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! : )