Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

Amazing. Loved it.

Not surprisingly my most thoughtfully laid plans totally fell through and Katherine and I were not able to watch The Royal Wedding on a big screen television in a private conference room at a hotel while gorging ourselves on enough food to pay for the room. Alas, CNN obviously didn't work in the conference room and I absolutely refused to watch French people discuss Wills and Kate getting married. Therefore, I sat in the lobby of said hotel, with remote in hand, turning the volume as loud as I could as guests, employees, and random people walked the halls. I say "I" because Katherine was caught in a miserable bus which took hours to get to Thies, Tamar was on her voyage into town, and Jackie was actually trying to do work/ laundry at site.

There's absolutely no reason why The Royal Wedding should have brought me so much pleasure as it did. I'm not a huge royal fan, but I do love weddings and pomp and circumstance...especially when it has nothing to do with me. I've been counting down the days until the wedding since they announced their engagement in November. I would also like to point out that I told my mom that the dress would be Alexander McQueen months ago and she didn't believe me!

Alexander McQueen the dress was... and it was fabulous. I actually LOVED Pippa's dress even more. It's amazing. I want to steal it off her and wear it myself. Everything was beautiful (including Victory Beckham's hat and those custom Louboutins) and I wish I was there to celebrate. It just seemed like such a happy day! I would also like to discuss how Prince William used to be super hot and now he's balding and how Harry was a scary, ginger child and now he's the most eligible bachelor in the world. I also want to attend Prince Harry's "survivors party" which goes until 6am, but alas I will traveling to The Gambia.

Yes, it's true. I will be traveling to The Gambia tomorrow. It is a British colony so that's fitting! Katherine, Jackie, Tamar and I are going so that we can say we've been to the country inside the country we've been living in for the last two years and to hopefully see some chimps (questionable) and eat some Mexican food (probable).

Check back on Tuesday for more updates and thoughts about the wedding (aka how I will ensnare Harry and become best friends with Kate).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When Is Class?

Since the power was still out this morning after my run, after breakfast, and even after showering, I had nothing better to do than prepare for my Junior Achievement class. Honestly, I was a little nervous since Kerry isn't here this week and this was supposed to be the first class I taught solo this time around. "Supposed to be," being the operative phrase. I did everything I was supposed to do. I called one of the teachers yesterday to make sure that the students weren't striking, that they were back from vacation, and that the teachers were prepared for today's class, but that's apparently not enough/ nothing could have prevented/ foreseen today's cancelled class.

I arrived at the Lycee Technique and saw two teachers already in the lounge and all ready for class. Perfect. I left them to go get the supplies which are locked in a secretary's office. She obviously wasn't in for the day and no one else, including the janitor, could possibly have a key so I resigned myself to not writing anything down for the class to see and just taking copious notes. No problem. Then, I go upstairs to the room where we have class. As usual the English Club is practicing in the room before JA, but they are surprised to see me. One teacher does both English Club and JA and he told me that he didn't know about class today and thought we started up again next week. Sure enough, once I finally tracked down the head teacher who wouldn't answer my phone calls yesterday he confirmed that I was the person who had made the mistake. According to him, at our last meeting we had changed the schedule, again, to reflect a longer break. I'm positive this is untrue, but it doesn't really matter since none of the students showed up.

With nothing better to do and already planning on missing lunch at my house, I wondered the streets of Thies running some errands and making very special arrangements for Friday. I may miss many things while I'm away in Senegal, but the Royal Wedding will not be one of them. Plans will be released upon accomplishment on Friday since I'm worried that I'll jinx them!

To Do

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The To-Do List for today was quite intense.
1. Renew my residency card
2. Have lunch with Jackie and Brian

That plan was turned upside-down quite quickly. Drenched in sweat after a morning run my phone started to get a million text messages. They were from Talla asking me if I could be at the center within the next 15 minutes to present about the SED program. No further information. I pretended to bathe aka splash some water on my face, threw on a dress, and jumped in a cab. Fortunately, I wasn't the only volunteer totally caught off guard. Although they did receive a day of advance warning, Emily and Erin also didn't have a fancy presentation like some of the other people. I think I did the SED program proud and put in a good plug for the work we do and the type of help we can offer to other volunteers with their projects.

Being at the center meant that I ran into a bunch of people including our country director, which was great since I needed to talk to him. I also dropped off magazines and filled up on cold, filtered water. From the center, Brian and I walked over to the office where residency cards are renewed. Fortunately, the process was quick and easy and Jackie even showed up in time to get hers done. Paying internet and electricity bills was followed by a trip to Mme. Ly's where Jackie did some shopping and I did some planning. The three of us then had a delicious lunch at Pamanda's and chatted away the afternoon.

Brian and Jackie left in the mid-afternoon to return to site and I stayed at Pamanda's to get some work done. I barely managed to finish a cover letter before Emily and Erin reappeared and we all caught up. While I was pretending to start another cover letter Dioss called to beg me to come over. The catalog is actually in Thies and he desperately wanted me to see it, so I obliged and went all of the way across town to Dioss' house where I met a study abroad student interested in art education. It's always interesting to talk to study abroad students and hear just how different their perspective on things can be. I really try not to sound too jaded, which I think I achieved. Dioss is insanely excited and proud of the catalog. It's actually not as big or as nice as I was imagining, but it is beautiful and he is listed as the author.

The power was already out when I got home so I spent a lot of time staring at my family in the dark. I did listen to one of the most interesting conversations I've ever heard my family have. Khady and and my mom were discussing where Ahmed should go to school next year. Khady wants a school that teaches both French and English (since I've been working with Ahmed on English and Khady realizes the next PCV could as well) and sounds like it has high academic standards, while my mom wants a school closer by and where other kids from the neighborhood attend. I'm not sure if philosophy or cost was really the issue, but Khady seemed to put her foot down.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Musical Chairs

A lot of time during a Peace Corps service is spent in dark, literally and figuratively. While I've had electricity fairly consistently lately, this didn't help me illuminate, in advance or even after, the reason for my trip today. For the past week I've known that there would be some type of Junior Achievement event today. Some type of event being the operative phrase. Earlier this week I learned that the event was in some small village, far off the road, between Ngeye Mheke and Louga and that a PC vehicle would come and pick me up at 9ish am. My ability to go with the flow has astronomically improved over the past 20 months.

Fortunately, Jackie was my partner in crime throughout the filming of the JA special last month as well as today's activities. Since Jackie lives a couple kilometers outside of Thies, closer to Dakar, she was also the person who called me to say that the car was actually on it's way. Now, in the car, with Jackie we discuss how we have no idea what the day's plan is. We picked up Kerry and then the fedora wearing Talla Diop and then gossiped for a while in the back of the car before we started questioning Talla about the reason for our journey. Talla didn't really know either and was only attending because the woman in charge of Junior Achievement asked him to.

The plan all along was to return to Thies in time for lunch. Being the seasoned PCV that I am, I knew that that was never going to happen, but I wasn't prepared for what was going to happen. Talla, Kerry, Jackie, myself, and two other men from Dakar arrived at the village's communal building where we sat with a bunch of important men introducing ourselves, eating beignets, and then staring at each other in silence. The staring continued while more and more people kept piling into the room. The silence was broken when Jackie moved her chair and knocked over and shattered for coffee cup. For some reason this was hilariously funny, if not funny in this post.

After an hour of sitting in the room waiting for more people from Dakar to arrive while residents of the village waited ever so patiently in a packed and hot room next door, Talla started to get antsy and asked to start the meeting while we waited. It's a good thing we started this process because it took FOREVER. The head table meant for all of us ended up being the entire length of the room and was then still too small because it had over-sized chairs behind it. So, we went back and forth and back and forth across the packed room. Tripping over people, getting in everyone's way, sweating, and trying to sit in order of importance. Jackie and I attempted an escape by graciously declining stairs for standing only room in the hallway to no avail.

Twenty or so minutes after the musical chairs started we were finally all seated. That is until the rest of the delegation from Dakar arrived and the entire process started over again. Once everyone was seated and the meeting began I started to zone out. I couldn't help it. The redundancies of the meeting, the sweltering heat, and all of the people taking cell phone video of me started to take it's toll and Jackie and I became a pair of slaphappy toubabas. This continued for an eternity - over 3 hours in total.

The event was to introduce Junior Achievement to this village and the meeting discussed the pros and cons and let the community air their concerns. There was absolutely no point for Jackie and I to be there. We were pointed at twice as the two PCV toubabs in the room and that's about it. I am still not use to Senegalese meetings where agreement is shown by saying the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over again and I don't think I ever will.

Almost eight hours later the car dropped me back off at my house and I collapsed in a heap and then made myself almost 5pm. Hopefully my presence was appreciated although, I'm pretty sure it didn't make a difference.

All I wanted was a quiet evening, but that didn't happen because... Mami's home! She waltzed in sporting jeggings and a GIANT bow in her hair, instantaneously got in a fight with big Ahmed, and then called all of her girlfriends over for dinner. This upset Jeenaba because Mami wanted her to serve them in her room, which in turn infuriated Awa because Jeenaba wanted Awa's help with the extra cooking even though Awa was doing the dishes. I silently hoped that it didn't mean that my mom would cook dinner since we all suffered that terrible scenario last night while holding Abdou and officiating over coloring time for little Awa and Ahmed so they would be quiet and stop driving me insane. All in a day's work.

Friday, April 22, 2011


A giraffe in Bandia Nature Preserve

Traveling and guests have been the name of the game in the Thies region as of late and today was just another day of meeting the fam. Today I met Kerry's daughter and son-in-law on the last day of their 6 day whirl wind tour of Senegal! Today's agenda? Bandia Nature Preserve. I must admit that I was highly skeptical of today's itinerary. I've drive past Bandia many times on my to the Petite Cote and down to Mar Lodj to see Tamar and I haven't been very impressed. It's also the idea that Senegal used to have big game and the exotic animals that you think of when you think of Africa, but now doesn't because of poaching. The vast majority of the animals at Bandia have been imported from east and south Africa.

Kerry, Jeanine, Brian, and I set out from Thies for Bandia early this morning and we had a lot of fun at the park. Bandia is actually much nicer than I expected and riding around in a big jeep while looking at animals in Africa is pretty cool...even if those animals are no longer native to the area. We had a great time riding around and seeing some rhinos, zebras, giraffes, warthogs, ostriches, buffalo, and a lot of birds native to Senegal. Our jeep excursion was followed by a delicious lunch at the park's restaurant where some monkeys were getting a little bit too brave and a little too close to our table! There are some pictures posted of the animals we saw today in the Cape Verde album.

On our way back to Thies I called Dioss to see if he was at home so we could swing by the gallery... he was obviously in Dakar so we went straight to Mme. Ly's. I love Madame Ly. I honestly can't say enough good things about the woman. She was really excited to meet Kerry's family and was a very nice host while Kerry's daughter looked around. Unfortunately, Kerry and crew were exhausted after a week of traveling and sightseeing so they left and I stayed to talk and work with Mme. Ly and Khady.

Mme. Ly and Khady are work horses. They constantly impress me with how much they can get done when equipped with beads and electricity. Last weekend they went to Dakar for an expo which they both agreed was the worst run expo they've ever been to (while stroking my ego by reminding me just how great the Peace Corps expo was in December), but they did find some new and AWESOME beads. Since then, they've been going to town and have some really cool new pieces. I'm quite proud with how far they're pushing themselves. I wasn't even allowed to sit down today before I had to go and look at the new pieces and take pictures of everything. They are really starting to understand different lengths, color combinations, and that bigger is most definitely better. The only problem is me.

Mme. Ly and Khady want me to approve/ critique every piece. They also want me to be a fit model. I do enjoy the playing dress up aspect of this activity, but for those of you who know me well, you know that I have freakishly small hands and wrists. There are currently plethora of bracelets that fit me and small children...only. Hopefully this will be fixed next week.

Some of my concerns and fears about the artisan association for the spring/ summer season were also soothed by Mme. Ly's no nonsense "this is what I'm going to tell people," approach to her presidency so that's good. We are full steam ahead for the St. Louis Jazz fest and showing at a gallery. I'm trying to take some classier pictures for the gallery owner/ WATH so let me know which one of these pictures you like more or if you think they're both bad!

This is the necklace in a wood bowl.

This is the necklace on a whitewashed bench.

After a lovely afternoon talking jewelry with Mme. Ly and Khady, I walked home with a quick detour to the post office. Shout out to Shirley for another amazing card. Made my day as usual. Erin happened to be stopping by picking up some packages on her way back to site from an Ag summit Kolda. We caught up while she waited for the customs agent to materialize. The best part about this wait other than the exchange of gossip? Definitely when one of my post office friends called the customs agent and told him that one of my friends needed to pick up a package so he needed to come in even though he had already left for the day. Score. The post office men are back in my good graces!

I'm having problems uploading pictures so check back tomorrow for updated photos.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Reunited and it feels so good.

Time is a funny, funny thing in Peace Corps. The days can pass slowly and then the months (and day I say it, years) blow by. Since returning from Cape Verde, the days have crept by and that's partially because 66% of my main texting/ calling/ general communication circle has been gone. I just saw Katherine for the first time in three weeks and that's just unacceptable.

Yesterday I headed off to Dakar to clear my mind of Thies (even though nothing annoying/ particularly bad has happened) and to get a gossip rundown of my friends' recent adventures. The food brought from America as well as my newly fixed computer might have also sweetened the deal. It was great to be in the same room as Tamar, Jackie, and Katherine again and we had a great time catching up on each other's lives for the past couple of weeks which was a little weird since my friends usually know what I've eaten and the last time I've peed during the usual day.

We also had to plan our next trip! Nope this isn't a joke. We are determined to use all of our vacation days before we aren't allowed to travel because the end of our service is so near! So, we're going to The Gambia next week. Yes, we're crazy. No, we haven't done any planning.

The trip wasn't all fun and games though. I did have to go into the office to work on future artisan happenings. In Peace Corps everything seems to come at once! We might be attending an Expo May 5th hosted by the Embassy in honor of Mother's Day... if it can be organized in that short of notice. The details for the St. Louis Jazz fest are also coming together. Each year St. Louis, a city north of Thies on the coast, hosts a giant Jazz Fest which draws an international crowd and also boasts an artisan exposition. This year Peace Corps is working with the West African Trade Hub, an NGO devoted to helping artisans become export ready, to expose some of the artisans' work in a gallery. It's very exciting. We are also going to buy some booths at the general event (hopefully). A lot more planning has to be done, but hopefully everything will work out.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dioss' New Works

Things are pretty slow in Thies right now. Over the weekend Mme. Ly and Khady went to Dakar for a small Expo. They felt it necessary to keep me updated of their every movement by calling me constantly, which was sweet and totally unnecessary at the same time. They got back to Thies late this afternoon so I didn't go see them, but I did see the much more elusive member of their family: Dioss.

Dioss was really excited to see me because today, supposedly, is/ was the day when the catalog is finally being delivered to completed form. I'll believe it when I see it. He was like a little kid on Christmas morning though which made him fairly worthless to talk to about anything other than the catalog. I took some pictures of his new technique to show the West African Trade Hub and then he kind of pushed me out of his house because he had a bunch of friends over. The pictures are in the Cape Verde album.

From Dioss' I walked over to the post office.

Shout Outs!!!
Thank you grandma for the amazing package including all kinds of delicious treats, magazines, and Easter goodies for Ahmed! I've already put a dent in the treats and the magazines.

Shirley! Thank you for two more amazing letters! I always look forward to cards from you!

At the post office I had a very annoying conversation about husbands, boyfriends, and marriage, which ended with me excusing myself after one of the peripheral post office characters called my boyfriend my "master." Conversations like that no matter if they are said in jest or not are not conversations I want to be a part of and I find them degrading. It's definitely not a mentality that I can understand and one that I don't have to tolerate when it's about me. I massage my ego with fruit snacks my grandma sent so everything turned out just fine.

I hung out with the fam for the rest of the day. Jeenaba and Abdou are back, which brought more life to the house since Khady is still sick. Little Awa is proving herself to a terror and I'm waiting for big Awa to pop out her baby!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday usually doesn't mean much to me and since I'm living with a Muslim family, one would assume that it wouldn't mean much to them, but in the spirit of any holiday is a holiday we celebrate, my family celebrated Palm Sunday. I had been looking forward to today because we've been without water since I came back from Cape Verde and holidays are usually celebrated by the utility companies by actually providing service. And I was right. My mom obviously thought the same thing and therefore stayed up all night. She was still awake filling water jugs from the most pathetic trickle of water coming out of our spigot at 6:30am when I got up. I told her I would take over, but she doesn't trust me that much so I went to take a run and she locked me out of the front gate. Pounding on the door ensued until Awa came to open it for me.

Other than the luxury of having some water and a day full of electricity we also had a delicious lunch to celebrate. Whenever there's a holiday and "a lunch you will like," in the words of a female cook are uttered it means we don't eat lunch until old people are eating their Early Bird Special. Today was also a weird day since Jeenaba and Abdou were celebrating Palm Sunday with Thomsir, baby daddy, and his family... who are also not Christian. Anyway, that means that all of the cleaning fell on poor, giantly pregnant Awa while my Aunt Numbe cooked lunch. Numbe has been hanging around more than usual since her daughter, also named Awa, is out current "vacation maid."

Rice and chicken with crudites (finely chopped vegetables that are steamed and covered in vinegar) was on the menu for lunch. Numbe was cooking all day. Literally. I took a run, cleaned by room, uploaded a ton of pictures onto facebook, worked on an application, helped cut vegetables, took a shower, and watched an episode of the Amazing Race before we ate lunch at 4pm. Regardless, it was tasty and we had some watermelon for dessert!

Khady is really sick right now which meant that she wasn't helping the other adult women nor was she rangling Ahmed and little Awa so they bothered me. All day. I thought Khady was just dehydrated because she was complaining of a mysterious headache after pulling water all day yesterday and not actually drinking any of it, but she's been MIA all day today trying to recover. My favorite part about this was the "sick" outfit she emerged in to collect her lunch. The tightest pair of painted on jeans I've seen her wear and then a completely sheer caftan with no bra. How is that comfortable? Khady's lack of supervision meant that the kids were all over me.

Ahmed and I have a very defined set of unspoken rules that govern my personal space and the lies I tell him to get him to go away. It really is a beautiful relationship. Little Awa doesn't know any of these rules and is incredibly curious and precocious. Today she wiped open my door after I explicitly told her I was changing. I saw an expression flash across Ahmed's face that said "Oh my God, she's not going to give me presents and candy anymore!" I had to get my stern face on with Awa after the door opening incident but she didn't really get it because she continued to be really annoying. It mostly bothered me because she kept touching me all over and she has a super nasty and giant staph infection that I really do not want to get. I like to keep my kid touching to a minimum aka Abdou and Ahmed only.

Apart from trying to hide from/ kill little Awa, Palm Sunday was quite nice. Everyone was really chill. We had some visitors who couldn't have cared less about me and I got to eat chicken and hoard some water in my room.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vacation as a Maid

A combination of spring break, Easter (yes, I know it's still over a week away), and strikes mean that some if not most Senegalese children are not in school right now (if they go to public school, Ahmed goes to private, Catholic school which is in session). What does this mean? It means that there's kids all over all the time who enjoy taunting me and that there are little girls going on "vacation." Vacation is really a misnomer since these girls travel to different cities or villages to do house work. During Ramadan my family had two of these girls, Khady and Codou, who worked for us/ learned how to be a maid while the adult women in my family were fasting.

These past couple of weeks of vacation/ Easter/ strikes my Aunt Numbe's daughter, the one I really like, she's sassy, has been at our house. They live just down the street so she gets to go home at night, which is probably nice for her. I'm told she's around Ahmed's age, so she's five and is spending her vacation learning to pull water and being bossed around. It's definitely a little sad, but at least she's working for my family and she knows everyone.

Awa, the little girl working for us, is a spitfire. She's really funny and incredibly curious about anything and everything having to do with me. This evening Awa, Ahmed, and myself were hanging out on the porch of the bungalow having a little English lesson when she started peppering me with questions that no one else has ever asked me before. The most poignant question was "where are you parents?" It had never really crossed my mind that it's weird that I'm not living with my parents, but I am living with another family and calling a woman who is obviously not my mom "mom."

I explained to Awa that my parents are in the United States so that's why I have to live with a Senegalese family in Senegal. After laughing hysterically at the names Sharyl and Claude, Awa concluded they weren't real names. It also blew her mind that I have two names. One in Senegal and one in America. Another revelation was that my last name isn't actually "Toubab." Following this line of questioning we obviously get to the whereabouts of my husband. At this point, Ahmed pipes up and proudly explains that I don't have a husband I have a boyfriend who lives in America and who brought his a puzzle and a car. Duh. Ahmed also offered up the information that I have a brother as well as a cat that looks like a lion because it has so much hair and that it snows where I live. All very important facts.

This little episode was absolutely adorable until the conversation segued into how Awa is learning how to carry water on her head and I can't carry water on my head even though I'm really, really old. At this point I bribed them with candy to go away.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Getting Back In the Swing of Things

Getting back in the swing of things has been easier than I thought because I'm really excited about artisan reseau prospects. I should know a lot more next week, but I'm pretty sure that the artisans are going to have an amazing opportunity to showcase themselves during the Jazz Fest in St. Louis in June and I'm really excited about it! That being said I still had a terrible time motivating myself this morning, lack of sleep is still a big issue after my trip, and ended up going to the post office (shout out to Shirley!!!) and pretending to clean my room. I really wanted to clean my room and I did move everything around and dust and sweep; I just need to scrub my floor which is difficult by the lack of water.

Demyst is currently going on for the Health/ Environmental Education PCVs who arrived last month and Thies is getting another new addition. Lisa, the new Health PCV, will bring the grand total to four regular PCVs (including me, Emily, and Clare), two Response PCVs, and one third year volunteer. Craziness. Since demyst and seeing your site for the first time is a little anti-climactic when it's Thies and you're already there, I took Lisa out on the town with me today to see Mme. Ly.

Madame Ly is a great person for a new PCV to know because she's always willing to hang out, she always makes you feel great, and she knows absolutely everyone. Mme. Ly and Khady were super excited to see me and we chatted and caught up while they worked on some necklaces and Lisa listened on and did a little shopping.

Everything is as usual with my family. Awa is getting huge and I'm excited to have another baby around. I still have no idea how far along she is, but she's really big so I hope she has the baby soon. Abdou jabbers constantly and really, really, really wants to walk. Ahmed is still obsessed with his rain boots and wants to play constantly now that I'm back. He actually watched me type my Cape Verde post. That's love.

My Trip to HAlfrica

Cape Verde is spectacular. We had an absolutely amazing and unforgettable trip. But, we weren’t in Africa. We were in HAlfrica. PCVs in Cape Verde even call if HAlfrica because Cape Verde is this amazing place where highways are actually paved and don’t have potholes, where cab drivers know where they’re going, where solar lights operate on pedestrian thoroughfares, where some PCVs have hot water, and where you can eat pizza and Chinese food and have it taste like pizza and Chinese food. If you haven’t gotten the drift yet, Cape Verde is awesome.

When I came to Senegal almost 20 months ago I thought that Africa was going to be a more run down, decrepit version of Eastern Europe. We all know how I felt about that surprise. Cape Verde is more along the lines of what I was expecting. It’s probably nicer than what I was expecting. A lot of colonial architecture has been preserved and a lot of houses and buildings are painted in beautiful colors, not to mention that they are kept in good condition. A lot of roads are paved and those roads that aren’t paved are beautiful old cobblestones that are completely intact and feel smoother riding over than almost any road in Senegal. The cars are beautiful and new and feature such car parts as; door handles, automatic windows, shocks, and dare I say it, air conditioning.

The most HAlfrica thing about Cape Verde is the people. Cape Verde is a Portuguese colony, a European and Brazilian vacation hot spot, and home to people from mainland Africa as well therefore; the people are a beautiful mixture, in appearance, language, and personality of all of these cultures. Just Cape Verdeans’ physical appearances blew us away. We would walk down the street and could instantly pick out the Senegalese immigrants. Senegalese people have very defined features since they for the most part marry other Senegalese people and there’s very little mixture with other nationalities, races etc. Cape Verdeans come in a range of sizes and colors that don’t exist in Senegal. They also dress in a much more Western and provocative way. Cape Verdean traditional dress is old school European and very few people wear traditional African clothes. Interacting with Cape Verdeans was a huge change. They seemed much more relaxed, less aggressive, more helpful… we never got harassed. It was a wonderful change and really set the mood for our entire vacation.

Cape Verde Day 1
Arriving in Cape Verde was lovely. The airport is tiny, customs non-existant, and beautiful/ new cabs waiting outside. We were all instantaneously impressed by the roads and just super excited as seen by this picture:

After checking into our really nice hotel, complete with hot water and air conditioning, we walked around Praia. Delicious sweet treats were purchased in the incredibly calm market, SIM cards bought from an incredibly friendly woman who spoke good English, and the brightly painted colonial architecture was admired. That night we found a Chinese restaurant, a PCV favorite, for dinner.

A PCV had called this place a "hole in the wall" and there's no doubt that it was. The restaurant was instantly recognizable as someplace only PCV tourists would go. It was awesome. The only problem was the Kriolu (local language of Cape Verde) and Chinese menu. We had been told that the fried noodles were really cheap and really good so we attempted to order them. We assumed they were the cheapest thing on the menu so when the owner came over to take our order we told him four plates by pointing to the cheapest thing on the menu. He gave us a weird look and held up four fingers before shaking his head and walking away. This probably should have been a clue. A few minutes later... he returned with a giant, heaping, pile of 40 fried wantons. The disgusting part about this story is that we almost finished them. For the rest of the meal we simply pointed at the food that the Chinese people were eating at the table next to us and things went much smoother.

Jackie and the owner of the restaurant who had just made a delivery on his moto, hence the helmet.

Cape Verde Day 2
My biggest fear is flying. I know it's completely irrational and that the liklihood I die in a fiery sept-place crash is infinitely higher, but I hate flying. I dislike flying in America and I dislike flying in Africa even more. I like my planes/ airlines to be brand names. So, the idea of taking a prop plane is akin to throwing myself off a cliff without a parachute. Apart from finishing PST, boarding the prop plane in Cape Verde on my own man power/ not having to be sedated, is my proudest moment of Peace Corps. This approximates how I felt about the situation:

I survived the plane ride from Praia, the capital of Cape Verde as well as the capital city of the island of Santiago, to Sao Filipe on the island of Fogo. It's literally a 30 minute plane ride and I hate every single second of it. Fortunately, a PCV named Josh who lives on Fogo was waiting at the airport for us and immediately took us to a local restaurant to try the national dish cachupa and the national alcohol grogue, I needed a little booze to calm the nerves. The food in Cape Verde is one thing that is definitely more African than European. While there are amazing restaurants, way better than you can find in Senegal, offering Italian, Spanish, and American fare, Cape Verdean cuisine is definitely African. Cachupa, the national dish, is corn, beans, and mashed up fish mixed together and usually served with an egg on top. I thought it was good, but wouldn't want to eat it every day, kind of life ceebu jenn.

Tamar and I eating cachupa for the first time in Sao Filipe on the island of Fogo.

With full stomachs, we went shopping for more food. Josh led us on a nice tour of Sao Filipe including the black sand beaches and the beautiful architecture before we hit up the main market to buy chili ingredients for our dinner. Food in hand we climbed into the back of a pick up truck heading up the mountain to a PCV house to meet another PCV, Rachel, and drop our stuff before heading to another site for dinner and to spend the night. At this point I need to explain the living situation for PCVs in Cape Verde. It's ridiculous. They either live with another PCV roommate or on their own in what I will call mansions. Everyone we met has a multiple room house to themselves with a full Western bathroom. We stayed with PCV Emma our first night in Fogo and her bathroom, featuring hot water, is literally bigger than the bungalow (there are pictures up so check them out). Since PCVs don't live with families that also means they cook for themselves and don't have to eat Cape Verdean food all of the time. They actually tried to get us to sample the various Senegalese restaurants on the island because they love the food. Needless to say we declined. Obviously the grass is always greener, but they have a pretty sweet set up.

Cape Verde Day 3
We spent the night with Emma and ate the left over chili we made for dinner before setting out for the reason we came to Fogo in the first place: the volcano.

Group shot with our lovely host Emma and our guide Josh.

Fogo is a volcanic island so the top is a giant crater. Inside this crater is another 6000 ft volcano and that's what we climbed. Before arriving in Cha, the city within the crater at the base of the second volcano, we had big transportation issues, as in there were no cars. We ended up having to rent a car and although we all enjoyed the beautifully scenic ride up the mountain to Cha, we arrived much later in the day than we had anticipated. In Cha we stayed with a Cape Verdean family who rents out rooms to visitors. They were extremely gracious and gave us fresh cheese and wine, both of which they make themselves, when we arrived. We pretty much threw our bags in the rooms and got ready to hike the volcano, but only after we picked up some water and a couple of bags of Cheetos at the local store.

You wish you looked this good in over-sized pants and tennis shoes eating Cheetos.

Hiking a volcano is totally badass if I do say so myself. It's also really freaking hard as there's only a "path" to follow. Fortunately we hired a guide who was from Cha and obviously half mountain goat as he bounded up the volcano without pause and without shortness of breath as the rest of us huffed and puffed our way to the top. It was an absolutely spectacular climb. The ascent starts out as a hike up the base of the volcano then becomes sandier with ash and other volcanic debris before becoming rocky, and then finally an almost vertical climb to the summit. It took us several hours but we all made it and reveled in our accomplishment and the view.

The four girls at the top.

The hike down from the volcano is the fun part. The hike up may take four hours, but getting down is a breeze once you get off the summit. Most of the way down you just run/ fall/ tumble through all of the volcanic ash/ debris that's accumulated. It's awesome and you get really, really, really dirty.

The white dust trail is following someone running down the volcano.

Since we got a lot start, we ended up doing the several mile hike from the base of the volcano into town in the dark. Fortunately our guide, Nene, was amazing and we had a delicious meal at a French owned campament afterward. Only when we sat down to eat did I discover that the pockets of my pants were completely full of rocks and ash. Not until midnight did we collapse into our beds in the Cape Verdean house we rented.

Cape Verde Day 4
A slight ankle sprain and complete exhaustion kept us from our planned day long hike, but we did still have to wake up only a few hours after we went to bed and head back to Sao Filipe. Early morning is the only time that public transit cars leave Cha so we had no choice but to get up and then try and catch a few more minutes of sleep will swaying in the back of a pick-up truck.

A hotel room provided us with a much needed shower as we were all too cold and tired to take a shower the night we hiked the volcano. We just went to sleep covered in soot, rocks, and sweat. After a hot shower and a power nap we ate a last lunch with Josh at KC's. KC's serves very good grilled chicken as well as traditional, American Phili Cheese Steaks. More Cape Verdeans actually live outside of Cape Verde than live in the country itself and the largest population of Cape Verdeans outside of the country live in Boston. Therefore, you can walk around Cape Verde and hear extremely thick Boston accents. A lot of people sound more American than I do with my MidWestern twang! KC is one of those people who lived in the States for years before coming back to Cape Verde.

The crew at KC's.

We had a quiet night and a delicious pizza dinner before turning in early to prepare ourselves for the prop plane flight back to Praia and Jackie's birthday celebration.

Cape Verde Day 5
Landing safely back in Praia on the island of Santiago we celebrated with another, although less successful, trip to the amazing Chinese restaurant followed by a trip to the bakery and then power naps was Jackie's 26 birthday!!! Happy Birthday Jackie!!!

The celebration started in our hotel room and continued to a fabulous dinner, followed by some drinks and a rendez vous with other PCVs at "The Serpent's Venom" and finally a ridiculous club called The Cockpit, which I originally thought was an illusion to cock fighting, but which is really just lamely decorated like the cockpit of a plane as seen here:

To say it was a fantastic time would be an understatement. Jackie and I especially took The Cockpit by storm and took over the stage (by ourselves) for several hours.

Jackie and I breaking it down.

Cape Verde Day 6
After waking up less than four hours since leaving The Cockpit, we ate breakfast and then boarded public transportation for Tarrafall an absolutely beautiful coastal city two hours away across the island. I slept most of the way there and missed the scenery, but I caught it on the way back.

In Tarrafall we randomly went to the restaurant where the Tarrafall PCV was having lunch. He led us on a brief tour of town and on a wonderful walk to a cave absolutely full of shells which also featured an amazing view of other secluded beaches. The day was definitely worth the fairly miserable car ride.

Jackie, me, Tamar and Erin in Tarrafall.

Back in Praia for the night we moved from the hotel to John's house, our incredibly gracious PCV host in Praia who took us to a fabulous pizza restaurant before the four of us literally passed out due to exhaustion.

Cape Verde Day 7
Jackie left early in the morning for another island in Cape Verde to visit other PCVs we met during WAIST, but Tamar, Erin, and I stayed in Praia in anticipation of our return to Dakar. We spent the day visiting the old capital of the island Cidade Velha, which was abandoned because it kept getting attacked by pirates. Gotta love pirates. We saw the old fort and walked around town before heading back to Praia and eating for the rest of the day!

Erin, me, and Tamar at a monument commemorating explorers in Cidade Velha.

The trip to Cape Verde was amazing, our PCV hosts fantastic and welcoming, and the adventure with my friends unforgettable!