of dinner which was great since I had salad and hummus for lunch after the JA meeting (I'm just so healthy today) and I've watched as my family continues to fight. I haven't figured out exactly what's wrong, but everyone is really mad at Baye and Mami almost beat the crap out of him today. Mami is probably twice Baye's size and could kick his butt if she wanted. Ahmed and I hid in my room and played Go Fish during the fighting. I'm ending my night with some delicious homemade apple sauce courtesy of my mom and harassing PCVs to bring in artisanal goods for the mini expo next week!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


One of the things I struggled most with at the beginning of service was independence. Constantly having to tell my host mom and sisters where I was going seemed like a giant intrusion of my privacy, an annoying last step before leaving for anything, and a step backward in my journey to being a self reliant human being. Not to mention I had just completed four years of college where I really didn't have to answer to anyone. I could stay up late or go to bed early and no one would ask questions. I could slip out unnoticed. I could subsist on cheese and bread from Zingerman's if I wanted (and I did). I didn't have to explain that all I wanted for dinner was an apple because if I put anymore onion sauce within a ten foot radius of my body I might just lose it. Oddly, this is one of the things that I've truly been able to accept as my service has progressed.

Now, I quickly tell someone where I'm going and then run away before we can have a conversation about it. I know, real mature. Independence has been something that I've thought a lot about in regards to my host siblings. In my house I'm the youngest "adult." I'm defining adult as someone who has finished formal schooling/ high school. Big Ahmed is still in high school so I can understand the restrictions placed on him and mom wanting to know his whereabouts. Mami, Khady, Baye, and Cheikh are all older than me and all living at home and since the house is a full house everyone is starting to chafe.

I noticed that Cheikh was struggling a while ago. He lived in Europe for four years with all of the fabulousness that that entails and is now back in Senegal living with his mom and dad. I feel for him, I really do. Baye is married although hasn't been living with his wife for the past two months (and no I still have no idea about Cheikh's wife) and has instead been sulking around our house. Khady is also married and has Ahmed. Mami is Mami and does her own thing. Mami is the youngest and she just turned 28. When Cheikh first got back he would straight up tell my mom he was annoyed and he was doing this or that and he didn't care what she thought. You can imagine how well this went over. Today it was Baye's and Khady's turn.

After an extremely long day of helping a woman who works for a local NGO make some artisan contacts, I came home to my family at its greatest: a full on screaming match. Baye had gotten some sort of ticket from the police concerning the car he sometimes drives as a chauffeur. My mom was more than unhappy. He was demanding money from her to pay it. Yeah, that wasn't happening. He then tried to leave mid screaming match and my mom stood in front of the compound door to block him. It was epic and no one noticed/ cared that I was standing there listening. The entire family was involved in this brawl and it was highly entertaining.

This evening Khady was all dressed up and had some friends over when they decided to go into town and hang out at a restaurant. My mom was livid. She didn't want Khady to eat out or go out and she most likely didn't want to have to put Ahmed to bed herself. These two instances were really the first time that there's been open tension over personal independence. It was a very entertaining evening to observe.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Yesterday was Magal, the pilgrimage to Touba (a city east of Thies) I've been alluding to. Magal is a holy time for the Mouride sect of Muslims in Senegal and throughout the world. You are learn more about the Magal and Mouride Muslims on wikipedia:,_Senegal Magal does not have a huge impact of my life because my family is a member of the other sect called Tijian and will have their holy pilgrimage/ festival in a month or so. So what did my family do for Magal? We fielded what seemed like endless phone calls of people calling us from Touba to tell us how great it was, we talked about other people going to Touba, and eating chicken.

The other big activity was talking about a commercial that was being played on the Senegalese stations for Magal. It's a commercial depicting the dangers of reckless driving when one is excited to get to Touba and participate in the Magal. My family loves the commercial because it shows car crashes with dramatic music. I love the commercial because it's so obviously not in Senegal. There are nice cars, roads that have curves (the road to Touba is literally straight), these roads also have barriers for cliffs (?), and my favorite part is that white people are driving the cars. The commercial is probably every other commercial and my family loves it every single time. Ahmed and I have even been recreating the crashes.

Work has pretty much ceased because so many people are in Touba for the Magal and it's hard to use public transportation since it's all been rented for the pilgrimage. This means that Thies is a wonderful place. It's empty and I almost walked the streets in peace today. Although my mom was horrified to here that I was working today (not even my dad was going to the office!), I had to go see Madame Ly because we had a ton to discuss. Tomorrow I'm helping a woman who works for an NGO meet up with Madame Ly and Dioss to see if she wants to make some big purchases for an auction she's holding back in the States as a fundraiser for her NGO. The logistics on this meet and greet are fairly ridiculous, but I think it's going to be a really good connection and I'm excited to see what she thinks of Madame Ly's new designs. Since the Expo Madame Ly has been a jewelry making machine since she has so much cash and the product is definitely getting a lot better. I posted more pictures of new material in the "Softball Season" album.

The second piece of news that I needed to discuss with Madame Ly was about the first Artisan Association activity since the Expo. Peace Corps Senegal is hosting a two week training for Peace Corps trainers from across Africa in Dakar and we are going to try and hold a mini-Expo. All of the artisans who are interested in participating have to get their goods to Thies or Dakar by February 1st and then Madame Ly will do all the selling at the conference in Dakar. It's going to be a huge test to see if the artisans trust each other, their volunteer's and Madame Ly in particular. It's not going to bring in nearly the revenues that the Artisan Expo did, but it will be interesting to see if the artisans see the value in working together to bring in even a little bit of income. Madame Ly and I had a big talk about how much work this will be for her, but she seems to be excited and all for it. She likes it when I call her Madame President and she sees the value in the association and is going to work hard for it. We'll see where all of this goes...

Check out the pictures and leave suggestions on what you think would be attractive the the American market. She can change out colors and loves hearing ideas for new or tweaked designs. I will bring home your custom creation this summer in return for a date with you that involves some type of dairy product or Asian food!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Response PCV

Senegal continues to surprise me with electricity and water. Our water came on at 9pm today. My mom was so overjoyed that she filled everything up and then handed me the baby and told everyone that she was not to be disturbed she was going to bed and she'd kill the first person to wake her up. Classic. This was after she got into a screaming match with one of our neighbors because they let some thorny bush/ trees grow over the wall into our driveway. She had Ziabata up and standing on the wall cutting down the overhanging limbs since the neighbors have been refusing to do it. The neighbors were then angry that we were cutting the bushes/ trees even though they have no purpose and have pointy thorns. It was fairly entertaining.

Today's big event was meeting the new Response PCV in Thies to do Junior Achievement. A Response PCV is a volunteer who has previously served and then comes back (to a country they may or may not have served in previously) in a specific and time limited role. Most people come for a couple of months to implement a specific project and fulfill a defined role. The Response PCV in Thies is named Kerry and he's in Senegal after serving in Guinea in the 1960s. He's going to work with the Lycee Technique and teach Junior Achievement. The goal is to write a Peace Corps Senegal Junior Achievement curriculum. Kerry was a teacher in the US so he has teaching experience in the States as well as his experience teaching in French. I'm really excited about working with him at the Lycee Technique. It would be really cool to have a JA curriculum that's written for Senegal since the current French program is for Western Europe, not West Africa. We have a meeting on Wednesday at the Lycee Technique so hopefully things are up and running soon!

Other than meeting up with Kerry and hanging out around my house I didn't do too much. I promise that I will respond to everyone's birthday messages! I'm doing a terrible job at replying to emails right now!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Senegal Miracles

Ahmed and his friend Jean-Jacques on Cheikh's moto.

Madame Ly's Jewelry

Senegal miracles are all around me right now. I had a second (and last!) African birthday, the power is on (still!), and Tamar made it home! Things are looking good. My earlier post describes my fabulous birthday and although my mom commented that I look terrified in all of my horseback riding pictures I promise that I really did have a great time! The power, which has been absolutely horrendous since I returned from America, seems to be back on track. I'm afraid to even type this, but we've had power since Tamar and I got back to my house yesterday afternoon. Still no water, but beggars can't be choosers and my family is finally paying neighborhood girls to pull water for them so we "have" water. Tamar and I were also worried that she would have a very difficult journey home today because of the big Mouride (a Muslim brotherhood in Senegal) pilgrimage to Touba, a city about 100k east of Thies on the route national. Fortunately, it was a fairly painless trip for Tamar.

With a belly full of a delicious hard boiled egg sandwich Tamar and I grabbed at the garage I made the trek all the way across town to the hotel where Madame Ly sells her jewelry on a daily basis. I really need to take pictures of this hotel for your viewing enjoyment. It's a very interesting place with a cliental that ranges from your local prostitutes to the Malian, girls, international hand ball team. And it's bright orange. Khady, Mme. Ly's daughter, and I had made plans to take pictures of all the jewelry for their brochure today, but it was Madame Ly, not Khady who was running the booth. No problem I took a bunch of pictures (which are all posted in the "Softball Season" album along with a few more of Ahmed) while people stared at the white girl holding all Madame Ly's jewelry like it's her own. I will be very interested to see where this pamphlet idea goes and how long it will take to be realized. Do check out the pictures because I took some on a basket and some on cloth and I would love aesthetic input!

Once the picture taking was done Madame Ly and I again discussed the artisan association. She actually did call every artisan last week to see what they're looking for from an association and I was shocked at how realistic everyone is being currently. Most artisans want help organizing themselves so they can work together and help sell each other's goods throughout the country. Another Senegal miracle. Madame Ly is really taking this idea to heart and once she sells out of her stock of baskets and bags that she currently buys from big producers in Thies she's going to purchase baskets from the artisans in Tivuouane and bags from the ladies in Kebemer, two artisan groups that came to the Expo. She's really excited because she will then have a differentiated product which she believes is of higher quality. Sometimes I can't believe what I'm hearing and feel like I'm barely necessary, but Madame Ly is so nice and always praises PCVs for their roles in organizing. We had a good laugh over the idea of volunteers doing the selling and artisans doing the organizing. It would be a disaster. It's better to work together.

After spending all morning with Madame Ly, I made my escape before she could rope me into eating lunch with her and headed home for babysitting duty. Jeenaba was the only girl at home and my mom was asleep since she was up until 6:45am watching water s.l.o.w.l.y drip into our buckets so I was immediately handed Abdou and we played robots with Ahmed.

Twenty Four

Damn I'm old. My only consolation is that Matt is and will always be older than me! I've been a terrible blogger over the past week because I really haven't had power. We've been having power for about one hour per day and last night was the first time my family has had water since I arrived back in Senegal. I'll recap recent happenings later, but this post is dedicated to my twenty fourth birthday and my wonderful friends who helped me celebrate!

As my age is steadily increasing, our time in Senegal seems like it's going to gone in a flash. In the spirit of limited time, my friends and I have created an end of service bucket list. There are still so many things we want to do, people to visit, and places to see that we really do need to schedule things to make sure we don't miss anything. One of the places on our bucket list was Lac Rose. Located on the coast just 18 kilometers from Dakar, Lac Rose is a pink colored lake. While locals collect salt and there's a very sad artisanal village and a bunch of campements ("hotels"), Lac Rose is a pretty anti-climactic place. Here is the incredibly short wikipedia article in case you're interested: I really don't mean anti-climatic in a negative way since we had a great time, but it's a pink lake so once you've looked at it you've seen all there is to see!

Wednesday morning a group of us convened in Thies for lunch as we waited for Tamar to make her way off her island and all the way up north to us! After cramming a bunch of supplies for our 24 hour trip into my back pack we headed off to the garage to find Tamar and negotiate a car. We picked up Jackie on the side of the road and off we went! It takes about an hour to get to Lac Rose, but when you accidentally go to the wrong side of the lake (and ridiculously enough the road doesn't wrap all the way around the lake so if you turn the wrong way you have to backtrack) it takes a little longer. When we arrived at our campement/ hotel Les Chevaux du Lac or Horses of the Lake we were pleasantly surprised. We picked the campement because it had the most ludicrous name and was the cheapest, but it was awesome! We ended up staying the grand lodge which was a two story room with more than enough space, beds, and a western style bathroom. It was really nice.

After cheers-ing to our great digs and our little vacation, the hotel proprietor summoned us for the main event of the trip: horseback riding. This is not a joke. We went horseback riding for my twenty-fourth birthday in Senegal. Epic. I really can't describe how cool and hilarious the experience was. It's one of those moments that I'm sure I'll remember forever because I was with my friends, horseback riding in Africa. We met our guide Mousa who helped us get on our horses and was our tour guide. He was great and got a huge kick out of the fact that we couldn't stop laughing and taking pictures of each other and that we spoke Wolof.

The ride was awesome. We left the hotel and walked on a path through a bunch of really nice vegetable fields. Erin and Emily were in heaven talking about how nice the produce was and how well the farmers had laid everything out. The rest of us business volunteers tried to figure out what kind of vegetables they were! Even at five minutes into our ride I was having trouble. Horses are supposed to be very intuitive and sense the concerns of their rider. While I was all about horseback riding, I was definitely still a little scared and my horse was having none of it. She literally did not move. I would kick her, nudge her forward, and plead with her to no avail. If we did move we moved so slowly that we were always far behind the group. It was fairly funny and just to add insult to injury Mousa had to lead me and my horse 95% of the time!

After the looking at the fields, Mousa took us through his village and introduced us to his wife. It was at this point Jackie had a lost in translation moment. Mousa had told her that he had just married his wife three months ago, but Jackie heard three months ago as in a child was born three months ago. This created a slightly awkward situation when Jackie then asked if his wife was a man or a woman. But, Mousa's wife was lovely and after a brief meet and great we continued our adventure. None of us knew just how close we were to the ocean so when we saw the water in the horizon after the dunes it was pretty cool. Jackie actually knows how to ride horses so she and Mousa galloped along the beach as the rest of us tried to have our horses follow any directions we tried to give them!

Horseback riding was awesome. It was a really fun thing to do and a pretty unforgettable experience. The night was far from over as we continued to hang out in our room, have an amazing couscous and chicken dinner followed by a delicious torte, a couple of night caps in a tree house, and then a rousing dance party in the room to cap off the night.

Yesterday we got up and had breakfast before taking a walk around the lake and starting the trip back to Thies. A quick return was imperative because an important holiday for one of the Muslim brotherhoods is on Monday and transportation will start to become an issue. We dropped Jackie off on the side of the road again and then the rest of us continued to Thies for lunch. After lunch Tamar and I headed back to my house and greeted my family who were all excited to wish me a happy birthday. Ahmed was obviously eye-ing my bags for any sign of a cake, but he'll just have to be patient for a few days. For the past week Thies has been a barren wasteland devoid of water or electricity and since it was my birthday Tamar and I refused to sit in the dark and stare at my family (although there does seem like there was a birthday miracle since we did have power!) so we got all dressed up and went out to a wonderful dinner at Massa Massa.

Thanks to my friends in Senegal for an awesome trip to Lac Rose and to everyone back at home who post on my blog, wrote on my facebook wall, or sent me an email! It really made my birthday! There are a TON of pictures documenting our horseback riding adventure in the "Softball Season" album. I've also started to get worried about not having pictures of everything in Senegal so there are also a bunch of pictures of the garage in Thies and the route to Lac Rose. Enjoy and thanks again for the birthday wishes!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wedding Reception

The party was very anti-climactic. It wasn't so much a party as a big luncheon, which made the days events only boring and not painful. The morning started out pretty slowly as all of my sisters pulled water, we haven't had water from the tap in several days, and I cleaned the front of the bungalow so I didn't look like a slob to our guests. I had been neglecting cleaning the outside which was covered in dirt since I returned from the States. Women started to arrive and began cooking while I was cleaning so after I finished I installed myself among their ranks in a very successful attempt not to socialize with other guests.

Not that I'm completely anti-social, but living in a large town has its disadvantages and parties are definitely one of them. Since there are always guests who haven't met me and don't know about me I have to play "The Toubab Speaks Wolof Game." While wildly entertaining for the guest, I have to answer the same questions over and over again as they try and decide if I really do speak Wolof. Even my family seemed annoyed at the game today and I heard severally people reassure a guest that yes, in fact I do speak Wolof. Sitting with the women who were cooking cut down on these interrogations. My aunt, Numbe, was one of the people cooking and I love her so that was another bonus. I was also kept occupied with baby Abdou who I played with for most of the day. Jeenaba kept trying to give him to his dad who would promptly come and find me. That's not to say that baby daddy isn't a good dad because is here every day to see Abdou; he just wanted to hang out with the boys today.

Per usual, I had no idea what today was going to be like so I had been preparing myself for the worst. I also thought it was going to be an all day event, but we only had lunch at our house. When the bride arrived there was a lot of screaming, but then everything quieted down, everyone ate, and then most people left. Guests have been coming in and out all day to congratulate the bride, if the groom is here I don't know who he is, but last night was definitely much more raucous. I didn't even have to dress up Senegalese style today which was probably good since I was covered in baby drool.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why Are We Having a Party?

The past couple of days I've heard phrases like "ten chickens," "going to the big market," and "getting fired wood," these are all phrases which cause alarm bells to go off loudly in my head. They mean we're having some sort of party. Noooo!!!! I thought that if I ignored the situation it might just go away. No such luck. This morning Jeenaba and Khady were up early starting the cleaning process and and then my mom asked if I'd like to go to the market and help her and Khady do all the shopping for the event. Since I plan to spend the vast majority of tomorrow hiding from the party in my room, I thought that it would be a nice show of support and some nice family bonding time if I went to the market.

I actually enjoy going to the market with my mom and Khady for big events because they are hilarious and generally abuse the vendors. They know what price they want to pay and the vendor is going to have hell to pay if they don't get it. While inspecting vegetables Khady proclaims everything as ugly and half dead. Don't even think about putting that shriveled cucumber in the bag, Khady will kick your a@#! Other than the humor of watching my mom and Khady haggle with people I get to see which vendors they deem in high enough standard for them to shop there and they get to see just a little bit of what it's like to be me and walk around the market. The number of Talibe, small children who beg, balloons when they see me (the toubab), people are constantly coming up and trying to sell me things, and I just get generally heckled most of the time. My mom was obviously annoyed and they both kept asking me if this was normal. I told them it was better because I was at least with them! Three hours later we headed back home.

What is this party for you ask? Well, isn't that a convoluted story I still don't understand. My mom explained it to me, but I don't think I have all the pieces straight. Apparently, Cheikh is not my host parents' biological child like I thought he was. I think what happened was that Cheikh's parents couldn't take care of him when he was little so they sent him to live with my family and he grew up a part of my family. This is not an uncommon arrangement and is a lot like adoption in the United States. So, Cheikh's brother (I guess they share the same dad, but not the same mom) is getting married tomorrow and we are having some sort of reception although not the big reception. Then Cheikh's brother and his new bride will stay at our house for two days until they move into their own house. I know that this is good information because it came from my mom, but I still don't know what's happening. Also, where is Cheikh's wife. Regardless, we are having a party tomorrow and I'm sure that it will be miserable and that I will be hot and uncomfortable in my fancy Senegalese outfits.

After going to the market and attempting to figure out the purpose of this party, I spent the afternoon with Abdou and Ahmed. All of the women were busy prepping the food so I was on baby duty. I love the fact that they don't trust me enough to cut onions, but I can take care of a baby for half the day no problem. We didn't have power from 5am to 7:30pm and we haven't had water in days so it should make for a very interesting party tomorrow.

A couple of questions post on my blog:
1. What else did I get my family?
My host mom and dad got really classy watches, Ahmed got his glorious boots and a coloring book, all of the girls got mascara and a little bottle of lotion, and all of the boys received Michigan hats (they were on clearance after our abysmal bowl showing), which they love and wear all of the time.

2. Why is Ahmed not wearing a Michigan t-shirt is his awesome ensemble from yesterday?
The post is titled "Fashion Risk Taker," and a Michigan t-shirt is never a fashion risk - it's always a good thing. And unfortunately he doesn't have a Michigan t-shirt (Matt will have to bring him one!), but he does have a Michigan hat which he loves to wear and which was documented early on in my blog!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fashion Risk Taker

The picture speaks for itself. Obviously, the best and most memorable part of my day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Back In Action

Madame Ly and the rest of the family was so excited to see me this morning that it pretty much made my entire day. They are still in the shock and awe period of the Artisan Expo. They still cannot believe how much money they made and what that means for them, not only in economic status but also social status. Madame Ly told me that all of the other artisans have been calling her non-stop since the Expo to talk about where the artisans are going from here. As president of the association, which is currently only a lose coalition consisting of artisans at the Peace Corps Artisan Expo in December, Madame Ly is fielding everyone's questions, keeping up everyone's enthusiasm, and towing the line of Peace Corps is pretty freaking cool for putting on such a badass Expo. She in turn looks to me for next steps. What is the next step from here? I hope that we can organize another meeting for all of the artisans where Talla, the Peace Corps trainer, can further help all of the interested artisans refine their idea of an association and start to become more independent from their volunteers and even start to plan future Artisan Expos. This is obviously a long way off, but Madame Ly is definitely self-motivated. She told me that she would call of the other artisans to inquire about what they wanted from the association and what types of trainings they would be interested in. What? I could barely believe me ears. All of this self-starting independence was almost too much to handle on my first work excursion post America! I'm really excited to see where this goes because I think Madame Ly is awesome and I think that the artisans are on such a success high after the Expo that they are really ready to band together and create an association which could prove very beneficial in the long run.

While I got sucked into reminiscing about how wonderful and amazing the Artisan Expo was, a little ego boost is never a bad thing here, I really went over to her house today to check in with the family and give them the gifts I brought from the States. I gave Madame Ly and her daughter Khady, who ofter accompanies her to self their jewelry, a bunch of glass beads which they were over the moon about. I thought I couldn't top myself with the beads, but I was wrong because the stack of pictures I printed out caused a complete stopage of all work at the house. Samba, Dioss' dad and Madame Ly's husband, was just as obsessed with the pictures as Ahmed is with his snow boots! They couldn't get over how clear the pictures were and the brightness of the colors. I spent at least two hours sitting with Samba and going over everyone's name in each picture so he could write it on the back and therefore remember the moment forever. It was very cute and I'm happy they appreciated their gifts.

As Samba was meticulously documenting everyone possible detail of each picture on the back of the print out, I was also talking to Khady about her ideas for the family's jewelry business. With the cash they now have on hand after the Expo, Madame Ly and Khady want to make a little pamphlet (in the form of the one I made as promotional material for the Expo!) to help promote their business as they travel around the country and to hand out to exporters when they meet them at events. While I usually don't promote things like this (aka Dioss' catalog) because I don't think they'll get enough exposure, I do think this is a good idea. Khady came up with the idea by herself, she already has a fairly well laid out plan, and she only plans on printing a small amount at a time which is easily covered by their Artisan Expo profits. I'm going to take all of the pictures next week and the family has a computer so there are very little costs. Madame Ly and Khady to do see a lot of exporters and French tourist groups that return year after year so it will be interesting to see if they think the small marketing efforts are helping them.

Finally pulling myself away from Madame Ly and crew was difficult, but made easier by the fact that Dioss called me and told me to come over while I was sitting at his parents' house! Dioss is Dioss. He assured me that he had worked diligently all of December. I didn't see any new artwork, but the atelier make over is completely finished and things look good. He was also at a little bit of a standstill because he was waiting for a couple of French partners to fly in tonight who are going to help him with creating the various websites for his artist association that he's obsessed with. I don't know too much about all of this other than he really wants a nice website and through an NGO these French, website specialists are helping him for free. I'm really just a sounding board for things like this with Dioss. We'll see what happens. It does mean that for the next three weeks I'm playing second fiddle and we aren't doing any accounting or more workshops with the art supplies that my Aunt's class sent, but hopefully after these three weeks we can start really working on our projects.

What is actually happening is the thing that I've been alluding to for quite a while with Dioss. I never thought this was actually happen, but it did. I'm shocked. Remember last year when Dioss was in that big exposition in Dakar and I went it is was a little awkward? Well that was actually a pretty big deal and a huge art event put together by the energy provider Senelec here in Senegal. At that event the Red Cross took notice of Dioss and asked him to participate in a calendar of African artisans who predominantly portray strong women in their work. Dioss is one of three Senegalese artists; there are also artists from Kenya and South Africa. Regardless he is one of twelve artists whose works are featured in a freaking calendar for the Red Cross. This calendar is being distributed in EVERY country where the Red Cross is active. That's almost every country on Earth! Go Dioss! More information on this to come... I will try and upload pictures and links tomorrow.

This afternoon I caught up with Emily and a couple of volunteers from the new stage. You can imagine we had a good time! It was a great first day back into work and I hope to keep the ball rolling!

Thinking of MHM and his family.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Easing Into It

While my sojourn back to the US was fattening and therapeutic, it wasn't completely rejuvenating because I'm still completely exhausted. This is what I wanted. I wanted a whirlwind time at home that was followed by the harsh realities of Senegal. I haven't faced too many of those harsh realities yet because I've been asleep, sitting and watching Indian soap operas with my family, and sitting in my room staring at my bags which I only unpacked this afternoon. America can really take it out of you with its wonderful-ness.

Today I was slightly more productive than yesterday. This morning I met Jackie in town so we could give her some Junior Achievement certificates and we both bought some toilet paper. Then she had to shield me as we walked out of the store because it's directly across from the post office and I know that going in there for the first time is going to cause a major stir. I need more sleep before I can handle that. So, that little trip was pretty much my big accomplishment. I also bought a new gas tank which is pretty cool. I did end up greeting the rest of the people in my neighborhood who I hadn't seen so that was good and now tomorrow I'll be ready to move on to bigger and better things and go see Dioss and maybe Madame Ly.

When I posted yesterday and said that nothing had really changed in the Gaye household I totally lied, but only because of exhaustion. I totally forgot to mention that the infamous Cheikh is home! My oldest host brother who left for Europe almost four years came back just a couple of days before I did. It sounds like he's back for good because he missed the family too much, which is totally understandable, but I have my own theories of why he's back. I'm fairly fascinated with him since he's a new personality to observe and figure out. Shockingly, I'm utterly confused with what's going on. Cheikh, as you'll remember, is the person who last year missed his own wedding because he was in Spain. That's when his wife had their wedding with a stand-in groom here at our house. Yes, the awkwardness of that day still haunts me. Look up the post or just remember the cooks teaching me the myriad Wolof words for vagina. Anyway, one would assume that the wifey would make an appearance. I have met several of his friends who happen to be girls, but I haven't seen his wife and I really haven't left the house. Interesting. Unfortunately, my kindred gossip spirit and fountain of knowledge aka Deenba is currently MIA so I don't know what's going on. I might have to break down and ask Jeenaba what's going on tomorrow.

Other interesting family tid-bits:
1. No idea when Jeenaba is getting married - surprise!
2. Abdou is really fat and really cute and jabbers constantly
3. Ahmed and his boots are still in the honeymoon phase even though he keeps triping
4. Mami is seriously pissed at me for cutting my hair and not bringing it back to her so she can have real hair in her weave
5. I gave my host mom a lovely costume jewelry watch as a present. How do you show people you have a gold and sparkly watch from America? Do you wear it? Hells no. You leave it in the fake skin box it came in, open, on the coffee table in the living room and then tell everyone who walks in the door that the watch is from America. Nice.

Tomorrow, I promise to further ease myself into business as usual and my current reality by leaving my compound and at least seeing Dioss and/or Madame Ly. I do not promise not to spend my afternoon with Emily.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

America The Beautiful

People say that the United States of America is the greatest place on Earth and that's because it is...even though it's full of delicious indulgences that make you fat when you eat everything in sight. I had the most wonderful vacation back at home with my family and friends. Thank you to everyone I saw back at home for making my vacation so great. Eating, hanging out, eating, shopping, eating, taking hot showers, eating, visiting all of my friends, shopping, eating, and more eating were all involved. I handled the cold better than expected even though it was frigid, had no stomach issues from the mass amounts of dairy that I ate, and I think I got to see everyone I wanted to see, and I got to shopping! That being said, after almost two weeks in lovely Michigan and a quick New Years Eve trip to Chicago to see my Michigan roomies, I'm back in Senegal.

The shock going both ways wasn't nearly as shocking as I expected it to be. Not surprisingly, I had no transition period back to my life of luxury in the US of A. The only thing that surprised me was landing in Washington DC and being slapped across the face with Christmas. I had totally forgotten that it was going to be Christmas in the US. The change of seasons is so strong in Michigan that it's very easy for me to completely block out holidays here in Senegal. Coming back to Senegal (although I did briefly contemplate living in a bathroom stall in Dulles airport) wasn't as bad as I thought either, I've also only been back a few days and have been asleep most of the time. The US and Senegal are two completely different worlds that seem completely separate from one another and oddly I seem to fit into both of them although, one is cleaner and has vastly better and more varied food options (in my personal opinion). I definitely cried like a little baby leaving home, it was actually harder to physically leave Dulles airport aka the United States of America than my house, but at least this time I knew what I was getting myself into and coming back to friends and big plans of shenanigans to come.

Just as my American family turned up in droves to meet me at the airport in Michigan, my Senegalese family were all in the courtyard when I arrived. This meant mayhem broke lose. My mom started clapping and singing, Ahmed could barely keep him hands off my bags imagining all of his presents inside, and everyone had to come hug me and tell me that I looked tired and yell at me for cutting my hair and then not bringing it back for them to make a weave. With only a few hours of sleep under my belt I immediately fell asleep, awoke to find most everyone had gone out to some party, was given some dinner, and then fell asleep again for the night before the majority of my family returned from the party. You can only imagine what this meant when Ahmed came home today. It meant constant harassment until he got his present.

Since last winter when my mom sent pictures of our house covered in snow, Ahmed has been OBSESSED with snow boots. I have no idea why he latched onto this idea, but he has and until today he has thought that practically anything can substitute for a snow boot. Teva sandals, of course those can be snow boots. High heels, no problem. No amount of explanation or showing him pictures could convince him otherwise. Today he learned better because my mom is a good person and forced me to drag little boys, fireman rain boots approximately 4000 miles. He's in love. I think his snow boots have replaced me in his heart. He pretty much hasn't taken them off, which is hilarious because they are far too big and he keeps tripping. The boots also caused a fight because he refused to take them off for his bath claiming that if they could go in snow they could go in water. I applaud him for his logic, but my mom still tore them off him. The compromise was keeping the shower door open with the boots just outside. Everyone else really loved their presents and the Gaye household really hasn't changed since I left. I can tell all the girls are happy I'm back because I've been on baby duty almost every minute that I've been awake.

I haven't visited any of my work partners, but that's on the docket for later this week. Thanks again to everyone back at home who made my trip back to the homeland so great!