Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ladies Who Lunch Finale

Fall Stage '09 Ladies at our last Thies lunch.

For the past two days I've been hanging out at the center. Today and yesterday I had sessions at 8:30am and ended up spending the rest of the day working at the center since my house never has electricity and Jackie and Katherine have been in town. This morning the three of us and Kerry led a Junior Achievement lesson. For some reason the stage a year behind me is totally anti-JA and only one person has started teaching classes so far. The new stage seems much more excited about the project. After a brief presentation and overview about JA, Kerry led a panel discussion and the three of us answered questions. It was actually quite fun to tell our amusing anecdotes and reflect back on our time with JA. Junior Achievement was definitely a good project and I hope that a lot of volunteers in this new stage continue teaching.

Ladies and Brian

The big event for the day was the last Ladies Who Lunch event of my service. Lunch marked the last time that the Fall Stage '09 ladies will all be eating lunch together, in Thies, in our Thiest Region t-shirts. A sad time to be sure. Fortunately everyone in my stage was able to attend lunch at some point, although Christine didn't quite make it into the pictures! I am so lucky to have been posted here in Thies with such fabulous colleagues. Seven girls from my stage were placed in and around Thies and we'v had so much fun together. Whether they're "thiesty" or not I still love them all dearly. The seven of us really made Thies a sub-region among volunteers and it's been great to acquire new members along the way and I hope that the PCVs who replace us will continue the tradition of camaraderie and leisurely lunches.

While this was our last Thies lunch, it wasn't sad and that's because we're all in denial or at least I am. I cannot believe how short the countdown has become. I still remember the count up when I made it to 100 days in Senegal and now I'm in the teens. As in less than 20 days in Senegal. I will be home in 19 days. We are down to the wire, but there's still so much more to do that I don't feel like the end is as near as it is. I also hate goodbyes and am already getting teary when I think about having to do it with Peace Corps staff, with my work partners, with my family, and with my friends. The lunch wasn't sad at all. It was fun. And that's how I hope the vast majority of the rest of my 19 days will be. We definitely have some fun events planned to take us all the way to the final goodbye at the regional house in Dakar.

The Thies region also has a love of khaki/ fatigue pants! Guess who's who!

Let the insanity begin (continue)!

New pictures are up in the "It's the End of the World As We Know It" album.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Firsts of the Lasts

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Today was a really good day.

My ever present social guilt and the fact that I wont have the opportunity to see all of my Senegalese work partners in the near, near future prompted me to call Dioss even though I didn't want to. I don't know why I never want to call Dioss because I always have a pleasant time when I go to his gallery. Today we chitchatted for a little while and then both read books while listening to American soft rock as some of the boy posse ran errands and painted. Dioss has been a really good friend and at the beginning a very good work partner. I hope that my replacement continues a relationship with Dioss. I've recommended in my COS report that he or she asks one of the members of the boy posse if he would like to learn some basic accounting and in that way help Dioss since Dioss has very little interest in learning the business side of his business. The time it took to read an entire Vanity Fair magazine was the amount of time I was willing to sit around Dioss' gallery before returning home, but it was a lovely morning and I'm definitely going to miss Dioss and the rest of the boy posse when I leave.

When I arrived back at home and drenched in sweat (the hot and muggy season is officially here) my mom, Numbe, and Awa were all sitting around the kitchen. The electricity had still not come back 24 hours after it turned off. The three women were eating a tropical fruit that looks like a rotten yellow tomato. I don't think it has an English name and I had definitely never seen it before I came to Senegal. The fruit has a hard rind, thicker than an orange, and inside there are hard seeds covered in a little fruit surrounded by goop. Sounds gross, tastes good. Well, it tastes good after you add sugar to it because before it is incredibly sour. My family likes to freeze them, scoop out of the fruit, and put the fruit in some water to make a kind of fruit smoothie. It's actually pretty good although incredibly time consuming and difficult to eat.

As we ate our fruit and chatted, Numbe caught site of the magazine in my bag and asked to look at it. One of my family's great pleasures are the perfume ads in magazines. They LOVE them. After getting over their initial horror that I would rip pages out of a magazine, they now demand that the fragrance ads are immediately taken out of the magazines so everyone can smell them, rate them, and rub them all over their bodies. It's quite the spectacle and the "which fragrance is better" conversation gets heated quite quickly! It's true female bonding time and it was really fun. I had a great couple of hours, waiting for lunch to be served, sitting with my mom, Numbe, and Awa. There are moments here that are so great and then there's the rest of the time...

After lunch, I headed over the center to put a large bag of miscellaneous objects into a Peace Corps car going to Dakar. I've been trying to clean out my room and either sending things to Dakar, throwing piles and piles of Peace Corps paperwork in the trash, or bring things to the center for other people to pilfer. There are a ton of people in Thies right now working with the new SED trainees and volunteers doing sensitivity training for Peace Corps staff and trainees on being a homosexual volunteer in Senegal.

Due to the large number of volunteers in Thies and the fact that it was one PCV's birthday we all went out to Massa Massa for dinner. Jackie, Katherine, and I had been planning on going to Massa Massa for one last meal and this was a great excuse. Although Lamine, our favorite waiter wasn't there, we all ordered the lasagna and all made ourselves sick off of it. Every time I eat an entire plate of lasagna by myself I remind myself that the reason we split lasagna isn't cost, it's that we make ourselves sick when we eat it by ourselves. Two years later and the lesson is still not learned!

Failed Attempt

Sunday June 26th, 2011

Last night was my loudest night in Senegal. A truck with giant speakers was parked outside my house blaring music. There was no party. No political rally. No death. No birth. No baptism. No nothing. Just a truck with gigantic speakers parked outside my house. I could barely hear myself think. Today I found out that all of the Catholic children in my neighborhood were receiving their first and second communion, but there was nothing going on last night. I don't understand why people don't stop ridiculous things like this. My family was complaining about the noise and my host dad is the head of our neighborhood yet, they still didn't attempt to stop the noise. There are only two plausible explanations:

1. Senegal
2. No one complains because they know at some point that they will want to have a truck parked outside of someone else's house blaring loud music.

Today I really wanted to and thought that I would do work. I went to the center and even took a lunch so that I wouldn't have to leave. I sat in the living room at the center and tried to hunker down and concentrate. No such luck. In anticipation of the trainees coming back to the center for the first time and due to all of the recent power outages there were a lot of PCVs at the center so I chatted, walked through the market, and did other unproductive things.

The trainees did come back from their first five days in their towns/ villages and were excited to be back at the center again. This group of trainees is already really tightly knit since there are only 17 of them so they were excited to see each other and excited to get a nice cold beverage at the Catholic compound. I didn't really hear any horror stories, but people definitely have a new appreciation for Thies and the training center.

Back at home my family was in a terrible mood. Having Mami home full time now, university is out for the summer, really creates tension and drama, which is fun for me to watch!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Storm Clouds

The past couple of days have been full of ups and downs. I feel incredibly busy, but at the same time seem to be accomplishing absolutely nothing. For the first time in years my two worlds, the world of Peace Corps Senegal and the world of my old life at home, are colliding. I’m so close to being done, but home is still out of reach and while I’ve been planning a life at home it’s still vague and currently includes another plane ticket to the west coast 11 days after getting to Michigan and that’s pretty much it. The new trainees are here, I’m writing my Close of Service Report which will help my replacement jump into life and projects in Thies (I just finished it this morning!), and I’m placing last minute jewelry orders for my friends and myself (hey, I’m trying to keep what’s important in perspective!). At the same time my calendar is filling up with all kinds of events in Grand Rapids and Chicago. Having a foot in each world is a little weird, but probably good practice for how I’m actually feel when I get home. For now, I’m trying to prepare, but enjoy my time in Senegal with all of my friends. We still have one more trip planned and 4th of July festivities to look forward to!

The process of writing my COS report has been a strange one . Writing the details of my service, how I organized the artisan expo, what the creation of the artisan association looked like, the shipment of Dioss’ cards to the States, the new styles of Mme. Ly’s jewelry, is an exciting look back at my service and has reminded me that I actually did accomplish things. Writing about my family already has me in a panic about saying goodbye. Describing everyone’s personalities, their quirks, relationships to each other, and how the insanity of my household all seems to make sense is really emotional. These people no matter how much they annoy me, how incredibly inconsiderate they are sometimes, or how they truly feel about me as a “member” of their family are my family here in Senegal. I depend on them and I love them and it’s going to be terrible to say goodbye even if I will enjoy not being barged in upon while half naked and given a baby to hold. I hope my replacement finds the same camaraderie with my family as I did.

My COS is only one of the written documents I’m working on. Job applications, letters of recommendations, different essays, and PST schedules are constantly open on my computer and just never seem to be complete. I’m easily distracted these days.

Yesterday, I did get some work done. In the morning I attempted to explain my internet problem to the service provider. It ended with me having a meltdown in the Orange office much to the amusement of two Peace Corps employees who were also there to complain and attempt to have their problems resolved. From there I headed over to Mme. Ly’s to check in, chat, and discuss a special order for Jackie. Upon hearing that there may or may not be coveted hot pink beads in Dakar, I also placed an order. We discussed the Artisan Association and how it really has nothing to do with Katherine and I and that the next meeting in September will be just as successful and the artisans can do more and more themselves. Mme. Ly doesn’t seem convinced, but I’m confident she’ll pick up the reigns when she has to.

In the afternoon I met up with Andrew, one of the new trainees who is doing PST in Thies. He was feeling a little antsy in his home stay which I could understand after talking to his mom on the phone and explaining that he was a big boy and could walk to a central location by himself to meet me! We walked through the market running some errands I had. During my PST I felt like all of the PCVs who came in were so enthusiastic and happy about everything and in love with Senegal. Many people in my stage find it funny that I’m in essence “stage mom” since I hated PST with such a passion, but I hope that I’m giving people a realistic picture of Peace Corps life. I would have felt so much better if someone had told me that Peace Corps is hard, that people can and will be really mean in cities, and that Senegalese cities are just dirty and disgusting. This isn’t a value statement it’s just the truth. I think Andrew has a lot of the same misgivings that I did when I first arrived so I hope that I’m helping trainees who feel like I did and at the same time not appearing to be too much of a Debbie Downer to the super happy go lucky people. It was nice to get out of the house and hang out with someone and it was another opportunity to reflect on my service.

So, I have been doing things. I’ve visited work partners, yelled at service providers, toured Thies with new trainees, and even written reports, but it doesn’t really feel productive. I need to kick it into high gear. It’s a sprint to the finish.

As I’m in transition, so is the weather. The rainy season has arrived. Katherine called me this morning because she knew I had plans to go into town and a storm was hitting Bambey. It takes almost exactly half an hour for weather to get from Bambey to Thies, which would have had me walking around in the storm. Thanks Katherine for the heads up! Even without Katherine’s heads up I hope I would not have been stupid enough to leave my house after looking at the sky. It was pitch dark at 9am and then the sky turned red with sand and the wind was incredibly violent, banging everything closed and tearing limbs off our Mango trees. It was pretty cool. The storm lasted for over two hours and it rained a lot! Now we actually have some water since we collected it in buckets. The rain was a welcome relief from the humidity that’s settled over Thies in the past week or so. I’m not too pumped for Thies to become a swamp of trash again, but I do enjoy seeing the change in life when the rains come. No one does anything, there’s no cars on the roads, everyone hides from the rain and I watch movies in my room!

SHOUT OUTS!!! I’ve been delinquent in putting these up! I apologize.

McKeowns – Thank you so much for the “Countdown to Redondo” package! The trail mix and magazines should provide me enough fuel to get through the next few weeks. I’m excited to teach Ahmed all about paper airplanes as well. Thank you for your support.

Mom and Dad – Thanks for another great package. The wine cups will be much appreciated during our beach weekend next week! And I promise to wear the new underwear on the plane so Africa underwear doesn’t make the jump across the Atlantic!

Shirley – Thanks for another great card! Matt and I are definitely going to call in that order of Pecan Bars and I can’t wait for some fried rice salad and mashed potatoes!

Sorry this has been a rambling and disjointed post! I’ll try and do better tomorrow.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


With a very short five days of "rest" at home in Thies/ the training center, I was off again and back to Dakar on Tuesday for a Junior Achievement event. But, this wasn't before I had the chance to go see Mme. Ly on Monday afternoon.

I had been dreading going to see Mme. Ly because of the disaster that was Jazz Fest. She and Khady had the most miserable expressions on their faces every time I saw them and I was afraid that all of my hard work with them would be for naught after the giant disappointment of the expo. Fortunately, Mme. Ly doesn't hate me. Just like Katherine's artisan Matar told her, Mme. Ly told me that the event was so horrible that the artisans bonded and that they did really learn a lot from the gallery and how we had set up the Peace Corps display there. Apprently, the boys stayed an extra couple of days in St. Louis and sold some more product which is good. Mme. Ly and Khady left after the final official day of the expo with some very, very, very exciting news. After I had already left St. Louis, Joelle, the gallery owner, came over to the Peace Corps booth to check things out and speak with the artisans. She was impressed with a couple of the products including the Collaboration Bag (made by Matar the tailor and Demba the leather guy) and a lot of Mme. Ly's new jewlery designs.

Mme. Ly and Khady are over the moon that Joelle liked their jewelry and the three women are working on finalizing and order for the gallery and creating a partnership! Exciting!!! Over the past year I've been creating a Look Book for Mme. Ly with all of her designs. Every time she has a new necklace I take a picture and put it in the photo album I bought her. She now has a record of well over 50 designs that she's made. The next time Mme. Ly goes to Dakar she's going to take her Look Book and show it to Joelle so she can choose more designs. Hopefully this will turn out to be an enduring partnership! And it means that at least two good things came out of Jazz Fest: the artisans have really bonded and become friends and Mme. Ly has a new opportunity with a gallery!

Unfortunately, Monday night did not end as well as the afternoon went. My internet is suddenly suffering from the mysterious disease that Katherine's internet had a few months ago. From home, when connected to the internet through my modem and an ethernet cord, I can only access Gmail,, and Skype. While these sites do represent the holy grail of internet, but it's really annoying when you can't access the rest of the internet, especially after I had paid my bill earlier that day. Yes, I know, the trials and tribulations of the Peace Corps Volunteer. No internet. Poor me. But, it's all what you get used to and I have work to do! Although I have been obsessively calling Orange (my service provider), re-configuring my modem, and turning everything off and on, there has been no improvement. Blame the terrible utilities companies for the lack of blogging.

Tuesday morning, after yelling at several Orange representatives over the phone, Talla came to pick me up and we headed to Dakar. Since Talla was driving and I didn't have to take a sept-place I took a ton of Peace Corps property into Dakar to turn in... I'm getting closer and closer to coming home! We picked up Jackie and with Kerry already in the car we sped to Dakar... until we got stopped in standstill traffic for over an hour. The real purpose of the trip was Junior Achievement and the end of the year festivities and events planned by the JA country team.

Tuesday night we attended a lovely reception at the American Ambassador's house and Wednesday morning we went to the national theater along with a bunch of JA students (including some from Lycee Technique!) to celebrate their accomplishments and listen to some Senegalese musicians perform. We also got to watch a television segment about JA in which Jackie and I starred or in which Jackie starred and I had one ridiculous line. The best part was we were both wearing the same outfits we had on in the video! Just goes to show you how poorly PCVs dress.

Now I'm back in Thies waiting out the power outages and politicking. Definitely check out Senegal is the news for yesterday and today. I'm an fine and safe, but there are protests happening throughout the country. Yahoo news, Reuters, and AP all have articles if you are interested to know what's happening in Senegal.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Trainee site placement interviews continued yesterday and I continued to be absolutely fascinated not because I see myself two years ago, but because I see my projects two years from now. The new group of trainees is overall older than my group, has more experience, and already speaks better French. The number of people with retail and marketing backgrounds who want to work with artisans is staggering and they are chomping at the bit to take the Peace Corps Artisan Association to the next level with their expertise, contacts back in the US, and their excitement at what their service holds. It's a little sad that I wont be around to see everything first hand, but don't worry, I'm coming home.

The nostalgia is definitely kicking in. The new stage is so excited to get to know each other, so excited to learn local languages, and so excited to get to work. I can finally see why some people do extend their services for a third year(again, don't worry this is happening, I already have a plane ticket). At this point in my service no matter how incredibly annoyed I am with the country of Senegal and everything it entails, I can still get things done. The artisans, even after the catastrophe that was the St. Louis Jazz Fest, are still excited about the association and call me incessantly to talk about. With my language skills and cultural understanding at the point they are now, I could do great things with a third year just like some of my stage-mates will do with their third year. But, back to the new stage...

PST is going well. Who the hell thought I would ever say that in any context? I was at the center all day again yesterday doing interviews, answering questions, and participating in the cultural fair where I lead the Islam talk for the forth time. Last night since the trainees are still not allowed to leave the center I lead/ created a trivia night for them. While the questions might have been a little titled toward the Alyssa/Katherine weird knowledge/ obsessions side, it was still fun and I hope a success.

Fortunately, I am able to take a little break from the center today and try to become a whole human being again. The past ten days have been crazy. Katherine and I worked our asses off all day in St. Louis and then may or may not have had a little too much fun at night, then 5 days in Dakar for COS Conference, and now PST. In return for all of my hard work, I have earned a very persistent head cold and complete exhaustion. I slept for 10 hours last night, got up, eat breakfast, pretended to do work for an hour, and then took an almost two hour nap. Yeah. I want to spend some time with my family today because I've barely seen them this month and I have very little time left.

I did spend a little time with my family today. Operative word being little since I was so, so, so tired. My main interaction was holding a stick on one side while Ahmed held it on the other in order to prevent him from seeing how many times one can poke a light bulb before it breaks. I had to take several naps both in my room and on the floor of the living room when the power was out and it was too hot to be in my room without a fan. I think tomorrow I will be close to normal and can continue with normal live. Tomorrow is also the Thies walk around so the trainees will be let out of the center for the first time! Hopefully I wont scare them too much!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Replacement: He/She Is Here

Yesterday at 4:45am Chris (our Country Director) picked up a group of us at the hotel where we were staying for COS Conference and we all went to the airport to pick up the 17 new SED stagaires. Even though I was sick and had to sit through the rest of the conference all day, I wanted to go great the new stagaires to come full circle. I remember how incredibly terrified I was when I landed in Senegal and how much I looked up to the PCVs who came to collect us. I didn't see any of the terror I felt in their eyes, but it was great to get a first look at them.

The stagaires were in Thies all day yesterday, but I left early this morning for Thies with a group of second year SED PCVs to present on our various projects and give a little taste of what we do to the new kids before they had their interviews about site placement. Katherine and I presented on artisans (it seemed like people were super interested!), Elizabeth and Jackie did Junior Achievement, Byron presented on cross sector collaboration (SED and Ag co projects), Chris on Eco-Tourism, and Lyzz (a first year) on waste management. I know that I would have liked a project overview early on in my pre-service training, since I had no idea what kind of work the PCVs did, so I hope they enjoyed the presentations. I also participated in a safety and security discussion about Thies, but the most interesting part of my day was the site placement interviews.

I am lucky enough to sit in on the site placement interviews and help decide which trainee goes to which site. It's absolutely fascinating. I remember my interview and how it's so hard to talk about what you want when you don't know a damn thing. I feel like the PCV who sat in on my interview really was able to look at the sites, understand who fits into what site, and then evaluate my personality in order to put me in Thies. The fact that I wasn't quiet about my desire for internet/ connection to the outside world probably didn't hurt either. Regardless, I hope that I can help place people at a site where they will be successful and at a site that they love. Listening to the new trainees struggle to find the right words because they're jet lagged, try to describe their perfect site without knowing anything about the sites, and attempt to process all of the information being thrown at them is bringing back a deluge of memories.

All of their questions are interesting and I already feel invested in them since they are a SED stage, but most especially because one of them will be living with my family, taking on my projects, and quasi living the life I've lead for two years. The goal of these interviews in the next two days is to figure out which languages people are going to learn. Since the group is so small (only 17), there will be 5 French, 2 Serere, and 10 Wolof. Therefore, winnowing down the two who will speak Serere is a pretty big deal as they will be placed in one of two sites. There's a lot more variables in play for the people learning French and Wolof, but I definitely have my eye on a potential replacement for myself and for Katherine.

The past 8 days have been insanity with Jazz Fest, COS Conference, and the new stage arriving and it's not going to calm down anytime soon. For the rest of the week I will be spending all day at the center with the new stage and I have to go back to Dakar next for a Junior Achievement Senegal conference.

Artisan Update: I just got off the phone with Katherine who spoke to her tailor, Matar. I have yet to really speak with or visit Mme. Ly. According to Matar, some artisans stayed until Tuesday even though the event officially ended on Sunday and that they actually sold quite a bit of product and that the artisans are generally happy. Apparently, after we left, everyone started singing kumbaya and being best friends forever. Alys' leather worked, Demba, is now a father figure to Matar while Mme. Ly is his mother. They all bonded over the horrible situation and believe St. Louis made the association stronger, which they are now obsessed with. I desperately hope all of this is true because I've been feeling terrible about how poorly Jazz Fest went and how miserable the artisans appeared while we were there. I can't wait to get a chance to go over and see Mme. Ly. I hope she's as positive as Matar!

COS Conference

Fall 2009 Stage at COS COnference

For the past three days my entire stage has been in Dakar for our COS (Close Of Service) Conference. This is a point in my service that I never, ever thought I would attend. I didn't think I would make it through PST and then I thought I would be going to grad school in 2011 and wouldn't make it to the conference, but, as I've learned in Peace Corps, you never actually know what's going to happen and I made it to COS Conference.

The real purpose of COS Conference is to bring the next stage to leave together in order to give us mounds of paperwork and instructions for ending our Peace Corps service and returning to the United States. What COS Conference really is is an opportunity to get everyone in your stage together one last time and stay in an air conditioned hotel in Dakar for four days. Unfortunately, that AC gave me a terrible head cold, which I'm still struggling with. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were filled with vast amounts of paperwork to be filled out in the future, job prep information, and how to continue our service in the US by speaking with schools, participating in recruiting events, etc. The conference wasn't super informative since I had already ravenously read our COS manual, which I received a few weeks ago and outlines most procedures, but the conference was the last time I'll probably be able to slow down and think and process.

With volunteers spread across Senegal, there are only a couple of times each year we all get together and other than trainings there's no time when you are along with your stage, the people who crossed the Atlantic with you and suffered through the same PST. It's really fun to see everyone and hear about how life is so different in a village than in Thies, but that we share many of the same frustrations and our perspectives on Senegal aren't all too different. I love hearing everyone's personal anecdotes about site from accidentally adding too much bleach into her drinking water, to 3 day long bus rides to Mali, to me getting peed on by a goat while sitting in a car, to making bagels over a gas tank or being asked to participate in a traditional wedding, everyone has a great story.

During the day we sat in a conference room learning and sharing and at night we sat around the hotel pool or in our air conditioned rooms reliving our favorite memories, making news ones, and discussing our plans for post Peace Corps life. That next stage will start at different times for different people in my stage. Myself and most of the SED volunteers will start leaving mid next month (because our replacements have arrived in Senegal 2 months early), while our agriculture stage-mates will be leaving anytime from July to November. There are also the brave PCVs will be extending a service for 3 months or 6 months or even a year. COS conference is supposed to bring us together and make us think and it definitely accomplished that for me. I am so unbelievably excited to come home and as I'm wrapping up my Peace Corps experience I'm proud of what I've accomplished and believe that my service has come to a logical conclusion, but at the same time it's really, really, really sad.

Wednesday night (the concluding night of the conference), Chris, the country director, invited us to his house for some food as a thank you for our service and as a last meal as a group. Jackie made a freaking amazing slide slow with pictures from the past two years. I'm not close with everyone in my stage, but there's the person I sat next to on the plane from DC to Senegal, or the people from my PST training village, or the person I spent a weekend with at a regional house. Most of all, these are the only people who will ever really understand my two year Peace Corps experience in Senegal. They know how crazy it was, how much I hated PST, and the fabulous adventure it was.

Not to be super sentimental/ nostalgic/ sappy... I will move on. COS Conference also represented the last few days I will have to think about my service, or, at least, start thinking about my service. Wednesday morning I was part of a crew of 2 year SED PCVs who got up at 4:45 to great the new SED stage at the airport. One of these people will be my replacement! Crazy!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

St. Louis Jazz Fest

Katherine and I arrived in St. Louis Wednesday afternoon after the one of the worst sept-place rides of all time. I literally sat on my right hip the entire time because the back seat was so small, a the giant woman sitting next to us decided to needed to jiggle her baby most of the ride, and the 2.5 hour trip actually took a little over 4. The only thought that sustained us during our sept-place ride was: Rice Krispie Treats. Katherine’s mom sent us some last minute food supplies and we brought a lot of it to St. Louis, most importantly the Rice Krispies. There was obviously no gas at the Peace Corps house in St. Louis so we foraged for sticks. On the side of the road. In a major city. Once we collected what we thought was a sufficient amount of stick on which to cook Rice Krispie treats the magic happened. Fortunately, butter and marshmallows don’t take too much heat to melt and before we knew it we were indulging in the gooy delight that is Rice Krispie treats. Making ourselves sick for what would be the first out of two times on Rice Krispie treats we hid the remnants in a plastic bag and then put it in our luggage to enjoy later/ hide from other PCVs because we’re fatties.

In a sugar coma, we walk across the bridge to the island to meet Amanda and see the gallery for the first time. We also walked through the artisanal stand section to find our booth and prepare to help the artisans find the booth and set up Thursday morning. The gallery, like the one in Dakar, was beautiful although they received a giant shipment of goods while we were there and actually didn’t get everything set up and open for business until Friday, which was a day after the actual festival started. Everything seemed like it was under control and Katherine and I left the island feeling like the artisans could pretty much fend for themselves and our roles would be minimal. We made a delicious Mexican fiesta over some more sticks, ate some more Rice Krispie treats, created a PST presentation, and went to bed thinking that the apocalypse probably wouldn’t happen the next day. We were wrong.

The gallery was supposed to open at 9am so that’s when Katherine and arrived to find the first floor of the gallery overrun with product to the point where we could barely find a path to walk. The first day at the gallery was a bust because it never opened, but it did provide us with a reprieve of the absolute hell taking place outside. I went to the stand to search for artisans and ran into Ndeye, a boutique owner from Kaolack, on my way there. She couldn’t find the booth. Ndeye was the first artisan to show up followed by the women from Kebemer who make bags and then Mme. Ly. It was obvious at this point that we were in trouble. The artisans were not happy about the space or the congestion in the “artisan” area. We had warned them about the space. At the last artisan meeting we actually mapped out on the floor the dimensions of the booth and reiterated to everyone that they could not bring their usual amount of goods/ baggage. This needed to be an event where we worked together to make the most of our space. This obviously didn’t happen.

The three women started setting up and pretty much filled the entire space and four artisans had still not yet arrived. I had had several discussions with Mme. Ly about only bringing her best goods and only bringing a couple necklaces, bracelets, and earrings in each style. This obviously fell on deaf ears as she brought her normal/ ridiculous quantity of goods. I was really annoyed she completely disregarded my recommendations and then that she refused to reduce the amount of goods she had on display so other artisans had more room. The day really only got worse from this point.

Katherine and I had to move our bags from the Peace Corps office to the house our stage rented for the weekend so we did this and had lunch, leaving the three artisans who had actually arrived at this point at about 12:30. We returned at 2pm to hell. The male artisans had finally arrived and the amount of bags they brought with them had brought all of the artisans to a complete standstill. It was like they were paralyzed. No one was continuing to set up. Everyone was just sitting there, complaining about the lack of space, and staring at the unpacked goods. While we were hoping to have a minimal role, Katherine and I jumped in and started unpacking; there was nothing else to do. We moved as much as we had been OK’ed to move into the gallery to create more space and we attempted to have the artisans work together in creating displays.

The Peace Corps Artisan Association is supposed to be a practice in collaboration. There are already several products where artisans work together and several have become good friends, but when it comes to money and showcasing goods all bets are off. Each artisan wanted his or her own space. No one wanted to or accepted the idea of displaying a piece of jewelry in a bowl or on a basket. There was just an explosion of goods and it looked terrible. Fortunately Amanda came over to play bad guy and arrange goods for them. The artisans are terrified that the one product they put away is the one thing that will sell even if they already have the same product displayed elsewhere. Amanda helped us work with the artisans for several hours to create a space that looked semi-decent, but which was still overflowing with products.

The artisans and especially Mme. Ly did not like what we did. At this point it’s 6pm and we’ve been working on arranging things since the early morning. Most of the artisans traveled to St. Louis that day. Everyone is exhausted, it’s incredibly hot, and the conditions are just terrible. The artisan exposition is more like a bazaar. The vast majority of booths were filled with random crap from the market, goods made in China, and cheap knock off goods. There were 100 booths and maybe 20 had actual artisanal clients. The majority of the clients were Senegalese school girls and there was a constant crush of humanity milling along the road at all times. Loud music was blasted and the organizational effort put in by the mayor’s office was nonexistent. I went to a boutique to buy drinks and donuts to make everyone feel better, but most of the artisans didn’t even want it. That’s how angry and exhausted everyone was. With nothing left to do and the artisans definitely not wanting to talk to us, Katherine, Alys, and I left around 6:30 for a much needed and deserved beverage.

Friday morning wasn’t all that much better. The gallery finally opened and served as our oasis from the chaos outside, but since the chaos outside stretched to the front of the gallery we barely had any customers. What we were able to do was bring the artisans inside the gallery so Amanda could talk to them about product display. Unfortunately when she asked them what the biggest difference between the booth and gallery was they said space instead of set-up, but they did she how nice and clean and minimal everything looked. Space was definitely tight at the booth, but if they had worked together to display everything they would have been much better off. The men really seemed to get this lesson and take the entire debacle as a learning experience. I’m not so sure about the women. Next week I will talk to Mme. Ly and have a short de-brief to learn what she really thought. Hopefully she’ll have cooled off by then.

Friday night was the big Peace Corps party night. Richard, the volunteer in my stage in St. Louis, had his favorite hangout hold a Peace Corps Appreciation Night and he was the DJ at the event. The party was really fun…too fun and I paid the price yesterday. We had planned on leaving yesterday morning to come to Dakar, but that turned into yesterday afternoon as Katherine and I had to spend most of the morning in bed and finding my phone. For some reason I gave Katherine my phone who put it in the safest place to put some of value: her bra. When we woke up yesterday morning the phone was gone. We went back to the hotel where some PCVs were staying and looked around. Nothing. We asked the staff at the hotel. Nothing. My phone was ringing and no o ne was picking it up so we thought there was a pretty good chance that it was laying somewhere for us to find. On the walk back from the hotel Katherine decided we should check the beach as she had gone out there with Emily and tripped several times. With Katherine calling my phone and me following behind scanning the beach, I saw Katherine’s entire body shake in excitement and then bend down and pick up my phone. The phone was still on the beach at 12pm. That’s a Peace Corps miracle right there!

Phone in hand, we headed back to get our bags and then to the gallery to meet Alys. A delicious greasy hamburger later, I felt like I could survive a 5 hour car ride to Dakar and we were off. A fairly easy car ride later we met Tamar at the regional house, took showers, and made delicious pizza. I’m extremely happy the expo in St. Louis is over. The planning and the event itself was extremely stressful, but it also marked my last project of my service. I’m definitely disappointed it wasn’t a big success, but I hope the artisans learned something and that future expos will be better. The event didn’t destroy the association, but seemed to make it stronger which is good. I’m now relaxing and recovering in Dakar at the regional house before moving to a hotel this afternoon to start my COS conference! Let the craziness continue…

Pictures will be up eventually.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Things having to with running have occupied my mind recently. After spending the weekend with Tamar on Mar Lodj and basking in the glory that is her shower, I've decided that I would most likely resort to physical violence to have running water. I'm at my wits end with the water situation. It used to be one of those grin and bear it scenarios, but now it just sends me over the edge. The electricity has been terrible lately which means there's absolutely no hope for water and Jeenaba was gone all weekend which meant that no one pulled water since our new maid doesn't work on the weekends, Mami and Khady are the antithesis of most Senegalese women, and Awa is approximately 74 months pregnant. Water on demand sounds like heaven. A dream. Utopia. I don't even care if it's hot. I just want it to come out of a spigot. I'm not even asking for a shower head.

I've also been running a lot in order to not look like I've spent the past two years living in Africa when I return to the motherland. Unfortunately, this gives me a lot of time to think about running out of time. Don't get me wrong, it feels like I have an eternity left here in Senegal even though I'm staring down the last six weeks of my service. Time is dragging. Everything is touching my last nerve. People are being so mean to me on the streets that I'm practically beside myself. Fortunately, my family is back in my good graces so they are the only thing that stands between me and insanity. Junior Achievement is over (more or less) and artisan stuff will be as soon as the Jazz Fest is over this weekend, but the social engagements (I know, I have a hard life), PST, and planning for life back at home takes a lot of time. Thinking about coming home isn't what I would call overwhelming, but it does take a lot of thought and I want to hit the ground running which takes a surprising amount of preparation. The time seems short in an intellectual sense, but like I've been banished to purgatory in every day life.

The return home has me reaching back out to friends for everything from job search questions to grad school inquiries to party planning. I forgot how freaking awesome friends in America are. In my opinion, one of the biggest differences between Senegalese and American culture is the acquisition and dispersal of knowledge. Knowledge is power after all, but knowledge is treated in totally different ways. Here in Senegal practically anyone would take you into their home and give you a meal and a bed, but ask them a question about future events or even facts about Senegal and they wont say a peep. Senegalese people keep their knowledge close to the vest. They don't want to share and help everyone else out in that regard. At home it's the opposite. I've been nervous about asking my friends for information, to read their essays, to ask for help because that's anathema here. I've been wording apologetic emails of solicitation only to receive page long emails with 3 attachments in return. Information spewing forth with ideas, recommendations, examples, and anything I could ever wish for. Seriously, America, you rock. As do all of my wonderful friends back at home. Thank you.

While thinking about all of these things/ how I would bore you by blogging about them, I ran around town. First I went to Les Delices to ensure I had power to Skype with my Aunt Diane's class for the last time. As usual they brought a smile to my face as did the plate of hummus I ordered! From there it was on to Mme. Ly's to confirm logistics about St. Louis and pick up necklaces to show at the gallery. She seems on board with the plan to only bring jewelry and only the pieces we've discussed. I have very little faith this will actually happen, but we'll see! I also ran to the post office.


Shirley - the letters keep rolling in and are as amazing and uplifting as ever. Thank you.

Ma - Thank you for the amazing package. The treats and magazines are much appreciated. I can't wait to go shopping for all of the things I see in magazines when I get back to the States. Chicago better prepare itself!

Mom and Dad - Thank you for another fantastic package. If Awa ever has her baby she will be thrilled with the outfit. Ahmed already loves his eye spy book. He doesn't quite have the concept down, but he likes it. And I love all of the salty snacks and life giving magazines!

I appreciate every letter and package that's been sent, but it's about time to stop all of the love coming to Senegal. Packages should be sent no later than the end of the week and letters shouldn't be sent after the third week of the month. I want to make sure that I get everything. THANK YOU!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mar Lodj

The past couple of months have been packed with trips and checklists and countdowns. The push to fit in everything I haven't done, everything I've wanted to do, and everyone I want to visit is in full swing. One thing left on the list was a "friend" trip to Mar Lodj. I've actually been to Mar Lodj twice before with my mom and then with CJ, but never for a girls weekend on the island. Jackie and Katherine still had Mar Lodj and visiting Tamar on their checklists and we all know it's fairly impossible for us to be separated!

Thursday morning Katherine had trouble getting a car, but then absolutely flew to Thies and caught Jackie and I a little offguard so, I happened to be the last person to arrive at the garage. We were people 5,6, and 7 in the sept-place and after I had my inevitable confrontation with the men taking the money for the car we were off to Joal. On Wednesday I had picked up some food supplies in Thies and Jackie grabbed some veggies in Pout, but in Joal (where we had to change cars) we were on the lookout for some more veggies and shrimp. After being told that we could walk to the market, which we later found out was 5k away, we bought some eggplant but failed in our acquisition of shrimp. A tour of Joal hotel then ensued as we looked for lunch to no avail. Arriving at the second garage where we could find a car to Ndangan (the town on the mainland where you get a boat to Mar Lodj) a man told us that he had a restaurant where we could get a lunch serve with a base of bread. For some reason unknown to the three of us we actually followed him. We are so happy we did.

The restaurant was absolutely spotless, featured actual glassware, and overlooked a fishery. It was a weird place for sure, but when they served us a 1/4 chicken, salad, fries, and bread for 1500 CFA we were pretty happy. It was delicious and a great start to our trip. The good luck continued at the garage where people tried to force us to be the first people into a 14 person mini-bus. A taxi driver approached the three, girl toubabs to try and sell us on purchasing a cab, obviously. The ridiculous part was that the taxi was the same price as a pass for the completely void bus. Excellent. We took a fairly comfortable cab all the way to Ndangan where we dropped Tamar's local name and were welcomed with open arms and told which boat to take.

In Mar Lodj we were greeted by Tamar, her friend Laura who is visiting from the States, and Byron who took a boat trip with the girls across the delta earlier that day. The group of us took a tour around the village of Mar Lodj and greeted Tamar's host family. The cultural exchange and use of local languages (unfortunately Tamar's site is predominately Sereer and I speak Wolof) we had a drink at a hole in the wall bar and then headed home to make a delicious pasta dinner full of nutritious vegetables. Katherine and I then cuddled in her bug hut on Tamar's porch under the huge night sky.

Byron left early on day 2 of our trip to Mar Lodj after a great Tapalapa breakfast. Tapalapa aka village bread is a dense and delicious bread that only poor people eat. City folks eat terrible, processed, machine baguettes and make fun of me when I find village bread and buy it. It's a treat for Jackie, Katherine and I to have Tapalapa and an even bigger treat when paired with fresh honey! Breakfast prepared Tamar, Laura, and I for a walk into the village to buy supplies for dinner. Soon enough we all piled on a charette, horse cart, and headed off to a campement across the island where we spent the afternoon sunning ourselves, going swimming in the delta, and discussing how crabs breath.

We took a long walk back to Tamar's house and started making our chicken dinner. We wanted to make a chicken dinner American Style for the women in Tamar's family. Chicken is a big treat and we wanted to see how they would react to our cooking. The plans were so well laid, but they obviously didn't work out. It was past 7 by the time the chickens arrived and were butchered, the grill kept going out because the wood was too wet, and we only had one gas to work with. Although we wanted to grill the chicken, a pan fry was still delicious. And the women actually loved our sweet potato chips and onion rings! That's right we made onion rings instead of onion sauce. Anyone who knows me well, knows my weakness for onion rings. They were delicious. Katherine and I were really excited about them.

This morning Jackie, Katherine, and I packed up our stuff and headed back to site. The trip was a really nice break. Tamar was a great hostess. She was probably very stressed, but it was very relaxing for me! Mar Lodj is beautiful, my family wasn't annoying me, and I had a minute to take a breath before the insanity of the next 6.5 weeks starts up.

Pictures of the trip are up in the "Cape Verde" album. Check them out.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

JA Commencement

Last night I went to sleep on the wrong side of the bed because my Aunt Numbe decided it was super important for her to ask me for a piece of paper and a pen at 10:45pm, after I had already locked my door and gotten into bed, and several hours after the power went out. This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed because we had no water. There was literally no water in the compound and I really wanted to take a run. Usually the lack of water would just generally upset me and then I would relent, run, and then walk back to the center and take a shower. Wednesdays always pose problems because I have Junior Achievement and I always have things to take care of at the last minute.

Realizing that not running was going to make me more angry, I went and concocted a plan to get water. The plan is not creative or inventive since there's only one way to get water when it's not coming out of the spigot, but it was taking matters into my own hands. Still dressed in running clothes, sweating, and red in the face, I grabbed a basin and headed to the neighborhood well. At the well I was greeted with blank stares and jeers, but remained undeterred. After almost 45 minutes of waiting, being mocked, and being cut in line it was finally my turn. Victory. A nice girl helped me lift the basin to my head and I got home without spilling too much, but since it was 9:30am no one was awake to help me take if off my head. I had to push the top of our 50 liter tank off with my hip and then pour the basin into the big tank. The clattering of the metal top of the tank brought the girls out of the house and they were incredulous at my initiative/ ability. In order to really show my discontent about the water situation, I filled a bucket to shower with and then took the rest of the water I pulled, put it in another bucket, and locked it in room. Probably not the most mature move, but totally satisfying.

One of the reasons I was worried about timing today was today was the final day of JA and we were supposed to hand out certificates. The certificates were order eons ago and were supposed to be in Thies last night. No deal. I called Talla this morning and he was able to get the certificates here and I stood on the side of the road as he drove by and stuck the certificates out of the window. This was humorous mostly because Awa saw me both pulling my own water and waiting on the side of the road in order to receive a giant stack of paper. She thinks I'm really weird. With certificates in hand I ran into my room, sat down, and wrote in all of the students' names, the date, and the course.

I finished the certificates just in time to jump in a cab and go to Bon Marche to buy all of the treats for the graduation party. For the second time in a day I carried things on my head Senegalese style. I had a giant box full of cookies and pop on my head walking down the main street of Thies. I'll let your imaginations come up with how that looked/ the reactions that I received. Fortunately, Kerry fed me snacks and lemonade as we waited for Talla and his friend to arrive before heading to the Lycee Technique.

I've previously aired my grievances regarding certificates in Senegal. Today was my worst nightmare. With everything that's been getting under my skin lately this one just really dug in. As soon as we walked on the premises teachers were making sure that we had certificates not only for our students, but special ones for them as well. Over and over and over again. Luckily Kerry and Talla were there to keep me calm and keep things in perspective because otherwise things would not have gone well. I spent my morning making sure the certificates were perfect. They were in order according to project group, attached to the attendance sheet so that no one could come up and say that they attended class, but didn't get a certificate. I was already frustrated with the certificates because last week the head teacher told me that I had to give a certificate to every single student listed on any of the attendance sheets instead of just the students who had attended at least 50% of the classes as I wanted. I just don't understand how the certificates are special if everyone gets one or how giving them out like candy reinforces anything positive. It also takes away from any feeling of accomplishment I might have, which I realize is selfish.

Today after all of the speeches, the students' presentations of their business ideas, and awarding the winning team a bunch of cookies, the teachers went through my perfecting organized certificates so they could reorganize them in exactly the same way. Apparently, I forgot two students. What actually happened is that two students came to the last day of class so they could get certificates, which I was forced to give them. I think this just cheapens the entire process and underlines why there is so much complacency in Senegal.

That all being said, Junior Achievement is now over, or, at least, the teaching part is now over, which is one more thing to check off my list! I think the class went well and hopefully the students learned something. Kerry and I definitely learned a lot which will help other PCVs teach JA better in the future.

Tomorrow I am off to Mar Lodj, Tamar's island, and next week it's off to the races with Jazz Fest, COS conference, and the new stage of SED PCVs all coming in rapid succession!