Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Tonight, my grandma and I are getting dressed to the nines, drinking mimosas, and watching movies to ring in the New Year. Its not the exciting going out dancing all night of last year, but I really can't imagine a better way to spend the evening : )

I am heading back to Senegal in a few days. Im not exactly ready, but a day or two at the American Club is probably all I need to get back into Peace Corps mode.

Being back in AMERIK for a month has helped me realize what it is exactly that I miss the most about home. I thought it would be the food, the weather, my family, etc. But, the result was something I didnt expect. While I do miss all of that, the thing I miss the most, and what I look forward to the most when I get back here (you know, in 2012) is having a life. Seriously. In Senegal, work is life. Im not saying I have a ton of work to do, but I live and work in the same place. My personal and professional life are one and the same. I am ON 24/7. Sarah time vs. job time literally does not exist. I am my alias, Yama, pretty much day in and day out. It's like being in a play...all the time. Where no one speaks english. Bienvenue.

I loved living in Victoria because I could take yoga classes, play ultimate frisbee, go to salsa lessons, volunteer at a gorgeous ocean discovery center, go to midnight swims at the community center, and just generally have a good time. Even work was pretty fun.

Baltimore was exciting because I could take yoga, contra dancing, sing sea shanties at a pub on Thursdays, play boggle with people from work every Tuesday, take a rigging workshop, go to trivia night, and take long walks on the water.

In Peace Corps, though, it's like being transported back to middle school in terms of freedom and options of things to do. Except...in Africa with a bunch of random Senegalese people. I spend my time with the family, eat when they do, eat whatever they're eating, always tell them where Im going and when I'll be back, have limited internet and TV time(ie. none) and never leave the compound after dark. My alone time these days is a long walk to a baobab tree where I sit and do crosswords.

I dont mean to complain, compared to all of the issues available to worry about in real life, like paying bills, worrying about health care, not living on the beach, schedules, supervision, etc. It's not so bad ; ) Peace Corps is a whole new world of costs and benefits. I like my work in Senegal and knew it would be like this before leaving. We have regional houses to take breaks when we need it, and get non-village work done. It's just a much slower and different pace of life. I am enjoying it for the time I have, but when I get back to the US...Im going to boycott sitting and reading. Im going to do as much as humanly possible. Pottery classes, a computer programming class, ultimate frisbee, a fun job, long walks, yoga, swing dancing, hiking on weekends. Hopefully in Boston. For Summer of Fun! After summer of fun...Im thinking graduate school. Or a job. We'll see. Anything could happen in the next 15 months. Who knows, I might even become fluent in Serere. And I know that makes you jealous.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Eerie.

There have been two previous volunteers at my site, two years each. One of them wrote a blog, and it's like someone took my diary and posted it online. Same experiences, same frustrations, same everything. It's kind of awesome, and also really weird to think how we have lived pretty much the exact same life, just two years removed. He even had just as many mouse problems as I did. Go back to earlier entries and take a look. I assume his more recent ones are glimpses into my future as a volunteer in Louly : ) Here's the link:

http://czcarpenter.blogspot.com

And, lastly, MERRY CHRISTMAS in a couple of days! Im looking forward to christmas breakfast, my stocking, family, and of course, presents! Yay!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thats not Senegal...

...cause im not in Senegal! Im at home, and America is *literally* the best. I have been sitting around in my giant fuzzy bathrobe and sweatpants all day every day : ) This evening, Connor and I made paper airplanes before we all sat down in front of the fireplace to watch a Christmas movie. Last night I baked three pies (blackberry raspberry, blueberry coconut, apple sweet potato strawberry) and trays upon trays of sweet potato fries at a friend's house for a big dinner party. I also went to curves with Sheila, spent a day making crab cakes with cousin Ken, and am generally just having the best vacation ever.

Nana and Lindsey get here next week, Connor is off from school, and It's COLD which is fantastic. I love my family, I love snow, I love the US, and I love Christmas! Here's to one month of doing nothing but relaxing, eating, and spending time with everyone! I'll put the hot sandy Senegal picture back up on my title when I go back. For now....SNOW. !!!

Also, not related, Im jealous of this guy....that's awesome. I hope I catch something ridiculous while fishing one day. Like when Steve caught a crazy looking triggerfish by the TAIL in Popenguine : ) Hehe.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Culture Shock

I am going home for Christmas in less than 48 hours! Most of all, I can't wait to see family, see snow, be surrounded by Christmas decorations, eat good food, and just relax. Knowing that I am about to leave has changed my perspective on life in Senegal over the past few weeks. I've started noticing the things I love and appreciate here, and the thngs I will be happy to leave behind for a month : )

I wont mind leaving behind the bugs, the heat, the constant back and forth between overwhelming volunteer events and quiet village life, the language barrier, the feeling of sticking out like a sore thumb no matter where I am, the monotonous food, the lack of activity between 12-3pm, and the constant requests for money.

I will miss (well. not miss exactly, but things that I will be happy to come back to) include: my open air shower, the warm palm tree covered beach, my incredibly cute siblings here, my projects that are just getting underway, other PCV's, wearing flip flops every day, never being concerned with what I look like, total independence and freedom, my lovely village, the kindergarten, and not having constant internet/tv/etc. stimulation (I know its inconvenient, but It's pretty nice : ).

Im excited to go home, will be happy to come back, and am just generally looking forward to these next few months!

On another note, I went into Kaolack for Thanksgiving, where we made a HUGE dinner with all of your typical American food, which was fantastic. Then, I headed to my friend Morgan's site to help her paint her hut. It sounds simple, but we somehow ended up with whitewash in pellet form, which we had to mix on our own. Life without google is interesting. So, we painted a wall with what looked like plain water...seriously, it wasn't white, it just looked wet. Then, sat and watched it turn white over the next hour. Throughout the day we both ended up with quick lyme in our eyes, and managed to get the hut covered in uneven shades of streaky whitewash. We celebrated by going swimming in the delta. We were walking home in the dark, when a beetle flew INTO my eye. I couldnt see it or get it out...it was crawling around in there while I freaked out. Morgan was kind enough to confront her fear of eye-touching, and saved me. She also pops out mango flies in my dreams. I would probably, literally, fall apart without her.

Anyways, when I headed back to site, I hopped in a crowded station wagon with a few Senegalese families. There is one main road that cuts through Senegal, and another volunteer who lives along that road owed me some money from Thanksgiving dinner. We decided to try a roadside handoff. 20k before we tried to meet, our car screeched to a halt and a random woman ran up to the window, handed someone in our car a baby and a suitcase, and we sped off. I asked them to stop at the white person, so everyone in the car sat with their eyes to the windows searching, until we saw her. We slammed on the breaks as she came sprinting up to the car, threw me money, and we continued on our way.

Back at site, things were just fine. I left in a rush to get to an all volunteer conference in Thies, afer which I came to Dakar, and have been playing the role of tourist ever since!

Ok, ttfn. See you in America!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dear French People: Go Home.

The more time I spend in village, the more entrenched I get in my routine of waking up, pulling water, sitting around talking to people all day, going to bed soon after the sun goes down, and showering out of a bucket. It becomes easy to forget the fact that I live on the national road, and am only a 30 minute car ride away from a major tourist destination.

Enter tourist season. And the subsequent bursting of my happy village bubble. I sensed that my quiet life was about to change drastically when I saw the first unnaturally tanned woman fly by my site on an ATV wearing platform sandals and short shorts (keep in mind, this is a predominately Muslim country. The only short shorts here come directly from France).

As the days pass, more and more white people (toubabs) are popping up all over the place. When I go to check my mail in Mbour, I see carfulls of them in their safari hats and sweat wicking fabric. The most recent development has been the daily tour groups who get carted straight to my village where they get to see the "real" Senegal. They come in groups of 10-20 to hang out at the kindergarten, walk around the village, and stare at me (random toubab) doing weird things and speaking the local language.

The latest incident...I was planting a papaya tree with my headphones on, and back turned to the Kindergarten. When I looked up, there were 4 French families (kids and all) staring at me. I was wearing my typical Peace Corps uniform of dirty capri pants and the same shirt I've had on for the past few days. Needless to say, I felt awkward. Then, yesterday, I was hanging out with the kindergarten teachers, when the tourists showed up. They all stood around, dispensing random health advice in French (there are only like 5 people in the village who speak French btw) in condescending tones to the women who I have come to know as my friends. I know the tourists just see them as...you know...uneducated African villagers. Anyways, I was holding a baby, when it started spitting up on me. No big deal, except two of the French guys started videotaping it. Really?? One of the women in my village then asked me, in Serere, if babies in the US spit up too. I told her that all babies in the world spit up. She had a fit of giggles over that comment. There are some parts of Senegalese humor that I will just never understand. Somewhere in the world, that interaction is recorded on videotape for a guy's family to watch as he narrates his trip to Africa.

The worst, though, is their incessant need to hand out candy. This is why we volunteers get harassed by kids for gifts, candy, money, etc. You know those signs that say, "please don't feed the birds?" Same thing. Candy is bad for kids, who are generally malnourished anyways, and it makes my life significantly less pleasant. So, if you are a French tourist reading this, and you want to do some real good in Africa...search for the random dirty white person in the rural village you are visiting and give them copious amounts of nice French wine and cheese. It will go a long way. And we thank you.

Just for the record, I have nothing against the French. Just tourists. Even in Hawaii, the aloha shirt wearing tourists insisted on getting in the way of any and all work projects. I know you're on vacation, but the world is not your personal Disneyland. It may be hard to believe, but when you see a coned off area on the edge of a volcanic crater, with rappelling gear set up over the side of a 500 ft. cliff...the person dangling in the air below is NOT going to appreciate your walking into the whole operation, grabbing the rope and asking, "So! What are you guys doing?"

Jeez. I wish I had a camera. I would dearly love to take pictures back at them.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

IM GOING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!

YAYAYAYAY. I hope this doesnt lead you to think that Im not enjoying it here, Im just really excited to spend Christmas at home. Last year I spent Chrismas out in Victoria, changing blackberry branches in a tank of giant stickbugs, before watching movies with my boyfriend's japanese room mate. It was actually pretty fun, but it will be nice to go home...and see SNOW. Also, I have a six hour layover in DC, ahem...CLAIRE, which means lots of time to drink Starbucks and contemplate life or something.

Ill be there on the tenth :) I have absolutely nothing planned. Its going to be wonderful.

Anyways, life here has been especially fun lately. Ive been spending time with my family, playing with the kids, harvesting peanuts along with the whole village, hanging out with Steve and Jen in Mbour, practicing french at the Poste de Sante, and actually getting work done. I dont know what happened, I think maybe hanging out with my family in the fields more, but I feel a lot more involved in life here now. Rainy season ended, and its really pretty right now. Kindergarten also started, and now that I know who all the kids are, its really fun to hang out there.

Not much else to report :) I accidentally made all of the new volunteers dip their carrot sticks in a pot of cookie dough because I thought it was hummus. They were too polite to say anything. Oops...welcome to Peace Corps. And I thought it was pretty good, anyways.

These next few months are going to be nice, I have some exciting projects planned. Then Thanksgiving, a week of causaries at the health post, All Volunteer conference, Dakar, and then....Home!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Im not a baby anymore!

About 60 new volunteers just installed at their new sites all over Senegal, officially promoting my group from our position as the newest volunteers in country, to something more like...sophomores. It feels kind of nice.

On another note, I am going to be Ziggy Stardust for Halloween. Hopefully somebody with a camera will be around, and I can steal their pictures. Until then, I am going back to site to have a huge community meeting that will hopefully set the agenda for the next year and a half. Ive been here almost 8 months, which is hard to grasp. It often feels like I just arrived, but I have enough freckles these days to prove that's not the case. I spent this past week visiting some other volunteers at their sites, which has become one of my favorite things to do. I love hearing other languages, seeing how they interact with their families, helping out where I can, and seeing the projects everyone has been working on. Its a great way to see the country, and get ideas. And its fun.

Now that it's mid October, my absolute favorite time of the year back at home, all I can think about is wanting to drink hot apple cider on a cold day, go hiking in color changing woods, buy fresh apples at the farmers market, buy bulk candy, and eat pumpkin doughnuts from washtenaw dairy. mmmm.

Oh well. Pictures coming soon! Probably in November. Have a good Halloween!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Somebody Pickpocketed My Hamburger.

Im serious. Last week, during my BEST BIRTHDAY EVER (besides the fact that I missed family and friends at home) I was dancing around in a dress with large pockets. Somebody had bought me a hamburger, and I was saving it for later in one of those pockets. Then, as I left the restaurant where we had been dancing, I noticed it was no longer there. A sketchy senegalese man was sitting off to the side eating it and staring at me. I let it go. I pick my battles...but I really wanted that hamburger.

Anyways, last week all of the Health and Environmental Ed volunteers had a summit. We were staying in a huge house that didnt have water, was really hot, and had nowhere to hang mosquito nets. It was pretty miserable, so on my birthday our boss announced that we were being moved to an incredibly fancy beachfront hotel that was originally out of the price range, but had agreed to give us a deal if we promised to buy drinks with our increased daily allowance. OKAY. I was surrounded by all of my favorite people here, and wearing the flashing light up crown that Nana sent me in the mail, along with the plastic beads and stickers she sent (THANK YOU!). Everyone bought me whatever I wanted from the bar which means I had Baileys and Espresso all evening while swimming around in a pool on the beach underneath gorgeous palm trees. Then we went to a really good restaurant where some of the other volunteers had baked me a cake from scratch. it tasted more like a big doughnut than a cake, which was great : ) Then 50's music randomly began playing and we had a big swing dance party. Afterwards, I went back to my nice hotel room with a fan and running water, and peacefully slept my way into being 24 years old.

On another note, it is harvest season here in Senegal! Before coming here I never really understood how peanuts worked/grew, but I was imagining some kind of bush with peanuts hanging off of it. In reality, though, they are pretty amazing plants because they literally plant themselves. The flower is pollinated, then the soon-to-be-seed drops down to the root, and the seed (peanut) grows down there underground. Each plant has like 20 peanuts on it. So, for the past week or so everyone has been walking out into the fields, pulling up peanut plants, and popping the peanuts off to eat right there. I like walking the super cute 2 yr old twins at my house out into the field and collecting peanuts with them. I also taught them you can eat greenbeans raw (ie. not boiled in oil). Score one for nutrition.

Here is a stolen image of a peanut plant:





And one last thing, school was supposed to start the other day, but the houses that were built for the new teachers to come and live in are currently being occupied by a guy and his family. He refuses to move. School turned into a major shouting match between him and the rest of the village leaders (and a random french woman who showed up out of nowhere with a catholic nun, and disappeared after the meeting). I think they agreed to let his family stay in the houses (no idea why, or what that means for school ever starting) but they decided that he owes the village leaders 2 liters of wine and a cooler of beer for ruining their day. I love sereres. And am endlessly frustrated by them. Whatever.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What I Do Here.

It occurred to me that in my relentless praising of Dakar, I have neglected to write about my actual job/project/etc. So, first of all, my position is as an Environmental Education Volunteer. With that title, you would think that I have specific hours and work in a school, but that's not the case. I have zero structure to my job, meaning I am totally in charge of deciding what I want to do and when. In trainings, we are provided with language, a history of the area and natural environment, and tools to work with the community to meet environmental and health needs.

So, basically, I spend my time getting to know the language and the village. I hang out with eveyone, talk about what is important to them, what they want to see change, and what their ideas are. I take those ideas, hold meetings, identify needs and wants, along with what is feasible, and try and put it all into action. So far, that has basically been me just wandering around and helping people plant trees in their compounds, while taking the excuse to sit and get to know them. 500 people in a village sounds small, but when it comes to establishing personal connections...that's like my entire high school class. I didn't know them all. Im sure that had everything to do with sheer numbers, and not the fact that I had braces, bangs, enormous glasses, a puffy yellow jacket, loved biology, was some kind of french club officer and...enjoyed Star Wars more than your average person.

Anyways, thats my job! I plant trees, am turning into one big freckle, am getting ready for the school year when I will have an EE club, and probably a lot more to do. For now, though, here's an account of my last day in village before coming here to Dakar where I will enjoy a week of air conditioning, eating good food, and speaking english (sorry,I cant help it, Dakar is paradise. Tonight we are playing ultimate frisbee with ex-pats and then going to happy hour).

A few days ago I woke up and pulled water at the well, and then sat down to make coffee and read. By 10am it felt like an oven, so I just laid around in the shade with my family, picking apart leaves for leaf sauce that night. Luckily, around 1pm the sky split open and a massive storm ensued. It got cold enough to function, so after the deulge, I went over to a friend's house because she had offered to teach me how to cook bean sandwiches and make mayonnaise. I had bought the supplies days before, and was waiting to get the energy to actually go over there. So, we spent the evening in her little shack of a kitchen, cutting up onions, cooking the beans (that I had picked from my garden a few days before) and talking. By the time the sun was setting, she and her sister had wrapped up the finished beans and mayonnaise in bowls,and tied it with a cloth for me to carry home. All of the women were making comments about how im senegalese now, and can cook, and were being really fun and friendly. I have been at site for a while now and am starting to understand most of whats going on around me, and much to everyone's surprise, I wedged my way into a conversation and made a joke...and thought they were all gong to die from laughing so much. I was SO PROUD of myself. I would translate it, but its not funny in english.

Basically the point of the story is that as I walked home in the setting sun along the road, looking out over the baobab trees lit up in the evening light, carrying my little sandwich bundle in my arms...I couldn't stop smiling. I learned to cook my favorite food, I spent a whole day hanging out with the women and having fun, and even reached an understanding of the language enough to let my personality come through for a second. I am not here to make any environmental waves, or to "save the world" as it were, but to learn how to be happy no matter where I am, to relate to people across any barrier, and to generally try to make everyone around me's life a little bit better, or make them a little bit happier. That's not exactly a job, persay, or something you could put on a resume and get paid for...but thats why Im a volunteer : ) And thats why I think Peace Corps works. You have freedom to make it your own, and do the best you can, whether its through building personal reltionships, informal education, or developing large scale projects to help make everyone's life just a little bit better.

On a different note, Ive read 17 books so far. 10 of those were in the past 2 weeks. Its hot. I have been slacking off. Here are some really good ones I recommend!

The Help-Kathryn Stockett
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle-Barbara Kingsolver
Zorro-Isabel Allende
Snow Falling on Cedars-David Guterson
East of Eden-John Steinbeck

OK. Have a good day!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I have internet now!!

Not at site, but im in Dakar : ) It has been miserably hot for the past month. Too hot to travel. Except for a 5 minute window of internet a few days ago at the cyber cafe...I havent checked email or left my village for three weeks. I'll do a real blog post tomorrow, but for now the laptop is dying so i will leave you with a quick anecdote. Last night my 2 year old sister was playing with a new "toy" that one of the other kids had scrounged up. It was a heavy duty chain with a padlock attached to the end. Someone has managed to attach a knife blade to the padlock...which my sister was happily sucking on. I didn't intervene. She was fine. But, I dont think Louly is ready for electricity...god knows what would happen if electric outlets were introduced into daily life.

I'll write soon! Things are going really well!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My darling sister and I will soon be the same age!

Today I went to the bank to pick up a money order, and along with the cash the attendant pushed a box of fresh dates through the hole in the bulletproof window. She told me it was a gift from the bank, a promotion if you will, where customers get free dates for doing money orders with them. Sometimes....I really love Senegal. Between things like that, and people getting into heated debates about how many times is the correct number to chew a certain brand of candy before swallowing it...it's hard to imagine that this country could ever get into serious conflict or break out into any sort of mass violence. They would get stuck making fun of each other for looking ridiculous in their army uniforms. Or over what the uniforms should look like in the first place. Or what is the proper angle at which to hold a gun. Even the ethnic groups just jokingly make fun of each other and go on their way laughing.

Anyways, I have spent the past few days visiting another volunteer under the pretense of painting a mural. But, she has one of the few other Sereer sites, and it's been rainy and slow lately, so mostly we were just hanging out, practicing language, and swimming. However, at some point we realized we would get stuck there, because the rain was flooding the hour long walk to her road town, so we trudged our way out to a bus in water up to our knees, and came back to Kaolack (the regional house). I spent all day buying gifts in the marketplace, which is an all out jungle of bright fabrics, jewelry, people shouting and bargaining, and shoving random things you could never need into your face. It's fun when you're in the right mood.

Korite, the end of Ramadan (one month of fasting) is coming up and everybody is preparing for huge parties where countless sheep and goats will meet their untimely death. I however, am taking a day off with a couple of other volunteers before heading back to site, to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy , projected on a wall. Extended editions. This is only possible when a few select people are in the house.

Once back at site, I have been given money by Associated projects (http://appropriateprojects.com/node/323) to start building well covers. Between that, planting all of the trees Ive grown, language learning, and compound gardens, this month will go by quickly bringing us to...my 24th birthday!! All Health and Environmental Education volunteers have a summit October 5th and 6th, followed by three days of birthdays. We're all headed to Dakar for Ice Cream and fun. I cant wait. Can you tell I love Dakar? I do.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I am allergic to this country.

I know that, as a virtue of being a redhead, I have sensitive skin. However. I thought it was only relevant to sun exposure. But, Africa is full of surprises! I have not suffered any major sunburns, but have somehow managed to develop the amazing ability to be allergic to everything in this country. You may remember the ant incident.

I got back from English camp one week ago and hit the ground running as far as projects go. I was busy and had work to do, was waking up at 5am every day to eat breakfast and fast with my family, and was enjoying hanging out in the village. But, the day I got back a small itchy spot appeared on my waist, and has since puffed itself up and marched itself right across my entire body. I feel fine, just extremely itchy. I called Med and landed myself back here in Dakar. They confirmed...it is an allergy to SOMEthing. No idea what, here are some meds to reduce the swellng, and try to avoid that as-yet-unidentified thing from now on. So, now I am sitting somewhat uselessly in Dakar waiting for the swelling to at least start receding (rather than spreading as it is still doing) so I can go back to site. I also lost my camera/probably had it stolen : ( Im really sad about that, I had some good pictures on there. Oh! And random keys on my computer have stopped working. It is not a good week for technology. In all honesty, though, I knew from the get-go that anything I brought here was liable to be destroyed/lost/stolen, etc. Here's to trying not to get attached to material goods : )

Speaking of things being destroyed, one of my friends accidentally left a bag of bananas in my hut three weeks ago before we all went to training in Thies. I got back to find that the bag of bananas had been on top of all my language notebooks. Over those three weeks, the notebooks were slowly transformed into a sludgy puddle of glop crawling with maggots. Yuck. If you ever want to slowly destroy something, that is an especially interesting way to do so.

Okay! Sorry, most of that was bad news. The GOOD news is that I finally got the Chef du Village to have a meeting with me and I am going to start two projects soon! Im excited about them, and am writing grants for them now. We also got free calling to other volunteers on our cell phones, so my life got a LOT more fun and interesting : ) I also got some amazing care packages including FIVE POUNDS of starbucks coffee from Cory and a lot of pictures/fun stuff from Dad and Sheila. Thank you : D

Along the lines of good news, here are some random funny things that make me laugh. Some of them are stories from other volunteers:

1. I was sitting at a cafe this morning, reveling in the luxuries of fresh espresso and air conditioning, when the waitress walked up to me with a broom, pointed to the sand-covered area under my feet, and asked me to get up so she could sweep up after me. oops.

2. Another volunteer went to take a shower in the dark, scooped up a cupfull of water, and splashed it onto her face. It wasn't the bucket of clean water. It was the family's dirty cooking water. Hello face-ful of fish scales.

3. One time a darling sister of mine back home in NC was shopping at the salvation army, when someone apparently got frustrated with her slow perusing, and literally started nudging her with their shopping cart so she would get out of the way.

4. One of the other volunteers was eating at the bowl with her family, where there were small fish strewn about on top of the rice. Her dad was eating them whole, and in total surrender to this experience, a switch clicked in her brain and told her to just go for it. So, she spooned up a fish and put it in her mouth. Whole. Eyes, bones, and everything. I believe she regrets that decision now.

5. The weather seems to have absolutely no influence on what people wear here. I saw a kid wearing a puffy down jacket, jeans, and a wool cap today. His friend was barefoot and wearing nothing but a pair of ladies shorts. It looks like everyone woke up, picked their favorite kind of weather, and decided to dress for it regardless of what the rest of the world is doing. There are a lot of clashing prints, sequins, high heels, bling, and ironic cast-off T shirts. Such as "Brighton Cheerleading, Tiffany!" or "If you bug me, Im going back to Senegal." Gender also has little to no impact on clothing choice as well. If you are a guy and you like pink silk shirts...it's all fair game. It's entertaining, and fun because nobody expects me to look functional.

6. People wash their animals in the ocean. I can't tell you how many boys I have seen running joyously towards the water and swimming out into the waves, dragging one or two protesting sheep behind them. It is a huge spectacle to see them wash their sheep/horses/goats/dogs down while both tread water out in the open sea. It inevitably looks like one of them, person or the animal you pick, is being attacked by a strange sea monster.

I can't think of anything else right now! Hopefully I will get back to site soon, and get some work done! Thanks again for reading, as always : )

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ch ch ch ch changes....

I have spent the past week teaching an English Camp in Dakar, which was incredibly refreshing as far as work goes. It can be frustrating in village to work with teachers who are not very motivated and are not from the community. The teaching system here is interesting. Some teachers go through training, but others just work for long enough to be considered a legitimate teacher. When they are hired, teachers are often sent to random places all over the country (hey...kind of like volunteers) where they do not speak the local language, or have any friends/family. In my training site, there was a teacher who had been living there for ten years and still had not learned sereer, had not made any friends in a community she did not consider "home" and basically just beat the kids all day long. However, the teachers at the english camp were amazing, They all spoke english very well, were funny, intelligent, motivated, and genuinely helpful. If there were more people like that, this country would be a very different place. Don't get me wrong, I love Senegal, but we can all surely agree there are problems. Hence why I am here.

Anyways, the kids were amazing as well. Super friendly, motivated, and a LOT of fun to be around. I definetly got more work done this week than I would have at site, and had a lot of fun doing it. I hope I can come back to the same school next year! We all gave our phone numbers to the kids in case they want to call and practice english, and here is an example text message that I got from one of my favorite girls yesterday:

"Hi Sarah how are you going? I am very happy to know you but love you very much. Ok I miss you a lot, I wish to spend the rest of my life by you, see you next year. kiss, aissatou."

On another note, today we drove past the airport and it was the first time I'd seen it since that morning 5 months ago when we stepped off the plane at 5am into a wall of humidity and salty ocean air. It's a surreal experience to see it now, especially knowing that in about forty-eight hours a whole new group of volunteers will be doing the exact same thing. We're getting sixty some new people on Wednesday, and a group of volunteers who have completed their service are heading out. Soon, I will no longer be one of the new kids in town, which is going to feel pretty nice. Anyways, in case anyone from the new stage is doing what I did before leaving, and reading blogs of people in country...I have two quick pieces of advice. One is to bring a Bedazzler if you can manage it. I can't say exactly why, except that you wont regret it and it will inevitably make everything that much better. And Two...good luck and safe travels. Thies is a magical sunny flowery place that you may or may not appreciate until after you have left for site.

That's all! I am going back to the land of no internet, electricity, etc. so I hope you all have a great month. It's kind of like camping, really. I miss and love everyone a WHOLE lot. Peace only, Jam Som, Jam Tan, Alhamdoulilahi.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Food Babies, Bees, and Aquaculture

Ladies and Gentlemen I am happy to announce that I have become the proud mother of a food baby, which I have named Beignet. I swear Ive gained at least 10 pounds in the past 2 weeks, and am even getting the characteristic Sprague Chin. But, I have to stock up while Im in cities. My village diet of rice and fish only is, by default, an effective weight loss plan of its own. For the past two weeks I have been in Thies where mass amounts of cheap fast food abound. The other night, we all went out in the pouring rain, and sat down at a restaurant. One of my friends and I, the other Sarah, actually, shared a giant Croque Madame, a Massive burger with fries ON it, along with eggs, mayonnaise, cheese, two hamburger patties, etc., two beers, and then finished it all off with an enormous cream filled doughnut. mmmmm. This has become a daily routine, and now I am in Dakar living on an additional, and quite generous, daily allowance, which means even more food. Just for "the glory of Dakar" reference, here is a picture from a Volunteer's balcony in Dakar (only 3rd year extension volunteers get nice apartments in Dakar).






Anyways, after gorging on the doughnut, we went swimming in the restaurant pool in the pouring rain. After swimming, we had to get to the tailor and then back to the center. Rain here means flooded streets, muddy rivers filled with horse and cow manure, as well as upwelling open sewers. Hello Schistosomiasis. While navigating our way through the flood, one of the other volunteers took a blind step into the muddy water, and literally fell up past her waist into a hole. Yuck.

On another note, the other afternoon was one of the best days of my life! I not only took a trip to get some beekeeping training, but also got a ride with another volunteer in the back of a strange little car that looked like a bread truck and did not shut all the way, to check out an aquaculture site. Here are some pictures from the whole day!

These are beehives tucked away in the forest:



And here is a big round of beeswax, which is left over after processing and used to attract bees to new hives. Also, you might notice that I have a haircut. One of the other volunteers cut it around midnight the other day with a pair of scissors in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. You can't tell here...but its possibly the best haircut Ive ever had!



Anyways, here is another picture from the beekeeping site. I have NO idea what this building actually is, but it looks like the imperial command center on Endor.




Lastly, the aquaculture site was made from an enhanced natural basin, and is used for both fish production and community agriculture.




One last thing, here is a thunderstorm on its way to my site : )

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Work, and Work....

Today I was torturing myself by watching Top Chef and fantasizing about all of the wonderful food...when I realized that my toe hurt a little bit. I looked down and saw that it was swollen with a small black spot in the middle. Thinking I had a splinter, I set in to digging it out. After some maneuvering, I pulled out a half inch long thorn that had been lodged completely into my toe. I didn't even feel it happen, and have no idea how long it was in there for. Thank you, Africa.

Once again, Im not sure what to write about. A quick logistic update: I am currently at the training center where we all have training sessions every day for the next two weeks. At night, we stay with host families in an hour radius. After two months of doing little to nothing…it’s kind of overwhelming, but also exciting. Training finishes on August 31st, when I will be traveling to Dakar to work at an English camp for one week.

I realized this week, through our technical sessions and talking with other volunteers as well as my supervisors, that it is time to get to work. I have spent the past 4 months focusing on having fun, appreciating the newness of this experience, arranging my environment so that I can be happy here, getting to know other volunteers, and getting familiar with my site. It has been fun, but Im starting to realize that Im here for a reason and will probably be a lot happier if I feel productive : ) Plus, being in village, there is just not enough else going on in my life to stay entertained. When I return to village on August 8th, I will have four days before Ramadan starts. Ramadan is a muslim holiday where people fast from sunup to sun down for one month. As you can probably imagine, its insanely hot here, and without any water or food…everyone will be too tired to do anything. My plan is to stay at site for at least the entirety of August, fasting along with my family (though I will be drinking water because I don’t want to die) hanging out, reading, and maybe applying for some grants. I hope that the time spent there will solidify my place in the community and help me to feel more comfortable there.

After Ramadan, I have quite a few project ideas. I am hoping to start a small micro financing project raising chickens. My village has attempted to do it before, but lacked a sense of economic planning. They sold off ALL of the chickens (thus shutting down the possibility of continuing the operation) when chickens were at their lowest market value.

I am also planning on working on a demo compound vegetable garden, so that families will use some of the extra space in their compounds to grow vegetables. Im going to see which families might be interested, and once it is established, will be able to lead training sessions.

Next week, I will start beekeeping training! It is only for one afternoon, but the training site is only an hour away from my village, so after I make contacts, I hope I will be able to go back and keep learning if I need to.

Once school starts up again in October, Im planning on working with some girls’ groups to start an environmental club, leadership sessions, and maybe a Harry Potter reading group just to help with literacy and imagination. And…because I like Harry Potter.

The last thing I know I want to try and do is to get my village connected to the water tower so that people can have robinets. That would mean safe drinking water and women will have more time to enjoy themselves, rather than pulling water from the well all day long. This is what I have been approached about the most, and what everyone is most excited about at the moment.

And, last thing, I know this isn’t professional, but since this is how I am keeping in touch with everyone…I would like you all to know that I am swearing off boys for at least three months. I think taking a break and focusing on other things would be a healthy idea.

Okay! I love you all. Hope things are going well! I need updates : )

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I did better on my LPI.

I spent this past week travelling around the country and getting the chance to see other regions, houses, and a LOT of amazing people who I have missed over the past month! The whole purpose of the trip was to work at a girls' leadership camp, have language training, and celebrate the 4th of July, which I did along with a small group of people on the roof of a house in Kolda. We opened bottles of champagne, played taboo, and made a fried chicken and mashed potatoes dinner with apple pie for dessert. It was a lot of fun, and Kolda is gorgeous!

I forgot my camera while traveling, though, so, I am just going to ignore that whole time and instead do a quick photo narrative of possibly the most ridiculous night of my entire life. It was about two weeks ago, when Morgan (another volunteer who is a sarcastic and hilarious rugby player from Harvard, grew up in Alaska, and has a cat named Toubab), Jenny (also another volunteer who used to be a night security guard in DC who lived out of her car, carries around toads to scare people, and weightlifted regularly back home) and I met up in Jenny’s village for language training with Assane, our teacher from the training center.

Morgan journals on her computer, and recorded the experience right after it happened. So. I am going to tell it in her words along with my pictures, ie third person, with some additions and deletions on my part. Please try to enjoy how ridiculous it is that this is my life:

OMG we just had the funniest night experience ever. Dinner was the first part. They gave us millet and fish and also millet and milk. But Sarah and I dont like the normal milk (the tuberculosis milk) so we made powdered milk that tasted like coconut milk. It was awesome. (quote from Sarah: “DO YOU WANT SOME OF THIS MILK BEFORE IT ALL SOAKS IN?? JESUS” - she was mad cause I was taking too long to make the hole in my millet to pour the milk into. We laugh now, but at the time she was legit going to kill me. She didn’t even realize she said it, she’s just obsessed with food. Then assane mixed the milk with the millet and fish. It was disgusting. Here is a photo. You eat it with your hands by the way.



So then, as we are eating our instant milk powder and millet on the floor by headlamp and flashlight, a camel spider runs across the mat. I had never seen one before getting here...they are basically a spider and scorpion smooshed together, but are completely harmless. So naturally we all shrieked and I spilled milk all over the floor and we all leaped to the nearest elevated surface that we could find. (in doing so I obviously broke jennies cot), while assane grabbed the “fly swatter” which is actually a flip flop duct-taped to a stick, and nonchalantly killed the thing before going right back to eating the nar-nar fish millet milk. Here’s a picture of it:



This is what happened to the bowl after we all freaked out. My spoon fell in >: (





At this point Jennie left for unknown reasons, and Sarah and I resumed our eating of the millet and milk but we were afraid to sit on the floor cause of spiders so I felt the need to squat over the bowl while dribbling milk all over the place:





After this, I was going to take a picture of sarah over the bowl to show what we eat here. But, right as she leaned her head in to pose, jennie’s family came in. So I didnt take the picture. Sarah's head was in the bowl, so she had no idea they were all staring at her. I sat there trying to find the words in english to warn Sarah that there were people looking, but I couldn’t, so she sat there totally oblivious with her headlamp on and her face approx 1 inch above the millet while laughing hysterically for a good minute. I was whisper shouting the only words that came to mind, “peeeeoople, sarah, there are peeeoooople...” which she obviously did not pick up on. After a moment or so, Jenny’s family slowly backed their way out of the hut. Here is the photo that resulted:





So, that happened and then Jennie burst back into the room, bright red and bawling her eyes out. Her ENTIRE family followed her in, obviously bewhildered and trying to figure out WHAT was wrong, and why their toubab was crying. Apparently Jenny is afraid of camel spiders. They had no idea what was going on, though. Here they are:







In the midst of the chaos they were like “OMG why is jennie crying??” to which I accidentally responded, in broken Sereer, “Jenny Died...” thinking that they had asked what happened to the spider and unaware that they hadnt yet figured out the situation or the existence (or.. former existence) of said spider. Which caused further confusion. At which point I escaped to pee and returned to find Sarah sitting on the bed taking pictures and looking completely non-plussed by and oblivious to the approximately 10 senegalese people all trying to figure out why Jennie was crying. Mostly, Sarah was sad that they had put the lid back on the bowl. (they did put the lid back on the bowl. I was very unhappy about that).

Finally we managed to get rid of the senegalese people (after they kept trying to get jennie to put her shoes on. Like that was going to make it better. Or flipflops were going to keep the spider off her feet. Sigh) briefly. And we resumed eating. Until, in a burst of laughter over jenny crying, assane disappearing, my squatting over the bowl, and the whole situation, sarah snotted in the millet (yes. Booger. DRIPPED out of her nose. Disgusting. +1 for sarah) and we gave up trying to eat. Forgetting, of course, that someone will later be eating this snotty bowl of millet. Oops. Then some of jennies family came back to take the bowl and we topped off an evening of miscommunication with the following exchange:

Sarah: what was that running thing?
Jennies mom: [something that sounded like “horse scorpion” in seereer]
Sarah: what does it eat? [at least thats what we thought she said]
Jennie's mom: WHAT?? assane ATE it?? the spider??
Sarah: uhhh.. no.... ummmm....

And once again...they slowly backed their way out of the hut, but this time did not come back.

At this point we realized the cot was broken, so we broke out a hammer and all struggled to fix it. Fail:



And. That was language training. Here is Jenny with a frog:



I understand if you’re terrified, the rest of the village is too! : )

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wrap-Up

I will be putting up new photos soon! Im in the middle of traveling, but thought I would give a quick conclusion to the mouse trap debacle.

The trap was all set up and ready to go for the night, but, a very strange thing happened. I was awoken around 5am by a large PLOP and the sound of scurrying. I turned on my headlamp and peered through the mosquito net to see something flopping around on the floor. My first thought was that I had a confused toad on my hands, but I then realized that it was the mouse. It fell off the ceiling and landed, literally, right next to the mouse trap. It was injured from the fall, and understandably freaking out, and I had no idea what to do. I got up and basically just stared at it in shock for a good 10 minutes while my brain struggled to function. I didn't want to touch it, and had absolutely nothing to pick it up with/put it in (i mean, come on, its not like im in America where things are available). I eventually dumped out my hamper and swept the mouse into it. I tried to throw it over the fence, but...missed. It landed in my compost pile, and I gave up. I sluggishly made my way back to bed, hoping that something would eat it while I slept so I wouldnt have to deal with it in the morning. It was gone the next day. Problem solved.

: )

I am so excited for this week! I am traveling to another part of the country for the 4th of July. Last year I climbed up a volcano in Hawaii with a bunch of Canadians for the 4th. We'll see what this year brings!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Things that go bump in the night...

Sometimes, when I am sitting around doing a whole lot of nothing (erm...i mean, working hard and saving the world) I come up with brilliant things to write here in the blog. However, once all of the magic ingredients have coalesced to make internet time possible, I am inevitably sitting somewhere cool, pleasant, possibly beachside, and with electricity. Add that to the fact that my bi-weekly beer is probably in one hand, causing me to slowly tap out one letter at a time due to my extreme reluctance to let go of it for even a second, and you have the perfect recipe for stream-of consciousness blog posts. My immersion in paradise generates a complete and utter indifference towards what seemed important one or two days ago : ) So, I uploaded pictures and will take this opportunity to tell you about my room mates. Just take it in confidence that I have lots of exciting projects and plans at site going full speed ahead.

So, as far as I can tell, my bug nerdiness began during summers in North Carolina which were defined by days spent staring at caddisfly larvae in mountain streams, catching june bugs by the dozen, and killing jarfulls of fireflies under the pretense of "making lanterns." As I mentioned earlier, though, my bug love is being put to the test here. However! Look who came flying into my hut the other night, causing me to bolt into the backyard yelping in fright. Eventually, I tiptoed my way back in to investigate. I poked and prodded the creature to asses the potential dangers, at which point I discovered...its a praying mantis!!! So, I picked it up and took photos:




Mantids eat obnoxious bugs like flies, mosquitoes, and beetles, so they are fine by me. Plus, they are fascinating creatures. I caught one a couple of weeks ago and named her Jaws, but she isn't an adult yet, so no idea what species she is. Here's a photo:




Now. I also have about 5 or 6 geckos living in the hut. In case you are picturing the cute little terrarium inhabiting creatures...that's not the case. Look at this monster:




He thinks he's hiding in this picture (?). Like mantids, Geckos also eat the obnoxious bugs, and are thus welcome in my humble abode. This fellow has also recently moved into my hut:





He, also, seems to think he is hiding in this picture (nobody ever said being cute=having brains). My attitude towards him was benevolent, up until about two days ago. Besides his affinity for eating my erasers, I didn't see the problem with having a mouse. That is, until I lay awake the other night pondering what I could do to get rid of the beetles who have recently taken to boring holes in the wooden beams holding up my roof (more geckos? more mantids? Insecticide?). I considered the finely balanced food web in this here hut. The beetles eat my hut, the Geckos eat the beetles. The mosquitoes eat me, the geckos eat the mosquitoes. I would like to get a cat for a pet, but then it would eat the geckos, and I need those for population control. But what about the mouse? Where does it fit in....really? Well! let me tell you...after some investigation I realized that the mouse is ALSO eating my hut!!! The thatch roofing. Apparently the all-eraser diet needs supplementing. My hut is under attack on two fronts, and I decided not to sit back and watch it crumble to the ground. I came up with a "roommate management plan." Here it is:




My very own mouse trap, baited with an eraser. The idea is simple, the evil hut-eating noise-making mouse walks up the ramp, steps onto the can to get the eraser, the can flips under the weight, and the mouse is dumped into a bucket of unfiltered well water. mwahaha. And then I can, inchallah, get a good night's sleep for once, while the hut eating shenanigans are put to a watery end. We'll see what happens. I would prefer a less violent method, but the thought of not only catching a live mouse, but then walking through the village with it and trying to explain what I'm doing just seems like too much of an ordeal.

In other, less morbid news, here are some family photos. There are two year old twins in my family who are super cute. They like to have me throw shirts over their heads so they can dance around like that. Again...being cute does not equal big brains. Also witnessed by my four year old brother who was, yesterday, dancing around with a plastic bag on his head and shoes on the wrong feet. I didn't take a picture of that. It seemed a bit...cruel. Im glad to report that he is perfectly fine, though.





OK! Have a good day.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Moving America to Senegal

Throughout the country, each region has a house for volunteers to come hang out, relax, and get work done. You can probably imagine what it looks like when a bunch of college aged individuals get together after being separated from any and all american culture for weeks on end. Yesterday I immersed myself in a toubab/internet bubble where I made good food, watched movies, and chilled out. This morning I left toubab land the moment I stepped out onto the roof for a morning cup of coffee. I was hit by the ever-present wall of heat, while looking out over the city of palm trees, tiled walls, and imposing Mosques. Oh right, I thought...I am in Africa. It's impossible to ignore being in Africa, obviously, between the sand and the heat, but sometimes it is easy to forget. I often feel like I just took all of the best parts of my life back home (except family of course) and threw them together in a fun new environment. I caught an awesome praying mantis and have been catching bugs for it to eat, gardening, planning exciting projects, speaking french, playing with kids, and at the end of this month will be lifeguarding for an all-girls leadership camp that a bunch of volunteers are putting on!

Even things that seemed so novel and effort-requiring back home just fall into place here. But in some very odd ways. For example, in Ann Arbor we made a huge effort to eat local and organic food, sticking close to home when it came to our caloric needs. I've been plowing my way through some food culture and industry books, and it struck me as funny that here we eat local and fresh by default. However, that doesn't mean a booming local economy or healthy meals for everyone. It really doesn't matter where you got that gorgeous in-season bitter tomato, if you're just going to toss it into a pot of boiling oil and leave it in there until it's no more identifiable as a bitter tomato than a carrot. Also, the only way to get anywhere here is by way of public transportation. It is available even in the smallest of villages, whether in the form of a charette or a bus (Alham). This country-wide public transport availability isn't the result of some radical green movement, though, it's just the way things are. The buses are followed by clouds of black smoke, and the cars are all bounce their way along the fine line between working, and becoming a scrap metal pile on the side of the road.

Anyways, just a quick overview, this is what the next couple of months look like:

June3-6: Wrestling tournament at a friend's site
June6-? Hang out at site, get work done, get ready for rainy season!
June23-26th: Lifeguard/first aid at camp
June 27-29th: Language training at another volunteer's site
June 29-July 4ish: Bike to Kedougou for 4th of July visits and tour of country.
July 4-10ish: Travel back through Kolda, visit people's sites, learn to keep bees.
July 19-30th: Back to the training center in Thies for IST.

Somewhere in there I am determined to get beekeeping training so I can get it all set up and maybe attract my own hive of happy little honeybees by the end of the rainy season. We'll see!

Friday, May 28, 2010

There's Weave in my Millet....

Well! 10 days down...only like 700+ left to go : ) I have spent almost two weeks at site, with absolutely no English or other white people or technology of any kind, and it went surprisingly well! I go back and forth between extreme excitement, total contentment, bewhilderment in regards to what I am doing here, and complete motivation to actually accomplish something. The other day as I set into hacking apart the rock hard ground in my backyard in order to make a garden, it occurred to me that I have absolutely no real-life worries, I can listen to music, make my own schedule, play in the dirt, and collect bugs whenever I please. I get to make mudstoves, read all day, eat infinite mangoes and play with kids. It’s….fantastic in a very uneventful way : )

But generally, I am just trying to get to know everyone in the village, start up some slow projects, and figure out how to get through daily life of greeting everyone, pulling water, surviving the heat, etc. Today is my first “day off.” I came into Mbour with another volunteer, and we’re having a “ten days at site” sleepover party in my backyard! There is absolutely nothing in the entire world that can make you appreciate a cold beer and day at the beach like spending a week in a very hot and very small West African village.

Anyways, I have pictures. These are before and after pictures of my hut (inside and outside). As you may notice…I painted it like Bag End. You know, Bilbo’s house. The funny thing is, everyone here just keeps saying how pretty is and how much they like it, and are asking me to paint their houses the same. So, I drew the same thing on my younger mom’s room, and my sisters went at it with the paints. Heh heh heh. I know it makes me a nerd…but nobody here knows that, so it’s fine : ) Just remember, if sometime in the future you are driving through Senegal and you come across a random village painted entirely like Middle Earth…that’s where I was!

Oh, also, one quick story, the other day I was hanging out with my favorite woman in the village (who, it turns out, is actually from Dakar and leaving soon, much to my chagrin) when I happened to look over right as a little kid picked up a half smoldering manure cake from the fire pit, shoved it into his mouth, and burst out crying. Nobody did anything about that...then moments later a chicken wandered into the same fire pit, and immediately flipped out and bolted away squawking. Then a goat did the same thing, also to no reaction from anyone. Who needs TV anyways?


My Hut, BEFORE:





And After!! : )




Hut Inside, Before:




Hut inside, After!




Mud Stove!




OOK. Thank you for reading, I send you all love and hugs and kisses from Senegal!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Install Today Hooray!!!!!

I have a new address! It will be good for the next two years:
PCV Sarah Sprague
B.P. 2245
Mbour, Senegal
West Africa

What an overwhelming and fun day. Over the past few days, everyone has been driven away in station wagons to go hang out with current volunteers at regional houses all over the country. We will be installed at our sites for the next two years over the coming week. However, one other guy and I have sites that are so close to the training center, we are installing straight from here. So, as everyone slowly left I realized it was not going to be a fun time sitting around here missing all of them and not meeting anyone new. As the gas to the stove was shut down, internet turned off, the cushions taken out of the disco hut, and people disappearing…. I decided to exercise my newly acquired freedom that comes with being a volunteer, and hopped in a car with some other trainees to go hang out at their regional house a few hours away. It was a lot of fun, and I met a lot of volunteers who I will probably hang out with quite a bit over the next couple of years.

I had to get back to the training center this morning, though, so I navigated the wide world of public transportation in Senegal with the help of a volunteer. She took me to the garage and I bought a place in a car going back to Thies, then waited around until the car filled up. After getting dropped off, I had to start buying ALL of the stuff we need to get for install. I’m installing tomorrow, and needed to get things like seeds, paint, a shovel, food, art supplies for a coloring club, household items, etc. etc. That meant multiple trips into the market, which included getting boxed in on a downtown sidewalk by a huge herd of cows with giant horns. Luckily Steve was around to help, and we stumbled our way back into the training center laiden down with enough things to fill up a charette.

Between painting my hut like Bag End (pictures to come eventually), painting murals, setting up peppinieres and a school garden, as well as personal garden, cleaning and organizing my home for the two years, starting a coloring club at the school, getting comfortable in my village, and learning Seereer…it’s going to be a busy 5 weeks. The 5 weeks end in an epic bike trip out to Kedougou for a huge fourth of July party. One of the guys in our stage, who is 60, and I were eating cream filled doughnuts and trash talking each others eating abilities, and eventually decided that for fourth of july we will have a pie eating competition. Out of big metal bowls. With our right hands.

Anyways, so you can appreciate what I did all night pretty much, here is a before and after picture of packing to go to site:





























One last thing, we swore in on Friday and are now officially volunteers! I put up photos (or will try at least) but here's a sample of our ridiculous outfits:

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Love for Bugs is Dwindling...

As I wrote that last post, I was sitting on a tiled porch. All of a sudden, my entire body began to sting, and I couldn't make it stop. I stood up, shook out my clothes, slapped my back, and still didn't see anything. After a few minutes of this, I ran home, threw off my clothes, and realized that tiny tiny sugar ants has crawled inside of my shirt and my skirt. I had huge swollen welts all over my body, and my sisters helped me put on hydrocortizone cream before killing the ants that were left. One of the other trainees, Jenny, came in and gave me some benadryl.

Soon after, though, my entire face began to swell up, my body felt really hot, and I was having trouble breathing. I was freaking out because we don't have epi pens, and the Benadryl hadnt kicked in yet. After covering myself in cold cloths and ice (thank god I was in training and in a patron house with a freezer) Jenny called the med office to tell them what happened. I was swelling up more and more, so she ran and bought an inhaler as well as some steroid pills. They worked really well, and everything began to recede, but med still wanted to check in on me.

So, I was carted off to Dakar, and had to say goodbye to my family for the last time in a rush and med induced daze. I am spending the night in the Peace Corps office in Dakar, which I really can't complain about. I had the insight to grab my coffee, laptop, and a lot of money before leaving. So, I spent the evening at trivia night with a ton of current volunteers at the American Club, and am now watching the Office on DVD. It's really nice. Tomorrow I plan on having real coffee and mangoes for breakfast. mmmm mangoes. My body still kind of hurts, but the worst has passed
: )

Too Many Mangoes.

Here is an incredibly long blog post to make up for all of the non-posting I have been doing and probably will continue to do. Thank you for reading, though! There is only one week of training left, before we all become volunteers and officially start our two years of service. I am excited to actually start working and settle into my new life. However, I’m also apprehensive. So far, we have had activities planned out for us, and have been able to all spend time together and decompress every day. It’s all new and exciting, and I really like hanging out with everyone. I have made a few close friends so far, and we will all soon be spread out around the country. I don’t know if I’m ready to trade all of that in for a slow paced and self-imposed schedule. However, it really feels like I have been living out of a suitcase for the past year, and I can’t even describe how nice it will be to settle in to one place for the next two years. I feel like no matter what happens, I have automatic ET (early termination) insurance based solely on the fact that I have a TON of stuff that I will not be voluntarily moving again any time soon : )

Michigan’s graduation was this past weekend, and Obama spoke at it. It hit me that I graduated exactly one year ago, and I can’t believe it. It might as well have been yesterday. My time in Hawaii flew by, and my time in Victoria was marked by two moves, getting a visa, getting in to Grad School, and then finding out about Peace Corps. So much was going on that whole time, that it flew by as well. Going back to Michigan, visiting family in other states, and leaving for Senegal also went by quickly. I have been in Senegal for 8 weeks, and can’t say where the time has gone. So much has happened, and it has been amazing! We have had nonstop excitement, new experiences, fun hanging out as a big group, and learning how to make the most of the next two years. Last weekend we all rented a house on the beach in Popenguine, which was gorgeous, and just had a relaxing fun weekend. I ate sardines, we all swam in the ocean at night while someone shot of firecrackers, I did a crossword puzzle, climbed up a big rock in the ocean, and cut my feet up while swimming in the ocean (it’s like being in Hawaii all over again…). It was so much fun! All in all, this past year has been one big blur of new people, new places, exciting adventures, and overall amazing experiences. In two weeks I will put my stuff down, stop traveling, and accept a much more slow-paced and focused kind of life. I hope I can make the transition alright, and am sure that it will be fine! After all…even though I joined Peace Corps with the expectation of being way out in the African Bush for two years, I will never be more than a short bike ride away from a gorgeous beach and a cold beer.

Anyways! I thought I could give everyone an idea of what I am doing here by narrating just one day at training. Currently, I am at my homestay and one of my sisters (who is 17) is reading this out loud over my shoulder in broken english, while wearing one of my skirts on her head that she just washed for me by hand. I’m afraid she will understand what she’s saying….OK. To start at the beginning, I woke up around 7:30am to one of my sisters bringing me half a baguette and hot water for instant coffee (breakfast every day). I eat my breakfast on the roof, which is like a big cement patio overlooking the village. It’s my alone time for the day : ) After that, we all meet at the garden to water, which involves unrolling a huge hose, and then sitting for an hour while our oil drum fills with water. After that, I take the half of my breakfast baguette that I can never manage to finish over to a sheet metal shack with cloth doors (the country wide symbol for bean sandwich huts) where I get amazing chick pea bean mash and eggs put on my bread for the equivalent of 25 cents, and then eat it during language class.

Today after class, my sister and I went to the tailor to get a gorgeous dress of hers copied, which seems to be the only way you can buy clothes in this country. I have been working on making this happen for a few weeks now. Step one was getting the language down well enough to ask her how. Then I had to go on a fabric buying mission at the market in Thies, and negotiate prices. So, today I was excited to finally get to a tailor and have it started. However, he was charging more than my sister wanted me to pay (it was like…2 dollars more) so we stayed for half an hour negotiating the price. He wouldn’t give, so we decided to take that extreme financial hit, gave him the fabric, and left. But, on the way home, we ran into my mom, who was angry that he overcharged us, and marched back in there to yell at him for 10 minutes before grabbing the fabric and storming out. Apparently we are going to a different tailor tomorrow, inshallah. I’m leaving Sunday, so I have a feeling this wont be happening. It’s frightening that just getting a dress is such an ordeal. Wait until I try to change the world…that might take even longer.

So, after that, I came home to my language teacher asking if I could translate a 3 page French document into English for a group at the university. I said OK, even though I am currently trying to write a speech in Serere for the big swearing-in ceremony we have next week to become volunteers. Each language group has someone giving a speech to the rest of the volunteers. I started translating the documents, but then decided to call one of my friends here instead just to take a break from all of it. Hearing from people at home is always nice, and can be a huge comfort, but having people here to talk with and gossip with is a different kind of (very entertaining) release. After the phone call we had lunch. Usually, we sit on the ground and eat fish and rice out of a bowl with our hands. However, today I was introduced to the most wonderful food in the world. It is called Dahine and it is magic. It’s some kind of spicy rice/fish/peanut mush with pepper in the middle. I was the last one at the bowl and I ate until there was nothing left in it. That is an unprecedented event since my arrival in Senegal.

Post-lunch I had hoped to go get a coke at the boutique, but was instead called into my mom’s room where she had me read from what is possibly the only seereer book in existence other than the bible, so I could get “practice.” Then it was time for more language class. We have taken to watching movies after language class, like 300 and Casino Royale, but the power rarely works, so we were not able to watch anything today since my laptop died. To curb the disappointment, one of the other girls and I went to buy mangoes, (because it is mango season!) which was a complete disaster. I only wanted three, but I misunderstood the price, and somehow managed to ask for 300 mangoes. Then the woman selling them couldn’t understand when I tried to correct my mistake, so I found myself standing there with about 30 mangoes and a crowd of people staring at me while I blabbered on in my limited Serere. We eventually fixed it and walked away, three mangoes in hand. But, after turning a corner we both broke into uncontrollable fits of laughter. Eating the mangoes was equally difficult, and I almost always have to shower afterwards. They are amazing...but there are no plates or napkins or utensils to try and eat them with.

So, after that I went home, and hoped to take refuge in my room, but instead was recruited for English homework help. Then, at 7:30 we all went to the neighbor’s house to watch Marina (a portugese soap opera dubbed in French) which is one of the highlights of my day. Everyone crowds into a room and its fun. Plus, everyone is staring at the TV which means they are not focusing their undivided attention on me. And I don’t have to talk! After Marina, we had dinner, which is millet and bean sauce. I love it so much. Now I am writing this, translating the English papers, not writing my speech, and will hopefully get to bed at a reasonable hour. I have grown really attached to my family here at the homestay site, and love hanging out with them/being in this village. The food is good, the people are fun, the house is amazing…and I only have a few days left here. But, it is time to move on I suppose, and get ready to actually begin my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer once and for all.

I hope we actually get the dress made tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

I hope you’re all doing well : ) I think of home pretty much constantly. But, in a good, “this would never happen in the US…” kind of way.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Laugh? Cry? Punch Someone in the Face?

My first instinct for beginning this post was to say that there is a fine line between frustration and hysteria. However, I feel like that line has turned into more of a big sludgy mess that I get to trudge my way trough on a daily basis. It’s not a bad thing-some of the best experiences come from situations that involve some mix of wanting to laugh cry and yell all at the same time. These situations also mean that our brains have the chance to reach their full adaptive potential. If a person is given glasses that flip their vision completely upside down, it only takes their mind a day or two to flip the images and compensate for it. Then if they take the glasses off, their world would be upside down for a time. I have only been here for a little over a month, and all of the things that seemed so foreign and exotic have become pretty normal. Im almost afraid of what will seem normal after two years here. Like eating spaghetti out of a bowl with my hands. Or hopping on a charette (a sketchy wooden platform on two wheels that is pulled by a horse) to go to the market. Or riding in a small car with a shattered windshield and 7 other people.

The rest of this week will be taken up by a workshop where everyone's counterparts from their future sites are coming to Thies so we can go over what to expect for the next two years (ha...ha...). There will be 83 people here at the center, all speaking different languages from all over Senegal. We were split up by language groups to plan and prepare training sessions. There are 5 groups, and my group (the Seereers) only has 3 people. So, they lumped us in with the Wolof group. We were supposed to translate some lessons into our local languages to present at the workshop. However, our language teacher is not here, and the only written material in Seereer that we could possibly use as a reference (in existence, as far as I know) is a Bible. Since there is nothing about Peace Corps goals and expectations in the Bible...there wasn’t much we could do. Not that it mattered since all of our workshops are going to be in Wolof anyways. I can say “good morning how are you?” in Wolof and that’s it. Oh well : ) This is going to be an interesting week.

But, we have next weekend off and get to go to the BEACH. Yessssss.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dakar Day

Dakar is like paradise on earth. With an abomination of a statue (its brand new. please look it up). But, it is 1am so this will be quick: So...I should post more, and trust that I will once training is over and I actually have time to hang out at my site and go use internet sometimes to get work done. But, I think its funny that the extent of my communication with family has been limited to this blog and blog posts thus far : ) I love you all and hope you had good trips to Florida and California and South Carolina!! Talk to you soon!

Oh, also, my hut is awesome. Pictures soon. I have been Soxna Ngome up until now (one of my many new names, one of which is Spraggles)but now I have an official Seereer name for the next two years! Yamma Diome. : ) Short for Mariamma. I like it a lot. Yay.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Site Placement!

I just found out my site! The current volunteers and staff brought all of us trainees out to the basketball court where a huge map of Senegal is painted on the ground. We were all blindfolded and walked out to our sites, where we promptly started reaching for people around us and calling out to one another. When I pulled off my blindfold, I realized I was on the coast and started jumping up and down and yelling with happiness. I am taking over for a current volunteer, and talked with him about the site. It’s a short bike ride away from a gorgeous beach and touristy town called Mbour. The village is about 500 people, and I’ll be living in a compound with a family. Apparently my site dad is really active on the organic farming and agricultural scene. He has three WOOFers there right now! The only school is a kindergarten, which means I get to hang out and work with kids in FRENCH which is exciting! There is also a private school, so I’ll get to do some work with them as well. Apparently the site has upwards of 30 gardens, so I have some freedom to work on other things. There are bees there, and nobody currently beekeeping, so I’m going to find a way to start that up! I have always wanted to keep bees. Get ready for some honey and mead gifts from Africa. Also, the village is one 3rd christian, one 3rd muslim, and one 3rd animist. Which means people are laid back instead of crazy conservative! there's a church, too, which will be nice. Since its on the coast, it doesn't get too hot. Relatively, of course. Im still in Africa. Its still going to be hot.

Most of the other volunteers in the area are eco tourism volunteers, which means there are cool places to visit! There is a reserve where you can kayak through the mangroves, and also a big game reserve (ie giraffes, etc).

I just put up new photos, including some from the beach I will be near so you can all see it : ) A group of us navigated the sketchy world of public transportation in Senegal on Monday, in order to spend one of the best days at the beach to ever exist. I’ll write about it later!

For now, my site is called Louly Ngogom and I’m really happy! Tomorrow we go back to the homestay villages for a few days, and then I get to spend a week in my village with the current volunteer. Hope you’re all doing well!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Today we went to Easter mass at a cathedral in Thies, and it was an experience. The church was surprisingly nice inside, with its little stained glass windows and high blue ceilings. The stations of the cross were painted on the walls, with the first 6 stations depicting a black Jesus. However, at the 7th station he miraculously morphed into a toubab (white person). They forgot to teach us about that in catholic school. The music was by far the most inspiring of any catholic mass I have ever been to-Drumming, dancing, singing. I had no idea what they were saying, but it was awesome! In the past four years alone, I have been to mass in Canada, Greece, Switzerland, France, and Senegal. And America : ) The mass did last for two hours, though, and thats too long to be standing in any building in Africa. It's been hitting the 130's lately, so...Im sure you can imagine what that was like.

On another note, when I got to my homestay last week, it was freezing cold by Senegalese standards (so, like…70 degrees) and my family looked hilarious. Normally, the Senegalese take extreme pride in appearance since it is viewed as a sign of respect for others, rather than an expression of individuality. However, cold weather clothing is wholly exempt from this train of thought. Throughout the night, they broke out the most random bits and pieces of warm clothes I’ve ever seen, and I still have no idea where they came from. One of my little brothers was wearing the hood to a puffy ski jacket velcroed upside down on his head. One of my 15 yr. old brothers was wearing a matching pink jumpsuit which said Princess on the back. A lot of people were walking around in bathrobes. My family is really funny. They're nice, but Im still not used to how differently everyone acts here. Plus the fact that I understand about 1/10th of what they're saying at any given moment.

One of the hazards of learning a new language, is that people tend to think you are practicing all the time, and therefore don’t actually answer questions or tell you things-they just smile and say “that’s right” no matter how many times you ask. Or, worse, is when you are practicing and they think you’re serious. So, for example, if you say to yourself, “Im full” and your mom thinks you mean it and gets offended because she is currently making you lunch...that’s not good. And then you dig yourself even deeper into a hole by trying to correct it by saying, “no! I am hungry!” which she takes to mean youre hungry NOW and so she gives you a HUGE bowl of noodles and oil right before making you eat an equally ginormous lunch. Or if you ask what your mom is cooking, and suddenly you are handed half a fried fish to eat. That’s fun too.

OK, my laptop is dying so I must go! Ill write more later.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Back to the Homestay

I used to be afraid of shots, but not anymore! We all have to get tons of immunizations, so I don't even flinch walking into the little clinic, getting some shots, and going back again a couple of days later.

We don't officially become volunteers until May 14th, assuming we each learn the language and pass some tests before then. Until then, we alternate between being in the training center as a big group, and breaking off into smaller language groups and living with a family in villages. I am living in a tiny village (ie, one store that sells coke, and a lot of sand and cement buildings) with two other girls. My family is really nice, but I cant communicate with them well yet : ) I take bucket baths, garden every morning, take naps, use a squat toilet, come home by dark every night, and hang out with the little kids. It's not exactly exciting, but it's a nice routine.

The training center, however, is like paradise. Real showers, internet, access to good food, tons of people...its wonderful! Yesterday we spent the afternoon learning to make mud stoves, which is messy and a lot of fun. Today we're heading out to our villages for 12 days, which will be kind of a stretch, but good for language practice. I'm also armed with a ton of books just in case. My family likes to dress me up and parade me around. They braided my hair, but I took it out a few days later because it was so itchy. We have tea every day, which is a huge deal here. It's a tiny teapot with 15-20 sugar cubes!! No wonder diabetes is a huge issue here : P We also garden a lot, and huge crowds of kids swarm around to watch us. Being white and doing anything at all is mesmerizing apparently.

One last thing, I bought a djembe from an artisanal market! I am going to start learning this week, and am really excited.

Anyways! That's all for now. I'm trying to upload pictures, so we'll see about that. Happy Easter everyone! I'll be back in touch in a couple of weeks.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Week One

I’m posting this retroactively-it’s about a week old. I’ll put up real updates soon! But, in the meantime, I am out in a village as of Wednesday with no access to anything but my cell phone, so you should call or text me! I don’t have any phone numbers at all since my phone doesn’t turn on, and I forgot to write them down. Here is my number:

Dial +221771169967
Or if that doesn’t work 011221771169967





Here is the hut where we have most of our classes. It’s called the Disco Hut. After working at the Discovery (disco) Center in Colorado, I can’t help but think of it as the discovery hut : )

Each new group of volunteers here is called a stage, and each one develops their own reputation. Last night we all went out to a speakeasy where we sat on the roof. Some of the current volunteers christened our group by launching a firework over the rooftops of thies while shouting “SUPER STAGE!!!!” To understand the significance of this, it’s important to know that past stages have been known as the lame stage, the prude/ugly/drunk stage, etc. So….it’s exciting. However, tonight they informed us that we’re “kind of like summer camp which is a little frightening and a little awesome.” It’s true. We are almost entirely girls (37) and many of the 14 total guys are gay. Practically everyone has worked as a camp counselor before, and we all talk nonstop, play games, and maintain an exhausting but fun level of energy.

Today a few of us were standing next to a group of Senegalese staff, commiserating over our language inabilities, while trying to pick up any scraps of understanding from their conversation. After giving up totally, we ad libbed using their hand gestures as our sole guide. Here is how the conversation was interpreted:

“I lost my Car off the road”
“Your tire was flat? You had to change it?”
“Yes, while my car was in a ditch.”
“There was a goat?”
“Yes. It was dead. I hit it”
“Why would you hit the goat, it was dead. You did not need to.”
“It was weak, why would I not?
“I am going to bake a cake tonight”

We may never know what actually happened. Im guessing they were standing around making fun of us since they all speak English fluently.


Today we found out which languages we will be learning, since there are 5 (I think) different languages spoken in Senegal. About 80% speak Wolof, and the educated language is French. I was assigned Seereer, which has one of the smallest regions. There are only three of us, so it’s pretty limited where my site will be. It’s exciting because the two possible choices sound pretty incredible! We don’t find out about sites for a couple of months still. Speaking Seereer means that I’ll probably be in a wetland or mangrove area. Im hoping near the coast, but we’ll see. There are a lot of volunteers around Kaolack, with an awesome regional hose, so I don’t feel like I’ll be far from community. Anyways, speaking French again feels like reuniting with an old friend. Since the three of us learning Seereer all speak French, it’s what our classes are taught in. We learn on a chalkboard in a little cement hut : )

We also got bikes yesterday, and they are BRAND NEW. I am going to bike all over the place. Unless I live in a pit of sand, which is possible.

OK, new pictures are up! Check them out. There is a lot to say, but im not remembering anything right now. We played mafia until 1am or so last night, and were all gossiping about possible languages we could be assigned after someone discovered a “top secret” list. We’re like little kids. A bunch of us also just did laundry for the first time by hand, and im pretty sure my clothes have dried into a cake of soap. Oh well.

More to come on this, but I think my time at the Bug Zoo and love for all arthropods in general is going to be a HUGE part of my service here. My mind is already racing with ideas involving bees and praying mantids and….stuff : )

One last thing….there is another girl named Sarah here. She is also from Michigan. She also has a compass rose tattoo. She also brought Apples to Apples. She is also doing environmental education with Peace Corps here in Senegal.