Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thies Round-Up

Dinner at Alyssa’s house was one of the more difficult things that I’ve had to do on my trip, and not just because I had to concentrate on not using my left (unclean) hand. Alyssa had prepped me pretty well on the etiquette. It was just going to be her host father, Alyssa and me at the table for dinner. I kicked big Ahmed off the table, so that started the awkwardness. The hardest thing for me though was the knowledge that the rest of the family was not going to eat until we were done with our food, and the amount of food the rest of the family (~8 people) was whatever we left in the bowl. In America I’ve been known to buy a rotisserie chicken, clever it half and eat it no problem; but knowing that people much more hungry than I am were waiting for my table scraps made me eat the bare minimum of chicken and then push my food around on the plate. Dinner was over around 11pm when Alyssa’s host dad proclaimed that we both had not eaten enough and that he was done. After dinner Alyssa and I watched some Senegalese music videos and I retreated back to her room for a Cliff bar. Now I am truly glad I bought about four 12-packs of Cliff bars and other assorted snacks for the rest of her stay.

I awoke the next morning to a sound that I’ve heard many times before during Skype conversations with Alyssa. It was Alyssa family’s two roosters crowing and the neighborhood mosques competing for who could be the loudest. The rooster/ chicken / sheep / pigeon pen is literally right next to Alyssa’s wall and this rooster is very fond of crowing loudly every 30 seconds no matter what time of day it is. As a side note I don’t really get why they keep pigeons as pets but cats are considered pests. Anyways, Alyssa brewed up some great coffee, which consisted of heating up some water on her propane burner and mixing in a Via packet, so then I was good to go. We had a long day ahead of us. We met up with Katherine to go see the infamous Madame Ly. We got to the Ly compound around 10 for an 11 appointment, which meant we had to entertain ourselves for about an hour and a half. Thus explains the copious amount of pictures of Alyssa on a Senegalese exercise bike. It was great to see someone that has impacted Alyssa’s service as much as Madame Ly and she was a gracious host. She really wanted us to stay for lunch and absolutely wouldn’t let us leave until we had a piece of meat with onion sauce.

After Madame Ly’s we went to the “Catholic Bar” which is a speakeasy outside one of the few Catholic churches in Senegal. We made ourselves at home in the back of the bar, outside where I met a lot of Alyssa’s PCV friends and distributed the treasure I brought from the US. By treasure I mean two large bags of tortilla chips, 3 kinds of dip, some cheese crackers, two packages of Oreos and a couple box if ginger snaps as a special request. Even Alyssa thought I brought too much food, but it was all devoured; washed down with a couple Flag and Gazelle Beers (shout out to “beercheese”). Alyssa has a great group of friends and I’m sure it’s one of the ways that she has stayed sane in an otherwise pretty chaotic environment.

We then made a trek to chicken Dibi. While I must admit that the décor wasn’t the best (dirty walls with one out of place French oil painting) the chicken was really good. It definitely helped my appetite that it was extremely dark inside and I had my back to the kitchen, but I would go back for the Dibi chicken challenge any time.
Alyssa was nice and only planned one night at her family’s compound, so we ended the night at her favorite hotel in Theis, Masa-masa which is thankfully much quieter and has western plumbing.

The next morning, Mary, Katherine, Alyssa and I met up at the post office, to meet her buddies there and to pick up a package. It was interesting to see the Senegalese postal system at work; let’s just say that they didn’t have to worry about Y2K. I was also a bit surprised they asked Alyssa to open it in front of them to make sure there wasn’t contraband.

We then got a cab to Mary’s site called Ngeye Mkehe which is home to a large basket market. After getting out and recovering from the diesel fumes we’d inhaled in a car, Alyssa spotted two of the artisans she collaborated with at the expo. Meeting them was a great stroke of luck as they were able to negotiate for us and we were able to get some good prices for the baskets. I could barely walk in the basket market without either stumbling on a basket or a person. The market was lined with trucks piled with baskets, making them twice as tall as normal (luckily there are no overpasses in Senegal). These baskets, made by the same people are exported and can be found in stores such as pottery barn. Some of the exports profits are re-invested back into the community as school fees for the children who live in these villages.

I was excited to meet Dioss as he’s worked with Alyssa a lot and does pretty impressive work. When we arrived at his compound he was painting in a new style that I’d describe as cubist-inspired. He was working on only his third piece of this style but it was already looking polished. After greeting him, Alyssa and I took a walk around his compound and looked at some of the more abstract paintings that I was interested in. Dioss went back to a cigarette and painting (typical Dioss protocol) until he offered us some tea. The tea comes in shot-sized glasses and has equal portions tea, mint and sugar and is boiling hot. The proper way to drink the tea is to slurp up, I believe the louder the slurp gives style points. Alyssa pawned the tea drinking duties off on me and I actually liked it, but probably wouldn’t make it part of my normal routine.

Dinner was at Massa Massa where I was dying to try the lasagna that Alyssa has raved about on her blog. We shared a bottle of wine and the lasagna which lived up to the hype! Dinner was only briefly interrupted by a blackout until Massa Massa’s generators kicked on, saving the day.

Alyssa’s Note: Shout out to the Onyshko’s for sending me a fantastic package! Katherine waited for a LONG time at the post office in order to get it since she thought it was the package you sent to my box for her! While Katherine may have been a little disappointed, I am really excited about all of the treats inside and the new, really cute shirt! Thank you! Can’t wait to see you in Chicago!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Vacation to Thies

Today Alyssa and I left the big city of Dakar for her home town of Theis. I'm on a "word a day" program with Alyssa and yesterday's word of "bachna" came in handy. Bachna is a versatile word that literary means "I'm good" but practically means, "no thank you I am not interested in your ray-bands, rolex or tissues; nor do I need Orange credit". A Bachana and a hand in the air, possibly followed by "non-merci" usually will be sufficient to get the street vendor to realize that I'm not interested or at least loose interest in me.

Alyssa warned me that the trip to the Dakar garage to get a septpalce was going to be the toughest part of the trip yet. It definitely was a bit overwhelming, but Alyssa is a pro at negotiating and I'm truly impressed with how well she has acclimated to the country. There have been multiple occasions on my trip so far in which the person trying to sell us something mentions to another Senegalese person that it will be very hard to negotiate with Alyssa because she speaks such good wolof. I find this pretty ironic as they are acknowledging that Alyssa speaks wolof, in wolof, right in front of her.

Alyssa rated the septplace ride itself an 8 on the scale of 1 (terrible) to 10 (perfect). We only took one unplanned "shortcut" and the 25 year old French stationwagon held together (somehow). However even the tension from riding in a car with zero safety features driven by a teenager couldn't keep me from being in awe of what I saw on the road. Dakar gives the sense of an industrial city, however very quickly you are thrown back into a post-apocalyptic image of the world. It really struck me how different a world they live in and it really sunk in why the work like Alyssa is doing is so important.

Spending the first few days in Dakar was a good introduction to Senegal, but I was ready for the move to Theis today. After an introduction to the family they lost interest in me in 10 minutes because I don't speak wolof, so Alyssa and I took a walk into the peacecorps center. Instead of a bustling city street in Dakar where everyone is competing for your attention to may a buck, I was struck by the sense of calm in Thies. Only a few people really took notice of us and mostly it was children who just wanted to come greet a toubob.

After the center we presented the family with gifts from america, which consisted of of post-valentines day chocolate that I bought and a couple puzzles and toys for Ahmed. New toys threw Ahmed into a frenzy; we had to assembly the puzzle twice, which was thankfully only 28 pieces. The toy car I got him needed a beef-ed up suspension for the tile floor on the compound so we transitioned to water rockets. Ahmed is eager to learn and wasn't even deterred when a water rocket leaked and he had to change clothes. Just by interacting with Ahmed and the rest of the family I can tell they see Alyssa as just another part of the family and one who is able / willing to take car of the baby and play with Ahmed.

And now a segue into food.

I have to be honest and say that every meal that I've had thus far has been at least pretty good (well its just before dinner time at Alyssa's host house so I'm sure I've jinxed myself). I've sampled some of the traditional food such as local Thiof (fish) with bissop-flower sauce. We also had one of the more surprisingly good meals at Goree island where we picked one of the many shacks on the beach to eat. I had one of the best burgers I've had in a while, complete with a fried egg and fries inside the burger. Alyssa had calamari which was fresh and almost perfectly cooked; it was truly good food karma to find this place. The only place we've gone to twice is a new bakery in dakar that opened up and serves pretty impressive quiches and the closest thing to a bagel you are every going to find in dakar. It had just opened up and Alyssa quickly started the Peace Corps phone tree on this spot. Finally, I had my first communal meal with Alyssa's host family. It was rice, fried fish and onion sauce. While I can completely understand how 2 years of repetitive taste like this could make it repulsive, I actually enjoyed it and after I was done I was only forced by Zibata and Alyssa's host mom to have one more bite before I left the table.

...For all of those that are confused by this post; I (Matt) am visiting Alyssa and will be "guest blogging" at least a few times during my week and a half stay. I hope you can cope with loosing Alyssa's great blog for a few days.

P.S. Pictures (will be) up!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Cup Game

Today Kerry and I taught our third Junior Achievement class (I missed last week because I was in Dakar saying goodbye to Oliver and Ankith). The classroom we use was occupied by the English Club when we arrived who took the opportunity to perform a skit they had been working on for us native speakers. I was really, really impressed by their level of English and the material that they decided to cover. The skit was about what the youth of Africa can do to change the continent for the better and even included a full length song mid skit. I'm always impressed by Senegalese skits. They really go all out, which is surprising since most students are so reserved in class.

Last week's JA less was about choosing an executive board and today's lesson expanded on that idea by introducing an organizational chart and supporting roles to the executive board. A president, VP, finance chair, secretary, and HR person were elected during session two and further roles were doled out today. In order to show how important communication is between board members and with people below the executive level we played "The Cup Game."

This is a game loathed by Katherine and played at girls' camp only when Katherine was in town on shopping trips. In "The Cup Game," each team is given 10 cups and a equal length strip of tape. The teachers go into another room and create a cup sculpture then one person from each team, in our case the president of each imaginary company, goes and looks at the sculpture for 30 seconds two times. The president then, without moving his/ hear hands, has to explain to the rest of his team how to replicate the sculpture. It's much harder than you think and some of the teams struggled, but I think everyone really enjoyed the game. It also was a great segue to discuss teamwork and communication.

Junior Achievement is really starting to take off. Kerry has been doing a great job at churning out the lesson plans after we discuss them and getting them to the teachers at the Lycee Technique who have started to take on greater roles with each class. The students are also starting to understand and fall into the rhythm of the class, which is great. We have a long break coming up due to spring/ Easter vacation, independence day, and a couple of other things so we wont be teaching again until the last week in April which is good for Kerry's and my schedule which are filled with visitors and vacations!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

JA on TV

Today was a day I've been dreading for approximately eight days. Last week Kerry called to let me know that the Junior Achievement office in Dakar was interested in doing a story on the classes that Jackie and I have been teaching (only because of our proximity to Dakar and not because we're any better than other PCVs and their sweet JA classes). By story I mean a videoed interview to air on national television. I don't necessarily enjoy getting recognized for my work, I'd rather fly under the radar, and the thought of other PCVs (mainly Katherine because I know she watches Senegalese national news with her family and she enjoys mocking me) and my family seeing the interview was something I would rather not thinking about. Therefore, for the past week Jackie and I have been praying that if we didn't say anything this idea would die a quiet death as so many projects have here in Senegal. No Such Luck.

Not only did all of the planning come together, but the Peace Corps car coming to pick me up was an hour early. I honestly thought I had died and gone to some strange pergatory. I wasn't ready for the car to come that early so, although I was dressed I was holding a naked Abdou and had boutique flip flops on. For the non PCVs reading this, boutique flip flops cost 500 CFA or about 1 USD, are plastic, and fall apart frequently. Mine happen to be white and therefore stained a lovely poop-ish color because of the dirt. Being frazzled about Peace Corps' early arrival, I didn't have enough mental capacity to complete two tasks so I gave Abdou to my mom, but neglected to put different shoes on so I looked like a bum... or a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Twenty minutes later Talla, Kerry, and I are in Pout to pick up Jackie and then we all headed to her school. Jackie just finished teaching two classes of almost 50 middle school students. Today was certificate presentation day and the national television station was there to film. I have a TON of cute pictures uploaded of Jackie and her students (Kerry has a bunch of pictures of me so I will upload those when I get them). Here's one to hold you over

Jackie with all of her students and their certificates.

Jackie looking around the camera crew to see her student being interviewed.

After presenting the certificates the TV crew interviewed the school principal, Jackie did a demo of a class, they interviewed some students and then Jackie herself! Exactly what we had been dreading. Fortunately for her, Jackie was released after her school's segment in Pout, but I soldiered on to the Lycee Technique in Thies.

Kerry and Mr. Badiane lead a short demonstration for the cameras and then several students and teachers gave interviews along with Talla and myself. For some reason (read: I had been psyching myself out all day), I was incredibly nervous for my interview and kind of flubbed it. I hope that editing will help. Unlike Jackie I didn't lead a teaching segment so the interviewers questions were very repetitive and I'm not sure that I did a good job diversifying my answers. I also had to redo the interview in Wolof, which I'm quite positive was a disaster even though I was told that yes, I can speak Wolof. The moral of the story is that at some point in the future Jackie and I will be on national television and Katherine and my Senegalese family are going to have a field day!

It was an incredibly long day filled with lots of introductions since people from the JA office in Dakar were with us for the day and the same questions over and over again. The students and the teachers were all really excited about the segment though so that's a good thing. Hopefully it will create more awareness about JA and more students will want to take the classes.

By the time we were done at the Lycee Technique it was well past lunch and Talla invited Kerry and I over to his house. Talla's wife made my absolute favorite lunch, which fortunately does not include rice, and there was a ton of salad which I promptly devoured since no one else wanted it and everyone else kept putting it in my section of the bowl. We had a really nice afternoon sitting under some trees in Talla's yard talking with his family and talking about Peace Corps. I especially enjoyed talking about Kerry's and Talla's hats:

Kerry and Talla... I need a hat.

I came back to my house where I got to babysit for about an hour before cleaning my room for a very special guest!

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Personalities

Today was all about the personalities...

Talla burst into my compound this morning like a giant ball of energy wearing a fedora. I know that he was coming today for a site visit and I had been waiting for him all morning. As soon as I heard the rumble of the compound's, metal door, I went out to greet Talla. My mom heard it too and came to investigate since she thought she was the only person home. I briefly greeted Talla and was handed Abdou, who my mom was holding, and then the two of them talked about me like I wasn't there. Apparently Talla doesn't worry about me because I'm in Thies, where he also lives, and do great work and my mom rattled of what she considers my best attributes:

1. I bring presents back with me when I'm away
2. I hold the baby
3. I sit with the family

Yes, I have a highly sought after and cultivated skill set that involves being able to purchase tea and sugar and then sit staring off into space while holding an infant. It was nice to hear, even if both parties were exaggerating, that I'm a fairly good PCV.

Just as quickly as he appeared, Talla vanished and I was on with the rest of my day. I spent most of the morning waiting for Talla and cleaning my room so I only had time to run a few errands and stop by the post office before things started closing down for lunch.

Shout Outs!!!
Shirley - Thank you for another amazing letter!
Mom and Dad - Thanks for the package with all of the magazines! Mme. Ly LOVES American magazines now and all of the ideas for product development she can find in them.

Speaking of Mme Ly... I went to visit her this afternoon and when she saw me she did not look happy. She gave me a terrible look as I was walking up to her stand and I started to get really nervous because I didn't know what I had done. Mme. Ly grabbed me in a hug as usual and then grabbed the necklaces I was wearing, in an accusatory manner, and demanded to know where they were from. I bought the necklaces from her! She didn't recognize them because I was wearing three strands together. Mme. Ly proclaimed my styling expertise, I must say I agreed with everything she said, and then "came up with," the idea to make a three strand necklace. At least it looks like her creative juices are flowing and she's excited about product development. If you're interested in the necklaces I was wearing, go back and look at the pictures from the Murder Mystery party. Each strand is composed of dried grains (the small, brown pieces that look like glass beads) and traditional, multi-colored clay beads.

Back at home Ahmed had his friend Jean-Jacques over. I love Jean-Jacques. He is absolutely hilarious. Jean-Jacques is a 75 year old man trapped in a 5 year old's body. He's so incredibly polite, but too forward at the same time and has the funniest mannerisms. There is a very popular dance heating up the dance floors in Senegal right now and Jean-Jacques has it mastered and breaks it out all the time. The kid puts a smile on my face as soon as I see him especially since he always wants to hold my hand as I ask him about school. Too cute.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The First of the Goodbyes

Earlier this week I was in Dakar to say goodbye. The first goodbye happened Tuesday night. Unfortunately, my boss Nicole is heading back to the States to deal with some health issues. Nicole came in as the head of the SED program just a few weeks before my stage arrived in Senegal and it's definitely sad to see her go. Most of the volunteers in my SED came to Dakar for a farewell dinner. The event turned out to be really, really fun. It was great to have time with just the SED PCVs, to reminisce a little, and have an absolutely delicious meal (Nicole got us a deal at a really nice restaurant). The most interesting part about the dinner was the breakdown of the group.

During PST, way back 19 months ago, my language group in Tivaouane was not in a good place. We weren't getting along, Tamar and I wanted to leave every single day, and no one thought that the entire group would make it. We were in rough shape to say the very least. At Nicole's goodbye dinner the Tivaouane 5 was the only complete group! It looks like we're all going to make it!

Ryan, Me, Byron, Tamar and Brian

The next night was the really sad goobye: Oliver's and Ankith's goodbye party. I am terrible at goodbyes. It never gets any easier for me. Katherine always says that if you're good enough friends with the person leaving that you'll see him/ her again and that's there's no reason to cry. I wish that I could practice what Katherine preaches, but I can't.

We spent the morning baking our brains out. Every cookie mix, cake mix, and brownie mix that my friends and I had were baked for the event. Since the oven at the regional house has one temperature "on," it took 5 hours to make everything and approximately 5 minutes for everything to eat everything later that night. The bake goods fest happened after a day spent lounging at the American Club and an amazing dinner at the Chinese restaurant.

Oliver, Ankith, and Jackie showing off some cookies.

I thought that the party would get pretty rowdy and that the fun would help me get over the tough goodbye. A combination of exhaustion (everyone at the party was really tired after hanging out all day and from being in Dakar for too long) and sadness put a damper on the party so by the time 3am rolled around and the boys were heading out to the airport, tears flowed. I held it together better than I thought I would, but it's really sad to see people go. Even though PCVs leaving means that my service is progressing and that I get to go home soon, it's sad because we all rely so much on each other and look forward to seeing other PCVs. Plus these were people that I looked up to when I first arrived. I can't wait to see everyone stateside!

I'm back in Thies as of yesterday and had a really busy day today. Kerry and I met this morning about Junior Achievement and this afternoon I went to see Mme. Ly. I'm starting to work with Mme. Ly on some product development. She's seems really open to all of my suggestions which is exciting. We'll see how things progress.

New pictures are up of recent events. And I'd like to say HAIL TO THE VICTORS!

Monday, March 14, 2011


With all of the power outages (or more accurately, small windows of electricity), I haven't been able to post. One hour of power between 3 and 4am is not prime "posting" time even though I did wake up since I forgot to flip my light switch into the off position.

Here are some pictures of what's been going on...

The Fall 2009 Stage Girls at the beach at Popenguine before the Murder Mystery Party

My sept-place being pushed out of the sand during my epic four hour trip to Dakar.

All the boys thoroughly enjoying the water rocket!

Although I haven't been posting, I have been busy. The new Health/ Environmental Education volunteers arrived last Wednesday, which officially makes me a senior! Hooray! While I'm not going to play an integral role in their training since I don't know anything about Health or the Environment, I've been busy with them the past couple of days going over Muslim culture in Senegal and taking the new trainees on their first walk through Thies. These two events take place before they go to the village for the first time (they are on their way to the vil right now!) so no one has any idea what to expect and there aren't too many questions because of that fact. There was one girl in my walk around group who told me she was completely overwhelmed. I really tried to calm her and tell her about my experience. If you had polled my stage 18 months ago, 0 people would have thought that I would still be here... including me! The terrible part about PST is that you have incomplete information. You never know anything and you wont have full information until install. There's just no getting around how much PST sucks.

Today was another busy day. This morning Emily, Clare, and I journey out to an agricultural university on the outskirts of Thies. It was a reconnaissance mission for this year's girls camp. Moving to Thies would make all of the logistics for the camp much easier, especially since Katherine will no longer be in Bambay and a brand new PCV will be in her place. The Director of Education was very nice and spoke great English. He even had someone take us on a tour of the grounds, but we came up against an obvious problem. We were at an agricultural school and we want to have the camp during the rainy season. School will still be in session. It was definitely a strike out, but the Director gave us some good leads and we're on the case.

This afternoon I went to visit Mme Ly. I spent the entire afternoon with her and we talked about potentially having another expo during the annual Jazz Fest which is held in St. Louis. She has a bunch of problems with the idea since she's had bad experiences in the past so I need to do a lot more research on the event and speak with the coordinator in St. Louis. We'll see what happens. Even if Mme. Ly doesn't go there are several other artisans who are very interested.

Tomorrow I'm off to Dakar for a couple of days to say goodbye. Oliver and Ankith are leaving! I can't believe it and am already dreading the goodbyes although I'm ready to get out of Thies again!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some Electricity and Packages

There are some days when it's unbelievable difficult to motivate yourself. Today was one of those days. I had no problem getting up or going for a run, but I could not force myself to leave my compound this morning. I actually had electricity for a while this morning so I had to plug in everything and catch up on news which greatly decreased any slight motivation that I may have had to leave. And, even though I had a good day yesterday and nothing bad happened, I knew that I couldn't face someone being mean on the street. It seems like the name calling and general not nice-ness on the street has increased since WAIST and today I knew I couldn't handle it and needed a break so I took one and streamed NPR while reading aka living the good life.

The news that I wasn't leaving this morning spread quickly even though I didn't tell anyone. 10am is usually the absolute latest that I ever leave my house so at 10:01am Jeenaba promptly knocked on my door and handed me Abdou who was sleeping so I was a little confused why she just didn't lay him on a bed somewhere, but we listened to NPR together in peace. I was also asked to make change several times, find a mango from the tree to make mango sauce (I'm apparently a competent mango peeler), and went to the boutique to buy soap for Jeenaba. The blissful period of time with power lasted almost two hours before it cut for the next eight, but I got a lot done even with Abdou in tow.

After lunch everyone took naps because there was no power and I decided to actually leave the house (the hottest part of the day means there's less people on the street), and run some errands. The plan was to build confidence with easy transactions at the post office and paying my internet bill and then working up to Madame Ly. I successfully paid my bill, but was waylaid at the post office because I had three packages!!!


Shirley - Thank you for more amazing letters. I got two today!

McKeown Family - Thank you so much for everything! I did not know that there are varieties of Trader Joe's trail mix that I have yet to love, but apparently there are and I'm currently trying to decide which one to open and devour. All of the magazines are great. I've been reading everything in sight since I never have electricity anymore. I'm seeing a bunch of friends tomorrow and a couple have already made New Yorker requests. The water rocket is currently hidden in my room, but Ahmed is going to LOVE it when I bring it out this weekend! Thank you so much!

Aunt Lu, Uncle Scott, Ana, and Kyle - Thank you for the package! It's great. I seriously needed another pair of pajamas! I was wearing shredded boxers that were too inappropriate to live my room in! The Clif Bars, hundred calorie packs, jelly beans, and Fig Newtons all look delicious! And I've already started reading the People year in review - you really know the way to my heart! Thanks!

Mom and Dad - Thank you so much for another great package. I ate my last homemade apple sauce this morning and shed a silent tear so I'm happy I have a couple more for a rough day ahead. The salty snacks stash may or may not be already significantly depleted and the InStyle will be looked over many, many times! Thanks!

While I never did make it to see Madame Ly (carrying all of the packages there would have been impossible), I did sit around with my post office friends for a couple of hours which is always nice.

Back at the house I've come to a very important decision: I think Awa is pregnant. I'm making a public announcement since it was highly embarrassing that I realized Jeenaba was pregnant at 7.5 months. Awa (Ziabata's wife) has a ridiculous body that I envy. She's totally ripped, but still slender and has washboard abs. Last night while she was cooking I noticed she had a tummy and then today she was wearing a pretty tight outfit and I saw a bump. Reconnaissance will take place until I know for sure!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lesson 1

Bright and early this morning I took a deliciously hot shower at the regional house in Dakar and Katherine and I headed off to the garage and back to site. Usually poor Katherine has to sit and wait for her car to fill up as Diourbel is a far less common destination than Thies. Today, Katherine was one of the last people in the car while I was one of the first so I watched her drive away as I started to have a panic attack that I wasn't going to make it back to Thies in time for Junior Achievement. Soon enough my car filled up and started rolling which meant I promptly fell asleep (Matt can attest to my horrible road-trip companion capabilities) and could not longer worry about making it to class. The traffic nightmare I experienced yesterday had a lot to do with entering Dakar. Leaving Dakar is easy and we were back in Thies in little more than an hour, which left me enough time to power nap, talk to Tamar, inhale a Clifbar and grab all of the supplies for JA before heading over to Kerry's house.

We strategized a little bit before going over to Lycee Technique to set up. Mr. Badiane, the teacher in charge of helping us, let us into the room and we rearranged the tables and chairs, taped up pieces of paper to write on, and made small talk with some of the teachers before the students arrived - very, very, late.

The lesson went mostly as planned. Kerry did the majority of the direct teaching and I did the icebreaker and went around to each group that needed help. Every time I do an icebreaker I'm shocked by how much people enjoy them. The first one I always do with a group in Senegal is to name their favorite local dish since food is so important here. Everyone always gets a kick out of the fact that I know all of the different plates and that I have an opinion about each and every one as well.

After introductions, we had the 8 teachers who are helping us break the students up into groups. We had discussed how the groups should be split by field of study, but that didn't happen. The groups are composed of random groups of students and one professor, but by the end of the class they had come up with some pretty good business ideas like solar ovens and a high quality print shop. The goal is to teach the professors at the Lycee Technique the JA method of teaching: "Learning by Doing." Therefore, Kerry and I don't talk too much and we rely heavily on the professors to explain concepts to their groups and get them talking. I think today went pretty well. There are definitely some amazing and engaging teachers in the group and then some others who need a little more help. Hopefully as both teachers and students start to get a better grasp on Junior Achievement and "Learning by Doing," they will start to become more interested in the class!

Pictures of recent events should be up soon. I never have electricity at my house and I'm out right now, but don't have my camera!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Shortcuts" and Backseat Driving

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Last night I decided to make a quick and easy day trip into Dakar to take care of a few things. I obviously forgot that "quick" and "easy" are not adjectives that can be used in conjunction with Senegal. There was a 12pm meeting that I wanted to attend so I was at the garage in Thies by 8am. The trip to Dakar usually takes me between 1.5-2 hours so the fours hours I allotted should have been plenty. "Should have," being the operative words.

I absolutely refuse to believe that there are shortcuts in the country of Senegal. The word alone scares me to death because it usually means dirt tracks (read: sand traps) and myriad other terrible possibilities. There was a lot of traffic on the road to Dakar; I will give the driver that. His decision making is what really made the ride excruciating/ long/ unbelievably frustrating. Quite often sept-place drivers will take side roads around Rufisque (a suburb of Dakar often referred to by PCVs as our own personal hell) so as to circumnavigate the traffic on the two lane national highway. I'm not sure that these routes are ever faster, but sometimes they do make you feel good since you're actually moving instead of sitting in a standstill.

We took our first off the national highway excursion well East (toward Thies) of Rufisque. I knew I was in trouble. My sept-place somehow ran over a giant rock and rear-ended another vehicle at the same time. I was actually quite impressed with this feat and that the car was still operational once we restarted it several times and a couple of boys in the road gave us a nice push. At this point I was getting a little irritated especially since I was sitting in the back middle seat (the absolute worst seat in the car) and my derrière was falling asleep. We jump back onto the national highway and I'm placated until we vere off again. I can't stop myself from becoming a backseat driver. After everyone in the car comments on my ability to speak Wolof and that what I'm saying (stay on the freaking national highway) is actually good advice, the other passengers join me in my rant against the driver. Unfortunately he doesn't head our warnings not to drive into a giant sand box so we get stuck.

The tires of the car are literally covered in sand up to the bottom of the car. The driver spins and spins the tires as I text Katherine to tell her there's no way I'm going to make it. The texts may or may not have also been laced with profanities. We all pile out of the car to survey the damage. Fortunately, there are some construction workers nearby who start trying to shovel the car out of the sand. About half and hour later and with the help of 20 little kids playing nearby we are able to push the car out of the sand and onto "firm" ground.

I'm really grouchy by this point and tell the driver that he should take the path directly in-front of us back to the national highway. I probably should have just kept my mouth shut, but I couldn't and he obviously didn't take my advice. Instead, we drove a little ways and then turned down a path where we found our car 20th in line to get back on the national highway. The best part? There was no intersection so we had to drive East back toward Thies until we found a round-about where we could turn back West toward Dakar. A Gendarme (type of police officer) was guiding the traffic (other people who had try to game the system by taking back roads) and let one car go every 5 or so minutes. I was exceedingly frustrated. Fortunately, after we made it back to the national highway we stayed there and eventually made it to Dakar... FOUR hours after I had left Thies.

Arriving at the office calmed my nerves. My meeting had been postponed so I made it and I got to see a bunch of my friends and a couple of PCVs who are leaving too soon. The usual peer pressure to stay in Dakar ensued and I caved. Although I had wanted to return to site before dinner, the lure of friends, buy one get one free pizza, and happy hour was too much. I ended up staying the night to hang out with my friends that are leaving next week and to placate Katherine who was giving me grief!

Crazy Dayz

Monday, March 7th, 2011

This past weekend was the fabled/ much talked about Murder Myserty party. Since watching the movie Clue during the girls' camp last summer, we have been obsessed by the idea. Originally the plan was to use an already developed game called "Murder On the Gambia River," because the context is so fitting. Unfortunately, that game only called for 8-10 players and since my friends and I find it impossible not to talk about all of our ideas all of the time and at length, everyone knew about the party and everyone wanted to come. Katherine took on the task of writing our very own Murder Mystery party concept entitled "Murder Bus," named in honor/ fear of the Senegalese transportation system.

Katherine put in a ton of work on writing everyone's parts for the party as well as keeping track of attendence and we forced the first year SED girls to make dinner for everyone (it used to my our job), so I got to have a LOT of fun. I played the part of a drianke, which is an older, single, wealthy woman. I played the part well and mixed a little bit of Madame Ly into the character. Jackie just so happened to be a diskette aka a promiscuous tweenage girl (she sported pink pants with rhinestones), Tamar was the murder victim, Emily was a bayefall (a sort of religious begger), and the rest of our friends were other stereo-typical Senegalese personalities. To say that everyone's customes were hilarous would be a gross understatement. Pictures will be up soon.

The party came at the perfect time for me. Senegal and I were not getting along well last week and I really needed to get out of Thies. The Murder Mystery party at the beach was just the ticket to the sanity that I needed. Apart from being utterly exhausted from a one day party, my mental state was much better and I was ready to work this morning. Dioss who usually loves to sleep in and finds my preferred meeting time of 10am abhorrent called me at 8:30 and said he really wanted to meet with me. I trekked over to his house where he told me that he wanted me to take pictures of his new paintings with the new camera he bought. He supposedly doesn't know how to use a brand new point and shoot camera, but I really think he wanted me to sit there and take bunch of pictures while he talked on his phone. The taking pictures part was fine. The not fun part was realizing that Dioss has a pirated version of Windows which doesn't have the capability to create Zip files. Therefore, I sat at his computer for about an hour attaching pictures to emails to send to one of his friends who is making him a personal website. In case you haven't noticed, Dioss is obsessed with websites.

I was rewarded for my efforts by an amazing concert. One of Dioss' friends is a fantastic guitar player and singer and sang for a group of us all morning. It was so relaxing and nice. I had to pull myself away from the music in order to make it home for lunch. Dioss' friend played a bunch of Eric Clapton which was great except for the fact that he sang along and knew approximately 3% of the correct words. Still a completely enjoyable and very memorable morning.

My afternoon started out with a trip to a boutique to help out Erin. The sole village volunteer in the Dakar region didn't have any credit on her phone so I sent her some. In Senegal, we use pre-paid credit to make phone calls. People on the side of the street, stores, boutiques, and practically everywhere/ everyone else sells cards of credit. The cards have a scratch off number (like you see on lotto cards) and you enter that number into your phone to put more time on the phone. You can also send credit to other people and that's what I wanted to do for Erin. Usually people send 25 or 50 or maybe 100 CFA of credit to someone. I wanted to send Erin 2500 CFA. This was such a ridiculous idea to the people in the boutique that they wouldn't let me do it. They wanted me to buy a card of credit, which would not help Erin at all. I'm realizing as I'm typing this that is probably doesn't make sense or seem frustrating, but it was.

Confirming with Erin to make sure she got the credit, I left the boutique and headed off to see Madame Ly. I gave her the minutes/ rules and regulations from the artisan meeting a couple of weeks ago. She seems to be really interested in the artisan association still, which is good, but I feel like there's still a little bit of awkwardness between us because of the whole thing with her dying aunt and not being able to attend the meeting. I'm sure this will all pass. I've been busy with Junior Achivement and other things so I haven't had as much time to spend with her lately. I'm hoping to change that later this week and start discussing the next Expo with her. We did talk about creating business cards for her business which she seems very excited about so hopefully that will sooth any lingering whatevers.

Kerry came to meet me at Madame Ly's stand because we needed to do all of our shopping for Junior Achievement. We went to the usually supply store. They know me quite well from all of my girls' camp purchases so the shopping trip was quick. I then hung out with Kerry at his house listening to stories, drinking a beer, and eating Pringles. After that I went home to sit in the dark with my family and watch Ahmed through a huge tantrum.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

JA Overload

The power is out again, but I spent the day with Kerry working on Junior Achievement. We did a TON of work today! We started on planning the Junior Achievement sessions for the upcoming PST in June and we did the second lesson plan for our class at the Lycee Technique. The lesson planning while tedious is fairly interesting. I can definitely see how last year I was presenting about being an entrepreneur while Kerry is helping me actually teach. Or rather he will be the majority of the teaching while I'm the ideas man and cultural interpreter in the background. We are definitely making progress so next Wednesday when we actually teach our first class.

When I went home for lunch my entire family was sitting outside hanging out since we didn't have power. The main entertainment was watching Khady wash her feet/ give herself a pedicure. Seriously. It was the talk of the family circle. She was scraping her feet with a straight razor blade, which was sending shivers down the spines of all the boys in the family. Everyone then watched as Khady gave Abdou a bath, which was adorable. There are more pictures in the WAIST album.

This afternoon I met up with Kerry again at Pamanda's to finish up our lesson plan. We are trying to be at least one lesson in advance so we can show the lesson plan to the teachers before we do the session. I also talked with my Aunt's class back in Michigan.

I'm about to pack up and go home to sit in the dark with my family. Hopefully the power will come back at some point. Water would be amazing too!

Also, this is my 400th post! Go me!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


The blackout has finally ended. I know I shouldn't complain about power since a lot of PCVs don't have electricity at site, but my quartier here in Thies didn't have power for the last 37 hours and it was driving me mad. Mainly because it was driving my family mad, who then started arguing with each other and no electricity definitely means no water and that's just depressing. The second the power came back everyone scurried to plug in phones and watch Wolof soap operas on television.

Today is a good day not only because the power came back (at least for a little bit hopefully!), but also because it's day three of the bad amoeba meds. I hope that when I start the second drug tomorrow the nausea and exhaustion that's I've had with this first pill go away. This odd state did not make my Junior Achievement meeting fun this morning.

Kerry and I met at his house this morning to go over what we wanted to accomplish at today's meeting. The goal was to set dates for the classes since getting ten weeks in before the new SED stage arrives in June is going to be a challenge with Spring/ East Break and other various holidays that are crammed into the schedule. We also wanted a estimate for the number of students who would be attending as well as teachers and feed back on the lesson plan that Kerry made. I think we were both surprised when a ton of students, not just teachers, attended the meeting. Obviously the meeting was all kinds of chaos since maintenance workers refused to leave the room while we were meeting and kept dropping things. It was hard to hear, hot as hell, and I was becoming delusional with hunger.

I think we got most of the information we needed. The teachers seemed much more interested after they got to see a lesson plan and we further outlined their roles as overseers of student teams. I'm not so sure what the students thought about JA since they were having problems hearing and understanding Kerry and I over the din of the maintenance workers. We were having problems understanding them as well. The first class is set for next Wednesday so we'll see how many people actually show up and how it goes. Regardless, I'm learning a lot from Kerry about teaching and lesson planning neither of which I'm particularly good at!

The rest of the afternoon I spent at Les Delices filling my stomach with food that was not ceebu jenn and trying to get some computer work done at a place with a generator. I know that my quartier is abnormally bad with power and water, but it does seem to be a Thies wide problem since Massa Massa didn't have water when I was there yesterday with Leslie and all of the restaurants were running generators today.

Rookie Mistakes

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This morning I made a rookie mistake. Today is the first of the month, which means that bank lines are giant because everyone is trying to withdraw from their new paychecks. Yesterday I spent all of my money on amoeba medication to so I had no choice but to wait in a exasperatingly long line and text Tamar every minute or so with my progress. I was the 23rd person in line and it took close to an hour an a half for me to get to the ATM. I have no idea what people are doing in there. Checking balances? Using multiple cards? Enjoying the air conditioning? It is amazing how long it takes people to withdraw cash.

Cash money in hand I walked over to the post office. The first of the month apparently brings chaos to my friends with the mail as well, but it also brings packages!!! SHOUT OUTS:

Shirley - Thank you so much for another great letter! I hope your knitting is going better and I can't wait to try one of your California rolls when I come home!

Lynn - You're package was out of this world. I absolutely cannot wait to make Matzo ball soup! Tamar and I are planning on going to Dakar for Passover, but one can never have enough Matzo ball soup so I'll definitely be making a homemade and delicious batch myself! I'm also really excited about the St. Patrick's Day cookies because we have to say goodbye to some of our third year PCV friends that day. Green cookies will be an amazing send off. While I was opening your package, Ahmed walked in on me and saw the Power Ranger band-aids. Lets just say that the supply is now depleted. Unfortunately, my camera was dead and we didn't have power so there's no photographic evidence! Thanks again for everything!

Matt - Onion rings in a bag: you really know the way to my heart! I'm already eating my way through the dried fruit. I doubt it will last another 23 days! And your card was AMAZING. I loved it. Thanks!

After the post office and after an almost too late lunch at home, I rushed to Massa Massa to meet Leslie, the American woman who exported some of Dioss' cards last fall. She's back in Senegal making the rounds of her suppliers and she needed a translator to help her at the artisanal village. There, we went over her latest shipments, problems (trying to explain "mold" when you don't know the word is extremely difficult by the way), future orders, and samples. The majority of what she buys from the artisanal village are leather bags with batick (tie dye) designs. It was fairly exhausting, but also pretty interesting to see how Leslie goes through the design process with the producer and how she remains objective for her niche market clients. The artisanal village was followed up with some delicious lasagna at Massa Massa - so much better than what my family served for dinner!

Back at home we are still without electricity (going on 14 hours) so I sat around, in the dark, with my host family. I don't like having a ton of cash on me here so I wrote up the usual receipt and went to give my mom the money. This is totally normal and we have it down to a science. I've never thought about when I give it to her or anything like that so I was surprised when she pushed me back into my room when I came to give her the money. Once in the safety/ pitch blackness of my room she told me that she didn't want my host dad to see our transaction. This blew my mind. I always gave the money to my mom because she's the one who is around and because women usually use money for food, schooling, and other necessities while men might use the money for other goods (obviously a generalization). What I realized was, the money I give my family for food and rent is my mom's and Khady's play money! She didn't want my dad to see the extra cash she has on the side. Classic.