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'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 ( 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 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.