Monday, February 28, 2011


The verdict is in! I have amoebas.

The Good News: I didn't miss out of the biggest/ greatest party of the year for nothing; I had amoebas.
The Bad News: I have amoebas.

Disclaimer: This post contains TMI (too much information) and is not for the faint of heart.

Today, I learned that I joined a very illustrious club of PCVs: PCVs who had/ have amoebas. Katherine and Jackie welcomed me into their ranks with open arms. I actually found out when the Peace Corps medical officer called me to tell me that my stool sample was back from the lab and that amoebas were present, but let's rewind to the beginning of the saga...

The night of the Oceanium party (aka the best night of WAIST) I started to get really cold while I had a fever, my entire body was so sore I couldn't move, and I had gastro issues galore. I had to leave the party and by the time I told Jackie, Katherine, and Tamar about my health issues the next morning Jackie and Katherine thought it was amoebas. Discussions about bodily functions and illness is where the line between normal human beings and Peace Corps Volunteers is drawn. A lot of my friends realized that I had to leave the party and started calling me the next morning and offering condolences, advice, and their own diagnosis. After telling each person my symptoms, they replied with their symptoms when they had amoebas. "Does it feel like a hot poker is going from your back through our uterus?" is how one kind friend put it.

After talking explicitly about my symptoms to half of Peace Corps Senegal, I decided that I had amoebas and started the hunt for a MIF kit. A MIF kit is a stool sample kit. Unfortunately, it was Presidents' Day so the PC office was closed therefore, I decided to call people I knew were staying at the regional house. Let's just say Richard was confused and amused when I accidentally woke him up and sent him on a search of a MIF kit around the house. Exactly the way one wants to ease the pain of a hangover. There were no MIF kits at the regional house so I had to pick one up at the office the next day and then take the test in Thies since I had to immediately return for the artisan formation.

What exactly is a MIF kit/ what does it entail? This may be the portion of the blog that you do not want to read...
A MIF kit is a plastic tube with a little scraper attached filled with a formaldehyde mixture. I wont go into graphic detail about what happens next, but it involves a piece of paper and a bathroom. The next step is one of the great things about Peace Corps. Now that I'm in Thies with a completed MIF kit, the test has to go back to Dakar. What to do? Ask another PCV to carry your MIF kit in a brown paper bag to Dakar for you! There's no sign of disgust, only sympathies for your current plight. Comradery at it's best.

Once the test makes it to Dakar all you have to do is wait until the medical office calls you to tell you that you have amoebas. The funny thing about amoebas is that they're cyclical. I felt terrible during WAIST and the artisan formation, but since then I've felt fine. This also means that they may not present in your MIF kit and that you have try several times before you catch them. I'm happy that I know I have amoebas and I've already started on the meds to obliterate the parasites from my system.

The drugs are intense to say the least. The first three days I have to take a set of four pills all at once. After the first three days, I have to take two pills twice a day for ten days. The best part about this is that the drug boxes are completely in Arabic and I have no idea what they say. The medicine also makes you feel like crap, which is icing on the cake. I don't feel nearly as bad as when the amoebas were having a party in my system, but I don't feel great. My friends had terrible reactions to the meds so I'm hoping my medium level nausea and fatigue are as bad as it gets.

That's the story of amoebas. I have no idea where I got them since they thrive in poorly prepared food and water. And as Tamar pointed out I also live in a barnyard which probably isn't helping the situation. The amoebas are under attack from all the meds I'm taking and I should be amoeba free in 13 days!

Sunday, February 27, 2011


The past couple of days have been a haze; literally and metaphorically. Since coming back to Thies after WAIST, Senegal has decided to b@#$h slap us across the face with the hot season. Last year I don't even remember the cold season - because it wasn't cold. I never needed a sweatshirt and never woke up freezing cold in the morning like I had been the past couple of weeks. Because it never got cold last year, I don't really remember a return to the norm aka oppressive heat. Let's just say that the cold season is over and there was no gentle reminder that the heat would return nor was there a daily increase in temperature each day. A flip was switched and a good 15 degrees were added to the daily heat index. In addition to the return of the heat is dust storms. From the Mauritanian PCVs and even the PCVs in northern Senegal we hear stories of sandstorms and having to stay in the house to wait out the swirling dust. Thies definitely isn't experiencing these types of storms, but the sky is hazy and absolutely everything is filthy. Just covered in dust. My bed, my desk, my floor, my fan...everything. It's gross. The heat and the dust are being exacerbated by this:

A picture of all of my family's empty water containers sitting sadly in the courtyard.

We haven't had water since I returned home from Dakar and it's getting really old really fast. This morning Jeenaba and Awa pulled water for hours and hours. They were both exhausted and I felt terrible for them since they still had to make lunch and dinner. I was not allowed to pull water because I'm useless for most things, but I did try and help by taking care of this little one for hours and hours.

Photo courtesy of Ahmed.

The metaphorical haze I'm experiencing is due to epic boredom. Boredom is sweeping the Thies region. With boredom comes restlessness, bitchiness, and hermit like tendencies. I know that the last one doesn't really make sense. When one is bored it does make sense to interact with the crazy family shouting in the courtyard outside one's window, but one can only take so much discussion about roasting peanuts or watching Senegalese sitcoms. I can no longer watch Senegalese television. The boredom is a manifestation of not having a lot planned for next week, an insanely low key weekend after the madness that was WAIST, and the feeling that I'm so close yet so, so, so far from completing my service. Fortunately, I have a lot of things to look forward to in March which is only 1 day away!

This last little anecdote is totally unrelated to "haze:"

Myself and other PCVs often find ourselves dumbfounded by what Senegalese people do not like. Take for instance no-bake cookies. No-bake cookies contain peanut butter, chocolate, butter, and sugar. Delicious. My family didn't like them although they like all of the ingredients. I always say that my problem with ceebu jenn isn't the ingredients; it's the frequency, which it is. But, I have discovered a dish, much like no-bake cookies, where I like all of the ingredients, but the preparation makes it almost unedible. Tonight I made macarroni with tomotatoes canned from my grandma's garden. Amazing. My family brought me nglach anyway. Nglach is millet (delicious) covered with a peanut butter, yogurt, chocolate sauce (should be delicious, but is not. I like all of those things, but they make a bad, bad, bad combination.

Sorry for the disjointed and hazy post. I hope I can get back on track this coming week and get things moving again!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Artisan Reseau

Wednesday, February, 23rd 2011

The first Artisan Reseau meeting was held yesterday and today. After working furiously last week to make it happen, I began to have my doubts over WAIST weekend and they all came to fruition yesterday. Only eight out of the confirmed thirteen artisans showed up and several PCVs didn't attend either. Mamadou the wood carver from Diourbel who I had so much faith in, he came to the mini expo a couple of weeks ago, and had so many ideas for the Reseau told me after WAIST, where he sold a bunch of stuff, that he was too tired to attend the training. He was the only one I knew going in had RSVPed and wasn't coming. There were a couple of women's groups that told me they were sending two representatives when it turned out to be just one, which I can't get too angry about, but there were also people who just didn't show up and then didn't answer their phones when I called them. The excuse of not understanding me over the phone doesn't apply because Madame Ly called each and every one of them.

Madame Ly didn't attend because one of her aunts is in poor health and today they were holding something which sounds like a pre-funeral ceremony for her. After 18 months in Senegal, there are still cultural things I can't fully understand and that still rankle me and this is one of them. When asked if one or if someone else is feeling better, Senegalese people always say "yes." Even if you just coughed up a lung, you're still feeling better. So, even though it shouldn't, it upsets me when I ask Madame Ly how her aunt is and she says she's getting better. I want to hear that she's on death's doorstep and Mme. Ly is so happy that she's there to be with her aunt. All of the artisans seemed to completely accept this reason for her absence, which is good.

Khady, Mme. Ly's daughter, was supposed to serve as her proxy at the meeting, but didn't. This sent me over the artisan edge and into a controlled rage. One thing to note is that the Ly family has more cell phones and more cell phone numbers than anyone/ any family I have ever met. I have a bazillion numbers for them in my phone and have no idea who they are actually attached to because everyone answers each other's phones. I called what I thought was Khady's number yesterday afternoon and got Madame Ly who told me that Khady was in Dakar. Interesting since I was told she left Dakar Monday night and it was Tuesday afternoon. Madame Ly assured me that she was en route an would be at the center soon. No dice. Nor did Khady call me. This morning when I called her she told me that her mom, aka Madame Ly, told her to come to her aunt's village. When I asked about her aunt the aunt was obviously feeling better. So frustrating.

Regardless, the meeting seemed to be a success. The artisans who came are obviously the ones who are enthusiastic and committed, which is great. Although, they did elected Madame Ly as president again so I'm not quite sure what that says. What I can say is that the women from Kebemer are freaking awesome and I wish that I could work with them even though they don't have a PCV to work with anymore and don't need one. They are amazing and so on top of things. Did I mention that they also showed up dripping in over-sized jewelry? Need I say more? I think it's obvious why I am in love. They pretty much ran the show and told the men at the meeting, who were trying to take control, how it was going to be which I appreciated since the men wanted an artisan I'm not a big fan of to be the president.

I will label the artisan meeting a success for now. We accomplished our goals of electing an executive board and coming up with a constitution of sorts for the association. The artisans also thought the meeting was a huge success and thanked all of us PCVs profusely afterwards, which was extremely nice considering I only organized - Talla did all of the work with them and the teaching during the formation. The next test will be to see what happens in the next three months until we have our second meeting. Will the secretary actually call the other artisans to tell them what happened at the meeting? Will artisans pay their dues?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The West African Invitational Softball Tournament is an epic event to say the very least. Not only do I get to see my Peace Corps friends from other regions who I only get to see a couple of times a year, but I get to meet PCVs from other countries including Niger (ok, they were actually refugees who had to leave Niger and come to Senegal to be volunteers), Mali, The Gambia, and Cape Verde (where I just happen to be going on vacation in a couple of months!). WAIST features plethora of events, including softball - it's actual purpose.

The festivities kicked off Friday night after I arrived in Dakar from a catastrophe of a JA meeting (to be detailed at a later time). The night quickly got off to an amazing start because we unveiled our Thiest Region t-shirts. Now, what is the Thiest Region you may ask? Way back in 2009 when I first installed into my site, myself, Jackie, and Katherine received the nickname "Thiest Girls" because we are all short, brunette, live in the THIES region, and are fairly well endowed. It actually took us the better part of a year to discover our nickname, but after that we ran with it. Let me give a better explanation. I live in a city named Thies, which is pronounced "Chess," like the game. When you add a "T" to the end of it... I'll let you put that together. To make the situation more hilarious there are ZERO boys in the Thies sub-region. There are 7 girls from my stage and another 6 girls from the new Ag/ SED stage. Therefore, when I was in American I took the initiative to create grey shirts with pink lettering across the chest region. We also gave one to Oliver who is an honorary member of the Thiest gang and who coined the nickname. Disclaimer: If you don't find this as hilarious as I do, please do not tell me and spoil the fun. Other than unveiling our Thiest Region t-shirts Friday night we also attended a PCV talent show complete with photo contest and made the rounds of downtown Dakar.

Bright and early Saturday morning we were up and making a delicious breakfast while putting on our team outfits for the first time. Lederhosen ended up being a smash hit. The hats I brought back from America really set the entire ensembles off, if I do say so myself. Other key attributes of our lederhosen costumes were that they were absolutely unflattering on every single team member, plastic beer steins, and facial hair grown by the infamous Brian. The thing that really set us apart was that all of our costumes were uniform. Huge shout out to Katherine who had her tailor make the outfits for our entire team. While the Kaolack ballerinas and the Tambagou Cops and Robbers were hilarious and well done, no one had the uniformity that Dakar had and that really pulled us together and took the breath out of our competition when we took the field. Not that we needed to intimidate our opponents since we had no intention of winning since winning meant waking up early in the morning to play more softball.

Softball at WAIST takes two different forms: serious and ridiculous. Fortunately there are two brackets: serious and ridiculous or normal people and PCVs, however you want to look at it. The serious teams are Embassy workers, really, really, really good Senegalese teams, and Little Leaguers. The ridiculous teams are made up of Peace Corps teams who wear lederhosen, make people play leap from first to second base, and have people bat on piggyback, while reveling in being in Dakar, having fun, and getting a little rowdy. The Peace Corps teams also bring joy to the crowds with our fabulous costumes.

Saturday night after softball was another good night at the Marine house for Tamar and I who attended the SeneGAD (Senegal Gender and Development) date auction. The SeneGAD date auction, raises money for gender and development work by auctioning off male PCVs along with gift certificates to Dakar restaurants. This year's hot commodity was my lovely sitemate Emily since none of the Dakar boys would step up. She dressed up as a man and pulled it off spectacularly so we can all have a little bit more money for gender and development projects. Sunday softball was also fun, but we left the field after our games to nap because Sunday night is the all night party at the Oceanium club on the water. I was so excited and all ready to go and that's obviously when disaster struck...

On the cab ride to the club I started feeling car sick, but thought I was just car sick. Things started to take a serious turn for the not good once we arrived and I started shivering uncontrollably while my fever skyrocketed. I had to go home where I proceeded to get pretty sick. Within the next week I should know what's up, but other PCVs are diagnosing me with amoebas. I will go into way too much detail about how one acquires amoebas, how one discovers they have amoebas, and how one gets rid of amoebas if I do have them raging around my body. Just an FYI, that post will not be for the faint of heart. Anyway, I'm back at home alternating between the bathroom and shivering under five blankets when Katherine arrives back at home in the wee hours of the morning. I'm fairly delirious and cringing in pain, but when she asks me "did you kill that scorpion," I instantly regained my sanity/ ability to move - and quickly. The conversation:

Katherine: Hey, did you kill that scorpion on the stairs?
Alyss: What scorpion?
Katherine: The dead scorpion on the stairs.
Alyssa: What? No. I just went to the bathroom 30 seconds ago (this was a trend that night) and didn't see a scorpion... it's alive!!!
Katherine: No it's not; it doesn't have one of it's pincers.

We both approach the scorpion with plastic sandals bought for less than one dollar at a Senegalese boutique. Katherine throws a sandal at the scorpion and it scampers across the landing. Not dead.

Katherine/ Alyssa: Screems.

We then alternate smashing the crap out of the scorpion with the plastic sandals. I then use the two sandals to chop stick the dead/ mutilated scorpion and throw it into the toilet. After the scorpion is safely flushed away, Katherine convinces herself that she has been stung on her foot by the scorpion although she has no mark nor does she have massive pain in her foot. While she continues to google and worry, I fall back into my fitful amoeba coma...

Monday morning we all wake up worse for the wear and must sleep for most of the day before heading back to the American Club (the site of all of the softball games and a favorite PC Senegal hang out site) for one last pool party/ bbq. I'm still struggling with illness, but I totally rallied and stayed out the whole night although I was shivering and wrapped up in a long sleeve shirt, jeans and a scarf.

WAIST II was fantastic. Definitely better the second time around. Unfortunately, I had to leave Dakar this morning to head back for Thies and an artisan formation, which is much less exciting.

The latest pictures are up in the WAIST II album. Click on the picture of Jackie eating pie to see all of the pictures as it seems that this album refuses to scroll like the others.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


The last few days have featured me cancelling, rescheduling, and then reverting back to the orginal plan for the artisan formation next week. It involved quite a bit more running around than one would think.

Today I...

- Met Tamar at a random government office so she could renew her residency card.
- Went to the bank where I almost had a nervous breakdown due to incredible inefficiency and ineptitude (this was compounded by the fact that it took Tamar FOREVER to renew her papers).
- Ran back to the Peace Corps center to go back and forth about the artisan formation
- Made a trip out of Thies to Pout to pick up some very important things that Jackie had forgotten at home. Her family now thinks we're both crazy since her brother had to pick me up on the side of the road, walk me to her house, watch me rummage through her things, and then take me back to the main road. The best part of this interaction was her toddler aged host brother whose name just happens to be Ahmed. This is the conversation he had with his mom about me:

Ahmed: Jackie? (Looking quizzically at me)
Ahmed's Mom: No Ahmed, that's Jackie's friend.
Ahmed: Jackie!
Ahmed's Mom: No, that's Jackie's friend. It's not Jackie.
Ahmed: Toubab.
Ahmed's Mom: Yes, that is a toubab.
Ahmed: JACKIE!!!

He was really cute and can't tell the toubabs apart which makes him even cuter.

- Back in Thies I ran to see Madame Ly to confirm everything for selling at WAIST this weekend.
- Taxi back to my house where I packed my bags for WAIST. My bag weighs at least as much as I do mostly due to all of the delicious snacks that my mom has sent over for our gorging pleasure. But, this isn't my problem...
- Because then I took my bag back to Peace Corps so that Katherine and Tamar could take it to Dakar for me so that I can travel light/ quickly tomorrow since I have a JA meeting tomorrow morning.
- This was followed by breaking, but uninteresting news to all of you, Peace Corps news.

I did this while constantly talking and texting on my phone. Furthering my family's belief that I'm completely insane and there's just nothing they can do about it.

I'm really, really looking forward to WAIST. It's definitely going to be amazingly fun and I'm excited to see my friends who live in different regions. To get all of you excited I will reveal the Dakar region's theme: lederhosen. Yes, I brought hats from America from the entire team.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Today is the Prophet Muhammad's birthday which is called Mawlid throughout much of the Muslim world, but is called Gamou here in Senegal. Gamou is th big religious pilgrimage for Tidian followers. The religious center for Tidians is Tivaouane (my old training city), which is near Thies so the traffic has been insane and everyone is talking about making the pilgrimage. People inevitably ask me if I'm going to participate. I have myriad feelings about participating. Large crowds of very excited people are a little scary and I would be there mainly to observe and not to participate therefore, it's better that I stay at home.

People have been making their way to Tivaouane for several days, but today is the Prophet's birthday so it's the craziest day. Thies is, for some unknown reason, overrun with motorcycles. It's like Hells Angels descended on Thies. Odd. Most of my family identify with the Tidian teachings of Islam so have been talking about the holiday, but in their usual non-committal terms. They kidded with me about making the trip then told me that I was babysitting and then proclaimed that they were too tired to go at all. I left this morning and spent the day out and about so that I wouldn't be roped into going if they did decide to make the trip, which they actually did! I was surprised since Khady proclaimed this morning that she needed more beauty rest and would not be going.

I came home tonight around 10pm to a bolted front gate. Not cool. I was worried right away, but after pounding on the door for several minutes my mom came out and let me in. She was the only person at my house. Every other person including Ahmed and baby Abdou made the trek to Tivaouane and my dad apparently went to Dakar. My mom was really happy because she hates both big groups of people (aka the pilgrimage) and being alone. She was doubly happy when I told her that I had already showered at Peace Corps (we haven't had water in about a week and since everyone is gone no one pulled water, my mom had to pay another women to pull her bathing water). She asked me to sit in the living room while she bathed and then told me to go into my room so she could lock the door to the main house. Thanks mom. I feel the love.

Before telling me that she was going to bed and I was going to the bungalow, my mom did tell me that everyone was coming home tonight around 3am because they didn't want to stay in the "village." Only my delightfully elitist family would call Tivaouane a village. It's a city of 50,000 people and has drastically better utilities than Thies. Regardless, I will probably be woken up by two crying children, to angry mothers, and a heard of other family members at the wee hours of the morning upon their return. It's OK since all of the mosques are going at it 24/7 at maximum volume anyway.

If you're interested in learning more about Mawlid, Gamou, the Prophet Muhammad's birthday check out this link:

If you're interested in coming to Senegal, but need Jon Stewart's enthusiastic endorsement check out this link:

A Junior Achievement update is coming tomorrow!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Art, Artisans, Apocalypse

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours making Valentine's with Ahmed. I had planned to do it anyway since my mom had sent me a ton of supplies, but when Jeenaba knocked on my door and presented me with a crying five-year-old and then walked away, I didn't really have a choice. Ahmed was all about the Valentine's cards and quickly took command of any and all stickers that he could find in the crafts packets. The majority of the work fell to me because Ahmed is still terrified of making mistakes even with me. He wouldn't cut out construction paper hearts even after I had drawn an outline, but he was very impressed when I cut out a perfect heart after folding the paper in half (yes, that is the extent of my artistic abilities). I was instructed to cut a heart out for each person in our family and then Ahmed plastered stickers all over them, used an entire bottle of glue, most of which is on my porch, to attach doilies, and scribbled "names" in crayon. When Khady came to see what we were doing Ahmed shrieked and tried to hide all of the cards so they would be a surprise today, Valentine's Day.

Today when Ahmed got home from school the excitement was palatable. This was probably mostly my fault since I told him that I had candy to go with the cards. My mom put a hold on the cards until everyone got home for the day so I played "run," and hide and go seek with Ahmed. "Run," is a very involved game about running where Ahmed runs from one end of the courtyard to the other. The integral role that I play is that of counter. I count to three, five, or ten, depending on Ahmed's wishes, and then he runs. "Run," is the one place that I've actually been working on my goal of teaching Ahmed English and he can now count to ten in English, which is pretty cool.

Once everyone arrived back at home tonight the Valentine's were distributed and they are were a bid success. Everyone loved them and the candy that went all with them. Valentine's day is actually a big deal here in Senegal; all of the restaurants in town have special deals and delightfully tacky decorations on display. Of course I was given grief over not being in America with Valentine today, but no one else did anything either.

After missing Madame Ly at her jewelry stand on Saturday, my main goal of today was to check in with her and make sure that she had called all of the other artisans to confirm that they will be attending the training after WAIST. When I arrived Madame Ly was just setting everything out and she handed me a big stack of necklaces to arrange (which she later re-arranged), and then metaphorically slapped me with them. Madame Ly is not coming to the training next week. She's the president. And with that my day took a terrible turn for the worst and I was thrown into crisis mode over what to do. Apparently her aunt is dying and they are having what I'm going to call "a funeral when one's still alive" ceremony the two days of the training. She can still come to WAIST to sell things (Lynn, we've already arranged for a group of artisans to sell at WAIST!), but right after that she has to head to her aunt's village. I tried to see if I could call in another artisan to sell at WAIST so Madame Ly could go to her aunt's village and then make it back to Thies for the training. No such luck.

I panicked and sent texts to all of my friends and called Talla before a wise third-year PCV tried to put a positive spin on the situation. Khady, Mme. Ly's daughter, can be her proxy and we can use it as a teaching experience and an example of the VP's responsibilities. I really wanted to change the date of the training, but with availability at the center at a premium and almost all of the other artisans confirmed, we are sticking with the original date.

Artisan pandemonium continued to reign as I fielded a call from one of my friends who was at her breaking point because her artisans absolutely refuse to create any type of production timeline. Madame Ly also called two women from Tamar's women group, but the group president has no idea who these women are. But, we may have more artisans joining the group and I think almost everyone is confirmed. Or at least people told Madame Ly they were coming while I sat next to Madame Ly making sure she actually called everyone. We will see what happens!

Friday, February 11, 2011

We Are Family

I've decided that the threshold has been met. When do you actually become family with people? When you could absolutely care less what they have to say and you can laugh about it together. During my delirious, congestion filled, cold days, I was feeling guilty about not spending enough time with my Senegalese family, but then I realized they are my family and therefore, I have spent enough time with these people and while I was sick what I really did need was to live in my bed reading about politics and watching Grey's Anatomy. I came to this conclusion over lunch today.

Returning to Senegal last month I felt refreshed and ready for the rest of my service in every respect except one: the food. I'm totally over pretending that I enjoy eating white rice covered in fish gravy. Force feeding myself to make my family feel good is no longer a concern of mine and my family has taken notice. Today at lunch Khady accused me of not liking ceeb (rice) and I look her square in the face and told her that no, I do not eat ceeb for lunch every single day. This brought up one of the most frustrating and recurring conversations of my service. Everyone in Senegal eats ceeb every day for lunch therefore, everyone in the United States eats pizza every day for lunch. You might remember that a few months ago I was ready to cut off my right hand for a Pizza Hut pizza (yes, I know it's gross), but there is nothing on this Earth that I could eat every day and not hate it after a year and a half.

I've attempted to explain that in the US I have a very varied diet and that I barely ever eat hamburgers and pizza no matter how valiantly my family attempts to convince me otherwise. My mom then accused me of wanting to eat pasta covered in fresh vegetables to which I responded that she was completely correct and that sounded delicious. This sent them all into a fit of how disgusting that sounded and sent my head spinning because I cannot wrap my head around the idea that they don't understand or at the very least acknowledge that we have different tastes. Therefore, it is possible for them to like ceeb every day while I don't and for me to like fresh vegetables which haven't been boiled in oil for hours when they do not.

While no mutual understanding was reached, I do feel we've moved into a new food era and time of honesty. I'm obviously not wasting away and they see that. They also eat snacks all the time so why can't I? They know I do. When I got up from the bowl to everyone telling me that I hadn't eaten enough I told everyone that I was going to make something in my room and left it at that. I didn't hurt their feelings and I no longer care when they try to get me to eat more and we can honestly tell each other how terrible we think each other's tastes are. If that's not family I don't know what is.

Speaking of forging deep, personal bonds with my family. Jeenaba and I became a little bit closer today. The power was out and I had been laying in my bed with my iPod and then decided I should go spend more time with my family. The main house was dead. I didn't hear any voices. I didn't see any flashlights/ the solar lanterns that have both become my family's instead of the one I gave them. I opened the door to the living room to lay on the couch and read a magazine with my cell phone flashlight and heard a scream. It was Jeenaba who was telling me that she was in the room. Jeenaba could obviously see me because I'm a glow in the dark toubab. I raised my flashlight to see her (I'll you put this one together for yourselves) and found naked Jeenaba. That was probably why she was screaming at me...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hands On Mothering

Thermometers, a mother touching her child's head are both familiar ways to gauge one's temperature. I've never heard of ripping someone's shirt open and putting their hand between your breasts, but Senegal is excellent at reminding me that there's a first time for everything. This first occurred for me last week at the mini Artisan Expo when I was too delusional and exhausted to really put together how awkward this experience was. When Madame Ly did this for the second time today I realized that it is a a little weird to have another woman's hand in between your breasts especially when you are standing on a busy street in a Senegalese market. The situation was only compounded by my toubaby-ness.

Madame Ly calls me her child and is the sweetest woman on Earth and if neither or only one of these things were true then I would be creeped out by this situation, but every day she has been calling me to make sure that I'm better or at least getting better. As soon as I walked up today she was in a tizzy because of my "rapid weight loss" which is totally untrue since I've been gorging on my recent packages and my "paler than usual skin," but it's been cold and cloudy! That's when her hand went in between my boobs and she proclaimed that I had a fever. I don't know if it was true, but she sat me down and proceeded to give me a nice head rub for the next hour so I can't really complain about it.

The entire situation was quite the spectacle. My hair was, I'm sure, beyond disheveled, Madame Ly had me mostly covered with her shawl, and told every and all passers-by that I was her sick child and don't we really look a like? While I was receiving a nice head rub in the middle of the market next to a mountain of Madame Ly's jewelry I was also privy to a discussion between Madame Ly and the old man selling newspapers next to her about "the clothes kids wear these days." This discussion was really the icing on the cake. Hearing them ranting about boys wearing tight red jeans was just too much especially when I was told not to laugh because it was causing wrinkles on my forehead which Madame Ly was holding and pressing to extract my sickness. When she was done she took all of my "sickness" that was now held in her hands and put it into the ground. Now, I don't believe this will work nor do I feel better, but I sure hope Madame Ly knows something because I'm still hacking up a lung.

After getting a fantastic head rub/ sickness banishing procedure, Madame Ly and I did get down to business. It looks like we are going to have a meeting/ training for all of the artisans at the Peace Corps center in Thies the two days after WAIST. I'm really excited a bout this because I think the artisans will be excited about it and I'm interested to see if people other than Madame Ly will step up and take responsibility. It would be amazing if a real group forms and they can start organizing expos themselves and collaborating more. Madame Ly is going to call the artisans in the next couple of days to tell everyone about the formation and I'm going to email all of the PCVs to make sure we have our bases covered. I also got to see Baye's, Dioss' brother, cards. He's finally taken a hint from all of Dioss' success with his cards and made cards of his own which are really cool. There are a bunch of pictures on my blog if you want to take a look.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Progress and Standstill

After spending all morning in my bed reading, I'm still exhausted from my stupid cold and at the same time highly unmotivated, I gathered all of my strength and my patience for a Junior Achievement meeting. I didn't have to gather all that much strength since Talla picked me up at my house in a Peace Corps car, but nonetheless I did have to make an effort to shower and I find one of the teachers we have to work with incredibly taxing. Talla never ceases to amaze me. For one he rolled down his window approximately 15 times on the 10 minute drive from my house to the Lycee Technique. I swear the man knows every single person in this country. Talla is also able to talk around every problem and make everyone feel like their idea/ position has won the day even if it has not. I know that part of what makes him so valuable to us SED PCVs is not something that would be called a skill: he's Senegalese and therefore he speaks French and Wolof and understands cultural nuances while I bumble about like a 1.5 year old child. But, Talla is also a great salesman and he really helped Kerry and I out today by smoothing our path to eventual JA classes and getting the Lycee Technique teachers on board with the program we want to put in place.

The plan is to hold JA classes for students and teachers at the same time so both groups are participating in JA's "Learning by Doing," philosophy. The hold up was that the teachers previously wanted their own training so they could critique the program, but we are hoping to do everything at once. The teachers and students leave the JA curriculum together and make suggestions so we can tailor JA to Senegalese students. Kerry and I are presenting the idea to interested teachers next week so we'll see what happens. Unfortunately, Talla wont be there to back us up, but I hope that everyone is on the same page now.

Post JA meeting, I met up with a bunch of other volunteers who were in Thies for various reasons. We all had lunch together at Pamanda's. It was fun to see people and eat salad and hummus. Everyone is getting incredibly excited about WAIST - the softball tournament that I wrote about last year - and we are all convinced that are costumes are going to be the best, which they are.

I left Pamanda's reluctantly because Erin and Emily were still there, but I was exhausted and needed a nap. All I want to do is rest and read and have alone time and it makes me feel incredibly guilty when I do that at home. Usually PCVs hit the year mark and the guilt of hanging out with the Senegalese family slowly fades as the volunteer hits his/ her stride and confidence grows, but I still feel badly when I'm home and don't hang out with the fam. Lately, and I know I've been sick, but I've been mentally willing myself to participate/ sit in silence with my family, but I can't do it. My body refuses to leave my room to sit in another room. My family has totally backed off and understands that I'm a weird American who can read in my room for hours by myself and actually have an enjoyable time, but I still have the guilt. Living with a family who is and is not yours at the same time is very difficult. The sense of responsibility and of not belonging pulls both ways. Hopefully once my body stops hating me my mind will quiet as well.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

THE Website

Staying up until 4am to watch the Super Bowl while you have a cold is not a good idea. I was an absolute waste of life today. After sleeping in and procrastinating doing anything by reading the New York Times, it took me close to 5 hours to clean my room just because I could only pick up one thing before sitting down to blankly stare at something. Therefore, between 8am and 2pm I did nothing other than organize and clean my room.

It took every ounce of my energy and telling myself that I was lazy in order to leave my compound today and head off to Dioss' after lunch. I needed to give Dioss money from the Expo last week and I hadn't seen him in a while so I just needed to go and visit. None of the boy posse was around so we sat and chatted for a while. He's been very busy lately as well with the French NGO coming and supposedly sending the infamous magazine off to the printer. Dioss is very excited because the people from the French NGO were able to launch a website for AdapThies, the artist association in Thies of which Dioss is president. This is the link: The site is in French, but google should be able to translate it for you and the pictures are pretty cool to look at regardless. Dioss and I had a good chat and I attempted to plan some more ateliers with him, but he was distracted because a newspaper reporter was coming to interview him about the website. When the reporter came I left and walked back home.

Nothing too much is new at home. Deenba is officially not working for my family anymore. She decided that she wanted to live in her village where she is the oldest and therefore the most powerful sister instead of being bossed around all the time at my house, understandable. Therefore we've had a revolving door of neighborhood girls helping us since Jeenaba and Awa are totally overwhelmed. Mami also packed her bags today and is heading off to Dakar to start school again since her basketball days are apparently over and she doesn't want to get married. Mami leaving will have no bearing on the workload of the other girls since Mami is just about as helpful as I am with the house work and the cooking. What I am fantastic at is babysitter. Or at least I'm deemed competent enough to be left with Abdou. Jeenaba's most used phrase with me is "go greet Alyssa." This is a not so subtle hint that it is now my turn to take Abdou and at some point in the fairly distant future Jeenaba will come back to claim him. Jeenaba is a fantastic mom so I'm happy that I can take the baby off her hands for a little bit and hanging out with Abdou helped me feel like I wasn't a complete waste today.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Starting to Feel Better

The haze of my cold is finally lifting (I'm able to function as a normal human being although I'm still not 100%) and I find myself back in Thies. I'm currently sitting in my absolutely filthy room, since I forgot to close my window slats, after a really long run in Dakar.

Thursday was the second and last day of the mini Artisan Expo. I was legitimately a zombie. My cold was at its peak and I could barely sit up straight let alone talk to people about artisanal goods and make change for their purchase. I actually didn't even make it through the entire day and after apologizing profusely to Madame Ly for leaving her at the Expo, I packed up the goods I was responsible for and took a taxi back to the Peace Corps office where I was able to acquire sudafed, a giant bag of cough drops, and promptly sink into a deliciously comfortable couch in the air conditioning with a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Although I was barely functioning during the mini Expo and the event wasn't exactly what I thought it would be, the Expo itself was fairly successful. The artisans sold approximately 800 USD combined. Madame Ly was the big seller accounting for almost 500 USD. It was also nice that the artisans trusted each other, called each other during the event to check in, and are excited to try the entire process again later this month at WAIST. We are also planning a day or two long training in Thies for the artisans where they will elect the rest of an executive board (Madame Ly as president is the only elected official right now), talk about bylaws such as dues, and just meet again to hopefully further collaboration.

Surprisingly, after a night of American food, trashy television, sudafed, air climate control, I did wake up feeling slightly better. Unfortunately, my cold did take over my ears and I could barely hear anything which made it very difficult to communicate with the doctors on Friday. I had to go have some tests done on my knee Friday morning, I will hopefully have results or at least next steps later this week, and the doctor thought I was a complete idiot who didn't understand a word he said in French, but I just couldn't hear him. The rest of Friday was very low key hanging out at the office and eating delicious food including a very romantic date with Katherine at a Thai restaurant.

I continued to feel progressively better throughout the weekend so my friends convinced me to stay for the Super Bowl, which ended up being very, very fun. Since the always excellent Detroit Lions were not featured in this year's Super Bowl, I did cheer for the Steelers. The US Marines stationed in Dakar invited us Peace Corps Volunteers and some Embassy employees over to their house for the festivities, which started at 11:30pm in Senegal! My friends and I had made some delicious vegetable dip and cut up a bunch of veggies since eating is always on my our minds and one has to have snacks at the Super Bowl. We thought we would be the lame girls who brought veggies and that there wouldn't be any other food, but there was and everything was delicious and really set a great atmosphere for the game/ helped me stay up until 3am when the game finally ended! It was a very fun party. There were a bunch of PCVs and other Americans and the room was fairly evenly split between Packers and Steelers fans. Unfortunately we didn't get to watch any of the commercials since we were watching military TV, but that's what I'll be doing the rest of the night online!

After lunch in Dakar I headed back to Thies with Jackie and Emily and went to the post office where I had a ridiculous amount of mail!


Shout out to my mom and dad for the non-disclosed number of packages today. My friends are going to be very, very, very excited about all of the treats I'll be bringing to WAIST. THANKS!

Shout out to Ma for the wonderful Valentine's package. My family with love all of the candy and Ahmed is already coloring in his new coloring book while I'm typing this post! Thanks.

Shout out to Leigh and Shirley for two wonderful letters. You guys are the best!

That's the update from Senegal. Tomorrow I'm back to work in Thies. Dioss and I have a lot of work to do since his cards were finally received in the US of A. We are going to work on a bio that will be featured along with the cards!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The African Walk Away

Wednesday February 2, 2011

Mini Expo: Day 1

This morning I woke up bright and early to get ready for the mini Artisan Expo. Actually it wasn't bright, it was pitch black, and I felt like had been run over multiple times by a sept-place without an exhaust pipe. In the dark I carried all of the artisanal products that had been hanging out in my room for the past week out to the road, threw all of my dirty clothes into my bag to wash in Dakar, and then finally flagging down a cab and heading to the center to re-load everything into the Peace Corps car where Kerry was already waiting. We then went to pick up Madame Ly who, unsurprisingly, did not take my advice to reduce the amount of product she brought to the MINI expo so the car was absolutely packed.

A quick and comfortable ride into Dakar later, I picked up more artisanal products at the office and then we headed down to Hotel Savana, which is the site of a Peace Corps training conference and therefore the expo. Mamadou, the wood carver from Diourbel made famous from Katherine's and my trip to pick up our chairs, met us at the hotel with giant chairs and huge drums even though I specifically told him that people would be traveling and therefore only want smaller products. Oh well.

After trying to smooth out some miscommunication issues about where, when, and why we would be selling, Madame Ly, Khady, Mamadou and I started setting up the expo outside. This would normally be fine since we are in Senegal and Senegal is usually damn hot, but this year we are actually experiencing a "cold season." While I was able to survive the sub-zero temperatures of Michigan while I was home for vacation, I am unable to function when it dips below 75 in Senegal and am reduced a blithering idiot wrapped in a scarf and blanking sitting in the sun. And no I've been refusing to have pictures taken of me. Thies has been experiencing the cool temperatures much like Dakar, but the Hotel Savana is right on the water and the wind is BRUTAL. My debilitating cold probably didn't help.

This Expo was put together at the last minute as a way to test Madame Ly's ability to organize artisans and sell other peoples' products as well as see if the artisans could trust Madame Ly and myself with their goods. We had a pretty good representation of Senegalese artisanal products. At the event: Madame Ly and her jewelry, Dioss sent small paintings and cards, Madamou has wood products, Matar (Katherine's artisan) sent bags and pret-a-porter clothes, Tamar's women's group sent batick (tie-dyed cloth), baskets from Tivuouane, and Demba (Alys' artisan) sent leather products. I thought it was a pretty good showing. The Expo is also a departure from what we've done in the past because we're selling mainly to Africans (they are Peace Corps employees from across Africa in Senegal for a training) and before this I didn't understand what that would mean.

Apart from feeling terrible while we were selling in the morning, I also thought the Expo was going to be a spectacular failure. No one was buying anything. People were upset that they couldn't bargain for all of the products (I ended up selling for the artisans who were not present and I did not feel comfortable reducing the price lists their volunteers had given me). I was really, really, really worried that I had wasted Madame Ly's, Khady's, and Mamadou's time and that this little foray into other Expos was a horrible terrible idea. As time slowly crawled by and I resigned myself to the fact that we weren't going to do any business, I realized that they were pulling the Africa Walk Away on me!

The African Walk Away: A very important and useful price negotiating technique. When one does not like the price simply walk away and have the seller run after you with a lower price or upon realizing that the price will not be reduce you, as the purchaser, finally give in and pay a slightly higher price.

The afternoon selling sessions really picked up and I think the artisans are happy. This expo is nowhere near as large or as well publicized as the Expo this past December, but the artisans will still make several hundred dollars for two days work, which isn't a bad deal. Apart from the African Walk Away, it was very interesting to see what people were buying. At the Expo in December we sold to a mainly Peace Corps Volunteer and Ex-Pat audience who were interested in Dioss' cards and art as well as wood products as gifts for their friends and family at home. The African Peace Corps trainers attending the conference were much more interested in the dyed fabrics, apparel, and jewelry (although Madame Ly also made bank at the PC Expo in December). It was definitely a good lesson for me.

The day was excruciatingly long. I was dead tired and really sick by the time we packed up and I got in a cab headed for the regional house. Fortunately, the house was dead and I made a delicious pasta dinner with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and basil. After eating my home cooked meal and watching Love and Other Drugs I felt a lot better, but who wouldn't feel better after watching Jake Gyllenhaal romp around naked for the better part of two hours?