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 : )