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?


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.