Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I spent a few days last week visiting my friend David in his sereer village. In exchange for endless cookies, clif bars, coffee, oatmeal, chocolate, and beer (he has a bar IN his compound) I spent the time painting his hut as part of a major room makeover. He lives in the Sereer delta, which meant that to get to his site, we got to take a ferry : ) Much to our surprise there was a guy with an ice cream cart, so we got ice cream cones on the boat. We spent a few days painting, swimming, biking around, and it was a lot of fun! Here are some pictures of the murals:

On the way home, I got a ride with another David who was traveling around with a film crew from Dakar, working on a documentary about the life of a volunteer. On the ferry ride home, we got to wear some sweet lifejackets. Senegalese people in thing ever.

That’s the extent of my news for now! I wrote a grant for funds to build a school garden, as well as take my EE club on a field trip to Botanical Gardens in Mbour. The money came in yesterday, which means lots of work over the next couple of months. But, for now, I am in Dakar for my year-in medical checkup, so if you need me, I will be sitting at the pool waiting to see if I have tuberculosis.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

How to Stay Entertained for Two Years in a Village.

One question many volunteers must face at some point during their service sounds a lot like this: 'No electricity, no internet, no tv, no homework, no beer, no kitchen, no wide avenues to stroll along, and no other individuals around who speak the eff am I going to stay entertained for TWO years???' Some of us take up a new hobby or skill such as juggling, playing an instrument, reading technical manuals to become an expert on some random thing, or biking aimlessly for 5 hours straight. Some may invent games, like the 'describe your ideal sandwich and build it in your head' game, some people read romance novels, some draw cartoons, some fill up water balloons and sit in the middle of their village throwing them at people, and some make lists upon lists during the hours of the day when it is just too hot to get up and do anything.

Everyone eventually develops their own strategies, but my particular one finds its origins back in the 1980's. In 1987 to be exact, when a man named Alex from Vancouver, BC, apparently took too many drugs and decided it was high time he sat down and made a coloring book titled 'Whimsical.' After passing hands for a good 20 some years, it finally reached the one person bored enough to actually color the whole entire thing. Me. I spend many content hours listening to music and idly coloring the book. Here are some example of his fine, and somewhat terrifying, work.

Along with the coloring book, another important thing I inadvertently came by is a 5 year old beat up solar charger that the volunteer in 2006 brought with him to Louly Ngogom. It wont charge my cell phone or my laptop, but it WILL charge my ipod, which means that I can listen to podcasts whenever I want. If it werent for that, I would have no idea whats happening in the rest of the world, though I could tell you exactly who burnt their rice for lunch today in the village, and who wore what last night at Fatou's baptism. While listening to podcasts, I am free to wander around in the bush, searching for interesting specimens for my rock collection. I didnt mean to start it, but, well, here it is:

Readymade craft kits, my favorite so far being a Pirate Ship in a Bottle making kit, are especially fun. I also have some puzzles, lots of crosswords, paint by number kit, and a day to day logic puzzle calendar. Here's a small sample : )

Books are often the only entertainment option after the sun sets, since the bugs come out and its time to hide with my headlamp under a mosquito net. It doesnt even matter if there are any mosquitoes or not, because all bugs will divebomb your headlamp, and thus your face, which necessitates a protective net. I have been reading a LOT since getting here, which is really nice because I more or less gave up reading for fun all throughout university. I had so much academic reading to do, it was the last thing I wanted to spend free time on as well. I also spend a good amount of time fantasizing about life back in the US, often not intentionally, and have begun a fantasy cookbook of things that I will make when I get back. Its cathartic, since I come across recipes in Magazines which I cant actually cook right now, so at least cutting them out and putting them in a book feels semi productive :)

Having a pet is often more entertaining than having a TV back in the US, and its almost embarassing how much time I spend sitting in my yard, drinking coffee, and watching my cat. He's just so cute, and senegalese cats are strange. A lot of them sleep like this:

As far as staying motivated and in a good mood throughout the work day goes, quick ipod dance parties in our huts are a pretty important part of every Peace Corps Volunteer's service. Theyre a good way to get energized before another day of speaking another language, and navigating this crazy culture. Here's my current playlist:

Love Me Like You, The Magic Numbers
Get it Right Today, Joe Purdy
Lets Dance, David Bowie
Starstruck, Lady Gaga
Sway, Michael Buble
Beautiful, Akon
Psycho Killer, Talking Heads
Jessie's Girl, Rick Springfield

Of course, the best way to stay entertained is to get out in the community, hang out with people, do whatever theyre doing, and just generally be available. There's also work every day during the not so hot hours, to take up most of our time. I can honestly say that though I have spent many hours not particularly doing anything, I accepted long ago that this would get boring, and have therefore never felt especially bored. Boredom implies frustration and a desire to be doing something else, but Im pretty much at peace with the fact that there will always be very little going on here, and thats totally fine : )

Oh! And one last thing, I just finished working with two other volunteers to set up a website (im trying to learn some computer programming in my free time) for the kaolack girls camp. There are still some errors, but im excited about it. Here's the address, and Im pretty proud of myself for successfully making a link to I said, Im learning:

Girls' Camp!

Ill leave you with this semi sarcastic list to further illustrate activities that 2 years in a hut could potentially drive you to:

1. Take advantage of free calling to phone up other volunteers and tell them about what the donkey in your compound did today...for an hour.
2. Time how long you can hold your breath for every so often. Chart all progress.
3. Consider what might happen if you were to use that epi pen Med gave you.
4. Paint nails. Wipe off. Repeat.
5. Daydream so completely that you forget where you are.
6. Sweep your yard.
7. Take a nap...again.

As always, thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Perfect Weekend.

Us volunteers spend the vast majority of our time living in villages with no electricity, running water, or entertainment outside of shelling peanuts and making fun of how fat someone's mom is...again. So, when we leave site, we need to make the most of it, which is exactly what I did this past weekend! Some of my favorite things in life are biking, fishing, cooking, hanging out at the beach, listening to music, and just sitting around with good people. I got to do all of that : )

On Friday morning I woke up early and went to Mbour. I picked up my bike and set off on a ride to Popenguine, a veritable beach paradise. It took me about an hour and a half, and along the way I picked up mangoes, peanuts, guava juice, frozen yogurt, and other amazing snacks. Im reading "Grapes of Wrath," and spent a good hour or two during the hottest time of the day sitting under a tree, snacking, reading, and drinking lots of water. This country is perfect for biking because you can buy water everywhere, there are sandwich stands and snack stands every kilometer or so, and if you get too tired and just cant keep going, you can stop right where you are and hop in the next bus that comes along.

Anyways, I arrived in Popenguine, and rode straight to a gorgeous restaurant on a cliff that looks over the ocean and serves cold beer. Between the flowering vines, steep streets leading down to the water, donkeys, and white buildings, it looks just like a greek island. Grapefruits are in season right now, so I sat down with one and did some crossword puzzles.

I hung out there with the Popenguine volunteer as other people slowly started showing up. Volunteers from Kolda, Kaolack, Dakar region, etc. all came up for a fishing weekend! We spent the night on Kelsey's (the popenguine volunteer) roof, wrapped up in burritoes of sheets and all huddled together because it was, surprisingly, freezing cold. So, like...70 degrees. Brr. We all ended up moving down to her room which, by the next morning, looked like this:

We got up early and got bean sandwiches, which is always fun. You walk around asking the random sandwich women what they have in their bowls. It ranges from beans, chick peas, onion sauce, oily macaroni, spicy tuna mush, and all costs about...50 cents.
After sandwiches we headed down to the beach and hung out waiting for the boat to leave! Here's the crew:

Once in the boat we motored out to a calm spot and dropped our lines in. Here in Senegal you fish with a line attached to a wooden paddle. No rod, bobber, etc. In a fit of over excitement to catch a fish, I pulled the line too hard and cut my finger. We decided to have a competition to see who could catch the most fish. I caught the first fish, which was the strangest looking creature ever, but that was the extent of my victories for the day : )

Last time I went fishing, I caught a lot of bright pink and orange fish. I called them lisa frank fish. I have no idea what kind they were, but they were tasty. Its a lot like Hawaii, where there is virtually no limit to which fish you can catch and eat. In Hawaii we used to catch and fry up fish that people pay hundreds of dollars to buy for their saltwater aquariums. I dont know what we were catching all day, but in the end we got about 20 some fish of three different species. Every time someone got a fish, it was really exciting. Here are some photos : )

After getting back to shore, we headed to the beach house we rented for the night, and started cleaning the fish. I made tortillas while someone else made salsa. I spent the afternoon in my bathing suit, listening to music, cooking, hanging out, and looking out over the ocean. It was pretty much perfect. We ended the evening with games on the porch, and fish quesadillas. We had way more fish than we could finish, though, so the next morning we got up and I threw all of our leftover ingredients together and made fish chowder. It was surprisingly good. More pictures!

Eventually we all got our stuff together and headed out. Steve and I had a nice lazy bike ride back to Mbour, about 30 kilometers, and met up with the new group of trainees that just arrived. We recovered from our 1pm bike ride by eating ice cream.

They were having beach day, so we sat around and talked with them about peace corps, went swimming, and had a really fun time. I like meeting all of the new people because theyre excited about being here and have so many questions and ideas. Ive ben here for long enough that it doesnt feel like Im in Africa, or a volunteer, or any of that. It just feels normal, and its nice to be reminded that this is an adventure, in a way, and that its not the norm to sleep on a cot in your backyard, speak a random language, and eat fish and rice every day : )

After beach day, I turned on my ipod, biked home, about 15k, and was happy to see my family. My cat was sitting at the door to my hut waiting for me and it was super cute. I turned on Wait Wait Dont Tell Me, laid down on my cot, and fell asleep looking up at the stars. It was such a great weekend, and now Im at the training center helping with sessions for the new group of trainees, and will be back in village soon! Im excited for the projects I have underway, and as soon as school gets out for the year in June, I am flying to Rome, meeting up with my family, and going on a mediterranean cruise. Woohoo! If you need me...Ill be at the buffet.