When I was a new volunteer, it was hard to select which of many topic ideas I would write about on my blog. Now, I have a hard time finding enough topics to write about. Ironically, on a 12 day trip with my mother (or should I say, mum? I did spend the time in the United Kingdom after all) I seemingly couldn’t run out of things to say. Stories, experiences, comparisons between countries tripped over one another as if I couldn’t talk as fast enough.
Going on vacations are interesting. It’s like going back to old ways, except with a new outlook- which then changes everything. Sometimes in Senegal, it is easy to lose sight of progress, especially with language. When I left and returned to country, I was shocked upon stepping off the plane to a familiar language- contrary to the first time I stepped off the plane as a new volunteer. Coming back, it is amazing to recognize how accustomed I have become to a surrounding so different from where I grew up. Coming back from vacations is also hard; something I shouldn’t discredit. When you are rewarded with all of the foods you haven’t eaten in great lengths of time, it is easy to go through withdrawal as you are reminded of what you don’t have available here. (I’ll admit it, I took more pictures of or with my food than any landscapes or monuments on vacation). And, saying goodbye to friends and family doesn’t get easier the more times you say it, either.
So, after all those pictures, I hope you are hungry for some stories about my life in Senegal. To fortify your appetite, I have decided to write this blog touching on a selection of topics I discussed at length with my mum.
Through one Peace Corps program, World Wise Schools, I partnered with the high school I graduated from. Specifically, I partnered with the French teacher. Our book project received local, national, and international recognition. Thus, I suppose I should share it here. The following links will take you to articles published about one of the many projects my partnering class and I have don’t together. One article is from my hometown newspaper, the other is on the Peace Corps website, which selects stories from countries with Peace Corps volunteers around the world.
As the articles are available, and written much better, I will only briefly summarize this project. Basically, American students practiced their French through a class based project where they made books. Some of the books talked about our hometown and holidays in America. The books were then sent to my village where pleasure reading books are not available, only textbooks are – and even those are not plentiful.
I talked with students and explained the importance of pleasure reading, a relatively foreign concept. Then, to express their gratitude for the books we received, we made a video to send back to the high school French class. (See link below. And, enjoy a selection of students reading the books in French!)
The children in my village were eager to cooperate in exchanging fashion in Senegal with our American classroom. What better way to do this than through a fashion show. Enjoy this feature presentation- link here:
There are fashion shows here in Senegal. Thus, through watching them on TV, or possibly even attending one, I, THANK GOODNESS, didn’t need to instruct anyone on what to do. And their moves killed it! If anyone is looking for some true models, there is natural talent here!
Whenever there is music, there is dancing. So, naturally, the fashion show ended in a dance party.
Ramadan came and went. I didn’t fast for the whole month- largely due to the fact that I visited the United Kingdom during this time; and, how could I afford to pass up treats like scones overflowing with jam and clotted cream, hot dogs, …..
I fasted more days last year, but the days I fasted had more significance this year. Quality over quantity, right? I fasted the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, a time where people of the Muslim faith do not eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset (roughly between the hours of 5AM and 730PM) in order to focus on their faith. Day one was, above all for me, a way to show solidarity, and to remind myself how your body feels at different points of the day when fasting. If all of my family members, friends, work partners are fasting for a month I think I need to know what they are going through and what times of day are best to have important conversations, etc. I fasted on the last day, mostly so I could share half the excitement as everyone else when the moon showed itself and we were assured the next day would be a holiday- the end of fasting!
You are supposed to continue life as normal during Ramadan; thus, one day when I fasted, I did my laundry. By comparison, last year when I fasted, I bonded with my computer- watching movies to take my mind off counting down the hours until sunset; I may have declined food or drink, but I wasn’t fasting like everyone else. Let me remind you, laundry is not a 5-minute task of loading a machine. It takes several hours, just as many large pans of soapy water and an exhausting amount of scrubbing and wringing clothes out.
There are exceptions to fasting, for example if you are pregnant, sick, on your period, or traveling. However, if you don’t fast, you need to make up those days later in the year. Thus, many people will fast while traveling. (Also, mind you, traveling is not a comfortable and cozy matter, taking a toll on your body.) The last day of Ramadan I happened to be traveling back to site from my vacation. I was accompanied by my host brother and friend from village, who both attend university relatively near the airport. As they were fasting for the trip back, I did too. Then, after a full day traveling, I had to ride my bike 10km to get my outfit for the holiday adjusted at the tailor. (The tailor assumed I would fast the whole month like everyone else and lose weight. Thus, he made my skirt smaller than my original measurements- little did he know all I planned on doing during vacation was eat all the foods I don’t have available here….so, yes my new outfit needed some major adjusting!)
April showers bring May flowers Lots of rain DROPS bring mosquitoes in FLOCKS
We all know the saying, it takes a village. (I even think I’ve already referenced it in a past blog post.) This picture shows just how fitting this statement is for discussing malaria. This photo was taken at a mosquito net washing event I held in my village.
Whenever someone doesn’t sleep under a net it puts the entire village at risk for contracting malaria. It takes a village…
Although I am very fortunate to live in a part of Senegal where cases of malaria are few, this is in large part due to the cooperation of the people here in respecting preventative measures. The members of my village consistently sleep under their mosquito nets.
The program was held to ensure that everyone was aware that washing mosquito nets is quite different from other laundry. If not washed properly the insecticide on the net, that kills mosquitoes that touch it, deteriorates quickly. Plus, it was a gentle reminder that as rainy season is approaching we should look for and patch any holes in the nets. It doesn’t hurt to wash off some of the dust that has accumulated on them either.
I feel I should add a disclaimer here. No, my projects are not as squeaky clean as these pictures portray. Ma ney, as we say in wolof, ( I mean to say), what these pictures don’t show are all of the little (and sometimes big) nuances that always accompany my projects. Like, for instance, these pictures don’t capture me yelling at everyone, “QUICK GRAB THE NETS! TO MY ROOM!” as the winds picked up, not only blowing tons of dust onto our freshly washed nets hanging to dry, but also warning of rains sure to follow. Some people laughed, watching me worry about the rain. Most of the kids ensured me we should continue, it wasn’t actually going to rain after all. Starting to doubt my quick decision, I started asking adults if the darkening sky actually meant rain or if it would blow over. “It could rain. Or it might not rain.” was the response everyone gave me… very helpful. I will admit- it never did rain. And our nets, did dry quite quickly in the new breeze. Plus, as soon as they dried the dust shook right off. I guess if we want to go back to clichés, don’t sweat the small stuff, seems fitting enough.
It’s raining, It’s pouring, It’s impossible to be snoring (when you have a metal roof)
Maybe it didn’t rain on my mosquito nets, but we have had our first rain. And, just as luck would have it, it didn’t come at the most convenient time for both myself and my village as a whole. I had half of my laundry done when the dust storm came and then the following rain. So, what’s the big deal you ask? I couldn’t exactly hang my freshly laundered clothes on the line in the rain…and as for the rest of the laundry still soaking in buckets…we all know what laundry forgotten in a machine over night smells like the next day.
More importantly, the rain soaked all of the already bagged onions that were waiting to be sold. Farmers make up a majority of the village and consequently bring in a majority of the money for families. The next day all of the onions had to be laid out to dry. And, many onions began to rot as a result; thus decreasing the profit margin significantly.
Everyone runs indoors for the rain- probably because most rain follows a dust storm. Here is a picture taken from the slits in my door capturing two of my younger host sisters feeling the first rain of the season.